Best of our wild blogs: 8 Dec 17

Changi shore littered by failing shore protection system
wild shores of singapore

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Contractor behind 2016 Christmas Eve flood in Thomson among 14 fined for drainage offences by PUB

Channel NewsAsia 7 Dec 17;

SINGAPORE: Fourteen contractors - including the company responsible for contributing to the Christmas Eve flood in the Thomson area last year - have been fined by national water agency PUB for various drainage offences.

Sato Kogyo was fined S$14,000, the heftiest among the 14 contractors, according to a press release by PUB on Thursday (Dec 7).

The company was found to have altered the public drainage system across Upper Thomson Road (near Lorong Mega) without PUB’s approval, as well as constructing a temporary diversion drain along Jalan Keli opposite Thomson Plaza without notifying the agency.

These acts contributed to the flash floods that happened in the area on Dec 24, 2016, leaving businesses in the area knee-deep in flood water and with damages worth thousands of dollars.

In addition to the 14 contractors, two Qualified Persons (QP) - appointed registered architects or professional engineers responsible for selecting compliant materials and products for a building project - were penalised as well.

“With many construction projects taking place near or next to the public drainage system, it is important that contractors exercise due diligence to ensure that their works do not affect the functioning of the public drainage system. Drains must be kept free-flowing so that they can convey stormwater away quickly during heavy rain to reduce flood risks,” said Mr Ridzuan Ismail, PUB’s director of catchment and waterways.

The other contractors fined for altering and discontinuing drainage systems without approval were Choon Hoe Construction, Boon Tian Contractor, Tiong Seng Contractors and Woh Hup, Hup Seng Lee and Woh Hup. They were fined S$3,000 each.

According to the release, seven companies were fined between S$2,000 and S$4,000 for obstructing the drainage system without approval.

They include Shimizu Corporation, Ssangyong–Hyundai Joint Venture, Tiong Seng–Dongah Joint Venture, KH Foges, Chye Joo Construction, Lum Chang Building Contractors and Evan Lim.

The 14th contractor fined was KJS Construction, which failed to remove the support structure in the drain after completion of the construction project at Singhealth Polyclinic, and as a result, obstructed the drain flow. It was fined S$1,500 for not carrying out work in accordance with the code of practice.

Contractors must seek PUB’s approval before carrying out any works that will interfere with the public drainage system.

Unauthorised alterations may affect the functioning of the public drainage system, as the drains, canals and rivers are interconnected.

Offenders may be fined up to S$50,000 for works affecting the public drainage system, and up to S$20,000 for unauthorised alteration of the public drainage system.
Source: CNA/kc

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Uni students push for use of green starch bags

Made of tapioca flour, the bags are biodegradable and safe if eaten by animals
Samantha Boh Straits Times 8 Dec 17;

Tired of seeing Singapore's waterways clogged up by plastic bags, and equally weary of their growing pile of reusable bags, two undergraduates from Nanyang Technological University (NTU) have banded together to try to convince event organisers and retailers to switch to starch bags.

While they look and feel like plastic bags, starch bags are made from tapioca flour, which makes them biodegradable in both water and soil, said Mr Matthew Ong, 24, a student at the NTU School of Art, Design and Media.

He added that they can also be safely eaten by animals.

"People will argue that everything here is incinerated, but there is still the problem of wind-blown litter, he said.

"Even if people don't intentionally litter their plastic bags, the bags may get blown to somewhere inaccessible or into our waterways. But for starch bags, they will dissolve over time."

He started a company, Green Boulevard, with his friend, Mr Jacob Koh, 24, and they have been promoting the use of starch bags, which are imported from Jakarta, since June.


The intent is commendable and honourable. If you cannot eradicate the use of plastic bags overnight, then better to give people environmentally friendly options.

MR EUGENE HENG, founder and chairman of Waterways Watch Society, of the effort by the NTU undergrads.
The pair noted that while the use of reusable bags has gained traction, too many of them are given out at events organised here.

For a standard reusable bag made of thick plastic to have a lower carbon footprint than a regular plastic bag made of high-density polyethylene, it must be reused at least 11 times, according to a 2011 study by Britain's Environment Agency.

Cotton reusable bags have to be reused at least 131 times.

"They are given out way too freely and they cannot be reused (for other events) because there is customised printing on it. What is the point of using reusable bags if it is going to be thrown away after one use," said Mr Koh, who is studying at the NTU School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering.

The duo have approached event management companies to offer them starch bags as an alternative. They are offering to customise designs which can be printed on the bags, and have also contacted some retailers.

While it is still early days for the pair, they have already received $10,000 in funding from NTU, under the CoLab4Good Fund, which helps fund ground-up community projects.

The NTU Office of Admissions and Financial Aid has also pledged to use the bags, instead of reusable bags, for future events.

Professor William Chen, director of NTU's Food Science and Technology Programme, said this is part of efforts to educate prospective applicants on the application of food science and the importance of sustainability.

The bags will be used in the fairs organised in NTU as well as those at junior colleges and polytechnics.

Mr Eugene Heng, founder and chairman of Waterways Watch Society, said it will be an uphill task to convince people to switch from plastic bags to starch bags, and that the pair will also face competition from producers of reusable bags.

The cost of a starch bag is more than two times that of a plastic bag.

"The intent is commendable and honourable. If you cannot eradicate the use of plastic bags overnight, then better to give people environmentally friendly options," he said.

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Malaysia: Six new insects found in Sabah

ruben sario The Star 8 Dec 17;

KOTA KINABALU: Sabah’s reputation as a biodiversity hotspot has been reinforced with the discovery of six new insect species in the pristine Danum Valley near Lahad Datu.

The discovery was made by a team of “citizen scientists” who visited the 438sq km conservation area, which is about twice the size of Penang island, as part of the inaugural Taxon Expedition recently.

Three of the newly discovered insects, all tiny beetles living in rainforest leaf litter, were published in the Biodiversity Data Journal on Thursday.

The other three, belonging to the family Elmidae (riffle beetles), will be published next year.

Taxon Expeditions director and biologist Dr Iva Njunji said scientists have estimated that over 80% of the world’s animal and plant species are still undiscovered.

Although the work of taxonomists – whose job is to describe and name these species – is appreciated by the general public, funding for taxonomy is dwindling, she said.

“Moreover, the areas hosting most of the unknown biodiversity are under threat ... time is running out,” Dr Iva said, adding that recruiting citizen scientists as extra hands means that unknown species may be discovered faster.

“For this type of work, you don’t even need to be a trained taxonomist,” she said.

Members of the inaugural expedition used the “Winkler extraction method” in which dead leaves collected from the rainforest floor are sifted, revealing tiny soil-dwelling insects.

Joint expedition leader Prof Menno Schilthuizen recognised three of the insects as new species.

Under his guidance, the participants studied, photographed and drew the specimens in the expedition’s field laboratory, extracted the insects’ DNA and prepared a draft for publication.

They also came up with the names for the new species. English teacher Sean Otani from Japan decided to name one Colenisia chungi, after Malaysian entomologist Arthur Chung.

The names of the other two beetles, Clavicornaltica sabahensis and Dermatohomoeus maliauensis, refer to the studied sites and were suggested by staff and rangers of the Maliau Conservation Area during the farewell party for the expedition.

All the samples collected have been deposited in the insect collection of Universiti Malaysia Sabah, and the data has been published online as a resource for other biologists working on Borneo’s biodiversity.

In March, Taxon Expeditions will again head into the Maliau Basin with a new group of participants.

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Indonesia: Researchers Should Also Consider Economic Value from Peat Restoration

Netral News 8 Dec 17;

JAKARTA, NNC - The Peat Restoration Agency (BRG) expects peat researchers to assess the economic value of peat restoration.

Head of BRG Nazir Foead on a research presentation and workshop of Archipelago-Care Society said this is a good opportunity for peat restoration researchers to make a scientific study in terms of ecology, social justice and certainly from the economy. So it can provide benefits for the community and for investors in this wise, the banking sector.

He hoped the economic studies will be strengthened so that it can be the main foundation for the government in this case the Ministry of Economy to take policy.

In addition, it encourages the investment community that wants to be involved in the economic program in providing benefits for the society. "We want investors and the banking industry to participate in providing investment funds, basically the availability of investment funds is many," said Nazir.

But investors are very cautious in determining which investment they want to give. "They are looking for the right one and certainly have a good economic value," he said.

According to Nazir, President Joko Widodo wants to involve cultivation in the defense of food, plantations and alternative community resources in the peat restoration. "So in 2018 there should be a massive activity that is not just an example project for cultivation in food security, if possible the size of the implementation is not in small numbers, and certainly by looking at the various potentials in the region."

In the research presentation activity the researchers describe a variety of community economic alternatives that include agriculture, livestock, fisheries, forestry and potential commodities as well as adaptive in integrated wetland peatlands.

Action research is still being done so that in the end this results as a comprehensive scientific recommendation and can be accounted for as a breakthrough in the acceleration of peat restoration.

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Chinese ban on plastic waste imports could see UK pollution rise

Chinese restrictions from January will hit UK recycling efforts and risk plastic waste being stockpiled or ending up in landfill, warn industry leaders
Sandra Laville The Guardian 7 Dec 17;

A ban on imports of millions of tonnes of plastic waste by the Chinese government from January could see an end to collection of some plastic in the UK and increase the risk of environmental pollution, according to key figures in the industry.

Recycling companies say the imminent restrictions by China – the world’s biggest market for household waste – will pose big challenges to the UK’s efforts to recycle more plastic.

Analysis of customs data by Greenpeace reveals British companies have shipped more than 2.7m tonnes of plastic waste to China and Hong Kong since 2012 – two-thirds of the UK’s total waste plastic exports.

Pressure is growing on Thérèse Coffey, the environment minister, to take urgent action to support and build the UK recycling industry to meet the challenges created by the China ban. But when asked recently, Michael Gove, the environment secretary, said: “I don’t know what impact it will have. It is ... something to which – I will be completely honest – I have not given it sufficient thought.”

Stuart Foster from Recoup, said there were indications in 2008 and 2012 that the Chinese market might be restricted in future but no action was taken in the UK. He said the restrictions on the export market should be an opportunity for the UK to develop its own infrastructure and create a circular economy in plastics.

But there was no robust plan in place to cope with the impact of the closure of the biggest market for waste in the world and the restrictions would lead to stockpiling of plastic waste, more incineration and the risk of more landfill.

“Whatever happens we need to maintain control of the material because the bigger worry is about leakage of plastic into the environment,” said Foster.

China’s dominance in manufacturing means that for years it has been the world’s largest importer of recyclable materials. In 2016, China imported 7.3m tonnes of waste plastics from developed countries including the UK, the US and Japan.

But this summer the Chinese announced they intended to stop the importation of 24 kinds of solid waste by the end of this year, including polyethylene terephthalate (Pet) drinks bottles, other plastic bottles and containers, and all mixed paper, in a campaign against yang laji or “foreign garbage”.

The Chinese have also increased quality controls for all other waste including cardboard, something other markets are likely to follow, which will also put the British recycling industry under huge pressure. The impact could see local authorities reducing collections because they are not economically viable.

Simon Ellin, chief executive of the Recycling Association, said the government was asleep on the job and the situation was a shambles. “If the government is serious about waste and recycling, they need to invest and come up with a coherent plan for the recycling industry,” he said.

Ray Georgeson, head of the Resource Association, an advocacy body for the recycling industry, said the lower-grade materials would have nowhere to go.

“Can you imagine the press coverage if local authority recycling rates drop by 5 or 10% because the plastics have no market to go to?” he said.

Lee Marshall, chief executive of Larac, which advises local authorities on recycling, told Greenpeace the fee at sorting plants may increase for councils because the sorting would have to be done to a better standard for new markets, or the price they get for any materials may decrease.

This could lead some councils to stop collecting some types of plastic, such as meat trays and yoghurt pots, for recycling. “While councils don’t like turning materials off … if the economics are such that it does cause them a problem, that’s a decision they’ll have to make,” he said.

Marcus Gover, chief executive of Wrap, said the restrictions posed “substantial challenges” and urgent action was needed to secure a thriving recycling supply chain for plastics and paper to benefit the UK economically and environmentally. The quality of UK recycling has to improve to meet higher standards put in place by China and other markets, he said

Many believe the restriction of the Chinese market should be opportunity for the UK to develop its recycling infrastructure and forge a link with the UK manufacturing industry to utilise more recycled plastic.

But many experts said the government was not taking action.

Foster said: “If you could get the link in place with UK manufacturers making plastic products, so that it makes business and environmental sense to use the recycled content and at the same time build up the recycling infrastructure in the UK, this is a real opportunity.

“We need the right policy put in place. But unfortunately because of Brexit ... we have other priorities.”

Mary Creagh MP, chair of the Environmental Audit Committee, said: “This ban could mean a double whammy for council tax payers if the price of our exported waste falls and the cost of UK disposal rises. The government should show leadership and invest in more reprocessing facilities at home to reuse these valuable materials, create green jobs and prevent plastic and paper pollution.”

A Defra spokesperson said: “We are continuing to work with the waste industry and the Environment Agency to understand the impact across the sector of the Chinese government’s proposed restrictions on waste imports.

“We are also looking at ways to process more of our recycling at home as part of our resources and waste strategy.”

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Study finds ways to avoid hidden dangers of accumulated stresses on seagrass

Debra Nowland 7 Dec 17;

A new QUT-led study has found ways to detect hidden dangers of repeated stresses on seagrass using statistical modelling.

The research, published by the Journal of Applied Ecology, found cumulative maintenance dredging which affected the light on the sea floor increased risks on seagrass survival.

It found, globally, seagrass meadows can be at risk of collapse from accumulated effects of repeated dredging and natural stress.

*Seagrass provide shelter and food to marine life, including at-risk species like dugongs and green turtles

*Globally, hundreds of millions of cubic metres of sediment are dredged annually

*Dredging repeated every 1, 2 or 3 years, or for three months or more duration, needs careful management to avoid a loss of resilience

*Latest research builds on recently released research pinpointing 'ecological windows' for timing of dredging

"Our model predicts ahead of time how much repeated stress is too much," Dr Wu said.

"Our results show dredging can be successfully managed to maintain healthy seagrass meadows in the absence of other disturbances.

"The research isn't about stopping dredging.

"It's about being able to predict how resilient the seagrass will be by incorporating environmental conditions such as storms, cyclones and run-off from agriculture."

Dr Wu said port authorities and coastal developers could use the research to support a risk-informed management strategy.

Coastal development is commonly associated with dredging, which presents a hazard to ecosystem health via stressors including light degradation and water quality reduction.

"Generally, dredging repeated every one, two or three years, or of three months duration or more, needs careful management to avoid a loss of seagrass resilience," Dr Wu said.

Dr Wu said the development of a risk modelling approach, based on a Bayesian Network, was a tool increasingly applied in ecology.

The findings of the study are specific to hazards and environmental conditions for individual sites.

"For instance, dredging repeated every one, two or three years on a Halophila meadow at Hay Point was predicted to be at risk of losing resilience," he said.

"We developed 960 hazard scenarios including frequency of dredging durations of between one to six months and the level of light stress and the month when dredging occurred."

More information: Paul Pao-Yen Wu et al. Managing seagrass resilience under cumulative dredging affecting light: Predicting risk using dynamic Bayesian networks, Journal of Applied Ecology (2017). DOI: 10.1111/1365-2664.13037

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