Best of our wild blogs: 29 Dec 17

What’s in the Lab?
Mei Lin NEO

Soxy sea creatures: Crustacean edition
wild shores of singapore

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Looking Ahead to 2018: To tackle climate change, all hands needed on deck

SIAU MING EN Today Online 28 Dec 17;

As the year draws to a close, TODAY kicks off a series looking at key issues on the local and foreign front in the next 12 months. In Singapore, we look at what lies ahead in areas ranging from political succession, the terrorism threat and public transportation, to electronic payment, the property market and sports. Beyond our shores, the focus will be on the Malaysian general election and Singapore’s chairmanship of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. In the sixth instalment of the series, we look at the Republic’s efforts to mitigate the effects of climate change.

SINGAPORE – From calls to avoid plastic packaging to campaigns to cut food waste, the message for everyone to help fight climate change will be amplified next year.

2018 will be the Year of Climate Action for Singapore, declared Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli last month.

His ministry wants the public to know “the government alone cannot tackle climate change”, and will be rallying Singaporeans to take steps to reduce their carbon footprint with the help of various partners.

On the ground, there is no lack of enthusiasm among environmental activists, who already have plans lined up to get people to take little steps to make a difference – bring their own bags, eat less meat and use fewer plastic straws, for instance.

Some funding for their efforts and the government’s endorsement of various campaigns would help in scaling up their efforts, various groups told TODAY.

“I think continued moral support will be great. Sometimes when we talk to businesses, they still look at whether we have government support or not,” said Mr Tan Yi Han, co-founder of the People’s Movement to Stop Haze (PM.Haze).

The group is behind the #GoHazeFree campaign that seeks to get eateries to make the switch to sustainable cooking oil, derived without deforestation or the use of fire to clear land.

Plastic-Lite Singapore founder Aarti Giri plans to roll out a mobile app that calculates the amount of plastic used by individuals, but said funding remains a problem.

This year, the non-profit worked with several schools to get them to go without drinking straws once a week. Its Bring Your Own Bag Shoppers initiative also saw volunteers distributing reusable bags at supermarkets and shopping malls, and conducting surveys on plastic-bag usage.


The question on whether to charge consumers for plastic bags continues to be a touchy one, and reports in September of four major supermarket chains in talks on whether to impose a plastic-bag surcharge sparked a fresh round of debate.

Noting the argument that many Singaporeans use supermarket plastic bags to bag their waste, Ms Giri suggested tackling the problem in a different way: Getting retailers that offer bags less likely to be reused to impose a charge, for a start.

“These are bags that are not going to be used for lining their bins and are part of their retail purchase,” she said.

Plastic waste has become an enormous problem worldwide, with an estimated eight million tonnes entering the oceans each year, entrapping and being ingested by marine creatures and eventually ending up in the food chain.

The National Environment Agency is doing a life-cycle assessment of single-use carriers and disposable food packaging materials commonly used in Singapore.

Mr Masagos said in Parliament last month the results of the study on single-use carrier bags would be released by the end of this year, while the study on disposable food packaging materials would be released in the first half of next year.

Consumers do not have to wait for the findings to take action, said Member of Parliament (Nee Soon) Louis Ng.

He is in talks with a green group to roll out a bag-sharing point in his constituency by the first half of next year – similar to umbrella-sharing and book-sharing initiatives already introduced.

Residents can leave reusable bags at the collection point, which will be located near the wet market and retail stores, for others to pick up, use and return, said Mr Ng.

The public is generally more environmentally conscious than before and awareness levels have “shot up tremendously”, he added.

MEWR said businesses, communities, non-governmental organisations, schools and individuals have a part to play. The public could, for instance, opt for energy-efficient appliances and switch them off when not in use, take public transport and reduce food waste, it said.

“While most people may be aware of climate change at a global level, we want to bring into the national consciousness Singapore’s vulnerability to the impacts of climate change; and the urgency of reducing our carbon footprint – to build a sustainable future for generations to come,” said a spokesperson.

Climate change could mean higher temperatures, more intense rainfall and a rise in sea level for Singapore, which would have knock-on effects on quality of life and infrastructure.

This year, the Government announced plans to introduce a carbon tax on large emitters in 2019, tightened emissions standards for vehicles and implemented the first of two rounds of water price hikes. And under an inaugural three-year sustainability roadmap unveiled by Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean in June, the public sector will use less electricity and water. Some of the measures are aimed at meeting Singapore’s commitment under the Paris Agreement on climate change to cut emissions intensity by 36 per cent, from 2005 levels, by 2030.

With Singapore assuming chairmanship of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations next year, Energy Studies Institute research fellow Melissa Low said she would be looking out for ways in which the Republic drives the climate agenda with its neighbours. It could have technical exchanges and expand capacity-building programmes, for instance.


But amid the focus on “brown” issues – such as reducing air pollution and the adoption of cleaner energy such as solar – conservationist Ho Hua Chew said “green” issues must not be left behind. These include the preservation of biodiversity and wildlife habitats.

“I must say Singapore is rather laggard in its action on green issues – the conservation of natural habitats and biodiversity… more could be done here to rope in unprotected nature areas into the Singapore Green Plan,” said Dr Ho, vice-chairman of the Nature Society (Singapore)’s conservation committee.

Setbacks this year include the clearance of the Lentor-Tagore forest for residential developments and the decision to develop areas adjacent to the Central Catchment Nature Reserve, on both sides of Mandai Lake Road, for tourism, he said.

On the positive side, the authorities are backing efforts to enhance the biodiversity and rusticity of Pulau Ubin and plan to leave a larger-than-usual green corridor for wildlife movement and dispersal at Tengah Forest, said Dr Ho.

He reiterated the call to make Environmental Impact Assessments mandatory before any development project, and to formalise a public feedback mechanism and publicise the findings.

The shrinkage of natural habitats is a factor behind human-wildlife conflicts – such as with macaques, wild boars and even monitor lizards and pythons.

Mr Ng hopes for a more proactive approach on the issue. “Our actions cannot be based on complaints, which is what we’ve been doing,” he said.

Proper data and research should be the basis of management plans for monkeys, wild boars, crows and pigeons, he said.

*On Saturday (Dec 30), look out for our report on the terrorism threat.

What to look out for in 2018:

• Year of Climate Action

• Findings of NEA’s study on the life-cycle assessment of single-use carriers and disposable food packaging materials commonly used in Singapore

• Completion of Singapore’s Biennial Update Report for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change

• Second round of water price hikes to kick in in July

• Singapore taking up the role of the Asean Chairmanship

• Zero growth rate for cars and motorcycles from February

• Changes to the Energy Conservation Act to come into effect

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'Forgotten' baby otters rescued, reunited with family by volunteers

Melissa Zhu Channel NewsAsia 28 Dec 17;

SINGAPORE: A pair of 11-week-old otter pups that were "forgotten" and left without food were reunited with their family on Thursday (Dec 28), with the help of a dedicated team of volunteers.

Mr Jeffery Teo, from the community group OtterWatch, said the family of smooth-coated otters was first spotted without two of their pups at about 6am on Wednesday.

The family, which is known to have six pups, took four of them to Gardens by the Bay but two of them were lost along the way.

On Wednesday evening, the two missing pups were sighted near Nicoll Highway, but their family was across the water at Gardens by the Bay.

The pups are too young to swim across the deep water and would have had "zero" chance of survival if left alone, Mr Teo said.

He explained that the pups are beginning to eat fish, but cannot catch fish on their own and they were still suckling.

The volunteers considered the option of keeping the baby otters alive in captivity but were "quite confident" that they could reunite the family.

"From our observations, this is not intentional abandonment by the families," Mr Teo said.


The operation involved three teams - one to follow the otter family, another to stay with the pups, and the last to make sure there were no adult otters in the area where the two pups were, Mr Teo said.

The Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (ACRES) led a rescue operation at about 10.30am on Thursday.

ACRES deputy chief executive Kalai Vanan with one of the rescued otter pups. (Photo: OtterWatch)
Mr Kalai Vanan, deputy chief executive of ACRES, said OtterWatch contacted the animal welfare group after they determined that the two otter pups had been left behind at the Kallang riverside area.

ACRES and OtterWatch initially wanted to let the family find the pups but as the amount of time that the baby otters had been alone approached the 30-hour mark, they feared the otters might become weak and potentially drown in the water. Hence, they decided to rescue them, Mr Kalai said.

The two otters were initially hiding in their holt, a small den Mr Teo estimated was about 30cm wide, and rescuers had to wait patiently for them to emerge onto a grass patch so they could be trapped.

Rescuers tried to attract the otters' attention and lure them into a trap, but the pups did not fall for it as they "may have been scared of the foreign object", Mr Kalai said.

So they resorted to using pole nets to catch the animals on foot.

The first pup was caught at around 11.30am. As it was showing signs of stress, it was brought back to be returned to his family first, OtterWatch said in a Facebook post.

However, its sibling slipped through the net and rescuers had to wait for the pup to settle down before trying again, eventually catching it at 1.15pm, Mr Teo said.

On the difficulties of the rescue operation, Mr Teo said: "The pups were very alert ... There were a lot of attempts to make sure the pups don't run back so easily into their holt."

OtterWatch estimated that as of noon at Thursday, the pups had gone without food for about 42 hours, since their last meal on Tuesday evening. Thankfully, both were reunited with their family.

"We are really happy with the outcome because time was about to run out for these two pups," the community group said in a Facebook update after the rescue.

The entire rescue operation took about three and a half hours, Mr Kalai said.

"ACRES would like to extend their appreciation to Otterwatch for their tireless efforts to observing the movement of the otters to make the operation a successful one," the wildlife rescuer added.

One of OtterWatch's long-time members, Mr Teo said he felt that otters in Singapore should be cherished.

"With clean water come otters. These natural creatures are direct endorsements of Singapore's decades of efforts in our green and blue projects; they are a beautiful outcome of the government and people's years of effort."

The group also saved two otter pups after they were separated from their families last year, and helped to remove an o-ring which was hurting a young otter this year.

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Indonesia: Bali declares ‘garbage emergency’ amid sea of waste

AFP Today Online 28 Dec 17;

KUTA (INDONESIA) — Bali’s palm-fringed Kuta beach has long been a favourite with tourists seeking sun and surf, but nowadays its golden shoreline is disappearing under a mountain of garbage.

Plastic straws and food packaging are strewn between sunbathers, while surfers bobbing behind the waves dodge waste flushed out from rivers or brought in by swirling currents.

“When I want to swim, it is not really nice. I see a lot of garbage here every day, every time,” Austrian traveler Vanessa Moonshine explains.

“It’s always coming from the ocean. It’s really horrible,” she adds.

Often dubbed a paradise on earth, the Indonesian holiday island has become an embarrassing poster child for the country’s trash problem.

The archipelago of more than 17,000 islands is the world’s second biggest contributor to marine debris after China, and a colossal 1.29 million metric tons is estimated to be produced annually by Indonesia.

The waves of plastic flooding into rivers and oceans have been causing problems for years — clogging waterways in cities, increasing the risk of floods, and injuring or killing marine animals who ingest or become trapped by plastic packaging.

The problem has grown so bad that officials in Bali last month declared a “garbage emergency” across a six-kilometre stretch of coast that included popular beaches Jimbaran, Kuta and Seminyak.

Officials deployed 700 cleaners and 35 trucks to remove roughly 100 tons of debris each day to a nearby landfill.

“People with green uniform were collecting the garbage to move it away but the next day I saw the same situation,” said German Claus Dignas, who claimed he saw more garbage with each visit to the island.

“No one wants to sit on nice beach chairs and facing all this rubbish,” he added.

Bali’s rubbish problem is at its worst during the annual monsoon season, when strong winds push marine flotsam onto the beach and swollen rivers wash rubbish from riverbanks to the coast, according to Mr Putu Eka Merthawan from the local environment agency.

“This garbage does not come from people living in Kuta and nearby areas,” he told AFP.

“It would be suicidal if Kuta people were doing it.”

Some 72km from Kuta, Mount Agung has been threatening to erupt for two months, prompting tourists to cancel visits and displacing tens of thousands of villagers living within a 10km-radius of the volcano’s crater.

But the island’s waste problem is no less of a threat, said Mr I Gede Hendrawan, an environmental oceanography researcher from Bali’s Udayana University.

“Garbage is aesthetically disturbing to tourists, but plastic waste issue is way more serious,” he told AFP.

“Microplastics can contaminate fish which, if eaten by humans, could cause health problems including cancer.”

Indonesia is one of nearly 40 countries that are part of United Nations Environment’s Clean Seas campaign, which aims to halt the tide of plastic trash polluting the oceans.

As part of its commitment, the government has pledged to reduce marine plastic waste by 70 per cent by 2025.

It plans to boost recycling services, curb the use of plastic bags, launch cleanup campaigns and raise public awareness.

Still, the scale of the problem facing Indonesia is huge, due to its population of more than 250 million and poor waste processing infrastructure.

Mr Hendrawan, who says both locals and tourists are responsible for the island’s rubbish problem, urged authorities to invest more resources to tackle the problem.

“The Bali government should spare more budget to raise people’s awareness to take care of local rivers, not to dump waste,” he said.

“The central government should boost the campaign to reduce use of plastic packaging and ban free plastic bags at convenient stores.” AFP

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Indonesia: Pregnant elephant 'poisoned' in Indonesian palm plantation

AFP Yahoo News 27 Dec 17;

Banda Aceh (Indonesia) (AFP) - A pregnant elephant has been found dead in a palm oil plantation on Indonesia’s Sumatra island, in what authorities suspect was a deliberate poisoning, an official said Wednesday.

The animal's body was found near the remote Seuneubok Bayu village in Aceh on December 22, after authorities received a tip off from locals, Aceh conservation centre head Sapto Aji Prabowo told AFP.

"The 25-year-old elephant had been dead for around 10 days when we got there," he said.

"From the autopsy, we saw that its digestive organs turned black which the doctor said was a general indication of poisoning."

The Sumatran elephant was carrying 13-month old male foetus and was at least six months short of giving birth.

Locals have told authorities that several days before the carcass was discovered farmers had complained an elephant ate their fertiliser.

Sumatran elephant are critically endangered and a protected species, but rampant deforestation for plantations has reduced their natural habitat and brought them into conflict with humans.

At least 11 wild elephants died in Aceh this year, most of them killed by humans, according to Prabowo.

In January, authorities found a dead elephant without tusks in Aceh, along with its abandoned 11-month-old calf.

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