Best of our wild blogs: 1 Jan 2018

What can you expect? As Celebrating Singapore Shores begins
Celebrating Singapore Shores!

2017 - Looking Back : Part 2
Butterflies of Singapore

2017 Macro Highlights
Macro Photography in Singapore

Malaysia’s Largest Seagrass Bed
Hantu Blog

Many-lined Sun Skink (Eutropis multifasciata) @ Island Club Road
Monday Morgue

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Govt’s plans will bear imprint of 4G leadership: PM Lee

2018 designated as Singapore's Year of Climate Action
FARIS MOHKTAR Today Online 31 Dec 17;

SINGAPORE – The Government's agenda for the second half of its term will "bear the imprint" of the fourth generation leadership, who will be taking on "greater responsibilities and putting forth their ideas for Singapore", said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in his New Year message on Sunday (Dec 31).

The plans will be laid out when President Halimah Yacob delivers her inaugural address at the opening of the new Parliamentary session in May, after the Parliament prorogue in April following the Budget statement.

On the domestic front, Mr Lee said the Government will press on with its economic restructuring plans, as it continues to put in place all 23 Industry Transformation Maps, promote lifelong learning through SkillsFuture and help workers adapt and grow amid the volatility in the job market.

He noted that more pre-schools will also be built amid increasing demand, especially in the newer estates. Mr Lee had announced in the National Day Rally this year that 40,000 pre-school places will be added from now till 2022, bringing the total number to about 200,000.

Healthcare policies will be reviewed, while facilities expanded to prepare for an ageing population, said Mr Lee. A UOB report recently warned that Singapore's demographic "time bomb" will start ticking next year, as the country's share of its population who are 65 and above will match the proportion of those under 15 for the first time.

With public confidence in the rail network taking a huge hit this year due to two high-profile incidents – an unprecedented tunnel flooding and a train collision – which had caused massive disruptions, Mr Lee said the Government will continue to improve rail reliability and grow the MRT network.

On top of that, other infrastructure projects to boost Singapore's status as a transport hub are also in the works, said Mr Lee. These include the new Terminal 5 which will double Changi Airport's current capacity by the late 2020s, the Tuas mega port, and the Kuala Lumpur-Singapore High Speed Rail (HSR).

"All these are essential investments in our future. They require time and resources, and will stretch way beyond this term of government. We have to plan well ahead for them," said Mr Lee.

"This is how we have built today's Singapore – each generation working and saving for the future, building on what it inherited and passing on something better to the next generation. This was the creed that drove the Pioneer Generation of Singaporeans, and it must animate out generation too."

With 2018 designated as Singapore's Year of Climate Action, Mr Lee stressed the Republic is committed to meet its environmental goals under the Sustainable Singapore Blueprint. The blueprint – the latest edition of which was unveiled in 2015 – will guide sustainability efforts such as maintaining green spaces, reducing reliance on cars and creating a green economy until 2030.

Singapore will also commit to the Paris Agreement on climate change to cut emissions intensity by 36 per cent, from 2005 levels, by 2030. In the past year, the Government has announced plans to introduce carbon tax and tighten emissions standards for vehicles as part of its pledge.


Pointing to the uncertain global landscape in the year ahead, Mr Lee said that Singapore "must keep on strengthening our position at home and abroad". He noted that terrorism remains a threat, while the Korean Peninsula continues to be a source of "growing tension and anxiety", given North Korea's repeated missile tests.

Against the backdrop of a vague American foreign policy, Singapore also has to "keep relations with our immediate neighbours steady as they gear up for elections", said Mr Lee. Malaysia is expected to hold its elections after the Chinese New Year in 2018, while the run-up to Indonesia's Presidential election will begin towards the end of next year.

As Singapore is set to chair the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) next year, it hopes to take the group forward by focusing on the themes of "resilience" and "innovation", said Mr Lee.

'A GOOD 2017'

Looking back on the past year, Mr Lee said that although 2017 had started out with "some uncertainty", given the muted economic mood coupled with concerns over terrorism and the US' radical foreign policy approach, Singaporeans had "pressed on, undaunted by these challenges". Overall, it "has been a good year", Mr Lee said.

At home, the economy has grown by 3.5 per cent, double the initial forecast, while incomes have "gone up across the board", said Mr Lee. At the same time, security measures have been stepped up to guard against potential attacks.

Mr Lee noted that Singapore also strengthened its pledge to multiracialism this year through the introduction of the reserved Presidential Election, which saw Madam Halimah elected as the country's first Malay President in almost half a century.

On the external front, Mr Lee noted that Singapore has maintained good relations with both China and US, and bilateral relations with immediate neighbours such as Malaysia and Indonesia have been "positive".

"We dealt with the urgent concerns, but we looked beyond immediate problems and did not settle for quick fixes," said Mr Lee. "We made steady progress on our long-term goals, and are finishing the year stronger than we started. We are ushering in 2018 with confidence and strength."

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Looking Ahead to 2018: Key national issues to watch

Today Online 31 Dec 17;
No 4 is Year of Climate Action for Singapore

As we enter the new year, TODAY’s Looking Ahead to 2018 series — which was first published over the final week of December — examines 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 and climate change, to the terrorism threat and public transportation.

1. S’pore’s political succession to pick up pace

With a major Cabinet reshuffle on the cards early this year, 2018 could turn out be one of the most significant years in Singapore’s political history, and set the stage for the decades ahead — should Singaporeans and the world at large get the clearest indication of who will succeed PM Lee Hsien Loong as the Republic’s fourth Prime Minister.

Going by previous leadership handovers, PM Lee has left it late in giving the public an idea of who his potential successors could be, political analysts and observers say. They added that with the incumbent Government entering the middle of its term next year, the new generation of leaders has to take shape sooner, rather than later, to give them enough time to come into their own before the next General Election (GE) due by Jan 2021.

2. Restoring public confidence in MRT vital for car-lite goal

Up until two confidence-sapping train incidents struck in consecutive months late in the year, various parts of the plan to convince the public that there would soon be little need to own a car in Singapore were coming together nicely.

The MRT network, however, was always seen as the centrepiece of Singapore’s car-lite vision, given that nearly every home will be within 10 minutes of a station, albeit years down the road.

With public confidence in the rail network shattered by the two high-profile incidents — an unprecedented tunnel flooding and a train collision — how the MRT system holds up in 2018 will have a big say in whether the drive to nudge more Singaporeans into relying on public transport for daily commuting gets back on track, experts said.

3. More disruptions in store for taxi industry

Roiled by the most aggressive moves yet by ride-hailing operators Grab and Uber in 2017, the seven taxi firms here are in for a period of reckoning, experts said.

Their business model, centred on picking up street hails, has been rendered obsolete as commuters turn to the greater convenience and affordability of private-hire cars, and as things stand, they could become little more than vehicle providers, transport experts predicted.

4. To tackle climate change, all hands needed on deck

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

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.

5. Even as ISIS weakens, evolving terror threat looms for S’pore

The stranglehold of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in the Middle East is on the brink of collapse, and its leadership in disarray.

But although ISIS has been dealt one blow after another by an international military coalition in 2017, it is still holding fort online, with Singaporeans among those swayed over to its cause.

The threat of radicalisation is set to persist in the year ahead, and terrorism experts said Singapore must also keep on its radar the return of ISIS foreign fighters to their homelands in Southeast Asia, as well as the resurgence of a familiar enemy – the Jemaah Islamiyah.

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Bird watchers flock to Sentosa for glimpse of rare bird

Audrey Tan Straits Times 31 Dec 17;

SINGAPORE - The new year looks to be a good one for bird watchers in Singapore, who recently got a glimpse of a rare bird last seen here more than a decade ago.

Two Asian emerald cuckoos have over the past week been spotted around a particular tree, the Ficus superba, at Sentosa's Fort Siloso, drawing bird photographers to the attraction in droves. The species was last spotted in Upper Seletar Reservoir Park in 2006.

A migratory bird whose feathers have an iridescent jewel green sheen, the Asian emerald cuckoo is likely to have come from as far north as southern China to escape the winter chill, and would likely make its return journey only around March.

When The Straits Times visited the attraction at about 8am last Friday (Dec 29), at least 10 photographers already had their lenses aimed towards the tree. They were not disappointed - the bird made an appearance about an hour later.

But the Asian emerald cuckoo is not the only bird that the photographers were interested in.

Over the past week, the bald tree (Ficus superba) has also drawn a total of five migratory cuckoo species - the large hawk cuckoo, Indian cuckoo, Hodgson's hawk cuckoo, chestnut-winged cuckoo and Asian emerald cuckoo.

Bird scientist David Tan said: "(Having) multiple cuckoo species in a single tree is quite significant, as migratory cuckoos are usually solitary."

The birds were likely to have been massing on that tree due to the sudden appearance of thousands of hairy caterpillars, which are believed to be the young of the clearwing tussock moth (Perina sunda).

Dr Anuj Jain, of the Nature Society (Singapore) and BirdLife International, spotted thousands of caterpillars and pupae below the tree. The emergence of so many of them is unusual in the rainy season, he said.

"Usually, we see such numbers of insects after a dry spell, which is when plants expand resources and bloom all at the same time. This is good for insects, and is when their numbers boom," he added.

The hairy caterpillars are colourful but barely the length of a fingernail.

Dr Anuj said the bright colours are indicative of toxins in their caterpillars' bodies. The hair acts as a defence against predators. When touched, it can cause irritation to humans.

Signs have been put up around Fort Siloso by Sentosa Development Corporation, which manages the island, to inform people to keep away from the caterpillars.

They highlight too that the caterpillars are in the process of metamorphosis to turn into the winged creatures people are more familiar with.

This is the first time that the corporation has put up such a signboard, he added, as the sudden surge in caterpillar numbers had not been encountered before.

Referring to the bald tree, a Sentosa spokesman said: "As the tree has been shedding leaves and growing new shoots, it has attracted a significant number of caterpillars that feed on them."

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Not buying new clothes for a greener earth

Audrey Tan Straits Times 1 Jan 18;

This year, undergraduate Pamela Low wants to go on a diet.

It is not sugar and carbs that the 22-year-old wants to consume less of though, but disposables.

The environmentally-conscious student already carries around a reusable bag for her shopping, and her own bottle and container when buying food and drink for take-out.

She is going one step further by making a New Year's resolution of not buying new clothes.

"I will shop second-hand at thrift shops, or find outfits from my own wardrobe, my parents' and sisters'. This way, I can save a piece of clothing from going into the landfill and save money," said Ms Low, a member of the Singapore Youth for Climate Action (SYCA).

SYCA is one of the groups that the Ministry for the Environment and Water Resources (MEWR) is consulting on ideas for campaigns to raise awareness on climate change, as Singapore has designated this year as its Year of Climate Action.

Under this initiative, outreach efforts and campaigns undertaken aim to educate people on the impact of climate change, and the urgency of reducing carbon footprint, the ministry has said.

Ms Low, who was inspired to live a greener life after spending five months in Germany on a student exchange programme last year, hopes that by living out her resolution, she can lead by example.

She said: "I feel that the individual can get desensitised and disenfranchised by and with the whole concept of climate change... Rising sea levels can feel quite far-fetched for the individual.

"But everyone can do something to reduce the amount of disposables they use. There are also economic and health benefits in using glass or metal ware instead of chemically-infused styrofoam and plastics - and that helps the earth too."

Personal goals aside, Ms Low said she is also working with the National University of Singapore, where she is reading economics, and her alma mater, Tanjong Katong Girls School, to get their canteens to go "disposables-lite".

This means starting campaigns to promote the concept of eating in, instead of take-out, so that fewer disposable containers need to be used.

This includes putting up reminders at canteen stalls to let people know the options available - they can opt for no straw and to eat in, bring their own containers, or be charged for disposable containers.

The amount of waste Singapore generates has gone up - from 5.02 million tonnes in 2005 to 7.67 million tonnes in 2015.

The excessive consumption of resources and deforestation have contributed to the production of heat-trapping greenhouse gases that cause climate change, the human-induced warming of the earth.

The rate of warming over Singapore from 1951 to 2012 was 0.26 deg C per decade, more than double the global average over the same period.

MEWR will officially launch the Year of Climate Action in the second half of this month, Mr Masagos Zulkifli, Minister for the Environment and Water Resources, told The Straits Times. "Through the launch, we seek to create a stronger sense of urgency on the need to take action on climate change, and to energise the ground to pledge to join MEWR in the climate action journey," he said.

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Wild boar causes 2-vehicle accident along PIE, no injuries reported

Channel NewsAsia 1 Jan 18;

SINGAPORE: A wild boar caused an accident between two vehicles along the Pan Island Expressway (PIE) on Sunday afternoon (Dec 31), just after the Bukit Timah Expressway (BKE) exit.

This happened at around 5.50pm. Channel NewsAsia understands that no injuries were reported.

According to Facebook user Alex Loh who drove past the scene, the wild boar was struck by a lorry which was in turn hit by a car. Photos he took show a police car at the scene and the animal lying on the road.

Mr Loh said the boar was "bleeding from the mouth and kicking hard". Channel NewsAsia understands that the boar eventually managed to run off.

Source: CNA/gs

Wild boar causes 2-vehicle accident along PIE; no reported injuries

Straits Times 31 Dec 17;

SINGAPORE - A wild boar caused a two-vehicle accident on the Pan Island Expressway on Sunday afternoon (Dec 31), the latest in a series of incidents involving the animal on the roads this year.

The accident on Sunday occurred at around 5.50pm, just after the Bukit Timah Expressway exit towards Changi Airport.

The Straits Times understands that no one was injured.

According to teacher Alex Loh, 39, who drove past the scene shortly after the incident, a lorry appeared to have hit the animal.

A red car then rear-ended the lorry.

Photos Mr Loh took showed the boar lying in the middle of the expressway. A police car was also spotted at the scene.

"The boar was bleeding from the mouth and kicking hard, although I was not sure if it survived," said Mr Loh.

When contacted, Acres deputy chief executive Kalai Vanan said the wildlife rescue group was alerted to the incident, but the boar was not in the area when its staff arrived at the scene.

"This is another unfortunate incident where the boar may have found itself stranded by the expressway trying to cross from the forested area to the opposite side," Mr Kalai added.

Last month, police were forced to shoot a wild boar that was rampaging on the Punggol West Flyover, after responding to an accident involving the animal and a car.

Earlier in September, there were two accidents involving a wild boar in two days. The first on Sept 28 saw a wild boar cause a traffic accident on the Ayer Rajah Expressway that sent two people on a motorcycle to hospital.

The next day, three people were injured in an accident involving a wild boar, two cars and a van along Lentor Avenue.

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The world is running out of a resource, and it's not oil

A looming shortage of sand – a crucial resource once thought endless – could sink infrastructure projects, including those in China’s Belt and Road Initiative
LAURA VILLADIEGO South China Morning Post 31 Dec 17;

Kampot, in southern Cambodia, seemed an unlikely place for a development boom. Its quiet and idyllic streets and neighbourhoods nestled on along the Praek Tuek Chhu River made the rapid pace of so-called progress in other parts of South-east Asia feel worlds away.

But that quiet was shattered seven years ago as a wave of infrastructure projects began to swell, including the restoration of a railway that linked to the capital, the refurbishment of colonial buildings and the construction of a resort in nearby by Bokor Hill. The rapid development that followed created a need for raw materials, especially one: sand to make cement and concrete. And in the quiet Kampot, the sight of dredging barges, that extracted sand from the estuary of the river, became frequent.

As development spread, the extraction of seemingly endless sand became more prosperous. During this time, Cambodia was also exporting sand to Singapore, which had an insatiable appetite for the material to expand its territory through artificial islands.

While the money was rolling in – mostly on the black market – the government ignored calls from activists warning of the negative environmental and social effect of sand extraction. But an investigation in 2016 revealed that Singapore reported to have imported US$752 million in sand from Cambodia, but Cambodia only reported US$5.5 million in exports to the Lion City. This discrepancy forced officials to eventually halt all exports of sand in July after a public outcry.

“It was a systematic fraud”, says Alejandro Gonzalez-Davidson, co-founder of Mother Nature, an environmental group that spearheaded the inquiry. “Taxes were evaded for 95 per cent of the exports”.

Other countries in Asia, such as Indonesia and Vietnam, have also banned or restricted exports over the past couple of years because of the enormous environmental damage, while India has begun to limit licences it issues to export sand.

Some of the main suppliers have already said they won’t be able to keep up with demand. For instance, the Ministry of Construction of Vietnam, the second-largest producer of cement in Asia after China, recently warned that the country will run out of sand by 2020.

The restrictions come at a time of rapid economic growth in Asia and plans for massive infrastructure expansion across the continent. Many of these projects, such as the high-speed trains linking Laos and Thailand and Kuala Lumpur and Singapore, are being rushed through production after Beijing this year reshuffled its Belt and Road Initiative, a plan to boost global trade and diplomacy with more than 60 countries in Asia, Africa and the Middle East through development.

In 2018, the problem will worsen since demand will keep growing, especially in Asia, for a resource that is becoming more limited, Pascal Peduzzi, director of the UN Global Resource Information Database, says.

“In some [Asian] regions, the economic costs of the impacts from sand mining are starting to be noticed,” Peduzzi says. According to a 2014 UN report Peduzzi wrote, sand and gravel, which have surpassed fossil fuels and biomass to become the world’s most extracted materials, “are now being extracted at a rate far greater than their renewal”.

“Sand and gravel are the main commodities used for human activities. It is everywhere: roads, dams, buildings, airport, land reclamation …”, Peduzzi says. “It seems so usual and we have a lot of sand, we humans are poorly equipped for continuous impacts.”

Asian countries have been some of the main contributors to sand scarcity as development booms. Beijing’s urban growth quadrupled from 1999 to 2009, while New Delhi tripled its population in 25-years. Singapore increased its territory through land reclamation by 25 per cent over the past 200 years.

More than 70 per cent of total sand mined for construction in 2014 was used in Asia, mainly in China, according to the market-research firm Freedonia Group.

“The amount of concrete used by China in the last 4 years is equal to the quantity used by the USA in 100 years,” Peduzzi says.

And the trend is poised to continue over the next years. According to Price Waterhouse Coopers, Asia is slated to represent nearly 60 per cent of global infrastructure spending by 2025, mainly driven by China’s growth. In 2019 alone, Asia will need almost 11 million tonnes of sand, of which almost 8 million will be used in solely China, Freedonia Group says.

With an increasing demand and a limited supply, most of the analysts expect a spike in sand prices, especially in the developing world.

“Globally the price of the sand has not risen much so far but it is foreseen that the cost will increase soon,” said Aurora Torres, researcher at the German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research and co-author of a 2017 study on sand extraction.

In Vietnam, local media reported prices have already increased by 40 to 50 per cent and Freedonia Group forecasts that global price for construction sand will jump to US$8.60 per tonne in 2019 from 5.65 in 2004.

According to Torres, the lack of sand is propelling the globalisation of “a resource that traditionally was extracted locally”.

Impact on infrastructure plans will depend on national budgets. Singapore, the world’s largest importer, will probably have to pay a bigger bill to keep increasing the size of its territory, but “so far they will not stop their plan”, Peduzzi says.

The lack of sand might jeopardise some of the bigger development projects in the Belt and Road plan, Peduzzi says, including islands in the South China Sea that are being made by “dredging boats to pump the sand in the lagoon and cover the coral with this to create artificial islands”.

The shortage is also driving illegal sand extraction in the region, which can compromise the quality of the materials used in construction – and the stability of the structures built with such materials.

In India, “when there is an acute shortage … they will perhaps extract sand from the seasonal river beds”, says Ashutosh Limaye, head of research at global real estate services and consultancy firm Jones Lang LaSalle. “That high-moisture sand typically has very high silt content and this could go in detriment of the strength of the concrete for which that sand is used.”

But higher sand prices will be nothing compared to the environmental cost, Peduzzi says.

“We will face the [environmental] impact from sand extraction, [depending] on where sand is being extracted.”

Many countries in Asia are already seeing the effects. In Indonesia, several islands near Jakarta have disappeared because of illegal extraction. In China, sand extraction has caused a dramatic decline in the water levels of Poyang Lake, the country’s largest freshwater lake.

Brrr... Xi’s heavy handed pollution policy goes up in smoke
In Cambodia, the sand extraction in the Koh Kong province has caused long-term environmental impacts in the river and coastal areas and have displaced fishing stocks, Gonzalez-Davidson, of Mother Nature, says. “Impacts are difficult to understand because there isn’t any specific scientific research but we have documented a massive decrease in the crab populations and seawater intrusion in the mangrove area”, he says.

The ban allowed some recovery in the area, he says, but the long-lasting effect is still unknown.

e are not sure about the long-term impact already caused [but] I don’t think the mangrove will survive.” ■

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Chinese ban on ivory sales goes into effect

AFP Yahoo News 31 Dec 17;

Beijing (AFP) - China's complete ban on ivory trade went into effect Sunday, officials said, a major step forward in Beijing's efforts to rein in what was once the world's largest market for illegal ivory.

"From today... the buying and selling of elephant ivory and goods by any market, shop or vendor is against the law!" the forestry ministry said on its official account on Chinese social media platform Weibo.

"From now on, if a merchant tells you 'this is a state-approved ivory dealer'... he is duping you and knowingly violating the law."

The ministry added that the ban also applied to online sales and souvenirs purchased abroad.

According to the Xinhua state news agency, a partial ban had already resulted in an 80 percent decline in seizures of ivory entering China. Domestic prices for raw ivory are down 65 percent, it said.

The total domestic ban was announced at the end of last year.

By this March, Xinhua reported, 67 factories and shops involved in China's ivory trade had closed.

The remaining 105 were expected to close Sunday.

China had previously banned imports of all ivory and ivory products acquired before 1975, after pressure to restrict a trade that sees thousands of elephants slaughtered every year.

African ivory is highly sought after in China, where it is seen as a status symbol, and used to fetch as much as $1,100 a kilogramme.

Poaching in Africa has seen the elephant population fall by 110,000 over the last 10 years to just 415,000, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

Despite an overall fall in poaching, Africa's elephant population has declined in part because of continued illegal killing, said a report this year by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species.

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