Best of our wild blogs: 21 Jan 18

Wild ideas for mangrove restoration at Pulau Ubin
Restore Ubin Mangroves (R.U.M.) Initiative

Aberrations in Butterflies
Butterflies of Singapore

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Decaying Angsana tree beside SOTA cut down

Gaya Chandramohan Channel NewsAsia 21 Jan 18;

SINGAPORE: The prominent Angsana tree that stood sentinel at the junction of Bras Basah Road and Prinsep Street for around 40 years was cut down on Sunday (Jan 21).

Known affectionately as the Tree of Knowledge to The School of the Arts (SOTA) - whose grounds the tree occupied - it was recently found to have a cavity at its base and significant decay that had worsened over the years.

SOTA vice-principal Pauline Ann Tan, who was on site to oversee the removal of the tree, said she was sad to see the iconic tree go but agreed it was a matter of safety.

"It came to a point where every heavy downpour worried us, in case the tree fell in strong winds. Even yesterday's downpour had us worried," she said.

Henry Tan who attends church in the vicinity was taking videos of workers cutting down the tree when Channel NewsAsia approached him.

"I pass by this tree every week after church. It's sad that it has to be removed because it provided shade for those waiting at the traffic light," the 53-year-old accountant said.

Housewife Melanie Woo who frequently jogs in the vicinity was also sad to see the towering Angsana tree go.

"It's a very majestic tree, but that also means if it falls, it could be a disaster because the area sees a lot of foot traffic," she said.

But new beginnings will soon take root when sapling is planted in place of the SOTA Tree.

"We're in talks with NEA to select a suitable tree to be planted to replace the tree," said Tan.

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Digging up the past: Searching for treasures to unlock more of Singapore's history

With many potential archaeological sites in Singapore that have not been investigated yet, the hope is that undiscovered artefacts can reveal even more about the country's rich heritage.
Wendy Wong Channel NewsAsia 21 Jan 18;

SINGAPORE: While Pulau Ubin is best known for its rustic charm, bike trails and seafood restaurants, archaeologists think it may have hidden historical secrets.

A casual walk around the island provides some clues to its history, with storied shrines and temples, abandoned historical sites dating back to the 1800s, as well as two World War II gun emplacements nestled in a corner of the National Police Cadet Corps campsite.

Little is known about these emplacements, apart from the fact that they are estimated to have been constructed between 1936 and 1939. But wind back the clock to World War II, and they would have been playing a key part in Singapore's defences as Japan turned its attention to Southeast Asia.

Today, time has taken its toll on the battery, which betrays little of its colourful past. Not much remains apart from the basic concrete infrastructure, some of which has been transformed into a rock climbing wall.

However, attempts are now underway to assess whether there are more historical artefacts to be discovered, with the first in-depth archaeological surveys on the island.


A key focus for National Parks Board (NParks) and ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute (ISEAS) is to try to unlock more information about Ubin's - and Singapore's - past, beginning with the battery.

The first phase of the surveys, which involved fieldwork and basic sampling of the site, recently wrapped up earlier this month.

Depending on what is found, more surveys might be conducted in the western part of the island.

"It's virgin territory for us, because the western side remains largely unexplored till today," said Lim Chen Sian, ISEAS associate fellow and archaeologist, who is involved in the survey.

Depending on what’s found in Ubin’s first phase of surveys, more might be conducted in the western part of the island, which has been labeled as “virgin territory”.

And the same could be said about the rest of Singapore.

So far, all of the sites that have been excavated for hidden clues into Singapore's past are clustered in the downtown area, where the British colonial settlement existed, starting with the arrival of Sir Stamford Raffles in 1819.

But the Republic's rich history stretches much further back, with more secrets to be uncovered. Archaeologists believe there may be several possible excavation sites dotting the coast of Singapore, where the hypothetical ancient coastline existed.

"When Raffles was poking around looking for a place to start a new port, he settled on Singapore without ever being here," said Dr John Miksic, professor of Southeast Asian Studies at the National University of Singapore.

"Because he read in the Malay Annals that said Singapore was the first great Malay trading port, which used to be called Temasek before they changed the name to Singapura.

"That’s why he came here and immediately found a number of archaeological remains which confirmed his suspicions that Singapore was old … So there probably are 4,000-year-old objects still (to be) unearthed in Singapore," said Dr Miksic.

Excavations conducted over the last three decades have revealed a treasure trove of artefacts, with over half a million objects recovered from the 14th to 17th centuries, such as ceramic pieces, ancient coins and beads.

Bit by bit, archaeologists have been able to piece together Singapore's rich heritage with the help of these long-forgotten objects, to show a fuller picture of pre-colonial - and even prehistoric - Singapore.

For example, archaeological evidence points towards the existence of prehistoric people who lived along the coasts of Singapore and its surrounding islands during the Stone Age.

At the dawn of the 14th century, a rapid expansion of urban settlements around the Singapore River indicated an economic boom due to international trade.

However, after Melaka was established, Singapore's prominence as a thriving port began to shrank from the 15th century onwards. And the island remained relatively uninhabited for two centuries until a new population began growing around 1811 - which was what Raffles encountered when he stopped onto Singapore's shores eight years later.


Singapore's largest ever excavation took place around the Empress Place area three years ago, yielding more than three tonnes of artefacts over a 100-day period.

Leading the dig was Mr Lim, along with a troupe of volunteers.

"It was a major marathon excavation, and we worked non-stop for 12 to 14 hours a day, rain or shine," the archaeologist recalled.

"We were working on an extremely tight schedule, because we were sharing the site with the developer," Mr Lim said, referring to the deadline to develop the area into an integrated arts, culture and lifestyle precinct.

"We were just literally inches just digging from them … it’s amazing how we managed to work side by side."

But he also stressed that archaeology is not against development.

"Most of our work in Singapore is to remove objects - or to preserve things on record. So based on that there's no reason to oppose development. Development goes hand in hand with archaeology because it gives us opportunity to investigate the site."

Objects unearthed during the Empress Place excavation included pottery shards, bronze coins and Buddhist figurines, some of which stretch as far back as 700 years, providing further testimony to Singapore's deep historical roots.

Still, it’s not just about finding archaeological gold in the ground. The behind-the-scenes post-excavation process forms a huge part of the work - from data collection, to cleaning and cataloguing the artefacts.

It's a time-consuming and delicate process, described Michael Ng, research officer at Nalanda-Sriwijaya Centre's Archaeology Unit at ISEAS, as he held up a porcelain shard.

"The first thing is to wash and clean them - and even to clean and to wash there will be certain things where the glaze will be fragile. (They're) susceptible to damage so we have to be very careful with them."

"(After washing, they) will start to reveal a lot of details previously covered with soil. And subsequently we will sort these artefacts based on various categories, based on the materials used to make it. So for example ceramics, there's also subcategories like porcelain, stoneware, earthenware," said Mr Ng.

"After this step we’ll go into labelling, because what we're trying to do is to create a database where we can retrieve information so researchers can have access to it."

Currently, the majority of local artefacts are stored at the Nalanda-Sriwijaya Centre's Archaeology Unit at ISEAS, as well as the Archaeology Laboratory for the Department of Southeast Asian Studies at the National University of Singapore, where hundreds boxes of artefacts from various digs conducted over the years have yet to be processed.

The Archaeology Laboratory alone currently houses half a million local artefacts from digs as far back as the 1980s, along with a few thousand artefacts excavated from other sites in the region.

The two-storey facility keeps shelves stacked with boxes containing all sorts of artefacts, some neatly packaged and labeled with precise facts and details, others with just a brief description of where they were found.

"There’s this connection between human beings and past objects. And it’s hard to explain but it's obvious there’s a strong relationship – that’s why people collect various kinds of antiquities," Dr Miksic said.

"For many people just touching a 14th century object already puts them in direct contact with people who made it, who used it and who were their ancestors who lived here 700 years ago. And they feel touched by that."


For this reason, Singapore's first national heritage plan is placing a spotlight on archaeology. So far, more than 700 people have been consulted on the upcoming masterplan, with feedback highlighted in a travelling exhibition launched on Jan 9, and the masterplan to be officially launched this April.

"We’ve been holding focus group discussions with different archaeology experts, researchers (and) volunteers who have experience in volunteering in past archaeology research and excavations, and they’ve given us a lot of feedback," said Yeo Kirk Siang, Director of the Heritage Research and Assessment Division at the National Heritage Board.

This includes doing more in the areas of research and promotion of archaeology, attracting more Singaporeans to join the field, and "a more robust and systemic way of looking at where the archaeology sites are in Singapore", Mr Yeo said.

Archaeologists say they welcome the spotlight on the field.

Stressing its significance was Mr Lim, who said that archaeology is a crucial part of unlocking Singapore's history.

"History is usually linked to printed records - but what about unwritten stuff? We have very little historical record because manuscripts in tropical climates tend to deteriorate, like those written on palm leaves. So studying the past through objects and how things change is a huge part of it," said Mr Lim.

"Archaeology plays a very important role in not just telling you about beautiful objects. Of course it’s nice to look at beautiful stuff – it’s like finding treasure. But I believe (that) archaeology can tell us a lot about ourselves.

"I may not be related to anyone from Temasek 700 years ago, but I’m connected to the people from Temasek because I stand on the same ground. I have a history, link, connection with them. And archaeology can speak to all of us in terms of a sense of belonging and identity."

Source: CNA/ad

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13km network of cycling paths open in Bedok

Gwyneth Teo Channel NewsAsia 20 Jan 18;

SINGAPORE: Cycling around Bedok is now safer and more convenient with the completion of a 13km network of dedicated cycling paths.

The paths, painted in red, connect cyclists or riders of personal mobility devices between their homes and major transport nodes in the town. The marked paths also help pedestrians keep a better look out for bicycles coming their way.

Bedok is the second town after Ang Mo Kio to feature red cycling paths, said the Land Transport Authority (LTA) in a media release on Saturday (Jan 20).

There are also new bicycle crossings on the roads as well as more wheeling ramps at staircases.

LTA said it will expand Bedok’s cycling network to connect to the upcoming Siglap and Bayshore MRT stations on the Thomson-East Cost Line when they are operational after 2020.

As part of the Government’s plan to make housing estates more cycling-friendly, every HDB town will have its own cycling network by 2030.

Source: CNA/gs

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Commentary: Days of cool weather do not negate climate change’s destructive impact

With the cool weather that swept through Singapore, some residents wondered if there is a positive side to climate change. Such thinking is worrying, says an expert from the Earth Observatory of Singapore.
Benjamin P Horton Channel NewsAsia 20 Jan 18;

SINGAPORE: A few areas around the world this past few weeks experienced cold weather.

On Sunday (Jan 14), Singapore experienced its coolest weather since 2016. Admiralty and Jurong West recorded a temperature of 21.2 degrees Celsius.

A week before, across the Pacific, parts of the United States and Canada experienced some of the most brutally cold winters, with temperatures falling below -29 degrees Celsius, and wind chill making it feel more like -67 degrees Celsius.

Worryingly, one emerging view was that cold winter spells suggest climate change doesn’t exist or isn’t a problem.

Even worse, were often heard comments in Singapore by people who believed climate change could be a positive development in tropical countries if it caused a bit of a chill.

These views must be corrected because they’re not true. Such misinformation also obscures the work of climate change scientists to discuss what can be done about global warming.


The difference between weather and climate is a measure of time. Weather refers to the conditions of the atmosphere over a short period of time, whereas climate refers to how the atmosphere "behaves" over relatively long periods of time.

Put simply, weather is what is happening outside your door right now. For example, today, a thunderstorm is approaching. Climate, on the other hand, is the pattern of weather measured over decades.

When scientists talk about climate, they look at averages of precipitation, temperature, humidity, sunshine, wind velocity, as well as phenomena such as fog, frost, hail storms and other measures of the weather that occur over a long period of time in a particular place.

Winter and the monsoon still bring with them cold weather, but a few cool days in Singapore or the harsh winters in North America do not negate the fact that our planet is getting warmer over the long term.


In fact, world-renowned climate scientist Dr Michael Mann pointed out last week that extreme, harsh winters are precisely the kinds of weather conditions we should expect with climate change.

Other scientists suggest such events are becoming increasingly rare, with wintertime temperatures actually increasing in the United States.

What we are more certain about is that with climate change, warmer temperatures over oceans bring more precipitation to tropical countries like Singapore and greater snowfall in temperate countries like the US.

The cool weather and thunderstorms that Singapore experienced has been attributed to a monsoon surge in the South China Sea and the surrounding region.

Singapore experiences between two and four of them each year, mostly between December and March, but no doubt this year’s was intense as rainfall levels reached record highs, causing flooding in eastern parts of the island.

In North America, winter weather patterns are a complex interplay between the upper atmosphere conditions over polar regions and mid-latitude conditions over the oceans and on land.

While cold waves still occur somewhere in North America almost every winter, and this year’s particularly harsh, recent research has shown that cold outbreaks in North America are getting less frequent over the long term due to global warming.


It’s more important to focus on the irrefutable fact that our Earth is warming. Earth's average temperature has risen by 0.8 degrees Celsius over the past century, and is projected to rise another 1.5 to 4.5 degrees Celsius over the next hundred years.

The year 2016, with a mean annual temperature of 28.4 degrees Celsius, was Singapore’s warmest year on record since 1929.

Last year was the third hottest on record in the United States, only 2012 and 2016 were warmer than 2017.

In fact, the five hottest years on record in the country have been in the last decade, based on 123 years of record-keeping.

The bottom line is while there has been a smattering of days of all-time low temperatures, these pale in comparison to the all-time high temperatures seen in recent years.


The evidence showing the effects of climate change is clear. Rising global temperatures have been accompanied by changes in weather and climate. Many places have seen changes in rainfall, resulting in more floods and droughts, as well as more frequent and severe heat waves.

The planet's oceans and glaciers have also experienced some big changes – oceans are warming and becoming more acidic, ice caps are melting and sea levels are rising.

As these and other changes become more pronounced in the coming decades, they will likely present challenges to our society and environment.

For this and many other reasons, it is important to study climate change. Climate change affects people and nature in countless ways, and exacerbates existing threats that already put pressure on the environment.

One major concern is human migration because of the impact of climate change on water and security. News reports in December suggest hundreds of millions, perhaps billions, of people will be exposed to rising sea levels and shifts in extreme weather that will cause mass migrations away from the most vulnerable locations.

Climate change will also have major and unpredictable effects on the world's water systems, including an increase in floods and droughts, possibly causing displacement and conflict.


Food insecurity in South Sudan has increased 500% since 2012, according to the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification. (Photo: AFP/Albert Gonzalez Farran)

Scientists predict about two-thirds of the Himalyan glaciers will be lost by the end of this century if no efforts are made to prevent climate change. More than 700 million people in India, Bangladesh and Pakistan get their water from rivers that come from these glaciers.

Climate change will also have a significant impact on food availability, accessibility, utilisation and the stability of food systems in many parts of the world. Studies have shown climate change poses a significant risk to local food security, increasing crop failure and the loss of livestock.

If anything, the cooler weather lends greater urgency to climate change initiatives like those under the Paris Agreement. Science may be able to inform policy by forecasting how severe climate change will be.

But until we can shift our economy to greener energy sources and reduce our carbon footprint, global warming will persist, regardless of how cold it feels outside.

Professor Benjamin P Horton is principal investigator at the Earth Observatory of Singapore at Nanyang Technological University.

Source: CNA/sl

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49% of Japan's largest coral reef has bleached: Environment Ministry

Mainichi Japan 20 Jan 18;

Some 49.9 percent of Sekisei coral reef -- Japan's largest -- had bleached by the end of 2017, the Environment Ministry has revealed.

The figure is substantially less than the bleaching ratio of 91.4 percent on the reef between Okinawa Prefecture's Ishigaki and Iriomote islands at the end of 2016. However, "the water temperature remains high and the bleaching ratio is still high. We can't be optimistic," said an Environment Ministry official. "Coral in the area hasn't shown signs of real recovery, and remains in critical condition."

Bleaching occurs when water temperatures rise above a certain level, causing coral polyps to expel zooxanthellae, a kind of algae that lives in their tissues. Experts say coral bleaching tends to occur when the water temperature is above 30 degrees Celsius.

Since large-scale coral bleaching was observed in the Sekisei lagoon in summer 2016, the Environment Ministry has conducted a survey on the reef several times a year.

As the sea temperature around the lagoon often fell below 30 degrees Celsius in summer 2017, the latest survey found only 0.1 percent of coral in the area had died as a result of bleaching, significantly below the 70.1 percent from a year earlier. Moreover, healthy coral covered 14.7 percent of the total area of the reef inhabitable by the invertebrate, slightly above the 11.6 percent of a year earlier.

A nationwide Environment Ministry survey conducted last year shows that about 30 percent of the coral off Okinawa and the Amami Islands in Kagoshima Prefecture had bleached -- up more than 10 points from 2016 -- as a result of rising water temperatures.

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