Best of our wild blogs: 19 Feb 18

Now available: "The Singaporean Seas and Shores" by Wild Drawings
Celebrating Singapore Shores

Rain, rain go away…..Dec 31 – Jan 1 2018
Winging It

Frog Snail (Bufonaria sp.) @ Chek Jawa
Monday Morgue

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For new breed of local farmers, the sky’s the limit

WONG PEI TING Today Online 18 Feb 18;

SINGAPORE — In less than two years, green shoots sprouting from swathes of flat land may no longer be the image that best represents local vegetable farming.

If the proposals picked by the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) in a recent tender are any indication, the future of farming will consist of mid-rise “apartment blocks” for vegetables, as well as towering rows of leafy greens in next-generation greenhouses.

The winning companies said they are raring to place Singapore on the map for urban farming.

Backed by public-listed company Edition, a four-year-old firm called Meod snapped up the biggest number of plots – three – last week in the AVA’s first tender that featured a fixed price upfront, for companies to compete solely on concept.

The seven other successful tenderers each secured one plot in Lim Chu Kang.

With each plot spanning about two hectares, Meod’s three plots, which cost S$836,000, will significantly boost its existing operations, which started in January last year.

It currently farms on a one-hectare plot at the D’Kranji Farm Resort with an aim to produce about 500 to 550kg a day.

Fruiting vegetables like tomatoes and melons are planted there using trellis lines that allow farmers to string up crops and grow them to a maximum height of 4.5m. The method was inspired by practices in Israel and gleaned from Dutch consultants the firm engaged, said Meod director Jeremy Chua, 38.

In the new plots, Meod plans to grow only leafy greens using its proprietary hydroponics system, which features modular plant beds that can be stacked to heights of three to four metres.

Meod will also be making use of the data they have collected in its current farm – where they planted a mix of lettuce, Asian greens, herbs and Swiss chards – in a big way. Besides the temperature, humidity and light within the greenhouses, the company tracked the growth of seedlings and crops using various methods, as well as the time needed for each plant to reach a certain weight and stage of growth.

Such a science-based approach provided “a solid base to work with our consultants for the six hectares, to design and build the greenhouse and growing structures that can cater specifically to our local and regional tropical climate”, said Mr Chua.

He expects the newly secured plots to be operational in 12 to 18 months’ time.

Asked about its relative lack of large-scale farming experience, Mr Chua said: “We do have a team of consultants, both local and abroad to help with the size and scale. Two of our partners had also been heavily involved in the urban farming movement in Singapore since 2011 and 2012.”

Mr Chua said Meod hopes to write the chapter in Singapore’s farming story and “scale (the technology) beyond Singapore, specifically into South-east Asia”.

“We have to look at how to implement large and tangible improvements in harvest and yield with the help of technology, while still keeping costs realistic in the regional context,” he said.


At least two of the successful tenderers are taking their farming indoors, growing crops on tiered racks with light emitting diodes (LEDs) replacing sunlight.

Sunpower Grand Holdings was set up by Taiwanese academic Wu Yu-Chien.

Dr Wu holds a patent in LED technology that allows brightness to be adjusted with a computer, without the use of bulky magnetic components like transformers and inductors.

Partnering Ms Jean Ee, a Johor-based former banker, Dr Wu will be rolling out his invention for growing hydroponics fruits and vegetables in a real farm setting for the first time.

The technology will enable vegetables like kailan and xiao bai cai, which typically require 45 days to grow, to be harvested in 15 days, said Ms Ee, 45.

The yield from their three planned buildings is expected to be 900 tonnes a year. One building will hold up to 15 tiers of plants.

“If you leave it to nature, sometimes the weather varies,” said Ms Ee, whose mother is a traditional caixin and herb farmer in Johor.

She and Dr Wu also intend to build an education centre on their premises.

Another company, Farm deLight, will use its two-hectare plot to expand its 600sqm operation in Boon Lay.

It currently farms herbs and microgreens using red and blue LED lights, while smart controls regulate air-conditioning and the amount of carbon dioxide.

It intends to farm “common leafy greens” like xiao bai cai and kale going forward.

Meanwhile, Cameron Highlands farm operator Vegeasia has joined hands with beansprout farmer Tan Teck Tiang, 51, to set up an outdoor hydroponics system that uses PVC panels, as well as pumps and pipes to supply the crops with nutrients and water.

Vegeasia currently uses the technology in Malaysia, where it has more than 100 hectares of farmland that yields 40 to 50 tonnes of vegetables such as lettuce, caixin, kailan, and tomatoes a day.

Mr Tan said the S$1 million partnership aims to bring Vegeasia’s “tried, tested and proven” technology to the Republic.

“We (will) save a lot on trial and error,” said Mr Tan, who has about 15 years’ experience at his uncle’s company, Chiam Joo Seng Towgay Growers. The latter supplies about four tonnes of beansprouts a day to supermarkets here.

The AVA has high hopes for the eight companies. “We look forward to the contributions of these companies in transforming the local farming sector into one that is productive, innovative and sustainable,” Mr Melvin Chow, its group director of food supply resilience, said last week.

Its tender launched last August attracted 28 parties.

Among the unsuccessful tenderers was veteran farmer Wong Kok Fah, 56, who wanted to secure more land for high-tech farming “for my next generation” – his nephew Dave Huang, 33.

Mr Wong’s Kok Fah Technology Farm currently operates seven plots spanning nine hectares in Sungei Tengah.

The plots’ leases are renewed on a three-year basis and he produces about 100 tonnes of leafy vegetables like bayam (a variety of spinach), kailan and xiao bai cai monthly through a mix of soil cultivation and hydroponics.

Mr Huang, who joined the business straight out of university, said the unsuccessful attempt is not the end of the road.

It will give him “more time to perfect the system” before the next tender, he declared.

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Malaysia: Tourists appalled by slaughter of shark and manta rays

muguntan vanar The Star 19 Feb 18;

KOTA KINABALU: It was a heart-­wrenching Chinese New Year celebration for Sabah’s shark conservationist Adderick Chong as pictures of the slaughter of oceanic manta ray emerged after a lull from the diving havens of Pulau Mabul.

A total of two oceanic manta rays, 13 devil rays and one shark were slaughtered by people along the village at Pulau Mabul this weekend as shocked Chinese and western tourists took pictures and questioned their guides on why the killings were taking place.

He said the tourist guides said the tourists were appalled by the sight of the killings.

One of the tourists had told them that they came to Sipadan to dive and see the mantas and sharks under the sea. But, they only saw them on land being butchered, said Chong, who is Sabah Sharks Pro­tection Association president.

He said the manta ray was supposed to be gazetted as protected species under the federal Fisheries Act for Sabah last year but they still do not know what the status of the protection was.

Apart from the oceanic and reef manta rays, the federal Agriculture and Agro-based Industry Ministry had agreed to ban the hunting and finning of hammerhead shark, smooth hammerhead shark, winghead shark, and oceanic wingtip shark on the recommendation of the Sabah Fisheries Department.

Chong, however, said there has been no official word on whether the ban had been gazetted and had passed through the various legal requirements of the law.

“We want to know what has happened to the ban. This latest killing is really sad, we need the law to be enforced if the ban was in place,” he said.

Sabah has also proposed to ban shark fishing and finning at all six of its marine parks by the end of 2017 through an amendment to the Sabah Parks Enactment.

Last year, State Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Masidi Manjun said that the ban within marine parks, which covers about 8% of Sabah waters, would help in taking action against those caught shark hunting within the states marine parks.

State authorities had been pushing for amendments to be made to national fisheries law that will ban shark hunting altogether amid reports of a dwindling shark population.

Masidi, who supports the ban on shark hunting, said that there must be efforts to protect sharks in Sabah waters as it brought in more tourism dollars being alive and in the wild than being sold as seafood.

List shark and manta ray as protected species, Fisheries Dept urged
muguntan vanar The Star 20 Feb 18;

KOTA KINABALU: Sabah wants answers from the federal Fisheries Department on their promise to include six shark species and the manta ray in the protected species list.

Amid the latest slaughter of the rare oceanic manta ray at the tourist resort island of Mabul in Semporna, state Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Masidi Manjun said they were still waiting for an update on the ban.

“I have also asked the same question and am still waiting for answers,” said Masidi.

The federal Agriculture and Agro-Based Industry Ministry had said that they would include the hammerhead shark, smooth hammerhead shark, winghead shark and oceanic wingtip shark and the oceanic manta ray as totally protected by the end of last year.

Masidi said the federal ministry should give an update on the matter, echoing a similar call by the Sabah Sharks Protection Association president Adderick Chong.

Pictures of unknown individuals cutting up a 2m-long manta ray at a village in Pulau Mabul had shocked both Chinese and western tourists.

A total of two oceanic manta rays, 13 devil rays and one shark were slaughtered, according to witnesses.

Sabah authorities find their hands tied as there is no law against those hunting and finning sharks.

Sabah Parks director Jamili Nais said Pulau Mabul did not come under the Tun Sakaran Marine Park jurisdiction.

In another unrelated probe, Sabah Wildlife Department director Datuk Augustine Tuuga said they were investigating mutilated green turtles found floating near Pulau Mabul over the weekend.

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Malaysia: Villagers learn to keep Borneo pygmy elephants away using PVC 'cannons'

POLIANA RONNIE SIDOM New Straits Times 18 Feb 18;

TELUPID: Some young villagers here have been consulting with Sabah Wildlife Department’s Wildlife Rescue Unit (WRU) and resorting to google online to find ways to keep the Borneo pygmy elephants away effectively.

As human-elephant conflict grows in this area where the huge mammal has been trespassing into village settlements, they took the initiative to make ‘cannons’ from polyvinyl chloride (PVC) pipe, locally known as 'ladum', which is believed to scare the herd and prevent them from destroying crops and properties.

The step was taken following a shortage of staff in the department as well as WRU staff to fully manage the situation at six locations which have this problem.

Syaiful Anthony Stephen, 32, from Kampung Gambaron, said the villagers involved normally moved in groups of three to eight every night on patrol duty since a herd of elephants trespassed their village early this year.

The home-made ‘sound bomb’ made from PVC pipe, plastic bottle and gas lighter, uses spirit as explosive and a safety cone instead of a loud speaker to chase the wildlife back into the forest.

“Besides learning from WRU, we used the search engine ‘Google’ to see how ‘ladum’ is made by Indonesian community to scare elephants away.

“Previously, the herd would stay a week or two but now they stay longer - even over a month.

“So the number of elephants entering our village has grown and the situation if out of control. They not only damage crops but also property like cars,” he said when met here.

Besides his village, the other five areas facing the increasing human-elephant conflict were Kg Liningkung, Kg Bauto, Kg Telupid, Telupid town and Sekolah Menengah Kebangsaan (SMK) Telupid.

Previously the department director Augustine Tuuga said 20 elephants from two herds, believed to be from Deramakot and Segaliud forest reserves, were spotted at the village and were suspected to be the same herd of elephants which trespassed the place last year.

At the same time, Syaiful was hopeful that the district here could be promoted as a tourist attraction following more elephants being spotted.

“Since the elephants return every three or four months even after they are chased back into the forest, we hoped Telupid could gain prominence like Sukau amongst international tourists," he said.

"The presence of the elephants here can provide various opportunities, including economically.”

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Indonesia: West Kalimantan facing situation of emergency against haze of smoke

Antara 18 Feb 18;

Pontianak, W Kalimantan (ANTARA News) - The district administration of Mempawah of West Kalimantan has announced a situation of emergency against haze of smokes with a number of peat land areas having caught fire as dry season began to hit the region.

"The status of emergency will last until June 30, 2018," acting district head of Mempawah, Gusti Ramlana, said here on Sunday.

Gusti Ramlana said dots of bush fires had been monitored in a number of areas, adding the dry season began only early this month bur the impact is quite damaging.

"I hope the BPPD (local disaster mitigation agency) could give a map of areas vulnerable to forest and bush fires in Mempawah," he said.

Earlier, head of the Climatology station of the Memawah Meteorology and Geophysics agency (BMKG) Wandayantolis said rain is expected in a week in a number of upstream areas, but fires are feared to break out in number of other areas in West Kalimantan.

Meanwhile in Riau, the BPBD of the city of Dumai began to be busy in putting out fires ravaging 20 hectares of forests and farmlands in the area of Tanjung Penyembal.

The BPBD secretary Muhammad Ridho said the oil palm plantation had been on fire for several days as a result of extremely hot dry days and other causes not yet identified.

"A company takes part in seeking to put out the fires that sent thick smokes polluting the air," Ridho said on Thursday.

He said in January, BPBD succeeded in putting out fire in the sub-district of Sungai Sembilan Dumai, but fire began to break out again in the peat land.

Fire fighters are working hard to prevent the fire from spreading with equipment from a local company.

Forest and bush fires in Riau and West Kalimantan have been regular threat almost every year in this region sending thick smoke as far as Malaysia and Singapore.

The threat of drought triggered disaster came when a number of people have been reported killed in rain triggered landslides and floods in other parts of the country.

Editor: Heru Purwanto

Police ordered to arrest culprits of forest fires
Antara 18 Feb 18;

Pontianak, W Kalimantan (ANTARA News) - West Kalimantan`s police chief Brig. Gen. Didi Haryano, has instructed his staffs to arrest the arsonists forest and land fires in every region.

"We have tried to extinguish the land and forest fires at Wonodadi Street 2 and Patria Jaya Hamlet along with Regional military command XII and local people in Rasau Jaya last night. There were two settlements that were almost burned by the fires there," he said here on Sunday.

He said regional police and Indonesian Defense Forces (TNI) with local people made efforts to extinguish the fires. Luckily, the fires did not burn the residents` houses.

Didi revealed there would be many losses related to the fires, such as health problems, sea and air transportation`s disturbance because of the smoke.

He had experiences on land and forest fires impact to respiratory infections victims and transportation activity disturbances. He hoped this incident would not happen anymore in West Kalimantan.

Didi expected to cooperate with people in order to prevent land fires.

Forest and land fires started happening in West Kalimantan since this week. According to data of province`s Disaster Mitigation Agency (BPBD), there was around 182 of 2,000 villages have been monitored in the land and forest fire movement.

"We expect the assistance from police to prevent and punish the culprits behind the land and forest fires," Head of West Kalimantan`s BPBD, TTA Nyarong said.

Nyarong said there was high indication of hot spots in West Kalimantan in 2015. Then, it decreased drastically in 2016 and 2017. He urged the people to prevent the fires before they escalated too far.

Reported by Rendra Oxtora
Editor: Heru Purwanto

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Balding Philippines coral reefs prompt SOS call

Catherine Teves, Philippine News Agency Canadian Inquirer 17 Feb 18;

MANILA — Scientists are sounding the alarm on the plight of coral reefs nationwide.

They are raising the urgency for sustainably managing Philippine areas with coral reefs to help prevent these beneficial ecosystems’ further degradation and loss.

Latest data show the country is losing its coral cover, warned Dr. Wilfredo Licuanan, professor and director at De La Salle University’s marine station, Br. Alfred Shields FSC Ocean Research Center.

“Forty years ago, about 5 percent of our reefs were still in excellent condition, since more than three-fourths of the surface there was covered with live corals. We no longer saw this during our assessment over the last three years,” Licuanan said in a media briefing on board the environment watchdog Greenpeace’s ship Rainbow Warrior on Friday.

The problem is plaguing even Boracay Island, the scientist noted, as the country’s top tourist attraction has no more coral reef in excellent condition.

Such loss of cover highlights the need for sustainably managing coral reefs, so present and future generations could benefit from these natural resources, he said.

Licuanan said management strategies for achieving such goal could include closing off areas to help reefs recover from degradation.
“Closing off means managing people’s activities in the areas,” he said.

Coral reefs are underwater structures that naturally form over the years. These are made of accumulated skeletons of corals, which are marine animals that permanently attach to the ocean floor, according to experts.

They said coral reefs are among Earth’s most valuable ecosystems, as these support more species per unit area than any other marine environment.

The 2014 Asian Development Bank publication “State of the Coral Triangle” said Philippine coral reefs host about 3,053 fish species.

Based on the estimated 26,000-square km. coral reef area nationwide, the publication said annual potential yield from coral reef fish species is between 351,000 tons and 429,000 tons of fish.

“Reefs are important for food security,” UP Marine Science Institute professor, Dr. Perry Aliño, said at the press conference.

Aliño said reefs also act as a buffer to protect shorelines against waves, surges, and rise in sea level.
Coral reefs likewise serve as tourist attractions, he noted.

Sedimentation, marine pollution, destructive fishing, and negative impacts of coastal development are among the factors that contributed to Philippine reef damage, the ADB publication said.

Environment authorities said climate change-induced sea temperature rise beyond what corals could tolerate would stress out and possibly kill these animals.

“Corals are the first to feel such warming,” Philippine Coral Bleaching Watch coordinator Miledel Quibilan said at the press conference.

She said sea temperatures beyond 32°C would cause corals to bleach or turn white. Bleaching happens as such warming forces corals to expel the algae that live within them. The corals feed on these algae.

Coral bleaching is a problem particularly for the Philippines, where there is high dependence on coastal and marine resources for food and livelihood, noted Quibilan.

Earlier, Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) 6 (Western Visayas) cited coral bleaching as among the causes of coral cover decline in Boracay Island.

“Mean percent cover of live hard corals is 30 percent and soft corals is at 11.5 percent, which is considered fair,” DENR 6 said, citing results of its team’s underwater assessment in Boracay’s Coral Garden, Angol Point, Friday’s Rock, Laurel Island, Channel Drift, Bulabog Reef (Laguna de Boracay), and Yapak.

Regulating diving activities is among the team’s recommendations for saving coral reefs in Boracay, the DENR office said.

Meanwhile, the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) said the first mass coral bleaching event in the Philippines was reported in 1998-1999, beginning in Batangas and spreading nearly clockwise around the country.

The bleaching correlated with anomalous sea surface temperature, noted BFAR.

Decrease of live coral cover due to bleaching ranged from 0.7 percent to 80 percent, BFAR said.

Greenpeace Southeast Asia Executive Director Yeb Saño said government and industry must rapidly increase protection of marine ecosystems to help safeguard and strengthen natural climate mitigation and these resources’ ability to adapt.

Climate change, Saño stressed, is compounding challenges these marine creatures are already facing from pollution and other threats.

Saño said both government and industry must speed up the transition to 100-percent renewable energy by drastically cutting climate change-driving carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions from coal-fired power plants and other sources.

“The situation isn’t getting better. If we continue emitting carbon like we do now, we only have three years left before breaching the 1.5°C threshold,” he said at the press conference.

The Paris Agreement on climate change aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions worldwide to keep global temperature below such threshold.

In 2013, the US Navy ship USS Guardian ran aground in part of Tubbataha Reefs, a national marine park and one of the Philippines’ UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Licuanan said the damaged reef portion was already showing signs of recovery just five years after that incident happened.

“That portion recuperated by itself because the area was well-managed,” he said.

Removing the USS Guardian from the area helped reduce the stress on the damaged reef portion there, the professor added.

Pambansang Katipunan ng mga Samahan sa Kanayunan chairperson Ruperto Alerosa also said his group’s coordination with Calatagan municipality in Batangas province had helped improve the condition of reefs in this area.

“We encouraged our LGU to focus on protecting reefs,” he said at the press conference.

Small fisherfolk are among the country’s poorest, so further damage and loss of reefs will mean increasing poverty for this sector, Alerosa noted.

Greenpeace continues calling for climate justice, noting those least responsible for climate change are suffering the most from this scourge’s brunt.

Top greenhouse gas emission producers must account for their respective contributions to climate change, Greenpeace pointed out.

This week, Rainbow Warrior docked in Metro Manila to help promote Greenpeace’s campaign for climate justice.

According to Greenpeace, Rainbow Warrior will eventually sail to Guimaras province and Tacloban City for the same purpose.

“The ship will serve as a global platform for climate justice,” Greenpeace Philippines country director Amalie Obusan said at the press conference.
Climate change’s threats to coral reefs and other ecosystems highlight the urgency for climate justice, she noted.

The scientists had earlier cited the onslaught of extreme weather events and sea level and temperature rise as climate change’s impacts on the Philippines.

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