Best of our wild blogs: 6 Mar 18

10-18 Mar: "Our Home, Their Home” at Seletar Mall
celebrating singapore shores

18 March (Sun) - Free guided walk at Chek Jawa Boardwalk
Adventures with the Naked Hermit Crabs

24 March (Sat) - Free guided walk at Pasir Ris Mangroves
Adventures with the Naked Hermit Crabs

24th March 2018 (Saturday): Herp Walk @ Bukit Timah Nature Reserve
Herpetological Society of Singapore

Seashore fun for the family during the March school holidays
Celebrating Singapore Shores!

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How Benjamin Swan is spearheading sustainable farming in Singapore

Trailblazers under 40: Co-founder and CEO of Sustenir Agriculture has a grand and green vision to share.
KAREN TEE The Peak 5 Mar 18;

Built to be completely sealed off from the external environment, Sustenir Agriculture’s high-tech farming facility in the Admiralty industrial estate offers a glimpse of the future for food. The brainchild of Benjamin Swan, a former engineer, the 8,000 sq ft farm comprises tiers of tightly packed plants illuminated by colourful LED lights. Anyone entering must don lab coats and surgical masks before undergoing an air shower to ensure that no foreign material is introduced. “The plants are 100 per cent clean and are free of pesticides and pollution such as heavy metal contamination. Freshly harvested, they can be eaten unwashed,” says the 37-year-old co-founder and CEO of Sustenir.

He plucks kale and arugula leaves, cherry tomatoes and strawberries right off the plants, offering them around for a taste. Nurtured with a careful mix of nutrients, the kale isn’t as bitter and fibrous as regular kale, the arugula has a pleasant peppery aftertaste, and the fruits are intensely sweet and juicy.

The patented farming system enables precise calibrations in lighting, nutrients, temperature and air – allowing the crops to grow in half the time required of traditional farming and with 95 per cent less water, says Swan. In a 54 sq m space, Sustenir’s growing system produces one tonne of kale per month and double that for lettuce.

Swan, who’s always been passionate about sustainability, grew up spending a lot of time at his grandfather’s cattle ranch just outside Sydney, where he cultivated an appreciation for the natural world. When the Australian moved to Singapore in 2008 as a construction manager for Marina Bay Sands, it was to work on the building’s green features. Subsequently, as regional project manager at Citibank, he oversaw the construction of its regional offices to meet sustainability standards.

In 2012, he read an article about vertical farms and believed his skills in project management and engineering put him in an advantageous position to increase the efficiency of those operations. That very night, he sketched a series of prototypes for an indoor farm system that could be set up in any building. To refine the model, he spent the next six months meeting farm operators and professors around the world. “Not having an agriculture background allowed me to think outside the box, speak to the professionals about they way they did things and take sound bites from everyone to craft my own hypothesis,” he says. To test his theories, he set up a makeshift “farm” in the basement of co-founder Martin Lavoo’s home. There, he experimented with the conditions affecting plant growth, playing with multiple permutations of everything from light to nutrients. “We’ve taken farming from analogue to digital by capturing big data around plants,” he says, of the 18 months he spent testing about 48 iterations of the system before launching Sustenir in 2013. To date, the company has been self-funded by Swan and Lavoo.

Today, the facility is producing at full capacity and grows arugula, lettuce, tomatoes, strawberries, and two types of kale. The kale, harvested daily, is sold at over 50 Cold Storage outlets and supplied to restaurants including Les Amis, Da Paolo, Tung Lok Group and Salad Stop.

He emphasises that Sustenir has no intention to drive local farms out of business. “We grow non-native crops that otherwise wouldn’t do well in these environments.” Sustenir’s kale, for example, can keep for two weeks. At $8 for 200g, the company’s Toscano kale retails for 20 per cent less than imported organic American kale.

This year, Sustenir is setting up a farm in Hong Kong. There are also plans to establish an R&D laboratory to further improve the efficiency of crop growing. Swan sees this as just the beginning. “Unlike other growers that need to build a superstructure to house their equipment, our growing environment has been designed to go into any building as a plug-and-play system. We could take over dilapidated buildings or abandoned lots to grow amazing produce for the community. It’s an opportunity to fight the good fight and make a difference.”

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From foreign mussel to American bullfrog: A guide to invasive species in Singapore

Audrey Tan Straits Times 5 Mar 18;

SINGAPORE - Invasive mussels from the Americas have invaded the Republic's northern coast, spreading fast and forming dense mats that nature groups fear could have a negative impact on native animals here.

Rare horseshoe crabs and the Asian green mussel are among the native species that could be muscled out by the American brackish-water mussel.

Last Friday (March 2), scientists at the National University of Singapore (NUS) said at a media briefing that they had uncovered the identity of this strange mussel first observed here in 2016. This was done through genetic work and comparisons of the mussel with museum specimens around the world. They found this was the first time that Mytella strigata has been recorded in Singapore waters.


These are animals or plants from another region of the world that do not belong in their new environment, according to the United States' National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

"They can be introduced to an area by ship ballast water, accidental release, and most often, by people. Invasive species can lead to the extinction of native plants and animals, destroy biodiversity, and permanently alter habitats," said the NOAA on its website.

Since invasive species do not belong in the environment in which they are introduced, they lack natural predators that can keep their numbers in check.

Mr Lim Liang Jim, group director of the National Parks Board's (NParks) National Biodiversity Centre, said most alien species are known to be hardy and are capable of establishing quickly in new environments.

"They can multiply rapidly and compete with native species for resources such as food and shelter. In some cases, this can result in the disruption of native ecosystems. Alien species often pose a threat to native species which tend to have more specific niches," Mr Lim told The Straits Times.

The impact of the American mussel, observed to form clumps of up to 10,000 individuals, on local ecology is still being studied.

But Dr Serena Teo, one of the mussel study's lead researchers, said: "The Asian green mussel is widely cultured in South-east Asia. From our field studies, it appears that Mytella strigata would be a problem for fish farmers as it competes for space on mussel recruitment nets. This may have an economic impact as the much larger kupang would fetch a better price." The kupang is the colloquial name for the Asian green mussel.

However, Dr Teo, a senior research fellow at NUS' Tropical Marine Science Institute, pointed out that the Asian green mussel is a hardy species, and is considered an aggressive invasive species in the Americas. "It is unlikely to be easily trampled out," she said.


Following news of the invasive mussel from the Americas, many readers wanted to know if they can be eaten. The NUS researchers do not recommend eating them as a way of reducing their numbers. For one, there is no way of knowing how much toxins are in them. Mussels are filter feeders and toxins they take in could accumulate.

Invasive species can be brought in by ships too. Dr Teo said countries such as Australia and New Zealand have biosecurity laws which control the human transport of organisms into the country.

The International Convention for the Control and Management of Ships' Ballast Water and Sediments seeks to control the transport of organisms in ship ballast water. Singapore acceded to the convention which came into force internationally on Sept 8 last year, she said.

Ballast tanks on ships are filled or emptied of seawater to keep a ship stable.

Under the convention, all ships in international traffic are required to manage their ballast water and sediments to a certain standard. The International Maritime Organisation website said ships will eventually need to install an on-board ballast water treatment system, although an intermediate solution would be to exchange ballast water mid-ocean, instead of at ports.

Invasive species can also be introduced into local environments through the pet trade. NParks tries to reduce this route by educating people against releasing animals or unwanted pets into parks and nature reserves.

Mr Lim said NParks works with various agencies and non-government groups, including volunteers, to deal with this threat.

He said: "Conservation management, legislation and public education are the key measures used to deal with this threat. The most effective way to deal with the impact of invasive species is to prevent invasions before they even occur."

Those caught releasing animals can be fined up to $50,000 under the Parks and Trees Act.


According to NParks, these are some other examples of invasive species that can now be found in Singapore:


This turtle species, native to eastern and central US, is commonly sold in the pet trade. The terrapins are highly productive and can quickly establish a feral population when introduced into reservoirs. Their presence can affect native freshwater turtles such as the Malayan box turtle. A female slider can produce up to a dozen eggs twice a year, and out-breeds the Malayan box turtle, for example, which lays only two eggs each time.


These bullfrogs from the Americas are known to breed prolifically and compete with local frogs for food and space. Brought into Singapore as part of the food trade, this frog is commonly sold at coffee shops and markets for food, and in the pet trade as pet or bait for other aquatic animals.


A common discard from the aquarium trade, fish such as Geophagus altifrons are naturally found in the Amazon River basin in Brazil. They are also known as earth-eaters for their feeding habits. As they search for food, they gulp and stir up reservoir sediments.This increases the murkiness of the water and may cause nutrients to be released from the sediments, affecting reservoir ecology.


A commonly-sold ornamental aquarium species in Singapore, the crayfish is a potential carrier of diseases that can infect other invertebrates. It is native to Australia, but is posing a problem in many other countries where they are considered invasive, including places such as Jamaica, Mexico, Puerto Rico and South Africa.


Classified as a pest, the golden apple snail originally from South America is among the top 100 of the world's most invasive species. In 2012, the European Union banned all imports of snails belonging to the genus Pomacea because of their destructive impact on agriculture.

According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, they were likely to have been introduced to South-east Asia as a food item. The snail lays pink eggs in clusters of hundreds up to a thousand, one reason why native species of apple snails, which lay eggs only in the hundreds, are being crowded out.

Source: NParks, IUCN, Catalogue of Life

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Malaysia: Six rowdy Sabah jumbos caught

The Star 6 Mar 18;

KOTA KINABALU: Six elephants out of a herd of 20, which had been damaging the property and crops of villagers in Sabah’s central Telupid district, have been captured by rangers from the state’s Wildlife Rescue Unit (WRU).

WRU acting manager Dr Diana Ramirez said they included several aggressive ones.

“Our latest capture was a female elephant, one of the identified aggressive ones,” she said in a statement.

Dr Ramirez said they were working hard to keep elephants and villagers safe.

“Things are going as planned so far,” she added.

One of the males named Telupid, which was captured earlier, will be released at a forest reserve far from villagers.

Dr Ramirez added the herd, including several calves, had gone into plantations, housing areas, schools and the Beluran police station in search for food.

Telupid elephant crisis: Seven unruly pachyderms captured for translocation

KRISTY INUS New Straits Times 7 mar 18;

KOTA KINABALU: The Sabah Wildlife Department (SWD) has captured a herd of seven elephants which has been wreaking havoc in the Telupid area – five of which have already been translocated.

Its director Augustine Tuuga said the seventh pachyderm, a female, was caught yesterday.

The six elephants caught earlier were captured between Feb 22 and March 5, and comprise three female adults, two male adults and a male calf.

"The last two caught, both female, are waiting for the Hitachi (company to make) translocation arrangements," he said when contacted.

While the earlier-captured elephants were released in the Imbak forest reserve, the last two are likely to be sent to the Deramakot forest reserve.

Asked about the cost of operations so far, Augustine replied: "We have not counted (the total), but the estimate is RM30,000 per translocation.

"But there is also a lot of (assistance) coming from individuals and private companies, including food for the elephants while waiting for translocation," he added.

On what suggestions the Department will make when they meet with Sabah Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Masidi Manjun this week to discuss human-elephant conflicts, he declined to elaborate.

Previously, the NSTP reported that elephants have been trespassing through several villages in Telupid, with the most recent incident involving cases of pachyderms entering a secondary school and separately, a police station.

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Indonesia: 25 hotspots detected across Sumatra Island

Antara 5 Mar 18;

Pekanbaru, Riau (ANTARA News) - The Terra and Aqua satellites detected 25 hotspots indicating wildfires across Sumatra Island on Monday morning.

Of the 25 hotspots, 10 were found in Bengklu Province, seven in Riau Province, six in Riau Islands Province, and one hotspot each in the provinces of Jambi and South Sumatra, Sukisno, head of the Pekanbaru meteorology station, noted here, Monday.

In Riau, two hotspots were detected in the Meranti Islands District, and one each in the districts of Indragiri Hulu, Rokan Hulu, Pelalawan, and Kampar as well as in Dumai City.

The number of hotspots in Riau Province since early 2018 has increased significantly owing to which the Riau administration has declared a forest fire emergency status from February 19 to May 31, 2018.

Since January 14, 2018, fires gutted a total of 849.5 hectares of land.

The gutted forest and plantation areas were found in Meranti Islands District, reaching 218 hectares (ha); Siak, 130 ha; Indragiri Hulu, 121.5 ha; Bengkalis, 117 ha; Dumai, 109.25 ha; Pelalawan, 56 ha; Pekanbaru, 31 ha; Rokan Hilir, 26 ha; Indragiri Hilir, 24 ha; Kampar, 15.25 ha; and Rokan Hulu, 1 ha.

(Reported by FB Anggoro/Uu.F001/INE/KR-BSR)
Editor: Priyambodo RH

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Marine plastic: a new and growing threat to coral reefs

UNEP 5 Mar 18;

New evidence is emerging that shows that the human population’s obsession with all things plastic is poisoning one of the world’s natural wonders: coral reefs.

Much more than simply an object of beauty, coral reefs are living, breathing ecosystems, teeming with life. Although they occupy less than 0.1 per cent of the world's ocean surface, they provide an essential home for 25 per cent of all marine life; they are also vital for protecting coastal communities, acting as natural barriers from cyclones and rising seas; and 275 million people depend directly on them for their food and livelihoods.

Yet coral reefs are under attack on a number of fronts. In the past 30 years, we have lost up to 50 per cent of the world’s corals from the effects of warming sea temperatures due to climate change, overfishing, and a range of land-based activities. However, a major new study has revealed they are also under siege from plastic.

Each year, it is estimated that more than 8 million tonnes of plastic are ending up in the oceans – the equivalent of emptying a garbage truck of plastic every minute. We are producing 20 times more plastic today than in the 1960s. If we continue the current rate of plastic usage, we will have produced another 33 billion tonnes of plastic by 2050; a large portion of which will end up in oceans, where it will remain for centuries.

In a survey of 159 coral reefs in the Asia–Pacific region, published in Science this year, researchers estimate there to be a staggering 11.1 billion plastic items entangled in the corals. This number is projected to increase by a further 40 per cent in just the next seven years.

Of the 124,000 individual reef-building corals that were assessed, 89 per cent of those smothered in plastic were facing the threat of disease compared with only 4 per cent in corals free from plastic. The plastic debris starves corals of vital oxygen and light, and releases toxins enabling bacteria and viruses to invade.

In another study published in the journal Marine Pollution Bulletin in October 2017, scientists recorded a worrying development in the ingestion of plastic by marine wildlife. There is myriad evidence of marine wildlife fatally mistaking plastic debris, particularly microplastics, for food.

However, researchers observed coral were not simply mistaking the small plastic particles for food; they were displaying a deliberate feeding response when the plastic floated by. In other words, there is something dangerously tasty about the chemical compounds in plastic, a development the researchers warned needs to be better understood to prevent further contamination and disease.

The International Coral Reef Initiative (ICRI) has declared 2018 the International Year of the Reef. UN Environment together with partner organizations is working to raise awareness about the value and importance of coral reefs and threats to their sustainability, and to motivate people to take action to protect them.

#BeatPlasticPollution is the theme of World Environment Day 2018. Join the movement to break up with single-use plastic.

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