Best of our wild blogs: 4 May 18



6 May: Registration opens for Sisters Islands Intertidal walks in June 2018
Celebrating Singapore Shores!

Tree Hole Nest for rent at Pasir Ris Park
Singapore Bird Group


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Malaysia election: For Johor kampungs in shadow of mega Chinese project, voting ‘headache’ awaits

Johor’s Forest City development continues to leave an indelible impact on nearby villages. How local politicians have handled these issues may decide who gets the pick at the polls - or not.
Justin Ong Channel NewsAsia 3 May 18;

GELANG PATAH, Johor: As a boy, Rosli grew up swimming, playing and working in the waters around the jetty down the road from his house in the Kampung Tanjong Kupang area. He saw first-hand how local fishermen suffered in the last few years just going by their daily haul: If once they used to bring in 10kg of crabs, these days it's just one or two to show for an entire morning’s work.

He sat and listened to them complain about having to spend more on petrol, and risk life and limb, to explore further, uncharted waters away from their usual stomping grounds - which were rapidly deteriorating due to land reclamation projects.

Then he went home and without warning, the forest directly opposite was hacked down to make way for makeshift workers’ quarters. One dormitory became two, then became a hundred, and soon a mini-town sprung up to service a foreign workforce estimated at 12,000 - and still growing. Wandering about inebriated in the night, the workers started helping themselves to the mango and coconut trees on his porch, forcing his late father to “tumbuk” - or punch, in Malay - them, to protect his family.

Then there were the trucks and lorries and cement mixers, barrelling down narrow paths, driven by workers without licences. With neighbours on motorcycles and kids on bicycles, accidents happened and the odd death or two occurred. There was not a morning he woke up without fearing for his mother’s daily cycling - and even walking - commute.

And amidst the clouds of dust whipped up by the heavy vehicles Rosli, now 20, could see the cranes sitting on top of the buildings in the Forest City project, rising to the skies floor by floor, day by day.

Perhaps the most ambitious undertaking in the region, the US$100 billion Forest City mixed development was launched in 2014. When completed in 20 to 30 years the entire project will occupy four artificial islands south of Johor, spanning 1,400 hectares and housing some 700,000 people.

The joint venture - involving Chinese developer Country Garden, the Johor government and Johor Sultan Ibrahim Sultan Iskandar - is expected to yield RM30 million yearly for the state and create over 60,000 jobs, including a quota for locals.

At one stage Chinese nationals comprised up to 80 per cent of apartment buyers, but the number dropped after Beijing imposed capital controls on outflows in 2017. Still, late last year former prime minister and now-opposition leader Dr Mahathir Mohamad tossed Forest City into the political fray ahead of Malaysia’s election on May 9, when he argued that the Chinese buyers would eventually become citizens and thus alter Johor’s demographics and voting patterns.

“Simply put, Dr Mahathir raised the fear that Malays would lose clout in Johor due to the influx of Chinese residents in Johor,” said Saleena Saleem, a researcher at the University of Liverpool.

“WE CANNOT STOP DEVELOPMENT”

Last week, Country Garden announced that as part of its CSR programme, it would allocate RM100,000 to help local communities nearby, and that its impending Forest City Golf Hotel would be staffed by locals only.

The developer had previously offered Mandarin classes for youths and supported entrepreneurial efforts. It also gives a yearly handout of RM3,000 per fisherman, in view of their affected income from decreasing catches.
Some long-standing local hawkers in the area have also seen an uptick in business from the droves of arriving foreign workers. But others trying to do business in the surrounding new mini-town - which boasts a bus and taxi depot, barber, electronics shop and countless food options - have not been as fortunate.

A Malaysian running a clothes store there said he pays RM2,000 rental a month to a Bangladeshi, who had in turn paid an undisclosed sum of money to the developers.

“I don’t understand. That land is supposed to be ours. It’s our country,” said a local fisherman. “We find it odd, but maybe some local leaders didn’t do their job properly to have allowed something like this to happen.

“Shouldn’t it be that locals get to benefit from some kind of business from their presence here?”

Asked about the effects of the Forest City project Jason Teoh, Barisan Nasional (BN) candidate for the overseeing Iskandar Puteri federal seat, told Channel NewsAsia he recently worked with the developer’s security head to enforce a curfew: Shops in the mini-town will now shut by 11.30pm and no workers will be allowed to leave their quarters after midnight.

“If I’m elected I will definitely need to solve this issue … in a smart way,” he said, referring to Forest City’s collective repercussions. “We cannot stop development, but how that and personal interests of folks are taken care of - this balance must be present.”

“BAD TIMES, GOOD TIMES”

In nearby Kampung Pendas, a BN-supporting villager asserted that Iskandar Puteri, and its state seats of Kota Iskandar and Skudai, were sure wins for the ruling coalition.

“People around here like Jason very much,” he said. “He grew up here, he comes from a poor family - his father was a taxi driver - and he knows what the locals need.”

Word on the ground is that during the 2013 election, locals were angered by BN’s decision to drop Teoh at the last hour in favour of then-Johor chief minister Abdul Ghani Othman - so they voted for the incumbent, opposition veteran Lim Kit Siang, instead.

This time, things are quite different, said Dr Serina Rahman of the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute.

“Jason has been working the ground. People care that he comes during bad times and good times, not just during the election – he has been a constant and consistent presence in the area for years,” she added. “He’ll give away things - for example to local women for their household needs - and seems to have tried to genuinely help the locals with their problems.”

On the other side of the contest, Lim and other Democratic Action Party (DAP) members have repeatedly raised concerns over Forest City since 2014. They most recently pressed the Johor state assembly to reiterate how the project would benefit the state, prompting chief minister Khaled Nordin to clarify that 70 per cent of all its workers were locals.

But villagers said they have yet to see their member of parliament - and know nothing of Lim other than his name.

Ms Saleena explained that while the opposition’s criticism of Forest City stems from nationalist concerns, BN has defended Malaysia’s China projects and investors for bringing development and jobs to Johor.

“BN may seek to capitalise on Mahathir’s race-tinged criticism of the Forest City project, which didn’t go down well with voters in Malaysia, especially with some Chinese voters,” she speculated. “Coupled with knowledge of the Johor royals’ open support of Forest City, voters will have to decide which of the two opposing arguments makes most sense.”

NEEDED: "IMMEDIATE SALVATION"

With royal involvement, talk of Forest City is usually laced with sensitivity and explains why the public has not been as vocal, said Asrul Hadi Abdullah Sani, an analyst with BowerGroupAsia risk consultancy.

“But the undercurrent is strong, as many Johoreans cannot afford increasing property prices and cost of living,” he noted. “The project is a reflection of the economic disparity in the state.”

For rural voters, disgruntlement centres around rich people - both local and foreign - benefiting from a project like Forest City more than they do, said Dr Serina.

“There is a general mistrust of Chinese businessmen. The rural Malays place the bulk of the blame for the introduction of GST on them and the federal government leadership - in Johor, people do not like prime minister Najib Razak,” she added.

But Dr Serina also acknowledged that there were many generational supporters of the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), the party leading the BN alliance. And in a ward like Gelang Patah, rural Malays would not mind voting for a Malaysian Chinese Association member like Teoh because he would have the backing of UMNO.

“So the confusion is that the state BN government is very popular but Najib is not at all - it can be quite perplexing. In the end they might go with the safe vote and just choose BN to ensure that their Malay rights are protected,” Dr Serina said.

At the same time, the choice made by rural voters might have nothing do with politics, said the expert.

“Handouts work because they are struggling to survive and what they need is immediate salvation. They rarely look at conditions long term,” said Dr Serina. “Some say that while the government might have allocated assistance, those higher up in the hierarchy distribute those benefits to their friends and families.

“Many conclude that no matter who you vote, the community has no real power, and get no real benefits from either side," she summed up.

"So if there are better things to do, like good fishing, or if there’s bad weather - they might just choose not to vote to save themselves the headache.”

Source: CNA/jo


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Refreshed Bukit Timah Heritage Trail features new sites, thematic routes

Channel NewsAsia 3 May 18;

SINGAPORE: Decades before the Mass Rapid Transport and Light Rail Transit systems were introduced in Singapore, the country's first trains ran along the railway in Bukit Timah.

It was constructed to ease the traffic flow along Bukit Timah road, whose tendency to be congested dated even back to the late 1800s.

Now part of the Rail Corridor - which was opened in 1903 - sits empty of trains but not devoid of people, as it has earned itself a spot on the newly refreshed Bukit Timah Heritage Trail.

The trail, first launched in 2007, now comprises 38 heritage sites, the National Heritage Board (NHB) said in a media release on Thursday (May 3).

New sites on the trail include the Dairy Farm Nature Park, St Joseph’s Church, Adam Park, Former Command House, as well as the Fuyong and Former Princess Elizabeth estates.

These sites were incorporated into the refreshed trail as new information was uncovered through oral interviews and new research materials gathered from archival newspapers, maps and other resources from government agencies, NHB said.

Eight of the heritage sites also feature newly-installed trail markers, which contain the history of these sites: Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, Singapore Botanic Gardens, Masjid Al-Huda, Hoon San Temple, Former Ford Factory, the former Raffles College, the former Beauty World as well as Cheong Chin Nam Road, Chun Tin Road, Yuk Tong Avenue and Tham Soong Avenue.

The NHB has also created three thematic routes covering different segments of Bukit Timah Road to enhance the accessibility of the trail.

Spanning an average of 2.5km each, these cater to different interests and allow visitors to "easily explore in their own time the buildings, structures, religious institutions and sites of natural heritage that make up Bukit Timah’s multi-faceted history", NHB said in the release.

The Kampong Life Trail, which takes about an hour by bus and walking, features buildings and institutions that were once part of Bukit Timah’s kampung (Malay for "village") past, including a former railway station as well as houses of faith for communities that used to live there.

The WWII Legacy Trail, 1.5 hours by bus and walking, explores World War II-related sites as well as places that carry the "memories and legacies" of the Japanese Occupation.

Finally, the Leisure and Learning Trail is a two-hour walk that covers some of the social and leisure landmarks well-loved by residents and Singaporeans, including popular eating destinations, Singapore’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site as well as vital centres of research and education, NHB said.

NHB Assistant Chief Executive (Policy and Community) Alvin Tan said that he hoped the new aspects of the trail will provoke a sense of curiosity among Singaporeans and encourage them to look at these old sites with new eyes.

“With the stories, we wanted to add a more personal layer to the content and make it more relatable by telling stories through the eyes of Singaporeans,” said Mr Tan.

Community contributions also feature prominently in the refreshed Bukit Timah Heritage Trail, NHB said, adding that it interviewed members of the public who lived and worked in Bukit Timah to document their memories, anecdotes and experiences.

This is reflected in the trail's updated information booklets, which feature stories from people who used to live or work at some of the sites.

Available in the four national languages - English, Mandarin, Malay and Tamil - the booklet and map can be downloaded from NHB's heritage portal, Roots.sg, or picked up physically from several locations: Former Ford Factory, Asian Civilisations Museum, the National Museum of Singapore, the Peranakan Museum and NHB’s office at 61 Stamford Road.

One of the people whose stories and memories are shared in the booklet is Masjid Al-Huda chairman Azman Kassim.

Masjid Al-Huda, constructed in 1925, was central to the community life of Muslim villagers living in kampungs in the vicinity, according to NHB.

Mr Azman who used to lived in Kampung Tempe near the mosque, said he hoped the stories and memories he shared of living and growing up in Kampung Tempe will show Singaporeans and tourists what kampung life was.

His memories shine a light on, for example, how Malays and Chinese residents of the kampung lived together.

“Even though I was Malay, every year when they put up the Chinese Opera for the Hungry Ghost festival, me and friends would all go and join in,” said Mr Azman. "When they sold cheng tng (a Chinese sweet dessert with ingredients such as gingko, longan and barley), the Malays would be lining up as well.”

Mr Tan said that through the refreshed Bukit Timah Heritage Trail, NHB hoped to present a more complete and updated story of Bukit Timah’s heritage.

“As with all our heritage trails, we hope that the Bukit Timah Heritage Trail will showcase Bukit Timah’s rich and diverse heritage, foster a greater sense of pride and belonging amongst residents, and provoke a sense of curiosity amongst Singaporeans and entice them to visit and look at the estate through fresh eyes.”

Additional reporting by Revathi Valluvar.

Source: CNA/mz(aj)


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Hawaii becomes first US state to ban sunscreens harmful to coral reefs

In a bid to protect its marine environment, Hawaii has passed a bill banning sunscreens containing oxybenzone and octinoxate, chemicals that have ‘significant harmful impacts’ on ecosystems
Will Coldwell The Guardian 3 May 18;

Coral reefs and sunshine keep tourists flocking to Hawaii but add sunscreen to that holiday mix and the result can be serious damage to the marine environment that makes the islands so attractive to visitors in the first place.

This week Hawaii took action on the issue, passing a bill that will make it the first US state to ban sunscreens that are harmful to coral reefs. If subsequently signed by state governor David Ige, the ban will come into place in January 2021.

The bill focuses on two chemicals – oxybenzone and octinoxate – that are found in many sunscreens and notes that they “have significant harmful impacts on Hawaii’s marine environment and residing ecosystems”. It indicates that high levels of these chemicals have been found at popular swimming beaches and reef areas, including Waimea Bay, Hanauma Bay, and Waikiki Beach on Oahu and Honolua Bay and Ahihi-K─źnau natural area reserve on Maui.

A study in 2015, published in the journal Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology, found the chemicals have a range of effects on coral, including mortality in developing coral, bleaching of coral and genetic damage to coral and other organisms. It also found both chemicals can induce feminisation in adult male fish and increase reproductive diseases in creatures from sea urchins to parrotfish and mammal species similar to the Hawaiian monk seal. The chemicals can also induce neurological behavioural changes in fish and have possible impact on the many endangered species found in Hawaii’s waters, including sea turtles.

The study found oxybenzone had a toxic effect at a concentration of 62 parts per trillion – equivalent to one drop in six-and-a-half Olympic-size swimming pools.

“This is the first real chance that local reefs have to recover,” said Craig Downs, a scientist whose 2015 peer-reviewed study found oxybenzone was a threat to coral reefs. He found up to 14,000 tonnes of sunscreen lotion ends up in coral reefs each year. “Lots of things kill coral reefs but we know oxybenzone prevents them from coming back.”

Bleaching at a coral reef in the Pacific.
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A damaged coral reef in the Pacific. Chemicals from sunscreens can cause coral to bleach. Photograph: Bernardo Vargas-Angel/AP
Critics of the bill have argued that it’s just a “feel-good measure”, pointing out that other factors pose equally significant threats to coral, such as global warming and coastal development. The American Chemistry Council opposed the bill on the basis that sun exposure to humans is also a danger.

Reef-friendly sunscreens are already available. Edgewell Personal Care, which makes Banana Boat and Hawaiian Tropic sunscreen lotions, said it makes products free of the two chemicals. The company “will continue to ensure we comply with all relevant regulations concerning oxybenzone and octinoxate”.

In April, Hawaiian Airlines partnered with RAW Elements USA, to offer complimentary samples of its reef safe sunscreens to its passengers.

Authorities in other marine park locations – such as the Virgin Islands, south Florida and destinations in Mexico – have already been taking measures to encourage visitors to use sunscreens made with biodegradable chemicals such as zinc oxide and titanium oxide.


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Climate change aid to poor nations lags behind Paris pledges

Donor nations’ 2020 target of $100bn annual fund for adapting economies falls short by near 50% says Oxfam
Fiona Harvey The Guardian 3 May 18;

Finance for poor countries to help them reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and deal with climate change is lagging behind the promises of rich countries, an Oxfam report finds.

While taxpayer-funded finance has increased, and the private sector has stepped up with some initiatives, the amount raised could still fall short of the goal of providing $100bn a year to the developing world by 2020.

The 2015 Paris agreement on climate change re-stated the $100bn financial target, but Oxfam says the taxpayer-funded finance from rich countries in 2015-16 stood at about $48bn, or nearly half the amount promised for 2020.

In a 28-page report published Thursday, entitled Climate Finance Shadow Report 2018: Assessing Progress Towards the $100bn Commitment, Oxfam says funding announced by donor countries involves projects and aid not directly related to climate change.

The aid organisation found that only $16-$21bn of the overseas aid commitments fell under the strict definition of climate finance – if what was counted was just assistance directed towards reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and towards adaptations for climate change effects rather than economic and social development more generally.

Tracy Carty, senior climate-change policy adviser at Oxfam, said the money flowing to the world’s poorest and most vulnerable to tackle climate change was “sadly inadequate”.

At the Commonwealth summit held in London in April, governments from the Caribbean and Pacific islands – which make up close to half of the Commonwealth’s members – made impassioned pleas for assistance in dealing with storms, floods, droughts, sea level rises and other effects of climate change.

Carty said: “There’s no reason why rules for calculating climate [finance] should be more lax than those for [general overseas] aid. Governments have to agree new accounting standards for climate finance under the Paris agreement. This is an opportunity to agree fair and robust standards.”

Governments from around the world are meeting in Bonn this week and next under the auspices of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change to discuss how to implement the 2015 Paris agreement in practice.

Climate finance is a key, though contentious, subject under discussion. Rich countries say that when contributions from the private sector are taken into account the amounts of climate finance are in line with the Paris commitments. But Oxfam said there was “no common methodology” to account for the contributions.


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