Best of our wild blogs: 16 Jun 18

Beting Bronok doing better?
wild shores of singapore

BioBlitz Singapore
Butterflies of Singapore

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Green group wants race participants to feel ‘shiok’ about binning waste properly

KELLY NG Today Online 15 Jun 18;

SINGAPORE — As mass sporting events increase in popularity here, they have also become a potent reminder of the amount of rubbish generated.

Regular participants report heaps of trash in the form of used drinking cups, plastic bottles and banana peels left in the wake of races such as the annual Standard Chartered Singapore Marathon, which has attracted an average of 50,000 runners in each of its last four editions.

Eager to improve the environmental footprint of such events, a non-profit group is taking a different tack to encourage participants to chuck their recyclables appropriately.

Instead of the usual messages reminding people to separate their waste, Green Nudge deployed brightly coloured boards at last month's Sundown Marathon that posed questions such as, "How are you feeling?" and "Will you return for Sundown Marathon next year?"

In response to the first question, for instance, participants could toss their plastic bottles and drink cans into two bins labelled "shiok" (the local slang for feeling terrific) and "tired".

Special yellow bins were set up to collect banana peels.

About 20 Green Nudge volunteers – also known as "trash directors" – stationed themselves around the bins to ensure runners did not dispose of items that would contaminate the waste.

The group collected about 900kg of recyclables, some of which were used for art installations. About 700kg of banana peels (from about 10,400 bananas) were sent to community gardens to be used as compost.

At the OSIM Sundown Marathon in May 2018, Green Nudge collected 700kg of banana peels which were sent to community gardens for use as compost. Photo: Heng Li Seng

Green Nudge founder Heng Li Seng said he wanted to explore a "new method" of encouraging recycling that was more participatory and did not involve top-down directives.

"For a long time, messages (geared) towards recycling have been largely instructional. As much as we have the blue (recycling) bins and environmental education, these do not seem effective in translating to results. Recycling outcomes have been stagnant. We want to change this by appealing to their emotions to do the right thing," he said.

Singapore's domestic recycling rate last year was about 21 per cent, the same as in 2016. The overall recycling rate was 61 per cent.

Last year, 7.7 million tonnes of solid waste was generated, a decrease of 110,000 tonnes from 2016. But the amount of waste recycled also fell by 50,000 tonnes to 4.72 million tonnes, largely due to lower amounts of wood waste, plastic and paper recycled, according to the National Environment Agency. Sixteen per cent of food waste was recycled last year, a slight increase from 2016.

Mr Heng, 30, who was a civil servant at the Monetary Authority of Singapore before he joined a social enterprise that helps people with disabilities last May, said he wants to protect the environment for future generations.

He was inspired by United Kingdom-based avid marathoner Rima Chai — widely known as the "tyre lady" who drags a tyre with her at races worldwide while also advocating recycling — and joined her team of "green ambassadors" at the Standard Chartered Singapore Marathon last December.

He then set up Green Nudge, which has since rallied volunteers and worked with organisers of mass cycling event OCBC Cycle and the annual Sundown Marathon, both of which took place last month.

The response has been positive and the team is striving to find creative and engaging ways to capture the attention of participants who may be worn out from the gruelling races, he said.

Ms Chai, who has played a part in getting some race organisers in Europe and the UK to do without plastics or cups, told TODAY: "Our resources are finite and we cannot continue with the old ways of placing trash in a bin and passing the responsibility to the Government. The buck must stop with the consumers."

The 48-year-old, who has championed the cause at over 50 marathons in the past 12 years, is an IT professional currently based in London.

Ms Natalie Ong, 30, a Green Nudge volunteer at the Sundown Marathon, said most runners were receptive to its initiatives, although they may have been "uncomfortable" when first approached. One of them said he would consider getting his own reusable container for future events, said Ms Ong, who is self-employed.

With growing awareness of the massive waste and plastics problem worldwide and 2018 designated Singapore's Year of Climate Action, ground-up environmental efforts have been gathering pace in recent months.

Last month, four non-profit groups – the Centre for a Responsible Future, People's Movement to Stop Haze, Plastic-Lite Singapore, and Zero Waste SG – launched a guide called Makan SG to encourage eateries here to adopt sustainable practices.

The guide offers pointers on using ingredients with a smaller environmental footprint, reduce the use of disposable plastics, and manage waste more effectively.

The groups are also working with Control Union, a certifying organisation to develop a Sustainable Restaurant Assessment and Ranking system by next year.

This month, Plastic-Lite Singapore also launched Singapore's first reusable-bag sharing initiative, called Bounce Bags, in collaboration with Nee Soon Town Council.

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If everyone detests puppy mills, why do they still exist?

Siew Tuck Wah Channel NewsAsia 16 Jun 18;

SINGAPORE: It is difficult to resist cute puppies behind window displays in a pet store, their longing eyes begging us to bring them home.

Yet few know that almost every puppy for sale in Singapore comes from a puppy mill, whether local or overseas.

They are products of a multi-million dollar industry that has been exploiting animals for commercial gain for many decades.


Puppy mills are commercial establishments which breed puppies for sale, often intensively, on a large scale, and in appalling, cramped conditions.

Breeding animals suffer a worse fate than their sold-off offspring as mass breeding machines, where they are engineered to push out litter after litter of puppies, with little attention paid to their health, food and care.

In Singapore, most puppy farms are located in farmway areas such as Pasir Ris. Among them, 32 are registered with the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA).

Puppy mills used to be largely unknown to the public in Singapore. However, a rescue of 85 dogs from a commercial puppy mill in Pasir Ris in April 2010 exposed the horrors which went on behind closed doors.

The dogs were kept in filthy, small cages with little room to move around. Many suffered from severe skin problems, tick fever and pyometra (infection of the womb) and required urgent, extensive and expensive medical care. Some passed away despite rescuers’ best efforts.


There has been greater awareness about the cruelty behind puppy mills since 2010. AVA has also made significant improvements in the licensing and regulation of puppy mills in Singapore, including putting in place higher standards for those who sell animals as pets through a code of conduct for the pet industry.

Pet businesses are expected to comply with higher minimum standards of care and encouraged to adopt stipulated best practices on animal housing, management and care. Failure to meet minimal standards can be used to support prosecution or other enforcement actions to ensure animal welfare.

Since then, more frequent inspections seemed to have been carried out , with errant breeders taken to task and receiving heavier penalties.

In June last year, a breeder of a Pasir Ris pet farm was fined S$180,000 after a surprise inspection by AVA officers found dogs under his care suffering from poor health. One pomeranian was found completely blind, a husky had open wounds and five dogs were found with eye problems, including ulcers and swelling. It was a clear sign that AVA was serious about improving the conditions in puppy mills.

Crackdowns like these may serve as cautionary tales to puppy mills, but enforcement will remain a challenge if AVA manpower continues to be limited. The situation has improved compared to a decade ago, but conditions still vary greatly from puppy mill to puppy mill.

Stories of dogs found in dire conditions are also still commonplace. Just last year, SOSD Singapore rescued eight dogs with severe untreated medical conditions. They had been sick for years and were not given adequate medical care. Clearly, animal abuse and neglect still goes on in puppy mills, behind closed doors.


Studies have shown that there are increased incidences of distressing behavioural and emotional problems in dogs from puppy mills compared to dogs from more humane sources. They are also more aggressive towards their owners, people around them, and other dogs.

Dogs used for breeding in puppy mills are not spared either.

A 2011 study by the University of Pennsylvania, highlighted that breeding dogs not only had worse health problems, but also exhibited more persistent and extreme behaviour problems including aggressive reactions stemming from various phobia and, learning deficits.


Almost everyone is repulsed by the idea that so many dogs are born into savage conditions. Why then do puppy mills still thrive?

The truth is such heart-breaking conditions will persist despite best efforts from legislators, enforcement officers and animal welfare groups.

The industry is driven by demand. As long as people purchase these puppies, puppy mills will always be in operation, whether locally or overseas. Many pet stores that import puppies from other countries such as Australia obtain their supply of puppies from puppy mills.

The nature of a puppy mill, which is profit-driven, also suggests that owners are incentivised to spend less on space, food and care for these animals, especially those used for breeding. Most will never be able to fully provide the physical and mental stimulation and conditions needed for a dog to be healthy without charging an exorbitant price.

So the key to solving the problem lies not only in legislation, but also in public education.

Education about alternatives to buying puppy mill dogs have to be more robust. More government-led and public-driven campaigns need to be conducted to further increase public awareness of conditions in the puppy mill industry.

Singapore is maturing into a compassionate society. Once the true nature of puppy mills is laid bare for the public to see, I strongly believe that Singaporeans will not choose to turn a blind eye but will seek out more humane alternatives, where the desire to bring home a dog stems from an inherent love for animals.

Adopting a dog from a shelter not only saves the life of the animal but also helps to address the stray dog situation in Singapore.

People who prefer to buy a dog should do their due diligence to make sure they buy from responsible breeders rather than puppy mills and familiarise themselves with the reputation, track record and breeding practices of the breeder their dog comes from.

Doing so will not only ensure the health and quality of the puppy, but safeguards against pet owners contributing to the expansion of a trade that mistreats animals.


Singapore is on the right track in terms of animal welfare. The situation here is improving compared to a decade ago and is better than in some neighbouring countries, where animal welfare laws are lacking.

Today, many breeding dogs are rescued and put up for adoption by animal welfare groups such as Voices for Animals. They now have a much better fate than their predecessors, most of which were killed once they outlived their reproductive life.

However, Singaporeans still face significant roadblocks to adoption.

Archaic HDB rules state that we can only keep one small breed dog per HDB flat.

Most of the 1,500 dogs in animal shelters for adoption, on the other hand, are medium-to large-sized dogs which, according to the law, cannot be kept in HDB flats.

Unless these rules change to give Singaporeans more leeway in adopting dogs, it is always more convenient for prospective pet owners to pop into the nearest pet store, and purchase the next cute puppy they see.

Dr Siew Tuck Wah is President of SOSD, a Singapore-based organisation dedicated to rescuing, rehabilitating and rehoming stray and abandoned dogs.​​​​​​​

Source: CNA/sl


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In the Philippines, Dynamite Fishing Decimates Entire Ocean Food Chains

Aurora Almendral The New York Times 15 Jun 18;

BOHOL, Philippines — Nothing beats dynamite fishing for sheer efficiency.

A fisherman in this scattering of islands in the central Philippines balanced on a narrow outrigger boat and launched a bottle bomb into the sea with the ease of a quarterback. It exploded in a violent burst, rocking the bottom of our boat and filling the air with an acrid smell. Fish bobbed onto the surface, dead or gasping their last breaths.

Under the water, coral shattered into rubble.

The blast ruptured the internal organs of reef fish, fractured their spines or tore at their flesh with coral shrapnel. From microscopic plankton to sea horses, anemones and sharks, little survives inside the 30- to 100-foot radius of an explosion.

With 10,500 square miles of coral reef, the Philippines is a global center for marine biodiversity, which the country has struggled to protect in the face of human activity and institutional inaction. But as the effects of climate change on oceans become more acute, stopping dynamite and other illegal fishing has taken on a new urgency.

According to the initial findings of a survey of Philippine coral reefs conducted from 2015 to 2017 and published in the Philippine Journal of Science, there are no longer any reefs in excellent condition, and 90 percent were classified as either poor or fair. A 2017 report by the United Nations predicts that all 29 World Heritage coral reefs, including one in the Philippines, will die by 2100 unless carbon emissions are drastically reduced.

“It is a bit dismal,” said Porfirio Alino, a research professor specializing in corals at the Marine Science Institute at the University of the Philippines in Diliman.

The effects of climate change — warming waters and acidification that cause coral bleaching and push some reefs to death — are difficult to address. But if the stresses caused by human activity can be stopped, Dr. Alino explained, coral reefs have a better chance of surviving.

Dynamite fishing destroys both the food chain and the corals where the fish nest and grow. Blast fishing kills the entire food chain, including plankton, fish both large and small, and the juveniles that do not grow old enough to spawn. Without healthy corals, the ecosystem and the fish that live within it begin to die off.

New York Times journalists embedded with dynamite fishermen in Bohol who gave exclusive access on the condition that we not use their names or the names of the islands where they live, for fear of being arrested.

With a rubber hose attached to an air pump wedged between his teeth, and no other gear aside from a single homemade flipper and a pair of goggles, one of the fishermen sank 30 feet into the water after the bomb went off. He lurched along the ocean floor, collecting stunned and dead fish among the crevices and broken coral.

Twenty minutes later he surfaced, heaving for breath, with five high-value reef fish and 12 pounds of scad and sardines. It was a small catch. The men on the boat saved a few handfuls for their families, and sold the rest to a local trader. The two men split the earnings, about $10, between them.

The fisherman says it is the only job he knows that earns this kind of money. For legal net fishermen, six pounds of fish is a good day. Often, they come back with nothing. With dynamite fishing he can come back with 20 pounds and sometimes as much as 45 pounds, if he lucks out with a large jack or grouper.

Back on the island, one of the men lit a gas burner under a pan and used his bare hand to stir a splash of kerosene into white beads of solid ammonium nitrate. The fertilizer has been illegal in the Philippines since 2002, but the men buy sacks of it from dealers on a neighboring island.

The other man honed a kitchen knife against a stone, sliced off an inchlong fuse, wrapped it in a piece of aluminum and strapped on a match as a detonator. They scooped some sand from the ground, funneled it into the bottom of a used glass vinegar bottle and packed the bottle with explosives.

The fuse, he explained, gives him four seconds to throw the bomb before it explodes. A poorly made bomb or a distracted fisherman could prove fatal. Men on the islands have been left blind, deaf or maimed, and death has become part of the fishermen’s lore. Just this year, they said, a man from a neighboring island was killed, his arm and most of the upper half of his body blackened by the explosion.

In 2014, the European Union issued a yellow card to the Philippines warning that it would be banned from exporting to the bloc unless its fishing activities were better regulated. In response, the Philippines produced a new fisheries code that called for stricter measures against illegal methods and commercial overfishing. In 2015, the yellow card was lifted.

“Our law is harsh, painful and swift,” said Eduardo Gongona, director of the Philippine Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources. “We have no pity on illegal fishers and illegal fishing.”

Gloria Ramos, vice president of Oceana Philippines, a nongovernmental organization for ocean conservation, agreed that the new laws were strong but said they were not being properly implemented because of the influence the commercial fishing industry has over government officials.

Despite signs that Philippine fisheries are collapsing, Ms. Ramos said, “there is no sense of urgency.”

Mr. Gongona said groups like Oceana were overstating the problem in order to get more funding, and that any reduction in the numbers of wild-caught fish could be made up for by increasing the output of commercial fish farms.

On one of the islands of Bohol, Jaime Abenido, a grizzled 68-year-old handline fisherman who does not use dynamite, said that 30 years ago, he could go out to sea and fill his boat with fish “until it started to sink.” Today there are far fewer fish, he says, and the ones that remain are tiny. He listed half a dozen species he has not seen in decades.

Nevertheless, Mr. Abenido said he does not believe that fish are in danger of running out.

Despite the evidence, it’s common for Filipinos to deny the urgency of the problem, said Jimely Flores, senior marine scientist for Oceana.

“It’s quite hard to believe what the scientists are saying,” Ms. Flores said. “They don’t really feel that much impact until it’s really very bad.”

But to her the problem is already apparent.

“It’s happening,” Ms. Flores said. “In some dynamited areas, if you dive you don’t see any fish at all.”

Researchers have warned that if current trends continue, the global supply of fish could be dramatically reduced in coming decades.

In the Philippines, stocks have declined precipitously. According to a report by the Philippine national statistics board, the average daily catch in 1970 was 45 pounds. By 2000, that had dropped to 4.5 pounds. In those years, declining fish stocks pushed more people into illegal fishing.

In the office of Roberto Rosales, the local coordinator for coastal resources management for the town of Bien Unido in Bohol, is a mural depicting an officer standing on the edge of a boat, a machine gun clasped menacingly in his hands.

Illegal fishing has decreased from the lawless heyday of the 1990s and 2000s, and at first Mr. Rosales tried to deny that illegal fishing continued under his watch. He admitted, however, that the town has only four slow boats to patrol 130,000 acres of sea.

“It’s so very far,” he said.

Even if illegal fishermen are known to officials, it’s difficult to charge them unless they are caught in the act.

“We catch an illegal fisherman and they say, ‘This is our last year because our daughter is in college,’” Mr. Rosales said. “It’s really not enough. We have to address the needs of 17,000 fisher folks, and we cannot do it.”

Developing more sustainable fishing practices as well as other economic opportunities would help people transition out of destructive fishing, Dr. Alino said. Countries and corporations that emit high levels of carbon could also provide more support.

Back on the water, I asked the dynamite fisherman if he thought he was the reason there were fewer fish. He shook his head. His parents used this method before him, he said, and there are still fish in the sea.

What would happen, I asked, if the scientists were right, and the oceans did run out of fish? He contemplated the possibility for a moment. Patay, he answered. The fishermen would be dead.

But he doesn’t believe that will happen. The fish will never run out, he said. It was a statement more of denial than hope.

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