Best of our wild blogs: 28 Jun 18

15 Jul (Sun): Make a difference for our horseshoe crabs
Celebrating Singapore Shores!

28 Jul (Sat): Paddling Sungei Khatib Bongsu with Kayakasia
Celebrating Singapore Shores!

July and Aug: FREE guided intertidal walk at Sentosa
Celebrating Singapore Shores!

Job: Student Research Assistant for NUS‒NParks Marine Debris Project (2‒4 months; deadline 13 Jul 2018)
The Biodiversity crew @ NUS

Read more!

LTA clarifies how it concluded that measures to protect wildlife from tests for Cross Island Line were a success

Audrey Tan Straits Times 28 Jun 18;

SINGAPORE - The Land Transport Authority (LTA) has elaborated on how it had earlier concluded that measures to reduce the negative impact of works for the Cross Island MRT line on the Central Catchment Nature Reserve (CCNR) have been successful.

On Thursday (June 28), in response to Straits Times queries, it gave details of how it had monitored animals in the area and noted that similar animals were found before and after the start of soil tests for the upcoming MRT line.

The tests are done to see if a train tunnel can be built under Singapore's largest nature reserve for the 50km Cross Island Line, the building of which is feared to have a negative impact on the area's wildlife. Nature lovers have been watching developments closely, and asked how LTA had concluded that the measures were successful.

On Thursday, LTA clarified in an e-mail reply that fauna monitoring works using about 90 camera traps started about three to six months before the soil works started. When the works ended, monitoring lasted about four to six months.

The authority said its findings "suggested that similar animals were present in the areas before and after the works, with various animal groups such as mammals, reptiles and birds captured by the camera traps".

Other than the Sunda pangolin and lesser mousedeer, which it mentioned in its earlier June 8 statement, LTA said another animal recorded by the camera traps was the common palm civet.

It did not respond to ST's query on the number of animals of each species spotted before and after the works.

Added the spokesman: "LTA continues to work with the relevant stakeholders to further analyse the data collected to deepen our understanding of the SI works on fauna activities in the CCNR."

In its statement on June 8, LTA said camera traps have picked up the presence of animals such as the critically endangered Sunda pangolin and the lesser mousedeer at the work sites after the completion of the soil tests. This, according to LTA's director of civil design and land, Dr Goh Kok Hun, "validated the mitigation measures developed".

Measures include reducing the number of boreholes required from 72 to 16, locating the boreholes on existing trails and clearings to minimise the impact on existing flora, and requiring the use of enclosures to reduce engine noise, and tanks to collect discharge.

While the measures were initially welcomed by nature groups, they told The Straits Times that more data, and better analysis of the data, was required before a conclusion about the success of mitigation measures is reached.

Nature groups are watching this closely as the debate over the Cross Island Line and whether it will eventually tunnel under the Central Catchment Nature Reserve would set a precedent for where Singapore draws the line between development and conservation.

When the line was first announced by the Government in 2013, preliminary plans showing it cutting through forests in the nature reserve alarmed the nature groups, leading them to propose an alternative alignment skirting the reserve instead.

The authorities are now considering both alignments - a 4km route, half of which would be under the nature reserve near MacRitchie Reservoir, and a skirting alignment that would take a 9km route around it. No decision has been made yet.

Separately, another study is ongoing to assess the environmental impact that would arise from the construction and operation of the MRT line for both routes.

The Straits Times reported in March this year that this study started last year and is expected to be completed later this year.

More clarity needed on how soil works for Cross Island Line affected animals in reserve: Nature groups
Audrey Tan Straits Times 28 Jun 18;

SINGAPORE - Nature groups and experts are calling for more information on how soil investigation works at the Central Catchment Nature Reserve affected native animals.

Without more transparency, it is impossible to tell if or how the animals were impacted, they said in response to a claim made by the Land Transport Authority (LTA) that findings on its measures to reduce the environmental impact of soil works "were encouraging and validated the mitigation measures developed".

The tests, which involved boring holes up to 70m underground to extract soil samples, were done to explore if the train tunnel for the Cross Island Line can be built under Singapore's largest nature reserve.

The LTA had put in place camera traps and done ground surveys to monitor wildlife for the first part of the tests. There is another ongoing environmental study.

The authorities are considering two alignments for the MRT line, a 4km route, half of which would be under the nature reserve near MacRitchie Reservoir, and a skirting alignment that would take a 9km route around it.

Earlier this month, LTA said that camera traps picked up the presence of animals. Its statement also included two camera trap photographs of pangolins.

On Thursday (June 28), an LTA spokesman said about 90 camera traps were deployed about three to six months before the soil works started in February last year (2017). When they ended late last year, monitoring was done for about four to six months. LTA's findings "suggested that similar animals were present in the areas before and after the works, with various animal groups such as mammals, reptiles and birds captured by the camera traps", she added, without elaborating on the number of such animals spotted.

The spokesman said LTA will continue to work with stakeholders "to further analyse the data collected to deepen our understanding of the soil works on fauna activities".

To reduce the impact of the works, LTA had put in place measures including reducing the number of boreholes and requiring the use of enclosures to reduce engine noise, among others.

The measures were welcomed by nature groups, but they told ST that more data, and better data analysis was required.

Ms Chloe Tan, spokesman for the Love Our MacRitchie Forest volunteer group, pointed out that the presence of one Sunda pangolin after the works could not prove anything, if there had been a greater population of pangolins using the area in the first place.

National University of Singapore biology lecturer N. Sivasothi noted that the soil investigation works for the Cross Island Line had been a serious intrusion into Singapore's protected nature reserve, and it was important that any statement arising from the works be substantiated.

"Right now, other than the two photographs of the pangolins, there is no scientific data to verify if the mitigation measures really worked," he said.

Read more!

3M launches one of Singapore's largest solar farms

Jose Hong Straits Times 27 Jun 18;

SINGAPORE - One of Singapore's largest solar farms, which can produce enough energy to power 500 four-room Housing Board flats, was officially opened on Wednesday (June 27).

The 14,000 sq m farm lies on the roof of science firm 3M's manufacturing plant in Tuas, and boasts 6,605 solar panels and 55 inverters. It can generate 2,400 megawatt hours of electricity a year.

The firm said the solar farm will help it reach its 2025 goal of using renewable energy to power a quarter of its global operations.

Giving a keynote speech at the event to mark the opening, guest of honour Amy Khor said that the farm would reduce 3M's carbon emissions by 1,139 tonnes per year.

Dr Khor, who is Senior Minister of State for the Environment and Water Resources, reiterated green policies in her speech. They include increasing the adoption of solar power in the national system by 2020 to 350 megawatts-peak - about 5 per cent of the country's projected peak electricity demand.

On Wednesday, 3M also launched its 10,000 sq m headquarters in Ang Mo Kio as well as a customer technical centre that displays the company's scientific innovations to the public. Among other things, the firm is known for its Post-it notes.

Since 1966, the global conglomerate has invested more than $1 billion in its Singapore facilities which span business, research and development and manufacturing. It now employs 1,600 in the country.

Speaking at the opening, 3M Singapore's managing director Yuko Nakahira said: "As we expand our presence in Singapore, 3M is looking into ways to foster more collaborations with local and regional partners, and develop Asia-centric solutions that address our customers' sustainability challenges."

The firm's solar efforts join moves by public and private players to make Singapore more reliant on power from the sun.

On Monday, HDB announced that solar panels would be installed and operated by Sembcorp in blocks of public flats managed by the West Coast and Choa Chu Kang town councils.

The project, which begins in the third quarter of the year, will bring HDB closer to its target of having solar panels in 5,500 blocks by 2020.

At the opening of last year's Singapore International Energy Week, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean said that without resorting to subsidies, Singapore could generate 2 gigawatts-peak of solar power by 2025, about a quarter of national projected peak electricity demand.

Currently, solar energy accounts for about 2 per cent of the country's power supply.

The Republic already boasts the world's largest floating solar panel test bed at Tengeh Reservoir, and national water agency PUB wants to deploy floating solar photovoltaic systems on more reservoirs.

In March, Microsoft announced that it would buy solar power from the Sunseap Group in Singapore, marking the technology company's first renewable energy deal in Asia.

Under the deal, Microsoft will buy 100 per cent of the electricity generated from Sunseap's 60 megawatt-peak solar power project for 20 years for its Singapore data operations.

Read more!

Thailand: Recycling of plastic, e-waste faces ban

Prohibition aimed at discouraging imports

The Department of Industrial Works (DIW) has promised to ban local factories from recycling plastic and electronic waste.

Department deputy chief Banjong Sukreeta said the proposed ban will effectively discourage factories from importing waste into Thailand and help authorities deal with the increasing amount of waste in the country.

He said the department is authorised under the 1992 Factory Act to forbid domestic plants to use plastic or electronic waste in their production processes.

The department is preparing to announce the ban, he added.

On a proposal that Section 44 be invoked to ban the import of both plastic and electronic waste, Mr Banjong said a working committee is studying the issue and, in the meantime, the department will delay considering whether to grant import permits.

Earlier, the department suspended the licences of five factories found to have breached the conditions involving the use of plastic and electronic waste for recycling.

The proposed ban was raised during a joint press conference between the DIW and the Customs Department after the inspection of a container suspected of being used to carry illegal waste into the country.

The container in question was found to contain capacitors and the DIW is expected to spend a month running checks on them to determine if they contain hazardous waste as stipulated under the Basel Convention.

Chaiyut Khamkhun, spokesman of the Customs Department, said about 400 containers are suspected of carrying illegally imported waste.

If the owners do not claim them within 30 days, the containers will be opened and the cargo examined, he said.

According to Mr Chaiyut, plastic and electronic waste are imported via two main ports -- in Bangkok and Chon Buri's Laem Chabang.

At Bangkok port, 89 containers have been left unclaimed 30 days after imports while Laem Chabang port has 300 unclaimed containers.

Eco-Manufacturing Ltd in Chon Buri's Si Racha district where they found its operations to be in compliance with the law.
Last year, about 53,000 tonnes of plastic and electronic waste were brought in for recycling.

As of June this year, about 37,000 tonnes of such waste had been imported.

A police team led by deputy national police chief Pol Gen Wirachai Songmetta inspected a warehouse in Chon Buri's Bang Lamung district and seized a container filled with scrap metal on Tuesday.

The inspection followed a tip-off by locals who spotted trucks unloading goods suspected to be toxic waste.

The warehouse operator was charged with the illegal possession of hazardous waste.

The police team also seized another 14 containers near the warehouse after the truck drivers fled upon seeing the officials.

Pol Gen Wirachai said a probe showed the waste was destined for Laem Chabang port for export, but the operators did not obtain proper documents for handling transport and storage.

Read more!

One football pitch of forest lost every second in 2017, data reveals

Global deforestation is on an upward trend, jeopardising efforts to tackle climate change and the massive decline in wildlife
Damian Carrington, Niko Kommenda, Pablo Gutiérrez and Cath Levett The Guardian 27 Jun 18;

The world lost more than one football pitch of forest every second in 2017, according to new data from a global satellite survey, adding up to an area equivalent to the whole of Italy over the year.

The scale of tree destruction, much of it done illegally, poses a grave threat to tackling both climate change and the massive global decline in wildlife. The loss in 2017 recorded by Global Forest Watch was 29.4m hectares, the second highest recorded since the monitoring began in 2001.

Global tree cover losses have doubled since 2003, while deforestation in crucial tropical rainforest has doubled since 2008. A falling trend in Brazil has been reversed amid political instability and forest destruction has soared in Colombia.

In other key nations, the Democratic Republic of Congo’s vast forests suffered record losses. However, in Indonesia, deforestation dropped 60% in 2017, helped by fewer forest fires and government action.

Forest losses are a huge contributor to the carbon emissions driving global warming, about the same as total emissions from the US, which is the world’s second biggest polluter. Deforestation destroys wildlife habitat and is a key reason for populations of wildlife having plunged by half in the last 40 years, starting a sixth mass extinction.

“The main reason tropical forests are disappearing is not a mystery – vast areas continue to be cleared for soy, beef, palm oil, timber, and other globally traded commodities,” said Frances Seymour at the World Resources Institute, which produces Global Forest Watch with its partners. “Much of this clearing is illegal and linked to corruption.”

Just 2% of the funding for climate action goes towards forest and land protection, Seymour said, despite the protection of forests having the potential to provide a third of the global emissions cuts needed by 2030. “This is truly an urgent issue that should be getting more attention,” she said. “We are trying to put out a house fire with a teaspoon.”

The new data is based on 30m resolution satellite data and records all forest loss, including that from forest fires. Human destruction causes virtually all deforestation in the tropics, a vast haven of both carbon and wildlife. Fires are dominant at higher latitudes, causing roughly two-thirds of losses in Russia and Canada, and may be becoming more common due to climate change.

New forests are being grown, in China and India for example, but the precise extent to which these offset the destruction of existing ones is not yet known, although it is clear that deforestation significantly exceeds afforestation. It is estimated that only about 15% of the forests likely to have existed before human civilisation remain intact today: a quarter have been razed and the rest fragmented or degraded.

Brazil, with its vast Amazon territory, is vital in fighting deforestation and for a decade from 2005 a government crackdown lead to falling deforestation. But tree felling is now rising fast again, as political strife distracts the authorities. “What we are seeing today is the backlash,” said Carlos Nobre at the University of São Paulo, Brazil.

More than a quarter of Brazil’s tree losses in 2017 were due to fires deliberately set to clear land. “Global warming makes much hotter temperatures, making forests more vulnerable to human-set fires and natural-caused fires,” said Nobre.

Colombia is a global hotspot for biodiversity but losses soared by 46% in 2017. The Farc, its largest rebel group, previously controlled much of Colombia’s Amazon territory, blocking access. But the demobilisation of the Farc has left a power vacuum and illegal clearing for cattle, logging and cocaine production has soared.

Indonesia has seen severe deforestation but this fell sharply in 2017, as a damp year cut fire losses and government protection of peat forests took effect. “One year’s data does not make a trend, that is true,” said Putera Parthama, director general for climate change at Indonesia’s Ministry of Environment and Forestry. “But we believe we are starting one.”

The destruction of trees does not just harm the environment, said Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, UN special rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples: “Along with this violence against the Earth, there is growing violence against the people who defend these forests.” She said half of the 197 environmental defenders killed in 2017 were from indigenous groups.

“Indigenous people have long stewarded the world’s forests that are crucial to the fight against climate change,” said Tauli-Corpuz. “The new data finds the rate of tree cover loss is less than half in community and indigenous lands compared to elsewhere.”

Read more!