Best of our wild blogs: 3 Jul 18

11 July: Green Jobs Symposium @CleanEnviro Summit Singapore 2018
Green Drinks Singapore

20 Jul (Fri): Blue Nudge! Workshop on Marine Trash in Singapore
Celebrating Singapore Shores!

$78 million, plus a forest and its ecological functions, is the cost of the clubhouse
Everyday Nature

Now Crowdfunding and 85% Funded: Local, Sustainable Fashion Space, The Fashion Pulpit
Green Drinks Singapore

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Dispersion of seagrasses via vegetative fragments

National University of Singapore Phys.Org 2 Jul 18;

NUS marine biologists have developed a model describing the dispersal of seagrass via vegetative fragments for the ecological engineering of coastlines.

Seagrasses form vast meadows that are home to a great diversity of marine species. They are also one of the most valuable coastal habitats in the world, and provide a multitude of ecosystem services including coastal protection, nutrient cycling, carbon sequestration, and providing nurseries for fish and shellfish. Seagrass dispersal (i.e. how seagrasses spread to new areas) is critical to their long-term survival. However, knowledge on long-distance dispersal mechanisms is mostly related to sexual propagules, i.e. fruits. Dispersal via vegetative fragments has mostly been overlooked. Vegetative fragments are pieces of the seagrass plant that include rhizomes, roots and shoots. Following detachment from the parent plant, these can re-establish elsewhere to create a new independent plant. While there is evidence that such a process might be important for dispersal, little is known about the mechanisms involved. A better understanding of these dispersal mechanisms can eventually help researchers model how seagrass meadows remain connected, which is crucial for prioritising areas for conservation.

A research team led by Prof Peter TODD from the Department of Biological Sciences, NUS, partnered with scientists from DHI Singapore and the Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research to develop a conceptual model for seagrass dispersal via vegetative fragments which involves several distinct fundamental steps. Researchers are able to piece them together in a model to predict where seagrasses are able to disperse and take root.

The research team found that both settlement (the fragment remains on the substrate) and establishment (the fragment takes root in the substrate) rates increased with fragment age before these rates decrease due to decay. This suggests there may be a window of opportunity during which settlement and establishment are optimal, i.e. when the fragment has enough time to float away from the parent meadow, but not too long that it decays, loses viability and is no longer able to establish. Different species were also found to have different settlement and establishment rates. Out of the four seagrass species tested, the species Halophila ovalis was found to settle and establish quicker and more successfully than others. While the mechanisms that enable it to settle and establish more quickly are not apparent, this trait could contribute to its success as a pioneering species, especially in areas of newly accumulated sediment.

Prof Todd said, "The findings help determine the dispersal potential of different seagrass species and the kind of conditions needed for successful dispersal. This research represents significant progress in our understanding of how seagrasses can disperse without sexual propagules and has important implications for their conservation and management."

More information: Samantha Lai et al. Unlikely Nomads: Settlement, Establishment, and Dislodgement Processes of Vegetative Seagrass Fragments, Frontiers in Plant Science (2018). DOI: 10.3389/fpls.2018.00160

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Despite more charging points, obstacles abound to keep electric car sales from moving into fast lane

CYNTHIA CHOO Today Online 2 Jul 18;

SINGAPORE — Before Mr Peter Huang decided to buy an electric car, one of the concerns he had was whether there were enough charging points across the island.

"This is especially so because of my job as a full-time musician. My mileage is higher and driving patterns can often be quite unpredictable due to overseas trips," the 35-year-old said, adding that he clocks up to 100km a day.

After he got the Hyundai Ioniq in February, Mr Huang soon realised that this was no longer a concern.

He managed to work around the public charging points available and one provided at the car distributor. He told TODAY that "getting used to driving an electric car had a lot to do with a mindset change, more than anything else".

"Driving an electric car is very different from driving a fuel car," he said. "You have to think about it like an iPad or iPhone, where you charge as and when you can, rather than wait till you empty your tank."

Mr Huang is among a small but growing group of electric-car owners in Singapore.

The number of people who own electric vehicles (EVs) — including plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEVs) — jumped last year from 137 to 520.

However, these vehicles still form a tiny proportion of automobiles on the road, making up just a mere 0.09 per cent of the 574,443 passenger cars in Singapore.

So far, the take-up of EVs here has been slow, considering how the early models of electric cars such as the i-MiEV from Mitsubishi were first introduced as early as 2011.

Mr Jeremy Lee, 40, co-founder of SRX property has installed a charging port at home to charge up his Renault Zoe. Such chargers, however, are a rarity in public housing and condominium carparks. Photo: Nuria Ling/TODAY

Drivers who are hesitant to buy electric cars said that they have concerns over the lifespan and warranty of the car battery and the availability of charging stations.

Electric vehicles also cost about 20 to 30 per cent more on average than the ones running on petrol.

These are the common reasons why some drivers such as Mr Edwin Teo, chief operating officer of Xnergy, a start-up at the Energy Research Institute in Nanyang Technological University, are still ambivalent about switching to an electric car.

The 42-year-old, who drives a Honda Civic petrol car, said: "What would be more assuring is if I knew I could charge my car at my home, instead of having to drive out (to charge)."

To build up charging infrastructure and encourage more people to own electric vehicles, utility provider Singapore Power (SP) announced in mid-June that it will be installing 500 new charging points across the island by 2020.

The first batch of 30 will operate by the end of this year.

Other charging service providers such as Red Dot Power also have plans to set up at least 50 charging stations islandwide by the end of 2019 — with the first installation scheduled for September — while Greenlots is looking to boost its existing 16 stations by another 50 come 2020.

By 2020, too, electric car-sharing service BlueSG aims to make 400 of its charging points available for public use.

All these mean that drivers can expect close to 1,000 charging points in two years' time.

The charging status of a Renault Zoe belonging to electric car owner Mr Jeremy Lee. Photo: Nuria Ling/TODAY


Though the infrastructure plans sound promising, one analyst said that the distribution and accessibility of the charging stations would be crucial.

Dr Sanjay Kuttan, programme director of smart multi-energy systems at the Energy Research Institute, noted that a well-distributed network of charging stations will reduce "range anxiety".

Right now, only about 30 condominiums here have charging points installed.

Most of SP's 40 EV chargers are located at the company's depot and serve its fleet of vehicles.

Other providers such as Greenlots have put up its 16 charging points mostly in the Central Business District and Orchard Road area.

Accessibility aside, it might be useful to have a unified payment method, Dr Kuttan said, "like an EZ-link card where everyone can pay via the same mode".

This would make it more convenient for drivers to use the different charging points offered by various companies.

A 37-year-old civil servant, who wanted to be known only as Mr Ng, said that he will not be using electric cars anytime soon because he observed that chargers are not "commonplace" in his neighbourhood at Woodlands and he does not work "in the central areas".

However, from experience, electric-car drivers such as Mr Huang said that they have learnt to adapt and adjust travel routes to align with the locations of chargers.

The charging port of Mr Peter Huang's Hyundai Ioniq. Photo: Nuria Ling/TODAY

"For example, I knew I was going to be in town last weekend to catch a movie, so I decided to park at The Heeren because there is a charging point there. Then I walked over to another building to catch my movie," he said.


To help prospective owners ease into the transition, distributors such as Komoco Motors, which bring in the Hyundai model Ioniq, are offering free charging services to new buyers for their first 20,000km.

Distributors are also starting to bring in more affordable models of electric cars.

Besides the Ioniq, mass-market options include Renault's model Zoe, retailing for about S$140,000. The Nissan Leaf, while not available in Singapore yet, is expected to cost around S$160,000.

Dealers are already seeing marked interest in electric cars compared to last year.

Ms Preeti Gupta, director of corporate affairs at BMW Group Asia, said that the group has sold more than 50 EVs so far this year. Last year, the total sales were 73.

"We are confident this number will continue to grow as we introduce newer variants of both the BMW i3 and BMW i8 in the coming months," she said.

Wearnes Automotive, importer for Renault cars here, said that there have been at least 10 orders for models of its electric cars — the Zoe and Kangoo ZE — since they were launched last month.

Some dealers, acknowledging that they can do more to grow the EV population here, also said that the Government needs to put in more effort.

"For electric cars to truly hit the roads, it will have to be a combined effort from both car dealers and the authorities," Mr Ng Choon Wee, commercial director of Komoco Motors, told TODAY. "Car dealers to ensure that support and products are made available, while the authorities could accelerate (efforts) to ensure a strong network of charging facility and, most importantly, incentives (or rebates) to make electric-car ownership more affordable."

At the start of the year, the Government rolled out the new Vehicular Emissions Scheme (VES) to encourage car buyers to choose vehicles that have lower emissions of pollutants.

From July 1, all registered vehicles will be assessed on five pollutants listed in the scheme, which are carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons, nitrogen oxides and particulate matter.

Drivers will get tax rebates or have to pay a tax surcharge depending on their vehicle's emissions, with the maximum rebate or surcharge for cars being S$20,000, down from S$30,000.

While the VES is more stringent than the Carbon Emissions-based Vehicle Scheme it replaced, Dr Kuttan said that it is unlikely to be the swinging factor for people who are considering to buy electric cars.

"Buying a car is not just a simple cost plus. (Customers) look at brand value, perception value and other factors like their driving needs and patterns, too," he said.

"The VES is still quite arbitrary, and it is not very transparent, how one can move from one category of tax rebates to another."

What might prove to be a bigger obstacle is the perception of the wider aim to be a car-lite society, which runs counter to private-car ownership, which includes EVs, Dr Kuttan pointed out.

"With the Government spending millions to encourage public transportation, how can you have policies that support private car uptake?" he asked.

In this vein, he suggested that more could be done in addition to the VES scheme, to encourage the present population of car owners to "de-carbonise", such as by adjusting the Certificate of Entitlement (COE) scheme for registered vehicles.

For example, "a separate COE category" could be set up for EVs, to allow the Government to moderate the take-up of EVs, he said. "The VES tackles the type of car purchased but the COE strategy looks at the number of EVs in the pool."

"Together, this dual effort ensures that we have lowest tailpipe emission vehicles on the road and a highly de-carbonised transport sector."

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Malaysia: Video of shark in Malaysia restaurant aquarium sparks outrage

AFP 2 Jul 18;

A video of a blacktip shark being kept in an aquarium at a Malaysian restaurant has sparked online anger, with many calling for the animal's release from its confining home.

The eight-second video posted on Facebook by a diver who went to the restaurant outside the capital Kuala Lumpur showed the animal swimming back and forth in the fish tank described in the post to be "barely 6 ft long, 3ft deep and 3ft high".

It had 17,000 views and 283 shares as of Monday, with many commenters expressing outrage at the animal's cramped living conditions.

"Release the poor animal, this is absurd and so primitive," Nicky Cooper commented on the Facebook post.

"How can anyone enter that place and eat or drink there?"

"Free Charlie the Shark!!" Luis ON wrote, referring to the animal's name.

Blacktip sharks can be found in warm temperate and tropical waters along coastal areas across the world, ranging from the Atlantic to Indian and Pacific Oceans.

They can grow up to eight feet long and weigh up to 100 kg (220 pounds), according to the National Geographic website.

Targeted by commercial fisheries, the blacktip is classified as near threatened by protection group the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

Malaysian Nature Society president Henry Goh said sharks belong in the wild and cannot be treated like domestic animals for commercial use.

"Sharks are free ranging and should be left free in its natural habitat, the open sea," he told AFP.

There are 68 species of sharks in Malaysian waters, though only one, the whale shark, is protected.

The animals are generally hunted by fishing vessels, with shark fin viewed as a delicacy by many Asians and often served as a soup at expensive Chinese banquets.

The person who posted the video under the Facebook account Renaza Resort Indonesia on June 29 said he had gone for dinner at the restaurant, which had murals of sea creatures, including sharks, on the walls.

"As a diver this got me all excited. As I walked into the cafe admiring the place and the underwater themed decor... 5 steps into the shop... to my horror I saw a Blacktip shark in an aquarium inside the cafe," he wrote.

"Sitting in the cafe made me feel really sick and disgusted as I watched the shark swim in circles non-stop," he added.

"I wanted to think of how to save this creature, it did not do anything to deserve being treated like this. THIS IS ANIMAL CRUELTY!!!!!!!!"

Attempts by AFP to reach the restaurant's owners were unsuccessful.

However, posts on local food blogs suggest the animal may have been kept there since April 2015.

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Indonesia: North Barito replanting oil palm trees over 900 hectares

Kasriadi Antara 3 Jul 18;

Muara Teweh, C. Kalimantan (ANTARA News) - The District administration of North Barito, Central Kalimantan, is replanting over 900 hectares of palm plantations of the plasma farmers of PT Antang Ganda Utama in the sub-district of South Teweh.

"In the first phase, replanting will cover 900 hectares this year of a total replanting plan of 3,600 hectares of the plasma farms in the district," Abdurahman, head of the plantation division of district plantation service, said here on Monday.

The first phase of replanting is expected to be completed in 2019, Abdurahman said.

The replanting will cover the plasma plantations of 1,800 farm families including 350 hectares in the village of Tawan Jaya; 250 hectares in the village of Bukit Sawit, 150 hectares in the village of Pandran Permai and another 150 hectares in the village of Pandran Raya.

"After the completion of the first phase of replanting expected in 2019, the second phase would follow in the next year," he said.

Abdurahman said the oil palm trees of the plasma farmers have been too old reaching 23-24 years that their productivity has declined sharply. Normally the productivity was more than 10 tons of fresh fruit bunches a hectare, bur now they could produce on 8 tons per hectare per year.

The plasma plantations entitled to the assistance in replanting program of the district administration are those having the certificate and the plantations are not in forest lands.

The replanting program is a grant raised from the levies on crude palm oil exports.

The replanting will use high yield seedlings from nursery in Batam, Riau Islands , Abduragman said .

The plasma plantations of PT Antang Ganda Utama are the oldest oil palm plantations in Central Kalimantan. PT Antang Ganda Utama is now a member of the PT Dhanistha Surya Nusantara group which has 18,087 hectares of oil palm plantations with a CPO production of 3,200 tons per month.

The government also offers replanting assistance for oil palm farmers in other regions. Many oil palm plantations of the farmers have been too old and less productive .

Indonesia is the world largest producer of palm oil and palm oil is among the largest export earners for the country.

Editor: Otniel Tamindael

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'The ocean is my home - and it's being trashed'

Jonathan Amos BBC 2 Jul 18;

"If you opened your curtains in the morning and found that the grass was scorched, somebody had dumped a load of rubbish in your garden and animals were eating it - you'd be appalled. But that's what's happening in the oceans," says Sarah La Grue.

"The reefs are being scorched, there's rubbish on beaches and animals are eating it and getting tangled up in it. But we don't generally see much of this because it's in the oceans. Out of sight, out of mind."

Sarah is a yachtswoman who lives aboard her boat and is about to set out on a global voyage for science.

She and husband, Conor, have a vision to co-ordinate other like-minded sailors into a kind of research fleet to address some of the biggest issues facing our seas.

Their project - and the name of their 12m boat - is called Given Time.

The idea is to build a community of vessels that can gather data and conduct simple experiments, all at the behest of scientists.

Some of this information - water temperature, salinity, and turbidity - can be used to ground-truth oceanographic models and satellite observations. Other data, such as fish tissue samples, can help build a picture of animal health and the waters in which they live.

Just documenting places visited would compile "baselines" from which future change can be properly assessed.

Sarah's and Conor's open-source, crowd-science project will run off a website and an app.

"Beta boats" are being recruited to trial the basic research programme. The intention is that these vessels would then cascade the ideas and skills to other sailors wanting to join the programme.

"There's something like 4,000 long-term, live-aboard boats cruising the world," explains Conor.

"These are individuals, families, groups of friends; and they've made the oceans their home, and they want to look after them and get involved.

"These boats are increasingly going to some really interesting places - even into high latitudes like Antarctica and the North West Passage. These are places that professional research vessels may not often go, so we represent a fantastic additional resource."

Given Time is taking direction from scientific advisers, such as Dr Steve Simpson from Exeter University.

He envisages scientists plugging into the cruiser community to find boats in places of interest to their particular field of research.

Perhaps these scientists have a new instrument they want to trial or a new data-set they want to acquire.

A community yacht could make that happen quickly and cheaply.

"For us, ship time is the most expensive thing and that limits what we can do," says Steve. "And yet to understand the oceans, we really need big spatial coverage for our data-sets, and we need long time-series.

"So, the opportunity to work with people where the ocean is their home, to be gathering these global data-sets that build up year on year - that's a very exciting prospect."

Steve himself wants to use the boats as part of his research into ocean acoustics.

He's interested in underwater sounds to help interpret what's living in the oceans and how this environment is being affected by human-produced noise.

Yachts run silent, which makes it much easier to record and interpret the soundscapes picked up by his hydrophones.

"One of the real values of time-series like those cruisers could collect - is that we would see success stories," says Steve.

"An example: the beach clean-ups around the UK have demonstrated the impact of the 5p plastic bag charge.

"Since that charge came in, there's been a 40% reduction in plastic bags found on beaches. And you only know that because lots of people have been collecting data. That helps shore up policy."

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How mangroves help keep the planet cool


Coastal scientists have developed a new global framework to more accurately assess how mangroves along different types of coastlines from deltas to lagoons store carbon in their soil. They found that previous studies have underestimated the blue carbon levels in mangroves by up to 50 percent in some regions and overestimated levels by up to 86 percent in others. Their study published recently in Nature Climate Change will help countries develop and evaluate their carbon footprint and blue carbon inventory that potentially can be used in the global marketplace.

"We took a huge step further by testing a robust model that more clearly defines the global variation of carbon storage of coastlines taking into account different tides, river flow, geology and rainfall that occurs around the world," said co-author Robert Twilley, who is Louisiana State University (LSU) Department of Oceanography & Coastal Sciences professor in the LSU College of the Coast & Environment and the executive director of the Louisiana Sea Grant College Program.

Carbon is one of the most abundant chemical elements on Earth. It is in the atmosphere, the ocean and the human body. It is also part of carbon dioxide -- a gas that comes from both natural and manmade sources -- from exhaling to car exhaust. Excess amounts of carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere is connected to climate change. Carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere reached a historic high this year.

However, the ocean and coastal ecosystems can store large amounts of this excess carbon from the atmosphere -- referred to as blue carbon. Mangroves are considered blue carbon ecosystems similar to green carbon ecosystems found on land in forests and grasslands. Mangroves, saltmarshes and seagrass beds are connected to the shallow intertidal parts of the ocean, where they accumulate more carbon from the atmosphere than they release thus serving as blue carbon sinks. Mangroves are unique. They are tropical forests that thrive in salt water and are found in a variety of coastal settings from deltas to estuaries to weathered reefs and limestone rocks worldwide. Mangroves are able to store vast amounts of carbon in its soil for long periods of time thus helping reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in Earth's atmosphere.

The scientists focused their study on the neotropics, which covers the southern U.S., Central America and South America where about 30 percent of the world's mangroves live. The neotropics are considered a global blue carbon hotspot. However, many countries lacked blue carbon data until now.

"We saw an opportunity to improve the contributions of tropical countries around the world in mitigating carbon enrichment in the atmosphere by putting together a higher quality dataset and using a sound conceptual model of how different coastlines serve as carbon sinks to guide our modeling approach," said lead author Andre Rovai, who is a LSU Department of Oceanography & Coastal Sciences post-doctoral researcher in the LSU College of the Coast & Environment and is working with Twilley.

Rovai and his colleagues from Brazil, the U.S. and Costa Rica collected soil samples from 36 mangrove sites spanning from the Florida Coastal Everglades to south of the Amazon in Brazil. They measured the amount of carbon in the samples. They found that blue carbon has been underestimated by up to 50 percent in coasts with limestone rock, such as those found on the southern tip of Florida and in the Caribbean. The scientists also found that blue carbon has been overestimated by up to 86 percent in coastal deltas in previous studies. In addition, this study provides new estimates for about 57 countries that lack blue carbon data.

"We developed the first global blue carbon estimates of mangroves back in 1992, but this study uses a vast amount of new information on blue carbon together with a novel modeling approach to include unique coastal characteristics, such as tides and river flow, to improve the accuracy of global predictions, especially concerning how carbon storage may vary from one country to the next," Twilley said.

Tides aid in the exchange of nutrients, which can also flush out carbon; so mangroves located in areas with little to no tide tend to have higher blue carbon levels. Blue carbon levels also respond to river flow, which controls the type and rate of sediment and nutrient load to coastal oceans. These processes had not been factored into previous global blue carbon assessments.

"We hope our framework will provide countries with a more powerful tool to assess how their mangroves are mitigating carbon in the atmosphere, which will help these countries develop or revise their carbon dioxide emissions' inventories," Rovai said.

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