Best of our wild blogs: 21 Jan 18



Wild ideas for mangrove restoration at Pulau Ubin
Restore Ubin Mangroves (R.U.M.) Initiative

Aberrations in Butterflies
Butterflies of Singapore


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Decaying Angsana tree beside SOTA cut down

Gaya Chandramohan Channel NewsAsia 21 Jan 18;

SINGAPORE: The prominent Angsana tree that stood sentinel at the junction of Bras Basah Road and Prinsep Street for around 40 years was cut down on Sunday (Jan 21).

Known affectionately as the Tree of Knowledge to The School of the Arts (SOTA) - whose grounds the tree occupied - it was recently found to have a cavity at its base and significant decay that had worsened over the years.

SOTA vice-principal Pauline Ann Tan, who was on site to oversee the removal of the tree, said she was sad to see the iconic tree go but agreed it was a matter of safety.

"It came to a point where every heavy downpour worried us, in case the tree fell in strong winds. Even yesterday's downpour had us worried," she said.

Henry Tan who attends church in the vicinity was taking videos of workers cutting down the tree when Channel NewsAsia approached him.

"I pass by this tree every week after church. It's sad that it has to be removed because it provided shade for those waiting at the traffic light," the 53-year-old accountant said.

Housewife Melanie Woo who frequently jogs in the vicinity was also sad to see the towering Angsana tree go.

"It's a very majestic tree, but that also means if it falls, it could be a disaster because the area sees a lot of foot traffic," she said.

But new beginnings will soon take root when sapling is planted in place of the SOTA Tree.

"We're in talks with NEA to select a suitable tree to be planted to replace the tree," said Tan.


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Digging up the past: Searching for treasures to unlock more of Singapore's history

With many potential archaeological sites in Singapore that have not been investigated yet, the hope is that undiscovered artefacts can reveal even more about the country's rich heritage.
Wendy Wong Channel NewsAsia 21 Jan 18;

SINGAPORE: While Pulau Ubin is best known for its rustic charm, bike trails and seafood restaurants, archaeologists think it may have hidden historical secrets.

A casual walk around the island provides some clues to its history, with storied shrines and temples, abandoned historical sites dating back to the 1800s, as well as two World War II gun emplacements nestled in a corner of the National Police Cadet Corps campsite.

Little is known about these emplacements, apart from the fact that they are estimated to have been constructed between 1936 and 1939. But wind back the clock to World War II, and they would have been playing a key part in Singapore's defences as Japan turned its attention to Southeast Asia.

Today, time has taken its toll on the battery, which betrays little of its colourful past. Not much remains apart from the basic concrete infrastructure, some of which has been transformed into a rock climbing wall.

However, attempts are now underway to assess whether there are more historical artefacts to be discovered, with the first in-depth archaeological surveys on the island.

HALF A MILLION ARTEFACTS UNEARTHED FROM DIGS

A key focus for National Parks Board (NParks) and ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute (ISEAS) is to try to unlock more information about Ubin's - and Singapore's - past, beginning with the battery.

The first phase of the surveys, which involved fieldwork and basic sampling of the site, recently wrapped up earlier this month.

Depending on what is found, more surveys might be conducted in the western part of the island.

"It's virgin territory for us, because the western side remains largely unexplored till today," said Lim Chen Sian, ISEAS associate fellow and archaeologist, who is involved in the survey.

Depending on what’s found in Ubin’s first phase of surveys, more might be conducted in the western part of the island, which has been labeled as “virgin territory”.

And the same could be said about the rest of Singapore.

So far, all of the sites that have been excavated for hidden clues into Singapore's past are clustered in the downtown area, where the British colonial settlement existed, starting with the arrival of Sir Stamford Raffles in 1819.

But the Republic's rich history stretches much further back, with more secrets to be uncovered. Archaeologists believe there may be several possible excavation sites dotting the coast of Singapore, where the hypothetical ancient coastline existed.

"When Raffles was poking around looking for a place to start a new port, he settled on Singapore without ever being here," said Dr John Miksic, professor of Southeast Asian Studies at the National University of Singapore.

"Because he read in the Malay Annals that said Singapore was the first great Malay trading port, which used to be called Temasek before they changed the name to Singapura.

"That’s why he came here and immediately found a number of archaeological remains which confirmed his suspicions that Singapore was old … So there probably are 4,000-year-old objects still (to be) unearthed in Singapore," said Dr Miksic.

Excavations conducted over the last three decades have revealed a treasure trove of artefacts, with over half a million objects recovered from the 14th to 17th centuries, such as ceramic pieces, ancient coins and beads.

Bit by bit, archaeologists have been able to piece together Singapore's rich heritage with the help of these long-forgotten objects, to show a fuller picture of pre-colonial - and even prehistoric - Singapore.

For example, archaeological evidence points towards the existence of prehistoric people who lived along the coasts of Singapore and its surrounding islands during the Stone Age.

At the dawn of the 14th century, a rapid expansion of urban settlements around the Singapore River indicated an economic boom due to international trade.

However, after Melaka was established, Singapore's prominence as a thriving port began to shrank from the 15th century onwards. And the island remained relatively uninhabited for two centuries until a new population began growing around 1811 - which was what Raffles encountered when he stopped onto Singapore's shores eight years later.

"LARGEST RESCUE EXCAVATION"

Singapore's largest ever excavation took place around the Empress Place area three years ago, yielding more than three tonnes of artefacts over a 100-day period.

Leading the dig was Mr Lim, along with a troupe of volunteers.

"It was a major marathon excavation, and we worked non-stop for 12 to 14 hours a day, rain or shine," the archaeologist recalled.

"We were working on an extremely tight schedule, because we were sharing the site with the developer," Mr Lim said, referring to the deadline to develop the area into an integrated arts, culture and lifestyle precinct.

"We were just literally inches just digging from them … it’s amazing how we managed to work side by side."

But he also stressed that archaeology is not against development.

"Most of our work in Singapore is to remove objects - or to preserve things on record. So based on that there's no reason to oppose development. Development goes hand in hand with archaeology because it gives us opportunity to investigate the site."

Objects unearthed during the Empress Place excavation included pottery shards, bronze coins and Buddhist figurines, some of which stretch as far back as 700 years, providing further testimony to Singapore's deep historical roots.

Still, it’s not just about finding archaeological gold in the ground. The behind-the-scenes post-excavation process forms a huge part of the work - from data collection, to cleaning and cataloguing the artefacts.

It's a time-consuming and delicate process, described Michael Ng, research officer at Nalanda-Sriwijaya Centre's Archaeology Unit at ISEAS, as he held up a porcelain shard.

"The first thing is to wash and clean them - and even to clean and to wash there will be certain things where the glaze will be fragile. (They're) susceptible to damage so we have to be very careful with them."

"(After washing, they) will start to reveal a lot of details previously covered with soil. And subsequently we will sort these artefacts based on various categories, based on the materials used to make it. So for example ceramics, there's also subcategories like porcelain, stoneware, earthenware," said Mr Ng.

"After this step we’ll go into labelling, because what we're trying to do is to create a database where we can retrieve information so researchers can have access to it."

Currently, the majority of local artefacts are stored at the Nalanda-Sriwijaya Centre's Archaeology Unit at ISEAS, as well as the Archaeology Laboratory for the Department of Southeast Asian Studies at the National University of Singapore, where hundreds boxes of artefacts from various digs conducted over the years have yet to be processed.

The Archaeology Laboratory alone currently houses half a million local artefacts from digs as far back as the 1980s, along with a few thousand artefacts excavated from other sites in the region.

The two-storey facility keeps shelves stacked with boxes containing all sorts of artefacts, some neatly packaged and labeled with precise facts and details, others with just a brief description of where they were found.

"There’s this connection between human beings and past objects. And it’s hard to explain but it's obvious there’s a strong relationship – that’s why people collect various kinds of antiquities," Dr Miksic said.

"For many people just touching a 14th century object already puts them in direct contact with people who made it, who used it and who were their ancestors who lived here 700 years ago. And they feel touched by that."

ARCHAEOLOGY TO FEATURE IN FIRST NATIONAL HERITAGE PLAN

For this reason, Singapore's first national heritage plan is placing a spotlight on archaeology. So far, more than 700 people have been consulted on the upcoming masterplan, with feedback highlighted in a travelling exhibition launched on Jan 9, and the masterplan to be officially launched this April.

"We’ve been holding focus group discussions with different archaeology experts, researchers (and) volunteers who have experience in volunteering in past archaeology research and excavations, and they’ve given us a lot of feedback," said Yeo Kirk Siang, Director of the Heritage Research and Assessment Division at the National Heritage Board.

This includes doing more in the areas of research and promotion of archaeology, attracting more Singaporeans to join the field, and "a more robust and systemic way of looking at where the archaeology sites are in Singapore", Mr Yeo said.

Archaeologists say they welcome the spotlight on the field.

Stressing its significance was Mr Lim, who said that archaeology is a crucial part of unlocking Singapore's history.

"History is usually linked to printed records - but what about unwritten stuff? We have very little historical record because manuscripts in tropical climates tend to deteriorate, like those written on palm leaves. So studying the past through objects and how things change is a huge part of it," said Mr Lim.

"Archaeology plays a very important role in not just telling you about beautiful objects. Of course it’s nice to look at beautiful stuff – it’s like finding treasure. But I believe (that) archaeology can tell us a lot about ourselves.

"I may not be related to anyone from Temasek 700 years ago, but I’m connected to the people from Temasek because I stand on the same ground. I have a history, link, connection with them. And archaeology can speak to all of us in terms of a sense of belonging and identity."


Source: CNA/ad


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13km network of cycling paths open in Bedok

Gwyneth Teo Channel NewsAsia 20 Jan 18;

SINGAPORE: Cycling around Bedok is now safer and more convenient with the completion of a 13km network of dedicated cycling paths.

The paths, painted in red, connect cyclists or riders of personal mobility devices between their homes and major transport nodes in the town. The marked paths also help pedestrians keep a better look out for bicycles coming their way.

Bedok is the second town after Ang Mo Kio to feature red cycling paths, said the Land Transport Authority (LTA) in a media release on Saturday (Jan 20).

There are also new bicycle crossings on the roads as well as more wheeling ramps at staircases.

LTA said it will expand Bedok’s cycling network to connect to the upcoming Siglap and Bayshore MRT stations on the Thomson-East Cost Line when they are operational after 2020.

As part of the Government’s plan to make housing estates more cycling-friendly, every HDB town will have its own cycling network by 2030.

Source: CNA/gs


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Commentary: Days of cool weather do not negate climate change’s destructive impact

With the cool weather that swept through Singapore, some residents wondered if there is a positive side to climate change. Such thinking is worrying, says an expert from the Earth Observatory of Singapore.
Benjamin P Horton Channel NewsAsia 20 Jan 18;

SINGAPORE: A few areas around the world this past few weeks experienced cold weather.

On Sunday (Jan 14), Singapore experienced its coolest weather since 2016. Admiralty and Jurong West recorded a temperature of 21.2 degrees Celsius.

A week before, across the Pacific, parts of the United States and Canada experienced some of the most brutally cold winters, with temperatures falling below -29 degrees Celsius, and wind chill making it feel more like -67 degrees Celsius.

Worryingly, one emerging view was that cold winter spells suggest climate change doesn’t exist or isn’t a problem.

Even worse, were often heard comments in Singapore by people who believed climate change could be a positive development in tropical countries if it caused a bit of a chill.

These views must be corrected because they’re not true. Such misinformation also obscures the work of climate change scientists to discuss what can be done about global warming.

WEATHER VERSUS CLIMATE

The difference between weather and climate is a measure of time. Weather refers to the conditions of the atmosphere over a short period of time, whereas climate refers to how the atmosphere "behaves" over relatively long periods of time.

Put simply, weather is what is happening outside your door right now. For example, today, a thunderstorm is approaching. Climate, on the other hand, is the pattern of weather measured over decades.

When scientists talk about climate, they look at averages of precipitation, temperature, humidity, sunshine, wind velocity, as well as phenomena such as fog, frost, hail storms and other measures of the weather that occur over a long period of time in a particular place.

Winter and the monsoon still bring with them cold weather, but a few cool days in Singapore or the harsh winters in North America do not negate the fact that our planet is getting warmer over the long term.

KINDS OF WEATHER WE SHOULD EXPECT

In fact, world-renowned climate scientist Dr Michael Mann pointed out last week that extreme, harsh winters are precisely the kinds of weather conditions we should expect with climate change.

Other scientists suggest such events are becoming increasingly rare, with wintertime temperatures actually increasing in the United States.

What we are more certain about is that with climate change, warmer temperatures over oceans bring more precipitation to tropical countries like Singapore and greater snowfall in temperate countries like the US.

The cool weather and thunderstorms that Singapore experienced has been attributed to a monsoon surge in the South China Sea and the surrounding region.

Singapore experiences between two and four of them each year, mostly between December and March, but no doubt this year’s was intense as rainfall levels reached record highs, causing flooding in eastern parts of the island.

In North America, winter weather patterns are a complex interplay between the upper atmosphere conditions over polar regions and mid-latitude conditions over the oceans and on land.

While cold waves still occur somewhere in North America almost every winter, and this year’s particularly harsh, recent research has shown that cold outbreaks in North America are getting less frequent over the long term due to global warming.

OUR EARTH IS WARMING

It’s more important to focus on the irrefutable fact that our Earth is warming. Earth's average temperature has risen by 0.8 degrees Celsius over the past century, and is projected to rise another 1.5 to 4.5 degrees Celsius over the next hundred years.

The year 2016, with a mean annual temperature of 28.4 degrees Celsius, was Singapore’s warmest year on record since 1929.

Last year was the third hottest on record in the United States, only 2012 and 2016 were warmer than 2017.

In fact, the five hottest years on record in the country have been in the last decade, based on 123 years of record-keeping.

The bottom line is while there has been a smattering of days of all-time low temperatures, these pale in comparison to the all-time high temperatures seen in recent years.

CLEAR EFFECTS OF CLIMATE CHANGE

The evidence showing the effects of climate change is clear. Rising global temperatures have been accompanied by changes in weather and climate. Many places have seen changes in rainfall, resulting in more floods and droughts, as well as more frequent and severe heat waves.

The planet's oceans and glaciers have also experienced some big changes – oceans are warming and becoming more acidic, ice caps are melting and sea levels are rising.

As these and other changes become more pronounced in the coming decades, they will likely present challenges to our society and environment.

For this and many other reasons, it is important to study climate change. Climate change affects people and nature in countless ways, and exacerbates existing threats that already put pressure on the environment.

One major concern is human migration because of the impact of climate change on water and security. News reports in December suggest hundreds of millions, perhaps billions, of people will be exposed to rising sea levels and shifts in extreme weather that will cause mass migrations away from the most vulnerable locations.

Climate change will also have major and unpredictable effects on the world's water systems, including an increase in floods and droughts, possibly causing displacement and conflict.

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Food insecurity in South Sudan has increased 500% since 2012, according to the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification. (Photo: AFP/Albert Gonzalez Farran)

Scientists predict about two-thirds of the Himalyan glaciers will be lost by the end of this century if no efforts are made to prevent climate change. More than 700 million people in India, Bangladesh and Pakistan get their water from rivers that come from these glaciers.

Climate change will also have a significant impact on food availability, accessibility, utilisation and the stability of food systems in many parts of the world. Studies have shown climate change poses a significant risk to local food security, increasing crop failure and the loss of livestock.

If anything, the cooler weather lends greater urgency to climate change initiatives like those under the Paris Agreement. Science may be able to inform policy by forecasting how severe climate change will be.

But until we can shift our economy to greener energy sources and reduce our carbon footprint, global warming will persist, regardless of how cold it feels outside.

Professor Benjamin P Horton is principal investigator at the Earth Observatory of Singapore at Nanyang Technological University.

Source: CNA/sl


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49% of Japan's largest coral reef has bleached: Environment Ministry

Mainichi Japan 20 Jan 18;

Some 49.9 percent of Sekisei coral reef -- Japan's largest -- had bleached by the end of 2017, the Environment Ministry has revealed.

The figure is substantially less than the bleaching ratio of 91.4 percent on the reef between Okinawa Prefecture's Ishigaki and Iriomote islands at the end of 2016. However, "the water temperature remains high and the bleaching ratio is still high. We can't be optimistic," said an Environment Ministry official. "Coral in the area hasn't shown signs of real recovery, and remains in critical condition."

Bleaching occurs when water temperatures rise above a certain level, causing coral polyps to expel zooxanthellae, a kind of algae that lives in their tissues. Experts say coral bleaching tends to occur when the water temperature is above 30 degrees Celsius.

Since large-scale coral bleaching was observed in the Sekisei lagoon in summer 2016, the Environment Ministry has conducted a survey on the reef several times a year.

As the sea temperature around the lagoon often fell below 30 degrees Celsius in summer 2017, the latest survey found only 0.1 percent of coral in the area had died as a result of bleaching, significantly below the 70.1 percent from a year earlier. Moreover, healthy coral covered 14.7 percent of the total area of the reef inhabitable by the invertebrate, slightly above the 11.6 percent of a year earlier.

A nationwide Environment Ministry survey conducted last year shows that about 30 percent of the coral off Okinawa and the Amami Islands in Kagoshima Prefecture had bleached -- up more than 10 points from 2016 -- as a result of rising water temperatures.


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Best of our wild blogs: 20 Jan 18



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

2018 Guided Walk Schedule
Adventures with the Naked Hermit Crabs


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106 critically endangered hawksbill turtles hatch on Sentosa's Tanjong Beach

Audrey Tan Straits Times 19 Jan 18;

SINGAPORE - What's tiny, green, covered in sand and Singapore's latest celebration of wildlife?

Over 100 hawksbill turtles - which emerged out of eggs buried at a Sentosa beach on Friday morning (Jan 19), adding to the population of these critically-endangered reptiles.

The 106 hatchlings made their way into the waters at Sentosa's Tanjong Beach in what is the third time hawksbill turtles have hatched here since August.

Officers from the National Parks Board (NParks) took measurements and carried out checks on the baby turtles before they were released into the sea, said Sentosa Development Corporation, which manages the island.

The turtle nest was first spotted by a beachgoer on Nov 10 last year. There have been two other sightings in Sentosa, in 2010 and 1996.

A barrier was built around the nest to keep the eggs safe from natural predators such as monitor lizards and crabs, and reduce potential disturbance during the incubation period, the Sentosa spokesman told The Straits Times.

"As the hawksbill turtle is a critically endangered species, Sentosa Development Corporation... performed daily checks on the nest after the discovery," he said.

Hawksbill Turtle nest on Sentosa's Tanjong Beach

Hawksbill turtles grow to about 1.1m in terms of shell length and weigh about 68kg. Their name comes from tapering heads ending in a sharp point which resembles a beak.

This is the third batch of turtle hatchlings to emerge from Singapore's beaches since last August. Two other clutches of hawksbill turtle eggs were found in East Coast Park and these hatched in August and November last year.

Said turtle ecologist Rushan Abdul Rahman, 28: "It is not unusual to find turtles nesting on sandy beaches in the tropics, although some people may be surprised to know that this phenomenon takes place in urban Singapore too."

But he added that much of turtle nesting habits in Singapore remained unknown, such as whether hawksbill turtles return to the same exact location every time they return to nest, and how often they make nesting migrations.

Mr Rushan said that other studies have shown that some loggerhead turtle populations are happy to nest within a 100km range, whereas green turtles off Brazil's Ascension Island are much fussier about where they nest.

A Marine Turtle Working Group - comprising staff from NParks, academics from institutions such as the National University of Singapore, and interest groups and individuals - was re-established in 2016 to learn more about Singapore's native turtles.

If a turtle is spotted, people should keep their distance and speak softly, say experts. Touching the creature may scare or provoke it. People should also not handle the eggs as this might damage them.

Members of the public can call the Sentosa hotline on 1800-SENTOSA (7368672) if they spot a turtle nest on the resort island, and NParks on 1800-471-7300 if turtles are spotted at other parts of Singapore.


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Monkey business: Youths aim to share love of nature, wildlife with others

KELLY NG Today Online 20 Jan 18;

SINGAPORE — One of Mr Karl Png’s closest encounters with wildlife occurred in his teenage years: Macaques sneaked into his home and took a bite of his meal.

Initially taken aback, Mr Png, now a 21-year-old full-time national serviceman, later learnt the monkeys did not mean it as an “attack”.

“That funny incident taught me that the macaques (lived in the neighbourhood) first, but later the condominiums were built there… So in a way, we share the same space as the macaques,” said Mr Png, who used to live in Bukit Timah. “They saw our food as an opportunity for survival, so the way to prevent such incidents is to keep our food out of their sight and to ensure that windows are locked.”

The encounter did not deter him from engaging with wildlife - in fact, he regularly shares the anecdote with visitors to the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, where he has been serving as a guide for the last four years.

Mr Png is one of 50 youths who have signed up for a six-month programme called the Biodiversity Challenge, which aims to motivate, train and equip youths to engage their communities on issues surrounding human-wildlife interactions.

Launched last Saturday (Jan 13), participants will attend workshops and on-the-job training sessions with wildlife working groups and park managers before finally running their own projects.

The Challenge focuses on otters, macaques, wild boars, turtles and civets — animals which have a higher chance of encountering humans, said Mr Lim Liang Jim, group director of the National Parks Board’s (NParks) National Biodiversity Centre.

Mooted by a roundtable of more than 20 non-governmental organisations involved in biodiversity issues, the Challenge is supported by NParks, which will help to facilitate some workshops and field guiding sessions.

“Through this community-led effort, we hope to nurture a young cohort of nature advocates who can identify the challenges that this sector will face in the future,” said Mr Lim.

Mr Png hopes the Challenge can equip him with practical skills to share his love for nature with fellow Singaporeans, as well as to debunk misconceptions, such as how wildlife may be “dangerous” or “dirty”.

Unlike Mr Png, fellow participant Zhang Han Xiang is a relative greenhorn. But this was precisely what prompted the 20-year-old Singapore Polytechnic student to sign up for the Challenge.

“I hope to foster a closer relationship and enhance my own encounters with wildlife… I hope to pick up as much knowledge as possible on various types of species,” said the final-year civil engineering student, who does not know which animal he hopes to focus on yet.

“This will be a good opportunity to explore what Singapore’s biodiversity scene has to offer, and I hope to share this with the people around me,” he added.

Another participant, Ms Srishti Arora from the National University of Singapore, was spurred on by a growing number of “conflicts” reported here between humans and wildlife such as wild boars.

“I want to learn how conflicts can be shaped into positive interactions,” said the 21-year-old undergraduate, who majors in environmental biology.

She hopes to come up with a guidebook on the “do’s and don’ts” when approaching wildlife.

Social media is another platform Ms Arora plans to tap to raise awareness of biodiversity among the masses.

Another group of youths hoping to promote Singapore’s natural heritage among their peers is from Nanyang Technological University.

The final-year project of four Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information students consists of a campaign that kicked off with a seminar on Friday (Jan 19).

They invited NParks’ Mr Lim, Strix Wildlife Consultancy director Subaraj Rajathurai and primate researcher Sabrina Jabbar from the Jane Goodall Institute (Singapore) to share insights with about 70 members of the public who signed up.

Minister for Social and Family Development and Second Minister for National Development Desmond Lee was also at the seminar.

The team also surveyed 400 university and polytechnic students and found 85 per cent of them had low awareness of nature reserves in Singapore — for instance, they did not know that these sites are gazetted and protected from development.

Of the respondents, 78 per cent also felt they “did not have sufficient knowledge about (Singapore’s) natural heritage”, but three-quarters were interested in finding out more.

“Through this campaign, we hope to (convey) that like any monument or artefact, our natural heritage holds historical significance as something that was right here from the start and something worth preserving for the future generations,” said Miss Velyn Lee, one of team members. “Natural heritage is a key component of Singapore’s unique identity, and something we should all be proud of.”


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askST: What exactly is the International Year of the Reef?

Audrey Tan Straits Times 20 Jan 18;

S'pore going all out with events for International Year of the Reef

If this year had a colour, it would be blue - blue for the oceans and the creatures that live there.

Welcome to the International Year of the Reef.

It may be only the first month of the year, but things are already in full swing, with programmes being rolled out worldwide to raise awareness about marine habitats, and the need to conserve them.

Singapore, too, has planned a series of public events for the year ahead.

But what marine habitats are there in Singapore, and are they worth visiting? The Straits Times dives into the Republic's underwater universe to find out.

Q What exactly is the International Year of the Reef (IYOR)?

A It is a global campaign that aims to get people thinking about the world's marine habitats.

For the land-bound, underwater habitats, such as coral reefs or seagrass meadows, are often "out of sight, out of mind". As a result, they remain a mystery to many people.

The IYOR hopes to change that.

Governments and conservation groups have joined forces to organise events and programmes that raise awareness of these habitats, and why they need to be conserved.

They include exhibitions, guided walks and workshops.

This year marks the third edition of the global event. The first two were celebrated in 1997 and 2008.

The IYOR is an initiative of the International Coral Reef Initiative - an informal partnership founded in 1994 between nations and marine conservation organisations.

Q What activities have been planned to celebrate the event in Singapore?

A The National Parks Board (NParks) and marine conservation groups have lined up activities that anyone - including those who would rather stay dry - can take part in.

Exhibitions on Singapore's marine biodiversity are being planned for March and April at The Seletar Mall and the Asia Dive Expo at Suntec City respectively. There will also be workshops and talks on seagrass meadows, marine trash and turtle ecology.

People can sign up for patrols to look for turtles or horseshoe crabs on Singapore's beaches, or take part in inter-tidal and coral reef surveys with scientists.

For those who would like to literally get their hands dirty, they can join volunteers in picking up marine rubbish on Singapore's shores. This year would also be a good time to visit the Sisters' Islands Marine Park.

The list of activities planned by NParks and the marine community, along with details about how to take part, can be found at www.nparks.gov.sg/iyor.

The sheer variety of activities available may be surprising to some.

After all, Singapore is a global transshipment hub with busy shipping lanes, and the murky waters surrounding the Republic may beg the question of whether there is anything alive in them.

The answer: A resounding yes!

Q What's so special about Singapore's marine habitats?

A Singapore may wear a concrete crown but it is laced with a necklace of blue.

The Republic is home to many different types of marine habitats - from colourful coral reefs in the south, to mangroves in the east and north-west, to seagrass meadows, rocky shores and sandy beaches on other parts of the coast.

And they sustain a surprising amount of life.

Dolphins and endangered sea turtles have recently been spotted in Singapore's waters. The carcass of a sperm whale was found floating off Jurong Island in 2015 - the first time the species has been found here. Hungry dugongs munching through local seagrass meadows have also left their mark.

But it is not just these charismatic animals that have found a home in Singapore's waters. The Republic's marine habitats are also full of little creatures.

For example, there are more than 250 species of hard coral in Singapore, which make up about a third of hard coral species found worldwide. More than 100 species of reef fish can also be found in coral here.

The 12 seagrass species in Singapore make up more than half the total number recorded in the Indo-Pacific region.

Singapore's waters are also home to 200 species of sponge - including the Neptune's cup sponge, a sea creature shaped like a large goblet.

Once thought to be globally extinct, it was re-discovered in Singapore waters in 2011, and there are now five known Neptune's cup sponges in Singapore.

Q Why do these habitats need to be conserved?

A Simply put, they are in danger.

The International Coral Reef Initiative has declared that coral reefs are now one of the most threatened ecosystems on the planet as a result of both climate change and local human-induced pressures, such as run-off from industries.

Warming seas caused Singapore's corals to suffer the longest bleaching incident on record in 2016.

Corals depend on symbiotic algae, called zooxanthellae, for energy. Bleaching occurs when abnormally high sea temperatures cause coral to expel the algae, turning the coral white and depriving it of a key source of nutrition.

The coral on the fringes of Singapore's southern coast started bleaching in early June 2016 and the sea temperature only returned to normal in December that year.

Singapore experienced two earlier bleaching incidents. In 2010, bleaching started in June and ended in September. The 1998 incident lasted from June to August.

In addition, land reclamation and development has also put Singapore at risk of losing other marine habitats, such as mangroves and seagrass meadows.

A study found that development involving filling the island's coastal waters with sand for almost five decades has killed 1.6 sq km of seagrass - nearly half of the country's total.

And Singapore may have lost almost 90 per cent of its mangroves since the 1950s because of land reclamation in the north and south-west.

Losing these habitats will mean losing more than just the loss of colourful coral, plants and animals.

Marine habitats also provide an array of ecosystem services that benefit humans.

For example, healthy coral reefs draw in marine life and function as a nursery for baby fish. Seagrass meadows and mangroves can store large amounts of carbon. Seagrass meadow soil around the world has accumulated an estimated nine billion tonnes of carbon, according to a New York Times report.

All these habitats also provide a natural escape for city dwellers - as visitors to Singapore's beaches or the Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve will attest to.

That tiny Singapore has such a variety of marine habitats and lifeforms despite its busy port and history of intense land reclamation is something to cherish.

As Dr Karenne Tun, director of the coastal and marine branch of NParks' National Biodiversity Centre, said: "Our marine biodiversity is our common natural heritage."


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Only 6 per cent of domestic e-waste ends up in recycling bins: NEA study

SIAU MING EN Today Online 20 Jan 18;

SINGAPORE — Most Singaporeans know nothing or little about how to recycle their unwanted electrical or electronic goods, resulting in only about 6 per cent of domestic e-waste recycled and one-quarter thrown out with food and other general waste.

Releasing key findings of an 18-month study on Friday (Jan 19), the National Environment Agency (NEA) found that three in five people in Singapore do not know, or are unsure of how to recycle e-waste.

Singapore generates more than 60,000 tonnes of e-waste each year – the weight of about 220 Airbus A380 superjumbo planes. Half of it is estimated to come from households. This means an individual here throws out about 11kg of e-waste each year.

The study – which surveyed 1,600 consumers and concluded in October last year – found that households recycle only 6 per cent of the estimated 30,000 tonnes of electrical and electronic goods thrown out every year.

Washing machines (32 per cent), refrigerators (27 per cent) and television sets (22 per cent) make up more than 80 per cent of the e-waste generated here. The remainder includes air-conditioners, computers, printers and mobile phones.

About one-quarter of household e-waste is thrown away with general waste or left at common areas. Another 24 per cent, usually the higher-value e-waste like mobile phones, are traded-in or sold.

More than one-third (35 per cent) — usually bulky items such as washing machines and refrigerators — are handed over to deliverymen by consumers collecting their new appliances.

But these items are not always properly disposed of. Some end up with “informal collectors” such as scrap traders and rag-and-bone men, said an NEA spokesperson.

The informal collectors would refurbish and resell the reusable items or trade in parts of the items with recyclers.

“Many of these collectors do not have the capability to maximise resource recovery from e-waste, and as a result, only components of significant value are recycled,” said the spokesperson.

They could endanger themselves and may discard potentially hazardous components with general waste. When e-waste is incinerated, the heavy metals also contaminate incineration ash.

There are only a handful of voluntary recycling programmes in Singapore, but they mostly collect portable e-waste. More than 400 bins are found islandwide under StarHub’s Renew programme and they collected about 93 tonnes of e-waste last year, for instance.

Singapore’s largest e-waste recycler TES-AMM collected about 12,200 tonnes of e-waste last year. About 20 to 30 per cent came from Singaporean consumers while the remainder was from its offices in other countries.

TES-AMM’s Benoi Sector facility can recycle different materials that are extracted from the e-waste, including copper, steel, plastic and even gold.

E-waste is a growing problem worldwide as new products are rapidly rolled out and demand for gadgets grows with increasing wealth and digitalisation. Yet, rare earth metals used to make tech gadgets are reportedly becoming scarcer.

A lot of energy and resources are used to make even small electronic devices and consumers should help in “preserving” them, said TES-AMM group chief operating officer Gary Steele.

Formal recyclers are also able to ensure personal data residing in the devices is not compromised while processing the e-waste, he said.


Most people do not know what to do with e-waste; only a fraction recycle: NEA study
Monica Kotwani Channel NewsAsia 19 Jan 18;

SINGAPORE: Six in 10 people in Singapore may be throwing out items such as old television sets, printers and computers because they do not know or are unsure of how to recycle these electronic waste (e-waste), the National Environment Agency (NEA) said on Friday (Jan 19).

This was among the findings of a study it commissioned in a bid to identify the challenges in Singapore’s management of e-waste and to guide the agency in creating an e-waste management system for the country.

The study was conducted between April 2016 and October last year.

ONLY A FRACTION OF E-WASTE RECYCLED

Singapore generates more than 60,000 tonnes of e-waste a year – the equivalent of 220 Airbus A380 planes.

Out of this, half is generated by households, NEA said. Each person disposes of around 11kg of e-waste, the equivalent of 73 mobile phones.

NEA said the study found that while people typically trade in or sell e-waste of high value such as mobile phones, they discard the rest with their general waste. In fact, only 6 per cent of e-waste from households ends up in e-waste recycling bins. More than a quarter is just thrown away.

Bulky items such as washing machines and refrigerators may be passed on to deliverymen upon receiving new appliances, but even this is sometimes discarded at common areas.

The study also found that this e-waste could end up with scrap traders and rag-and-bone men.

“Many of these collectors do not have the capability to maximise resource recovery from e-waste, and as a result, only components of significant value are recycled,” NEA said.

As a result, e-waste that is not recycled is incinerated, and results in not just the loss of resources that could have been recycled by proper recycling facilities, but also in the release of carbon emissions that contribute to global warming and climate change.

The agency has been working to raise awareness programmes among members of the public and in 2015, formed the National Voluntary Partnership for E-Waste Recycling, where proper recycling and treatment processes are adopted.

But it said there are limits to a voluntary approach.

“A regulated system is therefore needed to ensure that consumers are provided with convenient means to recycle their e-waste, and (that) the e-waste collected is channelled to proper recycling facilities where safety and environmental standards are adhered to,” NEA said.

MORE AWARENESS NEEDED TO IMPROVE E-WASTE RECYCLING FIGURES: STAKEHOLDERS

According to NEA, there are eight voluntary e-waste recycling programmes, including telco StarHub's Renew programme. Under the programme, e-waste such as modems, mobile phones and cables can be collected from some 400 bins around the island.

Still, StarHub's Chief Strategic Partnership Officer, Jeannie Ong said outreach efforts need to be intensified.

"I suppose because this is a society whereby we want instant gratification and we want everything to be quick and fast and convenient, the idea and the concept of recycling your electronic waste is not there, we definitely need to do more to educate, remind public," Ms Ong said.

“With Smart Nation, it means that there will be even more electronic devices around, so therefore, it's even more critical for us to expand the e-waste system in Singapore. We need to get more players in the sector to come together and play a part to tackle these issues."

Recycling facility TES-AMM's group chief operating officer, Gary Steele, said recycling one's mobile phone for example, will not just benefit the environment, but consumers also.

"If it's poorly disposed of, there can also be toxicity and leakage into the environment," Mr Steele said.

"But if you don't dispose of your mobile phones correctly, there are also numerous ways that the phone can be accessed to access your personal data."

MANUFACTURERS NEED TO HAVE A STAKE IN RECYCLING PROCESS

NEA said it looked to countries with an established e-waste management system in order to develop a comprehensive one for Singapore. They included Germany and South Korea as well as cities such as New York.

A common feature of formal systems in these countries is that stakeholders throughout the e-waste value chain have responsibilities assigned through the Extended Producer Responsibility approach, NEA said.

This means that when products reach their end-of-life, their producers have to ensure these products are properly recycled.

“For example, in New York, electronics manufacturers fund programmes where consumers can mail small e-waste to recyclers,” NEA said.

In European countries such as Germany and France, large retailers have to provide e-waste collection points in their stores, as well as cater for free take-back services for larger e-waste products.

E-waste recyclers in these countries are also regulated and have to meet high environmental standards, where they need to set recycling targets and provide information to authorities on e-waste flows.

The agency said these systems are being assessed for adoption in Singapore through various consultations.

NEA and the Ministry of Environment and Water Resources will seek public views on the matter through a consultation session next month.

(Additional reporting by Vanessa Lim)

Source: CNA/ms


Steps to shrink mountain of e-waste through better recycling
Samantha Boh Straits Times 19 Jan 18;

SINGAPORE - There could soon be regulations here to ensure that discarded electrical and electronic items are recycled and reused, to help shrink the mountain of computers, laptops, refrigerators and other e-waste thrown away in Singapore.

The Republic's poor record in this area means not only that valuable materials in such items, such as gold and copper, are going up in smoke, but also that hazardous waste in some components, including mercury, is being incinerated and polluting the atmosphere.

"A regulated system is... needed to ensure that consumers are provided with convenient means to recycle their e-waste, and the e-waste collected is channelled to proper recycling facilities where safety and environmental standards are adhered to," said the National Environment Agency (NEA) yesterday.

Households here produce some 30,000 tonnes of e-waste a year - half of the total amount generated, equivalent to the weight of 110 Airbus A-380 planes.

But most people have no clue what to do with it. Auditor Rachel Lim, 24, for one, does not know what to do with old electronic goods. "I know it shouldn't go in the dustbin, so I just keep it," she said.

According to NEA's recent survey of 1,600 consumers, only a tiny portion of e-waste - just 6 per cent - is sent for recycling.

To turn things around, the Government is looking to countries like Sweden - which has a sterling 52 per cent recycling rate for e-waste, and Denmark, where the figure is 43 per cent.

Recycling initiative to turn electronic trash into cash for Straits Times School Pocket Money Fund
Both countries harness an "Extended Producer Responsibility" (EPR) strategy, where producers such as brand owners and manufacturers are responsible for ensuring that their products get recycled.

If applied to consumers here, this may mean they will have to mail smaller products to recyclers for free. Retailers might have to provide e-waste collection points in stores, and one-for-one take-back services for large items such as refrigerators.

The wheels have been set in motion, with the NEA announcing on Friday (Jan 19) that it is assessing the suitability of overseas practices with the Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources through consultations with industry stakeholders. These discussions will be extended to the public next month.

The NEA said this will ensure that e-waste collected is recycled safely at proper recycling facilities.

The consumer survey had found that e-waste was generally given to deliverymen to cart away, or thrown in the garbage. Such items also end up with scrap traders and rag-and-bone men, who lack the skills to fully recycle these items, and could end up discharging harmful chemical compounds or disposing of them with general waste.

Worse - if e-waste is incinerated, it would add to carbon emissions and contaminate the ash at the Semakau landfill, NEA warned.

Recycling facility TES-AMM's group chief operating officer Gary Steele applauded the move towards regulation: "Enforcing legislation and having EPR schemes makes it more visible for people so they will want to deal with it properly."

And some consumers are keen for the changes to happen. Said Miss Lim: "If recycling e-waste is convenient, such as having the bins around my housing estate, I would of course consider doing it."


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Indonesia: Burning need for more funds to restore Indonesian peatlands

University of Queensland 19 Jan 18;

A major shortfall in funding to restore Indonesia’s degraded peat forests means the country is facing a difficult environmental decision, an international study has found.

Restoring the country's peat forests is essential to reduce the extent and frequency of large-scale fires, which have already caused more than 100,000 premature deaths, released greenhouse gases, destroyed the habitats of threatened species.

University of Queensland School of Earth and Environmental Sciences PhD student Amanda Hansson said Indonesia’s target to restore two million hectares of peat forest was likely to cost more than US$4.6 billion.

“The currently allocated US$200 million in Indonesian and international funds would only restore about 100,000 hectares of peat,” she said.

“This shortfall means Indonesia will have to choose between using best-practice methods in smaller areas or using cheaper and potentially ineffective restoration methods to reinstate larger areas of degraded peat forest.”

Peat is formed under very wet conditions, when dead plant material is unable to decay in a flooded environment.

Ms Hansson and Deputy Head of School Associate Professor Paul Dargusch said the study aimed to understand the restoration activity needs of Indonesia’s degraded peat forests.

It also examined restoration methods and their applications and the classification of degraded peatlands, and applied these classifications to estimate the cost of restoration.

“Many degraded peat forests in Indonesia - caused by draining and clearing - have shown poor signs of natural regeneration, and will require assisted restoration,” Ms Hansson said.

“An initiative to restore more than two million hectares of degraded peat by 2020 has been outlined by the Indonesian Peatland Restoration Agency.”

Ms Hansson said the study proposed classifying areas of the peat forests based on the type of restoration activities required – determined by fire history, logging, and the width of canals used to drain the peat.

She said classification helped in calculating the cost of restoration per hectare, estimated to range between US$25 and US$400.

The research is published in Case Studies of the Environment, (doi: 10.1525/cse.2017.000695).


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