Best of our wild blogs: 21 May 18



Pesta Ubin begins this weekend for 5 weekends!
wild shores of singapore

Indochinese Glass-perchlet (Parambassis siamensis) @ Kranji Marshes
Monday Morgue


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Malaysia: ‘Gazette Kg Dew as forest reserve quick’

The Star 21 May 18;

BAGAN SERAI: Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM) and Kampung Dew Firefly Eco-Tourism Association are appealing to the Perak govern­ment to expedite the gazetting of a firefly habitat zone in Kampung Dew here as a forest reserve.

He said the suggestion of gazetting the habitat zone had been submitted several years ago, but was not implemented by the Perak Land and Mines Office (PTG) and the Kerian District and Land Office.

“The PTG informed us that there was no problem for the area to be gazetted, but there is the issue of overlapping claims of land ownership,” he said — Bernama


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Malaysia: Six pygmy elephants found dead in Sabah

The Star 21 May 18;

KOTA KINABALU: Mystery surrounds the heartwrenching deaths of six endangered Bornean pygmy elephants in the east coast of Sabah.

The carcasses of the elephants, aged between one and 37, were discovered on separate occasions between April 6 and May 20 this year.

Sabah Wildlife Department director Augustine Tuuga confirmed the deaths when contacted, but only revealed the details of the elephants found dead most recently.

Tuuga said post-mortem results showed the elephants did not die from gunshots.

“There were no bullet wounds found on the bodies. We have taken organ samples for toxicology and bacteriology tests,” he said.

Tuuga added the cause of death can only be fully determined once the test results are known.

Some conservationists told The Star that they suspected poisoned waterholes as one of the possible causes of death.

The dead elephants – three in the conservation area of Sukau, two in Telupid and one in Lahad Datu – were found by wildlife rangers.

The carcass of a one-year-old male elephant was found near Sungai Resang, Sukau, on April 6.

The next day, an adult female elephant was found dead in Lahad Datu.

A few weeks later on April 26, the carcass of a 37-year-old female elephant was found in Ladang Mayvin 2. A juvenile male elephant was found dead in Sukau on May 10.


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Malaysia: Call to set up elephant-friendly zone to resolve human-elephant conflict in Sabah

Poliana Ronnie Sidom New Straits Times 20 May 18;

TELUPID: Establishing an elephant-friendly zone with easy access for Bornean pygmy elephants to look for food can help tackle the problem of these animals intruding into settlements.

Danau Girang Field Centre (DGFC) director Dr Benoit Goossens said pygmy elephants frequently intruded settlements in Telupid due to the landscape changing from forests into farms, providing easy food access and playgrounds to these wildlife mammals.

“Elephant translocation is not the best long-term solution in resolving human-elephant conflict in Sabah.

…Maybe (we) need to establish an elephant-friendly zone here where there is easy access (for the wildlife) to get food such as bananas and grass, among others,” he said.

Goossens said the translocation programme was expensive, about RM30,000 per elephant, and it stressed the animals.

He said DGFC had installed satellite collars on two elephants, and they were currently conducting research on the mammals’ movement and behaviour to find ways to reduce the conflict.

He noted several areas particularly near oil palm plantations in Telupid, Kinabatangan, Tawau, Lahad Datu, and the Tabin Wildlife Reserve were facing human-elephant conflict, and it was particulrly serious inTelupid.

Forever Sabah project coordinator Claudia Lasimbang also shared a similar view about setting up an elephant-friendly zone, adding such projects were aimed at identifying suitable locations for wild elephants to roam.

Forever Sabah is an initiative jointly undertaken by non-governmental organisations, researchers, state government, and local community through a harmony project between humans and elephants in Telupid.

“Areas favoured by these elephants need to be identified through local knowledge, information gathered by rangers, and scientific data to ensure (the areas) are safe for them.

“The creation of an elephant zone will encourage the rehabilitation of selected areas with food sources and elephant safety as priority,” she said.

Through such project, Claudia said Community-Based Elephant Force (CERT) Team needed to be formed to create a sense of responsibility among the locals on elephant conservation.

As a start, she noted three youths from Kampung Gambaron, Liningkung and Telupid had been selected to form the team, adding that the trio would be given training by Sabah Wildlife Department and NGOs.


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Malaysia: New ant species to be named after late Johor prince

Bernama New Straits Times 20 May 18;

JOHOR BARU: The Sultan of Johor, Sultan Ibrahim Sultan Iskandar has consented to name the Echinopla new ant species discovered by Universiti Tun Hussein Onn Malaysia (UTHM) as Echinopla Tunku-Abduljalilii.

UTHM Faculty of Applied Sciences and Technology, Centre of Research on Sustainable Uses of Natural Resources (CoR-SUNR) head, Prof Datin Dr Maryati Mohamed said the new species from the Echinopla group, were collected from shrubs found in the Lipur Sungai Batang Forest Reserve, near Labis, in May last year.

"There are 15 species from the Echinopla family in Malaysia and this new species is the 16th and the second species to be found in Johor. The first, the Echinopla wardi was discovered in Kota Tinggi.

"This species measures 5.48 millimetre in length and is black in colour. The body of most other Echinopla species are furry unlike this new Echinopla species which are without fur," she said in a statement, here today.

She said the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature (IZCN), an international body that rules the scientific naming of new species, would issue a statement to confirm the name of the new species as Echinopla Tunku-Abduljalilii.

To date there are 16,000 species of ants that have been scientifically named. About 33 species belonging to the Echinopla family are found in Australia, the Philippines, Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, India and Malaysia. -- BERNAMA


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Best of our wild blogs: 20 May 18



Next to the landfill, amazing living reefs at Terumbu Semakau!
wild shores of singapore

Butterfly Photography Series - Part 3
Butterflies of Singapore



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More mosquitoes, more cases expected in warmer months ahead: NEA

Channel NewsAsia 20 May 18;

SINGAPORE: The mosquito population is expected to increase along with the number of dengue cases in the warmer months ahead, the National Environment Agency (NEA) said in a media release on Sunday (May 20).

Through its Gravitrap surveillance system, NEA said it found that the mosquito population remained high with 22 per cent more Aedes aegypti mosquitoes in the first quarter of this year compared to the previous quarter, thus posing a risk of an increase in dengue cases.

Earlier this month, three people died and 60 dengue cases were reported in a dengue cluster at Jurong West.

"The warmer months of June to October usually see higher transmission of dengue in Singapore, due to accelerated breeding and maturation cycles of the Aedes mosquitoes and shorter incubation periods for the dengue virus.

"NEA is thus expecting an increasing trend in cases in the warmer months ahead if we do not take steps to keep the mosquito population in check," the media release said.

The agency urged members of the public to continue to work together as a community to stem dengue transmission.

"NEA, together with the various agencies and other stakeholders represented in the Inter-Agency Dengue Task Force (IADTF), including Town Councils, have stepped up checks leading up to the traditional peak dengue season to rid our public areas and housing estates of potential mosquito breeding habitats," added NEA.

From January to March 2018, NEA conducted about 265,000 inspections, including 2,400 inspections carried out at construction sites, the agency said, adding that it uncovered about 4,200 instances of mosquito breeding habitats.

Speaking at the main launch of the 2018 National Dengue Prevention Campaign at the North East District on Sunday, Minister for the Environment and Water Resources, Masagos Zulkifli urged all members of the public and stakeholders to stay vigilant and not let their guard down even though the dengue cases this year are fewer than in recent years.

He made the call for a concerted effort to suppress the Aedes mosquito population and keep dengue incidence low in the run up to the peak dengue season.

PROJECT WOLBACHIA

Meanwhile, NEA said Phase 2 of the Project Wolbachia study has also begun. The study is being conducted at the same Phase 1 sites (Tampines West and Nee Soon East) and their extended areas, the agency added.

The project involves the use of Wolbachia-infected mosquitoes to suppress the Aedes aegypti mosquito population in Singapore.

So far, the study has provided "valuable ecological information" on the behaviour of mosquitoes in Singapore, NEA said.

The Phase 2 study is expected to build on that and improve the release methodologies in Singapore's high-rise and high-density urban environment, the release added.

"While NEA explores the potential of Wolbachia technology, source eradication of mosquito breeding habitats and spraying of insecticides where necessary to control the adult mosquito population, will continue to be our key strategy for dengue prevention in Singapore."

The dengue prevention campaign launch will be followed by island-wide outreach efforts across the five districts at different constituencies, NEA said.

This campaign will be supported by the local grassroots advisers and the community, with the mobilisation of grassroots leaders and Dengue Prevention Volunteers (DPVs).

They will conduct patrols to check for potential breeding habitats in common areas around their neighbourhoods and house visits to advise residents on common mosquito breeding habitats and to share dengue prevention tips, the release said.

The campaign this year will focus on making residents aware that clean and stagnant water in their homes can be potential breeding habitats for mosquitoes, it added.

Source: CNA/mn


Renewed dengue concerns after NEA detects rise in Aedes mosquito population

Samantha Boh Straits Times 20 May 18

SINGAPORE - The number of Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, which is responsible for dengue, has been growing, renewing concerns about the potential for a flare-up in the disease after last year saw the lowest number of cases in 16 years.

Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifi said on Sunday (May 20) that the National Environment Agency (NEA) detected 22 per cent more Aedes aegypti in the first three months of this year compared to the previous three months.

The NEA monitors the mosquito population here through the use of gravitraps - black cylindrical devices - which are placed along the corridors of residential buildings.

"It shows that as much as we do to bring down the breeding, there is a role for everyone to not allow the breeding to happen, particularly at home," Mr Masagos said.

"We must be extra vigilant, especially since we are approaching the traditional peak dengue period," he added.

The warmer months of June to October usually see higher transmission of dengue due to accelerated breeding and maturation cycles of the mosquitoes, and shorter incubation periods for the dengue virus.

Mr Masagos noted: "One misconception in particular is that mosquitoes will not breed in clean water. That is not true...any stagnant water can attract mosquitoes to breed."

There have been four dengue deaths so far this year, with three victims living in an active dengue fever cluster in Jurong West.

Mr Masagos, who launched the National Dengue Prevention Campaign on Sunday at an open field beside 270A Punggol Field, said that NEA has stepped up checks, conducting about 265,000 inspections, including 2,400 at construction sites, from January to March this year.

About 4,200 mosquito breeding sites were uncovered. About 100 notices to attend court and six stop work orders were issued. Nine court prosecutions were also launched.

NEA found that many homes continued to be breeding mosquitoes even as the situation at construction sites had improved - dropping from 11 per cent of such sites in 2013 to six per cent in 2017.

Some 70 per cent of the breeding in the Jurong West cluster, for instance, were found in homes. Some breeding spots had up up to 200 larvae each.

On Sunday, Ms Sun Xueling, senior parliamentary secretary for the Ministry of Home Affairs and the Ministry of National Development, and MP for Pasir-Punggol GRC, visited homes in 13 blocks with volunteers to educate residents on dengue prevention.

One resident, bank analyst Lim Jun Wei, 33, said: "It is quite scary that a bite from a mosquito can kill. The deaths has made us more aware and to take preventive steps."


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Malaysia: Carcass of juvenile elephant found floating in Sungai Kinabatangan

Kristy Inus New Straits Times 19 May 18;

KINABATANGAN: The state Wildlife Department has confirmed that it received a report this morning about the carcass of a juvenile elephant that was found floating in Sungai Kinabatangan.

However, the department’s director, Augustine Tuuga, said he had yet to get feedback from the team which had gone to the location.

“The information was shared by a guide who was taking tourists along the Kinabatangan. From the picture that was circulated, it might be a three- or four-year-old elephant, but we are not sure yet,” he told the New Straits Times, adding that the animal’s body appeared to be intact.

A picture of the pachyderm’s remains and two voice recordings have gone viral via WhatsApp.

The voice recordings seemed to suggest that the carcass was spotted in the river near Danau Girang, where a wildlife research centre is located.


Cause of death of juvenile elephant not conclusive despite post-mortem
Kristy Inus New Straits Times 20 May 18;

KOTA KINABALU: The cause of death of the juvenile elephant found floating at Kinabatangan river yesterday has not been ascertained even after the post-mortem was completed today.

Sabah Wildlife Department (SWD) director Augustine Tuuga said no gunshot wounds were found on the mammal which was a young female aged approximately three years old.

“Post mortem was completed at 2 pm this afternoon.

“No wounds were found on the body, meaning the cause of death was not from gunshot. There was no bullet inside the body.

“We cannot determine the cause of death at the moment ... Samples of vital internal organs were collected for toxicology and bacteriology analyses,” he said in a written reply to NST.

Asked whether the elephant could have died from poisoning, he replied: “No idea until we get the result of the analysis.”

Yesterday, a picture of an elephant’s carcass and two voice recordings went viral via WhatsApp social media application.

Augustine said they were notified about the case by a guide taking tourists at the area, and a team including a veterinarian was sent to the location, reported to be near Danau Girang Field Centre.


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Best of our wild blogs: 19 May 18



Big Sisters Island: intertidal walks suspended, some beaches closed
Sisters' Island Marine Park

Small Sisters Island with cone snail!
wild shores of singapore


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Asbestos-containing debris found on Sisters' Islands, latest of the southern islands to be affected

Audrey Tan Straits Times 19 May 18;

SINGAPORE - Debris containing asbestos has washed ashore on the Sisters' Islands Marine Park, the latest of the southern islands to be affected by the potentially toxic mineral.

The mineral has, since April, also been found on nearby Pulau Hantu, St John's Island and Kusu Island - islands popular among day-trippers who visit the southern islands for their nature, scenic views of the Singapore Strait, or to worship at the temple or shrine located on Kusu.

The National Parks Board (NParks), custodian of the marine park, said on its website on Saturday (May 19) that it is temporarily suspending the monthly intertidal guided walk at Sisters' Islands Marine Park. Debris containing asbestos had been found at four isolated areas along the beaches in the lagoons on Big Sister's Island.

Affected beaches have been sealed off, the notice said, adding that removal works are expected to be completed by the end of June.

Asbestos is a fibrous mineral that was once a popular component in construction materials. Due to its links to health problems such as lung cancer, its use in buildings was banned in Singapore in 1989, but many earlier structures still contain the substance.

Structures containing asbestos pose no risk to humans if they are intact. However, when there is damage or disturbance - such as sawing and cutting - fibres may be released into the air and inhaled.

Even though the authorities have said repeatedly that short-term exposure to asbestos is not harmful, the repeated occurrence of the mineral has raised questions on how they came to the southern islands in the first place, and if they could have been dumped illegally by errant contractors.

Investigations are now ongoing to determine the source of the asbestos debris.

But in a joint reply to The Straits Times, the SLA, NParks and the National Environment Agency (NEA) said that the collection and disposal of general and industrial waste from offshore islands is regulated by NEA.

“Owners and occupiers of premises on offshore islands manage the collection of their waste from the islands for disposal at the mainland. This includes waste generated by contractors engaged by the owners or occupiers,” said the statement from the agencies.

Asbestos was first found on St John's Island in April, leading the Singapore Land Authority (SLA) to seal off more than half the island as a safety precaution.

Subsequently, in early May, SLA said in a media release that asbestos-containing debris had been found on nearby Kusu Island.

It also said then that works were being done to see if the mineral could also be found on Pulau Hantu. As it turned out, it could.

ST understands that notices were put up at the Pulau Hantu jetty last Saturday (May 12) informing visitors that asbestos removal works were ongoing there.

As for the other southern islands - Lazarus Island, Pulau Seringat and Kias Island - no asbestos debris has been found there, SLA said.

Asked about the other offshore islands open to the public, the three agencies said no debris containing asbestos was found on Coney Island, located to the mainland’s north-east . As for Pulau Ubin off the eastern coast of Singapore, the authorities told ST that surveys are ongoing at Pulau Ubin and this is expected to be completed by early next month.

“If asbestos is found on the island, NParks will undertake the necessary removal works and precautionary measures to safeguard public safety,” said the statement.

Mr Stephen Beng, head of the Nature Society’s (Singapore) marine conservation group, said the impact of asbestos on marine life at Sisters’ Islands – the Republic’s one and only marine park – remains to be seen.

He said: “It depends on the volume of asbestos in the water column and seabed. It does, however, constitute to the growing marine debris threat which kills marine animals like our sea turtles.”

He added that the Friends of the Marine Park community – comprising experts, scientists and naturalists – is working on a safety advisory for all involved in marine clean-ups.

Ms Ria Tan, who documents the wildlife found on Singapore’s shores, said she was heartened that the authorities were making an effort to identify and remove the asbestos.

“But it is disconcerting to learn that asbestos has been found on so many offshore islands. I hope the source and pathway of this asbestos can be identified so that this issue can be permanently resolved,” she said.

She added that the authorities could work with the community for more eyes on the ground. “I am ready to help look out for and report asbestos during my regular shore surveys. But I do not now know what to look out for,” Ms Tan said.

‘Asbestos-containing debris’ found at Big Sister’s Island, monthly guided walks suspended
Channel NewsAsia 20 May 18;

SINGAPORE: Monthly guided walks at the Sisters’ Islands will be suspended for May and June, after asbestos-containing debris was found at several areas on Big Sister’s Island.

In a notice on its website on Saturday (May 19), the National Parks Board (NParks) said “asbestos-containing debris” was found at “four isolated areas along the beaches at the lagoons on Big Sister’s Island".

NParks added that as a safety precaution, the affected beaches have been cordoned off for asbestos removal work.

“We aim to complete these works by end June 2018. In the meantime, the monthly guided walks at the Sisters’ Islands will be suspended for May and June 2018,” said NParks.

Part of St John’s Island has also been closed until the end of the year due to asbestos found in the campsite area.

“As investigations and works to remove the asbestos are ongoing, the St John's Island trail and the Marine Park Outreach and Education Centre and St John’s Island Trail will be closed until further notice,” NParks added.

Earlier this month, pieces of debris containing asbestos were also discovered around the lagoon and beach areas on Kusu Island.

Source: CNA/zl(hm)


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Packaging-free stores sprout in Singapore, but will consumers give them the green light?

Tang See Kit Channel NewsAsia 19 May 18;

SINGAPORE: Earlier this month, Ms June Eng made plans to visit a new grocery store with her family but for this shopping trip, she had to be prepared.

With three reusable containers in her bag, the recycling enthusiast headed to UnPackt – a social enterprise located in Jalan Kuras that sells daily necessities without packaging.

Despite having to bring her own carrier, the 42-year-old, who became a vegetarian four years ago to reduce her carbon footprint, described it as an experience that she had been “looking forward to”.

“I always wanted to do this but never had the chance,” she said, while passing a container to her child to get a snack. “This is a good initiative that’s long overdue.”

With an aim of reducing unnecessary waste, plastic bags or any form of plastic packaging are a no-no at UnPackt.

Instead of the usual pre-packed items that one is used to seeing at supermarkets, dried food, oils and cleaning supplies are stocked in self-service dispensers that line up the shelves. Customers are free to fill up their carriers with the amount they want and prices are determined by weight.

The grocery store, which opened its doors just two weeks ago, is not alone in touting this packaging-free concept.

At The Social Space, a multi-concept lifestyle store along Kreta Ayer Street, the refillery section is decked out with at least ten dispensers, each ranging from 15 to 20 litres. Items on sale include shampoo, eco-friendly dishwashing and laundry liquids.

Pop-up store The Green Collective is also encouraging shoppers to bring more than just their own bags. Among the 15 eco-friendly brands gathered under one roof at OneKM Mall, two of them sell food items and Castile liquid soap without packaging.

All three shops require consumers to bring their own containers and bottles, or purchase one in-store. At UnPackt, there is also the option of using a donated one for free.

“ENCOURAGING START”

These zero-waste businesses come as packaging continues to make a big contribution to Singapore's annual trash mountain.

Figures from the National Environment Agency (NEA) showed that 1.7 million tonnes of waste was generated domestically in 2016. Of this, one-third was packaging waste, such as single-use plastic bags and takeaway food containers, that could fill up more than 1,000 Olympic-size swimming pools.

With their stores offering plastic-free shopping options, the eco-conscious entrepreneurs are hoping to get Singaporeans started on reducing waste in their daily lives.

UnPackt’s co-founder Florence Tay said the response thus far has been “quite good”, with the grocery store seeing a couple of regulars within two weeks of opening.

“We managed to encourage some of the residents nearby to embark on purchasing without packaging,” said the former marketing manager at the Singapore Heart Foundation. “On their first time here, they had to use one of our recycled containers but subsequently, they started bringing their own.”

“This is definitely faster than I expected,” said Ms Tay.

At The Social Space, its founders Daniel Yeow and Cheryl Ou have also had an “encouraging start” with consumers who may not have been committed environmentalists.

“There was one aunty who happened to walk by, decided to come into our store and started asking many questions like why we’re doing this and how the refillery concept works,” said Ms Ou. “She really had no clue as it was her first time seeing something like this.”

“To be honest, I wasn’t expecting her to come back but she did and with her own containers. These are the unexpected customers who make us really happy.”

WIDENING THE REACH

Still, the entrepreneurs are aware that not all consumers have given them the green light, especially in Singapore where the use of single-use plastic, such as straws and food packaging, are entrenched in the country’s consumption habits.

“The aunty who lifted our spirits is not an anomaly, but neither is she the majority,” said Ms Ou, noting that most of the patrons at the refillery section continue to be zero-waste advocates.

Echoing that, Mr Mayur Singh, a co-founder of The Green Collective, said Singaporeans are generally aware of environmental issues, though there remains a “missing gap” between awareness and action.

“We all wanted to talk to more local consumers, which is why we are so happy to have the opportunity of a retail store in the heartlands. Just focusing on the expatriate community or those who are already eco-warriors won’t work,” said Mr Singh, who also runs social enterprise Coopita.

Pricing is a strategy that the businesses are banking on to appeal to more consumers.

Given the absence of individual packaging, the economics of bulk-purchasing allows UnPackt and The Social Space to price their products at 5 to 10 per cent cheaper, respectively.

“We are already saving because we are buying in bulk,” said Mr Yeow. “When deciding how much of that savings we should transfer to our customers, we decided that it needs to be significant enough for people to go ‘Alright, I can give this a try!’”

Retail analyst Samuel Tan from Temasek Polytechnic's School of Business noted that while more Singaporeans are paying attention to sustainable living, it is still a “long journey” when it comes to educating and cultivating a change in the buying behaviours of consumers.

“Drawing from the experience of a leading environmentally-friendly retailer, it took years for Body Shop to be well accepted by shoppers for the brand’s belief and philosophy,” said Mr Tan, who suggested independent players like UnPackt to step up on their social media presence or consider tie-ups with bigger retailers.

Ms Jen Teo, executive director of the Singapore Environment Council, reckoned that with green consumerism on the rise, eco-friendly stores are a “step in the right direction” and will likely do well in the long run.

But before that, more needs to be done to drum up awareness about Singapore’s environmental issues.

“Singaporeans will need to learn to reduce waste and recycle more if it is to reach the goal of becoming a Zero Waste Nation by 2030. The key lies in understanding what we should use less of, and what we can and should eliminate in our daily living,” said Ms Tan.

To spur more Singaporeans to take the first step towards reducing waste, The Green Collective has been holding weekly events, ranging from talks centred around various environmental issues to workshops on soap-making and upcycling of furniture.

Co-founder Danielle Champagne said: “The idea is not just to sell, but to make this into a one-stop shop to bring together people with similar mindset while exposing the wider population to a greener lifestyle.”

“We want to show that going green doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive,” she told Channel NewsAsia. “It is all about small, simple steps every day that make a difference."

Source: CNA/sk


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2018 won't see repeat of 2015 haze crisis: Indonesian Minister

Audrey Tan and Luke Anthony Tan Straits Times 18 May 18;

SINGAPORE - Singapore looks set to see a third straight year with no haze, due in part to Indonesia's sustained efforts at curbing fires and preventing their spread.

Indonesia's Minister of National Development Planning Bambang Brodjonegoro said on Friday (May 18) that the 2015 haze crisis would not repeat itself this year.

"In the last few years, including this year, we did not have the haze that happened in 2015," he said, adding that forestry and peatland management plans have already been implemented.

Dr Bambang was speaking at the fifth Singapore Dialogue on Sustainable World Resources held at the Grand Hyatt Singapore hotel. The event was organised by think-tank Singapore Institute of International Affairs.

Dr Bambang's statement echoes similar promises made by other Indonesian officials last year and in 2016.

Governor of South Sumatra Alex Noerdin said during last year's edition of the same event that there would be no haze from his province last year.

And in 2016, Mr Nazir Foead, head of Indonesia's Peatland Restoration Agency, said there was a "zero chance" that a haze of 2015's magnitude would blanket the region.

The haze in Singapore is largely caused by winds blowing smoke from forest fires in Indonesia towards the Republic.

Many of Indonesia's pulpwood and oil palm plantations are located on carbon-rich peatlands. When these areas are drained of water for planting, the risk of fire increases.

In 2015, Indonesia's dry season coincided with the El Nino weather phenomenon, which is linked to warmer and drier weather in this part of the world.

The bad weather exacerbated the forest fires typical of the country's agro-forestry landscape, and caused the region to suffer the worst haze crisis on record. It sent air pollution levels skyrocketing, caused deaths and grounded planes.

But since then, Indonesia has taken significant steps to reduce the occurrence of fires, said Dr Nirarta Samadhi, country director of research organisation World Resources Institute Indonesia.

Speaking to the media on the sidelines of Friday's event, Dr Samadhi pointed to three ways that the Indonesian government has demonstrated its commitment to dealing with the haze issue.

The first was the formation in 2016 of the Peatland Restoration Agency, which was tasked with carrying out programmes to restore Indonesia's carbon-rich peatlands.

To this end, new regulations were rolled out, such as a land swop scheme that aims to get companies off deep peatlands and move to mineral soils instead, said Dr Samadhi.

The Indonesian government also conducted mapping exercises using Lidar technology to provide data on water levels. If water table levels are too low, peatlands could become more flammable.

Dr Samadhi said that these government initiatives have contributed to the clear skies in the region in the past three years.

But other factors not within direct control, such as weather, played a role too. "Recently, we have also had the advantage of having wetter weather," Dr Samadhi said.

Sub-national elections in Indonesia could also have contributed to the haze-free skies, as local politicians would have greater incentive to prevent fires, Dr Samadhi said.

Given the role that unpredictable factors play in contributing to the haze, he added, it is hard to predict if South-east Asia could achieve its target of being haze-free by 2020.

The target was set by Asean environment ministers following the 2015 crisis.

Dr Samadhi said: "The Indonesian government has an action plan and regulations to curb fires. If that is followed, there would not be haze. But there are other factors that cannot be controlled... So if you ask me if we will have haze in 2020, I would not have the answer."


Singapore set for third straight haze-free year
Indonesian minister says there won't be a repeat of 2015 crisis in 2018, thanks to steps taken
Audrey Tan and Luke Anthony Tan Straits Times 19 May 18;

Singapore looks set to see a third straight year with no haze, due in part to Indonesia's sustained efforts at curbing fires and preventing their spread.

Indonesia's Minister of National Development Planning Bambang Brodjonegoro said yesterday that the 2015 haze crisis would not repeat itself this year.

"In the last few years, including this year, we did not have the haze that happened in 2015," he said, adding that forestry and peatland management plans have already been implemented. Dr Bambang was speaking at the fifth Singapore Dialogue on Sustainable World Resources held at the Grand Hyatt Singapore hotel. The event was organised by think-tank Singapore Institute of International Affairs.

His statement echoes similar promises made by other Indonesian officials last year and in 2016.

The haze in Singapore is largely caused by winds blowing smoke from forest fires in Indonesia. Many of Indonesia's pulpwood and oil palm plantations are located on carbon-rich peatlands. When these areas are drained of water for planting, the risk of fire increases.

In 2015, Indonesia's dry season coincided with the El Nino weather phenomenon, which is linked to warmer and drier weather in this part of the world.

The bad weather exacerbated the forest fires typical of the country's agro-forestry landscape, and caused the region to suffer the worst haze crisis on record.

BANKS CAN PLAY A PART

We hope local and regional banks can develop clear policies on not financing companies linked to unsustainable practices... They should also develop clear timelines to help their clients to improve their practices, by adhering to standards set out in eco-certification schemes.

MS ZHANG WEN, executive director of People's Movement to Stop Haze, on what financial instutitions can do to help Asean achieve its goal of being haze-free by 2020.

Since then, Indonesia has taken significant steps to reduce the occurrence of fires, said Dr Nirarta Samadhi, country director of research organisation World Resources Institute Indonesia.

Speaking to the media on the sidelines of yesterday's event, Dr Samadhi pointed to three ways that the Indonesian government has demonstrated its commitment to dealing with the haze issue.

The first was the formation in 2016 of the Peatland Restoration Agency, which was tasked with carrying out programmes to restore Indonesia's carbon-rich peatlands.

To this end, new regulations were rolled out, such as a land swop scheme aiming to get companies off deep peatlands and to move to mineral soils instead, said Dr Samadhi.

The Indonesian government also conducted mapping exercises using Lidar technology to provide data on water levels. If water table levels are too low, peatlands could become more flammable.

Dr Samadhi said these government initiatives have contributed to the clear skies in the region in the past three years.

But other factors not within direct control, such as the weather, played a role too. "Recently, we have also had the advantage of having wetter weather," Dr Samadhi said.

Sub-national elections in Indonesia could also have contributed to the haze-free skies, as local politicians would have greater incentive to prevent fires, Dr Samadhi said.

Given the role that unpredictable factors play in contributing to the haze, he added, it is hard to predict if South-east Asia could achieve its target of being haze-free by 2020. The target was set by Asean environment ministers after the 2015 crisis.

Ms Zhang Wen, executive director of volunteer group People's Movement to Stop Haze (PM.Haze), said that for Asean to reach its 2020 target, financial institutions need to play their part.

"We hope local and regional banks can develop clear policies on not financing companies linked to unsustainable practices, such as slash-and-burn techniques, deforestation, and peat drainage. They should also develop clear timelines to help their clients to improve their practices, by adhering to standards set out in eco-certification schemes," she said.


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