Best of our wild blogs: 19 Sep 17

Oil palm firms advance into Leuser rainforest, defying Aceh governor’s orders

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Malaysia: RM60 million needed to operate Malaysia's largest marine park for first five years

KRISTY INUS New Straits Times 18 Sep 17;

KOTA KINABALU: A total of RM60 million is needed to operate the Tun Mustapha Park (TMP), Malaysia’s largest marine park, for its first five years (2017-2021).

WWF-Malaysia, announcing this during a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signing with Sabah Parks today, will assist the latter in developing a financial plan which could cover income generation or fundraising strategies, as well as sustainable financing.

The 10-year agreement solidifies the existing cooperation between the non-governmental organisation (NGO) and the conservation-based government body in taking care of the 898,762-hectare TMP.

The TMP, gazetted last year, spans three districts (Kudat, Kota Marudu and Pitas).

WWF-Malaysia chief executive officer Datuk Dr Dionysius S.K. Sharma and Sabah Parks director Dr Jamili Nais signed the MoU, witnessed by State Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Masidi Manjun.

Dionysius said WWF-Malaysia is committed to co-funding the TMP management and operation office, the TMP regulations development, sustainable financing mechanism and conservation, led by the state government.

“TMP is a global symbol of how we can collectively commit to protecting the environment while local communities continue to live in a sustainable manner.

“People must understand that the gazetting measure is just the first step in a long journey.

“Right now, there are over 80,000 coastal and island folk living in the area. We don’t know how many there will be in the future but the goal is for them to have better life in a sustainable manner,” he said.

WWF-Malaysia Marine Programme’s People and Biodiversity manager Monique Sumampouw said that 85 per cent of locals surveyed indicated that the gazetting measure had a positive impact.

She said the MoU will focus on the protection and restoration of coral reefs, sea grass and mangroves as well as key species like sea turtles, dugong, sharks and commercially-valuable fish.

Meanwhile, Masidi said the gazetting of such parks require political will. Its impact, she said, may not be seen in the short term but will benefit the people in the future.

“I would like to give an example where a few days ago, a massive cleanup was conducted at the Kudat coastline, where many plastic bottles were collected. Surprisingly, some of the bottles came from other parts of the world, even as far as Saudi Arabia.

“So do not think that what we do in TMP only benefits only Kudat and Sabah; it affects people all over the world.

“We should not opt for shortcuts and short-term benefits but make decisions that allow people to prosper, generation after generation.

“I hope that leaders, wherever they are, will do more of what is right instead of what is popular. I hope what we did will encourage others to follow suit,” said the minister.

He also stressed on the importance of being realistic when it comes to gazetting more marine parks.

“I believe the shortest time frame for the next one (to be gazetted) is maybe ten years. I am saying this to keep expectations within limits. There is a lot of work to be done and there are various technicalities involved,” he said.

Masidi had earlier this month said that the government had identified Mantanani Island off Kota Belud and its surrounding areas as the next potential marine park.

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Malaysia: Sabah seeks to ban shark hunting

The Star 19 Sep 17;

KOTA KINABALU: Sabah is looking to put in place a total ban on shark hunting and finning in all six of its marine parks by the end of the year.

State Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Masidi Manjun said amendments to the Sabah Parks Enactment to allow the ban will be tabled at the state assembly budget sitting, which is scheduled for November.

“Once in place, we can act against those who are hunting or finning within the park,” he said after meeting with the Sabah Shark Protection Association, which will be organising its second Alternatives to Shark Fin Soup Exhibition here on Nov 11.

He said the state government’s move would harmonise with the federal Fisheries Depart­ment to ban certain types of shark hunting and trading.

“It is important to conserve and preserve sharks, which among other reasons, will also bring in more in tourism revenue.

“Since the campaign began, awareness of the issue has increased among Sabahans.

“I am happy to note that shark’s fin soup for many has become a taboo and they avoid it and seek other options,” he said.

Amendments proposed to turn Sabah marine parks into shark sanctuaries
AVILA GERALDINE New Straits Times 18 Sep 17;

KOTA KINABALU: The Sabah Tourism, Culture and Environment Ministry’s legal department is in the midst of preparing amendments to the Sabah Parks Enactment 1984 in a move to turn all six marine parks in the state into shark sanctuaries.

Its minister, Datuk Seri Masidi Manjun, said amendments to the enactment would be tabled at the state assembly once the review was finalised.

The marine parks are Tunku Abdul Rahman Park, Tun Sakaran Marine Park, Tun Mustapha Park, Pulau Tiga Park, Turtle Islands Park and Sipadan Island Park.

“There are certain requirements to amend certain provisions of the law, which we hope to table in this coming assembly session. We have had some positive achievements in trying to get our sharks fully protected.

“Even the federal authorities are now more engaging in (Sabah’s) request for amendments to the Fisheries Act 1985 that would allow total banning of shark fishing for certain category of species.

“Sabah has a lot of sharks and we are trying to protect all species. This, of course, requires a bit of adjustment to the Fisheries Act so we can harmonise the law relating to the protection of sharks in both federal and state laws,” he said.

Masidi was speaking at a press conference on the Alternative To Shark Fin Soup Exhibition, which will be held on Nov 11 at Imago Mall, here.

Present were Sabah Shark Protection Association (SSPA) president Aderick Chong, Imago acting marketing manager Rustam Ahmad, Go Seafood Sdn Bhd chief executive officer and executive director, Mikhail Razak Harris and Chua Hua Beng.

Masidi said he had held informal discussions with leaders from Kuala Lumpur and noted that they had begun to understand the situation Sabah was facing and pursuing with regards to shark conservation.

“I am also happy to note that the public are now quick to respond when they see photos of slaughtered sharks in the market. This shows Sabahans are now aware of the need to protect marine species.

“Sometimes, this issue crops up and I get a message on Facebook, saying ‘Masidi, where are you?’. Well, I’m still in KK and I’m still the minister but (jokes aside) there is no law that gives authority to the minister to take action against this.

“There is no law to allow us to stop shark fishing. So, I hope the people understand this and if indeed there is a law (banning shark fishing), I will be in the forefront to ensure it does not happen,” he said.

Currently, the Sabah Fisheries Department has listed whale sharks and sawfish (ray species) as protected and threatened under the Fisheries (Control of Endangered Species of Fish) Regulations 1999 and Fisheries Act 1985.

The department has proposed another four shark and two ray species, which have been listed under the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species 2008, to be categorised as threatened under the Fisheries Act.

The sharks are Sphyrna mokarran (great hammerhead shark), Sphyrna zygaena (smooth hammerhead shark), Eusphyra blochii (winghead shark) and the Carcharhinus longimanus (oceanic whitetip shark). The rays are Manta birostris (oceanic manta) and Manta alfredi (reef manta).

As the diving industry is one of Sabah’s active segments in spurring the state’s economy, Masidi said shark conservation must be emphasised to prevent species extinction such as what has befallen the Sumatran rhinoceros.

“I’m personally happy that SSPA is continuously educating the public. Ensuring total protection (of sharks) lies in our attitude. The laws can only be effective if there is strict enforcement, but our attitude determines whether our sharks survive.”

Meanwhile, Chong said the upcoming Alternative To Shark Fin Soup Exhibition focused on creating awareness and introducing substitutes for the dish to the public.

He said a similar event was organised in 2012 when many restaurants and hotels were still serving shark fin soup.

“However, this time around some (restaurants and hotels) have given

up, or rather struck off their menus, and this year we are stepping up our event with the support of Go Seafood, which produces Royal Empura products.

“The Empura fish is a sustainable resource, prestigious and expensive compared to shark fins. So we have a good alternative this year, together with birds nest.

“We have put up a really good fight against shark fin soup and now we have a ‘contender’. Hopefully, there will be more restaurants participating in the exhibition,” he said.

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Malaysia: Sarawak Forestry Department sending out strong message to timber thieves

Goh Pei Pei New Straits Times 18 Sep 17;

KUCHING: The Sarawak Forestry Department has defended its latest move in destroying on-the-spot, illegal logs seized during operations against timber thieves.

Its director Sapuan Ahmad said the department wanted to send a strong message against timber thieves that Sarawak was serious about putting an end to illegal logging.

The move, he said, was aimed at addressing allegations that the department had its hand in the auction of the illegal logs.

“Previously, all logs seized during our operations would be auctioned off.

“However, there were quarters accusing our officers of working together with potential buyers of the logs (for quick money).

“So, we decided to address this allegation by burning all logs found illegally felled on the spot at the scene of the raid.

“This is regardless of the value of the logs,” he told reporters here today.

The New Straits Times recently reported that the department had destroyed 300 logs, which were left abandoned in Batang Belawai, Sarikei near here.

Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Abang Abdul Rahman Zohari Abang Openg had also consented to the move.

“It was the first time we had destroyed the logs and we will continue to do so, especially in the remote areas which could hardly be reached by road.

“We are serious about this. We will also not hesitate to destroy machinery and vehicles used for illegal logging.

“This is our fight against illegal logging. We should always remember the late Tan Sri Adenan Satem's words, whereby enough is enough,” he said.

Earlier, Sapuan attended the launching of the GEODRONE Initiative at the Sarawak Forestry Corporation (SFC) office here.

During the launching ceremony, Abdul Rahman Zohari, in his speech, said Sarawak can no longer depend on the conventional way of patrolling and manual effort in forest management.

Sarawak Forestry Department, he said, should make good use of technology to combat illegal logging, and to manage and to preserve the forest resources.

“The timber industry is an important sector, which contributes to the state's economy. Thus, we need to have effective forest management to ensure sustainability in the industry,” he said.

The chief minister had also proposed for SFC to conduct research and development for the establishment of an Industrial Forest, to look for tree species that can harvested within a few short years.

“With this, we don't have to rely on our primary forest,” he said.

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Best of our wild blogs: 18 Sep 17

Corals in the City
Little Green Men

Pulau Tekukor Intertidal Trip on SG52
Offshore Singapore

Barramundi (Lates calcarifer) @ Coney Island (Pulau Serangoon)
Monday Morgue

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Lessons for Singapore from Houston floods

Geh Min For The Straits Times 18 Sep 17;

The fallout for a city state would be far more serious as people have no hinterland to move to and could become environmental refugees.

Floods, like other disasters, make headline news but recede just as quickly from the public's attention - unless you happen to be a victim. But Houston's flooding, though geographically more remote, seems to strike closer to home than the far more frequent and more fatal floods in Bangladesh, India, Nepal, China and even our Asean neighbours because Houston, in the US state of Texas, is a wealthy, First World global metropolis, an important port and petrochemical hub, a top medical centre and home to many Fortune 500 multinational companies. It is also flat and low lying.

So can what happened to Houston also happen to Singapore?

Mother Nature has been kind to Singapore. Although we often bemoan our lack of natural resources, we actually have a very rich biodiversity. We are also free of natural disasters like tsunamis, hurricanes, typhoons, volcanic eruptions and earthquakes.

Singapore has also been extremely fortunate to have a far-sighted government which has made good urban planning and water management a priority from the start.

Most of the damage to Houston was from water and not strong winds. Houston's floods appear to be largely a result of poor urban planning and unregulated building. This article, however, is not intended to be a paean of self-congratulation but a sober look at what lessons Singapore can learn.

Although we do not rank high among cities at risk of flooding, unlike Shanghai, Bangkok or New York, we are not risk-free as climate change has resulted in increasingly frequent and more severe episodes of extreme weather and rising sea levels.

If Singapore were to suffer serious flooding, the social, economic and political consequences would be far more serious than Houston's. First, because of land scarcity, much of our key infrastructure is on low-lying coastal land or even underground. Second, our hard-earned reputation as a First World city that attracts global talent and investments (and is even exporting our urban planning and building model overseas), will be seriously damaged.

But most devastating of all is the question of where we could go. People from Shanghai, Bangkok or Houston and Florida can relocate inland either temporarily or even permanently, as has happened in New Orleans. This already traumatic social dislocation would, in our case, take on a national dimension and we might become environmental refugees like the citizens of Kiribati and Tuvalu.

So here are three lessons we should remember.


We should never underestimate the ability of the human species to think short term, both regarding our past and future. The deadliest hurricane in American history was one that hit Galveston in 1900, effectively wiping it out. It seems to have also been wiped out of Houston's memory, which is surprising because many of the refugees moved inland and settled in Houston, then a one-horse town which then grew to become the fourth-largest city in the US. Such rapid growth in slightly more than a century might seem a success story but "what made Houston so vulnerable to flooding was rampant, unregulated growth", economist Paul Krugman wrote in the New York Times on Sept 7. Singapore's growth as a city has also been phenomenal but matched by strict regulation and long-term urban planning and water management.

But we too have had our episodes of excessive complacency like the series of flash floods from 2010-2013 after 35 years of being flood-free. The first was initially dismissed as a one-in-a-hundred year freak event till the second flood less than two weeks later. That prompted the setting up of a commission to investigate the causes and to recommend corrective measures to our outdated drainage system.

Flooding can also be caused by roads, paved areas, carparks and other impermeable surfaces. While government planners have generally been vigilant about preserving sufficient porous land cover such as parks and nature reserves, it is obvious that these are gradually being eroded by built surfaces, Bukit Brown and Bidadari being two recent examples of green spaces being replaced by roads and housing developments.

Land use planners and developers should not only replace the equivalent area of permeable surfaces but should increase it to cater for more extreme weather conditions. This simple precautionary measure would save the state and taxpayers a fortune in downstream flood-control infrastructure and damage.

En bloc sales and the high price of land lead private developers to maximise their built-up space to the extent that any recently built private condominium is likely to have far less open space than Housing Board blocks. All this increases our risk of flooding and adds to its potential severity.

Building is essential but we should distinguish between necessity and vanity projects and build with humility, not hubris.


The larger and wealthier a city, the more complex, diverse and potentially conflicting its needs and demands. Predicting and juggling the intricate interactions between people and their environment goes far beyond simple arithmetic.

In the aftermath of the Fukushima tragedy in Japan, it seems highly irresponsible to the point of insanity to have sited a nuclear reactor in a tsunami-prone area, however well protected by sea walls and levees. But a crowded country needs energy, and nuclear reactors are usually sited in the least-populated part which typically is that way for a reason, in this case, tsunamis.

Singapore's planners have a Herculean task fitting our multifarious requirements on such a small island with no real hinterland. Our international airport, financial district, petrochemical and other major industries, many reservoirs and waste-disposal facilities are sited on low-lying, reclaimed land. We have little choice. But do we want to narrow our options further? People, unlike buildings, cannot be abandoned in an emergency.

The Government's 2010 White Paper on population projected for an artificial population growth to 6.9 million based largely on economic growth, the desired labour force and the changing dependency ratio of an ageing population. Factoring in social cohesion accurately turned out to be more challenging, but our ecological carrying capacity seems to have been missed out completely - except for a brief mention on green recreational spaces. Worryingly, in the subsequent furious debate, some well-respected planners said that we could actually comfortably grow to a population of 11 million or 12 million.

The more our population grows, the more ecologically vulnerable we make ourselves; and the faster we grow, the less time we have to correct our mistakes. How would we know we have reached or even exceeded the tipping point if we don't have time for checks and balances?


Like much of the developed, urbanised world, Singaporeans generally have a narrow anthropocentric view of nature which we regard as recreational or ornamental rather than providing essential ecosystem services. We fail to realise that nature is often not the problem but the solution.

After the tragic Asian tsunami in 2004, it was found that coastal villages with intact mangroves and coral were relatively unscathed but those nearby that had destroyed these natural barriers were severely damaged.

But most coastal cities like Miami, New Orleans and Singapore have removed these natural barriers in the course of development. Singapore has projects to regenerate our mangroves and corals but it will take a long time to do so.

Massive engineering projects like sea walls and pumps may afford temporary protection but are hugely expensive to build and maintain and when they fail, as happened in Fukushima and New Orleans, they can do so disastrously.

The Dutch, past masters of flood control (60 per cent of Holland is below sea level) depend heavily on technology and man-made barriers but they also integrate nature-based solutions and adaptations to flooding, following Francis Bacon's dictum that nature to be commanded must be obeyed. Wetlands and floodplains provide additional layers of protection to sea-level rises and storm surges and, if required, a well-managed, controlled retreat. Their safety margins are gargantuan; equivalent to a once-in-10,000-year flood for the most populous areas - something that engineering alone could not achieve.

They have been advising us on water and flood control but other than different geographical conditions, the Dutch have a nationwide awareness of their risks and an inclusive stakeholder approach to solutions whereas we Singaporeans leave the problem to the Government.

Our leaders are always reminding us of our many social and economic vulnerabilities and how every Singaporean must play a part. The same should go for our environmental fragility. If we could have the same checks and balances for our environmental resources as for our fiscal reserves and social fabric, we would be far more sustainable.

Don't forget that past perfor- mance is not a reliable predictor of the future in environmental as much as economic crises. The once-in-a-hundred-year flood is as likely statistically to happen tomorrow as in a hundred years.

• The writer, an environmentalist and former Nominated MP, is the immediate past president of Nature Society (Singapore).

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Local firm develops meat alternative from plants

NEO CHAI CHIN Today Online 17 Sep 17;

SINGAPORE — With a protein-rich offering derived from plants, but which tastes like chicken, a local start-up has set its sights on pleasing meat eaters while incurring a smaller environmental footprint.

Mr Ricky Lin, 35, founder of food technology start-up Life3 Biotech, is looking to attract about S$1.5 million in funding to set up a production facility for his plant-based protein.

Tentatively called Veego, it is possibly the closest made-in-Singapore product to “clean meat”, which has generated excitement abroad among high-profile investors.

“Clean meat”, or cultured meat, is grown from animal cells without the farming and slaughtering of animals. Its close cousin is plant-based protein that tastes like real chicken or beef.

Last month, it was reported that Singapore investment fund Temasek led a US$75 million (S$101 million) investment in American company Impossible Foods, which produces plant-based protein that tastes and looks like beef. The company genetically modifies yeast and uses fermentation to produce an iron-containing molecule called heme, which gives the patty its red colour.

Separately, billionaires Richard Branson and Bill Gates were among the investors who pumped US$17 million into “clean meat” company Memphis Meats in August.

Mr Lin has been working on Veego since June last year with a small team, zeroing in on the ingredients and processes that would deliver the taste, texture and nutritional content he wanted.

Working out of the food science and technology lab at the National University of Singapore (NUS) and advised by NUS senior lecturer Leong Lai Peng, Mr Lin believes he has a product that consumers will enjoy.

Unlike tofu, which disintegrates more easily, Veego can be sliced like real meat. It can be braised, steamed, stir-fried, deep-fried, and cooked in curry or teriyaki-style. After rounds of experimentation, it has gone from “yucky to tasty”, said Mr Lin.

While the exact blend of ingredients is a trade secret, he said they include legumes, grains and soya beans.

“The product can go even further … to Version 2.0. Right now, it’s about Version 1.5,” said Mr Lin, who goes meat-free on Wednesdays.

“We’ve had a panel of analysts and business owners who have tested our product and they were happy, so we decided to launch with this first.”

Even in a less evolved state last November, Veego (then called Veyotein) won two awards — the first runner-up and Most Functional awards — at the Food Innovation Product Award, organised by the Singapore Food Manufacturers’ Association and supported by various government agencies.

Mr Lin, who will be speaking at a food innovation panel session at the TechInnovation industry event on Wednesday, said it could be fortified with more iron in future. TechInnovation is organised by the Ministry of Trade and Industry’s Intellectual Property Intermediary.

According to him, Veego contains at least 18 grams of protein per 100g (tofu has about 8g while chicken breast has about 26g) and is high in fibre and low in saturated fats. It contains Vitamins A, B and C, and magnesium. Unlike mock meat, which is often made of soya bean skin and wheat gluten, Veego is gluten-free. Mr Lin has approached catering companies, restaurants and social enterprise NTUC Foodfare to taste his product.

Executive Chinese chef Brian Wong of Wan Hao restaurant at Singapore Marriott Tang Plaza Hotel has tried Veego a few times and said the product is versatile. Its nutritional content is a selling point, he said.

“I would not compare it to meat because if we compare it to chicken or pork, people would taste it with certain expectations,” said Mr Wong in Mandarin.

“If it were up to me, I would (introduce it at the restaurant) because we have customers who are vegetarian, but who do not want mock (meat) because of the starch and chemicals.”

Veego has garnered interest from food and beverage firms as well as institutional caterers that supply to nursing homes and athletes, and Mr Lin is hopeful that investors will come on board by end of next month.

He reckoned that with a 3,000 sq ft to 5,000 sq ft production facility, Life3 Biotech would be able to produce 25 tonnes a month for a start.

There is currently no government-funded research on “clean meat”. Asked if it sees research and development potential, Dr Benjamin Seet, executive director of the Agency for Science, Technology and Research’s (A*Star) biomedical research council, did not comment specifically on “clean meat”.

A*Star is looking at how biotechnology can safely meet consumer demand for “clean labels” and natural ingredients in food, said Dr Seet.

Meanwhile, in a sign that consumer demand for meat alternatives may be growing, NTUC FairPrice outlets and RedMart recently began selling products from British brand Quorn.

The meat substitute is made from fermentation using a nutritious fungus. FairPrice’s director (fresh products) Peter Teo said Quorn is the first plant-based protein available at the supermarket chain and has a “very similar texture to meat”.

Consumers are more environmentally conscious, and FairPrice saw potential for Quorn products as they generate 90 per cent less greenhouse gas emissions and use 10 times less water than beef, he said. Four products began retailing last month at S$5 for a 300g pack and more will be available soon, said Mr Teo.

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Malaysia: ‘Bush meat a health risk and can lead to extinction’

The Star 18 Sep 17;

KOTA KINABALU: There is no need for urban dwellers to consume bush meat even if they came from farms because protein can be sourced from livestock, says Sabah-based conservationist Dr Benoit Goossens.

Eating bush meat also poses a health risk, he added.

Dr Goossens, who heads the Danau Girang Field Centre in Kinabatangan, said that bush meat are sources of protein for certain forest communities.

“But for most people today, protein can be obtained by consuming chicken, lamb or beef,” he said.

Dr Goossens was commenting on a Facebook post over a recipe to cook porcupine meat, which has alarmed conservationists.

He said porcupines were being farmed and sold in peninsular Malaysia, but the question is whether animals like porcupines were really sourced from the farms.

“It is easy to tell the customer the meat came from a farm. How can you prove it? It can easily be taken from the wild,” he said, adding that there is also the risk of transmission of diseases from wild animals.

Dr Goossens said people should avoid wild meat because it would lead to the extinction of various animal species.

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The Everglades have always been hit by hurricanes. Thanks to climate change, Irma could be a different matter.

Chelsea Harvey The Washington Post 16 Sep 17;

As residents of the Southeast are returning home and assessing the damage left by Hurricane Irma, Florida scientists are anxiously waiting to evaluate the storm’s impact on one of the state’s most valuable — and vulnerable — ecosystems: the Everglades.

Already threatened by the continuous progression of sea-level rise — which pumps damaging salt water into the habitat, jeopardizing groundwater resources, contributing to erosion and threatening wildlife and vegetation — some scientists worry that the weakened Everglades are becoming less resilient to disruptive events like hurricanes. The issue is a prime example of the way climate change can render ecosystems more vulnerable to even natural disturbances.

Indeed, it’s an issue that President Barack Obama chose to highlight two years ago during his last term. On a visit to Everglades National Park in April 2015, timed to coincide with Earth Day, Obama emphasized the growing threat of climate change and pointed to the impact of the rising seas in Florida as an example.

“Climate change is threatening this treasure and the communities that depend on it, which includes almost all of South Florida,” he said in a speech delivered at the entrance of Everglades National Park. “And if we don’t act, there may not be an Everglades as we know it.”

Everglades National Park consists of about 1.5 million acres, or more than 2,300 square miles, of wetland area, containing pine woodlands, saw grass marshes and extensive mangrove forests, which help to naturally build up the land and buffer the coast against the rising seas. It’s home to a diverse variety of wildlife — including crocodiles and alligators, as Obama pointed out in his speech — and it’s part of the freshwater system that feeds South Florida’s Biscayne Aquifer, a source of drinking water for millions of people.

Hurricanes, in and of themselves, are not necessarily devastating events for the Everglades, according to Harold Wanless, an expert on coastal geology at the University of Miami. They have long been a natural and common occurrence in South Florida. They can even sometimes benefit the landscape by throwing mud onto the coast and helping to build up the land.

“From my point of view, they’re part of the system,” Wanless told The Washington Post.

Over the last century, however, sea-level rise — accelerated by human-induced global warming — has begun to degrade the Everglades by allowing salt water to seep into the system. This is bad news for the freshwater plants and animals that live there, but it’s also a major threat to South Florida’s drinking water supplies. And some scientists believe that salt water intrusion may be contributing to the erosion and collapse of certain parts of the landscape.

“Plants are not as productive as they have been, and soils in places are disappearing,” said Evelyn Gaiser, an Everglades expert and executive director of the School of Environment, Arts and Society at Florida International University. Particularly concerning is a process known by scientists as “peat collapse,” in which the rich, organic soil beneath the marshes is starting to collapse and be overtaken by open water.

“We’re trying to understand through a lot of ongoing science why that’s happening, but what we do know is it is occurring in areas that are receiving more salt than they have in the past, as a result of chronic salt water encroachment,” Gaiser said.

These soil losses are also making it increasingly difficult for the mangrove forests — some of the Everglades’ greatest natural defenses against sea level rise — to maintain themselves at the edges of the ecosystem, Wanless noted.

Now, scientists are growing increasingly concerned that the impact of hurricanes could exacerbate some of the climate-related challenges already facing the Everglades, by driving more salty water into the system or destroying more mangroves.

Researchers are awaiting clearance to enter the national park and begin assessing the impact of Hurricane Irma, but there are a few disturbances they’ll be looking out for, according to Len Berry, former head of the Florida Center for Environmental Studies at Florida Atlantic University and now a professor emeritus and independent consultant. A major priority will be “looking for the extent inland that the surge went, bringing salt water,” he told The Post.

“What’s expected to happen is that you get short-term contamination of the aquifer, but what’s more important perhaps is you get a longer-term degradation of the vegetation,” he added. While there’s some hope that the mangrove forests may continue to gradually shift inland in advance of the rising seas, a violent storm surge can overwhelm them, he said.

Indeed, previous hurricanes have destroyed thousands of mangrove trees as they passed through — Hurricane Wilma in 2005 was one of them. That said, Gaiser noted that the destroyed mangroves were regrowing within a matter of months, and had reached their previous levels of productivity within a few years.

The question now, she said, is how 12 more years of sea-level rise and degradation have affected the Everglades’ resiliency.

“Is this kind of recovery that we saw 12 years ago still possible?” she asked. “Because we know that we are on a different trajectory in this ecosystem than even we knew about 12 years ago at the timing of Hurricane Wilma.”

For now, scientists are continuing to collect data and improve the models they use to make long-term forecasts for the future of the Everglades, Gaiser said.

Scientists say there are still important improvements that could made to the region’s ongoing recovery efforts. Wanless has suggested more resources devoted to the recovery of mangroves, especially after large disturbances like hurricanes, and to the recycling and storage of much-needed fresh water to bolster the Everglades’ water levels.

That said, the greatest ongoing challenge for the Everglades remains the progression of climate change and the relentless rising of the seas. The Everglades’ response to Hurricane Irma may hold important clues about how the ecosystem is continuing to change, at a time when the its future remains deeply uncertain.

“When things are changing outside the range of anything that you’ve seen in the past it’s very hard to be very sure about what might happen in the future,” Gaiser said.

Chris Mooney contributed to this report.

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Best of our wild blogs: 17 Sep 17

3,500 volunteers from 80 organisations tackle marine trash as part of the International Coastal Cleanup in Singapore
News from the International Coastal Cleanup Singapore

Butterfly of the Month - September 2017
Butterflies of Singapore

Flew In Visitors (16 Sep 2017)
Beetles@SG BLOG

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Animal lovers petition for review of Sungei Tengah shelter designs

Authority says stakeholders consulted during design and construction stages
VALERIE KOH Today Online 16 Sep 17;

SINGAPORE – Likening the authorities’ new housing facility for animals at Sungei Tengah to “concentration camps”, an online petition urging the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) to review the design of the facility for animal shelters and pet farms has garnered over 1,400 signatures since Wednesday (Sep 13).

The authority, however, said stakeholders were consulted during the design and construction stages and changes were made after feedback, such as the redesign of the initial individual kennel layout for communal kennels.

Ms Josephine Lim, a regular volunteer with various shelters, started the petition after coming across photographs of the Sungei Tengah facility. Taken during a site visit by Lily Low Shelter, these photographs depicted rows of double-storey buildings, with windows sited close to the ceiling, under construction.

“The new structures look just like concentration camps with small windows built at 1.8m from the ground,” said Ms Lim, a 50-year-old sales director. “How depressing will the shelters be without a well-ventilated environment?”

She added that sheltering animals or breeding animals “in such cramped quarters” was undignified and inhumane.

Last November, the AVA announced that it would be building a new facility for animal shelters and pet farms at Sungei Tengah by the end of this year. The space would be rented out to operators at Loyang and Seletar, whose leases are expiring in the coming months.

At that time, the AVA said that there would be sufficient room for the animals – estimated to be around 6,000 to 7,000 - owned by the nine animal welfare groups, 29 pet farms and several independent shelters there.

Following a site visit to Sungei Tengah last month, Ms Lily Low, who runs a shelter for cats at Pasir Ris, voiced concerns about the poor ventilation on Facebook.

“Ventilation of our new shelter is terrible. I had difficulty breathing. I felt faint,” she said. Her current shelter, which has been home to 160 cats and three dogs rescued from the streets for the past decade, has a wire mesh design, with sunlight streaming in and air circulating freely.

Speaking to TODAY earlier this week, Ms Low, 48, said: “Over at the new facilities, it’s all covered up. The windows are so small. Can you imagine the stench?”

The lack of space around the compound and inside each unit was also an issue for her. By siting the buildings close to each other, a virus outbreak could be difficult to contain, she said.

Furthermore, the 104 sq m space – roughly the size of a five-room flat - offered by the AVA was too small to accommodate all her animals. She said: “They’re making me a hoarder.”

Animal Lovers League co-founder Mohan Div, 52, had similar concerns. The 15-year-old shelter for nearly 500 cats, dogs, tortoises and rabbits will also be moving from Pasir Ris to Sungei Tengah.

“Our building hasn’t been constructed yet. But from what we see, there’s poor ventilation (at the other buildings). Presently, we have open concept farms. The new space given is very small, so there’s a real compromise (of) the animals’ well-being.There’s a claustrophobic feeling,” he said.

For one dog shelter, the move will mean downsizing to a 450 sq m space – one-tenth of their current site at Pasir Ris. But in land scarce Singapore, this is “as good as it gets”, said Save Our Street Dogs (SOSD).

In a Facebook post on Friday (Sep 15), SOSD said: “The Ministry of National Development (MND) is building the premises, with space allocated for animal welfare - and we move in and pay rent. This is much better than the original plan, where animal shelters had to bid for land, and build our own premises - an undertaking which would have cost millions.”

Referring to the petition, SOSD felt that rather than rapping the authorities for poor design, operators should work with them to make the best of limited resources.

“On this point, AVA and MND have reassured us that we are free to conduct renovation works to make the place better after we take over the units. For example, the problem of poor ventilation can be improved, by creating larger windows,” said the group.

Being close to other shelters had its perks, the group noted. For instance, animal welfare initiatives can be more easily implemented and groups will have more synergy.

In response to media queries, the AVA said that a census had been conducted in November last year to ensure that there would be sufficient space at the new facility to house the affected animals, and the allocation of units at the new facility was based on those population numbers.

The authorities tried to adjust the design and layout “as much as possible” given constraints such as land availability. Dog runs and a pavilion will also be built.

“During the engagement sessions, we received requests for lower walls to allow for better ventilation. We have designed the units to facilitate natural ventilation and comply with the building code of practice,” said the AVA.

As for the design of the facility, the AVA said that the floor to ceiling height is 2.5m, and most walls are 1.5m high, with the remaining 1m covered by wire mesh.

Only the fire escape-facing wall on the first floor will be 1.8m high to comply with the fire safety code. The remaining 0.7m for this wall will be covered by wire mesh.

Some stakeholders wanted air-conditioning, while others requested exhaust fans, noted the AVA. Power points have been provided so that fans or other ventilation can be added to each unit.

Stakeholders had also highlighted that the initial individual kennel layout was not suitable. “In response to this feedback, we redesigned the space for communal kennels instead. We also provided a fenced-up kennel in non-commercial units to address concerns about animals jumping out of the kennels,” said the AVA, adding that units kennel partitions will also be allowed for some operators.

In terms of rental fees, animal welfare groups and independent shelters will pay rental based on “cost recovery” while commercial pet establishments will bid for units based on a reserve price.

While the facility was initially slated for completion end this year, the timeline will be pushed back due to additional earthworks and and will only be ready in stages from the end of this year till the middle of next year. Operators will be given short-term lease extensions till then.

Upcoming animal shelter in Sungei Tengah to have flexible layout configuration: AVA
Audrey Tan Straits Times 16 Sep 17;

SINGAPORE - The upcoming government-built animal shelter in Sungei Tengah will have a variety of layout configurations, to cater to the needs of different animal welfare groups that will have to move there when the facility is ready by mid-2018.

The two-storey facility is expected to house some 7,000 animals from the cat and dog shelters in Pasir Ris, Loyang, Seletar and Lim Chu Kang.

The animals have to move as land leases of their present, single-storey shelters are due to expire in the coming months.

Some units in the new facility will have kennel partitions, while others will be developed without partition walls, grilles and gates for the communal kennels, said the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) on Saturday (Sept 16).

"Some stakeholders have requested air-conditioning, while others have asked for exhaust fans. Power points have been provided so that fans or other ventilation can be provided within each unit. AVA has tried to make provisions to allow tenants the flexibility to retrofit units to suit their individual needs," said the spokesman.

It has also made provisions for better natural ventilation in the facility.

"We have designed the units to facilitate natural ventilation and comply with the building code of practice. The floor to ceiling is 2.5m in height. Most walls are 1.5m high, with the remaining 1m covered by wire mesh. Only the fire escape-facing wall on the first floor will be 1.8m high to comply with the fire safety code. The remaining 0.7m for this wall will be covered by wire mesh," said the AVA spokesman.

AVA's update on the facility comes after a petition calling on the agency to review the design of the shelter started circulating on social media on Wednesday (Sept 13).

The petition, started by one Josephine Lim, said that based on photographs circulating online, "the shelter looks just like a concentration camp... which does not have any outdoor space for animals to get natural sunlight and is totally boxed in".

However, it is not clear where the photographs she is referring to are from, as the facility is not yet fully built.

Construction of the new shelter has been slightly delayed due to the need for additional earthworks, AVA said, and the facility is now scheduled to be progressively ready from the end of this year to mid-next year.

Animal welfare groups were expected to move to the Sungei Tengah shelter by the end of this year.

But AVA said it has worked with the relevant agencies to provide short-term extensions for tenants whose leases are expiring this year.

Mr Derrick Tan, founder of animal welfare group Voices for Animals (VFA), which has a shelter at Pasir Ris, said it is not clear who Josephine Lim is, and if she had been part of the engagement sessions that animal welfare groups have been having with AVA.

"The facility is a shelter for the animals to stay temporarily, while we find them their forever home. It is not a permanent place we want the animals to stay in forever. And whatever space we get, we can make good use of it to allow the animals to be comfortable. AVA has been very flexible with the layout that different groups want," said Mr Tan.

VFA has been allocated three units for its 150 dogs, Mr Tan told The Straits Times.

Of this, he had negotiated with AVA to have two of the three units built without any partitions, allowing the dogs to roam free as they do in the current shelter. The third unit is kept for less socialised dogs, he said.

Animal welfare group Voices for Animals' proposed changes to configuration of units in upcoming government-built animal shelter in Sungei Tengah. PHOTO: VOICES FOR ANIMALS

AVA agreed to make changes according to VFA's requirements. PHOTO: VOICES FOR ANIMALS
"AVA has been very flexible, and we need to be fair to them," he said.

Taking on board the suggestions at the design phase would help animal welfare groups, which are often already cash-strapped, save costs, Mr Tan added.

His views were echoed by a number of other animal welfare groups, including dog rescue group SOSD Singapore.

The group said in a Facebook post on Friday (Sept 15): "Can the situation be better? Yes - if we were in New Zealand or Australia, where there is ample land. In land-scarce Singapore, this is as good as it gets, for now. The National Development Ministry (MND) is building the premises, with space allocated for animal welfare - and we move in and pay rent; This is much better than the original plan, where animal shelters had to bid for land, and build our own premises - an undertaking which would have cost millions."

MND is the parent ministry which AVA falls under.

The new two-storey facility will also provide different services, such as pest control, waste disposal, cleaning services, which can be shared, AVA said.

"The facility is custom-built for housing animals and meets AVA's animal welfare standards. There will also be common facilities, such as dog runs and a pavilion for events. The facility's Managing Agent will carry out routine pest control and provide security services," said AVA.

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Hotel turns food waste into fertiliser

Sue-Ann Tan Straits Times 17 Sep 17;

Diners at Grand Hyatt Singapore's restaurants have been unknowingly helping the hotel maintain its in-house herb garden every time they have a meal there.

Since mid-2016, the hotel in Scotts Road has been using a food waste management system. Instead of getting thrown away, food waste goes into a machine known as the Biomax Thermophilic Digester.

Food waste such as vegetables, poultry, bones, egg shells, fruit peel - and even tissue paper - from nine in-house restaurants and kitchens are converted into pathogen-free organic fertilisers used in the hotel's rooftop herb garden.

The machine was highlighted as part of a professional sharing session yesterday by Waste Management and Recycling Association of Singapore (WMRAS) and Green Infiniti, the Singapore distributor of Biomax products such as the food waste digester.

About 90 guests attended the session, including Dr Amy Khor, adviser to WMRAS and Senior Minister of State for the Environment and Water Resources and Health.

Said Mr Edwin Pang, executive director of WMRAS: "Only 14 per cent of food waste is recycled, so WMRAS supports efforts to convert food waste into either compost or water for discharge.

"This makes our living environment more sustainable because even if we incinerate food waste, it will produce ash for the Semakau landfill, which will run out of space by 2035 to 2040."

The amount of food waste generated in Singapore has increased by about 40 per cent over the past decade, according to the National Environment Agency.

Recycling food waste has helped Grand Hyatt Singapore to save on food waste haulage fees, operational and manpower expenses, and the cost of trash bags and bins - all of which come up to about $100,000 a year.

Over 24 hours, the hotel can recycle 500kg of food waste.

Mr Chester Chiew, assistant business development manager of slaughterhouse Sinmah Poultry, said he is considering implementing a food waste recycling system.

"We produce a lot of waste because of the chicken parts we throw away, so this waste management technology will generate lots of savings for us.

"Industries with large amounts of animal waste should definitely consider this technology," he said.

Sue-Ann Tan

Hotel recycles 500kg of food waste into fertiliser within 24 hours using food-waste digester
Sue-Ann Tan Straits Times 16 Sep 17;

SINGAPORE - Grand Hyatt, a hotel near Orchard Road, has saved $100,000 a year, just by managing its waste.

Instead of throwing food waste into the bin, the hotel staff transfer them into a machine known as the Biomax Thermophilic Digester.

This technology recycles food waste such as vegetable, poultry, bones, egg shell, tissue paper and fruit peel from nine in-house restaurants and kitchens.

The food waste is then converted into pathogen-free organic fertilisers which are used for the hotel's landscaping purposes.

In a 24-hour cycle, the hotel can recycle 500kg of food waste.

This technology was highlighted as part of a professional sharing session on Saturday (Sept 16) by Waste Management and Recycling Association of Singapore (WMRAS) and the Singapore agent of Biomax, Green Infiniti.

About 90 guests attended the session, including Dr Amy Khor, advisor to WMRAS and Senior Minister of State of the Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources and Ministry of Health.

Participants discussed how food waste could be better recycled as well as how new technology such as the Biomax Digester could competently process different compositions of food waste.

"Only 14 per cent of food waste is recycled so WMRAS supports efforts to convert food waste to either compost or water for discharge. This is to make our living environment more sustainable because even if we incinerate food waste, it will produce ash for the Semakau landfill which will run out of space by 2035 to 2040," said Mr Edwin Pang, executive director of WMRAS

Food waste recycling systems were tested out at Grand Hyatt and Meridian Primary School.

Biomax also worked with other schools such as Sengkang Secondary and Punggol Secondary School.

The recycling helps Grand Hyatt to save on food waste haulage fees, operational and manpower expenses and cost of trash bags and bins.

The initiative also helps to indirectly reduce the hotel's carbon footprint as none of the food waste goes to the incineration plants.

At Meridian Primary, selected students known as "green champions" lead the others in recycling.

They set the example of emptying food waste into buckets in the canteen and separating it from inorganic materials like plastic.

After the machine converts the canteen food waste into fertiliser, the students are also involved in using the fertiliser to grow plants such as chilli and beans.

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