Best of our wild blogs: 18 Mar 18

Celebrating International Day of Forests 2018: Listen to the Forest Streams
Flying Fish Friends

World Water Day 2018
BES Drongos

Earth Hour 2018 in Singapore
Green Drinks Singapore

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A decade on, Marina Barrage is now key to Singapore's water management

SIAU MING EN Today Online 17 Mar 18;

SINGAPORE – While the rest of the island are sound asleep, three members of the Marina Barrage operations team are monitoring tidal conditions and the reservoir’s water level from a control room.

After the sun comes out in the morning, another team sets off on a boat to inspect the water quality in the reservoir while others make their rounds to supervise contractors carrying out regular maintenance checks on the drainage pumps. Throughout the day, the staff at the barrage also sift through copious paperwork, including permits for water activities and event proposals.

Like a well-oiled machinery, the team – which has grown from 34 to 45 officers – has been manning the round-the-clock operations at the Marina Barrage over the last decade.

Today, some 30 years since it was first conceived and a decade since it first began operations, the barrage and the people running it have secured an important additional source of water supply, and prevented the occurrence of floods in low-lying city areas including Chinatown, Boat Quay, Jalan Besar, Geylang and Shenton Way.

Officially opened to the public in October 2008, the S$226-million barrage is Singapore’s first reservoir in the heart of the city, and it boasts the largest catchment area at 10,000 hectares, or one-sixth the size of the island. Drains from as far as Ang Mo Kio, Orchard, Paya Lebar to Alexandra channel rainwater into the Marina reservoir.

A series of activities has been lined up this year to mark the 10th anniversary of a project whose origins can be traced back to 1987 when founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew threw down the gauntlet for national water agency PUB, in these immortalised words: “In 20 years, it is possible that there could be breakthroughs in technology, both anti-pollution and filtration, and then we dam up or put a barrage at the mouth of the Marina – the neck that joins the sea – and we will have a huge freshwater lake.”

Apart from serving its strategic purposes, the barrage has also – to the pleasant surprise of its planners – become an iconic feature of the Marina Bay backdrop, endearing itself to the young and old: On weekday evenings, its green roof would be occupied with dating couples or office workers unwinding after a long day, while runners and tourists stream through its premises sprawling more than 240ha. On weekends, families with children and pets in tow flock there for picnics and kite-flying, while water sports enthusiasts take part in various activities in the serene waters.

Since its opening, close to 15 million people have visited the Marina Barrage. “We never ever imagined it will be so popular,” PUB chief executive Ng Joo Hee told TODAY in an interview earlier this week.


The Marina reservoir is served by five major rivers – Kallang River, Geylang River, Singapore River, Rochor Canal and Stamford Canal.

Since 2011, with the completion of the Marina, Punggol and Serangoon Reservoirs, Singapore’s water catchment area has increased from half to two-thirds of its land surface.

The idea for Marina Barrage came from the late Mr Lee in 1987, after the authorities spent 10 years cleaning up the Singapore River.

Speaking to TODAY, PUB chief sustainability officer Tan Nguan Sen noted that the barrage would not have been feasible if the Singapore River was still polluted. Once the Marina Channel was dammed up, all the rubbish would be stuck in it, he said.

“But because we cleaned up the Singapore River, it created a new possibility,” added Mr Tan.

Even so, Marina Barrage’s eventual “three-in-one” function was not conceived right from the beginning.

When the idea was first mooted in 1987, Mr Tan said the “key function” the authorities was working towards was flood control. Singapore has had a long history of floods. In December 1978, heavy rain fell over Singapore for a day and caused a major flood. Seven people died, and more than a thousand others had to be evacuated from their homes as livestock and poultry were lost.

The Republic’s planners also did not think much about having the barrage as a source of drinking water then, as membrane technology – now used to turn sea and used water into drinking water – did not exist at that time. If anything, the authorities had considered treating the water for non-potable uses, but not for drinking.

Thanks to improvements in membrane technology in the 1990s, it became “cheap and viable” to treat the water to achieve drinking water standards, paving the way for one of the barrage’s core functions.

It was also not until later, while designing the place, that the authorities realised its potential as a recreational spot. They found that the Marina reservoir would be suitable for water activities once the dam was built as water levels could be kept constant.

This was also in line with a shift in government policy in 2006, when then-Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Yaacob Ibrahim decided to open up the reservoirs to the public. “That was a paradigm shift,” said Mr Tan.

Construction work on the Marina Barrage kicked off in 2005. Three years later, the barrage was finally opened to the public.


A decade after it began operations, has the Marina Barrage achieved its purposes?

Mr Ng had no doubt: “Absolutely.”

As the country’s 15th reservoir, the Marina reservoir serves as a source of drinking water for Singaporeans, he added. The reservoir stores fresh water collected from the extensive catchment areas before it is treated for drinking water.

By keeping the seawater out, the Marina Barrage removes “tidal influence” from low-lying city areas in the Marina catchment, PUB said. Prior to the construction of the barrage, these areas were prone to flooding whenever very heavy rain coincided with high tides.

Specifically, the barrage isolates the Kallang, Geylang, Singapore Rivers, Bukit Timah, Rochor and Stamford canals as well as their connecting drains from the influence of the tide, PUB added.

Mr Ng noted that it was not possible to quantify how many floods the barrage successfully averted. Nevertheless, he noted that every day, the team at the facility is kept busy operating the pumps and the gates, depending on the water levels.

The barrage depends on its nine crest gates and seven drainage pumps to prevent floods from occurring. When heavy rain – which causes the water level in the reservoir to rise – coincides with the low tide, the 30m steel gates are opened to release the excess storm water into the sea.

But if a heavy downpour happens when there is a high tide, the drainage pumps kick in to drain the excess water from the reservoir. Each pump can drain 40 cubic metres of water per second, which is equivalent to draining out an entire Olympic-sized swimming pool in a minute.

As Mr Ng put it, the Marina Barrage is “one piece in a very large and integrated water system” in Singapore. It may not always be possible to isolate its contributions to the overall flood prevention measures here, but he wanted to debunk the “urban myth” which blamed the barrage for the Orchard Road flooding in June 2010.

It was the worst flood in Orchard since the Stamford Canal, which helps drain the rainwater, was widened in 1984.

Some had speculated that the barrage did not pump the water out quickly enough to prevent the floods. But PUB said then that the Marina Barrage was not to blame and its gates had been raised to release the excess water, and this prevented other low-lying areas from flooding.

An investigation found that the flood was caused by heavy build-up of debris partially trapped in the culvert near Delfi Orchard, which caused the rainwater to be diverted into only one section of the Stamford Canal which resulted in rainwater overflowing onto Orchard Road.

Following the incident, the frequency of maintenance inspections of critical closed drains were stepped up from quarterly to monthly. More litter traps in the open sections of drains were also installed, among other measures.


Unbeknownst to the public, it requires much work to keep the barrage running 24/7 and ensure it meets the operational demands.

Leading the effort is the facility’s general manager Noorazman Noorain, 39. Depending on the priority of the day, he could be found anywhere in the barrage, from the reservoirs to check on the water quality, the pump room to oversee maintenance works, or at the green roof to prepare for upcoming events.

In all, the work of running the place is split among five teams: an operations team to operate the gates and drainage pumps round the clock; a maintenance crew; a team to monitor water quality, collect samples and ensure cleanliness; a department to manage the water activities in the reservoir, including conducting checks and audits on users; and another to oversee the use of the facilities and events by external parties.

The operations team opens the gates or runs the drainage pumps according to the weather and tidal conditions. This prevents flooding at the nearby low-lying areas.

Twice a day, others such as senior assistant engineer Muhamad Fazly Ismail, 38, checks the quality of the reservoir’s water, such as its temperature, pH values and salinity, among other things. He and his team also patrol the area and take enforcement action against those flouting the rules in the waters.

His colleague, senior assistant engineer Nazimudeen Mohamad, 36, and his team oversee maintenance works at the barrage. The drainage pumps for instance, are subjected to different checks weekly, fortnightly, monthly, and so on.

The team would be on high alert just before the monsoon season to make sure the pumps are functioning properly to cope with the heavy rainfall swelling the water level in the reservoir.

Then there is senior manager Jessy Chew, 51, and her team which manages the events held at the barrage. These range from picnics, National Day celebrations, flash mobs, wedding proposals and celebrations to marathons, where the barrage becomes part of the running route.

Ms Chew’s team gets at least 10 enquiries a week to hold events at the barrage.

While the work is growing, there are no plans for now to increase the total staff strength. Instead, the existing members will tap on technology to do more, said Mr Noorazman. Some of the new technology already being tested include unmanned online monitoring systems, robotic swans in the water to monitor water quality, and predictive systems that can identify problems or abnormalities early on.


While Singapore’s planners are known for their far-sightedness and attention to detail, the reception from the public towards the new addition to the Marina Bay backdrop was entirely unexpected.

Said Mr Ng: “We are not in the tourism business, so operating the place like a tourist attraction is not our core business and this is something we learned.”

He added: “So now we don’t just have to keep it good shape, making sure it works as a water infrastructure, we also have to make sure it remains attractive as a tourist attraction.”

While Mr Tan felt that some visitors may not fully appreciate the important functions of the barrage, Mr Ng noted that having more people on its grounds gives PUB the opportunity to do public outreach and education.

Likewise, water experts said the 10th anniversary is also a chance to remind the public about the Marina Barrage and the need to keep waterways clean.

Senior research fellow at Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy Joost Buurman noted that very few places in the world collect water from such an urbanised area given the potential exposure to various forms of pollution.

To commemorate the barrage’s 10th anniversary, PUB is holding a series of events such as a mass yoga session, line dancing and water sports next month, as well as cycling clinics in May.

To cap off the celebrations, PUB will also be bringing in some 50 to 100 local and foreign food and craft vendors from Oct 26 to 28. Visitors will get to take a special boat tour around the Marina reservoir during this event.


While the barrage has come a long way over the last decade in achieving its stated purposes and more, there are new challenges to surmount – and few come as big as climate change, which will cause sea levels to rise in the long term, and more extreme weather condition in the near term.

Already, Singapore has been experiencing more erratic weather, with sudden intense downpours requiring the Marina Barrage staff to be alert and vigilant.

Said Mr Tan: “When we started planning, it was in the 1990s. There was not much (talk) about climate change then and we assumed the sea level would remain the same.”

According to Singapore’s Climate Action Plan published in 2016, sea levels are projected to rise between 0.25m and 0.76m towards the end of the century.

To this end, PUB is studying the possibility of improving existing structures for instance, to protect the facility from rising sea levels.

The agency noted that climate adaptation planning is “an ongoing effort involving many agencies”.

While Singapore’s existing coastal reservoir structures are adequate for the current sea levels, PUB said it has to “look long term to study various possible measures to protect our coastal reservoirs against future sea level rise”. This is being done as part of the coastal adaptation study led by the Building and Construction Authority, PUB said. “The possible measures include the installation of buffer beams and retrofitting of the tidal gates’ structure. As the study is ongoing, estimated costs are not available now,” it added.

Given the success of the barrage, are the authorities planning to build another one on a different part of the island?

At the Marina Barrage commencement ceremony in 2005, the late Mr Lee had challenged the PUB to extract untapped water sources from other parts of Singapore, such as the Jurong West area where industries are located.

Asked about future plans, Mr Ng would only say that PUB is always seeking to maximise the country’s water resources and if the opportunity arises, it will look at building another barrage.

Dr Cecilia Tortajada, a senior research fellow at Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, said a project the size of the Marina Barrage would be difficult to develop somewhere else on the island, and it does not necessarily require a similar project to draw water from untapped sources in Jurong West.

Noting PUB’s innovativeness in managing Singapore’s water systems, she said: “If there is any possibility… they will develop it.”

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NParks launches new online portal with 500,000 trees mapped

Lee Li Ying Channel NewsAsia 17 Mar 18;

SINGAPORE: Singaporeans will soon be able to find out more about trees in their neighbourhood with a newly launched online portal, The National Parks Board (NParks) has plotted more than 500,000 urban trees on an interactive map, making it one of the most extensive tree maps in Asia.

The new portal was announced on Saturday (Mar 17) as part of a slew of initiatives to celebrate Singapore’s forests, raise awareness and involve the community in caring for trees.

Visitors to the portal can learn more about the different species of trees found in Singapore and how they are cared for, as well as indicate if a tree is flowering and upload photos of them.

NParks manages about two million trees planted along Singapore’s roadsides, parks and state land.

NParks group director of streetscapes, Oh Cheow Sheng said: “We will progressively plot in most of these trees, but recognise that in forested areas it is not possible to plot in every single tree ... where the trees are in forested areas, these are sometimes not very accessible because they are densely located and hard to map.”

He added that NParks is planning to work together with other agencies that manage trees, like town councils, to plot these trees.


Singapore’s First Botanic Garden was set up by Sir Stamford Raffles at Fort Canning. Restoration plans for the garden, including enhancement plans for Fort Canning Park and its surroundings, were announced in February.

On Saturday, Minister for Social and Family Development and Second Minister for National Development Desmond Lee planted a tree with members of the community to make the start of the heritage restoration works for the First Botanic Garden.

When completed, the restored garden will extend from Fort Canning Park and onto the streetscapes bounded by Hill Street, Victoria Street, Bras Basah Road, Handy Road and Canning Rise.

NParks said that the planting within the restored First Botanic Garden includes economic spices, ornamental plants, medicinal plants and native plants.

These plantings will be curated into a trail for visitors to learn more about the history of Fort Canning Park.

The agency is also working with developments within the boundaries of the gardens, like Singapore Management University and Park Mall, to incorporate the planting palette within their compounds as well.

The First Botanic Garden will extend from Fort Canning Park onto streetscapes of roads in the vicinity and will become the world’s first Botanic Garden on urban streets. Farquhar Garden and Armenian Street Park will be nodes within the First Botanic Garden. (Image: NParks)

Other new initiatives to encourage the public to learn more about Singapore’s urban forests include a new community led group Friends of TreesSg, and a new heritage tree trail in Chinatown.

“I am proud to say Singapore is one of the top on the list of cities with the highest tree density ... we will continue to support our collective push for greenery,” said Mr Lee.

Source: CNA/zl

NParks launches website to help public learn more about trees
TOH EE MING Today Online 17 Mar 18;

SINGAPORE – Stumped about a particular tree species spotted in the neighbourhood or by the roadside, and curious to learn more about it?

From today, the answers can be found at a new website featuring over 500,000 trees from more than 1,000 species in Singapore’s urban landscape.

Aimed at cultivating an appreciation for Singapore trees, the website was launched on Sat (March 17) by the National Parks Board (NParks) in conjunction with the upcoming International Day of Forests on Wednesday.

On the website, users can click on any tree icon which is plotted on an interactive map, to learn about its name, characteristics and benefits it provides. They can also filter their search by location, species, tree conservation areas or heritage roads in Singapore.

Users can also learn about which tree family they come from, whether the tree is flowering, its physical dimensions, local conservation status, other fun facts and even check when they will be pruned next or “their next haircut”, quipped Second Minister for National Development Desmond Lee who was speaking at the event at Fort Canning Park.

The website also allows users to upload pictures of trees that they spot.

For instance, the Handkerchief Tree (named for its distinctive white leaves which hang down like soft handkerchiefs) can be spotted at Bukit Timah, or the Leopard Tree (its patchy dappled bark looks like leopard print) can be located at the Botanic Gardens, said NParks’ group director of streetscape Oh Cheow Sheng.

One example of a rare species of trees in Singapore is a wild nutmeg, known as Farquhar’s Nutmeg (Gymnacranthera farquhariana), a critically endangered species which has not been propagated elsewhere in Singapore and was collected in 2016 in the Bukit Timah nature reserve. It is named after Major-General William Farquhar, who served in the British Army and was the first resident of Singapore

As compared to trees in forested areas which are less accessible, densely located and not as easy to plot on the map, trees in the urban landscape were chosen to be featured on the website so that “people can learn about trees in their neighbourhood and gets them excited about what they can do for the environment,” said Mr Oh.

Singapore currently has two million urban trees or two million trees within the urban landscape, and the aim is to work with other stakeholders such as private owners, JTC Corporation, the Housing and Development Board and town council to “progressively plot most of these trees,” he said.

For retiree and NParks volunteer Madam Tan Sok Oon, 65, the new website would be “convenient”, as compared to sending over pictures of trees she spots on Whatsapp group chats.

“Sometimes I don’t know what names of the trees, so I always have to ask to find out... At least people will be able to understand more about them now,” she said, adding that she hopes flowers can also be included in the website as well.

At the event, Mr Lee, who is also Minister for Social and Family Development, planted nutmeg trees to mark the start of heritage landscape restoration work for Fort Canning Park. Part of improvement plans that were announced last month, the work spans the restoration of three historical gardens, re-curation of heritage trails in the park and enhanced accessibility for the public.

Other initiatives announced was a Friends of TreesSg community group which is open for the public to join, as well as free public guided walks on the 2km Chinatown heritage trail that will take place later this month. the 2km Chinatown heritage tree trail that will take place later this month.

Mr Lee said the government will “continue to support our collective push for greenery”, by establishing a network of nature parks that will “serve as green buffers around our nature reserves”.

The network encompasses the Windsor and Chestnut Nature Park which was opened last year, and the Thomson Nature Park and the Rifle Range Nature Park which will be completed this year and 2020 respectively.

“With the habitats around our island linked as one ecological network, our rich biodiversity will be better able to thrive,” he said.

What's that tree? New map tells all
Jose Hong Straits Times 18 Mar 18;

If you have ever wondered what tree with its pretty flowers stands at the foot of your block, when your neighbourhood trees are due for pruning, or where Singapore's 262 heritage trees are, all you now need to do is look it up on your phone.

The National Parks Board (NParks) has launched, an online map that shows the locations of more than 500,000 trees in Singapore's urban landscape.

Users can click on individual trees and look at pictures of them, as well as their biodata.

The map took 10 months to create, at a cost of $100,000, and NParks bills this as the most extensive tree map in Asia.

NParks' streetscape group director Oh Cheow Sheng said: "We want people to get to learn about the trees in their neighbourhood, and hopefully, this will progressively get them to be excited about what else they can do about the environment, and how they can contribute. That is the idea behind putting these trees on an interactive tree map."

The map was launched yesterday to commemorate the International Day of Forests, which falls on March 21. In conjunction with the launch of, the heritage restoration process of Fort Canning Park kicked off yesterday with the planting of 18 trees in the soon-to-be Farquhar Garden.

Sign up for heritage tree walk

Registration for a free, guided heritage tree walk in Chinatown, Singapore's largest historic district, opens at 10am today.

The 2km walk, which will be held on March 31, starts at Duxton Plain Park and ends in Spottiswoode.

It takes around two hours, covers about 20 species of trees, and has space for 40 participants.

Here are two trees on the trail:


The bodhi tree is a large and fast-growing tree that can reach up to 30m in height.

The figs of the tree are a food source for birds and many other types of wildlife, which, in turn, help to disperse the seeds.

The tree is sacred to Hindus and Buddhists.


This is a large tree of the mango family that is critically endangered in Singapore.

Spottiswoode Park used to be a nutmeg plantation before it was converted into bungalow-like residences in the early 1900s.

The binjai tree along this trail may have been planted by residents or estate managers in the early 1900s for its sourish-sweet fruit.

Members of the public can sign up at

When completed in June next year, it will take over the current Stamford Green, and will include plants originally grown by Major-General William Farquhar, the first British Resident and Commandant of Singapore from 1819 to 1823.

The 18 trees were planted by members of the community and Minister for Social and Family Development and Second Minister for National Development Desmond Lee yesterday.

More details were also revealed about the First Botanic Garden, which the Farquhar Garden is part of. The First Botanic Garden is a recreation of Singapore's first botanic garden, which both Sir Stamford Raffles and Farquhar had a hand in planting and expanding in the early 1800s.

The plants in the First Botanic Garden will fall under four broad themes: economic spices, ornamental plants, medicinal plants and plants that are native to the region.

They will be curated into a trail so that visitors can learn about the history of Fort Canning Park through the lens of a naturalist.

The trail will begin at Fort Canning Centre and meander through avenues of plants that have historically been associated with Singapore.

Also launched yesterday were a community-led group called Friends of TreesSg - with the aim of spreading the love of trees among Singaporeans - as well as NParks' free guided walk of Chinatown's heritage trees. The public can sign up for the walk from today.

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Tree collapses on car in Jurong West, trapping driver

Channel NewsAsia 17 Mar 18;

SINGAPORE: A man in his 50s was trapped in his car after a tree collapsed on his vehicle during heavy rain on Saturday (Mar 17).

The Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) said they were alerted to the incident at Block 515 Jurong West Street 52 at about 5.30pm.

SCDF added that the man was trapped in the driver’s seat and had to be extricated with a power saw. The man was then assessed by paramedics, but declined to be taken to the hospital.

Several members of the public reported heavy rain and strong winds in the area during the late afternoon and evening.

Facebook user Murni Sab Adi, who lives at Block 514 Jurong West Street 52, told Channel NewsAsia that the weather in the area was "extremely stormy" and that his neighbour's flower pots broke due to the strong wind and rain.

He added that a number of small trees in front of his house "broke" as well.

Facebook user Ben Ong uploaded a video showing strong winds and two uprooted trees at Jurong West Street 52.

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Malaysia's green sukuk

Securities Commission building in Bukit Kiara, Kuala Lumpur. Green sukuk, like other socially responsible investment instruments, is a funding channel that plays an important role in the sustainability of the earth.
Dr Mohammad Mahbubi Ali New Straits Times 17 Mar 18;

OVER the last few years, environmental preservation has been the focus of renewed investor attention, as evidenced by growing interest in socially responsible investment (SRI) instruments. Green sukuk, a syariah-compliant SRI instrument for renewable energy and other environmental sustainability projects, is an important and commendable initiative.

Malaysia, being home to the world’s largest sukuk market, has pioneered the issuance of green sukuk. On July 27, the Securities Commission announced the debut of the world’s first green sukuk under its SRI sukuk framework. This milestone is the result of a joint effort between SC, Bank Negara Malaysia and the World Bank Group to facilitate the development of green financing and investor participation in SRI sukuk.

Issued by Tadau Energy Sdn Bhd, a Malaysian-based renewable energy and sustainable technology investment firm, and structured on the Syariah principles of istisna’ (manufacturing sale) and ijarah (leasing), the RM250 million Green SRI Sukuk Tadau is to finance the construction of large scale solar (LSS) photovoltaic power plants in Kudat, Sabah, with a tenure of two to 16 years.

Following the success of Green SRI Sukuk Tadau, Quantum Solar Park Malaysia Sdn Bhd launched the world’s largest green SRI sukuk — RM1 billion — in October to fund the construction of Southeast Asia’s largest solar photovoltaic plant project in three districts: Kedah, Melaka and Terengganu.

More green sukuk is expected to be issued in Malaysia to support environmentally sustainable infrastructure projects and to strengthen the country’s position as the main catalyst for Syariah-compliant green instruments.

Certainly, the future of green sukuk in Malaysia is promising for a number of reasons. Firstly, the government aspires, as envisioned in the 2014 Budget speech, to position Malaysia as the home for SRI as part of its ambition to make Malaysia a green technology hub by 2030.

In response, SC revised its sukuk guidelines in 2014, incorporating new requirements for the issuance of SRI sukuk. The new sukuk guidelines state that the proceeds of SRI sukuk can be used to preserve the environment and natural resources, conserve the use of energy, promote the use of renewable energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Also, a number of incentives have been offered to stimulate greater utilisation of SRI instruments as a fundraising channel. These include tax deductions on the issuance costs of SRI Sukuk approved or authorised by SC and tax incentives for green technology activities. The government also introduced a special financing scheme, Green Technology Financing Scheme, with a total fund allocation of RM5 billion until 2022 to support the development of green technology.

Secondly, a substantial increase in the demand for both energy supply and energy financing in Malaysia has opened up room in which green sukuk can grow. The government has put in place a renewable energy generation target of 7,200 megawatts by 2020. Malaysia’s Green Technology Master Plan also aims to boost the growth of its green technology sector, with a targeted revenue of RM180 billion alongside the creation of 200,000 green jobs by 2030.

Thirdly, there is a growing awareness of SRI among both conventional and Muslim investors. Green sukuk facilitates and increases the broader participation of conventional investors in the sukuk market, especially those looking for more ethical and socially responsible investment opportunities. It helps bridge the gap between sustainable investors and sukuk investors who aim to place their money in a scheme that complies with certain values.

Other positive factors include the design of sukuk, which is naturally supportive of green principles because it requires a specific pool of assets. Also, the progress of green sukuk is, and has evolved into, an indispensable part of the natural evolution of the global Islamic financial market.

Islam is fully supportive of the idea of green financing. The Quran and the prophetic traditions emphasise the importance of environmental conservation and sustainability. Islam commands mankind, as the vicegerents of God, to take care of the environment and nature, and to avoid any act that is detrimental to them. This corresponds to the principal purposes of syariah (maqasid al-Syariah) which are intended to realise public benefit (maslahah) and eliminate harm and destruction (mafsadah), outlined under five main headings: protection of life, preservation of religion, upholding the integrity of the human intellect, protecting the family and protection of lawfully-owned property.

Al-Qardhawi, however, added environmental conservation and preservation as another ultimate objective of syariah, having an equally important position as the five goals.

On the whole, green sukuk, like other SRI instruments, is a funding channel that plays an important role in the preservation of the environment and the sustainability of the earth. Islamic finance should, therefore, provide more avenues for the growth of green sukuk as a financial instrument for sustainable development.

The writer is a research fellow at the International Institute of Advanced Islamic Studies Malaysia

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Indonesia: Ministry to follow up study on microplastics in drinking water

The Jakarta Post 17 Mar 18;

The Health Ministry plans to follow up on a study by State University of New York and Orb Media Network that found microplastics in bottled drinking water.

Health Ministry secretary-general Untung Suseno Sutarjo said on Friday that the ministry would conduct a thorough study on the subject. “We’re going to coordinate with the Food and Drug Agency,” he said, as quoted by Untung said the study would try to ascertain the source of microplastics, whether it is the water or the bottles.

The ministry would also study the effects of the microplastics on humans amid the absence of comprehensive research on microplastics and humans.

On Thursday, news broke about the study, which took 259 samples of drinking water from 11 local and international brands. It found that samples from all the brands contained microplastics. (evi)

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Philippines: Coral reefs suffering despite outlawing damaging fishing practices

New research finds dynamite, poison still common fishing methods
University of British Columbia Science Daily 16 Mar 18;

Some of the fishing methods used in today's small-scale fisheries are causing more damage to coral reefs than ever, a new UBC study has found.

The study, conducted in the Philippines by the Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries' Project Seahorse and the Landscape Ecology Group at the University of British Columbia, tracked changes in the types of fishing methods -- such as hand line, traps and nets -- used on coral reefs between 1950 and 2010.

Researchers found that from the 1960s onwards, the use of relatively sustainable fishing methods like hook and line fishing remained stable, while there was a marked increase in the use of fishing practices that were less selective and more destructive, even illegal.

In particular, the study found that about a quarter of the fishers in the region use destructive fishing methods including explosives and poison, which were both outlawed by the Philippine government in 1932. Most other destructive fishing methods were outlawed by the government in 1998. Despite legislation that banned destructive fishing, the use of such illegal methods persisted. For example, a growing number of fishers used crowbars to break apart corals so they could catch valuable but elusive animals such as abalone.

"It is vital not to let damaging fishing practices become the norm," said Jennifer Selgrath, the lead author who was a PhD candidate at the University of British Columbia during the research study. "Once people started using destructive fishing methods they stuck with what is familiar -- even after those methods later became illegal. So, it's essential to ensure young fishers engage with sustainable fishing methods such as hook and line fishing, or traps. It's also critical to motivate older fishers to set aside destructive methods."

The researchers found that total fishing efforts in the area expanded by more than 240 per cent between 1960 and 2010 because of an increase in damaging fishing practices and number of fishers. Previous research by Project Seahorse and the Landscape Ecology Group found that the increase in fishing effort was even greater when they considered the locations where people fished, since fishing tends to be concentrated in popular areas.

National fishing policies and development funding in the Philippines during the 1970s and 1980s promoted higher catches of marine life and the researchers found this corresponded to an expansion in the tools and methods used by fishers. Changes in fishing gear use persisted decades after those same policies were stopped in order to promote sustainable fishing.

"If the Philippines were to fully implement its new fishing laws on sustainability, then ocean protection would improve and use of damaging gears would decline," said Selgrath. "Fisher organizations can also take the lead, as sometimes happens in the Philippines, and cooperate on limiting destruction, ideally with support from local government."

Journal Reference:

Jennifer C. Selgrath, Sarah E. Gergel, Amanda C. J. Vincent. Shifting gears: Diversification, intensification, and effort increases in small-scale fisheries (1950-2010). PLOS ONE, 2018; 13 (3): e0190232 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0190232

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Best of our wild blogs: 17 Mar 18

Show your love for forests on International Day of Forests 21-28 Mar
People's Movement to Stop Haze

A Short History of the Jerdon’s Baza in Singapore
Singapore Bird Group

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Bottled water in Singapore meets safety standards: AVA

Tang See Kit Channel NewsAsia 16 Mar 18;

SINGAPORE: Samples of bottled drinking water in Singapore tested by the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority's (AVA) as part of routine laboratory tests meet its safety standards, it told Channel NewsAsia on Friday (Mar 16).

AVA said it routinely takes samples of bottled drinking water for laboratory testing to ensure compliance with food safety standards.

Those that fail its inspection and laboratory tests will not be allowed for sale.

So far, laboratory results have shown that the bottled water used in Singapore meet its safety standards, said AVA.

AVA's comments were made in response to queries from Channel NewsAsia after results from a study published on Wednesday showed “widespread contamination” of tiny plastic particles in several of the world’s major brands of bottled water.

The study was commissioned by Orb Media, a US-based non-profit media collective.

Researchers had tested more than 250 bottles of water across 11 brands sold in nine countries, including Brazil, China, India, Indonesia and Thailand.

The results showed that 93 per cent of the samples had “some sign of microplastic contamination”.

Singapore was not one of the test markets, but several of the brands tested and found to have tiny particles of plastic are available here.

Among them are Coca-Cola’s Dasani, Danone’s Aqua and Evian, which together accounted for about 39 per cent of bottled water sold in Singapore in 2015, according to data from Euromonitor International.

Elaborating on its surveillance of bottled water, AVA said it adopts a “risk-based approach in ensuring food safety”.

“Food available in our market, including bottled water, are subjected to inspection, sampling and surveillance to ensure compliance with our food safety standards and requirements.

“For imported packaged/bottled mineral and drinking water, every imported consignment must be accompanied with a certificate of analysis to indicate that the product is safe for consumption. For new brands, licensed importers must also submit a certificate of authenticity for the source.”

Meanwhile, for locally packaged or bottled drinking water, licensed manufacturers are subjected to regular inspections to ensure the adherence of good manufacturing practices, AVA added.

In its reply to Channel NewsAsia, AVA noted that while the World Health Organisation (WHO) has said it is aware of microplastics being “an emerging area of concern”, there is no evidence that microplastics have an impact on human health.

“As such, WHO will conduct an assessment to investigate the potential health risk of microplastics in drinking water.

“Other agencies, such as the European Food Safety Authority and Food and Agriculture Organisation also noted more scientific evidence would be needed for such an assessment.”

AVA said it will continue to monitor international scientific developments on the issue of microplastics and conduct its own risk assessment.

“We will implement appropriate measures to safeguard the health of our consumers when necessary,” it added.


When contacted, bottled water brands said that they disagreed with the study's findings, and that their bottling plants adhered to high quality and food safety standards.

Danone said that it was“not in a position to comment” about the study given that “some aspects of the testing methodology used remain unclear”. It also cited a different study published last year by German researchers that found “no statistically relevant amount of microplastic” in single-use plastic bottles.

The French multinational food product company added that microplastic is an “emerging issue” and that there is “no applicable regulatory framework or scientific consensus" for "testing methodology or potential impacts of microplastic particles which could be found in any bottling environment”.

When asked about the production and packaging base for its bottled water sold in Singapore, Danone said that all of its water “are sourced and bottled in their country of origin”, and that its bottling process “respects the highest hygiene, quality and food safety standards."

Coca-Cola told Channel NewsAsia that all of its Dasani products sold in Singapore are packaged in and imported from Malaysia. “They comply fully with all laws and regulations in Singapore, including the Sale of Food Act.”

The spokesperson added that the company stands by the safety of its products and welcomes continued study of plastics.

“We have some of the most stringent quality standards in the industry, and the water we use in our drinks is subject to multi-step filtration processes prior to production,” Coca-Cola said in an emailed response.

“As Orb Media’s own reporting has shown, microscopic plastic fibers appear to be ubiquitous, and therefore may be found at minute levels even in highly treated products."

Over at Nestle, its spokesperson said in an emailed response: “To date, we have not found microplastics in our bottled water products beyond trace level”.

The Swiss food and beverage giant added that its bottled water products, such as locally-available brands San Pellegrino and Nestle Pure Life, are tested for the presence of microplastics using “state-of-the-art devices and techniques”. “We assure consumers that our bottled waters are safe to drink."

Meanwhile, PepsiCo said its brand Aquafina “maintains rigorous quality control measures, sanitary manufacturing practices, filtration and other food safety mechanisms which yield a reliably safe product”. Aquafina is not available in Singapore at the moment.

The study has drawn stern remarks from the International Bottled Water Association, which said that it was “non-peer reviewed” and "not based on sound science”.

To that, the study’s lead researcher Sherri Mason from the State University of New York said the methodology used was “simple” and “very clearly stated” on the report.

She referred to how the screening for plastic involved the addition of a fluorescent dye into the bottles of water. This dye, called Nile Red, sticks to free-floating plastic pieces and makes them visible under certain wavelengths of light.

After filtering the dyed samples, researchers counted the pieces that were larger than 100 microns. Those smaller than 100 microns were counted using a technique developed by a former astrophysicist to calculate the number of stars in the night sky.

“I don't think it can get any simpler than that, so this idea that it’s a complicated and unclear methodology is not based on reality,” Prof Mason told Channel NewsAsia. “This is a very sound scientific study and I stand by it.”

Following the release of the report, the WHO told the BBC on Thursday that it will launch a review into the potential risks of plastic in drinking water.

Prof Mason described that as an unexpected but “pleasant surprise”. She added that she hoped the study would get consumers “to re-think” habits involving single-use plastic.

“Something as simple as drinking tap water, as opposed to bottled water, can have a huge impact on your personal exposure to plastic, which permeates our lives with other habits like the use of plastic bags, straws and food wrappers. Yet, we don't understand the implications of that.”

Source: CNA/sk

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Living the plastic life: Experts say straw usage in Singapore 'excessive'

While there are no official figures, one eatery finished 10,000 plastic straws in two months before switching to metal alternatives for dine-in customers.
Jalelah Abu Baker Channel NewsAsia 17 Mar 18;

SINGAPORE: A lunchtime visit to any hawker centre makes it apparent - people here love plastic straws. On tables are straws in cups with lids, poked into plastic film-sealed cups, and even in mineral water bottles.

In fact, if you are having a cold drink in a coffee shop, cafe or food court while reading this, you are probably sipping it through a straw. It is hard to imagine Singapore without single-use straws, since they are so entrenched in the city's dining scene, but that is what some authorities around the world are moving towards.

Internationally, anti-plastic straw sentiment has been picking up, with Scotland planning to ban them by end-2019, and lawmakers in some American states passing orders that limit or prohibit restaurants from using them.

Nearer to Singapore, Taiwan, which can be considered the world's bubble tea capital, will be banning single-use plastics, including straws, by 2030.

Environmental experts said that straws are a good starting point in encouraging the reduction of plastic use, but some businesses who spoke to Channel NewsAsia felt otherwise.


In fact, Wiltian Ang, owner of The Matcha Project, believes that people are more likely to get comfortable cutting back on other plastics first.

“Once consumers are fully comfortable with bringing their own cups and bags, they might just be keen to bring their own straws or not using straws at all,” he said.

To encourage them, he gives a S$0.50 discountfor those who bring their own reusable cups. He said that it would be difficult to stop providing straws freely at his shop, given that his cafe only sells take-away drinks.

When people drink on the go, a straw is best to avoid spillage, he said. He added that the straw doubles up as a stirrer.
“Imagine buying an iced takeaway beverage without a straw. With the ice melting, the drink will be diluted and sediment will settle,” he said.

Mr Ang, who sold 700 iced drinks in January, adding that the low price of straws also decreases the incentive to minimise their use.

Barista Chris Chew echoed Mr Ang’s sentiments. She said that because The Hangar Coffee Express, where she works, does not provide a stirrer, those who add sugar syrup to their drinks use the straw as one.

“If we don’t provide it, and let people request for it, I wouldn’t have time because I’m here alone, I wouldn’t be able to entertain the requests,” she said.

She said that there are customers - about one in every 100 - who bring their own metal straws.

Another drinks seller, who did not want to be named, said that he seals his drinks with plastic film, and that means customers would definitely need a straw to pierce through it. He added that those who get drinks to takeaway prefer their cups sealed, to prevent spillage.


Patrons Channel NewsAsia spoke to said that they take straws “unthinkingly” and that it was convenient to use straws.

Student Manushri Rajesvaran, 17, said: “I use the straws because they give them. If they didn’t, I probably wouldn’t.” She added however that having a lid, which has a hole for a straw is also a good thing for her because she would spill the drink otherwise.

Another patron, who wanted to be known as Ms Foo, felt the same way.

“I don’t think when the stall owner gives it to me, but if he doesn’t, I wouldn’t fight for it,” said the 35-year-old public servant.

Another customer, Ms Lucy Wynn, 42, who works in the corporate finance industry, said that she usually uses straws to keep her lipstick intact and to avoid getting a “milk moustache” when she has iced coffee.

She added that she feels safer using a straw with canned drinks, as she fears the cans would get dirty at some point during the transportation process. The straw users said they knew the environmental harm the small cylindrical plastics could do.


Environmental experts Channel NewsAsia spoke to said that straws are damaging both to animals that end up eating them, to people, and to the environment.

They are often eaten by seabirds and sea turtles, causing starvation and death. In the ocean, plastic straws break down gradually into microplastics, which are eaten by fish and shellfish, said head of “eateries outreach” at non-profit group Plastic-Lite Singapore, Mr Pek Shibao.

“When these fish are caught and eaten by humans, these microplastics wind up entering our bodies as well, which may cause serious negative health effects,” he said.

He added that straws are often not disposed of properly in Singapore.

“As they are small and light, they often get blown into our drains and onto our beaches or into the sea,” he said. Even when they are properly disposed of and incinerated, the burning of plastic generates toxic gases and creates poisonous ash which must be sent to the landfill, he added.

Singapore has only one landfill, which at current rates will be full by 2030, he said.

President of Jane Goodall Institute (Singapore) Tay Kae Fong said that the key problem is pollution from the sheer volume of single-use plastic straw waste generated.

“People may think it's a small straw, but these seemingly harmless straws add up very very quickly,” he said. Plastic straws are made from petroleum and the petrol industry is inherently damaging to the environment.

The institute aims to empower people to make a difference for all living things.


Mr Pek, who defined straw usage in Singapore as “excessive”, said that one of Plastic-Lite’s successful initiatives is getting schools to sign up to stop using plastic straws every Tuesday.

“We visit schools to conduct talks about the impact of disposable plastics, so that students become more environmentally aware from a young age,” he said.

At roadshows, the organisation also gets people to calculate how much plastic waste they generate every year using its plastic footprint calculator.

Mr Tay said that it has “become clear” that the convenience that these straws bring are not worth the harm they do to animals, people, and the environment. To patrons’ worries about hygiene drinking from the mouth of a cup or can, he said it is not established that these are dirty or not washed properly.

“I don't think it's a situation that justifies a switch to single-use plastics as the solution. Isn't it better for us to look into better washing of reusable cups instead?” he asked.

The experts said that businesses could spur change by not offering straws as a default with drinks. One such business that is doing so is Common Man Coffee Roasters.


Since the beginning of this year, the company, which has two outlets, has been providing stainless steel straws.

“This was a move we made to try and reduce our environmental footprint, and was an easy yet effective swap for us to make,” said its brand manager Sarah Rouse.

Prior to the switch the firm, which just opened its second outlet last year, would go through a box of 10,000 plastic straws every two months. Now, the same box lasts more than six months, she said.

All guests who dine in are provided with a metal straw, while takeaway drinks come with plastic ones upon request. Ms Rouse estimated that about half of to-go drinkers take a plastic straw.

“I think it does take some adjusting to, drinking your iced beverage without one,” she said.

Common Man is doing its part by replacing paper napkins with a more sustainable bamboo alternative to reduce paper waste, and encouraging cutting down of use of plastic, with a discount for people who bring reusable takeaway cups, she said.

“The hospitality industry can help in spearheading this as we are positioned well to educate the market and advocate for better choices, a positive move for an industry previously linked to excessive wastage and throw-away consumption,” she added.

Source: CNA/ja

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Dramatic Photos Show How Sand Mining Threatens a Way of Life in Southeast Asia

Vietnam is a prime example of a little-known global threat: the mining of river sand to build the world’s booming cities.
By Vince Beiser, Photographs by Sim Chi Yin National Geographic 15 Mar 18;

One afternoon last year, Ha Thi Be, 67, was sitting with her son in her tiny coffee shop in the town of Hong Ngu, looking out on the lazy Tien River, the main branch of the Mekong in Vietnam. Suddenly, the ground beneath them gave way. The river bank was crumbling into the water. “We shouted out loud and ran,” she says. “It crashed with a huge sound, boom, boom, boom.”

Be and her son escaped unharmed, but the coffee shop and her nearby house were destroyed. “It took all of what we owned to build the house, and now it's all gone,” she sighs. Still, Be counts herself lucky. “If it had happened at night, I and my grandsons would have died. We used to sleep in that house,” she says.

The main causes of the collapse can be seen floating in many places on the Tien’s murky waters: dredging boats, using rackety pumps to raise from the river bed enormous quantities of sand. In recent years, that humble substance has become an astonishingly hot commodity. Sand is a key ingredient in concrete, the essential building material of Vietnam’s fast-growing cities. Demand for it is surging—and that is wreaking havoc not only on Vietnam’s rivers, but also on the all-important Mekong Delta.

In towns and villages all along the Mekong River and many other rivers around the country, banks undermined by dredging are collapsing into the water, taking with them farm fields, fish ponds, shops, and homes. In recent years, thousands of acres of rice farms have been lost, and at least 1,200 families have had to be relocated. Hundreds more have evacuated in-stream islands that were literally disappearing beneath their feet. Government officials estimate some 500,000 people in the Mekong Delta area alone need to be moved out of such landslide zones.

River sand mining isn’t only a problem for people: It also muddies waters and scours riverbeds, killing the fish, plants, and other organisms that live there. “When I was a child, we'd catch fish and snails to eat,” recalls Ha Thi Be. “Since the sand dredges came, the fish and snails are no more.”

Vietnam is far from the only place where sand mining is inflicting such damage. All over the developing world, cities are growing at a furious pace, devouring sand in unprecedented quantities. The number of Vietnamese living in cities has doubled in the last twenty years, to some 32 million. Worldwide, the urban population is rising by about 65 million people annually; that’s the equivalent of adding eight New York Cities to the planet every single year. Nearly 50 billion tons of sand and gravel is extracted annually to create all the concrete office towers, apartment blocks, highways, and airports those people need. (Some Vietnamese sand is also sold to nearby Singapore, which uses gargantuan amounts to build artificial land.)

Why, you might ask, don’t we simply mine sand from the Sahara and other deserts? The answer is desert sand doesn’t work in concrete—the wind-eroded grains are too smooth and rounded. As a result, from China to Jamaica, from Liberia to India, sand miners are plundering riverbeds, floodplains, and beaches for the precious grains.

In Vietnam, sand mining poses an additional danger: It’s contributing to the slow-motion disappearance of the Mekong Delta, home to 20 million people and source of half of all the country’s food and much of the rice that feeds the rest of southeast Asia.

Climate change-induced sea level rise is one reason the delta is losing the equivalent of one and a half football fields of land every day. But another, researchers believe, is that people are robbing the delta of its sand.

For centuries, the delta has been replenished by sediment carried down from the mountains of central Asia by the Mekong River. But in recent years, in each of the several countries along its course, miners have begun pulling huge quantities of sand from the riverbed. According to a 2013 study by three French researchers, some 50 million tons of sand were extracted in 2011 alone—enough to cover the city of Denver two inches deep. Meanwhile, five major dams have been built in recent years on the Mekong and another 12 are slated for construction on the Mekong in China, Laos, and Cambodia. The dams further diminish the flow of sediment to the delta.

In other words, while natural erosion of the delta continues, its natural replenishment does not. “The sediment flow has been halved,” says Marc Goichot, a researcher with the World Wildlife Federation’s Greater Mekong Programme. At this rate, he says, nearly half the delta will be wiped out by the end of this century.

The problem is made more complicated by the fact that much of Vietnam’s sand mining is completely unregulated and illegal. The sand trade is so lucrative that it has spawned a thriving black market, with hundreds of unlicensed boats plying the rivers. In 2016 alone, Vietnamese police caught nearly 3,000 people dredging without permits or in protected areas around the country.

Many of the miners—legal and otherwise—are ordinary Vietnamese just trying to make a living. Some of them bring their families along on their boats as they travel up and down the rivers.

Nguyen Van Tu, 39, used to mine sand from the Tien near Ha Thi Be’s home town, until police cracked down. “The business was so good,” he says. At times he pulled in as much as $13,000 US per month. “Such easy money. Think, you just suck sand out, and you got money. Simple.”

Vietnamese officials regularly declare their determination to end illegal sand mining—but as in many other countries, some of them prefer taking a cut of the action to shutting it down. In 2013, three local government officials in the Hong Ngu area were charged with taking bribes in exchange for ignoring illegal sand mining on the Tien River. Last March, Deputy Prime Minister Trương Hòa Bình acknowledged that large-scale illegal sand mining continues partly because local administrations have “loosened their management, covered up and offered protection” to the miners.

In some cases, illegal miners have resorted to violence to keep their businesses going. In India and other countries, “sand mafias” have assaulted and even murdered police officers, environmentalists, journalists and others who got in their way. During a crackdown in Vietnam last spring, according to local media, illegal miners tried to sink a police boat by dumping sand onto it.

Fed up with official inaction, dozens of Vietnamese fishers took matters into their own hands last year, attacking sand miners they blamed for destroying their livelihoods. Last June, scuffles between miners and villagers put two people in the hospital.

As the tensions rise, the Mekong Delta keeps eroding—and so does the ground beneath the feet of villagers like Ha Thi Be.

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