Best of our wild blogs: 14 Jan 13

Latest Green Jobs in Singapore [7 - 13 Jan 2013]
from Green Business Times

Singapore's new natural history museum: building begins!
from wild shores of singapore

Celebrating a Homecoming
from Butterflies of Singapore

Dugong signs on Changi with sea fan garden
from wild shores of singapore

Less House Crows ... more Asian Koels
from Bird Ecology Study Group

Colourful sponge garden at Punggol
from wonderful creation and PeiYan.Photography

from Monday Morgue

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Conserve green lungs on outskirts of Singapore

Straits Times Forum 11 Jan 14;

I READ with interest the report about Pasir Ris Heights residents trying to protect a patch of forest near their homes (“Fight to save forest patch hots up”; Wednesday).

Five years ago, my family moved to Yishun, a quiet town on the outskirts of Singapore, to enjoy more greenery and fresh air. We were pleasantly surprised by the amount of greenery, and especially excited by the wildlife, found in Yishun.

Unfortunately over the past few years, the relentless clearing of many patches of wild forest to make way for new houses has stripped Yishun of the greenery we used to enjoy.

I can no longer take my children for walks near the forests and point out to them the wonderfully diverse wildlife that exists in Singapore.

There may be some people who like to live on the outskirts of Singapore and enjoy what little is left of nature here.

The Government should take note of this and perhaps preserve the nature and wildlife in these areas. Surely we do not need to cut down trees that took years to grow to house our growing population?

Can we have a Singapore where children do not need to visit central nature reserves to be close to nature? Can we stop removing green lungs on the outskirts of Singapore before this precious bit of nature disappears?

Tan Eng Chun (Dr)

Not all green patches worth preserving
Straits Times 11 Jan 14;

THE controversy over the decision to build an international school on a patch of wild growth near Pasir Ris Heights ("Fight to save forest patch hots up"; Wednesday) reminds me of a confrontation during my term as secretary, later president, of the Nature Society (Singapore).

We were a bunch of naive nature conservationists then. When the Government agreed to our request to conserve Sungei Buloh as a bird sanctuary in 1989, birdwatchers went overboard in lobbying for the conservation of any and every area with many birds. Most of these areas were rich in birdlife. Not so plant life or other aspects of animal life.

And if such areas were to disappear altogether, the mostly resident birds could always find refuge in our parks and gardens, where there are plenty of trees to provide food and shelter.

Sungei Buloh was different. Home to thousands of migratory birds, the mangrove habitat was fast disappearing then. Unless an area was set aside, there would soon be no feeding and roosting grounds for these birds.

The Nature Society lost credibility when birdwatchers lobbied for an area of the reclaimed Marina South to be conserved. This was a flawed move as the habitat was not unique and could be easily re-created.

Resident groups, though passionate about the cause, may not be well versed with the technicalities of the habitat and its associated flora and fauna.

Non-governmental organisations like the Nature Society, with its rich experience in past nature conservation issues, should be able to provide relevant advice.

The Pasir Ris plot is a highly degraded piece of wild growth. The plants there are nothing to rave about, and the 30 to 40 species of mostly resident birds can always move on to our many parks and gardens.

There will always be such plots of wild growth, especially when an area is left undeveloped for some years. But this does not mean that we should clamour for their conservation.

Conservation needs to co-exist closely with development. We need land to develop. At the same time, we need to conserve our natural heritage, as we have done so.

We need to ensure the continued preservation of our current nature reserves. These are the areas where the vegetation is mature and the biodiversity rich. We should be less attached to areas of wild growth that are full of birdlife but poor in other aspects of flora and fauna.

Wee Yeow Chin (Dr)

Still more room for a greener heartland
Straits Times 14 Jan 13;

IN HIS letter, Dr Tan Eng Chun clearly demonstrated that Singaporeans, surrounded by a concrete jungle, feel for nature in its pristine form - trees, shrubs, green lungs, open areas, nature reserves, forests, wild life and fresh air ("Conserve green lungs on outskirts of Singapore"; last Friday).

However, this vital quest for a greener environment is something that is not sufficiently acknowledged, understood and appreciated by our planning authorities.

While it is true that planning policies do take into consideration the need for open spaces in the heartlands, there is still more room for a greener environment in our housing estates.

As Dr Tan has lamented, there is a relentless felling of trees and other forms of greenery to make way for more housing. A case in point is the proposed construction of an executive condominium along Woodlands Avenue 5 and the soon-to-be-built HDB flats in the open green space along Woodlands Drive 50. In these two cases alone, a substantial amount of green space is to be obliterated. Currently being used for recreational activities, these green areas will soon make way for heavy construction equipment, concrete piling and the resultant dust and deafening noise.

My family and I moved to Woodlands to take advantage of the lush greenery and fresh air, but unfortunately have to settle for something less.

Of late, there has also been a systematic and relentless felling of the beautiful and healthy trees that used to adorn Woodlands Drive 50 between Woodlands Primary School and 888 Plaza. These trees took several years to grow and were pleasing by their very presence, not to mention the shade and fresh air they gave residents. The street now looks bare, although little trees have been planted, presumably to replace the felled trees. These young trees will take years to grow, depriving residents of their much-treasured pleasure.

This scenario is being replicated throughout Singapore and I hope the authorities will consider the aesthetic needs and aspirations of Singaporeans in their quest for a greener environment and a better quality of life.

V. Subramaniam (Dr)

'Green lungs' vital
Straits Times 15 Jan 13;

IN ITS zeal to cater to housing and other commercial projects, the National Development Ministry should not ignore the need for "green lungs" in our living environment ("Fight to save forest patch hots up"; last Wednesday).

Planting shrubs and decorative trees does not a woodland make.

We should not have to visit nature reserves just to get a breath of fresh air.

The clearing of woodland along Commonwealth Avenue West, from Buona Vista to Clementi Road, is a case in point. It has resulted in the loss of foliage beside the Ulu Pandan Park Connector.

Is there a government department tracking and auditing the loss of our forests?

Audrey Cheong (Ms)

HDB makes conscious effort to provide green spaces in estates
Straits Times 21 Jan 13;

WE SHARE Dr V. Subramaniam's view on the importance of greenery in HDB estates ("Still more room for a greener heartland"; last Monday).

In developing new housing projects and upgrading older HDB precincts, the HDB makes a conscious effort to plan for and include greenery.

In our new housing projects, green spaces are provided within each precinct. To inject more greenery into HDB estates, we have introduced skyrise greening since the 1990s, for example, rooftop terraces.

Extensive landscaping can be found in HDB estates across the island. For the older estates, when the HDB upgrades the precincts, we make a deliberate effort to enhance their greenery. The surroundings are also spruced up and new facilities added to enhance the overall living environment for residents.

Woodlands, like all HDB towns, is comprehensively planned from the onset to create a total environment for residents to live, work, play and learn.

There is a good mix of recreational, residential, social and commercial land use to meet the needs of our residents, and different plots of land are developed progressively over time according to their planned land use, whether as parks, apartments, schools or shopping malls and others.

The sites mentioned by Dr Subramaniam have been set aside for residential use under the Urban Redevelopment Authority's gazetted Master Plan. With the supply of public and private housing being increased to meet the housing needs of Singaporeans, it is inevitable that these two parcels will eventually be developed for housing.

To meet the recreational needs of residents, different types of parks have been provided to serve the residents in Woodlands.

At the regional level, there is the existing Admiralty Park located within Woodlands town, which serves the towns in the Northern Region. At the neighbourhood level, there are existing neighbourhood parks; while at the precinct level, there are precinct green spaces provided within each development for the residents.

Kathleen Goh Siew Kian (Ms)
Director (Planning Department 2)

'Wild growth' home to endangered eagles
Straits Times 31 Jan 13;

A PROPER ecological perspective needs to be provided on the issues raised by Dr Wee Yeow Chin ("Not all green patches worth preserving"; Jan 11).

Dr Wee states that when a nature area is destroyed, "the mostly resident birds could always find refuge in our parks and gardens".

But what about those that cannot do so? And what if the habitat harbours endangered species?

The Pasir Ris site has been left undeveloped not for some years, but for some decades. True, the plants may be "nothing to rave about", but that does not make the habitat unworthy of protection. Perhaps it could be incorporated into Pasir Ris Park to sustain or enhance the park's biodiversity.

Eagles like the endangered changeable hawk-eagle and the white-bellied sea eagle hunt for food in the park and the coastal waters respectively.

Despite the Pasir Ris site's close proximity to the park, the eagles have nested in this "wild growth" for years, which shows that the park is not suitable for them.

Known nesting pairs of white-bellied sea eagles have recently been affected by developments in Choa Chu Kang and Yishun; likewise, the changeable hawk-eagle in Dairy Farm, Jalan Bahar, Sungei Ulu Pandan and Woodlands Road.

Some of these "wild growths" outside the nature reserves must be allowed to exist intact, otherwise what is common becomes uncommon, and what is endangered will become extinct.

Since half of Singapore is still green and undeveloped, there is room for flexibility in development planning.

Ho Hua Chew

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Valuable butterfly collection for museum

Tycoon acquires most complete set of species found in region
Tan Dawn Wei Straits Times 14 Jan 13;

A VALUABLE collection of butterflies of West Malaysia and Singapore has been bought and donated to Singapore's new natural history museum.

Mr Angus Fleming and Mr Khew with some of the specimens. The collection represents about 95 per cent of butterflies in West Malaysia and Singapore, said Mr Khew. -- PHOTO: RAFFLES MUSEUM OF BIODIVERSITY RESEARCH

The Fleming collection - acquired by Malaysian tycoon Tan Teong Hean - represents the most complete picture of these beautiful insects that lived and continue to live in this region.

When the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum opens next year, visitors will be able to see these butterflies, although not all 8,000 specimens representing 1,031 species will be displayed all at once.

Mr Tan, 69, chairman of private equity firm Southern Capital Group and a butterfly lover himself, had long been acquainted with Scotsman W. A. Fleming and his son Angus, who had been collecting these butterflies from 1961 to 1978.

When the senior Fleming died that year, his wife took the collection to Britain. She has been the guardian of this coveted collection but, with her years numbered, decided that it should go back to where it belonged.

"We wanted to keep it as a collection and not split it up," said Mr Angus Fleming, 59, who was born in Kuala Lumpur and now works in the construction industry in Darwin, Australia.

He had brought the collection from Britain to Singapore by hand last week.

His father had come to Malaya in 1937 to work as a planter for a London-based rubber company in Selangor.

Mr Tan has started an endowment fund to buy the collection at an undisclosed sum and also for the museum to hire a full-time curator to look after the butterflies.

Mr Khew Sin Khoon, 54, an honorary curator at the Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research, which will soon become the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum, said the collection is important as the specimens are properly organised and accurately identified.

It has also been validated by other butterfly experts and corresponds to Mr W. A. Fleming's book, Butterflies Of West Malaysia And Singapore.

"It represents about 95 per cent of butterflies in West Malaysia and Singapore," said Mr Khew, who is also president and chief executive of architectural firm CPG Corporation.

"It is an important reference for collectors and future students of butterflies who are keen to learn how to identify their collected specimens."

Some of the more rare specimens include the Yellow Rajah, Mangrove Tree Nymph, Green Dragontail, Rajah Brooke's Birdwing and Jewel Nawab.

For the donor, the collection also has a larger significance.

"The key driver for me was that this is ecological heritage you can't have any more," said Mr Tan.

About 15 per cent of the butterflies in the collection can no longer be found.

"My wish is to get future generations interested in butterflies," said Mr Tan, who was the former chief executive of Southern Bank.

Related links
Celebrating a Homecoming on the Butterflies of Singapore blog

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13 ornamental fish farms in Pasir Ris to close by the end of 2014

Straits Times 14 Jan 13;

THIRTEEN fish farms in Pasir Ris - popular for their fish spas, prawning and fishing facilities - will close by the end of 2014.

It comes amid a slump in Singapore's export of ornamental fish, which has fallen to 2002 levels.

Leases for the farms, which sit on a 216,680 sq m plot of state land, will expire between November this year and December 2014.

A spokesman for the Singapore Land Authority (SLA), which manages the land, said it has been earmarked for industrial development. "Hence the JTC, URA, AVA and SLA are only able to agree to an extension until Dec 31, 2014 for those farm leases that expire before this date," she said, adding that affected tenants were told of the extension last September.

The Pasir Ris fish farmers have banded together to appeal for at least a five-year lease extension or more.

Their 45-page letter was delivered to the authorities last week, said Mr Desmond Yeoh, 58, one of the affected farmers. He owns Mainland Tropical Fish Farm at Pasir Ris Farmway 1.

The letter, said Mr Yeoh, was signed by all affected fish farmers while an appeal for an extension was also lodged with the SLA.

"They told us no more renewal," said Mr Yeoh, who has moved four times since the 1970s. "Our trade has been passed down from generation to generation. If there is no renewal, it is like sending the business to the grave."

Mr Yeoh said he could move if the Government opens up new land for ornamental fish farms.

Another farmer affected is Mr Seah Swee Poh, 46, who runs Lian Shing Fishery Impex at Pasir Ris Farmway 2. "We may close. We will have to start over with an empty plot of land and build it up again," he said in Mandarin.

A spokesman for the Urban Redevelopment Authority said that in deciding how to allocate land, it has to ensure there is sufficient land to meet critical needs such as housing, industry and infrastructure. "Not all agriculture activities can be accommodated in the long term. General farming activities such as ornamental fish farming can be catered to in the interim where land is not needed for other critical needs," he added.


Rough seas ahead for ornamental fish exporters
Exports slump to 2002 levels; dealers face land constraints, falling demand
Jessica Lim Straits Times 14 Jan 13;

THE amount of ornamental fish being exported by Singapore has dropped to the levels of a decade ago, due to falling global demand and constraints here.

Statistics released by the Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority (AVA) last week revealed that companies in Singapore exported $78 million worth of fish in 2011, down from $101 million in 2007.

In 2002, Singapore exported $75 million worth. Last year's figures are not yet available.

Companies said it could be a sign that Singapore is losing its grip on its position as the world's largest exporter.

Many point to difficulties such as trouble attracting staff, the lack of space for expansion and uncertainty about how long they can remain in one place.

According to the latest data from the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), Singapore held top spot in 2009 with exports of US$59.9 million (S$73.4 million) - 18.7 per cent of the market.

In 2007, Singapore had 21 per cent of the global export market. From 1996 to 2000, the figure was between 24 and 26 per cent.

FAO data also showed a narrowing gap between Singapore and Spain - the second largest exporter. In 2007, the difference was US$34.8 million. By 2009, it was just US$13.1 million.

It could be, said Mr Fong Ching Loon, who chairs the Singapore Aquarium Fish Exporters' Association, that the Republic has already lost top spot. The 75-year-old, who owns a fish farm in Lorong Chencharu, said such farms here can only operate on government-approved land and struggle with land constraints.

Many members, he said, have had to move at least four times in the past 50 years. Often, their leases are extended by only two to three years at a time. Relocating and rebuilding a farm costs about $1 million. He said: "It's not easy for us. Every time we earn money, then in about 10 years we have to move. That bleeds us dry again."

He claimed that this has contributed to some farm closures. The association now has 38 members, down from 45 in 2010.

A meeting with the AVA will be held later this month to discuss such issues, Mr Fong said.

He added: "We are hoping for the various government bodies to designate certain areas as permanent farmland areas or be less stringent on regulations."

Possible subsidies for moving may also be discussed. Mr Fong, who owns Pisces Tropica, has moved five times in 40 years.

The AVA, which regulates and licenses all fish exporters here, also blames a drop in demand.

An agency spokesman said it has been trying to help the industry raise productivity by providing seminars, workshops and training courses.

Assistant Professor Diao Mi of the National University of Singapore's real estate department said: "The challenge the Government faces here is having to make trade-offs between different land uses."

He said it is unlikely the Government will prop up commercial entities. Mr Yeo Eng Meng, managing director of The Straits Aquariums in Jalan Kayu, said the uncertainty has crippled business.

The 70-year-old said that after his 10-year-lease expired, it was renewed several times for two to three years. He can now stay until 2014 but will close when the renewals end. "I've already reduced my exports to almost zero," he said in Mandarin, adding that he has just one customer left. He had 20 in the 1970s.

Other fish exporters like Qian Hu have done better. Its exports went up from 2007 to 2011, but dipped slightly last year due to falling demand in Europe

Deputy managing director Andy Yap, 47, said: "Most other companies here, they are only strong in certain markets. We market very aggressively in the US, Middle East and Asia."

Due north to Johor
Melissa Sim Straits Times 20 Jan 13;

By June this year, fish farmers Chew Kim Hwee, 37, and Nicki Teo, 35, may have to head north to Johor to relocate the business they have been running for four years.

The husband-and-wife team owns Fish Vision Agro-Tech at Pasir Ris Farmway 1, which breeds red snapper, pearl grouper, seabass and other fish fry, which they export and sell to other farmers.

Although June is when the tenancy on their 11ha farm runs out, they have been in talks with the authorities about extending their lease to December next year and have received verbal approval thus far.

However, even if the lease is extended, their future is uncertain as the Singapore Land Authority has said the land will be used for industrial development after 2014.

A fish farm can take a year or even two to build, which is why the couple, who have one child, are already looking for new plots.

Ms Teo says she knows new farms have opened in Pulau Semakau and Pulau Ketam but says this is not feasible as it would cost more than $2 million to set up a farm at either of these two places because of the lack of infrastructure.

With no place to go, the couple have turned to Johor and are "close to confirming" a new location "but we still hope the Government will provide a location here".

She adds: "We still prefer to stay in Singapore because we live here and don't want to go to Johor every day for work."

Trained as an architect, she had her own design company before joining her husband's business. She is also a real estate agent.

Mr Chew was the operations manager in the holding company which owned the farm and went on to buy Fish Vision Agro- Tech when it was up for sale. The couple paid more than $1 million for the farm.

They say that moving to Malaysia will reduce set-up costs as they can take over abandoned farms there. But it will still cost them about $1 million.

The ideal solution would be to extend the lease on the current farm, which brought in $3 million in revenue last year.

Ms Teo asked if it was necessary to build more factories in Pasir Ris and hopes the authorities will consider the land use carefully before "bulldozing and affecting our livelihood".

"We are in line with the Government's push to increase our food supply," she says, explaining why they should be given more land or a further extension on their lease.

Progress in Singapore is important, she says, "but sustainability within our nation is also important".

End of the line?
Time is running out for fish farmers in Pasir Ris as they have to move out by December next year, but most of them have not found alternative sites
Melissa Sim Straits Times 20 Jan 13;

Fish farming has been in his family for three generations but Mr Darren Ong, manager of OTF Aquarium Farm, fears this may be the end of the line for the family business.

His is one of 14 fish farms in Singapore breeding ornamental or edible fish (also known as food fish) which will have to clear out of Pasir Ris by December next year to make way for industrial development.

At the moment, these farms, which take up more than 200,000 sq m of land, or the size of 26 soccer fields, have nowhere else to go.

But the farmers remain hopeful that the authorities will release new plots of land so that they can start building new farms. Time, however, is running out.

Mr Ong, 33, says: "The timeframe is so short. Even if they give us the land now, it takes one year to approve and one more year to build the farm."

Building new farms would cost between $1 million and $3 million, which is expensive for the farmers who say business is not what it used to be.

Statistics from the Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority (AVA) show that Singapore exported $78 million worth of ornamental fish in 2011, down from $101 million in 2007. In terms of food fish, Singapore exported $314,593 worth of fish in 2011, down from $328,990 in 2007.

The AVA set up a Food Fund in 2009, which aimed to increase Singapore's supply of local produce, in particular it aims to increase production of fish from 4 per cent to 15 per cent in five years.

The push to grow the ornamental fish-rearing industry started in the late 1960s, when the Government saw strong export potential in the industry. The support for the industry continued throughout the 1980s and 1990s, when the Government pumped money into fish immunisation projects and encouraged research in fish genetics.

AVA says it will continue to work with the industry to facilitate trade and offer assistance wherever appropriate.

Today, however, the priorities seem to have changed, especially for ornamental fish breeders.

Mr Winson Choo, owner of Tropical Fish International in Pasir Ris, says: "In the 1980s and 1990s, the Government was pushing this trade. But now, it seems that they are asking us to pack up and go."

The Urban Redevelopment Authority has said that in deciding how to allocate land, it has to ensure there is sufficient land to meet critical needs such as housing, industry and infrastructure. A spokesman was quoted in a report last week as saying: "Not all agriculture activities can be accommodated in the long term. General farming activities such as ornamental fish farming can be catered to in the interim where land is not needed for other critical needs.

The Singapore Land Authority has said that the various government agencies are able to agree to an extension only until Dec 31 next year for farm leases that expire before that date.

But the best-case scenario for the farmers would be for the Government to provide new land, as well as extend their current leases beyond next year, so that they can make a smooth transition to new farms.

Mr Ong, whose grandfather started the business in a Yishun kampung in the late 1940s, says: “When the Government moved people out of the kampung, they built HDB flats for them. So I believe the Singapore Land Authority will provide something for us.They must.”

Scaling down is not an option for most farms, as the owners say developing new strains of fish can help a farm differentiate itself from the competition and they require space for such research and development.

Mr Choo, for example, specialises in breeding guppies and proudly showed SundayLife! a strain which only his farm produces, called the Singa Dragon.

Mr Victor Tan, 36, owner of Aquarium Iwarna, breeds clown fish with unique patterns which can fetch up to $500 each, while Mr Ong from OTF Aquarium says he has ongoing self-funded research projects to develop unique strains of stingray.

Mr Tan says: “We have to have facilities and the space. We cannot do breeding in shophouses or industrial parks.” He adds that his company holds talks in schools to tell students about marine conservation and sustainability. Mr Ong has at least 2,000 stingrays and arowanas on his farm. But if the business has to shut down, he asks: “Where will our fish go?”
Without the land, Mr Choo says he would “basically be put out of business”. He adds: “We’ll have to scale down or wind up and give our fish to Malaysian companies to continue breeding.”

On the food fish industry, Professor Paul Teng, a food security expert from the Nanyang Technological University, says there is “still a place for Singapore to maintain a small fish farming sector to provide fresh fish in case of supply disruptions due to reduced imports from nearby countries”.

He adds that Singapore still has sufficient coastal waters which can be used for fish farming and fish here are generally produced under better safety and quality conditions than in some other countries.

Besides Pasir Ris, there are fish farms in Jalan Kayu, Lim Chu Kang and Lorong Chencharu in Yishun.
While most of the farmers believe the authorities will find a way to help them, others are prepared to let their businesses go if there is no lease extension after 2014.

Mr Lau Hong Yin, 71, who breeds tilapia and soon hock, and has been in the business for more than 50 years, says: “We won’t move. If there is no extension on the lease, I will just retire.”

Moved farm three times in 35 years
Melissa Sim Straits Times 20 Jan 13;

Mr Desmond Yeoh's family fish farm has relocated three times in the last 35 years and he may have to move yet again.

The lease on Mainland Tropical Fish Farm ends in December next year but there is no new place to move to yet.

His late father Yeo Keok Meng started the farm in a kampung in Sembawang in the 1930s, breeding carp, shrimp and crabs mainly for local consumption.

In the 1970s, the market for ornamental fish was growing so the farm focused on that.

He declined to reveal revenue figures but says: "Singapore is like a supermarket for ornamental fish. You can get any fish you want from Japan, Nigeria, Peru, anywhere."

Mr Yeoh, 58, runs the 1.63ha farm with his three brothers. His wife is an account executive who helps out on weekends and his son works in sales and is not interested in the business.

He showed SundayLife! photographs of his trips to Kalimantan and Kenya, and shared harrowing stories of how he had to travel for hours in small boats just to see exotic fish, which he hoped to bring back to Singapore for export or to keep as pets.

He has a 250kg pet aripaima, one of the biggest freshwater fish in the world. It was a few centimetres long when he got it from Columbia but it is now 2.4m long.

"I see my fish grow and I'm happy," he says. "You need to have passion for this job. If there is no passion, it's difficult."

The farm is open to the public, who come for the fish spa, prawn catching or guppy catching in a man-made stream.

He has overheard children telling their parents how much they like the farm and says that makes him proud and happy.

But the main business is in the export of stingrays, koi and arowana. The farm moved from Sembawang to Pasir Ris, then to Tampines and then back to Pasir Ris, but business still continues.

Mr Yeoh, who studied up to O levels, says: "This is the only trade I know."

He is brushing aside thoughts of closing shop. He is contacting the Singapore Land Authority and hopes for another plot of land to be put up for tender.

But if there is really nowhere to go, he says, half in jest: "I'll invite 500 people to eat the aripaima, they can each get half a kilogram."

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Whale sharks may pass Sabah islands

New Straits Times 14 Jan 13;

BRIEF FORAYS: They may appear until March

Between January and March, visitors to the islands of Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park (TARP) will be told to look out for whale sharks.

Several sightings of whale sharks have been reported close to Sapi Island and Gaya Island over the past years, mainly to feed on plankton.

At the end and beginning of the year, the water is slightly colder and according to divers, when the water gets chilly, it means the whale sharks are coming.

University Malaysia Sabah's Borneo Marine Research Institute director Prof Dr Saleem Mustafa said sightings of whale sharks at TARP were not unusual and they were significant.

"While this place is frequently visited by dolphins, occasionally, whale sharks use this passage after a gap of a few years.

"They travel over long distances, covering thousands of nautical miles and move at a slow speed.

"When the migratory route is large, the journey will take years to complete," he told the New Straits Times.

This, he added, was one of the reasons for the rare sightings and if the whale shark passing by the marine park was old and the journey too long, Sabah folk might not get to see it again.

"It could be a different specimen making a foray into our waters and there could be many reasons for their presence at the marine park."

He said it was difficult to tell why an animal as enormous as the whale shark (more than 12m long and weighing more than 20 tonnes) with a broad distribution in the world oceans developed a site attachment to a relatively small geographical area for regular visits.

"It is hard to establish a definite pattern in their sighting at one place based on their brief forays into TARP.

They are highly migratory, generally moving in tropical and temperate seas," said Saleem, adding they preferred water with temperatures of between 21o and 27oC.

Diver Jeremy Chia, 32, a Sarawak native, first saw this slow-moving filter-feeding shark two years ago when he was on a holiday trip.

"It was in February and we were on a boat heading for Sapi Island when our skipper suddenly shouted 'whale shark'.

"Everyone turned to the sea.

"When the boat stopped, everyone was racing to jump into the sea just to get a closer look.

"Even our local dive master and the skipper joined in."

After his first encounter with whale shark, Chia, who is self-employed, makes it a point to visit the state and dive for a month, adding he saw two of them last year.

Professional diver Joanne Cotterill, who also operates dive, tour and travel company Borneo Dream, said whale sharks' migration season along the west coast of Sabah was between January and March.

"There are a handful of sightings each season at TARP.

"We do get the odd diver asking about whale-shark sightings but most divers would choose to go to other locations in the world if they wanted guaranteed whale-shark sightings."

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Malaysia: New plastic fish trap conserves the environment

New fish trap conserves the environs, cheaper, easy to use and lasts longer
Ruben Sario The Star 14 Jan 13;

KOTA KINABALU: Ironically, plastic is helping to conserve the environment in the wildlife-rich Kinabatangan region among fishermen and the technique is spreading to the nearby east coast Paitan district.

Fishermen in Kampung Sukau, along Sungai Kinabatangan, now make their bubu fish traps from plastic wire mesh with a technique introduced by conservation NGO, HUTAN.

Traditionally, fishermen strip the bark of certain hardwood trees to make the traps, often damaging the trees.

Sometimes, they even chopped down the trees to make the traditional bubu, which lasts for just about six months, said HUTAN-Kinabatangan Orang Utan Conservation programme (KOCP) manager Datu Ahbam Abulani.

The traps made out of plastic mesh last a long time and the Sukau fishermen are passing the skill to their counterparts in Paitan.

“This is an example of using plastic to do good for the environment,” said Datu Ahbam.

Recognising the value of protecting trees from over exploitation by fishermen, the introduction of the plastic mesh traps in Paitan was jointly launched with the District Office, the Sabah Wildlife Department and the Environmental Protection Department recently.

“Using the wire mesh method is easy and can be done in a morning. However, a traditional bubu can take up to a week to make,” said Datu Ahbam.

The cost of the wire mesh material is less than RM200 and fishermen from Sukau provide the training.

“We worked with fishermen in Sukau for more than a year to come up with a sustainable replacement which also had to be a cost effective alternative.

“The traditional bubu had a negative impact on the forest and wildlife within Kinabatangan,” said Datu Ahbam.

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Pollution "worst on record" in Beijing: Greenpeace

David Stanway PlanetArk 14 Jan 13;

Air quality in Beijing was the "worst on record" on Saturday and Sunday, according to environmentalists, as the city's pollution monitoring centre warned residents to stay indoors with pollution 30-45 times above recommended safety levels.

The Chinese capital, home to around 20 million people, has been wrapped in thick smog since Friday, reducing visibility and disrupting traffic.

Data posted on Sunday by the monitoring centre ( showed particulate matter measuring less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter (PM2.5) had reached more than 600 micrograms per square meter at some monitoring stations in Beijing, and was as high as 900 on Saturday evening.

The recommended daily level for PM2.5 is 20, according to the World Health Organization. Such pollution has been identified as a major cause of asthma and respiratory diseases.

"This is really the worst on record not only from the official data but also from the monitoring data from the U.S. embassy -- some areas in (neighboring) Hebei province are even worst than Beijing," said Zhou Rong, climate and energy campaigner at Greenpeace.

The Beijing Municipal Environmental Monitoring Centre said heavy pollution had been trapped by an area of low pressure, making it harder to disperse, and the conditions were likely to last another two days.

Pollution has been identified as one of the biggest challenges facing China's leaders, with outgoing president Hu Jintao saying during his address to the Communist Party Congress last November that the country needed to "reverse the trend of ecological deterioration and build a beautiful China".

China said at the end of last year that it would begin releasing hourly pollution data for its biggest cities.

Beijing has already committed to a timetable to improve air quality in the city, and has relocated most of its heavy industry, but surrounding regions have not made the same commitments, said Zhou.

"For Beijing, cleaning up will take a whole generation but other regions don't even have any targets to cut coal burning. I bet the pollution here is mainly from those surrounding regions."

(Reporting by David Stanway; Editing by Michael Perry)

Air pollution in Beijing goes off the index
Louise Watt Associated Press Yahoo News 13 Jan 13;

BEIJING (AP) — People refused to venture outdoors and buildings disappeared into Beijing's murky skyline on Sunday as the air quality in China's notoriously polluted capital went off the index.

The Beijing Municipal Environmental Monitoring Center said on its website that the density of PM2.5 particulates had surpassed 700 micrograms per cubic meter in many parts of the city. The World Health Organization considers a safe daily level to be 25 micrograms per cubic meter.

PM2.5 are tiny particulate matter less than 2.5 micrometers in size, or about 1/30th the average width of a human hair. They can penetrate deep into the lungs, so measuring them is considered a more accurate reflection of air quality than other methods.

The Beijing center recommended that children and the elderly stay indoors, and that others avoid outdoor activities.

The U.S. Embassy also publishes data for PM2.5 on Twitter, and interprets the data according to more stringent standards.

In the 24-hour period up to 10 a.m. Sunday, it said 18 of the hourly readings were "beyond index." The highest number was 755, which corresponded to a PM2.5 density of 886 micrograms per cubic meter. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's air quality index goes up to only 500, and the agency advises that anything greater than 300 would trigger a health warning of "emergency conditions," with the entire population likely affected.

While some people vowed to stay indoors with air purifiers turned on, Beijing's streets were still fairly busy Sunday, and there was the familiar sight of heavy traffic on main thoroughfares.

A young couple strolled along hand in hand in the central business district, both with matching white masks strung around their faces. Two Taiwanese tourists wore masks they said they had brought with them because they heard Beijing's pollution was so bad.

"I don't know why there is such heavy haze these past days. It's really quite serious compared with the air quality three days ago," said a 33-year-old lawyer, who would give only his surname, Liu, as he adjusted his own mask. He said he had ventured out only because he needed to go shopping.

Beijing's air started to worsen on Thursday. The Beijing monitoring center has said the pollution is expected to linger until Tuesday.

PM2.5 can result from the burning of fuels in vehicles and power plants.

Weather conditions are a factor in the recent poor air quality, as a lack of wind means pollutants can easily accumulate and fail to dissipate, said Pan Xiao Chuan, a professor at Peking University's public health department.

"Recent pollution doesn't mean there is an increase in the discharge of pollutants," he said.

Experts say they thought the PM2.5 readings were the highest since Beijing started publishing that data early last year. Public pressure forced the publication of the more detailed air quality data, as a growing Chinese middle class is increasingly vocal about the quality of the environment in which it lives. Hourly air quality updates are now available online for more than 70 cities.

Air pollution is a major problem in China due to the country's rapid pace of industrialization, reliance on coal power, explosive growth in car ownership and disregard to environmental laws. It typically gets worse in the winter because of heating needs.

Several other cities, including Tianjin on the coast east of Beijing and southern China's Wuhan city, also reported severe pollution over the last several days.

Associated Press researcher Henry Hou contributed to this report.

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Global food crisis will worsen as heatwaves damage crops, research finds

Harvests will fall dramatically during severe heatwaves, predicted to become many times more likely in coming decades
Damian Carrington 13 Jan 13;

The world's food crisis, where 1 billion people are already going hungry and a further 2 billion people will be affected by 2050, is set to worsen as increasing heatwaves reverse the rising crop yields seen over the last 50 years, according to new research.

Severe heatwaves, such as those currently seen in Australia, are expected to become many times more likely in coming decades due to climate change. Extreme heat led to 2012 becoming the hottest year in the US on record and the worst corn crop in two decades.

New research, which used corn growing in France as an example, predicts losses of up to 12% for maize yields in the next 20 years. A second, longer-term study published on Sunday indicates that, without action against climate change, wheat and soybean harvests will fall by up to 30% by 2050 as the world warms.

"Our research rings alarm bells for future food security," said Ed Hawkins, at the University of Reading, who worked on the corn study. "Over the last 50 years, developments in agriculture, such as fertilisers and irrigation, have increased yields of the world's staple foods, but we're starting to see a slowdown in yield increases."

He said increasing frequency of hot days across the world could explain some of this slowdown. "Current advances in agriculture are too slow to offset the expected damage to crops from heat stress in the future," said Prof Andy Challinor, at the University of Leeds. "Feeding a growing population as climate changes is a major challenge, especially since the land available for agricultural expansion is limited. Supplies of the major food crops could be at risk unless we plan for future climates."

Hawkins, Challinor and colleagues examined how the number of days when the temperature rose above 32C affected the maize crop in France, which is the UK's biggest source of imported corn. Yields had quadrupled between 1960 and 2000 but barely improved in the last decade, while the number of hot days more than doubled.

By the 2020s, hot days are expected to occur over large areas of France where previously they were uncommon and, unless farmers find ways to combat the heat stress that damages seed formation, yields of French maize could fall by 12% compared to today. Hawkins said there will be some differences with other crops in different locations, but added: "Extreme heat is not good for crops."

The second study is the first global assessment of a range of climate change impacts, from increased flooding to rising demand for air conditioning, of how cutting carbon emissions could reduce these impacts, published in Nature Climate Change. "Our research clearly identifies the benefits of reducing greenhouse gas emissions – less severe impacts on crops and flooding are two areas of particular benefit," said Prof Nigel Arnell of the University of Reading, who led the study, published in Nature Climate Change.

One example showed global productivity of spring wheat could drop by 20% by the 2050s, but such a drop in yields is delayed until 2100 if firm action is taken to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

River flooding was the impact which was most reduced if climate action is taken, the study found. Without action, even optimistic forecasts suggest the world will warm by 4C, which would expose about 330m people globally to greater flooding. But that number could be cut in half if emissions start to fall in the next few years. Flooding is the biggest climate threat to the UK, with over 8,000 homes submerged in 2012.

Another dramatic impact was on the need for air conditioning as temperatures rise. The energy needed for cooling is set to soar but could be cut by 30% if the world acts to curb emissions, with the benefit being particularly high in Europe. However, climate action has relatively little effect on water shortages, set to hit a billion people. Just 5% of those would avoid water problems if emissions fall.

"But cutting emissions buys you time for adaptation [to climate change's impacts]," said Arnell. "You can buyfive to 10 years [delay in impacts] in the 2030s, and several decade from 2050s. It is quite an optimistic study as it shows that climate policies can have a big effect in reducing the impacts on people."

Ed Davey, the UK's secretary of state for energy and climate change, said: "We can avoid many of the worst impacts of climate change if we work hard together to keep global emissions down. This research helps us quantify the benefits of limiting temperature rise to 2C and underlines why it's vital we stick with the UN climate change negotiations and secure a global legally binding deal by 2015."

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Emissions limits could cut climate damage by two-thirds: study

Nina Chestney PlanetArk 14 Jan 13;

The world could avoid much of the damaging effects of climate change this century if greenhouse gas emissions are curbed more sharply, research showed on Sunday.

The study, published in the journal Nature Climate Change, is the first comprehensive assessment of the benefits of cutting emissions to keep the global temperature rise to within 2 degrees Celsius by 2100, a level which scientists say would avoid the worst effects of climate change.

It found 20 to 65 percent of the adverse impacts by the end of this century could be avoided.

"Our research clearly identifies the benefits of reducing greenhouse gas emissions - less severe impacts on flooding and crops are two areas of particular benefit," said Nigel Arnell, director of the University of Reading's Walker Institute, which led the study.

In 2010, governments agreed to curb emissions to keep temperatures from rising above 2 degrees C, but current emissions reduction targets are on track to lead to a temperature rise of 4 degrees or more by 2100.

The World Bank has warned more extreme weather will become the "new normal" if global temperature rises by 4 degrees.

Extreme heatwaves could devastate areas from the Middle East to the United States, while sea levels could rise by up to 91 cm (3 feet), flooding cities in countries such as Vietnam and Bangladesh, the bank has said.

The latest research involved scientists from British institutions including the University of Reading, the Met Office Hadley Centre and the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change, as well as Germany's Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.

It examined a range of emissions-cut scenarios and their impact on factors including flooding, drought, water availability and crop productivity. The strictest scenario kept global temperature rise to 2 degrees C with emissions peaking in 2016 and declining by 5 percent a year to 2050.


Adverse effects such as declining crop productivity and exposure to river flooding could be reduced by 40 to 65 percent by 2100 if warming is limited to 2 degrees, the study said.

Global average sea level rise could be reduced to 30cm (12 inches) by 2100, compared to 47-55cm (18-22 inches) if no action to cut emissions is taken, it said.

Some adverse climate impacts could also be delayed by many decades. The global productivity of spring wheat could drop by 20 percent by the 2050s, but the fall in yield could be delayed until 2100 if strict emissions curbs were enforced.

"Reducing greenhouse gas emissions won't avoid the impacts of climate change altogether of course, but our research shows it will buy time to make things like buildings, transport systems and agriculture more resilient to climate change," Arnell said.

About 190 nations are aiming to sign a deal by 2015 which will legally bind countries to make ambitious emissions cuts but it will not come into force until 2020.

U.N. climate negotiations in Qatar in December ended with little progress on emissions cuts.

"This research helps us quantify the benefits of limiting temperature rise to 2 degrees C and underlines why it's vital we stick with the U.N. climate change negotiations and secure a global legally binding deal by 2015," said Edward Davey, Britain's Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change.

The study can be viewed at

(Reporting by Nina Chestney; Editing by Pravin Char)

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