Best of our wild blogs: 24 Apr 18



Half of St John's Island closed after asbestos found
wild shores of singapore

Ocean wanderers: pelagic birds in Singapore waters
Celebrating Singapore Shores!

Singapore’s first zero-waste grocery store is opening
eco-business.com


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Asbestos found on St John's Island, more than half of the island sealed

Audrey Tan Straits Times 23 Apr 18;

SINGAPORE - Debris containing a potentially toxic mineral was recently found on St John's Island, leading the authorities to seal off more than half of the island as a safety precaution.

Traces of asbestos had been detected on April 16 in construction debris such as roof tiles around the island's campsite, lagoon and holiday bungalow area, the Singapore Land Authority (SLA) announced at a media briefing on Monday.

Even though the risk of visitors developing asbestos-related diseases is low due to short-term exposure to the mineral, SLA said it took the precaution of cordoning off the affected areas the following day (April 17). SLA, which manages the island, also closed off the campsite and cancelled about a dozen bookings for the holiday bungalow.

The two long-term residents on St John's Island, whose homes fall within the affected areas, also moved back to the mainland on April 18. SLA said they were found to be in good health.

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

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

In this case, the asbestos was found in construction debris such as roof tiles. SLA is investigating how the debris came to the island.

Asbestos-related diseases such as lung cancer or asbestocis, the progressive scarring of the lungs, occur mainly in people who have continuous years of exposure to high levels of asbestos, said Associate Professor Loo Chian Min, senior consultant for respiratory and critical care medicine at the Singapore General Hospital.

He said that casual visitors to St John's Island should not be unduly worried.

However, for the two long-term islanders, Prof Loo said: "I would advise them to go for a baseline health check. For asbestos to cause any illness, they would need 10 to 40 years before anything can happen. So a baseline would help to ascertain their health condition now, so there can be a comparison if anything should happen later."

Dr Jim Teo, a respiratory physician at Parkway East Hospital, said that the time and dosage of exposure could increase the risk of lung complications. While short term exposure to high concentrations of asbestos in an enclosed space may be potentially harmful, it could also take years to show, he said.

"Nowadays, exposure to asbestos is decreased... But asbestos was widely used decades ago, and as a result, we encounter cases only now," Dr Teo told The Straits Times.

He said a detailed history of the patient's occupation and the materials they handled at work provide important clues to their past exposure to the toxic mineral.

During the briefing on Monday, SLA said the affected areas will likely re-open only in mid-2019, after asbestos removal and other construction works are completed.

But visitors can still make the trip to the neighbouring Lazarus Island, which is connected to St John's Island by a bridge.

The ferries from Marina South Pier to the island will also continue plying the route.

Even though official figures show that at least 200 asbestos-removal cases take place every year, the asbestos on St John's Island is only the second prominent case.

The first was in 2016, when SLA found that the corrugated roof sheets of terraced houses in Chip Bee Gardens had asbestos in some of them.

In an update on Monday (April 23), SLA chief executive Tan Boon Khai said replacement works at Chip Bee are still ongoing.

Ms Ria Tan, who documents the creatures found in Singapore's nature areas, including the lagoons on St John's Island, said the incident raised a few questions, including how the asbestos debris landed on the island.

Ms Tan, who writes on on the wildsingapore.com blog, said: "Going forward, how will the authorities ensure future proper disposal of general trash and industrial and construction waste?"


More than half of St John's Island cordoned off after debris with asbestos found
Eugenia Lim Channel NewsAsia 23 Apr 18;

SINGAPORE: More than half of St John's Island has been cordoned off after debris containing asbestos was found on the island, the Singapore Land Authority (SLA) said on Monday (Apr 23).

The areas blocked off to the public include most of the island’s facilities such as the nature trail, campsite, lagoon and the holiday bungalow area, said SLA, which manages the island.

The closure took effect last Tuesday, a day after samples taken from the campsite, lagoon and holiday bungalow area tested positive for asbestos.

Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral which was commonly used as a construction material in the past. The use of asbestos in building materials has been banned in Singapore since 1989 due to concerns about health risks.




Senior consultant of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine at the Singapore General Hospital, Professor Loo Chian Min, said the health risk was low for casual visitors to the island.

"We shouldn’t expect any health issues for visitors. I wouldn’t be particularly concerned," said Prof Loo.

“For someone who is occupationally exposed for a long time, they can develop a few things, such as asbestosis, where the lungs get scarred, which leads to breathlessness,” he said.

"The risk of lung cancer and mesothelioma, which is the cancer of the lining of the lungs and the heart, are the main health risks.”

CAMPSITE TO REOPEN MID-2019

SLA said that removal works will start this Friday and will be completed by the end of the year. It aims to reopen the campsite by mid-2019.

Meanwhile, the authority has cancelled all bookings for the island’s facilities. Fewer than a dozen bookings have been affected, it said.

SLA chief executive Tan Boon Khai said it had yet to determine the source of the debris which tested positive for asbestos.

"It could have been there for some time, but we are investigating the matter," he said.

Regarding the two residents who grew up and live on St John’s Island, Mr Tan said they were in good health and have moved to the mainland after being informed of the asbestos.

SLA said it will continue to follow up with the two residents, and they will be allowed to return to their homes when the cordoned area is deemed safe.

The authority, which took over the management of the island from the Sentosa Development Corp in March last year, had been carrying out maintenance and upgrading works to enhance the existing facilities.

It was during the works that SLA's contractors discovered the debris, and extracted samples around the campsite, lagoon and holiday bungalow area for further asbestos testing on Mar 19.

Last Monday, the asbestos surveyor appointed by SLA confirmed the presence of asbestos in the samples. It was not detected on the rest of the island, which houses a Marine Aquaculture Centre.

The regular scheduled ferry timings to St John’s Island will continue to be available throughout the removal works. Visitors will still be able to cross the linkway which connects St John’s Island to Lazarus Island.

Source: CNA/nc


St John’s Island campsite to be closed till mid-2019 for removal of asbestos: SLA
LOUISA TANG Today Online 23 Apr 18;

SINGAPORE — The recreational areas of St John’s Island will be closed till the middle of next year, after asbestos — a hazardous material that could cause lung cancer and other illnesses if its fibres are inhaled over a prolonged period — was discovered on the island.

Announcing the closure on Monday (April 23), the Singapore Land Authority (SLA) said for safety reasons, the public will not be allowed into the campsite, lagoon and bungalow areas on the Southern island located some 6.5km to the south of the mainland.

About a dozen bookings for the campsite have been cancelled, and the monthly-guided nature trail — run by the National Parks Board — has also been cancelled till the site is re-opened.

The public can, however, continue to access Lazarus Island via St John’s Island, and ferry services from Marina South will not be affected.

The other half of the island that houses research facilities, such as the St John’s Island National Marine Laboratory, will also remain open.

Taking the media through the sequence of events, the SLA said its contractors, who were carrying out upgrading and maintenance works on the campsite, had discovered traces of asbestos in debris — which may have come from the roof sheets — on March 19.

The agency then worked with its surveyor to test the debris, and confirmed the presence of asbestos on April 16.

On April 17, it cancelled all campsite and holiday bungalow bookings on the island, and on April 18, two long-term residents of the island, who grew up there, were notified and they have since relocated to their homes on the mainland.

At the media briefing, SLA chief executive Tan Boon Khai said: “We have been in touch with them and we understand that they are in good health."

The SLA will begin removing the asbestos from Friday (April 27), and removal works are expected to be completed at the end of the year. The campsite will be reopened in mid-2019 once upgrading and maintenance works are completed.

The use of asbestos — a naturally-occurring mineral — in building materials has been banned since 1989 due to concerns about their health risks. Mr Tan told reporters that the agency is investigating the source of the asbestos and will not speculate further, though they “most likely” came from roof sheets.

“From the debris that is there, it could have been there for some time, but we are investigating the matter,” he added.

The SLA, which took over the management of the island from Sentosa Development Corporation (SDC)last year, does not actively track the number of visitors to the island, though in 2014, SDC had reported that the island receives some 28,000 visitors annually.

Casual visitors to the island need not be particularly concerned about their health, said Associate Professor Loo Chian Min, senior consultant at the Singapore General Hospital’s respiratory and critical care medicine department.

This is because asbestos poses a risk only to those who inhale its fibres over a long period of between 10 and 40 years, affecting mostly people who work with prolonged exposure to high levels of it. Asbestos fibres can cause diseases such as mesothelioma and lung cancer.

In 2016, some of the terrace houses at Chip Bee Gardens near Holland Village were found to contain asbestos. The SLA is still replacing all affected roof awnings and clearing the asbestos “over time”. “That is quite a different situation because that was contained and untouched in a house environment,” Mr Tan said.


Risk to St John's Island visitors low, says expert
Asbestos-linked diseases affect mainly those with long exposure to high levels of substance
Audrey Tan Straits Times 24 Apr 18;

Debris containing a potentially toxic mineral was recently found on St John's Island, leading the authorities to seal off more than half of the island as a safety precaution.

Traces of asbestos were detected on April 16 in construction debris such as roof tiles around the island's campsite, lagoon and holiday bungalow area, the Singapore Land Authority (SLA) said at a media briefing yesterday .

Even though the risk of visitors developing asbestos-related diseases is low due to short-term exposure to the mineral, SLA said it took the precaution of cordoning off the affected areas the following day. SLA, which manages the island, also closed off the campsite and cancelled about a dozen bookings for the holiday bungalow.

The two long-term residents on St John's Island, whose homes are within the affected areas, moved to the mainland last Wednesday. SLA said they were found to be in good health.

Asbestos is a fibrous mineral that was once a popular component in construction materials.

Due to its links to health problems such as lung cancer, its use in buildings was banned in Singapore in 1989, but many earlier structures still contain the substance.

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

In this case, the asbestos was found in construction debris such as roof tiles. SLA is investigating how the debris came to the island.

REASSURANCE

For asbestos to cause any illness, it would need 10 to 40 years before anything can happen.

ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR LOO CHIAN MIN, a senior consultant for respiratory and critical care medicine at Singapore General Hospital, saying casual visitors to St John's Island should not be unduly worried.

Asbestos-related diseases such as lung cancer or asbestosis - the progressive scarring of the lungs - occur mainly in people who have continuous years of exposure to high levels of asbestos, said Associate Professor Loo Chian Min.

The senior consultant for respiratory and critical care medicine at the Singapore General Hospital said casual visitors to St John's Island should not be unduly worried.

However, for the two long-term islanders, Prof Loo said: "I would advise them to go for a baseline health check.

"For asbestos to cause any illness, it would need 10 to 40 years before anything can happen. So a baseline would help to ascertain their health condition now, so there can be a comparison if anything should happen later."

Dr Jim Teo, a respiratory physician at Parkway East Hospital, said the time and dosage of exposure could increase the risk of lung complications. While short-term exposure to high concentrations of asbestos in an enclosed space may be potentially harmful, it could also take years to show, he added.

"Nowadays, exposure to asbestos is decreased... But asbestos was widely used decades ago and, as a result, we encounter cases only now," Dr Teo told The Straits Times.

He said a detailed history of the patients' occupation and the materials they handled at work provide important clues to their past exposure to the toxic mineral.

At yesterday's briefing, SLA said the affected areas will likely reopen only in the middle of next year, after asbestos removal and other construction works are completed.

CEO of SLA Tan Boon Khai on asbestos found on St John's Island

But visitors can still make the trip to the neighbouring Lazarus Island, which is connected to St John's Island by a bridge. The ferries from Marina South Pier to the island will also continue plying the route.

Staff working at the two research facilities on the island - the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority's aquaculture facility and the St John's Island National Marine Laboratory - can also continue to go to work, but will have to reach their laboratories via alternative routes.

Even though official figures show that at least 200 asbestos-removal cases take place every year, the asbestos found on St John's Island is only the second prominent case.

The first was in 2016, when SLA found that the corrugated roof sheets of terraced houses in Chip Bee Gardens had asbestos in some of them. In an update yesterday, SLA chief executive Tan Boon Khai said replacement works at Chip Bee are still ongoing.

Ms Ria Tan, who documents the creatures found in Singapore's nature areas, including the lagoons on St John's Island, said the incident raised a few questions, including how the asbestos debris landed on the island.

Ms Tan, who writes on the wildsingapore.com blog, said: "Going forward, how will the authorities ensure future proper disposal of general trash and industrial and construction waste?"

Heritage blogger Jerome Lim said he is concerned that asbestos may be undetected in other areas.

"In this case, the risk seems low due to the short-term exposure of users to the affected facilities on the island, but it may not be the case in other instances."


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Indonesia: Population of Sumatran tigers reaches 400

Antara 23 Apr 18;

Pekanbaru, Riau (ANTARA News) - The population of Sumatran tigers (Panthera tigris sumatrae) reaches 400 across Sumatran forests, according to the Environmental Affairs and Forestry Ministry.

Sumatran tigers could be found in Ulu Masen National Park, Kerumutan sanctuary, Rimbang Baling, Bukit Tiga Puluh, and up to Lampung, Wiratno, director general for Natural Resources and Ecosystem Conservation Affairs of the ministry said here, recently.

Panthera tigris sumatrae, one of the six remaining tiger species in the world, is currently in the brink of extinction due to conversion of Sumatran forests, he remarked.

He called for protection of the tiger habitats and food cycles in their habitats on Sumatra Island.

"There is a drastic change of forest function in Sumatra," he stated.

In Riau Province, some 190 Sumatran tigers exist, or one third of the total tiger population on Sumatra Island.

The tiger habitat in Riau is located in Kerumutan forest sanctuary, which was also the habitat of Bonita.

Bonita, four years old tigress, which had roamed around in human settlements and plantations since January 2018, had killed one woman and one man.

On April 20, Bonita was capture alive, after being shot twice with tranquilizer, Riau Natural Resources Conservation Agency head Suharyono said in the provincial capital of Pekanbaru on Saturday.

Bonita is currently being kept in an animal rehabilitation center owned by Arsari Djojohadikusumo Foundation, for observation.

reported Anggi Romadhoni
(T.SYS/B/F001/F001)
Editor: Heru Purwanto


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Indonesia: World’s newest great ape threatened by Chinese dam

The discovery of the Tapanuli orangutan has not stopped a Chinese state-run company from clearing forest for a planned dam. Conservationists fear this will be the beginning of the end for a species only known for six months
Jeremy Hance The Guardian 23 Apr 18;

Last November scientists made a jaw-dropping announcement: they’d discovered a new great ape hiding in plain sight, only the eighth inhabiting our planet.

The Tapanuli orangutan survives in northern Sumatra and it is already the most endangered great ape in the world; researchers estimate less than 800 individuals survive. But the discovery hasn’t stopped a Chinese state-run company, Sinohydro, from moving ahead with clearing forest for a large dam project smack in the middle of the orangutan population. According to several orangutan experts, Sinohyrdo’s dam represents an immediate and existential threat to the Tapanuli orangutan.

“Building the dam means chopping the orangutan population in half,” Erik Meijaard, the director of Borneo Futures and one of the experts to describe Pongo tapanuliensis, said. “You end up with two smaller populations, and these will have much reduced chances of survival, because a small population is more likely to go extinct than a large one.”

Meijaard added, “with only 800 individuals of this species remaining, the hydrodam will significantly increase the likelihood of extinction.”

Planned for the lowlands of the Batang Toru ecosystem in the North Sumatra province, the dam will hit the highest density of Tapanuli orangutans left. Researchers say the 510 megawatt dam will directly impact around 10-20% of the population, but perhaps even worse it will sever the eastern and western population, making it impossible for them to reconnect.

“The impact will not just be the destruction of the habitat where they want to build the dam and roads, tunnel, electricity lines, but it will cause the extinction of two of the three sub-populations, and in addition create access and destroy the most important habitat of the only viable population left,” said Gabriella Fredriksson, a scientist with the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme and another co-author on the paper describing the new species.

Greater access to the orangutans – due to new roads and cleared habitat – will likely lead to a spike in hunting orangutans and orangutans perishing in human-wildlife conflict. With only 800 left, any loss of animals is gravely problematic.

According to the conservationists, Sinohydro’s environmental management plan makes no reference to the orangutans (though the environmental impact assessment does). Despite this fact, the Indonesian government approved Sinohydro’s Batang Toru dam.

“The Indonesian government needs to respect its own laws,” Meijaard said. “Orangutans are protected species. The Indonesian law clearly prohibits any actions that harm a protected species or its nests. It is obvious that the hydrodam is harming a protected species, so why does the government allow this?”

In November – when the announcement of the new species hit newsstands across the world – the government signaled it would make the new ape a priority.

Wiratno, director general of Natural Resources and Conservation in the Ministry of Environment and Forestry, told the media that a government team would be sent to the region to make sure the orangutans were protected.

“We will conduct further examination concerning the crisis of the Tapanuli orangutans. I am sure that they will be conserved,” Wiratno said last year.

In the meantime, however, forest clearing is going on.

Wiratno and other government officials did not respond to requests to comment on the dam.

The dam project has also proven controversial with some local people, a protest last year ended violently. Requests for comment from Sinohydro have gone unanswered.

“Companies that are seeking to be leaders in this industry must uphold high environmental, ecological and social standards. It is irresponsible and reckless to undertake a project that would destroy the habitat of a critically endangered species,” Stephanie Jensen-Cormier, China program director at International Rivers, said.

Serge Wich, another co-author and a professor at Liverpool John Moores University, said the government should drop the hydropower plant and instead focus on a massive geothermal project north of the vulnerable orangutan population. The plant has the potential to be expanded to reach one gigawatt.

Fredriksson says Northern Sumatra “has a surplus of energy now.”

Of course, stopping the dam won’t ensure the survival of the Tapanuli orangutans. The species remains gravely imperiled by hunting, conflict with locals and habitat loss. However, if the dam goes ahead the species is almost sure to be slowly strangled.

“First of all, we need to ensure that the eastern and western populations in Batang Toru remain fully protected, that is zero habitat loss and zero killing,” said Fredriksson. “We also need to ensure that the eastern and western block remain connected. Once the Batang Toru populations are save and secure, reintroduction of the species into its historic range can be considered.”

Conservationists believe the last 800 Tapanuli orangutans are likely the last stand of a species that once spanned all of southern Sumatra – and may have even inhabited Java. This opens up the possibility that the species could be reintroduced to well-protected forests in the south – but first it has to be safeguarded from obliteration.

“The discovery [of the Tapanuli orangutan] showed that there is still a lot not known about the differences between populations in our nearest relatives and that studying such differences can even lead to a new species being described. In this case it was the first newly described great ape species since 1929,” said Wich, referencing the discovery of the bonobo in Africa.

It would be the first extinction of a great ape in millennia. One has to ask: is that worth 510 megawatts?
Sumatra’s megafauna is undergoing a wholesale collapse due to the usual suspects of hunting, snaring, poaching and habitat loss – especially as the palm oil and pulp and paper industries have steamrolled over the island leading to one of the highest deforestation records on the planet. The Sumatran rhino is nearly extinct with some 30-100 individuals left. The Sumatran tiger, the Sumatran elephant and the other orangutan species on the island – the Sumatran orangutan (Pongo abelii) – are all today listed as critically endangered.

These critically endangered “Sumatran Five” – rhinos, elephants, tigers and two orangutans – represent a failure of the global and local community to balance conservation with development. And to value life on planet Earth.

“If Pongo tapanuliensis disappears it wipes out a significant chunk of unique Indonesian evolutionary history, like the extinction of Java and Bali tiger,” Meijaard said.

It would also be the first extinction of a great ape – our closest relatives – in millennia. One has to ask: is that worth 510 megawatts?


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Indonesia: TV program under fire for showing protected giant clam being cooked

Gemma Holliani Cahya The Jakarta Post 23 Apr 18;

Environmentalists reported an adventure reality show to the Indonesian Broadcasting Commission (KPI) on Monday, following an edition on Sunday night in which a group of people were seen to cook creatures that appeared to be protected giant clams in Derawan Islands, East Kalimantan.

The program by TransTV, Para Petualang Cantik (The Beautiful Adventurers), was criticized by activists from Profauna Indonesia, Urban Wildlife Conservation Forum and Eco Diver Journalists.

The activists said on Monday that such clams, locally known as kima, were listed in the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) of the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources as protected animals.

They are also protected under Government Regulation No. 7/1999 on flora and fauna preservation.

The growth of giant clams, from egg until they build their own shell, is slow and they have become very rare as they can only live in pristine waters, a release from the environmentalists said.

“From millions of eggs, produced by adult ‘kima’, only a few dozen can survive until they get their shells as they are easy prey,” Eco Diver Journalists said in their release.

Head of the Science Journalism Department of Padjadjaran University, Herlina Agustin, said it would report the kima incident to the Environment and Forestry Ministry as well.

The KPI told The Jakarta Post it had already received the report from the activists.

“We are investigating the show,” KPI content monitoring coordinator Hardly Stefano Pariela said on Monday. (evi)


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Cambodia: Census finds increase in Mekong River's Irrawaddy dolphins

SOPHENG CHEANG, Associated Press Yahoo News 23 Apr 18;

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) — The number of critically endangered Irrawaddy dolphins along a stretch of the Mekong River has increased for the first time in 20 years but the animals still face serious threats, Cambodia's government and a major conservation group said Monday.

A joint statement issued by the World Wide Fund for Nature and Cambodia's Fisheries Administration said a 2017 census pegged the population of the freshwater dolphins along a 190-kilometer (118-mile) stretch of river from Kratie in Cambodia to the Khone Falls in Laos at 92, a 15 percent increase over an estimate of 80 made in 2015.

"The Mekong dolphin is considered our country's living national treasure and the results of this census reflect our many years of continuous efforts to protect this species," said Eng Cheasan, the director-general of the Fisheries Administration. "We will continue our conservation efforts to rebuild its population by eliminating all threats to the survival of this species."

In addition to the Mekong, the dolphins can be found in only two other freshwater rivers: Myanmar's Irrawaddy and Indonesia's Mahakam, on the island of Borneo.

Despite the increase during the latest count, the number of dolphins in the Mekong is still less than half of the 200 counted during the first official census in 1997. Surveys are carried out every two to three years.

Seng Teak, the country director of WWF-Cambodia, warned at a news conference in the Cambodian capital, Phnom Penh, that the dolphins still face many threats to their existence, including illegal fishing methods, increasing boat traffic and ongoing dam projects.

The biggest threat to the dolphins has been getting caught up in gillnets, massive nets held in place vertically through the use of floats and weights, that trap marine life in their netting.

Seng Teak said several thousand meters (yards) of illegal fishing net has been confiscated and dozens of fishermen arrested, some being released after being taught the error of their ways, and others sent to court.

The survey found encouraging signs for the dolphins' long-term survival: an improvement in the survival rate of dolphins into adulthood, an increase in the number of calves and a drop in overall deaths. Two dolphins died in 2017 compared with nine in 2015, while nine new calves brought the number of dolphins born in the past three years to 32.

"After years of hard work, we finally have reason to believe that these iconic dolphins can be protected against extinction — thanks to the combined efforts of the government, WWF, the tourism industry and local communities," said Seng Teak.


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Best of our wild blogs: 23 Apr 18



Coral Rebirth on Satumu reef
Hantu Blog

Red-tailed Rasbora (Rasbora borapetensis @ Kranji Marshes
Monday Morgue


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Saving the environment, one image at a time

Visual impact of nature documentaries can spark efforts to save the planet
Cheow Sue-ann Today Online 23 Apr 18;

At the rate it is going, some of the world's natural habitat and wildlife might not be around for long.

That is why passionate nature documentarians work so hard to preserve these sights in pictures and on film.

Increasingly, such work has inspired viewers to take action to save the planet.

Planet Earth, BBC's award-winning documentary series, returned in 2016 with a strong message on the impact of activities like deforestation.

Two years later, its sister series, Blue Planet, returned with a sequel that had such hard-hitting images about the impact of plastic waste on our oceans that the series' parent company, BBC, immediately banned plastic cups and utensils in its offices.

One particularly moving scene featured a hawksbill turtle tangled in a plastic sack.

The British government has also announced more efforts to relook plastic pollution in the oceans as a result of the series.

The reaction does not surprise Mike Gunton, executive producer of the award-winning Planet Earth 1 and 2, especially in light of the influence of social media.

"We have been talking about the issue of plastics in the ocean for so many years, but the message had fallen on deaf ears," he told The New Paper over the phone from New York recently.

"But in recent years, as the younger people, the social media generation, get fired up, they see things such as the plastics in Blue Planet and call out for more to be done, leading to real change."

Gunton and the teams that spend years capturing footage is heartened by the response.

"When working on such documentaries, every day is filled with memorable sights and moments," he said.

"You get to know these creatures and when you leave, it feels like you are leaving family.

"For example, watching a mother protecting her young is one of the most beautiful things. It is so easy to relate to. As a parent, I see my own life in them."

Gunton added that being a parent to three daughters, he wants to show them as much of the natural world while it is still around, but he often wonders how long it will still be there.

The nature documentary, he said, has real potential to effect change.

"If one can find ways to get the audience to feel something for the animals and connect with the image, then we have achieved half of the goal," he said, bringing up the much-watched clip from Planet Earth 2 of an iguana being chased by a mass of snakes.

"When you see that trapped iguana escape, you cannot help but cheer.

"I would like to think that (the documentary can impact conservation in the world). People feel pleasure watching the documentary and enjoying it, but they also feel like this is something important or valuable and want to do something to make sure it is not lost."

He said that part of the challenge in producing documentaries, is remaining objective and ensuring that the documentary does not push an agenda.

He added: "We have to let people decide for themselves."

In Planet Earth 2, an episode featuring urban habitats includes a discussion on how Singapore coexists with its local wildlife.

For the episode, Gunton spent some time here and found Singapore to a be a "forward-thinking, green city".

He said: "Singapore is making interesting efforts to allow humans and animals to coexist. Singapore shows that, with just a small amount of forethought, it is possible to create a happy cohabitation."

LOCAL EFFORTS

Young documentarians here say more can be done to capture and preserve the biodiversity we pride ourselves on.

Kennie Pan, 28, who photographs rare local bird species in Singapore, said: "As so many habitats are disappearing, it becomes important to capture the behaviour and images of these birds, so at least future generations have something of it left."

Pan's photographs of wildlife has won him several international awards.

He said that while there is little market and appreciation in Singapore for wildlife photography and documentaries, he finds some personal motivation in capturing such images.

He said: "Even if it is an ordinary mynah, doing something extraordinary - so many Singaporeans do not even realise that we have wildlife - to be able to capture it to show people is really fulfilling."

Pan hopes his work can go some way in raising awareness.

He said: "When Singaporeans are aware of and appreciate the wildlife, there could be more interest in conservation."

Young documentary filmmaker, Rachel Quek, 23, who received the National Geographic Young Explorer's Grant last year to document the relationship between people and mangroves in Pulau Ubin, agrees it is time to step up efforts to document Singapore's nature.

She said: "The reason we destroy things is for convenience, and this desire to get things (done) faster affects nature and the community.

"But when we understand the story or get out there and realise that we have all this nature, it could ignite a desire to make a difference."

Her film, Ubin, Sayang, which was released last year, documents the people and wildlife in Ubin and exploresthe residents' relationship with the environment.

Quek said her impression of what village living was all about was changed during the process of making the film.

She said: "It is as much about the community as it is about living and working with the space and wildlife."

Ms Laura Glassman, vice-president, Factual Channels, National Geographic, Fox Networks Group Asia, said the channel believes that the documentaries it creates become a tool it uses to speak to audiences.

She said: "We have covered conservation stories and issues the world faces on climate, population pressures etc. Much of our content focuses on education as we push the boundaries of knowledge, with the aim to give the world both the tools and information they need to inspire generations of responsible citizens."

Similarly, Pan and Quek also feel that documentaries can help raise awareness in Singapore.

Quek said: "Singaporeans don't even know about many of these places. And sometimes we just need to point them out, and when people go out and see them and understand the stories, that is the first step."


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Reports of alleged animal cruelty cases up, but actual cases fall

Aqil Hamzah The New Paper 23 Apr 18;

Someone once called the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) to give a tip-off about a cat killer.

But investigations showed that the so-called killer's alleged victim had died from an attack by stray dogs.

The AVA said it has been receiving more complaints about animal cruelty over the years, but many of them were found to be not cases of cruelty.

This led to the unusual situation where the number of confirmed animal cruelty cases fell by seven from 2016 to last year despite the number of complaints rising by 47 over the same period.

In 2016, the AVA received 323 complaints, but investigations confirmed that only 29 were cruelty related.

Last year, the complaints rose to 370, but only 22 turned out to be cases of cruelty.

This year, as of March, there have been 122 complaints, of which 55 are being investigated.

Mr Joshua Teoh, director of the regulatory department for AVA's animal management group, told The New Paper: "Precious time and resources are expended on such cases, only to find they were inaccurate or grossly exaggerated.

"This time could otherwise have been spent on genuine cases to protect and help animals."

And it is not just the AVA that has had to waste resources on false leads.

While unable to provide figures, the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) said it has also been receiving more complaints on animal cruelty.

SPCA executive director Jaipal Singh Gill cited a complaint about a crocodile kept in such a small container that it could not straighten its tail.

Investigations found that it was a wooden toy with a curled-up tail.

POISONED

In another case two weeks ago, cat lover Tiffany Heng posted on Facebook that about 40 cats had been poisoned at North Link Building in an industrial estate in Admiralty.

She claimed several cats had been found dead but later changed it to four dead among an estimated feline population of 20.

Her post was shared by cat lovers who directed their ire at North Link's management.

But only one dead cat was found recently, North Link's management told Ms Heng during a meeting with her and SPCA officers on April 9.

The cause of death is unknown because the body had been disposed of.

North Link's spokesman told TNP: "SPCA has directly clarified this situation as a non-issue and closed the case."

Ms Heng has since removed her post.

Despite most complaints not panning out, the SPCA's Dr Gill advised anyone who suspects a case of animal abuse to speak to an SPCA officer.

"The public should not avoid making complaints if they feel there is a legitimate case where an animal was harmed, even if they do not have concrete evidence," he said.

"We need to be careful to not make assumptions until an investigation is carried out."

Among abuse cases this year was a cat found drenched in blood in Jurong in January.

A veterinarian discovered a stab wound in its mouth, apparently made by a knife, but was unable to save the animal.

AVA said investigations are ongoing.

The AVA's Mr Teoh said that while the public should avoid spreading misinformation or speculation on animal deaths, they should still contact AVA's 24-hour hotline at 1800-476-1600 if they suspect a case of animal cruelty.


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Stargazing and intertidal walks part of new family camps launched by People's Association

Adrian Lim Straits Times 22 Apr 18;

SINGAPORE - Parents can learn about astronomy through star gazing, as well as discover marine creatures during an intertidal walk with their children, in a series of themed camps launched by the People's Association (PA) on Sunday (April 22).

The camps, aimed at promoting family bonding and getting parents and their children to go outdoors, will be held in June and November at a new campsite built at Jalan Mempurong in Sembawang.

The 7,000 sq m site, which is located beside the PA's Sembawang Water-Venture facility, can accommodate about 200 campers at a time and received its temporary occupation permit status in February.

Sembawang GRC MP Lim Wee Kiak said the campsite makes use of the surrounding nature - such as the lush greenery and intertidal zones - to provide an ideal setting for educational family activities.

The campsite will also benefit young families which are now moving into his constituency's Build-to-Order Housing Board flats, Dr Lim added.

These thematic family camps, which are two-day, one-night affairs, revolve around three themes: A science camp with activities such as a forest walk and stargazing; A pets camp to let families experience being a pet owner; and an eco camp with a coastal clean up and kayaking.

The PA intends to reach out to 1,000 participants through these camps this year.

The inaugural run of the science camp concluded on Sunday, with 22 families taking part.

One of the campers, financial planner Kelvin Ang, 41, who was with his wife and three children, said the camp was well-facilitated with tents provided by the PA and lessons given on how to pitch them.

"It's a good way to enjoy camping as a first-time experience. I think it's very important for kids to see the outdoors, and I believe in experiential learning outside the classroom," said Mr Ang.

Parents can visit the official PA Water-Venture Facebook page for more information and to register for the camps.

The pets camp will take place on June 2 and 3, the next science camp on June 9 and 10, and the eco camp on June 16 and 17. Dates for November's camps will be announced later.


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Earth Day: Shared umbrellas to cut carbon footprint

Calvin Yang Straits Times 23 Apr 18;

An initiative that involves sharing umbrellas is encouraging Nee Soon South residents to walk when it rains, instead of taking a car for a short distance, in a bid reduce their carbon footprint.

The move was launched by Nee Soon GRC MP Lee Bee Wah during a litter-picking exercise as part of Earth Day activities yesterday.

The initiative was among a series of activities that took place over the weekend to mark Earth Day, which is observed on April 22.

The umbrella-sharing initiative encourages residents to do their part to save the earth, said Ms Lee. "It is also cheaper and healthier."

She added that "walking and taking the public transport reduce air pollution and emissions", which slows down global warming and helps to preserve our environment.

Several events elsewhere in Singapore also focused on getting people to play a part in saving the environment. These included pupils planting trees, and hotels encouraging guests to reuse towels and linen as well as rallying staff to carpool.

On Saturday, Keppel Land and Keppel Reit Management, both subsidiaries of Keppel Corporation, held a public screening of A Plastic Ocean at the Singapore Botanic Gardens to raise awareness on the urgent challenge of climate change. The documentary reveals the consequences of plastic pollution.

At the screening, individuals submitted an online pledge to do their part to combat climate change.

Some also brought their own bottles and used the water dispensers provided on-site, instead of purchasing plastic bottled drinks. Carpets made from recycled materials, such as discarded fishing nets, were also provided as substitutes for plastic mats for the audience to sit on.

At the event, Dr Amy Khor, Senior Minister of State for the Environment and Water Resources, said that while Singapore has taken steps - from developing measures to clean up waterways to putting in place an integrated waste management and collection system - involvement from individuals and organisations is needed to tackle environmental issues.

"Government efforts alone can neither curb excessive plastic usage nor ensure that our waters are free from plastics," she said. "We need to work together to bring about a plastic-free ocean, and address the larger issue of climate change."


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Malaysia: Sunda leopards need right ‘cover’

The Star 23 Apr 18;

KOTA KINABALU: The endangered Sunda clouded leopards in Sabah are found to be able to move more comfortably in covered forests.

Researchers are therefore calling for under-productive and flooded oil palm estates to be converted into conservation areas.

According to scientists working on the international leading journal Biological Conservation, forest canopy cover facilitates the movements of these cats through the landscape in the lower Kinaba­tangan area.

“But recently cleared or under-productive and flooded oil palm plantation areas tend to resist their movements,” said lead researcher Dr Andrew Hearn of Oxford University.

He said their study provides the first evidence that forest cover was crucial in maintaining the connectivity of clouded leopard populations, while the protection of the large areas of privately owned forest in Kinabatangan, much of which had been earmarked for conversion to plantations, was critical for the animal’s survival.

Dr Samuel Cushman, director of the US Department of Agriculture Forest Service Center for Landscape Science, said the analysis produced a clear finding that clouded leo­pards were highly resistant to moving outside of forest cover.

Dr Cushman, the study collaborator who developed the analytical and modelling approaches for the research, said the scenario analyses provided useful guidance to managers about the costs and benefits of alternative conservation planning in the Kinaba­tangan region.

Dr Benoit Goossens, director of the Danau Girang Field Centre and reader at Cardiff University, said their research showed that the conversion of frequently flooded and under-productive plantation areas to forest would bring large benefits to the leopards.

“It would also minimise impact to the plantation industry,” Goossens said.

“These findings will be integrated in the State Action Plan for the Sunda clouded leopard that is being drafted and will be launched in September,” Dr Goossens said.

The data was collected via the observation of four tagged Sunda clouded leopards at the lower Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary.

The research is supported by Yayasan Sime Darby, Robertson Foundation, Recanati-Kaplan Foun­dation, Clouded Leopard Project, Houston Zoo, Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium and Panthera.


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