Environmental News Archive

An almost weekly update of environmental news, particularly marine updates, with occasional splatters of transportation, indigenous, ideas of sustainability and sustainable development from around the world.


ASEAN Civil Society Conference to be held in S'pore in October

By S Ramesh, Channel NewsAsia
18 September 2007

SINGAPORE : Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) in ASEAN now have a platform to represent their views to their governments at the ASEAN Summit.

They can have their say at the ASEAN Civil Society Conference 2007, which will be held in Singapore from October 27-28.

The event has the endorsement of the ASEAN Secretariat.

The Singapore Institute of International Affairs (SIIA), which is organising the event, said the conference will provide the platform for CSOs to convey their views, through ASEAN Secretary-General Ong Keng Yong, to leaders at the 13th ASEAN Summit in Singapore in November.

The conference is expected to focus on human rights, climate change, nuclear safety, fair trade, poverty and development and gender issues.

Associate Professor Simon Tay, Chairman of the SIIA, said: "ASEAN has often been seen as an inter-governmental organisation and (is) sometimes criticised as being limited to the ruling elites.

"We hope this conference, which aims to bring the voice of the people to ASEAN governments, will go some way to bring people and communities into the ASEAN process.

"We hope that the ASEAN Civil Society Conference 2007 will continue to grow into a platform to allow more structured participation by NGOs in ASEAN to work with the ASEAN Secretariat to give feedback to ASEAN heads of governments."

Singapore's Foreign Ministry spokesman said the ASEAN Secretariat will be the approved conduit for CSOs to channel their views to the 13th ASEAN Summit.

Singapore is the current Chair of ASEAN. - CNA/ms



Singapore lifts suspension of poultry imports from Selangor

17 September 2007 (CNA)

SINGAPORE : Singapore is lifting the suspension on imports of poultry and poultry products from Selangor with immediate effect.

Singapore's Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority had visited Selangor recently to evaluate the surveillance and biosecurity systems put in place by Malaysia's Department of Veterinary Services to keep out bird flu.

Malaysia had declared that it was free from bird flu on September 9th this year.

This is in line with international guidelines which states that a bird flu affected country can declare freedom from disease 90 days following the culling and disinfection of the last case.

Malaysia supplies 3.6 million poultry birds and 83.7 million eggs per month to Singapore.

But AVA says imports from Selangor constitute only about 6 percent of the poultry and 1 percent of the egg imports from Malaysia.

Singapore imposed the ban in June this year following an outbreak of the deadly H5N1 virus in chickens in Selangor. - CNA/ch



The foam on the shore is really styrofoam

It tops list of junk washing up on coasts here. What's worse, it fragments badly and poses threat to marine life

By Shobana Kesava
Sep 16, 2007
The straits times

UNLIKE anywhere else in the world where cigarettes make up the bulk of junk collected on beaches, in Singapore it is styrofoam.

This material has been picked up in increasing amounts over the last five years, said Mr N. Sivasothi, coordinator of the International Coastal Cleanup Singapore (ICCS).

The ICCS, an annual clean-up event, is the only concerted effort by volunteers here to analyse the kinds of trash that land up on local shores.

'Styrofoam is potentially much more damaging because it can fragment badly, whereas cigarette butts stay whole,' said Mr Sivasothi.

'The overwhelming problem we have is of plastic consumer items in the sea. As they break down, the chemicals that leach from them can be toxic.' Plastics are also a threat to birds, which are known to mistake them for food.

Preliminary data from this weekend's coastal clean-up saw styrofoam caking up the coastlines of both mangrove swamps and beaches.

While the most litter - all 29,801 pieces of it - was collected along the East Coast, Pulau Ubin Beach proved the dirtiest when factors such as the density of the litter collected by volunteers were factored in.

Mr Sivasothi attributed the problem at Ubin in part to dumping.

'There is a lot of heavy litter like oil drums and furniture parts. Offshore farms may have contributed to this load.'

The litter at the East Coast beaches was linked to heavy usage.

'Where there is recreation, there is rubbish,' he said.


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Bangkok to be declared an earthquake risk zone

15 September 2007 (channelnewsasia)

BANGKOK : Thailand is drafting regulations to declare Bangkok an earthquake-prone zone after the capital felt the effects of a recent 8.4-magnitude quake in Indonesia, a government official said Saturday.

The new law would require all new tall buildings in Bangkok and surrounding provinces to be quake-proof. It has been drafted by the interior ministry and is currently being reviewed by Thailand's top legal experts.

"Bangkok's soil is soft and it generates more tremors," said Worawoot Tantiwanit, a senior official with the mineral resources department.

"In the most recent major earthquake in Indonesia on Wednesday, people in high rise buildings in Bangkok clearly felt the effects," he told AFP.

Worawoot said his department was currently studying the risks posed to the capital by three fault lines within a 100-kilometre (62-mile) radius of Bangkok.

Ten of Thailand's 76 provinces are currently listed as earthquake-risk zones, mostly in the northwest.

The proposed law would add 12 central and southern provinces to the list.

In May, a 6.1-magnitude earthquake struck western Laos near the border with Thailand, sending people fleeing into the streets after high-rise buildings rocked and swayed in Bangkok. - AFP/ch

Comment: Should Singapore do a similar study?


Punggol 21 Plus masterplan is a long-term one: Grace Fu

By Valarie Tan, Channel NewsAsia
15 September 2007

SINGAPORE : The new Punggol 21 Plus is a long-term plan and is thus not expected to be completed in the next five years.

Minister of State for National Development, Grace Fu, says the masterplan, announced recently, will take time to study and develop.

She was responding to a query at a dialogue with residents on Saturday afternoon.

The majority of participants at the dialogue said yes to a new waterway lifestyle at Punggol 21 Plus.

They especially look forward to living just steps away from a man-made river built right in the heart of Punggol.

But some residents were impatient about the estate's development plans.

Desmond Koh, Resident, Mountbatten, says: "Do I have to wait another 10 years later to meet again and give feedback on Punggol? How fast does this development move because I have some friends staying in Punggol. They say the LRT there is not very developed."

Punggol 21 was initiated some 10 years ago in 1996 and was pitted to be the next lively housing estate in Singapore with over 90,000 public and private units.

But then the economic crisis kicked in and demand for new flats dipped and construction slowed down.

Still, the Housing and Development Board (HDB) says new flats and facilities will continue to be built according to demand.

Ms Fu says: "This is a long-term project so do not expect to see this in the next few years. It's something that we're going to work on definitely. It's going to go into the plan but it will take some time. We will build flats across the island but not in a very big way. The major development will be in Punggol, in Sengkang.

"That's really the plan that we have. As to how many flats how many units, we have to adapt those plans according to needs. We do go through economic cycles and people do change their plans. We have cases of lots of people queueing up saying they want to buy new flats, and in a year later, the queue actually disappeared because we went through a downturn."

Tay Kim Poh, CEO, HDB, says: "We're building about 2,000 to 3,000 flats a year (in Punggol). Today we have about close to 19,000 flats completed or under construction on the ground. Within the next few years, we're going to see a lot more flats coming up. Most of them will be located near the town centre. That will give us enough catchment to proceed with the developments of the town centre."

Punggol 21 Plus is part of the HDB "Remaking The Heartlands" plan.

And so far the plans have been seen by over 33,000 people at exhibitions in Toa Payoh, Tampines and Punggol

While many welcome the new flat designs, a majority of them were concerned about costs, and hope that the new flat units will not come with too high a premium.

But according to feedback to HDB, 81 percent of residents said they were willing to pay more for service and conservancy to enjoy the new flat designs.

About half of them said they were willing to pay above S$10 more than the usual rates. - CNA/ch

Comment: Channel 5 reports a statement from PUB about sustainable construction, reusing soil being dug up to be used for the new riverbed.*

*Needs to be verified

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The end of the Tang dynasty?

By Leong Wee Keat, TODAY
14 September 2007

SINGAPORE - The forlorn silence at the Tang Dynasty City in Jurong could, come January, be replaced by the rumblings of bulldozers.

Just months after it seemed the former tourist draw might be given a new lease of life as a Shaolin attraction, hope of a rescue now seems extinguished, as a call went out for consultants for the demolition works.

On Tuesday, landlord JTC Corporation called for an expression of interest from those keen to provide civil and structural consultancy services for the project.

In the document posted on GeBiz, the Government's e-procurement portal, JTC said the consultant is to provide a scope of services.

The project schedule states that the tender for demolition works will be launched in December, with the tearing-down to start next January and expected to be completed "not later than March 2009".

Built at a cost of $100 million and opened in 1992, the 12ha theme park — the size of 18 football fields — was a re-creation of the Tang dynasty capital, Chang-An.

But high admission charges, lacklustre attractions and the 1997 Asian financial crisis, which saw tourist arrivals plunge, contributed to its closure in 1999.

Efforts to revive the theme park fell through in 2001. Then in April this year, talk emerged of a possible new breath of life.

Three Singapore companies signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to bring the 1,500-year-old Shaolin Temple legacy and culture, and its famed warrior monks, here in the form of a new tourist attraction. The Tang Dynasty City was cited as a possible site for the proposed "holistic lifestyle holiday retreat".

When contacted on Thursday, Mr Poh Choon Ann, chairman of Poh Tiong Choon Logistics, one of the three local companies, declined comment. The spokesman for Straco Corporation, another company involved, said there had been "no developments" since the MOU was signed in April.

Property analyst Donald Han said the land has been gazetted for entertainment use. The managing director of Cushman & WakeField pointed out that JTC could be looking at readapting the use of the site — located in the middle of the Jurong industrial estate — for "more productive purposes".

Mr Han said: "The Tang Dynasty City has been dormant for a very long time. It is of better consideration for the Government to convert it to other uses than to leave it for entertainment use on its current basis."

The Tang Dynasty City today seems a pale shadow of its once-majestic self. When TODAY visited, the theme park's 3-m-high wall was unscrubbed, and barricades put up across its gates to stop trespassers had fallen apart. Inside, broken glass and pieces of furniture littered the floor.

While the gates no longer allow visitors in, the car park has become a favourite for heavy vehicles and Malaysian buses. The parking attendant, who has worked there a-year-and-a-half, said she had seen groups of students entering the Tang Dynasty City. A fence put up around the walls was also cut open last month, she added.

Ms Cindy Lim, who works as a supermarket cashier nearby, said: "It's good that the authorities are finally doing something to it. "The area is quite big and it seems a waste of land if nothing is done." - TODAY/fa

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Protecting nature's beauty

BY Liana Tang
10 September 2007
Straits Times

GETTING wet and dirty, sometimes knee-deep in mud, may not sound like a great day out for most. But for undergraduate Loh Kok Sheng, it is just what he needs to unwind - conducting a guided walk on Sentosa's shore.

The third-year life sciences student at the National University of Singapore also regularly explores the muddy crevices of shores like Changi beach and Chek Jawa, sometimes in pre-dawn darkness, to photograph the wildlife he encounters. He then shares his photographs and experiences through his blog: http://wondercreation/blogspot.com .

The 23-year-old discovered this newfound passion on a visit to Sentosa last year. 'When I was first introduced to the Sentosa shoreline, I was amazed at how marine life was thriving on a tourist island.' He cites colourful creatures such as giant anemones and stealthy crabs among many intriguing finds.

A project he is currently working on is charting the recovery of wildlife on Chek Jawa following
damage to the marine environment caused by heavy rainfall earlier this year.

Mr Loh reports his findings on a blog: http://cjproject.blogspot.com where he notes that despite having to adhere to unearthly timings and strict schedules 'chasing' the low tides to survey the wildlife, his friends who volunteer to help in his field surveys thoroughly enjoy themselves, discovering something new each time.

Why his many blogs? He simply hopes to raise awareness among youth about Singapore's natural heritage.

He is among an increasing number of young people and groups who conduct workshops and guided walks in various nature spots in Singapore.

Mr Ron Yeo, 32, founded one such group. Suitably named Naked Hermit Crabs (NHC), the group's 30 volunteers provide guided shore walks for the public, doling out historical tidbits and facts while pointing out ecological highlights.

Of the 20 youth volunteers in NHC, Mr Yeo believes that engaging young people in such volunteer roles is key to the future of conservation.

'It is refreshing to work with young people as they always bring in new ideas that help improve the way we conduct our walks and other conservation efforts,' he said.

In agreement is Mr N. Sivasothi, an instructor at the Department of Biological Sciences at the National University of Singapore (NUS). He believes that the efforts of such individuals and groups, along with education in schools, provides comprehensive opportunities for creating awareness among youth about environment and conservation.

'Young people who are inspired by the volunteers they meet tend to take up committed leadership roles in the conservation community,' said the former research officer at the Raffles Museum of
Biodiversity Research.

'This is one way that we maintain a dynamic, motivated community that works towards making positive impacts on conservation in Singapore.'

The writer, 23, graduated with honours in biology from NUS

Play your part

HERE are some useful resources close to home:

Keep up-to-date with news about nature spots at www.wildsingapore.com
Seek out information on Singapore's natural history at Habitatnews http://habitatnews.nus.edu.sg
Find out how you can help the Blue Water Volunteers at http://bluewatervolunteers.org
Volunteer to be a part of shaping Singapore's garden city by visiting
Find out more about visits and workshops on Semakau Landfill with the Raffles Museum of
Biodiversity Research at http://rmbr.nus.edu.sg

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Let's make use of natural heritage to cut down huge ecological footprint

In Review - Tech & Science
By Hugh Tan and L.M. Chou and Darren Yeo and Peter Ng
26 May 2007
Straits Times

No matter how small the habitats, protecting them is better then having them eliminated

WE HAVE become aware of how important the natural heritage is to the environment and to human society. People in this region rely heavily on natural resources - providing them with food and material.

But in urban Singapore, just how useful is our natural heritage? What can we expect from the isolated pockets of nature and how do we justify conservation when the demand for land is so acute?

We do not depend on the natural habitat for food, or material for construction or other purposes. Fishing is carried out but on a limited scale.

As a nation with limited land and sea, we depend very much on imported food and material. Singapore is environmentally unsustainable.

Our ecological footprint is large, estimated at 7.2ha per person. This is the area of land needed to generate the amount of food and material needed by each person here. Our demand is much higher than the global average, which is estimated at 1.7ha per person.

The demand for energy is high as we seek to keep cool indoors. What we have available is equivalent to only 0.1ha per person.

If environmental sustainability is a long way down the road for Singapore, does this mean that we should not worry about protecting the natural environment?

Perhaps we should consider how we can make the best use of our natural heritage to reduce our ecological footprint. Lowering our energy demand can help reduce our footprint.

Since we live in a built environment, strategies should also seek to improve the built environment to make it more environmentally friendly.

We need also to look at the natural environment, including modified habitats, to see what can be done to enhance the level of environmental goods and services.

Effective management

FOR the built environment, imagination and a willingness to try out ideas are important, provided that the innovations are based on scientific understanding. If rooftop gardens are developed over all commercial buildings and apartment blocks, this will significantly lower ambient temperature and reduce air-conditioning costs.

Changi Airport's Terminal 3 will have trees and waterfalls within the building to help cool the interior. The other two terminals have been upgraded to make more effective use of natural light. There are many architectural innovations that can be tested to make buildings more environmentally friendly and less demanding on the resources.

Nature has already shown that these innovations work. The large mounds built by termites are a marvel in animal architecture. They permit natural ventilation and the constant flow of air within keeps the internal temperature constant. At the same time, there is sufficient air exchange.

For the natural environment, effective management is needed to prevent loss of habitat quality and decline in habitat health. An understanding of how a habitat functions will help in the formulation of suitable management policies.

For example, it is now accepted that protection of a species will not work if its habitat is not protected as well. For degraded habitats, restoration activities can help to give them a lease of life, provided the techniques and approaches used are based on a good understanding of ecological principles.

For example, it is not wise to plant deep forest species in open land. A better approach is to first plant species adapted to open land and later introduce deep forest species as the restored habitat develops.

Protecting habitats and biodiversity is essential to the management of the whole environment. No matter how small or fragmented the habitats are, protecting them and reversing degradation is better then having them totally eliminated. The environment without the living component is not wholesome.

Development is necessary, but steps can be taken to minimise unnecessary habitat loss and to restore unused areas that had to be cleared for the development, but were not used after completion of a project. Natural habitats help to maintain environmental quality and can accommodate a variety of other activities, such as fish farming.

Protecting nature areas, reducing unnecessary habitat loss, restoration and the linking of habitats with nature corridors are all very important efforts at ensuring that it is possible for us in a city state to live close to nature.

Apart from maintaining biodiversity and ecosystem integrity, our natural heritage has educational, research and tourism value. The high biodiversity concentrated in the habitats here, most of which are confined to small areas, is an attraction in itself.

Visiting these places is always a delight for those who want to see as many species as possible in a short time. Most of our natural habitats do not disappoint: it is common to come across species not encountered in earlier visits.

Local and visiting scientists have described many new species from Singapore. And the potential of new species discovery remains high. Scientists have also turned their attention to screening natural compounds from plant and animal species in the hope of uncovering compounds that have pharmaceutical or agricultural applications.

Many bioactive compounds have been isolated from local species; this further emphasises the need to preserve biodiversity. Our natural heritage is a rich genetic bank from which promising bioactive compounds can be found.

Biodiversity crucial

STEPS have been taken to allow the public to enjoy the natural heritage. Museums and herbariums are a storehouse of preserved specimens, important for keeping a permanent record of the country's natural heritage.

But habitats maintain them alive!

And they offer an altogether different aspect for observation. Facilities and educational centres in some of the nature reserves and parks help visitors to learn more and to see more.

Boardwalks and pathways at places such as Sungei Buloh and Chek Jawa permit people to move comfortably through the habitat and to see more from a vantage position. The HSBC TreeTop Walk, opened in 2004, is a suspension bridge in MacRitchie that goes across different stages of a mature secondary forest. Visitors walk at eye level with the forest canopy and can view such life from a perspective often missed when walking over the forest floor.

There is the accompanying problem of too many visitors. As many of our habitats are limited, visitor numbers have to be regulated. When the public heard about the rich biodiversity at Chek Jawa coming under threat of impending reclamation, scores of visitors went across and almost trampled the place to death.

This needed a quick response and management plans were implemented to prevent excessive damage. This involved limiting the number of visitors and building a boardwalk that prevented trampling.

The case of the Semakau Landfill also shows positive commitment to balance conservation and development. It is an indication that conservation and development can co-exist.

The restored mangroves and the protected coral reefs were saved by design. If these were not planned for, there would be only the landfill today and nothing of environmental significance.

Biodiversity is all the more crucial in our urbanised city state.

We need to maintain what natural heritage we have left, and take full advantage of the benefits it readily provides for free.

This article was adapted from an excerpt in the recently published second edition of The Natural Heritage of Singapore, a book detailing Singapore's natural history. The writers are Singaporean academics at the National University of Singapore's Department of Biological Sciences. Between them, they have several decades of research experience in land and water ecology, botany, zoology and conservation in Singapore and South-east Asia.


Development is necessary, but steps can be taken to minimise unnecessary habitat loss and to restore unused areas that had to be cleared for the development, but were not used after completion of a project. Natural habitats help to maintain environmental quality and can accommodate a variety of other activities, such as fish farming.

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Banks urged to help protect the environment

BY Conrad Tan
7 September 2007
Business Times Singapore

Top Doha Bank exec is here to attend his bank's global warming seminar

THE deputy chief executive of Qatar's Doha Bank says it is vital that banks act to protect the environment - and is in town to spread his message of sustainable development.

'Financial institutions have got the power to make it happen,' R Seetharaman told BT yesterday, during a visit to speak at a seminar on global warming and environment protection organised by the bank's representative office here.

A central part of his message is that banks should set aside some of their resources to invest in alternative energy and environmental causes.

Corporate social responsibility and profits are not mutually exclusive, he said.

'We have enough reasons to believe we can achieve 20-25 per cent returns' on investments such as biofuel, wind energy and solar energy production. 'Currently, nobody is attempting it.'

Mr Seetharaman has been the public face of the bank's drive to promote awareness of socially relevant issues and social causes over the past few years.

Doha Bank, which is listed on the Doha stock exchange, is Qatar's biggest commercial bank and its shareholders include members of the emirate's royal family.

It has overseas branches in New York and Dubai and representative offices in Singapore, Tokyo, Shanghai and Istanbul.

The office here has just three staff now, headed by M Sathyamoorthy, but Mr Seetharaman said: 'We'll be growing.'

According to the bank's financial statements, it had assets of 26.6 billion Qatari riyal (S$11.14 billion) at end-June.

Its net profit for the three months from April to June was 239.2 million Qatari riyal and net interest income was 163.9 million Qatari riyal.



Over 200 volunteers tag thousands of duckies for Great Duck Race

By Julia Ng, Channel NewsAsia
02 Sep 2007

SINGAPORE : The Great Singapore Duck Race is back for the seventh year running on September 9th.

But first, the little race duckies needed a little preparation.

Mostly recycled from previous races, some of the duckies are in need of a minor make-over.

And over 200 volunteers spent their Saturday morning at the Trans-Link Logistics Centre tagging serial numbers onto the tens of thousands of racing ducks.

The duckies will then be put up for adoption at S$10 each before heading for the Singapore River later this month for their one-kilometre race.

Over the years, the Great Singapore Duck Race has raised over S$5 million for charity.

This year's target is another million dollars for six beneficiaries.

And this race may well be the duckies' last in the Singapore River before it is turned into a reservoir. - CNA/ch

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