Best of our wild blogs: 23 Sep 17



Cyrene Reef Intertidal
Offshore Singapore

Day Trip To St John's Island (22 Sep 2017)
Beetles@SG BLOG

Can the Javan rhino be saved before disaster strikes?
mongabay.com


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Malaysia: RM260 million flood mitigation project causing more floods

MUHAMMAD MUSTAKIM RAMLI New Straits Times 22 Sep 17;

KANGAR: The RM260 million Timah Tasoh West Flood Diversion, which was supposed to solve floods in Tebing Tinggi area here, turned out to be the reason for a massive flood, forcing over 1,000 people to seek shelter at relief centres.

The project, which was scheduled to be completed in the middle of this year, has suffered a delay and the new deadline has been pushed to November.

Residents were left fuming as the final part of the 22 kilometer canal, which links a water tunnel from Tebing Tinggi to Bukit Wai, became the reason for the worst flood in recent years.

The canal is supposed to channel running water from Timah Tasoh Dam directly to the Straits of Malacca near Kuala Perlis river mouth.

The continuous rainfall over the past two days left some areas, which have never been flooded before, to be submerged up to 1.5-metre deep.

As at noon today, 1,008 people from 277 families, mostly from Tebing Tinggi, were forced to seek shelter at the flood relief centres.

Kangar member of Parliament Ir Shaharuddin Ismail said the project delay had left the area exposed to flood disaster every time there was a heavy downpour.

He said this had not happened before the project started.

"I am urging the state government, the Drainage and Irrigation Department (DID) and the contractor concerned to expedite the project. If the contractor is unable to complete the project, might as well just terminate the contractor," he told reporters after visiting the site today.

Meanwhile, Tebing Tinggi residents who were taking refuge at SK Bintong, appealed to the relevant authorities to complete the project as soon as possible.

Mahidah Ismail, 40, said her house had never been flooded even during continuous rainfall like over the past two days.

"Since the project started my house has been hit by flash floods. The water used to reach up to knee-level but now it has reached waist-level," she said.

Her neighbour Norhidah Mohmad, 56, said she could no longer stand the hassle of having to abandon her home every time there was heavy rain and having to clean up the house several times.

The flood had also forced a trunk road linking Wang Ulu to Kuala Perlis to be closed to traffic while a petrol station in Arau has to suspend its operation.

It was reported that the project, which had been completed 80 per cent, was suffering a delay following a technical problem at Bukit Wai as the contractor was having difficulties in building a tunnel.


Be calm, perennial floods will be overcome in Tebing Tinggi, says Perlis MB
MUHAMMAD MUSTAKIM RAMLI New Straits Times 22 Sep 17;

ARAU: Flood woes in Tebing Tinggi are expected to be resolved in December when the Timah Tasoh West Flood Diversion project is ready, Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Azlan Man said.

He said the people affected by floods should be patient as the RM260 million project would be completed on time.

He said the flood in Tebing Tinggi, the worst affected area in the state, was caused by the construction of a bridge linking Kampung Wang Besar to Tebing Tinggi.

"The construction of canal has been completed but the problem is with the 500m bridge.

“We cannot speed up the bridge construction due to several problems including the rainy spell for the past several weeks.

"The bridge construction is progressing on schedule and expected to be ready by December," he said after visiting flood evacuees in Padang Nyu relief centre today.

The number of flood evacuees climbed to almost 1,500 this evening and is possibly the worst flood in Perlis in three years.

Tebing Tinggi residents have claimed that that the flood was caused by the delay in the Timah Tasoh West Flood Diversion project.

Azlan said water could not flow smoothly as the bridge was not ready.

“If we release the water through the tunnel, it may cause erosion to the concrete wall of the bridge,” he said.

"Another problem is that the project consultant has failed to carry out a full assessment on the condition of the area which forced changes to the original job scope.”

He said with the changes, the state government needed to give new approval before works could resume and this took time.

As of 7pm today, 1,491 people from 411 families sought shelter at 16 flood relief centres in Padang Besar, Arau and Kangar.

Earlier, Kangar member of parliament Shaharuddin Ismail called for the state government, the Drainage and Irrigation Department and contractor to expedite the project.

He said the service of the contractor should be terminated if the project was delayed for many times.

Mahidah Ismail, 40, said her house had never been flooded even during continuous rains before.

"Since the project started, my house has been hit by flash floods," she said.

Her neighbour Norhidah Mohmad, 56, said she was fed-up with the hassles of leaving her home every time there was a flood.

The today’s flood had also forced a road linking Wang Ulu to Kuala Perlis to be closed to traffic and a petrol station in Arau to stop its operation.

It was reported that the project, which is 80 per cent complete, was delayed following a technical problem at Bukit Wai as the contractor has encountered difficulties in building a tunnel.


1,200 evacuated in Perlis floods
The Star 23 Sep 17;

KANGAR: Floods in Perlis have displaced 1,200 people from 365 families, who are now staying at 16 evacuation centres.

Perlis Disaster Management Committee spokesman Mohd Farid Ishak said the centres were located in Arau (five), Kangar (five) and six in Padang Besar.

Many places were submerged in knee-deep water after intermittent rains throughout the day yesterday.

Among the worst-hit areas were Titi Tinggi, Beseri, Chuping, Mata Ayer and Santan in Padang Besar.

Other places affected were Bintong, Sena, Indera Kayangan, Kuala Perlis and Kayang in Kangar and Pauh, Tambun Tulang, Guar Sanji, Simpang Empat, Sanglang and Pekan Arau in Arau.

Housewife Roslaini Ibrahim, 41, said her house at Kampung Jarak in Bintong had been inundated by flash floods twice this month.

“I expect the situation to get worse if the rain continues,” she said.

Self-employed Fikry Izwan Abdul Rahman, 23, said his village in Kampung Tebing Tinggi was flooded on Thursday.

“The water rose to a metre deep in an hour. My family was evacuated to SK Bintong,” he said.

He said his village had been flooded more than 10 times after a bridge in his village was built.

“I hope the authorities will look into this as my village had never been flooded before the bridge was built,” he added.

Yesterday, two rivers – Sungai Jarum and Sungai Repoh – were at danger levels of 34.07m and 5.22m respectively.

The warning signal was raised for three rivers – Sungai Chuchoh (37.86m), Sungai Kampung Bakau (3.26m) and Sungai Pelarit (38.67m).

In Kedah, 149 families comprising 669 people were evacuated to five relief centres in Kuala Muda, Kota Setar and Kubang Pasu.


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Malaysia: 10 cases of illegal logging since beginning of year

Sharifah Mahsinah Abdullah New Straits Times 22 Sep 17;

KOTA BARU: The Kelantan forestry department is upping its surveillance capabilities with the use of drones and motorcycles in a bid to protect logs and check other illegal activities in the state’s forest reserve.

Director, Datuk Zahari Ibrahim said the drones and motorcycles will be used in areas of the forest that are difficult to access by other means. The department has prepared three drone units and four teams to conduct surveillance in the forest reserve.

"Illegal logging activities in the forest reserve are still alarming, especially in Gua Musang. With the use of better technology we hope to put a stop to illegal logging and any activity that is against forest regulations,” he said.

The department has recorded more than 10 cases of illegal logging since the beginning of this year and a majority of the cases, according to Zahari, involved timber companies. Last year the department had also seized logs valued at more than RM300,000, he said.

Zahari has also instructed the department’s enforcement officers to double their operation.


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Indonesia on rhino emergency status

Antara 23 Sep 17;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - Indonesia is in Rhino emergency status after this protected animal habitat declined to three from eight locations which all are conservation areas.

"We are racing against time to save Indonesian rhinoceroses, so that their fate would not be the same as that of Javanese Tiger," Indonesian WWF (World Wildlife Fund) Conservation Director Arnold Sitompul said in Jakarta on Friday (Sept. 22).

Sumatran Rhino, or Dicerorhinus Sumatrensis is under critically endangered status after their habitat reducing from eight locations to three which are Way Kambas, Bukit Barisan Selatan, and Leuser.

And for Javan Rhino or Rhinoceros Sondaicus, which is under the same condition have also been threatened due to natural factors such as possible Anak Krakatau Mountains eruption, diseases from cattle and invasive plants which affect its habitat in Ujung Kulon.

Arnold urges the Indonesian Government to put more effort to handle this issue so those rhinos would not become extinct like Javan tiger.

"Habitat conservation and letting them breed naturally are still not enough to ensure those rhinos well being. They need to be moved to a safer place and given more semi-natural breeding and better place management," he said.

Other than their location which is prone to tsunamis that may be possible due to Anak Krakatau eruption for example and shift of continental plates, census data of cattle belonging to people living around Ujung Kulon National Park shows that 90 percent of local buffalo have been found positive carrying with tripanosoma bacteria.

Those cattle which are not caged could enter the national park area and could spread the bacteria towards the rhinos and those bacteria could be lethal as well.

Continuous survey and monitoring in the last several years, according to him, showed reduction of their population. Their number is predicted at less than 100 in the last five years for Sumatran Rhino.

In connection with International Rhinoceros Day (Sept 22) he reminded that the Government should develo a second habitat for Javan Rhino. As for Sumatran one, he urged extending their currenthabitat and promoting the breeding program to increase its number.

(Reported by Virna P. Setyorini/Uu.Ian/KR-MBR/H-YH)


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Indonesia: Susi reminds Central Java fishermen to stop using seine nets

Suherdjoko The Jakarta Post 22 Sep 17;

Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Minister Susi Pudjiastuti has reminded Central Java fishermen that she is adamant on her decision to enforce a ban on the use of cantrang (seine net), which has been identified as destructive to coral reef and the seabed ecosystem.

Susi made the remarks while distributing fishing equipment deemed more environmentally friendly, such as gillnets, blue crab traps and guiding barriers, to fishermen along the northern coast of Central Java's Semarang on Wednesday, calling on the fishermen to start using the new equipment and altering their fishing habits.

"[We all] have until Dec. 31 [to replace cantrang with other sustainable fishing equipment]," Susi said.

Cantrang, along with trawl, is in fact grouped under the category of instruments banned in a 2015 ministerial regulation. However, cantrang remains popular among fishermen across Java, some of whom continue to oppose Susi who seeks to fully implement the policy by the end of the year.

In its bid to promote sustainable fishery habits among small-scale fishermen, the government has distributed fishing equipment to 2,000 owners of boats measuring less than 10 gross tons. The government has promised to reach out to 7,255 fishermen eligible for the program nationwide. (ipa)


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Indonesia: Maritime sector can overcome impact of drought

Antara 22 Sep 17;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - Various maritime resources can be utilized to help overcome the impact of drought in various regions, an activist stated.

"Fish catch can help to cover the losses incurred in the agricultural sector due to drought," Executive Director of the Center of Maritime Studies for Humanities Abdul Halim noted in Jakarta on Friday.

Halim believes the fish catch will be helpful in coastal areas affected by the drought.

Several regional governments, such as that of the island province of Bangka Belitung, are optimizing efforts to monitor drought-prone areas to tackle harvest failures during the dry season.

"We have not yet found or received reports of agricultural areas that have experienced drought that could affect the farmers," Head of Agricultural Service of Bangka Belitung Toni Batubara remarked in Pangkal Pinang on Tuesday.

Batubara said his office is conducting cross-sectoral coordination in a bid to take precautionary steps against harvest failure in the current drought season.

In the face of the drought, the central government has outlined precautionary measures to tackle the natural disaster in some regions in Indonesia.

"I have urged all ministers and related institutions as well as governors to evaluate the condition on the field and take necessary precautionary measures to handle the drought," President Joko Widodo stated at the start of a closed-door meeting to discuss drought countermeasures at the Presidential Office in Jakarta recently.

Coordinating Minister for Maritime Affairs Luhut Binsar Panjaitan, Agriculture Minister Amran Sulaiman, Agrarian Affairs and Spatial Planning Minister Sofyan Djalil, National Development Planning Minister Bambang Brodjonegoro, East Java Governor Sukarwo, and Central Java Minister Gandjar Pranowo, among others, attended the meeting.

The president admitted to having received a report from the Meteorology, Climatology, and Geophysical Agency (BMKG) indicating that the drought that hit Indonesia in 2017 would not be as bad as that in 2015 when the El-Nino phenomenon had occurred.

"However, in some regions, no rains were received for more than 60 consecutive days, or over two months. Parts of Java Island have borne witness to the peak of the drought season. According to the BMKG, most regions will receive rains by the end of November or October 2017," the president disclosed.(*)


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Indonesia: Surabaya City calls on residents not to burn trash during dry season

Antara 23 Sep 17;

Surabaya (ANTARA News) - The Surabaya City Fire Department, East Java, has issued a circular calling on city residents not to set fire to trash during the dry season this year.

Chief of the fire department Candra Oeratmangun said here on Friday the number of fires increased particularly during the peak of the dry season.

"The number of fires in Surabaya reached 300 last year and this year until September the figure was recorded at 420," he said.

Most of the fires happened in idle land and paddy fields, he said.

In August 2017 alone, the department recorded 138 cases of fires, 120 of which were found in idle land.

"Hence, we have issued a circular to village-level administration heads and sub-district heads to pass it on residents. In the circular, we call on the residents not to set fire to trash. In the rainy season, there are many cases of fires, much less in the dry season," he said.

In addition, he also suggested that the city residents sort the garbage into organic trash and dried trash. The organic trash can be made into compost, while the dried trash can be recycled.

"It is dangerous to set fire to trash in open land. The fire can spread to residential areas. If that happens, it is difficult to put out the fire," he said.

(Reported by Abdul Hakim/Uu.S012/B/KR-BSR/H-YH)


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Best of our wild blogs: 22 Sep 17



World Economic Forum – The Big Picture on Oceans
Mei Lin NEO


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Popeye and Mini-Me are... bugs

Audrey Tan Straits Times 22 Sep 17;

What do Professor Severus Snape of Harry Potter fame, spinach-gobbling cartoon character Popeye, and Austin Powers villain Mini-Me have in common?

Most people would recognise them as figments of popular culture. But they have also been immortalised in the annals of science, with newly discovered animal species named after them.

The Paraphysoderes popeye, Physoderes minime and Harryplax severus - two species of assassin bugs, and a crab respectively - were recently discovered and named by scientists from the National University of Singapore's (NUS) Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum.

Armed with dagger-like piercing mouthparts, assassin bugs are a group of carnivorous insects so named for the many ways they kill their prey and suck them dry.

There are more than 7,000 species of them around the world, and they play an important role in controlling the population of other insects, such as caterpillars.

Last month, the museum's entomologist, Dr Hwang Wei Song, 35, added 15 new species to the ever-growing list.

Of these, two of them, Paraphysoderes popeye and Physoderes minime, were named after popular culture: the cartoon character, Popeye the Sailor Man, and Mini-Me, a character from the Austin Powers series of movies, respectively.

The other 13 were given descriptive names, such as Macrophysoderes cirripilosa, which refers to its curly hair, or named after a place. For example, Physoderes muluensis was named after Gunung Mulu, a national park in Sarawak, Malaysia, where it was found.

Dr Hwang had worked with Professor Christiane Weirauch, from the University of California, Riverside, on the scientific paper which described the new species.

"Scientists usually consider various matters before naming a new species. The name can describe the way the organism looks, or honour a person or a place," said Dr Hwang.

For him, the popular culture references were indicative of the way the bugs looked. For example, Paraphysoderes popeye has enlarged forearms, similar to the cartoon character's bulging biceps. The species can be found only on the eastern edge of Papua New Guinea.

Physoderes minime, on the other hand, was named for its similarity to a larger known species - Physoderes fuliginosa, which is about 24 per cent larger. Physoderes minime can be found only on the islands of Luzon and Panay in the Philippines.

The discovery of the 15 new species was 10 years in the making.

Dr Hwang first had to sort through 905 specimens of assassin bugs - all smaller than a 10-cent coin - from natural history museums around the world.

Then, as part of his PhD thesis to systematically study how this group of assassin bugs, known as physoderines, are related and should be classified, he visited museums to compare specimens, and conducted computational analyses to determine their evolutionary relationships.

"This group of assassin bugs is actually quite diverse in South-east Asia, but most species described many years ago were rather poorly done by various scientists, leading to misidentifications and impressions of low diversity ," he said.

It is important to keep an inventory of such species, to understand the role they play in the natural ecosystem.

A group of blood-feeding assassin bugs, known as kissing bugs, transmits Chagas disease, a parasitic disease that leads to heart failure and gut complications.

"Kissing bugs are found in South-east Asia and the Western Hemisphere, but luckily the disease-causing parasite they transmit is found only in the Americas," said Dr Hwang.

"Understanding what species we have in this region would allow us to quickly identify public health risks should they crop up.

"Some assassin bugs could also have the potential to be used as a biological control for pests in agriculture."

As for the Harryplax severus, the pale yellow crab was named by the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum's crustacean curator Jose Mendoza, 38, an avid fan of the wizarding world.

Like Dr Hwang's serendipitous discovery of the new bug species, Dr Mendoza's eureka moment also came while sorting through specimens collected 20 years ago in Guam - an island in the western Pacific Ocean - by collector and naturalist Harry Conley.

When Mr Conley died in 2002, his samples were passed to biologist Gustav Paulay, who later passed them to Professor Peter Ng, an international expert on crab taxonomy and head of the museum in NUS.

The Harryplax severus, a pale yellow crab, was named by the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum's crustacean curator, Dr Jose Mendoza, who is an avid fan of the wizarding world. Dr Mendoza was inspired by Professor Severus Snape, the potions master in the Harry Potter series. ST PHOTOS: ONG WEE JIN
The crab's name - Harryplax severus - was a nod to both Harrys (Conley and the boy wizard), and Severus Snape, the misunderstood potions master in the books.

"(Its name) is an allusion to a notorious and misunderstood character in the Harry Potter novels, Professor Severus Snape, for his ability to keep one of the most important secrets in the story, just like the present new species which has eluded discovery until now, nearly 20 years after it was first collected," noted Dr Mendoza and Prof Ng in the January edition of ZooKeys, a scientific journal .

Said Dr Mendoza: "Crabs and other crustaceans are often overshadowed by charismatic organisms like mammals and birds, and naming it after a popular culture reference would perhaps draw attention to the species, and be a good way to let people know about the great diversity of crustaceans around the world."

It was a strategy that seems to have worked, with international publications such as the National Geographic, Guardian and Time, reporting on the discovery.

Said Dr Mendoza: "What's in a name? Apparently a lot. I didn't think the name would catch the public's attention as much as it has... We have merely scratched the surface; there are still more species waiting to be discovered and described."


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How to fight haze three times a day

Consume less fried food, choose haze-free palm oil and encourage others to do so, too
Maxine Chen and Tan Yi Han Straits Times 22 Sep 17;

From up in the air, Indonesia's Giam Siak Kecil-Bukit Batu Biosphere Reserve is a scene straight out of an epic nature documentary: lush green islands dot shimmering blue lakes.

This peat swamp forest is home to rare and endangered species such as the Malayan tapir and Sumatran elephant. The Sumatran tiger, too, can be found there. Its numbers have dwindled to as few as 400 individuals within the last remaining patches of forest in Sumatra.

But as our chopper hovered over the nature reserve during a research trip in February this year, we sat paralysed with shock. A blanket of grey smoke was rising from black and brown clearings in the forest.

Next to the burnt patches we saw neat rows of crops - the unmistakable sign of a plantation. This supposedly protected forest was being cleared illegally and burnt to make way for plantations.

Although we in Singapore have been enjoying clear skies this year because winds have not blown the pollutants our way, the root of the haze - uncontrolled large-scale fires - persists.

And the impact is devastating.

HOW HAZE CAN HARM

Two years ago, in September 2015, Singapore was hit with an intense haze that forced the closure of all primary and secondary schools for a day. That same year, Harvard and Columbia University published a study showing how the haze may have caused the early deaths of more than 100,000 people in South-east Asia that year.

That year, the region was plagued with the worst haze on record, as warmer and drier weather caused by the El Nino weather phenomenon resulted in the forests in Indonesia burning harder and for a longer time. Most of the fires were concentrated in the South Sumatra province, where large swaths of peatlands are located.

The haze is a toxic mix of harmful gases such as carbon monoxide, ammonia, cyanide and formaldehyde, as well as microscopic particles coated with carcinogens such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs).

It is also a massive contributor to global warming. In 2015 alone, Indonesia's forest fires generated around 600 million tonnes of greenhouse gases - roughly the amount Germany produces in a year.

But as we complain about the haze giving us headaches and burning eyes, the fact is that a portion of the money we pay for fried curry puff could have funded the deforestation in Sumatra, the early deaths in Kalimantan and the pollution that hangs over Singapore.

The reason is palm oil.

While large palm oil and paper companies have been put under heavy scrutiny in recent years, numerous mid-level palm oil operations remain under the radar even as they commit blatant abuse like clearing protected forests.

INGREDIENT FOR HAZE

Besides being present in half of all consumer products that we buy (think packaged foods and personal care products), palm oil is also the most commonly used cooking oil in Asia.

A survey our organisation, People's Movement to Stop Haze (PM Haze), a Singapore non-profit, conducted last year revealed that 32 out of 33 popular eatery chains in Singapore used cooking oil that contains palm oil.

For the growers, oil palm is also a favourite - oil palm fruits can be harvested for around 25 years before palms need to be replanted.

The huge demand for palm oil has created a race to clear land for oil palm plantations, making it the No. 1 driver of deforestation in Malaysia and Indonesia. From 2006 to 2010, oil palm was responsible for half of the deforestation in Indonesia and a third of deforestation in Malaysia.

Burning is the cheapest way to clear land. But even if fire is not used, the landscape becomes fire-prone when forests make way for plantations.

A pristine forest is like a woman's long, luscious hair. After a shower, it takes a long time to dry. Once the forest has been cut down, it resembles the bald head of a national serviceman, drying in no time at all.

In such dry landscapes, even a carelessly thrown cigarette butt can create a fire that rages out of control.

However, oil palms yield a relatively high amount of oil - up to nine times more compared with an equal area of canola or soya bean crop. Therefore, switching to other crops without changing deforestation practices means farmers would have to clear more forests to obtain the same amount of oil.

Soya bean oil, for example, is one of the main causes of deforestation in South America, threatening precious ecosystems like the Amazon rainforest and Cerrado savannah.

For this reason, we do not advocate boycotting palm oil. Instead, we want to improve the way palm oil is produced. And by being a more careful consumer, so can you.

HOW TO BE A CONSCIOUS CONSUMER

First, reduce unnecessary consumption of palm oil and other vegetable oils. Eat less fried food and choose less oily (and healthier) food instead.

Many processed food products such as margarine and potato chips are also heavy users of vegetable oil. Reducing demand for vegetable oil is a key step towards driving down the need to clear more land.

Next, if you do need a certain product with palm oil in it, choose one that uses haze-free palm oil - palm oil produced by growers that do not engage in forest clearing and burning.

Currently, palm oil certified by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) is the closest to haze-free palm oil.

RSPO is an international non-profit organisation that brings together non-governmental organisations and companies to develop standards for sustainable palm oil, including no burning to clear land and no clearing of primary forests. To be certified, growers must be audited to ensure that they comply with these standards.

In Singapore, there are already four brands of cooking oil that are RSPO-certified. Moreover, two companies use RSPO-certified cooking oil in their eateries - Ikea Singapore and the Singapore Zoo.

For cooking oil in Singapore, the cost difference between RSPO-certified and uncertified palm oil is currently less than 10 per cent.

Third, tell others about the issue. Most of the eateries PM Haze spoke to were not even aware that they were using palm oil and mentioned terms like "vegetable oil" or "tempura oil" - generic names for palm oil.

By reaching out to your favourite eateries, you can encourage them to check if their cooking oil contains palm oil, and if so, whether it is RSPO-certified. With many popular eatery chains maintaining social media platforms and websites, it has never been easier to do so.

You can get more tips on how to take action on pmhaze.org/gohazefree.

Do consumers truly have the power to influence businesses? History has shown that to survive, businesses must respond to consumer demand.

In March last year, the RSPO temporarily suspended palm oil conglomerate IOI Corporation's certification because its deforestation practices violated RSPO's guidelines. In three short months, IOI lost 26 major corporate customers and its share price fell by 18 per cent. Reacting quickly to its consumers' signals, IOI announced that it would work towards deforestation-free practices.

Consumers have the power to spur businesses to minimise negative impacts on the health of our people and planet. Let's demand that businesses act responsibly and go haze-free.


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70% of brands in Malaysia and Singapore don't disclose palm oil use

WWF rated 47 regional companies and found the majority have no public policies or commitments on sustainable palm oil sourcing
Laura Paddison The Guardian 21 Sep 17;

A new scorecard rating companies headquartered in Singapore and Malaysia on their palm oil sustainability commitments has found that the majority do not disclose any information on their sourcing practices.

The WWF Palm Oil Buyers’ Scorecard surveyed 47 companies, all household brands in Malaysia and Singapore, asking how far along the path they were to sourcing 100% certified sustainable palm oil. Only 16 disclosed any information.

“We were disappointed at the number of non responses,” said Denise Westerhout, the lead for WWF Malaysia’s sustainable markets programme, “because it doesn’t enable us to gauge how well the market is moving along and how much help it needs in raising awareness and understanding what we need to do”.

Two companies emerged as regional leaders in the scorecard, providing, according to WWF, “a clear indication that sourcing sustainable palm oil is possible”. Out of a total of 12 points, Denis Asia Pacific and Wildlife Reserves Singapore Group (WRS) scored 10 and nine respectively. Both have committed to sourcing 100% certified sustainable palm oil by 2018 and 2022 respectively.

The aim behind WRS’ decision to focus on palm oil sourcing was “guaranteeing the protection of habitat for wildlife threatened by unsustainable palm oil production”, said Sonja Luz, director of conservation, research and veterinary at WRS.

For Denis Asia Pacific, it was about “employee satisfaction, brand value and business opportunities in Europe, US and Australia where sustainable palm oil has become a market entry criteria,” according to Roy Teo, managing director of Ayam Brand at Denis Asia Pacific.

Market drivers are a key pressure point when it comes to engaging companies with sustainable palm oil sourcing, said Westerhout, “for example consumer pressure or regulatory demands from export markets.”

However, the majority of companies surveyed – 70% – either refused or ignored WWF’s request for information and do not publicly disclose their palm oil policies. And of the 15 which responded, half admitted to taking no action to source sustainable palm oil.

Benjamin Loh, WWF Malaysia’s sustainable palm oil manager, said some companies they talked to lacked internal capacity and expertise on sustainable palm oil. “So they don’t even have the infrastructure, or the facility, or the resources to comment on the scorecard,” he said.

Palm oil is an ingredient in a huge number of consumer goods, from biscuits to infant formula, which accounts for the much cited statistic that the oil is in 50% of all supermarket food products. It’s also a huge driver of deforestation, and can have negative consequences on the people and animals that live in areas of palm production.

While WWF has been ranking international companies on their palm oil commitments since 2009, this marks the first time the non-profit has focused solely on Malaysia and Singapore. The decision was made to take a regional view, said Westerhout, because local companies have a very low level of awareness about sustainable palm oil: “It would be unfair for us to compare them against the larger [international] companies that were far further down the road of sustainability.”

Palm oil accounts for 5-6% of the GDP of Malaysia, which is the world’s second largest producer of palm oil after Indonesia. Singapore is a base for the regional operations of major palm oil growers and traders and is also a financial hub for investment into these companies.

Both countries were affected by the choking haze pollution blown their way from neighbouring Indonesia, which experiences widespread forest fires every year thanks to illegal forest clearance, linked to the palm oil industry among others.

The fires were particularly devastating in 2015 when the noxious smoke settled across swaths of south-east Asia, leading to regional shut downs in Malaysia and Singapore and forcing tens of thousands of residents to seek help for respiratory problems.

In response, WWF last year launched a new alliance in south east Asia aimed at boosting demand for sustainable palm oil and tackling haze pollution. Members include Unilever, Ayam Brand, Danone, Ikea and WRS. “The alliance sends a clear signal to consumers about which companies are committed to sustainability and which are not”, said Elaine Tan, CEO of WWF­-Singapore.

However, there is still much work to be done on raising consumer awareness. In Malaysia, “there is very low to zero awareness on palm oil”, said Westerhout. “We need to help consumers better understand that their choices make a difference”


Most Singapore brands not transparent about palm oil use: WWF
Channel NewsAsia 21 Sep 17;

SINGAPORE: Two out of three Singapore brands contacted by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) did not respond to a request to disclose their palm oil usage, the non-governmental organisation said on Thursday (Sep 21).

As part of its Palm Oil Buyers’ Scorecard – Malaysia and Singapore 2017, WWF Singapore contacted 27 local retailers, manufacturers and food service brands with a survey to assess their buying and sourcing of palm oil.

The companies were selected based on criteria such as the use of palm oil, market leadership and crowd-sourced suggestions from members of the public, WWF Singapore said in a press release.

Only 10 companies responded. Companies which did not respond include BreadTalk, Crystal Jade, Bee Cheng Hiang, Dairy Farm, Khong Guan, Paradise Group, Tung Lok and Commonwealth Capital – which has stakes in brands like Soup Spoon, PastaMania and Udders. These companies were not given a score and were classified as "not transparent" in their palm oil usage.

Ayam Brand, which uses only certified sustainable palm oil for its canned food products, and Wildlife Reserves Singapore, which uses palm oil for cooking in its food and beverage outlets, scored highest in the report.

WWF also reached out to 20 Malaysian companies, of which six responded - a similar percentage to Singapore companies contacted.

The level of "non-discosure and lack of action" among brands in Singapore and Malaysia was higher than the global average, WWF said. While 30 per cent of brands in the region responded to the WWF survey and only three had public commitments on palm oil use, 80 per cent of global brands responded to the survey and more than 60 per cent had palm oil commitments.

WWF Singapore CEO Elaine Tan said unsustainable practices in the palm oil industry are at the root of the transboundary haze and deforestation.

"Singapore is at the heart of a region that supplies 85 per cent of the world’s palm oil. Our local brands need to show leadership by being accountable for their palm oil use and take real action to source sustainably,” she said.

According to WWF Singapore, brands cited internal factors such as capacity issues and higher costs as obstacles in the switch to sustainable palm oil, even though the additional cost of sustainable palm oil options start at less than S$0.01 more per litre.

There is also a perceived lack of demand for sustainable palm oil by customers in Singapore, it added.

In response to the findings, WWF-Singapore has launched a campaign to get consumers to pressure local brands on their use of palm oil, by sending emails to the companies via https://palmoil.sg.

Since the launch of the campaign, several companies including Bee Cheng Hiang, Tung Lok and Commonwealth Capital have signed a pledge to commit to sourcing for sustainable palm oil, WWF said.


Most Singapore brands not transparent about palm oil usage, says WWF
Today Online 22 Sep 17;

SINGAPORE — Two-thirds of homegrown Singapore brands are not transparent about their palm oil usage, and almost eight in 10 do not source for sustainable palm oil, said the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) yesterday.

A WWF study, Palm Oil Buyers’ Scorecard — Malaysia and Singapore 2017 — contacted 27 local retailers, manufacturers and food service brands, as well as 20 Malaysian firms to assess their buying and sourcing of palm oil. Unsustainable palm oil production has been linked to the perennial haze problem in South-east Asia.

Only 10 local and six Malaysian firms responded when contacted.

The level of “non-disclosure and lack of action” among brands in these two countries was higher than the global average, the WWF said.

While 30 per cent of regional brands responded to the WWF survey and only three had public commitments on palm oil use, 80 per cent of global brands responded to the survey and over 60 per cent had palm oil commitments.

The companies surveyed cited internal factors, such as capacity issues and higher costs, as obstacles in the switch to sustainable palm oil.

However, the WWF noted that the additional cost of sustainable palm oil options starts at less than S$0.01 more per litre.

There is also a perceived lack of demand for sustainable palm oil by customers in Singapore, it added.

Among the local brands, Denis Asia Pacific (Ayam Brand) and Wildlife Reserves Singapore (WRS) scored highest in the WWF scorecard. Both are already sourcing sustainable palm and oil and are involved in industry-led platforms, such as the South-east Asia Alliance for Sustainable Palm Oil. WRS, for example, uses palm oil for cooking at its food and beverage outlets.

Dr Sonja Luz, WRS’ director of conservation and research, said: “We knew the shift to using sustainable palm oil would be challenging. The process took months, but it is definitely worthwhile as all of us are convinced that this supports our cause — to protect wildlife and conserve biodiversity.”

In response to the findings, WWF Singapore has launched a campaign to show local brands that consumers care about and support sustainable palm oil, by sending emails to brands via palmoil.sg.

Through these emails, CEOs of local companies are urged to take a pledge to be transparent with their palm oil use and start taking steps to source sustainable palm oil.

WWF Singapore chief executive officer Elaine Tan said: “People want to know what goes into the products they buy and the real impact of it. Through this campaign, we hope to demonstrate to popular local brands that their customers want them to do their part in a preventable environmental problem that every person in Singapore experiences.”


Many Singapore consumer brands do not source for sustainable palm oil, survey finds
Annabeth Leow Straits Times 21 Sep 17;

SINGAPORE - Many Singapore companies do not source for sustainable palm oil, according to a survey on Thursday (Sept 21).

It also found that businesses believe that customers are not clamouring for sustainable palm oil, reducing the incentive to change the way they operate.

The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) study polled 47 firms with headquarters here and in Malaysia - the first region-specific study.

It rated businesses on a 12-point scale that measured the proportion of certified sustainable palm oil used in their supply chains.

The judging criteria also looked for membership in the international Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) bloc and a commitment to buying only certified sustainable palm oil.

Singapore-based Denis Asia Pacific, which is behind Ayam Brand canned food, rated 10 points to top the leaderboard.

Its products use only certified sustainable palm oil, said Ayam Brand country managing director Roy Teo.

"While our total consumption of palm oil is limited, it is possible to make sustainable choices even when manufacturing in smaller volumes," he added.

"We see this business decision paying off through increased employee satisfaction, higher brand value and new business opportunities in Europe, the United States and Australia, where sustainable palm oil has become a market entry criteria."

Another company that fared well was Wildlife Reserves Singapore, which runs attractions such as the Singapore Zoo and Jurong Bird Park.

At least 75 per cent of the palm oil used in its eateries is sustainably sourced.

"We encourage businesses to take this step and consumers to voice their support," said its conservation and research director, Dr Sonja Luz.

But, in general, regional firms did not seem fazed by how customers would perceive the use of non-sustainable palm oil.

Eight companies of the 16 respondents were given scores of zero, meaning that they were upfront about their use of palm oil but had not yet made any progress on sustainability. The four Singapore companies in this category are Sheng Siong, Tong Seng Produce, Viz Branz Holdings and Yeo Hiap Seng.

Eight firms felt there was a lack of consumer awareness and demand for certified sustainable palm oil, so there was no rush to make changes in the supply chain.

Also, nine of the companies that spoke to the WWF said that cost was an obstacle, especially with profit margins at the top of their minds amid tight economic conditions.

The WWF study put consumer brands under the microscope, even as big commodity companies have recently been pushed to step up their sustainability efforts.

Singapore-listed palm oil supplier Golden Agri-Resources - the target of a Greenpeace campaign against illegal deforestation in 2010 - said on Monday that it had made it to the Dow Jones Sustainability Asia Pacific Index for large listed companies with sustainable business practices.

Another home-grown commodities company, Wilmar International, was a founding member of the Fire Free Alliance in 2016. This body comprises non-governmental organisations as well as forestry and agriculture firms.

The regional WWF study had a response rate of just 34 per cent, and only three companies told the environmental group that they are committing to sustainable sourcing, the report said.

In comparison, the organisation's 2016 ranking exercise of 137 companies across Europe, North America, Australia, India and Japan had an 80 per cent response rate.

That survey also found that 70 per cent had thrown their weight behind the use of certified sustainable palm oil.

Still, some Singapore companies that were marked as having given nil returns on the WWF report said that they do make an effort to ensure that the palm oil they use is sustainable.

TungLok Restaurants (2000) executive chairman Andrew Tjioe, whose restaurant group was listed as a non-respondent, told The Straits Times in an e-mail: "We are all for sustainability, therefore we use only RSPO-certified cooking oil, even though it costs us more."

More than 85 per cent of the world's palm oil is produced in South-east Asia, mostly in Indonesia and Malaysia, with the oil going into a wide range of consumer products, from food items like chocolate to soaps and cosmetics.

But cultivation of oil palm has been linked to ecologically harmful practices such as slash-and-burn deforestation, which can cause problems such as habitat loss, water pollution, transboundary haze and climate change.

WWF-Malaysia launches the results of the first Palm Oil Buyers’ Scorecard
WWF-Malaysia 21 Sep 17;

~ In conjunction with the First Anniversary of the 2016 International Palm Oil Buyers’ Scorecard ~

Kuala Lumpur: While many palm oil buyers are aware of the importance of using sustainable palm oil to the environment, some are still doing little or nothing to help reduce deforestation and other adverse impacts of producing the world’s most popular vegetable oil in some of the most vulnerable tropical habitats around the world.

With this in mind, the Palm Oil Buyers’ Scorecard (POBS) Malaysia and Singapore 2017 was jointly released by WWF-Malaysia and WWF Singapore, to evaluate which local companies were sourcing and using sustainable palm oil in their supply-chains. The scorecard also aims to encourage companies which have not yet started their journey to sustainability to do so, with guidance from WWF. As with the WWF International Palm Oil Buyers’ Scorecards started in 2009, this Scorecard measured how companies perform on basic steps, such as joining the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), committing to and buying sustainable palm oil, and transparency.

“The scorecard in Malaysia and Singapore is the first of its kind and will be the baseline for Malaysian and Singaporean companies in recording their journey and commitment towards using, sourcing and supplying certified sustainable palm oil,” said Dato’ Dr Dionysius Sharma, Executive Director / CEO of WWF-Malaysia.

Malaysia is the second largest palm oil producer with 1,363,518 ha of palm oil plantations certified by RSPO. Dato’ Dr Sharma added, “The demand for sustainably produced palm oil will drive a positive change in Malaysia’s palm oil industry. While the survey only included 20 Malaysian companies, the ease of accessing a ready supply of locally produced certified palm oil should serve as a catalyst towards local champions in this area.”

WWF-Malaysia’s Sustainable Markets Programme (SMP) has worked closely with companies to change their demand patterns towards sustainably produced goods and promote sustainable consumption. “This change requires a long term commitment and is not limited to large international players. Local small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) should take up this challenge to positively change their sourcing practices towards certified sustainable palm oil (CSPO). We would certainly be ready to work hand-in-hand with them to initiate this commitment,” he said.

A total of 47 companies participated in the scorecard, with 27 from Singapore and 20 from Malaysia. The companies, which were required to complete a simple online survey, were selected from sectors known to consume palm oil and are producers of familiar house brands in the region. Survey questions in the POBS follow the requirements for RSPO certified sustainable palm oil.

The results of the scorecard were released in conjunction with the first anniversary of the 2016 International Palm Oil Buyers’ Scorecard. Denis Asia Pacific, which uses certified sustainable palm oil across all its Ayam Brand food products containing palm oil as an ingredient, emerged as the overall top scorer with a score of 10 over 12 points. They were hailed as one of the companies leading the way in sustainability, and as an example to other companies planning to start the journey. Said Roy Teo, Managing Director of Ayam Brand, “While our total consumption of palm oil is limited, it is possible to make sustainable choices even when manufacturing in smaller volumes. We see this business decision paying off in employee satisfaction, brand value and business opportunities in Europe, US and Australia where sustainable palm oil has become a market entry criteria.”

For Malaysia, the results revealed that the majority of local companies evaluated have yet to start sourcing sustainable palm oil, with a score of either zero or are non-respondents. From the 30% of companies which responded to the scorecard, two companies disclosed their usage of CSPO in their products. Of the two companies, MAMEE-Double Decker (M) Sdn Bhd was the top scorer, with five over 12 points, and a percentage of 1 to 25% of CSPO usage. This was very encouraging to see as MAMEE, which carries well-known household brands, has a prominent and visible presence in the industry. The close contender was Munchy Food Industries Sdn Bhd, with a score of four over 12 points.

Compared to the International POBS, non-disclosure and non-responsiveness was higher among the companies selected from Malaysia and Singapore. Out of the 47 companies evaluated, 31 companies were non-respondents. A majority of the companies cited a lack in internal capacity or expertise in sustainable practices, costs and the lack of demand from consumers for them to switch to using CSPO.

“The world is at a critical stage on the journey to sustainability, especially in palm oil. Although more major brands are now using only CSPO, there are companies which have yet to start. That needs to change. WWF urges companies to visit the Scorecard website and use it as a guide to start their journey to sustainability. For consumers, we all have a role to play in demanding full participation and transparency of all palm oil buyers across the globe in order to halt the threat of deforestation and affect true sector wide transformation,” stated Dato’ Dr Sharma.

The complete performance profile on each company is shared in the published report, which can be accessed from the POBS website, www.mypobs.com


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Malaysia: Authorities optimistic of conserving dugong habitat in Johor

The Star 22 Sep 17;

PULAU SIBU: The Johor Department of Marine Park Malaysia (JTLMNJ) is optimistic of its efforts to conserve the habitat of the dugong, which is the icon of the waters off Mersing, said its Education and Information Interpretation head Nor Sallehuddin Md Ali.

To this effect, he said various efforts had been undertaken, including educating fishermen, boat owners and tourists not to venture near the habitat of these shy mammals whose conservation status is threatened.

The latest figures show there are about 50 dugong in these waters.

To achieve its objectives, the department is working with agencies such as the World Wildlife Fund as well as public and private companies to conduct research which would contribute to the conservation of the dugong.

“The main focus of JTLMNJ is to ensure the continuity of marine life which is threatened with extinction, such as the dugong, and for that, we will always work to ensure their main source of food which is seaweed is preserved and not destroyed in these waters.

“Information-sharing with villagers will hopefully prevent dugong deaths caused by human ignorance, like being trapped in the fisherman's drift nets, collision with boats and water pollution,” he said after the Eco Volunteers programme (13th edition), organised by BIMB Holdings Berhad at the JTLMNJ Centre in Pulau Tinggi here.

In the waters off Mersing, dugong habitats have been found in Pulau Sibu, Pulau Tinggi, Pulau Besar, Pulau Tengah, Pulau Seribuat and Pulau Rawa.

Meanwhile, BIMB Holdings Berhad group chief strategy officer, Hizamuddin Jamaluddin, said the Eco Volunteers programme was the organisation’s show of support for JTLMNJ in its efforts to promote marine life in Mersing waters.

The corporate social responsibility programme was first held in April, followed by a second programme in May.

Hizamuddin said programmes such as these would educate students of SK Pulau Sibu and Pulau Tinggi on the importance of environment conservation, including not disturbing the ecosystem of marine life. — Bernama


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