Best of our wild blogs: 28 Aug 16



Favourite Nectaring Plants #7
Butterflies of Singapore


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A green corridor waiting to be built

Nature groups see much potential in the Bukit Timah Canal enhancing urban environment
Lin Yangchen Straits Times 28 Aug 16;

The Bukit Timah Canal, sandwiched between two major roads along a transportation axis that has existed since 1845, is an almost accidental oasis of water and greenery that soothes the senses of many a traveller along its tree-lined banks.

When one considers its length of more than 7km as an open canal flanked by Bukit Timah Road and Dunearn Road from Jalan Anak Bukit to Newton, it is no wonder that representatives from nature groups here are seeing its potential for enhancing the urban environment.

Dr Shawn Lum, president of the Nature Society (Singapore), said he has been toying with the idea for some years, and thinks the Bukit Timah Canal could be a link within an even broader landscape of interconnected green pockets.

Mr Zac Tan, biodiversity manager at the Singapore Environment Council, said: "The Bukit Timah Canal offers immense greening opportunities, given its ideal location connecting the Singapore Botanic Gardens and the Green Corridor."

Besides the Botanic Gardens and Green Corridor, there are many other green pockets near the canal, such as the former Turf Club, the Bukit Brown area, Bukit Timah Nature Reserve and Clementi Woods.

Dr Lum said the clear beneficiaries of such corridors through the Bukit Timah area would be Singapore's native tree species. He believes surplus seeds and seedlings from trees in the forest could be collected, grown in a nursery and planted along Bukit Timah Canal and other strategic locations.

"If the trees are planted in clusters at distances less than 500m apart, many of our pollinator species should be able to traverse these distances and facilitate cross-pollination."

And there is a whole array of potential pollinators, including bees, nectar bats, hawkmoths, birds and butterflies, although only the hardier species might be able to use the corridor. This might nevertheless help connect trees in Bukit Timah Nature Reserve with those in places as far afield as the patch of rainforest in the Botanic Gardens, said Dr Lum.

"Studies carried out across the tropics have repeatedly shown that pollinators can facilitate pollen movement even across a fragmented landscape."

Mr Oh Cheow Sheng, group director of Streetscape at the National Parks Board (NParks), said: "NParks has intensified tree planting along parts of Bukit Timah Canal in the past years to create more vegetation tiers, resembling the forest structure, making it more conducive for biodiversity and enabling it to serve as a nature way."

An additional feature of the Bukit Timah Canal is its water, which adds another dimension.

Retired oil-rig worker Wong Thu Im, 68, who has lived along the canal near Hua Guan Avenue for more than 50 years, said a long time ago the canal had a muddy bottom, and its sides were covered with grass and soil. It was a more natural "ecosystem", with an abundance of birds, butterflies and fishes.

When The Sunday Times visited the canal last week, it was by no means devoid of aquatic life in clear flowing water, with underwater plants and fishes along some stretches. A damselfly was also spotted flitting along the surface.

The canal passes under local architectural treasures too, like the 1932 steel truss bridge carrying the former railway track to Malaysia.

Of late, parts of the canal have experienced, literally, an upheaval, with trees removed for the construction of Downtown Line 2 and canal improvement works.

Mr Wong, whose house sits along a stretch of the canal near King Albert Park that has been cleared of trees, hopes that the roadworks there would be completed soon and the trees would be planted back.

The place is hotter now without them, and residents in the area are complaining that there are no more birds singing, he said.

"People are waiting for the trees to come back. Now the heat comes off the road like a mirage."

The Land Transport Authority said the roadworks will be completed in October this year.

The greenery along the canal has also given some magic to Italian al fresco dining. Mr Carecci Salvatore, chief executive of Pasta Fresca Da Salvatore, 63, opened his restaurant in Bukit Timah Road in 1988.

His patrons enjoy a panoramic vista of raintrees lining both the road and canal. "I liked this location from day one because of the trees, the ambience," he said. He added that the trees have grown a little older and bigger since, and that his customers find them very beautiful.

"The trees absorb noise. The traffic noise would be worse without them. I hope it stays this way."

A spokesman for national water agency PUB said: "There is potential for the Bukit Timah Canal to be turned into a recreational space while still serving its main purpose as stormwater infrastructure."

He added that it would require careful assessment and be coherent with longer-term national plans for drainage improvement.

Mr Mycle Castle hopes for a cycling lane to make life easier for the many recreational cyclists who pass through the area. The 40-year-old bicycle mechanic, who works at BikePlus near the Sixth Avenue junction, said he was badly injured a few months earlier when he collided with a truck while cycling amid the heavy traffic along Bukit Timah Road.


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First case of locally-transmitted Zika virus infection reported in Singapore: MOH, NEA

Channel NewsAsia 27 Aug 16;

SINGAPORE: A 47-year-old Malaysian woman living at Block 102 Aljunied Crescent is Singapore's first reported case of locally-transmitted Zika virus infection, the Ministry of Health (MOH) and National Environment Agency (NEA) said on Saturday (Aug 27).

As she had not travelled to Zika-affected areas recently, she was likely to have been infected in Singapore, MOH and NEA said in a joint news release.

According to MOH and NEA, the patient had developed symptoms such as fever, rash and conjunctivitis from Thursday. She visited a general practitioner (GP) on Friday and was referred to Tan Tock Seng Hospital’s Communicable Diseases Centre (CDC), where she tested positive for the Zika virus on Saturday.

“She has since been hospitalised for observation at the CDC. The patient is currently well and recovering,” the news release said.

MOH is screening the patient’s close contacts, including household members, the release stated, adding that it is also carrying out Zika testing on others living and working in the area, who have symptoms of fever and rash.

“At this point, three other suspect cases - two in a family who live in the area and an individual who works in the area - had preliminarily tested positive based on their urine samples. They are pending further confirmation tests,” the release stated.

The release said MOH has alerted all GPs around the patient’s home and workplace to be extra vigilant and to immediately report patients with symptoms associated with Zika virus infection to MOH. As an added precaution, all suspect Zika cases will be isolated while awaiting confirmation of the blood test results, the release added.

“MOH and NEA will also actively alert residents in the vicinity to seek medical attention should they develop symptoms,” the release said.

This comes after Singapore reported its first imported Zika case on May 13. The patient, a 48-year-old man, had travelled to Brazil from Mar 27 to May 7.

“With the presence of Zika in our region and the volume of travel by Singaporeans as well as tourists, it is inevitable that there will be imported cases of Zika into Singapore. There is also risk of subsequent local transmission, as the Aedes mosquito vector is present here. While MOH and NEA have stepped up precautionary measures, we expect that there may be further cases, as most infected persons may display mild or no symptoms,” the release added.

Minister for Health Gan Kim Yong said: “MOH and NEA are working together to carry out vector control and testing of residents in that area with fever and rashes so as to reduce the risk of further spread. I encourage those who are unwell and with these symptoms to visit their doctors for medical attention. We have also alerted our clinics in the area to look out for suspect cases and refer them to the CDC for testing."

INTENSIFIED VECTOR CONTROL OPERATIONS IN VICINITY OF ALJUNIED CRESCENT

The release also said NEA has intensified vector control operations to control the Aedes mosquito population in the vicinity of Aljunied Crescent by deploying about 100 officers to inspect the area.

These include:

Inspecting all premises, ground and congregation areas
Conducting mandatory treatment such as ultra-low volume (ULV) misting of premises and thermal fogging of outdoor areas to kill adult mosquitoes
Increasing frequency of drain flushing and oiling to prevent breeding
Public education outreach and distribution of insect repellents
When Channel NewsAsia visited Aljunied Crescent on Saturday evening, NEA flyers were seen on lift landings, informing residents of the symptoms and dangers of the Zika virus. There were also flyers stating that fogging would be carried out on Sunday, due to dengue cases in the area.

“NEA is also conducting outreach efforts and distributing Zika information leaflets and insect repellents to residents living in the area,” the release said.

Additionally, the Inter-Agency Dengue Task Force will be activated to help reduce the risk of the virus spreading further.

The release also noted that the patient’s residence at Aljunied Crescent is not located in an active dengue cluster, but there are two active dengue clusters nearby, each with two cases. It added that as the majority of people infected with the virus do not show symptoms, it is possible that some transmission may already have taken place before this case of Zika was notified.

“Hence, even as NEA conducts operations to contain the transmission of the Zika virus, residents are urged to cooperate fully with NEA and allow its officers to inspect their premises for mosquito breeding and to spray insecticide to kill any mosquitoes. NEA may need to gain entry into inaccessible premises by force after serving of requisite Notices, to ensure any breeding habitats are destroyed quickly,” the release said.

Authorities also urged members of the public to take immediate steps to prevent mosquito breeding in homes by doing the 5-step Mozzie Wipeout every alternate day, and protect themselves from mosquito bites by applying insect repellent regularly.

“Zika is generally a mild disease. It may cause a viral fever similar to dengue or chikungunya, with fever, skin rashes, body aches, and headache. But many people infected with the Zika virus infection do not even develop symptoms,” the release stated.

“Zika virus infection can however cause microcephaly in the unborn foetuses of pregnant women. We advise residents, especially pregnant women, in the Aljunied Crescent area to monitor their health. They should seek medical attention if they are unwell, especially with symptoms such as fever and rash. They should also inform their doctors of the location of their residence and workplace. Those without these symptoms but who are concerned that they have been infected with the Zika virus should consult and follow the advice of their doctors regarding the monitoring of their pregnancy,” the release added.

Members of the public should refer to MOH’s webpage on Zika for the latest health advisory, authorities added.

- CNA/dl


Marine Parade Town Council stepping up Zika preventive measures
Channel NewsAsia 27 Aug 16;

SINGAPORE: Member of Parliament for MacPherson Tin Pei Ling has said she expects to get more information on the first locally-transmitted case of Zika from the Health Ministry (MOH) on Sunday (Aug 28). The 47-year-old woman who was infected lives in her constituency, which comes under the Marine Parade Town Council.

In a Facebook post, Ms Tin said she is "deeply concerned" and is in touch with MOH to receive regular updates on the matter.

"In particular, I am keen to find out whether she had been infected at her home or elsewhere outside of MacPherson. I expect more information to be available from MOH tomorrow," she said.

Ms Tin said regardless of the source of transmission, the town council will be taking increased steps to curb mosquito breeding in the area. "We have been active and vigilant, but I have decided to enhance our efforts nonetheless."

She said that while the vicinity around Block 102, Aljunied Crescent, where the woman lives, is not an active dengue cluster, NEA will be thermal fogging the area on Sunday as an added precaution.

A spokesperson for the Marine Parade Town Council told Channel NewsAsia other measures include stepping up the flushing of drains, and oiling them twice a week. Typically, the town council flushes drains only if there is a “serious dengue cluster” in the area. This is to conserve water. It also oils drains once a fortnight.

Ms Tin said grassroots leaders are also visiting residents and distributing mosquito repellent to residents. She urged residents to cooperate with NEA, which will be stepping up inspections.

She also urged pregnant women to monitor their health carefully as Zika has been known to affect the development of an unborn child. "I sincerely urge the authorities to actively look into how our pregnant ladies can be better protected," she said.

- CNA/mo


Singapore sees first locally transmitted Zika infection
Today Online 27 Aug 16;

SINGAPORE — A 47-year old Malaysian woman residing at Block 102 Aljunied Crescent has contracted the Zika virus in what is believed to be the first locally transmitted case.

The woman had not travelled to Zika-infected areas recently so health officials said she is likely to have been infected in Singapore.

The unnamed woman went to see her local GP on Friday after developing a fever, rash and conjunctivitus a day earlier and was then referred to Tan Tock Seng Hospital's Communicable Diseases Centre (CDC).

She tested positive for Zika on Saturday.

She was hospitalised at the CDC and put under observation where she is said to be recovering well.

The Ministry of Health (MOH) is screening her close contacts, including members of her household. The MOH is also carrying out Zika tests on others living and working in the same area who have developed similar symptoms, while GPs in the locality have also been told to keep an eye out and refer any suspected cases.

Three more suspected cases, two members of a family who reside in the same area and a person who works in the area, had "preliminarily tested positive based on urine samples", according to MOH. Health officials are now waiting for the results of further tests for confirmation.

The MOH and the National Environment Agency (NEA) have stepped up precautionary measures in response, but said there may be other cases, as many infected persons display mild or no symptoms.

Minister of Health Mr Gan Kim Yong, said, “MOH and NEA are working together to carry out vector control and testing of residents in that area with fever and rashes so as to reduce the risk of further spread. I encourage those who are unwell and with these symptoms to visit their doctors for medical attention."

A 48-year-old man who travelled to Brazil became the Republic’s first Zika patient on May 13.

At the time, the MOH and the NEA warned that a local case of Zika infection was inevitable.

The NEA said it has stepped up vector control operations in a bid to control the population of Aedes mosquitoes in the Aljunied Crescent area, deploying about 100 officers to inspect the area. NEA is also conducting outreach efforts and handing out Zika leaflets and insect repellent to local residents.

The MOH will provide updates on any further developments. Members of the public should refer to the MOH’s webpage on Zika for further information (www.moh.gov.sg/zika).


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NEA to release bacteria-carrying mosquitoes in former clusters to fight dengue

Loke Kok Fai Channel NewsAsia 27 Aug 16;

SINGAPORE: Thousands of male Aedes aegypti mosquitoes carrying the Wolbachia bacterium will be released regularly into three former dengue clusters at Tampines Avenue 4, Yishun Street 21, as well as Jalan Riang and Jalan Sukachita in Serangoon over six months from October 2016, the National Environment Agency (NEA) announced on Saturday (Aug 27). It is part of a "small-scale" field study and comes after a comprehensive risk assessment found it would be safe to release such mosquitoes, with no risk to human health and insignificant impact on ecology, NEA said.

STOPPING THE CYCLE

Only female Aedes mosquitoes spread dengue by biting humans. Should a male carrier of the Wolbachia bacterium mate with an uninfected female mosquito, the resulting eggs will not hatch. NEA hopes that by releasing sufficient numbers of Wolbachia-carrying Aedes aegypti males, they can compete successfully against wild males and eventually drive down mosquito numbers as the population fails to reproduce. Over time, this could also reduce the potential spread of dengue. NEA expects that the method could also help prevent the transmission of other mosquito-transmitted diseases such as Chikungunya and Zika.

NEA said it carried out a four-year evaluation of the process, involving critical reviews of existing research, consultations with various stakeholders such as academic experts, medical and healthcare professionals, and non-governmental organisations such as nature groups. It found the bacterium – which is naturally found in insects in the wild – to offer suitable biological properties

The field study will observe how far the mosquitoes are able to disperse outside the lab, as well as how high they can fly. It will also gauge their lifespans in the wild, and how well they can compete for mates. An average of one to three mosquitoes per resident will be released regularly in areas such as stairwells, void decks, open spaces between blocks of high-rise homes, and outside landed homes of the three estates. NEA stated that mosquitoes will not be released directly into homes.

The three estates represent a cross-section of typical housing estates in Singapore, and provide a good baseline from which to make comparative studies.

The findings will support the design of another field suppression trial to be held over one to two years in 2017, to test if the technology is effective in bringing down mosquito populations – and by extension, possibly impacting the spread of dengue. If the tests are successful, NEA could roll-out this method to fight dengue in high-risk areas from 2019.

WOLBACHIA STUDIES ELSEWHERE

Similar small-scale releases of Wolbachia-carrying mosquitoes were carried out in other jurisdictions such as the Unites States and Thailand, with tests in China and French Polynesia having met with some success. A 2015 study in Guangzhou reported an over 90 per cent reduction in the Aedes mosquito population.

The trial was previously announced by Environment and Water Resources Minister Masagos Zulkifli in April 2016, during the Committee of Supply debates. It also comes after the NEA previously warned that Singapore could see a record 30,000 dengue cases in 2016. Despite efforts to eradicate mosquito breeding habitats, the NEA said Singapore remains vulnerable due to its location in a dengue endemic region, and low herd immunity in the community.

“A NEW LINE OF DEFENCE”

Speaking at a community event on Saturday to raise awareness of the study, Mr Masagos said it was important to engage the public on the move, adding that “a new line of defence” was needed in the fight against dengue. But he also hopes the community can play its part. For instance, residents can volunteer to use fan traps from NEA to capture mosquitoes in their homes, and all should keep up efforts to remove possible mosquito breeding habitats. Should mosquitoes continue to breed, Mr Masagos said, it would negate the effect of introducing the Wolbachia-carrying male mosquitoes.

“(The technology) does not replace the source eradication system. Therefore, whatever we’ve been doing all these years successfully – bring down the mosquito breeding places in our homes, in our construction (sites), in our public places, must continue,” said Mr Masagos.

EFFECTIVENESS COULD VARY:EXPERT

Despite the international success of the use of Wolbachia in countries like China and Myanmar, one expert said the technology remains in its infancy. Infectious diseases expert at Mount Elizabeth Hospital, Dr Leong Hoe Nam said while he sees no major ill effects on human health, Wolbachia’s effectiveness could vary from environment to environment.

He said: “The biggest drawback is we don't really know what's going to happen. Many experiments have been done in the lab, trying to look at the different forms or possibilities - even looking into the different strains of Wolbachia, and how they will affect (mosquitoes). Going into a small trial in selected areas is the way forward."

Dr Leong said the lack of certain strains of dengue in Singapore could indicate that the mosquitoes spreading the disease could differ slightly from that of the region.

"Singapore has a very unique property in that only Dengue Strains 1 and 2 exist in Singapore - 3 and 4, we hardly see them. Now if you cross the Causeway, we'll see 3 and 4 in Malaysia. And similarly in the Philippines, Indonesia and Thailand. This tells you that there is something unusual about Singapore, where we're extremely effective in getting rid of 3 and 4," he said.

"If the mosquito is slightly different, then would the use of Wolbachia make a change? Would we have the same result? We don't know. The only way to take it forward is with field testing, field experiments and gathering data. This data will not only help Singapore, but help the region and the whole world”.

- CNA/mo


NEA to release Wolbachia-carrying males in mosquito control trial
SIAU MING EN Today Online 27 Aug 16;

SINGAPORE – From October, male Aedes aegypti mosquitoes carrying the naturally-occurring Wolbachia bacteria will be released in three housing estates over the next six months, as part of a field study to determine their behaviour, with the objective of controlling the mosquito population.

One to three mosquitoes per person will be released regularly at public spaces – such as stairwells and void decks – around the blocks and houses in Nee Soon East, Tampines West and Braddell Heights.

This works out to about 1,500 male mosquitoes for 500 people living in 1 block of flats.

As male mosquitoes do not bite, they will not transmit any diseases. The National Environment Agency (NEA) has assured that these Wolbachia-carrying mosquitoes are safe and pose an insignificant risk to the ecology and no risk to human health.

The housing blocks in Yishun Street 21(Nee Soon East), Tampines Avenue 4, as well as landed homes in Jalan Riang and Jalan Sukachita (Bradell Heights), have been chosen because they are representative of the typical housing mix in Singapore.

The three areas also have had previous dengue outbreaks, and the NEA has been monitoring the mosquito population in these locations for up to three years to provide a baseline for comparative studies.

The Yishun Street 21 area will be used to study the mosquitoes’ lifespan, and how far and how high they can travel. The other two areas will be to determine how the male Wolbachia-carrying mosquitoes mate with the wild female mosquitoes, and how competitive they are against the wild male mosquitoes.

Gravitraps and ovitraps, which trap female Aedes mosquitoes and their eggs respectively, will be set up at public spaces in the selected release sites and their surrounding areas to determine the female Aedes population and the eggs’ hatch rates. Meanwhile fan-based mosquito traps will be placed in the homes of residents who volunteer to trap the male Wolbachia-carrying mosquitoes and monitor their flight range.

During a media briefing on Thursday (Aug 25), the NEA was asked why the study will be conducted after the traditional dengue peak season of June to October.

An NEA spokesperson said the timing would not affect the results, as they are not looking at how this particular field study would control dengue or suppress the mosquito population. A subsequent suppression trial could be conducted sometime next year.

The small-scale field study comes in the wake of a warning issued by the authorities in February that Singapore could face a historic high of 30,000 dengue cases this year, due to the El Nino phenomenon and the change in the type of dengue virus circulating among the population.

The previous record was 22,170 dengue cases in 2013.

Speaking to the media after the briefing, NEA director-general for Environmental Public Health Derek Ho said: “(Male mosquitoes) do not pose any additional pressure in the public sphere. People should not be experiencing more mosquito bites as a result of this study.”

There are two types of Aedes mosquitoes in Singapore: Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus. The former species thrives in the urban environment and is a more efficient vector for diseases such as dengue, chikungunya and the Zika virus. Native to Singapore, the latter prefers the greenery but are not as efficient as a vector for dengue.

Wolbachia is a naturally-occurring bacteria found in over 60 per cent of insect species, but not in the dengue-carrying Aedes aegypti mosquito.

The NEA’s Environmental Health Institute managed to rear local Aedes aegypti mosquitoes carrying the Wolbachia in their laboratories, and will be releasing only the male Wolbachia-carrying mosquitoes to mate with female Aedes mosquitoes. Eggs produced from their mating will not hatch because they are biologically incompatible.

Over time, this will reduce the Aedes aegypti mosquito population and the potential spread of diseases such as dengue.

While Singapore is looking at using the Wolbachia technology to suppress the Aedes mosquito population, there are also other countries using the same technology but to replace the Aedes population to block the transmission of diseases.

The latter approach involves releasing both male and female Wolbachia-carrying Aedes aegypti mosquitoes. As Wolbachia is passed on from the female Wolbachia-carrying Aedes aegypti mosquitpes to their offspring, this method is used to rear subsequent generations of Wolbachia-carrying Aedes aegypti.

The Wolbachia bacteria would protect the mosquitoes from viral infection and reduce the risk of dengue transmission. This is being tested in countries such as Australia, Vietnam and Indonesia even though its impact on dengue has not been proven yet.

An NEA spokesperson said Singapore went with the former approach as it was consistent with what the agency has been doing – to promote source reduction of mosquito population by removing breeding sites for instance.

Releasing both male and female Wolbachia-carrying Aedes aegypti mosquitoes might not be an acceptable approach to the public here, since more people may may get bitten by the female mosquitoes, the spokesperson added.

Other countries adopting this approach to control the mosquito population includes the United States, Thailand and Guangzhou, China. In the latter’s field study, it managed to suppress more than 90 per cent of its Aedes albopictus population.

The field study comes after the authorities spent the last four years carrying out various risk assessment and laboratory research studies to ensure that the Wolbachia technology is safe. During this time, they also consulted stakeholders such as academic experts, medical and healthcare professions and non-governmental organisations.

A Dengue Expert Advisory Panel was also appointed by NEA in June 2014 to continue to review study results.

Speaking to reporters on Saturday (Aug 27) after announcing the small-scale field study sites to Tampines residents, Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli said it was important to engage the public for the study.

The Government could have "just released it (the Wolbachia-carrying Aedes aegypti mosquitoes) quietly" and shared the results thereafter, he said. But it is important for the public to know what the small-scale field study is about such as the methods behind it.

"For this stage, we are calibrating, we are not actually releasing (them) in millions or billions," said Mr Masagos.

While the NEA and public having been working very hard over the years to bring down and suppress the mosquito population and spread of dengue, Mr Masagos noted that Singapore is situated in a region which is endemic with dengue.

He added that as climate change will also affect Singapore's weather pattern,there is a need to have a "new line of defence" to deal with the situation. In this case, it is the release of the Wolbachia-carrying Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, said Mr Masagos.

Mdm Winnie Lim who has been living in Tampines Ave 4 for the past 15 years said the method used is good in the long-term. The 49-year-old housewife noted that fumigation may not completely eradicate the mosquitoes, but with this method, it would prevent the eggs from hatching. Additional reporting by Amanda Lee


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Air quality expected to improve on Sunday: NEA

Channel NewsAsia 27 Aug 16;

SINGAPORE: The air quality in Singapore is expected to improve on Sunday (Aug 28), the National Environment Agency (NEA) said on Saturday after hazy conditions were seen in the city-state since Friday.

NEA said the haze situation continued to improve throughout Saturday as less dense haze from central Sumatra was blown into Singapore by prevailing winds.

It added that a further improvement in air quality can be expected on Sunday as prevailing winds are forecast to shift, to blow from the southwest or south overnight. Showers are also forecast in the late morning and early afternoon on Sunday, NEA said.

It also provided an update on the number of hotspots detected in Indonesia. NEA said two hotspots were picked up on Saturday due to cloud cover and a partial satellite pass - which occurs when the satellite field of view covers part of a region of interest as the satellite orbits the earth. A total of 11 hotspots were detected on Friday. Prevailing haze over central Sumatra was observed to continue spreading east across the Malacca Strait, NEA added.

Earlier on Saturday, NEA said hazy conditions were expected to persist throughout the day, despite some improvement in air quality.

The improvement in the haze situation on Saturday morning was due to a slight shift in the direction of prevailing winds overnight from westerly to west-southwesterly, the agency said.

As of 6pm, the 24-hour PSI reading was 70-126, in the Moderate to Unhealthy range, and the 1-hour PM2.5 level was 21-46 µg/m3, in Band I (Normal).

Overall, the PSI reading for the next 24 hours is forecast to be in the Moderate range, NEA said. The 1-hour PM2.5 concentration over the next 24 hours is expected to drop from Band II (Elevated) to Band I (Normal).

The health impact of haze is dependent on one’s health status, the PSI level, and the length and intensity of outdoor activity, NEA said, adding that reducing outdoor activities and physical exertion can help limit the ill effects from haze exposure.

"Given the air quality forecast for the next 24 hours, everyone can continue with normal activities. Persons who are not feeling well, especially the elderly and children, and those with chronic heart or lung conditions, should seek medical attention,” NEA said.

- CNA/dl

Air quality improves, returns to 'Moderate' range
Channel NewsAsia 28 Aug 16;

SINGAPORE: Air quality in Singapore has improved with the 24-hour PSI returning to the Moderate range at 70-100 on Sunday (Aug 28) at 9am.

The 3-hour PSI was at 70 while the 1-hour PM2.5 was in the Normal range in all regions.

The improved air quality comes after Singapore experienced haze conditions since Friday. The National Environment Agency (NEA) said, the continued improvement since yesterday is due to less dense haze from central Sumatra being blown into Singapore by prevailing winds.

Further improvement can be expected with prevailing winds forecast to shift, to blow from the southwest or south. Showers are also forecast in the late morning and early afternoon, NEA said.

Cholina Em posted pictures of the clearer skies on Sunday morning on Twitter.

Hazy skies across Singapore on Friday were accompanied by a burning smell as haze from central Sumatra was blown in by the prevailing westerly winds, according the NEA. Readings on the 24-hour Pollutants Standards Index (PSI) crept into the Unhealthy range from 4pm, and was highest in the west at 7pm at 114.

The health impact of haze is dependent on one’s health status, the PSI level, and the length and intensity of outdoor activity, NEA said, adding that reducing outdoor activities and physical exertion can help limit the ill effects from haze exposure.

"Given the air quality forecast for the next 24 hours, everyone can continue with normal activities. Persons who are not feeling well, especially the elderly and children, and those with chronic heart or lung conditions, should seek medical attention,” NEA said.

The PSI incorporates six types of pollutants - sulphur dioxide, particulate matter that is 2.5 micrometres in diameter or smaller (PM2.5), particulate matter that is 10 micrometres in diameter or smaller (PM10), ozone, nitrogen dioxide and carbon monoxide. Of the six, PM2.5 is considered particularly hazardous as the small size of the particles enters the human lungs more easily.

- CNA/mn


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Malaysia: Low visibility in Melaka and West Johor expected until Monday

BERNAMA New Straits Times 27 Aug 16;

KUALA LUMPUR: The Malaysian Meteorological Department has issued a warning of low visibility, for a range of less than five kilometres in Melaka and west Johor due to continuous haze until this Monday (Aug 29).

The deparmtent, in a statement today, said the situation is hazardous for ships without shipping navigation.

Meanwhile, according to the Department of Environment website, as at 4pm, the Air Pollutant Index (API) reading for most areas in Johor were moderate, with Pasir Gudang having an API reading of 99, from an of API 102 this morning.

An API reading of 0 to 50 indicates good air quality; 51 to 100, moderate; 101 to 200, unhealthy; 201 to 300, very unhealthy and 300 and above hazardous. --BERNAMA


Pasir Gudang records unhealthy API reading
The Star 27 Aug 16;

JOHOR BARU: Except for Pasir Gudang, the haze in Johor Saturday has somewhat lifted since the state was hit by haze on Friday morning.

State Health and Environment Committee chairman Datuk Ayub Rahmat said regional haze data issued by the Asean Specialised Meteorological Centre (ASMC) showed haze blanketing southern Johor and Singapore due to open burning areas near Sumatra Tengah (Riau) in Indonesia.

As of 11am on Saturday, 26 areas in the state recorded good API readings while 12 other areas stood at average levels.>

According to the Department of Environment's website, API readings for Kota Tinggi (84) and Larkin Lama (93).

“Only the Pasir Gudang area has reached the unhealthy level with API reading of 102,” he said in a statement on Saturday.

Ayub also said that as of Friday, ASMC recorded 11 and three hotspots in Sumatra and Kalimantan in Indonesia respectively while only one hotspot was detected in Sibu, Sarawak.

A reading of 100 to 200 indicates unhealthy air quality, while 201 to 300 is very unhealthy and above 300 hazardous. A reading of 51 to 100 is moderate.


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Indonesia declares forest fire emergency

Antara 28 Aug 16;

Banjarmasin, S Kalimantan (ANTARA News) - Indonesias Minister of Forestry and Environment Siti Nurbaya has said the country has been placed under emergency with regards to anticipating and preventing the impact of smoke emanating from forest and land fires.

She made the statement during a visit to the Tanah Laut district in South Kalimantan, adding that her office would keep monitoring forest and land fires in the country.

"In the morning, afternoon and evening, we kept monitoring the situation and as soon as we detected a fire, we immediately acted to put it out. As a result, the number of fires this year has dropped sharply by 70 to 90 percent," she said.

The number of hot spots in Jambi and West Kalimantan has dropped by 90 percent and so have the spots in South Kalimantan and other regions, she added.

However, from July to August, there has been a hike in the number of hot spots, which doubled, especially in Riau and West Kalimantan, to make the fire fighting coordinating team busy.

She said all members of the team from the police, the military, fire fighter agencies and other agencies have been forced to conduct fire fighting in the region three to five days in a row to keep the fires from spreading.

In Riau, she said the team had dropped up to 45 million liters of water to extinguish the fires and in South Sumatra three million liters had been spent and efforts are still continuing to fight fires in West Kalimantan and Jambi.

The number of hot spots has increased, based on the monitoring of the Meteorology, Geophysics and Climatology Agency (BMKG), with the air drought being below 100 millimeters or it has been very dry and the drought in Sumatra and surrounding areas has been below 50 millimeters, indicating that it is very dry and therefore alertness is needed, she said.

It is predicted that a dry season with a drought level below 100 millimeters will last until the middle of September and only at the end of September will it start becoming wet.

"This means all parties must be really alert in case of forest or land fires so that a haze problem does not arise again," she added.

The minister also visited South Kalimantan to check the readiness of forest fire fighting team in Tanah Laut.

Almost all districts and cities in South Kalimantan have set up command posts to deal with possible forest and land fires.(*)


Haze Hits Riau Province Again; Visibility Drops in Some Areas
Tempo 27 Aug 16;

TEMPO.CO, Pekanbaru - Haze due to forest and peat land fires hits Riau province yet again.

As a result, visibility in many parts of the province has dropped to 1,500 meters.

Head of the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency of Pekanbaru Chapter Sugarin said that the Aqua and Tera satellite has detected found 61 hot spots a number of areas, indicating forest and peat land fires.

"The hotspots were detected on Saturday at 7 am," Sugarin said on Saturday.

Sugarin added that Rokan Hilir distric sees most hotspots as 36 hotspots were detected in the areas, followed by 13 points followed Siak (13 hotspots), Bengkalis (9 hotspots) Rokan Hulu (2 hotspots and Kampar (one hotspot).

The haze has also decreased air quality in some areas.

For the record, forest and peat land fires in Riau have occurred again since last month as hotspots began to be detected in some areas of the province.

To tackle this, Riau Forest Fire Handling Task Force has deployed six water-bombing helicopters to extinguish the fire. The task force has also been doing weather modification techniques and provided artificial rain, while the joint team of Army and the police have been containing the fires fighters on land.

RIYAN NOFITRA


Winds likely to continue blowing haze towards Singapore and Malaysia, says Indonesia
Chandni Vatvani, Channel NewsAsia 27 Aug 16;

JAKARTA: Indonesia's Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) on Saturday (Aug 27) warned that prevailing winds will likely continue to blow smoke from forest fires in the western Riau province in Sumatra eastwards, towards Singapore and Malaysia.

"Satellite monitoring has shown that currently, there is a thick distribution of smoke in the western province of Riau indicating the presence of land fires over a vast area," the agency said in a statement.

"With the presence and dominance of winds blowing eastwards, there is an indication that the haze will potentially continue to spread to neighbouring countries such as Malaysia and Singapore."

In its statement, the agency added that land and forests in western Sumatra demonstrated the potential to catch fire easily and the territory would need to be monitored. It said controlling the fires will be "difficult to very difficult, especially in the next five days".

Besides Riau, other territories affected include north Sumatra, Jambi, Aceh, west Sumatra, Bengkulu and parts of south Sumatra. The provinces of western Kalimantan and central Kalimantan could also potentially see an increase in forest fires in the days ahead, according to the statement.

The agency has advised the community to stop burning activities, and urged residents whose provinces are affected by the haze to anticipate and prepare for its impact by wearing masks and staying healthy.

- CNA/ms


Singapore hit again by haze
Rizal Harahap The Jakarta Post 27 Aug 16;

It is happening again: Indonesia’s inability to control forest fires has left the residents of its northern neighbor covered in smoke, an annual occurrence that has often tested relations between the two nations.

Haze from forest and land fires from Riau province blew into Singapore on Friday, triggering a wave of complaints on social media from the city-state’s residents.

Singapore’s National Environment Agency (NEA) recorded that at 6 p.m. local time the pollutant standards index (PSI) had reached 127, down from 215 at 2 p.m. local time. A PSI above 100 is considered “unhealthy” while anything above 200 is categorized as “very unhealthy”, especially for young children, the elderly and people with heart and lung diseases.

On Friday, the NEA registered its concerns with its Indonesian counterpart over “additional episodes of deterioration in air quality in Singapore should the fires continue”.

“The NEA urged Indonesia to continue taking the necessary actions to prevent and mitigate the fires during this dry season and asked for an update on the situation in Sumatra and Kalimantan,” the agency said in a statement on Friday.

The air pollution comes from rampant illegal land clearing using fire, which ravages thousands of hectares of forest and quickly spreads a thick smoky haze over the region.

Indonesia’s Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) said in a statement that forest and land fires had worsened in Riau and that smoke from 67 hot spots in the province had reached Singapore.

In response to this, the government said it had declared states of emergency in six provinces: Riau, Jambi, South Sumatra, West Kalimantan, Central Kalimantan and South Kalimantan.

The emergency status was needed to allow easier access for the BNPB and to allow each regional disaster mitigation agency (BPBD) to mobilize resources.

The BNPB said it had deployed 7,200 air and ground task force personnel to tackle forest fires and land burning. It is also using three water bombing helicopters, two fixed-wing water bombers and one CASA aircraft to induce artificial rain.

The CASA aircraft, loaded with 40 tons of salt, has been used to intensify cloud-seeding in a bid to help stimulate rainfall in Riau. Thousands of canals, water reserves and reservoirs have also been prepared.

“About 21.7 million liters of water has been poured from the sky to extinguish the fires,” BNPB spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho told The Jakarta Post on Friday.

Based on data from the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG), 67 hot spots in the form of forest and land fires were detected in Riau on Friday morning.

Riau Disaster Mitigation Agency (BPBD) head Edward Sanger said the number of hot spots had reduced to 47 by Friday evening.

Rokan Hilir and Bengkalis are the two regencies with the thickest haze. “The land there is dominated by peat, which burns easily, especially during the dry season,” Edward said.

“The forest fires in Riau come and go. It happened recently because rain has not poured down on the city for 15 days,” said Raffles Panjaitan, the Environment and Forestry Ministry’s fire mitigation director.

On Thursday, the National Police announced they had arrested more than 450 suspects in connection with land and forest fires to discourage recalcitrant companies and farmers from clearing land illegally.

National Police chief Tito Karnavian said Indonesia had deployed a very effective strategy to reduce the number of hot spots this year. On Aug. 16 the number of hot spots nationwide was 482, which was down from 14,451 last year.

In 2013, smoky haze from forest fires in Indonesia spread to Singapore, causing Singaporeans to suffer from their worst pollution in 16 years. The three-hour PSI in the country reached a record high of 401 in June that year, surpassing the country’s previously highest level of 226 recorded in 1997.

In 2014, Indonesia agreed to ratify the ASEAN Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution (AATHP) in order to expedite the process of preventing and monitoring cross-border smoke pollution. The agreement was also meant to facilitate cooperation with other ASEAN members, including Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and Brunei Darussalam.

In 2015, Vice President Jusuf Kalla criticized Singapore for complaining about haze and asked the city-state’s citizens to instead be grateful for the clean air they enjoyed during the rest of the year. He argued that Indonesia had repeatedly apologized for the forest fires that lead to haze problems in Singapore and Malaysia. (win).


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Malaysia: Miri set to become an international dive destination

Cecilia Sman Borneo Post 28 Aug 16;

MIRI: Miri is set to become an international dive destination within the next five years because of its rich marine biodiversity.

According to world dive industry icon Clement Lee Ngak Yeo from Sabah, among the attractions are the untapped wonders in the 28 diving sites.

The sites are home for over 3,000 species of fish and breeding grounds for 600 of 800 species of coral reefs in the world, making Miri waters the richest in coral reef species and marine life.

The sites cover 100,000km of coral reefs which is about 34 per cent of the total worldwide. But the question is how will these coral reefs and other marine life able to withstand threats and challenges from both human being and natural phenomenon like bleaching.

thesundaypost had the opportunity last Saturday to attend a talk on Reef Check Miri project by its coordinator Joyce Sivalingam, from the Malaysian Nature Society (MNS) Miri Chapter, and another MNS member Iqbal Abdollah who shared some insights into the recent coral reef check project in Brunei.

Coincidently on Thursday (Aug 25) there was Shell Sustainable Development (SD) Grants Showcase Event 2016 in Miri, where MNS Miri and the Sarawak Forestry Corporation (SFC) were the beneficiaries of the fund. RM60,000 was allocated this year for Coral Reef propagation, a continuation of the coral reef conservation programme in Miri, which Shell had provided grants in 2009 and 2015.

Managing director of Sarawak Shell Berhad Simon Durkin in his speech, said the reef conservation programme was part of Shell’s efforts to conserve Miri’s pristine underwater world for all to enjoy. The fund was part of the RM125 million pledged for the next 10 years.

Reef Check Miri

Joyce, during her talk entitled ‘The Beauty Beneath – Coral Reefs’ said since 2004, Reef check efforts in Miri were predominantly conducted by Shell employees. With the grant, MNS Miri was able to expand the pool of eco-divers, to empower recreational divers to play an active role in monitoring and conserving the reefs in Miri.

The eco-divers, comprise individuals from Petronas, Shell, Curtin University Sarawak and local agencies including MNS Miri.

The project covers six selected dive sites within the Miri-Sibuti Marine Protected Area namely Siwa 4A, Siwa Penyu, Anemone Centre, Anemone North, Sunday Reef and Eve’s Garden.

“Miri is one of the few locations where Reef Check efforts are driven and sustained for 12 years now by the local community independently. This was possible with the continuous support of volunteer divers, dive marshals of Piasau Divers, support from relevant authorities and funding from the Shell SD grant,” she said.

According to Joyce, the 2015 Annual Survey Report by Reef Check Malaysia (RCM) reported that from the survey data submitted for these sites, 50% were in fair condition, 33% in good condition and the remaining 17% were in poor condition.

“The reefs surveyed were found to have 45.7% live coral cover below the average of 58.2% for the Sunda Shelf Region. Two fish indicator species (Bumphead parrotfish and Humphead Wrasse) were absent from the survey while snappers were the highest species recorded.

The abundance of invertebrates however was observed to be low. The survey report highlights that as fish populations recorded on these surveys seems to be consistently low, over fishing may be a problem impacting coral reefs in Miri,” she added.

Threats on Coral reefs

According to Joyce, human beings can possibly be the greatest threats to reef grief, through over-fishing, dynamiting, and the use of sodium cyanide spraying as a preferred method of capturing fish.

“Fish bombing a very destructive fishing method occurred in Sarawak though not very extensive like in Sabah. A single beer glass bottle of explosive could blast 2 – 3 metres in diameter of reef.

“This is sad because it sometimes takes 10,000 years to create such a lovely city down there (with coral reefs) and in just a matter of seconds it disintegrates – big corals tables fall in parts,” said Joyce who witnessed such incident in Sabah years back.

She said though undeniably fishermen need money and probably out of ignorance on threats causing to the corals, deployed destructive fishing methods, a short term gains for them but also a lost for them as without coral reef fishes lost their habitat.

Equally damaging is fishing nets left in the ocean, get snag and when sea current moves at night it drags the coral and damages them.

“In Miri, I am glad to see local divers playing their part like from Coco Dive, Curtin Dive Club when they go diving and see the nets, they remove them. So that is good,” said Joyce.

Tropical cyclones and tsunamis play their part too in destroying sections of coral reefs.

Other threats include sewage outlets, coastal dredging and soil erosion run off from agriculture, logging and construction add to the devastation. The bacteria in sewage and fertiliser, washed into the sea by rivers, provide a boost to algae growth but, combined with extra inputs of sediments, water clarity is reduced and thus deprive coral reef of sunlight and they will slowly die.

Oil spills, dredging for building materials, anchor damage, and the over collection of red and black corals for the jewellery industry are all threats to coral reefs.

Biological influences also affect coral. Crown of thorn starfish, upon reaching maturity, feast on live coral and infestations of these creatures leave coral reefs with little time to recover.

“Normally crown of thorns belong in the reef too but when there is more than 30 adults per hectare there will be problems,” said Joyce.

She added damage due to warm water bleaching was one of the main impacts seen on reefs during surveys, observed at all sites.

Coral bleaching is the result of an increase in ocean temperatures. As the sea temperature rises the algae are expelled from the coral polyps leaving their skeletons to appear as a ghostly white shade.

How reef check survey was conducted in Miri

According to Joyce every year, all six dive sites will be visited and so far this year, three had been surveyed and the remaining will be completed before the end of the year.

Survey are carried out based on method designed by Dr Gregor Hodgson, the founder of Reef Check and a coral reef ecologist.

The survey is based on the philosophy of “Indicator Species”, which are marine organisms that are widely distributed on coral reefs, are easy for non-scientists to identify and provide information about the health of a coral reef.

Using standardised methodology, data from surveys in different sites can be compared, whether on an island, regional, national or international basis.

Reef Check survey allows scientists and managers to track changes to coral reefs over time. By surveying reefs on a regular basis, changes can be highlighted early, before they become problems. This gives managers the opportunity to intervene, carry out additional more detailed studies and/or initiate management actions to try to reverse the change before permanent damage is done to the reef.

All data collected are given to Reef Check Malaysia (RCM), a non-profit company registered in 2007 which is part of the world wide Reef Check network.

Other facts on Coral reef

Corals belong to a group of animals, the Cnidarians. With a free-swimming larval stage, they have a central mouth which receives and emits material and a ring of tentacles with stinging cells to trap their prey normally zooplankton.

They normally grow in colonies and there are over 2,500 species of coral, each taking a different shape in the form of boulders, fans, branches, trees and tables, often according to their positions on the reef and their shapes affected by ocean currents and waves.

Coral reefs although make up less than 0.2 per cent of the ocean environment, support 25 per cent of marine species in a complex ecosystem living in tropical waters of between 23 and 25 degrees Celsius.

Corals are mostly located up to a depth of 25 metres, thriving on sunlight and are located between 40 degrees north and south of the Equator. Some species grow in temperate waters.

According to the United Nations Environmental Programme World Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC) the largest reef nations are Indonesia (18 per cent), Australia (17 per cent) and the Philippines (9 per cent).

The greatest density of coral reefs worldwide, covering 33 per cent of the total reef areas is, in what marine biologists refer to as ‘The Coral Triangle,’ comprising of Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Papua New Guinea.

Among the importance of coral reefs are providing a lifeline to millions of people in terms of fish protein in their diets. It also gives the local community’s income and social benefits in areas where scuba diving is well managed, together with national marine park entrance fees and responsible coastal tourist development.

In Sabah alone, according to Clement Lee, 64, who is among the pioneers in developing Sipadan and diving industry there 33 years ago, the industry brings in tourism receipts to the tune of RM380 million a year and 55,000 divers every year.

Scientists too believe that coral reefs and their plants and fish are sources of new medicine for the 21st century like antiviral drugs to combat HIV and herpes and cancer treatments.


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Best of our wild blogs: 27 Aug 16



the wisdom of others & pokemon birds
Winging It



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Plans underway for freshwater forest wetlands in the city

Loh Chuan Junn, Channel NewsAsia 27 Aug 16;

SINGAPORE: There will soon be more opportunities for the public to enjoy nature, with plans underway to restore the forest wetlands in the Singapore Botanic Gardens.

The National Parks Board (NParks) and Keppel Corp on Saturday (Aug 27) unveiled plans to restore the freshwater forest wetland ecosystem historically found in the vicinity of the Botanic Gardens.

Located in the coming Learning Forest extension of the Botanic Gardens, the restored forest will span 1.8 hectares. The project, named the Keppel Discovery Wetlands, is supported by Keppel Corp, which has committed S$2.08 million to the cause.

Speaking at the unveiling event, National Development and Second Finance Minister Lawrence Wong highlighted the importance of conserving the fauna and flora of Singapore.

"This rainforest is very precious to us – it's one of the oldest remnants of forest in Singapore. Some of the trees have been around for almost 200 years," he said.

When completed, the wetlands will be made up of a variety of thematic freshwater forest wetland habitats connected by trails and boardwalks.

Some of the key features include Pulai Marsh, an area identified as the original location of a stream that ran through the forest from as far back as the 1860s. Today, the area still has populations of wetland plants growing. The wetlands project aims to enable such native species to flourish and thrive.

Another feature is a 50m-long boardwalk that runs through the marsh, which would allow visitors easy access to the wetland habitat, and an Orchid Islands featuring a large variety of native orchids in bloom.

A "Flora in Singapore" project was also launched on Saturday. The decade-long project aims to catalogue all the plant species found in Singapore, and will be published in 14 volumes when completed.

The Keppel Discovery Wetlands will be open to the public in early 2017.

- CNA/cy


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Fewer hotspots in Indonesia but haze still an issue for Singapore: Masagos

Loke Kok Fai Channel NewsAsia 27 Aug 16;

SINGAPORE: There are fewer hotspots in Indonesia this year compared to last year, but more efforts are needed to completely eliminate the haze problem, Environment and Water Resources Minister Masagos Zulkifli said on Saturday (Aug 27).

Speaking on the sidelines of a community environment event in Tampines, Mr Masagos said Singapore is happy that Indonesian authorities are stepping up efforts to rein in the haze and reduce hotspots. But what is needed is the total prevention of hotspots, he said.

On Friday, air quality in Singapore hit unhealthy levels for the first time this year, as westerly winds brought smoke from forest fires in Sumatra to Singapore.

“To their credit, the number of hotspots this year is far less than what it was the year before,” said Mr Masagos.”But we can see that even with so few hotspots, with the right amount of wind and enough haze smoke produced, it can give us very bad air for a sustained period.”

In an unprecedented move, Indonesia punished 20 firms last December for their actions in relation to the haze, shuttering operations and revoking licenses.

Mr Masagos said a haze-free situation should be the focus, and that ASEAN is working together to achieve its goal of becoming haze-free by 2020.

“What we need is not reduced hotspots. What we need is no hotspots. That means sustainable production of agricultural products without clearing it by fire,” said Mr Masagos. He added that this problem was not only being tackled regionally and internationally, but also among Singaporeans and companies.

If Singaporeans do not want the haze to come, they must ensure that they do not buy and support companies that produce their products in an unsustainable way, he said. “We must send a clear signal to everyone who produces their product unsustainably that it is just not supportable and unsustainable.

Asked whether Singapore will be sending Indonesia aid to combat the fires – a move Malaysia announced on Friday – Mr Masagos said the mechanism is in place to do so, and that Singapore will step in if called upon to.

“We’ve earlier offered the package. It is up to the Indonesians to activate it. When the level requires it, we will go there to help,” he said.

- CNA/cy


Fewer hotspots, but haze an 'ongoing issue' for Singaporeans: Masagos
AMANDA LEE Today Online 27 Aug 16;

SINGAPORE — There are fewer hotspots in Indonesia this month compared to the same time last year, but the haze situation should be an ongoing issue embedded in people's minds, and consumers should not support companies whose practices contribute to the haze situation, said Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli on Saturday (Aug 27).

Yesterday, the 24-hour Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) entered the unhealthy range for the first time this year, as westerly winds blew haze from Sumatra to Singapore. Eleven hotspots were detected in Sumatra.

Between Aug 17 and Aug 31 last year, there were 1,237 hotspots in Sumatra.

Continuing to ensure that the issue of haze is not something Singaporeans "forget and then only bring it up periodically" has been something he sought to do since he took over at the ministry last year, said Mr Masagos, who was speaking to reporters at a community event in Tampines. "So we have been attacking this on many fronts-- internationally, regionally and also to raise the awareness among our own country and citizens."

Singaporeans, he said, "do not want the haze to come", but on the other hand, they should not be buying and support companies that produce products in an unsustainable way.

Yesterday, the chief executive officer of the National Environment Agency (NEA) wrote to his Indonesian counterpart to register Singapore's concerns over additional episodes of deterioration in air quality in Singapore, should fires continue.

Asked about this, Mr Masagos said the Government is still waiting for the Indonesian side to respond. "Like I said, we are very happy they are taking up steps to try and remove the hotspots but what we like to see is no hotspots and therefore no haze," he added.

Asked whether Singapore will be sending any aid to fight fires in Indonesia, Mr Masagos said there is a mechanism for aid to be given. "We are always standing ready... it is up to the Indonesians to activate it, when the (level) requires it, we will be there to help," he added.

The latest 24-hour PSI reading as of 3pm was between 74 and 129.

In an advisory issued at 11am, the NEA said conditions have improved this morning, but hazy conditions will remain today.

The latest satellite image showed that hotspots with haze are still persisting in central Sumatra. "The prevailing winds are forecast to blow from the southwest in the evening which could then bring an improvement to the haze situation," the NEA said.

The 1-hour PM2.5 concentration over the next 12 hours is expected to fluctuate between Band I (Normal) and Band II (Elevated). Overall, the PSI reading for the next 12 hours is forecast to be in the high end of the Moderate range or low end of the Unhealthy range, the NEA said.


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Hazy conditions in Singapore to persist on Saturday

Channel NewsAsia 27 Aug 16;

SINGAPORE: Hazy conditions are expected to persist on Saturday (Aug 27), although there was some improvement in air quality, the National Environment Agency (NEA) said.

The improvement in the haze situation on Saturday morning was due to a slight shift in the direction of prevailing winds overnight from westerly to west-southwesterly, the agency said.

As of noon, the 24-hour PSI reading was 83-137, in the Moderate to Unhealthy range, and the 1-hour PM2.5 level was 36-121 µg/m3, in Band I to II (Normal to Elevated).

As the latest satellite image shows hotspots with haze still persisting in central Sumatra, hazy conditions are expected on Saturday. However, air quality is likely to improve in the evening, when prevailing winds are forecast to blow from the southwest, NEA said.

Overall, the PSI reading for the next 12 hours is forecast to be in the high end of the Moderate range or low end of the Unhealthy range. The 1-hour PM2.5 concentration over the next 12 hours is expected to fluctuate between Band I (Normal) and Band II (Elevated).

The health impact of haze is dependent on one’s health status, the PSI level, and the length and intensity of outdoor activity, NEA said, adding that reducing outdoor activities and physical exertion can help limit the ill effects from haze exposure.

"Given the air quality forecast for the next 12 hours, healthy people should reduce prolonged or strenuous outdoor physical exertion. The elderly, pregnant women and children should minimise prolonged or strenuous outdoor physical exertion, while those with chronic lung or heart disease should avoid prolonged or strenuous outdoor physical exertion.”

People who are not feeling well, especially the elderly and children, and those with chronic heart or lung conditions, should seek medical attention, NEA added.

- CNA/cy

Haze: PSI forecast to be in unhealthy range for next 24 hours, 11 hotspots detected in Sumatra
Today Online 27 Aug 16;

SINGAPORE — The Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) for the next 24 hours is expected to be in the unhealthy range, the National Environment Agency (NEA) in a 6pm update as hazy conditions persisted across the Republic.

The 1-hr PM2.5 concentration over the next 24 hours is also expected to fluctuate between Band II (Elevated) (56μg/m3 to 150μg/m3) and Band III (High) (151μg/m3 to 250μg/m3), said the NEA. “There could be a further deterioration in the air quality in the night should the westerly winds blow in denser haze from Sumatra.”

Singapore woke up to the smell of smoke burning in the air on Friday morning, due to smoke haze blown in from central Sumatra by the prevailing westerly winds, and it quickly became one of the top trending topic on Twitter and Google searches. Air quality was in the moderate to unhealthy range for most of the day.

A total of 11 hotspots were detected in Sumatra on Friday, and moderate to dense smoke haze from some of the hotspots in central Sumatra were observed to spread eastward toward Singapore.

The NEA said its Chief Executive Officer has written to his Indonesian counterpart to “register Singapore’s concerns over additional episodes of deterioration in air quality in Singapore should the fires continue”.

The NEA has “urged Indonesia to continue taking the necessary actions to prevent and mitigate the fires during this dry season, and asked for an update on the situation in Sumatra and Kalimantan”.

The NEA advised that healthy persons reduce prolonged or strenuous outdoor physical exertion. The elderly, pregnant women and children should minimise prolonged or strenuous outdoor physical exertion, while those with chronic lung or heart disease should avoid prolonged or strenuous outdoor physical exertion. Persons who are not feeling well, especially the elderly and children, and those with chronic heart or lung conditions, should seek medical attention.

With drier weather expected for the rest of the region, the NEA will issue daily haze advisories from Friday.

Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli posted on Facebook that he was “doubly disturbed that the haze shrouded us” as Singapore held a State Funeral Service for the late former President S R Nathan.

“This morning, we saw hazy skies and a strong burning smell across the island as the winds blew our way even when there were not as many hotspots as last year. The latest satellite image showed some hotspots were observed in central Sumatra. Localised smoke plumes were visible from the hotspots. The dry weather conditions in Sumatra also means that Singapore can expect smoke from fires due to the prevailing westerly winds in the region,” he said.

“But in the spirit that Mr Nathan has left us with, we will persevere even if slowly but surely to fight the scourge of haze produced by irresponsible concession land owners.”


NEA relays concerns to Jakarta as air quality worsens
Today Online 27 Aug 16;

SINGAPORE — With Singaporeans waking up to a smoky, hazy gloom on Friday (Aug 26) — one that worsened over the day — the National Environment Agency’s (NEA) chief executive officer has registered Singapore’s concerns with his Indonesian counterpart over air quality deteriorating, should fires in Indonesia continue.

Air quality, which hit the “unhealthy” range on the Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) on Friday — the first time this year — is expected to remain in this range on Saturday.

In a letter to his Indonesian counterpart on Friday, NEA CEO Ronnie Tay urged Indonesia to “continue taking the necessary actions to prevent and mitigate the fires during this dry season”, and asked for an update on the situation in Sumatra and Kalimantan.

As the 24-hour PSI reading crept into unhealthy territory — 101 to 200 — the NEA also made the unusual move of issuing three media advisories on the situation in a day — at about 11am, 2pm and 6pm. Singapore last experienced a prolonged period of unhealthy haze in October 2015.

At of 10pm on Friday, the 24-hr PSI is at 89-126, which is in the moderate to unhealthy range. The one-hour PM2.5 reading islandwide at 10pm was 28 to 108 — within the “Normal” to “Elevated” band — and down from a peak of 137 to 216 at noon. PM2.5, a pollutant, is very fine particulate matter, and the NEA introduced one-hour readings with bandings in June aimed at helping people interpret one-hour PM2.5 levels better.

The NEA said the smoky conditions on Friday was due to the smoke haze that was blown in from central Sumatra by the prevailing westerly winds. Eleven hotspots were detected in Sumatra.

A team of Singapore Institute of International Affairs (SIIA) researchers in Riau said their local sources found that the fires in northern Riau were not on concession lands. Five out of some 30 fires there are severe and could intensify and spread into concession areas, said SIIA director (policy programmes) Lee Chen Chen.

In its forecast for Saturday, NEA noted that the prevailing winds will blow mainly from the west and current hazy conditions are expected to persist. As such, the PSI for Saturday is expected to be in the “Unhealthy” range while the one-hour PM2.5 reading is expected to fluctuate between Band II (Elevated) and Band III (High).

With the authorities advising against prolonged or strenuous physical exertions outdoors on Friday, sales of N95 masks and haze-related products surged among some retailers.

NTUC Health Unity Pharmacy said Friday’s sale of facial and N95 masks were 10 times more than the daily average number of face masks sold. Their sale of eye drops and lozenges also increased on Friday.

Its director of wholesale Andy Wan added that their outlets have sufficient stock of face masks, and company is also monitoring stock levels to ensure they are quickly replenished from their warehouse.

Meanwhile, free haze kits from pharmacy chain Guardian were also fully redeemed by 2pm on Friday. Guardian Health & Beauty and GlaxoSmithKline had set aside 5,000 haze kits — containing Panadol, a bottle of water and a N95 mask — on Thursday to encourage consumers to stay prepared for the haze. Friday alone saw people snapping up 2,300 of these kits. Most Guardian stores had run out of masks due to the sudden spike in demand on Friday. But the company has arranged for emergency deliveries to key stores.

Mdm Lim Pik Luan, 62, a resident in the West, said she noticed the burning smell in the air when she woke up around 6am on Friday.

“I didn’t plan on heading out today. But looking at the haze situation, I don’t think I should be going out, especially with my grandchildren,” she added in Mandarin.


Hazy skies over several parts of Singapore
Channel NewsAsia 26 Aug 16;

SINGAPORE: A pall cloaked Singapore on Friday (Aug 26) as haze from central Sumatra was blown in by the prevailing westerly winds, according the the National Environment Agency (NEA).

Several people took to social media and called in to Channel NewsAsia to say that they detected a burning smell in various parts of Singapore. Readings on the 24-hour Pollutants Standards Index (PSI) crept into the Unhealthy range from 4pm, and was highest in the west at 7pm at 114.

The 1-hr PM2.5 readings, which peaked at 216 µg/m3 in the West at noon have since dropped to about 59 to 84.

The PSI incorporates six types of pollutants - sulphur dioxide, particulate matter that is 2.5 micrometres in diameter or smaller (PM2.5), particulate matter that is 10 micrometres in diameter or smaller (PM10), ozone, nitrogen dioxide and carbon monoxide. Of the six, PM2.5 is considered particularly hazardous as the small size of the particles enters the human lungs more easily.

PSI TO BE IN UNHEALTHY RANGE: NEA

In a statement at around 11.50am, NEA said the haze was likely to have been blown in by westerly winds over Singapore. A total of three hotspots were detected in central Sumatra on Thursday with localised smoke plumes were visible, the authority said, adding that the low hotspot count was due to cloudy conditions.
By 6pm, NEA said the overall PSI for the next 24 hours is forecast to be in the Unhealthy range and that the 1-hr PM2.5 concentration is expected to fluctuate between Elevated and High.

National University of Singapore Assistant Professor of Geography Winston Chow said the haze was caused by a change in wind direction from southerly or southwesterly to westerly winds on Friday morning, combined with hotspots in central Sumatra that generated smoke plumes that were carried over the Malacca Straits.

He also said how long the haze would last in the immediate term would depend on the wind direction as Singapore would be affected by plumes from central Sumatra as long as there were westerly winds. "That said, it’s forecast that there is a likely change in wind direction over the next few days to a more south or southeasterly direction, which should improve air quality as long as there are no hotspots and smoke plumes from South Sumatra or West Kalimantan."

7,000 PERSONNEL ON THE GROUND TO FIGHT FIRES: INDONESIA

Indonesia's National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) said on Friday evening that the haze which appeared in Singapore skies was from forest fires in Indonesia's Riau province.

In a statement, BNPB said that monitoring posts on the ground had reported 67 hotspots in the province, with most of the hotspots from the Rokan Hilir district.

BNPB said that efforts to put out the fires in Riau were continuing, and that more than 7,000 personnel were on the ground to extinguish the flames. Assets to conduct water bombing, including three helicopters and two Air Tractors aircraft, have been deployed. One Casa aircraft has been mobilised for cloud seeding operations.

The Chief Executive Officer of NEA has written to his Indonesian counterpart to register concern. "NEA urged Indonesia to continue taking the necessary actions to prevent and mitigate the fires during this dry season, and asked for an update on the situation in Sumatra and Kalimantan," the agency said.

Back in March this year, when a burning smell was detected in some parts of Singapore, the NEA said it could have been caused by some local vegetation fires.

It added that fires and some wind convergence over Singapore could have also contributed to the deterioration in the air quality in some parts of the island.

NEA said on Friday that the health impact of haze was dependent on one’s health status, the PSI level, and the length and intensity of outdoor activity.

"Given the air quality forecast for the next 12 hours, everyone can continue with normal activities. Persons who are not feeling well, especially the elderly and children, and those with chronic heart or lung conditions, should seek medical attention."

- CNA/mn


NEA CEO writes to Indonesia to register concerns over haze
Channel NewsAsia 26 Aug 16;

SINGAPORE: The Chief Executive Officer of the National Environment Agency on Friday (Aug 26) wrote to his Indonesian counterpart to register Singapore's concerns over additional episodes of deterioration in air quality in Singapore, should fires in Indonesia continue.

In a media statement, NEA said its CEO "urged Indonesia to continue taking the necessary actions to prevent and mitigate the fires during this dry season, and asked for an update on the situation in Sumatra and Kalimantan".

This comes after hazy skies were spotted across Singapore on Friday. NEA added that 11 hotspots were detected in Sumatra on Friday, and moderate to dense smoke haze from some of the hotspots were observed to spread eastward towards Singapore.

NEA said in a statement on Friday afternoon that hazy conditions have persisted as haze from central Sumatra continued to be blown in by the prevailing westerly winds.

Hazy conditions in Singapore continued to worsen throughout Friday.

As of 6pm, the Pollutants Standards Index in Singapore was in the Moderate to Unhealthy range at 82-112, the 3-hour PSI was 127, while the 1-hour PM2.5 was in the Elevated range islandwide, at 69 to 85.

NEA said overall, the PSI for the next 24 hours is forecast to be in the "Unhealthy" range and the 1-hour PM2.5 is expected to fluctuate between "Elevated" and "High".

- CNA/dl


Organisers adopt wait-and-see approach for weekend mass events due to haze
AMANPREET SINGH Today Online 26 Aug 16;

SINGAPORE — Organisers of mass sporting events scheduled for this weekend are adopting a wait-and-see approach before they decide whether to call off their activities because of the haze, which worsened on Friday (Aug 26) morning.

As of 6 pm on Friday, the 24-hour Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) was at 82-112, which is in the unhealthy level.

Puma Singapore said on Friday that they will cancel Saturday’s Puma Night Run if the 24-hour PSI exceeds 200 at 5pm.

The run, which will be held at Seletar Aerospace Park, is scheduled to begin at 6 pm for the 12km Men’s and Women’s Open categories, and at 7pm for the 6km Men’s and Women’s Open.

In a statement issued on Friday, they said: “The safety and health of participants, volunteers and staff are of utmost importance and Puma will adopt the following measures based on the 24-hour PSI reading at 5pm on Saturday.

“If the overall Singapore 24-hour PSI exceeds 200, PUMA Night Run Singapore 2016 for both 6km and 12km will be cancelled.

“If the 24-hour PSI falls between 100 to 200, Puma Night Run Singapore 2016 will be converted into a 6km walk for both 6km and 12km categories. Flag-off timing will remain the same.”

However, activities at the race village will continue as planned.

The Puma Night Run, which made its debut at Sentosa in 2014, was almost cancelled last year due to the haze, but eventually went ahead at the Marina Barrage area.

Puma also announced that participants can collect their finishers’ medals at the race village if the event is cancelled.

“Alternative arrangements will also be made for participants to collect their finisher medals at a later date. Details for the later collection will be announced shortly,” it said.

Participants can refer to the event’s official website (www.puma-nightrun.com.sg) and PUMA’s Facebook page by 5pm on Saturday for further information. An SMS notification will also be sent to all participants.

Meanwhile, organisers of the SAFRA Singapore Bay Run & Army Half Marathon, which will take place on Sunday, are monitoring the haze situation and have advised participants to check the event’s Facebook page for any further updates.

National sports governing body Sport Singapore (SportSG) announced on Friday that all outdoor and non-air-conditioned facilities at its ActiveSG Centres would be closed to the public if the 24 hour PSI is above 200, while air-conditioned sports halls and gyms will stay open during this period.

SportSG will assess and re-open the facilities when haze conditions improve.

However, the ActiveSG football academy will cancel their training sessions if the 24-hour PSI is above 100 at 7am on Saturday. If the session is already underway, the coaches will stop the training immediately any time the PSI crosses 100.

The public can refer to the official ActiveSG website (www.myactivesg.com/news/2015/9/health-advisory-on-haze) for the latest updates on the haze and closures of MyActiveSG sports centres, or the MyActiveSG Facebook page. ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY NOAH TAN.


Masks fly off shop shelves as smoke shrouds S'pore
Melissa Lin, The Straits Times AsiaOne 27 Aug 16;

Grey skies and a familiar burning smell greeted Singaporeans yesterday morning as the haze made a return.

On the streets, people young and old were seen wearing face masks, while others held cloth over their mouths and noses. The sudden spike in demand for N95 masks yesterday caught retailers by surprise, with some shops running out of stock in the middle of the day.

N95 masks can filter out fine particles found in the haze.

Air quality is forecast to be in the unhealthy range today, the National Environment Agency said. Air quality is considered unhealthy when the 24-hour Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) reading is in the range of 101 to 200, and hazardous when it is above 300.

It was between 84 and 114 at 7pm yesterday, with western Singapore registering the highest reading.

Accountant Muhammad Kader, 26, said he might cancel his plans to visit the Singapore Night Festival this weekend if the haze worsens. "It's quite bad. The haze just came overnight," he said.

The sudden onset of haze prompted at least one school, Methodist Girls' School, to issue an advisory to parents on the precautions it has put in place. This included switching on air purifiers in classrooms when air quality hits the unhealthy or elevated range.

Many people took to social media to share photographs of skylines shrouded in smoke, from Jurong in the west to Katong in the east.

Taxi driver Francis Ong, 65, said he figured it was the start of the hazy season when he woke up to the smell of smoke. "I'll try to stay indoors because it's difficult to breathe outside," he said.

Yesterday, some 2,300 free haze kits given out by Guardian pharmacy - which included an N95 mask and a bottle of water - were snapped up by 2pm. Sales of masks also soared.

"Although we were prepared for the haze to return and had arranged for a good level of stocks at all stores, the speed of the demand spike resulted in most stores running out of stock very fast," said Guardian's chief executive, Ms Sarah Boyd.

The pharmacy has arranged for emergency deliveries of masks, lozenges, eye drops and analgesics to some stores over the next two to three days.

Shopping site Lazada, which noticed a spike in sales of air purifiers and N95 masks, has launched a campaign that offers next-day delivery of these items. Delivery usually takes two to three days.

Singapore Post issued masks and eye drops to its outdoor delivery staff and temporarily redeployed those with respiratory or heart conditions or who are above 65 years of age to indoor work.

Still, the haze did not stop ardent fans of location-based augmented reality game Pokemon Go. They were spotted out and about in a Pokemon hot spot in Hougang.

Singapore suffered one of its worst bouts of haze last year.

In September, readings reached hazardous levels, leading to the closure of primary and secondary schools for a day.


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