Best of our wild blogs: 30 May 17

Return to Serapong reef after mass coral bleaching
wild shores of singapore

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Lim Chu Kang farmers perplexed by 3rd lease extension

Move giving farms in Lim Chu Kang two more years till 2021 leaves many in limbo
Audrey Tan and Samantha Boh Straits Times 28 May 17;

The third time's the charm, or so the saying goes. But some farmers in Lim Chu Kang may beg to differ.

About two weeks ago, they were told their leases had been extended by another two years to 2021 - the third extension in four years.

But while their rice bowls can continue feeding them for the extra years, farmers say they are caught in limbo as the repeated extensions add uncertainty - it would be too risky to plough investments into a plot of land with an expiry date. Many simply end up playing a waiting game.

The agricultural sector is small, contributing to less than 10 per cent of total food supply. But local food production is still vital for food security.

Despite this, uncertainties plague the industry. For instance, even though some farmers in Lim Chu Kang knew they had to move from as early as 2013, it was not until earlier this month that the authorities announced details of the location and size of the new plots of farm land available for bidding.

A total of 36 new plots of farmland spanning 60ha will be up for tender in several tranches from August this year. The new plots are in Lim Chu Kang and Sungei Tengah, not far from the current farms.


The Jurong Frog Farm (above) has received three lease extensions since 2013. Director Chelsea Wan, seen here with her son Adam, is still mulling over whether to bid for the new farmland tender in August. The farm is one of 62 making way for new military training grounds. PHOTOS: DON WONG FOR THE SUNDAY TIMES
As Ms Chelsea Wan, 32, of Jurong Frog Farm puts it: "If there had been more certainty, and our time not extended bit by bit over the years, our morale wouldn't have taken such a big hit and we would have done much more."

The extra years could have made investing in a customised recirculating aquaculture system designed to improve water quality for the bullfrogs worthwhile, said Ms Wan, who is a director at Singapore's only American bullfrog breeding farm.

The original lease on Ms Wan's farm, founded in Jurong by her father Wan Bock Thiaw in 1981, had initially been due to expire in November 2013. Reprieve came that month, when the authorities gave her farm a three-year lease extension to November last year.

A month before that deadline, the frog farm received a second lifeline in a letter informing them of a "final extension" till November 2019.

The latest letter with the 2021 deadline is the third received by Jurong Frog Farm since 2013, and the second one indicating a "final extension", said Ms Wan.

In response to queries, the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) said the 2021 deadline "will be the final lease extension".

Ms Wan's farm was one of 62 which will have to move to make way for new military training grounds. She is still mulling over whether to bid for the new farmland tender in August.

At nearby goat farm Hay Dairies, farmer John Hay, 62, is wondering whether the latest extension could mean that it can stay put.

"What if by the time 2021 comes around, the Government tells me that I can stay?" he said.

The AVA had said that experienced farmers with a good track record and who are willing to adopt high-tech farming methods to boost productivity and use of labour will stand a good chance of winning their bids.

Still, he plans to bid for new land when it comes up for tender, and his son Leon Hay, 38, has other ideas to boost productivity, including bringing in more goats and expanding from milk to other products, such as yogurt and ice cream.

But the younger Mr Hay said of the uncertainty surrounding the extension: "Even if we are successful in bidding for new land, can the Government ensure that our current plot of land will not be re-tendered once we move out?"


The letter informing farmers of the 2021 deadline, which The Sunday Times has seen, said that the extension would give them "sufficient time to transit to the new farm land if you bid successfully in the upcoming tenders by AVA". But not all the farms which would have needed to vacate by end-2019 received this.

Quan Fa Organic Farm located at 35 Murai Farmway, off Lim Chu Kang Road, for example, did not receive the extension, said Mr Fabian Liao, sales and operations manager at the family-run vegetable farm.

In response, AVA would only say that Quan Fa is not in Lim Chu Kang, and that "farms should plan their business based on their existing lease for business sustainability".

In other countries, the future of farming depends on whether there are members of the younger generation who are willing to become farmers, said the elder Mr Hay. "In Singapore, we have younger people stepping up. But we may not have the land for them."

But Mr Kenny Eng, president of the Kranji Countryside Association that represents about 40 farms, believes the agriculture sector here could grow - provided the right support is given.

"I think this additional two years gives us the assurance that the Government is seriously looking at this as an industry right now, but there is still more work to be done."

Timeline of lease extensions

September 2014: 62 farms in Lim Chu Kang are told they will have to move out between 2017 and 2021 when their leases expire. They are told that the tract of land will be converted into military training grounds. Farms whose leases run out between 2014 and early 2017 are given an extension until June 2017.

June 2016: Farms whose leases run out in June 2017 are given an extension by 2½ years to end 2019.

This month: The Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) announces that it will tender out 36 new plots of farmland in Lim Chu Kang and Sungei Tengah on 20-year leases from August.

AVA said experienced farmers with good track records awho are willing to adopt high-tech farming methods will stand a good chance of winning their bids. Some farms are given a third lease extension, by two years, to 2021.

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Cambodia Customs Recorded Less Than 1% of Singapore Sand Imports

BEN PAVIOUR The Nation 30 May 17;

Cambodia’s customs department counted less than 1 percent of the sand Singapore reported importing from Cambodia last year, according to trade statistics.

The new data is the latest addition to a more than 77 million ton gap from 2007 to last year that the governments of both countries have attributed to differing international reporting standards, and activists have chalked up to corruption.

Meanwhile, Cambodia has exported almost 100,000 tons of silica sand this year. The government says that type of sand is exempt from its October ban on exports of the commodity, according to trade data on the website of the Finance Ministry’s department of customs and excise.

Singapore, which uses sand to reclaim land and expand its territory, reported importing more than 6.5 million tons of Cambodian sand last year in data it provided to the U.N. Commodity Trade Statistics Database—down from more than 10.9 million tons the year before.

But Cambodia’s customs department figures show just 14,800 tons of Singapore-bound sand leaving the country, continuing a trend over the past three years of the department counting less than 1 percent of the sand recorded by Singapore.

Meng Saktheara, a spokesman for the Mines and Energy Ministry, repeated the ministry’s past defenses of the gap, arguing that such discrepancies were a common feature of trade statistics due to international differences in measurement, classification and reporting.

“Basically, you can’t find a country that has an exact match,” he said, adding that he was puzzled by why the gap might be so large.

Singapore’s National Development Ministry did not respond to a request for comment, but in the past has blamed the trade differences on different calculation formulas.

Those explanations do not satisfy Alex Gonzalez-Davidson, the exiled founder of environmental NGO Mother Nature, which has documented ecological havoc caused by what it calls illegal sand dredging in Koh Kong province.

“The gap in reported trade, as the vast majority of Cambodians already know, is due to smuggling, under-reporting, and several fraudulent practices key government agencies have been engaged in over the last 10 years,” he wrote in a Facebook message on Monday.

Although the ministry banned sand exports in late October to get to the bottom of the trade gap, Mr. Saktheara said it had immediately issued a clarification allowing the continued export of silica sand.

Cambodia’s exports of silica sand, which is used to make glass, were sourced from the ground rather than waterways, according to Mr. Saktheara, with almost all of the exports coming from special economic zones (SEZs) along the coast.

“The sand leaving Cambodia—if it’s legal—is all silica sand,” he said.

Those exports have totaled 94,600 tons sent to China, Taiwan and Thailand, according to the customs department.

Mr. Gonzalez-Davidson said it was possible these exports were also causing environmental destruction, pointing to an SEZ owned by the LYP Group conglomerate “carved out of the Botum Sakor National Park, where extraction and export of silica sand is taking place.”

“Some of these ongoing exports could be coming from SEZs such as this, but we cannot know for certain as the relevant ministries feel they have no need to be transparent to the Cambodian people,” he said.

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Vegetable prices rise in Singapore due to rainy weather in Malaysia

The Star 29 May 17;

SINGAPORE: Inclement weather has reduced vegetable yield from farms in Malaysia, causing vegetable prices to rise by as much as 20%.

The reduced yield has also caused a corresponding fall in import volume of Malaysian vegetables, Shin Min Daily News reported on Monday (May 29).

The report added that celery, spring onion and coriander prices are thought to be the hardest-hit, citing vegetable sellers in Singapore wet markets.

Said a vegetable seller at the Toa Payoh Lorong 8 wet market, who was identified only as Chen: "Vegetable roots have rotted in the waterlogged soil."

Prices of celery at wet markets have increased by 20%, from S$5 (RM15) to S$6 (RM19) per kg, while spring onion and coriander have increased from S$6 (RM19) per kg to S$7 (RM22) per kg and S$14 (RM43) to S$16 (RM49) per kg respectively.

The prices of other vegetables have also increased, but by an insignificant degree, added the report.

Import prices for celery, spring onion and coriander have also increased by about 50%, revealed Jerry Tan, who is general secretary of the Singapore Fruits And Vegetables Importers & Exporters Association.

He added that the price volatility of these three vegetables was caused by low import prices previously, prompting many Malaysian farms to stop cultivating them.

This amplified the adverse impact of the weather on yield for these vegetables. - The Straits Times/Asia News Network

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Indonesia: Choppers prepared to anticipate forest fires in Riau

Rizal Harahap The Jakarta Post 29 May 17;

Authorities in Riau have prepared five helicopters with water bombing abilities as the forest-fire-prone province braces for the dry season.

Riau Disaster Mitigation Agency (BPBD) head Edward Sanger said on Monday that the S-61 Sikorsky choppers had been stationed at Roesmin Nurjadin Air Force Base in Pekanbaru.

“[The helicopters] have been equipped with buckets for water bombing,” Edward said, referring to the Mi-171, Mi-8 and Mi-172 chopper types, each of which has the ability to carry four tons of water.

The operational areas of the choppers were Pekanbaru and Riau's eastern coastal area and southern area.

“Riau will see a very dry season in June that could trigger forest fires, especially in peat lands in eastern coastal areas,” he said, adding that the province had a forest fire alert status until Nov. 30. This year’s dry season was expected to be similar to that of 2015, when the province helped pollute the region with smoke.

Meanwhile, Roesmin Nurjadin air base operational division head Col. Firman Dwi Cahyo said that the Air Force would also prepare one Super Puma helicopter and dozens of F-16 and Hawk 100/200 fighter jets to back up the fire patrols.

“Fighter jets can assist in imaging the hot spots and record the coordinates,” he said.

The numbers of hot spots in Riau were fluctuating last week. The Pekanbaru Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) recorded seven hot spots on Saturday, but the number dropped to four the following day as rains poured down on the province.

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Indonesia: NGO calls for firm action against illegal logging in Mt Leuser area

Antara 29 May 17;

Medan, N Sumatra (ANTARA News) - Indonesian Environmental Forum (Walhi) has urged legal enforcers to take firm action against illegal logging activities in Mount Leuser National Park, Langkat District, North Sumatra Province.

"Security officers should not only seize illegal timbers, but also arrest the perpetrators of illegal logging activities," Director Executive of Walhi branch of North Sumatra Dana Tarigan, said here, Sunday.

The authorities must take stern action against illegal logging activities, the NGO activist said.

The perpetrators must be punished heavily to give them and others a deterrent effect, according to Tarigan.

A joint team comprising among others personnel from the environmental affairs and forestry ministry and police officers, recently seized tens of cubic meters of timbers in Telagah village, Sei Bingei sub-district, Langkat District.

The Leuser ecosystem located in North Sumatra and Aceh Provinces, is among the most biodiverse and ancient ecosystems to be ever documented by science and the last habitat of Sumatran orangutans, elephants, tigers, rhinos, and sun bears.

The ecosystem is part of the 2.5 million-hectare Tropical Rainforest Heritage of Sumatra site that comprises three national parks: Gunung Leuser National Park, Kerinci Seblat National Park, and Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park.

The site holds the greatest potential for long-term conservation of the distinctive and diverse biota of Sumatra, including many endangered species.

The protected area is home to an estimated 10,000 plant species, including 17 endemic genera; more than 200 mammal species; and some 580 bird species of which 465 are resident and 21 are endemic. Of the mammal species, 22 are Asian, not found elsewhere in the archipelago and 15 are confined to the Indonesian region, including the endemic Sumatran orang-utan.

The World Heritage List of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has inscribed the site since 2004. The natural site has been inscribed on the List of World Heritage in Danger since 2011 until present. (*)

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Coral bleaching on Great Barrier Reef worse than expected, surveys show

Surveys taken throughout 2016 show escalating impact from north to south, with 70% of shallow water corals dead north of Port Douglas
Australian Associated Press The Guardian 29 May 17;

Coral bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef last year was even worse than expected, while the full impact of the most recent event is yet to be determined.

Queensland government officials say aerial and in-water surveys taken throughout 2016 had confirmed an escalating impact from north to south.

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority chairman, Russell Reichelt, said the reef had experienced significant and widespread damage over the past two years.

“The amount of coral that died from bleaching in 2016 is up from our original estimates and ... it’s expected we’ll also see an overall further coral cover decline by the end of 2017,” he said in a statement on Monday.

Surveys by the Marine Park Authority, Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service, Australian Institute of Marine Science and the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies found the most severe bleaching north of Port Douglas.

There, an estimated 70% of shallow water corals had died, with significant variability between and within reefs.

It is now confirmed that about 29% of shallow water corals died from bleaching during 2016, up from the previous estimate of 22%, with most mortality occurring in the northern parts of the reef.

Bleaching was also found in corals beyond depths divers typically survey, but mortality could not be systematically assessed.

However, there was a strong recovery in the south in the absence of bleaching during the same period.

Officials are predicting further coral loss this year, resulting from the second consecutive year of bleaching and the impacts of tropical Cyclone Debbie.

Over the past few months bleaching occurred in a similar pattern to last year, most severely between Cairns and Townsville.

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Best of our wild blogs: 29 May 17

Open for registration – Love MacRitchie Walk with NUS Toddycats! on 11 Jun 2017
Love our MacRitchie Forest

Shit Gets Real - 7 Dung Spiders and their Remarkable Mimicry
Macro Photography in Singapore

Short Afternoon Walk At Windsor Nature Park (27 May 2017)
Beetles@SG BLOG

Orange-bellied Flowerpecker (Dicaeum trigonostigma) @ Upper Thomson Road
Monday Morgue

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'Nearly all shark's fin sold here from sustainable source'

Association says it uses regulated fisheries; conservation groups want better monitoring
Priscilla Goy Straits Times 27 May 17;

Almost all shark's fin sold here is from sustainable sources, said the Marine and Land Products Association yesterday, following the release of a study on Thursday that found Singapore to be a top trader of the controversial delicacy.

The group represents companies in the fishing and marine industry, including about 10 involved in the shark's fin trade. This makes up about 70 per cent of the shark's fin industry here, said Mr Yio Jin Xian, a representative of the association.

He wrote in an e-mail to The Straits Times yesterday: "We constantly strive to provide sustainable products from countries with well-documented federal regulations on shark fishing... We are continuously seeking sustainable solutions in the seafood industry."

A report released on Thursday ranked Singapore as the third-largest importer (after Hong Kong and Malaysia) and exporter (after Thailand and Hong Kong) of shark's fin out of the 68 countries and territories studied. It imported 14,134 tonnes and exported 11,535 tonnes between 2005 and 2013.

The report by wildlife trade-monitoring network Traffic and nature group World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) looked at figures from the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations.

There are 30 shark and ray species threatened with extinction listed in Appendix I and II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites); permits are needed for trade in these species. However, the study noted that Singapore did not have species-specific product trade codes for all 30, so trade in the other species might be illegal and unsustainable, but goes unnoticed.

Mr Yio said the association "strictly follows Cites regulations and international laws on endangered species". All shark's fin sold by members - which he estimates at about 90 per cent of what is sold here - is from sustainable sources, he added. The fins are from sharks processed in First World countries with fisheries that are regulated and have restrictions on the amount fished each year, he said.

"Those countries require the sharks to be fully used, so typically, the fins are shipped to Asian markets, and the rest is used in Western countries for dishes like fish and chips. Those fins are not processed on boats by fishermen who cut them off and throw the dead sharks back in the sea. It is the whole shark that's used, not the fins alone."

Said WWF-Singapore spokesman Janissa Ng: "With a quarter of the shark species in the world facing extinction, defining what is sustainable goes beyond quotas and sales practices."

There are no shark fisheries that have been independently certified sustainable; nor are there systems that can track shark products back to the point of harvest, she said.

"The Singapore authorities need to take measures that lead to greater transparency in the global shark trade, such as more robust monitoring of species-specific trade volumes, so there is a clearer picture of whether the trade of certain species is legal and sustainable," she said.

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A tiny island off Singapore may hold answers to energy’s future

Today Online 27 May 17;

SINGAPORE — On a small island off the southern coast of Singapore, a French energy company is experimenting with what it hopes will be the future of renewable power storage.

Engie SA is helping build a small, self-contained power grid on Semakau Island to demonstrate the usefulness of hydrogen gas in converting intermittent power from solar panels and wind turbines into stored fuel that can generate electricity days or even months later, when the need is higher.

Plummeting costs for solar and wind are helping renewable energy steal an ever-greater slice of the power generation pie from fossil fuels such as oil and coal. That makes it more and more vital to figure out how to spread out the brief but intense bursts of energy harnessed from the sun and wind to the more diffused needs of consumers. While battery storage has received most of the attention so far, hydrogen has “massive long-term potential,” said Didier Holleaux, executive vice president at Engie.

“Batteries are fine for intraday, or a few hours,” Mr Holleaux said in an interview in Singapore. “But if you produce energy in summer and need it in winter, or need it to last during a few cloudy days, then hydrogen would be the obvious solution.”

To be a solution, though, hydrogen storage costs would have to come down dramatically. A hydrogen-based energy storage system costs about 10 times more than a diesel back-up generator with similar power output, according to a Toshiba Corp. presentation at the World Smart Energy Week in Tokyo in March.

Hydrogen storage is basically a three-step process: electricity powers a chemical process know as electrolysis that splits water into hydrogen and oxygen. The hydrogen is then stored until it’s needed, and is then pumped through fuel cells to generate electricity.

The biggest hurdle to commercial viability is the electrolysis process, Mr Holleaux said. Manufacturers are trying to make the water-splitting equipment cheaper and more efficient, but are probably 10 to 15 years away, Mr Holleaux said.


“If efficiency is low in terms of how much energy is consumed to produce a unit of hydrogen, then it is not that attractive to produce and store hydrogen, regardless of scale,” said I-Chun Hsiao, an analyst with Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

The Semakau Island project, which Engie is taking part in along with Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University and France’s Schneider Electric SE, aims to build demonstration micro-grids that integrate wind, solar, tidal and diesel power along with storage to provide electricity to small island communities not connected to traditional power plants. The micro-grid is expected to be operating by October, with hydrogen storage capabilities added next year, Mr Holleaux said.

Engie sees big opportunities for such micro-grids in Southeast Asia, especially in the Indonesian archipelago, where nearly 1,000 islands have populations that don’t have access to traditional power plants.

“It’s a region that’s open to innovation,” Mr Holleaux said. “Many countries are ready to leapfrog directly from no power at all to a completely decentralised type of power, rather than going through the traditional centralised, interconnected network.” BLOOMBERG

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Confessions of a wildlife photographer: Shooting animals the right way

Wildlife photographer Kennie Pan says key to taking good pictures is knowing the story you want to tell
Hariz Baharudin The New Paper 29 May 17;

When asked what makes a picture good, award-winning wildlife photographer Kennie Pan is reflective.

The laidback 27-year-old told The New Paper: "It's not just about the gear.

"It is about who you are as a person and what is the story you want to tell."

The words sound more sincere coming from the self-taught shutterbug, who did not let his humble origins stop him from chasing his dream of capturing animals on camera.

Mr Pan said he started out 12 years ago, armed with just a simple entry-level camera he found at home, because he did not have enough money to get a camera of his own.

He studied shots by photographers he admired, thinking about how they got the photos.

"I look at their photos and I feel inspired," he said.

"I knew I probably would not be able to get the shots they got because I don't have the privilege or the money, but I still wanted to try."

Driven by his passion, Mr Pan saved up to go on self-funded expeditions.

His interest has led him to stalking tigers at an Indian safari and seeking out rare kingfishers in the Philippines.

But the images that have won him awards were taken right here in Singapore.

In 2010, Mr Pan nabbed the prestigious grand prize (junior category) in the Biodiversity Wildlife competition.

The photo he took of a long-tailed shrike in a residential area came out on top out of 2,200 photos that were submitted.

Mr Pan got the shot using just a mid-range camera.

He said: "There is wildlife everywhere if you look... Every place has different species. It depends on what you want to shoot."

He was also a finalist at the One Eyeland Photography Awards in 2013.

The year after, he received honourable mentions in the professional category at the International Photography Awards, in the nature-wildlife category.

Whether it is trailing big cats, looking for an elusive snake or finding rare birds, Mr Pan said knowledge about the animals is just as important as the gear. To him, capturing the animals in their natural habitats is his way of offering a peek into their world.

"You have to know why you are photographing them, the story you wish to tell people when you take photos," he said.

"If not, you are just blindly shooting. You are just doing it for the sake of shooting.

"It is better to use your photos to say something."

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Malaysia: DoE stops RM1.2bil project “The Dubai of Ma­­lay­­sia”


ALOR SETAR: A RM1.2bil mixed de­­velopment project in Kuala Ke­dah, dubbed “The Dubai of Ma­­lay­­sia” has been issued with an immediate stop-work order.

The order against the Aman Laut project was issued by the Depart­ment of Environment (DoE) through a notice dated May 15.

The ambitious project comprises high-end bungalows, chic condominiums, malls and luxury eateries, which will radically change the skyline beside the seafront.

Yesterday, DoE director-general Datuk Dr Ahmad Kamarulnajib Che Ibrahim confirmed that his department had issued the order.

He said the project has yet to obtain the approval of the DoE but workers had started reclamation work at the site.

“This is in accordance with the Section 34AA (2) of the Malaysian Quality Environmental Act 1974 (Amended) 2012 that no work can be carried out prior to getting the approval of the department.

“Only after it has been approved can work be carried out,” he added.

A Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM) survey found that an area a distance of about 1km out to sea had been reclaimed and nearly 10ha of mangroves along the coast had been affected.

Kedah Environment Committee chairman Datuk Dr Leong Yong Long said the decision made by the federal department was temporary until further notice.

It was done to protect the coastal and sea environments in the area.

“This is also for the developer to comply with the pre-requirement of an Environmental Impact Assess­ment (EIA) report before proceeding with the project.

“The Kedah government is equally concerned about the EIA and has no objection to the ministerial action pending a full EIA report,” said Dr Leong.

“However, there is some work still going on at the site on the mainland which had already been approved by local authorities.

“This should not be misconstrued as defiance of the stop-work order by the department or the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environ­ment,” he added.

Kedah Housing, as well as Local Government and Water Resources Committee, chairman Datuk Badrol Hisham Hashim said they would speak to the developers and ask them to resubmit the EIA report.

The project, which was also said to transform the skyline of Kuala Kedah fishing town and elevate its residential and business standards, faced protests previously from NGOs and about 1,000 fishermen.

SAM issued a statement in March questioning the work carried out without the approval of the DoE while the fishermen claimed the project would jeopardise their income.

They too called for the project to be stopped, stating that the project had contravened environmental regulations and destroyed the area’s mangroves, adding that this would threaten the coastal fishermen’s livelihoods.

Stop work order issued for Kedah project

ALOR SETAR: Aman Laut, a RM1.2bil mixed development project here dubbed the "Dubai of Malaysia", has been issued with an immediate stop work order.

The order was issued by the Department of Environment (DOE) through a notice dated May 15.

This was confirmed by DOE director-general Datuk Dr Ahmad Kamarulnajib Che Ibrahim.

"The move is in accordance with Section 34AA (2) of the Malaysian Quality Environmental Act 1974 (Amendment) 2012 that no work can be carried out prior to the approval of the department.

"Once it has been approved, only then should construction work be carried out," he said when contacted on Sunday.

The project, which comprises high-end bungalows, chic condominiums, malls and high-end eateries, was meant to transform the state, including the Kuala Kedah fishing town.

However, it was protested against by fishermen, who said the project had jeopardised their income.

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