Monthly Archives: February 2011

Storm flattens section of Mandai forest

Storm flattens section of Mandai forest

Tree fall in 1.2km-long, 40ha swathe may be largest in a decade here

Grace Chua Straits Times 19 Feb 11;

STRONG winds from last Friday’s storm may have blown over some trees and branches in Mandai Road, but they wreaked far greater damage away from the public thoroughfare.

A 40ha, 1.2km-long swathe of trees in the secondary forest along the edge of Upper Seletar Reservoir – about 10,000 to 20,000 trees and saplings, going by a very rough estimate – also toppled or were damaged.

It was perhaps the largest tree fall in a decade here.

Mr Wong Tuan Wah, director of conservation at the National Parks Board (NParks), said: ‘We’ve had people working in Mandai for 30 years who say this is the first time they’ve seen such a thing.’

The storm was the result of land areas heating up and pulling winds in towards the island, said the National Environment Agency, which added that such storms can happen any time of the year.

The Meteorological Service equipment nearest the site, in Sembawang, measured winds of up to 77.8kmh just before 5pm; across the island, maximum gusts recorded ranged from 10kmh to 61.2kmh.

But there are some who think the winds that cut through the thick stand of full-grown hardwoods could have been stronger, perhaps up to 100kmh.

‘This is phenomenal. It’s like someone took a blade and cut through the trees,’ said landscaping specialist Veera Sekaran, who viewed the damage on Thursday.

‘It’s like something out of The X-Files,’ he added, referring to the sci-fi television series.

The trees along Mandai Road brought down last Friday blocked two of the three lanes in the direction of the Singapore Zoo, leaving NParks and its contractors to clean up and check on other trees lining the road and a cycling path there.

As for the damaged forest, the trees will be replanted, and the area given a year to regenerate, said Mr Wong.

Tree fall in natural areas is not uncommon, he noted. Trees in an area of about 9ha fell three months ago in Chestnut Avenue, and about 200 trees fell in Jurong Country Club in 2009.

The last time that a tree fall close to the magnitude of the one in Mandai took place was a decade ago, in the Upper Peirce area.

Trees in parks, nature reserves and along roads are inspected yearly or so for structural weaknesses and poor health, but checks were stepped up in the middle of last year following severe weather.

Last weekend, Nature Society member Tony O’Dempsey, who is familiar with Mandai from his regular nature walks and studies of plant and animal life there, went to survey the damage.

The 50-year-old engineering director and Australia-born Singapore resident said the damage to the secondary forest might have been wrought by winds funnelling up the narrow water channels by the reservoir’s edge, twisting and toppling trees as thick as a man’s thigh.

But he said that in tearing down so many trees, the storm also uncovered a rare pulai tree (Alstonia pneumatophora) 50m tall, still standing, just metres into the forest.

The survivor was anchored by its sprawling roots or pneumatophores, which are common to mangroves and other wetland trees. The Nature Society and NParks now plan to gather its seeds to propagate it.

National Institute of Education botanist and Nature Society president Shawn Lum said that, left on its own, the rest of the damaged forest will first grow back a crop of fast-growing ‘pioneer trees’ which thrive in exposed conditions.

‘Within two to three years, there should be luxuriant growth and within five to seven years, the casual observer may not even realise there had been a major disturbance there,’ he said.

But primary forests, that is, untouched, pristine ones, harbour more species of plants and animals, and NParks is taking care to protect those here.

For example, it has planted a windbreak along Lornie Road to shield a small patch of primary forest from winds, and has programmes to grow rare plant saplings.

New life for rare trees and plants

Amid the damage at Mandai, experts found a previously hidden gem – a rare, critically endangered tree known as Alstonia pneumatophora.

The National Parks Board (NParks) and the Nature Society hope to collect some seeds from the tree, which was discovered after surrounding trees fell.

Other rare trees and plants that have been cultivated or resurrected here are:

# Sea teak (Podocarpus polystachyus): Found at coastal cliffs, sandy beaches and mangroves, this tree is valued for its wood. It grows wild at Sentosa’s natural cliffs and is now widely planted in coastal parks such as Labrador Park.

# Aeschynanthus albidus, a member of the African violet family: This climbing plant, thought to be extinct here, was rediscovered by National University of Singapore researchers on a tree in Nee Soon swamp forest.

NParks officers collected another specimen last year and were able to cultivate hundreds of saplings. They plan to re-introduce them into the wild.

# Tiger orchid (Grammatophyllum speciosum): The tiger-striped flowers of the world’s largest orchid were last seen in the wild in Tuas and Pulau Ubin.

But the plants, which bloom once a year, can now be seen in Orchard Road, where they were planted last year in a national orchid conservation programme.

There are also tiger orchids at the Singapore Botanic Gardens and various neighbourhood parks.

 

links for the day, poo tracker/ v-day edition

Valentine’s Day is coming right up. To me that means half-price heart-shaped chocolates starting February 15. My sweet tooth spans the entire year and is not limited to a particular date or season, ergo it is wise to stock up on Feb 15 (until the day after Halloween, when fresher confectioneries are to be had).

1. Just in case you ever want to know where your poo goes after you flush. Ben Goldacre (of Bad Science) does.

2. Who the frack irons bedsheets? This man’s wife does. We’re not entirely sure what the point of the piece is, as it is incoherent. Something about materialism? This essay, about unmarriage, is much better. Both, from a local men’s magazine, say a thing or two about the culture that is Singapore.

3. What would men do if they didn’t have to impress women? I don’t know. I am female and unimpressed by many of the hoops both straight men and women jump through to impress members of the opposite sex. I am, however, entertained by poo trackers.

4. And a fun game to apply to that whole notion is the fantastic Pop Evolutionary Psychology game, found here.

energy efficiency redesign

quote of the day, from an engineer I met at an energy efficiency seminar on Friday; he was talking about getting office workers to switch off the power mains to their laptops, so the devices don’t drain passive ‘vampire power’.

“If you want to get people to switch off their computers, you have to design power points to make it easy for people to switch them off. Where are the power points in your office? They’re hidden away, out of sight. If you want to shut them off you have to dive under your desk and bang your head on the way back up.”

what’s a good nudge for power mains? maybe something like this?

links for the day

1. Robert Cialdini, the towel signs, and better living through psychology.

2. Environment vs poverty: not a zero-sum game.

3. When chemists die, we…

wordpress bleg

dear readers,

help! I need some advice on how to embed a Google gadget/ chart into a WordPress page.  Google gives you a handy script, but said handy script fails to produce anything when pasted into the HTML editor.

advice please!

behavioural economics reading list

full list via the Farnam Street Blog.

I am also very entertained by www.youarenotsosmart.com.

 

That predatory hunger for shark’s fin

Imports of delicacy nearly doubled since 2003 despite campaigns
Lester Kok & Grace Chua The Straits Times 5 Feb 11;

EVERY Chinese New Year, campaigns by conservation groups ask diners to stop eating shark’s fin.

But recent figures show that Singapore’s imports of the delicacy have nearly doubled since 2003. The Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA), which supplied the numbers, said nearly 2,500 tonnes were imported last year, up from 1,300 tonnes eight years ago.

The figures include dried, salted and canned fins, and refer to those meant for both domestic consumption and export.

And last week, conservation group Traffic delivered more alarming news: a report that a decade-long United Nations shark conservation scheme has failed.

Shark’s fin importers here say that demand is rebounding, after a small dip due to 2009′s economic crisis.

The price of shark’s fin goes up 10 to 15 per cent a year, but demand is rising even quicker thanks to growing affluence in East Asia.

Mr Melvin Foo, managing director of seafood importer and exporter Sineurope, explained that 95 per cent of what he imports goes to places like Japan and China. Just two to three tonnes, or less than 5 per cent of his imports, are sold here.

All imports of sharks and shark’s fin are regulated through an AVA licensing scheme. According to Mr Foo, shark’s fins sold here must be landed along with the body of the shark, to prevent a practice known as live shark finning, where fishermen slice the fin off the fish and dump it back into the water. And, he says, demand for shark meat actually comes from Europe, where it is more valued and fins are considered waste.

The World Wide Fund For Nature (WWF) wildlife conservation group would prefer sharks not to be eaten at all. In its Singapore Seafood Guide published in February last year, WWF Singapore advised people to choose seafood from sustainable sources and to avoid all shark products.

Its website, http://www.wwf.sg, states it is not aware of any shark fisheries that are sustainably managed.

A Singapore-tailored online campaign was also launched by the group last week: the ‘Say No to Shark Fin’ pledge.

Sharks are typically either caught deliberately or as accidental bycatch.

When overfished, their populations are slow to recover as they take a long time to reproduce and mature. And according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of endangered species, six species of shark are considered critically endangered, meaning their populations have declined by as much as 90 per cent in the past couple of decades.

But campaigns here are soldiering on.

The latest, by Project: FIN on social networking site Facebook, asks people to change their profile pictures to an image which reads: Celebrate Chinese New Year with no shark’s fin soup.

A year ago, the WWF launched its Sustainable Seafood Guide for Singapore, in which it noted that most shark fisheries were unregulated and many species were overfished.

And posts on government feedback site Reach have asked for all government functions not to serve shark’s fin.

Already, some hotels like those at Resorts World Sentosa do not serve the dish. The Fairmont Singapore has removed not only shark’s fin, but also Chilean sea bass and bluefin tuna – which are also overfished – from its menu.

Other hotels like the Marriott are moving away from it. A spokesman said: ‘We have made a conscious decision to substantially reduce the number of shark’s fin dishes available on our a la carte menu.’

But the Marriott continues to serve shark’s fin when guests ask for it, out of respect for local culture and guest preferences, she added.

Still, hotels like the Marriott and Mandarin Orchard say more couples are asking for shark’s fin alternatives for their wedding banquets.

WWF Singapore’s managing director, Ms Amy Ho, said the practice of eating shark’s fin will stop only when the customers choose to stop.

She said sharks play an important role as top predators in the marine ecosystem, adding: ‘All these ecosystems are very important to preserve nature for future generations to come.’

links for the day

1. More information -> more sustainable transport decisions.  I bet there’s a point after which the marginal influence of more information drops off.

2. A neutrino walks into a bar

3. This is Singapore. Isn’t English your first language? (Also, note that it’s a pay-for-picking-your-kids-up-late scheme, and we all know how that fared in Israel.)

 

a grab bag of links

1. A city with no cars.  How does it deal with the wheelchair-bound? Also, not strictly car-free; but one needs a permit.

2. China’s high-speed rail project: could it actually make road traffic worse?

3. I also really, really want to read this book. Yes, it’s a Tyler Cowen (he of Marginal Revolution fame) original.

the low cost of high-hanging fruit

Last week I wrote an article about a project by NUSSU SAVE (Students Against Violation of the Earth) , to improve the community recycling bins in one Choa Chu Kang neighbourhood in Singapore’s north-west.

The problem: Stuff that shouldn’t be recycled, such as styrofoam cups and dirty food containers, often gets into the recycling bin along with recyclables. Food waste can render a binload of paper  unrecyclable. Why? People either don’t know what’s recyclable, or don’t care.

The project involves a very simple tweak: telling people what can and can’t be recycled – right on each recycling-bin lid. And then putting waste bins next to each set of recycling bins, so that someone who just wants to get rid of a piece of trash can do so.

A similar project on the National University of Singapore campus from 2008-2009 cut contamination almost entirely, though it remains to be seen how well this community project will turn out.

I asked Marcus, the NUS Office of Environmental Sustainability project advisor, to keep me posted on how much the project cost. You might be able to show that useful behavioural interventions need not cost a lot if they are targeted, I said.

He said something that gave me pause: Not many environmentalists think this way.

It’s as though there are two camps: people who want to get recycling and other environmental change done at any and all costs, and people for whom costs alone are the biggest factor, who give less weight to the longer-term environmental costs and benefits. And it sounds an awful lot like they’re not communicating well with each other.

Part of the problem is that the two camps have very different expectations of human behaviour. I’m not going to say it’s the whole problem, but it hurts. One side is very, very optimistic. The other side is saying, well, we don’t think it’s going to help that much, so we’re not willing to invest this sum.

“Useful behavioural interventions need not cost a lot if they are targeted.” Sounds pleasant and non-controversial, doesn’t it?
Well, let’s break that down.

Interventions – mean anything that will boost the recycling rate, or cut back on carbon emissions, or improve energy efficiency, or whatever environmental goal you have in mind.

Need not cost a lot – This one is trickier. What does ‘a lot’ mean? And to whom? There’s another important question that has to be addressed. Who’s doing the paying? But the whole idea of ‘need not cost a lot’ is that this is a small intervention, that it’s affordable when compared to other, bigger schemes and wholesale policy changes.

But here’s the most important (and maybe the hardest) bit – they need to be targeted. That means you need to work with human behaviour, not against it. I like the recycling-bin stickers because they predict, quite accurately, that people don’t know what can be recycled. And I like the waste bins next to recycling points because they predict, also accurately, that people don’t care.

You want a behavioural intervention whose returns outweigh its costs. You don’t want to spend thousands of dollars, say, on beautifying dustbins, if that is not going to increase the rate at which people put things in dustbins rather than on the ground.

Good luck guys, let me know how it goes!