Best of our wild blogs: 30 Apr 17

21 May (Sun)- Want to learn how to be a nature guide? Come join the Chek Jawa Familiarisation Tour with the Naked Hermit Crabs!
Adventures with the Naked Hermit Crabs

Kusu Island, 龟屿岛

Kusu Island still reefy
wild shores of singapore

Favourite Nectaring Plants #10
Butterflies of Singapore

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Singapore has reached its end

Surekha A. Yadav Malay Mail 30 Apr 17;

APRIL 30 — Marina Bay used to have the best steamboat restaurants in Singapore. That line of hotpot spots are now replaced by… well, the entire city.

I had never really thought much about our expanding shoreline although I should have — considering coast lines that I knew growing up are now so deep in-land you cannot even see the water anymore.

Samat Subramaniam’s wonderful article in the New York Times recently got me thinking and reading up about this.

He delves into this matter in more exquisite and accurate detail but basically Singapore needs land.

From the moment our nation came into existence, our government has taken determined steps to manage the nation’s most scarce resource.

The scale of Singapore’s sand imports are such that vast swathes of our neighbours; Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Cambodia and Myanmar have been affected by sand mining.

Key eco-systems — dunes, beaches, forests — have been quarried away to be sold to Singapore for a few dollars a ton.

The problem is sufficiently significant that virtually every country in the region has enacted bans on the export of sand — and particularly the export of sand to Singapore.

Singapore is a small country. Barely 700 square kilometres, it ranks around 180 out of the world’s 196 or so countries and territories.

Single cities like New York or Beijing are far larger than our nation, yet our economy is larger than the economies of major and large-sized nations like Pakistan, New Zealand or the Philippines.

Our land area is tiny but our ambitions are vast and we are home to over five million people.

Resolving this conundrum with just a few hundred square kilometres of land is not easy — and the reality is that size has always been our enemy.

The government now owns over 90 per cent of the country’s land area — on which it works to maximise the productivity of every square foot.

Even the 10 per cent of land it doesn’t own outright it regulates tightly and reserves the right to acquire.

The Urban Redevelopment Authority co-ordinates across ministries and engages experts and academics to ensure that our land use is optimised.

But even with the some of the tightest planning in the world, we need to carve new land out of the sea.

To date, Singapore has reclaimed over 100 square kilometres of land or 10-20 per cent of our total land area.

Our airport, our industrial zones (Jurong), huge sections of the port, our finance centre from Beach Road to Marina Bay Sands, even the entertainment/casino hubs on Sentosa... all of these are built partly or entirely on reclaimed land.

Our ambitions may be limitless but the truth is we are hitting physical limit. We just can’t keep reclaiming.

Technology, costs, the physical supply of sand mean we can’t keep growing our land mass.

Even politically, if we keep growing we’ll begin encroaching on territory claimed by Malaysia and Indonesia and the South China Sea doesn’t need another territorial dispute.

This will be an enormous challenge for our governments, our planners and our population but well, we’ve overcome some seemingly insurmountable obstacles before and the chances are we will get over this.

Already we’re experimenting with high rise factories, multi-story farms and floating stages. The reality is that as a people we must get high, really high.

Sky parks, sky farms it may sound like science fiction but with the sand running out the sky will have to be the limit.

Born and bred in Singapore, Surekha A. Yadav is a freelance journalist in Southeast Asia.

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Malaysia: Johor converting sewage treatment plants into water reclamation facilities

Ahmad Fairuz Othman New Straits Times 30 Apr 17;

PASIR GUDANG: Plans are underway to convert 158 sewage treatment plants in the Pasir Gudang and Tebrau areas into water reclamation plants which can produce potable water for industrial use here.

Energy, Green Technology and Water Ministry secretary-general Datuk Seri Dr Zaini Ujang said the ministry will soon hold discussions on the plan with the Iskandar Regional Development Authority (Irda) at the authority's next meeting, to be chaired by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak.

"Such a move has been (carried out) in Kuala Lumpur.

"Discharge from (sewage) treatment plants can produce potable water for industrial use. The 158 sewage treatment plants in the Pasir Gudang and Tebrau areas have a catchment area of 1.5 million people, which means (they) can supply up to 260 MLD (million litres per day) of water.

"This will be used for Pasir Gudang's industries," said Zaini after the My River, My Property programme launched by Johor Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Mohamed Khaled Nordin at Pasar Nelayan, Kampung Pasir Gudang Baru, today.

Khaled urged the federal government to give priority to such a project, because Iskandar Malaysia is a big contributor to the country's economy.

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Malaysia: Steps taken to preserve Malayan tiger habitat

The Star 30 Apr 17;

PETALING JAYA: The Government has identified over 600,000ha in Peninsular Malaysia as a special protection area to preserve the habitat of the endangered Malayan tigers.

Perhilitan director-general Abdul Kadir Abu Hashim said proactive measures had been taken by the fede­ral and state governments to gazette a few areas for this purpose.

“The preservation of forest reserves other than the special protected areas, especially at the central forest spine, must be managed sustainably to ensure that Malayan tigers will conti­nue to be protected from the threat of extinction,” he said in statement.

Perhilitan signed a memorandum of understanding with Malay­sian Na­­tio­nal Animal Welfare Foun­dation, World Wide Fund for Nature Ma­­lay­sia, and Wild­life Conser­vation Society Malaysia to assist in conducting the first National Tiger Survey (NTS) aimed at identifying the exact population and habitat of the dwindling species in the peninsula.

Currently, the Malayan tiger subspecies, which was first formally re­­cognised in 2004 after genetic tests, is listed as endangered by the Interna­tional Union for Conserva­tion of Nature Red List.

The survey is the first covering all forest reserves in the peninsula and will take at least two years.

Abdul Kadir said there were about 250 to 340 Malayan tigers based on a study conducted by Perhilitan and other NGOs at three of its main habitats – the National Park (Pahang, Terengganu and Kelantan), Belum-Temengor (Perak) and Endau-Rompin (Johor).

He said the moratorium on deer hunting, which was introduced last November, would be enforced until Nov 30, 2021.

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Indonesia's yellow-crested cockatoo population threatened

Markus Makur The Jakarta Post 30 Apr 17;

The populations of the yellowcrested cockatoo on several islands are in critical danger due to massive exploitation, researchers say.

Anna Reuleaux from Manchester Metropolitan University said recently that she had been conducting research and compiling population data.

According to the data, there are around 200 birds on Sulawesi, 18 birds on Masalembo, 107 birds on Sumbawa, 40 birds on Flores, 70 birds on Rinca, 218 birds on Komodo, 258 birds on Alor and 288 birds on Pantar.

Approximately 2,000 birds still exist on Sumba and 200 to 300 birds on Timor and Timor Leste. On Tanahjampea, it is estimated that there are still 15 birds and there are eight birds on Tukangbesi.

Reuleaux conducted this research for conservation purposes, including to study the breeding of the birds, so that she could provide recommendations for stakeholders in Indonesia on how to preserve the species.

“I have been conducting research about the breeding of yellow-crested cockatoos on several islands since August last year and will continue until July next year,” the Germany native said.

She has been researching on Flores, starting from West Manggarai in Golomori, Rinca and Komodo and went further to Adonara and Alor. She also went to Sulawesi and Java.

“I traveled in East Nusa Tenggara for three months to Sumba, Flores, Alor, Timor and Rote. This is a conservation effort for Indonesian endemic birds, together with Burung Indonesia and the Bogor Agriculture Institute.”

Reuleaux explained that the yellow-Crested cockatoo is listed by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in the highest category of threat, “critically endangered,” due entirely to its massive exploitation as a cage bird. Seven subspecies are distributed in and just outside Wallacea, although the Sumba subspecies, known as the citron-crested Cockatoo, to aviculturists is probably a separate species. The population status of each of these subspecies is believed to be very serious.

Reuleaux said this research aimed to conduct extensive surveys of remaining cockatoo populations across its entire range, to produce accurate estimations of local population sizes and to determine their ecological and management requirement.

It is also intended to identify areas, which have or could have the right conditions to be local sites for future management interventions or re-introductions, and to generate in-depth information on the ecology of the citron-crested cockatoo on Sumba and possibly another subspecies in order to inform management practices for all populations. The research would also provide training and qualifications for one European and one Indonesian researcher in order to build capacity for cockatoo research and conservation.

The research is sponsored by Zoologishe Gesellschaff fur Arten-Und Biotopschute (ZGAP Germany) and Loro Porgue Fundacion in Spain.

She explained that the previous research, including in 1993, found there were 6,000 birds. However in 1994, there were cases of illegal trade of the species. Since then, the population has continued to dwindle more and more each year.

“We can find this bird in East Nusa Tenggara, Sulawesi and East Java. People are interested in this bird because of its unique yellow crest.”

The outcome of the project will be conservation relevant information on the size of remaining cockatoo populations, identification of new populations and explanations of why some areas retain cockatoo populations and others do not.

Romi Lungga Dangolimu, a field researcher from the Lembaga Burung Indonesia (Indonesian Bird Institute) on Sumba, who accompanied the German researcher, said the population of the bird on the island was quite good.

In 2000, there was a massive hunting of this bird. Then in 2013, Burung Indonesia stepped in to raise awareness to protect the endemic species.

He explained that the awareness program from Burung Indonesia had shown good results, with local people establishing groups to campaign about the protection of the species.

“Overall, there is no more yellow-crested cockatoo hunting on Sumba, although some people still attempted to set up traps in trees to catch the birds. But thanks to the monitoring groups, their attempts failed. The groups removed the traps and cleaned up the trees from the glue.”

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Indonesia: Hungry elephants in Sumatra destroy local plantations

Rizal Harahap The Jakarta Post 30 Apr 17;

Locals have called on authorities to take action to drive away three wild elephants, which came close to residential areas in Bengkalis regency, Riau province and destroyed palm and crop plantations.

The herd of the endangered animal had visited Jl. Rangau, Pematang Pudu subdistrict, Mandau district, in the past two weeks, but it was only in the past week that they began eating the local’s plantations, local Nimrot Sinaga said.

“They also destroyed an 8-hectare 3-year old palm plantation, which belongs to my parents,” he said on Friday.

The elephants usually came at night, he said, adding that he and the other residents tried to drive the elephants away using firecrackers. However, the elephants remained circling the area as other residents also tried to cast them away from the opposite direction.

He predicted that the three elephants are one family as they comprised of two adults and one calf around five years old.

“We expect the Riau Natural Resource Conservation Agency [BKSDA] will soon deploy a tamed elephant to lead the wild elephants away from the plantations and residences,” he said.

Tamed elephants are usually used to mitigate conflict between wild elephants and humans.

Nimrot said if authorities did not take swift action, he feared the local people would not be able to contain their anger as their palm plantations were eaten by the elephants. He said the elephants ate the palm shoots, which will kill the trees.

Besides palms, the elephants also ate other crops including sweet potatoes, beans and many other kinds of vegetables.

“If they keep causing restlessness among locals, I fear for their safety. They are protected animals, but their lives could be at risk,” he said.

Meanwhile, Mandau district head Djoko Edy Imhar said he had contacted Riau BKSDA to report the incident.

“BKSDA must lead the wild elephants away from local residences and plantations to prevent any possible conflicts,” he said.

Agency official R. Hutajulu said his office had assigned a team to monitor the wild elephant’s movements. It was detected that they were around the Jambon public cemetery and the team would try to lead them to Talang Forest at night.

From this monitoring, it was known that the herds’ movements were slow as one of the adult elephants could not walk properly. The elephant’s leg was wounded from a trap, which struck it some time ago. The agency’s team had treated the wound, but he said the healing process might take a while as the wound was on the elephant’s foot.

Hutajulu urged people not to get panicky if the three wild elephants passed their yards while they were herded to the Talang Forest.

“People must remain calm as Riau BKSDA is following their movements. It is better for people to stay at a safe distance so the elephants do not feel threatened and chase people instead,” he said.

The rampant conversion of forests into plantations has increased the rate of human-elephant conflicts in the country. Data from the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Indonesia in 2015 showed that Indonesia had the highest number of human-elephant conflicts in Asia.

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Best of our wild blogs: 29 Apr 17

Seagrassy East Coast Park is alive
wild shores of singapore

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This Singapore crab is not for eating

Just a few hundred J. singaporensis remain, so species has its own national protection plan
Lin Yangchen The Straits Times 28 Apr 17;

A drab brown crab looking as monotonous as the sand around it - apart from its faintly striped legs - is not something you would suspect to be of national importance.

But Johora singaporensis, the Singapore freshwater crab, has been given its very own national action plan of protection, for it is truly, uniquely Singaporean and is not found anywhere else in the world.

Its abodes in rocky, crystal-clear freshwater streams in the forested hills of Singapore are so critical that the National Parks Board (NParks) safeguards information on the locations as if it were a state secret.

Scientists estimate that only a few hundred mature individuals remain in the wild. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) considers it critically endangered and among the 100 most threatened species worldwide.

No bigger than a USB flash drive, it feeds on plants and animals dead or alive, and helps recycle nutrients in the aquatic ecosystem.

Despite its small size, Singapore is teeming with a large variety of animal and plant species. But conserving them is an ongoing challenge. In this five-part weekly series done in conjunction with Biodiversity Week that starts on May 20, The Straits Times highlights several of the species which have been saved from the brink of extinction. Today, in the first of this series, we look at the Singapore freshwater crab.

Assistant Professor Darren Yeo, from the National University of Singapore's (NUS') department of biological sciences, said the species originated about five million years ago when a population of crabs was geographically isolated from similar populations elsewhere and evolved into J. singaporensis.

The species was officially described and named in 1986 by NUS' Professor Peter Ng, who later taught Prof Yeo when he was an undergrad.

Three freshwater crab species are found only in Singapore, but the other two have less stringent habitat requirements or are found in better-protected areas like the Nee Soon Swamp Forest, said Prof Yeo.

He remembers the first time he saw the crab in the wild, while he was an undergraduate helping NParks with a survey of freshwater streams in the mid-1990s.

Turning over rocks and leaves in the water, he spotted the elusive creature. "I said to myself: 'Oh, this is cool; this is the thing that my professor described.' And then it went back into the water," he said.

In 2008, researchers discovered that J. singaporensis had disappeared from Jungle Fall Valley in the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve (BTNR), where it was originally found by Prof Ng.

NUS biological sciences lecturer N. Sivasothi, one of the researchers who made the discovery, said: "It was the start of a realisation that the environment had changed."

He and his colleagues then uncovered a report that had previous measurements of the water at the stream, and found that the water had increased in acidity. The reason for this remains a mystery, as other streams in the reserve appear to be unaffected.

Meanwhile, the crab clings to a tenuous existence in a handful of other freshwater streams in BTNR, Bukit Batok and Bukit Gombak.

The episode motivated Mr Sivasothi to enrol some of his undergraduate students in project work to better understand the characteristics of freshwater streams here.

"I tell the students that we have a national responsibility," he said.

In 2014, researchers and officers from NParks, NUS, Wildlife Reserves Singapore, IUCN, other government agencies and non-governmental organisations met to form a conservation strategy for the crab.

A year or two later, some of the crabs were translocated to a stream with suitable conditions where they had not been found before.

Today, the crabs seem to be thriving there. The researchers found that some had shed and renewed their exoskeletons - a sign that they had grown bigger.

NParks is working with its partners on a population enhancement and monitoring programme, including captive breeding.

Conservationists say the crab can be a national icon. For a start, it was pure luck that the most vulnerable of the three crabs found only in Singapore was named after the country. This has helped elevate its status, said Prof Yeo.

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Conservationist Lena Chan: Singapore’s very own ‘mother nature’ at work

Conservationist Lena Chan leads fight to preserve natural heritage
Lin Yangchen The Straits Times 28 Apr 17;

Over the past decade, Singapore has progressed by leaps and bounds in preserving its natural heritage despite the ever-present pressure of urban development.

And one woman especially has been toiling behind the scenes, whipping up the collective resolve to make sure that the birds and trees live to see tomorrow.

With her luxuriant grey hair, Dr Lena Chan could well be Singapore's very own "mother nature".

"It didn't happen overnight," said the group director of the National Biodiversity Centre (NBC), a branch of the National Parks Board (NParks). She met The Straits Times under her favourite tree at the Botanic Gardens, a Jelawai Jaha that soars 50m into the sky, supported by enormous buttresses.

Biodiversity conservation efforts went into high gear here back in 2009, when NBC formulated Singapore's National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan (NBSAP) to fulfil the country's obligation to the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity.

With Dr Chan at the helm, NBC has become the nerve centre for coordinating nationwide conservation efforts, such as the planting of trees that provide a multi-layered canopy of leaves similar to that found in a pristine tropical rainforest.

These efforts complement the agency's species recovery programme, which has identified 46 plant and animal species that are rare or unique to Singapore, such as the secretive, tree-dwelling Raffles' Banded Langur, which relies on high-quality forest habitat.

Dr Chan - who formulated nature conservation strategies for various Malaysian state governments during the 1980s as part of her work for the World Wide Fund for Nature - also underscores the importance of extending conservation efforts beyond NParks-controlled areas, since nature knows no administrative boundaries.

NParks has worked with agencies, from the Singapore Tourism Board to the Ministry of Defence to national water agency PUB, among many others.

As an example, Dr Chan cited the Sisters' Islands Marine Park, a project announced in 2014 to protect marine biodiversity here.

"When we commit to something like that, it's a whole-of-government commitment," she said.

NParks is expanding efforts to get the public psyched up about conservation too. For example, almost 100 schools have signed up for its Greening Schools for Biodiversity programme, which helps students conduct wildlife surveys and grow biodiversity-enhancing plants.

Many of these initiatives are part of NParks' Nature Conservation Masterplan (NCMP) of 2015, which lays out the conservation road map until 2020, as the NBSAP is put into action.

Dr Chan's legacy will live on too, in a little spider that makes its home on Bukit Timah Hill. Scientists named it after her - Singaporemma lenachanae.

The brown critter is tiny, only about 1mm in size. Hardly anything is known about it.

But it could be a crucial link in the web of nature, and Dr Chan believes that people must continue to protect these essential components of a healthy environment.

In her words, "there will always be more to do".

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Bukit Timah’s secret kampung, hidden in a forest

In this upscale district, where landed houses outnumber HDB flats, lies the little-known remnants of its kampung past, hidden by time and nature. On The Red Dot uncovers its secrets.
Desmond Ng and Trinh Hoang Ly Channel NewsAsia 28 Apr 17;

SINGAPORE: The Bukit Timah Nature Reserve abounds with dense vegetation, a variety of forest animals, noisy insects - and the ruins of an old Chinese kampung so well-hidden that few know it exists.

Flanked by thick foliage, this piece of land just behind Hindhede Drive contains the remaining structures of several Chinese kampung houses, with remnants of a well, a bathroom stall, a kitchen and a storage area still standing.

It has so far eluded many of the joggers, nature lovers and families who frequent this nature reserve.

Mr Sani Abdul Rahim, whose maternal grandparents used to live in the area, said: “Maybe (the authorities) can put a sign to indicate that there was a village here. Many people who trek in this area may see the structure, but they don’t know the history of it.”

Mr Sani, 54, spent much of his childhood in the 1960s and 1970s roaming the Bukit Timah area.

Bukit is Malay for "hill" while the name ‘"Timah" is believed to have originated from a corruption of the name of the Temak tree which grows in the area. The nature reserve, which is the largest primary rainforest in Singapore, was also believed to be infested with tigers in the early 1800s.

Mr Sani remembers that the hidden settlement area used to be the site of a Malay and a Chinese kampung, but only remnants of the latter remain today.

The area is just a five-minute walk from the visitor centre off Hindhede Drive. It can be accessed via some crumbling granite steps.

A sign at the start of a trail states “Kampung trail”, but there are no markings on the map at the visitor centre as to where these remnants are.

Mr Sani, who is with the Temasek Rural Exploring Enthusiasts, told the programme On The Red Dot that the group discovered the ruins a few years ago. They occasionally conduct free walking tours to the site.

This freelance photographer pointed to some of the remaining structures, and described how back then, the lower part of the house walls was made of concrete to prevent snakes and other animals from sneaking in.

The rest of the walls would be made of wood as it was abundant and cheaper to obtain.

A cooking stove belonging to a family can still be found half-covered in creepers. The wood used for cooking was usually stored in the crevices under the stove, said Mr Sani.


Also surviving are the brick structures of a common toilet, where human waste was collected in a galvanised metal bucket. Because of the smell, these toilets were usually located a distance from the main house.

Mr Sani recalled how he and his friends would run away whenever they saw the night-soil collectors coming. These men had the unenviable task of taking the away the human waste to plantations on the city’s outskirts, balancing the stinking buckets on bamboo poles slung over their backs.

“We would run because of the smell. And the way those people carried the buckets was very funny - we would laugh and cover our mouths,” he said.

More fond memories were created playing along a stream by the kampung. It was where the villagers showered, did their laundry and collected water.

“For us, this was our favourite location to play with our boats,” Mr Sani said.

Watch the full episode on Bukit Timah here. Catch That’s My Backyard - On The Red Dot, on Fridays, 9.30pm on Mediacorp Channel 5.

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Singapore showcases response capabilities at multi-agency chemical spill exercise

MPA News Release 28 Apr 17;

To test and demonstrate Singapore’s readiness to tackle oil and chemical spills, a multi-agency joint chemical spill exercise was conducted today. Organised by the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) the exercise took place at the conclusion of the 10th International Chemical and Oil Pollution Conference & Exhibition (ICOPCE), held in conjunction with the Singapore Maritime Week 2017.

2 ChemSpill 2017 comprised a tabletop management exercise at MPA's Port Operations Control Centre Vista and a full scale chemical and oil spill response equipment deployment. A total of 150 personnel from 25 agencies participated in the table top exercise and seaward exercise, located along Raffles Reserved Anchorage. (See Annex A for list of participating agencies)

3 ChemSpill 2017 simulated a collision between a fully laden chemical tanker and a bunker barge off Raffles Reserved Anchorage. The former sustained severe damage, resulting in the spillage of 600 tonnes of Cyclohexane, a type of chemical used as industrial solvent and paint or varnish remover. Two crew members on-board the tanker were found unconscious and required immediate evacuation for medical treatment.

4 The exercise included responses to combat chemical pollution and test multi-agency responsiveness and co-operation.

5 Spill response teams deployed chemical protective gears, gas detectors, chemical containment booms, damage control equipment to seal leaks, and diving equipment for underwater damage assessments.

6 Mr Andrew Tan, Chief Executive of MPA, said, "As one of the busiest ports in the world and leading bunkering port, the ability to respond to any maritime incident swiftly, including chemical and oil spill is critical. Good coordination across various agencies is essential. Today’s multi-agency exercise is a good opportunity for us to hone our response strategies as well as share best practices. We are pleased to have ExxonMobil Asia Pacific Pte Ltd and Chembulk Tankers supporting today’s exercise. We look forward to working with others to raise the overall level of safety in our waters.”

7 Some 40 ICOPCE delegates from the international shipping, oil and gas sectors were present to observe the exercise.

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Temperature-boosting El Niño set for early return this year

The climate event that helped supercharge global warming to record levels in 2015 and 2016 is 50-60% likely in 2017, says World Meteorological Organization
Damian Carrington The Guardian 28 Apr 17;

The El Niño climate event that helped supercharge global warming to record levels in 2015 and 2016 is set for an early return, according to a forecast from the World Meteorological Organization.

El Niño events are prompted by natural fluctuation in ocean temperatures in the Pacific but have a global impact, leading to flooding, droughts and heatwaves. They also exacerbate the increased extreme weather events occurring due to the continued heating of the world as a result of human-caused climate change.

The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said on Friday that a new El Niño was 50-60% likely before the end of 2017. “Memories are still fresh of the powerful 2015-2016 El Niño which was associated with droughts, flooding and coral bleaching in different parts of the world and which, combined with long-term climate change, led to the increase of global temperatures to new record highs in both 2015 and 2016,” said Maxx Dilley, director of WMO’s climate prediction and adaptation division.

It is unusual for El Niño conditions to return so swiftly, said Tim Stockdale, principal scientist at the European Centre for Medium-range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF), one of the leading prediction centres around the world and which contributed to the WMO forecast. “Normally we would expect a longer interval before another warming. But, having said that, El Niño variability is really rather irregular.”

Friday’s forecast is a early one, based on observations, climate models and historical trends. At present the likelihood is that any El Niño event will be a moderate one. “It will become clearer in the next couple of months,” said Stockdale.

However, regional warming associated with El Niño has already caused very heavy rains and floods in Peru and Ecuador, after the sea surface temperatures in the far eastern tropical Pacific ocean rose to 2C or more above average during February and March. This phenomenon has in the past sometimes been followed by a global El Niño.

Another concern is that the variation in El Niño over decades may be switching to a new, hotter phase. “For the last decade, the tropical Pacific has tended to be on the cold side, and that has helped keep global temperatures down. With this warming coming back so soon, it makes you wonder if the decadal trend is a bit more on to the positive side,” said Stockdale. “Obviously if that were sustained over the next five to 10 years, it would make the global warming signal stand out more strongly than it has done over the past decade.”

The impacts of El Niño events vary but often lead to hot, dry conditions in south and eastern Australia, as well as in Indonesia, the Philippines and south-eastern Africa. The Indian monsoon rainfall, upon which millions depend, also tends to be lower than normal. Wetter than usual conditions are typically seen along the Gulf coast of the US, and the west coast of tropical South America.

It remains unclear whether climate change is affecting the frequency or severity of El Niño events, partly because with complex phenomena many years of data are needed to distinguish the human-caused and natural influences.

The ability to forecast El Niño events has improved in recent years, enabling authorities to make preparations. “Accurate predictions of the most recent El Niño saved untold lives. These [are] essential for the agricultural and food security sectors, for management of water resources and public health, as well as for disaster risk reduction,” said Dilley.

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