Best of our wild blogs: 27 Apr 15

Mangrove cleanups with RUM
Restore Ubin Mangroves (R.U.M.) Initiative

Pellets from Tuas: 9. Black-shouldered Kite removing entrails from mice
Bird Ecology Study Group

Raffles Lighthouse (Singapore Maritime Week 2015) Part II
Rojak Librarian

Wing of Blue Glassy Tiger (Ideopsis vulgaris macrina) @ Sungei Buloh
Monday Morgue

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Nature under stress from photography boom

AMANDA LEE Today Online 27 Apr 15;

Photographers come to Punggol Barat with their telephoto lens to capture photographs of birds. Photo: Ooi Boon Keong/TODAY

SINGAPORE — Some shift birds’ nests for better composition. Others have been spotted trimming tree branches for a clearer view. And rubbish, such as half-drunk packet drinks, litters the ground after the task is done.

With the surge in interest in Singapore’s wildlife — and more importantly, being the first to photograph them — nature lovers are increasingly concerned about the ugly behaviour that sometimes accompanies it, and are taking steps to address it.

The Nature Photographic Society Singapore (NPSS) and National Parks Board (NParks) will be holding workshops later this year to share acceptable practices. A study involving scientific evidence and a small-scale survey are also in the works to highlight the impact of errant conduct on biodiversity.

Mr David Tan, a National University of Singapore (NUS) biological sciences research assistant who will be conducting the study, said: “We hope to be discussing the ethics of nature photography, using literature review to understand whether certain actions mean doing something right or wrong.”

Nature education group NUS Toddycats! also intends to sign up more volunteers with NParks to guide visitors on the dos and don’ts at popular nature sites.

Wildlife lovers said the boom in digital photography and the ease of sharing sightings on social media have led to a spike in hordes of photography enthusiasts descending on sites where a rare species — such as a type of bird — has been spotted.

Butterfly Circle founder Khew Sin Khoon said: “The easy access to digital photography has literally caused an explosion of photos of flora and flauna … Social media made available a platform for people to share their photos (and) learn about nature much faster than in the past.”

Added nature hobbyist Shirley Ng: “Once someone posts (a photo) online of a rare (nature species) … everyone wants to have a shot of the ‘flavour of the month’.”

Last Sunday, the promise of a glimpse of the uncommon pin-tailed whydah drew more than 30 birdwatchers, many of them photographers, to Pulau Punggol Barat.

Those interviewed said it is a common sight to see more than 50 photographers huddling under a tree for hours only to get the perfect shot. This has led to overcrowding — which can cause damage to the surroundings — as well as questionable behaviour. Last year, a photographer was fined S$500 for tying a chick to a shrub.

NPSS president Fong Chee Wai said: “The question we should always be asking ourselves is ‘What’s your motive for capturing the photo? Is it for your own glory and fame or do you really want to share and protect the species?’”

His society bans members from posting pictures of birds during active nesting seasons, while Butterfly Circle has a code of conduct that includes guidelines against destroying flora and fauna to get closer to the butterflies. The Nature Society (Singapore) also restricts participation size for activities and limits nocturnal events at sensitive areas.

Groups TODAY spoke to said those who behave inconsiderately are still in the minority. They added that many photography enthusiasts could be new and may not be aware of the impact of their actions. Nature photographer Lily Low said some are also reluctant to criticise others as they risk alienation.

NParks’ director of conservation Wong Tuan Wah, in response to queries, noted the increasing appreciation for nature among Singaporeans. While there are photographers who will encourage others not to disturb wildlife and damage plants, “we are also aware of undesirable behaviours from some photographers who are hoping to get the best possible shots”.

To encourage responsible actions, there are regular patrols and signs installed at nature areas.

Dr Fong suggested that video cameras be installed at popular spots and that these visuals be shared to satisfy the general public’s curiosity. Other nature lovers also proposed the ideas of issuing permits to restrict the number of visitors to certain areas, and park users being asked to sign an undertaking before entry.

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Malaysia: Tar balls found at turtle breeding area

The Star 27 Apr 15;

PETALING JAYA: An unusual amount of sticky tar balls have been found washed up along the shores of the Lang Tengah beach, one of the country’s sea turtle breeding grounds.

It is situated between the iconic Perhentian and Redang islands.

Lang Tengah Turtle Watch co-founder Raphe van Zevenbergen said he noticed clumps of tar balls washing up ashore along the 15m-stretch beach and immediately lodged a report with the marine park authorities.

“So far, we have collected some 13 bags of tar balls. We are concerned that the tar might seep into the sand. We have also asked for help from the nearby resorts.

“They have been very obliging in cleaning their own sections of the beach as we all await assistance from the authorities,” he said.

Lang Tengah Island, which is just under three kilometres in length, is popularly known as Turtle Bay due to its known turtle nesting population, predominantly the green turtles.

Van Zevenbergen, who has worked on the island for three years and is a trained conservationist, said the tar balls might have come from the purging of oil from engines of big vessels near the island.

“The first couple of hours were spent racing against the encroaching sunlight as the tar simply melts into the sand once it heats up, making it impossible to retrieve without removing all the sand along with it.

“We are waiting for authorities to collect the tar balls and investigate the matter. We are worried that the tide might bring the tar balls towards Pulau Redang next,” he said.

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Malaysia: Sharks on the edge of extinction

The Star 27 Apr 15;

KOTA KINABALU: An action plan is being proposed to protect the fast-diminishing sharks.

Special attention is paid to the Borneo river shark and Roughnose stingray that are only found in Borneo waters, said Sabah Shark Alliance (SSA).

The organisation is drawing up strategies that include establishing new marine protected areas, banning the trade in sharks as well as pushing awareness on the need to protect sharks and rays in the waters off Sabah.

In a statement yesterday, the group said surveys conducted in the diving haven of Semporna waters over the past four years also indicated that the Borneo river shark and Roughnose stingray were becoming very rare and could be on the verge of extinction.

The SSA is made up of the Malaysian Nature Society (Sabah branch), Marine Conservation Society (MCS), Shark, Education, Awareness and Survival (SEAS), Scubazoo, Tropical Research and Conservation Centre (TRACC), WWF-Malaysia, Shark Stewards and Land Empowerment Animals People (LEAP).

The group said that with the strategy related to Marine Protection Areas, they hoped to push for official recognition of the Semporna Priority Conservation Area including focusing on the Si Amil and Ligitan islands in the area.

They also hoped for greater protection for other important areas for sharks and rays such as Layang-Layang and Sugud Islands Marine Conservation Area (SIMCA).

The second strategy the group was pursuing was to get relevant laws to ban the capture and finning of sharks for consumption with lessons learned from other countries that have dealt with similar activities.

SSA wants to raise awareness and provide technical support to the government with a focus on the National Plan of Action for the Conservation and Management of Sharks, and to work with the tourism sector including restaurants and dive operators, consumers and local communities and fishermen.

Sharks play a critical role in the health and balance of ocean ecosystems with over-fishing disrupting marine ecosystems worldwide.

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Best of our wild blogs: 26 Apr 15

Raffles Lighthouse (Singapore Maritime Week 2015) Part I
Rojak Librarian

Butterfly of the Month - April 2015
Butterflies of Singapore

Short Night Walk At Ang Mo Kio Town Garden West (24 Apr 2015)
Beetles@SG BLOG

Brown-throated Sunbird enjoys a leaf bath
Bird Ecology Study Group

Blue-winged Pitta flew into our living room!
My Nature Experiences

LKCNHM featured on The 5 Show
News from Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum

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Singapore can take lead as low-carbon investor

Jessica Robinson, Nathan Fabian The Straits Times AsiaOne 25 Apr 15;

Paris is preparing to host the most important summit on climate change in a generation, where all countries in the world have agreed to pledge action.

The aim is to launch a new global effort to reduce the human imprint on the climate.

Global momentum is gathering. We want a more livable and sustainable world for everyone - with an economy that is cleaner, healthier, quieter, safer and more energy-secure, and that supports a better way of producing, consuming and living.

One key area where we need examples of green, sustainable living is in cities.

We are living in an age when the world is adding 1.4 million people a week to urban areas, where half its population already lives.

This rapid global urbanisation, especially in developing nations, threatens to poison the air people breathe and the water they drink.

Singapore has something to teach us. Environmentally, it has performed well.

In 2011, Singapore was rated as Asia's top-performing city in the Green City Index, created by the Economist Intelligence Unit and Siemens. This year, for the Arcadis Sustainable Cities Index, it was rated the top Asian city under the "planet" category.

Singapore has had many successes, achieving some of the highest rates of waste collection and recycling and lowest rates of water leakages. It performs strongly in terms of the allocation of green space and sanitation.

And it has an exemplary mass transit system - the need for private vehicles has clogged too many of the world's cities with pollution and congestion.

Of course, Singapore can do more.

For example, it has very low levels of renewable energy generation.

Recent policies - including an energy reduction strategy and a climate change plan, and in particular the Sustainable Singapore Blueprint 2015 - can change this.

However, one of the biggest hurdles to building more livable cities is the lack of strong investors to finance the increasingly profitable opportunities to build more productive, efficient, low-carbon infrastructure for transport, energy and buildings.

As Singapore pulls together the plan that it will submit to the United Nations climate talks taking place later this year, it might want to consider how it uses its national assets to achieve climate goals, in particular through the investment activities of its sovereign wealth funds.

As a recent report by the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate showed, there are multiple benefits to be gained from investing in low-carbon infrastructure.

That is, before accounting for the vital importance of reducing climate risks, such as more intense storm surges and sea level rises, which pose such serious threats across the world, not least to coastal cities and island states such as Singapore and its neighbours.

Furthermore, the growing costs of carbon emissions mean that renewable energy and efficient buildings are now a better bet than many high-carbon assets.

The latest crash in oil prices only serves to remind us of the dangerous volatility of fossil-fuel commodity markets.

Singapore's two sovereign wealth funds, like the city-state itself, are already high-performing and well-run.

By size, they are in the world's top 12 sovereign wealth funds, with a combined half a trillion dollars in assets under management, based on estimates by the Sovereign Wealth Fund Institute.

The latest annual report on the management of the Singapore Government's portfolio showed exemplary returns.

In GIC's case, an annualised return of 12.4 per cent has been achieved in the past five years, much higher than figures posted by many of its peers.

Moreover, Singapore's funds are already invested in infrastructure in developing countries.

Their higher annual returns are a lesson for investors who focus only on liquid assets, such as company shares, in developed countries.

Now, Singapore's Government can look to its sovereign wealth funds to show greater leadership and go further, by taking four important steps.

First, they should become world leaders in financing infrastructure that raises the efficiency of energy and water use, to build cleaner, low-carbon cities where people need not fear to breathe.

They can thus capture the incentives that governments are increasingly directing into the green economy.

Second, the funds should incorporate into their long-term risk assessments factors such as cumulative threats from climate change, natural disasters and environmental degradation, including water and air pollution.

In this way, they can perform a better risk-management function for the city-state, and avoid being caught out by potential losses as accelerating climate action threatens to undermine high-carbon assets.

Third, these funds should use their incredibly powerful voice to convince senior executives on the boards of companies to identify, manage and report on how these businesses are preparing for life in a low-carbon economy.

Fourth, the funds can use their experience as investors to work with Singapore's policymakers to formulate policies that assign the real costs of high-carbon activities, and so drive the private sector to back low-carbon infrastructure and technologies.

And of course this role should be extended beyond Singapore, to include working with policymakers from other countries in Asia, to effect wide-scale change in the region.

As a final note, the role of financial market regulators needs to be given more attention.

The Monetary Authority of Singapore can do more to create the right regulatory framework for the country's investors and the broader financial sector, encouraging better management of the risks associated with climate change and encouraging capital to flow towards green investment needs - domestically, regionally and internationally.

The world manages around US$300 trillion (S$404 trillion) worth of financial assets.

There is great potential for funding a wholesale shift to a low-carbon and climate-resilient economy, thereby investing in the growth story of the future while generating strong returns.

With its astonishing success and prosperity, Singapore can and must take the lead. Other countries will look to the powerful example it sets in creating better growth and a better climate for its residents.

The city-state has a critical role to play in Asia's development, building on its strong legacy and emphasising relentlessly the importance of sustainability in the region.

The first writer is chief executive, Association for Sustainable and Responsible Investment in Asia (ASrIA), The second is chief executive, Investor Group on Climate Change, Australia and New Zealand.

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Biodiversity promotes multitasking in ecosystems

Virginia Institute of Marine Science Science Daily 24 Apr 15;

A new study of the complex interplay between organisms and their environment shows that biodiversity--the variety of organisms living on Earth--is even more important to the healthy functioning of ecosystems than previously thought.

The findings bolster the view that conservation of biodiversity benefits the plants and animals directly involved, and by extension the human populations that rely on these organisms and ecosystems for food, water, and other basic services.

Lead author on the study, to be published in the online journal Nature Communications on April 24, is Jonathan Lefcheck, a post-doctoral research associate and recent Ph.D. graduate at the College of William & Mary's Virginia Institute of Marine Science.

Co-authors of the international research effort hail from the University of Massachusetts Boston; the University of Minnesota; the University of Gothenburg, Sweden; Swansea University in Wales; the German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv) Jena-Halle-Leipzig; the University of Leipzig; the University of Oxford; the University of Michigan; and the Smithsonian Institution.

"Many recent studies support the idea that greater biodiversity helps maintain more stable and productive ecosystems," says Lefcheck, "but this conclusion rests mostly on experiments that tested how losing species affects only a single ecosystem process, such as plant growth. "Our study," he says, "is the first systematic look at how biodiversity affects the suite of interconnected processes that keep ecosystems healthy and functioning."

The team examined the relationship between biodiversity and these various processes, termed "multifunctionality," by compiling and analyzing the results from 94 experiments conducted around the world. Each experiment involved manipulation of at least 3 different species and the monitoring of at least 2 and up to 12 distinct ecosystem functions--from the accumulation of soil nitrogen to the control of aquatic algae. The experiments were evenly divided between terrestrial and aquatic habitats.

The results of the team's synthesis were clear. "We found that biodiversity generally enhances multiple functions in experimental ecosystems," says Lefcheck. "In other words, as you consider more aspects of an ecosystem, biodiversity becomes more important: one species cannot do it all."

Co-author Dr. Emmett Duffy, director of the Smithsonian's Tennenbaum Marine Observatory Network and co-leader on the project, says, "Our review of these experiments suggests that, contrary to some prior interpretations, we may have actually underestimated the importance of biodiversity to the functioning of ecosystems in nature."

To illustrate the team's findings, Lefcheck turns to the focus of his own field research--the seagrass meadows of Chesapeake Bay and the coastal ocean.

"Seagrasses," says Lefcheck, "are home to a variety of small animals that perform different jobs. Some control algae that would smother seagrasses. Others keep out invasive species. Still others provide food for striped bass and blue crabs that are served on our dinner tables. By conserving this variety of animals we can we maximize the health of the grass bed, and the benefits to people."

Professor Nico Eisenhauer, a co-author from the German Centre of Integrative Biodiversity Research, adds "Only with this level of international, cross-system collaboration can we explore global patterns and understand the importance of biodiversity loss for all of humanity."

University of Michigan professor Bradley Cardinale, co-author and project co-leader, says, "People benefit from nature in many ways. Some extract goods like timber. Others recreate, hunt, or fish. Still others use the clean water. Our study suggests that species conservation helps sustain the variety of ecological processes that control the benefits people get from nature."

The scientists conducted the study as part of a working group established in 2010 at the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis in Santa Barbara, California. The group's overall goal is to translate the results of ecological experiments into applied knowledge that can used to aid decisions in conservation and management.

Journal Reference:

Jonathan S. Lefcheck, Jarrett E. K. Byrnes, Forest Isbell, Lars Gamfeldt, John N. Griffin, Nico Eisenhauer, Marc J. S. Hensel, Andy Hector, Bradley J. Cardinale, J. Emmett Duffy. Biodiversity enhances ecosystem multifunctionality across trophic levels and habitats. Nature Communications, 2015; 6: 6936 DOI: 10.1038/ncomms7936

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Best of our wild blogs: 25 Apr 15

Operation WE (coastal) Clean Up @ Lim Chu Kang Beach!
News from the International Coastal Cleanup Singapore

Berlayar Creek with special star and long driftnet
wild shores of singapore

24 Apr 2015: Long driftnet at Berlayar Creek
Project Driftnet Singapore

Young NTUC CROSSROADS: 30 April, 7.30pm
Green Drinks Singapore

Destination Singapore: A Birder’s Gateway to the Jungles of Southeast Asia – Part 2
Singapore Bird Group

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Singapore agencies conduct oil and chemical spill response exercise

Channel NewsAsia 24 Apr 15;

SINGAPORE: To test Singapore's readiness to tackle oil and chemical spills, a multi-agency joint exercise was held in waters off Jurong Island on Friday (Apr 24).

The exercise, code-named JOSE 2015, involved a tabletop management exercise and the deployment of full-scale oil and chemical spill response equipment, said the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) in a news release on Friday.

The exercise, organised by MPA, had more than 180 personnel from various agencies responding to a simulated collision between a Very Large Crude Carrier and a chemical tanker 4.5km south of Jurong Island.

Participants had to combat oil and chemical pollution due to the simulated spillage of 5,000 tonnes of oil and damages on both vessels.

They sent out equipment such as oil containment booms, specialised skimmers, 22 anti-pollution craft and and an aircraft fitted with a dispersant-spraying system. They also deployed a Unmanned Aerial Vehicle that could provide aerial footage for better situational awareness on the ground, as well as to monitor the effectiveness of clean-up operations.

“This exercise not only tests multi-agency responsiveness and co-operation, it also allows us to share best practices and leverage the latest technology to manage the spill,” said Mr Andrew Tan, MPA’s Chief Executive.

About 40 delegates from the International Chemical and Oil Pollution Conference and Exhibition (ICOPCE) 2015 observed the oil and chemical spill exercise. The event was held in conjunction with the Singapore Maritime Week.

- CNA/xq/dl

Singapore showcases response capabilities at multi-agency oil spill exercise
AsiaOne 24 Apr 15;

SINGAPORE - A multi-agency joint oil spill exercise was conducted today along Sudong Holding Anchorage to test and demonstrate Singapore's readiness to tackle oil and chemical spills.

Organised by the Maritime and Port Authority (MPA), this exercise rounds off the last day of the International Chemical and Oil Pollution Conference and Exhibition 2015 (ICOPCE) held in conjunction with the 10th Singapore Maritime Week (SMW).

The exercise which is code-named JOSE 2015, had a full scale oil and chemical spill response equipment deployment. It was attended by 180 personnel from various agencies and about 40 delegates from the ICOPCE.

The exercise scenario involved a simulated collision between a Very Large Crude Carrier (VLCC) and a chemical tanker. The VLCC suffered damages to two cargo tanks and some 5,000 tonnes of oil was spilled. Due to the impact of the collision, the chemical tanker sustained damage to the cargo tank cover on deck.

The exercise included responses to combat oil and chemical pollution from both the vessels and tested multi-agency responsiveness and co-operation.

The spill response teams deployed equipment such as oil containment booms, harbour busters and specialised skimmers.

In addition to the 22 anti-pollution craft, MPA also deployed an aircraft fitted with aerial dispersant spraying system to combat the spill and an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) that had the capability to provide aerial footages for better situational awareness on the ground and to monitor the effectiveness of the clean-up operations.

Mr Andrew Tan, MPA's Chief Executive, said, "Being one of the busiest ports in the world and the top bunkering port, we are reminded of the importance to be vigilant and ready to swiftly respond to any maritime incident, including oil and chemical spills."

He added: "This exercise not only tests multi-agency responsiveness and co-operation, it also allows us to share best practices and leverage the latest technology to manage the spill."

- See more at:

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NParks to continue monitoring stray dog situation at Yishun Park

Loke Kok Fai Channel NewsAsia 24 Apr 15;

SINGAPORE: Several stray dogs have been spotted in Yishun Park. Some of the park’s users have said the dogs usually keep to themselves, but others said the dogs could be aggressive on occasion.

“I come here around 5 to 6 pm. I would usually see about five or six of them. They do not bite people,” said one of them when Channel NewsAsia visited the park on Friday (Apr 24), following a call from a viewer who said she had been attacked by the dogs.

Another person said the dogs would chase him at times, so he would “just run faster”. A third described the dogs as gentle-looking and “not the types that attack people”.

While there, the news team found the dogs to be wary of humans, keeping their distance. The dogs were also seen eating from packets of food scattered throughout the park.

In response to Channel NewsAsia's queries, SPCA Singapore’s executive director, Ms Corrine Fong, said it is working with animal rights groups and the National Parks Board (NParks) to trap, rehabilitate and rehome these stray dogs.

Ms Fong added that SPCA hopes the authorities will not round up the dogs to cull them, but seek long-term solutions such as sterilising the stray dogs to control the population.

NParks said it has worked with animal welfare groups to rehome some of the stray dogs, and will continue to monitor the situation.

NParks added: "There are also signs in the park advising park users on how they should behave if they encounter stray dogs. Feeding of dogs is not allowed in the park and signs are installed to remind park users about this. Enforcement will be taken against those who are caught feeding."

- CNA/hs

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Malaysia To Raise Climate Change And Its Impact During ASEAN Summit

Chandravathani Sathasivam Bernama 24 Apr 15;

KUALA LUMPUR, April 24 (Bernama) -- Malaysia will raise the issue of climate change and its impact on the region's socio-economy during the 26th ASEAN Summit, said Natural Resources and Environment Minister Datuk Seri G. Palanivel.

He said that this was important because Southeast Asia is one of the world's most vulnerable regions to climate change impacts such as droughts, floods, typhoons, sea level rise and heat waves.

"To show our commitment and leadership, Malaysia hopes to sign a new agreement at the 21st United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Conference of Parties in Paris in December this year.

"This would emphasise the urgent need for ASEAN to enhance awareness among all member states to address the climate change issues," he told Bernama ahead of the ASEAN Summit slated for April 26 to 27 in Kuala Lumpur and Langkawi.

Palanivel said that the new agreement would address four important pillars, namely adaptation, mitigation, finance and development, and transfer of technology, to promote sustainable development for a clean and green ASEAN.

Some environmental researchers want Malaysia to table a motion for a joint study among ASEAN countries on the global climate change and its impact, aimed at creating a platform of cooperation for ASEAN scientists.

Palanivel said that ASEAN face future challenges with extreme weather related events, that could impact food production and security, as well as hamper sustainable social and economic development.

"The ASEAN Summit will need to forge stronger and closer cooperation in the area of climate change adaptation to share knowledge and information. Furthermore, ASEAN member states also need to cooperate in disaster management to respond more effectively to extreme weather disasters," he noted.

On the proposal to include environment as the regional grouping's fourth community pillar, Palanivel said that the adoption would signal ASEAN's readiness to assume a more significant role in global environment and climate change governance.

"With a fourth pillar, ASEAN can become pro-active in addressing climate change and can be engaged more by civil society for a more transformative framework," he said.

ASEAN comprises 10 countries -- Brunei Darussalam, the Philippines, Indonesia, Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.


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Chill in the air as Arctic nations meet

Jo Biddle AFP Yahoo News 25 Apr 15;

Arctic nations warned Friday of the dangers facing the environment and the peoples of the remote region, as it now also becomes a new flashpoint in global tensions with Russia.

The Arctic is warming twice as fast as everywhere else on the globe and US officials last month said the Arctic sea ice had reached its lowest winter point since satellite observations began in the late 1970s.

While the polar melt is of major concern because of rising sea levels, it is also opening up new ocean trade routes, and offering the tantalizing promise of untapped offshore oil and gas fields in an energy-hungry world.

"One of the biggest challenges everybody has talked about today is climate change. The numbers are alarming -- and that's putting it mildly," US Secretary of State John Kerry told ministers as the United States took over from Canada as the chairman of the Arctic Council.

"As we take necessary steps to prepare for climate change, we also have a shared responsibility to do everything we can to slow its advance, and we cannot afford to take our eye off that ball."

He was meeting in the small northeastern Canadian town of Iqaluit, on Baffin Island, with other ministers from Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia and Sweden.

The town, which grew up around a World War II US air base, now boasts a population of about 7,500, with more residents flocking to the remote region, drawn by work in iron ore and diamond mines.

The US is putting forward a framework action plan to rein in methane gas emissions and black carbon -- or soot -- created through such activities as gas flaring or oil exploration.

It would mark the first time that the Arctic Council has reached an accord to work together to mitigate the effects of climate change through regional action.

A framework accord on working to reduce black soot and methane "sends a hugely important message that climate change mitigation can be organized regionally as well as globally," said Alaskan fisherman Michael Stickman, chairman of the Arctic Athabaskan Council (AAC).

Kerry warned black carbon is up to 2,000 times more potent than carbon dioxide, while methane gas escaping from thawing permafrost is 20 times more dangerous to the atmosphere than CO2.
- Russia tensions -

There are underlying tensions though, as Russia, under global sanctions due to its role in the conflict in Ukraine, begins to flex its muscles in the region.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov did not attend the meeting, with Moscow sending environment minister Sergei Donskoi instead.

Lavrov's absence was regretted by Stickman, who said the Arctic should be shielded from international tensions.

"No matter what is happening in the outside world, cooperation in the Arctic is moving forward," Donskoi insisted.

"There is no room here for confrontation or fear-mongering," he said, adding Russia was "against politicizing the Arctic."

Although Canadian Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq said she had privately voiced anger at Russia's role in Ukraine, she sought to downplay any fallout for the work of the council, saying it was done through consensus.

But Kerry again took issue with Moscow's actions in eastern Ukraine, pointing the finger at Russia in saying that "it is clear at this point in time" that the Minsk ceasefire deal "has not been lived up to sufficiently."

According to a 2008 study by the US Geological Survey, the Arctic may hold 13 percent of the planet's undiscovered oil and 30 percent of the world's natural gas.

While tackling climate change will be high on the US agenda as chair of the Arctic Council, Washington also hopes to improve ocean stewardship, maritime safety and the lives of the Arctic's four million inhabitants.

The melting ice also creates shorter shipping routes between the Pacific and the Atlantic -- connecting markets in Europe and Asia, with the numbers of ships crossing the Bering Strait on the rise.

Nations are also gearing up for major UN talks in Paris in December to agree a new international pact pegging global warming to 2C over pre-industrial levels.

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