Best of our wild blogs: 6 Sep 10

Fireflies! in the latest issue of Wetlands
from wild shores of singapore

Blue dragons
from The annotated budak

Whimbrel feasting on fiddler crabs
from Bird Ecology Study Group

Dragonfly (40) - Urothemis Signata
from Nature Photography - Singapore Odonata

Flying time with Dragons and Damsels at the Leafmonkey Workshop from wild shores of singapore

Is carbon protection the same as biodiversity protection?
from news

Facing moratorium and criticism in Indonesia, Sinar Mas looks to Liberia for new palm oil opportunities from news

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Philippines scientists note massive bleaching of coral reefs

Kristine L. Alave Philippine Daily Inquirer 6 Sep 10;

MANILA, Philippines—A disaster is unfolding under our waters.

For several months now, marine scientists and divers have been witnessing and recording the massive bleaching of coral reefs all over the country, which is being caused by warmer-than-normal ocean water temperatures.

In some coves, what was once a thriving, technicolor symphony of corals has been transformed into sickly white reefs, the equivalent of an underwater ghost town.

One picture from the report released by a group of scientists last week showed a stark white coral colony. The colony is estimated to be 200 years old.

Other photographs showed corals turning into dark brown lumps, an indication that it’s on the way to bleaching.

“There is something happening underwater and it may be catastrophic,” Rollan Geronimo of Conservation International said.

Under stress, dying

The whitening of corals, caused by the death of zooxanthellae, the protozoa
that gives it coloration, is a sign that it is under stress or dying.

Even after the cause of the stress has ended, bleaching still tends to continue, which makes the recovery of corals a hard and long process.

A change in temperature is often the main cause of bleaching.


Scientists from the University of the Philippines and De La Salle University, who raised the alarm on bleaching last week, said the magnitude of the current coral bleaching could surpass the catastrophe in 1998, also an El Niño year. The bleaching 12 years ago caused millions of dollars in losses in the tourism and fishery industries.

Professor Perry Aliño of the UP Marine Science Institute said his group received reports and pictures from various observatories nationwide of the disastrous state of coral colonies since May, when the country was in the grip of a temperature record-breaking summer.

“Under the sea, the extreme climate phenomenon called El Niño continues to devastate many coral reefs in the Philippines—an important habitat of many fishes and organisms and a lifeblood for the livelihood and food to millions of Filipinos,” Aliño said in his report.

“The threat is real and the future for our coral reefs is at great risk and this rich legacy can be lost if we remain inactive to this crisis,” he added.

Professor Al Licuanan of De La Salle University expressed fears that the coral reefs in the country could be greatly diminished in 50 years if bleaching happens every 10 years or so.

Still warm

Data from weather satellites show that the temperature in the oceans surrounding the Philippines rose by around 2 degrees Celsius in 2009.

Although the El Niño season has passed, the waters surrounding the country have yet to cool down due to a lack of typhoons in the past months, scientists said.

Professor Mags Quibilan of the UP Marine Science Institute said what was alarming this time around was the scale of the bleaching.

Even protected marine areas, off limits to fishermen and divers, have suffered various degrees of bleaching, Quibilan said.

In El Nido, Palawan, for instance, the report noted that bleaching “is extensive,” with “50-75 percent” of the corals affected.

“We are still hoping that they will recover … We can’t say this is worse than 1998, but in some places like El Nido, they said this was worse than in 1998,” Quibilan said.

Hot spots

So far, scientists have confirmed at least eight areas, which include popular dive sites, as bleaching hot spots. These are in Batangas (Nasugbu, Lian, Bauan, Mabini, Lobo and Calatagan), Oriental Mindoro (Calapan) and Quezon (Pagbilao).

Scientists are verifying bleaching in Puerto Galera and Lubang Island. There have also been reports of coral whitening in Bolinao, Batangas, Iloilo and other parts of Palawan, besides El Nido.

Quibilan said the bleaching of corals, which provide food and sanctuary to other marine animals, would affect the country’s fisheries and tourism industry. In 1998, it was estimated that El Nido lost at least $15 million in earnings from fisheries and tourism because of the phenomenon.

Aside from the adverse impact on tourism, the whitening of the reefs could also affect the livelihoods of coastal residents.

The waters of the Philippines is part of the Coral Triangle, a 5.7-million square kilometer area, one of the most diverse marine ecoystems in the world.

More eyes and ears

The Coral Triangle, which is bounded by Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Island and Timor Leste, is home to 75 percent of the coral species in the world. It also supports a multibillion-dollar tuna industry.

Because much of the country depends on the resources from the ocean, scientists urged the government to take action.

Aliño said local governments should establish conservation efforts to “ensure that coral reefs remain healthy to withstand and recover quickly from bleaching and other stressors.”

He said the government should also create marine protected areas to hasten the recovery of the coral colonies.

“We need the national government agencies to provide a stimulus program for post-bleaching recovery through restoration and effective reduction of other man-made stressors in affected coral reefs,” Aliño said.

To raise awareness, environmentalists and scientists have established a Facebook page called Philippine Coral Bleaching Watch that encourages divers, scientists and environmentalists to report areas where bleaching is occurring.

The scientists appealed to the public to help them record and monitor the extent of the destruction: “We need more eyes and hands underwater to make things matter,” they said.

Scientists Observe Bleaching Of Philippine Corals
AHN 6 Sep 10;

Manila, Metro Manila, Philippines (AHN) - Scientists from two Philippine universities are alarmed over the bleaching of corals in the country’s seabed because of a two-degree rise in Philippine waters in 2009. The University of the Philippines and De La Salle University have received reports and photos from different groups of the discoloration of the coral reefs.

Aside from the damage such phenomenon causes to the ecological balance, the bleaching of Philippine corals could also cause losses in the country’s tourism and fishery sectors. In 1998, when El Nino hit the country, the popular El Nido resort lost $15 million in income as tourists shied away due to reports of coral bleaching.

Many of the photos submitted showed that the reefs have turned to white, which was caused by the death of a protozoa – the zooxanthellae – which gives the corals its colors. Discoloration is an indicator that the coral is under stress or dying.

The scientists warned that unless the threat is addressed immediately coral reefs in the Philippines could be drastically reduced in the next five decades.

They identified at least eight areas where the coral bleaching is massive. These are in the town of Nasugbu, Lian, Bauan, Mabini, Lobo and Calatagan in Batangas, Calapan in Oriental Mindoro and Pagbilao in Quezon.

Coral bleaching is just one of the effects of climate change. The other negative impact includes water shortage, a drop in agricultural productivity, ailments due to heat stress, disappearance of small islands and poor livestock production and fish catch.

Aside from grappling with El Nino, the Philippines also has to content with La Nina, which causes heavy rainfall. Two weeks ago, officials from the Departments of Agriculture, Agrarian Reform and Environment admitted at the La Nina Summit that their agencies do not have emergency funds to deal with La Nina. The only revolving fund to deal with the climate phenomenon is the Nation Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council’s $22.5 million (1 billion pesos) revolving fund.

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Howard Shaw: green crusader

Going deep-sea fishing with his family from a young age, Howard Shaw developed a love of nature
akshita nanda Straits Times 6 Sep 10;

On a boiling hot afternoon, the air is still and heavy at the headquarters of the Singapore Environment Council (SEC) in Cluny Park Road. Even a short 10-minute wait is uncomfortable. Not a fan stirs to cool the corridors in keeping with the office policy of minimising energy consumption.

Stepping into executive director Howard Shaw's office is a welcome relief. The noon sun streaming in through big bay windows is defused by blinds and air-conditioning turned on low. Cool water is offered in reusable tumblers. Rescued from heatstroke, I admire the view of the Singapore Botanic Gardens.

The only plant inside the office is a small perennial in a jar reused as a plant pot. To my surprise, Mr Shaw confesses: 'I'm lousy with plants. I kill them.'

Another surprise: The 39-year-old says he spends much of each working day in meetings with corporate bodies and associations willing to adopt eco-friendly practices. His desk is bordered by neat stacks of paper and a tie on top 'in case of emergencies', that is, meetings that require him to dress formally.

'We're unlike traditional non-governmental organisations, which are placard- holders and fence-blockers,' he explains. 'In Singapore, it's very much about engaging stakeholders and finding win-win solutions.'

An example is persuading local supermarkets such as FairPrice and Cold Storage to ask customers to pay for plastic bags. It not only cuts retailers' costs but also reduces the use of these land polluters. Bring Your Own Bag Day was launched by the council and the National Environment Agency in 2008 and is now a weekly affair.

A similar win-win green scheme is certifying products that are eco-friendly. This accreditation gets manufacturers to do their part to conserve precious planetary resources and, in return, benefit from the growing market for green goods. This certification forms a large part of the work of the council, which was set up in 1995 to facilitate green causes locally.

The council works to make businesses, schools and members of the public more conscious of their impact on the environment and helps them take action. Activities include working with school eco-clubs to design water-treatment plants and recognising industries employing eco-friendly practices at the yearly Singapore Environmental Achievement Awards.

Mr Shaw joined the council 14 years ago and has been the executive director of the non-profit, non-governmental organisation since 2003. He says he earns a monthly four-figure salary.

The council employs a staff of 11 and charges for its accreditation work. However, it is largely supported by donations in cash and kind from the Government and bodies such as the Lee Foundation and Shaw Foundation. As an Institute Of Public Character, donations to it are tax exempt.

Fund-raising can sometimes be a problem for Mr Shaw. 'When people think of SEC, they think, 'It's being run by Howard Shaw, so they don't need money'. They are wrong,' he says with a laugh.

The middle child of three, he is the younger son of Shaw Vee King, managing director of cinema giant Shaw Organisation and son of its founder Runme Shaw. Howard's brother Mark is vice-president of the company, which was set up in Singapore in 1924 and soon expanded to making and distributing movies in various parts of Asia. Their younger sister is a corporate analyst.

The family business supports the council in kind, allowing it to hold fund-raising gala premieres of eco-themed movies such as Earth in April.

While Mr Shaw says he has little desire to enter the family business, he refuses to comment on whether he will ever leave his job at the council.

His first nine years were spent in Hong Kong, where his father ran that overseas arm of Shaw. Even though he played on movie sets there as a child and loved watching film crews stage explosions, he says he was always more fascinated by nature than the art of film. He puts that down to being allowed to keep pets and encouraged to spend time outdoors.

'Even when I returned to Singapore in 1979, after school, I would get together with the neighbours and go catch guppies in drains. Or spiders. I've a lot of scars to show from those rambling days.'

The guppies were food for the fish he kept in a marine tank, set up with the aid of his maths tutor. 'We spent a large part of the time playing with the aquarium and less with maths,' he recalls.

Sent to boarding school in England at age 12, he spent his free time in Marlborough House in Kent climbing trees or observing pond animals and thinking of ways to transform his love of nature into a career. Those were the years of the recycling boom, as landfill sites were being depleted in the United Kingdom and the United States.

'My mother told me, 'You should go into the waste business, you could potentially make a lot of money.' Those were the days when garbagemen in Los Angeles were making more money than some lawyers,' he says. His mother, Linda, 62, is a housewife.

After finishing his A levels, he signed up to do a degree in environmental biology at Oxford Brookes University. In between, he headed back to Singapore to do his national service, volunteering for the navy diving unit.

Aquatic activities held great appeal, given the family hobby of deep-sea fishing. But going underwater was an eye-opener. 'If you think there are a lot of plastic bags on land, there is a sea of plastic bags under the sea,' he says with distaste. 'It was distressing.'

And more garbage floated down each day into their training area in the Strait of Johor, according to his then diving buddy James Han, now 41. 'It is unimaginable, the whole seabed is covered with plastic bags. You can't even get a look at the sand,' says the marine industry executive.

According to him, Mr Shaw was not content to just complain. He devised a barrier to trap floating debris and made his fellow national servicemen use it.

'It made a lot of difference to us,' says Mr Han, who was not at all surprised when his friend went on to join the Singapore Environment Council after completing his degree.

It was a new operation at Fort Canning Park in 1996 when Mr Shaw came looking for a job. It was love at first sight, he recalls. The office used recycled materials in furnishing and equipment and often kept doors and windows open instead of using fans and electric lighting. 'Everyone walked around barefoot. I thought, this is where I want to work, it's like Bali,' he says.

Mrs Kirtida Mekani, 50, was then the executive director of the council. Rather than relying on his resume, she gave him five topics and access to their little library and told him to write an essay on any issue he chose.

His composition about needing to get children to engage with nature at an early age won her over. 'I believe in picking up people with a passion. I saw his enthusiasm, I knew I had to take him. He was hungry to do things, which is important,' she recalls. It was only later that she found out that he was 'one of those Shaws'.

His first assignment with the council was engaging with industries and developing what would become the Singapore Environment Achievement Award.

Family connections helped, he says, usually as an ice-breaker in meetings. 'I'm always being asked why I'm not doing movies,' he says with a smile.

In the beginning, he says, the award was just an added trophy for the meeting room, but as consumers became more aware of eco-issues, green ideas gained credence in industry.

The Green Label now seen on products from photocopiers to food packaging is one of the checks the council administers to inform consumers that such products are easier on the environment than others. The scheme was launched by the Government in 1992 but the council keeps it going.

This year, the council got together with the Singapore Contractors Association Limited to start certifying 'green' contractors. It is working on ways to accredit hotels, food courts and offices for their eco-friendly stance, looking at areas from building materials to energy consumption to whether employees recycle. The benchmarks used are set through consultations with international organisations worldwide.

Demand for such accreditation is going through the roof, Mr Shaw says, as consumers have become more conscious of what they are buying. Travelling executives choose eco-friendly hotels as part of corporate social responsibility, while consumers expect purchases to come in recycled packaging.

'Today, these green labels are essential to export-based countries. Even places such as South Korea and Taiwan will ask about your green credentials,' he says.

As an ambassador for eco-friendliness, he tries to walk the talk, while saying he is not as hardcore as he could be.

He owns two pairs of office shoes and wears them until they fall apart. He brings tupperware to hawker centres to take food home and drives a hybrid Toyota Prius, advising family members to do the same when their cars are ready for scrap.

'We have a lot of monster cars in the family,' he adds with a laugh. The owner of a folding bicycle, he cycles to work '20 per cent of the time'.

In the SEC headquarters, air-conditioning is limited to the meeting room and some workspaces and not used on Thursdays. Mr Shaw says he often feels the heat and is full of admiration for the staff who stick to their guns.

At his home in Balmoral Park, where he lives with his sister, her husband and their grandmother, natural ventilation is preferred to air-conditioning and kitchen waste is composted for the garden.

The divorced father of two daughters, aged nine and 12, says his children keep him toeing the green line, scolding him if he leaves the door to an air-conditioned room open, for example. He shares custody of them with his ex-wife and does not comment on his current partner of four years, except to say that she shares his decision to eschew shark's fin dishes.

While not strictly vegetarian, he limits his meat intake and avoids exotic foods, since transporting them adds to greenhouse gas pollution. Recently, he gave up tuna sashimi after learning that the species is being over-fished.

He is not the sort of activist who is constantly seeking a soapbox or sending fiery missives to the media. This often comes as a surprise to people, he says.

'But I understand the Singapore way of doing things,' he explains. 'It's about consultation, a lot of it is closed door. To present your request, you have to put up a good business case for it, put up a good social case for it, rather than just go to the press straight away. If you do that, the doors slam shut.'

He learnt the value of working with the system the hard way. This was the failure of Car-Free Day in 2000, an attempt to get Singaporeans to stop driving their cars and use alternative means of transport. 'Addressing climate change, we have to talk about cars, that's 20 per cent of global gas emissions,' he says.

Unfortunately, the scheme received more criticism than support from the public. 'I don't think we realised what we were facing in terms of the mentality of the target group. We basically got a campaign from Europe and we lifted it and dropped it in Singapore. Dropped is the right word because it went down like a lead balloon,' he says.

'People wrote in saying 'On average I spend $20 a day on owning a car and SEC is telling me I shouldn't drive it.' There were fears that the transport system would be overcrowded. Even then Acting Environment Minister Lim Swee Say was quoted as saying that it's okay to drive on Car-Free Day.'

The scheme was replaced with Green Transport Week to promote 'greener mobility', but Mr Shaw found to his dismay that this only preached to the converted. 'If you ask the average person about GTW, they'll say 'Huh?''

So, he says, to widen their outreach, the council is going with the zeitgeist this year instead of against it. They are organising a 'green grand prix or G1' on Sept 19, a week before the Formula One Race.

Contestants from schools and polytechnics will build cars from recycled plastic and wood and zip around the F1 track. Teams from tertiary institutions will have a separate race in eco-cars they have designed to run on solar energy and electricity.

The idea is to move away from the doom and gloom of climate change and create awareness of emerging technologies, says Mr Shaw.

'We decided we needed to have a lot more fun with this to draw people from all over Singapore. After all, who doesn't want to be part of the whole F1 Singapore Grand Prix season?'

Possibly yet another win-win solution.

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More industries likely to use LNG in Singapore

Other than power units, refineries and pharma firms may buy gas: BG Group
Ronnie Lim, Business Times 6 Sep 10;

LNG supplies to Singapore starting in early-2013 won't just help fuel power stations, but will also be used by some petrochemical/refinery, electronics and pharmaceutical plants here.

Singapore's LNG buyer BG Group - which will finalise its sales contracts in mid-September for a total 1.5 million tonnes per annum (tpa) of liquefied natural gas with the gencos here - is currently sounding out these potential industrial customers after earlier securing its first non-power customer, a petrochemicals company.

'We are in various stages of negotiations with industrial customers, including electronics and pharmaceutical plants, which need gas for their manufacturing processes or are considering having their own cogeneration plants,' Dan Werner, BG's general manager for Singapore, told BT.

By Sept 15, the six generating companies here are expected to commit to their planned new projects/expansions to qualify for vesting contracts which essentially guarantee them a share of the electricity market.

This was a 'carrot' dangled by the Energy Market Authority to get them to commit to LNG purchases to fuel their new projects, with this in turn helping underpin Singapore's $1.5 billion LNG terminal project.

Among those which recently announced new investments are Island Power which has just signed its Engineering, Procurement & Construction deal for a new $1.2 billion, 800MW station; Sembcorp which announced a 400MW expansion after clinching a utilities supply deal from Jurong Aromatics Corporation; and Keppel Corporation which said it plans to build a 900MW expansion by the end of this year.

Several pharmaceutical plants in Tuas, like Schering-Plough and Pfizer Asia Pacific, are already using natural gas to fuel their cogen plants, while gas is also needed to fuel in-house cogen units supplying electricity and steam to petrochemical/oil refineries here, like at ExxonMobil and Shell.

While some of these refineries already have existing gas supplies, they may need additional LNG in future.

'We have in place long-term piped gas contracts for the energy needs of our manufacturing site on Jurong Island,' an ExxonMobil spokeswoman said. This was in reference to its $3 billion deal with Keppel Gas for Malaysian gas supplies, including for its latest 220MW cogen expansion to supply utilities to its upcoming US$5 billion second petrochemical complex.

Singapore Refining Company, which is currently planning to build a 60-70MW cogen unit at its Merlimau refinery, could also potentially be a LNG customer.

Meanwhile, Mr Werner said that BG is set to make its final investment decision for its 8.5 million tpa Queensland Curtis LNG project - meant to supply Singapore and others - within the next few months.

'The first gas from Queensland Curtis is expected in 2014, and given its proximity to Singapore, it will likely be the source of most of the LNG coming here,' he said.

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Threatened Java Ox Gets Good News and Bad News

Fidelis E. Satriastanti Jakarta Globe 5 Sep 10;

Jakarta. A team of scientists raised hopes for the threatened banteng, or Javanese wild ox, when it reported an increase in herd numbers at a controlled testing area at the Alas Purwo National Park in East Java. A study in August found 73 individual Bos Javanicus, which are indigenous to Java, at the site, up from 50 a few years earlier.

But that good news was tempered by earlier reports that animal numbers could be on the wane in neighboring Baluran National Park.

“It’s improvement, even though the study was limited to the 80-hectare feeding ground developed specifically to cater to the banteng population,” Dian Sulastini, a park ecosystem officer, said on Saturday.

Dian said there were no figures for the banteng population for the entire park, which spans 43,000 hectares. “We usually have a problem with the water supply at Alas Purwo, which keeps the banteng away,” Dian said.

“Another issue is the migration of the animals to neighboring Sumber Gedang, which provides a much more suitable habitat for them, with enough grass and water, but falls under the jurisdiction of [state-owned logging company] Perum Perhutani.”

The study, by a trio of young scientists from Indonesia, Taiwan and Thailand, also found banteng tracks among bamboo patches in Alas Purwo.

“We found most of the tracks near the bamboo forests, but we can’t say for sure whether they’re eating bamboo now rather than grass,” said Taiwanese researcher Teng He Huang.

Dian said there were indications that the animals were eating bamboo shoots along with grass, which could indicate that the animals’ normal food supply has become scarce.

“There are 11 types of bamboo that make up 27 percent of Alas Purwo,” she said. “We found bite marks on the bamboo stems that we suspect came from banteng. It’s possible that they’re eating the shoots, but that’s just a theory we have.”

Meanwhile, an official at the 25,000-hectare Baluran National Park said the banteng population there had fallen sharply from 200 in 2003 to 40 in 2008. Water shortages have been blamed for the losses.

“The water issue here goes back to 2002, when people began stealing the pipes that used to channel water to the park from Mount Baluran,” said park official Swiss Winasis.

“That caused the banteng here to either die or to migrate to other areas in search of water.” He added since the water dried up, most of the animals had moved to the Bajulmati River, which falls outside the park’s protected boundaries.

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Consuming juveniles dooms fisheries: WWF Malaysia warns

Evangeline Majawat New Straits Times 6 Sep 10;

KUALA LUMPUR: Crabs the size of iPhones? Groupers only 30cm long? Saucer-sized stingrays?

Smaller seafood may be cheaper, but experts warned that eating juveniles is only making it worse for distressed fisheries.

Worldwide Fund for Nature Peninsular Malaysia Seas programme officer Chitra Devi G. said declining catch since the 1970s had forced fishermen to use smaller mesh sizes.

The widespread use of trawlers too meant fishermen are "sweeping" everything in the sea.

"When more and more juveniles are caught, it means that we are taking them out faster than they can breed, which will eventually mean collapse (of fisheries)," she said.

"This is evidenced by the decline of our demersal stock density, where over the years less fish are available in an area."

Demersal fish live and feed near or at the seabed. They include coral trouts, groupers, crabs, prawns and stingrays.

Unfortunately, most consumers are unaware of the problem.

Fisheries Department research officer Dr Alias Man said consumers preferred the juveniles as they were "family size", just enough for a small household.

"Consumers tend to go for the smaller ones as they're cheaper and there is less wastage. But my worry is that soon our fisheries will collapse."

Official data shows that annual marine fish landings have shot up from 951,307 tonnes in 1990 to 1.28 million tonnes in 2000 and 1.39 million tonnes eight years later.

Explaining the Fisheries Department statistics, Alias said the increase in the number of vessels, use of the latest technology and smaller mesh size of trawl nets had pushed the figures up.

But he said the value of commercial fish from these landings had dropped significantly. The yield of trash fish, which has low or no value and usually not consumed by humans, has tripled since the 1980s.

In 2008, 320,000 of the 1.39 million tonnes of fish caught were trash fish.

The widespread use of trawl nets has also given scientists a big headache. As of 2008, 51 per cent of fishermen in Malaysia are using it.

Locals use bottom trawlers which are very destructive as dragging the seabed will kill corals and scoop fish fry and juveniles.

"The Fisheries Act states very clearly that only 38mm mesh size at the cod end of a trawl net is allowed.

"But enforcement has been hard as fishermen believe the new size will reduce their catch," Alias said.

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Taming the Wild Tuna

Paul Greenberg The New York Times 4 Sep 10;

IN the wide expanse of the wild ocean, there is perhaps nothing more wild than the world’s largest tuna — the giant Atlantic bluefin. Equipped with a kind of natural GPS system that biologists have yet to decode, the bluefin can cross and recross the Atlantic’s breadth multiple times in the course of its life. Its furious metabolism enables the fish to sprint at more than 40 miles an hour, heat its muscles 20 degrees above ambient, and hunt relentlessly at frigid depths in excess of 1,500 feet.

Yet in spite of all of its unwieldy and feral characteristics, aquaculture scientists have just announced an important step toward converting the Atlantic bluefin, in rapid decline in the wild, into a farm animal. Researchers at a European Union-financed program, Selfdott, said they had succeeded in spawning the Atlantic bluefin in captivity without hormonal intervention.

If they can solve the problem of raising the offspring to adulthood — a challenging prospect — the bluefin may soon join Atlantic salmon, rainbow trout, branzino, yellowtail, turbot, shrimp, catfish and tilapia as an industrially farmed staple of the modern fish market. Which brings up an interesting question: Can a farmed version of bluefin tuna be better for the earth — and the species?

The potential taming of the Atlantic bluefin highlights an epochal shift. Seafood today is roughly where landfood was 10,000 odd years ago. Just as Neolithic humans launched a domestication project after the last Ice Age and eventually replaced many wild mammal populations with tame ones, so, too, are modern humans parsing and domesticating the ocean, fish by fish.

In the last 50 years, the global seafood market has transformed from one based on wild fish and shellfish to one in which farming supplies nearly half of the market, according to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization.

Leading this transition is wild Atlantic salmon, which collapsed as a commercial species in the 1960s and was subsequently replaced in the marketplace by farmed Atlantic salmon. Atlantic salmon is now priced at a level so that many consumers can enjoy it, but its availability has not been without repercussions. Farmed salmon are often grown in the pathways of wild salmon migration routes, and the Monterey Bay Aquarium, Blue Ocean Institute and many other ocean-focused nonprofit groups place farmed salmon on their “do not eat” lists, largely because of the threat that farm-born diseases, waste and parasites may pose to already severely depressed runs of Atlantic salmon.

Cultivating Atlantic bluefin tuna, environmentalists argue, could be even more harmful to the ocean than salmon farming. Atlantic bluefin are already ranched in great numbers — taken from the wild and fattened in net pens with wild forage fish like herring and sardines. There, it may take anywhere from 5 pounds to 15 pounds of wild fish to grow a single pound of Atlantic bluefin.

The Stanford economist Rosamond Naylor pointed out in a recent paper in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, that there was not too much room for adding species to the world’s aquaculture portfolio.

“Most forage fisheries,” Ms. Naylor wrote “are either fully exploited to overexploited or are in the process of recovering from overexploitation.”

If she is right — and if bluefin tuna farming is ramped up to the level of salmon farming, which produces more than two billion pounds a year — the effect on forage fish, the foundation of the oceanic food chain, could be devastating. A worldwide overharvest of forage fish could damage not just bluefin tuna populations but other important commercial species that also rely on these fish for sustenance.

But alternatives to forage fish are being developed, including feed pellets made from algae and other vegetable matter. As Frederic Barrows, a fish physiologist and nutritionist with the Agriculture Department, puts it “fish need nutrients, not ingredients” and there are already experimental tuna diets undergoing trials that don’t require fish meal.

Another alternative is to farm species that seem naturally appropriate for domestication. Josh Goldman, an ecologist-turned-fish farmer in Turners Falls, Mass., grows Australian barramundi in out-of-ocean tanks precisely because they are comfortable with farm conditions and don’t require as much fish meal as other species. During Australia’s dry season, wild barramundi end up stuck into “billabongs” — broken-off river oxbows that become hot, stagnant and oxygen poor.

“What does a billabong resemble most?” Mr. Goldman asked. “An aquaculture facility.”

Similarly, Arctic char, a fish closely related to Atlantic salmon, has evolved to survive crowded conditions when its native northern lakes freeze nearly solid in wintertime. Like the barramundi, Arctic char take well to being grown in above-ground tanks that pose no disease transfer risks to wild populations.

Char may be a hard sell to lovers of bluefin tuna. A slice of o-toro bluefin belly, any sushi-lover would say, is a luxurious, sensual experience that a barramundi, a char, let alone a tilapia simply cannot replicate.

If Atlantic bluefin is not farmed, it will most likely become an even more scarce luxury item. Global fishing moratoriums on the species have been proposed (and then rejected by the many nations that catch bluefin). But other options being discussed include drastically reducing fishing quotas in the next few years and closing spawning grounds in the Mediterranean and the Gulf of Mexico to fishing entirely.

Perhaps, in the end, this is what the Atlantic bluefin tuna might really need. Not human intervention to make them spawn in captivity. But rather human restraint, to allow them to spawn in the wild, in peace.

Paul Greenberg is the author of “Four Fish: The Future of the Last Wild Food.”

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NGOs Warn World Bank Over Palm Oil Funding in Indonesia

Eny Wulandari Jakarta Globe 5 Sep 10;

Jakarta. Environmental groups Greenpeace and Sawit Watch have called on the World Bank to extend its international suspension of financing for the palm oil sector unless producers meet environmental criteria.

Jefri Saragih, head of Sawit’s campaign in Indonesia, said on Sunday that the World Bank must provide palm oil makers with clear guidelines on what they must do to reduce their industry’s impact on global warming.

Jefri delivered the statement in response to a World Bank meeting held in Frankfurt on Tuesday and Wednesday.

During the gathering, the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation said it would promote and finance environmentally and socially sustainable palm oil.

It said it would invest in palm oil production if producers meet international certification or provide a solid schedule for achieving sustainability.

Bustar Maitar, a local campaigner for Greenpeace, also urged the World Bank to make financing dependant on palm oil producers prioritizing environmental concerns.

Fadhil Hasan, executive director of the Indonesian Palm Oil Producers Association (Gapki), said on Sunday that his office would continue giving feedback to the World Bank until it made a decision on whether to resume funding the sector.

“We have yet to have any final response on the World Bank’s strategy at the moment. The World Bank will hold another meeting in October,” Fadhil said.

Fadhil said Gapki members would not pin their hopes on the World Bank, because they have been able to rely on commercial loans to fund their operations.

However, he said the international body should not make financing dependent on meeting environmental criteria, saying that the jobs created by palm oil producers should be taken into account.

Environmental groups have been making a stir with campaigns accusing palm oil firms of illegal deforestation, with Sinar Mas Group being boycotted by some of its top buyers.

On Thursday, US fast food giant Burger King said it would stop buying palm oil from the firm and its subsidiaries after Greenpeace mounted a successful campaign against Sinar Mas’s land-clearing practices.

Unilever and Nestle earlier dropped the supplier over the criticism.

Since 1965, the World Bank has channeled nearly $2 billion for 45 projects in the palm oil sector in 12 nations across Africa, Latin America and Southeast Asia.

Indonesia has been a major focus of the financing, receiving $618.8 million of the total funding. The World Bank suspended the financing in September 2009 over environmental concerns.

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Plantations threaten Myanmar's tiger reserve

Tycoon's 'land-grabbing' undermines country's conservation credibility
Nirmal Ghosh, Straits Times 6 Sep 10;

THE report from the Kachin Development Networking Group (KDNG) is disturbing.

The group's representatives, whom I met recently, showed me video footage filmed in February - of scenes from Myanmar's Hugawng Valley Tiger Reserve. One clip showed a backhoe tracking across a stark expanse of churned-up earth - the forest which once stood there now only a faint line on the horizon.

A map showed the land clearing, apparently by Yuzana company - owned by tycoon Htay Myint, described in reports as a crony of the Myanmar regime - burrowing northwards, driving a wedge almost reaching the heart of the reserve.

The forests are being mown down to be replaced with cash crop plantations. In the process, over 5,000 locals living off the land have seen their traditional resource base devastated, and have, in many cases, been forced to relocate.

The Yuzana operations are protected by 200 soldiers and private militia, the KDNG report says.

Last week, in a move that will test the standards of justice administration in military-ruled Myanmar, 17 farmers from the area in Kachin state, in northern Myanmar bordering China, filed a plea for compensation for their lands, with a court in the state capital Myitkyina.

The 17 had been among 148 farmers from five villages in the area, who had protested in June against land confiscation by Yuzana. News reports quoted lawyer Myint Lwin, representing the farmers, as saying that over the past two months, more than 120 farmers had been resettled with compensation for their land amounting to US$198 (S$265) a hectare. The farmers contend that the compensation grossly undervalues their land.

The apparent land-grab risks destroying the credibility of Myanmar's showcase environmental protection effort and undermining its sound biodiversity conservation objectives.

An expansion last month tripled the size of the Hugawng Valley Tiger Reserve to 11,000 sq km, making it the largest tiger reserve in the world. 'In the northernmost stretches of Myanmar, a valley exists where tigers can just be tigers,' a newsletter from the Wildlife Conservation Society said after the expansion.

But the KDNG report said that 161,640ha of land, double that allowed under the terms of a licence granted to Yuzana by the government, has been grabbed by the firm to plant cash crops.

'Fleets of tractors, backhoes and bulldozers rip up forests, raze bamboo groves and flatten existing small farms. Signboards that mark animal corridors and 'no-hunting zones' stand out starkly against a now-barren landscape, all that is left of conservation efforts,' it said.

The situation is further complicated by overlapping jurisdictions. The Kachin Independence Army is a strong presence in the region and exercises de facto control over many areas. Pro-democracy groups colour the conservation project as the regime's ploy to extend its army's reach.

Where does this leave the tigers? In the rugged terrain and dense forest, there can only be educated guesses, but in 2002 it was believed that the Hugawng Valley may have had up to just 100 tigers.

The jungles in northern Myanmar stretch for kilometres to the border with India's Arunachal Pradesh state, where another tiger reserve - Namdapha - forms part of India's protected area network aimed at saving the last of the giant cats.

Possibly a little over 3,000 tigers survive in the wild across a few Asian countries. But many are in small remnant populations in isolated forests, cut off from each other and running out of space - which is why an area as large as

Hugawng-Namdapha, one of the world's biodiversity hot spots, is a potential last redoubt. But even in these dense green jungles, the tiger is under threat.

It is thought that there are fewer than half a dozen tigers left in Namdapha.

Dr Alan Rabinowitz, one of the world's foremost wildlife scientists, began exploring the remote valley in the late 1990s, eventually persuading the regime's generals to declare it a protected area - a project the generals embraced with enthusiasm, sparking hope for the tiger.

The tigers of Hugawng survived World War II and a civil war. But will they survive the new onslaughts of our time?

The court's judgment may be crucial in determining the outcome. For eventually, the tiger will never survive without the tolerance of the people who have, for generations, shared its habitat.

World's Largest Tiger Reserve Clearcut for Plantations
Environment News Service 27 Sep 10;

YANGON, Myanmar, September 27, 2010 (ENS) - In August, Myanmar officials formally announced that the entire remote Hukawng Valley would be designated as a Protected Tiger Area. They trumpeted the creation of the world's largest tiger reserve in the valley in Kachin State, located in the northernmost part of the country, also called Burma.

The declaration was hailed by environmentalists around the world as a landmark in conserving the only 3,200 wild tigers left by protecting an area the size of Vermont.

But less than a month later, a report and video released by a network of civil society groups and development organizations in Kachin State shows that one of Myanmar's most powerful tycoons has been, and still is, clear-cutting forests across the tiger reserve to put in sugar and tapioca plantations and to plant jatropha for biofuel.

The report, "Tyrants, Tycoons and Tigers" by the Kachin Development Networking Group details how fleets of bulldozers and backhoes are razing forests and destroying animal corridors, leaving only the conservation signboards standing.

The Kachin Development Networking Group is a network of civil society groups and development organizations in Kachin State. KDNG's stated purpose is "to effectively work for sustainable development together with locally-based organisations in Kachin State. It's aim is to promote a civil society based on equality and justice for the local people in the struggle for social and political change in Burma."

"Today a 200,000 acre mono-crop plantation project is making a mockery of the reserve's protected status," the report states.

"Fleets of tractors, backhoes, and bulldozers rip up forests, raze bamboo groves and flatten existing small farms. Signboards that mark animal corridors and "no hunting zones" stand out starkly against a now barren landscape; they are all that is left of conservation efforts," KDNG reports.

"Application of chemical fertilizers and herbicides together with the daily toil of over two thousand imported workers are transforming the area into huge tapioca, sugar cane, and jatropha plantations," according to the report.

"In 2006 Senior General Than Shwe, Burma's ruling despot, granted the Rangoon-based Yuzana Company license to develop this "agricultural development zone" in the tiger reserve," KDNG states. "Yuzana Company is one of Burma's largest businesses and is chaired by U Htay Myint, a prominent real estate tycoon who has close connections with the junta."

The tiger reserve was established in 2001 with the support of the Wildlife Conservation Society based at New York's Bronx Zoo.

In 2004, the Myanmar government designated 2,500 square miles of the valley as a wildlife sanctuary, based on the first biological expedition into the area in 1999 led by Dr. Alan Rabinowitz, an American who is currently CEO of the wild cat conservation group Panthera, and staff from the Myanmar Forest Department and the Wildlife Conservation Society's Myanmar Program.

In August, 4,248 square miles was added to the reserve. "I have dreamt of this day for many years," Rabinowitz said at the time. "The strides we made in 2004 were groundbreaking, but protecting this entire valley to ensure tigers are able to live and roam freely is a game changer. This reserve is one of the most important stretches of tiger habitat in the world, and I am thrilled that the people and government of Myanmar understand the importance of preserving it."

Rabinowitz said the unprecedented tiger reserve extension was enacted after Myanmar Prime Minister Thein Sein gathered 17 other Cabinet ministers to fly to the valley earlier this year to assess its conservation needs.

Clouded leopards, Asian elephants and some 370 bird species, including the critically endangered Rufous-necked Hornbill, have been found in the region and of the current global estimate of 13,500 plant species, approximately 7,000 are found in this valley and nowhere else on the planet.

"Myanmar now offers one of the best hopes for saving tigers in Southeast Asia," said Colin Poole, director for Wildlife Conservation Society's Asia Programs, on August 6. "The newly expanded protected area in the Hukawng Valley will be a cornerstone of tiger conservation throughout this iconic big cat's range."

But KDNG spokesperson Ah Nan said on August 25, "The destruction in Hugawng makes a mockery of the tiger reserve. Yuzana is doing whatever it likes with the aid of the generals and the silence of conservationists."

People as well as tigers are being displaced. The KDNG report documents the struggles of indigenous farmers being forcibly relocated to make way for the plantations. There are seven villages in the middle project area with a total estimated population of 5,000. The populations come from several different subgroups of the Kachin ethnicity.

They have organized themselves to resist attacks and intimidation from Yuzana and regime officials, opened a court case against the company and asked the International Labor Organization to intervene.

"They threatened the local residents and took away their farms without negotiating with the people. They came at night time and bulldozed away our farmlands. They confiscated cemeteries and burned farmhouses. They confiscated lands belonging to religious organizations," the farmers wrote in a joint letter to Hpakant Township Peace and Development Council in June 2009.

In March 2010, representatives of three villages filed written requests to the International Labor Organization to investigate the actions of Yuzana. In July 2010, more than 100 farmers opened a joint court case in Kachin State.

Yuzana Company was founded in 1994 by Myint. The company is involved in hotels and tourism construction, fisheries, palm oil and rubber plantations. The company owns three hotels and the Yuzana Supermarket in Rangoon.

"We want to bring development to Hukawng," the KDNG report quotes Myint as telling Ban Kawk villagers in 2010.

Myint has been targeted by EU and US government sanctions due to his links with the Myanmar's military regime.

But KDNG predicts that Myint is slated to become a regional governor after Myanmar's upcoming elections. The ruling regime plans to hold general elections on November 7, the first in 20 years.

"These tycoons are a new face of tyranny in Burma," said Ah Nan. "They're set to enjoy even greater power after the elections."

Despite the plantations, the ruling military regime claims in its recent National Tiger Plan that it will double the country's tiger population by 2022.

The plan will be submitted at the first ever Global Tiger Summit to be held in St. Petersburg, Russia in November.

At the summit, Russia will host ministers and heads of state from the 13 countries that still have tiger populations to sign a declaration on joint cooperation for tiger conservation, and to initiate a global tiger recovery program which seeks double tiger numbers by the year 2022, the next Year of the Tiger.

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Thai villagers voice health fears over pollution

Janesara Fugal Yahoo News 5 Sep 10;

BANGKOK (AFP) – Noi Jaitang's voice is laced with bitter helplessness as he faces the reality that his rural Thai village could once again be engulfed with fumes he blames for a litany of family illnesses.

"I don't understand why they please industry but not the people who were here first. If I could talk to the prime minister, I would tell him to sympathise with us and see our pain," the 71-year-old said.

A year after legal action halted 76 projects at the vast Map Ta Phut industrial estate on Thailand's eastern seaboard, a court dismissed the case on Thursday and opened the way for a full-scale resumption of works there.

Industry expressed relief after the decision, which is expected to end a hiatus that froze billions of dollars of investment and tarnished Thailand's reputation among international investors.

But the activists and villages behind the action have been left angry and bewildered by a ruling they believe does not address health and environmental concerns.

Allegations against the plants from nearby villages are grave -- record cancer rates and respiratory disease in the area are blamed on a toxic cocktail pumped into the air from the estate.

Noi, who blames respiratory problems on the fumes wafting across fields to his house, said his wife has had cancer of the face twice and that his children have been sick from acid rain.

He said his "heart was torn" by the verdict and questioned whether the Thai premier had betrayed local people in a rush to appease big business.

It is a charge Abhisit Vejjajiva has denied.

"The government has not neglected the people's lives nor the impact on the environment," he said on Friday.

But in a sign that the focus was already shifting to opportunities presented by resuming work at the estate, the prime minister also noted Japan's warm reception of the ruling, and signs that it could boost investment.

Chainoi Puankosoom, president of PTTAR, part of the industrial conglomerate PTT Plc, said the company had invested about 130 billion baht (four billion dollars) in its 25 Map Ta Phut projects.

"The suspension only damaged the investment atmosphere," he said.

"We are more than ready to resume our operations as soon as possible."

Thursday's ruling said projects would now be subject to a list of 11 types of industrial activity deemed harmful -- including petrochemicals, mining, power plants, dams and airport runways -- announced just two days earlier.

Projects in those categories would be required to have impact assessments.

"I suspected it would end this way, after the cabinet approved the list," said Suthi Atchasai, an environmental activist with the People's Eastern Network, based in Rayong, where Map Ta Phut is located.

The group now wants the list to be extended or scrapped.

Projects were originally suspended in September 2009 after activists led by Srisuwan Janya of Thailand's Stop Global Warming Association filed a suit against state agencies alleging industrial permits were illegally issued.

That court based its decision on rules, brought in under a 2007 military-backed constitution, that all firms should carry out health and environmental assessments before beginning new works.

Eleven of the Map Ta Phut projects deemed to have limited environmental impact were later allowed to resume and now only two are thought to come under the new rules requiring them to undergo environmental assessments.

Businesses complained the 2007 regulations were costly and confusing, and the government list is an effort at simplification.

Payungsak Chartsutipol, chairman of the Federation of Thai Industries, said it gives firms a regulatory path to follow.

"The ruling is clarity, so now the government, investors and also local organisations know what to do," he said.

But he expressed concern about the level of opposition from local communities to new investment projects.

"If only they would listen with an open mind, they could talk to us first before rejecting us," he said.

The Map Ta Phut case and the strident grassroots movement around it ruffled feathers in a country where local voices often appear to go unheard.

Heavy pollution from the estate was first noticed in the 1980s, but it was not until 1997 that villagers formed a green movement after children attending a neighbouring school were taken ill.

In 2003 the National Cancer Institute found that the highest rates of cancer in Thailand were in Rayong province.

Lawyer Srisuwan, who said the action was funded out of the activists' own pockets, vowed to appeal the ruling.

He believes the court has wrongly applied the list retrospectively and complained that the Map Ta Phut projects had been let "off the hook".

"I will not stop fighting," he said.

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Amazon May Be Headed For Another Bad Drought

Patricia Velez and Alfredo Loayza PlanetArk 6 Sep 10;

Drought has cut Peru's Amazon River to its lowest level in 40 years and it is already below the minimum set in 2005, when a devastating dry spell damaged vast swaths of South American rainforest in the worst drought in decades.

Scientists in Peru and Brazil say the lack of rainfall, which is typical for this time of year, should continue for a few more weeks until the start of the rainy season.

But there is some concern that the dryness could persist as what is shaping up to be an intense hurricane season in the Atlantic sucks humidity away from the Amazon.

"The formation of hurricanes is very much related, more hurricanes means less rain for us," said Marco Paredes, head of Peru's meteorological service in Iquitos, some 500 miles from the capital of Lima. "It's an inverse relationship."

The headwaters of the river start in Peru and its meteorological service said on Friday the height of the river in the Amazon city of Iquitos has fallen to 347 feet above sea level, 19.6 inches less than where it was in the previous severe drought.

Officials worry the intensity and frequency of droughts could become more severe.

"This situation is critical," Robert Falcon of Peru's civil defense agency said of expected food shortages and outbreaks of illness. "The scientists are already saying that because of climate change these events will become more frequent."

Falcon is bracing for a drought like the one that hit five years ago, when sinking water levels severed connections in the lattice of creeks, lakes and rivers that make up the Amazon's motorboat transportation network.

Thousands of people, fish and boats were stranded as rivers ran dry to expose cracked dirt on their banks.

At the time of 2005 drought, scientists said it stemmed in part from a hurricane season that broke numerous records and caused the catastrophic Katrina storm that devastated New Orleans.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has forecast 14 to 23 named storms this year, with 8 to 14 developing into hurricanes, nearly matching 2005's record of 15. It expects the lack of rainfall to persist.

"Forecasts are indicating that this situation (of little rainfall) will continue for the next two or three weeks, so that the level of water will drop by about 20 to 30 centimeters (8-12 inches) from where it is now," Paredes said.

(Editing by Terry Wade and Sandra Maler)

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Diverse water sources key to food security: report

* Report warns of rainfall threat to global agriculture
* Single large projects like dams not always best
* Experts recommend investing in diversified sources
Reuters AlertNet 6 Sep 10;

LONDON, Sept 6 (Reuters) - Increasingly erratic rainfall patterns related to climate change pose a major threat to food security and economic growth, water experts said on Monday, arguing for greater investment in water storage.

In a report by the International Water Management Institute (IWMI), experts said Africa and Asia were likely to be hardest hit by unpredictable rainfall, and urged policymakers and farmers to try to find ways of diversifying sources of water.

The IWMI research estimates that up to 499 million people in Africa and India could benefit from improved agricultural water management.

"Just as modern consumers diversify their financial holdings to reduce risk, smallholder farmers need a wide array of 'water accounts' to provide a buffer against climate change impacts," Matthew McCartney, a hydrologist at IWMI, said in a statement.

"That way, if one water source goes dry, they'll have others to fall back on."

The U.N. panel of climate experts has projected more extreme weather such as droughts, floods and heatwaves this century, caused by global warming.

The report said that, despite a great expansion in irrigation in recent decades in Asia, around 66 percent of agriculture there is still dependent on rainfall.

In sub-Saharan Africa, the proportion is even greater at 94 percent, it said. These are the regions where water storage infrastructure is least developed.

The report cautioned against over-reliance on single solutions such as big dams, and said an integrated approach combining large- and small-scale storage was a better strategy.

It suggested the use of water from natural wetlands, water stored in the soil, groundwater and water collected in ponds, tanks and reservoirs.

"For millions of people dependent on rain-fed agriculture, reliable access to water can make all the difference between chronic hunger and steady progress toward food security," McCartney added.

"Even small amounts of stored water, by enabling crops and livestock to survive dry periods, can produce large gains in agricultural productivity and in the wellbeing of rural people."

The IWMI is funded by the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), a partnership of governments, donors and international organisations.

It noted that, in response to increased demand for food and power supplies, many developing country governments with fast-growing economies have recently invested in large dams.

The benefits of these projects in terms of storing water for crop irrigation were clear, it said, "but so are the adverse social and environmental impacts".

As examples of the value of small-scale storage options, the study cited field studies that have proven the effectiveness of using small planting basins to "harvest" water.

In Zimbabwe, such basins have been shown to boost maize yields, whether rainfall is abundant or scarce. In Niger, they have led to three- or four-fold increases in millet yields. (Reporting by Kate Kelland; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

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Water meet focuses on pollution and quality

Nina Larson Yahoo News 5 Sep 10;

STOCKHOLM (AFP) – Increasing water pollution and dwindling water quality around the globe will be the main focus as around 2,500 experts begin gathering in Stockholm Sunday for the 20th edition of the World Water Week.

"Driven by demographic change and economic growth, water is increasingly withdrawn, used, reused, treated, and disposed of," organisers cautioned in their introduction to this year's conference.

"Urbanisation, agriculture, industry and climate change exert mounting pressure on both the quantity and quality of our water resources," they added in a statement on the conference website.

The meeting, which kicks off Sunday and is scheduled to last until September 11, will draw experts from around 130 countries to discuss the theme: "The Water Quality Challenge -- Prevention, Wise Use and Abatement."

The picture is bleak, according to the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI), which organises the conference each year.

"Water pollution is on the rise globally," the institute said, pointing out that each and every day, approximately two million tonnes of human waste is poured into rivers, lakes and the sea.

And in developing countries, a full 70 percent of industrial waste is dumped straight into waters without being treated, severely polluting the usable water supply.

Global warming is exacerbating the problem, according to World Water Week director Jens Bergren.

"Climate change is really mainly about water and it has huge implications for water pollution," he told AFP, pointing out that global warming is changing weather patterns and essentially causing massive flooding in some areas and severe droughts in others.

This is a big problem due to the way water interacts with pollutants.

"If there is too much water, it flushes out much more in the way of pollutants, spreading them around ... but if there is a drought, there is less water in rivers and lakes to dilute the pollutants there and they do more harm," Berggren said.

"In both cases there is more pollution," he lamented.

The growing pollution in turn leads to a number of very serious challenges and contributes to declining access to clean water around the world, affecting human health and ecosystems both on land and at sea.

The United Nation's Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) estimates that within the next 15 years, 1.8 billion people will be living in countries or regions with acute water scarcity, and that a full two-thirds of the world's inhabitants could be facing shortages.

But as daunting as the task may seem, Berggren insists the problem of pollution and water scarcity can be solved.

"There is really no physical water shortage in the world," he said, stressing that "there is actually lots of water."

According to Berggren, "it is how the water is managed that is the big problem," and that is something it is possible to change.

Exactly how to bring about change will be a major focus of this week's conference.

Especially important, experts say, is to raise awareness of how inter-connected global water systems are to shine the spotlight on the true effects of pollution.

"There is often a disconnect for people that pollute and the effects of that pollution on people and ecosystems downstream or in other parts of shared lakes and aquifers," SIWI said.

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