Best of our wild blogs: 27 Apr 10

Dolphin escapes from Resorts World Sentosa?
from wild shores of singapore

Seminar, Mon 03 May 2010: 4pm – Theodore Evans (CSIRO) on “New views on termite biology” from The Biodiversity crew @ NUS

Singapore Camping!
from Crystal and Bryan in Singapore

Out for blood
from The annotated budak and spinster's tale and red and green

Republic Poly Trail
from Macro Photography in Singapore

Eye movements of the Buffy Fish Owl
from Bird Ecology Study Group

Read more!

No need for Singapore to renew first water deal with Malaysia

Nur Dianah Suhaimi, Straits Times 27 Apr 10;

SINGAPORE will not be renewing the first of its two water agreements with Malaysia when it expires next year.

The reason: Extra reservoirs and another Newater plant being built can increase supply to meet the country's needs, Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Yaacob Ibrahim said yesterday.

He was replying to Nominated MP Mildred Tan who had asked whether the expiry of the first water agreement next year will lead to higher water tariffs in future and what steps Singapore has taken to become more self-sufficient in water.

Over the years, supply has been bolstered with more Newater plants, new reservoirs and desalinated water, Dr Yaacob noted. 'With these new sources, we have diversified our water supply and built up a robust system.' He added that, as a result, there is no need to renew the first water agreement with Malaysia. Under the agreement, signed in 1961, Singapore will buy water from Malaysia at three sen for every 1,000 gallons for 50 years.

Singapore aims to be self-sufficient in water by 2061 when its second water agreement with Malaysia expires. This agreement, signed in 1962, allows it to buy more water at the same price.

Dr Yaacob said Newater supply is expected to meet 30 per cent of Singapore's water needs when the fifth and largest Newater plant in Changi is completed later this year. It will produce up to 50 million gallons of ultra-clean reclaimed water daily - enough to fill 94 Olympic-size swimming pools. Also, the desalination plant in Tuas can meet 10 per cent of Singapore's needs.

Noting that both of these sources do not rely on rainfall, Dr Yaacob said: 'They can be used to supplement local water stocks in an extended dry spell like the one experienced in February this year, the driest February on record.'

A second desalination plant will be built in the next few years to 'further enhance the drought resilience of our water supply and ensure reliability for Singapore's water users,' he added.

The new reservoirs that will be ready next year are in Marina, Punggol and Serangoon. They are expected to increase Singapore's water catchment area from half to two-thirds of its total land area.

However, all these new methods of producing water may result in higher water tariffs in future, said Dr Yaacob. 'Water tariffs need to be reviewed from time to time to reflect the higher costs of producing water from these newer sources and other general cost increases.'

But he assured the House the Government will study any proposal to revise water tariffs.

Singapore will not renew one water agreement with Malaysia which expires next year
Lynda Hong Channel NewsAsia 26 Apr 10;

SINGAPORE: Singapore will not need to renew one water agreement with Malaysia which expires next year.

That's because Singapore has ramped up with local water supply with new reservoirs, NEWater and desalinated water.

Environment and Water Resources Minister Yaacob Ibrahim said Singapore will build a second desalination plant over the next few years to ensure reliability in water supply.

Environment & Water Resources Minister, Dr Yaacob Ibrahim, said: "As the production of NEWater and desalinated water are independent of rainfall, they can be used to supplement water stocks in an extended dry spell like the one experienced in February this year, which was the driest February on record." - CNA/vm

Water-sufficiency plan on track
Low Wei Xiang, My Paper 27 Apr 10;

SINGAPORE will not renew one of the two water agreements with Malaysia that will expire next year.

Key developments scheduled for completion over the next few years will supplement Singapore's water supply, Dr Yaacob Ibrahim, Minister for the Environment and Water Resources, said in Parliament yesterday.

The new reservoirs, a watertreatment plant and a desalination will ensure the country's thirst for water will be sufficiently met, he said.

New reservoirs in Marina, Punggol and Serangoon, when completed next year, will expand the water catchment from half to two thirds of Singapore's land area.

The three reservoirs will supply about 15 per cent of the country's water needs, taking the reservoir
count to 17.

A new $2.2-billion Newater plant in Changi will add 800,000 cu m to Singapore's daily water supply.

When ready later this year, the water-treatment facility, plus four existing plants, will double Newater capacity to cater to a third of the nation's water needs.

Work has also begun last on the country's second desalination plant that will make seawater potable.

Expected to take about 20 more months to complete, the Jurong Island plant will produce 182,000 cu m of water daily for factories in the area.

The first desalination plant, located in Tuas and completed in 2005, meets about 10 per cent of Singapore's water needs.

"As the production of Newater and desalinated water is independent of rainfall, they can supplement local water stocks in an extended dry spell like the one experienced in February," said Dr Yaacob.

As it costs more to produce water from these newer sources, water tariffs will be reviewed to factor in the costs.

However, the Government will revise "particularly its impact on low-income households", he said.

The first water agreement, signed in 1961, allows Singapore to buy water from Malaysia at RM0.03 for every 1,000 gallons until next year.

In 1962, Singapore signed a second water agreement to buy more water from Malaysia at the same price. This agreement will expire in 2061, the year Singapore aims to be self-sufficient in water.

The country currently imports 40 per cent of its water from its neighbour under the two agreements.

Read more!

First charging stations for electric vehicles in Singapore by November

Ronnie Lim, Business Times 27 Apr 10;

THE first charging stations for electric vehicles (EVs) will sprout up at users' premises, and also shopping malls and public carparks here by end-November. This will support the first batch of test EVs which are expected to run on Singapore roads by the fourth quarter under a test programme, though no specific numbers were given at this point.

The Energy Market Authority (EMA), which is prepared to fund fully the upfront capital costs for the EV charging infrastructure, has started its search for an experienced charging service provider (CSP) for this.

In a RFP or request for proposals which it has just called, EMA wants a CSP 'to roll out a network of EV charging stations in Singapore at designated locations, in tandem with the delivery of the EVs for the test bed'.

Interested local or overseas companies or consortiums will have to design, develop, deploy and operate the EV charging infrastructure, which should be adapted for Singapore's context, until end-2016. They should also meet the requirements of EV makers, 'including back-end settlement mechanisms for payments to SP Services or electricity suppliers'.

Another objective for the selected CSP will be to provide EV testbed users with a reliable and competitively-priced service for charging their EVs, as well as to obtain data on usage patterns of EV charging stations and other user feedback, 'so as to facilitate policy recommendations on the future deployment of EV charging infrastructure', EMA said.

The selected CSP will have to carry out the project in three phases, starting with design and development of the charging infrastructure, followed by deployment and then operation and maintenance.

It has to deploy up to 20 normal charging stations and one quick-charging station by end-October this year at locations recommended by EMA, followed by one month's testing and trouble-shooting. The EV charging infrastructure, including billing systems, should be operational by end-November to support the first batch of EVs expected to run on Singapore roads in Q4, EMA added.

'As demand for EVs grow, the CSP shall deploy charging stations in quantities and locations... up to a maximum of 60 normal charging stations and three quick-charging stations.'

EMA said that it is prepared to fund fully the upfront capital costs required for the system's successful development and deployment up to that stage, although it added that 'the CSP is encouraged to co-fund part of the capital costs'.

Most of the normal charging stations will be allocated to dedicated EV users on a 1:1 basis and 'the remainder shall be deployed at prominent locations frequented by Singapore residents, such as shopping malls or public carparks at central locations, not just for demonstration purposes but also to test out the necessity for public EV charging'.

EMA added that as the first batch of EVs would most likely be taken up by public and private organisations as company cars, this will generate a need for charging infrastructure to be sited in carparks near the office or home of the users.

Under phase 3, EMA said that the CSP will be responsible for the operation and maintenance of the entire EV charging infrastructure - including any upgrading - until end-2016.

At that time, the ownership of all assets associated with the EV charging infrastructure will be transferred to EMA or parties appointed by EMA to divest the assets to.

The regulator, however, said that it has yet to make a firm policy decision on who will be responsible for the continued ownership, operation and maintenance beyond this test-bed period.

Read more!

Lower costs to light up Singapore roads since energy market's liberalisation

Imelda Saad Channel NewsAsia 26 Apr 10;

SINGAPORE: The annual energy cost to light up roads around Singapore has progressively gone down since the freeing up of the energy market in 2003.

Addressing a question in Parliament on the annual energy consumption cost of street lamps, Senior Parliamentary Secretary for the Transport Ministry Teo Ser Luck said the Land Transport Authority (LTA) has been able to secure a lower off peak rate through an open tender process.

In the past three fiscal years, the annual energy cost was S$15.9 million for FY07, S$20.3 million for FY08 and S$14.8 million for FY09.

Mr Teo said the LTA will progressively install more high energy efficient street lamps.

About 8,000 of such street lamps have been installed, saving more than S$1 million in energy a year.

On whether the ministry will consider switching off alternate lights along certain stretches of roads, Mr Teo said studies have found that doing so may result in dark bends, therefore affecting driver safety.

- CNA/yb

Read more!

New monitor lizard discovered in Indonesia

University of California - Santa Barbara EurekAlert 26 Apr 10;

(Santa Barbara, Calif.) –– A newly discovered species of monitor lizard, a close relative of the Komodo dragon, was reported in the journal Zootaxa this week by a professor at UC Santa Barbara and a researcher from Finland.

Sam Sweet, a professor in the department of Ecology, Evolution and Marine Biology at UCSB, and Valter Weijola, a graduate student at Abo Akademi University in Turku, Finland, are the first to describe the distinctive lizard, which lives in the Moluccan islands of east Indonesia. Sweet is an authority on monitor lizard biology.

The scientific name of this lizard is Varanus obor; its popular names are Torch monitor and Sago monitor. It's called Torch monitor because of its bright orange head with a glossy black body. Obor means torch in Indonesian. It is a close relative of the fruit-eating monitor lizard recently reported from the Philippines. The Torch monitor can grow to nearly four feet in length, and thrives on a diet of small animals and carrion.

The Torch monitor exists only on the small island of Sanana in the western Moluccan islands. A unique aspect of this geographical region is the lack of mammalian predators, which may have given reptiles the space to evolve as the top terrestrial predators and scavengers. Several million years ago, this island was situated near New Guinea, and it is possible that the lizard lives on as a relic from that period. It is the only black monitor in its lineage, and the only monitor species anywhere that has evolved red pigmentation.

Sweet describes an important biological context: "East of Wallace's Line –– the boundary between Asian and Australian domains –– there are no native carnivorous mammals, and monitor lizards fill that role. There are more species there, doing more different things ecologically than in Africa or South and Southeast Asia, where competition and predation by mammals tend to keep monitor lizards down. East of Wallace's Line in Indonesia, New Guinea, and Australia, monitor lizards are on the top of the heap. It emphasizes again how little we know about some tropical regions, to find an animal so strikingly colored and so large only last year."

Weijola discovered the lizard last spring, and returned with Sweet in late 2009 for five weeks to do studies and take photographs of the animal. The Torch monitor is most common in the coastal sago palm swamps and belongs to the mangrove monitor, V. indicus group.

Read more!

Zoos back Malaysian Wildlife Conservation Bill

R. Sittamparam and Kristina George, The Star 26 Apr 10;

KUALA LUMPUR: The Malaysian Association of Zoological Parks and Aquaria (Mazpa) has come out in support of the proposed Wildlife Conservation Act 2010, which is expected to be enforced at the end of the year to ensure that animal welfare is given priority by zoos.

The Wildlife Conservation Bill was tabled for the first reading at the Dewan Rakyat recently, and is scheduled for second reading in June.

Under the provisions of the proposed act, which is to replace the Wildlife Protection Act 1972, poachers will face stiff penalties.

The Wildlife and National Parks Department will also be empowered to regulate the establishment and running of zoos.

Mazpa chairman Dr Kevin Lazarus said: "At present, zoos are only required to obtain special permits for bringing in and keeping animal exhibits and there is little government interference in their operations.

"The new act will enable the government to closely monitor zoo operations to ensure that they comply with the proper standards of animal welfare."

He said Mazpa regularly evaluated the welfare of animals at the premises of its 13 members and would advise them to rectify any shortcomings.

"We are glad the government is taking steps to ensure that the country's zoos conform to a certain standard.

"This is important, especially with the emergence of private zoos in the country, many of whom are not Mazpa members," added Lazarus, who is also director of Taiping Zoo.

Natural Resources and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Douglas Uggah Embas said the proposed act showed that the government was committed to protecting wildlife and nature in the country.

He said the new law would ensure that those found guilty of hunting or keeping female creatures under the wildlife protection list would face fines up to RM100,000 or a prison term up to five years or both.

Zoo Negara director Dr Mohamad Ngah said recent criticisms that the welfare of animals at Zoo Negara had been compromised because of a lack of funds were unfounded.

"We maintain high standards of animal welfare as we are certified by the Southeast Asian Zoo Association and the World Association of Zoos.

"In complying with international standards, we have even stopped orang utan and elephant shows."

He said 85 per cent of the zoo's revenue was from gate sales and the rest from donations.

Mohamad said the zoo had only sought government funds for development projects, such as adding more animal enclosures.

Read more!

Activists protest animal testing plans in Malaysia

Eileen Ng, Associated Press Business Week 26 Apr 10;

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia: An Indian biotech company's plans to set up laboratories for testing dogs and primates in Malaysia have angered animal rights groups who say the trial subjects could face suffering because the country has no regulations on animal research.

India's Vivo BioTech Ltd. inked a 450 million ringgit ($141 million) joint-venture deal in January to set up a biotechology center in southern Malacca state to develop and manufacture medicine. The center will include laboratories where trial medicines will be tested on animals.

Vivo officials declined to comment on the issue when contacted Monday. Malacca state officials could not be immediately reached for comment.

Activists say tougher regulations on animal testing in the West are pushing companies to outsource to Asia, where there are lax regulations and cheaper costs.

In a joint statement issued over the weekend, Malaysia's Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection and the European Coalition to End Animal Experiments cried foul over the project because Malaysia has no laws protecting the welfare of animals used in experiments.

"Malaysia currently has no legislation governing the use of animals in research," the statement said, adding that they opposed the proposed facility for "both ethical reasons and the lack of scientific validity of using animals in testing."

The groups submitted a protest letter to the government last week, urging it to halt the project, and also requested a meeting with the local authorities to discuss the issue, SPCA official Jacinta Johnson said Monday.

"Malaysia should not open the economy to businesses like this as it promotes cruelty," she said.

Officials from the wildlife and veterinary departments said Monday they were not aware of the project and have not received any application from Vivo Biotech to import animals for research.

The company has said previously that Vivo may import beagles from Holland and try to obtain domestic primates for testing before turning to overseas sources. Companies need permits to import or export wildlife or any protected species in Malaysia.

Last year, a French pharmaceutical research company proposed setting up an animal testing laboratory in southern Johor state using imported macaques, but the project was suspended amid an outcry from environmental groups.

The proposed facility in Malacca is a joint venture involving key majority shareholder Vivo BioTech, state government-owned Melaka Biotech Holdings and local firm Vanguard Creative Technologies.

Malacca still mulling over animal test lab plan
A state ethics committee is currently reflecting the impact of such a set up
Darshini Kandasamy Malay Mail 26 Apr 10;

MALACCA: A State ethics committee on animal-testing is reflecting the impact of plans to set up an animal testing laboratory here, said Malacca Chief Minister Datuk Seri Mohd Ali Rustam.

Responding to protest letters by a coalition of international and local animal protection groups against the lab plans, he said such a committee would be set up only if it was deemed necessary by the Ministry of Health (MOH).

Asked if he would adopt animal groups suggestions and even the Laboratory Animal Science Association of Malaysia (Lasam), as reported on April 2, that a special ethics committee be formed to monitor and regulate testing on animals to ensure research is ethically conducted and for good reason, Mohd Ali will discuss the matter with the Ministry of Health.

"If necessary we will form a committee on animal testing as this is the first time we're handling a proposal to build such a facility if necessary, we will have a State-level ethics committee. We will get the authorities from Kuala Lumpur to advise us." But, he stressed. tests had to be conducted on animals.

"We have to test on monkeys or rats before giving medicines to humans.

How else will we know if the medicines are safe? "After all, God created animals to be used by humans for our benefit, including to be eaten.

"If not, God would only have just created human beings." the chief minister told The Malay Mail, adding animals needed to be sacrificed, failing which he asked, "else how can we find vaccines?" Stating no one wanted to victimise animals, he assured the animal lab will have the necessary permission, including from the MOH, before the biotechnology centre begins operations and adhering to US standards.

Mohd Ali claimed operations would even be monitored by a US company investing in this venture — a planned medicine producing and manufacturing centre in Rembhia in Alor Gajah.

However, licenses would only be applied for, he said, after the facilities were built.

"We cannot object to this need to apply for a licence as we do not want to use too many primates or other animals.That is why we need permission from the government, including how many animals we can use.

"We will get the necessary permission."

"The animal welfare groups are all talk but they too eat them. We do not want to be cruel to animals.

"Only when primates are okay to the medicine, can be begin to be 100 per cent confident to give." Although he was unable to confirm the medication to be manufactured at the proposed Malacca biotechnology centre, a joint-venture between large Indian Vivo BioTech Limited and Melaka Biotech Holdings, it is believed to be for diabetic medication.

Read more!

Draft Decree a Threat to Indonesia's Farmers, Experts Say

Markus Junianto Sihaloho & Arti Ekawati, Jakarta Globe 26 Apr 10;

The government is coming under strong pressure to revise a draft ministerial decree that would require farmers to seek permits to cultivate food crops.

The Ministry of Agriculture is planning to introduce a decree that many have criticized as being a tool for big companies to dictate their needs and an opening for illegal levies at the district level.

Speaking at a news conference at the House of Representatives, Firman Subagyo, deputy chairman of Commission IV, which oversees agricultural affairs, said the decree threatened the existence of small-scale farmers in the country.

Firman said the decree stipulated that farmers who owned land measuring less than 25 hectares and had at least 10 workers must obtain a license from their local government before planting crops.

He said most farmers in the country only had small plots and were accustomed to helping each other work the land. Thus, even a one-hectare field may have 10 or more people working on it.

“The decree is dangerous,” he said. “Many small-scale farmers would be taken to prison or fined just because they were helping each other. That’s why we reject it and demand the government discard the decree.”

Honning Sanny, a member of the commission, said the decree specified 11 requirements that farmers must meet to obtain a license to plant crops.

He said these requirements would limit small-scale farmers because they would have to seek permits, which would make them vulnerable to local officials seeking illegal levies.

“I am sure that all of these regulations are meant to provide the means for big companies to remove local farmers from the competition,” Honning said.

Firman said the commission would take steps to block the decree, including, if necessary, filing a request for the impeachment of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono on the grounds that he was violating the Constitution.

“We have about 43 million farmers, of whom 23.6 million are small-scale farmers,” he said. “They’re ready to go to Jakarta to hold a rally protesting this unfair decree.”

Dwi Astuti, executive director of Bina Desa, a nongovernmental organization involved in agricultural issues, said during the news conference that the proposed decree was clearly an effort to liberalize the agricultural industry.

“The regulations are ironic in the face of the government’s statement that they are meant to provide enough food for the country,” she said.

The draft ministerial decree was drawn up to implement a government regulation signed in January on food crop plantations, or food estates.

On Friday, Agriculture Minister Suswono promised to revise the decree.

Suswono said that if farmers registered themselves and their crops with their local governments that would allow a more effective distribution of supporting materials such as fertilizers and seeds.

Ahmad Muqowam, chairman of House Commission IV, said the government needed to practice greater care when issuing new regulations, particularly those involving licences from local administrations.

Muqowan cited the many instances of local and central government licenses overlapping in the forestry sector. “Do we want to repeat this in the agricultural sector?,” he asked.

If passed, he said, the ministerial decree would trigger a massive land grab in the agricultural sector.

Rahmat Pambudi, secretary general of the Indonesian Farmers Association (HKTI), said the ministerial decree would not help small-scale farmers, and would instead prove to be a burden.

Read more!

Indonesia to take lead on geothermal energy: president

Yahoo News 26 Apr 10;

NUSA DUA, Indonesia (AFP) – President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono pledged Monday to make Indonesia the world's biggest user of clean, renewable geothermal energy, and urged private investors to back him.

The archipelago of 234 million people and more than 200 volcanoes is estimated to possess around 40 percent of the world's geothermal energy potential, or around 28,000 megawatts (MW).

It already has plans to double its geothermal energy output but analysts say the high costs associated with converting underground heat into electricity is an obstacle to investment.

"After the United States with close to 4,000 megawatts and the Philippines utilising approximately 2,000 megawatts, Indonesia is currently only using 1,100 megawatts" of geothermal energy, Yudhoyono told a conference in Bali.

"It is my intention that Indonesia will become the largest user of geothermal energy... We envision that by 2025, about five percent of our national energy needs will be met through the use of geothermal energy."

Within five years Indonesia aims to add 4,000 MW to its geothermal capacity, and by 2025 it would generate a total of 9,000 MW from underground heat sources including volcanoes.

"We urgently need to accelerate geothermal development in our country. But this is a task that the government alone cannot carry out. We need the help of all stakeholders," the president told the World Geothermal Congress.

He said 8.6 billion dollars worth of projects already under way would eventually produce only some 2,885 MW of power, indicating the scale of the investments required to meet the 2025 target.

Geothermal energy is far cleaner than burning of fossil fuels such as coal, one of the main contributors to greenhouse gases blamed for global warming.

Yudhoyono said geothermal and other clean energies would help the country cut greenhouse gas emissions by 26 percent over 2005 levels by 2026 -- making a "considerable contribution to climate stability".

"This effort, of course, is part of a larger package of mitigation and adaptation measures that are necessary to successfully manage the reality of climate change," he told delegates.

"Everything that can reduce carbon emissions must be brought into play."

Coal and oil are by far the biggest sources of Indonesia's growing energy needs, reportedly accounting for almost 70 percent, followed by natural gas and hydropower on about 18 percent each.

Geothermal contributes only three percent to state-run energy company Perusahaan Listrik Negara's power capacity.

Indonesia is one of the fastest growing economies in the world but currently only 65 percent of Indonesians have access to electricity. The goal is to reach 90 percent of the population by the end of the decade.

The fourth World Geothermal Congress opened Sunday on the resort island of Bali and is expected to attract some 2,000 people from more than 80 countries over six days.

Indonesia hopes to generate hundreds of millions of dollars in new investment from the event, officials have said.

Yudhoyono said state-owned companies would account for half the investment required to meet the government's targets, with the remainder coming from the private sector.

"Already we have seen contributions from Chevron, Star Energy and Medco, and we hope to see more experienced international companies take up this challenge," he said.

Geothermal backers welcomed the recent completion of negotiations between a consortium of US, Japanese and Indonesian companies and the state electricity company over the 340 MW Sarulla project on Sumatra island.

Several firms such as Tata and Chevron have submitted bids to build another geothermal plant in North Sumatra, with potential for 200 MW.

Geothermal energy summit in Bali
Karishma Vaswani, BBC News 26 Apr 10;

Indonesia is hosting what is being called the world's biggest geothermal energy conference.

The congress in Bali is an attempt to look at how to better develop geothermal power as an environmentally friendly fuel for the future.

Geothermal power is energy extracted from the heat stored in the Earth, and environmentalists say it could be the key to using cleaner forms of fuel.

Representatives from 80 countries are attending the talks.

Expensive endeavour

It is often dubbed volcano power but the correct scientific explanation for geothermal energy is power extracted from the heat stored in the Earth's core.

Indonesia has ambitious plans to tap geothermal power and in particular the energy created by its volcanoes.

The archipelago of more than 17,000 islands sits on the Pacific "Ring of Fire" - one of the most active regions in the world for volcanic activity.

Indonesia does not have the resources to be able to provide a consistent supply of electricity to all of its population, so finding an alternative source of energy is critical for south-east Asia's largest economy as it rapidly expands.

This will be one of the major talking points at the world geothermal congress in Bali this week.

Scientists say that in theory the planet's geothermal power is enough to supply mankind's energy needs and could certainly help to solve Indonesia's fuel problems.

But the issue is cost. While environmentally friendly, the harnessing of geothermal power is also a very expensive endeavour.

Indonesia currently uses mostly coal as a source of power, which is cheap but is also considered harmful to the environment.

It is thought that a geothermal plant could cost about twice as much as a coal one and take many more years to build.

It is being reported that Indonesia is keen to raise more than $1bn (£650m) in investment as a result of this conference so that it can develop geothermal energy as a source of power for its future.

Read more!

Reef Offers Model for Conservation

Erik Olsen, The New York Times 26 Apr 10;

GLOVER’S REEF, Belize — As Alex Tilley powers his 15-foot skiff over the turquoise surface, a dark form slips across the white sand floor below. “Sting ray,” Mr. Tilley says.

For the next half mile, en route to the Wildlife Conservation Society research station here at Glover’s Reef in Belize, at least half a dozen rays are spotted moving beneath the surface. To Mr. Tilley, the presence of so many rays says a lot about the state of the reef here.

“The fish populations at Glover’s are still very robust,” he said. “This is definitely one of the healthiest reefs in the region.”

Mr. Tilley is the station manager and resident scientist here on Middle Caye, one of six small islands within the Glover’s Reef atoll. A Ph.D. candidate in marine biology from Bangor University in North Wales, Mr. Tilley leads a reef monitoring program sponsored by the Wildlife Conservation Society, a Bronx-based organization that helped establish the reserve here in 1993.

While his British accent betrays his national origins, Mr. Tilley now lives here year-round managing the research station and conducting studies on the local sharks and rays. With its lush tropical setting and thriving reef, the caye is a kind of tropical paradise. “It beats working in a lab,” he said.

Glover’s Reef, about 28 miles from the coast of Belize, is one of the only true atolls in the Atlantic Ocean. It is also the site of Belize’s largest “no-take” marine reserve, a 17,500-acre zone where all types of fishing are prohibited. The no-take zone makes up about 20 percent of the wider 87,000-acre Marine Protected Area here. Within 75 percent of the reserve, some types of fishing are allowed, although there are restrictions on the type of gear that can be used.

According to scientists here, the marine reserve at Glover’s Reef offers a test case for the viability of similar reserves around the world. They are now hoping to apply some of the conservation strategies here to make other places succeed.

“I think Glover’s Reef is a model of hope,” says Ellen K. Pikitch, a marine biologist at the Stony Brook University School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences. Dr. Pikitch runs the Institute for Ocean Conservation Science, an organization seeking wider protection for sharks worldwide. She said that the effort at Glover’s “shows that marine reserves, even small marine reserves, can work. I think it’s very transportable this concept.”

Dr. Pikitch, a self-professed “shark fanatic,” has other reasons to be hopeful. She leads the largest shark population study in the Caribbean here at Glover’s Reef, now in its 10th year. Shark populations here have remained stable, while others around the world are in severe decline.

The sharks are an integral part of a healthy reef. Along with other top predators they help keep barracuda populations in check, which is important because barracuda consume algae grazers like Parrotfish that prevent runaway algae growth from choking the corals. Other research has shown that over the long term, protected areas can even have a restorative effect on coral populations.

John Bruno, a marine ecologist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and Elizabeth Selig, a marine scientist with Conservation International, analyzed a global database of 8,534 live coral cover surveys conducted from 1969 to 2006. They reported their findings in February in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“We found that marine protected areas have an indirect effect that seems to benefit corals,” Dr. Bruno said. But, he said, it takes time for these effects to be realized. “People put these parks out there and then run out to see them in five years, but the benefits show up later, sometimes it takes decades,” he said.

Dr. Pikitch credits the success of Glover’s Reef to the design of the protected area. The no-take zone helps fish stocks recover, and those fish then repopulate the nearby fisheries outside the zone. She calls this doing “double duty” and says that these strategies are of particular importance in places like Belize where fishing has been a key means of subsistence since Mayan times.

There are still significant challenges. Enforcement remains a problem. The Wildlife Conservation Society shares its home on Middle Caye with an outpost of the Belize Fisheries Department. The department employs four rangers here whose job is to patrol the reef and catch fishermen who violate the fishing ban or who poach undersized conch and spiny lobster outside the no-take zone.

Recent improvements have made enforcement somewhat easier. Last July, a 40-foot high observation tower was built at the station allowing for a 360-degree panoramic view of the atoll.

Further, the wider Belize reef system is considered one of the most endangered in the world. The effects of pollution, overfishing and global warming, which can lead to coral bleaching, have all conspired to reduce coral cover here. One analysis rated 63 percent of Belize’s reefs as being threatened by human activities. Natural disasters have had a major impact as well. Still, because of what they see at places like Glover’s Reef, scientists like Dr. Pikitch have been pushing the government to expand the protected areas.

Dr. Pikitch acknowledges that the problems facing reefs here are significant, but she remains optimistic that new information, including data from her shark study, will increase awareness and prompt action to protect reefs. “We are losing coral reefs at an astounding rate,” she said. “It’s like death by a thousand cuts. So when you have a success like this in a coral ecosystem you say, ‘Wow this is great.’”

Read more!

All the tees in China: Golf boom threatens rainforest

With its 1,000-year-old trees, Hainan was a rare conservation success. But now fairways stretch as far as the eye can see
Jonathan Watts, 23 Apr 10;

The jungles of the Diaolou Mountains do not, at first sight, appear a very inviting location for a golf resort. Leeches and spiders drop through the Jeep windows as we jolt along an overgrown logger's track to reach this remote corner of Hainan, the tropical island that marks the south-eastern extremity of China.

On one side lies a pristine tropical rainforest with 1,000-year-old trees; on the other, a thick tangle of bamboo, cedar and palm has reclaimed an abandoned betel nut plantation.

Until now, this national park has been a rare conservation success story in China. Clouded leopards and black gibbons are among the 300 endangered species listed in this sanctuary.

But while the jungle has been allowed to grow back, the park's managers have been forced to watch with frustration as neighbouring communities cash in on one of the biggest, fastest surges in property prices in the world.

The value of land in Hainan has increased by between 50% and 100% since the start of the year, boosted by a government drive to turn the island into an upscale tourist resort.

For the park's managers, the temptation is now too great to resist. "We are sitting on a goldmine," says Zhong Guanghao, the deputy director of the forest bureau, as he exhales a plume of cigarette smoke. "Within five years, we'll have at least two five-star hotels, dozens of town houses, a conference centre and a 36-hole golf club."

His colleague Lu Yongquan takes me to the proposed site in a four-wheel drive that judders across mountain streams, heading so deep inside the forest that there is no mobile phone signal.

"This terrain is very suitable for golf. The environment is quite beautiful," says Lu, who is head of the wildlife department, as we stop to survey the thick forest where his boss wants to build a club covering 300 hectares – the size of about 300 football pitches.

On the park's map, the course is inside the core conservation zone, which is supposed to be off-limits to human activity. But Lu said the government permitted experimental development areas to generate funds for wildlife protection.

"There will be no impact on the eco-system," he insisted. "Only the elite will be able to come. It is not for the masses."

The plan looks certain to stir up controversy.

"You would have to be greedy and heartless to build a golf course in that area," said Yang Xiaobo, a doctor of ecology at Hainan University.

"The biodiversity here is not just important for this island, but for the entire country. There are few rainforests like this in the world."

If the plan for a resort sounds like the thin end of the wedge, it is not alone in Hainan, where golf is increasingly a tool for shifting land-usage rights towards an international jet set, often regardless of the environmental impact.

A quarter of a century ago, China had just one golf course. Today, Hainan alone has almost 30 and senior officials say they want to expand that to 100 and then on to 300.

This runs contrary to central government restrictions on golf development, which is seen as a threat to food security because it often eats up arable land. But Hainan claims an exemption because, officials and local businessmen argue, the island needs golf to become the Hawaii of east Asia.

This is not the only motive. "Golf is a real-estate driven activity primarily in China," said Shane Templeton, course consultant at Sanya Yalong Bay Golf Club. "It is just a vehicle to sell property. You're not supposed to be displacing farmers.

"Now, obviously, there are projects that have bent the rules a little bit, but that is up to the government to control."

The environmental impact goes beyond land acquisition. Established 10 years ago, Sanya Yalong is one of the oldest and best-run clubs on the island, but it still needs to fight a chemical war against Japanese cockchafers, ground pearl and other invasive pests that have been brought in with the imported soil for the greens and fairways.

Golf's supporters say the amount of pesticide needed for courses is less than that applied by farmers on their crops. Groundsmen also lay plastic under the soil to ease risks of water supply contamination. But this too can cause problems if huge areas of land are covered.

"When there are several golf courses in close proximity, we have to be very careful about the impact on ground water … That changes the run-off," someone involved in environmental impact assessments told the Guardian. "There are violations but I can't talk about them … Some projects start construction before they have gone through an environmental impact assessment."

At the centre of such concerns is Mission Hills, the biggest golf development in Hainan, covering an area the size of a city. The management company already runs the biggest golf course in the world at nearby Shenzhen. Initial reports suggested the new development in Hainan would be far bigger: as many as 22 courses are talked of.

After an outcry, executives are now downplaying their ambitious. They talk only of "at least six courses", which are already either finished or under construction. But banners displayed around the club still boast it will be "Number One in the World".

It is an astonishing sight. From the terrace of the newly built clubhouse, bunkers and greens appear to stretch endlessly towards the horizon on all sides. Executives claims it is one of the world's most eco-friendly courses because it is built on volcanic scratch land at great cost.

"What we are doing could be the future of golf, because we are using deserted land rather than arable fields," said Jiaqi Li, the executive director. "Not one family had to be moved for any of our six courses."

But her claims are questioned by local people.

In Changyong village on the edge of the course, residents said they have been flooded for the past two years by water than runs off of plastic sheeting under the huge course.

"It's had a huge impact," said Deng Zhenhe. "We never had flooding in the past. Now it comes three months every year. The water comes up to our waists sometimes. Cars can't get through."

At Bopian village, a crowd gathers to express their grievances. "The golf club has cut down many big trees and the lychee and longan trees we used to farm. Our sheep and cows have nowhere to graze," said a man who gave only the surname Wu. "I was cheated of some of my land."

Mission Hills insists the correct procedures were followed. "The environmental impact assessment has been completed and all the experts have put their signatures to the approval," said Li.

But the Guardian has learned that concerns have been raised by inspectors about the risk to biodiversity and water systems. During the environmental impact assessment for Missions Hills, they found several rare plant species, including Ottelia cordata and Aportea sinuate, that are not found anywhere else on Hainan. In addition, they warned of a potential risk of flooding and contamination of groundwater supplies for the nearby city of Haikou.

"We have not finished the paperwork because of these problems," said the source involved with assessment. "We have offered advice on the scale of the course and how to reduce pollution. The matter is still very sensitive."

Local government officials acknowledged concerns about groundwater, but appeared to be in the dark about the scale of the golf club's expansion.

"Mission Hills has completed environmental assessment and received proper permission for only one course," said Cai Qiao, director of the Haikou tourism development committee. "I'm sure they have completed only one course, not three."

As he spoke, golfers were putting and driving on the finished courses and bulldozers were clearing the way for three more. Hollywood stars are lined up for a celebrity tournament for the opening in October and, by next autumn, the club expects to host the World Cup of golf. Permission is taken for granted.
Golf in China: the hole story

• A game similar to golf was played in China more than 500 years before the sport in its modern form was started in Scotland.

Jade-and-gold clubs were used in "chuwan", according to sketches and writings dating back to the Tang dynasty (960-1279).

• The first recorded golf club on the mainland was established in Shanghai by British expatriates in 1896. The nine-hole course sat on what is now People's Square. Players from Shanghai often competed against rivals from Hong Kong.

• After Mao Zedong's Communists came to power in 1949, golf was condemned as a bourgeois imperialist sport and the few courses closed.

• In the modern era of opening and reform, the first course was constructed in 1984. This was followed by such a rash of golf development that the government grew concerned about the loss of arable land and tried to impose restrictions.

• Today, there are an estimated 600 courses in China, many of which dodge the regulations by claiming to be landscaping projects or vaguely defined property developments.

With golf due to become an Olympic sport by 2016, its popularity is expected to grow. Last year, Jack Nicklaus reportedly claimed the country was planning to build 1,400 public courses over the next five years.

Read more!

Rooftop farming booming in New York

Paola Messana (AFP) Google News 24 Apr 10;

NEW YORK — Urban farming is a growth industry in New York city's concrete jungle, and with little open land free agriculturalists and beekeepers have taken to the rooftops to pursue their passion.

Andrew Cote uses the emergency fire ladder to climb up to the roof of his East Village building, where he tends to 250 bee hives.

Cote, a professor of Japanese literature doubles up as president of the New York City Beekeepers Association, and is happy that the city authorized beekeeping in mid-March after an 11-year ban.

"The city wants to plant one million trees, and the trees need to be pollinated," Cote told AFP.

The ban forced beekeepers into hiding, fearing a 2,000 dollar fine if caught. Now Cote believes the bees are vital to helping keep the city green.

"Our bees pollinate, and they clean the air. It is a way to connect with nature," he said.

Bees also produce around 100 pounds of honey per hive per year, he said -- honey that he sells at the city's various farmer's markets.

Cote said he has received several requests to install rooftop beehives, and the demand is such that on Sunday he is scheduled to offer a course for aspiring apiculturalists.

On the other side of Manhattan, in the posh Upper East Side, Eli Zabar, owner of the upscale "Vinegar Factory" delicatessen, inspects the crops he is growing on the roof of the old factory bought in 1991.

"I began the green houses 15 years ago," Zabar told AFP. "I grow heirloom tomatoes, lots of different kinds of lettuce, herbs, basil, rosemary, thyme, raspberries, figs, beets. We use the heat of the bakeries and pastries, we recycle the heat. With the use of the heat we have eliminated our (carbon) footprint.

"You harvest in the morning, you sell in the afternoon, you don't refrigerate, it tastes better," said Zabar. "We pick everything ripe and ready to eat. All our products here are organic."

Depending on the hour of the time of day, Zabar says with a smile, "the green houses smell of bread, brownie or croissant."

About half of the items Zabar sells in his deli comes from rooftop farms.

From Manhattan to Brooklyn, whether on rooftops, backyards or in any of the city's 600 community gardens, urban farming is a growing phenomenon.

The movement is helped along by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who seeks to turn the city into a sustainable development champion. Through "PlaNYC 2030," a program he launched on Earth Day 2007, people who install "green roofs" can get a tax break.

At Randall's Island, in New York's East River, the city's Parks and Recreation Department is currently testing 16 different types of vegetation that could be placed on the roofs of schools, hospitals or other public buildings.

"These are patches of succulent vegetation, like sedum, which protect the roofs, (and) isolate the buildings from the heat because the UV (ultra-violet) sun is not hitting," said senior project manager John Robilotti.

The rooftop vegetation also helps maintain a steady temperature inside and captures storm water, which would otherwise run off into the street.

"The water that does come out is filtered and kept in tanks, and we use it to water when there is no rain," Robilotti said.

The roofs "absorb carbon and create oxygen, so we take carbon from the carbon cycle.

"And they attract birds, butterflies, bees. We even saw a red-tailed hawk," he said.

Read more!

Oil Slick from Rig Collapse in Gulf of Mexico Seen from Space Yahoo News 26 Apr 10;

The oil slick that is expanding from the site of an oil rig collapse last week has been spotted from space by a NASA satellite.

An estimated 42,000 gallons of oil per day are leaking from an oil well in the Gulf of Mexico after an oil rig caught fire and then sank into the ocean waters last week.

The oil slick in the Gulf of Mexico that resulted from the explosion and collapse of an oil rig can be seen in this image from NASA's Aqua satellite. At left is the Mississippi Delta. The slick is the lighter colored area in the lower right. Credit: MODIS Rapid Response Team

The only oil evident in the water at first was that which had been on the rig itself at the time it exploded on April 20. Over the weekend, officials working on the oil spill discovered that water was also leaking from the pipe that led up to the rig from the well some 5,000 feet (1,524 meters) below on the seafloor.

NASA's Aqua satellite took a photograph of the affected area on Sunday, April 25, in which the oil slick - which currently covers an area 48 miles long (77 kilometers) and 39 miles wide (63 km), according to news reports - can be seen.

The Mississippi Delta is the center of the image, and the oil slick is a silvery swirl in the lower right. The oil slick may be particularly obvious because it is occurring in the sunlit area, where the mirror-like reflection of the sun off the water gives the Gulf of Mexico a washed-out look.

The slick may contain dispersants or other chemicals that emergency responders are using to control the spread of the oil, and it is unknown how much of the 700,000 gallons of fuel that were on the oil rig burned in the fire and how much may have spilled into the water when the platform sank.

An emergency response effort is underway to stop the flow of oil and contain the existing slick before it reaches wildlife refuges and beaches in Louisiana and Mississippi.

Gulf of Mexico oilspill spreads as well leaks
Bruce Nichols, Reuters 26 Apr 10;

HOUSTON (Reuters) - An oil spill from a leaking underwater well grew to cover 1,900 square miles of the Gulf of Mexico on Monday as the U.S. Coast Guard scrambled to keep the slick from reaching the fragile Gulf Coast shoreline.

Green Business | Mexico

The well, 5,000 feet under the ocean surface off Louisiana's coast, is leaking about 1,000 barrels of oil a day. The spill, which the U.S. Coast Guard has called "very serious," has put the coasts of Louisiana, Texas, Mississippi and Florida on alert for potential oil contamination.

Swiss-based Transocean Ltd's Deepwater Horizon sank on April 22, two days after it exploded and caught fire while finishing a well for BP Plc about 40 miles southeast of the mouth of the Mississippi River.

As of Monday afternoon, there were no impacts to the shore and the spill remained about 30 miles off the Louisiana coast at least three days from landfall, said Coast Guard Rear Admiral Mary Landry.

Wildlife impact was said to be minimal. An aircrew from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Sunday spotted three sperm whales near the spill but they did not appear affected, officials said.

The incident casts a pall over the oil industry's push for access to more offshore acreage in Alaska, the Gulf of Mexico and along the East Coast, and comes just weeks after President Barack Obama unveiled plans for a limited expansion of U.S. offshore oil and gas drilling.

In an attempt at a quick fix, U.S. agencies this weekend deployed four remotely operated underwater vehicles to dive unmanned to the ocean floor to try to activate a balky blowout preventer, a 450-ton tangle of pipes and valves that usually works automatically.

If that plan fails, London-based BP, which owns the oil well and is financially responsible for the cleanup, will have to drill one or more relief wells into the damaged well bore under the seabed to intercept the flow.

The drilling effort could take several months, and BP is pursuing an interim plan to build as many as two dome-shaped covers to place over the well that could capture oil and pipe it to the surface before it can add to the spill. That could be done in two to four weeks, officials estimated.

"This is state-of-the-art technology," said Doug Suttles, chief operating officer of BP's exploration and production unit. Such containment and removal systems have been used in shallower waters but never at such depths.

Eleven workers from the rig are missing and presumed dead in what is the worst oil rig disaster in almost a decade. The Coast Guard on Friday suspended a search for the workers.

The spill is not comparable with the infamous Exxon Valdez disaster, which spilled about 11 million gallons (50 million liters) of oil into the Prince William Sound in Alaska when it ran aground in 1989. BP's well is spewing about 42,000 gallons (190,900 liters) of oil a day into the ocean, the Coast Guard estimates.

Tony Hayward, chief executive of London-based BP -- which is financially responsible for the clean-up -- traveled to the area over the weekend to oversee operations and meet with the governors of Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi.

Stormy weather over the weekend hampered cleanup efforts for BP, which has deployed an armada of ships and aircraft to contain the oil slick. In a statement, Hayward on Monday said BP was accelerating cleanup as the weather improved.

"The improved weather has created better conditions for our response," Hayward said. "This, combined with the light, thin oil we are dealing with has further increased our confidence that we can tackle this spill offshore."

BP's shares fell 2 percent on Monday on fears that the spill could lead to a big financial hit. BP has not given a detailed accounting of spending or potential liability to date.

Transocean's Chief Executive Steven Newman also traveled from Switzerland to Louisiana to support the effort.

Transocean said its insurance covers the total loss of the Deepwater Horizon and wreck removal, and that the rig has an insured value of $560 million.

The explosion occurred as the rig was capping a discovery well pending production, company officials said. Some 115 of the 126 workers on board at the time of the explosion were rescued.

(Writing by Chris Baltimore; Editing by David Gregorio)

Read more!

World forest cover shrinking: report

Yahoo News 26 Apr 10;

WASHINGTON (AFP) – The world's forest cover shrunk by 3.1 percent between 2000 and 2005, according to satellite observations detailed in a study out Monday.

Hardest-hit were boreal forests -- the world's far northern sub-arctic forests -- which account for about one-third of this loss, said the report, published in the April 26-30 issue of the Annals of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

There are several causes of forest destruction, including human cutting and natural phenomena such as fires ignited by lightning, the report said.

Data on changes in the world's forest cover are needed to estimate the impact of carbon dioxide emissions, one of the main greenhouse gases, and to set parameters for "global-scale biogeochemical, hydrological, biodiversity and climate models," read the report.

The total forest loss between 2000 and 2005 was estimated to be 1,011,000 square kilometers, the researchers said.

Boreal forests, which account for 26.7 percent of the world's forest cover, showed the greatest shrinkage over this period, losing 4 percent, or 34.7 percent of the total forest loss during the study period.

The report's authors, from South Dakota State University and the State University of New York, attributed two-thirds of the loss in boreal forest cover to fires.

Tropical humid forests, which cover 11.5 million square kilometers and represent the world's largest forested surface, lost 2.4 percent of their cover during the research period, or 27 percent of the overall loss.

Tropical forests in dry regions -- 7.13 million square kilometers, or 21.8 percent of the world's forest surface -- shrunk 2.9 percent between 2000 and 2005, representing 20.2 percent of total forest loss.

Geographically, North America, which had a 5.8 million square kilometer forest cover in 2000, suffered the biggest loss during the study period, losing 5.1 percent or 295,000 square kilometers, representing 29.2 percent of the overall loss.

Read more!

Campaigners urge transparency on climate aid

Megan Rowling, Reuters 26 Apr 10;

LONDON (Reuters) - A lack of transparency over rich countries' pledges to help poor nations deal with climate change means much of the cash promised is being diverted from development aid commitments, campaigners say.

In the Copenhagen Accord, struck at December's U.N. climate summit, developed countries agreed to provide poorer nations with "new and additional resources" of about $30 billion by 2012 to help them limit their emissions and adapt to a warmer world.

But the pact, backed by some 120 nations, does not specify what funds count toward the 2012 pledge, known as "fast start."

The World Resources Institute says donors had announced nearly $24 billion in "fast start" funds by the beginning of March, plus $3.5 billion for a forest preservation scheme.

But researchers say cash-strapped governments plan to divert some of the money from existing official development assistance (ODA) budgets rather than find new cash.

"There is a lot of slippery language around 'new and additional'," said Rob Bailey, a policy advisor on climate change for Oxfam.

Most governments also expect the climate change aid to count toward a separate U.N. target for donors to give 0.7 percent of their gross national income for overseas development.

The British government has said publicly it will provide "some climate finance" on top of its 0.7 percent international development commitment, but only from 2013.

Ed Miliband, energy and climate minister, told reporters last month there was "a pretty clear understanding" that fast start funding would not be additional to ODA pledges.


But poorer nations say "fast start" climate funding should come on top of other development aid because climate change is adding to the human and financial cost of disasters, and making their social and economic development more expensive.

Quamrul Chowdhury, a negotiator for Bangladesh at U.N. climate talks, says using climate finance to fulfil development aid promises will be damaging to his country, which is already struggling to cope with rising sea levels and frequent floods.

"If ("fast start" funding) is not new and additional, and it is not over and above ODA, our whole development will be paralyzed, and how can (we meet) our goals for anti-poverty, education and healthcare programmes?" he said.

"We really want a major ramp-up of financial support, and also we want urgent and immediate adaptation finance."

That sentiment was echoed by Bruno Sekoli of Lesotho, who chairs the group of poorest countries at the U.N. talks.

"We want to believe, because we trust our partners, that their commitments will be along this line," Sekoli said.

"When that time comes, and we realize it is not new and additional, then I think it will be a major issue."

Campaigners are urging donors to be more transparent about exactly what they are counting as climate finance, where it comes from, and the channels used to deliver it.

The European Union plans to report on its member states' "fast start" funding before the next round of climate talks taking place in Bonn in June, although countries have yet to agree a common definition. The bloc has promised 2.4 billion euros ($3.2 billion) each year from 2010-2012.

Jamie Drummond, executive director of anti-poverty group ONE, urged donors to be honest.

"We know that the money (donors are) saying is for climate is already money taken from development. It's a fact," Drummond told Reuters. "They should be criticized for it, and then we need to move on to things we can change."

(editing by Lin Noueihed)

Read more!

Climate Debate Gets Ugly As World Moves To Curb CO2

David Fogarty, PlanetArk 27 Apr 10;

Climate scientists, used to dealing with skeptics, are under siege like never before, targeted by hate emails brimming with abuse and accusations of fabricating global warming data. Some emails contain thinly veiled death threats.

Across the Internet, climate blogs are no less venomous, underscoring the surge in abuse over the past six months triggered by purported evidence that global warming is either a hoax or the threat from a warmer world is grossly overstated.

A major source of the anger is from companies with a vested interest in fighting green legislation that might curtail their activities or make their operations more costly.

"The attacks against climate science represent the most highly coordinated, heavily financed, attack against science that we have ever witnessed," said climate scientist Michael Mann, from Pennsylvania State University in the United States.

"The evidence for the reality of human-caused climate change gets stronger with each additional year," Mann told Reuters in emailed responses to questions.

Greenpeace and other groups say that some energy companies are giving millions to groups that oppose climate change science because of concerns about the multi-billion dollar costs associated with carbon trading schemes and clean energy policies.

For example, rich nations including the United States, Japan and Australia, are looking to introduce emissions caps and a regulated market for trading those emissions.

More broadly, the United Nations is trying to seal a tougher climate accord to curb emissions from burning fossil fuels and deforestation blamed for heating up the planet.

Other opponents are drawn into the debate by deep concerns that governments will trample on freedoms or expand their powers as they try to tackle greenhouse gas emissions and minimize the impacts of higher temperatures.

"There are two kinds of opponents -- one is the fossil fuel lobby. So you have a trillion-dollar industry that's protecting market share," said Stephen Schneider of Stanford University in California, referring to the oil industry's long history of funding climate skeptic groups and think tanks.

"And then you have the ideologues who have a deep hatred of government involvement," said Schneider, a veteran climate scientist and author of the book "Science as a contact sport".

The result is a potent mix that has given the debate a quasi-religious tone with some climate critics coming from the right-wing fringe and making arguments as emotive as those raised in the abortion and creationism debates in the United States.

The debate has largely become drawn along political lines, at least in the U.S., where opponents in the Republican Party question climate science and raise doubts over the need to implement greener policies such as those espoused by climate change campaigner and former Vice President, Al Gore.

In a party conference in April, Republican firebrand Sarah Palin, a potential 2012 presidential nominee, mocked what she called the "snake-oil-based, global warming, Gore-gate" crowd.

The green lobby is also to blame. Exaggerations by some green interest groups, which have at times over-played the immediacy of the problem to bring about a groundswell of support for a new U.N. climate treaty and green policies, have given skeptics plenty of ammunition.

Skeptics also point to admissions in a 2007 report by the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change that there is a 10 percent chance global warming is part of a natural cycle.

The same report says there's a 90 percent probability that climate change is due to human activities led by burning fossil fuels. Nevertheless, the skeptics demand 100 percent certainty, something that researchers say is impossible.


Scientists and conservationists say some anti-climate change lobbyists are funded by energy giants such as ExxonMobil, which has a long history of donating money to interest groups that challenge climate science.

According to a Greenpeace report released last month, ExxonMobil gave nearly $9 million to entities linked to the climate denialist camp between 2005 and 2008.

The report, using mandatory SEC reporting on charitable contributions, also shows that foundations linked to Kansas-based Koch Industries, a privately owned petrochemical and chemicals giant, gave nearly $25 million.

Koch said the Greenpeace report mischaracterized the company's efforts. "We've strived to encourage an intellectually honest debate on the scientific basis for claims of harm from greenhouse gases," the company said in a note on its website.

ExxonMobil makes no secret of funding a range of groups, but says it has also discontinued contributions to several public policy research groups.

"We contribute to an array of public policy organizations that research and promote discussion on climate change and other domestic and international issues," the company says on its website.

Stanford's Schneider has dealt with skeptics for years. But this time, he says, it's different.

"I don't see it stopping," said Schneider by telephone. "I see it intensifying. The ugliness is what's new."

One of the thinly veiled death threats that Schneider has received says: "You communistic dupe of the U.N. who wants to impose world government on us and take away American freedom of religion and economy -- you are a traitor to the U.S., belong in jail and should be executed."


Scientists say there is a wealth of data showing the planet is warming, that it's being triggered by rising levels of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and that man is to blame.

Skeptics counter this by saying that rising CO2 levels is natural and harmless and that it's impossible for mankind to influence the way the planet functions. Others play up doubts or errors in some scientific studies to undermine it all.

Many also say warming has stalled, pointing to the recent burst of cold weather in the Northern Hemisphere as evidence of global cooling, even though satellite data show that, overall, November 2009 to January 2010 was the warmest Jan-Nov the world has seen since satellite temperature data began in 1979.

Then came the release of emails hacked late last year from a British climate research unit.

The "climategate" emails, totaling more than 1,000, were stolen from the University of East Anglia's Climate Research Unit (CRU), and involve correspondence between director Phil Jones and other leading climate scientists, including Schneider and Mann.

The emails led to allegations the scientists fudged data to bolster the case for mankind causing global warming, setting off a surge of criticism across the Internet accusing climate scientists of a massive hoax.

"This whole thing has gone viral on the Internet," said Cindy Baxter of Greenpeace, author of a recent report "Dealing in Doubt: The Climate Denial Industry and Climate Science."

"You've got all those voices out there on the blogosphere who are then picked up and echoed," she told Reuters.

The University of East Anglia has been a particular target.

"There have been an awful lot of abusive emails since 'climategate' broke," said university spokesman Simon Dunford.

Skeptics were accused of very selectively choosing only a small number of the hacked emails and taking comments out of context to misrepresent the scientists' meaning.

A British government inquiry cleared Jones of any wrongdoing, but said CRU was wrong to withhold information from skeptics.

Mann, who was accused of falsifying data, was cleared of any wrongdoing by an internal investigation by Penn State University.


Skeptics also accused the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change of supporting flawed science after several errors in a major 2007 report surfaced.

The errors, including a reference to a non-peer reviewed study that Himalayan glaciers would melt by 2035, represent a fraction of the conclusions in the report, the main climate policy guide for governments, which is based on the work of thousands of scientists.

The IPCC has defended its work and has ordered a review. Many governments, including the United States, Britain and Australia have also reiterated their faith in the IPCC.

For climate scientists, truth and trust are at stake.

"In general, the battle for public opinion is being lost," said Kevin Trenberth, head of climate analysis at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in Boulder, Colorado. His emails were also hacked in the CRU incident.

"There is so much mis-information and so many polarized attitudes that one can not even hold a rational discussion or debate. The facts are certainly lost or glossed over in many cases. The media have been a bust."

Schneider said the mainstream media had failed to do "its job of sorting out credible from non-credible and not giving all claimants of truth equal status at the bargaining table".

Across the Internet, the climate science debate is being played out in a myriad of climate skeptic sites and blogs as well as sites defending the science of human-induced climate change.

One high-profile site is, run by Marc Morano, a former aide to U.S. Republican Senator James Inhofe, who is an outspoken critic of climate change policies.

Morano, who told Reuters he had also been the target of abusive emails, has been quoted as saying that climate scientists should be publicly flogged.

"The global warming scientists need to feel and hear the public's outrage at their shenanigans like "climategate" ... There is no advocacy of violence or hint that people should threaten them," Morano said, adding: "Public outrage is healthy."


Another prominent climate change denialist, Christopher Monckton, who's associated with the U.S.-based Science and Public Policy Institute, told Reuters he doesn't condone the coordinated attack on climate scientists, saying that he, too, was a victim.

He said his main aim was to expose what he calls the "non-problem of global warming" and in an email interview with Reuters accused climate change scientists of being "increasingly desperate to discredit anyone who dares to point out that the Emperor has no clothes".

Media commentators have added their voices, polarizing public opinion further. In the United States, conservative radio talkshow host Rush Limbaugh said on the air last November that climate change was a massive hoax and that all climate scientists involved should be "named and fired, drawn and quartered, or whatever it is".

In Australia, just as in the United States, the level of abuse also coincides with media appearances or the release of peer-reviewed scientific work on climate change.

"Each time I have a media profile in terms of media reports on scientific papers, major presentations, there is a flurry. So if I am on TV, or radio there ends up being a substantial increase," said David Karoly of the University of Melbourne.

"One of the purposes for the attacks is either an intention to waste my time or to distract my attention essentially from communication about climate change science or even undertaking research, and it's also perhaps intended to make me concerned about my visibility."


"We get emails to say we're destroying the Australian economy, we get emails to say it will be our fault when no one in Australia can get a job. We get emails just basically accusing us of direct fraud and lying on the science," said Andy Pitman, co-director of the Climate Change Research Center at the University of New South Wales in Sydney.

"My personal reaction to them is personal recognition that this means we are a threat to the sorts of people who would be trying to prevent the finding of solutions to global warming."

Pitman said a major problem was trying to satisfy demands for absolute proof of human-induced global warming.

"There is no proof in the context that they want it, that the earth goes around the sun. They are demanding a level of proof that doesn't exist in science.

"And then they say when you can't prove it to the extent that they want, then clearly that means there isn't any evidence, which of course is a logical fallacy."

Better communication about the science is key, scientists say, even if they complain that many skeptics are reluctant to debate the science on a level playing field.

"One of the ways I describe it (the debate) is it's very asymmetric," said Roger Wakimoto, director of NCAR in Colorado.

"It's very difficult to counter someone who just says 'you're wrong. I think this is a scam'. How do you respond to that? ... They haven't done any research, they haven't spent years looking into the problem. This is why it's asymmetric," he said.

"We like to go into a scientific debate, show us you're evidence and we'll tell why we agree or disagree with you. But that's not what the naysayers are doing," Wakimoto added.

"We've never experienced this sort of thing before," he said of the intense challenges to climate science and the level of email and Internet traffic.

All the climate change scientists with whom Reuters spoke said they were determined to continue their research despite the barrage of nasty emails and threats. Some expressed concern the argument could turn violent.

"My wife has made it very clear, if the threats become personalized, I cease to interact with the media. We have kids," said one scientist who did not want to be identified.

(Additional reporting by Alister Doyle in Oslo; Editing by Megan Goldin)

Read more!