Best of our wild blogs: 31 Mar 11

Hurray for hornbills!
from Celebrating Singapore's Biodiversity and Raffles Museum News

Flowering Syzygium Trees @ Pasir Ris Park
from Beauty of Fauna and Flora in Nature

裕廊湖观鸟 birding@Jurong lake
from PurpleMangrove

Song of the Oriental Magpie Robin
from Bird Ecology Study Group

Pandan mangroves (30 Mar 2011)
from Mega Marine Survey of Singapore and wild shores of singapore

Paint-along-with Pui San
from Art in Wetlands

Mitrephora maingayi
from Flying Fish Friends

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Singapore-Johor cross-border transport gets boost

Joanne Chan Channel NewsAsia 30 Mar 11;

The Joint Ministerial Committee also endorsed the recommendations by the Tourism Work Group on the development and marketing of a trans-boundary, joint eco-tourism attraction involving Singapore's Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve and Malaysia's three Ramsar sites of Sungai Pulai, Pulau Kukup and Tanjung Piai.

SINGAPORE: From July, taxis plying both sides of the Singapore-Malaysia border will be able to pick up and drop off passengers anywhere in their domestic countries.

The implementation date of this taxi rule change was agreed on Wednesday at the eighth working meeting of the Malaysia-Singapore Joint Ministerial Committee.

Currently, cross-border taxis are allowed to pick up and drop off passengers at just two places - Ban San Street near Bugis, and Pasar Bakti terminal in Johor.

There are some 400 authorised cabs which offer cross-border services - 200 in Singapore and 200 in Malaysia.

The Joint Ministerial Committee also agreed to boost connectivity by further increasing the quota for cross border bus services.

It noted that additional cross-border bus services between Singapore and Iskandar Malaysia have been approved and are being implemented.

A joint engineering study for the Rapid Transit System (RTS) link between Iskandar Malaysia and Singapore was also approved.

The statement said officials from both sides will endeavour to gather international best practices in the implementation of a dual co-located Customers, Immigration and Quarantine system to complement the RTS link.

The Joint Ministerial Committee noted with satisfaction that Khazanah Nasional Berhad and Temasek Holdings have progressed in the discussion on the development of an iconic project with a wellness theme in Iskandar Malaysia.

The project is targeted to be launched in May 2011.

The statement also said the river cleaning project in the Iskandar Malaysia is progressing well.

The Joint Ministerial Committee also endorsed the recommendations by the Tourism Work Group on the development and marketing of a trans-boundary, joint eco-tourism attraction involving Singapore's Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve and Malaysia's three Ramsar sites of Sungai Pulai, Pulau Kukup and Tanjung Piai.

The first phase will involve the twinning of Pulau Kukup and Sungei Buloh Wetland

Singapore-Johor taxi curbs to be eased by July
Straits Times 31 Mar 11;

TAXIS authorised to ply between Singapore and Malaysia will be able to pick up and drop off passengers anywhere in their respective countries by July.

The July date was agreed on yesterday at a meeting of ministers from both sides, said a joint press statement from both governments.

The 400 such taxis that operate on both sides - 200 from each country - can currently pick up and drop off passengers at only two places: Ban San Street near Bugis, and Johor Baru's Pasar Bakti terminal.

Moves to improve cross-border transport links were agreed on when leaders from Singapore and Malaysia met at a retreat in May last year.

Yesterday, the Malaysia-Singapore Joint Ministerial Committee for Iskandar Malaysia followed up on these plans when it met for its 8th working meeting at the Grand Hyatt Hotel here.

Iskandar Malaysia is the development zone in south Johor that aims to boost the state's economy.

The meeting was co-chaired by Malaysia's Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Nor Mohamed Yakcop and Singapore's National Development Minister Mah Bow Tan.

Also present were Johor Chief Minister Abdul Ghani Othman and Singapore's Transport Minister Raymond Lim.

The ministers noted that additional cross-border bus services between Singapore and Iskandar Malaysia had been approved, and were being implemented. They also agreed to further increase the quota on cross-border bus services, and approved a joint engineering study for a Rapid Transit System (RTS) link between Iskandar Malaysia and Singapore.

The RTS is scheduled to start operating by 2018.

Officials from both sides will also try to gather international best practices in implementing a co-located customs, immigration and quarantine system for RTS commuters. This is so that passengers will only need to clear border formalities once in each direction of travel.

The committee also noted that Malaysia's Khazanah Nasional and Singapore's Temasek Holdings have made good progress in talks to develop an iconic wellness township project, which is targeted to be launched in May.

A river cleaning project was also progressing well, and the committee endorsed recommendations to develop and market a cross-border, joint ecotourism attraction, the statement added.

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JTC seeks cutting-edge ideas on land use

Straits Times 31 Mar 11;

JTC Corporation is seeking cutting-edge ideas on how to intensify land use and speed up project construction - and has set aside a $5 million innovation fund to develop the best suggestions.

All Singapore-based companies, including tertiary institutions, research institutes, public sector agencies and private organisations, can send in proposals.

Individuals who want to submit a proposal must partner an organisation.

Foreign entities will also have to partner a local organisation or have a local presence. And Singapore must be used as its base to own and manage all intellectual property rights developed.

JTC wants new layouts and configurations that will help improve land efficiency as well as ideas on how to increase the parking capacity of aircraft and the plot ratio of runway access hangers.

Companies can also suggest ways to reduce the construction time of roads by at least 30 per cent and speed up the building of industrial infrastructure to within 12 months or less.

JTC said conventional methods of road construction typically take about 12 months per kilometre while building a substation usually takes up to 15 months.

JTC chief executive Manohar Khiatani said: 'Innovation is of high priority to JTC and is key to sustaining Singapore's competitive edge as an investment location.

'We are constantly on the lookout for creative infrastructure solutions to develop and meet the evolving needs of business operations.'

The trial period for each project is capped at two years.

The amount of funds awarded to each project will depend on the quality of the proposal and its implementation potential.

The closing date for submissions is June 7 and applicants will be notified of the results of their proposals by the end of the year.

This is the second time JTC has called for such submissions and there are plans to make it an annual exercise.

Last March, the agency launched its inaugural JTC Innovation Fund, calling for ideas that would intensify land use and create new industrial space.

It awarded a total of $900,000 to three research projects aimed at making JTC's industrial parks more environmentally sustainable.

Two projects were submitted by the Nanyang Technological University and one by the National University of Singapore.


JTC puts up $5m for cutting-edge ideas

It seeks proposals on intensifying land use, speeding up construction
Uma Shankari Business Times 31 Mar 11;

JTC Corporation (JTC) has launched a request for proposal (RFP) exercise to seek cutting-edge ideas on intensifying land use and speeding up construction.

The government agency yesterday said it has set aside a $5 million innovation fund to support and develop any ideas from the RFP that will create new industrial infrastructure solutions.

The two key themes for this RFP are increasing the plot ratios of buildings in the marine and aerospace industries, and increasing the construction speed of industrial infrastructure.

'Innovation is of high priority to JTC and is key to sustaining Singapore's competitive edge as an investment location,' said JTC chief executive Manohar Khiatani.

'We are constantly on the look out for creative infrastructure solutions to develop and meet the evolving needs of business operations,' he added.

Intensification of land use is a challenge faced by both the marine and aerospace industries as they need large tracts of open land for their bulky and heavy equipment.

For the marine industry, the RFP seeks proposals for new layouts and configurations to better integrate core and supporting marine-related facilities and processes.

And in the case of the aerospace industry, the RFP seeks proposals to increase the parking capacity of aircraft and plot ratios of runway access hangars.

Innovative solutions are also invited for accelerating the construction speed of roads and reducing the construction time of substations.

This is the second year that JTC is reaching out to external partners to boost industry research in creating innovative industrial infrastructure solutions.

The agency launched the inaugural JTC Innovation Fund in March 2010, targeting institutions of higher learning, and private and public sector organisations in Singapore.

Last year, a total grant of $900,000 was awarded to fund three research projects which were aimed at improving the environmental sustainability of its industrial parks.

The closing date for submission is June 7, 2011. JTC will conduct this exercise annually, it said.

JTC invites firms to submit proposals
Julie Quek Channel NewsAsia 30 Mar 11;

SINGAPORE : JTC Corporation has invited local and foreign firms to submit proposals on industrial infrastructure development.

JTC said on Wednesday that it has launched a "Request For Proposal" (RFP), seeking cutting-edge ideas on intensifying land use and accelerating construction time.

A S$5m innovation fund has been set aside to support and develop ideas that will create new industrial infrastructure solutions to grow the Singapore economy, JTC said in a statement.

It added that the two key themes for the proposals were increasing plot ratio of buildings in the marine and aerospace industries, and increasing construction speed of industrial infrastructure.

The duration for each project proposal shall be for a maximum of two years and they should not have commenced before the funding is approved.

Foreign organisations would be required to partner a local organisation or have a local presence to be eligible to participate in the project.

The closing date for submission is June 7.

Mr Manohar Khiatani, CEO of JTC, said: "Innovation is of high priority to JTC and is key to sustaining Singapore's competitive edge as an investment location."

In March 2010, JTC launched the inaugural JTC Innovation Fund. Last year, a total grant of S$900,000 was awarded by JTC to fund three research projects which were aimed at improving the environmental sustainability of its industrial parks.

Out of the three projects, two were submitted by the Nanyang Technological University and one by the National University of Singapore.

- CNA/al

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East Java Caterpillar Plague Has Experts Guessing

Fidelis E. Satriastanti Jakarta Globe 30 Mar 11;

At least 10 villages in the East Java district of Probolinggo are seeing attacks of wormlike invaders, according to media reports and entomologists.

Thousands of caterpillars started appearing in villages there on Saturday, creeping into homes and fields and forcing some to go around with umbrellas, media reports said on Monday.

“I haven’t figured out what type [of caterpillar] these are. Generally, a population explosion is caused by a rise in temperatures,” said Hari Sutrisno, entomologist at the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI).

Hari added that the outbreak might also have been caused by an imbalance resulting from the disappearance of a species’ natural predators.

“One of the natural enemies of hairy caterpillars is the wasp. However, their population is declining because of the increasing use of pesticides and herbicides,” he said.

“Intensive agriculture is not only dangerous to humans. It will disrupt nature’s balance and can cause a population explosion of pests, such as snakes, flies and plant hoppers. All of those outbreaks occur because of ecosystem imbalance.”

Siti Nuramaliati Prijono, director of the Research Center for Biology at LIPI, said simple food chain theory was at play.

“You disrupt one chain, it will affect the others,” Siti said. “People tend to think it’s not a big deal when a certain species goes extinct. They say, ‘It’s gone, so what?’ But then, when we see such outbreaks [like in Probolinggo], we have to realize it’s difficult to predict the impact of a species’ extinction.”

In explaining the caterpillar outbreak, she said species such as birds that specifically feed on caterpillars may no longer exist in the area. Climatic conditions, she added, could also trigger species to breed faster.

“Ecosystem imbalance is usually triggered by natural aspects. Because of there being no predators, caterpillar populations become bigger and turn into butterflies. Then come the outbreak,” she said. “Most of the outbreaks cannot be predicted, but we can pay attention to the signs, such as why there are so many butterflies all of a sudden. They should have captured those butterflies to prevent them from breeding.”

Antung Deddy Radiansyah, assistant deputy for biodiversity and land damage control at the Environment Ministry, said the outbreak was indicative of low biodiversity.

“Those areas are dominated by monoculture. This makes crops much more vulnerable to pests,” Antung said.

“It could also be that they were too late in spraying their plants [in Probolinggo]. However, in the future, multiple plants should be introduced rather than just one type.”

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Four Orangutans Set Free in Aceh

Nurdin Hasan Jakarta Globe 30 Mar 11;

Banda Aceh. Four formerly-captive orangutans have been given the chance to resume a normal life after they were released into the Jalin Jantho nature reserve in Aceh on Monday.

This brings to six the number of orangutans released into the forest by the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Program since last week.

Dr. Ian Singleton, director of conservation at the Swiss-based PanEco Foundation, a partner of SOCP, said the four primates had previously been cared for — illegally — by local Acehnese people.

Before they were released into the Jalin Jantho forest, they underwent health checks at SOCP’s quarantine center in Sibolangit, North Sumatra.

Located some 80 kilometers east of Banda Aceh, the Jalin Jantho pine reserves are notorious for being the place where police raided a paramilitary training camp run by suspected terrorists in February last year.

“The Jantho forests are great for orangutans because they are rich and densely packed with trees,” Singleton said.

The four orangutans released on Monday were all aged between six and seven years of age; three were female and one male. The two others, released on March 23, consisted of a six-year-old male and an adult female, which was rescued injured from a palm oil plantation in Rawa Tripa, Nagan Raya district.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature lists Sumatran orangutans as critically endangered. An estimated 6,600 remain in the wild.

“The primary threat to orangutans is destruction of habitat caused by illegal logging concessions,” Singleton said, adding that the capture orangutans for the pet trade was also a major problem.

Wild populations of Sumatran orangutans are only found in the northern parts of Sumatra, with the largest numbers in the Leuser ecosystem of southeast Aceh, Singleton said.

“Leuser is the safest area for orangutans because of its higher altitude,” he said. “At lower levels their population is dwindling because of logging of the forest.”

Singleton said an additional 30 orangutans, which were seized from people keeping them illegally in Aceh, were being quarantined at SOCP’s centre in Sibolangit.

After completing their quarantine period and being granted a clean bill of health, they will also be released in Jalin Jantho, he said.

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Indonesia to Concentrate on Renewable Energy Ahead of Nuclear Option

Jakarta Globe 30 Mar 11;

The government says it will maximize the use of new and renewable energy — especially geothermal, hydro-energy and bio fuels — before deciding to use nuclear energy.

Luluk Sumiarso, the director general of renewable energy at the Energy Ministry, said on Tuesday that the nuclear energy was the last option.

“But being the last option does not mean that nuclear is not being prepared. [The ministry] will continue to prepare it, but we are now maximizing the use of new and renewable energy, such as geothermal, hydro-energy and bio fuels, which have the potential for development,” Luluk said.

He said the plan to build nuclear power plants would go ahead.

“But the use of nuclear energy needs a political decision,” Luluk said, adding that the case of nuclear power plant in Fukushima, Japan, would be a lesson for Indonesia.

He said the government was revising its quotas of new and renewable energy utilization in the energy mix from the previously targeted at 17 percent to be 25 percent in 2025.

“The revision of the energy mix is made by including nuclear and non nuclear,” Luluk said.

He said the government would also make every effort to speed up the utilization of the new and renewable energy.

Therefore the government is currently carrying out the construction of the second phase 10,000 MW power plant with most of its energy will come from geothermal and hydro-power, he said.

It is the target of the government that the geothermal capacity will increase by 2,000 MW in 2012 and rises to 5,000 MW in 2014 because the the country’s geothermal potential is 29,000 MW.

Luluk said that aside from geothermal energy, his party would also review the development of bio-fuels.


Geothermal less risky than nuclear
Antara 30 Mar 11;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - The use of geothermal energy poses fewer risks than nuclear power, a number of activists said here on Wednesday.

Muhammad Ridho, one of the activists grouped in the Care Unit Geothermal Power Plant, said at an Indonesian Renovation Forum that geothermal energy potential should be prioritized because it is less risky than nuclear energy.

He said Indonesia had the largest source of geothermal energy in the world that serves as a potential strategy for non-military national defense.

"The risk in the utilization of geothermal energy is less than that of nuclear power, and geothermal pressure control can reduce and inhibit the occurrence of volcanic eruption," he said.

For the sake of security and national interests and welfare of the people, Muhammad Ridho said the state should wisely control the geothermal energy to ensure continuous availability of power supply.

Therefore he added that the government and the House of Representatives should continue to encourage the regions with geothermal energy to form regionally owned enterprises.

"Indonesia`s geothermal energy potential which is the largest in the world should serve as a golden opportunity to become the `Center of Excellence` in the field of energy," he said.

Editor: Priyambodo RH

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BIMP-Eaga hailed as most mega diverse region in the world

Borneo Post 31 Mar 11;

KOTA KINABALU: The Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia and Phillipines-East Asia Growth Area (BIMP-Eaga) has been hailed as the most mega diverse region in the world.

In a statement yesterday, the Mindanao Development Authority (MinDA) said the ministers responsible for the BIMP-Eaga’s tropical rainforests and marine resources gave this recognition at the one-day Conference on the Heart of Borneo and Coral Reefs in Temburong, Brunei.

In a joint statement, the ministers of the four-member countries said the two ecosystems of forests and coral reefs were interconnected and good strategies and plans were currently being implemented including maintaining the ecological corridors joining the terrestrial and marine biodiversity.

“The ministers agreed that their respective national action plans would form the basis for the development and conservation of the two ecosystems and recognised the importance of collaboration efforts among member countries in the areas of common interest such as in eco-tourism and research and development,” it said.

Meanwhile, Secretary Luwalhati R Antonino, MinDA Chair and Philippine Signing Minister for BIMP-Eaga, said the role of the business entities, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and local government units in the conservation of the seas, oceans, forests, and species in the coral triangle should not be forgotten.

“BIMP-Eaga governments should adapt a proactive role in taking the lead in the formulation and implementation of conservation policies by setting up business models where prospective business corporations and NGOs may become key players in protecting the marine and coastal resources in the coral triangle”, she said.

Also present were Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Tan Sri Nor Mohamed Yakcop, Natural Resources and Environment Minister Dato Sri Douglas Uggah and Science, Technology and Innovation Minister Datuk Dr Maximus Ongkili.

Representing Brunei were Second Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Pehin Dato Lim Jock Seng and Industry and Primary Resources Minister Pehin Dato Yahya.

Indonesia was represented by Zulkifli Hassan while Philippines by Mindanao Development Authority chairman, Antonino. — Bernama

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Mangroves: Save the ‘carbon sinks’ instead of letting them go down the drain, say experts

Samia Saleem The Express Tribune 31 Mar 11;

KARACHI: Mangroves can serve as lungs for Karachi, where the scope of forestry is already very limited, said experts.

Around the world, environmentalists are now focusing on the role of mangroves as carbon sinks besides their ecological usefulness, natural beauty, ability to filter pollution, house fish nurseries and buffer shorelines against storms.

International Union of Conservation of Nature (IUCN) climate change expert Saadullah Ayaz said that studies have shown that about one acre of mangrove plantations roughly capture 0.7 tons of carbon dioxide every year. Mangroves can thus be used as tools to control the environment and the population. Also, unlike terrestrial vegetation, they don’t cover very large areas, he said.

Studies show that mangroves, salt marshes and sea grasses soak up to five times more carbon than tropical forests. An article published this month in the ‘American Scientific’ calls mangroves as ‘blue carbon’. These previously undervalued coastal carbon sinks are beginning to gain attention from conservation communities because of their littoral environment that is close to the shore, said the article.

Ayaz said that although climate change is a global phenomenon in which Pakistan has a much smaller contribution in comparison, mangroves can still hold enormous amounts of carbon dioxide emissions from factories in the city. Pakistan’s contribution to global climate change is about 0.4 to 0.8 per cent of global emissions versus the largest contributor, the United States, which releases 24 to 27 per cent of the total emissions, according to a task force report on climate change 2010 by the Planning Commission of Pakistan.

In an industrial city, such as Karachi, where both combustion and breathing — the two major contributors to carbon dioxide emissions — are in high density and the scope of forestry and plantations is low, these plants can serve as mitigating agents of pollution, said Ayaz.

IUCN expert on mangroves Tahir Qureshi said that the vast coastal jungles of mangroves on our coastline in Sindh and Balochistan can also be used to improve the forest wealth of Pakistan. According to him, Pakistan is already on the list of the countries that don’t have enough forests and wildlife. “These coastal plants not only contribute to marine diversity and ecosystems but also attract land biodiversity,” he said. Just like trees on land, mangrove forests can help rejuvinate the ecosystem, catalysing the ecological balance and increasing the flora and fauna.

“These spindly shrubs that thrive on the interface between land and sea, attract birds, animals and insects, their wood can be used for timber, the leaves for animal fodder, and they can hold soil, preventing soil erosion,” he said.

According to the Pakistan climate change report, the forest cover for Pakistan is expected to increase from 4.9 per cent of the total land area in 2005 to 5.2 per cent in 2010 and six per cent by 2015.

Since mangroves hold so much carbon, destroying mangroves also releases substantial amounts of carbon dioxide gas, which is why protecting the coastal habitat of mangroves is all the more important. “Our resources are being wrecked through aquaculture, agriculture, timber extraction and real estate development,” said Qureshi.

Mangrove forests that spanned over 600,000 hectares till 1950 have shrunk to 86,000 hectares now, which is a major concern, he added.

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Whale and Dolphin Death Toll During Deepwater Disaster May Have Been Greatly Underestimated

ScienceDaily 30 Mar 11;

The Deepwater Horizon oil spill of 2010 devastated the Gulf of Mexico ecologically and economically. However, a new study published in Conservation Letters reveals that the true impact of the disaster on wildlife may be gravely underestimated. The study argues that fatality figures based on the number of recovered animal carcasses will not give a true death toll, which may be 50 times higher than believed.

"The Deepwater oil spill was the largest in US history, however, the recorded impact on wildlife was relatively low, leading to suggestions that the environmental damage of the disaster was actually modest," said lead author Dr Rob Williams from the University of British Columbia."This is because reports have implied that the number of carcasses recovered, 101, equals the number of animals killed by the spill."

The team focused their research on 14 species of cetacean, an order of mammals including whales and dolphins. While the number of recovered carcasses has been assumed to equal the number of deaths, the team argues that marine conditions and the fact that many deaths will have occurred far from shore mean recovered carcasses will only account for a small proportion of deaths.

To illustrate their point, the team multiplied recent species abundance estimates by the species mortality rate. An annual carcass recovery rate was then estimated by dividing the mean number of observed strandings each year by the estimate of annual mortality.

The team's analysis suggests that only 2% of cetacean carcasses were ever historically recovered after their deaths in this region, meaning that the true death toll from the Deepwater Horizon disaster could be 50 times higher than the number of deaths currently estimated.

"This figure illustrates that carcass counts are hugely mis-leading, if used to measure the disaster's death toll," said co-author Scott Kraus of the New England Aquarium "No study on carcass recovery from strandings has ever recovered anything close to 100% of the deaths occurring in any cetacean population. The highest rate we found was only 6.2%, which implied 16 deaths for every carcass recovered."

The reason for the gulf between the estimates may simply be due to the challenges of working in the marine environment. The Deepwater disaster took place 40 miles offshore, in 1500m of water, which is partly why estimates of oil flow rates during the spill were so difficult to make.

"The same factors that made it difficult to work on the spill also confound attempts to evaluate environmental damages caused by the spill," said Williams. "Consequently, we need to embrace a similar level of humility when quantifying the death tolls."

If the approach outlined by this study were to be adopted the team believe this may present an opportunity to use the disaster to develop new conservation tools that can be applied more broadly, revealing the environmental impacts of other human activities in the marine environment.

"The finding that strandings represent a very low proportion of the true deaths is also critical in considering the magnitude of other human causes of mortality like ship strikes, where the real impacts may similarly be dramatically underestimated by the numbers observed" said John Calambokidis, a Researcher with Cascadia Research and a co-author on the publication.

"Our concern also applies to certain interactions with fishing gear, because there are not always systematic data with which to accurately estimate by-catch, especially for large whales," noted Jooke Robbins, a co-author from the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies. "When only opportunistic observations are available, these likely reflect a fraction of the problem."

"While we did not conduct a study to estimate the actual number of deaths from the oil spill, our research reveals that the accepted figures are a grave underestimation," concluded Dr. Williams. "We now urge methodological development to develop appropriate multipliers so that we discover the true cost of this tragedy."

Journal Reference:

Rob Williams, Shane Gero, Lars Bejder, John Calambokidis, Scott D. Kraus, David Lusseau, Andrew J. Read, Jooke Robbins. Underestimating the damage: interpreting cetacean carcass recoveries in the context of the Deepwater Horizon/BP incident. Conservation Letters, 2011; DOI: 10.1111/j.1755-263X.2011.00168.x

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Fukushima: Sea contamination likely to be local - scientists

Richard Ingham Yahoo News 29 Mar 11;

PARIS (AFP) – Radioactive contamination of the sea from Fukushima is likely to be only a local problem, but could lead to an exclusion zone if there is a major release of long-term pollutants, scientists say.

So far, the biggest contaminant identified by Japanese officials has been radioactive iodine 131.

Samples of water taken close to the plant have been as high as 1,850 times the legal limit of iodine, but levels have fallen back, Japanese officials said on Tuesday.

Radioactive iodine can enter the marine food chain, especially through seaweed, which absorbs this element readily.

"There is the potential, when you're talking about certain types of seafood, that you can have reconcentration," said Ed Lyman of the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), a respected US NGO that focuses on nuclear safety.

"So, even dilute levels of contamination can be enhanced in certain marine life, you know, just like mercury concentrates in large fish like tuna. Also, plants like seaweed are known to concentrate certain isotopes, and so are certain types of shellfish."

Radioactive elements are hazardous in food because when ingested their radiation can damage DNA in cells, with the potential to cause cancer.

However, the contamination from iodine 131 is short-lived because the element has a half life -- the pace at which it loses half of its radioactivity -- of only eight days.

"This means that after a few months, it will be harmless, basically," said Simon Boxall, a lecturer at Britain's National Oceanography Centre at the University of Southampton, southern England, who praised early measures to stop fishing around the plant after the March 11 disaster.

"What worries me more is if caesium and plutonium get into the system," he said, referring to two radioactive heavy metals whose half-lives are around 30 years and potentially thousands of years respectively.

"That's more concerning, because that can build up in the sediments" of the sea bed at Fukushima, said Boxall.

At high levels, this could lead to the imposition of an exclusion zone of catches of fish and seafood, a measure that could last "years and years," he said.

"It's hard to know (how long) until they start taking measurements and determine how extensive the pollution is.

"You would basically not fish in an exclusion zone, period. And beyond the exclusion zone there would be an additional zone where you would come from time to time and see if there's any radioactivity."

Fukushima's plant operator, the Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), reported on Saturday that levels of caesium were almost 80 times the legal maximum. On Monday it also said that plutonium, at very low and harmless levels, had been found at five locations in soil at the plant.

Given the scale of the Pacific -- the world's vastest body of water -- radioactivity in the sea at Fukushima will be flushed out beyond the local area by tides and currents and dilute to very low levels, Boxall said.

"It will get into the (ocean) food chain but only in that vicinity," he said. "Should people in Hawaii and California be concerned? The answer is no."

The Pacific, thanks to its size, is one of the cleanest seas in the world for radioactive contamination, according to the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts.

In 1990, radiation in the surface North Pacific was four becquerels of caesium 137 per cubic metre, while in the South Pacific it was 1.6 Bq/m3, it says. Most of it came from atmospheric nuclear tests before these blasts were stopped.

The most polluted seas were the Baltic, hit by fallout from the 1986 Chernobyl disaster, with 125 Bq/m3; the Irish Sea, with 55 Bq/m3 due to radioactive releases from Britain's Sellafield plant; and the Black Sea, also contaminated by Chernobyl, with 52 Bq/m3.

By comparison, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sets a maximum of 3,700 Bq/m3 of caesium in drinking water.

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Best of our wild blogs: 30 Mar 11

Dolphins at Semakau, shared by Goh Peihao
from wild shores of singapore

Poaching still going on in Singapore
from Life's Indulgences

Golden penda (Xanthostemon chrysanthus) and nectar feeders
from Bird Ecology Study Group

三月华语导游 Mandarin guide walk@SBWR, March (XVII)
from PurpleMangrove

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Danger spots for cyclists on Pulau Ubin

Riders unfazed by death of tourist last Friday; few wear safety helmets
Elizabeth Soh Straits Times 30 Mar 11;

LESS than a week after a cyclist died from being flung off her bicycle on one of Pulau Ubin's steep slopes, cyclists are traversing the island, ignoring the safety signs.

More than 30 of them, some just metres apart, have been posted along some of the more notorious stretches of road, along with road humps and convex mirrors where there are blind corners.

'Steep slope ahead', 'Slow' or 'Dismount', the signs warn, but cyclists - whether or not they have heard of the death last Friday of Chinese tourist Nao Xue Ping, 45 - are unfazed.

They blaze down the island's hilly, twisty trails with which they are unfamiliar, and few, if any, wear helmets.

Madam Nao, who was also not wearing a helmet, lost control of her bicycle as she was going downhill along Jalan Batu Ubin. Flung forward, she died of head injuries on her way to hospital.

Two Singaporeans died in similar accidents there in 2006 and 2008; Ubin villagers count an average of 10 serious cycling accidents a month, all in the same hot spots - Jalan Batu Ubin, the stretch near Belatok Hut, Jalan Mamam, the road leading to Chek Jawa Reserve and Jalan Wat Siam or 'Cemetery Hill'. All have either steep slopes or abrupt bends.

Bicycle shop owners there say the accidents are almost always the same, caused by ignorance of the dangerous terrain and riders not wearing helmets.

'Most biking injuries occur when the cyclist slams on the brakes in panic while going down a slope fast,' said bike shop owner Sit Chin Chwee, 58, who showed how a sudden engagement of the front brakes would propel the rear of the bike into the air and pitch the rider off.

Operators in the five shops The Straits Times spoke to say that not even one in 10 of those renting bicycles rents helmets; neither do they pay attention to safety briefings by the shop owners.

Mr Harry Yeo, 45, who has run a bicycle rental shop there for more than a decade, said: 'I invested in more than 100 helmets two years ago, hoping to promote safety, but to date, not even five have been rented out.'

Little good came from his playing safety evangelist and handing helmets out free with bike rentals. He said: 'When I give them out free, they don't wear them and lose them. I give up.'

Emergency doctors say a helmet could have saved Madam Nao. Dr Kenneth Heng of Tan Tock Seng Hospital said a helmet can cut the risk of head injury by 88 per cent, and the risk of facial injury by 65 per cent.

But comfort seems to come first.

Polytechnic student Daniel Lee, 20, who cycles up Jalan Wat Siam because the trail there is 'the most exciting', said: 'When I wear the helmet, my head gets hot and sweaty and I can't enjoy the scenery, so what's the point?'

And there are the cyclists who think they take enough precautions.

Mr Albert Soo, 33, who was cycling without a helmet yesterday, said: 'I don't go too fast. To get down the slope, I dismount and push my bicycle when I need to.'

Road signs aside, the authorities have tried raising safety awareness by opening the 45ha Ketam Bike Park near the islands' Ketam Quarry. This park has trails with defined levels of difficulty and signs reminding riders to don helmets.

In February last year, the Land Transport Authority closed Jalan Wat Siam after two cyclists died from head injuries in falls on a steep slope there.

When The Straits Times visited the site, a barrier stood across it and signs barring unauthorised vehicles were up, but the road is still accessible to dare-devils who inch around the barrier.

Cycling associations have called for even more to be done to promote cycling safety on the island.

Mr Alvin Goh, the leader of cycling interest group Joyriders, said: 'It may seem like common sense to get off your bike if you are not fit or confident enough to tackle difficult roads, but many people do not. There has to be proper education and maybe even direct supervision in dangerous areas.'

Mr Kelvin Liew, the team manager of SMUX-tremists, the outdoor adventure wing of the Singapore Management University, advised those going off road on Ubin to wear helmets, gloves and knee guards and avoid the 'more technical' stretches of roads if they are beginners.

They should also carry mini first aid kits and the Ubin map, which has the contact number of the Ubin police post.

Additional reporting by Neo Wen Tong and Rocco Hu

Read more!

1 dead, 1 injured after incident at ExxonMobil refinery

Mustafa Shafawi Channel NewsAsia 29 Mar 11;

SINGAPORE: One worker died and another seriously injured in an incident at Singapore Refinery in Jurong on Monday night.

ExxonMobil in a statement said that the workers were found unconscious at about 7.30pm and were sent to the hospital immediately.

One of them, 34-year-old Indian worker Dakshinamoorthy Vellaisamy who was a specialist technician, succumbed to his injuries and died at about 9pm.

His family has been informed.

The other is in critical condition in hospital.

Both were working for Dialog Systems Pte Ltd, and were carrying out maintenance works in an enclosed space filled with nitrogen, when they were discovered to be unconscious.

Singapore Refinery Manager Darrin Talley said: "We are taking a serious view of this incident. A full investigation is
underway, to determine the cause of the incident."

The company said it is cooperating with the authorities to investigate the cause of the incident.

Meanwhile, as a result of this incident, all work relating to the turnaround at the Jurong Refinery has been suspended.

ExxonMobil said further information will be released as soon as it becomes available.

- CNA/fa/cc

Worker's death at ExxonMobil plant halts work
Another worker in critical condition; duo were working in nitrogen-filled space
Ronnie Lim Business Times 30 Mar 11;

AN incident involving a fatality has stopped all maintenance work at ExxonMobil's 309,000 barrel per day (bpd) Jurong refinery, which had been undergoing scheduled shutdown.

On Monday night, the incident that apparently did not involve an explosion resulted in the death of a contracted worker and has left a second in critical condition.

'Both are contractors and had been carrying out maintenance works in an enclosed space filled with nitrogen, when they were discovered to be unconscious,' the company said.

'We are cooperating with the authorities to investigate the cause of the incident. Meanwhile . . . all work relating to the turnaround at the Jurong refinery has been suspended.'

'The family of the deceased worker, a 34-year-old Indian national, has been notified. We are deeply saddened by their loss and we offer our condolences to his family and loved ones,' the company added.

An ExxonMobil spokeswoman told BT that it was too early to tell when it expects to resume the scheduled nine-week maintenance work there. The turnaround at the refinery started in early-March and was expected to be completed around end-April. As it was a scheduled turnaround, supplies to customers have not been affected.

ExxonMobil, the largest refiner here with a total capacity of 605,000 bpd, also operates a second 296,000 bpd refinery on Pulau Ayer Chawan, and that is running as per normal.

Just over a week ago, the spokeswoman told BT that even as the Jurong refinery was undergoing the turnaround, 'the rest of ExxonMobil's Singapore refinery is making all efforts to maximise production at the Pulau Ayer Chawan site to minimise the impact of the Japan situation to our customers in the region'.

'In addition, EM is leveraging on its regional supply network, which includes refineries and supply systems in Japan and Singapore, to provide Japan with its necessary fuel supplies,' she added.

The ExxonMobil incident is the second which has hit the Singapore oil industry this month.

Shell Singapore had earlier declared force majeure on some of its contracted chemical supplies to customers as a result of 'operational problems' at its upstream ethylene cracker some 11 days ago. The problem occurred when Shell earlier restarted the cracker on the weekend of March 12-13 following a scheduled maintenance shutdown.

The cracker produces 800,000 tonnes per annum of ethylene, 450,000 tpa of propylene and 230,000 tpa of benzene and there has been no official word so far on when the cracker will resume operations, if it hasn't already done so.

One dies, another injured in refinery incident
Jalelah Abu Baker Straits Times 30 Mar 11;

ONE foreign worker died and another was injured while carrying out maintenance operations at an ExxonMobil oil refinery in Jurong on Monday.

Indian nationals Dakshinamoorthy Vellaisamy, 34, and Sornakalai Ravichandran, 35, were found unconscious inside an enclosed space filled with nitrogen at the ExxonMobil-owned Singapore Refinery. They were cleaning a part of a lube plant.

The Ministry of Manpower's (MOM) occupational safety and health division has instructed ExxonMobil to stop all cleaning operations at the site till safety can be ascertained.

The two specialist technicians were taken to the National University Hospital (NUH), where Mr Vellaisamy died of his injuries later that same evening. He had been supporting his wife and their two young children in India.

Mr Ravichandran, who regained consciousness at about noon yesterday, is under intensive care. His condition is said to be stable.

The father of two young children told The Straits Times that the incident was over in just a few minutes.

Mr Ravichandran said he and his colleague wore oxygen masks into what he described as a catalyst tower, when he realised, belatedly, that the oxygen level had not been set.

He then alerted his colleague, who pressed a button on his walkie-talkie to alert other colleagues. 'After that, I don't remember anything because I fainted,' he said.

Associate Professor Malcolm Mahadevan, head of the emergency medicine department at NUH, said an imbalance between oxygen and nitrogen levels in the air would pose a threat to survival.

'When the brain is deprived of oxygen, the person becomes unconscious, and then vital organs like the heart and kidney will start to get affected,' he said, adding that no two people are affected the same way.

Both men had been working for about five years with Dialog Systems, which was contracted for maintenance works. The works started on March 9, and were scheduled to continue for nine weeks.

A spokesman for the company, which provides specialised technical and consultancy services for upstream oil and gas production, said it is making arrangements to send Mr Vellaisamy's body to India.

In a statement, ExxonMobil said other unrelated maintenance works will continue as usual.

The incident comes just after MOM released figures in January showing that workplace fatalities hit an all-time low last year. There have already been at least three this year, including the latest one.

Singapore Refinery manager Darrin Talley said: 'We are greatly saddened by this tragic event and express our deepest sympathy to the families of those affected in this incident.'

MOM is currently investigating the cause of the incident, and the police are also investigating what they have classified as an unnatural death.

Read more!

'Moby-Duck': When 28,800 Bath Toys Are Lost At Sea

NPR 30 Mar 11;

In 1992, a cargo ship container tumbled into the North Pacific, dumping 28,000 rubber ducks and other bath toys that were headed from China to the U.S. Currents took them, and news reports said some may have eventually reached Maine and other shores on the Atlantic.

Thirteen years later, journalist Donovan Hohn undertook a mission: He wanted to track the movements of the wayward ducks, from the comfort of his own living room.

"I figured I'd interview a few oceanographers, talk to a few beachcombers, read up on ocean currents and Arctic geography and then write an account of the incredible journey of the bath toys lost at sea," he tells Fresh Air's Dave Davies. "And all this I would do, I hoped, without leaving my desk."

But Hohn's research led him on an odyssey that took him from Seattle to Alaska to Hawaii — and then onto China and the Arctic. He details the journey — via plane, foot and container ship — in Moby-Duck: The True Story of 28,800 Bath Toys Lost at Sea and of the Beachcombers, Oceanographers, Environmentalists and Fools, Including the Author, Who Went in Search of Them.

Some of the ducks, says Hohn, made their way to the coast of Gore Point, Alaska, a remote isthmus at the southern tip of Kachemak Bay State Park. Hohn obtained his own rubber duck after visiting the isthmus with the Gulf of Alaska Keeper, a group of conservationists who wanted to clean up the debris along the coast.

"They set out on a pretty heroic undertaking, because to get this [ocean debris] out of the wilderness required 2 to 3 months of people camping and packing [the debris] up in a bag, and eventually an airlift," he says. "But while I was out there with them, toys were found. I found a plastic beaver. And another beachcomber found a duck and had mercy — he gave it to me."

The Plague Of Plastic In The Ocean

While tracking down the path of the rogue ducks, Hohn also confronted the plague of accumulating plastics in the ocean.

"When I set out following these toys, I didn't expect it to turn into an environmental story, but I very quickly learned ... that unlike the flotsam of ages past, the flotsam of today — much of it plastic — persists," he says. "It lasts visibly for decades and chemically for centuries because it doesn't biodegrade."

There are certain parts of the ocean where currents converge and spiral inward, collecting what's floating on the surface, Hohn says. Called convergence zones or "garbage patches," these parts of the ocean contain trash, plastic and toys — whatever happens to get sucked in while floating past.

"When I first heard the phrase 'garbage patch,' I imagined something dense," he says. "I initially imagined it as a floating junkyard, and you'd have to poke your way through it with a paddle if you're in a kayak. But it's not like that. You can't take a picture of it because that doesn't exist. What does exist is a whole lot of plastic out there, but it's spread out over millions of miles of ocean. And some of it floats on the surface where you can find it. And some of it floats just below the surface. And eventually all of it will photodegrade, so much of it is so small you're not going to be able to see it with the naked eye."

These tiny pieces of plastic — and substances that adhere to the plastics — can then enter the food chain.

"We know that in the marine food web, there is an alarmingly elevated contaminant burden in species at the top of the food web," he says. "What role plastic plays in that is an ongoing area of study."

Read more!

Indian Survey Finds More Tigers, but Some Wonder

Pallava Bagla Science Magazine 29 Mar 11;

A new survey by the Indian government reports a 12% increase in the country's adult tiger population. But some tiger experts think the numbers don't really add up.

A 2006 survey estimated that the country was home to 1165 to 1657 tigers. The latest survey counts 1571 to 1875 tigers, almost 60% of the world's wild population, including 70 tigers that were found in the mangroves of the Ganges Delta of the Sundarbans, an area not covered during the last survey, and another 30 from two other areas—the Orang Wildlife Sanctuary in eastern India and the Sahyadari protected area in western India—that were left out earlier. However, tigers are now squeezed into 22% less space than 5 years ago, to some 72,000 square kilometers today.

The data, released yesterday by India's environment minister, Jairam Ramesh, comes from an 18-month, $2.1 million survey that involved 476,000 people looking for the animals and their scat, some of which was used for DNA analyses. In addition, 800 camera traps caught passing tigers digitally.

Yadavendra V. Jhala, a wildlife biologist at the Wildlife Institute of India in Dehradun, who spearheaded the exercise, says he was expecting a drop in population and was pleasantly surprised by the higher tally. Ramesh expressed "happiness" with the results but cautioned, "it is really a mixed bag out there, since the threats to the tiger are very imminent, including poaching and habitat loss." The greatest threat is the loss of corridors that connect the 39 tiger reserves India legally protects, Ramesh noted.

James Leape, an environmental lawyer and director general of WWF International in Gland, Switzerland, calls the results "very encouraging." Leape says they demonstrate that "wherever protection is good, tigers will thrive."

Yet not everybody is buying into this new roar of the tiger. "The habitat of the tiger has only shrunk, poaching has increased, and conservation has been diluted, so how can the numbers of tigers increase?" says P. K. Sen, former director of Project Tiger. He calls the new figures "statistical jugglery." And K. Ullas Karanth, a veteran tiger biologist at the Wildlife Conservation Society in New York City, worries that the survey methodology was flawed and that the sample size was too small.

Jhala defends his work, noting that "615 individual tigers were captured in the camera traps, which represent almost a third of the total tiger population, so the extrapolation is not only accurate but statistically robust." The details of the survey will be released in 3 weeks.

Read more!

Forest-Conservation Scheme Scarred By Violations in Central Kalimantan

Fidelis E Satriastanti Jakarta Globe 29 Mar 11;

A pilot project for forest conservation in Central Kalimantan continues to be plagued by land use violations, an official said on Monday.

Nielson R. Nihin, head of the Lamandau district environment agency, said there were at least 18 plantation firms in the district that were operating without a mandatory environmental impact analysis (Amdal).

He said the companies, mostly oil palm firms occupying 200,000 hectares of land, were also violating zoning regulations.

“There’s a regulation stipulating that nothing may be planted on a 45-degree slope, but you can see that they’ve planted oil palms there,” Nihin said.

The entire province has been made into a pilot project for the REDD Plus scheme, an UN-backed mechanism for forest conservation where countries with large forests will get compensation in return for preserving them.

The project is part of an agreement between Indonesia and Norway, signed in 2010, worth $1 billion.

Nihin said efforts to crack down on the violations were hampered by a lack of coordination between his office and the local forestry and plantations office.

“The forestry and plantations office is the one with the authority to revoke the companies’ permits, but we haven’t been able to see eye-to-eye on the issue,” he said.

“So all that we’ve been able to do is issue warnings.”

He also said his office had issued valid Amdals to five of the companies and was working on three others.

Environment Minister Gusti Muhammad Hatta said the problem in Lamandau and other parts of Central Kalimantan highlighted the need for regional administrations to amend their spatial planning policies in line with the REDD Plus pilot project.

“There are plenty of cases where no permits have been issued but the land is already being used,” he said.

“In those cases, the status [of the land] is still forest area.

“However, while we can’t just go out there and cut down all the oil palm trees that have been planted, there will be some sort of punishment [for the companies],” the minister went on.

“We’ve discussed the issue with the Forestry Ministry and asked that they stop issuing any more concessions.”

Gusti said that because Central Kalimantan was now a REDD Plus pilot project, there should be no new permits issued to clear forests, including peatlands, anywhere in the province.

A million hectares of high-carbon peatland in Central Kalimantan was converted into rice paddies under an ambitious program by the New Order government of former President Suharto.

Read more!

It's far too early to claim this relocation of reptiles was a success

Moving 24,000 snakes, lizards and worms is a huge task, and their habitat is not protected
Jon Cranfield The Guardian 29 Mar 11;

My heart sank when I read your report that thousands of "adders, grass snakes, common lizards and slow worms" had been "transported from the east of England to nature reserves in Wiltshire" (24,000 reptiles moved to make way for £1.5bn port, 22 March).

I can see how the immediate harm or killing was prevented by removing the reptiles out of the development site. I just cannot see how the reptile relocation, "thought to be the UK's biggest artificial movement of animals", maintains the conservation status of reptiles around the area where they were based.

Throughout my career as a consultant herpetologist I have always worked with the idea that wholesale translocation of reptiles (and amphibians) over large distances should be avoided. It has been a challenge in my profession: working within legal constraints which only protect individual reptiles; balancing the needs of the client, who wants, quite rightly, to keep costs to a minimum; and actually getting conservation value from these projects.

Looking at the numbers of the different reptiles moved from the Essex oil refinery site – "290 adders, 400 grass snakes, 17,000 common lizards and 6,000 slow worms" – you can see the challenge that can face ecological consultants moving these animals. These figures though are naturally inflated through the young animals born each year. Newborn and younger animals will suffer naturally from high mortality over the winter, and this may be increased by movement to a new site.

You report that "Marcus Pearson, environmental manager for [port operator] DP World, said the move seemed to have been successful. Reptiles that had been moved and then recaptured to check their wellbeing seemed healthy and were doing well."

But how are the reptiles being monitored in their new homes? There was no mention of any form of data being collected (weights, lengths and photographs). The vast number of adult lizards may have made this unworkable, but the few hundred snakes could have easily been tagged, photographed, weighed and measured prior to release. This is what happened with water voles relocated from south Essex to mink-free habitats in Colchester under licence.

Relocation, habitat creation, management and monitoring for newts is strictly controlled through a licensing system maintained by Natural England. No such system exists for the more widespread reptile species. But evidence is emerging which shows that all these reptiles – particularly the adder – would benefit from legal protection of their habitat. Your article yesterday, on the population slump of Britain's only venomous snake, reinforced this (On the slide: adder project looks to halt snake's decline, 28 March).

I do take some comfort that the remaining oil refinery reptiles are being re-homed on the RSPB reserve at West Canvey Marshes. But it is certainly too early to judge whether, in terms of replacing lost habitat and sustaining the relocated reptile populations, the story in Essex has been a "success".

Essex reptiles settle into new Wiltshire home
24,000 adders, common lizards and other species moved from oil refinery site to reserves to make way for London Gateway
Steven Morris 21 Mar 11;

They had lived peacefully in their tens of thousands on an old refinery site in Essex.

Now after what is thought to be the UK's biggest artificial movement of animals, 24,000 adders, grass snakes, common lizards and slow worms are settling well into new homes 140 miles away.

The reptiles were transported from the east of England to reserves in Wiltshire to make way for the £1.5bn London Gateway container port and logistics park.

Since 1998 the creatures have been captured by hand and moved in vans – early in the morning so they did not dry out – around the M25 and down the M4 before being released into their new homes.

The reserves in Wiltshire have now been declared full and this year the relatively few remaining reptiles at the Essex site will be rehoused closer to another reserve closer to home.

Marcus Pearson, environmental manager for DP World, said the move seemed to have been successful. Reptiles that had been moved and then recaptured to check their wellbeing seemed healthy and doing well in their new home.

Construction is under way at London Gateway, 25 miles to the east of central London. Once complete the development will allow the world's biggest container ships to berth close to the capital.

But one of the challenges the developers faced was rehousing the animals that had moved on to the site after an oil refinery ceased operating in 1999.

Homes were found nearby for the carefully protected great crested newts.

But no new local habitat could be found for the reptiles so the decision was taken to move them to reserves managed by the Wiltshire Wildlife Trust.

DP World also bought a chunk of land to link areas owned by the trust.

It has moved 290 adders, 400 grass snakes, 17,000 common lizards and 6,000 slow worms.

Pearson said finding a new home was tricky because they could not be moved to places where they were already large populations of a particular creature.

The Wiltshire reserves are now judged to be full and the remaining reptiles found on the Gateway site this year will be moved to the RSPB reserve, West Canvey Marsh.

Read more!

Corals Moving North to Escape Warming

Charles Q. Choi, Yahoo News 29 Mar 11;

Corals may be dying in tropical areas, but now it appears they are expanding their range poleward, scientists find.

Corals are critical to ocean life, forming reefs that are home to a dazzling array of species. Despite occupying less than 1 percent of the ocean floor — an area about half the size of France — temperate and tropical reefs provide a home for as much as 25 percent of the world's marine species. Only tropical rain forests can compete with the sheer concentration of biodiversity found in coral reefs.

Unfortunately, corals are especially vulnerable to changes in temperature. As the oceans warm due to Earth's changing climate, corals are dying in tropical areas where the warm waters cause them to expel the symbiotic algae that provide them with nutrients — a process called bleaching.

However, this warming could give corals opportunities as well. Scientists find that as temperatures in higher latitudes rise, coral are expanding poleward.

Geographer Hiroya Yamano, at the National Institute for Environmental Studies in Tsukuba, Japan, and his colleagues investigated 80 years of national records from temperate areas around Japan. Wintertime sea surface temperatures rose by as much as 4.3 degrees Fahrenheit (2.4 degrees Celsius) in those sites during that period.

The scientists found that four of the nine coral species they studied in these areas in the Northern Hemisphere expanded their range northward since the 1930s as quickly as 8.7 miles (14 kilometers) per year. None of the coral species went south toward the tropics.

"I find the speed — 14 kilometers per year — is stunning," Yamano told OurAmazingPlanet.

These findings might be good news for corals, "but for corals only," Yamano said. Other research suggests that warming waters might spur exotic species to invade new areas, which could negatively impact native marine species.

"Further, even if range expansion of corals does occur, the amount of dying corals in tropical areas may be much greater than the new settlements in the temperate regions," Yamano added.

Yamano added this research only looked at occurrence of corals, not at their abundance. The team will launch a monitoring program to examine settlement and growth of corals at a number of sites to get a better picture of how corals are shifting, he said.

Yamano and his colleagues Kaoru Sugihara and Keiichi Nomura detailed their findings online Feb. 17 in the journal Geophysical Review Letters.

Read more!

Indonesia most ready to build nuclear power plant in ASEAN

Antara 29 Mar 11;

Pontianak, W.Kalimantan (ANTARA News) - Among the 10 ASEAN member countries, Indonesia is the most ready to build a nuclear power plant, a ministry official said.

"However, Indonesia still lags behind Malaysia which will start building a nuclear power plant by 2012," Sri Setiawati, a deputy to the research and technology minister said here Tuesday.

According to her, the preparedness is based on a review of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Indonesia has an adequate expertise, experts, materials and technology in the nuclear field, Sri Setiawati added.

"Not all countries have the things. For example Vietnam, they do not have experts in the nuclear field," Sri Setiawati noted.

Unfortunately, the Indonesian people tend to fear with nuclear technology. Currently, there are three nuclear reactors managed in Indonesia, namely in Yogyakarta, Bandung (West Java) and Serpong (Tangerang).

She asserted, in developed countries, the fear is the impetus to overcome the weaknesses to minimize the possibility of failure.

She pointed out, Japan, although there are earthquakes every day there has 50 more nuclear reactors.

"The events that occurred in Fukushima as the impact of the earthquake and tsunami were larger than predicted," Sri Setiawati said.

During an earthquake in Yogyakarta in 2006, the nuclear reactors in the region were in safe condition, even though the buildings around it were destroyed.

Sri Setiawati said, it showed that the nuclear reactor had been made by considering the condition of natural disasters.

"If there is any failure or disruption, this will be used for an evaluation for the next technology. In essence, how we seek to conquer failures through technology development," Sri Setiawati said.(*)

Editor: Heru

Indonesian experts ready to operate nuclear power plants
Antara 29 Mar 11;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - The Indonesian Nuclear Energy Regulatory Agency (Bapeten) has confirmed that Indonesian personnel are ready to operate nuclear power plants as soon as those facilities are built in Indonesia.

"Let me emphasize here that Indonesian human resources will be ready by the time nuclear power plants are constructed in Indonesia," said Bapeten head As Natio Lasman to ANTARA News in an interview here on Tuesday.

Lasman added that the performance of Indonesian nuclear experts was already acknowledged by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). There are now seven Indonesian experts working as supervisors in IAEA.

Those seven nuclear supervisors were on IAEA missions in various countries, including one in Tokyo, Japan, doing his job, Lasman said.

He admitted there is a fear for the presence of nuclear power plants among the Indonesian communities, something that has arisen from lack of the correct information about how nuclear power plants are operated.

Lasman explained that nuclear energy is an energy that can replace fossil energy which is widely in use today provided the utilization is in accordance with strict regulation and control. Whereas fossil energy is depleting fast in the recent years.

Lasman said the most important thing for Indonesia in its plan to build nuclear power plants are connected to the correct choice of the locations as well as the supporting infrastructures. The aspects that are needed to be calculated include among other earthquake- and tsunami free.

The plan of Indonesia to operate nuclear power plants is not new, he said, because Indonesia was one of the initiators of the establishment of the IAEA.(*)

Editor: Heru

Read more!

Big Quakes Don't Trigger Global Chain: USGS

Peter Henderson PlanetArk 29 Mar 11;

Big earthquakes over the last 30 years have not triggered global chains of massive seismic activity, U.S. scientists reported on Monday.

But major quakes do trigger other big ones close by and smaller ones far away, researchers said.

The news is reassuring for California and other quake-prone areas wondering if the 9.0 earthquake which has done so much harm in Japan could hasten troubles outside the region.

U.S. Geological Survey and University of Texas at El Paso scientists looked at whether magnitude 7 and higher quakes were followed by magnitude 5 quakes and larger ones in other parts of the world.

"Based on the evidence we've seen in our research, we don't think that large, global earthquake clusters are anything more than coincidence," Tom Parsons, a USGS geophysicist and author of a study appearing in Nature Geoscience, said in a statement.

Big quakes were noted a distance of two times the length of the fault from a major shaking, although smaller quakes could be triggered at great distance, it said.

(Editing by Sandra Maler)

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UN report: Cities ignore climate change at their peril

Mark Kinver BBC News 29 Mar 11;

Urban areas are set to become the battleground in the global effort to curb climate change, the UN has warned.

The assessment by UN-Habitat said that the world's cities were responsible for about 70% of emissions, yet only occupied 2% of the planet's land cover.

While cities were energy intensive, the study also said that effective urban planning could deliver huge savings.

The authors warned of a "deadly collision between climate change and urbanisation" if no action was taken.

The Global Report on Human Settlements 2011, Cities and Climate Change: Policy Directions, said its goal was to improve knowledge of how cities contribute to climate change, and what adaptation measures are available.

Worrying trend

Joan Clos, executive director of UN-Habitat, said the global urbanisation trend was worrying as far as looking to curb emissions were concerned.

"We are seeing how urbanisation is growing - we have passed the threshold of 50% (of the world's population living in urban areas)," he told BBC News.

"There are no signs that we are going to diminish this path of growth, and we know that with urbanisation, energy consumption is higher.

According to UN data, an estimated 59% of the world's population will be living in urban areas by 2030.

Every year, the number of people who live in cities and town grows by 67 million each year - 91% of this figure is being added to urban populations in developing countries.

The main reasons why urban areas were energy intensive, the UN report observed, was a result of increased transport use, heating and cooling homes and offices, as well as economic activity to generate income.

The report added that as well as cities' contribution to climate change, towns and cities around the globe were also vulnerable to the potential consequences, such as:

Increase in the frequency of warm spells/heat waves over most land areas
Greater number of heavy downpours
Growing number of areas affected by drought
Increase in the incidence of extremely high sea levels in some parts of the world

The authors also said that as well as the physical risks posed by future climate change, some urban areas would face difficulties providing basic services.

"These changes will affect water supply, physical infrastructure, transport, ecosystem goods and services, energy provision and industrial production," they wrote.

"Local economies will be disrupted and populations will be stripped of their assets and livelihoods."

A recent assessment highlighted a number of regions where urban areas were at risk from climate-related hazards, such as droughts, landslides, cyclones and flooding.

These included sub-Saharan Africa, South and South East Asia, southern Europe, the east coast of South America and the west coast of the US.

Time to act

Dr Clos told BBC News that while climate change was a problem that affected the entire world, individual towns and cities could play a vital role in the global effort to curb emissions.

"The atmosphere is a common good, which we all depend upon - every emission is an addition to the problem," he explained.

But, he added: "Consumption is carried out at an individual level; energy consumption is also an individual choice.

"This is why local governments and communities can a big role, even when their national governments do not accept or acknowledge the challenges."

The report called on local urban planners to develop a vision for future development that considered climate change's impact on the local area.

It said that it was necessary to include mitigation measures (reducing energy demand and emissions) as well as adaptation plans, such as improving flood defences.

In order to achieve the most effective strategy, it was necessary for urban planners to seek the views of the local community, including businesses and residents.

However, the UN-Habitat authors said international and national policies also had a role to play in supporting urban areas.

These included financial support, reducing bureaucracy and improving awareness and knowledge of climate change and its possible impacts.

Dr Clos was launching the report on Monday evening at an event in central London, hosted by the London School of Economics.

Read more!

Best of our wild blogs: 29 Mar 11

St John's shore with TJC students
from wonderful creation

Berry fruity CCNR
from Urban Forest

Can you resist these faces?
from Life's Indulgences

Is a Harvestman a Spider?
from Macro Photography in Singapore

三月华语导游 Mandarin guide walk@SBWR, March (XVII)
from PurpleMangrove

Dredging right next to Cyrene Reef until Jun 2011
from wild shores of singapore

Read more!

Drivers, beware that wild boar on NTU roads

Goh Kai Shi & Lim Yi Han Straits Times 29 Mar 11;

WILD boar are a common sight at Nanyang Technological University (NTU). As are snakes - and even endangered pangolins.

Hostel residents often come upon these wild animals roaming free and unmolested on the sprawling grounds of the university in Jurong.

So much so that NTU has recently put up signs warning drivers to be wary of animals crossing the street within the campus' network of roads.

At least two 'Caution! Animals Crossing' signs have been put up - both of them at the Jalan Bahar side entrance, where sightings are most common.

Mr Chan Keng Luck, acting chief building and infrastructure officer at NTU, said: 'As the greenest campus in Singapore, NTU is home to a rich biodiversity of flora and fauna. These signs are meant to alert road users to be careful.'

To wildlife enthusiast Ben Lee, 49, the signs are a necessity. He remembers picking up a dead pangolin from Jalan Bahar in 2008 to prevent it from being repeatedly run over. The pangolin is classified as a critically endangered animal in Singapore.

Mr Lee, who founded Nature Trekker Singapore - a non-profit nature organisation - in 2000, would like to see more of such signs around urban Singapore.

'These signs will go some way towards ensuring that future generations will get to see endangered animals like the pangolin,' he said.

Student hostelites along Nanyang Crescent said they have seen small herds of three or four wild boars from their windows.

The animals have even become something of a draw. University shuttle buses have stopped for those on board to admire them, said mari-time studies student Zhang Tianzhe, 22.

Ms Charmaine Yip, 20, an exchange student from Canada who has been at the hostel for three months, has had several sightings.

'The first time I saw them I was quite scared, but after that, I realised they are quite harmless,' she said.

School of Biological Sciences student Corinna Tan, 23, agreed: 'The wild boars seem quite docile and I don't think they pose any threat to us.'

'Wild boars are generally docile by nature, but can become aggressive when they are cornered,' said Mr Tony O'Dempsey, chairman of the Vertebrate Study Group of the Nature Society Singapore.

'The best thing to do when you come face-to-face with them is to avoid them, as with all wild animals,' he added.

It is not too much to ask of wildlife-loving NTU students.

Protect NTU students from roaming wildlife
Straits Times 31 Mar 11;

TUESDAY'S article ('Drivers, beware that wild boar on NTU roads') mentioned sightings of wildlife such as snakes and pangolins at Nanyang Technological University (NTU).

NTU said signs were put up to warn drivers to be wary of animals crossing the street. However, I am more concerned about the safety of students who are staying in hostels located close to the forested areas. It can be dangerous if snakes or wild boars wander into the residential areas and attack them.

Frederick Ow

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Malaysia: Hawksbill sea turtle hatching success

The Star 29 Mar 11;

MALACCA has successfully managed to hatch an estimated 23,677 hawksbill eggs at the turtle hatchery and management centre in Padang Kemunting, Masjid Tanah near here in 2010.

Chairman of the State Industry, Commerce and Entrepreneur and Cooperative Development Committee chairman Datuk Md Yunos Husin said the total eggs hatched last year was equivalent to 48.82% of the 48,503 eggs incubated at the centre while 137,097 turtle eggs were hatched for a five -year period.

“This totals to 56% of 242,992 eggs incubated at the centre since 2006“, he said after launching the agro-based entrepreneurs carnival at the Malacca International Trade Centre at Ayer Keroh, here. Md Yunos said that 2,031 hawksbill turtles landed on Malacca’s beaches since 2006.

He said the centre, established in 1997, also recorded 50 turtle deaths along the Malacca coastlines, where many of these reptiles werecaught mostly in fishing nets.

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Philippines forest turtle: pet trade demand surged when it was rediscovered

Local forest turtle getting extinct
Ellalyn B. De Vera Manila Bulletin 28 Mar 11;

MANILA, Philippines -- No wonder Pong Pagong is rarely seen these days.

The Philippine Forest Turtle (Siebenrockiella leytensis), commonly found in Palawan, is now among the 25 endangered tortoises and freshwater turtles in the world, with an extremely high risk of getting extinct, international experts said.

A new report from the Turtle Conservation Coalition, a global alliance of conservation groups, including the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Species Survival Commission's Tortoise and Freshwater Turtle Specialist Group (TFTSG) has named the world's 25 most endangered tortoises and freshwater turtles, which includes the Philippine Forest Turtle.

This is the third Top 25 listing of most endangered species of tortoises and freshwater turtles, which is in addition to the earlier listed species that are also at very high risk of extinction, according to Turtle Conservation Coalition.

As cited in the 58-page report, the Philippine Forest Turtle’s habitat is being threatened by slash-and-bur n farming practices, logging, agricultural encroachment, and associated habitat degradation, among others.

“Yet, the biggest threat to the Philippine Forest Turtle is its perceived rarity. The demand in the international pet trade surged when it was rediscovered,” it said.

“Sadly, it continues to be illegally exported from the Philippines in significant numbers, although the species is protected both locally under Philippine law, and its trade regulated internationally by CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species),” it added.

However, the illegal trade of endangered forest turtles remains rampant with the series of confiscations locally and internationally.

“Additionally, evidence suggests that some populations of this species have declined in the recent past and that no adults larger than 30 centimeter in carapace length and no hatchlings can be found in some localities,” the report pointed out.

Scientists used to believe that the turtle thrives in Leyte where it was first discovered, however recent studies pointed out that the turtle may be found in Palawan.

“Today, all evidence suggests that the original description of this species (Siebenrockiella leytensis) as occurring in Leyte was erroneous, although it is possible that early traders had transported some to Leyte and sold them in the market where they were first discovered,” it pointed out.

Very little is known about the Philippine Forest Turtle, aside from it inhabits in creeks and small rivers with full canopy and is “crepuscular or nocturnal, hiding during the day under the rocks or in deep earthen burrows or natural limestone caves.”

The Turtle Conservation Coalition expressed alarm that even before the species can be studied further, it may become extinct, if it would not be protected.

“Effective conservation actions for this species will require greater knowledge of the species' natural history,” it said.

It also cited the importance of "community-based conservation programs need to be continued to provide effective long-term in-situ protection of the remaining population and their habitats."

In addition, the report highlighted that turtles in Asia have greatly suffered from decades of illegal and unsustainable trade, with 17 of the 25 most endangered turtles being found in Asia.

It noted that without turtles and tortoises the ecosystem and critically-important services to mankind and people's livelihoods would gradually suffer from the loss of biodiversity.

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Thousands of toads killed in annual Australian hunt

Yahoo News 28 Mar 11;

SYDNEY (AFP) – Australia's annual cane toad cull was Monday declared a success by organisers who said that more than 14,000 of the noxious pests had perished as a result.

North Queensland's "Toad Day Out" saw volunteers in Townsville, Charters Towers and Cairns collect the pests in plastic bags on Saturday night, and bring them unharmed to designated areas to be euthanised.

"When we were kids we always got in trouble for something, but we never ever got in trouble for belting a cane toad -- we always felt we were doing society a favour," explained local MP Shane Knuth.

"But this is a completely different way of eliminating the cane toad."

The animals are gassed in their bags and their bodies sold for skins or to make fertiliser, or used for university research, added Knuth, one of the founders of the event which is now in its third year.

The cane toad, which carries a poisonous sac of venom on the back of its head toxic enough to kill snakes and crocodiles, is regarded as a pest in Australia because it wreaks havoc on the environment.

Knuth said by taking thousands of the prolific breeders out of the environment, Toad Day Out had prevented millions of toad births.

The Queensland politician, who lost a dog to a cane toad, said the biggest animal captured this year weighed about 500 grams (1.1 pounds) -- well above the average weight of 80 grams.

Recent floods in Queensland have apparently boosted cane toad numbers, with Townsville locals saying a single street light attracted up to 50 of the nocturnal creatures.

"It was shocking, like, just driving up to the street lights, the first one and just seeing how many were crowded round there," sixteen-year-old Townsville local Ryan Rains told ABC Radio.

The number of cane toads across Australia is estimated to have ballooned to more than 200 million since being introduced from Brazil in the 1930s to control scarab beetles infesting the country's sugar cane.

Previous cane toad elimination techniques have included driving cars over them and smashing them with cricket bats.

"If you talk to anybody, the young, the old, they will all have something in common: nobody likes the cane toad, there is nothing great about them," Knuth said.

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Blocking Ship-Borne Bioinvaders Before They Dock

ScienceDaily 25 Mar 11;

The global economy depends on marine transportation. But in addition to cargo, the world's 50,000-plus commercial ships carry tiny stowaways that can cause huge problems for the environment and economy. A new model created by Smithsonian scientists will facilitate accurate screening of vessels for dangerous species before they unload. The team's findings are published March 28 in the journal Environmental Science & Technology.

Ballast water taken up by ships in coastal waters teems with plankton and microbes. When discharged at the next port of call, these hitchhikers can wreak havoc on receiving ecosystems. Under current federal regulations, ships exchange their ballast water in the open ocean to flush out unwanted species. However, some survive the process, and not all ships travel across oceans. Environmental regulators have known about this problem for decades. But while regulators check ship records and can sometimes test salinity to verify compliance, unlike many pollutants, there are no federal requirements limiting the number of viable, potentially dangerous organisms.

That is about to change. The U.S. Coast Guard has proposed a new set of rules limiting the number of organisms allowed, in line with current International Maritime Organization standards. For larger zooplankton (length, width or height at least 50 microns, or one-half the thickness of a piece of paper), the number must be fewer than 10 viable organisms per cubic meter (264 gallons). On-board ballast water treatment technologies offer a promising solution, enabling ships to substantially cut the risk of delivering dangerous species. But while a few systems have entered the market, the challenge of testing the ballast water -- and the technology -- remains. A major stumbling block is simply understanding how such testing should occur and how much ballast water must be tested in order to count very sparse numbers of organisms.

To help regulators and engineers develop and test such treatment systems, and ultimately enforce these standards, a team of researchers developed a statistical model to see how to count small, scarce organisms in large volumes of water accurately. Led by Whitman Miller, research ecologist at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center, the scientists took samples that exceeded the limit and ran them through various tests to see which violations would be spotted. Larger samples gave the best results: sampling only 0.1 cubic meter of water (26.4 gallons) made it difficult to detect concentrations even twice as high as the standard. By contrast, when they raised the volume to 7 cubic meters (1848 gallons), the test regularly picked up violations as low as 13 zooplankton per cubic meter.

Another innovation of the model is that it can pool sample results over time and possibly across ships, making it easier to determine if treatment systems function as advertised and thus whether ships are actually compliant or not. Since analyzing samples larger than 7 cubic meters is difficult for most cargo ships, by taking multiple 7-cubic-meter samples, regulators could effectively raise the volume without overburdening the ships.

"When trying to decide how to evaluate a treatment system, we need to balance scientific rigor with what is logistically feasible," said Miller. "Science can help inform regulatory efforts. However, in the end, it is necessary for regulators to determine the level of environmental protection that is acceptable in accordance with both scientific evidence and the needs and desires of society."

"The findings of this study will greatly assist the Coast Guard to develop and implement effective and economical procedures for approving treatment equipment and verifying compliance by ships in meeting discharge standards to minimize the risk of introducing potentially harmful organisms to U.S. aquatic ecosystems," said Richard Everett, an environmental scientist with the Coast Guard's Environmental Standards Division.

The Coast Guard proposal would require most ships arriving in U.S. waters to have ballast water-treatment systems that dramatically reduce the number of living organisms in their discharge. Under the proposed regulation, most existing ships would have until 2014 or 2016 to comply, but any ships built after Jan. 1, 2012, would need to comply immediately. The agency estimated in 2009 that the new regulation could cost as much as $168 million a year, largely for ships to install the new technologies necessary to comply. However, in terms of economic and environmental damage avoided, it could save anywhere from $165 to $585 million a year.

The Coast Guard is also considering implementing a second phase of regulations, which would be up to a thousand times more stringent than the International Maritime Organization standards, perhaps beginning in 2016, but subject to an assessment of practicability.

Journal Reference:

A. Whitman Miller, Melanie Frazier, George E. Smith, Elgin S. Perry, Gregory M. Ruiz, Mario N. Tamburri. Enumerating Sparse Organisms in Ships’ Ballast Water: Why Counting to 10 Is Not So Easy. Environmental Science & Technology, 2011; : 110324163436083 DOI: 10.1021/es102790d

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Latin American fisheries gain from Japan disaster

UPI 28 Mar 11;

BUENOS AIRES, March 28 (UPI) -- Latin American fisheries are set to benefit from the misfortunes of Japanese marine food industries in the wake of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, fisheries data indicated.

Argentine fisheries' response to Japan's troubles isn't yet clear but the decimation of Japanese fishing operations in regions worst hit by the earthquake and tsunami has pushed Chile's coho salmon producers in the forefront.

At least one-fifth of the salmon industry in Japan's worst-hit areas is either at a standstill or has been destroyed. Key fishing ports in at least six coastal provinces are shut, awaiting massive reconstruction.

This has created opportunities for Latin American fishing industries, the data indicated.

Chile is one of the world's largest salmon exporters but also is one the few countries outside Japan that produce and distribute coho salmon, the Pacific salmon known in North America as silver salmon.

Coho salmon breeds and thrives in salt water and is in great demand in Japan as well as along Latin America's Pacific coast.

Chilean fishing industry officials said Japanese consumers would likely turn to Chile to make up for their losses.

Japan produced 30,000 tons of the salmon last year but couldn't prevent a shortfall due to high demand. Of about 83,000 tons of salmon and 61 tons of trout exported by Chile in 2001, Japan received about 83 percent.

The current coho salmon season began in September and comes to a close this month.

Chilean fishing industry sources couldn't say if Japan would rely on frozen stocks or begin to order more from Chile in the near future.

The coho salmon prices were already on the rise before the catastrophic impact of the tsunami on Japan's coastal fishing industries.

"The Chilean industry is still unsure if Japan will wait till 2012 to begin importing," said The Santiago Times.

The industry also estimates a rise in salmon prices, which had begun this year before Japan's earthquake and tsunami.

Japan is also likely to increase trout imports from Latin America, the sources said.

Meanwhile, East Asian consumption of reef fish like snapper is creating a new conservation crisis in the Asia Pacific region that was highlighted at a meeting in Bali, Indonesia, earlier in March.

Experts said fishing crews were using cyanide and explosives to increases their catches way beyond the ocean's capacity, reducing prospects for the renewable resource.

Experts saw the largest threat in the Coral Triangle, a marine region that includes the waters of six nations between the Indian and Pacific oceans -- Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, East Timor, Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands -- and contains 37 percent of the world's reef fish species.

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