Best of our wild blogs: 3 Feb 11

Signs of the Johor flood on Changi?
from wild shores of singapore

banded file snake @ Semakau 01Feb2011
from sgbeachbum

兔年快乐 Sea hare is coming
from PurpleMangrove

Mr. Horrida Stonefish @ Tanah Merah 02Feb2011
from sgbeachbum

Why are some bugs... BLUE?
from Macro Photography in Singapore

One method tiny spiders use to cross large divides
from Singapore Nature

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Shark's fins: One man's delicacy, another's poison pill

Kirk Leech, For The Straits Times 3 Feb 11;

IN THIS age of a new Opec - the Organisation of Politically Engaged Celebrities - George Clooney hires satellites to monitor Sudanese troop movements during a referendum on partition; Daniel Craig, Kate Winslet and Paul McCartney lead successful campaigns to remove foie gras from high-end department stores; Angelina Jolie is a United Nations goodwill ambassador.

Now, into this 'celebocracy' steps British uber chef Gordon Ramsay campaigning to save the world's shark population from ending up as soup. His recent TV special 'Shark Bait' investigated finning, the method used to source the key ingredient for the dish. During finning, a shark's fins are removed after it is caught but often while the fish is still alive. The carcass, which is worth a fraction of the value of the fins, is then discarded at sea.

In his infamous foul-mouthed style but acting as a moral caped crusader, Ramsay and his film crew barge unannounced into shops in London's Chinatown trying to find the perfectly legal fins as though on the trail of contraband.

He quizzes Costa Rican dock workers unloading fish, demanding to know the location of the source of harvested fins. He interrogates restaurant diners as to their ethics over eating such 'beautiful creatures'. One wonders how long a journalist would last in one of Ramsay's restaurants if they asked his customers to justify what they had on their plates.

Ramsay also visits Imperial, a high-end restaurant in Taiwan, tasting shark's fin soup for the first time. Clearly believing that his Western pallet is the universal arbiter of good taste, he declares: 'It's really actually tastes of nothing.'

Food is a matter of personal taste, and Ramsay can have his opinion. I tasted shark's fin soup once, and that will be the only time. However, members of this new Opec use their status to do more than opine. They reduce complex issues to black and white morality tales and demand immediate action to support their causes.

Shark's fin soup is supposedly a delicacy that was traditionally reserved for the wealthy on special occasions and it has been part of Chinese culture for centuries. For years, only rich Chinese - mostly in Hong Kong, Taiwan and Singapore - consumed it. However, China has seen a dramatic rises in standards of living in recent decades, especially among the middle classes. This has put shark's fin soup within touch of many more people. To satisfy this demand, fishermen traverse the oceans in search of sharks.

Space is limited on fishing vessels. Fins can sell for US$700 (S$890) per kg, 70 times the value of a kilo of tuna. The bodies of sharks are bulky and worth almost nothing as there is little or no demand for the meat. Finning is also carried out when sharks are caught as 'by catch' when fishing for tuna and swordfish.

Conservationists believe finning is exacerbating a crisis in the global shark populations. Ramsay claims 'sharks will be extinct by the end of the century'.

There are over 400 species of shark. To claim they are on the verge of extinction is headline grabbing, but an inaccurate generalisation, equivalent to claiming that all fish are endangered. As with the treatment of geese in the production of foie gras, exaggeration is common place for those who cannot tolerate the cultural habits of others.

The UN Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wildlife Fauna and Flora (Cites) lists only three shark species whose consumption is subject to regulation - the great white, basking and whale shark. Dr Giam Choo Hoo, the longest-serving member of Cites, has said: 'The perception that it is common practice to kill sharks for only their fins - and to cut them off whilst the sharks are still alive - is wrong... The vast majority of fins in the market are taken from sharks after their death.'

Predictably, Ramsay's show led to an explosion of chatter on the Internet. Culinary culture warriors condemned Chinese food traditions and bemoaned the rapid economic growth that means more members of the middle class can afford this luxury dish. Online petitions against finning have been launched. There are plans to organise protests in London's Chinatown during Chinese New Year.

Ramsay has drawn vehement criticism from animal rights activists for hypocrisy: 'persuading' restaurants not to sell shark's fin soup, while his restaurants continue to serve an endangered eel and foie gras - whose production requires geese to be force-fed to enlarge their livers. A case of the pot calling the kettle black?

Finning may be uncomfortable to watch, but is the production of foie gras any different? Even if one doesn't like the taste or idea of shark's fin soup, what's at stake is the individual's right to choose what to eat within the confines of the law, regardless of what some celebrities may believe or espouse.

The writer is a former senior project manager at Understanding Animal Research, a London-based non-profit organisation.

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Malaysia: Marine park in Sabah - committee formalised

Interim Steering Committee For Tun Mustapha Park Formalised
Bernama 2 Feb 11;

KOTA KINABALU, Feb 2 (Bernama) -- The Interim Steering Committee for the Tun Mustapha Park (TMP) was formalised at its inaugural meeting on Tuesday, marking an important milestone towards the gazettement of the proposed marine park in the northern part of Sabah.

In the next three years, the committee and its six working groups will work towards an integrated management plan to achieve the three objectives of the proposed TMP, and outlining the implementation of a multiple use park that is managed through a collaborate management approach, Sabah Parks said in a statement.

The three objectives are to conserve biodiversity, ensure sustainable development and alleviate poverty in the proposed park.

"Sabah Parks with funding support from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Coral Triangle Support Partnership organised this first meeting to formally establish the committee.

"Once fully gazetted, the proposed TMP will be the first fully collaboratively managed park established through consultative and participatory process by various stakeholders, including local communities," the statement said.

The Committee is chaired by Permanent Secretary to the State Tourism, Culture and Environment Ministry Datuk Suzannah Liaw, with Sabah Parks functioning as the secretary.

The proposed marine park is one million hectare area covering the coastal areas of Kudat, Kota Marudu and Pitas, including 50 islands.

The plan to gazette the park was approved by the state cabinet in 2003.

It has received recognition as one of the priority conservation areas under the Sulu Sulawesi Seas Marine Ecoregion and identified as a priority site under the Coral Triangle Initiative's Malaysian National Plan of Action.

The Coral Triangle Initiative is a six-country plan to conserve the world's epicentre for marine biodiversity.

Last December, Science, Technology and Innovation Minister Datuk Dr Maximus Ongkili stated that TMP should be gazetted as soon as possible, saying a further delay would lead to the sensitive areas being further degraded.

Recent studies, said Ongkili, have shown that the proposed TMP was ecologically more diverse than Australia's famed Great Barrier Reef, or the Caribbean.

The statement said ongoing activities to promote the gazettement of the park were being done by various agencies such as Sabah Parks itself, Sabah Fisheries Department, Universiti Malaysia Sabah, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation and World Wildlife Fund for Nature Malaysia.


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Forests could start growing again: UN expert

Yahoo News 3 Feb 11;

UNITED NATIONS (AFP) – The world's forest area could start expanding again in a few years, a top UN expert said Wednesday as the United Nations launched an international year of forests.

But trees are still being cut down at an "alarmingly high" rate, particularly in the Amazon and Africa, according to the latest UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) global study.

And many of the new trees will have only "junk" value in disposing of the greenhouse gases that are causing global warming, said the FAO assistant director general Eduardo Rojas-Briales.

China has launched a massive reforestation program boosting Asia's total and the forest area has grown in Europe and North America over the past decade, said the FAO's "State of the World's Forests" report.

The 4.032 billion hectares (9.9 billion acres) of forests in the world in 2010 is down from an estimated 4.085 billion in 2000, said the FAO. But the speed at which which trees are being cut down is slowing from 8.3 million hectares a year in 1990-2000 to 5.2 million in the past decade.

"There are evident signs that we could arrive at a balance in a few years," said Rojas-Briales, adding that the deforestation rate was 50 million hectares a year 30 years ago.

"Of course we will still lose very valuable forest and we will gain many junk forests with not so much carbon storage value" and so not able to soak up the same amount of greenhouse gases as the forests lost in recent decades.

China is taking its forested area from 120 million hectares to 200 million, said the UN official, who also praised efforts by South Korea and India.

Overall, Asia's forest area has increased from 90.5 million hectares in 2000 to 119.8 million in 2010, said the report.

South America's forest area has fallen from 904 million hectares to 864 million in the past decade. Rojas-Briales said Latin America remains a problem because it has not used its economic growth of recent years to help forests.

"In East Asia they are putting resources and policies into position, in Latin America we don't see this," said the FAO official.

He added however that there were preliminary signs of a "significant" reduction in deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon over the past two years.

Africa's forest land has fallen from 20 million hectares in 2000 to 19.5 million at the end of the decade, said the FAO report. Europe's total has risen from 998 million hectares to just over one billion over the past decade.

The launch of the International Year of Forests was carried out by top UN environment officials and Wangaari Maathai, the Kenyan who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004 for her campaigning in defence of trees.

The Conservation International group released a special study for the launch saying that six of the world's 10 most threatened forest zones are in Asia.

The International Year of Forests "should focus the world?s attention on the need to increase the protection of forests and make sure that their high importance for biodiversity conservation, climate stabilization and economic development is not undervalued," said Conservation International.

It said the Indo-Burma river and floodplain wetlands, the New Zealand forests, forests in the 17,000 equatorial islands of Borneo and Sumatra in southeast Asia, the Philippines tropical forest and the forest on Brazil's Atlantic coast are the most threatened.

"These forests have all lost 90 percent or more of their original habitat and each harbor at least 1,500 endemic plant species," said the report. "If these forests are lost, those endemic species are also lost forever."

Forest loss slows as Asian nations plant
Richard Black BBC News 2 Feb 11;

Forest loss across the world has slowed, largely due to a switch from felling to planting in Asia.

China, Vietnam, the Philippines and India have all seen their forested areas increase in size.

There are also gains in Europe and North America, but forests are being lost in Africa and Latin America driven by rising demand for food and firewood.

The findings come in the UN Food and Agriculture Organization's (FAO) State of the World's Forests report.

Environmental groups are warning that priority needs to be given to old forests and the biodiversity they maintain in the face of climate change and growing demand for resources.
Rise of Asia

The FAO report's formal launch at UN headquarters in New York co-incides with the start of the UN's International Year of Forests.

The initiative aims to raise awareness of conservation among governments and other stakeholders.

The FAO is urging governments to explore ways of generating income from forests that do not depend on chopping trees down.

Forests now cover about 40 million sq km - just less than one-third of the Earth's land surface.

Although 52,000 sq km were lost per year between 2000 and 2010, that was a marked improvement on the 83,000 sq km annual figure seen during the previous decade.

Europe traditionally has been the region with the biggest increase; but now, Asia has overtaken it.

A net loss of forest in Asia during the period 1990-2000 has been transformed into a net gain in the decade since.

"China has increased its forest by three million hectares (30,000 sq km) per year - no country has ever done anything like this before, it's an enormous contribution," said Eduardo Rojas-Briales, assistant director-general of the FAO's forestry department.

"But we can also highlight the case of Vietnam, a small and densely populated country that's implemented very smart and comprehensive forest reform - or India, which has not controlled its population as China has and where standards of living are even lower.

"Nevertheless India has achieved a modest growth of its forest area, and the Philippines has turned things around as well - so we're seeing improvement across Asia except in the weakest states," he told BBC News.

Dr Rojas-Briales suggested Latin American countries where forest loss continues could learn from East Asian policies, in particular the adoption of land use planning.

The report cites agriculture as the leading cause of deforestation in South and Central America and the Caribbean.

In Africa, the need for firewood is the key factor.

Conservation call

In Asia, South America and Africa, the area covered by deliberately planted forests is increasing, which could mean that old-growth forests continue to disappear while plantations spread.

The report does not distinguish between the two kinds; but Dr Rojas-Briales said plantations overall were not expanding at the expense of old-growth forests, at least not in Asia.

This is supported by the report's conclusion that in the Asia-Pacific region, the area of forest designated for production has fallen since 2000, with an increase in lands set aside for conservation of biodiversity and ecosystem services.

However, as old-growth forest continues to disappear in some parts of the world, Conservation International is one of several environment groups pressing for increased attention on these areas and their special importance for nature.

"Forests must be seen as more than just a group of trees," said Olivier Langrand, the organisation's head of international policy.

"Forests already play an enormous economic role in the development of many countries as a source of timber, food, shelter and recreation, and have an even greater potential that needs to be realised in terms of water provision, erosion prevention and carbon sequestration."

Conservation International is highlighting 10 places in the world where forests of iconic importance are under threat, including the banks of the Mekong River and the wildlife it supports, the lemur-rich jungles of Madagascarm and the Californian Floristic Province, home of the giant sequoia.

All currently cover less than 10% of their original range.

There are concerns in some quarters that the UN scheme on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (Redd) may lead to forests being conserved simply because they store carbon, without taking account of their immediate benefits to wildlife and local people.

Launch of International Year of Forests (IYF) - "Celebrating Forests for People"
Statement by Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary General and UNEP Executive Director
UNEP 2 Feb 11;

2011 is the International Year of Forests (IYF) and celebrations will officially be launched today during the 9th Session of the United Nations Forum on Forests in New York.

This Year, which comes in the wake of the International Year of Biodiversity, represents an opportunity for evolving our work on sustainable forestry to a higher plain.

Forests are an issue with essential links to livelihoods, addressing climate change and other environmental challenges; the UN's Millennium Development Goals and sustainable development as a whole.

This is in part why forests are a key sector within UNEP's Green Economy work - a landmark report which will be launched at the upcoming Governing Council/Global Ministerial Environment Forum (GC/GMEF) - as we work to strengthen all three pillars of sustainable development on the Road to Rio+20 taking place in May next year.

Forests represent many things to many people including spiritual, aesthetic and cultural dimensions that are, in many ways, priceless. But they are also cornerstones of our economies, whose real value has all too often been invisible in national accounts of profit and loss.

This mismatch between reality and perception emerged with full force in The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) work.

It estimates that deforestation and forest degradation are likely costing the global economy between US$2.5 and US$4.5 trillion a year, more than the losses of the recent and ongoing financial crisis.

If one further considers the loss of ecosystem services - from water supplies to soil stabilization and from carbon sequestration to recycling of nutrients for agriculture - then perhaps the imperative to better manage these natural or nature-based assets becomes clearer.

This is given further urgency from the TEEB work which indicates that in some countries close to 90 per cent of the 'GDP of the poor' is linked to nature and forests in particular.

In Kenya, UNEP has been applying TEEB-based analysis to assist the government and donors towards catalysing the restoration and rehabilitation of the Mau forest complex.

These assessments indicate that the Mau may be worth up to US$1.5 billion a year to the Kenyan economy in terms of river flows for hydro, agriculture, tourism sites and drinking water alongside moisture for the tea industry and facilitating carbon sequestration.

Rehabilitating and restoring lost forest ecosystems is now a key pillar of UNEP's work in Haiti as part of the UN's wider strategy to reduce vulnerability, eradicate poverty and deliver a sustainable future for the Haitian people.

UNEP's involvement in forests and forest ecosystems dates back many years and includes some 100 forest projects in the last decade.

But over recent years, this involvement has gained ever broader and deeper traction in part as a result of TEEB, and in part as a contribution to combat climate change.

With the UN Development Programme and the UN's Food and Agricultural Organization, UNEP is assisting at least a dozen countries to participate in the Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation under the UN-REDD or REDD+ programme.

Accelerating this work to meet the expectations of countries and supporters involved, such as the Government of Norway, will be a cornerstone of UNEP's work in 2011 in advance and beyond the UN climate convention meeting in South Africa.

2011 is a special year both for forests and our sustainable forestry work including a new strategic direction.

The full details of this direction will be launched over the next few months in the run-up to World Environment Day on 5 June where there will be a central focus on the Green Economy and forests.

This will also form part of UNEP's public awareness and outreach work that in turn can contribute to a successful International Year.

In advance of this, UNEP will be launching a new forest-focused coffee table book in collaboration with such famous photographers as Yann Arthus-Bertrand; a special media pack and a new website on forests at

The Sasakawa prize, which will be awarded during the GC/GMEF this month, will also carry a forest theme and I would encourage those that can to join the celebrations.

I would urge all staff and their families and friends-through their work or through their communities-to get involved starting with appending the International Year of Forests logo onto your e-mail signature and by planting a tree at home, at work or at school under initiatives such as the UNEP Billion Tree Campaign whose patrons are Wangari Maathai and Prince Albert of Monaco.

The logo can be downloaded at and at Getting involved in the Billion Tree Campaign is just a click away at:

Let us spread the word to the wider world of the importance of these ecosystems to our lives and livelihoods and of course through acting - being part of 'Celebrating Forests for People' - in 2011.

International Year of Forests launched
UN calls on forest sector to take innovative actions
FAO 1 Feb 11;

2 February 2011, New York/Rome - Millions of forest-dependant people play a vital role in managing, conserving, and developing the world's forests in a sustainable manner, but the outside world often underestimates their rights to use and benefit from local forest resources, says FAO's new State of the World's Forests report, launched at the opening ceremony of the United Nations International Year of Forests in New York today.

"What we need during the International Year of Forests is to emphasize the connection between people and forests, and the benefits that can accrue when forests are managed by local people in sustainable and innovative ways," said Eduardo Rojas, FAO's Assistant Director-General for Forestry.

Towards a "greener" economy

An increased interest in social and environmental sustainability presents a unique challenge to the forest industry to innovate and restructure itself to be able to respond to the demands of the 21st century and to change the generally poor perception of wood products by consumers, who often feel guilty about using wood as they think it is ethically unsound to cut down trees.

The FAO report stresses that on the contrary, the forest industry forms an important part of a "greener" economy and wood products have environmental attributes that would appeal to people. Wood and wood products, as natural materials, are made from renewable resources that store carbon and have high potential for recycling.

The forest industry is responding to numerous environmental and social concerns by improving sustainability of resource use, using more waste materials to make products, increasing energy efficiency and reducing emissions. For example, 37 percent of total forest production in 2010 came from recovered paper, wood waste and non-wood fibers, a figure that is likely to grow to up to 45 percent in 2030, with much of that growth from China and India.

Furthermore, most solid wood products, like sawn wood and plywood, are produced with relatively little energy use. This results in a low "carbon footprint" from their production and use, which is further enhanced by the fact that carbon is stored in wood products. Pulp and paper production is more energy intensive but is coming under increased pressure to reduce its energy intensity and carbon emissions by adopting improved technologies and emission trading.

Many governments believe that the forest industry has great potential in promoting a "greener economy" including through the use of bioenergy, wood promotion activities, and new wood based products and biomaterials and many developed countries have increased their support for the development of forest industries over the last few years.

REDD+ needs to address local concerns

The FAO report also stresses that urgent action is needed to protect the values of forests that sustain local livelihoods in the face of climate change.

Recent decisions taken in Cancun in December 2010 on REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation) should be aligned with broad forest governance reform and enable the participation of indigenous people and local communities. Their rights should be respected in national REDD+ activities and strategies, the report suggested.

According to the report, countries will need to adopt legislation to clarify carbon rights and to ensure equitable distribution of costs and benefits from REDD+ schemes.

Adaptation strategies are underestimated

While REDD+ forest mitigation actions are attracting major attention and funding, the role of forests in climate change adaptation is crucial but often underestimated by governments. The report stresses the importance of forests in contributing to the achievement of national adaptation strategies.

Forestry measures can reduce the impacts of climate change on highly vulnerable ecosystems and sectors of society. For example, stemming the clearance of mangroves (one fifth of which are believed to have been lost globally since 1980), would help protect coastlines from more frequent and intense storms and tsunamis. Planting forests and trees for environmental protection and income could help the poor in arid countries to be less prone to droughts. Examples of adaptation measures in developing countries include mangrove development and conservation in Bangladesh, forest fire prevention in Samoa and reforestation programmes in Haiti

The report points out that the close links between forests, rural livelihoods and environmental stability underline the need for substantial financial support for forest adaptation measures.

Without such attention given to local-level issues, there is a risk of eroding traditional ways of life and threatening some of the most biologically diverse and environmentally important forests in the world," the report stated.

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Rare and enigmatic fishing rat soon becomes nuisance

Matt Walker BBC News 2 Feb 11;

The Stolzmann's fish-eating rat was one of the rarest mammals in the world, known from only seven specimens.

But a new survey has revealed that, far from being on the brink of extinction, this once enigmatic rat species is becoming a "nuisance" to local fishermen, stealing their catches.

The rise of the rare rat may be due to the increase in trout-fishing in South America, where the rat lives, providing easy meals for a species that locals now see as a pest alongside other rodents, parrots and pigeons.

Details of the rat's new status are published in the journal Mammalian Biology.

Stolzmann's fish-eating rat (Ichthyomys stolzmanni) is a medium-sized rodent measuring around 20cm from head to tail.

It is one of the least known rodents.

Before the new survey, it had only been recorded seven times.

The rat was first discovered in 1893 at an altitude of over 900m in Chanchamayo, near Tarma in Peru.

Six further specimens were found in the 1920s at a similar altitude, but this time in Ecuador.

The Stolzmann's fish-eating rat was not then recorded by scientists in the wild for a further 90 years.

That was until Peruvian biologists Victor Pacheco and Joaquin Ugarte-Nunez conducted a new survey, searching for the species.

They managed to trap four new specimens of Stolzmann's fish-eating rat in the department of Ayacucho, Peru, more than 300km further south than where the species was originally found.

But they also uncovered evidence that suggests this rat species is far more ubiquitous than previously thought.

Indeed, they go as far as to say that the Stolzmann's fish-eating rat is becoming a "nuisance".

Local people, landowners and workers at fish farms along the Vinchos river in Ayacucho told the scientists that they regularly see the rats scurrying around the town of Vinchos, and that sightings have increased since the 1970s, when trout farms in the area expanded.

The locals also told the researchers that Stolzmann's fish-eating rats regularly eat baby trout being grown in the trout farms, reducing the farm's productivity.

Fish farm workers try to trap the rats, often without success, and try to hit them with sticks or capture them with fishing nets.

But they report that the rats usually escape, as they are very fast and agile swimmers.

Villagers consider the rat to be such a nuisance that they call them "mayo sonso", a derogative name that applies to a riverine animal that causes damage, and that they have tried to eradicate the rodents by burning grassland at the edge of the Vinchos river, hoping to destroy habitat where the rats live and reproduce.

"It is a surprise to find what you consider a rare species is not anymore," Dr Pacheco told the BBC.

The scientists do not think there has been a sudden explosion in numbers of the fish-eating rats.

"Because of the increase of trout farms the rats are more ubiquitous. I do not think [their numbers] are rising rapidly," says Dr Pacheco of the Museum of Natural History in Apartado, Lima, Peru.

But "it surprises me how easily they are adapting to man-made changes in the environment."

He believes so few Stolzmann's fish-eating rats have previously been found because the rodent is so difficult to trap.

It could also be that previous surveys were looking in the wrong place.

Despite the rise in Stolzmann's fish-eating rat numbers around trout farms, the species may remain at risk.

Little is still known about it, and like other aquatic species, it may be threatened by deforestation and contamination and pollution of the streams in which it lives.

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Turtle Populations Affected by Climate, Habitat Loss and Overexploitation

ScienceDaily 2 Feb 11;

The sex of some species of turtles is determined by the temperature of the nest: warm nests produce females, cooler nests, males. And although turtles have been on the planet for about 220 million years, scientists now report that almost half of the turtle species is threatened. Turtle scientists are working to understand how global warming may affect turtle reproduction. To bring attention to this and other issues affecting turtles, researchers and other supporters have designated 2011 as the Year of the Turtle.

Why should we be concerned about the loss of turtles?

"Turtles are centrally nested in the food web and are symbols of our natural heritage. They hold a significant role in many cultures. For example, in many southeast Asian cultures turtles are used for food, pets, and medicine," explains Deanna Olson, a research ecologist and co-chair of the Partners in Amphibian and Reptile Conservation steering committee spearheading the Year of the Turtle campaign.

Turtles (which include tortoises) are central to the food web. Sea turtles graze on the sea grass found on the ocean floor, helping to keep it short and healthy. Healthy sea grass in turn is an important breeding ground for many species of fish, shellfish, and crustaceans. The same processes hold for freshwater and land turtles. For example, turtles contribute to the health of marshes and wetlands, being important prey for a suite of predators. The Year of the Turtle activities, include a monthly newsletter showcasing research and conservation efforts, education and citizen science projects, turtle-themed art, literature, and cultural perspectives, says Olson, a scientist with the Forest Service's Pacific Northwest Research Station.

Olson also co-authored a report, "State of the Turtle," and created a new turtle mapping project for the United States. The report is being translated into other languages for use here and around the world.

"A French translation of the report is already completed, and groups from Bangladesh and Germany signed on recently to help promote turtle conservation, and new partners join us each week," explains Olson.

Here are a few quick facts about turtles:

* About 50 percent of freshwater turtle species are threatened worldwide, more than any other animal group.
* About 20 percent of all turtle species worldwide are found in North America.
* Primary threats to turtles are habitat loss and exploitation.
* Climate change patterns, altered temperatures, affected wetlands and stream flow all are key factors that affect turtle habitats.
* Urban and suburban development causes turtles to be victims to fast-moving cars, farm machinery; turtles can also be unintentionally caught in fishing nets.

What can be done to conserve turtle populations?

* Protect rare turtle species and their habitats.
* Manage common turtle species and their habitats so they may remain common.
* Manage crisis situations such as acute hazards (i.e., oil spills) and rare species in peril.

To read the report and learn more about the Year of the Turtle and how you can participate, please visit

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Year of the Rabbit – species hopping out of view?

IUCN 3 Feb 11;

Celebrations begin on Thursday 3 February 2011 to mark the Chinese New Year and the start of the Year of the Rabbit. However, as we enter this new cycle in the Chinese zodiac, conservationists are warning that, in spite of their reputation as prolific breeders, nearly one in four rabbits, hares and pikas - from the order known as lagomorphs - are classified as Threatened on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™.

The IUCN SSC (Species Survival Commission) Lagomorph Specialist Group says that habitat loss, overhunting and disease are some of the main threats faced by lagomorphs.

“Lagomorphs include some of the most endangered species on the planet,” says Andrew Smith, Chair of the IUCN SSC Lagomorph Specialist Group and Professor at Arizona State University. “Because of their ecological importance as prey, population declines of lagomorphs have led to catastrophic declines in predator species. In addition, some of the lagomorphs are important game animals formerly occurring in areas that are economically depressed. All these factors mean that strong action is necessary to conserve this group of animals, key players in the world’s ecosystems.”

In its native range on the Iberian peninsula, European Rabbit, Oryctolagus cuniculus, populations have drastically declined due to Rabbit Haemorrhagic Fever and habitat loss. In Portugal, 30% of the species was lost from 1994 to 2004; in the Iberian Peninsula as a whole, 20% declines are reported, with some populations on the verge of extinction. Elsewhere, death from the viral disease ranges from 40% to 100%. All domestic rabbits are descendants of the wild European Rabbit.
The Riverine Rabbit, Bunolagus monticularis, is listed as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List and is now only found in the Central Karoo region of South Africa. Numbers have fallen by about 60% in the past 20 years, mostly due to loss of habitat, as it lives only on prime agricultural land, none of which is protected.
The Ili Pika, Ochotona iliensis, first described about 30 years ago, is listed as Endangered. It lives in the remote Tian Shan mountains of northwest China, and recent censuses have shown that since its discovery it has disappeared from half of its previously known locations.

“Rabbits are considered to be a ‘keystone species’ as they have an effect on the environment that is disproportionate relative to their numbers. Because of this, their decline can have a huge impact on other species,” says Luis Ruedas, member of the IUCN SSC Lagomorph Specialist Group and Professor at Portland State University. “The reduction in rabbit numbers in the Iberian Peninsula led to a decline in the Critically Endangered Iberian Lynx, Lynx pardina, as well as the Vulnerable Spanish Imperial Eagle, Aquila adalberti.”

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Beijing celebrates Chinese new year with blue skies ahead – and above

City may be seeing the last of its smogs, as benign weather and controls on coal burning and vehicle exhausts take effect
Jonathan Watts 2 Feb 11;

Notoriously smoggy Beijing is set to start the Chinese new year at midnight with the city's first uninterrupted month of blue skies in a decade.

Benign weather and government controls on coal burning and vehicle exhausts cut pollution to more than half the normal levels in January, raising hopes the worst of the haze may finally be drawing to an end.

In an interview with the Guardian, Du Shaozhong, the deputy director of the Beijing Municipal Environmental Protection Administration, which has been much criticised over the years, was in an ebullient mood.

"This is the best month we've had in terms of air quality since 1998," he said. "In terms of environmental quality, we are on the way. We are climbing every day and trying to improve air quality."

He acknowledged that the air quality over the past month had benefited from meteorological conditions – strong winds and cold fronts – but said the improvement was far from a one-off.

Last year, the air pollution index was below 100 – the city's standard – for more than three out of every four days. In 1998, it was just one out of four.

"The comparison is astonishing. These figures tell a positive, long-term story," Du said.

He illustrated the challenge with data on the four main sources: industry and power plants that burn 30 million tons of coal each year, traffic that has increased from 1 million to 4.8 million vehicles since 1998, and Beijing's construction sites that cover an area of 100 million sq m – three times greater than all the building plots in Europe.

To modify the impact of a fast growing and increasingly affluent population, Beijing has retrofitted the city's five coal fired power plants and 60,000 boilers with desulpherisation scrubbers. Home heating has been switched to gas. As a result, coal consumption in Beijing has been stable for 12 years.

Along with a relocation of dirty factories ahead of the 2008 Olympics, this has contributed to a sharp fall in sulphur dioxide emissions, which failed to meet standards for only three days last winter, compared with 106 days in 1998.

Road traffic is now the priority. Beijing has steadily raised exhaust emission controls and will adopt the world-leading Euro5 standard next year, Du said. Over the past five years, 300,000 of the highest polluting vehicles have been phased out. From last month, the city also imposed limits of new registrations, which should slow the grow of traffic.

Beijing still has a long way to go to reach the air quality of cities in developed nations. Its standards do not currently include important pollutants like ozone and small particulates, known as PM2.5.

In the future, Du said more attention would be placed on cutting PM2.5 – most of which comes from cars – which poses a major health risk because it can enter the lungs and blood stream, while bigger PM10 particulates from industry tend to get stuck in nasal passages. The central government is currently considering whether to add PM2.5 to the national standards.

The improvements do not mean the smog has disappeared for good. Less than three months ago, the haze was so thick that it obscured entire skyscrapers. According to the US embassy's monitoring station, the air pollution index was off the scale at 500, prompting an unusual reading of 'crazy bad'. The dry clear conditions also have an environmental downside – Beiing is suffering from a severe drought. Also, in many cases, the pollution has moved rather than disappeared, migrating along with dirty industry to poorer regions of China.

Many residents will remain sceptical. But the steady improvement in the capital's air quality, particularly in the past month, has prompted foreign observers to express amazement at the unusually clear skies.

The LivefromBeijing blog, which has tracked the ups and downs of the city's air for several years, noted the "incredible streak of consecutive blue sky days" has now passed 40.

"What we are experiencing is not merely some minor or subtle improvement. Beijing's air pollution levels over the past month have been less than half of what they usually are this time of year. This is remarkable," noted the author David Vance Wagner.

The Asia Society, which has runs daily comparisons of pictures and data on the air in Beijing and New York, recently pointed out the change in glowing terms:

"This week has been by far the cleanest in terms of both blue-ness and air quality stable performance. Even New York looked less impressive."

The run of clear days is likely to get its biggest test tonight, when the residents of Beijing usher in the year of the rabbit with a celebratory firestorm of rockets, bangers and firecrackers. The debris from tens of millions of explosives will rain down from the skies, pushing up the air pollution index.

"It's very bad for the community and the environment," said Du. "People need to use fireworks more reasonably. We still have problems with pollution control."

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US reopens large Gulf of Mexico zone to shrimping

Yahoo News 3 Feb 11;

WASHINGTON (AFP) – US officials announced plans Wednesday to reopen a large section of the Gulf of Mexico to royal red shrimping, more than two months after a precautionary closure.

The 4,213 square miles (10,900 square kilometers) of federal waters off Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama were closed to such deep-water fishing on November 24 after a commercial shrimper discovered tar balls in his net.

An analysis to determine whether the tar came from last year's massive BP oil spill was inconclusive, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which said the area would be reopened on Thursday.

"Further fish and shrimp sampling and testing from the area showed no oil or dispersant contamination," NOAA said in a statement.

"This reopening was announced after consultation with the US Food and Drug Administration. All commercial and recreational fishing is allowed within this area."

The BP disaster, which began April 20, 2010 with a deadly blast aboard the BP-leased Deepwater Horizon drilling rig, sullied hundreds of miles (kilometers) of coastline from Texas to Florida, killing wildlife and devastating key local industries such as tourism and fishing.

Some 205 million gallons of oil flowed into the Gulf in the worst environmental disaster in US history.

Over 88,000 square miles (229,000 square kilometers) were once closed to fishing due to concerns over the devastating spill, which continues to impact the Gulf's environment and economy.

Most of the region has been reopened to fishing activities.

"Extensive testing of royal red shrimp and other fish from this area revealed they are safe to eat," said Roy Crabtree, an assistant NOAA administrator.

"Seafood safety and consumer confidence remain a priority for NOAA, and we will continue monitoring Gulf seafood for as long as necessary to ensure its integrity."

Royal red shrimp are caught in Gulf waters deeper than 600 feet (180 meters) and are the only shrimp species targeted with trawls at these depths. The more common Gulf shrimp species are brown, white and pink shrimp, and are caught in waters less than 300 feet (90 meters) deep.

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Malaysia: Waves threaten houses

Nik Imran New Straits Times 2 Feb 11;

KOTA BARU: Saudah Ibrahim can hear the waves gently lapping on the beach when she goes to bed every night at her home in Kampung Pulau Pak Amat.

But the sound does not put her to sleep as many would expect. Rather, she lies awake most nights fearing the moment when the waves would wash her house away.

Saudah's home is barely 30m from the beach which has advanced two kilometres inland over the past 50 years due to erosion.

While many have relocated deeper inland over recent years, Saudah has chosen to continue living there as she does not have the means to move.

"I do not have anywhere else to go as the house is the only property I own," she said, adding that she feared most for her 11 children and grandchildren who share her home.

She said the past week had been the worst as about 1.5m of sand had washed onto her front porch.

She said sea water would usually flood her porch by late afternoon when high tide and strong winds lashed the village.

"It is frightening to hear the sound of winds and the waves that have crashed near my house every night over the last few days.

"I have sleepless nights when this happens.

"For the last three nights, we have been sleeping at a relative's house nearby," she said, adding that the water sometimes entered her home.

Saudah, who inherited the house from her parents, remembered that she had to walk about two kilometres to reach the beach when she was in school.

Then, she said, the area leading to the beach from her house had been covered with thick jungle.

"Even tigers and other wild animals roamed the jungle when I was small."

Decades ago, she said, the villagers cultivated padi besides engaging in fishing activities.

But now, the rice fields are only a distant memory having been taken over by the advancing sea.

She said she had heard that the authorities planned to build a temporary embankment using sandbags soon to mitigate the erosion.

Her neighbour, Siti Zabariah Yusof, 60, said she also faced the same problem.

"It has been normal over the past week to be wading in ankle-deep sea water in our house."

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With Climate Change, Expect More Monster Winter Storms

Stephanie Pappas Yahoo News 3 Feb 11;

No single weather event can be directly attributed to climate change. But as the globe warms up, Americans can expect more storms like the one bearing down on much of the United States, scientists say.

That's not because the Feb. 1 storm can be linked to rising atmospheric carbon dioxide levels or increasing global temperature - again, such a connection is impossible to make - but, according to climatologists, an increased propensity for winter storms is exactly what you'd expect in a warming world.

"There's no inconsistency at all," Michael Mann, the director of the Penn State Earth System Science Center, told LiveScience. "If anything, this is what the models project: that we see more of these very large snowfalls."

Climate versus weather

Questions about climate often pop up when the weather is extreme. Droughts and heat waves trigger comments on the scourge of carbon dioxide. During winter storms like the one currently lashing much of the East and Midwest, skeptics question why they have to dig out their car from snowdrifts in a supposedly warming world.

Pinning climate change angst on a single weather system makes no sense, climatologists say.

"Climate is the statistics of weather over the long term," Ken Caldeira, a senior scientist at the Carnegie Institute for Science at Stanford University, told LiveScience. "No specific weather event can by itself confirm or disprove the body of scientific knowledge associated with climate change."

Instead, Mann said, climate change is like a pair of loaded dice. If you erase the 5 on one side of a die and replace it with a 6, you'll roll twice as many 6s. There's no way of knowing which of those 6s you would have rolled without loading the die, just as there's no way of knowing which hurricane would have fizzled without climate change.

In the long term, though, the global warming trend becomes clear.

"Climate change is an intrinsic part now of every roll of the die," Mann said. "We've stacked the odds."

Stronger storms

But stacked the odds for what? Models suggest the answer is bigger storms. Warmer air in the atmosphere can hold more moisture, Mann said, and the condensation of that moisture puts more energy into storm systems.

"It's sort of a double whammy," Mann said. "The storms become more powerful and they contain more moisture."

In the United States storms might track a bit more northward, and the East Coast might see more Nor'easters, Mann said. North America isn't going to get so warm that snow disappears, he said, and when cold air hits extra-moist air, snowfalls are likely to get larger. Some research has suggested that global warming could fuel bigger thunderstorms as well.

There's still a lot of noise in the data that needs to be sorted out before climatologists can predict localized weather effects from climate change, said Rutgers University professor David Robinson, who is the state climatologist of New Jersey.

"How many major floods do we have to have in a 20-year period before we say, 'Well, that's unprecedented'? And then you have to ask, 'But could it still happen naturally?'" Robinson said. "That could take years. That could take decades."

Slow and steady

Robinson is currently looking into whether severe winter weather has changed over the past century. He and his colleagues are analyzing records of major winter snowfalls.

"The tricky part is we could actually have the snow signal temporarily hidden by the fact that you could have some larger snows that would keep your annual averages commensurate with what they had been in the past, even though change is occurring," Robinson said. "So you have to look at the change in the way the snow is falling, not necessarily the quantity of snow."

All of this work takes time, Robinson said. Major changes will become apparent more quickly, he said, while subtle signals may take half a century to detect.

"Meteorologists get instant gratification or instant disdain," Robinson said. "The one thing that is required of climatologists is patience."

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