Best of our wild blogs: 16 Feb 11

Green Drinks: COP16 and what it means for businesses and individuals from Green Drinks Singapore

Flood impact on Changi easing?
from wild shores of singapore

Rufous Woodpecker and the air-conditioning unit
from Bird Ecology Study Group

A rare club
from The annotated budak

Sky lanterns at Chingay: deliberately released debris
from wild shores of singapore

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Tuas Power secures coal supplies

It has started to tie up deals with Indonesia producers
Ronnie Lim Business Times 16 Feb 11;

(SINGAPORE) China Huaneng-owned Tuas Power (TP) - which is building Singapore's first clean coal/ biomass-firing multi-utilities plant - has started to tie up long-term coal supply deals with producers in Indonesia.

TP's president and CEO Lim Kong Puay told BT: 'We are getting our coal from several coal producers there to ensure security of supplies.'

One is Jakarta-listed PT Bayan Resources which has just signed an agreement with TP's $2 billion Tembusu Multi-Utilities Complex (TMUC) to supply it with 13.36 million tonnes of environment-friendly coal for 15 years, starting in 2012.

The low-sulphur, low- ash sub-bituminous coal will be transported via covered, self-propelled barges from Bayan's Kalimantan coal mine to Jurong Island, Mr Lim said. TP expects to seal a deal with a barge operator for this shortly, he added.

And just like the operations at Huaneng's clean coal-firing power plants in China, the Indonesian barges will unload the coal at TMUC's Tembusu jetty, from where it will be transported via a covered conveyor system to covered storage silos before use by the Tembusu plant.

Mr Lim said that apart from its contract with PT Bayan Resources, TP has also sealed a second long- term supply deal with South Korea's Samtan Co Ltd, which operates a coal mine in East Kalimantan, but he declined to provide more details.

The Indonesian coal supplies will arrive in time for the TMUC facility 'whose first phase construction is on schedule, with the first steam unit there starting up in mid-2012', he said.

TP first broke ground for TMUC in November 2009 and started construction proper early last year.

When fully operational, the TMUC plant - whose fuel mix comprises 80 per cent clean coal and 20 per cent tropical biomass, mainly palm kernel - will produce about 1,000 tonnes of steam per hour and 160 megawatts (MW) of electricity.

It will also provide chilled water and treat industrial waste for petrochemical customers there.

TP is currently also negotiating with an unnamed party for the palm kernel, Mr Lim said.

Apart from the TMUC facility, China Huaneng - which has already invested $6 billion on TP - is spending a further $470 million to 'repower' the first of two older oil-fired steam plants at its 2,670MW Tuas power station into more efficient gas-firing combined cycle plants (CCPs).

This will make it TP's fifth CCP when the repowering is completed in 2014, dovetailing with coming liquified natural gas (LNG) supplies here.

PT Bayan Resources is engaged mainly in open cut mining for coal of various grades from mines located primarily in East and South Kalimantan.

The integrated producer produces coal ranging from semi-soft coking coal (used to make steel) to the environment-friendly, low-sulphur sub-bituminous coal (used by power plants).

Samtan is a leading South Korean energy company with primary interests in coal mining, production, and supply.

Samtan currently operates a coal mine in East Kalimantan through its 49 per cent owned subsidiary Kideco, the third-largest coal mining company in Indonesia.

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Singapore ranks third most expensive city in Asia

Julie Quek Channel NewsAsia 15 Feb 11;

SINGAPORE : Singapore is the third most expensive location in Asia to live in, according to the latest accommodation reports from consultancy firm ECA international.

Taking the top spot is Tokyo, followed by Hong Kong in the second place, and Seoul clinching the fourth spot.

Rents have been on the rise in Asia, boosted by economic growth, strong Asian currencies and the region's growing expatriate numbers.

ECA, which provides solutions for companies placing their staff overseas, said that Singapore's rental prices for an unfurnished two-bedroom property fell by about 17 per cent in 2009 during the global recession.

This pattern was reversed last year when rents in Singapore rose 15 per cent to US$2,810 a month.

However, when Singapore rents are quoted in the local currency, they have increased at the lower rate of 9 per cent year-on-year.

In fact, globally, Singapore went up to 5th position, from 6th in the annual ranking last year.

Regional Director at ECA Asia, Lee Quane said that the assignee numbers are up again in Singapore, following falls during the economic downturn.

Quane added that this has placed pressure on rental accommodation here, particularly in areas popular with expatriates.

Meanwhile, Hong Kong has recorded some of the biggest price increases worldwide, up to 3rd position from 9th over the year.

Between 2009 and 2010, the price of renting two-bedroom property rose by 22 per cent to US$2,830 a month. This contrasts with decline in rentals of around 25 per cent the previous year.

Rents in Shanghai and Beijing, globally ranked 24th and 45th, rose last year after falls in the previous year.

Shenzhen, taking the 114th position, is the cheapest location in China for two-bed apartments, reflecting the big variations in costs across the country.

- CNA /ls

Singapore is fifth most expensive in expat rentals
Report says rentals for two-bedroom homes are up 15%
Teh Shi Ning Business Times 16 Feb 11;

SINGAPORE is now the fifth most expensive location in the world for expatriate accommodation, based on rents for two-bedroom apartments that are commonly preferred by expats.

After sinking 17 per cent in 2009 as the recession and fresh supply hit prices, monthly rentals for unfurnished two-bedroom properties here have rebounded by 15 per cent to US$2,810 in 2010, says ECA International's latest report.

The firm, which provides data and solutions to global human resources departments, said yesterday that this pushed Singapore one spot higher to rank as the fifth most expensive on the global rankings, and two spots higher to rank third in Asia.

'The rebound in Singapore has been driven by a general recovery in house prices along with increased demand,' said Lee Quane, regional director of ECA Asia. 'Assignee numbers are up again in Singapore following falls during the economic downturn. This has placed pressure on rental accommodation, particularly in areas popular with expatriates,' he added.

Tokyo ranked the most expensive globally. In Asia, it was followed by Hong Kong - frequently seen as Singapore's key competitor for expatriate talent - which shot up six spots to become the third most expensive place for this form of accommodation globally.

Two-bedroom accommodation rentals there soared 22 per cent - reversing from a 25 per cent plunge in 2009 - to hit an average monthly rent of US$2,830.

'Land in Hong Kong is already expensive due to the lack of space,' said Mr Quane, adding that low interest rates, high liquidity in the market and a shortage of residential supply have pushed rents up further.

ECA, which compiles global rental costs to help managers decide on housing arrangements or allowances for employees sent abroad, said that rentals in Asia rose a sharp 7 per cent, in contrast to the one per cent drop globally.

Apart from the region's robust economic growth, currency appreciation played a role too, said Mr Quane, citing the Singapore dollar's strengthening against the greenback.

'When Singapore rents are quoted in local currency they increased at the lower, albeit significant, rate of 9 per cent year on year,' he said.

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Gardens by the Bay reaches first milestone

Joanne Chan Channel NewsAsia 15 Feb 11;

SINGAPORE: Singapore's latest national project, Gardens by the Bay, overcame funding difficulties to reach its first milestone on Tuesday with the capping of one of its two giant conservatories, the Flower Dome.

The project faced rising construction costs when work started in 2007, leading overall cost to increase by more than 10 percent to over S$1 billion.

But with more public and private funding and the use of cost-efficient technology, the project was able to take off, said National Development Minister Mah Bow Tan.

"We managed to do some value engineering, bring the cost down slightly and then ask for more funds. And I think the Finance Ministry was very understanding and managed to give us the funds. And we're also of course going for corporate sponsorships," he said.

For example, the Kingfisher Lake - one of two main lakes in Gardens by the Bay - was sponsored a million dollars by Japanese company Kikkoman last year.

Securing the final glass panel of the Flower Dome conservatory on Tuesday, Mr Mah described the "Capping-Up" ceremony as a milestone in a "long journey".

He said that the Flower Dome, along with the second conservatory the Cloud Forest, are not just "architectural icons" but an "amalgamation of architectural, environmental engineering and horticultural excellence."

The Flower Dome will feature Mediterranean-type plants, while the Cloud Forest, which is under construction, will mirror tropical high elevation regions like those in South America and Mount Kinabalu in Sabah.

The two conservatories were designed with environmental sustainability in mind, applying cutting-edge technologies that provide energy-efficient solutions in cooling.

The facade of the 1.2-hectare Flower Dome is made up of 3,300 special glass panels, which let in the sunlight while keeping the heat out. This allows the conservatory to mimic the cool-dry climate of the Mediterranean.

To ensure energy efficiency, only areas occupied by plants and visitors will be cooled.

The conservatory is divided into smaller gardens featuring plants such as poppy flowers from California and Cat's Paw plants from Australia. One of the gardens - the Flower Field - will have changing displays including tulips and lavender.

The conservatory will also have an event space which can be rented out for weddings and other functions. There will also be two restaurants within the conservatory - one serving Mediterranean cuisine and the other, Chinese.

The Flower Dome is part of Bay South - the first of three gardens in Gardens by the Bay.

Construction for Bay South is expected to be completed by November, and opened to the public in June next year.

Explaining the time difference, Mr Mah said the plants need time to grow.

NParks says previews of Bay South will be arranged for organised groups from February next year.

It adds that the preview period will help the Gardens ease into its operations and allow the public to provide feedback.

The public will also get a sneak peek of the Flower Dome in November this year, during the World Orchid Conference.

- CNA/ir

Gardens on the Bay on track to bloom next year
Funding issues overcome by 'value engineering'
by Joanne Chan Today Online 16 Feb 11;

SINGAPORE - Initially budgeted at about $893 million, rising construction costs saw the bill for Singapore's showpiece project Gardens by the Bay ballooning to more than $1 billion.

But, thanks to cost-efficient technology and more private and public funding, the 101-hectare showpiece project - which marked its first milestone yesterday - is on track for full completion by the middle of next year.

At a ceremony to cap one of its two giant conservatories - the Flower Dome - National Development Minister Mah Bow Tan revealed the initial funding difficulties which had to be overcome. For instance, Bay South, the first of three gardens to be built, had to grapple with a 30-per-cent rise in construction costs when work started in June 2007.

Said Mr Mah: "We managed to do some value engineering, bring the cost down slightly and then ask for more funds. And I think the Finance Ministry was very understanding and managed to give us the funds."

Mr Mah said the project was also targeting corporate sponsorships. For example, last year, Japanese company Kikkoman sponsored $1 million for one of the lakes in the project.

With the funding obstacle out of the way, Singaporeans will get a sneak peek of the Flower Dome in November during the World Orchid Conference.

The conservatory mimics the cool-dry conditions found in regions such as the Mediterranean. It is divided into smaller gardens and features plants such as poppy flowers from California and Cat's Paw plants from Australia.

There will also be two restaurants within the conservatory serving Mediterranean and Chinese cuisine respectively.

To achieve the temperature of between 23 and 25 degrees Celsius, cutting-edge technologies were used.

The project's chief executive Dr Kiat W Tan said: "The glass is a very highly researched piece of equipment and membrane. It screens out enough of the heat and lets in all types of light - the different wavelengths that allow plants to grow to their optimum."

The two conservatories - with the second named as the Cloud Forest - were designed with environmental sustainability in mind and Mr Mah described them as not just "architectural icons". They were an "amalgamation of architectural, environmental engineering and horticultural excellence", said Mr Mah.

Construction for Bay South is also expected to be completed by November but it will only be open to the public in June next year as the plants need time to grow.

NParks said previews of Bay South would be arranged for organised groups from February next year.

It added that the preview period would help the Gardens ease into its operations and allow the public to provide feedback.

Giant dome to play home to cool plants
Feature at upcoming Gardens by the Bay will be open to visitors in November
Straits Times 16 Feb 11;

A CAVERNOUS glass dome on the sprawling construction site of the Gardens by the Bay is set to become Singapore's newest tourist attraction.

The 1.2ha dome - slightly larger than the size of two football fields - is 38m high, and its interior is cooled to temperatures of between 17 deg C and 25 deg C.

This replicates the cool-dry climate of the Mediterranean and semi-arid subtropical regions such as South Africa and parts of Europe, and will house a variety of plants, ranging from olive and bottle trees to tulips and grape vines.

The dome will open to visitors for the first time during the World Orchid Conference in November. Its official opening will be in June next year, together with the Bay South Gardens, one of the Gardens by the Bay's three parts.

At an event yesterday to mark the completion of the dome's exterior, National Development Minister Mah Bow Tan said it was a milestone of 'the crown jewel of the downtown Marina Bay'.

Asked why the dome would officially open only six months after it is ready, he said that it takes time for the plants to mature and settle into their new environment.

A second dome, which replicates a cool-moist climate found in high-elevation areas such as South America, is also on track to open in June.

Both domes will house about 226,000 plants from every continent except Antarctica.


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Categorising all animals - a snip at over US$200 billion

Nature 15 Feb 11;

How much would it cost to describe the entire animal kingdom? Well over US$200 billion, according to Fernando Carbayo and Antonio Marques from the University of Sao Paulo.

Based on a survey of 44 Brazilian taxonomists (representing 9% of the country’s total), the duo calculated the average cost of training, funding and equipping people in the field. This might seem like an unrepresentative sample, but Brazil contains 10% of the world’s animal species and the country’s taxonomists are among the world’s most prolific. Their salaries also come close to the global average for professors.

Carbayo and Marques found that the average researcher described 25 species in their career. With around 1.4 million known animals, and an estimated 5.4 million species to discover, the duo calculated that it would take US$263 billion to cover them all. Their figures are published in a letter in the journal Trends in Ecology and Evolution.

Not all species are equal. It costs three times as much to describe a new vertebrate than an insect, although there are almost 300 times more of the latter left to identify. “You can effectively consider the warm-blooded things as done,” says Alistair Dove, who studies fish parasites.

Carbayo and Marques’s estimate is far larger than the US$5 billion figure proposed by biologist E. O. Wilson in 2000. But Chris Laly, from London’s Natural History Museum, thinks the new figure might be an overestimate. “Their argument only holds true if it’s business as usual,” he says.

For several years, taxonomists have been developing more efficient ways of cataloguing life’s richness. The Biodiversity Heritage Library has been digitising millions of pages of early literature that were previously only available to researchers through large institutions. Taxonomists around the world can now access these materials more quickly, allowing them to compare new specimens against old ones. The Barcode for Life project allows scientists to identify new species through genetic comparisons. And social networking tools like Scratchpads mean distant communities of scientists can now work together to describe new species. “No one of these things is a silver bullet but they all help to speed things up,” says Laly.

Nor do taxonomists spend all their time on species descriptions. They also work out the evolutionary relationships between them, write field guides, and more. “The cost of training a taxonomist [is] a hard concept to translate into a per-species cost estimate,” Dove says. Most people in the field do a lot on the side, while a small group of “super taxonomists” efficiently contribute a lot of new species to the pool.

But taxonomists themselves are becoming an endangered species. The current crop would take around 360 years to fully catalogue the world’s animals and training new ones would cost even more money. Carbayo and Marques think that the field needs an image boost from scientific policy makers. “Biology students are attracted to areas they think are more likely to give them status, job and money. Taxonomy is not an area like that anymore,” they say.

It’s an expensive job but, according to Laly, a necessary one. He says, “Species description is incredibly important. We’ve got to manage the world and you can’t manage anything unless you know what you’re managing.”

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Protecting and restoring biodiversity will require private investment

While new international targets have been agreed, previous failures demonstrate that it is cash that is needed
The Guardian 15 Feb 11;

Unfortunately and coincidentally, as the UN-led International Year of Biodiversity was coming to its end late last year, it was confirmed that 2010 targets to halt biodiversity loss across Europe and significantly reduce the rate of biodiversity loss internationally had not been reached.

The failure of these targets to galvanize action at the scale and pace needed to protect and restore biodiversity has not prevented new 2020 targets being created. The EU has again agreed another target to halt biodiversity loss in Europe, but this time by 2020, while the latest international conference on biodiversity held in Nagoya, Japan, agreed various new international targets, including at least halving the rate of loss of natural habitats by 2020.

These new targets mean that we will continue to have legally binding international targets in place, but this by itself is insufficient to avoid repeating the failures and disappointments of the last decade. To succeed in the present decade and beyond, we must do something for the first time: actually stump up enough cash to deliver our biodiversity objectives.

Given the developed world's fiscal crisis, this will necessitate novel approaches to raising and deploying capital. The way money has been raised historically – primarily through public sector expenditure or voluntary donations to charities – while important, is unlikely to generate the scale of capital needed to finally halt the loss of biodiversity, or turn the tide through ecological restoration. Progress will require us to rapidly increase the money available for biodiversity protection and restoration from all sources and in particular, this means raising the private sector's contribution.

Habitat banking and biodiversity credits are one set of critically important tools for increasing private sector investment in the protection and restoration of our natural world. In a joint report published today I set out with others how we could introduce a successful habitat banking and conservation credit system.

In the report we focus on Britain, and specifically England, because the coalition government has said that it will introduce new ways to protect biodiversity in the forthcoming natural environment white paper due this spring. In the Conservative party's general election manifesto there was also a pledge to "pioneer a new system of credits to protect habitats". As a result of these commitments, there is a unique opportunity to successfully render a working and effective system in the UK that could be replicated, improved and expanded across Europe and throughout the world.

Habitat banking is defined as a market where biodiversity credits from actions that benefit biodiversity can be purchased to offset environmental damage. Actions that benefit biodiversity might include restoring a habitat or avoiding biodiversity loss in the first place. Credits can be produced in advance of need and stored over time. Simply, they create a means to pay for and finance biodiversity conservation by making those who damage the environment pay for fixing it.

Biodiversity credits are not a license to trash. Credits should only be available to compensate for damage that is unavoidable and the aim of credits must be to provide a new and additional layer of protection for biodiversity above and beyond what is provided through existing national and international protection.

For habitat banking to deliver the scale of private investment required, there also needs to be enough supply and demand for credits in the market. So in addition to establishing biodiversity credits and defining robust rules and standards to govern a new market, government also needs to establish visible long-term demand for credits. Without this, investment in the projects that generate credit supply will not occur at any meaningful scale.

One way to create demand for credits would be to enshrine a legal commitment to no net loss of biodiversity and move towards net gain. To achieve this objective new obligations to purchase biodiversity credits for those that directly or indirectly harm biodiversity and habitats should be introduced. At the start this might apply to property developers and the agricultural sector only, but over time there is no reason why other actors in the economy, whether public or private, should not pay for the inevitable and unavoidable damage to biodiversity that many economic activities directly or indirectly cause. Ramping up demand for credits over time would translate into credit creation and the scale of investment we need on the ground to tackle biodiversity loss.

To kick start a deep and liquid market in conservation credits in the short term, government could support the development of the market in other ways as well. For example, corporation tax relief on the costs to the buyer of purchasing credits that deliver net gains to biodiversity would be a powerful incentive to encourage investment. Another way to support the development of a vibrant market would be for government to underwrite a fixed number of early credits at a set minimum price. This would create a forward price curve for biodiversity credits, which would immediately encourage private investors to deploy capital into credit supply generation, without waiting for the growth of a market.

By creating a new means to finance the protection and restoration of our natural world and make those who damage the environment pay for fixing it, we can finally address the perennial problem with delivering our biodiversity targets and objectives: a lack of means. Conservation credits would also allow us to price the value of habitats and biodiversity into decision making throughout the economy. Achieving all this will not be easy, but the benefits of success are substantial and long term. Getting a system right in the UK could, hopefully, transform the way we value nature and finance its protection globally and this is a rare and exciting opportunity the government should not pass up.

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Phuket, Andaman Region Face More Dive Site Closures

Pathomporn Kaenkrachang PhuketWan 16 Feb 11;

MORE diving spots in the Phuket and Andaman region may have to be closed to save the region's diving industry, the Permanent Secretary of the National Resources and Environment Department, Chote Rachoo, said on Phuket yesterday.

He was speaking at a seminar that included the Minister for National Resources and the Environment, Suwit Khunkitti and about 30 dive company operators, tour boat firms and others with an interest in the region's coral reefs.

"We should close more diving spots or areas suffering from coral reef bleaching," Khun Chote told the meeting at the Metropole Hotel in Phuket City. He said laws may have to change to ensure that the region's reefs were saved for future generations.

If the coral was disturbed by too much activity, recovery would be slowed or not come at all, he said.

People in large numbers, boats, loss of fule and bad water all had an effect on already-damaged reefs, he said.

"If we close all the diving spots where bleaching has occurred, the diving industry will be seriously affected," he warned.

Marine biologists say more than 90 percent of reefs the region have been damaged by the bleaching, a natural phenomenon that struck in April and May last year when monsoonal cloud cover failed to arrive and the coral reefs overheated.

It was essential for dive operators, tour companies, national park rangers and marine biologists to work together to introduce a strategy for the survival of the reefs and the diving industry, Khun Chote said.

His comments echoed views expressed last week at a larger seminar in Khao Lak.

The areas that have suffered bleaching were being checked now, and more closures would come if that was what the experts considered needed to happen. Eighteen diving sites in seven Thai marine parks, six of them off the Andaman coast, were closed in January in a sudden move to protect the reefs from further damage from divers and snorkellers.

The Khao Lak meetin g heard that snorkelling groups, where guides often did not advise tourists about how to avoid damaging the reefs, were compounding harm caused by coral bleaching.

National parks are likely to structure quota systems and timed entry periods in a drastic move that will bring controls to the diving industry for the first time.

However, rangers have no control over coral areas outside the national parks, which may face higher traffic as soon as the new system comes into force.

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Coral Bleaching Outbreak in Thailand Shutting Dive Sites and Slowing Tourism

The bleaching in Thailand is causing the most extensive coral damage in the country's history, some say, triggering the closing of 18 popular diving sites
David Wilson SolveClimate Reuters 8 Feb 11;

CHIANG MAI—In what experts are calling a slow disaster in the making, up to 90 percent of coral in the Gulf of Thailand and the Andaman Sea has been bleached, resulting in state shutdowns of affected areas and projected annual losses into the millions.

Many observers say the cause of the latest bleaching outbreak is extreme heat stress due to climate change, as ocean temperatures hover around 30 degrees Celsius (86 Fahrenheit).

"If there is a long-term solution to the Thai problem — and the global problem — it lies in finding a realistic alternative to the combustion of fossil fuels, thus reducing the CO2 being pumped into the atmosphere," said Monty Halls, a spokesperson for the UK-based Shark and Coral Conservation Trust (SCCT), who warned that it is quickly becoming too late for the world's corals.

The bleaching in Thailand is said to be the worst in 20 years or more, while damage to the corals may well be the worst the country's ever seen, said Kasemsan Jinnawaso, director-general of the state's Marine and Coastal Resources Department. He told Thailand's Nation newspaper last month that the destruction could be more severe than when the 2004 tsunami struck Thailand's shores.

'Rainforests of the Sea'

The problem demands "urgent attention," Halls told SolveClimate News. He estimated the cost to Thailand in lost diving tourism dollars at $2.5 million per year.

Coral reefs, known as "the rainforests of the sea," are key to the planet's marine ecosystem and support about 4,000 species, including the marine food that more than two billion people depend on, according to figures from SCCT.

Bleaching occurs when oceans get unusually warm. Under heat stress, corals — which are living things — eject the algae that live inside their tissues and provide food in exchange for shelter. The ejection process is known as bleaching because of the white skeleton left behind when the corals get sick.

Sustained whitening can trigger the partial or total death of coral colonies, which has happened to some parts of the Thai reefs.

In response to the bleaching, Thailand's Department of National Parks has temporarily shut down 18 popular diving sites, including tourism hot spot Phi Phi, and Similan, which is one of the top 10 diving destinations in the world, according to the National Geographic Society.

The bleached reefs will stay closed for up to 14 months to let the coral recover.

In the meantime, the DNP is monitoring the whitening. "Every effort is also being made to protect corals that are resistant to bleaching and speed up rehabilitation of those already damaged," the DNP said via news release.

Agencies responsible for the reefs are providing news and information to officials, tourism operators and "Moken" sea-gypsy communities, to keep all concerned groups updated and foster cooperation in reducing environmental impact, the DNP said.

Thailand Not Alone

Besides Thailand, many other countries have suffered coral bleaching outbreaks.

Last year, between May and August, 80 percent of some coral species died off Indonesia's Aceh province. The U.S.-based Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) blamed the disaster on a dramatic rise in sea temperature linked to global warming.

Further afield off Australia on the Great Barrier Reef, one of the world's best-kept marine parks, which stands to gain diving tourists from Thailand's closures, is also dogged by the problem.

The Great Barrier Reef experienced bleaching events in 1980, 1982, 1992, 1994, 1998, 2002 and 2006. While most areas recovered with low coral death levels, some suffered severe damage, with up to 90 percent of corals killed.

In 1998, a mass bleaching event killed 90 percent of the corals in the Indian Ocean. In 2010, the second hottest-year in recorded history, reefs bleached throughout the Caribbean and the Indian Ocean and off the coasts of Cambodia, Malaysia and the Philippines, as well as Thailand.

Unregulated Tourism a Cause

Some observers blame Thailand's bleaching epidemic on tourism, rather than warming, though when contacted by SolveClimate News, local marine biologists and environmentalists working around the reefs said they were reluctant to speak with foreign media on any goverment-related issues.

Conservationist Niphon Phongsuwan, who has devoted his career to protecting the Andaman Sea, singled out visiting swimmers and snorkelers in an article in the local Nation newspaper. While surveying a damaged reef around Koh Hey, known as Coral Island, he said he witnessed a group of tourists destroy live coral as they swam and snorkeled.

Others have publicly blamed visitors for gathering coral in baskets for the souvenir value, sometimes encouraged by rogue guides.

Despite the undoubted harmful effect of unregulated tourism, Halls believes that only with carbon emissions cuts can the world "bring about any significant change" in the health of coral reefs.

"The rate at which coral reefs can engender regrowth will be outstripped by erosive [fossil-fuel burning] processes by the middle of this century," he warned.

Marine biologists — such as the ex-chief scientist of the Australian Institute of Marine Science, Charlie Veron — have warned that if the processes continue and globally coral colonies collapse, the whole food chain might crumble.

At least 19 percent of the world's coral reefs are already gone. Another 15 percent could be dead within 20 years, according to figures from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Full list of Thailand marine sites that now ban divers:

Phang Nga province: Mo Koh Surin Island 's Ao Sutep, Ao Mai Ngam, Koh Ster, Ao Pakkard and Hin Kong. Mo Koh Similan's East of Eden and Ao Faiwab.

Krabi province: Nopparat Thara Park, Phi Phi, Hin Klang.

Satun province: Hat Chao Mai National Park's Koh Cher. Mu Ko Phetra National Park's Koh Bulon Mai Pai and Koh Bulon Don. Koh Tarutao National Park's Kohtakiang, Koh Hin Ngam, Koh Rawi and Koh Dong.

Chumphon province: Koh Maprao National Park's Mo Koh Chumphon.

Planning a Diving Trip in Thailand? Check Your Reservation
Carlo Alcos Reuters 15 Feb 11;

The bleaching of coral reefs — in which stressed coral expels colorful algae living inside — is the reason cited by tourism officials for closing several dive sites in Thailand. According to the Daily Mail, while the reason is clear for the closures, the cause of the bleaching is up for debate. Sunan Arunnopparat — the director of the department of National Parks — claims that global warming is to blame as surface waters of the Andaman Sea have peaked at 4 degrees Celsius warmer than normal.

Marine scientists, on the other hand, blame unregulated tourism — visitors walking on the coral, boats mooring overtop the reefs, and contaminated water — as the main culprit. Whatever the case, Thailand is sure to see a big loss in tourism revenue as the country has been a big draw for divers. The reefs that are set to be closed in an effort to restore them are the ones that have suffered 80% and greater bleaching. Says Mr Arunnopparat,

We did not close all of the national parks, just some of the dive sites. Tourists can still go see the forests and the mountains in these parks.
The bleaching is the worst seen in the area in a decade.

Read more!

Climate change threatens more than a third of coral reef fishes

Reef guards survive storms
James Cook University Science Alert 16 Feb 11;

More than a third of coral reef fish species are in jeopardy of local extinction from the impacts of climate change on coral reefs, a new scientific study has found.

Local extinction means the loss of species from individual locations, even though they may continue to persist elsewhere across their range.

A new predictive method developed by an international team of marine scientists has found that a third of reef fishes studied across the Indian Ocean are potentially vulnerable to increasing stresses on the reefs due to climate change.

The method also gives coral reef managers vital insights to better protect and manage the world’s coral reefs, by showing that local and regional commitment to conservation and sustainable fisheries management improves prospects for coral recovery and persistence between storms and bleaching events.

The team applied their ‘extinction risk index’ to determine both local and global vulnerability to climate change and human impacts. They tested the method by comparing fish populations before and after the major 1998 El Nino climate event, which caused massive coral death and disruption across the Indian Ocean.

In all, 56 of the 134 coral fish species studied were found to be at risk from loss of their habitat, shelter and food sources caused by climate change. Those most in jeopardy were the smaller fishes with specialised eating and sheltering habits.

Because most of these species have wide geographic ranges and often quite large local populations, few were at particular risk of global extinction.

“The loss of particular species can have a critical effect on the stability of an entire ecosystem – and our ability to look after coral reefs depends on being able to predict which species or groups of fish are most at risk,” said lead author Dr Nick Graham of the ARC Centre of Excellence in Coral Reef Studies (CoECRS) and James Cook University.

“Until now, the ability to do this has been fairly weak. For example, we know that the loss of seaweed-eating grazing fishes can lead to coral reefs which have suffered some other form of disturbance being replaced by weeds. Protecting these fish, on the other hand, gives the corals a much better chance to recover.

“Where there is a widespread death of corals from a climate-driven event such as bleaching, the fish most affected are the ones that feed or shelter almost exclusively on coral,” Dr Graham said.

“However when corals die off and the reef structure collapses, small reef fish generally are much more exposed to predators.”

Dr Shaun Wilson of the Western Australian Department for Environment and Conservation said that by understanding which species and groups of fish are most at risk, “we can better manage coral reefs and fish populations to ensure their survival in times of increasing human and climate pressure”.

The study does, however, offer encouragement by showing that the fish most at risk from climate change are seldom those most at risk from overfishing or other direct human impacts, pointing to scope to manage reef systems and fishing effort in ways that will protect a desirable mix of fish species that promote ecosystem stability.

“Critically, the species of fish that are important in controlling seaweeds and outbreaks of deleterious invertebrate species are more vulnerable to fishing than they are to climate change disturbances on coral reefs. This is encouraging, since local and regional commitment to fisheries management action can promote coral recovery between disturbances such as storms and coral bleaching events,” Dr Wilson said.

They conclude that identifying the fish species most at risk and most important to ecosystem stability and then managing coral reefs to maintain their populations will help ‘buy time’ while the world grapples with the challenge of limiting carbon emissions and the resulting climate change.

The team adds that their novel approach to calculating extinction risk has wider application to conservation management beyond coral reef ecosystems and can readily apply to other living organisms and sources of stress.

Their paper “Extinction vulnerability of coral reef fishes” by Nicholas A. J. Graham, Pascale Chabanet, Richard D. Evans, Simon Jennings , Yves Letourneur, M. Aaron MacNeil, Tim R. McClanahan, Marcus C. Öhman, Nicholas V. C. Polunin and Shaun K. Wilson appears in the latest issue of the journal Ecology Letters.

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Indonesia: Up to 50% of Central Bangka forests destroyed

Antara 15 Feb 11;

Koba, Central Bangka province (ANTARA News) - Up to 50 percent of forest areas in Central Bangka district in Bangka province has been destroyed due to acute shortage of forest rangers, Central Bangka District Chief Erzaldi Rosman said on Tuesday.

"We have only six forest affairs staffers and one forest ranger to monitor state forests of 121,661 hectares covering six districts. This shortage of forest personnel has made us always unable to capture forest encroachers," said Rosman.

The biggest cause of destruction of forest areas is illegal tin mining , Rosman said. To date, Central Bangka district could only rely on police to help in dealing with forest encroachment cases and therefore it needed a sufficient number of forest rangers.

Rosman emphasized that the destruction of the forests had so far covered up to 50 percent of the 121,661 hectares.

Central Bangka Forestry Office head Ali Imron said that he was trying to convince the people living nearby the forest areas of the importance of the forests. Those people were among the closest to the forest areas and could be asked to help with keeping the forests preserved.

"The people must take a role in helping the government to keep the forest preserved by preventing encroachers from destroying the forest," Imron added.

In addition to personnel shortage, the difficult factors in arresting forest encroachers in Central Bangka regency areas is the fact that the encroachers have their own secret roads to flee from being captured.

The Forestry Office has been concerned should the big trees at Bukit Pading cut down by encroachers its to hold water may diminish and cause water shortage at Sadap waterfall which running the turbine of the power plant to produce electricity of the village.(*)

Editor: Aditia Maruli

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Cambodia: Titanium concession approved in Koh Kong

Phnom Penh Post 14 Feb 11;

“The decision to approve the mine threatens to devastate one of the last remaining elephant corridors on the continent, put more than 70 endangered and vulnerable species at risk, and degrade one of the world’s largest remaining carbon sink reserves”

The government has approved a 20,400-hectare concession in Koh Kong province to a private company on a quest for titanium ore, amid questions about the project’s impact on the local environment and the intentions of its investor.

The decision came ahead of a meeting on Friday to discuss the proposal by United Khmer Group, according to Wildlife Alliance, which has requested the company to conduct an environmental impact assessment.

Chea Thavarakcheat, the CEO of UKG who is also known as Chea Chet, has said the area contains between US$35 billion to $135 billion worth of titanium, though observers have called the estimate wildly inflated.

Suy Sem, Minister of Industry, Mines and Energy,o reported in a February 1 letter to Prime Minister Hun Sen that the area has the potential to produce 35 million tons of titanium.

Others have raised doubts about the environmental impact and how the land, located in Thma Bang district’s Chiphat commune, might be used.

Chea Thavarakcheat is also listed in an online logging industry registry as the CEO of Chea Corporation, a California-based logging company described as having operations in Cambodia, $5 million in assets and 500 employees.

Chea Thavarakcheat said he didn’t know anything about Chea Corporation, and denied any association with it.

David Emmett, regional director for Conservation International, raised caution about the mine based on past experience with land concessions.

“Don’t just use the extractive concession license to make roads and clear forest and just say, ‘Oh there’s [no titanium] there but we have lots of timber.’ That’s the danger, and where the focus of the Forestry Administration should be,” Emmett said.

Last month, the Forestry Administration warned that the Kingdom’s forests were at risk of being eaten away by economic land concessions that have not been developed.

“Seeing the way exploitation and concessions are viewed across the country, that is my concern more than the money: are they really telling the truth?” Emmett said.

Chheng Kim Sun, director general of the Forestry Administration, and Pech Siyon, director of the Koh Kong provincial Department of Industry, Mines and Energy, could not be reached for comment.

Wildlife Alliance has been the most vocal critic of the venture and has conservation projects in the area.

The organisation said the mine would have a severe environmental impact and its worth has not been proven.

“The decision to approve the mine threatens to devastate one of the last remaining elephant corridors on the continent, put more than 70 endangered and vulnerable species at risk, and degrade one of the world’s largest remaining carbon sink reserves,” Wildlife Alliance said in a statement on Friday.

“To date, a comprehensive study to determine the size and concentration levels of the titanium ore deposit has not been conducted.”

But Emmett said the area was not protected forest, and did not contain such rich biodiversity so as to justify halting the mine if it could bring significant local economic benefits.

“This isn’t really a battle that should be fought on the conservation agenda.”

Instead, he suggested environmentalists reconcile with Cambodia’s need for economic development by identifying the most important areas to protect, and ensuring that development projects move forward with minimal environmental impact.

“Realistically, if it’s economically really valuable, we should support it and make it happen in the best way possible.” ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY PHAK SEANGLY

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Latin America urges Japan to stop whaling

Yahoo News 15 Feb 11;

BUENOS AIRES (AFP) – Latin American members of the International Whaling Commission urged Japan Monday to stop "scientific" whaling in Antarctic waters and respect sanctuaries for the species.

Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Mexico, Panama, Peru and Uruguay have refused to hunt nearly a thousand whales, including endangered species, in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary, according to a statement posted on an official Argentine government website.

The countries are members of the anti-whaling Group of Buenos Aires (GBA).

Japanese whalers kill hundreds of the mammals a year in Antarctic waters.

Commercial whaling has been banned worldwide since 1986, but Japan justifies its hunts as scientific research, while not hiding the fact that the whale meat is later sold in shops and restaurants.

The International Whaling Commission has banned all types of commercial whaling in the area of some 19.3 million square miles (50 million square kilometers) surrounding Antarctica.

GBA nations reaffirmed their commitment to whale conservation, maintaining a moratorium on whaling trade, promoting non-lethal use of whale resources and respecting the integrity of recognized whale sanctuaries.

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Rising seas will affect major US coastal cities by 2100

University of Arizona EurekAlert 14 Feb 11;

Rising sea levels could threaten an average of 9 percent of the land within 180 U.S. coastal cities by 2100, according to new research led by University of Arizona scientists.

The Gulf and southern Atlantic coasts will be particularly hard hit. Miami, New Orleans, Tampa, Fla., and Virginia Beach, Va. could lose more than 10 percent of their land area by 2100.

The research is the first analysis of vulnerability to sea-level rise that includes every U.S. coastal city in the lower 48 with a population of 50,000 or more.

The latest scientific projections indicate that by 2100, the sea level will rise about 1 meter -- or even more. One meter is about 3 feet.

At the current rate of global warming, sea level is projected to continue rising after 2100 by as much as 1 meter per century.

"According to the most recent sea-level-rise science, that's where we're heading," said lead researcher Jeremy L. Weiss, a senior research specialist in the UA's department of geosciences. "Impacts from sea-level rise could be erosion, temporary flooding and permanent inundation."

The coastal municipalities the team identified had 40.5 million people living in them, according to the 2000 U.S. Census. Twenty of those cities have more than 300,000 inhabitants.

Weiss and his colleagues examined how much land area from the 180 municipalities could be affected by 1 to 6 meters of sea-level rise.

"With the current rate of greenhouse gas emissions, the projections are that the global average temperature will be 8 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than present by 2100," said Weiss, who is also a UA doctoral candidate in geosciences.

"That amount of warming will likely lock us into at least 4 to 6 meters of sea-level rise in subsequent centuries, because parts of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets will slowly melt away like a block of ice on the sidewalk in the summertime."

At 3 meters (almost 10 feet), on average more than 20 percent of land in those cities could be affected. Nine large cities, including Boston and New York, would have more than 10 percent of their current land area threatened. By 6 meters (about 20 feet), about one-third of the land area in U.S. coastal cities could be affected.

"Our work should help people plan with more certainty and to make decisions about what level of sea-level rise, and by implication, what level of global warming, is acceptable to their communities and neighbors," said co-author Jonathan T. Overpeck, a UA professor of geosciences and of atmospheric sciences and co-director of UA's Institute of the Environment.

Weiss, Overpeck and Ben Strauss of Climate Central in Princeton, N.J., will publish their paper, "Implications of Recent Sea Level Rise Science for Low-Elevation Areas in Coastal Cities of the Conterminous U.S.A.," in Climatic Change Letters. The paper is scheduled to go online this week.

Weiss and Overpeck had previously developed maps of how increases in sea level could affect the U.S. coastline. Strauss suggested adding the boundaries of municipalities to focus on how rising seas would affect coastal towns and cities.

For the detailed maps needed for the new project, the researchers turned to the National Elevation Dataset produced by the U.S. Geological Survey. The NED provides a high-resolution digital database of elevations for the entire U.S.

The high resolution let Weiss and his colleagues identify the elevation of a piece of land as small as 30 meters (about 100 feet) on a side – about the size of an average house lot.

The researchers used the USGS database to create detailed digital maps of the U.S. coast that delineate what areas could be affected by 1 meter to 6 meters of sea-level rise. The researchers also added the boundaries for all municipalities with more than 50,000 people according to the 2000 U.S. Census.

To increase the accuracy of their maps, the team included all pieces of land that had a connection to the sea and excluded low-elevation areas that had no such connection. Rising seas do not just affect oceanfront property -- water moves inland along channels, creeks, inlets and adjacent low-lying areas.

"Ours is the first national-scale data set that delineates these low-lying coastal areas for the entire lower 48 at this degree of spatial resolution," Weiss said.

The NED data set has some uncertainty, particularly for estimating elevation changes of 1 meter or less. That means the researchers' ability to identify the threat to any particular small piece of land is better for larger amounts of sea-level rise than for smaller amounts of sea-level rise, Weiss said.

"As better digital elevation models become available, we'll be using those," Weiss said. "The USGS is always improving the digital elevation models for the U.S."

Overpeck said, "The main point of our work is to give people in our coastal towns and cities more information to work with as they decide how to deal with the growing problem of sea-level rise."

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Coastal flooding expected when King Tides and rain storms collide this week

LA Times 15 Feb 11;

The highest tides of the season will arrive in California this week in tandem with forecast rain, a powerful combination that could lead to coastal flooding.

The so-called King Tides occur twice a year when the gravitational forces of the sun, Earth and a full moon align. The ocean is expected to surge starting Wednesday and peak at its highest level Thursday morning.

If the waves meet ocean-bound runoff from the expected rains, there could be flooding.

Coastal communities, especially low-lying stretches of Orange County, San Diego and the San Francisco Bay Area, are readying pumps and sandbags and preparing to seal tide valves to keep the high water at bay, while environmental groups across the state plan to use the extreme tides to illustrate the potential impacts of rising sea levels.

Workers at Turcs, a bar in Sunset Beach that sits just a few feet above sea level, are set to pile sandbags in front of their doors to keep the establishment dry. It’s a precaution they take every time high tides coincide with rain, an event that overwhelms the area’s drainage system and sends sheets of water across Pacific Coast Highway.

“Come January and February, we kind of know to expect it,” said Joy Monaghan, a bartender.

Environmental groups said the King Tides offer a preview of what to expect in California as sea levels continue to rise and put the coastline at greater risk of inundation and storm damage.

As the ocean swells higher in the coming decades, environmentalists and others expect tides that spill over sea walls, flood oceanside highways and splash up toward oceanside homes and businesses to become a regular occurrence.
King Tides “provide us a glimpse of what might happen, and also give us an opportunity to think about how to adapt to the inevitable,” said Liz Crosson, executive director of Santa Monica Baykeeper.

Baykeeper and environmental groups across the state plan to use the high-tide event to catalog and document the areas most vulnerable to coastal flooding and storm damage, including Sunset Beach, the peninsula and islands of Newport Beach, Broad Beach in Malibu, San Diego Bay and Crissy Field and Treasure Island in San Francisco.

California Coastkeeper Alliance is asking the public to submit photos of the effects of the King Tides on beaches, roads, seaside parks and sea walls throughout California.

The double wallop of a storm and extreme tides has soaked the most exposed stretches of coast in the past.

A storm that hit Southern California during an unusually high tide in 2001 flooded oceanfront campsites in Ventura County and sent water bursting through a giant sand berm built to protect the Orange County community of Surfside.

In 1983, the water in the tiny neighborhood of Seal Beach surged so high that people had to resort to paddling boats through the streets.

For the gondoliers of Sunset Beach, the King Tides mean little beyond having to adjust their routes to avoid bridges that will likely be blocked by high water.

But there is one way Sunset Gondola owner Tim Reinard hopes to milk the occasion for some publicity: by rowing one of his Venetian boats right up next to the town’s main thoroughfare.

“We may be able to pull off having a gondola on PCH,” he said, “if it's a high enough tide.”

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Synthetic dykes: the Dutch wave of the future?

Radio Netherlands Worldwide 15 Feb 11;

Most of the Netherlands’s coastal defences consist of dykes made of large angular blocks of basalt. However, in one location, a dyke has been coated with an experimental layer of synthetic material. Not the most romantic of materials, but effective in coping with the ever-rising sea level.

The experiment is being conducted on a dyke off the coast of the province of Zeeland. For the past three years the dyke has been covered in a top layer of crushed rock mixed with a synthetic adhesive. The new type of coating is actually performing better than expected: three years of continuous wave action and severe winters featuring storms, snow and ice, have not resulted in any discernable wear.

The world famous Dutch defences against the sea have so far – let’s be honest - not been very subtle. Better protection almost invariably means higher dykes, more concrete and more asphalt. However, the sea level keeps rising, forcing the Dutch to come up with smarter ways of keeping the water out. And, if at all possible, cheap and environmentally friendly.

Huge quantities of synthetic material
As regards the latter issue – possible environmental damage – the synthetic dyke raises a number of questions: How environmentally friendly can it be to introduce large quantities of synthetic material into the environment? What if all coastal defences were covered in this material, wouldn’t that already constitute a huge amount of pollution? Johan Rasing from BASF, the German chemical company that developed the material, quickly puts paid to that notion:

“This synthetic material is a polyurethane, a completely stable product. Chemists call this type of material inert. It does not react with any other material and will not leach out. It will stay the way it is, forever.”

This in marked contrast with the concrete or asphalt currently forming the coating of the nation’s sea dykes, which will continue to leach toxic substances for many, many years. The new coating – called Elastocoast - features numerous open spaces between the pieces of crumbled rock: a veritable paradise for mussels, seaweeds and all kinds of lichen which can easily find a foothold there, and give the dyke quite a natural look.

The real question is whether such an open structure, featuring no less than 50 percent hollow space, could ever be strong enough for a dyke. Could such a dyke ever be safe? Kees Lazolder from engineering firm Arcadis explains that it’s all about these cavities:

“Those hollow spaces are key, because the waves break on the surface and their force disappears in the cavities of the material. It is a very effective way of cushioning the impact of the wave. It extends the lifespan of the material and allows it to absorb the impact of much more powerful waves.”

Could this high-tech material possibly be applied in other parts of the World where governments simply don’t have the money to build state-of-the-art coastal defences? John Rasing and Kees Lazolder both immediately admitted that Elastocoast is slightly more expensive than either asphalt or concrete, but added that because of its long life-span might prove more economical in the long run.

All of the above makes the synthetic dyke a Dutch export product which can easily face the global competition. Mr Rasing has an example:

“My colleagues are currently working on a project in Malaysia which involves a total surface of 18,000 square metres. That is quite a large section, of about a kilometre-and-a-half long and 15 metres wide.”

The only serious disadvantage to the new coating is not the synthetic material, but the stone enclosed in it. According to Kees Lazolder:

“If that is not available locally, don’t even think about it. The transport costs would be prohibitive.”

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