Best of our wild blogs: 23 Feb 11

Special seashore trips for kids by Cicada Tree Eco Place this quarter from wild shores of singapore

Biodiversity for kids during the March holidays!
from Celebrating Singapore's BioDiversity!

Little Egret – More Foot Tapping
from Bird Ecology Study Group

Agaricus Mushroom in Bukit Timah
from Mountain and Sea

Minute Residents of MacRitchie
from Creatures in the Wild

Pollution at Sungei Api Api?
from wild shores of singapore

Why the world spotlight on food matters to Singapore
from The Straits Times Blogs

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When a weed isn't quite a weed

Let's take a second look at the potential of these hardy, unwanted plants
Tan Hui Yee Straits Times 23 Feb 11;

WEEDS have invaded the heart of town.

Tall, billowy blades of grass looking suspiciously like the lowly lallang were recently spotted in the Orchard area, raising questions as to why the Garden City is laying waste to prime land.

The mystery was eventually solved. The 'lallang' was actually an African shrub called Pennisetum x advena 'Rubrum' or purple fountain grass, prized for its foxtail-like flowers and bronze swaying form.

It seemed a simple case of mistaken identity. Singapore's glitziest shopping district was safe from the reaches of the hardy, pervasive lallang, whose dense mounds are deemed a fire hazard.

Yet, the intriguing part is this: The same description applies to fountain grass.

A variant of the species planted in Orchard Link, Pennisetum setaceum (Forssk.) Chiov. or crimson fountain grass, is vilified by the American state of Hawaii as a 'noxious weed'. It is described by the Global Invasive Species Database as 'highly aggressive' in dry, open environments, fuelling forest fires that kill surrounding species, then sprouting readily after a blaze to overwhelm native plants.

Now, Singapore is hardly in danger of fountain grass-fuelled fires, having witnessed unprecedented downpours in recent months. And the variant of fountain grass planted in Orchard Link by *Scape youth park reportedly bears sterile seeds, so it is unlikely to invade other turfs soon.

But the whole kerfuffle over the fountain grass plot has raised larger questions about the role of weed in our cityscape.

Does it make sense to draw such a clear line between weed and ornamental plant in the first place? More importantly, will this attitude work against the Garden City as it races to create easier-to-maintain landscapes so as to cut down on the amount of care its burgeoning urban greenery requires?

One undergraduate interviewed by The Straits Times had this to say of the purple fountain grass: 'It does look like weed, plain and messy.'

But the fact is that weeds come in many forms, some 'messy', some not. There is very little separating a weed from other types of plants, save for personal and sometimes collective opinion, if not prejudice.

Indeed, one country's weed is another's ornament. The Lantana camara, a flowering South American shrub planted in public spaces here, is listed as a 'weed of national significance' in Australia, for it adds fuel to fires and is toxic to farm animals.

The Wedelia trilobata or creeping daisy from Central America is used to green the ground and control erosion here, but has been listed as among the world's worst invaders by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.

A weed today can also be desirable tomorrow. Biologist Hugh Tan of the National University of Singapore has a simple example. Suppose, he says, you were planting tomatoes in a pot, and the wind happens to deposit the seeds of a wild orchid there. Soon, the seeds grow into rare wild orchids which are more valuable than the tomato.

The tomato's days are then numbered as it is now considered the weed. The moral: 'It's difficult to cast a plant as all black or all white,' says Dr Tan.

Nature abhors the easy categories that Singaporeans are used to. Yet many people here, pampered by the buffet of horticulture offerings on its streets, and even some landscapers who trip over themselves introducing new species from far-flung corners of the globe, overlook the value of readily-available plants in their own backyard.

The lallang, for example, can be used for thatching. It is also used to treat bleeding and urinary disorders in traditional Chinese medicine.

But what is that compared to the thrill of having 226,000 plants from almost every continent grace two giant climate-controlled domes in the upcoming Gardens by the Bay? Or the more than 400 species of local and foreign trees planted by the National Parks Board beside roads and in parks and vacant plots around the island?

With something new and exotic always around the corner, it's easy to view familiar weeds with disdain, or even disgust.

Perhaps this contempt stems, too, from the national obsession with calculable results. Weeds are hard to measure and control. They are nature's survivors, poking out of crevices and flourishing in the shadiest and hardest-to-reach spots without human help. And they are also self-selecting, sprouting profusely where they are least wanted, yet wilting where you want them to thrive.

Their free-spirited character is alien to Singapore's nearly five-decade-old greening movement, which largely adopts a formal 'lollipop and turf' style that places the same trees at equal distance from each other along a road.

The tightly controlled urban greenery has in turn conditioned an entire generation of youngsters to reject messiness and unpredictability - green, purple or otherwise.

This is a pity, because 'messy' plots with a variety of naturally sprouting plants help promote biodiversity in ways a manicured garden cannot. And the city will have increasing use for hardy and fast-growing plants as it seeks foliage that can climb high to envelop rooftops and insulate walls, in a bid to reduce temperatures on a built-up island.

Landscaper Veera Sekaran, who specialises in green walls, says he is cultivating a weed he recently harvested by the road to use in his projects. It does not matter that he has not been able to identify the species so far: It is showing great promise in climbing up concrete.

'A weed is a plant whose potential has not been discovered yet,' he says.

This enlightened attitude may just be what it takes to sustain the Garden City in the years to come, as erratic and sometimes extreme weather makes the hunt for resilient species more urgent.

Given that uncertain future, Singapore can do no better than to embrace ambiguity and whatever messiness comes with it. The answers it is looking for may not come easy. But then again, the answers might just be right under its nose.

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Coral 'Network' Can Protect Asia-Pacific Fish Stocks, Study Suggests

ScienceDaily 21 Feb 11;

An international scientific team has shown that strong links between the corals reefs of the south China sea, West Pacific and Coral Triangle hold the key to preserving fish and marine resources in the Asia-Pacific region.

Research by Dr Johnathan Kool of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies and James Cook University, and his colleagues, has established that the richest marine region on Earth -- the Coral Triangle between Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines -- depends vitally for its diversity and resilience on coral and fish larvae swept in from the South China Sea and Solomon Islands.

"The currents go in various directions, but the prevailing direction is from east to west, and this carries coral spawn and fish larvae from areas such as round the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea and the Solomons/Papua New Guinea," he explains.

"Maintaining the network of links between reefs allowing larvae to flow between them and re-stock depleted areas, is key to saving coral ecosystems threatened by human pressure and climate change.

"The Coral Triangle is home to more than one third of all the world's coral reefs, including over 600 different species of reef-building coral and 3,000 species of reef fish. These coral ecosystems provide food and income for more than 100 million people working in marine based industries throughout the region," Dr Kool explains.

"Knowing where coral spawn comes from is vital to managing our reefs successfully. Even though coral reef communities may not be connected directly to one another, reefs on the edge of the Coral Triangle have the potential to contribute significant amounts of genetic diversity throughout the region," says Dr Kool.

He argues that recent evidence showing the region's biology is closely inter-connected suggests it is in the interests of all Asia-Pacific littoral countries to work together more closely to protect it: "The science shows the region's natural resources are closely interconnected. Nations need to co-operate to look after them -- and that begins with recognising the resources are at risk and that collective action is needed to protect them.

Six nations within the Coral Triangle, (Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, The Solomon Islands and Timor L'Este) are now working together to strengthen coral reef governance and management, under an arrangement known as the Coral Triangle Initiative.

The paper "Connectivity and the development of population genetic structure in Indo-West Pacific coral reef communities" by Johnathan T. Kool, Claire B. Paris, Paul H. Barber and Robert K. Cowen appears in a recent issue of the journal Global Ecology and Biogeography.

Reef links boost resilience
James Cook University Science Alert 24 Feb 11;

An international scientific team has shown that strong links between the corals reefs of the South China sea, West Pacific and Coral Triangle hold the key to preserving fish and marine resources in the Asia-Pacific region.

Research by Dr Johnathan Kool of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies and James Cook University, and his colleagues, has established that the richest marine region on Earth – the Coral Triangle between Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines – depends vitally for its diversity and resilience on coral and fish larvae swept in from the South China Sea and Solomon Islands.

“The currents go in various directions, but the prevailing direction is from east to west, and this carries coral spawn and fish larvae from areas such as round the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea and the Solomons/Papua New Guinea,” he said.

“Maintaining the network of links between reefs allowing larvae to flow between them and re-stock depleted areas, is key to saving coral ecosystems threatened by human pressure and climate change.

“The Coral Triangle is home to more than one third of all the world’s coral reefs, including more than 600 different species of reef-building coral and 3000 species of reef fish. These coral ecosystems provide food and income for more than 100 million people working in marine based industries throughout the region,” Dr Kool said.

“Knowing where coral spawn comes from is vital to managing our reefs successfully. Even though coral reef communities may not be connected directly to one another, reefs on the edge of the Coral Triangle have the potential to contribute significant amounts of genetic diversity throughout the region.”

Dr Kool said that recent evidence showing the region’s biology is closely inter-connected suggests it is in the interests of all Asia-Pacific littoral countries to work together more closely to protect it

“The science shows the region’s natural resources are closely interconnected. Nations need to co-operate to look after them – and that begins with recognising the resources are at risk and that collective action is needed to protect them,” he said.

Six nations within the Coral Triangle, (Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, The Solomon Islands and Timor Leste) are now working together to strengthen coral reef governance and management, under an arrangement known as the Coral Triangle Initiative.

The paper “Connectivity and the development of population genetic structure in Indo-West Pacific coral reef communities” by Johnathan T. Kool, Claire B. Paris, Paul H. Barber and Robert K. Cowen appears in a recent issue of the journal Global Ecology and Biogeography.

CoECRS are proud sponsors of the 12th International Coral Reef Symposium, to be held in Cairns July 9-13, 2012.

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Man-made islands in Bohol? No way, fishers say

Jesse Edep GMA News 21 Feb 11;

For the mayor of Panglao town and potential investors, it represents limitless revenues. But for the local fishers and environment advocates, the plan to build artificial islands off the tourism haven could mean destruction of their livelihood and vital marine life.

Patterned after the luxurious Palm Islands in Dubai, the proposed Panglao Oasis Islands in the waters off Bohol are envisioned as perfectly built enclaves that will accommodate upscale tourists.

"These islands are presenting a solution to boost tourist arrivals and double the paltry revenue of the country’s tourism industry," Panglao Mayor Benedicto Alcala told GMA News Online in an interview. Philippine tourism receipts are currently estimated at $2.25 billion a year, Department of Tourism (DOT) records show.

The project could also open up opportunities for both domestic and foreign investors, Alcala said. "There is a limitless possibility of investments that would pour into the country," he added.

However, the fisherfolk alliance Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya) is opposing the ambitious reclamation project, saying profits should not take precedence over the livelihood of small fishers.

"These man-made islands will be put up where we catch fishes. Kung maitayo na ang mga ‘yan, lalo kami papalaot, lalo naming ilalagay sa panganib ang mga buhay namin," Pamalakaya chair Fernando Hicap said in a separate interview.

Hicap said the government will be engaging in "all-out destruction" of Panglao’s geography if it pushes through with the creation of the artificial islands.

“The construction will stir up so much silt that coral reefs and other creatures will be asphyxiated or chased away. Eventually, fishes will die or find new habitats," he explained.

A master-planned Boracay?

The proponent, Oasis Leisure Islands Development Inc. based in Bohol’s capital city of Tagbilaran, intends to create five interconnected islands off the seas of Panglao for the reclamation project.

The first island is for commercial and recreational facilities such as convention centers, hotels, and casinos, said lawyer and Oasis spokesperson Carlos Castillo. “We hope to upstage Macau’s development in this island," he said.

Schools, spas, and residential areas are planned for the second island, Castillo said.

The third island, he said, would house commercial establishments like boutique hotels, souvenir shops, dive shops, and theme parks. Apartment complexes for employees of the tourism facilities in the islands will also be located in the island, described in the project profile as a "master-planned Boracay."

A greater part of the fourth island would be developed as a nature park, with the remaining area utilized for camping and fishing grounds, Castillo said.

Finally, the fifth island would be for “those interested in owning a piece of paradise," said Castillo.

The provincial government of Bohol entered into a joint venture agreement with the company in June last year for the reclamation project, said Castillo, who refused to provide financial details about the proposal.

The Panglao Oasis Islands, according to the project profile obtained by GMA News Online, will “harness and sustain" Bohol’s vast tourism potential.

In 2009, a total of 313,317 tourists visited Bohol, according to DOT data. The provincial government is pursuing major transport infrastructure projects, including the Circumferential Roads and Panglao-Bohol International Airport, to cater to the expected exponential increase in the influx of tourists from all over the world.

The Panglao Oasis Islands proposal has found a major ally in Mayor Alcala, who is looking at the “building of trust between the public and private sectors" to realize the project. "It can be challenging… but when done correctly, such a partnership can have world-changing results," he said.

Also called land-filling, land reclamation has been employed by many countries to develop infrastructure and agricultural areas in places that are already crowded.

Mayor Alcala cited the examples of Japan, where boatloads of dirt and rock were hauled from a nearby mountain and dumped into Osaka Bay to create an island for the new Kansai international airport, and Singapore, which extended its terrestrial territory into the shallow waters around its main island with the help of the private sector.

He described the creation of man-made islands as "a dream project that will not only address the difficulty in acquiring property for investments in Panglao, but will also put Bohol and the country at the forefront of the international tourism landscape."

Tarsier habitat

The project is facing stiff opposition not only from fishers but also environmentalists, who are worried about its impact on the marine environment of Bohol.

Pamalakaya’s Hicap said creating new land masses will alter the sea current, lead to rising sea levels, and bury coral reefs, oyster beds, and sea grasses that nurture fish and other marine life. Scuba diving will suffer as a result, he said.

The huge volume of land needed to fill the waters off Panglao is expected to come from Maribojoc town in Bohol province, the non-governmental organization Environmental Legal Assistance Center (ELAC) said.

“It is inevitable that they need to quarry a vast area of land and cut trees. As a consequence, that small town of the province may eventually face massive flooding and soil erosion," ELAC executive director Raul Barbarona said.

He pointed out that there are already applications for quarrying in Maribojoc — home to the world’s smallest primates. “We cannot stand the desire of these selfish investors to destroy this small town, particularly the habitat of tarsiers," Barbarona said.

Solid waste from the reclaimed areas that may be disposed in a sanitary landfill in mainland Panglao will result in “adverse impact to the environment and people," Barbarona said.

The proponent has downplayed these concerns, saying an environmental and feasibility study will be done first. “It is our major priority to promote land sustainability and the availability of usable land to future generations," Castillo said.

While the mayor of Panglao favors the project, the municipal council is currently in the opposition camp. Last week, the local legislature passed a resolution banning all kinds of reclamation activities within Panglao’s territory, Barbarona said.

Yet, fishers and environment groups are far from complacent, knowing that the project is supported by the provincial government, he added. — YA, GMA News

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Baby Dolphin Deaths Spike Along Gulf Coast

Leigh Coleman PlanetArk 23 Feb 11;

Marine scientists are examining the deaths of 20 baby dolphins whose carcasses have washed ashore in Mississippi and Alabama this year, the bulk of them since last week, researchers said on Tuesday.

The unusually large number of young dolphin deaths are being looked at as possible casualties of oil that fouled the Gulf of Mexico for months after a BP PLC drilling platform exploded in April 2010, killing 11 people and rupturing a wellhead on the sea floor.

The bodies of 20 infant and stillborn dolphins have been discovered since January 20, most of them during the past week, on islands and beaches along a 130-mile stretch of coastline from Gulfport, Mississippi, east to Gulf Shores, Alabama.

That's about 10 times the number normally found washed up along those two states during this time of the year, which is calving season for some 2,000 to 5,000 dolphins in the region, said Moby Solangi, director of the Institute of Marine Mammal Studies in Gulfport.

The remains of about 10 adult dolphins, none of them pregnant females, have also been found so far this year.

BP cleanup crews found some of the carcasses. Others were discovered by park rangers, law enforcement officers and passersby.

The young dolphins, some barely 3 feet in length, appeared to have either died shortly after birth or were aborted just before reaching maturity, he said.

"For some reason, they've started aborting or they were dead before they were born," Solangi said. "The average is one or two a month."

None of the carcasses bore any obvious outward signs of oil contamination. But Solangi said necropsies, the equivalent of human autopsies, were being performed and tissue samples taken to determine if toxic chemicals from the oil spill may have been a factor in the deaths.

Documented mortality in the adult dolphin population off Mississippi and Alabama roughly tripled from normal numbers last year, climbing from about 30 typically reported in a given year to 89 in 2010, Solangi said.

Officials from the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources and the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service also were taking part in the investigation, he said.

(Editing by Peter Bohan)

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South-East Asia's vanishing forests: Battle to save the trees

Indonesia: Forests may be gone in 35 years' time
South-east Asia suffered the highest rate of deforestation in the world over the past 20 years. Asia's growing prosperity is putting pressure on its remaining forest lands. A look at the battle to save its trees.
Zubaidah Nazeer Straits Times 23 Feb 11;

JAKARTA: Imagine 400 football fields of trees disappearing during the duration of a soccer match. That was the rate of deforestation in Indonesia just years ago, between 2000 and 2006.

After bans by European countries on imports of illegally logged timber products, the rate of destruction has halved - to about 1 million hectares a year. But this is still considered high, and urgent action is needed, say researchers, analysts and environmental activists. If nothing is done, Indonesia's unprotected natural forests will be depleted in about 35 years, said Mr Bustar Maitar of Greenpeace Indonesia.

The consequences have been stark. In the 1950s, over 85 per cent of the country was forested land. Today, it is down to under 47 per cent, according to World Bank figures.

Forests are a source of fresh oxygen. The trees and the soil under them also absorb a huge amount of climate-warming carbon dioxide. When large swathes of forests are felled, the chemical exchanges are disrupted, the locked-in carbon is released into the atmosphere, and climate change is sped up.

In 2007, local NGO Pelangi Energi Abadi Citra Enviro - whose report was funded by the World Bank and the UK Department for International Development - ranked Indonesia as the third largest carbon emitter in the world, after the US and China.

Most of Indonesia's deforestation occurs in areas like Jambi, South Sumatra, West and Central Kalimantan, Riau, and Papua in East Indonesia.

Activists say there is no accurate map showing the extent of the deforestation because of incomplete information given by local provinces, and the inaccessibility of the archipelago's remote and rugged terrain. Satellite imagery is also hindered by heavy cloud cover throughout the year.

But what is clear is that deforestation began as early as the 1960s, when the export of timber was seen as a quick way of bringing in revenue. With few regulations, illegal logging soon grew out of hand, said Dr Maria Monica Wihardja, an associate research fellow at Indonesia's Centre for International and Strategic Studies.

By the late 1990s, an estimated three million hectares of forest land were being cleared each year, said Dr Krystof Obidzinski at the Centre for International Forestry Research. Decentralised approval of land permits and rampant corruption made it harder to stop runaway forest destruction. Also, large- scale clearing by fire, with its resulting haze, added to the environmental damage.

The cost has manifested itself in other ways.

Animal life has been affected. For example, reports estimated the number of orang utans in Borneo has dropped by over half in the past 60 years, with the loss of their habitat. In Sumatra, their number is just one-fifth of what it was 75 years ago.

At least 78 rivers have reportedly been polluted by activities from palm oil plantations that displaced the forests, disrupting the supply of water to those living nearby.

'There have been cases of increased flooding in some areas which previously had forests because plantations do not have water retention ability like the forest trees,' said Dr Krystof.

Mass logging by timber companies and oil palm plantations has also displaced the Orang Rimba people who live in Sumatra's Jambi forest. With their homes gone, they have had to be relocated to a state-controlled park.

Jakarta has sought to rein in the problem by amending forestry regulations several times since the 1980s. But experts say these efforts are being undercut by strong lobby groups, corruption, loopholes in the law, and simply, a lack of monitoring and implementation.

A Human Rights Watch report released last month estimated that Indonesia lost US$2 billion (S$2.6 billion) a year from 2003 to 2006 to illegal logging, unpaid taxes as well as hidden subsidies for timber companies. That figure did not include the billions likely lost each year from unreported timber smuggled abroad.

Surging prices for coal and other minerals have also intensified pressure to clear more forest land for mining, said Dr Maria.

Lax law enforcement is also making efforts to save Indonesia's forests harder. A Chatham House report last July noted that while Indonesia has made great improvement in cracking down on illegal logging, enforcement has been poor, with only a quarter of illegal logging cases successfully prosecuted.

A renewed effort is under way to preserve forest lands through a United Nations scheme called Redd (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation).

Through Redd, Norway has pledged to give Indonesia up to US$1 billion if it can prove a reduction in its carbon emissions and halt deforestation.

How successful it will be is still unclear, given the complex network of economic conditions influencing deforestation, the multiple stakeholders involved, and the perennial problem of corruption.

Said the Nature Conservancy's Dr Dicky Simorangki: 'People are still struggling to understand how it works. There has to be an institutional framework, legal mechanisms as well as administrative ones, and a decision over who gets what in the financial incentives.'

Dr Krystof said: 'It's a good concept, but let's see how well and how far it can be implemented.'

Conservation scheme: On or not?
Straits Times 23 Feb 11;

A SCHEME to save Indonesia's trees by imposing a two-year national moratorium on forest clearing has run into problems.

Indonesia signed on to the moratorium last year as part of a broader UN programme to reward developing countries for keeping their forests intact.

The UN plan - Redd (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) - calls for Indonesia to impose a two-year ban on new concessions to clear forests and peatlands. In return, Norway will pay Indonesia US$1 billion (S$1.3 billion).

But for the moratorium to be legally binding from its Jan 1 start date, it must be backed by a presidential decree, which has not been issued yet, the Jakarta Globe reported last week. What is more, the Civil Society Organisation Common Platform, which includes the groups Greenpeace South-east Asia and the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi), says that even if enforced, the moratorium may not protect more forested areas as claimed.

'Only 41 million hectares will be protected, but these are already categorised as conservation and protected areas,' Mr Teguh Surya, head of international liaison and climate justice at Walhi, said.

The confusion arises because there are two versions of the draft presidential decree, one submitted by the Forestry Ministry and the other by the Redd task force, appointed by the president.

The ministry's version states the moratorium should apply only to primary forests and peatlands, while the other version says secondary forests in peat areas should also be included, the Globe reported.

The Redd scheme - which some palm oil and pulp and paper firms fear would hurt their expansion plans - will kick off in Central Kalimantan.

But even before the scheme begins, complications have set in, with carbon brokers reportedly trying to manipulate the system by signing deals with provincial or district governments in East Kalimantan, Papua and Aceh.

Mr Fitrian Ardiansyah, programme director for climate and energy at World Wildlife Fund Indonesia, told the Globe: 'They say, 'Sign this. For 100,000ha for Redd, you will get US$2 per hectare.' But you're not supposed to count the hectares, you count the carbon.'

Dr Dicky Simorangkir, forest programme director at The Nature Conservancy, told The Straits Times: 'People are still unsure how this works. How do you measure carbon emission? All these have not been laid out.'

Analysts say that for the Redd scheme to succeed, the carbon reduction targets set out by the government must be followed up with clearer and more detailed benchmarks.

Mr Bustar Matiar, a forest campaigner at Greenpeace, said: 'This will be a big fight... The enthusiasm is there, but it is up to the government to make it happen.'


Malaysia: Conservation and development in tug-of-war
Carolyn Hong Straits Times 23 Feb 11;

KUALA LUMPUR: A recent report by an international environmental group flagging the alarming rate of deforestation in Sarawak did not surprise local activists - they have been saying the same thing for years.

'If we look into the pattern of deforestation over the years, the only pristine areas left are probably the national parks and wildlife sanctuaries,' said Mr Raymond Abin Bira, coordinator of the Sarawak Conservation Action Network, which groups 16 green non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in the state.

One result, he said, has been landslides resulting from the felling of trees, which contributes to soil erosion. Last year, tonnes of logs were washed into Sarawak rivers in a landslip, causing the Rajang River to be impassable for days.

The deforestation received fresh attention recently when Wetlands International, an NGO based in the Netherlands, used satellite images to show large swathes of peatland being converted to oil palm plantations.

About 10 per cent of Sarawak, or 1.28 million ha, is peatland.

Wetlands International said two-thirds of it had been forested, but from 2005 to last year, almost 353,000ha were cleared.

'In just five years, almost 10 per cent of all Sarawak's forests and 33 per cent of the peat swamp forests have been cleared,' it said in its Feb 1 report. Of these, 65 per cent was for oil palm plantations, it added.

It warned that at this rate, the whole of Sarawak's peatland may be gone in 10 years, as they come under increasing pressure for agricultural land.

The tug-of-war between conservation and development is intense given the stakes: Malaysia produces 40 per cent of the world's palm oil in an industry that is worth RM60 billion (S$25 billion) and provides 600,000 jobs.

It is the world's second-largest producer after Indonesia, and palm oil has been identified as one of the key growth areas under Malaysia's new economic plans to help double incomes in a decade.

Currently, about 4 million ha nationwide are planted with oil palm. But as land runs out in the peninsula, plantations have moved to East Malaysia where Sarawak's plantations are growing the fastest.

Last November, Sarawak Land Development Minister James Masing told The Star that the state could be the country's largest palm oil producer by the end of this decade.

Mr Balu Perumal, a botanist with the regional NGO, Global Environmental Facility, said there is now great pressure on 'marginal areas' such as wetlands as the prime growing areas have mostly been taken up.

Peatland is a type of wetland where the soil is made up of organic matter, unlike mineral soil. As it is permanently waterlogged, it has to be drained for planting.

This makes it difficult and expensive to convert to agricultural use, but despite the costs, it is not just in Sarawak that peatland is fast turning into plantations.

According to another report by Wetlands International last year, there are 281,000ha of peat soil under cultivation in the peninsula, 72 per cent of which is planted with oil palm.

All in all, about 20 per cent of Malaysia's palm oil is produced on peatland. But in Sarawak, the figure is 44 per cent, it added.

This has dismayed some conservationists. Mr Balu said peatland, even including the logged areas, should be left alone. Clearing it releases vast amounts of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming. Drained peatland is also easily combustible during dry spells, making it a fire hazard and a cause of noxious haze.

What's more, Malaysia's peat swamp forests are home to many endangered species, such as the Borneo pygmy elephant, the Sumatran rhino and the Bornean clouded leopard. The waters of the peat swamps are also known for the highest numbers of freshwater fish species in the world. Clearing the peatland puts their habitats and existence in jeopardy.

For these reasons, conservationists are raising the alarm and fighting to stop the deforestation. Mr Balu's organisation, for example, is lobbying the Selangor government to cancel plans to turn a 900ha peat swamp called Kuala Langat South into an oil palm estate.

Both the federal and Sarawak ministers in charge of oil palm could not be reached for comment, but they have previously said Malaysia is working to strike a balance.

At present, only 157,000ha out of 4 million ha of oil palm plantations have been certified as sustainable by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), an industry-NGO association created in 2004.

But its secretary-general, Mr Darrel Webber, said interest in sustainability is growing rapidly because of greater consumer awareness. Most of the big Malaysian plantations such as Sime Darby Plantation and IOI Group are already members, joining the likes of global companies such as P&G, Nestle, Johnson & Johnson and The Body Shop.

Its members pledge not to plant in high-conservation-value areas. These may include peatland, depending on the type of flora and fauna there, how the native community uses it, and if it is covered by primary forest.

Audits are conducted regularly on members, all the way along the supply chain, said Mr Webber. All audited findings are made available for public viewing and comment. When members fail to comply, they are asked to rectify areas where they fall short.

Mr Webber declined to comment on details of the Wetlands International report, but said it was worrying if it was accurate.

The fact remains that while RSPO member-retailers are stepping up plans to buy palm oil from plantations certified as sustainable, robust demand from India and China for unsustainably sourced oil means others can still avoid doing so. Big bucks or biodiversity? The battle over Sarawak's forests continues.

Philippines: Ban on logging in natural forests
Alastair McIndoe Straits Times 23 Feb 11;

MANILA: Timber harvesting in natural forests in the Philippines was banned indefinitely this month in a presidential order to prevent the destructive flooding and landslides linked to logging.

The ban came after weeks of heavy rain unleashed severe flooding in several regions that claimed the lives of 47 people, forced over a million people into evacuation centres and caused damage to crops and property worth about $35 million.

Under the new logging restrictions, announced on Feb 1, timber may be harvested only in tree plantations. In essence, explained Environment Secretary Ramon Paje: 'You cannot harvest what you did not plant.'

Conservationists welcomed the ban but worry about how effective it will be in a country with powerful logging interests and weak law implementation. 'This will certainly be a test of Aquino's resolve,' Greenpeace's country representative Mark Dia said of President Benigno Aquino.

The Philippines - once covered by lush rainforests - was ranked the world's fourth-most threatened forested region in a biogeographical survey this month by Conservation International, a Washington-based environmental group.

The top three hot spots were Indo-Burma, New Caledonia and Sundaland, a region covering the Malay peninsula and the islands of Borneo, Java and Sumatra.

In the early 1950s, the Philippines had 15 million ha of forests covering around half the archipelago's land mass. By 1997, there were just 5.4 million ha.

Since then, reforestation programmes have raised the coverage to 7.2 million ha, according to current Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) data.

Plantations - the only areas where logging is now legal - cover 330,000 ha of total forested land.

President Aquino's move is not the first to tackle the problem. To reduce deforestation, timber exports were banned in 1989 by his mother, former president Corazon Aquino - and the ban has not been lifted since then.

But exports of furniture and woodcrafts have grown strongly in recent years, totalling US$1.1 billion (S$1.4 billion) last year, up 23 per cent from 2009. Domestically, timber is used mainly in the furniture and construction industries, with the latter posting growth of 22.6 per cent last year.

To what extent logging is to blame for flooding and landslides has long been intensely debated here. Climate change was certainly seen as a major factor in the unseasonally heavy rain that hit parts of the country earlier this year. But there is plenty of evidence, too, that degradation of forested areas contributed to landslides and flooding over the years.

Among the debris flushed down a mountainside in the flash floods that killed more than 6,000 people in the central Philippine town of Ormoc in November 1991 were hundreds of logs and shipping containers full of cut timber.

The ban on logging in natural forests also mandated the creation of a government task force to lead the fight against illegal logging. Mr Dia says there is an acute shortage of forest rangers, with just one patrolling 4,000 ha of forested land.

There are no official estimates on the extent of illegal timber harvesting by small-scale farmers and logging syndicates. But a published source cited in a 2008 report on global illegal logging by the United States' Congressional Research Service estimated that up to 45 per cent of logging in the Philippines is illegal.

Illegal logging carries a maximum penalty of 20 years' jail. Ms Marilea Muniez of Code Red Philippines, which works with forest-based communities, said small-scale loggers get convicted from time to time, but there have been no recent cases of a big-time illegal logger being convicted.

The wood industry not surprisingly opposes the ban, and has warned of heavy job losses - around 650,000 people work in wood processing - and an increased reliance on timber imports, which account for around half of the timber used here.

But administration officials say Mr Aquino will not budge. 'This is an investment in our country's future and the environment,' said presidential spokesman Ricky Carandang. 'There is no intention to back off.'

Environmental issues appear to be an increasingly prominent part of the Aquino administration's agenda. Earlier this month, Mr Aquino announced that no new mining permits would be issued on the mineral-rich western island of Palawan, where the country's last primary rainforests grow.

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Papua's natural resources conservation center to rehabilitate 1,500 hectares of Lorentz

Antara 22 Feb 11;

Jayapura, Papua (ANTARA News) - The Papua Province Center for Conservation of Natural Resources will rehabilitate about 1,500 hectares of arid land in the Lorentz National Park in Timika, Papua, a local official said here, Tuesday.

"There is land degradation in the area of Lorentz National Park which is quite alarming because of human negligence. So we will immediately rehabilitate," Head of Papua Province Center for Conservation of Natural Resources, Ignn Suteja said.

According to him, the office is still considering the possibility of a violation of the rule of law if the rehabilitation carried out in the conservation area, because the area should not be altered or disturbed based on the regional regulation.

"But we could do the rehabilitation if the plant species is the same as those that already existed. So it will not destroy the habitat and the origin of the plants," Ignn Suteja explained.

Regarding the factors causing land degradation in Lorentz National Park, Ignn Suteja said it is more because of human negligence, such as land clearing and waste dumped carelessly by the climbers.

"We know that many people often climbed the mountain. It is sometimes they did not follow a predetermined path, but found another way. Indeed there are many paths, consequently a lot of garbage had been scattered," he added.

Ignn Suteja said the office lacked officers particularly forest police therefore monitoring and maintenance of the conservation areas had not been maximized in Papua.

Therefore he urged all the relevant parties, especially communities living in the forests to preserve the areas by not hunting or capture rare animals and illegal logging.

"We expect cooperation of the people in not doing things that are forbidden under the law in this country, so that the preservation of Papua wildlife and nature could be fully realized," he hoped.(*)

Editor: Aditia Maruli

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Indonesia: Pagaralam's protected forest area reduced by 4,000 hectares

Antara 22 Feb 11;

Pagaralam, South Sumatra (ANTARA News) - The protected forest area in Pagaralam city, South Sumatra, which used to be 28,000 hectares has experienced a reduction of 4,000 hectares across five districts, a local official said here Tuesday.

"Currently, the protected forest area in five districts in Pagaralam city has decreased from 28,000 hectares to 24,618 hectares," Head of Pagaralam city Forestry and Plantation office, Hasan Ibnu Barin aaid.

He aaid, several factors had caused forest destruction, namely encroachment, sedentary farming activity and the absence of clear boundaries between the protected forests and people`s settlements.

"For instance, in one weeks time there could be forest fires in several locations in South Dempo district , especially in areas with dense bushes," Hasan said.

He said the forest fires were deliberately started by some people for fun because they were living under forest undergrowth.

"It is also difficult for us to stop the forest burning because it is a tradition among the Pagaralam people to make coffee plantations by burning the forests. Moreover. many of them still practice the shift farming system in which they abandon a plot of farmland after four or five years or a peak harvest to move to another location," Hasan explained.

Hasan noted, based on data 2011 obtained by the office, the protected forest damage in Pagaralam was 7,750 hectares. But through the forest and land rehabilitation movement (Gerhan) program it had conducted a tree planting approximately 2,100 hectares since 2004.

"We are still doing the data collection and installation of burned land boundary stakes of protected forests with community forest areas along approximately 32 kilometers. Later when the boundary line has finally installed we will know the total area of encroachment," he said.

Meanwhile, the Pagaralam City Police Chief Abdul Sholeh admitted, there was a lot of obstacles encountered in preventing the forest and plantation burning, especially on public land since there is no local regulation which control it.

"We ask the Pagaralam city administration to form a local regulations on prohibition the forests and land burning, so the sanctions can be applied. It is not enough to appeal, but need firm action prescribed in the rules following a legal sanction," Chief Abdul Sholeh said.

Editor: Priyambodo

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Australia: Fence tactic thwarts toxic toad

Winnie Andrews Yahoo News 23 Feb 11;

PARIS (AFP) – For three-quarters of a century, the cane toad has rampaged around northeastern Australia, but scientists hope the toxic terror may at last be stopped in its tracks.

A native of Central America, the cane toad (Bufo marinus) was introduced to Australia in 1935 to kill beetles devastating sugar-cane crops, only to become a pest in its own right.

But a new investigation says that the toad -- up to 25 centimetres (10 inches) long and two kilos (4.4 pounds) in weight -- has an Achilles' heel.

Unlike indigenous amphibians that have adapted to arid conditions, the imported anuran desperately needs access to nearby standing water in order to survive.

Placing small fencing around man-made sources such as irrigation ditches and troughs is enough to cause the toad to die of dehydration and stop its advance, says the study.

"Basically, step by step, toads use these water points to invade the drier regions of Australia," said University of Melbourne researcher Tim Dempster in an email to AFP.

"By stopping toads from using these water points, we are removing their 'stepping stones' in the landscape."

Dempster's team experimented with cane toads which were placed near nine artificial water points during the dry season in the Victoria River District of the Northern Territory.

Some of the water points were unfenced but others were surrounded by cloth netting 60 centimetres (24 inches) high that also extended along the ground to stop the large toads from burrowing underneath. The netting was secured by wire and metal posts at least two metres (6.5 feet) from the water's edge.

All 21 toads placed near fenced-off water points died, and most of them expired within 12 hours.

Of the 20 toads with unfettered access to water, all survived except for one, which was killed by a predatory bird.

Dempster said that fencing off even a small number of key water points can halt further invasion and save a million square kilometres (386,000 square ft) -- an area roughly twice the size of France -- out of the 2.24 million sq. kms (865 thousand sq. ft) of arid land threatened by the beasts.

"The greatest benefit from the technique will be to stop further invasion into several of Australia's drier inland areas which are hotspots of unique native animal biodiversity," Dempster said.

The method is feasible for water points that are around 20 metres (70 feet) across, but only key points would need be fenced for the barrier to be effective, he said.

B. marinus already extends across 1.2 million square kms (463,000 square miles) of Queensland and the Northern Territory and, advancing at up to 50 kilometres (30 miles) a year, is on course for eventually spreading around three-quarters of Australia's coastline, say some experts.

It has driven some native frogs and reptiles to near-extinction, inflicted catastrophic declines in snakes and crocodiles that snack on its flesh and decimated goannas, a native lizard that is also a staple food in aboriginal communities.

The invasion has driven Australians to desperation.

Residents in toad-infested regions have resorted to gassing the critters, running them over in cars and even whacking them with golf clubs. "Toad busting" is encouraged by state authorities as well.

Frog Watch and Stop the Toad Foundation ( also promote fencing as a way to capture cane toads in large numbers.

The study appears in Proceedings B, a journal of Britain's Royal Society.

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Tidal waves destroy hundreds of houses in Central Sulawesi

Antara 22 Feb 11;

Palu, C Sulawesi (ANTARA News) - Around 150 houses in Buol district, Central Sulawesi, have been destroyed by tidal waves in the past two days.

Buol district legislative assembly (DPRD) spokesman Ahmad Andi Makka said here on Tuesday that the coastal residents whose houses were destroyed had been evacuated to safer areas.

"The people whose houses were destroyed have started to evacuate," Andi Makka said, adding that the tidal waves have beating upon the coastal area of Buol district for the past two days but there was no immediate information about fatality and the amount of material loss.

He said the coastal area at Buol district was repeatedly hit by tidal waves every year but this time was the worst.

Andi Makka said that the people at the tidal wave prone area would be relocated to safer areas.

"Last year the local government cleared a land for the relocation of the people living at tidal wave prone area, and this year some 150 houses will be built there with a budget of Rp3 billion," he added.

Editor: Priyambodo

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Green Tax Urged Over Jakarta Water Crisis Fear

Ulma Haryanto Jakarta Globe 23 Feb 11;

A leading environmental group has warned of an acute water shortage hitting Jakarta unless the administration introduces a tax to help fund the restoration of upstream catchment areas.

Tri Agung Rooswiadji, national coordinator for freshwater programs at WWF-Indonesia, said on Monday that it supported the introduction of an “environmental service fee” and the integration of watershed management.

“The idea is to raise people’s awareness that all of us have been consuming natural resources,” he said. “How can we give back? This concept has not been practiced yet in the capital.”

He said an environmental service fee had already been imposed in places such as Lombok to help fund campaigns to plant trees further upstream.

“The customers of the regional water operator there pay Rp 1,000 [$0.11] per month for the reforestation of Mount Rinjani [where their water is sourced],” Tri explained.

“The money then goes to the people living in the upstream areas to plant trees, including fruit trees whose produce they can sell,” he added.

This way, the upstream areas are kept pristine to ensure a sustainable supply of water to downstream areas, while the upstream residents benefit from sales of the fruit.

Tri said that rolling out a similar program for the nation’s capital would be more complex but was not inconceivable.

“The key is coordination and synergy between different administrations because the rivers in Jakarta flow in from Bogor and other parts of West Java,” he said.

The city requires at least 1 billion cubic meters of water a year for domestic and industrial use, 82 percent of which is supplied from the Jatiluhur dam in Purwakarta, West Java, while the rest comes from the Cisadane and Krukut rivers in Tangerang.

However, severe silting of the dam and the Citarum River, that also channels its water to Jakarta, has been known to cut the water supply to much of the capital by 40 percent. “There’s natural silting and there’s also man-made silting, caused by domestic and industrial waste being disposed into waterways,” Tri said.

He added that along with the environmental service fee, integrated watershed management was also key in managing water resources and would result in better spatial planning by freeing up riverbanks from illegal settlements. “Water resources for Jakarta are limited while the city’s population is growing,” he said.

“Extracting groundwater isn’t an option because it should only be used as an [emergency] alternative, so everybody has to start thinking of rehabilitation of water resources soon.”

Mauritz Napitupulu, president director of city-owned water operator PAM Jaya, said the water problem in the Greater Jakarta area was far too complex to resolve through an environmental service fee.

“It’s a good idea, but the exploitation of upstream areas continues to increase,” he said.

This means Jakarta has to create supporting infrastructure, such as the East Flood Canal, and dredge its rivers.

“Besides, any kind of contribution from PAM customers would never be enough to conserve green space in upstream and watershed areas,” Mauritz said. He added that medium- and high-use water subscribers in Jakarta were already paying extra to subsidize those in low-income areas.

PAM Jaya expects to start drawing water from the 13 rivers crisscrossing the city once a massive dredging project is complete.

“We aim to increase the current capacity by another 2,000 liters per second by channeling water from the East and West Flood Canals, the Pesanggrahan River and the Cengkareng catchment area,” said Sri Widiyanto, PAM’s technical director.

The canals are designed to channel excess rainwater and runoff out to sea.

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Global Planting of Biotech Crops Jumps 10 Percent: Report

Carey Gillam PlanetArk 23 Feb 11;

Global plantings of biotech crops increased 10 percent last year, continuing steady growth over the past decade that has been spurred by concerns about feeding a growing world population, according to an industry analysis.

While the United States remains the largest user of genetically modified seeds, Brazil posted the biggest growth, with plantings rising 19 percent, according to the report issued Tuesday by the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications (ISAAA), which promotes biotech crop adoption. That marked a rise of 10 percent over 2009.

About 10 percent of total global cropland is being planted to biotech crops, according to ISAAA.

Brazilian farmers led the way, increasing their biotech crop plantings by 4 million hectares in 2010, more added farmland sown to biotech seeds than any other country last year, according to ISAAA Chairman Clive James.

"It is growing extremely fast," James said of Brazil's use of biotech crops, particularly soybeans. "The technology is here to stay."

The United States remained by far the largest adopter of biotech seeds, with 165 million acres (66.8 million hectares) planted to GMO crops in 2010, up 4 percent from 2009.

Globally, farmers last year planted 365 million acres (148 million hectares) of genetically modified (GMO) corn, soybeans, cotton and other crops.

U.S.-based Monsanto and DuPont's Pioneer Hi-Bred are world leaders in development of crops genetically altered to help farmers fight weeds, bugs and diseases.

Critics say the altered plants cause environmental harm in many ways, including through increased use of herbicides, weed resistance, and potential health problems for animals and people. But supporters say they are safe and the answer to demands for increased food production to serve a growing population.


ISAAA's report said that while China planted only 3.5 million hectares to biotech crops last year, down 5 percent from 2009, policymakers there are encouraging development of biotech crops to address food security concerns for the fast-growing population. Among biotech crops being field-tested are GMO wheat, soybeans, potato, cabbage, papaya, and melon.

Pakistan and Myanmar were among three countries planting biotech crops for the first time last year, with farmers in those nations planting insect-resistant Bt cotton. Sweden also reported planting biotech crops for the first time last year as farmers there seeded a biotech high-quality starch potato approved for industrial and feed use.

Notably, developing countries grew 48 percent of the total global biotech crop tally last year, and are expected to continue to accelerate use of biotech crops rapidly, according to the ISAAA report.

James said he expects an additional 12 countries to adopt biotech crops by 2015 and the number of farmers planting such crop to double to 20 million with global hectarage rising to 200 million hectares, or nearly 500 million acres.

Up to three or four additional countries are expected to grow biotech crops from each of the three regions of Asia, West Africa, East/Southern Africa and fewer from Latin/Central America, and Western and Eastern Europe.

Europe largely remains a steady foe of biotech crops, James said, though there are signs some European countries are softening.

"Europe is not lost but is by far the most difficult region to call in terms of future development," he said.

Advancements in new types of biotech crops should accelerate adoption, particularly drought-tolerant corn, and rice that is healthier, tastes better and resists pests. Biotech wheat that resists certain plant diseases is also on the drawing board.

(Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

GM crops continue spread, passing 'billion hectares'
Richard Black BBC News 22 Feb 11;

The area of the world's farmland used for growing genetically modified crops increased by about 10% last year.

GM use grew fastest in Brazil but fell in the EU, says the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA).

Virtually all GM strains used were engineered for just two traits, disease resistance and herbicide tolerance.

ISAAA is an organisation partly funded by industry that promotes biotechnology as a path to sustainability.

It calculates that more than a billion hectares have been cultivated with GM crops since their introduction in 1996 - the figure derived by adding together the areas cultivated with these varieties in all of the intervening years.

'Here to stay'

ISAAA estimates that more than 15 million farmers are involved in GM agriculture.

"We can recount a momentous year of progress in biotech crop adoption," said Clive James, the organisation's chairman and founder.

"During 2010, the accumulated commercial biotech plantation exceeded one billion hectares - that's an area larger than the US or China.

"And biotech crops registered double-digit growth over 2009, bringing the total global plantings to 148 million hectares. Biotech crops are here to stay."

However, critics point out that this is still just 10% of the world's arable land area as defined by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

About half of the global GM total is accounted for by the US - although overall, the developing world is adopting the technology faster than industrialised countries.

If current trends continue, developing countries will be growing more than half of the global total within a few years.

During 2010, Pakistan and Burma took their initial steps into the GM world by growing cotton modified to be resistant to insect pests.

The EU, however, continues to buck the global trend, registering a slight fall in the land area under GM cultivation.

Germany and Sweden both supported small areas of a new potato variety grown not for food, but to produce high-quality starch for industrial use.

Greenpeace, meanwhile, has presented a petition bearing more than a million signatures to the European Commission, demanding that the executive stop approving new GM varieties.

Recently, the EU introduced the "European citizen's initiative", which allows more than a million citizens jointly to ask for a change in the law.

"Today's European data shows that GM crops are failing in the field and on the market; farmers and consumers are not falling for biotech industry propaganda," said Greenpeace EU agriculture policy adviser Stefanie Hundsdorfer.

"GM crops are not more productive and are less resistant to extreme climate conditions than normal crops. They do however present a serious risk for our environment."
Golden future

One of the principal criticisms of the biotech industry down the years is that companies have not commercialised crops that produce direct benefits to the public, such as those with improved nutritional content, or that allow farmers in poor countries to grow crops in land that is currently too hot, too dry or too salty.

Virtually all of the crops grown in 2010 were either engineered to be resistant to insect pests - typically, through insertion of a Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) gene that produces a toxin - or tolerant to proprietary herbicides.

A significant and growing proportion - about 20% - carried both traits, reflecting the trend for companies to market varieties containing a number of introduced genes "stacked" on top of each other.

Up to eight genes are stacked in a single variety.

Another criticism is that just four crops - soya bean, cotton, maize and canola (a relative of rape) - dominate the market, with little attention paid to other important foods of the developing world poor, such as rice, millet or sorghum.

Dr James suggested this situation was about to change, with crops due to come into commercial use over the next five years, including many with enhanced nutrition, notably "Golden Rice" enhanced in Vitamin A.

"Golden rice is expected to be available in 2013 in the Philippines and thereafter in Bangladesh, Indonesia and Vietnam," he said.

"Also [we will soon see] potatoes modified to resist late blight - the disease that caused the Irish potato famine - as well as sugar cane, bananas, eggplant, tomato, cassava. sweet potato, pulses and groundnuts."

He claimed that the introduction of Golden Rice could save the lives of thousands of people afflicted with Vitamin A deficiency.

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New Report Lists 25 Most Endangered Turtle Species; Some Turtle Species Number Less Than 5 Individuals

ScienceDaily 21 Feb 11;

A report issued Feb. 22, 2011, co-authored by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) working in conjunction with the Turtle Conservation Coalition, lists the 25 most endangered turtle species from around the world -- some of which currently number less than five individuals.

Decimated by illegal hunting for both food and the pet trade along with habitat loss, many turtle species will go extinct in the next decade unless drastic conservation measures are taken, according to the report, which was released at a regional workshop hosted by Wildlife Reserves Singapore and WCS. Seventeen of the 25 species are found in Asia, three are from South America, three from Africa, one from Australia, and one from Central America and Mexico.

The report was authored by the Turtle Conservation Coalition, which is made up by IUCN/SSC Tortoise and Freshwater Turtle Specialist Group, Turtle Conservation Fund, Turtle Survival Alliance, Turtle Conservancy/Behler Chelonian Center, Chelonian Research Foundation, Conservation International, WCS, and San Diego Zoo Global.

The list of 25 includes "Lonesome George" -- the only remaining Abdington Island giant tortoise. Though there is still scientific disagreement as to whether he is a recognized species or a subspecies of Galápagos tortoise, all agree that he is the last of his kind. Another species on the brink is the Yangtze giant softshell turtle with just four known individuals. Wildlife Conservation Society veterinarians have been working with Chinese officials and other partners to breed the last known male/female pair of these giant turtles, which currently reside at China's Suzhou Zoo.

Illegal hunting for turtles in Asia for food, pets, and traditional medicines is a particular problem, the report says.

"Turtles are being unsustainably hunted throughout Asia," said co-author Brian D. Horne of the Wildlife Conservation Society. "Every tortoise and turtle species in Asia is being impacted in some manner by the international trade in turtles and turtle products. In just one market in Dhaka, Bangladesh we saw close to 100,000 turtles being butchered for consumption during a religious holiday, and we know of at least three other such markets within the city."

Liz Bennett, Vice President of WCS Species Program, said: "Turtles are wonderfully adapted to defend themselves against predators by hiding in their shells, but this defense mechanism doesn't work against organized, large-scale human hunting efforts. The fact is that turtles are being vacuumed up from every nook and cranny in Asia and beyond."

The report says that better enforcement of existing trade laws, habitat protection, and captive breeding are all keys to preventing turtle species from going extinct while bolstering existing populations.

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