Best of our wild blogs: 25 Feb 11

New snake record for Singapore: Dendrelaphis haasi
from Celebrating Singapore's BioDiversity!

Nesting Grey Herons: 7. Feeding ritual
from Bird Ecology Study Group

Not extinct after all: the curious 'Penis' clam
from wild shores of singapore

Forest Terrapin
from Creatures in the Wild and The Flower, The Spider and The Bee

Read more!

New degree course to tackle complex environmental issues at the National University of Singapore

Neo Chai Chin Today Online 25 Feb 11;

SINGAPORE - In August, the National University of Singapore (NUS) will welcome 50 students whose idea of fun is doing field studies on Christmas Island, or learning the myriad issues behind haze in the region.

The students will form the pioneer batch of the new Bachelor of Environmental Studies programme, a four-year, direct Honours course.

Environmental issues are too urgent and wide-ranging to be tackled in a fragmented way, say the leaders of the taskforce that designed the inter-disciplinary curriculum.

During discussions, "it impressed on me, really, that as a social scientist…I'm only trained to appreciate one fragment of the entire global issue", said sociologist Paulin Straughan. The taskforce was co-led by NUS Faculty of Science special projects director Professor Leo Tan, a respected conservationist.

The involvement of eight NUS faculties and schools - including the Arts and Social Sciences, Science and Law faculties - in the programme signals just how broad-based it is, said Prof Tan.

In the first two years, modules in biology, chemistry and economics, among others, will be taught. Subsequently, students may opt to specialise in either Environmental Biology or Environmental Geography.

Field studies will be conducted at places where NUS already has research interests - such as Christmas Island and possibly northern Thailand.

On Christmas Island, students will see first-hand the delicate balance between conservation, development, tourism and migration.

Another intriguing issue is the haze. "We always complain that the Indonesians don't care about haze and they burn, but if you go to places that have been burnt, you find the problems there are very complicated. Some companies there are owned by… multinational corporations," said Professor Peter Ng, director of the Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research.

"If you expose students to these real world situations, they begin to see a different angle to this. At the end of the day, environmental challenges in different countries are all inter-connected."

Prof Tan said NUS hopes to attract "top-notch A Level students" to the course. Students need to have a "good" pass in Maths and either Biology or Chemistry, though exceptions could be made, said Assoc Prof Straughan.


Read more!

PUB to expand Changi Water Reclamation Plant

Andre Yeo Channel NewsAsia 24 Feb 11;

SINGAPORE: National water agency PUB will be expanding the Changi Water Reclamation Plant to treat an additional 60,000 cubic meters per day.

This would include the installation of a plant that uses membrane technology on top of the existing treatment facility.

This would increase the plant's capacity to 860,000 cubic meters per day.

Mr Wah Yuen Long, director of PUB's water reclamation plants, said: "The Changi Water Reclamation Plant employs state-of-the-art technology to collect, treat, reclaim and dispose of Singapore's used water efficiently and cost effectively. With this expansion, the plant will also produce more feedstock for NEWater production."

Engineering design services for the project has been awarded to Black & Veatch, who will provide consultancy services as well as oversee the installation of the membrane plant.

A tender will be called for the construction and installation works for the expansion in the second half of this year.

The project is expected to be completed by mid-2013.


Read more!

Guam islands vote to protect sharks

Yahoo News 25 Feb 11;

NEW YORK (AFP) – Sharks won a new friend Thursday when Guam, a US island territory in the Pacific, voted to ban commerce in fins, a leading environmental group said.

Guam's Senate passed a bill banning the sale, possession and distribution of the fins, which are in high demand for Asian shark fin soup, Pew Environmental Group said.

The measure extended a trend across the Pacific to shield the endangered predators from unsustainable fishing practices.

Palau, Hawaii, the Northern Mariana Islands, as well as Honduras and the Maldives in the Indian Ocean, have passed similar protections.

"More and more, we see the islands of the Pacific stand tall against commercial fishing fleets that are depleting shark populations," said Matt Rand, director of Global Shark Conservation for Pew.

"Pacific island leadership is helping these fish, threatened by the fin trade, to keep their place as apex predators in the ocean food chain. Guam, a major fishing hub, now joins other Pacific Ocean voices in support of shark conservation."

According to Pew, as many as 73 million sharks are killed annually primarily for their fins. Thirty percent of shark species are threatened or near-threatened with extinction, Pew says.

Read more!

Phuket Builds Own Reefs to Ease Dive Congestion

Pathomporn Kaenkrachang PhuketWan 24 Feb 11;

OFFICIALS were gathering at Phuket's Bang Tao beach today to launch a large artificial reef project, designed to take the pressure of tourist numbers off damaged natural corals.

A total of 1630 large concrete blocks are to be sunk to the ocean bed at a cost of 7.996 million baht. The artificial reef will be in two segments, one at the southern end extending towards Kamala, and the other off Bang Tao.

Each of the ''reefs'' will extend about 1.5 kilometres.

Paitoon Panchaipoorn, of Phuket's Marine Coast Preservation Office, has coordinated the project with the Phuket Provincial Administrative Organistion, local authorities, Marine Transport, the Royal Thai Navy and the Fisheries department.

Experts agree that Phuket needs to create artificial reefs to ensure the long-term future of the natural corals. Increasing numbers of tourists have accelerated damage to the reefs, with a crisis being triggered in April and May last year by the bleaching phenomenon.

The monsoons arrived late, leaving the reefs without cloud cover. As a result, large areas of reefs, especially those in shallow waters, have been damaged and will take years to recover.

Bans have been imposed on some popular dive sites in an effort to speed the return to health of the reefs and tighter controls are envisaged over dive boats.

Phuket's most notable attempt at constructing an appealing artificial reef from old aircraft and helicopters failed in 2008 when tides and fishing trawlers were blamed for breaking up the fuselages.

Artificial reefs sunk off Phuket’s west coast
Phuket Gazette 24 Feb 11;

PHUKET: About 200 concrete cubes were sunk in Bang Tao Bay, on Phuket’s west coast, today as the ongoing artificial reef project resumed.

The current four-day installment, costing 7.9 million baht, aims is to sink 1,630 concrete cubes by sunset on Monday.

The ongoing project is funded by the Phuket Provincial Administration Organization (PPAO) and being carried out by the Phuket Marine and Coastal Resources Conservation Office (MCRC).

“There are 20 sites in Bang Tao Bay and Kamala Bay, all about three kilometers offshore,” MCRC Director Pitul Panchaiyaphum told the Phuket Gazette.

“The sites are not more the 20 meters underwater to ensure divers have good visibility of the reefs [to grow],” he explained.

The artificial reefs are expected to attract fish and other sea creatures within about one month, and to start growing corals after about three years, he said.

In addition to becoming attractions for divers, the reefs will be a boon for local fishermen. Artificial reefs established years ago are now havens for growing numbers of fish, providing local fisherman in some areas with record catches, Mr Pitul said.

The concrete cubes are also expected to deter illegal fishermen from entering the areas.

Measuring 1.5 meters along each side and weighing about one ton apiece, it is hoped the cubes snag large nets used by illegal fishermen.

The cubes are being placed in clusters of 80 to 100 cubes, with each cluster 500 meters to a kilometer apart. “If they were placed separately, they would not be very effective in stopping vessels from illegally fishing in the area,” said Director Pitul.

“We chose Bang Tao and Kamala bays because the areas are critical – there has been much illegal fishing in these waters,” he added.

The next bays to benefit from the ongoing project will be Kata, Karon and Nai Harn.

“We already have the budget from the PPAO. Now we are in the process of getting permission from the Marine Department,” he explained.

Looking ahead, Mr Pitul said he expected more resistance to installing artificial reefs on the east coast.

Before launching the project there, the MCRC must first conduct a survey to determine whether local ecosystems there would benefit from artificial reefs.

Public hearings would also need to be held to gain feedback from local fishermen, tour and boat operators.

“We still have to determine whether any reefs [installed there] would affect local fisheries,” he said.

“And we have to consider not only the local residents, but also business operators such as tourist boat operators and hotels because this project is to benefit everyone,” Director Pitul said.

Read more!

Malaysia: Captured elephant ‘persuaded’ to leave forest

Sarban Singh The Star 25 Feb 11;

SEREMBAN: It needed the “persuasive” skills of three female elephants and the experience of their mahouts to get a four-tonne wild male pachyderm out of the Gapau forest reserve here.

The male elephant, nicknamed Buyong by villagers and believed to be in his 40s, had initially refused to budge despite being shot with a tranquilliser by National Wildlife and Parks Department (Perhilitan) officers yesterday.

The three female elephants – Chek Mek in her 50s, Timor and Kala (both in their mid-30s) – had been brought in from the National Elephant Conservation Centre in Kuala Gandah, Pahang, and were taken to the place where Buyong had been tied since his capture on Sunday.

They were then brought together to allow the rangers to secure them with chains.

The Asian elephant (elephas maximus), which has an estimated population of 1,200 in Peninsular Malay­sia, is usually found in the jungles of Johor, Pahang, Kelantan, Tereng­ganu, Perak and Kedah.

Perhilitan’s elephant management unit head Nasharuddin Othman said despite having lived in the wild, Buyong was not as aggressive as initially thought.

“We had to bring in the experienced Chek Mek, who has been helping us relocate wild elephants since 1979.

“She does not need to be ‘told’ much,” he said, adding that she had been used to relocate some 500 wild elephants.

He said Timor and Kala had been trained for similar rescue efforts over the past year and seemed to be frightened of Buyong initially.

“But Chek Mek was around to calm them down,” he said.

Nasharuddin said Buyong, which was bigger than the three female elephants, would be relocated to the Tasik Kenyir section of Taman Negara in Terengganu.

State Perhilitan director Mohd Zaide Mohd Zain said the last time a wild elephant was caught in the state was in the early 1990s.

He said 25 officers were involved in yesterday’s relocation exercise.

Villagers in Kampung Gagu contacted his officers on Feb 15 after spotting Buyong in the area.

Wild elephant lured out of forest reserve
New Straits Times 25 Feb 11;

KUALA KLAWANG: Buyung Gagu, a wild male elephant named after Kampung Gagu, near here, was successfully lured out of the Gapau forest reserve by National Parks and Wildlife Department (Perhilitan) officers yesterday.

The capture of the 30-year-old elephant comes as a relief to villagers whose crops have been destroyed by the four tonne Asian elephant.

The capture was made possible with the help of Perhilitan's gajah denak, or elephant guides -- Che Mek, Kala and Timur.

The operation to remove the elephant, which will be released in Taman Negara Tasik Kenyir in Terengganu, began at 9.30am and involved 20 staff from the state Perhilitian and the National Elephant Conservation Centre (NECC), from Kuala Gandah, Pahang.

NECC deputy director Nasharuddin Othman said the wild elephant was shot with a tranquiliser gun to ensure the safety of the elephant, rescue members and a smooth operation.

"It went smoothly and the elephant was not aggressive though it was chained and was coaxed by Che Mek, Kala and Timur into a lorry," he said after the four hour operation was completed.

Also present were state Housing and Local Government, New Villages and Public Transport Committee chairman Datuk Siow Chen Pin and state Perhilitan director Mohd Zaide Mohamed Zin.

"The last time an elephant was captured here was in the 1990s in Gemencheh. I believe this elephant was separated from that group and found its way to Jelebu.

"The construction of the Sungai Teriang dam and the hilly jungle terrain is not suitable for the species to forage for food," said Zaide.

Meanwhile, Siow said the elephant had been damaging crops and uprooting trees in the village for the past two years and was last sighted by villagers on Feb 15.

"The company which is building the dam near the village also helped in the operation by making an accessible road for the team to go into the jungle and capture the animal."

Read more!

Malaysia: Duo caught trying to smuggle 135 pangolins

The Star 25 Feb 11;

GEORGE TOWN: Two men have been caught trying to smuggle 135 live pangolins worth RM100,000 to neighbouring countries.

The two – buyer and seller respectively – were caught red-handed moving the pangolins in cages into two modified cars outside a store in Sungai Dua, Butterworth at 2.15am yesterday.

The two, aged 23 and 40, were arrested by a state Wildlife and National Parks Department (Perhi­litan) enforcement team who had been monitoring their activities for more than three months.

State Perhilitan director Jamalun Nasir Ibrahim said the seizure was the biggest in Penang since 2009.

He said the men, believed to be members of an illegal wildlife trade syndicate, faced a fine of up to RM350,000 or 14 years in jail each for committing offences related to wildlife.

Also seized were two modified Proton Iswara meant to transport the scaly anteaters across the border.

“We have handed them over to the police for further action,” Jamalun said at the Perhilitan office in Jalan Gurdwara yesterday. Also present was enforcement officer Khairul Nizam Yahaya. Jamalun said initial investigation showed the store was a transit point where pangolins were brought in from other states.

He believed the endangered animals were smuggled out by land whenever there was an order from neighbouring countries.

He added that there was a huge demand for the animals in these countries.

Jamalun said each pangolin, weighing between 5kg and 7kg, could fetch up to RM200 per kg. Even the scales could fetch a high price for their medicinal properties.

He said the rescued pangolins would be released in Taman Negara in Teluk Bahang.

Pangolin meals spoiled
Tan Sin Chow The Star 25 Feb 11;

TWO men have been nabbed trying to smuggle out 135 live pangolins worth RM100,000 that were destined for the dinner table in neighbouring countries.

The two — the buyer and the seller — were caught red-handed moving the pangolins in cages into two modified cars outside a store in Sungai Dua, Butterworth, at 2.15am yesterday.

The two were arrested by a state Wildlife and National Parks Department enforcement team who had been watching their activities for more than three months.

State Wildlife and National Parks Department director Jamalun Nasir Ibrahim said the seizure was the biggest in the state since 2009.

He said the men, aged 23 and 40, were believed to be members of an illegal wildlife trade syndicate and they faced up to RM350,000 in maximum fine or 14 years in jail each for committing offences related to wildlife.

Also seized were two modified Proton Iswara meant to transport the scaly anteaters across the border.

“We have handed them over to the police for further action,” he said during a press conference at the office in Jalan Gurdwara yesterday.

Also present was enforcement officer Khairul Nizam Yahaya.

Jamalun said initial investigation showed the store was a transit point where all the pangolins were brought in from other states.

He believed the endangered animals were smuggled out on land whenever there was an order from neighbouring countries.

He added that there was a huge demand for the animals which would be skinned and later eaten in these countries.

Jamalun said each pangolin, weighing between 5kg and 7kg, could fetch up to RM200 per kg. Even the scales could fetch a high price for their medicinal properties.

He said the rescued pangolins would be released at Taman Negara in Teluk Bahang.

Department releases pangolins into the wild
The Star 27 Feb 11;

GEORGE TOWN: The 135 pangolins saved from the cooking pot by the Penang Wildlife and National Parks Depart­ment have been released into the wild.

State director Jamalun Nasir Ibrahim said the scaly anteaters were released at an undisclosed location here on Friday night.

“We took DNA samples from the pangolins for record purposes,” he said yesterday.

The department obtained a court order on Friday to release the pangolins that were recently seized.

Jamalun added that department personnel were monitoring the area to deter poachers.

The animals, worth about RM100,000, were seized on Thurs-day morning in Sungai Dua, Butter­worth.

Two men were caught moving the animals in cages into two modified cars, which were believed to be headed to a neighbouring country.

It is learnt that the meat of the pangolins, weighing between 5kg and 7kg each, could fetch up to RM200 per kilo.

The mammals are said to be prized for their meat, which is believed to be an aphrodisiac.

The tough, overlapping scales of the pangolin are said to be able to quell fevers.

Read more!

Riau forest fires discussed at ASEAN meeting

Antara 24 Feb 11;

Dumai, Riau (ANTARA News) - Representatives of five ASEAN member countries recently met in Singapore for talks about joint efforts to overcome forest and bush fires in Riau province.

Head of Bengkalis district`s environmental agency, Husaini, said here Thursday that the 11th meeting was attended by representatives of Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam.

The frequent forest and bush fires in Bengkalis district became part of the meeting`s agenda, he said.

"The meeting in Singapore has put the forest and bush fires in Riau province, including those in Bengkalis district, into the meeting`s agenda. This is actually a classical matter," he said.

After the Singapore meeting, the Bengkalis district government was invited by Environment Minister Gusti Muhammad Hatta to participate in a follow-up meeting, he said.

"At the meeting, the minister paid a special attention to the fires in Bukit Batu subdistrict`s areas," Husaini said.

Forest and bush fires in certain parts of Sumatra island, including Riau province, have frequently occurred over the past years.

In October 2010, Singapore had even offered to help extinguish forest and bush fires in Sumatra because the disaster had also affected the city state.

At that time, as a result of the ongoing hot spots in Sumatra Island, haze had blanketed the sky over Singapore for a few days.

The border crossing smoke was not regarded by Singapore as "a small problem".

Therefore, Singapore was willing to offer help to Indonesia to work together to handle forest and bush fires as the cause of the haze.

The frequent forest and bush fires on Sumatra Island have not only affected the lives of residents and economic activities of the affected provinces and Singapore but also Malaysia.

The smoke of Sumatran forest and bush fires has, sometimes, even disrupted flights in affected provinces and two neighboring countries.(*)

Editor: Aditia Maruli

Read more!

Malaysia To Use Tube Wells To Suppress Peat Land Fires

Bernama 24 Feb 11;

PASIR GUDANG, Feb 24 (Bernama) - The Natural Resources and Environment Ministry will be using deep tube wells to suppress fires on peat land throughout the country under the Peat Land Management Programme.

Its minister Datuk Seri Douglas Uggah Embas said to date, eight tube wells had been operational in Selangor (two), Pahang (three), Johor (two) and one in Sarawak.

Another eight are under construction in Pahang (two), Sarawak (four) and two in Sabah.

"We are now in the midst of finalising our plan to extend the use of tube wells to other peat fire-prone states in the country," Uggah said.

He was speaking to reporters after opening an environment seminar organised by the Pasir Gudang Municipal Council in collaboration with the Johor Skills Development Centre, Department of Environment and Pasir Gudang Emergency Mutual Aid (Pagema) at Tanjung Puteri Golf Resort, here, Thursday.

Uggah said the use of tube wells was a ministry effort to achieve sustainability in peat fire-prevention throughout the country.

The method involves the drilling and extraction of ground water that will be channelled to maintain minimum water level in the peat land areas and each tube well can cater water for an area of up to 404.6 hectares.

He said check dams were also being used to maintain the minimum water level in peat land areas where 64 were operational in Selangor, Pahang, Johor and Sarawak, while 22 other dams were still under construction in these states and Sabah.

Uggah dismissed claims that deforestation had caused floods to occur in Johor recently, saying it was due to extreme climate change that also occurred in other parts of the world.

"The normal rainfall level during the monsoon period is about 200mm, but Johor recorded about 700mm in just three days, hence the flood," he said.


Tube well system 'a big help'
Ahmad Fairuz Othman New Straits Times 25 Feb 11;

PASIR GUDANG: A tube well watering system has helped to check the outbreak of peat fires in the country since last year.

The system, developed by the Natural Resources and Environment Ministry, was installed in at least eight locations in the country.

The tube wells, costing RM200,000 each, are bored 30m into the ground to pump water to control moisture levels on peat soil, thus avoiding severe dry conditions that could lead to fires.

Minister Datuk Seri Douglas Uggah Embas said more tube wells would be installed this year to further enhance the system, which also includes watch towers and check dams.

"The tube wells pump up water and raise the water levels so the area does not catch fire easily.

"Last year, there were fewer fire outbreaks (on peat soil)," said Douglas, who did not provide any specific statistics on the reduction of peat fires.

He was speaking after opening a seminar titled "Environment First, Harmony Prioritised" in the Tanjung Puteri Golf Resort here yesterday.

Douglas said the tube well water pumps were able to "flood" 1,000 acres of land within two days, and had proven to be useful in preventing fires.

The current eight tube wells are in Johor's Pengerang and Sedili, Pahang's Kuantan and Pekan, two in Sarawak's Miri and two near the Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Selangor's Sepang.

On another issue, Douglas said the ministry would seek better solutions to expedite flood-mitigation projects following a call by Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin to deepen and straighten Johor's Sungai Muar.

Following the previous big flood in Johor in 2006, river-deepening projects were conducted in Kota Tinggi, Plentong near Johor Baru, and Batu Pahat. The outbreak of floods in Johor on Jan 30 affected the districts of Segamat, Muar, Kluang, Kota Tinggi, Kulaijaya and Johor Baru.

Read more!

Tree-planting world record set in Philippines

Yahoo News 24 Feb 11;

MANILA (AFP) – Philippine environmentalists have set a world record for the most trees planted simultaneously, kickstarting an enormous reforesteration programme, organisers said Thursday.

Nearly 7,000 people helped in the mass planting of saplings in denuded forest and grassland in the eastern province of Camrines Sur on Wednesday, said Mara Joneil Cordova, spokeswoman for El Verde (The Green) project.

"We had 64,096 trees planted in 15 minutes. This was certified by the Guinness Book of World Records that everything was accurate and correct," Cordova told AFP.

The effort beat the previous Guinness world record of 50,033 trees planted in India last year, she said.

Wednesday marked the start of the provincial government-backed programme to plant 12 million trees in the logged forests of Camarines Sur by next year.

The planting, on government-owned land, is intended to stop erosion and restore watersheds, she said.

The forests of the Philippines are among the 10 most endangered in the world, according to global environment group Conservation International.

Read more!

Malaysian Minister: Adverse climate change caused flooding

The Star 25 Feb 11;

JOHOR BARU: The recent flooding in Johor and other parts of the country were due to world climate change and not because of poor management of the environment and the country’s forests.

Stating this, Natural Resources and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Douglas Uggah Embas added that the adverse climate change did not only affect Malaysia but also Australia and other countries.

“Besides the flooding, we also had severe haze in some areas, such as in Muar last year,” he said, adding that it was important for countries to work together to address the issue globally.

He was speaking to reporters after attending a seminar on the environment at Pasir Gudang, near here, yesterday.

Uggah said it was important to reduce CO2 (carbon dioxide) emissions globally as even a two-degree change in global temperature could be detrimental to the environment.

“Since the announcement last year by the Prime Minister (Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak) that Malaysia will cut CO2 emissions, we have achieved 63% of the target set,” he said, adding that Malaysia was committed to reducing 38 million tonnes of CO2 emissions by 2020.

Meanwhile, Skudai assemblyman Dr Boo Cheng Hau claimed that he had voiced the issue of flood mitigation several times in the state assembly but “nothing was done to address the concerns raised.”

“It is due to mismanagement of the state’s forest reserves and water resources that we are experiencing flooding in many parts of the state,” he claimed.

Read more!

'Fog Of Research' Clouds Study Of Oil's Effects In Gulf

Christopher Joyce NPR 24 Feb 11;

The BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico was, in effect, a huge experiment and scientists want to know what that oil may do to the plants and animals that live in the Gulf — from sea grasses to turtles to giant bluefin tuna.

But many of those scientists say they're frustrated at the lack of focus in this research effort as well as the shortage of money for such a huge undertaking.

After the spill, scientists swarmed over the Gulf like mosquitoes at a summer garden party. Mostly they looked for bodies of birds, fish and turtles. Universities footed the bill as did the National Science Foundation, which provided $20 million for research. The Interior Department and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration sent experts, too.

But the real gumshoe work is just beginning: Will wetlands recover? Were tiny fish eggs and larvae wiped out? Will surviving animals reproduce?

"It's a huge challenge," says Christopher D'Elia, dean of the the School of Coast and Environment at Louisiana State University. "You know, the military talks about the fog of war. In this particular case, we are dealing with a sort of fog of research."

In the military, there are generals; not so in ecological research. Stan Senner, the director of conservation science with the Ocean Conservancy, an environmental group, says "there really isn't anyone in charge."

True, the federal government's scientists are doing some research now, but most of that lies beneath a veil laid down by the Oil Pollution Act, which calls for research in order to assess damages against those responsible for oil spills. Because that may involve litigation, that research is largely secret.

"Dozens and dozens of studies are in the field," Senner says, "thousands and thousands of samples have been gathered but that work is largely being held confidential."

Eventually that scientific data should become public, but Senner and other scientists worry that in the meantime, gaps in the research may go unnoticed without peer review from the larger scientific community.

Senner, who worked on the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska, says secrecy sows doubt among the public.

"We saw repeatedly in the case of the Exxon Valdez that the people who are most affected by the spill, if they didn't have information, it tended to feed their worst fears," he says.

Money For Independent Research

There is, however, some money for independent, open research, like the $20 million from the National Science Foundation. But that money runs out soon, and D'Elia points out that now is a bad time for research money to dry up.

"We're going to have an interesting time in the springtime," he says, "because we are about to come into the season when life starts teeming in the coastal waters, so one of the big issues that I'm concerned about is what is going to happen to the food chains — the food webs off the coast of Louisiana in particular — where the oiling was the heaviest."

Ironically, it's BP that's spent the most for independent, open research. Shortly after the spill, BP gave several universities and research groups in the Gulf about $50 million, with the promise of another $450 million over 10 years. BP and the Gulf states picked a board of scientists to decide who gets it.

Rita Colwell, a life scientist at the University of Maryland, is head of the board.

"We are gathering the data to be published in the open literature and anybody can use it, private individuals, BP, federal government — anyone," Colwell says.

But the other $450 million that BP promised hasn't materialized. Colwell says recruiting the research board and writing ethical rules for research took a long time, and the board still has not published guidelines for how to apply for money. So it could be months before scientists see any of that $450 million.

That worries scientists such as Don Boesch, who sits on the official Oil Spill Commission that's investigating the event. He says the slow start has already compromised the research effort "because we had much more limited effort to go out and actually describe the effects of the spill and track the oil when it was actually coming out of the bottom of the gulf."

Scientists say they need to be out in the Gulf right now, and they need someone to organize all independent research going on. They cite the case of herring in Alaska's Prince William Sound: Four years after the Exxon Valdez spill, scientists thought the population had recovered. But they failed to read all the signs: The population crashed, and has never recovered.

Read more!

Too many conventions hurting environment: experts

Yahoo News 24 Feb 11;

NAIROBI (AFP) – Growing environmental awareness over the past two decades has resulted in the adoption of a plethora of some 500 conventions, which paradoxically has hindered saving the planet, experts said Thursday.

The 100 or so environment ministers gathered this week in Nairobi under the auspices of the UN environment agency were unanimous in recognising the need for an in-depth reform of a system that has become a victim of its own success.

"Never in the last four to five years has the governing council been as clear in its assessment for the need for reform," UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner told AFP Thursday

On Thursday the ministers called for the question to be studied and if possible decided on at the next UN summit on sustainable development planned for June 2012 in Rio de Janeiro.

"Notwithstanding the impressive landscape of institutions, agreements and protocols, the environmental governance landscape of the here and now is increasingly fractured and fragmented," Steiner told the meeting.

A diplomat specialising in environmental issues put it even more bluntly: "There is no pilot in the plane."

UNEP is a long way behind the World Trade Organisation or the World Health Organisation. With a 2010 budget of 83 million dollars, it is one of only two UN agencies to be headquartered in Africa. Only 58 states, out of a total of 193 in the world, are members.

The agency has very little control over the international conventions that are springing up. Steiner mentioned that there were more than 500 such conventions but no one seemed able to give an exact figure.

The majority have been adopted since the 1992 earth summit in Rio. Today they form a thick mesh of laws that remain confusing even to specialists.

Each convention has its own secretariat, which scarcely communicates with the others.

"For the regulation of chemical products alone there are three major conventions. It took five years of talks not to merge them but simply to bring them under a common umbrella," sighed one specialist involved in the talks.

Between 1992 and 2007, 540 meetings have been called under 18 international treaties, generating more than 5000 decisions. Developing countries are starting to feel overwhelmed.

The various conventions are anything but equal: the convention on climate change, adopted in 1992, easily collected some 100 billion dollars for its budget. The Convention to Combat Desertification, adopted two years later, is struggling to garner a tiny fraction of that amount.

"It's the poor countries' convention. Nobody cares," a diplomat said.

But beyond the facade of everything being unanimous, talks on how to harmonise the system have been deadlocked for years.

With the backing of their European Union partners, France and Germany have once again lobbied for the setting up of a "world environment organisation."

"We want to reinforce UNEP and change it to make it into a global instrument," French Ecology Minister Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet said.

Countries that are reticent, be it for political or budgetary reasons, include the United States, China, Russia and India.

"We have all agreed that UNEP needs to be reinforced. We have also decided to continue with our talks to see exactly how we're going to achieve that," said Spain's Environment Minister Rosa Aguilar Rivero, who also chairs UNEP's council of governors.

Read more!