Best of our wild blogs: 3 Mar 11

The Birds of Singapore ... in progress
from Bird Ecology Study Group

NParks Park Connectors and Frens Newsletter (Jan-Mar 2011)
from Otterman speaks

Outdoors classroom - Ngee Ann Stream
from Water Quality in Singapore

February wild facts updates: crab, fishies and special coastal plants
from wild shores of singapore

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Singapore aircon 'winter in Siberia'

Mustafa Shafawi Channel NewsAsia 2 Mar 11;

SINGAPORE: Singaporeans are still finding indoor air conditioning too cold, with some describing the temperature in their offices as "Autumn in Seoul" and "Winter in Siberia."

This was what a poll conducted by WWF Singapore for Earth Hour 2011 uncovered.

As a result of the air-conditioning being too strong, many said they have faced health issues, such as flu, cough and dry skin.

Some 450 people were polled.

The aim was to determine how comfortable people currently are with air-conditioning temperatures in the country, in a bid to encourage individuals and organisations to set their air-conditioning temperatures at 24°C or higher.

Some 52 per cent of respondents felt that cinemas were too cold; offices and schools followed closely with 40 per cent indicating the same.

In order to keep themselves warm in cold offices or schools, most respondents wrap themselves in a shawl or wear a winter jacket (69 per cent), while others (another 25 per cent) would either go out for a walk in the sun, go to the washroom, or take a coffee break.

WWF said it is focusing on the message "24 degrees or higher" in Singapore for 2011, when it comes to air-conditioning settings.

WWF Singapore managing director Amy Ho said not only will this make for more pleasant temperatures indoors, it will also save significant amounts of energy across the country, contributing towards the fight against climate change".

Earth Hour 2011 will take place at 8.30pm, on March 26, Saturday this year.


Siberian winter in Singapore?
Evelyn Choo Today Online 2 Mar 11;

SINGAPORE - Indoor temperatures are proving to be too cold for comfort for many Singaporeans, according to a survey conducted by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) Singapore.

And with Earth Hour coming up this month, environmentalists are turning up the heat.

Some Singaporeans have likened the chill in their offices to winters in Siberia. Many even claim that they're prone to falling ill because of the freezing environment.

So why not turn the air-conditioning temperature up by a few notches?

Ms Amy Ho, managing director of WWF Singapore, said this will be the focus for this year's Earth Hour event.

The challenge is to set air-conditioning temperatures at 24 deg C or higher.

Ms Ho said: "The issue of climate change is all about reducing our energy consumption as well as making more decisions on being more energy-efficient. So what we're asking everyone is to reduce their energy consumption by lowering the air-conditioning temperature. This will help us to save lots of electricity."

Leading by example is the Orchard Road Business Association.

More than 50 malls, hotels and retailers along the shopping belt are hopping onboard - twice the number compared to last year.

The association's executive director, Mr Steven Goh, said: "More than 100 establishments are also participating in one way or another by setting their temperatures at 24 deg C, by turning off non-essential lights, and by turning off the facade lighting. We are going to turn Orchard Road into a sea of candles."

Despite calls by the Singapore Government to ensure the efficient use of energy, implementing change across enterprises remains a key hurdle.

The country is ranked 21 on the WWF's Living Planet report, which measures humanity's dependence on the Earth's natural resources.

Mr Andy Ridley, co-founder of the Earth Hour global movement, said Singapore is a heavy consumer of energy.

But he said it has the potential to become a regional leader.

"It's one of the big hub cities on the planet, that's why we're launching here today. I believe strongly that the leadership is coming, I think it's a bit slow, but I believe it's happening. We just need to accelerate and the best way of doing that is for hundreds and millions of people to raise their voices at Earth Hour - in a hopeful way," Mr Ridley said.

He added that more are using online social media to spread the word - something he feels could be a powerful communication tool this year.

Earth Hour 2011 will take place at 8.30pm on Saturday, March 26, when Singaporeans are encouraged to switch off the lights for an hour.

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Singapore: man jailed for smuggling 84 birds

He is fined $13,000 in addition to one-day jail term
Elena Chong Straits Times 3 Mar 11;

A FISH farm operator who smuggled animals into Singapore waters was yesterday jailed for a day and fined a total of $13,000.

Chan Keng Hee, 49, pleaded guilty to two charges of illegally bringing in 84 birds and a domestic ferret by sea on Oct 15 last year. A third charge of bringing in a radiated tortoise was taken into consideration.

Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) prosecutor Yap Teck Chuan told a Community Court that just before 6am that day, Police Coast Guard officers spotted Chan's fishing vessel alongside a Malaysian boat in the waters off Lim Chu Kang, and saw a pair of styrofoam boxes being transferred onto his vessel.

Upon checking the boxes, officers found 60 mata puteh birds, 18 red-whiskered bulbuls, five magpie robins, an Asian fairy bluebird, the ferret and the tortoise.

The court heard that Chan, a licensed fish-culture farm operator, received a call the day before from a Malaysian named 'Yuchai' about ferrying animals and birds from international waters into Singapore.

Yuchai called him again the next day, telling him that the Malaysian boat had arrived at the meeting place in international waters, and that he was to go there to receive the 'goods'.

The court heard that Chan had paid the Malaysian boatman RM5,000 (S$2,090).

Pressing for a deterrent sentence, AVA's Mr Yap said that although no reported cases of bird flu have surfaced in Malaysian poultry farms since the last outbreak in 2007, the risk remained because the birds could have come into contact with infected birds and poultry, and could carry the virus.

He added that ferrets are known carriers of rabies, which Singapore has been free of since 1953; and with Singapore being highly urbanised, public safety would be compromised if rabies was reintroduced here.

Mr Yap also noted that Chan had abused his farm operator's licence by using his boat for smuggling.

Chan could have been fined up to $10,000 and/or jailed for up to a year on each charge.

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Batam, Singapore predicted to be haze-free

Antara 2 Mar 11;

Batam, Riau Islands (ANTARA News) - Haze from Sumatran forest fires is not likely to reach Batam and Singapore as the winds in the region are southbound, an observer said.

"Batam and Singapore will not be covered by haze because it is now the northern winds season," the Head of Observation Division of Climatology and Geophysics Agency of Batam, Imam Prawoto, said here Wednesday.

The winds in the region were southbound so that the haze would not cover Batam and Singapore, he said.

According to the Meteorology, Climatology, and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) satellite, there are around 10 hot spots in Sumatra, among others in Jambi and Riau provinces.

Imam said forest fires in 2011 would not be as severe as in 2007 because the weather in 2011 was not too hot as it was the period of La Nina, not El Nino, which occurred in 2007.

However, he advised people not to burn garbage nor forests to clear land and also not to throw burning cigarettes in the forest as it could trigger fires which could endanger the forest, especially when the weather is hot and dry.

The BMKG predicted the weather and temperature in Riau Islands territory, in the first week of March, would be hot as the sun is directly over the equator.

Based on an observation, the clouds over Riau Island are thin so that the area would be hot and without rain.The temperature was predicted to be around 32-33 centigrades.(*)

Editor: Aditia Maruli

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Humans on Verge of Causing 6th Great Mass Extinction

Stephanie Pappas, LiveScience 2 Mar 11;

Are humans causing a mass extinction on the magnitude of the one that killed the dinosaurs?

The answer is yes, according to a new analysis — but we still have some time to stop it.

Mass extinctions include events in which 75 percent of the species on Earth disappear within a geologically short time period, usually on the order of a few hundred thousand to a couple million years. It's happened only five times before in the past 540 million years of multicellular life on Earth. (The last great extinction occurred 65 million years ago, when the dinosaurs were wiped out.) At current rates of extinction, the study found, Earth will enter its sixth mass extinction within the next 300 to 2,000 years.

"It's bittersweet, because we're showing that we have this crisis," study co-author Elizabeth Ferrer, a graduate student in biology at the University of California, Berkeley, told LiveScience. "But we still have time to fix this."

Others aren't so optimistic that humans will actually do anything to stop the looming disaster, saying that politics is successfully working against saving species and the planet.

The 6th extinction

Species go extinct all the time, said Anthony Barnosky, the curator of the Museum of Paleontology at UC Berkeley and another co-author of the paper, which appears in today’s (March 2) issue of the journal Nature. But new species also evolve constantly, meaning that biodiversity usually stays constant. Mass extinctions happen when that balance goes out of whack. Suddenly, extinctions far outpace the genesis of new species, and the old rules for species survival go out the window. [Read: Mass Extinction Threat: Earth on Verge of Huge Reset Button?]

"If the fossil record tells us one thing, it's that when we kick over into a mass extinction regime, results are extreme, they're irreversible and they're unpredictable," David Jablonski, a paleontologist at the University of Chicago who was not involved in the study, told LiveScience. "Factors that promote success and survival during normal times seem to melt away."

Everyone knows that we now lose many species a year, Barnosky said. "The question is, 'Is the pace of extinction we're seeing today over these short time intervals usual or unusual?'"

Answering the question requires stitching together two types of data: that from the fossil record and that collected by conservation biologists in the modern era. They don't always match up well. For example, Barnosky said, fossils tell us lots about the history of clams, snails and other invertebrates. But in the modern world, biologists have only assessed the extinction risk for 3 percent of known species of such invertebrates. That makes comparisons tough.

The fossil record also presents a blurrier history than today's yearly records of species counts. Sparse examples of a species may be distributed across millions of years of fossil history, the researchers wrote, while modern surveys provide dense samples over short periods of time. And even the best source of modern data — the International Union for the Conservation of Nature Red List of threatened and endangered species — has catalogued the conservation status of less than 2.7 percent of the 1.9 million named species out there.

Coming crisis

The researchers worked to combine these two sources of data, Ferrer said, taking a conservative approach to filling in gaps and estimating future directions. They found that the overall rate of extinction is, in fact, between three to 80 times higher than non-mass extinction rates. Most likely, species are going extinct three to 12 times faster than would be expected if there were no crisis, Ferrer said.

That gives Earth between three and 22 centuries to reach the point of mass extinction if nothing is done to stop the problem. (The wide range is a factor of the uncertainty in the data and different rates of extinction found in various species.) The good news, Barnosky said, is that the total loss so far is not devastating. In the last 200 years, the researchers found, only 1 to 2 percent of all species have gone extinct.

The strongest evidence for comparison between modern and ancient times comes from vertebrate animals, Barnosky said, which means there is still work to do collecting better data for more robust comparisons with better invertebrate data. But, he said, the research "shows absolutely without a doubt that we do have this major problem."

Back from the brink?

The culprits for the biodiversity loss include climate change, habitat loss, pollution and overfishing, the researchers wrote.

"Most of the mechanisms that are occurring today, most of them are caused by us," Ferrer said.

So can we fix it? Yes, there's time to cut dependence on fossil fuels, alleviate climate change and commit to conservation of habitat, the study scientists say. The more pressing question is, will we?

Barnosky and Ferrer both say they're optimistic that people will pull together to solve the problem once they understand the magnitude of the looming disaster. Jablonski puts himself into the "guardedly optimistic category."

"I think a lot of the problems probably have a lot more to do with politics than with science," Jablonski said.

That's where Paul Ehrlich, the president of the Center for Conservation Biology at Stanford University and author of "The Population Bomb" (Sierra Club-Ballantine, 1968), sees little hope.

"Everything we're doing in Washington [D.C.] today is working in the wrong direction," Ehrlich, who was not involved in the research, told LiveScience. "There isn't a single powerful person in the world who is really talking about what the situation is … It's hard to be cheery when you don't see the slightest sign of any real attention being paid."

Other researchers take an upbeat view.

"If we have a business-as-usual scenario, it is pretty grim, but it isn't yet written," Stuart Pimm, a professor of conservation ecology at Duke University who was not involved in the research, told LiveScience in a phone interview from Chile, where he was doing fieldwork.

In 2010, Pimm said, the United Nations declared the International Year of Biodiversity. According to a UN statement, the 193 countries involved agreed to protect 17 percent of Earth's terrestrial ecosystems and 10 percent of marine and coastal areas. Some types of ecosystems still lag behind, Pimm said, but there is reason for hope.

"I hope that this will alert people to the fact that we are living in geologically unprecedented times," Pimm said. "Only five times in Earth's history has life been as threatened as it is now."

Are We in the Middle of a Sixth Mass Extinction?
Ann Gibbons Science Now 2 Mar 11;

Earth's creatures are on the brink of a sixth mass extinction, comparable to the one that wiped out the dinosaurs. That's the conclusion of a new study, which calculates that three-quarters of today's animal species could vanish within 300 years. "This is really gloom-and-doom stuff," says the study's lead author, paleobiologist Anthony Barnosky of the University of California, Berkeley. "But the good news is we haven't come so far down the road that it's inevitable."

Species naturally come and go over long periods of time. But what sets a mass extinction apart is that three-quarters of all species vanish quickly. Earth has already endured five mass extinctions, including the asteroid that wiped out dinosaurs and other creatures 65 million years ago. Conservationists have warned for years that we are in the midst of a sixth, human-caused extinction, with species from frogs to birds to tigers threatened by climate change, disease, loss of habitat, and competition for resources with nonnative species. But how does this new mass extinction compare with the other five?

Barnosky and colleagues took on this challenge by looking to the past. First, they calculated the rate at which mammals, which are well represented in the fossil record, died off in the past 65 million years, finding an average extinction rate of less than two species per million years. But in the past 500 years, a minimum of 80 of 5570 species of mammals have gone extinct, according to biologists' conservative estimates—an extinction rate that is actually above documented rates for past mass extinctions, says Barnosky. All of this means that we're at the beginning of a mass extinction that will play out over hundreds or thousands of years, his team concludes online today in Nature.

The picture gets even grimmer when all mammals currently endangered or threatened are added to the count. If those all disappear within a century, then by 334 years from now, 75% of all mammal species will be gone, says Barnosky. "Look outside of your window. Imagine taking away three-quarters of the living things you see and ask yourself if you want to live in that world."

The team extended the same methods of analysis to amphibians, reptiles, birds, plants, mollusks, and other forms of life. They found fairly consistent patterns: From amphibians to birds to mammals, about 1% to 2% of species already are extinct today, and 20% to 50% are threatened—numbers that approach those of the great mass extinctions of the past. "Our best guess is that the current extinction rate is between three to 80 times too high" even without counting all threatened species, says Barnosky. "Assuming threatened species would actually go extinct—which is not inevitable—puts the extinction rate off the charts."

"There's been a lot of general talk on this issue, but attempts to draw more rigorously on the lessons of the fossil record have been rare," says paleobiologist David Jablonski of the University of Chicago in Illinois, who was not involved in the study. "It's really valuable to look at how current losses stack up against the past extinction events."

The silver lining in this dark cloud is that if humans work quickly to protect endangered and threatened species and their habitats now, the mass extinction can be prevented or at least delayed by thousands of years, says Barnosky. Adds Jablonski, "This approach provides a way to gauge progress in walking the world back from that brink [of a mass extinction]."

World's sixth mass extinction may be underway -- study
Richard Ingham And Laurent Banguet Yahoo News 3 May 11;

PARIS (AFP) – Mankind may have unleashed the sixth known mass extinction in Earth's history, according to a paper released on Wednesday by the science journal Nature.

Over the past 540 million years, five mega-wipeouts of species have occurred through naturally-induced events.

But the new threat is man-made, inflicted by habitation loss, over-hunting, over-fishing, the spread of germs and viruses and introduced species, and by climate change caused by fossil-fuel greenhouse gases, says the study.

Evidence from fossils suggests that in the "Big Five" extinctions, at least 75 percent of all animal species were destroyed.

Palaeobiologists at the University of California at Berkeley looked at the state of biodiversity today, using the world's mammal species as a barometer.

Until mankind's big expansion some 500 years ago, mammal extinctions were very rare: on average, just two species died out every million years.

But in the last five centuries, at least 80 out of 5,570 mammal species have bitten the dust, providing a clear warning of the peril to biodiversity.

"It looks like modern extinction rates resemble mass extinction rates, even after setting a high bar for defining 'mass extinction," said researcher Anthony Barnosky.

This picture is supported by the outlook for mammals in the "critically endangered" and "currently threatened" categories of the Red List of biodiversity compiled by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

On the assumption that these species are wiped out and biodiversity loss continues unchecked, "the sixth mass extinction could arrive within as little as three to 22 centuries," said Barnosky.

Compared with nearly all the previous extinctions this would be fast-track.

Four of the "Big Five" events unfolded on scales estimated at hundreds of thousands to millions of years, inflicted in the main by naturally-caused global warming or cooling.

The most abrupt extinction came at the end of the Cretaceous, some 65 million years ago when a comet or asteroid slammed into the Yucatan peninsula, in modern-day Mexico, causing firestorms whose dust cooled the planet.

An estimated 76 percent of species were killed, including the dinosaurs.

The authors admitted to weaknesses in the study. They acknowledged that the fossil record is far from complete, that mammals provide an imperfect benchmark of Earth's biodiversity and further work is needed to confirm their suspicions.

But they described their estimates as conservative and warned a large-scale extinction would have an impact on a timescale beyond human imagining.

"Recovery of biodiversity will not occur on any timeframe meaningful to people," said the study.

"Evolution of new species typically takes at least hundreds of thousands of years, and recovery from mass extinction episodes probably occurs on timescales encompassing millions of years."

Even so, they stressed, there is room for hope.

"So far, only one to two percent of all species have gone gone extinct in the groups we can look at clearly, so by those numbers, it looks like we are not far down the road to extinction. We still have a lot of Earth's biota to save," Barnosky said.

Even so, "it's very important to devote resources and legislation toward species conservation if we don't want to be the species whose activity caused a mass extinction."

Asked for an independent comment, French biologist Gilles Boeuf, president of the Museum of Natural History in Paris, said the question of a new extinction was first raised in 2002.

So far, scientists have identified 1.9 million species, and between 16,000 and 18,000 new ones, essentially microscopic, are documented each year.

"At this rate, it will take us a thousand years to record all of Earth's biodiversity, which is probably between 15 and 30 million species" said Boeuf.

"But at the rate things are going, by the end of this century, we may well have wiped out half of them, especially in tropical forests and coral reefs."

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Scientists studying migration patterns of sea turtles in Sabah

Borneo Post 2 Mar 11;

KOTA KINABALU: The Marine Research Foundation (MRF), a non-profit conservation agency based in Sabah, recently deployed satellite transmitters on five juvenile turtles from Mantanani island to identify the migration routes and nearshore habitats favoured by the turtles, which can then drive management and conservation activities.

This work is funded in part by the Shell Malaysia Sustainable Development Grants programme, the Forestry Bureau of Taiwan and the Mohammed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund.

Marine turtles in South East Asia are threatened through habitat loss and indirect capture in fisheries, and are in dire need of conservation action.

With long maturation periods and low survival, they have extremely slow replenishment rates, and a population which has been depleted can take several centuries to recover. Understanding the needs of the turtles depends heavily on an understanding of the extent of habitat use and distribution, which can only be determined through complex research projects involving sea population dynamics, genetics, and satellite tracking.

By tracking marine turtles through the South East Asian region, MRF aims to raise the collective awareness of their plight and to provide the concrete linkages at an international level on which Malaysia may develop conservation agendas linked with other neighboring countries to which turtles migrate, including Indonesia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam.

Juvenile green turtles were captured during two recent research trips to Mantanani, and Sirtrack PT102 Satellite transmitters were affixed using a silicone base, and secured with fiberglass matting and resin following capture, measurements, laparoscopic examination and genetic sampling. “The measurements allow us to determine growth rates, while the laparoscopic examination allows us to determine whether the turtle is male or female, along with reproductive development stage. The genetic sampling allows us to identify which nesting grounds these turtles came from in the first place,” said Dr Nicolas Pilcher, Executive Director of MRF.

The transmitters will now send signals to an orbiting satellite each time the turtle surfaces for air, and the satellite will re-transmit the data to a receiving station on earth, which can then be accessed through computer and modem. Dr Pilcher also noted that “turtles rarely remain on the surface for very long, so their surfacing must coincide with the satellite passing overhead, and because of this it is uncommon to receive a location from a turtle everyday”.

The tracking data will be uploaded to a database daily and tracking software will output graphic positioning data for management and education activities. Daily progress can be checked at

Recent findings as part of MRF’s work determined Mantanani was home to sizeable and immensely important foraging population of green turtles.

“Through genetics we know that many of these originate from the Turtle Islands complex in the Sulu sea, but they also share genetic stock origins with turtles from Vietnam and Taiwan,” said Dr Pilcher.

These foraging turtles only spend six to seven years of their lives at Mantanani, and it is unknown where they spend the rest of their developmental years.

“It is critical that we know this so that we can develop networks of protected areas which are based on the true biology of the species,” he said.

Without a clear understanding of the migration paths taken by sea turtles, and the habitats they require, conservation efforts will not be able to protect needed developmental and foraging habitats.

More importantly however, is the need to determine if the current protected area schemes in place in varying South East Asian countries are sufficient to protect all life stages of marine turtles.

Understanding the migration routes taken by juvenile turtles can enable the authorities to establish protected areas, and develop fishing and shipping zones to increase turtles’ overall chances of survival.

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Fears Asian bee is Australia's next cane toad

Yahoo News 2 Mar 11;

SYDNEY (AFP) – The aggressive and invasive Asian honey bee could become as bad a pest in Australia as the cane toad, a senator warned Wednesday, adding that the insect could threaten the country's food supply.

The cane toad, a prolific breeder which secretes a toxin that can kill pets and wildlife, has spread widely in tropical Australia since being introduced to kill beetles in the 1930s, devouring insects, bird's eggs and native species such as the quoll, a cat-like marsupial.

Greens Senator Christine Milne said the bee industry was at risk from an incursion of Apis cerana in the northeastern city of Cairns which was first detected in 2007.

"It is the 21st century equivalent of the cane toad and the bee keepers have been saying that for some time," Milne told reporters, describing the pest as "a cane toad with wings".

The Australian bee industry has urged the eradication of the Asian species, which undermines European honey bee populations by competing for food, robbing hives and transmitting disease and parasites.

The industry fears that if the Asian bee becomes established it will destroy European honey bee populations, which are kept in hives and transported around the country to pollinate crops.

Because the Asian bee cannot be kept in boxes, it is not suitable for such pollination techniques.

But government officials are likely to abandon an attempt to wipe out the Asian species at the end of April after saying it was "no longer technically feasible to achieve eradication".

Sustainability Minister Tony Burke said the decision by the Asian honey bee management group was based on scientific research.

"But (it) does not amount to a decision that there will not be continued engagement in other areas other than eradication in terms of control," he told parliament.

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U.S. Officials Declare Eastern Cougar Extinct

Zach Howard PlanetArk 3 Mar 11;

The eastern cougar, a large and elusive tawny wild cat that once prowled over wilderness in 21 states, is now extinct, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said on Wednesday.

Experts had long questioned the cougar's existence. Though it has been on the endangered species list since 1973, the animal likely has been extinct since the 1930's, said Dr. Mark McCollough, a senior scientist with the FWS.

Federal researchers had been studying whether the eastern cougar was present in the 21 states where it had a historical range.

"(Researchers) found no information to support the existence of the eastern cougar," said Martin Miller, the FWS Northeast head of endangered species.

The federal agency said individual sightings of cougars in the wild in recent years actually matched other subspecies, including South American cats that had either escaped from captivity or were released to the wilderness as well as wild cougars from Western states that had migrated east.

The eastern cougar also is known as a puma, panther, catamount, painter or mountain lion depending upon its habitat, according to the Cougar Rewilding Foundation, a non-profit organization devoted to raising public awareness of eastern cougars.

Since the charity's inception in 1998, years of field work to try to verify eastern cougar sightings have failed to produce a single confirmation, the group said on its website.

Now, the Fish and Wildlife agency is readying a proposal to remove the eastern cougar from the endangered species list, since extinct animals are not eligible for protection under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.

The move does not affect the endangered status of other wild cat subspecies, including the Florida panther. That panther now exists in less than 5 percent of its historic habitat throughout the Southeast. It currently has only one breeding population of 120 to 160 animals in southwestern Florida, the FWS said.

(Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Jerry Norton)

US declares eastern cougar extinct
Yahoo News 3 Mar 11;

WASHINGTON (AFP) – The US Fish and Wildlife Service declared the eastern cougar officially extinct Wednesday, even though the big cat is believe to have first disappeared in the 1930s.

The eastern cougar is often called the "ghost cat" because it has been so rarely glimpsed in northeastern states in recent decades. It was first placed on the endangered species list in 1973.

"The US Fish and Wildlife Service conducted a formal review of the available information and... concludes the eastern cougar is extinct and recommends the subspecies be removed from the endangered species list," a statement said.

"Only western cougars still live in large enough numbers to maintain breeding populations, and they live on wild lands in the western United States and Canada."

The US agency asked for input about the eastern cougar, and determined from the 573 responses it received that any sightings in the area were actually of other types of cougars.

Of the 21 states in the historical range of the cats, "no states expressed a belief in the existence of an eastern cougar population," it said.

The service's lead scientist for the eastern cougar, Mark McCollough, said the animal has likely been extinct since the 1930s.

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Merry-go-round on the Mekong - new dam looms as failed dam faces closure

WWF 3 Mar 11;

Bangkok, Thailand: Investors in proposed Mekong River dams need to absorb the lessons of the Mun River dam, a notable economic failure as well as the cause of massive environmental and social disruption, WWF warned today.

Thailand’s government is considering a plan to permanently open the gates on the Mun River dam in hopes of restoring the river basin ecosystem and reviving livelihoods along one of the country’s primary Mekong tributaries. Since its over-budget construction in the early 1990s, the Mun River dam has decimated the fish population, displaced communities and failed to deliver profit for investors.

Similar risks may accompany the proposed Xayaburi dam, slated for construction on the Mekong River mainstream in northern Laos, because of critical gaps in the understanding of fisheries, biodiversity and sediment movement on Asia’s most biodiverse river.

At stake, according to WWF, are the livelihoods of tens of millions of people in the region.

“The Mekong is a unique and particularly complex ecosystem that hosts the most productive inland fisheries in the world and is second only to the Amazon in number of fish species,” said Dr. Suphasuk Pradubsuk, National Policy Coordinator with WWF-Thailand.

“The lessons of Thailand’s Mun River dam are still fresh: Hasty environmental and social impact studies can lead to a bitter lose-lose situation for both fishermen and dam owners.”

At $233 million, the Mun River dam cost investors twice the original estimate, and energy production fell to a third of expected capacity during the dry season. Return on investment dropped from a projected 12 per cent to 5 per cent.

Stakes high for investors

“All promoters of hydropower in the Mekong must learn the lessons of the Mun River dam,” said Suphasuk. “Current limited baseline studies do not sufficiently explain how the different parts of the ecosystem interact, so we can’t accurately predict the effects of any mainstream dam.”

“The stakes are very high for people and nature, and therefore for investors as well.”

The Xayaburi dam in Laos, the first to be proposed on the lower Mekong mainstream, is just ending the “consultation” phase stipulated under the procedures of the Mekong River Commission (MRC). This is meant to ensure a rigorous and transparent scientific assessment of the impact of the dam.

A number of Thai banks, including Bangkok Bank, Kasikorn Bank, Krung Thai Bank and Siam Commercial Bank, are planning to support the Thai developer CH Karnchang PCL on the Xayaburi project.

“From an investor standpoint, this project is risky, plain and simple,” says.Suphasuk. “Developers and investors should consider the reputational risk of damming Asia’s most biodiverse river.”

“Only the Kasikorn Bank has had discussions with WWF about the risks of the project, while the Bangkok, Krung Thai and Siam Commercial banks have not responded to WWF’s requests to meet.

“The banks could only benefit from discussing the risks before making such an important decision for the people and ecosystem of the Mekong River, as well as for their own profit and corporate image.”

Study indicates lessons not learned

The just-released Xayaburi feasibility study gives no indication that any of the Mun River dam lessons have been learned, WWF noted.

“The study blandly assures us that impacts of the Xayaburi dam would be low level, without providing anything much to justify this optimism,” said Phansiri Winichagoon, WWF-Thailand Country Director. “Dam proponents were equally bland about impacts on the Mun River too, but there was economic and environmental disaster lurking in what was ignored and what was only superficially considered.

“This study falls a long way short of current best practice in environmental assessment.”

WWF supports a 10-year delay in the approval of all lower Mekong mainstream dams to ensure a comprehensive understanding of all the impacts of their construction and operation.

Alternatively, WWF and partners promote using assessment tools to assist decision making for more sustainable hydropower projects which could have much less impact on fish migration or sediment movement.

Mekong dam faces resistance
UPI 3 Mar 11;

BANGKOK, March 3 (UPI) -- A 1,260-megawatt hydropower project in northern Laos poses a threat to the environment and surrounding communities, environmentalists say.

Xayaburi dam, the first of 11 hydropower dams proposed along the lower Mekong River, is just ending the consultation phase and a decision on construction could come as early as this month.

The Mekong Agreement, which recognizes the shared impacts of river development projects on neighboring countries, stipulates that Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam must all approve major projects on the lower Mekong River.

Last June, Thai electricity utility EGAT signed an initial agreement with the dam's main developer, Thai construction company Ch Karnchang, to purchase more than 95 percent of the project's electricity.

Potential investors for the $3.5 billion hydropower project include Bangkok Bank, Kasikorn Bank, Krung Thai Bank and Siam Commercial Bank.

But investors for Xayaburi, as well as the 11 other proposed Mekong River projects, need to absorb the lessons of Thailand's Mun River dam, WWF said Thursday. That project, constructed in the early 1990s, was a "notable economic failure" which caused massive environmental and social disruption, the environmental group said.

Mun River's final cost was $233 million, double the original estimate, with return on investment falling to 5 percent from a projected return of 12 percent, WWF said.

"From an investor standpoint, this project is risky, plain and simple," said Suphasuk Pradubsuk, national policy coordinator with WWF-Thailand, in a release.

"Developers and investors should consider the reputational risk of damming Asia's most bio-diverse river."

The Mekong, he said, is a "unique and particularly complex" ecosystem, hosting the most productive inland fisheries in the world, second only to the Amazon in the number of fish species.

Environmental group International Rivers says that more than 200,000 fishermen and farmers -- most of the lower riverside community -- would suffer displacement and reduced earnings because of the Xayaburi project.

"Millions more people in the region are likely to be adversely (affected) through changes to the river's biodiversity, fisheries and sediment flows," said Ame Trandem of International Rivers, reports IRIN, the news service of the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

The Laotian government, however, maintains that Xayaburi won't have any significant impact on the Mekong mainstream.

International Rivers has called for better energy solutions to protect the Mekong River.

"What happens with the Xayaburi Dam will essentially set the precedent for whether more mainstream dams are built or not," Trandem said.

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Timor Sea Oil Spill Investigation Still In Limbo as Coastal Impact Debated

Fidelis E. Satriastanti Jakarta Globe 2 Mar 11;

Negotiations on damages between the government and the Australian-based oil company responsible for the 2009 Timor Sea oil spill have stalled once again, a senior official said on Tuesday.

In their previous meeting last December, the government and PTTEP Australasia, a subsidiary of Thailand’s PTT Exploration and Production, agreed to carry out a joint survey to assess the impact of the disaster on Indonesian fisheries.

Both also agreed to verify the results by the end of February. The spill was the result of a blowout at the Montara platform off the northwest coast of Australia on Aug. 21, 2009.

Masnellyarti Hilman, head of the Indonesian government team negotiating with the company, said the latest falling out had been over whether coastal areas had been affected by the slick.

“We agreed on the fact that fisheries were affected [by the spill] and it was also their basis to check on our claims,” she said.

“However, in our claims we also included seaweed, mangroves, coral reefs and seagrasses in the coastal areas as affected areas. This is where the company objected [to Indonesia’s claims] because they said our data and their data were different. Their modeling didn’t include coastal areas, while ours did.”

Masnellyarti said the government was now waiting for the company to verify Indonesia’s results on impacts to fisheries before talking about any compensation.

“They’re still looking for the methodology to verify the fisheries results,” she said.

“They were supposed to do the field research in mid-February, but we haven’t heard anything yet. They suggested a meeting on March 4, but we can’t go, so we proposed March 8.”

She added the team’s report found that the oil slick from Montara had reached fishing grounds at least 56 miles from coastal areas.

Luechai Wongsirasawad, a spokesman for PTTEP, said the company was still in the process of setting up the field survey team that would comprise Indonesian, Thai and Australian representatives.

“The scope of the survey is being discussed with the [Indonesian government’s] advocacy team,” he said.

“A few meetings already took place between scientists of the advocacy team and PTTEP to verify the data. There are still some areas of disagreement that will require further data gathering and verification.”

Luechai also said both sides would have their next meeting very soon to discuss the areas of disagreement.

He added the Indonesian government had requested and already received the oil-spill modeling input data from the Australian government to be used to verify the results of its initial model.

Masnellyarti said that at the next meeting, both sides would discuss the company’s two options to resolve the deadlock in negotiations.

“The first option is that they will pay the government’s expenses and develop corporate social responsibility programs in the affected areas,” she said.

“The second option is that they will pay the claims based on [the first model]. We said we want to think about it because we don’t want CSR to replace the claims. The other thing that will probably be discussed at the next meeting is the need for a third party to serve as a referee because this is taking too long and there are too many disagreements.”

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Australia: Lord Howe Island coral reef recovers from 'bleaching'

ABC News 3 Mar 11;

There are signs the world's most southern coral reef at Lord Howe Island is recovering from a bleaching event last year.

The coral reef at Lord Howe Island is is located about five hundred kilometres east of Port Macquarie.

It is globally significant because of its unique combination of tropical, subtropical and temperate species.

Researchers with Southern Cross University's National Marine Science Centre say during summer 2010, warmer than usual seawater temperatures, light winds and little cloud cover led to mild to moderate bleaching in some parts of the reef system and almost total coral bleaching in other areas.

One of the researchers, Doctor Steve Dalton says there are now signs of recovery at most sites.

He says the project will further the understanding of the distribution and resilience of Lord Howe Island's nearshore reefs.

Researchers will visit the island again in March to assess the reef's recovery.

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Earth Hour evolves beyond the hour, beyond the light switch

WWF 2 Mar 11;

SINGAPORE: Earth Hour Co-Founder and Executive Director, Andy Ridley, today announced a series of high profile and individual environmental actions, and a new dynamic online platform, to mark the global launch for Earth Hour, Beyond the Hour.

Beyond the Hour marks the start of a new phase for the Earth Hour movement. In 2010 hundreds of millions of people across the world took part in Earth Hour, but switching off the lights was only the beginning. This year Earth Hour asks people to commit to an action, big or small, that they will sustain for the future of our planet.

Jim Leape, Director General of WWF, who addressed media at the launch said: “The challenges that face our planet are immense, but never underestimate the possibility for change when we face these challenges with true common purpose. Hundreds of millions of people around the globe have given us a glimpse of what is possible. It is now time to go beyond the hour and show what can be done - by the people for the planet."

An online platform that captures and allows individuals, governments and organisations across the globe to share their actions, will act as the tool to showcase and inspire commitments to protect the one thing we all have in common – the planet.

“The Beyond the Hour platform has been built with social media at its core,” Ridley said. “Social media will play a crucial role for Earth Hour 2011, allowing us to connect with millions of people who are committed to taking lasting action for the planet.”

The platform, created with Leo Burnett, is translated into 11 languages, and integrated with most major social networks including: Facebook, Twitter, Mixi, Myspace, Odnoklassniki, Cloob, Orkut, Qzone, RenRen, Vkontakte, Maktoob, Skyrock, Xing, and Zing. Over 1,000 actions have already been shared on the dynamic online platform.

“Everyone has the power to make change: a CEO can change an organisation, a 7-year-old can change a classroom, and a president can change a country. What we are announcing today is just the beginning,” Ridley said. “It is through the collective action of individuals and organisations that we will be able to truly make a difference, which is why we are urging people across the planet to share how they will go beyond the hour this Earth Hour.”

Actions announced at today’s global launch included the following high-profile and individual commitments:

* The Government of Nepal has made a commitment to put a complete stop to tree-felling in the Churiya Range, a vital ecological and sociological forest area spanning more than 23,000 sq km.
* Pocoyo, an animated TV series, will reach out to its millions of preschool-aged fans across the globe over the next year, fostering “Learning through Laughter,” utilising humour and learning to inform children about environmental issues.
* Nathi Mzileni, a 15-year-old boy from Swaziland, was inspired to take action in 2010 when he realised his town did not participate in Earth Hour. He started a group at his High School called Green Enviro to educate people about climate change, and this year will single-handedly make Earth Hour a reality in his town of Shimunye, Swaziland.
* Mengniu Dairy (Inner Mongolia Mengniu Dairy (Group) Co., Ltd.): the Chinese dairy company is doubling the number of milk cartons it recycles and increasing its use of FSC-certified packaging.
* Li Bingbing, the Chinese acting/singing sensation, has committed to being vegetarian for 100 days this year, in order to reduce the carbon dioxide emissions caused in the cycle of meat production and consumption.
* Lord Mayor of Sydney, Clover Moore MP, has committed to: another six separated cycleways, installing LED lights in parks and streets, and endorsing a tri-generation plant to provide low carbon energy.
* Chloe Nicol, a 7-year-old girl from Australia, is guiding her school to increase recycling and reduce energy waste. The school now also shuts their blinds instead of using air-conditioning to cool the rooms.
* Parrys Raines, a 15-year-old Australian girl, has convinced her school to install water filling stations and provide each student and teacher with a reusable stainless steel drinking bottle to reduce plastic bottle waste.
* CB Richard Ellis is going beyond the hour in 2011 by aiming to exceed their previous year’s record of more than 254 million square feet of real estate participating in Earth Hour, as well as making available events and activities for employee participation each month (Earth Hour, Earth Day, Green Building Day, Climate Week etc.)
* Credit Suisse AG became carbon neutral in 2010 through its global 'Credit Suisse Cares for Climate' initiative. This year, as well as sponsoring Earth Hour Singapore, Credit Suisse will continue to go 'Beyond the Hour' by sending staff to a Brazilian forest reserve to support field research into the effects of climate change.
* Power98FM will ensure all lights, computers and equipment will be switched off in studios when not in use, and continue to actively support WWF initiatives.
* Singaporean pop duo Jack and Rai: Jack has switched to a more efficient air-conditioning system, and committed to setting the temperature at 24 degrees Celsius. Rai will watch less TV, play less video games, and play more acoustic guitar to reduce his energy usage.
* Holiday Inn Atrium Singapore has committed to replacing the light bulbs in all of its 504 guest rooms to energy-efficient LED bulbs.
* Wasim Akram (Pakistan cricket legend) has made a personal commitment to stop using plastic bags, to recycle and reuse, and to use his high profile to promote and encourage the same behaviour throughout Pakistan and the rest of the world.

Earth Hour: from switching off to taking action
Yahoo News 2 Mar 11;

SINGAPORE (AFP) – The Earth Hour global movement to help fight climate change is going beyond asking people to turn off their lights to making firm commitments to protect the environment, organisers said Wednesday.

"This year, Earth Hour asks people to commit to an action, big or small, that they will sustain for the future of our planet," organisers said in a statement issued in Singapore.

Among the actions announced Wednesday is a commitment by the Nepalese government to put an end to tree-felling in the Churiya range, a 23,000 square kilometres (9,200 square miles), forest area.

Chinese actress and singer Li Bingbing has pledged to eat a vegetarian diet for 100 days this year to help reduce carbon dioxide emissions caused by the cycle of meat production and consumption, it added.

Pakistani cricket legend Wasim Akram has promised to stop using plastic bags.

Organisers have set up a website,, on which individuals, organisations and governments worldwide can post their pledges.

Earth Hour will be marked this year on March 26. Last year, hundreds of millions of people worldwide took part in the event by switching off their lights for an hour.

But environmental campaigners said the turn-off was "only the beginning".

Jim Leape, director general of environmental group WWF International, which helped initiate the movement, said small individual actions can go a long way to saving planet Earth.

"The challenges that face our planet are immense, but never underestimate the possibility for change when we face these challenges with true common purpose," he said.

"It is now time to go beyond the hour and show what can be done -- by the people for the planet."

Andy Ridley, Earth Hour co-founder and executive director, said "social media will play a crucial role for Earth Hour 2011, allowing us to connect with millions of people who are committed to taking lasting action for the planet."

The website is available in 11 languages and is integrated with social media networks such as Facebook, Twitter, Mixi and Myspace.

"Everyone has the power to make change -- a CEO can change an organisation, a seven-year-old can change a classroom and a president can change a country," Ridley said.

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Australia: Climate Change To Drive Up Food Prices

Bruce Hextall PlanetArk 3 Mar 11;

Global food prices are likely to keep rising as production struggles to match demand and extreme weather events become more frequent, a climate-change advisor to the Australian government said on Wednesday.

Ross Garnaut told an agricultural outlook conference that more severe weather events were inevitable, given climate change was "already in the system."

"There is going to be a growing intensity of adverse weather events so there is a need to respond to this," he said.

Garnaut said Australian farming would be deeply affected by climate change but could also benefit from by its ability to generate carbon credits through carbon sequestration -- the process of conserving or boosting carbon content of soils via techniques such as low-tillage farming.

"So the general environment for Australian farming is going to be one of greater opportunities. It will be partly from wider opportunities to earn income, one of which will very large indeed, associated with bio-sequestration, as well as rising food prices," he said.

He said prices for farm products had fallen in real terms in the second half of last century after a "green revolution" had boosted productivity, but this was no longer the case.

"There will be a reversal in the 21st century...long-term trends suggest that food prices will increase fairly strongly," he said, citing population growth, rising prosperity and the devotion of more farm land to biofuel production.

Demand for higher protein food in fast developing countries such as China was increasing pressure on livestock feed supplies while government policy was increasing the demand for biofuels.

"Mandatory requirements for use of biofuels is taking land out of food production for biofuel production...that has had a significant effect for grain and oilseed prices," said Garnaut.

(Editing by Mark Bendeich)

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Arctic Blooms Occurring Earlier: Phytoplankton Peak Arising 50 Days Early, With Unknown Impacts on Marine Food Chain and Carbon Cycling

ScienceDaily 2 Mar 11;

Phytoplankton peak arising up to 50 days early, with unknown impacts on marine food chain and carbon cycling.

Warming temperatures and melting ice in the Arctic may be behind a progressively earlier bloom of a crucial annual marine event, and the shift could hold consequences for the entire food chain and carbon cycling in the region.

Scientists at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego, along with colleagues in Portugal and Mexico, plotted the yearly spring bloom of phytoplankton -- tiny plants at the base of the ocean food chain -- in the Arctic Ocean and found the peak timing of the event has been progressing earlier each year for more than a decade. The researchers analyzed satellite data depicting ocean color and phytoplankton production to determine that the spring bloom has come up to 50 days earlier in some areas in that time span.

The earlier Arctic blooms have roughly occurred in areas where ice concentrations have dwindled and created gaps that make early blooms possible, say the researchers, who publish their findings in the March 9 edition of the journal Global Change Biology.

During the one- to two-week spring bloom, which occurs in warm as well as cold regions, a major influx of new organic carbon enters the marine ecosystem through a massive peak in phytoplankton photosynthesis, which converts carbon dioxide into organic matter as part of the global carbon cycle. Phytoplankton blooms stimulate production of zooplankton, microscopic marine animals, which become a food source for fish.

Mati Kahru, lead author of the study and a research oceanographer in the Integrative Oceanography Division at Scripps, said it's not clear if the consumers of phytoplankton are able to match the earlier blooms and avoid disruptions of their critical life-cycle stages such as egg hatching and larvae development.

"The spring bloom provides a major source of food for zooplankton, fish and bottom-dwelling animals," he said. "The advancement of the bloom time may have consequences for the Arctic ecosystem."

Such a match or mismatch in timing could explain much of the annual variability of fish stocks in the region.

"The trend towards earlier phytoplankton blooms can expand into other areas of the Arctic Ocean and impact the whole food chain," say the authors, who used satellite data from 1997-2010 to create their bloom maps.

The NASA Ocean Biology and Biogeochemistry Program and the National Science Foundation provided financial support for the research. The satellite data were provided by the NASA Ocean Biology Processing Group, ESA GlobColour group, the National Snow and Ice Data Center and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency.

Kahru's coauthors include Greg Mitchell, a Scripps Oceanography research biologist, Vanda Brotas of the University of Lisbon in Portugal and Marlenne Manzano-Sarabia of Universidad Autónoma de Sinaloa in Mexico.

Journal Reference:

1. M. Kahru, V. Brotas, M. Manzano-Sarabia, B. G. Mitchell. Are phytoplankton blooms occurring earlier in the Arctic? Global Change Biology, 2010; DOI: 10.1111/j.1365-2486.2010.02312.x

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