Best of our wild blogs: 5 Mar 11

Violet Cuckoo handling caterpillars
from Bird Ecology Study Group

A year later, how is Tanah Merah's oil-slicked shores? Part 2
from wild shores of singapore

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Hello, seen any eagles or dolphins lately?

Two studies on dolphins and birds of prey may just throw light on health of environment
Grace Chua Straits Times 5 Mar 11;

Can you spot the dolphin? Researchers want to find out if local waters are part of some marine mammals' migratory routes. -- PHOTO: NUS' TROPICAL MARINE SCIENCE INSTITUTE

SEEN a dolphin in local waters or a bird of prey hovering over a reservoir? Researchers want to know.

The National University of Singapore (NUS) and the Nature Society Singapore (NSS) are separately conducting two studies on these creatures which could be indicators of the environment's health.

And in both studies, they are asking for records of public wildlife sightings, with details like time and location.

Singapore's waters harbour four species of dolphin or porpoise, and one type of sea cow, the dugong. Now and then, these are seen by boaters, divers and researchers, and from time to time a dead dolphin washes up on the island's shores.

Biologist Elizabeth Taylor of NUS' Tropical Marine Science Institute wants to find out if local waters are part of these marine mammals' migratory routes.

'If this is an important stop on the route, if we stop seeing dolphins here altogether, it might be an indicator that something is happening, such as more widespread climate or environmental change,' she said.

Her team's three-year study is known as the Singapore Wild Marine Mammal Survey, or Swimms.

The birds of prey that NSS members Yong Ding Li and Tan Kok Hui are studying are also indicator species.

Because they are at the top of the food chain, any environmental pollutants in their food accumulate in their bodies and show effects most severely.

But the grey-headed fish-eagle and the changeable hawk eagle seem to be thriving here, said Mr Yong, a junior college lecturer, perhaps because they can adapt to live on degraded land - land affected by human activity.

And Singapore's reservoirs mimic the fish-eagle's natural habitat near large rivers. In fact, the grey-headed fish-eagle is listed as 'critically endangered' as a precautionary measure - but that conservation status may have to be changed if it is seen more often and in greater numbers.

About three-quarters of sightings so far have come from the local bird-watching community, and Mr Yong and Mr Tan will be collecting data until July - to span the nesting season.

Likewise, the Swimms team is asking for dolphin and dugong sightings from boaters, ferry captains and even the Coast Guard. 'They're out on the water all the time,' Dr Taylor said.

The team is also training researchers who are based on St John's Island, and who make the journey from the mainland nearly every day.

But sightings are just the first phase of Swimms. Eventually, Dr Taylor and her team aim to link up with other dolphin research in the region, such as studies of the rare Mekong river dolphin, and map out the animals' habitats and migration patterns in detail.

The researchers also aim to use underwater sound equipment to pick up the animals' squeaks and trills. They can find as many as 10 times more animals this way, rather than relying on sightings.

Their ambitious, three-year project is partly funded by the Wildlife Reserves Singapore's Conservation Fund.

Sightings and records have always been contributed by the nature community and the public, said NUS lecturer N. Sivasothi, who is not related to either project but frequently helps collect community records. But tools such as the Internet and digital cameras have made this process easier than ever.

'The question is what sort of data can we expect to recruit and how to make the process more productive,' he said.

When too many records stream in, the need to confirm and follow up on them can be overwhelming. And researchers must also share the end result with those who submit records, he added.

But getting the public to participate in such studies has payoffs - such as raising awareness, said NUS' Dr Taylor.

She said: 'If people don't know there are dolphins here, they're not going to want to conserve them.'

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From former landfill to wetland

Ong Dai Lin Today Online 5 Mar 11;

SINGAPORE - At 6.4km long, it might be the longest wall in Singapore - and it is underground. That is what national water agency PUB has had to build to prevent pollution at Serangoon Reservoir for a unique project in Singapore: The transformation of a former landfill into a wetland.

On Saturday, Lorong Halus, a 234-hectare area along the eastern bank of Singapore's 17th reservoir, will be officially opened under the Active, Beautiful and Clean waters programme.

Above ground, it provides the public with another nature attraction; species such as dragonflies and kingfishers are already thriving in the environment. Below ground, a cutting-edge landfill remediation system is hard at work so that rainwater passing through the waste buried in the landfill will not seep into the reservoir.

This water, known as leachate, is instead redirected to the wetland for treatment, PUB deputy director (catchment and waterways) Goh Chong Hoon told reporters this week. On average, 200 cu m of leachate is piped out daily by the 125 pumps built along the reservoir to an equalisation tank and aeration lagoons for treatment. The landfill water is then transferred to a sedimentation tank to remove any suspended materials.

After these steps, the leachate is ready for the main treatment process done by the wetland itself. From the sedimentation tank, the water will flow to five reed beds and be purified by plants such as the cattail and papyrus sedge.

The 10-day treatment process ends after the leachate is transferred to five polishing ponds for the plants to absorb more nutrients from it before the water is discharged into the sewer system.

The three-year project to transform Lorong Halus costs around S$47.7 million. A 150m pedestrian bridge connects the wetland to neighbouring Punggol Promenade that includes a bicycle trail, lookout points and food and beverage facilities. On Saturday, the riverside walk at the promenade will also be officially opened.

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Singapore: Incentives to promote recycling

New criterion for waste collection firms as part of household green drive
Grace Chua Straits Times 5 Mar 11;

HOUSEHOLDS will be encouraged to recycle more through incentives given by waste-collection companies.

The requirement to provide incentives, starting from July, will be stipulated when public waste collection contracts with companies are renewed.

Environment and Water Resources Minister Yaacob Ibrahim announced the incentive requirement when he spoke yesterday during the debate on his ministry's budget, which was approved.

He was responding to Dr Lim Wee Kiak (Sembawang GRC), who had asked about the efforts being made by the ministry to boost household recycling.

A pilot project by waste collection firm Veolia involving some 6,000 landed homes in the Tanglin-Bukit Merah area will start next month. Their bins for recyclable material have been fitted with electronic tags.

Specially outfitted collection trucks will weigh the tagged bins and send information to a database. When bins are emptied into trucks, workers will check for non-recyclable material and offer residents advice on recycling methods.

Affected households will not need to pay extra for the technology, as the pilot scheme is funded in part by the National Environment Agency's (NEA) 3R (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle) waste-minimisation and recycling fund.

The $8 million fund, set up in 2009, has given out money for 15 projects which are estimated to help reduce 50,000 more tonnes of waste.

In the Tanglin-Bukit Merah project, the households will eventually be able to earn reward points by recycling more. One possibility is that the points can then be used, for example, to redeem groceries at participating stores. Details of this plan are still being finalised.

The incentive scheme, part of an enhanced National Recycling Programme, will also apply to public housing estates.

Recycling bins there will be similarly electronically tagged and weighed, and households and communities given rewards for recycling.

But different approaches may be taken in different estates.

When the NEA renews contracts with collection companies operating in Housing Board estates, every block will get a recycling bin. This will be a change from the current practice of one bin for every five blocks. Recyclable material will also be collected daily.

Landed homes will get garden waste collected for composting and recyclable material picked up every week.

Homes in the Pasir Ris-Tampines region - one of nine geographic sectors for waste collection - will get to enjoy the incentive scheme from July 1, when the area's new seven-year contract starts.

When waste-collection contracts for the other eight sectors come up for renewal over the next two years, the requirement for companies to provide incentives will be stated in the contracts.

Camden Park home owner Lin Chen, 54, welcomes the initiative even though her family already recycles.

'I'm not really interested in the points,' she said. 'All I need is the bin and someone to collect the recycling.'

In Parliament, Dr Yaacob stressed the need to reduce overall waste. Singapore's approach to waste management, he said, is to cut back on waste first, reuse material and finally recycle.

'We can and must all do our part to reduce the amount of waste we each generate and dispose of, through simple everyday habits like recycling bottles and reducing food waste,' he reminded.

The average Singaporean, he said, throws out 860g of waste a day, which adds up to more than 300kg a year - enough to cover an eighth of the country's surface area.

Singapore has set itself a target of recycling 70 per cent of waste by 2030, up from 58 per cent last year.

Budget 2011: Recycling programme to be enhanced with one bin per HDB block
Lynda Hong Channel NewsAsia 4 Mar 11;

SINGAPORE: Singapore will enhance its National Recycling Programme (NRP) by providing one recycling bin for every HDB block with daily collection.

This is an increase from the previous rate of one bin for every five blocks of HDB flats.

On average, a resident in Singapore generates 860 grammes of waste every day - which is one third more than in Germany or Taiwan.

Over a year, Singapore can dispose enough waste to cover one eighth of Singapore's surface area, said Minister for Environment and Water Resources Yaacob Ibrahim in Parliament on Friday.

To reduce waste and encourage more recycling, "we will make it easier for households to recycle. Households can now look forward to more recycling bins and more frequent collection services," said Dr Yaacob.

Veolia Environmental Services is the first public waste collector to be awarded the contract under the enhanced NRP, which aims to boost recycling rates from the current 58 per cent.

It will provide 660-litre bins for all 1,200 HDB blocks in the Pasir Ris-Tampines sector in July. The bins will be emptied every day.

It will also provide another 3,000 bins, with a smaller capacity of 120 litres, for every household in landed properties in the Pasir Ris-Tampines sector. Recyclables in these bins will be collected weekly instead of the current fortnightly.

Refuse collection in Singapore has been divided into nine sectors, managed by different public waste collectors.

The trash bins provided by Veolia Environment Services are no ordinary one.

They are retrofitted with Radio-frequency identification (RFID). This can help the public waste collector track the weight and quality of recyclables.

Veolia Environment Services has also retrofitted its rubbish-collecting trucks with RFID and weighing technology.

"We are able to target our outreach programmes more effectively. For example, (if) this particular household or block of estate....(has) contaminated recyclables in a bin, we are able to send out recycling ambassadors and work together with the grassroots network and implement education and awareness programmes," said Christina Lee, marketing & communication manager at Veolia ES Singapore.

During collection, Veolia Environmental Services will mix all the recyclables.
It will then sort them out at its plant in Tuas. That's because paper, glass and plastics can be further separated. For example, paper can be further sorted into old corrugated carton, old newspapers and office papers.

Landed property owners in Tanglin and Bukit Merah will get a first taste of the new recycling system in April when the company pilots a programme for the 6,000 households in the area.


Smart recycling with a little help
Lynda Hong Ee Lyn Today Online 5 Mar 11;

SINGAPORE - Trash bins and trucks are being retrofitted with radio-frequency identification (RFID) and weighing technology, under an enhanced National Recycling Programme (NRP).

Veolia Environment Services, the first public waste collector to be awarded a contract under the enhanced NRP, said it will be able to track the weight and quality of recyclables with the new technology.

Its marketing and communication manager, Ms Christina Lee, said: "For example, if a household or a block of flats in an estate are disposing contaminated recyclables in their bins, we will be able to identify where the trash is coming from and send recycling ambassadors to these households."

Minister of Environment and Water Resources Yaacob Ibrahim said in Parliament on Friday that the Government "will make it easier for households to recycle. Households can now look forward to more recycling bins and more frequent collection services".

Veolia will provide a 660-litre bin for every HDB flat, much bigger compared with the present 120-litre bin.

Six thousand landed property owners in Tanglin and Bukit Merah will get these larger bins in April, while another 1,200 bins will be provided to HDB estates in Tampines and Pasir Ris in July.

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NEA ropes in preschoolers for anti-littering campaign

Ong Dai Lin Today Online 5 Mar 11;

SINGAPORE - The National Environment Agency's (NEA) anti-littering campaign has roped in preschoolers as litter-free ambassadors.

"Litter monitors" will also be appointed in preschools to remind their classmates to keep the school clean and conduct simple checks on the premises, said Dr Amy Khor, Minister of State for the Ministry of Environment and Water Resources, on Friday.

She said the move is aimed at teaching children "how they can contribute to a clean environment and develop a good habit of always throwing litter in the bins from an early age".

The litter-free ambassadors programme was introduced in NEA's new anti-littering campaign, launched last June.

Since then, NEA has seen a nearly 50 per cent drop in the number of litterbugs caught in the following six months, as compared with the same period in 2009.

The number of corrective work orders has also fallen by 13 per cent, said Dr Khor, adding that "more work still needs to be done to shape our anti-littering attitude and behaviour".

She said that NEA cleans roads and private estates at least two to three times a week. Its contractors are required to perform additional cleaning for areas with higher human traffic or are litter-prone areas.

Although much of the cleaning is outsourced, NEA officers conduct daily audits on the contractors' performance and penalise errant contractors if lapses are found, said Dr Khor.

MP Seah Kian Peng asked in the Committee of Supply debate if it should be made mandatory for major national events to be carbon neutral.

He suggested that, for instance, the number of goodie bags given out during the National Day Parade should be minimised.

Dr Yaacob Ibrahim, Minister for Environment and Water Resources, said NEA has been engaging the organisers and stakeholders of major events to make their events environmentally-friendly.

He said: "Given their high visibility, major national events provide a good opportunity for us to promote environmental protection and ownership."

He said measures taken at major events to reduce carbon footprint include cutting down on packaging and litter, providing adequate recycling bins, using energy efficient lighting and encouraging participants to use public transport. ONG DAI LIN

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Singapore: Local farming promoted for food security

Felda Chay Business Times 4 Mar 11;

SINGAPORE has implemented a range of measures to ensure that its food supply remains resilient against global food price movements and supply issues.

One of the steps the government has taken to ensure this includes promoting local farming of eggs, fish and leafy vegetables, said Mohamad Maliki Bin Osman, senior parliamentary secretary for national development, who was responding to questions in Parliament.

He added that Singapore now supplies 23 per cent of the country's demand for eggs. It also accounts for 4 per cent of fish and 7 per cent of leafy vegetable supplies.

Dr Maliki said that Singapore's aim is to produce 30 per cent of its demand for eggs, 15 per cent of fish and 10 per cent of leafy vegetables consumed here. To reach these targets in land- scarce Singapore, farm capabilities and productivity need to be raised, he said.

The government has also been encouraging local firms to move into upstream sourcing, said Dr Maliki. 'For example, companies could undertake contract farming directly with farmers for an agreed amount and price of goods.

'Our companies will then have better leverage over the food production chain. An example is NTUC, which purchases vegetables through contracts with Indonesian farms,' said Dr Maliki.

However, he noted that Singapore cannot control global food prices and supply directly, and that having to import more than 90 per cent of its food makes it a price taker.

Rising food prices have been, and continue to be, a cause for concern for many economies worldwide. The sharp increase in food prices have prompted central banks across South-east Asia to tighten monetary policy by raising interest rates to curb rising prices. In Singapore, food prices rose 2.8 per cent in January this year, as compared with a year ago.

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Singapore water deal's expiry won't affect prices

Cai Haoxiang Straits Times 5 Mar 11;

WATER will not cost more and its supply will not be affected when a 50-year agreement with Malaysia expires in August, the Environment and Water Resources Minister said yesterday.

'The expiry of the 1961 Water Agreement will have no impact on our water supply and water tariffs,' Dr Yaacob Ibrahim told Parliament during the debate on his ministry's budget.

Singapore has developed enough local sources to replace water imported under the 1961 agreement, which allows the drawing of up to 86 million gallons daily from Johor's Skudai and Tebrau rivers.

Singapore's three local sources of water are its reservoirs, desalination and Newater.

By the end of this year, when the Punggol and Serangoon Reservoirs are ready, the city state's water catchment will increase to two-thirds of its total land area. It has also ramped up production of Newater and desalinated water, which together now meet 40 per cent of total demand.

A second water agreement with Malaysia, signed in 1962 and which allows Singapore to draw up to 250 million gallons daily from the Johor River, will expire in 2061. Singapore aims to be self-sufficient in water by then.

In his reply to questions posed by MPs Lim Wee Kiak (Sembawang GRC) and Ho Geok Choo (West Coast GRC), Dr Yaacob gave a sense of how Singapore intends to reach water self-sufficiency.

It will open a second desalination plant in Tuas by 2013, which will add 70 million gallons of water a day to its supply.

It will also build a sixth Newater plant by 2030. Such plants use membrane technology to reclaim water from used water sources.

'By 2060,' Dr Yaacob said, 'we plan to increase our desalination and Newater capacities to be able to meet up to 30 per cent and 50 per cent of our water needs respectively.'

'We will continue to introduce Newater into our reservoirs, especially during dry spells such as the one we experienced in February last year,' he added.

When the first water agreement expires on Aug 31, Singapore will hand over the water treatment plant it now runs in Johor to Malaysia, free of charge and in good working order.

That was agreed to as part of a landmark land swop deal the two countries signed last September.

Dr Yaacob said that having a robust water supply is only half the story.

'We must continue our efforts in water conservation,' he said.

Households have cut down their daily domestic water consumption from 165 litres per capita in 2003 to 154 litres today.

The long-term target is to bring it down further to 147 litres by 2020, and 140 litres by 2030.

Some 70 per cent of public-sector buildings have been certified as water-efficient buildings. In the private sector, 86 premises have submitted plans to achieve water savings of up to 10 per cent.

Water deal expiry no impact on Singapore
S Ramesh Channel NewsAsia 4 Mar 11;

SINGAPORE: The Singapore government has once again reiterated that the expiry of the 1961 Water Agreement with Malaysia will have no impact on the Singapore's water supply and water tariffs.

Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Yaacob Ibrahim said this on Friday in Parliament.

Dr Yaacob noted that Singapore's first Water Agreement with Malaysia would expire on August 31, 2011, while the second Water Agreement would expire in 2061.

Through the years, as part of the Four National Taps strategy, Singapore has been building up local sources of water by developing new reservoir schemes as well as through desalination and using NEWater.

Dr Yaacob said with the completion of Punggol and Serangoon Reservoirs by the end of the year, the country's water catchment would increase to two-thirds of Singapore's land area.

The second desalination plant in Tuas, which would be ready in 2013, will add another 70 million gallons of water a day to the water supply.

In addition, Singapore would continue to introduce NEWater into its reservoirs, especially during dry spells.

By 2060, Dr Yaacob said Singapore plans to increase the desalination and NEWater capacities to meet up to 30 per cent and 50 per cent of water needs respectively.

He said these local sources are sufficient to replace water imported under the 1961 Water Agreement.

But for water sustainability, having a robust water supply is only half the story, he said.

Singapore must continue efforts in water conservation, with the government setting an example.

Close to 70 per cent of all public sector buildings have achieved the Water Efficiency Building certification as part of their efforts to reduce water consumption.

The private sector is also demonstrating commitment to improve water efficiency.

To date, 86 premises have submitted their Water Efficiency Management Plans, with overall water saving targets of up to 10 per cent.

For the domestic sector, Dr Yaacob said the long-term target is to bring down the daily per capita domestic water consumption to 147 litres by 2020, and 140 litres by 2030.

Today, Singapore's homes consume 154 litres, down from 165 litres in 2003.


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Malaysia: Rape of state forest reserve

The Star 4 Mar 11;

GEORGE TOWN: A total of 30,000 hectares of forest reserve land in Perak, almost the size of Penang Island, has been degazetted and converted for various uses since 1985, claims Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM).

SAM president S.M. Mohamed Idris said most of such land in the state were either logged or turned into oil palm plantations and farms.

“Forest reserves should not be converted at all but when this happens, the National Forestry Act 1984 Enactment (Adoption) 1985 states that new forest land must be gazetted in replacement of the old,” he said.

He said the enactment came into force in 1985 but claimed that there was no replacement forest land gazetted at all.

“We urge the state government to look into the matter immediately as this is akin to playing havoc with nature, severely affecting the environment,” he told newsmen in a press conference yesterday.

Perak SAM field officer Meor Razak Meor Abdul Rahman claimed the degazetting had contravened the Ministry of Plantation Industries and Commodities policy that does not allow the opening of oil palm plantations by converting forest reserve land.

“A good replacement would be the ungazetted state forest land totalling more than 40,000 hectares, but this requires immediate action from the state government,” he said.

He said a memorandum and several recommendation letters on the issue were sent to Perak Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Dr Zambry Abdul Kadir late last year but there were no replies at all.

He claimed the latest degazetting of forest reserve land for agriculture occurred on Dec 9 last year and it involved 3,178 hectares from the Gunung Besout forest reserve.

He also alleged that the largest land area degazetted was the entire Erong forest reserve covering 7,649 hectares in 2004. It is now an oil palm plantation.

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Vietnam scrambles to save Hanoi's sacred turtle

Tran Van Minh, Associated Press Yahoo News 4 Mar 11;

HANOI, Vietnam – Hundreds of people are working around the clock to clean up a lake in the heart of Vietnam's capital in hopes of saving a rare, ailing giant turtle that is considered a sacred symbol of Hanoi.

Some experts fear pollution at Hoan Kiem Lake is killing the giant freshwater turtle, which has a soft shell the size of a desk. It is one of the world's most-endangered species, with only four known to be alive worldwide.

Teams of people are cleaning debris, pumping fresh water into the lake and using sandbags to expand a tiny island to serve as a "turtle hospital." The rescuers may even try to net the animal for the first time as part of the effort.

The Hoan Kiem turtle is rooted in Vietnamese folklore, and some even believe the animal that lives in the lake today is the same mythical creature that helped a Vietnamese king fend off the Chinese nearly six centuries ago.

It swims alone in the lake and in the past has been glimpsed only rarely sticking its wrinkled neck out of the water. But it has recently surfaced much more frequently, alarming the public with visible raw open wounds on its head, legs and shell.

Meetings were called, a council was established and 10 government agencies were put to work to try to save it.

It's the first time anyone has tried to capture the turtle, and Vietnamese have flocked to the lake in hopes of spotting it — a sign of good luck — as newspapers run daily articles about its plight.

"For the Vietnamese, the Hoan Kiem lake turtle is the most sacred thing," said retired state employee Nguyen Thi Xuan, 63, who traveled from a suburban district to try to get a glimpse of the animal. "He has helped the Vietnamese to defeat foreign invaders and also helped the country to have peace. I hope he will live forever."

The lake, which measures one mile (1.6 kilometers) is a city landmark for its curved red bridge leading to a temple on a tiny island. Weeping willows and other leafy trees shade a sidewalk that rings the water, a popular site for tourists and Hanoians to exercise and relax.

But the lake has been trashed with everything from bricks and concrete to plastic bags and raw sewage. It is not uncommon to see men urinating directly into the murky water.

The pollution is slowly killing the Hoan Kiem turtle, a Vietnamese biologist warned.

"I believe the injuries were caused by sharp edges from debris in the lake," said Ha Dinh Duc, who has studied the lone turtle for 20 years and considers himself its caretaker. "The poor quality of water also makes the conditions unbearable for the turtle."

The turtle rescue team hopes to coax the creature onto land so they can treat the wounds. Sandbags have been built up to expand a small island for it to emerge. But if it does not crawl onto the platform by itself, a net will be used to capture it.

Veterinarians will then work at the so-called "turtle hospital" to take skin and shell samples for analysis, and will then determine how to treat it. Photos reveal scars and pink open sores on its head and legs. A white fungus-like material also covers a large section of its shell, which also has lesions.

One American turtle expert, who has lived in Vietnam for 14 years, says he's not convinced the ailments are life-threatening because the creature's behavior has not changed significantly. It is surfacing on warm days, as it should, and appears to be swimming freely and feeding.

"Every couple years here in Hanoi, people start saying the Hoan Kiem turtle is sick," said Douglas Hendrie, a technical adviser for the nonprofit Education for Nature Vietnam and founder of the Asian Turtle Program. "I wouldn't panic yet."

No one knows the turtle's age or gender, but Hendrie said turtle experts estimate it is probably between 80 and 100-plus years old. They believe it is probably the most endangered freshwater turtle species in the world. It weighs about 440 pounds (200 kilograms) and its massive shell stretches 6 feet long (1.8 meters long) and 4 feet wide (1.2 meters wide). There is one other turtle of the same species, known as Rafeteus swinhoei, in Vietnam and two are in a Chinese zoo.

Legend has it that in the mid-15th century, King Le Loi defeated Chinese invaders with a magic sword given to him by the gods. After the victory, the king was said to be boating on the lake when a giant golden turtle rose to the surface and snatched the sword in its mouth before plunging deep into the water to return it to its divine owners.

The lake was later renamed "Ho Hoan Kiem," which means "Lake of the Returned Sword," and the tale became an important part of Vietnamese culture that continues to be taught in school and performed at popular water puppetry shows.

But real or mythical, the turtle that swims in the lake is a legend to the Vietnamese people who call him "cu rua," a word of great respect reserved for great-grandfathers.

"I prayed at a temple this morning hoping to have a glimpse of him," said Vu Thi Dung, a 58-year-old farmer who traveled 60 miles (100 kilometers) for her opportunity to see the turtle. "I had a chance to see him three times already. I'm really glad. It's urgent to treat him and clean up the lake."


Associated Press videographer Hau Dinh and writer Margie Mason contributed to this report.

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Sharks get protection in Marshall Islands

Yahoo News 5 Mar 11;

WASHINGTON (AFP) – The US territory of the Marshall Islands has placed a moratorium on the trade and export of shark fins, a report said Friday, the latest in a trend across the Pacific Ocean.

More than 70 million sharks are killed each year primarily for their fins, which are in high demand for Asian shark fin soup, environmental groups say.

A booming illegal export market prompted Marshall Islands Marine Resources Authority director Glen Joseph to impose the ban, the Marianas Variety reported.

"No one is registered and authorized to fish for sharks, but there are substantive reports that it is happening," Joseph said.

The moratorium will remain until new rules are established to regulate the trade.

The Senate in Guam, another US island territory, voted last week to ban the sale, possession and distribution of shark fins.

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

The Pew Environmental Group says it is important that the endangered predators "keep their place as apex predators in the ocean food chain."

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Costa Rica Unveils Massive New Marine Park 4 Mar 11;

Costa Rica this week announced the creation of a vast new marine park several hundred miles offshore. Officials said the move is aimed at protecting the rich diversity of life in this Pacific Ocean region, as well as a group of undersea mountains.

The park, called Seamounts Marine Management Area, covers about 3,900 square miles (10,000 square kilometers) around Cocos Island, an uninhabited speck just over half the size of Manhattan, located 340 miles (550 km) off the coast of this Central American country. [See images of Cocos Island and its incredible sea life here.]

The island is sometimes known as Shark Island for the variety of its finned denizens. White-tipped reef sharks, whale sharks and scalloped hammerhead sharks prowl the island's tropical waters, which also support more than 30 marine species unique to the region.

Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla Miranda signed the executive decree that established the new park yesterday (March 3), and conservation groups are applauding the move.

"Creating a protected seamount area sets an important precedent," said Marco Quesada, the Costa Rican marine program coordinator for the group Conservation International.

"Seamounts host endemic species, and the deep water that upwells along their sides brings nutrients that support rich feeding grounds for sea life on the surface," Quesada said. "Seamounts serve as stepping stones for long-distance, migratory species, including sharks, turtles, whales and tuna."

The newly established protected area, which is more than two-thirds the size of Connecticut, expands by five times what was already a no-fishing zone around Cocos Island.

Known as Area Marina de Manejo Montes Submarinos in Spanish, the park is likely to include both fully protected and low-impact fishing zones, and will encourage the sustainable management of the ocean to protect two of the region's threatened species: leatherback turtles and scalloped hammerhead sharks.

Leatherback turtles are listed as critically endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. The Costa Rican population of these turtles has declined by 40 percent in the last eight years, and 90 percent in the past 20 years, due in part to the loss of eggs to illegal harvest.

Scalloped hammerhead sharks are on the globally endangered species list, and are often targeted by fishermen for their fins, a prized commodity used in shark fin soup, and a lucrative product on the Chinese market.

Both scalloped hammerhead sharks and leatherback turtles are accidentally captured in commercial fishing operations.

National parks and reserves cover more than 25 percent of Costa Rica's land area.

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Indonesia's failure to host global environment day regretted

Antara 5 Mar 11;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - Indonesia`s failure to be named host of World Environment Day (WED) 2011 is regrettable because the nation has lost a good opportunity to show the global community its commitment to environmental protection, a parliamentarian and activist said on Friday.

"I`m really disappointed by Indonesia`s elimination from the candidacy. This is the result of the government`s unpreparedness, something that could have been prevented," Nurhayati Assegaf, a member of the House of Representatives` Commission I, said in response to a question from ANTARA.

Assegaf was asked to comment after the United Nations selected India, instead of Indonesia, for the first ever global host of WED on June 5, 2011. UNEP had actually first approached Indonesia on hosting WED.

Assegaf, currently President of IPU Coordinating Committee of Women Parliamentarians, added that she had directly questioned the matter to the Foreign Affairs Ministry but the replies had been unsatisfactory and normatively diplomatic.

She said that hosting WED would be a very important occasion for Indonesia because the country would be on a global spotlight attended by many world leaders. "Indonesia would actually be able to take an advantage of the event by approaching leaders from other countries."

Assegaf said she could not understand it that the government, in this case Foreign Affairs Ministry and Environment Ministry, seemed to have lacked seriousness in the effort to grab the opportunity.

"Soft diplomacy approach taken by Indonesia seems to have been comprehended as giving in easily," said Assegaf who added that the country will find it hard to be able to host a global scale event like WED should such an approach remain.

Speaking on similar regretting notes, Teguh Surya, head of the Indonesian Environment Forum (Walhi), who was interviewed on Friday (March 4), said that if Indonesia had been successful in the candidacy and selected to host WED 2011, the country would be able to take advantage of the important event.

"The failure really is a great loss. Indonesia would actually be able in the event to ask major countries and investors of their seriousness in tackling environmental issues," said Surya.

Surya said that Indonesia would also be able to ask for supports from major countries in the efforts to tackle environmental problems or for more environmentally friendly investments.

He expressed a hope in the future the government should be more active in the approaches and follow ups to any chances for hosting major international events. "Indonesia has a real good opportunity form such events," Surya said.

India, the Host

Nick Nuttall, UNEP spokesperson, in a press release received by ANTARA on February 23, has confirmed that the world environmental body had selected India as the host of WED 2011.

"India, one of the fastest growing economies in the world that is embracing the process of a transition to a Green Economy, will be for the first time ever the global host of World Environment Day 2011 (WED) on 5 June," he says.

This year`s theme "Forests: Nature at Your Service" underscores the intrinsic link between quality of life and the health of forests and forest ecosystems. The WED theme also supports this year`s UN International Year of Forests.

India is a country of 1.2 billion people who continue to put pressure on forests especially in densely populated areas where people are cultivating on marginal lands and where overgrazing is contributing to desertification.

But the Indian Government has also found solutions. While the socio-economic pressures on the country`s forests are tremendous, India has instituted a tree-planting system to combat land-degradation and desertification, including windbreaks and shelterbelts to protect agricultural land.

Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary General and UNEP Executive Director, said: "Over close to the 40-year history of WED, India`s cities and communities have been among the most active with a myriad of events undertaken across the country each and every year so it is only fitting that this rapidly developing economy is the host in 2011."

"India is famous for its culture, arts, movies and world-beating Information Technology industries. Increasingly it is at the forefront of some of the "green shoots" of a Green Economy that are emerging across the globe," he said.

"From its manufacturing of solar and wind turbines to its Rural Employment Guarantee Act which underwrites paid work for millions of households via investments in areas ranging from water conservation to sustainable land management, foundations are being laid towards a fundamental and far reaching new development path," added Steiner.

Dr. T. Chatterjee, Secretary for Environment and Forests of the Government of India was quoted as saying that India`s offer to host WED is another expression of India`s strong commitment to work with the global community for sustainable development.

This event will serve as the inauguration of a series of events leading up to the hosting of the 11th Conference of Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity. It will also flag off the celebrations of the international decade for biodiversity.

"This will in addition signal India`s commitment to the biomass economy so dependent on the sustainability of our natural resources," he said.

Two of India`s most prominent cities - Mumbai and Delhi - will be the venue for this year`s global celebration of the environment, with a myriad of activities over several days to inspire Indians and people around the world to take action for the environment. (*)

Editor: B Kunto Wibisono

Greens Are Blue Over the Loss of Environment Day
Jakarta Globe 10 Mar 11;

An environmental activist and a legislator have bemoaned last week’s announcement that Indonesia had been passed over in favor of India to host this year’s World Environment Day.

Teguh Surya, head of the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi), said the decision by the United Nations last month had cost Indonesia a prime opportunity to show the global community its commitment to environmental protection.

“The failure [to host it] really is a great loss,” he said on Friday.

“Indonesia would actually have been able at the event to ask major countries and investors to help tackle pressing environmental issues.”

He was speaking after the UN Environmental Program announced its decision to name India as the global host of this year’s WED, which falls on June 5. UNEP had initially approached Indonesia to host the event.

Surya expressed hope that in the future, the government would be more active in its approach to such events and would work hard for other chances to host major international events.

“Indonesia has a real good opportunity to benefit from such events,” he said.

Nurhayati Ali Assegaf, a member of House of Representatives Commission I, which oversees foreign affairs, agreed that if Indonesia had been selected to host WED 2011, the country would have been able to take advantage of the important event.

“I’m really disappointed,” she said. “This is the result of government unpreparedness, something that could have been prevented.”

Nurhayati, who is also the president of the Inter-Parliamentary Union’s Coordinating Committee of Women Parliamentarians, said she had brought the matter up with the Foreign Ministry but had received unsatisfactory and characteristically diplomatic answers for Indonesia’s failure to secure the event.

She added that hosting the WED ceremony could have been important for Indonesia because the country would have been in the global spotlight.

“Indonesia would actually have been able to take advantage of the event by approaching leaders from other countries to attend,” she said.

Nurhayati also said she could not understand why the government, in this case the Foreign Ministry and the Environment Ministry, seemed to have lacked seriousness in campaigning for the chance to host the event.

“The soft diplomacy approach taken by Indonesia seems to have been interpreted as giving in easily,” she said, adding that the country would find it hard to win the right to host other global events should the current method of diplomacy persist.

Nick Nuttall, a UNEP spokesman, said in a press release the world environmental body had selected India as the WED host.

“India, one of the fastest-growing economies in the world that is embracing the process of a transition to a green economy, will be for the first time ever the global host of World Environment Day 2011 on June 5,” he said.

The theme for this year’s WED is, “Forests: Nature at Your Service,” which goes with the UN’s designation of 2011 as the International Year of Forests.


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Myanmar 'halts rice exports over Mideast fears'

AFP Google News 4 Mar 11;

YANGON — Myanmar has halted rice exports to stockpile the staple, aiming to shield food costs at home from the possible impact of rising oil prices caused by Middle East unrest, an official said Wednesday.

"I think the authorities are just concerned about local consumption because of what has happened in Libya," an official of the Union of Myanmar Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry told AFP on condition of anonymity.

He explained that an increase in oil prices might push up transportation costs and subsequently food prices.

"All commodity prices depend on transportation charges, not only rice," he added.

Firms were told last week to suspend shipments of rice and cancel all contracts for overseas supply, he said.

Myanmar may be particularly sensitive to the issue as protests against the rising cost of living in 2007 escalated into huge anti-government rallies that posed the biggest challenge to military rule in nearly two decades.

The country, army dominated for nearly 50 years, may wait until its new parliamentary system is established before restarting exports, the official said -- a sign its rulers may also be worried about political implications of the Middle East unrest.

"We hope to resume rice export again at the end of July after the political situation is stabilised with the formation of a new government," he said.

Anger at authoritarian Arab regimes in the Middle East and North Africa has raged from Algeria to Yemen and has spread to the previously unaffected Gulf states of Kuwait and Oman.

Protesters against Moamer Kadhafi's four-decade rule in Libya have seized control of most of the country despite a bloody fightback by his forces. Tripoli remains under his control, but key oil fields in the east have fallen to the opposition.

New York crude prices again breached $100 a barrel in Asian trade Wednesday and economists are concerned about the potential inflation risks.

Myanmar's 2007 demonstrations, led by crowds of monks whose striking attire saw the movement dubbed the "Saffron Revolution", were put down by security forces who killed at least 31 people and beat and detained hundreds.

The country has a new political system after holding elections last November, but opposition figurehead Aung San Suu Kyi was locked up and excluded from the vote and retired generals now dominate the parliament.

Top military leader Senior General Than Shwe has said rice production in Myanmar has more than doubled since 1988, in a message published in the country's newspapers on Wednesday to mark a national Peasants' Day.

Myanmar was once one of the world's biggest rice exporters, but mismanagement by its leaders saw it fall far behind.

It now only has customers for its rice in North Korea and West African countries, where people are too poor to be choosy about the low quality of the product, the business official said.

"We cannot compete with rice exports from Vietnam and Thailand as their rice quality is better," he said.

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