Best of our wild blogs: 8 Mar 11

Latest Green Jobs in Singapore [28 Feb - 6 Mar 2011]
from Green Business Times

Toddycats captured on video!
from The Diet of the Common Palm Civet in Singapore

Scaly-breasted Munias’ bill contact
from Bird Ecology Study Group

Fishy day at Admiralty, with Sungei Cina
from wild shores of singapore

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Don't cut a road across the green corridor

Straits Times Forum 8 Mar 11;

THE eagerness with which we want to make life easy for motorists is a narrow paradigm ('Faber residents squawk over road plan'; last Wednesday).

The Land Transport Authority must design the city for people and not for cars. Perhaps traffic can be eased if we made it easier for people to cycle and walk, which is what the Nature Society (Singapore)'s plan for the green corridor envisions: a 40km stretch for eco-friendly and less carbon-intensive passage.

The corridor could become an iconic regional attraction, which can be propped up by an economic model that earns revenue. It would also preserve our ecology and heritage for generations - a real winner for all.

An open dialogue should be facilitated to achieve this.

Bhavani Prakash (Ms)

Rethink road intrusion into nature spot
Straits Times 8 Mar 11;

I AGREE with the Nature Society (Singapore) that there are compelling reasons to preserve the railway land as a green corridor ('Faber residents squawk over road plan'; last Wednesday).

While the Government decides whether to adopt the green corridor proposal, the Land Transport Authority should put on hold the construction of the access road. This would ensure that future development of the corridor, if approved, would not be affected by the premature loss of key parts of the old Jurong Line.

We can always build new roads and plant new trees, but a lot of time is needed to develop our heritage and natural habitat.

Eugene Tay

Don't disrupt green corridor's connectivity
Straits Times 8 Mar 11;

IT WOULD be a great pity if an access road is built over the stretch of the old Jurong Line, which is part of the green corridor as proposed by the Nature Society (Singapore) ('Faber residents squawk over road plan'; last Wednesday).

Not only would it disrupt the two essential features of the green corridor - its continuity and connectivity - but it would also erase a good part of the heritage value of the site.

This part of the green corridor is one of the more wooded and scenic stretches rich in bird life.

The old Jurong Line in reality starts much farther to the west in Shipyard Road and passes behind industrial yards and factories, becomes obscured in parts by major roads such as Jurong Port and Jurong Pier roads, goes across an old railway bridge over the scenic Jurong River and emerges again at Teban Gardens.

It then continues on from Teban Gardens in an almost unbroken stretch of greenery through the Faber residential area to Clementi, and finally ends at the Bukit Timah stretch of the existing KTM railway land.

Although parts of the old Jurong Line between Jurong Port Road and Penjuru have become pave-over parts of some industrial yards, much of the green belt of the old Jurong Line is still intact.

We ask the Land Transport Authority to reconsider the building of this access road, and to consider a more creative, sensitive and inclusive solution.

We are not opposing development and realise the need to increase access opportunities for Faber area residents, but we also feel there are compelling reasons as indicated in our proposal to keep this a part of the green corridor.

It connects many communities across western Singapore as well as green spaces, acts as a green transport link and preserves the little historical heritage we have left.

Leong Kwok Peng
Nature Society (Singapore)

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Singapore to triple desalination capacity by 2013

(AFP) Google News 7 Mar 11;

SINGAPORE — Singapore will more than triple its desalinated water capacity in two years' time when the country's second and largest desalination plant starts operations, the government said Monday.

The Public Utilities Board (PUB), in a statement to announce that local firm Hyflux has won the award to build the plant, said the water treatment facility is expected to be operational in 2013.

Hyflux in a separate statement said the project, which also includes the building of a power plant, is worth Sg$890 million ($704 million) and construction is expected to start by the fourth quarter of 2011.

The PUB said the new plant will produce 70 million imperial gallons (mgd) or 318,500 cubic metres of water per day, more than tripling the city-state's current desalination capacity from 30mgd to 100 mgd.

It said the plant will "enhance the drought resilience of Singapore's water supply, and ensure reliability for Singapore's water users".

The new plant will use membrane technology and generate its own power on-site for the process of salt removal that makes seawater potable.

Singapore announced last June that it aims to up its desalination capacity by almost ten times and meet 30 percent of its population's water demand by 2060.

Desalinated water -- costlier to produce than reclaimed waste water -- now provides 10 percent of Singapore's needs, while local catchments and imported water from neighbouring Malaysia account for the rest.

Singapore, lacking in natural resources including water, used to depend heavily on Malaysia for water to supplement its limited reservoir network, but in recent years has developed desalination and water recycling to reduce its reliance on foreign sources.

Hyflux to build and run second desalination plant
Francis Chan Straits Times 8 Mar 11;

HOME-GROWN water treatment firm Hyflux has been chosen to build and run Singapore's second - and largest - desalination plant in Tuas.

When completed in 2013, it will add 318,500 cubic m of desalinated seawater a day to the national water supply, said water agency PUB yesterday.

This would more than triple its total water desalination capacity from the current 136,500 cubic m to 455,000 cubic m in just two years' time.

Hyflux is helmed by its founder Olivia Lum, one of Singapore's leading entrepreneurs. The project, which also includes a combined cycle gas turbine power plant to supply the electricity, will cost $890 million.

Under the deal with PUB, Hyflux will form Tuaspring, which will enter into a Water Purchase Agreement (WPA) with the agency by next month.

Tuaspring will use Hyflux's filtration membrane technology for desalination and sell the water to PUB at a first-year price of 45 cents a cubic m.

According to PUB, Hyflux - which beat eight other bidders from Singapore and overseas - had offered the most competitive tariff over the 25-year concession period of 2013 to 2038.

The firm also has experience, both at home and abroad, in design-build-own-operate desalination projects, such as the SingSpring Desalination Plant in Tuas, and the Tianjin Dagang Desalination Plant in China.

'Hyflux's proposal meets the stated performance requirements for the quantity and quality of the water to be supplied to PUB and gives the best value to Singapore's water users,' said PUB director for best sourcing Koh Boon Aik.

An analyst, who did not want to be named, said although Hyflux had the right expertise, 'it didn't hurt that it was also an award-winning Singapore-born and bred company'.

'It's win-win-win for PUB, Hyflux and its shareholders because water is a national issue and it's better when it is handled by a Singapore company. And for Hyflux, the deal would help make up, over the mid- to long-term, for what it lost out due to the political unrest that stalled its project in Libya.'

Tuaspring will be built on a 14ha site near the SingSpring plant in Tuas, which has a desalination capacity of only 136,000 cubic m a day.

Desalination separates salt and other minerals from water to make it drinkable. This is one of the four sources of water supply here; the others are local reservoirs, imports and Newater.

With the 1961 Water Agreement with Malaysia set to expire in August, desalinated water will play a larger role in Singapore's water supply.

The Tuaspring plant is part of a water master plan unveiled by the Government in June last year, when PUB said it would ramp up desalination capacity by almost 10 times to meet 30 per cent of water demand by 2060.

Construction is set to start by the fourth quarter of this year. All engineering, procurement, construction, operations and maintenance will be undertaken by Hyflux's wholly-owned units.

PUB selects Hyflux for second desalination plant
Jonathan Peeris Channel NewsAsia 7 Mar 11;

SINGAPORE: National water agency PUB has selected Hyflux as the preferred bidder for the second and largest desalination plant in Singapore.

The plant in Tuas will be Hyflux's largest project worth S$890 million.

As the preferred bidder, Hyflux will form a concession company to enter into a Water Purchase Agreement with PUB by April this year.

Once all agreements have been finalised and executed, and the concession company achieves financial close, the agreement will take full effect.

The plant is expected to commence operations in 2013 and will add another 70 million imperial gallons or 318,500 cubic metres of desalinated water per day to Singapore's water supply.

Demand for water in Singapore is expected to double from 1.7 million cubic metres per day currently to 3.4 million cubic metres in 2060.

And the company said Singapore can be self-reliant in its water supply.

Cho Wee Peng, Group Chief Financial Officer of Hyflux, said: "The technology that PUB has employed over the last few years from Newater plants to desalination plants has enabled Singapore if necessary to achieve full self-sufficiency.

"So membrane technology has brought water to very affordable levels as we can see, and we will see that in the next 50 years, that is a goal that is very achievable."

PUB said the open tender attracted nine bids from both local and international companies with good track records in the water business.

The desalination plant will be constructed under a Design, Build, Own and Operate model.

This outcome-based approach offers bidders flexibility to design and develop the most innovative and sustainable proposal that meets the specified performance standards.

Hyflux will use membrane technology in the proposed plant and generate its own power on-site for the desalting process.

Excess power will be sold to the power grid.

At a first-year price of 45 cents per cubic metre, Hyflux offers the most competitive tariff for the supply of desalinated water over a 25-year period from 2013 to 2038.


Hyflux clinches $890m PUB water project
Plant for seawater desalination, to be built from Q4, will be the biggest here
Jermaine Ng Business Times 8 Mar 11;

HYFLUX yesterday announced that it has been named the preferred bidder to design, build, own and operate a seawater desalination plant by PUB. The company will hold a concession for 25 years.

The project, which has a value of $890 million, will be funded through a combination of equity and project financing.

As the preferred bidder, Hyflux will form a concession company to enter into a water purchase agreement (WPA) with PUB by next month. Once all agreements have been finalised and executed, and the concession company achieves financial close, the WPA will take full effect.

Construction is slated to start by the fourth quarter of this year and the project is scheduled to commence operations by 2013, through to 2038. The engineering, procurement and construction, operations and maintenance of the project will be undertaken by Hyflux's wholly owned subsidiaries.

The plant, which will be located in Tuas, will be Singapore's second and largest seawater desalination facility. It will add as much as 318,500 cubic metres of desalinated water per day to Singapore's water supply, at a first-year price of 45 cents per cubic metre based on the warranted capacity.

The homegrown integrated water solutions company also announced that a combined cycle gas turbine power plant will be constructed in order to supply electricity to the desalination plant.

'The onsite generation of power will help us drive higher efficiency and cost effectiveness in operations and maintenance of the desalination plant,' said Olivia Lum, group CEO and president of Hyflux. Excess power will be sold to the power grid.

This project is expected to have a material impact on Hyflux for the fiscal year ending Dec 31, 2011.

This is not the company's first desalination plant in Singapore. In 2003, the SingSpring Desalination plant, developed by Hyflux, commenced operations with a designed capacity of 136,000 cubic metres a day.

Hyflux posted a record $569.73 million in revenue and $88.51 million net profit for FY10. Currently, it derives some 60 per cent of its revenue from the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. China accounts for 26 per cent, while Singapore and other countries make up the rest.

Hyflux aims to focus its attention more on Singapore, Indonesia and Australia. 'We are keen to invest in large-scale projects in these countries as the markets have large potential,' said Ms Lum. 'It will be especially interesting here as Singapore's 1961 water agreement with Malaysia will expire this year.'

She also reiterated that the company has had 'no investments in Libya yet'. She did not rule out any possibility of future investments there.

Trading of Hyflux shares was halted yesterday. The stock closed at $1.83 last Friday.

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Indonesian Minister warns of possible forest fires in June

Antara 7 Mar 11;

Palembang, South Sumatra (ANTARA News) - Environment Minister Gusti Muhammad Hatta has warned of possible forest fires in the forthcoming dry season in June 2011.

"Regional administrations, which areas are often hit by forest fires, should be cautious," State Environmental Affairs Minister Gusti Muhammad Hatta said in his opening speech of a coordinating meeting on Sumatran eco-region here, Monday.

He explained that the National Meteorological, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) has predicted that rains will fall until April 2011.

"May will begin to be hot and in June onward it will be vulnerable to forest and plantation fires," the minister said.

He, therefore, urged the regional authorities, in cooperation with the agriculture service, to make sure that there would be no land clearing by using slash and burn method.

Setting fire on forest or plantation areas in order to clear land in the dry season, could cause the fire to become out of control, he said.

The Minister also called on the public, rapid reaction unit and Manggala Agni forest firefighting, to be on alert.

A number of provinces on Sumatra and Kalimantan Islands are prone to forest and plantation fires.

Minister Gusti Muhammad Hatta opened the coordination meeting of Sumatra eco-region as part of a series of environment coordination meetings to be held in five regions.

The other such coordination meetings will be held in Mataram on March 10-12 for Bali-Nusa Tenggara region, in Yogyakarta on March 21-22 for Java region, Makassar on March 23-24 for Sulawesi-Maluku-Papua region and in Banjarmasin on March 28-29 for Kalimantan region.

The coordination meetings which will focus on communication between the Environment Ministry and regional governments are aimed at accommodating aspirations to manage natural resources and the environment in an optimum and strategic manner.

In addition, the meetings are also designed to get a clear picture of natural resource and environmental management in regions in order to sharpen the focus of environmental management strategy, if needed.

Editor: Priyambodo RH

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Indonesia to ratify ASEAN agreement on trans-boundary haze pollution

Antara 7 Mar 11;

Palembang (ANTARA News) - Indonesia will soon ratify the ASEAN Agreement on Trans-boundary Haze Pollution (AATHP) that has been ratified by eight ASEAN members so far, environment minister Gusti Muhammad Hatta said.

"We will ratify it soon," he said after opening a coordination meeting on Sumatra ecological region here on Monday.

He admitted it would give a big burden on Indonesia. "By ratifying it it means we have to implement it while forest and bush fires still often happen in Indonesia to cause haze," he said.

He said the government however would work harder to be able to prepare things needed to support the ratification.

"We will carry out a number of programs including encouraging the people to care about fire incidents which still often happen in a number of regions," he said.

He said he would also declare two provinces namely Riau and West Kalimantan as the pilot projects for it.

When asked about the date of the ratification the minister only said that it would be done soon. "We will try to do it immediately and if possible it would be within this year," he said.(*)

Editor: Aditia Maruli

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Malaysia: Seven tourists suspected of spear fishing in marine park

The Star 8 Mar 11;

KUALA TERENGGANU: The Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA) detained seven local tourists on suspicion of spear fishing in the Pulau Tenggol Marine Park area.

State Maritime Enforcement Chief, Captain Adam Abdul Aziz said those detained, including two women, were aged between 51 and 67 and said to be originated from Ipoh, Perak.

“We detained them at about 1pm on the beach at the island after finding four spear guns on the boat they were using.

“In addition, the boat did not display any licence number,” he said.

The tourists, added Captain Adam, had been on the island on Friday and were believed to be poaching fishes at the Marine Park.

He said that under Section 44 of the Fisheries Act 1985, carrying weapons such as spear guns to catch fish in the sea was prohibited.

The tourists, he added, were later released on police bail and are still on Pulau Tenggol as their boat was towed to the MMEA jetty here for further investigations. — Bernama

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Malaysia: Thick jungle prevents team from nabbing mangrove thieves

Stuart Michael The Star 8 Mar 11;

WITH a helicopter pin-pointing the location of three tents on an island, off Pulau Ketam in Port Klang, authorities still could not catch the mangrove thieves.

Last Friday, The Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) and the Selangor State Forestry Department conducted a joint operation to catch the mangrove thieves.

In the operation, a helicopter was used to look for tents in the island and relay information to two boats at sea.

Selangor Forestry Depart-ment assistant director (operations and enforcement) Mohd Yussainy Md Yusop, who was in the helicopter, saw three tents and informed the authorities on the boats.

“Mangrove trees on both sides of a small channel prevented the boats carrying the officers from entering the site. The mangrove branches had to be cut before the boats could enter the area. This delayed the operation by four hours.

“Forestry personnel found that mangrove trees had been felled on the both sides of the narrow channel.

“The channel is only accessable by sampan or speed boat during high tide,” he said.

Yussainy said the culprits fled before the forestry personnel entered the site on foot.

“A storm further delayed the operation for about three hours as the helicopter was unable to fly during the rainy weather.

“As it was approaching night, the authorities had to abandon the search,’’ he said.

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Nusa Tenggara Fishermen Catch Whale Shark

Jakarta Globe 7 Mar 11;

West Nusa Tenggara fisherman caught a whale shark in their nets on Sunday as they were fishing off the coast of Sape, Bima district.

The locals killed the shark, which is considered to be a delicacy, SCTV reported.

The fishermen said the 8 meter shark, which weighed 1 ton, was the biggest fish they had caught in the last few years. They said that four sharks had approached their boat, but the other three escaped.

It is not the first time for a whale shark to become trapped in fishermen’s net in Indonesia.

In January, a 15 meter whale shark weighing two tons was stranded on the beach of Pangandaran, West Java. Local fishermen dragged the shark from the water to the shore and killed it for its meat.

In March 2009, a 6 meter whale shark was caught in Palu, Central Sulawesi.

The whale shark is the largest living fish species and is found in tropical and warm oceans. It lives in the open sea and has a lifespan of about 70 years.

Whale sharks feed mainly on plankton, microscopic plants and small animals.

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Loss of Plant Diversity Threatens Earth's Life-Support Systems, Experts Say

ScienceDaily 7 Mar 11;

An international team of researchers including professor Emmett Duffy of the Virginia Institute of Marine Science has published a comprehensive new analysis showing that loss of plant biodiversity disrupts the fundamental services that ecosystems provide to humanity.

Plant communities -- threatened by development, invasive species, climate change, and other factors -- provide humans with food, help purify water supplies, generate oxygen, and supply raw materials for building, clothing, paper, and other products.

The 9-member research team, led by professor Brad Cardinale of the University of Michigan, analyzed the results of 574 field and laboratory studies -- conducted across 5 continents during the last 2 decades -- that measured the changes in productivity resulting from loss of plants species. This type of "meta-analysis" allows researchers to move beyond their own individual or collaborative studies to get a much more reliable global picture. Their study appears in the March special biodiversity issue of the American Journal of Botany.

"The idea that declining diversity compromises the functioning of ecosystems was controversial for many years," says Duffy, a marine ecologist who has studied the effects of biodiversity loss in seagrass beds. "This paper should be the final nail in the coffin of that controversy. It's the most rigorous and comprehensive analysis yet, and it clearly shows that extinction of plant species compromises the productivity that supports Earth's ecosystems."

The team's analysis shows that plant communities with many different species are nearly 1.5 times more productive than those with only one species (such as a cornfield or carefully tended lawn), and ongoing research finds even stronger benefits of diversity when the various other important natural services of ecosystems are considered. Diverse communities are also more efficient at capturing nutrients, light, and other limiting resources.

The analysis also suggests, based on laboratory studies of algae, that diverse plant communities generate oxygen -- and take-up carbon dioxide -- more than twice as fast as plant monocultures.

The team's findings are consistent for plant communities both on land and in fresh- and saltwater, suggesting that plant biodiversity is of general and fundamental importance to the functioning of Earth's entire biosphere.

Duffy, Loretta and Lewis Glucksman Professor of Marine Science at VIMS, says the team's findings are important locally because estuaries like Chesapeake Bay are naturally low in plant diversity, making them especially vulnerable to ecological surprises resulting from loss of species.

"Salt marshes and seagrass beds depend largely on one or a few species of plants that create the habitat structure," says Duffy. "When such species are lost, low diversity means there is often no one else to take their place and the effects can ripple out through the community of animals, potentially up to fishery species."

In addition to analyzing the general effects of biodiversity loss, the team also sought to determine the specific fraction of plant species needed to maintain the effective functioning of a particular ecosystem -- important information for resource managers with limited human and financial resources to manage forests, marine reserves, and other protected areas on land and sea. The results of this effort were mixed, and the team's ongoing research is tackling this question.

Data from the study did suggest, however, that biodiversity loss may follow a "tipping-point" model wherein some fraction of species can be lost with minimal change to ecological processes, followed by a sharp drop in ecosystem function as species loss continues.

Biodiversity loss in the real world

Recognizing that their findings mostly rest on analysis of short-term experiments (generally a few days, weeks, or months) in relatively small settings, the researchers also attempted to determine how diversity effects "scale-up" to longer time scales, bigger areas, or both. The authors note that these are the real-world scales "at which species extinctions actually matter and at which conservation and management efforts take place."

The team's findings suggest that scale does indeed matter, and that small laboratory and field experiments typically underestimate the effects of biodiversity loss. In the researchers' own words, "Data are generally consistent with the idea that the strength of diversity effects are stronger in experiments that run longer, and in experiments performed at larger spatial scales."

Duffy is now further testing this scaling issue with a 3-year grant from the U.S. National Science Foundation. He is using the grant to establish a global experimental network for studying how nutrient pollution and changes in biodiversity impact seagrass beds.

Study co-author Jarrett Byrnes, of the National Center for Ecological Analyses and Synthesis, says "Species extinction is happening now, and it's happening quickly. And unfortunately, our resources are limited. This means we're going to have to prioritize our conservation efforts, and to do that, scientists have to start providing concrete answers about the numbers and types of species that are needed to sustain human life. If we don't produce these estimates quickly, then we risk crossing a threshold that we can't come back from."

Journal Reference:

1. B. J. Cardinale, K. L. Matulich, D. U. Hooper, J. E. Byrnes, E. Duffy, L. Gamfeldt, P. Balvanera, M. I. O'Connor, A. Gonzalez. The functional role of producer diversity in ecosystems. American Journal of Botany, 2011; DOI: 10.3732/ajb.1000364

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Battle on paradise Philippine island

Karl Malakunas (AFP) Google News 7 Mar 11;

PUERTO PRINCESA, Philippines — For tourists the Philippine island of Palawan seems like paradise, but for environment activists it feels more akin to a battlefield.

Murders and threats on what is promoted as the Southeast Asian nation's last ecological frontier are emblematic of a struggle across the country, where dozens of environment campaigners have been killed over the past decade.

Father-of-five "Doc" Gerry Ortega became the latest casualty in late January when a hitman shot him in the head while browsing in a second-hand clothes shop along one of the main roads of Palawan's capital city, Puerto Princesa.

"He received a lot of death threats," Ortega's wife, Patty, 48, told AFP in an interview at a cafe just a few hundred metres from where he was killed.

The murdered Ortega, 47, a veterinarian, made many enemies via a daily radio morning show he hosted in which he lambasted politicians whom he accused of being corrupt and allowing the island's natural resources to be pillaged.

"He was a very passionate man, passionate about the environment," his widow said.

On the far western edge of the Philippines' archipelago, Palawan has some of the country's most beautiful beaches, stunning coral reefs and biodiverse forests -- it is home to two UNESCO World Heritage-listed sites.

But environment campaigners say Palawan's natural wonders could be destroyed within a generation amid the frenzy to exploit them, citing as an example the destruction of countless coral reefs from cyanide and dynamite fishing.

Its reefs supply more than half the nation's seafood, plus millions of dollars' worth of fish to other Asian markets.

Palawan also has vast amounts of nickel, cobalt and other valuable minerals, prompting hundreds of applications to mine about half of the island.

The applications have spurred a high-profile campaign to ban all forms of mining.

Meanwhile, 11 percent of the Philippines' remaining virgin forests and 38 percent of its mangroves are on Palawan, according to government data.

"From the post cards it's a great tourist area," Robert Chan, a crusading environmental lawyer and executive director of Palawan NGO Network Inc, told AFP from his rundown headquarters in Puerto Princesa.

"But if you talk about the resources that really mean something for biodiversity or medicines eventually for our future generations, if you talk about its old growth forests, if you talk about mangrove forests, if you talk about its coral reefs, were losing it."

While there are many laws to protect Palawan's natural resources, they are no match for the lawlessness and corruption that permeates all of Philippine society, according to environment campaigners and some politicians.

"The biggest obstacle really is the temptation of money from big industries and (those involved in) illegal activities," Edward Hagedorn, the long-time mayor of Puerto Princesa, told AFP.

Hagedorn, regarded by Palawan's environment activists as one of their most important political allies, has banned mining and logging in Puerto Princesa which, although a city, has huge tracts of forests and white sand beaches.

"Outside the city destruction is happening very fast," he said.

Hagedorn said powerful figures had often tried to bribe him to permit environmentally destructive practices, such as allowing truckloads of seafood that were illegally fished to be flown from his city's airport.

"You'll be surprised. Law enforcers, judges, come into my office (offering money and) asking for me to give them a chance," he said.

Environment campaigners say that, amid this chaos, they have to perform functions that government bodies and law enforcers should be doing, which often pushes them into very dangerous situations.

Attorney Chan, 43, said four environment activists from local communities he had worked with over the past decade had been murdered.

Chan and his colleagues train communities to resist destructive environment practices by filing law suits, but also to confiscate equipment such as chainsaws used for illegal logging and even boats used for illegal fishing.

Under Philippine law, citizens are allowed to seize equipment used in illegal activities and arrest those involved.

Over the past 10 years, Chan said he, his colleagues and the communities they worked with had seized more than 360 chainsaws, two large ships, about 20 small outrigger boats and rifles.

But the successes are tempered by a sense of danger.

Chan, who is married and has a young daughter, recounted losing an activist in 2006 who had been working to oppose illegal logging and the cutting down of mangroves in his community.

"We found him in a shallow grave in a beach. He had been specifically buried there for us to find him," said Chan.

"His testicles were taken off, put into his mouth, his tongue was cut out, his eyes were gouged out, his fingernails were taken out, he had around 16 stab wounds."

Abdelwin Sangkula, another Puerto Princesa-based campaigner, said he had also received many death threats over the past few years.

"I'm worried about my safety and the safety of my family. But I will continue with my fight, said Sangkula, 39, who has three children and was a regular guest on the murdered Ortega's radio show.

"I don't know whether it's just in my blood, but I see injustice and unfairness with what's happening in this province."

Abraham Mitra, the governor of Palawan who is also chairman of the province's sustainable development council, did not respond to requests by AFP for comment on the allegations made by the environment campaigners.

The development council has run full-page advertisements in national papers recently rejecting claims that the local environment is being destroyed, and insisting that mining applications are being approved in a responsible manner.

In the case of Ortega, the accused gunman and four other people alleged to have been involved in the killing have been arrested.

His widow has filed documents with the justice department accusing a powerful local politician of masterminding the murder.

The politician, who has not been arrested, has gone on national television to deny any link to Ortega's killing. Police investigations are ongoing.

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Case for saving coral reefs is economic as well as conservational

Destroying reef via the 'one-two' of climate change and locally unregulated fishing will hit the economies of dozens of countries
Craig Hanson 7 Mar 11;

People around the world enjoy coral reefs as places of recreation and wonder. But few appreciate that reefs are also an economic pillar for many countries.

Take, for example, the Caribbean nation of Belize. A recent analysis by several of my colleagues concluded that the country's coral reefs contribute the equivalent to 10 to 15 per cent of the nation's GDP, primarily through tourism and fisheries. Likewise, the avoided damage to buildings and infrastructure that reefs provide by serving as a "speed bump" for tropical storms equates to the same GDP percentage.

Belize is not alone. At least 94 countries and territories benefit from the tourism, fisheries, and shoreline protection provided by reefs. In nearly two dozen of these, reef tourism accounts for more than 15 per cent of GDP. Coral reefs, it appears, are both natural wonders and economic foundations.

But reefs are at risk. In our new, comprehensive analysis, Reefs at Risk Revisited, the World Resources Institute and our partners found that about 75 per cent of the world's coral reefs are under threat. The most immediate and direct pressures arise from local sources, with overfishing and destructive fishing techniques affecting about 55 per cent of the world's reef area. Other local threats include coastal development, sediment run-off and pollution.

Coral reefs are also facing the threat of climate change. As sea temperatures rise, many corals bleach and die. Vast reef areas in south-east Asia are experiencing severe bleaching, weakening these fragile ecosystems. Furthermore, as carbon dioxide emissions from power plants and other sources increase globally, the oceans are becoming more acidic. Ocean acidification makes it difficult for reefs to build and maintain their complex skeletons – resulting in an "osteoporosis of the reef".

By nature, coral reefs are resilient. They can bounce back from the effects of any one particular threat. But these local threats combined with climate change pose a devastating one-two from which many reefs may be unable to recover.

The state of the world's reefs is not just an ecological crisis, but also an economic one. Industries such as tourism, real estate, insurance and fisheries all face daunting prospects as one of their economic pillars disintegrates. Economic ministers and chambers of commerce should be concerned and raise their voices in support of policies to save coral reefs.

Governments have taken extraordinary steps to salvage collapsing industries during the global economic meltdown. The United States, for instance, rescued its automotive manufacturing industry that accounts for about four per cent of its national GDP. With reefs underpinning a greater share of GDP for many countries, will governments now take similar extraordinary steps to protect them?

While reducing greenhouse gas emissions has to be a global, collective effort in order to be effective, individual nations have it within their power to reduce or even eliminate local threats to coral reefs.

Important steps include:

● Adequately finance and sufficiently enforce existing marine protected areas

● Create new marine protected areas or "fish banks" to reduce fishing pressure on coral reefs. Creating such no-fishing reserves can increase fish yields outside of the reserve, a boon for both conservationists and fishers

● Eliminate destructive fishing practices such as dynamite and cyanide fishing

● Enforce coastal development regulations such as building setbacks, sewage treatment, run-off controls, and retention of mangroves and seagrass

● Prevent erosion from inland farms, and deforestation along rivers that lead to coasts where reefs grow

● Reduce marine-based pollution from ships and offshore oil operations

● Route shipping lanes away from coral reefs and prohibit ships from anchoring in or near reefs.

Through these and related actions, countries just might be able to rescue the reefs, and the economies, currently at risk.

• Craig Hanson is director of the People & Ecosystems programme at the World Resources Institute

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Deal Reached To Manage Fishing In Northeast Pacific

Allan Dowd PlanetArk 8 Mar 11;

Countries bordering the North Pacific Ocean have struck a deal that environmentalists said on Monday will help protect 16.1 million square miles (25.9 square kilometers) of ocean floor from a destructive technique called bottom trawl fishing.

The agreement calls for the creation of an organization to manage sea bottom fisheries in the North Pacific, and puts an immediate cap on expansion of bottom trawl fishing in international waters stretching from Hawaii to Alaska.

The deal was reached last week in Vancouver by the United States, Japan, Canada, China, South Korea, Russia and Taiwan after nearly five years of negotiations.

Environmentalists have long complained about the damage done to sensitive ecosystems and marine life on the ocean floor by boats that use weighted nets and other fishing gear that drag along the seabed.

Drag fishing can damage to seamounts, or undersea mountain ranges, that attract fish and are home to cold-water corals, deep-sea sponges and a wide range of other marine life, the United Nations warned in 2006 report.

"What it does is freeze the footprint of where they are fishing now," said Ben Enticknap of Oceana, one of the environmental organizations that participated in the negotiations.

The interim measure covering the Northeastern Pacific will allow scientists time to study fish stocks and to develop a long-term management plan.

"The idea is that we can develop a more sustainable fishery," Enticknap said.

An interim cap was already in place for the Northwest Pacific, and there was concern about the remaining region being left unprotected, according to a copy of the agreement provided to Reuters.

Scientists say fishing fleets have increasingly turned to the high seas, including the North Pacific, as coastal fish stocks have been depleted and technology to locate the fish has improved.

There are already agreements managing individual fish species such as tuna, but fish living around seamounts have "fallen through the cracks," said Daniel Pauly, a fisheries scientist at the University of British Columbia.

Many of the species that are caught or killed inadvertently by drag fishing on seamounts also require a long time to reproduce and replenish their stocks, said Pauly, who likened the practice to coal mining that removes mountaintops.

Pauly said that while the new protections are a good idea, it remains to be seen if the planned fisheries management organization will be given the power it needs to enforce restrictions.

The environmental groups said they remain concerned that about 5.1 million square miles of water remains unprotected between the ocean region covered by this agreement and a deal reached earlier for the South Pacific.

(Editing by Peter Galloway)

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Great Indian Bustard declared critically endangered

The Times of India 7 Mar 11;

PUNE: The Great Indian Bustard has recently been declared as critically endangered (CR) by the BirdLife International, a global alliance of conservation organisations, and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

Environmentalists and experts say that this upgradation of category of the Great Indian Bustard will give priority to its conservation and protection. At present, the bustard population in six states, including Maharashtra, is just 300.

The IUCN is an international organisation dedicated to natural resource conservation. The IUCN Red List of threatened species is world-wide considered the most comprehensive and authentic inventory of the global conservation status of plant and animal species. Also, BirdLife's global species programme continually collates up-to-date information on globally threatened birds from the published literature and from a world-wide network of experts. This is used to evaluate the status of each species using the IUCN Red List categories and criteria. This new category for the bustard will be incorporated into the 2011 Red List, which will be released by BirdLife International in May and by the IUCN in September.

Till the end of 2010, the Great Indian Bustard or 'Ardeotis nigriceps' was listed as endangered for its severely fragmented small population. It was thought to have a population of 250 to 999 birds, which is suspected to be declining at an estimated rate of 20% to 29% since the last 10 years, primarily because of hunting pressure in some areas and the conversion of grassland habitats to cultivation and pasture, increased pesticide usage and disturbance.

The bustard's population has declined from an estimated 1,260 in 1969 to 300 at present. This had prompted experts from the Bombay Natural History Society, Wildlife Institute of India and others to propose that the Great Indian Bustard should be upgraded to critically endangered category.

Pramod Patil, who works for the conservation and protection of the Great Indian Bustards in Maharashtra, said the adult population has drastically declined in the bustard sanctuary at Nannaj in Solapur district. The census count by the forest department wildlife division in 2009 was 21, which went down to just nine in 2010.

Regarding threats, Patil said, that hunting could still be prevalent in the sanctuary area in Maharashtra, as local people openly admit that they kill bustards. Also, there is no record of breeding in the last three years at breeding spots in the sanctuary. "Increased density of high tension electric wires in the sanctuary has increased chances of bustard collisions and subsequent deaths of the adults. Thus, in this current situation, the upgradation of the Great Indian Bustard to critically endangered will give priority to its conservation,'' he added.

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Great Barrier Reef storm damage severe but patchy

Pauline Askin Reuters 7 Mar 11;

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Powerful cyclone Yasi caused patchy but severe damage to Australia's famed Great Barrier Reef when it tore through last month, with some areas little more than rubble, scientists said on Monday.

But while pockets of centuries-old coral was destroyed and recovery may take decades, most of the damage was confined to areas with so little tourism that many of the reef sites don't even have names, with major areas spared.

The assessment, carried out by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Authority (GBRMPA) and Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service, surveyed 36 reefs or some 300 km (186 miles) of the 2,400 km-long reef that makes up the popular tourist site, which contributes billions of dollars to Australia's economy annually.

"There were some reefs that were very severely damaged, in some of those areas there was hardly a coral left alive and big places of coral rubble and broken plates that had been ripped off the reef," said Paul Marshall, GBRMPA assessment co-ordinator.

"That was pretty heart-wrenching, to see just how some of these areas have been affected. Some of these areas were coral gardens I knew quite well and now they're just reduced to rubble."

Yasi was rated a maximum-strength category five storm and was roughly the size of Italy.

While corals known as "bommies" or coral heads are generally more robust, Marshall said that during the course of the survey they came across broken bommies, some up to 4 metres (13 ft 1.4 in) wide, lying on the ocean bed.

"You start to imagine the force that must have been happening underwater," he said.

The good news was that damage was quite patchy, with neighbouring reefs and coral structures in some cases remaining relatively unscathed, which will help foster rebuilding of the severely damaged areas.

Signs of recovery should start to emerge in about five years, but it will take more than 20 years to get good coral cover and some damage to the reef may take quite a lot longer to repair, Marshall added.

He and his colleagues were also concerned about the potential impact from the devastating Queensland flooding that came in the months before Yasi, with toxic, pesticide-laden sediment carried out to the reefs stressing or damaging the fragile coral.

Though tourist areas near places such as Cairns escaped damage despite Yasi passing through them, a much larger threat remains due to global warming, which could lead to further devastating cyclones such as Yasi and the massive 2009 Cyclone Hamish, which had gusts of up to 295 km (183 miles) an hour.

"If you look at the track of the last five major cyclones for the Great Barrier reef you do see a fair bit of overlap -- all affect similar areas, so some of these reefs have copped a 'triple whammy' from cyclones in the last couple of years," Marshall said.

"With climate change the whole regime of disturbance is going to change, so we're very concerned these cumulative effect of disturbance after disturbance."

The Great Barrier Reef (GBR.L) contains an abundance of marine life and comprises of over 2,000 individual reef systems and coral cays as well as hundreds of picturesque tropical islands.

It contributes A$5.4 billion to the Australian economy every year from fishing, recreational use and tourism.

(Editing by Elaine Lies)

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The Lost Emperor: A Colony of Penguins Disappears Yahoo News 8 Mar 11;

A small colony of emperor penguins on an island off the West Antarctic Peninsula is gone, and the most likely culprit is loss of sea ice caused by warming. Although it has been predicted that penguins could suffer greatly because of global warming, this is the first time the disappearance of a colony has been documented.

The researchers, however, caution that their study is hampered by a lack of long-term information on emperor penguins, both at this site and in general, and their environment.

Emperor penguins are regal, if bulky, birds that stand as high as 4 feet (1.2 meters) and can weigh as much as 84 pounds (38 kilograms). This colony, first spotted in 1948 on an island dubbed Emperor Island, was a small one that had approximately 150 breeding pairs.

Observations are spotty, but the populations appear to have been relatively stable until the 1970s. A report in 1978 showed a sharp drop in population, a trend that continued until an airplane survey found the island empty in 2009. [Album: Life at the South Pole]

This raises the question: Did the penguins die off or just relocate? "That's one of the big unknowns," said Philip Trathan, the lead researcher and head of conservation biology at the British Antarctic Survey.

Penguin habits

Emperor penguins appear to return home each year to the site where they hatched. But the colonies must sometimes relocate because of changes in the ice, however, the details of how this happens aren't understood. Trathan and his colleagues speculate that the Emperor Island penguins born in the late 1970s – they live to be about 20 years old – may have continued to return in smaller numbers each year until the colony disappeared.

Ice is crucial to these birds. Most emperor penguins breed on sea ice — called fast ice — which attaches to the ice shelves and coastlines, and does not move in wind or currents. As the ice develops in autumn, the birds gather at their colonies. They remain there, mating, laying eggs and raising chicks until mid-summer, when the chicks fledge and the fast ice breaks up. They also forage within the pack ice, which floats at the surface of the water.

The colony on Emperor Island frequently nested on land, although reports also show these birds setting up house on the ice. So, the disappearance of this colony indicates that breeding on land may not be a good alternative, Trathan said.

Caused by climate change?

The cause of the disappearance is not clear-cut, but the evidence indicates a connection to climate change.

"The one site in Antarctica where we have seen really big changes is the West Antarctic Peninsula," Trathan said. For much of the 20th century, this region has warmed at an unprecedented rate, particularly in recent decades, the researchers write in a study published Feb. 28 in the journal PLoS ONE.

Data collected from a station about 25 miles (40 kilometers) away shows a marked increase in air temperature; meanwhile, the local sea ice in the area has been forming later and melting earlier. One study published in 2007 in the Journal of Geophysical Research found that between 1979 and 2004 in this region, sea ice began advancing about 54 days later and retreating 31 days earlier. (This trend does not hold for all of Antarctic waters, but, ultimately, Antarctic sea ice is expected to shrink significantly.)

In addition to destroying colony habitat, warming and the loss of sea ice could indirectly affect the penguins by reducing the availability of the fish, krill and squid they eat, or by increasing the presence of predators, such as giant petrels, the authors write.

Climate change is not a new culprit. A previous modeling study projected that global warming would be very bad for emperor penguins. Published in the journal the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in 2009, the study found a 36 percent chance that shrinking Antarctic sea ice could cause emperor penguin populations to drop by 95 percent or more by 2100.

It's possible that factors including disease or extreme weather may have caused this particular colony to disappear, but there is no data available to test these hypotheses, Trathan said.

"We need to look at more colonies so we can reduce the uncertainty," he said. "With the first report, there is a high degree of uncertainty."

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U.S. Gulf oil spill: Scientists Debate Cause Of Dolphin Deaths

Leigh Coleman PlanetArk 7 Mar 11;

Marine scientists are debating whether 80-plus bottlenose dolphins found dead along the U.S. Gulf Coast since January were more likely to have died from last year's oil spill or a winter cold snap.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration declared "an unusual mortality event" last week when the number of dead dolphins washing up in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida had reached nearly 60, about half of them newly born or stillborn calves.

The death toll along shoreline has climbed to at least 82 since then, many times the normal mortality rate for dolphins along the Gulf Coast this time of year.

Although none so far showed outward signs of oil contamination, suspicions immediately turned to petrochemicals that fouled Gulf waters after a BP drilling platform exploded in April 2010, rupturing a wellhead on the sea floor.

Eleven workers were killed in the blast, and an estimated 5 million barrels (206 million gallons) of crude oil spewed into the Gulf over more than three months.

Scientists in the Gulf already were in the midst of investigating last year's discovery of nearly 90 dead dolphins, most of them adults, when officials became alarmed at a surge in dead baby dolphins turning up on beaches in January.

The latest spike in deaths, and a high concentration of premature infants among them, has led some experts to speculate that oil ingested or inhaled by dolphins at the time of the spill has taken a belated toll on the marine mammals, possibly leading to dolphin miscarriages.

The die-off has come at the start of the first dolphin calving season in the northern Gulf since the BP blowout.

But scientists at the independent Dauphin Island Sea Lab in Alabama suggested Thursday that unusually chilly water temperatures in the Gulf may be a key factor.

"Everyone wants to blame toxicity due to the oil spill, said Monty Graham, a senior scientist at the Dauphin Island lab. "The oil spill ... very well could have been the cause of the dolphin deaths. But the cold weather could have been the last straw for these animals."

He noted that water temperatures abruptly plunged from the upper 50s into the 40s off Dauphin Island in January, just before the first two stillborn calves found there were recovered. He said a second wave of dolphin carcasses washed ashore after temperatures dipped again.

Fellow Dauphin Island scientist Ruth Carmichael called the arrival of the cold snap "incredibly compelling."

"The timing of the cold water may have been important because the dolphins were late in their pregnancies, about one to two months from giving birth. That might render them more vulnerable to temperature shocks," she said.

But NOAA officials discounted the significance of chilly weather, saying a similar cold snap in February 2010, months before the oil spill, was accompanied by higher-than-normal mortality among a range of wildlife, including fish and sea turtles. They also cited research showing bottlenose dolphins tend to swim away from extremely cool waters.

"These animals have the ability to move away from cold. They don't stay around in cold water," said Moby Solangi, director of the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies in Gulfport, Mississippi.

Scientists on both sides of the argument agreed that if frigid weather were to blame, the end of the die-off is likely at hand as warmer temperatures return.

But NOAA experts are bracing for the number of deaths to jump further as the bottlenose calving season reaches full swing in the coming weeks, said Blair Mase, a marine mammal scientist for the agency. Some 2,000 to 5,000 dolphins in the region typically bear their young this time of year.

(Editing by Steve Gorman and Greg McCune)

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Climate Change, Biofuels Threaten Food Security: FAO

Svetlana Kovalyova and Deepa Babington PlanetArk 8 Mar 11;

Climate change bringing floods and drought, growing biofuel demand and national policies to protect domestic markets could drive up global food prices and threaten long-term food security, the United Nations said.

High and volatile food prices are a growing global concern, partly fuelling the protests that toppled the rulers of Tunisia and Egypt this year. The aftershocks have been seen across North Africa and the Middle East from Algeria to Yemen.

Periods of price volatility are not new to agriculture, but recent price shocks triggered by extreme weather and increasing use of grains to produce energy have caused great concern, the U.N.'s Food and Agriculture Organization said.

"There are fears that price volatility may be increasing," the FAO said in its State of Food and Agriculture report.

The growing influence of commodities markets and "counter-productive 'beggar-thy-neighbor' policy responses (to high prices)...may exacerbate international market volatility and jeopardize global food security," it said.

The Rome-based FAO has already warned food-producing countries against introducing export curbs to protect local markets as world food prices push further above the levels that triggered deadly riots in 2007/2008.

A declining stock to utilisation ratio for major grain stocks like wheat and maize is a concern, said Kostas Stamoulis, director of Agricultural Development at FAO's economics unit.

"We worry about this," Stamoulis told Reuters on the sidelines of the presentation of the report.

"As prices increase, governments and others are trying to reduce their stocks to soften the impact of decreased supplies. This is one of the factors causing high prices ... If there is another supply shock very soon, like in China for example, then the shock will happen amidst low stocks."

Global food prices hit a record high in February, and the FAO said last week that further oil price spikes and stockpiling by importers keen to head off unrest would hit already volatile cereal markets.

Food prices are projected to rise over the next decade and stay at levels on average above those of the past decade, the agency said on Monday.

Urgent coordinated international action was needed to ensure security of food supplies, including improvement of market regulation and transparency as well as of statistics on food commodity markets, establishment of emergency stocks and provision of safety nets, the FAO said.


The number of undernourished people in the world has fallen to 925 million people last year from an estimated 2009 peak of 1.023 billion, but it remained unacceptably high, the FAO said.

In 2010, 16 percent of developing countries' populations were undernourished, down from 18 percent in 2009 but still well above the U.N.'s Millennium Development Goal to halve to 10 percent the share of the hungry between 1990 and 2015, it said.

The number of hungry people could fall by 100-150 million people if women farmers were given the same access to production and financial resources as men, the agency said.

The yield gap between men and women farmers averages around 20-30 percent, mostly due to differences in resource use, the report said, citing industry studies.

Farm output in developing countries could rise by 2.5-4.0 percent if yields on the land farmed by women increased to the levels achieved by men. That in turn would reduce the global number of undernourished people by 12-17 percent, it said.

"We must eliminate all forms of discrimination against women under the law, ensure that access to resources is more equal ... and make women's voices heard in decision-making at all levels," FAO's Director General Jacques Diouf said in the report.

"Women must be seen as equal partners in sustainable development," he said.

(Editing by Anthony Barker)

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