Best of our wild blogs: 12 Mar 11

"White mud" at Pasir Ris, and check on rare mangroves
from wild shores of singapore

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Singapore shielded from tsunami waves

Straits Times 12 Mar 11;

SINGAPORE was sheltered from the tsunami caused by yesterday's earthquake off Japan as the Philippines stands in the way.

But alerts were issued across many of the Pacific islands and places as far afield as Peru.

Last night, Indonesia and the Philippines said slightly taller waves had reached their coasts without causing damage, while Taiwan downgraded its tsunami warning.

Yesterday's quake had a magnitude of 8.9, according to the United States Geological Survey, making it among the largest of all time. It struck about 430km off Tokyo.

Most of the force moved north-west towards the Japanese coast, or south-east towards South America, explained tectonics expert Kusnowidjaja Megawati of Nanyang Technological University's (NTU) Earth Observatory of Singapore.

Earthquakes of this magnitude often cause aftershocks, which could develop into smaller tsunamis over several days.

But Earth Observatory researcher Adam Switzer, who studies tsunamis, added: 'Singapore is very, very unlikely to be affected by the earthquake. At worst you might see small oscillations in the sea.'

In other words, the water level might rise, but that is all.

The National Environment Agency also said Singapore was unlikely to be affected, but it would monitor the situation closely.

However, the Republic could potentially be affected by earthquakes closer to home. When quakes struck Sumatra in 2007 and 2009, tremors were reported in Singapore.

Dr Megawati said the extent of any damage would depend on the magnitude of the quake and its distance from Singapore. Areas on bedrock, such as Jurong and Bukit Timah, would also be much less likely to feel it than those on soft soil.

The Republic is about 400km from the nearest fault line in Sumatra.

As for tsunamis, a 2009 study by researchers from NTU and Taiwan's National Central University found it was unlikely that a tsunami caused by a quake at the Philippines' Manila Trench would have a significant impact on Singapore.

Dr Megawati said the Manila Trench would be the most likely place for a quake tsunami that affects Singapore to originate from.

But he said NTU's models predict that any impact on Singapore would be restricted to a 0.8m rise in water levels, because the South China Sea is shallow to begin with. Singapore would also be shielded from a tsunami originating from a quake off the west coast of Sumatra.


Fears of major disaster subside
Smaller-than-expected waves hit west Pacific
Straits Times 12 Mar 11;

TOKYO: A tsunami warning was issued for almost the entire Pacific Basin soon after yesterday's magnitude 8.9 earthquake, but fears of a massive international disaster subsided after smaller-than-expected waves hit the west Pacific.

In Taiwan, the authorities said minor tsunamis reached the island's east and north-east coasts but they measured only around 10cm in height, causing no damage. The alert was later lifted as no more tsunamis were expected.

Indonesia likewise reported that a small tsunami hit its North Sulawesi and Maluku islands, and that the alert has now been lifted.

Warnings were issued in some 50 locations stretching from Asia's Pacific Rim to the other side of the ocean, with the United States alerting Hawaii, the northern and central California coast, the Oregon coast and parts of Alaska, and urging residents to stay away from beaches and marinas.

US President Barack Obama was notified of the massive Japanese quake at 4am local time and instructed the Federal Emergency Management Agency to be prepared to help affected US states and territories, the White House said.

'We are asking all our citizens in the affected region to listen to their state and local officials,' Mr Obama said in a statement.

Some 6,500km from Japan, Hawaii was hit by tsunami waves in the early morning hours yesterday.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre said Kauai was the first island hit early yesterday by the tsunami. Water rushed ashore in Honolulu, swamping the beach in Waikiki and surging over the break wall in the world-famous resort but stopping short of the area's high-rise hotels.

Waves at least a metre high were recorded on Oahu and Kauai.

The largest wave to crash ashore in Hawaii was a 1.8m surge, and hit Kahului, Maui, officials said.

Sirens had earlier woken residents in the middle of the night in Hawaii, where the governor ordered the evacuation of coastal areas. The US Navy ordered all warships in Pearl Harbour to remain in port to support rescue missions as needed.

Waves almost 1.5m high earlier hit Midway, a tiny island in the North Pacific about 2,100km north-west of Honolulu.

Latin American countries along the Pacific from Mexico to Peru also issued tsunami warnings, and Ecuador ordered preventive coastal evacuations.

In Chile - still jittery after the 8.8 magnitude earthquake that struck the country in late February last year - President Sebastian Pinera issued a 'preventive alert', but told citizens to remain calm and continue normal life.

New Zealand's civil defence issued a tsunami warning, adding that no threat to land was expected when the tsunami was set to arrive at around 6.23am (1.23am Singapore time).

'Historical events and pre-calculated tsunami models indicate that the largest effects (less than 1m wave height at the coastline) are expected along the coasts of the central and northern North Island,' it said.

Still, the tsunami alerts in Indonesia and the Philippines revived memories of the giant tsunami which struck Asia in December 2004.

Indonesia was hardest hit by the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami that claimed more than 230,000 lives.

Small tsunami waves also hit the Philippines yesterday, but there were no reports of damage or casualties, its chief state seismologist said.

Philippine Institute of Volcano-logy and Seismology director Renato Solidum reported waves ranging from 30cm to 1m.

Australia was not in danger because it was protected by island nations to the north, including Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands, that would largely absorb any wave activity, said Mr Chris Ryan, a forecaster at the National Meteorological and Oceanographic Centre, the Australian government agency that monitors the threat.

In Africa, Kenya's meteorological department issued a tsunami alert yesterday to residents of the country's coastal region, but said waves reaching the Indian Ocean coast would be weak.


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Punggol Promenade: Get closer to nature

Besides enjoying water views, you can visit Lorong Halus Wetland via Punggol Promenade
nicholas yong Straits Times 12 Mar 11;

Cycling around the newly opened portion of the $16.7-million Punggol Promenade, located along the eastern bank of Serangoon Reservoir, brings back memories, says freelance musician Christopher Pang, 44.

Groundbreaking for the riverfront recreational area took place in 2009.

'There used to be a lot of sampans moving up and down Sungei Serangoon in the 1970s, and there was a charcoal port at Lorong Halus. We also used to fish here a lot,' says Mr Pang, who has lived in the Upper Serangoon area all his life.

The estuary of Sungei Serangoon was dammed in 2009 to form the reservoir.

The 4.9km promenade has been designated a recreational space for residents in the area. It also links Punggol Point to Punggol East and joins up further south with the park connectors along Serangoon Reservoir and Punggol Reservoir.

Only its Riverside Walk portion is accessible at the moment.

Officially opened last Saturday, it is just a short walk from Riviera LRT station. Three food and beverage outlets - a bistro, a seafood restaurant and a fast-food outlet - have also opened in the area.

The Riverside Walk features exercise stations, designated cycling and jogging tracks and lookout points that allow visitors to get closer to the water.

The next phase of construction will include a driving range and other facilities.

Two other zones, the Nature Walk and Punggol Point Walk, are expected to open later in the year.

Mr Pang's friend, retiree Lee Jing Heng, has also lived in the area for decades. The 64-year-old jokes: 'I might not be long in this world. I don't know whether I will be around when they finish construction.'

Nature lovers will also be drawn to the promenade. It is connected by a bridge over Serangoon Reservoir to Lorong Halus Wetland, a biodiversity haven for flora and fauna such as the White- breasted Waterhen and the Striated Heron, also known as the Little Heron.

Formerly part of a landfill, it has been converted into an educational site and aims to be a sanctuary for plants, birds and other wildlife.

Even though the promenade is still a work in progress, Mr Pang was impressed by the changes that have taken place: 'It's beautiful. If you love nature, this is the place to be, besides Sungei Buloh.'

Despite opening just a week ago, the Riverside Walk has already attracted residents from as far afield as the west coast, such as engineer Chia C.C. and his wife Janet, both 60.

The couple, who enjoy visiting parks such as Lorong Seletar, had come to the promenade after reading about it in The Straits Times.

'It's money well spent. It's free for us and you don't have to pay to have a good view. It's also very well-planned as it is right next to the LRT,' says Mrs Chia, a teacher.

Mr Chia adds: 'There is limited parking now but once the park connectors are ready, it will be very convenient.'

But Punggol resident David Teo, 52, was not overly impressed by the Riverside Walk. The supervisor in a student care centre had cycled down to 'recce' the area, as he was looking for a place to celebrate his teenage daughter's birthday.

Perspiring in the midday heat, he notes: 'There is not much shelter here, and it is barren and not very developed now. I don't see how families with young children will come here.'

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Dip in Singapore power demand draws industry's attention

Ronnie Lim Business Times 12 Mar 11;

ELECTRICITY demand in Singapore slowed in the first two months of this year compared to last December, latest Energy Market Company (EMC) data shows. While EMC attributed the slowdown mainly to the Chinese New Year holiday stretch here, industry officials say they are nevertheless monitoring the dip.

'On average, demand levels in the first two months of the year were lower than last December's, with early February registering a significant dip in demand due to the Chinese New Year public holidays,' said Dave Carlson, the CEO of EMC which operates Singapore's wholesale electricity market. EMC's just-released news bulletin showed that monthly electricity demand here averaged 4,859 megawatts (MW) in January and 4,749 MW in the first 19 days of February. This was down about 2 per cent and 4 per cent respectively from December's 4,960 MW.

It also compares with average electricity demand of 5,000 MW or higher in March-December 2010.

EMC said that 'the significantly lower demand in February was mainly caused by the CNY public holidays, which historically register the year's lowest demand'.

One bright lining to the lower January-February electricity demand was that wholesale electricity prices here (as measured by the Uniform Singapore Electricity Price) averaged $157/MWh during that period, which was 8.8 per cent lower than the vesting price of $172/MWh.

(Vesting contracts cap electricity prices on 60 per cent of total electricity supply here, with the vesting contract price set at the long-run marginal cost of the most efficient plant technology in use.)

'It's also due to the weather factor,' said PowerSeraya chief executive John Ng who reckons that the lower average electricity demand in January-February was due to cooler weather and lower temperatures here this year, compared to the same period last year.

Electricity demand growth was also high last year due to the economic recovery from the earlier downturn, he explained.

But asked if he was concerned whether the January-February electricity demand numbers perhaps also reflected a slowing in economic momentum here, Mr Ng said: 'We are monitoring, as our business is about electricity demand growth.'

Remarking on the slowdown in electricity demand here so far this year, another industry official earlier said he was concerned that if this trend continued, there will not be enough market growth to support the numerous capacity expansions currently being undertaken by the generating companies here.

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Malaysia: Dead fish incident sparks anxiety over tsunami

The Star 12 Mar 11;

BUTTERWORTH: The discovery of several thousands of dead fish in Pantai Bersih in Bagan Ajam, Butterworth last week had caused anxiety among locals on the possibility of tsunami hitting the shores.

Fisherman Mohd Zahari Che Mohd Noor, 39, said the dead fishes included sembilang, gelama, todak, bawal, kerapu singa, kertang and ikan lembu.

“I wondered if the incident was similar to the tragedy on Boxing Day in 2004 when tsunami struck several Asian countries.

“During the incident, many dead fishes were washed ashore,” he said in an interview.

State Health, Welfare, Caring Society and Environment Committee chairman Phee Boon Poh however said the fishes had probably died due to sand dredging works in the North Channel.

He said the state Fisheries Department and State Department of Environment which conducted the investigations discovered changes in the chemical oxygen demand (COD) and biochemical oxygen demand (BOD) in the water where the fishes were found.

“We have ruled out chemical contamination as we did not find any chemicals when we inspected the beach stretch between Pantai Bersih and Kampung Gajah.

“There was also no illegal chemical discharge from the factories in Mak Mandin and Prai,” he said after opening Pacific West Sdn Bhd’s effective micro-organism (EM) mudball-throwing at Sungai Pertama, Taman Tunku in Seberang Jaya yesterday.

Earlier, Golden Fresh brand and corporate affairs manager Tang Cho Sun led some 200 Pacific West Sdn Bhd employees in throwing 11,000 EM mudballs into Sungai Pertama.

Tang said the move was part of the com-pany’s initiatives to heighten awareness on environmental conservation as well as to help promote sustainability of marine resources.

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Holy mackerel! Plenty of fish in Acapulco seas

Associated Press Google News 12 Mar 11;

ACAPULCO, Mexico (AP) — Something fishy is up in Acapulco.

Masses of sardines, anchovies, stripped bass and mackerel surged close to shore Friday on one beach in the Mexican resort city, packed so tightly near the surface they looked like an oil slick from above.

Delighted fishermen rushed out in wooden motor boats, abandoning their rods and nets and simply scooping the fish up with buckets.

"It was so much fun. There were about 20 or 30 fishermen and there were people who came with their kids to take advantage of it," fisherman Carlos Morales said.

The fishermen attributed the strange phenomenon to the unusual currents unleashed by tsunami that followed the earthquake in Japan.

Experts couldn't be sure.

"It would fall into that category where you would love to make the connection, but who knows?" said Rich Briggs, a geologist with the U.S. Geological Survey. "Tsunamis can change local currents, but it's hard to make a firm connection."

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Warnings, reefs lessen tsunamis, storms impact

Reuters 11 Mar 11;

March 11 (Reuters) - Early warning systems and a drive to protect mangroves and coral reefs as buffers to waves are among ways to safeguard coasts at risk from tsunamis and storm surges, U.N. studies show.

Japan's devastating tsunami on Friday was caused by a quake beyond human control but efforts to limit impacts from more powerful cyclones or a rise in world sea levels, blamed on human emissions of greenhouse gases, can also help lessen damage.

The U.N. panel of climate change scientists said in its latest 2007 report that lessons from seismic events such as the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004 or weather disasters including Hurricane Katrina which stuck New Orleans in 2005 include: 1) Early warning and response can curb death tolls and destruction 2) Teaching people about the hazards can enable communities to work to adapt 3) Many factors reduce the ability or willingness of people to flee. Those include the warning time, exit routes and "their perceived need to protect property, pets and possessions." 4) Natural coastal barriers -- coral reefs, islands and wetlands such as mangroves and marshes -- are a first line of defence against storm surges and floods. Safeguarding such natural systems can help limit the damage. 5) Repeated events such as storm surges caused by hurricanes reduce the effectiveness of defences. 6) The trauma of extreme events can lead to mental health problems. 7) Uncoordinated and poorly regulated construction along many coasts has aggravated the risks. 8) Effective disaster prevention and response rely on strong institutions, as well as adequate public preparedness. ----

Nick Nuttall, spokesman of the U.N. Environment Programme, said many countries have already worked to lessen the impact of disasters.

-- Bangladesh, for instance, has built shelters that have cut death tolls from cyclones after about 300,000 people died in cyclone Bhola in 1970.

-- Mosques survived the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami better than many other buildings, apparently due to wide doors and open spaces that helped absorb the shock of waves.

-- In Sri Lanka, some coastal parks with sand dunes and natural vegetation were little affected by the tsunami. Many countries are now trying to restore natural vegetation such as mangroves as buffers.

-- One big problem after the 2004 tsunami was contamination of wells by salt water and other pollution uprooted from trash dumps. Flooding of latrines also spread disease.

(Editing by Matthew Jones)

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Is the tsunami too big to beat?

From floods to volcanoes, man is in constant battle with nature. Japan shows us the tsunami may be beyond our control
Bill McGuire 11 Mar 11;

It was chilling to see the aerial footage of the debris-laden tsunami sweeping across the flat, featureless landscape of eastern Honshu. Its staggering power has done untold damage to lives and property. Natural hazards, which I study, take on a wide variety of forms, all of which have the potential to cause mayhem on a biblical scale. Generally, though, their impact affects a single city or region.

But great underwater earthquakes are very different. When they are as big as the quake that struck off the northeast coast of Japan – at magnitude 8.9 the largest ever recorded there – and shallow, so that a large part of the energy released jolts the sea above, they are capable of transporting death and destruction to places far removed from the earthquake source.

Just over six years ago, tsunamis transmitted the energy released in the Sumatran earthquake as far afield as Thailand, Sri Lanka and east Africa, killing tens of thousands too far away to have even felt the earth shake. As I write, waves of destruction are heading across the Pacific towards Hawaii and beyond.

The sheer scale and extent of big tsunamis are sufficient to make even the most optimistic hazard scientist or emergency manager stop and think. Are some natural phenomena simply too big to plan for or cope with?

There is always something we can do to mitigate or manage the impact of a natural hazard – be it an earthquake, volcanic eruption, flood or tsunami. It is just that some are harder to tackle. For active volcanoes we can track the warning signs – such as ground swelling – that tell us that an eruption is on its way, and get people out of the area.

Although we still cannot predict them, we can make earthquakes far less lethal by making buildings "life safe" – in other words, ensuring that they are engineered so as to remain reasonably intact during the strongest shaking. With floods we can build defences and make sure that homes and vital infrastructure are not built in the flood plains.

With tsunamis, however, reducing their potential for serious damage and loss of life is a far harder challenge. Barriers can be constructed to protect critical facilities, such as refineries or nuclear power plants, but you can't surround entire ocean basins with concrete. Warning systems are fundamental, and the Pacific tsunami warning system, based in Hawaii, played a crucial role in alerting nations across the Pacific to the fact that yesterday's tsunami was on its way.

But it is likely that any tsunami will reach those who live in coastal communities close to the earthquake source long before the warning does. Ultimately we are constantly engaged in asymmetric conflict with nature, where we will often be on the losing side.

But thankfully we are never entirely powerless. In the case of the tsunami threat, we can save lives in future events through education of populations living close to submarine faults that have records of spawning big waves. One of these lies off the Sumatran coast, adjacent to the heavily populated city of Padang, where a timely self-evacuation when the ground shakes could save tens of thousands of lives at some point in the future.

On the other hand, reducing the destructive power of tsunamis is close to being a lost cause. Mangroves and tree plantations can help to some degree by breaking up the incoming flood, but no one who has seen the immense power and momentum of the Japanese tsunami can be under any illusion that these would have made much of a difference. The reality is that we can only do so much, and sometimes that is simply not enough.

Sumatra, Japan, Chile: Are Earthquakes Getting Worse?
Stephanie Pappas Yahoo News 11 Mar 11;

The 8.9-magnitude earthquake that rumbled through Japan today (March 11), triggering a devastating tsunami, was the strongest felt in that country since seismic monitoring was invented. It's also comparable in scale to a few other recent temblors, including last year's 8.8-magnitude quake in Chile and 2004's 9.1-magnitude undersea rupture off Indonesia that caused a tsunami that killed more than 200,000 people.

But researchers say these catastrophes shouldn't be taken as evidence of a larger trend. According to the United States Geological Survey, the number of earthquakes with magnitudes greater than 7 has remained constant in the last century. And the occurrence of a few big quakes in a few years is most likely a statistical anomaly. (The upcoming "supermoon," by the way, also did not cause the Japanese earthquake.)

"Statistics are way too small to say that this just couldn't happen randomly," Henry Pollack, a professor of geological sciences at the University of Michigan, told LiveScience.

However, increasing populations in earthquake-prone areas mean that smaller quakes can put more people at risk than in the past, researchers say.

A more wobbly future?

Earthquakes with magnitudes in the upper 8s and 9s are rare; even magnitude-8 quakes occur, on average, just once a year. So the chance of having two big quakes in one year is statistically not that much different than having one in a year, Pollack said, just as raising your chances of winning the lottery from one in a million to two in a million is negligible.

The top six quakes ever recorded do seem to cluster into two time periods: a 12-year span between 1952 and 1964, when the first, second and fourth-largest quakes ever hit Chile, Alaska and the Kamchatka Peninsula, respectively; and the seven-year span between the 2004 Indian Ocean quake (number three on record) and today's Japanese quake, which bumped last year's 8.8-magnitude Chile quake out of the top five. That clustering is very likely random chance, said Terry Tullis, a professor emeritus of geological sciences at Brown University. But it should provide a sense of relief to anyone worrying that the current spate of quakes has doomed us to a more unstable future: After all, Tullis said, things quieted down quite a bit after 1964, at least in terms of large quakes.

"I don't think it's anything to get alarmed about, in terms of 'Are we having more and more and more?'" Tullis told LiveScience. "There is no reason to suppose that we're going to have quite a few more big ones quite soon — which is not to say they couldn't happen, but I think there is no reason to be concerned based on the limited information we do have."

Same quakes, more casualties

There may be little evidence that quakes themselves are getting worse, but populations in quake-prone areas are increasing, according to the USGS. That means relatively small quakes can cause big casualties. The losses are even greater in areas without earthquake-resistant building standards. The 2010 Haiti quake was a magnitude 7, but because the epicenter was a densely populated area full of shoddy buildings, the death toll was between 92,000 and 316,000. In comparison, the 2010 8.8-magnitude Chilean quake happened off the coast of a better-built city. The death toll of that quake was about 500 people.

"One thing we'll learn [from this quake] is how much insight the Japanese had into earthquake construction methods, because an event like this really puts buildings to the test," Pollack said.

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Greenpeace: Japan nuke crisis could be 'devastating'

Yahoo News 11 Mar 11;

TOKYO (AFP) – Environmental group Greenpeace warned Saturday that quake damage to two atomic plants means "Japan is in the middle of a nuclear crisis with potentially devastating consequences".

Japan scrambled Saturday to prevent nuclear accidents at two atomic plants where reactor cooling systems failed after a massive earthquake Friday, and ordered 45,000 people living near one and 3,000 near the other to evacuate.

Cooling systems have malfunctioned at two plants, the Fukushima No. 1 and No. 2 plants, both located in an area about 250 kilometres (160 miles) northeast of greater Tokyo, an urban area of 30 million people.

Operator Tokyo Electric Power said Saturday it had released radioactive steam to reduce pressure from No. 1.

"Releasing any amount of radiation into the atmosphere risks the health of people in the surrounding area," said Greenpeace International head of nuclear campaign Jan Beranek in a statement emailed to AFP.

"The fact that the Fukushima nuclear power plant is leaking, or has been forced to deliberately release, contaminated gases from the reactor into the atmosphere means that all of the physical protection that was supposed to isolate radioactivity from the environment has failed."

"How many more warnings do people need to get before they understand that nuclear reactors are inherently hazardous?" asked Beranek.

"We are told by the nuclear industry that things like this cannot happen with modern reactors, yet today Japan is in the middle of a nuclear crisis with potentially devastating consequences."

"While the immediate focus is on minimising radiation release and keeping local people safe, this is yet another reminder of the inherent risks of nuclear power, which will always be vulnerable to a potentially deadly combination of human error, design failure and natural disaster."

Japan earthquake triggers nuclear shutdown
By Mark Kinver Science and environment reporter, BBC News

Japan's prime minister has declared a "nuclear emergency" after a number of reactors shut down in the wake of a massive earthquake hitting the country.

Eleven reactors at four nuclear power stations automatically shut down, but officials said one reactor's cooling system failed to operate correctly.

Under Japanese law, an emergency must be declared if a cooling system fails.

In total, the country has 55 reactors providing about one-third of the nation's electricity.

In a statement, the Japan Atomic Industrial Forum released a statement that said Prime Minister Naoto Kan had declared the emergency "in case prompt action" had to be taken, but added that "no release of radioactive material" had been detected.

It added: "Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (Nisa) of the [Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry] set up an emergency preparedness headquarter... in an effort to collect information on any possible damage to the NPPs (nuclear power plants).

"Since emergency diesel generators at the Fukushima-1 and -2 NPPs are out of order, (energy company) TEPCO sent the emergency report to Nisa. There is no report that radiation was detected out of the site."

The reactor at the Fukushima Daiichi power station that triggered the emergency alert was the 40-year-old Reactor 1, one of six on the site.

Reactors 1, 2 and 3 automatically shut down when the Magnitude 8.9 quake shook the plant, while reactors 4, 5 and 6 were not in operation as they were undergoing scheduled inspections.

The reactors are Boiling Water Reactors (BWR), one of the most commonly-used designs, and widely used throughout Japan's fleet of nuclear power stations.

Heat is produced by a nuclear reaction in the core, causing the water to boil, producing steam. The steam is directly used to drive a turbine, after which it is cooled in a condenser and converted back to water. The water is then pumped back into reactor core, completing the loop.

Local evacuation

A statement by the power station's operator, Tokyo Electric Power Company, pressure inside the reactor had risen after the cooling system had been damaged by the quake.

About 3,000 residents within a two-kilometre radius of the power station, located about 170 miles north-east of Tokyo, were told to leave their homes as part of the emergency procedure.

Even when the reactor is shut down and the nuclear fission is halted, an intense level of heat remains and needs to dissipated, which is the role of the cooling mechanisms.

Dr Richard Phillips from the University of Leeds said that a reactor has to be rapidly cooled when it is automatically switched off.

"One power station failed to cool sufficiently but the stations are robust and there is no expectation that any leaks will occur," he explained.

"Once checks have been undertaken the stations should be back online in a few days."

It is understood that the earthquake cut electricity supplies to the power station, and the back-up generators did not come into operation when the outage occurred. As a result, not all of the cooling systems were available.

World Nuclear Association (WNA) spokesman Jeremy Gordon said the state of emergency was a legal requirement and did not mean that there was a genuine case for concern.

"It allows authorities to take additional measures," he told BBC News. "It empowers officials in the local region, such as the fire service, police etc to take the action they need to take, but at this stage it is purely precautionary."

Under Japanese law, a nuclear emergency must be declared if there is a release of radiation, if there is a dangerous level of water in the reactor, or if the cooling mechanisms fail.

"It is important to remember that for a large reactor like that, it would have a number of diesel generators that are supposed to start up automatically, when the plant is disconnected from the grid," Mr Gordon said.

"But it is not the case that you have just one generator - the nuclear business is not like that, you never rely on just one thing. You always back up your back-ups."

Mr Gordon added: "It is hard to find country more experienced in earthquakes than Japan, and they are also one of the most experienced in nuclear power."

He said that the country has been commercially operating nuclear power stations for 45 years, during which time there have been a number of major earthquakes.

"The most recent quake to affect a nuclear power station was in 2007, and it hit the seven-reactor Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant very hard as I think the epicentre was very close by.

"It was shaken a lot harder than anyone ever thought it would be, so it was an example of how the over-engineering in nuclear power station design goes beyond the super-conservative regulatory requirements."

But Steve Thomas, professor of energy policy at Greenwich University, said the reactors were only now just beginning to come back into operation.

"There were things that should've held together but didn't, and it's taken them years to get [the reactors] back in service," he told BBC News.

"I think it was a shock to the Japanese that the plants didn't hold up as well as they should've done."

'Earthquake proof'

Nuclear engineer and fellow of the UK's Royal Academy of Engineering Dame Sue Ion said Japan had extremely tight standards when it came to ensuring nuclear power plants were earthquake-resistant.

"Authorities, utilities and reactor vendors ensure that appropriate safety systems are incorporated at the design stage and implemented in construction and operation," she observed.

"Systems automatically shut down when trigger points are reached to allow for relevant safety inspections to take place before restart.

"Japan's nuclear power stations are being shown to be robust against the threat of earthquake: Safety systems have operated as they should."

The Japan Atomic Industrial Forum said that it would continue to post regular updates on its website to keep people informed about developments at Fukushima.

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World's big cities set to become even more crowded

Audrey Stuart Yahoo News 11 Mar 11;

CANNES, France (AFP) – The world's big cities are already bursting at the seams but are set to grow even larger, with experts predicting that some 70 per cent of the world's population will be urban by 2050.

This will put great strains on infrastructure and the environment, and presents a major challenge to city planners, developers and mayors who gathered here this week at MIPIM, the world's leading annual real estate event, to look for the best way forward.

"The future of the world lies in cities," London's mayor Boris Johnson told a packed auditorium at the opening day of MIPIM Monday.

He was among leaders taking part in a "mayor's think-tank" here, who say they are increasingly starting to work together in looking for urban development initiatives to improve the quality of life for their citizens.

"We have to keep putting the village back into the city because that is fundamentally what human beings want and aspire to," Johnson told the crowd, adapting a famous statement made by India's Mahatma Gandhi that the future of India lay in its 70,000 villages.

"Cities are where people live longer, have better education outcomes, are more productive," Johnson noted, adding that cities are also where people emit less polluting carbon dioxide per capita.

In 1900, around 14 percent of the world's population lived in cities, by 1950 this had risen to 30 percent and today is 50 percent. Currently, there are more than 400 cities with a population over a million, 19 of which have over 10 million inhabitants, Robert Peto, president of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS), told a conference here.

Much of this surge in the next 40 years will occur in cities in emerging countries such as China, India, Asia, Latin America and Africa, all of which are growing very fast, Tony Lloyd-Jones, Reader in International Planning and Sustainable Development at the University of Westminster in London, told AFP.

A recent study by Citigroup published in Britain's Daily Telegraph newspaper forecast that mega-cities expected to have the fastest growing economies by the middle of the next decade include London, Chicago, Tokyo, New York, Los Angeles and Hong Kong, Sao Paulo, Mexico City, Shanghai, Buenos Aires, Mumbai and Moscow.

"There is a massive explosion of urbanism and this will have a major impact on communities, businesses, economies, and, specifically, our environment," underlined RICS's Peto.

Increased urbanisation, however, also concentrates risks as many big cities are in earthquake and flood zones. And climate change is likely to intensify these risks, Fouad Bendimerad, president of the seismic and megacities initiative in the Philippines, told a MIPIM conference.

Eight to 10 major cities around the world are under continuous threat of earthquake, including Istanbul in Turkey, Bendimerad noted. And it could take considerable time before expertise in building and planning resilient cities is developed, he noted.

Key issues for dense cities over the coming years will include sustainable development, transport and energy use, Lloyd-Jones told AFP.

"Obviously, with the price of oil going up, the pressure is on to conserve fuel and energy," Lloyd-Jones emphasised. This means that cities need to become more efficient in terms of transport infrastructure and investment in public transport is one of the keys to achieving that, he added.

Some cities are already taking steps in this direction, like London, host city for 2012 Olympic Games, which is building new river crossings ahead of that event.

And the city of Melbourne in Australia plans to create denser residential areas along transport corridors, increasing the use of solar power and recycling more onsite.

In Brazil, the city of Curitiba's highly successful program 20 years ago to expand the metropolis along very fast bus routes could also inspire other countries, Lloyd-Jones suggested.

This urban explosion is already having a big impact in China, experts here noted.

Between 18 and 20 million people each year leave the Chinese countryside for its cities, putting great strains on existing accommodation and infrastructure, experts said.

But some of China's fastest-growing cities are now looking abroad for foreign investment to help fund their redevelopment.

Officials from Chongqing, the biggest city in the western China with 32 million population, are exhibiting at MIPIM for the first time to meet potential foreign partners to help fund a massive redevelopment program that aims to double the surface area of the city by 2020.

Canada's second largest city, Montreal, is busy implementing its "Montreal 2025" plan with its numerous huge projects that include the creation of a new science and technology quarter and a huge entertainment district.

The goal is to attract more new residents to the island city, which already boasts 3.9 million inhabitants and attracts 18.8 million visitors every year.

"People want to come back and live in the city centre, which is where it all happens, offers a safe real estate investment where they can feel secure," Richard Deschamps, head of Montreal's 2025 grand plan, told AFP.

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Indonesian law may lead to ‘sale’ of islands

The Jakarta Post 12 Mar 11;

The enactment of the 2007 Law on Coastal Areas and Small Islands Management will prompt rampant sale of small islands and sea frontier areas, depriving residents from their homes and livelihoods, activists say.

People’s Coalition for Fisheries Justice Indonesia (Kiara) program director Abdul Halim said the law would break down areas into lots and require licenses (HP3) for economic activities utilizing natural resources in coastal areas.

“Local communities living in coastal areas might lose their livelihoods,” he said during a discussion held by the Mining Advocacy Network (Jatam).

Kiara is one of 10 non-government organizations and 27 fishermen’s organizations that submitted a judicial review of the law to the Constitutional Court Jan. 10, 2010. Until now, no response has been delivered by the court.

Should the law survive the review, it will authorize local authorities to govern economic activities in coastal areas, including issuing HP3 permits, Halim said.

He cited as an example the law’s Article 1 (18), which stipulates that the HP3 permit provides rights on certain parts of coastal areas for fishery and other marine-based economic activities, but also for tourism and conservation.

Companies with HP3 permits can carry out economic activities in certain parts of coastal areas for 20 years and may extend their license if necessary.

Halim said the law was obviously aiming to only achieve significant economic growth from fishery and marine resources sectors, without paying adequate attention to local communities living in coastal areas.

Local communities living in coastal areas even might face criminal charges under the law.

Article 61 of the 2007 law stipulates that local communities should surrender certain parts of coastal areas, on which they depend on for their livelihoods, to entities which obtain HP3 permits. They would receive compensation for leaving their villages, but may be evicted or punished if they refuse to move from their living areas.

Halim said similar commercialization of islands and coastal areas had impacted local communities in the coastal areas of Senggigi in Lombok, Tomia Wakatobi in Southeast Sulawesi and Bidadari Island in Thousand Islands regency.

Residents lost their livelihoods after being evicted by private companies which took over their fishing villages and changed them into exclusive resort and tourism areas, he said.

Halim said some regional administrations had issued bylaws that refer to the law.

Sudirman Saat, director general of maritime, coastal areas and small islands at the Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Ministry, said the 2007 law aimed only to better regulate the use of coastal areas.

“Most Indonesian coastal areas had been divided into lots by local communities which use them for economic activities such as fishing ponds, pearl farming, and sea-weed breeding fields, but in unsustainable ways,” he said, adding that none of the HP3 permits had yet been issued. (ebf)

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Nepal to count one-horned rhinos in wake of civil war

Yahoo News 11 Mar 11;

KATHMANDU (AFP) – Nepal said Friday it will count how many one-horned rhinos the Himalayan country still has left after the rare animals were exposed to poachers during the country's deadly civil war.

Wildlife experts riding elephants will comb the jungles of rhino sanctuaries in Bardiya National Park, Chitwan National Park and Shuklaphata National Park in the country's southern plains in the month-long survey.

"We have identified fixed habitats inside the parks where the rhinos roam," Krishna Acharya, director general of the National Park and Wildlife Conservation Department, told AFP.

The census -- the first full-fledged count of Nepal's one-horned rhinos since the end of the civil war in 2006 that claimed 16,000 lives -- will begin on April 15.

The number of rhinos fell sharply during the Maoist insurgency after the government ordered authorities guarding the sanctuaries to leave and fight the rebels, officials say.

Their departure meant there was rampant poaching, officials say.

The rhinos' horn is highly valued as an aphrodisiac in China, fetching as much as $14,000 on the international black market.

Acharya said he was hopeful that Nepal's rhino count now may have increased going by the results of one survey conducted three years ago.

A count in 2008 in and around Chitwan National Park found 408 one-horned rhinos -- up from 372 in 2005 -- and the wildlife official believes the figure has risen even further.

"The census will help us improve their habitats and increase the numbers," Acharya said.

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African elephants victims of Thai trafficking

Amelie Bottollier-depois Yahoo News 11 Mar 11;

BANGKOK (AFP) – For many years Southeast Asia had a bountiful supply of elephants to satisfy Thailand's ivory traffickers, but the decimation of the species has seen them turn to Africa for their plunder.

The more than 1,600 tusks seized since the beginning of 2009 by Thai customs indicate that more than 800 elephants were slaughtered to feed a murky and voracious international market.

"Thailand is still ranked number one" in the ivory traffic rankings, said Chris Shepherd, deputy manager for Southeast Asia at wildlife protection group Traffic.

International trade in ivory was banned in 1989, but seizures have risen dramatically in the past five years.

Experts say the trade is passing through organised networks often linked to the smuggling of rare animals from Mozambique, Tanzania or Kenya.

"When you order ivory for decoration, one elephant will be killed -- the killer is demand," said Lieutenant Colonel Adtapon Sudsai, investigation chief at the Natural Resource and Environment Crime Suppression Department.

Some of the ivory imported -- sometimes delivered without even being cleaned of the elephant's blood -- is destined for the Thai market.

Certain "businessmen or senior government officers" in the kingdom like to hang large mammals' tusks on their walls as a symbol of their power, notes Seri Thaijongrak, director of the Royal Thai Customs' investigation bureau.

Tourists also enjoy looking at the jewels and small animals carved by specialist craftsmen in northern Nakhon Sawan province, who worked traditionally with the ivory of Thailand's native elephants.

Thailand's ivory sculpting tradition started in the late 19th century when an estimated 100,000 elephants roamed the kingdom. Since then most have been lost to poachers and the clearing of their forest habitat.

Now just a few thousand remain -- many of them working in the tourism industry -- and the ivory traffickers have turned to the pachyderms' African cousins to meet considerable Asian demand.

Benefiting from its location, Thailand exports much of the ivory, rough or carved, to China -- where it is traditionally used in medicinal powders -- and Japan. But some also ends up in the United States and Europe.

Critics say the authorities need to take tougher action.

"We are not seeing significant prosecutions," said Justin Gosling, of Interpol's environmental crimes department in the Asia-Pacific region.

"Seizures must be met with prosecutions, and not (just) prosecution of the transporters, poachers and consumers, but the key people controlling this trade," he added.

Experts are pessimistic about justice being done, with a lack of communication between Bangkok and relevant African authorities and inadequate training of the customs and police officers.

"Wildlife crime in these parts of the world still is not seen as a priority," said Shepherd.

When financial means exists, they are on the wrong side of the battle, experts say, with much remaining to be done against corruption.

"In order to smuggle these huge quantities, there need to be corrupt officials involved in this," insists Gosling.

The local press recently reported on the disappearance of ivory stocks in a customs warehouse, an incident that does not appear isolated.

But even the most optimistic admit that the fight is a difficult one.

The ivory confiscated by customs since 2009 is worth nearly 250 million baht (nearly six million euros), and such success means the traffickers "will probably change their tactic," said Gosling.

In anticipation of such a switch, customs officials -- who recently made seizures at a Bangkok airport -- have been reinforcing controls at ports, said Seri -- but he warned it was hard to keep up.

"We are always one step behind them," he said. "Maybe many steps behind."

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US scientists recruit crocodiles to save wetlands

Juan Castro Olivera Yahoo News 11 Mar 11;

MIAMI (AFP) – US scientists in the Florida Everglades are recruiting crocodiles and alligators in their fight to preserve the fragile wetlands by implanting satellite chips in their necks for the first time.

As the animals make their way through different parts of the sprawling national park they beam back information on changes in the ecosystem and its impact on their size and movement patterns.

"They are giving us important data... They are working for us," says Frank Mazzotti, an ecologist and expert in the large reptiles at the University of Florida.

The information is transferred by satellite to a computer application that uses Google maps to track the movements of the animals, who are captured and released in groups of around 15 at a time.

"Scientists use different parameters to track responses of alligators and crocodiles to changes in the ecosystem, including their number, their weight, their size and their places of habitat," Mazzotti said.

"All this information provides important data that is instrumental in analyzing the health of the Everglades? ecosystem" and in seeing whether past conservation efforts have succeeded.

Conservationists estimate there are between 500 and 1,200 crocodiles -- distinguished from alligators by their narrower snouts and exposed teeth -- in southern Florida.

The animals, which can grow to be 15 feet (4.5 meters) long and weigh up to 450 pounds (200 kilograms), have declined in number over recent years because of loss of habitat, illegal poaching and water pollution.

Like the many bird species that inhabit the Everglades, the fate of alligators and crocodiles is closely tied to water levels, which largely determine their food supply, Mazzotti said.

Falling water levels results in fewer plants, needed for nesting and shelter, as well as fewer fish to support the larger animals such as birds and reptiles.

An estimated 30,000 to 50,000 birds nest in the Everglades every year, a drastic reduction from the 1940s, when as many as 500,000 lived there, said Jerry Lorenz, of the Audobon of Florida, a conservation group.

"In more than half a century, it's been about a 90 percent decline on average," he said.

A succession of floods, hurricanes, fires and drought has produced a unique ecosystem in the Everglades with a wealth of rare plants and animals, including the crocodiles, manatees, flying squirrels and gray foxes that climb trees.

Conservationists fear that budget cuts could complicate efforts to conserve the wetlands, with a million visitors every year attracted to the Everglades National Park, a subtropical wilderness.

The popular French clothing brand Lacoste, which funds a global program to protect crocodiles called "Saving the Logo" after its own trademark, is contributing to the efforts to conserve crocodiles and alligators in the Everglades.

The company, founded by French tennis champion Rene Lacoste, is putting up some $150,000 over the next three years to help save crocodiles around the world.

"We are very pleased to participate in this new project that clearly emphasizes the importance and the key role of crocodiles and alligators in the ecosystem," said chief executive Christophe Chenut.

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