Best of our wild blogs: 19 Mar 11

Hunt for the Blue eared kingfisher!
from Biodiversity Singapore

From Pasir Ris to Ubin
from Beauty of Fauna and Flora in Nature

Changi practical again
from PurpleMangrove

Another look at Kranji Nature Trail mangroves
from wild shores of singapore

My room 2010
from Singapore Nature

Spot the monkeys!
from The Biodiversity crew @ NUS

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Singapore: Go beyond 60 minutes for next week's Earth Hour

Yuen Sin Straits Times 19 Mar 11;

THE Earth Hour logo is familiar to many - that bold six and zero imprinted with the world map.

But the logo for the yearly event in which people switch off the lights for 60 minutes in a symbolic show of environmental awareness has taken on a plus sign this year to become '60+'. In other words, everyone is being invited to go 'beyond the hour'.

A slew of new initiatives and events has been lined up for Earth Hour this year, to be observed next Saturday. For starters, the movement has launched a global online platform and an iPhone application, along with a campaign to encourage Singaporeans to become more energy efficient.

Mr Andy Ridley, the co-founder and executive director of Earth Hour, told reporters this month: 'It's through the collective action of individuals and organisations that we'll be able to truly make a difference, which is why we're urging people across the planet to share how they will go beyond the hour this Earth Hour.'

So besides turning the lights off between 8.30pm and 9.30pm next Saturday, Singaporeans may go to to type out - in 120 keystrokes or fewer - the concrete steps they have taken towards living in a more environmentally sustainable manner. Those with Apple iPhones may download 60+ from the Apple iTunes store. With the app, iPhone users can earn virtual badges by committing to, for example, using natural lighting whenever possible; they can also share news about their virtual badges with their friends via social networking sites like Facebook.

The drive to go green among organisations and individuals will call for air-conditioning temperatures to be set at 24 deg C or higher, which maximises energy efficiency and cost savings. Resorts World Sentosa and more than 50 malls, hotels and retailers under the Orchard Road Business Association have pledged their commitment to this.

CapitaLand, which runs more than 30 shopping malls, residential and commercial properties here, will organise a 'Wear Less Day' on Friday - on which its tenants will be encouraged to dress down as temperatures are turned up.

Other events lined up for next Saturday include the 3.5km Earth Hour Night Walk organised by the World Wide Fund for Nature Singapore in Marina Bay during Earth Hour. Participants pay $15 each; those aged 12 or under can walk for free.

A free concert and carnival will be held at The Promontory@Marina Bay from 5.30pm, after which the award-winning environmental documentary The Age of Stupid will be screened.

The Marymount Ladies Group will sell bags, jewellery and other items made from recycled materials at the carnival, with the proceeds going to underprivileged women and children in the Philippines.

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Biofuels development: Singapore powering ahead, but gaps remain

Slew of projects started in bid to be hub for renewable energy
Grace Chua Straits Times 19 Mar 11;

SINGAPORE is charging forward in a bid to be a powerhouse in renewable energy.

Early this month, Finnish firm Neste Oil officially opened in Tuas the world's largest plant to make biodiesel using palm oil, palm waste and waste animal fat.

The plant, which exports to Europe and North America, joins those of other renewable-energy giants which opened here recently: Danish wind-power firm Vestas and Norwegian solar-energy company Renewable Energy Corporation.

Earlier this month, Singapore hosted a conference on energy harnessed from biological sources like plants and algae. Part of the prestigious Keystone Symposia series, it was attended by scientists worldwide.

At the Neste Oil plant opening, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean said: 'In Singapore, we are actively pursuing projects that could leverage biorenewable raw materials for the production of fuels, as well as for the production of chemical products.'

European aerospace and defence firm EADS last year started a year-long partnership with the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*Star) to study whether microalgae could be used as a source of jet fuel.

But it will take at least six years before algal fuel can be used effectively as fuel feedstock, said Neste Oil chief executive Matti Lievonen. The firm is also doing research on algal biofuel overseas.

The Economic Development Board is carrying out a study of materials like palm oil, sugarcane and plant biomass as feedstock for Jurong Island plants to produce plastics, chemicals and other industrial polymers.

Small firms like Alpha Biodiesel have seen some success in refining waste oil.

Researchers and industry players believe more can be done. For one thing, demand for biofuels is still driven by government mandate and not by price.

For example, governments in Europe and North America have ruled that transportation fuels must contain a certain amount of biodiesel.

In the euro zone, 5.75 per cent of transport fuel must be biobased. For the United States, 800 million gallons of biomass-based diesel is mandated for this year.

That is why such countries represent the biggest market for Neste and other biodiesel makers. No country in Asia has adopted any such mandate and Mr Lievonen said, in the next five years, Asia is 'not going to be a big market for us'.

Malaysia, though, is expected to adopt a biofuel mandate in some states this year, which will support the country's palm oil industry.

Singapore could boost demand for renewable energy - not necessarily by adopting legislation, but by putting a price on the higher carbon emissions of fossil fuels.

It could be a tax on carbon emissions or an official cap on the amount of carbon that can be emitted, and allowing companies to buy carbon credits.

But these proposals may be too bold for Singapore, said A*Star Science and Engineering Council chair Charles Zukoski. 'Singapore won't lead in terms of carbon taxes but it's also clear that the Government isn't going to lag behind either,' he said.

It is already taking steps to curb energy use. He added: 'Car quotas, energy efficiency, building consumption and smart grids for the local population... these things are being pursued.'

Said Mr Lim Chuan Poh, A*Star's chairman, at the biofuels conference: 'Singapore has identified the clean energy industry as a strategic growth area since 2007, and had begun to implement a comprehensive blueprint to grow the industry.'

Typically, interest in biofuels waxes and wanes with the price of oil. In July 2008, for instance, oil hit US$145 a barrel - and in September that year, the US Department of Energy offered six universities US$4.4 million in biofuel research funding.

Right now, oil prices are high - around US$99 a barrel. Industry players and researchers worry, however, that if prices drop again, so will excitement over biofuels.

Total global biofuel production currently accounts for about 1 per cent of traded energy, or about 20 billion gallons a year, and a US$40 billion (S$51 billion) market. But it is expected to reach 144 billion gallons per year by 2022, based on standards set by various governments for renewable energy use.

The lack of supply-side mandates also affects business. For example, Mr Edwin Khew, whose firm IUT Global converts food waste into biogas for electricity, has long bemoaned the lack of laws to require food outlets to recycle their waste.

Locally, what more can be done?

Dr Wong Pui Kwan of A*Star's Institute of Chemical and Engineering Sciences is looking at producing high-value polymers and chemicals from biobased feedstocks.

And high-protein by-products of algal oil production could be tapped for animal feed, suggested algal fuel researcher Jeffrey Obbard, who is based in Hawaii.

Top of the wish list for A*Star's Mr Zukoski is for Singapore to build a larger-than-lab-scale demonstration plant to show that it can be ramped up to commercial scale.

Such a plant could handle high-density algal oil, for example, cultivated in a neighbouring country, and that has already undergone some basic refining there.

But, Dr Zukoski explained, when it comes to both biofuels and renewable energy in general, there is no single 'silver bullet' technology that can replace fossil fuels. It will have to be 'silver buckshot' instead, he said.

Current initiatives

# Neste Oil has opened the world's largest biodiesel plant that uses palm oil, palm waste and waste animal fat.

# European aerospace and defence firm EADS has started a year-long partnership with A*Star to study whether microalgae could be used as a source of jet fuel.

Lack of mandate in region

# Demand for biofuels is still driven by government mandate and not by price, and no country in Asia has mandated that transportation fuels contain a certain amount of biodiesel.

What Singapore can do

# Impose a tax on carbon emissions or cap the amount of carbon that can be emitted.

# Build a larger-than-lab-scale plant to demonstrate that high-value polymers and chemicals from biobased feedstocks can be ramped up to commercial scale.

New research tracks palm oil's carbon footprint
Straits Times 19 Mar 11;

FOR the first time, researchers using satellite techniques have measured and mapped the full extent of South-east Asia's oil palm cultivation - and linked it directly to carbon dioxide emissions.

They reckon there are about 8.3 million ha of oil palm plantations in peninsular Malaysia, Borneo and Sumatra - that is roughly the size of two Switzerlands.

The growing industry provides a valuable resource - palm oil is widely used in food, as biofuel and to make other products such as cosmetics.

Some 880,000ha of the plantations were converted from peat-swamp forests.

High in biodiversity, peat swamps have vast carbon dioxide stores, so clearing the forests resulted in 140 million tonnes of carbon being added to the atmosphere, the researchers concluded from their findings.

The research paper by Dr Koh Lian Pin and his colleagues at the National University of Singapore and Swiss technical university ETH Zurich was published earlier this month in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The paper's authors also noted that the satellite monitoring techniques could be used to track how far oil palm cultivation had encroached on peat forests.

In addition, their research looked at what implications arise from how the cleared land is being or will be utilised.

Since the early 2000s, 2.3 million ha of peatlands have been cleared, but they have yet to be cultivated. These cleared areas might contain young oil palm, remnants of the original vegetation or grass.

Reforestation of these areas could increase bird, animal and plant life by up to 20 per cent in some parts, whereas planting oil palm would decrease species by up to 12 per cent, the scientists estimated.

'The fate of these cleared lands has immense environmental implications,' Dr Koh told The Straits Times by e-mail.

Developing the land would exacerbate carbon and biodiversity losses. In contrast, conservation and regeneration would protect wildlife and help store more carbon.

Dr Koh recommended that areas with lots of peat-swamp forests be protected, such as West and Central Kalimantan and Riau.

Oil palm is not the only industry being studied. Other scientists are measuring the environmental impact of the pulp and paper industry, another sector often involved in clearing of peatlands.


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Quality of air, water and food in Singapore all safe

Checks stepped up, but no evidence of abnormalities
Feng Zengkun Straits Times 19 Mar 11;

NO ABNORMAL changes in radiation levels have been measured in Singapore following Japan's nuclear crisis, said several government agencies yesterday.

Wind directions also mean that it is highly unlikely that the radiation plume from Japan would blow over here.

But as a precaution, checks on water supplies and food imported from Japan have been stepped up, but they so far show no signs of contamination.

These assurances came from the National Environment Agency (NEA), the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) and national water agency PUB, which held a joint briefing yesterday.

Their assessment follows the Government's statement on Tuesday urging the public not to be unduly alarmed by the Fukushima nuclear incident.

Speaking at the briefing, Environment and Water Resources Minister Yaacob Ibrahim said: 'Even looking ahead to the worst-case scenario in Japan, we don't think Singapore will be affected.'

But as a precaution, the authorities have stepped up measures to keep a close watch on the situation.

Since Monday, three monitoring stations at Changi Airport, Changi Naval Base and the Orchard Road area have started to measure radiation levels around the clock, instead of once a week previously.

The stations recorded levels of between 0.05 and 0.1 microsieverts per hour, which are well within international health standards set by the World Health Organisation (see graphic).

NEA chief executive Andrew Tan cited a comparison: A single dental scan is 30 microsieverts, or 300 times the amount of hourly radiation measured here.

Although radiation in Singapore is higher than in parts of Japan like Kyoto and Hokkaido - where levels of 0.04 and 0.03 microsieverts were detected on Monday - this is not unusual, said Mr Tan.

He said Singapore's higher radiation level has always been the case and it could be a result of its proximity to the equator, which makes the radiation from the sun stronger.

He added that the radiation from Japan is unlikely to affect Singapore because the two countries are some 5,300km apart.

Prevailing wind conditions in Japan would also mean that the radiation plume from the quake-crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant is likely to blow west towards the Pacific Ocean, away from Singapore, he noted.

Even if wind directions were to change, the Republic is too far away to be affected by any radiation plume.

This is because the clouds become less harmful as they travel, due to radioactive particles falling out of them.

By the time the radiation plume reaches Singapore's shores - an unlikely scenario to begin with - it would be no more harmful than radiation from the sun.

To keep abreast of developments, the authorities are also consulting international experts, as well as tracking the radiation levels of other countries closer to Japan, such as South Korea.

So far, countries in the region, such as South Korea, China and Thailand, have reported no change in radiation levels since the disaster.

Water, another area of possible contamination, is also being checked as part of the PUB's routine operations.

Additional checks were also carried out and no abnormal changes have been detected so far, said Mr Harry Seah, PUB's director of technology and water quality.

The same applies to Japanese food imports. AVA said it has increased the number of checks on imports such as seafood, fruits, vegetables and meat.

It added that any impact on Singapore's food supply is likely to be minimal. Last year, seafood imported from Japan made up less than 2 per cent of total seafood imports, while the import of other foods was negligible at less than 0.5 per cent.

Check facts, don't heed old wives' tales
Straits Times 19 Mar 11;

THERE is plenty of nonsense and old wives' tales circulating in the wake of Japan's nuclear crisis.

The department director of the Centre for Radiation Protection and Nuclear Science, Mr Koh Kim Hock, advised people to ignore mobile phone text messages and e-mail purporting to be from experts.

Since the disaster broke, several messages have made the rounds, including one urging people to stock up on salt. This is based on the erroneous belief that table salt can prevent radioactive iodine from being absorbed by the body.

Mr Koh debunked such myths and urged people not to pass on such messages without verifying them against authoritative sources.

There was similarly no need for people to stay indoors or wear raincoats in case of radioactive rain, another widely circulated piece of misinformation.

Singapore is unlikely to be affected by radioactive clouds from Japan, which is more than 5,000km away.

Should the situation change, government agencies would be the first to issue appropriate advice.

'Go to the right place for the right information,' he advised, citing the World Health Organisation and Singapore Government websites as examples.

Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Yaacob Ibrahim, who spoke briefly to reporters at the press conference, said Government agencies would continue to monitor the effects of Japan's disaster on Singapore.

The checks would include practices already in place - for example, on the radiation level and food imported from Japan.

'We have emergency plans if the situation worsens,' he said.

He offered his condolences to the Japanese people, and also took the opportunity to remind Singaporeans to avoid travelling to Japan unless necessary.

Those already in Japan should avoid going within 100km of the reactor sites in Fukushima.

Singapore radiation levels normal
Dylan Loh/Tan Qiuyi/Sara Grosse Channel NewsAsia 18 Mar 11;

SINGAPORE: The National Environment Agency (NEA) said on Friday that there are no abnormal changes in radiation levels in Singapore and the public should not be unduly alarmed.

The same assurance came from national water agency PUB which said it is monitoring water supplies and there is no sign of contamination so far.

Some Singaporeans are concerned that dangerous particles from Japan's troubled Fukushima nuclear reactors could get to Singapore.

The UN International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) currently categorises the Fukushima incident as level 4, which is an "accident with local consequences".

But Japan's nuclear safety agency on Friday raised the threat level to 5, indicating "an accident with wider consequences".

Natural background radiation varies from place to place, but NEA said the average level in Singapore averages at about 0.1 microsieverts per hour, which is within safe limits.

It said it is closely tracking the impact of the Fukushima nuclear incident, and is conducting daily modelling studies.

As Singapore is located more than 5,000 kilometres away from Fukushima, NEA said there is minimal risk of Singapore being affected by the radioactive plume.

"Looking ahead, in the worst-case scenario, if there is a radioactive plume resulting from an explosion at the incident site, the risk of it arriving in Singapore is indeed very low because we are about 5,000 kilometres away," said Environment and Water Resources Minister Yaacob Ibrahim on the sidelines of a briefing by the NEA.

"But even if we assume that there are prevailing winds transporting the plume towards Singapore, by the time the plume has travelled that distance, the concentration would have been reduced significantly, back to sort of the normal background levels. So there is minimal risk of Singapore being affected by any radiological plume."

Experts added that there is also no need to rush for potassium iodide pills.

"It is not a magic cure for any form of radiation exposure. The only purpose of taking potassium iodide tablets is to saturate the thyroid gland with non-radioactive iodine to block the excess of the radioactive iodine into the body. And that recommendation is only to take it only when the authorities instruct people to do so," said Anthony Goh, head of Singapore General Hospital's Department of Nuclear Medicine.

Health Minister Khaw Boon Wan also said there's no reason for Singaporeans to worry about the radiation leak from Japan.

"Obviously it's a very serious situation in Fukushima nuclear plant itselt. But based on the assessment, I think the risk outside of Fukushima is very low and certainly Singapore being very far away, the risk is an extremely low one. In any case we have to be geared up just in case," he said.

The minister was speaking after receiving the Eminent Alumni Award from the Australian Trade Commission on Friday.

This is the highest honour given out at the inaugural Australian Alumni Awards.

Mr Khaw, a graduate from the University of Newcastle, was among nine alumni members who were recognised for their exemplary achievements or contribution.


'There's no cause for alarm here'
No signs of radioactive contamination in water, air
Dylan Loh Today Online 19 Mar 11;

SINGAPORE - Repeating the Government's reassurances - which came in the form of a comprehensive public statement on Tuesday - the National Environment Agency (NEA) and water agency PUB held a media briefing on Friday with a clear message: There is no cause for alarm in spite of the nuclear crisis in Japan.

Radiation levels, which have been monitored by the NEA since Monday, have not shown any abnormal changes. The water supplies also do not indicate any signs of contamination, PUB said.

Environment and Water Resources Minister Yaacob Ibrahim told reporters on the sidelines of the briefing that the data showed a "very safe level", with radiation averaging about 0.1 microsievert per hour - taking into account background radiation.

Said Dr Yaacob: "Looking ahead, in the worst-case scenario, if there is a radioactive plume resulting from an explosion at the incident site, the risk of it arriving in Singapore is indeed very low because we are about 5,000 kilometres away."

He added: "Even if we assume that there are prevailing winds transporting the plume towards Singapore, by the time the plume has travelled that distance, the concentration would have been reduced significantly, back to ... the normal background levels. So there is minimal risk of Singapore being affected by any radiological plume."

Separately, Health Minister Khaw Boon Wan also reiterated that the risk "outside of Fukushima is very low and certainly (for) Singapore ... the risk is an extremely low one".

"In any case we have to be geared up, just in case," said Mr Khaw, who was speaking to reporters on the sidelines of the inaugural Australian Alumni Awards.

Latest updates on the Japan situation can be found on the website of the NEA, which is closely tracking the impact. NEA is also conducting daily studies to determine likely wind directions.

The NEA has deployed two machines to monitor radiation levels: One at its Scotts Road headquarters and the other at the Singapore Meteorological Services premises in Changi.

The machines monitor the air for contamination round-the-clock. Readings are sent via the country's 3G mobile network to an information database for monitoring.

Dr Anthony Goh, who heads the department of nuclear medicine at the Singapore General Hospital, said that there is also no need to rush for potassium iodide pills.

Said Dr Goh: "It is not a magic cure for any form of radiation exposure. The only purpose of taking potassium iodide tablets is to saturate the thyroid gland with non-radioactive iodine to block the access of radioactive iodine into the body."

And the public should only take such tablets when instructed by the authorities, said Dr Goh.

Singapore radiation levels normal, says NEA
Dylan Loh Today Online 18 Mar 11;

The National Environment Agency (NEA) said on Friday that there are no abnormal changes in radiation levels in Singapore and the public should not be unduly alarmed.

The same assurance came from national water agency PUB which said it is monitoring water supplies and there is no sign of contamination so far.

Natural background radiation varies from place to place, but NEA said the average level in Singapore averages at about 0.1 microsieverts per hour, which is within safe limits.

It said it is closely tracking the impact of the Fukushima nuclear incident, and is conducting daily modelling studies.

As Singapore is located more than 5,000 kilometres away from Fukushima, NEA said there is minimal risk of Singapore being affected by the radioactive plume.

"Looking ahead, in the worst-case scenario, if there is a radioactive plume resulting from an explosion at the incident site, the risk of it arriving in Singapore is indeed very low because we are about 5,000 kilometres away," said Environment and Water Resources Minister Yaacob Ibrahim at the NEA news conference on Friday.

"But even if we assume that there are prevailing winds transporting the plume towards Singapore, by the time the plume has travelled that distance, the concentration would have been reduced significantly, back to sort of the normal background levels. So there is minimal risk of Singapore being affected by any radiological plume."

The UN International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) currently categorises the Fukushima incident as level 4, which is an "accident with local consequences".

But Japan's nuclear safety agency on Friday raised the threat level to 5, indicating "an accident with wider consequences".

Radioactivity not likely to reach here: NEA
Long distances would also reduce the concentration
Nisha Ramchandani Business Times 19 Mar 11;

THE likelihood of a radioactive plume from Japan ever reaching Singapore's shores is very low, the National Environment Agency (NEA) said yesterday.

Even in the worst case scenario, the travelling distance would reduce the radioactive concentration to normal background levels, it said.

Addressing growing concerns that radioactive material could spread from Japan's earthquake-damaged nuclear reactors, the NEA highlighted that winds would more likely disperse any radioactive material towards the Pacific Ocean.

On the offchance that the radioactive cloud is carried here as a result of the North-East Monsoon winds, the 5,000 km or so of distance between Singapore and Japan would sharply decrease the radioactive concentration of the plume.

Daily modelling studies are being conducted by the NEA.

The NEA's radiation monitoring stations are also checking radiation levels here and have found no abnormal changes in radiation levels. The level of natural background radiation averages about 0.1 microSivert per hour, which is considered a safe level.

'NEA continues to monitor closely through our radiation monitoring stations and is also in close consultation with international and local experts,' said Yaacob Ibrahim, Minister for the Environment and Water Resources, speaking to the media at the sidelines of the NEA briefing.

There are monitoring stations at Changi Airport, at the Environment Building and at Changi Naval Base, as well as a mobile monitoring vehicle.

'If levels worsen, which is unlikely, we'll put in place the contingency plans that we have,' said NEA CEO Andrew Tan at yesterday's press conference.

The PUB has also been checking water samples and have found no changes in the water quality.

In reference to Japan's Fukushima nuclear plant, Koh Kim Hock, the director of the Centre for Radiation Protection and Nuclear Science, highlighted that unlike the Chernobyl disaster, the Fukushima nuclear reactor is a water based one and also has a containment vessel - factors which suggest that a repeat of Chernobyl is unlikely.

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Japan tsunami may have damaged marine life

Ali Best, ninemsn 18 Mar 11;

The devastating tsunami that swept through north east Japan last Friday may have significantly unsettled the wider marine environment, an expert has said.

The huge wave that followed the 9-magnitude quake carried huge volumes of water in land, destroying towns and engulfing everything in its path.

It returns back to sea with a great amount of force and can be directed by the shape of the coastal floor, causing whirlpools similar to the huge swirl that was seen last week.

The damage caused by such a formation is dependent on the area where it occurs, but it can lead to significant long-term harm to marine life.

"It's a little bit like a cyclone on a smaller scale," said Dr Mark Gibbs, Deputy Chief of the CSIRO Marine and Atmospheric Research group. "And the tsunami itself going through there would have caused a lot of damage.

"Those sorts of massive events will suck up lots of seaweeds and animals and cause a lot of (marine) mortality."

The wave would have dragged a lot of sediment and debris from the land and deposited it into the ocean. Experts believe this impact will affect light and sediment levels, further damaging the unique marine environment.

Mark Baird, a biological oceanographer at Sydney's University of Technology, said it could take years for the area to regenerate, even if there was only grass on the sea floor.

"If it was just micro-organisms in a muddy bed it might take only a short time," he said.

"But if there's sea grass it may take a few years it to grow back."

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Move to protect sharks in Sabah

Ruben Sario The Star 19 Mar 11;

KOTA KINABALU: The Sabah government is willing to consider a call for sharks to be placed in the list of protected species under the Wildlife Act.

Sabah Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Masidi Manjun said he would be meeting with officials of the Junior Chamber International (JCI) Tanjung Aru who made the call.

“I agree we need to relook at what we have included in the protected species list,” he said.

Masidi added that his ministry had already made it a point that shark’s fin was off the menu at any of its functions, to contribute to the conservation of the marine creature.

The JCI Tanjung Aru said protecting sharks is crucial as a recent informal survey by a group of 30 divers in Sabah waters showed that sharks were only seen in protected areas such as Pulau Sipadan and marine parks.

The group said sharks should be included in the list of protected species in Sabah along with the Sumatran rhino and orang utan.

The JCI Tanjung Aru had embarked on a campaign to get Sabahans to reject the consumption of shark’s fin in an effort to save the marine species.

For a start, shark’s fin soup is off the menu in any events organised by the the Junior Chamber International (JCI) Tanjung Aru.

JCI Tanjung Aru members also intends to visit schools to raise the awareness on how the consumption of shark fins is endangering the animal.

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Sharks use fish to stay clean, says Bangor research

BBC News 18 Mar 11;

Sharks make a big effort to be hygienic and swim to shallower waters to attract small fish which will remove parasites and tissue, research has found.

But this is viewed as risky because it leaves them vulnerable to people.

Bangor University scientists carried out work in the Philippines, concentrating on the endangered thresher shark.

It would come inshore to underwater mountains which are home to shallow water reefs.

This is where they interact with a type of small fish that grooms other fish species.

Bangor PhD student Simon Oliver, of the School of Ocean Sciences, said: "I equate it to having surgery if you had a head full of lice, and no way of removing them.

"Parasites are extraordinarily successful organisms and would propagate if the sharks had no way of getting rid of them.

"So these cleaning services are essential to the life history of these animals."

Mr Oliver thinks it is reasonable to infer that many species of sharks do this, both in tropical waters and possibly off the British coast.

In his work off the Philippines, he observed different species of shark visiting the same underwater mountains to be cleaned - an example of co-operative behaviour between animals.

"But what's unique about our [research] is that the clients we're looking at are large predatory animals," he said.

"It's like a lion at a waterhole with an antelope. Its thirst takes precedence over the natural order of things.

"The grey reef shark could easily take a bite out of a thresher, or a ray, but doesn't, which shows the necessity for these cleaners."

But this is not their only way of keeping clean.

"Another behaviour is breeching, where they launch themselves out of the water and slap back down," said Mr Oliver.

"I interpret that they are most likely again trying to dislodge parasites, especially those locked into their gills which aren't easily reached by the cleaners."

Dr John Turner, senior lecturer in marine biology and Mr Oliver's supervisor at Bangor, said: "The work uniquely describes why some oceanic sharks come into coastal waters to perform an important life function which is easily disturbed by man.

"Such knowledge will inform offshore industry, science, and conservation policy."

Mr Oliver has set up a shark research and conservation project to promote shark research.

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Malaysia: Sugar gliders could cause imbalance in the local ecosystem

Mohd Farhaan Shah The Star 19 Mar 11;

JOHOR BARU: Sugar gliders are not meant to be kept as pets.

The nocturnal animal could cause an imbalance in the local ecosystem if released into the wild said Malaysian Nature Society Johor advisor Vincent Chow.

Chow added that although the animals are cute and adorable, not many people knew how to take care of them.

“Most buyers tend to get bored of them as they are only active at night and spend most of their time sleeping in the day.

“Because of this, many sugar gliders are released into the wild,” he said.

The mammal, added Chow, are not native to Malaysia.

A member of the marsupial family, the sugar glider can be found in Western Australian and Papua New Guinea.

Other species categorised as marsupials includes Koala, Eastern Grey Kangaroo, Common Brushtail Possum, Virginia Opossum, and the Tasmanian Devil.

“The animals are also not used to our climate as it is hot and humid compared to their native home,” he said, adding that the change in climate could kill them.

Chow added that most owners also tend to change the natural diet of the sugar gliders who are more used to feeding on insects, nectar, pollen and fruits.

Their food were often substituted with pellets, which are often fed to rabbits.

“It is wrong for parents to encourage their children to keep such pets and we need to educate our society on why these animals should not be kept as pets.

“Buying sugar gliders and keeping them as pets are actually encouraging poachers and smugglers to smuggle the animals from the natural environment.”

Sugar gliders are sold as pets between RM150 to RM500 each.

In relation to the matter, Johor Wildlife and National Park department (PERHILITAN) director Saharudin Anan said the animal is not listed as a protected specie in the country.

“Pet stores do not require permits from the department to sell the animals however pet owner must be responsible in taking care of it,” he said.

It was recently reported that the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (APMM) had halted an attempt to smuggle in 200 sugar gliders into the country at Pengerang waters in Kota Tinggi.

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Botanic gardens could do more to stop the escape of non-native species

Hopping the fence
Nature 18 Mar 11;

Modern botanic gardens are much more than just attractive strolling grounds. Many have labs in which botanists and taxonomists ply their trade. And many take an interest in conservation of the world's flora, often by fostering rare species.

But they aren't always a force for good when it comes to conservation, according to a study by Philip Hulme, a weed specialist at Lincoln University in New Zealand1. Hulme says that many invasive plant species escaped from botanic gardens, and that the gardens do not do enough to keep their collections in check.

Hulme got the idea for the research in Tanzania. The field site he was visiting was near a botanic garden, and he could see that many of the plants in the site had come from the garden. "A lot of the species were spreading into the forest," he says.

Hulme first looked at the 34 plants on an International Union for Conservation of Nature list of 100 of the worst invasive species. For 19 of the 34, there was evidence that they may have escaped from botanic gardens. For example, the Brazilian fruiting tree known as strawberry guava (Psidium cattleianum), which runs riot all over the Hawaiian Islands, is thought to have jumped the fence from the Harold L. Lyon Arboretum in Honolulu in the early 20th century.

Most of these events were long ago, back when some gardens were trying to get non-native — or alien — plants to naturalize in new places, or at least knew nothing of the threat they might pose to native ecosystems. So Hulme decided to check whether botanic gardens had since cleaned up their act.

To find out, he looked at whether areas with more botanic gardens had more alien plants living there. He used published accounts of the Gross Domestic Product, population density and alien species diversity of 26 counties. Then he added to the mix the number of botanic gardens per unit area, using a master list of gardens kept by Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BGCI), a global network of botanic gardens that is based in London. He discovered that they did, although the effect was not strong once the prosperity of the region and the number of people living there were accounted for. But 12% of the variation in alien-plant richness seems to be down to botanic gardens.

Hulme does point out that he has found a correlation, not a causal relationship. High numbers of gardens and alien species might both be the result of some third factor. "Does it reflect cultures that are really keen on horticulture?" he asks. Whatever the reason, Hulme thinks the figure should be enough to make garden managers take notice.

According to Hulme, few gardens have signed onto voluntary pledges such as the St Louis Declaration, wherein they promise to keep an eye on potential invasive plants, and few have undertaken any kind of risk assessment of their operations. "I just wanted to prick the conscience of botanic gardens," he says.
All abuzz

Stephen Blackmore, head of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, UK, says that the botanic-garden community has been buzzing about Hulme's paper. Many of the managers that he's corresponded with feel that the picture Hulme paints is a bit simplistic. In particular, Blackmore says, many share the sense that the era of botanic gardens as intentional introducers of plants to new areas is long past and that, these days, home gardeners and the horticultural trade are more likely sources of new invasive species.

"I am not saying that that lets botanic gardens off the hook," says Blackmore. He agrees that the issue is an important one to highlight. But he also says that many gardens take steps to limit the danger of unwanted escapees. At his garden, he says, new specimens from abroad are held in quarantine houses until they've been checked for diseases or fungus that might pose a threat. And its shop doesn't sell anything that is considered invasive.

Meanwhile, BGCI is beginning a project with the Council of Europe to develop guidelines about the management of alien and invasive species in European botanic gardens, according to Suzanne Sharrock, director of global programmes at the BGCI. The guidelines will then be adapted for the BGCI's members beyond Europe and folded into the organization's general guidelines for botanic gardens interested in conservation. She expects a draft of the European version of the guidelines to be available by August.

Widespread adoption of such guidelines might just change the plants and trees that visitors see at botanic gardens. Hulme says some showy but potentially invasive species, such as the African Tulip Tree (Spathodea campanulata) are commonly planted in "a bit of laziness" because "everybody likes them". There are, he contends, plenty of pretty trees that don't have a tendency to run wild.

1. Hulme, P. E. Trends Ecol. Evol. 26, 168-174 (2011).

Botanic gardens 'play role in invasive species spread'
Mark Kinver BBC News 25 Mar 11;

Evidence suggests that botanic gardens play a part in the spread of invasive alien species, which have escaped from collections, a study has concluded.

The paper's author says garden managers need to focus on assessing the risk of potentially invasive plants escaping.

The findings will appear in the journal Trends in Ecology and Evolution.

A spokeswoman for botanic gardens said the majority of releases were historical, and that gardens were now aware of their responsibilities.

"Over a number of years, I had been trying to find out why the main reasons why some plants become so well established in different parts of the world," said author Philip Hulme, professor of plant biosecurity at Lincoln University, New Zealand.

"There was always anecdotal evidence that suggested that botanic gardens might have played a role," he told BBC News but added that there had been no authoritative or substantive assessment.

This prompted Professor Hulme to see how many examples of "escapes" there were of the 34 plant species on a list of some of the world's most invasive species.

"To my surprise, I found that 19 out of the 34 had records of having escaped from at least one botanic garden," he explained.

"Most of those records were from the tropics, particularly tropical islands.

"It gives us a signal that there was a potential role of these botanic gardens in, at least, introducing or the early cultivation of problematic species in many of these sites."

Changing times

Professor Hulme said his interest in looking at the role of botanic gardens in allowing invasive species to become established stemmed from personal experience in Tanzania.

While he was there, he saw that species that had formed part of the local botanic garden's collection had escaped and become established in the neighbouring forest.

"This made me think that botanic gardens could have a role, and the paper just attempts to sketch out under what circumstances that might occur," he said.

"Historically, perhaps the gardens were less worried about the environment.

"Now, everyone acknowledges that they have stepped up their game and they are very much involved in plant conservation globally, particularly ex-situ conservation."

Responding to Professor Hulme's paper, Suzanne Sharrock - director of global programmes for Botanic Gardens Conservation International - said many examples of invasives escaping were from a different age.

"The majority of examples... date back to a time when botanic gardens were encouraged, and indeed even set up specifically to introduce exotic plants," she explained.

"The situation is very different today and we believe that botanic are more aware than ever of their responsibilities in this respect. BGCI does encourage botanic gardens to carry out risk assessments of their collections and we are also presently working with the Council of Europe to develop a 'code of conduct' for botanic gardens and invasive species."

Dr Sharrock told BBC News that the BGCI, set up by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and whose network covered 118 nations, now focused on helping botanic gardens become part of the solution.

"For example using their collections as the basis for the development of early warning systems in the face of changing environmental conditions," she added.

"I think we need to keep the issue in perspective. If I understand correctly, [Professor] Hulme is suggesting that only 12% of the invasive damage could be ascribed to botanic gardens, 45% to other anthropogenic measures, and presumably 43% to factors unknown, and furthermore, much of the data relates to historical events rather than the present day."

Professor Hulme responded: "My aim is not to bash botanic gardens, but to suggest that they should take the issue more seriously and to be a little more structured in their approach.

"It is often mentioned that they want to address the problem of invasive plants in their collection, but they don't seem to have delivered yet."

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Indonesia: Could religion be the answer to rescuing wildlife?

Wahyoe Boediwardhana The Jakarta Post 18 Mar 11;

Concern has grown over the widespread illegal hunting and trading of protected wildlife in Indonesia over the last five years, which many blame on the public’s lack of education.

Environmental activists in Indonesia have resorted to different strategies to remind the public of the importance of protecting and preserving the existence of all living beings on earth in order to create natural balance.

Many have been busy organizing campaigns, road shows, while others have focused on fostering dialogue with stakeholders, providing education through school activities or using to stronger legal instruments to bring attention to these illegal activities.

ProFauna Indonesia in Malang, East Java, has chosen to tap into people’s religious beliefs to raise people’s awareness of the importance of taking conservation seriously.

The NGO, which is engaged in the protection and conservation of animals and their habitat, seems to have made a breakthrough to overcome the hunting and trading of Indonesia’s protected wildlife using a religious approach.

It initiated a collaboration with 35 Islamic boarding schools in East Java, inviting their representatives to discuss and study how Islam cares for the existence of species of wildlife, particularly those under protection in the country.

The two-day discussion and study held in mid-2010 resulted in a simple guidebook entitled Islam Peduli Terhadap Satwa (Islam Cares for Wildlife), containing Islam’s view on the well-being of animals.

“All meeting participants agreed Islam is basically concerned with wildlife, and condemns cruelty toward or abuse of animals.

Islam also promotes proper care for the preservation of animal species,” Rosek, the founder of ProFauna, told The Jakarta Post in Malang recently.

The 60-page book, the first of its kind in Indonesia, gives a comprehensive overview on the rescue of protected wildlife in Indonesia from the perspective of Islam, touching upon the law concerning rare animal hunting, the use of animals for medicinal and nourishment purposes, the raising of animals and cattle, and the law dealing with animal treatment in circuses.

As a country with the largest Muslim majority in the world, Indonesia holds a very important role in enhancing Muslims’ awareness of — and attention to ­— wildlife, especially given the nation’s great diversity of wildlife species.

Based on estimates, Indonesia is home to 300,000 animal species or 17 percent of the world’s wildlife, although the country represents only 1.3 percent of the world’s land area.

It is believed that once Indonesian Muslims become better acquainted with the need for protecting animals, wildlife as well as domestic species, many more species of animals will be preserved in the end.

Many people still mistreat animals. A survey conducted by ProFauna Indonesia in 70 bird markets in 2009 discovered 183 protected species were still being traded illegally.

Of the 70 bird markets or locations inspected in 58 cities, 14 traded parrots and cockatoos, 21 primates, 11 mammals and 13 raptors. Eleven markets sold protected species of songbirds.

“We deal with this problem by taking a religious approach, especially Islam as the religion of the majority in Indonesia,” said the alumnus of the School of Biology, Brawijaya University, Malang.

Meanwhile, the head of Al-Hikam Islamic boarding school, Malang, Mohammad Nafi’, pointed out that although the earth and its resources were meant for humans, Islam had also taught its followers to conserve nature.

“Allah evidently forbids us from inflicting damage on the earth, which has a broad meaning because it involves nature and living organisms on its surface, including wildlife as part of nature,” added Mohammad Nafi’.

According to Nafi’, many stories in the holy book Al Qur’an and Hadith (traditions and sayings of Prophet Mohammad) show that Islam teaches Muslims to love animals.

The tale of a woman relieved of her sin for having given water to a thirsty dog is an example.

“The stories of Solomon and Noah also further indicates that animals are not to be abused,” he noted.

The copies of the guidebook will later be distributed to all boarding schools for free.

According to Purnawan Dwikora Negara, an environmental law lecturer at Malang’s Widya Gama University, taking a religious approach to raise awareness about the environment is indeed a necessary breakthrough. So far, channels such as religion, which do not involve litigation, have sometimes been able to address problems arising in society, including those pertaining to the environment.

“On average, the rate of success using methods that avoid litigation can reach 60-70 percent,” Purnawan pointed out.

Even though laws have been passed, such as Law No.5/1990 on the conservation of biological resources and their ecosystem — which stipulates a five-year imprisonment and a Rp 100 million fine for the trading of protected wildlife — illegal transactions continue to take place openly in many places in Indonesia.

Therefore, Purnawan sees what NGOs like ProFauna have done with boarding schools as a progressive approach.

“It’s because religious communities have the highest level of obedience in Indonesian society. We leverage this,” said Purnawan.

Besides, the Indonesian Environment Forum (Walhi) has taken the same progressive path campaigning for the environment with religious students.

— Photos by Wahyoe Boediwardhana

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Forests are key for high quality water supply

Better forest management needed to maximize water-related benefits from forests
FAO 18 Mar 11;

18 March, 2011, Rome - By 2025, 1.8 billion people will be living in regions with absolute water scarcity and two-thirds of the world's population may experience water-stress conditions. Forests capture and store water and can play an important role in providing drinking water for millions of people in the world's mega-cities. Given this fact, the members of the Collaborative Partnership on Forests (CPF), international organizations involved in forests, call upon countries to pay more attention to forest protection and management for the provision of clean water.

"Forests are part of the natural infrastructure of any country and are essential to the water cycle", said Eduardo Rojas-Briales, Assistant Director General of the FAO Forestry Department.

"They reduce the effects of floods, prevent soil erosion, regulate the water table and assure a high quality water supply for people, industry and agriculture." He was speaking prior to the UN World Water Day which will be celebrated this year on 22 March.

Forests are in most cases an optimal land cover for catchments supplying drinking water. Forest watersheds supply a high proportion of water for domestic, agricultural, industrial and ecological needs.

"The management of water and forests are closely linked and require innovative policy solutions which take into account the cross-cutting nature of these vital resources", said Jan McAlpine, Director of the United Nations Forum on Forests Secretariat. "The International Year of Forests, 2011 provides a unique platform to raise awareness of issues such as the water-soil-forests nexus, which directly affect the quality of people's lives, their livelihoods and their food security."

Moreover, forests and trees contribute to the reduction of water-related risks such as landslides, local floods and droughts and help prevent desertification and salinization.

Today, at least one third of the world's biggest cities, such as New York, Singapore, Jakarta, Rio de Janeiro, Bogotá, Madrid and Cape Town draw a significant portion of their drinking-water from forested areas. If properly utilized, forest catchment areas can provide at least a partial solution for municipalities needing more or cleaner water.

Generating momentum on forests and water

It is well known that water used by forests can be influenced and reduced by prudent forest planning and management practices such as the planting of appropriate tree species. Countries are stepping up policy and project activities to increase forest areas for the protection of soil and water.

Eight percent of the world's forests have soil and water conservation as their primary objective. While every hectare of forests make a huge contribution to regulating water cycles, around 330 million hectares of the world's forests are designated for soil and water conservation, avalanche control, sand dune stabilization, desertification control or coastal protection. This area increased by 59 million hectares between 1990 and 2010. The recent increase is largely due to large-scale planting in China for protective purposes.

Topics related to forest and water interactions have gained international attention in recent years. Many relevant conferences and events have been organized between 2008 and 2010, each of them looking at forests and water issues from a different perspectives (e.g. integrated water catchment area management and the role of forests in precipitation). Based on the outcomes of these meetings, a set of practical actions on forests and water supply are currently being developed for policy-makers and technicians.

Work is also continuing at the project level, particularly in transboundary water courses. One very prominent example is the "Fouta Djallon Highlands (FDH) Integrated Natural Resources Management Project" in West Africa.

This ten-year project, supported by the Global Environment Facility and jointly implemented by FAO, UNEP and the African Union, involves eight countries (Gambia, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Senegal, and Sierra Leone).

The Fouta Djallon Highlands are the point of origin of a number of international water courses, notably the Gambia, Niger and Senegal rivers. Shifting agriculture and tree felling for charcoal production led to heavy deforestation and depleted water resources in the area. In order to improve local livelihoods and water resources, the project aims to ensure the conservation and sustainable management of natural resources through the restoration of forest cover.

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