Best of our wild blogs: 22 Mar 11

Critters Galore @ Pulau Hantu
from colourful clouds

The Walking, Drooling Bird Dung
from Macro Photography in Singapore

Olive-backed Sunbird displaying pectorla tufts in the drizzle
from Bird Ecology Study Group

Counting monitor lizards at Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve
from wild shores of singapore

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Rafflesia arnoldii blossoms in Bukit Daun forest, Indonesia

Antara 21 Mar 11;

Bengkulu, Sumatra (ANTARA News) - One more Rafflesia arnoldii flower has blossomed in the Bukit Daun forest, Tebat Monok village, Tebat Monok sun district, Kepahiang district, Bengkulu province on Monday, an environmental activist said here Monday.

The blooming flower in the Bukit Daun protected forest is the larger than three others that emerged the same location earlier, the chairman of Tebat Monok rare flora care group, Holidin, said.

"The size of this flower is larger than the three Rafflesia flowers that we found earlier. This one is one meter in diameter," he said.

Previously, the group had found three Rafflesias blooming in the Bukit Daun protected forest but they were smaller in diameter.

Holidin said, as usual, the group had built a protective fence around the flower to avoid disturbance from humans or wildlife.

The group members also put up a signboard reading "Raflesia flowers bloom" on the edge of the highway linking Bengkulu city and Kepahiang district, the location where the flower bloom.

"We also have a guard shack at the edge of the road and there is a path to the flowers bloom location, about 200 meters from the highway," Holidin added.

Besides the one flower blooms, the group formed 10 years ago also found 22 Rafflesia bulbs within a radius of one kilometer in the Bukit Daun protected forest.

He estimated, until the end of 2011 there will be Rafflesia bloom in the forest so that people can enjoy the uniqueness.

"This year is the most blooms, there are still 22 bulbs that we found, hopefully they can bloom perfectly," Holidin hoped.(*)

Editor: Aditia Maruli

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Last stand of the Asian elephant

Denis D. Gray Associated Press Today Online 22 Mar 11;

JIA GABHARU, India (AP) - Every night when the rice is ripening in their fields, the young men climb into watchtowers to peer anxiously toward the Himalayan foothills from which the gray giants emerge.

Before them, a 5-kilometer (3-mile), high-voltage fence provides dubious defense against a crafty, brainy enemy. To their rear, patrols are mounted from settlements ringed by trenches and armed with spears, torches, stinging smoke bombs and sometimes guns and poison.

Here, in India's northeast state of Assam, is one of the hottest fronts of a heart-rending, escalating conflict. It is waged daily in villages, fields and plantations of 13 countries across Asia where forests and grasslands continue to shrink, igniting a turf war between one-time friends: land-hungry man and a simply hungry Elephas maximus, the Asian elephant.

The elephant's survival is at best uncertain.

In India and Sri Lanka, where the struggle is most intense, more than 400 elephants and 250 humans are killed each year. Deaths on both sides occur frequently in Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and elsewhere. Sharks, by contrast, kill fewer than half a dozen swimmers a year worldwide.

Although the age-old bonds between human and elephant are yet to be totally severed, some angry villagers electrocute the animals with high tension wires or fell them with rifles, poison-tipped arrows and homemade rice liquor, an elephant favorite, laced with insecticides.

Humans, often poor rural dwellers, suffer no less.

In the village of Galighat in eastern Assam, accessible only by boat and foot, a rogue male elephant recently killed five residents in little more than a month, wrecking six houses in nighttime strikes, decapitating scores of banana trees and pilfering granaries.

The latest victim was Phulania Dutta, whose skull bones were still strewn on the earth near her obliterated home where eyewitnesses described how two nights earlier the elephant crushed her head and chest with a foreleg, then kicked her aside.

First, it knocked down the stilts of the raised bamboo and thatch house, then began furiously stomping down on the rubble. Trapped under a wooden pillar, Dutta's husband survived, but as the 48-year-old woman fled the ruin screaming, the elephant closed in for the kill.

"We have applied for help from the government but nothing has come. We have taken whatever precautions we can. We have prayed. But nothing works. We cannot coexist," said villager Mohammed Abul Ali, looking over tattered clothing, pans and other meager possessions scattered among Dutta's totally flattened home. A family dog and its puppy lay listlessly on what was once the roof.

Prospects for future coexistence, wildlife experts say, are bleak despite a host of conservation projects, from biofencing to elephant tracking via satellite telemetry.

The past is a stark indicator of the endangered creature's future. The animal has disappeared from some 95 percent of its historical range, an elephant empire which stretched from the shores of the Mediterranean to the Yellow River in northern China. Thailand, for example, harbored some 100,000 elephants at the beginning of the 20th century, but is down to less than 6,000 today.

According to the Switzerland-based International Union for Conservation of Nature, 38,500 to 52,500 wild elephants survive in Asia with only another 15,000 in captivity, having largely lost their traditional roles as loggers, trucks, battle tanks and prestige symbols of royal courts.

An Asian elephant can weigh up to five tons. The larger African elephant, although more numerous, is also listed as an endangered species, subject to similar onslaughts.

"Everyone knows the cause, even the layman, the villager, that the forest is finished, that the elephant has no place to remain safely and doesn't have anything to eat, so they are coming out," says Bhupendra Nath Talukdar, a leading wildlife officer in the Assam Forest Department.

"In this battle, the elephant will be defeated easily," he says. "It is really not a conflict with the elephant. It was their place and now we have occupied it."

But the elephant isn't giving up without a fight, and in some places man has even had to surrender territory.

Faced with daily crop raiding, the 45 families of Assam's Rubberbeal village fled a decade ago while residents of a neighboring village remained but built tree houses for speedy getaways. Only now, a few of the families are cautiously returning to an eerie site. The creaking of wind-swept bamboo floats across fallow rice fields and tangled jungle vegetation blankets traces of abandoned homes.

The villagers hope that a now defunct electric fence can be restored. But foolproof humane deterrents - killing of elephants is illegal in Asian countries - have yet to be found, and the highly intelligent animals rarely fall for the same trick twice.

At Jia Gabharu, in Assam's elephant-rife Sonitpur district, forest ranger Gopal Deka said he recently saw a bull sniff the 5-kilometer, 10,000-volt fence, then grab the branch of a banana tree to batten down the wires.

Similar stories are heard of elephants kicking down fence posts or wielding their tusks, which don't conduct electricity, to break through. They have been known to push in earth to fill trenches.

Some herds quickly habituate to traditional repellants like firecrackers, drums and torches, while others take a liking to formerly shunned crops, like citrus fruit, grown as buffer zones. In Bhutan, they have been seen eating oranges and in Sri Lanka even sampling chilies which the giants normally can't tolerate.

Nevertheless, Nandita Hazarika, head of the Assam Haathi Project, says chili has proved probably the best defense for the 800 families the nongovernment organization is helping. In an adaptation from Africa, farmers mix ground chilies, automobile grease and tobacco and smear the paste on rope fences.

The same concoction, wrapped in straw or even inserted into dried dung, is used in chili rolls and "bombs" that are set afire to emit a stinging smoke, made more potent in Assam if the "bhut joloika," perhaps the world's hottest chili, is used.

Elephants can also be clever tacticians. Staffer Dhruba Das has for four years been tracking a "gang" of half a dozen young bulls led by a massive male named Tara, who has taught his charges to open compound gates and neatly break into kitchens and food storage sheds without destroying them. They have not killed, preferring to surround a house, stationing two at the front, one in the back to keep frightened people inside while a fourth homes in on food with his trunk. The loot is then shared.

Such scenes are played out every fall in Sontipur as elephants move out of the Himalayan foothills southward to the Brahmaputra river, following traditional corridors to feed and breed in the grasslands. They return early in the year.

The elephants used to pass human settlements with few problems. But in recent decades, more than 65 percent of forests in the foothills have been razed, while the once forested migration corridors and open grasslands are all but gone, forcing the elephants to move through villages, fields and tea plantations where food is not hard to find.

In a pattern similar to other Asian countries, the corridors are also fragmented by roads, railways, dams and mushrooming towns so the elephants now disperse over ever wider areas. The elephant-man conflict, it is estimated, has spread to almost 60 percent of Assam.

Herds rarely enter villages and killers tend to be male rogues - frustrated young bulls expelled from a herd, aging loners with painful injuries or animals in sexual heat.

Dinesh Choudhury, whose family kept elephants for generations, is one of the last hunters called on by the Indian government to put down habitual killers. He adamantly believes elephants can also turn into what he calls "criminals, terrorists" if severely abused by humans.

Some experts say the only hope for an end to the wars are well-managed wildlife sanctuaries, the restoration of forests outside such reserves and perhaps the abiding love of man for jumbos.

"We're only giving painkillers. We have not had real success... But politicians have no interest in wildlife. For them it's a burden. Wildlife doesn't vote. Right now I don't think we have a chance of reclaiming even 1 percent of the destroyed forests," said Hiten Kumar Baishya of the Sontipur office of the World Wide Fund for Nature, which runs projects throughout Asia's elephant ranges.

Hazarika says restoration of their habitat would take 20 to 30 years, adding, "Till then what do you do? We can't even protect what we have."

She hopes the instinct to retaliate after an elephant attack will be mitigated by the ancient aura of divinity around the animal on the Indian subcontinent and around Southeast Asia, mainly through Ganesha, the elephant-headed son of the Hindu god Shiva, whose shrines dot the region. Enraged villagers may kill an elephant only to later pray before its corpse.

"Villagers still have a respect for elephants," Hazarika says. "But the level of tolerance is getting lower and lower."

This was true of the traumatized people of Galighat as some 30 men set out to expel the rogue killer armed only with spears, machetes and firecrackers. They crossed harvested rice paddies, cut a tunnel through thick undergrowth and followed fresh footprints and dung on a dry river bed.

Finally, the elephant was found deep in a sea of towering reeds, hidden, angry and crazy, its breathing clearly audible. It was the size of two pickup trucks and endowed with incredible speed over short distances. The men called a retreat.

The elephant will almost certainly return, and raid and perhaps kill again. But Choudhury believes free-roaming beasts will vanish in less than a decade.

"We knew elephants by heart and they also knew us by heart. The golden era is gone and that is quite painful," he says. "The present scenario is altogether a different thing. The conflict is at the high end and the elephant is fighting a losing battle.

"The fate of the Assam elephants? We will see only their graveyard, and nothing beyond that."

- AP

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Elephants in Indonesia

Elephant population in Bengkulu increases
Antara 17 Mar 11;

Bengkulu, Sumatra (ANTARA News) - The population of wild elephants at the Elephant Training Center (PLG) in Seblat, North Bengkulu, Sumatra , has increased from 50 to 70 over the last two years.

During the first trimester of 2011, eight new baby elephants were born in the 6,800-ha forest area, Anom Zamora, head of the Bengkulu Natural Resources Conservation Agency , said here Thursday.

Most of the wild elephants used to live outside the Seblat PLG and to disturb oil palm plantations.

After being herded into the Seblat PLG with the help of trained elephants, the wild elephants seemed to feel comfortable as there was a lot of food and no poachers at the PLG, Anom said.

"We have also assigned tens of forestry police to guard the PLG forest area and the wild elephants in order to prevent them from going out of the area because the PLG forest is surrounded by oilpalm plantations," he said.

The Seblat PLG was projected to become a conservation forest, he said.

Besides wild elephants, the PLG is also inhabited by thousands of species of reptiles, butterflies, protected birds, and white siamang monkeys.

Bengkulu Province has around 200 elephants found among other things in Bukit Barisan forest and the Seblat PLG.
(T. Z005/Uu.F001/HAJM/O001)

Editor: Priyambodo RH

BKSDA team handling elephants blocking road
Antara 21 Mar 11;

Pekanbaru (ANTARA News) - Riau`s Natural Resources Conservation Agency (BKSDA) has sent a team to Bala Raja town in Mandau subdistrict, Bengkalis district, to take charge of tree wild elephants reportedly blocking an access road to a housing complex.

"We dispatched a team this morning," a BBKSDA spokesperson, Hutomo, said here Monday.

The agency had earlier received a report that an adult elephant and two calves had been blocking the road to Cendana housing complex in Balai Raja, Mandau sub-district, Bengkalis district since Sunday (March 19).

The giant animals were seen lying on the road making residents afraid to enter the housing complex.

The two calves appeared to be very weak and d in poor health while the adult elephant was watching over them.

"We are going to check whether the two young elephants health condition was the main reason that they are resting on the road to the housing complex," he said.

The elephants would be taken directly to the elephant training center in Minas, Siak district, if they proved to be ill, Hutomo said.

"To do that, the elephants will be given a tranquilizer shot before transporting them the elephant center," he said.

Elephants presence in front of the Cendana housing complex attracted the attention of many passers-by who were thrilled by the rare sighting of three elephants lying on the ground. (*)

Editor: Aditia Maruli

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Sabah NGO: Stop felling mangrove forests

The Star 22 Mar 11;

KOTA KINABALU: Steps must be taken immediately to stop the felling of large tracts of mangrove forests along Sabah’s coastline as they are the best natural buffer against tsunamis.

Sabah Environmental Protection Association (SEPA) president Wong Tack said the earthquake-triggered tsunami in Japan was the latest reminder to the state that it must take steps to preserve coastal mangrove swamps.

“The swamp forests along our coastline are God’s gift because they are a natural buffer to trap tsunamis.

“We must make sure that these areas remain undisturbed as Sabah, especially the east coast, lies just outside the Pacific ring of fire,” Wong told reporters after SEPA’s committee meeting here yesterday.

He said there were many places in east coast of Sabah like Lahad Datu, Sandakan and Kunak where mangrove forests had been cleared to make way for legal and illegal development.

Wong said SEPA also wanted the Government to drop the idea of building a nuclear power plant in the country.

“No matter what the experts say, the incident at the Japanese Fukushima nuclear plant shows no safety measure is fool-proof,” he added.

Focus on green energy instead
New Straits Times 21 Mar 11;

KOTA KINABALU: The Sabah Environment Protection Association (Sepa) urged the government to stop its plans for nuclear powered energy and re-channel the funds into the generation of green energy.

Its president, Wong Tack, said after the effects on nuclear plants in Japan post-quake, Malaysia, and Sabah in particular, should stop focusing on nuclear power.

"The minister in charge should call for a halt on the feasibility study on nuclear energy and channel the funds into creating an environment to allow green technologies to take off," he said in a press conference yesterday.

"We are very concerned that we haven't heard of any cancellation of the plans so far.

"Other countries have put their plans on hold, but apparently, we are still going ahead.

"We are in the same line of fire as Japan, on the Pacific Ring of Fire, and we have to be ready to face any eventuality in the future.

"If not for our sake, then for our future generation's sake."

Wong said Malaysia was incapable of handling nuclear energy and any disaster could have adverse effects lasting for generations.

Wong also asked that all coastal projects be reviewed, particularly those that involved clearing of mangroves that provide the necessary buffer or natural cushions.

"Priority should be given to solar, wind, biogas and biomass energy which can be found in abundance here," he added.

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Indonesia's peat forests can play important role in climate change

Antara 21 Mar 11;

Palembang, South Sumatra (ANTARA News) - Peat swamp forests in Indonesia consist for 50 percent of tropical peat swamps and 10 percent of dry land, an environmental expert connected with climate change mitigation said.

Indonesia`s peat swamp forests had the potential of playing an important role in mitigating global warming and climate change, said Karl Heinz Steinmann, an expert from the REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) Pilot Project Team, said here Monday.

Scientifically, peat swamp forests in Indonesia store more carbon than natural forests, Steinmann explained at public dialogue on "Questioning REDD scheme in Indonesia," held by WALHI (Indonesian Forum for Environment).

He said, the carbon stocks are very vulnerable to disturbances such as deforestation and degradation.

According to Steinmann, the deforestation and forest degradation in the form of peat could be illegal logging, forest conversion, droughts, forest fires and excessive exploitation.

He explained, in South Sumatra, forest or Merang peat swamp forests is a promising location for a pilot project because it still has natural forest cover, store carbon stocks and its biodiversity is quite large.

In addition, the region is a connecting corridor of protected areas and conservation, such as Sembilang National Park in South Sumatra and Berbak National Park in Jambi.

The REDD pilot project site is one of the areas that has biodiversity and areas where illegal logging is rampant, Steinmann noted.

He explained, an estimation survey of the University of Muhammadiyah Palembang in 2008, estimated, in 25 years (without MRPP project-ed) most of the natural forests will be depleted due to illegal logging.

The project covers an area of ​​24 thousand hectares and is designed to tackle the main cause of deforestation in Indonesia, namely illegal logging. The project will also prevent the encroachment of forest for agriculture.

With these efforts, it is expected that the project could be beneficial to biodiversity and improve the quality and improvements to surrounding villages, Steinmann added.

He explained, the various parties related to environmental sustainability which is mainly a problem of illegal logging, continued to attempt to fix this matter, but until now it still difficult to be eliminated.

In forest areas, including in South Sumatra, illegal logging cases still occurred, he added.

The public dialogue event was also attended by Teguh Surya, an international campaigner for WALHI and participated by various elements of society including students of public and private universities in Palembang city.

Teguh Surya added, the scheme of Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD), to address global environmental problems, including in Indonesia have to be scrutinized together so that it will not to be deviated.

Therefore, the public dialogue was to examine critically and comprehensively, whether these REDD scheme could be the right solution and who benefited from the REDD scheme, he said.

He noted, the purpose of the dialogue was to parse the agenda for the implementation of REDD in Indonesia and develop a common view of the management and forest restoration patterns in this country.

Editor: Priyambodo RH

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World’s poorest billion to gain from managing own forests

IUCN 21 Mar 11;

The lives of a billion of the world’s poorest people could be improved though investing in community forest management, according to a recent IUCN study. As the world celebrates World Forest Day, IUCN urges decision-makers to recognize the various benefits of forests for forest-dependent communities.

Only a small fraction of the US$ 12 billion spent on the forest sector each year by governments and aid agencies goes to help communities heavily dependent on forests to control and manage their resources, the study reveals. As a comparison, the investment in commercial forestry amounts to US$ 150 billion a year.

“It sounds logical that the people who live in forests and are highly dependent on them for their food, fuel, and medicines, should also be the ones who control, manage and use these resources, but the reality is different” says Stewart Maginnis, IUCN Director of Environment and Development. “Our work in Africa, Asia and Latin America has shown that strengthening community rights and the control they have over their own forests helps to reduce poverty and also benefits forest biodiversity.”

An IUCN-led project in Mount Elgon, Uganda, has helped to address long-standing conflicts between local people and national park authorities. By improving livelihoods, and restoring degraded lands, the project has led to the emergence of local businesses and agreements between park authorities and communities to allow community members to sustainably extract specific resources in the park. This has reduced illegal logging by 80%.

In the Shinyanga region of Tanzania, the livelihoods of 2.25 million inhabitants of 825 villages have improved as a result of these local people being given greater control over their own forest resources. They now have half a million hectares of new forests and earn an additional US$ 14 per person per month compared to the national monthly rural average of US$ 8.50.

“We don’t have to wait for more research or analysis to start making more sustainable and informed investment decisions “, says Stephen Kelleher, Deputy Head, IUCN Forest Conservation Programme. “Failing to invest in locally-controlled forestry may ultimately undermine many of the goals that so many public funds, effort and time are being channeled into: reducing poverty and ensuring sustainable development for all.”

A total of 1.6 billion people depend on forests for their livelihoods. Most of those people, 1.4 billion, live in the developing world, and 1 billion live in extreme poverty – a great number being women, indigenous peoples and other marginalized groups. Recently-released data by IUCN and the Global Partnership for Forest Landscape Restoration show that approximately 1.2 billion hectares of deforested or degraded areas could be restored through better, locally- controlled management.

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Seafood industry aims to halt that sinking feeling

Paola Messana Yahoo News 21 Mar 11;

BOSTON, Massachusetts (AFP) – Seafood industry players from around the world grappled here Monday with ways to net the most elusive catch of all: a solution to the problem of feeding growing appetites with ever fewer fish.

The annual International Boston Seafood Show gathered nearly 900 exhibitors from 130 countries including restaurant buyers and hotels, wholesalers, processors and brokers.

With demand surging, they have the luxury of working in a booming market.

The United States imports 83 percent of its seafood and the government's publication of new anti-obesity dietary recommendations, including a doubling fish consumption, points toward Americans needing a lot more.

Currently, average seafood consumption the United States reaches only seven kilos (15.4 pounds) a year per person, against 50 kilos (110 pounds) for beef and 35 kilos (77 pounds) for poultry, said Gavin Gibbons, spokesman for the National Fisheries Institute.

"The Japanese consume five to six times as much seafood as we do," Gibbons said. "Doctors and dietitians suggest that Americans should double their consumption and the US secretary of agriculture has recently said that Americans should begin to replace some of their meals with seafood."

The question for those catching, selling and serving the fish, though, is how to make sure that the world's already over-fished seas can actually provide what is needed.

At the start of the three-day Boston trade fair attended by 20,000 people, six industry members were honored for their efforts at promoting sustainability in the supply chain.

One of them was French restaurant entrepreneur Olivier Roellinger, vice chairman of the Relais et Chateaux chain, which was singled out for work within the industry to highlight risks facing the environment.

"Olivier invited 400 chefs of Relais et Châteaux to (fisheries in) Norway to help them understand sustainability," said Jonathan Cartwright, chef at the White Barn Inn in Kennebunkport, Maine, who was accepting the prize on behalf of Roellinger.

The threats to bringing seafood to the world's menus go beyond the ravages of over-fishing.

Asia, where seafood is already a staple, is seeing environmental destruction on Thailand's coasts, and a fall in shellfish and big fish populations that echo earlier catastrophes in US and European waters.

"When I saw seafood decline in Maryland..., I went to Asia, where I have 17 factories. Then I saw the decline there too, five or six years ago, so I decided to form an association and to draw producers to sustainability," said Steve Phillips, CEO of Phillips Food and Seafood Restaurants Baltimore.

"The most important is getting governments to impose rules and regulations. The minimum size of the crab must be eight-10 cm (three-four inches). The challenge is the enforcement. We need the governments to do that," Phillips said.

Many at the trade fair feel that farming is the only way out. Farmed seafood already accounts for 50 percent of supplies.

Environmentalists say the practice causes its own problems including the introduction of diseases and the need to harvest huge amounts of wild fish in order to feed those held in pens.

Supporters, however, say there are positive trends including fish that turn vegetarian such as the barramundi, a carnivore that can live on a largely vegetarian diet and as a result is seen by some as a champion of the "green" menu.

The next frontier could be genetically modified fish, with companies like Aquabounty waiting for US regulatory approval on its modified salmon which can grow twice as fast as a natural salmon.

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Shipwreck threatens island penguins in South Atlantic

(UKPA) Google News 21 Mar 11;

A wrecked ship is threatening to cause an environmental disaster on an island which is home to endangered penguins, conservationists have warned.

The vessel has grounded on Nightingale Island, part of the Tristan da Cunha UK overseas territory in the South Atlantic, causing an oil slick around the island which is home to nearly half the world's population of northern rockhopper penguins.

Some 1,500 tonnes of heavy crude oil from the MS Olivia, which was shipping soya beans between Rio de Janeiro and Singapore, is leaking into the sea.

According to the RSPB, oil now surrounds Nightingale Island and extends into a slick eight-miles offshore, threatening the endangered penguins and the economically important rock lobster fishery.

Hundreds of penguins have already been seen coming ashore covered in oil, said the wildlife charity.

The shipwreck could also lead to any rats onboard colonising the island and posing a huge risk to the native seabird populations - whose chicks and eggs could be eaten by the invasive rodents.

The Tristan da Cunha islands, in particular Nightingale and its neighbour Middle Island, are home to millions of nesting seabirds and there are more than 200,000 northern rockhopper penguins on the island.

RSPB research biologist Richard Cuthbert said: "The consequences of this wreck could be potentially disastrous for wildlife and the fishery-based economy of these remote islands.

"Nightingale is one of two large islands in the Tristan da Cunha group that are rodent-free. If rats gain a foothold their impact would be devastating."
Tristan conservation officer Trevor Glass said: "The scene at Nightingale is dreadful as there is an oil slick encircling the island. Members of the Tristan conservation team are doing all they can to clean up the penguins that are currently coming ashore. It is a disaster."

Race to save oil slicked penguins on remote British island
Yahoo News 24 Mar 11;

CAPE TOWN (AFP) – A race to rescue up to 20,000 endangered penguins from an oil spill in an isolated south Atlantic British island group was underway Thursday after a cargo ship ran aground.

Oil-slicked Rockhopper penguins were being collected and taken off three Tristan da Cunha islands to the main island to be stored in a shed for treatment, cleaning and eventual release.

"Five hundred Rockhoppers were brought ashore on Tristan this morning," Tristin da Cunha administrator Sean Burns said in an online statement.

But specialist cleaning fluid was in short supply and hinged on a second ship being chartered from Cape Town, a journey of several days over 2,800 kilometres (1,740 miles), after a salvage vessel arrived on Monday.

"A crucial next step is to confirm a second vessel to depart from Cape Town in the next few days with all the necessary equipment and supplies to clean up the birds, keep them healthy and hopefully return them to the ocean," said Burns.

"It will be a race against time," he added.

The MS Oliva ran aground on Nightingale island on March 16 skippered by a Greek captain and carrying a crew of 21 Filipinos who were rescued safely. It has since broken in two main parts.

"Unfortunately, the birds cannot be fed in captivity until a ship can travel from South Africa with a load of frozen fish, along with an experienced cleaning team and other essential supplies," said John Cooper of the Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels in Australia.

"News of this 'second vessel' and its sailing date is still awaited," he said in a statement.

The archipelago is the home to most of the world's Rockhopper penguins which are classed endangered, with Burns saying Wednesday he hoped an earlier estimate of 20,000 affected penguins would prove to be too high.

Tristan da Cunha is an active volcanic island with 263 British residents described as the most isolated community in the world on the islands' website and has no hotels, airport, night clubs, restaurants, or safe sea swimming.

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Biodiversity Leads to Higher Productivity

ScienceDaily 21 Mar 11;

Ecosystems containing several species are more productive than individual species on their own. Using data from more than 400 published experiments, an international research team has found overwhelming evidence that biodiversity in the plant kingdom is very efficient in assimilating nutrients and solar energy, resulting in greater production of biomass.

"Plant communities are like a soccer team. To win championships, you need a star striker who can score goals, but you also need a cast of supporting players who can pass, defend and keep goal. Together, the star players and supporting cast make a highly efficient team," says Lars Gamfeldt of the Department of Marine Ecology at the University of Gothenburg.

Gamfeldt is part of an international research team led by Brad Cardinale (University of Michigan, USA) which, in a special issue of the scientific journal American Journal of Botany on biodiversity, presents a study on the significance of biodiversity of plants and algae, which form the base of the food chain. The research team based its study on the question whether ecosystems can maintain important functions such as production of biomass and conversion of nutrients when biodiversity is depleted and we lose species. In their quest for answers they have examined hundreds of published studies on everything from single-celled algae to trees. Using data from more than 400 published experiments, the researchers found overwhelming evidence that the net effect of having fewer species in an ecosystem is a reduced quantity of plant biomass.

There are two principal explanations for why species-rich plant communities may be more effective and productive. One is that they have a higher probability of including "super-species," that is to say species that are highly productive and effective in regulating ecological processes. The other is that different species often have characteristics that complement one another. The fact that there is a "division of labour" among different plant species in nature makes it possible for species-rich communities to be more productive. The researchers also note that as a result of climate change and other human impact we are now losing species at a rapid rate. This means that we need to prioritise what we want to protect and preserve, in order to maintain the goods and services humans depend on.

"Nearly every organism on this planet depends on plants for their survival. If species extinction compromises the processes by which plants grow, then it degrades one of the key features required to sustain life on Earth," the principal author of the article Brad Cardinale comments. Gamfeldt is affiliated with both the Department of Marine Ecology at the University of Gothenburg and the Department of Ecology at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences.

1. B. J. Cardinale, K. L. Matulich, D. U. Hooper, J. E. Byrnes, E. Duffy, L. Gamfeldt, P. Balvanera, M. I. O'Connor, A. Gonzalez. The functional role of producer diversity in ecosystems. American Journal of Botany, 2011; 98 (3): 572 DOI: 10.3732/ajb.1000364

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Record participation with 5 days until the world unites for Earth Hour

WWF 21 Mar 11;

Singapore - Just 5 days out from the global lights-out event, Earth Hour 2011 has reached record participation, with 131 countries and territories registered to take part, on all seven continents, with all G20 countries, thousands of cities, and iconic landmarks and public figures set to join with hundreds of millions across the world to celebrate action for the planet.

This Saturday, 26 March, at 8:30pm local time iconic landmarks across the globe will go dark for Earth Hour. Starting with the Sky Tower in Auckland, New Zealand and moving to the Sydney Opera House in Australia, the lights out campaign will then sweep across Asia and the Middle East to darken landmarks and events in China, Indonesia, Thailand, India, Iran and the United Arab Emirates.

The Queen’s Palace in Madagascar, Table Mountain in South Africa, Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate, the Eiffel Tower in Paris and the London Eye have also signed up to switch off in support of the planet.

Major landmarks in North and South America - including Niagara Falls in Canada, Times Square in New York City, the Obelisk in Argentina and the world heritage site Presidential Palace in Peru – will also take part in the global plunge into darkness on 26 March for Earth Hour.

In 2010 hundreds of millions of people across the world, in 4,616 cities, in 128 countries and territories took part in Earth Hour, but switching off the lights was only the beginning. This year Earth Hour asks people to go beyond the hour, and use Earth Hour to commit to an action, big or small, that they will sustain for the future of our planet.

“Earth Hour is a chance for people and communities across the globe to join together with the common purpose of a sustainable future for our planet,” said Andy Ridley, Co-Founder and Executive Director of Earth Hour. “This year Earth Hour asks people to commit to an action, big or small, for the coming year, taking Earth Hour beyond the hour.”

Among the thousands of cities taking part in Earth Hour 2011, many have already committed to taking action beyond the hour. In Sydney, Australia plans are in the works to switch to LED lights in parks and streets. Medellin, Colombia has committed to long-term water protection and tree planting initiatives to go “beyond 60 minutes”, while the city of Shenyang in northeast China has seeded plans to reforest 38,000 hectares of land.

Also taking actions "beyond the hour" in 2011 are high profile ambassadors including model Miranda Kerr, who has committed to buying local, organic produce to reduce her ecological footprint and cricket legend Wasim Akram, who has made a commitment to stop using plastic bags, recycle and reuse, and use his high profile to promote and encourage the same behaviour throughout Pakistan and the rest of the world.

Meanwhile, animated TV series Pocoyo will reach out to its millions of preschool-aged fans across the globe over the next year, to inform children about environmental issues.

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

Going beyond Earth Hour to save the environment
Meng Yew Choong The Star 22 Mar 11;

Switching lights off for one hour a year is easy to do. However, staving off climate change takes much more work than that.

IN 2007, the Worldwide Fund for Nature (Australia) and The Sydney Morning Herald succeeded in persuading 2.2 million residents and 2,000 businesses in Sydney to turn off all “non-essential lights” for an hour as a symbolic sign for a better environment.

Since then, the Earth Hour movement has spread its tentacles all over the world. From just a single city in Australia, it is now said to be observed by more than 4,500 cities across 128 countries.

Even the most uninitiated among us cannot help but notice the swath of publicity that comes with the “darkening” of global landmarks like the Petronas Twin Towers, Sydney Harbour Bridge, CN Tower of Toronto, Golden Gate Bridge of San Francisco, and Rome’s Colosseum, just to name a handful.

The symbolic turning off of “non-essential lights” for one hour on a Saturday evening was meant to show hope for a cause that grows “more urgent by the hour” but this message has either been lost or watered down by the euphoria that follows the event, with celebrations ranging from candle-lit dining to outdoor parties, concerts and a plethora of marketing-related activities to generate buzz.

Naturally, a chorus of dissenters (not necessarily global warming sceptics) have panned the movement for its seeming shallowness, if not somewhat contradictory approaches.

Firstly, all the celebrations to mark the event are hardly carbon-neutral. Knowledge management consultant Cheryl Teh has this observation: “People switch off the lights for an hour and then what? What are the changes after that?

“Personally, I think events like Earth Hour are counter-productive. Think of all the marketing-related resources, printing, and so on that goes into promoting Earth Hour to ‘save’ the earth.

“They spend so much money and then all the stuff they print go to the landfill. They have performances to celebrate but then need to hire energy-guzzlers like speakers, microphones and so on.”

For example, WWF Singapore is holding an open air concert (like it did last year) near the central business district. Although the event will be powered by generators running on biodiesel made from waste cooking oil, it is likely that more air pollution and carbon dioxide will be generated as a stand-alone diesel generator can never be as efficient as grid-derived power (in Singapore’s case, mainly from burning natural gas).

Another contradictory approach will be seen in Penang, which is celebrating Earth Hour by turning off lights at key government buildings, only to light 10,000 candles and lamps at the Esplanade from 7.30pm to 9.30pm. Burning of candles generate pollution and carbon dioxide, regardless of whether the candle is made of beeswax or paraffin.

Don Theseira, arguably one of the most fervent advocates for the environment, thinks that lighting up lights and candles and what not during Earth Hour contradicts its spirit. “I disagree with the light up activities. Why can’t we celebrate Earth Hour in darkness?”

Theseira is far from being a detractor. In fact, he hopes that at least one million Malaysians will come forward to mark it. “It is only meaningful when celebrated on a mass scale. It should not be just a case of a few landmark buildings turning off their lights,’’ said the Penang-based green activist.

Earth Hour has provoked a harsh reaction from Australia-based group Carbon Sense Coalition ( which said in its website: “To hold a candles-and-champagne party indoors, on the mildest night of the year, for just one hour, shows that the whole thing is green tokenism.

“Moreover, both candles and champagne emit carbon dioxide. Let the true believers try the real thing in one of the extreme seasons so they can appreciate the great benefits we take for granted when using all of our carbon fuels and foods.”

This group proclaims itself as being “concerned about the extent to which carbon and carbon dioxide are wrongly vilified in Western societies, particularly in government, the media, and in some business circles”.

Carbon Sense Coalition has suggested that Earth Hour be renamed “Blackout Night” and be held outdoors, for the whole night, in mid-winter, on the shortest and coldest day of the year – June 22 in the southern hemisphere.

“Supporters of alternative energy should spend just one night in the cold and the dark, emitting no carbon dioxide from coal, oil, gas, petrol or diesel for lights, TV, hot coffee, barbecues or cars,” said Viv Forbes, chairman of Carbon Sense.

“Winter nights are usually still and cold, so the candles crew can experience what it was like depending on alternate energy in the recent snowstorms in the northern hemisphere when wind turbines froze and solar panels were covered in snow.

“The back-to-nature brigade can also try living without iron roofs and concrete walls, both of which require coal and emit carbon dioxide during their production. So we support Blackout Night to prepare our population for the dark days ahead,” said Forbes, a livestock farmer and mining consultant in Queensland.

Other western commentaries noted that participants fail to get the message behind Earth Hour: a drastic reduction in energy usage on a scale they cannot imagine.

“This blindness to the vital importance of energy is precisely what Earth Hour exploits. It sends the comforting-but-false message: Cutting off fossil fuels would be easy and even fun! People spend the hour stargazing and holding torch-lit beach parties; restaurants offer special candle-lit dinners.

“Earth Hour makes the renunciation of energy seem like a big party. Participants spend an enjoyable 60 minutes in the dark, safe in the knowledge that the life-saving benefits of industrial civilisation are just a light switch away.

“This bears no relation whatsoever to what life would actually be like under the sort of draconian carbon-reduction policies that climate activists are demanding: punishing carbon taxes, severe emissions caps, outright bans on the construction of power plants,” wrote Keith Lockitch in the website of the Ayn Rand Center for Individual Rights (

Beyond the hour

In the face of criticism over the event, the organiser of Earth Hour responded by saying that the main goal of the event is to create awareness around climate change issues and “to express that individual action on a mass scale can help change our planet for the better”, and not so much about the specific energy reductions that can be achieved within that one hour.

Well aware that the mere act of turning lights off for just an hour on a Saturday evening is not going to sustain the movement, WWF International is now asking people to do more than that.

“Beyond the Hour” marks the start of a new phase for the Earth Hour movement, where people are asked to commit to an action, big or small, that they will sustain for the future of our planet (

According to Earth Hour co-founder and executive director, Andy Ridley, everyone has the power to effect change, no matter what their station in life. “A CEO can change an organisation, a seven-year-old can change a classroom, and a president can change a country. What we are announcing today is just the beginning. It is through the collective action of individuals and organisations that we will be able to truly make a difference, which is why we are urging people across the planet to share how they will go beyond the hour this Earth Hour.”

Ridley said the Beyond the Hour platform has been built with social media at its core to allow interaction between millions of people who have committed to taking lasting action for the planet.

The platform, created with Leo Burnett, is translated into 11 languages, and integrated with most major social networks like Facebook, Twitter, Mixi, Myspace, Odnoklassniki, Cloob, Orkut, Qzone, RenRen, Vkontakte, Maktoob, Skyrock, Xing, and Zing. The online platform is expected to function as a shared space for individuals, governments and organisations to share their actions on what they are doing for the environment.

The decision to go on the social platform is a natural one, given the prevalence of smart phones and advancements in portable computing. The downside is that computers will be left on longer, and gadgets like iPhones and Blackberrys will be used more often. This is yet another instance where good intentions can have mixed results. After all, what is the point in always “being connected” when this very act consumes electricity (if not totally ironical given Earth Hour’s call for people to switch off). As extreme as their views may sound, dissenters like Carbon Sense do have a point in calling for well-intentioned folks celebrating Earth Hour to totally do away with energy use for an extended period.

A Filipino blogger called indignus ( summed up the situation beautifully: “Therefore we also turned off all lights and equipment such as the computer on which we type this post now. However, despite these gestures of symbolic solidarity, we could not altogether ignore how little effect Earth Hour really had, in material as well as non-material (or ideological and symbolic) terms, on ecological issues. In fact, we submit that it was harmful to the goals of environmentalism because it diverted people’s attention towards a symbolic non-solution and away from the real source of, and the real solution to, the ecological problems faced by humanity.

“We do not say this to detract from the real achievements of the movements for environmental reform, or to deny the undoubted good faith of its proponents and organisers, but to warn against the dangers posed by false directions for activism. And what is the real source of the problem? It is the unsustainable and immoderate (and some believe, catastrophically immoderate) consumption and production patterns engendered by contemporary industrial capitalism.”

indignus concludes by arguing that even the most well-intentioned environmentalism will not effect meaningful ecological transformation, “unless we stop worshipping more and newer and embracing bigger and more ‘advanced’.”

“In the end, then, we can save the world of matter only if we reach beyond it to the spirit, and we can make material activity ‘ecological’ only if we reject materialism and prioritise the non-material and trans-ecological value of seeking and contemplating the holy and true, the good and beautiful.”

As such, when the lights go out this Saturday, it is not a bad idea to sit in the dark, and to contemplate upon the fourth R (we are all familiar with the 3Rs): Refuse. And in case it is still not obvious to you, it should be done totally unplugged.

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World learns from Dutch to keep head above water

Coralie Ramon (AFP) Google News 21 Mar 11;

ROTTERDAM, Netherlands — Dubai's Palm Island, New Orleans' upgraded dykes and Australia's water recycling plants all have one thing in common: they benefited from Dutch know-how gained in the country's age-old quest for dry feet.

"The Netherlands has always battled against this natural enemy -- water," said Hanneke Heeres of the Union of District Water Boards (UvW), which after 900 years existence is the Netherlands' oldest government body.

"And with global warming and rising sea levels the world is more and more interested in Dutch expertise," he told AFP.

Currently, Dutch companies are focusing efforts on projects on delta areas in five countries: Mozambique, Egypt, Indonesia, Bangladesh and Vietnam.

An abiding image of the Netherlands is the boy from a famous children's tale who plugs a hole in a dyke with his finger to save his country from inundation -- and with reason: the country's lowest point is 6.74 metres (22.2 feet) below sea level.

In all, 26 percent of the country is below sea level.

"Already 10 centuries ago, the Dutch were making sand piles on which to build their homes, out of reach of the water," Bert Groothuizen of Van Oord dredging company told AFP.

"As technology advanced, they designed machines like dredging boats," now being exported around the world along with Dutch water engineers.

Today, the country has a global reputation in "delta-technology" - claiming some 40 percent of the world's turnover in the open market. This excludes states who protect domestic makers of flood-barriers, dykes and bridges with anti-competition measures.

Out of a population of 16.5 million, the Netherlands also boasts some 2,000 companies in the field of water, employing about 80,000 people.

"As early as the seventh century, Dutch specialists were creating canals and dikes near the Elbe" River in what is modern-day Germany, said Christine Boomsma, spokeswoman for Netherlands Water Partnership (NWP), an information network of companies, government, knowledge institutes and NGOs.

Dutch savvy in the field has gone well beyond Europe and already been put to use in Africa, Asia and the Americas.

Its experts helped build storm surge barriers in St. Petersburg and Venice, helped make Jakarta flood resilient and advised on climate adaptation plans for the Maldives and southeast Asia's Mekong Delta.

"The United States became interested in our expertise after Hurricane Katrina" killed nearly 1,500 people in New Orleans in 2005, said Heeres of the UvW.

"In New Orleans, we reinforced a line of dykes to make them more solid, higher, and bigger," added Matthijs van Ledden of the engineering firm Royal Haskoning. "We also constructed new flood barriers."

Another example of Dutch ingenuity: artificial island complexes constructed in the sea off Dubai -- not only the ambitious Palm Island, in the shape of a palm tree, but another mimicking a map of the world.

Dubbed simply The World, the second complex comprises more than 300 islands in the shape of the continents, fashioned out of more than 325 cubic metres (11,477 cubic feet) of sand dredged from the bottom of the ocean.

This amount of sand "represents a wall of six metres high and two metres wide running right around the world," said Groothuizen of Van Oord, which helped create the islands.

At home, some nine million Dutch live in areas directly shielded from the sea and rivers by dikes and dunes, which a government appointed commission warned in 2009 must be upgraded at a cost of 100 billion euros (140 billion dollars) over the next century.

Floods in 1953 killed 1,835 people and left 72,000 homeless when a total 200,000 hectares (495,000 acres) of land in the southern provinces of Zeeland, Noord Brabant and Zuid-Holland were inundated.

This jolted the traumatised nation into creating its so-called Delta Plan, a water management blueprint that led to a drastic shrinkage of the Dutch coastline through the construction of barriers and dykes.

"Its advanced technology allows the Netherlands to help other countries with delta zones to be prepared" for natural disasters, according to Gaetano Casale of the UN cultural agency's (UNESCO) Institute for Water Education (IHE).

"The world has its Silicon Valley, we want to be its Water Valley," said Boomsma, referring to the area in the US state of California synonymous with high-tech innovation.

Tuesday marks World Water Day, an initiative that came out of the 1992 UN Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro. The theme for 2011 is "Water for Cities: Responding to the Urban Challenge".

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