Best of our wild blogs: 23 Mar 11

Drama in small doses
from The annotated budak

Tracking Trash: 25 Years of Action for the Ocean (ICC Report 2011) from News from the International Coastal Cleanup Singapore

Wet and wild at Cyrene
from wild shores of singapore

Cyrene Reef (22 Mar 2011)
from Project Driftnet Singapore

Been to Cyrene: "Go visit at least once in your life!"
from Cyrene Reef Exposed!

Call of the White-breasted Waterhen
from Bird Ecology Study Group

Black-winged Kites
from Life's Indulgences

A Romeo-and-Juliet plant story: Caesalpinia bonduc
from wild shores of singapore

Scientist at Work: How to Not Catch a Sea Turtle
from New York Times Science blog

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Radiation: Singapore's okay

Huang Lijie Straits Times 23 Mar 11;

# Levels here within normal range, says Govt
# No problem with Japanese food imports
# No need to screen those visiting Republic from outside evacuation zone

SINGAPORE is monitoring the situation in Japan closely, and ongoing checks by agencies here show there is little risk the Republic will be affected by the nuclear incident, said a government statement yesterday.

Giving an update on the situation, it said radiation levels here are within the normal range, tests on Japanese food imports have shown no radioactive contamination, and people returning home from outside Japan's evacuation zone will not need to go for medical screening.

The Singapore statement came as some good news was reported at the stricken nuclear power plant in Japan where workers managed to reconnect power lines to all its six reactor units.

While the plant's operator cautioned that it would still be days before the electricity can be turned on, the development was a significant step forward in bringing the overheated complex hopefully under control.

In the inter-ministry statement - the second update issued in a week - the Government reassured the public that it was watching the situation closely.

'The current assessment is that the likelihood of any radioactive plume reaching Singapore remains very low,' it said.

'Even in the event that prevailing winds were to transport a plume to Singapore, the impact is expected to be insignificant,' it added.

'The radioactive concentration of the plume, after travelling the long distance, would have been significantly reduced to the normal background levels.' Japan is 5,300km away from Singapore.

In any case, government agencies here said they are ready to deal with any potential impact from the nuclear incident.

It said the National Environment Agency (NEA) has been monitoring radiation levels round-the-clock since the start of the accident.

Its average reading of about 0.08 micro-sieverts per hour is within Singapore's normal range.

Simulations by the agency, and by the World Meteorological Organisation-designated Regional Specialised Meteorological Centres for Environmental Emergency Response in Tokyo and Melbourne, continue to show minimal risk of a radioactive plume reaching Singapore.

The Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) also confirmed that there have been no food imports from affected regions in Japan, where items such as milk, spinach and fava beans were reported to have higher levels of radiation.

Nevertheless, the authority has been testing samples of all fresh produce from Japan for ra-dioactive contaminants. So far, none has been detected in the more than 120 samples tested, including seafood, fruit, vegetables and meat.

The Ministry of Health (MOH) reiterated that any Singaporean outside of the evacuation zones - a 20km radius from the Fukushima Daiichi plant and a 10km radius from the Fukushima Daini plant - will not need any medical assessment.

It added that those who may have consumed any contaminated produce are unlikely to experience immediate adverse health effects.

MOH, however, advised Singaporeans returning from the evacuation zone and who feel unwell to visit the emergency department of a public restructured hospital for medical consultation.

The Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) is not screening passengers, as there is no health risk associated with increased radiation levels at some airports.

To help the public stay informed of the agencies' responses to the nuclear incident, the Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts has launched a micro-site on

It is also available through the app for iPhones and Android phones, as well as the mobile site.

For more information, the public can also refer to the following websites:




or call the MOH hotline on 1800-333-9999, and the PUB hotline on 1800-284-6600.

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Singapore: MPA takes the lead in cleaning up shipping

Vincent Wee Business Times 23 Mar 11;

THE green aspects of shipping affect not only shipping companies but port operators and regulators as well. Singapore, being a major transshipment port and global hub, is keenly aware of these elements and is doing its part to be part of the solution.

The port's regulatory body, the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA), says: 'As a major hub port and a coastal state along a very busy waterway, Singapore has substantive interests in protecting the marine environment and ensuring that shipping is environmentally responsible.'

MPA recognises that over the years there have been an increased general awareness on sustainable development and the need to be environmentally-friendly. Singapore is a firm supporter of the International Maritime Organisation (IMO), and participates actively in its work to develop a wide range of measures to prevent and control pollution from ships. For instance, Singapore and the other IMO member states have been working together to address the burning issue of greenhouse gas emissions from ships.

'Singapore's support of IMO's work on the environment is underscored by Singapore being party to many of the IMO Conventions on environmental protection, including all six Annexes of the MARPOL Convention, the primary IMO instrument for the prevention of pollution from ships,' says MPA.

Among other regulatory moves adopted by the IMO are the Anti-Fouling Systems (AFS) Convention, which Singapore became a party to in 2010, and the Ballast Water Management Convention, which Singapore is actively looking into acceding to.

But the job of balancing all the diverse interests in the industry is not an easy one. 'To effectively address the complex environmental challenges, there is a need for all stakeholders in the maritime industry to play an active role,' says MPA. To bring this about, the agency has adopted a multi-pronged approach to provide a conducive environment for the maritime industry to adopt more environmentally-friendly practices and operations, both in port and at sea.

MPA has also established several clean energy and research programmes, including the Maritime Clean Energy Research Programme with the Nanyang Technological University, MPA-DNV Maritime Environment & Clean Energy Technologies Programme and MPA-Temasek Polytechnic Maritime Fuel Cell Research Initiative.

Going green makes business sense
Business Times 23 Mar 11;

Efforts are on to make ship owners adopt environment-friendly rules early in Asia, which is a laggard in this area, reports VINCENT WEE

THE demands to become more environmentally conscious are reaching the maritime industry and while adoption is still hesitant from industry players, many new technologies are being made available to make shipping greener. In this sense, Europe and North America are leading the way forward with the implementation of emissions control areas (ECAs), early ratification of the ballast water convention and adoption of green technologies. Asia has been much slower but will ultimately have to follow the international conventions.

The ballast water convention for example is expected to be ratified by next year while the implementation of the North American ECAs will have a direct impact on much of Asian shipping which carries the region's exports there. The issues surrounding green shipping are complex and they will be discussed at a panel discussion on sustainable approaches to technology at Sea Asia 2011.

Wait-and-see attitude

'Shipping will have to comply with international regulations, also when it comes to environmental requirements,' says DNV COO and Asia-Pacific and Middle East division head Remi Eriksen. 'Regional regulations in Asia will not drive the development,' he adds. And the problem remains that there are relatively few shipping companies in Asia that are pushing ahead with environmental innovation, with most adopting a wait-and-see attitude to just stay in line with the rest of the industry.

DNV, however, believes that the best way to speed up innovation and investments in greener technologies in Asian shipping is by demonstrating that it represents a sound business case. To this end, they established DNV's Clean Tech Centre (CTC) in Singapore just under a year ago. CTC has since delivered more than 100 projects in the area of greener shipping, which suggests that some in the Asian market are willing to test new ways of making shipping cleaner.

The centre also produces research helping owners to make more informed decisions regarding investments in these technologies. For example the centre recently put out a report by senior consultant Sofia Furstenberg clearly identifying the issues and challenges shipowners and operators will face when the ballast water convention is implemented.

Ms Furstenberg highlights the fact that during the most critical period of the implementation process between 2017 and 2019, over 40,000 ships need to have installed an approved treatment system for ballast water amounting to an average daily installation rate of over 40 systems. DNV recommends early negotiation with yards to ease the retrofit pain.

In terms of ECAs, DNV believes that they 'will gradually cover more and more of global shipping and effect Asian owners trading both in Europe and the US'. Mr Eriksen, who will be chairing the session on green shipping at Sea Asia, also points to Hong Kong and Singapore as good examples of new areas that might include ECAs, although admitting that regional trade in Asia and Africa might be able to avoid being affected for some years yet. 'Knowing that this development will continue, there is no way for global shipping companies to avoid being affected by the ECAs,' he reiterates.

Another bright spot on the horizon is the rise of new technologies that will meet the new demands. Rolls-Royce, for example, sees green technologies becoming increasingly more widespread and commercially viable as regulations become more stringent. Although some of the building costs can be slightly more expensive, the through-life benefits and reduced costs due to increase in efficiency, safety and operability make economic sense.

'For companies who are in shipping long term, it is vital to consider the total cost throughout the vessel's life time. In many cases, new technologies represent added investment in the building phase, but with clear potentials for savings throughout the operational phase,' says Mr Eriksen.

Benefits of gas fuel

Some innovations include gas engines, coupled with innovative hull forms and energy efficient propulsion systems, according to Rolls-Royce. For example, the company has come up with several designs for a variety of short sea and coastal vessels and is working with owners on various concepts for using LNG as fuel.

'Vessel owners are also seeing the benefits of gas fuel and Rolls-Royce is there to meet their requirements, having expanded its capability from providing engines to designing, engineering and supplying complete ship systems,' the company says. 'LNG is a marine fuel of the future. The cost as well as the improved efficiency it provides makes it an attractive option for ship owners and operators, and the environmental benefits are obvious. Highly specialised ships operating on short sea routes - like ferries and cargo vessels in Norway as an example - have been at the forefront of pioneering LNG for marine applications. As bunker networks grow, and as improvements in hull design and power and propulsion efficiency continue to grow, the application of LNG as a fuel source for larger intercontinental vessels will become more viable,' says Lars Eikeland, Rolls-Royce executive vice-president of business development and strategy.

'Based on the findings from the Joint Industry Project on LNG, it seems clear that there is a large potential for use of LNG both as fuel for vessels in South-east Asia and for power generation in island regions with no pipeline connection. We are convinced that LNG has clear advantages both when it comes to environmental footprint and price compared to traditional fuel oil,' says Mr Eriksen, adding that 'the new LNG terminal in Singapore will represent an important building block in a future infrastructure of bunkering facilities, supporting an increased use of LNG'.

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Pictured: One Sea Turtle’s Worth of Plastic

Brandon Keim Email Wired Science 22 Mar 11;

Joining the Laysan albatross as icons of ocean plastic pollution are sea turtles, which consume bellyfuls of debris while swimming through Earth’s five great ocean garbage patches.

Pictured above are the stomach contents of a juvenile sea turtle accidentally captured off the coast of Argentina. The image echoes famous photographs taken by Chris Jordan and Susan Middleton of decomposing albatrosses on the island of Midway.

About 0.25 percent of all plastic ends up in the ocean. That might not sound like much, but humanity produces about 260 million tons of plastic a year. Tiny fractions add up fast. Oceanic plastic is pulled into the center of rotating currents, or gyres, where it doesn’t degrade, but breaks into smaller and smaller pieces. Some pieces end up in plankton and algae, or drift to the ocean floor. Others are mistaken for food by turtles.

The phenomenon is described in a new research review (.pdf) published by the Global Sea Turtle Network and spotlighted by the fifth International Marine Debris Conference, now ongoing in Honolulu, Hawaii.

One anecdote in the article, written by biologists Wallace Nichols of the California Academy of Science and the University of British Columbia’s Colette Wabnitz, stands out. “Relief of gastrointestinal obstruction of a green turtle off Melbourne beach, Florida, resulted in the animal defecating 74 foreign objects over a period of a month, including four types of latex balloons, different types of hard plastic, a piece of carpet-like material, and two 2- to 4-mm tar balls, they wrote.

Like so many environmental problems, ocean plastic seems overwhelming. But countries like China, South Africa and Thailand are already taxing or banning single-use plastic bags, which pose the greatest threat to turtles.

Individuals can help by cutting back on bag and bottle use, and finding ways to avoid plastic. Someday, perhaps, humanity might quit throwing away plastic altogether. Wrote Nichols, “There is no stopping the ingenious human mind.”

Images: Debris found in the gastrointestinal content of a juvenile green turtle accidentally captured in Bahía Samborombón, Argentina./Victoria González Carman.

The plastic found in a single turtle's stomach
Hundreds of shards reveal the threat to wildlife from debris floating in our seas
Adam Sherwin The Independent 24 Mar 11;

This collection of hundreds of coloured, jagged shards could be a work of abstract art. But the objects in the photograph to the right are the contents of the stomach of a sea turtle that lost its battle with plastic pollution.

Environmentalists examined the stomach of the juvenile turtle found off the coast of Argentina. The bellyful of debris that they found is symptomatic of the increasing threat to the sea turtles from a human addiction to plastic.

Sea turtles often mistake plastic items for jellyfish or other food. Ingesting non-biodegradable ocean pollution can cause a digestive blockage and internal lacerations. The result can be debilitation, followed by death.

Humans currently produce 260 million tons of plastic a year. When those products are pulled into the sea's currents, the plastics do not biodegrade but are broken into smaller pieces which are consumed by marine life at the bottom of the food chain. An examination of gastrointestinal obstruction in a green turtle found off Florida discovered that, over the course of a month, the animal's faeces had contained 74 foreign objects, including "four types of latex balloons, different types of hard plastic, a piece of carpet-like material and two 2-4mm tar balls."

The biggest rubbish "swill" is the North Pacific Gyre, known as the "great garbage patch", which is the size of Texas and contains an estimated 3.5 million items of detritus, ranging from toys to toothbrushes.

"The oceans have become one giant refuse bin for all manner of plastics. All sea turtle species are particularly prone and may be seriously harmed," according to the biologists Colette Wabnitz, from the University of British Columbia, and Wallace Nichols, of the California Academy of Sciences. In "Plastic Pollution: An Ocean Emergency", they write: "Continued research on the impacts of plastic on the ocean environment and human health is likely to conclude the problem is worse than currently understood.

"The symptom of this growing crisis can be seen inside and on sea turtles as well as their oceanic and terrestrial habitats. Bold initiatives that directly confront the source of plastic pollution, redesign packaging and rethink the very idea of 'throwaway culture' are urgently required."

Almost all marine species, from plankton to whales, have ingested plastic. But, even in small quantities, plastic can kill sea turtles due to obstruction of the oesophagus or perforation of the bowel, the biologists said.

Fifty out of 92 turtles found dead, stranded on the shorelines of Rio Grande do Sul state in Brazil, had ingested a "considerable amount of man-made debris".

Because young sea turtles indiscriminately feed on pelagic material, "high occurrences of plastic are common in the digestive tract of these small sea turtles," the biologists write.

They are asking visitors to help reduce the threat from plastics during visits to coastal areas by bringing their own reusable bags and food containers, and avoiding plastic-bottled drinks.

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Plastic: Too good to throw away

Susan Freinkel Straits Times 23 Mar 11;

SINCE the 1930s, when the product first hit the market, there has been a plastic toothbrush in every bathroom.

But if you are one of the growing number of people seeking to purge plastic from their lives, you can now buy a wooden toothbrush with boar's-hair bristles, along with other such back-to- the-future products as cloth sandwich wrappers, metal storage containers and leather fly swatters.

The urge to avoid plastic is understandable, given reports of toxic toys and baby bottles, seabirds choking on bottle caps and vast patches of ocean swirling with everlasting synthetic debris. Countless bloggers write about striving - in vain, most discover - to eradicate plastic from their lives.

'Eliminating plastic is one of the greenest actions you can do to lower your eco-footprint,' one noted while participating in a recent online challenge to be plastic-free. Is this true? Shunning plastic may seem key to the ethic of living lightly, but the environmental reality is more complex.

Originally, plastic was hailed for its potential to reduce humankind's heavy environmental footprint. The earliest plastics were invented as substitutes for dwindling supplies of natural materials like ivory or tortoise shell.

When the American John Wesley Hyatt patented celluloid in 1869, his company pledged that the new man-made material, used in jewellery, combs, buttons and other items, would bring 'respite' to the elephant and tortoise because it would 'no longer be necessary to ransack the earth in pursuit of substances which are constantly growing scarcer'.

Bakelite, the first true synthetic plastic, was developed decades later to replace shellac, then in high demand as an electrical insulator. The lac bugs that produced the sticky resin could not keep up with the country's rapid electrification.

Today, plastic is perceived as nature's nemesis. But a generic distaste for plastic can muddy our thinking about the trade-offs involved when we replace plastic with other materials.

Take plastic bags, the emblem for all bad things plastic. They clog storm drains, tangle up recycling equipment, litter parks and beaches and threaten wildlife on land and at sea.

A recent expedition researching plastic pollution in the South Atlantic reported that its ship had trouble setting anchor in one site off Brazil because the ocean floor was coated with plastic bags.

Such problems have fuelled bans on bags around the world and in more than a dozen American cities. Unfortunately, as the plastics industry incessantly points out, the bans typically lead to a huge increase in the use of paper bags, which also have environmental drawbacks. But the bigger issue is not what the bags are made from, but what they are made for. Both are designed, absurdly, for that brief one-time trip from the store to the front door. In other words, plastics are not necessarily bad for the environment: It is the way we tend to make and use them that is the problem.

It is estimated that half of the 270 billion kg of plastics produced each year go into single-use products. Some are indisputably valuable, like disposable syringes, which have been a great ally in preventing the spread of infectious diseases like HIV, and even plastic water bottles, which, after disasters like the Japanese tsunami, are critical to saving lives.

Yet many disposables, like the bags, drinking straws, packaging and lighters commonly found in beach cleanups, are essentially prefab litter with a heavy environmental cost.

And there is another cost. Pouring so much plastic into disposable conveniences has helped to diminish our view of a family of materials we once held in high esteem. Plastic has become synonymous with cheap and worthless, when in fact those chains of hydrocarbons ought to be regarded as among the most valuable substances on the planet.

If we understood plastic's true worth, we would stop wasting it on trivial throwaways and take better advantage of what this versatile material can do for us.

In a world of nearly seven billion souls and counting, we are not going to feed, clothe and house ourselves solely from wood, ore and stone; we need plastics. And in an era when we are concerned about our carbon footprint, we can appreciate that lightweight plastics take less energy to produce and transport than many other materials. Plastics also make possible green technology like solar panels.

These 'unnatural' synthetics, intelligently deployed, could turn out be nature's best ally. Yet we cannot hope to achieve plastic's promise for the 21st century if we stick with wasteful 20th-century habits of plastic production and consumption.

We have the technology to make better, safer plastics - forged from renewable sources, rather than finite fossil fuels, using chemicals that inflict minimal or no harm on the planet and our health.

We have the public policy tools to build better recycling systems and to hold businesses accountable for the products they put into the market. We can also take a cue from the plastic purgers about how to cut wasteful plastic out of our daily lives. We need to rethink plastic. The boar's-hair toothbrush is not our only alternative.

Susan Freinkel is the author of the forthcoming Plastic: A Toxic Love Story.


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Indonesia: Aceh’s Logging Ban Up for Award Despite Flaws

Fidelis E. Satriastanti Jakarta Globe 23 Mar 11;

Aceh’s logging moratorium was nominated for an international award for innovative and influential forestry policy on Tuesday, despite glaring problems with its implementation and continued illegal logging in the province.

The World Future Council, a Hamburg-based international policy research institute, announced that the Aceh moratorium had been short-listed for the Future Policy Award.

Winners will represent the most inspiring, innovative and influential forest policies that contribute to the management, conservation and sustainable development of all types of forests for the benefit of current and future generations, the statement said.

Environmental groups and experts agree that the moratorium, issued in 2007 by Aceh Governor Irwandi Yusuf, is a positive development, but say that it has not been implemented and the planning phase was inadequate.

The moratorium was meant to suspend logging across the entire province in order to halt the destruction of forests while the administration redeveloped its forest management strategy.

T.M. Zulfikar, executive director of the Aceh chapter of the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Wahli), said that while the policy was a positive development, it was deeply flawed. He called it an “empty” instruction.

“The policy is okay but it has to be implemented. The Aceh administration has not followed through on the logging moratorium,” Zulfikar said.

“Moratorium was not meant to become just another buzzword, but there has been no movement at all from the nine institutions within the regional government that received the order,” he added.

Zulfikar said Aceh is still experiencing flooding despite the ban on logging, and while there are no new concessions, illegal logging is on the rise. “There is still ongoing forest destruction from mining activities and plantations.”

He said from 2007-08 around 92,600 hectares of forest were destroyed in Aceh, and in 2009 he estimates that at least 23,000 hectares were lost.

Hariadi Kartodiharjo, a forestry expert from the Bogor Agricultural University, said the moratorium was not adequately researched and discussed.

Most of the debate centered around conducting local patrols to prevent illegal logging, but overall forest management was not addressed, problems likely to arise had not been anticipated and the need for capacity building had not been recognized, Hariadi added.

Nevertheless, he said the moratorium was a “progressive” move, considering that most other provinces have not responded to forest destruction.

He said another problem is implementation and enforcement, adding that most people think once logging licenses were revoked, the forests were safe.

“Who could guarantee that? We are aware of how weak the government is in forestry management,” he said.

Hariadi said stopping logging is only one part of the moratorium — it’s just as much about developing a sustainable system for forest management.

The new forestry management strategy was intended to take into account natural disasters, such as floods and land slides, and human-animal conflicts that often result as a consequence of deforestation.

But Hariadi said, “There is still a lack of common-sense understanding of forestry issues.

“For example, if logging permits are revoked, then local people will get poorer. Those concessions threw out the local people from the forests in the first place, the permits are negating people's rights, not the other way around,” he said.

The three winners of the Future Policy Award will be announced on Sept. 21 at the United Nations headquarters in New York. Along with the Aceh Moratorium, policies from 19 other countries including Brazil, Costa Rica, Finland, Gambia, Kenya, Norway, India, the United States and Vietnam were short-listed for the award, the World Future Council said.

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Australia to lose 45 species in 20 years

AAP Herald Sun 23 Mar 11;

UP to 45 native species in Western Australia's Kimberley region will die out within 20 years if no action is taken, a CSIRO-led study says.

It's called for an immediate cash injection of $95 million to save creatures like the Golden Bandicoot, the Scaly-Tailed Possum and the Monjon Rock Wallaby from extinction.

The study, released today, was commissioned by the Wilderness Society, which has gone on to urge all tiers of government to open their wallets.

At the moment, just $20 million a year is spent on conservation efforts in the Kimberley, which is home to an assortment of threatened species.

But the report said even if that money was spent properly, the region would still lose some 31 native animals.

The numbers of many more birds, reptiles and mammals, such as the Spotted Tree Monitor and the Western Chestnut Mouse, would dwindle.

The report said containing feral cats was the best cost-effective measure to prevent species decline, which would be a three-pronged attack, including education, research and an end to dingo baiting.

But it conceded the "feasibility of success" was low.

Next best would be to effectively manage the threats of fire and foreign herbivores, which would see improvements for almost all wildlife species.

"This report is like a business plan for nature," one of the report's six co-authors Hugh Possingham said. "Our analysis shows the best bang for the buck and identifies not just the best things to do but what we can't afford not to do."

About $40 million would be needed annually in the Kimberley to protect its species, as well as boost plant life, help the climate and conserve indigenous land.

"This investment is great value," Prof Possingham said. "We can save some of Australia's most iconic mammals and birds at a cost of only about $1 million per species per year."

The Priority Threat Management to Protect Kimberley Wildlife report relied heavily on expert feedback because of a lack of available data on certain species and costs.

It recommended getting other social, economic and cultural perspectives to round out a more comprehensive action plan.

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Ecotourism offering a feast of opportunities in Asia

Karl Malakunas Yahoo News 22 Mar 11;

PUERTO PRINCESA, Philippines (AFP) – Philippine fisherman Abner Abrigo used to enjoy feasting on dolphins and turtles until he realised they were more valuable as tourist attractions.

The wiry 28-year-old said eating dolphin "adobo" style had been his top choice -- a reference to the Spanish-inspired cooking of meat in a thick broth of soya sauce, vinegar and garlic that is popular among all Filipinos.

Now, Abrigo and others from a small fishing community on the dazzling western Philippine island of Palawan help to take visitors dolphin watching.

"The extra money from the dolphin watching makes a big difference to our livelihoods," Abrigo told AFP from a dock in Palawan's capital, Puerto Princesa.

Across Asia, similar types of micro-businesses are offering local communities financial incentives to protect their environments as they take advantage of the region's small but growing "ecotourism" industry.

Members of the ethnic Qiang minority in mountainous southwest China are selling meals made from organic produce to visitors, while in Indonesia locals are taking tourists from rainforest eco-lodges to meet endangered orangutans.

The travel industry and governments are also responding to the rising demand for "green" travel, with Cambodia recently becoming the first Southeast Asian nation to commit to the Global Sustainable Tourism Council's principles.

On the Internet, travellers have a myriad of choices from tour operators promoting "sustainable" holidays, including offers to buy carbon credits to offset air travel and to stay at high-end resorts that embrace green practices.

"Ecotourism is a still a niche market but interest is rising," John Koldowski, deputy chief executive officer of the Pacific Asia Travel Association, told AFP.

"This is driven by an awareness generally in the environment and being green and sustainable, but also in something that's becoming in short supply in the world -- peace, quiet and solitude."

Government leaders, local communities and non-government organisations on Palawan, one of the Philippines' most beautiful and biologically diverse islands, have been among the most enthusiastic adopters of eco-tourism in Asia.

Abrigo's fishing community -- as part of an ecotourism programme called Bayanijuan run by the Puerto Princesa government and Philippine media company ABS-CBN -- has run dolphin and whale watching tours for about two years.

Abrigo and some of his neighbours act as spotters for the tourist vessel while out fishing themselves in their small outrigger boats.

If they are the spotter that finds the dolphins or whales for the tourist boat, they get paid 25 pesos (about 60 cents) for each passenger on the boat.

"Sometimes there are more than 20 people on the boat... jackpot," Abrigo said with a smile.

While Abrigo still needs to fish to guarantee enough money to survive, other former fishermen elsewhere on Palawan have given up their old jobs altogether to cater for the growing number of tourists.

Edwin Bermejo, 43, confessed to having performed trawl net fishing in Puerto Princesa's stunning Honda Bay for many years.

Trawl net and other destructive methods of fishing, such as using dynamite and cyanide, have ruined many of Palawan's precious coral reefs over the past few decades.

"We didn't understand the results of what we were doing," he said.

But as fish catches started to dry up and tourists began to arrive in the 1990s, Bermejo said he and other fishermen around Honda Bay realised they needed to change their way of living if they were to survive.

With the help of local non-government organisations and more recently the Bayanijuan programme, they turned their fishing vessels into island hopping boats.

They also worked with the Puerto Princesa government to enforce a ban on destructive fishing practices, doing volunteer patrols and reporting any offences to authorities.

"Our fish stocks have slowly recovered," Bermejo told AFP from aboard a boat in Honda Bay that takes tourists to the beaches of some of the area's tiny islands, as well as snorkelling and diving in the remaining coral reefs.

His community association is now intending to take out a loan to nearly double its current fleet of 66 boats in an effort to meet a recent boom in tourist numbers.

"This would never have happened if we kept on fishing the way we did," Bermejo said.

The mayor of Puerto Princesa, Edward Hagedorn, is one of the driving forces behind the ecotourism effort, according to many environment activists on Palawan who regard him as an ally in their campaign to protect its ecosystems.

Hagedorn said that after first becoming mayor in 1992 he banned mining, logging and factories, confident that in the long-run more jobs would be created by preserving the area's natural wonders and attracting tourists.

Tourist numbers to Puerto Princesa jumped from 12,000 in 1992 to 425,000 in 2010, and many more are expected as the area gains global fame -- National Geographic named Palawan as one of its top-20 destinations this year.

"Now with the number of visitors rising, it's giving more and more income to the people. But if we allowed mining and logging... those jobs would have been just temporary," he said.

For Anthony Cuvinar, 27, the tourism boom has turned him from a struggling handicraft maker into a boatman and tour guide for a fireflies tour who can now earn up to 20,000 pesos (470 dollars) a month -- a good wage in local terms.

But when asked while paddling his kayak along the Iwahig River at dusk what he liked most about his job, Cuvinar did not mention the money.

"When I got into this I learnt to love nature and I enjoy helping other people to understand the importance of nature," he said, as nine egrets flew past in V formation.

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Reef 'Stress Test' Aims to Preserve Threatened Corals Yahoo News 22 Mar 11;

Researchers have developed a coral reef "stress test" in hopes the system will act as a kind of marine biodiversity triage, allowing for better management of the most diverse and hardiest of corals in threatened and quickly dwindling ecosystems.

The test is a model that looks at environmental factors that stress corals — mainly rising sea temperatures — and how these stresses affect overall coral and fish diversity. Acidification of ocean waters and overfishing of reefs can also stress coral communities.

"The future is going to be more stressful for marine ecosystems, and coral and their dependent species top the list of animals that are going to feel the heat of climate warming," said the Wildlife Conservation Society's Tim R. McClanahan, lead author of the study, published in the online edition of the journal Global Change Biology.

The model uses layers of historical data, satellite imagery and field observations to produce a composite map on the status of reefs in the western Indian Ocean, in addition to an index of coral communities, their diversity and their susceptibility to bleaching.

Bleaching occurs when the corals are stressed and release the symbiotic, single-celled algae that live inside them, turning the coral bone white. The algae provide food for the corals, and bleached reefs can't survive for long.

The study encompasses a wide swath of the western Indian Ocean, ranging from the Maldives to South Africa, an area already deeply affected by bleaching events and coral mortality.

The model identified the coastal regions stretching from southern Kenya to northern Mozambique, northeastern Madagascar, the Mascarene Islands, and the coastal border of Mozambique and South Africa as having the most promising characteristics of high diversity and low environmental stress.

The authors say these biologically diverse and hardy reefs are therefore a priority for implementing management that will reduce the human impact, while alternative strategies for adaptation are necessary in areas with lower chances of long-term survival.

"The study provides us with hope and a map to identify conservation and management priorities where it is possible to buy some time for these important ecosystems until the carbon emissions problems have been solved," McClanahan said.

Carbon emissions contribute to greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere, causing some of Earth's warming; they also cause ocean waters to become more acidic, which can threaten coral reefs.

The coral reefs of the western Indian Ocean represent a significant portion of the overall biodiversity of tropical reefs worldwide.

In addition, the region's reefs are a crucial testing ground for management responses to climate-driven events such as coral bleaching. For instance, an estimated 45 percent of living coral in the Indian Ocean was killed during an uncharacteristically warm stretch in 1998.

Caleb McClennen, director of the WCS's Marine Program, said the study shows there's still a window of opportunity to save coral reefs, the ocean's most biodiverse ecosystem.

"Reducing human impacts to minimize the multiple stressors on these globally important reefs will give corals a fighting chance in the age of global climate change," McClennen said.

Conservationists develop coral 'stress test' to identify reefs of hope in climate change era
Wildlife Conservation Society researchers urge protection and management for Indian Ocean coral reefs most likely to persist into future
Wildlife Conservation Society EurekAlert 22 Mar 11;

Researchers from the Wildlife Conservation Society have developed a "stress test" for coral reefs as a means of identifying and prioritizing areas that are most likely to survive bleaching events and other climate change factors. The researchers say that these "reefs of hope" are priorities for national and international management and conservation action.

The test is a model that looks at environmental factors that stress corals – mainly from rising sea temperatures – and how these stresses affect overall coral and fish diversity. The results will help conservationists and managers identify reef systems most likely to survive over the next 50 years.

The study appears in the online edition of Global Change Biology. The authors include Tim R. McClanahan, Joseph M. Maina, and Nyawira A. Muthiga of the Wildlife Conservation Society.

The model uses layers of historical data, satellite imagery, and field observations to produce a composite map on the status of reefs in the western Indian Ocean, in addition to an index of coral communities, their diversity, and their susceptibility to bleaching.

The study encompasses a wide swath of the western Indian Ocean, ranging from the Maldives to South Africa, an area already heavily impacted by bleaching events and coral mortality.

The model identified the coastal regions stretching from southern Kenya to northern Mozambique, northeastern Madagascar, the Mascarene Islands, and the coastal border of Mozambique and South Africa as having the most promising characteristics of high diversity and low environmental stress.

The authors say these biologically diverse and hardy reefs are therefore a priority for implementing management that will reduce human impacts and stresses, while alternative strategies for adaptation are necessary in areas with lower chances of long-term survival.

"The future is going to be more stressful for marine ecosystems, and coral and their dependent species top the list of animals that are going to feel the heat of climate warming," said Dr. McClanahan, the study's lead author and WCS Senior Conservationist. "The study provides us with hope and a map to identify conservation and management priorities where it is possible to buy some time for these important ecosystems until the carbon emissions problems have been solved."

The coral reefs of the western Indian Ocean represent a significant portion of the overall biodiversity of tropical reef systems worldwide.

The western Indian Ocean also represents a crucial testing ground for management responses to climate-driven events such as coral bleaching. For instance, an estimated 45 percent of living coral was killed during 1998's warm temperature anomaly.

Caleb McClennen, Director of the Wildlife Conservation Society's Marine Program, said: "Reducing human impacts to minimize the multiple stressors on these globally important reefs will give corals a fighting chance in the age of global climate change. These results reveal a window of opportunity for the future conservation of the ocean's most biodiverse ecosystem."


From Fiji to Glover's Reef, The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and The Tiffany & Co. Foundation have provided critical support for Dr. McClanahan's research, which examines the climate change effects, ecology, fisheries, and management of coral reefs at key sites throughout the world.

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Global warming: For a poor country like Pakistan, mangroves can protect our coast better than science

Express Tribune 22 Mar 11;

KARACHI: We may not have the advanced technology or science to keep the tsunamis and cyclones at bay, but as it turns out we may not need them.

Experts at a press conference on Tuesday said that while the changing world climate has put Pakistan, among other coastline countries, at higher risk of natural disasters, mangroves are a great defence. The press conference was held at the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) centre in Karachi to address concerns that have been voiced in the aftermath of the tsunami in Japan.

IUCN Country Representative Shah Murad Aliani said that mangroves act as carbon sinks because their root systems and biomass can store hundreds of tons of carbon per hectare. In the case of a tsunami, in which water does not only come from above but also from under the earth, the roots of mangroves act as a blockade. Their extensive aboveground root systems also hold back the ocean and reduce wave force by 90 per cent or more, protecting against typhoons and flooding.

IUCN’s Regional Director for Asia Aban Marker Kabraji said that this year’s tsunami helped to prove how useful coastal greenbelts can be. The 200- to 300-metre wide coastal forest in Japan successfully buffered most of the waves. Since the city had been planned such that most of the population and the financial centres were away from the coast, countless lives were saved. This would also help with its recovery, she said.

She said that it is to our advantage that Pakistan’s coastline is not as densely populated as Japan’s and that we have the natural shield of mangroves. “While mangroves don’t prevent natural disasters, they are the cheapest and most sustainable solution to mitigate destruction.”

However, this is where the good news ends. Our all important mangrove reserves are being cut every day, leaving our shores a lot less green and a lot more exposed.

IUCN Coordinator Natural Resource Management Rafiul Haq said that until 1950, mangroves along Pakistan’s coastline spanned 600,000 hectares. They have now been reduced to 86,000 hectares, even though some efforts to replant have been undertaken. Kabraji said that Pakistan has a 1,067 kilometre-long stretch of coastline, which is mostly barren and so, vulnerable to natural disasters such as tsunamis and cyclones.

In 1945, the Balochistan coast was hit by a massive tsunami, in which 5,000 people were killed. “There were reports of 30-foot-high waves, comparable to those that hit Japan. If it were to hit Karachi today, we can only imagine the destruction.”

Pakistan might not have been hit by a major sea disaster since then but it does have a history of cyclones in the Indus Delta and along the coast of Sindh and Balochistan. In 1999, Sindh’s coast was hit by a cyclone and in 2010, Cyclone Phet ended up splashing havoc all over Gwadar and Keti Bunder.

Kabraji suggested that mangrove strips up to an ideal one mile can act as setback zones along the coast of Sindh and Balochistan and can go a long way in making the first line of natural defence against climate change. The experts said that in light of these threats, Pakistan became a member of the Mangroves for Future programme that was launched in the aftermath of Japan’s 2004 tsunami.

In December 2006, former US president Bill Clinton started a partnership-led initiative to promote investment in coastal ecosystems founded on a vision for ‘a more healthy, prosperous and secure future for all Indian Ocean coastal communities’. The main objectives are to strengthen the environmental sustainability of coastal development and to promote the investment of funds and efforts in coastal ecosystem management.

It initially focused on the countries worst-affected by the tsunami, including India, Indonesia, Maldives, Seychelles, Sri Lanka and Thailand. Pakistan and Vietnam were later added with an overall aim to promote an integrated approach.

IUCN expert Ghulam Qadir Shah said that the IUCN Pakistan, along with the Sindh forest department, is starting an ambitious mangrove plantation project in June this year. Over 100,000 hectares of mangroves would be planted over a period of five years. This initiative is just the beginning. A more concentrated effort is needed to introduce greenbelts, mobilise the community, raise awareness and provide expertise and training in nurturing this national asset.

More mangroves would mean effective natural defense against natural calamities.

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Water experts urge disaster readiness

Yahoo News 21 Mar 11;

CAPE TOWN (AFP) – Recent water disasters in Japan, Australia and Brazil stress the need for emergency readiness as the world faces massive urbanisation and more natural catastrophes, experts at a UN forum said Monday.

"The data that we have shows that these kind of events are likely to happen and we have to be prepared for them," said World Water Council Vice President Ben Braga, whose native Brazil suffered deadly floods in January.

A session on water disasters ahead of World Water Day 2011, marked annually on March 22, urged preventive action to tackle water catastrophes.

"If now in fact we are having more severe floods and droughts in the future due to climate variability it becomes even more important that this water management takes place immediately," Braga told AFP.

Deadly floods have hit countries like Australia, South Africa and Sri Lanka this year with an unprecedented tsunami devastating Japan on March 11.

Japan Water Forum Director Inoue Tomoo said the country will re-evaluate its 10-metre (33-feet) anti-tsunami dykes, built after a giant wave hit in 1933, after this month's massive wall of water left more than 20,000 people dead or missing.

"Some areas were destroyed even though we constructed the dykes. We have to evaluate the effect of this infrastructure," he said, adding that Japan was still in the initial phase of rescue and recovery and housing displaced people.

World Water Day: Conference discusses urban water challenges
How will cities across the world manage the increasing pressure being put on their water resources?
Lee Middleton 22 Mar 11;

Half of the world's population now lives in cities, with 3 million urban arrivals every week. In the next two decades, nearly two-thirds of humanity will be living in cities, delegates at a three-day event held in Cape Town to mark World Water Day (WWD) were told.

This year, WWD is focusing on the provision of water in urban areas.

Over a thousand representatives from more than 30 organisations gathered in South Africa to discuss the urban water challenges and opportunities facing the world today. It is hosted by South Africa, in collaboration with UN-Water, the African Ministers' Council on Water (Amcow), the UN secretary general's Advisory Board on Water and Sanitation (Unsgab), the UN Environment Programme, and the UN Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat).

In Africa, where the rate of urbanisation is the world's highest and urban populations are expected to double in the next 20 years, water services have been on the decline since 1990. Amcow highlighted the opportunities provided by the conference for African ministers, mayors, civil society organisations and representatives of development banks and the private sector to discuss how they can move faster and more effectively in closing this gap and achieving millennium development goals. The critical need for collaboration and communication between sectors, and the need for visionary leadership to manage the planet's limited water resources were recurring themes.

Conference sessions covered topics as diverse as how cities can decentralise urban water management systems to make them sustainable, the role of water in urban green growth, and how cities can address sanitation issues in rapidly growing informal settlements and slums. "Urbanisation, a greener world, and coping with climate variability – those are the three issues that just about every session is looking at in some way or another," said Margaret Catley-Carlson, executive board chair of the Global Crop Diversity Trust.

Numerous speakers highlighted the need for a shift away from "old models" of water management and business-as-usual thinking. "I see a transition from people being consumers of water to people being custodians of water. We need to manage water as a flux instead of a stock," said Anthony Turton, director of TouchStone Resources, a natural-resource management company based in South Africa, at a World Bank panel on public-private partnerships.

The privatisation of water supplies has been a controversial issue in the past, sparking protests when attempted in Bolivia and South Africa. Last year, the African Development Bank recommended privatisation as the only way to meet the continent's water and sanitation needs. However, Richard Makolo, leader of the South African Crisis Water Committee, reportedly called privatisation "a new kind of apartheid".

"I think the issue of who owns the utility and who provides the service is much less than it used to be," said Julia Bucknall, sector manager of the central unit for water at the World Bank's Energy, Transport and Water department. "There are some basic fundamentals of good governance of water that need to be respected, independent of who owns them."

One example of a public-private innovation that was given a cautious welcome was that of franchising wastewater treatment plants. Providing a standardised model that breaks down the business processes into a set of clearly defined issues could extend the reach of the limited number of engineers and scientists in developing countries and also would more easily secure financial backing, supporters said.

Not everyone was convinced. A member of the audience from Coca-Cola commented: "When you talk about franchising you're talking about investments. Investment fears uncertainty. When you talk about water as a human right, investors get nervous. The franchise model has been successful in delivering everything from burgers to coke, but it requires a level of certainty to work."

The challenges identified with water itself were uncontroversial – too much, not enough, too dirty, rain falling in the wrong place or at the wrong time – and most conference speakers were optimistic that technological innovations could be found to deal with these. In the end, the real challenges were identified in leadership and implementation. "The urban water challenge must be recognised for what it really is – a crisis of governance, weak policies and poor management, rather than a scarcity crisis," said Unsgab's Prince Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands.

The complexity of the sector was identified both as a challenge and an opportunity to build a world where water, energy, the environment and development are treated as one. "Water does not require just one capacity. Water engineers, chemical engineers, planners, architects, in addition to advocacy, ambassadors, and politicians – we need all of them. You cannot fix water with a single shot. It's a very complex sector that requires a lot of interdependency," said Alioune Badiane, regional director for Africa and the Arab states at UN-Habitat.

"The centrality of water to development is becoming more and more obvious, and this conference shows it," said Bucknall. "Water supply and sanitation are extremely important, but water is also important for energy security, food security and basic urban security. So we're seeing this integrated view of water as a central core development issue emerging more and more."

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Climate change: UN parties complete inventory of pledges

Yahoo News 21 Mar 11;

PARIS (AFP) – Developing countries have submitted their plans for tackling greenhouse-gas emissions under the UN flag, completing a double inventory decided in Mexico in December, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change said on Monday.

The listing of voluntary, "nationally appropriate" actions follows an inventory of emissions reduction targets by developed countries, the Bonn-based secretariat said.

The documents form the basis of a system of "mutual accountability", a planned confidence-building mechanism to let countries know what counterparts are doing in the fight against climate change.

The 194 UNFCCC parties also agreed in Cancun to establish a Green Climate Fund (GCF) with the potential to channel hundreds of billions of dollars in aid from rich economies to poor, vulnerable nations.

They rallied around a call to cap warming to two degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) and on ways to fight deforestation, a leading cause of climate change.

The two-week meeting was blighted over the fate of the Kyoto Protocol, the landmark treaty whose obligations on wealthy countries to cut emissions expires in late 2012.

The forum next meets in Bangkok at the level of senior officials from April 3 to April 8; in Bonn from June 6-17; and in Durban, South Africa, from November 28-December 9, ending at ministerial level.

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