Best of our wild blogs: 31 Mar 11

Hurray for hornbills!
from Celebrating Singapore's Biodiversity and Raffles Museum News

Flowering Syzygium Trees @ Pasir Ris Park
from Beauty of Fauna and Flora in Nature

裕廊湖观鸟 birding@Jurong lake
from PurpleMangrove

Song of the Oriental Magpie Robin
from Bird Ecology Study Group

Pandan mangroves (30 Mar 2011)
from Mega Marine Survey of Singapore and wild shores of singapore

Paint-along-with Pui San
from Art in Wetlands

Mitrephora maingayi
from Flying Fish Friends

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Singapore-Johor cross-border transport gets boost

Joanne Chan Channel NewsAsia 30 Mar 11;

The Joint Ministerial Committee also endorsed the recommendations by the Tourism Work Group on the development and marketing of a trans-boundary, joint eco-tourism attraction involving Singapore's Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve and Malaysia's three Ramsar sites of Sungai Pulai, Pulau Kukup and Tanjung Piai.

SINGAPORE: From July, taxis plying both sides of the Singapore-Malaysia border will be able to pick up and drop off passengers anywhere in their domestic countries.

The implementation date of this taxi rule change was agreed on Wednesday at the eighth working meeting of the Malaysia-Singapore Joint Ministerial Committee.

Currently, cross-border taxis are allowed to pick up and drop off passengers at just two places - Ban San Street near Bugis, and Pasar Bakti terminal in Johor.

There are some 400 authorised cabs which offer cross-border services - 200 in Singapore and 200 in Malaysia.

The Joint Ministerial Committee also agreed to boost connectivity by further increasing the quota for cross border bus services.

It noted that additional cross-border bus services between Singapore and Iskandar Malaysia have been approved and are being implemented.

A joint engineering study for the Rapid Transit System (RTS) link between Iskandar Malaysia and Singapore was also approved.

The statement said officials from both sides will endeavour to gather international best practices in the implementation of a dual co-located Customers, Immigration and Quarantine system to complement the RTS link.

The Joint Ministerial Committee noted with satisfaction that Khazanah Nasional Berhad and Temasek Holdings have progressed in the discussion on the development of an iconic project with a wellness theme in Iskandar Malaysia.

The project is targeted to be launched in May 2011.

The statement also said the river cleaning project in the Iskandar Malaysia is progressing well.

The Joint Ministerial Committee also endorsed the recommendations by the Tourism Work Group on the development and marketing of a trans-boundary, joint eco-tourism attraction involving Singapore's Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve and Malaysia's three Ramsar sites of Sungai Pulai, Pulau Kukup and Tanjung Piai.

The first phase will involve the twinning of Pulau Kukup and Sungei Buloh Wetland

Singapore-Johor taxi curbs to be eased by July
Straits Times 31 Mar 11;

TAXIS authorised to ply between Singapore and Malaysia will be able to pick up and drop off passengers anywhere in their respective countries by July.

The July date was agreed on yesterday at a meeting of ministers from both sides, said a joint press statement from both governments.

The 400 such taxis that operate on both sides - 200 from each country - can currently pick up and drop off passengers at only two places: Ban San Street near Bugis, and Johor Baru's Pasar Bakti terminal.

Moves to improve cross-border transport links were agreed on when leaders from Singapore and Malaysia met at a retreat in May last year.

Yesterday, the Malaysia-Singapore Joint Ministerial Committee for Iskandar Malaysia followed up on these plans when it met for its 8th working meeting at the Grand Hyatt Hotel here.

Iskandar Malaysia is the development zone in south Johor that aims to boost the state's economy.

The meeting was co-chaired by Malaysia's Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Nor Mohamed Yakcop and Singapore's National Development Minister Mah Bow Tan.

Also present were Johor Chief Minister Abdul Ghani Othman and Singapore's Transport Minister Raymond Lim.

The ministers noted that additional cross-border bus services between Singapore and Iskandar Malaysia had been approved, and were being implemented. They also agreed to further increase the quota on cross-border bus services, and approved a joint engineering study for a Rapid Transit System (RTS) link between Iskandar Malaysia and Singapore.

The RTS is scheduled to start operating by 2018.

Officials from both sides will also try to gather international best practices in implementing a co-located customs, immigration and quarantine system for RTS commuters. This is so that passengers will only need to clear border formalities once in each direction of travel.

The committee also noted that Malaysia's Khazanah Nasional and Singapore's Temasek Holdings have made good progress in talks to develop an iconic wellness township project, which is targeted to be launched in May.

A river cleaning project was also progressing well, and the committee endorsed recommendations to develop and market a cross-border, joint ecotourism attraction, the statement added.

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JTC seeks cutting-edge ideas on land use

Straits Times 31 Mar 11;

JTC Corporation is seeking cutting-edge ideas on how to intensify land use and speed up project construction - and has set aside a $5 million innovation fund to develop the best suggestions.

All Singapore-based companies, including tertiary institutions, research institutes, public sector agencies and private organisations, can send in proposals.

Individuals who want to submit a proposal must partner an organisation.

Foreign entities will also have to partner a local organisation or have a local presence. And Singapore must be used as its base to own and manage all intellectual property rights developed.

JTC wants new layouts and configurations that will help improve land efficiency as well as ideas on how to increase the parking capacity of aircraft and the plot ratio of runway access hangers.

Companies can also suggest ways to reduce the construction time of roads by at least 30 per cent and speed up the building of industrial infrastructure to within 12 months or less.

JTC said conventional methods of road construction typically take about 12 months per kilometre while building a substation usually takes up to 15 months.

JTC chief executive Manohar Khiatani said: 'Innovation is of high priority to JTC and is key to sustaining Singapore's competitive edge as an investment location.

'We are constantly on the lookout for creative infrastructure solutions to develop and meet the evolving needs of business operations.'

The trial period for each project is capped at two years.

The amount of funds awarded to each project will depend on the quality of the proposal and its implementation potential.

The closing date for submissions is June 7 and applicants will be notified of the results of their proposals by the end of the year.

This is the second time JTC has called for such submissions and there are plans to make it an annual exercise.

Last March, the agency launched its inaugural JTC Innovation Fund, calling for ideas that would intensify land use and create new industrial space.

It awarded a total of $900,000 to three research projects aimed at making JTC's industrial parks more environmentally sustainable.

Two projects were submitted by the Nanyang Technological University and one by the National University of Singapore.


JTC puts up $5m for cutting-edge ideas

It seeks proposals on intensifying land use, speeding up construction
Uma Shankari Business Times 31 Mar 11;

JTC Corporation (JTC) has launched a request for proposal (RFP) exercise to seek cutting-edge ideas on intensifying land use and speeding up construction.

The government agency yesterday said it has set aside a $5 million innovation fund to support and develop any ideas from the RFP that will create new industrial infrastructure solutions.

The two key themes for this RFP are increasing the plot ratios of buildings in the marine and aerospace industries, and increasing the construction speed of industrial infrastructure.

'Innovation is of high priority to JTC and is key to sustaining Singapore's competitive edge as an investment location,' said JTC chief executive Manohar Khiatani.

'We are constantly on the look out for creative infrastructure solutions to develop and meet the evolving needs of business operations,' he added.

Intensification of land use is a challenge faced by both the marine and aerospace industries as they need large tracts of open land for their bulky and heavy equipment.

For the marine industry, the RFP seeks proposals for new layouts and configurations to better integrate core and supporting marine-related facilities and processes.

And in the case of the aerospace industry, the RFP seeks proposals to increase the parking capacity of aircraft and plot ratios of runway access hangars.

Innovative solutions are also invited for accelerating the construction speed of roads and reducing the construction time of substations.

This is the second year that JTC is reaching out to external partners to boost industry research in creating innovative industrial infrastructure solutions.

The agency launched the inaugural JTC Innovation Fund in March 2010, targeting institutions of higher learning, and private and public sector organisations in Singapore.

Last year, a total grant of $900,000 was awarded to fund three research projects which were aimed at improving the environmental sustainability of its industrial parks.

The closing date for submission is June 7, 2011. JTC will conduct this exercise annually, it said.

JTC invites firms to submit proposals
Julie Quek Channel NewsAsia 30 Mar 11;

SINGAPORE : JTC Corporation has invited local and foreign firms to submit proposals on industrial infrastructure development.

JTC said on Wednesday that it has launched a "Request For Proposal" (RFP), seeking cutting-edge ideas on intensifying land use and accelerating construction time.

A S$5m innovation fund has been set aside to support and develop ideas that will create new industrial infrastructure solutions to grow the Singapore economy, JTC said in a statement.

It added that the two key themes for the proposals were increasing plot ratio of buildings in the marine and aerospace industries, and increasing construction speed of industrial infrastructure.

The duration for each project proposal shall be for a maximum of two years and they should not have commenced before the funding is approved.

Foreign organisations would be required to partner a local organisation or have a local presence to be eligible to participate in the project.

The closing date for submission is June 7.

Mr Manohar Khiatani, CEO of JTC, said: "Innovation is of high priority to JTC and is key to sustaining Singapore's competitive edge as an investment location."

In March 2010, JTC launched the inaugural JTC Innovation Fund. Last year, a total grant of S$900,000 was awarded by JTC to fund three research projects which were aimed at improving the environmental sustainability of its industrial parks.

Out of the three projects, two were submitted by the Nanyang Technological University and one by the National University of Singapore.

- CNA/al

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East Java Caterpillar Plague Has Experts Guessing

Fidelis E. Satriastanti Jakarta Globe 30 Mar 11;

At least 10 villages in the East Java district of Probolinggo are seeing attacks of wormlike invaders, according to media reports and entomologists.

Thousands of caterpillars started appearing in villages there on Saturday, creeping into homes and fields and forcing some to go around with umbrellas, media reports said on Monday.

“I haven’t figured out what type [of caterpillar] these are. Generally, a population explosion is caused by a rise in temperatures,” said Hari Sutrisno, entomologist at the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI).

Hari added that the outbreak might also have been caused by an imbalance resulting from the disappearance of a species’ natural predators.

“One of the natural enemies of hairy caterpillars is the wasp. However, their population is declining because of the increasing use of pesticides and herbicides,” he said.

“Intensive agriculture is not only dangerous to humans. It will disrupt nature’s balance and can cause a population explosion of pests, such as snakes, flies and plant hoppers. All of those outbreaks occur because of ecosystem imbalance.”

Siti Nuramaliati Prijono, director of the Research Center for Biology at LIPI, said simple food chain theory was at play.

“You disrupt one chain, it will affect the others,” Siti said. “People tend to think it’s not a big deal when a certain species goes extinct. They say, ‘It’s gone, so what?’ But then, when we see such outbreaks [like in Probolinggo], we have to realize it’s difficult to predict the impact of a species’ extinction.”

In explaining the caterpillar outbreak, she said species such as birds that specifically feed on caterpillars may no longer exist in the area. Climatic conditions, she added, could also trigger species to breed faster.

“Ecosystem imbalance is usually triggered by natural aspects. Because of there being no predators, caterpillar populations become bigger and turn into butterflies. Then come the outbreak,” she said. “Most of the outbreaks cannot be predicted, but we can pay attention to the signs, such as why there are so many butterflies all of a sudden. They should have captured those butterflies to prevent them from breeding.”

Antung Deddy Radiansyah, assistant deputy for biodiversity and land damage control at the Environment Ministry, said the outbreak was indicative of low biodiversity.

“Those areas are dominated by monoculture. This makes crops much more vulnerable to pests,” Antung said.

“It could also be that they were too late in spraying their plants [in Probolinggo]. However, in the future, multiple plants should be introduced rather than just one type.”

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Four Orangutans Set Free in Aceh

Nurdin Hasan Jakarta Globe 30 Mar 11;

Banda Aceh. Four formerly-captive orangutans have been given the chance to resume a normal life after they were released into the Jalin Jantho nature reserve in Aceh on Monday.

This brings to six the number of orangutans released into the forest by the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Program since last week.

Dr. Ian Singleton, director of conservation at the Swiss-based PanEco Foundation, a partner of SOCP, said the four primates had previously been cared for — illegally — by local Acehnese people.

Before they were released into the Jalin Jantho forest, they underwent health checks at SOCP’s quarantine center in Sibolangit, North Sumatra.

Located some 80 kilometers east of Banda Aceh, the Jalin Jantho pine reserves are notorious for being the place where police raided a paramilitary training camp run by suspected terrorists in February last year.

“The Jantho forests are great for orangutans because they are rich and densely packed with trees,” Singleton said.

The four orangutans released on Monday were all aged between six and seven years of age; three were female and one male. The two others, released on March 23, consisted of a six-year-old male and an adult female, which was rescued injured from a palm oil plantation in Rawa Tripa, Nagan Raya district.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature lists Sumatran orangutans as critically endangered. An estimated 6,600 remain in the wild.

“The primary threat to orangutans is destruction of habitat caused by illegal logging concessions,” Singleton said, adding that the capture orangutans for the pet trade was also a major problem.

Wild populations of Sumatran orangutans are only found in the northern parts of Sumatra, with the largest numbers in the Leuser ecosystem of southeast Aceh, Singleton said.

“Leuser is the safest area for orangutans because of its higher altitude,” he said. “At lower levels their population is dwindling because of logging of the forest.”

Singleton said an additional 30 orangutans, which were seized from people keeping them illegally in Aceh, were being quarantined at SOCP’s centre in Sibolangit.

After completing their quarantine period and being granted a clean bill of health, they will also be released in Jalin Jantho, he said.

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Indonesia to Concentrate on Renewable Energy Ahead of Nuclear Option

Jakarta Globe 30 Mar 11;

The government says it will maximize the use of new and renewable energy — especially geothermal, hydro-energy and bio fuels — before deciding to use nuclear energy.

Luluk Sumiarso, the director general of renewable energy at the Energy Ministry, said on Tuesday that the nuclear energy was the last option.

“But being the last option does not mean that nuclear is not being prepared. [The ministry] will continue to prepare it, but we are now maximizing the use of new and renewable energy, such as geothermal, hydro-energy and bio fuels, which have the potential for development,” Luluk said.

He said the plan to build nuclear power plants would go ahead.

“But the use of nuclear energy needs a political decision,” Luluk said, adding that the case of nuclear power plant in Fukushima, Japan, would be a lesson for Indonesia.

He said the government was revising its quotas of new and renewable energy utilization in the energy mix from the previously targeted at 17 percent to be 25 percent in 2025.

“The revision of the energy mix is made by including nuclear and non nuclear,” Luluk said.

He said the government would also make every effort to speed up the utilization of the new and renewable energy.

Therefore the government is currently carrying out the construction of the second phase 10,000 MW power plant with most of its energy will come from geothermal and hydro-power, he said.

It is the target of the government that the geothermal capacity will increase by 2,000 MW in 2012 and rises to 5,000 MW in 2014 because the the country’s geothermal potential is 29,000 MW.

Luluk said that aside from geothermal energy, his party would also review the development of bio-fuels.


Geothermal less risky than nuclear
Antara 30 Mar 11;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - The use of geothermal energy poses fewer risks than nuclear power, a number of activists said here on Wednesday.

Muhammad Ridho, one of the activists grouped in the Care Unit Geothermal Power Plant, said at an Indonesian Renovation Forum that geothermal energy potential should be prioritized because it is less risky than nuclear energy.

He said Indonesia had the largest source of geothermal energy in the world that serves as a potential strategy for non-military national defense.

"The risk in the utilization of geothermal energy is less than that of nuclear power, and geothermal pressure control can reduce and inhibit the occurrence of volcanic eruption," he said.

For the sake of security and national interests and welfare of the people, Muhammad Ridho said the state should wisely control the geothermal energy to ensure continuous availability of power supply.

Therefore he added that the government and the House of Representatives should continue to encourage the regions with geothermal energy to form regionally owned enterprises.

"Indonesia`s geothermal energy potential which is the largest in the world should serve as a golden opportunity to become the `Center of Excellence` in the field of energy," he said.

Editor: Priyambodo RH

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BIMP-Eaga hailed as most mega diverse region in the world

Borneo Post 31 Mar 11;

KOTA KINABALU: The Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia and Phillipines-East Asia Growth Area (BIMP-Eaga) has been hailed as the most mega diverse region in the world.

In a statement yesterday, the Mindanao Development Authority (MinDA) said the ministers responsible for the BIMP-Eaga’s tropical rainforests and marine resources gave this recognition at the one-day Conference on the Heart of Borneo and Coral Reefs in Temburong, Brunei.

In a joint statement, the ministers of the four-member countries said the two ecosystems of forests and coral reefs were interconnected and good strategies and plans were currently being implemented including maintaining the ecological corridors joining the terrestrial and marine biodiversity.

“The ministers agreed that their respective national action plans would form the basis for the development and conservation of the two ecosystems and recognised the importance of collaboration efforts among member countries in the areas of common interest such as in eco-tourism and research and development,” it said.

Meanwhile, Secretary Luwalhati R Antonino, MinDA Chair and Philippine Signing Minister for BIMP-Eaga, said the role of the business entities, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and local government units in the conservation of the seas, oceans, forests, and species in the coral triangle should not be forgotten.

“BIMP-Eaga governments should adapt a proactive role in taking the lead in the formulation and implementation of conservation policies by setting up business models where prospective business corporations and NGOs may become key players in protecting the marine and coastal resources in the coral triangle”, she said.

Also present were Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Tan Sri Nor Mohamed Yakcop, Natural Resources and Environment Minister Dato Sri Douglas Uggah and Science, Technology and Innovation Minister Datuk Dr Maximus Ongkili.

Representing Brunei were Second Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Pehin Dato Lim Jock Seng and Industry and Primary Resources Minister Pehin Dato Yahya.

Indonesia was represented by Zulkifli Hassan while Philippines by Mindanao Development Authority chairman, Antonino. — Bernama

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Mangroves: Save the ‘carbon sinks’ instead of letting them go down the drain, say experts

Samia Saleem The Express Tribune 31 Mar 11;

KARACHI: Mangroves can serve as lungs for Karachi, where the scope of forestry is already very limited, said experts.

Around the world, environmentalists are now focusing on the role of mangroves as carbon sinks besides their ecological usefulness, natural beauty, ability to filter pollution, house fish nurseries and buffer shorelines against storms.

International Union of Conservation of Nature (IUCN) climate change expert Saadullah Ayaz said that studies have shown that about one acre of mangrove plantations roughly capture 0.7 tons of carbon dioxide every year. Mangroves can thus be used as tools to control the environment and the population. Also, unlike terrestrial vegetation, they don’t cover very large areas, he said.

Studies show that mangroves, salt marshes and sea grasses soak up to five times more carbon than tropical forests. An article published this month in the ‘American Scientific’ calls mangroves as ‘blue carbon’. These previously undervalued coastal carbon sinks are beginning to gain attention from conservation communities because of their littoral environment that is close to the shore, said the article.

Ayaz said that although climate change is a global phenomenon in which Pakistan has a much smaller contribution in comparison, mangroves can still hold enormous amounts of carbon dioxide emissions from factories in the city. Pakistan’s contribution to global climate change is about 0.4 to 0.8 per cent of global emissions versus the largest contributor, the United States, which releases 24 to 27 per cent of the total emissions, according to a task force report on climate change 2010 by the Planning Commission of Pakistan.

In an industrial city, such as Karachi, where both combustion and breathing — the two major contributors to carbon dioxide emissions — are in high density and the scope of forestry and plantations is low, these plants can serve as mitigating agents of pollution, said Ayaz.

IUCN expert on mangroves Tahir Qureshi said that the vast coastal jungles of mangroves on our coastline in Sindh and Balochistan can also be used to improve the forest wealth of Pakistan. According to him, Pakistan is already on the list of the countries that don’t have enough forests and wildlife. “These coastal plants not only contribute to marine diversity and ecosystems but also attract land biodiversity,” he said. Just like trees on land, mangrove forests can help rejuvinate the ecosystem, catalysing the ecological balance and increasing the flora and fauna.

“These spindly shrubs that thrive on the interface between land and sea, attract birds, animals and insects, their wood can be used for timber, the leaves for animal fodder, and they can hold soil, preventing soil erosion,” he said.

According to the Pakistan climate change report, the forest cover for Pakistan is expected to increase from 4.9 per cent of the total land area in 2005 to 5.2 per cent in 2010 and six per cent by 2015.

Since mangroves hold so much carbon, destroying mangroves also releases substantial amounts of carbon dioxide gas, which is why protecting the coastal habitat of mangroves is all the more important. “Our resources are being wrecked through aquaculture, agriculture, timber extraction and real estate development,” said Qureshi.

Mangrove forests that spanned over 600,000 hectares till 1950 have shrunk to 86,000 hectares now, which is a major concern, he added.

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Whale and Dolphin Death Toll During Deepwater Disaster May Have Been Greatly Underestimated

ScienceDaily 30 Mar 11;

The Deepwater Horizon oil spill of 2010 devastated the Gulf of Mexico ecologically and economically. However, a new study published in Conservation Letters reveals that the true impact of the disaster on wildlife may be gravely underestimated. The study argues that fatality figures based on the number of recovered animal carcasses will not give a true death toll, which may be 50 times higher than believed.

"The Deepwater oil spill was the largest in US history, however, the recorded impact on wildlife was relatively low, leading to suggestions that the environmental damage of the disaster was actually modest," said lead author Dr Rob Williams from the University of British Columbia."This is because reports have implied that the number of carcasses recovered, 101, equals the number of animals killed by the spill."

The team focused their research on 14 species of cetacean, an order of mammals including whales and dolphins. While the number of recovered carcasses has been assumed to equal the number of deaths, the team argues that marine conditions and the fact that many deaths will have occurred far from shore mean recovered carcasses will only account for a small proportion of deaths.

To illustrate their point, the team multiplied recent species abundance estimates by the species mortality rate. An annual carcass recovery rate was then estimated by dividing the mean number of observed strandings each year by the estimate of annual mortality.

The team's analysis suggests that only 2% of cetacean carcasses were ever historically recovered after their deaths in this region, meaning that the true death toll from the Deepwater Horizon disaster could be 50 times higher than the number of deaths currently estimated.

"This figure illustrates that carcass counts are hugely mis-leading, if used to measure the disaster's death toll," said co-author Scott Kraus of the New England Aquarium "No study on carcass recovery from strandings has ever recovered anything close to 100% of the deaths occurring in any cetacean population. The highest rate we found was only 6.2%, which implied 16 deaths for every carcass recovered."

The reason for the gulf between the estimates may simply be due to the challenges of working in the marine environment. The Deepwater disaster took place 40 miles offshore, in 1500m of water, which is partly why estimates of oil flow rates during the spill were so difficult to make.

"The same factors that made it difficult to work on the spill also confound attempts to evaluate environmental damages caused by the spill," said Williams. "Consequently, we need to embrace a similar level of humility when quantifying the death tolls."

If the approach outlined by this study were to be adopted the team believe this may present an opportunity to use the disaster to develop new conservation tools that can be applied more broadly, revealing the environmental impacts of other human activities in the marine environment.

"The finding that strandings represent a very low proportion of the true deaths is also critical in considering the magnitude of other human causes of mortality like ship strikes, where the real impacts may similarly be dramatically underestimated by the numbers observed" said John Calambokidis, a Researcher with Cascadia Research and a co-author on the publication.

"Our concern also applies to certain interactions with fishing gear, because there are not always systematic data with which to accurately estimate by-catch, especially for large whales," noted Jooke Robbins, a co-author from the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies. "When only opportunistic observations are available, these likely reflect a fraction of the problem."

"While we did not conduct a study to estimate the actual number of deaths from the oil spill, our research reveals that the accepted figures are a grave underestimation," concluded Dr. Williams. "We now urge methodological development to develop appropriate multipliers so that we discover the true cost of this tragedy."

Journal Reference:

Rob Williams, Shane Gero, Lars Bejder, John Calambokidis, Scott D. Kraus, David Lusseau, Andrew J. Read, Jooke Robbins. Underestimating the damage: interpreting cetacean carcass recoveries in the context of the Deepwater Horizon/BP incident. Conservation Letters, 2011; DOI: 10.1111/j.1755-263X.2011.00168.x

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Fukushima: Sea contamination likely to be local - scientists

Richard Ingham Yahoo News 29 Mar 11;

PARIS (AFP) – Radioactive contamination of the sea from Fukushima is likely to be only a local problem, but could lead to an exclusion zone if there is a major release of long-term pollutants, scientists say.

So far, the biggest contaminant identified by Japanese officials has been radioactive iodine 131.

Samples of water taken close to the plant have been as high as 1,850 times the legal limit of iodine, but levels have fallen back, Japanese officials said on Tuesday.

Radioactive iodine can enter the marine food chain, especially through seaweed, which absorbs this element readily.

"There is the potential, when you're talking about certain types of seafood, that you can have reconcentration," said Ed Lyman of the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), a respected US NGO that focuses on nuclear safety.

"So, even dilute levels of contamination can be enhanced in certain marine life, you know, just like mercury concentrates in large fish like tuna. Also, plants like seaweed are known to concentrate certain isotopes, and so are certain types of shellfish."

Radioactive elements are hazardous in food because when ingested their radiation can damage DNA in cells, with the potential to cause cancer.

However, the contamination from iodine 131 is short-lived because the element has a half life -- the pace at which it loses half of its radioactivity -- of only eight days.

"This means that after a few months, it will be harmless, basically," said Simon Boxall, a lecturer at Britain's National Oceanography Centre at the University of Southampton, southern England, who praised early measures to stop fishing around the plant after the March 11 disaster.

"What worries me more is if caesium and plutonium get into the system," he said, referring to two radioactive heavy metals whose half-lives are around 30 years and potentially thousands of years respectively.

"That's more concerning, because that can build up in the sediments" of the sea bed at Fukushima, said Boxall.

At high levels, this could lead to the imposition of an exclusion zone of catches of fish and seafood, a measure that could last "years and years," he said.

"It's hard to know (how long) until they start taking measurements and determine how extensive the pollution is.

"You would basically not fish in an exclusion zone, period. And beyond the exclusion zone there would be an additional zone where you would come from time to time and see if there's any radioactivity."

Fukushima's plant operator, the Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), reported on Saturday that levels of caesium were almost 80 times the legal maximum. On Monday it also said that plutonium, at very low and harmless levels, had been found at five locations in soil at the plant.

Given the scale of the Pacific -- the world's vastest body of water -- radioactivity in the sea at Fukushima will be flushed out beyond the local area by tides and currents and dilute to very low levels, Boxall said.

"It will get into the (ocean) food chain but only in that vicinity," he said. "Should people in Hawaii and California be concerned? The answer is no."

The Pacific, thanks to its size, is one of the cleanest seas in the world for radioactive contamination, according to the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts.

In 1990, radiation in the surface North Pacific was four becquerels of caesium 137 per cubic metre, while in the South Pacific it was 1.6 Bq/m3, it says. Most of it came from atmospheric nuclear tests before these blasts were stopped.

The most polluted seas were the Baltic, hit by fallout from the 1986 Chernobyl disaster, with 125 Bq/m3; the Irish Sea, with 55 Bq/m3 due to radioactive releases from Britain's Sellafield plant; and the Black Sea, also contaminated by Chernobyl, with 52 Bq/m3.

By comparison, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sets a maximum of 3,700 Bq/m3 of caesium in drinking water.

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