Best of our wild blogs: 3 Apr 11

1 Jun (Wed): My forest is DYING and the role of water quality
from wild shores of singapore

A sickening sea of trash
from Otterman speaks and Captains recce tour of the Northeast from News from the International Coastal Cleanup Singapore

Javan Mynas in “gangster” fight – on video
from Bird Ecology Study Group

slug egg blobs @ pandan mangroves 30Mar2011
from sgbeachbum

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Rare elephant found dead in Indonesia: official

Yahoo News 2 Apr 11;

JAKARTA (AFP) – A rare Sumatran elephant has been found dead on a palm oil plantation in the island's Riau province, an Indonesian official said Saturday, with poisoning suspected.

The elephant was the second to die in Bengkalis district in a week.

"A female elephant, about 17 years old, was found dead yesterday (Friday) at a palm oil plantation. It could have been dead for three days before we found it," Riau province conservation agency official Adit Gunawan told AFP.

"An autopsy is being carried out. There's a possibility that the elephant was poisoned by humans," he said.

On Sunday, a female elephant died in Bengkalis district after blocking a village street for a week. Officials said it could have died because of stress, lack of food, or poisoning.

There are at most 3,350 Sumatran elephants remaining in the wild, according to the environmental group WWF.

Conflicts between humans and animals are increasing as people encroach on wildlife habitats in Indonesia, an archipelago with some of the world's largest remaining tropical forests.

Dead elephant found at oil palm plantation
Antara 2 Apr 11;

Dumai (ANTARA News) - The dead body of a female elephant has been found in decomposed condition at an oil palm plantation at Petani village, Mandau district, Bengkalis, Riau province.

"The elephant, believed to have died since three days ago, was found on Friday by one of the workers of PT Darmaali Jaya Lestari," B. Rianto, Petani village head, told ANTARA News in Bengkalis on Saturday.

There has been no explanation yet on the cause of the death of the elephant though the Bengkalis Natural Resources Conservation Agency (BKSDA) has been notified of the case, he added.

However, Rianto said that prior to the finding of the dead elephant, villagers had complained of the destruction of their palm oil trees by a herd of elephants making them terrified to go to the plantation to pick ripe palm oil fruits.

A few days later the dead body of the elephant was found lying down and decomposing badly. "We want it that the authority (BKSDA) to bury the dead elephant as we couldn`t stand the smell anymore," Rianto said.

BKSDA has said that a veterinarian would be dispatched to the site where the dead elephant found to check the causes of its death but it two days had passed and nobody had come to see the dead elephant.

Bengkalis BKSDA had sent an officer to see the body of the elephant on the first day the villagers reported about the finding of the dead elephant and would send a veterinarian later on, according to spokesman.

Editor: Priyambodo RH

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Radiation in Japan Seas: Risk of Animal Death, Mutation?

More radiation from nuclear plant could cause "bizarre mutations."
Christine Dell'Amore National Geographic News 1 Apr 11;

If radioactive material from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant—disabled by the March11 Japan earthquake and tsunami—continues to enter the ocean, marine life could be threatened, experts say.

In the past week, seawater samples taken near the nuclear power plant, on Japan's eastern coast, have shown elevated levels of radioactive isotopes, including cesium 137 and iodine 131, according to the New York Times.

All life on Earth and in the oceans lives with exposure to natural levels of ionizing radiation—high-frequency radiation with enough energy to change DNA. Most such genetic damage heals, but the addition of human-made radiation can make it harder for the body to repair broken genes.

Radiation concentrations in the Japanese seawater samples have fluctuated in past days, but on Wednesday the amount of iodine spiked to 3,355 times the legal limit for seawater, Japanese nuclear safety officials told the Associated Press.

That level is the highest so far—and an indication that more radiation is entering the ocean, though how is still unknown, the agency reported. Cesium was also found to be 20 times its safety limit on March 28, according to the Times.

Radiation Can Cause "Bizarre Mutations"

Once in seawater, radiation can hurt ocean animals in several ways—by killing them outright, creating "bizarre mutations" in their offspring, or passing radioactive material up the food chain, according to Joseph Rachlin, director of Lehman College's Laboratory for Marine and Estuarine Research in New York City.

"There will be a potential for a certain amount of lethality of living organisms, but that's less of a concern than the possible effects on the genetics of the animals that become exposed," Rachlin said.

"That's the main problem as I see it with radiation—altering the genetics of the animal and interfering with reproduction."

Even so, according to radioecologist F. Ward Whicker, the concentrations of iodine and cesium levels "would have to be orders of magnitude larger than the numbers I've seen to date to cause the kind of radiation doses to marine life that would cause mortality or reductions in reproductive potential.

"I am very doubtful that direct effects of radioactivity from the damaged reactors on marine life over a large area off the coast of Japan will be observed," Whicker, professor emeritus at Colorado State University, said via email.

Likewise, using legal limits to gauge damage to marine life is of little value right now, he said.

To make a "credible assessment" of the risk to marine animals, scientists would have to know the actual concentrations of radioactive iodine in the water and fish or other marine animals off Fukushima Daiichi, he said.

Radiation Hardest on the Little Ones

It's possible that levels of radioactive contamination near the Fukushima nuclear reactors could increase and cause some harm to local marine life, Whicker said.

"If this happens, the most likely effects would be reductions in reproductive potential of local fishes. ... ," he said.

Marine organisms' eggs and larvae are highly sensitive to radiation, since radioactive atoms can replace other atoms in their bodies, resulting in radiation exposure that could alter their DNA, Whicker said.

Most such deformed organisms don't survive, but some can pass abnormalities on to the next generation, Lehman College's Rachlin said. Either way, the radiation exposure could hurt the population's ability to survive long-term.

Rachlin thinks the most susceptible critters would be soft-bodied invertebrates such as jellyfish, sea anemones, and marine worms—which can take up the radiation more quickly than shelled creatures—though Whicker said fish may be most at risk.

Whicker added, "I would expect any temporary losses in reproduction in local fish to be offset by immigration of unaffected individuals from surrounding areas that would be impacted to a lesser degree."

In addition to its threats to reproduction, pockets of radioactive material can can burn fish passing through, hitting them like a stream of searing water, Rachlin said.

Complicating matters is the fact that predator species in the Pacific such as tuna and sailfish are already stressed by overfishing, according to Rachlin.

"I'm concerned—this is the spawning season. ... If this impacts the survivorship of the young and larvae, this will be a further insult."

Radiation Threat Here to Stay?

According to chemical oceanographer Bill Burnett, "In the short run [the radiation] could have some definite negative impacts" on marine life.

"The good news is the half life [of iodine] is only eight days," added Burnett, an expert in environmental radioactivity at Florida State University.

So "if they stop the source of radioactive leakage, this is going to be a short-term problem."

However Fukushima Daiichi's leaking cesium is potentially more serious, since that isotope takes 30 years to decay, Burnett said.

Radiation Can Travel Up the Food Chain

There could also be some movement of radiation up the food chain if animals eat irradiated plants and smaller, radioactive animals, Rachlin said.

In particular, plants such as kelp can quickly absorb iodine, FSU's Burnett said.

There's a possibility that the devastation of towns in northeastern Japan caused by the earthquake and tsunami also released toxic metals such as lead into the soil and water, according to Texas Tech University ecotoxicologist Ron Kendall.

Previous studies have shown that metals can work in concert with radiation to suppress immune systems in vertebrates, making them more vulnerable to disease, Kendall said.

It's a "big issue for the environment and human health because of the widespread destruction. It takes me back to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina—this to me is even more complicated with the radiation."

Ocean Resilient Against Radiation

The ocean has a "tremendous capacity" for diluting radiation, Colorado State's Whicker noted.

"It also has resilience, in the sense that the area would recover over time as the situation improves and as the radioactivity decays and disperses."

"But I should caution that we have not had much opportunity to study the effects of very large releases of radioactivity into marine ecosystems," he said. The best data comes from nuclear weapons tests in the Pacific in the 1950s and 1960s.

Texas Tech's Kendall also pointed out that there's not much known about radiation in seawater.

"The dose makes the poison," he said, "and the more concentrated the radiation, the more potential effects. It's something we definitely need to monitor."

Added Lehman's Rachlin: "If it's a one-shot pulse, OK, not a problem.

But if the radiation leaks continue for several months, Japan may be dealing with a more serious blow to marine life, he said.

The coastline, after all, isn't Chernobyl, he said. "We can't cement [over] that whole area."

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Lake Natron mining plant must be built: Tanzania leader

Yahoo News 2 Apr 11;

DAR ES SALAAM (AFP) – A soda ash mining plant planned for Tanzania's Lake Natron, the breeding ground for all of east Africa's endangered lesser flamingoes, must go ahead, President Jakaya Kikwete said Saturday.

"There is no need for further delay of the project, which will give the country's economy a big boost," Kikwete said.

Kikwete, who was addressing officials at the trade and industry ministry, said Lake Natron's reserves of soda ash deposits were big enough to make Tanzania the world's leading producer of the product.

The plant, which will be able to process up to 500,000 tonnes of soda ash annually, has attracted criticism from environmentalists who argue the project and its associated infrastructure will destroy the flamingoes' breeding ground.

Like all flamingoes the birds lay a single egg on a mound of mud.

Kikwete argued, however, that destruction of the breeding grounds could be avoided.

"We cannot continue with poverty while we have vast resources, including our minerals that are lying untapped. We can just apply the right technology that is not harmful to flamingoes," he said.

Industry minister Cyril Chami has said that the relevant environment and social impact assessments should be completed by the end of April.

The plant, which is to be built and operated by Tata Chemicals of Mumbai, and which will feature a grid of pipes running across the lake as well as infrastructure for workers on the shore, was put on hold in 2008 on environmental concerns.

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