Best of our wild blogs: 20 Apr 11

Butterfly Portraits - Elbowed Pierrot
from Butterflies of Singapore

RMBR and HSBC launch 2 new publications under Project Semakau
from Raffles Museum News

Entangled Pacific Reef Egret feeding on sea slater
from Bird Ecology Study Group

Tuas (19 Apr 11)
from teamseagrass and wild shores of singapore

Aegiceras finally!
from wild shores of singapore

Pasir Ris revisited
from News from the International Coastal Cleanup Singapore

Read more!

'More green discussions in Parliament, please'

Lynda Hong Ee Lyn Today Online 20 Apr 11;

SINGAPORE - Employment, rising costs of living and many other bread and butter issues have been so-called hot-button election topics but a group of environmentalists in the latest Green Drinks - an informal monthly gathering of environmentalists - is advocating for more green discussions in the new Parliament.

Together with seven panellists - leaders of environmental non-governmental organisations (NGOs), businessmen and a former Nominated Member of Parliament (NMP) - some 40 participants discussed how environmental issues can be further advocated on a political level.

Former NMP and IUT Global CEO Edwin Khew said discussions on environmental issues in the latest Parliament that was dissolved yesterday were rare, adding that his predecessor NMPs had mostly raised bread and butter issues.

One example on the lack of green empathy was the national recycling rate of 58 per cent. If industrial recyclables from construction waste were excluded, the household recycling rate would sink to such a low rate it would "stick out like a sore thumb."

While greater scrutiny of environmental issues is needed, the majority agreed that Singapore is not ready for a Green Party, as is the case in Germany and Australia.

Green issues could be looked at in totality as a part of all national issues, including defence, foreign affairs and housing, suggested participant Joseph Chun.

Another way would be to have an official to overlook green issues in every ministry, said Mr Mark Cheng, co-founder of NGO Avelife.

Panellist Allan Lim, CEO of Alpha Biofuels, suggested a bottom-up approach in pressurising politicians to be more environmentally aware.

This, he said, could be achieved by building a critical mass of environmentalist Singaporeans.

He asked - a rhetorical question perhaps - would political candidates be more inclined to attend Green Drinks sessions if they were held at a Community Club instead?

Another way to get more politicians to be more environmentally aware is to press for more green jobs, said Mr Wilson Ang, founder of ECO Singapore.

Agreeing, Mr Howard Shaw, former executive director of the Singapore Environment Council, added that a green economy can spur political will.

Despite the People's Action Party's promise to build a green and sustainable society, five previously elected Members of Parliament and Ministers of State have declined to attend Green Drinks gatherings.

Organisers say discussions at Green Drinks sessions will be collated and presented to the various political parties.

Read more!

Shipping in Singapore: Going clean and green

MPA's three programmes in its new environment-friendly initiative are likely to have a significant effect
David Hughes Business Times 20 Apr 11;

LAST week, the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) launched a comprehensive package to promote environment-friendly shipping.

Now, before we go any further I would make it absolutely clear that this is the right thing to do - on all sorts of levels. It is right for Singapore's own environment and for the health of the global environment.

Moreover, basing the Maritime Singapore Green Initiative on incentives rather than bans or penalties is definitely the right approach. The International Maritime Organization (IMO) provides the minimum standards, and to avoid a hotchpotch of national and regional rules, IMO should be the only regulator of the global shipping industry.

Because Singapore has such a pivotal role in global shipping, the measures announced are likely to have a significant effect.

Raymond Lim, Minister for Transport and Second Minister for Foreign Affairs, summed up the objectives of the initiative thus: 'To encourage companies that are ready or thinking about undertaking environment-friendly shipping practices above and beyond what is IMO-mandated, MPA will invest up to S$100 million over the next five years in the Maritime Singapore Green Initiative. This initiative underscores Singapore's commitment as a responsible flag and port state to clean and green shipping.'

Complex area

While you might be thinking that going green and clean is a very straightforward commitment, the action is to some extent a brave move into a complex area.

The initiative comprises three programmes: Green Ship, Green Port, and Green Technology.

MPA says that under the Green Ship Programme targeted at Singapore-flagged ships, MPA will provide incentives to ship owners who adopt energy efficient ship designs that reduce fuel consumption and carbon dioxide emissions.

Singapore-flagged ships which go beyond the requirements of IMO's Energy Efficiency Design Index (EEDI) will enjoy a 50 per cent reduction of Initial Registration Fees (IRF) and a 20 per cent rebate on Annual Tonnage Tax (ATT) payable.

That is fine but the EEDI is still rather controversial with debate continuing particularly on its application to some classes of vessel, including ferries, which require large reserves of power for occasional use. With luck and goodwill, these issues should be ironed out at the IMO Marine Environment Protection Committee meeting in July.

There are those, however, who are worried that EEDI will turn out to be a blunt instrument.

There are other ways of cutting fuel consumption, and of reducing CO2 emissions. A recent study found, for example, that fluoropolymer foul release technology can reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) and other emissions by an average of 9 per cent.

Maybe in the long run, a more sophisticated way of measuring energy efficiency can be developed.

The Green Port Programme is aimed at encouraging ocean-going ships calling at the Port of Singapore to reduce the emission of pollutants like sulphur oxides and nitrogen oxides. Ships that use type-approved abatement/scrubber technology or burn clean fuels with low sulphur content beyond MARPOL requirements within the port can enjoy a 15 per cent reduction on port dues payable.

Changing thinking

It is interesting that the announcement mentions scrubbers first and then 'clean' fuels. That does, though, reflect the way thinking is changing in the shipping industry worldwide.

Owners considering fitting scrubbers would be well advised to read a new US publication, written by Glosten Associates for the government-funded Ship Operations Cooperative Program (SOCP). This well-researched guide goes a long way towards explaining the considerations operators need to bear in mind.

The author of the guide, Kevin Reynolds, stresses that each ship operator will need to consider the discussions for and against each exhaust gas cleaning system (EGCS) (scrubber) in the light of their own specific situation.

The guide says that 'ship operators considering this option should conduct an individual analysis, and consider a prototype installation in the near future'.

The guide notes that the cost of 0.1 per cent sulphur (the 2015 level for IMO emission control areas) distillate fuel oil has historically been 50 per cent higher than high-sulphur marine-grade residual fuel oils.

An analysis of fitting scrubbers on three ship types, each of which operated at least partially within an ECA (emission control area), predicts net present values of between US$5 million and US$20 million, and internal rates of return of between 20 and 53 per cent.

This assumes operations from 2015 through 2025, and an 8 per cent fuel escalation rate. If fuel prices were to escalate at a rate of 11 per cent annually, the net present value would increase almost 50 per cent.

The guide concludes: 'These cost savings are so significant that some ship operators may find installing an EGCS a competitive necessity.'

Perhaps the most important aspect of the whole initiative is the Green Technology Programme, which aims to encourage local maritime companies to develop and adopt green technologies through co-funding of up to half of qualifying costs. Singapore is already doing well in this area and there is bound to be lots of scope for innovation.

In this regard, the Memorandum of Agreement between Sembawang Shipyard has signed and Ecospec Global Technology to provide 'customised and greener environmental solutions to the marine and offshore industry' is well timed.

Awaiting approval

Ecospec's CSNOx system is the world's first emissions abatement system capable of removing carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from greenhouse gases. At the same time, it also removes - in a single system and in one process - sulphur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxide (NOx) and other pollutants, without the use of harmful chemicals.

As I understand it, CSNOx is still awaiting type approval. The sooner the better because this Singapore-developed technology has the potential to provide much of the solution to the problems addressed by the Maritime Singapore Green Initiative.

Read more!

Phuket Reefs Bounce Back with Silver-Lined Clouds

Chutima Sidasathian Phuket Wan 19 Apr 11;

WET weather that triggered floods across southern Thailand has helped to give Phuket and Andaman coast reefs a good chance of recovery from extensive coral bleaching.

The dousing in March and more grey clouds this week have reversed the situation of 2010, when blue skies and hot sun through April and May exposed reefs to extensive damage.

Today, says Dr Nalinee Thongtham of the Phuket Marine Biological Centre, young coral can be seen blooming at reef sites around the region.

''It's an excellent sign,'' she said. ''We think the reefs stand a chance, although they need a lot more time yet.''

The clouds, though, are not all silver lined. Run-off from construction sites during the unexpected downpours of March has covered some coastal Phuket corals with silt, Dr Nalinee said.

This was even more deadly than the bleaching. She said one resort, Le Meridien Phuket at Relax Bay, south of Patong, had called in marine biologists to check the condition of nearby reefs.

The reefs near the resort were healthy and showing signs of regrowth, despite a greater quantity of earth washing down a bay canal from hillside construction sites, she said.

A check on other reefs in the region also showed hopeful signs, she said. Similans Marine Park ranger Mana Permpoon confirmed that reefs in the park, closed now until November, were showing signs of regrowth.

Several popular dive sites throughout the region were shut down by officials after the full effects of last year's coral bleaching became evident. The sites are mostly in shallower waters, where the suns rays have been able to penetrate more easily.

Deeper sites remain unaffected. It's expected to take at least five years for the corals to fully recover. About 70 percent has suffered from bleaching.

Read more!

Hunter becomes guardian of Taiwan's bears

Benjamin Yeh Yahoo News 20 Apr 11;

YULI, Taiwan (AFP) – When he was young, Taiwanese aboriginal hunter Lin Yuan-yuan became a legend after he killed two ferocious Formosan black bears. Now he has devoted his life to saving the endangered species.

The 55-year-old is still revered by his tribe, the Bunun mountain people, as a guardian of the island's biggest land animal as it struggles to survive poaching and continued degradation of its traditional habitat.

"When I see an animal, I no longer want to shoot it. I want to film it," Lin said.

"I feel happy every time I'm in the mountains," he added, caressing the camera he uses to capture images of animals he encounters in Yushan National Park, one of the bears' two major natural habitats in Taiwan.

Now a ranger, Lin is in a four-member team that patrols the park regularly, covering 40 percent of its 105,000 hectares (260,000 acres) on foot every month.

The transformation into a government employee has not been easy for a person who was born into an aboriginal family and taught hunting skills from early childhood.

Lin, better known to his Bunun people by the name of Ison, killed his first bear on a winter day when he was just 19 years old.

"I saw two animals in the woods," he said, remembering the incident in the eastern Taiwan mountains that made him a local hero 36 years ago.

"At first, I thought they were wild boars. So I fired at one of them and only then did I realise they were actually bears."

The bear, a male of about 70 kilograms (154 pounds), was only 15 metres away from him, roaring with pain for about a minute before collapsing on the ground, he said.

Lin and his cousin had to stay in a shelter on the mountain for two days to prepare the animal for transportation down to the village -- skinning the bear, cutting up the meat and roasting it.

When he arrived in the village, Lin was greeted in accordance with age-old tradition, welcomed as a true son of the Bunun tribe with ceremonies and celebrations.

His status as a brave hunter against the island's most dreaded animal was further consolidated after he killed a second bear two years later.

Not long after its establishment in 1985, he joined the Yushan National Park. The job allowed him a stable income and 13 years later it paved the way for a dramatic change in his life.

As a ranger familiar with the bears' habitat, he was approached in 1998 by Hwang Mei-hsiu, a scholar who had dedicated herself to research into the endangered species.

She needed help for a field study which required capturing bears in the wild, fitting them with radio transmitters and releasing them to monitor their movements.

For the first time the study was able to lay bare the dangers confronting Taiwan's indigenous bears, using concrete scientific evidence

Despite a ban on hunting, Hwang's study proved that poaching had been rampant as eight out of the 15 bears they captured in the two years to 1999 in one specific area had lost a paw or several claws when recaptured.

"The bears had fallen victims to hunters' traps, and they were hurt, even though the traps might not necessarily target the bears," said Hwang, who is nicknamed "Bear Mother" by the aborigines.

Killing a bear may bring hunters an illegal profit of Tw$150,000 ($5,200) through the sale of the bear's paws, a delicacy, and bile, an ingredient in traditional Chinese medicines, she said.

To protect the island's endangered species, the authorities in 1989 enacted a law under which poachers of bears and other rare animals may face a jail term of up to five years and a fine of up to Tw$1 million.

Some biologists estimate there may be hundreds of Formosan black bears, largely at elevations of 1,000 metres to 2,000 metres (3,300 feet to 6,600 feet) in the Yushan park and the neighbouring Shei-Pa National Park.

They are elusive, but if anyone is capable of finding them it is Lin, using his hunting skills for new, less lethal purposes.

"Lin has always taken us to places where he thought bears might show up," Hwang's assistant Lin Kuan-fu said.

"He is so familiar with the eastern part of the national park that he doesn't even need a map," he said.

Read more!

Indonesia's Sumatra Tigers Need More Space, Experts Say

Ismira Lutfia Jakarta Globe 19 Apr 11;

Indonesia’s few remaining Sumatran tigers need to be placed in more conducive breeding environments if the species is to be saved, conservationists say.

Satyawan Pudyatmoko, an expert on wild animals from Yogyakarta’s Gadjah Mada University, said the fragmented tiger habitats in the forests of Sumatra should be connected to allow the tigers to roam and mate outside of their original habitats and prevent inbreeding.

“This will ensure strong genes to help them survive,” he said. Four tigers, he added, would need roughly 100 square kilometers where they could roam.

Chairul Saleh, from WWF Indonesia, said the fragmented habitats were the results of massive deforestation, which also resulted in the loss of prey for the tigers. As a consequence, he said, tigers are often forced to wander into settlements and kill livestock, leading to conflict with humans.

“This is an unfortunate situation for both tiger and man,” Chairul said.

The Sumatran tiger is the only remaining subspecies of the big cat in Indonesia. The Balinese tiger and the Javan tiger are extinct.

“The number [of Sumatran tigers] has decreased dramatically over the past 40 years,” Satyawan said. “There used to be an estimated 1,200 tigers in the 1970s, now there are only 400 left.”

Chairul said efforts were under way to update the population count for the tiger, as the current one is based on data from 1993.

He added the government had set up six tiger conservation areas in national parks in Sumatra.

Satyawan noted, however, that the space designated for the conservation areas was just58,321 square kilometers out of an available 144,000 square kilometers.

“Unfortunately, only 29 percent of the tiger habitats are included in the conservation areas, leaving most habitats unprotected,” he said. “This will require close cooperation between all stakeholders for comprehensive spatial planning in Sumatra.”

Satyawan added that spatial planning in Sumatra was greatly complicated by the need for large wild animals such as tigers and elephants to be given sufficient space to roam in order to ensure their survival.

Indonesia and 12 other countries where tigers live in the wild have pledged to double their tiger populations by 2022 through the Global Tiger Initiative.

Read more!

Endangered Tigers Find a Wild New Home Yahoo News 19 Apr 11;

Kazakhstan has announced plans to open its arms to a group of oversized, furry immigrants from neighboring Russia — endangered Amur tigers.

A vast land of sprawling steppes (the flat and open land that covers huge swathes of central Asia), Kazakhstan was once home to Caspian tigers, one of the nine tiger subspecies, but the big cats disappeared from the central Asian country — at the time a Soviet republic — in the late 1970s, driven to extinction by poaching and loss of habitat.

Kazakhstan government officials expressed interest in reintroducing tigers to their country in March, to representatives of the conservation organization WWF, and representatives from the group's Russia branch say a plan is in the works.

"We have agreed that WWF and the Ministry of Environment in Kazakhstan will draw up a comprehensive program to reintroduce the tiger in the area around Lake Balkhash," said WWF-Russia director Igor Chestin in a statement. "With a strong plan and proper protections in place, tigers can again roam the forests and landscapes of Central Asia."

Researchers believe Amur tigers are well-suited to thrive in the region, which possesses roughly 1 million acres of suitable tiger habitat, according to recent investigations.

Recent genetic research, conducted by sequencing DNA collected from museum specimens of extinct Caspian tigers, revealed the central Asian subspecies was extremely closely related to its Far Eastern cousin. In fact, although Caspian tigers were typically slightly smaller, their DNA differs from Amur tigers (sometimes known as Siberian tigers) by only a single letter of genetic code.

The tiger relocation plan aims to set up new tiger territory near the Ili River's delta, in Kazakhstan's southeast.

The world's wild tiger population is teetering on the brink of extinction, and, according to some estimates, only 3,200 big cats remain across 13 countries in eastern and southern Asia. Should Kazakhstan's plan prove successful, tigers would call 14 different countries home, up from the current 13.

At the world's first ever tiger summit, hosted by Russia in 2010, all 13 tiger range countries signed on to a long-range plan to save tigers and double their population by 2022, the next year of the tiger according to the Chinese zodiac.

Barney Long, head of Asian species conservation for WWF, applauded the Kazakh move to reintroduce tigers, and said the plan was good news for wild tigers in general.

"Efforts to grow the global tiger population will certainly benefit from expanding the tiger’s existing range," Long said.

Read more!

Mekong nations at odds over controversial Laos dam

Daniel Rook Yahoo News 19 Apr 11;

BANGKOK (AFP) – Laos faced pressure from its neighbours on Tuesday to delay construction of a controversial dam on the Mekong River as they failed to agree on a project that has sparked deep environmental concerns.

Officials from Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam met in Vientiane to discuss the planned $3.8 billion Xayaburi dam in northern Laos, an impoverished Communist nation which sees hydropower as vital to its future.

Laos's neighbours raised worries about insufficient environmental studies of the dam's likely impact, according to a statement released after the meeting, while Laos said there was no need for further consultation.

Vietnam in particular expressed "deep and serious concerns" about a lack of adequate assessments, calling for the deferment of planned hydropower projects on the mainstream Mekong for at least 10 years.

Discussions about the dam, which is the first of 11 proposed for the mainstream lower Mekong and will be capable of generating 1,260 megawatts of power, are now set to move to ministerial level.

Around 95 percent of this electricity will be exported to Thailand, which is backing the project financially, and Thai construction group CH. Karnchang Public Co is playing a leading role in the project.

The four member states of the intergovernmental Mekong River Commission (MRC) have an agreement to cooperate on the sustainable development of the waterway and have been in consultations over the Xayaburi project.

But the final decision on the dam rests with Laos, which seems determined to press ahead.

"We understand the concerns of neighbouring countries. We will keep up our efforts to persuade them and make them understand why Laos needs to construct this dam," Daovong Phonekeo, deputy director general of Laos's Department of Electricity, told AFP by telephone from Vientiane after the meeting.

Even before Tuesday's talks started, Laos state media signalled that construction was expected to begin soon, saying the Laos government "has full rights" to decide whether to approve construction of the dam.

Work has already started to build roads to the site.

"Developers expect construction of the Xayaburi Mekong hydropower plant to begin in the near future and take eight years to complete," the Vientiane Times reported on Tuesday.

Environmental groups have long objected to damming the river, which winds from the Tibetan Plateau through China and much of Southeast Asia. China already has several dams on the upper Mekong.

The wildlife organisation WWF has warned that dams could irreversibly change the Mekong's ecosystem, damaging fisheries crucial to the livelihoods of over 60 million people in the region.

It fears that the Mekong giant catfish, one of the world's biggest freshwater fish, could be driven to extinction if plans to build hydropower dams on the river go ahead.

Communist Laos is Southeast Asia's smallest economy and one of the poorest countries in the world.

The landlocked former French colony of about six million people is seeking to reduce its dependency on agriculture and foreign aid, helped by growing exports of minerals and electricity from hydropower generation.

The government is aiming for at least eight percent annual economic growth, with the aim of escaping from underdevelopment by 2020.

"To reach the target, Laos needs development projects, including hydropower," Daovong said.

A Strategic Environmental Assessment report commissioned by the MRC in October urged countries in the lower Mekong River region to delay any decisions about building hydropower dams for 10 years.

There is also concern in the United States, where Senator Jim Webb, head of a congressional committee on Southeast Asia, said last week that signs Laos may press ahead with the dam were "very troubling."

"Numerous scientific studies have concluded that construction of the Xayaburi Dam and other proposed mainstream dams will have devastating environmental, economic, and social consequences for the entire Mekong sub-region," he said in a statement.

Deferral of Mekong dam to ministerial level signals recognition of potential negative impacts
WWF 19 Apr 11;

Vientiane, Laos: The intergovernmental panel of the Mekong River Commission (MRC) has deferred the final decision on the construction of the Xayaburi dam in Laos to the ministerial level, following concerns raised by Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam.

The decision comes amidst the submission of a growing body of evidence to the Commission highlighting risks to biodiversity, fisheries and livelihoods of millions of people in the Mekong River Basin. Particularly vulnerable areas include fisheries and the Mekong Delta.

A WWF-commissioned review of the Xayaburi project found that the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and Feasibility Study (FS) for the proposed dam were woefully inadequate and fell well below international standards for such studies. Changes in flows, sediment and nutrients are some of the areas that require further analysis, says WWF.

“Any decision made will have implications for generations to come,” says Dr Jian-hua Meng, WWF International Sustainable Hydropower Specialist. “It is clear that the governments of Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam are acknowledging the gaps in knowledge of the expected impacts from the dam.”

An experts meeting held in Vientiane in 2008 to review the impact of mainstream dams on fish migration concluded that existing mitigation technology used for salmon species in Europe and North America cannot handle the scale of fish diversity and migration in the Mekong mainstream. WWF believes that the Mekong should not be used as a test case for proving or improving fish passage technologies.

WWF supports a 10-year delay in the approval of lower Mekong mainstream dams, including the Xayaburi hydropower dam, to ensure a comprehensive understanding of all the impacts of their construction and operation, while immediate energy needs are met with less challenging projects applying state of the art sustainable hydropower solutions are fast tracked on selected tributaries.

“The MRC has taken an important step towards responsible decision-making and is clearly looking at the potential impacts the Xayaburi dam would have on millions of people in the Mekong River Basin,” Dr. Meng said. “Laos needs to build on the knowledge gained in developing sustainable hydropower in the region and follow examples such as the Nam Theun 2 dam.”

Read more!

What makes a resilient reef?

Local factors can help coral survive global heat waves.
Christopher Pala Nature 19 Apr 11;

Researchers from East Africa have come up with a model that could help protect coral reefs beset by warming waters. The team has worked out that such factors as winds, currents and light can help reefs survive heat waves.

The study leader, Tim McClanahan, a Kenya-based coral biologist with the Wildlife Conservation Society, headquartered in New York, has been familiar with the problems faced by conservation bureaucrats tasked with protecting coral reefs from overfishing and other human damage: so many reefs, so little money.

So he decided to help them decide where to concentrate their limited resources to maximize the efficiency of conservation.

"There are perhaps 12,000 square kilometres of healthy reefs left in the western Indian Ocean and these officials know they can't protect them all," says McClanahan. "What we've done is help them concentrate their resources on the reefs that are most likely to survive global warming, at least for another century. The model can now be applied anywhere in the world."

The key criteria, pinpointed by McClanahan and other researchers in Global Change Biology1, include winds, currents, UV light and visible light, temperature variability and chlorophyll in the water. They found that even in regions where the water was hot, some reefs survived because these local factors were favorable.

A severe global heat wave in 1998 killed half of the region's shallow corals. The study identifies which will be the most likely to recover from the next spike. "It's not a lot," says McClanahan, who is based in Mombasa, Kenya. "It's about 40 sites that, put together, amount to maybe 1,500 square kilometres."

Coral-reef task forces set up by the Nairobi Convention on coastal environments in the East African states have been struggling to establish which Indian Ocean reefs should be enclosed in Marine Protected Areas (MPA) where fishing would be restricted.

"This study provides the scientific backing we need to lobby for the targeted placement of MPAs in the region," says Nyawira Muthiga, chairman of the Regional Coral Reef Task Force in Mombasa and a co-author of the study.
Mapping survival

An earlier study2 found that satellite surveys of temperatures from the region were not good indicators of which reefs survived the 1998 heat wave, so they added a total of nine variables.

"This model," co-author Joeph Maina of Macquarie University, in Sydney, Australia, says, "was a good predictor of what areas would be bleached in the future. Then we noticed that more than half the MPAs in the western Indian Ocean were in those high-risk areas, which would appear to be unwise." The coral reef task forces used the study to establish guidelines on where to establish MPAs.

"We found that barely 20% of the areas with high biodiversity that would normally be candidates for protection will likely survive the next temperature spike, and those are the ones that should to the top of the list of candidates," adds McClanahan.

Topping the list of regional reefs that should be preserved are Mozambique's Quirimbas Archipelago and Ponta do Ouro, a thriving diving centre sustained by tourists from neighbouring South Africa; and reefs off northeast Madagascar, which has one of the richest diversity of species in the region. In all three, restrictions on fishing are weak or non-existent and need to be increased.

"This paper shows that even if temperatures and acidification will eventually kill most corals, if you can buy a few decades by good local conservation measures, you should fight for it," says Charles Sheppard, a coral biologist at the University of Warwick in Coventry, UK, who predicted in 2003 that most Indian Ocean corals would die by 20503.

McClanahan, T. R., Maina, J. M. & Muthiga, N. A. Global Change Biology doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2486.2011.02395.x (2011).
McClanahan, T. R., Ateweberhan, M., Muhando, C., Maina, J. & Mohammed, S. M. Ecological Monographs 77, 503-525 (2007).
Sheppard, C . Nature 425, 294-297 (2003).

Read more!

Beijing launches action plan to fight pollution

Yahoo News 19 Apr 11;

BEIJING (AFP) – Beijing -- one of the world's most polluted cities -- launched a five-year action plan on Tuesday that aims to improve the environment by phasing out coal-fired boilers and reducing bad air days.

The Chinese capital's environmental protection bureau said that it wanted excellent or good air conditions for 80 percent of the days in the year by 2015.

The bureau added it aimed to reduce by around 10 percent the concentration of particulate matter in the air compared with 2010.

Highly polluting coal-fired boilers and stoves in six Beijing districts will be refurbished with equipment that uses clean energy, Zhuang Zhidong, deputy head of the bureau, was quoted as saying by the state Xinhua news agency.

He added that three of the four thermal power plants in the capital will undergo clean energy renovations.

Beijing authorities will also try to phase out 400,000 old, polluting vehicles before the end of 2015 and gradually adopt restrictive measures for other high emission cars, the statement said.

Air pollution in Beijing has been consistently listed as among the worst in the world by international organisations such as the United Nations, due to the huge number of vehicles on the roads and growing energy consumption.

The number of registered cars in Beijing stood at 4.8 million at the end of 2010, as an average of more than 2,000 new cars hit the capital's streets every day last year, officials said.

To try to ease the problem, authorities have issued new rules stipulating that only 240,000 new cars will be allowed to be registered in Beijing this year, compared to the record 800,000 last year.

Read more!

A year after spill, Gulf Coast is healing, hurting

(AP) Google News 20 Apr 11;

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — It was the catastrophe that seemed to crush a way of life, an oil rig exploding in the darkness and plunging the Gulf Coast and its people into months of chaos.

One year after the nation's worst offshore oil spill began, solemn ceremonies will mark the disaster Wednesday and underscore the delicate healing that is only now taking shape. Oil still occasionally rolls up on beaches in the form of tar balls, and fishermen face an uncertain future.

But traffic jams on the narrow coastal roads of Alabama, crowded seafood restaurants in Florida and families vacationing along the Louisiana coast attest to the fact that familiar routines are returning, albeit slowly.

"We used to fuss about that," said Ike Williams, referring to the heavy traffic headed for the water in Gulf Shores, Ala., where he rents chairs and umbrellas to beachgoers. "But it was such a welcome sight."

Although life is getting back to normal, many questions linger: Will the fishing industry recover? Will the environment bounce back completely? Will an oil-hungry public ever accept more deep-water drilling?

"It seems like it is all gone," said Tyler Priest, an oil historian at the University of Houston. "People have turned their attention elsewhere. But it will play out like Exxon Valdez did. There will be 20 years of litigation."

On Tuesday, the federal government reopened the last of the waters that were closed last year after the massive spill, about 1,040 square miles near the sunken rig. And fresh revelations from a BP engineer's email exchanges with his wife highlighted the missteps made on the ill-fated rig before the explosion.

In the months since the April 20, 2010, blast aboard the Deepwater Horizon, an administrator has handed out $3.8 billion from a $20 billion claims fund set up by BP. The number of cleanup workers went from 48,000 at the height of the spill to 2,000 today.

Most scientists agree the effects "were not as severe as many had predicted," said Christopher D'Elia, dean at the School of the Coast and Environment at Louisiana State University. "People had said this was an ecological Armageddon, and that did not come to pass."

Still, biologists are concerned about the spill's long-term impact on marine life.

"There are these cascading effects," D'Elia said. "It could be accumulation of toxins in the food chain, or changes in the food web. Some species might dominate."

Meanwhile, accumulated oil is believed to lie on the bottom of the Gulf, and it still shows up as a thick, gooey black crust along miles of Louisiana's marshy shoreline. Scientists have begun to notice that the land in many places is eroding.

For example, on Cat Island, a patch of land where pelicans and reddish egrets nest among the black mangroves, Associated Press photographs taken a year ago and compared to those taken recently show visible loss of land and a lack of vegetation.

"Last year, those mangroves were healthy, dark green. This year they're not," said Todd Baker, a biologist with the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. Land is eroding on sites where the oil has killed vegetation.

Confidence in Louisiana's seafood is eroding, too.

"Where I'm fishing it all looks pretty much the same," said Glen Swift, a 62-year-old fisherman in Buras. He's catching catfish and gar in the lower Mississippi River again. That's not the problem.

"I can't sell my fish," he said. "The market's no good."

But the BP spill has faded from the headlines, overtaken by the tsunami and nuclear disaster in Japan, unrest in the Middle East and political clashes in Washington.

"Nationally, BP seems like a dim and distant memory," said Douglas Brinkley, a Rice University historian. But the accident will have long-lasting influence on environmental history, he said.

A presidential commission and an internal BP report concluded that the disaster was caused by a cascade of technical and managerial failures, including a faulty cement job. A testing firm hired by the government concluded that the key device used for preventing blowouts failed because of a design problem that prevented it from cutting through pipe.

Fresh revelations from a BP drilling engineer who worked on the blown-out well shed some new light on the jitters and missteps overtaking the ill-fated facility in the weeks before the explosion.

Brian Morel first gained national attention when he referred to the Macondo as the "nightmare well" in an email to a colleague revealed by lawmakers last summer. Last week, the AP obtained additional email exchanges between Morel and his wife, including one in which he said his team at the company was "out of control."

"I can't take it, so I am staying away from the issues today," he wrote.

In a performance review a few weeks earlier, Morel had been told to "be aware of cynicism and criticism of company policies, actions, processes, etc. Don't be a victim."

Morel's wife, who also worked for BP, told him he was smart not to challenge some decisions. "They can live with the consequences if they are poor," she said.

The Deepwater Horizon was different from the two other major offshore spills in American history — the Santa Barbara blowout in 1969 that led to the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency and the Exxon Valdez. But BP's disaster was a "seminal moment ... seared on the American imagination forever," Brinkley said.

The BP gusher, caught by the "spillcams" a mile under the sea and delivered nightly to American living rooms, made oil, and its nasty nature, very real.

"It was a huge wake-up call for other treasured landscapes not to become a Gulf of Mexico," Brinkley said. "So the true historical impact may be in places like arctic Alaska, the Chesapeake, offshore Washington, places that have been contemplating offshore drilling."

Added Priest: "It made oil visible to Americans. We know we consume oil. In our subconscious, we know that is what fuels our economy and our society. But we never see it."

For 85 days — from the time the Macondo well began leaking until it was finally capped after a series of failed attempts — Americans got a crash course in deep-water drilling: They learned about blowout preventers, well casings, top kills and top hats, toolpushers and the difference between an oil platform and an oil rig. They learned about where oil comes from and how toxic, or relatively benign, it can be.

In that time, 206 million gallons of oil — 19 times more than the Exxon Valdez spilled, or enough to fill three-quarters of the Empire State Building — spewed from the well. In response, the nation commandeered the largest offshore fleet of vessels since D-Day, and BP spent billions of dollars to clean up the mess and save itself from collapse.

The blast also killed 11 rig workers, including Gordon Jones, an engineer killed when the rig exploded. Jones left behind a 2-year-old son and a baby he never met.

"I know other people have experienced losses like this. The difference I guess is that we're reliving it essentially every day," said Jones' brother, Chris. "I don't think I've picked up the newspaper in the last year where there hasn't been an article about one part of this disaster."

For the most part, the damage was eventually contained.

"If you come out and see the progress, you'd think so too," said Mike Brewer, a Plaquemines Parish oil spill response supervisor, reached Tuesday by telephone as he worked in Bay Jimmy, the hardest hit marsh area where oil remains in a thick crust along the marsh edge.

Brewer, who has spent 25 years cleaning up spills in Louisiana, said this spill was the Big One that he always feared. But was it the last spill ever?

"You expect sooner or later it will happen. And sooner or later, I believe it will happen again," he said. "You need the industry to continue to produce, to continue to drill, and you just need more cautionary measures. You just can't cut corners."

Wednesday also marks the final day to file some legal claims against rig owner Transocean Ltd., which is the focus of a trial next year to determine the company's liability for the disaster.

For now, the fishing communities of the Gulf Coast are praying for a good spawning season and a good catch — exactly as they had hoped a year ago before the Deepwater Horizon blew up.

Swift, the catfisherman, will be putting out nets when the anniversary dawns in the hope of supplying some fish for the local Cambodian-Americans, who are celebrating their New Year.

He said fishermen are getting by, thanks in large part to money from BP, which has helped assuage the pain of the spill, allowing poor and often homeless fishermen to buy trailers, boats and other gear.

"I made the most I've ever made. And I'm sure there were a lot of others the same," Swift said. "I had to pay $10,000 in tax."

With the $65,000 he received last year — working on the cleanup for BP and getting $12,000 in compensation for the loss of his livelihood — he bought a boat, a 21-footer, and two motors.

Will Americans get over the image of that BP gusher fouling the Gulf? Swift wonders.

"A lot of people think it's a dirty place," he said. "The oil has given it a bad name. I was at one of these seafood chains, and they advertised their shrimp as being fresh and 'Pacific.'"

Associated Press writers Melissa Nelson in Pensacola, Fla., Jay Reeves in Gulf Shores, Ala., and Harry Weber in New Orleans contributed to this report. Videographer Jason Bronis contributed from Baton Rouge, La.

One Year Later, Oil Spill’s Impact on Gulf Not Fully Understood
ScienceDaily 19 Apr 11;

One year after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill began on April 20, 2010, two Cornell experts comment on the known and unknown impacts to wildlife -- in the air, on the land and in the sea.

John Fitzpatrick, director of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, comments on the spill's effect on birds and the need to restore ecosystems.

Fitzpatrick says: "The oil did not cause the catastrophic mortality of birds that we might have seen had the winds and tides carried oil into all the major islands where colonies of birds raise their young. Thousands of birds were heavily oiled, and we know now that probably tens of thousands more were affected by smaller amounts of oil that couldn't be seen from a distance but were visible in the high-definition video footage acquired by the Lab's video crews.

"At the breeding colonies where our crews worked, nearly all the young birds and a huge proportion of the adults had at least some oil on them. Even these small amounts of oil can be harmful. The oil can be ingested, it can ruin the waterproofing and insulation properties of feathers, and can cause birds to spend energy cleaning their feathers at the expense of finding food or caring for young. These health effects couldn't be measured, of course, so we won't ever really know the total mortality from this spill.

"Looking ahead, we have to ask how many more additional problems that birds and our natural ecosystems can endure. We have to commit ourselves to preventing any recurrence of such a calamity, because next time we might not get this lucky. True recovery means not only responding to the spill, but fundamentally changing the way we do business in such resource-rich areas. We need to restore long-term ecosystem functions to the spectacular ecosystems of the Gulf Coast and the Mississippi Delta, because these functions are essential for people as well as for one of America's richest concentrations of wildlife."

Scientist Christopher W. Clark, an expert on whales and bioacoustics and director of the Bioacoustics Research Program at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, comments on studies of marine life after the spill.

Clark says: "Despite the proximity of the Gulf of Mexico to the coast, we have a very poor understanding of its marine life and ecosystem. In the ocean, one of the best ways to study whales and fishes is by listening for them -- something that our Bioacoustics Research Program has been doing for more than 30 years. Last summer after the oil spill, our researchers worked with NOAA to deploy 21 underwater recording devices on the Gulf seafloor from Louisiana to South Florida.

"By the middle of July, these units were in position and recording the sounds of sperm whales, Bryde's whales, pilot whales and dolphins. Some units recorded sperm whales calling 24 hours a day, every day. Others near the Florida panhandle recorded up to 20,000 vocalizations suspected to be of Bryde's whales, a very poorly studied species thought to number only 15 to 40 individuals in Gulf waters.

"The data are now being compared to maps of the oil's spread across the Gulf of Mexico to find out if whales altered their behavior in response to the oil-covered water. Our scientists will present their findings to NOAA in an interim report on May 11. The recording units remained underwater for five months after which we replaced them with new units to continue recording. Monitoring will continue through at least this summer, and we hope to find support to continue monitoring for the next several years to understand the effects of the spill."

A video with footage of the breeding bird colonies affected by the oil and a video about restoring the Mississippi River Delta are available at

Read more!

Russia risks repeat of wildfire crisis: NGO

Yahoo News 19 Apr 11;

MOSCOW (AFP) – Russia is on track to experience another summer of catastrophic wildfires due to a lack of prevention measures and misdirected state funds, an environmental group warned on Tuesday.

Last year's record heatwave and drought escalated wildfires in central Russia out of control, killing dozens, threatening military and nuclear facilities, and causing a health crisis in Moscow with acrid smoke.

As seasonal fires begin to rage in Siberia and other regions, there are few signs that Russia has the adequate measures in place to avoid a repeat of 2010, said Russian Greenpeace firefighting programme chief Grigory Kuksin

And the legal amendments introduced since last summer have actually made matters worse, he added.

"There has been substantial money allocated for purchasing firefighting equipment, but it is used to buy heavy equipment for large fires that cannot be used for preventing fires when they start," Kuksin told AFP.

"Dead trees left over from last year's fires have not been cleared, and will make fires worse," he said. "And wildfire professionals called in to help the emergency ministry last year have never been paid for their work."

"I don't see any change for the better, since last summer things have gotten worse" and new norms are merely cosmetic, making it harder to pin responsibility to specific officials, he said.

Russia's emergency ministry admitted last week that there was not enough equipment or money to put out forest fires, and that their monitoring was insufficient.

Most wildfires in Russia start from people's careless handling of fire or intentional burning dry grass, according to officials.

Several arsonists are currently facing three years in prison for allegedly starting a fire that nearly burned down two villages in the Siberian region of Novosibirsk, the regional emergency ministry said Tuesday.

"Despite the restriction, people continue burning grass," the ministry's deputy head Andrei Puzyrev was quoted as saying by Interfax.

Although spring has been late in coming to the Moscow region, fires are likely to start in early May as picnickers go to the countryside during the string of May holidays, said Kuksin.

Last week, Moscow region Governor Boris Gromov issued a decree restricting people's access to forests after May 1, Kommersant reported.

Read more!

657 New Islands Discovered Worldwide Yahoo News 19 Apr 11;

Here's something you don't see every day — hundreds of new islands have been discovered around the world.

The Earth has 657 more barrier islands than previously thought, according to a new global survey by researchers from Duke University and Meredith College in Raleigh, N.C.

The researchers identified a total of 2,149 barrier islands worldwide using satellite images, topographical maps and navigational charts. The new total is significantly higher than the 1,492 islands identified in a 2001 survey conducted without the aid of publicly available satellite imagery.

Barrier islands often form as chains of long, low, narrow offshore deposits of sand and sediment, running parallel to a coast but separated from it by bays, estuaries or lagoons. Unlike stationary landforms, barrier islands build up, erode, migrate and rebuild over time in response to waves, tides, currents and other physical processes in the open ocean environment.

All told, the world's barrier islands measure about 13,000 miles (21,000 kilometers) in length. They are found along all continents except Antarctica and in all oceans, and they make up roughly 10 percent of the Earth's continental shorelines. The northern hemisphere is home to 74 percent of these islands.

Barrier islands help protect low-lying mainland coasts against erosion and storm damage, and can be important wildlife habitats. The nation with the most barrier islands is the United States, with 405, including those along the Alaskan Arctic shoreline.

"This provides proof that barrier islands exist in every climate and in every tide-wave combination," said study team member Orrin H. Pilkey of Duke University. "We found that everywhere there is a flat piece of land next to the coast, a reasonable supply of sand, enough waves to move sand or sediment about, and a recent sea-level rise that caused a crooked shoreline, barrier islands exist."

There, but overlooked

The newly identified barrier islands didn't miraculously appear in the last decade, said study team member Matthew L. Stutz of Meredith. They've long existed but were overlooked or misclassified in past surveys.

Previously, for instance, scientists believed barrier islands couldn't exist in locations with seasonal tides of more than 13 feet (4 meters). Yet the new survey identifies the world's longest chain of barrier islands along a stretch of the equatorial coast of Brazil, where spring tides reach 23 feet (7 meters).

The 54-island chain extends 355 miles(571 kilometers) along the fringe of a mangrove forest south of the mouth of the Amazon River. Past surveys didn't recognize it as a barrier island coast partly because older, low-resolution satellite images didn't show a clear separation between the islands and mangrove, Stutz says, but also because the chain didn't match the wave-tide criteria used to classify barrier islands in the United States, where most studies have been conducted.

Scientists failed to consider that supplies of replenishing sand are so plentiful along the equatorial Brazilian coast that they can compensate for the erosion caused by higher spring tides.

Under threat

The new findings illustrate the need for a new way to classify and study barrier islands, so that scientists can predict which of today's islands might be in danger of disappearing in the near future, the researchers say.

The potential for significant climate and sea level change this century "underscores the need to improve our understanding of the fundamental roles these factors have played historically in island evolution, in order to help us better predict future impacts," Pilkey said.

Barrier islands are under tremendous development pressure, which unfortunately is timed to a period of rising sea levels and shoreline retreat, Pilkey said. A developed barrier island, held in place by seawalls, jetties or groins, can't migrate and "essentially becomes a sitting duck unable to respond to the changes occurring around it."

The study is detailed in the March edition of the Journal of Coastal Research.

Read more!