Best of our wild blogs: 26 Apr 11

Mangrove haven at Serapong Sentosa
from wild shores of singapore

Videos from Terumbu Pempang Laut
from wonderful creation

Crocodylus porosus @ Sg Buloh Wetland Reserve
from sgbeachbum

Frog Island - Sekudu
from Psychedelic Nature

Railway Tracks Exploration Part 3 – Bukit Timah to Ten Mile Junction from Photojournalist

Elephants: the gardeners of Asia's and Africa's forests

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Green buildings in Singapore: Adding the green touch with technology

Business Times 26 Apr 11;

A strong regulatory framework and robust market incentives are driving the adoption of green technologies and designs by both the private and public sectors, reports UMA SHANKARI

TECHNOLOGY and innovative design are key as the property industry here works to embrace green building, propelled in large part by the strong regulatory framework.

Singapore's status as one of Asia's green building leaders, and the adoption of green technologies and designs by both the private and public sectors, owe much to the government's implementation of a strong regulatory framework and robust market incentives, industry players said.

'The green movement is likely to grow stronger because of corporate social responsibility (CSR) as well as legislative pressure,' said Tan Yew Chin, executive vice-president for real estate services at Ascendas.

'Strong government initiatives and incentives provide developers a platform on which to pursue and develop green solutions for buildings,' said Keppel Land chief executive Kevin Wong.

He added that the Singapore government takes an active role initiating academic research and development of green technologies, further facilitating and promoting responsible sustainable development.

The launch of the successful Green Mark rating system in 2005 was quickly followed by the first Green Building Masterplan in 2006, under which all new and major renovation projects for public buildings had to be at least Green Mark certified.

The legislature has also set a framework to mandate that green building opportunities are not missed by the private developments. As of 2008, all projects over 2,000 square metres (new buildings as well as major retrofits of existing buildings) must by law meet the minimum requirements of Green Mark.

'Singapore impresses not just by the pace of green building adoption, or the sheer numbers of green buildings it now boasts, but also by the industry-leading technologies and practices being employed in the market,' noted CB Richard Ellis in a recent report.

Best practices

In order to be at least Green Mark certified, many developers now incorporate more green features in new buildings.

Common practices include optimised orientation of a development to minimise solar heat gains, with minimal direct West-facing facades and architectural designs that maximise daylighting.

Many buildings also come with extensive overhangs and planters to block direct solar exposure. Facade and roof greening have also been introduced to mitigate urban heat effect and solar heat gain.

A few selected projects now come with extensive photovoltaic panels. Some even use more eco-friendly materials such as 'green concrete', which comprises copper slag, recycled concrete aggregates and ground granulated blast furnace slag.

In addition, as more money is poured into developing green technology, developments now incorporate fittings that are more energy- and water-efficient, such as motion detector lighting in toilets and stairwells and waterless urinals. Much of this is controlled by intelligent building management systems, which are becoming increasingly sophisticated.

There are already a multitude of technological products and solutions available today, said Frank Lee, Siemens's head of building technologies for South-east Asia.

For example, Siemens has developed a green building monitor to communicate to a building's tenants and visitors the energy consumption of the building. This constant flow of information allows building owners and tenants to have a better understanding of their energy usage, and thereafter learn to decrease their consumption, as the monitor also provides tips on energy conservation and other environmental initiatives.

Other inventions are smaller, but just as useful. To prevent buildings from absorbing and retaining too much heat, Nippon Paint has developed a breakthrough product which can reduce the surface temperatures of buildings by up to five degree Celsius, effectively saving energy use.

In Singapore, the SolaReflect exterior paint - which reflects sunlight away from the painted surface before it gets converted and trapped as heat within the building - is currently being used on commercial properties such as the Panasonic Building in Tuas, and up-market luxury residence Scotts Square in downtown Orchard.

The overall aim, said City Developments' head of CSR Esther An, is to use technology and innovative design to conserve resources and enhance resource efficiency.

Ms An explained that efficiency involves reduced energy consumption to achieve acceptable levels of comfort, air quality and other occupancy requirements - including the embodied energy used in manufacturing building materials and in construction.

'Improving energy efficiency can be accomplished through existing technologies to reduce the energy used by buildings, while at the same time improving levels of comfort,' she said. 'Efficiency gains in buildings are likely to provide the greatest energy reductions and in many cases will be the most economical option.'

Siemens' Mr Lee said that the industry will definitely see further enhancements to building management systems. The focus will be on energy efficiency and improvements throughout the building life cycle, as well as seamless integrations between renewable energy, distributed power and the utility grid.

As energy management functions become even more intelligent, they can help building operators with problem identification and analytics as well as recommendation for improvements. Said Mr Lee: 'When all these factors converge, buildings of the future will be smart, continuously efficient, utilise energy in the most efficient and effective ways possible, have little or no greenhouse gas emissions, be self-sufficient, and contribute positively to their environment.'

Market players expect legislative pressure to go green to become even stronger over the next few years. Partly because of this, they are keen to share knowledge and experiences to bring about technological innovation and development within the industry.

Ascendas' Mr Tan said that he foresees that governments across many countries are likely to emphasise on more stringent green standards as the results of the global warming and natural catastrophes are becoming more evident.

In Singapore, the legislators are not sitting still. The Singapore Sustainable Blueprint has set a target to improve energy efficiency by 35 per cent from 2005 levels by 2030. To meet this target, the Building and Construction Authority (BCA) aims for at least 80 per cent of the buildings in Singapore to be more resource-efficient, and achieve at least a Green Mark Certified rating by 2030.

R&D is expected to be one of the key enablers to help achieve greater resource efficiency in buildings. Together with BCA, the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*Star) and the Ministry for National Development (MND) recently launched a joint grant call for proposals in green building technologies. The agencies are asking for submissions in the areas of building materials and energy-efficient solutions/technologies.

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A Passion for Nature, and Really Long Lists

Nicholas Wade The Straits Times 25 Apr 11;

Dinochelus ausubeli” was the name conferred earlier this year on a strange deep sea monster, a lobster discovered off the Philippine coast whose right claw is elongated into a fearsome pincer. The new species was named not after its discoverer, but in honor of the person under whose auspices a fleet of 540 ships from 80 nations has found the lobster and 6,000 other new marine species in the last 10 years.

He is Jesse H. Ausubel, a Rockefeller University environmental researcher who is also vice president of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation of New York. With his academic hat, Mr. Ausubel, 59, writes and thinks about the environment. Under his foundation hat, he has so far started four major international programs to survey the planet and catalog its biological diversity.

He began the Census of Marine Life in 2000 after discussions with Fred Grassle, a deep-sea biologist at Rutgers University. The project began as a census of the fishes, but as more biologists got involved it expanded to include invertebrates, a wide range of habitats from shoreline to the ocean abysses, and a system for monitoring the distribution of ocean species.

The Sloan Foundation invested $75 million in the census, but all the ship time was paid for by the participating institutions. By the time the first census finished, in 2010, total investment in the project had reached $650 million. The oceans were ascertained to brim not just with fish but also with marine microbes — 35 elephants’ worth in weight for every person on earth.

The census researchers discovered the first animal that lives without oxygen. They found species alive that were thought to have gone extinct in the Jurassic period. They detected a species of oyster that lives as long as 500 years, and tube worms 600 years old.

In 2002, while the census was still in its infancy, Mr. Ausubel attended one of its planning meetings in Nova Scotia and heard an evolutionary biologist, Paul Hebert of the University of Guelph in Ontario, describe a new method for identifying species based on a snippet of their DNA. No need to decode the whole genome — analyze just the first 648 units of a particular gene, and this will identify every animal species, Dr. Hebert declared. He called the procedure DNA bar-coding, after the uniform product code that identifies each item at the supermarket checkout counter.

“Jesse came up immediately after my talk,” Dr. Hebert said. “He said, ‘If this is true, it will revolutionize the study of biodiversity,’ and I agreed with him.”

Despite the two men’s enthusiasm, DNA bar-coding was a novel and untested idea that gained detractors, particularly among taxonomists. Dr. Hebert had considerable trouble getting his first paper on it published. Biologists objected that the gene Dr. Hebert had selected would be too variable to distinguish one species from another.

To explore these concerns, Mr. Ausubel financed a small workshop on the subject at the Cold Spring Harbor Banbury Center in March 2003. But many of the assembled experts assailed the idea. “It was a bit of a rooster fight,” Dr. Hebert said. “Some people thought it was the worst idea in the world. Jesse said, ‘I think we need to have another meeting.’ ”

The second Banbury workshop, comprising those more favorable to the idea, gave a guarded approval. While Dr. Hebert was smoothing out the technical issues, Mr. Ausubel built wider support for the idea by holding conferences at the Natural History Museum in London and the Smithsonian Institution in Washington.

There is now an International Barcode of Life project, which has collected more than one million specimens and has defined the DNA bar codes for more than 95,732 species. The Sloan Foundation has invested $15 million in the project, and other institutions and countries have provided a further $60 million. The goal is to obtain bar codes for all 1.9 million species thought to inhabit the planet.

A third project that Mr. Ausubel is involved in is the Encyclopedia of Life, an online compendium that will have one page for every species on earth. The idea was proposed by the biologist Edward O. Wilson in a letter to the MacArthur Foundation, which turned to Mr. Ausubel to help carry it out. He arranged for the Sloan Foundation to contribute funds alongside the MacArthur Foundation and served as founding chairman. The Encyclopedia of Life now has nearly 500,000 Web pages, contributed by a host of zoological organizations, from the African Amphibian Lifedesk to the World Register of Marine Species.

The three biodiversity projects are tightly integrated. The Census of Marine Life furnishes specimens to the DNA bar coders, and they link their bar codes to the species Web pages of the Encyclopedia of Life.

“I don’t know any person who’s done more to foster biodiversity science,” Dr. Hebert said of Mr. Ausubel. “He’s not in the trenches catching the fish and killing the bugs, but he loves watching us do it.”

Last week, along with Bob Dylan, Dave Brubeck, Daniel Day-Lewis and a few others, Mr. Ausubel was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

In a recent interview in his office at Rockefeller University on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, Mr. Ausubel explained his view that the environment will be protected, not harmed, by technology. Over the long run, he notes, the economy requires more efficient forms of energy, and these are inherently sparing of the environment. Cities used to use wood for heat and hay for transport fuel. But the required volumes of wood and horse feed soon led to more compact fuels like coal and oil.

Coal in turn is giving way to natural gas in a process that Mr. Ausubel calls decarbonization, the replacement of carbon-rich fuels with hydrogen-rich ones. The ultimate fuel source, in his view, is nuclear power, with reactors set to produce electricity by day and hydrogen, thethe fuel for battery-powered cars, by night. He sees little that might thwart the mighty process of decarbonization, even given setbacks like Japan’s nuclear crisis. “The energy system absorbs shocks even as big as Fukushima,” he says.

As a program officer with the National Academy of Sciences, Mr. Ausubel worked with senior scientists who had broad experience in running international environmental programs. He was involved in planning the first Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change meeting but has viewed the panel’s subsequent reports with reserve. Climate change went from being a small to a major issue. “And then the expected happened,” he said. “Opportunists flowed in. By 1992 I stopped wanting to go to climate meetings.”

Because of decarbonization, Mr. Ausubel believes that the growth of carbon dioxide emissions will be limited. “The computer models of the climate system aren’t good enough and never will be. I tend not to be frightened because I think the natural evolution of the energy system is away from carbon,” he said.

It was his belief that technology is generally relieving the pressure on the terrestrial environment that led to his interest in marine life. In the mid-’90s, he said, he came to think that “we were near the inflection points in deforestation and water use. But this was not true of the oceans.” It was this consideration that led to the Census of Marine Life.

In 2009 Mr. Ausubel started a fourth environmental reconnaissance project, the Deep Carbon Observatory. Mr. Ausubel had long been interested in an idea developed by the Cornell University physicist Thomas Gold, who believed that oil and gas are produced by deep-earth microbes feeding on natural sources of methane. From this it followed, Dr. Gold argued, that oil wells might be naturally replenished from vast sources of carbon deep in the planet. Dr. Gold’s theories also have far-reaching implications for the origins of life on earth.

Whether Dr. Gold’s ideas are correct, the behavior of carbon in the deep earth is an issue of considerable scientific moment. The deep earth is full of microbes that lead a largely independent existence from those on the surface. This dark world, flourishing but largely unknown, could have been the origin of life on earth and may influence it in many other ways. There is reason to think the deep earth contains hidden reservoirs of carbon — meteorites of the type that formed the primitive earth are 3 percent carbon, but the detectable abundance of carbon is only 0.1 percent. Discovery of a hidden carbon reservoir in the deep earth, especially if it is connected with the origins of oil and gas, could change estimates of energy supplies.

Inspired by Dr. Gold’s thinking, in 2007 Mr. Ausubel asked Robert Hazen, a geologist at the Carnegie Institution of Washington, to explore setting up an international program to study deep carbon, and the Sloan Foundation financed the project two years later. The Deep Carbon Observatory is a full-fledged big science program with an international committee that coordinates the efforts of hundreds of scientists. The program deploys ships to drill deep holes, runs a fleet of helicopters to install instruments on every volcano on earth, and develops new apparatus to test the deep physics and chemistry of carbon.

As with the Census on Marine Life, the Deep Carbon Observatory required enlisting foreign institutions all over the globe and persuading their governments to waive security concerns and contribute money and ships. “Jesse knows the science and has an incredible network of people around the world who can get things done,” Dr. Hazen said.

Mr. Ausubel does not belong to the Jeremiah school of environmentalists who prophesy imminent doom unless their words are heeded. “The credibility of the environmental movement as a whole is less than its members wish it to be, and a lot of that has come from overdoing it on various issues,” he says.

Forests are now growing back in many temperate countries and the worst phase of habitat destruction may be over as efficiency demands shape better technologies and less polluting forms of energy. But the oceans lag a century behind and their remoteness has denied them the protection they need from pollution, overfishing and noise. “We can leave most life in the oceans alone,” is Mr. Ausubel’s hope.

“Jesse grew up in New York and he loves New York,” Dr. Hebert said, “but he does spend some time thinking about life on our planet.”

Census of Marine Life:
Encyclopedia of Life:

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Indonesia: Muslim scholars ‘fail to preach’ preservation

The Jakarta Post 25 Apr 11;

The failure of Muslim scholars to implement the teachings and values of the Koran have led to worsening environmental conditions in Indonesia, experts say.

Every religion teaches the faithful about righteous things, such as maintaining hygiene, not littering and preserving nature, said Syarif Hidayatullah State Islamic University (UIN) Jakarta professor Azyumardi Azra, who added that Islam, the majority religion in Indonesia, also pays a great deal of attention to the environment.

He said that there are at least 199 verses of the Koran and many hadith (traditions and sayings of the Prophet Muhammad) related to environmental preservation, but there are many, including religious people, who neglect application of such teachings in their daily lives. “If we sincerely believe in our respective faiths, we should apply it to our practical conduct,” Azyumardi said during a recent seminar on religion and the environment.

“According to the teachings of Islam, God created everything in unity. So, there is a unity between human beings and their environment.”

Emil Salim, University of Indonesia postgraduate lecturer and former environment minister, said that the application of religious tenets was all about how to make religion an encouraging power in people’s daily lives.

He gave a simple example on conduct related to the environment and how Muslims could pray in favorable conditions.

“Before performing daily prayers, Muslims need clean water for ablution. Clean water comes from fresh springs in a forest. Therefore,
Muslims have to preserve the forest,” he said.

Therefore, Emil said that the teachings of Islam were meaningful if they were capable of responding the daily needs of human beings in a way that is respected by society in a healthy and harmonious natural environment.

The teachings, he said, also had to respond to global challenges on environmental issues, such as global warming, adding however that there were few Muslim scholars who have a deep understanding of the issues.

Emil was also curious as to why many Muslims scholars could not keep pace with scientific and technological progress, even though a number of Islamic scientists had achieved glory in the past.

He said Islamic scholars had been leaders in scientific and technological development. He noted, for example, Persian physician and philosopher Ibn Sina, whose work has become a reference for modern medicine.

Azyumardi said that Muslim scholars failed to adapt to the progress of science and technology due to economic and political disintegration.

“What is happening now is increasing orthodoxy with a worldly approach, only focusing on halal and haram [legal and illegal according to Islamic law] discussion. It puts Islam and Muslims on the defensive, making them suspicious of new science,” Azyumardi said.

He said that suspicion has a relation with the harmony of nature.

“If there is suspicion among people in our society, then the social harmony can not exist. If we can’t even personify social harmony, then there is no chance for natural harmony,” Azyumardi said. (rcf)

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Protect your rich natural treasures, Sabah cautioned

Borneo Post 25 Apr 11;

SANDAKAN: A world renowned environmental scientist who is now on the final leg of a 10-day study tour of Sabah has cautioned the state to protect its rich treasures of natural environment.

Professor Ross K Dowling, the foundation professor of tourism at the Edith Cowan University (ECU) of Western Australia, said that its parks and marine environment are among the richest treasures that he had seen anywhere in the world.

Acknowledging that Sabah “is really an ecotourism paradise”, he said there is an opportunity for this Malaysian state on Borneo to have a very strongly developed eco-tourism.

He said other opportunities in the state, based on the natural environment, include geo-tourism, wild-life tourism, as well as bird watching tourism.

“You would have to protect those areas. They go, the tourism will go,” the Australian professor of tourism cautioned.

“Sabah, as a state of Malaysia, is probably the prime example of a state that has focused its attention to conservation. It still has quite a bit of its natural assets and raw materials here,” he added in an interview.

He said to maintain that, the government of Sabah would have to recognize that it has to invest money in conservation to realize the rewards which would come from the baby boomers around the world.

These globetrotters of the future, he noted, would be searching for natural environments that are shrinking around the world.

Prof Ross is an environmental scientist who did a lot of work in his home country of New Zealand and did a lot of work to establish environmental education for the government there for about 20 years.

He has now moved to Australia, based in Perth where he undertook the first ecotourism PhD in the world and for the last 20 years, he has worked extensively in ecotourism development around the world, including Borneo.

“I get invited all over the world to speak about ecotourism. A lot of countries don’t really have the raw, natural assets to develop ecotourism.

“Ecotourism, by definition, has to be based on natural environment. And many countries in the world now have very little of the pristine natural environment left,” he observed.

“Sabah is very proud of the fact that it is attracting a large number of tourists, but these are of mass tourism.

“It has to recognize, does it want to be in the game of mass tourism or does it want to have a more balanced approach to tourism development?” he asked.

“Yes, you do have a large number of Chinese, Taiwanese, Korean and other Asian visitors from Singapore, Australia and New Zealand coming here for mass beach tourism, golf tourism.

Prof Ross has made regular visits to Sabah at least once a year and has taken note of changes that have taken place.

“Definitely since the first time about a decade ago, I have seen a loss of natural assets. I have seen of course the extensive development of towns and cities like Kota Kinabalu.

“Look I am not against development; I think you have to have it. But, there is definitely this move towards clearing land for oil palm is extensive, and it is growing and so some decisions will have to be made there.”

He points out that if Sabah were to keep clearing land of natural vegetation for human-made oil palm plantation, then, there would be a loss of quality and integrity of natural environment.

“You are going to drive the orang utans into fewer areas. You can’t support the natural environment, the birds, the plants, the animals if you just shrink with an ever increasing palm oil and clearing.

“You just can’t do it. So there’s got to be some balance there. I have seen a loss of habitat in the

last decade,” Prof Ross added. He has been in Sabah for a week now, leading a group of 17 students from ECU to study ecotourism “as it occurs”.

They are due to attend the Anzac Day ceremony here today before returning to Perth on Tuesday.

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Malaysia: Rare earths refinery operator confident of opening Kuantan plant on time

SINGAPORE- Lynas, the company behind the proposed rare earths refinery to be build near Kuantan, said it is confident that the start-up of the facility will not be delayed.

The Lynas Advanced Material Plant (LAMP) is scheduled to open in the Gebeng Industrial Estate, in Pahang, this September.

Lynas also said it welcomes Malaysia announcement on Friday that it is setting up of a panel of independent international experts to conduct a one-month review of the health, safety and environmental aspects of the RM700 million (S$287 million) facility.

The Sydney-based company said in a media statement: "Lynas continues to work with the Malaysian authorities, including the Atomic Energy Licensing Board and the Department of Environment, to ensure that the project construction continues to meet all requirements and adheres to international standards.

"When completed, the Lynas Advanced Materials Plant will be a first-class rare earths processing facility which incorporates state-of-the-art technology and sets new benchmarks in safety, environmental performance and shared value across the supply chain for a sustainable future.

"Lynas is confident the review will reconfirm that the plant is safe and presents no hazard to the community or Lynas workers. Lynas trusts that this independent review will help to address public concerns expressed in recent times about the health, safety and environmental aspects of this important project.

"Lynas understands that the review will be completed within a month and as such believes the review will have no impact on the anticipated completion date of the project.

"Lynas and its people share a strong set of values, which include operating in a safe, honest and transparent manner, as well as always to respect and contribute to the communities in which we operate."

Rare earth plant study to go on
The Star 26 Apr 11;

KUANTAN: The Pahang Bar Committee is going ahead with its plan to study safety, health, environment and legal matters involving the licensing aspect of Lynas Corporation's rare earth processing plant in Gebeng.

Bar committee chairman Hon Kai Ping said the committee had started grassroots work by meeting some of the residents living near Gebeng over the weekend.

He said the residents' worries were not limited to the safety and health aspects relating to the Lynas project but also other plants operating in the industrial site.

Hon said that although the International Trade and Industry Ministry had said an independent panel comprising international experts would review the health and safety aspects, the committee felt many questions were still not answered.

Hon said there were some nagging questions about the panel and the proposed review.

“Even a baseline study on health and safety will take at least six months and as such, we are interested to know the terms and conditions used for the review. Otherwise, a lot of questions will remain unanswered,” Hon said.

The Pahang Bar Committee held an extraordinary general meeting last Thursday, and resolved to provide legal representation for residents in the event of any litigation.

Hon said that the committee and public should have access to the review and its details so they could fully understand the project.

Lynas has invested up to RM700mil in the construction of the plant expected to be in operation in September. The plant will process rare earth extracted from material mined at Mount Weld in Western Australia.

The refined product will then be exported to be used to manufacture goods such as smart phones, flatscreen TVs, hybrid cars and even weaponry, potentially earning RM8bil a year from 2013 based on current prices.

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A Plague on Java’s Paddies

Godeliva D. Sari & Maratus Sholihah Jakarta Globe 24 Apr 11;

The hairy yellow and green caterpillars that have swarmed parts of the archipelago have appeared, like mini-celebrities, in the news in papers, on TV and online for weeks.

But the cretins that are eating farmers’ crops and making schoolchildren itch are the least of Javanese rice farmers’ problems — they have bigger bugs to kill.

This season’s rice harvests have failed dramatically, thanks to the wereng — a rice hopper — and packs of rats. Driving through the district of Ngawi in East Java, wide expanses of weeds and withering rice plants have replaced the vibrant green paddy fields that characterize Java.

Taya, a 65-year-old rice farmer, owns around one hectare of rice paddies. For each harvest over several days, he brings in five to seven tons of dried, unhusked rice. This harvest easily fills the large concrete front of Taya’s old Javanese house.

This season, however, the rice hoppers have gotten to the crops first, and Taya has gleaned only 200 kilograms.

“My heart sinks when I think about my losses,” he said. “My family and I worked so hard in our fields, starting every day after morning prayer, before sunrise. My rice plants were so healthy. We were expecting a big harvest.”

“Then the rice hoppers came and within days my rice plants began to shrivel and dry. My son, who lives in another village, told me that his neighbor hanged himself because he could not bear to live with his losses.”

Joko Siswanto, head of Cepoko village in the Ngrambe subdistrict of Ngawi, said rice hoppers and rats had attacked at least 50 percent of the rice fields in Cepoko. At least 70 percent of the village’s 1,200 residents depend on the rice fields for their livelihood, according to Joko.

“Out of the 474 hectares of rice fields here, at least 250 hectares have failed to yield a harvest,” he said. “The farmers have suffered a loss of around Rp 6 million [$600] for each hectare.”

Earlier this year, the Ministry of Agriculture announced it had allocated Rp 2 trillion to compensate farmers for their losses.

“From the data that we have, there are only around 100,000 hectares of failed harvest, so for that we only need Rp 388 billion,” Agriculture Minister Suswono said.

He said that this equated to a modest Rp 2.6 million for every hectare of failed rice harvest, to be given in the form of seeds, fertilizer and money.

But in Ngawi, no one seems to have heard about government aid, and promises of help from Jakarta mean little to farmers who have to hurry to make the most of the rainy season.

“Last year we had a mild failure and there was some assistance from the government in the form of seeds, fertilizer and chemical pesticides,” Joko said.

“I distributed that government aid to the farmers associations here but there was not enough to go around. For this year’s failed harvest, which is much worse, I have not heard of any plan from the government to give aid to the farmers in my village.”

Suswono explained that the aid would only be given after the failed harvests were officially reported and that the government would monitor the distribution of the aid to the subdistricts.

Mondit, who oversees agriculture in Sekaralas village, said he had reported to the district agriculture office in Ngawi.

“I was told that the aid available was only for 12 hectares in every village,” Mondit said.

Almost 400 of the 450 hectares of rice fields in the village have experienced a complete failure, Mondit said, with an additional 10 hectares suffering a 50 percent failure.

“I told the official that if the aid for my village was only for 12 hectares, I would not be able to distribute it. People would beat me up because they would think that I had stolen the aid money,” he said.

Landowners are not the only ones who lose out economically on a bad harvest. Laborers and their families who depend on a good harvest are also now tight for cash.

Samingan, 56, a laborer in Gedoro village, earns a living working across seven fields, mostly during harvest time. Samingan gets paid with 10 percent of the harvest.

“In a normal harvest season I get between 40 and 50 kilograms of rice for every field,” he said. “So just helping around my own village I get around 300 to 400 kilograms of unhusked rice, which is plenty to feed my family until the next harvest, with some left to sell for cash too.”

Samingan is not so worried about the harvest failure, saying he can get a job outside his village if necessary.

His wife, Mutikanah, also a laborer, however, is not so optimistic. “When we have a failed harvest, we go into debt,” she said. “We borrow money from left and right, to pay school fees and also to pay other debts.

“We dig a hole to cover another hole, and we end up digging deeper and deeper. A failed harvest turns our lives upside down.”

Suyono, an 86-year-old retired farmer in Sekaralas, once worked for the government’s agriculture ministry and suggested certain measures to prevent the pests from returning next season.

“The government, at least at the district level, should facilitate the planting of an alternative crop, such as maize, soybean or sesame, for one or two seasons,” he said.

“This would sever the life cycle of the rice hopper so that when the farmers begin to plant rice again, their fields will be safe from that particular pest.

“In the meantime, the government should also develop strains of rice that are immune to the rice hopper.”

However, from the farmers’ point of view, the government is not taking the urgent action necessary to save their crops. Some farmers have left their fields barren to try their luck in Jakarta.

Others have decided to plant other crops, like chilies.

But in the absence of strategic assistance, what more can farmers do to fight these pests?

Joko, the head of Cepoko village, gave a wry chuckle: “We pray to God that the rice hoppers will stay away.”

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Deforestation concerns in the Burma delta

Nay Thwin Democractic Voice of Burma 25 Apr 11;

Locals in the Irrawaddy Delta’s Bogalay township have expressed concerns about the environment and their livelihoods due to an alleged increase in deforestation in the region.

Retired school teacher Hla Myint, 70, and resident of Bogalay said the growing population in the region had led to a significant deforestation of large trees, leaving locals to cut down smaller palm-type trees for firewood which he said was “not a good sign.”

“[Bogalay] township once flourished with trees but now most forests have turned into farmlands,” said Hla Myint.

“I don’t want to point a finger at this or that person but we are likely to face a serious shortage of firewood – there are so many people cutting down all kinds of trees for firewood including mangrove trees that inhabit the shore areas,” he told DVB.

“Now mangrove is also becoming rare so people are turning to coconut and Areca palm trees. This is not a good sign and is in fact a very dire [situation].”

Hla Myint said the deforestation is triggered by a growing need for firewood, expansion of farmlands due to increased population and rapacious use of timber in the fishing industry.

A local resident, under condition of anonymity claimed the government’s Forestry Department was also contributing to the deforestation by selling permits to cut down trees.

“Now there is no more forest on Mainmahla Island – all trees were cut down for foreign export. Locals have to pay money to the forestry department to cut down trees; from 3000 up to tens of thousands Kyat depending on size of the boat [carrying the load],” said the local.

The government had similarly been accused of profitting from the illegal timber trade from northern forests, whilst rebel armies are also said to fund their war efforts through relentless logging of their remaining jungles.

“There are no more trees decent enough to make firewood so they are turning to palm trees now. If we continue like this, we will run out of trees in the next five years”, said the Bogolay local.

Deforestation of the delta’s mangroves was blamed by some as an exacerbating factor for the scale of damage caused by 2008′s devastating cyclone Nargis.

Bogalay, like many other parts in Burma relies on wood as the main source of energy despite being near to Burma’s lare reserves of natural gas. The area is well-known for being a large distributor of charcoal to across the country.

Burma’s agricultural sector has been accused of being inefficient with its use of land, using more land to meet growing demand instead of intensifying inputs to already used land to increase yields.

Low levels of electrification and poverty mean that roughly 2/3rds of Burma’s population still rely on wood as their main source of energy, according to the NGO Altsean, such a reliance contributes to the rapid rate of deforestation in the country.

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Migrating Sea Turtles Pick Up More Pollution

Nicholas Bakalar The New York Times 25 Apr 11;

One of the many threats loggerhead sea turtles face is man-made pollution, but the extent of the risk is a question. To begin to look for the answer scientists have measured contaminants in the blood of a group of adult male turtles and tracked their migration along the Atlantic Coast.

The group, led by Jared M. Ragland, a graduate student at the College of Charleston, in Charleston, S.C., captured 19 loggerheads near Cape Canaveral, Fla., in 2006 and 2007. Group members measured and weighed the turtles, took blood samples, and examined their reproductive systems with testicular biopsies. Then they fitted them with satellite transmitters and released them. Over two months, 10 of the animals traveled north as far as Cape May, N.J., while nine remained near Cape Canaveral.

The study, published in the journal Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry, found that the animals had measurable blood levels of 67 different chemicals used in pesticides and other industrial products. The loggerheads that migrated had higher levels than those that stayed near Florida, confirming prior research that found more pollutants in turtles in northern latitudes.

It is possible that the fish and invertebrates that turtles feed on in northern waters are more polluted, but the scientists point out that turtles that migrate eat more, and therefore consume more pollutants. Migrating turtles were on average larger than the permanent residents.

The animals seemed healthy, researchers said, but what constitutes good health in an adult male loggerhead is not clear. “These were reproductively active animals,” said Jennifer M. Keller, a co-author of the study and a biologist with the National Institute of Standards and Technology. “But the males have higher blood levels of contaminants than the juveniles, and that adds to our concern.”

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Chilean scallop farms devastated by tsunami

Paulina Abramovich Yahoo News 25 Apr 11;

TONGOY, Chile (AFP) – Thousands of miles from the shores of Japan across the Pacific Ocean, Chilean shellfish farmers are facing an uncertain future after a giant wave traveled the seas and washed away their scallop beds.

"I don't think I can carry on. Too much has been lost. I had all the scallops I could wish for, and now, look," said fisherman Patricio, shaking his head in despair.

Tongoy, some 450 kilometers (290 miles) north of the capital Santiago, stands on part of the scenic Chilean coast which was put on alert on March 11 after a catastrophic earthquake in Japan triggered a massive tsunami.

The huge wave devastated entire towns in northeast Japan and left more than 27,000 people dead or missing. Nearly 131,000 people are still living in emergency shelters while many others are staying with relatives and friends.

In Chile, the alert was lifted after just 24 hours. Only a few relatively weak waves had come ashore and authorities confidently proclaimed that there had been no victims and no damage.

But despite its 17,000-kilometer (10,500-mile) journey from Japan, the strength of the wave remained very real here, packing enough force to toss aside blocks of concrete weighing nearly a tonne.

It was under these blocks that the Tongoy fishermen hung their nets holding the scallops in their fan-shaped shells until the shellfish reach maturity, a lengthy, time-consuming two-year process.

"Never did I imagine that this would cause so much damage," said Tongoy shellfish farmer Eduardo Briones. "We thought the wave would die out before reaching us, or that it would be a small wave."

"But it was an underwater current that tumbled everything, leaving it all upside down," he added, describing the tangled nets and shellfish which had been ready to harvest, now sitting at the bottom of the bay.

Local authorities have not yet estimated the value of the loss of the Tongoy shellfish, but the local press has put the figure at $6 million, and fishermen say between 50 and 100 percent of their total production was destroyed.

It's a devastating blow to this small village of Tongoy Bay which has been the center for scallop farming in Chile since the 1980s.

The rise of the scallop farms marked a turning point in the fortunes for the 5,000 inhabitants as local fishermen began to raise mollusks to meet growing world demand. Local fishing traditions, more risky and dangerous, fell into decline.

In 2006, one kilo (2.2 pounds) of scallops fetched as much as $15. But the price has dropped to $8.30 in recent years, pushed down by competition from neighboring Peru to the north, the principal supplier to hungry European markets.

The price of Peruvian scallops is kept low thanks to a cheaper labor force and better sea conditions for raising the shellfish, said Franklin Munoz, from the Sacmar shellfish company.

Two of his competitors were forced to close last year, with the loss of some 700 jobs. Now only five shellfish factories remain, compared with 11 during the height of the boom, supported in part by strong Chilean demand.

"But we can't continue," said Briones. Like his fellow fishermen, he sees no other alternative but to return to Tongoy's more traditional fishing customs -- taking their boats out to sea each day.

It may well be that a force of nature which swelled on the other side of the unpredictable ocean has sounded the death knell for the once lucrative scallop industry here.

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Tsunami Quickens ‘Terminal Decline’ of Northern Japan’s Fishing Industry

Stuart Biggs, Kanoko Matsuyama and Frederik Balfour Bloomberg 25 Apr 11;

The wreckage of a 379-metric ton tuna boat blocks the road to the deserted fish market in Kesennuma, once Japan’s largest port for bonito and swordfish. Even after the debris from last month’s tsunami has been cleared away, the industry may never recover.

“Thirty years ago we used to think Japan was the number one fishing country in the world, with the best catching and processing methods, but that’s really no longer the case,” Ryosuke Sato, chairman of the Kesennuma Fisheries Cooperative Association, said in an interview in the town, 400 kilometers (250 miles) north of Tokyo. “We’ve been in terminal decline.”

Traffic at the port had dropped by 90 percent over the last 20 years as seafood imports rose, even before the country’s northeastern coast was devastated on March 11. Destruction of boats, harbors and processing plants, coupled with fears of radioactive contamination in marine life, threatens to hasten Japan’s turn to overseas for its most important food staple after rice.

Japanese eat more fish per capita than any other developed country, consuming 56.7 kilograms (128 pounds) annually, compared with a global average of 17.1 kilograms, according to the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization. Fish accounts for 23 percent of protein in the daily Japanese diet, compared with four percent in the U.S.
Fish Broth

Consumption begins with breakfast in Japan, an archipelago of nearly 7,000 islands, where a traditional morning meal consists of rice and grilled fish. In addition to sushi, staples including miso soup also contain fish broth. To feed the habit, Japan is the world’s largest importer of fish, buying $14.4 billion worth in 2008, according to data from the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization.

“We’re the biggest fish lovers among the major industrial nations and the number one consumer,” said Masayuki Komatsu, a professor at Tokyo’s National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies specializing in ocean and marine resources. “It’s like water and air to us.”

Auctions at Tokyo’s Tsukiji, the world’s largest fish market that stretches over an area the size of 43 football fields, influences prices all over the world, according to Sasha Issenberg, author of ‘The Sushi Economy.’

“It’s like a combination of Wall Street and Sotheby’s in the art market and a commodities trading floor,” he said.
Five Years

Last month’s earthquake and tsunami, which left almost 28,000 dead or missing, disproportionately affected Japan’s northeastern fishing ports and towns. In Iwate prefecture, the tsunami caused about 106.6 billion yen ($1.3 billion) of damage to the fishing industry, according to data from the government. That’s about ten times the combined total for the prefecture’s agriculture and forestry industries.

Fishermen in Kesennuma, which has a population of 73,000, expect it to take as long as five years to rebuild the port and market, central to a fishing industry that provides 85 percent of the town’s jobs.

The city government says 837 townspeople died and 1,196 were listed as missing as of April 22. A further 5,838 people, or 7.8 percent of the population, are in evacuation centers. In addition to the destruction of maintenance and refueling facilities, about 40 fishing vessels were lost, the cooperative’s Sato said.
‘Not Alone’

“There’s so much damage, this is a crisis for the town and the fishing industry,” said the 69-year old Sato, whose Kanedai Co. fish company has sales of 9.4 billion yen in Japan and China, with 230 employees. A poster on the wall signed by wholesalers and customers reads: “You’re not alone, everyone is with you. Thank you always for the delicious fish.”

South Kesennuma, where most of the fish processing plants were located, was the first area to be hit by the tsunami after it passed the island of Oshima that creates the entrance to Kesennuma’s harbor about two kilometers off shore. In the harbor, trawlers and a refueling tank were slammed together, spewing fuel. Fire spread across the fuel-water mix, creating an inferno.

The 50-meter-long Myojin Maru No.3, licensed to catch yellowfin and albacore tuna in the Indian Ocean, is one of at least 10 giant vessels dumped around the town. It towers over gutted two-storey buildings owned by fishing companies about 500 meters from the fish market.

“Companies may have the money to rebuild but people are saying they don’t want to come back,” Yaeko Komatsu, 53, said as she gazed at the rubble of her seafood company employer she didn’t identify. “They say it’s dangerous.”
Planned Reopening

The fish market is planning to partially re-open in June to provide a sales floor for the expected arrival of bonito boats. Longer-term plans depend on the amount of central government assistance, the cooperative’s Sato said.

Reconstruction needs to happen fast to prevent workers from leaving the town for good, Itsunori Onodera, a Diet Member representing Kesennuma, said in an interview at the city hall.

Like many ports in Japan, Kesennuma developed a reputation for handling specific kinds of fish. Ships from all over Japan came to the town to sell saury, sharks and tuna. By adding maintenance and refueling facilities, Kesennuma became one of Japan’s 10 largest fishing ports, Sato said.

The importance of fishing and towns like Kesennuma in Japanese culture belies the fishing industry’s declining status in the economy. Fishing contributes about 0.2 percent of Japan’s GDP, and the number of fishermen has dropped to about 200,000 from about a million after World War II, according to the National Graduate Institute’s Komatsu, also a former official at Japan’s Fisheries Agency.
Indonesian Workers

For fishermen like Tokio Takatsuka, who returned to Shiogama Port, 315 kilometers north of Tokyo and 80 kilometers south of Kesennuma, earlier this month to sell yellowfin tuna from the Pacific, that means hiring more crew members from the Philippines and Indonesia to make up for the shortage of Japanese applicants. They come as part of a government plan to ease labor shortages, and signs at the port are now written in Bahasa as well as Japanese.

“My generation never considered doing anything besides fishing,” Takatsuka, 62, said in an interview last week next to his boat. “It’s different for young people now.”

Even as the government hurries to rebuild facilities, fishermen and consumers are worried about radiation from Tokyo Electric Co.’s Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear power plant, Akira Sato, mayor of Shiogama, said in an interview after the town’s first fresh tuna auction since the March 11 earthquake. The fisherman Takatsuka sailed more than 60 kilometers wide of the plant on the way to the port, rather than hugging the coast, in order to reassure buyers.

About 520,000 liters of water with a level of radioactivity that was 20,000 times the legal limit leaked into the ocean between April 1 and 6, Junichi Matsumoto , a Tepco general manager, said last week.
‘People Are Spooked’

“It puts a cloud over the entire fishing industry and Japan’s food culture is suffering as a result,” Jeff Kingston, director of the Department of Asian Studies at Temple University’s Japan campus said. “People are spooked.”

The level of radioactivity in water leaked from the No. 2 reactor of the Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear plant was 20,000 times the regulatory limit, Tepco said on April 21. A total of 520 tons of contaminated water leaked between April 1 and April 6, said Junichi Matsumoto, a general manager at the utility.

At Tokyo’s Tsukiji fish market, sales of fresh fish fell to an average 583 metric tons per day in the week ended March 17, down 28 percent from a year earlier. The following week they dropped by 44 percent.

“If this continues for two or three years we don’t know what will happen to our bodies from consuming contaminated fish,” Yasuo Kawada, a 59-year-old manufacturing employee said in an interview. “I do worry.”
Fish Bans

Radiation from fish and lobsters near the U.K.’s biggest nuclear polluter suggest radioactive material dumped into the sea from Tepco’s Fukushima power plant isn’t a long-term health threat, according to Richard Wakeford, a professor of epidemiology at the University of Manchester’s Dalton Nuclear Institute.

The Sellafield nuclear-processing plant in northwest England has discharged at least 320,000 times more radioactive material into the Irish Sea since 1952 than what Tepco released from Fukushima this month, according to Bloomberg calculations based on data from both sites. Still, average radiation doses by seafood-consumers near Sellafield over 15 years have been half the recommended limit, studies show.

That hasn’t stopped China, Korea, Taiwan and Hong Kong from banning fish imports from parts of Japan. The countries accounted for about 70 percent of Japan’s fish exports in 2009, according to Japan External Trade Organization figures.

“Radiation is a grim reaper, you can’t see it and you can’t smell it,” said Ken Banwell who has worked as a fish importer in Tokyo for 22 years. “I would say it would have a profound effect on sales from those areas.”

Still, overall sales at Tsukiji recovered to pre-quake levels last week, indicating Japanese consumers are returning to fish. Prime Minister Naoto Kan proposed a 4-trillion yen ($49 billion) extra budget that is likely to be the first of several packages to rebuild areas devastated by last month’s record earthquake and tsunami, which will include assistance for the industry, the government said in an April 22 statement.

“It’ll take three years, at most five years to rebuild the fish market,” said Sato, in his ninth year as head of the Kesennuma Fisheries Association. “In the meantime we need to know how we can continue to live here today, tomorrow, without jobs at plants which don’t exist anymore.”

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U.S. coasts losing battle with climate?

UPI 25 Apr 11;

MANTEO, N.C., April 25 (UPI) -- Conservationists are making slow gains in the race against erosion in environments along the U.S. coast but it's an uphill battle, organizers say.

Sea level is rising more than 1/8 of an inch a year and isn't expected to slow anytime soon as global temperature increases mean result in glacial melt in polar regions.

Conservationists in North Carolina are working to protect sensitive coastal ecosystems. Scientists are trying to determine whether planting cedar trees could create a forest near coastal wetlands. This, they tell National Public Radio, could help restore vulnerable habitats for wolf, bears and others that rely on coastal areas.

The planting campaign, and similar efforts to create barrier reefs, could slow coastal erosion but not quicker than waves take their toll.

Brian Boutin, a scientist from the Nature Conservancy, told the broadcaster that global climate change was creating long-term problems not easily remedied.

"We expect change from sea level rise as a consequence of the warming and the melting of ice," he said. "And as that sea level rises, we expect to lose land."

Energy funds target coastal protection
UPI 25 Apr 11;

NEW ORLEANS, April 25 (UPI) -- More than $25 million in federal money would help protect the shoreline of Louisiana from erosion, the U.S. interior secretary announced.

The Interior Department's Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement announced more than $25 million from the Coastal Impact Assistance Program was going to help protect Louisiana's coast.

The funding targets the construction of a land bridge that will protect the coast from erosion and preserve area marshlands. CIAP funds were created under a 2005 energy act to conserve and protect coastal environments in states along the U.S. outer continental shelf.

"This is an example of how energy revenues can be wisely reinvested in the protection of marshes, shorelines and wildlife habitat," said Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar in a statement. "Louisiana's wetlands are a national treasure that have been steadily disappearing and we must continue to do all we can to protect and restore them."

A so-called marine mattress system is built from rock-filled containers that protect the area against wave erosion. The interior department said it should also help with the restoration of a marshland along the eastern border with Mississippi.

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