Best of our wild blogs: 29 Apr 11

Clammies @ Terumbu Bemban
from Colourful Clouds

Fishtail palm Caryota mitis – The common palm civet’s favourite food? from The Diet of the Common Palm Civet in Singapore

Green Issues for Singapore General Elections 2011 – #2 Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) from AsiaIsGreen

GIA/RMBR Fundraising Walk at Pulau Semakau: Pulau Semakau Adventure 23 April 2011 from Raffles Museum News

Life as a Sanctioned Professional Killer: The Need to Kill Animals in Biodiversity Research from Raffles Museum News

Read more!

Road-Building Plans Threaten Indonesian Tigers

Jakarta Globe 28 Apr 11;

Indonesia is preparing to greenlight the construction of several highways through a park that has one of the world's few viable populations of wild tigers, conservationists warned on Thursday.

The move would be especially alarming, they said, because it would come just months after the government signed a deal in Russia promising to do everything possible to save the iconic big cats from extinction.

There are about 3,500 tigers are left in the wild worldwide. The Kerinci Seblat National Park, which spans four provinces on Sumatra island, is home to an estimated 190 of them — more than in China, Vietnam, Nepal, Laos and Cambodia combined.

"We need to do everything possible to stop this," said Mahendra Shrestha of Save the Tigers in Washington D.C. "It would be disastrous to one of the core tiger habitats in Asia."

The plans for four roads through the park would open up previously inaccessible land to villagers and illegal loggers, divide breeding grounds and movement corridors, and destroy vulnerable ecosystems.

Shrestha said it makes a "mockery" of the agreement signed by 13 countries that still have wild tigers to preserve and enhance critical habitats as part of efforts to double populations by 2002.

The 1.4-million hectare Kerinci Seblat park, which is divided by the Barisan mountain range and fringed by oil palm plantations as far as the eye can see, also is home to critically endangered Sumatran rhinoceros, elephants, clouded leopards, sun bears and more than 370 bird species.

It also has more than 4,000 plant species.

The Forestry Ministry, which would have to sign off on any deal and request parliamentary changes to Indonesian law on protected land, has remained tightlipped about the plans except to say building roads for development in protected areas is illegal. "It's still just a proposal," ministry spokesman Masyhud, who goes by one name, told The Associated Press.

Still, conservationists are worried because regional leaders — who increasingly hold sway in the nation of 237 million — are pushing the plans. With no visible push back from the central government, the regional leaders may have little problem bulldozing through their proposal.

Provincial officials in Jambi, Bengkulu and West Sumatra argue that four roads up to 12 meters wide are needed in the park to serve as "evacuation routes" for people in the event of volcanoes, earthquakes, flooding and other natural disasters.

"We fully understand the importance of this national park and will do everything to make sure that the environment is not destroyed," said Nashsyah, head of Bengkulu's development planning board, adding that a comprehensive study still needs to be done to educate all parties about the project.

Two-thirds of the tigers in the Kerinci Seblat park are adult females.

It is one of the few places where populations have actually grown over the last five years, thanks largely to untouched habitat and anti-poaching patrols that have helped protect one of the few genetically viable populations left in the world.

There already are four roads through the park. The construction of new, larger highways would bring in tons of heavy equipment, chain saws and hundreds of workers for months on end.

"These roads would further fragment tiger communities and disrupt their movement corridors," said Zen Suhadi of Indonesia's most prominent environmental group, Walhi.

"That's our main concern."

He is among 350 conservationists from dozens of different national and international nongovernment groups that have banded together to argue that the plans would turn Kerinci Seblat into a mishmash of forest blocks putting both tigers and their habitat at risk.

If approved, they say, it would open the way for road building in every protected area in Indonesia.

"We've called on the government to reconsider the plan," said Hariyo Tabat Wibisono, chairman of the local tiger conservation group, Forum HarimauKita. "But we hear it's already gotten the green light."

Associated Press

Read more!

Malaysia: RM745m lost to illegal logging, sand mining

New Straits Times 29 Apr 11;

KUALA LUMPUR: The country lost an estimated RM754 million to sand thieves and illegal loggers last year.

According to the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission's (MACC) annual report 2010, the government lost an estimated RM745 million in royalties because of sand theft and RM8.95 million from illegal logging.

With an estimated 3,000 lorries transporting illegally mined sand over the one-year period, losses amounted to RM600 million. Another RM145 million was lost from smuggling sand to a neighbouring country.

It said that throughout last year, MACC received 410 tip-offs on corruption and power abuse related to illegal sand mining.

Forty-five investigation papers were opened, resulting in 43 arrests, with 22 individuals involved charged in court with corruption and other wrongdoing related to sand mining.

It said the bribes amounted to RM321,528, with RM88,000 being the highest amount received by an offender uncovered during "Ops Pasir".

Six people were also arrested for bribery involving sex.

Besides offering bribes to enforcement officers, the culprits also threatened them.

"The illegal sand-mining locations were fenced up and guarded by tontos, a few of whom were armed.

"They not only interfered with enforcement work but also threatened enforcement officers," it said.

As for illegal logging, it said the losses were based on the estimated value of the illegally felled logs seized during "Ops Balak" last year.

Throughout last year, 10 investigation papers were opened from 46 tip-offs received on corrupt practices related to illegal logging.

Some of the operations against illegal logging were carried out in Johor, Perak and Pahang, including the Simpang Pulai-Cameron Highlands road, Kedah and Hulu Selangor.

In an enforcement operation at the Bintang Hijau Forest Reserve in Lenggong, Perak, the MACC found 800 logs worth RM250,00O.

In another operation at the Tersang Forest Reserve in Raub, illegally felled logs were sold at RM2,500 each.

In an operation in Kedah, the MACC arrested the South Kedah District Forestry director, an officer and two rangers for soliciting bribes from a timber businessman.

The report said illegal logging not only caused revenue losses but also destroyed the ecosystem, besides threatening the lot of the Orang Asli, who depended on the jungle for a living. -- Bernama

Read more!

Indonesia: Illegal Logging, Mining Ravages Kalimantan, Costs Indonesia $36.4b

Jakarta Globe 28 Apr 11;

The Ministry of Forestry says illegal logging, land clearance, forest fires and mining has devastated Indonesian Borneo and cost the country an estimated Rp 311.4 trillion ($36.4 billion).

Raffles Panjaitan, director for forest investigation and protection at the ministry, said an estimated 1,236 mining firms and 537 oil palm plantation companies were operating illegally in Central, East and West Kalimantan on the Indonesian half of Borneo.

The companies had caused losses put at Rp158.5 trillion in Central Kalimantan, Rp 31.5 trillion in East Kalimantan and Rp121.4 trillion in West Kalimantan, he said.

The figures for the number of companies were supplied by district heads and governors.

Forestry Minister Zulkifli Hassan said the names of the companies, including a number of large operations with thousands of hectares of concessions, were not being released because they were still under investigation by the ministry in conjunction with the Judicial Mafia Eradication Task Force.

Also involved in the investigation were the AGO and the Environment Ministry, as well as the Corruption Eradication Commission who were investigating alleged abuses by authorities regarding the issuance of licenses.

He said the investigation would take three months.

Antara & JG

State loses Rp311 tln to Kalimantan resource exploitation
Antara 28 Apr 11;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - Long ago, the four Indonesian provinces in Kalimantan island whose total land was about 550,000 sq km, were covered with vast forests and rich in mineral resources, a bounty of God which tickled the mind of businesses to tap.

No wonder, provinces in Kalimantan have since the era of former president Soeharto become the target of various mining firms and timber tycoons who ran both legal and illegal businesses to exploit the resources, including mining deposit and forests, which are known as the `lung` of the world.

However, the glory of Kalimantan`s forests is now only a story of the past as they have been damaged by logging activities, slash and burn practices, forest fires, mining activities and land openings for plantations.

A total of 1,236 mining firms and 537 oil palm plantation companies are believed to have operating illegally in Central, East and West Kalimantan provinces since in the past 10 to 15 years. As a result, the illegal operations of the companies have caused estimated losses of about Rp311.4 trillion to the state, according to Raffles Panjaitan, director for forest investigation and protection of the Ministry of Forestry.

Raffles Panjaitan said that of the total, Rp158.5 trillion losses were suffered in Central Kalimantan, Rp31.5 trillion in East Kalimantan and Rp121.4 trillion in West Kalimantan.

He said that several of the companies are large-scale firms as they hold land concessions on thousands of hectares of land.

In Central Kalimantan, there are 629 mining companies and 282 plantation firms. In West Kalimantan the number of mining enterprises reaches 384 and that of plantation 169 firms. In the meantime East Kalimantan has 223 and 86 mining and plantation companies respectively.

Reports filed by district heads/mayors and governors indicated that these firms had violated their licenses in their operations.

According to Forestry Minister Zulkifli Hassan a team of the forestry ministry and the Judicial Mafia Elimination Task Force have examined the findings based on the reports filed by the district heads/mayors and governor of Central Kalimantan province.

Based on the reports, the minister said, there are 282 plantation companies which are operating without a license on lands covering 3,934,963 hectares, while the number of illegal mining companies reaches 629 units which operate on a land of 3,570, 518.20 hectares.

The joint team, namely the ministry of forestry team and the Judicial Mafia Eradication Task Force, carefully studied the reports.

The joint team, the minister said, had examined nine companies opening up land for mining exploitation in a forest protected area, namely PT BBP, PT AKT, PT BST, PT DSR, PT SKEJ, PT HM, PT KPS, PT RC AND PT KSK.

Apart from that there are 54 plantation firms which have no licenses from the ministry of forestry with a total land exploitation area of 623,001 hectares. Of these areas, 5,000 hecrares are found in North Barito district, 20,000 hectares in South Barito district, 10,500 hectares in East Barito district.

They are also found in Kapuas district (150,410 hectares), Gunung Mas district (83,770 hectares), Katingan district (71,900 hectares), East Kota Waringin district (107,276 hectares) Seruyan district (40,445 hectares), West Kota Waringin district (38,700 hectares) and Lamandau district (86,000 hectares).

Other firms operating illegally are PT MASK (20,000 h), PT MSS (19,500 h), PT SP (15,000 h), PT RASR (20,000 h), PT KAL (20,000 h), PT DAM (20,000 h), PT ATA (15,000 h), PT TPA (15,000 h), PT MSAL (15,000 h), PT KKK (17,000 h), PT KDP (17,500 h) and PT GRMK (16,200 h).

Forestry Minister Zulkifli said his side did disclose the full names of the companies for the interest of further investigation. "We do not disclose their full names because they are still at the level of investigation as there are indications of violations that should be followed up," the minister said.

He said that in East Kalimantan, the number of problematic plantation companies reached 86 units with lands covering 720,829.62 hectares while that of mining is recorded at 223 units with a land of 774,519.45 hectares.

In West Kalimantan, problematic plantation companies number 169 units with a total areas covering 2,145,846.23 hectares and mining firms are recorded at 384 units which an combined area of 3,602,263.30 hectares.

The names of companies involved in East and West Kalimantan are not yet disclosed because they are still under investigation of the forestry ministry`s working group in cooperation with the Judicial Mafia Eradication Task Force.

To follow up the cases, the minister has formed a joint team which involved the ministry of forestry, the Criminal Investigation Agency of the Junior Attorney General for General Crimes, Junior Attorney General for Special Crimes, the Ministry of Environment, the Higher Prosecutor Office and Regional Police.

The joint team is formed to conduct examinations and investigations on violations in the exploitation of forest areas in the three provinces.

The minister said that investigation would take three months. "I ask the team not to stop until it finishes its task," Zulkifli said.

The ministry of forestry also asked the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) to conduct examinations and investigations on alleged abuse of authorities, corruption and collusion by apparatuses in the regions regarding the issuance of licenses for the problematic companies.

"We have priorities to the six districts," he said mentioning the initials of the districts as B and S in Central Kalimantan, K and K in East Kalimantan, and M and M in West Kalimantan.

In the meantime, Achmad Santoso of the judicial mafia task force said the working group of the forestry ministry and the judicial mafia task force would recommend four points.

The recommendation will include matters on provincial master plan, land border, formation of a organization, the strengthening of the capacity of the Forest Management Unit (KPH), integrated licensing and transparency of licenses on forest areas.

Editor: Priyambodo RH

Logging, mining cost Indonesia $36 bn: official
Yahoo News 28 Apr 11;

JAKARTA (AFP) – Land clearance by hundreds of mine and plantation companies operating illegally on Indonesia's Borneo island has cost the country $36 billion, an official said Thursday.

"Encroachment of forest areas for illegal mining and plantation activities including logging in Kalimantan has caused losses of around Rp 311 trillion ($36.4 billion)," Forestry Ministry information centre head Masyhud told AFP.

More than 1,200 mining firms and 500 oil palm plantation companies operating illegally in Central, East and West Kalimantan provinces, on the Indonesian side of Borneo, are now being investigated by the Forestry Ministry, he said.

"Besides the companies, we're also investigating officials who may have abused their authority in the issuance of operating permits," he added.

The investigation, he said, would take three months.

Indonesia is the world's third-biggest emitter of greenhouse gases, due mainly to deforestation by the palm oil and paper industries, which is fuelled by corruption.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has been under pressure from environmentalists to implement a promised two-year moratorium on the clearing of natural forest and peatland, which was due to begin January 1.

Norway agreed in May last year to contribute up to $1 billion to help preserve Indonesia's forests, in part through the moratorium.

Rp 311 trillion ‘lost to forest misuse’ in Kalimantan: Govt
Tifa Asrianti, The Jakarta Post 3 May 11;

“Non-procedural” forest use in three provinces of Kalimantan has cost the state Rp 311.4 trillion (US$36.38 billion) in losses, according to a government report.

According to the report, which was released by the Judicial Mafia Taskforce and the Forestry Ministry, regents and mayors in East, West and Central Kalimantan were involved in “non-procedural forest use” for plantations and mining, including violating spatial planning agreements and failing to grant needed licenses.

In East Kalimantan, state losses were estimated to reach Rp 31.5 trillion and involved 86 plantation companies responsible for 720,830 hectares of forest and 223 mining companies responsible for 774,520 hectares, according to the report.

West Kalimantan suffered Rp 121.4 trillion in state losses allegedly caused by 169 plantation companies responsible for 2.14 million hectares and 384 mining companies covering 3.6 million hectares.

While in Central Kalimantan, the report said that 282 plantation companies responsible for 3.9 million hectares and 629 mining companies responsible for 3.5 million hectares allegedly caused state losses of Rp 158.5 trillion.

The estimates were based on an assumption that one forest hectare might yield 100 cubic meters of logs valued at Rp 60,000 per cubic meter and a reforestation fund of US$16 per cubic meter.

The ministry and the taskforce said they would ask the Supreme Audit Agency to develop a more precise method to calculate alleged state losses from non-procedural forest usage.

The report recommended criminal investigation of companies and local administrations involved in 483 alleged mining permit violations involving 2.9 million hectares in Central Kalimantan.

The taskforce said nine companies operating in protected forests should be a priority for criminal investigation.

The report also found 225 cases of alleged plantation permit violations connected to forested areas, recommending that law enforcement authorities probe 54 cases where companies operated without permits on 623,000 hectares in 10 regencies.

The taskforce and the ministry vowed to cooperate with the National Police, Attorney General’s Office and the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) to investigate the allegations.

Several cases have already been forwarded to the KPK including that of the Bukit Harapan cooperative, the Kutai national park development project and the case of PT Multi Tambangjaya Utama and the construction of fish ponds in protected forests in Kuburaya regency.

“We will replicate the law enforcement approach in Central Kalimantan to provinces across Indonesia,” taskforce chairman Mas Achmad Santosa said in a press release made available to The Jakarta Post.

The taskforce recommended that the central government and local administrations create an integrated permit system, establish a list of all forest area permits and monitor forest use.

The taskforce and the Forestry Ministry agreed that no more permits should be issued in Central Kalimantan until the process of forest area declaration and law enforcement integration was complete.

The ministry and the taskforce have scheduled similar reviews for Riau, South Kalimantan, West Java, Southeast Sulawesi and Gorontalo.

Berry Furqon, executive director of the Indonesia Environmental Forum (Walhi), said he appreciated the government’s plan.

“Whenever the taskforce finds non-procedural forest use, it means there is systematic corruption,” he said.

Read more!

Trapping threatens near-extinct Philippine eagle

Yahoo News 28 Apr 11;

MANILA (AFP) – Conservationists raised alarm Thursday over the future of the near-extinct Philippine eagle after several maimed or diseased birds were retrieved from captivity over recent months.
The Philippine Eagle Foundation said that since last December it had rescued four of the one-metre (3.3-foot) birds, which are among the world's largest raptors, suggesting conservation laws had not deterred trapping.

"The eagles continue to be harmed and poached," said Tatit Quiblat, development manager with the foundation which has a captive breeding programme for birds to be later returned to the wild.

"We are extremely distressed about these events," he added.

The foundation said the retrieved birds, all recovered from the large southern island of Mindanao, included a female eagle that was missing two out of three toes on one foot when it was recovered in December.

The government in January handed over a year-old male to the Mindanao-based foundation which it had received from villagers.

This month, a year-old eagle with just two primary feathers remaining on its right wing was turned over by local residents while a juvenile retrieved from another community died from a fungal infection.

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) says there are just 180-500 mature Philippine eagles in Mindanao, Luzon, Leyte and Samar islands, with forest loss and poaching the main threats to their survival.

It said the captive breeding programme had so far failed. The first released bird electrocuted on a transmission line nine months after it was sent into the wild in 2004.

Another captive-bred eagle was killed by a hunter four months after being released in 2008.

The species is listed as critically endangered by the IUCN.

While the Philippines has laws banning the killing, collection, and maltreatment of wildlife as well as activities that threaten critical habitats, the eagles continue to be prime targets, it said.

It also called for a stop to the practice of bounty-hunting Philippine eagles that are then turned over to the government or the foundation with the expectation of a reward.

Read more!

Humans Not Solely to Blame for Sea Turtle Declines

Rebecca Kessler Science Now 28 Apr 11;

Humans are pushing sea turtles to the brink of extinction by entangling them in fishing gear, tossing plastic garbage into their habitats, and building resorts on prime nesting beaches, among other affronts. That's the going hypothesis, anyway. But a new study suggests that our transgressions are peanuts compared to natural oceanic cycles, at least for loggerheads. The findings don't let people off the hook, the authors say, but they do provide new insight into the ways climate can shape turtle populations.

Loggerheads lay their eggs on subtropical beaches around the world. After hatching, baby sea turtles head out to sea where they spend years maturing. When females reach breeding age—25 to 35 years old for loggerheads—they clamber ashore to lay eggs on the beach. Nest counts are the main source of demographic data for sea turtles, but it's hard to estimate population size from these counts. Between the mid-1990s and 2006, loggerhead nests in Florida—one of the species' nesting epicenters—declined from roughly 55,000 per year to around 30,000. That drop and declines elsewhere prompted U.S. federal agencies to propose upgrading most loggerheads from threatened to endangered under the Endangered Species Act.

Numerous studies have shown that fishing bycatch kills an alarming number of sea turtles each year, and the threats posed by many other human activities are well documented. But ecologists Kyle Van Houtan of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center in Honolulu and John Halley of the University of Ioannina in Greece wondered if other factors were also at work. In the new study, published online this week in PLoS ONE, the duo measured the effect of certain ocean conditions on loggerhead nesting, using nest count data from Japan and Florida stretching back as far as the 1950s. Specifically, they looked at two long-term warming and cooling cycles whose effect on sea turtles hadn't been investigated, one in the Pacific where Japanese turtles spend their formative years, and another in the Atlantic, where young Floridian turtles live. They also looked at recent ocean conditions, in particular the temperature of the sea surface near Japan and Florida the winter before a given breeding season. Such conditions have been shown to influence whether females are robust enough to make the long migration to shore and produce hundreds of eggs.

Using mathematical models, Van Houtan and Halley found a strong correlation between the nest counts in a given year and the state of the long-term oceanic cycles some 3 decades earlier. That's when most nesting females would have been in their first year of life, the researchers say. Van Houtan and Halley think the two oceanic cycles—the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO) and the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation (AMO)—can make or break a young turtle's survival; favorable cycles bring food and good weather, for example. The number of survivors seems to strongly affect the number of nests.

For Van Houtan, this correlation conjures an astronomical analogy. "When you're counting nesting turtles, in some ways it's kind of like watching the stars," he says. "When you look out across a starry night, you're observing something that was set into motion a long time ago, that happened … far away."

The ecologists also found a modest role for ocean-surface temperature just prior to the breeding season. Together, the past and recent oceanic conditions explained about two-thirds—and as much as 88%—of loggerhead nesting activity.

Based on the data, Van Houtan and Halley predict continued declines in the Japanese loggerhead population over the next 25 years, but a rebound in the Florida population. While most loggerhead nesting variation appears to be natural, Van Houtan insists that humans bear a good share of the blame. He suspects that our actions may account for much of the remaining nesting variation. And he says that global warming could alter the PDO and AMO to the turtles' disadvantage.

Rebecca Lewison, an ecologist at San Diego State University who studies sea turtles, says the findings are important and likely apply to other sea turtle species. One key take-away is that biologists can't look to annual changes in nesting activity as a way to gauge the success of any particular management strategy, she says.

Tony Tucker, a sea turtle biologist with Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota, Florida, is more critical. While praising the models' sophistication and the paper's illumination of the link between climate and nesting, Tucker says he is not convinced that baby-turtle survival is more important in determining nest counts than the number of adult females in good breeding condition. By extension, he says, he doubts that ocean conditions long ago and far away have a bigger effect on turtle nesting than recent ones do.

Elizabeth Griffin Wilson, a marine scientist with the international conservation group Oceana, points out that the new paper does not specifically investigate the effects of factors like fishing bycatch or habitat destruction, so she urges caution in comparing the human and natural toll on sea turtles. Regardless of the final balance, people still have a responsibility to minimize the damage we inflict, she says.

Read more!

Rare “Yangtze Mermaids” released in nature reserve

WWF 23 Apr 11;

Shishou, China – Two finless porpoises were released into the Tian-e-zhou Oxbow nature reserve today, marking the first step in the conservation of this rare species. The Yangtze finless porpoise, also known as the “Yangtze Mermaid”, lives exclusively in the Yangtze River and its neighbouring rivers and lakes.

The two finless porpoises – one born in captivity in 2005 and the other injured in a severe snow storm in 2008 – will be tagged for intense monitoring and research by the Institute of Hydrobiology, the Chinese Academy of Science (CAS) and Tian-e-Zhou Oxbow Nature Reserve, an area of wetland in the Yangtze basin near Shishou city and a sanctuary for the Yangtze river dolphin.

“After the release, we will keep monitoring the behaviour, acoustic status and health condition of the finless porpoises and acquiring their growth data, ultimately helping them adapt to the wild environment,” said Li Min Wang, Deputy Director of Conservation Operations at WWF-China.

Soft release
To prepare the finless porpoises for their eventual release into the wild, slated to be in a few months time, the pair have experienced a “soft release” into a 10,000m2 area of the nature reserve surrounded by a temporary fence. They will be trained in catching live fish, learn how to protect themselves against predators and live in a simulated wild Yangtze environment.

There were an estimated 1800 finless porpoise swimming in the Yangtze in 2006, a figure that has since declined at an average annual rate of 5% and has moved them from “endangered” to “critically endangered” on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List.
While this is the first time for such intense monitoring of captive-bred finless porpoises it’s hoped that it will pave the way for similar repopulation efforts in the future.

“If soft releases are proven to be successful, we will have a better chance to save the Yangtze finless porpoise and other freshwater dolphins worldwide which are under great threats at the moment too,” said Dr. Li Lifeng, Director of WWF International Freshwater Programme.

Yangtze finless porpoise conservation
The Yangtze finless porpoise is the only identified freshwater subspecies of Phocoenidae in the world. This small cetacean is only found in the middle and lower reaches of the Yangtze River and some of its adjacent rivers and lakes.

Since 1992, WWF, Tian-e-Zhou Oxbow Nature Reserve and the Chinese Academy of Science’s Institute of Hydrobiology in Hubei Province have carried out a series of conservation programs by leveraging all the beneficial conditions in the oxbow. Meanwhile, HSBC has offered a great deal of support to conservation projects in the area since 2002.

As of 2010, the population of finless porpoise in the nature reserve exceeded 30, with two to five calves born every year.

Read more!

Huge sperm whale washes up on Sydney beach

Yahoo News 28 Apr 11;

SYDNEY (AFP) – A dead 10-metre (32-feet) sperm whale has washed up on a Sydney beach, with rescuers struggling Thursday to remove it as the animal's blood runs into the water, attracting sharks.

The carcass, believed to weigh up to 12 tonnes, beached on a rock platform at Newport on Sydney's Northern Beaches and is proving difficult to shift.

Reports said it was badly decomposed and missing its tail, making it impossible to tow out to sea.

Northern Beaches area manager for National Parks and Wildlife Service, Chris Grudnoff, said it was hard to know what to do.

"The tide's wrong, the mass size of the mammal makes this situation difficult and there was a choppy southerly blowing which made getting a boat in impossible," Grudnoff told the local Manly Daily newspaper.

"We haven't had that much experience in Sydney with large dead whales. It's a whole new ball game so we are waiting for advice from a marine expert before we make a decision as to how we will move it."

A local council official said the solution may be to cut the whale into smaller pieces and drag them off the rocks.

In the meantime, the beach has been shut as blood from the whale drips into the water, attracting sharks.

It was not known how the whale died, although a wildlife official said it looked like the tail had been been taken off by sharks based on teeth marks, with bites also on its head and dorsal fin.

Whale beachings are relatively common in Australia, though they usually occur in the summer months of December around the far southern island state of Tasmania. Such events are less common in Sydney.

Read more!

Boom and bust signals ecosystem collapse

Richard Black BBC News 28 Apr 11;

An experiment in a US lake suggests that ecosystem collapses could be predicted, given the right monitoring.

Researchers changed the structure of the food web in Peter Lake, in Wisconsin, by adding predatory fish. Within three years, the fish had taken over, producing a decline in tiny water plants and an explosion in water fleas.

Writing in the journal Science, the researchers say the change was preceded by signals that could be used to predict similar collapses elsewhere.

In particular, rapid swings in the density of plants and fleas indicated the food web was unstable and about to change.

The idea that such early warning signals ought to exist is not new - but the researchers say this is the first time it has been demonstrated experimentally.

"For a long time, ecologists thought these changes couldn't be predicted," said research leader Stephen Carpenter from the University of Wisconsin in Madison, US.

"But we've now shown that they can be foreseen. The early warning is clear; it is a strong signal."
Peter and Paul

The Peter Lake food web contained four key components. Insects such as fleas ate tiny water-borne plants, small fish such as golden shiners ate the fleas, and much bigger largemouth bass ate the little fish.

Beginning in 2008, the researchers began to add more bass, and more than a thousand hatched the following year.

Sensing the threat from these predators, the golden shiners began to spend more time in the shallows or sheltering under floating logs.

Larger fleas moved in, eating the floating plants (phytoplankton).

But the changes were anything but smooth, with wildly varying numbers of fleas and phytoplankton seen at different times.

Eventually, by late 2010, the ecosystem appeared to have finalised its transition from one stable state to another.

This second state, dominated by fleas and largemouth bass, is similar to the situation that had existed for years in neighbouring Lake Paul.

This lake showed no major changes during the three years, indicating that the changes seen in Peter really were caused by the addition of bass.
Banks collapse

Many natural systems appear capable of existing in more than one stable state.

Until 20 years ago, the Grand Banks off Canada's east coast were dominated by cod - so many as to prevent the growth of other species.

Overfishing caused the cod population to collapse.

Other species have since taken their prime position, some of which predate on juvenile cod - perhaps meaning that the prized fish will never return to their former dominance.

The new research suggests it might be possible to detect signals of such a coming crash before it happened.

"Early warning signs help you prepare for, and hopefully prevent, the worst case scenario," said Jonathan Cole from the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies near New York, another of the scientists involved.

"We are surrounded by problems caused by ecological regime shifts - water supply shortages, fishery declines, unproductive rangeland - and our study shows that there is promise in identifying these changes before they reach their tipping point."

The principle may have been proved, but the application would still appear to be some way away.

Monitoring any ecosystem with the intensity used at Peter Lake will be expensive, although the ever growing fleet of Earth observation satellites could help in some cases.

Even more problematic is knowing which early warning signs apply in which ecosystem.

Early Warning Signal for Ecosystem Collapse: Fluctuations Before the Fall
ScienceDaily 28 Apr 11;

Researchers eavesdropping on complex signals emanating from a remote Wisconsin lake have detected what they say is an unmistakable warning -- a death knell -- of the impending collapse of the lake's aquatic ecosystem. Researchers have found that models used to assess catastrophic changes in economic and medical systems can also predict environmental collapse. Stock market crashes, epileptic seizures, and ecological breakdowns are all preceded by a measurable increase in variance—be it fluctuations in brain waves, the Dow Jones index, or, in the case of the Wisconsin lake, chlorophyll.

The finding, reported April 29 in the journal Science by a team of researchers led by Stephen Carpenter, a limnologist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, is the first experimental evidence that radical change in an ecosystem can be detected in advance, possibly in time to prevent ecological catastrophe.

"For a long time, ecologists thought these changes couldn't be predicted," says Carpenter, a UW-Madison professor of zoology and one of the world's foremost ecologists. "But we've now shown that they can be foreseen. The early warning is clear. It is a strong signal."

The implications of the National Science Foundation-supported study are big, says Carpenter. They suggest that, with the right kind of monitoring, it may be possible to track the vital signs of any ecosystem and intervene in time to prevent what is often irreversible damage to the environment.

"With more work, this could revolutionize ecosystem management," Carpenter avers. "The concept has now been validated in a field experiment and the fact that it worked in this lake opens the door to testing it in rangelands, forests and marine ecosystems."

Ecosystems often change in radical ways. Lakes, forests, rangelands, coral reefs and many other ecosystems are often transformed by such things as overfishing, insect pests, chemical changes in the environment, overgrazing and shifting climate.

For humans, ecosystem change can impact economies and livelihoods such as when forests succumb to an insect pest, rangelands to overgrazing, or fisheries to overexploitation.

A vivid example of a collapsed resource is the Atlantic cod fishery. Once the most abundant and sought-after fish in the North Atlantic, cod stocks collapsed in the 1990s due to overfishing, causing widespread economic hardship in New England and Canada. Now, the ability to detect when an ecosystem is approaching the tipping point could help prevent such calamities.

In the new study, the Wisconsin researchers, collaborating with groups from the Cary Institute for Ecosystem Studies in Millbrook, N.Y., the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, and St. Norbert College in De Pere, Wis., focused their attention on Peter and Paul lakes, two isolated and undeveloped lakes in northern Wisconsin. Peter is a six-acre lake whose biota were manipulated for the study and nearby Paul served as a control.

The group led by Carpenter experimentally manipulated Peter Lake during a three-year period by gradually adding predatory largemouth bass to the lake, which was previously dominated by small fish that consumed water fleas, a type of zooplankton. The purpose, Carpenter notes, was to destabilize the lake's food web to the point where it would become an ecosystem dominated by large predators. In the process, the researchers expected to see a relatively rapid cascading change in the lake's biological community, one that would affect all of its plants and animals in significant ways.

"We started adding these big ferocious fish and almost immediately this instills fear in the other fish," Carpenter explains. "The small fish begin to sense there is trouble and they stop going into the open water and instead hang around the shore and structure, things like sunken logs. They become risk averse."

The biological upshot, according to the Wisconsin lake expert, is that the lake became "water flea heaven." The system becomes one where the phytoplankton, the preferred food of the lake's water fleas, becomes highly variable.

"The phytoplankton get hammered and at some point the system snaps into a new mode," says Carpenter.

Throughout the lake's three-year manipulation, all its chemical, biological and physical vital signs were continuously monitored to track even the smallest changes that would announce what ecologists call a "regime shift," where an ecosystem undergoes radical and rapid change from one type to another. It was in these massive sets of data that Carpenter and his colleagues were able to detect the signals of the ecosystem's impending collapse.

Ecologists first discovered the signals in computer simulations of spruce budworm outbreaks. Every few decades the insect's populations explode, causing widespread deforestation in boreal forests in Canada. Computer models of a virtual outbreak, however, seemed to undergo odd blips just before an outbreak.

The problem was solved by William "Buz" Brock, a UW-Madison professor of economics who for decades has worked on the mathematical connections of economics and ecology. Brock used a branch of applied mathematics known as bifurcation theory to show that the odd behavior was in fact an early warning of catastrophic change. In short, he devised a way to sense the transformation of an ecosystem by detecting subtle changes in the system's natural patterns of variability.

The upshot of the Peter Lake field experiment, says Carpenter, is a validated statistical early warning system for ecosystem collapse. The catch, however, is that for the early warning system to work, intense and continuous monitoring of an ecosystem's chemistry, physical properties and biota are required.

Such an approach may not be practical for every threatened ecosystem, says Carpenter, but he also cites the price of doing nothing: "These regime shifts tend to be hard to reverse. It is like a runaway train once it gets going and the costs -- both ecological and economic -- are high."

In addition to Carpenter and Brock, authors of the new Science report include Jonathan Cole of the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies; Michael Pace, James Coloso and David Seekell of the University of Virginia at Charlottesville; James Hodgson of St. Norbert College; and Ryan Batt, Tim Cline, James Kitchell, Laura Smith and Brian Weidel of UW-Madison.

Journal Reference:

S. R. Carpenter, J. J. Cole, M. L. Pace, R. Batt, W. A. Brock, T. Cline, J. Coloso, J. R. Hodgson, J. F. Kitchell, D. A. Seekell, L. Smith, and B. Weidel. Early Warnings of Regime Shifts: A Whole-Ecosystem Experiment. Science, 28 April 2011 DOI: 10.1126/science.1203672

Read more!

Global warming threat amid nuclear doubts: IEA

Yahoo News 28 Apr 11;

HONG KONG (AFP) – A global warming target could be missed three times over if countries fail to promote clean energy, the International Energy Agency warned Thursday, amid a possible slowdown in atomic power growth.

Nuclear fuel does not emit carbon dioxide, making it a serious option for "clean energy" proponents over fossil fuels, but governments around the world have turned more cautious on it in the wake of the Fukushima crisis in Japan.

The IEA's deputy head Richard Jones however cautioned that global warming could accelerate much faster and lead to catastrophic consequences if the international community fails to adopt a more aggressive clean energy policy.

"We are not on the pathway to limit global temperatures," he told the Foreign Correspondents Club in Hong Kong, referring to an international goal to restrict warming to two degrees Celsius by the end of the century.

The target was set by countries at the Cancun meeting in December 2010.

"If you miss it by 0.1 degree Celsius nobody cares but the problem is it looks like we are on track for more than six degrees Celsius (rise)," he said.

"That is serious. We really don't know what will happen," said the deputy head of the Paris-based agency, set up to monitor energy use.

In its annual report last year, the IEA projected that 360 gigawatts of nuclear generating capacity would be added worldwide by 2035, on top of the 390 gigawatts already in use.

However fears over the use of nuclear power could see the IEA halve its projection to 180 gigawatts, its chief economist Fatih Birol told AFP earlier this month.

Jones said the earlier projection would be "overly optimistic in today's environment", and that the IEA will re-evaluate the statistic, but declined to give any figures.

Germany has announced the temporary shutdown of its seven oldest nuclear reactors while it conducts a safety probe in light of Japan's atomic emergency, triggered by an earthquake and tsunami that crippled the power station.

Switzerland suspended plans to replace its ageing atomic plants, while in France -- where nuclear makes up 75 percent of electricity production -- environmental groups have called for a referendum on the future use of atomic power.

Read more!

Recession Briefly Axed Greenhouse Gases In 2009

Alister Doyle PlanetArk 28 Apr 11;

Recession drove industrialized nations' greenhouse gas emissions down 5.6 percent in 2009 but analysts said the plunge may be a brief, misleading sign of progress in slowing climate change.

Emissions by about 40 nations fell to the equivalent of 16.5 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide in 2009 from 17.4 billion in 2008, and were a record 11.6 percent below the benchmark year of 1990, a Reuters compilation showed.

The 2009 data comprises all industrialized nations except Canada, the only one which has not yet submitted 2009 numbers to the U.N. Climate Change Secretariat this month. The official data are used to judge compliance with U.N. treaties.

But experts said the recession-induced fall in 2009, and a likely rebound in 2010, meant governments could not relax in achieving long-term curbs meant to avert more floods, droughts and rising sea levels.

"As economies rebound demand will increase and emissions will likely increase again," said Jennifer Morgan of the Washington-based World Resources Institute. "This is no time for governments to be 'backing off'" from curbing global warming.

"There is a risk of complacency" among governments after the 2009 emissions' fall, said Pep Canadell, head of the Global Carbon Project based at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) in Australia.

He cautioned the decline was misleading since it was caused by the financial crisis and recession, and not "by sustainable long-term emission reduction strategies or a switch to non-polluting energies" needed to ensure long-term cuts.


"The fall ... is not long-term. It's not enough," echoed Marlene Moses, U.N. ambassador for the Pacific island state of Nauru. Nauru is set to take over from Grenada as chair of the Alliance of Small Island States in late 2011.

Emissions fell in every industrialized country in 2009. U.S. emissions fell 6.1 percent, European Union emissions were down 7.2 percent and Russia's were down 3.2 percent from 2008.

And the falls generally outstripped the depth of recession.

Rich nations' overall gross domestic product contracted by 3.4 percent in 2009, according to the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Its membership overlaps with industrialized states in U.N. climate treaties.

Canadell noted the global financial crisis coincided with high oil prices, making energy-intensive sectors particularly vulnerable to the downturn.

The Global Carbon Project, which groups research institutes, estimates global carbon dioxide emissions rebounded 3 percent in 2010 after a 1.3 percent fall in 2009. Growth continued in many emerging nations such as China and India.

Some early official data for 2010 shows a rebound.

Emissions under the EU's emissions trading scheme -- covering 11,000 factories and power plants and 40 percent of EU emissions -- rose by 3.5 percent in 2010.

A scenario by the U.N. panel of climate scientists in 2007 said industrialized nations would have to cut emissions by 25 to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2020 to avert the worst of climate change.

The United Nations says current pledges fall far short.

Read more!

Major Polluters Say 2011 Climate Deal "Not Doable"

Pete Harrison PlanetArk 28 Apr 11;

The world's biggest greenhouse gas emitters do not expect a legally-binding deal to tackle climate change at talks in South Africa in December, two leading climate envoys said on Wednesday.

U.S. climate negotiator Todd Stern and European climate commissioner Connie Hedegaard played down the chance of a breakthrough after a meeting of the Major Economies Forum (MEF), an informal group of 17 countries including the world's top polluters, China and the United States.

"From what I've heard in these last two days, the conclusion must be that it is highly unlikely that the world will see a legally binding deal done in Durban," Hedegaard told reporters.

"Not that they do not think it's important -- but there is just this feeling that it's simply not doable for Durban."

It is not the first time doubts have been raised over the chance of an ambitious agreement in Durban, following on from modest progress in Cancun, Mexico last year, and Copenhagen the year before.

But the poorest nations, which are most vulnerable to climate change, are still clinging to the hope of moving beyond the existing voluntary accord.

"I think that there are different views about the sort of degree of necessity or not of a legally binding agreement," said Stern. "Our view in the U.S. is that it is not a necessary thing to happen right away."

Last year's Cancun meeting is widely regarded as having saved the often fraught negotiations from collapse.

Nations agreed curbs on the loss of tropical forests, schemes to transfer clean technology to poorer nations and help them adapt to climate change impacts, and a goal for rich countries to provide $100 billion a year in aid from 2020.

But it side-stepped tougher issues, such as whether to extend or replace the Kyoto Protocol, the current agreement to limit greenhouse gases which expires next year.

Hedegaard said the EU would push for the Durban talks to make progress on tackling the emissions from ships and planes.

"It is not enough for Durban just to implement what was agreed in Cancun," she said. "Inclusion of shipping and aviation -- these kind of topics we will also push for."

Hedegaard said she would prefer the issue of shipping emissions to be tackled by the U.N.'s International Maritime Organization (IMO), but would not wait forever.

"Since 1997, IMO has had this task, without delivering, and that's why we are very clearly signaling we are losing patience," she said.

(Editing by Sophie Hares)

No binding climate deal at Durban, warn US, EU
Yahoo News 27 Apr 11;

BRUSSELS (AFP) – There will be no binding deal on emissions at this year's UN climate summit as the South African hosts and other economic powers are simply "not ready," the United States and Europe said on Wednesday.

"It is not a necessary thing to have right away," top US climate official Todd Stern said after European Union counterpart Connie Hedegaard admitted hopes of a breakthrough pact in Durban are already dead.

"The good news is that there is a general recognition of the necessity of a legally-binding agreement," EU climate action commissioner Connie Hedegaard said.

"The bad news is no legally-binding agreement deal will be done in Durban."

The pair spoke after a two-day meeting of the so-called Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate (MEF), a gathering of the world's 17 largest economies aimed at advancing efforts to cut greenhouse emissions, increase the supply of clean energy and mitigate global warming.

Stern said discussion focused on whether the UN summit would even articulate the goal of a legally-binding agreement "in the coming years."

"In a nutshell, our view is it would have to include all the major players -- China, India, Brazil, Russia, South Africa," he said, underlining that powerful states such as these are "not ready to have international, legally-binding obligations."

"I'm not even criticising that," he added, noting that China's rise, both as a major economic power and emitter, has also seen Beijing become one of the world's top developers of clean energy.

With US ratification also "a big hill to climb," a reminder that Washington did not pass the existing UN Kyoto Protocol, Stern argued that much can still be achieved even when agreements are not legally-binding.

He cited commercial international relations from post-World War II through to the 1995 formation of the World Trade Organization, insisting the WTO's predecessor "GATT wasn't legally-binding."

The key issue for participants ahead of Durban is how to bring timid agreements reached in Cancun, Mexico last December "to life," Stern said, especially getting a 'green fund' for investing in renewable energies "from paper to money flowing."

The UN climate process almost collapsed in a more ambitious effort 12 months earlier in Copenhagen, Denmark.

Stern stressed that it was too early to tell if a retreat from nuclear energy following the post-quake accident in Japan would make states less likely to commit to ambitious emissions-reduction demands.

He hinted, though, that shipping and aviation, major sectoral polluters along with farming on a global scale, were likely to be given more time to negotiate their own deals.

The International Maritime Organisation and the International Civil Aviation Organisation "are the right venues" for tackling the reliance on so-called bunker fuels, he said, although nations would seek to integrate these industries in the "relatively near term."

Read more!