Best of our wild blogs: 27 May 11

Free Chek Jawa Boardwalk outing on 11 June
from Adventures with the Naked Hermit Crabs

A salak palm, once thought to be lost to Singapore
from lekowala!

No longer extinct: a swamp forest palm! And more!
from Celebrating Singapore's Biodiversity!

Tanimbar Corella: Dextrous feet and powerful beaks
from Bird Ecology Study Group

And then there are five
from Life's Indulgences

Village Volksoper
from The annotated budak

Teochew Opera performance at Ubin
from Pulau Ubin Stories

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Roadside fruit for elderly, disabled

Plucking fruit without permission an offence
Feng Zengkun Straits Times 26 May 11;

THE low-hanging fruit on roadside trees may be tempting but do not pluck them - unless you have permission - for it is meant for the elderly and disabled, the National Parks Board (NParks) says.

It told The Straits Times yesterday that the harvest is given to its adopted charity, the Handicaps Welfare Association (HWA), which provides activities and rehabilitation for 1,900 people.

NParks was responding to queries from The Straits Times after users of citizen journalism website Stomp came across several people taking fruit from trees in the past month.

Of the 25,000 roadside fruit trees planted by the Government, many are mango trees - found mainly in Tampines, Hougang and Aljunied - which bear fruit at this time of the year.

Other fruit trees include coconut, jackfruit and rambutan.

Plucking fruit without permission is an offence which carries a fine of up to $5,000. But NParks said no one has been fined in recent years.

In the past month, three people have been caught on camera helping themselves to mangoes from trees in Aljunied, Tampines and Hougang.

Residents said these people may have done so thinking the fruit would go to waste otherwise.

Fruit that becomes ripe and falls to the ground can cause the area to become dirty and smell, some noted.

Mr Kelvin Cher, 28, an engineer who lives in Aljunied, occasionally sees smashed mangoes in the area.

'The floor becomes very sticky and attracts flies,' he said.

But NParks said its officers check the trees as part of their duties and monitor the ripeness of the fruit.

They tell the agency's subcontractors to harvest the fruit every two to three months, taking the ripe and almost ripe ones.

Mr Jason Rodrigo, 43, an assistant manager at HWA, said it gets two truckloads of fruit after every harvest and distributes it to its members.

'Some of them take the fruit home to make salads for their families,' he added.

NParks, which previously did not collect the fruit, said it started donating it after a particularly heavy fruiting season in 2009.

It added that it discourages people from taking the fruit themselves because they may not do so properly and could end up damaging the trees.

It said most people throw rocks or use bamboo poles to dislodge the fruit, which can tear the tree's bark and expose it to viruses.

Some fruit is also left unplucked for the native animal population. For example, the Asian glossy starling, a small bird, relies on soft fruits such as mango and papaya.

The agency said people who want the fruit should seek permission through residents' associations (RAs) or residents' committees (RCs).

It said it has no formal programme with these organisations, but that they occasionally seek the green light to harvest the fruit.

It declined to give the numbers that have approached it in total or on average, but said four RAs and RCs had contacted it in the past year. NParks will work with these organisations to make sure the fruit is properly harvested.

Mr Tan Teng Chuan, 55, chairman of Tampines Green RC, said he approaches the agency for permission to harvest the fruits when they ripen, usually in June.

He said: 'After we get the approval letter, we have gardeners in the committee who use professional, long fruit-cutters.'

Mr Tan added that the residents spread a net underneath the trees to catch the fruit.

'Usually, we give them to residents at the area's senior citizens' corner,' he said.

Several people The Straits Times spoke to were unaware that it is an offence to pluck roadside fruit, or that NParks gives it to a charity.

Mr Mervyn Chung, 30, a Serangoon resident, said: 'Usually you think, it's just fruit on a tree. So what if somebody takes one or a few?

'But now if I see someone taking the fruit, I might try to stop him,' said the teacher.

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Singapore firms lag in green reporting

Business Times 27 May 11;

However, they are expected to become more aware of sustainability reporting with the release of guidelines by SGX last August, reports LYNETTE KHOO

CORPORATE social responsibility (CSR) may not be a foreign concept to Singapore companies but it appears that articulating CSR policies and activities still isn't common practice here.

Singapore firms are seen lagging their regional peers in sustainability reporting. But accounting professionals and CSR lobbyists believe that this gap should narrow as efforts to spur 'green reporting' gather speed.

Thomas Thomas, executive director of Singapore Compact, a multi-stakeholder platform that promotes CSR, notes that with more stock exchanges globally requiring listed companies to issue sustainability reports, there has been an increase in sustainability reporting among companies here, particularly those with overseas businesses.

'Should Singapore Exchange (SGX) officially require sustainability reports from listed companies, that will of course be a considerable factor in advancing the practice,' Mr Thomas says.

In Singapore, there is no legislation or regulation on the disclosure of sustainability practices. It is also not mandatory for listed firms to disclose the social and environmental impact of their businesses.

A game changer

But in what was touted as a major development for sustainability reporting in Singapore, SGX released last August guidelines on sustainability reporting, encouraging all listed companies to undertake such reporting.

In so doing, the exchange recognises that investors are increasingly expecting companies to be accountable not just for their financial results but also for how they achieve the results and the impact on communities within which they operate.

'There is an increased need to provide hard evidence of the positive impact on society, the environment and the strategic returns for the business and how any negative effects are being addressed,' says Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA) in a report, Tomorrow's Balance Sheet, issued in February.

The report stressed that corporate reporting should 'not only allow but actively promote this new corporate philosophy' and urged companies to implement 'integrated reporting', which presents a more complete picture of a company's performance and factors influencing its long-term success.

Not many companies in Singapore have internalised this yet, if current estimates are anything to go by.

According to a report published by the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) in March last year, Singapore produced the least number of sustainability reports among five Asean countries.

A total of 21 companies in Singapore undertook some form of sustainability reporting - whether in annual reports or as standalone reports - between 2003 and 2009. Out of these, only 10 are listed companies, which include Banyan Tree, Keppel Land, Olam International, City Developments and Singapore Airlines.

The country with the highest number of companies producing sustainability reports was Malaysia, with 54 firms issuing such reports, out of which 49 are listed companies. What helped, perhaps, was Bursa Malaysia's requirement for listed companies to report on their CSR efforts and the impact of their businesses on the environment since 2007.

'Although the (Singapore) statistics may be less than encouraging, ACCA is optimistic that more companies will come on board,' says Darryl Wee, country head of ACCA Singapore.

'There is reason to expect a rise in the awareness of sustainability reporting and consequently greater disclosure following the release of the Singapore Stock Exchange's (SGX) policy statement on sustainability reporting guidelines,' he adds.

At the start, companies may feel apprehensive about having to be acquainted with the requirements, terminology and conventions in sustainability reporting, says Mr Thomas of Singapore Compact.

Then, there is the difficulty of gathering relevant and concise data from various departments as CSR permeates all departments and functions.

Many companies think that embarking on sustainability reporting is costly to implement and that they do not have qualified people to write such reports, Mr Wee adds.

But this boils down to the lack of awareness, he says. 'Most companies see sustainability reporting as resource-intensive, not realising that there are many options available to support organisations at different maturity levels of the reporting capabilities.'

For instance, the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) guidelines allow companies to choose the level of reporting based on their current needs and resources. They can start with a Level C report, taking a progressive approach and finally reaching Level A, and eventually getting a '+' when their reports are subject to external verification and assurance.

There are other reporting frameworks such as the UN Global Compact Communication on Progress, the ISO 26000 and International Integrated Reporting Committee's Integrated Reporting framework.

Mr Thomas reckons that there is no best reporting framework and a company's choice would come down to what they feel is most suited for conveying their practices and philosophy, and which framework may organise their information in the most appropriate way.

To help companies understand CSR and sustainability reporting, accounting firms and associations, such as CIMA, have launched reports and research on this issue. ACCA has tied up with Singapore Compact in organising three workshops per year to help companies understand how to put a sustainability report together.

Singapore Compact has also sought to build awareness among companies on how to undertake CSR in a sustainable manner through workshops, seminars and training sessions.

Doing well by doing good

Mr Thomas notes that while CSR awareness and implementation have grown in the past few years, there remains the misperception that CSR is about philanthropy and volunteerism - that is donating time and money.

'While these are definitely positive and laudable contributions, CSR in fact goes far beyond donations to actual day-to-day practices in corporate responsibility,' he says.

'It is about companies making sure they behave in a responsible manner and consider employees, partners, the community and other stakeholders, as part of their overall strategy in doing business, rather than making money first and then donating later as a separate act,' Mr Thomas adds. 'In this sense, there is quite a bit of space for improvement in CSR in Singapore.'

Failing to recognise the importance of CSR and making CSR efforts known can be costly. A case in point was the deadly explosion on a British Petroleum (BP) oil rig last year, resulting in the biggest oil spill ever in the Gulf of Mexico.

On top of the cost of plugging the leak, BP lost one-third of its market value and dealt a severe blow to its credibility, having topped rankings in environmental, sustainability and social impacts among major oil and gas companies earlier.

But one doesn't need to look too far to draw similar lessons. In Singapore, listed palm oil producer Golden-Agri Resources has lost big-name clients such as Unilever, Kraft and Nestle in the wake of allegations from Greenpeace that its Indonesian unit was clearing forest illegally in the country last year.

Some years ago, palm oil giant Wilmar International was also accused by Friends of the Earth Netherlands that it was illegally using fires to clear forest land for estates in 2006.

These two palm oil producers, which have denied those allegations, have since been active in sustainability initiatives and made these efforts publicly known through sustainability reporting, based on the GRI framework.

Both companies have become members of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), an industry group of palm oil players to develop and implement standards for sustainable palm oil production, and are now seeking RSPO certification for all their plantation operations.

According to Peter Heng, Golden-Agri managing director for sustainability and communications, the company is developing a Yield Improvement Policy and a Social and Community Engagement Policy, on top of a newly launched forest conservation policy in collaboration with conservation group The Forest Trust.

Wilmar CSR manager Sharon Chong notes that undertaking CSR helps enhance the group's reputation and risk management. 'As a leading Asian agri-business group, we recognise that our operations will have an impact on the environment and the society in which we operate,' she adds. 'Therefore, we have to do the right things and do things right.'

Global Palm Resources, another Indonesian oil palm producer listed in Singapore and a member of the RSPO, has not issued a standalone sustainability report yet, though it has a detailed sustainability section in its annual reports. It has, however, emphasised CSR as 'an essential role in the long-term success' of its business and its commitment to 'triple bottom-lines'.

'We are currently conducting a company-wide strategic planning process to align our company around the shared goal of sustainable development, and will definitely evaluate the need for standalone sustainability reports in the longer term,' says Global Palm executive chairman and CEO Suparno Adijanto.

Besides a longstanding 'zero burning' policy and a 'zero waste' policy, Global Palm has an ongoing Plasma programme with the government, under which some 2,835 ha of plantation land is cultivated by 1,400 small landholders. It is now working on a clean development mechanism to derive revenue from trading carbon credits.

The extra mile

Global Palm has gone further in providing social welfare for the local communities. It has been providing housing, treated water and proper sanitation to families of employees and local farmers, as well as pre-primary and primary school education for some 430 children of its workers.

As for Singapore conglomerate Keppel Corp, group corporate communications general manager Wang Look Fung says its first standalone sustainability report based on the GRI framework will be available in June. Its property arm Keppel Land is the main sponsor for a mobile library project 'Words on Wheels' in Hanoi, Vietnam. Launched by Singapore International Foundation, the project seeks to grant some 4,000 village children access to story books, computer terminals with Internet capability, as well as educational games and toys.

'Currently, Singaporean companies do not have the practice of articulating their CSR efforts, whether it is investing in staff training, corporate philanthropy, protecting the environment or ensuring a safe working environment for staff,' Ms Wang says. 'I guess this is very Asian in culture.'

But this is about to change as more companies are encouraged to share best practices in CSR and benefit from one another's efforts, she adds.

Mr Wee of ACCA notes that as Singapore companies seek to become global players, 'financial performance alone may no longer be sufficient to secure a market leader position as global investors demand leadership in both financial strength and corporate social responsibility'.

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Singapore water industry's share of GDP to hit $1.25b

Business-friendly environment leads to investment flow; local firms gain $8.4b in foreign deals
Feng Zengkun Straits Times 27 May 11;

INVESTMENTS are pouring into Singapore's water industry.

Over the last five years, projects have been launched that will eventually add $590 million to the country's gross domestic product (GDP). This will take the industry's share of GDP to $1.25 billion - nearly double what it was in 2005.

Experts said the surge in investments is due to Singapore's business-friendly environment, which attracts foreign firms to set up regional headquarters here, as well as more local companies venturing into the water business.

Meanwhile, Singapore-based water companies have made a splash overseas by winning projects worth $8.4 billion.

The figures were announced yesterday at a joint update by the national water agency PUB, the Economic Development Board (EDB) and International Enterprise Singapore.

They come at the half-way mark of a 10-year plan for the Singapore water industry announced in 2006. Then, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong identified environmental and water technologies as a key research area for the country.

The target: $1.7 billion in annual GDP and 11,000 jobs created by 2015. The latest investments have carried the country to more than two-thirds of the way to the finishing line.

Yesterday, the agencies said they are confident of meeting the targets by the deadline.

Ten foreign companies have set up regional headquarters here for water projects since 2006, including engineering giants Black and Veatch, and Siemens Water Technologies.

The firms said they were drawn by the strong government backing in the industry and the ease of doing business here.

Siemens spokesman Yeang Chuan Hui said: 'The Government has made it clear... it wants to stay at the forefront of this industry.'

In 2006, the National Research Foundation committed $330 million in funding over five years for water projects.

In the same year, the inter-agency Environment and Water Industry Programme Office (EWI) was set up to help firms develop their businesses.

A home-grown company that has benefited from the programme is Mint, which creates sensors for water treatment plants. General manager Adrian Yeo, 33, said the initiative halved the set-up cost of his business.

Under the programme, he was given a place to test his technology in PUB's plants, and technical support from the agency's experts. The technology has since been installed in PUB's Bedok Newater plant. 'Now I'm hoping to sell the product to overseas investors at the International Water Week in July,' he said.

The EWI has helped around 100 projects since its inception. Representatives from the programme said these included local companies, and firms from Japan, the United States and Europe.

Singapore-based companies have also burnished the country's reputation in the industry by winning large projects overseas.

Projects in the Middle East and North Africa made up the bulk of the $8.4 billion in overseas contracts won over the last five years, said Mr Yeoh Keat Chuan, assistant managing director of the EDB.

He added that this was because projects there tend to be larger in scale. 'But there is growing demand for water projects in regional countries such as Vietnam, China and Australia,' he said.

Singapore-based companies have made in-roads in all three countries by setting up water treatment or desalination plants.

Over the next few years, the agencies plan to continue Singapore's focus on research and development.

They are also looking to expand their presence in important markets like China and emerging ones such as India and Indonesia.

One strategy could be to serve as matchmakers between water tech companies and financing companies.

'Scientific research and support for companies are our strengths,' said Mr Goh Chee Kiong, director of EDB's cleantech division.

'If the agencies continue to band together to help companies from research and development to exporting their products, I think the industry here will grow from strength to strength.'

Water industry investments doubled in Singapore
Hoe Yeen Nie Channel NewsAsia 26 May 11;

SINGAPORE: Investments in Singapore's water industry have doubled in size in the last five years - up from S$660 million in GDP value-add in 2005.

And the government is confident it can meet its target of S$1.7 billion in annual GDP value-add by 2015.

Over the years, Singapore has turned what used to be a scarcity into its strength and now the water industry is seen as a growth area for the country.

In 2006, the target was to grow the sector such that it will contribute S$1.7 billion in annual GDP value by 2015, and to create 11,000 jobs.

Representatives from the Environment & Water Industry Programme Office (EWI) on Thursday expressed confidence that the target would be met.

The EWI is an inter-agency office, led by national water agency PUB, the Economic Development Board and IE Singapore.

They gave figures showing that investments by water companies in the last five years, when fully realised, will add about S$590 million in value add to the economy, as well as create about 2,300 professional and skilled jobs.

Singapore is now home to about 70 local and international water companies.

At the same time, Singapore companies have also secured overseas projects worth a total of S$8.4 billion.

Key markets include the Middle East and China. For instance, the technology used to recycle water - similar to the technology behind Newater - is being applied to a plant in the Bundamba Advanced Water Treatment Plant in Queensland, Australia.

The EDB said that Singapore's strength lies primarily in research and development as well as providing support for companies.

Yeoh Keat Chuan, Assistant MD of the EDB, said: "The early part of the effort was focussed on rolling out a number of initiatives relating to R&D. That typically takes a longer gestation period.

"We are at the point now where we're hoping to see some of those results, where technologies get rolled out into the marketplace after being test-bedded in Singapore, and that will generate higher value-added projects."

One key activity is the test bedding of new technologies, which Singapore has made easier due to the infrastructure, accessibility and the willingness to take on these often capital-intensive projects.

Singapore's willingness to take on capital-intensive test-bedding projects, is also a draw for foreign companies.

PUB said since 2006, there have been 107 test-bedding projects conducted here in collaboration with PUB and private R&D firms and institutions.

Ng Han Tong, Director of Industry Development at the PUB, said: "In their own country, they find difficulties finding test-bedding sites for their technologies to be tested. That's one reason.

"Secondly, if they need to do test-bedding, they have to travel very far. But Singapore is so compact, so concentrated, they are always in close proximity to their test-bedding."

Over the next few years, government agencies plan to continue Singapore's focus on research and development.

They are also looking to expand their presence in markets like China and emerging ones such as India and Indonesia.

One strategy would be to serve as matchmakers between water tech companies and financing companies.

Goh Chee Kiong, Director of the Cleantech Division at the EDB, said: "They tend to be capital-intensive. And very often, financing is the bottle-neck. Because if they can't raise the financing, even at the governmental level, they'll find it difficult to implement their plans for their populations.

"That will be what we hope could be the value that Singapore can provide to companies and countries in the region."

- CNA/ir/ac

Water sector keeps jobs, GDP taps flowing
Industry on track to hit target of 11,000 jobs created, $1.7b GDP share by 2015
Lynn Kan Business Times 27 May 11;

(SINGAPORE) Investment into Singapore's water industry has doubled over the last five years - up from 2005 when the industry contributed $660 million and 6,300 jobs to the economy.

When these investments secured between 2006 and 2010 are fully realised, they will add $590 million to gross domestic product and generate 2,300 jobs.

The thriving water industry is on track to hit its target of 11,000 jobs created and $1.7 billion in GDP contribution by 2015, said the Environment and Water Industry Programme Office (EWI) yesterday.

The inter-agency EWI - comprising the Economic Development Board (EDB), the Public Utilities Board (PUB) and IE Singapore - was set up in 2006 to spearhead the growth trajectory of Singapore's water industry.

Water-starved Singapore has turned its weakness into strength. In the process, it has created homegrown successes like Hyflux and Sembcorp Industries that compete internationally.

Since 2006, such Singapore-based companies have garnered $8.4 billion in overseas contracts.

They have struck gold particularly in the Middle East-North Africa (MENA) region, landing 17 large-scale projects worth $6.6 billion.

This compares to the 144 projects in China and the rest of the world that amount to $1.8 billion collectively.

The promise of the global water industry is sparkling, said IE Singapore's divisional director of environmental and engineering services Leong Teng Chau.

'Two key trends will help water companies: rapid urbanisation and industrial development,' said Mr Leong. 'Urbanisation means a demand for the municipal water solutions companies and industrialisation will help the industries-oriented water players.'

The global water market is valued at over US$500 billion.

Over half of this is made up by the municipal water market while industrial needs made up 10 per cent.

Singapore's competitive advantage is offering opportunities 'across the entire innovation chain' - from R&D and testbedding, to manufacturing and to helping companies to commercialise and export their services, said EDB director of cleantech, Goh Chee Kiong.

The strong government-supported water industry has also made the difference.

National water agency PUB is 'experimental' where other public utilities boards err on the side of conservativeness.

'The reasons why foreign companies come here to testbed new ideas is because PUB offers facilities to do so whereas their own countries don't often do. And these sites are close by to them as well,' said PUB's director for industry development Ng Han Tong.

It is perhaps no surprise that the number of testbedding projects has grown from 15 to 107 in the past five years.

Some have moved on to commercialisation, like Grahamtek's reverse osmosis system.

The Singaporean company first piloted its technology at the Bedok NEWater plant in 2004 before launching it into commercialisation in 2006.

Some Chinese water solutions companies, like United Envirotech and Sinomem Technology, have listed here to financing muscle in the stock market.

In addition, the hoped-for 'ecosystem effect' of the marketplace has led to research collaborations and firms forming consortiums to offer comprehensible water solutions and to jointly bid for contracts.

Mr Goh cited the example of Sembcorp Industries' successful bid to build-own-operate a desalination plant in Oman. 'But because of the Singapore ecosystem effect, they are working with Hyflux very closely, who is providing ultra-filtration membranes for the project,' he said.

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Kalimantan center of world`s flora

Antara 26 May 11;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - Kalimantan Island (Borneo) is one of the world`s flora center because the diversity of trees in a small plot of land in the island`s forest equals to those in the whole Papua or South America, according to the forestry ministry`s a press statement.

The Island has the richest flora on the Sunda Islands because it has 10,000 to 15,000 special of floral plants.

The flora diversity on the Borneo island is as rich as those in the whole Africa, which is 40 times bigger than Borneo.

The diversity of Borneo Island`s flora covers the Asian and Australian elements with more than 3,000 trees, including 267 species of Dipterocarpaceae (58 percent of them are endemic Dipterocarpaceae species) and belongs to the most important commercial wood in Asia.

It has also over 2,000 orchid species, 1,000 fern species and various species of "kantong semar" (Nepenthes sp.).

The endemic plant rate is also very high, namely 34 percent of plant species and 59 plant families are only found on the island.

Kalimantan has the high biodiversity and flora rates thanks to its geographical condition. The majority of the island`s geography is in coastal abd river areas and the height of almost half of its land is below 150 meters of the sea level.

These conditions have made Kalimantan an ideal place for various floral plants to grow.

Its tropical climate. constant temperature and high rainfall rate with even distribution make the Borneo forests always green all the years.

Kalimantan is the world`s third largest island after Greenland and Irian island. The island is located in three countries, namely Indonesia, Malaysia (Serawak, Sabah), and Brunai Darusalam.

The island is part of the Sunda Island chain consisting of two parts, namely Big Sunda Islands: Kalimantan, Java, and Sumatra; and Little Sunda Islands: Bali, Lombok, Sumbawa, Flores, Sumba, Timor, Barat Daya Islands, and Tanimbar Islands.(*)

Editor: Heru

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Indonesian Forestry Ministry to compensate victims of human-animal conflicts

Antara 26 May 11;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - The forestry ministry plans to compensate victims of human-animal conflicts which often occur on Sumatra Island.

"We in fact don`t have a special budget for this, but people who become victims in conflicts with wild animals, deserve compensation," Forestry Minister Zulkifli Hasan said here Wednesday after visiting the Elephant Training Center at Way Kambas National park, eastern Lampung, southern Sumatra.

The number of conflicts between Sumatran elephants (elephas maximus sumatraensis) and local residents has increased lately.

In 2010, there were a total of 100 conflicts involving herds of 5-35 elephants.

This year, there have been 17 conflicts, excluding successful efforts to drive away wild elephants back to their habitat at the national parks.

Ahmad Suyudi, the head of Banjar Asri Village, which is located next to the Way Kambas National Park (TNWK), said his village`s residents have suffered huge losses because elephants often eat up their crops.

According to date from an integrated team to handle the human-elephant conflicts in East Lampung district, around 174 hectares of farming areas located at 22 villages surrounding TNWK, were destroyed by elephants in 2010, inflicting material losses worth Rp2.61 billion.

The 125,000-ha TNWK is a home for around 200-250 elephants.

The forestry ministry`s Director General for Forest Protection and Nature Conservation Darori said the ministry has various efforts to deal with the human and wild animal conflicts on Sumatra Island.

Editor: Priyambodo RH

No End to Human-Animal War: WWF
Fidelis E. Satriastanti Jakarta Globe 29 May 11;

The government’s plan to compensate victims of human-animal conflicts is a positive move but will not put an end to the phenomenon, a activist from the World Wildlife Fund says.

Samsuardi, head of WWF Indonesia’s human-elephant conflict mitigation program, said on Sunday that compensation for damage to property or crops as a result of wild animals encroaching would only apply to conservation areas.

“It’s easy to talk about compensation if elephants originate from conservation areas such as the Way Kambas National Park, in which case they can at least be lured back to the park,” he said.

“But it’s different with elephants not coming from conservation areas. These elephants run amok in villages almost every day, so you can imagine how vulnerable people in those areas would be.”

He was responding to an announcement on Wednesday by Forestry Minister Zulkifli Hasan that people who suffered losses as a result of conflicts with wild animals would receive compensation, even though the ministry has not been allocated funding for such contingencies.

In Sumatra, 17 incidents of elephants encroaching into human settlements have so far been reported this year. Last year, there were 100 such incidents involving herds of as many as 35 elephants.

In East Lampung district, home to 22 villages near Way Kambas, elephants damaged 174 hectares of rice paddies last year and caused estimated losses of Rp 2.61 billion ($300,000).

Samsuardi argued the elephants were not always to blame for the conflicts. He said that in Riau province, 80 percent of the elephants had been driven out of conservation areas as a result of habitat destruction.

“If the issue of habitat destruction is not addressed, then the human-animal conflicts won’t end,” he said.

“Take for instance the Balai Raja Wildlife Reserve in Riau’s Duri district. It was initially an 18,000 hectare reserve, but now only 100 hectares of it can be considered adequate habitat for wild animals. As a result, we expect to see a lot of human-animal conflicts there this year.”

Samsuardi said conflicts in Riau so far this year had resulted in damage to two homes and the deaths of three elephants.

Previously, Darori, director general of forest protection and nature conservation at the Forestry Ministry, said his office had taken several steps to reduce the incidence of these conflicts.

He said the steps included increasing the frequency of patrols in areas with a high rate of animal encroachment, particularly in the villages on the periphery of Way Kambas, which has an estimated elephant population of 200 to 250.

Additionally, the ministry has allocated some 20 hectares of land in the area to grow food specifically for the wild elephants, such as bamboo, bananas and sugar cane crops.

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Malaysia: Kelantan Government Urged To Stop Logging At Water Catchment Areas

Bernama 26 May 11;

PASIR PUTEH, May 26 (Bernama) -- The Kelantan PAS government has been urged to stop logging activities in water catchment areas in Bukit Ulu Sat and Bukit Tapong here to prevent negative repercussions for the more than 300 people living on the fringes of the highlands.

Pasir Puteh parliamentary constituency's agriculture development council chairman, Zawawi Othman, said several logging companies had been given approval to log a 200ha area.

He said their activities had disrupted water supply to villagers, especially smallholders under the Felcra scheme.

"They use the water for drinking, bathing, cleaning and also irrigation," he said when met here Thursday.

Residents had complained of frequent water disruptions as well as muddy water supply when heavy rain occurred in eroded areas.

Zawawi noted that the two locations had served as water catchment areas for the past three decades, with all forms of land-related activities having been forbidden to safeguard the interest of the community.

Wild elephants had also been sighted near villages as the animals were pushed out of their natural habitats due to logging activities, said Zawawi.

"The villagers are now living in fear as it's risky to carry out farming activities and tap rubber," he said.

He claimed that Pasir Puteh residents and businesses also suffered frequent water shortages as the Rasau River, which is fed by water from the Bukit Tapong catchment area, was drying up.


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Philippines: Militant group demands action vs marine poachers

Jocelyn R. Uy Philippine Daily Inquirer 26 May 11;

MANILA, Philippines—A militant fisherfolk organization demanded Thursday that the Bureau of Customs and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources identify, and hale to court the poachers behind the recent “mass murder” of marine life off the South Cotabato coast.

“Name names and charge those behind the mass murder of marine environment before any appropriate court. The missing link is the names of people behind this long-running syndicate and major plunder of Philippine marine resources,” said Pamalakaya chair Fernando Hicap.

But in the same breath, it lamented that the government cannot curb the syndicate that continues to plunder the country’s rich waters because of the puny penalties under the law that supposedly protects endangered and rare marine life.

Hicap said big-time poachers funded by foreign and influential corporations can easily buy their freedom since the Philippine Fisheries Code of 1998 provides only for small fines and little time in jail for violators.

“While the law bans the gathering and selling of corals, the punishment of violators is very light, with imprisonment of six months to two years and a fine of P2,000 to P20,000,” said Hicap.

“It was never meant to protect the country’s resources from big-time poachers,” he added.

Two weeks ago, Customs officials thwarted a plan to smuggle out of the country P35 million worth of stuffed turtles of the endangered kind, black corals and sea shells.

Pamalakaya said the “rape of the Philippine ocean” was a running story in the country.

The group pointed to a US-based company, Shell Horizons Inc., reportedly engaged in the wholesale harvesting and selling of corals from the Philippines.

“[The firm's] website, viewed 10 million times since 1998, parades itself as ‘US Largest Wholesaler of Seashells and Seashell Products, Finest Quality Seashells and Souvenirs Since 1976,” according to the group.

A check on the website showed the company was selling exotic seashells and corals. But it noted that none of the corals it was selling came from the Philippines.

Pamalakaya reminded the government that the Philippines was a signatory to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, which strongly prohibits the harvesting and trading of corals.

“This long-running crime of plunder and environmental destruction must be stopped,” said Hicap.

The government must exercise all its powers and mobilize all its resources to stop such “transnational predator” from further destroying the country’s marine biodiversity, he added.

The Philippines forms the central core of the “coral triangle,” which refers to the triangular area of the tropical marine waters also of Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and East Timor.

The “coral triangle” is home to over 500 species of reef-building corals. The country’s 7,107 islands encompass some 27,000 square kilometers of coral reefs.

Incoming fisheries chief vows to stop coral reef destruction
Delfin T. Mallari, Jr. Inquirer Southern Luzon 26 May 11;

LUCENA CITY, Philippines—Environmentalist lawyer Asis Perez, the incoming director of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, vowed on Thursday to stop the destruction of coral reefs in the Philippines seas, which he described as rampant.

The coral reef “is the most abused eco-system not only because of the lucrative coral collection trade, but mostly due to actual destruction as result of continuous irresponsible fishing methods like dynamite fishing,” Perez said in a telephone interview.

Perez said he would focus on “educating the citizenry” on the importance of preserving the country’s fragile marine resources, particularly coral reefs.

“Most of our people are not yet aware of the importance of our corals. We have to seriously address that problem. The first step toward the a creation of a balanced environment and the preservation of our precious natural resources is to have an enlightened citizenry,” said Perez, former executive director of Tanggol Kalikasan (Defense of Nature), a public interest environmental law office.

He said most of the people are likely to follow the law if they know, and understand what it is all about.

Perez said the cost of educating the citizens about the importance of the environment was modest “but its impact on the environment would be immeasurable.”

On Tuesday, government authorities reported the confiscation of thousands of black corals which had been taken from a reef complex off Miondanao’s Cotabato area.

Bureau of Customs personnel intercepted the contraband two weeks ago and recovered 21,169 pieces of “sea fan” black corals, and hundreds of “sea whip” black corals.

Perez lamented that coral reef poaching was still rampant in the country, particularly in the seas off the Zamboanga Peninsula and the Cotabato area.

He also noted that in the past corals were used in construction. “Most of our old piers were built with coral foundations,” he said.

Perez said one of his challenges when he assumes the BFAR post is the shortage of personnel to enforce the laws meant to protect the country’s marine eco-system.

“While BFAR has an enforcement function, we lack enforcement personnel,” he said, noting that the bureau has to rely on other law enforcement units to combat coral reef poachers.

He said BFAR was also handicapped in that it had no authority to enforce the law in municipal waters where the coral reefs are often located.

The BFAR, which is under the Department of Agriculture, is responsible for the development, improvement, management and conservation of the country’s fisheries and aquatic resources. It was reconstituted as a line bureau by Republic Act No. 8550 (Philippine Fisheries Code of 1998).

Perez, who was recognized by the Species Survival Network, a global coalition of 82 organizations in more than 30 countries, as a “true protector of wildlife resources,” took his oath of office as BFAR chief last Monday. He will assume office on June 1.

He will replace Gil Adora, the officer in charge appointed after Malcolm Sarmiento retired last month.

Perez said he would push for more police visibility to keep watch on the country’s municipal waters.

“Because even if the people were aware of the law, there are still some of them who would violate it if there’s a chance,” he said.

Citing the experience of Tanggol Kalikasan in the campaign to protect and preserve the Sierra Madre section of Isabela, Perez said that after more than a year of continuous operations against illegal loggers, and educating the people about the importance of preserving the forest, at least 90 percent of local residents expressed approval over what the conservationists were doing.

“But we still have to face the remaining ten percent of the people as potential violators. Educating the people is one thing, police visibility is another because there are still threats from potential violators,” he said.

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Seafood Fraud Hurts Ocean Conservation: Report

Deborah Zabarenko PlanetArk 26 May 11;

U.S. seafood fraud -- where farmed, imported or endangered fish is sold as wild, local and sustainably-managed -- is hurting efforts to preserve ocean diversity, conservation advocates said on Wednesday.

The widespread practice is also hitting consumers who are occasionally sold cheaper or even dangerous products at premium prices, according to the marine conservation group Oceana.

While 84 percent of U.S. seafood is imported, the Food and Drug Administration inspects only 2 percent of imports for health concerns, and less than 0.001 percent of imports for fraud, said Michael Hirshfield, the group's chief scientist.

Seafood fraud can include substituting a common species for a rare one, an endangered species for one that is sustainably managed, a cultivated species for one that is caught in the wild, Hirshfield said at a briefing.

Labels on some frozen fish don't help, the group said in a report issued as part of a campaign to stop seafood fraud. The country of origin on the package refers to an imported product's last stop before coming to the United States, not where the fish was caught, the report found.

A fish caught anywhere in the Pacific Basin could be labeled as originating in China if that is where it was processed. If seafood is served in a restaurant or comes with a sauce, it's exempt from this label.

"Seafood fraud hurts our oceans by being the key way we facilitate illegal fishing," Hirshfield said. "It also undermines the general impression about how well a particular species may be doing in the ocean. If everywhere you go, you see red snapper for sale, you're not necessarily going to be believe the scientists who say red snapper's in trouble."


Red snapper is listed as one fish to avoid by the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch, which offers science-based recommendations on "ocean-friendly" seafood here

Red snapper is among those considered overfished, or caught or farmed in ways that harm other marine life.

As an illustration, the group served journalists samples of red snapper and tilapia, both with an identical lemon caper butter sauce. Few in the room could taste the difference, but the difference in price is dollars per pound.

Mislabeling can also pose health hazards. If crab or other shellfish is included in packages of fin fish, those with shellfish allergies won't know to avoid it, the group said.

To combat seafood fraud, "the most important step is traceability," Steve Vilnit of the Maryland Fisheries Service said in an email. "Knowing the specifics about where, how and by whom your seafood is harvested greatly reduces the risk of fraud."

Todd Gray, chef at a Washington restaurant that promotes sustainably caught seafood, said that while it is now relatively easy to know where produce, dairy items and meats come from, seafood is more difficult to track to its source.

"We can meet our farmers," Gray said. "It would be great if we could get there one day with our seafood."

(Editing by Vicki Allen)

Tests Reveal Mislabeling of Fish
Elisabeth Rosenthal New York Times 26 May 11;

Scientists aiming their gene sequencers at commercial seafood are discovering rampant labeling fraud in supermarket coolers and restaurant tables: cheap fish is often substituted for expensive fillets, and overfished species are passed off as fish whose numbers are plentiful.

Yellowtail stands in for mahi-mahi. Nile perch is labeled as shark, and tilapia may be the Meryl Streep of seafood, capable of playing almost any role.

Recent studies by researchers in North America and Europe harnessing the new techniques have consistently found that 20 to 25 percent of the seafood products they check are fraudulently identified, fish geneticists say.

Labeling regulation means little if the “grouper” is really catfish or if gulf shrimp were spawned on a farm in Thailand.

Environmentalists, scientists and foodies are complaining that regulators are lax in policing seafood, and have been slow to adopt the latest scientific tools even though they are now readily available and easy to use.

“Customers buying fish have a right to know what the heck it is and where it’s from, but agencies like the F.D.A. are not taking this as seriously as they should,” said Michael Hirshfield, chief scientist of the nonprofit group Oceana, referring to the Food and Drug Administration.

On Wednesday, Oceana released a new report titled “Bait and Switch: How Seafood Fraud Hurts Our Oceans, Our Wallets and Our Health.” With rates of fraud in some species found to run as high as 70 percent, the report concluded, the United States needs to “increase the frequency and scope” of its inspections.

DNA bar coding, as it is called, looks at gene sequences in the fish’s flesh. “The genetics have been revolutionary,” said Stefano Mariani, a marine researcher at University College Dublin, who has published research on the topic. “The DNA bar coding technique is now routine, like processing blood or urine. And we should be doing frequent, random spot checks on seafood like we do on athletes.”

Policing the seafood industry has historically been challenging because even the most experienced fishmongers are hard pressed to distinguish certain steaks or fillets without the benefit of scales or fins. And many arrive in supermarkets frozen and topped with an obscuring sauce.

Older laboratory techniques to identify fish meat looked at the mix of proteins in flesh samples, but were unreliable, expensive and cumbersome. Investigators often relied instead on laborious legwork, tracking inconsistent fish names on paperwork as seafood moved across international borders. Eighty-four percent of seafood consumed in the United States is now imported, often passing through a multistep global supply chain.

With the new genetic techniques, the gene sequence found in a fish sample is compared with an electronic reference library like that maintained by the International Barcode of Life Project, which now covers 8,000 varieties of fish compiled by biologists over the last five years. The testing is now relatively cheap: commercial labs charge about $2,000 for analyzing 100 fish samples, for an average of $20 apiece, but the cost is under $1 per sample for labs that own the equipment.

Douglas Karas, a spokesman for the F.D.A., said in an e-mail that the agency had been working with scientists to “validate” DNA testing for several years. It recently purchased gene sequencing equipment for five F.D.A. field laboratories and hoped to use it “on a routine basis” by the end of this year.

This new type of scrutiny could allow hundreds of thousands of samples to be tested each year, rather than the hundreds that are now rigorously analyzed, said Dr. Paul Hebert, scientific director of the Barcode of Life project, based in Guelph, Ontario. In March, the F.D.A. issued an alert to inspectors about mislabeled fish. It had already used bar coding as irrefutable evidence to prosecute sellers or issue warnings involving seafood “misbranding,” Mr. Karas said, much as prosecutors use DNA evidence in sex crime cases.

But it will take time to clamp down on a lucrative and, apparently, widespread practice. Dale Sims, chief fishmonger for Cleanfish, a San Francisco-based supplier of high-end sustainable seafood, said he’d seen thresher shark labeled as shark, swordfish and mahi-mahi all in the same market, as well as many other obvious substitutions.

“It infuriates me but it’s hard to correct,” he said. “I’m embarrassed to say that there’s been a lot of fragmentation in this industry. So if someone is unscrupulous, it’s been easy to get away with it.”

For consumers, the issue is about dollars and cents — wanting to get the quality and type of fish they paid for. “If you’re ordering steak, you would never be served horse meat,” said Dr. Hirshfield of Oceana. “But you can easily be ordering snapper and get tilapia or Vietnamese catfish.”

Environmentalists worry that duped diners may be unwittingly contributing to declining fish stocks, buying food they have been told to avoid. Dr. Hebert said that in testing samples from the United States and Canada, his lab had even detected meat from endangered sharks being sold to diners. “If it were labeled endangered species,” he said, “you couldn’t sell it and you wouldn’t buy it, right?”

Most of the research has been done not by regulators but by individual fish biologists and geneticists; to date no definitive national study has been carried out on the scope of the fraud.

Dana Miller, a doctoral student who worked with Dr. Mariani in Dublin studying the mislabeling of cod, the most popular fish in Ireland, said, “we expected with all the policies and legislation and inspections, the numbers would be pretty low.” But 25 percent of samples of fresh cod and haddock and over 80 percent of the smoked products, were in fact something else. Irish cod stocks are overfished.

“If you can’t even trust that the name is right, then how can you trust anything else on the package, including the date?” she said. In Europe, seafood labels include the fishery where it was caught. In the United States, it must list only a “country of origin” although that is often the processing country rather than where it is caught.

The group Cleanfish is experimenting with an electronic tagging system through which each fisherman or processor would enter his code onto a tag on each fish, making its journey from the sea to the plate fully transparent. Cleanfish buys only whole fish since its outward appearance helps to verify its identity.

And bar coding is becoming more accessible every year. Today, fish samples are sent to labs for testing, but scientists predict that there will be desktop DNA bar coding systems within five years and, in 10, inspectors will carry hand-held detectors.

“Everyone should be using this technique — there should be spot checks and fines,” said Dr. Hebert of the DNA bar coding project. “If there were no speed traps and radar checks, there would be a lot more speeding.”

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Scientists Argue Against Conclusion That Bacteria Consumed Deepwater Horizon Methane

ScienceDaily 26 May 11;

A technical comment published in the May 27 edition of the journal Science casts doubt on a widely publicized study that concluded that a bacterial bloom in the Gulf of Mexico consumed the methane discharged from the Deepwater Horizon well.

The debate has implications for the Gulf of Mexico ecosystem as well as for predictions of the effect of global warming, said marine scientist and lead author Samantha Joye, University of Georgia Athletic Association Professor in Arts and Sciences.

Based on methane and oxygen distributions measured at 207 stations in the Gulf of Mexico, a study published in the January 21, 2011 edition of Science concluded that "nearly all" of the methane released from the well was consumed in the water column within approximately 120 days of the release. In the current paper in Science, Joye and co-authors from 12 other institutions make the case that uncertainties in the hydrocarbon discharge from the blowout, oxygen depletion fueled by processes other than methane consumption, a problematic interpretation of genetic data and shortcomings of the model used by the authors of the January study challenge the attribution of low oxygen zones to the oxidation of methane gas.

"Our goal is to understand what happened to the methane released from the Macondo discharge and in the larger framework, to better understand the factors that regulate microbial methane consumption following large-scale gas releases," said Joye, a professor in the UGA Franklin College of Arts and Sciences. "I believe there is still a lot to learn about the environmental factors that regulate methane consumption in the Gulf's waters and elsewhere."

Joye and her co-authors note that low levels of oxygen are known to occur in the Gulf of Mexico because of bacterial consumption of carbon inputs from the Mississippi River as well as the bacterial consumption of hydrocarbons that naturally seep from the seafloor. The researchers point out that given the uncertainty in oxygen and methane budgets, strong supporting evidence is required to attribute oxygen depletion to methane removal; however, a study published in the October 8, 2010 edition of Science showed low measured rates of methane consumption by bacteria. Joye and her co-authors note that samples from the control stations and the low-oxygen stations that were analyzed for unique genetic markers in the January 2011 study showed no significant difference in the abundance of methane consuming bacteria. Joye and her colleagues also argue that the model the study used neglected important factors that affect the transport and biodegradation of methane, and that it only provided a tentative match of the observational data.

Methane is a potent greenhouse gas, and understanding the fate of the methane released from the Deepwater Horizon well has implications for the entire planet, since global warming is likely to accelerate the release of methane that is currently trapped in hydrates on the seafloor. Based on the conclusion that bacteria had rapidly consumed the methane released from the Deepwater Horizon well, the January 2011 Science paper suggested that methane released from the oceans may not be likely to amplify an already warming climate.

Joye and her colleagues note that several other studies have found that considerable amounts of methane released from natural deep-sea vents are not consumed by microbes. The most vulnerable store of methane hydrates is not in the Gulf of Mexico, they also point out, but in the deposits that underlie the shallow waters of the Arctic.

"A range of data exists that shows a significant release of methane seeping out at the seafloor to the atmosphere, indicating that the microbial biofilter is not as effective," Joye said. "Importantly for the future of the planet, there is even less evidence for a strong biofilter of methane hydrate destabilized in the shallow Arctic settings."

Joye's co-authors include Ira Leifer, University of California, Santa Barbara; Ian MacDonald, Jeffery Chanton and Joel Kostka, Florida State University; Christof Meile, University of Georgia; Andreas Teske, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill; Ludmila Chistoserdova and Evan Solomon, University of Washington, Seattle; Richard Coffin, U.S. Naval Research Laboratory; David Hollander, University of South Florida; Miriam Kastner, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California, San Diego; Joseph Montoya, Georgia Institute of Technology; Gregor Rehder, Leibniz Institute for Baltic Sea Research; Tina Treude, Leibniz Institute of Marine Sciences and; Tracy Villareal, University of Texas at Austin.

Journal Reference:

S. B. Joye, I. Leifer, I. R. MacDonald, J. P. Chanton, C. D. Meile, A. P. Teske, J. E. Kostka, L. Chistoserdova, R. Coffin, D. Hollander, M. Kastner, J. P. Montoya, G. Rehder, E. Solomon, T. Treude, T. A. Villareal. Comment on "A Persistent Oxygen Anomaly Reveals the Fate of Spilled Methane in the Deep Gulf of Mexico". Science, 2011; 332 (6033): 1033 DOI: 10.1126/science.1203307

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BP oil spill partly blamed for Gulf dolphin deaths

Yahoo News 27 May 11;

MIAMI (AFP) – The deaths of over 150 dolphins in the Gulf of Mexico so far this year is due in part to the devastating 2010 BP oil spill and the chemical dispersants used to contain it, a report said Thursday.

A total of 153 dolphins have been found in the Gulf so far in 2011, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Sixty-five of the mammals were babies.

In a study on the effects of the spill, marine expert Graham Worthy of the University of Central Florida, along with 26 other experts, said the dolphins were found in a part of the Gulf that saw nearly five million barrels of crude leak in the worst oil spill in US history.

"I suspect what we might be seeing are several things coming together to form a perfect storm," Worthy said.

However, unusual cold waters that were partially to blame are also conditions that the dolphins could normally survive -- so the deaths "may also be seeing an indirect effect stemming from the BP oil spill," he said.

"If oil and the dispersants have disrupted the food chain, this may have prevented the mother dolphins from getting adequate nutrition and building up the insulating blubber they needed to withstand the cold."

BP last month pledged $1 billion to jump-start projects aimed at restoring the US Gulf Coast by rebuilding damaged coastal marshes, replenishing soiled beaches, and conserving ocean habitat to help injured wildlife recover.

The funds are also being put towards restoring barrier islands and wetlands that provide natural protection from storms.

By the time the well was capped 87 days later, 4.9 million barrels (206 million gallons) of oil had gushed out of the runaway well 5,000 feet (1,500 meters) below the surface of the Gulf of Mexico.

Over a million gallons of dispersants were also deployed to break up the oil on the surface and deep underwater, and the environmentalists cautioned that their use was also a health hazard to animals and plant life in the Gulf, in some cases forcing large amounts of the oil to simply sink and clump together.

Hundreds of miles of fragile coastal wetlands and beaches were contaminated, a third of the Gulf's rich US waters were closed to fishing, and the economic costs have reached into the tens of billions of dollars since the leak began in April last year after an explosion aboard a deep-sea drilling rig.

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Greenpeace warns of radioactive sea life off Japan

Yuka Ito Yahoo News 26 May 11;

TOKYO (AFP) – Environmental group Greenpeace warned Thursday that marine life it tested more than 20 kilometres (12 miles) off Japan's stricken Fukushima nuclear plant showed radiation far above legal limits.

The anti-nuclear group, which conducted the coastal and offshore tests this month, criticised Japanese authorities for their "continued inadequate response to the Fukushima nuclear crisis" sparked by the March 11 quake and tsunami.

Greenpeace said it detected radiation levels in seaweed 50 times higher than official limits, which it charged raised "serious concerns about continued long-term risks to people and the environment from contaminated seawater".

It also said that tests, which it said were independently verified by French and Belgian laboratories, showed above-legal levels of radioactive iodine-131 and caesium-137 in several species of fish and shellfish.

"Our data show that significant amounts of contamination continue to spread over great distances from the Fukushima nuclear plant," said Jan Vande Putte, a Greenpeace radiation expert, at a Tokyo news conference.

Japan's seafood safety limit for caesium-137 is 500 Becquerels per kilogram (227 per pound).

Greenpeace said it found levels of 740 Becquerels per kilogram in oysters, 857 in a fish species, 1,285 in sea cucumber and 1,640 in seaweed.

The maximum iodine-131 limit is 2,000 Becquerels per kilogram for seaweed, but Greenpeace said it found a level of 127,000 Becquerels per kilogram in the seaweed species Sargassum Horneri.

The group said that "eating one kilo of highly contaminated seaweed sampled by Greenpeace could increase the radiation dose by 2.8 millisievert -- almost three times the internationally recommended annual maximum".

"Despite what the authorities are claiming, radioactive hazards are not decreasing through dilution or dispersion of materials, but the radioactivity is instead accumulating in marine life," Vande Putte added.

"The concentration of radioactive iodine we found in seaweed is particularly concerning as it tells us how far contamination is spreading along the coast, and because several species of seaweed are widely eaten in Japan."

Vande Putte accused Japan of doing to little to measure and share data on marine life contamination and said "Japan's government is mistaken in assuming that an absence of data means there is no problem.

"This complacency must end now, and (the government must) instead mount a comprehensive and continuous monitoring programme of the marine environment along the Fukushima coast, along with full disclosure of all information about both past and ongoing releases of contaminated water."

The tests were conducted by Greenpeace monitoring teams on shore and from its Rainbow Warrior flagship, which was only allowed to test outside Japan?s 20-kilometre (12-mile) territorial waters.

Japan has said ocean currents and tides are rapidly diluting contaminants from the tsunami-hit atomic plant, and Fukushima prefecture told AFP on Thursday that no fishing is going on at the moment in its waters.

"We have exercised self-restraint as (prefectural) safety tests have not been conducted yet," said a Fukushima official. "We will make a decision after confirming the results of the tests, which will take place shortly."

The official added: "People do not bother fishing now. If you caught fish or other marine products in waters near the plant, they wouldn't sell."

Japan's fisheries agency, and neighbouring prefectures, have been checking marine products at different spots, and the government has prohibited fishermen from catching some species found to have elevated radiation levels.

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Venice may be less at risk from seas than feared

Alister Doyle Reuters 26 May 11;

(Reuters) - Venice may be less at risk than feared from rising sea levels because damaging storm surges are likely to get less frequent this century as a side-effect of climate change, an expert said on Thursday.

Shifts in storm patterns in the Adriatic Sea could be a local impact of global warming, and this could offset higher sea levels in a city whose St Mark's Square and other historic areas are often flooded.

"Higher sea levels will be counteracted by less severe storm surges," Alberto Troccoli, of the Pye Laboratory of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization in Australia, told Reuters.

"There's a balancing effect" between impacts of climate change, he said of a study he led with colleagues in Italy and Britain and published in the journal Climatic Change this month.

"Tidal flooding events might not be exacerbated over the current century, with potentially beneficial consequences for the conservation of the city," they wrote of Venice, one of the cities most exposed to a rise in sea levels.

They projected that the number of storm surges northwards through the Adriatic that cause floods in Venice would decrease by about 30 percent by 2100 because storms would tend to shift further north in Europe.

Under certain wind conditions, the Adriatic acts as a funnel along which waters build up toward Venice at the northern end. Italy is building flood barriers known as MOSE, Italian for Moses, to protect the city.

The most severe combination of storms and high tides of recent decades happened during the Great Flood of 1966 that pushed up water levels in Venice by 194 cms (76.38 inches) above normal.

If world sea levels rise by just 17 cms (7 inches) by 2100, matching the rise in the 20th century, the study suggested that "the frequency of extreme tides in Venice might largely remain unaltered" since the number of storm surges would decline.

The U.N. panel of climate scientists has projected that human emissions of greenhouse gases could cause sea levels to rise by as much as 59 cms by 2100.

Venice faces other problems however, such as subsidence caused by the drawing of water from aquifers beneath the city, especially from the 1950s to the 1970s.

(Editing by Michel Rose)

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Global Food Production May Be Hurt as Climate Shifts, UN Forecaster Says

Luzi Ann Javier Bloomberg 26 May 11;

Global food output may be hurt as climate change brings more extreme weather over the next decade, with China likely set for harsher droughts and North America getting heavier rain, said the World Meteorological Organization.

“Extreme events will become more intense in the future, especially the heat waves and extreme precipitations,” Omar Baddour, a division chief at the United Nations’ agency, said in a phone interview from Geneva. “That, combined with less rainfall in some regions like the Mediterranean region and China, will affect crop production and agriculture.”

The more extreme weather -- including in the U.S., the world’s largest agricultural exporter -- may disrupt harvests, possibly cutting production of grains, livestock and cooking oils and boosting prices. Global food costs reached a record in February, stoking inflation and pushing millions into poverty.

“We foresee with high confidence in climate projections that intense precipitation in some parts of the world will be more intense, and drought will be more intense,” said Baddour, who’s tracked the subject for more than two decades. Extreme heat waves “will also be more intense and more frequent.”

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization’s World Food Price Index, which tracks 55 food-commodity items, rose nine times in the past 10 months, with the gauge peaking at 237.24 in February. The index climbed to 232.07 last month.
‘Massive Disruptions’

Baddour’s comments add to projections that more extreme weather may affect farm production. Sunny Verghese, chief executive officer at Olam International Ltd. (OLAM), among the world’s three biggest suppliers of rice, forecast in February that food- supply chains face “massive disruptions” from climate change.

Drought in China has affected 6.5 million hectares of farmland, the Office of State Flood Control and Drought Relief Headquarters said on its website on May 20. China has ordered the operator of the Three Gorges Dam, the world’s biggest, to release water to replenish the Yangtze River and counter the local region’s lowest rainfall in half a century.

The drought in China may cut early-season rice output if there’s no adequate rain over the next two weeks, according to industry researcher “If the drought doesn’t end in two weeks, the impact on the region’s rice will no doubt be significant,” Zhang Lu, an analyst at the group, said yesterday.

In the U.S., floods along the Mississippi River and its tributaries have affected almost 3.6 million acres of cropland, causing the most damage in Arkansas, the American Farm Bureau Federation said on May 23. Floods in Canada’s Frenchman River Basin may be the largest since 1952, and the waters slowed the nation’s sowing, the Canadian Wheat Board said on April 20.
Intense Pressure

“Climate change, high-and-volatile food and energy prices, population and income growth” will put intense pressure on land and water and challenge global food security as never before, according to Mark Rosegrant, director of environment and production technology at the International Food Policy Research Institute. Rosegrant also cited changing diets and increased urbanization in a May 24 e-mailed statement.

Corn will average $7.75 per bushel this quarter and $8 in the third quarter on “growing concerns about crop weather in the U.S., Europe and now parts of Russia,” said Abah Ofon, a Singapore-based analyst at Standard Chartered Plc. Corn traded at $7.4625 per bushel at 7:29 p.m. in Singapore today, more than double the price a year ago.

Food costs are at “dangerous levels” after pushing 44 million people into poverty since June, World Bank President Robert Zoellick said Feb. 15. That adds to the more than 900 million people around the world who go hungry each day, he said.

Agricultural research is needed to adapt farming to climate change, Olivier de Schutter, the UN’s special adviser on the right to food, said at a conference on May 23. “The improvement of plants is absolutely important given the challenges we are facing, particularly the threat posed by climate change,” de Schutter said in Brussels.

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China drought impact widens, reaching Shanghai

Elaine Kurtenbach AP Yahoo News 26 May 11;

SHANGHAI – China's worst drought in a half-century is deepening, with the parched weather that has left millions in the Yangtze River region without enough drinking water pushing inflation higher and adding to widespread power shortages.

Shanghai's government promised Thursday that the city's 23 million residents would not face shortages at home, after the city's electricity utility warned that some stores and factories may have to close in the hottest days of summer to limit demand.

China's commercial center is scrambling to protect its drinking water from being overly tainted by salinity due to higher tides as the flow of the Yangtze River weakens. Upstream, conditions are worse, as crops wither and both people and livestock run short of drinking water.

The Three Gorges Dam, the world's largest hydroelectric complex, has been releasing larger-than-usual flows downstream in an effort to raise water levels brought so low by the lack of rain that inland shipping is being obstructed.

As farmers in much of central China's Hubei and Hunan provinces find themselves unable to plant summer crops or keep fish ponds stocked, and with little rain forecast until at least next month, many are abandoning their fields and heading to the cities to seek work, the newspaper China Business News reported Thursday.

More than 3.2 million acres (1.3 million hectares) of farmland have been affected in seven provinces that form China's "rice basket," state media have reported. The government has pledged to boost spending on irrigation and other water works by billions of dollars, but in the long term much of the country is facing chronic water shortages.

Commerce Ministry figures show prices for pork and rice are already rising, partly due to the drought. That may counter efforts to help bring down inflation, which remained at a higher-than-forecast 5.3 percent in April.

Meanwhile, weaker hydroelectric output due to the drought has deepened a shortfall largely due to reduced output by power companies that are operating at a loss because they are barred from adjusting electricity rates to reflect surging costs for coal and oil.

Like many other cities, Shanghai often faces power shortages in summer and winter, when demand is high. The supply gap this summer is forecast to hit 1.1 gigawatts. But authorities have warned that in the Yangtze region, the gap could be as high as 40 gigawatts overall.

Shanghai is purchasing power from other provinces to help meet demand, but the shortages in those regions are limiting the amount of power available, said a statement posted on the city government website.

Despite the city's location in the Yangtze River delta, where the 3,900-mile (6,300-kilometer) waterway empties into the East China Sea, Shanghai faces a scarcity of usable water due to heavy upstream pollution.

The city relies heavily on reservoirs built along the Yangtze and is stepping up efforts to draw more heavily from the newest of those, Qingcaosha, which is reinforced well enough to prevent salt tide incursions for just over two months, the city says.

In the meantime, the stronger and longer than usual high tides are causing fish kills and affecting water supplies in some parts of the city.

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U.N. Climate Panel Sets One-Week Deadline To Fix Errors

Alister Doyle PlanetArk 26 May 11;

The U.N. committee of climate scientists will fix any future errors "within a week or so," its head said on Wednesday, after coming under fire last year for bungling a forecast of when Himalayan glaciers would thaw.

"I think we now have a firm procedure by which we are going to deal with errors, or alleged errors," Rajendra Pachauri told Reuters during a visit to Oslo, referring to a set of reforms agreed at a meeting in Abu Dhabi on May 17.

The panel's 2007 report, the main guide for governments in fighting climate change, included an incorrect projection that all Himalayan glaciers could vanish by 2035, hundreds of years earlier than scientists' projections.

"My own expectation is within a week or so we should be able to do it," Pachauri said when asked what limit the panel should have to fix errors. Previously, there has been no time limit.

"In some cases it can be done in a day or two," he said, but contacting past authors and consulting experts might take a few days. He said swift action would build confidence in the panel.

Pachauri also said his Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), would act quickly to say when it was looking into possible flaws. "We will have to be prompt in communicating what we are doing," he said.

The correction of the Himalayan error last year, and other slips, spurred a series of independent reviews about the reliability of a report meant to guide billions of dollars of investments away from fossil fuels toward cleaner energies.

The reviews endorsed the overall findings by the IPCC that it was more than 90 percent probable that human activities were to blame for most climate change in the last half century.


Pachauri said that a "failure of communication" had contributed to delaying the correction of the Himalayan melt -- a scientist spotted the Himalayan error but his doubts did not reach IPCC leaders.

In January 2010, leaders of the IPCC corrected the Himalayan error "three days from when it was pointed out," he said. Before then, "nobody among the elected officials had heard about it."

Graham Cogley, a glacier expert and professor at Trent University in Canada, said he noted the source of the mistake in November 2009 and posted his finding on a glaciologist website.

"It didn't occur to us to tip off the top brass of the IPCC," he told Reuters, reckoning the error was minor. "At the time there was no procedure for fixing errors." He credited the IPCC with "moving fast when they found out about it."

Among other reforms agreed in Abu Dhabi, the IPCC agreed that its chair would not usually serve more than one term -- less definite than a recommendation by experts in a 2010 review by scientific experts in the InterAcademy Council for a one-term limit.

Pachauri, 70, is in his second term, and says he will stay on until it ends with presentation of the next report in 2014.

Other reforms in Abu Dhabi included tightening checking of sources of information to guard against mistakes and a policy to check conflicts of interest by IPCC members.

(Editing by Mark Heinrich)

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Low metal recycling threatens green economy: UN report

Yahoo News 26 May 11;

LONDON (AFP) – Too much metal is being thrown away when it could be recycled, wasting an opportunity to save energy and risking shortages in materials used for new green technologies, a UN report warned Thursday.

In a landmark study, the first to outline the extent to which metals are collected, the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) found that less than one third of about 60 metals studied are recycled to any significant degree.

This is frustrating because recycling reduces the need for energy-intensive mining -- the report says extraction alone currently accounts for seven percent of the world's energy consumption.

"In theory, metals can be used over and over again, minimising the need to mine and process virgin materials and thus saving substantial amounts of energy and water while minimising environmental degradation," said Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary General and UNEP executive director.

"Raising levels of recycling worldwide can therefore contribute to a transition to a low-carbon, resource-efficient green economy while assisting to generate 'green jobs'."

Lead is the most recycled metal, according to the report compiled by UNEP's International Resources Panel, with nearly 80 percent of products containing lead -- mainly batteries -- used again.

More than half of the iron and other main components of steel and stainless steel are also recycled, as are platinum, gold, silver and most other precious metals, although the latter's re-use varies depending on the application.

But the report found virtually no recycling of metals such as Indium, which is used in semi-conductors and LEDs; tellurium and selenium, which are used in solar panels; and neodymium and dysprosium, used in wind turbines.

Thomas Graedel, a professor of industrial ecology at Yale University and one of the report's eight authors, warned that the failure to re-use these metals increased the possibility of future shortages.

"If we do not have these materials readily available at reasonable prices, a lot of modern technology simply cannot happen," he said.

"We don't think immediate shortages are likely but we are absolutely unable to make predictions based on the very limited geological exploration currently conducted."

The report recommends improvements in waste management to ensure products containing metal are dealt with more effectively in emerging and developing countries, and encourages product designers to make material separation easier.

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