Best of our wild blogs: 30 May 2011

5 Jun is World Environment Day!
from Celebrating Singapore's BioDiversity! and Toddycats!

Latest Green Jobs in Singapore [23 - 29 May 2011]
from Green Business Times

Lornie Trail Part 1
from Beauty of Fauna and Flora in Nature

black tip reef shark @ Semakau 28May2011
from sgbeachbum

Knobblies at Beting Bemban Besar
from wonderful creation

Burrowing Snake-eel
from Monday Morgue

Read more!

Letter from Ric O’Barry to Resorts World Sentosa on dolphins

from the ACRES "Save the World's Saddest Dolphins" facebook page 30 May 11;

May 28, 2011

Mr. Tan Hee Teck, CEO
Resorts World Sentosa

Cc Ms Aw Kah Peng, CEO
Singapore Tourism Board

Dear Mr. Tan:

I am contacting you on behalf of the Dolphin Project of Earth Island Institute. Our organization is working to protect dolphins around the world and prevent dolphins from being removed from the wild for captivity.

We know that Resorts World Sentosa has dolphins now being kept in the Philippines that were captured in the waters of the Solomon Islands.

We would like to offer the possibility of setting up a rehabilitation and release project for these dolphins in conjunction with Resorts World. Your cooperation would ensure that these dolphins be returned to their natural habitat where they can thrive, as opposed to keeping them in captivity, separated from their original home range, their pod and their extensive social environment.

In helping return these dolphins, Resorts World would show the people of Singapore and the world that you are a true steward of the environment and a responsible company sensitive to the harm captivity inflicts on dolphins.

We have reached an arrangement with the villagers of the Solomon Islands for them to stop killing dolphins in exchange for funding from Earth Island to help develop alternative energy, clean water, and sustainable fishing. We believe that if the people of the Solomon Islands can end their 450-year-old hunts to help dolphins, Resorts World can too.

We know the people of Singapore love dolphins. Most Singaporeans would object to keeping dolphins in captivity if they knew the dangers to the dolphins and the horrific capture practices of the Solomon Islands and other dolphin capture countries.

Thank you for your consideration of our proposal.

Richard O’Barry
Marine Mammal Specialist

Read more!

Bukit Brown to make way for housing

Heritage buffs want cemetery conserved but URA says land required to meet growing needs
Jessica Lim Straits Times 30 May 11

IF HERITAGE enthusiasts have their way, Bukit Brown Cemetery off Lornie Road would stay untouched.

But in land-scarce Singapore - and especially since Bukit Brown is sitting on a large tract of land - the reality is that the dead will have to make way for the living sooner or later.

The 86ha graveyard, along with the already-exhumed Bidadari in Upper Serangoon Road, has been earmarked for housing developments, although the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) has not given a timeframe for this.

Already, plans for the Bukit Brown MRT station have been set, although it will remain closed until the area is more developed.

Meanwhile, the 200-member Singapore Heritage Society (SHS) has produced a book titled Spaces Of The Dead: A Case From The Living to document the cemeteries here and argue for their conservation in the form of open-air museums or parks.

To clear them away would cause the community to incur 'a great loss', said SHS president Kevin Tan, who edited the book.

But a URA spokesman explained: 'We have to take a balanced long-term approach in land-use planning, and be very selective in what we conserve because of our land scarcity.

'As our population grows, we have to meet increasing land needs for various uses. Bukit Brown and Bidadari occupy large land areas that will be needed for housing purposes, and are not included in our conservation plans.'

The 300-page book compiles articles and photographs of cemeteries by various authors.

Launched last Saturday, it aims to change the mindsets of two groups of people - town planners who might be thinking of exhuming cemeteries for redevelopment needs, and members of the public who might fear such places.

That cemeteries give important insights into a people's social and historical life is not lost on tourists, who are more open to visiting them.

'Such cemeteries are an intrinsic part of community life,' said Dr Tan, adding that tourists often visit a country's tombs to learn more about its people and culture.

When The Straits Times visited Bukit Brown recently, people on horseback from the nearby Singapore Polo Club were seen clip-clopping along the winding, vehicle-free paths, sharing them with joggers and dog-walkers.

Many of Bukit Brown's 80,000 tombstones are weather-worn and lost in the undergrowth. Some, such as the tomb of prominent Chinese businessman Ong Sam Leong and his wife, draw attention with their size and showiness.

Bukit Brown is among 60 cemeteries here. All but one - Choa Chu Kang Cemetery - do not accept new burials, said the National Environment Agency, which oversees many cemeteries here.

In 1952, available records indicated there were 229 registered burial grounds, including many small ones that have since been exhumed.

The bustling Ngee Ann City shopping centre and the housing estates of Bishan and Tiong Bahru sit on what were once burial grounds.

Mr Eric Cheng, 36, chief executive of real-estate agency ECG Property, noted that the sites on which Bukit Brown and Bidadari are located are 'prime spots for housing'.

Noting the precedent set here for turning cemeteries into housing estates, he said: 'These places are usually developed after the land has been fallow for some time. People forget they were ever cemeteries. It is not a challenge to market such properties.'

Former Nature Society (Singapore) chairman Ho Hua Chew, who wrote one of the chapters in the new book, conceded that SHS' cause was a tough fight because the Government is 'very pro-development'.

The avid bird-watcher, who noted that 85 bird species have been recorded in Bukit Brown, expressed hope that people would read the book and go there to appreciate the place.

Businessman and permanent resident Mark Zagrodnik, 47, who has jogged there, is already doing that. He described it as a 'beautiful, natural space'.

On the other hand, administrative officer Cathy Wee, 27, has not even heard of Bukit Brown. She said: 'I wouldn't even think of conserving it.'

Interesting plots

Bukit Brown Cemetery:

A 2m-tall statue of a Sikh guard (right) watches over the remains of 19th-century tycoon Ong Sam Leong.

The tombs of the tycoon and his wife, rediscovered in 2006, occupy an area the size of 10 three-bedroom flats.

The presence of the guard points to the practice of wealthy individuals in Singapore who recruited guards, mainly from northern India, as watchmen for their property.

It is clear Ong wanted a continued role for them in his afterlife.

The grave of a man named Fang Shan, which dates back to 1833, was found by cemetery explorer Raymond Goh, 46, in late 2008. Historians and history buffs believe this may be the oldest grave in Singapore.

Bidadari Cemetery:

It included the grave of Dr Chen Su Lan, who died in 1972. Known as the 'Grand Old Doctor', he was a campaigner against opium addiction and tuberculosis among workers.

In 1945, he founded the Chinese YMCA and two years later, the Chen Su Lan Trust and the Chen Su Lan Methodist Children's Home.

His tomb was exhumed in 2002.

Bukit Brown part of what we call home
Straits Times 11 Jun 11;

I REFER to the article about Bukit Brown cemetery ("Bukit Brown to make way for housing"; May 30).

There is an old Muslim cemetery at 426 Siglap Road which I understand is also zoned for residential development.

It is a fond landmark, mentioned in tourist information about Katong as: " obscure Muslim cemetery at the peak of Siglap... rumoured to be haunted. It holds the tomb of Sheikh Ali, a descendant of ancestral Malay kings and princes".

I believe the Asian civet cat lives there and there are wonderful flora and fauna.

In the article on Bukit Brown cemetery, it was mentioned "the dead will have to make way for the living" and that the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) takes a balanced long-term approach and is very selective in what is conserved because of land scarcity.

Actually such places should remain for the sake of the living.

To URA, these places, when viewed separately, carry historical information too insignificant for conservation.

But in fact, they are vital elements for forming and perpetuating precious, lasting memories in the hearts and minds of Singaporeans - carved out, not from exciting events, but simple daily living. They give character, soul and beauty to that larger home/community where we form relationships, live, work and play.

I believe it is this intricate web of deep-rooted memories - not money - that makes us call Singapore our home, keeps us resilient, loyal to the end and motivated to seek the good of our nation and society.

These memories are a part of the short history of Singapore. How we take care of our history affects the quality of our future generations, our true heritage.

Fail to cherish this - by destroying places and spaces that matter to community life - and our history, and our future generations, could become that much shallower, meaner and weaker.

Audrey Yang (Mrs)

Read more!

Wildlife poachers in Malaysia: Bolder and creative 'hunters'

New Straits Times 30 May 11;

WHEN Sharun Abdul Latiff joined the Wildlife and National Parks Department (Perhilitan) as a ranger, little did he realise that he would be exposed to life-threatening situations.

Two years ago, the 56-year-old, who is now with the Temerloh office of the Wildlife Department, was attacked by a poacher armed with a parang. Luckily, he escaped with just a gash on his arm.

The poacher, a repeat offender who was let off the hook after paying a fine, was hunting wild boar when he was cornered by an enforcement team led by Sharun.

Sharun says poachers are the biggest threat to endangered animals in the country.

Despite constant efforts by the authorities, they have become bolder and more creative.

They have been caught packing birds in PVC tubes or carrying them in hand luggage, using the postal service to transport wildlife and mixing wildlife with products, such as fruits, to be exported.

With tighter enforcement, Sharun says the department hopes to curb poaching and smuggling.

From 2008 to last year, the department thwarted 109 attempts to smuggle protected and endangered animals, with 21 smugglers fined a total of RM17,100.

The department's cooperation with the Asean Wildlife Enforcement Network also foiled 306 smuggling attempts between 2004 and 2009.

In the past few years, the department has upped the ante in the fight against poachers and smugglers.

This includes working with agencies like the armed forces, the Anti-Smuggling Unit and the police; establishing 13 border checkpoints; and identifying hot spots in Johor, Pahang and Terengganu.

There have been instances when their efforts were undermined by the action of the so-called protecters.

Recently, five Malaysian soldiers on anti-poaching duty were suspended after they posted photographs of a dead Great Pied Hornbill bird, with its throat slashed, on Facebook.

It was reported that the group was part of a force protecting the Royal Belum-Temengor rainforest in Perak when they came across the bird, which they claimed had been shot by a hunter.

Last year, a Perhilitan officer was investigated by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission for allegedly abusing his powers to issue permits.

Perhilitan director-general Datuk Abd Rashid Samsudin says all Malaysians have the responsibility to protect and preserve the country's biodiversity.

Orang Asli lured into trapping rich pickings
New Straits Times 30 May 11;

MIDDLEMEN are using the Orang Asli to hunt endangered animals.

As the Orang Asli are allowed to hunt certain animals for their own consumption, the middlemen pay them to trap and kill wildlife that is in demand in the market.

Pahang Wildlife and National Parks Department (Perhilitan) director Khairiah Mohd Shariff says the Orang Asli are targeting leopards and bears.

She says the syndicates rely on the Orang Asli to trap the animals as they realise that these people are familiar with the routes used by the animals as well as their resting places.

"Our investigations reveal that the Orang Asli will capture the endangered clouded monitor lizards usually found in oil palm plantations and hand them over to middlemen. The lizards are usually destined for cooking pots in exotic meat restaurants overseas.

"The demand for the wildlife has spurred the Orang Asli to hunt for the animals as they have come to realise the high value of certain animals."

Khairiah says the syndicates are using the Orang Asli to shield their activities from the authorities.

She says Perhilitan officers have, on numerous occasions, spotted Orang Asli selling the Blue-crowned Hanging Parrot (burung serindit) along the Kuantan-Segamat Highway but nowadays, the Orang Asli have become bolder and are keeping wildlife organs in their homes.

In a recent seizure, the department found chunks of leopard, bear and deer meat as well as slaughtered mousedeer in a refrigerator at an Orang Asli village headman's house.

Several days later, the department rescued 41 endangered clouded monitor lizards from a nearby Orang Asli settlement. Both seizures took place in Pahang.

Read more!

Only 1% of Philippines' coral reefs remains pristine -- WWF 29 May 11;

‘Public-private partnership needed to eliminate rape of seas’

MANILA, Philippines - The public and private sector should work together to finally stop the rape and plunder of the country’s marine resources, said the World Wide Fund for Nature.

In a statement, WWF Philippines Vice Chairperson and Chief Executive Jose Ma. Lorenzo said the response to the problem should be “national and systemic. The response can be no less.”

WWF released the statement amid news that the destruction brought about by the recent smuggling try of some P35 million worth of illicit shipments from the coast of Cotabato covered 5 times the size of Metro Manila.

Initial estimates showed that poachers only destroyed twice the size of Metro Manila to be able to harvest 196 kilos of sea whips corals, 161 heads of preserved hawksbill and green turtles, 7,300 pieces of seashells and 21,169 pieces of black corals.

For WWF, the confiscated hauls, including a recent one from Cebu, “are merely symptomatic of what has been happening throughout the country - illegal, unregulated and unreported extraction of marine wealth.”

WWF said the country sits at the apex of the so-called Coral Triangle. Over 27,000 square kilometers of coral reef cover the Philippines seas. A single square kilometer can produce over 40 metric tons of suno, talakitok and other forms of seafood.

However, 50 years of nonstop destructive commercial and poorly managed artisanal fishing has left only 5% in excellent condition. Only 1% remains “pristine.”

Lorenzo said: “Government can be a catalyst. However, it is private sector involvement that keeps sustainable efforts in place for the long term, maintaining supply chains throbbing and productive. Ultimately, legal and sustainable incomes for local communities are going to be the straw that will break this camel's back.”

Malacanang earlier called for a boycott of the black coral items.

Lorenzo asked: “How much of the government budget assigned to [agriculture] is for sustainable fisheries and new formulas for food security? And, how much of those budgets filter down to the local governments who manage the front lines? Is the private sector being engaged to establish sustainable formulas? Are there any incentives and rewards in place for workable solutions?”

Turtle haul prompts Philippines to call for action
AFP Yahoo News 30 May 11;

MANILA (AFP) – Southeast Asian countries must act now to protect the region's biodiversity in the face of those who want to plunder its resources for a quick profit, the Philippine president said on Monday.

As an example of the threat, President Benigno Aquino cited the discovery this month of a huge shipment of illegally harvested corals and preserved sea turtles, seized at Manila's port before they could be smuggled abroad.

"This single act of environmental pillage is only symptomatic of a larger problem," Aquino said at an event for the launch of the United Nations Decade on Biodiversity.

"Our region is on the brink of losing a significant number of endangered species due to multiple cases of deforestation, wildlife hunting, climate change, pollution and population growth," the president said.

Aquino said the region's biodiversity should be considered a competitive advantage that can be sustainably exploited.

"Unfortunately, there are those who still see the environment as nothing more than a means to make an easy and quick profit without regard for the long-term consequences," he said.

Although the countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) only occupy three percent of the world's surface, the region is home to more than 18 percent of all known plant and animal species, making it one of the planet's richest and most diverse regions, Aquino said.

Anger has risen over the plundering of the Philippine environment since 124,000 pieces of illicitly harvested sea fan and sea whip corals and 158 stuffed sea turtles were found at the port on May 11.

The amount of coral recovered could mean that an area ranging from 7,000 to 21,000 hectares (17,290 to 51,870 acres) of the sea floor had been plundered, officials of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources said.

Read more!

Ugly fish to rescue threatened species

Ella Ide Yahoo News 30 May 11;

GENOA, Italy (AFP) – Converts to Italy's Slow Food movement can see past a few poisonous spines and bulging eyes: the scorpion fish and needlefish may be ugly but they are cheap, sustainable and taste fantastic.

"It's time to go back to eating 'poor' fish, the types that your grandma used to eat years ago. Not only are they tasty and cheap, they can save other fish from dying out," fisherman Roberto Moggia said at Italy's Slow Fish event.

Moggia and other small scale fishers threatened by industrial fishing have gathered together for four days in Genoa to give curious consumers hooked on tuna and salmon a taste of the more unusual fish they are missing out on.

Species at high risk of extinction -- from bluefin tuna to swordfish and eel -- are replaced by a large variety of sleek, spikey, flat or bloated fish of differing colours, laid out on display or served up raw, salted or pickled.

"Slow Fish brings people up close with the more unusual types of fish which are slowly making their way back into kitchens by the back door," said 49-year old Moggia, showing off his counter of whiskered and scaly sea creatures.

Visitors to the fair, held on the north Italian city's wind-blown sea front, sampled delicacies from free-range Australian oceanic trout to the Dutch Oosterschelde lobster and alternative sushi rolls, made with sustainable fish.

"We've replaced tuna and salmon with leerfish and horse mackerel, and people really can't taste the difference," said Nicola Fattibeni, a gastronomy student who helped organise the sushi session, complete with on-site Japanese chefs.

"But we're not just trying to save at-risk fish. The idea behind Slow Fish is also to help save another species: the local fisherman," he added.

While small-scale fishermen are often credited with helping protect the marine environment, their numbers are dwindling in the face of profit-seeking trawlers harvesting vast amounts of fish, large numbers of which are often dumped.

"We can probably change the way we eat, but we definitely have to change the way we fish," EU Commissioner for Fisheries Maria Damanaki said at the start of the event, organised by the Slow Food movement for "good, clean and fair food."

Many fish are being caught too early to give them chance to reproduce, but attempts to encourage sustainable fishing have already seen the list of stocks consumers are strongly advised not buy drop from 14 to 11 this year.

Damanaki also told reporters the EU was cracking down on illegal fishing, which disrupts the ecosystem, lowers fish quality and creates unfair competition. They are using a points system like the one used for driving licences.

Fattibeni and his fellow gastronomy students at the sushi stand said the problem with fish like tuna was that their flesh is often full of toxins.

"Salmon, for example, is a fatty fish which absorbs toxins from ship waste and other pollutants, particularly in the Atlantic Ocean and in Asia. Tuna feast on smaller fish full of these toxins and accumulate even more."

Visitors unsure how to tell whether they're buying the right sort of fish or what condition it is in can join in on the fair's 'personal shopper' tours.

"I do try and think about what fish I buy in the supermarket. Everyone should make an effort really. We can't better the world but we can at least not make it worse!" said Livia Polgacini.

Nearby, visitors queued for tasting sessions with international chefs who rustled up 'poor' fish dishes for them to try and offered advice such as how to impress your mother-in-law with little more than a common sardine.

"In my restaurant we don't serve tuna anymore, we use local products and traditional recipes... one of my favourites is a Venetian recipe for stargazer fish from the 1300s," said 44-year old Italian chef Gianluca Cazzin.

Dressed in his chef's garb, Cazzin explained to guests sampling his fried soft-shell crab and Roman cockle pasta just how important a role restaurants have to play in changing attitudes towards eating sustainable fish.

"Ethically speaking, people cannot go on eating fish like tuna or swordfish. The less sought-after types are great and they also cost less, but it's up to us to come up with the dishes and turn 'poor' fish into 'good' fish," he said.

"We have to preserve species for future generations by giving them the chance to reproduce. No one's going to die of hunger if we don't eat tuna for 10 years," he added.

"I hope that our children will still be able to see them swimming around in 20 years."

The seas are emptying at an alarming rate as overfishing plunders fish stocks to unsustainable levels. The 'Slow Fish' fair in Genoa highlights environmental concerns and hopes to convince consumers to look after the oceans.

Read more!

Bubbling sea signals severe coral damage this century

Richard Black BBC News 29 May 11;

Findings from a "natural laboratory" in seas off Papua New Guinea suggest that acidifying oceans will severely hit coral reefs by the end of the century.

Carbon dioxide bubbles into the water from the slopes of a dormant volcano here, making it slightly more acidic.

Coral is badly affected, not growing at all in the most CO2-rich zone.

Writing in journal Nature Climate Change, the scientists say this "lab" mimics conditions that will be widespread if CO2 emissions continue.

The oceans absorb some of the carbon dioxide that human activities are putting into the atmosphere.

This is turning seawater around the world slightly more acidic - or slightly less alkaline.

This reduces the capacity of corals and other marine animals to form hard structures such as shells.

Projections of rising greenhouse gas emissions suggest the process will go further, and accelerate.

"This is the most realistic experiment done to date on this issue," said Chris Langdon, a coral specialist from the Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science in Miami, US.

"So I don't have any qualms about believing that what we found will apply in other parts of the world."

The water becomes progressively more acidic closer to the vents that are bubbling CO2.

This allows the researchers to study the impacts on coral at different levels of acidity.

Seawater has an average pH of about 8.1; this is already about 0.1 lower than before the industrial age and the large-scale human emissions of greenhouse gases associated with it.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) projects that by the end of the century, emissions may have risen so much that pH may fall to 7.8.

In the Papua New Guinea site, few types of coral grew at pH7.8.

Reefs still formed, but were dominated by one particular type, the Porites, which form massive shapes largely devoid of the branches and fronds that characterise reefs rich in species.

"We saw only a few speces of coral, and none of the structually complex ones that provide a lot of cover for fish," Professor Langdon told BBC News..

"The much simpler forms support many fewer species, and theory suggests they create an environment that would be very vulnerable to other stresses."

In an even more acid part of the study site, with a pH of 7.7, the scientists report that "reef development ceased".

Here, seagrasses dominate the floor - but they lack the hard-shelled snails that normally live on their fronds.

This is the second published study of a "natural lab" for ocean acidification.

The first, from a site in Mediterranean, found snails with their shells disintegrating; but the PNG site offers a snapshot of the future that might be more applicable to the world's tropical coral hotspots.

"The results are complex, but their implications chilling," commented Alex Rogers from the University of Oxford, who was not part of the study team.

"Some may see this as a comforting study in that coral cover is maintained, but this is a false perception; the levels of seawater pH associated with a 4C warming completely change the face of reefs.

"We will see the collapse of many reefs long before the end of the century."

The scientific team behind the new research, drawn from Australia, Germany and the US, suggests that the picture from PNG may underplay the threat.

Reefs in the acidic zones of the study site receive regular doses of larvae floating in from nearby healthy corals, replenishing damaged stocks.

This would not be the case if low pH levels pertained throughout the oceans.

In addition, corals at the site are only minimally affected by other threats; there is little fishing, local pollution, or disease.

By contrast, a major survey published earlier this year found that three-quarters of the world's reefs were at risk - 95% in southeast Asia - with exploitative and destructive fishing being the biggest immediate threat.

Ocean Acidification Will Likely Reduce Diversity, Resiliency in Coral Reef Ecosystems
ScienceDaily 29 May 11;

A new study from University of Miami (UM) Rosenstiel School of Marine & Atmospheric Science scientists Chris Langdon, Remy Okazaki and Nancy Muehllehner and colleagues from the Australian Institute of Marine Science and the Max-Planck Institute for Marine Microbiology in Germany concludes that ocean acidification, along with increased ocean temperatures, will likely severely reduce the diversity and resilience of coral reef ecosystems within this century.

The research team studied three natural volcanic CO2 seeps in Papua New Guinea to better understand how ocean acidification will impact coral reefs ecosystem diversity. The study details the effects of long-term exposure to high levels of carbon dioxide and low pH on Indo-Pacific coral reefs, a condition that is projected to occur by the end of the century as increased human-made CO2 emissions alter the current pH level of seawater, turning the oceans acidic.

"These 'champagne reefs' are natural analogs of how coral reefs may look in 100 years if ocean acidification conditions continue to get worse," said Langdon, UM Rosenstiel School professor and co-principal investigator of the study.

The study shows shifts in the composition of coral species and reductions in biodiversity and recruitment on the reef as pH declined from 8.1 to 7.8. The team also reports that reef development would cease at a pH below 7.7. The IPCC 4th Assessment Report estimates that by the end of the century, ocean pH will decline from the current level of 8.1 to 7.8, due to rising atmospheric CO2 concentrations.

"The seeps are probably the closest we can come to simulating the effect of human-made CO2 emissions on a coral reef," said Langdon. "They allow us to see the end result of the complex interactions between species under acidic ocean conditions."

The reefs detailed in this study have healthy reefs nearby to supply larvae to replenish the reefs. If pH was low throughout the region -- as projected for year 2100 -- then there would not be any healthy reefs to reseed damaged ones, according to Langdon.

The research was funded by the Australian Institute of Marine Science, the University of Miami, and the Max-Planck Institute of Marine Microbiology through the Bioacid Project (03F0608C).

Story Source:

The above story is reprinted (with editorial adaptations by ScienceDaily staff) from materials provided by University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine & Atmospheric Science, via EurekAlert!, a service of AAAS.

Read more!

China to step up fight against plastic addiction

Yahoo News 29 May 11;

BEIJING (AFP) – China will expand a ban on free shopping bags, state media said, as it tries to further curb its addiction to plastic in a bid to rid the country of "white pollution" that clogs waterways, farms and fields.

Bookstores and pharmacies nationwide will soon be forbidden to give out free plastic bags, joining the ranks of supermarkets that have had to charge for shopping bags since June 1, 2008, the official Xinhua news agency reported.

On that day, China also banned the production, sale and use of ultra-thin plastic bags, becoming one of only a few nations around the world to take such tough measures.

Quoting Zhao Jiarong, deputy secretary general of the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), China's top economic planner, the report said the government would also step up its crackdown on the illegal use of plastic bags.

But she did not say when bookstores and pharmacies would have to start charging for the bags they give out.

China -- the world's biggest greenhouse gas emitter -- has some of the world's worst water and air pollution after rapid growth over more than 30 years triggered widespread environmental damage.

Around three billion plastic bags were being used daily in China before the 2008 ban. Since then, according to the NDRC, people have used at least 24 billion fewer plastic bags every year, the report said late Saturday.

Dong Jinshi, vice chairman of the International Food Packaging Association in Beijing, told AFP late last year that as many as 100 billion plastic shopping bags may have been kept out of landfills as a result of the law.

Read more!