Best of our wild blogs: 3 Jun 11

Moray madness at Tanah Merah
from wild shores of singapore

Encounter with a Brahminy Kite and an Oriental Pied Hornbill
from Bird Ecology Study Group

110602 Bidadari Cemetery and Upper Seletar
from Singapore Nature

I survived my first ICCS talk!
from Toddycats!

Dragonfly (44) - Potamarcha congener
from Nature Photography - Singapore Odonata

Read more!

Three green champions receive President's Award for the Environment

Qiuyi Tan Channel NewsAsia 3 Jun 11;

SINGAPORE : Three environment champions - Dr Tan Wee Kiat of NParks, transport provider SMRT, and Woodgrove Secondary School - have been recognised with Singapore's highest "green" honour - the President's Award for the Environment.

Dr Tan played a key role in the gazetting of two nature reserves - Sungei Buloh Wetlands and Labrador Park - and improved access to them with projects like the Park Connector Network, so that people can better appreciate Singapore's green spots.

Now retired, the National Parks Board's (NParks) first CEO said it was an uphill task getting Singaporeans to recognise and value nature as part of national heritage.

"This is a constant battle even till today, where not only from the private sector that sees the nature reserves occupying valuable land from which a monetary value can be abstracted. When you are stewards of nature, you are stewards of Singapore's natural heritage and that is something that requires a long view," said Dr Tan, advisor to the NParks Board.

Dr Tan also led the rejuvenation of the Botanic Gardens, now a premier institution of tropical botany.

He said: "We all contribute in our own little ways. And there is no, I suppose, missionary zeal, in that effort so much. All our efforts are based on self-interest; it just so happens that my self-interest encompasses a broader aspect of our environment."

Over at SMRT, its Green Committee drives the environmental cause throughout the organisation with programmes like the SMRT Eco Heroes, a competition to conserve water and energy, and boost recycling.

And it's not just recycling of paper.

Dawn Low, VP of Commercial Business at SMRT said: "During our mid-life train upgrade, we have a lot of seats which would otherwise go to waste and into the bin. However our staff were very creative, they converted the train seats into benches at the pantry area so that our colleagues can rest in between their shift duties.

"We also donated a couple of train seats to Skate Park so that the public can enjoy (them) and do street art on them."

As for Woodgrove Secondary, hands-on learning about environmental conservation is an integral part of its Geography and Science curricula.

Woodgrove also runs Green camps and workshops for students from other schools.

- CNA /ls

Ex-NParks chief honoured with top environment award
Jessica Cheam Straits Times 3 Jun 11;

A BEAUTIFUL orchid - a gift from his father to his mum - sowed the seeds of his love affair with nature.

Dr Tan Wee Kiat went on to pursue a career in it, leading efforts to develop green spaces in Singapore - an initiative he started in 1990 while helming the National Parks Board (NParks).

From developing the Botanic Gardens into a reputable botanical institution in Asia, to setting up a National Orchid Garden that has become one of the best in the world, projects completed under his watch made sure this little red dot remained green despite its relentless building pace.

For his contributions, Dr Tan, 68, was awarded the President's Award for the Environment by President S R Nathan at a ceremony at the Istana last night. The two other winners were SMRT and Woodgrove Secondary School - recognised for their efforts as environmental leaders.

Mr Cedric Foo, chairman of the award's evaluation committee and an MP, said there was more competition this year for the awards - with 27 nominations, up from 19 last year - and the decision was not easy. 'But all three winners this year stood out for their contributions that went beyond the call of duty,' he said.

Dr Tan, who was NParks' CEO from 1996 to 2006, explained his passion for nature and its preservation: 'There's a constant battle to preserve that bit of nature that we have at the heart of Singapore... and there's always a threat to it.'

He is now adviser to NParks and CEO of Gardens by the Bay.

SMRT, whose award was received by its chief executive Saw Phaik Hwa, was commended for its consistent efforts to reduce its impact on the environment.

The company has managed to reduce its carbon footprint for each passenger from 13.2g per passenger kilometre in the financial year 2010 to 12.8g this year.

Woodgrove Secondary School stood out for the judges for the strong environmental streak in its curriculum. The school has seen its students participating in activities such as weeding and planting in parts of the Mandai Nature Reserve.

Said its principal Sung Mee Har: 'What we hope is that, like how Dr Tan's seed was planted by the sight of a mere flower, we can also plant the seeds in our students to inculcate a consideration for the environment.'

Three 'green' champions win President's Award for Environment
Qiuyi Tan Today Online 3 Jun 11;

SINGAPORE - As the first chief executive officer of the National Parks Board, Dr Tan Wee Kiat had the uphill task of getting Singaporeans to recognise and value nature as part of the national heritage - a task that remains challenging today.

Dr Tan - one of the three environment champions to receive Singapore's highest "green" honour, the President's Award for the Environment - said that, even now, the private sector for one tends to view nature reserves as occupying valuable land, from which a monetary value could be extracted.

He maintained: "When you are stewards of nature, you are stewards of Singapore's natural heritage and that is something that requires a long view."

Now retired, Dr Tan played a key role in the gazetting of two parks as nature reserves - the Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve and Labrador Park. He also improved access to them with projects like the Park Connector Network so that people could better appreciate Singapore's green spots.

Dr Tan also led the rejuvenation of the Botanic Gardens, now a premier institution of tropical botany. "We all contribute in our own little ways. All our efforts are based on self-interest. It just so happens that my self-interest encompasses a broader aspect of our environment," he said with a cheerful laugh.

The other two winners were SMRT and Woodgrove Secondary School, where hands-on learning about environment conservation is an integral part of the geography and science curricula. The school also runs green camps and workshops for students from other schools.

Over at SMRT, its Green Committee drives the environmental cause throughout the organisation, with programmes like the SMRT Eco Heroes, a competition to conserve water and energy and boost recycling.

And when the company upgraded its trains, many of the seats would have been thrown out if not for the resourceful staff, who converted the train seats into benches in the pantry area so that their colleagues could rest in between their shift duties, said SMRT vice-president for commercial business Dawn Low.

A couple of train seats were also donated to Skate Park for the public to rest on - and to also practise street art on them.

Ms Low said SMRT engineers were very creative, fashioning many things out of old train parts. "We've had planters, we've got flower pots, and it's all in the spirit of recycling and also waste minimisation," she said.

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Used syringes: Over 30 found in swamp

Students at Kranji cleanup find syringes with needles attached in single largest haul
Kimberly Spykerman & Jalelah Abu Baker Straits Times 3 Jun 11;

STUDENT volunteers on a coastal cleanup of a Kranji mangrove swamp on May 24 found litter more sinister than the usual plastic bottles and food packaging - more than 30 used syringes, with needles still attached.

The National Parks Board (NParks) could not confirm whether the syringes were found clustered together or scattered across the area, but said this was the biggest number of syringes found in a single cleanup session.

NParks director of conservation Wong Tuan Wah said it is usual to find a syringe or two in each cleanup, but small items such as food and drink packaging or large items like refrigerators are more typically part of the haul.

When contacted, the Singapore American School (SAS), whose students made the find, declined comment. It would say only that its students are briefed on the precautions to take on such cleanups and are under constant adult supervision.

It is understood the students did not touch the syringes, but had alerted an NParks duty officer.

Mr N. Sivasothi, coordinator of International Coastal Cleanup Singapore (ICCS), which has worked with SAS on such trips to the mangroves for the past 20 years, suggested that the syringes could have been washed up, rather than the result of a gathering of drug abusers in the swamp.

'The probability of recreational drug users going to the mangroves is very low. At night, it's very dark, and that part of the Singapore shoreline is not very hospitable,' said Mr Sivasothi, a researcher at the National University of Singapore whose area of interest is mangroves.

The ICCS, which organises coastal cleanups, finds between 30 and 150 syringes a year, most of them on the shores of what are known as 'recreational' beaches, such as East Coast Park and Changi, he added.

NParks said its officer-on-site during cleanups requires all volunteers to put on the rubber boots and gloves provided before each exercise.

Doctors The Straits Times spoke to said the possibility of infection is high if one is pierced with an infected needle.

Khoo Teck Puat Hospital senior consultant Christopher Willis said: 'The most practical way to deal with this is to look around for an empty plastic bottle with a cap, then carefully deposit the needles into the bottle and close the cap.

'If you happen to be near a hospital or clinic, you can deliver the bottle to health-care staff, who will dispose of it.'

It is also safe to deposit the bottle in a rubbish bin, he added.

The Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) advises members of the public not to handle syringes or needles that they suspect to have been used for drug abuse. The police should be alerted, it said.

Drug abusers here do not commonly 'shoot up' their fixes, but anyone caught with syringes intended for abusing drugs faces up to three years' jail or a $10,000 fine, or both.

The CNB said: 'We would like to warn the public that intravenous abuse of drugs can lead to potential medical complications such as hepatitis B and hepatitis C, HIV infection and limb gangrene.'

More about International Coastal Cleanup Singapore

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Malaysia: Tiger sighting 'proves success of breeding project'

New Straits Times 2 Jun 11;

KUALA TERENGGANU: The recent sighting of a female tiger with a cub in Kampung Jambu Bongkok in Dungun struck fear in villagers, but the authorities here see it as a positive sign that its tiger breeding programme is a success.

However, Terengganu Wildlife and National Parks Department (Perhilitan) director Yusoff Shariff yesterday urged the villagers not to take matters into their own hands by provoking the animals.

He said a team of experienced officers was sent to the area to capture and relocate the animals following reports of tigers attacking cattle in the village and at the nearby Felda Rantau Abang in Marang.

"If the sightings of the mother and cub are true, it is good news for our breeding programme, and we hope to catch the animals alive.

"We are setting up a trap with the help of the villagers, but we are unsure if the tigers are still there as they migrate in search of food."

He said tigers were generally shy and avoided humans, but the sightings could have been caused by the tigers being disturbed by human activity, such as land clearing, which destroyed their natural habitat, and poaching.

He said poachers were affecting their conservation programme as they were willing to break the law to earn between RM45,000 and RM60,000 for every tiger caught.

He said the tiger population was estimated at 500, most of which lived in the country's national parks, with around 30 to 45 living in the forests of Terengganu.

Wildlife Dept to target poachers
The Star 3 Jun 11;

KUALA TERENGGANU: The State Wildlife and National Parks Department will crack down on poachers, in particular those who hunt tigers.

Perhilitan director Yusoff Shariff said the department’s personnel had been monitoring the situation in the state closely.

“We have been conducting various operations and raids on poachers, especially those hunting tigers, which are on the endangered and protected species list,” he told The Star yesterday.

Commenting on recent sightings of tigers in villages in Marang, Yusoff said the animals might have ventured out of their habitat to escape poachers.

He urged anyone with information on illegal hunting and poachers to contact the department at 09-622 1460.

Read more!

Thailand seizes hundreds of turtles in air luggage

Yahoo News 2 Jun 11;

BANGKOK (AFP) – Thai customs have discovered hundreds of live turtles and other rare animals in luggage at Bangkok's main airport, the latest in a series of wildlife seizures in the kingdom, an official said on Thursday.

The haul, which included 35 star tortoises and is worth an estimated one million baht ($33,000), was discovered in suitcases from Bangladesh in transit at Suvarnabhumi Airport on the way to India.

The owner of the luggage, which also included gavials, a reptile related to crocodiles, escaped before police could arrest him.

The star tortoise, which is popular in Asia as an exotic pet, is listed under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species and a permit is required to export them.

Last September Thailand -- home to some of the world's largest wildlife trafficking operations -- seized more than 1,000 star tortoises that were smuggled into the country on a flight from Bangladesh.

And last month a citizen of the United Arab Emirates was arrested as he attempted to smuggle live endangered animals, including four leopard cubs, out of Thailand, although authorities said on Tuesday he had fled the country.

Live crocodiles and turtles seized in airport baggage
TRAFFIC 2 Jun 11;

Bangkok, Thailand, 2nd June 2011—Airport and Customs officials at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport have seized close to 500 live protected animals stuffed into four bags, among them hundreds of turtles, tortoises and seven Gharial crocodiles.

Gharials are a Critically Endangered species, found only in South Asia; they are the longest living and second largest of the world’s crocodile species, with a distinctive long snout.

The initial discovery was made by officers from Airports of Thailand (AOT) on Wednesday during a routine x-ray of three suitcases registered to a Bangladeshi national travelling from Dhaka to Bangkok.

After the x-ray revealed shapes resembling turtles, the officials open the bags and found them packed with several species of turtles and tortoises. A fourth bag registered to the same traveler contained further animals.

The traveller to whom the bags were registered was not apprehended.

Among the 451 turtles and tortoises found in the bags were Narrow Headed Softshell Turtles, Assam Roofed Turtles, Spotted Pond Turtles, Striped Narrow Headed softshell turtle and 35 Indian Star Tortoises, plus the 7 Gharial crocodiles.

Press quoted Prasong Poontaneat, director-general of Thailand’s customs department as saying that the turtles were likely destined for Bangkok's infamous Chatuchak Market where they would have been sold as pets.

The Spotted Pond Turtle and Gharials are both listed in Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora (CITES), which prohibits commercial international trade in these species.

The Assam Roofed Turtles, Indian Star Tortoises and the Critically Endangered Narrow Headed Softshell Turtles are all listed in Appendix II of CITES, which restricts their international trade.

This March, experts meeting in Singapore concluded that illegal and unsustainable trade was the greatest threat to the survival on freshwater turtles and tortoises, nowhere more so than in Asia, where 68 percent of the world’s top 25 most threatened species are native.

“This seizure vividly illustrates the insidious illicit trade that is systematically wiping out Asia’s freshwater turtles and tortoises,” said Dr Richard Thomas, Communications Co-ordinator for TRAFFIC.

The seizure also highlights the illegal trade links between South Asia and Southeast Asia. This is not the first case involving the trafficking of turtles from Bangladesh to Bangkok.

Last year Customs officials stopped two shipments consisting of over a thousand turtles from Bangladesh at Suvarnabhumi International Airport.

The confiscated animals are being cared for at a National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation Department rescue centre.

Read more!

Australia: Rare dolphins found tied to concrete slab

Josh Bavas ABC News 3 Jun 11;

Authorities are disgusted by the discovery of two rare dolphins found dead, tied to mangroves, and weighed down by a slab of concrete in north Queensland.

A local recreational fisherman found the rare snubfin dolphins near the mouth of Two Mile Creek, north of Townsville. Authorities say the dolphins were hand-tied to the mangroves and they are appealing for leads to find those responsible.

Richard Leck from the World Wildlife Fund says he is incensed.

"The killing and concealing of these two dolphins is totally reprehensible and completely out of line with what the community expects what happens within the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage area," he said.

Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority officer Mick Bishop says it is a disturbing find.

"Certainly, somebody's been involved in that because of the very nature of it. In some cases, when you find dolphins, there's possibilities of disease or starvation or whatever," he said.

Mr Bishop says it could be related to illegal fishers who may have tried to conceal the accidental killings of the dolphins.

"The most likely of the explanation is that they would have been caught in a fishing net," he said.

"There was no evidence of propeller strike or anything like that and generally a boat strike, most people don't even know they've done it.

"And so most likely, it would be a fishing net to have caught two dolphins. In those cases it could have occurred quite legally and the net could have been set legally, but there's an obligation on operators to report these deaths."

Nearly 12 months ago a commercial fisherman spotted four dugongs tied up in a similar way in Bowling Green Bay, off the coast of Townsville.

Mr Leck says he would like to see the perpetrators of this latest case brought to justice so it does not happen again.

"Obviously the people involved know what they've done but it's unlikely that this activity happens without other people being aware," he said.

"Now's not the time for fishers to be protecting their mates. Now's the time for fishers to be protecting their species and we call on people who have some knowledge of this to come forward."

Legal fishers do not face fines for reporting the accidental netting of a marine creature like a dolphins, dugongs or turtles.

But Mr Bishop says unregistered trawlers in that region face severe prosecution if they snag and kill protected wildlife.

"There's several different [pieces of] legislation; there's state, federal and marine park legislation. But, for example, under state legislation the maximum fine could be $330,000 or two years in prison," he said.

Mr Leck says he wants the snubfin officially listed as a threatened species as there are only about 1,000 left in the wild.

"The snubfin has recently been declared in the last 10 years as a new species of dolphin," he said.

"It was originally confused with another inshore dolphin but this is Australia's very own inshore dolphin. It's very rare and little is known about it."

Authorities in central Queensland are also puzzled by the deaths of two adult dolphins which washed ashore in the past fortnight.

Rare dolphins found dead in Australia's north
Yahoo News 3 Jun 11;

SYDNEY (AFP) – Animal activists expressed outrage Friday at the discovery of two dead snub fin dolphins tied to mangroves and weighted with a concrete slab, saying every death took the rare species nearer to extinction.

The dolphins were found in wetlands in Australia's world-famous Great Barrier Reef region last week by a recreational fisherman. Police said they suspected they were caught in a net cast by illegal fishing crews.

"The killing and concealing of these two dolphins is totally reprehensible and completely out of line with what the community expects," the World Wildlife Fund's Richard Leck told national radio.

Authorities are seeking leads on the animals, which they suspect could have been accidentally caught in nets but then dumped among the mangroves to hide the killings, which fishing boat operators are required to report.

Only discovered in 2005, the snub fin species is now on the brink of extinction, with just 1,000 left in the wild according to Leck.

Another WWF officer Lydia Gibson said the creatures lived in small, isolated communities and "in some cases if you lose just one individual... that could spell the local extinction of that population."

Activists want the dolphin, a rare in-shore species about which very little is known, listed as nationally threatened.

Illegal trawling brings a maximum Aus$330,000 (US$352,261) fine or two years in prison.

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Endangered wildlife collateral damage in Spratlys row

Kristine L. Alave Philippine Daily Inquirer 3 Jun 11;

MANILA, Philippines—Endangered marine animals have become collateral damage in the long-standing dispute over the Spratlys, an oil-rich group of islands in the South China Sea claimed by six countries including the Philippines, a leading environmental advocate said.

Jose Ma. Lorenzo Tan, chief executive officer of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF)-Philippines, expressed concern over the state of the Spratlys’ marine environment, following reports of heightened military incursions by Philippine and Chinese forces in the area also known as a rich fishing ground.

“Marine life is another casualty in the Spratlys dispute. I’m concerned about it because it’s a no man’s land, it’s a no man’s sea,” Tan said in an interview.

“Everything that we are worried about is there,” Tan said at Thursday’s launch of a project to save “dugongs” and sea turtles in Davao City. The project was being supported by WWF and Smart Communications.

Home to endemic marine species, waters surrounding the Spratlys have become a major hunting ground for illegal fishermen and poachers.

Fishermen, particularly from Vietnam and China, have been known to harvest corals and catch whales, sharks and turtles in the area.

Boon to poachers

The territorial dispute and military standoff over the Spratlys would always be a boon to poachers, Tan said.

As long as the ownership of the islands is in question, marine poachers and smugglers would remain slippery from the grasp of law enforcers, he explained.

“Depending on who holds the cards right now, the dominant nation will call the shots and unregulated extraction will continue. Because why should they not continue fishing? Nobody will catch them,” Tan said.

Tan said China’s show of might in the region could only embolden Chinese poachers and pirates who roam the South China Sea for fish and other contraband marine creatures.

He noted that many of the species caught all over the country end up in China, turtles being a major example.

“They kill them and they stuff them with cotton. They use them as wall decor in Hainan. It’s about who’s got the biggest turtle on the wall,” he said.

Rich eco-region

According to WWF, the Spratlys Islands is a rich eco-region that contains over 600 coral reefs, atolls, rocks, banks and cays in the South China Sea. It is a major habitat for various seabirds as well as green and hawksbill sea turtles.

The Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei, Vietnam and China have all claimed ownership on the archipelago, which promises to have rich oil deposits beneath the sea. Over the years, the five countries’ military forces have made forays into the islands and have built naval facilities there.

The Philippine government belatedly learned that Chinese ships unloaded an undetermined number of steel posts and a buoy in the vicinity of the Amy Douglas Bank on May 21 and 24.

The Spratlys territorial dispute was the main topic in the recent meeting between Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin and his Chinese counterpart, Liang Guanglie. It was also on the agenda of President Aquino’s visit to Brunei.

The incursions of military personnel in the islands have also degraded the Spratlys, the WWF said.

“Military groups … have engaged in environmentally damaging activities such as shooting turtles and seabirds, raiding nests, and fishing with explosives,” it said in a report on the eco-region.

“The collection of rare medicinal plants and wood and hunting for the wildlife trade are common threats to the biodiversity of the entire region, including these islands. Coral habitats are threatened by pollution, over-exploitation of fish and invertebrates, and the use of explosives and poisons as fishing techniques,” the WWF noted.

Gulf under threat

Davao Gulf is another area that is under threat, the WWF said.

It urged Filipinos to help them protect marine species and mammals, particularly the dugongs and sea turtles, in Davao Gulf, which are besieged by destructive manmade activities.

The organization teamed up with telecommunication giant Smart to allow subscribers to donate as low as P5 to as much as P1,000 to the Davao Gulf conservation program by texting WWF to 4483.

The gulf is a priority area as it has one of the highest marine mammal diversity in the country and is part of the Coral Triangle, the WWF said.

“It is a breeding and nursery ground for small and large pelagic species, with frequent sightings of whale sharks, dugongs, and leatherback turtles. Sadly, Davao Gulf is being threatened by the very economic activities it supports,” Tan said.

The unregulated and intrusive man-made and industrial activities in the gulf have degraded the region, he noted.

“Fish yields have decreased, leading many to adopt destructive fishing methods in order to survive. Turtles are killed for their meats and eggs, while the number of dugongs has dwindled due to boat propeller accidents and fishnet-caused drowning,” Tan said.

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Indonesia: Missing the woods for the rainforest trees

Bruce Gale Straits Times 3 Jun 11;

FORESTS As Life Support is the theme of World Environment Day this Sunday. But as Indonesian government officials and environmentalists alike celebrate the vital role the nation's forests play in sustaining biodiversity and maintaining a stable global climate, they remain deeply divided about the effectiveness of official preservation measures.

'The whole thing is ridiculous,' Greenomics spokesman Elfian Effendi told me when I met him in Jakarta late last month. Mr Elfian was referring to a presidential decree on May 19 implementing a long-delayed moratorium on forest exploitation. The moratorium is part of a US$1 billion (S$1.23 billion) climate change agreement President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono signed with Norway last year to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation. It is to last two years but could, in theory, be extended. Its implementation will be overseen by a special task force headed by reform-minded technocrat Kuntoro Mangkusubroto.

According to Mr Agus Purnomo, a presidential adviser on climate change, the moratorium applies to all peatlands and primary forests that have not been reserved for any purpose and for which no permits had been issued. In terms of area, this represents 64 million ha of Indonesia's 130 million ha of total forest cover.

When government intentions first became known last year, the proposed moratorium was hailed by environmentalists as a major step forward. Now that the details have been announced, however, activists such as Mr Elfian see the move as potentially doing more harm than good.

One reason for this is the long list of exemptions designed to mollify the plantation, logging and mining industries. Companies already holding permits to clear forest areas, for example, will be permitted to go ahead. Permit extensions will also be considered, as will new projects focusing on geothermal power, oil and gas exploitation, as well as sugar and rice plantations. Unconfirmed reports say that dozens of new permits have been issued in recent months.

Investors are believed to be eyeing the government's huge Merauke Integrated Food and Energy Estate programme in West Papua. This province has the largest area of virgin forests in the country.

Yet another source of concern is the fact that the May 19 presidential decree made no specific mention of the need to conserve natural secondary forest. According to Greenomics, an NGO dealing in environmental issues, Indonesia has about 36 million ha of secondary forest, of which about 60 per cent is still in good condition. Will this area now be open to exploitation without restriction? No one outside the highest level of government really knows. Yet these forests are home to a wide range of protected wildlife, including the Sumatran tiger and the orang utan.

Yet other uncertainties have to do with cartography. Mr Elfian showed me a map of protected forests issued with the presidential decree that was barely half the size of an A4 sheet of paper. Based on outdated satellite data from 2009, it had a scale of 1:19,000,000. As such, the map was far less detailed than the 1:2,000,000 normally used by government departments for national spatial planning. It was also well short of the 1:25,000 scale recently recommended by the Corruption Eradication Commission for companies applying for licences for forest exploitation and conversion.

Imprecision opens up numerous opportunities for graft. Clearly, much work remains to be done to identify exactly which areas are to be protected and which are not.

To support its claimed commitment to sustainable development, the government can point to stepped up efforts at forest replanting. According to Forestry Minister Zulkifli Hasan, Indonesia plans to plant 1.5 billion trees this year to mark United Nations International Forest Year 2011. The figure, up from 1.3 billion last year, accounts for 50 per cent of the ministry's budget.

Unfortunately, Indonesian officials are still trying to lay the blame on Biomedical Research Council people other than themselves. Problems implementing this scheme in the outer islands, for example, are explained by reference to the difficulty officials have encouraging public participation in cultures where planting local vegetables and medicinal herbs is rare.

A statement posted on the website of Norway's environment ministry the day after the presidential decree was issued was nevertheless optimistic. The moratorium, it said, reflected 'a very serious development choice' involving efforts to combine strong economic growth with a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.

But while the moratorium can be seen as important in establishing sustainable development as a key principle of economic growth, it is also easy to overstate its practical significance. Of the 64 million ha affected by the recently implemented moratorium, around 75 per cent was already protected under Indonesian law.

It remains to be seen whether the moratorium will change things in any fundamental way.

Read more!

Thorny mission to preserve world's forests

Patrick Fort Yahoo News 2 Jun 11;

BRAZZAVILLE (AFP) – Third World countries and notably those of the Congo basin face an uphill challenge in looking after their forests while allowing for population growth and development.

The debate is a primary theme being discussed this week at a meeting in the Congolese capital Brazzaville of some 500 experts from the Congo Basin in Central Africa, South America's Amazon Basin and the Borneo-Mekong Basin in South-East Asia.

These areas make up 80 per cent of the globe's rainforests and contain two-thirds of its biodiversity.

"It's out of the question to renounce development; our goal is the well-being of our people," Etienne Massard, a special advisor to Gabon's President Ali Bongo Ondimba, told AFP before the debates began on May 28. "On the other hand, we have really to think about our actions and our strategy in order not to mortgage our future."

Mette Loyche Wilkie, head of forestry in the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, raised linked issues: "By 2050 we need to increase the production of agriculture by 70 percent in order to feed the world. It's clear we have to increase the productivity of agriculture. That is possible to a large extent, but there will also be an expansion of agriculture at the expense of forest."

Wilkie said this needed to happen in the right places.

"It is a matter of having an integrated land use planning where you decide which forest to keep, which forest to maintain as permanent, which forest you protect in terms of protected areas to protect biodiversity, in which forest you allow production of wood, and in some cases which forests you set aside for conversion because it is clear that in some countries, you need to cut down trees to establish a new harbour, new roads, new housing, and in some cases agriculture."

Mario Boccucci of the UN Environment Programme defended a "green economy" in which he emphasised the "important social dimension in terms "of livelihood, people."

"That's the concept of a green economy. Look at your larger economy so you can identify ways to maximize the social economic and environmental outcomes of your development. (...)

"What we are looking here is ways to catalyse different kind of economy. An economy that will still deliver economic growth, export revenues, still create jobs. But that does it without clearing forest.

As an example, Boccucci cited Indonesia's plans to make oil palm a future viable industry, for which they need land. "The plan is to get the land from the forest, but Indonesia has potentially a lot of land that is already degraded that can be used for plantations."

Boccucci insisted that the status of land needs to be clarified by the state, because it is "too risky" for the private sector to invest millions of dollars on land that is under dispute or occupied.

Gaston Foutou, head of conservation in the Congolese Ministry of Forest Economy, argued that "the population must at once feel the impact of forest production and the protection of ecosystems."

"We can't develop without cutting down forest," he said. "If I need a table or a chair, I have to be able to cut wood. What we need is a viable policy for the rational and sustainable exploitation of the forest. And that it's profitable for people."

Officials are expected to sign a joint statement on tropical forests, climate and sustainable development ahead of a meeting of the United Nations Convention on Climate Change in Durban, South Africa later this year and the Earth Summit 2012, to be held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

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E coli strain previously unseen and 'resistant to antibiotics'

Bacterial outbreak had spread beyond Germany to 10 countries with people infected through eating contaminated vegetables
Alok Jha 2 Jun 11;

A strain of E coli spreading across Europe is a previously unseen and more virulent variant of the bacterium, health officials have said.

So far 18 people have died and more than 2,000 havehad become infected from eating contaminated vegetables. The bacterial outbreak had spread beyond Germany to 10 countries.

After scientists sequenced the genetic code of the E coli, Hilde Kruse, a food safety expert at the World Health Organisation told Associated Press: "This is a unique strain that has never been isolated from patients before … [there are] various characteristics that make it more virulent and toxin producing."

Scientists also said that the new strain appeared likely to be resistant to common antibiotics.

A spokesperson for the UK's Health Protection Agency said the organisation had not sequenced the bacterium but had agreed with the WHO finding that the E coli O104 strain associated with the outbreak "which we know to have a highly unusual combination of virulent properties, could be one that has never been seen before".

There is no evidence yet that the bacteria have appeared on British vegetables.

Stephen Smith, a clinical microbiologist at Trinity College, Dublin, said the new E coli strain was a "mongrel" combining two "nasty" types of the bacterium. He said: "It is very similar to enteroaggregative E coli which has been associated with outbreaks of watery diarrhoea, in developing nations since 1970. However, this bacterium has been recognised as a cause of diarrhoea in industrialised nations and has caused outbreaks in the US, Sweden, Britain and Germany."

The toxin produced by the bacterium binds to, and damages, kidney cells and leads to haemolytic uraemic syndrome (HUS), a rare and severe complication that destroys red blood cells and can affect the central nervous system. More than 500 cases of HUS have been reported in Germany and three cases were found in the UK in people who had recently been to Germany.

An HPA spokesperson said: "Bacteria and viruses are evolving all the time. We expect to see new strains, sometimes more virulent or resistant to antibiotics than others, and plan on that basis."

FACTBOX-Facts about Europe's E. coli outbreak
Reuters 2 Jun 11;

June 2 (Reuters) - The deadly strain of E. coli that has killed at least 17 people in Europe and sickened 1,500 has never been seen in a human population and it may be the most toxic yet, health experts said on Thursday.

Here are answers to some frequently asked questions about the outbreak.

1. What is E. coli? Escherichia coli (E. coli) are a group of bacteria that live in the intestines of many animals, including humans. Most strains are harmless, but others can cause illness ranging from diarrhea to pneumonia. E. coli infections can be mild to life-threatening.

2. How is E. coli spread? E. coli infections are caused by ingesting the feces of infected animals or humans, often via contaminated food or water. People can contaminate food by failing to wash their hands after using the toilet or changing a baby's diaper, although person-to-person infection is rare. Feces from animals, ranging from cows to birds, can contaminate water or crops.

3. What is the strain? The strain that is sickening people in Germany and other parts of Europe, known as 0104:H4, is part of a class of bacteria known as Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli, or STEC. It is the first time the strain has caused an outbreak in humans. Symptoms of STEC infections vary for each person but often include severe stomach cramps, diarrhea (often bloody) and vomiting. Low fever (less than 101 degrees F/38.5 degrees C) also may be present. Most people recover within five to seven days.

4. What are the major complications of this strain? Hundreds of people sickened in the outbreak have developed hemolytic uremic syndrome, or HUS, a life-threatening complication of E. coli infections. The syndrome, which results in the destruction of red blood cells and severe kidney problems, usually arises about a week after diarrhea starts.

Symptoms of HUS include decreased frequency of urination, extreme fatigue and the loss of the skin's pink color. Children, the elderly and people with compromised immune systems usually are at highest risk for HUS. In the case of this outbreak, healthy adult women have been hard hit.

5. What is the medical treatment? Experts said supportive therapy, including hydration, is important. Treatment for HUS includes dialysis for kidney failure and blood transfusions for anemia. Antibiotics should not be used, as there is no evidence that treatment with antibiotics is helpful. Antibiotics and antidiarrheal agents like Imodium also may increase risk of HUS.

Source: U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Reporting by Lisa Baertlein in Los Angeles and Julie Steenhuysen in Chicago; Editing by Peter Cooney)

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Congo Bans Plastic Bags To Fight Pollution

Christian Tsounou PlanetArk 3 Jun 11;

The Republic of Congo has banned the production, import, sale and use of plastic bags in a move to fight environmental pollution in the Central African nation, government spokesman Bienvenu Okiemy said Thursday.

Okiemy said the government adopted a decree following a cabinet meeting Wednesday. It prohibits the use of plastic bags to pack food, groceries, water and other beverages.

"For some years now, particularly in urban areas, Congo has witnessed major environmental pollution caused by discarded plastic bags which block drainage systems, causing floods and landslides," Okiemy said.

He did not say from when the ban would be effective.

Congo, like many developing nations, lacks adequate waste management and recycling facilities. The widely used non-biodegradable plastic bags are strewn about, causing harm to the environment.

Rwanda has led Africa's fight against plastic bags, banning them five years ago. Other countries have also moved to either ban or limit their usage.

In December, Italy said it would ban plastic shopping bags while the European Commission, said in May it was considering a tax or a ban on plastic bags to cut their use.

(Writing by Bate Felix)

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Australia's Kakadu wetlands 'under climate threat'

Yahoo News 2 Jun 11;

SYDNEY (AFP) – Rising sea levels linked to global warming will endanger Australia's World Heritage-listed Kakadu wetlands, according to a government report released Thursday as part of the campaign for a carbon tax.

Prepared for the climate change department, the study found Kakadu was "one of Australia's natural ecosystems most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change", with higher oceans a "serious risk" to its ecosystem.

Monsoon rainforests, mangroves and woodlands would suffer and unique turtle, fish, crab, crocodile and bird species would decline, said the report, which mapped impacts based on international climate projections for 2030 and 2070.

Some culturally significant sites for the local indigenous Bininj tribe would become impossible to access, while sources of income and "bush tucker" -- traditional wild food -- were likely to be compromised, it added.

Kakadu National Park is a World Heritage site of cultural and natural importance sprawling across some 20,000 square kilometres (8,000 square miles) from coast to hinterland in Australia's tropical north.

The Bininj are believed to have hunted and lived there for some 60,000 years.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard said the report was a "stark reminder of the ongoing challenge Australia faces to protect its magnificent natural assets" and sounded "yet another warning bell about the dangers of climate change."

"The report shows why it is critically important to take action now to combat climate change," Gillard said.

The prime minister has been intensifying her push to tax polluters from next July in a bid to tackle carbon emissions blamed for global warming.

Australia is among the world's worst per capita emitters, relying heavily on coal-fired power and exporting millions of tonnes of the fuel to Asian steelmakers and electricity firms every year.

Gillard wants to introduce a fixed-price levy on emissions for three to five years which will transition to a cap-and-trade scheme, where the government will set a national limit on pollution and sell permits to firms.

But she is facing stiff opposition from her political opponents and big business, particularly the heavyweight mining industry, which claims investment will be lost offshore and the economy will suffer.

Oscar-winning actress Cate Blanchett came out in support of a carbon tax this week, fronting a television campaign advocating action on climate change.

Gillard's cause was also bolstered by the final report of Ross Garnaut, the government's top climate adviser, who on Tuesday recommended a levy of Aus$26 ($28) -per-tonne on carbon emissions and shift to a trading scheme by 2015.

Australia Warns Climate Change Threatens Kakadu Park
Rob Taylor PlanetArk 3 Jun 11;

Australia warned on Thursday that its World Heritage-listed outback Kakadu wetland, made famous in the "Crocodile Dundee" films, was at severe risk from climate change, as the government faced a growing battle to introduce a carbon tax.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard's one-seat majority government is embroiled in an increasingly acrimonious climate policy debate, pitching mining magnates against environment activists including Oscar winning Australian actress Cate Blanchett.

Gillard, struggling to sell her plan to cut greenhouse emissions through a carbon tax and emissions trading, said without global action one of Australia's major tourist areas, Kakadu, would eventually be devastated by rising seas.

"Salt water will get into the fresh water in Kakadu, changing the ecology, being a real risk for the native animals that live there, being a real risk for the indigenous communities that still rely on this ecosystem for their bush tucker," Gillard said, referring to native foods.

Gillard's Labor plans to introduce a carbon tax on 1,000 of the country's biggest polluters in 2012, transitioning to emissions trading three to five years after that.

But Gillard needs to convince a handful of Green and independent MPs, who hold the balance of power, to back the scheme, and has yet to convinced voters to support the policy.

Opinion polls say some 60 percent of voters oppose a carbon tax, with only 30 percent in favor. Gillard's failure to deliver her climate policy would be seriously damaging to her and her Labor party, with elections due until 2013.

Mining firms warned this week that the planned carbon pollution cutting scheme would slash investment, output and jobs, demanding the minority government enter talks to recast its ideas.

In a TV campaign this week, Blanchett called on Australians to finally act against climate change, while opposition leader Tony Abbott has ratcheted up his attacks on the policy, visiting factories and warning of grocery price rises and job losses.

Without strong world climate action Australia, the driest inhabited continent, would suffer some of the worst consequences from rising global temperatures, Gillard said.

The Kakadu Park, a crocodile-infested area near the Alligator Rivers Region of the Northern Territory, covers an area half the size of Switzerland and is one of very few places World Heritage listed for both cultural and natural values.

A government-commissioned report modeled the impacts of sea level rise on Kakadu's South Alligator River system for 2030 and 2070, and found rising sea and storm tide levels would carry the sea into fragile freshwater habitats.

Climate scientists have previously warned the country's Great Barrier Reef won't be spared either, its coral a victim of rising ocean acidity from higher carbon dioxide levels from burning fossil fuels and felling forests [ID:nL3E7GN09J]

"The landscapes and native wildlife we know and love will inevitably change. Our challenge is to minimize the dangers, the impacts and the risks," Gillard said.

The report was released as a key committee of lawmakers, including Greens and independents backing Gillard's Labor against a conservative opposition hoping to force fresh elections, try to agree on carbon price details.

The committee was looking at a price of between A$18 and A$23 ($19.10-$24.40) per tonne, the Australian newspaper said on Thursday, without naming sources.

A carbon price of A$18 to A$23 a tonne would collect between A$8 billion and A$10bn a year and would be between the A$26 recommendation by the government's main climate policy adviser and calls by the mining industry for a price of A$10 per tonne.

The government, wary of its precarious support and recent polls putting conservatives ahead, has promised compensation for households, as well as trade-exposed industries, and said it would unveil full details of its plans in July.

The conservatives opposition says it would repeal a carbon tax if elected, as well as any income tax cuts linked to the scheme.

(Editing by Ed Davies)

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Climate Action Faces Legal Gap, No Deal This Year

Gerard Wynn PlanetArk 3 Jun 11;

The world will again fall short of a full climate deal this year, after two past attempts, say developed countries which want a narrower focus on forests and funds at resumed U.N. talks in Germany next week.

A fresh postponement will all but end hopes of a binding U.N. deal to succeed the Kyoto Protocol before its present round expires at the end of 2012, leaving a legal gap and possible makeshift arrangements for years.

A summit in Copenhagen two years ago was blown off course by world recession and political wrangling. Hopes are now dimmed for a conference in Durban, South Africa later this year.

Developing countries want to extend Kyoto, which binds only rich countries to cut greenhouse gas emissions until 2012. But Japan, Russia and Canada reject that, preferring a new, wider deal in a rich-poor deadlock which echoes world trade talks.

"In Durban it's almost impossible to see a legally binding agreement, if we take into consideration the positions of many countries including the United States and China," said Akira Yamada, who will head Japan's delegation at the next round of talks at a two-week meeting in Bonn, Germany, from June 6-17.

China and the United States are the world's top two carbon emitters, but Kyoto does not bind China's soaring emissions and the United States was the only industrialized country not to ratify the pact.

The United States has demanded "legal symmetry" in a new deal, under which climate targets for China would have equal force to any commitments by the rich. China says its priority must be to grow its economy to end poverty.

Many developing nations say an extension of Kyoto is vital.

"The Kyoto Protocol is an essential element of any comprehensive strategy to address climate change and also a key to maintaining trust between developed and developing countries," said Colin Beck, representing the Solomon Islands.

Top climate officials in the European Union and the United States have already said a full deal this year was beyond reach.

A possible compromise could see countries in Durban harden existing voluntary emissions pledges after 2012, for example by attaching a formal time schedule to these in a stop-gap deal falling short of a new protocol, say negotiators.


Without a full deal, there was still much to agree this year, for example on how to raise $100 billion in climate aid annually by 2020, share low-carbon technologies, increase inspection of national action and curb deforestation, said the EU's chief negotiator Artur Runge-Metzger.

Countries agreed those steps in principle at a ministerial conference in Mexico at the end of last year. "We would like a practical, pragmatic discussion in Bonn," said Japan's Yamada.

"There is a lot that can be done in the meantime (without a deal)," said Elliot Diringer, vice president of international strategies at the Pew Center on Global Climate Change.

Efforts are meant to help shift from fossil fuels toward low-carbon technologies to help avert what the U.N. panel of climate scientists says will be ever more droughts, floods and rising sea levels.

But developing countries also want discussion on the most contentious issue, an extended Kyoto Protocol, left unclear in Mexico. There was also a stalemate at the most recent talks in Bangkok in April.

HSBC climate analyst Nick Robins said an old strategy based on driving through binding emissions targets with carbon markets was "broken," expecting instead a deal around 2014 or 2015 with extra steps to shape a greener world economy, for example by imposing global standards on vehicle efficiency.

That may build on other multilateral processes such as clean energy meetings hosted by U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu, or a U.N. push on sustainable development, with the climate talks focused on practical oversight of public finance and targets.

(Editing by Alistair Lyon)

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