Best of our wild blogs: 12 Jun 11

Baby birds calls: Yellow-vented Bulbul
from Bird Ecology Study Group

Great day guiding at Chek Jawa Boardwalk
from wonderful creation and wild shores of singapore

Singapore-Hong Kong Butterfly Hospitality
from Butterflies of Singapore

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Keep climate change in the news

Global warming is not about environment only; it cuts across economic, social issues
Jessica Cheam Straits Times 12 Jun 11;

It was a strange confluence of events. Last Sunday, I was in Budapest, Hungary, participating in a journalists' seminar organised by the Asia-Europe Foundation (Asef) on climate change and the media's role in furthering the debate.

It seemed fitting as it was also World Environment Day. And on that day, Mother Nature seemed intent on reminding Singapore of the unpredictable force that she is - Singapore experienced its worst floods this year, which ruined the retail shops in the basement of Tanglin Mall and caused Bukit Timah Road's canals to overflow and flood the roads.

This came on the heels of recent tragic news that an Indonesian boy had drowned in a flash-flood incident, when he fell into a drain in the Moulmein area concealed by the high water levels.

Singaporeans were instantly abuzz about the floods. Not again, they complained. Last year, Singapore had also experienced heavy flooding in June and, in particular, parts of Orchard Road such as Liat Towers were flooded, among other areas, destroying millions of dollars' worth of goods. A review of our flood-prevention systems then led to flood levees being installed in Orchard Road, and plans were made to enlarge and widen drains.

But it looks like it was not enough. Tough questions are now being asked: What has changed such that our drainage system, which worked for the best part of the last three decades, is no longer adequate?

A few reasons have emerged: rubbish choking our drains, overbuilding in certain areas that results in water hitting concrete with no place to go, and alert systems that failed.

But there's one other important factor - one we cannot control - which is that Singapore's climate patterns have changed, likely permanently, and our low-lying island is set to see heavier precipitation from now on.

Inevitably, climate change has been mentioned in the news coverage of the floods. Environment and Water Resources Minister Vivian Balakrishnan acknowledged the 'very high probability that our weather patterns have changed', and that Singapore's planning norms and building codes must be reviewed in the light of this development.

Although weather events cannot be specifically pinned on climate change, there is an emerging consensus that the increase in the incidence of extreme weather events across the globe is due to unpredictable and changing climate patterns.

The public, who on a normal sunny day do not give two hoots about the environment, have suddenly sat up and taken notice.

Are Singaporeans finally feeling the impact?

Across the world, we are seeing trends of nations being awakened to this new reality. Climate stories were but page-fillers in Pakistan, for example, until the country experienced massive floods that claimed many lives, then they were given the same top coverage as terrorism, governance and the economy.

But the challenge is sustaining the momentum.

When the floods subside, and the sun shines again, will Singaporeans forget?

How do media practitioners bring home to the average person that the choices he makes today, the government policies he supports or rejects, will ultimately have an impact on his daily life in the near future?

At the 6th Asia-Europe Journalists' Seminar, this was a question that 30 journalists across Asia and Europe grappled with.

Following the high-profile United Nations climate change summit in Copenhagen in 2009, media coverage of climate change dropped drastically, back to 2005 levels, according to

Similar trends were found in studies by other institutions such as the University of Colorado and Oxford University. Earth Journalism Network executive director James Fahn, who spoke at the seminar, noted that this was also partly due to 'climate fatigue'. People have grown tired of phrases such as 'climate change' and 'environment'.

This is partly because stories on the climate and environment often involve bad news: floods, loss of lives, melting glaciers, rising food and energy prices, and so on.

So what can we do?

The seminar threw up a set of recommendations (full details can be found on Asef's website, which remind media practitioners that, to borrow Mr Fahn's words, climate change is not just an environment story.

It is not just an environment story because it cuts across economic, policy and social issues. It has become the important context with which to view global developments.

It challenges certain fundamental and conventional notions, for example, on economic growth and its definitions. Already we are beginning to see interesting debates on whether there are alternative models that could redefine growth in the next century. Policies are also being made with climate change at their heart - from Germany's energy policy to trade negotiations at multilateral meetings.

Then there's the good news: There are unparalleled opportunities offered by this global challenge, whether it is finding the next renewable energy technology, or inventing a flood-proof system to implement in flood-prone areas - stories that have largely been

under-reported compared with the negative stories on the consequences of climate change.

The seminar also noted that while writers should be careful not to provide 'false balance' in stories, such as by including misleading or inaccurate statements from climate-change sceptics, they should also strive to be objective and reflect any new developments in climate science - even if they challenge the current consensus.

This helps climate change reporting, as a whole, gain credibility.

Most importantly, stories on climate change need to speak directly to readers, to help them understand their role in this global challenge.

The stories on the floods in Singapore are a good example of how climate change can affect the man in the street.

People may ask: Why should we care? And, how do my consumer choices matter?

Well, they matter a lot, since the complex problem of climate change will ultimately affect the price of the petrol you put in your car, how much your plate of noodles costs, and what type of jobs you can expect to see in the future.

It's important to keep it on the agenda because, like the floods last Sunday, it could come out of nowhere and catch us unprepared.

Rising mercury, rising waters?
Straits Times 12 Jun 11;

Rising global temperatures have triggered another climate change argument: Will they spark more flooding?

Some scientists say that a hotter Earth is giving rise to increasing incidences of global snow and ice melt in the Arctic regions, which puts more water vapour into the atmosphere, which is then redistributed in other areas as more snow or rain, boosting the chances of flooding.

Computer models have long predicted that the rise in atmospheric greenhouse gases - which leads to global warming - would magnify episodes of flood-causing rain.

But two separate studies, published in journal Nature in February, were among the first to draw a straight line between the two.

Data gathered between 1951 and 2000 from across Europe, Asia and North America showed that, on average, the most extreme 24-hour precipitation event in a given year - whether rain, snow or sleet - increased in intensity over that time.

The main driver was simply more water in the air.

'In a warmer world, the atmosphere has greater moisture-holding capacity,' said researcher Francis Zwiers of the University of Victoria in Canada, a co-author of one of the studies published in the respected journal.

Records show that last year tied for the hottest year on record, confirming a long-term warming trend for the planet.

The first 10 years of the millennium proved to be the hottest decade since climate records began, according to data provided by the World Meteorological Organisation.

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Rising waters ≠ Falling prices

Residents in areas on PUB's flood-prone list remain unfazed, saying other factors count more, reports Feng Zengkun
Straits Times 12 Jun 11;

Along Meyer Road in Katong, five of the seven houses have high foundations, and driveways that slope up from the street. The renovations beat back the water that overflows from a nearby drain during heavy rains.

This is what home owners have to do as they live in a low-lying part of the island. These owners belong to an 'exclusive' club - they are on a PUB list of flood- prone areas in Singapore.

The national water agency recently updated this list. There are now 66 such areas, mostly in low-lying areas such as Bukit Timah and Jalan Besar.

But while some home owners have had to spend money making their homes more flood-resistant, they are unfazed by the possibility that being on that list will affect their property's value.

'If you like where you're living, then all of this does not matter,' said Mrs Judy Sim, 54, a pre-school teacher who lives in Langsat Road in Joo Chiat.

Almost all the residents The Sunday Times spoke to pointed out that the list covers areas all over Singapore.

'Surely property prices cannot be dropping islandwide,' said Mr Howard Ang, 36, a businessman who lives in Meng Suan Road in Upper Thomson. 'And if they are, then the effect is balanced out.'

Property agents say prices for landed properties such as semi-detached and detached houses have held steady through the floods.

Such properties are more likely to be affected by the floods than flats and condominiums, which often have void decks or carparks that bear the brunt of any flood.

They pointed out that the limited number of private properties means that prices are unlikely to fluctuate too much.

There are about 70,000 landed properties, which make up about 30 per cent of private homes here.

Mr Michael Chew, 29, an associate team director with agency PropNex, said: 'If you want to live in a landed home, you have fewer options to choose from.'

He added that many of the landed properties are in desirable districts such as Orchard Road and Bukit Timah. The prime locations are enough to override any negative effects of floods, he said.

He pointed to The Marq, a condominium on Paterson Hill near Orchard Road, which has had two major floods in the past year.

The condominium made the news last month when a four-bedroom apartment sold for $5,842 per sq ft, the highest recorded price for a residential unit in Singapore.

'It shows that location is still the top factor when it comes to buying homes here,' Mr Chew said.

Another thing: Residents said the list of flood-prone areas does not necessarily reflect the reality on the ground.

Only a few streets and junctions in an area may be flooded during heavy rain, despite the whole area being listed as flood-prone, they said.

Mr Ong Peng, a 62-year-old retiree who lives in Katong, said only the junction of Mountbatten Road and Jalan Seaview floods.

He said: 'I've lived here for more than 30 years and I've never been affected by floods before, although my street is listed as a flood-prone area.'

The residents also expressed confidence that home buyers would do their own checks and not be dissuaded by the list.

Mr Ong Meng Kit, 54, a marketing executive who lives in Coronation Road in Bukit Timah, said: 'When someone wants to purchase a piece of property, he will check with the current occupants and the neighbours on what to expect.

'It does not matter whether the area is on some list or not.'

Other residents believe that people who buy property would usually carry out renovation work before moving in.

They said new home owners in the low-lying areas could take that opportunity to elevate their houses to make them flood-proof.

Retiree Sally Chew, 66, who lives in Jalan Mat Jambol in Buona Vista, said: 'If you're going to sink your money into a private property, you might as well spend the extra bit of money for peace of mind.'

Miss Amelia Ding, associate marketing director with property agency GPS Alliance, said home sellers are unlikely to settle for less money because of the floods.

This, despite potential buyers using the floods as a reason to knock a few digits off the asking price.

'Sellers have told me, if people can afford to buy such high-end properties, they can afford to raise the houses by a few inches.'

Both residents and property agents said they would like the PUB to fine-tune the list.

Mr Edward Chng, 27, a communications manager who lives in Lorong Buangkok in Hougang, said the current list is too conservative.

'Most low-lying areas are included in it. What is important is for the agency to identify the areas that actually flood.

'And then it should do something about those places so that even that list is not necessary.'

Additional reporting by Sia Ling Xin and Melissa Lin


There are two lists to keep track of floods in Singapore, said national water agency PUB yesterday.

The short-term list is called the 'hot spot' list. When an area becomes flooded for the first time, it is put on this list and earmarked for future drainage improvements.

These can include increasing the number of drainage outlets or checking the drains more often for blockages.

After the improvements are carried out, the agency continues to monitor the area for about a year.

The area is removed from the list if it does not flood again within the year.

If it floods again, it may be put on the second list, called the 'flood-prone' list.

Areas on this list are mainly low-lying ones that have a higher tendency to become flooded. Examples include the Bukit Timah area in the west and the central Jalan Besar area.

PUB said that these may require more work. New buildings might require higher platform levels, and more canals and waterways might be needed to handle water from intense storms.

In some cases, PUB will raise the low-lying areas when they are slated for redevelopment. The agency reviews its list of flood-prone areas every year.

There are currently 66 flood-prone places on the list, after the latest update in February. They occupy 56ha of land, or less than 0.1 per cent of the total land here.

PUB said that the public can e-mail to provide feedback or to ask the agency to review their areas.

Feng Zengkun

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Urban jaunts

In this LifeStyle walking special, Melissa Sim talks to people who walk for a living and Tay Suan Chiang susses out the best spots for a stroll
Straits Times 12 Jun 11;


Even if you are not a Jurong resident, getting to this 8ha park is a breeze. It is opposite the Boon Lay MRT Station and is also connected to Jurong Point shopping mall via an overhead bridge. The park, at the junction of Boon Lay Way and Jalan Boon Lay, has a 2km cycling and jogging track, as well as benches and shelters.

It is popular not just with families but also kite-flying enthusiasts. When LifeStyle visited on Tuesday afternoon, there were several groups of people flying their kites. This activity goes on even at night, when the sky is dotted with kites lit up with light-emitting diodes (LED). There is also a McDonald's outlet nearby which operates 24 hours.


Get a view of the city skyline at the Marina Bay Waterfront.

A 3.5km pedestrian loop connects Marina Centre, Collyer Quay and the Bayfront areas.

There are seating areas on the boardwalk outside Marina Bay Sands to let visitors look out onto Collyer Quay and Raffles Place.

Or take a walk to The Promontory @ Marina Bay, an open field where you can snap pictures of Marina Bay Sands on one side and the offices at Raffles Place on the other.

Apart from taking in the city skyline when here, visitors can also watch a free 13-minute light and water show called Wonder Full, which is on at 8 and 9.30pm nightly, with an additional show at 11pm on Fridays and Saturdays.


This 4.9km promenade which connects Punggol East to Punggol Point has yet to be fully completed but is already proving a hit with residents nearby.

The Riverside Walk section of the promenade, which runs along Sungei Serangoon, opened earlier this year. Two more sections, the Nature Walk and Punggol Point Walk, are expected to open later in the year.

There are cycling and jogging tracks at the Riverside Walk, as well as lookout points that allow visitors to get closer to the water. Cattails line the riverbank.

The walk is not shaded, so it is best to go early in the mornings or in the evenings.

There are several F&B outlets, including two seafood restaurants, near the start of the Riverside Walk at Punggol East.

At the end of the walk is a bridge that connects to the Lorong Halus Wetlands, a biodiversity haven for flora and fauna across the river. It takes about 15 minutes by foot to reach the wetlands.


Last year, the Nature Society of Singapore put up a proposal to the Governnment to keep the current KTM Railway Land as a green corridor after train operations cease on June 30.

A 40km track runs from Tanjong Pagar railway station to Woodlands, running through areas such as Clementi Woodlands, Bukit Timah Nature Reserve and Kranji.

There is plenty of greenery along this track, along with giant tree ferns, fruit and vegetable farms, mangroves and mudflats along with rare birds such as the Buffy Fish Owl.

Visitors can walk along the railway track. The Bukit Timah Railway Station is a good starting point.

The station off Bukit Timah Road is not accessible by car - take public transport.

Do note that trains are still running, so anyone walking along the tracks must be careful.


The 86ha graveyard off Lornie Road has been earmarked for future housing development but there is still time to check it out before it is gone.

Many of the 80,000 tombstones here are hidden by dense undergowth.

The cemetery holds the remains of many Singapore pioneers including Chew Boon Lay, Lim Chong Pang and Lim Nee Soon, as well as Tan Kim Ching, eldest son of Tan Tock Seng.

The surroundings are very peaceful except for the calls of birds and crickets.

The gates to the cemetery shut at 5.30pm from Mondays to Saturdays and it is closed on Sundays and public holidays.

The Nature Society occasionally conducts guided tours to Bukit Brown so visitors can learn about the trees found there.

Check its website,, for the next tour.

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Dengue chart to help GPs spot severe cases

It lists critical symptoms to watch out for, helping doctors to decide whether to ward patients
Irene Tham Straits Times 12 Jun 11;

It will soon be much easier for general practitioners (GPs) to sort out high-risk from low-risk dengue cases, which means most patients need not be warded.

The game changer is a 'decision chart' developed by Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH) which specifies all the critical symptoms of patients who are more likely to develop the high-risk dengue haemorrhagic fever (DHF), in which uncontrollable bleeding occurs, leading to higher risk of death.

It also means less severely ill patients can avoid unnecessary hospitalisation costs and more hospital beds can be freed up.

Resources can then be channelled to monitoring the severe cases.

Deciding whether to ward patients or treat cases as outpatients has so far been based on doctors' judgment, said Associate Professor Leo Yee Sin, clinical director of the Communicable Disease Centre at TTSH.

Based on an ongoing survey of GPs by the hospital, more than 85 per cent of the 300-plus respondents carry out a blood test to diagnose and monitor patients suspected of having dengue.

But this tests only for red and white blood cell count. 'The test has to be fine-tuned to include other indicators like gum or nose bleeds and blood protein and urea levels to accurately predict if a case is severe,' said Prof Leo.

For instance, if a patient with fever also has bleeding gums or nose, low blood protein and high urea content, he should be warded. Otherwise, outpatient treatment suffices.

Prof Leo believes the decision chart TTSH plans to circulate among GPs will 'augment' their current practice.

She spoke to the media yesterday before marking the inaugural Asean Dengue Day at the hospital to raise awareness about effectively tackling dengue.

The chart is derived from a sophisticated software, the DHF calculator, which the hospital has used since mid-2007.

The TTSH-developed calculator, based on historical data of the hospital's warded patients, accurately predicts severity based on four indicators: bleeding gums or noses, white blood cell count, blood protein level and urea level.

From drawing of a patient's blood to getting the laboratory test results into the software, a decision can be made within two hours on whether the patient needs to be warded.

Previously, TTSH warded 80 per cent of its dengue patients, which Prof Leo said 'is not sustainable' in an epidemic. Since it started using the calculator, admissions have fallen to 40 per cent.

'The calculator is designed to be sensitive so we don't miss out any individual whose condition may worsen. Even then, we still manage to cut our admission rate by half,' she said.

The last major dengue outbreak in Singapore was in 2005, when it hit 14,209 people and killed 25.

Last year, more than 5,300 cases were reported, while the first five months of this year saw 1,600 cases.

No vaccination against dengue fever is available, but one is expected in five years. Worldwide, the disease affects 55 per cent of the population, with 75 per cent of the cases in the Asia-Pacific.

Decision-making tool helps doctors detect dengue more accurately
Vimita Mohandas Channel NewsAsia 11 Jun 11;

SINGAPORE: A decision-making aid at Tan Tock Seng Hospital is helping doctors better treat dengue patients.

The tool works by correctly predicting how severe the illness is and whether the patient has to be warded. It was tried out on over 200 dengue research patients last year.

Previously, doctors rely on their best judgement.

With this tool, they look at four clinical parameters - signs of bleeding, proportion of white blood cells, total protein and urea levels. The information is fed into a system and in a few seconds, it is able to forecast the probable outcome.

Along with another predictive tool called "Decision Tree", which is a questionnaire that doctors ask their patient to fill in, they have helped patients save on hospitalisation costs.

Associate Professor Leo Yee Sin, Clinical Director of the Communicable Disease Centre at Tan Tock Seng Hospital, said: "We implemented the dengue calculator model and the Decision Tree model to guide the clinicians to identify patients likely to progress to severe disease.

"When we started using this model, we realised 50 per cent reduction in the requirement of hospitalisation, so that helps us a lot in terms of patient management."


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Anti-erosion mangrove project pays off in Mekong Delta

Thanhniennews 6 Jun 11;

A pilot project aimed at using mangrove forests to mitigate erosion in a coastal village in the Mekong Delta province of Kien Giang has come to a fruitful end.

The three-year project conducted in Hon Dat District’s Vam Ray Village has inspired poor residents affected by salinization and erosion with hopes that similar projects will help mitigate these problems across the country.

Starting in 2008, the US$2.3 million project was funded by the Australian Government's Overseas Aid Program (AusAID) and the German Agency for International Cooperation (GIZ).

The success of the project has recently prompted the German and Australian governments to grant an additional $38.4 million for the extended Climate Change and Coastal Ecosystems Program (CCCEP)--which will last five years.

The programs will begin in the Mekong Delta provinces of Kien Giang, An Giang, Ca Mau, Soc Trang and Bac Lieu, starting in July.

Vam Ray story

Lam Thi Nga, 46, has lived in Vam Ray for 25 years. In 2006, a sea dike broke and saltwater flooded her fruit orchard. The tidal floods ruined her shrimp and fish ponds.

Nga said sea water began flooding into her home twice a month, between July and October.

But things changed in 2008, when builders began work on a 1.5 kilometer dike and planted mangroves in front of her house.

The project was conducted on an area of 3.36 hectares in Vam Ray.

“Thanks to the new dike and mangrove forests, sea water cannot penetrate into the village anymore,” Nga said.

Nga has since planted sugarcanes and raised fish to make a living.

“Last year, I earned VND71 million ($3,400) from the 70 tons of sugarcane harvested on a one-hectare plot of land.

“I am raising fish in three ponds, with funding from the district women’s union, and I am no longer afraid that sea water will sweep away everything like it did before.”

Nga is one of 14 households, on the west coast of Kien Giang Province, that benefit from the anti-erosion project, which uses mangrove forests and ocean dikes to prevent harmful erosion.

"Barefoot" scientists

The pilot project in Vam Ray used methods that suited the locals in the Mekong Delta.

Nguyen Tan Phong, a technical officer for the project, said that the village has tried several methods to prevent erosion and protect sea dikes before.

“It cost up to VND30 billion ($1.4 million) for each kilometer of concrete sea dikes, but the dikes still break down every year.

“The pilot project,which was based on the initiatives of local farmers, has reduced the costs of the dikes.”

He said the farmers came across an idea to use cajuput trees (a species native to the Mekong Delta) as pylons for the dikes. These poles were connected with bamboo-made slats and fishing nets to create a “wall” against sea waves and, at the same time, maintain the muddy substrate that is necessary for the mangrove forests to thrive.

“I usually call farmers “barefoot scientists” because they come up with such practical ideas,” Phong said.

The 14 households in Vam Ray Village are now helping to cultivate a plantation of cajuput trees along the coastline to help prevent salinization.

Sharon Brown of The University of Queensland, Australia is serving as a chief technical advisor on the project.

She believe the pilot project could be applied to other regions in Vietnam and neighboring countries like Cambodia, Thailand and Indonesia, which face similar threats from climate change.

Kien Giang’s biosphere reserve is among the largest in Southeast Asia. The 1.1-million-ha reserve includes U Minh Thuong National Park, Phu Quoc National Park and the coastal protective forests of Hon Dat, Kien Luong and Kien Hai.

Kien Giang's 205 kilometer coastline is covered with mangrove forests, which play an important role in minimizing the impacts of rising sea levels.

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Scientists hope to restore Abu Dhabi's coral reefs

Martin Croucher The National 12 Jun 11;

ABU DHABI // They have clung to survival in the Gulf's inhospitable waters for millennia, but key coral species could be wiped out altogether by rising sea temperatures.

Scientists are conducting a two-year study off the coast of Abu Dhabi to assess what coral species remain following an environmental disaster more than a decade ago, and how to repopulate them.

Ten reefs on the emirate's coastline are being examined in the collaborative study by New York University and the Environment Agency - Abu Dhabi (EAD).

A year into the research, it is clear that very little of a branching coral called acropora, which was once dominant across the coastal areas of the emirate, is still alive.

The species are crucial to reef-building - but in 1996 and 1998 the ripple effects of the El Nino weather event caused the temperature in the Gulf to rise, killing 98 per cent of them.

In their place, the more resilient Favidae family - "brain corals" - now dominates the reefs. But the rises in temperature put tremendous stress on them, too.

John Burt, a marine biologist and assistant professor at New York University Abu Dhabi, is one of the scientists conducting the new study. "We had already lost the most sensitive species in 1996, but the 1998 event affected the most tolerant species," he says. "It caused declines of 40 to 60 per cent of the remaining coral."

Charles Sheppard, professor of life sciences at Warwick University in England, has studied the effect of temperature increases in the Indian Ocean and the Gulf following the El Nino event in 1998.

He found that corals die during peak temperature periods known as degree weeks. If the temperature is just a degree above the norm for a period of 10 weeks, or by two degrees for five weeks, corals can be killed.

At one stage, temperatures off the coast of Abu Dhabi reached 37.7°C. "That's the hottest I've ever heard of in my life for a temperature on a reef, anywhere on earth," says Dr Burt.

Extreme temperatures can cause corals to bleach, as the single-celled algae that exist in symbiosis with the coral polyps - the thousands of genetically identical, jellyfish-like organisms that make up a coral colony - are expelled.

"The project we're involved in now is to look at what recovery has there been from these massive bleaching events, in 1996 and 1998," said Dr Burt. "But so far it has been limited.

"We've had population declines which are so significant that the natural recovery of these reefs, through the supply of larvae and the water column, is not sufficient to induce recovery."

But tourists want pristine, living reefs - and to that end plans are afoot for areas off the coast of Saadiyat island to be transformed into a carefully maintained marine park. Nothing has been fully approved yet, though, according to Ashraf al Cibahy, the manager for marine protected areas at EAD.

The natural reef off the island is one of three in the emirate that still has branching corals, although only barely. The other areas are the al Dhabeiyah reef and Ras Ghanada, a large reef near the Dubai border.

EAD has already begun to look at ways to repopulate the coral community. In a joint project between EAD and the Tokyo University for Marine Science and Technology, six "coral settlement devices" were dropped off the coast of Saadiyat and al Dhabeiyah in May of last year.

The doughnut-shaped calcium carbonate structures were meant to act as a substrate material for coral larvae (that is, the larvae could live on them). So far, though, there has been little sign of that happening.

"These discs are currently under evaluation to see if they are feasible," said Mr al Cibahy. "So far we have seen very little coral juveniles. However, it is still less than one year after being introduced."

Most of the species in the UAE reproduce sexually, ejecting an orange slick of eggs and sperm that fertilises and settles on a suitable substrate.

Spawning occurs simultaneously across the entire reef, with all organisms suddenly ejecting their genetic material at once, often at full moon.

The precise date of spawning of corals in the Emirates is not known. Some scientists believe it is in March or April, while others say there are signs it could be in July or August.

The date is crucial. If the settlement devices were dropped after last year's spawning, it is still possible that the project could be far more successful this time round.

Even if coral does begin to grow, it will eventually need to be transplanted on to the reef - a process that has only a 60 per cent chance of success, according to Mr al Cibahy.

Most larvae die before they settle, with fish or other marine species consuming all but one per cent of them.

There is, says Dr Burt, a study in the region - not yet formally announced - that involves collecting the larvae and propagating them in an aquaculture facility, before transplanting them back to the reef.

Nothing similar is being done in the UAE yet, although Dr Burt is looking into the possibility. "If we wait for natural processes it's going to take decades before these reefs get to where they were before 1996," he says.

Providing artificial substrate in the seawater or propagating organisms in coral farms are the two main methods for encouraging coral growth, he said. "However, most of them are not well studied and certainly not within the context of the harsh environment that we have here. This is an area which is open for research.

"We do need to understand what techniques work best in this environment, which species are most appropriate for selection for propagation in this area, where we should be propagating them. There's discussion in this area but it's not developed at this point."

Even if the coral communities are entirely repopulated, there is still the possibility of a recurrence of the kind of temperature increases seen a decade ago.

"The underlying trend is that sea temperatures are rising," says Dr Sheppard. "But it's not the average temperature which does the killing, it's the peaks. They are irregular and nobody can predict them.

"The best hope is that the corals can acclimate genetically to cope with the higher temperatures but they haven't done so far.

"The prognosis is not good at all," he says. "It's difficult to be optimistic."

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More Indonesian bird species nearing extinction

Antara 11 Jun 11;

Bogor, West Java (ANTARA News) - More Indonesian bird species are threatened by extinction due to the loss of their habitat to forest destruction or conversion, according to the Indonesian Wild Bird Conservation Association.

"In 2010 the number of species threatened was recorded at only 122 but it has now risen to 123," Bird Conservation Officer Dwi Mulyawati said here on Saturday.

She said of the species 18 were categorized as endangered while 31 others endangered and 74 vulnerable.

Therefore "Indonesia has been put into the blacklist of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), " she said.

Dwi said the new bird species that has been put into the list of endangered species is "Gosong Sula" (Megapodius Bernateinii) from formerly under near threatened category to vulnerable.

She said the bird species had become increasingly endangered because their natural habitat was damaged.

Dwi said forests were an important habitat for birds as more than half of birds live in the forests as their main habitat.

Due to conversion of forests into agricultural land in Taliabu on Sula Islands for example Gosong Sula is now losing their habitat there.

"The egg and meat of the 35 cm long bird is now still considered primadona food by local people causing the bird`s population growth to be hindered," she said.

Gosong Sula is a bird species that can be found in Banggai and Sula Islands in the Wallace zone, she said.

These birds are inhabitants of low land forests and coastal areas. They live in couple and in group of up to five.

The dark brown birds take the benefit of earth heat for hatching like "maleo senkawor" (macrocephalon maleo).

"In their natural habitat their number is estimated at around 1,000," she said.

Efforts have to be made to protect this bird by prioritizing important bird zone (DPB) despite the challenge that not all DPB is located in conservation areas but some are found spreading in production forests, she said.

Dwi said Indonesia as the owner of the world`s third largest tropical forests is the center of the world`s bio-diversity from eco-system, flora and fauna species to bird species.

Of a total of almost 10,000 bird species in the world, 1,594 are found in Indonesia. (T.KR-LR)



Editor: Ella Syafputri

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Hundreds of tortoises seized at Thai airport

Yahoo News 11 Jun 11;

BANGKOK (AFP) – Thai authorities have found nearly 400 protected tortoises in unclaimed bags at an airport in Bangkok, according to an official.

The Indian and Burmese Star tortoises had been in luggage for about 10 days by the time they were found late Friday at Suvarnabhumi airport, said a senior customs official, who declined to be named.

Loading tags suggested they had originally come from Dhaka in Bangladesh, according to the Freeland Foundation, a counter-trafficking organisation, before going to Japan via Bangkok and returning to the Thai capital when they were not collected.

The foundation estimated the tortoises could fetch up to $31,000 on the black market. Out of 370 found, four had died during the journey, it said.

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.

It is the second large seizure of the creatures in a little over a week and officials believe the same gang was behind both incidents.

"These consecutive seizures highlight the continuing high volume illicit wildlife trade link between South and Southeast Asia... If we can't stop (smugglers), we'll lose these species forever," said Freeland senior programme officer Onkuri Majumdar.

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.

"These beautiful animals are destined for Chatuchak market and would have become the pets of well-to-do people," said the customs official, referring to a huge market in Bangkok notorious for openly selling endangered species.

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India Moves To Protect Endangered Dugong

P. VIjian Bernama 11 Jun 11;

CHENNAI, June 11 (Bernama) -- Indian marine biologists are initiating a regional treaty to protect the endangered dugong population in Indian waters, with less than 200 of the remaining sea mammals facing the threat of extinction.

Experts fear that the dugong or "sea cow", a mammal that only eats seagrass for survival, could vanish from Indian waters as man-made and natural hazards could put their underwater habitat at risk.

"A preliminary study showed that there are only 150 to 200 dugong in Indian waters compared to many more in the 70s.

"Threats from fishermen, degradation of seagrass beds, climatic changes that affect coral reefs and sea pollution can endanger their future population," J.K. Patterson Edward, director of Suganthi Devadason Marine Research Institute, based in Tuticorin, Tamil Nadu, told Bernama.

Dugong, its name derived from the Malaysian term "duyung" or lady of the sea or mermaid, are mostly found in the Gulf of Mannar, Palk Straits and Andaman & Nicobar Islands -- all in southern India.

International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) estimates that about 100,000 dugong exist worldwide, with a large population in Australia and small numbers in Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar and Thailand.

A dugong the size of a large dolphin consumes about 40 kg of seagrass daily and the female species give birth to a single calf only in three to seven years.

"The slow reproduction is another reason for the drastic depletion of the dugong. We need to protect their habitat and seagrass because it is the only source of food for them," said Patterson.

Marine scientists worldwide fear the erratic climatic changes, destruction of the dugong habitat and increasing marine and coastal activities could hamper conservation efforts.

India has proposed to neighbouring countries, such as Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, to sign a pact to protect the only marine mammal herbivores from becoming extinct.


Sign MoU to protect dugongs, India urges neighbours
B. Aravind Kumar The Hindu 11 Jun 11;

With fewer than 200 dugongs (commonly known as sea cow) in its waters, India is strongly encouraging its neighbours in South Asia to sign the Dugong United Nations Environment Programme/Convention of Mirgatory Species (UNEP/CMS) MoU as early as possible.

The first South Asian Dugong Conservation workshop, which was held at Tuticorin as the Gulf of Mannar Biosphere (GoMB) has the largest population of dugongs in the country, has asked Bangladesh, Pakistan and Sri Lanka to sign the MoU at the earliest.
Nine objectives

Already 14 countries have signed the MoU designed to facilitate national and trans-boundary actions leading to conservation of dugongs and their habitats. It has nine objectives, including reducing mortality; protect, conserve and manage habitats; raise awareness; improve legal protection and enhance regional cooperation. “We have fewer than 200 dugongs, mostly in GoMB and Andaman and Nicobar waters. There are very few in Gulf of Kutch. Cooperation of neighbouring countries is necessary as the migratory range of the species is long,” says A.K. Srivastava, Inspector General of Forests (Wildlife), Ministry of Environment and Forests. “Pakistan has no recent evidence of dugong population. In Sri Lanka there is evidence but could be migratory,” he says.
High genetic biodiversity value

According to Convention of Migratory Species, the dugong is a sea-grass dependent marine mammal of tropical and subtropical coastal waters, with high genetic biodiversity value.

Currently classified as vulnerable to extinction under the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, the dugongs are vulnerable to human-related influences due to their life history and dependence on sea grasses that are restricted to coastal habitats under increased pressure from human activities.

The draft Task Force Report on dugongs prepared by the Department of Endangered Species Management, Wildlife Institute of India, attributes several reasons for the decline in population, some of which include sea grass habitat loss and degradation, gill netting, chemical pollutants, indigenous use and hunting.

In GoMB, there has been a 30 per cent increase in population density in the past 20 years, essentially fishermen whose fishing ground has remained the same.

“A particular type of net where 40 to 50 persons operate it for five to six hours sweeps the sea floor completely,” says J.K. Patterson Edward, director, Suganthi Devadason Marine Research Institute, Tuticorin. Another killer is the domestic sewage let into the marine biosphere without treatment.

In Andaman & Nicobar Islands, there has been a steady decline in dugong population due to poaching and habitat destruction. The poaching is more by foreign nationals than the local islanders, activists say.

“The co-ordination is to develop and deliver a practical and resource-efficient strategy to collaborate and implement regional management initiatives for conservation,” says Jagdish Kishwan, ADGP (Wildlife) and Director, Wildlife Preservation, MoEF.

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Japan launches 'research' whaling in NW Pacific

Yahoo News 11 Jun 11;

TOKYO (AFP) – Japan sent a whaling fleet to the northwest Pacific for what it called a research hunt, four months after cutting short a similar mission in the Antarctic due to obstruction by activists.

The three-vessel fleet, led by the Nisshin Maru, plans to catch 260 whales including 100 minkes until late August to study their stomach contents, DNA and other information, according to the Institute of Cetacean Research.

The government-affiliated institute has organised such operations since 1987, citing a loophole in a 1986 international moratorium on commercial whaling which allows hunts for scientific research.

Anti-whaling nations and environmentalist groups condemn the activity as a cover for commercial whaling but Japan said it is necessary to substantiate its claim that there is a robust whale population in the world.

The institute said the mission would be its 18th scientific expedition to the northwest Pacific.

On February 18, Japan halted a research hunt in the Antarctic Ocean for the 2010-2011 season, which had been due to run from December until March, because of obstruction by militant environmentalist group Sea Shepherd.

The US-based Sea Shepherd, which says its tactics are non-violent but aggressive, hurled paint and stink bombs at whaling ships, snared their propellers with rope, and moved its own boats between the harpoon ships and their prey.

The four-ship fleet killed 172 whales in that season, only about a fifth of its target, the fisheries agency said at that time.

Australia -- which last year launched legal action against Japan's whaling programme at the International Court of Justice -- and New Zealand said they hoped Japan had given up whaling for good.

The institute told Japanese media that there has been no instance of obstructive activities in the northwest Pacific so far but that "we cannot automatically consider the area safe."

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Environmentalists, tuna fishers battle at sea

Don Melvin Associated Press Yahoo News 11 Jun 11;

ABOARD THE STEVE IRWIN – Tuna fishermen battled environmentalists on the Mediterranean, hurling heavy links of chain at them as the environmentalists attempted to disrupt illegal tuna fishing under the no-fly zone north of Libya on Saturday.

The fishermen also attempted to lay a rope in front of the activists' boat, the Steve Irwin — owned by the U.S.-based Sea Shepherd Conservation Society — hoping to disable it. Environmentalists responded with fire hoses and stink bombs.

Several hundred feet above the fray circled a French fighter jet, summoned by the fishermen — who claimed, falsely, that activist divers were trying to cut their net.

The 60-meter (195-foot) Steve Irwin, named after the Australian conservationist who died in 2006, left the Sicilian port of Syracuse early Friday, heading for a rendezvous with a smaller, faster sister ship, the Brigitte Bardot, just north of Libyan waters. The Bardot had traversed the area and reported that more than 20 purse seiners were operating there.

Purse seiners are boats that deploy large nets that draw closed like a purse, ensnaring the tuna. The fish are then sometimes put in floating net-cages and slowly towed to port.

Sea Shepherd is on a mission to disrupt boats that are fishing illegally. The stock of bluefin tuna, which spawn in the Mediterranean and then swim out to the North Atlantic, has been depleted to the point that some experts fear it will soon collapse.

Late in the day, having broken off the earlier confrontation, the Irwin and the Bardot entered Libyan waters in search of illegal fishing boats there.

Saturday's confrontation began to take shape at first light as the sun lifted and blazed a blinding stripe across the sea. Ten purse seiners were working several miles from the Steve Irwin in one direction, and five were spotted in another direction

The ship's crew are true believers; only vegan fare is served on board. But Captain Paul Watson, the Sea Shepherd founder, and other officers say they only go after boats that are fishing illegally — if they are not allotted a quota by ICCAT, the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas, or have exceeded it, or their catch includes too many juveniles.

As the Steve Irwin approached the group of five boats Saturday to determine their identities and inspect their catch, high stakes maneuvering began at close quarters.

The boats were Tunisian, and at least one, according to the Steve Irwin's crew, was not licensed to fish and they did not respond to radio calls.

The Sea Shepherd environmentalists, who have no official enforcement powers, deployed a small launch to inspect the cage, while the Tunisians suddenly scrambled two, then three small dinghies to protect their net. Others tried to cut off the Steve Irwin or chase it away.

Fishermen in the larger boats threw heavy links of chain at the environmentalists — hitting no one, but eventually forcing the launch to retreat without being able to determine if there were tuna in the cage.

A larger Tunisian boat pulled alongside the Steve Irwin and the crew pelted the environmentalists with chain links. The crew of the Irwin responded with stink bombs containing, they said, rancid butter.

A Tunisian dinghy also towed a rope in front of the Steve Irwin, hoping it would get tangled in the propeller and disable the ship.

Meanwhile, the Tunisians could be overheard radioing the French military for help, saying environmentalist divers were in the water trying to cut their nets.

That was not the case. However, the Sea Shepherd volunteers are prepared to do that to free the tuna, if they determine the fishing to have been illegal — and they have cut nets in the past.

The Irwin's officers deemed sending in divers at this point too dangerous. The Tunisians were aggressive, and they had deployed divers to protect their cage, which could have led, in effect, to hand-to-hand combat in the sea.

A French military jet appeared on the scene in short order and flew over the area at an altitude of a couple of hundred feet as the drama unfolded below. The pilot later scolded the crew of the Steve Irwin for endangering human lives.

Eventually, the Steve Irwin broke off contact. Officers on the ship said at least one of the boats had no quota assigned. Watson and other officers on the Irwin said they found the Tunisian's behavior suspicious. But a man claiming to be an ICCAT inspector radioed from on board, and the Sea Shepherd activists could not determine for certain that the activities were illegal.

On Saturday evening, the two ships entered Libyan waters. The Brigitte Bardot went ahead and radioed that it had found some possible targets.

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Explosion in jellyfish numbers may lead to ecological disaster, warn scientists

A dramatic global increase in jellyfish swarms could damage the marine food chain
Tracy McVeigh The Observer The Guardian 12 Jun 11;

Global warming has long been blamed for the huge rise in the world's jellyfish population. But new research suggests that they, in turn, may be worsening the problem by producing more carbon than the oceans can cope with.

Research led by Rob Condon of the Virginia Institute of Marine Science in the US focuses on the effect that the increasing numbers of jellyfish are having on marine bacteria, which play an important role by recycling nutrients created by decaying organisms back into the food web. The study, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, finds that while bacteria are capable of absorbing the constituent carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus and other chemicals given off by most fish when they die, they cannot do the same with jellyfish. The invertebrates, populating the seas in ever-increasing numbers, break down into biomass with especially high levels of carbon, which the bacteria cannot absorb well. Instead of using it to grow, the bacteria breathe it out as carbon dioxide. This means more of the gas is released into the atmosphere.

Dr Carol Turley, a scientist at Plymouth University's Marine Laboratory, said the research highlighted the growing problem of ocean acidification, the so-called "evil twin" of global warming. "Oceans have been taking up 25% of the carbon dioxide that man has produced over the last 200 years, so it's been acting as a buffer for climate change. When you add more carbon dioxide to sea water it becomes more acidic. And already that is happening at a rate that hasn't occurred in 600 million years."

The acidification of the oceans is already predicted to have such a corrosive effect that unprotected shellfish will dissolve by the middle of the century."

Condon's research also found that the spike in jellyfish numbers is also turning the marine food cycle on its head. The creatures devour huge quantities of plankton, thus depriving small fish of the food they need. "This restricts the transfer of energy up the food chain because jellyfish are not readily consumed by other predators," said Condon.

The increase in the jellyfish population has been attributed to factors including climate change, over-fishing and the runoff of agricultural fertilisers. The rise in sea temperature and the elimination of predators such as sharks and tuna has made conditions ideal, and "blooms" – when populations explode in great swarms, sparking regular panics on beaches around the world– are being reported in ever-increasing size and frequency. Last year scientists at the University of British Columbia found that global warming was causing 2,000 different jellyfish species to appear earlier each year and expanding their number.

The proliferation of jellyfish has caused problems for seaside power and desalination plants in Japan, the Middle East and Africa. The blooms are also perilous to swimmers; the effects of a jellyfish sting range across the species from painless to tingling to agony and death.

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No El Nino, La Nina Weather Anomaly Seen For Summer 2011

Rene Pastor PlanetArk 10 Jun 11;

The equatorial Pacific Ocean will not be plagued by an El Nino or La Nina weather anomaly in the summer of 2011, the first time since 2009 when conditions are neutral in the region, the U.S. Climate Prediction Center said Thursday.

The CPC said in a monthly report that conditions will be neutral "through the northern hemisphere summer" but the outlook beyond the summer is uncertain. The CPC is an officer under the U.S. National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration.

El Nina and La Nina are weather patterns that often follow one another in the Pacific ocean.

The more famous El Nino causes an abnormal warming of waters in the Pacific and the 2009/10 event caused the failure of India's vital monsoon in 2009.

This was followed by the strongest La Nina in a decade from 2010 to 2011, which is widely blamed for the worst drought in a century in Texas and across the southwestern United States.

(Graphic showing the Oceanic Nino Index:

Coffee experts said the momentary equilibrium between the two anomalies meant the risk of frost in Brazil's main coffee areas are at their highest since 2000.

Colorado State University forecasters said the neutral conditions could contribute to storm development in the just started annual Atlantic hurricane season.

The forecasters are predicting this season will be a busy one with 16 tropical storms and that nine of those will grow into hurricanes.

The oil industry is particularly sensitive about storms roaring into the Gulf of Mexico because it would shut down crude production in the area.

The word La Nina means literally 'little girl' in Spanish. El Nino or little boy was named after the Christ child because it was first observed by Latin American anchovy fishermen in the 19th century.

(Editing by Sofina Mirza-Reid)

Forecasters say La Nina climate condition over
Yahoo News 9 Jun 11;

WASHINGTON – The La Nina phenomenon that may have helped boost last year's hurricane season and this spring's tornadoes has ended.

The Climate Prediction Center said Thursday that the periodic cooling of the tropical Pacific Ocean known as La Nina (la NEEN-ya) ended in May and the ocean returned to neutral conditions. La Nina and its warm-water opposite El Nino (el NEEN-yo) can affect weather worldwide.

The end of this La Nina could be good news. La Nina years sometimes have more hurricanes and tornadoes than average, and some researchers say the phenomenon may have contributed to the twister outbreak in May. In addition, last summer there were 19 named tropical storms and hurricanes in the Atlantic and Caribbean, though only one, Hermine in September, did much damage in the United States.

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Poor countries say rich evade new climate pledges

Arthur Max Associated Press Yahoo News 10 Jun 11;

AMSTERDAM – Developing countries said Friday that rich nations are refusing to negotiate an extension of their commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, charging that they sought to "maintain their privileges and levels of consumption" at the expense of the poor.

Two-week climate negotiations among 183 nations in Bonn, Germany, which reached their halfway point Friday, were stalled for three days this week in a fight over the agenda. Structured in four bodies, formal talks only began in two of them on Thursday as countries haggled over what should be discussed.

The agenda squabble was more than procedural, however. It reflected deeper questions involving the objectives at the next major climate conference in Durban, South Africa, beginning Nov. 28, and underscored the continued rift between blocs of nations.

The United States and other industrial countries want the Durban conference restricted to refining the few agreements reached last year, rather than return to intractable questions that have shadowed climate talks for years. Developing countries say those questions must be addressed.

One key issue is the future of the Kyoto Protocol, the 1997 accord which requires nearly 40 wealthy countries to reduce carbon emissions by a total 5 percent below 1990 levels during the period 2008-2012.

Jorge Arguello, head of a 131-nation group of developing countries, said industrial countries are blocking discussion on renewing their Kyoto pledges.

Arguello cited a study released this week that the pledges from developing countries were greater than those from the industrial world.

"It is unthinkable that developed countries are still insisting that the poorest of the poor should suffer the burden so they can maintain privileges and levels of consumption that are unsustainable," said Arguello, who is Argentina's ambassador to the U.N.

Developing countries, which have no obligations under the Kyoto deal, want the commitments by these bound under Kyoto to be extended for a second period, with deeper targets. Wealthy countries want big emerging economies like China and India to accept parallel legal obligations, at least to lower the trajectory of their emissions growth.

Japan, Canada and Australia already have said they will not be part of a second commitment period, nor be legally bound after 2013. The United States never accepted Kyoto.

The pledges, submitted after the last ministerial climate conference in Cancun, Mexico, are universally recognized as insufficient to keep the planet from warming 2 degrees Celsius (3.8 F) higher preindustrial levels. Scientists say anything beyond that raises the risk of catastrophic climate changes, including more frequent and severe storms, melting ice that will raise sea levels and threaten coastal cities, and alterations of agriculture and water access.

Developing countries put forward other agenda demands that tied Bonn negotiators in knots. Saudi Arabia revived its demand to discuss compensation for the loss of oil revenues in a post-petroleum world. Bolivia wanted all discussion of payment for reducing deforestation struck from the agenda, saying forests should not be part of a carbon market and subject to commercialization.

The United States objected to discussions on how to raise $100 billion a year to help poor countries build low-carbon economies and adapt to global warming. Instead, it wanted to continue discussing how to monitor and verify actions by China and others to lower emissions.

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