Best of our wild blogs: 16 Jun 11

East Coast shore is still alive!
from wonderful creation

Tattooed man, the poacher
from Life's Indulgences

Eurasian Tree Sparrows feeding in the rain
from Bird Ecology Study Group

The Sea Anemone Workshop 2011: Day 1
from wild shores of singapore

Predawn to Changi Beach
from wonderful creation and Singapore Nature

from the annotated budak and Piggy Holes

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Singapore: Government in talks on 'green corridor'

Minister on possibilities for KTM railway land
Grace Chua Straits Times 16 Jun 11;

THE Minister of State for National Development has sounded what green groups have read as a positive note on the fate of the island's north-south strip of railway land.

Brigadier-General (NS) Tan Chuan Jin indicated in a Facebook post that the Urban Redevelopment Authority and the National Parks Board have been in talks with the Nature Society of Singapore (NSS) over several interest groups' proposal to turn the land into a continuous strip of recreational space.

The 173.7ha tract of land, which now belongs to Malaysia's Keretapi Tanah Melayu (KTM), reverts to Singapore on July 1. About 40km of railway now sit on it - 26km from Tanjong Pagar to Woodlands, and at least a further 14km of disused line from Clementi to Jurong.

BG Tan, who described the proposal for such a 'green corridor' as 'fascinating', wrote in his post:

'I believe that there are exciting possibilities to bring Singaporeans together as we embark on this journey to create our home, even as we preserve our environment and heritage.'

The authorities will meet members of the interest groups soon, he said, and 'outreach efforts' will begin in earnest in due course.

BG Tan, who is also Minister of State for Manpower, offered an explanation for what may have seemed to some as a delayed response to the matter:

'We have been rather quiet on this publicly, as it would be prudent for us to let the agreement unfold and cross our July 1st milestone, when the railway line will become an integral part of Singapore again.'

The 'agreement' he was referring to is the land- swop deal sealed between Singapore and Malaysia last September; under it, the land vacated by the relocation of the railway terminal to Woodlands would be exchanged for parcels of land in Marina South and in the Ophir-Rochor area.

He added that having been quiet 'does not equate to being silent. We have had a good working relationship with the NSS'.

Local nature and heritage interest groups submitted their green corridor proposal to various ministries and government agencies last October; they suggested converting the strip into a cycling and pedestrian trail, much like existing park connectors.

The NSS, on its part, has undertaken a survey of the area's plant and animal life. Rare birds such as the Buffy Fish Owl have been seen in some parts there.

Green corridor supporter and environment consultant Eugene Tay thanked BG Tan for his 'open and positive note', saying that developing the corridor was an opportunity not to be wasted.

Mr Tay told The Straits Times that, even as he looked forward to the meetings with the authorities and the outreach efforts, the time had not yet come to pop the champagne.

'But it's good he openly mentioned that they are looking into the proposal. I think there's hope,' he said.

Already, the Bukit Timah railway station has been gazetted as a building to be conserved, and the Tanjong Pagar railway station, as a national monument.

A tender to remove other railway structures, however, was awarded this month to engineering firm Indeco Engineers.

The tender documents call for three steel bridges - at Hillview Road, Ten Mile Junction and Kranji Loop - to be torn down, along with sleepers, tracks, cables, gates, posts, and small buildings along the line from Tanjong Pagar to Woodlands.

Some rail equipment, such as signal lights, level crossings, controllers and traffic lights, have been earmarked for re-use, but the tender documents have not spelt out who would re-use them.

The NSS plans to ask the authorities for at least a six-month 'stay of execution' on the removal of these structures to give members of the public more time to go on guided or independent walks on the railway safely, said NSS vice-president Leong Kwok Peng.

To date, about 1,000 members of the public have been on such walks, he said.

Overseas, conserved railway land has been turned into visitor destinations; examples include New York City's High Line Park and Paris' Promenade Plantee.

BG Tan said he plans to visit the French park during an upcoming trip to the Group of 20 meetings there.

MND mulling "Green Corridor" along KTM railway land
Channel NewsAsia 16 Jun 11;

SINGAPORE : The possibility of a "Green Corridor" along the KTM railway is being seriously looked into.

Minister of State for National Development, BG Tan Chuan-Jin, posted on his Facebook page that the Urban Redevelopment Authority and National Parks Board are actively discussing the matter with the Nature Society Singapore (NSS).

The society had submitted a proposal in October last year on preserving the green stretch of nature along the north-south railway track.

The society's vice-president and leading advocate on the matter, Mr Leong Kwok Peng, said BG Tan's note is a "very positive message in the way he is supporting the idea and thinking very hard to have a Green Corridor".

- CNA/al

Pockets of solitude, places to retreat to in Green Corridor
Lynda Hong Ee Lyn Today Online 16 Jun 11;

SINGAPORE - The possibility of conserving the KTM railway and its green environs, termed the Green Corridor, is under serious consideration, said Minister of State for National Development, Brigadier-General (NS) Tan Chuan-Jin.

He revealed on his Facebook page that the Urban Redevelopment Authority and the National Parks Board have been discussing the possibility with the Nature Society Singapore (NSS), which submitted a proposal in October last year.

He added: "I have read their ... proposal and it's fascinating."

The challenges faced by the Housing and Development Board (HDB) and the "re-looking of policies so that we can meet the needs of Singaporeans" has sharpened his own sense on what is Singapore - a small nation that needs to squeeze in housing, recreation, industry, business, defence, catchment and heritage needs in slightly over 700 sq km of land, BG (NS) Tan said.

"We need our little pockets of solitude and countryside to retreat to from time to time, history to revisit and, as one of the railway enthusiasts ... put it, these also provide the deep anchors that make this place home," he wrote.

NSS vice-president Leong Kwok Peng said BG (NS) Tan has sent out a "very positive message in the way he is supporting the idea".

The estimated 40km Green Corridor would allow animals to move between the north and south of Singapore, he said. During the migratory season from October to March, birds like the black baza and the Oriental honey buzzard have been spotted by the NSS along the Green Corridor.

Also in the proposal are having more cycling tracks and the possibility of converting existing railway tracks to accommodate certain low-speed trams or trains for leisure powered by clean energy sources or even humans.

To raise public awareness, the NSS and other supporters of the Green Corridor on Facebook have been conducting walks along the KTM tracks.

These include the Jurong branch line, which is an abandoned track starting from Teban Gardens to Sunset Way, and another along the main KTM railway, which starts from the old Bukit Timah Railway Station and continues either south to old Holland Road or north to the Bukit Timah Reserve.

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Trekking Singapore's urban jungle

Straits Times 16 Jun 11;

Outward Bound participants got a taste of the urban jungle as they trudged down Punggol Drive yesterday.

A total of 31 Secondary 3 student leaders from eight different schools took part in Outward Bound Singapore's (OBS) third urban land expedition. They had to navigate their way through housing estates and the Lorong Halus Wetland on mainland Singapore, instead of trekking on rural Pulau Ubin.

This is part of OBS' new programme for student participants to help them gain a greater appreciation of their everyday environment, even as they pick up leadership and navigation skills.

It also ensures adventure learning is not confined to forested terrain.

The first urban land expedition took place two weeks ago.

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Singapore marks ASEAN Dengue Day

Evelyn Choo Channel NewsAsia 15 Jun 11;

SINGAPORE : Singapore and nine other ASEAN members marked the inaugural ASEAN Dengue Day on Wednesday with a concerted fight against the virus, which is expected to be most prevalent in the region this month.

In Singapore, an institute has been recognised as a global centre for reference and research by the World Health Organisation.

It is hoping that this collaboration would advance the development of a non-invasive dengue test kit - the first of its kind in the world.

A simple swab of a patient's inner cheek could determine whether he has the virus or not. This non-invasive procedure was once considered a far-fetched idea by scientists.

But researchers at Singapore's Environmental Health Institute have proven that it is not.

Grace Yap, senior research officer, Environmental Health Institute, said: "Contemporary test kits have always been based on blood. This will be the first of its kind that utilises saliva as a diagnostic fluid.

"Because it utilises saliva, the non-invasiveness is definitely a benefit. The benefits of a pregnancy test kit are numerous, and hopefully this particular assay can go down the same route as well."

Using the test kit, one will be able to find out if one has been infected with dengue in just 90 minutes.

Researchers are hoping that the test kit could cost around S$20 - much cheaper than existing blood tests in the market.

The team is now looking for a business partner and hopes to produce a prototype in about three years.

It is working with two dengue endemic countries in the region - Cambodia and Sri Lanka - to collect substantial data from various environments.

Another development is a new and improved mosquito trap - called the Gravitrap - which is being tested in various dengue clusters.

These developments come at a time when the incidence of dengue approaches the peak of a six- to seven-year cycle in Singapore.

The first 22 weeks of 2011 also saw a four per cent on-year increase in cases here.

While the National Environment Agency will do its best to arrest the rising trend, Singaporeans may face a tougher challenge when the incidence of dengue is brought down.

Minister for the Environment and Water Resources, Vivian Balakrishnan, said: "Because of the success in the last few years in bringing down the incidence of dengue, the paradox is that (fewer people) will therefore have immunity.

"And therefore you can expect that if we don't control the vectors, the mosquitoes, adequately, then you will see a significant increase in dengue in Singapore."

Speaking to reporters on the sidelines of the ASEAN Dengue Day, the minister also advises everyone to take necessary precautions - especially as Singapore enters the warmer months.

- CNA/al

Singapore-made kit to diagnose dengue fever
Feng Zengkun & Melissa Pang Straits Times 16 Jun 11;

TESTING of a Singapore-developed kit that uses saliva to diagnose dengue fever has expanded to Sri Lanka after a similar effort kicked off in Cambodia in March last year.

Developed by the local Environmental Health Institute (EHI), the kit has already been tried out on some 140 patients here from 2005 to 2007 with promising results.

Traditionally, the diagnosis of the potentially lethal ailment, spread by the Aedes mosquito, requires a blood sample.

The extension of testing to Sri Lanka this month was announced at yesterday's first-ever Asean Dengue Day, an annual event to promote prevention and control.

Worldwide, an estimated 2.5 billion people are at risk of dengue. About 70 per cent, or 1.8 billion, are from Asean.

Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan noted that the disease remains prevalent in the region, though the number of cases here has plunged since a 2005 outbreak affected 14,209 people and killed 25.

'The paradox is that as fewer people get dengue fever, the risk of infection rises as these people are not immune to the disease,' he said.

The EHI was made a World Health Organisation (WHO) Collaborating Centre at the same event to combat this risk. Dr Shin Young Soo, the WHO regional director for the Western Pacific, said: 'The fight against dengue is everyone's concern and efforts must be individual, national and regional.'

At a separate media event at Swissotel The Stamford, Dr Jean Lang, French pharmaceutical firm Sanofi Pasteur's R&D associate vice-president and dengue-vaccine programme head, said initial results from a phase-three dengue vaccine clinical study in Thailand are expected by end-2012.

The third phase tests the vaccine's efficacy. If it shows promise, the world's first dengue vaccine could be ready by 2015.

Several pharmaceutical firms are racing to develop a vaccine but Sanofi Pasteur is leading the pack.

In 2009, it began building a vaccine production centre in France which will be operational by 2014.

Nearly 45,000 participants from 15 countries are involved in its research into the dengue vaccine.

Stage two clinical trials are also ongoing in Singapore. In 2009, four hospitals administered three doses of the vaccine each to 1,200 participants, aged two to 45.

The results of the local trials are expected to be released at year-end.

To take the sting out of dengue ...
Singapore institute eyes first non-invasive dengue test kit, develops improved mosquito trap
Evelyn Choo Today Online 16 Jun 11;

SINGAPORE - ASEAN Dengue Day took flight yesterday with a concerted 10-member nation assault against the virus. The fight is timely, coming during a month where dengue is expected to be most prevalent in the region.

In Singapore, an institute has been recognised as a global centre for reference and research by the World Health Organization.

It is hoping this collaboration will advance the development of a non-invasive dengue test kit - the first of its kind in the world.

This non-invasive procedure - involving a simple swab of the inner cheek - was once considered a far-fetched idea by scientists. But researchers at Singapore's Environmental Health Institute (EHI) have proven that it is not.

Ms Grace Yap, a senior research officer at the EHI, said: "Contemporary test kits have always been based on blood. This will be the first of its kind that uses saliva as a diagnostic fluid and the non-invasiveness is definitely a benefit."

The kit will enable a person to know, in 90 minutes, if he has been infected with dengue. Researchers are hoping that the test kit could cost around S$20 - much cheaper than existing blood tests in the market. The next step then is to develop the kit commercially. The team is now looking for a business partner and hopes to produce a prototype in about three years.

Another development at the EHI is a new and improved mosquito trap, Gravitrap, which is already being tested in various dengue clusters.

This is a welcome development as the incidence of dengue approaches the peak of a six to seven-year cycle in Singapore.

The first 22 weeks of this year also saw a 4 per cent on-year increase in cases here.

Ironically, while the National Environment Agency will do its best to arrest the rising trend - the more it succeeds, the tougher the challenge will be.

Said Environment and Water Resources Minister, Dr Vivian Balakrishnan: "Because of the success in the last few years in bringing down the incidence of dengue, the paradox is that less of our population will therefore have immunity ... If we don't control the vectors, the mosquitoes, adequately, then you will see a significant increase in dengue in Singapore."

Dr Balakrishnan, who was speaking to reporters on the sidelines of ASEAN Dengue Day, urged everyone to take the necessary precautions - especially as Singapore enters the warmer months when dengue transmission is usually at its peak.

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Dismay Over Plans for Indonesia’s Captive Dolphins

Jakarta Globe 16 Jun 11;

The Indonesian government plans to bypass environmental groups and dump captive dolphins in the ocean without proper rehabilitation, according to the Jakarta Animal Aid Network’s press release issued Thursday morning.

“Without rehabilitation the dolphins have a very small chance of survival,” Femke Den Haas, Jakarta Animal Aid Network (JAAN) founder, said.

The Indonesian government plans to return all the dolphins held without permits directly back to the sea without prior retraining. But the government signed a Memorandum of Understanding with JAAN in October 2010 that arranged for all dolphins to be rehabilitated by JAAN before being returned to the wild.

JAAN runs the world’s largest dolphin rehabilitation center, located on Karimun Jawa Island.

“JAAN’s hope is that the government will follow the MOU and place the dolphins in the care of the JAAN for rehab before release,” according to the press release.

The group became aware of the government’s plan during meetings with Darori, the director general of Indonesia’s Forest Protection and Nature Conservation (PHKA).

The PHKA plans to release the dolphins previously held at the Taman Safari Center in Batang and with a traveling circus based in Kendral, according to Den Haas. The traveling circus holds six permits but owns more than 20 dolphins.

There are more than 50 dolphins kept in captivity without permits in Indonesia, the founder added.

She said dolphins require rehabilitation to regain muscle strength and hunting instincts before returning to their natural habitat.

“They have been in unnatural conditions where they swim in circles and are fed by handlers,” Den Haas said. “They must be re-trained to swim straight and hunt for food.”

Dolphins must also be trained to re-use their sonar system.

They stop using the sonar because it annoys them,” Den Haas said. “When in captivity they stop using it because the signal bounces [off the walls of the pool] and returns to them.”

According to Pramudya Harzani, JAAN director, the dolphins require between one and six months of rehabilitation, depending on how long they were held in captive.

JAAN said ideally the dolphins would be released around Karimun Jawa Island because there was a good chance the dolphins would reconnect with their families.

“Every dolphin has a unique sound and the ability to transmit its signal tens of miles,” Den Haas said.

“We will utilize GPS pegging after release to monitor whether the dolphins have reunited with their families.”

Indonesia in hot water over dolphin release plans
Yahoo News 16 Jun 11;

JAKARTA (AFP) – Indonesia's plans to release captive dolphins directly into the sea rather than put them through a rehabilitation programme drew fire from animal welfare activists Thursday.

Activists said the dolphins from a zoo and a travelling circus would almost certainly die without any preparation for the wild, such as training to learn to swim straight, hunt and use their sonar.

The Jakarta Animal Aid Network says plans to release the mammals directly into the sea also contravened a memorandum of understanding it had with the government to provide proper rehabilitation.

US dolphin activist Ric O'Barry, who was featured in the 2009 Oscar-winning documentary "The Cove", said Indonesia would attract a lot of negative international publicity if it went ahead with its release plans.

"This is an opportunity for Indonesia to send a message to the rest of the world about how much it cares for nature," O'Barry was quoted as saying by the Jakarta Globe website.

He said the dolphins would be in "great danger" if they were sent back into the wild without any preparation.

"They need to rebuild muscle strength, become accustomed to swimming in tides and currents and learn how to hunt live food again," he said.

Indonesia has done the right thing by banning the illegal capture of dolphins, but appears to be unaware of the international concern for the fate of captive dolphins, he added.

"This is a huge opportunity for positive publicity for Indonesia. I would hate to see them blow it," he said.

Government officials could not immediately be contacted for comment.

The Jakarta Globe said there were about 50 dolphins illegally held in captivity in Indonesia.

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Malaysia, Penang: The haze is back

Hafiz Marzukhi The Star 16 Jun 11;

PENANGITES woke up to face the haze again which caused poor visibility on the island and mainland with several landmarks disappearing from view until a downpour at about 11.30am helped improve the condition.

Buildings such as the Komtar tower, the Penang Bridge and several buildings on the mainland were not clearly visible to motorists.

However, Penangites were relieved when a downpour which started at about 11.30am and lasted until about 2pm, helped improve visibility although several parts of the island and mainland were hit by flashfoods.

Strong winds and the storm also hit Kedah which resulted in houses being damaged.

A Malaysian Meteorological Department (Bayan Lepas) spokesman said the south and south-west winds probably helped blow the haze in from central Sumatra.

She said the satellite had picked up 34 hotspots in central Sumatra the night before yesterday.

The spokesman however said she could not confirm if the hotspots were due to forest fires in Sumatra.

“The source of the haze could be localised but all we can say for now is that most parts of peninsular Malaysia are experiencing the haze,” she added.

Visibility level on the island was 6km in the morning before it improved to 8km at about 2pm just after the heavy rains.

On the mainland, the visibility level was at 4km at 8am but this improved to 7km by 3pm.

Penang Department of Environment (DOE) recorded the Air Pollutant Index (API) readings at a moderate level (51 to 100) on the island (55), Prai (61) and Seberang Jaya (72) at 11am.

A check at 5pm showed improved readings on the island (54), Prai (60) and Seberang Jaya (71).

The API for unhealthy air quality is between 101 to 200 and above 301 is hazardous.

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Indonesia: 35 hotspots detected in Sumatra

Antara 15 Jun 11;

Pekanbaru, Riau (ANTARA News) - The Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) of Riau Province has detected at least 35 hotspots in Sumatra that have the potential of causing forest and land fires, an official said.

"Our latest monitoring using the US NOAA satellite detected on Tuesday at least 35 hotspots in Sumatra which had the potentials to cause forest fires," Riau BMKG analyst Sanya Gautami said here on Wednesday.

He said that most of the hotspots were detected in Riau, reaching 18 spots. This spots scattered in a number of districts such as Rokan Hilir (7) and Bengkalis (3).

Two hotspots were respectively detected in Rokan Hulu, Dumai city, Siak district and Kampar district.

The other 17 hotspots were found in Aceh province, North Sumatra and West Sumatra.

Editor: Priyambodo RH

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Seven new mice species found in Philippines

Yahoo News 15 Jun 11;

MANILA (AFP) – Seven new species of mice have been found by local and US scientists in the mountains of the Philippines, the government's environment department said Wednesday.

The discovery, documented by the respected Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago in its May 2011 journal, showcases the country's vast, but threatened biodiversity, the department said in a statement.

The mice were found in heavily-forested mountain ranges on the main Philippine island of Luzon.

Lawrence Heaney, lead author of the 2011 journal, was quoted as saying they were "wonderful little mice that... actively avoid humans and rarely cause any harm.

"They prefer to eat earthworms and seeds on the forest floor."

The date of the expedition was not disclosed. Scientists from Philippine and US universities and museums took part, the department said.

The department warned the habitats of many of the new species were not protected areas, making them vulnerable to logging and illegal mining.

Environment Secretary Ramon Paje said the new discoveries were further proof that the Philippines, an archipelago of more than 7,000 islands, had some of the greatest diversity in animal and plant species in the world.

The Philippines also had the greatest rates of discoveries of new species, he said in the statement.

Earlier this month, a joint Philippine-American scientific expedition announced that in its exploration in May it had found possibly scores of new species.

They included a new variety of shark, new species of eels, insects, sea slugs and sea urchins although further study is needed to confirm if they are really new to science.

7 new mammal species found on Luzon
Tarra Quismundo Philippine Daily Inquirer 15 Jun 11;

MANILA, Philippines—Filipino and American scientists have discovered seven new species of mammals in four locations on the island of Luzon, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources announced Wednesday.

All forest mice, the newly recognized species were discovered in four mountains in Luzon: Mt Tapulao in Zambales, Mt. Banahaw in Quezon, Mingan Mountains in Aurora and the Sierra Madre Mountain range in northeastern Luzon.

An account of the discovery, authored by nine biologists from the University of the Philippines, the Philippine National Museum, Conservation International-Philippines, the Utah Museum of Natural History and the Florida State University, was first published in last month’s issue of the Fieldiana, the journal of Chicago’s Field Museum of Natural History.

“The international community has recognized that our country has among the highest rates of discovery in the world. Filipinos should be aware of such discoveries, to show a collective pride and give a more positive meaning to the expression, ‘only in the Philippines,’” said Environment Secretary Ramon Paje in a statement.

Describing the species in the Fieldiana, project leader Lawrence Heaney said the mammals were “wonderful little mice that live in forested regions high in the mountain… often abundant, [yet] they actively avoid humans and rarely cause any harm. They prefer to eat earthworms and seeds on the forest floor.”

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Indonesia: Don’t Make Bats Pay For Economic Development

Ismira Lutfia Jakarta Globe 11 Jun 11;

The clearing of large swaths of rainforest to make way for oil palm plantations has resulted in a significant decline in the bat population, which in turn has had a disturbing ripple effect on the wider ecosystem, scientists have warned.

Ibnu Maryanto, from the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI), said the decrease in bat numbers was most marked in Sumatra and Kalimantan.

“Rainforests are the natural habitat for up 10 species of bats, but with the current rate of forest conversion to plantations, the number of bat species living in certain areas has gone down to just six because they can’t adapt to the habitat change,” he said on the sidelines of the two-day Southeast Asia Bat Conference in Bogor earlier this week.

“Many areas with great colonies of bats, such as Cibinong in West Java, have been [deforested], and this could lead to a malaria epidemic in those areas, since bats feed on [malaria parasite-carrying] mosquitoes.”

Lukman Hakim, the LIPI chairman, said the loss of bats would also have a negative impact on the native vegetation in their habitats.

“Bats have a vital ecological role to balance the ecosystem,” he said, adding that this role included helping pollinate a wide variety of tropical fruit plants.

Siti Nuramaliati Prijono, head of LIPI’s center for biological research, said a study carried out at the Bogor Botanical Garden showed that the bats there played a role in pollinating more than 52 species of plants.

She added that at least 186 types of tropical plants commonly used in traditional medicine and food also relied on bats from the megachiroptera order for their pollination and distribution of seeds.

“These are fruit-eating bats that dump the seeds far from the original tree, therefore they also serve as the main agent for seed distribution,” Siti said.

Several other species of bats also play an important role by feeding on the insects that commonly plague agricultural crops, including rice, she said.

Indonesia is home to 225 of the around 1,240 bat species in the world, accounting for 31 percent of all mammal species found in the country, Lukman said.

However, around 10 percent of the bat species in the country are on the brink of extinction, with very few now being sighted in their natural habitats.

“There are two bat species on Alor Island [in East Nusa Tenggara] that only have a few individuals left,” said Ibnu, one of the country’s leading chiropterologists, or bat experts.

Lukman said that while social and economic development was essential for the country’s growth, development plans must seriously take into account ways to minimize the disruption to Indonesia’s rich biodiversity and natural ecosystems.

“The development plans should also include the maintenance of conservation areas [to make sure the natural balance is not disturbed],” Lukman said.

He added LIPI believed that there should ideally be at least 54 conservation areas established across the country — representing the various vegetation types typical to certain areas — to support the indigenous flora and fauna there.

“We don’t want, sometime in the future, to have to look back and say that, yes, a certain species of animal once existed in Indonesia,” he said.

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Australia: Mystery surrounds dugong deaths

Marissa Calligeros Sydney Morning Herald 16 Jun 11;

The state government has established a scientific panel to investigate the mysterious deaths of dugongs, dolphins and turtles off the central Queensland coast.

The bloodied carcasses of two male dugongs washed up on the bank of Seven Mile Creek in Gladstone last week, following the mysterious death of two dolphins on Boyne and Turtle Islands last month.

In April, 22 dead turtles were found washed up at the mouth of the Boyne River.
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It is not known if the dugongs suffered heavy lacerations on their body before or after their deaths.

Environment Minister Kate Jones said a panel of marine science experts would now work with the Department of Environment and Resource Management to determine the cause of death.

“There have been two dugongs and three dolphins found in waters and on beaches in the area since the start of May," she said.

“I take any death of a marine animal seriously, and as minister for the environment I want to understand the causes behind these casualties.

“The scientific panel will bring the best minds around a table to look at all the evidence and provide the best advice to government and the community on these particular cases.”

The Department of Environment and Resource Management said the animals appeared to have been in good health prior to their deaths and pollution was not believed to have been a factor in their deaths, although the department is awaiting pathology reports to confirm this.

The local community has raised about increasing shipping activity in Gladstone Harbour, as the Gladstone Ports Corporation works towards becoming one of the world's major liquid natural gas exporters.

Ms Jones conceded that the dolphins and dugongs most likely died after being struck by a boat or caught in commercial fishing nets.

“We will not pre-empt the advice of the scientific panel in relation to the recent dugong and dolphin deaths near Gladstone, but I will not hesitate to act on their advice once it is provided," she said.

The dugong population off the central Queensland coast also has been under heightened stress, due to the depletion of their main food source seagrass, as a result of the washout from the summer floods.

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Rats, Bees To Protect African Wildlife: Experts

Jonny Hogg PlanetArk 16 Jun 11;

Beekeeping and breeding animals such as cane rats for food are needed to help tackle the unsustainable trade in bush meat in central Africa, conservation experts said on Friday.

Local populations rely on birds, reptiles and mammals including apes in the vast Congo Basin for food, but overhunting for so-called bush meat is leading to 'empty forest syndrome', according to a statement issued by a panel of environmental experts following a meeting on the issue in Nairobi.

"Tackling the impact of unsustainable and illegal trade in bush meat is critical for protecting the livelihoods of rural people and conserving wildlife in biodiversity-rich areas," said John Scanlon, secretary-general of the Convention on International Trade on Endangered Species (CITES).

Legitimate subsistence hunting is being replaced by commercial hunting and trade in endangered species including elephants and primates, said Ahmed Djoghlaf, executive secretary of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).

The statement said that replacing bush meat with locally produced beef would require up to 80 percent of the Democratic Republic of Congo to become pasture.

"Therefore, there is no alternative to making the use of wildlife for food more sustainable."

The Democratic Republic of Congo, which is the size of western Europe, is home to more than 150 million hectares (370 million acres) of forest, one of the largest stretches left in Africa.

Experts say overhunting is undermining food security and also poses a threat to the forest itself, as 75 percent of tropical tree species depend on animals to spread their seeds.

Measures proposed by the experts include the promotion of beekeeping to produce honey for trade and subsistence, the introduction of community wildlife management programs, and farming cane rats for food.

Cane rats, also known as grasscutters, are large herbivorous rodents that are already farmed in some parts of Africa.

Bush meat has become big business in some countries, with the Central African Republic's informal trade estimated at $72 million dollars a year, the statement said.

Population growth and commercial trafficking were adding to pressure on local wildlife, it added.

(Editing by Bate Felix and Jonathan Lynn)

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First binding forestry accord for Europe

Yahoo News 15 Jun 11;

OSLO (AFP) – European countries agreed on Thursday to begin drawing up the first legally-binding accord to protect the continent's forests, the Norwegian government said.

The Nordic country, currently hosting the ministerial conference Forest Europe, described the development as a "historic breakthrough."

"The reaching of an agreement to begin negotiations is significant progress in itself," said Norway's Agriculture Minister Lars Peder Brekk.

"In the field of international forestry policy, it's a historic breakthrough," he added.

Forest Europe was created in 1990 to encourage the protection and sustainable development of forests across its 46 member states.

Negotiations on the terms of the accord will begin December 2012 at the latest and will close on June 30 the following year.

According to the report published during the conference Europe, including Russian territory, accounts for about a quarter of the world's woods.

The State of Europe's Forests 2011 said the continent's expanding forest areas removed 879 million tonnes of greenhouse gas from the atmosphere each year between 2005 and 2010 -- around 10 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions in Europe in 2008.

Ministers back binding European forest agreement
Mark Kinver BBC News 15 Jun 11;

Ministers have agreed to back plans to introduce a legally binding agreement to protect Europe's forests.

Delegates also agreed to adopt resolutions that would help shape forest policy over the next decade.

On Tuesday, a report concluded that sustainable forestry management was essential if the EU was to reach its emission goals.

The ministerial agreement was signed at the sixth Forest Europe conference in Oslo, Norway.

The Norwegian host chairman, Rural Affairs Minister Lars Peder Brekk, said the signing of two ministerial declarations was a fitting end to Norway's four-year leadership of the Forest Europe process.

As well as signing the declaration to begin negotiations to establish a legally binding agreement (LBA), delegates also agreed to set a number of targets to be achieved by 2020.

These included all European countries implementing a national forest programme, which needed to contain climate adaptation and mitigation strategies.

Ministers also agreed to cut the rate of biodiversity loss within forest habitats by half, and take steps to eliminate illegal logging.

Poland's minister, Janusz Zaleski, said that the LBA declaration presented a "new chapter" in the management of Europe's forests.

However, he added that nations needed to ensure that any agreement would need the legal weight required to deliver progress on the ground.

"In order to effectively protect Europe's forests, we must not follow the example of other international processes, such as climate negotiations.

"Therefore it is important to assess the progress of improving the state of Europe's forests.

Mr Zaleski told reporters that Poland intended to use its six-month presidency of the EU, which begins in July, to help promote the process.
Binding concerns

But there was not universal support for adopting a legally binding agreement.

Sweden's Rural Affairs Minister Eskil Erlandsson told the conference that while he supported the concept of sustainable forest managment, he favoured a voluntary approach rather than an LBA.

"I do not believe in common legislation for forests across the pan-European region. Put simply, one size does not fit all," he said.

"We need to recognise the different geo-climatic and socio-economic conditions.

"Therefore, my conclusion is that the voluntary track is the best way of supporting the development and implementation of sustainable forest management."

However, he said he signed the declaration in order for negotiations to begin.

Responding to the minister's concerns, Mr Brekk said: "The most important thing is that all countries agree that we are start up this process.

"They all see that it is necesssary to have an agreement to secure a sustainable forest policy in the future.

"Of course, we then have to go through the negotiations in order to find out what each country thinks during this process."

As the conference closed and Spain took over the Forest Europe leadership, Mr Brekk was asked to comment on concerns that had been raised about Norway's high-profile $1bn climate deal with Indonesia, which included a two-year logging moratorium.

Media reports said environmental groups were unhappy that the fine detail of the deal had been influenced by logging industry lobbyists.

Mr Brekk explained that it fell outside his ministerial responsibilities, but observed:

"The partnership is still very much alive - of course it is," he told BBC News.

"For Norway - all forests are important, whether it be European forests or tropical forests."

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At UN talks, Kyoto Protocol hangs in the balance

Marlowe Hood Yahoo News 15 Jun 11;

BONN (AFP) – The fate of the only international agreement that sets binding targets for curbing greenhouse gases is hanging by a thread, say veteran watchers of the UN talks unfolding here.

Failure to prolong the Kyoto Protocol's roster of pledges beyond 2012 would mark a perilous new low for climate negotiations and their UN architecture, set down by the 1992 Rio summit, they say.

"The collapse of the Kyoto Protocol is a plausible scenario," said Elliot Diringer, vice president of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, a Washington-based thinktank.

"Parties are facing a choice of limited progress or no progress. If they opt for the latter, it will leave the process in a shambles."

New talks under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), ending in Bonn on Friday, aim at building consensus for the 194-nation forum's next high-level meeting, running November 28-December 9 in Durban, South Africa.

Agreed in skeletal form in 1997 and implemented in 2005 after agonising talks over its rulebook, Kyoto commits 37 advanced economies to trim six greenhouse gases by an overall five percent by a 2008-2012 timeframe compared to 1990.

Overstepping a national target carries a penalty in lower emissions in the next commitment period. Any shortfall carries over to the second pledge and is multiplied by 30 percent.

Washington was one of the chief architects of the protocol but never ratified the treaty.

Former president George W. Bush said Kyoto was fatally flawed because it does not require developing giants, already major polluters, to take on similar constraints.

European countries are generally on track for their emissions reductions, but Canada is poised to miss its target by a wide margin.

At the same time, emissions by China, India, Indonesia and Brazil have rocketed -- nations bound by Kyoto account for less than 30 percent of global CO2 emissions, which hit record levels in 2010.

Even so, the protocol exerts tremendous force among poorer countries, which say it enshrines the responsibility of rich nations for unleashing the carbon demon.

"Developing countries have put a high priority on keeping Kyoto going," notes Alden Meyer of the Washington-based Union of Concerned Scientists. "It's the only agreement that does have binding commitments."

It also contains carefully-elaborated mechanisms for accounting and verification of emissions reductions that all parties agree should not be simply tossed aside.

There are broadly three possible outcomes for Kyoto, say experts.

The least plausible is that the Protocol's rich parties, the so-called Annex 1 nations, sign up for another five-year tour of duty with the same degree of legal constraints.

Japan and Russia have already bluntly said they will not do so.

At the other extreme, the threat of terminal deadlock looms larger.

"If they don't reach an agreement and the whole thing stalemates, it risks blocking progress on the other track of the negotiations," said Meyer, referring to breakthroughs made last December when ministers met in Cancun, Mexico.

These include steps toward a "green fund" for developing countries that could reach 100 billion dollars a year, a framework for monitoring national schemes to reduce emissions and transfer of clean technology.

The middle scenario is a stop-gap "political" agreement, in which there might be, for example, a three-year extension of Kyoto promises to secure deals in the other track.

But the European Union (EU) has warned tetchily that its backing for a Kyoto 2 should not be taken for granted.

"There is the impression that the EU will easily move into a second commitment period, that it is a foregone conclusion. That is not the case," Artur Runge-Metzger, the chief negotiator, said coming into the Bonn meeting.

Unless major emerging economies such as China, India and Brazil "make a gesture," the EU is unlikely to renew its Kyoto vows, said one European negotiator Tuesday, asking not be named.

"Ultimately, Kyoto is the only concrete decision that we can expect in Durban. It will be a defining event," said Laurence Tubiana, director of the Institute of Sustainable Development and International Relations (IDDRI).

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