Best of our wild blogs: 26 Jun 11

Video clip of full The Sea Anemone Public Lecture by Dr Daphne Fautin from sgbeachbum

Rare mangroves at Pulau Semakau, and sea anemones
from wild shores of singapore

Pulau Semakau (25 Jun 2011)
from Project Driftnet Singapore

Butterfly of the Month - June 2011 - The Common Tit
from Butterflies of Singapore

A Cloudy Morning @ USR
from Beauty of Fauna and Flora in Nature

Mandai Track 15
from Singapore Nature

Cycling trip to Punggol End
from Urban Forest

The Yellow-Vented Bulbul: The Malaysian-Singaporean Bird
from Bird Ecology Study Group

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Electric vehicle trial finally powers up in Singapore

Only firms and organisations involved in cost, performance, durability test
Christopher Tan Straits Times 26 Jun 11;

A long-awaited trial to test the durability, running cost and long-term performance of all-electric cars here was plugged in and switched on yesterday.

That was when the Energy Market Authority (EMA) and Land Transport Authority (LTA) flagged off nine battery-powered cars: four Smart two-seaters from Daimler and five Mitsubishi iMiEVs.

All in, the EV (electric vehicle) test fleet will have about 90 vehicles, comprising 25 iMiEVs and 20 Smarts, plus an assortment of models from Renault, Nissan and possibly other manufacturers.

Most of these cars will be arriving from next month to next year.

The $20 million, three-year trial is open only to companies and organisations, not individuals.

For now, the cars will juice up at five charging stations set up by Bosch. It will expand its network as more such vehicles arrive.

Cost-wise, it is just as well that this test is a restricted one. Despite the tax-free status of the electric test fleet, the all-in costs - compared to those for similar-size petrol-driven cars - will not appeal to common folk, even if they are environmentally conscious.

First off, the cars are costly, even without the taxes and levies that conventional cars attract here. A Mitsubishi iMiEV test car, for instance, is around $90,000 - about the price of a slightly bigger petrol-driven Honda Jazz.

The Smart two-seater, which is not for sale, leases for $1,400 a month. The rate is similar to that of a full-size Korean family sedan.

Next, unlike most cars here, electric cars are not entitled to any scrap rebate.

Also, there is a $1,600-a-year special fee that users have to pay, which is more than the road tax of many mid-size cars.

As for running costs, a flat monthly charge of $180 is levied for using Bosch's electric stations; that is equivalent to what many small petrol cars incur monthly at the pumps.

Insurance rates are also slightly higher than the coverage for normal cars.

Still, the LTA and EMA seemed optimistic at yesterday's flag-off. LTA chief executive Chew Hock Yong said: 'We are encouraged by the support of the business community for this test-bed.'

Firms that signed up for the cars are Clean Mobility Singapore, Daimler South East Asia, GP Batteries, Mitsubishi Corp, Mitsubishi Electric Asia, Mitsubishi Elevator Asia, Senoko Energy Supply, and Vestas Asia Pacific Wind Technology.

The LTA and the Ministry of Manpower also signed up.

EMA chief executive Chee Hong Tat said: 'The purpose of the electric vehicle test-bed is to gain a better understanding of EV technologies, business models and user preferences which will give us more information to determine the feasibility of using EVs in Singapore.'

At the end of the three years, the Government will decide if it is worthwhile to incentivise the use of EVs, and if so, how sizeable its incentives should be.

Observers feel that electric vehicles are non-starters without government carrots, as they cost twice the price of normal cars or more.

Motorist Shreejit Changaroth, 54, added that makers of electric vehicles need to overcome two other hurdles: their range and charging time.

Right now, most can cover only 200km or less on a full recharge, which takes around eight hours at a normal charging point and 45 minutes at a high-voltage quick-charger.

'I often clock over 100km a day,' the engineer said. 'I come home late, and sometimes, I even forget to charge my cellphone.'

Most drivers here clock less than 60km a day. But the main proposition of electric cars is their relative 'greenness'.

The EMA reckons electric cars charged by electricity generated from natural gas power stations (as is the case in Singapore) will account for 66 per cent less carbon dioxide than petrol equivalents.

After all, electric motors are more efficient than fossil fuel-driven engines.

Singapore launches electric vehicle test-bed
Wayne Chan Channel NewsAsia 25 Jun 11;

SINGAPORE: Singapore is testing out several electric vehicle (EV) prototypes and technologies. The inter-agency Electric Vehicle Taskforce announced the launch of the electric vehicle test-bed on Saturday.

The taskforce is led by the Energy Market Authority (EMA) and the Land Transport Authority (LTA).

The aim of the test-bed is to test and gauge different EV prototypes and charging technologies, given Singapore's urbanised environment and road conditions, before deciding whether to roll it out for mass use.

For a start, the test-bed will be at three outdoor and two indoor charging stations and involve five Mitsubishi i-MiEVs and four smart electric drive Daimler vehicles.

Starting from just nine, the number of electric cars taking part in this test-bed is expected to grow to 95 before the trial ends in 2013. By then, there will also be 63 charging stations.

Five of these stations are ready and will also start collecting data on charging patterns as part of the test-bed.

The test-bed will provide insights to guide the planning for future deployment of EVs. The data will also help determine the optimal ratio of charging stations to vehicles.

Explained LTA's chief executive Chew Hock Yong: "One example would be how the battery fares in the local environment. We'll be collecting data at the charging points. So, things like how often the cars are charged and how much electricity they use up....will allow us to determine how efficient the car is in a local environment."

The charging stations have been designed to automatically collect data on the charging patterns of EV test-bed participants.

The National University of Singapore's Energy Studies Insititute has been appointed to lead a Cost Benefit Analysis on the data.

Other things that the test-bed will look at are vehicles operability and cost, suitability of the business model, driving experience and barriers to adoption, consumer's acceptance, level of penetration of electric vehicles at current and proposed level of incentives and the level of infrastructure development required to meet the expected demand from EVs in the coming years.

The charging stations will be installed near the homes or offices of test-bed participants and it will cost them a flat rate of S$180 per month for unlimited charging of their electric vehicles.

After a full charge of over eight hours, electric cars, which are twice as energy efficient as normal ones, can run for about 90km to 160km. This is about twice the daily driving distance in Singapore, which is around 55km in Singapore.

The first batch of participants will include the LTA, Ministry of Manpower, Mitsubishi Corporation and Senoko Energy. The Electric Vehicle Taskforce hopes more will come on board.

EMA's chief executive Chee Hong Tat said that Singapore is an ideal location for the test-bed.

"One advantage that we have is that we are a small compact urbanised environment, which makes it in a way, convenient. Your travelling distances are not too long. It's not difficult for you to set up charging stations around the island."

Interested companies that want to buy an electric vehicle to participate in the test-bed can apply for the Enhanced Technology Innovation and Development Scheme (TIDES-PLUS) which waives all vehicle taxes such as Additional Registration Fees (ARF), Certificate of Entitlement (COE), road tax and excise duty for six years.

The LTA said the cost of buying a Mitsubishi i-MiEV, for example, is about S$90,000, after waiving vehicle taxes under the TIDES-PLUS scheme.

The tests will be conducted until the end of 2013.

- CNA/ir/ac

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Conservationists discover more than 1,000 species in New Guinea

Treasure trove of unknown varieties of animal, bird, fish, insect and plant have been identified in the forests and wetlands of the Pacific island over a period of just 10 years
Tracy McVeigh The Observer The Guardian 26 Jun 11;

A new type of tree kangaroo, a 2.5-metre-long river shark, a frog with vampire-like fangs and a turquoise lizard are among hundreds of new creatures found and being documented in a report by conservationists working in the Pacific island of New Guinea.

Some 1,060 previously unknown species of mammals, fish and birds have been spotted in the volcanic island over a 10-year period.

The Final Frontier report, which was put together by WWF as part of its 50th anniversary celebrations, marks a brief respite from the escalating rate of animal and plant extinctions which is taking its toll across the planet and has left a quarter of all known mammals on the endangered list.

The species have all been discovered, at a rate of two each week, in the period from 1998 to 2008 by the various teams and researchers who have visited the region and its extensive forests, waters and wetlands.

One team discovered a new bird, the wattled smoky honeyeater, within seconds of leaving their expedition helicopter.

Perhaps the most extraordinary freshwater discovery is the species of river shark which, given its size, has done well to evade discovery until now. The shy fish has been named the Glyphis garricki after the New Zealand zoologist Jack Garrick, who identified it. Because of its rarity it has immediately gone on to the endangered list.

In the salt waters a snub-fin dolphin that comes in a delicate shade of pink was spotted in 2005 and, after much scientific measuring and debating, now qualifies as the first new dolphin species to be found in more than three decades.

Dr Mark Wright, conservation science adviser at WWF, said the report was a fabulous reminder that "the world is full of fantastic and fantastical creatures, of quirky and improbable lifestyles. The more we look, the more we find".

But he said that species diversity was rich the world over. "Perhaps it is so commonplace we ignore it, or maybe we've forgotten how to look. Let's take flies. Britain is home to more than 5,000 species of fly, and these are not everyone's favourite, but flies represent 5,000 entirely different responses to life's challenges.

"For instance, the holly leaf miner, whose nondescript larvae cause leaf blotching at this time of year – their entire world is limited to that tiny strip between the top and bottom of a single leaf. Those same life processes that we go through – feeding, growing, breathing – are still acted out, but now crammed into a creature far smaller than a grain of rice."

New Guinea is in an area known as the "coral triangle", a region with the most diverse marine eco-systems on Earth. In the 10-year period in question, 33 new fish species have been found in the waters around the island, including the damselfish, a strikingly brilliant blue wrasse and seven species of zig-zag rainbow fish, an 11cm-long creature which lives in shallow waters. In all, 218 new kinds of plants – including a flesh-like orchid, 43 reptiles and 12 mammals, 580 invertebrates, 134 amphibians, two birds and 71 fish have been found.

"It is precisely that endless variety of form and function that enthrals me, but this exuberance of nature is under threat," said Wright. "Despite the best efforts of groups like WWF, it is clear that we will not save all we would like to.

"Forest will continue to be felled, rivers dammed and coastlines developed. And species will be erased. Some extinction is inevitable – a consequence of Darwin's 'natural selection' – but humans are imposing intense pressures, leading to 'unnatural selection'. Nature is struggling to cope, but we have the ability and power in our hands to forge a future in which the environment is truly valued – we must choose to do so."

New Guinea is the second largest island on Earth, after Greenland, and is divided between the countries of Papua New Guinea and Indonesia. It holds the third largest tract of rainforest in the world and is home to around 8% of the world's species.

But while its relatively low level of human population had protected its species, illegal logging is now projected to strip the island of half of its forest cover by 2020.

To support WWF's anniversary report, writer and film-maker Stephen Poliakoff has made a short film which will include footage of some of the new species from New Guinea. Called Astonish Me, the film will be shown exclusively online by the Observer later this summer before being shown in Odeon cinemas as a short feature prelude to major films.

Poliakoff said that his drama – which stars Bill Nighy – had been inspired by the new discoveries made in the natural world.

"What astonishes me is there are so many animals out there we are seeing for the first time from the very colossal squid to the largest insect in the world discovered recently – it's extraordinary in the 21st century that this is still going on. We think we know everything, but we don't," he said.

More than 1000 new species found in New Guinea
WWF 27 Jun 11;

Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea - A remarkable 1,060 new species have been discovered the island of New Guinea from 1998 to 2008, but poorly planned and unsustainable development - particularly from logging and forest conversion to agriculture - is putting many of these unique creatures at risk, a new WWF study finds.

Final Frontier: Newly Discovered species of New Guinea (1998 – 2008) shows that 218 new kinds of plants - close to 100 of which are orchids - 43 reptiles and 12 mammals, including a unique snub-fin dolphin, have been found on the tropical island over a ten year period.

Added to the tally is an astounding 580 invertebrates and 134 amphibians, 2 birds and 71 fish, among them an extremely rare 2.5m long river shark.

“This report shows that New Guinea’s forests and rivers are among the richest and most biodiverse in the world. But it also shows us that unchecked human demand can push even the wealthiest environments to bankruptcy,” says Dr. Neil Stronach, WWF Western Melanesia’s Program Representative.

Untouched rainforest
New Guinea is the largest tropical island on Earth and is divided between the countries of Papua New Guinea (PNG) in the East and Indonesia in the West. It contains the third largest tract of rainforest in the world after the Amazon and the Congo.

This mysterious island covers less than 0.5 per cent of the Earth’s landmass but shelters 6 to 8 per cent of the world’s species. Over two thirds of these species are found nowhere else on earth.

It is also home to Asia’s most pristine rivers and wetlands. Its natural gifts also extend to the reefs surrounding New Guinea, in the heart of the Coral Triangle, which have the world’s highest concentration of coral and reef fish.

“If you look at New Guinea in terms of biological diversity, it is much more like a continent than an island,” says Dr. Stronach. “Scientists found an average of two new species each week from 1998 – 2008 – nearly unheard of in this day and age,” he says.

No fewer than seven brightly colored new species of rainbow fish were identified in PNG and Papua in Indonesia over the ten-year period, including Allen’s rainbow fish (Chilatherina alleni).

WWF scientists added to the known orchid diversity found on the island, collecting hundreds of orchids in PNG’s Kikori region. Eight of these were new to science, including the ornate and exquisite firework-like display of the Dendrobium spectabile orchid.

Alarming rate of forest loss
“Despite its remote location, New Guinea’s natural habitats are being lost at an alarming rate. The island’s forests are facing serious threats including logging, mining, wildlife trade and conversion to agriculture, particularly oil palm,” says Dr. Eric Verheij, Conservation Director, WWF Western Melanesia.

In PNG between 1972 and 2002, independent studies have shown that 24 per cent of rainforests were cleared or degraded through logging or subsistence agriculture.

The same studies point out that the forest clearance rate for forests accessible to industrial logging is up to 3.4 per cent annually, much higher than previously reported.

China buys close to 82 per cent of PNG’s timber exports each year, representing a total volume of over two million cubic meters. Studies suggest 70 per cent of this logging is illegal.

Demand for palm oil is also destroying many of New Guinea’s most valuable rainforests. Large forest areas on the island (and across the region) are being cleared for oil palm monocultures, destroying critical habitat for many endangered species. The destruction of these forests, which are usually cleared by burning releases huge amounts of greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere and accelerates climate change.

However, many oil palm producers in New Guinea and around the world are pursing certification through the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), the world’s most credible sustainable palm oil initiative. Certified Sustainable Palm Oil (CSPO) guarantees that social and environmental safeguards have been met during production. And importantly, CSPO also assures that high conservation value forests haven’t been cleared.

Based on the first chapter of WWF’s new Living Forests Report, more than 230 million hectares of forest will disappear around the world by 2050 if no action is taken. The report proposes that policymakers and businesses unite around a goal of Zero Nett Deforestation and Degradation (ZNDD) by 2020 as a global benchmark to avoid dangerous climate change and curb biodiversity loss.

“As a region with high rates of poverty, it is absolutely essential that New Guinea’s precious reefs, rainforests, and wetlands are not plundered but managed sustainably for future generations,” says Dr Susanne Schmitt, New Guinea Programme Manager at WWF-UK.

“Environmental protection and economic development must go together to ensure the survival of New Guinea’s unique species and natural habitats,” added Dr. Schmitt.

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A Rain Forest Advocate Taps the Energy of the Sugar Palm

Marianne Lavelle for National Geographic News 22 Jun 11;

One of Indonesia's most ardent rain forest protection activists is in what may seem an unlikely position: Spearheading a project to produce biofuel from trees.

But tropical forest scientist Willie Smits, ­­after 30 years studying fragile ecosystems in these Southeast Asian islands, wants to draw world attention to a powerhouse of a tree—the Arenga sugar palm. Smits says it can be tapped for energy and safeguard the environment while enhancing local food security.

Smits says that the deep-rooted feather palm Arenga pinnata could serve as the core of a waste-free system that produces a premium organic sugar as well as the fuel alcohol, ethanol, providing food products and jobs to villagers while it helps preserve the existing native rain forest. And scientists who have studied the unique harvesting and production process developed by Smits and his company, Tapergie, agree the system would protect the atmosphere rather than add to the Earth's growing carbon dioxide burden.

"The palm juice chiefly consists of water and sugar—made from rain, sunshine, carbon dioxide and nothing else," says Smits. "You are basically only harvesting sunshine."

The project, being funded in part by a 73,160 euro grant (U.S. $105,000) from National Geographic's Great Energy Challenge initiative, has potential to disrupt a cycle of poverty and environmental devastation that has gripped one of the most vulnerable and remote areas of the planet, while providing a new source of sustainable fuel.

The Fuel Threat to Forests

Tapergie's sugar palm production facility that opened last year in Tomohon (map), in the North Sulawesi province of Indonesia, and the microscale facilities called Village Hubs that Smits aims to launch on nearby islands, are a far cry from the oil palm biofuel operations that have devastated the rain forest.

Demand for oil made from the pulp and seeds of oil palm trees in Southeast Asia soared when European countries sought to displace petroleum fuels with biofuel in the past decade. It was a move that governments hoped would reduce carbon emissions, but the impact was the reverse. Tracts of rain forest were cleared, and peat land was drained and burned on a massive scale to make way for oil palm monoculture. Because of the carbon emissions caused by rainforest destruction, Indonesia leapt to the top tier of world greenhouse gas emitters, just behind giant energy consumers China and the United States.

Smits, who had been knighted in his native Netherlands, was among the forest advocates who sounded the warning around the world about the impact of large-scale biofuel production from oil palm in his adopted home of Indonesia.

Smits already had gained recognition as one of the world's most prominent protectors of Asia's great apes and their habitat, as founder of the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation. He laid out the biofuel problem, and the rain forest restoration efforts he had spearheaded, in talks around the world, including in the popular online series sponsored by the nonprofit TED.

But Smits felt he could take those restoration efforts much further, and the secret was a tree with a value that was first impressed upon him 31 years ago, when he was courting a native Indonesian woman of a mountain tribe of Sulawesi who would become his wife. (She was later elected a female tribal leader for her good deeds.)

By custom, before the marriage, he was required to pay his dowry in the form of six sugar palms. It seemed a meager offering, until Smits realized each tree's potential yield.

The fruit can be harvested and sold as a delicacy. A starch, sago, can be extracted from the stems. The wood is stronger than oak. Most important of all, the tree has a distinctive sap, which can be tapped the way a sugar maple is tapped for maple syrup, but year-round and in vast quantities. The high-carbohydrate juice can be used to make a palm sugar that is a healthier substitute for white cane sugar. Smits estimated that there are at least 60 different products that can come from the Arenga sugar palm, making it a wholly appropriate marriage gift.

"This was enough to support a young family," he said. "That got me interested in studying the sugar palm in more detail."

"The Most Amazing Tree"

He found that the Arenga sugar palm had numerous qualities that made it a virtual sentry of the forest. Its deep roots mean it can be grown on steep, almost vertical, slopes—offering protection against erosion. It needs little water and is drought- and fire-resistant, important on volcanic islands. It is resistant to pests and needs no fertilizer; its presence in a forest actually enhances the soil.

Because of these qualities, Smits found that the Arenga sugar palm could be a key species in his efforts to restore Indonesian rain forests that had been brutally logged and burned for decades.

"It's the anti-particle of oil palm . . . the most amazing tree I've ever run into," says energy expert Amory Lovins, chairman and chief scientist of Rocky Mountain Institute in Snowmass, Colorado, and member of National Geographic's Great Energy Challenge advisory board. Lovins recommended Smits' project as the first grantee in the society's three-year energy initiative when he learned of his idea for furthering his rainforest restoration and protection efforts by tapping the sugar palm for fuel.

Smits knew the sugary juice tapped from sugar palms typically was fermented to produce a traditional alcoholic beverage. That meant it also could be used to produce the alcohol fuel, ethanol.

And Smits said that he discovered that because of the tree's special leaf structure, its year-round production and extremely efficient photosynthesis, the yield of ethanol from the sugar palm was far greater than the biofuel output from other feedstocks in use around the world. Smits says that his process can produce 19 tons (6,300 gallons/24,000 liters) of ethanol per hectare annually. That's a staggering output-to-land area ratio compared to corn, the favored ethanol crop of the United States, at 3.3 tons (1,100 gallons/4,200 liters) per hectare, by most recent U.S. Department of Agriculture yield figures. It also far outshines Brazil's sugarcane; output was assumed to be 4.5 tons (1,500 gallons/5,700 liters) per hectare in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's recent lifecycle analysis of renewable fuels. [A hectare is 2.5 acres.]

But there's a catch. Producers can't sow row upon row of sugar palms the way they blanket the countryside with cornfields in Iowa, sugarcane in São Paulo or oil palm plantations in Sumatra. For one thing, the sugar palm flourishes best in a diverse forest environment, not in a monoculture.

And, importantly, each sugar palm requires constant attention. For optimum production, it must be tapped twice a day by tappers trained to slice a thin layer from the end of the stalk on which male flowers are growing. If done properly, the tapping extends the life of the tree—by "stealing" some of the tree's energy that was intended as storage for its seeds. (The ripening of fruit is thus delayed.) But the juice in which the energy is stored must be preserved quickly on site or nearby, or else it spoils due to uncontrolled fermentation. Smits says that the tapping process cannot be mechanized.

"It is five-to-20 times more labor intensive than harvesting oil from the oil palm," says Lovins. "You don't hear about it from those in who are locked into the industrial monoculture mentality. They think the economics are bad. But Willie thinks the economics are terrific."

That's because the sugar palm Village Hubs, as Smits envisions them, would provide something as important to this region as fuel—economic opportunity.

A Stake in Forest Protection

Tapergie's facility that opened three years ago in Tomohon—the world's first Arenga palm sugar factory—now has 6,285 palm tappers as members of the cooperative, making the twice-daily journey into the village forests to collect juice to be brought back to the factory. Thanks to sales of the special palm sugar they produce, they earn an income that is twice the region's prevailing minimum.

Sustainable energy is also a part of the design of the factory. It operates on geothermal heat (waste energy captured from the state energy company). In this way, clean energy replaces devastating practices that prevailed for making traditional palm sugar, in which hundreds of thousands of trees were cut to fuel the fire that boiled the sap. In addition, the biofuel produced on-site from the sugar palm is used to replace gasoline in motorcycles, small vehicles, small machines and generators, and is also used as cooking fuel in special burners. Once scaled up, biofuel could be transported for further refining for use in conventional vehicle engines elsewhere, Smits says.)

The Village Hub idea that Smits now aims to test would bring small, turnkey versions of the Tomohon factory—and its employment and energy benefits—to remote areas on the 3,000 or so islands east of Sulawesi. These are areas where people typically live without electricity, fuel, communication, education, health services, or potable water.

Smits says his portable mini-factories, running on local biomass and solar heating, could help villages meet all of these needs, because they would include equipment for telecommunications as well as for making fuel. He sees the sites becoming economic centers that provide more than jobs—they would produce drinking water, electricity, cooking fuel, compost and cattle feed, while enabling telephone and satellite-based broadband Internet access.

Because the wellspring of all these benefits would be the Arenga sugar palm, the villagers would have a shared investment in protecting and cultivating the trees and the needed diverse surrounding forest, as Smits sees it. So the system, in which communities would own 49 percent of the operations, would be designed to establish a virtuous cycle of protection.

"It's what we call 'sustainability,' " says Smits.

There have been past efforts in Singapore and Borneo to cultivate sugar palms for their fibers or sugar. But Smits believes Tapergie's effort can be successful where others have failed, because of its determination to maintain a mixed village forest, and to do it with community ownership.

The sugar palm has vast potential, he says, but it can only be unlocked in a holistic system, with production working hand-in-hand with protection. Lovins says the two are tightly interwoven in the system Smits has designed; "It gives people a stake and the clout needed to protect the land and forest themselves," he says.

Smits will be reporting to National Geographic on the success of his first Village Hub deployment over the course of the next year.

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Fears for Baltic's marine life as global warming decreases the salt in the sea

Changes in North Atlantic could also undermine the entire food chain, says Europe-wide study
Paul Bignell The Independent 26 Jun 11;

Climate change will turn the Baltic Sea into an increasingly freshwater sea and devastate its marine life, according to scientists.

A multinational study has found that an increase in precipitation in the region would lead the water in the Baltic to become less salty. Such a decrease in salinity would change the make-up of sea life, which is already suffering from over-fishing and harmful chemicals.

Professor Chris Reid, of the Marine Institute, University of Plymouth, who was involved in the study, said: "Due to global warming, it is predicted there will be an increase in precipitation in the river basins that flow into the Baltic Sea. As a result – because it's an enclosed sea with a very narrow exit – the sea will become fresher. We predict this will happen over the next 100 years."

Transformations to the Baltic's ecosystem is among a number changes reported in the research project, led by Climate Change & European Marine Ecosystem Research (Clamer) which has collated more than 13 years' worth of reports, involving 17 marine institutes from 10 European countries.

Another alarming discovery is the arrival of a new species of plankton in the north Atlantic from the Pacific. The microscopic species had disappeared from the region 800,000 years ago. As the melting Arctic icecap has opened the Northwest Passage, the plant has drifted back across the pole.

While the algae is a food source, experts say any changes at the base of the marine food web, could shake or even topple the pillars of existing Atlantic Ocean life.

Before the Arctic froze, nearly a million years ago, Pacific water was able to enter the North Atlantic, which allowed large numbers of Pacific species to dominate its ecosystems. Some of the species found in European waters today originally arrived from the Pacific. "If the Arctic continues to melt more species can get through; then we could see huge changes taking place in the north Atlantic," said Dr Reid. "The potential effect on fisheries could be huge. There would be increased competition. For example, there are about six different species of salmon in the Pacific, but only one in the Atlantic. The present stocks of salmon in the Atlantic are in a serious situation, so anything that's going to exacerbate that is going to be a real problem."

Just last year a Pacific grey whale was spotted in the Mediterranean, the first time it was seen in those waters for more than three centuries. Scientists believe the ice-reduced Arctic allowed the whale to cross into the North Atlantic.

Marine species are tending to migrate toward the poles, but they are doing so at varying speeds. This is making it difficult to predict how they will interact. In enclosed seas, species that require cooler conditions might have nowhere to go as waters become warmer. Researchers predict that by 2060, as the Mediterranean warms, one third of its 75 fish species will be threatened and six will be extinct.

In the similarly enclosed Black Sea, however, where new Mediterranean species are arriving, warming air and seawater are expected to result in increased diversity, with adverse affects limited to the decline or loss of a small number of native species.

Other findings from the report reveal an influx of highly venomous jellyfish in the north east Atlantic, often forming massive blooms. A particularly dangerous warm-water species dominates in many areas and outbreaks have forced the closure of some European beaches. This particular species is also a predator of young fish, so experts consider its spread a harmful trend. Recently, the Portuguese Man-of-War, a poisonous jellyfish-like subtropical creature, has been found more regularly in Atlantic waters.

Dr Carlos Heip, the director general of the Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research, said: "We need to learn much more about what's happening in Europe's seas, but the signs already point to far more trouble than benefit from climate change. Despite the many unknowns, it's obvious that we can expect damaging upheaval as we overturn the workings of a system that's so complex and important."

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