Best of our wild blogs: 1 Jul 11

9 Jul (Sat): The Native Plants of Singapore: Growing your Natural Heritage – Prof Hugh Tan from Raffles Museum News

Recce of Ubin’s western beaches with Outward Bound Singapore from News from the International Coastal Cleanup Singapore

The Macro Shoot That Turned into Something Else
from Macro Photography in Singapore

Juveniles of the Scaly-breasted Munia
from Bird Ecology Study Group

Fishes and other surprises on oil-slicked Tanah Merah
from wild shores of singapore

Who let these birds out?
from Life's Indulgences

Common Asian Toad
from Monday Morgue

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Cambodia urged to stop sand dredging operations

ABC Radio Australia 1 Jul 11;

Conservation groups and eco-tourism operators in Cambodia's Koh Kong province are urging the government to stop sand dredging operations they say are decimating fish stocks and destroying businesses.

They are working together to oppose the dredging on the Tatai river which is being carried out by ruling party Senator and business tycoon Ly Yong Phat.

Presenter: Clara Tran
Speaker: Janet Newman, Rainbow Lodge; Leslie Perlman, program manager, Wildlife Alliance; Mao Hak, director of rivers at Ministry of Water Resources Cambodia

Windows Media

TRAN: Englishwoman Janet Newman has been running her eco-tourism resort, the Rainbow Lodge, on the Tatai river for the past three and a half years.

One morning in May, she awoke to find the beauty and tranquility of her home shattered by an influx of sand dredging barges.

NEWMAN: It was just chaos. they worked all night. We were not able to sleep. In the morning even more boats turned up and it was literally like a traffic jam on the river.

TRAN: The sand is being dreged out of Cambodia's estuaries and shipped to Singapore to help expand their territory.

In 2009, Prime Minister Hun Sen's government banned sand dredging for export, but a report by environment watchdog Global Witness says the lucrative trade continues to threaten Cambodian ecosystems and livelihoods.

Last year, Global Witness estimated Koh Kong's annual sand trade with Singapore was worth $US248 million.

But its the people and businesses of Koh Kong who are the losers.

Ms Newman says the noise and pollution from the vast quantities of ships, tugboats and cranes pumping sand from the river have made it impossible to host eco-tourists, starting to trickle into the remote province.

And the negative impact goes beyond foreign tourists.

NEWMAN: It's not just about the Rainbow Lodge but the villagers haven't been able to sleep. There is nothing left in the river. You never see children swimming in the river anymore because it is covered in oil and diesel and rubbish.

TRAN: Leslie Perlman, program manager of Wildlife Alliance, says there are serious concerns about the social and environmental impact of the dredging.

PERLMAN: The villagers are reporting dramatically shrinking crab and shrimp patches as the dredging destroys the habitat in the river and along the banks. Additionally in other areas, the dredging is eroding so much sand that the river banks are collapsing.

Mao Hak, director of rivers at the Ministry of Water Resources, says the government has a sand and mining resources committee that decides which companies it allows to extract sand for export.

MAO HAK: Before we give the permission....(fade down)

TRAN: Mr Mao says before the government gives sand dredging permission, the company seeking the licence is responsible for carrying out an impact study on that area.

According to a copy of the permit obtained by the Phnom Penh Post newspaper, the LYP Group, owned by Senator Ly Yong Phat, has exlusive rights to sand dredging on the Tatai river. The company's representatives could not be reached for comment.

Mao Hak from the Ministry of Water Resources says information should have been given to local communities.

MAO HAK: They have some...(fade down)

TRAN: Mr Mao claims the company would need to involve the local people living in the area about the proposed operation. But Ms Newman says this did not happen.

NEWMAN: As far as I'm aware, there was no public consultation. There was certainly no information or notices about this activity whatsoever.

TRAN: Although there don't appear to have been any official consultations, workers on the sand barges have told residents in Koh Kong they are Vietnamese soldiers and they have weapons onboard.

Ms Newman says Cambodian Government departments working on environment, tourism and water resources have expressed sympathy, but she now thinks it's up to people power to stop the destruction taking place on Tatai river.

NEWMAN: I hope we can get it stopped before August or at the very least get some kind of regulation on what is going on now. Myself and others, including villagers who have signed a petition are actively trying to work with the local government to try and get this stopped because the effect is immediate. Of course the longer it goes on the greater the long-term effects as well.

TRAN: Wildlife Alliance's Leslie Perlman says the law offers a glimmer of hope for Koh Kong province.

PERLMAN: Sand dredging has gone up and down in this country. The prime minister put a moratorium on the exportation of sand. So legally, if the sand is going to Singapore or another country - exported out of this country - that's illegal. That could be another legal way we are looking to stop this.

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Cambodia: Sand dredging hits eco-resort

David Boyle and Vong Sokheng Phnom Penh Post 1 Jul 11;

An enormous sand dredging operation in Koh Kong province has escalated, a resort owner said yesterday, with boat crews allegedly trespassing onto private land and digging sand within hundreds of metres of the complex.

Janet Newman, the owner of the Rainbow Lodge eco-tourism resort, said yesterday that seven boats, three that arrived for the first time on Monday, had begun dredging “enormous” amounts of sand just 200 metres from her property.

“We found out one of the customers was actually talking to the crew because they’d tied one of the boats to a tree and were actually sitting on my property in one of the hammock huts,” Newman said.

“It was chaos on the river. You just wouldn’t believe how many boats there were in total. It was so bad that they couldn’t even get past each other.”

Ruling party senator Ly Yong Phat’s LYP Group was awarded a concession totaling more than 32 square kilometres to dredge sand for export on the Tatai river in September 2010.

Ly Yong Phat told The Post last week that LYP Group had halted export operations, which had been ongoing for the past year, due to lack of demand from Singapore.

Mao Hak, director of river works at the Ministry of Water Resources, said yesterday that a technical expert had “thouroughly examined all corners of the impact from dredging”.

“We clearly limited the coordinates for the company. Therefore, if the company follows the rules, there will be no impact.”

A total of nine cranes including “monstrous machines that have digger buckets and a conveyor belt” had moved into nearby areas on the Tatai river, Newman said, claiming they were staffed by Vietnamese and Chinese crews.

Koh Kong provincial deputy police chief, Sin Sen, said he had yet to receive any reports of alleged trespassing by LYP Group staff members but vowed to investigate the claims if the complainants came forward.

“I think that if that is actually happening and there are complaints to the police we will conduct an investigation because it is an illegal activity if they are doing that,” Sin Sen said.

Newman said Ly Yong Phat’s office had responded to a letter of complaint she’d sent and promised to try and find a resolution to the matter.

Ly Yong Phat could not be reached for comment by The Post yesterday.

Questions remain as to whether LYP Group’s operations violate a 2009 ban on dredging sand for export made by Prime Minister Hun Sen.

Newman said a man, who she believed to be Singaporean, had called her to apologise for the unintended consequences of the dredging and promised to find a resolution. He identified himself as the head of one of the boats, she added.

Brandon Ong, an official at the Singaporean Ministry of National Development, said by email yesterday that the ministry was looking into recent sales of sand and would respond to questions from The Post at a future date.

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Panel of experts to review Singapore's drainage design, flood measures

Esther Ng Today Online 1 Jul 11;

SINGAPORE - Their appointments were announced yesterday and their work - to review drainage design and flood protection measures - will begin next Friday, when the panel of local and foreign experts meet Environment and Water Resources Minister Vivian Balakrishnan.

Chaired by National University of Singapore's engineering dean Chan Eng Soon, the panel's priorities will entail a "detailed look" at the current drainage infrastructure, topography of flood prone areas and potential new technological solutions.

"We'll cover a whole range of issues from rainfall to surface run-off to drainage design," Professor Chan told MediaCorp.

"We'll also be looking at mitigation measures and constraint factors. The panel will rationalise over these matters and issue an advisory which we think would be appropriate."

"For now, it is 'premature' to talk about mitigation measures."

"I'm sure the panel members have different ideas, so we need to deliberate on these issues with rigour," he said and added that, with time, the panel will look at inputs from the public.

The panel appointed by the Ministry of Environment and Water Resources (MEWR) comprise of academics, private sector engineers, climate change experts and civil servants. Prof Chan said: "What they'll bring to the panel is their broad knowledge and individual experience."

For instance, Professor Lui Pao Chuen, adviser to the National Research Foundation and Chief Defence Scientist for 22 years, is used to looking at complex systems, while urban flood specialist Adri Verwey is one of the pioneers in flood modelling software and has worked in places such as Hong Kong, said Prof Chan.

The panel also includes Professor Toshio Koike from the Department of Civil Engineering, University of Tokyo and Mr Kan Yim-fai, chief Engineer of the Land Drainage Division, Hong Kong's Drainage Services Department.

The review is expected to take six months. Apart from the 11 panel members named yesterday, the MEWR is awaiting confirmation from a few other experts.

Meanwhile, recommendations from the Inter-Agency Drainage Review Committee formed last August is now up on the Public Utilities Board (PUB)'s website. These include enhancing drainage design standards to cope with more intense rain, requiring new developments to comply with higher crest levels and requiring building managers to enhance flood protection measures.

The public can email their comments to ESTHER NG

Chairperson: Prof Chan Eng Soon, Dean, Faculty of Engineering, National University of Singapore
Mr Kan Yim-fai, chief engineer, Land Drainage Division, Hong Kong’s Drainage Services Department
Prof Toshio Koike, Department of Civil Engineering, University of Tokyo
Dr Les Lampe, vice-president, Black and Veatch
Mr Lim Keng Kuok, senior consultant, CPG Consultants
Lim Peng Hong, president, Association of Consulting Engineers Singapore
Prof Lui Pao Chen, adviser, National Research Foundation
Mr Laurens van der Tak, vice-president, CH2M HILL
Associate Prof Tan Soon Keat, School of Civil and Environment Engineering, Nanyang Technological University
Dr Adri Verwey, senior urban flooding specialist, Deltares/SDWA
Prof Yong Kwet Yew, Civil Engineering Department, and vice-president, NUS

Expert panel to review drainage system
Feng Zengkun Straits Times 1 Jul 11;

ELEVEN experts, including five from overseas, have been tapped to review Singapore's drainage system and flood-prevention measures and come up with new ideas.

They will examine the landscape of flood-prone areas islandwide, current and future building plans, as well as local weather patterns.

The review, expected to be completed in six months, will be submitted to Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan.

The panel will be headed by Professor Chan Eng Soon, 56, dean of engineering at the National University of Singapore.

The experts were selected based on recommendations from industry professionals and academics.

The overseas experts are: Mr Kan Yim-fai, chief engineer at Hong Kong's drainage services department; civil engineering professor Toshio Koike from Tokyo University; Dr Les Lampe, vice-president of Black and Veatch, a US-based global water company; Netherlands-based urban flooding specialist Dr Adri Verwey; and Mr Laurens van der Tak, vice-president of CH2M HILL, an industry leader in water reuse.

The Straits Times understands that the Japan and Hong Kong experts were picked because these places have highly urbanised settings similar to Singapore's.

The 11 will meet Dr Balakrishnan next Friday to work out the details of their review. The ministry said more experts may be added to the panel, which will also look at the recommendations of an inter-governmental agency drainage review committee set up after last year's Orchard Road flood.

The recommendations include improving drainage design standards and requiring new buildings to have higher platforms.

These will be published today on national water agency PUB's website and the public can give feedback via e-mail at

Prof Chan said the increased number of experts this time round reflects the larger scope of the work. He noted that the new panel has a wider mix of people with practical experience as well as academic theory.

Mr Steven Goh, executive director of the Orchard Road Business Association, noted that 'the businessmen on the ground' are not represented in the new panel.

'We hope that the expert panel will consider reaching out to us and hearing some of our views,' he said.

Flood experts appointed
Channel NewsAsia 30 Jun 11;

SINGAPORE: The Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources (MEWR) has appointed an expert panel to review the drainage design and flood protection measures that will be implemented in Singapore over the next decade.

The panel, consisting of local and overseas experts, will be chaired by Professor Chan Eng Soon, Dean of the Faculty of Engineering at the National University of Singapore.

The members of the panel were drawn from academia, professional bodies, private and public sectors. Their fields of expertise include civil and hydraulic engineering, flood control and climate science.

The terms of reference for the expert panel include an assessment of the current drainage infrastructure, assumptions and parameters for modelling, topography of flood prone areas, projected weather patterns, current and future building plans, information systems, and potential new technological solutions.

The review is expected to be completed in six months.

- CNA/ir

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PUB tests ceramic membrane technology

Dickson Li Business Times 1 Jul 11;

THE Public Utilities Board (PUB) yesterday launched a $5 million ceramic membrane demonstration plant at its Choa Chu Kang Waterworks.

The new ceramic membrane lasts four times longer than the current polymeric membranes. 'Although the cost of ceramic membranes is higher . . . it has a much longer lifespan of 15-20 years,' said Harry Seah, director of PUB's technology & quality water office.

PUB selected PWN Technologies (PWNT) of the Netherlands to build the plant, which has a daily capacity of 1.2 million litres. It will go through an 18-month trial, at the end of which PUB will evaluate the practicality of implementing this technology.

'The real advantage is on the operational costs. With a long lifetime on the membrane, you don't have to change it as often,' said Jonathan Clement, director of technology application at PWNT. 'With added, efficiency, we keep operating costs low, and this translates into less pressure to increase prices of water,' added Mr Seah.

Adopting the new technology will also mean cleaner water. Using the ceramic membrane, ozone can be added into the system - something which cannot be done with the polymeric membrane.

To support this plant, PWNT will be given a grant under the Technology Pioneer Scheme, from the Environment & Water Industry Programme Office.

PUB trial may lead to cheaper water prices
Tests being done on longer-lasting, tougher material for filtering process
Feng Zengkun Straits Times 1 Jul 11;

A NEW water-treatment method being tested floats the promise of keeping water prices affordable for consumers in the long run.

A trial plant, sited at national water agency PUB's Choa Chu Kang water- treatment facility, uses a new material that is expected to last at least 20 years - more than four times the lifespan of the polymeric membranes being used now.

The new material for sieving out impurities can also process up to 10 times more water, withstand more pressure, and be cleaned with a wider range of chemicals.

If the trial proves successful, it would mean that the cost of producing water could become cheaper and water prices could remain low in Singapore, said Mr Harry Seah, director of technology and water quality at PUB.

The $5 million trial, a collaboration with Dutch water firm PWN Technologies, is expected to last until 2013.

It involves a new type of ceramic membrane that was tested on a smaller scale here between 2007 and 2009.

The current trial is to assess whether the material is cost-effective on a larger scale and make sure the water quality matches that yielded now by treatment plants.

The rate for water is $1.52 per 1,000 litres, if consumption is less than 40,000 litres per month.

On average, each person uses 154 litres of water a day. This comes from recycled seawater and rainwater, Newater and water imported from Malaysia.

The new treatment method will be able to produce water for both industrial and household uses.

Mr Jonathan Clement, PWNT's director of technology application, said the new material has been used in other industries, such as chemical processing and pulp and paper.

Until recently, the cost of using it in water treatment was too expensive.

'It was only in the last few years that we discovered how to put the membranes together so that installing them is as cheap as installing the polymeric membranes,' he said.

The trial plant is expected to process up to 1.2 million litres of water a day, enough to supply the needs of 8,000 residents.

Raw water will be drawn from Kranji and Pandan reservoirs, and reservoirs such as Tengeh, Poyan, Murai and Sarimbun in the western catchment area.

Mr Seah said the plant will be put through its paces processing water of varying purity. The processed water will be tested and recycled through the other treatment plants in the Choa Chu Kang facility to avoid wastage.

If the trial is successful, PUB will consider replacing the membranes in treatment plants with the new material.

The project is funded by the Environment and Water Industry Programme Office, set up in 2006 with a fund of $330 million to support research and development efforts over five years.

The new membrane will also be showcased at next week's fourth annual Singapore International Water Week.

Singapore explores new technology to treat drinking water
Lim Jing Jing Channel NewsAsia 30 Jun 11;

SINGAPORE: A new technology is being tested for its potential to treat drinking water in Singapore.

A S$5 million water treatment plant, which will use ceramic membrane technology to treat drinking water, has been built at the Choa Chu Kang Waterworks after two years of planning.

The "demonstration plant" is funded by a grant from the Environment and Water Industry Programme Office under the Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources.

Raw water will be drawn from the Kranji, Pandan and reservoirs in the western catchment area, which includes the Tengah, Poyan, Murai and Sarimbun Reservoirs.

The plant is able to treat 1.2 million litres of water a day. Its performance will be tested over 18 months.

Untreated water in Singapore is currently filtered through polymeric membranes.

The ceramic membrane has a projected lifespan of 20 years, four times longer than the polymeric membrane.

The initial cost of building a ceramic treatment plant is higher but potential savings come in the long term, largely due to the durability of the ceramic membrane.

As a result, PUB said that ozone can also be added to disinfect water.

According to PWN Technologies, which built the plant, its ceramic membrane technology also has a lower energy consumption compared to conventional treatment methods.

This could mean cheaper or more readily available drinking water in Singapore as the population grows, even while the world's supply of potable water shrinks.

- CNA/fa

New technology could mean cheaper water for consumers
Lim Jing Jing Today Online 1 Jul 11;

SINGAPORE - A S$5 million trial which is currently underway could result in cheaper water for consumers.

National water agency Public Utilities Board (PUB) said yesterday that it has built a water treatment plant in Choa Chu Kang to test the use of a new ceramic membrane technology.

The trial, a collaboration with Dutch water firm PWN Technologies, is expected to last for 18 months.

According to the PUB, ceramic membranes last about 20 years, four times longer than the current polymeric membranes - thus resulting in a lower cost of producing water should the trial be successful.

The new material for sieving out impurities can also process up to 10 times more water, withstand more pressure and be cleaned with a wider range of chemicals.

The treatment plant, which is funded by Singapore's Environment and Water Industry Programme Office, is able to treat 1.2 million litres of water a day, about half the size of an Olympic-sized swimming pool.

PWN Technologies said this is the first time their technology is being used in a pilot facility outside the Netherlands.

Raw water will be drawn into the ceramic membrane plant from the Kranji and Pandan reservoirs in the western catchment areas, which includes the Tengeh, Poyan, Murai and Sarimbun reservoirs.

For the first three months, water treated using ceramic membrane technology will be mixed back into raw water. After that, if the quality of the treated water meets the PUB's requirements, the treated water will be used.

PWN Technologies said it believes ceramic technology is suitable for Singapore.

Apart from being cheaper, these membranes are in a single vessel which makes such treatment plants more compact, the company said.

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'Vertical farms' make buildings greener

Straits Times 1 Jul 11;

RESEARCHERS here have found a way to grow, say, kangkong and bean sprouts in 'vertical farms' on the sides of buildings, removing the need for agricultural land.

The carbon dioxide needed by plants to grow will come from the building itself, making it greener.

The method - from a project started in 2008 and funded by the National University of Singapore (NUS) - has drawn interest from several overseas firms.

Mr Allan Lim, 38, chief executive of local company Alpha Biofuels which is partnering NUS, said the firm has successfully grown bean sprouts and kangkong. 'The system is especially useful for Singapore because we have many buildings and not much land for farms,' he said.

The system involves creating glass enclosures on the sides of buildings. The vegetables or fruits are grown on scaffolds between two panes of glass.

Carbon dioxide from air-conditioners and other systems in the building are piped into the glass cages and absorbed by the plants.

The researchers found that each plant starts absorbing at a much faster rate after the gas exceeds a certain level. The faster rate causes the plants to grow quicker, which means crops can be harvested more often in the year.

The method has several advantages over traditional 'green walls' where plants grown on the sides of buildings take in carbon dioxide from the air outside.

The glass enclosures recycle the carbon dioxide from inside the buildings, making them greener.

Temperatures and the level of carbon dioxide in the glass enclosures can be maintained at selected levels, which means the plants are not exposed to the vagaries of weather and can be cultivated throughout the year.

The glass enclosures also insulate the building, which means that fewer air-conditioners and heating devices are needed.

The system can also be used in other industries that produce carbon dioxide, such as mines. The Wellard Group, an Australian agricultural firm, has expressed interest in using it to provide food for miners in remote mines.

If the deal is successful, carbon dioxide from the mines will be pumped into large containers outside the mines where the crops can be grown.

Researcher Kua Harn Wei, 40, an assistant professor at NUS' School of Design and Environment, said more work needs to be done to find the optimal carbon dioxide level for each plant.

The researchers are also testing other crops and making sure the faster rate of gas absorption does not make them unsafe to eat.

Talks are ongoing for the system to be adopted in the Sino-Singapore Tianjin Eco-City in China.

The Government has set a target of 10 per cent of vegetables here to be grown locally within three years, up from 7 per cent now.


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Inflation? Grow your own food

Rachel Kelly Channel NewsAsia 30 Jun 11;

SINGAPORE: Future global food demand is expected to increase by some 70 per cent by 2050.

That's according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO).

The organisation said more sustainable farming efforts are needed to feed what is expected to be a nine-billion 2050 population.

In addition, with rapidly growing global population, and supply playing catch up, inflationary pressures continue to hang over most rice bowls in Asia.

In Singapore, a social enterprise with global backing is looking to help community members come back to their roots, and at the same time combat inflation on a small scale.

Singapore is renowned for its greenery, but perhaps not its urban farming.

In North West Singapore, however, efforts are under way to get people and corporates to come back down to the ground to plant food and to experience food sustainability.

In Singapore, as with most of Asian economies, food prices have continued on a steady rise.

In May food prices rose 2.8 per cent on-year due to more expensive prepared meals and ingredients.

The founders behind the social project ComCrop said it can even go a small way in combating inflation.

Alpha Biofuels chief executive director Allan Lim said: "In a way, I feel that we may not be able to counter the global inflation and food prices.

"But let's say if we have 200 of such farms and we have about 200 in Singapore, big and small, and every one of them grows some kind of herb. And these herbs, like chilli, and spices, when the food prices go up, the neighbourhood could actually just come down and grab the chillies and go back and cook.

"You don't really need your hard earned money in the supermarkets buying these.

"So if we could concentrate on growing a single kind of crop, or two, three kinds of crops, and this could become sustainable and then the residents could actually use these.

"We could effectively counter a little bit of the inflation but we couldn't solve the inflation problem".

The project has won the support of globally renowned UN Messenger of Peace Jane Goodall who said more of such farms should be set up in every country.

Ms Goodall said that such sustainable and even organic farming is achievable to support perhaps even global demand.

"I truly believe that organic farming, if it gets the government behind it, if it doesn't have to compete with agro business -- which right now it does -- you know it might cost a little bit more but there will be much less waste, it will be valued," Ms Goodall said.

"It will taste good, it will make us healthier, and we probably save on our doctors' bills because there's absolutely no questions but then lots of our problems got to do with the residue, pesticides and fertilisers".

It is estimated that the world needs to invest a US$209 billion in agriculture in developing countries to support demand by 2050.


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Australia: One dugong killed a month in Far North Queensland

Daniel Bateman The Cairns Post 1 Jul 11;

ONE dugong a month has been killed in Far Northern waters, according to an official dugong death tally.

The Queensland Government has confirmed 40 of the threatened marine mammals have died over three years. While many of the animals were killed in fishing nets, many of them were reported as being killed in suspicious circumstances.

And there has only been one dugong reported killed in the region stretching between Cardwell to Cape Tribulation.

The figures come as Bob Irwin, the father of Crocodile Hunter Steve Irwin, urged the Government to review its animal cruelty laws to stop the suffering of endangered species taken by indigenous hunters.

The environmental campaigner, who’s been asked to run for the Queensland Party at the next election, says the state has failed to stop the horrific deaths of endangered dugongs and turtles.

"Our governments are no longer concerned in regards to blatant cruelty, whether it be domestic stock or native wildlife," Mr Irwin said.

Cairns and Far Northern Environment Centre co-ordinator Steve Ryan said the latest dugong death tally was disappointing.

"It is clear that there is an unacceptable number of dugong, dolphin and turtle deaths occurring in our region," he said. "Reform of net fisheries in Queensland is long overdue...There are simply too many nets.

"Current efforts to ensure traditional hunting is carried out sustainably also remain inadequate and in need of far greater support."

A Department of Environment and Resource Management spokesman said the department was working closely with research partners, including the CSIRO and James Cook University, and others to protect dugongs.

"We continue to work ... to determine the best way to protect these animals," he said.

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Australia: Dead turtle swallowed 317 plastic pieces

Belinda Cranston AAP Sydney Morning Herald 30 Jun 11;

A giant sea turtle found dead on a NSW beach is likely to have starved after more than 300 pieces of plastic it swallowed caused its digestive system to shut down, a marine biologist says.

The 40cm turtle was found washed up on a beach at Ballina, on the NSW far north coast, earlier this month.

A necropsy procedure found it had swallowed 317 pieces of plastic, including three varieties of plastic bags - clear, black and blue - plastic lids, several lolly pop sticks, fishing line and packing tape, Australian Seabird Rescue spokeswoman Rochelle Ferris told AAP.

"Its digestive system became so impacted with the undigestible material that the system basically shut down and that turtle slowly starved to death," she said.

Ms Ferris, who is a marine biologist, said she was aware of 40 to 50 cases of turtles suffering from plastic ingestion each year, but this was a particularly disturbing discovery.

"We've rescued hundreds of sea turtles. This is the worst case we've seen," she said.

She called on federal, state and territory governments to act to halt the flow of garbage streaming into oceans from urban rivers and waterways.

"The government knows this is a problem," she said.

"The science is there that says 36 per cent of sea turtles are affected by plastic debris."

Ms Ferris said there were only seven species of sea turtles on the planet.

"We only operate on 250 kilometres of coastline," she said.

"It makes me sick to imagine how many turtles are dying long, slow deaths across the country where there is no help."

Read more!

Australia investigates washed-up turtles in Queensland

Phil Mercer BBC News 1 Jul 11;

Australian officials are investigating why dozens of turtles have been found on beaches in northern Queensland, many of them ill or dead.

It is thought unseasonably cold weather or the flow of floodwaters into the ocean could be to blame.

Conservationists say the number of turtles being washed up near the city of Townsville is unprecedented.

They are worried there may be many more unreported fatalities along isolated stretches of the coast.

Dozens of dead or stranded turtles have been found near Townsville and on Magnetic Island, a tropical resort popular with holidaymakers.

Carcasses have also been found more than 800km (500 miles) to the south around the port city of Gladstone.

There are various theories why this is happening.

Some researchers believe a category-five cyclone that tore across the Queensland coast earlier this year wiped out many sea-grass beds throughout the Great Barrier Reef, leaving sea turtles with little to eat.

Others blame unusually cold weather.

Scientists say it could take years for damaged sea-grass beds to recover.

The coastal waters of Queensland are important breeding grounds for several species of marine turtles, including the Loggerhead, Hawksbill and Flatback.

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Plastic Found in Nine Percent of 'Garbage Patch' Fishes: Tens of Thousands of Tons of Debris Annually Ingested

ScienceDaily 30 Jun 11;

The first scientific results from an ambitious voyage led by a group of graduate students from Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego offer a stark view of human pollution and its infiltration of an area of the ocean that has been labeled as the "Great Pacific Garbage Patch."

Two graduate students with the Scripps Environmental Accumulation of Plastic Expedition, or SEAPLEX, found evidence of plastic waste in more than nine percent of the stomachs of fish collected during their voyage to the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre. Based on their evidence, authors Peter Davison and Rebecca Asch estimate that fish in the intermediate ocean depths of the North Pacific ingest plastic at a rate of roughly 12,000- to 24,000 tons per year.

Their results were published June 27 in the journal Marine Ecology Progress Series.

During the SEAPLEX voyage in August 2009, a team of Scripps graduate students traveled more than 1,000 miles west of California to the eastern sector of the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre aboard the Scripps research vessel New Horizon. Over 20 days the students, New Horizon crew and expedition volunteers conducted comprehensive and rigorous scientific sampling at numerous locations. They collected fish specimens, water samples and marine debris at depths ranging from the sea surface to thousands of feet depth.

Of the 141 fishes spanning 27 species dissected in the study, Davison and Asch found that 9.2 percent of the stomach contents of mid-water fishes contained plastic debris, primarily broken-down bits smaller than a human fingernail. The researchers say the majority of the stomach plastic pieces were so small their origin could not be determined.

"About nine percent of examined fishes contained plastic in their stomach. That is an underestimate of the true ingestion rate because a fish may regurgitate or pass a plastic item, or even die from eating it. We didn't measure those rates, so our nine percent figure is too low by an unknown amount," said Davison.

The authors say previous studies on fish and plastic ingestion may have included so-called "net-feeding" biases. Net feeding can lead to artificially high cases of plastic ingestion by fishes while they are confined in a net with a high concentration of plastic debris. The Scripps study's results were designed to avoid such bias. The highest concentrations of plastic were retrieved by a surface collecting device called a "manta net," which sampled for only 15 minutes at a time. The short sampling time minimizes the risk of net feeding by preventing large concentrations of plastic from building up, and also by reducing the amount of time that a captured fish spends in the net. In addition to the manta net, the fishes were also collected with other nets that sample deeper in the water column where there is less plastic to be ingested through net feeding.

The new study focused on the prevalence of plastic ingestion, but effects such as toxicological impacts on fish and composition of the plastic were outside of the study's goals.

The majority of fish examined in the study were myctophids, commonly called lanternfish because of their luminescent tissue. Lanternfishes are hypothesized to use luminescence for several purposes, including counter-illumination (thwarts predators attempting to silhouette the lanternfish against sunlight), mate attraction and identification and illumination of prey. Such fish generally inhabit the 200- to 1,000-meter (650- to 3,280-foot) depth during the day and swim to the surface at night.

"These fish have an important role in the food chain because they connect plankton at the base of the food chain with higher levels. We have estimated the incidence at which plastic is entering the food chain and I think there are potential impacts, but what those impacts are will take more research," said Asch.

Rather than a visible "patch" or "island" of trash, marine debris is highly dispersed across thousands of miles of the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre. The debris area cannot be mapped from air or space, so SEAPLEX researchers collected samples in 132 net tows (130 of which contained plastic) across a distance of more than 2,375 kilometers (1,700 miles) in an attempt to find the boundaries of the patch. The region, a "convergence zone" where floating debris in water congregates, is generally avoided by mariners due to its calm winds and mild currents. The North Pacific Subtropical Gyre has been understudied by scientists, leaving many open questions about marine debris in the area and its long-term effects on the marine environment.

"This study clearly emphasizes the importance of directly sampling in the environment where the impacts may be occurring," said James Leichter, a Scripps associate professor of biological oceanography who participated in the SEAPLEX expedition but was not an author of the new paper. "We are seeing that most of our prior predictions and expectations about potential impacts have been based on speculation rather than evidence and in many cases we have in fact underestimated the magnitude of effects. SEAPLEX also clearly illustrates how relatively small amounts of funding directed for novel field sampling and work in remote places can vastly increase our knowledge and understanding of environmental problems."

SEAPLEX was supported by the UC Ship Funds program, Project Kaisei/Ocean Voyages Institute and the National Science Foundation.

Journal Reference:

P Davison, RG Asch. Plastic ingestion by mesopelagic fishes in the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre. Marine Ecology Progress Series, 2011; DOI: 10.3354/meps09142

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