Best of our wild blogs: 8 Jul 11

Minister of State for National Development and Manpower to walk railway stretch from Green Drinks Singapore

16 Jul (Sat): Talk on "Seagrass meadows of Singapore"
from teamseagrass

painting doubles @ SBWR 26June2011
from sgbeachbum

Baiting Grey Heron for photography
from Bird Ecology Study Group

A shy rail revealed
from Life's Indulgences

In the hot zone – preparing for dengue in Singapore
from Otterman speaks

Job opportunity @ NParks - Temporary Assistant for the National Biodiversity Centre from ecotax at Yahoo! Groups

How much plastic might fishes eat?
from wild shores of singapore

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Indonesia: Network Turns Teachers Into Environment Advocates

Kanis Dursin IPS News 7 Jul 11;

JAKARTA, Jul 7, 2011 (IPS) - Educators in Indonesia are turning green with environmental advocacies they plan to integrate into the curriculum of state-run elementary and high schools through the "Green Teacher Network".

But there’s an urgent push for one particular advocacy—protecting mangroves that mitigate climate change—given the fast depletion of these coastal forests.

The idea for expanding the "Green Teacher Network" came about after 30 teachers from 21 elementary, junior and senior high schools in Greater Jakarta, Southeast Sulawesi, North Maluku, and Banten provinces attended a mangrove workshop organised by the Sampoerna School of Education in Jakarta in June.

"We learned how to integrate environmental issues, particularly mangroves, into school subjects to make our students aware of the importance of mangrove reserves in dealing with abrasion and rising sea level," said Ekowanto (who uses just one name), a teacher at the state-owned Senior High Vocational School I in Pandeglang in Banten.

There is reason to be concerned about Indonesia’s mangroves. These forests alone account for one- third of the world’s mangrove reserves, but their size has shrunk dramatically in the last two decades from around eight million hectares to some 4.5 million now, according to Andreas Pramudianto, lecturer at the University of Indonesia Postgraduate Programme’s Human Resources and Environmental Research Centre.

Hazardous home and industrial wastes, seawater contamination, and massive conversion of mangrove forests into residential and fishpond areas are some of the reasons behind the sharp fall.

"The rate of mangrove destruction is likely to accelerate. We have to design educational programmes, trainings, or workshops aimed at raising people’s knowledge, understanding, and awareness on the importance of mangroves," Pramudianto told the teachers.

In Wakatobi in the province of Southeast Sulawesi in southern Indonesia, teachers have been integrating lessons on the environment into school activities since 2005. Maaruji (single name), coordinator of the Green Teacher Network in Wakatobi, said schools in his regency have taught marine life – including mangroves – to students from playgroup level up to senior high school for the past six years.

"This is due to the fact that Wakatobi has more water territory than land territory," he said during the workshop, called "Mangroves 4 Life".

Lessons on mangroves are hard to find in the country’s national curriculum. Teachers who attended the workshop pointed out that pollution, endangered animals, deforestation, the 3Rs (reduce, reuse and recycle) and global warming are the common environmental issues discussed in classrooms.

"The teaching of mangroves is rare because many teachers themselves do not know about mangroves and their uses," said Dewi Muthia, an elementary teacher at Islamic School Al Fauzien in Depok, West Java.

Siti Hawa A. Rachman, an Indonesian language teacher at the public Junior High School 2 in Ternate, North Maluku, said she learned how to incorporate mangrove issues into her class. "I now know that I can raise my students’ awareness about the country’s mangrove forests by choosing story books related to mangroves," Rachman said.

"I’m planning to share my knowledge about mangroves with fellow teachers in Ternate and if possible encourage other schools to join hands (in planting and protecting mangroves)," said Rachman, adding that all seven regencies in North Maluku province in northeastern Indonesia have coastal areas with huge mangrove forest reserves.

Stien Matakupan, a lecturer at Sampoerna School of Education, said the training was the second of three mangrove workshops her school has planned for 2011.

"We are organising another mangrove workshop for teachers in August with participants expected to come from Indonesia and some neighbouring countries," said Matakupan. The first one, she added, was held in May in Probolinggo, East Java.

"The workshops aim to encourage schools to integrate environmental issues, including mangroves, into their programmes, and increase their students’ awareness by making field trips to local mangrove sites," Matakupan said, explaining the reason behind her school’s decision to organise mangrove trainings for teachers.

"Many of the country’s schools are located near mangrove forests," she pointed out.

During the workshop, teachers learned that mangrove trees could be used to make fruit juice, syrup and jam besides providing breeding, nursery and resting areas for marine life and other species such as migratory birds.

A joint research by scientists from the Centre for International Forestry Research in Bogor, West Java, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service revealed that mangroves in the Indian and Pacific Oceans store more carbon than previously recognised, underscoring calls for mangrove protection in order to play a key role in mitigating climate change.

According to the research published in the monthly multi-disciplinary journal Nature Geoscience in April, much of that carbon is stored in the ground below the mangrove forests, which account for merely 0.7 percent of tropical forest area. The study also suggested that the destruction and degradation of mangrove reserves could produce 10 percent of the world’s total deforestation emissions.

Ekowanto vowed to teach some 1,200 students in his school how to grow mangroves. "I have collected mangrove seeds and this coming academic year, my colleagues and I will teach our students to germinate the seeds in the school compound and plant them later in destroyed mangrove sites in Labuan district, Pandeglang regency," he said. The new school year starts in mid-July.

Ekowanto, who is also chairman of the Banten’s Indonesian Teachers Association (IGI), said he would establish a "Green Teacher Network" in the province in order to increase teachers’ environmental awareness and competence.

Matakupan said an online forum would be launched during the August seminar to allow teachers to share their knowledge and publish environment-related activities in their respective schools.

"The forum will not only allow participants to get in touch with their colleagues in other parts of Indonesia but also link them up with their counterparts in different countries such as Malaysia, Japan, Singapore, and even Sweden," Matakupan said. (END)

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Thai South Has Been Moderately Affected By Seasonal Haze

Bernama 7 Jul 11;

BANGKOK, July 7 (Bernama) - A Thai authority acknowledged Thursday that certain areas in Thailand's southern region have been affected by seasonal haze at a moderate level on average, Thai News Agency (TNA) reported.

Jongjit Niranatmetheekul, chief of the environment office region 16, under Thailand's Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, confirmed that the index of air quality calculated by her ministry's Pollution Control Department through updated data gathered from several air inspection stations in the Thai South, including those in Hat Yai of Songkhla and in Satun Provinces showed Thursday morning the moderate air quality on average without any serious public health threat.

Jongjit said, however, that the mild smog, believed to have been affected by seasonal haze in neighbouring Indonesia caused by forest fire on Sumatra Island, has reduced local people's visibility, as she urged the local public, particularly the elderly, children and allergic patients, to remain indoors as a precaution at the moment to prevent themselves from smog-borne illnesses.

Meanwhile, thicker smog was reported in Satun Thursday, particularly at provincial forests, mountains and roads, prompting local public health officials to have prepared measures to take care of people's health, including a handout of face masks at communal hospitals and public health offices.


Air quality in South blanketed by moderate haze
MCOT News 7 Jul 11;

SONGKHLA, July 7 - The air quality index in Songkhla’s Hat Yai district is hovering midway since the region was blanketed by haze from Indonesian forest fires.

Chongchit Neeranatmetheekul, director of the local environmental office of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment said that smog in the South assessed at Air Quality Monitoring Stations found that the air quality is near the middle of the scale and will not have a health impact.

However, thin haze has still caused poor visibility and people with allergies, the elderly and small children are advised to stay indoors.

The haze probably comes from forest fires on Indonesian Sumatra which envelopes the Thai South annually. The Pollution Control Department is monitoring the situation continuously.

In Satun, smog has covered several areas for the third consecutive day Thursday. It is thicker than yesterday.

The Pollution Control Department dispatched mobile air quality monitoring units to inspect air quality and the provincial public health office advises on health guidelines and practices for local residents.

Masks are available for the public at public health offices and hospitals in their communities. (MCOT online news)

Haze from Sumatra pollutes the air in Selangor and Penang
Straits Times 8 Jul 11;

SHAH ALAM: Air quality in parts of Malaysia was near unhealthy levels yesterday as south-westerly winds carried haze from Sumatra to the neighbouring countries, according to the Malaysian environment agency.

The Department of Environment (DOE) website indicated that the Air Pollutant Index (API) in Seberang Jaya in Penang had reached 98 yesterday.

The API for unhealthy air quality is between 101 and 200 while a reading above 301 is hazardous.

Singapore's air quality has not been affected by the fires in Sumatra so far, Singapore's National Environment Agency (NEA) told The Straits Times yesterday.

This is because the prevailing south-easterly winds are not blowing the smoke haze from the fires in Sumatra to Singapore.

But it warned that a possible change in wind direction to south-westerly over the weekend may bring some slight haze towards Singapore if the fires in central Sumatra persist.

The 24-hour Pollutant Standards Index reading at 4pm yesterday was 39, which was within the good range.

Responding to queries from The Straits Times, the NEA said showers over parts of Sumatra in western Indonesia have helped reduce the number of hot spots from 191 on Wednesday to 70 yesterday.

Over in Malaysia, the API reading in Port Klang in the Selangor state hit 92 yesterday.

A DOE spokesman there said that the haze was caused by a combination of factors including the open burning of rubbish, south-westerly winds carrying smoke from hot spots in Sumatra and the current hot weather, The Star reported.

On Wednesday, the Indonesian MetroTV reported that an airport in Riau province in Sumatra was blanketed by haze and the authorities might close it if the haze worsened.

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Indonesia: Kalimantan district forms command post to tackle forest fires

Fires also threaten orang utans there
Antara 7 Jul 11;

Sampit, Central Kalimantan (ANTARA News) - The East Kotawaringin district administration has set up a command post to deal with forest and plantation fires.

"The function of the command post is to prevent and handle forest and plantation fires in East Kotawaringin," Sanggol Lumban Gaol, an official of the East Kotawaringin district administration, said here on Thursday.

The command post involves various officers in the district, such as the environmental affairs office, the forestry office, the local fire brigade, the plantation and agriculture office, and police.

Similar command posts will later be set up at all sub districts and villages in East Kotawaringin District.

Head of the East Kotawaringin Fire Brigade Rusli said his office has put out 22 large-scale forest and plantation fires and 48 others at small scale over the past three weeks.

He explained that the East Kotawaringin Fire Brigade has managed to extinguish just 40 percent of the forest and plantation fires occurring in the district, due to lack of equipment and personnel.

His office has only five fire trucks, and one of them was out of order.

Meanwhile, orangutans in East Kotawaringin District are on the brink of extinction, according to Head of the East Kotawaringin Natural Resource Conservation Agency (BKSDA) Ian Septiawan.

"The orangutans are in grave danger of extinction due to degradation of their habitats in East Kotawaringin. The habitats have decreased from year to year because of the forest conversion into oil palm plantations," Ian Septiawan said here Wednesday (July 6).

Forest and plantation fires, which occur almost every year, have also threatened the existence of orangutans in the district.

They have difficulty in finding food because their habitats are under pressure.

Some orangutans have been caught and killed by local people because they had entered nearby villages, and some others were burned in the forest fires, Ian said.

Editor: Priyambodo RH

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Tuna species urgently need protection: IUCN

Marlowe Hood AFP Yahoo News 8 Jul 11;

The reference organisation for the conservation status of Earth's animals and plants said for the first time Thursday that most species of tuna are urgently in need of protection.

Five of eight tuna species are now threatened or nearly threatened with extinction due to overfishing, according to the Red List of Threatened Species, compiled by the Swiss-based International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

The report is being released ahead of a July 11-15 meeting in La Jolla, California of the world's five regional fisheries management organisations (RFMOs), intergovernmental groups set up to insure that tuna fisheries remain sustainable.

Southern bluefin tuna stocks have already crashed with little hope of recovery, resulting in a status of "critically endangered", the IUCN reported.

Atlantic bluefin -- with populations in both the east and west fished to the edge of viability -- is now officially "endangered".

All bluefin tuna species "are susceptible to collapse under continued excessive fishing pressure", said Ken Carpenter, a professor at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia and the head of the IUCN's Marine Biodiversity Unit.

Other tuna species under sharp pressure from high-tech factory ships that comb international waters in search of ever-dwindling stocks include bigeye, classified as vulnerable, along with yellowfin and albacore, both ranked as "near threatened".

"This is the first time that fishery scientists, ichthyologists (fish specialists) and conservationists have come together to jointly produce an assessment of the threat facing a commercially important group of fishes," said Bruce Collette, a senior scientist at the US National Marine Fisheries Service and head of the IUCN's Tuna and Billfish Specialist Group.

All told, the new peer-reviewed classification, based on a study published Thursday in the US journal Science, assessed 61 species of tunas, bonitas, mackerels and billfishes, a group that includes swordfish and marlins.

Among billfishes, blue and white marlins are deemed vulnerable, while striped marlin has been classified as near threatened.

Up to 90 percent of many large, open-water fish have been depleted by industrial-scale fishing over the last half-century, and marine scientists warn that continued harvesting could lead to irreversible declines of some species.

Because many are at the top of the food chain, their disappearance could also disrupt delicately balanced ecosystems.

In the case of tuna species, "the most efficient way to avoid collapse is to shut down the fisheries until stocks are rebuilt to healthy levels", the researchers concluded.

"Scientific findings should not be discarded in order to maintain short-term profit," they added, a clear jab at RFMOs that have in the past consistently ignored the advice of their own scientific committees.

Five main species of tuna make up the annual worldwide catch of 4.0 to 4.5 million tonnes.

Destined mainly for supermarket shelves, skipjack (Katsuwonus pelamis) accounts for 60 percent of the total.

Yellowfin (Thunnus albacares) and bigeye (Thunnus obesus) comprise 24 and 10 percent of the global tuna market respectively.

Thunnus alalunga, better known as albacore, follows with five percent, while Atlantic Bluefin (Thunnus thynnus), highly prized in Japan for sashimi and sushi, is less than one percent.

More than half of tuna species at risk of extinction, say conservationists
IUCN study shows three species are threatened with extinction, while two more will be under threat without action to help them
Press Association 7 Jul 11;

Five out of the eight tuna species are at risk of extinction, conservationists warned today, as they called for urgent action to tackle over-fishing.

The latest assessment for the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) showed that three species are threatened with global extinction, while two more will be under threat without action to help them.

A study, published in the journal Science, which looks at all "scombrid" fish, which include tuna and mackerel, and billfishes, which include swordfish and marlins, found that seven of the 61 known species were under threat.

The study said some of the species were heavily over-fished, with little interest in conserving them because of the high commercial value of the catch.

There were also difficulties in regulating the multinational fisheries which exploit the stocks.

IUCN experts warned that all three bluefin tuna species – southern, Atlantic and Pacific – were susceptible to collapse because of pressure from fishing for the high-value fish.

Southern bluefin tuna are already critically endangered, the highest category of risk, and Atlantic bluefin are endangered, the assessment for the IUCN red list of threatened species found.

Bigeye tuna are vulnerable to extinction, while yellowfin and albacore tuna are close to being under threat, or will be threatened with extinction if conservation measures are not put in place to turn their fortunes around.

Among other species, blue and white marlin were both assessed as being vulnerable to extinction, putting them in the third of the three most serious categories for threatened species and at risk of dying out globally.

Dr Kent Carpenter, manager of IUCN's marine biodiversity unit and an author of the study, said: "All three bluefin tuna species are susceptible to collapse under continued excessive fishing pressure.

"The southern bluefin has already essentially crashed, with little hope of recovery.

"If no changes are made to current fishing practices, the western Atlantic bluefin stocks are at risk of collapse as they are showing little sign that the population is rebuilding following a significant reduction in the 1970s."

Most of the economically valuable species such as tuna are at the top of the marine food chain, and their decline could have negative impacts on other species.

They are also long-lived, with slower reproductive rates which means populations take longer to recover.

Last year, proposals were made to have Atlantic bluefin tuna listed as endangered under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites), temporarily stopping the trade in the species.

But attempts to list bluefin tuna, a sushi delicacy in Japan, as an "appendix I" species were defeated by a large majority of countries at the Cites meeting in March 2010.

The study published today said the only way to save southern and Atlantic bluefin tuna was to shut down the fisheries until stocks were rebuilt, although to do so would encourage illegal fishing.

Strong deterrents would be needed, such as controlling international trade in tuna through the Cites scheme, the scientists suggested.

Jean-Christophe Vie, deputy director of the IUCN's global species programme, said: "Temporarily shutting down tuna fisheries would only be a part of a much-needed recovery programme.

"Scientific finding should not be discarded in order to maintain short-term profit. Marine life and jobs for future generations are both at stake."

Increased protection urgently needed for tunas
IUCN 7 Jul 11;

For the first time, all species of scombrids (tunas, bonitos, mackerels and Spanish mackerels) and billfishes (swordfish and marlins) have been assessed for the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™. Of the 61 known species, seven are classified in a threatened category, being at serious risk of extinction. Four species are listed as Near Threatened and nearly two-thirds have been placed in the Least Concern category.

The results show that the situation is particularly serious for tunas. Five of the eight species of tuna are in the threatened or Near Threatened IUCN Red List Categories. These include: Southern Bluefin (Thunnus maccoyii), Critically Endangered; Atlantic Bluefin (T. thynnus), Endangered; Bigeye (T. obesus), Vulnerable; Yellowfin (T. albacares), Near Threatened; and Albacore (T. alalunga), Near Threatened.

This new information will be invaluable in helping governments make decisions which will safeguard the future of these species, many of which are of extremely high economic value, and is a timely input for the 3rd Joint Meeting of the Tuna RFMOs (Regional Fisheries Management Organizations) being held in La Jolla, California, July 11-15.

“This is the first time that fishery scientists, ichthyologists and conservationists have come together to jointly produce an assessment of the threats facing a commercially important group of fishes,” says Dr Bruce B. Collette, Chair of the IUCN Species Survival Commission’s (SSC) Tuna and Billfish Specialist Group, Senior Scientist of NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service, and lead author of the paper.

There is growing concern that in spite of the healthy status of several epipelagic fish stocks (those living near the surface), some scombrid and billfish species are being heavily overfished, and there is a lack of resolve to protect against overexploitation driven by high prices. Many populations are exploited by multinational fisheries whose regulation, from a political perspective, is exceedingly difficult.

“All three bluefin tuna species are susceptible to collapse under continued excessive fishing pressure. The Southern Bluefin has already essentially crashed, with little hope of recovery,” says Dr Kent Carpenter, Professor at Old Dominion University, manager of IUCN’s Marine Biodiversity Unit and an author of the paper. “If no changes are made to current fishing practices, the western Atlantic Bluefin stocks are at risk of collapse as they are showing little sign that the population is rebuilding following a significant reduction in the 1970s.”

Three species of billfishes are in threatened or Near Threatened categories: Blue Marlin (Makaira nigricans), Vulnerable; White Marlin (Kajikia albida), Vulnerable; and Striped Marlin (Kajikia audax), Near Threatened.

Most of the long-lived economically valuable species are considered threatened. They mature later than short-lived species and their reproductive turnover is longer, and as such recovery from population declines takes more time. As these scombrids and billfishes are at the top of the pelagic food web, population reductions of these predators may cause significant negative effects on other species that are critical to the balance of the marine ecosystem and that are economically important as a source of food.

The future of threatened scombrids and billfishes rests on the ability of RFMOs and fishing nations to properly manage these species. Southern and Atlantic Bluefin populations have been so reduced that the most efficient way to avoid collapse is to shut down the fisheries until stocks are rebuilt to healthy levels. However, this would cause substantial economic hardship and hinder the ability of RFMOs to control fishing because of the increased incentive for illegal fishing that would be created under these circumstances.

“Temporarily shutting down tuna fisheries would only be a part of a much needed recovery programme. In order to prevent illegal fishing, strong deterrents need to be implemented,” says Jean-Christophe ViĆ©, Deputy Director, IUCN’s Global Species Programme. “This new study shows that there is an urgent need for effective management. Scientific findings should not be discarded in order to maintain short-term profit. Marine life and jobs for future generations are both at stake.”

The recovery of fish stocks is possible through reducing fishing-induced mortality rates to well below the maximum sustainable yield (MSY), as shown in the case of the highly valued eastern population of the Atlantic Bluefin. Recently exploited at three times the MSY, a decrease in the total allowable catch and stricter monitoring and compliance measures have led to recent catch reductions of almost 75% over the past few years. This will enable the species to recover to sustainable levels as long as the current fishing controls are maintained.

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Jellyfish Invasions Force Shutdowns at 3 Separate Nuclear Plants

Natalie Wolchover Yahoo News 8 Jul 11;

A nuclear power plant on the coast of Israel was forced to shut down this week when its seawater cooling system became clogged with jellyfish. A similar incident temporarily disabled two nuclear reactors at the Torness power station on the Scottish coast last week. A week before, a reactor in Shimane, Japan was crippled by yet another jellyfish infiltration.

Amid speculation that warm waters and ocean acidification — both driven by climate change — are boosting jellyfish populations, are these three incidents signs of a growing trend?

"The several [power plant incidents] that happened recently aren't enough to indicate a global pattern. They certainly could be coincidental," said Monty Graham, a jellyfish biologist and senior marine scientist at the Dauphin Island Sea Lab off the Gulf Coast of Alabama.

Graham said there have been dozens of cases of jellyfish causing partial or complete shutdowns of coastal power plants in the past few decades, as well as shutdowns of desalination plants. Steve Haddock of the Monterrey Bay Aquarium Research Institute said a power plant in Australia was shut down by jellyfish as long ago as 1937. Such events aren't surprising; all these plants draw water out of the ocean, and they are already fitted with filtration devices called flumes that remove jellyfish and other debris.

"Only when you have a huge influx of jellies do they overwhelm the flumes," Graham told Life's Little Mysteries. This happens when a jellyfish bloom — a huge swarm of adult specimens brought together by ocean currents — flows into a power plant's filtration system.

Jellyfish blooming occurs mostly in the spring and summer months, which may partly explain why the three recent power plant incidents happened in close succession. While conditions brought on by climate change may also be creating more jellyfish blooms than there used to be, signifying a worldwide jellyfish population explosion, researchers can't tell whether that's occurring; they began tracking jellyfish populations too recently.

"In some places, there have been some dramatic population increases in the past few decades, but overall, it's hard to identify a trend," Graham said. "We don't have the hard data because we haven't been looking at jellyfish on a long enough timescale."

Claudia Mills, a jellyfish biologist at the University of Washington, said that there are some documented cases of local population increases. For example, an invasive species has been spreading in the Mediterranean for decades, and may be the culprit that clogged the Israeli plant. However, Mills told us, a lot of the concern about rising populations on a larger scale is based on hyperbole. "We don't know what is going on with jellyfish in most parts of the world," she wrote in an email. [Read: Jellyfish Swarms: Menacing or Misunderstood?]

Some researchers do suspect that populations are rising, as jellyfish may thrive in warmer oceans. "Jellyfish populations spike and wane with climate variability, so it's not hard to make the logical leap that if climate is changing long-term, we'll likely see a population change," Graham said. He is conducting research to investigate whether jellyfish populations are increasing globally, and if so, why.

Of course, a higher incidence of power plant-jellyfish standoffs (if, in fact, the incidence is higher) could also reflect the increasing number of coastal power plants, Graham said.

Either way, getting the power plants back online is not such a difficult fix.

"Plants only have to deal with a heavy-duty problem once or twice and they'll realize it's such a huge cost to them that they'll introduce countermeasures," he said. These include additional filters and a jet bubble system that makes incoming jellyfish float to the surface, where they can be skimmed off. "In some cases, the plants can just monitor for jellies and shut down temporarily when there's a bloom."

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