Best of our wild blogs: 11 Jul 11

The long and not so winding trek down a route less travelled
from The Long and Winding Road

Dinosaurs in Singapore!
from wild shores of singapore

Would we have dinosaurs in Singapore?
from Raffles Museum News

Colugo at Bukit Timah Nature Reserve
from wonderful creation

Lurkers of the Night
from Macro Photography in Singapore

Brown-throated Sunbird: Male and female vocalisation
from Bird Ecology Study Group

Fun at the "Forest, People, Environment" exhibition and talks
from wild shores of singapore

Equatorial Spitting Cobra
from Monday Morgue

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Taiwan to tighten laws banning shark fin hunting

Sam Yeh AFP Yahoo News 11 Jul 11;

Taiwan, one of the world's major shark catchers, announced plans on Sunday to tighten measures against hunting the ocean predator for its fin, the island's top fisheries official said Sunday.

Taiwan fishermen are already barred from tossing sharks back into the water to die after slicing off the fin -- a delicacy in Chinese cuisine -- and are required instead to ship back the carcass.

But the measures have failed to stifle criticism from conservationists who say loopholes in the law allow finning to continue.

Under new laws to take effect early next year, it will be an offence to remove a shark's fin onboard a fishing vessel.

"Any violators may be fined, barred from leaving ports, have their catches confiscated or even have their fishing boat licences revoked, depending on how seriously they contravene the measures," Fisheries Agency chief James Sha told AFP.

Sha defended local fishermen, insisting that, unlike their counterparts in Africa and Southeast Asia, they are unlikely to toss the bodies of the sharks into the water as feared by some conservationist groups.

"They have no reason to dump the meat of the sharks as local consumers eat them and they can be sold here at good prices here," he said.

The new measure has been welcomed by the Environmental and Animal Society of Taiwan (EAST), which estimates that up to four million sharks are slaughtered in Taiwan each year.

Environmental groups estimate that up to 73 million sharks are killed each year around the world for fins, leading to declines of up to 90 percent of some species of sharks -- which have plied the oceans since the age of the dinosaurs.

Despite campaigns from activists, demand for shark fins is seen as growing as China becomes increasingly prosperous.

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Is ocean garbage killing whales?

Marlowe Hood AFP Yahoo News 10 Jul 11;

Millions of tonnes of plastic debris dumped each year in the world's oceans could pose a lethal threat to whales, according to a scientific assessment to be presented at a key international whaling forum this week.

A review of research literature from the last two decades reveals hundreds of cases in which cetaceans -- an order including 80-odd species of whales, dolphins and porpoises -- have been sickened or killed by marine litter.

Entanglement in plastic bags and fishing gear have long been identified as a threat to sea birds, turtles and smaller cetaceans.

For large ocean-dwelling mammals, however, ingestion of such refuse is also emerging as a serious cause of disability and death, experts say.

Grisly examples abound.

In 2008, two sperm whales stranded on the California coast were found to have a huge amount -- 205 kilos (450 pounds) in one alone -- of fish nets and other synthetic debris in their guts.

One of the 50-foot (15-metre) animals had a ruptured stomach, and the other, half-starved, had a large plug of wadded plastic blocking its digestive tract.

Seven male sperm whales stranded on the Adriatic coast of southern Italy in 2009 were stuffed with half-digested squids beaks, fishing hooks, ropes and plastic objects.

In 2002, a dead minke whale washed up on the Normandy coast of France had nearly a tonne of plastic in its stomach, including bags from two British supermarkets.

"Cuvier's beaked whales in the northeast Atlantic seem to have particularly high incidences of ingestion and death from plastic bags," notes Mark Simmonds, author of the report and a member of scientific committee of the International Whaling Commission (IWC), which meets this week from July 11-14 on the British island of Jersey.

How widespread the problem is, and whether it could threaten an entire population or species, remains unknown.

"In many areas of the world, stranded whale carcasses are not recorded or examined, and in areas where strandings are recorded, examination of gut contents for swallowed plastics is rare," said Chris Parsons, a marine biologist at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia.

The majority of cetaceans that die from intestinal trauma getting caught up in fishing gear probably sink to the ocean floor, experts say.

"There is, however, evidence that plastic debris in the seas can harm these animals by both ingestion and entanglement, and this needs to be urgently further investigated," said Simmonds, Director of Science for Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society.

The main threats to cetaceans worldwide are accidental capture in fishing nets and climate change, he noted in an email exchange.

"We don't yet know enough about marine debris to rank it against other theats, but as it continues to sadly grow in the oceans, it will surely play a greater and greater role."

Studies have shown that litter concentrates in so-called convergence zones -- formed by currents and wind -- where whales feed on abundant prey.

Scientists have been slow to measure the impact of ocean refuse on animals living in or by the sea, and international organisations have been even slower in taking action.

In 2003, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) established the Global Initiative on Marine Litter, but it launched a detailed analysis of the scope of the problem only in 2009.

More recently, representatives from 38 countries meeting in Hawaii in March adopted the "Honolulu Commitment" outlining a dozen voluntary measures.

For whales, the level of threat from ocean garbage varies according to species and type of debris, the new report said.

For toothed whales from the suborder Odontoceti, ingestion of plastic pieces appears to pose the greatest danger.

Sperm and beaked whales are thought to be especially vulnerable because they are suction feeders.

Less is known about the impact on filter-feeding or baleen whales (suborder Mysticeti), which consume huge quantities of tiny zooplankton and small, schooling fish.

A single blue whale, for example, eats up to 3,600 kilos (8,000 pounds) of krill each day during feeding season.

Potentially, the greater danger here is from toxins in plastic that breaks down over time into tiny, even microscopic, particles.

Collisions with ships, and tissue-damaging noise pollution from off-shore oil exploration are additional threats, experts note.

The IWC is riven between countries that oppose whale hunting, and those that back the handful of nations -- Japan, Iceland and Norway -- that defy a 1986 whaling ban or use legal loopholes to circumvent it.

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Malaysia: Air quality moderate in most parts of country

The Star 11 Jul 11;

PETALING JAYA: Close to three-quarters of the country recorded moderate air quality yesterday.

A total of 37 areas monitored by the Department of Environment recorded an Air Pollutant Index (API) of between 51 and 100 as of 11am. The figure dropped slightly to 33 areas six hours later.

Sixteen areas enjoyed good air quality with an API below 50.

Among the places with the best air quality were Langkawi, Kedah (34); Universiti Sains Malaysia, Penang (35) and Miri, Sarawak (35).

Areas with the poorest air quality were Bukit Rambai, Malacca (76); Nilai, Negri Sembilan (74); Port Klang, Selangor (73); Tanah Merah, Kelantan (72); Kuala Terengganu (72) and Kemaman, Terengganu (71).

An area’s air quality reaches an unhealthy level when its API hits 101, a very unhealthy level at 201 and hazardous when it exceeds 301.

Last week, the haze affected the air quality, which almost reached an unhealthy level in certain areas in Penang.

The API in Seberang Jaya hit 96 on Thursday, just short of the unhealthy level of 101, compared with 84 on Tuesday.

The Meterological Department said then that visibility levels in the state were between 5km and 7km.

Haze is back
Loh Foon Fong and Florence A Samy The Star 11 Jul 11;

PETALING JAYA: Major parts of the country were enveloped by haze Monday due to fires in Sumatra and Borneo.

The Meteorological Department website said hazy weather was recorded at 35 out of 40 of its stations with visibility dipping in some areas in the country.

Petaling Jaya recorded a poor visibility level of 2.5km as of 4pm Monday while Sepang and Kuantan had a visibility of 1.5km and 4km respectively.

Normal visibility levels should be more than 10km.

Satellite images showed 217 hotpots in Sumatra Sunday and over 300 for Borneo and 13 for peninsula as of 6am Monday.

The Department of Environment's Air Pollutant Index recorded moderate air quality readings for 36 areas or 73% while the remaining were still within the healthy API reading of between 0 to 50 as of 11am Monday.

The Department would issue another reading at its website later this evening.

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Malaysia: IKEA becomes first retailer to stop single-use plastic bags

The Star 11 Jul 11;

IKEA Malaysia will become the country’s first retailer to eliminate the use of single-use plastic bags in the latest environment initiative by the home furnishing company.

This has been a journey for IKEA Malaysia which began in June 2009, when it introduced the “Kick the plastic bag habit” campaign with the aim of reducing plastic bags consumption. Since the campaign started, IKEA has reduced its plastic bags usage. Now in its second year of the campaign, there’s a positive trend of the IKEA customers stopped buying plastic bags.

Following this supportive action from its customers, IKEA Malaysia is now taking another step forward - from July 1, the retailer will no longer offer plastic bags.

IKEA Malaysia will stop offering plastic bags to its customers as plastic bags are harmful to the environment. This is the initiative that IKEA is doing as part of its commitment to be an environmentally responsible company.

“Eliminating plastic bags is one more way that we can show our commitment to responsible retailing.

“With the implementation of this initiative starting July 1, we are confident that our customers will continue to support our environment efforts as they have done from day one,” says IKEA Damansara sales manager Roszalena Mashurdin.

At IKEA, we firmly believe that our business should have as little impact on the environment as possible,” she added.

The call for action is to go reusable while shopping at IKEA stores with any reusable shopping bags. Or shop with the iconic IKEA blue bag, which is reusable and durable. Currently the IKEA blue bag comes in two sizes, but starting July 1, the mini version of the iconic blue bag will be available, giving its customers three sizes to choose from.

Alternatively, customers can pick up free carton boxes for re-use after the check-out counters.

“IKEA’s vision is to create a better everyday life for the many people. With this initiative, we hope to ignite a change in the general attitude towards plastic bags usage and encourage a new habit of carrying a reusable bag wherever we go,” said Ikano Retail Asia sustainability manager Joycelyn Teo-Moser.

From June 5, 2009 to June 30, 2011, customers at the IKEA store are charged 20 cents for each plastic bag.

There is no financial gain for IKEA from the sales of the plastic bags with all proceeds going to IKEA’s environmental partner – the Malaysian Nature Society (MNS), the largest and leading local environmental non-profit company.

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Asean nations reconsider the nuclear option

Japan's hopes of selling nuclear power packages to SE Asia fast fading
Anthony Rowley Business Times 11 Jul 11;

ASEAN's flirtation with the idea of nuclear power may be coming to an end as a result of Japan's Fukushima disaster, and with it the hopes that Japan harboured until a few months ago of selling multi-billion dollar nuclear power packages in South-east Asia and elsewhere.

Malaysia, Indonesia and Vietnam are all taking a second and more critical look at the nuclear option while the Philippines may decide against reactivating a nuclear power plant built under former president Ferdinand Marcos, according to experts from across the region.

At what was termed an 'emergency dialogue' organised here at the end of last week, senior officials and academics argued that if countries do choose to take the nuclear route, they must be 'nuclear ready' and better prepare their citizens for possible accidents.

They also stressed the need for generally improved disaster preparedness and collaboration among Asian nations in the wake of the recent Japanese disasters and the earlier Indonesian earthquake and tsunami of 2005.

If Japan, as one of the more disaster-prone but also disaster-prepared Asian nations, could suffer catastrophes such as the nuclear meltdown at Fukushima, less technologically advanced countries need to think twice about going down the nuclear road, experts suggested.

Many Asean members were considering the nuclear power option before the Fukushima meltdown, noted Wan Hamzah, senior fellow at Malaysia's Institute of Strategic and International Studies, and 'debate had been ongoing' in Malaysia until the Fukushima incident. But since then, decisions have been deferred, she said.

Indonesia too, since becoming a net importer of oil, had decided to build at least one nuclear power plant, Ms Wan added. But the proposed plant was in a location close to a seismic fault line, and the Indonesian government has deferred the decision in the light of the Fukushima accident.

Vietnam is 'still considering the nuclear option', but the decision on whether or not to go ahead will need to be approved by the country's parliament as a result of increasing democracy there, said To Minh Thu, director at Vietnam's Institute for Foreign Policy and Strategic Studies.

The Philippines too 'is looking' at nuclear power as a means to reduce its heavy dependence on imported oil but 'there is a lot of opposition to the idea', Danilo Israel, senior research fellow at the Philippine Institute of Development Studies told the Tokyo seminar.

For Japan, this is bad news in view of its earlier plan to sell nuclear power plants to Asean as well as to countries such as Turkey. Japan had earlier announced a provisional agreement supply reactors to Vietnam, although it recently withdrew from bidding on a proposed Malaysian plant.

Proposed stress testing of Japan's 54 nuclear power plants announced by Prime Minister Naoto Kan has generated domestic controversy over its timing, which coincides with plans to restart 35 plants idled after the crisis. But the results could reassure Asean members, depending upon the outcome, some observers suggested.

There were calls at the Tokyo seminar (organised by the Japan Forum on International Relations and others) for greater awareness among Asian governments of the human and economic toll that natural disasters can exact, and for increased regional cooperation in this area.

'East Asian governments should set up or upgrade special agencies to cope with emergencies and natural disasters, particularly since earthquakes, tsunamis and floods in the region seem to be occurring more often these days,' said John Wong, a professorial fellow and academic adviser at Singapore's East Asian Institute.

'All governments need to be on constant alert and to sharpen their crisis-management capacity,' he added.

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