Best of our wild blogs: 21 Jul 11

In Memoriam: Navjot Sodhi (1962-2011), “May his soul rest in peace!” from The Biodiversity crew @ NUS

Crab hair day
from The annotated budak

Neurobasis chinensis (Green Metalwing)
from Creatures Big & Small

Butterfly Portraits - The Plane
from Butterflies of Singapore

Singapore Biodiversity Encyclopedia is launched!
from wild shores of singapore

Seagrass sunrise at Chek Jawa
from wild shores of singapore

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At sea over marine life? RWS programme to let pupils get their feet wet

Esther Ng Today Online 21 Jul 11;

SINGAPORE - The Sea Research Foundation, a United States-based non-profit organisation, is collaborating with Resorts World Sentosa (RWS) to jointly develop a marine environmental curriculum for students in South-east Asia.

As part of the three-year agreement, the foundation will work with RWS' new Marine Life Park to bring The JASON Project, a multimedia science programme developed by the National Geographic Society, to the region.

When contacted, a Marine Life Park (MLP) spokesperson told Today: "(The park's) education programme is currently being developed in partnership with Sea Research Foundation. At the initial phase, Mystic Aquarium will be sending its staff to Singapore to assist the Marine Life Park in the development of various education programmes. More details will be shared in due course."

The MLP will become the exclusive manager for The JASON Project in South-east Asia, and the foundation's Mystic Aquarium, known for its marine animal research and husbandry, will develop a comprehensive pre-school to tertiary school programme at the MLP.

In a press release, Sea Research Foundation chief executive Stephen Coan said: "We share a deep commitment to engaging young people and learners of all ages in the importance of marine conservation and the fundamentals of science as a means for understanding the ocean environment."

RWS president and chief executive Tan Hee Teck added: "Our collaboration with Mystic Aquarium and The JASON Project ... will put us in the forefront of science, conservation and education programmes dedicated to our oceans and marine life. These programmes will undoubtedly yield important resources for the students of Singapore and other South-east Asian nations."

Programmes will include "travelling teacher experiences" that will take place in schools, and interpretative and hands-on learning experiences.

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KTM railway: A temporary park connector?

Minimise makeshift construction along former KTM railway line
Letter from Liew Kai Khiun Today Online 21 Jun 11;

For the last fortnight, Singaporeans from all walks of life have been enthusiastically walking along the now defunct section of the Malayan Railway (KTM) route.

Among them have been ministers such as Brigadier-General (NS) Tan Chuan-Jin and Mr Khaw Boon Wan, who impressed with the possibility of conserving the route as a promising "Green Spine" and have urged the public to come forward with feedback.

However, even as many would like to contribute their ideas towards this concept - which may take years to evolve, according to BG (NS) Tan - several concerns have been raised about public access to this route as well as to the existing historical and natural features along it after the end of this month.

At the moment, the Tanjong Pagar station and its surrounding lands have been closed to the public by the Singapore Land Authority (SLA), disappointing many walkers who thought they could start their journey from the southern tip of the route.

The SLA has also kept silent about whether any construction and redevelopment work would be undertaken that may potentially threaten the existing natural environment and compromise the heritage around the premises.

While we from the Heritage Society and the Nature Society understand the issue of public safety and that of protection against scrap metal thieves and souvenir hunters, we believe the authorities can still make arrangements to keep the entire route open for the public to enjoy the place while discussions are in progress.

In addition, we hope that any temporary and makeshift construction and demolition work will be minimised, especially on thick natural vegetation along stretches from Holland Road to Bukit Timah Station as well as at the religious shrines and gardens that people around the vicinity have built and planted over the years.

It would be a waste if the entire stretch of the route gets boarded up from next month and Singaporeans return possibly to an altered and damaged landscape when these barriers are lifted.

With perhaps minimal improvement work to facilitate public access and some accommodation for safety considerations, we believe the former railway line can be an instant and temporary park connector for Singaporeans for the next few years while plans for its use are being finalised.

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Indonesia: Haze again covers Dumai, Riau

Antara 20 Jul 11;

Dumai (ANTARA News) - Haze again covered Dumai, Riau Province, on Tuesday evening, after it had been disappearing over the last two weeks.

"We thought the haze would never come back because there was no more plantation fire in Dumai. Suddenly, it reappeared last night," Asnul, a local resident of East Dumai, said here on Wednesday.

The haze started on Tuesday at 8 pm local time and became thicker early Wednesday.

Although the haze looked thin, it affected the respiratory system of some people because it produced a smell that caused breathing difficulties.

"We don`t expect much, but hope that the government will handle this chronic problem because it is affecting our health, especially the health of our children who must go to school," he said.

Another Dumai inhabitant, Bambang, said the haze did not only affect the respiratory system but also people`s eyes.

"It hurts the eyes, and automatically disrupts motorists` concentration forcing them to slow down their motors to avoid traffic accidents," Bambang said.

Early in July, the health authorities in Dumai had warned the public that the air quality in the region has deteriorated due to haze containing excessive sulfur dioxide which is hazardous to human health.

The Air Pollution Standard Index board owned by PT Chevron Pacific Indonesia (CPI) showed the pollutant standard index at 242 meaning a very dangerous level, Head of the Dumai Health Service Marjoko Santoso said here on July 4.

"We have to be careful with such a condition because the air is containing hazardous substance which could harm the people`s health, and even cause death for those chronically affected," he said.

The air condition in Dumai has been very dangerous for people of all walks of life, he said, adding that it could be worse for those having respiratory problems.

Haze covering Dumai and surrounding areas come from forest and plantation fires.(*)


Editor: Ruslan Burhani

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U.S.: Attack of the Urban Mosquitoes

Aggressive and Hard to Kill: Two Asian Cityslickers Swarm the U.S. East Coast
Aatekah Mir The Wall Street Journal 20 Jul 11;

The latest scourge crossing the country has a taste for the big city.

The Asian tiger mosquito, named for its distinctive black-and-white striped body, is a relatively new species to the U.S. that is more vicious, harder to kill and, unlike most native mosquitoes, bites during the daytime. It also prefers large cities over rural or marshy areas—thus earning the nickname among entomologists as "the urban mosquito."

"Part of the reason it is called 'tiger' is also because it is very aggressive," says Dina Fonseca, an associate professor of entomology at Rutgers University. "You can try and swat it all you want, but once it's on you, it doesn't let go. Even if it goes away, it will be back for a bite."

Dr. Fonseca is leading a U.S. Department of Agriculture effort to develop a cost-effective method to control the Asian tiger mosquito (Aedes albopictus) population. The university is currently focusing on using larvacides, which render larvae incapable of growing into adults.

Since urban areas tend to be warmer—often by 5 to 10 degrees—than rural areas, cities are seeing tiger mosquitoes earlier and sticking around longer, often into October.

"The Asian tiger mosquito arrived this year in June—three months earlier than last year," says Wayne Andrews, superintendent of the Bristol County Mosquito Control Project in Taunton, Mass.

The species has been traced to 1985, when a ship arrived in Texas loaded with used truck tires, perhaps from Japan, which is a major used-tire exporter, according to research by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The eggs hatched when they were exposed to water. Since then, the species has made its way from Texas to Florida and up the East Coast, says Gary G. Clark, a research leader with the Agriculture Department. "Now, more than half of the states have this aggressive species," he says.

Another species imported from Asia is the rock pool mosquito (Aedes japonicus), which also came to the U.S. through the tire trade, experts say. This species is blackish-brown, with white scales on the lower part of its thorax and legs. It was first detected on Long Island, N.Y., and in areas of New Jersey in 1997, according to Dr. Fonseca. "Even though it is not as vicious a biter as the Asian tiger mosquito, it is a big pest," she says.

These urban mosquitoes are what entomologists call "container mosquitoes." Instead of marshes and natural bodies of water, both Asian tiger and rock pool mosquitoes can breed in small, artificial containers, such as tires, toys, cans and concrete structures. "A rule of thumb for container mosquitoes is: Water plus seven days equals mosquitoes," Dr. Fonseca says.

Weather patterns can help Asian tigers readily spread beyond the Northeast. "As a result of climate change, the summer lasts longer and arrives earlier," says Andrew Comrie, a climatologist at the University of Arizona. Eggs of Asian tiger and rock pool mosquitoes are also able to "overwinter," meaning they can survive a cold, dry climate—all they need is exposure to water in warmer temperatures.

The Asian tiger was responsible for transmitting more than 200 cases of dengue fever, a sometimes-fatal viral infection, in Hawaii in 2001-02. A similar (but less lethal) virus called chikungunya was transmitted in France and Italy, but no cases have been cited in the U.S. from the Asian tiger. Likewise, the rock pool mosquito is capable of transmitting the West Nile virus, but no cases have been traced to the species in the U.S., Dr. Fonseca says.

That does little to take the sting out of their bites. Irritation and itching are the body's allergic reaction to the protein secreted from the female mosquito when it bites.

Cities that spray for mosquitoes may find these latest breeds tough to tackle. "The usual methods of spraying cannot control the population of these species because their preferred breeding areas are difficult to reach," says Mr. Andrews, the Massachusetts mosquito-control agent.

Moreover, the optimum conditions for spraying are early evening, after these mosquitoes retire. Also, Dr. Fonseca, the Rutgers entomologist, explains that spraying kills only the adult mosquitoes and not the eggs or larvae.

To reduce the chances of getting bitten, remove containers that have standing water in them. The best personal protection comes from products that contain DEET. The chemical has been controversial, but "as long as you don't bathe in DEET or inhale too much of it, you should be fine," says Bruce Robinson, a clinical instructor of dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York. Since the tiger is a low-flying mosquito, keep ankles and legs covered. Also, the Asian tiger is a very visual mosquito, Dr. Fonseca says. "If you wear dark-colored clothes, you will be inviting it to bite you."

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UN security council to consider climate change peacekeeping

Special meeting to discuss 'green helmets' force to intervene in conflicts caused by rising seas levels and shrinking resources
Suzanne Goldenberg 20 Jul 11;

A special meeting of the United Nations security council is due to consider whether to expand its mission to keep the peace in an era of climate change.

Small island states, which could disappear beneath rising seas, are pushing the security council to intervene to combat the threat to their existence.

There has been talk, meanwhile, of a new environmental peacekeeping force – green helmets – which could step into conflicts caused by shrinking resources.

The UN secretary general, Ban Ki-Moon, is expected to address the meeting on Wednesday.

But Germany, which called the meeting, has warned it is premature to expect the council to take the plunge into green peacemaking or even adopt climate change as one of its key areas of concern.

"It is too early to seriously think about council action on climate change. This is clearly not on the agenda," Germany's ambassador to the UN, Peter Wittig, wrote in the Huffington Post.

"A good first step would be to acknowledge the realities of climate change and its inherent implications to international peace and security," he wrote.

Bringing the security council up to speed on climate change could be a challenge, however.

The Pentagon and other military establishments have long recognised climate change as a "threat multiplier" with the potential to escalate existing conflicts, and create new disputes as food, water, and arable land become increasingly scarce.

Wittig seems to agree, noting that UN peacekeepers have long intervened in areas beyond traditional conflicts.

"Repainting blue helmets into green might be a strong signal - but would dealing with the consequences of climate change - say in precarious regions - be really very different from the tasks the blue helmets already perform today?" he wrote.

In an official "Concept Note" ahead of the meeting, Germany said the security council needed to draw up scenarios for dealing with the affects of extreme temperatures and rising seas. How would the UN deal with climate refugees? How would it prevent conflicts in those parts of Africa and Asia which could face food shortages?

But there is a deep divide over whether the security council should even consider climate change as a security issue.

China, for example, argues that the security council should leave climate change to the experts.

However, small island states in the Pacific, which face an existential threat due to climate change, have been pushing the council to act for years.

"The security council should join the general assembly in recognising climate change as a threat to international peace and security. It is a threat as great as nuclear proliferation or global terrorism," Marcus Stephen, the president of Nauru, wrote in a piece in the New York Times.

"Second, a special representative on climate and security should be appointed. Third, we must assess whether the United Nations system is itself capable of responding to a crisis of this magnitude."

That remains an open question.

Wednesday's meeting arrives at a time of growing doubt about whether the UN is equipped to deal with climate change. Last month's climate talks in Bonn produced little progress in key areas.

Meanwhile, Ban has been refocusing his attention from climate change to sustainable development.

The security council has also been stalled in its efforts to deal with the threats posed by climate change.

Its first attempt was at a meeting in 2007 convened by Britain. But the effort swiftly exposed the deep divisions of the common problem.

Small island states, which could disappear entirely beneath rising seas, were anxious for the security council to intervene, saying the threat they faced was as severe as war.

But China and other countries resisted, arguing the security council should stick to maintaining the peace.

UN says climate change threatens world security
AFP Yahoo News 21 Jul 11;

Climate change could exponentially increase the scale of natural disasters while at the same time threatening world security, a senior UN official told the UN Security Council Wednesday.

Though science cannot yet explain all the reasons behind global warming, "a changing climate is a reality," and one that effects all sectors of society, said Achim Steiner, director of the UN Environment Program.

Steiner cited a worst-case scenario prediction that temperatures will rise 4 degree Celsius by 2060 while the sea level will rise one meter over the next century.

There are myriad threats already and their numbers will rise, he said, noting droughts like the one currently afflicting Somalia, floods such as the ones that hit Pakistan, and their implications on the food markets.

"The scale of the the natural disasters will increase exponentially," he added.

Two regions of Southern Somalia, hit by a devastating drought, were declared in a state of famine Wednesday by the United Nations, who called it the worst food crisis in Africa in 20 years and have mobilized efforts to stem the situation before it worsens.

"The signs of climate changing, not only is it happening, it is accelerating," he added.

The famine and rising sea levels "are all threats to peace and security," said Steiner. The next climate conference will take place in Durban in December and "must be decisive."

Developed countries must manage their actions but emerging nations must also play their role and cannot be spectators, he urged.

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