Best of our wild blogs: 22 Jul 11

Stars that strike
from The annotated budak

Equatorial spitting cobra at Sungei Mandai Besar mangrove, 2005 from Otterman speaks

We recce Lim Chu Kang East mangrove
from News from the International Coastal Cleanup Singapore

Waste Generated From Marathons
from Zero Waste Singapore

An encyclopedia of Singapore’s Biodiversity
from Bird Ecology Study Group and Celebrating Singapore's Biodiversity

Breaking the link – cutting and removing the KTM railway line
from Otterman speaks

Gone Too Soon
from The Straits Times Blogs by Alphonsus Chern

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Singapore 'worried haze from Riau will affect F1'

Straits Times 22 Jul 11;

JAKARTA: Singapore is concerned that haze from the forest fires in the Riau province of Sumatra will affect the Formula 1 Grand Prix that the Republic is scheduled to host in September.

'Singapore had already asked about the issue,' said Indonesian presidential special staff member for climate change, Mr Agus Purnomo, at a discussion on the conservation of palm oil at Hotel Borobudur in Jakarta on Wednesday.

'They are worried about the haze from our forest. They are afraid it will disturb the running of the Grand Prix,' he was quoted as saying on the Indonesian news website.

It is not clear whether he has offered any assurance to Singapore on the issue.

In recent months, haze from Indonesia has been affecting Malaysia and Singapore intermittently, with Malaysia taking the harder hit when its air quality reached unhealthy levels last week.

Singapore's 24-hour Pollutant Standards Index reading at 4pm yesterday was 42, which was within the good air quality range.

A reading from 50 to 100 indicates moderate air quality, while anything above 100 is deemed unhealthy.

The Formula 1 night race, to be held this year from Sept 23 to 25, is highly prized by Singapore for the tourism dollars and international exposure.

The Indonesian government has plans to recruit and dispatch 5,000 imams across the archipelago to discourage open burning and destruction of forests in a bid to battle the haze, according to the Jakarta Post.

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Museum can be national, international repository

Straits Times Forum 22 Jul 11;

THE disagreement over the intended purchase by the Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research ("What have dinosaurs got to do with Singapore?"; last Saturday) appears to reflect a difference in vision.

Detractors view the museum as a repository of indigenous natural history, while curators aim to present natural history as a field in its entirety. Although both sides have merits, I am inclined towards a more comprehensive, if not ambitious, display for two reasons.

First, while South-east Asia suffers from no lack of biodiversity, its richness is still a constituent piece in the wider narrative of the Earth's natural history. Rather than being confined to national borders and time, natural history as a field embraces the diversity and interconnectedness of life - both across regions and through geological time. Indeed, it was the need to grasp natural history in its entirety that drove early biologists such as Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace to the Galapagos Islands and Malaya for research. As an important link in the history of life on this planet, the dinosaur fossils will remind visitors how our biodiversity relates to an even more distant past.

Second, while valuable repositories of national heritage, museums also allow the local populace to access artifacts that would otherwise require overseas travel. Historically, museums such as the British Museum, the Louvre and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York - holding not only European or American artifacts, but also those from around the world - have enabled their populace and scholars to benefit from the cross-torrent of ideas. Similarly, the purchase of the dinosaur fossils would give Singaporeans, rich and poor, the opportunity to be inspired by exhibits they now have to travel hundreds of kilometres and spend thousands of dollars to see first-hand.

Of course, a nation without track of its own history often loses track of itself, and the Raffles Museum must ensure that its display of Singapore's own natural heritage does not fall short. However, it is possible for it to be a repository to both Singapore and humanity's shared natural heritage, and to be a museum we are proud to call our own.

Ng Junrong

Museums are meant to be expansive
Straits Times Forum 22 Jul 11;

IN HER commentary, Ms Ong Sor Fern asserted that the Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research's bid to buy a trio of dinosaur skeletons for $12 million is extravagant, intended only to lure undiscerning visitors, has no historical or biological links to Singapore and is, therefore, irrelevant; and that the money is better spent on the museum's infrastructure and training ('What have dinosaurs got to do with S'pore?'; last Saturday).

Mr Ignatius Low's rebuttal the next day ('Why we need dinos') suggested that the skeletons would be an inspiring influence on budding scientists and artists, argued that they would give Singaporeans a sense of their place in time, and then conceded his arguments to be 'silly'.

Surely the greatest creatures ever to have roamed the earth deserve a better case.

Museums are intended not simply as a reminder of what is pertinent and familiar to our lives and surroundings. They guide us out of our comfort zones into the vast untapped universe that is human knowledge, imbuing us with surprising facts and ideas as yet unknown to us.

Any self-respecting museum would aspire to a set of exhibits that is broad and as representative as possible of the entire body of knowledge that it has set out to present, whether it is modern visual art or war history.

One would surely baulk at the notion that Singaporeans should study only the writings of Edwin Thumboo or watch only the films of Eric Khoo because these works are homegrown and more relevant. Similarly, a zoo that showcased only dogs and cats, or a history museum focused only on Sang Nila Utama would be neither educational nor popular. Things we deem irrelevant are inevitably things we do not understand and know little about.

Even if one is merely questioning prioritising dinosaur skeletons over other museum needs rather than criticising the intrinsic educational value of the skeletons, a natural history museum should strive to educate its visitors on what was arguably the most important period in the natural history of the world.

The skeletons will draw crowds to learn about not just the dinosaurs, but also the vast collection of other natural specimens already on exhibit in the Raffles Museum, while boosting the museum's coffers. I struggle to see anything wrong with this outcome.

The day the ArtScience Museum throws out works by non-Singaporean Salvador Dali, or the Singapore Zoo decides its Ethiopian Hamadryas baboons should be replaced by the monkeys of Bukit Timah, will be a sad one indeed.

Liang Kaicheng

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Singapore: Fishing for improvements

Straits Times 16 Jul 11;

I read with great interest the article, Fishermen Angle For More Space (LifeStyle, July 10).

As an avid angler for more than 35 years, I see a need to revamp the fishing scene in Singapore.

There are fewer places here to fish legally now, considering the rapid urban development over the years.

I propose the following:

Licensing: Impose a small fee for anglers to fish freely in our reservoirs, canals or waterways.

They will have to sign an agreement to abide by rules and regulations. These rules can include a catch-and-release policy, or take- home limits according to fish size.

Besides helping to curtail irresponsible fishing practices and pollution, funds generated from licensing can be used to develop better facilities around the fishing grounds, manage the aquatic life, and campaign for fishing as a healthy lifestyle activity.

More fishing grounds: Extend legal fishing to entire reservoirs and allow responsible fishing at more reservoirs, waterways and canals.

The authorities need to re-evaluate whether certain 'No Fishing' areas really make sense.

Work with local interest groups, such as the Sport Fishing Association of Singapore, to examine how safety concerns can be addressed.

I hope the authorities such as the Public Utilities Board and NParks can seriously look into my suggestions.

Sim Kian Peng

Opening reservoirs for public leisure safely
Straits Times Forum 22 Jul 11;

PUB, the national water agency, thanks Mr Sim Kian Peng for his letter last Saturday ('Fishing for improvements').

PUB has been opening up reservoirs for more recreational activities like boating and fishing. Fishing is allowed within designated areas at the eight reservoirs - MacRitchie, Lower Peirce, Kranji, Bedok, Pandan, Upper and Lower Seletar reservoirs and Jurong Lake.

We hope to promote recreational fishing, a growing interest, as an attractive and leisurely activity. We would like to ensure the safety of anglers, the coexistence of fishing with other water-related activities at the reservoirs, maintaining good water quality and the stability of a reservoir's ecosystem.

Our efforts will focus on:

Allowing fishing on significantly bigger areas along reservoirs and waterways, with the exception of designated 'non-fishing' zones. It is unsafe for the public to enter the canals as canals are subject to sudden rapid flows and rising water levels during heavy and intense rain.

Organising workshops with anglers' interest groups to educate the public on fishing in a sustainable way.

Measures to prevent over-fishing, promote 'clean up after fishing', 'catch and release' and 'take home limit' habits, and work on habitat rehabilitation at our reservoirs and waterways.

Tan Nguan Sen
Director, Catchment and Waterways
PUB, the national water agency

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SMU prof seeks to measure well-being beyond GDP

All nations ought to look at subjective well-being, he says
Anna Teo Business Times 22 Jul 11;

(SINGAPORE) As countries worldwide add subjective measures of well-being in tracking progress beyond GDP, Singapore is poised to take the lead in Asia on the subject, says a Singapore academic who co-authored a report submitted to the United Nations on measures of national well-being across countries.

David Chan, an internationally lauded psychology professor at Singapore Management University, has been working with five other researchers - including Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman and renowned psychologist Ed Diener - over the last several years on an international committee formed to develop indicators of well-being, supported by several international associations of psychology.

The idea is that all nations ought to look at subjective well-being and not focus on only 'objective' indicators such as GDP or HDI, the UN's human development index, a composite measure that also takes into account life expectancy, literacy and standard of living.

Says Prof Chan, who is also director of SMU's Behavioural Sciences Institute (BSI): 'At the end of the day, the government's role in each nation, and what we all want to promote, is to enhance the well-being of society, ie, its citizens. Therefore you need to ask how the citizens think, how they feel - and how they think and feel will affect how they act, like how they decide to co-operate to help others, or to stay in this country, to contribute and to be rooted, to fight for the nation, so to speak.'

And while economic and social indicators such as GDP or HDI are important and relevant, 'they do not directly assess the important part of how you feel and how you think, and well-being is inherently subjective', he adds, pointing out that Singaporeans aspire in the national pledge to be united 'so as to achieve happiness, prosperity and progress for our nation'.

And when properly assessed 'in its different facets for different segments of the population', measures of subjective well-being 'will tell policy makers which segments are doing well, what have we done right; it will also signal to us what are the danger signs and potential concerns, and that will then give us the roadmap to look at how certain policies need to be changed or how new policies can be better designed and implemented', says Prof Chan, who has done work on well-being in Singapore and overseas for more than a decade.

As more nations recognise the need to track well-being - 'not necessarily in the form of just one index' - Singapore is well-placed to be a thought leader on the subject, he says.

'As we think about measures across nations, we should not just borrow everything from the West, because some may not apply here. In fact, Singapore can take quite a lot of the lead here, because we have relevant expertise, a reasonably good working relationship between academia and government, and because Singapore and Asia provide a wonderful testbed to look at these issues that can bring in unique cultural and contextual factors.'

At Prof Chan's BSI, an independent research institute, quality of life and well-being is one of its research focus areas.

'In BSI, we will work with organisations and public sector agencies to develop well-being indices, not necessarily one index but indices both at the organisational and the national level, and see how we can then use these measures to track subjective well-being, not just as a complementary indicator of progress but as a valuable source of input for policy making and implementation.'

One key issue that BSI is studying is the role of emotions in subjective well-being.

'For example, it is well established that humans react stronger to negative than positive things, and negative effects also last longer. But research also shows that negative emotions and negativity effects can have adaptive value under some situations and the challenge is to study the issues and contexts to better understand emotions.

The practical goal is to provide evidence-based approach to inform efforts by individuals, groups, organisations or governments to increase the well-being of employees or citizens. This often leads us to focus on not only policy intent and content but also implementation and engagement.'

Subjective well-being is important both as an end in itself and as a means to other positive ends, he adds.

Among several professional awards he has won, Prof Chan was last month conferred Fellow status in the Association for Psychological Science - an honour bestowed on prominent scientists who have made 'unusual and sustained outstanding contributions' to the science of psychology.

He is also the first non-American to receive the Distinguished Early Career Contributions Award from the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology.

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Malaysia: Sg Pulai estuary in Johor faces environmental threat

New Straits Times 20 Jul 11;

MARINE species at the Sungai Pulai Estuary, many of which are endangered, stand to lose their habitat due to development.

This has led various government officials, businessmen, politicians, fishermen, researchers and environmental non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to collaborate on priority protection issues and identify affected areas at the river estuary in a workshop at Gelang Patah recently.

The aim was to have systematic conservation planning for the river estuary in southwest Johor, which hosts several endangered species while being extremely rich in fish.

The cause for alarm came after estuary was earmarked for major industrial development which also threatens the livelihood of inshore fishermen.

At the workshop, several conservation options were studied.

The governmental group, which included those from the Department of Fisheries, Department of Marine Parks, Department of Drainage and Irrigation, the Forestry Department and the Johor National Parks, aimed at keeping half of the ecological conservation criteria.

So did researchers from local universities and research institutes, fishermen and politicians.

The project is led by Choo Chee Kuang, a marine biologist at the Universiti Malaysia Terengganu, and is under the Malaysian Society of Marine Sciences. -- By Chuah Bee Kim

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WWF-Malaysia Continues Call For Holistic Federal Laws To Protect Turtles

WWF-Malaysia 21 Jul 11;

KERTEH, July 23 – WWF-Malaysia repeats its call for more comprehensive and holistic Federal laws for turtles through its turtle awareness campaign at Mesra Mall, Kemasek, today.

Themed ‘Protect Our Turtles’, it is aimed at raising awareness to members of the public on the need to protect the endangered species and their nesting beaches.

“This campaign echoes our previous initiatives in bringing attention to the plight of turtles. Our ‘Egg=Life’ campaign launched in 2009 received 100,000 pledges from Malaysians who vowed not to eat turtle eggs and to support the development of comprehensive federal laws to protect turtles. Following that, WWF-Malaysia handed over a Memorandum to the Prime Minister in April last year urging the Federal government to enact better legal protection for this natural heritage through Federal laws,” said Dato’ Dr Dionysius Sharma, Executive Director/CEO of WWF-Malaysia.

Currently, jurisdiction over turtles belongs to the States and these laws vary from state to state. Under the Federal Constitution, jurisdiction for the Federal government to enact such comprehensive laws will require the Federal Constitution to be amended.

He added, “The public plays a significant role in ceasing the continued trade and consumption of turtle eggs. Their support and pride towards this cause will lend weight to efforts aimed at safeguarding these iconic species.”

The one day campaign, held with the support and cooperation of the Department of Fisheries Terengganu featured an array of exciting activities including a ‘Futsal Piala Penyu’ Competition, games, exhibitions, and a special performance by UiTM Dungun students dubbed ‘Turtle Story/Viva La Tortuga’.

Furthermore, the world’s first Freeze Turtle Egg Trade (FTET) was also held at the campaign whereby some 60 volunteers simultaneously froze for 4 minutes. While the volunteers were in such position, information panels on turtles were placed next to them for curious onlookers. The FTET served as an instant and effective eye-opener to the public in addressing the main threats faced by turtles today – mainly the practice of consuming turtle eggs, becoming accidentally caught in fishing gear, marine and nesting beach pollution as well as illegal trade of turtles and their parts.

To encourage the public to stay committed to the cause, Pledge Signing was carried out throughout the event for turtle eggs to be off their menus. Turtle egg consumption is still widespread and openly sold in the markets.

At present, there is no national ban on the consumption of turtle eggs, with only the sale of leatherback turtle eggs banned in Terengganu while the eggs of other turtle species can be consumed and traded.

The mainland beaches and the islands along this East Coast state are currently home to one of the largest green turtle population in Peninsular Malaysia, averaging 2000 to 2500 nests per year.

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Malaysia: Wetlands panel praises Sabah's fishery system

Joniston Bangkuai New Straits Times 21 Jul 11;

KOTA KINABALU: Sabah's unique community-based "tagal" system practised by the natives to protect rivers from indiscriminate fishing, is now internationally recognised.

It was included among a "10-Point Call of Action" adopted at the three-day Asian Wetland Symposium (AWS) which ended here yesterday.

Impressed with the effectiveness of the system, the 322 participants of the meeting agreed that it should be used as a model for fisheries resource management.

The "tagal" is a stakeholder-driven system to rehabilitate, protect and conserve river environments, and to manage the fisheries resources for its sustainable development.

The system is being practised in 212 locations in Sabah, involving 107 rivers in 11 districts.

The enforcement of the "tagal" is through the imposition of native customary laws that are backed by the Native Court.

AWS also made a call to recognise the natural and cultural capital provided by forests and wetlands to support livelihood to meet the daily needs of local people and rural communities.

The symposium also highlighted the need to promote integrated management systems that incorporate socio-economic priorities, the rights and responsibilities of local communities, and innovativeness and approaches in the restoration and conservation of forests and wetlands.

Sabah's hope for the Kota Kinabalu Wetlands Centre (KKWC) to be accorded Ramsar status looks bright following a visit by senior officials of the Ramsar Convention to the site last Tuesday.

Impressed with the management of the KKWC and recognising its importance to the city and the state, the officials indicated its support for it to be given Ramsar status.

The Ramsar Convention is an inter-governmental treaty that embodies the commitment to maintain the ecological character of wetlands.

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Indonesia: Legislator Calls for Expulsion of Greenpeace

Jakarta Globe 21 Jul 11;

A legislator urged the government on Wednesday to expel Greenpeace from Indonesia if the non-governmental organization's activities in the country breached the law.

"The government has the authority and right to expel Greenpeace. It should just expel them if it has clear data," Effendy Choirie of the House of Representatives (DPR)'s Commission I on foreign affairs, said at a discussion on foreign non-governmental organizations here on Wednesday.

He said that if the government really had complete data on the dishonest activities and violations of the law committed by Greenpeace, then the only thing that the government could do was to expel them.

Effendy said his commission in the House would summon the NGO if there were indications on its violations against the law.

He said that Greenpeace up to now had not yet registered as a mass organization as required by Law No. 8/ 1995. The regional government of Jakarta, in this case the Kesbangpol (political affairs) unit has never received registration application of the Netherlands-based Greenpeace.

In the meantime, intelligence analyst Wawan Purwanto said that the NGO in the environment sector in its activities always put pressures but applied double standards. It has the economic agenda.

"The nature of its demonstrations is exerting pressures and if it continues to carry out such activities it would pose serious danger," he said.

He said that Greenpeace had never put the same pressures on PT Freeport and PT Newmont. "This is clearly seen if Greenpeace has double standard campaigns," he said.


Indonesian lawmaker attacks Greenpeace
AFP Yahoo News 27 Jul 11;

An Indonesian lawmaker said Tuesday Greenpeace should be expelled from the country if an investigation finds the environmental group is trying to "ruin our sovereignty".

"We have found indications that Greenpeace has its own political and economic agenda in Indonesia," said Effendy Choirie, who sits on a parliamentary commission overseeing security and foreign affairs.

"If there is clear data that they are trying to ruin our sovereignty, then the government has to expel them or give sanctions," added the lawmaker from the Muslim-based National Awakening Party.

The party is a member of Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's ruling coalition. There was no formal response from the government to the allegations.

Choirie refused to elaborate on Greenpeace's alleged wrongdoings, except to say that the international non-governmental agency was biased against certain unnamed companies.

"We have a plan to invite Greenpeace for a hearing. We'll urge the government to find the data about their wrongdoings," he said.

Greenpeace has aggressively campaigned against powerful palm oil and paper companies that are widely blamed for rampant destruction of Indonesian forests and threatening critically endangered species like orangutans and tigers.

The organisation released a video this week showing a rare Sumatran tiger dying in a trap, in what it said was a forest concession owned by Asia Pulp and Paper, a Singapore-based paper and packaging giant.

Greenpeace country representative Nur Hidayati rejected Choirie's allegations.

"There is a fact that seems to have been forgotten, which is that Greenpeace exists not only in Indonesia. We are present in more than 40 countries, most of them are in developed countries," she said in a statement.

"Greenpeace is not willing and will never want to accept funding from governments, governmental bodies or any companies."

Indonesia is considered the world's third-biggest emitter of greenhouse gases, mainly through deforestation for the timber industry and to make way for plantations.

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Cardiff University Otter Project roadkill study results

BBC News 21 Jul 11;

Scientists in Wales have shed new light on the social lives of otters by studying roadkill found by the public.

Cardiff University Otter Project says it has made new discoveries about how the animal communicates with scent by studying the glands of 150 dead otters.

The team identified more than 400 chemicals, including some previously thought not to exist in the species.

A spokeswoman said the study would boost efforts to monitor wild otter populations.

The project already knew that otters use scent as their main means of communication, but wanted to learn more about what information was communicated or the social functions of the scent.

With otters notoriously hard to find, the team, based at Cardiff's School of Biosciences, appealed to the public to send in any dead otters they came across.

With help from Dr Carsten Müller, a chemical ecologist, and Eleanor Kean, a postgraduate researcher, the team led by Dr Elizabeth Chadwick, uncovered a complex mix of 432 chemicals.

The team said it found:

Pronounced differences in scent depending on age and gender
Learned to successfully distinguish between adult and juvenile otter scents.
Differences between male and female scents in adult otters, but not in the juveniles, which suggests that scent plays a role in attracting mates.
The biggest difference was between pregnant or lactating female otters and male or juvenile otters.

'More depth'

Male otters are known to kill cubs, so mothers are likely to be very secretive. Females are reported to deposit their faeces in water, possibly to hide the differences in scent.

Ms Kean, who led the scent research, said: "We have been able to study the complexity and variety of otter signals in far more depth than has been possible in the past."

"Our findings are a first step to better understanding of otter scent communication, which could help in the future to better monitor wild populations of the species."

She said they were grateful to members of the public, the Environment Agency and RWE npower who helped with the project.

Amanda Best, an Environment Agency biodiversity specialist in Yorkshire, said it was "great news" that experts now know there are differences in otter scents.

"Otters are returning to our region because there are good fish stocks in our rivers," she said.

"This in turn is an indicator of good water quality."

The team's findings have just been published in the journal Chemical Senses.

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Namibia Bush Meat Trade Could Save Its Wildlife: Study

Tim Cocks PlanetArk 21 Jul 11;

It isn't often that conservation groups urge hunting game as a way to save wildlife, but according to one such group, Namibia could conserve its nature better by doing exactly that.

A report by TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network, proposed on Wednesday expanding the practice on farmlands in the vast, sparsely populated southern African country, saying it could help both fill stomachs and conserve nature.

Trade in bush meat all over Africa has been seen as a major threat to wildlife, but in Namibia, the report says, a vibrant bush meat trade could be sustainable.

"On privately owned farmlands in Namibia, large quantities-between 16-26 million kilogrammes-of game meat are produced annually, most of which is used domestically," the report said, giving recommendations like reintroducing buffaloes on farms.

"Making supplies of affordable game meat available to residents of communal land ... in farming areas may help reduce wildlife poaching," researcher Peter Lindsey said.

Namibia abounds with antelope species like springboks that can make tasty meals -- not just for lions but for humans too.

In the jungles of west and central Africa, poaching has decimated populations of chimpanzees, gorillas and forest elephants. The savannah of east and southern Africa has also been affected.

A U.N. study last year found Africa's game parks have lost well over half of their big mammals, such as the lions and buffalos, that draw millions of tourists each year, to rampant hunting and farming since 1970.

African leaders are increasingly aware of the economic value of the animals in their parks that are favorite tourist attractions, but providing economic incentives to mostly poor people to better conserve nature can prove a challenge.

"Wildlife-based land uses are potentially less risky than livestock production because ... not so dependent on rainfall ... and because wild animals are better adapted to Namibia's harsh environment," Lindsey said.

(Editing by Maria Golovnina)

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Small fish said vital to seas; lower catches urged

Alister Doyle Reuters Yahoo News 22 Jul 11;

OSLO (Reuters) - Small fish play a big role in the oceans and catches should be cut sharply to safeguard marine food chains from plankton to blue whales, an international team of experts said on Thursday.

Rising human exploitation of little fish -- including anchovy, sardine, herring, mackerel and capelin -- had had far less attention in marine research compared to big commercial species such as cod, tuna, swordfish or salmon, they said.

Over-fishing of small fish has "significant effects on other parts of the marine ecosystems," said Tony Smith, the lead author of the study at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization in Australia.

He said that the findings, published in the journal Science, were the first comprehensive analysis of how catching small fish, as well as shrimp-like krill, can disrupt marine food chains and so affect human food supplies.

Little fish play a pivotal role since they mainly eat tiny plankton and are in turn food for predators such as large fish, whales or seabirds. Small fish account for more than 30 percent of world fish production and are a key food source for many people in developing nations.

The scientists, who used computer models to study stocks of small fish off Peru, the California current, southern Africa, the North Sea and Australia, suggested that catches of should be cut sharply, perhaps backed up by no-fishing zones.

They said some stocks were harmed even by a level of catches known as the "maximum sustainable yield" (MSY) of a stock.

"Halving exploitation rates would result in much lower impacts on marine ecosystems, while still achieving 80 percent of MSY," the study said.


Smith told Reuters said that lower fishing rates would probably bring long-term economic benefits, as well as helping recovery of other, larger species that have been in decline due to over-fishing.

Smith and other experts in the United States, Britain, South Africa, France, Peru and Australia said that small fish -- were often ground up into fishmeal as feed for livestock or for farmed fish. About 10 to 20 percent were consumed by people.

Big catches of small fish often had damaging effects even though it might benefited other creatures lower down the food web, such as plankton, jellyfish or squid.

It said that a complicating factor was that there were often big natural variations in fish stocks, such as in numbers of anchovies or sardines off Mexico.

(Editing by Maria Golovnina)

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Forest fires destroy a tenth of Greece in 25 years: report

AFP Yahoo News 22 Jul 11;

Forest fires have devastated more than 10 percent of Greek territory in a 25-year period, mostly in the southern Peloponnese peninsula, a report published Thursday said.

The total area destroyed from 1983 to 2008 amounted to some 1.3 million hectares (3.2 million acres), said the report by the Greek institute of agricultural research (Ethiage) and the Greek office of WWF.

"On an annual basis there have been 1,465 forest fires, which burned 52,000 hectares of forest and farm land," said the report published by the Athens press agency.

The most affected region has been the Peloponnese where 19 percent of the fires took place, destroying 27 percent of forests and farm land there.

The cause of most of the fires was not clear. About 11 percent were the result of arson and about nine percent were triggered by fires farmers lit to clear their properties.

The majority of the fires were in the month of August, spread by wind from the north during this time of year, but the most devastating month was July, the hottest period of the year on average.

The two organisations which prepared the report called on Greek authorities to "develop an effective system to protect the country's forests."

One of the most serious fires in Greece took place in 2007, when 77 people died and 250,000 hectares were ravaged, mainly in the Peloponnese and the island of Euboea, the second-largest island after Crete.

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2011: Headed for Record Arctic Melt?

Andrea Mustain Yahoo News 21 Jul 11;

This year could be well on its way toward earning a dubious spot in the record books.

Arctic sea ice has melted away with astonishing speed in the first half of July, at an average rate of about 46,000 square miles (120,000 square kilometers) per day, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) in Boulder, Colo.

That's equivalent to an area roughly the size of Pennsylvania melting into the sea every 24 hours.

"That's relatively fast," said Julienne Stroeve, a research scientist at the NSIDC.

Already, sea ice extent — how far ice extends across the ocean — this year is below the extent for the same time in 2007, a year which, in September, saw the lowest sea ice coverage ever recorded.

As of July 17 this year, sea ice covered 2.92 million square miles (7.56 million square kilometers) of the frigid Arctic Ocean. That may sound like a lot, but it's 865,000 square miles (2.24 million square kilometers) below the 1979 to 2000 average.

However, Stroeve said, much of what happens in the coming days depends on the weather.

"Unless things change in the next few weeks, we might have a new record for July," Stroeve told OurAmazingPlanet. "Certainly overall, we think the ice is thinner overall leading up to this season than it was in 2007."

The ebb and flow of Arctic sea ice is a yearly occurrence. Each fall, as Northern Hemisphere temperatures drop, ice extends outward, away from the land and out over the ocean; each spring, with the onset of warmer weather, the ice recedes. However, the reach of the sea ice has declined steadily since satellite records began in 1979.

Researchers have found that the earlier Arctic ice begins to melt in the spring, the greater the overall melt for the year as a whole.

In 2011, in the Chukchi Sea, near Alaska, and the Barents, Kara and Laptev Seas, near Finland and Russia, NASA researchers found melt began two weeks to two months earlier than the 1979 to 2000 average.

This year, much of the Arctic has been in the grip of a warm spell.

Like the conditions that sparked the heat wave running roughshod over huge parts of the United States, a high pressure system has been parked over the Beaufort Sea, north of Alaska, since June, bringing warmer temperatures to the Arctic as a whole. Air temperatures at the North Pole are a full 11 to 14 degrees Fahrenheit (6 to 8 degrees Celsius) warmer than usual.

In addition, high pressure systems are associated with clear skies, Stroeve said, so the ice is often at the mercy of the sun's rays for the full Arctic day, prompting further melting.

Although Stroeve said a change in the weather could dramatically change the ultimate fate of the Arctic's sea ice for 2011, she said a new record isn't out of the question.

"It's too early to say we're going to have a new record low," Stroeve said, "but I would say it's certainly possible with the way things have been going."

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