Best of our wild blogs: 26 Jul 11

Reef Friends - Hantu patch reef
from Psychedelic Nature

Oriental Pied Hornbill eating tree-climbing crab
from Bird Ecology Study Group

oriental pied-hornbill @ Chek Jawa 23July2011
from sgbeachbum and pacific swallows @ Chek Jawa

Phytoremediation Question
from Water Quality in Singapore

Singapore Protozoans Part 1
from The Biology Refugia

Video: Tiger trapped in Asia Pulp and Paper logging concession dies a gruesome death from

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Safer ship navigation with new Changi control centre

Royston Sim Straits Times 26 Jul 11;

Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew (left) and Minister of State for Transport Josephine Teo being briefed by Captain M. Segar, group director (Hub Port), at the newest Port Operations Control Centre at Changi Naval Base yesterday. -- ST PHOTO: TERENCE TAN

SHIPS can now navigate in Singapore waters more easily after a new control centre was set up at Changi Naval Base.

Staff there will relay information to vessels to help them pass safely through the island's busy shipping lanes.

And to make their job easier, the operators have been given a state-of-the-art navigation system.

Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew officially opened the Port Operations Control Centre yesterday. It began operating in April this year.

Its new Vessel Traffic Information System can track up to 10,000 ships at a time - twice as many as its predecessor.

The system also has improved features such as the ability to automatically predict the route of vessels with keels deeper than 15m and warn them if they are approaching shallow water.

Operators monitoring the sea lanes now have 56-inch screens that allow them to survey the entire Strait of Singapore instead of toggling among several windows.

Closed-circuit television cameras are integrated into the system so operators can simply click on a vessel, and a camera will zoom in on it automatically.

Captain Kevin Wong, assistant director of the Maritime and Port Authority's vessel traffic management department, said the improved functions will leave staff free to devote more attention to monitoring traffic.

Mr Lui noted that Singapore has the world's busiest port in terms of the total tonnage of ships arriving. Last year, there were more than 127,000 vessels totalling 1.92 billion gross tons.

Singapore has about 1,000 vessels docked at its terminals at any one time, and a ship leaves or arrives every three to four minutes.

As a premier hub port along important trade routes, Singapore places strong emphasis on safety of navigation to sustain the flow of maritime trade, said Mr Lui.

'We need to continue to invest in additional capacity to enhance the safety of

navigation as demands on our port and

shipping lanes grow,' he said.

The control centre is Singapore's third. The Maritime and Port of Authority will upgrade its second control centre at PSA Vista in Pasir Panjang to include a similar system next month. The entire project - including the new centre - will cost $25.4 million.

The third centre, at Tanjong Pagar Complex, will be decommissioned once the upgrade is complete.

New operations centre for a very busy port
Today Online 26 Jul 11;

SINGAPORE - Almost three years in the making, the new Port Operations Operation Centre (POCC) at Changi was officially opened by Minister for Transport Lui Tuck Yew yesterday.

Equipped with a state-of-the-art Vessel Traffic Information System (VTIS), POCC-Changi will play a crucial role in ensuring navigational safety and protection of the marine environment in Singapore's port waters and the Singapore Strait.

More than 127,000 vessels, totalling 1.92 billion gross tonnes, called at the Republic's port last year, making Singapore one of the busiest ports in the world.

The new VTIS at POCC-Changi can handle up to 10,000 vessel tracks at any one time, twice the capacity of the existing VTIS.

The new POCC-Changi will eventually replace the existing POCC at Tanjong Pagar Complex (POCC-TPC).

Costing a total of S$25.4 million, POCC-Changi and the upgrading of POCC at PSA Vista are part of the MPA's investments to ensure the continued safe and efficient operation of the Port of Singapore.

While leading-edge technology may form the nucleus of the POCCs, Mr Lui feels Vessel Traffic Management operators play an instrumental role in the development of POCC-Changi. He added: "Their knowledge and experience were invaluable in the design of the new VTIS and the layout of the Centre. This user-based approach not only shortened the system training for our operators, but also created a conducive working environment for them to perform at their best."

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Biodiversity book not reader-friendly

Straits Times Forum 26 Jul 11;

I WAS thrilled to read about Singapore's own encyclopaedia of fauna and flora titled Singapore Biodiversity - An Encyclopedia Of The Natural Environment And Sustainable Development ("Life in an urban jungle"; last Saturday).

But the book was a disappointment, particularly the second half, which listed fauna and flora in reader-unfriendly alphabetical order, repeating the alphabetical index at the end of the book.

Only die-hard eggheads would flip through 295 pages of alphabetically arranged but otherwise random listings of fauna and flora.

Imagine reading a book on world history arranged strictly by dates without regard for civilisation or continent.

I hope the editors and publisher will reconfigure the book in its next run, hopefully with the fauna and flora categorised by genus.

Jacob Tan

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Malaysia: WWF's sustainable timber scheme under fire

Grace Chua Straits Times 26 Jul 11;

A MALAYSIAN timber firm has been accused of cutting down orang utan habitat in a conservation area run by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF).

Environmentalists say Ta Ann collected timber from the forest in Sarawak despite being a member of a WWF forest-certification scheme.

The company is one of several criticised in a report released yesterday by London-based environmental organisation Global Witness, which questions the transparency and effectiveness of these voluntary programmes.

Ta Ann, which produces plywood and sawmill products, is part of the Global Forest and Trade Network (GFTN), a 20-year-old scheme to promote sustainable wood products and stamp out illegal logging. About 300 companies whose trade is worth more than US$70 billion (S$84.7 billion) are part of the voluntary programme, and must not get their timber from illegal sources or endangered habitats.

Ta Ann is only one case study in the report, Pandering To The Loggers. Global Witness forest campaign leader Tom Picken said such schemes '(allow) companies to reap the benefits of association with WWF while they continue to destroy forests and trade in illegally sourced timber'. 'When a landmark scheme created in the name of sustainability and conservation tolerates one of its member companies destroying orang utan habitat, something is going seriously wrong.'

In an e-mail response to The Straits Times, Ta Ann said it has over 97,400ha of legal forest concessions within the WWF's Heart of Borneo conservation area, but the programme permits sustainable forest use.

It said about 70 per cent of that licensed area is kept for buffer zones, biodiversity conservation and wildlife corridors, adding: 'No orang utan has ever been sighted or identified in preoperational or operational work in the developed area.'

In the report's two other case studies, Global Witness said British building supplier Jewson was still selling illegally sourced timber 10 years after joining the certification scheme, and that a subsidiary of the Swiss-German Danzer Group had run into conflicts with local communities in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Yesterday, Mr George White, the WWF's head of GFTN, said the Global Witness report was misleading and contained a number of errors.

He told The Straits Times that under Ta Ann's two-year participation agreement, which runs out this September, only two of its processing facilities had to meet sustainable-sourcing requirements. Ta Ann, he said, was the scheme's first inroad into Sarawak as an attempt to engage the forestry industry there.

Mr White admitted: 'GFTN can and will make greater efforts regarding transparency and clarity as to the scope of participation by companies... We are currently in the process of amending the Ta Ann data to ensure we have this clarity and to ensure there is no confusion.'

He added that the scheme has changed the forestry industry, but that progress takes time.

The Global Witness report, however, challenges the fundamental notion that eco-certification alone can save the environment, said Mr Picken. 'Ultimately, policies and programmes in the timber sector need to address both the quality of practice and overall demand,' he noted. 'It is simply impossible to carry on certifying ever-increasing areas of forest as being under 'sustainable management', while forests continue to disappear.'

WWF slammed over destruction of forest
Isabelle Lai and Rashvinjeet S. Bedi The Star 26 Jul 11;

PETALING JAYA: The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) has been accused of allowing timber companies to get away with destructive forestry practices despite being members of its sustainable timber programme.

This was alleged in the report “Pandering to the Loggers” by investigative group Global Wit­ness, which criticised WWF’s Global Forest and Trade Network (GFTN) scheme as having “few minimum standards” for membership participation.

The group claimed this would allow unscrupulous companies involved in “destructive activities” to still join and benefit from the scheme, reported English newspaper The Guardian yesterday.

The 20-year-old GFTN scheme links more than 300 companies, communities, NGOs, and entrepreneurs worldwide and is responsible for nearly 19% of forest products bought or sold internationally.

The report singled out Malaysian logging company Ta Ann Holdings Bhd among others which engaged in unsustainable practices despite being a GFTN member.

It alleged that Ta Ann Holdings had clear-felled Borneo rainforest “equivalent to nearly 20 football pitches a day” and worked within a WWF conservation project site for endangered species.

Ta Ann Holdings yesterday refuted Global Witness’ allegations and said the legality and origin of its timber had been verified by independent bodies Tropical Forest Trust and SGS.

Meanwhile, GFTN head George White said many aspects of the report were incomplete or inaccurate. He claimed that the first year of work with Ta Ann’s mills had resulted in improvements in their sourcing profile.

White said the Lik Shen sawmill had achieved legality verification and plans to achieve Verified Legal Compliance certification by the end of 2012.

To allegations Ta Ann worked within WWF’s Heart of Borneo (HoB), White clarified that it was not a “locked up” area for pure pre­servation and conservation use.

WWF accused of failing to regulate sustainable timber scheme
Investigative group claims that members of group's Global forest and trade network are involved in 'highly destructive activities'
John Vidal The Guardian 25 Jul 11;

Conservation group WWF let timber companies use its panda brand logo while they were razing some of the world's most biologically rich rainforests or trading in potentially illegally sourced timber, according to the investigative group Global Witness.

The WWF's flagship Global forest and trade network (Gftn), which is part-subsidised by the US government and EU, promotes sustainable timber, bringing together more than 70 international logging companies and large numbers of timber sellers. The WWF says the 20-year-old scheme is now responsible for nearly 19% of forest products bought or sold internationally, with members' combined annual sales approaching $70bn (£43bn).

However, Global Witness's report, Pandering to the Loggers, claims Gftn's membership and participation rules are inadequate, allowing companies to systematically abuse the scheme.

"There are few minimum standards required for companies joining Gftn," says the report. "Meaning even companies involved in highly destructive activities, such as clearing natural forests to make way for plantations or buying wood products from illegal sources can join and benefit." WWF rejects that.

The report, which is billed as a "basic evaluation of the operation and effectiveness of the scheme", looks in detail at three case studies.

One is the Malaysian logging company Ta Ann Holdings Berhad, which has clear-felled rainforest in Borneo equivalent to nearly 20 football pitches a day while a member of the WWF scheme. Investigations by Global Witness show it working legally within the boundaries of a WWF conservation project that WWF bills as, "crucial to the survival of Borneo's endangered species including orangutans and clouded leopards".

Another member of the scheme, UK building supplier Jewson, failed to ensure all its timber came from legal sources for nearly 10 years after joining. WWF said Jewson had changed its timber sourcing practices after problems had been found.

Global Witness also claims that a third timber company, the Swiss-German Danzer Group, has a subsidiary working in the Democratic Republic of the Congo which has been allegedly involved in conflicts with local communities.

"Gftn rules are less stringent than US and EU laws prohibiting the import of illegal timber," said Tom Picken, a forest campaigner at Global Witness in a press release. "When a landmark scheme created in the name of conservation tolerates one of its member companies destroying orangutan habitat, something is going seriously wrong."

WWF said many of the allegations were misleading. "Gftn has made a major contribution to conservation through its ability to engage with industry. Participants make clear commitments that demonstrate they reject illegal or suspicious timber. Trade participants report on an annual basis, and sites are inspected on an annual basis where appropriate."

It also said that only Ta Ann's processing facilities were included in the WWF scheme. "The first year of work with Ta Ann's mills has resulted in improvements in their sourcing profile. As with all participants, longer term compliance with the agreed action plan will be critical to their continued participation."

It added that it was investigating allegations of an incident involving a community associated with the Danzer subsidiary in Congo. "Whilst WWF-drc continues to investigate the case, no further engagement will be taken [with the subsidiary]."

WWF, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, makes about $500m a year from donations and corporate endorsements but has been criticised by other environment groups and NGOs for its links to forestry, mining, tobacco, banks, palm oil, biofuel and other companies. Last month a German public broadcaster accused WWF of being too close to GM food companies working in Latin America. The charge was strongly denied by WWF, which argues that it seeks a "constructive dialogue" with industries. GM soybeans have been certified as "sustainable" by the Round Table on Responsible Soy Association (RTRS), an organisation instigated by the WWF.

Global Witness has called on WWF to rigorously evaluate the scheme with a comprehensive independent audit. "Donor governments using public-sector funds to finance Gftn should make further support conditional on such an evaluation being carried out, along with the implementation of any resulting recommendations being realised," said Picken.

WWF response to Global Witness report

WWF 26 Jul 11;

In response Global Witness’ report Pandering to the Loggers released on Monday 25 July, WWF issues the following statement:

For 20 years, the Global Forest & Trade Network (GFTN) has worked successfully to create a global marketplace for sustainably sourced forest products. The programme now includes approximately 300 companies, communities, NGOs in more than 30 countries around the world.

GFTN believes in providing practical solutions that allow companies to develop and implement region-specific strategies that promote responsible forestry and trade, combat illegal logging and protect some of planet’s most valuable resources.
Examples of GFTN’s major achievements include:

GFTN has been instrumental in the creation of markets for credibly certified forest products. Since its inception, GFTN has been a mechanism to promote and develop markets for forest certification, especially through the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). All GFTN participants are required to set and meet targets concerning credible certification. Today more than 50 per cent of the global market for FSC material is traded by GFTN participants, and many non-GFTN participants have been driven to adopting chain of custody or to certifying their forests as a result of the commitments made by GFTN participants. GFTN’s practical approach has enabled the industry to be part of the solution to unsustainable deforestation and forest degradation.

GFTN’s stepwise approach to responsible purchasing of forest products has become an industry standard. GFTN formalized the stepwise approach to responsible sourcing of forest products in 2003. Today this system is used not only by participants, but has become an industry benchmark. Through a series of steps, members can work through the levels of verification they need to indicate to themselves (and to GFTN) that they are making progress across the spectrum of sources they use. The approach has been instrumental in increasing demand for certified and legally verified products, and huge increases in the transparency of supply chains. The process has demonstrated that market demand can both drive certification and improve general performance.

GFTN strategy for forest certification. GFTN pioneered a strategy in 2005 that has enabled the certification of tropical forests. Since then, work with committed companies and managers operating in a tough environment has paid off with the certification of forests in many countries where previously there had been no certified forestry operations. This approach has been core to GFTN’s work in producer countries, and since 2007, GFTN participants have been able to achieve FSC certification in over 20 million hectares of forest.

GFTN has played a key role in promoting transparency in supply chains with respect to legality of forestry and trade. GFTN’s 2006 Keep It Legal and 2009 Exporting in a Shifting Legal Landscape guides provided essential informationregarding existing forest laws in major producer countries, and showed buyers how to assess the level of compliance in their supply chains. GFTN’s guidance is also used by producers to assess the level of compliance within their own supply chains and how to demonstrate this to their customers.

“We believe the private sector can be a significant positive force to save the world’s most valuable and threatened forests,” says George White, Head of GFTN. “By mainstreaming responsible forestry practices among the forest-related sector, GFTN creates market conditions that help conserve the world's forests, while providing social and economic benefits for the businesses and people that depend on them.”

“Of course, some GFTN partners have a way to go on their journey to sustainability. But these are precisely the companies that should be in GFTN, and we applaud their commitments to improving their environmental performance. Companies caught flouting the rules and spirit of GFTN will be removed from the network,” says White.

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Australia: Dugong deaths 'ecological disaster'

9News 25 Jul 11;

Environmentalists have again warned of an ecological disaster at the southern end of Queensland's Great Barrier Reef, following the discovery of a dead dugong.

It was found washed up on a beach in Gladstone Harbour, the fourth dugong, along with three dolphins and 40 turtles that have been found washed up around the harbour since May.

Friends of the Earth spokesman Drew Hutton said he had seen first-hand the destruction around the harbour since construction of the LNG facilities had started.

"Gladstone is the end-point of the export coal seam gas/LNG industry in Queensland and liquification plants, pipelines and port facilities are being built in this part of the Great Barrier Reef world heritage area," Mr Hutton said.

He said the harbour might be a dugong sanctuary but at the moment it is full of shipping and loud noises and the only dugongs being found are dead ones.

Mr Hutton said that what was currently happening at Gladstone revealed the hypocrisy behind both state and federal governments' assertions that the conditions they placed on these developments would protect important environmental values.

"How do you develop an environmental management plan that allows you to sensitively dredge your way through sea grass beds, removing 50 million cubic metres of spoil?" Mr Hutton asked.

The Department of Environment and Resource Management (DERM) said six dugongs have died since the start of 2011 in the Gladstone area, compared to just two in 2010 and one in 2009.

Turtle deaths have also increased in the same period to 48, from 26 last year and 24 in 2009.

DERM said it takes the increase in the number of reported deaths very seriously

The specially convened Scientific Advisory Committee for Marine Strandings has reported a number of reasons for the deaths including boat strikes and the loss of seagrass habitat following the floods.

DERM has told AAP that, based on evidence from previous floods, it is likely there will be more deaths later in the year between August and November.

Health checks have been carried out on turtles and the results will help DERM plan the most appropriate way of managing the issue.

Mr Hutton acknowledged that the floods were part of the problem.

However, he has backed calls by the Worldwide Fund for Nature for a halt to dredging work on Gladstone harbour until an inquiry can determine what is causing the animal starvation and deaths.

"Even if the work in this harbour is not directly killing marine animals, it is at least helping to create a situation where they are slowly being forced out of their traditional habitat to die of starvation," Mr Hutton said.

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Activists warn against foreign investors in Myanmar

AFP Yahoo News 25 Jul 11;

Environmental groups called on Monday for an end to foreign investment in projects exploiting Myanmar's natural resources, accusing such activities of sparking conflict in ethnic minority areas.

While foreign direct investment has "skyrocketed", for example through large dams financed by neighbouring China, India and Thailand, there are no decent frameworks to protect Myanmar's environment and communities, they said.

This investment is "concentrated in energy and extractive sectors and often results in militarization and displacement," said a new report from the Burma Environmental Working Group (BEWG), a network of activist organisations.

"Control over natural resources is a major cause of conflict in ethnic areas, where the majority of Burma's resources remain," the report said, using the former name of Myanmar.

Heavy fighting between the rebel ethnic Kachin and Myanmar's state army took place last month in the far north of the country around a dam financed by China, with authorities saying they acted to defend the plant from attacks.

"The renewed war in Kachin state is an example of what Burma can continue to expect as foreign direct investment increases," said Paul Sein Twa of the BEWG.

The group's report said an estimated 48 hydropower projects were currently being planned, constructed or already existed on Myanmar's rivers.

But up to 90 percent of the power they generate is destined for other countries, "instead of supplying local populations who face serious ongoing energy shortages".

The activists called for new and existing investment in sectors that exploit the environment to cease, until the new measures are brought in to ensure sustainable development and multi-ethnic participation.

The new government under President Thein Sein "is failing to make progress on that front," said Paul Sein Twa.

Myanmar's military junta handed power to a nominally-civilian administration earlier this year after elections in November, which the army's political proxies won by a landslide amid allegations of cheating.

The country has been plagued by decades of civil war with armed ethnic minority militias since independence in 1948.

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Top scientists rally together in fight against invasive species

IUCN 22 Jul 11;

A flurry of articles in influential scientific journals in recent months has questioned the urgency to address the growing threat to biodiversity from invasive species. The assertion is that the concern with invasive species derives from an unreasonable desire to maintain pristine ecosystems and exclude all alien species. Such criticism is, in fact, unfounded.

Conservationists recognize that ecosystems are dynamic, that alien species enter and are introduced into natural communities, and that modified (and even degraded) ecosystems have conservation value. In certain cases, alien species may prove beneficial to human wellbeing; examples of this include corn and potato crops, which were introduced to Europe and have become staple dietary components for millions of people. But, crucially, conservationists also recognize an important distinction between alien species in general—which are introduced outside their natural range by humans, but in many cases are harmless—and invasive species, which are not only introduced outside their range but also cause substantial harm to biodiversity and human livelihoods. Invasive species, not alien species, are indeed a major cause of biodiversity loss, implicated in the majority of extinctions recorded to date, and deserve aggressive intervention.

A letter recently published in Science magazine aims to highlight the growing threat to biodiversity from invasive species and addresses some of the dangerous mischaracterizations of the issue. The letter is signed by several leaders of well-established and respected conservation organizations, including IUCN’s Director General, Julia Marton-Lefèvre; the Chair of the Species Survival Commission (SSC), Simon Stuart; and the Chair of SSC’s Invasive Species Specialist Group, Piero Genovesi. The authors highlight that threats from invasive species can be reduced and that biodiversity can be protected through decisive conservation interventions.

“Tackling invasive species also addresses the economic damage they cause and the serious threats that they pose to human health and livelihoods,” says Julia Marton-Lefèvre. “Attempts to remove the most harmful invasive species are proving to be increasingly successful, with more than 1,000 eradications completed worldwide to date.”

The letter concludes by noting that, at the Convention on Biological Diversity meeting in Nagoya, Japan in October 2010, 193 countries agreed, as part of a historic Strategic Plan for Biodiversity for 2011–2020, an explicit target to prevent, control and eradicate the most harmful invasive species by 2020.

In speaking out, the authors of the letter have demonstrated their clear commitment to the fight against invasives, and now call upon academics for support and, above all, action.

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