Best of our wild blogs: 27 Jul 11

New Mangrove Record: Rhizophora x lamarckii
from Flying Fish Friends

Can beautiful marine life settle naturally on our artificial structures? from wild shores of singapore

30 July, 2011: Grant Pereira speaks on Green Volunteering and Other Actions in Singapore and the Region from Green Drinks Singapore

Failed Nesting of the Brahminy Kite
from Bird Ecology Study Group

Singapore Protozoans Part 2 - A Murky Pond
from The Biology Refugia

Raffles Museum in NUS’ Giving Report, 2010/2011
from Raffles Museum News

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Malaysian firms to build refinery, oil storage plant in Johor, Teluk Ramunia

Sinopec buying big stake in venture for developing oil field
Business Times 27 Jul 11;

(KUALA LUMPUR) KNM Group Bhd and Zecon Bhd have entered into an agreement with Gulf Asian Petroleum Sdn Bhd (GAP) to build a refinery and an oil storage terminal worth a combined RM17 billion (S$6.9 billion) in Teluk Ramunia, Johor, Malaysia's Business Times reported.

GAP, which on April 30, 2010, obtained an approval from the Malaysian Industrial Development Authority for the manufacturing licence for the integrated petrochemical plant, is 50 per cent owned by Mubadala Capital Sdn Bhd (MCSB).

The remaining shares in the firm are owned by Abdul Aziz Hamad Al-Dulaimi, the president of Gulf Petroleum Ltd, whose shareholders include Qatar General Insurance and Reinsurance Company, Al-Mana Group, National Petroleum Group and the banking arm of Al-Sari Group.

MCSB's controlling shareholder, Zainal Abidin Ahmad, is also the chief executive and controlling stakeholder of Zecon.

The deal, bound to cause waves of interest in the oil and gas sector here, came on a day when two other oil and gas projects were announced. Petroleum Bhd and Kencana Petroleum Bhd announced an RM11.5 billion merger plan that will become the country's largest oil and gas service provider.

In a statement to the stock exchange, KNM said it was forming a consortium with Zecon and either a Korean or Chinese contractor to undertake both the projects. The projects comprise a RM15 billion oil refinery and a RM2 billion oil storage terminal.

The refinery will have a capacity of up to 200,000 barrels a day and 525,000 tonnes-a-year polypropylene processing plant, while the oil storage terminal will have a capacity of 2.328 million cubic metres.

The refinery and the storage facility are expected to be completed within 40 months and 18 months respectively, KNM said, adding the refinery project will be funded by 30 per cent equity, with the balance funded through project financing or sukuk issuance.

To help cover some of the storage facility's cost, KNM will also try to arrange a sukuk issuance of up to RM1.5 billion to cover project financing during construction, KNM said.

Apart from the KNM-Zecon announcement, Daya Materials Bhd said it had secured two supply and delivery agreements worth RM27.42 million from Petronas Methanol (Labuan) Sdn Bhd.

Meanwhile, Malaysia's Business Times also reported that China's largest petroleum refiner, Sinopec Petroleum Services Corp (Sinopec), is poised to take a major stake in a planned RM2.06 billion venture to help develop a Petronas marginal oil field located off the coast of Terengganu.

Under the deal, Sinopec will hold 40 per cent stake in the consortium, while Sabio Oil & Gas Sdn Bhd (SOG), a unit of Sabio Technology Bhd (STB), and Iranian group International Oil and Design and Construction Sdn Bhd (IODC)) will have 30 per cent stake respectively.

'This is our maiden foray in the oil and gas industry. We have set up SOG solely for this project and we are optimistic to be given a chance by Petronas to develop this project,' said STB executive chairman Ahmad Sukimi Ibrahim.

Since local participation in the consortium must be a listed entity, STB, which is involved in electronic contract manufacturing services, plans to float its shares in the local bourse soon.

Incorporated in November last year, STB has obtained the approval to list on Bursa Malaysia and will soon be issuing its public prospectus.

Petronas has been given the mandate to develop 27 marginal oil fields out of the current 106 marginal fields in Malaysia, which are estimated to contain 580 million barrels of oil.

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Myanmar plans massive deepwater port

Shipping and logistics link between India and S-E Asia could rival S'pore
Nirmal Ghosh Straits Times 27 Jul 11;

BANGKOK: Sleepy, lush Dawei in Myanmar, with its narrow country lanes, crumbling colonial-era cottages and pristine white sand beaches, is set to be transformed in four years into a massive deepwater port and industrial zone connected eastwards to Bangkok by a double-lane highway.

Flying in the face of Western sanctions, the project is funded by Asian investors and aims to turn the rural landscape into a vital shipping and logistics link between India and mainland South-east Asia, and could have an impact on Singapore.

The huge project intends to capitalise on Asean's master plan for regional connectivity, and leverage on Myanmar's position at the crossroads of India, China and Asean.

Basic road-building has begun for the 250 sq km, US$8 billion (S$9.6 billion) complex, which will eventually include a 10,000MW coal-fired power plant, and an expanded eight-lane highway to Bangkok.

The first phase of the project by Bangkok-based Italian-Thai Development (ITD) will be ready in four years.

By 2015, a 230km, double-lane highway to the Thai border will be completed, said Dr Somchet Thinaphong, managing director of Dawei Development Company, which is ITD's vehicle for the project.

Basic infrastructure would be in place, he said, including roads, water, power, and berths capable of offloading heavy commodities such as coal and iron ore.

Myanmar is still hobbled by sanctions that severely restrict business with many Western countries, but the project's mostly Asian investors appear undaunted.

'It would be very much nicer if sanctions were lifted,' Dr Somchet said. 'Sanctions impart a negative image to the project, when we have to deal with consultants, contractors, banks and insurance companies in countries like Japan, and the European Union.'

The port and highway would shave seven days off the time it takes to transport goods between India and Thailand and

Vietnam. The Dawei-Bangkok road link will channel goods between Thailand's Map Ta Phut industrial zone and Laem Chabang port, and ports on the Vietnam coast. To the west, shipping lanes will link to Kolkata and Chennai in India.

Dawei is 1,600km north of Singapore, currently the main conduit for Indian and South-east Asian trade. Whether Singapore loses out will depend on the costs involved in the land route to Dawei as well as Myanmar's stability - particularly in the volatile border area, said Mr Khalid Hashim, managing director of Precious Shipping, Thailand's second-largest dry bulk shipping company.

'I don't think Singapore will lose transhipment traffic,' he said. 'There would be fewer handling charges, and no risk, on the Singapore route.'

Environmentalists and human rights watchdogs say they have concerns about Dawei. They charge that Thailand, already saturated with big power plants and large dams, is now investing in large projects in less-regulated places, like Laos and Myanmar.

A report released this week by the Burma Environmental Working Group said while Myanmar has laws protecting people and the environment, it 'lacks the necessary administrative and legal structures, standards, safeguards and political will to enforce such provisions'.

The project will dramatically alter the natural topography of the place and resettle 10,000 people.

It has already run into problems. Early this month, soldiers of the Karen National Union (KNU) reportedly blocked the construction of the highway to the Thai border. Reports said KNU and ITD representatives have since held talks.

Dr Somchet told The Straits Times in an interview at ITD's head office in Bangkok that 'some lawsuits' had been filed by locals against the company, which have led to renegotiating compensation and other relocation terms.

'We are aiming for a balance of social benefits, the environment and economic returns,' he said.

'Even the top people in Myanmar are concerned about the environment,' he claimed. 'But when you have a beautiful garden, you still have to occasionally mow the lawn.'

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Alarm bells sounded for Sunderbans ecology

Jayanta Gupta The Times of India 27 Jul 11;

KOLKATA: The West Bengal government needs to be careful. Even as chief minister Mamata Banerjee speaks of developing the Sunderbans into a major tourist attraction, biologists across the globe are concerned about the damage being caused to the fragile ecosystem of the region due to the constant movement of vessels through it.

Research carried out by scientists - including those belonging to the Harvard University - speak of the silent ecological damage that is being caused to the Sunderbans, thanks to the lack of any initiative on the part of the authorities to take firm steps.

"While all attention is paid to the Sunderbans tiger, which is at the top of the food chain, conservationists till now have made little noise about the silent damage that is being caused due to the release of ballast water, spillage of oil and other waste material from vessels passing through the mangroves. The waves created by these vessels inundate the pneumatophores at odd times, causing an imbalance. Unchecked, this will bring an end to the Sunderbans. Many a species may have already disappeared due to this unchecked pollution," a scientist from the ministry of forests and environment said.

Under an existing trade agreement between the governments of India and Bangladesh, barges and coastal ships are given unchecked access through the Sunderbans. Several other ships that call on Bangladeshi ports on their way to India also pass through the mangrove forests. According to studies, over 400 vessels of various size sail through the forest every year, releasing waste oil, ballast water and bilge washings.

"One of the most dangerous pollutants is crude oil and its derivatives. The oil sticks to the leaf surface blocking stomata and affecting photosynthesis, respiration and water metabolism of mangrove plants. Commercial vessels pump sea water into ballast tanks to maintain stability while passing through deep waters. When they approach ports - where the channels are shallow - this ballast water is released. Along with the water, several organisms, foreign to that part of the world, gets introduced to the eco-system. Studies have revealed that several of the organisms released in this fashion are parasitic in nature and destroy indigenous species. Studies in the Bangladeshi part of the Sunderbans have revealed that several new species have been introduced in this manner. These have actually caused immense harm. Unfortunately, no extensive study has been carried out on the Indian side," another biologist noted.

Most countries have restrictions on the release of ballast by foreign vessels along the coast. Unfortunately, the restrictions are not strictly imposed in India. Experts believe that movement of all vessels, save for indigenous ones, should be restricted through the Sunderbans. A few years ago, a company had proposed to develop tourism in the Sunderbans by sending in a large ship with all modern facilities. While the West Bengal government was in agreement, the proposal was shot down by the Centre. Now that Mamata has been talking of developing tourism in the world's largest mangrove delta, better conservation efforts may be needed to ensure that it doesn't disappear from the face of the earth.

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How to save a bug's life

The Independent 27 Jul 11;

Insects are Britain's most threatened – yet most overlooked – species of wildlife. But enthusiasts have devised innovative methods to ensure their survival, as Peter Marren reports

If you want to protect a bug, think small. That is the message to be gleaned from different plans to conserve Britain's most threatened species of small life, from large and colourful butterflies and dragonflies to the unsung hordes of hoverflies, beetles and spiders. It is all a matter of scale.

Whales have the ocean to swim in. Lions roam over territories the size of London. But an insect might depend on a solitary hole in a stump or live out its days in a puddle. And, perhaps surprisingly, some of these mini-habitats are in short supply.

More than a thousand invertebrates – more than all our animals, birds, reptiles and fish put together – are said to be in trouble. Without action to protect them we stand to lose such exotic sounding bugs as the Midas tree-weaver and the Golden hoverfly – not to mention the desperate-sounding Depressed river mussel.

As a signatory to the Earth Summit in 1992, Britain is committed to saving species, big or small. The lowliest snail or spider, we have decided, has as much right to exist as animals that engage our sympathies more, such as otters or water voles. But, in practical terms, saving species demands a lot of work. To start with, you have to find out why a small beastie is declining, and that in turn means understanding its way of life. And then you have to come up with the cash and co-operation to produce a workable plan.

Is it worth the bother? After all, few people would know or care if the Depressed river mussel decided to commit genetic suicide and disappear for good. Well, yes it is, says its most earnest champion, the charity Buglife. Human and insect lives are interdependent. "Bugs pollinate our food, clean our water and are crucially important to healthy eco-systems." They are like a tiny component in an aircraft. Small and seemingly insignificant, but take one away and the plane won't fly. Besides, Buglife reminds us, species are declining because of what we are doing to the landscape. In the end, it's not so much about biology as about us. Take away the Golden hoverflies and the Wormwood Moonshiners and it is we that are diminished and shamed.

Not all action plans work. But there have been some shining successes, and we seem to be getting better at it. Here are the best recent examples.

Ladybird spider: Eresus sandialatus

Easily our most beautiful spider, the male turns ladybird red in the last days of its short life, when it seeks, courts and mates with as many females as possible before dying of exhaustion. Its skin then becomes part of the wall decor in the burrow of its last suitor. The dead body of mother spider, meanwhile, becomes a handy first snack for her growing brood.

This is also our rarest spider, confined to a tiny patch of heath in Dorset. Fortunately enthusiasts have discovered a handy technique for rearing them inside plastic bottles. The bottle is then transplanted in suitable habitat, spider, burrow and all. Using spiders from Denmark, the Wildfowl and Wetland Trust has bred a large stock for release at its Martinmere reserve.

There are now more Ladybird spiders at large than at any time in the last century.

Hazel pot beetle: Cryptocephalus coryli

The odd life of this bright red beetle begins with its eggs, which the beetle coats generously with dung before flinging them into the undergrowth. The resulting maggots live inside this "pot", lovingly decorated with their own poo, and using their heads as lids. Despite this thrifty lifestyle, the Hazel pot beetle has fallen on hard times, and was feared extinct until a colony was discovered in Sherwood Forest in 2008.

Some of these have been bred on at Chester Zoo for release in likely pot beetle habitat.

Barberry carpet moth: Pareulype berberata

Barberry, a small, prickly hedgerow shrub, was all but ousted from the countryside by farmers, since it was the host of a damaging rust fungus that attacked crops of wheat. By the time rust-resistant crops of wheat were on the market, there were no more barberry bushes.

This was bad news for a little grey and brown moth, since its caterpillar fed on nothing but barberry. Fortunately it was saved at the eleventh hour by breeding captive colonies for release on newly planted barberry.

It has worked. With the help of Whipsnade Zoo, the moth has been re-established at numerous sites across southern and central England.

Golden hoverfly: Callicera spinolae

This handsome gold-fringed fly depends on rotting matter inside rot-holes on old, decaying trees. Its habitat is in short supply, which may be why it is restricted to a few parks and nature reserves in East Anglia. Fortunately hoverfly enthusiasts have found a way to boost its numbers without waiting for trees to grow old.

They tie plastic milk cartons filled with a porridgy mixture of water, wood mulch and leaf compost to branches. Mmm, hoverfly heaven.

Red click-beetle: Elater ferrugineus

The Red click-beetle is not only rare, but effectively invisible. Both the adult and its grub live deep in the decaying wood of mature oaks. The method used by beetle collectors of old by hacking into logs and stumps is no longer acceptable. Deborah Harvey from Royal Holloway College has pioneered a more subtle way of tempting the beetles by isolating the scent they use to find one another. Using it she has located the beetle in many new places, while, at the same time, elevating beetle spotting from a mere hobby to a science.

Giant oak aphid: Stomaphis quercus

All right, this giant is no larger than a coffee bean. But that still makes it the world's largest greenfly. Fittingly, it lives not on the stems of roses or tomato plants but on the trunks of mighty oaks. Here it is tended by a bodyguard of jet-black ants who kill or chase away any predators. Their pay-off is the sugary droplets of honeydew oozing from the aphid's bottom.

Despite its success at running a protection racket, the Giant oak aphid is rarely seen. Possibly it lives high up in the tree, whose height, scaled up to human size, would rival Mount Everest. Buglife has invited suitably athletic bug-hunters to take part in a Giant aphid hunt this autumn. Don't forget to bring your camera.

Mud snail: Omphiscola glabra

Mud snails look like tiny ice cream cornets. Despite its name, the snail needs clear, clean water, and that is its downfall – most of today's ponds are murky and far from clean. In a survey of 370 ponds in Cheshire the snail was found in only three.

Chester Zoo holds snail stock rescued from a pond that was about to go under concrete due to redevelopment at Manchester Airport. The plan is to release them into a new pond nearby as a "mitigation" measure.

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US cities face water-related climate dangers: report

Lauren Keiper Reuters 26 Jul 11;

BOSTON, July 26 (Reuters) - Rising sea waters may threaten U.S. coastal cities later this century, while the Midwest and East Coast are at high risk for intense storms, and the West's water supplies could be compromised.

These are among the expected water-related effects of climate change on 12 cities across the nation over the remainder of the century, according to a study released on Tuesday by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), a leading environmental group.

"A lot of people think of climate change in the global context, but they don't think about the local impact climate change might have, particularly on water-related issues," said Steve Fleischli, a senior attorney with NRDC's water program.

In the coming decades, Miami, New Orleans and Norfolk, Virginia were expected to be the coastal cities hardest hit by flooding and storm surges due to rising sea levels, the group said.

In Boston, where the city's airport is flanked by water, historic landmarks and critical transportation infrastructure were at a greater risk of flooding due to rising sea levels.

Los Angeles, Seattle and San Francisco will face similar danger from rising waters, according to the report.

The NRDC said climate change was making heat waves, floods and droughts more severe. The Midwest was predicted to experience frequent and intense storms. Chicago, for example, could see the frequency of heavy rainfall rise by 50 percent in the next 30 years.

Along the East Coast, Norfolk and New York could see infrastructure compromised due to increased rainfall, research showed.

While too much water was expected to plague certain parts of the country going forward, Los Angeles, Seattle and Phoenix could see their water supplies "seriously threatened."

Rising temperatures, less rainfall and decreased snowpack were all contributing factors, the report said.

Tackling the anticipated affects of climate change means studying potential vulnerabilities upfront, the NRDC said, adding that cities will need to minimize greenhouse gases, secure infrastructure and conserve water, among other steps.

The 12 cities in the study were selected for their range in size, geographic diversity and availability of local information.

"You can't look just at the cost of taking action," NRDC attorney and report lead author Michelle Mehta said. "You have to look at the cost of not doing anything as well."

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