Best of our wild blogs: 28 Jul 11

“Please help to bring the dinosaurs to Singapore” the Raffles Museum’s Diplodocus Family appeal from The Biodiversity crew @ NUS

Learning about the Seacil Project
from wild shores of singapore

crabbed by a lizard @ chek jawa 23July2011
from sgbeachbum

Butterfly Portraits - Magpie Crow
from Butterflies of Singapore

Be Wary of Spider Bites!
from Macro Photography in Singapore

Palm oil, paper drive large-scale destruction of Indonesia's forests, but account for diminishing role in economy, says report from news

How to fight organized wildlife crime in East Asia
from news

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Green corridor master plan sought

Esther Ng Channel NewsAsia 27 Jul 11;

SINGAPORE: The Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) said a competition will be organised for architects and design planners to come up with a master plan for the green corridor.

The corridor refers to the former Keretapi Tanah Melayu (KTM) railway land.

URA said more details on the competition will be announced at a later date.

Also commenting on the corridor, the Minister of State for National Development, Tan Chuan-Jin, said the green corridor consultation group is still in the process of receiving feedback from members of the public.

He said that over the next two years, the group hopes to engage a wide section of society on plans for the 26-kilometre track which stretches from Tanjong Pagar to Woodlands.

The group comprises the URA, National Parks Board, green groups like the Nature Society (Singapore), the Singapore Heritage Society as well as academics.

The group will meet once every two months.


Govt hopes to keep continuous rail corridor
Grace Chua Straits Times 28 Jul 11;

THE Government hopes to keep the former Keretapi Tanah Melayu (KTM) railway land a continuous stretch as far as possible, said Minister of State for National Development Tan Chuan-Jin in a meeting with the media yesterday.

Plans for the tract will be firmed up over the next two years, and details will be included in the Urban Redevelopment Authority's (URA) 2013 land-use Master Plan, he added.

Referring to the 26km tract which stretches from Tanjong Pagar to Woodlands, he said: 'I imagine there are stretches which we will keep, some we would develop in a way that makes sense, but the idea of it as a continuous stretch is something we would very much like to do.

'It's about keeping the spirit of it as much as the physical.'

Nature, heritage and other interest groups have pushed to keep the tract unbroken. Last October, they sent the authorities a proposal to preserve it as a 'green corridor' which could be used for bird watching, cycling and other recreational activities.

The railway land reverted to Singapore from July 1 this year and, since then, thousands of people have strolled along the rails. Most of the tracks and small railway structures must be removed by the year end and returned, in agreement with Malaysia.

But the railway tracks at Tanjong Pagar and Bukit Timah railway stations, as well as two large bridges, are to be retained.

The government agencies will engage interest groups and the public when deciding on what to do with the former KTM railway, said Brigadier-General (NS) Tan.

He told reporters: 'My view, and I do hold this strongly, is that this whole effort with the railway corridor isn't about the end product - what you're going to build, what you're going to develop, what you're going to keep.

'I think the process in itself is part of that whole effort - how we bring different groups with different views together. I think it's important... We are starting this engagement effort very early on.'

As part of URA's 2013 Master Plan, a land-use document reviewed every five years, the rail corridor plans will guide land use in the area over the next decade or so.

An advisory committee, made up of nature, heritage and other interest groups as well as representatives from URA and the National Parks Board, will meet every one to two months to discuss suggestions from the public and advise URA on public engagement.

URA has also put up a website,, to explain the project and ask for feedback from the public.

So far, suggestions from the committee and interest groups include getting the 98 schools along the railway land involved, holding a design competition for architects and planners to develop a master plan for the area, and organising an exhibition about the railway's social, cultural and natural history.

BG Tan also urged the public to heed safety measures such as hoardings, and not to draw graffiti on walls and bridges. Scratching steel bridges, for instance, damages their protective anti-rust coating.

Responding to BG Tan's comments, nature lover and avid runner Ryan Tan, 29, said: 'I think keeping (the railway land) as continuous as possible is a great idea, as it would offer Singaporeans a connected plot of nature to hike on and enjoy. For example, some of the existing park connectors are not strictly continuous.'

Visitors, be careful

PARTS of the former KTM railway line are now hoarded up for track removal works, and the public is advised to be careful while visiting the area, said Minister of State for National Development Tan Chuan-Jin yesterday.

As agreed with Malaysia, most of the tracks and rail structures must be removed and returned by Dec 31.

Brigadier-General (NS) Tan said: 'I guess the public would still go and wander around, but they should just be careful.'

For instance, there are areas hoarded up for safety and people should not climb over the barriers, he said.

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Bali starlings returned to habitat from Singapore

Antara 27 Jul 11;

Denpasar, Bali (ANTARA News) - Three Bali Starlings (Leucopsar rothschildi), also known as Rothschild`s Mynah, were successfully returned to their habitat in the Bali Bird Park from Jurong Bird Park in Singapore.

"We made an effort to return the birds in order to protect the Balinese bird species from extinction," Widya Prajanthi, a spokesman of the Begawan Fundation, said in a press statement here on Tuesday.

Wildlife Reserve of Singapore helped the foundation in the effort to bring back the Bali Starlings to their habitat.

Before being released into the Bali Bird Park, the birds were quarantined at a bird breeding center of Sibang, Badung District, Bali Island, for adjustment.

The Bali Starling Conservation Project was Begawan Foundation`s first initiative, established in 1999 with the aim of saving the rare bird from the very real threat of extinction. Famed for its beauty, the Balinese Starling was officially adopted as Bali province`s mascot in 1991.

High local and foreign interest in the bird led to a drastic decrease in its numbers. At one point, there were thought to be only 16 birds left living in the wild.

Begawan Foundation has developed a successful breeding programme with excellent facilities and expert supervision by Bali`s leading avian veterinarian, Vet. I. G. N. Bayu Wirayudha.

In August 2009, a total of 65 birds had been released and 62 of their offspring were known to have survived and

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Indonesian Ulema Issue Fatwa on Destructive Mining

Fidelis E. Satriastanti Jakarta Globe 27 Jul 11;

The Indonesian Council of Ulema (MUI) issued a religious edict, known as a fatwa, on Wednesday, condemning mining practices that were destroying the environment and neglecting people's welfare.

"We condemn mining activities that only destroy the environment and inflict misery on the people. We must prevent such actions through regulation and government actions," Ma'ruf Amin, head of the fatwa division at MUI, said on Wednesday.

Ma'ruf said that the fatwa was not made by "order" but based on the council's long observation and research.

This fatwa applies to everyone, from government officials, company managements and regional governments, most of whom are Muslim. They must ensure that mining practices should be environmentally friendly," he said.

Environment Minister Gusti Muhammad Hatta said the fatwa served as an additional solution to accompany the formal regulation that deals with environmental destruction from mining activities.

"We are still implementing the law and the regulation. This [fatwa] is just to complete our efforts in developing better mining practices," he said.

"I know that there will be pessimism [about the fatwa], however, the fatwa applies not only to Muslim but also to the mining activities itself and local government officials who are mostly Muslim. Maybe with this fatwa, these people could be 'moved'."

Clerics council issues advice on environment
Antara 27 Jul 11;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - The Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) has issued an advice on friendly mining in response to the conditions and serious damage to the environment, a MUI chairman said.

"MUI, based on its serious observation, has issued an edict because it is concerned to see damaged conditions of the environment," MUI chairman for fatwa affairs, Ma`ruf Amin said here on Wednesday.

He said that in Islam damage was divided into two, namely morality and material damages. Damage to nature is attributable to damage to morality so that morality should be improved.

In its edict, the MUI said natural resources could be mined as far as it was aimed for the people`s prosperity, but in doing that it should not cause damage to the environment.

"Based on the MUI observation, our environment has been seriously damaged. Religion teaches us to prevent damage," he said.

In principle, Islam recommends the development of people`s prosperity and the prevention of damage or at least the efforts should be aimed at optimizing benefits and minimizing damage, he said.

"We see that natural resource exploitation has been so excessive that it has also caused damage. Even, there is possibility that our natural resources have been tapped for certain parties not for the prosperity of the people," he said.

Ilyas Asaad, a deputy for environment communication and people`s empowerment at the office of the environment minister, said that MUI and the ministry of environment has signed an MoU on December 15, 2010.

"The MoU, however, was yet to decide what fatwa the MUI was going to produce. So, over the past six months we have intensive discussions until the formulation of a fatwa was finished on July 5, 2011," he said.

He said that the MUI fatwa was expected to serve as a basis for the regional government and businesses in the management of the environment.


Editor: Jafar M Sidik

MUI fatwa on environment normative reference
Antara 27 Jul 11;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - The Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI)`s fatwa (edict) on environmentally-friendly mining reinforces positive law and serves as a normative reference for the government and mining firms in the management of the environment, a minister said.

"The office of the Environment Minister already has a positive law which regulates sanctions against environmental offenses but we also use other ways and means to produce sanctions," Minister of Environment Gusti Muhammad Hatta said here on Tuesday.

He made the remarks on the occasion of the launch of the MUI fatwa on environmentally-friendly mining.

The minister said that natural resources had been created to be utilized by human beings but each activity would have impact so that efforts to minimize the impact should be made.

He said that MUI has issued the fatwa on friendly mining of the environment because the impact to the environment of mining activities was bigger than other kinds of activities.

Ilyas Asaad, a deputy for environment communication and people`s empowerment at the office of the environment minister, said that MUI and the ministry of environment has signed an MoU on December 15, 2010.

"The MoU, however, was yet to decide what fatwa the MUI was going to produce. So, over the past six months we have intensive discussions until the formulation of a fatwa was finished on July 5, 2011," he said.

He said that the MUI fatwa was expected to serve as a basis for the regional government and businesses in the management of the environment.

Editor: Priyambodo RH

MUI's fatwa on environment not iIssued on anybody`s order
Antara 27 Jul 11;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - Chairman of the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) for fatwa (religious advice) affairs Ma`ruf Amin said MUI`s fatwa on environmentally-friendly mining was not issued by order of any party.

"The MUI issued the edict without being ordered to by any party. So far, many people think that, if a MUI fatwa is in line with the desire of the government, the advice is issued based on an order," Ma`ruf said here on Tuesday.

He said that MUI issued the fatwa based on its deep observation and concern over the serious damage being done to the environment.

The MUI chairman said ulema (Muslim cleric) were concerned about damage to the environment and therefore they had set up an institution dealing with environmental issues, namely MUI`s Agency for Environmental Appreciation.

"Therefore, we are cooperating with the Ministry of the Environment," he said.

In its edict, the MUI said natural resources could be mined as long as it was done to improve the people`s prosperity, but mining operations should not cause damage to the environment.

"Based on MUI`s observation, our environment has been seriously damaged. Religion teaches us not to cause damage," he said.

In principle, Islam recommends the development of people`s prosperity and the prevention of damage or at least the efforts should be aimed at optimizing benefits and minimizing damage, he said.

"We see that natural resource exploitation has been so excessive that it has also caused damage. Even, there is possibility that our natural resources have been tapped for certain parties not for the prosperity of the people," he said.

Editor: Priyambodo RH

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Live animals seized en route to Jakarta

TRAFFIC 27 Jul 11;

Jakarta, Indonesia, 27th July 2011—A known Indonesian wildlife dealer has been caught red-handed, attempting to smuggle 18 protected echidnas—rare egg-laying mammals—out of their native Papua province.

The suspect is a registered wildlife trader who was apparently attempting to send the animals on a plane to the country’s capital, Jakarta, without the necessary permits.

The seizure took place on 21st July 2001 in Merauke, Papua Province, one of the easternmost towns in Indonesia. The seizure was made by the Natural Resources Conservation Agency of Indonesia (Balai Konservasi Sumber Daya Alam).

Aside from the echidnas Zaglossus or Tachyglossus spp., the shipment also included 2 Carpet Pythons Morelia spilota variegata, 3 Amethyst Pythons Morelia amethistina, 2 Frilled Lizards Chlamydosaurus kingii and 6 monitor lizards Varanus spp.

Echidnas and Frilled Lizards are fully protected in Indonesia, while the two python species may be traded under quota with permits, although none had been acquired in this case. It is currently unclear which monitor lizard species were seized.

The animals were packed in cloth sacks and hidden in modified compartments in two suitcases, to be checked in at the airport. However, airport officials sensed something was amiss and inspected the bags, discovering the live animals inside.

Although reptiles are often involved in such smuggling cases, the echidnas are a less frequently traded commodity. All the animals will be quarantined and released back into the wild.

This is not the first time the suspect has attempted to smuggle wildlife. Indonesian press reports quote the head of Merauke District I Natural Resources Conservation office, Oktavianus Bato Tampak, as saying that the same individual was arrested last June for attempting to smuggle monitor lizards and snakes, and was still under investigation for that offence. Oktavianus also told press he believed the man attempted to smuggle again because of his legal troubles.

“Indonesia is a major source of wildlife illegally entering international trade,” said Chris R. Shepherd, Deputy Regional Director of TRAFFIC Southeast Asia.

“We encourage the authorities to investigate both the individual caught in Merauke, and also the intended recipients in Jakarta.”

“It’s the dealers based in Jakarta who are behind the large-scale smuggling of wildlife to buyers world-wide and who are responsible for Indonesia gaining its reputation as an illegal trade hub.”

“The authorities need to put the Jakarta-based dealers out of business once and for all.”

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Malagasy Frontier Police seize Indonesia-bound shipment of 'world's rarest' tortoises

An estimated 440 to 770 Ploughshare Tortoises exist in the wild, yet a staggering 26 were seized earlier this week in Madagascar, bound for Indonesia.
TRAFFIC 27 Jul 11;

Antananarivo, Madagascar, 27th July 2011—Authorities in Madagascar on Monday arrested two men and seized close to 200 of some of the world’s rarest tortoises that they were trying to smuggle out of Antananarivo’s Ivato Airport to Jakarta, Indonesia.

Frontier Police found 26 Ploughshare Tortoises Astrochelys yniphora, 169 Radiated Tortoises Astrochelys radiata and one Spider Tortoise Pyxis arachnoides in a box and three large bags that were transported directly to the tarmac, circumventing security scanners, according to local media reports.

Upon scanning the bags, authorities discovered the tortoises hidden inside and proceeded to arrest two men, one of whom had already boarded the flight. The two arrested were a Malagasy and an Indian national.

Local media have quoted Brunel Razafintsiandraofa, Chief of Border Police, as saying that the smuggler’s final destination was Indonesia, via Nairobi and Dubai. He also told press that the principal destination of wildlife trafficked from Madagascar was to South-East Asia.

The shipment includes a stunning number of Ploughshare Tortoises, of which there are only a few hundred left in the wild, making it one of the world’s rarest tortoise species.

All three tortoise species seized are classified by IUCN as Critically Endangered—considered to be facing an extremely high risk of extinction in the wild—and fully protected by law in Madagascar. All three occur naturally only in Madagascar.

Their international commercial trade is also banned under CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora), yet these species frequently turn up in seizures and are seen for sale in markets of South-East Asia.

This June, TRAFFIC released the results of its investigations in Thailand, which found over a hundred Radiated Tortoises, dozens of Spider Tortoises, and three Ploughshare Tortoises for sale in markets and online.

In February this year, authorities in Bangkok arrested an Indonesian national with seven Radiated and one Ploughshare Tortoise in his bags at Suvarnabhumi International Airport.

In August 2010, TRAFFIC also observed these species for sale at an expo in Jakarta. Several large-scale seizures of these tortoises were also made in Malaysia and Thailand in 2010. Most were found stuffed and hidden in luggage smuggled through airports.

A WWF survey published last year showed that ten or more zebu carts filled with around 100 tortoises each are leaving the Mahafaly Plateau in south Madagascar every week, and pointed to ongoing political instability as the driver for the large jump in illegal collection of Spider Tortoises and Radiated Tortoises.

“Those involved in apprehending these criminals in Ivato are to be congratulated,” says Chris R. Shepherd, Deputy Regional Director of TRAFFIC Southeast Asia.

“Responsibility does not lie with Madagascar alone, but also with importing countries. The authorities in Indonesia and other parts of Southeast Asia should take firm and immediate action against those trading in these species and put an end to this illicit trade.”

Press reports say the turtles were given over to the Water and Forest Services.

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U.S. Officials Seize One Ton Of Smuggled Elephant Ivory

Jessica Dye PlanetArk 27 Jul 11;

Federal officials seized roughly a ton of ivory in one of the largest U.S. seizures on record and arrested the owner of an African art store accused of smuggling carved elephant tusks into the United States, authorities said on Tuesday.

Victor Gordon, 68, pleaded not guilty in U.S. federal court in Brooklyn to charges of conspiracy, smuggling and violating the Lacey Act, an anti-trafficking law aimed at curbing illegal shipments of protected wildlife, including ivory.

The indictment said Gordon paid a partner to purchase raw elephant ivory in west and central Africa and have it carved to his specifications. He also told the partner to dye or stain the carvings to make them look older than they were and to ship them to his Philadelphia art store, prosecutors said.

Authorities seized hundreds of tusks sold or owned by Gordon in Philadelphia, New York, Pennsylvania, Missouri and Kansas, according to the indictment, in what was described as among the largest U.S. seizures of elephant ivory on record.

"The amount of the elephant ivory allegedly plundered in this case is staggering and highlights the seriousness of the charged crimes," said Loretta Lynch, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York.

If convicted on all charges, Gordon faces a maximum of 20 years in prison. He has been released on a $1 million bail.

African elephants are listed as a threatened species under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. Importing, buying or selling African elephant ivory brought into the United States after 1989 is illegal unless the items are more than 100 years old.

The law was intended to protect African elephants from the high global demand for ivory, which led to devastating and widespread poaching, particularly in the 1970s and 1980s, officials said.

At a news conference in Philadelphia, authorities displayed what they said was roughly $1 million worth of intricately carved tusks at the center of the case.

"It is shocking. It is depressing. It is enraging," said Richard Ruggiero of the Fish and Wildlife Service.

Illegal ivory trading was largely responsible for a sharp decline of the elephant population in much of Africa, he said. In the Democratic Republic of Congo alone, the elephant population in 1979 was 350,000 to 400,000 but now is only about 12,000 to 15,000, he said.

Although the United States has implemented steps to crack down on the illegal ivory trade, officials said, prices and demand continue to create a market for the banned goods in international and domestic markets.

(Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst and Cynthia Johnston)

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Depletion of the body snatchers: bad news for marine environment

IUCN 28 Jul 11;

A recent study conducted for The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™ has determined that 20% of hagfish species are at an elevated risk of extinction*. Scientists warn that this figure could be much higher.

The results of this research, carried out in association with Conservation International (CI), indicate that the primary causes of hagfish declines are the direct and indirect effects of fisheries.

Hagfish represent an ancient and unique evolutionary lineage; as bottom feeders they play an important role by cleaning the ocean floor and recycling nutrients into the food web which maintains the overall health of the ecosystems they inhabit.

“By consuming the dead and decaying carcasses that have fallen to the ocean floor, hagfish clean the floor creating a rich environment for other species including commercial fish such as cod, haddock and flounder,” says Landon Knapp, research assistant for the IUCN Marine Biodiversity Unit at Old Dominion University and lead author of the study. “The presence of hagfish in areas of intense fishing is extremely important as large amounts of bycatch are discarded."

Particular areas of concern highlighted in the study include southern Australia, where the only hagfish species present is threatened, and the coast of southern Brazil. Also of concern are the species found in the East China Sea, the Pacific coast of Japan, and coastal Taiwan; in these areas, four of the 13 hagfish species occurring are threatened with extinction.

“In many geographic regions, only one or two hagfish species are present, and therefore the loss or decline of even a single species in these areas will have detrimental effects on ecosystems as a whole, as well as the fisheries that depend on them,” says Dr Michael Mincarone, Professor of Zoology at Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro, an author of the study.

Fisheries worldwide directly profit from the harvesting of hagfish, such as Myxine garmani (Vulnerable) and Eptatretus burgeri (Near Threatened) for leather and food. Hagfish are also an important part of the food chain, being prey for fishes, seabirds and even marine mammals, including seals. When fishing pressure was focused on hagfish in certain locations in the north-western Atlantic, the stock of other commercial species, such as flounder, plummeted.

Overexploitation and destructive fishing practices are major threats to several hagfish species, including Myxine paucidens and Paramyxine taiwanae, both listed as Endangered. No current conservation measures or legislation exist to protect hagfish populations.

“Additional data is required and controls for the regulation and management of hagfish fisheries and other threats to hagfish populations are urgently needed to ensure the survival of these important species,” says Dr Kent Carpenter, Professor at Old Dominion University, manager of IUCN’s Marine Biodiversity Unit and an author of the paper.

“Hagfish are a great example of one of those ‘not-so-cute’ species that play a vital role in ecosystem health,” says Cristiane Elfes, Programme Officer for the CI-IUCN Biodiversity Assessment Unit. “This study highlights the impact we have on hagfish and the importance of protecting them to maintain the stability of ocean ecosystems.”

*For those groups that have been comprehensively assessed on the IUCN Red List, the percentage of threatened species can be calculated, but the actual number of threatened species is often uncertain because it is not known whether Data Deficient (DD) species are actually threatened or not. Therefore, the percentage presented above provides the best estimate of extinction risk for this group (excluding Extinct species), based on the assumption that Data Deficient (DD) species are equally threatened as data sufficient species. In other words, this is a mid-point figure within a range from x% threatened species (if all DD species are not threatened) to y% threatened species (if all DD species are threatened). Available evidence indicates that this is a best estimate.

For example, for hagfishes, 20% of species (excluding DD species) are threatened, although the precise figure is uncertain and could lie between 12% (if all DD species are not threatened) and 51% (if all DD species are threatened).

'Not-So-Cute' Hagfish Threatened
Wynne Parry 29 Jul 11;

As primitive, tubelike scavengers that feed on dead and dying animals, hagfish are hardly charismatic or appealing, so the discovery that at least 12 percent of hagfish species face an elevated risk of extinction may not tug on the heartstrings.

But conservationists are concerned.

"Hagfish are a great example of one of those 'not-so-cute' species that play a vital role in ecosystem health," said Cristiane Elfes, a program officer with a unit of the Global Marine Species Assessment, a joint initiative of several groups. The study was produced as part of this initiative. "This study highlights the impact we have on hagfish and the importance of protecting them to maintain the stability of ocean ecosystems."

The study indicates that fishing is the primary direct and indirect cause of hagfish declines: Hagfish are caught intentionally for food and leather, and they also get scooped up unintentionally in bottom-trawling nets that damage their habitat on the seafloor. [Oceans Primed for Mass Extinction?]

The study found that of 76 species of hagfish worldwide, nine qualified under criteria by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as critically endangered to vulnerable, while two more qualified as near threatened. Because of a lack of information on existing numbers, 30 species could not be categorized. Particular areas of concern include the waters off southern Australia, southern Brazil, the Pacific coast of Japan and the coast of Taiwan, as well as in the East China Sea, according to the study.

In addition to having gruesome table manners — one study suggests they absorb nutrients through their skin when burrowing into dead and dying animals — hagfish play a crucial role in ecosystems by cleaning the ocean floor and recycling nutrients.

"The presence of hagfish in areas of intense fishing is extremely important as large amounts of bycatch are discarded," said Landon Knapp, research assistant for the IUCN Marine Biodiversity Unit at Old Dominion University in Virginia and lead author of the study. Bycatch refers to animals caught unintentionally during fishing.

In addition to working as clean-up crew, hagfish are also important prey for fish, seabirds and marine mammals. Stock of other commercial species, such as flounder, plummeted when fishing pressure focused on hagfish in certain locations in the northwest Atlantic Ocean.

The study, authored by researchers at Old Dominion University and Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, appears in the journal Aquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems.

It is part of the Global Marine Species Assessment, a joint initiative of IUCN, Conservation International and Old Dominion University, which has been working since 2005 to provide assessments for more than 20,000 species.

Read more!

France: Brittany beaches hit by toxic algae

Dead boars washed up on shores point to lethal hazard of poisonous gas and water pollution from algal slime
Angelique Chrisafis 27 Jul 11;

Fears are growing over potentially lethal green algae piling up on the north Brittany coast following corpses of wild boars washing up at the picturesque tourist destination of côtes d'Armôr.

Three dead boars were found floating in the water or slumped on muddy banks of the Gouessant estuary at Morieux on Wednesday after 18 were found dead the previous day. A total of 31 animals have been found dead this month.

Close to the estuary a beach at Saint-Maurice is now closed because of stinking piles of sludge from decomposing green algae. The local mayor said the beach had been cordoned off because the slime could harbour pockets of toxic gas fatal to humans if they slipped on it.

Local environmentalists have long campaigned against the dangers of what has become known as Brittany's "killer" green algae. It has been affecting the rugged north Breton coastline for decades but has increased in recent years, causing the death of a worker who was clearing it in 2009, as well as killing dogs and a horse walking on the beach.

Ecologists blame the spread of the algae on nitrates in fertilisers used in intensive pig, sheep and dairy farming in Brittany, saying the nitrates flow into the river system and enter the sea.

The government has launched a massive long-term plan to clear the beaches of algae, hauling away the noxious growth with bulldozers. But campaigners say nothing will change unless Brittany's powerful agriculture and food industry cuts its nitrates use. The algae is harmless until it dries and then decomposes, giving off a foul smell. Pockets of the toxic gas can become trapped under its crust.

Autopsies were being carried out on the boar corpses, which were also being tested for hydrogen sulphide, a poisonous gas.

But officials said it was too early to say how the animals died or whether the green algae was to blame. An official analysis of the water in the estuary found that green algae was "above the alert level but below the danger level".

A local police official, Philippe De Gestas, said of the dead boars: "They were not [otherwise] sick and they did not drown."

Yvette Doré, the Socialist mayor of the neighbouring area of Hillion, told Le Monde she was "under no illusion" and that the boars' death was "very certainly" linked to toxic gas from the green algae. In Hillion in 2009 a 27-year-old vet was dragged unconscious from a metre-deep patch of rotting algae after his horse collapsed and died within minutes from fumes given off by the sludge that was heaped on the beach.

The local environmental group Eau et Rivières de Bretagne suggested that the boars could have been killed by drinking water contaminated with the algae and noxious gas. Thousands of tonnes of green algae have been cleared from the Brittany coast this year. In Finistère the amount of algae has grown since last year.

In a front-page editorial entitled, Green Algae: The Unbearable Denial, Le Monde said the French state, in thrall to lobby groups, was downplaying the role of agricultural pollution in the proliferation of noxious algae.

Environmentalists have claimed that politicians are too scared of alienating the farming vote before next year's presidential election so had failed to take big measures on curbing nitrates.

Brittany is the biggest stock raising region in France, with a high concentration of pig, poultry and dairy farms.

On a visit to Brittany this month the French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, defended farmers, saying they were not to blame for the green algae. He dismissed as "environmental fundamentalists" those people who were loudly campaigning over the nitrate link to the algae.

Dozens of boars found dead on French beach
AFP Yahoo News 27 Jul 11;

Dozens of wild boars have turned up dead this month around a beach in western France, officials say, as they suspect poisonous blue-green algae for the deaths.

Three dead boars were found on Wednesday at the mouth of the Gouessant estuary in Brittany, an AFP journalist witnessed, bringing to 31 the number found this month, floating in the water or washed up in the area.

The nearby beach has been closed for safety, its cove stinking with algae which give off a poisonous gas when they rot.

"One of the theories we have is that the animals could have drunk water that could contain algae," said Gilles Buet, a Brittany water official.

"They were not sick and they did not drown," said local police official Philippe De Gestas.

"We found two carcasses in the morning, then five more, then it went up to 17" and later 18, he said on Tuesday.

Local authorities said in a statement that tests on the water revealed a level of blue-green algae "above the alert level but below the danger level".

Officials and environmentalists say the spread of algae is driven by nitrates used in fertiliser. The proliferation of the minute organisms was speeded by unusually hot weather early this summer.

In 2009 a person in France died after working to clear algae, as well as a horse.

Officials were testing for hydrogen sulphide, a poisonous gas given off by the blue-green algae, also known as cyanobacteria, when they decompose.

Gestas said they were also carrying out autopsies on some of the boars.

Further test results were due Wednesday, the statement said.

Read more!

African Land Grab Threatens Food Security: Study

Christine Stebbins PlanetArk 27 Jul 11;

Rich countries grabbing farmland in Africa to feed their growing populations can leave rural populations there without land or jobs and make the continent's hunger problem more severe, an environmental think tank said on Tuesday.

The trend is accelerating as wealthier countries in the Middle East and Asia, particularly China, seek new land to plant crops, lacking enough fertile ground to meet their own food needs, Washington DC-based Worldwatch Institute said.

Worldwatch said its researchers interviewed more than 350 farmers' groups, NGOs, government agencies and scientists over 17 months. The meetings, held in 25 countries across sub-Saharan Africa, addressed issues that hinder the efforts of African farmers to alleviate hunger and poverty.

"People are always saying that Africa needs to feed itself. It can't do that if the Chinese and the Saudis are taking up the best land for production for food," Danielle Nierenberg, director of Worldwatch's Nourishing the Planet project, told Reuters.

The International Food Policy Research Institute reports that 15 million to 20 million hectares of land in sub-Saharan Africa have been purchased by foreign investors between 2006 and mid-2009.

"There are millions more hectares that are being sold by governments that have not been documented," Nierenberg added.

In many cases, farmers whose families may have tilled the land for years are unaware the land -- owned by the government or a community-shared plot -- has been sold.

Investors say land deals help alleviate the world food crisis by tapping into a country's "unused" agricultural potential and providing poor countries with money, infrastructure and other resources that improve food security.

The International Institute for Economic Development, World Bank, U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, and International Fund for Agricultural Development have issued studies on the economic possibilities of international land deals.

"If all governments capably represented the interests of their citizens, these cash-for-cropland deals might improve prosperity and food security for both sides," Robert Engelman, Worldwatch executive director, said in statement.

"But that's not often the case. It's critical that international institutions monitor these arrangements and find ways to block those that are one-sided or benefit only the wealthy," he said.

While Worldwatch encourages more international guidance in land deals, it said African governments themselves must be aware of the long-term impact of land grabs.

"Strengthening the role that African governments' play and making sure they are not selling off their land and undermining their own farming system is important, and that will go well beyond any international regulations," Nierenberg said.

(Editing by David Gregorio)

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