Best of our wild blogs: 1 Aug 11

Latest Green Jobs in Singapore [25 - 31 Jul 2011]
from Green Business Times

Back to the Great Reef: Terumbu Raya
from wonderful creation and wild shores of singapore

13 Aug (Sat): Mega Marine Survey Dialogue Session
from Mega Marine Survey of Singapore

Book Review: Avian Architecture
from Bird Ecology Study Group

Moon snail eats crab!
from wild shores of singapore

Singapore Biodiversity Encyclopedia Launch 18 July 2011
from Raffles Museum News

Malaria may hurt conservation efforts, aid poachers
from news

Common Wolf Snake
by Monday Morgue

Read more!

Nature lovers enjoy last day of KTM railway access

Liang Kaixin Channel NewsAsia 31 Jul 11;

SINGAPORE: The last stretch of the historic KTM railways tracks will be closed to the public from August 1.

But on Sunday, the three-kilometre stretch between Rifle Range Road and The Rail Mall was a popular spot for the public and nature lovers alike.

Meanwhile, a group of people lobbied the government through Facebook to turn the stretch into the 'Green Corridor'.

Eugene Tay, who is one of the organisers, said the group has managed to get the support of almost 8,000 people on Facebook and over 30 businesses.

The group is now providing feedback to the government on how to preserve the area.

"They can keep some tracks so that people can walk through and have some memory of it, so that not everything is gone," suggested a member of the group.

"If we had some pictures, like some photos of the past... like a (railway) museum to showcase what was the history of the railway station," said another.

The area will be open to the public after December 31, when tracks of the surrounding areas have been dismantled.

- CNA /ls

Read more!

Littering on downtrend in past two years

Ng Puay Leng and Lynda Hong Channel NewsAsia 31 Jul 11;

SINGAPORE: Littering has been on a downtrend in the past two years.

In the first half of this year, 7,500 litterbugs were caught. That's just half of those caught littering in the same period last year.

The National Environment Agency said it will continue with its campaign.

In its latest effort, it is partnering the South-West CDC to work with more foreign workers. They will be trained as "dormitory ambassadors" to set a good example to their friends.

"But we cannot take things for granted. I think this will always remain a work in progress. We will have to continue to get the residents to cooperate with us against anti-social behavior, to make sure that people don't litter, don't spit in public and so on," said Dr Amy Khor, Minister of State for Health. She is also Mayor for South West District.

- CNA /ls

Read more!

She's got the animal instinct: Corinne Fong, Director SPCA

After more than a decade with the SPCA, Corinne Fong steps into a bigger role as executive director
nicholas yong Straits Times 1 Aug 11;

Corinne Fong's first role with the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals was 'picking up poop' as a kennel volunteer, she recalls with a laugh.

More than 11 years on, the 47-year-old today steps into a much bigger role with Singapore's oldest animal charity - that of executive director.

Ms Fong, who also serves as an animal adoption counsellor with the SPCA, succeeds Ms Deirdre Moss, 59, who held the position for 27 years. She was unanimously selected by the SPCA's management committee, with whom she has served three terms.

Speaking to Life! at her condominium in Ang Mo Kio, with her English cocker spaniel Dewey sitting at her feet, Ms Fong is quick to stress that it was not an 'incestuous' process. Newspaper advertisements were placed inviting applications for the position, and like all candidates, she had to go for a job interview.

Ms Fong, who is single, freely admits that she is still adjusting to being in the limelight and calls media interviews 'nerve-racking'. Perhaps sensing her apprehension, both Dewey and her cat Scat, a stray rescued from a drain, sniff this reporter curiously.

Ms Fong left her job as a financial adviser to take on her new role. She declines to discuss if she is taking a pay cut or how much her salary will be.

Among her immediate priorities - increasing fund-raising activities and attracting and retaining volunteers. This is because the SPCA will be moving to a new 0.8ha site in Sungei Tengah, off Lim Chu Kang Road in 2014.

'It takes a little over a million dollars a year to run our current premises. We've been given a plot of land twice the size of the current one, so by simple mathematics, maybe we will need two times the amount to fund the operation,' notes Ms Fong.

The SPCA relies on membership dues and the goodwill of donors to fund its operations. It does not receive government funding. Its current premises can house about 180 animals and it has about 600 individual and corporate volunteers.

With increasing affluence and a corresponding rise in the number of pet owners as well as abandoned pets, Ms Fong is anticipating a greater demand for the services of organisations such as the SPCA.

She says: 'When we move into the new premises, the public and the members are rightly going to expect more facilities and more services, so we need more people to run those various areas.'

While she sees the proliferation of organisations such as Action For Singapore Dogs and the Cat Welfare Society as 'natural progress', Ms Fong is looking to form stronger alliances with such groups.

'No one organisation can run the show. Animal welfare is a huge problem in Singapore, and the more alliances we have, the better the voice.

'Right now, it's so fragmented, maybe the Government is saying, okay fine, let these little guys go and sort it out. But if we come as a voice, I think the Government is bound to have to listen to us.'

Also on Ms Fong's agenda - proposing to the Education Ministry that an animal welfare curriculum be worked into a civics programme for young children as part of efforts to combat animal abuse.

Figures from the SPCA show that reports of cruelty to animals last year rose 15 per cent from the previous year's, to 987 alleged cases.

'There should be higher fines and jail terms. A lot of people are getting away with just slaps on the wrists,' she says. The maximum penalty for animal cruelty is a fine of $10,000 and a jail term of one year.

When asked if animal abusers should be caned, as suggested by some animal-rights activists, she is more ambivalent.

She says: 'That would depend on the offence and the degree of brutality involved. If it fits the crime, it should be implemented, but that's up to the courts to decide.'

Ms Fong is also hoping for changes in official policies towards animals. For example, owners of Housing Board flats are currently not allowed to keep cats and each unit can keep only one dog of an approved small breed a unit.

'You have stray cats not being culled but kept alive, then you have town councils who are answerable to their residents on the cleanliness and maintenance of the estates, but where will all these cats go if they are not being allowed to be housed in HDB flats? I hope the HDB will come out and make its stand clear.'

Ms Fong adds that the restrictions on dogs make it difficult to find new owners for medium-sized and large dogs who have been abandoned or given up, as they can be re-housed only in condominiums and private homes.

An inter-agency task force, which includes senior officials from the Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority and HDB, is currently reviewing pet ownership and stray animal management policies, including the restrictions on pets in HDB flats.

Ms Fong appears bemused when asked if she has a mission statement.

'There's no mind-blowing statement. I'm just going to go in and do the job that Deirdre started, and hopefully raise the consciousness of the Singaporean public that it needs to have the basic human decency towards animals.'

Read more!

Singapore port: Containing the competition

The Economist 31 Jul 11;

FOR all its posh banks, fancy lawyers and lucrative casinos, it is the port that remains the bedrock of Singapore’s extraordinary prosperity. Founded as a trading station by the British in the early 19th century at the crossroads of Far East-European trade, the tiny city-state has become accustomed to ruling the waves as a maritime hub—and as many as 180,000 jobs in the maritime industry depend on it out of a population of just 5m.

So it came as a jolt earlier this year when it was revealed that Singapore had been knocked off its perch as the world’s busiest container port by Shanghai. In 2010 the Chinese city dealt with 29.07m TEUs (twenty-foot equivalent units, the standard measure of container traffic), to Singapore’s 28.43m. Given China’s rapid economic growth over the past decade it was only a matter of time before Shanghai overtook Singapore. Indeed, if the Chinese economy continues expanding at its current lick it is almost certain that several other Chinese ports, including Ningbo, Shenzhen and Guangzhou will overtake Singapore as well during the next decade or so. Already, more than half of the world’s top ten container ports are Chinese, relegating the Europeans and Americans to the lower leagues.

However, it is not only the Chinese that the Singaporeans have to worry about. Everyone else in the region is racing to grab a slice of the impressive predicted increases in maritime trade with China and other bits of Asia. Deep-water ports are in fashion, and many are being built specifically to end the necessity of taking the long route to China around the southern tip of peninsular Malaysia. Thus Thailand’s biggest construction company, Italian-Thai, is starting work on a $8.6 billion port at Dawei in southern Myanmar, complete with industrial parks and a special enterprise zone. Pipelines from there will take oil and gas over a relatively short distance up to China. Magampura port at Hambantota in Sri Lanka will also take away traffic from Singapore.

Given all the new competition, one might expect the Singaporeans to be throwing themselves off the nearest wharf in despair. Not a bit of it. In fact, they are quietly confident that their business model will see them through to the other side of the current port-building craze.

For a start, the Singapore port operator, PSA, likes to point out that although Shanghai’s overhauling of Singapore looks impressive, it conceals the fact that the two ports are quite different in how they operate. Shanghai is overwhelmingly a “through port”, where raw materials come in to be assembled or manufactured and then leave as televisions or rubber ducks. Singapore, in contrast, is a trans-shipment port, where containers arrive to be transferred to other vessels to continue their onward voyage.

Singapore remains the largest trans-shipment port in the world, and that is unlikely to be challenged by the rise of the Chinese ports, or even Dawei, which will operate largely like Shanghai. And whereas the Chinese ports will be linked almost solely to the fortunes of the Chinese economy, Singapore will, of course, have a much better spread of risk.

The world's biggest petrol station
Moreover, Singapore is unlikely to be surpassed for a while in terms of the ancillary services that it can offer. It is still, for instance, the world’s biggest petrol station, with bunker sales of 40.9 billion tonnes in 2010; it has some of the best ship-repair yards too. It will soon be able to offer a lot more space as well. The PSA wants to grab its own share of the new Asian trade, and to that end is building a vast extension on reclaimed land. This could lift capacity to 50m TEUs a year.

Nonetheless, the Singaporean authorities are aware that with the increasing competition it will no longer be enough to rely on volume alone. To keep its nose ahead, therefore, Singapore is also investing in the soft power of maritime supremacy as much as the hard power of metal boxes. The city is becoming a centre of maritime architecture and green maritime technology to complement its lead in terms of the legal and financial aspects of maritime technology. Maersk, for instance, the world’s biggest container operator, might have moved most of its regional container operations to the cheaper Tanjung Pelepas. But it has set up its biggest ship design office in Singapore, from where its “global stowage centre” directs the movements of all its containers throughout the world. Like some of Germany's Mittelstand companies, Singapore's port operators are determined to survive the onslaught of new competitors by staying one step ahead of them.

Read more!

WWF-Malaysia Project Turtle Found Dead

Bernama 1 Aug 11;

KEMAMAN, Aug 1 (Bernama) -- The World Wildlife Fund-Malaysia (WWF-Malaysia) is disappointed that a hawksbill turtle from a research project on the life of turtles nesting in the state was found dead in Paka here last Wednesday.

WWF-Malaysia Turtle and Painted Terrapin Rehabilitation Programme head Rahayu Zulkifli said a satellite device, Platform Transmitter Terminal (PTT), was fixed onto the turtle's body to monitor its movements after laying eggs in Terengganu.

"We are deeply saddened and disappointed by the death and we have yet to identify the cause," she told Bernama here.

Rahayu said the WWF released four hawksbill turtles in Kemaman and Setiu under the programme, of which one was a mother turtle found dead.

She said the WFF had fixed a PTT on the turtle's body last Wednesday after it landed to lay eggs for the first time on the Ma'Daerah beach. However, it was found dead on the same day in Paka.

Rahayu said the turtle did not stray far during the nesting season and was believed to have been in Terengganu waters before it died.

She added that past studies showed that turtles migrated to the Riau islands in Indonesia, Vietnam and the Philippines after nesting in Terengganu.

In another development, she said WWF-Malaysia also held painted terrapin rehabilitation programmes in the Kuala Baru area in Setiu and Kerteh here to prevent their extinction in the future.

This year, Rahayu said, 160 terrapin nests were hatched in Kerteh, while 110 nests were hatched in Kuala Baru here. Each nest contained between 10 and 15 eggs.


Read more!

Hazy Solutions in Struggle to Stop People Burning Indonesia's Forests

Fidelis E. Satriastanti Jakarta Globe 1 Aug 11;

A lack of law enforcement is the main factor in Indonesia’s failure to stop slash-and-burn clearing of forests, which causes haze, analysts said on Sunday.

“If you’re talking about forest fires in this country, then the main issue is law enforcement,” said Sudarsono, a forestry expert from the Bogor Institute of Agriculture (IPB).

“People and companies continue to burn forests because it’s a cheap [method of clearing]. Meanwhile, we don’t hear anything about regulations being enforced,” he said. “So as long as they’re never enforced, people will keep on burning the forests.”

On Saturday night, thick smog blanketed the city of Dumai in Riau province again, according to Antara news agency.

“This often happens [in Dumai],” Ruli, a fish seller, was quoted as saying. “In July alone, we’ve had six days when the city was covered in thick smog.”

Sanya Gautami, an analyst at the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) in Riau, said satellite imagery from the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration had detected at least five hot spots in Sumatra.

Since the 1990s, Indonesia has been criticized internationally for the large amount of smoke it generates in the forests of Sumatra and Kalimantan. The resulting haze sometimes spreads to Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand and is estimated to cause $9 billion in losses to tourism, transportation and agriculture across the region each year.

An agreement among Southeast Asian nations was drawn up in 2002 to tackle haze, and Indonesia is the only nation that has not yet ratified it.

Sudarsono said more measures such as heavy fines were urgently needed to discourage slash-and-burn clearing, which is responsible for much of the haze.

“Alternatively, we could set up an incentive program for people to change their land management practices,” he said. This, he added, could involve providing more subsidized fertilizer to help farmers boost productivity without clearing more land.

“There are regulations banning open burning, but people won’t automatically follow the rules without any law enforcement,” he said.

He cited forest fires believed to have been set to make room for palm oil plantations in Ketapang, West Kalimantan, where no actions were ever taken against the companies by the authorities.

“You can see from the satellite images where these hot spots are,” Sudarsono said. “It’s all good to have data for hot spots, but the real question is what happens next?”

He also criticized current measures for handling forest fires as ineffective, noting that the government paid year-round salaries for firefighters who only worked in the dry season.

“If they already know that fires are expected to occur during this period, they should just focus on those months and hire as many people as they can rather than allocate a fixed budget to pay people who work for only two months each year,” he said.

Dedi Hariri, forest fire coordinator at WWF Indonesia, blamed the lack of coordination between the different authorities. He said forest fires were handled by three separate entities: the Forestry Ministry, the Environment Ministry and the Agriculture Ministry.

“There are plenty of coordination meetings on this issue, but we don’t really how they translate in the field,” he said.

Read more!

Preserving Indonesian Rainforests by Asia Pulp & Paper

Hendra Gunawan Jakarta Globe 1 Aug 11;

Ask 10 people on the street if they think it’s a good idea to preserve Indonesia’s rainforests and more than likely all would say yes. Ask those same 10 people if they are anti-poverty and against children going hungry and lacking education. More than likely those same 10 would say yes. You would probably get a similar unanimous vote on the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and reverse climate change.

The challenge becomes finding the solution that brings all these critical issues into balance. Few experts would argue that in Indonesia there is a direct correlation between poverty, forest protection and greenhouse gas emissions. But it’s just as hard to find 10 experts who would agree on a single-source solution to these immense challenges.

In a nation of 240 million people with 30 percent of families living below the poverty line and more than 60 percent of Indonesians living in rural areas, the majority of the population relies on forests and agriculture for their economic livelihood. For generations families living within rainforest communities have turned to illegal logging to earn a living and to feed and house their families. Others have used dangerous and harmful slash and burn land clearing methods.

When the unsightly and hazardous forest fire haze blows over Singapore and Malaysia posing health risks to their citizens, it is almost always attributed to uncontrolled fires used to clear land. Illegal burning poses the greatest climate change risk in Indonesia. It’s estimated that one million hectares of burning forests will produce around 220 to 290 million metric tons of carbon dioxide, or roughly 50 percent of Britain’s annual carbon dioxide emissions. Some of the most commonly used calculations showing alarmingly high levels of greenhouse gas emissions in Indonesia were based on measurements taken during active burning seasons in high-risk fire areas.

But what some see as deforestation and the release of greenhouse gasses is seen as simply getting by to others who see housing, food and clean water as luxuries. When we fail to provide jobs and economic development, history has shown that people will turn to whatever means are necessary to fulfill their basic needs. That’s where true rainforest destruction comes into play.

That’s why a sustainable forestry industry and related manufacturing is essential to the future of Indonesia. Forestry and related industries are directly responsible for 600,000 jobs and approximately $18 billion of Indonesia’s GDP, 3.3 percent. That’s more than triple the 1.1 percent average across Asian countries.

The private forestry industry is also responsible for millions of dollars spent on conservation and community development every year. Private dollars help the government support the development, outfitting and management of schools across Indonesia’s rainforests, as well as providing the transportation needed to get kids to and from the classroom every day. The private sector is responsible for helping build hospitals and providing health care and community health education programs. Private funds go into water treatment programs, community farming initiatives, micro-finance activities and much more.

It’s absolutely true that the companies involved in funding these programs are profiting from their forestry-related businesses. At the same time, they are part of an essential balance that is needed to ensure the responsible development of Indonesia’s economy while preserving the treasure of the rainforests.

Sustainable forestry management, particularly within the pulp and paper industry, can make a positive difference. But there are three key elements that have to stay in balance for that to happen:

First, strong government leadership is essential. We need thoughtful, clearly defined guidelines with appropriate checks and balances and punitive measures in place to ensure compliance by companies that work in the forestry industry. Indonesia delivers that with a lengthy, detailed and fully transparent process in place for pulpwood plantation development. The national land use spatial plan gives due consideration to conservation, bio-diversity, eco-systems and cultural and social balance.

Second, a vibrant private forestry industry with a unified commitment to sustainability beyond compliance is necessary. That means zero tolerance for illegal wood with the implementation of independent certification of chain of custody and legal origin verification. Indonesia has some of the most advanced, technologically sophisticated paper companies in the world using science and improved efficiencies to help maximize returns while minimizing net environmental impact. But it has to start with zero tolerance for illegal wood in compliance with government regulations.

Third, public-private stakeholder and NGO partnerships driving innovation in active conservation programs are needed. To make a real difference these programs must include meaningful long-term community investment and economic development to help protect high-value conservation forests not only today but long into the future. We can’t simply walk away from high value conservation forests. Over time the land will fall victim to illegal encroachment activities. Effective conservation must integrate groups across public and private sectors, including government entities, local stakeholders, NGOs and private companies to address the real issues that Indonesians living in these communities face every day.

Achieving this essential balance is not something the government can tackle solely through regulation. No one company and no one industry can single-handedly address the complex issues impacting deforestation in Indonesia.

To date we haven’t seen creative solutions accompanying the severe criticisms global NGOs throw at Indonesia.

The solution requires dedication and commitment to active public-private partnerships and innovative thinking in sustainable management and conservation programs. And it requires investment from a strong and healthy forestry sector, which includes the pulp and paper industry.

Hendra Gunawan is the Managing Director, Corporate Affairs & Communication, Asia Pulp & Paper.

Read more!

Open burning in Penang continues despite haze

The Star 1 Aug 11;

DESPITE the recent haze, open burning is still being conducted around Penang, both on the island and mainland, with no regard to the environment.

One such incident occurred yesterday on Jalan Sungai Nipah in Balik Pulau, where an empty plot of land was spotted on fire with thick smoke billowing.

Strong winds caused the fire to spread across the entire plot within minutes.

State Health, Welfare, Caring Society and Environment Com-mittee chairman Phee Boon Poh was disappointed that open burning was still being carried out despite numerous reminders not to do so.

“I appeal to the public to report any incident of open burning to the Department of Environment (DOE), the local council or their assemblyman,” he said.

The public can call the DOE hotline at 1-800-88-2727 if they come across open burning activities.

The haze since July was brought about by the south-westerly winds blowing from the ‘hot spots’ in Sumatra, the hot weather and open burning.

Intermittent rains have helped reduce the haze.

Read more!

Malaysia: fishermen affected by offshore trawlers

Bleak time for fishermen
Christina Chin The Star 1 Aug 11;

PENANG’S coastal fishermen are bracing for a bleak Hari Raya Aidilfitri, claiming that their income and catch had been severely affected by offshore trawlers using the pukat buaya.

Teluk Bahang Fishermen’s Association chairman Johari Mohamad, 47, said the association’s 1,000-odd members had suffered for the last 11 years but could not take it anymore after their daily income dropped steadily from RM400 to RM80.

“If we are lucky these days, we take home an average of RM80 daily. Otherwise, it’s zero,” he said.

“That’s why we are appealing for help. We cannot survive anymore, with the high cost of living and dwindling catch.

“Hari Raya is just around the corner, where are we going to get the money to celebrate with our families if our rice bowl is threatened?”

Johari, together with about 300 fishermen from villages along the coastlines of the island and mainland, gathered for a peaceful demonstration in Teluk Bahang yesterday.

The group wants the government to ban offshore trawlers from using the pukat buaya — a version of the pukat tunda (trawler nets).

They claim that Kedah and Johor had already banned the pukat buaya to protect the livelihood of its fishermen.

The fishermen claim that the pukat buaya has destroyed the reefs and everything in its path.

“All the fish are trapped in the nets, leaving nothing for us,” said Johari.

“The reefs are all destroyed so there is nowhere left for the fish to breed.

“Currently, the trawlers are allowed to come within five nautical miles from the shore but we want that to be changed to 10 nautical miles to prevent them from destroying the seabed.”

The inshore fishermen also want the relevant authorities to take stern action against errant trawler operators who breach the terms of their licences.

“These trawlers are out every hour of the day when they are only allowed to do so from 6am to 6pm.

“If the relevant authorities do not act soon, I don’t know what will become of us,” said Johari, adding that the fishermen had lodged countless police reports and held dialogue sessions with their respective elected representatives and state Fisheries Department since 2000 but the situation remained the same.

He said the inshore fishermen had lost patience with the lack of enforcement against errant trawlers.

He said a fight broke out between three inshore fishermen and a trawler operator in Tanjung Bungah two weeks ago.

“We don’t want another untoward incident but the situation is tense,” he said.

Heng Teik Seng said that in his 16 years as a fisherman, things had never been this bad.

Read more!

EU fishing fleets discarded £2.7bn of cod, claims report

Fishing fleets have thrown away 2.1m tonnes of cod worth £2.7bn to avoid falling foul of EU regulations, says the New Economics Foundation
Peter Walker The Guardian 1 Aug 11;

UK fishing crews have thrown away stocks of cod worth about £1bn since 1963 due to the practice of discarding catches which exceed or fall outside quotas, according to a thinktank report.

Across all EU fleets, stocks of cod worth £2.7bn were discarded in the North Sea, the Channel and Skagerrak, the strait adjoining Norway, Sweden and the north of Denmark between 1963 and 2008, the New Economics Foundation (NEF) study, Money Overboard, calculated.

Using discard data compiled by the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea and focusing just on cod, one of the best-documented stocks, the NEF calculated that just over 2.1m tonnes of the fish was thrown overboard during the period.

The report adds fuel to the bitter debate over the longstanding fisheries practice, particularly prevalent in heavy-regulated EU waters, of throwing overboard a significant proportion of any catch – up to two thirds in some areas – most of which is by this time dead or dying.

The fish are discarded for a variety of reasons: they can be species which are not included in the boat's quota, stocks which exceed a quota, too small, or simply from a species with low commercial value.

In March the EU's fisheries commissioner, Maria Damanaki, began steps to end the practice of discarding, calling for reforms to quota systems to ensure this happened by the start of 2013.

The issue was highlighted in the UK by a high-profile campaign and accompanying TV series by the chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, something Damanaki cited as a key factor in her decision.

However, fishing lobby groups have objected strongly to the plan, arguing that already precarious livelihoods will be made untenable if crews are obliged to land large quantities of unpopular, low-value species.

A revised EU common fisheries policy (CFP), unveiled early in July, said discarding would be phased out, with fishing boats obliged to land all stocks of commercial fish they catch, although they will still not be able to sell undersized examples. The reforms are intended to provide an incentive for trawlers to invest in more selective fishing gear.

The NEF argues that a full discard ban will be good news for the fishing industry, citing a study published last month by academics at the University of York which found a discard ban by Norway, a non-EU member, during the late 1980s saw reduced profitability for just four years with Norwegian cod fisheries now among the most lucrative in the world.

Rupert Crilly, an environmental economics researcher at NEF, and the author of Money Overboard, said that for all the potential benefits of an EU discard ban it was only part of a wider issue, mainly connected to general overfishing.

"There needs to be a much more fundamental reform of the CFP, rather than just saying discards need to be banned. It's a little bit too simplistic. What we're saying in this report is: this is the value of what we've been throwing away, it's enormous and it needs to stop, but it's not the only things that needs to change," he said.

It was vital for EU quotas to be set by scientists rather than politicians, and for the approach to be based around the effects on the whole ocean ecosystem rather than on a species-by-species basis.

"What we're arguing is that we need quotas set according to scientific limits.

"In the end this would be good news for the economy, the people who own the resource, which is everybody, and the fishing industry itself, which completes depends on stocks being at their best."

Read more!

South African soldiers battle rhino poachers in Kruger

Griffin Shea AFP Yahoo News 1 Aug 11;

The soldiers sleep in tents, hidden from roaming lions by a blind, and protected by high-powered rifles that also ward off the even more dangerous threat of poachers.

In April, South African soldiers were deployed in Kruger National Park to safeguard the border with Mozambique, where heavily armed and highly organised poachers have driven the slaughter of rhinos to record levels to feed an Asian black market for traditional medicine.

"It's not just a poacher coming in and he's hunting for meat, or he comes in with his snares or he comes in with his darts to hunt with a hunting rifle," said Ken Maggs, a top environmental crimes investigator in the park.

"He's coming prepared to fight. Hence the tactics that we deploy on the ground are military, paramilitary."

The poachers slip across the Mozambican border with night-vision goggles, AK-47s, hunting rifles, and in one case, a grenade. Moving in the dark, they scrawl warnings to rangers in the sand.

The army patrols are the first line of defence. Working with a park ranger, they walk through the bush in the early hours of morning, alert to the threat of both predators and poachers.

One evening, a group of lions lounged just 100 metres (100 yards) from their camp. But the poachers pose a deadlier threat, and haven't hesitated to open fire on the patrols.

Fifteen poachers have been killed in shoot-outs so far this year in Kruger, nine wounded and 64 arrested.

The deterrent seems to be working.

March was the deadliest month for rhinos in Kruger's recorded history, with 40 animals killed for their horns, according to the military. Since the army deployment, the number has steadily dropped, to 30 in April, 15 in May and just two in June.

It's the first, and still cautious, sign of improvement since 2007, when just 13 rhinos were poached in South Africa -- compared to 333 last year.

But success in the park will solve only one part of the problem, with surging demand in Asia, particularly China and Vietnam, to use rhino horns in traditional medicines to treat everything from nosebleeds to fevers.

"The recent poaching crisis has been attributed to an increase in demand in Vietnam, where a new purported use of rhino horn has appeared as a treatment for cancer," said Alona Rivord, spokeswoman for environmental group WWF.

Rhino horns are made of keratin, like human fingernails, and have no scientific medicinal value, but that's done little to curb the black market demand. China has outlawed the use of rhinos in medicine, but enforcement is lax, conservation activists say.

High prices in Asia have led to a more complicated problem: manipulation of South Africa's legal trophy hunts to export rhino horns that end up on the black market.

Black rhino are critically endangered, meaning they're at risk of extinction with only 4,838 left in the world, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

White rhinos are more numerous at 17,480. They are legally hunted in South Africa, with a permit that costs just 50 rand ($7.50, five euros), said Rynette Coetzee, project executive in the law and policy programme of the Endangered Wildlife Trust.

"There's hunting taking place, and it's legal because permits are being issued," she said.

Each hunter is allowed to kill only one rhino each year, but police earlier this month arrested Thai national Chumlong Lemtongthai, accusing him of working with a syndicate to smuggle 40 horns obtained with hunting permits.

He reportedly paid friends and even prostitutes to pose as hunters, and worked with a South African wildlife trader who bought rhinos at auctions, but then killed them soon after they arrived on his farm.

Chumlong reportedly sold the horns for $55,000 per kilo, literally worth their weight in gold.

"They are battling to enforce the legislation" on trophy hunting because wildlife authorities lack the staff and vehicles to do the job, Coetzee said.

Maggs calls corruption within the wildlife business "khaki collar" crime, a problem highlighted when a Kruger ranger was arrested Monday in connection with poaching.

"The involvement of some of the professional people in the industry is of great concern," Maggs said, including professional hunters, veterinarians and game farm owners who "are taking advantage of the high prices being paid for rhino horn and the illegal smuggling of it."

Read more!

Drought-Hit Bears Head For Texas Urban Areas

Benjamin Wermund PlanetArk 1 Aug 11;

A historic Texas drought is driving bears into urban areas searching for food and water, the latest in a series of bizarre wildlife stories to come out of the deadly hot and dry weather across the nation.

Authorities have reported wayward razorbacks in Arkansas digging through flower beds, and bats changing their nightly flight patterns in Austin, Texas. High temperatures and stifling humidity in the Midwest have killed thousands of cattle in the Dakotas and Nebraska.

In far West Texas, the bears have been lumbering out of their normal habitats for more than one reason.

With fires scorching black bear ranges in the mountains of Far West Texas and Northern Mexico, and extreme drought making it difficult to find water and food, the usually reclusive beasts have been on the move this summer -- making their way into towns and cities increasingly.

"They're going to where they need to," said Louis Harveson, a Sul Ross State University professor of wildlife management who directs the school's Borderlands Research Institute. "They're scavengers -- they're basically an oversized raccoon."

And where bears need to go is where the food is, be it dumpsters, gardens or, as in one west Texas resident's case, bird feeders.

On a recent day, Penny Ferguson had returned from her 5:30 a.m. workout and, like any other morning, let her beagle out. The dog began barking wildly, and Ferguson ran outside to keep it from waking the neighbors.


A full-grown black bear on all fours, so big its shoulders reached her hips, was on her front lawn near the bird feeder. The bear ran out from under Ferguson's front window and casually loped across the street.

"It wasn't much bothered, but didn't like the noise," said Ferguson, whose home in Fort Davis, Texas, is nestled near Davis mountains southeast of El Paso. "We're in town, much further into town than I would ever expect bears to be coming."

There have been 13 black bear sightings in west Texas since May 31, according to Jonah Evans, a Texas Parks and Wildlife diversity biologist for the Trans-Pecos region in charge of tracking bear sightings in the area.

In all of 2010, he said, there was only one reported sighting.

With all their proximity to humans lately, there have been no bear attacks on humans reported to authorities in Texas this year, authorities said.

But the same is not true for other regions this summer, where similar stories about bears traveling to find food have led to tragedy.

Earlier this week in Arizona, a 61-year-old woman was killed by a bear digging through a Dumpster as she walked her dog at a country club in Pinetop, Arizona, about 200 miles from Phoenix.

Two days earlier, seven teens were attacked by a bear in Alaska, though none were killed.

And two weeks ago, an adult female grizzly with two cubs killed a hiker in Yellowstone National Park.


The bears' visibility in Texas this year is part of a larger narrative in the Big Bend area of west Texas, where black bears have made a comeback in the last couple of decades.

"We used to have thousands of bears in the state of Texas," Harveson said. "They (hunters) used to hunt in the Davis Mountains and harvest eight a day."

The hunting, among other factors, drove the bears to near extinction in Texas, where they are still a protected species.

But in the late 1980s, a female bear made her way across the Rio Grande from Mexico, found a male and created the first mating pair in the state in decades.

Since then, the bear population in Texas has fluctuated. Now, Harveson said, that population might see a permanent jump, an unexpected benefit to the devastation of the drought.

"I think that whole drought-lack-of-food-availability cycle actually helps them recolonize new habitats," Harveson said. "Because they're able to put their nose in the air and smell water, and once they get to the river, they start exploring. That's what we're seeing in the Big Bend."

Just how many bears are in Texas is the "hundred dollar question," Harveson said.

"As many sightings as we've had, there have to be a whole lot more than what we're aware of," he said.

Harveson said he has spotted five or six out in the field in the last two months alone.

"Most of the bears that I've seen are in surprisingly good condition," he said. "Somehow, they're making a living. I'm not sure how."

(Editing by Karen Brooks and Jerry Norton)

Read more!

Huge 2007 Tundra Fire Seen As Ominous Sign For Climate

Yereth Rosen PlanetArk 1 Aug 11;

A wildfire that burned over 400 square miles of Alaska tundra in the scorching summer of 2007 poured as much carbon into the atmosphere as the entire Arctic normally absorbs each year, according to a new study in the scientific journal Nature.

The tundra fire, near the Anaktuvuk River of Alaska's North Slope, was considered an unprecedented event at the time. It was, by far, the largest single wildfire on treeless Arctic tundra ever recorded, and was twice as big as all previously recorded Alaska tundra fires combined.

But it may be an ominous sign of climate problems in the future, according to the study and the researchers who conducted it.

The study, published on Thursday, measured the volume of carbon emitted by the months-long fire -- although massive it covered only a tiny portion of the vast North Slope -- at 2.1 million metric tons.

"It was the same order of magnitude as what the Arctic takes up and stores in plant biomass," said Syndonia Bret-Harte of the Institute of Arctic Biology at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, one of the study's authors.

That creates the potential for a "positive feedback" loop that would reinforce the warming trend in the far north, according to the study.

Repeated large fires might even cancel out any potential carbon-absorption benefits from increased plant growth in the Arctic that has been made possible by the region's warming climate, the researchers said.

Fires on the Arctic tundra are not unusual, but most blazes are very small and short-lived because of the cool climate and the dampness of the environment, Bret-Harte said.

The 2007 fire, however, occurred under extreme conditions -- an especially hot, dry year, marked by the smallest Arctic sea ice cover ever recorded by satellite, plus strong winds. The lightning-sparked blaze began in July of that year and smoldered for weeks before it was whipped up by winds in September, when tundra plants were dried out, she said.

All indications are that climate changes in the Arctic will make future fires more likely, Bret-Harte said. Lightning strikes on the North Slope have increased dramatically over the last 20 years, raising the potential for fire starts, while temperatures are rising, he said.

"The expectation would be that conditions that allowed that to happen could probably recur in the future," Bret-Harte said. "We'll probably see it more frequently than we have in the past."

One bright note in the study was the discovery that none of the material burned in the fire was older than 50 years, contrary to fears the fire released carbon that had been stored in the soils from vegetation that grew hundreds or thousands of years ago.

"It actually turns out that it was mostly fairly young carbon," proof much of the available carbon-containing material in the soil remained intact, she said.

Meanwhile, the burned tundra is recovering, said Bret-Harte, who spoke from the remote Toolik Field Station, a University of Alaska research facility located relatively close to the Anaktuvuk River fire site.

Slow-growing lichens, an important food source for caribou, and mosses have yet to return, she said. But vascular plants such as cotton grass and shrubs are growing well again, and there is a good crop of cloudberries at the site, she said.

"At first glance, it looks pretty green," she said. "It's not just a black pit in the landscape."

(Editing by Steve Gorman and Jerry Norton)

Read more!