Best of our wild blogs: 2 Aug 11

from Life's Indulgences

Cyrene AND Raffles Lighthouse!
from wild shores of singapore

My first talk on Civet Poop! With otter and jungle fowl at Ubin from The Diet of the Common Palm Civet in Singapore

garbage motherload @ pandan estuary 31July2011
from sgbeachbum

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S$10m boost to raise local farm productivity

Today Online 2 Aug 11;

SINGAPORE -The Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) has launched a second tranche of S$10 million in funding under its Food Fund programme yesterday with an aim to maximise local farm productivity.

Two new categories have been introduced - a Challenge Call for R&D projects to tackle specific challenges faced by the industry; and an Open Call for all other R&D projects to allow new ideas and innovative projects to surface.

Under the Challenge Call, applicants for the funding can submit proposals for R&D projects on topics, such as achieving consistent fish fry production for commonly farmed species.

Applicants can also submit proposals for R&D projects that maximise local farm productivity in any of the three key food items of eggs, fish and leafy vegetables under the Open Call category.

AVA chief executive officer Tan Poh Hong urged companies to take this opportunity and apply for the funds, saying it is the agency's aim to help as many companies as possible to raise their productivity level and enhance food supply resilience for Singapore.

The inaugural launch in December 2009 attracted 48 applications, of which the AVA awarded about S$6 million to 15 projects. Interested companies can visit the AVA's website for more information. CHANNEL NEWSASIA

AVA launches $10m Food Fund second tranche
Business Times 2 Aug 11;

THE Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) launched a second tranche of $10 million under its Food Fund programme yesterday.

Several changes were introduced to develop farm capability. Apart from continuing to co-fund research and development (R&D) in local food farming technology, AVA introduced two new R&D categories - namely the Challenge Call and the Open Call.

In the former category, applicants have to submit proposals on projects which aim to either develop a cost-effective technology to reduce poultry waste and produce good-quality composts, or to achieve consistent fish fry production for commonly farmed species. In the latter, applicants have to propose projects to maximise farm productivity in any of the three food items of eggs, fish and leafy vegetables.

In addition to continuing to co-fund the use of modern technology in upgrading farm capability, AVA has differentiated the funding of farm capability into three categories: basic farm capability (purchase of basic equipment), advance farm capability (purchase of advance equipment) and technical boosters (trial usage of seeds or fish fry from new sources of better quality.

Launched in December 2009, AVA's Food Fund aims to support farm capability development and food source diversification so as to ensure a resilient supply of food for Singapore.

$30m boost for future food research
Kelly Tay Business Times 4 Aug 11;

AS part of its Competitive Research Programme (CRP) Funding Scheme, the National Research Foundation (NRF) yesterday awarded $30 million in grants to three food research projects. Under the theme 'Meeting Future Food Demands for Singapore', the awardees will receive funding support of up to $10 million per proposal, over three to five years.

The three successful projects will address future food challenges through technology: Seabass that breeds easily and grows twice as fast as the normal variety; rice that is not only disease-resistant but thrives under poor conditions; and fish that is less susceptible to infection, thanks to the development of virus-controlling biotechnologies.

The NRF's decision was based on the recommendation of its International Evaluation Panel (IEP), and was made after a rigorous competitive process. In October, 35 white papers were submitted by Singapore- based researchers. Eleven of these were picked to flesh out full proposals, which were sent for international peer reviews. The IEP then met to choose the final three.

Said IEP member and Nobel Laureate Richard Roberts: 'We believe Singapore can develop long-term solutions to meet the increasing demands on the food eco-system, and contribute to the food security of the region, if not the world.'

Funding boost for fish fry, rice research
Projects to develop bigger fish, superior rice are among three to get total of up to $30m
Jessica Lim Straits Times 4 Aug 11;

SINGAPORE may not grow rice, but a team doing research into superior varieties is among three recipients of funding from the National Research Foundation (NRF).

The other two projects involve developing Asian seabass and tilapia fry that can grow bigger and be more disease-resistant, and the production of virus-resistant fish cells and anti-viral drugs.

A fund of up to $30 million over five years was awarded by the NRF to the three teams yesterday.

The government body will dispense the amount to the teams - one from the Temasek Life Sciences Laboratory (TLL) and two from the National University of Singapore.

'We are confident the projects will lead to breakthroughs in food technology,' said NRF spokesman Lee Ren Jie.

'This is especially pertinent at a time when food security is emerging as a pressing concern for Singapore,' he added, noting that the rice project will help cement the country's reputation as a research hub for the grain.

'Given Singapore's reliance on imported rice, it makes sense for us to develop superior strains that will improve the region's rice security as a whole and ultimately benefit Singapore.'

The Republic imports all the rice consumed here from countries such as Vietnam and Thailand, and brings in 90 per cent of all the food eaten here.

The funding could also help Singapore meet its target of raising local production of fish from 4 per cent of domestic demand to 15 per cent.

Biology professor Laszlo Orban from TLL, who does research on reproductive genomics, said the funding will allow his 14-man team to use state-of-the-art technology.

The team, which works closely with experts from the Marine Aquaculture Centre of the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority, should be able to produce the superior fry in about three years' time.

'These fish fry will grow 25 per cent to 30 per cent bigger in the same period of time. They will also be disease-resistant, so mortality rate will fall,' Prof Orban said.

A company, he added, will be spun off to produce and sell the fry to farmers here and in the region.

Mr Malcolm Ong, chief executive of the Metropolitan Fishery Group, welcomes the two fish-related projects.

'I am dependent on fry from overseas and few survive the trip here. More die when they cannot adjust to the local climate,' said the farmer, who supplies fish to supermarket chain FairPrice. Only about 30 per cent of the fish fry he buys from countries like Indonesia survive.

'If scientists can work to produce better species of fry for sale here that are faster growing, it will definitely help us increase production,' he said.

The two other teams could not be contacted.

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Scientists name world's most important marine conservation hotspots

Study reveals 20 sites that are key to ensuring the survival of marine mammals
Alok Jha 1 Aug 11;

Scientists have identified the 20 most important regions of the world's oceans and lakes that are key to ensuring the survival of the planet's marine mammals such as seals and porpoises. Their analysis also shows, however, that most of these areas are already under pressure from human impacts such as pollution and shipping.

Marine ecosystems around the world are deteriorating rapidly, according to Sandra Pompa, an ecologist at the National Autonomous University of Mexico who led the study, in particular due to habitat degradation, introduction of exotic species and over-exploitation of natural resources. Many species of marine mammals have experienced severe population depletion and several – including the Caribbean monk seal, Atlantic gray whale and the Steller's sea cow – became extinct in the 20th century because of the trade in their fur, blubber and meat.

Pompa led a team of scientists to try and identify which parts of the world's oceans were most crucial for the world's 129 marine mammal populations. Their results, published on Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, revealed nine key global conservation sites that hold 84% of marine mammal species and 11 "irreplaceable" conservation sites, which contain species that are found nowhere else.

For the study, she split the oceans up into a grid of roughly 10,000 square kilometre boxes and examined which species lived in which boxes. The boxes were also assigned values based on whether they contained important feeding grounds or if they were in migration routes.

The main conservation areas, which contain 108 species, are the coasts of Baja California, north-eastern America, Peru, Argentina, north-western Africa, South Africa, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand. The 11 smaller conservation zones, which each contained unique species specific to them, included areas around Hawaiian and Galapagos Islands, Lake Baikal in Siberia and major rivers such as the Amazon, Ganges and Yangtze.

Pompa also correlated her map with information on human impacts such as climate disruption, ocean-based pollution and commercial shipping. Areas where there was no impact were scored zero, while areas of high impact were scored three. "Seventy per cent of the most impacted areas were near a key conservation site," said Pompa. "We are competing with [the sea mammals] in terms of shipping or ocean pollution. We want to build industry or touristic attractions and it's their home."

The next species of marine mammal that is likely to become extinct, said the researchers, is the Mexican vaquita, a small porpoise that is endemic to a small geographic area in the most northern part of Baja California. It is thought to number around 250 individuals in the wild.

"The Baikal seal, it's also a very small-numbered population," said Pompa. "Maybe you can think about the vaquita escaping the Gulf into somewhere else but the Baikal seal can't. It's a freshwater endemic mammal species. If any disruption in the lake should happen or a new sickness, they're all packed in one lake."

The researchers said that their maps should be the start of a conversation about where to site new conservation areas to safeguard the world's marine mammals. "Perhaps you are a government or NGO, you can use this information as a tool depending on the aim you have," said Pompa.

"Marine conservation is barely beginning. Marine mammals are great species because they represent healthy ecosystems so, if you begin to lose the species that give you a clue to a healthy ecosystem then you start with the degradation of all of the oceans. A visual projection of where is the richness, where are the endangered species, which corridors we need to protect in order to have all the species present in the world, it's a nice start to know where to focus the effort."

Study shows best places to protect marine mammals
Randolph E. Schmid AP Yahoo News 1 Aug 11;

WASHINGTON (AP) — From sea otters to blue whales, marine mammals are under stress from climate change, ocean acidification, hunting and other threats. Researchers have identified 20 important sites around the world where they say conservation efforts should concentrate.

Marine mammals are widely distributed in the oceans and some freshwater locations, but 11 of the conservation sites are home to creatures found nowhere else, according to the study led by Sandra Pompa of the National Autonomous University of Mexico.

Researchers dubbed those sites "irreplaceable" and added that the nine others selected include representatives of 84 percent of all marine mammals.

Currently the most endangered marine mammal is the vaquita, a porpoise that lives in the northern section of the Gulf of California, Pompa said.

The 11 sites deemed irreplaceable were the Hawaiian Islands, Galapagos Islands, Amazon River, San Felix and Juan Fernandez Islands off the coast of Chile, Mediterranean Sea, Caspian Sea, Lake Baikal in Russia, Yangtze River, Indus River, Ganges River and the Kerguelen Islands in the southern Indian Ocean.

In addition, the nine sites picked for their species richness were along the coasts of Baja California, much of the eastern coast of the Americas (the Atlantic coast of the U.S. and including coastal areas of Cuba, Hispaniola, Colombia and Venezuela), Peru, Argentina, Northwestern Africa, South Africa, Japan, Australia and New Zealand.

The findings in the study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, will be valuable as a conservation tool for organizations and governments that want to focus on endangered species, Pompa said.

At least three species — the Caribbean monk seal, Atlantic gray whale and Steller's sea cow — became extinct because of hunting for their fur, blubber and meat during the 19th and 20th centuries, the researchers noted. The most recent extinction, declared in 2008, was the baiji, a type of porpoise, from the Yangtze River in China.

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Malaysia: Killed in the past, orang utans are now swinging with hope

New Straits Times 2 Aug 11;

KOTA KINABALU: If things had remained the same, an orang utan named Ten-Ten may have ended up dead in the jungles of Pensiangan.

Instead, it is growing up at the Sepilok Orang Utan Rehabilitation Centre in Sandakan after it was rescued by the Sabah Wildlife Department. Ten-Ten, barely a month old then, was rescued on Oct 10 in Keningau, just days after it was found abandoned in the interior jungles of Pensiangan.

In the past, it would have been ignored, chased away or even killed.

In a few years, after it learns how to feed itself in the jungle, Ten-Ten will join the 11,000 orang utan population in 16 protected forests in Sabah.

State Wildlife director Dr Laurentius Ambu said the perception, or rather, appreciation of orang utans, which carry an iconic status as a flagship tourism product, had changed for the better.

"The government, villagers, corporations and non-governmental organisations are all for the protection of the species."

Ambu said the orang utan population was healthy in Sabah and "it shows that management of our resources are on the right track, along with sound policies".

He attributed the success to the department's 4,300ha centre, which pioneered animal preservation efforts since it was opened in 1964.

Orang utans are also kept in captivity at the Lok Kawi Zoological Park but most of them are those that were domesticated or abandoned.

"One key factor are government policies on the preservation of flora and fauna.

"According to standards set by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, at least 10 per cent of the land mass should be protected.

"In Sabah, we protect 15.5 per cent of our land mass, which is dedicated to the preservation of flora and fauna."

On threats of agricultural land clearing against the species, he said the issue did not arise because all 16 locations where the primates were concentrated were forest reserves.

"On top of that, orang utans are versatile animals because they can survive in secondary forests and they can eat many plants, including oil palm kernels.

"There are some orang utans outside the main habitats, say, at the edge of a village in one of the districts where, in the past, they would have been chased away.

"But, with people now more aware of orang utans, they'd get top class attention and protection."

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Malaysia Plans Green Palm Oil Certification Scheme: Report

Niluksi Koswanage PlanetArk 2 Aug 11;

Malaysia, the word's No.2 palm oil producer, will come up with a certification scheme to ensure the tropical oil is grown without clearing forests and destroying wildlife, a newspaper reported on Monday.

The Business Times quoted Commodities Minister Bernard Dompok as saying the Southeast Asian country had to act on its own, signaling it was responding to growing scrutiny by green groups and activists.

"This is at a preliminary stage," Dompok said during a working visit to promote Malaysian commodities in Australia.

"But we will go ahead because the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil keeps on changing its goal posts on how to produce sustainable palm oil," he added, referring to a body of planters and green groups tasked with certifying green palm oil.

Malaysia joins top palm oil producer Indonesia that is set to issue its own certification for planters next year on growing concerns that the RSPO has been dominated by green groups and sales of eco-friendly palm oil have been slow.

Malaysian Palm Oil Council Chief Yusof Basiron said the Malaysian scheme will emulate the one by Indonesia, which is mandatory and where offenders could be punished by law.

"The industry is already highly monitored. We will just tweak it a little bit and look at what the market and the NGOs want," said Basiron who was also in Australia for the working visit.

"If they don't want deforestation, then we will include it in the certification requirements. If they don't want orang utan to be destroyed, we will include it too," he added.

The RSPO scheme is voluntary but in recent months it has taken a harder stance on plantations. In April, the RSPO censured Malaysia's No.2 planter IOI Corp for green violations and suspended ongoing plans to certify its estates.

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The Last Great Wilderness: Human Impact On the Deep Sea

ScienceDaily 1 Aug 11;

The oceans cover 71% of our planet, with over half with a depth greater than 3000 m. Although our knowledge is still very limited, we know that the deep ocean contains a diversity of habitats and ecosystems, supports high biodiversity, and harbors important biological and mineral resources. Human activities are, however increasingly affecting deep-sea habitats, resulting in the potential for biodiversity loss and, with this, the loss of many goods and services provided by deep-sea ecosystems.

These conclusions come from an international study conducted during the Census of Marine Life project SYNDEEP (Towards a First Global Synthesis of Biodiversity, Biogeography, and Ecosystem Function in the Deep Sea). The authors, over 20 deep-sea experts, conducted a semi-quantitative analysis of the most important anthropogenic impacts that affect deep-sea habitats at the global scale in the past, present and future scenarios. The impacts were grouped in three major categories: waste and litter dumping, resource exploitation, and climate change. The authors identified which deep-sea habitats are at highest risk in the short and mid-term, as well as what will be the main anthropogenic impacts affecting these areas, in a paper published in PLoS ONE on Aug. 1, 2011.

During the Census of Marine Life program, a ten-year program that investigated diversity, distribution, and abundance of life in the global ocean and which ended inn 2010, researchers from its five deep-sea projects sampled and studied the different deep-sea habitats around the globe. The analysis of the current article is based on the results of the Census of Marine Life projects, synthesized during SYNDEEP, and also from data published previously in the scientific literature.

In the past, the main human impact affecting deep-sea ecosystems was the dumping or disposal of litter into the oceans. These activities were banned in 1972, but their consequences are still present today, together with the continuing illegal disposal of litter from ships and the arrival of litter and contaminants from coastal areas and river discharges. In particular, the accumulation of plastics on the deep seafloor, which degrade into microplastics, called mermaid tears, that can be ingested by the fauna, has consequences still unknown but predicted to be important. Moreover, there is increasing evidence of the accumulation of chemical pollutants of industrial origin, such as mercury, lead and persistent organic pollutants (e.g. dioxins, PCBs) in the sediment and fauna, including in species of commercial interest.

Currently, and because of the reduction of resources on land and in shallow waters, the largest direct impacts come from the exploitation of deep-sea resources and, in particular, from fisheries. In the future, however, the authors of this study predict that the most pervasive impacts may come from ocean acidification and climate change, which act at the global scale and can have important effects from surface waters to the abyssal seafloor. Some of these effects include an increase in water temperature that can cause important changes in stratification of the water column, accumulation of nutrients, and oceanic water circulation with corresponding alteration of hypoxia and faunal community structure.

Most importantly, the authors predict synergies amongst certain anthropogenic impacts and, in particular, between climate change and activities such as resource exploitation, wherein combined impacts may be particularly deleterious to deep-sea faunal communities.

According to the experts, seamounts, cold-water corals, upper margin slopes and submarine canyons are the habitats most likely to be affected by anthropogenic impacts in the short and mid time scale. The activities that may be of highest impact are deepwater fishing together with climate change and ocean acidification, as well as the accumulation of marine litter and chemical pollutants. The authors also highlight other activities that may put at risk deep-sea communities in the near future: mineral extraction at hydrothermal vents and possibly on abyssal plains. These extractive activities will target important deposits of copper, nickel and cobalt in the manganese nodules of the Pacific abyssal plain, deposits of manganese, iron, cobalt, cupper and platinum in the ferromanganese crust of seamounts, and large amounts of exploitable metals (gold, zinc, copper, lead, cadmium and silver) in the massive sulphide deposits of hydrothermal vents. It is in these hydrothermal vents where the impact of mineral exploitation is likely to happen first. This exploitation appears to be commercially viable and detailed pilot projects and environmental impact assessments have been conducted in areas of Papua New Guinea, where extraction should start in the near future. Although researchers, industry and policy makers have worked together since the start to evaluate potential impacts and minimize extraction effects, the real impact of such industrial activity is unknown as our knowledge of the biodiversity and functioning of hydrothermal vents, both active and extinct, is still limited. The results of this review and synthesis are especially timely, given increasing interests in mining the deep-sea floor, including mining of rare earth elements, a crucial resource for novel electronic equipment and green-energy technologies.

The main problem is that we still know very little of what we call the deep sea, making it difficult to evaluate accurately the real impact of industrial activities, litter accumulation and climate change in the deep sea habitats. The deep sea is considered to expand from the end of the continental shelf at approximately 200-250 m depth to the great abyssal depths between 3000 and 6000 m, which may reach down to 11 km in areas such as the Mariana Trench. The deep seafloor covers 73% of the oceans with an estimated area of 326 million square kilometers. Of this great expanse, only the area equivalent to a few football fields has been sampled biologically. We continue, therefore, to discover new habitats and species, but the negative impacts of human activity appear to be much faster in reaching the great depths of our oceans.

Journal Reference:

Eva Ramirez-Llodra, Paul A. Tyler, Maria C. Baker, Odd Aksel Bergstad, Malcolm R. Clark, Elva Escobar, Lisa A. Levin, Lenaick Menot, Ashley A. Rowden, Craig R. Smith, Cindy L. Van Dover. Man and the Last Great Wilderness: Human Impact on the Deep Sea. PLoS ONE, 2011; 6 (8): e22588 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0022588

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Himalaya Glaciers Shrinking On Global Warming, Some May Disappear

Tan Ee Lyn PlanetArk 2 Aug 11;

Three Himalaya glaciers have been shrinking over the last 40 years due to global warming and two of them, located in humid regions and on lower altitudes in central and east Nepal, may disappear in time to come, researchers in Japan said on Tuesday.

Using global positioning system and simulation models, they found that the shrinkage of two of the glaciers -- Yala in central and AX010 in eastern Nepal -- had accelerated in the past 10 years compared with the 1970s and 1980s.

Yala's mass shrank by 0.8 (2.6 feet) and AX010 by 0.81 meters respectively per year in the 2000s, up from 0.68 and 0.72 meters per year between 1970 and 1990, said Koji Fujita at the Graduate School of Environmental Studies in Nagoya University in Japan.

"For Yala and AX, these regions showed significant warming ... that's why the rate of shrinking was accelerated," Fujita told Reuters by telephone.

"Yala and AX will disappear but we are not sure when. To know when, we have to calculate using another simulation (model) and take into account the glacial flow," Fujita said, but added that his team did not have the data to do so at the moment.

Their findings were published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on Tuesday.

The Himalayas is an enormous mountain range consisting of about 15,000 glaciers and some of the world's highest peaks, including the 8,848-meter-high Mount Everest and K2.

Apart from climate change and humidity, elevation also appears to play a critical role in the lifespan of glaciers, which are large persistent bodies of ice.

The Rikha Samba glacier in the drier region of west Nepal has also been getting smaller since the 1970s, but its rate of shrinking slowed to 0.48 meters per year in the past 10 years compared to 0.57 meters per year in the 1970s and 1980s.

This was because the 5,700-meter-high glacier was located on a higher altitude, which meant that losses in mass from melting could be compensated at least partly by collection of snowfall, Fujita said.

"In the case of Yala and AX, they are situated on lower elevation (altitudes), therefore shrinkage was accelerated. Glaciers that have no chance to get snow mass will eventually disappear," Fujita said.

Yala glacier is located about 5,400 meters above the sea level, while AX is 5,200 meters high.

(Editing by Yoko Nishikawa)

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