Best of our wild blogs: 5 Aug 11

New survey dates for sign up: Aug-Nov 2011
from Mega Marine Survey of Singapore

Concert for the world’s saddest dolphins
from Green Drinks Singapore

Sharing Cyrene with URA and NParks
from wild shores of singapore

Singapore's cool colugos: why they glide
from Celebrating Singapore's BioDiversity!

Terumbu Raya
from into the wild and Kusu Island

Immigration and invasion - biological xenophobia?
from The Biology Refugia

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Ice melt opens Arctic trade routes: impact on Singapore

'Mixed fortunes for Singapore' if route becomes viable
Himaya Quasem Straits Times 5 Aug 11;

SINGAPORE faces mixed fortunes if the shipping route cutting through the Arctic becomes commercially viable, experts say.

Companies building ships, developing ports and those involved in green technology could benefit from new business opportunities as Russia looks to develop the frosty region.

But the Republic could also lose out on trade from vessels heading from Europe to north-east Asia, as they skip Singapore and head straight to northern China, Japan and South Korea via the Bering Strait - a shorter route than the Suez Canal and Malacca Strait.

Still, experts remain optimistic that Singapore would not be hit too hard either way.

Goods and raw materials originating in South-east Asia would still need to be picked up from Singapore before being shipped to Europe, said Mr Wong Siew Chuang, a senior consultant at independent maritime adviser Drewry.

'It will have an impact on Singapore, but not too big,' he said.

Others note that the Arctic route, known as the Northern Sea Route, is passable only in the summer months, when the ice is sufficiently melted. And even then, the threat of ice remains.

Russia currently charges ships about US$200,000 (S$242,000) for one of its nine atomic-powered ice-breakers to accompany them in case of ice.

'Whether or not the route becomes commercially viable will depend a lot on whether Russia reduces this fee,' noted maritime analyst Joshua Ho at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS) at Nanyang Technological University.

The opening of the Arctic route could also bring more business opportunities for ship and oil-rig builders, as Russia's arctic shelf is believed to contain the equivalent of more than 100 billion tonnes of oil.

Russia has released plans to build 40 ice-resistant oil platforms, 14 offshore gas terminals, 55 ice-resistant tankers and storage tankers, and 20 gas carriers in the future.

Singapore-based Keppel Offshore & Marine has already grabbed a slice of the action, securing a $260 million deal to build two ice-breaker vessels for Russian oil company Lukoil in July 2006.

It also signed an agreement with Lukoil to cooperate on building new platforms and delivered a string of other specialised ships, including tugboats, supply vessels and rescue vessels designed for use in freezing temperatures.

RSIS' Mr Ho said business opportunities could also crop up for port operator PSA International, as ports may need to be developed on the periphery of the Arctic.

The Arctic Council will also want to ensure the fragile ecosystem in the region is preserved, he added, and Singapore's green technology sector could help develop greener ships that have low carbon emissions and are more energy-efficient.

Ice melt opens Arctic trade routes
With ice cover shrinking, it is easy to navigate the shorter, otherwise perilous, routes
Straits Times 5 Aug 11;

MOSCOW: Arctic ice cover receded to near-record lows this summer, opening elusive northern trade routes from Asia to the West, Russia's climate research agency has said.

After the third-hottest year on record since 1936 in the Arctic last year, ice cover has melted as much as 56 per cent more than average across northern shipping routes, making navigation in the perilous waters 'very easy', it said on Wednesday.

'Since the beginning of August, icebreaker-free sailing is open on almost all the routes,' the climate monitoring agency said on its website.

It added that the mild conditions would last through next month on shipping lanes that are tens of thousands of kilometres shorter than southern alternatives.

Melting ice is making it easier for Russian and other European shippers to service Asia via the northern sea route, which is about one-third shorter than the Rotterdam-Yokohama voyage through the Suez Canal, saving time and fuel.

Iceland's President Olafur Ragnar Grimsson said last year that the pace of global warming in the Arctic was three times faster than elsewhere, cutting journeys between Asia, Europe and America by as much as half.

The United States National Snow and Data Centre said on its website on July 18: 'Melting occurred at a rapid pace through the first half of July and is now tracking below the year 2007, which saw the record minimum.'

Arctic sea ice typically covers 14 million to 15 million sq km at the height of winter, and retreats, on average, to about 7 million square km by the end of the melt season in mid-September.

With about six weeks of melting still to go this year, the current area of ice cover is about 6.8 million square km, according to a report in The Vancouver Sun on Wednesday.

In 2007, the area of ice extent decreased to less than 4.5 million square km by mid-September, raising widespread concerns and prompting the Canadian government to declare the massive thaw the biggest weather story of the year.

Last September, after Arctic sea ice retreated to an area of just 5 million square km, scientists noted that the four greatest melts since satellite measurements began in the late 1970s had occurred in the four summers between 2007 and last year.

With retreating ice opening new strategic trade routes, Russia hopes to make the Arctic passage a competitor to the Suez Canal, profiting from taxes and the lease of its unique nuclear icebreaker fleet to escort cargo ships along its Siberian coast.

Despite higher costs, Russian state shipping giant Sovcomflot sent more cargoes of gas condensate on the Northern Sea Route this year, an ambitious move that highlights the Kremlin's drive to mark its stake in the energy-rich region.

Russia's largest nitrogen fertiliser producer, Eurocem, sent its first shipment of 44,000 tonnes of iron-ore concentrate to China using the route last month, and envisages running monthly trips, logistics director Igor Nechaev said.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has vowed to transform the Soviet-era Arctic route, first plied in 1932 between Arkhangelsk and the Bering Strait, into a year-round passage, and commodity producers have already started sending test shipments.

The northern way dates to 1932, when the Soviet Union sent the first vessel from Arkhangelsk to the Bering Strait. The route is currently used, with the help of icebreakers, from July to November.

If the current pace of ice melt continues, the Arctic Ocean could become entirely ice-free during the summer months by 2050, Russia's top forecaster Alexander Frolov predicted last year.

The route may also appeal to carriers seeking to avoid pirates in the seas around East Africa and trouble triggered by Arab spring revolutions in the area around the Egyptian waterway.

But mariners admit that many obstacles, such as ice floes and shallow waters, remain before the northern Russian shipping lane can take business from existing southern thoroughfares - not least a summer that lasts just a few weeks.


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Photos Show Rare Antelopes in New Locale Yahoo News 5 Aug 11;

Camera traps in a forest near Kenya's coast have captured images of a rare, dainty antelope, a discovery that has surprised scientists since it was not known that the elusive animals lived in the region.

Thousands of images from 52 camera traps stationed around the Boni-Dodori forests in northern Kenya uncovered what may be the world's largest population of Aders' duiker, a critically endangered antelope species that, until the recent discovery, was thought to live in only two spots on Earth.

"This population is a lifeline for the critically endangered antelope, which until now was thought to exist only in tiny populations in coastal Kenya and Zanzibar," said Rajan Amin, a senior conservation biologist with the Zoological Society of London, in a statement.

The forest-dwelling antelopes are the size of a house pet. They measure about 27 inches (69 centimeters) from head to hindquarters and about 12 inches (31 cm) at the shoulder.

Much about the Aders' duiker (Cephalophus adersi) remains mysterious, but scientists identified the species in the camera trap photos from a tell-tale white band along the thigh and mahogany coloring on the upper back.

Previous study of the species revealed the antelopes sometimes follow troops of monkeys through the forest, and feed on material the primates drop from the trees.

Population numbers are sparse, but one study from 1999 estimated as few as 640 Aders' duiker were left on the planet, and their numbers were expected to decline.

The camera-trap pictures also revealed important populations of a number of species such as African wild dogs (Lycaon pictus), elephants (Loxodonta africana) and lions (Panthera leo), living in and around the biodiverse forest, which is under threat from rapid coastal and agricultural development.

The camera traps that caught sight of the rare animals were set up by several international and Kenyan conservation groups, the Zoological Society of London among them, and the groups are calling for the swift conservation of the forest where the species lives.

The antelope discovery comes just months after scientists discovered what may be a new species of elephant shrew living in the same forest.

"Given time and conservation action we could unearth even more new species in this isolated forest, but we are running out of time to stop the forest and its hidden secrets from being destroyed by rapid coastal development," Amin said.

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US oil giant says China spill worse than thought

AFP Yahoo News 4 Aug 11;

A massive oil spill off northeast China may be worse than first thought, the US energy giant behind the leak said, after authorities ordered it to clean up the sea bed by Sunday.

ConocoPhillips said it was still estimating the amount of oil that has escaped from the leak, which first came to light a month ago, and had uncovered evidence it may have been larger than it thought.

"During our cleanup operations in Bohai Bay, ConocoPhillips discovered additional oil-based drilling mud on the sea floor," the company said in a statement published on its website Wednesday.

"Although the amount of the discovery is unknown, we anticipate that it will push the total amount of oil and oil-based drilling mud released past the previous estimate of 1,500 barrels."

ConocoPhillips said it had reported the discovery to the authorities, and divers were continuing to work on cleaning up the sea bed.

Earlier this week China's State Oceanic Administration (SOA) accused the company of dragging its feet over the clean-up and threatened to fine it 200,000 yuan ($31,000).

The spill, which has polluted a sea area measuring 1,200 square kilometres, (460 square miles) according to the latest SOA figures, was kept secret by authorities for several weeks before being made public last month.

It had previously affected a much larger area of more than 4,000 square kilometres of ocean, according to figures provided by the government agency, which gave no explanation for the apparent contradiction.

The SOA has ordered ConocoPhillips to finish cleaning the contaminated ocean floor by Sunday -- a deadline the company said it hoped to meet.

"Hundreds of professional clean up workers are on the scene and we hope to meet the Sunday deadline," company spokeswoman Donna Xue rold AFP Thursday.

"Obviously, the new discovery puts extra pressure on the efforts."

ConocoPhillips and its local partner, the China National Offshore Oil Company, have apologised for the spill, but environmental campaigners have said they are not being transparent over the damage caused.

"It's hard to determine the fingerprint of the oil because this information is only accessible by the government," said Ma Jun, director of the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs.

"The overall damage is still being assessed, but ConocoPhillips has done little to inspire trust."

Business owners have also expressed their anger about the spill.

A local fisheries association said this week that about 70 percent of the scallops farmed in the area were killed by the oil, causing losses of more than 200 million yuan.

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Cleaning up Nigerian oil pollution could take 30 years, cost billions of dollars – UN

UN News Center 4 Aug 11;

The environmental restoration of Nigeria’s Ogoniland oil region could prove to be the world’s most wide-ranging and long-term oil clean-up exercise ever, if contaminated drinking water, land, creeks and other ecosystems are to be brought back to full health, according to a United Nations report released today.

It could take 25 to 30 years, with an initial investment of $1 billion just for the first five years, to clean up pollution from more than 50 years of oil operations in the Niger Delta, ranging from the “disastrous” impact on mangrove vegetation to the contamination of wells with potentially cancer-causing chemicals in a region that is home to some 1 million people.

The independent scientific assessment, carried out by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) over a 14-month period, showed greater and deeper pollution than previously thought after an agency team examined more than 200 locations, surveyed 122 kilometres of pipeline rights of way, analyzed 4,000 soil and water samples, reviewed more than 5,000 medical records and engaged over 23,000 people at local community meetings.

“It is UNEP’s hope that the findings can break the decades of deadlock in the region and provide the foundation upon which trust can be built and action undertaken to remedy the multiple health and sustainable development issues facing people in Ogoniland,” UNEP Executive Director, Achim Steiner said of the report, which was presented to Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan today in Abuja, the capital.

“In addition it offers a blueprint for how the oil industry, and public regulatory authorities, might operate more responsibly in Africa and beyond at a time of increasing production and exploration across many parts of the continent.”

The report, Environmental Assessment of Ogoniland, proposed the establishment of an Ogoniland Environmental Restoration Authority as soon as possible, with an initial capital injection of $1 billion from the oil industry and the Government to cover the first five years of the clean-up project; and a soil management centre with hundreds of mini-centres to treat contaminated soil and provide hundreds of job opportunities.

It also recommended setting up a centre to promote learning and benefit other communities impacted by oil contamination in the Niger Delta and elsewhere in the world.

The study found that some areas, which appear unaffected at the surface, are in reality severely contaminated underground, and action to protect human health and reduce should be taken without delay. In at least 10 communities where drinking water is contaminated with high levels of hydrocarbons, public health is seriously threatened.

In one community, Nisisioken Ogale, near a Nigerian National Petroleum Company pipeline, families are drinking water from wells contaminated with benzene, a known carcinogen, at levels over 900 times above UN World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines, warranting emergency action ahead of all other remediation efforts.

The report noted that the impact of oil on mangrove vegetation had been disastrous, with many inter-tidal creeks where mangroves that serve as nurseries for fish and natural pollution filters denuded of leaves and stems, the roots coated in layers of a bitumen-type substance. But despite community concerns, fish consumption was not posing a health risk.

Meanwhile, Ogoni communities are exposed to hydrocarbons every day through multiple routes. While the impact of individual contaminated land sites tends to be localized, air pollution related to oil industry operations is pervasive and affecting the quality of life of close to 1 million people.

UNEP has emphasized that the study, which began in late 2009, is independent and its funding by the Shell Petroleum Development Company is in keeping with the polluter-pays principle.

Nigeria Ogoniland oil clean-up 'could take 30 years'
BBC 4 Aug 11;

Nigeria's Ogoniland region could take 30 years to recover fully from the damage caused by years of oil spills, a long-awated United Nations report says.

The study says complete restoration could entail the world's "most wide-ranging and long-term oil clean-up".

Communities faced a severe health risk, with some families drinking water with high levels of carcinogens, it said.

Oil giant Shell has accepted liability for two spills and said all oil spills were bad for Nigeria and the company.

"We will continue working with our partners in Nigeria, including the government, to solve these problems and on the next steps to help clean up Ogoniland," Mutiu Sunmonu, managing director of the Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria (SPDC), said in a statement.

The Bodo fishing community has said it will seek hundreds of millions of dollars in compensation.

Nigeria is one of the world's major oil producers.
'900 times recommended levels'

The UN assessment of Ogoniland, which lies in the Niger Delta, said 50 years of oil operations in the region had "penetrated further and deeper than many had supposed".

"In at least 10 Ogoni communities where drinking water is contaminated with high levels of hydrocarbons, public health is seriously threatened," the UN Environmental Programme (Unep) said in a statement.

Some areas which appeared unaffected were actually "severely contaminated" underground, Unep said.

In one community, the report says, families were drinking from wells which were contaminated with benzene, a known carcinogen, at 900 times recommended levels.

It said scientists at the site, which lay close to a Nigerian National Petroleum Company pipeline, found oil slicks eight centimetres thick floating on the water.

This was reportedly due to an oil spill more than six years ago, it said.

The report, based on examinations of some 200 locations over 14 months, said Shell had created public health and safety issues by failing to apply its own procedures in the control and maintenance of oilfield infrastructure.

But it also said local people were sabotaging pipelines in order to steal oil.

The report says that restoring the region could cost $1bn (£613m) and take 25-30 years to complete.

"The environmental restoration of Ogoniland could prove to be the world's most wide-ranging and long term oil clean-up exercise ever undertaken if contaminated drinking water, land, creeks and important ecosystems such as mangroves are to be brought back to full, productive health," Unep said.
'Not attributing blame'

The report, which is regarded as the most detailed study on any area in the oil-rich Niger Delta, was paid for in part by Shell after a request by the Nigerian government.

Amnesty International, which has campaigned on the issue, said the report proved Shell was responsible for the pollution.

"This report proves Shell has had a terrible impact in Nigeria, but has got away with denying it for decades, falsely claiming they work to best international standards," said Audrey Gaughran, Amnesty's global issues director, said.

But earlier, Unep spokesman Nick Nuttal told the BBC's Network Africa that the study was not intended to "blame any particular stakeholder operating in Ogoniland".

He also stressed that Shell's admission of liability for two spills had nothing to do with the Unep report.

Shell said on Wednesday that it took responsibility for the spills, which took place in 2008 and 2009, and would settle the case under Nigerian law. The Bodo fishing community had alleged that the leaks had ruined their environment and livelihoods.

In response to Thursday's report, Mr Sunmonu said it made a "contribution towards improving understanding of the issue of oil spills in Ogoniland".

"All oil spills are bad - bad for local communities, bad for the environment, bad for Nigeria and bad for SPDC," he said.

"We clean up all spills from our facilities, whatever the cause, and restore the land to its original state," he said.

The SPDC managing director also urged the authorities to do all they could do curb illegal refining and the sabotaging of pipelines.

Ogoni communities have long complained about the damage to their communities, but they say they have mostly been ignored.

The issue was highlighted by the writer Ken Saro-Wiwa, who was executed in 1995 by Nigeria's military government, sparking international condemnation.

The campaign forced Shell to stop pumping oil out of Ogoniland but it continues to operate pipelines in the region and spills have continued.

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