Best of our wild blogs: 9 Aug 11


Independent Volunteers – registration is now open!
from News from the International Coastal Cleanup Singapore

Windows on Wildlife features – Common Palm Civet talks @ Night Safari, Wed 10 Aug 2011 from Otterman speaks

Sat 20 Aug 2011: 9.30am – 12.30pm - Public Forum on Forests @ Science Centre Singapore from Otterman speaks

Rare sight: Skillful weaver birds build intricate nest in Punggol from Lazy Lizard's Tales

110806 Singapore Botanic Gardens
from Singapore Nature

Some Rarities @ USR
from Beauty of Fauna and Flora in Nature

Punggol Butterflies
from Urban Forest

Are trees in Choa Chu Kang being illegally removed?
from Lazy Lizard's Tales


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It's not just us living here N Sivasothi, eco-warrior

Conserving our biodiversity for generations to come
Tan Weizhen Today Online 9 Aug 11;

N Sivasothi struggled with a large piece of netting, wrenching it out of the thick mud, tossing aside dead branches tangled in it. He plodded through the muck, fishing out a couple more nets, sinking knee-deep in some parts.

Guess this is what an eco-hero looks like. No cape billowing in the wind, no cute red underwear on the outside - just a lot of mud. But someone's got to do it.

Those nets, explained the long-time environmentalist, were left there by anglers, who probably forgot to take them out. If left in the mud, it could trap swamp creatures and plants.

"People fishing here, I can't say there is anything wrong with it. But I disagree if they leave their nets and then harm the plants and life here," said the 45-year-old. He once found 300 horseshoe crabs - the population of which has been much depleted - entangled in such nets at the Mandai mangrove. He spent five hours saving each and every crab.

We were with Sivasothi as he fished discarded nets out of Pandan Mangrove, one of Singapore's last remaining mangrove swamps, off Jalan Buroh, near West Coast Road. It is a little piece of ecosystem that one would never expect to find, hidden behind a bus-stop and minutes from a big bustling road.

Swamps like this used to cover large areas of Singapore before urban development. "Now, you see, it is reduced to this short strip. It's so precious now," laments the lecturer who teaches at the Faculty of Science at National University of Singapore.

According to Sivasothi, there are only 15 patches of swamp left, which are at least 10 ha, but only two are considered large for Singapore - above 100ha - at Sungei Buloh Wetlands Reserve and Pulau Ubin.

"Any action you do to conserve the environment is to ensure that Singaporeans now and in the future will have a chance to experience places like these," he said. "The same problem exists everywhere - ignorance of nature. It is very common in dense, urban cities. Some residents here don't even realise the diversity of flora at their doorsteps.



Action reaction

"Question is: Once people know, do they do anything about it?"

The answer might be encouraging. In 2001, Sivasothi experienced a breakthrough when he joined the effort to save Chek Jawa. The diverse, inter-tidal area on Pulau Ubin, vibrant with six kinds of ecosystems, was nearly up to be reclaimed for military purposes. Sivasothi started organising and conducting tours for people to see the wetlands one last time. At the eleventh hour, reclamation plans were called off after increased awareness and a louder call from Singaporeans for it to be saved.

Besides mangroves, the 45-year-old has a special interest in otters, the species having been his area of research as a Masters student. According to The Otterman, as Sivasothi calls himself on his blog, two species of otters call Singapore home, while four out of 13 species of otter can be found in the region.

Habitat loss is one big concern, he pointed out, not just in Singapore but also around the world, as well as the problem of trash discarded in nature. Which is why this proactive man has had a clean-up operation - known as International Coastal Clean-up Singapore - going for the past 19 years, organised by his interest group Raffles ToddyCats.

Each year, volunteers gathered by more than 60 organisations go to shores all over Singapore, picking up more than 13 tonnes of rubbish left behind by humans. Data on such marine debris is sent to the United Nations. "Half a century of anti-littering campaigns, and we are not there yet," he griped.

Encouragingly, the volunteer numbers have grown. From an initial 1,500 volunteers, 4,000 have now joined the fray to clean up Singapore's backwaters.



Paying it forward

The seed of passion for the environment was first planted in the eco-warrior as a university undergraduate helping his professor map mangroves. That passion continued into his career when he joined the Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research. Now he's passing that passion on to his students.

When we met him earlier in the morning for coffee, the dedicated lecturer was on the phone advising his students involved in animal welfare issues and wildlife research. Sivasothi, doting owner of three cats, also advises his students on organising conferences to discuss such issues.

Our little field trip ended with Sivasothi emerging happily muddied, the swamp free of fishing nets. He wiped himself down with practised motions.

Today on National Day, The Otterman will be celebrating the best way he knows how: With a mangrove clean-up in Lim Chu Kang. He has been doing so at various swamps for the past four years now, collecting about 800kg of trash each time, drafting helpful hands via his blog.

"Like most Singaporeans, I have seen what is happening around the world, so I'm grateful we have a secure life here. I feel that we should have a sense of pride," he said, animatedly. "On a day like this, I want to do something positive." TAN WEIZHEN

"My Singapore is a country which cares about nature, the environment, animals and each other." N Sivasothi


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Singapore: Heavy rain SMS alerts launched

Mustafa Shafawi Channel NewsAsia 8 Aug 11;

SINGAPORE: Members of the public can subscribe to a new Heavy Rain Warning SMS alert service.

The National Environment Agency (NEA) said subscribers of the service will receive alerts via SMS when heavy rain is expected over any of the five sectors -- north, south, east, west, central -- across Singapore.

The lead time for the warnings is usually between 15 and 45 minutes.

Subscribers will also receive tidal information should the heavy rain coincide with high tide.

Another SMS will be sent to inform subscribers when heavy rain is no longer expected or has ceased.

The Heavy Rain Warning SMS alert service is part of the Integrated Heavy Rain and Water Level Alert Service which is operated jointly by NEA and national water agency PUB.

Members of the public can subscribe to either one or both services.

Members of the public who want to keep tabs on the water level in a canal or drain at a designated location can subscribe to the Water Level SMS alert service from PUB.

Subscribers will receive progressive SMS alerts if the water level in the selected canal rises above 50 per cent, 75 per cent, 90 per cent and 100 per cent of the canal's depth.

Separate SMS alerts will be sent to subscribers to inform them when the water level recedes to below 90 per cent, 75 per cent and 50 per cent.

To obtain the free services, the public can go the PUB website or via a weblink at NEA's Heavy Rain Warning webpage.

The heavy rain warning is also on Weather@SG, NEA's myENV iPhone app and updates can be obtained via RSS Feeds.

Updates on water level information can also be accessed via PUB's Facebook Page.

-CNA/wk

Free SMS alerts to warn of heavy rain
New service by NEA complements PUB's on drain/canal water levels
Huang Lijie Straits Times 9 Aug 11;

THE public can now turn to a new heavy-rain SMS alert service to prepare for possible flash floods.

The service, offered free by the National Environment Agency (NEA), will alert users via SMS when heavy rain is expected over any of the five parts - north, south, east, west, or central - of Singapore.

The warning is expected to come between 15 minutes and 45 minutes before a downpour.

This service is part of an integrated heavy-rain and water-level alert service operated by NEA and the national water agency PUB.

Since last month, PUB has been providing the public with SMS flood alerts based on the water levels in canals and drains. The service to date has 860 subscribers.

PUB sends progressive SMS alerts to subscribers when the water level of a canal of the user's choice rises above 50 per cent, 75 per cent, 90 per cent and 100 per cent of the canal's depth.

But some building managers in flood- affected areas have said that there is sometimes hardly any time for them to react after they receive PUB's water-level alert. The new SMS service, which will precede alerts from PUB, is expected to give them more lead time to respond.

The NEA alerts will also provide the height and time of high tide should heavy rain coincide with high tide.

When a downpour is no longer expected or has ceased, an SMS will be sent out.

While the two SMS alert services complement each other, they are offered separately.

So, those who subscribed to PUB's SMS flood alert earlier and want to receive heavy-rain warning alerts from NEA will need to sign up separately for the latter's service.

The public can subscribe to either one or both free services at http://www.pub.gov.sg/managingflashfloods/wls/Pages/SubscriptiontoSMSAlerts.aspx , or via a weblink at NEA's heavy-rain warning webpage at http://app2.nea.gov.sg/advisory_heavyrain.aspx

The NEA's heavy-rain warning is also available on its webpage, its mobile website Weather@SG, and its Twitter page.

Mr Kazem Fadakar, 47, a businessman living in Jalan Eunos where it sometimes floods, said he would subscribe to NEA's heavy-rain warning to 'be better prepared' for downpours.

Businesses like bakery chain Cedele, which was affected by the flood in June, also welcomed NEA's heavy-rain SMS alert service.

Its executive director, Ms Yeap Cheng Guat, 48, said: 'When it rained last weekend, I was worried about whether our shops would be affected and I had to call the stores and malls to check.

'But, with this service, our management staff and store managers can quickly give orders to the crew to get ready for possible floods.'


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End of the road for Motorsports Hub?

Nisha Ramchandani Business Times 9 Aug 11;

FOUNDATION specialist CSC Holdings' wholly-owned subsidiary, CS Construction & Geotechnic (CSCG), has officially terminated its contract with SG Changi, the consortium behind the beleaguered Changi Motorsports Hub project.

CSCG landed the $50 million contract last October but halted piling works on the 41-hectare site along Aviation Park Road in mid-January after SG Changi failed to meet outstanding progress payments.

With the brakes reportedly on since January and with CSCG now officially pulling the plug, it is looking highly improbable that SG Changi will be able to deliver on its agreement to have the Changi Motorsports Hub ready by end-2011, as originally stated.

'Amidst ongoing negotiations with SG Changi for a settlement, CSCG had successfully obtained adjudication determinations against SG Changi, under the Building and Construction Industry Security of Payment Act (Cap 30B), for the outstanding amounts owed, as well as court enforcement orders for the adjudication determinations,' CSC said in a release to the Singapore Exchange (SGX) yesterday, adding that the contract has been formally terminated.

CSCG had made a provision of $7.9 million for the financial year ended March 31, 2011, in respect of the total amount owed.

SG Changi director Moto Sakuma did not respond to queries from BT by press time.

Goh Fang Min, chief financial officer of the Singapore Sports Council (SSC), said: 'SSC understands the tight timeline for the project completion. We have been in touch with SG Changi on this. We have also been in discussions with the relevant parties and looking at different options.'

Ms Goh went on to say that SSC expects SG Changi to continue to comply with its commitments under the project agreement.

'We are monitoring the situation closely and will take appropriate actions at the right time,' she added.

SSC awarded SG Changi the tender to build and run the $380 million project for a 30-year period. As such, the project is to be fully funded by the consortium.

It has been a bumpy road for the project from the get-go, with construction first commencing later than expected last December.

Then, in January, it was reported that the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB) was investigating the award of the tender to ascertain whether there had been any leakage of information during the tender process.

The news of the CPIB probe did not sit well with investors, who reportedly responded by freezing funds.

Along the way, the consortium saw changes to its management team, with former Japan GT driver Genji Hashimoto - previously SG Changi's managing director - leaving the group and Mr Sakuma coming onboard. The relationship between SG Changi's executive chairman Fuminori Murahashi and its director Thia Yoke Kian has also been strained in recent months.

In May, Mr Thia lodged a complaint against Mr Murahashi with the Commercial Affairs Department (CAD) alleging that a bank guarantee submitted as part of the tender process may have been forged.

Positioned as a platform to develop Singapore's motorsports industry, the project is to incorporate features such as a 3.7km racetrack, a 1.2km karting track as well as food-and-beverage and retail outlets.

Changi Motorsports Hub group gets ultimatum
Leonard Lim Straits Times 7 Sep 11;

THE troubled consortium building the Changi Motorsports Hub has been given until the end of this week to prove it has the funds for the $380 million project.

If SG Changi fails to do so, The Straits Times understands, its contract with the Singapore Sports Council (SSC) could be dead in the water.

The SSC sent SG Changi a final warning letter two weeks ago, SG Changi director Thia Yoke Kian told The Straits Times.

He said the SSC had previously threatened to pull the plug unless the consortium showed it had the funds to see the project through to completion.

Industry observers have speculated that if the consortium fails to prove it can carry on, a fresh tender could be called for another group to design, finance, build and manage the motor racing track.

But Mr Thia said: 'From what I understand, if the deal is off, there will be no more racetrack.'

The venue was intended to burnish Singapore's reputation as a regional motor sports destination, with the Republic already hosting the world's only Formula One night race.

SC Changi won the tender for the project in March last year, and started work in December.

The 3.7km track in the 41ha Changi Motorsports Hub was supposed to be ready by the end of this year and able to host any race barring Formula One.

Mr Thia, a Singapore businessman and former owner of Jurong Kart World, has a 35 per cent stake in the project.

The rest is in the hands of SG Changi executive chairman Fuminori Murahashi, who could not be reached for comment.

Mr Thia claimed to have an overseas investor willing to commit the necessary funding, but said his attempts to inform Mr Murahashi have been rebuffed.

The pair's relationship has been strained since the start of this year.

The SSC, which is overseeing the project, has not said what it would do if SG Changi failed to complete the project as expected.

The project has been dogged by various problems and delays since it was first announced in 2007 and after work finally began last year.

News broke in January this year that the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB) had begun probing alleged irregularities in the hub's tender process.

An SSC director in charge of the project, Mr Fan Chian Jen, left the body.

Private-sector investors then froze their funding, saying they wanted the all-clear from the CPIB first.

Beset by financial problems, SG Changi missed paying a $10 million instalment to piling company CSC Holdings, which stopped work and last month ended its $50 million contract with the consortium.

In May, the Commercial Affairs Department launched an investigation into a purportedly forged bank guarantee used in the tender process.

A consortium that lost the bid to SG Changi has not ruled out trying again if a new tender is called.

Mr Chng Hwee Hong, executive director of Haw Par Corporation and head of the Sports Services consortium, said: 'If there is a chance, why not?

'But, going back to the fundamentals, it must be economically viable. We'll have to see the terms of the tender.'

Motorsports fans upset as hub plan stalls
They are keeping fingers crossed that hub will still be built despite SG Changi woes
Leonard Lim Straits Times 8 Sep 11;

FANS, officials and motorsports racers here are dismayed that, after getting their longstanding wish for a permanent race track granted, the project seems to have skidded to a screeching halt.

But they remain hopeful that the $380 million Changi Motorsports Hub will still be built - somehow, following news that the allegedly cash-strapped consortium that was to build the facility has been asked to show that it can see the project through.

For economist Song Seng Wun, the prospects of seeing MotoGP champion Valentino Rossi race here are rapidly dimming.

'I'm sad. I was hoping he'd race here before he becomes a drift driver or something,' said the fan of the Italian motorcycle-racing star rumoured to be moving to other forms of racing soon.

Go-kart racer Cheryl Tay, 24, lamented: 'Without a track, the motor sports scene will stagnate and it will be tough to develop talent.

'Now, we have just one karting track in Jurong and a few carpark events. It's a disgrace the project has come to this.'

The hub, allotted a 41ha, sea-facing site near the Singapore Airshow grounds, was to have been completed by the end of this year - in time for it to host races like the 2012 season of the MotoGP, motorcycling's equivalent of the Formula One (F1).

But it is understood that SG Changi, the consortium which beat two others in March last year to build, finance and run the hub, was sent a warning letter two weeks ago by the Singapore Sports Council (SSC).

It is believed SG Changi will respond today to the SSC, the overseeing body, to show whether and how it can complete the project.

Mr Song believes the hub is a project worth completing for the economic boost it will bring in the longer term. He said: 'There's a growing middle-income group and discretionary spending in Asia is set to rise. This allows people to spend on leisure and travel, and there'll be a demand for motor sports events.'

SG Changi has been trying for months to keep the project afloat, even as investors were spooked by reports in January that the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau was probing alleged irregularities in the tender process.

The following month, work on the site was halted when SG Changi missed a $10 million instalment to a piling company. The site stands virtually empty now.

The SSC has been mum on the action it may take against SG Changi for failing to show it has the funds. This has fuelled speculation that a fresh tender will be called - or worse, that plans for the motorsports hub will be mothballed.

At least two parties, Haw Par Corporation and Group Exclusiv, are not ruling out submitting bids if a second tender is called; there is talk that a listed China company is also keen.

Singapore Motor Sports Association president Tan Teng Lip urged the SSC to make clear what will happen if SG Changi cannot find the funds: 'Everybody is in the dark and guessing, and this is adding to the anxiety. I just hope the Government will not scrap the whole thing. If it does, it would be unfortunate.'

The hub would have been the 'spiritual home' for the motorsports community here which is estimated to number in the thousands.

According to plans, the facility would comprise a 3.7km track for any kind of race except the F1, a 1.2km go-karting track, food and beverage outlets, a grandstand, a racing academy, an entertainment complex, a motorsports museum and exhibition centre.

Interest in fast cars and racing has been on the rise since Singapore began hosting the world's only F1 night race in 2008. While the annual F1 race brings in an estimated $100 million in direct tourism benefits, figures for the hub's events, which must include at least three international races like MotoGP, are unlikely to come even close.

Mr Song said: 'These events have less of a following and the level of television sponsorship shows they are second or third cousins to F1.'

But their popularity is growing, he said: 'The Changi track is still very much something which should be supported. It's unfortunate the current group has got stuck with financial problems.'

The glitches call to mind those that plagued the $1.87 billion Sports Hub in Kallang, another high-profile SSC project. It was to have been completed last year. But delays, including the consortium behind it being derailed by the 2008 global financial downturn, have pushed its completion date to 2014.

Motorsports hub still on track, says SG Changi
Funding believed to have been secured; shareholder is ousted
Leonard Lim Straits Times 9 Sep 11;

THE consortium behind the Changi Motorsports Hub reiterated its commitment to the project in a letter to the Singapore Sports Council (SSC) yesterday.

It is believed that the financially beleaguered group, SG Changi, has secured funding for the $380million facility.

But with a deadline of end-2011 for construction to finish now virtually impossible to meet, it is believed that SG Changi has proposed a new schedule that will see the bulk of the privately funded hub ready next year.

Work on the hub, the centrepiece of which is a 3.7km track capable of hosting any race except Formula One, stopped in February after SG Changi missed a $10million instalment to a piling company.

The SSC remained tightlipped on the matter yesterday, but a formal announcement by SG Changi is expected in a few days.

In a fresh twist yesterday, one of the consortium's two shareholders, Mr Thia Yoke Kian, was ousted.

He had apparently signed an agreement in July last year to take a 35 per cent stake in the project, and had promised to pay up $1.05 million - what he said was the value of his share in the hub - within a year.

Mr Thia has yet to stump up the cash. He received a court order on Wednesday.

Since the start of this year, he has had a rocky relationship with SG Changi executive chairman Fuminori Murahashi, who holds the remaining 65 per cent interest in the project.

Mr Thia said yesterday: 'Yes, I haven't paid. I'll just give the shares back to them. I don't want to do this project any more.'

He is now also no longer a director of the consortium.

Referring to reports that the group had been seeking funding in the last six months, he added: 'I have investors who were willing to commit funding, but SG Changi didn't want to talk to me.'

Things had looked rosy when the group was picked by the Government ahead of two other bidders in March last year to design, finance and manage the hub for 30 years.

SG Changi was a partnership between Singapore and Japanese businessmen, primarily a tie-up between Mr Thia, the former owner of Jurong Kart World, and Mr Murahashi, who has been involved in Japanese motorsports.

Work started only last December, despite SG Changi wanting to begin within three months of winning the tender.

Reports the following month that the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB) was probing alleged irregularities in the tender process then spooked investors who had committed funding.

Mr Thia was investigated by the CPIB, and an SSC director in charge of the project, Mr Fan Chian Jen, quit.

In May, Mr Thia lodged a complaint against Mr Murahashi with the Commercial Affairs Department, alleging that a bank guarantee submitted as part of the tender process may have been forged.

And last month, piling company CSC Holdings officially terminated its $50million contract with SG Changi.

The hub is supposed to enhance Singapore's reputation as a motorsports destination, with the annual Formula One already counting Singapore as one of its most popular venues in the 19-leg season.

Apart from a permanent track which can host top races like MotoGP and Japan's Super GT, the facility will have a 1.2km karting track, food and beverage outlets, a motor museum and a racing academy.

SG Changi hope for a lifeline for motorsports hub
Ian De Cotta, TODAY Channel NewsAsia 9 Sep 11;

SINGAPORE: In a last-minute scramble, SG Changi - the consortium contracted to build the Changi Motorsports Hub - submitted the names of two new investors and a revised timeline to the Singapore Sports Council (SSC) on Thursday.

While the original contract stipulated the facility would have to be operationally-ready by the end of this year, the new schedule will see 80 per cent of the project completed by next June.

At press time on Thursday night, an SG Changi insider said company directors Fuminori Murahashi and Moto Sakuma were still in the midst of finalising deals with the new investors.

The consortium rushed to meet the deadline to answer a show-cause letter issued by the SSC a fortnight ago, after work on Singapore's first permanent race track stalled.

Construction ground to a halt in January when contractors CSC Holdings failed to receive an advance payment of S$10 million for piling work totalling S$50 million.

They only received S$7 million and pulled out of the project last month.

When contacted on Thursday night, SSC's director of corporate communications and relations, Alvin Hang, revealed they had received submissions from SG Changi.

"We received it at 7.45pm and will be reviewing their submissions," said Hang.

SG Changi were embroiled in difficulties when one of their original directors, Thia Yoke Kian, was called up by the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau last November in a probe into possible irregularities in the tender process.

According to the insider, Thia, who had failed to pay for the 35 per cent shares he owned in SG Changi, was removed as director of the company on Aug 27.

"They removed Thia as director of the company and have delivered an affidavit to him that is asking for a summary judgment from the courts on Oct 20," the source said.

When contacted on Thursday, Thia said: "Yes, they dropped me as a director and I will be returning all my shares to them."

Right now, the two directors in the company are Murahashi and Sakuma, who together hold 65 per cent of the shares.

Many motorsports enthusiasts fear the project will be dumped if the last ditch attempt by SG Changi fails.

But, according to sources, a re-tender is likely to be called, after the authorities engage various stakeholders and potential investors seeking their views.

And in the revised timeline, the facility could be up by 2014.

Singapore Agro Agriculture and Haw Par Corporation, who lost out to SG Changi last year to build the hub, have previously said they were still interested in the project.

Arthur Tay, chairman of ONE°15 Marina Club, headed a group that withdrew their tender at the last minute.

Speaking to TODAY, he said: "We have the integrated resorts and the Sports Hub is coming soon, and as a regional hub of sorts we need a place for motor racing. There is a growing interest in the sport after the arrival of Formula One and people need a place where they can indulge in it. I am still interested in the project but the terms and conditions need to be revisited for it to be viable for us."

Apart from building a motorsport culture, a permanent track has economic spin-offs, according to Kevin Kwee, executive director of Group Exklusiv.

"A vibrant motorsports calendar will not only trigger the growth of auto-related industries but create jobs even in tourism," said Kwee, who decided not to make a bid after initially expressing an interest in the project.

"We do need a place to help young talent and the number who have taken to motor racing is increasing." - TODAY


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Malaysian orang utans: Haven for 'swinging orphans'

Hamisah Hamid New Straits Times 8 Aug 11;

SANDAKAN: The healthy, shiny reddish brown hair of the orang utans in the treetops at the Sepilok Orang Utan rehabilitation centre here indicates that they are well taken care of.

A visit to the orang utan sanctuary recently, about 30 minutes' drive from the Sandakan central business district, was an eye-opening experience.

Visitors, including foreigners, gathered patiently in the tropical heat for the second feeding time at 3pm.

All eyes were set on a wooden platform built at a large tree to feed the orang utans.

Occasionally, the rangers would remind the visitors not to talk or laugh too loud as this would distract the endangered species.

To reach the feeding place, visitors take a boardwalk in the middle of huge and rare rainforest trees until they reach a wooden observation platform opposite the feeding platform.

As feeding time drew near, two average built orang utans swung from branch to branch near the feeding platform, prompting visitors to scramble excitedly to find a perfect spot to take pictures of the apes.

When the clock turned 3pm, a ranger climbed up a wooden ladder to the feeding platform, carrying a large bucket containing bananas and long beans.

Two grown-up apes, weighing about 90kg, appeared, followed by smaller, younger ones.

The apes munched on bananas and beans, oblivious to the ranger at the feeding platform.

It is a rare opportunity to see massive orang utans with arms twice as long as their legs.

The females can grow up to around 1.2 metres and weigh around 45kg, while adult males can reach 1.8 metres and weigh over 118kg.

Orang utans may live about 35 years to as long as 60 years.

While the visitors took a break from photographing the apes and just stood admiring them feasting, another orang utan swung down a rope to the platform, a baby firmly attached to her side.

Again, the thrilled visitors jostled to take photographs.

According to the rangers, there were 10 orang utans during feeding time that morning, compared with five, including the baby, in the afternoon.

After the feeding sessions, visitors normally head for the video presentation at the visitors' centre.

The short film explained in detail the philosophy behind rehabilitation work and the importance of the work of the rangers of Sepilok.

The Sepilok sanctuary was established in 1964 to return orphaned orang utans back into the wild and promote research and public education on conservation.

Between 50 and 80 orang utans are estimated to live in the sanctuary after being orphaned or displaced because of logging, plantation, poaching and animal trafficking.

At the centre, orphaned orang utans are trained to live an independent life in their natural habitat.

When they are ready, they are moved to the protected rainforest reserve where visitors get a chance to see these tree-dwelling mammals.

It costs about RM7,500 a year to care for one orang utan at the centre. Besides donations, members of the public are also encouraged to adopt orang utans there.


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Australia: Floods cause spate of dugong deaths

AAP Herald Sun 8 Aug 11;

MORE dugongs have died this year than in all of 2010 because of Queensland's summer of disasters, it has emerged.

Ninety-six of the sea mammals washed up dead on the state's coastline in the first seven months of 2011, compared to 79 for the whole of 2010.

Environment Minister Vicky Darling said scientists believe most of the dugongs died of starvation after Queensland's floods devastated their main food source, seagrass.

Floodwater had deposited a "triple whammy" of pesticides, sediment and fresh water on the seagrass, she said.

"Seagrass beds have become stressed by repeated periods of high turbidity and low salinity following flooding in the coastal catchments," Ms Darling said in a statement.

"This is a trend that tragically is highly likely to continue for the rest of the year."

Of the 96 dugongs, six died from human-induced causes such as boat strikes.

Scientists believe about 90 died from poor physical condition consistent with lack of food, Ms Darling said.

In their weakened condition the animals may also be more susceptible to boat strikes and getting tangled in nets, she said.

The majority of deaths happened around Townsville, in the state's north, and in Moreton Bay, in the southeast.

Ms Darling said she expected dugong deaths to increase this year, but scientists had told her the Queensland dugongs were not in danger of dying out.

"They advise us that marine habitats will recover fully over the next few years, leading to an increase in marine animal health and a decrease in stranding numbers - assuming a return to more normal seasonal conditions," she said.

"Our dugong population has been traditionally very resilient and there's no reason to believe they will not bounce back."

Ms Darling said the state government had already taken measures to protect marine animals.

These included cracking down on pesticide run-off in the Great Barrier Reef and run-off from drains, and go-slow and no-fishing zones in Moreton Bay.

Turtle crisis looming on reef: WWF
AAP Sydney Morning Herald 9 Aug 11;

Starving turtles and carcasses are washing up along the Queensland coast amid warning of a wildlife crisis on the Great Barrier Reef.

Researchers, traditional owners and residents are reporting a spike in the number of dead, starving and sick turtles being found along the coast since last summer's floods and Cyclone Yasi.

There's also been a rise in dugong deaths after the natural disasters destroyed large tracts of the seagrass the two species rely on for food.

The conservation group WWF on Tuesday called on the state government to urgently release data on turtle deaths and strandings.

The government on Monday revealed 96 dugongs had been found dead in the first seven months of 2011, compared to 79 for the whole of last year.

Statistics on turtle deaths are expected to be released soon.

Anecdotal evidence indicates reef turtle populations are in crisis.

Girringun Aboriginal Corporation chief executive Phil Rist said traditional owners north and south of Townsville had found large numbers of dead turtles and some dugongs in recent weeks.

"I think Yasi was the straw that pretty broke the camel's back. These poor animals have been subjected subjected to so many threats, water quality, runoff and pesticides, coastal development, boat strikes," he told AAP.

"Now the seagrass they need to survive has been smashed by the biggest storm in living memory to hit us."

He said fisheries officers had reported 90 per cent of seagrass beds had been lost in the Cardwell and Tully area.

"Dead and starving turtles are being found in patches of two and three here, another four there. I'd be surprised if the numbers aren't very significant when you put them all together."

He said some local traditional owners were so concerned they had agreed voluntarily not to issue traditional hunting permits.

Barbara Gibbs, who lives on Magnetic Island off Townsville, says she's seen about 15 starving turtles and three dugongs since the beginning of June.

She said she recently came across a group of 10 turtles, ranging from babies to fully grown adults, that had come into the shallows to die.

"They had mossy green growing on their backs, they were really sedentary, right in the water around your feet," she told AAP.

"There's just no food for them after the cyclone. It's a really hard thing to see."

Other island residents had reported many more dead or sick turtles and dugongs, with similar sightings in places like Pallarenda, on the mainland north of Townsville.

Fred Nucifora, director of Reef HQ Aquarium, the national education centre for the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, said turtles were starving.

Reef HQ's Townsville-based turtle hospital was currently running at capacity with 15 turtles now in care.

"We're certainly seeing a lot more turtles at this point in time, than at the same time last year," he told AAP on Tuesday.

"The turtles that are presenting are highly emaciated, they are suffering from not having enough food."

The most common species brought to the hospital is the threatened green turtle.

As juveniles they are omnivores, but as they age they tend to favour herbivorous diets, and in their older years they almost exclusively eat sea grass.

WWF spokesman Cliff Cobbo said the extreme weather had added to existing threats to turtles.

" ... the combined pressure of more fishing nets, declining water quality and associated disease, on top of the loss of critical habitats as a result of large coastal developments have all undermined their chances of survival," he said.

Turtle researchers, vets rangers and wildlife carers met in Townsville in July to discuss the extraordinary number of sick and dead turtles washing ashore.

Among them, Dr Ellen Ariel, a senior lecturer at James Cook University's School of Veterinary and Biomedical Sciences, cited a "massive increase" in turtles being found dead or dying.

The workshop was held to discuss what could be done to coordinate response plans to the crisis.

Comment was being sought from Environment Minister Vicky Darling.

Turtle crisis looms for Great Barrier Reef
WWF 10 Aug 11;

Queensland, Australia: WWF has received numerous reports from aboriginal groups on the north-eastern coast of Australia of large numbers of sick, starving and dead turtles washing up on beaches. The reports come following the loss of sea grasses after Cyclone Yasi and floods hit the area back in February.

The increase in turtle deaths for April may be more than five times higher this year compared to the same time last year.

“If these numbers are accurate, then this is a shocking development for the Great Barrier Reef​” said WWF’s Conservation on Country Manager Cliff Cobbo. “We urgently need clarification from the Queensland Government on how many turtles are being found dead along the Great Barrier Reef coast”.

Turtle hospitals in Townsville, Queensland are being overwhelmed with sick and starving animals and do not have the resources to handle the number of turtles expected to need emergency care over the next 18 months.

Some local aboriginal groups have been so concerned by what they are seeing they plan to suspend issuing hunting permits within their saltwater country.

CEO of the Girringun Aboriginal Corporation, Phil Rist, said large numbers of dead turtles and dugongs had been found in recent weeks and that strandings are occurring on a weekly basis.

Numerous threats

WWF believes recent extreme weather events like Cyclone Yasi and the Queensland floods, together with threats such as entanglement in fishing nets, water pollution and large-scale coastal developments have led to this increase in deaths.

“In the past turtles have been healthy enough to deal with extreme weather events, but the combined pressure of more fishing nets, declining water quality and associated disease, on top of the loss of critical habitats as a result of large coastal developments have all undermined their chances of survival,” Cobbo said.

WWF is calling on both sides of Queensland politics to commit to building greater resilience in populations of threatened marine species on the Great Barrier Reef through reforming net fisheries, reducing land-based pollution on the reef, and better managing large coastal developments.

WWF’s Global Marine Turtle Programme

Six of the seven species of marine turtle are classified as endangered or critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources​ (IUCN).

WWF has been working on marine turtle conservation for nearly 50 years and has provided a Global Marine Turtle Strategy to outline WWF priorities for marine turtle conservation.

The benefits of saving marine turtles go far beyond simply protecting these remarkable species.
Conservation efforts will make fisheries more sustainable and provide benefits to small communities and with marine turtles becoming increasingly important as an ecotourism attraction, a live turtle is worth more than a dead turtle.


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Cold snap triggered massive coral die-off in Florida

UPI 8 Aug 11;

ATHENS, Ga., Aug. 8 (UPI) -- While warming seas are a leading cause in the decline of the world's coral reefs, U.S. researchers have discovered cold temperatures can be just as devastating.

Scientists are the University of Georgia conducted a study of coral reefs in the Florida Keys following an abnormal episode of extended cold weather in January and February 2010 when temperatures on inshore reefs dropped below 54 degrees F and remained below 64 degrees F for two weeks.

When the researchers arrived just three weeks after the cold snap at Admiral Reef of Key Largo, they found the reef, once abundant in hard and soft corals, was essentially dead, a UG release reported Monday.

"It was the saddest thing I've ever seen," post-doctoral ecologist Dustin Kemp said. "The large, reef-building corals were gone. Some were estimated to be 200 to 300 years old and had survived other catastrophic events, such as the 1998 El Nino bleaching event. The severe cold water appeared to kill the corals quite rapidly."

Taking samples back to their lab, they simulated the temperatures that had been recorded at Admiral Reef and tested the different corals' physiological.

They found that although responses varied depending on the coral species, in general the stress of extended cold temperatures had an effect similar to that of high temperatures.

Kemp said that the study's findings should not be interpreted to downplay the major role of higher temperatures on corals' decline, but that "the study shows that warming may not be the only climate-related problem for coral reefs in the future."

Severe Low Temperatures Devastate Coral Reefs in Florida Keys
ScienceDaily 8 Aug 11;

Increased seawater temperatures are known to be a leading cause of the decline of coral reefs all over the world. Now, researchers at the University of Georgia have found that extreme low temperatures affect certain corals in much the same way that high temperatures do, with potentially catastrophic consequences for coral ecosystems. Their findings appear in the early online edition of the journal Global Change Biology.

Lead author Dustin Kemp, a postdoctoral associate in the UGA Odum School of Ecology, said the study was prompted by an abnormal episode of extended cold weather in January and February 2010. Temperatures on inshore reefs in the upper Florida Keys dropped below 12 C (54 F), and remained below 18 C (64 F) for two weeks. Kemp and his colleagues had planned to sample corals at Admiral Reef, an inshore reef off Key Largo, just three weeks after the cold snap. When they arrived, they discovered that the reef, once abundant in hard and soft corals, was essentially dead. "It was the saddest thing I've ever seen," Kemp said. "The large, reef-building corals were gone. Some were estimated to be 200 to 300 years old and had survived other catastrophic events, such as the 1998 El NiƱo bleaching event. The severe cold water appeared to kill the corals quite rapidly."

Odum School Professor William Fitt, Kemp's doctoral advisor and one of the paper's co-authors, realized that the team had a unique opportunity. "Nearly 100 years ago, Alfred Mayer described the temperature tolerance of different corals in the Dry Tortugas and found very similar results," Kemp said. "We decided to take the next step and learn how and why the cold temperatures caused the corals to die."

The researchers took samples of Siderastrea siderea -- one of the few reef-building corals to survive -- from Admiral Reef. They also took samples of three common Florida Keys corals, Montastraea faveolata, Siderastrea sidereaand Porites astreoides from Little Grecian Reef, a nearby offshore reef that had not experienced the temperature anomaly to the extent of Admiral Reef. Kemp explained that Little Grecian Reef is far enough offshore that the cold-water temperatures were likely buffered by the warm waters of the Gulf Stream, which resulted in offshore coral reefs being less severely affected by the cold air mass that was pushed by an unusual weather pattern over much of the U.S. during that two-week period.

Back in the lab, they simulated the temperatures that had been recorded at Admiral Reef during the cold weather event, testing the different corals' physiological responses at 12 C and 16 C (61 F), and then, after the corals' exposure to the cold, returned the temperature to 20 C (68 F). They found that although responses varied depending on the coral species, in general the stress of extended cold temperatures had an effect similar to that of high temperatures.

Kemp explained that corals depend on Symbiodinium, a type of symbiotic algae that lives inside them, for nutrition. Through photosynthesis, the algae produce sugars, which are passed on to the corals. "The cold temperatures inhibited photosynthesis in the algae, leading to a potential net loss of carbon transferred from the algae to the coral," said Kemp. He said that each coral species had its own unique type of Symbiodinium, some of which were better able to tolerate and recover from cold temperatures than others.

All of the corals experienced a significant decrease in photosynthesis at 12 C. Siderastrea siderea and M. faveolata were able to handle the 16 C temperatures, but P. astreoides was not, and did not show signs of recovery once the temperature was returned to 20 C. Siderastrea siderea was the only coral able to recover.

"Corals and their symbiotic algae have a range of stress tolerance," said Kemp. "Some can handle moderate stress, some are highly sensitive, and some are in between. But extreme cold is just one stressor among many." Other threats to coral health include increased seawater temperatures, diseases, ocean acidification, and pollution. "Adding stress from wintertime cold episodes could not only quickly kill corals but also may have long-term effects," he said. "For corals found in the Florida Keys, winter is typically a 'non-stressful' time and corals bulk up on tissue reserves that are important for surviving potentially 'stressful' summertime conditions (i.e. coral bleaching)."

Kemp said that researchers at NOAA attribute the record-breaking cold anomaly to a negative trend in the North Atlantic oscillation, an atmospheric pressure pattern that influences the weather in the northern hemisphere. "They speculate that if the trend continues, these kinds of extreme cold events may become more frequent," he said.

Kemp stressed that the study's findings should not be interpreted to downplay the major role of higher temperatures on corals' decline. "The study shows that warming may not be the only climate-related problem for coral reefs in the future," he said.

Kemp also pointed out that it was not only the corals that were devastated by the cold snap. "The corals provide the framework for the entire reef ecosystem," he said. "The lobster, shrimp, clams, fish -- all the creatures that depend on the reef -- were affected too. The potential consequences for coral ecosystems are extremely alarming."

Besides Kemp and Fitt, the paper's coauthors were Clinton Oakley and Gregory Schmidt of the UGA Department of Plant Biology, Daniel Thornhill of the nonprofit Defenders of Wildlife and Bowdoin College, and Laura Newcomb of Bowdoin College. The research was supported by the National Science Foundation and Bowdoin College.

Journal Reference:

Dustin W. Kemp, Clinton A. Oakley, Daniel J. Thornhill, Laura A. Newcomb, Gregory W. Schmidt, William K. Fitt. Catastrophic mortality on inshore coral reefs of the Florida Keys due to severe low-temperature stress. Global Change Biology, 2011; DOI: 10.1111/j.1365-2486.2011.02487.x


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Increased forest threat from extreme weather: FAO

Improved forest management needed
FAO 9 Aug 11;

9 August 2011, Rome - Extreme weather events and natural disasters will pose an increasing threat to the world's forests in coming years, requiring heightened cooperation between regions and countries, an international partnership for forest conservation and improvement warned today.

The Collaborative Partnership on Forests (CPF), comprising 14 international organizations and secretariats, issued its warning as FAO released a new report, Abiotic disturbances and their influence on forest health.

Almost 4 000 extreme events — so-called ‘abiotic disturbances' such as cyclones, floods, landslides, tornadoes, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and "mega" forest fires — occurred between 2000 and 2009 worldwide, according to the report. And recently they have also included man-made events such as radioactive contamination and oil spills.

The CPF called upon forest managers to apply forest policies such as diversifying species, using windbreaks and mixed cropping patterns to protect forests from disasters, minimizing the risks and impacts of extreme events.

"Disturbances are expected to continue to increase in intensity, quantity and frequency," said Eduardo Rojas-Briales, FAO's Assistant Director-General for Forestry and CPF Chair. "Adaptive forest management involving all sectors and stakeholders is therefore essential to protect the world's forest resources. And since such disturbances do not respect borders, regional or international cooperation is badly required."

Examples of abiotic disturbances and their impacts on forests include: a major storm in Sweden in 2005, which uprooted or damaged trees in over 1.2 million hectares of forest; Tropical Cyclone Sidr, which hit Bangladesh in 2007 and affected almost nine million people and damaged nearly 1.5 million houses and some four million trees; and the 2010 earthquake and subsequent tsunami in central Chile, which killed more than 700 people and caused up to $30 billion in economic losses to the country.

Minimizing damage from extreme events

The condition of forests themselves can have an influence on the extreme events. For example, deforestation or poor management can increase flooding and landslides during cyclones. Degradation of mangrove forests may increase the damage caused by storms or tsunamis.

Observations from the Maldives showed that coastal forests are most resilient to tsunami impacts when left as an undisturbed, mixed-species community. Sand dunes, mangrove forests and coral reefs all help to reduce the energy of tsunami waves as well as retain soil and preserve safe conditions to allow biodiversity to thrive. Although mature mangroves are quite resistant to water surges, there are limits to this resilience.

In 2004, when the Indian Ocean Tsunami hit Indonesia, it cleared nearly 49 000 hectares of coastal forests (excluding mangroves) and significantly damaged nearly 300-750 hectares of mangrove forests, representing economic losses of $21.9 million and $2.5 million, respectively. But with improved coastal and mangrove forests management these types of effects can be substantially reduced.

According to Emmanuel Ze Meka, Executive Director of the International Tropical Timber Organization (ITTO), "ITTO-funded projects to rehabilitate tsunami-damaged mangroves in the Ayeyarwady delta of Myanmar, in Phang Nga and Ranong Provinces, southern Thailand, and in many other countries are helping to ensure that future extreme weather or tsunami events will be less damaging to local communities than the tragic 2004 Indian Ocean event."

Climate change impacts can heighten intensity of events

Expected increases in the frequency, severity of drought and heat stress associated with climate change can fundamentally alter the composition and structure of forests. Increases in tree mortality are of particular concern because decaying trees also release large amounts of carbon into the atmosphere.

Moreover, decreased rainfall and more severe droughts, such as that presently being experienced in the Horn of Africa, are expected to be particularly stressful for African populations that depend on forests for food, clean water and other basic needs.

"Climate-change adaptation planning is hampered by a lack of information about current and future climate-related impacts", said Steve Makungwa from the Forestry Research Network for Sub-Saharan Africa (FORNESSA), an initiative that has worked with the International Union of Forest Research Organizations (IUFRO) on climate change impacts on African forests. "There is a need for reliable regional projections as well as early warning systems that require investments in research and monitoring infrastructure."

In November 2011, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) will release a Special Report on managing the risks of extreme events and disasters to advance climate change adaptation. The report aims to become a resource for decision-makers to more effectively manage the risks of these events.

In advance of the report, CPF partners also called upon forest managers to develop strategies to adapt to future drought events reducing tree density to ease competition, selecting plants with improved drought resistance, and shifting from monoculture plantations to species-rich forests.


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