Best of our wild blogs: 11 Aug 11

How do Bees Sleep at Night?
from Macro Photography in Singapore

Ray the Rotifer!
from The Biology Refugia

BeMUSE features the creatures that call Singapore home
from Celebrating Singapore's BioDiversity!

Checklist of the Vascular Plant Species of the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve from Raffles Museum News

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More oppose plan for dolphin exhibit at Resorts World Sentosa

Two activist websites gather 800,000 signatures globally in petition to free 25 mammals
Sandra Davie Straits Times 11 Aug 11;

MORE animal lovers both here and abroad have come out to oppose Resorts World Sentosa's (RWS) plans to exhibit wild-caught dolphins in its Marine Life Park.

Two United States-based online activist groups, Avaaz and, have gathered a total of nearly 800,000 signatures from members around the world, including Singaporeans.

They want RWS to free the 25 dolphins which were caught off the Solomon Islands, near Papua New Guinea.

Local animal protection group Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (Acres) launched a campaign three months ago asking Singaporeans to send in video petitions, and has attracted 13,800 supporters to its cause.

Asia for Animals, a coalition of 10 animal protection groups, has written to RWS, asking it to show proof of its claim that wild-caught dolphins thrive in captivity.

In May, dolphin rescuer Ric O'Barry, who shot to fame with his film on the capture and killing of dolphins in Japan, wrote to the integrated resort's chief executive Tan Hee Teck, urging him to show that RWS is a 'true steward of the environment' by freeing the dolphins.

The marine mammal specialist, 72, who works for US-based environmental group Earth Island Institute, also offered his help to rehabilitate the dolphins and release them back into the wild.

Yesterday, he said Mr Tan has yet to respond to his offer, but warned that the protest is likely to grow. 'It's 800,000 people now and it will keep growing as more people learn about the cruel practices involved in capturing the dolphins and keeping them in marine parks,' he said.

The activist, who investigated the dolphin hunts in the Solomon Islands for a television documentary last year, said the capture process is traumatic and violent.

'The dolphins are corralled into a cove by the villagers. The healthy ones are caught to be sold to aquariums but the others are speared, clubbed and stabbed to death.'

New York-based Avaaz, which has gathered almost 700,000 signatures on its petition, said RWS should not underestimate people power. Ms Brianna Cayo Cotter, a media campaigner for the online activist network, said it has more than nine million members and a proven success record.

'Our members' actions have been instrumental in a number of major victories, whether preserving a ban on international whaling or passing powerful anti-corruption measures,' she said.

RWS' plans to use dolphins and whale sharks in its park attracted criticism from animal lovers from the start.

In May 2009, it scrapped the plan to exhibit whale sharks, which can grow to more than 12m and weigh 15 tonnes, saying it might not be able to care for them. But it later said it would go ahead and use the dolphins, despite two dying last October from a bacterial infection.

Yesterday, when asked to respond to the growing protests, RWS spokesman Krist Boo said the 25 dolphins in the Philippines are thriving. 'It will be gravely irresponsible of us to contemplate any thought of letting our animals into the wild after three years in human care. Despite contrary claims, the track record for marine mammal releases is patchy at best.'

She added that the resort recognises animal lovers' concerns but suggested they should do independent research before they take on a cause.

She said RWS will provide people with more information on its blogs and website, and stressed that the Marine Life Park has been designed to meet international accreditation standards and already has a strong professional core team, including five vets.

But Acres president Louis Ng said all the best care and international rules in the world can never replicate the free and open oceans.

'If RWS truly believes that the remaining 25 wild-caught dolphins are happy in their current enclosures, then Acres asks that RWS open the enclosure gates,' he said.

'If the dolphins are truly happy then surely they will remain in the enclosure?'

He said Acres was not opposed to a marine park filled with species that take well to confined spaces, but dolphins roam large distances and should not be confined.

Mr O'Barry said his offer to rehabilitate and release the dolphins still stands. 'The dolphins can adapt to their home range where they were born much easier than the concrete, steel and glass tanks at the Marine Life Park.

'If Resorts World frees the dolphins, not only will it show good corporate citizenship, but it will also be a massive windfall of good publicity for them.

IR's dolphin plan faces global heat
David Lim My Paper AsiaOne 11 Aug 11;

THE number of animal lovers, here and abroad, opposing Resorts World Sentosa's (RWS') plan to showcase 25 wild-caught bottlenose dolphins at its upcoming Marine Life Park (MLP) has spiked.

Two United States-based activist websites, and, have collectively garnered more than 780,000 signatures globally in two separate petitions over the past two months.

They are part of a movement that is pushing RWS to free the dolphins caught off the Solomon Islands, located east of Papua New Guinea.

RWS bought the dolphins between 2008 and 2009 and is currently housing them in Ocean Adventure Park in Subic Bay in the Philippines, while awaiting MLP's opening next year.

Singapore animal-protection group, Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (Acres), also launched an online campaign in May and now has a following of more than 14,000 supporters.

Speaking to my paper yesterday, Acres executive director Louis Ng said: "There are already dolphins at the Dolphin Lagoon in Sentosa, so why do we want to duplicate attractions?"

Mr Ng also stressed that the campaign is not to lobby for the closure of the MLP but "for the release of animals that don't do well in captivity".

Yesterday, Asia for Animals, an alliance of 10 international organisations including Acres and the Britain-based Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, addressed an open letter to RWS, asking it to prove that dolphins can "thrive in marine parks".

An RWS spokesman had previously told Acres that releasing the dolphins into the wild "would be gravely irresponsible", as they have been in human care for three years. The spokesman cited the "patchy track record of marine mammal re-releases".

Yesterday, an MLP spokesman told my paper: "Any allegations that our dolphins are 'in peril' and subject to 'animal cruelty' are completely false. Our dolphins are healthy and residing in a facility that is safe and conducive to their health and well-being.

"We exceed stringent (standards set out in) international regulations to ensure that our dolphins have space to exercise, socialise, rest and grow healthily."

The spokesman added that the dolphins have become used to human care and "we are confident they will continue to thrive".

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Malaysia: Major gains from wild dolphin sightings

New Straits Times 11 Aug 11;

DOLPHIN sightings present a valuable opportunity to promote conservation efforts in the country, the Malaysian Nature Society (MNS) said.

MNS head of communications Andrew Sebastian said dolphin sightings in Malaysia, common at coastal areas and river estuaries, are often celebrated events, which can help create greater awareness of the need to protect marine life.

"After all, protecting our dolphins also means protecting their natural habitats -- ensuring the cleanliness of our waters and maintaining healthy ecosystems for them to survive," he said.

He said dolphin sightings could also help promote ecotourism, but cautioned that tourists should not expect to spot dolphins on every dolphin-spotting expedition.

He said more studies on the behaviour of dolphins in local waters should be carried out so that the public can be properly educated on how to treat the marine mammals.

"Fishermen or tourists sometimes do not know how to react or behave around dolphins when they encounter them, and this can create a dangerous situation."

"Dolphins are sociable creatures but that does not mean their friendliness should be taken for granted," he said, adding that dolphins were classified as protected animals under the Wildlife Conservation Act 2010.

He said the MNS' Marine Mammal Project, an on-going study on marine mammal activities at the islands of Tioman, Redang and Langkawi, has already begun to improve knowledge on dolphin behaviour.

MNS president Professor Dr Maketab Mohamed said that about 20 species of dolphins have been recorded in Malaysian waters, most of which were found in mangrove and large river systems.

"Their occurrence must be looked upon as a natural biological indicator and an opportunity to gain awareness, research and monitoring," he said.

"Therefore, it is important for us to safeguard its habitat and manage our fisheries sustainably."

A marine biologist contacted by the New Straits Times said river dolphins were threatened with extinction as their preferred habitats -- estuaries -- were both ecologically sensitive and attracted heavy human activity.

He said the group of pink dolphins, recently spotted at the Matang Mangrove Forest Reserve in Perak, could have come from either the Irrawady River in Myanmar or the Mekong River in Thailand where they have become increasingly rare.

"I doubt there was a hidden population (in Matang) before -- dolphins are free-ranging oceanic species, which will happily travel to find an optimal environment."

He said while the proper species of the Matang dolphins have yet to be identified, they were believed to be the Indo-Pacific humpback dolphin (Sousa chinensis chinensis), which are white or pink-skinned as adults, and can grow up to between 2m and 3.5m.

Lady luck, dolphins smile on us
New Straits Times 11 Aug 11;

WHEN I arrived in the sleepy fishing village of Kuala Sepetang, near Taiping, I was buoyed with the hopes of being able to see dolphins up close.

However, the locals in the area dashed those hopes when they told me that I might not be able to catch a glimpse of the dolphins.

Still optimistic, I asked fishermen Muhammad Zamyr Affar, 19, and Mohd Safuan Shahidan, 19, for assistance, who agreed to take photographer Hasriyasyah Sabudin and I out in their fishing boat.

We set off from the Kuala Sepetang Eco-Education Centre jetty and headed for Kuala Sangga, a small Chinese fishing village located at the river mouth, about half an hour away by boat.

The dolphins, believed to be Indo-Pacific humpback dolphins (also known as Chinese white dolphins), are frequently spotted in the waters there, which is located within the Matang Mangrove Forest Reserve that stretches over 40,000ha across the state.

At first, only brief flashes of fins and noses could be seen breaking the surface of the water from afar, but perhaps curiosity led the dolphins to come closer to our boat.

Hasriyasyah and I had our work cut out for us, though, as we struggled to photograph the lively dolphins, which would come up for air for mere seconds before vanishing into the murky water.

It was as though they were playing hide and seek with us as they appeared on one side of the boat, dove underwater and reappeared on the other side.

Sitting at the prow of the boat, I got a close-up view of the dolphins as they surfaced beside the boat, just within my reach, though I didn't dare to reach out and touch them.

After an hour and a half of "playtime" with us, the pod of five dolphins began to tire and headed out to sea.

Returning to Kuala Sepetang, Muhammad Zamyr and Mohd Safuan said that we were very lucky, as they had never seen so many dolphins at one time. I count myself lucky to have been able to spend an afternoon with such magnificent creatures. -- By Hanis Maketab

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Coral Reefs: Winners and Losers

Christopher Pala Science AAAS 10 Aug 11;

Scientists have just made the job of those trying to save the world's coral reefs a bit easier. A new map published today pinpoints the reefs that can still be saved—and those that are likely to die. The team hopes that the data will help reef managers better focus their conservation efforts.

Some corals (green spots) are located in places where climatic conditions are likely to allow them to survive global warming, whereas others (red dots) are likely to die early from more adverse regional conditions. Credit: Joseph Maina

Today, about 19% of the world's coral reefs have died as a result of overfishing of algae-eating fish, pollution, and temperature spikes, according to the Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network (based on the opinion of 370 coral reef scientists and managers from 96 countries). Another 15% are expected to die in the next 15 years. More than 100 million people depend on them for food, as a live reef supports many edible fish and crustaceans. In addition, many more people rely on reefs as a buffer against high waves.

Reef managers can help restore coral reefs by restricting fishing and reducing pollutants in the water that then runs off land near reefs. Until now, however, they've had a hard time figuring out which reefs to focus on. Their best measure was looking at how a reef resisted past bleaching events-periods of exceptionally warm water that kill the corals and turn them white-and how fast the corals recovered from these events. But this strategy is inefficient and costly because there are not enough coral reef field biologists to study all reef locations.

To help reef managers better focus their efforts, spatial ecologist Joseph Maina of Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia, and his colleagues performed a global assessment of areas most susceptible to bleaching. They mined satellite and tidal data to determine where the water has gotten warmer and where there is the least amount of wind (wind makes waves, which cool the sun-heated top layers by mixing them with the cooler ones underneath). Differences in ultraviolet radiation were also factored in.

Then they looked at the positive factors that make a heat wave bearable: high, swift tides; big variations in temperatures (corals that are used to big swings survive warming better than those that are not); and strong, cooling currents. They also factored in one of the main direct causes of coral mortality: runoff from rivers that dumps sediment and excessive nutrients into the sea, helping algae replace corals. This is the bit that humans can do something about by regulating the use of fertilizers and soil erosion.

The team then plugged all of its data into mathematical formulas and generated a map. The map, in a paper published online today in PLoS ONE, shows that some reefs have a much brighter future than others.

La Reunion, a French island in the Pacific that recently stepped up protection, won the "Most Likely to Succeed" award. On a scale where maximum stress is 1 and minimum is 0, it scored 0.13. On the other end of the spectrum, Lombok Island, which has Indonesia's best score, rates only 0.74, a high stress value.

Florida's Key Largo scored an impressive climatic score of 0.25, but because overfishing and runoff have damaged its reefs, its total stress level is a high 0.85. That makes it a perfect candidate for stepping up protection, Maina says.

Conversely, he says, other healthy reefs in places like Bonaire off Venezuela, the Hawaiian Islands, the Great Barrier Reef, and New Caledonia are already getting good protection. This study should encourage managers to maintain their efforts there, he says.

The study yielded some surprising results. Britain's largely untouched Chagos Islands, which sit in the middle of the biggest marine reserve in the world, nearly the size of Spain, in the central Indian Ocean, scored a high climatic stress level of 0.80. The Pacific nation of Kiribati's Phoenix Islands, whose reefs are protected, scored 0.87 and nearby Palmyra, probably the most studied pristine atoll in the world, 0.83. But Takapoto Atoll in French Polynesia scored a much better 0.66.

In Southeast Asia, however, climatic conditions are so bad that most of the corals are dying and disappearing much faster than reefs in lower-stress environments. The region contains the so-called Coral Triangle that's home to 500 of the world's 700 species of coral. The remarkable biodiversity has led to the Coral Triangle Initiative convened in 2009 in which the United States, the Asian Development Bank, and others pledged more than $400 million over 5 years to protect the reefs from overfishing and pollution. That's far more than in places that the new study predict have a rosier future, despite little success in curbing a declining coral cover in the Coral Triangle over the past 30 years.

"There are a lot of reefs around the world that are going to do much better, and together they're only getting a tiny fraction of that amount," says co-author Tim McClanahan of the Wildlife Conservation Society in Mombasa, Kenya. "A lot of money is being wasted on reefs that have a dismal future," he says.

"We need to focus on the winners, not losers," McClanahan adds. "They're off in the Pacific, southern East Africa, Sri Lanka, and the northern Red Sea. They're not very well protected and they'll do much, much better if they had more fish and less sediment."

The 1982-2009 temperature data the study is based on is a good indicator of future trends, McClanahan says, because many oceanographic physical processes are stable enough to insure consistent patterns in temperature changes.

"This is a valuable contribution that helps to identify locations that will suffer the least from climate change and therefore benefit the most from local conservation measures," says Alan Friedlander, a marine biologist at the University of Hawaii, Manoa, who studies reefs.

But not everyone agrees. John Bruno, a marine ecologist at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, says it's hard to tell which corals will bleach in the future. "The Bahamas bleached in 1998 but not in 2003, while the Virgin Islands bleached in 2010 but not before, and that's just in the Caribbean."

Worldwide Map Identifies Important Coral Reefs Exposed to Stress
ScienceDaily 11 Aug 11;

Marine researchers from the Wildlife Conservation Society and other groups have created a map of the world's corals and their exposure to stress factors, including high temperatures, ultra-violet radiation, weather systems, sedimentation, as well as stress-reducing factors such as temperature variability and tidal dynamics.

The study, say the authors, will help to conserve some of the world's most important coral reefs by identifying reef systems where biodiversity is high and stress is low, ecosystems where management has the best chance of success.

The paper appears online in journal PLoS One. The authors include: Joseph M. Maina of WCS and a doctoral student at Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia; Timothy R. McClanahan of WCS; Valentijn Venus of Netherlands Institute for Geo-Information Science and Earth Observation; Mebrahtu Ateweberhan of the University of Warwick; and Joshua Madin of Macquarie University.

"Coral reefs around the globe are under pressure from a variety of factors such as higher temperatures, sedimentation, and human-related activities such as fishing and coastal development," said Joseph M. Maina, WCS conservationist and lead author on the study. "The key to effectively identifying where conservation efforts are most likely to succeed is finding reefs where high biodiversity and low stress intersect."

Using a wide array of publicly available data sets from satellites and a branch of mathematics known as fuzzy logic, which can handle incomplete data on coral physiology and coral-environment interactions, the researchers grouped the world's tropical coral reef systems into clusters based on the sum of their stress exposure grades and the factors that reinforce and reduce these stresses.

The first cluster of coral regions -- Southeast Asia, Micronesia, the Eastern Pacific, and the central Indian Ocean -- is characterized by high radiation stress (sea surface temperature, ultra-violet radiation, and doldrums weather patterns with little wind) and few stress-reducing factors (temperature variability and tidal amplitude). The group also includes corals in coastal waters of the Middle East and Western Australia (both regions have high scores for reinforcing stress factors such as sedimentation and phytoplankton).

The second cluster -- including the Caribbean, Great Barrier Reef, Central Pacific, Polynesia, and the Western Indian Ocean -- contained regions with moderate to high rates of exposure as well as high rates of reducing factors, such as large tides and temperature variability.

Overall, stress factors such as surface temperature, ultra-violet radiation, and doldrums were the most significant factors, ones that ecosystem management has no control over. What is controllable is the mitigation of human impacts that reinforce radiation stress and where managers decide to locate their protected areas.

"When radiation stress and high fishing are combined, the reefs have little chance of surviving climate change disturbances because they both work against the survival of corals that are the foundation of the coral reef ecosystem," said Dr. Tim McClanahan, WCS Senior Conservationist and head of the society's coral reef research and conservation program.

The authors recommend that the study results be used to formulate management strategies that would include activities such as fishing restrictions, the management of watersheds through improved agricultural practices, and reforestation of coastal watersheds that play a role in healthy coral systems.

"The study provides marine park and ecosystem managers with a plan for spatially managing the effectiveness of conservation and sustainability," said Dr. Caleb McClennen, Director of the Wildlife Conservation Society's Marine Program. "The information will help formulate more effective strategies to protect corals from climate change and lead to improved management of reef systems globally."

The Macquarie University's Higher Degree Research (HDR) and the Wildlife Conservation Society Marine Program contributed to the mapping project, with support from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

Journal Reference:

Joseph Maina, Tim R. McClanahan, Valentijn Venus, Mebrahtu Ateweberhan, Joshua Madin. Global Gradients of Coral Exposure to Environmental Stresses and Implications for Local Management. PLoS ONE, 2011; 6 (8): e23064 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0023064

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Jurong oil caverns: Singapore digs deep to be petro hub

Sharanjit Leyl BBC As Business Report 10 Aug 11;

One hundred and thirty metres below the sea bed of Singapore lies a most unusual construction site.

Hundred of workers are carving out a series of enormous caverns in hard rock. The work is laborious, expensive and will take years to complete, but eventually they hope to create a space large enough to store the equivalent of nine million barrels of oil.

Why? Because Singapore, all 700 sq km of it, is running out of room. The company behind the project, state-run Jurong Town Corporation, wants to provide a secure storage site for companies that will pay them for using the space.

Chief executive Manohar Khiatani explains the rationale behind the project.

"Singapore is a small country, so we have to continuously think of ways on how we can optimise land use," he says.

"In order to cater for the future growth of the petrochemical industry, we needed to create more space for storage and that's why we decided to construct these caverns underground.

"Something like this does not make sense for everybody. It makes sense for us because land is a scarce and hence a very valuable resource in Singapore."

Mr Khiatani points out that were a similar facility to be built on the surface "it would take up about 70 hectares of land".

"By going underground, we can save around 60 hectares of land, which is about the size of 70 football fields, and that space can be used for other activities that cannot go underground."
'Very deep'

The project, dubbed the Jurong Rock Caverns, is costing them about $740m (£450m). It is currently in its first phase of construction and is due for completion in 2014.

Five caverns are being dug out under the seabed of Banyan Basin, off Jurong island, a series of mostly-reclaimed islands that house most of Singapore's petrochemical industry.

Some 90 companies from the industry have facilities there, including multinational firms such as Shell and Exxon Mobil.

According to Mr Khiatani, the caverns will cater mainly for companies already producing on Jurong island and their long-term storage needs. However, he acknowledges that the project has its own "share of challenges".

"Operating caverns is different from operating on land, so we will have to learn along the way as the caverns are implemented," says Mr Khiatani.

"What we have to contend with is the fact that we're going very deep, over 100m below ground level, the kind of rock that we have here is different, so we have had to manage that. We are trying to work on and improve the processes."
New technologies

These "processes" involve drilling and blasting each rock cavern with explosives and then lining it in cement, using a high-pressure spray.

New technologies are also being used to prevent potential accidents, such as oil seeping through the rock. Part of this involves the use of a "water curtain" - water-filled tunnels and boreholes that will surround the cavern from the outside - in order to keep it sealed through hydrostatic pressure.

So arduous is the work that construction had to be stopped while the BBC crew filmed and interviewed Mr Khiatani in one of the half-completed caverns.

The cost and scale of the project shows the lengths that Singapore will go to in order to keep up its role as a regional hub for the petrochemical industry.

The nation, the smallest in South East Asia, has no natural resources, but has invested heavily over the decades in creating a refining hub that now processes much of the oil from the region.
Carving niche

According to Julian Ho from the Economic Development Board, the government entity responsible for attracting multinational firms to the city state, Singapore recognises its space and resource "constraints", which is why it has had to provide the right conditions to become Asia's largest export refining centre.

"If you look at companies like Exxon Mobil and Shell, where they have their largest refining downstream and chemical footprint in Asia Pacific in Singapore, I think it reflects a couple of things," he says.

"They have 100% control of their assets, which are very valuable. They have an environment that is stable and certain in terms of how they will operate.

"And thirdly, this is a high-technology complex industry, and when you have that industry here, you really need manpower capabilities to allow them to operate these facilities efficiently."

Singapore's petrochemical industry is now estimated to be worth about $50bn to $65bn (£30bn-£40bn) annually and contributes significantly to the economy, which grew at a slower pace in the last quarter from the previous year.

It accounts for nearly a third of Singapore's total trade in terms of both exports and imports, which is why a project like the Jurong Rock Caverns, despite its unusualness, comes as no surprise.

It shows how determined the small country is to carve out a big niche in the industry.

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