Best of our wild blogs: 16 Aug 11

New record of butterflyfish?
from Compressed air junkie

Masters of in-flight meals
from The annotated budak

Squid catches shrimp at Changi
from wild shores of singapore

Singapore Stamps & Money: One for the Birds
from Raffles Museum News

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The Jurong Line: Track and fields

Teh Jen Lee The New Paper AsiaOne 16 Aug 11;

Looking at these pictures, you might be wondering: "I thought the Tanjong Pagar railway track is already closed to the public?"

Well, this is the lesser-known Jurong Line, which was completed in 1965.

Back then, the railway track served as an extension into the newly-constructed Jurong Industrial Estate.

But due to inadequate traffic, it has been abandoned since the late 1980s.

The partially-dismantled track emerges from the Clementi Woodlands at Sunset Way, crossing the Ulu Pandan Canal via the much-photographed cast iron bridge.

The New Paper on Sunday explored the area with Mr Leong Kwok Peng, vice-president of Nature Society Singapore (NSS) and acting chairman of the NSS conservation committee.

In October, the NSS submitted a proposal to turn the area around the railway track into a continuous green corridor.

The proposal was developed in collaboration with the Singapore Heritage Society, cycling groups and interested architects.

Mr Leong, 54, said the Jurong Line is about 20km long and would link to the existing 100km under National Parks Board's (NParks) Park Connector Network (PCN), should the proposal be adopted.

"It would complement and be a nice alternative to the PCN, which tends to be more managed and manicured."

"The track lands have been reclaimed by nature, and together with the informal vegetable gardens that have been planted by nearby residents, it has a more countryside feel," said Mr Leong, who runs an outdoor adventure centre.

After the extended walk along the disused tracks, this reporter now understands the charm that the area exudes.

When we started walking in Clementi, "state land" signs were spotted, warning against trespassing.


But that soon gave way to large swathes of greenery.

The eyes were soothed by the myriad shades of green, the blooming wildflowers with their attendant butterflies, and the rust-red dragonflies that perfectly matched the colour of the tracks.

Birdsongs provided a nice break to the traffic noise that one is so used to hearing in Singapore. It's no wonder, because NSS bird surveys have recorded over 60 species in the area.

About a kilometre into the trek, we spotted informal gardens, with neat rows of plants and fruiting trees.

We came across smoke from a small fire, which was probably lit to burn garden waste.

Taking in a deep breath, Mr Leong smiled and said: "This is the natural kampung smell."

We came across Mr Sim Mui Tong, a container operator in his 40s, doing some hoeing in one of the informal vegetable gardens, which he said had been around for over 30 years.

He said in Mandarin: "The previous generation of residents started it. I come here whenever I'm free, like many other people living nearby.

"Whatever we grow, like sweet potato leaves, is shared. We also give away to those who ask."

Future plans for the area are unclear, but Mr Sim hopes that the Government can let the gardens stay.

Mr Leong said the green corridor proposal incorporates the gardens as they are a great way to bring communities together.

He added that there are more than 6,800 fans of the "We support the Green Corridor in Singapore" Facebook page.

He said that people wanted places like these to be preserved because there is just no price tag on such spaces.

"You can have all the money, but you can't recreate this," he said.

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Semakau Landfill: Refuse Collects Here, but Visitors and Wildlife Can Breathe Free

Lindsey Hoshaw The New York Times 15 Aug 11;

Waiting lists for selective colleges, fine restaurants and overbooked flights are familiar enough — but Singapore may have the only landfill with a four-month wait once you sign up to visit.

Then again, this landfill is no dump. It’s a manmade island that resembles a nature preserve, despite the 9.8 million tons of incinerated waste lying just a foot under the parklike surface.

Singapore’s land scarcity — the city-state is smaller than Rhode Island — has led the government to develop innovative waste disposal techniques. Among them is an island off the southern part of the mainland that opened after Singapore’s last city dump, Lorong Halus, closed in 1999. By joining two small islands in an area roughly the size of Central Park, the government created Semakau Landfill, Singapore’s first offshore dumping ground, and now a popular local getaway.

The $360 million facility includes a 4.4-mile-long sea wall made of sand, rock and clay, as well as a geomembrane of polyethylene, which lines the island’s periphery to prevent leakage. Incinerated trash from the mainland comes over in barges, and the wet ash is emptied into one of several pits, or “cells,” to eventually be covered over with dirt, where palm trees and other plants naturally take root.

Renovating landfills for public use is nothing new. In New York, the Fresh Kills landfill on Staten Island, which closed in 2001, will reopen as a park around 2035. In 1994, Japan turned an old landfill southwest of Osaka into Kansai International Airport, the world’s first ocean airport.

But Semakau Landfill is the only active landfill that receives incinerated and industrial waste while supporting a thriving ecosystem, which includes more than 700 types of plants and animals and several endangered species. “Even though we operate a landfill, biodiversity is still thriving,” said Ong Chong Peng, Semakau Landfill’s general manager. “We want to keep this balance as long as possible.”

Wildlife is so precious at Semakau that the intended perimeter of the landfill was altered to ensure two mangrove forests were accessible to fresh water from the changing tides. Protected species like great-billed herons and Malaysian plovers nest on the island, and endangered Chinese white dolphins have been spotted offshore.

Semakau is also the only active landfill that regularly encourages public visits five days a week. While the eastern side of the island is full of dormant cells waiting to be filled, the capped cells on the western side have welcomed onlookers since 2005.

This year, after more than a decade in operation, the island’s eastern side is scheduled for development and may begin accepting waste as early as 2015. The National Environment Agency, which maintains the site, predicts that with both sides of the island accepting trash, the landfill will stay open at least until 2045.

Sport fishermen come during the day and astronomers come at night to glimpse the sky away from the city lights. School groups are even allowed to wade into tide pools to look for sea anemones and knobbly sea stars. These intertidal walks are so popular that Mr. Ong says they’re booked almost year-round.

Some of the most unusual visitors to Semakau have included a couple who posed for wedding photos on the island in 2007. The bride, Rochelle Tan, said she and her husband, Ong Teow Wee, wanted something unique and Semakau fit the bill “perfectly.” Environment ministers from New Zealand, Japan and Samoa have also stopped by to get inspiration for waste management practices in their own countries.

The Singaporean government extols the success of Pulau Semakau, citing the increasing number of public visitors, which has tripled in the last five years, to 13,000 in 2010 from 4,000 in 2005. “Semakau Landfill has received many praises all round for its innovation to solve one of the most pressing needs of solid waste management today,” said Eng Tiang Sing, director of international policy for the Ministry of Environment and Water Resources.

The National Environment Agency says the unique landfill system it has created reduces the volume of waste by 90 percent, and adds that 2 percent of Singapore’s power comes from energy generated by four mainland incinerators.

But critics admonish a waste management plan that completely relies on incineration. Large-scale incinerators, like the ones in Singapore, have short life spans, sometimes lasting only 10 years before needing replacement.

Environmentalists from Greenpeace say incineration simply changes the waste problem into a pollution problem. “Greenpeace is against waste incineration because it is a major source of carcinogenic substances like dioxin, as well as other harmful pollutants like mercury and volatile organic compounds,” said Tara Buakamsri, Greenpeace campaign director for Southeast Asia.

“Landfilling and incineration are major techniques in all Southeast Asian countries, but such waste disposal practices have created social and environmental problems in our communities,” Mr. Buakamsri said.

Public protests have broken out in Malaysia and Indonesia in opposition to government plans to construct new incinerators, and the Philippines banned incinerators in 1999 because of health risks — the same year the Singaporean government started relying on them to operate Semakau Landfill.

There is also the small but real risk that the waste will leak into the ocean. Protective measures “will likely succeed in preventing leaching into the surrounding water bodies for a number of years, at least a few decades, but will ultimately fail, posing a risk for future generations,” said Scott Kaufman, an adjunct professor at Columbia University and U.S. senior manager at Carbon Trust, a British nonprofit group that seeks to help companies cut carbon emissions.

The National Environment Agency says leakage is not likely and that TÜV SÜD, an international inspection and certification firm, tests the surrounding water for heavy metals each month. They also say that the two mangrove forests surrounding the island, which are highly reactive to toxic material, will act as canaries in the coal mine should anything escape. They are confident that Semakau Landfill can safely accept waste for decades to come.

“If we run out of landfill space, we’re in trouble,” Mr. Ong said. “That’s why this place is so critical.”

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How Indonesia crippled its own climate change

David Fogarty Reuters 16 Aug 11;

(Reuters) - In July 2010, U.S. investor Todd Lemons and Russian energy giant Gazprom believed they were just weeks from winning final approval for a landmark forest preservation project in Indonesia.

A year later, the project is close to collapse, a casualty of labyrinthine Indonesian bureaucracy, opaque laws and a secretive palm oil company.

The Rimba Raya project, on the island of Borneo, is part of a United Nations-backed scheme designed to reward poorer nations that protect their carbon-rich jungles.

Deep peat in some of Indonesia's rainforests stores billions of tonnes of carbon so preserving those forests is regarded as crucial in the fight against climate change.

By putting a value on the carbon, the 90,000-hectare (225,000 acre) project would help prove that investors can turn a profit from the world's jungles in ways that do not involve cutting them down.

After three years of work, more than $2 million in development costs, and what seemed like the green light from Jakarta, the project is proof that saving the world's tropical rainforests will be far more complicated than simply setting up a framework to allow market forces to function.

A Reuters investigation into the case also shows the forestry ministry is highly skeptical about a market for forest carbon credits, placing it at odds with President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who supports pay-and-preserve investments to fight climate change.

Hong Kong-based Lemons, 47, a veteran of environmentally sustainable, and profitable, projects, discovered just how frustrating the ministry can be to projects such as his.

"Success was literally two months around the corner," he said. "We went through -- if there are 12 steps, we went through the first 11 on time over a 2-year period. We had some glitches, but by and large we went through the rather lengthy and complicated process in the time expected."

That's when the forestry ministry decided to slash the project's area in half, making it unviable, and handing a large chunk of forested deep peatland to a palm oil company for development.

The case is a stark reminder to Norway's government, the world's top donor to projects to protect tropical forests, on just how tough it will be to preserve Indonesia's rainforests under its $1 billion climate deal with Jakarta.


The dispute has turned a spotlight on Indonesia's forestry ministry, which earns $15 billion a year in land permit fees from investors. Indonesia's Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) said last month it will investigate the granting of forest permits and plans to crack down on corruption in the resources sector.

"It's a source of unlimited corruption," said Chandra M. Hamzah, deputy chairman at the KPK.

Indonesia Corruption Watch, a private watchdog, says illegal logging and violations in issuing forest use permits are rampant. It estimates ill-gotten gains total about 20 trillion rupiah ($2.3 billion) each year.

A forest ministry official connected with the U.N.-backed forest carbon offset scheme was sentenced in April to three years in prison for accepting a $10,000 bribe to ensure an Indonesian company won a procurement tender.

Wandojo Siswanto was one of the negotiators for Indonesia's delegation at the 2009 U.N. climate talks in Copenhagen, despite being a bribery suspect. His case has highlighted concerns about the capacity of the forestry ministry to manage forest-carbon projects.

The forestry sector has a long history of mismanagement and graft. Former trade and industry minister Bob Hasan, a timber czar during the Suharto years, was fined 50 billion rupiah ($7 million) for ordering the burning of forests in Sumatra and then imprisoned in a separate case of forestry fraud after Suharto was toppled from power in 1998.

In an interview in Jakarta, senior forestry ministry officials denied any wrongdoing in the Rimba Raya case and criticized the project's backers for a deal they made with Russia's Gazprom, the world's largest gas producer, to market the project's carbon credits.

Internal forestry ministry documents that Reuters obtained show how the ministry reversed its support for the project after a new minister came in, and a large chunk of the project's land was turned over to a palm oil firm.

The case illustrates how growing demand for land, bureaucratic hurdles and powerful vested interests are major obstacles to conservation projects in Indonesia and elsewhere in the developing world.

That makes it hard for these projects to compete and navigate through multiple layers of government with the potential for interference and delay.

"We have systematically not been able to demonstrate that we can complete the loop to turn projects into dollar investments," said Andrew Wardell, program director, forests and governance, at the Center for International Forestry Research in Indonesia.

"Which is why the palm oil industry is winning hands down every time."


The Rimba Raya project was meant to save a large area of carbon-rich peat swamp forest in Central Kalimantan province and showcase Jakarta's efforts to fight climate change.

Much of the area is dense forest that lies atop oozy black peat flooded by tea-colored water. Dozens of threatened or endangered species such as orangutans, proboscis monkeys, otter civets and Borneo bay cats live in the area, which is adjacent to a national park.

Rimba Raya was designed to be part of the U.N's Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD) program. The idea is simple: every tonne of carbon locked away in the peat and soaked up by the trees would earn a steady flow of carbon credits.

Profit from the sale of those credits would go to project investors and partners, local communities and the Indonesian government. That would allow the project to pay its way and compete with palm oil farmers and loggers who might otherwise destroy it.

Rich countries and big companies can buy the credits to offset their emissions.

By preserving a large area of peat swamp forest, Rimba Raya was projected to cut carbon emissions by nearly 100 million tonnes over its 30-year life, which would translate into total saleable credits of about $500 million, Gazprom says.

It would also be a sanctuary for orphaned or rehabilitated orangutans from elsewhere in Borneo. Rimba Raya teamed up with the founder of Orangutan Foundation International, Birute Mary Galdikas, in which OFI would receive a steady income from annual carbon credit sales.

It was the sort of project President Yudhoyono and Norway have pledged to support. Yudhoyono has put forests -- Indonesia is home to the world's third-largest forest lands -- at the center of a pledge to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 26 percent by 2020.

He tasked a senior adviser to press for reforms to make REDD projects easier and for greater transparency at the forestry ministry.


Rimba Raya was poised for success. It got backing from the Clinton Foundation's Climate Initiative, which helped pay for some of the early costs. Gazprom invested more than $1 million.

It was the first in the world to meet stringent REDD project rules under the Washington-based Voluntary Carbon Standard, an industry-respected body that issues carbon credits. Rimba Raya was also the first to earn a triple-gold rating under the Climate, Community and Biodiversity Alliance, a separate verifier.

Companies including German insurer Allianz and Japanese telecoms giant NTT pledged to buy credits from the project if it gets its license.

In December 2009, the forestry ministry tentatively named the now Indonesian-registered company PT Rimba Raya Conservation the license holder for nearly 90,000 ha, contingent on it passing an environmental impact assessment. It did so a few months later.

The ownership of PT Rimba Raya Conservation is split 70 percent foreign and 30 percent Indonesian, with Lemons and business partner Jim Procanik holding small stakes.

Lemons is CEO of Hong Kong-based firm InfiniteEARTH, which is the developer and manager of the Rimba Raya project as well as investment fund-raiser. Procanik, 44, is the managing director.

In June last year, Forestry Minister Zulkifli Hasan asked for a map that would set the final boundary of the project, according to a copy of the instruction seen by Reuters. This mandatory step normally takes a few weeks. Once the map is issued, a project is eligible for a license to operate.

But by September last year it was clear something was wrong, according to Lemons. Despite repeated promises by ministry officials, the final map had not been issued. No explanations were given.

"No one has ever said, 'No'. So that's exhausting," said Lemons.

What followed instead was a series of steps by the forestry ministry that have resulted in the project being undermined.

A ministry review focused on conflicting claims to the land by several companies belonging to palm oil firm, PT Best Group.

PT Best, which is run by Indonesian brothers Winarto and Winarno Tjajadi, had long coveted the peat land within the area the forestry ministry set aside for the Rimba Raya project.

On December 31, 2010, PT Best was granted 6,500 ha of peat swamp land for palm oil development, next to a smaller parcel of deep peat land granted a year earlier -- part of PT Best's broader plan to connect its palm oil plantations in the north with a port on the coast nearby. The land granted last December was part of the original area set aside for Rimba Raya.

The Tjajadi brothers declined several requests by Reuters to comment.

The December allocation to PT Best came despite assurances from Forestry Minister Hasan that he would not allow deep peatlands to be converted for agriculture.

The allocation also came a day before a two-year moratorium on issuing licenses to clear primary forests and peat lands was due to start on January 1 this year. The moratorium is a key part of the climate deal with Norway.

After months of delay, the forestry ministry finally ruled that PT Rimba Raya was only eligible for 46,000 ha, a decision that cut out much of the peatlands covering nearly half the original project area.


The case has now been brought before the office of the Indonesian government's Ombudsman. In an interview, senior Ombudsman Dominikus Fernandes told Reuters he believed the forestry ministry should issue the license to Rimba Raya.

"If Rimba Raya has already fulfilled the criteria, there should not be a delay in issuing the license," he said.

"This is a model project in Indonesia that should be prioritized. If we don't give an example on the assurance of investing in Indonesia, that's not a good thing."

Officials from the forestry ministry, in a lengthy interview with Reuters, said the area was given legally for palm oil development because PT Best had claims to the land dating back to 2005.

Secretary-General of the ministry Hadi Daryanto stressed the peatland areas originally granted to Rimba Raya were on a type of forest called convertible production forest, which can be used for agriculture but not REDD projects. Handing that nearly 40,000 ha to Rimba Raya would be against the law, he said.

Yet in 2009, the ministry was ordered to make the title switch for this same area of peatland so it could be used for a REDD project. The instruction to immediately make the switch, a bureaucratic formality, was never acted on.

In the Oct 2009 decree seen by Reuters, former Forestry Minister H.M.S. Kaban issued the order as part of a broader instruction setting aside the nearly 90,000 ha for ecosystem restoration projects. Kaban left office soon after.

Indonesian law also bans any clearing of peat lands more than 3 meters deep. An assessment of the Rimba Raya area by a peat expert hired by InfiniteEARTH showed the peat is 3 to 7 meters deep, so in theory was out of bounds for PT Best to clear for agriculture.

For Lemons, 47, the mood has switched from exhilaration to bitter disappointment. "We've been here every day pushing like hell from every angle," he said.

Procanik says the disappointment is personal. "Todd and I have both invested what savings we had for our kids' college education in this project," he said.

Gazprom is also upset.

In a letter dated June 16 to the Indonesian government, the Russian firm criticized the ministry's failure to issue the license for Rimba Raya and threatened to abandon clean-energy projects in Indonesia estimated to be worth more than $100 million in foreign investment. The government has yet to respond.


Secretary-General Daryanto and Iman Santoso, Director-General for forestry business management, said another major problem was InfiniteEARTH's deal with Gazprom, which was made in the absence of any license.

"We didn't know about the contract with Gazprom. They had no legal right to make the contract," Daryanto told Reuters.

Santoso described it as the project's "fatal mistake."

Daryanto also questioned whether REDD would ever work and whether there was any global appetite for carbon credits the program generates, a view at odds with other parts of the Indonesian government, which has been actively supporting REDD projects.

"Who will pay for the dream of Rimba Raya? Who will pay? Nobody, sir!" Daryanto told Reuters during an interview in the heavily forested ministry compound near central Jakarta.

Lemons said the Gazprom deal was explained in person during a presentation of a 300-page technical proposal submitted to the ministry to prove the project would be financially viable. Daryanto was among a ministry panel that approved the proposal.

"One of their biggest concerns was whether REDD could deliver the same revenues to the state as other land-use permits such as palm oil, logging, mining. We were required to show contracts that demonstrated we could pay the fees and annual royalties," he said.

Gazprom, designated as the sole marketer of carbon credits from Rimba Raya, said it had already agreed long-term sales contracts with buyers at between 7 and 8 euros ($10 to $11.40) per tonne -- contingent on the license being issued.

"We've sold to four or five companies around that price," said Dan Barry, Gazprom Marketing & Trading's London-based global director of clean energy.

Gazprom became involved, he said, because it was a project that looked to have official support. The Russian company agreed to a financing mechanism that ensured the project's viability for 30 years, regardless of the price level of carbon markets.

Those markets, centered on the European and U.N. carbon trading programs, were valued at $142 billion in 2010, the World Bank says. National carbon trading schemes are planned for Australia and South Korea, while California is planning a state-based scheme from 2013. New Zealand's carbon market started in 2008.

"If you ever want a successful REDD scheme, you are going to have to have a process that people believe in," Barry said.

"The Ministry of Forestry ought to be doing everything it can to support a program that benefits forestry as opposed to favor a program that's there to cut it down and turn it into palm oil."


Kuntoro Mangkusubroto, the head of the REDD task force in Indonesia who is also in charge of the president's government reforms unit, said the Rimba Raya case highlighted deep flaws in the bureaucracy and the need for sweeping reforms to underpin the 40 other REDD projects in Indonesia.

"The core concern is the trust in government statements of readiness, and responsibility," he told Reuters in an email. "Even with the best of intentions, the unsynchronous action of the central government's ministry and the district government's action is not conducive for investment, especially in this new kind of venture.

"I can surmise that the case of Rimba Raya is a case of a business idea that is ahead of its time. The government infrastructure is insufficiently ready for it."

Legal action was one solution to this case, he added.

That is a path Lemons and Procanik may eventually take but for now they have proposed a land swap deal with PT Best in which the firm gives PT Rimba Raya 9,000 ha of peat land in return for a similar sized piece of non-peat land held by PT Rimba Raya in the north of the project near other PT Best landholdings.

PT Best rejected an earlier offer by Rimba Raya of 9 percent of the credits from the project, Lemons said.

Based on recent satellite images, PT Best has yet to develop the disputed 9,000 ha area.

The delays mean it is too late for Rimba Raya to become the world's first project to issue REDD credits. That accolade has since gone to a Kenyan project.

"Our whole point here is to show host countries that REDD can pay its way," said Lemons. "And if it can't pay its way then we haven't proven anything."

In a sign a resolution could still be possible, Ombudsman Fernandes, Forestry Minister Hasan and PT Rimba Raya are scheduled to meet on Aug 19.

(Additional reporting by Olive Rondonuwu and Yayat Supriatna in Jakarta and Harry Suhartono in Singapore; Editing by Simon Webb, Simon Robinson and Bill Tarrant)

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Shorelines, Sandy or Otherwise, That May Not Last

Cornelia Dean The New York Times 15 Aug 11;

If you like a day at the beach — and who does not? — you can find lots of books that will enhance your experience by telling you about the birds, the fish, the plants and even the bugs you will encounter there.

But what about the beach itself?

What is it made of? (The answer is not always “sand.”) How did it form? How does it change? Can it be preserved?

Unless you want to pack your beach bag with a geology text or a manual of coastal engineering, your options for answering these questions are not so good. Four coastal scientists, three from the United States and one from Northern Ireland, have come to the aid of the beach curious with “The World’s Beaches: A Global Guide to the Science of the Shoreline,” a comprehensive, readable guide to the physical features of many kinds of beaches and some of the threats they face.

A beach, simply, is the end product of sediment (sand or gravel or even pebbles or cobbles), wave energy to move it around and a place where it can accumulate. But beaches, as one might expect, are far from simple. In a section called “How to Read a Beach,” we learn why sand, for example, accumulates in particular ways, how ripple action turns some flat stretches of sand into corrugations, the way swash and backwash shape the beach slope, how even a few strands of sea oats can trap enough sand to start building a dune and why foam piles up at the high water line.

The explanations are accompanied by photographs — too small, but beautiful — and clear graphical illustrations. Though the authors occasionally lapse into jargon (their barnacles cling to “substrate” until the animals die and their six-plate shells “become disarticulated”), on the whole, their writing is plain and clear. For the times when it is not, the book comes with a helpful glossary.

Unfortunately, the future holds many threats to the world’s beaches, the worst from human activity, intentional and accidental. People “groom” beaches with rakes or even tractors, destroying the homes and food supplies of tiny crabs, sea birds and other animals that rely on beach habitat. Pollution — everything from giant oil spills to shorefront septic tanks — mars many beaches. But those problems are minor compared with sea level rise, induced by global warming, and the efforts people make to fight its effects.

If experts are correct and seas rise by two or even three feet by the end of the century, they write, cities like Miami, New Orleans, Rio de Janeiro, Venice, Lagos, Tel Aviv and places like the Gold Coast on Australia’s eastern coast will suffer significant, chronic flooding. Island nations already feeling the effects of rising water may literally disappear.

Around the world people eager to protect valuable hotels, condos and other infrastructure respond to the threat of rising seas by building concrete walls or rock revetments. When rising water reaches this armor, as it inevitably does, the beach is drowned.

Two of the authors’ many examples are Waikiki, Hawaii, where skyscraper hotels march right up to the shoreline (and where one hotel, its beach lost to armor, built what is, in effect, a giant, elevated sandbox for its guests), and Cannes, France, where the beach is so narrow that sun-worshippers pile up practically on top of one another other in arrays of rented chairs.

Pumping sand onto eroding beaches can also preserve beachfront buildings from destruction but, as the authors note, it comes at huge cost — environmental and financial.

Beaches that are unfettered by human infrastructure do not disappear when sea level rises. They simply move inland. When sand on a barrier island is washed into the lagoon behind it, or when the base of a beachfront cliff erodes and the bluff slumps down to the water’s edge, the beach, is, in effect, moving to higher ground inland.

But, the authors conclude, unless society chooses beaches over buildings the result will be a world in which parks like the National Seashores retain natural beaches, but beach resorts elsewhere are “heavily walled and beachless.” Rising seas will make sand-pumping operations “untenable,” they predict, and tourists will amuse themselves by “promenading on top of a seawall” — already the principal activity in too many coastal resorts.

If they are right, by then the beaches this book describes will be a nostalgic memory.

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UK: Leatherback turtle sightings up in Wales

BBC News 15 Aug 11;

Reported sightings of leatherback turtles are increasing off Wales, with the reptiles thought to be drawn by high numbers of jellyfish.

Three sightings have been reported in recent days, in Laugharne, Carmarthenshire, north Pembrokeshire and Anglesey.

Dr Peter Richardson, of the Marine Conservation Society (MCS), said Wales' waters were currently "turtle heaven".

The turtles nest in the Caribbean before travelling to UK waters to feed.

Dr Richardson said there had been high numbers of jellyfish - the food source of the leatherback - reported in the Irish Sea this year.

He added: "The waters around Wales are absolutely perfect at the moment for turtles - turtle heaven."

"What we have seen in the last few weeks is a sudden increase in the number of leatherbacks reported off the coast of the UK, mostly the south west, but in the last few days we have had three reports of leatherbacks off Wales."

Describing the leatherback as a "spectacular animal," he added: "Wales boasts the largest leatherback ever recorded anywhere on the planet.

"In 1988, a dead one washed up at Harlech... and it measured just under 3m (10ft), nose to tail, and weighed just under a tonne."

In 2002 and 2005 there were about 70 sightings of leatherback turtles around the British coast, but since 2007 there have been 20 or fewer reported annually, according to the MCS.

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UK scientists try to restore devastated water meadows

Jay Lindsay Associated Press Google News 15 Aug 11;

DURHAM, N.H. (AP) — Underwater meadows of eelgrass once lined the New England coastline, providing a critical shoreline habitat. That was before a wasting disease mysteriously attacked the plant 80 years ago, and scientists are still working to bring it back

Researchers say eelgrass plays several important functions, including filtering the water, buffering storm surges and providing a nursery and shelter for a mix of commercially valuable sea life.

They say losing 80 percent of it between Maine and North Carolina in the 1930s was like the death of a vast, productive forest.

Today, researchers are studying the genetics of the surviving plants, to determine the characteristics that made them resilient or if there are factors that are hindering growth.

They're also they working to find places where the eelgrass can best be replanted.

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Ecuador: four months to save the world's last great wilderness from 'oil curse'

When large reserves of oil were discovered under Yasuní national park, Ecuador offered the world a choice: give us money and we will not allow drilling. Now $60m must be found by December
John Vidal The Observer 14 Aug 11;

Where the foothills of the Andes meet the vast Amazonian rainforest in eastern Ecuador there is a small town called Shell. It's a pockmarked, termite-eaten, one-street place which doubles as a missionary centre and a regional airstrip, but it was here in 1937 that the mighty Shell oil company based its crack Latin American oil-prospecting team. The prize was the vast deposits of crude oil believed then – and now known – to lie beneath some of the densest forests in the world.

Nearly 75 years later, Shell the company has long left Shell the town and half of Ecuador's estimated nine billion barrels of oil reserves have been extracted. Ecuador has earned $130bn from the oil found so far in its forests and it earns 40% of its income from it.

But Ecuador now faces a dilemma. Five years ago the state oil company Petroecuador found a massive new oil field containing nearly a billion barrels of oil in Block 31 of the Yasuní national park close to the Brazilian border. The find was equivalent to 20% of all the nation's reserves, worth a minimum $7-10bn.

The dilemma is that the oil in the Ishpingo Tambococha Tiputini (ITT) field is below one of the most biodiverse areas of the world and to extract it would devastate one of the last great wildernesses.

Because of its location right on the equator at the junction of the forest and the mountains, Yasuní is one of the last places on earth which is truly undisturbed. As well being home to the the Tagaeri and the Taromenane, two of the world's last uncontacted tribes, the park is thought to have more species of plants, animals and insects per hectare than anywhere else on earth.

One six-square-kilometre patch of Yasuní – chosen by scientists almost at random – was found to have 47 amphibian and reptile species, 550 bird and 200 mammal species living there. Another patch of land in the park breaks all the world records for bats and insects. More tree species grow in a single hectare of rainforest in Yasuní than in all of north America. A single hectare of rainforest there may contain as many as 100,000 insect species and most of the 2,000 species of fish known to live in the rivers of the Amazon region are believed to be there.

There have been more species of frogs and toads recorded in the park than are native to the United States and Canada combined; more insect species have been found living on one tree than in all of the United States; more birds seen there than in all Europe.

What to do with Yasuní was left to oil minister Alberto Acosta. A European-trained economist, he had spent years in the state oil company, was a friend of the president, Rafael Correa, and has long been part of Ecuador's political establishment. At the time he was an elected senator (MP), and president of the national assembly, and had helped rewrite Ecuador's constitution.

But Acosta admits now that finding so much oil in Block 31 terrified him. "It is one of the last places on earth which is truly undisturbed. It is simply a paradise," he says.

Acosta is one of the few people ever to have visited Yasuní but his dilemma was how to assess the full costs and benefits of drilling for oil there. On the one hand, the find presented the country with perhaps its last great chance to develop in the traditional 20th-century way, by building roads and industrialising. The money could be used for vitally needed housing, infrastructure, health and education.

On the other hand, the former oilman knew drilling for oil would push the oil frontier far deeper into the Amazon, release 400m tonnes of climate-changing CO2 and make the total destruction of a vast and pristine area inevitable.

"To extract oil on that scale from Yasuní," says Acosta, "would lead to contamination, deforestation, extinction of cultures and destruction of social structures. It would need a vast infrastructure including roads, river ports, tracks, airstrips. Villages would have to be constructed, pipelines laid and millions of tonnes of contaminated waste buried."

In addition, Acosta also knew that the oil industry inevitably attracts corruption, violence and social problems when it works in poor countries such as Ecuador.

"As with everywhere else in the world, the oil company roads will attract settlers in search of land and work, leading to more forest destruction. You only need to see the crime, pollution and poverty in Ecuador's other oilfields to know that to extract the oil [there] would mean the extinction of a paradise," he says. Acosta and his team, backed by scientists and non government groups, considered the options. "Oil is very important in a country like Ecuador. We have extracted 4.5bn barrels so far, which has given us around $130bn. We are at the top of the curve. We have consumed half and we have half our oil left.

"But the reality is that oil has not brought development. It has brought us immense contamination and environmental destruction. Since the 1950s the impact on people has been dramatic. Pollution and deforestation bring problems everywhere the oil is. Oil has not solved the problems of Ecuador.

"I knew the oil industry. I could see the monster from the inside. I began to think perhaps we were poor because of our resources. I called it the curse of abundance. I thought we must have a less extractive economy. We want oil to be used to benefit the country, to transform living conditions."

Acosta and the ministry prepared two plans: plan A was a revolutionary scheme to leave the oil in the ground in perpetuity in return for half of its value from the rich countries of the world; plan B was for business as usual. For the first time in history, a nation would seriously consider accepting a binding agreement not to extract fossil fuels.

"We said that Ecuador should approach the world with a deal. We will leave the oil in the ground and save the forest and the people if you, the world, make a financial contribution. If countries and individuals put up just half the "value" of the 960m barrels of oil – around $3.6bn – in Yasuní then Ecuador would guarantee to leave it there," he says. The money earned from the world would then go to protecting Yasuní and Ecuador's other national parks and towards education and hospitals.

Acosta's thinking was in fact a shrewd response to the economic phenomenon called "oil curse". Experience shows that developing countries who strike oil invariably stay poor. Rather than bringing wealth to many, it enriches a few, fosters corruption, encourages dictatorships and distorts the economies of nearly every poor country it has been found in. The story has been repeated from Nigeria to Sudan, Equatorial Guinea to Gabon and Angola to Venezuela.

Plan A was received with scepticism in government circles, says Acosta. "But I debated it with the president, showed him the benefits, told him he would be seen as a global statesman."

But crucially, it was backed strongly by powerful indigenous groups in the country, as well as the many social movements and the public. President Correa went along with it but at the same time has been enthusiastic about the oil.

Acosta left the government in 2009 and is now a professor at the University of Quito and an open supporter of leaving the oil underground. "One day the president said yes, the next no. I received attacks, people I know lied to defend the interests of the oil companies, and tried to weaken my position."

But polls showed that 90% of the Ecuadorian people backed Plan A and it was endorsed by government.Last year the UN development programme declared Plan A to be a safe environmental investment, and agreed to administer the fund. If a downpayment of $100m is made by December, the forest and the indigenous groups will be left alone. If the money is not found, then a Chinese company is expected to move in within months and the destruction of Yasuní will begin.

So far, Chile and Peru have each donated symbolic amounts, Spain has given €1m and Italy has waived €35m in debt relief. Around $40m has been raised, and the Yasuní fund is backed by celebrities, statesman and Nobel prize winners, including Desmond Tutu, Mikhail Gorbachev, Leonardo DiCaprio, Rigoberta Menchú and Muhammad Yunus.

The options for a life in Ecuador without oil from Yasuní are immense, says Acosta. "The money from the world can be used to protect Ecuador's other national parks, including the Galápagos islands. We have massive renewable energy potential but we use only a fraction of it. We should not export oil but energy. We need a massive reforestation programme. We should be investing in science and teachers.

"We cannot bring mass tourism [to Yasuní] but we can have scientific research. It would be an opportunity for the pharmaceutical industry. What about making it a sanctuary for humanity and nature? It would be extraordinary.

"We must understand that oil is unsustainable. We should be an intelligent country and see it in the long term. Climate change is a limit and we can't continue to burn oil. Perhaps we must change our model of life. What we have learned is that while we cannot live without nature, it can live without us."

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Melting Sea Ice Leads to Walrus Stampedes, Scientists Warn

Wynne Parry Yahoo News 16 Aug 11;

Melting sea ice and the earlier-than-normal movement of walruses has conservationists worried this year might bring another mass migration of the massive animals to shore.

While walruses have traditionally come onto land at times, researchers have seen them coming ashore in greater numbers, in new places, and at times not seen before, said Geoff York, senior program officer for Arctic species with the World Wildlife Fund Global Arctic Program.

Walruses feed on mollusks, clams and other animals they retrieve by diving to the seafloor. Normally, the walruses, particularly females with calves, rest on the drifting sea ice between food dives during the summer. [See walrus haul-out]

However, as the ice recedes, it disappears over the relatively shallower waters where the walruses can feed. The remaining ice remains only over water that is so deep the walruses cannot dive down to the bottom and feed. When this happens, the animals retreat onto land near shallower water.

In recent years, these migrations have happened on an unprecedented scale, with walruses congregating in groups of more than 40,000 animals, according to York.

This can strain the local ecosystem as the animals feed in a concentrated location, and the cramped quarters can lead to stampedes that kill many, generally calves, leaving behind carcasses that can attract hungry polar bears, York said.

In 2009, 131 dead walruses were found near Icy Cape, Alaska, and in 2007, 500 dead individuals were found at a "mega haul-out" site near a Russian village. These mass migrations were first reported in 2006 in Russia, he said.

The extent of Arctic sea ice has been retreating for roughly 30 years, reaching a record low in 2007. This year, sea-ice extent is quite low, and may fall below even that recorded in September 2007, according to the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center.

Researchers from the United States Geological Survey have tagged 40 walruses in the southern Chukchi Sea this summer and are tracking their movements. Some have already reached the Alaskan shore from the remote sea ice.

"This year they are leaving the ice up to three weeks earlier than they have in previous years," York told LiveScience.

Over the last couple of years, the walruses have congregated along the Alaskan shore in the vicinity of Icy Cape and Point Lay, and they appear to be doing the same this year, he said.

Walruses aren't the only Arctic mammals threatened by retreating summer sea ice. A recent study found the loss of sea ice was forcing polar bears to swim longer distances, threatening the survival of their cubs.

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US: GM corn being developed for fuel instead of food

Campaigners say plants being grown in US may worsen global food crisis, while farmers express cross-contamination fears
Suzanne Goldenberg 15 Aug 11;

US farmers are growing the first corn plants genetically modified for the specific purpose of putting more ethanol in gas tanks rather than producing more food.

Aid organisations warn the new GM corn could worsen a global food crisis exposed by the famine in Somalia by diverting more corn into energy production.

The food industry also opposes the new GM product because, although not inedible, it is unsuitable for use in the manufacture of food products that commonly use corn. Farmers growing corn for human consumption are also concerned about cross-contamination. The corn, developed by a branch of the Swiss pesticide firm Syngenta, contains an added gene for an enzyme (amylase) that speeds the breakdown of starches into ethanol. Ethanol plants normally have to add the enzyme to corn when making ethanol.

The Enogen-branded corn is being grown for the first time commercially on about 5,000 acres on the edge of America's corn belt in Kansas, following its approval by the US Department of Agriculture last February. In its promotional material Syngenta says it will allow farmers to produce more ethanol from the corn while using less energy and water.

Meanwhile, campaigners say the corn will heap pressure on global food supplies and contribute to environmental degradation. They argue Enogen will lead to an increase in the amount of food crops going to fuel, leaving less for human consumption and leading to food price rises. That will lead to food price rises on the global market. "The temptation to look at food as another form of fuel to use for the energy crisis will exacerbate the food crisis," said Todd Post of Bread for the World, a Christian anti-hunger organisation.

Although individual events such as the Somalia famine are caused by a complex combination of factors, several studies have established that the expansion of biofuels has pushed up food prices worldwide, making it harder to afford for the poorest. A World Bank report released on Tueday says food prices that are now close to their 2008 peak have contributed to the famine in Somalia. Marie Brill, a senior policy analyst at ActionAid warned: "It's going to put even more pressure on a really tight market. It will be really tempting to farmers to take on this new more efficient ethanol form of corn."

The food industry is warning of the dangers of contaminating existing corn crops with the new GM corn. The same traits that make the modified corn so attractive to the ethanol industry – the swift breakdown of starches – would be a disaster for the food industry, turning corn chips into shapeless lumps, and stripping the thickening properties from corn starch.

Even a small amount of the amylase corn – one kernel out of 10,000 – could damage food products, according to data supplied to the North American Millers' Association by Syngenta. The organisation, like most food industry groups, has opposed the corn, noting failures to prevent cross-contamination from earlier GM breeds.

The European Union, South Korea, and South Africa have not approved its import.

Enogen also has to catch on among farmers. "I'm sceptical as a farmer," said Allen Jasper, who runs a cattle-feed operation near Whitten, Iowa. "The first thing I'm going to ask is how does it yield. Any time you try and change a corn plant and get it to do something that is not native to the plant you have to be sceptical of the yield."

Syngenta maintains the corn variety has a high yield, and that it has the appropriate safeguards to prevent cross- pollination. After Kansas, the company plans to expand its growing area to Nebraska, Iowa, South Dakota, and southwest Minnesota.

Farmers will grow the corn under contract to an ethanol production plant, getting a premium over regular corn. Buffer rows of corn will be planted. "This is a very slow ramp-up. This is not a broad acre crop at this point," said Paul Minehart, a Syngenta spokesman.

Steve McNinch, of Western Plains Energy, in Kansas, the only ethanol plant to have processed the new corn, said adding a small amount of amylase corn to the mix – about 10% – would increase production by 10%.

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