Best of our wild blogs: 23 Aug 11

29 Aug (Mon): Talk on "Understanding the dynamics of the pangolin trade" from Celebrating Singapore's BioDiversity!

“Marine Life in Singapore and the Impact of Man”
from News from the International Coastal Cleanup

The Kent Ridge Kampong
from Macro Photography in Singapore

Fascinating fishes of Admiralty mangroves
from wild shores of singapore

greenwashed chemical drumming & fishfarming? @ seletar 21Aug2011 from sgbeachbum

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NParks seeks ideas to improve green spaces

Its new project aims to link greenery with living, working areas
Feng Zengkun Straits Times 23 Aug 11;

IMAGINE going rock-climbing using the columns of expressway viaducts.

Or relaxing among greenery planted in the empty spaces beneath overhead train tracks.

The National Parks Board (NParks) said yesterday that these ideas could become reality, as part of its new project to create more green spaces and improve existing ones. Called 'City in a Garden', it aims to connect greenery across the island with residents' living and working spaces.

Brigadier-General (NS) Tan Chuan-Jin, Minister of State for National Development and Manpower, said the goal is to move Singapore beyond 'just a city with parks and streetscape greenery' to one where both are integrated.

The concept was introduced in Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's National Day Rally speech earlier this month, where he called for parks and gardens in the heartland to be linked with greenery across the country.

NParks chief executive officer Poon Hong Yuen said this could allow residents to access an islandwide network of parks, nature areas, streetscape and park connectors just by stepping out of their homes.

To achieve this, the agency wants the public to contribute ideas online and via a roving exhibition that will visit schools, parks and housing estates.

They can visit new website between now and next June, or leave comments on the agency's Facebook page at

The agency outlined six areas for contributions:

How to establish world-class gardens
This includes suggestions for educational and leisure activities in the Singapore Botanic Gardens and the upcoming Gardens by the Bay, which opens next June.

How to improve parks and greenery in the streets
This includes suggestions for night programmes such as concerts and plays to attract people to visit the parks after dark.

How to optimise the use of urban spaces for greenery and recreation
This includes identifying untapped urban spaces such as the empty areas underneath overhead train tracks for greenery and recreational activities.

How to encourage biodiversity in the city

How to improve the landscape and horticultural industry

How to encourage residents to appreciate and use green spaces, and help government agencies make Singapore greener

Experts The Straits Times spoke to said the initiative could help Singa-poreans feel a greater sense of ownership and pride in the country's green spaces.

One suggestion was to have a calendar of high-profile events at parks to attract Singaporeans to visit them throughout the year.

An example of this is Bryant Park in New York in the United States, which hosts events such as the annual New York Fashion Week.

Mr Leong Kwok Peng, vice-president of the Nature Society (Singapore), said NParks could vary the nature of green spaces.

'Some places should be left more wild to provide an alternative to the 'manicured' feel of the parks,' he said.

NParks said suitable ideas will be implemented and announced when ready.

Sprucing up Singapore's urban landscape
Evelyn Choo Channel NewsAsia 22 Aug 11;

SINGAPORE: Expect Singapore's urban landscape to be spruced up with nature over the next decade.

The National Parks Board or NParks on Monday revealed its "City in a Garden" framework - which could see more skyrise greenery and green urban spaces.

The "City in a Garden" reference came from Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's comments during the National Day Rally, on keeping Singapore "special and exceptional" by having parks and gardens in the heartlands.

Besides cultivating world-class greenery attractions to draw the international crowd, NParks is hoping to sow more seeds of interest among Singaporeans.

"We will look at rejuvenating some of our larger regional parks so that they become destinations in themselves, that people from all over the island would want to come and enjoy," said Poon Hong Yuen, CEO of National Parks Board.

But that's not to say interest has not been flourishing in the heartlands.

There are some 400 community gardens in Singapore, and the plan is to double this number.

Public engagement seems to be the key focus of this framework.

NParks said it has already received ideas from Singaporeans to develop the green spine, previously occupied by the old KTM railway tracks, into a cycling route that could span 20 kilometres.

"We don't have a whole lot of details in terms of our implementation - and that's deliberate, because we don't want everything to be cast in stone. We want to leave a lot of room for new ideas to be incorporated into the plan," said Poon.

The year-long feedback process will see roving exhibitions and the use of online social media, through which NParks will collate suggestions from the public. The best ideas will be incorporated into specific plans.

To get the ball rolling, it's suggesting that some parks could be developed as attractive night destinations, and unused urban areas like the spaces under MRT tracks could be used for recreation.

In his latest Facebook post, Minister of State for National Development and Manpower Tan Chuan-Jin described how he saw Singapore as an even greener home.

He went into details of what the National Park Board's "City in a Garden" framework will look like.

At the ground level, he described parks and gardens.

But he also said the greenery would extend vertically, with sky gardens.

He called upon Singaporeans to do their part to bring this vision into reality by taking better care of the environment and natural heritage.

He said this can be done in the simplest ways like keeping green areas and waterways free from litter and pollution.

Brigadier General (NS) Tan also called on Singaporeans to share their thoughts and ideas on the CIAG portal at

He cautioned there would be tradeoffs to consider in making Singapore a "City in a Garden" due to the country's land scarcity and resource constraints. But he gave the assurance that these constraints will be carefully thought through.

- CNA/cc/ls

Ideas sought on City in a Garden
Esther Ng Today Online 22 Aug 11;

SINGAPORE - The National Parks Board (NParks) has come up with six areas to enhance the Republic's living environment by having more parks and gardens in housing estates.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had said during his National Day Rally speech Singapore would be a City in a Garden.

NParks will be looking to enliven Singapore's streetscape, enrich biodiversity in urban environments and optimise urban spaces for greenery and recreation.

Other areas also include inspiring communities to create a greener Singapore, enhancing Singapore's horticultural and landscape competencies, and establishing world-class gardens.

The public can contribute their suggestions on these six areas or suggest other ways to enhance Singapore's living environment on the portal

Singaporeans have until next June to submit their suggestions.

In the meantime, NParks will be holding roving exhibitions at parks, educational institutions and housing estates to get people to think of ways in which living in a Garden can be achieved.

They can also post their comments on NParks' Facebook page:

An NParks spokesman said suitable ideas and suggestions from the public will be implemented and announced when ready.

Public can play a part to link S'pore's green spaces
Esther Ng Today Online 23 Aug 11;

SINGAPORE - Adventure-themed parks, converting spaces under Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) tracks and expressway viaducts into recreational spaces, these are some of the ideas the National Parks Board (NParks) has come up to transform the living environment.

Following Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's announcement during his National Day Rally speech to create a "City in the Garden", NParks is inviting suggestions from the public on how this can be achieved.

"Imagine stepping out of your house and not having to wander too far, you find yourself in a lush garden seamlessly connected to other recreational spaces, leisure attractions and even your workplace by a network of park connectors, green links and waterways," said Minister of State for National Development Tan Chuan-Jin on Facebook yesterday.

Singapore should be more than just a city with "parks and streetscape greenery"; rather, the city and urban landscape should be surrounded by lush greenery, with green spaces all linked up, he said.

Using Tampines Eco Green and Pasir Ris Park as examples, NParks chief executive Poon Hong Yuen said: "We want to make (parks) destinations in themselves, so it's not just the people in the vicinity visiting."

NParks is also looking at increasing the number of community gardens from 400 to 800 and biodiversity in the urban environment by reintroducing "selected native species" into the environment.

"We believe urban living can be enriched by having daily close encounters with nature," said Mr Poon.

Environmental consultant Eugene Tay, 33, welcomed the approach to engage the community.

"Whether the parks should be natural or manicured, there should be discussion and the residents should get involved to maintain it," he said.

Non-profit organisation Ground Up Initiative chief Tay Lai Hock, 47, concurred but voiced concerns about NParks' plans to boost mechanisation and skills in the landscape and horticulture industries, one of the thrusts in the six key areas.

"Some of these suggestions are very labour-intensive. We will be getting foreign labour or will we pay Singaporeans enough to be interested in horticulture and landscaping?" he asked.

Architect and butterfly watcher Khew Sin Khoon, 51, wondered how comfortable Singaporeans would be with increased biodiversity in their midst.

Said Mr Khew: "Are we prepared for more bees and wasps, centipedes, changeable lizards? And when there are frogs, snakes will follow. All these creatures are part and parcel of the ecological chain."

The public have until next June to give their feedback at or

Ideas sought to create a City in a Garden
Kelly Tay Business Times 23 Aug 11;

IMAGINE climbing a rock wall feature underneath an MRT track, or cycling through the old rail corridor for 20km without having to stop at traffic light junctions.

These are just some of the possibilities that the National Parks Board (NParks) is considering in its vision to create a City in a Garden (CIAG), which Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had mentioned in his national day rally.

To introduce the CIAG vision and framework, NParks yesterday launched a public engagement exercise to get Singaporeans involved in the co-creation of a 'greener, more endearing home'.

A roving public exhibition on CIAG will be held at various locations island-wide, including parks, educational institutions, and housing estates. The aim is to get Singaporeans to share their ideas on how the city-state's living environment can be improved.

Said Poon Hong Yuen, chief executive officer of NParks: 'We want to transform our Garden City to a City in a Garden. The difference is like having your home within a garden, compared to just having a garden beside your house.'

To guide the transformation, six key areas have been identified: Establish world-class gardens; rejuvenate urban parks and enliven our streetscape; optimise urban spaces for greenery and recreation; enrich biodiversity in our urban environment; enhance competencies of our landscape and horticultural industry; and engage and inspire communities to co-create a greener Singapore.

Tan Chuan-Jin, Minister of State for National Development and Manpower, called the CIAG vision 'a powerful one that seeks to tie in our environment, history, and heritage with recreation and community space', and urged Singaporeans to contribute their ideas and suggestions.

Visitors to the exhibition may drop their ideas in the available suggestion boxes, or they may visit the CIAG portal at

The call for ideas runs from August this year to June 2012.

NParks said that it will collate contributions from the public and incorporate the best ideas into specific plans. When ready, the plans will be shared with the public.

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Malaysia: The poaching dilemma

M. Hamzah Jamaludin The Star 23 Aug 11;

KUANTAN: The Orang Asli are at times forced to become poachers just to earn some extra income for their monthly expenses, without realising the real value of the protected animals.

Peninsular Malaysia Orang Asli Association president Majid Suhut said it was wrong to accuse the Orang Asli of aiming to make big profits from such activities.

"I do not think they know the real value of the protected animals as normally, they only receive few hundred ringgit when selling the items to a middleman," said Majid when contacted by the New Straits Times.

Majid, the Tok Batin (village head) in the Guntong Orang Asli settlement in Kuala Pilah, Negri Sembilan, explained that no Orang Asli would take the risk to capture such animals if they were not desperate.

"In many cases that I know, they are willing to catch the animals when they need extra money to support their family," said Majid, who sometimes gathers forest produce and hunt wild animals to supplement his income as a rubber tapper.

Majid said that it was not easy to capture wild animals nowadays as many of them had moved deep into the jungles.

"You can consider yourself lucky if you stumble upon one.

"It is also very risky to hunt them, especially huge and dangerous animals like tigers and elephants."

He said the Orang Asli in his village were lucky as they could get better incomes by tapping rubber at their own plots or at the smallholdings owned by the Malays in nearby villages.

"I think we can settle this problem if the government can provide lands or suitable jobs for the Orang Asli, especially those who are still living near or inside the jungles."

The view was shared by Kampung Tenggalung Orang Asli village head Majid Jaafar, who felt that the Orang Asli were actually forced to hunt the exotic animals as they needed more money to support their families.

With an average of five to six children in each family, he said it would be difficult for the Orang Asli parents to earn sufficient income every month by selling forest produce alone.

The 59-year-old Tok Batin is known for his role in leading a group of Orang Asli who had applied for a judicial review against the state government's approval of land in Kampung Sungai Buan, Rompin, which they claimed as their ancestral land.

"There should be a special resettlement for the Orang Asli like the Felda scheme," said Majid, who has seven children and six grandchildren.

However, Orang Asli contractor Chow Gek Chow Kiat begged to differ, as she claimed there was no excuse for the Orang Asli to be involved in illegal activities including animal poaching.

"There are vast opportunities provided for them and they can succeed if they work hard like others," said Chow Gek, who won the Tun Dr Siti Hasmah Women's Institute Of Management Woman Of The Year Award in 2005.

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Fishing Gear Is Altered to Ease Collateral Costs to Marine Life

Making fishing lines more visible to whales is one of the conservation steps supported by researchers, regulators, engineers and fishermen.
Cornelia Dean The New York Times 22 Aug 11;

BOSTON — In the world of environmental regulation, where the hope is to write rules that both industry and science can live with, few areas are as contentious as fishing. Especially on the East Coast, fishermen attack scientists as mired in bottomless ignorance about how fish are actually caught. Scientists sometimes describe fishermen as racing to catch the last fish, regardless of the harm to vanishing species.

But new efforts to protect marine creatures have gained surprising support from researchers, regulators, engineers and fishermen.

The issue is bycatch — fish, whales, turtles, sea birds and even corals killed or injured by fishermen in search of other species. The best-known example is dolphin caught in tuna nets, but the problem is far more extensive than that.

“It’s part of the collateral damage fishing causes,” said Tim Werner, who directs the marine conservation engineering program at the New England Aquarium. “You deploy a net and catch a turtle, put out a pot for a lobster and entangle a whale, put out a trawl and pull up coral.”

The problem affects marine species around the world, many of them endangered. Though much attention is paid to overfishing, “often our greatest impact is not on the species we target to catch but the species we did not intend to catch,” Mr. Werner said.

“The seafood on your plate,” he added, “is not the only animal that gave its life to feed you.”

The new efforts focus on modifications to fishing gear. They include relatively simple steps, like changes in hook design, and more complex ones: making fishing lines more visible to whales, changing noise levels on fishing boats and impregnating metal gear with substances meant to repel “bycatch species” like sharks.

Engineered bycatch reduction goes back to the 1990s in the Gulf of Maine, where harbor porpoises were turning up in fishermen’s nets. On the theory that porpoises are sensitive to noise, engineers and biologists developed beer-can-size devices that emitted pinging noises underwater. Within weeks of attaching the pingers to their nets, fishermen saw porpoise bycatch drop by 90 percent.

“It is a little more expensive for the fishermen, but most fishermen are willing to put up with the expense,” said Scott Kraus, vice president for research at the New England Aquarium, headquarters for the Consortium for Wildlife Bycatch Reduction, one of several cooperative efforts.

He added that researchers were now working to design noisemakers that could be installed on boats to keep bycatch species away. And they are testing whether the sound of hauling in fish is like a dinner bell, attracting these species to nets.

This year the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which regulates fishing in federal waters, began requiring fishermen in the Gulf of Mexico to use another innovation: hooks that are robust enough to catch “target” species like yellowfin tuna or swordfish but bend and release when grabbed by heavier species like bluefin tuna.

Chris Rilling, a fishery biologist at NOAA, said experiments by researchers and fishermen showed that these “weak hooks” reduced bycatch of bluefin tuna in the gulf by 56 percent — a considerable success, he said, because bluefin tuna are severely overfished and the Gulf of Mexico is a major spawning ground.

Elsewhere, he said, the agency is moving to require the use of the circle hook, so called because “it largely comes around and wraps back on itself,” unlike conventional J-shaped hooks. When they were adopted in Hawaii, he said, sea turtle bycatch fell by more than 80 percent, so “we have really been pushing for circle hooks all over the world.”

Mr. Rilling said the government had a host of other proposals to reduce sea turtle bycatch, including requiring boats fishing for albacore tuna to keep hooks at least 100 meters (328 feet) below the surface — where, he said, they will be “out of the way of the turtles.”

“This comes back to the fishermen telling us when, where and how they set their gear where they don’t have much bycatch and trying to get those lessons learned and get them more widely adopted,” said Mr. Rilling, who fished for salmon, herring and halibut in Prince William Sound, Alaska, in the 1980s and ’90s. “They know how they interact with their gear.”

Another gear modification was invented by two Rhode Island fishermen, Phil Ruhle and his son Phil Jr., with the help of gear researchers at the University of Rhode Island. The Ruhles fished for haddock, which NOAA describes as a relatively healthy fish stock, and wanted to avoid catching cod, a depleted species.

They modified the mesh size of their nets and redesigned them to capitalize on their observation that frightened haddock tend to swim up, while species like cod dive for deeper water. Phil Ruhle Sr. died at sea in 2008, but the “Ruhle trawl” is now in wide use.

As many as 80 percent of North Atlantic right whales, an endangered species, carry scars from entanglements with fishing gear. Here at the New England Aquarium, researchers are working with engineers and fishermen on experimental lines colored or illuminated to make them easier for whales to spot.

While the whales “appear to be colorblind,” Mr. Werner said, they seem to be able to make out the reddish color of the tiny crayfish and other copepods that are the major part of their diet. In the Bering Sea, pollock fisheries are closely monitoring accidental catches of salmon; Mr. Rilling of NOAA says the companies relay information to their fleets “almost instantaneously” so fishermen can avoid areas where salmon are turning up in pollock nets. A similar effort is under way in Massachusetts, he said, where scallop fishermen track inadvertent catches of yellowtail flounder.

But Mr. Werner said that for some species in need of protection, “we don’t really have anything off the shelf ready to go.”

That is the case with sharks, for instance, though there are some promising leads. Researchers have noticed that sharks avoid encounters with certain rare metals, used in computers and other devices. “Maybe you can attach these elements to fishing gear,” Mr. Werner said. “The jury is still out on that.”

Researchers are also investigating whether an electric signal might lure sharks away from baited hooks. Mr. Werner said fishermen would help test this approach off the southeast coast of the United States.

Some people remain skeptical that such collaborations will lead to lasting gains. David Cousens, who heads the Maine Lobstermen’s Association, says that while his members have worked hard to accommodate the demands of conservationists, the changes tend to be expensive and cumbersome, and he is waiting for data to show that they are beneficial.

“The thing is driven so hard by the conservation community,” he said. “They have money and lawyers, and when they are not happy about something they sue. We are at the mercy of lawyers and judges who know nothing about fishing.”

And some problems persist despite cooperation.

Those porpoise-saving pingers, for example, may be doing too good a job, experts say — driving the creatures away from otherwise useful habitat. Dr. Kraus, of the New England Aquarium, says it turned out that raising the frequency of the pings reduced the area of ocean affected, a discovery that led regulators in Europe to alter pinger requirements.

But the American regulations state explicitly what the ping frequency must be, and it cannot be changed unless too many porpoises start being caught again — something he called unlikely, given the pingers’ efficiency.

He was asked if that was an example of stupid regulation. “Choicer words have been used,” he replied.

Still, researchers and regulators are praising the new atmosphere.

Until recently, Mr. Werner said, fishing regulation in the United States was too often a matter of environmental litigation in which “the fishermen are cast as the villains, and get ever more restrictive regulation on where they fish, how they fish.

“That’s not the approach we take,” he went on. “We are trying to be proactive, to recognize that fishermen are not the villains in this play, but really a critical part of the solution.”

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African Elephants to Benefit From New $100 Million Fund

Environmental News Service 22 Aug 11;

GENEVA, Switzerland, August 22, 2011 (ENS) - Global conservation experts aim to raise US$100 million over the next three years to ensure the long-term survival of African elephants in the face of increased poaching and a thriving illegal trade in ivory.

Government delegates to a United Nations-backed meeting in Geneva agreed Friday to contribute to a new trust fund for elephant survival.

A multi-donor technical trust for the implementation of an African Elephant Action Plan was launched at the meeting of the Standing Committee of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, CITES after full consultation and all formalities were concluded early in the year.

The Netherlands, Germany and France have already contributed to the new fund and other potential donors were encouraged to join them.

"We expect that donors will hear the urgent needs of Africa and support the implementation of the African Elephant Action Plan," said John Scanlon, Secretary-General of CITES, whose secretariat is administered by the UN Environment Programme.

"The target is to raise $100 million over the next three years to enhance law enforcement capacity and secure the long-term survival of African elephant populations," he said.

Elephant conservation and new financial mechanisms were among several issues on the agenda of the week-long meeting, in addition to measures to reduce current levels of poaching of rhinos, tigers and other big cats, illegal trade in mahogany and other timber species, the fate of sturgeon and the caviar trade, and the sourcing of reptile skins used in the leather industry.

The committee considered recent findings concerning African and Asian elephants, poaching levels and illegal trade in ivory.

A decision to exclude conservation groups from the debate on elephant issues, proposed by the Asian region last Wednesday morning, was overturned that afternoon after a second vote.

"We are very happy with the outcomes of the meeting overall," said Dr. Colman O Criodain, wildlife trade policy analyst with the global conservation organization WWF.

"Attempts by some countries to evade scrutiny of their role in illegal trade only ensured that these countries are now more under the spotlight than before."

WWF was pleased that the Committee responded to increasing illegal ivory trade by requiring Thailand to report in writing on curbing its uncontrolled domestic ivory trade, which is largely sourced from Central African elephants.

Thailand, which is to host the next CITES Conference of the Parties in 2013, will risk facing sanctions if it fails to report satisfactorily by then, Criodain said.

The Committee also recognized rhinoceros poaching and illegal trade in their horns as a major challenge that requires innovative approaches, with one delegation describing the situation "as almost out of control."

All populations of rhinoceroses are suffering from poaching, particularly those in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, India, Mozambique, Nepal, South Africa and Zimbabwe. The illegal trade in rhinoceros horns appears to be the main motive.

An expert group will scrutinize the progress made by rhino range states and importing countries on this issue.

According to a report submitted by the South African government, a total of 174 rhino have been illegally killed in that country during the first six months of 2011.

Poaching levels in South Africa have risen in recent years: 13 rhinos poached in 2007, 83 in 2008, 122 in 2009 and 330 in 2010.

A total of 122 suspected rhino poachers have been arrested in South Africa since January 2011, 60 of them in the Kruger National Park, which is the protected area that has suffered the biggest losses.

The CITES Standing Committee also reviewed efforts by Peru to establish reliable timber verification systems, and new rules for introducing marine species from international waters, among other topics.

Some 175 countries have joined CITES, an international agreement that entered into force in July 1975 and aims to ensure that global trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival.

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‘Drowning nations’ threaten new 21st century statelessness

Maxine Burkett Reuters AlertNet 22 Aug 11;

Migration of peoples and communities due to climate change may have a dramatic effect on the globe in the next half-century. It is estimated that some 200 million people worldwide may be on the move because of increased storms, flooding, sea level-rise, and desertification.

For some small island dwellers, the perils of migration will be made worse by the loss of their nations. In other words, while displacement within and across borders may be compulsory for many ‘climate migrants,’ small-islanders may be on the move absent a country to which to return.

Of particular concern are island nations in the Pacific and Indian Oceans - including Tuvalu, the Maldives, Kiribati, and the Republic of the Marshall Islands, among others. Already, grim climate forecasts suggest they will face challenges remaining in their homes.

Sea-level rise, coastal inundation, seawater intrusion into freshwater sources and soil salinisation all hurt freshwater availability and adversely affect coastal agriculture, on which many islanders depend. Indeed, this is already occurring in some Pacific island communities.

These climate change impacts will exacerbate pre-existing vulnerabilities typical of countries of similar size and stage of development – those with small economies, which are highly dependent on imports and weather-dependent exports.

For some states, however, climate change threatens their very survival.

It has been 20 years since the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change first stated that the “gravest effects of climate change may be those on human migration.” But the international community has made little legal or political progress in dealing with the coming problems.

A number of challenges are behind this political lethargy, including a persistent lack of information on three points:

(1) The number of people and reasons why they may need to move. While 200 to 250 million climate migrants by 2050 are the most widely cited numbers, estimates vary greatly - from a relatively small 25 million to a high of one billion depending on the greenhouse gas emissions scenarios employed, among other factors.

(2) Linking migration directly to climate change. The many potential and overlapping causes of migration confound efforts to quantify climate-related displacement, both current and estimated.

Deteriorating environmental conditions interact with other factors that can influence migration, including levels of development, governance, and the capacity for individuals, communities, and countries to adapt to external pressures, climate-related or otherwise. Demographic considerations, such as age, sex, culture, education level and work experience, as well as general risk perception and levels of risk aversion, play an crucial role in determining whether someone can or will move.

(3) What to call people who move as a result of climate pressures. There is no agreed-upon definition for those judged to have been dislocated primarily by climate change. “Climate refugees” has been the mostly widely used term.

From a law and policy standpoint, however, such migrants are not recognized as refugees, even if they cross national borders, because displacement as a result of climate change or other environmental factors is not yet legally recognized. Finding an appropriate term for these migrants is vital, however, as their rights and the resulting obligations of other nations and the international community will depend on it.

Given these challenges and the lack of solid figures, the plight of climate migrants is easily sidestepped. For small island states, however, there are myriad reasons to act now – not least because the loss of their land will be a clear result of man-made climate change.

In the extreme scenarios that small island states face, there are worrisome legal gaps. There is international law that helps determine what should happen to people deprived of their nationality as a result of a variety of circumstances.

There are no laws, however, that govern what happens to citizens of a country that disappears. When island states are no longer inhabited and the population is permanently displaced to other countries, it is unclear whether they may become stateless persons under international law or if they become merely landless citizens of a state that no longer exists.

A new international or regional legal regime, swiftly conceived and implemented, is vital to resolve this kind of question. The complexity of the issue, and the immediate threat of climate change, call for early efforts at planning and coordination. The alternative is disorganized and insufficient aid - which might come too late.

Maxine Burkett is an associate professor of law at the University of Hawaii and director of the Center for Island Climate Adaptation and Policy.

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