Best of our wild blogs: 30 Aug 11

Paint along with Pui San 25 Sep
from Art in Wetlands

Marine Life in Singapore and the Impact of Man - N. Sivasothi 27 Aug 2011 from sgbeachbum and News from International Coastal Cleanup Singapore

What makes a dive special?
from Compressed air junkie

Protists in Singapore - New Website!
from The Biology Refugia

Fishy day at Tanah Merah
from wonderful creation

Meter-long batfish at Pulau Hantu
from Pulau Hantu and Football sized Reef Cuttlefish

Oil-slicked East Coast: morays and more!
from wild shores of singapore

The function of colourful facial bands in mangrove crab (Perisesarma) communication from Raffles Museum News

Big damage in Papua New Guinea: new film documents how industrial logging destroys lives from news

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Malaysia: Sabah wants ban on shark fishing

AFP 29 Aug 11;

KUALA LUMPUR — A Malaysian state on Borneo island, known for its world-class dive sites, is seeking to ban shark fishing to protect the species, which draws thousands of tourists each year, a minister said Monday.

Masidi Manjun, state tourism, culture and environment minister, said Sabah hopes the law can be changed by the end of the year to impose a blanket ban on killing sharks, which are mainly hunted for their fins to make soup.

"We want to make sure that the ban is a blanket ban of all types of sharks in Sabah," he told AFP.

"Tourists come to see the rich variety of marine life that we have in Sabah, and that includes sharks. It makes economic sense for us to protect our sharks," he added. "The moment they are gone, people will go elsewhere."

Masidi said 42,000 divers, two-thirds of them foreigners, visited the state last year, bringing in more than 190 million ringgit ($64 million) in revenue.

He said the state is currently consulting with Malaysia's attorney general to change a federal law to introduce the ban for Sabah.

He added that over the past 25 years, some 80 percent of the state's sharks had disappeared and they could now only be spotted at four sites.

Masidi could not say how much the trade in shark's fin was worth. But a bowl of the soup, which is considered a delicacy in parts of Asia, especially among Chinese diners, can easily cost more than 100 ringgit (around $35), he said.

In 2007, Malaysia's Natural Resources and Environment Ministry struck shark's fin soup off menus at official functions to help conserve the species.

Traffic, an international network that monitors the trade in wildlife, said early this year that Malaysia was the world's 10th biggest catcher of sharks.

Worldwide up to 73 million sharks are killed every year, primarily for their fins, it said.

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Reconstruction at Alexandra canal to prevent floods

Monica Kotwani Channel NewsAsia 29 Aug 11;

SINGAPORE: A 250-metre stretch of Alexandra Canal, between Zion Road and Kim Seng Road, will be reconstructed to improve drainage and prevent floods.

The national water agency PUB said on Monday the stretch will also be transformed into a scenic waterway with recreational spaces.

The canal will be widened and deepened from an original 27m-by-3m trapezoidal drain into a 28m-by-5.7m U-shaped drain.

This is expected to improve drainage capacity and help alleviate flooding at nearby low-lying areas such as the junction of Alexandra Road and Lower Delta Road, and the area between Jervois Road and Prince Charles Crescent.

PUB has awarded the public tender for the Reconstruction of Alexandra Canal project to Eng Lam Contractor Co (Pte) Ltd at S$46.8 million.

The project starts next month and is scheduled to be completed by the first quarter of 2014.

PUB said the transformation of the waterway will bring a softer, more natural landscape to the busy urban setting.

A rain garden will also be incorporated to help treat rainwater runoff from the promenade so cleaner water flows into the canal.

Four cantilever viewing decks will also be constructed together with landscaping to allow visitors to enjoy views.

- CNA/ck

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Why typhoon is not likely to hit Singapore

Storms usually move towards poles and away from the equator
Feng Zengkun Straits Times 30 Aug 11;

A TYPHOON that has hit Taiwan and the Philippines over the past few days is unlikely to strike Singapore, experts told The Straits Times.

This is because typhoons - also called cyclones or hurricanes in different parts of the world - usually move towards the poles and away from the equator.

They also usually form more than 10 degrees north and south of the equator, said Dr Adam Switzer, a National Research Foundation fellow and principal investigator at Nanyang Technological University's Earth Observatory of Singapore.

More than 61,000 people were evacuated from their homes in the Philippines over the weekend, after Typhoon Nanmadol, the strongest storm to hit the country this year, lashed the northern edge of the main island of Luzon, causing landslides and floods.

The 16 reported dead so far were buried in landslides, including two children who were killed in an avalanche of rubbish at their city's dumping grounds.

The typhoon then moved on to Taiwan and drenched it in 50cm of rain yesterday, before heading towards China.

No deaths have been reported in Taiwan so far.

A typhoon is essentially a storm spinning at great speed. Very few have occurred within 1.5 degrees - or 170km - of the equator in the phenomenon's recorded history. Singapore is about 137km north of the equator.

Scientists told The Straits Times that typhoons require water hotter than 26 deg C, a condition that can be found near the equator.

But they also require a natural phenomenon called the Coriolis effect, a result of the earth's rotation.

The effect, which produces the typhoon's extreme circular motion, is weakest near the equator. This means typhoons are extremely unlikely to form near the equator, the scientists said.

Typhoon Vamei, which hit eastern Malaysia in 2001, is a rare example in recorded history of a typhoon that formed near the equator. It caused $5.4 million worth of damage and killed five people.

This type of storm was previously thought to be impossible, and scientists at the Naval Postgraduate School in the United States concluded in their post- disaster report that it was caused by a perfect storm of factors, including the rare persistence of both a low pressure area and a cold surge in the region.

They estimated that a typhoon like that one was likely to happen only once every 100 to 400 years.

But scientists warned that although Singapore is not likely to be directly affected by typhoons, there are indirect costs.

These include the closure of international finance institutions such as the Hong Kong stock exchange, potential damage to overseas investments from Singapore companies and the loss of crops from overseas suppliers.

Dr Switzer said: 'In short, big typhoons are locally devastating and regionally important events, which often have global consequences in the future.'

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Preserving 4 Percent of the Ocean Could Protect Most Marine Mammal Species, Study Finds

ScienceDaily 26 Aug 11;

Preserving just 4 percent of the ocean could protect crucial habitat for the vast majority of marine mammal species, from sea otters to blue whales, according to researchers at Stanford University and the National Autonomous University of Mexico.

Their findings were published in the Aug. 16 edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Of the 129 species of marine mammals on Earth, including seals, dolphins and polar bears, approximately one-quarter are facing extinction, the study said.

"It's important to protect marine mammals if you want to keep the ocean's ecosystems functional," said study co-author Paul Ehrlich, professor of biology and senior fellow at the Woods Institute for the Environment at Stanford. "Many of them are top predators and have impacts all the way through the ecosystem. And they're also beautiful and interesting."

Mapping marine mammals

To pinpoint areas of the ocean where conservation could protect the maximum number of species and the ones most vulnerable to extinction, the researchers overlaid maps of where each marine mammal species is found. Their composite map revealed locations with the highest "species richness" -- the highest number of different species.

"This is the first time that the global distribution of marine mammal richness has been compiled and presented as a map," said co-authors Sandra Pompa and Gerardo Ceballos of the National Autonomous University of Mexico. "The most surprising and interesting result was that all of the species can be represented in only 20 critical conservation locations that cover at least 10 percent of the species' geographic range."

The researchers identified the 20 conservation sites based on three main criteria: how many species were present, how severe the risk of extinction was for each species and whether any of the species were unique to the area. The scientists also considered habitats of special importance to marine mammals, such as breeding grounds and migration routes.

Nine key sites

It turned out that preserving just nine of the 20 conservation sites would protect habitat for 84 percent of all marine mammal species on Earth, the scientists found. That's because those nine locations have very high species richness, providing habitat for 108 marine mammal species in all.

These nine sites, which make up only 4 percent of the world's ocean, are located off the coasts of Baja California in Mexico, eastern Canada, Peru, Argentina, northwestern Africa, South Africa, Japan, Australia and New Zealand, the study reported.

The researchers also looked at how pollution, local climate disruption and commercial shipping overlapped with species richness in or near the nine key sites. "At least 70 percent of the richness areas coincide with regions highly impacted by humans," said Pompa and Ceballos. "This is powerful information that obliges us to enhance marine conservation."

Factoring in other impacts, such as overfishing and global climate change, would likely reveal even more negative effects on the nine conservation sites, the authors said.

"The next 2 billion people we're going to add to the planet are going to do much more damage to the ocean than the previous 2 billion did," said Ehrlich, president of the Stanford Center for Conservation Biology. "Humans reach for the low-hanging fruit first, so to speak, but for the ocean that's gone now."

Unique creatures

While nine of the conservation sites harbor numerous marine mammal species, the remaining 11 sites boast species found nowhere else. Preserving these areas is important, because species that live exclusively in one place may be at especially high risk for extinction, the authors said. For example, the critically endangered vaquita, or gulf porpoise, lives only in the upper northern Gulf of California, and only a few hundred individuals remain, the researchers noted.

"We need to conserve what's left of the biota of the planet, both on land and in the sea," said Ehrlich. "We need to know where the biodiversity is before we can take many of the necessary steps to conserve it. This is just a start on the mammals of the sea."

The study was supported by grants from the National Autonomous University of Mexico, EcoCiencia Sociedad Civil, Mexico's National Council for Science and Technology and the Cetacean Society International.

Journal Reference:

S. Pompa, P. R. Ehrlich, G. Ceballos. Global distribution and conservation of marine mammals. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2011; 108 (33): 13600 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1101525108

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U.N. Agency Warns Of Possible Bird Flu Resurgence

Catherine Hornby PlanetArk 29 Aug 11;

The United Nations warned of a possible major resurgence of bird flu and said a mutant strain of the H5N1 virus was spreading in Asia and elsewhere.

The UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) on Monday urged increased surveillance and preparation for a potential outbreak of the virus, which it says has infected 565 people since it first appeared in 2003, killing 331 of them.

The virus was eliminated from most of the 63 countries infected at its peak in 2006 after mass poultry culling, but since 2008 it has been expanding geographically in both poultry and wild birds, partly due to migration patterns, the FAO said.

"The general departure from the progressive decline observed in 2004-2008 could mean that there will be a flare-up of H5N1 this fall and winter," the FAO's chief veterinary officer, Juan Lubroth, said in a statement.

He said the appearance of a variant strain of the virus in China and Vietnam was a concern, because it appeared to be able to sidestep the defenses of existing vaccines.

The circulation of the virus in Vietnam also poses a direct threat to Cambodia, Thailand and Malaysia as well as endangering the Korean peninsula and Japan, FAO said.

The latest human death occurred earlier this month in Cambodia, which has registered eight cases of human infection this year, all of them fatal, the agency added.

Countries that could face the biggest problems are Bangladesh, China, Egypt, Indonesia and Vietnam, where the FAO said the virus is still firmly entrenched.

It said recently affected areas included Israel, the Palestinian Territories, Bulgaria, Romania, Nepal and Mongolia.

"Wild birds may introduce the virus, but people's actions in poultry production and marketing spread it," said Lubroth.

"Preparedness and surveillance remain essential ... no one can let their guard down with H5N1," he added.

(Editing by Barry Moody and Jane Baird)

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