Best of our wild blogs: 2 Sep 11

Reminiscing BoSS I (2003) – Lim Cheng Puay
from Otterman speaks

A Singapore Biodiversity Extravaganza - BoSS III
from wild shores of singapore

Recce at Labrador shore
from Psychedelic Nature

Paper published!: Diet and Feeding in the sea star Astropecten indicus from wonderful creation

A Cicada's New Skin
from Macro Photography in Singapore

Savanna Nightjar – gular fluttering
from Bird Ecology Study Group

Job: NParks is recruiting a Senior Biodiversity Officer
from The Biodiversity crew @ NUS

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Take a hundred-year view of floods

Richard Hartung Today Online 2 Sep 11;

After two major floods and several smaller ones over the past years, residents here are understandably nervous when the rain starts pelting down.

The good news is that help is on the way. Following the major floods in June, the Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources (MEWR) said it would "appoint a panel of local and overseas experts to conduct an in-depth review of all flood protection measures" to be implemented over the next decade. The MEWR expects that the experts, who were revealed in late June and held their first review in early July, will come up with an initial plan in six months.

If Singapore were to follow best practices from a country like the Netherlands, though, simply looking at the next decade might seem far too short a span.

It might seem like Singapore and the Netherland have little in common. After all, the Netherlands is one of the lowest-lying countries in the world and it has been wracked by water for centuries. Singapore, on the other hand, is above the ocean level and has over the years developed water management systems that have largely eliminated floods.

The past several years have shown how much things have changed. While the flood that inundated Orchard Road last year may have seemed like a once-in-50-years flood at the time, new MEWR Minister Vivian Balakrishnan recently said that "personally I think our weather has changed".

Along with changes in rainfall patterns, the oceans are undergoing a change too. The MEWR estimates that sea levels will rise by 18 to 69 cm by around 2100 and some think the sea could rise even more. Singapore's 2008 National Climate Change Strategy notes that the Public Utilities Board has been requiring new reclamation land projects and low-lying areas under redevelopment to be raised. Is this, however, enough?

The Netherlands offers an example of what may be needed amid such climate uncertainty.

In 2007, the Dutch cabinet recognised climate change was upon them and appointed a new Sustainable Coastal Development Committee, called the Delta Committee, with the mandate "to formulate a vision on the long-term protection of the Dutch coast and its hinterland".

What was most remarkable about the committee was how far into the future it actually looked. Rather than looking just at the next decade or two, the committee said in its 2008 report that its task was to "investigate strategies for the future, long term development of the coast (2100 to 2200), paying attention to both safety and environmental (spatial) quality". Its vision thus extends for centuries rather than just decades.

That long-term vision has its roots in Dutch history. As Dutch Deltares managing director Harry Baayen noted at the Singapore International Water Week in July, the Netherlands has nearly 500 years of experience in managing water in a country where "two-thirds of the country is under the sea level or threatened by floods".

In figuring out how to handle the effects of climate change, they are looking at "how to prepare for the next century" while creating "room to decide in the future about what will happen" as climate change progresses.

Climate change has brought unexpected change in many countries. Australia experienced a drought in 2009 that Murray-Darling river basin commission head David Dreverman told The Guardian "is more typical of a one in a 1,000-year drought"; and the airport in Auckland, New Zealand was closed after it experienced snow for the first time in nearly 50 years and did not have snowploughs to clear it.

While Singapore does not need snowploughs, planning for floods that are likely to come in the shorter term and rising sea levels as the polar ice caps or glaciers melt in the longer term seems prudent. Planning with just a decade-long horizon could leave us looking for new solutions 10 years hence.

There is indeed at least one Dutch expert on the MEWR-appointed panel and he or others may well bring a longer-term view, even as short-term measures are definitely needed. As long as the panel is not constrained to look only a decade ahead or just to consider floods from rainfall, there is an opportunity to bolster Singapore's reputation for long-term planning by looking perhaps a century ahead and developing flexible solutions for protection.

Richard Hartung is a consultant who has lived in Singapore since 1992.

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KL delays eviction of storage oil tankers at Johor Strait

Reprieve for VLCCs off Pasir Gudang as owners search for alternative sites
Business Times 2 Sep 11;

(SINGAPORE) Seven floating oil storage facilities off Southern Malaysia have been given a two-week reprieve from eviction as required by a government notice that expired a day ago, industry sources said yesterday.

The reprieve for the converted Very Large Crude Carriers (VLCCs), which have a capacity to hold up to about 1.9 million tonnes of crude and fuel oil, off Pasir Gudang port could be extended to a month, as had been requested by the owners of the facilities, they added.

Alternative sites being discussed currently include another spot off the town of Linggi, further north and along the country's Western coast, as well as to existing Ship-To-Ship (STS) transfer locations in Indonesia, such as Karimun and Nipah.'The search for alternatives is still ongoing, with three possibilities having been identified, and it will take a little bit more time for the operators and their clients to decide where to go to,' a Singapore-based Western trading source said.

'Right now, there isn't any perfect solution and there aren't any other alternatives. So, the parties must decide what to do next and get on with it quickly, before the extension runs out.

'Malaysia's Transport Ministry had served the quit notice on the operators of four crude and three fuel oil storage facilities, including Hong Kong-listed Titan Petrochemicals, at Pasir Gudang, the site of floating storage for at least 8-9 years.

The notice was driven by the Malaysian authorities' desire to improve access along the shallow south-eastern waterway that separates its Johor state and Singapore and that has been earmarked for major development of the country's oil infrastructure. At least two major projects are planned in the area, including Petronas' proposed 300,000 barrels-per-day (bpd) refinery and Royal Vopak's new terminal, with a capacity of 1.3 million cubic metres (cu m), both near the town of Pengerang.

Two land terminals are also already operating in the area: Cosco Feoto's 200,000-cu m facility in Pasir Gudang and another 500,000-cu m plant in Tanjong Langsat, occupied solely by Trafigura.

In addition to the seven floating facilities in Pasir Gudang, another nine tankers, holding about 2.7 million tonnes fuel oil and crude, are currently anchored off the port of Tanjong Pelepas in the southwestern tip of Malaysia.

A 10th tanker, the Brilliant Jewel occupied by Vitol, has moved into Tanjong Pelepas from Pasir Gudang.Traders said there are only two spots left in the area, and one has already been taken by the Vitol facility, which is mainly storing fuel oil.Traders said the Linggi site is more suitable for crude storage, rather than fuel oil, because its distance to Singapore, the world's largest bunker port by volume, adds about half a day of travelling time and makes it more inconvenient for barge operators to pick up supplies.

The Indonesian options are also not seen as feasible because both locations are currently only used for STS operations where tankers stay short term for a maximum of about a month. There are also tax issues relating to bringing cargoes on board, resulting in punitive costs.

'None of the current options are ideal. All will incur extra costs for the charterer, although the Malaysian option is better for the crude guys, as they do not necessarily need to sell their cargoes southwards,' another trader said.

'In some case, the location might even be better, but for the fuel oil guys, the extra travelling time can be a big problem, and time is money for their customers.

'Demand for the floating facilities has grown tremendously over the past 7-8 years, the industry's major players such as Vitol, Glencore, Mercuria, ConocoPhillips and Trafigura, among others, taking up space in the two locations. -- Reuters

Oil floating storage off Malaysia given reprieve on eviction
Reuters 1 Sep 11;

SINGAPORE, Sept 1 (Reuters) - Seven floating oil storage facilities offshore Southern Malaysia have been given a two-week reprieve from eviction as required by a government notice that expired a day ago, industry sources said on Thursday.

The reprieve on the converted Very Large Crude Carriers (VLCCs), which have a capacity to hold up to about 1.9 million tonnes of crude and fuel oil, off Pasir Gudang port could be extended to a month, as had been requested by the owners of the facilities, the sources said.

Alternative sites being discussed currently include another spot off the town of Linggi, further north and along Malaysia's western coast, as well as existing Ship-To-Ship (STS) transfer locations in Indonesia, such as Karimun and Nipah.

(Reporting by Yaw Yan Chong; Editing by Miral Fahmy)

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New Wasp Species Discovered in Indonesia Shocks Scientists

Lydia Tomkiw Jakarta Globe 1 Sep 11;

An American scientist working with a team of Indonesians scientists has discovered a new giant black warrior wasp species. The wasp will be added to the list of items named after the country’s national symbol, the mythical bird Garuda.

The insect-eating predator was discovered by Lynn S. Kimsey, a professor of entomology and the director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology at the University of California, Davis, while working with 12 scientists from the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI) during an expedition to the Mekongga Mountains of Sulawesi.

Scientists are shocked by the discovery of the insect, with the male wasp measuring approximately two-and-a-half inches long. Its large jaw may play a defensive and reproductive role similar to other wasps.

“Its jaws are so large that they wrap up either side of the head when closed. When the jaws are open they are actually longer than the male’s front legs. I don’t know how it can walk,” Kimsey said in a news release. “The females are smaller but still larger than other members of their subfamily, Larrinae.”

The three-week expedition was funded by a five-year $4 million grant from the International Cooperative Biodiversity Group Program to specifically study the fungi, bacteria, plants, insects and vertebrates of Sulawesi. The team of scientists working from the funding have discovered a bat, two frogs, two lizards, two fish, a land crab and many insects since 2008.

American researchers have been collaborating with three Indonesian partners: the LIPI, the Ministry of Forestry and the Bandung Institute of Techonology. LIPI is the lead organization in Indonesia and UC Davis is the head organization in the United States.

The grant also aims to study and find plants and microbes that may carry medicinal value and energy potential as well as develop and encourage conservation strategies.

Over the course of her career, Kimsey has discovered close to 300 new species. She decided to name her latest discovery after the Indonesian national symbol.

“The first time I saw the wasp I knew it was something really unusual,” Kimsey said. “I’m very familiar with members of the wasp family Crabronidae that it belongs to but had never seen anything like this species of Dalara. We don’t know anything about the biology of these wasps. They are only known from southwestern Sulawesi.”

Much of Sulawesi’s biosphere is considered threatened by logging and mining operations. Kimsey said there are now plans for an open pit nickel mine on the mountain.

“There’s talk of forming a biosphere reserve to preserve this,” she said. “There are so many rare and endangered species on Sulawesi that the world may never see.”

The group of scientists dealt with challenging conditions and survived on provisions of ramen and rice during the expedition.

“Eventually we had to leave because we ran out of food,” Kimsey said. “This part of Sulawesi gets about 400 inches of rain a year. We were told that Sulawesi has a dry and rainy season. But the only difference we could see between the dry and rainy season is that during the dry season, it rains only in the afternoon.”

Despite the challenging conditions, the scientist’s research has paid off.

“I consider Sulawesi one of the world’s top three islands for biodiversity — that along with Australia and Madagascar,” Kimsey said.

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Endangered hawksbill turtles make a surprise appearance

Scientists find a population of endangered hawksbill turtles unexpectedly making a go of it in mangrove estuaries.
Louis Sahagun, Los Angeles Times 1 Sep 11;

Scientists have made the surprise discovery that a population of critically endangered hawksbill turtles, thought to have been wiped out in the eastern Pacific from Mexico to Peru, has survived by occupying a novel habitat — mangrove estuaries — rather than coral reefs where they have been slaughtered for their exquisite shells.

The finding is particularly significant because it suggests a potentially unique evolutionary trajectory, said Alexander Gaos, lead author of a report being released Thursday in the online scientific journal Biology Letters.

"We now know there are about 500 adult female hawksbill turtles in at least four inland mangrove saltwater forests in El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua and Ecuador," Gaos said in an interview. "They are among the last remaining strongholds for this species. If these estuaries are destroyed by development of aquaculture and housing, the hawksbill turtle will disappear with them … that's more hawksbill turtles than anyone thought were left, but still very few."

Scientists are collaborating with coastal villages in the vicinity of the mangroves to "create community-based conservation programs," said Bryan Wallace, director of science and strategy for Conservation International's marine flagship species program. "All egg clutches are being relocated to hatcheries," he said.

Until now, Eretmochelys imbricata was believed to prefer open coasts and coral reefs in the Caribbean and Indo-Pacific regions. As recently as 2007, hawksbill turtles were considered nearly wiped out, based on research and scarce sightings.

To map the movements of the eastern Pacific's remnant turtle population, a team of scientists attached satellite transmitters to the backs of 12 adult females. Gaos said 83% of those turtles remained settled in the mangrove forests, contrary to the long-held notion that hawksbills are coral reef dwellers.

"These particular hawksbills spend the majority of their lives nesting and foraging in the mangroves," said Gaos, executive director of the nonprofit Eastern Pacific Hawksbill Initiative. "We still do not know why they adapted to this habitat, but we believe it may be due to a lack of coral reefs in the region."

Although adaptation has become a central concern of climate scientists because of global warming, there is no apparent connection between the habitat change and climate shifts, Gaos said.

"It is possible that global climate change could, at some point in the future, drive marine turtles into estuaries such as these," he said. "However, at this point, we do not believe that what we are seeing is a pattern that occurred over the past 20 to 30 years."

The findings support the results of a survey released last year showing that the largest known rookeries of the turtle, categorized as "critically endangered" by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, are in El Salvador and Nicaragua.

The earliest reports of the hawksbill turtle date to diaries of 18th century pirates and missionaries who chronicled the growth of "tortoiseshell" industries in northwest Mexico.

Weighing about 100 pounds, with shells about 3 feet in diameter, hawksbill turtles have been killed by the millions for their shells, used to fashion folk art, eyeglasses, cigarette lighters and jewelry. Scientists believe the species is within several years of extinction. There is no accepted estimate of its worldwide population. It has been on the U.S. list of endangered species since 1975.

"We now have a new set of habitats to search for the species and fine-tune recovery efforts," Gaos said. "There's more hope now than ever for this rare and imperiled creature."

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Global protests against Japan dolphin hunt

AFP Yahoo News 2 Sep 11;Demonstrators protested outside of Japan's embassies around the world on Thursday to urge an end to its killing of dolphins, criticizing the bloody annual hunt as wantonly cruel.

In Washington, some two dozen people stood in front of the embassy holding signs to passing traffic including, "Dolphins Want to Live."

Activist Kerri Shaw attached to her body a screen showing footage from "The Cove," the Oscar-winning documentary that threw a spotlight on the hunt.

Katie Arth, an organizer with rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, said that the dolphin hunt was motivated in part by a profit motive as animals are sold to perform in aquariums around the world.

"It's a huge push as to why they continue to do this, because it's so profitable. And people can do something about that by just not going anywhere where dolphins perform and by contacting the embassy," she said.

Fellow activist Taylor Mason said that most Japanese were unaware of the dolphin killing in the western town of Taiji, which generaly goes to pains to prevent media coverage of the hunt.

"The major way to break the cycle of silence is through events like this and through discussion, to get the word out not only in Japan but in the United States and other countries that it's not okay to see dolphins perform and to train them," Mason said.

Similar protests were being held across the United States and in world cities including London, Rome, Stockholm and Manila.

Every year the fishermen of Taiji corral some 2,000 dolphins into a secluded bay, select a few dozen for sale to aquariums and marine parks, and stab the rest to death for meat in a slaughter that turns the water red.

The town's fishermen defend the hunt as a cultural tradition and "The Cove" was met by protests from right-wing activists when it screened in Japan.

"The Cove" caught rare footage of the hunt in a narrative focused on Ric O'Barry, the dolphin trainer for the 1960s US television show "Flipper" who has since campaigned against keeping the intelligent creatures in captivity.

O'Barry called for a worldwide "Celebrate Japan Dolphins Day" on September 1, the usual start of the Taiji hunting season. But he urged activists to keep the message positive so as not to alienate the Japanese in the wake of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami tragedy.

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Weak La Nina Possible In 2011, No Chance Of El Nino: WMO

Stephanie Nebehay PlanetArk 2 Sep 11;

La Nina, a weather phenomenon typically linked to flooding in the Asia-Pacific, African drought and a more intense hurricane season over the Atlantic, could occur in a weak form this year, the World Meteorological Organization said Thursday.

A borderline La Nina situation has developed in recent weeks in the tropical part of the Pacific Ocean, where sea surface temperatures have cooled slightly, but there is an equal chance of neutral conditions returning, the United Nations agency said.

"If a La Nina event does occur, current indications are that it would be considerably weaker than the moderate to strong 2010-2011 episode, which ended in May 2011," the WMO said in a statement calling for continued close monitoring.

But there is virtually no prospect of El Nino, its opposite weather phenomenon which warms the Pacific, occurring this year, it said in an assessment based on data from climate prediction centers and experts worldwide.

La Nina, a natural cooling of the Pacific Ocean, occurs every 2 to 7 years, causing major climate fluctuations including altered tropical rainfall patterns, according to WMO expert Rupa Kumar Kolli.

The 2010-2011 La Nina episode was linked to disastrous flooding in parts of Australia, Indonesia, Southeast Asia, and parts of South America including Colombia, the WMO said.

It also contributed to drought in parts of the Horn of Africa, southeastern South America and the southern United States, and weaker winter monsoons in Sri Lanka and southern India.


"The last La Nina situation, which was moderate to strong in intensity, was believed to have caused the drought conditions over the greater Horn of Africa which we all know is undergoing a famine type of situation," Kolli said, referring to parts of Somalia which have been declared famine zones.

"So for them this can be considered to be cause for additional alert," he said.

But the climate over eastern Africa is strongly influenced by the Indian Ocean, which can create opposite effects, so both factors must be taken into account, he added. Experts were now meeting in Entebbe, Uganda to chart a regional outlook.

La Nina weather could return to delay planting of Brazil's grain crop again, forcing Chinese buyers to rely on U.S. Gulf port soybeans longer and putting Brazil's corn output at risk, grain specialists said Tuesday.

Brazil's coffee belt may face more weather risks if rainfall is erratic in the world's top coffee-growing country, as some forecasters fear, during the critical flowering phase that will define next year's crop.

La Nina is also closely associated with a more intense hurricane season over the tropical North Atlantic, Kolli said.

"At this stage either a normal (hurricane) season or a slightly more intense season, that's what we can expect based on a neutral to La Nina type of outlook available to us today."

A low-pressure system pushing northwest through the Gulf of Mexico has a strong chance of becoming a tropical cyclone in the next two days and threatening southern U.S. states, the National Hurricane Center said Thursday.

The warning came after Irene battered the eastern U.S. coast with up to 15 inches of rain at the weekend.

(Editing by Mark Heinrich)

La Nina risks increase, to detriment of E. Africa: UNAFP Yahoo News 2 Sep 11;

There is a 50 percent chance the climatic condition known as La Nina -- which is associated with droughts in East Africa -- will return this year, the UN weather agency said Thursday.

"We are increasing the probability of La Nina from 25 to 50 percent," Rupa Kumar Kolli, a climate expert at the World Meteorological Organization said, explaining that the rise was due to recent temperature observations in the Pacific.

"La Nina is associated with drought conditions in east Africa. The last La Nina situation was believed to have caused the drought condition in the greater Horn of Africa," he told reporters, referring to the La Nina event which ended in May.

He however stressed that meteorological predictions were difficult to make and depended on a variety of local conditions.

"And even if a La Nina situation reemerges, it is very likely it will be a very weak La Nina event," Kolli explained.

Over 12 million people across the Horn of Africa are reeling from the region's worst drought in decades, which led UN in July to declare the first famine this century.

According to a WMO press statement, La Nina is characterised by "unusually cool ocean surface temperatures in ... the central and eastern tropical Pacific."

The weather pattern was blamed for extremely heavy downpours in Australia, southeast Asia and sSouth America over late 2010 and early 2011, the WMO said in May.

Although the ocean temperatures in the Pacific leveled to their long-term, or "neutral" conditions that month, "observations during recent weeks indicate a drift toward the cool side ... in terms of surface as well as subsurface ocean temperatures," WMO said today.

"If this cooling persists ... for another few weeks then we will be going into another la Nina situation," Kolli said.

"For (the Horn of Africa), this can be understood as a cause for additional alert," Kolli added.

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Computers To Pinpoint Wild Weather Forecasts

Nina Chestney PlanetArk 2 Sep 11;

Computer simulations of the weather workings of the entire planet will be able to make forecasts to within a few kilometers accuracy, helping predict the effects of deadly weather systems.

But the world may have to wait 20 to 40 years' for such accurate information on weather events like El Nino as computer capacity grows, a senior British scientist said Thursday.

"If we step forward 20 to 40 years into the future of climate science, it is conceivable we can have climate models down to a scale of a few kilometers' resolution," Alan Thorpe, director general of the UK-based European Center for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF), told reporters.

"That would add a huge amount of information to this variability question."

A climate model is a computer-based version of the Earth's climate system, based on physics and complex equations. Such models can be used for weather forecasting, understanding the climate and projecting climate change.

A model with a very fine resolution could produce more accurate results but this depends on computer capacity.

Thorpe said some climate models are now nearing a resolution of 100 km, compared to around 300 km 10 to 15 years ago.

"We are running global weather picture models at a 16 km resolution already so we have the science and the models to reduce the problem of high resolution but we need the computer power to do it," Thorpe said.

It would cost up to 200 million pounds to buy a top-end super computer, he added, which is around 7 percent of the UK's yearly science budget of 3 billion pounds.

"The impact of climate change needs to be seen as sufficiently important to society to devote this level of resource to it," Thorpe said.

Some experts warn that some of the most devastating impacts of climate change could be felt before and during the period 2030 to 2050.

Some climate models have been criticized for not being accurate enough or not predicting extreme events far enough into the future.

Thorpe said ECMWF scientists are doing a lot of research into so-called tipping points, when there is a rapid change in the climate which is irreversible or which would take a long time to reverse.

"Inevitably, those are the aspects of the system we have to worry about most because they are not linear behavior. How many of those there are is still an open question," he added.

"If we devoted the whole of the science budget to these questions we could make more rapid progress but we are doing a lot of research on these areas."

Some tipping points are seen happening in the coming decades, such as the loss of summer Arctic sea ice or the loss of the Amazon rainforest.

(Editing by William Hardy))

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