Best of our wild blogs: 12 Sep 11

Your help needed to document our WILD dolphins!
from wild shores of singapore

“The Next Generation” at the Biodiversity of Singapore Symposium III
from The Biodiversity crew @ NUS

The Singapore Environment Council (SEC) launches new volunteer matching scheme
from Green Drinks Singapore

from Monday Morgue

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MacRitchie Reservoir Park: Too popular for its own good?

Some users say crowds shatter the peace and block running trails
Feng Zengkun Straits Times 12 Sep 11;

WITH its still waters and lush forests, MacRitchie Reservoir Park is a magnet for nature lovers keen to relax and soak up the great outdoors.

For some, however, the reserve has become a little too popular for its own good. They say the peace has been shattered by hikers and runners cramming the footpaths and boardwalks. One long-time visitor even compared MacRitchie to an amusement park.

And its popularity is likely to rise further after construction work to improve its facilities is completed next month.

'As it is, I already have to run around couples who hold hands while hiking and block half the path,' said Mr Patrick Poon, 35, an IT analyst who jogs at the park three times a week.

Engineer Lloyd Tan, 29, said the number of hikers and casual strollers has surged. He added that a steady stream of new nature attractions islandwide has boosted enthusiasm for outdoor pursuits. Among them are the HSBC TreeTop Walk, launched at MacRitchie in 2004, and HortPark, at the Southern Ridges in 2007.

In addition, more Singaporeans are catching the running bug. Last year, 37 mass runs were held, up from 26 in 2009.

'It used to be that you would see another runner only once in a while,' said Mr Tan, who jogs at the reservoir on weekends. 'But now the park feels like an amusement park sometimes.'

The construction work at MacRitchie is part of national water agency PUB's ongoing programme to beautify Singapore's water spaces.

More parking places have already been added, as well as a visitors' centre and pedestrian-only paths. Next month, a renovated bandstand, a new restaurant and an educational boardwalk will be unveiled.

When The Straits Times visited the park last Friday, two firms were holding corporate events there. Last Saturday evening, despite the drizzle, it was filled with cyclists, hikers and families. Many said the park's central location and mix of facilities - including open spaces, forest trails and canoes - were irresistible.

Student Fauzy Kamal, 14, who regularly cycles there with his friends, said: 'You can feel the wind on your face, and smell grass and water everywhere.'

Despite the park's burgeoning popularity, some parts remain tranquil. Teacher Annabelle Ng, 28, who belongs to the national kayaking team and started training at the park in 2006, said there had been no increase in boats on the water.

Instead, newcomers seem to favour popular boardwalks and dirt trails, say other parkgoers.

The Prunus Trail boardwalk is just wide enough for two people to run side by side. When The Straits Times visited last Saturday, families were strolling leisurely on the boardwalk while runners sprinted around them.

Expatriate couple Saad and Alice Zaheer, both 40, said the park was spacious enough to accommodate all users. 'We come here every week with our children, and no one has ever complained that we take up too much space,' said Mrs Zaheer, a Saudi banking executive.

However, property agent Victor Goh, 63, who goes to the park five times a week, said it was 'inappropriate' for runners to use the boardwalk. 'It's meant for brisk walkers such as myself. Many elderly people walk there, and runners could easily knock them into the water because the boardwalk is narrow.'

Some parkgoers said they were concerned about a hairier nuisance - monkeys from the forest. They said the influx of visitors had emboldened the macaques. Ms Ng said they once broke a toilet window to get to the kayaking team's vitamin supplements.

The National Parks Board said people should not eat or drink outside the visitors' centre, feed the monkeys or make eye contact with them.

As for the crowds at the park, company director Huw Collett, 52, is confident park users will eventually sort out any territorial angst. 'This is one of the best parts of Singapore,' he said. 'If anything, we should be glad it's finally getting the attention it deserves.'

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NParks team tags 500 birds yearly

It uses rings to track migration, population
Feng Zengkun Straits Times 12 Sep 11;

THE bird was panicking, so Mr David Li covered its eyes and stroked it gently. After a while, the bird stopped moving and allowed him to fasten two small rings to one of its feet. The rings, green on top and white below, meant the bird had been tagged in Singapore.

Mr Li, a conservation officer with the National Parks Board (NParks), is one of only 10 active 'bird ringers' here.

Every September to March, NParks sends the team to track the migration of birds here. The team tags the birds with the rings to find out how the populations of various species change over the years, and whether environmental changes may affect their flight patterns.

Thousands of birds fly in and out of the country during this period from places as far away as Russia. Others come from Korea, the Philippines, Japan and Indonesia. It is the team's job to tag as many of them as possible.

'It's part of making sure we have a history of our bird heritage,' said Mr Li.

The process takes place twice a month at Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve, and each session is from dusk until the next morning.

The job requires a firm hand and a delicate touch: squeeze too hard and the bird will be injured, but give it too much room and it will struggle and escape.

Birds that have been tagged before are released after their particulars are updated, and the team has found birds that were tagged in Singapore as far back as 20 years ago.

The newcomers are released at most one day after they are caught so they can rejoin their flocks.

The programme started in 1990 and the team members are trained in a two-week course.

Mr Li, 38, said the most important thing is not to panic. 'If you panic, the bird will sense your loss of control and become even more frightened.'

Data such as the bird's weight and measurements is also logged in a system along with a unique code embedded in the rings.

All this is sent to Australia, so other participating countries can track the flight path of the birds.

Ms Sharon Chan, assistant director of the reserve, said the team tags about 500 birds each year, a mere fraction of the thousands that pass through.

'It's a job that requires a certain personality, and not many people can stand being outdoors for that long,' she said.

Still, NParks is trying to beef up its ranks. It is conducting a series of bird-watching workshops to interest people in birds. The next session is on Oct 15; details are on the NParks website at

Ms Chan said the programme has contributed to a better understanding of birds.

'Last year, one of the common redshanks that was previously here in 1990 returned,' she said.

'People used to think the species had shorter lives - if we hadn't tagged it we would never have known they could live that long.'

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Singapore needs more informal occasions for family bonding: President Tony Tan

Qiuyi Tan Channel NewsAsia 11 Sep 11;

President Tony Tan Keng Yam says Singapore needs to create more informal occasions for multi-racial and multi-generational family bonding.

President Tan said this to reporters at the Singapore Zoo on Sunday evening where he attended the "Moon Night" celebrations for the Mid-Autumn Festival.

The festival is an occasion for family and friends to gather and admire the harvest moon.

With a host of educational activities about the moon's effect on animal behaviour, the event also raised awareness about biodiversity and nature conservation.

As part of the programme, President Tan released fireflies into the Zoo's mangroves, as part of ongoing efforts to reintroduce the insect into Singapore's mangroves.

He said: "I don't think wildlife is a charity but it's an attraction. I think it's something which is well worth supporting. And of course I'll be very happy to help the Wildlife Reserves in their effort to attract more corporate sponsorship from companies. Not only the Zoo of course, but the Night Safari, and of course the Bird Park. I think all of these are wonderful amenities for Singaporeans."

- CNA/fa

Singapore needs more informal occasions for bonding: Tony Tan
Qiuyi Tan Today Online 12 Sep 11;

SINGAPORE - President Tony Tan Keng Yam says Singapore needs to create more informal occasions for multi-racial and multi-generational family bonding. Dr Tan said this to reporters at the Singapore Zoo last night where he attended the inaugural "Moon Night" celebration of the Mid-Autumn Festival, which was an occasion for family and friends to gather and admire the harvest moon.

It was the first time the zoo opened its doors to the public for the celebration which aimed to raise awareness for nature conservation and biodiversity, while promoting family togetherness.

Dr Tan released fireflies into the forested area at the zoo as part of ongoing efforts to reintroduce the insect into Singapore's mangroves. The firefly population here has dwindled due to urbanisation.

He said: "I don't think wildlife is a charity but it's an attraction. I think it's something which is well worth supporting. And of course I'll be very happy to help the Wildlife Reserves in their effort to attract more corporate sponsorship from companies. Not only the zoo of course, but the Night Safari and, of course the Bird Park. I think all of these are wonderful amenities for Singaporeans."

Dr Tan and Mr George Huang, president of Singapore Manufacturers' Federation, also placed floating lanterns in the waters of Upper Seletar Reservoir. Visitors to the park were encouraged to buy the lanterns, with all proceeds to be donated to the Wildlife Reserves Singapore Conservation Fund, which was set up to help efforts to conserve Singapore's endangered native wildlife.

Other activities included the recounting of the legend of Chang Er and her companion, the jade rabbit, and an animal petting session with the rabbits at the zoo.

Visitors were also educated on the effects of the moon on animal behaviour through fun and interactive performances.

Moon phases have been said to shape the evolution and lives of the animal kingdom, promoting the migratory habits of many animals today.

Family and racial bonding at zoo's Mid-Autumn event
Straits Times 12 Sep 11;

PRESIDENT Tony Tan Keng Yam and his family celebrated the Mid-Autumn Festival together with 5,000 people at the Singapore Zoo last night.

The President, who was accompanied by his daughter, son-in-law and two grandchildren, told reporters that such occasions serve as an opportunity for families and people of all races to bond.

He said: 'I think we all had a very good time here. Such family bonding, I believe, is very important for Singapore because we need to create informal occasions where families, children can bond with their parents and grandparents. It is the best way of building a sense of unity and comfort within the family.

'The other point, of course, this is open to all races, so you see people, Malays, Chinese, Indians, Eurasians, Europeans all coming together. This reflects the diversity of Singapore that we all celebrate together.'

Dr Tan was attending an event called Moon Night 2011, organised by Wildlife Reserves Singapore, the Singapore Environment Council and Singapore Manufacturers' Federation, to celebrate the festival - which is today. The event is also meant to raise awareness of nature conservation and biodiversity, and promote family togetherness.

The zoo opened its doors for free at 6pm as part of the event.

Dr Tan took part in several activities, including releasing fireflies at a forested area in the zoo and floating lanterns on Upper Seletar Reservoir.

He said the wish he made when he released his lantern was that Singaporeans would continue to 'celebrate together, enjoy themselves together, work together, cooperating, caring and looking out for each other'.

He added: 'This, I think, will strengthen the Singapore family and I think it would be something we should all work towards.'

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Solomon Islands to ban dolphin exports as of January 2012

Dolphin ban
Solomon Star 12 Sep 11;

THE Cabinet has passed a new policy to ban the export of dolphins beginning January next year.

The decision was passed on Thursday last week during a Cabinet meeting. “This importantly implies that come January 1st 2012, the ban on dolphin export will become effective,” a statement from the Ministry of Environment and Conservation said.

However, the statement said from now until the end of this year, dolphin exporters are allowed to export on a quota of 50 dolphins per year.

This is to allow dolphin exporters to change their business strategy, since the ban would be effective until the end of this year.

The decision is likely to put an end to live dolphin export out of the country since the export was lifted by the previous Government led by Dr Derek Sikua.

This was, when they passed a decision to export a quota of 50 animals per year.

Therefore, as a way to preserve our dolphins, the Cabinet had decided to put a close to this activity of dolphin export, the ministry said in a statement.

“As a responsible Government, the National Coalition and Rural Advancement (NCRA) have to take care of Solomon Islanders including the interest of Solomon Islands exporters,” the statement said.

“As a responsible government, that is our foremost responsibility.”

The Government believes their recent decision was a fair policy approach to protect dolphin exporters and to protect the country’s new policy shift from off-shore to onshore fisheries resources development.

The statement said their decision had nothing to do with outside pressure from local and international conservation groups.

“This ban on dolphin export is not in response to the outbursts of Earth Island Institute and Animal Welfare groups,” it said.

“It is however, in response to the call for conservation of marine species as specified in the NCRA Policy Statement and respective strategic and corporate plans of the Environment Ministry and Fisheries Ministry.”


Government Stands by Decision to Export Dolphin
Solomon Times 12 Sep 11;

Mr Sore has also revealed that the Government has made another policy decision on Thursday, 8 September 2011, to effectively ban all dolphin export starting Sunday, 1 January 2012.

Recent media outbursts by Earth Island Institute and China Animals Welfare Committee will not deter the decision by the Government to implement its policy on the export of wildlife.

The government had decided to stand by a former cabinet decision to uphold a quota of 50 live dolphin exports per year and government has made it clear that "the decision still stands."

In a media statement, Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Environment and Conservation, Rence Sore, confirmed that a normal 6 month permit was issued to Fulaiala on 4 April 2011.

"Because of the validity of Government Policy on export of live dolphin and, the validity of CITES Export Permit to Fulaiala - it is only reasonable that all Government instruments operate in tandem," said Mr Sore. "To this end, the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources had to re-look at its decision not to issue licenses and permits to the private sector."

"As for Earth Island Institute's call for the Prime Minister to step in and fire the Minister for Environment, Climate Change, Disaster Management and Meteorology (MECDM), who is also supervising Minister for Fisheries and Marine Resources (MFMR) - we say that no official is fired unjustifiably for doing what is right - implementing Government policies. On the contrary, officials are only fired for not implementing Government policies."

Mr Sore says that Earth Island Institute is aware that the Government has concluded a recent survey of dolphins in Solomon Islands waters. The report of the survey will be released in December 2011.

Meanwhile, Mr Sore has revealed that the Government has made another policy decision on Thursday, 8 September 2011, to effectively ban all dolphin export starting Sunday, 1 January 2012.

"This ban on dolphin export is not in response to the outbursts of Earth Island Institute rather it is in response to the call for conservation of marine species as specified in the NCRA Policy Statement and respective Strategic and Corporate Plans of the Ministry of Environment and Conservation."

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Singapore: Haze casts smoky pall over weekend crowd

PSI enters moderate range at 55, highest in more than three months
Leonard Lim Straits Times 12 Sep 11;

FROM shoppers in town to golfers at a tournament in Yishun, Sunday routines across the island were scuttled by the haze yesterday.

The daily Pollutants Standard Index (PSI) hit its highest level in more than three months, crossing into the moderate range with a reading of 55. The last time the PSI was this high was on June 2, when it reached 56.

Saturday's reading was 41, which is in the good range.

The National Environment Agency (NEA) said yesterday that the haze was due partly to a change in the direction of the winds over Singapore, from southeasterly to south-southwesterly. Farmers and logging companies in Indonesia clear land using fire during June to September, the region's dry season.

'Over the past week, dry weather conditions in the southern and central parts of Sumatra have led to an increase in hot-spot activities there,' an NEA spokesman added. The situation is expected to continue today and tomorrow if fires in Sumatra persist, he said.

Mr Joel Seah, 23, who has asthma and sinus problems, reported coughing more than usual yesterday as large swathes of Singapore were blanketed by haze, especially the west.

The church worker, who was watching a movie in nex shopping mall instead of being outdoors, said: 'It's like there's constant phlegm in my throat. It can get a little uncomfortable.'

Full-time national serviceman Muhammad Salihin, 21, was another of those affected. He went to the Marina Barrage yesterday morning to film an outdoor kite-flying scene so he could submit it for a competition.

But he and his friends were unable to film the city skyline because of the haze. They will now will have to return next weekend, with time running out before their Sept 30 deadline.

Mr Salihin said: 'It would have been best if it was a clear day. But now it's so cloudy it doesn't look nice.'

From the barrage, views of the Central Business District were shrouded by the haze. HDB blocks in the distance, usually easily spotted on clear days, were barely visible.

Visitors there reported a heavy smell of smoke at about 11am, which got better in the afternoon. 'Our whole family came, 12 of us, from different parts of Singapore. So we decided to stay on,' said housewife Lily Tan, 48.

Australian couple Brian and Kerry Plummer were also left disappointed after a wasted trip up the Singapore Flyer at around 12.30pm.

Ms Plummer, 45, said: 'It got quite dark during our half hour up on the Flyer. And usually the queue is quite long, but today we just walked straight in.'

Some of the 71 golfers competing in the final round of the ISPS Handa Singapore Classic Asian Tour event at Orchid Country Club were also complaining.

South African James Kamte said his driving distance was affected. The 29-year-old, who was wearing contact lenses, added: 'The haze did irritate my eyes a bit, especially since I forgot to bring my sunglasses to Singapore.'

Orchard Road was also slightly less crowded than on a typical Sunday, with some shoppers retreating indoors and into underpasses to escape the smog.

A PSI reading of between 51 and 100 is in the moderate range. Air quality breached the unhealthy threshold of 100 last October, leading to calls for the Indonesian authorities to take action.

The NEA spokesman said the situation is expected to improve from around the middle of the week, when the winds over Singapore are forecast to blow from the southeast or east-southeast. But the traditional dry season in the region is likely to continue until early next month.

During this time, the haze may still affect Singapore during extended periods of dry weather, said the spokesman.

Associate Professor Matthias Roth of the National University of Singapore's geography department said yesterday that the situation could get better if, for instance, the number of hot spots falls.

He added: 'Rain may help to reduce the severity of the haze.'

With less than a fortnight to the annual Sept 23-25 Formula One night race at the Marina Bay area, there are also concerns the haze could affect visibility for the drivers, who hit speeds of up to 300kmh. A spokesman for the organiser, Singapore GP, said it will continue to monitor the situation closely.

Poor air quality and visibility in several parts of Singapore
Alvina Soh Today Online 12 Sep 11;

SINGAPORE - Residents in several parts of Singapore reported hazy skies and the smell of smoke in the air. They include areas such as Chinatown and Marina Bay.

The 24-hour PSI reading as at 4pm on Saturday was 41, with the air quality still in the good range.

The next PSI update on the National Environment Agency (NEA) website will be available at 4pm on Sunday.

NEA said on its website that the Southwest Monsoon season from June to September is the traditional dry season for the southern ASEAN region.

It said periods of dry weather, interspersed with the occasional thundery showers in the afternoon and "Sumatra" squalls in the pre-dawn and early morning, are common during this season.

An increase in hotspot activities can be expected during extended periods of dry weather.

With the prevailing winds blowing predominantly from the Southeast or Southwest, there is a likelihood that Singapore could be affected by transboundary smoke haze from Sumatra.

The impact of the smoke haze depends on factors such as the proximity and extent of the fires, the strength and direction of the prevailing winds and the incidence and amount of rain.

NEA said in the past few days, scattered hotspots with slight to moderate smoke haze have been detected mainly over the central and southern parts of Sumatra.

The winds over Singapore are expected to blow from the Southeast and occasionally from the south.

Singapore could experience brief periods of slightly hazy conditions should the fires in the region persist and if the winds blow from the south.

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Indonesia haze: hot spots in 361 locations in Sumatra

Antara 12 Sep 11;

Pekanbaru, Riau (ANTARA News) - The number of hot spots in Sumatra island has been increasing rapidly to 381 locations, the Riau Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) in Pekanbaru said.

An analyst of the Riau BMKG Warih Puji Lestari said in Pekanbaru Saturday that of the 381 hot spots monitored by the weather satellite National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), 18 currently operated in Singapore, and most of the hotspots are still in South Sumatra reaching 179 spots.

Second, Warih said, was reached by Jambi province with 94 spots, followed by Riau province with 78 spots, Lampung 12, North Sumatra Utara six, Bangka Belitung five, West Sumatra four, Bengkulu two, and Aceh also one hot spot.

"In Riau, the hot spots had been detected in eight regencies, like Rokan Hulu and Siak with one hot spot each, Kampar regency two spots, Rokan Hilir three, Kuantansingingi four, Indragiri Hilir 15, Pelalawan 25 and Indragiri Hulu 27 hot spots.

The high frequency of hot spots in most of Sumatra, especially in Riau, Warih said was caused by the rather hot weather causing dryness in a number of areas especially where they are many mangrove forests or high wild grass.

"This condition should not become worsed by land fires as it will make the climate and air hotter and dryness will become more serious," Warih said.

She predicted that the number of hot spots may increase as the hot season is still in a transition or turn of the tide from the dry to the wet season. (*)

Editor: B Kunto Wibisono

Aircraft Take to Skies to Thwart Fires
Dessy Sagita Jakarta Globe 10 Sep 11;

An alarming rise in the number of high-temperature hot spots and haze-causing fires has prompted the deployment of aircraft for rain-making operations.

South Sumatra, which will coco-host the Southeast Asian Games in November, topped the list of regions with the highest number of hot spots, spots of high temperatures detected in satellite imaging that could indicate ground or forest fires.

According to the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, from Aug. 1 to Sept. 8, South Sumatra had 1,792 hot spots, Riau 890, Central Kalimantan 1,777, West Kalimantan 2,733, East Kalimantan 616, Jambi 643, North Sumatra 115 and South Kalimantan 513.

Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, a spokesman for the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB), said that three CASA 212-200 aircraft were deployed on Friday to Sumatra and would begin 30 days of rain-inducing operations from Monday.

Two went to South Sumatra and the other to Riau. The operation will be expanded to other fire-affected areas later. Sutopo said 80 percent of the fires happened outside forested areas.

The operation is being conducted with the Agency for the Assessment and Application of Technology (BPPT) and the Coordinating Ministry for People’s Welfare. A total of Rp 10.3 billion ($1.2 million) has been earmarked for weather modification technology, popularly known as artificial rain, to put out the forest fires.

Ebiet Mahar Habibie, a resident of Palembang, the capital of South Sumatra, said that thick haze has blanketed the city for more than a month and has been causing respiratory infections for some people.

“It’s difficult to drive with all the haze, as visibility is so bad, especially in the morning,” he told the Jakarta Globe on Friday.

Ebiet said he suspected the haze was caused by peatland fires, which are difficult to extinguish, in Indralaya in Musi Banyuasin district.

Many Palembang residents were fearful that the drought and haze could affect the SEA Games, an event locals hope will boost tourism in the city and region.

However, Edvin Aldrian, head of climate change at the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG), said it was unlikely the dry season would last until November, meaning the SEA Games would be spared its impact.

“We predict that the dry season will last for the next month, six weeks at the most, so hopefully the haze will stop before November and it won’t affect the SEA Games,” he said.

Edvin said the temperature of the ocean was not unusual and that the growth of clouds was good, even though it was not enough to generate heavy rain anytime soon.

“The sea temperature isn’t too cold. It it was too cold then we should worry because it could indicate that the dry season and the fires will last longer,” he said.

Experts have blamed the haze on land-clearing fires set by companies and individual farmers. The practice has been outlawed but it’s difficult to enforce because of a lack of resources.

Fires causing haze have been a common feature of Indonesian dry seasons for many years, as have efforts to induce rain.

Wildfires Sweep Mountains in E. Java
Dwi Lusiana Jakarta Globe 11 Sep 11;

Drought and human carelessness are being blamed for massive wildfires that have destroyed more than 150 hectares of vegetation on the slopes of Mount Bromo and Semeru in recent weeks.

The fires have affected 159 hectares of land between the two mountains in East Java, Sutrisno, the head of the Bromo Tengger Semeru National Park (TNBTS), said on Sunday.

“The fires were sparked by an abandoned campfire and carelessly discarded cigarette butts,” he said.

“The area that has been most badly affected has been Lautan Pasir, which sees the most people because it is the most popular climbing route.”

About 142 hectares of vegetation had been destroyed in the Lautan Pasir area, on the slopes of Bromo.

Sutrisno said religious and spiritual ceremonies that involved candles were another potential fire hazard on the dry slopes of the mountains.

Fires have become an annual occurrence in the park, especially during the dry season when the grass provides the perfect fuel and flames quickly spread between the two mountains, Sutrisno said.

“Our target this year is to limit the fires to 300 hectares, or 30 percent of the total area under the supervision of the national park,” he said.

The park will deploy more personnel to patrol the area with the help of villagers, he said. There are about 200 people, he added, who have been trained to put out fires before they can spread.

Authorities have also built four monitoring posts in park areas most prone to fires, and each post is being manned by 10 people, Sutrisno said.

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WikiLeaks: Singapore pressured Australia to cut back on reef safeguard

Reef safeguard cut back
Philip Dorling The Age 12 Sep 11;

THE federal government has secretly wound back a critical environmental protection for the Great Barrier Reef against shipping accidents in order to avoid a diplomatic stoush with the US and Singapore.

Australian diplomats have privately conceded the political cost of an oil spill would be "immense" and conservationists have called for the government to fix the problem urgently.

Leaked US embassy cables published by WikiLeaks have revealed that the government "weakened" the compulsory pilotage regime for large vessels - including oil tankers, chemical tankers and liquefied gas carriers - sailing through the sensitive maritime environment of the Torres Strait.

Owners and masters of vessels that fail to use a pilot to navigate the narrow and hazardous channel will not face any penalty if they do not subsequently call at an Australian port.

On learning that the Torres Strait pilotage regime was quietly amended 17 months ago, Australian Conservation Foundation chief executive Don

Henry said it was essential all shipping through the strait had pilotage. "This was a wrong move,'' Mr Henry said. ''The government ought to fix this."

Leaked US diplomatic cables reveal the US and Singapore reacted strongly against the then Howard government's October 2006 announcement of a compulsory pilotage regime in the Torres Strait. The scheme was designed to reduce the risk of oil and chemical spills at the northern end of the Great Barrier Reef.

In November 2006, Singaporean ambassador-at-large Tommy Koh told the US ambassador in Singapore that Singapore was "deeply concerned'' that Australia's actions would set a precedent ''seen to allow other coastal states … to encroach on the right of free passage as enshrined in the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea".

Singapore's then foreign minister, George Yeo, wrote to Australia "to complain about the [Australian government's] decision and its negative impact on larger strategic interests".

The leaked cables show the US strongly shared Singapore's concerns. Aside from complaining to Australia, US envoys urged other nations to protest.

The Howard government was unmoved by the complaints. In early 2008 the new Labor government's initial response to Singapore's protests was also uncompromising. But the start of a policy shift soon followed once the US reaffirmed its opposition.

In July 2008, the head of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade's international law branch, assistant secretary Adam McCarthy, conceded to the US embassy in Canberra that "Australia recognises that it has not handled the Torres Strait pilotage issue particularly well" and indicated Canberra was prepared "to explore ways to address US concerns".

Mr McCarthy stressed "the Rudd government understands US and Singaporean concerns … but that it believes it politically impossible to change the mandatory nature of the regime''.

"If there were to be an oil spill after the Rudd Labor government 'weakened' the environmental protections imposed by the Howard government," he said, "the political cost would be immense.''

He said that ''everything is on the table … except the mandatory nature of the regime''. The US said "this is the exact point which we find unacceptable". Mr McCarthy then conceded Australia recognised "the US … will never agree to the current mandatory regime".

After consultations in Washington in August 2008, DFAT sought US agreement to a compromise. This would involve leaving the "compulsory" legal pilotage framework in place while in practice reverting to a voluntary scheme for many vessels by not enforcing penalties against ships that transited the Torres Strait without a pilot but did not call at an Australian port.

Mr McCarthy had previously acknowledged that most large vessels sailing through the strait were on voyages involving an Australian port, but "the problem for Australia is that many of the remaining vessels (132 in 2007) are tankers. These are exactly the vessels that Australia is most worried could be involved in an accident causing environmental damage.''

These concerns were abandoned in the interest of securing US acceptance and heading off a threatened international legal challenge by Singapore.

The US approved of the compromise and the Australian Maritime Safety Authority formalised the change in policy on April 17, 2009. To avoid publicity, the authority's announcement was a single paragraph "marine notice" published at the bottom of a longer notice on a different subject. No statement was made by Transport Minister Anthony Albanese.

Privately, the director of DFAT's sea law section, Damien White, acknowledged to US envoys that the compulsory pilotage regime had been changed "out of a desire to remove a bilateral irritant'' with the US.

Mr McCarthy "stressed that the deal with the United States was an end in and of itself given the nature of the relationship with the United States".

About 900 to 1000 vessels longer than 70 metres sail through the strait each year. The Australian Maritime Safety Authority says it does not keep records of how many visit Australian ports.

The Australian Conservation Foundation's Mr Henry said he hoped the US and Australia would ''think more carefully about putting the Great Barrier Reef at risk.

''It will only take one unpiloted ship to cause great destruction,'' he said.

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Australia: Call for more marine parks

9News 12 Sep 11;

Australia needs extra marine parks and increased fish stocks to protect ocean ecosystems from the effects of climate change such as acidity and rising temperatures, a think tank says.

The Centre for Policy Development, releasing its report on marine economy security, says failure to act will risk 9000 direct jobs in commercial fishing and a marine tourism industry worth $11 billion a year.

Ocean ecosystems add an extra $25 billion to the national economy each year including $15.8 billion a year in carbon storage, the report says.

The report, released on Monday, says sea grasses store 10 to 40 times as much carbon per hectare as forests and Australia's sea-grass meadows are the largest in the world.

Oceans also provide $6.2 billion a year in pest and disease control services in fisheries, as well as $1.85 billion per year of benefits in recreational fishing, it said.

Researchers looked at the south-western region of Western Australia as a case study and found the region provided an extra $435 million a year in value than official figures showed.

The report said extending a proposed marine protection area to cover coastal shelf, sea grass and coral reefs could protect a further $1.1 billion in economic benefits.

Report co-author Laura Eadie said the short-term costs of taking action should be put aside to reap the long-term benefits.

"In a world of increased competition for resources and rapid environmental change, it makes economic sense to protect the asset base of the marine economy," Ms Eadie said in a statement.

Marine survey uncovers a deep sea treasure trove
Andrew Darby Hobart Sydney Morning Herald 12 Sep 11;

WHAT price nature? When it comes to adding up the ecological benefits to Australia of its huge marine domain, the first serious stab at a value is $25 billion.

While marine industries such as fishing, oil and gas exploration and marine tourism have long been accounted for, ecosystems themselves have been ignored, a report released today says.

Building on UN Environment Program biodiversity assessments, the Sydney Centre for Policy Development has counted up the worth of nature hidden beneath the sea's surface.

The greatest single value lay in the ocean's use as a carbon sink. Using the Gillard government's proposed $23 per tonne carbon price, the centre estimated Australia's marine domain to be worth $15.8 billion. In the report, Stocking Up: Securing Our Marine Economy, the centre's research director, Laura Eadie, said small but relatively intensive carbon sinks such as coastal seagrass beds and coral reefs could be worth $79 per hectare. Open ocean, which makes up most of the 10.2 million square kilometre marine territory counted in the report, was worth much less as a sink at $9 per hectare.

The report also calculated dollar values of the oceans to the economy in recreational fisheries, providing ''nursery'' services to fish, and in disease control.

Ms Eadie said that as the first ecosystem service valuation study done for a whole sector of the environment, conservative estimates had been made and true values were likely to be much larger. She said the study shone a light on the marine economy as a whole, before rising pressures such as greater global food demand, and ecosystem disruption caused by climate change.

''This report shows the clear economic benefits of protecting our marine economy through sensible measures like establishing marine parks and setting targets to increase fish stocks.''

It comes at what the Environment Minister, Tony Burke, says is a once-in-a-generation chance to protect the marine environment.

Marine plans covering the waters around most of the coastline are to be settled before the end of next year. The report said stronger protections in these waters could set Australia up to benefit at a time when global fisheries were being depleted.

''If global fishing continues unabated … the value of commercial fish production from sustainably managed Australian fisheries could increase by 42 per cent, to $3.3 billion per year,'' it said.

The National Seafood Industry Alliance said Australia already had more waters in marine reserves than the international target of 10 per cent by 2020.

However, in a dire assessment of global fisheries, a group of international marine scientists concluded there is a persuasive argument for shutting down all deep sea fisheries. Rapid serial collapses of these fisheries resemble mining operations rather than sustainable fishing, said the US scientist Elliott Norse in the journal Marine Policy.

''Ending deep sea fisheries would be particularly appropriate for the high seas outside the [exclusive economic zones] of maritime countries, where fisheries from a few countries are harming the biodiversity that is a vital interest for all of humankind.''

Seagrass 'stores $79 per ha of carbon'
Belinda Cranston AAP 13 Sep 11;

THEY'VE been quietly storing carbon dioxide for decades without causing a fuss or charging anyone a cent for the privilege but Australia's seagrass beds are at risk of being destroyed by climate change, a think tank says.

Sea grasses store 10 to 40 times as much carbon per hectare as forests, and Australia's sea-grass meadows are the largest in the world, a report by the Centre for Policy Development says.

Considering the Gillard government wants to charge $23 per tonne of carbon emitted by Australia's biggest polluters, that would make Australia's coastal seagrass beds worth $79 per hectare, the report's authors added at its official launch today.

To some extent, the carbon has been absorbed without there being any damage to ecosystems, says Caroline Hoisington, co-author of Stocking Up: Securing our Marine Economy.

"A lot of biological systems in the ocean sequester carbon," she said at the launch of the report today.

"There is nothing wrong with that. It encourages growth.

"The problem is when there is so much carbon that it can't be sequestered, and it starts to change the chemistry of the water in the ocean, making it more acid, and that starts to inhibit coral growth, and that is a big worry."

For this reason, companies that emit carbon should not think of the ocean as a sink where it can be dumped.

"It's more about recognising the value that it has played so far," fellow report co-author Laura Eadie said.

Ocean ecosystems add an extra $25 billion to the national economy each year which is not accounted for in official figures, the report says.

These includes $15.8 billion a year in carbon storage.

It was also of concern that 29 per cent of the world's sea grass beds had vanished since 1879.

"Australia has the world's largest sea beds, but warming ocean temperatures have resulted in loss," Ms Eadie said.

In Western Australia, about 1,000 hectares of sea grass were lost after a particularly warm summer, Ms Hoisington added.

"That is likely to increase," she said.

Land based pollution had also contributed to the loss of the sea grass beds.

The report, Stocking Up: Securing Our Marine Economy, is the first in a series looking at how different sectors of Australia's economy can benefit from policies to preserve the environment and the resources that sustain them.

Aside from warning of a decline in the number of seagrass beds, the report recommended building up fish stocks and creating more marine parks to buffer ocean ecosystems from the climate change affects of acidity and rising temperatures.

Stocking Up: Securing Our Marine Economy

Marine park argument makes little sense
David Lockwood Sydney Morning Herald 18 Sep 11;

A REPORT titled Stocking Up: Securing Our Marine Economy, from left-wing research organisation the Centre for Policy Development, reckons Australia's oceans and seas are worth $25 billion annually to the economy. But scratch below the surface and you'll find the maths is seriously flawed.

The contentious report, designed to justify the creation of a national network of marine protected areas (MPAs), attributes $15.8 billion a year in carbon storage to our three oceans and four seas.

The authors say seagrasses hold 10 to 40 times as much carbon per hectare as forests.
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The report then states: ''Australia's seagrass meadows are the largest in the world but none are slated to be covered by the proposed south-west marine park [which is between Kangaroo Island in South Australia and Shark Bay in Western Australia].''

Commonwealth waters generally start three nautical miles offshore.

It's deep and dark down there - the south-west area includes the Diamantina Fracture Zone, which plummets nearly six kilometres.

Seagrass grows in shallow light-penetrating estuaries. So wipe billions off their apparent economic justification for more MPAs for starters. But MPAs are coming.

The Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities says a proposed network of MPAs will include highly protected zones that will be ''managed to preserve the area in an undisturbed and unmodified condition, so extractive activities will not be permitted''.

That means more no-fishing zones are slated under the Gillard government, despite the national pastime being enjoyed by up to 7 million Australians. It might also mean no boating in some areas.

There is great concern among the boating and fishing industries. They believe the Greens have the federal government over a barrel.

A marine industry summit held in Brisbane in July found marine parks were among the top five issues hindering recreational boating. The summit report also said green politics was negatively impacting the industry and its image.

Meanwhile, the motive behind the Centre for Policy Development report remains clear. Assign a monetary value to the marine environment and then argue the case of economic loss should it not be protected.

That logic has been employed with great success by American environmental research group, Pew, which campaigns to stop fishing.

Public access to our waterways should be retained, and gear, bag and size limits should be used as management tools if and when the fish need it. After all, angling is the least damaging of all food production methods, even greener than farming lentils.

Back in the real world, agreeable weather will see long-range fishers chasing yellowfin tuna. The currents look favourable along the shelf to the north of Broken Bay.

Our central coast stringer and skipper Scott Thorrington has been catching kingfish to 12 kilograms on the 90-metre reefs. We also hear of solid kings holding in the same depth just north and south of Sydney Heads.

But be warned: the leatherjackets are in plague proportions, snipping lines, pilfering $20 jigs and filling the commercial traps intended for snapper. One pro sent 250 kilograms of leatherjacket tails to the markets the other day. The tails equate to half the original fish weight comprising head and guts.

Closer in, striped tuna are scooting about in 40-80 metres. They are the ultimate bait for the snapper and flathead holding on the shallow reefs. Aussie salmon are schooling around the headlands, estuary mouths and patrolling the beaches.

As forecast in previous weeks, big whiting are mooching about the harbour, Pittwater and Botany Bay beaches. Brisbane Water is another whiting hot spot, especially on the local live squirt worms.

Luderick are in season and just about everywhere in the estuaries. Some solid tailor have turned up on the troll and also on live baits. But the trevally and bream remain the mainstay, as more and more flathead gradually awaken from slumber.

It has been a tough few weeks for many anglers. The good news is the warm spring days will see an increase in water temperature and, thus, fish activity in the weeks ahead.

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