Best of our wild blogs: 15 Sep 11

Flora of Pulau Semakau
from Urban Forest

My first local sighting of a frogfish!
from Compressed air junkie

Sharing about our shores at NUS
from wild shores of singapore

Kusu pilgrimage season: 27 Sep to 26 Oct 2011
from wild shores of singapore

RMBR featured on History Hunters!
from Raffles Museum News

Keeping a Nature Journal
from Art in Wetlands

Registration for ICCS2011 is closed
from News from the International Coastal Cleanup Singapore

GAIA – Singapore’s first sustainable living mook
from AsiaIsGreen

Izilwane: Connecting the Human Animal to the Global Ecosystem
from EDGE Blog

Read more!

US Zoo Death Stirs Debate About Keeping Dolphins in Captivity

Brandon Keim Wired Science 14 Sep 11;

The death of a young bottlenose dolphin at a Chicago zoo was accidental, but some biologists say it shows why dolphins shouldn’t be kept in captivity for entertainment.

The dolphin, a 4-year-old named Nea, died on the afternoon of Sept. 5 at the Brookfield Zoo. According to a zoo press release, trainers heard “a loud pop” from the pool, apparently the sound of two dolphins colliding. Nobody reported seeing the collision, but it’s thought to have happened in the air as the animals jumped. Nea died minutes later from a fractured skull.

Zoo officials described it as a “freak incident,” ascribing it to typical roughhousing gone awry. But crowding dolphins into small, unnatural environments makes accidents more likely, said Wild Dolphin Project biologist Denise Herzing.

“Dolphins whack each other in the wild. That’s part of their aggressiveness. But in captivity, there’s less room,” said Herzing. “This isn’t the first time dolphins have had an accident in the air. Certainly there have been dolphins jumping out of tanks. The restricted lives of dolphins jumping in a pool can impact their ability to do what they normally do.”

Nea’s death occurred at a moment when, following the deaths of killer whale trainers at Loro Parque in the Canary Islands and SeaWorld in Florida, the dolphin entertainment industry (killer whales are in the dolphin family) is under intense scrutiny.

Later this month the federal Occupational Health and Safety Administration will hold hearings on trainer safety. Though dolphin safety won’t be discussed, critics say the attacks are symptoms of animal stress: Dolphins are highly intelligent, social and free-spirited creatures, and become physically ill and mentally unstable in captivity (.pdf).

As a result, dolphins in marine parks actually have shorter, more dangerous lives than in the wild.

“It would be absolutely valid to frame [Nea's death] in terms of the captive versus wild mortality rates,” said Lori Marino, an Emory University neurobiologist who specializes in cetaceans and primates and is a prominent critic of cetacean captivity.

Asked if Nea’s death was a byproduct of captivity, former SeaWorld trainer Jeff Ventre said, “I would suspect that it is.” According to Ventre, it’s possible that the roughhousing could have been bullying, even fighting.

“One of the main aspects of living in the ocean as opposed to captivity is that animals have the option to flee,” he said. “When they’re confined, they can’t run away.”

Conflict isn’t uncommon in wild dolphins and is also found in captivity, where dolphins are often separated from their families as juveniles and sent to live with strangers, creating new and stressful social dynamics.

Nea was born at Dolphinquest in Bermuda and taken to the Brookfield Zoo at age 3, two years before she would have become independent from her mother in the wild, though zoo officials say Nea had socialized well.

“It’s never been reported that two dolphins met and crashed in the air,” according to Herzing, who has studied dolphins for 26 years. She described them as having a high degree of physical self-coordination.

“Sometimes I accidentally drift into their group more than I want to. When they come up to the surface, they can jump out of the water and pass inches from me, avoiding any contact,” Herzing said. “They’re just exquisite at tracking where they are in the water.”

Shows at the Brookfield Zoo’s Seven Seas dolphin exhibit resumed on Sept. 6, one day after Nea’s death. Bill Zeigler, the zoo’s senior vice president of collections and animal care, told the audience that “they love to do the demonstrations because it’s part of their normal behavior.”

Zoo spokeswoman Sondra Katzen noted that the Chicago Zoological Society has long supported wild-dolphin research and conservation.

“During presentations here at the zoo, we talk about conservation efforts,” said Katzen. “By being able to have animals that people can see, it gives them a better appreciation for animals in the wild. It helps them want to help the animals.”

Read more!

Solomon dolphin export permit was granted illegally, documents show

The Solomon Star 15 Sep 11;

DOCUMENTS confirmed the export permit granted to local dolphin exporter and owner of Furaiala Community Cetacean project by the Government was done illegally.

According to documents obtained by The Solomon Star, local exporter Dr Badley Anita has not met some of the dolphin license conditions required by the Ministry of Fisheries.

Documents showed the local exporter:

has an expired collection of Malaita fisheries business license that needed to be revalidated
has an expired collection of Guadalcanal fisheries business license (RN 79133) that expired in March 31 20011 and;
has an expired collection of Central Islands fisheries business license (CR 30085) that needs to be revalidated.

However,The Solomon Star understands the Fisheries Ministry and the Environment Ministry has approved the local exporter’s export permit.

This was despite him catching dolphins in those provincial waters illegally, documents showed.

In a letter signed by the director of the Fisheries Ministry James Teri on behalf of the Permanent Secretary, the license (No: FPL-22/2011) was to cater for purchasing, holding, processing and export of live dolphins.

The license was granted on September 9, 2011 valid commencing January 1 2011 to December 31 2011.

Sources within the ministry who provided the documents to The Solomon Star said the export permit was granted although the local exporter has invalid business license to capture dolphins in Malaita, Guadalcanal and Central provinces.

“The exporter has invalid licenses to capture dolphins with some need to be revalidated but why does the ministry decide to grant them an export permit,” the source said.

Documents also showed that the Ministry of Environment and Conservation issued an export permit to the exporter in October 9, 2009.

The permit was valid until April 6, 2010.

The permit was revalidated to October 4, 2010 to April 4, 2011 and then renewed again to October 6, 2011 which is next month.

The ministry earlier explained that the export permit was renewed because the exporter had not exported any dolphins during the past years.

Therefore, his permit was still valid because he had not used up his quota of 50 live dolphins in any of those years.

Fisheries Ministry director James Teri was not available for comments yesterday.

The paper also attempted to talk to the ministry’s Permanent Secretary but he was also unavailable.

Meanwhile, despite warnings from local and international conservation groups to block the proposed export, the Government has stood by their decision to allow the export.

The Government also passed a new policy last week to ban all dolphin export by January 2012.


Read more!

New research centre for environmental and water sustainability

Channel NewsAsia 14 Sep 11;

SINGAPORE: A new S$120 million research centre at the Nanyang Technological University (NTU) will harness the powers of micro-organisms for environmental and water sustainability.

The Singapore Centre on Environmental Life Sciences Engineering (SCELSE), will look at innovative ways to process waste water efficiently and trapping greenhouse gases.

The centre is led and hosted by NTU, in partnership with the National University of Singapore (NUS).

NTU said environmental engineering solutions are critical to solve the main challenges facing mankind, such as a sustainable environment and the availability of clean water.

At the same time it can bring significant economic benefits for Singapore and beyond.

It said in Asia alone, the water market is expected to grow to S$600 billion by 2015.

The centre has already embarked on two flagship programmes in partnership with PUB, Singapore's national water agency.

The first involves the Ulu Pandan wastewater reclamation plant, where SCELSE has started a comprehensive analysis of the complex microbial communities that treat water at the plant.

By knowing exactly what all of those organisms do and how they function together, the reclamation process can be optimised to be faster, more efficient and to use less energy.

The second is to study urban waterways, in which SCELSE has adopted the Ulu Pandan Catchment Areas to study the role of microbial processes in the recycling of surface water and for controlling harmful microorganisms.

The findings will be useful for reshaping of waterways by the combination of hard and soft engineering approaches.

- CNA/ck

NTU, NUS open micro-organisms research centre
Teo Si Jia Business Times 14 Sep 11;

In a tie-up with the National University of Singapore (NUS), Nanyang Technological University (NTU) has, on Wednesday, opened the Singapore Centre on Environmental Life Sciences Engineering (SCELSE) to study how micro-organisms can improve environmental and water sustainability.

Led and hosted by NTU, the centre is recieving funding for its research from the National Research Foundation and the Ministry of Education for the next 10 years.

The research centre, which cost S$120 million to start up, will merge 'two traditionally separate disciplines: life sciences and engineering', said director-professor Staffan Kjelleberg.

Headed by professor Kjelleberg and deputy director Professor Cohen Yehuda, veterans in environmental life sciences engineering, the research team consists of other leaders in the research world, such as molecular biologist Stephan Schuster, biofilm biology researcher Michael Givskov and Stefan Wuertz microbiology researcher and editor of Water Research, a trusted journal in water resources.

It has already partnered up with the Public Utilities Board (PUB) for two flagship programmes - firstly, for wastewater reclamation studies at Ulu Pandan and secondly, the study on the urban waterways.

'With similar collaborations with industrial partners, SCELSE can provide the competitive edge to Singapore's companies in clean technology, environmental management and pharmaceutical drug development, and ultimately contribute towards enhancing Singapore's job market and economic development,' said guest of honour, senior minister Grace Fu at the opening.

Micro-organism research centre opens at NTU
Straits Times 15 Sep 11;

RESEARCH into micro-organisms got a fillip yesterday with the opening of a research centre at the Nanyang Technological University (NTU).

The Singapore Centre on Environmental Life Sciences Engineering (Scelse) and the research it undertakes will be financed by a $120 million fund to be disbursed over the next 10 years.

The money comes from the Ministry of Education and the National Research Foundation.

The centre was declared open by Senior Minister of State for the Environment and Water Resources Grace Fu.

A collaboration between NTU and the National University of Singapore, the centre is headed by visiting professor at NTU Staffan Kjelleberg.

On Scelse's advisory board is Dr Craig Venter, one of the first scientists to sequence the human genome.

The centre's area of study will be the living organisms responsible for many things - from the plaque on one's teeth to the slime that accumulates on the hulls of ships and slows them down.

The Scelse team has already begun two projects with national water agency PUB.

One involves analysing water samples from the Ulu Pandan wastewater reclamation plant to find a way to improve the treatment process.

Prof Kjelleberg said: 'If there's a system breakdown, for example, we can analyse samples from before, during and after the breakdown to see which micro-organisms were responsible.'

The team's other project will bring scientists into Ulu Pandan waterways to find better ways to recycle rainwater using the organisms.

Prof Kjelleberg said the centre will produce scientists trained in engineering and the life sciences: 'We plan to take in doctoral students from both departments so they can be trained in each other's disciplines. This will make them more practical scientists.'

Ms Fu said Scelse's set-up is timely, given that urbanisation around the world is putting stress on cities.

'Countries everywhere are now confronted with increasingly complex challenges related to... clean water supply and proper sanitation,' she said.


Read more!

Blooming shame

Tourism Board gives up on Orchard flower totems after constant pilferage
Amanda Tan Straits Times 15 Sep 11;

A MOVE to beautify Orchard Road worked so well that Singaporeans and tourists wanted a piece of the action.

Now the pillars of fresh flowers on Singapore's main shopping street are being taken down after developing bare patches at the bottom from shoppers and tourists stealing the blooms.

The Singapore Tourism Board (STB) released a statement yesterday saying it had decided to move the totems due to the 'constant flower pilferage'.

They will be packed off to Sentosa to be used in an annual floral festival.

The 20 pillars have proved too tempting for passers-by to resist ever since they were placed along the pedestrian walkway between Liat Towers and Forum Shopping Mall in 2009, as part of a makeover of Orchard Road. They cost less than 1 per cent of the $40 million project.

Orchids were the first type of flowers to be used, but they ended up being stolen. So STB switched to planting bromeliads, which are understood to be more cost-effective. But this did not stop the pilfering. And even when the flowers were gone, shoppers still could not keep their hands off the leaves.

STB explored 'various avenues' to maintain the totems. It also hired a company to check them on a regular basis and replaced the plants several times over the last two years.

But it eventually decided to move them after consulting various groups such as the Orchard Road Business Association.

Mr Augustine Lau, manager of Far East Electronics at Far East Shopping Centre, said that bald patches on the totems were a common sight.

'You can see that the bottom part is always empty,' he said. 'I guess people must have taken them.'

Another retailer at the centre, who asked not to be named, said that passers-by loved to pick the orchids, the first flowers to be planted. 'There were yellow and purple ones, and everyone loved to pluck them,' she said. 'They were gone very fast, by the next day.'

Ms Nadia Montenegro, who works at the Haagen-Dazs ice-cream store outside the Hilton Hotel, said she has seen people pluck the flowers, play with them and even throw them on the floor.

'Tourists, especially, are quite fascinated with the vertical columns,' she said.

When The Straits Times took a walk along the shopping belt yesterday, workers were dismantling the plants from two totems outside Liat Towers.

STB said that removal work was due to be completed by the end of this year. In the meantime, canvasses decorated with flower motifs would be wrapped around the 3.5m steel pillars.

The totems would be taken to a nursery where a landscaping team would prepare them for the week-long Sentosa Flowers Festival starting on Jan 23, the first day of Chinese New Year.

Ms Zee Soh Fun, assistant communications manager of Sentosa Leisure Group, said the organisation was 'exploring permanent locations for the totems'.

Dr William Wan, general secretary of the Singapore Kindness Movement, was sad to hear people had been stealing flowers, but felt they 'are not representative of the majority of Singaporeans'.

'The flowers are for the enjoyment of the public,' he said. 'It'll be good to reflect on the fact that the flowers are for everybody's enjoyment and not for anyone's taking.'

Dr Wan said he spent more than a decade living in Ottawa, Canada, where tulips were planted in the city centre for two weeks a year as a gift from Holland. 'I've not heard of people stealing those,' he said. 'They go there to enjoy it.'

Property agent Adeline Tan, 54, felt it was a pity that the flower columns were being removed. 'It softens the look of the city, with all the concrete around. There should be some sort of flowers here.'

Mr Mar Reyes, 22, felt that putting up 'Do Not Touch' signs would have helped to steer people away from the flowers.

Dr Wan is not convinced this would have worked. 'It's a mindset thing,' he said. 'People need to be more considerate and learn to enjoy the beauty of things as they are instead of taking them.'

Read more!

Indonesian Government Declines Singapore Help on Haze

Fidelis E. Satriastanti Jakarta Globe 15 Sep 11;

Though heavy haze continues to blanket parts of western Indonesia, the government said on Wednesday that things were under control and it did not need help from other countries.

Singapore, which falls victim to Indonesia’s annual haze problem, has offered to help put out forest fires. However, the deputy minister for environmental damage control and climate change, Arif Yuwono, said the government was capable of resolving the matter on its own.

Singapore Environment and Water Resources Minister Vivian Balakrishan told Channel NewsAsia that her country had offered to send aircraft to help Indonesia extinguish forest fires, which threaten to cast a pall over the city-state’s glitzy Formula 1 night race next week.

“We have a team on standby to help with putting out fires or even with cloud seeding, as well as technical assistance. It depends on whether the Indonesians request or require our assistance,” Balakrishan said.

Arif told the Jakarta Globe his ministry had yet to receive any formal offers, but no help needed.

“We don’t need any help [from foreign countries] because we already have our own standard procedures for handling disasters. The forest fires are now being handled by the BNPB [National Disaster Mitigation Agency] through rain-making operations,” he said.

“We also hope that the fires will decrease once the rainy season begins.”

Arif added that accepting help from foreign countries was complicated because the president needed to declare a natural disaster emergency and approve any aid from other countries.

Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, a spokesman for the BNPB, also said there was no threat.

“Indonesia still has many resources, so any foreign help will be accepted only if we cannot control the situation ,” he said.

The government this week began rain-making operations focused on South Sumatra because the province will host the South East Asia Games in November and because it has 971 designated hotspots.

“We have decided to focus on putting out fires in the areas near the Games. We are creating buffer zones around the venues,” Arif said.

He added that three CASA 212-200 aircraft were being used to implement the month-long rainmaking initiative, which started on Monday.

Sutopo also claimed that the impact of the smoke was still localized and it had not reached other countries like fires in 1998 did. However, Malaysian state news agency Bernama reported that the country’s Environment Minister Douglas Uggah Embas last week sent a letter to his Indonesian counterpart about hundreds of suspected fires on Sumatra.

The letter was sent as air quality on Friday dropped to a level deemed “unhealthy” in one area of Negeri Sembilan state, south of Kuala Lumpur.

Indonesia says it can tackle haze on its own
Zubaidah Nazeer Straits Times 16 Sep 11;

JAKARTA: Indonesia has rejected offers from Singapore and Malaysia to help in efforts to tamp down land and forest fires, despite reports of the resulting haze affecting the neighbouring countries.

Officials said yesterday they were able to cope with the haze, which they said had not spread beyond the country's borders.

'Singapore has offered help to Indonesia but we feel that we do not need the assistance yet,' Mr Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, a spokesman for the National Disaster Management Agency, told The Straits Times.

'The haze is still manageable and Indonesia feels that it can overcome this on its own at this point. The haze has been localised and has not spread out of the country.'

Last month, Singapore officials wrote to Indonesian counterparts to register their concerns after PSI levels rose to their highest since June 2. The air pollution index hit 69 this week - considered moderate - as a hazy pall covered the island. Yesterday, the PSI levelled off at 18 after 6pm, the result of showers over the past two weeks.

On Wednesday, Environment and Water Resources Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said Singapore stood ready to provide help with putting out the fires, cloud seeding and other technical assistance.

Malaysia's Environment Minister Douglas Uggah Embas last Friday also wrote to his Indonesian counterpart Gusti Muhammad Hatta as the air quality dipped in many Malaysian states.

Mr Arief Yuwono, Indonesia's Deputy Minister of Environment for Nature Conservation and Climate Change, said Jakarta was going through its own standard procedures for handling disasters and did not need additional help.

'We appreciate the attention and offer of assistance given by our neighbours, but at this point, we are confident of getting on top of the situation,' he told The Straits Times.

An annual occurrence, the haze is caused by farmers' burning of forests to clear land for cultivation. Fires started in peatlands linger longer as they can continue to burn underground.

The haze has in past years raised the political temperature in the region, sparking tense exchanges between Indonesia and Malaysia and Singapore. It has also led to finger-pointing, with some blaming foreign firms for the land-clearing, and others alleging collusion between local officials and plantation and paper-pulp companies.

In the last three days, however, heavy rain has helped to douse the fires. Officials also say cloud seeding has yielded results in three spots in South Sumatra, the worst-hit area.

But some activists say such moves are not long-term solutions.

Said Mr Anwar Sadat from the Indonesian Forum for the Environment: 'We need a systematic and tough approach to prevent companies from exploiting land and getting them to be more responsible, and to equip our farmers with environmentally friendly land-clearing techniques.'

Read more!

Malaysia 'not illegal wildlife trade centre'

KL denies claims it is transhipment hub after recent seizures of ivory
Lester Kong Straits Times 15 Sep 11;

KUALA LUMPUR: The Malaysian authorities have denied charges that the country has turned into a popular transhipment hub for the illegal trade in endangered species or their parts following a spate of seizures of ivory recently.

They have insisted that the number of smuggling cases has not changed significantly for the past 10 years.

Official records show 376 attempts to smuggle wildlife into and out of the country during that period.

'There are always attempts to smuggle wildlife or use the country's strategic location as a transit point en route to their final country of destination. There are no significant changes in the pattern over the years due to similar market demands for these species,' Natural Resources and Environment Ministry spokesman Yamuna Perimalu told The Straits Times.

But she acknowledged that Malaysia remained a major hot spot for illegal wildlife trade even though enforcement had been stepped up.

More than 1,700 elephant tusks worth millions of dollars were seized in major ports around the country in the past two months. The tusks were found hidden among recycled crushed plastic or declared as plywood in containers. All the shipments were from Tanzania, and were destined for China.

The Hong Kong authorities seized nearly two tonnes of ivory worth about US$1.7 million (S$2.1 million) in a shipment from Malaysia last month.

And Tanzanian police seized another huge consignment of ivory apparently en route to Malaysia late last month.

The world's wildlife watchdog, Traffic, in a statement after the latest ivory bust in Malaysia, described it as 'both heartening and disappointing'.

'It's heartening because it shows that the country's authorities can and will take action on the problem,' said its South-east Asia regional director William Schaedla. 'It's disappointing because it clearly validates what Traffic has been saying for some time now - Malaysia is a major transshipping country for illegal ivory.'

He has called for better coordination among Malaysian officials to combat the growing menace. 'Often the agencies involved in apprehending illegal wildlife trade are not consolidating resources or coordinating among one another,' he told The Straits Times.

'There is no centralised system or database for recording this information. This has been the case for some time among South-east Asian countries where agencies are isolated and not sharing information.'

Dr Schaedla and other experts have estimated that the illegal global trade in wildlife exceeds US$20 billion annually. Half of that trade was sourced from South-east Asian countries.

Natural Resources and Environment Minister Douglas Uggah Embas, who has ordered an investigation into the recent ivory seizures, has denied that these signified Malaysia had turned into a wildlife smuggling hub or that Malaysians were involved. 'It was difficult to stop smugglers as there were many entry points. The ships can stop anywhere. But it does not mean Malaysians are involved,' he said.

Under Malaysia's Wildlife Conservation Act, in force from Dec 28 last year, any person who imports or exports any protected wildlife without a licence can be fined up to RM50,000 (S$20,300) or jailed for up to one year.

Hunting protected species such as tigers and rhinoceros without a special permit is subject to fines of between RM100,000 and RM500,000.

Read more!

Thai customs seizes thousands of endangered animals

(AFP) Google News 14 Sep 11;

BANGKOK — Nearly 2,000 monitor lizards, hundreds of turtles and 20 snakes were among a huge haul of live endangered animals found hidden in a truck by Thai authorities, a wildlife group said Wednesday.

The vehicle is believed to have been on its way across Thailand to Laos when it was intercepted by customs officers at a checkpoint in Pranburi, central Thailand, on Tuesday evening, Freeland Foundation said.

The creatures, valued at $132,000 on the black market, were being transported on a well known route, the wildlife group said, adding that it was the second seizure at the checkpoint this year.

"These seizures highlight the urgent need for regional cooperation to stop the criminal gangs behind the transport of wildlife along this route," a statement from the wildlife counter-trafficking organisation said.

In total, officers found 1,940 monitor lizards, 717 turtles, 44 civets -- a small mammal -- 15 cobras and five pythons. The statement said the driver of the van was arrested.

Thailand's fisheries department will release the turtles back into the wild and the other animals will be sent to a government park centre, Freeland said.

Read more!

Old-growth rainforests must be saved for tropical biodiversity

National University of Singapore EurekAlert 14 Sep 11;

A team of researchers from Singapore, Australia, Switzerland, the UK and the USA has carried out a comprehensive assessment to estimate the impact of disturbance and land conversion on biodiversity in tropical forests. In a recent study published in Nature, they found that primary forests – those least disturbed old-growth forests – sustain the highest levels of biodiversity and are vital to many tropical species.

Rampant rates of logging and agricultural expansion have transformed the world's tropical forests, leaving little remaining primary forests unaltered by humans. The value of these rapidly expanding degraded and converted forest landscapes is hotly debated, and was the subject of the study.

"Some scientists have recently argued that degraded tropical forests support high levels of biodiversity," says Luke Gibson, the lead author from the National University of Singapore (NUS). "Our study demonstrates that this is rarely the case," he adds.

Drawing on information from 138 scientific studies spanning 28 tropical countries, Gibson and his colleagues compared biodiversity in primary forests to that in regenerating forests and forests degraded by logging and converted to agriculture. Overall, biodiversity values were substantially lower in disturbed forests.

"There's no substitute for primary forests," says Gibson. "All major forms of disturbance invariably reduce biodiversity in tropical forests," he adds.

Selective logging, in which machinery is used to extract a limited number of trees from the forest, appears to be the least harmful human disturbance. "As selective logging is rapidly expanding throughout the tropics, ecological restoration of such areas might represent an effective strategy to alleviate threats to biodiversity," says Lian Pin Koh of ETH Zurich.

Parks, however, will remain a critical conservation strategy in protecting the world's remaining primary tropical forests. "We urgently need to expand our reserves and improve their enforcement," says Tien Ming Lee, co-lead author at the University of California, San Diego. "Effective reserves have the added benefit of reducing overall carbon emissions", adds Lee.

However, many of these tropical parks are far from secure. "A growing number of reserves are being degraded, downsized, if not entirely degazetted, so holding on to the last remaining large tracts of primary forests within existing reserves will be a crucial part of the conservation mission this century", says Carlos Peres of the University of East Anglia.

Compared to Africa and the Americas, the authors found that tropical forests in Asia suffered the greatest loss in biodiversity. "Southeast Asia, representing most of the Asian studies, emerged as a conservation hotspot and must be one of our top priority regions," suggests Lee. Not surprisingly, Southeast Asia has the lowest remaining forest cover, highest rates of deforestation, and the highest human population densities among all major tropical regions.

This study was initiated by the late Professor Navjot Sodhi, a renowned conservation ecologist at NUS, who devoted his career to studying the biodiversity crisis in Southeast Asia and around the planet.

With the global population projected to surpass 9 billion by 2050, tropical forests will face increasing threats posed by human-driven land-use changes. "Human populations are exploding and very few areas remain untouched by the expanding horizon of human impacts," says Gibson, who was mentored by Professor Sodhi. "It is therefore essential to limit the reach of humans and to preserve the world's remaining old-growth rainforests while they still exist. The future of tropical biodiversity depends on it," he concludes.


'Primary forests are irreplaceable for sustaining tropical biodiversity' by Luke Gibson, Tien Ming Lee, Lian Pin Koh, Barry W. Brook, Toby A. Gardner, Jos Barlow, Carlos A. Peres, Corey J. A. Bradshaw, William F. Laurance, Thomas E. Lovejoy & Navjot S. Sodhi was published online on 14 September 2011 in Nature and is available at (doi: 10.1038/nature10425).

'No substitute' for virgin forest
Richard Black BBC News 15 Sep 11;

The crucial role that virgin forests play in conserving nature is confirmed in a study that spans the tropics.

An international team of researchers analysed more than 100 existing studies comparing wildlife in forests that had been modified and those that had not.

Nature, notably birds, does much better in virgin tracts, they report.

The researchers conclude in the journal Nature: "When it comes to maintaining tropical biodiversity, there is no substitute for primary forests".

The study feeds into one of the major debates going on in environmental circles: whether it is better to exploit lots of land relatively gently, or to develop intensively in some areas and leave others as wild as possible.

"Primary forests are truly unique and have exceptional value for biodiversity," said study co-leader Luke Gibson from the National University of Singapore.

"So if you can minimise the destruction of primary forests, then that might be the best strategy for tropical biodiversity.

"And if you have to use agricultural intensification of areas that are already used for agricultural production instead of focusing more on other forms of agriculture that attempt to maintain some levels of biodiversity, such as agrofrestry, that strategy might be more effective for maintaining the highest levels of biodiversity overall," he told BBC News.
'Marked' impact

The researchers reviewed 138 studies that included 2,230 examples where biodiversity had been compared between tracts of virgin forest and areas where something had changed.

Those changes ranged in severity from complete clearance for agriculture, through plantations and agroforestry, to selectively logged forests where only certain types of tree had been extracted.

In all but the selectively logged areas, the impact on biodiversity was marked.

The variety of plants and animals was depleted more severely than the sheer number of organisms present.

Overall, there was one surprising finding; mammals actually do better under some kinds of forest modification, although the team warns this may be down to the fact that some animals such as rats can multiply, even as the diversity of mammals goes down.

Birds, insects and plants undergo an unequivocal loss.

The effect of losing forest emerged as particularly profound in Asian studies, compared with those in Africa and the Americas.

Although Asian deforestation has slowed markedly in recent years, this is largely being driven by an expansion in tree-planting across China - which creates modified forests rather than preserving virgin stands.

"Southeast Asia, representing most of the Asian studies, emerged as a conservation hotspot and must be one of our top priority regions," said the study's other co-leader Tien Ming Lee from the University of California in San Diego.
Sparing the land

The debate over how best to preserve nature across the tropics - where most of humanity's population growth will occur, and where the most rapid human development is taking place - compares the effects of "land-sharing" and "land-sparing".

In the first, farming and other development takes place in such a way that nature can share the same space.

In the second, nature gets its own entitlement, and humanity uses other bits as intensively as it likes.

Just a few weeks ago, a separate study concluded that land-sparing results in higher benefits to biodiversity and to society, with greater protection for nature and higher farm yields.

The new research is pointing in the same direction, said Simon Lewis from the UK's Leeds University, who was not involved in the study.

"It's confirming what we already knew, but in a very statistically careful and systematic way," he said.

"It fits with the idea that we should be doing more land-sparing; but one of the limitations of the study it that it doesn't look at where biodiversity will be moving in the future (under climate change).

"The places where plants and animals are appearing today are not going to be the same in 2030 or in a 100 years time, and we need to plan for that."

The biggest source of funds for forest protection in the near future may be the UN's Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (Redd) initiative - and the researchers on the new paper say it will be crucial for Redd funds to prioritise the intact preservation of primary forest.

Read more!

Accidental Sea Turtle Deaths Drop 90% in U.S. Fisheries

Improvements in Fishing Equipment Seem to Be Preventing Lethal 'Bycatch'
ScienceDaily 14 Sep 11;

The number of sea turtles accidentally caught and killed in fishing gear in United States coastal waters has declined by an estimated 90 percent since 1990, according to a new study by researchers at Duke University Project GloBAL and Conservation International.

The report, published in the scientific journal Biological Conservation, credits the dramatic drop to measures that have been put into place over the last 20 years to reduce bycatch in many fisheries, as well as to overall declines in U.S. fishing activity.

The study's authors estimate that 4,600 sea turtles die each year in U.S. coastal waters.

Before measures to reduce bycatch were put in place, total sea turtle takes surpassed 300,000 annually. Of these, 70,000 turtles were killed.

The study used data collected from 1990 to 2007 by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) to determine bycatch rates across more than 20 fisheries operating in Atlantic waters from the Gulf of Mexico to the Canadian border, and in the Pacific Ocean, along the West coast and around Hawaii.

It found that overall turtle bycatch rates, including both fatal and nonfatal run-ins, have fallen about 60 percent since 1990.

Shrimp trawls in the Gulf of Mexico and southeastern U.S. accounted for up to 98 percent of all by-catch takes and deaths during the study period.

All six marine turtle species that occur in U.S. waters are categorized as threatened or endangered on the U.S. Endangered Species List. They are loggerheads, leatherbacks, hawksbills, olive ridleys, Kemp's ridleys and green sea turtles.

Bycatch is an acute threat to sea turtle populations worldwide. High bycatch rates can be indicative of unsustainable fishing practices that negatively impact the health of marine ecosystems.

"The reduction of bycatch and mortality shows important progress by NMFS, which serves as a model for reducing sea turtle bycatch in other parts of the world," says Elena Finkbeiner, a PhD student at Duke and lead author of the paper. "Our findings show that there are effective tools available for policymakers and fishing industries to reduce sea turtle bycatch, as long as they are implemented properly and consistently."

Among the mitigation strategies that have helped reduce bycatch are: the use of circle hooks and dehooking equipment in longline fisheries, to reduce the severity of turtle injuries; the use of turtle excluder devices (TEDs) in shrimp trawl nets to allow captured sea turtles to escape; and the implementation of time-area closures to restrict fishing activities at times and places turtles are most likely to be present in the highest numbers.

Piecemeal regulation remains a problem, the study notes. Sea turtles are currently managed on a fishery-by-fishery basis, which means that bycatch limits are set for each fishery without accounting for the overall population impacts of all the takes added together. This fragmented approach leads to total allowed takes that exceed what sea turtle populations can sustain.

"Bycatch limits must be set unilaterally across all U.S. fisheries with overall impacts to populations in mind, much as it's done for marine mammals," says co-author Bryan Wallace, director of science for Conservation International's Marine Flagship Species Program and adjunct faculty member at Duke's Nicholas School of the Environment.

The researchers note that actual bycatch rates are likely higher than what the study reports because in many fisheries, particularly the shrimp trawl fishery, the number of on-board observers who document bycatch on fishing vessels is low relative to the sheer volume of fishing that is occurring.

"This paper provides a baseline to examine what is working and what can be improved in preventing sea turtle bycatch," Finkbeiner says. "It (makes) a strong case for the need for increased observer coverage and bycatch reporting."

Journal Reference:

Elena M. Finkbeiner, Bryan P. Wallace, Jeffrey E. Moore, Rebecca L. Lewison, Larry B. Crowder, Andrew J. Read. Cumulative estimates of sea turtle bycatch and mortality in USA fisheries between 1990 and 2007. Biological Conservation, 2011; 144 (11): 2719 DOI: 10.1016/j.biocon.2011.07.033

US fisheries kill 4,600 sea turtles per year: study
Kerry Sheridan (AFP) Google News 14 Sep 11;

WASHINGTON — Improved fishing nets have saved tens of thousands of endangered sea turtles in recent years, but 4,600 are still dying annually, mainly in Gulf of Mexico shrimp trawls, said a US study on Wednesday.

Turtle-excluder devices (TEDs), or large holes that allow the creatures to escape from nets that nab smaller marine creatures, have helped cut back on sea turtle deaths up to 94 percent since the 1990s, said the report in the journal Biological Conservation.

The current annual death rate is a "dramatic reduction" from the estimated peak of about 71,000 before protective measures were put in place, said the Duke University-led study which examined data from the US National Marine Fisheries Service on 20 US coastal fisheries.

But major gaps remain, particularly in the Gulf of Mexico and southeastern US shrimp trawl fishery area, where the study said up to 98 percent of all turtle deaths are believed to have occurred in the past two decades.

Shrimp trawlers drag nets along the bottom of the ocean that can capture and kill sea turtles, and the six varieties included in the study are all classified as either threatened or endangered species.

The new fishing nets were introduced in the late 1980s, though design improvements were made as recently as 2003 to make the holes large enough for big turtles to fit through.

TEDs are now mandated by law, but the vast size of the Gulf of Mexico fishing area, where more than 4,700 shrimping vessels work, combined with a lack of independent observers to monitor turtle deaths, or bycatch, means conservationists are unsure how many boats are doing what they should.

"The Southeast/Gulf of Mexico Shrimp Trawl fishery accounts for the overwhelming majority of sea turtle bycatch (up to 98%) in US fisheries, but estimates of bycatch in this fishery are fraught with high uncertainty due to lack of observer coverage," the study said.

Fishing and shrimping is multibillion dollar industry and a major source of income for people in coastal regions of Florida, Louisiana and Texas, an area left reeling from the BP oil spill in 2010.

Study co-author Bryan Wallace said that pushback from the shrimping industry, along with the local culture's tendency to resist government intervention, may play a role in the small number of trained observers who go along on fishing outings to monitor sea turtle interactions.

"Shrimp trawl operations have to have TEDs in their nets installed and operating properly but there have been questions raised as to the extent of that compliance," said Wallace, science director for the Marine Flagship Species Program at Conservation International.

He added that what little scientists do know is "pretty alarming."

"Our numbers are actually likely to be under-estimates," lead author Elena Finkbeiner, of Duke University's Marine Laboratory, said in an interview with AFP.

Elizabeth Griffin Wilson, senior manager for marine wildlife at the advocacy group Oceana, said the study showed "the US approach for dealing with the capture and killing of sea turtles in fisheries is still flawed."

Wilson said Gulf shrimpers are "violating protection measures that allow sea turtles to escape from their nets. As few as 21 percent of shrimp trawl vessels are complying with sea turtle protection measures."

The study authors urged a more comprehensive approach to sea turtle protection, one that moves away from the current practice in which individual fisheries gain government permission to kill a certain number of turtles per year.

"We need to take cumulative accounts of how these fisheries are impacting the sea turtle population and understand how many sea turtles in all can we take in all southeast fisheries in order for this population to still be a viable population," said Finkbeiner.

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Giant balloon to be launched in the UK to test climate fix hope

Leila Battison BBC News 15 Sep 11;

A huge helium-filled balloon attached to a 1km length of hosepipe is to be launched next month to help investigate the feasibility of climate engineering.

One method involves pumping particles into the stratosphere, to mimic the short-term cooling effects of volcanic eruptions.

The balloon test next month will investigate the engineering challenges posed by such a project.

Representatives discussed the project at the Science Festival in Bradford.

Scientists from universities across the country, and Marshall Aerospace are working together on the SPICE project (Stratospheric Particle Injection for Climate Engineering), which will research this particular type of geo-engineering.

They are investigating the best kind of particle that can be put in the atmosphere, the best way to deliver it, and the potential effects this will have on the Earth's climate.

The launch next month will be the first of its kind in the UK, and by raising a balloon to a height of 1km, will test the feasibility of a much larger-scale project with particles being released at a height of 20km.
October Launch

Tackling climate change with atmospheric particles, or aerosols, is a method inspired by large volcanic eruptions, like the 1991 eruption of Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines.

The eruption ejected at least five cubic kilometres of ash and gas, which rapidly spread around the globe and, in the two years following the eruption, decreased the average global temperature by 0.5 degree Celsius.

This was because the aerosols released by the volcano reflected back the Sun's radiation and heat before it reached the atmosphere, keeping the planet cooler.

A global geo-engineering project would see reflective particles artificially released into the atmosphere to create this cooling effect.

The SPICE project has received £1.6 million to investigate all aspects of such a technique, and their field test next month is the first of several proposed launches to directly observe the high-altitude delivery mechanism of reflective particles.

The 20m-long balloon will be released from an abandoned airfield in Sculthorpe in northern Norfolk during October when weather conditions are suitable.

It will be tethered to the ground with an 800m length of reinforced hosepipe which will stretch to allow the balloon to rise to an altitude of 1km.

A domestic pressure washer will provide enough force to pump water from the ground to the top of the hosepipe, and spray it out at a rate of around 100 litres per hour.

With this set-up, the researchers hope to observe how the balloon and the pipe react to high winds, the practicalities of its launch and retrieval, and much more.

In particular, they will be collecting information that can be scaled up to model the 20km altitude that would be needed to eject particles into higher layers of the atmosphere, and predict the reactions of the balloon setup in such a scenario.

Dr Matt Watson of the University of Bristol stressed that we are "decades away" from launching a functional 20km balloon. He said that, given that the trials prove that this kind of geo-engineering is possible, "just because we can do it doesn't mean we have the right to".
'Stimulate Public Debate'

The method of injecting aerosols is just one of many potential geo-engineering techniques that have been proposed as a way of countering global warming.

But the SPICE team point out that this kind of intervention will not change the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere; just reduce the warming caused by the greenhouse gases.

They predict that 10 or 20 giant balloons at 20km altitude could release enough particles into the atmosphere to reduce the global temperature by around 2 degrees.

This temperature decrease would not be uniform across the globe; equatorial regions would see a more pronounced temperature drop, while the poles would be relatively unaffected.

Reasons for this regional variation are still not fully understood, and the difficulties in predicting the reaction of the climate to geo-engineering have bred concerns for some.

Public forums carried out by Cardiff University and the Natural Environment Research Council (Nerc) have highlighted that very few people were unconditionally positive about the concept of artificially engineering Earth's climate.

The SPICE project, in particular, has prompted climate pressure group ETC to write an open letter to the UK government, requesting them to halt this latest field test.

"There has been no decision to go forward with 'solar radiation management' and therefore there is no need to test the hardware designed to implement it." said Pat Mooney, executive director of ETC Group.

Dr Matt Watson said however, that "a belief in research does not mean advocacy", and that he hopes the research carried out as part of the three-year SPICE project will "constrain the uncertainty surrounding the methods, and stimulate public debate".

Hosepipe And Balloon: Think Of It As A Volcano
Nina Chestney PlanetArk 14 Sep 11;

There will be an unexpected sight high in the skies over the British county of Norfolk next month: a huge balloon attached to the ground by a giant hosepipe.

It isn't obvious, but it is the first small step in an experiment which aims to re-create the cooling effect of erupting volcanoes on the earth's atmosphere.

Scientists and engineers from the universities of Bristol, Cambridge and Oxford are behind the three-year 1.6 million pound

($2.5 million) project called Stratospheric Particle Injection for Climate Engineering (SPICE).

The scheme will assess the feasibility of so-called solar radiation management (SRM) by mimicking volcanoes when they erupt. Eruptions can both warm and cool the Earth's climate, depending on how sunlight interacts with volcanic material.

SRM works on the assumption that some eruptions expel particles into the upper atmosphere, bouncing some of the sun's energy back into space and thereby cooling the earth.

"In 1991, a large eruption at Mount Pinatubo injected around 18 million tonnes of SO2 (sulphur oxide) to a 30-km altitude," project leader Matt Watson told reporters.

"That had the effect of cooling the global climate by around half a degree over two years."


Next month's experiment, to be held at a disused airfield in Sculthorpe in north Norfolk, will pump water through a 1-km hosepipe into an air balloon to test the engineering design and the effects of wind.

If there are no hiccups, the team aims to do more 1-km tests next year. It will also work on calculating and designing a potential full-scale balloon project, which would pump sulphates and aerosol particles instead of water.

That would require a 20-km pipe strong enough to pump sulphates to a balloon the size of Wembley football stadium -- at twice the height of a commercial aircraft flight.

However, the size of the balloon and strength of the pipe required are serious engineering challenges.

"Even manufacturing a hose 1 km in length is a challenge, but we are talking about a hose stronger than any built before," said Chris Walton, SPICE project trials advisor.

Some countries are exploring geo-engineering solutions as a way to control climate change by cutting the amount of sunlight hitting the earth or by capturing greenhouse gases.

Potential schemes include using artificial trees to soak up carbon dioxide, using mirrors in space to cut the amount of sunlight reaching the earth or capturing CO2 from power stations and burying it under ground.

Supporters say such solutions could be a relatively fast way to control the climate if there was an abrupt change, such as the sudden loss of Arctic ice.

Detractors say the impact of mimicking or manipulating nature on a large scale is not yet fully known and such projects might deflect resources and attention from proven technologies.

Most of these solutions are still far from being established at large scale.

"With strong government support and in an emergency situation...the fastest we could deploy this system is two decades," Watson told Reuters, adding that a minimum 10 to 20 balloons globally would be needed to reduce atmospheric temperature by 2 degrees.

U.K. Researchers to Test "Artificial Volcano" for Geoengineering the Climate
An experiment starting next month in the U.K. will pump water one kilometer into the air to test a new climate-cooling method that eventually could deliver sunlight-reflective sulfate particles into the stratosphere
Sarah Fecht Scientific American 14 Sep 11;

Next month, researchers in the U.K. will start to pump water nearly a kilometer up into the atmosphere, by way of a suspended hose.

The experiment is the first major test of a piping system that could one day spew sulfate particles into the stratosphere at an altitude of 20 kilometers, supported by a stadium-size hydrogen balloon. The goal is geoengineering, or the "deliberate, large-scale manipulation of the planetary environment" in the words of the Royal Society of London, which provides scientific advice to policymakers. In this case, researchers are attempting to re-create the effects of volcanic eruptions to artificially cool Earth.

The $30,000 test, part of a project called Stratospheric Particle Injection for Climate Engineering (SPICE), is inspired by the 1991 eruption of Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines. That volcano spewed 20 million tons of sulfate particles into the atmosphere, cooling Earth by 0.5 degree Celsius for 18 months. If the British feasibility tests are successful, the balloon-and-hose contraption could be used to inject additional particles into the stratosphere, thereby reflecting more of the sun's energy back into space, and hopefully curbing some of the effects of global warming.

"This is one of the first times that people have taken geoengineering out of the lab and into the field," lead scientist Matthew Watson said Tuesday during a press conference in London. "We are still decades away—and I do mean decades—from doing real geoengineering." Watson said his team still needs to determine which substances would work best at reflecting light, how much is needed to have an effect, and the possible unintended consequences of injecting the particles into the atmosphere, such as acid rain, ozone depletion or weather pattern disruption.

October's tests will mainly focus on whether the balloon-and-hose design could be an effective method to deliver the sunlight-reflecting particles. At an airfield in Norfolk, England, that is no longer in use, a helium blimp will hoist a regular pressure-washer hose one kilometer off the ground. An off-the-shelf pressure washer will pump up 1.8 liters of tap water per minute, to a maximum of 190 liters, says Hunt, which will evaporate or fall down to the ground locally. The researchers will monitor the performance of the system, and use the data to design the larger 20-kilometer-high setup.

In the past scientists have proposed similar atmospheric delivery methods using guns, airplanes, rockets and chimneys. In 2009 Russian scientists even tested airplane delivery on a small scale. But Hugh Hunt, a SPICE engineer at the University of Cambridge, said the balloon-and-hose design appears to be the most cost-effective option. Even when scaled up, the team expects the simple design to cost around $5 billion, in comparison with the $100 billion needed to launch thousands of high-altitude aircraft.

The water tests are expected to be harmless, but several environmental groups have criticized the plan—and geoengineering in general. Last year, the United Nation's Convention on Biological Diversity issued a statement forbidding geoengineering research that may impact biodiversity. The U.K. accepted that statement, but the SPICE experiment does not violate any international agreements due to its small scale, says Jason Blackstock, a physicist at Canada's Center for International Governance Innovation.

Nevertheless, the Canada-based Action Group on Erosion, Technology and Concentration (ETC) is calling the tests internationally irresponsible. In a written statement, they called on the British government to shut down the project, adding: "This experiment is only phase one of a much bigger plan that could have devastating consequences, including large changes in weather patterns such as deadly droughts."

Alan Robock, a Rutgers University meteorologist, shares some of those concerns. He has created computer simulations indicating that sulfate clouds could potentially weaken the Asian and African summer monsoons, reducing rain that irrigates the food crops of billions of people. It is premature to conduct such field experiments, Robock says. More computer modeling should be done first, he adds, to determine how injected particles might interact with the ozone layer and the hydrologic cycle.

Whereas Hunt agrees that such research is lacking, he said that the team needs real measurements in order to see if the tethered balloon design is viable. "If not now, then when would you start?" he asks. "This year, next year? Or maybe wait until a large block of ice falls off of Greenland? My choice is to have all the tools carefully thought through, so that we don't have to rush into anything."

To avoid dangerous climate change, some scientists estimate that global CO2 emissions must be cut by at least 80 percent by the end of the century. Geoengineering will not help achieve that long-term target, but the cooling effects of large sulfate clouds are nearly instantaneous, making geoengineering potentially valuable in the event of acute climate crises such as the melting of Arctic sea ice, which could further accelerate global warming over the decades.

The researchers made it clear in Tuesday's press conference that they do not advocate using geoengineering as an excuse for humanity to continue recklessly emitting carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. "[Geoengineering] should be considered as an emergency remediation while we wean ourselves off carbon," Watson said. "The question you have to ask is, is it worse without mitigation or with it? And that answer isn't obvious yet."

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