Best of our wild blogs: 17 Sep 11

Otter at Chek Jawa!
from wild shores of singapore

How do you identify an otter?
from Otters in Singapore

Thanks to NEA and NParks for 20 years of support for the International Coastal Cleanup Singapore from News from the International Coastal Cleanup Singapore and Which shores are we at for the coastal cleanup?

Rabbitfishes of Singapore
from Compressed air junkie

Little Egret fishing
from Bird Ecology Study Group

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Johor, Malaysia: 250 people including children clean up shores due to oil slick

Yee Xiang Yun The Star 17 Sep 11;

PONTIAN: Some 250 volunteers got down and dirtied their hands at the shores of Tanjung Piai near here in a effort to clean up a 15cm-thick oil slick along the stretch.

Villagers, fishermen, school children and civil servants came together to clean up the slick from the coastline.

Pontian district officer Muji Salimon said villagers living here were the first to discover the oil spill, stretching about 300m from the Tanjung Piai Johor Taman Negara to Tanjung Piai Resort on Sept 9.

He added that the district council said the clean-up works would take at least one week to complete.

“We began cleaning operations after receiving the complaints and we foresee that the spots affected by the oil spill will expand to another 100 to 200m along the coastal area.

“While waiting for a report from the Department of Environment (DOE) to determine the cause of the spill, what we can do is to clean up the shores as much as we can to prevent the spill from spreading even further.”

The oil slick may be caused by ship-to-ship transfers or illegal oil dumping off Tanjung Piai.

One of the fishermen Rais Mat Dali, 49, said the oil spill affected about 150 shallow water fishermen who maintain their livelihood by harvesting for seafood in the area.

“We have no choice but to help out with the cleaning activities as the oil spill affected our rice bowl.

“The same thing happened last year but it was a much smaller scale compared with this,” he said.

Another fisherman Jamadin Atan said he suffered about RM1,500 in losses as the sludge damaged his fishing nets as well as two sampans.

“The stench of muck from the oil spill that sticks on the fishing nets repels the fishes and prawns.

“I hope the authorities can send in more personnel to expedite the clean-up activities,” he said.

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Ride & (walk to the) park

Circle Line will connect commuters to green spaces when it opens on Oct 8
Christopher Tan Straits Times 16 Sep 11;

THE Circle Line, which will open fully on Oct 8, will connect Singaporeans to a dozen public parks.

Except for stations along its north-eastern arc, almost every other of the 29 stations dotting its 33.3km orbital route will offer access to a park. The one with a park right at its doorstep is the Botanic Gardens station.

But other green havens, such as Bishan Park, Labrador Park and Kallang Riverside Park, are within reach too, with some requiring more walking than others.

The National Parks Board is eagerly tracking this development.

'We welcome the new Circle Line as it presents an additional form of transport to reach our parks and gardens,' said Mr Kong Yit San, assistant chief executive officer of its park management and lifestyle cluster.

'With the new stations, we hope more visitors will come and discover our parks and gardens, and attend the many activities and events held there.'

Mr Kong told The Straits Times that a new gate at the Botanic Gardens has been built to lead visitors to the economic garden, which features plants with economic use. 'Visitors will be greeted by a 1ha garden which will showcase climbing plants on trellises as well as various species of timber trees,' he said.

'The first phase of the construction for the Climber Collection will be completed and opened to the public in time for the opening of the MRT station, while the second phase is expected to be completed by the first quarter of next year.'

A Marina Bay extension of the Circle Line that is scheduled to open next year will take passengers to Gardens by the Bay, a 54ha, $900 million green showcase in the heart of the new downtown area.

Also, by the first half of next year, nature lovers can look forward to the Labrador Nature and Coastal Walk, a $13.5 million project that will bring them up close to the sea, mangrove swamps and forested areas.

Exiting the Labrador Park station will take them to the start of the Berlayer Creek Mangrove Trail.

'That's fantastic. These parks will become more accessible to people, especially those who do not drive. Even those who drive might be encouraged to take the train to make use of these spaces,' said Ms Olivia Choong, founder of environmental consultancy Green Drinks. 'It makes everything so much more convenient for everyone.'

The Circle Line, estimated to cost between $8 billion and $10 billion, took 10 years to build. The first stretch of five stations from Marymount to Bartley opened in 2009, followed by a city stretch of 12 stations that went into service last year.

The line has six interchanges that will allow commuters to switch to other lines that criss-cross Singapore.

But in terms of accessibility, users say the Tai Seng station falls short of expectations. Ms Nic Ong, 29, a marketing executive, wished the station had been built with underpass access to serve the fast-growing industrial estate there. 'We use pedestrian crossings to get to the station but an underground link would have been more convenient, especially when it rains.'

It is believed to be the only MRT station with such a limited access.

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A people's garden takes root

Horticultural arts and science meet in Gardens by the Bay to create one of Singapore's crowning glories
Nicholas Yeo and Kelly Tay Business Times 17 Sep 11;

EVEN as the National Parks Board (NParks) is calling for ideas to create a city in a garden, Singapore's newest Eden - Gardens by the Bay - is already taking shape.

As part of the nature conservation agency's drive to establish world-class gardens in Singapore, Gardens by the Bay is being shaped as a leisure destination that blends horticulture, garden artistry and green innovation into one - right in the heart of the country's new downtown.

Unlike the familiar Singapore Botanic Gardens, which is steeped in 152 years of history, Gardens by the Bay will only open in mid-2012. But Tan Wee Kiat, chief executive of Gardens by the Bay, says the new garden will complement its older counterpart instead of competing with it.

Explaining the genesis behind the project, Dr Tan said: 'Due to overcrowding at the Botanic Gardens, we needed a new space which could complement it. There was space for a new 'green lung' in Singapore.'

According to Dr Tan, the push for a top-notch garden in the busy financial district was inspired partly by other international cities that have been enhanced by parks - both economically and aesthetically. 'Every major city in the world needed a park - London has Hyde, Kensington, and St James Parks, and New York has its world-renowned Central Park. Soon, Singapore will be comparable as one of the leading cities not just of Asia, but of the world,' said Dr Tan.

Gardens by the Bay comprises three parks: Bay South, Bay East, and Bay Central. Together, they span a combined area of 101 hectares of prime land - or 177 football fields - with all of it built on land reclaimed some 40 years ago.

Said Dr Tan: 'We decided to start with Bay South's 54 hectares first, which was more edgy, fun, and appropriate to the Marina Bay Sands next door.'

Bay East is 32 hectares, while Bay Central is the smallest at 15 hectares.

Emphasising the need for a coherent identity with the garden's surroundings, Dr Tan said: 'The gardens needed to be commensurate with the neighbourhood. With the new financial centre and upcoming housing supply in the area, the vision is that Marina Bay will become a mini-Manhattan.'

While it may have been inspired by worldclass parks overseas, Dr Tan said that it was clear from the very beginning that Gardens by the Bay was to be a garden for the people - a place for Singaporeans from all walks of life to enjoy.

For example, during the planning stages, NParks started canvassing the public, asking residents what they would like to see in Singapore gardens.

The findings revealed that citizens wanted their parks to provide not just greenery and shade, but also plenty of colour from flowers.

'We had to find a way to cater to the desire for more flowers and a greater variety of plants, while keeping in mind Singapore's climate. In the tropics, the flowers are not the same as those found in temperate countries,' said Dr Tan.

The only solution was to build an unconventional greenhouse, where the enclosed space could be kept cool. This would allow for the climatic change necessary for non-native flowers to bloom throughout the year.

In order to showcase different climates and their respective flora and fauna, the decision was made to build two glasshouses - the Flower Dome and Cloud Forest - to form a Conservatory Complex located in Bay South.

The Flower Dome replicates the cool-dry climate of Mediterranean and semi-arid subtropical regions such as South Africa and parts of Europe like Spain and Italy, while the Cloud Forest replicates a cool-moist climate found in Tropical Montane regions between 1,000 and 3,500 metres above sea level. These include locales such as Mt Kinabalu in Sabah, Malaysia, and high elevation areas in South America.

The former takes up a land area of 1.2 hectares, and will be located in the larger but shorter glasshouse. The latter will be situated in the taller dome, which is 0.8 hectares in size.

The result, says Dr Tan, is a collection of plants different from those found in the Botanic Gardens: 'I would say about 60 per cent of the species found in Gardens by the Bay have not been seen in Singapore. It will be a real test of the horticultural skills of our gardeners.'

Dr Tan also emphasised that the cooled conservatories are a statement in sustainable engineering, since they apply a suite of cutting-edge technologies that provide energy-efficient solutions in cooling.

For example, findings from the testing stages revealed that it was cheaper to cool dry air. Therefore, the air in the two biomes is first dehumidified by liquid desiccants, before it is cooled by chillers.

True to its environmentally-friendly fundamentals, these chillers are powered by a steam turbine fed by horticultural waste.

Compared to conventional cooling technologies, these and other advanced solutions can help to achieve at least 30 per cent savings in energy consumption. As Dr Tan marvelled: 'Gardens by the Bay will showcase not just the art of the gardener, but also the science behind gardening.'

And while the gardens' plants will be lovingly tended to by skilled gardeners and horticulturists, Singaporeans can also look forward to a welcoming ambience, even in the heat of the day.

Said Dr Tan: 'The temperature at the equator allows for maximum plant growth, but this also means that it isn't as comfortable for humans because of the heat and humidity. So we knew we needed a garden with ample shade and wind movement to mediate this.'

To do so, the team carefully shaped the terrain of the garden, so that offshore winds from the waterfront will be channelled through the park's valleys.

'Ultimately, we want people to relax and draw joy from this place. My message to Singaporeans is: Make this garden yours. After all, it's a garden for the people,' said Dr Tan.

Read more!

Indian scientists discover frog species with strange sex lives

India Today 16 Sep 11;

It seems it is literally raining new frog species this monsoon.

Indian scientists have discovered as many as one dozen new species of frogs and rediscovered three lost ones in the biodiversity hotspot of the Western Ghats.

They have also recorded strange courtship and mating behaviour among tadpoles. It has been found for the first that at least six of the new species have a unique trait - they can produce offspring without actually mating or having intercourse.

The new species, as well as their strange sex lives, have been discovered by Professor S. D. Biju of Delhi University and described in the latest issue of the International Journal of Zoological Taxonomy.

Researchers from the Bombay Natural History Society, the Zoological Survey of India and Vrije University, Brussels, were part of the team.

Biju said: "The female approaches the calling male and shows her interest by touching the male on the head with her hind limb. The male then approaches the female and takes her in a loose embrace temporarily. Immediately afterwards, the female lays eggs on dead leaves. The male then sits on the eggs to release seminal fluid. There is no intercourse during fertlisation." Biju, a leading expert on amphibians, is credited with the discovery of 45 new species, including the smallest frog and the first Indian canopy frog.

The new species were identified after a thorough revision of the night frog genus called Nyctibatrachus, based on extensive field studies in the forest areas that run through Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Goa and Maharashtra.

Six of the new species were found in unprotected, highly degraded areas and require immediate steps to conserve them.

"Night frogs require a unique habitat - either fast- flowing streams or moist forest floor for breeding and survival," Biju said.

"The major threat to amphibians in India is massive habitat loss.

Conservation efforts for amphibians will indirectly help conserve other important biodiversities of that area," he added.

The rediscovered species are the Kempholey Night Frog, found after 75 years, Coorg Night Frog, found after 91 years, and Forest Night Frog, sighted after 75 years.

"Frogs are environmental barometers and are very sensitive to subtle changes in their environment. They lived alongside dinosaurs, which have long since disappeared. Amazingly, frogs continue to exist," Biju said.

Meowing Night Frog, Other New Species Found
Gallery on National Geographic 16 Sep 11;

A unique "catcall" inspired the name of the meowing night frog, one of 12 new species of frogs found recently in western India, a new study says.

The 1.4-inch (3.5-centimeter) frog Nyctibatrachus pooch—"pooch" meaning "domestic cat" in the local Indian language—has a "secretive lifestyle," hiding out inside rock crevices in the states of Western Ghats-Kerala and Tamil Nadu, said Biju Das, a biologist at the University of Delhi.

Between 1994 and 2010, Das and colleagues scoured forests along Indian's western coast for nocturnal, stream-dwelling frogs in the poorly studied genus Nyctibatrachus. In addition to revealing the 12 new species, the team rediscovered 3 species thought extinct, according to the study, published September 15 in the journalZootaxa.

The research is part of an ongoing search for lost amphibians in India, an offshoot of a global effort led by Conservation International in 2010.

The wider search was most focused on rediscovering ten amphibian species of high scientific and aesthetic value—of which only one was found.

—Christine Dell'Amore

Scientists discover 12 new frog species in India
Katy Daigle Associated Press Google News 17 Sep 11;

NEW DELHI (AP) — Years of combing tropical mountain forests, shining flashlights under rocks and listening for croaks in the night have paid off for a team of Indian scientists which has discovered 12 new frog species plus three others thought to have been extinct.

It's a discovery the team hopes will bring attention to India's amphibians and their role in gauging the health of the environment.

Worldwide, 32 percent of the world's known amphibian species are threatened with extinction, largely because of habitat loss or pollution, according to the group Global Wildlife Conservation.

"Frogs are extremely important indicators not just of climate change, but also pollutants in the environment," said the project's lead scientist, biologist Sathyabhama Das Biju of the University of Delhi.

Many of the newly found frogs in India are rare and are living in just a single area, so they will need rigorous habitat protection, Biju told The Associated Press on Saturday. "Unfortunately in India, conservation has basically focused on the two most charismatic animals — the elephant and the tiger. For amphibians there is little interest, little funding, and frog research is not easy."

Night frogs are extremely hard to find, coming out only at dark and during the monsoon season, living either in fast-flowing streams or on moist forest ground.

Biju said he and his student researchers had to sit in dark, damp forests listening for frog sounds and shining flashlights under rocks and across riverbeds. They confirmed the new species by description as well as genetics.

The 12 new species include the meowing night frog, whose croak sounds more like a cat's call, the jog night frog, unique in that both the males and females watch over the eggs, and the Wayanad night frog, which grows to about the size of a baseball or cricket ball. "It's almost like a monster in the forest floor, a huge animal for a frog, leaping from one rock to another," Biju said.

Three other species were rediscovered, including the Coorg night frog described 91 years ago, after scientists "had completely ignored these animals, thinking they were lost."

The discoveries — published in the latest issue of international taxonomy journal Zootaxa — bring the known number of frogs in India to 336. Biju estimated this was only around half of what is in the wild, and said none of India's amphibians are yet being studied for biological compounds that could be of further use in science.

"We first have to find the species, know them and protect them, so that we can study them for their clinical importance," he said.

Biju is credited with discovering dozens of new Indian frog species during his 35-year career.

Read more!

Harvesting the seas

Chances are, the fish on your plate came not from a fisherman's net but a pen by the coast. Aquaculture is booming as catches in the wild dwindle, but so are the challenges posed by seafood farming.
Nirmal Ghosh Straits Times 17 Sep 11;

BANGKOK: Beneath the towering cliffs of a seaside national park in Thailand, a community of 40 farmers has been pioneering a new form of shrimp farming.

Their shrimps are raised in ponds that pack in just half the usual number - to reduce waste production. Chemical additives are also strenuously avoided.

Against the background of Asia's vast and rapidly expanding aquaculture industry, they are still a tiny minority, but they signal the way forward if the industry is to maintain the growth which has lifted millions of rural folk out of poverty - and keep up with the increasingly voracious demand for seafood worldwide.

Aquaculture - the farming of fish, shrimp and shellfish - has grown phenomenally. From 2006 to 2008, it went up at an annual rate of 11.4 per cent in the Asia-Pacific region. Total production in 2008 in the region was 46 million tonnes or 89 per cent of global output.

And demand can only grow in the future as increasingly wealthy - and health-conscious - consumers turn to fish instead of red meat as a main source of protein in their diets.

This hearty appetite for farmed fare in big markets such as China, Japan and Europe is also being kept up by the levelling off and predicted decline of wild caught or 'capture' seafood.

In the case of the Atlantic salmon, for instance, the contrast is stark. In 1982, 10,326 tonnes of wild salmon were caught, compared with 13,265 tonnes harvested from fish pens. In 2007, only 2,989 tonnes were caught in the wild, but commercial farms produced more than 1.4 million tonnes of the fish.

Ever wondered how much of the seafood, be it fish, shrimp or mussels, on your plate is wild 'catch of the day' and how much is from farms?

Globally, about 40 per cent comes from farms; in Asia the figure would be slightly more than 51 per cent, reckons Mr Miao Weimin, aquaculture officer with the the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation's regional office in Bangkok.

The largest producer in this region by far is China, followed by India, Vietnam, Indonesia and Thailand.

In the Philippines, 12th in the world rankings, aquaculture accounts for close to half its fisheries output, totalling $5 billion last year. It also provides employment for more than a million Filipinos.

Even a relatively new player such as Malaysia has seen a surge: Five years ago, farmed fish made up just a tad over 10 per cent of its fish production; now it accounts for over a quarter, half of which is exported. Seafood farming reels in more than RM2 billion (S$805 million) annually, and the Fisheries Department hopes to push that to RM7 billion by 2015, with a shift from low-value cockles to more expensive grouper, snapper and sea bass.

The government is helping things along by providing land and roads for the private sector to build integrated zones for hatcheries, farms, processing plants and feed mills in rural areas. A 1,000ha farm coming up in Terengganu will produce 10,000 tonnes of shrimp when fully operational.

Ms Hasniah Othman, who heads the aquaculture unit in the Terengganu Fisheries Department, said the rising importance of farming was inevitable given the depletion of marine life along its coasts.

'We have to change the way we do things, and culture fish for food instead,' she said.

As fish and shrimp farms spring up to meet demand, they are also helping to provide jobs and reduce poverty in many parts of Asia.

'In Asia, it is still basically small-scale operations... providing 25 million to 30 million jobs for rural people,' said Mr Miao.

But the returns are good. With two harvests a year, a single milkfish cage generates a yearly income of around $12,000, said Ms Milagros Chavez, a fisherfolk leader in the Philippines' Batangas province. That is four years' salary for a minimum-wage earner in Manila.

The Philippines wants to ramp up production with the creation of more 'mariculture parks', which bundle farmers into cooperatives that benefit from economies of scale. There are now about 60 such parks nationwide, ranging in size from 100ha to 500ha.

But the growth of this increasingly vital industry has come with severe costs. And it faces serious challenges ahead.

One hurdle is that of environmental damage. Fish farming is not an unmitigated good that will substitute for reckless over-fishing of marine life in the wild.

Typically in coastal farms, fish are reared in large cages hanging from pontoons on the surface. Their faeces and uneaten food sink to the seabed, affecting its ecosystem. Coastal and inland waterways and soil have been polluted with waste, and contaminated with chemicals and antibiotics that flow from these farms.

Also, vast mangroves critical to coastal ecosystems have been destroyed to make way for shrimp ponds. Globally over the past five decades, up to 50 per cent of mangrove forests have been cleared. Almost half of those that remain have been seriously damaged.

Bangkok-based conservationist Don Macintosh said: 'In the late 1980s and 1990s, people did not value mangroves, so they thought converting them to shrimp ponds made sense; governments encouraged it.

'They did not realise that for every hectare of shrimp pond you need several hectares of mangroves.

'The shrimp farms literally polluted themselves. Waste was pumped out but it came right back.'

The industry paid when disease struck shrimp populations in the early 1990s, ruining many shrimp farmers and scaring away consumers.

And it is not just shrimp farms. Fish farms in China and the Philippines have also periodically suffered from mass die-offs as a result of over-stocking of ponds and other poor management practices.

Another area of concern is the food being given to farmed fish - this often comes from unsustainable fishing elsewhere.

'They basically vacuum clean the oceans to feed these fish,' said Professor Ronnie Glud, a marine biologist at Southern Danish University.

'The effect is to crash the populations of other fish species that aren't directly useful to us.'

There is concern too about antibiotic abuse, and what it may mean for consumers of the farmed products. One persistent fear is that to keep their stock alive, the farm operators are likely to be tempted to administer excessive levels of the drugs to keep them disease-free.

There is also worry over the level of dioxins and other contaminants in the food pellets used to feed the farmed fish.

Over the years, increasing consumer pressure and a web of best-practice regulations and trade standards has been forcing the industry to change, though examples like the sustainable shrimp farming group in Thailand are still few.

And with increasing demand, the pressure to produce will also increase. This in turn is likely to result in conflicts over scarce resources like water and land.

This month, for instance, 1,000 fishermen protested in the southern Thai town of Pattani, against a cockle farm owner who filed charges against local residents for taking cockles from a part of the sea that he 'owns'.

'The sea belongs to everyone,' the protesters chanted.

Across the world in Scotland, traditional wild salmon fishermen are at loggerheads with salmon farmers, contending that farm stocks contaminate wild stocks with parasites and pollution.

And with producers' fates tied to the global market, bilateral trade conflicts can also affect them. In 2003 when the United States slapped duties on catfish imports from Vietnam, costing thousands of catfish farmers their livelihoods, it was seen in Vietnam as naked protectionism.

But the most important priority today is food safety, said Mr Miao.

'Products have to meet standards for international trade. But it applies to local markets as well. There is a longer and longer list of environmental standards covering effluent discharge, pond water quality and so forth, and banned drugs and chemicals,' he explained.

'Today you can't just freely put a fish cage in a pond; you need a licence.'

Additional reporting by Carolyn Hong in Kuala Lumpur and Alastair McIndoe in Manila.

Thai shrimp farmers a model of fair trade
Straits Times 17 Sep 11;

BANGKOK: It has been a long learning curve for wiry, weather-beaten 49-year-old Somsak Maklai, a fisherman who turned to shrimp farming 14 years ago.

Those were heady days. He had some land of his own, and rented more. In two years he had 15 shrimp ponds at the edge of Khao Sam Roi Yot National Park, just south of the Hua Hin seaside resort town.

His business boomed. But then, like those of thousands of others on the shrimp bandwagon, his stocks were hit by disease and his venture collapsed.

Mr Somsak knew he had to rethink the way he was doing business. Until then, he had taken advice only from the middlemen who bought his shrimp for the voracious markets of Bangkok and beyond.

Now, he turned to a friend who was a biologist, for a different kind of advice - how to climb back into the business with a sustainable 'less is more' approach.

'I had too many ponds,' he said. 'I began to reduce the number of ponds. I experimented, reducing the chemical and antibiotic inputs. I reduced the number of shrimp per pond, from 100,000 to 50,000. I started studying shrimp ecology. I also studied water and soil ecology.

'Before, I used a lot of additives - chlorine, formalin, and antibiotics mixed with the shrimp food. I stopped them all. The survival rate of the shrimp was not much different, and they grew bigger. The harvest cycle was almost the same, three to four months. There was less hard work and less stress, because there were fewer indicators to check constantly.'

He makes sure to drain the pond after each harvest and let it dry out for 15 days before pumping in fresh water from underground sources. He adds only Eco Marine - fat white tablets that enhance ammonia and waste absorption and help in pathogen control.

For Mr Somsak, the investment is lower and the returns not very different from the more intensive shrimp farms'. With his three production ponds, he nets up to 1.5 million baht (S$61,000) a year.

He has since organised a 40-strong group of shrimp farmers who have all switched to sustainable farming and signed a contract to sell directly to a buyer in Britain.

The community complies with a list of protocols that qualifies it for a 'fair trade' label. The farmers decide the price of their shrimp by consensus and negotiate on a yearly basis with their purchaser.

The community also decides on zoning. Unlike in many other places where competition over land use has created friction and controversy, there is no indiscriminate conversion of rice fields for shrimp cultivation.

The Thai government has sent officials to learn from Mr Somsak's group, and Thailand's National Bureau of Agricultural Commodity and Food Standards is framing national standards for certifying 'bio-shrimp' farms.

'I am proud of what we have done here,' said Mr Somsak. 'And I feel much better that consumers don't have to worry about eating my shrimp.'

World's largest producer set to scale up supply
Grace Ng, Straits Times 17 Sep 11;

BEIJING: China may already be the biggest fish in the world's aquaculture industry, but it is poised to get even larger.

What is driving it is the Chinese people's growing appetite for fish and delicacies such as abalone, with demand expected to rise by more than 25 per cent over the next decade.

Already the Chinese eat close to 60kg of seafood per person a year, making them the world's second-biggest consumers of fish after the Japanese.

To meet this ever-growing demand, China, the world's largest producer of farmed fish and aquatic products, needs to raise its production by at least a quarter to feed its 1.3 billion population.

This year, total production is expected to rise 2 per cent to 53.6 million tonnes. This means about 1.1 million tonnes more seafood in a year - enough to feed over 18,300 more Chinese people.

That is not all. China is catering to diners across the world as well. 'The amount of seafood it can produce has been growing at a faster rate than anything else - meat, cereals or vegetables - since the 1970s,' said Shandong-based aquaculture researcher Li Yanjing.

China's farm-grown prawns, shellfish, tilapia, eel and large yellow croaker fill supermarket shelves in Japan, South Korea and the United States - three of its largest markets. There, surging demand has already pushed export prices by as much as 38 per cent in the first three quarters of last year.

There is another reason for the growth of China's aquaculture sector: More than a decade ago, the government enforced a 'zero-growth' policy on fishing around China's coasts to protect fast-dwindling species from being driven to extinction.

Aquaculture became a national priority and flourished across the country, aided by local government subsidies and other support.

But it has not been smooth sailing. Over the years, there have been reports of fish bred in algae-infested ponds, overdosed with antibiotics or kept in water polluted with toxic waste. The cases prompted a Japanese ban on Chinese eel imports in 2005 and Walmart's recall of shipments of catfish treated with a banned antibiotic in 2007.

Even as Chinese officials go about trying to raise hygiene standards and find new ways of breeding healthier fish, what most farmers here worry about now is to keep supplying the world with cheap fish amid rising costs of production.

'Everything costs so much nowadays - electricity costs more, land rental has doubled in the past few years and our 15 workers are demanding more pay,' said Mr Chen Wenxi, 20, from Shuxi in Guangdong province, where he helps his uncle run a shrimp and tilapia farm. 'But demand for fish is still growing, so we will have to come up with new ways to mass produce fish cheaply.'

Turbot thrive in high-rise fish tanks
Straits Times 17 Sep 11;

KAMPERLAND (Netherlands): Mr Adri Bout trawled Dutch waters for 25 years until he recognised the ocean's limits. Now he raises 100 tonnes of turbot a year in a unique high-rise tank that has overcome some of farmed fishing's most persistent problems.

'I knew 20 years ago there is an end. When you keep fishing like this, the North Sea will be empty,' he said.

When he started out, Mr Bout knew nothing about aquaculture. Turning to neighbours and books for advice, he ran into headaches that plague enclosed farms like his: The fish suffered disease epidemics, he spent a fortune on energy to pump and heat water in his tanks, and he had to dispose of the fish waste without befouling the surrounding area.

'We did everything by the book. But the books were wrong,' he said.

Mr Bout, 55, represents a pioneer breed in an industry seen as increasingly crucial to the world's need for food stability while the oceans' capabilities are dwindling. And as the crisis of the oceans becomes clearer, the term 'sustainable farming' is gaining as much resonance for the sea as for land - and is just as difficult to achieve.

Nearly half the sea and freshwater fish on the market is grown in cages along coasts, in lakes, or in tanks on land.

In the West, aquaculture is the new agri-business. In 35 years, it has grown from a tiny speciality of small farmers to a largely corporate-controlled 55.7 million-tonne industry in 2009, the last year for which the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has figures. The FAO said the world will need another 30 million tonnes a year within 20 years.

But it comes at an environmental cost. As the global business exploded, coastlines were destroyed to make way for open sea cages and the waste dirtied the waters for kilometres around. Like industrially grown cattle or chickens, some fish were raised in overcrowded and filthy tanks, wallowing in their own faeces.

Mr Bout was unusual in his willingness to lose vast sums of money with his trial-and-error methods - killing tens of thousands of fish in the process.

Three years ago, he took his turbot out of the standard metre-deep square concrete tank and put them in his experimental eight-tiered system. Each tier is a U-shaped fibreglass 'raceway' 64m long with 15cm of water and a swift current that sweeps away excrement and uneaten food pellets.

Mr Bout uses gravity to circulate the water eight times an hour - traditional farms change water once hourly - running it through cleansing filters each time it drops to the level below. He said his electricity costs are one-quarter of a similarly sized farm that uses standard tanks.

He also does not let organic waste rot - he oxidises it for plant fertiliser or food for shellfish.

He discovered that disease-spreading bacteria thrive in water above 16.5 deg C, a temperature turbot can tolerate but which is too cold for other ocean fish like bass or bream, which he once raised but abandoned. The fish grow more slowly in cool water but are free of disease, and Mr Bout said he has not used medication for eight years. He also found that with cleaner water the fish ate less, but grew faster.

Mr Bout 'is exceptional... an innovative thinker', said Ms Margreet van Vilsteren of the North Sea Foundation, which assesses the ecological impact of fish farms around the world. 'The last step, I think, that has to be taken is to control the food that is given to the fish.'

Mr Bout's system does not work with other kinds of saltwater fish which require warmer water to grow. Nor can it be used with salmon and other fish like cod which are raised in open net systems in the sea.

But new methods are continually being developed. The salmon industry in particular 'got a lot of things wrong. In recent years there has been a significant improvement', said Ms Dawn Purchase, of the British-based Marine Conservation Society.

Not long ago, salmon were raised in densely packed cages and heavily medicated. Now, vaccines administered individually to young fish have cut the need for antibiotics by 90 per cent, she said.

Producers also have learnt that reducing the density in the nets lowers stress. 'Stress affects the taste and quality of the flesh. It releases stress hormones.'

Environmentalists agree that feeding farmed fish remains the industry's most serious problem. Rather than ease the pressure on fishing, the need has grown for wild-caught fish to feed carnivorous high-value ones like salmon, bass and turbot.

Even mixing soya and other cereals into the feed, it takes 1.1kg of ocean fish - mainly small anchoveta - for each kilo of salmon.

Eventually, even this abundantly available fish will become scarce.


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Malaysia: Owls poached for exotic meat market

Natalie Heng The Star 13 Sep 11;

A black hole of information surrounds the illegal trade in owls.

ARE our owls being poached for the dinner table? It would appear so, judging from huge seizures of dead birds in recent years by the Department of Wildlife and National Parks (Perhilitan).

In November 2008, a raid in Muar, Johor, unveiled a mountain of 917 plucked owls, along with a stash of pythons, mouse deer, pangolins and various other protected species.

Two months later, in January 2009, 319 more owl carcasses were uncovered alongside 2,330 live clouded monitor lizards and a chopped up Malayan sun bear in a car repair shop in Kuantan, Pahang.

The show wasn’t over. There were two more seizures in Johor that year: one yielded 37 owls in Yong Peng in July and another yielded 246 owls in Endau, in September.

Altogether, the period of 2008 to 2009 saw the biggest seizure of owls ever recorded in the country, a total of 1,519 carcasses. The seizures caught wildlife officials by surprise. There have been no indicators of local demand for owl consumption, and until those reports surfaced, large-scale trading of owls in Malaysia had completely escaped the radar.

“Local restaurants have been known to offer bear, fruit bats, deer, monitor lizards, turtles ... it’s a long list, but we haven’t seen owls on offer,” says Traffic South-East Asia deputy regional director Chris Shepherd.

“We weren’t even looking at owls. We really hadn’t heard of people harvesting owl at all in Malaysia, and suddenly there was almost a thousand of them seized (in the Muar case).”

Shepherd brings up the question of whether trade could have previously gone undetected.

Both Traffic and Perhilitan suspect the owls, along with the other wildlife confiscated, were due for export, probably to China which, despite local and international laws, has a thriving trade in endangered wildlife.

Malaysia is both an attractive supply and transit country, and many of the species found including pangolins and bear parts for example, are popular in the meat and traditional medicine markets of China, especially in Guangzhou.

There, an increasingly affluent population is fuelling demand for endangered wildlife traditionally regarded as culinary delicacies.

There are news reports of owls being among the many wildlife items served in restaurants in Guangzhou.

“It really does warrant further investigation,” says Shepherd, adding that funding limits what conservationists can do, and therefore, hardly any work has been conducted to investigate the extent of owl consumption in China’s meat markets.

Many unknowns

After the flurry of seizures however, it seems the trail has run cold. A black hole of information surrounds the issue of poaching of wild owls.

Some of the culprits in the illegal trade have been penalised, however.

In the Muar case, one man was fined RM21,000 under four charges for cruelty to wildlife and illegal possession of 10 species, some protected, some totally protected and one immature protected animal.

Similar charges were laid upon one man in the Yong Peng case, who was fined RM6,000, another in the Endau case, who was fined RM5,000, and yet another in the Kuantan case, who was fined RM3,000 for each charge, plus a one-month jail sentence to run concurrently.

Pahang Perhilitan director Khairiah Shariff was surprised with the first seizure as no one had heard of owl poaching before. Until now, she still has no idea where the birds came from and whether the trade has been going on, undetected.

The man arrested in Kuantan was 33, a sub-contractor and possibly a bystander. Like all the other men arrested, he would not reveal who “owned” the animals. The man arrested in the Muar case revealed that he had been collecting wildlife from locals and orang asli in Segamat and the Pahang border for the past five or six years prior to his arrest.

Barn owls formed the bulk of the seizures, making up 796 of the 917 birds confiscated in Muar. The species is commonly distributed throughout plantations across the peninsula. Other species seized included 95 spotted wood owls, 14 buffy fish owls, eight barred eagle owls, and four brown wood owls.

Could these have been taken from any of the millions of hectares of oil palm estate throughout Malaysia where, thanks to the building of nest boxes by planters to encourage the birds to breed and act as biological pest control agents, barn owls have grown in numbers?

One article published earlier this year in The Planter, a publication by the Incorporated Society of Planters, raised the possibility that barn owls might be taken directly from nest boxes or caught in nets set up across forest clearings.

However, officials at two big oil palm plantation companies, Kulim (Malaysia) Berhad and Sime Darby Plantation, say no anomalies in the number of barn owls present on their estates have been reported.

“It’s hard to say who are catching the owls,” says Shepherd. “It could be people who are working in the plantations themselves, or people employed by wildlife dealers to go after the birds. If you ask that about pangolins, or freshwater turtles or cobra, then yes they are.”

Shepherd explains how wildlife plunder generally happens all over the region: “In a rural area, there will be agents there willing to buy wild animals from you. But is this the situation with owls? We don’t know.”

It is difficult to say whether people should be worried about Malaysia’s owls, seeing little is known of them. However, Shepherd thinks if the trade is like what was seen in 2008 and 2009, and continues undetected, it can have a serious impact on wild owl populations.

“Owls are top predators, so they play a really important role. Generally they require a large territory and the habitat requirements for some species are a lot more specialised than others. And as for any species that occurs in low densities, wiping them out is much easier than those which occur in higher densities.”

Resources to investigate the trade in wild meat is now channelled to higher priority species, such as tigers and bears. So the trade in owls remain ignored.

“Very few people know about Malaysia’s owls and because of that, even fewer would care, and that should change. A lot of countries have an owl trust, or research and monitoring groups, but we don’t have that. Although there’s a growing interest in bird watching and bird conservation, it hasn’t gotten to the point where it is of benefit to the owls yet.”

Over two years have passed since the 2008 and 2009 seizures, and questions still remain. Is it still happening? Exactly how big is the industry, and was that just the tip of an iceberg? Unfortunately, it looks like we are unlikely to be receiving answers any time soon.

Scoping the owl
The Star 13 Sep 11;

RESEARCHER Puan Chong Leong caught his first owl in a mist net in the Ayer Hitam Forest Reserve in Puchong, Selangor. It was a collared scops owl, a beautiful creature with large, brown forward-facing eyes, small head tufts and a neat little beak.

That encounter marked the beginning of his interest in this largely under-appreciated bird. Few Malaysians realise just how many fascinating owl species exist in our backyard.

For the record, there are 19. They range from the tiny collared owlet which, at just 15cm long is the smallest owl in Asia, to the majestic barred eagle owl, the largest, at 46cm.

Owl habitats are wide-ranging; different species occupy different niches with some segregated amongst the various vegetation layers of our lowland forests and others distributed amongst the moist, mossy branches of the upper montane zone.

Often heard but seldom seen, these birds with their big, round and captivating eyes may be full of charisma, but species endemic to the South-East Asian region remain understudied.

“Owls are active at night, and it’s difficult to research at night, plus there are big predators in the forest. Most owls are also elusive, secretive and difficult to track,” explains Puan, who lectures on wildlife-related courses at the forestry faculty of Universiti Putra Malaysia.

Aside from observational data, there is little information on the ecological aspects of owls. Many details such as home range and how they interact with the environment and other species are all educated guesses at best.

Recently back from completing his PhD in wildlife ecology at the University of Queensland, Australia, Puan is determined to change this. He is about to embark on Malaysia’s first ever ecological study on owls, and has chosen the collared scops owl as his first subject. Being a common species, it will be easier to amass a richer set of data, Puan says.

From there, he can assess whether his research methods are working well enough to extend to other species.

His pioneering field study will see him and a couple of graduate students sloshing through the forest of Ayer Hitam next month. He plans to attach radio telemetry devices to track the owls so he can learn more about their habitat range and locate their nests, and roosting and feeding sites.

The results will then be compared to those from a second project which will estimate the population density in that area.

“By doing this we can tell whether there is any significant territorial behaviour, how much area may be needed to support one pair of owls, and by extension how much forest is needed for a population,” he says, adding the latter is important in ensuring the viability of a species in terms of both numbers and genetic diversity.

Although we already have some details about their diets and calls, Puan says having a wealth of ecological information is crucial: “Because you need to understand something before you can protect it.”

He intends to document his findings in a book which can guide conservationists and forest managers on the management of natural habitats and protection of species.

Some owls are thought to have specific habitat requirements. Species such as the reddish scops owl is thought to require old growth primary rainforest.

Puan would eventually like to find out if birds such as the reddish scops owls can be designated as an “indicator species” to reflect the health of the forest ecosystem.

He chose to study owls as they play a crucial role in the food chain.

“Within a food chain is a complicated web, with owls located at various points. By eliminating them, you are breaking up the food chain.”

Puan does his best to raise awareness about the bird and gives a lecture on them whenever he can, at university events.

He hopes that the more familiar people are with owls, the higher the likelihood they will react to news of illegal trading for consumption or the pet trade. – By Natalie Heng

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Malaysia: 'Stop mouse deer hunting on islands'

New Straits Times 16 Sep 11;

PUTRAJAYA: The Malaysian Nature Society wants the authorities to stop the indiscriminate killing of Lesser Mouse Deer on several islands around the country.

Its president, Prof Maketab Mohamed, said he had received reports of the mouse deer being hunted on Tioman, Redang and Langkawi.

He said the culprits were villagers on the islands who knew it was illegal to hunt the species without a licence.

Maketab said the animal, protected under the Wildlife Conservation Act, was hunted for its meat, which is considered a delicacy.

Poachers can be fined a maximum up to RM10,000 or imprisoned for a maximum six months, or both, if convicted.

"On a recent trip to Pulau Tioman, the guide informed us that mouse deer hunting was very popular and held almost every night.

"It is a cause for worry as the mouse deer reproduces twice a year and it is only a matter of time before it is completely wiped out."

Maketab said the organisation would engage local authorities and enforcement agencies to design a campaign to monitor the hunting and promote the mouse deer as an eco-tourism product.

The Lesser Mouse Deer is the world's smallest hoofed mammal weighing about 2 kg.

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Indonesia: Human, tiger conflicts kill one person and one tiger in 2011

Antara 16 Sep 11;

Bengkulu, Sumatra (ANTARA News) - A total of 10 man-versus-tiger conflicts occurred in Bengkulu province in 2011 causing the death of one person and one tiger, a local nature conservation official said.

"We have recorded 10 conflicts between humans and tigers that happened in areas between villages and forests," Amon Zamora, the head of the Bengkulu Nature Conservation Agency (BKSDA) said here recently.

The conflicts had occurred among other things in the border area between Air Ipuh forest and Malin Deman sub district, Muko Muko District, he said.

Other cases had happened in Ketahun and Seblat sub districts, North Bengkulu District. In those cases, the tigers had been driven back into the jungle.

A tiger, however, had been shot dead by unknown person in Padang Bano sub district, Lebong District, he said.

Amon said his men tried to evacuate a tiger that had attacked and injured a resident in Padang Bano.

Another conflict had happened inside Bukit Sanggul protected forest where a resident of Pino Baru village, Air Nipis sub district, South Bengkulu District, was killed.

At Talang Sebaris village, Seluma District, tigers had eaten tens of cattle and frightened local villagers.

"The tiger from Talang Sebaris was evacuated to Tambling Lampung for preservation process," he said.

At Pino Baru, Air Nipis Sub district, Bengkulu District, a local youth identified as Milyan (18) was killed by a triger near Bukit Sanggul protected forest.

According to Amon, the increased conflicts between tigers and people was mainly due to rampant human encroachment on wildlife habitat and poaching activities.

"We keep making coordination with the provincial forestry service and the district authorities to minimize conflicts in order to prevent Sumatran tigers from extinction," he said.

Editor: Priyambodo RH

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Glass towers a death trap for migrating birds

Up to a billion die in the US a year from colliding into mirror-like surfaces
Straits Times 17 Sep 11;

NEW YORK: Most bird-watching enthusiasts spend their days looking up in the hope of seeing a flash of colour.

Ms Deborah Laurel looks at the ground. She is a volunteer with New York City Audubon conservation group, and during the weeks of the autumn migration, she is part of a dawn patrol that scans the sidewalks of Manhattan, searching for victims of the city's forest of glass towers. The other morning, she spied the bodies of six that had collided with the plate-glass ferry terminal at the World Financial Centre.

'We live in an age of glass,' said Ms Laurel, an architect. 'It can be a perfect mirror in certain lights, and the larger the glass, the more dangerous it is.'

New York is a major stopover for migratory birds on the Atlantic flyway, and an estimated 90,000 birds are killed by flying into buildings in New York City each year, the Audubon group says.

Often, they strike the lower levels of facades after foraging in nearby parks. Some ornithologists and conservationists say such crashes are the second-leading cause of death for migrating birds after habitat loss, with estimates of the national toll as high as a billion a year.

As glass towers have proliferated in the last decade, so too have calls to make them less deadly to birds. The San Francisco Planning Commission adopted bird-safety standards for new buildings in July, and this month, the city's Board of Supervisors will vote on making it law. Legislation is pending in Washington that would require many federal buildings to incorporate bird-friendly designs.

The United States Green Building Council, a non-profit industry group encouraging the creation of environmentally conscious buildings, will introduce a bird-safety credit this autumn as part of its Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification process.

There are no easy fixes, however. A few manufacturers are exploring glass designs that use ultraviolet signals visible only to birds, but these are still in their infancy. Opaque or translucent films, decals, dot patterns, shades, mesh screens and even nets are the main options, but are a tough sell in the high-design world.

NYC Audubon, the American Bird Conservancy and other groups are actively pressing for their use.

A group of NYC Audubon volunteers is gathering evidence of bird collisions this autumn at a dozen buildings, including some of the city's most prominent structures, like the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the World Financial Centre and the Time Warner Centre. Most of the sites were chosen because they feature glass walls next to parkland or vegetation.

Since 1997, when the collision-monitoring programme began, NYC Audubon has collected nearly 6,000 dead birds, carefully bagging and documenting them. The group has used the findings to ask for modifications to buildings that prove to be the worst offenders.

Often, only one section of a building is a culprit. 'You don't necessarily have to treat every window,' said NYC Audubon executive director Glenn Phillips.

The Jacob K. Javits Convention Centre, now undergoing renovation, is the most recent building to voluntarily correct the problem of bird collisions. After pleas from NYC Audubon, architects FXFowle designed retrofitting that includes less reflective glass and a dot pattern.

Some new all-glass buildings are designed so that birds can easily detect them. Conservationists point to Frank Gehry's IAC Building as an example. Horizontal, dotted white bands control the flow of light, while the curvilinear facade prevents a mirror effect.

About 90 New York buildings also participate in Lights Out New York, NYC Audubon's initiative to get buildings to turn off lights after midnight during the spring and autumn migrations as bright lights attract and confuse birds. Cities like Boston, Chicago and Toronto also have successful lights-out campaigns.

Exterior lighting is one of many elements in the Green Building Council's new bird-collision deterrence credit. Said Mr Brendan Owens, a council vice-president: 'I don't know of any architects out there who want to kill birds.'


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Indonesia: Ministry deploys personnel, planes to help extinguish forest fires

Antara 16 Sep 11;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - The forestry ministry has mobilized personnel and three planes to help extinguish forest fires on Sumatra Island.

Forestry Minister Zulkifli Hasan said here recently the planes were needed for cloud seeding because many of the hot spots were not accessible as they were located in remote areas.

Around 2,000 hot spots were detected on Sumatra, including in South Sumatra, Jambi and Riau, the minister said.

"There are 2,000 hot spots in Sumatra alone. The forest fires, however, have caused haze disturbing the people and air traffic," he said after launching an online monitoring of one billion tree planting program.

He criticized people who habitually cleared land by igniting fires because they consider it as being the cheapest way of doing it.

Of the country`s total number of hot spots, around 80 percent occurred in agricultural areas and only 20 percent in forests, he said.

"Most of the hot spots are located in agricultural areas, only 10 percent is to be found in forest areas," he said.

According to the forestry ministry`s data obtained from NOAA 18 Satellite, there were 22,120 hot spots throughout Indonesia from January to September 12, 2011. Last year, there were a total of 9,880 hot spots in Indonesia.

This year, the hot spots have been found among other things in West Kalimantan (4,105 hot spots), Riau (3,208), South Sumatra (3,340), Central Kalimantan (2,778), Jambi (1,305), and North Sumatra (795).

In 2010, the ministry recorded 1,785 hot spots in West Kalimantan, 1,707 in Riau, 1,481 in South Sumatra, 831 Central Kalimantan, 603 in Jambi, and 530 hot spots in North Sumatra.

Editor: Priyambodo RH

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Indonesia: Peat forest fires obstructing carbon emission cutting efforts

Antara 15 Sep 11;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - The ongoing peat forest fires on Sumatra and Kalimantan Islands may cause Indonesia to miss its carbon emission reduction target, a legislator said.

"The peat forest fires will make it difficult for Indonesia to achieve the target of cutting carbon emissions by 26 percent by 2020 as pledged by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, if the government does not pay serious attention to the problem," Rofi Munawar, a member of the House of Representatives (DPR)`s Commission IV, said here on Thursday.

Haze has been covering several provinces on Sumatra and Kalimantan Islands since the past week, and it has become worse.

The haze in West Sumatra Province was believed to come from the provinces of Jambi, South Suamtra, Riau and Bengkulu.

On Sumatra Island, there were 200 hot spots, and 70 percent of them were located in South Sumatra.

Peatlands fires must not be regarded a simple problem because it has affected the community and produced a large volume of carbon dioxide gases because peat contains large carbon reserves, he said.

Some parts of Indonesia is prone to forest and peatlands fires during dry season, from July to October annually.

The legislator urged President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to instruct affected regional authorities and the forestry ministry to deal with the fires.

Indonesia has around 18 million hectares of peatlands, placing the country as the world`s fourth largest peatlands nation after Canada, Russia and the United States.

West Kalimantan has 4.61 million ha of peatlands, Central Kalimantan 2.16 million ha, Riau 1.70 million ha, and South Kalimantan 1.48 million ha.

The government must carry out preventive measures and impose legal enforcement to stop forest fires, the law maker said.

Editor: Priyambodo RH

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Indonesia: Nestle Buys Palm Oil Promises of  Sinar Mas

Faisal Maliki Baskoro Jakarta Globe 16 Sep 11;

Swiss food giant Nestle will resume purchases of palm oil from Sinar Mas Agro Resources and Technology following an 18-month halt after Smart made improvements to abide by Nestle’s guidelines for responsible environmental practices.

The parent company of the palm oil producer known as Smart, Golden Agri Resources, has been working with environmental group The Forest Trust on the implementation of a Forest Conservation Policy. The plan would ensure that GAR has no deforestation footprint and also seeks sustainable growth.

Based on results of TFT assessments and GAR’s work in progress, “we have decided to place an order with Golden Agri for our factory in Indonesia,” Nestle Indonesia’s spokesman Brata T. Hardjosubroto said in a statement on Friday.

He said that Smart, Indonesia’s second-biggest listed plantation operator, and GAR had been making continuous progress and demonstrated clear action to meet Nestle’s responsible sourcing guidelines.

Brata lauded GAR’s new conservation policy, but he said that purchasing palm oil would remain conditional on GAR and Smart’s commitment to sustainable rainforest development.

The spokesman added that a segregated supply chain has been established, ensuring traceability of shipments from GAR plantations to the Nestle factory in Indonesia. The full traceability of this supply chain has been checked by an independent third-party auditing body, the TUV Rheinland Group.

Smart president director Daud Dharsono confirmed that Nestle has placed an order to resume palm oil purchases.

“We welcome Nestle’s decision, which is an acknowledgement of our sustainability efforts,” he said.

“This represents an important milestone in our journey toward the continuous production of sustainable palm oil.”

Nestle, which started construction on its $200 million factory in West Java on Monday, had dropped Smart as a supplier in March 2010. The company reinforced its commitment to sustainable rainforests by stating in July that it was committed to stop using products that contributed to the destruction of rainforests, and entered a partnership with TFT.

The decision came following campaigns by Greenpeace highlighting Nestle’s purchase of crude palm oil from Sinar Mas Group, which Greenpeace accuses of destruction of rainforests and peatlands to make way for new plantations.

Smart said in its statement that it began complying with Nestle’s standards in late 2010, when GAR developed a joint action plan with TFT to help GAR ensure that palm oil delivered to Nestle would meet all requirements according to the guideline.

“We believe the FCP is a strong platform in which all stakeholders can collaborate to find solutions for sustainable palm oil,” Daud said.

Bustar Maitar, the head of Greenpeace Indonesia’s forests campaign, said that Greenpeace would give Smart a chance to show whether it would carry out its stated FCP commitment.

“This is a test of how serious GAR and Smart are in implementing the FCP. We will wait and see,” Bustar said.

Other companies that had stopped purchasing from Smart include Burger King, Unilever, and Kraft.

These companies had yet to announce whether they would resume purchases, but Bustar said he expected that the other companies would follow suit.

“The other buyers would monitor GAR’s and Smart’s commitment to the FCP before deciding on resuming purchases. If GAR can meet its commitment, the others will likely join Nestle,” he said.

Smart’s shares rose 2.3 percent to Rp 6,650 on the Indonesia Stock Exchange on Friday.

Indonesia's SMART in talks to resume business with Unilever
Reuters 28 Sep 11;

(Reuters) - Anglo-Dutch consumer goods giant Unilever (UNc.AS) is in talks to resume business with Sinar Mas Agro Resources and Technology (SMART) , the Indonesian palm oil firm said on Wednesday.

SMART, which runs the Indonesia palm oil operations of its Singapore-listed parent Golden Agri-Resources , was given a mixed score card last year in an independent environmental audit after Greenpeace accused the firm of clearing peat land and forests that sheltered endangered species.

Major palm oil consumers such as Unilever, Nestle and Burger King stopped buying from SMART because of environmental concerns.

"We are in an initial stage of discussion with Unilever to resume business," Daud Dharsono, chief executive officer of SMART, said in a statement. "As a vital part of the supply chain, we believe that we must collaborate with all stakeholders to find solutions for sustainable palm oil."

Earlier this month, Nestle , the world's biggest food group, also resumed palm oil purchases from SMART, showing that the palm oil firm's efforts to boost its green credentials by teaming up with a conservation group have paid off.

The palm oil producer said in February it would work with the government and a non-profit body, and Golden Agri then developed a Forest Conservation Policy (FCP) in collaboration with The Forest Trust (TFT), a non-profit organisation that seeks to promote green business methods. (Reporting by Michael Taylor; Editing by Jane Baird)

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China's green economist stirring a shift away from GDP

Niu Wenyuan's 'quality index' measures the economy not just by size, but by sustainability, social equality and ecological impact
Jonathan Watts 16 Sep 11;

Of all the efforts to improve China's environment, there are probably none as arcane and potentially important as the statistical re-evaluation being pioneered by Niu Wenyuan.

This senior economist and government adviser is trying to clean up his polluted country one data set at a time and, in the process, wean political leaders off their obsession with GDP growth. It is an uphill task. Eight years ago, Niu tried and failed to introduce a "green GDP", which would have factored environmental costs into measurements of China's economic progress.

That proposal was killed off by provincial leaders who feared their GDP achievements – and promotion prospects – would be undermined by a full accounting of the damage being done to the environment. Undaunted, Niu has returned to the fray with a new "GDP quality index" that measures the economy not just by size, but by sustainability, social equality and ecological impact.

Launched this summer, the index is currently more of an academic exercise than an indication of government priorities. But it has provoked a fierce debate because of the influential position of Niu, who is adviser to the state council (China's cabinet), chief scientist at the Chinese Academy of Sciences and director of the Chinese Ecological Economics Society.

Several senior cadres are upset that their provinces' economic performances look far less impressive when the extra factors are taken into account, though others benefit. Ranked by quality rather than quantity of GDP, Guangdong falls from first to third place, while Zhejiang goes up from fourth to first place.

"The GDP quality index is coming under political pressure, not from the central government but from the local level," Niu told the Guardian at his office in the Chinese Academy of Sciences. "I have had a lot of phone calls in recent days from the offices of provincial governors asking why they ranked so low."

Niu's formulation combines five elements: Economic quality, which considers the amount of resources and energy needed to generate each 10,000 yuan of GDP; social quality, which includes differences of incomes between rich and poor that might led to destructive riots; environmental quality, which assesses the amount of waste and carbon generated per 10,000 yuan of economic activity; quality of life, which figures in life expectancy and other human development indicators; and management quality, which measures the proportion of tax revenue used for public security, the durability of infrastructure and the proportion of public officials in the overall population.

It may sound complex, but compared to the ill-fated green GDP, he says the quality index is simpler to understand and calculate because it is based on existing government statistics. Green GDP, by contrast, required officials to compile extra data.

This allowed officials to give the excuse that it was too complicated at the end of trials in several provinces. It is believed that green GDP statistics continue to be compiled by the government, but they are kept secret due to political sensitivities.

"In 2006, we wanted to publish green GDP but we had no success," says Niu, who was also the government's chief adviser on that plan. "Politics pressure was one reason; local government officials felt green GDP damaged their promotion prospects. The other was that it was overcomplicated and the public did not understand it. We have simplified the theory."

The GDP quality index is one of many proposals worldwide to use economic theory to reverse environmental degradation and encourage sustainable values. Very few governments have adopted such measurements but they are likely to be given a push as next year's Rio+20 United Nations summit. Last year, India said it would become the first country in the world to commit to publish accounts of its "natural wealth".

Niu acknowledges that his approach needs to be enhanced. One shortcoming is that it overemphasises production rather than consumption, which means cities such as Beijing and Shanghai get a better ranking than industrial regions such as Inner Mongolia even though urban residents are the ultimate consumers of resources and cause of waste.

This will be given more weight in the future, says the statistical reformer, who plans to release a quality index every year as a stimulus for change and education.

On the walls of Niu's office are photographs of him with the president, Hu Jintao, the prime minister, Wen Jiabao, and other senior communist officials. The government has yet to adopt his new index, but its incorporation of social and environmental costs seems tailor-made for a national leadership that claims to champion "harmony", "scientific development," and "ecological civilisation." The reality so far in China, however, is very different.

Niu says the Chinese people will be the ultimate judge of his index.

"They want to know the truth. Is our GDP genuine or is it something else. We have provided an answer," he says. "We shouldn't worship GDP and we shouldn't abandon GDP. Our aim to have a GDP that consumes fewer natural resources, is less harmful to the environment and has a low social management cost. We want rational, genuine GDP."

And if unhappy provincial governors try once again to kill his effort to change the focus of the economy? "I cannot let that worry me. I am a researcher. We only use government statistics and then apply our theory. I don't decide which provinces come top. The numbers do."

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