Best of our wild blogs: 20 Sep 11

Uncovering the mangroves at the inaugural Lim Chu Kang East cleanup from News from the International Coastal Cleanup Singapore and Backing up NUS’ foray into Lim Chu Kang East mangrove

A graveyard look
from The annotated budak

A night at Bukit Brown Cemetery
from wonderful creation

The beauty of tall trees
from Life's Indulgences

12 Ideas for the National Climate Change Strategy 2012
from Low Carbon Singapore

Read more!

Building Boom Causes Asian Sand Smugglers to Expand

Luke Hunt Kuala Lumpur Voice of America 19 Sep 11;

Singapore's decades-long effort to reclaim land from the ocean has expanded the nation's coastline and fueled its building boom. But it has also depleted its supply of sand. In recent years, the massive sand shortage has been worsened by export bans by neighboring countries, driving up the price and encouraging the smuggling of useable land-fill.

It used to be that sand dredgers had only to travel to nearby Indonesia to get sand for use in Singapore construction projects. But the Indonesian government banned exports after activists and locals complained about disappearing islands and ruined riverbeds. Vietnam and Malaysia have enacted similar curbs on the practice. In Cambodia, officials have curtailed dredging and suspended sales as they assess the environmental damage caused by sand mining.

Environmentalists say this is forcing miners to search elsewhere in the region and driving the practice of sand smuggling in the Philippines, Bangladesh, and Burma.

George Boden is a campaigner for the London-based environmental group Global Witness, which reported on sand mining in Cambodia earlier this year.

“In fact some of the sand trade has also moved on from Cambodia, and Burma has now become a major source. And it’s our understanding - and for sand it’s quite possible - that Singapore is also looking beyond Cambodia for other countries in the region to fulfill its needs,” he said.

Singapore has expanded its physical borders by 22 percent over the past half century by filling in the surrounding sea with sand. Analysts say new reclamation projects will require enormous quantities of sea-sand. The tiny island-state also needs salt-free river sand for construction.

Gavin Greenwood is a security analyst for the Hong Kong-based firm Allan & Associates and has followed this issue for many years. He says that demand is proving lucrative for nearby countries.

“Freshwater sand is far superior for construction purposes than sea sand, simply because sea sand is, by its nature, with the salt in it ... highly corrosive. And to make it usable for construction you should have to wash it to get as much of the salt out as possible," he said. "Much of the reclamation in, shall we say, Singapore will be supporting large buildings with a huge amount of piling which is concrete, steel and so forth. So if you can get river sand or earth or crushed rock or a combination of all three, you’re saving yourself a great deal of money and future problems.”

Government bans in nearby countries have complicated life for Singapore builders. The government requires sand to be authorized with the correct paperwork, signifying it was legally obtained.

Companies such as Rangoon-based Bholat General Services and Philippine operator Mecca MFG tout themselves openly on the Internet, offering customers access to large quantities of sand that have been approved by the Singapore government.

Other companies offering sand from Burma include Bangkok International and Myanmar Asia Glory Trading. A spokesman for Asia Glory said river sand was being mined from the Salween and Irrawaddy rivers. The spokesman said while operations have been halted during the rainy season, sand mining and exports would resume in November.

A Mecca MFG spokesman said there are three large areas in the Philippines suitable for sand mining - primarily around Mount Pinatubo in Luzon, where clean river sand is available in abundance.

Similar offers for sand are made by Thai, Cambodian and Vietnamese companies.

Environmentalists say the practice causes widespread ecological damage to rivers, depletes fish stocks and substantially reduces the livelihoods of villagers who lead a subsistence lifestyle. The money involved also makes regulation difficult.

In Cambodia, some companies have flouted a government suspension of dredging. Activists claim that smuggling continues despite government bans in Indonesia, as well as in the east Malaysian states of Sabah and Sarawak on Borneo.

S.M. Murthu is a council member of the Malaysian Nature Society and an adviser to the Environmental Protection Association in Sabah. He says the smuggling of sand into Singapore is continuing from around Southeast Asia, where laws are not enforced due to corruption.

“Smuggling is with the knowledge of certain authorities because nowadays ... in Southeast Asia, everything has a price. It’s illegal, so there are certain people who are paid to keep their eyes shut. They solve the problem that way,” he noted.

A year ago, 34 Malaysian civil servants were arrested for accepting bribes and sexual favors in relation to illicit sand sales. At that time, former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad claimed up to 700 trucks a day were loaded with sand which was then smuggled across the border into Singapore.

Muthu says that brisk smuggling pace continues today. He says he has previously investigated complaints of illegal sand mining that resulted in villages being swept away, only to be told by Malaysian authorities this was not the case.

“I have seen houses already in the water. I have seen houses perched along the bankside, just waiting to sink into the rivers. It’s quite bad because these people do not care," Muthu said. "We have laws, but they are only on paper; in terms of practical enforcement it’s almost nil. They are all political statements at the end of the day. They just give into those who are looking for cheap sand.”

George Boden’s report for Global Witness prompted Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen to suspend dredging while his government assessed the ecological damage to the Tatai River. However, fishermen still complain that sand mining has not ceased. Boden wants international donors, who contribute heavily to the country’s annual budget, to pressure the Cambodian government to act against smugglers and illegal dredging.

“Certainly some dredging is still taking place and that really falls far short of the recommendations that we made in our report. Things we were really calling for is a proper regulatory environment, transparency over how the resources are allocated and the revenue that is collected," Boden stated. "And also proper environmental and social safeguards to ensure that the dredging is carried out in such a way that it is not massively damaging.”

Singapore’s land reclamation also has broader political ramifications because the trade in sand antagonizes relations between Singapore and its neighbors. Indonesia and Malaysia fear constant land reclamation means Singapore is now encroaching into their territorial waters.

Security analyst Greenwood is urging Singapore to protect its reputation in Southeast Asian as an environmental role model, by enacting stronger safeguards against the illegal mining.

“Singapore’s contention is that it’s legal from its end because it requires various certification and so forth from the various countries it buys from. The real problem is how valid would those certifications be in a broader legal context, and how damaging this whole thing is to Singapore from a diplomatic and reputational position and context," Greenwood said. "Singapore is very defensive and protective of its reputation as a serious country with rule of law and a strong environmental record.”

Singapore plans to add tens of square kilometers of additional land to its borders in the next 20 years. That growth will maintain a strong demand for sand imports and could threaten more areas of Southeast Asia where weak regulation and official corruption allow damaging mining to continue.

Sand and Singapore
Luke Hunt The Diplomat 26 Aug 11;

The politics of sand is a dirty business, and there’s plenty of it around – particularly in the tiny island-state of Singapore. Its voracious appetite for constructing mega-buildings and expanding its borders by filling in the sea has led to widespread ecological damage around the region.

Indonesia has complained bitterly about its disappearing islands and banned the export of sand. So has Vietnam. Malaysia uses dealings over sand as a political bargaining chip when negotiating with Singapore, and countries further afield are also thinking twice about selling it sand.

This was the case with Cambodia, which acted on a report by environmental activists Global Witness that was released in May. It has announced that it has ordered a suspension of sand dredging while it assesses alleged damage to fish stocks and the ecology of the Tatai River.

However, all the indications are that private business in Cambodia is thumbing their nose at the government and continuing to dredge the Tatai River. This is despite pleas from impoverished villagers, who live hand to mouth and who have had their livelihoods affected and seen widespread damage to their local environment.

According to the report, Singapore expanded its surface area by 22 percent, from 582 square kilometres in the 1960s to 710 square kilometres in 2008 – and it wants to go much further.

Ho Mak, director of Rivers at the Ministry of Water resources, told The Diplomat the companies dredging the Tatai had been ordered to stop while an environmental impact study is made. Piech Siyon, a provincial director of the Department of Industry, Mines and Energy, insists this has happened.

However, the reports to the contrary are many, something supported by Chum Sok Korb, who told The Diplomat that villagers wanted all sand dredging – big and small – stopped now.

There's no shortage of smugglers in Southeast Asia and the Singapore land developers are well aware of this, prompting accusations by Greenpeace they have launched a ‘war’ for the commodity.

Indonesia has 92 outer islands which determine the country’s marine border areas. Of these, only 12 are guarded by the Navy, prompting officials in Jakarta to recently urge provincial governors to be vigilant and act in the sovereign interest by protecting the islands from smugglers.

A year earlier, 34 Malaysian civil servants were arrested for accepting bribes and sexual favours in relation to sand smuggling into Singapore. At around the same time, former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad claimed that 700 trucks loaded with sand have been crossing the border into Singapore each day.

Singapore likes to see itself as a responsible global citizen and worthy regional role model. However, the fight over such a menial commodity like sand might suggest otherwise.

Read more!

Malaysia protects Pulau Bidong: only day trippers allowed

Only day trips allowed to Pulau Bidong
New Straits Times 20 Sep 11;

SETIU: Terengganu will ban large tourism projects on Pulau Bidong and its surrounding islands and only allow day trippers, in a bid to to protect the corals and preserve it as a marine heritage island.

State Tourism, Culture, Arts and Heritage Committee chairman Datuk Abdul Rahin Mohd Said said the Pulau Bidong group of islands, comprising a main island and five smaller ones, must be protected as they were the last uninhabited islands in Terengganu.

He said the state government did not want the islands to be turned into other resort islands such as Perhentian and Redang to minimise environmental damage to marine life.

"We want to promote the islands of Pulau Bidong in a such a way that will still protect its environment hence the idea of opening it only to day trippers. Visitors can still come and enjoy the beauty of the corals and marine life but they must leave by end of the day.

"We will need to build the amenities for day-trippers, but it will be on a much smaller scale compared with large-scale construction for resorts," he said after taking part in an underwater signing ceremony of a pledge to safeguard the islands' marine heritage yesterday.

Sixty divers took part and it was certified by the Malaysia Book of Records as the first in Malaysia.

The event was organised by the Malaysia Coral Reef Conservation Society (Coral Malaysia) with the cooperation of Universiti Malaysia Terengganu (UMT) and the Terengganu government.

UMT vice chancellor Prof Datuk Aziz Deraman, who welcomed the move to protect the islands, said the university would make Pulau Bidong its research island.

"Currently, we have a research facility with four laboratories on the island and we will conduct more research on the Pulau Bidong archipelago."

He said research to harness the power of tidal currents, solar and wind would also be conducted on the island, beside marine biology studies.

"We will build a windmill at our research centre on the island to supply electricity and at the same time be a subject of green energy research

"UMT has conducted research into ways to restore dying corals but what is more important is to preserve what we still have."

Coral Malaysia president Jamhariah Jaafar said artificial reefs, known as the Underwater Gallery, around Pulau Bidong had become healthy grounds for coral growth.

"The waters around Pulau Bidong have many fascinating diving sites which can be promoted to create public awareness about our marine heritage."

Read more!

Cambodian cattle herds offer hope for tiger: WWF

AFP Yahoo News 18 Sep 11;

Large herds of wild cattle in eastern Cambodia mean the area could be one of the best places in Asia for a recovery in tiger populations, conservation group World Wildlife Fund said on Monday.

There may be no more than five tigers living in the wild in the eastern plains areas it surveyed, the WWF said, but the population of banteng, a species of wild cattle, could provide a "sustainable source of prey".

However, the group warned that agricultural concessions and plans for large infrastructure projects were threatening efforts to protect the habitat -- for both the tiger and its prey.

New research conducted by WWF and the government estimates there are between 2,700 and 5,700 banteng roaming Cambodia's eastern plains.

"For the tiger population to recover, one of the most important things needed is a sustainable source of prey, such as banteng," WWF said.

"The eastern plains of Cambodia has been identified as perhaps one of the best places in Asia for such a recovery given the condition and large size of the habitat, and investments in recent years into better law enforcement and management of protected areas appear to be paying dividends."

The research suggests that Cambodia has the world's largest population of banteng, whose global population is estimated at 5,900-11,000, as well as increasing numbers of wild pig and muntjac, WWF said.

"They are all very important prey animals for tigers, which have also suffered a massive decline across Cambodia and the rest of Asia in the last few decades," it said.

Since 1996, the banteng itself has been listed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as globally endangered because of a dramatic decline in its numbers.

The WWF surveyed two protected areas which together cover 6,000 square kilometres.

"In recent years, the forests in the eastern plains, and across the rest of the country, have become increasingly at risk from large-scale land concessions," it warned.

World’s largest banteng population at risk in Cambodia from hunting and rapid habitat loss
WWF 19 Sep 11;

Research conducted by WWF and the Cambodian government in the Eastern Plains of Cambodia in the northeast of the country estimates the population of banteng between 2,700-5,700 individuals. This is the world’s largest population of banteng given the estimated global population is approximately 5,900-11,000. Populations in other sites in Thailand and Indonesia number just a few hundred.

Considered to be one of the most beautiful and graceful of all wild cattle species, the banteng (Bos javanicus) is most likely the ancestor of Southeast Asia’s domestic cattle. According to the IUCN, banteng populations in Cambodia have decreased by more than 90% since the late 1960’s. Since 1996, banteng has been listed by IUCN as globally endangered because of this rapid and dramatic decline.

“The current findings provide strong evidence of the global significance of the Eastern Plains of Cambodia for the conservation of the species,” said Mr Phan Channa, Ministry of Environment counterpart with WWF’s research programme and one of the authors of the recent survey report released today.

Besides banteng, the research also confirms increased numbers of other large mammals including wild pig and muntjac in the area. They are all very important prey animals for tiger, which have also suffered a massive decline across Cambodia and the rest of Asia in the last few decades.

Another author of the report, Dr Thomas Gray, Biodiversity Research Advisor with WWF-Cambodia, explained that a very important aspect of the research was to understand the current levels of tiger prey species such as banteng, wild pig, and muntjac as part of the government’s strategy to restore the Eastern Plains as the priority tiger landscape in Cambodia.

For the tiger population to recover, one of the most important things needed is a sustainable source of prey, such as banteng. The Eastern Plains of Cambodia has been identified as perhaps one of the best places in Asia for such a recovery given the condition and large size of the habitat, and investments in recent years into better law enforcement and management of protected areas appear to be paying dividends.

“The high levels of law enforcement effort by nearly 60 rangers patrolling regularly inside and outside protected areas is a big deterrent for poachers,” said Ms Michelle Owen, Conservation Programme Manager with WWF-Cambodia. “However much more effort is needed in order to eradicate poaching in this critically important landscape,” she continued.

Poaching is not the only threat however. In recent years, the forests in the Eastern Plains, and across the rest of the country, have become increasingly at risk from large-scale land concessions. Pressure from national and international investors for agricultural concessions, as well as plans for large infrastructure projects threatens the global importance of the Eastern Plains.

According to Mr Nick Cox, WWF’s Species Conservation Manager, granting economic land concessions inside protected areas even if the concessions are small, sets a very dangerous precedent, and is undermining the work that the Cambodian government and its conservation partners have collaborated to achieve in the last decade.

“It essentially means Cambodia’s protected areas, including those that contain globally important species populations, are not as protected by the law as people once thought,” he explained.

WWF is urging the Cambodian Government to fast track the process of developing and implementing zoning plans for protected areas in order to protect areas of high biodiversity values prior to any new decisions on land concessions.

“For tigers and prey species – including a globally endangered banteng population – to recover within the landscape, stronger protected area management and a commitment to conservation from high levels of the Cambodian government are essential,” Mr Cox said. “Anything less threatens to unravel a decade of conservation progress and with each passing day diminishes the Eastern Plains’ value as a national and global ecological asset for current and future generations.”

Read more!

Number of whale sharks in Taiwan waters doubles: researcher

Focus Taiwan 20 Sep 11;

Taipei, Sept. 19 (CNA) The number of whale sharks in waters surrounding Taiwan has doubled since the country banned fishing for the world's largest living fish species in March 2007, a National Taiwan Ocean University associate professor said Monday.

"There are currently an estimated 300 whale sharks in Taiwan waters, marking a nearly two-fold increase since the fishing ban was enforced four years ago," said Chuang Shou-cheng, who has dedicated himself to whale shark study and conservation for many years.

Chuang made the announcement at a news conference hosted by the Fisheries Agency under the Council of Agriculture to mark Aug. 30 International Whale Shark Day.

Whale sharks, also known as tofu sharks in Taiwan because of the delicate taste and texture of its flesh, are a gentle, slow-moving species, Chuang said. It was often caught by local fishermen for its tasty flesh.

Thanks to the fishing ban in Taiwan and in neighboring Southeast Asian countries in recent years, the number of the species in Taiwan waters has continued to rise, Chuang said.

Speaking on the same occasion, Sha Chih-yi, director-general of the Fisheries Agency, said the agency is launching a five-year program to satellite-tag 100 whale sharks and track the species' life and reproduction.

It will be the world's largest whale shark tagging and research program, Sha said. (By Yang Shu-min and Sofia Wu)

Agency promotes whale shark conservation
Lee I-Chia Taipei Times 20 Sep 11;

The Fisheries Agency yesterday announced a five-year project with National Taiwan Ocean University and Wildlife21 that seeks to attach satellite tags to 100 endangered whale sharks to expand research and promote conservation of the species.

In celebration of International Whale Shark Day on Aug. 30, which was postponed because of a typhoon, the agency held a press conference yesterday to make public the results of the nation’s whale shark conservation efforts in recent years.

The whale shark, nicknamed “big dumb shark” by fishermen in Taiwan because of its slow swimming speed and tame behavior, is a highly migratory species often found in the seas near Taiwan, the agency said.

The meat of a whale shark is tender and white, which has also gained it a nickname, “tofu shark,” among seafood consumers in Taiwan who have made them a part of local cuisine, the agency said.

Since the species has a low reproduction rate and takes a long period to mature, the number of whale sharks has greatly decreased.

In 2002, the whale shark was included in the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora Appendix II, meaning “not yet threatened by extinction, but may become so unless trade in specimens of such species is subject to strict regulation.”

The Taiwanese government launched a reporting system in 2001, started regulating the total catch of whale sharks in 2002, reduced the catch number annually from 2005 and finally put a total ban on catching, selling, possessing, exporting and importing whale sharks, the agency said.

Fisheries Agency Director Sha Chih-yi (沙志一) said since the first tag was attached to a whale shark in 2002, a total of 353 whale sharks had been tagged, with 323 conventional tag attachments and 30 satellite tags transmitting data. Data collected from nine whale sharks has allowed researchers to learn more about their daily habits and movements, he said.

Chuang Shou-cheng (莊守正), an associate professor at the university’s Department of Environmental Biology and Fisheries Science, said that in comparison to the five whale sharks that stumbled into set-nets annually, they have found about three times that number this year — evidence that the total ban has been helpful in preserving the species.

Whale shark catching is almost banned by every country in the west Pacific, except Japan, which still has no regulations, and China, he said.

He added that whale shark protection needs international cooperation, otherwise what is preserved in Taiwan would only become increased live stocks in other countries.

Other than satellite tagging to better understand the behavior of whale sharks, the agency said it also began a National Plan of Action for the Conservation and Management of Sharks in 2006 to gather more information on sharks, promote conservation education and international collaboration, and to enact a policy of “catching the whole shark, with fins attached” to avoid wasting sea resources by only cutting off the shark fins to supply high-priced seafood.

Wildlife21 executive director Rebecca Lisson said Taiwan’s efforts, including the new satellite project and its policies, place it in a globally leading role for protecting whale sharks.

Read more!

Chinese Demand Revives Ivory Trade

Alexandra Wexler Asian Wall Street Journal 19 Sep 11;

HONG KONG—A long-dormant threat to Africa's elephant population is back with a vengeance, thanks to rising demand for ivory from newly affluent Chinese consumers.

Reflecting this demand, ivory prices in China have soared to as high as US$7,000 a kilogram in 2011 from US$157 a kilo in 2008, according to the Environmental Investigation Agency, a nongovernmental organization based in London. Estimates from other researchers and NGOs put ivory prices in China as low as US$300 to US$750 a kilo, which nevertheless reflects at least a 100% increase in price over three years.

Official data on the extent of the ivory trade are difficult to come by, as much of the trade is illegal. From 2009 to June 2011, mainland China and Hong Kong seized more than 6,500 kilograms of illegal ivory in four large shipments, according to a report released by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, or Cites.

"China has overtaken Japan as the world's largest consumer market for illegal ivory products," the Cites report said.

Malaysian authorities this month confiscated nearly 700 African elephant tusks destined for China from Tanzania, the third seizure of illegal ivory since July, officials and wildlife activists said, according to the Associated Press. A week earlier, Hong Kong authorities had seized $1.6 million in African ivory from a container that arrived by sea from Malaysia.

In China, sales have been driven by ivory's appeal as a traditional symbol of wealth and status. "Lately, we've had a lot of mainland Chinese customers," said Alice Chan, sales manager at Exquisite Crafts, an antique shop in Hong Kong filled with figurines carved from both elephant and mammoth ivory, including two enormous carved tusks on display in the shop window. "They're rich now."

Mammoth ivory is legal to import and export from Hong Kong, but Ms. Chan says that the Chinese typically want elephant ivory, which is considered of higher quality. Cites says almost all of the current demand for elephant ivory comes from the Chinese market, including Hong Kong and Macau. The Geneva-based Cites is an international agreement among 175 governments, including the U.S. and China, that aims to ensure that international trade in wild animals and plants doesn't threaten their survival.

Outlets that legally sell elephant ivory from old stocks in China are supposed to be licensed and monitored by the government, with certificates accompanying all legal ivory. Taking ivory out of China or importing it into most other countries, including the U.S., is illegal.

"More than 90% of wildlife seizures made by the Chinese Customs in recent years have involved elephant tusks and ivory carvings," said Wan Ziming, a Chinese government employee and director of Cites Enforcement Coordination for China.

Since the late 1970s, Africa's elephant population has fallen by more than half, from about 1.2 million to between 472,000 and 690,000 today, according to the 2007 African Elephant Status Report, which is sponsored by a network of multiple governments, NGOs, and volunteers.

In 1989, Cites banned the international ivory trade to try to curb the rapid decline in Africa's elephant population. For years, experts considered that ban, to which China is one of the 175 signatories, a success in reducing the poaching of elephants, as the number of illegally killed elephants fell drastically and the total population became stable, albeit at a much lower volume than before the rampant poaching of the 1970s and 80s. But newfound interest in ivory from China is reversing those gains, researchers and NGOs say.

"Looks like now that we've had almost 20 years of cease-fire, people have become complacent, and we need renewed interest," said Iain Douglas-Hamilton, founder and chief executive officer of Save the Elephants, an independent research organization based in Kenya.

Elephant killings in the first sixth months of this year in the Samburu National Reserve in Kenya and surrounding areas are already double the level of any year in the past decade, he said. Mr. Douglas-Hamilton and his team of researchers count by hand the dead bodies of slain elephants in the areas they study, though he declined to comment on exact numbers.

"All hell's breaking loose," said Cynthia Moss, a researcher who has studied elephants and their conservation in Kenya's Amboseli National Park for 30 years. "Up north, we lost 23 elephant in the last two weeks."

"China has a huge middle class now," Ms. Moss said. "People in China never bought ivory before, because they couldn't afford it—they carved it, but it all went out to Europe. Now it's being bought in China by the Chinese, and that's a disaster."

Abetting the traffic in illicit ivory is a surge of Chinese investment in Africa, a source of key mineral and other resources. South Africa's Standard Bank forecasts that investment from China in Africa could hit $50 billion by 2015, up 70% from 2009.

"As China expands its presence in Africa in the form of investments and infrastructure development in remote areas, and also areas with significant elephant populations, the incentive or temptation increases for the Chinese worker to look for ivory," said James Isiche, East African director of the International Fund for Animal Welfare.

The Kenyan government burned approximately five tons of seized elephant ivory on July 20, in a move meant to illustrate how serious it is about stopping the illegal trade in ivory and the poaching of their elephants.

Chinese appetite for ivory was whetted in 2008 when Cites approved a one-off sale of ivory stocks that were old or had been collected from already-dead elephants. Four southern African nations sold about 108 tons of ivory to Japan and China, flooding the market for the first time in almost 10 years.

Now, China's ivory consumer base appears to be expanding, says Wang Juan, an official in the Beijing office of the International Fund for Animal Welfare.

"Traditionally, we think it's always wealthy people who are the main buyers for ivory products," Ms. Wang said. "But actually, there are many young people buying ivory, too."

Some Chinese media, she added, often promote the collectible value of ivory, further stimulating demand.

Two companies in Beijing that offer custom ivory carving services both declined to comment.

Over the past 15 years, around 20 smugglers responsible for illegal commercial import of ivory have received the maximum penalty for wildlife smugglers in China, which is life imprisonment, according to Mr. Wan. Most offenders who illegally take small amounts of ivory into China are fined, and the ivory simply confiscated, according to Mr. Wan.

And for every seizure that gets prosecuted, 20 or 30 others don't, said David Higgins, manager of Interpol's environmental crime program.

"I think the public gets confused when they see a seizure of five tons of ivory," he said. "Half the time, if not more, we never have an offender. Customs agencies just do the seizures, and there are no follow-up investigations."

A lack of proper communications between national police bodies and national wildlife or environmental enforcement agencies is one reason why prosecutions are rare, Mr. Higgins said. In addition, wildlife crime is rarely a high priority for prosecutors.

According to a study released last month by Elephant Family, a charity, the Aspinall Foundation and the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, a survey of ivory for sale in Guangzhou, China, counted 6,437 elephant ivory objects on display for retail sale, of which 3,947 were being sold without ID cards, and therefore illegally.

"Decreasing demand means educating hundreds of millions of Chinese," Mr. Isiche of the International Fund for Animal Welfare said. "We did a survey and found that 70% of Chinese consumers did not know that elephants were killed for ivory. Some people thought elephants lose tusks the way people lose teeth."

In response, Mr. Isiche last month launched a "Green Tour Africa" campaign with the Kenyan Embassy in China to ensure that Chinese citizens receiving a visa to visit or work in Kenya would be educated about the ivory trade.

—Sue Feng in Beijing contributed to this article.

Read more!

More than 30 million climate migrants in Asia in 2010, report finds

Numbers of people displaced by environmental and weather-related disasters likely to increase, Asian Development Bank warns
Fiona Harvey 19 Sep 11;

More than 30 million people were displaced last year by environmental and weather-related disasters across Asia, experts have warned, and the problem is only likely to grow worse as climate change exacerbates such problems.

Tens of millions more people are likely to be similarly displaced in the future by the effects of climate change, including rising sea levels, floods, droughts and reduced agricultural productivity. Such people are likely to migrate in regions across Asia, and governments must start to prepare for the problems this will create, the Asian Development Bank warned.

The costs will be high – about $40bn is the likely price for adapting and putting in place protective measures, from sea walls to re-growing mangrove swamps that have been cut down, and that can help to protect against the impacts of storm surges.

But the problem is already taking effect, though at a much lower scale than is likely in the future. "While large-scale climate-induced migration is a gradual phenomenon, communities in Asia and the Pacific are already experiencing the consequences of changing environmental conditions including eroding shorelines, desertification and more frequent severe storms and flooding," the bank said at a workshop last week. This could lead to a widespread crisis across the region in coming years, if preparations are not made to deal with the current and probable future consequences.

Robert Dobias, climate change project chief at the Asian Development Bank, said that at present climate change is still a relatively small cause of migration, as economic causes loom largest and as environmental disasters happen independently of global warming. However, the problem is likely to increase in future years, with potentially severe consequences, including conflict as people are forced to move long distances.

Areas most at risk are low-lying islands such as the Maldives, whose environment minister, Mohamed Aslam, said the populations of entire islands in the archipelago had been forced to move. But coastal cities in developed regions could also face the threat of higher seas and storm surges, while regions that already suffer severe floods such as Bangladesh will have their risks intensified.

The Asian Development Bank warned that governments must start to make preparations now, to be ready for the multiplying threats, and because more extreme weather has already started to take effect, though changes so far have not been dramatic in their impact. "The number of extreme weather events is increasing and Asia and the Pacific is the region at the epicentre of weather disasters," the group said.

The bank is working on a report that will set out in detail the likely problems and propose a range of potential policy changes to help to deal with them. The report will be published next spring, though preliminary research is being disclosed at a series of regional conferences in the intervening months.

The probable solutions are likely to include measures to improve vital infrastructure, such as energy provision, transport systems and communication networks, in order to make such infrastructure more resilient to the effects of climate change.

Read more!

What happens if the population forecasts are wrong?

The assumption that global population will peak around 9-10bn may be overly optimistic — and if it is, population will continue to rise, placing enormous strains on the environment
Carl Haub for Yale Environment 360, part of the Guardian Environment Network 19 Sep 11;

In a mere half-century, the number of people on the planet has soared from 3 billion to 7 billion, placing us squarely in the midst of the most rapid expansion of world population in our 50,000-year history — and placing ever-growing pressure on the Earth and its resources.

But that is the past. What of the future? Leading demographers, including those at the United Nations and the U.S. Census Bureau, are projecting that world population will peak at 9.5 billion to 10 billion later this century and then gradually decline as poorer countries develop. But what if those projections are too optimistic? What if population continues to soar, as it has in recent decades, and the world becomes home to 12 billion or even 16 billion people by 2100, as a high-end UN estimate has projected? Such an outcome would clearly have enormous social and environmental implications, including placing enormous stress on the world's food and water resources, spurring further loss of wild lands and biodiversity, and hastening the degradation of the natural systems that support life on Earth.

It is customary in the popular media and in many journal articles to cite a projected population figure as if it were a given, a figure so certain that it could virtually be used for long-range planning purposes. But we must carefully examine the assumptions behind such projections. And forecasts that population is going to level off or decline this century have been based on the assumption that the developing world will necessarily follow the path of the industrialized world. That is far from a sure bet.

Eyeing the future, conservationists have clung to the notion that population will peak and then start to decline later this century. Renowned evolutionary biologist Edward O. Wilson has propounded what he terms the bottleneck theory: that maximum pressure on the natural world will occur this century as human population peaks, after which a declining human population will supposedly ease that pressure. The goal of conservation is therefore to help as much of nature as possible squeeze through this population bottleneck. But what if there is no bottleneck, but rather a long tunnel where the human species continues to multiply?

Population projections most often use a pattern of demographic change called the demographic transition. This model is based on the way in which high birth and death rates changed over the centuries in Europe, declining to the low birth and death rates of today. Thus, projections assume that the European experience will be replicated in developing countries. These projections take for granted three key things about fertility in developing countries. First, that it will continue to decline where it has begun to decline, and will begin to decline where it has not. Second, that the decline will be smooth and uninterrupted. And, finally, that it will decline to two children or less per woman.

These are levels now found in Europe and North America. But will such low levels find favor in the Nigerias, Pakistans, and Zambias of this world? The desire for more than two children — often many more than two — will remain an obstacle and will challenge assumptions that world population will level off or decline.

In quite a few developing countries, birth rates are declining significantly. But in others they are not. In Jordan, for example, the fertility rate still hovers around 4 children per woman. Indonesia was a country that was widely acknowledged for its innovative and steadfastly pursued family planning program in the 1980s, when its total fertility rate fell to 3 children per woman. It has been hovering for some time around 2.5. In a recent survey, about 30 percent of women with 2 living children said that they wanted another child. That figure was 35 percent for their husbands.

Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) is the region that now causes the most worry. It remains in a virtual pre-industrial condition, demographically speaking, with high fertility and rather high mortality. The UN projects that fertility will decline from a high level of 6 children per woman around 1990 and reach about 3 children per woman by 2050. Many sub-Saharan African countries have seen some decline, and today the average fertility rate is 5.2 children per woman. Should the UN's assumptions prove correct, sub-Saharan Africa's population would still rise from 880 million today to 2 billion in 2050.

Countries such as Congo, Kenya, Madagascar, and Rwanda have identified rapid population growth as a problem and committed sufficient resources to address it. Yet their fertility rates remain at 4.6 to 4.7 children per woman, and a future halt in fertility decline in those countries would surprise no one. But most future population projections assume a continuing decline.

Often fertility rates might decline from a higher level and then "stall" for a time, not continuing their downward trajectories to the two-child family, resulting in a higher-than-projected population. In sub-Saharan Africa, this has happened in Nigeria, where the fertility rate has stalled at about 5.7, and in Ghana, where the fertility rate is 4.1 and apparently resuming a slow decline. Very recent surveys have shown that fertility decline in Senegal has likely stalled at 5.0 children and has risen somewhat to 4.1 in Zimbabwe. Clearly, not all countries will see a continuous decline in fertility rates, and some have barely begun to drop, meaning that projected population sizes will turn out to be too low.

Fertility rates are lowest among educated, urban women who account for much of the initial decrease. What will it take to reach large, often inaccessible rural populations, whose desire to limit family size is frequently quite limited and whose "ideal" number of children is quite high? Challenges include: the logistical task of providing reproductive health services to women; informing them of their ability to limit their number of children and to space births over at least two years; low levels of literacy; the value husbands place on large families; and securing funding for family planning programs.

India provides another cautionary tale. The country is often hailed as an emerging economic power, yet 930 million people — three-quarters of India's population — live on less than $2 per day. Some advanced Indian states, such as Kerala and Tamil Nadu, have excellent family planning programs and fertility rates of 1.8 children per woman, which will lead to declining populations in those states. But some of India's poorest and most populous states — Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh — have total fertility rates ranging from 3.3 to 3.9. The Indian example illustrates an important trend: that the challenge of soaring populations will increasingly be concentrated in the poorest countries, and in the poorest regions of nations such as India.

The real possibility of fertility decline stopping before the two-children level is reached requires demographers, policy makers, and environmentalists to seriously consider that population growth in the coming century will come in at the high end of demographic projections. The UN's middle-of-the-road assumption for sub-Saharan Africa — that fertility rates will drop to 3.0 and population reach 2 billion by 2050 — seem unrealistically low to me. More likely is the UN's high-end projection that sub-Saharan Africa's population will climb to 2.2 billion by 2050 and then continue to 4.8 billion by 2100. The dire consequences of such an increase are difficult to ponder. If sub-Saharan Africa is having trouble feeding and providing water to 880 million people today, what will the region be like in 90 years if the population increases five-fold — particularly if, as projected, temperatures rise by 2 to 3 degrees C, worsening droughts?

Many factors may arise to cause fertility rates to drop in countries where the decline has lagged. A rising age at marriage, perhaps resulting from increased education of females and from their increased autonomy; rising expectations among parents that their children can have a better life; decreasing availability of land, forcing migration to cities to seek some source of income; real commitment from governments to provide family planning services and the funds to do so. The list goes on.

But we must facts. The assumption that all developing countries will see their birth rates decline to the low levels now prevalent in Europe is very far from certain. We can also expect the large majority of population growth to be in countries and areas with the highest poverty and lowest levels of education. Today, the challenge to improve living conditions is often not being met, even as the numbers in need continue to grow.

As populations continue to rise rapidly in these areas, the ability to supply clean water for drinking and sustainable water for agriculture, to provide the most basic health services, and to avoid deforestation and profound environmental consequences, lies in the balance.

Read more!