Best of our wild blogs: 21 Sep 11

Butterfly of the Month – September 2011
from Butterflies Of Singapore

Asian Koel found dead by a highrise apartment building
from Bird Ecology Study Group

Little Brown beasts
from The annotated budak

A Guided Walk at Sungei Buloh
from Crystal and Bryan in Singapore

Friess et al (2011) – “Are all intertidal wetlands naturally created equal?”
from The Biodiversity crew @ NUS

Happy Feet @ Fort Canning Park, 25 Sep 2011
from Otterman speaks

A Day in the Life of a Sun Bear Volunteer
from Bornean Sun Bear Conservation

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Disaster coverage lacking in Asia: MAS

It suffered US$74b in total losses last year but only US$2b insured
Melissa Tan Straits Times 21 Sep 11;

ASIA is not insured enough against natural disasters despite the region suffering more catastrophes than other parts of the world, said a Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) official yesterday.

Mr Ng Nam Sin, the assistant managing director (development group), told a conference that Asia was the victim of half the world's natural disasters last year.

He noted that the region accounted for 35 per cent of the US$210 billion (S$265.4 billion) in total economic losses from natural and man-made disasters last year, or around US$73.5 billion.

But the total amount of insured losses in Asia last year was about US$2 billion.

Insured losses refer to economic losses that are covered by insurance.

Mr Ng cited the example of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan in March to illustrate the size of the gap between insured losses and total losses.

Total losses from the Japan disasters came to between US$200 billion and US$300 billion, but insured losses totalled US$15 billion to US$30 billion.

Asia faces extra threat from natural disasters due to the fact that several countries are located along the Pacific Rim of Fire, an earthquake-prone zone.

He noted that it is also the region with a rapidly increasing number of large cities, adding that these factors mean managing the risk of natural disasters was 'one of Asia's biggest challenges'.

Mr Ng, who was speaking at a conference on financial risk management of natural catastrophes in Asia Pacific, asked insurers to form more public-private partnerships to solve the problem of Asia's under-insurance.

He also called for more affordable protection plans especially for the poor.

'The less affluent population... is more exposed to the impact of natural catastrophes, given (their) lower financial preparedness and higher dependency on agriculture,' he said.

Mr Ng added that insurers should work to raise awareness of natural disaster risks and improve their risk modelling capabilities.

The conference at the AXA University Asia Pacific Campus was organised by insurance firm AXA and insurance broker AON.

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Malaysia: Coastal Swamp Forests, A Potential Eco-system

Wan Shahara Ahmad Ghazali Bernama 20 Sep 11;

KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 20 (Bernama) -- Did you know that the coastal swamp forest in Matang (HPL Matang) has been acknowledged as the best maintained coastal swamp forest in Malaysia, if not the world?

The work on maintaining the 101,877-hectare forest started 107 years ago and it has become a role model for the management of other swamp forests in the country.

In HPL Matang, graded and systematic felling and cultivation of trees is done through a 30-year cycle, while 40,000 hectares of forest have been set aside for ecology studies.

According to the latest study on various swamp forests in Malaysia, HPL Matang has been highlighted as a land ecosystem which absorbs the highest carbon levels generated in the country. This also indicates the importance of an integrated forest management as the key to prosperous human life.


Forestry Research Institute Malaysia (FRIM) Director-General Datuk Dr Abdul Latif Mohmod said the swamp forest ecosystem plays an important role in mitigating the effects of global warming and climate changes.

The carbon sequestration study carried out in several swamp forests, including those in Kedah and Johor, points out that HPL Matang has the highest carbon absorption rate up to 6.0 tonnes of carbon per hectare in a year.

"This proves that the importance of swamp forests is not only as a barrier against the Tsunami but also a crucial ecosystem that can absorb carbon," he said, on the sidelines of the National Seminar On R&D Projects On Coastal Mangroves In Malaysia.

The coastal mangroves play an important role in stabilising the ecosystem along the coastal areas.

Dr. Abdul Latif added that the swamp forests are wetlands rich in biodiversity and also function as an economic resource for the production of charcoal, firewood, pulp and construction materials, apart from being the habitat for breeding of marine life.


"Over the past 20 years, the nation's swamp forests had reportedly experienced drastic decrease in size due unsustainable land reclamation work for development and agriculture reasons," he said, attributing the scenario to the population growth.

In Malaysia, swamp forests were increasingly coming under reclamation work for projects to breed shrimps and arowana fish. This had compromised the potential ecosystem, apart from producing more carbon emissions and jeopardising the food resources for the future.

"The study reveals that coastal swamp forests must be maintained for the sake of future generations," Dr Abdul Latif said.

He added that the study, conducted by FRIM Geoformation Programme, found that erosion had caused almost 20 per cent of the damage to costal swamp forests on the west coast of the Peninsula.


The seminar, attended by more than 110 researchers, academicians and represenatives from government agencies, discussed 14 working papers related to the research carried out on the coastal areas.

Dr. Abdul Latif noted that FRIM was also involved in studying the feasibility of various innovative and conventional cultivation techniques for high risk areas, apart from researching on the suitability of the soil, various tree diseases and production of saplings.

"In high risk areas, researchers and local residents planted 10,104 trees along the coast from 2007 to 2010, using the innovative technique," he said.

The locations selected for this included Kampung Sungai Haji Dorani and Pulau Carey in Selangor, Kuala Gula in Perak, Kuala Sanglang (Perlis) and Kuala Muda in Pulau Pinang.

"The study shows that planting mangrove saplings using the Comp-Mat and Comp-Pillow techniques is effective in the high risk muddy coast, provided the planting is supported by wave-breaking structures known as the geotube. Without the innovative technique and geotube support, the tree planting will not be successful, due to factors such as big waves, soft soil, erosion and others," Dr Abdul Latif said.

He noted that a survey found that 76 per cent of 578 respondents were keen on being involved in planting trees along the coast.

This shows that there is an increased awareness among the society on the importance of having coastal swamp forests as a protection against strong wind and erosion.

This is the second in the series of two features on research of coastal forests.


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Controversial dolphin study goes ahead

China Daily 21 Sep 11;

Ocean Park is pressing ahead with controversial research into bottlenose dolphin populations in and around the Solomon Islands, but insists it will not capture wild mammals from the area.

Animal welfare groups were outraged last year when it emerged that the park had entered discussions with the Solomon Islands government about funding a dolphin population survey with a view to importing wild-caught dolphins if the population was found to be sustainable.

The park agreed to fund a $100,000 study and is said to have discussed importing around 25 bottlenose dolphins from the Solomon Islands depending on the findings.

Following an outcry over the project and the subsequent controversy over the proposed import of beluga whales from Russia, Ocean Park Chairman Allan Zeman confirmed that the park was no longer considering importing dolphins from the Solomon Islands.

However, in response to questions from the China Daily, Ocean Park's public affairs director, Una Lau, said a population study would go ahead even though she said the park had no intention to import from the Solomon Islands either now or in future.

She said: "Ocean Park is still committed to assist with the understanding about the bottlenose dolphin population, not only in the Solomon Islands, but elsewhere in the Western Tropical Pacific and South East Asia in order to support the conservation of this species.

"This region is also known for its tuna fisheries, where dolphins are still a significant by-catch. In addition, these coastal habitats are changing rapidly with over exploitation and urban development, due to human population growth and potentially due to climate change.

"With little or no data about the bottlenose dolphin species and populations in many of these areas within the region, it is important to gather information upon which marine conservation action plans can be built."

The study will be conducted by Leszek Karczmarski of the Swire Institute of Marine Science and Associate Professor at Hong Kong University, she said, and evaluated by independent marine mammal experts.

However, Lau insisted: "We have no intention of collecting and are simply fulfilling our conservation mandate, which begins with good assessment of population status and conservation ecology research."

The Solomon Islands part of the project had not yet begun, as a new government was still settling in, Lau said. The governments of several island states and other countries would also be approached for cooperation.

Samuel Hung, chairman of the Hong Kong Dolphin Conservation Society, said: "I am encouraged to learn that population studies on dolphins in Solomon Islands are still going ahead by Ocean Park. But I am concerned about the motive behind it.

"I have to stress once again that I am against any import of bottlenose dolphins to Ocean Park from a wild stock, and I hope that the intention of funding such study by Ocean Park is not to pave the way for future acquisition, but just simply to conserve the wild population of bottlenose dolphins in the Solomon Islands."

Currently, a debate is raging in the Solomon Islands over the proposed export of 25 bottlenose dolphins to an undisclosed location on the mainland, which has reportedly already been approved by the government.

Hung said: "It is very important that these dolphins will not go to the mainland in the first place, and more importantly will not end up in Ocean Park through so-called animal laundering.

"I certainly hope that Ocean Park will not have any tie to these mainland aquariums and get a hand on their dolphins, either through direct purchase, indirect loan, or collecting semen from these dolphins for future captive breeding program.

"This would further encourage other aquariums to purchase more bottlenose dolphins from the Solomon Islands and in that region. And as a leader in the industry in this region, Ocean Park should exert their influence and try to persuade their peers on the mainland not to import those dolphins, until their own sustainability study is being conducted by independent scientist."

Asked about the export of dolphins to the mainland, Lau insisted: "Ocean Park has no connection nor stake either directly or indirectly with this export."

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Captive Breeding Could Transform the Saltwater Aquarium Trade and Save Coral Reefs

ScienceDaily 20 Sep 11;

Marine biologists at The University of Texas at Austin Marine Science Institute are developing means to efficiently breed saltwater aquarium fish, seahorses, plankton and invertebrates in captivity in order to preserve the biologically rich ecosystems of the world's coral reefs.

These scientists believe their efforts, and those of colleagues around the world, could help shift much of the $1 billion marine ornamental industry toward entrepreneurs who are working sustainably to raise fish for the aquarium trade.

"It's the kind of thing that could transform the industry in the way that the idea of 'organic' has changed the way people grow and buy fruits and vegetables," says Joan Holt, professor and associate chair of marine science at The University of Texas at Austin. "We want enthusiasts to be able to stock their saltwater tanks with sustainably-raised, coral-safe species."

Holt is a co-author of a recent article, "Advances in Breeding and Rearing Marine Ornamentals," published in the Journal of the World Aquaculture Society in April.

The paper is a complement to Holt's broad-ranging work over the past 10 years to promote captive breeding of ornamentals. She's been a pioneer in developing food sources and tank designs that enable fragile larvae to survive to adulthood.

Holt has also been a vocal critic of the extraordinarily wasteful methods currently used to bring sea creatures from the oceans to the tanks.

"One popular method is to use a cyanide solution," says Holt. "It's squirted into the holes and crevices of the reef and it anesthetizes the fish. They float to the surface. Then the collectors can just scoop them up, and the ones that wake up are shipped out."

This method, says Holt, has a number of unfortunate effects. It bleaches the coral. It kills or harms other species that make the coral their home, particularly those that can't swim away from the cyanide. It can deplete or distort the native populations of the species. And it contributes to 80 percent of traded animals dying before ever reaching a tank.

Unlike the freshwater ornamental market, which relies mostly on fish raised in captivity, the saltwater ornamental market is 99.9 percent wild caught. Holt says this is largely because there's less accumulated knowledge on breeding saltwater fish in captivity. Saltwater species also tend to spawn smaller, less robust larvae, which are harder to rear to maturity, and to rely on various foods, such as plankton, that are not readily available in mass quantities for breeders.

Yet all these difficulties, says Holt, are surmountable.

She and her colleagues in Port Aransas, where the Marine Science Institute is located, have successfully bred in captivity seven species of fish, seahorses and shrimp they've caught from the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean, including species that other biologists had tried but failed to rear before. Others have successfully bred popular species like clownfish, gobies, dottybacks, and dragonets, as well as coral, clams, invertebrates, and algae.

Several big aquariums, including SeaWorld, have committed to assisting in the breeding and egg collection effort, and to integrating into their exhibits information about how the aquarium trade impacts the coral reefs.

Holt and her colleagues envision, ultimately, is a "coral-safe" movement. The science, the economics and the social awareness could together result in a sea change in how saltwater aquariums are populated and how saltwater tank enthusiasts think of themselves and their passion.

As more tank-raised ornamentals percolate into the market, Holt believes people will see another advantage to buying sustainably. The fish will simply do better. They'll live longer, be healthier and be easier to care for.

"Species that are bred in captivity should adapt much better to your tank than something that was just caught halfway across the world, in a different system," says Holt. "Good retailers will want to sell these species, and consumers will benefit from buying them."

Journal Reference:

Ike Olivotto, Miquel Planas, Nuno Simões, G. Joan Holt, Matteo Alessandro Avella, Ricardo Calado. Advances in Breeding and Rearing Marine Ornamentals. Journal of the World Aquaculture Society, 2011; 42 (2): 135 DOI: 10.1111/j.1749-7345.2011.00453.x

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Protests mark rising environment awareness in China

Bill Savadove (AFP) Google News 20 Sep 11;

HAINING, China — A major anti-pollution protest has forced the Chinese government to take swift action for the second time in as many months, spurred by a rising environment movement that is spreading online.

More than 500 residents living near a plant making solar panels protested for three days last week in the eastern city of Haining, forcing authorities to temporarily shut the factory, which belongs to the US-listed Jinko Solar.

The incident came just over a month after authorities in the northeastern city of Dalian agreed to relocate a chemical plant following similar protests, underscoring official concern over mounting public anger about pollution.

"Citizens, particularly a rising Chinese middle class, have become more aware about how deep the impact of environmental issues is to their health," said Phelim Kine, senior Asia researcher for New York-based Human Rights Watch.

"They are no longer willing to take it passively."

Protests against pollution are not new to China, as breakneck economic growth over the past three decades has caused severe degradation of air, land and water quality.

But the growth of social networking, in particular Twitter-like "weibo" or microblogs, has helped spread the word about environmental issues and mobilise protests against perceived polluters.

Wong Yiu-chung, a politics professor at Hong Kong's Lingnan University, said the shutdown of plants in Haining and Dalian was directly linked to the rising power of the Internet.

"The government moved quickly to order a halt in production on fears news of the protest would further spread on weibo, given the control on traditional news outlets," he told AFP.

Zhang Zhi'an, a communications professor at Zhongshan University in the southern province of Guangdong, agreed, saying microblogs had helped give a voice to people with grievances.

"It has played an important role in gathering public opinion, which has helped some vulnerable groups," he said.

China, which has the world's largest online population with nearly 500 million users, constantly tries to exert control over the Internet by blocking content it deems politically sensitive as part of a vast censorship system.

But the rising popularity of weibos has posed a major challenge to the censors.

A blogger living near the site of a deadly high-speed train crash in Zhejiang province in July is widely believed to have broken news of the accident, while millions of others kept up criticism in the days that followed.

Bloggers were also thought to have orchestrated the largely peaceful, 12,000-strong protest in Dalian, although posts and photographs were swiftly removed from the Internet after the demonstration.

Residents near the Jinko Solar plant, meanwhile, said they had voiced concerns about pollution for half a year, to no avail.

One elderly man who has lived in the area his whole life told AFP the air smelled bad and locals had no idea whether it was harmful to their health.

The issue finally came to a head with the deaths of a large number of fish in a nearby river and an Internet posting blaming the factory for polluting the area, which residents say has since been deleted.

Protesters broke into the factory in Zhejiang, ransacking offices and overturning vehicles before being forced back by police in a three-day protest from last Thursday.

News of the incident started emerging on blogs and weibo, before being reported by the official Xinhua news agency on Sunday -- a day before authorities decided to temporarily shut the plant.

But local residents said this success was bitter-sweet, claiming the government had employed hard tactics to stop the mass protest, as well as trying to appease locals with pledges to stop pollution.

They say riot police used force to disperse the protestors, who overturned cars and threw rocks.

"They beat them (the protestors) like dogs," one young man, who lives just outside the walls of the Jinko plant, told AFP.

Haining's city government said Tuesday 31 people had been detained over the protests and another 100 were to be given "legal re-education", which normally involves giving minor offenders classes about the nation's legal system.

It had earlier put that number at 21, including one man held for spreading "rumours" online about people living near the plant allegedly suffering from disease, highlighting government concern over the power of the new medium.

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UN Invites Interaction on Live Biodiversity Web TV Show

Environment News Service 19 Sep 11;

NEW YORK, New York, September 19, 2011 (eNS) - One in four mammals, one in eight birds and more than one in three amphibians are now at risk of extinction, according to the Red List of Threatened Species compiled by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.

In a live interactive web TV program from New York on Tuesday, the extraordinary loss of this diverse range of creatures will be in the spotlight as two experts answer questions from the public about the UN Decade on Biodiversity.

The planet's biodiversity is being lost at an unprecedented rate, scientists from around the world report in a multitude of professional journals. In an effort to turn back the tide of extinctions, the United Nations General Assembly has declared 2011 - 2020 as the UN Decade on Biodiversity, UNDB.

The Convention on Biological Diversity is an agreement that promotes sustainable development. Signed by 150 government leaders at the 1992 Rio Earth Summit, it was conceived as a practical tool for translating the principles of Agenda 21, also agreed at that summit, into reality.

The Convention "recognizes that biological diversity is about more than plants, animals and microorganisms and their ecosystems," the secretariat said in a statement. "It is about people and our need for food security, medicines, fresh air and water, shelter, and a clean and healthy environment..."

Monique Barbut is CEO and Chair of the Global environment Facility, GEF, the world's leading financier of projects to protect the global environment. She will discuss the role of the GeF in encouraging species survival and she, too, will take questions.

On camera, Djoghlaf and Barbut will consider what actions can be taken now to avert even more serious loss of biodiversity.

They say the entire United Nations system is striving to make the UN Decade on Biodiversity a lasting success to preserve and protect species instead of watching them go extinct one after another - birds, primates, frogs, fish, butterflies,

Join the show live online at:

Times: 12.00 eST / 16.00 GMT / 17.00 BST / 18.00 CeT on Tuesday, September 20th.

Click here to submit questions before the program.

Hundreds of Earth's diverse speces are losing their battles for survival. "The main causes, including habitat and climate change, overexploitation and pollution, are constant or increasing in their intensity," the Convention on Biological Diversity warned in a statement.

As a result ecosystems such as forests, coral reefs and rivers are declining in most parts of the world and many species are being pushed closer and closer to extinction.

The earliest and most severe impacts of biodiversity loss are felt by the poor, but ultimately all societies and communities will suffer, the agency said.

Faced with this reality, in May 2010 the Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity urged that concerted and effective action was needed if humans are to avoid hitting irreversible global ecological tipping points.

Five months later the CBD adopted the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020 to inspire and drive change by every country.

Barbut will discuss how GeF funding can be made available for developing countries seeking to implement the Convention on Biological Diversity's Strategic Plan.

Another new resource for understanding the planet's biodiversity and the challenges species face is "Species on the edge of Survival - The ultimate guide to nature in need," a new anthology published August 30, 2011 by the IUCN.

The book, inspired by IUCN's Species of the Day initiative, features a selection of 365 plants, animals and fungi listed on The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. each profile includes a photo, a description of the species, its conservation status, geographical range and the conservation action that is needed to protect it.

The statistic that one in four mammals, one in eight birds and more than one in three amphibians are at risk of extinction is well known to Simon Stuart, Chair of IUCN's Species Survival Commission.

"These startling statistics are an alarm call that should be heard by everyone," says Stuart. "Species are key to our survival, the quality of our lives and our economic security. It's important to know what threats they face and how we can protect them."

"The IUCN Red List is crucial in defining future conservation action, as it shows where it is needed most and encourages the necessary changes in legislation to make it more effective," says Jean-Christophe Vie, deputy director of IUCN's Global Species Programme.

"But this book is also a celebration of the magical diversity and beauty of life," he said. "It is amazing to see what splendid creatures share the planet with us."

To view some of the species profiles from the book, visit the Species of the Day website. To buy the book, click here.

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Humanity falls deeper into ecological debt: study

Marlowe Hood (AFP) Google News 20 Sep 11;

PARIS — Humankind will slip next week into ecological debt, having gobbled up in less then nine months more natural resources than the planet can replenish in a year, researchers said Tuesday.

The most dominant species in Earth's history, in other words, is living beyond the planet's threshold of sustainability, trashing the house it lives in.

At its current pace of consumption humankind will need, by 2030, a second globe to satisfy its voracious appetites and absorb all its waste, the report calculated.

Earth's seven billion denizens -- nine billion by mid-century -- are using more water, cutting down more forests and eating more fish than Nature can replace, it said.

At the same time, we are disgorging more CO2, pollutants and chemical fertilizers than the atmosphere, soil and oceans can soak up without severely disrupting the ecosystems that have made our planet such a comfortable place for homo sapiens to live.

Counting down from January 1, the date when human activity exceeds its budget -- dubbed "Earth Overshoot Day" -- had receded by about three days each year since 2001.

The tipping point into non-sustainability happened sometime in the 1970s, said the Oakland, California-based Global Footprint Network, which issued the report.

This year, researchers estimate that the equivalent of Earth's resource quota will be depleted on September 27.

"That's like spending your annual salary three months before the year is over, and eating into savings year after year," Global Footprint Network President Mathis Wackernagel said in a statement.

"Pretty soon, you run out of savings."

Even as Earth's capacity to host our ever-expanding species diminishes, the demands on "ecosystem services" -- the term scientists use to describe Nature's bounty -- continues to grow.

"From soaring food prices to the crippling effects of climate change, our economies are now confronting the reality of years of spending beyond our means," Wackernagel said.

UN chief Ban Ki-moon earlier this month said sustainable development now tops the global agenda of issues demanding urgent action.

"Overshoot" is driven by three factors: how much we consume, the global population, and how much Nature can produce.

Technology has vastly boosted productivity of edible plants and animals, but that expansion has barely kept pace with the rate at which demand has increased, the report said.

As critical, it has not taken into account all the collateral damage inflicted on the environment.

The United States is the biggest ecological deficit spender, according to an earlier calculation by the same group.

If all people adopted the American lifestyle -- big house, two cars, huge per-capita energy consumption -- the world's population would need about five "Earths" to meet its needs.

By contrast, if everyone on Earth matched the average footprint of someone in India today, humanity would be using less than half the planet's biocapacity.

But as India, China and other emerging giants continue to grow their economies at breakneck pace -- fuelled in large part by the desire for a "Western" lifestyle -- that per-capita footprint will become much larger, scientists warn.

Already today, for example, China is the top emitter of greenhouse gases and the top producer of automobiles.

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