Best of our wild blogs: 22 Sep 11

24 Sep (Sat): Moving Planet Singapore
from Moving Planet Singapore

Resorts World Sentosa: will it kill half a million fishes?
from wild shores of singapore

Pelagic Outing September 2011
from Con Foley Photography

Plumage of the Asian Glossy Starling
from Bird Ecology Study Group

The Encyclopedia of Life-Echinoderm Edition!
from The Echinoblog

Featured video: Sumatran species spring to life on video camera traps
from news

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Haze casts slight pall over F1 weekend

Feng Zengkun Straits Times 22 Sep 11;

THE haze seemed to play peekaboo across Singapore's skies yesterday, spiking to 60 on the Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) in the morning, but dipping to 18 by evening.

Visibility varied from place to place. The 24-hour average reading at 4pm hit 53 in the northern part of the island, but only 40 in the south, where the fourth edition of the SingTel Singapore Grand Prix is slated to take place this weekend.

Yesterday morning's reading of 60 on the PSI translated into 'moderate' air quality.

The National Environment Agency (NEA) said there may be slight haze the rest of this week.

The apparent unpredictability of the smoky pall has raised questions as to whether it could affect visibility and air quality on the race track, although race car drivers have told The Straits Times that they are more worried about the rainstorms forecast for the week.

They say that although the rain will dissipate the haze, it will make the track more dangerous.

McLaren driver Jenson Button, for example, said: 'It's a big concern because spotlights can reflect off water on the circuit, which can cause big issues for visibility. I'd rather it was dry this weekend.'

He added that the race would be discontinued if conditions became unsafe.

'There's a regulation that says that if we can't see a certain distance, then we don't race,' he said.

Race organisers had said earlier this week that there was 'no chance' the race would be called off, unless the haze worsened to unprecedented levels.

The PSI was at its historic highest in September 1997, when the air-quality gauge hit 226 - almost four times the 'moderate' number yesterday morning.

Mr Lawrence Foo, the technical director of race organiser Singapore GP, said of yesterday's situation: 'I noticed it today, but out in the open, it's not too bad. We don't expect any problems yet.'

The NEA said the haze returned this week on the back of light winds that allowed particulate matter to build up in the air. A south-westerly wind will continue to bring such particles into Singapore skies at times the rest of the week, but stronger winds may yet disperse them.

Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, the Minister for the Environment and Water Resources, will meet his counterparts from Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand in Bangkok tomorrow to discuss the matter.

A statement from the ministry said it will 'review and enhance measures to monitor, prevent and mitigate land and forest fires in the southern Asean region'.

Additional reporting by Fabius Chen

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Social media "double-edged sword" for firms

Imelda Saad Channel NewsAsia 21 Sep 11;

SINGAPORE: More companies now have a social media presence, but experts have said technology is a double-edged sword.

Social media opens a new channel of communication but also exposes an organisation to malicious cyber attacks.

The latest to be hit was Singapore's downtown integrated resort, the Marina Bay Sands. Its Facebook page was "bombed" with pornographic pictures late Tuesday night.

The company said the images were removed within 20 minutes after the posts were spotted by its social media administrator.

Embarrassment aside, social media experts said this is one example how companies have little control over third-party websites.

In the case of Facebook, blocking its sharing function would simply mean limiting online engagement with stakeholders.

Asia PR Werkz director Cho Pei Lin said: "It's very much a gamble that they would have to take.

"An organisation would have to measure prior to going on the online field. The first question they have to ask is what the benefits are and then weigh the risks and such benefits."

Organisational strategist Manoj Sharma added: "It's hugely risky for those who do not have a proper appreciation of social media, its genesis, the tools available and what they are designed to do.

"When it comes to social media for organisations initially embarking on it, it will be a case of 'possibly damned when you get started and definitely damned if you don't get started' - because the rule of social media is 'you either create the conversation or the conversation will recreate you'."

As recent incidents have shown, there is some amount of risk being "social" online.

Wildlife Reserves Singapore got itself into a cyber-bind as it is being flamed for the abrupt cancellation of a signature Halloween event.

Meanwhile, Resorts World Sentosa had to temporarily suspend fan postings on its Facebook page after what it deemed as "pre-meditated cyber harassment" from animal welfare activists wanting to put a stop to the confinement of dolphins at the resort.

Experts said the danger of social networking sites is that even when posts get deleted, they can still be re-posted or re-tweeted elsewhere.

The online world is not just about Facebook or Twitter, and experts said there are thousands of blogsites which may make mention of companies.

Organisations are slowly realising this, and are employing online monitoring companies to trawl through the layers of cyberspace.

SIM University communications programme head Brian Lee said: "When the mainstream media start to report, talk about your company or talk about your product or services, it's probably too late already, so I think you need to nip it in the bud.

And while one cannot control cyberspace, potential fallouts can be mitigated.

Experts recommend a dedicated in-house social media specialist team and a technical support team that can look into security issues, as well as active engagement with opinion leaders familiar with your brand.

Asia PR Werkz's Ms Cho added: "Organisations should consider sitting down with the management to work out a flow chart or a standard operating procedure about what they should do if people post comments on these platforms, even if they are just forming a website and that website allows people to post photos or comments.

"And work out if there is a criticism, which department should deal with it? Is it marketing department or the sales department or communications department? And they should designate certain resources (such as) who would look after these spheres?"

Another key element is transparency.

Mr Sharma said: "Be prepared to have every facet of your organisation take on a whole new level of transparency because the very nature of the media is as such.

"As a matter of fact, transparency for better or worse is the overarching defining quality of social media."

Amid the cyber noise, experts said keeping mum is the last thing you would want to do.

In the case of Wildlife Reserves Singapore, a Facebook user had put up a page allegedly from its 2008/2009 yearbook disputing an earlier statement by the company's CEO Isabella Loh that its Halloween Horrors event did not contribute to a rise in visitorship.

A screen grab of the yearbook said "the Halloween Horrors event from 10 October to 1 November 2008 shored up attendance... the promotional period saw a 13 per cent increase (in visitorship) from the year before".

The post elicited responses from other users who pointed to the "contradiction".

When Channel NewsAsia highlighted this post to Wildlife Reserves Singapore, the company did not reply.

SIM University's Dr Lee said: "In most cases, I don't think the company should stop (engaging) because I think that social media is a free channel and at least if they don't want to discuss further, on other platforms, they have their own social media website and they can continue to feed netizens with information and explanation.

"The key is to continue communication instead of just stopping. If you actually keep quiet, people will think that you admit it."

As for Marina Bay Sands, it said "Facebook is an important social media channel for us to connect and engage with people and organisations from all over the world".

The company added: "Keeping with the open nature of the Internet and in the spirit of Facebook, we will continue to welcome sharing on our Facebook wall from our growing community of fans.

"We continue to monitor our page closely and will be working with Facebook and necessary partners to look at the possibility of preventing a recurrence with existing tools without disabling a key sharing function of Facebook."

Mr Sharma said organisations should manage fallouts with "dignity".

"Taking responsibility is the key here. Admit to mistakes early and take immediate corrective action where appropriate," he said.

"Spinning the issue is unlikely to work, as is using newspeak, so it's best to avoid it. Lay out the facts, communicate your thinking and be willing to change your stance if necessary."

He added: "Social media has become such that everyone has a voice. And while it's debatable if all voices are equal, the voices still demand engagement. The challenge is to be both professional and personable while doing it."


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In Kalimantan, Hard at Work Reversing the Damage to Peat Forests

Fidelis E. Satriastanti Jakarta Globe 21 Sep 11;

Sebangau, Central Kalimantan. Deep in the heart of the Sebangau forest lies a 50,000-hectare swath of peat swamp, the kind that fueled the thick, choking clouds of smoke that blanketed much of Southeast Asia in 1997.

That was the worst year for haze in the region, and though annual fires still rage on during the dry season, it was never meant to be like that.

Two years earlier, the Sebangau peat swamp had been designated a research area, the Natural Laboratory for the Study of Peat Swamp Forest, under the management of the Center for International Cooperation in Tropical Peatland (CIMTROP).

A year later, then-President Suharto initiated the ill-advised Mega Rice Project, a scheme to clear-cut a million hectares of centuries-old peat forest in Kalimantan, including Sebangau, drain the soil and plant rice — even though CIMTROP and others warned that peat was a poor medium in which to grow rice.

Within two years the project was halted, but by then the environmental damage wrought was sizeable. Clear-cutting saw forest cover in the area drop from around 65 percent in 1991 to 45 percent in 2000.

Illegal loggers moved in, felling virtually all the area’s commercially viable trees. And 96 drainage canals, stretching more than 4,000 kilometers, bled the peat layer dry, making it more prone than ever to wildfires.

“It was just havoc,” Kitso Husin, a researcher with CIMTROP, said of the period until 2000. “There were so many people running around here and cutting down large trees in the forests. Logs were stacked end to end for almost a kilometer to be towed to Surabaya by sea.”

Conserve and Restore

The environmental carnage has since died down, Kitso says, and the CIMTROP scientists have been able to return to their original purpose of researching ways to conserve peat forests and restore damaged areas. Part of the research includes the building of a tree nursery to grow the saplings best suited for regreening the damaged areas.

CIMTROP also works with scientists from the Orangutan Tropical Peatland Project (OuTrop), who study the orangutans and other animal species endemic to the forest.

Sebangau National Park is home to around 7,000 orangutans and 20,000 gibbons, as well as 315 tree species.

Susan Cheyne, a researcher from Scotland who has spent seven years at the laboratory, says the study of biodiversity goes hand in hand with that of conservation.

“We’re mostly learning about biodiversity, however we also study about peatlands because you can’t have biodiversity without a habitat,” she said.

Ecological Ways

There have been some hiccups, though. Cheyne says the researchers’ attempt to replant some of the heavily logged areas has been foiled by an inordinately extended rainy season.

“We lost 600 seedlings because there was no dry season for the past 18 months,” she said.

“Now we’re trying to develop other seedlings that we hope to plant on the riverbanks to restore the damaged peat forest. We are collecting at least seven native plant species to be planted here.”

Another project the scientists are hard at work on is blocking the canals built for the rice project, which continue to drain the swamp of much-needed moisture and serve to feed the rivers that illegal loggers use as conduits to move timber out of the forest.

“We have tried all sorts of methods to try to block the canals because if the peat swamp gets too dry, it burns very easily,” Cheyne said.

In addition to preventing forest fires, keeping the peat intact and replanting degraded areas will keep large amounts of climate change-inducing carbon dioxide locked in the deep peat layer.

Although the government is pushing for more carbon capture projects as part of efforts on reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD), Kitso says the Sebangau lab is not part of the scheme.

REDD is a UN-backed initiative for forest conservation in which the main idea is to give people incentives to keep forests intact. The problem, says Kitso, is a lack of clarity about the scheme.

“There’s a lot of confusion about REDD because it’s not clear how much you can get from carbon capture or what kind of method pays,” he said.

“For instance, is there a different incentive structure for keeping the forest intact, for reforestation and for re-wetting the peat swamp? And how do you measure the amount of carbon sequestered? All I know for sure is that if you cut down forests then you don’t get any money, that’s it.”

“If we’re confused about how to interpret REDD, how do we explain it to the local people?” adds Kitso, who is studying at Central Kalimantan’s Palangka Raya University for a master’s in carbon management, the first such degree offered in the country.

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Malaysia: mangrove swamp has become a construction dumpsite

R.S.N.Murali The Star 22 Sep 11;

MALACCA: A protected tropical mangrove swamp along the Bandar Hilir coastline here has been turned into a construction dumpsite by an irresponsible contractor since July.

Construction debris, weighing an estimated 30 tonnes, was strewn all around the diverse wetlands that is rich in biodiversity.

Members of public alerted officials from the Malacca Solid Waste and Public Cleansing Management Corporation (PPSPPA) which took over the management of solid waste in the state early this month.

PPSPPAs deputy director-general Zainuddin Abdul Samad said the debris could damage the eco-system of the mangrove swamp.

“We found the site based on information and preliminary findings showing the area has been turned into waste dump site by a contractor, probably since July,” he said.

Zainuddin said his team would conduct investigations based on provisions granted under Solid Waste and Public Cleansing Management Act 2007.

He added the discovery of the dumpsite would also be referred to Malacca Historical City Council and State River and Coastline Development Corporation.

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Malaysia: Debate over seized animals

Ong Han Sean The Star 22 Sep 11;

KUANTAN: The living conditions of several animals seized by the Department of Wildlife and National Parks (Perhilitan) has sparked a debate between the department and a non-governmental organisation.

It was learnt that three seized tigers were all kept in a cage of about 6m long while a sun bear confiscated from a villager here was left in a small cage in the garage of the Temerloh Perhilitan office.

The animals were apparently held there as evidence pending the disposal of court cases.

Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM) president S.M. Mohd Idris said seized animals were usually sent to the Malacca Zoo until the court cases were settled.

However, the zoo is currently full and there is a lack of facilities, so there is no proper place to put them, he said.

Mohd Idris also raised the question of what Perhilitan would do with the animals once the cases were disposed of.

“Will they be rehabilitated or released into the wild? If they cannot be rehabilitated, what are they going to do with the animals?”

Mohd Idris suggested that closed-down zoos be turned into wildlife sanctuaries where the animals could have a proper place to stay.

WWF-Malaysia and the Malaysian Conservation Alliance for Tigers declined to comment on the matter.

Pahang Perhilitan director Khairiah Mohd Shariff said seized animals were only kept temporarily at the Temerloh Perhilitan office which served as a rescue centre.

“We still make sure that the animals' basic needs are fulfilled, especially their food. Each Perhilitan office also has veterinarians to make sure the seized animals are healthy,” she said here yesterday.

Khairiah added that the temporary enclosures were also cleaned daily by staff members.

“Most of these animals come from places where they had been mistreated. We are supposed to be their guardians. If we cannot do better, then what is the point?

“We made the rules so of course we also have to abide by them,” she said.

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China's new forests aren't as green as they seem

Impressive reports of increased forest cover mask a focus on non-native tree crops that could damage the ecosystem, says Jianchu Xu.
Jianchu Xu 21 Sep 11;

In the United Nations' 2011 International Year of Forests, China is heralded as a superstar. Almost single-handedly, the country has halted long-term forest loss across Asia, and even turned it into a net gain. Since the 1990s, China has planted more than 4 million hectares of new forest each year.

Earlier this month, President Hu Jintao pledged that China would do even more. He told a meeting of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Forum in Beijing that the nation would increase its total area of forest by 40 million hectares over the next decade. China, he said, is ready to make new contributions to green, sustainable growth.

It sounds impressive, but we risk failing to see the wood for the trees. In China, 'forest' includes uncut primary forest, regenerating natural forest and monoculture plantations of non-native trees. The last of these accounts for most of the 'improvement' in forest cover.

The State Forestry Administration has claimed that total forest cover in China reached 20.36% in 2008. Most of this results from the increase in tree crops such as fruit trees, rubber and eucalyptus, not recovery of natural forest, yet Chinese data do not record this shift. The change threatens ecosystem services, particularly watershed protection and biodiversity conservation.

Exotic tree species are being planted in arid and semi-arid conditions, where perennial grasses with their extensive root systems would be better protectors of topsoil. Plantation monocultures harbour little diversity; they provide almost no habitat for the country's many threatened forest species. Plantations generate less leaf litter and other organic inputs than native forests, so soil fauna and flora decrease, and groundwater depletion can be exacerbated by deep-rooted non-native trees that use more water than native species. Afforestation in water-stressed regions might provide wind-breaks, and tree plantations offer some carbon storage. But these benefits come at a high cost to other ecological functions.

Why the intense focus on forest cover? China has long promoted the planting of tree crops. Since 1999, the Grain for Green programme has resulted in some 22 million hectares of new trees on sloping farmland. The programme began after the 1998 Yangtze River floods, which the government blamed on loss of tree cover, although reductions in riparian buffers and soil infiltration capacity probably also had a major role.

Since 2008, forest tenure reform has encouraged the privatization of former collective forests, with more than 100 million hectares affected. Privatization can benefit local economies. But in the absence of any management framework, it has also promoted conversion of natural forests into plantations: smallholders often fell natural forests for immediate income, then plant monoculture tree crops for long-term investment.

Although the Chinese government has shown that it understands environmental fragility, its scientific and policy guidelines do not adequately address the country's diversity of landscapes and ecosystems. I have seen massive tree plantations on the Tibetan Plateau, in areas where forests never grew before. Local governments face the need to respond to the national imperative for increased forest cover by planting fast-growing species, while also generating the biggest local economic benefits possible. This explains why unsuitable species such as aspens are planted in north China, whereas eucalyptus and rubber trees proliferate in the south.

Perhaps the International Year of Forests can help decision-makers to focus on the various meanings of 'forest', and the trade-offs each type entails. Natural recovery is still the best way to restore damaged forests, but restoration requires targeted involvement using the best science.

Afforestation can restore ecosystem function only if the right species are planted in the right place. Further studies are needed on how the mix of species affects ecosystem functions. Sloping lands, for example, benefit from perennial root systems and associated soil microfauna, but trees are not the only, or necessarily the best, way to establish these root systems.

China's forestry mandate should focus on enhancing environmental services, but policy-makers cannot ignore rural livelihoods. Technical know-how should be provided to local foresters and farmers. Doing away with narrow, one-size-fits-all management targets would also help. The country, with its state-managed market economy, can afford direct payments for forest ecosystem services, but they should only be offered for natural or regenerated forests with proven biological or ecological value.

As an ecologist and agroforestry practitioner, I would like to see China establish parallel forest-management programmes for recovery and restoration of natural forests, and for incorporating working trees into farmlands. Each should include best practices from ecosystem science; a clear definition of tree crop plantations for timber or non-timber products would clarify the separate systems. A dual strategy would require increased collaboration throughout China's land-management ministries, well supported by interdisciplinary research. But it could ensure that China's massive investment in forests provides maximum benefits, to both local livelihood and the environment.

Jianchu Xu is a senior scientist at the World Agroforestry Centre and a professor at the Kunming Institute of Botany, Chinese Academy of Sciences.

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Extreme Steps Needed To Meet Climate Target

Gerard Wynn PlanetArk 21 Sep 11;

New research, to be published in the journal Climatic Change in November, suggests humankind may have to remove carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere on a vast scale if emissions keep rising after 2020.

The series of articles provide scenarios which will form the basis of the next report by the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 2013 and 2014.

At present emissions levels, in less than 20 years the sky would effectively be full, meaning every extra tonne of carbon dioxide (CO2) emitted would have to be removed to stay within safer climate limits, one lead author says.

That so-called "negative emissions" approach, where excess carbon dioxide is removed from the atmosphere, is a less radical step than direct manipulation of the climate, called geo-engineering, which includes blocking sunlight using artificial clouds or mirrors in space.

Both approaches are getting more serious consideration, reflecting concern at rising emissions and a target held by world governments to keep average warming below 2 degrees Celsius compared with pre-industrial levels.

Some scientists say that the 2 degrees limit is too arbitrary and not proven to link to dangerous weather events.

It was calculated partly as a threshold beyond which Greenland ice sheets may melt irreversibly, adding seven meters to world sea levels over centuries.

"If we want to stay below 2 degrees and possibly achieve 1.5 in the 22nd century then we're not going to get around these negative emissions," said one lead author, Malte Meinshausen, of Germany's Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.

"This is a crucial change in perception, that there is a point and it is very close at which time if we put CO2 into the atmosphere future generations will have to take it out again."

Sharp emissions cuts now could avoid or would delay that moment to later this century.


In its next report, the IPCC will for the first time estimate what the world must do to have a likely chance of keeping long-term warming below 2 degrees Celsius. Temperatures have already risen about 0.8 degrees Celsius since pre-industrial times.

Meinshausen's study calculates that the world would have to halt rises in global greenhouse gas emissions within five years.

By 2070, humans should have a net output of minus 3.5 billion tonnes CO2 annually to reduce temperature rises further below 2 degrees in the long-term and so slow sea level rise.

Researchers say that allowing emissions to continue to rise after 2020 would involve passing 2 degrees as early as mid-century.

After that, the only way back would be CO2 removal from the atmosphere on a massive scale -- a net output of minus 18 billion tonnes of CO2 annually during the next century and for about 100 years, they calculated in the new series of studies.

That compares with actual emissions of 33 billion tonnes CO2 last year from burning fossil fuels. Emissions have risen 2-3 percent per year over the last several decades.

The view that extreme steps are needed is therefore becoming more accepted.

"If we really are going to avoid more than 2 degrees of warming, we're either looking at geo-engineering in the sense of sun shields in space, or negative emissions type of geo-engineering in the second half of this century," said Oxford University climate scientist Myles Allen.

"That's increasingly where the thinking is."

Technologies which drive negative CO2 emissions include burning plant matter called biomass and trapping the resulting carbon emissions and burying these underground.

That achieves net negative emissions because the plants themselves absorbed CO2 from the air. But the idea only exists in the lab and pilot projects.

Other techniques could include crushing limestone, which absorbs CO2, but appears improbable because of the vast quantities of rock to be quarried. Engineers have also suggested using artificial photosynthesis to mimic plants.

Instead of mopping up CO2, an alternative geo-engineering approach is to screen out sunlight, for example, by spraying sulphur into the upper atmosphere. This causes water droplets to form and create hazy clouds and is to be trialed by British engineers next month.

The problem is a threat of unforeseen consequences.

"It's not the same as just rewinding things back to where we were in terms of greenhouse gases. You're doing another change which will potentially bring the temperature back but could lead to less rainfall," said Reading University's Peter Stott.


Some climate scientists are alarmed by how far predictions have been borne out or exceeded since the last IPCC report.

Other experts say it isn't clear how far specific changes are the result of emissions or simply natural effects.

"There's no final decision," said the Potsdam Institute's Vladimir Petoukhov.

For example, last week it emerged that Arctic sea ice this summer melted to a record low extent, or a close second. Natural weather effects partly explained the previous record in 2007, scientists say, and may help explain this year's, said Petoukhov.

In other climate changes, a study last week found rapidly rising temperatures in the northeast Atlantic Ocean driving major shifts in fish stocks.

And scientists say they can now detect a human fingerprint on trends in global rainfall.

"What's clear is that the changes do seem to be happening and consistent with the projections," said Reading's Stott.

"That's indicating that the climate is already changing, not just the global temperatures but the rainfall patterns. Then we're getting to things that actually affect people."

(Editing by Jason Neely)

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