Best of our wild blogs: 24 Sep 11

Of Things Little and Large
from Raffles Museum News

Siti's seagrass poster at the Biodiversity Symposium
from teamseagrass

Mandai mangrove meanders with Rick
from wild shores of singapore

Ready for the Weekend
from The Lazy Lizard's Tales

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Asean pressures Indonesia over rise in haze pollution

Bangkok Post 24 Sep 11;

Asean nations are pressuring Indonesia to control transboundary haze which has caused widespread health and environmental impacts in the region.

According to the information presented at the ministerial meeting on transboundary haze pollution in Bangkok yesterday, most of the hotspots, caused by forest fires and farmland burning, are in Indonesia.

The meeting was attended by environment ministers from Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand.

Thailand's southern provinces have also been affected by transboundary haze comprised of tiny dust particles from forest fires and burning in open areas.

"When the haze started to affect the South, we wrote to Indonesia to ask for an explanation about the situation," said Pollution Control Department chief Supat Wangwongwattana. "However, Jakarta did not respond." Malaysia and Singapore are also affected, he added.

"We'd like Indonesia to better inform other countries about the transboundary haze situation," Mr Supat said.

Asean countries have made a commitment to reduce the number of haze hotspots by 20% from the baseline year in 2006. This number had reduced from 29,900 in the sub-region of five countries in 2006 to only 8,000 last year. However, the number of hotspots jumped back up to 17,600 this year.

Indonesia is the main hotspot source as large swathes of peatland have been transformed into mono-crop plantations, including rubber and oil plam plantations. Mr Supat said the sub-region countries would like Indonesia to ratify the Asean Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution. Indonesia is the only country that has not ratified the pact, which is a legally-binding tool for controlling haze pollution.

The agreement also covers the Asean haze fund, which each member donates to on a voluntary basis.

Indonesia cited a change of parliament as a reason for the delay of the ratification procedure, Mr Supat added.

Singapore's environment minister Vivian Balarkrishnan, who chaired the meeting yesterday, said the Bangkok talks were fruitful, but more work needed to be done on reducing the number of peatland fires, and to push for the enforcement of laws limiting the trans-boundary haze.

The minister suggested the use of satellite maps to identify the haze hotspots so that the countries in which they are situated can take responsibility and step up their control measures.

Arief Yuwono, Indonesia's deputy of degradation control and climate change from the Ministry of Environment, insisted Jakarta has done its best to prevent the haze.

The country had spent more than US$2 million (61.8 million baht) on haze pollution control projects.

"We have our own plan to revise the national framework for suppression and mitigation of transboundary haze pollution, including law enforcement measures," he said.

Indonesia steps up fight against haze
Newley Purnell Channel NewsAsia 23 Sep 11;

BANGKOK: Indonesia said it is stepping up enforcement to ensure plantation owners do not use fire to clear land.

The fires often lead to smoke haze in neighbouring Singapore and Malaysia.

At an ASEAN gathering in Bangkok to discuss ways of combating the problem, Singapore officials said the issue has not been resolved.

Smoke haze is an annual problem in countries like Singapore and Malaysia, and regional environmental authorities met in Bangkok on Friday to discuss the issue.

Land and forest fires on Indonesia's island of Sumatra frequently create a thick, grey haze during the dry season.

Winds carry the particulate matter north to Singapore and Malaysia. And this clouds the skies, reduces visibility, and creates health concerns.

At the annual meeting of the ASEAN's steering committee on trans-boundary haze pollution, officials from Singapore, Brunei, Malaysia, Thailand, and Indonesia said they are all working together to tackle the problem.

Officials said Indonesia is taking steps to reduce fires and haze, but they said much work remains to be done.

The vastness of Indonesia's land makes it difficult to police.

In addition, setting fire to peat lands to create palm oil plantations is a lucrative practice.

"First we had a... meeting which I would describe as an intense and frank exchange of views between all countries represented. Because it was a frank meeting, I would say it was a very useful annd productive meeting," said Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, Singapore's Minister for the Environment and Water Resources.

Indonesia's Deputy of Degradation Control and Climate Change at the Environment Ministry said his country is stepping up law enforcement efforts and taking steps to fight fires.

"Having said that, it's still cause for concern. And as events in the last few weeks have shown, depending on the weather conditions, Singapore and Malaysia and southern Thailand can still be significantly affected by haze. So this is not a resolved issue," said Dr Balakrishnan.

Just earlier this month, the skies over Singapore and Malaysia were covered in smoke haze from the burning in Indonesia.

- CNA /ls

Haze remains a cause for concern: Dr Balakrishnan
Newley Purnell Today Online 24 Sep 11;

BANGKOK - While progress has been made in tackling the haze issue, it remains a cause for concern, said Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan.

The number of hot spots in Indonesia has reached 17,000, up from 9,880 last year, although improved from five years ago.

Speaking at the annual meeting of the Association of South-east Asian Nations (ASEAN) steering committee on trans-boundary haze pollution in Bangkok, Dr Balakrishnan said: "We also appealed to the Indonesian delegation to expedite the process of ratification of the ASEAN agreement because that would signify political commitment to this process."

He noted it was a "good meeting" where the ministers were "very frank with each other". "We've reviewed the progress and if you look at the situation from 2006 to now, five years later, there's actually been significant progress in the number of hots pots - at about 29,000 before, it's now down to about 17,000."

Mr Arief Yuwono, Indonesia's Deputy Minister for Environmental Degradation Control and Climate Change, said his country is stepping up law enforcement efforts and taking steps to fight fires.

However, the vastness of Indonesia's land makes it difficult to police, while setting fire to peat lands to create palm oil plantations is a lucrative practice.

At the meeting, the ministers also noted the enhanced and new efforts by Indonesia in implementing its plan of action in dealing with transboundary haze pollution.

These include developing a standard operating procedure for national prevention and control of forest and land fires, strengthened law enforcement measures, cloud seeding operations, and a "zero-burning" campaign and socialisation of laws on plantation, environment and forestry to relevant stakeholders.

Dr Balakrishnan said: "We've noted the progress there and we've also offered our support. We will be more open and transparent and we'll be sharing all the data, including satellite data not only between governments but also to make it available to non-governmental organisations and to members of the public."

"The key point here is to make the culprits and the companies responsible for haze more accountable and to subject them to economic as well as public pressure to do the right thing," he added. NEWLEY PURNELL

Hot spots in Indonesia double
Asean to identify haze culprits using satellite images
Nirmal Ghosh, Straits Times 24 Sep 11;

BANGKOK: With several weeks still left to go in Indonesia's dry season, the number of hot spots in Sumatra and Kalimantan so far this year has hit 17,000 - more than double the total last year.

Revealing the figure on the sidelines of an Asean meeting in Bangkok on the haze situation, Singapore Environment and Water Resources Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said the number of hot spots indicates the size of the problem facing countries in the neighbourhood.

He said there were about 29,000 hot spots in Sumatra and Kalimantan in 2006. That, however, was an abnormally hot and dry 'El Nino' year.

Last year, there were 8,000 hot spots.

In a bid to put pressure on companies involved in what they termed 'environmental vandalism', ministers from five nations in the regional grouping agreed to make public satellite images of the burning forests to help identify and shame the culprits.

The fires which give rise to the haze are usually started by large oil palm plantation companies and by farmers clearing land for their fields.

'We decided we would be more open and transparent,' Dr Balakrishnan said.

'The key point here is to make the culprits and the companies responsible for haze more accountable, and to subject them to economic as well as public pressure to do the right thing and not to engage in what is ultimately environmental vandalism, for short-term profits at the expense of the health and economy of the wider region,' he said.

Singapore, Malaysia and Brunei sent their environment ministers to the Transboundary Haze Pollution meeting. But Indonesia - where the haze originates - sent only its deputy minister, Mr Arif Yuwono. Thailand was the other participant.

After the meeting, the ministers said there had been some progress in fighting the fires in Indonesia.

They pointed to successful cooperation in curbing fires and sustainable management of peat forest land, which is vulnerable to long-burning fires.

They also noted that Indonesia had set up standard operating procedures for national fire prevention and control.

But more could be done, they said.

Dr Balakrishnan, who chaired the meeting, said: 'There is some progress. But there remains... serious concern because of the implications on health, travel and the economy on a wider scale.'

'Transboundary haze is one example in which, unfortunately, the economic interests of the culprits responsible for starting these fires are not aligned with the interests of larger society,' he added.

The ministers also pointed out that the Asean Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution, which calls for cooperation in preventing and controlling the haze, has not been ratified by Indonesia.

They said ratification has been in the works for some time, and appealed for it to do so soon.

Ratification would 'signal political commitment at the highest level', Dr Balakrishnan said.

He added that Asean was also waiting for Indonesia to enforce and prosecute those who started forest fires, saying that 'until this is done, you will not send the message of accountability'.

In Indonesia's defence, Mr Arif said: 'We just set up a task force on law enforcement, and now they are trying to identify all the companies that are breaking the law.'

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Wanted: Someone To Classify Indonesia's Seas

Ismira Lutfia Jakarta Globe 23 Sep 11;

Indonesia’s vast wealth of marine life is not being exploited to its full potential because of a lack of taxonomists in the country’s scientific community, experts contend.

Zainal Arifin, head of the Indonesian Institute of Sciences’ (LIPI) Oceanographic Research Center, said there were far too few local scientists specializing in the discovery and naming of new marine species, and those already working in the field were not as highly qualified as one might hope.

He attributed the shortage to the fact that taxonomy was often not seen as a desirable specialization for budding scientists.

However, he said the profession was a much-needed one because new discoveries of marine life were still being made here and unless there were scientists to document these discoveries, the country would be unable to benefit from them — commercially, for food or for other purposes.

“The first step is to nurture human resources in the scientific community who are suitably skilled in marine taxonomy to allow the country to benefit from its marine resources,” Zainal said in a seminar this week.

Dwi Listyo Rahayu, a marine taxonomist and fellow seminar speaker, said the shortage was not limited to Indonesia.

“Despite the fact that climate change raises the very real concern that a lot of living species could die out before we get the chance to study them, the truth remains that the desire among scientists to specialize in taxonomy is very low,” she said.

One reason for the field’s lack of appeal in Indonesia, Dwi suggested, is its reputation as a less than lucrative discipline.

“Much of the research that is done in the country is of an applied nature, such as research into how to make crops more resistant,” she said. “So it’s very rare for funding to be given to proposals for research into biodiversity or a species inventory.”

Suharsono, a senior scientist at the Oceanographic Research Center, said the issue should be a shared concern for the nation’s scientific community, given the wealth of marine life here.

He said Indonesia and the Caribbean were the two maritime regions with the richest biodiversity in the world. Because of this, he said, the country should strive to have at least one taxonomist covering each of the taxons, or categories, of marine species, such as crustaceans, mollusks and algae.

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