Best of our wild blogs: 5 Oct 11

Introducing Mangrove Mafias of Singapore
from Mangrove Action Squad

Shell refinery fire at Bukom: what caused it?
from wild shores of singapore

Civet research presented from atop a garbage bin!
from The Diet of the Common Palm Civet in Singapore

Lab session (30 Sep 2011)
from Mega Marine Survey of Singapore

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Dolphin catcher-turned-activist nets audience of 500

Esther Ng Today Online 5 Oct 11;

SINGAPORE - About 500 people attended animal welfare group ACRES' first public dialogue session with former dolphin catcher-turned-activist Ric O'Barry at Grand Copthorne Waterfront last night.

The mainly youthful crowd, comprising teachers, students and young adult professionals and a few Caucasians, gave Mr O'Barry, who starred in the Academy Award-winning documentary film The Cove, a standing ovation. They also listened intently to the presentation by Animal Concerns Research & Education Society's (ACRES) executive director Louis Ng.

But the public debate was a one-sided affair with nary a soul speaking up in support of the captivity and display of dolphins in marine life parks.

Student Felicia Koh said she had written letters to the Government asking that Resorts World Sentosa (RWS) not put the dolphins on display. Ms Koh pointed out that the Monterey Bay Aquarium in California, which does not have dolphins, is "lovely" and proof that an attraction could be successful without dolphins that have been caught in the wild.

When a participant asked whether dolphins could be happy in captivity, Mr O'Barry said: "You're dealing with an optical illusion - the dolphin is smiling - which is nature's greatest deception, unless you hit them with a baseball bat, you wouldn't see the abuse."

Designer Nicholas Lim, 25, asked whether ACRES or Mr O'Barry would have any objections if RWS used dolphins bred in captivity.

Mr O'Barry said: "There is no reason why dolphins should be bred in captivity. It's a form of bad education."

Captive dolphins won't die when freed: Activist
Sophie Hong my paper AsiaOne 5 Oct 11;

Dolphins in captivity can still survive in the wild when they are released, said prominent dolphin activist Richard O'Barry yesterday in Singapore.

The American, who wrote in to Resorts World Sentosa a few months ago to free the 25 bottlenose dolphins it plans to showcase at its Marine Life Park, was responding to comments by the integrated resort (IR) in a Straits Times report yesterday.

On the issue of the dolphins, the Sentosa IR had said that the track record for reintroducing captured dolphins into the wild "is patchy at best" and that "we will be gravely irresponsible to even consider that".

But Mr O'Barry said yesterday: "Resorts World Sentosa said (they) can't release dolphins into the wild, but we did so in Georgia. Those dolphins had spent about seven years in captivity."

He was speaking to over 500 people at a dialogue organised by the Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (Acres).

Mr O'Barry, a marine-mammal specialist, was featured in 2009's Academy Award-winning documentary on Japan's dolphin-hunting activities, The Cove.

He said yesterday that he did not have data on how many dolphins in captivity have been successfully released back into the wild, but added that "out of all the dolphins I have released so far, there were only two that failed". He has released over 25 dolphins.

When contacted, a spokesman for the Marine Life Park reiterated its stance and said that Mr O'Barry "is fully aware" of the track record for releasing captured dolphins.

"Mr O'Barry has no jurisdiction in Singapore. We believe that our dolphins will play a significant and meaningful role for marine conservation," he said, adding that dolphins in the wild or captivity can provide marine experts with "immense knowledge and experience".

The spokesman added that "we respect divergent views" and "will always welcome Acres to work with us on conservation programmes".

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Shell refinery fire: Counting the losses

Economy may lose more than $100m if refinery is closed for a month: Economists
Robin Chan Straits Times 5 Oct 11;

THE all clear was given on Shell's Pulau Bukom refinery site yesterday, even as operations remain in the process of being shut down.

An all-clear safety siren was sounded at 2pm. However, the area around what is known as pump house 43, which is where the fire broke out seven days ago, is still under 'strict control' according to an internal staff memo.

The local economy could suffer a hit of more than a $100 million if the massive Bukom refinery closes for a month, economists have said.

The oil giant's plant, which refines 500,000 barrels a day and is Shell's largest in the world, was shut down following a 32-hour fire last week.

Economists looked at the value added to the economy from the petroleum refining and petrochemicals industries, to estimate the cost of closing the plant.

Naturally, the costs will vary depending on how long the closure lasts and how much economic activity is lost.

Citigroup economist Kit Wei Zheng said that assuming a one-month closure, there could be a 0.04 percentage point loss in full-year gross domestic product growth.

This assumes Shell contributes about a third to petroleum refining and petrochemical manufacturing in Singapore, which is the market estimate.

Singapore's total GDP was $285 billion last year, so the loss from Shell could be about $114 million.

'This may not include indirect spillovers on other sectors tied to petroleum or petrochemicals - transport comes to mind - but given the numbers just discussed, it suggests a small dent to full year growth,' he said.

CIMB economist Song Seng Wun estimated that a one month closure could cost the economy more than that - about $200m which is roughly 0.06 per cent of GDP.

But Barclays Capital economist Leong Wai Ho also estimated the economic cost at 'about $100 million'.

While manufacturing has been supported by the pharmaceutical sector, other sectors such as electronics and chemicals have been in a slump.

OCBC economist Selena Ling said: 'In August the chemicals cluster was already contracting year-on-year. So it is not currently a key driver of manufacturing output. But this just adds to the depressing manufacturing numbers.'

Mr Song added: 'The drag in industrial output expected for September will now likely extend into October. The bottom line is that we will be affected.'

Shell, which produces petrochemicals from kerosene to jet fuel at the facility has since declared force majeure on some of its contracts.

Force majeure means the company is freed from contractual obligations in the event of extraordinary circumstances.

Singapore exported about $75 billion of oil products last year in addition to non-oil exports such as petrochemicals.

Shell exports about 90 per cent of its products to other markets in the region.

Effect of Shell fire tells on industry supplies
A week after the blaze, the extent of the disruptions to feedstock is becoming clearer
Ronnie Lim Business Times 5 Oct 11;

(SINGAPORE) The shutdown of Shell's Pulau Bukom operations has set off a chain reaction, hitting other companies and plants in the petrochemicals industry here. The fire last Wednesday resulted in Shell closing down its 500,000 barrels per day refinery and its new 800,000 tonnes per annum (tpa) ethylene cracker which disrupted the supply of feedstock to other players in Singapore.

The oil giant has declared force majeure (FM) on feedstock supplies like naphtha to Petrochemical Corporation of Singapore which operates two petrochemical crackers with a total 1.4 million tpa capacity on Jurong Island. Shell has a quarter stake in PCS.

Another plant there that has been similarly affected is Ellba Eastern (in which Shell and BASF hold a 50 per cent stake each). Both PCS and Ellba are supplied via pipelines from Bukom. When contacted, a spokesperson for Ellba, which produces intermediates for various plastics and rubber products, confirmed: 'Shell declared FM effective from last Friday after the fire at its Bukom site.'

The shutdown of Shell Eastern Petrochemical Complex's (SEPC) new 800,000 tpa ethylene cracker on Bukom has also reportedly affected ethylene supplies to SEPC's new MEG, or monoethylene glycol downstream plant on Jurong Island which accounts for half of SEPC's ethylene. In turn, the MEG plant is apparently having to declare FM on product supplies to its own customers.

Economic Development Board's director for Energy, Chemicals & Engineering Services, Liang Ting Wee told BT yesterday that 'it is still to early to determine the full impact on the industry, as it depends on the duration of disruptions to Shell's facility'.

'We are monitoring and assessing the situation closely,' said Mr Liang, in response to BT queries.

Shell's declaration of FM for petrochemical customers, follow that of its FM for supplies of middle distillates like kerosene and diesel which have also been disrupted by the earlier shutdown of a separate Bukom hydrocracker plant.

A Reuters report, citing sources, said yesterday that Shell has offered to buy back all the distillate cargoes that it has been unable to deliver and declared FM on, including to BP, JP Morgan, Hin Leong and Glencore.

A Shell spokesperson when contacted yesterday, would only reiterate that 'we confirm that force majeure has been declared on some of our customers. We are not able to comment further as this is commercially sensitive information'.

'We understand the concerns of our customers. We are in discussions with them to address their supply needs and to minimise any potential impact,' she added.

Reuters earlier cited sources saying the Shell refinery is expected to take at least a month to start operating again, and possibly even up to six months to return to normal levels.

Shell, which has started investigations into the 30-hour fire which started last Wednesday, told BT earlier this week that 'we do not expect any of the units to be restarted until a thorough investigation has been done and we are confident that it is safe to do so'.

Preliminary investigations show that the fire broke out at a pumphouse during preparation work for maintenance, which included draining of residual oil in a pipeline and removing it by a suction truck, the Ministry of Manpower said on Monday.

The Shell spokesperson added yesterday that 'we are giving the Ministry of Manpower our fullest co-operation as they conduct investigations on the Pulau Bukom fire. We hope to apply any learnings from these findings to avoid such an occurrence in future'.

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Tender soon for study on Singapore-Johor Baru link

Lester Kong Straits Times 5 Oct 11;

PUTRAJAYA: Malaysia and Singapore are seeking a consultant to undertake an engineering study for a rapid transit system linking Johor Baru and Singapore, Singapore's Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew said here yesterday.

'Both countries will put out a tender at the same time so companies in Malaysia and Singapore can respond. The joint (Malaysian-Singapore) team will evaluate and pick one company,' Mr Lui told reporters after meeting his Malaysian counterpart Kong Cho Ha.

The study will be done in two phases, Mr Lui said. The company awarded the tender, to be called sometime this quarter, will have 11 months to complete the first part.

Under Phase One, the project consultant will take about five months to look at the different options, and the difficulties, challenges and opportunities associated with each one. It then has about six months to prepare a report for the joint committee.

As for Phase Two, Mr Lui said: 'We will meet at the joint committee level to pick one option for the consultant to go into detailed engineering study which we expect, due to the complexity of the project, to take another 18 months.'

The minister, who was making a one-day introductory visit to Malaysia, said the rapid transit project was 'on time and on track'.

'Overall, the pro gress is good. The relationship (between Malaysia and Singapore) is strong. My coming up here to meet Datuk Seri Kong is to affirm the cooperation that we have had,' he said.

Mr Kong said Malaysia would prefer to build the link close to the Causeway and as an undersea tunnel 'to free up the space above the water'.

'(But) this will depend on the outcome of the study. Singapore may have some reservations... we are open to discussion,' he said after meeting Mr Lui.

The rapid transit link is expected to run from a station near JB Sentral on the Johor side to one near Republic Polytechnic in Woodlands.

The two ministers agreed that cooperation on transport issues was progressing well under both countries' prime ministers.

'There are a good number of things that are ongoing, particularly the rapid transit system,' Mr Lui said.

'The benefit is being felt, like the reduction of toll charges at the Second Link. In the last few months, we have seen a shift in traffic in that direction, about 8 to 10 per cent.'

Mr Lui also met Tan Sri Syed Hamid Albar, chairman of the Land Public Transport Commission; Tan Sri Nor Mohamed Yakcop, Minister in the Prime Minister's Department in charge of economic planning; and Datuk Seri Rais Yatim, Minister of Information, Communications and Culture.

Singapore, Malaysia to call tender for engineering study for rapid transit link
Melissa Goh Channel NewsAsia 4 Oct 11;

KUALA LUMPUR: Singapore and Malaysia will soon call a tender for engineering studies for the Rapid Transit System (RTS) which will connect Johor Bahru and the island republic.

Engineering companies from both sides of the Causeway will be invited to take part in the tender.

Singapore's Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew said this during his one-day introductory visit to Malaysia on Tuesday.

His trip follows closely on a series of introductory visits to Malaysia by Singapore Cabinet ministers in recent weeks.

Mr Lui met his Malaysian counterpart Kong Cho Ha at the Transport Ministry in Putrajaya for almost an hour.

Both ministers updated each other on the progress of the Rapid Transit System, which is part of the land swap agreement signed by both countries in June to free up Malaysian railway land in Singapore for joint development.

Mr Lui said: "That's coming along fine, it's on track. We are due to put out a tender for engineering studies in the fourth quarter of this year.

"The preparatory work has almost been done (and) a tender will be put out in both Malaysia and Singapore. We'll have a joint team to evaluate this and select a consultant."

According to Mr Lui, the study will be done in two phases. Under the first phase, which will take 11 months, an engineering consultant will be picked to look into all options available and advise both countries on difficulties and challenges under each option.

The joint ministerial committee will then decide on which option to go for before the second phase begins.

"Because of such complexities, it will take another 18 months thereafter once we decide on the option," added Mr Lui.

Malaysia said it prefers the RTS to be linked to Singapore via an undersea tunnel.

Mr Kong said: "Actually, we preferred a tunnel because that will free up space above the sea for other activities but (the decision) will depend on the outcome of the study. And also, we still have to agree on the implementation."

Apart from the RTS, Malaysia is also looking at building a high-speed rail link from the capital Kuala Lumpur to Johor Bahru.


Singapore, Malaysia to call tender for Rapid Transit System
by Melissa Goh Today Online 5 Oct 11;

KUALA LUMPUR - Singapore and Malaysia will soon call an engineering studies tender for the Rapid Transit System (RTS) which will connect the two countries.

Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew, who is on a one-day introductory visit to Malaysia, said the tender for the project will be called in the fourth quarter of the year. Engineering companies from both sides of the Causeway will be invited to take part in the tender.

Mr Lui's visit follows closely on a series of introductory visits to Malaysia by Singapore Cabinet ministers in recent weeks.

He met for almost an hour with his Malaysian counterpart Kong Cho Ha at the Transport Ministry in Putrajaya.

Both ministers also updated each other on the progress of the RTS, which is part of the land swap agreement signed by both countries in June to free up Malaysian railway land in Singapore for joint development.

Said Mr Lui: "It's (RTS development) on track. We are due to put out a tender for engineering studies in the fourth quarter of this year. The preparatory work has almost been done (and) a tender will be put out in both Malaysia and Singapore. We'll have a joint team to evaluate this and select a consultant."

According to Mr Lui, the study will be done in two phases. Under the first phase, which takes 11 months, an engineering consultant will be picked to look into all options available and advise both countries on difficulties and challenges under each option.

The joint ministerial committee will then decide on which option to go for before the second phase begins.

"Because of such complexities, it will take another 18 months thereafter once we decide on the option," added Mr Lui.

Malaysia said it prefers the RTS to be linked to Singapore via an undersea tunnel.

Mr Kong said: "That will free up space above the sea for other activities but (the decision) will depend on the outcome of the study. And also, we still have to agree on the implementation."

Apart from the RTS, Malaysia is also looking at building a high-speed rail link from the capital Kuala Lumpur to Johor Bahru.

Singapore, Malaysia to call a tender for Rapid Transit System
Engineering firms from both countries can participate
Business Times 5 Oct 11;

SINGAPORE and Malaysia will soon call a tender for the Rapid Transit System (RTS) which will connect Johor Bahru and the island republic.

On a one-day introductory visit to Malaysia yesterday, Singapore Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew said that engineering companies from both sides of the Causeway will be invited to participate in the tender. According to media reports, RAdm Lui, who is also Second Minister for Foreign Affairs, said that the rapid transit project was 'on time and on track', and that a tender for engineering studies will be called in the fourth quarter of this year.

'The preparatory work has almost been done (and) a tender will be put out in both Malaysia and Singapore. We'll have a joint team to evaluate this and select a consultant.'

RAdm Lui said that the study will be done in two phases. The first phase involves picking an engineering consultant to look into all options available for the construction of the system, and advise both countries on difficulties and challenges under each option. This will take 11 months.

The joint management committee will then decide which option to go for before the second phase begins. 'Because of such complexities, it will take another 18 months thereafter once we decide on the option,' RAdm Lui was quoted by Channel NewsAsia as saying.

RAdm Lui's visit follows a series of introductory visits to Malaysia by Singapore cabinet ministers in recent weeks. During the visit, he met with his Malaysian counterpart Kong Cho Ha at the Transport Ministry in Putrajaya. Mr Kong said that Malaysia prefers the RTS to be linked to Singapore via an undersea tunnel, which will free up space above the sea for other activities. Ultimately, however, the decision will depend on the outcome of the study, he said.

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Conserving Thailand’s whales, dolphins and porpoises

Wendy Pyper, ECOS Magazine Science Alert 5 Oct 11;

The first detailed study of whales, dolphins and porpoises in Trat Province, along the eastern coast of the Gulf of Thailand, will provide critical information on their abundance and distribution, and management and conservation needs.

Project leader, Associate Professor Ellen Hines of the San Francisco State University in the United States, says Southeast Asia is a priority region for studies on cetacean conservation and small-scale fisheries. This is due to the lack of data on cetacean populations and high by-catch rates of these marine mammals in the fisheries.

Among the species of interest are the Irrawaddy dolphin (Orcaella brevirostris), the Indo-Pacific humpback dolphin (Sousa chinensis) and the finless porpoise (Neophocaena phocaenoides).

‘Our project will be the first in this area to gather data on these vulnerable and near-threatened species, which will be crucial for their management,’ Professor Hines says.

‘The eastern Gulf coast, particularly Chang Island in Trat province, has few protected areas and is becoming increasingly popular with tourists and gradually overfished.’

Professor Hines and her team will work closely with federal, provincial and local government departments, scientists, fishermen, villagers and students to collect and disseminate information. The information will contribute to local management plans and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Conservation Action Plan for the World’s Cetaceans.

The collaboration will build on the team’s strong links with the community, established during eight years of research in the region.

The study will involve boat-based surveys, photo identification, spatial habitat modelling, beach surveys, and interviews with villagers about their cultural and traditional knowledge and conservation values.

‘We will use boat-based surveys to investigate the spatial distribution and abundance of coastal cetaceans, to study patterns of habitat use and how this influences their potential interactions with fisheries, and to study cetacean behaviour, group dynamics and movement patterns,’ Professor Hines says.

The photo-identification work will identify individual animals through fin markings, enabling the team to estimate home ranges and movement in and out of areas.

Geographic Information Systems and statistical modelling will be used to study the relationship between observed cetacean location and environmental variables such as salinity, water temperature, depth, and the presence of nets and fishing vessels. Beach surveys will look for cetacean remains that can provide tissue samples for genetic and physical analysis.

Interviews with community members will determine the number of fishermen using different fishing practices and their catch species. The interviews will also address the history and possible cultural relationship between cetaceans and coastal villagers, stranding locations and numbers, patterns of movement and sightings, and unsustainable fishing practices.

‘Conservation must address the needs and values of local human populations. Studying various dimensions of the human socioeconomic system, and how that influences human use of the environment can shed light on options for cetacean conservation and management,’ Professor Hines says.

In addition to formal conservation measures, the research results will be used to produce educational materials for school and village outreach programs that address basic cetacean ecology and marine conservation issues.

The three-year project is being funded through the Indo-Pacific Cetacean Research and Conservation Fund, administered by the Australian Antarctic Division’s Australian Marine Mammal Centre in Hobart.

This article was supplied courtesy of the Australian Antarctic Division and will be published in Antarctic Magazine, December 2011.

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New Zealand condemns Japan plan to resume whaling

(AFP) Google News 5 Oct 11;

WELLINGTON — New Zealand on Wednesday condemned a Japanese plan to resume whaling in Antarctica, labelling it an "entirely disrespectful" move that was based on "dubious" science.

Wellington said Japanese Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Michihiko Kano's confirmation Tuesday that whaling would continue meant Tokyo was isolating itself from the international community.

"Japan's decision is increasingly out of step with international opinion," Foreign Minister Murray McCully said.

"It is also entirely disrespectful of the strong concerns expressed by Australian and New Zealand people for whom the Southern Ocean is our neighbourhood."

McCully also said he was concerned at Kano's assertion that Japan would boost security for its whaling fleet to guard against harassment by environmental protesters.

He also expressed alarm at recent statements from environmental activist group Sea Shepherd -- which forced Japan to curtail its whaling hunt earlier this year -- suggesting its vessels could use life-threatening tactics to stop whalers.

"The New Zealand government has consistently urged all parties to act responsibly during the whaling season, and to avoid actions that may put their lives, or the lives of others, at risk," McCully said.

Japan uses a loophole in a 1986 international moratorium on commercial whaling to conduct what it describes as "scientific research", in Antarctic waters, setting quotas allowing about 1,000 whales to be harpooned annually.

It cut short its 2010-11 whale hunt for the first time in February, after taking only a fifth of its planned catch, citing interference from Sea Shepherd's vessels.

The US-based group employs tactics such as hurling paint and stink bombs at whaling ships, snaring their propellers and positioning its own boats between harpoon ships and whales.

McCully said Japan's whaling programme "serves no useful purpose and deserves to be consigned to history".

"The programme's so-called 'scientific' purpose is highly dubious," he said.

"There is not much appetite for whale meat on the Japanese market. The whaling fleet is getting old and requires increasing amounts of government cash to keep it afloat."

He said New Zealand, which along with Australia is the strongest international critic of Japanese whaling, had worked hard to find a long-term solution to the issue.

But in a sign of Wellington's frustration, he said New Zealand may scrap diplomatic efforts to work with Japan on whaling, which has long been an irritant in relations between the two countries.

"It is a sad reality but Japan's decision makes it much harder for the diplomatic process to continue," he said.

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Australia: Green sea turtles ‘resilient’ despite deaths

James Cook University Science Alert 5 Oct 11;

James Cook University marine turtle ecologist Dr Mark Hamann said the unusually high number of green turtle deaths following Queensland's severe weather events is a concern, but the population will be resilient.

"The numbers of stranded turtles that we're seeing are more than anything we've recorded since 1996 so any spike in injuries and deaths warrants continued investigation," Dr Hamann said.

Dr Hamann is on the International Union for Conservation of Nature Marine Turtle Specialist Group and has been monitoring strandings data in conjunction with the Department of Environment and Resource Management (DERM) and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA).

He said the scale of the issue had been taken out of context.

"Importantly, the number of turtle strandings need to be seen in the context of the whole Great Barrier Reef and not just the coastal strip," he said.

The numbers of green turtles breeding in the southern Great Barrier Reef have been increasing by about four per cent each year, so the population across the whole Great Barrier Reef will persist despite this year's high number of deaths."

"To date, there have been more than 1000 turtle standings in the Great Barrier Reef and most of these were green turtles - which is significantly more than this time in any previous years. I would expect this figure to reach around 1500 before the year's end," he said.

"Certainly, projections of up to 6000 turtle deaths in the coming months are unfounded."

"Importantly, more research into this issue is required. The main impacts have been on coastal populations and together with our partners at DERM we are monitoring green turtles in regions not impacted by the extreme weather."

JCU has been heavily involved in the Australian and Queensland governments' response to the extreme weather events' impact on the Great Barrier Reef.

The research being undertaken at JCU into this issue will be used by DERM and the GBRMPA to inform management actions leading into, and during, the upcoming summer.

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Hong Kong seizes 800 endangered pig-nosed turtles

(AFP) Google News 4 Oct 11;

HONG KONG — Hong Kong conservationists Tuesday said they had seized nearly 800 endangered pig-nosed turtles smuggled from Indonesia, in the Chinese city's biggest haul in its battle against the illegal pet trade.

The baby reptiles, distinguishable by their fleshy snout-like noses, were confiscated in January and were believed to have been caught from the wild in Indonesia before being brought illegally to Hong Kong.

The record seizure came to light as authorities prepared to release 600 of the surviving turtles, of the total 785, back to their native habitat in Indonesia's remote Papua province.

"It's the first of its kind (of seizure) in Hong Kong in terms of the number and the species," Alfred Wong, an endangered species protection official from the agriculture, fisheries and conservation department, told reporters.

"They are quite popular in the pet trade, that's why they are threatened by the international trade," he said as the baby turtles were being packed into boxes, to be flown to Indonesia on Wednesday.

The pig-nosed turtles were also threatened because the demand for their eggs and meat, but Wong said they were mostly kept as pets in Hong Kong.

Authorities carried out an investigation into how the creatures came to be in Hong Kong and had questioned suspects, but could not charge them because of insufficient evidence, Wong said.

He declined to provide further details including how many suspects were involved or their nationality.

The pig-nosed turtles are listed on the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which imposes international trade restrictions to protect the species from over-exploitation.

The turtles, which were only a few days old when they were rescued, had been kept since then at a privately run conservation farm for care and temporary holding.

They are set to be released into a national park in Merauke, which is located in the southeastern coast of Indonesia's Papua.

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Indonesia: Rainforest conservation, law enforcement crucial for orangutan`s survival

Antara 5 Oct 11;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - Indonesia is home to the world`s remaining population of critically endangered orangutans found on Sumatra and Kalimantan (Borneo) Islands.

It is estimated that around 50,000 to 60,000 orangutans are left in the wild, 80 percent of them in Indonesia and the rest in Malaysia. Of the total number, about 7,300 orangutans are to be found in Aceh Darussalam and North Sumatra provinces, and many others in Central, West and East Kalimantan provinces.

Central Kalimantan is considered as "the orangutan capital of the world" with more than 50% of all wild orangutans living there.

There are two genetically distinct species of orangutan, namely the Sumatran orangutan (Pongo abelii) and the Bornean orangutan (Pongo pygmaeus).

The two species show slightly different physical characteristics. Sumatran orangutans have lighter hair and a longer beard than their Bornean relatives, and Sumatran males have narrower cheekpads. Both species are highly endangered due to habitat loss and poaching.

The Bornean orangutan and Sumatran orangutan are classified by the World Conservation Union (IUCN) as Endangered and Critically Endangered respectively, with the population of Sumatran orangutans down by 91 percent since 1900.

The survival of the great apes very much depends on their habitat, namely the tropical rainforests on the two islands.

Indonesia has a total forest area of approximately 137 million hectares, the world`s third largest after Brazil`s and Congo`s.

The wonders of the animal world such as Sumatran tigers, rhinoceros, orangutans, and komodo dragons can be found in Indonesian jungles.

The forests also host among other things roughly 12 percent of the world`s mammals, 16 percent of its reptiles and amphibians and 17 percent of all bird species. Over 10,000 species of trees have been recorded across the archipelago.

The United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) in its latest report said conserving key rainforests in Indonesia could generate revenues three times greater than felling them for palm oil plantations.

"In doing so, such actions can also deliver multiple Green Economy benefits from combating climate change, securing water supplies and improved livelihoods while throwing a life line to the world`s remaining populations of critically endangered Sumatran orangutans," the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) said in a press statement quoting a new report made at the request of Indonesia from UNEP under its Great Apes Survival Partnership (GRASP).

The new report launched in Jakarta in late September 2011, estimates that many of the coastal, peat-rich forests of Sumatra, where dense populations of the last 6,600 orangutans survive, may be worth up to a present value of $22,000 a hectare at current carbon prices (range $7,420-22,090).

The Indonesian government has announced its commitment to promoting green economic policies including by preserving its forests and protecting wildlife living in the jungles.

To protect the endangered "Red Man of the Jungle" (orangutans), President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono launched the "Indonesian Orangutan Conservation Strategy and Action Plan 2007-2017" book on the sidelines of the U.N Climate Change Conference in Bali in 2007,

"The fate of the orangutan is a subject that goes to the heart of sustainable forests - To save the orangutan we have to save the forest," the head of state said.

A core target of the plan is to stabilize orangutan populations and habitat from now until 2017. Other goals of the plan are to return orangutans currently housed in rehabilitation centers to the wild by 2015 and to ensure that government and businesses follow established and developing guidelines on orangutan conservation.

The Orangutan Action Plan, which is the basis of activities to conserve orangutans in Indonesia, requires all companies with a stake in the management of orangutans to support actions for their protection, management and conservation.

"In the last 35 years about 50,000 orangutans are estimated to have been lost as their habitats shrank. If this continues, this majestic creature will likely face extinction by 2050," said President Yudhoyono at the launch of the document.

Despite the action plan and many environmental regulations, the number of orangutans has continued decreasing.

In Kalimantan, for instance, the population of orangutans declined 1.5 to two percent a year as their habitats were depleting, Head of the West Kalimantan Nature Resource Conservation Agency (BKSDA) Djohan Utama Perbatasari said in Pontianak, West Kalimantan Province, on September 13, 2011.

In East Kalimantan Province, police have set up a team to investigate recent information on alleged killings of tens of orangutan at Puan Cepak village, Muara Kaman sub district, Kutai Kartanegara District, during the 2009-2010 period.

Kutai Kartanegara Police Chief Adjunct Senior Commissioner I Gusti K.B Harryarsana said in Samarinda last month said his office and the local BKSDA had made coordination for the investigation.

Puan Cepak Village Head Kadir confirmed to ANTARA last September about the killings.

"It had happened about two or three years ago, before I became village head. The report on the orangutan killings has been known by Puan Cepak villagers," Kadir said.

He suspected that oil palm plantations were behind the tragedy. Orangutans are often considered as pest by plantation companies.

The East Kalimantan BKSDA chief, Tandya Tjahjanam, however, could not confirm about the report on the alleged orangutan killings few years ago.

The forestry ministry`s Director General for Forestry Protection and Conservation Hartono in Jakarta recently said he did not have exact information about the orangutan killings.

"I don`t know exactly because I just heard about it from colleagues in the field. I have not received a written report," he said.

The Centre for Orangutan Protection (COP) has urged the forestry ministry and legal enforcers to investigate the report.

"We urge the forestry ministry to impose law enforcement against the killings of orangutans which have been seen as pests in oil palm plantations," COP Campaigner Hardi Baktiantoro told ANTARA on September 28, 2011.

Without legal enforcement the killing would continue, he said.

"But we find imperfect system of the Ministry of Forestry, which is there is no law enforcement. Without the law enforcement, I will say sorry, the cruelty to orangutans will still continue. The Action Plan documents will not help orangutans.

The evacuation is only temporary, it is an effort to avoid orangutan from a murder. This is not a permanent solution. The reintroduced orangutans will be only killed by hunters or forced to be evacuated again, if the law enforcement is not running well," Hardi said as quoted on the COP website. (*)

Editor: B Kunto Wibisono

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Florida's Invasive Species Problem Worst in the World

Environment News Service 30 Sep 11;

GAINESVILLE, Florida, September 30, 2011 (ENS) - Florida has the world's worst invasive amphibian and reptile problem, and a new 20-year study led by a University of Florida researcher verifies the pet trade as the top cause of the non-native species introduction into the state's environment.

The study uses fieldwork data from 12 co-authors throughout the state and research using specimens in the Florida Museum of Natural History collections on the University of Florida campus.

The research covers a period of 147 years. It shows that from 1863 through 2010, there have been 137 non-native amphibian and reptile species introduced to Florida. About 25 percent of those have been traced to one animal importer.

The first introduction in 1863 was of the greenhouse frog, native to the West Indies.

"Most people in Florida don't realize when they see an animal if it's native or non-native and unfortunately, quite a few of them don't belong here and can cause harm," said lead author Kenneth Krysko, herpetology collection manager at the Florida Museum of Natural History.

"No other area in the world has a problem like we do, and today's laws simply cannot be enforced to stop current trends," said Krysko.

Florida law prohibits the release of non-native species without a state permit, but offenders cannot be prosecuted unless they are caught in the act. To date, no one in Florida ever has been prosecuted for the establishment of a non-indigenous animal.

The study also shows that no established, non-native amphibian or reptile species ever has been eradicated.

Researchers are urging lawmakers to create enforceable policies before more species reproduce and become established.

The study names 56 non-native species that have become established in Florida: 43 lizards, five snakes, four turtles, three frogs and a caiman, a close relative of the American alligator.

"The invasion of lizards is pretty drastic considering we only have 16 native species," Krysko said. "Lizards can cause just as much damage as a python. They are quicker than snakes, can travel far, and are always moving around looking for the next meal."

Defined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as organisms "whose introduction causes or is likely to cause economic or environmental harm or harm to human health," invasive species are a growing concern for residents and policymakers.

Floridians have experienced some of the damage these animals can cause, from iguanas that destroy cement walls to Burmese pythons released in the Everglades that eat protected species.

While the impact of many of the introduced species has not been determined, the study provides new information about how, why and when they entered the state.

One of the most easily recognized species is the brown anole, the first introduced lizard, which reached Florida from Cuba via cargo ships in 1887.

Until about 1940, nearly all non-native species arrived through this accidental cargo pathway, but the boom in popularity of exotic terrarium animals in the 1970s and 1980s led to the pet trade being accountable for 84 percent of the introductions, Krysko said.

One of the greatest obstacles pet owners face is how to feed and house an exotic animal that has become too large or difficult to handle, Krysko said. Some owners just release problem animals into the wild.

"The biggest example is the Burmese python," Krysko said. "It's a large constrictor and has definitely shown impact on native species. Some you just can't even find anymore."

Other pathways include biological control, in which an animal is intentionally released to control a pest species, and accidental introduction through the zoo or plant trade.

"It's like some mad scientist has thrown these species together from all around the world and said, 'Hey let's put them all together and see what happens,'" Krysko said. "It could take decades before we actually know the long-term effects these species will have."

The study will serve as a baseline for establishing effective policies for control or eradication, said Fred Kraus, a vertebrate biologist at the Bishop Museum in Honolulu who helped establish policies for invasive amphibians and reptiles in Hawaii.

"There is a lot more work going on now, but for years it was just ignored," Kraus said. "For years, climate change was ignored, too. You know, humans just tend to ignore bad news until you can't ignore it anymore."

"This is a global problem and to think Florida is an exception to the rule is silly," Krysko said. "The [Florida] Fish and Wildlife Commission can't do it alone. They need help and we have to have partners in this with every agency and the general public. Everyone has to be on board; it's a very serious issue."

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Climate hits Malaysian rice output

Embun Majid The Star 5 Oct 11;

ALOR SETAR: Global climatic natural disasters in some parts of the world have affected padi harvest in areas managed by the Muda Agriculture Development Authority (Mada).

Although the impact is still under control, the agency that contributes 40% of the total rice production in the country is taking measures to protect the state’s rice bowl status.

There are four Mada regions, covering Kedah and Perlis.

The agency, set up in 1970, currently produces an average of 6.2 metric tonnes of padi per hectare with the help of irrigation canals that channel water to about 100,000ha of land.

However, natural disasters, including drought and floods due to the El-Nino and La-Nina phenomena, have disrupted the agency’s planting and harvesting schedules.

General manager Datuk Abdul Rahim Salleh said 17 incidents of flood over recent years had damaged crops and padi seedlings, causing losses to the tune of millions of ringgit.

He said three of the floods occurred between 1990 and 2000, while the 13 other flood incidents happened between 2000 and this year.

“This is proof that weather patterns have changed.

“We are keeping tabs so that the changes will not further damage our padi production,” he said, in an interview here.

He said areas hit by flood had to delay their planting as well as the harvesting process – setbacks the agency has to endure.

Abdul Rahim said although the agency could re-schedule the water releases for flood-hit areas, the question still remains on whether the soil would have ample time to recuperate after each planting season.

He said if the soil is still soft at the beginning of the first planting season of the year, which begins between March and April, it would not have enough time to harden and survive the burden of heavy machinery during the harvesting period.

“The dry season is important for padi planting because we need to make sure the soil is properly dried and hardened before we release water into the plots,” he said.

Abdul Rahim said Mada, being a National Key Economic Area (NKEA), has been allocated RM2.2mil to improve irrigation to its primary, secondary and tributary canals.

He said if the project that covers 128 locations in all Mada regions is completed, the agency would have better control of water flow.

Meanwhile, Malaysian Meteor­ological Department’s agricultural section head Azhar Ishak, when contacted, said weather changes affect agricultural activities, especially when it involves a pre-planned schedule like Mada’s.

He said studies showed global weather changes are due to the increase in temperature and over the years would increase gradually due to factors that include the greenhouse effect.

“We are studying the effects of global weather change on the country’s agriculture industry, not only for the padi industry but also for other agricultural activities,” said Azhar.

Haze, flood and drought are among the natural disasters that affect agricultural activities in the country.

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Jakarta to build huge dike to overcome flooding problem

Antara 3 Oct 11;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - The Jakarta city administration plans to build a huge dike to overcome flood problem that the city always faces every year, a city administration official said here on Monday.

Achmad Harjadi, the city administration`s deputy for environment and spatial management, said the feasibility study on the Jakarta Coastal Defense Strategy (JCDS) to overcome floods that includes the dike project had already been finished.

He said it takes eight months to finish the study with assistance from the Dutch government that has allocated four million euro worth of grant for it.

The complete master plan is now being made and the Dutch government has also pledged to help the reconstruction, he said.

He said members of the JCDS team who had been assigned to conduct the feasibility study were from the consortium of Dutch consultants, experts from the public works ministry and the Bandung Institute of Technology.

Floods have always happened in the city due to land subsidence and the hike in sea water level.

A number of options have been offered to overcome the problem such as strengthening and raising the dike at coast line locations, and extending "blue space" as a retention pond which has now become part of the plan.

The second option is integrating the sea dike with development of reclaimed areas while retaining the main river flows such as from Cengkareng Drain and West and East Flood Control Canals to the sea.

The third option meanwhile is building a dam to receive all water that comes from all rivers passing through the city for pumping out into the sea.

He said the city administration tends to choose the third option with an addition of Option 1 and 2 modifications.

He said the flood control dike would be designed also for a toll road. The multi-purpose dike will also function as a toll road or a railway to help overcome traffic problems in the city, he added.

The budget for the development of the dam in North Jakarta could reach Rp50 trillion which would be taken from the regional and national budgets and involvement of private parties in a public-private partnership scheme.(*)

Editor: Heru

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Barriers and dams: exporting Holland's sea defence

Johan van der Tol Radio Netherlands Worldwide 4 Oct 11;

The massive storm surge barrier on the mouth of Eastern Scheldt along the south-east coast of the Netherlands was officially opened 25 years ago. It is an awe-inspiring feat of modern engineering and construction: a dam some 9 kilometres in length with enormous sliding sluice gates which can be raised to make the dam watertight in the event of extremely high waters or a storm-induced surge in the North Sea. An example of Dutch sea defence know-how that has since become a major export product.

The Eastern Scheldt storm surge barrier was built at a time when the threat of rising sea levels had yet to loom large as it does now. This particular barrier was the final part of the larger project known as the Delta Works, which the Dutch thought up and implemented to protect low-lying areas in the coastal provinces of Zeeland and South Holland following the massive and disastrous floods of 1953. Then, large parts of the country were inundated following high tides in combination with a severe storm over the North Sea in February of that year. More than 1,800 people lost their lives in the Netherlands. There was also severe flooding in England, though the death toll there was considerably smaller.

Originally, the Eastern Scheldt barrier was due to be a closed dam, closing off the sea completely. Protests by the environmental movement ultimately resulted in the inclusion of large sections which were left open to the sea but with enormous hydraulically driven gates to close them off when needed. The sliding gates have indeed been used to seal off the dam a total of 24 times in the last 25 years. Cities such as London and St Petersburg followed the Dutch example and have their own moveable barriers, while Venice is working on a similar system.

The knowledge and expertise the Dutch gained in building the Delta Works has turned out to become a successful export product – as illustrated by the Mekong Delta project in Vietnam.

Pier Vellinga, professor in climate change at Wageningen University, is an advisor on the sea defence project in Venice. The plans to build a barrier there met with a number of ecological objections at the end of the 20th century, but Professor Vellinga’s arguments regarding rising sea levels played a role in the Venetians’ eventual decision to put the plans into effect. Venice has opted for a variation on the Dutch Delta Works - its barrier has moveable gates underwater. A colossal structure like the Eastern Scheldt barrier would ‘pollute’ the horizon for this historic city.

There’s a need for similar moveable sea and water defences in various places around the world. This need exists because of the threat of rising ocean and sea levels and the threat to precious brackish-water environments. The question is can developing countries come up with the necessary billions that such projects cost? Professor Vellinga believes they will - ultimately:

“Of course, barriers like these are rather expensive, but safe harbours in coastal areas can do a lot of good for the economy. Moreover, the storm surge barrier system in the Netherlands also provides a highway that links the province of Zeeland with the port of Rotterdam. So barriers also have an economic spin-off.”

Exchange of know-how
The export of Dutch skills and experience is not entirely a matter of one-way traffic, however. There are also things which Dutch water engineers can learn from other countries. Siebe Schaap from the Netherlands Water Partnership (NWP) has, for instance, spent a considerable time working in the Indonesian capital, Jakarta: “There are some 20 million people there who needed to be protected against the water [threat]. The things learnt there are in turn applicable to the Netherlands and other places.”

The NWP is a joint project involving Dutch government agencies, researchers and the private, commercial sector, aimed at marketing Dutch know-how in the field of water management to the rest of the world. There’s also the I-Storm platform which serves as an exchange for knowledge and experience relating to sea defences.

Decide in haste, repent at leisure
Siebe Schaap says the Eastern Scheldt storm surge barrier is still one of the world’s most impressive water defence construction projects. Not only because of its sheer size, but also because the amount of research that was carried out for it. This meant that water systems, sand movements and the ecological impact were all measured and recorded in great detail. Siebe Schaap says:

“That’s the difference with, for example, the Three Gorges Dam in China. That construction was built quickly and without much forethought. That’s when you encounter major problems later on, by which time the thing has already been built. So, the skill of well-planned execution, that’s something you can learn from the Dutch.”

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