Best of our wild blogs: 9 Oct 11

Short and random: (charismatic) Wildlife in urban Singapore
from Nature rambles

Life History of the Aberrant Oakblue
from Butterflies of Singapore

A Gem at USR on a Sunny Saturday Morning
from Beauty of Fauna and Flora in Nature

111007 CCNR
from Singapore Nature

Slime is going places
from The Biology Refugia

A lovely evening at Semakau
from wild shores of singapore

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New love for outdoors

Dennis Chan Straits Times 9 Oct 11;

The many ways parents think up to entertain their kids can fill a tome, I grumbled to my wife while fanning myself hard with a flimsy flyer for a bubble tea kiosk at Plaza Singapura.

For someone who disliked queues and crowded places, it was a wonder I found myself outside Dhoby Ghaut MRT station with Lu Yee and our daughters, Yanrong and Yanbei, on a humid morning at the tail end of a queue that snaked in the direction of Raffles City before doubling back to the Istana gates 100m or so away.

As Mr S R Nathan was hosting his last Open House as President to celebrate Hari Raya Aidilfitri, and since none of us had seen the inside of the Istana, Lu Yee thought it would be a nice occasion to experience our first Open House.

We were not disappointed. The queue moved along briskly and we found ourselves on the Istana grounds after a short wait. Although we did not see Mr Nathan, we had a great time.

From the moment we cleared the security check, the children dashed about on the sprawling grounds.

They gamely climbed trees, safely, I hasten to add, as these had thick branches that were low enough to pacify a batophobe, or someone who has a fear of being near tall objects.

As the early years of Singapore figured prominently in Yanrong's social studies syllabus this year, we trooped over to the spot where the famous statue of Queen Victoria stood. But there was little history to be gleaned from there.

'Did the Queen ever step foot on Singapore?' I wondered aloud.

The girls weren't interested in my question. They had taken a fancy to a very popular Istana visitor - a friendly donkey that was on loan from the zoo for the day - and wanted to spend more time at its makeshift pen to pet the animal.

Thanks to them, I'm seeing a lot more of a side of Singapore that I did not see previously or had wanted to see.

Before the kids came along, award-winning nature and conservation haunts such as Chek Jawa and Treetop Walk were simply names of places that other people were welcome to visit.

My wife and I were more agreeable to movies, shopping and high teas in comfortable settings that befit the moniker of Singapore as an air-con nation.

Today, we still enjoy movies and hanging out in the malls (no more high teas, though, as my waistline cannot afford it).

But since becoming parents, our lifestyle has become less sedentary and more values-driven.

An early sign of the change manifested in our choice of TV programmes. Instead of tuning to a channel that was peppered with Parental Guidance advisories, we switched to one that predominantly featured children, puppets and animals.

Initially, the lifestyle change was largely passive for me. I could sit on the couch and learnt to tell Ernie apart from Bert in Sesame Street or that SpongeBob SquarePants was not related to Bob the Builder.

But as the children grew older, there was no escaping the great outdoors as an important arena for family bonding.

My wife and I have reintroduced ourselves to the Botanic Gardens, zoo, bird park and science centre. We have also made our acquaintance with Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserves, MacRitchie Reservoir and Hay Goat Farm.

At the risk of sounding cliched, these visits have been journeys of discovery.

On our second visit to the farm, we turned up at milking time and were amazed at the well-drilled dairy goats.

They trotted to their milking stations in a single file and stood quietly while the regimental sergeant, also known as the milkman, moved from goat to goat to sanitise their teats before attaching them to automated pumps.

They were then milked for all they were worth, both literally and figuratively, as a spectacle for the gawking visitors.

After it was over, the goats filed out smartly, once again, in an orderly fashion. An accompanying marching band would not have been out of place.

Naturally, there is only so much novelty one can get out of being a first-time visitor.

Which is why I applaud the Science Centre Singapore for regularly bringing in visiting exhibitions to freshen up its attractions.

Last year, it brought in CSI: The Experience, an exhibition that combined the entertainment of the famous US crime investigation TV show with the educational qualities of real-life forensic investigation techniques.

It was great fun. The girls spent about two hours in the exhibition hall and couldn't stop talking about it for the next two days. For solving the 'crime', each received a CSI certificate - a nice touch as children their age love rewards, be it a certificate or a smiley-face sticker.

We have had to cut down on our little jaunts since the start of the school year, but with the year-end holidays coming up, we'll make up for lost time, I'm sure.

Nothing too strenuous, I hope, or I may have to ask my boss for more days off to recuperate from the exertion during my annual leave.

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Flood control system put to stress test in December

Channel NewsAsia 8 Oct 11;

SINGAPORE: Environment and Water Resources Minister, Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, said he's confident that with intelligent use of technology and a more informed public, the flood problem can be resolved.

He said this when asked about the flood control preparations ahead of the wet season in December. He also said all agencies are on alert.

An expert panel had on Thursday recommended that Singapore review its drainage system, which it felt was not adequate to cope with increasingly intense rainfall. It had also pushed for a more sophisticated monitoring system.

The final report is due in January.

Dr Balakrishnan told reporters he broadly agrees with their views, saying they'll provide the impetus for water agency PUB to redesign the entire water system.

Possible measures include improving drains and increasing the amount of rain water absorbed into the ground.

As a start, the ministry will increase the number of sensors and provide real-time information to the public and to PUB.

Dr Balakrishnan said: "December is time for stress test for our system and I can assure the public that we will keep people fully appraised of the situation. (We will) do our best to deal with what nature throws at us.

"At the end of the day, this is nature. We have to adapt, we have to find ways to deal with nature, we cannot control nature."

- CNA/ck

Singapore on alert for floods: Vivian
Channel NewsAsia Today Online 9 Oct 11;

SINGAPORE - Environment and Water Resources Minister Vivian Balakrishnan is confident that, with intelligent use of technology and a more informed public, the flood problem can be resolved.

He said this when asked about the flood control preparations ahead of the wet season in December. He also said all agencies are on alert.

An expert panel had on Thursday recommended that Singapore review its drainage system, which it felt was not adequate to cope with increasingly intense rainfall. It had also pushed for a more sophisticated monitoring system. The expert panel's final report is due in January.

Dr Balakrishnan told reporters yesterday he broadly agreed with their views, saying they will provide the impetus for national water agency PUB to redesign the entire water system.

Possible measures include improving drains and increasing the amount of rainwater absorbed into the ground. As a start, the ministry will increase the number of sensors and provide real-time information to the public and to PUB.

Dr Balakrishnan said: "December is the time for stress testing our system and ... we will keep people fully apprised of the situation, do our best to deal with what nature throws at us. At the end of the day, this is nature. We have to adapt ... we cannot control nature."

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Shell refinery fire on Bukom: Calm under fire

Faced with Singapore's largest refinery fire in over 20 years, Shell leapt to action to deal with crisis
Robin Chan Straits Times 9 Oct 11;

For 32 hours last month, Singaporeans watched with rapt attention as a fire burned on an island 5km off the southern shore of Singapore.

While firefighters battled to contain the conflagration at Shell's Pulau Bukom refinery, an eight-man strong crisis team huddled inside a room at Shell's headquarters on 83 Clemenceau Avenue, miles away from the action.

Heading this team was Mr Lee Tzu Yang, the 56-year-old chairman of Shell companies in Singapore.

For the man facing the largest refinery fire in Singapore for more than 20 years, the pressure was on.

There was a hint of irony too in the situation - Mr Lee is also the chairman of Singapore's Workplace Safety and Health Council. But if the heat was on him, one would have been hard-pressed to see it.

Shell's response to the crisis turned out to be so slick and well-oiled that Mr Lee said he did not have trouble sleeping about four or five hours each night, and did not even need to set foot on the island until the fire went out on Sept 29.

Speaking to The Sunday Times in an exclusive interview eight days after the incident, Mr Lee - dressed in a navy blue protective jumpsuit (known as personal protective equipment) on his way to Pulau Bukom - cut a cool figure as he shared his thoughts on his 'most challenging' battle with safety since joining the oil giant in 1979.

It started with a phone call at about 1.45pm on Sept 28.

On the line was Mr Martijn van Koten, vice-president for Shell's manufacturing operations, who said a fire had broken out at Pump House 43 - an area containing an intimidating network of pipes carrying gasoline, kerosene and other expensive refined oil products.

That first conversation was deliberately short.

'In a fire, the protocol is to let the folk at the fire fight the fire and not burden them with questions. Because that's not going to help them,' Mr Lee said.

Forty-five minutes later, he got another call telling him that the fire was being contained by Shell's own 40-man strong firefighting team, which was eventually boosted by some 100 personnel from the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF).

At the site, safety mechanisms had also clicked into place.

First, automatic pumps were activated, spreading foam on the fire.

A drainage system around the pump house area also kicked into gear, pumping any run-off liquids out, away from the fire and pipes.

The fact that all these systems worked was a big relief for Shell, and they played a significant part in helping to keep the gigantic inferno to a contained area measuring 176m by 65m.

'These systems are designed for that purpose, but they may not be designed for that amount,' Mr Lee said.

'So we needed to make sure we could handle the volumes of foam, water and hydrocarbons that came through. And it worked, so that was another confidence-builder.'

Meanwhile floating barriers called 'booms' had also been put out as a precautionary measure, along with a boat that kept watch in case any of the chemicals spilled into the sea. But that did not happen.

Firefighting in the office

Mr Dai Nguyen, Shell's health, safety and environment manager, was attending a course on nearby Jurong Island when he heard about the fire through an automated emergency call-out message.

He could already see the huge plumes of smoke from where he was and, as he was a key member of the Emergency Response Team, he rushed back to Bukom to coordinate the site response and link up with the SCDF.

The cool and systematic approach to dealing with the fire came as no surprise to the thousands of staff and contractors who commute to Bukom each day.

Pulau Bukom, a 1.45 sq km mass of land that Shell has occupied since 1891, has 12 islandwide drills a year that specifically include firefighting, and contacting the SCDF in emergencies.

As luck would have it, its most recent exercise last month was its one annual joint exercise with the SCDF.

'These are the sort of things you thank God for after the event, that you have actually practised,' said Mr Lee, a father of three.

The SCDF came well-prepared too, so much so that piles of extra equipment, such as pumps and foam tenders, lined Pasir Panjang ferry terminal.

'They prudently over-responded,' said Mr Lee, smiling. 'You can laugh at it, but at the time, it was a great source of comfort.'

After receiving the second phone call at 2.30pm, there was radio silence from Bukom over the next few hours. Mr Lee hoped that meant the fire was being put out.

But instead he got shocking news that there had been a violent surge at around 6.30pm which damaged three fire trucks.

That was when Mr Lee declared a crisis in order to get more help, and formed a crisis management team at Shell House.

'I activated the office-based staff to start bringing them in and thought, 'OK, this is going to be a long night,'' he said.

'It was not just the people at the site who now needed to be fighting the fire, we needed to, as a company, think about what this might mean.'

Among the team were people in charge of Shell's manufacturing, supply, communications and human resources, and also an overall co-coordinator who would act as Mr Lee's back-up.

By then, Mr Lee had already made a phone call to Shell global chief executive Peter Voser in the Netherlands, who had offered words of support and asked Mr Lee to make sure that no one was being 'overstretched'. Mistakes happen in such circumstances, he had said.

But the more difficult conversation with Mr Voser came a day later, after a second violent surge in the middle of the day dented the spirits of the Shell and SCDF people.

'To have had not one, but two surges, that was quite worrying,' Mr Lee said.

'Some of our people had already been working for 20 to 30 hours straight. So we started to put on shifts and to find alternates. We started to say: 'Okay if this were to take a week, do we have the resources?''

Emerging from trial by fire

As the hours wore on and the fire continued to burn, the weariness and worry started to be clearly apparent on the faces of Shell and SCDF staff at their second media briefing at a temporary tactical HQ at the Pasir Panjang ferry terminal on the night of Sept 29.

The SCDF said it had never seen this kind of a fire, described later as 'complex and multi-dimensional'. And even Shell's experts could not figure out what was actually feeding the fire from the myriad pipelines.

They had decided to fly in Shell's global health, safety and environment consultant Evert Jonker to provide more help.

A weary Mr Lee headed back to the office, planning for another long day of crisis management.

But, just as unexpectedly as he had found out about the fire, he got a call telling him that it had finally been put out, 32 hours after it began.

Looking back, a stoic Mr Lee said he was just relieved that the fire was not bigger, and that no one was seriously injured.

'Fire is one of the things we fear the most and we are most loath to have because hydrocarbons and fire don't mix,' he said.

That the situation did not play out worse had much to do with training and rehearsing, he firmly believes.

'We are in an industry where the implications of taking your eye off the ball are horrendous, so we take safety very seriously in my company,' said Mr Lee.

'We train and train our people. And we tell them this is what we need to do, this is what we need to be ready for. And that even if this happens once every 20 to 25 years, one incident can wipe you out.

'I am still very, very interested in what caused the fire, because that's the other side of the safety angle that we need to pay attention to, but I'm very glad that on this side, we were able to protect people.'

The refinery on Bukom has now reached a stable and safe state, said Mr Lee, after it had been progressively shut down since the start of the fire.

With a key hydrocracker unit shut and others operating at low throughput, the challenge now is to find a way to supply customers with the petrochemical products they had ordered.

A dedicated safety study has been performed for all units adjacent to the incident site, which has confirmed that they are not damaged.

'We can confirm that some operations have continued and some operations will resume at the site but we are unable to comment on operational specifics,' he said.

Shell is now looking at re-connecting the network of lines within the refinery to start up operations without the damaged areas, which are currently under investigation by the Ministry of Manpower and SCDF.

One bone of contention that Shell has had to deal with is the concept of force majeure, which means the company is freed from contractual obligations in the event of extraordinary circumstances.

Although the company declared force majeure on some of its contracts, it does not mean Shell would be walking away from its obligations to its customers.

'It does not imply automatic cessation of supply or even reduction,' said Mr Lee. 'It basically gives notice that the circumstance agreed between buyer and seller in the contract has happened, so we need to re-think and follow the clause.

'We have been in Singapore for 120 years. We wouldn't be here if we didn't take our customers and our obligations seriously.'

Rising from the ashes

After any crisis, it is common for someone at the top to take the blame. But Mr Lee said he has no plans to resign and never felt any pressure to do so over the fire.

'Do I feel personally responsible? There is certainly a sense of responsibility,' he said.

'But I need to understand what I could have done better and I think I rely on the investigation to do that.'

He does let on, however, that he has been turning over in his mind things he could have done 'over the last three years, five years, or 10 years' that could have made a difference in preventing the fire from starting in the first place, or that could have made his people even better prepared.

But that reflection will have to come at a later time.

'My responsibility now is to make sure the company is brought together during this difficult period, make sure the co-operation with the public services goes on well, that the recovery for our customers is well managed and then let the investigation come up with its recommendations,' added Mr Lee.

Shell will go through an internal process of what he called 'causal learning' - looking back at each action that led to the fire 'almost to the point of absurdity'.

'You go back to not only what created the spark, but also what created the atmosphere around it. Was there deficiency in training? Were there things that we could have done differently?'

Before he left to catch his ferry to Bukom, Mr Lee could not help but warn Singaporeans not to be alarmed when Shell eventually starts up its refinery fully again.

'In a start up or shut down, you will always see a bigger flame!' he quipped.

'We don't want the public in Singapore to believe that this is any problem, this is entirely normal. And it is safer to have a bit of a flame than not to have it.'

A fire which is better than no fire? For Shell, clearly not all fires are so bad after all.

Background story

Shell chairman takes leave from workplace safety council

Shell Singapore chairman Lee Tzu Yang, who also helms the Workplace Safety and Health Council, took a temporary leave of absence from the industry body last Monday.

He told The Sunday Times that the move was to avoid any conflicts of interest as the inquiry into the cause of the Pulau Bukom fire gets under way.

'I wanted to make absolutely clear from the beginning that I do not seek to, and will not, have any influence whatsoever on the investigation, and Shell will fully cooperate,' said Mr Lee.

'This leave of absence will also enable me to better focus on Shell's recovery efforts.'

The blaze, which engulfed a pump house at the oil giant's half-a-million barrel-a-day refinery on Pulau Bukom, burned for 32 hours two weeks ago. As a result, parts of the refinery - Shell's largest in the world - have been temporarily shut down.

Investigations by the Ministry of Manpower and Singapore Civil Defence Force are still ongoing.

Mr Lee said he is confident Shell will take the lessons learnt from the fire in its stride and be the better for it.

'Safety is too important for us to shrink from the responsibility to make this message heard,' he said. 'If we do not step up to this, we will not succeed in making Singapore a leader for safety and health in the workplace.'

The 18-member council was established in 2008 to help raise workplace safety and health standards among local industry players.

The Manpower Ministry said yesterday that Maritime Sustainability chief executive Heng Chiang Gnee will be acting chairman of the council.

Robin Chan

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Tonnes of oil leak from ship aground off New Zealand

Maritime New Zealand Incident Controller Rob Service said "the damage is quite extensive"
BBC News 8 Oct 11;

Several tonnes of oil have leaked from a cargo ship which has run aground close to one of New Zealand's top tourist destinations, officials say.

The maritime authorities in New Zealand believe at least 10 tonnes of oil have already seeped from the Rena.

This has created a 5km-long (3 miles) oil slick from the 47,000-tonne container ship.

Several Naval vessels have been sent to assist the salvage operation which has been hampered by poor weather.

If the ship breaks up, it could release 1,700 tonnes of heavy fuel oil into the Bay of Plenty, home to whales, dolphins, seals, penguins and a variety of other birds.

The Rena ran aground on the Astrolabe Reef about 12 nautical miles from Tauranga Harbour on Wednesday.

Svitzer Salvage, the company handling the ship's rescue, said the oil needs to be secured then removed before any refloat attempt is possible.

A spokesperson, Matthew Watson, said the outlook for the ship had improved but more oil could end up in the water.

"The vessel is damaged in the hull. There could be residual oil flushing around and that could be influenced by waves lapping against it or by tidal movements. So, while it is certainly looking better today (Saturday), no-one should be complacent," he said.

Transport Minister Steven Joyce said on Friday that salvage teams were working hard to remove oil from the stricken ship to protect the bay.

"The difficulty is that the situation is deteriorating and according to the advice I've received, there's the possibility it could break up and sink," Mr Joyce told the New Zealand Herald.

Officials said on Saturday that pumping oil from the stricken vessel could start on Sunday, depending on the damage of the ship and the weather.

The Department of Conservation has established two wildlife rescue centres and dispatched teams to scour the beaches and islands of the Bay of Plenty looking for oil-covered animals and birds.

Four seabirds were found dead in the oil slick on Thursday, and Maritime New Zealand (MNZ) said more birds covered in oil were discovered on Friday.

MNZ said it was preparing for the possibility the existing slick would hit the coast in the coming days after dispersants sprayed from aircraft proved ineffective.

"It has the potential to be very, very serious indeed, simply because of the age of the ship, the damage she's sustained, and the 1,700 tonnes of heavy fuel on board," Andrew Berry of MNZ told Radio New Zealand.

MNZ has established a one-kilometre maritime exclusion zone around the ship and warned that the fuel oil is toxic.

The animal welfare group Forest and Bird said the timing of the accident, in the middle of the breeding season for birds, was "disastrous".

Australia is sending experts to New Zealand to help mop up the spill.

Three officials from the Sydney Ports Corporation are leaving for New Zealand on Saturday, along with more staff from New South Wales (NSW) Maritime and other agencies. The Australian state of New South Wales is also sending a large oil skimmer to assist the New Zealand authorities.

It is not known why the Liberian-flagged ship ran aground on the reef. None of the 25 crew was injured.

N.Zealand oil slick ship battened down as storm looms
(AFP) Google News 6 Oct 11;

WELLINGTON — Salvage crews scrambling to avert an environmental disaster in New Zealand's pristine Bay of Plenty battened down a stranded ship carrying 1,700 tonnes of oil on Monday as stormy weather loomed.

Fearing that the container vessel Rena would break apart in heavy seas and sink on the reef it struck last Wednesday, salvage teams installed covers designed to seal the ship's fuel tanks if it ends up on the sea bed.

They also lashed down shipping containers on the vessel's deck and moved the fuel from damaged tanks at the front of the vessel to more secure ones in the stern, Maritime New Zealand (MNZ) said.

MNZ salvage unit manager Bruce Anderson said sensors had been installed on the Liberian-flagged ship to alert officials if stress from rough weather began to tear the hull apart.

"That's a possibility, the weather is something we're keeping a close eye on along with the ship's structure," he told Radio New Zealand.

"Obviously the potential for serious consequences is there, and we're under no illusions about that -- that's why we're trying to work around the clock to get the oil off."

The government has warned that if the ship sinks and spews oil into the Bay of Plenty, which is home to whales, dolphins, penguins and seals, it could create New Zealand's largest maritime pollution disaster in decades.

The official forecaster MetService issued a severe weather warning for the bay, predicting that heavy rain and winds gusting up to 90 km/h (56 mph) would hit late Monday.

The salvage teams worked through the night, hoping to remove the oil before the bad weather arrived, but Anderson said that by Monday morning only 10 tonnes had been pumped onto a tanker moored beside the stricken vessel.

MNZ said safety concerns meant that pumping had to be suspended.

Discharge from the ship has already created a five-kilometre oil slick and killed a number of sea birds, with seven Little Blue penguins and two shags beng treated at wildlife rescue centres after being found covered in oil.

Some 250 people, including specialists from Australia, Britain, Holland and Singapore, have joined the oil slick response team, with 300 defence personnel on standby in case they are needed for shoreline clean-up work.

Oil from ship grounded off New Zealand reaches shore
BBC News 10 Oct 11;

Oil from a leaking ship stranded on a reef off the coast of New Zealand has begun washing ashore, as teams work to stabilise the vessel.

Fist-sized clumps of oil have been found on Mount Maunganui beach on the North Island.

The container ship, the 775ft (236m) Rena, ran aground on the Astrolabe Reef on Wednesday.

Bad weather has forced a temporary halt to operations to pump oil off the vessel.

So far up to 30 tonnes of oil or fuel are believed to have spilled into the sea and more oil was reported to be leaking from the vessel on Tuesday.

Officials fear that if the ship breaks up in bad weather, 1,700 tonnes of fuel could be spilled.
'Round the clock'

A tanker moored alongside the vessel to offload the oil had to return to port after suffering minor damage. Strong seas meant the tanker would not have been able to resume operations anyway, officials said.

More bad weather is forecast later in the week and Maritime New Zealand (MNZ) said the off-loading operation would be carried out as fast as possible.

"The weather is expected to deteriorate in the coming days, so we are working around the clock to remove the oil," it said in a statement.

"The top priority is to first remove the oil, then lighten the vessel by removing the containers, and finally, move the ship off the reef."

About 200 people are involved in the salvage operation, while 300 military personnel are on stand-by to clean up beaches.

Officials have closed the affected beach and residents close to vulnerable coastlines have been told to stay out of the water.

MNZ said more oil was expected ashore in coming days.

"We are expecting oil to wash up on the shoreline south of Mount Maunganui but we don't know how much," it said.

Mayor of Tauranga Stuart Crosby said teams were doing all they could to bring the situation under control.

"The best people in the world are here now working incredibly hard under now challenging conditions, as you can see, to remove the oil and lessen the risk of an environmental catastrophe," he said.
Wildlife fears

Oil leaking from the Liberian-flagged Rena, stranded 12 nautical miles off the coast, has created a three-mile (5km) slick.

The department of conservation has established two wildlife rescue centres and dispatched teams to search the beaches and islands in the area for affected animals and birds.

Several oil-covered birds, including little blue penguins, have already been recovered.

Greenpeace has warned that whales and dolphins calving in the area could also be affected.

The owners of the ship, Greece-based Costamare Inc, have not given an explanation for the grounding, but said they were "co-operating fully with local authorities" to minimise any damage.

Prime Minister John Key, who flew over the scene in a helicopter on Sunday, said two inquiries to determine why the ship had hit the Astrolabe Reef were already under way.

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Indonesia: Coastal area needs absorption wells

Novia D. Rulistia, The Jakarta Post 8 Oct 11;

Serious attention to the degradation of the environment in the city’s north coastal area is needed as its high salinity level has caused two structures to collapse in one year, experts say.

Bandung Institute of Technology (ITB) researcher Heri Andreas said infrastructure in North Jakarta needed extra care to prevent corrosion that occurs faster than in other areas.

“The saltwater in North Jakarta can worsen the corrosion process, so maintenance must be conducted regularly and should not be neglected,” he said.

Salt water has been seeping into the city at an alarming rate, Heri said. North Jakarta residents have been forced to deal with salty tap water.

Recently, the supports of a 7-meter-high slide at the Atlantis Water Adventure water park in Ancol, North Jakarta, collapsed after being weakened by prolonged exposure to salt water.

PT Pembangunan Jaya Ancol acknowledged that they might have failed in making thorough maintenance checks during the regular monitoring of all rides and structures inside the amusement park. The incident injured three adults and two children.

Last year, the main road in North Jakarta, Jl. RE Martadinata, also collapsed, due to erosion of the road foundations by the rising sea level.

Energy and Mineral Resources Ministry water resources and environmental geology division head Dodid Murdohardono said the conditions of aquifers in Jakarta were divided into three categories: damaged, critical and safe.

“Those classified as ‘damaged’ are, among others, Kamal Kapuk and Tanjung Priok, where the salinity of the shallow aquifer has reached its highest level in less than 40 meters,” he said.

In damaged areas, chloride levels in the water have reached 600 milligrams per liter. In critical areas, where the water is salty, the chloride level is 200 to 600 milligrams per liter.

The chloride content in freshwater is less than 200 milligram per liter. However, Dodid said high levels of chloride were not only caused by sea water intrusion.

“There are some parts of Jakarta that also hold salt water because thousands of years ago they were part of the ocean. We usually call it water fossils,” Dodid said.

To avoid further intrusion of salt water in shallow and deep aquifers, absorption wells could become one of the solutions, he said.

By constructing an absorption well, rain water could be saved as a water reserve that could help
fill the empty pores underground as the result of groundwater withdrawal.

Heri also said that salt water intrusion could be stopped if excessive use of groundwater was curbed, which has caused serious land subsidence.

“But this is of course hard to do,” said Heri, who is also a member of the Jakarta Coast Defense Strategy (JCDS).

Besides the increasing sea levels due to global warming, land subsidence in North Jakarta makes the area more prone to floods.

Since 2002, land subsidence in North Jakarta has reached more than 1 meter and could cause the area sink below sea level in the next decade.

The JCDS findings show that around 40 percent of the land in Jakarta is already below sea level. Heri said the construction of a giant seawall was expected to be able to help solve sea water intrusion, land subsidence and flooding.

“The study of the construction of the seawall is expected to be completed in the next two years,” he said.

He said the seawall would be constructed a short distance off the coast and would include coastal reclamation efforts.

“There’s controversy over the reclamation, but I believe if we build it carefully and manage it well, it won’t damage the environment,” Heri said.

The construction of the seawall is a joint project run by the city administration and the JCDS, which is funded by the Dutch government.

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Why protecting the world's wildlife is good for our wallets

New body aims to promote economic as well as ethical side of biodiversity
Michael McCarthy The Independent 3 Oct 11;

A new world body on wildlife and ecosystems protection being set up by the UN must avoid blaming developing nations, where most of the world's biodiversity loss is occurring, says a top British scientist.

Overconsumption by rich western nations is as big a driver of global environmental degradation as the rapidly growing populations of developing countries, says Professor Bob Watson, a leading figure in setting up the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES).

The new body – modelled on the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) – will assess how and why the natural world is being degraded, what it will cost society, and what can be done to halt the process.

But it must avoid rows between rich and poor countries, says Professor Watson, an ex-head of the IPCC, who is Chief Scientific Adviser to Britain's Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. "If they think this is just the white world, the developed world, telling them what to do, that'll be the end of it ... The climate debate has been, 'you rich countries got rich by using cheap fossil fuels, and now you're telling us not to use them.' We must not get into that," he said. Regional assessments of biodiversity problems must be "owned" by the regions concerned, he said. So if there is a regional biodiversity assessment of Latin America, scientists from Latin America will carry it out, not foreign scientists.

Professor Watson will play a key role at a Nairobi meeting today which will decide how the new body can be formed, probably next year. Hopes are high that the IPBES might help halt the loss of global wildlife and habitats.

The IPBES is based on the increasingly influential concept of ecosystem services, that forests rivers or peat bogs are not just parts of the natural world, but produce oxygen, provide food and store atmospheric carbon, vital in the fight against climate change.

The new body, which all the major global nations back, follows on the heels of two reports: the Millennium Ecosystems Assessment of 2005, which showed that most of the world's ecosystems are in serious decline, and the report on The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity released last year, which estimated that nature and the services it provides are worth trillions of dollars annually to society.

The IPBES will aim to show the value of biodiversity both in ethical or social terms, and in economic terms.

Professor Watson is seen as the ideal person to oversee the UN's biodiversity body, as he has led international environmental assessments of all major global concerns: ozone depletion, climate change, ecosystem change and agriculture and development.

In fact, the 63-year-old atmospheric chemist, from Romford, east London, who still speaks with an East End accent, is the world's leading authority on policy responses to global change. Yet he is far from being a household name in Britain since he spent 34 years of his career in the US, where he held senior positions in NASA, the Clinton White House, and the World Bank. He chaired the IPCC from 1997 to 2002.

He says global ecosystems face a "headlong assault" from five drivers – land conversion (such as deforestation), over-exploitation (such as overfishing), the introduction of exotic species, pollution, and climate change.

And he does not think climate change can be stopped at a rise of two degrees Celsius, which is the goal of most world climate policy. "We had better be prepared to adapt to four degrees," the professor commented.

What the ecosystem is worth

Ask yourself what human society gets from a forest and the obvious answer is wood. Another obvious answer might be wildlife. Or perhaps, a pleasurable stroll. But that doesn't begin to list the benefits provided to us by a great aggregation of trees.

Forests such as the Amazon are ecosystems which provide the world with tremendous services that are essential to the continuance of human life. These include vast amounts of oxygen, and fresh water, and a beneficial climate, as well as the storing of billions of tonnes of the carbon dioxide which human industry is pumping into the atmosphere and which is causing the world to heat up, with potentially disastrous consequences. And at last, the real value of these ecosystem services is being realised.

Last year the UN released a ground-breaking report on The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity which put monetary value on the benefits the natural world provides us with. It runs into trillions of dollars annually, the report said.

For example, it suggested that the value of human welfare benefits provided by coral reefs was up to £109bn annually. The destruction of coral reefs is not only damaging to marine life but also poses risks to communities, the report said. Some 30 million people around the world rely on reef-based resources for food production, and for their livelihoods.

In another example, the report said that the economic value of insect pollinators, such as honey bees, in global crop production was £134bn a year.

Damage to natural capital including forests, wetlands and grasslands was valued at between $2trn and $4.5trn annually. But these figures are not included in economic data such as GDP, or in corporate accounts.

Now the hope is that with the IPBES, they will be taken into account, and a true picture of how much biodiversity loss is costing the world will emerge.

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California Bans Possession, Sale of Shark Fins

Environment News Service 7 Oct 11;

SACRAMENTO, California, October 7, 2011 (ENS) - Governor Jerry Brown today signed legislation to ban the possession and sale of shark fins in California, saying shark finning for culinary purposes has led to substantial declines in shark populations worldwide.

California is the fourth U.S. state to enact a ban on the sale of shark fins, joining Hawaii, Washington, and Oregon.

"The practice of cutting the fins off of living sharks and dumping them back in the ocean is not only cruel, but it harms the health of our oceans," said Governor Brown.

"Researchers estimate that some shark populations have declined by more than 90 percent, portending grave threats to our environment and commercial fishing," he said. "In the interest of future generations, I have signed this bill."

While many countries have already banned the practice, it continues unabated in unregulated international waters.

By banning the possession and sale of shark fins, California joins Hawaii, Washington, Oregon and Guam in an effort to reduce demand and protect shark populations.

AB 376, the bill banning shark fins was authored by Assemblyman Paul Fong, a Cupertino Democrat. Governor Brown also signed a companion bill by Assemblyman Fong, AB 853, which allows existing stocks of on-hand shark fins to be sold until July 1, 2013.

The ban goes into effect on January 1, 2012, but businesses and individuals can sell shark fins obtained before the ban went into effect, until July 1, 2013.

The bill's passage marks a huge win for the Asian Pacific American Ocean Harmony Alliance, an organization that formed to give voice to Asian Americans who support the ban on the sale of shark fins.

Shark fins are prized for making shark fin soup, a costly banquet dish. About 85 percent of U.S. shark fin consumption occurs in California, according to the APA Alliance.

Bill Wong, a member of the APA Alliance, recruited more than 25,000 people to join a campaign on calling for passage of the ban.

The APA Alliance was one of the bill's sponsors, organized call-in days, and was instrumental in encouraging Governor Brown to support AB 376.

"We applaud Governor Brown for signing AB 376," said Wong. "It puts California at the forefront of the global effort to save sharks led by a broad coalition of Asian Pacific Americans, conservationists, animal rights activists, commercial fishermen, business leaders and artists. The passage of this bill may just be the tipping point that will preserve the shark species and the ocean ecosystem."

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Financing Quarrels Mar UN Climate Talks in Panama

Environmental News Service 7 Oct 11;

PANAMA CITY, Panama, October 7, 2011 (ENS) - A week of formal United Nations climate negotiations in Panama ended Friday with progress on drafting decision texts that will allow governments to push ahead in Durban with concrete help for the developing world to deal with climate change, said UN officials.

But delegates from developing countries and environmental groups expressed doubt that rich countries will provide the necessary financial support to help developing countries cope with climate change, despite their promises.

"Panama made good progress on preparing the decisions that will help developing countries adapt to climate change and get access to the technologies they need to create their own clean energy futures," said Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, UNFCCC.

"This includes meeting deadlines for the launch of the new Adaptation Committee and Technology Mechanism, which were agreed at last year's Cancun climate change conference," said Figueres.

"It also made clear progress on how efforts to limit emissions by developing countries will be matched with necessary support from developed countries in a transparent way," she said. This includes work on a new Registry to record and account for this effort, which was also agreed in Cancun.

The meeting in Panama City, which opened October 1, was the last formal negotiating session of the year in advance of the next annual UN Climate Change Conference in Durban, South Africa, November 28 to December 9.

"Agreement on long-term finance must be at the foundation of the deal in Durban," said Tosi Mpanu Mpanu, from the Democratic Republic of Congo and chair of the African Group of countries. "We have demonstrated good faith in discussing new responsibilities for developing countries, we expect good faith from our partners in discussions how to implement their existing finance commitments."

African countries and Least Developed Countries expect the outcomes of the Durban conference to include agreements on:

the sources and scale of financial resources developed countries will provide from 2013
better transparency of financial resources through a common reporting format
start up of the Green Climate Fund, agreed last year in Cancun, and the Standing Committee on Finance

"The progress made in Panama means governments can have more time and space in the coming weeks and during Durban to resolve those outstanding issues on the future of the global climate change regime which will require political guidance," said Figueres.

"Durban will have to resolve the open question over the future of the Kyoto Protocol and what that means for a future global climate agreement," she said.

The governments of the United States, Japan and Canada and other industrialized countries are seeking to side-step the Kyoto Protocol, the world's only legally binding emissions reductions framework, and replace it with a voluntary system of regulating greenhouse gas emissions.

The United States has signed but not ratified the Kyoto Protocol. Japan and Canada have ratified the treaty, but have backed away from its main provision - an average 5.2 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions below 1990 levels by the end of 2012.

Australia, Norway and other countries also are now advocating a new climate treaty with a narrow focus on cutting climate emissions and new burdens on developing countries to cut emissions with no corresponding provisions for finance, technology, adaptation or capacity-building.

Friends of the Earth says, "This would constitute a clear shifting of the burden of tackling climate change away from the rich industrialized countries which have primary responsibility for creating the problem."

"Governments retain different positions but many technical issues related to this have already been brought to conclusion and there is a strong desire from all sides to see a final political decision made," Figueres said about the Kyoto Protocol.

In Panama, the South African Presidency led two inclusive and transparent consultations on these questions, one with governments and one with stakeholders and civil society.

Turning to the financial support that developed countries have pledged to the developing world, Figueres said talks in Panama had provided "a better view" of how the US$30 billion in fast-track funds up to the end of 2012 have been committed and the plans to disburse them.

In Panama, governments put forward their ideas for mobilizing the long-term financing to help developing countries cope with climate change that should reach US$100 billion a year by 2020.

Members of the African Group and the Least Developed Countries Group Thursday called on the United States and other industrialized countries to stop blocking progress on climate finance and to help the negotiations move forward.

"Climate finance is crucial for the survival of the world's poorest countries and people," said Pa Ousman of the Gambia, who chairs the Least Developed Countries Group. "We call on the developed countries to honor their promises and to unlock progress in the negotiations here in Panama."

In negotiations on finance, the United States delegate said that long-term climate finance was addressed in Cancun, and that there is no mandate to discuss it further.

The developing countries note that there are no finance pledges starting in 2013, immediately after the 2010-2012 climate finance pledge ends, yet developed countries expect developing countries to take on new responsibilities.

Figueres said, "It is critical that no financing gap occurs between the end of fast-start finance in 2012 and the ramp up of long-term finance to 2020."

Talks in Panama made what Figueres called "some progress" on the longer-term question of how governments will meet their agreed goal of limiting the global average temperature rise to no more than two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. This is the amount of temperature rise that most scientists say is the maximum allowable to avoid the worst consequences of climate change.

In Durban, governments will look to decide the shape of a formal review between 2013 and 2015, which they agreed at last year's climate conference in Cancun, Mexico as a reality check on progress towards their temperature goal.

Governments discussed the possibility of conducting this review through an expert body that would receive updates on the latest climate change science and its assessments.

"Clarity on an effective, credible review is most important, especially in light of the fact that the sum total of current national pledges to reduce global emissions falls 40 percent short of keeping below two degrees Celsius and that gap will have to be filled in the future," said Figueres.

The government of Panama will strengthen its climate risk management with the help of a $100 million loan approved Thursday by the Inter-American Development Bank.

The loan will fund a program to develop a framework for policy, disaster risk management, and climate change adaptation, benefitting populations most vulnerable to natural disasters. Panama's disaster response will be strengthened with training and updates of emergency-response protocols.

Panama is one of the top countries in the world affected by extreme weather phenomena due to climate change. Because of the country's geography, one in eight Panamanians is vulnerable to multiple natural hazards such as storms, flooding and earthquakes.

In the 25 years ending in 2008, Panama suffered losses amounting to $80 million from natural disasters.

Temperature and sea level rises related to climate change also pose a potential threat to the Panama Canal and other major sources of income such as tourism and agriculture.

"Strengthening Panama's disaster risk management is an essential component of the country's economic development strategy," said Hector Malarin, chief of the Environment, Rural Development and Disaster Risk Management Division at the Inter-American Development Bank.

The project will facilitate policy coordination among government agencies so that they can respond more quickly and more efficiently to natural disasters.

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