Best of our wild blogs: 10 Oct 11

Latest Green Jobs in Singapore [3 - 9 Oct 2011]
from Green Business Times

Green Drinks: Recycling in Singapore
from Green Drinks Singapore

Down Memory Lane: Remnants of Kampongs in Mandai Mangrove
from Mangrove Action Squad

Crested Serpent Eagle
from Life's Indulgences

Shell refinery fire at Bukom: a 'bright side'?
from wild shores of singapore

A peep into the lives of the long tailed macaques NEW BLOG!
from My Wild Life with Nature

A Whole Week’s Worth of Walking and Watching Birds (See what I did there?) from G33k5p34k's Blog

Exploration with Reef Friends
from Psychedelic Nature

New seagrass blog - by Siti!
from teamseagrass

Toddycats Engage! @ Biodiversity of Singapore Symposium III
from Toddycats!
Baler Volute
from Monday Morgue

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A coast to boast in the west too, please

Straits Times Forum 10 Oct 11;

ON OCT 1, my friend and I headed down to West Coast Park to work on a project for a school module. As we were required to photograph the flora and fauna in coastal areas, we decided to work on the Marsh Garden there.

Having done some research prior to the trip, we knew the Marsh Garden mangroves had undergone regeneration activities recently and we were keen to explore this relatively unknown area.

When we reached the place, however, we were disappointed at the small size of the mangrove area and what appeared to be an infestation of black, slimy molluscs in the water. The Marsh Garden was luxuriously vegetated at one end, but sparse at another. To add to our despair, we spotted koi and red-eared sliders in the water, although they are not found in mangrove areas.

But our initial disappointment turned into amazement as we realised how much this small patch of mangroves had to offer. Within a short span of an hour, we spotted at least nine species of birds, including a beautiful stork-billed kingfisher and a little heron. Furthermore, all corners of the mangrove area were relatively accessible, allowing us to creep near the water's edge to capture a few shots of a flowering Bruguiera gymnorhiza.

We left pleased with the wildlife we saw but could not help but feel that this wonderful patch of nature was not getting anywhere. For one thing, the fact that so many birds could be seen shows that this mangrove patch has the potential to support more biodiversity. However, the bad water quality and poor vegetation seem to be limiting its potential to do so. Moreover, the Marsh Garden is essentially pretty artificial as it drains into a canal that leads out to West Coast Beach.

This portion of the beach was crowded with boats and vessels, its shores devoid of life except for small molluscs.

It would definitely be a good start to rejuvenate this area in the West Coast by naturalising the surroundings and expanding the mangrove site.

It would be wonderful if those living in the western part of Singapore have a coast to boast of just as those living in the east do.

Cheong Shu Min (Miss)

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Cull monkeys if over-population is the problem

Straits Times Forum 10 Oct 11;

I WAS shocked to read that a search was on for a monkey believed to have attacked three people over the past three weeks ("Attacks spark hunt for monkey"; last Friday).

I was also disappointed with the response of National Parks Board (NParks) officials that the monkey-feeding problem might have reached a tipping point and that sometimes, animals just go crazy. Did NParks do an extensive survey or study to arrive at such conclusions?

Despite many reports of rogue monkeys attacking people and foraging for food at bus stops and households, NParks prefers to pin the blame on human feeding or provocation.

The attack on Hort Park visitor Tang Mae Lynn was apparently due to the monkey pack invading her personal space at the Forest Walk; she carried no food or drink. The problem could be due to monkey over-population or lack of monitoring by NParks officials.

I disagree with NParks about not going after the monkeys because the creatures belong there as much as humans. Does that mean we should silently accept monkey attacks as normal?

It is the job of NParks to ensure monkeys behave where they co-exist with us. NParks has a duty to patrol and monitor the growth of the animal population within the forest boundaries. The animals should be culled if they encroach on human living space and disturb our peace. They should also be punished if they misbehave.

NParks could install closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras along the Forest Walk and areas prone to monkey attacks to check on the culprits while initiating programmes to control such disturbances so that both animals and people can share the limited space on our island in peace.

Paul Chan

Related links
More about why we should not feed monkeys on wildsingapore.

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Malaysia: Restored forest sees signs of life

Avila Geraldine New Straits Times 9 Oct 11;

KOTA KINABALU: Efforts to rehabilitate the wildlife habitat at the degraded area in the northern part of the Ulu Segama-Malua forest reserves in Lahad Datu have begun to yield results.

Several images of orang utans building nests in replanted trees were captured by WWF-Malaysia in the newly-restored degraded forest.

It was a positive indication that the wildlife population in the degraded forest, where a mixture of native tree species were planted with the aim of enhancing the quality of wildlife habitat and food sources, especially for the orang utan, would increase before long.

A delighted Sabah Forestry Department (SFD) director Datuk Sam Mannan said the survival of the orang utans depended on well-managed forests.

"The restoration efforts in the Ulu Segama-Malua Forest Reserve since 2006 will help the largest endangered population of the Bornean orang utan, subspecies Pongo pygmaeus morio, in Sabah."

The Ulu Segama-Malua sustainable forest management, covering an area of 241,098 ha, was initiated by the state government and jointly managed by SFD and Sabah Foundation.

SFD has partnered WWF-Malaysia in reforestation efforts of 2,400 ha there since 2008.

The orang utan is the largest arboreal (tree-living) animal in the world. They spend most of their time in trees; feeding, sheltering and travelling through the forest canopy, from one tree to another.

"Without trees, it would be difficult for orang utans to survive," said Dr Rahimatsah Amat, the chief technical officer (Borneo programme) of WWF-Malaysia.

Dr Rahimatsah hoped to see more orang utans utilising the restored forest area, which has more replanted trees for food, shelter and also travel.

"We are already seeing some really exciting results, with our research and monitoring team reporting evidence of more wildlife starting to return to the restored areas of the degraded forest.

"This is not just orang utans, but also other wildlife, such as clouded leopard, sun bears and many more endangered species.

"A herd of wild Borneo pygmy elephants passed through our reforestation site early this year.

"Fortunately, they didn't cause any major damage to the replanted trees.

"On the other hand, the elephants left behind their dung, which is a tremendous natural fertiliser, at the replanted site," she said.

Funding for the reforestation in the Ulu Segama-Malua forest reserve comes from WWF-Germany, WWF-United Kingdom, WWF-Netherlands and WWF-Japan, as well as from the private sector, such as Adessium Foundation, Itochu Group, Marks & Spencer, Seng Heng and Aeon Jusco.

To date, 1,096ha of degraded forest in the forest reserve have been replanted out of the total 2,400ha allocated to WWF-Malaysia for reforestation by SFD.

In recognition of the efforts contributed by SFD towards managing the forest reserves under the sustainable forest management model, the Ulu Segama-Malua forest reserve was awarded the forest stewardship council (FSC) certificate at the FSC General Assembly held in Kota Kinabalu in June.

The certification ensures that the home for orang utans is better conserved.

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Thai government's rice policy pledge hurting global market

Michael Richardson, Straits Times 10 Oct 11;

A CAMPAIGN promise that helped bring Thailand's Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and her political party to power in July elections is roiling the global market for rice.

They promised their government would alleviate poverty in the countryside and raise rural income levels by buying unmilled rice, known as padi, from Thailand's eight million rice growers at 15,000 baht (S$630) a tonne - double the pre-election price.

The programme to increase the minimum guaranteed price for farmers, which has just taken effect, seems tailor-made to keep more supplies at home and drive up the export price.

In anticipation, international prices for various types and grades of rice have increased by more than 15 per cent since July. There are fears that they will go higher still, adding to inflation pressures in Asia when governments are reluctant to raise interest rates as economic growth slows.

Thailand is the world's top rice exporter, accounting for around one-third of global sales. Rice is a staple food in Asia that is now eaten by nearly half the world's population.

The London-based International Grains Council recently lowered its forecast for Thai rice exports next year by 9 per cent, to eight million tonnes, as high government procurement prices slow shipments. It said that Thailand's foreign rice sales next year are likely to be 20 per cent lower than this year's sales.

Dr Ammar Siamwalla, head of Thailand's Development Research Institute, says that the government's strategy, backed by exiled former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, Ms Yingluck's brother, is to control the lucrative rice export sector.

It is not the first time the Thai government has intervened in the market. During the global food crisis in 2008, it paid above-market rates in buying 5.4 million tonnes of rice to boost farmers' incomes.

Local prices rose to a record 17,000 baht per tonne in April that year, while export rates reached an unprecedented US$1,038 a tonne the following month, after China, India and Vietnam curbed shipments, leading to popular protests in a number of rice-importing countries.

Underlying causes of the upward spiral in internationally traded rice prices included surging demand, bad weather and a rapid rise in the cost of oil-based fertiliser as the price of oil shot up in 2008. Market intervention by governments, either to support local rice farmers or limit exports to conserve stocks, aggravated the food crisis, triggering panic and unrest in some consuming countries.

Will the social and political fallout be similar this time? The Thai government appears to have two options in handling the surplus rice, which it must sell abroad at up to US$870 (S$1,130) a tonne, well above the current market price of US$640 a tonne for high-grade rice, if it is to avoid a substantial loss.

It can either stockpile rice in the hope that the global price will rise, or it can export at subsidised prices that would cost Thai taxpayers billions of dollars.

The markets appear to be betting that Thailand will withhold rice. There is growing concern about future global food security, as populations increase and demand for staples rises.

The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in the Philippines has warned that the world needs to produce eight to 10 million tonnes more rice every year to ensure a reliable supply of the grain and keep the price affordable.

In this context, the Thai government's policy is misguided. Big farmers stand to gain most of the benefits because they produce most of the rice crop.

Instead, Thailand should let the rice market work freely and focus on helping growers, especially those with small and marginal farms, become more productive. Higher productivity means greater supply and thus lower prices.

An Australian study published last month found that new rice varieties developed by IRRI and planted, often with further improvements by local scientists, in Indonesia, Vietnam and the Philippines improved yields by up to 13 per cent between 1985 and 2009, enabling farmers in those countries to harvest an extra US$1.5 billion worth of rice a year as a result.

Market manipulation and fears about future food security may have caused the recent spike in rice prices. But there is no objective reason for the upward spiral to continue, unless China and other major rice consumers suddenly become big net importers or bad weather cuts production of leading exporters.

Aid agencies and officials are warning that South-east Asia's worst flooding in decades may hit rice harvests in Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. However, global rice stocks are high and before the South-east Asian floods, the world was heading for a second successive year of record milled rice output. An International Grains Council forecast last month put 2011-2012 production at 461 million tonnes, up by just over 2 per cent on the previous crop year.

Carry-over stocks in the five top exporters - Thailand, Vietnam, the United States, India and Pakistan - were projected to reach 33 million tonnes. Meanwhile, India has lifted a four-year export ban on non-basmati rice, allowing local rice traders to export up to two million tonnes of the grain.

So if there was greater confidence in the market mechanism, the price of rice should be stable or falling, not rising.

The writer is a visiting senior research fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies.

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Malaysia: Global Biodiversity Hub To Help Develop Marine Resources

Bernama 10 Oct 11;

KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 10 (Bernama) -- The set- up of a Global Biodiversity Hub (GBH) in Sabah will help in the sustainable development of marine resources within the Coral Triangle Initiative (CTI).

Sabah Chief Minister, Datuk Seri Musa Aman, said a management board, with members drawn from key stakeholder groups, would oversee GBH, an accredited body to manage and develop marine resources.

He said this at a media briefing after the opening of the second CTI Regional Business Forum 2011 today.

Also present was Minister of Science, Technology and Innovation Datuk Seri Dr Maximus Ongkili.

Musa said the Coral Triangle represented the highest diversity of marine life, covering 75 per cent of all coral species known to science.

"It is also home to over 3,000 species of reef fish and refuge for six of the world's seven species of marine turtles.

"We must be mindful of the negative repercussions, including loss of income and reliable food supply, for the over 120 million people who depend on resources within the Coral Triangle," he said.

He said the total monetary value of coral reefs, mangroves and associated natural habitats may come up to US$2.3 billion yearly in terms of fisheries, tourism and related activities.

Meanwhile, Ongkili said the role of the GBH was to reach the fishermen community as well as improve the livelihoods of farmers, with the role led by private sector with the government as a coordinator.

GBH is a project under Economic Transformation Programme Chapter 10.

The hub is led by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, while the CTI is led by the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation.

The funding for the hub is estimated at RM896 million over 10 years (2010-2020), with about 70 per cent contribution from the private sector.

The hub is expected to generate a gross national income of RM1.5 billion with 2,900 new jobs created.

CTI is a partnership founded on the commitment of the six Coral Triangle countries -- Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Solomon Islands and Timor-Leste -- to safeguard coastal and marine resources and communities.

Sabah is the only state in Malaysia located within this marine region.

It is also part of the Sulu-Sulawesi Marine Eco-region which lies at the apex of the Coral Triangle.


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Malaysia: Ministry to develop green index

New Straits Times 9 Oct 11;

KUCHING: The Natural Resources and Environment Ministry is to develop an environmental performance index as a yardstick to gauge the environmental management performance of every state next year.

Minister Datuk Seri Douglas Uggah Embas said the Malaysia Environmental Performance Index (EPI) 2012 would be developed in collaboration with Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (UTM) under the 10th Malaysia Plan.

He said the cabinet had agreed to the ministry's proposal which also had the support of various federal agencies.

"At the moment, we do not have an indicator on the public's response to environmental issues, such as climate change, the performances of local bodies like the City South Hall in managing solid and sewage waste disposal and the number of acreage of trees planted here."

Speaking after officiating at the Division Journalists Association Car Boot Sale and Sports Day at the Integrated Sports Complex here, he said the index would also help the ministry in terms of resource and manpower allocations.

He said Malaysia was ranked 54th among 163 countries under the Global EPI 2010, based on quantitative data obtained from the World Health Organisation, United Nations Global Environmental Monitoring System, government agencies, non-governmental organisations and academia.

The Malaysia EPI 2012 would also address issues pertaining to socio-economic sustainability, resources efficiency, environmental governance, and environmental awareness and behaviour.

On the 2012 Budget announced by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak, Uggah said his ministry was happy with the allocation of RM2 billion for flood-mitigation projects. -- Bernama

Govt gives nod to Environmental Performance Index
The Borneo Post 10 Oct 11;

KUCHING: The Federal Cabinet has agreed to set up an Environmental Performance Index (EPI) under the 10th Malaysia Plan (10MP) to enhance socio-economic sustainability.

EPI Malaysia 2012 is expected to focus on three major areas, namely resources efficiency, environmental governance, and environmental awareness and behaviour.

It will be a collaboration with Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (UTM) for the year 2012, revealed Minister of Natural Resources and Environment Dato Sri Douglas Uggah Embas.

“Environmental issues are more and more in the forefront now. The way we manage our environment must be reflected in the global arena.

“If you ask me how MBKS (Kuching South City Council) is doing in terms of protecting the environment, details about waste disposal, river quality, how many trees planted, and so on, I may need to refer to the respective agencies.

“With this EPI, the measurements should indicate these to enable the ministry to be more efficient in allocating resources in terms of manpower and funds,” he told reporters covering the charity car boot sale and Sports Day organised by Kuching Division Journalists Association (KDJA) at the Integrated Sports Complex here yesterday.

Uggah pointed out that Malaysia was ranked 54th among 163 countries in the EPI Global 2010.

EPI represented an instrument to measure environmental performance by gathering quantitative data, he

A group of experts from Yale University and Columbia University, working closely with the World Economic Forum, established the instrument, according to a media release.

It added that the input data for EPI Global was obtained from several sources, including World Health Organisation (WHO), United Nations Global Environment Monitoring System (GEMS), Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs), governments and academics.

EPI quantitative values were formed based on two major environmental management objectives, namely environmental health and ecosystem vitality.

Also present at the event yesterday were Integrated Sports Complex manager Datuk Patrick Liew and KDJA chairperson Alice Wee.

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Foreign insects, diseases got into US

Tracie Cone Associated Press Google News 10 Oct 11;

FRESNO, Calif. (AP) — Dozens of foreign insects and plant diseases slipped undetected into the United States in the years after 9/11, when authorities were so focused on preventing another attack that they overlooked a pest explosion that threatened the quality of the nation's food supply.

At the time, hundreds of agricultural scientists responsible for stopping invasive species at the border were reassigned to anti-terrorism duties in the newly formed Homeland Security Department — a move that scientists say cost billions of dollars in crop damage and eradication efforts from California vineyards to Florida citrus groves.

The consequences come home to consumers in the form of higher grocery prices, substandard produce and the risk of environmental damage from chemicals needed to combat the pests.

An Associated Press analysis of inspection records found that border-protection officials were so engrossed in stopping terrorists that they all but ignored the country's exposure to destructive new insects and infections — a quietly growing menace that has been attacking fruits and vegetables and even prized forests ever since.

"Whether they know it or not, every person in the country is affected by this, whether by the quality or cost of their food, the pesticide residue on food or not being able to enjoy the outdoors because beetles are killing off the trees," said Mark Hoddle, an entomologist specializing in invasive species at the University of California, Riverside.

Homeland Security officials acknowledge making mistakes and say they are now working to step up agricultural inspections at border checkpoints, airports and seaports.

While not as dire as terrorism, the threat is considerable and hard to contain.

Many invasive species are carried into the U.S. by people who are either unaware of the laws or are purposely trying to skirt quarantine regulations. The hardest to stop are fruits, vegetables and spices carried by international travelers or shipped by mail. If tainted with insects or infections, they could carry contagions capable of devastating crops.

Plants and cut flowers can harbor larvae, as can bags of bulk commodities such as rice. Beetles have been found hitchhiking on the bottom of tiles from Italy, and boring insects have burrowed into the wooden pallets commonly used in cargo shipments.

Invasive species have been sneaking into North America since Europeans arrived on the continent, and many got established long before 9/11. But the abrupt shift in focus that followed the attacks caused a steep decline in agricultural inspections that allowed more pests to invade American farms and forests.

Using the Freedom of Information Act, the AP obtained data on border inspections covering the period from 2001 to 2010. The analysis showed that the number of inspections, along with the number of foreign species that were stopped, fell dramatically in the years after the Homeland Security Department was formed.

Over much of the same period, the number of crop-threatening pests that got into the U.S spiked, from eight in 1999 to at least 30 last year.

The bugs targeted some of the nation's most productive agricultural regions, particularly California and Florida, with their warm year-round climates that make it easy for foreign species to survive the journey and reproduce in their new home.

A look at the damage:

— No fewer than 19 Mediterranean fruit fly infestations took hold in California, and the European grapevine moth triggered spraying and quarantines across wine country.

— The Asian citrus psyllid, which can carry a disease that has decimated Florida orange groves, crossed the border from Mexico, threatening California's $1.8 billion citrus industry.

— New Zealand's light brown apple moth also emerged in California, prompting the government in 2008 to bombard the Monterey Bay area with 1,600 pounds of pesticides. The spraying drew complaints that it caused respiratory problems and killed birds. Officials spent $110 million to eradicate the moth, but it didn't work.

— The sweet orange scab, a fungal disease that infects citrus, appeared in Florida, Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi, which all imposed quarantines.

— Chili thrips, rice cutworms and the plant disease gladiolus rust also got into Florida, which saw a 27 percent increase in new pests and pathogens between 2003 and 2007.

— The erythrina gall wasp decimated Hawaii's wiliwili trees, which bear seeds used to make leis.

— Forests from Minnesota to the Northeast were also affected by beetles such as the emerald ash borer, many of which arrived in Chinese shipping pallets because regulations weren't enforced.

In all, the number of pest cases intercepted at U.S. ports of entry fell from more than 81,200 in 2002 to fewer than 58,500 in 2006, before creeping back up in 2007, when the farm industry and members of Congress began complaining.

Once the pests get established, costs can quickly spiral out of control. The most widely quoted economic analysis, conducted in 2004 by Cornell University, puts the total annual cost of all invasive species in the U.S. at $120 billion. Much of that burden is borne by consumers in the form of higher food costs and by taxpayers who pay for government eradication programs.

For instance, if the destructive infection known as citrus canker were to become established in California, which produces most of the nation's fresh oranges, consumers would pay up to $130 million more a year for the fruit, according to an ongoing study by scientists at the University of California at Davis.

"It's all about early detection, and it wasn't their priority at the time," said A.G. Kawamura, secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture from 2003 through 2010, who was sharply criticized for the spraying in Monterey Bay.

And it's not just humans who pay the cost. Wildlife and beneficial insects die when fields are sprayed.

The problems began when the Homeland Security Department absorbed inspectors who worked for the Department of Agriculture. The move put plant and insect scientists alongside gun-toting agents from Customs and Border Protection and resulted in a bitter culture clash.

Agriculture supervisors were replaced in the chain of command by officials unfamiliar with crop science. Hundreds of inspectors resigned, retired or transferred to other agencies. Some of the inspectors who remained on the job lost their offices and desks and were forced to work out of the trunks of their cars.

It took authorities years "to learn there's an important mission there," said Joe Cavey, head of pest identification for a USDA inspection service. "Yeah, maybe a radioactive bomb is more important, but you have to do both things."

At the time of the merger, at least 339 of 1,800 inspector positions were vacant. By 2008, vacancies had increased to 500, or more than a quarter of the original workforce.

The effect of the exodus was profound. One East Coast port director told a congressional investigator that she was left without a single agriculture inspector. An airport technician in Bangor, Maine, said there wasn't one within 50 miles for two years.

One agriculture inspector who defied authority was demoted, despite being credited with saving California's citrus industry from the potentially devastating effects of canker.

While working at an international mail center outside San Francisco, the inspector found a package destined for Ventura labeled "books and chocolates." Inside were 350 citrus cuttings from Japan that were infested with canker, which has killed more than 2 million trees across Florida but does not exist in California.

He showed it to a supervisor, who, according to the Congressional Record, replied: "Look, we are here to protect the country from acts of terrorism. What do you expect me to do?"

The inspector sidestepped the supervisor and called the USDA. The resulting investigation ended with arrests and the incineration of 4,000 potentially infected trees that had been growing at an unregistered nursery in a prime citrus region.

But within a month, the whistleblower was demoted to search through the dirty laundry of passengers returning from foreign trips.

Government officials now acknowledge the problems and say they began taking corrective steps after Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California threatened in 2008 to propose a bill that would move inspectors back to the USDA and increase their numbers.

"That was a huge moment for everybody," said Kevin Harriger, Custom and Border Protection's acting executive director of agriculture programs. "We took it on the chin and said, 'You're right. We heard you. We've been remiss in several key areas.'"

Critics in Congress say serious damage has already been done. Sen. Daniel Akaka, a Hawaii Democrat and member of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security, said the improvements aren't happening fast enough. He's asked the Government Accountability Office to reopen an investigation.

"When change like this happens, you hope people get it right the first time," said Rep. Dennis Cardoza, a California Democrat who also investigated the problems. "But if they don't, it's not them who pay the price. It's society that does."

Associated Press Writer Rick Callahan in Indianapolis contributed to this report.

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