Best of our wild blogs: 11 Oct 11

Saving the Old Residents at Coffee Hill
from My Itchy Fingers

White-Crested Laughingthrushes and Prey
from Bird Ecology Study Group

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Shell restarts some Bukom plants after checks

Meanwhile, a probe by the Manpower Ministry into the fire continues
Ronnie Lim Business Times 11 Oct 11;

PULAU Bukom - Shell's largest manufacturing facility in the world - is starting to stir back to life, even as a probe continues into the cause of a 32-hour fire which broke out there almost a fortnight ago.

The oil major said that after carrying out safety checks, it has begun to restart some plants which were earlier shut down because of their proximity to 'ground zero' of the fire - a pumphouse with a maze of oil pipelines connecting to manufacturing units as well as storage tanks.

The Bukom shutdown resulted in Shell declaring force majeure on its product supplies to other Jurong Island plants such as Petrochemical Corporation of Singapore and Ellba Eastern (both of which it holds stakes in), as well as for some of its contracted supplies to outside customers.

This also saw it turning into an active market buyer, from seller previously, of products such as diesel and gasoline which it needed to source to help cover its customer commitments.

When contacted yesterday for an update on whether Bukom had started its recovery process, a Shell spokesman said: 'When the fire started, the units adjacent to pumphouse 43 were shut down as a safety precaution. During the next days, several other units were also shut down.

'A dedicated safety study has been performed for all units adjacent to the incident site and it has been confirmed that these 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,' the spokesman said, declining to identify exactly which units had been restarted.

Shortly after the fire first broke, Shell had reportedly already shut down a hydrocracker unit - which produces mainly diesel - and also a thermal gas unit which were close to the blaze.

And Martjin van Koten, Shell's vice-president for manufacturing operations east, told media about 30 hours into the blaze that it had also begun a two-day sequenced operation to shut down three crude distillation units (CDUs) which account for Bukom's entire 500,000 barrels per day crude oil processing capacity.

This left just its catalytic cracker, which produces gasoline, and its new Shell Eastern Petrochemicals Complex's ethylene cracker on Bukom, which Shell also earlier indicated would be shut if necessary.

But from the latest indications, it seems that Shell may not have entirely shut down all the Bukom plants, and could have just reduced operations at some.

A Reuters report citing sources yesterday said that Shell appears to have restarted the largest of the three CDUs so as to produce base oils to feed a high-value lubricant oil unit, and also light distillates to keep its chemicals complex running, albeit at lower rates.

Meanwhile, a probe by the Manpower Ministry is still on-going, with earlier speculation that it would be concluded at the earliest this week.

The ministry's preliminary findings showed that the fire broke out at the pumphouse during preparation work for maintenance, with this involving the draining of residual oil in a pipeline and removing it by means of a suction truck.

Shell refinery at Pulau Bukom restarts operations
Avelyn Ng Channel NewsAsia 10 Oct 11;

SINGAPORE: Two weeks after the fire at the Singapore refinery, Shell has partially restarted the 210,000 barrels per day CDU (Crude Distillation Units). The units are capable of processing 500,000-bpd of crude.

A spokeswoman from Shell added: "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."

According to media reports, the CDU will be operating at a reduced rate of around 50 per cent as it waits two to three days to recover to stable operating levels.

Meanwhile other units, including the other two CDUs of 110,000-bpd each and its 35,000-bpd hydrocracker, remain shut.

"When the fire started, the units adjacent to pump-house 43 have been shutdown as a safety precaution. During the next few days, several other units have been shutdown. A dedicated safety study has been performed for all units adjacent to the incident site and it has been confirmed that these are not damaged," said Shell's spokeswoman.

It was also reported that in response to its previous force majeure on about 1.5 million barrels of distillates, Shell has agreed with two of its four counterparties - Hin Leong, Glencore, BP and JP Morgan -- to buy back more than 70 per cent of the gas oil and jet fuel cargoes involved.


Shell partially restarts Pulau Bukom refinery
Straits Times 11 Oct 11;

ROYAL Dutch Shell has resumed some operations at its Singapore oil refinery, less than two weeks after the plant was shut because of a fire, three industry sources with direct knowledge of the matter said yesterday.

'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,' Shell spokesman Serene Loo said in e-mailed comments.

Shell exports 90 per cent of the products it distributes in the Asia-Pacific from the offshore Pulau Bukom refinery, its largest worldwide.

The plant has a capacity of 500,000 barrels per day (bpd), according to Shell's website.

The move to partially restart the 210,000 bpd crude distillation unit (CDU), one of three at the Pulau Bukom site, is due to strong margins for base oils and lubricants. It will also yield light distillates, sufficient to keep Shell's chemical complex running at reduced rates.

The CDU, which will take two to three days to reach stable operating levels, is expected to operate at a reduced rate of around 50 per cent, while a probe into the cause of the fire and repair works continue, people familiar with the situation said.

'The CDU can be restarted because the delivery of its yield of clean oil products has been diverted away from the affected area,' one of the sources said.

'The CDU, the base oil production unit and the lubes plant are all away from where the fire occurred.'

Other units, including the other two CDUs of 110,000 bpd each and a 35,000 bpd hydrocracker, will remain shut.

'The damage to the refinery as a result of the fire remains extensive, and it will take a while for the plant to return to normal operating levels,' one source said.

Shell, Europe's biggest oil company, has declared force majeure on some customers, a contract clause that allows supply obligations to be cancelled.

Preliminary investigations showed that the fire, the biggest at the site in 23 years, started at a pump house as Shell prepared for maintenance work, Singapore's Manpower Ministry said last week.

Pulau Bukom is about 5.5km from the financial hub of Singapore,

Asia's largest oil-trading, refining and storage centre.

The 50-year-old refinery includes three CDUs, a sulphur recovery unit, a hydro-desulphuriser and a high-vacuum unit that supplies a hydrocracker, according to data compiled by Bloomberg and a Shell document from December 2009.

Pulau Bukom also houses a fluid catalytic cracker with a capacity of 34,000 bpd, a 155,000 tonne-a-year butadiene extraction unit and an 800,000 tonne-a-year ethylene cracker complex.

Shell also operates a 750,000 tonne-a-year mono-ethylene glycol unit on neighbouring Jurong Island, where refineries belonging to ExxonMobil and Singapore Refining, a joint venture between Chevron and Singapore Petroleum, are located.


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Even we can't take clean air for granted

Nicholas Fang and Henrick Tsjeng Today Online 11 Oct 11;

Three recent events remind us in Singapore not to take clean air for granted. First, the haze from land and forest fires in Indonesia has returned. Second, a fire blazed at the Shell Bukom refinery for some 34 hours before being put out. Third, data released by the World Health Organization (WHO) on Sept 28 reveals that Singapore's air, while generally among the best in Asia, is failing in some measures, especially in the concentration of particulate matter in the air.

There is no reason to panic. Singapore's air has remained healthy except for very short periods, when the haze tipped the recorded levels to moderate. Compared to almost every other major city in Asia, air pollution levels are low.

This makes up part of the attraction and liveability of the city. Clean city air underpins so many things we take for granted like outdoor sports, walks in the park and open-air dining. It allows those with skyscraper views to see the horizon, whereas high towers in some other cities are shrouded in smog.

Clearly Singapore cannot take clean air for granted. Looking at the three events, there are different issues to be addressed.

The Bukom fire, while dramatic, is probably the easiest to deal with. Shell has one of the strongest safety records in the industry and can be expected to do all things possible to prevent a recurrence. This is especially as the fire closed down one of its most important plants in the world, costing millions of dollars.

The haze is considerably trickier and a recurring problem. Much effort has been expended since the worst fires of 1997-98 and incidences since then have been less serious. ASEAN has negotiated a treaty to address the issue and while Indonesia has yet to ratify its terms, its ministers regularly meet with its Singaporean and other counterparts.

A small breakthrough was made in 2007 when Indonesia agreed to allow officials from Singapore to work on the ground in Jambi. With continuing efforts, the haze problem may not be completely solved, but can be managed and contained.

The WHO report, however, may indicate problems that are harder to deal with.

Even without counting the haze or recent fire, Singapore as a city is failing on certain counts of particulate matter. Singapore's concentration of particles up to 2.5 micrometres in diameter, or PM2.5, was found to be 19 micrograms per cubic metre in 2009, above the WHO recommended level of 10 micrograms.

According to the WHO, PM2.5 is more dangerous than larger particles of up to 10 micrometres as the former can travel more deeply into the lungs. Exposure to PM2.5 increases the risk of cardiovascular and respiratory illnesses, and reduces life expectancy.

The sources of PM2.5 in Singapore and elsewhere can be traced mainly to power generation plants and vehicular emissions. Singapore cannot do without electricity or vehicles, but the target is not zero and blunt instruments are not needed. Focus on specific issues is instead required.

Some power plants are more efficient and cleaner than others. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, power plants which use coal and oil, as opposed to natural gas, tend to emit more particulates. To reduce emissions, Singapore has enhanced energy efficiency, successfully promoted natural gas as our main source of electricity, and taken steps to promote renewables like solar energy.

We can also observe that certain kinds of vehicles emit more particulates, especially diesels. Singapore has been supporting the use of alternative fuel vehicles, such as compressed natural gas (CNG) and electric vehicles, although issues such as a lack of CNG stations have cropped up.

Nonetheless, a new electric car-for-hire scheme in Paris sets an excellent example for Singapore to follow. The scheme, known as Autolib, allows a renter to pick up an electric car at a particular location and drop it off elsewhere. This scheme promises to give electric car usage in Paris a major boost.

These solutions to reduce particulates can be allied to another environmental effort: Lowering our carbon footprint. While lower carbon does not always mean cleaner air, the two can be combined. In the effort to pilot electric cars in Singapore, for instance, the hope is to lower both PM2.5 and carbon.

Even though our track record in maintaining clean air is sound, we cannot afford to take clean air for granted. With economic growth, emissions will likely increase if nothing further is done. Steps must be taken to reduce not only greenhouse gas emissions, but also particulate matter that affects the health of Singaporeans.

Nicholas Fang is the director of the Singapore Institute of International Affairs (SIIA). Henrick Tsjeng is a researcher in the SIIA.

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Prepare to pay more for Thai rice

Severe flooding in Thailand and rising US dollar push up costs
Jessica Lim Straits Times 11 Oct 11;

MAJOR rice importers here are raising the prices of 10 popular premium brands - from as early as next week - because of developments in Thailand.

These brands have a 40 per cent share of the retail market, according to estimates from importers.

Severe flooding in recent months has destroyed rice fields and the Thai government, to fulfil an election promise, is buying rice from farmers at prices 44 per cent higher than the market rate.

According to the Thai Rice Exporters Association, the price of premium Thai grain, a global benchmark, has jumped from US$988 (S$1,260) to US$1,130 per tonne in the past six months.

'We have not increased prices for two years. We don't want consumers to suffer but we can no longer absorb it,' said Mr E.K. Lim, operations manager of See Hoy Chan, which supplies supermarkets and about 2,000 provision shops.

The firm, which brings in popular brands Heavenly, Golden Phoenix and Golden Tiger, is increasing prices next week. A 5kg bag of Golden Phoenix brand, which costs $13.50 to $15 here depending on the seller, will go up by $1 while 10kg bags, which cost $26 to $28, will cost $2 more.

The other two brands' prices will rise by a similar amount.

Chye Choon Foods - which brings in the Peacock, Golden Prosperity and Golden Leaf brands - will increase prices by 5 to 10 per cent next month.

Topseller - which brings in Royal Umbrella, Golden Peony and Harmuni - will charge up to 10 per cent more by year end.

Importers said the rising US currency has also jacked up cost.

For those who buy housebrand rice, they will be glad to know that supermarkets do not plan to raise prices yet but at least one - Cold Storage - has been told by suppliers to expect a price hike.

NTUC FairPrice, Cold Storage, Shop N Save, Giant, Prime and Sheng Siong have kept prices of their housebrands constant for at least the past six months.

A spokesman said Cold Storage is working closely with suppliers to monitor the market while NTUC FairPrice will 'ensure that any price increase by suppliers is justified', said Mr Tng Ah Yiam, managing director for group purchasing, merchandising and international trading.

He added that the supermarket - also a major importer of rice - stockpiles more than three months' worth at any one time to ensure supply and price stability. It also imports rice directly and signs contracts with manufacturers.

Consumers Association of Singapore's executive director Seah Seng Choon said it was inevitable that price increases - if they continue - would have a widespread effect.

He noted that supermarket chains buy in bulk and have bigger bargaining power but 'if prices keep going up, then their stock will run out and their suppliers will start to increase prices too'.

However, he said a repeat of the 2008 rice crisis is unlikely, because importers, burnt from experience, had made moves to get supplies from other countries too.

Last year, Singapore imported 310,135 tonnes of rice. Some 53 per cent came from Thailand, 26.2 per cent from Vietnam and 13.8 per cent from India. The rest came from countries like Myanmar, the United States and China.

A spokesman for the Ministry of Trade and Industry said it did not anticipate a sharp spike in overall prices due to the country's diversification strategy that would keep prices 'fairly stable'.

Adding it was too early to determine the full impact of Thailand's new rice pricing scheme, she said importers are required to maintain a rice stockpile as a buffer against sudden supply shortages.

In 2008, prices of premium rice surged to more than US$1,200 a tonne.

The future price, however, is anyone's guess.

Mr Chookiat Ophaswongse, president of the Thai Rice Exporters Association, said the picture will get clearer only next month, when a new crop is harvested.

'Now, many importers are still using the old stock. We will get a better idea of how things will be after November,' he added, noting that he will not be surprised if the price of premium Thai rice surges to US$1,400 a tonne this year.

Thai rice prices may increase at year-end
Seet Sok Hwee Channel NewsAsia 10 Oct 11;

SINGAPORE: Prices of Thai rice in Singapore may increase towards the end of this year. This comes as Thailand was hit by its worst floods in decades over the past week.

Singapore retailers Channel NewsAsia spoke to said they are monitoring the situation and will aim to keep prices affordable. Some have also stockpiled a few months' supply to ensure price stability.

Another reason for the possible rise in prices is because of the Thai government's move to buy rice from its farmers at higher prices. This in turn has pushed up global export prices.

Alan Tang, PSC Corporation's senior vice-president (group consumer business & corporate planning), said: "As a responsible rice importer in Singapore, we've been trying our best to contain (prices).

"But I see that very soon, before the end of the year, we have to make some adjustment... To the best of our ability, we may be able to contain [the rise in prices to] below 10 per cent."


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Thailand Bolsters Flood Defenses as Deluge Threatens Bangkok

Suttinee Yuvejwattana and Supunnabul Suwannakij Bloomberg BusinessWeek 10 Oct 11;

Oct. 11 (Bloomberg) -- Thai officials rushed to reinforce barriers and widen canals in Bangkok on concern the nation’s worst floods in more than half a century may spread to the capital later this week.

The deluge swept across the country starting in late July, killing 269 people, swamping factories operated by Honda Motor Co., Nikon Corp. and Canon Inc. and damaging more than 10 percent of rice farms in the biggest exporter of the grain.

Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra opened army camps to help house some of the 2.4 million people displaced by the floods, and asked authorities to accelerate efforts to protect the capital. The finance ministry yesterday cut its forecast for economic growth to 3.7 percent from 4 percent and said the disaster may cause 120 billion baht ($3.9 billion) of damage.

“It’s difficult to estimate the water volume, but if we can protect the flood barriers in three key points in the next one to two days, Bangkok should be saved,” Yingluck said yesterday at Bangkok’s former international airport, which has been turned into the country’s main flood-management center.

The situation is “quite worrisome,” Bank of Thailand Governor Prasarn Trairatvorakul said, adding that agricultural industry losses may total as much as 20 billion baht.

In Bangkok, officials are rushing to build three additional flood barriers and plan to dig five more canals over the next seven days to drain water from the capital, Yingluck said.

Evacuation Plans

Oct. 16 through Oct. 18 is the highest risk period for Bangkok, with low-lying areas near Suvarnabhumi airport and communities next to the river and canals the most vulnerable, the city’s Governor Sukhumbhand Paribatra said yesterday by phone. Officials are shoring up flood walls, preparing evacuation plans and readying medical supplies, he said.

Bangkok’s flood-defense efforts are focused on the Chao Phraya river, whose banks are lined with luxury hotels including the Peninsula, the Shangri-La and the Oriental, as well as the Bank of Thailand.

“We have increased the number of sandbags put in place to prevent water infiltration,” said Rashana Pimolsindh, a spokeswoman for Shangri-La Hotel Pcl. “There are several water pumps on standby at various points in the hotel.” Shangri-La hasn’t experienced any flood-related cancellations, Rashana said.

Some supermarkets in the capital reported shortages yesterday because of delivery disruptions and panic buying, said Saofang Ekaluckrujee, senior corporate affairs manager at Ek- Chai Distribution System Co., which operates Tesco Lotus hypermarkets in Thailand.

‘Panic Buying’

“There was panic buying of dry groceries such as instant noodles and rice at most of our stores in Bangkok,” Saofang said by phone. “In some stores, there were shortages of dry food because the flooding has affected logistics. We are trying everything to secure supplies to meet demand.”

Thailand’s government will provide as much as 200,000 metric tons of rice from its stockpiles and asked local producers of instant noodles, canned food and water to increase production to prevent shortages, Permanent Secretary for Commerce Yanyong Phuangrach told reporters at the weekend.

“The situation is nowhere near crisis proportion just yet where food and water are concerned,” said Sukhumbhand, the Bangkok governor. “Major arteries to transport all these things to Bangkok are still open, so I hope it’s just temporary.”


North of Bangkok, authorities evacuated residents in the central province of Nakhon Sawan after a flood barrier was breached on the Chao Phraya river, said Wim Rungwattanajinda, a spokesman for the national flood center. As many as 650 patients are being evacuated from the province’s main hospital, Health Minister Wittaya Buranasiri told reporters yesterday.

In Ayutthaya, 67 kilometers (42 miles) north of Bangkok, rising floodwaters broke through defenses around the Rojana Industrial Park, which is mostly a base for companies making automotive and electronics parts. The 198 plants have a combined investment value of 56 billion baht, and a total workforce of 90,000, said Suparp Kleekhajai, the vice industry minister.

Hundreds of Honda cars were damaged when dikes failed at the Rojana park, where the company produces as many 240,000 vehicles a year, said Pitak Pruittisarikorn, executive vice president of Honda’s Thai unit.

“We will try to resume production at the plant as soon as we can, but we have to wait until the water situation is under control,” Pitak told reporters. “The water level hasn’t peaked yet. It’s still rising.” Pitak said the company is insured against flood damage.

Hana Micro

Flood barriers are still protecting the Hi-Tech and Bang Pa-In industrial estates in Ayutthaya, Suparp said.

Hana Microelectronics Pcl, Thailand’s biggest semiconductor packager, said it may take 20 days to reinstall equipment even if the Hi-Tech facility escapes the flood.

Seasonal storms have affected more than 6 million people in Southeast Asia and claimed a further 224 lives in Cambodia, Vietnam and the Philippines, the United Nations said last week. Monsoons across Asia last month generated about $7 billion of losses, including $1.1 billion in Thailand, Aon Benfield, a reinsurer, said in a report on Oct. 5.

The deluge has affected 8.2 million people in Thailand since July 25, data from the Department of Disaster Prevention and Mitigation show.

“There is no need to declare Bangkok a disaster zone yet because we can still control the situation,” Yingluck said. “But we may need to assess the situation again when the new storm arrives.”

--With assistance from Daniel Ten Kate, Yumi Teso and Anuchit Nguyen in Bangkok. Editors: Tony Jordan, Sunil Jagtiani

All eyes on the mighty Chao Phraya
Thais fear coming high tide will compound deluge from heavy rain
Nirmal Ghosh Straits Times 11 Oct 11;

BANGKOK: From his small restaurant by the swollen Chao Phraya river at Tha Prachan pier in the northern part of Bangkok, with the water heaving just an arm's length away, Mr Boonma Phongparinya has been watching the level rise every day.

He fully expects the water to damage the wooden flooring of the restaurant which he has been running for more than 30 years, says the 54-year-old.

Sandbags have been laid for people to walk on, and around him, workers and neighbouring shop owners hammer and saw non-stop as they fix wooden planks to raise the walkways on the vulnerable waterfront.

It is a common sight along the river that snakes through Bangkok, as the Thai authorities continue scrambling to cope with the floods that have inundated almost entire provinces just north of the capital.

'Every government has always struggled to deal with the annual floods because root causes were never addressed,' said Mr Boonma. 'It's deforestation in the north and all over the country.'

Deforestation in the north may have caused faster rainwater run-off, filling reservoirs more rapidly to the point where water had to be released in a hurry following unusually heavy monsoon rain.

Added Mr Boonma: 'If you want to solve the problem, you have to start at the source.'

The rising waters are expected to pose a serious threat to Bangkok later this week: Flooding is expected to get worse as water released from reservoirs in the north continues to pour southwards, down rivers and canals to the sea.

Concerns now centre on evacuating affected communities in the north - and in the capital itself if necessary - and scores of evacuation centres, many in schools and army barracks, have been opened and stocked with supplies.

The meteorological office predicted a let-up in rain over the next three days, following almost a whole day of rain in Bangkok yesterday.

But a coming high tide, forecast between Oct 15 and 19, remains a worry, as it will slow down the flow of water in the Chao Phraya and even cause it to back up. Many parts of the city are barely above sea level, and rely on flood walls to protect them from any overflow in the river and major canals.

The authorities' response to the floods, meanwhile, has drawn a mix of reactions. An Assumption University poll of 1,012 community leaders and local officials in flood-affected provinces, showed that 79 per cent thought the government's support was insufficient and not efficiently distributed.

The famously outspoken Mr Smith Thammasaroj, a former national disaster chief, was critical of the water management authorities for failing to predict sustained heavy rain, and not releasing water accumulated in reservoirs earlier.

'Water management should be in the context of advance forecasts of rain and storms,' he said.

But another poll by Rangsit University found that 62 per cent of Thais were confident the government could handle the crisis.

The Bangkok-based spokesman for the United Nations' Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Ms Kirsten Mildren, described the Thai government's response as impressive.

While there was concern over potential outbreaks of dengue fever and typhoid in areas where floodwaters have been standing for days - and could remain until next month - there have been no unusual health problems reported so far, she noted.

'It's mainly a logistics challenge, but the Thai government seems to have the capacity to deal with it,' she said.

Thailand's worst floods in over 50 years have already killed almost 270 people, displaced well over a million and swamped parts of two industrial estates.

They are also likely to cost the economy tens of billions of baht.

Yesterday, Finance Minister Thirachai Phuvanatnaranubala estimated the floods could cost 60 billion baht (S$2.5 billion), while an official at the National Economic and Social Development Board predicted 90 billion baht.

Losses in the agricultural sector alone could reach 40 billion baht, said Mr Arkhom Termpittayapaisith, the board's secretary-general. He also warned that the auto and electronics industries - key drivers of Thailand's exports - could be disrupted until next month.

The two months of prolonged flooding have also ravaged other parts of the region. In Cambodia, more than 200 people were killed when the Mekong River burst its banks, while Vietnam reported a total of 24 flood deaths as of yesterday.

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The viability of animal crossings in Malaysia

A research project looks at whether wildlife crossings work.
Natalie Heng The Star 11 Oct 11;

THE forest reserves around Tasik Kenyir in Terengganu teem with wildlife. Aside from the 230 bird species which the area is known to harbour, research group Rimba in recent surveys has recorded at least 19 mammal species in the area.

Their camera traps have captured stunning images of various rare and endangered species. In one picture, a female Asian elephant and her calf, their eyes shining in the flash of the camera, are seen making their way through leaf litter. In other images, tigers, sun bears, clouded leopards, tapirs and serows make up more of the jungle milieu.

For most of these animals, a large expanse of habitat is crucial for populations to remain viable in the long term. But their habitats are being cut up by advancing development. In addition to being a barrier for animals to reach resources such as food, shelter and mates, isolated and fragmented habitats pose a threat to the healthy mixing of populations. A genetically diverse pool of individuals is needed to avoid the negative effects of inbreeding and reduced genetic diversity.

Unfortunately habitat fragmentation is a problem in Malaysia, albeit one that has, to an extent, been addressed by the Central Forest Spine (CFS). Part of the National Physical Plan, the CFS is a masterplan which delineates a network of forest complexes connected by ecological linkages (corridors of forested land) to create a contiguous forest running the length of Peninsular Malaysia.

The forests around Tasik Kenyir, including the Hulu Temelong, Petuang and Tembat forest reserves (in which Rimba researchers are surveying a 140sqkm stretch), make up one such linkage. Known as Primary Linkage 7, this green corridor links Taman Negara to forests in the north. The area is one of three priority areas in the National Tiger Action Plan, a blueprint document on the conservation of the big cat.

The reserves are bisected by the Kuala Berang highway, which forms a dangerous barrier for migrating wildlife. Intrusions such as this into the sanctity of our wilderness are by no means unique and are a regular occurrence worldwide.

Safe crossings

The trend of building wildlife crossing structures began in the 1950s and is today a common strategy deployed in many countries. Some of the most recognisable structures were built in the 1970s in Banff National Park in Alberta, Canada, where 24 vegetated overpasses provide safe passage over the Trans-Canada Highway for bears, moose, wolves and many other species.

Crossings don’t have to pass over obstacles, however. In the Netherlands, over 600 tunnels have been installed under major and minor roads to aid in movements of the endangered European badger.

In Malaysia, the Kuala Berang highway features 10 viaducts which offer traffic-free crossing points for wildlife. Viaducts are elevated road structures, typically passing over a valley or lower ground, and supported by arches or columns. Three of these viaducts were built specifically as wildlife crossing points, and have been termed “eco-viaducts”. Unlike the vegetated overpasses in Alberta, safe passage for wildlife in our viaducts lies with passing under the structure.

The construction of eco-viaducts in Malaysia has been championed by environmentalists as a promising measure but there have as yet been no studies to confirm their effectiveness in the tropical context. The task of verifying their usefulness is a huge undertaking and requires many months of survey and data collection through thick forest, followed by months of data analysis.

Nonetheless, having science to verify the effectiveness of well-intentioned policy is important to ensure the best solutions for protecting Malaysia’s valuable stocks of biodiversity. That is precisely the thinking behind Rimba, a coalition of local and foreign scientists, which has embarked on a project to monitor the use of wildlife crossings along the Kuala Berang highway.

Country-specific solutions

The combination of wildlife crossings and roadside fencing has been found to be helpful for some species. Rimba’s Kenyir Wildlife Corridor Project lead researcher Gopalasamy Reuben Clements, 32, says that in Malaysia, the Wildlife and National Parks Department (Perhilitan) had previously tried to funnel animals underneath viaducts through the construction of electric fences.

But what works for wildlife crossings in other countries might not be appropriate for Malaysia. One consideration is a difference in local fauna. Elephants, for example, are known to have fixed migration routes; they broke through the fencing.

Another important factor is rampant illegal trade in wildlife. The country’s excellent infrastructure and road networks, many of which bypass forest reserves, not only open up access to wildlife poachers but offer convenient routes for a speedy onward journey.

“So far, NGOs have been recommending the building of viaducts but the poaching element hasn’t been looked at,” Clements points out. The conservation biologist hopes his study will determine whether animals at such wildlife crossings might in fact, be more vulnerable to poachers.

The Kenyir Wildlife Corridor Project is part of his PhD research with James Cook University in Queensland, Australia. A Singaporean and Master’s graduate from the National University of Singapore, Clements is also a research associate with Universiti Malaya and previously worked at World Wide Fund For Nature Malaysia on tiger and rhinoceros conservation projects.

In total, Clements and his team have installed 80 camera traps – 40 within forest reserves on either side of the highway, and the rest, in and around the viaducts. They have covered 140sqkm of jungle, trekking some 8km a day and roughing it out in the jungle, to look for signs of wildlife and rotate cameras around the study grid to get a more representative data.

Covering the entire area took them three months, and they still have two more rounds of sampling to go before it’s time to analyse the data. Nevertheless, the team has already been able to glean some insights.

For example, they noticed one particular tiger, recognisable by its stripes, was captured by cameras located both north and south of the highway, but not at ones placed near or under any of the viaducts.

“That shows it didn’t use the viaduct. So for large mammals, these viaducts may not be so useful. But as you can see, you have tapirs and other animals to consider, too. And we don’t know whether the tiger will use the viaduct in the period between now and the end of the study, so it’s just preliminary.”

Part of the project’s mission is to identify potential access routes for encroachment. This they found – near, under and along the viaduct access road. They also found old camps in sheltered areas underneath the viaducts, and cameras have captured images of people carrying fishing rods. Such evidence of human presence is not seen at three of the newer viaducts. Clements hypothesises that these are probably too remote.

The study should reveal if wildlife are actually utilising the structures and if so, which ones. But what do we do if the eco-viaducts prove to be less effective than hoped? That, according to Clements, does not mean the structures lose their usefulness. It might call for a tweak in strategies – such as more wildlife patrols – to increase their effectiveness.

By seeing how other factors determine the effectiveness of eco-viaducts, future crossings can be planned accordingly. Potential factors, says Clements, could be the distance between the viaducts and human settlements, the quality of forests on the other side of the road barrier, and physical features such as reduced vegetation under the viaduct or reduced food resources due to the presence of large adjacent water bodies.

Adoption programme

The Rimba project is a mammoth undertaking requiring expensive technology (the cameras, password-protected and possessing inbuilt lens, cost RM1,500 each) and manpower (to conduct surveys and handle the cameras). Clements has 80 camera traps in action right now but needs 150. With more cameras, his team can do more accurate population estimates.

So far, funds have come from grant disbursing organisations, including the two universities Clements is attached with, and private donors. These are enough to pay for the 80 cameras and five field assistants.

Rimba also needs funds for 10 satellite collars for a project on the management and ecology of Malaysian elephants, to be led by Ahimsa Campos-Arceiz, an assistant professor with the University of Nottingham (Malaysia campus). At RM13,000 each, the collars will show the movement patterns of each animal, thus providing insight into how they cross roads and use viaducts.

Companies, organisations, societies, schools and individuals can support the work of Rimba by adopting a camera, satellite collar or ranger.

> Camera trap (RM1,500) – You will get a certificate, the opportunity to personally place your camera trap in the forest, and get e-mail updates of captured images every three months.

> Satellite collar (RM13,000) – You will get updates of the collared animal every three months, a half-yearly progress report and a three day-two night stay at Rimba Field House.

> Ranger (RM18,000) – You will get a certificate, an opportunity to place three camera traps in the forest, receive e-mail updates on these traps every three months as well as a half-yearly progress report, and a three day-two night stay at Rimba Field House plus an opportunity to accompany the ranger on field surveys.

Clements believes that creating a bridge between researchers and the public as well as providing people with opportunities to get involved in conservation projects can make a difference. Research is important – it helps indirectly by knowledge creation, and deters illegal poachers by the mere presence of researchers in the forest. On that note, it is a cause worth supporting.

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Papua's Forests Next on the Chopping Block: Greenpeace

Jakarta Globe 10 Oct 11;

Jayapura. With the forests in Sumatra and Kalimantan continually shrinking, Papua’s timber fields now face a grave threat, a Greenpeace campaigner for the far-flung eastern province said on Monday.

“Almost nine million hectares of forests in Papua have been identified by the government as expendable in the interest of development of large scale industries,” Ricarth Tawaru said.

Ricarth said that land takeovers and clear cutting continued to take place for the development of palm oil plantations, timber estates and mining operations.

“These activities pose a serious threat to Papua’s forests,” he said.

Papua was losing an average of 300,000 acres of forest every year, he added.

“Experience in various other regions shows that the changing of forest areas into palm oil plantations and timber estates has created serious social problems, including environmental problems,” Ricarth said.

He said that Papua’s forests were not only important for the ecosystem but also important as a source of inspiration. Gradually destroying Papua forests was equal to destroying the sources of the Papuan people’s cultural inspirations.

“We are concerned about the government’s plan to clear Papuan forests as it could separate the local people from their natural resources. We believe that the Papuan people have noble values to protect their forests and are able to cultivate them for their own future,” he said.

Papua`s forests facing serious threat: Greenpeace
Antara 10 Oct 11;

Jayapura, Papua (ANTARA News) - A Greenpeace campaigner for Papua, Ricarth Tawaru, said with forests in Sumatra and Kalimantan having almost disappeared, Papua`s forests were now facing a great threat.

"Almost nine million hectares of forests in Papua have been identified by the government as expendable in the interest of development of large scale industries," Ricarth said here on Monday.

He said that in Papua land takeovers and forest clearing continued to take place for the development of oil palm plantations, timber estates and mining.

"These activities pose a serious threat to Papua`s forests," he said.

He said the average acreage of forest lost every year in Papua reached 300 thousand hectares. Almost two million hectares of forests had been allocated for the development of food industries and estates.

"Experience in various other regions show that the changing bf forest areas into palm oil plantations and timber estates have created serious social problems, including environmental problems," Ricarth said.

He said that Papua`s forests were not only important for the ecosystem but also important as a source of inspiration. Gradually destroying Papua forests is equal to destroying the sources of the Papuan people`s cultural inspirations.

"We are concerned about the government`s plan to clear Papuan forests as it could separate the local people from their natural resources. We believe that the Papuan people have noble values to protect their forests and are able to cultivate them for their own future," he said.

To prevent damage being done to Papua`s forests, Ricarth reminded all parties, including the government, businesses and the people that Papua`s forest were the only forests in Indonesia that still remained to help reduce global warming.

He said Greenpeace was also continuing to organize campaigns to preserve forests and on how to carry out community-based forest management.

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World hunger report 2011: High, volatile prices set to continue

Heads of Rome-based UN food agencies call for forceful action
FAO 10 Oct 11;

10 October 2011, Rome - Food price volatility featuring high prices is likely to continue and possibly increase, making poor farmers, consumers and countries more vulnerable to poverty and food insecurity, the United Nations' three Rome-based agencies said in the global hunger report published today.

Small, import-dependent countries, particularly in Africa, are especially at risk. Many of them still face severe problems following the world food and economic crises of 2006-2008, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the World Food Programme (WFP) said in "The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2011" (SOFI), an annual flagship report which they jointly produced this year.

Such crises, including in the Horn of Africa, "are challenging our efforts to achieve the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) of reducing the proportion of people who suffer from hunger by half in 2015," the heads of the three agencies — Jacques Diouf of FAO, Kanayo F. Nwanze of IFAD and Josette Sheeran of WFP — warned in a preface to the report.

Never acceptable

"But even if the MDG were achieved by 2015 some 600 million people in developing countries would still be undernourished. Having 600 million people suffering from hunger on a daily basis is never acceptable," they said.

"The entire international community must act today and act forcefully to banish food insecurity from the planet," the three heads added.

"Governments must ensure that a transparent and predictable regulatory environment is in place, one that promotes private investment and increases farm productivity. We must reduce food waste in developed countries through education and policies, and reduce food losses in developing countries by boosting investment in the entire value chain, especially post-harvest processing. More sustainable management of our natural resources, forests and fisheries are critical for the food security of many of the poorest members of society," the three heads said.

High and volatile food prices likely to continue

This year's report focuses on high and volatile food prices, identified as major contributing factors in food insecurity at global level and a source of grave concern to the international community.

"Demand from consumers in rapidly growing economies will increase, the population continues to grow, and further growth in biofuels will place additional demands on the food system," the report said.

Moreover, food price volatility may increase over the next decade due to stronger linkages between agricultural and energy markets and more frequent extreme weather events.

Smallholders and poor consumers

Price volatility makes both smallholder farmers and poor consumers increasingly vulnerable to poverty while short-term price changes can have long-term impacts on development, the report found. Changes in income due to price swings that lead to decreased food consumption can reduce children's intake of key nutrients during the first 1000 days of life from conception, leading to a permanent reduction of their future earning capacity and an increased likelihood of future poverty, with negative impacts on entire economies.

But price swings affected countries, populations and households very differently, the report found. The most exposed were the poor and the weak, particularly in Africa, where the number of undernourished increased by 8 percent between 2007 and 2008 while it was essentially constant in Asia.

Some large countries were able to shelter their food markets from the international turbulences through a combination of trade restrictions, safety nets for the poor and releases of food stocks. However, trade insulation increased prices and volatility in international markets compounded the impacts of food shortages in import-dependent countries, the report said.

Long-term investment

Meanwhile, stronger economies and high food prices present incentives for increased long-term investment in the agricultural sector, which can contribute to improved food security in the long run. When farmers react to higher prices with increased production it is essential to build on their short-term response with increased investment in agriculture, with emphasis on initiatives that support smallholders, who are the main food producers in many parts of the developing world.

At the same time, targeted safety nets are crucial for alleviating food insecurity in the short term. They must be designed in advance in consultation with the most vulnerable people.

The report stresses that investment in agriculture remains critical to sustainable, long-term food security. Key areas where such investments should be directed are cost-effective irrigation, improved land-management practices and better seeds developed through agricultural research. That would help reduce the production risks facing farmers, especially smallholders, and mitigate price volatility.

Private investment

Private initiatives by millions of farmers and rural entrepreneurs will form the bulk of agricultural investments. High food prices have also provided incentives for increased investments by corporate investors (including cross-border public and private entities) in all parts of the agricultural value chain. It is important that all investment considers and respects the rights of all existing users of land and related natural resources, benefits local communities, promotes food security and environmental sustainability, and contributes to adaptation to and mitigation of climate change impacts.

Together with increased investments, greater policy predictability and general openness to trade are more effective than other strategies such as export bans, the report noted. Restrictive trade policies can protect domestic prices from international price swings, but such restrictions often also increase susceptibility to domestic production shocks, thus failing to reduce domestic price volatility. Restrictive trade policies also risk increasing volatility and prices on international markets.

FAO’s best estimate of the number of hungry people for 2010 remains at 925 million. For the 2006-2008 period FAO calculates the number of hungry at 850 million. The methodology FAO uses for calculating the prevalence of hunger is currently under revision, so no estimates have been produced for 2011.

The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2011:

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Climate change not factored into companies' value, warns UN chief

Carbon finance experts told firms with high-carbon emissions must be re-evaluated by stock markets
Fiona Harvey 10 Oct 11;

Companies around the world are being valued incorrectly by world stock markets, because the cost of their exposure to climate change is not being factored in, the United Nations' climate chief has warned.

"As long as these companies [that emit large quantities of greenhouse gases] have a high value, we are giving out the wrong signals," said Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the UN framework convention on climate change, told an audience of carbon finance specialists in London. "It has got to be that those companies that are investing in the technologies of the future are recognised."

She called for "an active valuation" of companies with high carbon emissions, saying the world was "far behind" in doing so. "How is it possible that the valuation is not keeping pace?"

Companies should take note, she urged, of the political reality that governments around the world have signed up to a commitment of holding global temperature rises to no more than 2C above pre-industrial levels, which scientists regard as the limit of safety beyond which climate change becomes unstoppable and catastrophic.

If businesses were to pay attention to the political commitment that countries signed up to in Copenhagen in 2009 and last year in Cancun, they would behave differently, she suggested. "We are moving to a low-carbon future – businesses need to understand that signal. This is a megatrend."

The implications of governments' commitments would be that in 20 years' time, for every tonne of carbon dioxide emitted, businesses will need to extract five times the economic value that they do today, she said – in other words, companies must do as much as they currently do while producing a fifth of the carbon emissions.

But the private sector had been slow to take up the message to invest in low-carbon infrastructure because companies complained that governments were not creating the right environment for them to do so. "We are in this unfortunate vicious cycle where businesses are saying they need a signal, [such as a carbon] price, and governments are saying you need to give us the political space to do so," Figueres explained.

She called for both governments and businesses to unleash the investment needed for "a transformation of the economy".

The leading UK business grouping echoed this call. Neil Bentley, deputy director-general of the CBI, said companies were willing to make the investments required for greener economic growth, but that they were frustrated by the stance of politicians. He called for ministers to stop sending out contradictory signals on their commitment to tackling climate change, and to unequivocally back emissions-reduction policies that would spur business investment.

Figueres was speaking after UN-led climate talks in Panama last week ended inconclusively, with developing countries blaming the rich world for failing to go far enough in emissions reduction and in providing finance to help poor countries on the path to greener growth. Most developed countries outside the European Union are reluctant to agree to extend the Kyoto protocol beyond 2012, when its current provisions expire, while developing countries are demanding they do so.

The issue is likely to be a serious sticking point at the next major round of climate talks, to take place in Durban, South Africa, this December.

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