Best of our wild blogs: 16 Oct 11

Checking up Chek Jawa's northern sand bar
from wild shores of singapore

Before the Rain @Chestnut Avenue
from Beauty of Fauna and Flora in Nature

Hand feeding of wild Javan Mynas
from Bird Ecology Study Group

Cute variable squirrels of Bidadari Cemetery
from wonderful creation

Bukit Brown @ night
from Urban Forest and Bukit Brown in the news

Read more!

Take care not to cut down healthy trees

Sunday Times Letter 15 Oct 11;

My wife and I are concerned by the extreme felling of trees in the land adjacent to our condominium, The Peak @ Balmeg, in the West Coast area.

The land houses rare bird life and includes greenery that is over 100 years old. Some of the vegetation is well outside the reach of any building, and many of the concerned trees are in sound health and do not pose any threat.

While we are trying to get some guidelines from the Singapore Land Authority (SLA) so that only truly rotten or endangering branches are dealt with, it is becoming increasingly difficult to get precise answers.

Singapore's pride in maintaining a 'green policy' has been lauded and we should be careful not to become over-protective over perceived 'safety' concerns. Saving our trees and maintaining the right eco balance is essential, as is the noise protection which such an environment provides. We look forward to the SLA's response.

William M. Smart

Trees posed some risks to residents
Sunday Times 23 Oct 11;

We thank Mr William M. Smart for his feedback ('Take care not to cut down healthy trees'; last Sunday).

The Singapore Land Authority (SLA) carried out a careful risk assessment and also consulted NParks before deciding to remove the trees in question.

Our overriding concern was the safety of the residents of the Peak @ Balmeg condominium as they were in close proximity to the trees.

The trees that were removed were of the self-sown Albizia variety. These trees are prone to uprooting in severe storms due to their shallow root system. They also have brittle branches. While these trees may appear healthy, their branches can snap easily and the entire tree can be easily uprooted in the event of strong wind and heavy rain.

Only the most dangerous trees were removed. The Albizia trees further away from the condominium were not disturbed.

Ng Siau Yong
Land Asset Management Services
Singapore Land Authority

Read more!

Malaysia: Planting a record of 777 corals

Avila Geraldine New Straits Times 16 Oct 11;

SEMPORNA: The planting of 777 individual corals in the underwater nursery at Ribbon Reef off here by a group of divers gained entry into the Malaysia Book of Records yesterday.

The "Beautiful Malaysia: Largest Coral Planting" project was organised by Astro Kasih to help conserve coral reefs and underwater life.

The programme was aimed at raising awareness on the importance of preserving the environment.

Tourism Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ng Yen Yen said coral conservation was important.

"The climate is changing and corals can only live in temperatures of 28o Celsius.

"If it's too hot, it will die because of bleaching and other factors. Coral diving is a very important tourism product for Malaysia as many tourists from Europe as well as China come here to dive.

So, if there are no corals, they will go to other places.

"We want to have sustainable tourism and this programme is in line with our tourism motto, that is to protect, conserve and reserve," she said after the programme launch here.

Present were state Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Masidi Manjun and Astro chief financial officer Ahmad Fuad.

The coral planting involved 50 divers from Astro Kasih and international divers from Finland, France and Japan.

Last year, Astro Kasih planted 501 individual corals at Perhentian Island in Terengganu.

"We also hope to have a world record next year," Dr Ng said.

Fuad said it was Astro's responsibility to help generate the country's economy.

"We want to be part of government efforts to protect the environment, and our hope is that through this programme, we can raise awareness among the people."

Masidi, meanwhile, said Sabah would ban shark hunting and sharks' fin soup next year.

"Sabah is known for its dive spots. A ban on shark hunting is crucial because divers come here to see sharks and if there are no sharks, they will definitely dive elsewhere.

"This is a state's initiative and we are glad that the tourism minister is supporting the move."

Ng said the ministry was also planning to introduce a direct flight from East Russia to Kota Kinabalu.

The direct flight is expected to start at the end of this year and would involve two Russian cities, Vladivostok and Khavbarosk.

She said flights from the two cities to Kota Kinabalu would take seven hours.

"Currently, there is no direct flight from Rusia to our country. There are only direct flights from Moscow to Vietnam and Bangkok.

"This move will further boost our tourism industry."

Read more: Planting a record of 777 corals

Read more!

Bird's nest boom has Malaysian producers drooling

M. Jegathesan AFP Yahoo News 13 Oct 11;

Thousands of swiftlets erupt from their roosts, swirling into a brightening dawn in a riotous ritual that announces the start of each day in this coastal town in northern Malaysia.

But the tiny birds emerge not from natural cave roosts, but from a purpose-built swiftlet "farm" resembling an industrial building that affords easy access to the valuable nests used in bird's nest soup.

Such farms are at the centre of a Malaysian effort to capitalise on the growing world popularity of the soup, a delicacy believed in Chinese society to be an aphrodisiac and provide a range of health benefits.

Strong demand for the so-called "Caviar of the East" from newly wealthy consumers in China and India and in the Middle East is fuelling unprecedented new growth in a world market estimated by Malaysia's government at more than $6 billion.

"The Middle East is our new market. They are feeding bird's nest soup to race horses to make them run faster," said Loke Yeu Loong, managing director of the swiflet farm in the rural coastal town of Sitiawan.

"At the moment, demand outstrips supply."

The cup-shaped collections of twigs are held together by dried swiftlet saliva, which is made into a gelatinous soup credited in China with everything from alleviating asthma to arresting the ageing process.

In 2009, world production reached 3,750 tonnes, 75 percent of which came from Indonesia.

Thailand and Malaysia, where the birds also are found in huge numbers, produced most of the rest.

But safety and environmental concerns have forced a move away from the caves and disused buildings where swiftlets roost, and Malaysian harvesters are today building thousands of surrogate homes for the birds.

Loke opened his first dedicated swiftlet farm in 2009 -- several block-long rows of neatly designed three-storey buildings with sealed doors and windows and hollow interiors -- outside Sitiawan in Perak state.

Enticed by swiftlet mating songs played from loudspeakers, the birds enter via small openings and build their nests.

From just a few hundred individual bird houses in the late 1990s, there are now about 50,000 in Malaysia, according to the government.

Malaysia produced about 275 tonnes of bird's nest in 2010, worth some 1.5 billion ringgit ($470 million), and the government projects output growing to 500 tonnes by 2020.

Demand has pushed the average price of a kilogramme of Malaysia bird's nest to 4,000 ringgit today, four times what it was 20 years ago.

"Obviously at present we can't meet the huge growing consumer demand for edible bird's nest," Loke said.

His firm, Swiftlet Eco Park, is now developing or planning 14 other sites nationwide and aims to become Malaysia's top producer.

The Malaysian industry hatched in the 1980s but gained momentum after the 1997 Asian financial crisis left many property developments abandoned or unfinished.

Resourceful entrepreneurs capitalised on this -- and the lack of industry regulation -- to use many such sites as swiftlet farms.

But they ran into opposition amid complaints that the recorded bird song disturbed human residents and that droppings posed a potential health threat in the avian flu era. Calls for regulation have grown louder.

As a result, government officials say authorities have stopped approving new farms in urban areas and that legislation expected soon would ban them except in rural zones.

Environmentalists criticise the repeated snatching of the birds' diligently built nests, often before they can lay their eggs, as cruel to the swiftlets.

"Our major concern is the distress caused to the birds," said Mohamad Idris, president of the Malaysian branch of Friends of the Earth.

Mohamad Noorhisham, head of swiflet supervision for Malaysia's veterinary services agency, said legislation expected next year would ensure safe, sustainable and bird-friendly development of the industry.

Among other things, it will outlaw harvesting of nests containing chicks.

"We want the industry to be environmentally and people-friendly," he said.

But with the birds plentiful -- the government does not have precise figures -- and processed nests fetching high prices, the growth looks to continue.

Five years ago, swiftlet farmer John Peor had a handful of the purpose-built structures.

Today, his firm Yenzheka Technology has more than 60, producing about 200 kilogrammes of nests per month for export to Hong Kong and China. He hopes to raise monthly output to 500 kilogrammes.

"Buyers book in advance. I sell processed bird's nest for anything between 8,000 to 15,000 ringgit per kilogramme, depending on the grade," he said.

Producers and veterinary officials say that while concerns must be addressed, farming is more sustainable.

"In cave harvesting, where they bid huge sums of money to secure the right to harvest the bird's nest, they need to harvest as many nests as possible," Loke said, adding that meant chicks or eggs were often destroyed.

Loke says his firm does not destroy chicks or eggs, viewing them as the seeds of future growth.

Read more!

Fiji: Impact of dredging on mangroves

Kate Findley, WWF Fiji Times 16 Oct 11;

How would you describe a mangrove forest? Muddy, smelly, and mosquito-infested?

The land's not suitable to build on, the fish are small, refuse collects in the tangled web of roots that keep trying to trip you like a cartoon character, stunted shoots cut and scratch at you and it's impossible to navigate without years of experience or a compass. These are perhaps the reasons for Fiji's mangrove area declining by 13% between 1978 and 1994.

However contrary to popular belief mangrove forests are actually extremely productive and biodiverse ecosystems - linking the land to the sea they prevent debris from washing onto reefs, absorb and store the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide, and act as nursery grounds for commercially important fish including rabbitfish (nuqa), bumphead parrotfish (kalia) and many shark (qio) species.

The mangrove corridor to the Great Sea Reef

There is a close connection between mangroves and the Great Sea Reef, the third longest reef in the southern hemisphere, hugging the entire northern coast of Vanua Levu. Those in the NGO business often consider the Great Sea Reef to be "the hidden gem" of the South Pacific with its globally significant biodiversity, 12 IUCN Red Listed species including the green turtle, humphead wrasse and manta ray, as well as its sheer length.

The Great Sea Reef's health is in large part dependent on that of its mangrove corridor which fringes the Labasa River from hilltop to river mouth before the river water flows on to the reef. Mangroves roots - those extensive, tangled masses - trap particles from the river, so that the tree in effect builds an environment for itself from which it can obtain nutrients and anchor its roots.

By trapping particles, mangroves clarify and purify the water, creating that wondrously clear aquamarine water essential for coral reefs to receive sunlight and flourish; and by absorbing excess nutrients they prevent algae enshrouding the slow-growing coral.

Recent scientific evidence following the 2004 Boxing Day Aceh tsunami indicates that mangroves are also effective buffers for the shore when cyclones and tsunamis strike; fewer lives are lost and less damage is caused in communities with broader mangrove belts, earning them the nickname "bioshields".

Putting a plaster on a gaping wound

With lives and livelihoods lost in the furious flash floods that strike Labasa year after year, in 2008 it was decided to dredge the Labasa River, which flows directly through the centre of the town. Floods have always been a problem in Labasa, which is unsurprising considering it sits straddling three rivers in a flat, low-lying estuary that used to be a swamp.

For those who are not familiar with the term, dredging is the process of excavating the sediment lying at the bottom of a river bed to deposit it somewhere else, which at least in the short term deepens the water channel so it can carry a larger volume of water at any one time.

So what's the problem? Environmental group the WWF (World Wide Fund for Nature) have recently been speaking out about the impact dredging is having on the surrounding mangroves.

"Unfortunately, the act of dredging to deepen the channels and river mouth is in this case creating a false sense of security with the dredging's capacity to do more harm than good." Ms Monifa Fiu, Building Resilience Officer at WWF South Pacific commented.

"The way dredging is currently being conducted in the Labasa river just now, the material or 'spoil' that is dredged from the bottom of the river is being dumped in the first line of mangroves on the river bank, killing them."

"My fear is that as storm frequency increases due to climate change, we will have to dredge much more often, progressively destroying the layers of mangroves that line the bank."

Ms Fiu noted these dead patches on a field trip assessing the vulnerability of these mangroves to climate change as part of the major new AusAID funded 'Building Resilience' project, which aims to strengthen the resilience of the Ba and Labasa river catchments to the effects of climate change. The patches were of mature black mangroves (dogo) - a species of particular note for their protection and stabilization of low-lying coastal areas. In short, their message is clear: In Fiji we gain so much from mangroves that we cannot afford for them to be damaged as a result of poor planning. Mangrove build, mangroves protect, mangroves host and mangroves provide.

Read more!

Trees 'boost African crop yields and food security'

Mark Kinver BBC News 16 Oct 11;

Planting trees that improve soil quality can help boost crop yields for African farmers, an assessment shows.

Fertiliser tree systems (FTS) also help boost food security and play a role in "climate proofing" the region's arable land, the paper adds.

Researchers from the World Agroforestry Centre say poor soil fertility is one of the main obstacles to improving food production in Africa.

The results appear in the International Journal of Agricultural Sustainability.

"In Africa, it is generally agreed that poor soil management - along with poor water management - is most greatly affecting yields," explained co-author Frank Place, head of the centre's Impact Assessment team.

He said that despite chemical fertilisers having been on the market for more than half a century, farmers appeared reluctant or unable to buy them.

"Therefore, there have been a lot of attempts to bring in other types of nutrients from other systems - such as livestock and plants" he told BBC News.

"We have been working quite a lot on what is broadly referred to as 'fertiliser tree systems'."

Although it has been known for centuries that certain plants, such as legumes, "fix" nitrogen in the soil and boost food crop yields, Dr Place said that the centre's researchers had been looking to develop a more active management approach such as FTS.

"Some farms, for example in Zambia, where the farms are larger, it is possible to rest arable land and allow it to lie fallow," he observed.

"But in place such as much of Malawi, where population densities are higher, they cannot afford to fallow their land; so we came up with alternative management systems where they could intercrop the trees with the (maize)."

While the technique is not new, Dr Place said that some of the nitrogen-fixing species used by farmers were probably not the most effective.

For example, farmers in East Africa had been using Cajanus cajan (also known as pigeon pea).

"A lot of the nitrogen was being stored in the trees' seeds; so there was an effort to use other trees that put a greater volume in the soil, such as Gliricidia sepium (one of its common name is mother of cocoa)," he said.

"A really nice thing about G. sepium is that we have been coppicing some of those trees for 20 years and they still continue to grow back vigorously."

However, he acknowledged that there were a number of challenges that had to be addressed in order to maximise yields.

For example, some systems suggested planting rows of trees between rows of crops with mixed results.

"We realised that there were a few management problems with that sort of system - what tended to happen was that there was too much competition between the crops and the trees," Dr Place explained.

"We developed a new management system where the trees were cut very low to the ground at the time you are planting the crop so then there was no light competition.

"The trees go into a dormant state when you cut them like this, so the root system is not competing straight away for the nutrients, so the maize is free to become established.

"The trees only really start to come out out of the dormant phase when the maize is already tall."

Another challenge was to provide enough seeds in order to have mass-scale planting. He said that balancing the provision of high-quality seeds with large local engagement was another hurdle that had to be overcome.

But the rewards in improved yields were noticeable, he added.

"Some of the studies have shown that in TFS across Africa as a whole, yields are doubling or more in two-thirds of cases."

Where the systems were not delivering such good results, Dr Place said that scientists were looking to refine current practices and modify them to suit the local conditions.

'Climate proofing'

As well as helping to boost yields, the use of trees in agriculture has other benefits - such as helping to "climate proof" agriculture land.

One example, Dr Place said, was the use of Faidherbia albida (common names include winter thorn and apple-ring acacia) in West African arable landscapes.

"It has a deep penetrating tap root, and it can secure a good water supply even in dry years," he explained.

"Generally speaking, tree roots do go much deeper than crop roots, so it is recycling nutrients and water from deeper reaches.

"There are also studies showing that these roots act as conduits and bring up water to surface root systems (such as those belonging to crops)."

The editor-in-chief of the International Journal of Agricultural Sustainability, Professor Jules Pretty from Essex University in , said the study illustrated that there was a growing movement of agricultural innovations across Africa that were increasing yields and at the same time improving the environment.

"Trees and shrubs in agricultural systems seem to break some of the rules of agriculture - in this case, farmers are using shrubs to create a diverse rotation pattern rather than year-on-year maize," he told BBC News.

"The trees fix nitrogen and improve the soil; the leaves can be fed to livestock; the crops then benefit greatly in subsequent years."

Read more!