Best of our wild blogs: 19 Oct 11

A Light Above Pedra Branca
from Flying Fish Friends

The Elusive Lantern Bugs
from Macro Photography in Singapore

Gardening for birds: 2. Figs
from Bird Ecology Study Group

from The annotated budak and Neat freak

New articles on Nature in Singapore website
from Raffles Museum News

Why is Indonesia afraid of Greenpeace?
from news by Rhett Butler

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Bukit Timah Nature Reserve nominated as ASEAN Heritage Park

Channel NewsAsia 18 Oct 11;

SINGAPORE: ASEAN Environment Ministers have approved the nomination of Bukit Timah Nature Reserve in Singapore and Mount Malindang Range Natural Park in the Philippines as new ASEAN Heritage Parks (AHP).

To date, 30 national protected areas have been designated as AHPs.

The AHP aims to generate greater awareness, appreciation, enjoyment and conservation of ASEAN's rich natural heritage, through the creation of a regional network of representative protected areas.

The ministers met in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, where they reviewed on-going programmes on the environment and discussed new activities to further promote regional environmental cooperation on Tuesday.

The ministers reviewed national, sub-regional and regional activities to address land and forest fires in the region and its associated transboundary haze pollution.

They noted that in the northern ASEAN region, the prevailing rainy season is expected to keep hotspot activities subdued until the onset of the traditional dry season in November.

For the southern ASEAN region, hotspot activities are likely to be subdued due to the wet weather conditions during the Inter-Monsoon and Northeast Monsoon.


Conserving Singapore's 'natural assets'
Today Online 20 Oct 11;

SINGAPORE - President Tony Tan has reiterated the importance of natural heritage in Singapore's urban environment, as he joined members of the nature conservation community including school representatives during his tour of the TreeTop Walk yesterday.

His visit also marks the declaration of the 163-hectare Bukit Timah Nature Reserve as an ASEAN Heritage Park. With this formal endorsement, Singapore will be home to two ASEAN Heritage Parks, a regional network of a total of 30 protected areas of high nature conservation importance. The other is the Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve.

Dr Tan says it is a privilege for Singapore to be recognised in the region for its nature conservation efforts. He said: "The forests and other natural assets in Singapore are important parts of our natural heritage. It is imperative for us, as stewards of these assets, to continue to balance our developmental needs with nature conservation.

"We must work together as a community to conserve these natural assets for future generations, as part of our vision to be a City in a Garden and an exceptional home for all Singaporeans."

The National Parks Board (NParks) said the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve is a unique example of a forest within an urban setting. One of the largest stands of primary lowland dipterocarp forest and pockets of hill dipterocarp forests are found in the nature reserve. NParks said the hill dipterocarp forest type is not found elsewhere in Singapore.

The Nature Reserve will further enhance its ecological robustness and outreach to better serve the needs of the community. Upcoming nature and conservation programmes will highlight the natural wonders, while the public can participate in nature appreciation walks and dedicated programmes for children.

In the pipeline are also plans to develop digital maps downloadable by 2G or 3G phones to enhance visitors' experience and educational materials targeted at students to promote a deeper appreciation for rainforests. Channel NewsAsia

Singapore home to two ASEAN Heritage Parks
Today Online 19 Oct 11;

SINGAPORE - President Tony Tan Keng Yam was joined by members of the nature conservation community including school representatives in his tour of the TreeTop Walk today.

His visit marks the declaration of Bukit Timah Nature Reserve as an ASEAN Heritage Park on Tuesday.

With this formal endorsement, Singapore will be home to two ASEAN Heritage Parks, a regional network of a total of 30 protected areas of high nature conservation importance.

The other is the Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve.

President Tony Tan said it's a privilege for Singapore to be recognised in the region for its nature conservation efforts.

He said: "Singapore has done well economically, and is known for having prudently built up our financial reserves over the years. Fewer people are aware that we have also carefully protected our nature reserves even as the pressure on our scarce land resources increase.

"The forests and other natural assets in Singapore are important parts of our natural heritage. It is imperative for us, as stewards of these assets, to continue to balance our developmental needs with nature conservation.

"We must work together as a community to conserve these natural assets for future generations, as part of our vision to be a City in a Garden and an exceptional home for all Singaporeans."

The National Parks Board (NParks) said the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve is a unique example of a forest within an urban setting.

One of the largest stands of primary lowland dipterocarp forest and pockets of hill dipterocarp forests are found in nature reserve.

NParks said the hill dipterocarp forest type is not found elsewhere in Singapore. CHANNEL NEWSASIA

Heritage status for Bt Timah Nature Reserve
Stacey Chia Straits Times 20 Oct 11;

PRESIDENT Tony Tan Keng Yam visited the TreeTop Walk early yesterday to mark the declaration of Bukit Timah Nature Reserve as an Asean Heritage Park.

He was accompanied by members of the nature conservation community on his stroll across the suspension bridge which is 250m long and takes the visitor 25m above ground at its highest point, the level of the forest canopy.

The TreeTop Walk is the highlight among several walking trails through the nature reserve, which includes the MacRitchie Reservoir.

The nature reserve was awarded heritage park status on Tuesday, at the 13th Informal Asean Ministerial Meeting on the Environment held in Phnom Penh.

With this, Singapore is now home to two Asean Heritage Parks, the other being the Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve, which earned the accolade in 2003.

To make the cut, parks have to meet criteria such as ecological completeness, naturalness and high conservation importance. There are now 30 heritage parks across Asean, such as the Lorentz National Park in Indonesia and Gunung Mulu National Park in Malaysia.

President Tan said it was a privilege for Singapore to be recognised in the region for its nature conservation efforts.

'We have done well economically, and are known for having prudently built up our financial reserves over the years.

'Fewer people are aware that we have also protected our nature reserves, even as the pressure on our scarce land resources has increased,' he said.

The National Parks Board noted that the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, although small, hosts about 40 per cent of the nation's native flora and fauna.

Mr Subaraj Rajathurai, director of Strix Wildlife Consultancy, said: 'Not many countries have a rainforest only 20 minutes from the city, easily accessible to everyone.'

Last night, President Tan attended the Singapore Red Cross Charity Golf dinner at the Singapore Island Country Club, where he gave certificates of appreciation to Red Cross' corporate partners.

About 140 golfers raised more than $350,000 for local humanitarian causes, such as the Red Cross Home for the Disabled and the Red Cross Non-Emergency Ambulance Service.

President visits TreeTop Walk to reiterate importance of urban forests - Visit marks celebration of Bukit Timah Nature Reserve's announcement as an Asean Heritage Park
National Parks Board Press Release 19 Oct 11;

19 October 2011 - President Tony Tan Keng Yam was joined by members of the nature conservation community including school representatives in his tour of the TreeTop Walk this morning. His visit marks the declaration of Bukit Timah Nature Reserve as an Asean Heritage Park and reiterates the importance of our natural heritage in Singapore's urban environment.

The 163-hectare Bukit Timah Nature Reserve (BTNR) was formally declared as an Asean Heritage Park (AHP) during the 13th Informal Asean Ministerial Meeting on the Environment held in Phnom Penh, Cambodia on 18 October 2011. Senior Minister of State for the Environment and Water Resources, Ms Grace Fu was in attendance and accepted the honour on behalf of Singapore.

With this formal endorsement, Singapore will now be home to two Asean Heritage Parks, a prestigious regional network of a total of 30 protected areas of high nature conservation importance. AHPs represent educational and inspirational sites which form the complete spectrum of representative ecosystems of the Asean region. This includes renowned UNESCO World Heritage Sites like Lorentz National Park (Indonesia), Kinabalu National Park (Malaysia) and Gunung Mulu National Park (Malaysia).

President Tony Tan said, "It is a privilege for Singapore to be recognized in the region for our nature conservation efforts. We should be proud that a compact urban city like Singapore has two Asean Heritage Parks. Singapore has done well economically, and is known for having prudently built up our financial reserves over the years. Fewer people are aware that we have also carefully protected our nature reserves even as the pressure on our scarce land resources increase. The forests and other natural assets in Singapore are important parts of our natural heritage. It is imperative for us, as stewards of these assets, to continue to balance our developmental needs with nature conservation. We must work together as a community to conserve these natural assets for future generations, as part of our vision to be a City in a Garden and an exceptional home for all Singaporeans."

The inclusion of BTNR, together with Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve's inclusion in 2003 in the AHP scheme is a strong affirmation of Singapore's conservation efforts and commitment in preserving our natural heritage. It is also a significant milestone for BTNR which aspires to be a centre of excellence in tropical forest conservation management.

BTNR has successfully met several criteria encompassing ecological completeness, representativeness, naturalness, high conservation importance, identification as a legally gazetted nature area and having an approved management plan.

A National Site of Ecological Gems

Best known for its tallest hill at 163m, BTNR is indeed a unique exemplar of a forest within an urban setting. One of the largest stands of primary lowland dipterocarp forest and pockets of hill dipterocarp forests are found in BTNR. The hill dipterocarp forest type is not found elsewhere in Singapore.

For a reserve of small geographical size (0.2% of the country's total area), BTNR is disproportionately rich in biodiversity, with about 40% of the nation's native flora and fauna. The reserve teems with 900 species of vascular plants, 107 species of ferns, 200 species of butterflies, 124 species of birds, 70 species of dragonflies, 58 species of reptiles, 26 species of mammals, 17 species of amphibians and 15 species of native freshwater fishes.

These are recent rediscoveries of flora like the De Candolle's Magnolia (Magnolia candolii) and Memecylon (Memecylon pubescens). Rare fauna like the Forest Praying Mantis (Theopropus elegans), the Singapore Freshwater Crab (Johora singaporensis) and one of the largest dragonfly species in South-east Asia, the Giant Hawker (Tetracanthagyna plagiata) can be found. Here, one can experience the rich biodiversity within Singapore and may catch sight of the reserve's inhabitants including the pangolin (Manis javanica), Horsfield's Flying Squirrel (Iomys horsfieldii) and Colugo (Galeopterus variegatus).

Dynamic Roles of Bukit Timah Nature Reserve

As a popular nature haven hosting about 330,000 visitors annually, BTNR supports diverse needs from conservation, education, research to recreation. To meet these multiple functions, it forges collaborations with research institutions, corporate bodies, schools, volunteers and the community.

It actively contributes to nature education with 15 schools participating in its programmes like heART for Nature workshops, Nature Keeper Programme, Kids for Nature Programme, Community Involvement and Service Learning Projects. Teachers have benefited from workshops and talks to better equip them with the know-how for conducting field trips.

In addition, corporate groups are also encouraged to play an active role in the protection and management of BTNR, with more than 20 corporate groups participating in the Habitat Restoration Programme.

Enhancing BTNR for the Community

Nature groups have also cheered the announcement. Dr Shawn Lum, President of Nature Society (Singapore) said, "This is a very important announcement in recognition of Bukit Timah Nature Reserve's immense biodiversity, ecological, and heritage value. I hope it inspires people to learn more about Singapore's beautiful rainforests, to help care for them to ensure that they will continue to enchant and excite."

As an AHP, BTNR will build on its programmes and infrastructure to strengthen its position as a premier tropical forest. This will further enhance its ecological robustness and outreach to better serve the needs of the community. Upcoming nature and conservation programmes will highlight the natural wonders of this newly minted AHP. The public can participate in nature appreciation walks and dedicated programmes for children. (See Annex for details)

In the pipeline are also plans to develop digital maps downloadable by 2G or 3G phones to enhance visitors' experience and educational materials targeted at students to promote a deeper appreciation for rainforests.

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Trail closed after landslide, but some still using it

Jalelah Abu Baker Straits Times 19 Oct 11;

A LANDSLIDE took place on Telok Blangah Hill amid wet weather last month, prompting the National Parks Board (NParks) to close the elevated walkway that winds through the area.

However, some people continue to use the walkway, which wends its way through the secondary forest of Telok Blangah Hill and links to the overhead bridge named the Alexandra Arch.

When The Straits Times visited the trail yesterday, the orange plastic barriers used to block off access to the walkway had been pushed aside.

The walkway, which sits between 3m and 18m above ground, is the Forest Walk portion of the Southern Ridges walking trail, which stretches from Mount Faber to West Coast Park.

The foundations supporting the Forest Walk are sunk into where the landslide occurred, which is near the private houses along Preston Road, off Depot Road.

NParks, which closed the walking trail on Sept 27, has covered the muddy area of the landslide - about the length of a football field - with a large piece of canvas to prevent further soil slips.

Mr Chia Seng Jiang, NParks' general manager, said that because of the landslide, the Forest Walk and the nearby Earth Trail will be closed till further notice for public safety.

He added: 'While works are currently being carried out to stabilise the slope, the public is advised not to venture beyond designated paths.'

Engineering specialists said landslides here normally involve only surface soil, and covering the area with canvas prevents further landslides.

Mr Chong Kee Sen, a civil engineer with more than 20 years' experience, said that because landslides here generally involve shallow surface slippage, they are not likely to affect anyone, unless they are very near to it.

Mr Chong, who is also the vice-president of the Institution of Engineers Singapore, said soil is weakened when it is rain-soaked, and that vegetation can protect it from direct contact with rain.

Professor Harianto Rahardjo of Nanyang Technological University's School of Civil and Environmental Engineering said most rainfall-induced landslides are shallow and involve only 1m to 2m of soil. But the extent of the slide depends on many factors, such as soil strength, and the slope's height and angle.

The professor, who has researched landslides for more than 20 years, said they can be prevented somewhat through regular maintenance and assessment. 'There have been quite a number of small landslides here, particularly after heavy rainfall,' he said.

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Can a population decline do any good?

Letter from James Ang Today Online 19 Oct 11;

There has been much discussion on how we need more immigrants to make up for the shortfall caused by our declining birth rate.

Our total population increased from 2.07 million in 1970 to 5.18 million this year, a 150-per-cent increase, while our land area has grown by 21.5 per cent, from 586 sq km to 712 sq km last year. The growth in the number of immigrants indicates it is not just to make up for our replacement rate falling below 2.1 but that it is a strategic drive to grow the economy to its fullest potential.

So our buildings have grown taller, our flats smaller and all closer to one another. More tunnels are dug and highways widened to create more space to cater to an eventual population of more than 6 million.

The race to build more physical infrastructure to catch up with population growth is straining existing resources. Normally rational and tolerant Singaporeans are voicing concern through the many feedback channels.

I am sure there are detailed plans and studies to show that Singapore can grow its population to 6 or even 7 million and build the necessary infrastructure.

But will these plans and studies convey the psychological strain and emotional stress that segments of the populace will face?

Population decline is usually associated with economic decline, weak pension funds and an ageing society with not enough young to support and eventually replace them.

However, have we looked at whether it is possible to let the population decline gradually to a level where Singapore could still achieve sustainable economic growth without the negative consequences of a major population decline?

A coordinated and calibrated approach by all government ministries may be able to attain this fine balance.

Has there been a study to show what would happen if total population declines to 4.6 or 4.8 million - like it was in 2007 and 2008, respectively - instead of rising to 6 million?

This number can be within a band that could be calibrated according to the country's needs and situation at the prevailing time.

I think there would be more space on our trains, buses, roads and in our parks. Class sizes in schools may be smaller, so there would be a better teacher-to-student ratio.

There may be more university places for residents, housing and rental prices might ease and the quality of life might just improve.

Economic growth has always been at the core of our planning processes, but it has to be sustained through productivity growth and quality investments. Residents should not pay a high social price to achieve stratospheric GDP targets.

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Malaysia: forest cover losses are masked by terminology

Tree cover-up
The Star 18 Oct 11;

Our forest cover is diminishing but the losses are being masked by terminology.

WHAT is a forest? For many of us, it would mean virgin forests, full of soaring trees and wild flora and fauna. But for the many international bodies and treaties found in the world, a forest can be that and many other things.

Various conventions such as the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification and bodies such as the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and International Tropical Timber Organisation, all define the term “forests” differently.

These conventions and agencies have their own functions and objectives and therefore, have different forestry information needs. For example the choice of a definition of forest under the UNFCCC would be more related to the role of forests in mitigating climate change whereas the CBD takes a more ecosystem approach to defining forests.

At the same time, countries also develop and use their own definitions for their forests. A recent study found that there are more than 800 different definitions for forests and wooded areas used globally, with some countries employing more than one definition at the same time.

The FAO has been monitoring the usage and management of the world’s forests since 1946 and so, its definition of forest is widely adopted for global forest observation and reporting. The relevant government agencies in Malaysia also generally subscribe to FAO’s definition of forest and forest classifications. There are problems with FAO’s definition, however. Various environmental groups and scientific organisations have criticised it as being too broad for the purpose of promoting the conservation of natural forests.

The FAO definition is silent on the subject of forest type; it does not distinguish between natural, modified and planted forests. Similarly, there is no differentiation between a forest that is largely composed of indigenous species and one covered mainly with introduced species (such as monoculture plantations). In the eyes of the FAO, all these vegetation types are categorised as forests.

Better defined

The deforestation of intact, primary forests will release more carbon than the deforestation of open woodlands. Similarly, diverse ecosystems have vastly different biological and ecological values. Tropical rainforests support high levels of biodiversity, while other ecosystem types may not be rich in biodiversity but still support unique species. However, these differences in the ecological utility and value of the various forest types will not be captured and accounted for by FAO’s statistics.

Consequently, conservation organisations have called for the forest definitions to be on a biome basis (such as peatswamp forest, boreal forest or tropical forest) to reflect the broad differences in carbon and biodiversity values of these different biomes and at the same time clearly distinguishing between natural native forests and those dominated by monocultures and exotic tree species.

Going by FAO’s definition of forest, if logging results in the removal of significant canopy cover, the area concerned is not regarded as “deforested” as long as canopy cover does not fall below the minimum 10% threshold. Therefore, the canopy cover of a forest can be drastically reduced, negatively impacting biodiversity and ecosystem functions, but the area can still be classified as forest. This essentially means that a healthy pristine forest is not differentiated from a degraded, logged-over forest.

To ensure that biologically rich natural forests are not converted to biologically poor forest, other international organisations have adopted a differentiated criterion which looks at several thresholds. The TREES project classifies forest cover greater than 70% as “dense forest”. (TREES is a joint project of the European Commission and the European Space Agency for the development of space observation techniques to improve monitoring of tropical forests.) The International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme uses a 60% threshold for forests while the United Nations Environment Programme uses 40% for closed forests and 10% to 40% for open or fragmented forests.

Forests vs plantations

Another grouse against the FAO definition of forest is that it includes planted forests (or forest plantations). Establishment of plantation forests can be either through afforestation on land that until then was not classified as forest, or by reforestation of land classified as forest – for instance, after a fire or a storm, or following clear-felling.

The inclusion of forest plantations in the definition of forests is of concern as it essentially means that statistics on the forest cover of a country can remain unchanged even if natural forests are replaced with forest plantations. As such, the true extent of natural forest loss might be hidden because it can be offset by the expansion of forest plantations. For instance, FAO’s Forest Resource Assessment 2010 reported that net forest loss in Asia was at an annual rate of 0.6 million ha in the 1990s but the region recorded a net annual gain of about 2.2 million ha of forest from 2000 to 2010. This was mainly due to large-scale afforestation efforts in China and despite continued high rates of net loss in many countries in South and South-East Asia.

The loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services provided by natural forests, especially tropical rainforests, cannot be replaced by forest plantations which are typically monoculture plantations and sometimes made up of non-native species. In tropical countries, including Malaysia, biodiversity-rich forests designated as permanent forest reserves are being felled and replaced by such plantations. The loophole in the definition means that such changes would be regarded as having caused no change in forest cover, thereby masking the loss and degradation of natural forests.

Forest plantations are not forests and should not be classified as such. Conversion of natural forests to plantations should always be regarded as deforestation, and the extent and establishment of plantations should be reported separately and not be considered as reforestation.


In 2000, about 18.5 million ha or 56% of Malaysia’s land was still forested but this decreased to 55% in 2007. If the declining trend continues, it is projected that forested areas will drop to 17.1 million ha or 51.8% of total land area come 2020. A study by WWF-Malaysia found a continual decline in forest reserve areas in Peninsular Malaysia – a nett loss of 1,696ha in 10 states, between 2001 and 2005.

In the peninsula, forests are protected under the National Forestry Act of 1984 by designating tracts of forest as Permanent Reserved Forest (PRF). Each PRF are then classified into any of these nine purposes: timber production forest; soil protection forest; soil reclamation forest; flood control forest; water catchment forest; forest sanctuary for wildlife; virgin jungle reserved forest; amenity forest; education forest; research forest; and forest for federal purposes.

Though the word “permanent” is used, there is nothing “permanent” about the designation as PRF. The state government can change the classification to any other class, albeit by notification in gazette. The situation moves to shakier ground under Section 11 of the Act which allows the state to excise land (wholly or partly) from a PRF if it is deemed to be no longer required for the purpose or is needed for a higher economic use.

In neither instance does the law require for public notification or consultation on the degazettement. This changed however, in the state of Selangor which in May, made an amendment in the Act requiring mandatory public inquiry before a PRF can be excised. There are no signs that a similar policy reform will be initiated by the Federal Government. The National Forestry Council has been urged to spur initiatives towards this significant reform that will empower the rakyat to make decisions that affect the nation’s rich forests. – Article courtesy of WWF-Malaysia

Forests to tree farms
The Star 18 Oct 11;

We are losing our natural forests to tree plantations yet on paper, all is well because these plantations are considered ‘forests’.

MOST of the wood-based products which we use in our daily life, be it paper or wooden furniture, are made from materials which have been sourced from forest plantations.

Forest plantations are known by many different names – industrial timber plantation, industrial tree plantation, planted forest or plantation forest. The United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) defines planted forests as “forest predominantly composed of trees established through planting and/or deliberate seeding”, while the International Tropical Timber Organisation (ITTO) defines them as “a forest stand that has been established by planting or seeding”.

In essence, they mean the same thing: areas in which trees, usually of the same species, are planted by man. The tree species can be made of indigenous, local or even exotic species such as rubber, acacia and teak. However, it does not include crops such as oil palm and soy. Based on the FAO definition of “forest”, widely used and accepted globally and in Malaysia, forest plantations are considered as forests.

Growing trees

Forest plantations have been established in parts of Malaysia since the 1990s but they were not an important feature in the forest industry as timber from natural forests was sufficient to cater for the demand.

Over time, this changed and timber from natural forests could no longer fulfil the rising demand for timber and wood-based products due to two major factors – the size of natural forests had shrunk and the industry itself started following sustainable forest management practices.

Therefore, forest plantations became a viable solution to fulfil the rising demand and at the same time reduce pressure on logging of natural forests. However, this is true only if the plantations are planted in non-forested areas. It becomes an issue of concern if natural forests are cut down to make way for forest plantations.

Since 2000, such planted forest have mushroomed. According to FAO’s State of the World’s Forest 2011, they make up about 264 million ha, which is nearly 7% of the world’s forest area of four billion ha.

In the Asia-Pacific region, forest plantations have increased by 29.33 million ha in the last decade, making up for 16% of forested area in the region and supplying 10% of total production resource in this region. In South-East Asia, planted forest cover increased by about 2.8 million ha over this 10-year period, an annual increase of 2.16%.

According to the Malaysian Timber Council (MTC), forest plantations in Malaysia have expanded from 250,000ha in 2001 to 310,000 ha in 2009, an increase of 24% in eight years. This accounts for about 1.7% of the country’s total forest land of 18.25 million ha.

While the percentage of forest plantations in Malaysia is still low, it is expected to increase rapidly by 2020. The government has taken steps to increase forest plantation to counter the shortfall of timber from natural forests. Timber and timber-based products are one of the major contributors to our economy, contributing between 3% and 4% of the annual export revenue from 2001 to 2010. The Third Industrial Masterplan has set an annual growth rate target of 6.4% for exports of downstream timber industry products, furniture and panel products, generating around RM53 billion in export earnings by 2020.

This target cannot be met if Malaysia depends on natural forests. In 2009, the government introduced the National Timber Policy to set the growth direction for the timber industry, and this includes aggressively implementing forest plantation programmes. The production of logs from forest plantations is set to increase from 3.3 million cu m in 2010 to 16.7 million cu m in 2020 – an increase of 400%. To achieve this, the target is to plant 375,000ha of forest plantations nationwide by 2020 with an annual planting rate of 25,000ha.

However, recent news reports indicate that Sarawak alone has designated 1.3 million ha for forest plantations with 262,686 ha already planted so far.

Most of the forest plantations in Malaysia are acacia and rubber (also known as timber latex clone plantations).

Estates in forests

What is alarming in Malaysia is that many forest plantations are being established in Permanent Forest Estates (PFE), also known as Permanent Reserved Forests (PRF). This means that forest plantations are replacing natural forests. Statistics from the Forestry Department show a steady increase in forest plantations within PRF in Peninsular Malaysia: from 47,154ha in 1990 to 163,529ha in 2009. From 2008 to 2009 alone, forest plantations in the peninsula grew by more than 62,000ha, a 61% increase within a year.

In Sarawak, most of the forest plantations are located within PRF as stated in the MTC factsheet. Sabah Forestry Department statistics show 244,722ha of forest plantations as of 2009. It is not clear if all these are within PRF but based on the department’s website, as of 2004, about 384,115ha within PRF have been identified for forest plantations. Another 163,578ha of forest plantations have been identified within state land and alienated land.

Whilst the current expanse of forest plantations is still small compared to about 14.52 million ha of PRF in the country, there is concern that the future expansion of forest plantations will be at the expense of natural forests due to for three main reasons: land availability, financial returns and government incentives.

> Land availability: Finding land for forest plantations is not easy due to limited land and other competing land uses such as oil palm plantation development. However, replacing natural forests with oil palm or any other land use is considered deforestation whereas replacing them with forest plantations is not. Statistics on forest cover for the country will remain unchanged even if forest plantations replace natural forests simply because of the way “forest” is defined by the FAO.

> Financial returns: Developing well-managed forest plantations is financially more attractive compared to implementing “sustainable forest management” (SFM) practices, introduced by the government in the 1990s.

Under SFM, clear-felling of forests is barred and only specific numbers and sizes of trees can be harvested. Plus, a 25- to 30-year gap is required to allow sufficient regeneration before the next round of harvesting. The government also limits the volume of timber that can be extracted annually.

On the other hand, trees in planted forests grow much faster and give higher yields compared to natural forests, thus shortening the “return of investment” period. This makes forest plantations a more attractive land use option as opposed to maintaining the area as natural forests.

> Government incentives: The Malaysian government is making plantation forests an attractive option by providing incentives to encourage private sector investment.

Companies undertaking forest plantation projects are given pioneer status and enjoy tax exemption for 10 years on their statutory income. Investing companies are eligible for tax deductions equivalent to the amount invested.

Loans are also available under the Forest Plantation Development Programme, whose criteria does not clearly prohibit forest plantation projects in PRF.

For Peninsular Malaysia, the criteria states that projects must be on state or alienated land and not on PRF that are gazetted for conservation and water catchment purposes. This can be interpreted as: forest plantations can be allowed in PRF that are for production purposes, which applies to most of the PRF in the peninsula.

For Sabah, forest plantations have to be in areas approved for Industrial Tree Plantation under the Sustainable Forest Management Licence Agreement. These agreements are made mainly for areas that are under PRF.

For Sarawak, only areas with Licence for Planted Forest qualify and these licences are also given out for areas within PRF.

The current definition of “forests” does not prevent biodiversity-rich natural forests from being replaced with biodiversity-poor forest plantations. Forest plantations should not expand at the expense of natural forests. In Malaysia, they certainly should not be allowed to be established in PRF, which account for about 44% of our land area.

Any attempt to change this could mean the loss of our rich natural heritage and the benefits derived from the forests, and many of our iconic species such as tigers and elephants.

Arguments that say planting forests in PRF is due to the poor quality of a logged-over forest hold very little water in the face of the loss we will see from such a move.

This really begs the question: If we have been practising sustainable forestry management for the last 15 years, shouldn’t our PRF be of good quality, and need not be replaced by forest plantations? – Article courtesy of WWF-Malaysia

Read more!

Indonesia's SMART says Unilever resumes palm oil buys

Reuters 18 Oct 11;

Oct 18 (Reuters) - Anglo-Dutch consumer goods giant Unilever (UNc.AS) has resumed palm oil purchases from Sinar Mas Agro Resources and Technology (SMART) after the planter adopted new green policies, the Indonesian palm oil firm said late on Monday.

SMART, which runs the Indonesia palm oil operations of its Singapore-listed parent Golden Agri-Resources , was given a mixed score card last year in an independent environmental audit after Greenpeace accused the firm of clearing peat land and forests that sheltered endangered species.

Major palm oil consumers such as Unilever, Nestle and Burger King stopped buying from SMART because of environmental concerns.

The palm oil firm said in February it would work with the government and a non-profit body, and Golden Agri then developed a Forest Conservation Policy (FCP) in collaboration with The Forest Trust (TFT), a non-profit organisation that seeks to promote green business methods.

"SMART has received a purchase order from Unilever today, a decision which SMART views as an acknowledgement of its sustainability commitments including Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) certification," the firm said in a statement.

The RSPO is an industry body of consumers, green groups and plantation firms that aims to promote use of sustainable palm oil products.

This month, Nestle, the world's biggest food group, also resumed palm oil purchases from SMART.

The palm oil industry has come under increasing pressure to improve practices and halt deforestation blamed for speeding up climate change, ruining watersheds and destroying wildlife.

A moratorium on new permits to clear forests in Indonesia, the world's top palm oil producer, came into force in May for an initial two years.

Late last month however, the Indonesian Palm Oil Association (Gapki) withdrew its membership from the RSPO, instead giving its full backing to an Indonesian sustainability scheme.

Many major European palm oil buyers say the RSPO will remain the international sustainability marker.

SMART President Director Daud Dharsono also said the firm was supportive of the RSPO and would also continue to work with Gapki. (Reporting by Michael Taylor; Editing by Sugita Katyal)

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How learning more about mass nesting can help conserve sea turtles

Wiley-Blackwell EurekAlert 18 Oct 11;

Ecologists are a step closer to understanding one of nature's most extraordinary sights – the 'arribada' or synchronised mass nesting of female olive ridley sea turtles. The new study, published today in the British Ecological Society's Journal of Animal Ecology, is the first to combine three different approaches – genetics, demography and behaviour, and the results should help conserve these vulnerable marine creatures.

The study, lead by Virginie Plot of the National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) in France, gathered three sets of data. First, to get an accurate estimate of the size of the olive ridley population in French Guiana, the ecologists monitored nesting beaches at Cayenne and Remire-Montjoly every night during the nesting season (May to September) each year between 2002 and 2010.

Then, to learn more about how the turtles behave before coming ashore, they attached satellite data loggers to the shells of 10 individuals. By recording data every 10 seconds and sending them by satellite every time the turtles surface for breathing, these units gave a detailed picture of the turtles' geographic location, the depth and duration of their dives and the temperature of the water.

Finally, the team took skin samples from the turtles so they could investigate the variability of their DNA. These tests reveal the genetic diversity of the population and also allow researchers to estimate past population levels.

The results show that although olive ridley numbers in French Guiana have increased during the past 10 years, the population suffered a massive collapse in the past 2,000 years.

According to Ms Plot: "Looking at the DNA of these turtles tells us that they come from a much larger population, one that has collapsed by 99% over the past 2,000 years. This is one of the sharpest collapses ever reported in large species and their population in French Guiana remains at a critical level."

The researchers found that even though fewer than 2,000 olive ridleys nest in French Guiana, they still synchronise their breeding, all leaving the sea to lay their eggs on the beach on the same nights. Until now, this behaviour had only been recorded among large populations of olive ridleys in India, Costa Rica and Mexico.

And thanks to the data loggers, the researchers gained a unique insight into how the turtles behave at sea between successive nesting events. During the first part of the nesting season individual turtles show a wide range of diving behaviour. Then, triggered by a cue that remains a mystery, they all start behaving in the same way, returning to the nesting beach and performing regular, systematic and shallow dives.

Together with local conservation efforts, the fact that such a small population of olive ridleys can synchronise their reproduction may explain why the number of nests laid every year in French Guiana has increased three-fold over the past 10 years. But, Ms Plot warns, this group behaviour also makes them more vulnerable.

"In terms of conservation, gathering together at the same time and in the same place to nest makes female olive ridleys vulnerable to human disturbance and could jeopardise their survival. By mapping more accurately how the turtles gather prior to coming ashore our study should help protect them," she says.

Virginie Plot et al (2011), 'Reproductive synchrony in a recovering bottlenecked sea turtle population', doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2656.2011.01915.x, is published in the Journal of Animal Ecology on Wednesday 19 October 2011.

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Caribbean Hurricanes Cluster, Letting Coral Reefs Mend Yahoo News 18 Oct 11;

Hurricanes in the Caribbean tend to cluster together during intense periods of action, sending one storm after another across the body of water, a new study finds.

While this may not be good news for island dwellers, it may not be bad for another key Caribbean denizen, the coral reef, the study suggests.

Tropical cyclones (a category that encompasses tropical storms and hurricanes) have a massive economic, social and ecological impact on the places they hit. Models of their occurrence influence many planning activities such as setting insurance premiums and coastal conservation. Understanding how often tropical storms and hurricanes form, and the patterns in which they do, is important for people and ecosystems along vulnerable coastlines.

In the new study, scientists mapped the variability in hurricanes throughout the Americas using a 100-year historical record of hurricane tracks.

Short intense bursts of hurricanes followed by relatively long quiet periods were found around the Caribbean Sea. The clustering was particularly strong in Florida, the Bahamas, Belize, Honduras, Haiti and Jamaica.

Clusters and coral reefs

This clustering can be tough on coastal communities because they don't get a chance to recover from one storm before another one hits. But modeling of Caribbean coral reefs found that clustered hurricanes are actually less damaging for coral reef health over the long term than random hurricane events. That's because the first hurricane to hit a reef always causes a lot of damage, but then those storms that follow in quick succession don't add much additional damage as most of the fragile corals were removed by the first storm.

The following prolonged quiet period after a hurricane cluster allows the corals to recover and then remain in a reasonable state prior to being hit by the next series of storms.

"We didn't at first expect clustering to have advantages, but this study has clearly shown that clustering can help by giving ecosystems more time to recover from natural catastrophes," said study team member David Stephenson of the University of Exeter.

Other impacts

Of course, the news isn't all good for coral reefs, which are experiencing pressures beyond the ones that storms exert.

"Cyclones have always been a natural part of coral reef lifecycles," said study team member Peter Mumby of the University of Queensland. "However, with the additional stresses people have placed upon ecosystems like fishing, pollution and climate change, the impacts of cyclones linger a lot longer than they did in the past."

It is important to consider the clustered nature of hurricane events when predicting the impacts of storms and climate change on ecosystems, according to the study. For coral reefs, forecasts of habitat collapse were overly pessimistic and have been predicted at least 10 years too early as hurricanes were assumed to occur randomly over time, which is how most research projects model the incidence of future hurricanes, said the researchers.

The findings were published today in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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New, Higher Estimates of Endangered Humpback Whales in the North Pacific

ScienceDaily 18 Oct 11;

Scientists have increased the estimate on the number of humpback whales in the North Pacific Ocean in a paper published in the journal Marine Mammal Science. The increase follows a refined statistical analysis of data compiled in 2008 from the largest whale survey ever undertaken to assess humpback whale populations throughout the North Pacific.

The number of North Pacific Humpback Whales in the 2008 study known as the Structure of Populations, Levels of Abundance and Status of Humpbacks, or SPLASH, was estimated at just under 20,000 based on a preliminary look at the data. This new research indicates the population to be over 21,000 and possibly even higher -- a significant improvement to the scant 1400 humpback whales estimated in the North Pacific Ocean at the end of commercial whaling in 1966.

"These improved numbers are encouraging, especially after we have reduced most of the biases inherent in any statistical model," said Jay Barlow, NOAAs Fisheries Service marine mammal biologist at the Southwest Fisheries Science Center in La Jolla, Calif. "We feel the numbers may even be larger since there have been across-the-board increases in known population areas and unknown areas have probably seen the same increases."

The SPLASH research was a three-year project begun in 2004 involving NOAA scientists and hundreds of other researchers from the United States, Japan, Russia, Mexico, Canada, the Philippines, Costa Rica, Panama, Nicaragua and Guatemala and was the first systematic survey ever attempted to determine the humpback whales' overall population, structure, and genetic makeup in the North Pacific.

Researchers were able to quantify the number of humpback whales by photographing and cataloguing over 18,000 pictures of the animals' tail, or fluke because the pigmentation patterns on the fluke act like a fingerprint and are unique to each animal. Scientists determined population numbers by comparing photographs taken in northern feeding grounds (around the Pacific Rim from California to Kamchatka) compared with matches of the same animals in the warm tropical waters of southern breeding areas as far as 3000 miles away.

"This latest revision to the study provides an accurate estimate for humpback whales in an entire ocean that could not have been possible without researchers working together to pool data," said John Calambokidis, senior research biologist and co-founder of Cascadia Research. "While populations of some other whale species remain very low this shows that humpback whales are among those that have recovered strongly from whaling."

Journal Reference:

Jay Barlow, John Calambokidis, Erin A. Falcone, C. Scott Baker, Alexander M. Burdin, Phillip J. Clapham, John K. B. Ford, Christine M. Gabriele, Richard LeDuc, David K. Mattila, Terrance J. Quinn, Lorenzo Rojas-Bracho, Janice M. Straley, Barbara L. Taylor, Jorge Urbán R., Paul Wade, David Weller, Briana H. Witteveen, Manami Yamaguchi. Humpback whale abundance in the North Pacific estimated by photographic capture-recapture with bias correction from simulation studies. Marine Mammal Science, 2011; 27 (4): 793 DOI: 10.1111/j.1748-7692.2010.00444.x

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Scarce Resources, Climate Biggest Threats To World Health

Nina Chestney Reuters 18 Oct 11;

The Earth's natural resources like food, water and forests are being depleted at an alarming speed, causing hunger, conflict, social unrest and species extinction, experts at a climate and health conference in London warned Monday.

Increased hunger due to food yield changes will lead to malnutrition; water scarcity will deteriorate hygiene; pollution will weaken immune systems; and displacement and social disorder due to conflicts over water and land will increase the spread of infectious diseases, they said.

By 2050, there could be 70 million additional deaths in sub-Saharan Africa alone, said Tony McMichael, professor of population health at the Australian National University.

As mosquito species spread due to climate change, the transmission rate of diseases like malaria will increase, engulfing countries like Zimbabwe from 2025 to 2050.

An extra 21 million people in China could be at risk from the infectious disease schistosomiasis as global warming increases floods, enabling disease-carrying water snails to travel to new areas.

"Climate change will progressively weaken the Earth's life support mechanism," McMichael said. "Health is not just collateral damage on the side, the risk is central and represents a denouement of all the other effects of climate change."

The world's population is due to exceed 7 billion this month and is forecast to rise to over 10 billion by 2050, putting even more strain on global resources.

The effects of climate change will only exacerbate the problems, putting the health of ecosystems, animal species and humans in danger, the experts said.


Health effects will not just be felt in Africa or Asia -- Europe will also feel the consequences.

"The problem of over-consumption in high income countries has produced an ecological and financial debt," Ian Roberts, professor at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, told Reuters.

"The biggest risk to human health is from the rise in fossil fuel use, causing cardiovascular disease, stroke and cancer," he added.

Europe will also be at risk from heat waves, floods and more infectious diseases as pests shift to northern latitudes, said Sari Kovats, lead author of the Europe chapter for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's (IPCC) fifth assessment report.

"The fact is, there is more evidence that diseases are moving north such as bluetongue," she told Reuters.

The IPCC's next report, which is due out in 2013-2014, will include chapters on human security and livelihoods and poverty for the first time to reflect the new raft of scientific evidence, she added.

Human health is not only at risk. Animal and plant species are also endangered.

"Many species are already facing a raft of pressures and climate change is creating a new range of additional problems," said Paul Pearce-Kelly, senior curator at London's Zoological Society.

Around 15 to 37 percent of over 6,000 species of amphibia are predicted to become extinct by 2100, he said.

In the Earth's history, there have been five mass extinctions, but there is now a 10,000-fold faster extinction rate than at any time on record.

"We are losing three species an hour, and this is before climate change is doing anything," said Hugh Montgomery, director at University College London's institute for human health and performance.

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No "Big Bang" Expected From Durban Climate Talks: EU

David Stanway PlanetArk 19 Oct 11;

Global climate talks in South Africa next month will not produce a "big bang" capable of producing a new and binding pact to slash greenhouse gases, but steady progress could be made, a senior European climate official said on Tuesday.

Jos Delbeke, director general for climate action at the European Commission, told a news briefing in Beijing that he had no illusions about the challenges facing negotiators during the next round of talks in Durban, but said he was optimistic that a "step by step" approach could seal a global compact by 2014-5.

"I think if people are expecting a big bang, that is not on the cards," he said.

"Even if we do not have a big bang at Durban, we have the opportunity to make operational steps that are going to turn out to be very important for the elaboration of a new comprehensive regime."

After the disappointments of Copenhagen in 2009 and Cancun in 2010, the latest round of discussions to extend the Kyoto Protocol will take place in November, and Delbeke said negotiators had already shed the illusion that a deal could be sealed in one easy step.

The first phase of the Kyoto agreement will expire at the end of 2012, but with most of the world preoccupied with reviving the economy and handling the European sovereign debt crisis, few expect any breakthroughs.

Media reports have suggested that big greenhouse gas producers like Japan and Canada would not even participate in the second phase of Kyoto, which Delbeke said he "deplored."

"I think in reality what may happen is that the Europeans will pronounce themselves politically in favor of the Kyoto Protocol but that they will only go for ratification of the agreement if other parties join the club and undertake action."

Delbeke said beyond the challenges of signing a new global deal, incremental progress was likely to be seen on technological cooperation, as well as issues like adaptation to climate change and monitoring emissions.


China has been the biggest beneficiary of the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), a Kyoto Protocol scheme that allows industrialized countries to meet their CO2 reduction targets by purchasing "certified emission reductions" or CERs from low-carbon projects launched in developing nations.

But the EU, the biggest buyer of CERs, has said it will not accept CERs generated by Chinese projects once the current phase of its Emissions Trading Scheme ends in 2012, though projects already registered will remain valid.

"Our ministers last week came together and they said they remain open to continue the Kyoto Protocol but there are a number of conditions attached to it," said Delbeke.

"One of them is the environmental integrity of the Kyoto Protocol needs to be improved. Another is that many more players have to join in."

With the EU committed to bringing the benefits of the mechanism to least developed countries, China will need to negotiate a separate bilateral deal with Europe if it wants to continue supplying carbon credits to Europe after 2012.

But that is likely to need stronger commitments to reduce absolute levels of greenhouse gas, including "sectoral" programmes that will force entire industries rather than individual projects to cut their emissions.

China, for its part, is still committed to the Kyoto principle of "common but differentiated responsibilities" which puts most of the responsibility for cutting emissions on the shoulders of developed nations.

The EU has been in discussions with potential partner countries but Delbeke wouldn't be drawn on whether talks with China were making progress.

"We have had quite a number of discussions -- it is about improving the CDM and, as far as we are concerned, opening up a new sector-based mechanism," said Delbeke.

He said talks were at an early stage and the important issue was ensuring that credits generated from sectoral schemes were recognized by the United Nations.

"I think it is fair to say that before such credits become available, we still will need some time because the clarity on sectoral mechanisms is not yet there, and it has to be implemented, and the credits have to be generated. It is not something that is going to happen on January 1, 2013."

(Editing by Robert Birsel)

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