Best of our wild blogs: 20 Oct 11

Sea barriers at Western Catchment shoreline
from wild shores of singapore

Colourful World of Hoppers
from Macro Photography in Singapore

“I’d rather have passionate Singaporeans than apathetic ones” Tan Chuan-Jin, in his maiden speech to parliament
from Otterman speaks

Mailing List Registration Box Up!
from Raffles Museum News

Coral-killer seaweeds and fishes that eat them
from wild shores of singapore

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Resorts World Sentosa' dolphins are for economic greed, not conservation

Letter from Ann Marie Chua Today Online 19 Oct 11;

I beg to differ with Mr Neil Wilkinson, in his letter "We should support RWS' Marine Life Park" (Oct 18).

I do not know what surveys he had done to say that people against the captivity of wild dolphins in Resorts World Sentosa are in the minority.

Everyone I have spoken to about the captive dolphins were either ignorant of the matter or appalled. Those in the former group soon became appalled. None of us are animal activists.

There is nothing admirable about what Resorts World Sentosa is doing, either in effect or intention. If it had captured the dolphins to aid conservation efforts, people would not be up in arms.

What it is doing is for economic greed and vainglory. What it has done has already resulted in two dolphin deaths.

Animals become depressed when they are taken from their natural habitats to artificial environments and are forced to perform for people, so much so that they have to be given anti-depressant drugs.

Even if dolphins die in the wild, it is from natural causes, and there is nothing humans would have done deliberately to cause harm to these creatures, who are incredibly intelligent and fully capable of feeling physical, psychological and emotional pain.

That Singapore has the largest oceanarium, and that our government can enable such cruelty to be subjected on innocent animals, is a source of shame rather than pride to me.

This is not what I want Singapore to be put on the map for, and I will not support RWS insofar as it acts with disregard to life.

Does RWS really have world-class treatment?
Letter from Elissa Loi Shiling Today Online 20 Oct 11;

I REFER to Mr Neil Wilkinson's letter "We should support RWS' Marine Life Park" (Oct 18), in which he said that Singaporeans should be "proud that Singapore will have the world's largest oceanarium".

With the international attention the local dolphin campaign has received, any pride we might have in that accolade is undermined by how Resorts World Sentosa refuses to answer questions posed by local animal welfare groups and the public.

Besides, it is still possible for Singapore to have the world's largest oceanarium sans dolphins.

Mr Wilkinson argued that "no one can say what dolphins prefer" and concluded that dolphins would prefer to enjoy the same creature comforts that Singaporeans do. But dolphins are not humans, let alone Singaporeans.

The analogy should be between being cooped up in an artificial space where every aspect of life is decided for you, after being captured, and coming and going as you please in the environment you were born in, to enjoy fully what nature has designed for you.

A wild animal's greatest privilege is freedom. Who are we to take it away from them?

To conclude, I would ask if RWS can detail the capture of the 27 dolphins. How was it in line with conservation laws?

Was there no force or trauma dealt to the dolphins in the process of locating them, separating them from their pods and removing them from the ocean, that is, does RWS' boast of world-class treatment hold?

Swim at RWS or in the ocean?
Letter from Christina Lee Jiawei Campaigns Officer, Animal Concerns Research & Education Society
Today Online 21 Oct 11;

I REFER to the letter "We should support RWS' Marine Life Park" (Oct 18), whose main theme was about "choice" and which suggested that, if given a choice, Singaporeans would choose a small but safe flat instead of a large country estate.

The reality for the Resorts World Sentosa dolphins is that they had no choice. They were removed from their natural habitat and will be confined against their will.

They have lost control over their lives, from what and when they eat to whom they socialise with and where.

The Animal Concerns Research & Education Society doubts that any Singaporean would want the lives these dolphins are now living.

Captive dolphins, in general, are not "choosing" to interact with humans during contact sessions or to perform certain behaviours on demand but instead are often doing so to get fed.

Yes, they could choose to go hungry, but most animals will avoid hunger at all costs, and a hungry dolphin will do just about anything for a fish, even a dead, frozen one.

While it is true that wild dolphins may not enjoy a carefree life, they do enjoy freedom and choice.

With regard to conservation, we agree it is vital, but we cannot agree that catching dolphins from the wild is supporting these efforts.

According to the World Conservation Union (IUCN), the threats facing Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins (the species purchased by RWS) include live capture for oceanariums.

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) does allow the capture of dolphins from the wild.

However, according to the IUCN, catching more dolphins such as the Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphin, which is preferred as a captive, display species, "makes them vulnerable to depletion from such catches".

The IUCN states that exports of this species should not take place from the Solomon Islands and that "CITES parties should not issue permits to import dolphins" from these islands.

How then can RWS claim to be protecting these dolphins while contributing to one of their threats to survival in the Solomon Islands?

Over 680,000 people have joined ACRES to urge RWS to release the dolphins. Our challenge to RWS is simple, and it leaves the decision to the dolphins.

If it believes that its remaining 25 dolphins are happy in their current situation, then ACRES asks that RWS gives the dolphins a chance to swim freely again in the ocean.

If they truly wish to remain living with their trainers and in captivity, then surely they will not swim away but remain with the trainers. Will RWS agree to this challenge?

Give 25 dolphins at Marine Life Park the choice.

Marine Life Park should be supported
Letter from Auw Chor Wah Today Online 21 Oct 11;

I could not agree more with Mr Neil Wilkinson, in his letter "We should support RWS' Marine Life Park" (Oct 18).

Resorts World Sentosa's dolphins are the lucky few who will not only be given balanced and nutritious food, but imagine the love their caregivers would bestow on them.

Others may say that these animals are best appreciated in the wild, but for senior citizens like me, I would relish to see them up close without having to travel overseas.

It is a rare opportunity for both young and old Singaporeans to learn more about dolphins.

We should support RWS' Marine Life Park
Letter from Neil Wilkinson Today Online 18 Oct 11;

There has been some negative reaction to the coming Marine Life Park at Resorts World Sentosa, specifically regarding its dolphins. But this is coming only from activist groups who are in the minority.

Perhaps it is time for the majority of Singaporeans to applaud RWS' conservation efforts and be proud that Singapore will have the world's largest oceanarium.

No one can say what dolphins prefer. They could be living in fear of killer whales, having to hunt for food in oily, litter-filled seas, with the prospect of starving due to over-fishing by man, and facing horrific injuries from speeding motorboats with no regard for their lives.

Or they could be living in pristine, clear water, safe from predators and speed boats, and having food provided for them.

I think most Singaporeans, if given a choice between a small but safe flat, with restaurants or supermarkets around the corner, and a large country estate where they have to grow their own vegetables or catch their own food, with the danger of snake bites and other wild animals, would choose the former.

Education and conservation is vital today. I believe most Singaporeans recognise this and are looking forward to the Marine Life Park opening next year.

Perhaps someone should create an "I support the Marine Life Park" Facebook page to allow the silent majority of Singaporeans to stand up against the continual bad press and campaign against housing the dolphins. I am proud to support the park and look forward to visiting it.

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Groom urban planning talent: Philip Yeo

Uma Shankari Business Times 20 Oct 11;

SPRING Singapore chairman Philip Yeo believes that Singapore has to keep grooming its talent pool as it exports its expertise in urban planning overseas.

'A lot of countries come to us for help not just for designing the physical properties - architects can do that - but to learn how we run Singapore,' said Mr Yeo, who was speaking at a dialogue organised by the Centre for Liveable Cities yesterday.

So, the requests are for Singapore's 'software' as well as its 'hardware', he said.

Mr Yeo has helped to export Singapore's expertise in urban planning to numerous investment projects in countries such as China, India and Indonesia.

Projects he spearheaded include the International Tech Park Bangalore in India, the Vietnam-Singapore Industrial Park, and Suzhou Industrial Park in China.

In the years to come, Singapore can continue to export its urban planning solutions to cities that have populations of around 10 million in size, Mr Yeo said.

In particular, there are opportunities in second-tier cities in China and India, Mr Yeo said.

But urban consultants and investors who venture into both countries face a different set of challenges in each, he said.

In China, entrants could face stiff competition, Mr Yeo said: 'Four or five other industrial parks can spring up around you.'

In India, by contrast, the biggest challenge is that 'you have to do everything yourself', such as putting in the relevant infrastructure from scratch.

Mr Yeo, who is also a former chairman of the Economic Development Board (EDB) and the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*Star), also shared with the audience some of the challenges he faced while planning some of Singapore's more ambitious projects.

For example, industrial landlord JTC was opposed to developing Jurong Island at first, he said.

'They wanted to know, why did we want to reclaim Jurong Island when there are no customers, there was no one coming?' Mr Yeo recalled.

So while there will also be opponents to any plan, 'the key is just to do your job and do it right', he said.

Liveable city's bedrock is diversity of talent: Philip Yeo
Esther Teo Straits Times 20 Oct 11;

DIVERSITY of talent, not buildings, is the bedrock of a liveable city.

On that basis, Singapore should strive to keep attracting top people from around the globe, Spring Singapore chairman Philip Yeo said at a lecture yesterday.

'What makes a city alive is people, it's not buildings, and if you really want to grow and develop, you need to be able to take in talent,' he added.

With its low birth rate, Singapore's limit on growth is its people.

That means the Republic must keep attracting talent to navigate and remain relevant in the global economic landscape, he added on the sidelines of a dialogue organised by The Centre of Livable Cities at URA Centre yesterday.

'The younger population is also mostly tertiary educated now and the key is to find economic activities that can use this talent... More design, more engineering, automated manufacturing, yes, but assembly makes no sense,' he added.

He also touched upon Singapore's vulnerability to global economic swings.

'The Singapore economy doesn't stand still but we are at the mercy of the global economy. So if the US and Europe slow down, we will slow down. What can we do? We are not a customer. We are basically an exporter,' he noted.

On the health of the manufacturing sector, Mr Yeo said it is good that the industry is now diversified and balanced among four main sectors: electronics, chemicals, pharmaceuticals and marine engineering.

In the 1986, when he first helmed the Economic Development Board, about 90 per cent of the industry was made up of the electronics sector, he noted.

No stranger to controversy, the public service veteran also spoke frankly of the initial opposition from a government agency, when he first embarked on the Jurong Island project. The project eventually went ahead after he requested a change in the agency's leadership, Mr Yeo said.

'So the key is that if you want to do anything, be prepared to take the opposition and roll over them. The key is just to do your job, what you think is right, whether there's opposition or not. There's no personal animosity,' he added.

Mr Yeo also gamely took on the housing issue when asked if rising prices meant Singapore was still a liveable city.

'My view is that all these problems can be solved, whether it's transport or housing. It can be done very quickly, we have the means, we have the financials... so it's no big deal.'

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Home washing machines: Source of potentially harmful ocean 'microplastic' pollution

American Chemical Society EurekAlert 19 Oct 11;

Scientists are reporting that household washing machines seem to be a major source of so-called "microplastic" pollution — bits of polyester and acrylic smaller than the head of a pin — that they now have detected on ocean shorelines worldwide. Their report describing this potentially harmful material appears in ACS' journal Environmental Science & Technology.

Mark Browne and colleagues explain that the accumulation of microplastic debris in marine environments has raised health and safety concerns. The bits of plastic contain potentially harmful ingredients which go into the bodies of animals and could be transferred to people who consume fish. Ingested microplastic can transfer and persist into their cells for months.

How big is the problem of microplastic contamination? Where are these materials coming from? To answer those questions, the scientists looked for microplastic contamination along 18 coasts around the world and did some detective work to track down a likely source of this contamination.

They found more microplastic on shores in densely populated areas, and identified an important source — wastewater from household washing machines. They point out that more than 1,900 fibers can rinse off of a single garment during a wash cycle, and these fibers look just like the microplastic debris on shorelines. The problem, they say, is likely to intensify in the future, and the report suggests solutions: "Designers of clothing and washing machines should consider the need to reduce the release of fibers into wastewater and research is needed to develop methods for removing microplastic from sewage."

Washing machines called pollution source
UPI 19 Oct 11;

WASHINGTON, Oct. 19 (UPI) -- Household washing machines are a major source of "microplastic" pollution, tiny bits of plastic littering beaches worldwide, a study in a U.S. journal reports.

Researcher Mark Browne at University College Dublin and colleagues say the accumulation of microplastic debris in marine environments -- tiny bits of polyester and acrylic smaller than the head of a pin -- raises health and safety concerns as the plastic debris contains potentially harmful chemicals that go into the bodies of animals and could be transferred to people who consume fish.

Writing in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, the researchers said the highest concentrations are found on shores in densely populated areas and identified wastewater from household washing machines as a major source.

More than 1,900 fibers can rinse off a single garment during a wash cycle, the researchers says, and these fibers look just like the microplastic debris on shorelines.

"Designers of clothing and washing machines should consider the need to reduce the release of fibers into wastewater and research is needed to develop methods for removing microplastic from sewage," they recommended.

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Malaysia: Crocodile Specialist Group all for trade in crocodiles

New Straits Times 20 Oct 11;

KUCHING: The state's move to allow commercial trade in crocodiles has received the support of an international group.

The move to downgrade the reptile from Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora's (CITES), has the backing of the Crocodile Specialist Group.

Species that are threatened with extinction, and are, or may be, affected by trade are referred to as Appendix I of CITES. Commercial trade of species under this appendix caught in the wild is therefore illegal.

Crocodile Specialist Group's chairman Prof Dr Grahame Webb has supported the move to place the reptiles under Appendix II of the CITES.

Appendix II is for species that are not facing extinction but could face this predicament if the trading of the species is subject to strict regulation.

Webb believes that if Sarawak can come up with a management programme combined with economic benefits and ensure the survival of the reptiles, CITES would be in favour of its request.

"However, there is also Appendix IV which states that you have to continue to demonstrate that what you are doing is not detrimental to the survival of the species," Webb said at the sidelines of the International Crocodile Conference being held here.

Webb said CITES would definitely take into consideration the increase in human fatalities in Sarawak as a consequence of its (crocodile) conservation success.

He adds the obligation to monitor and ensure the survival of a species following downgrading was not an easy task.

Sarawak is taking the opportunity at the conference here to push its case to downgrade the crocodile to a less strict category.

Assistant Forestry Department director Engkamat Lading said the increase in crocodile population in the state for last 20 years justified the downgrading.

He said if the crocodile was listed in Appendix II, Sarawak would then be allowed to trade in the reptile like exporting live crocodiles and crocodile products.

He pointed out the average density of the state's crocodile population in 2005 was about eight per kilometre and the rivers with high density of the reptile were Sg Bako, Sg Sarawak, Btg Lupar, Sg Siblak, Btg Sardong and Sg Saribas.

"This shows we (Sarawak) have been successful in its crocodile conservation effort."

Ladind said if the reptile is not down graded, its increase in the rivers could lead to all economic activities in the waterways coming to a stand-still.

"Rivers with high density of crocodiles are also those where fatal attacks occur."

The Forestry Department reported a total of 97 (or 58 per cent) attacks from 1940 to 2009 occurred at Btg Lupar.

Attacks on Sg Sarawak was next highest at 13 per cent and Btg Saribas, nine per cent.

Between 2000 and 2009, the average number of attacks per year was 4.2 cases when compared with 1.7 cases between 1980 and 1989.

This year, four fatal cases have been recorded thus far.

Read more: Group all for trade in crocodiles

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Japan: Coral colonies depleted in Okinawa

The Yomiuri Shimbun 20 Oct 11;

On the famous coral reefs off Ishigakijima island, Okinawa Prefecture, the size of coral colonies has sharply decreased to about a quarter of their size about 10 years ago, according to research by a national environment institute.

The National Institute for Environmental Studies in Tsukuba, Ibaraki Prefecture, an independent administrative institution, conducted the research off the island's Shiraho beach.

The institute believes the decrease is caused by "coral bleaching," a phenomenon in which rising seawater temperatures kill coral; poor behavior by careless tourists who damage coral; and an inflow of red soil erosion into the ocean.

According to the research, the percentage of coral per square meter dropped from 11.9 percent in 1998 to 3.1 percent in 2010.

Some stony corals, known in Japanese as midori-ishi (acropora coral) and komon-sango (montipora coral), are particularly prone to environmental changes, and have decreased drastically to one-hundredth of former levels in some places, according to the institute. Coral bleaching has been observed for more than 10 years. But, red soil erosion from sugarcane and pineapple farms is also contributing to the decrease.

Additionally, the number of tourists visiting the island has increased, rising to about 873,000 last year, or 1.2 times the number from 10 years ago. Many tourists have stepped on or otherwise damaged the coral off Shiraho beach while scuba diving. Ishigakijima island is home to a number of popular diving spots.

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Shark massacre reported in Colombian waters

Environmental authorities say up to 2,000 hammerhead, Galápagos and whale sharks were slaughtered for their fins
Sibylla Brodzinsky 19 Oct 11;

Colombian environmental authorities have reported a huge shark massacre in the Malpelo wildlife sanctuary in Colombia's Pacific waters, where as many as 2,000 hammerhead, Galápagos and silky sharks may have been slaughtered for their fins.

Sandra Bessudo, the Colombian president's top adviser on environmental issues, said a team of divers who were studying sharks in the region reported the mass killing in the waters surrounding the rock-island known as Malpelo, some 500 kilometres from the mainland.

"I received a report, which is really unbelievable, from one of the divers who came from Russia to observe the large concentrations of sharks in Malpelo. They saw a large number of fishing trawlers entering the zone illegally," Bessudo said. The divers counted a total of 10 fishing boats, which all were flying the Costa Rican flag.

"When the divers dove, they started finding a large number of animals without their fins. They didn't see any alive," she said. One of the divers provided a video that shows the finless bodies of dead sharks on the ocean floor.

Calculating an average of 200 sharks per boat, "our estimates are that as many as 2,000 sharks may have been killed," Bessudo said.

The sanctuary covers 8,570 square kilometres of marine environment that provides a habitat for threatened marine species – in particular sharks. Divers have reported sightings of schools of more than 200 hammerhead sharks and as many as 1,000 silky sharks in the protected waters, one of the few areas in the world where sightings of short-nosed ragged-toothed shark, known locally as the "Malpelo monster," have been confirmed. In 2006 Unesco included the park on its list of World Heritage sites.

Bessudo, a marine biologist, has spent much of her career in Malpelo and fighting to preserve the unique marine environment there.

But the high concentration of sharks in Malpelo and the remoteness of the marine sanctuary draws illegal fishing boats from nearby nations which trap the sharks, strip them of their fins, and throw them back into the water. Shark fin soup, considered a delicacy of Chinese cuisine, can fetch £63 per bowl in a Hong Kong restaurant.

Colombia's navy sporadically patrols the waters and maintains a small outpost on the 1.2 square metre island, which is 36 hours from the nearest port. At the time of the reported shark finnings, however, no navy ships were nearby.

Once the report of the finnings were made public, the navy dispatched a ship to the area and on Sunday reported the seizure of an Ecuadorian fishing boat, caught with an illegal catch of 300kg, including sharks and other species.

At the same time, Colombia's foreign ministry took up the issue with the Costa Rican government, which vowed to co-operate to help stop the practice by ships registered under its flag.

In a communiqué, the Costa Rican foreign ministry said it "energetically condemns" the reported finning and said it would prosecute if the participation of Costa Rican flagged ships were involved. At least three of the ships were identified by their names: the Marco Antonio, the Jefferson and the Papante.

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Thai Floods To Slash Growth, Crisis Not Over For Bangkok

Alan Raybould PlanetArk 19 Oct 11;

Thailand's economy may grow by little more than 2 percent this year because of floods that have devastated parts of the country and forced a series of industrial estates to close, the finance minister said on Tuesday.

The economy, Southeast Asia's second-largest, will probably shrink 1.1 percent in the fourth quarter from a year earlier, Thirachai Phuvanatnaranubala added in an interview with Reuters, the clearest indication yet of the disaster's economic toll.

His ministry forecast in late September that the economy would grow 4.0 percent this year.

The central bank could help by cutting interest rates when it reviews policy on Wednesday, he said.

"For the Bank of Thailand to lower the interest rate would be nice because, at least for the short term, it would lower the costs for businesses," he said.

"But I don't have the authority to interfere. I only hope that the Bank of Thailand has enough common sense to judge their way forward."

The central bank has raised its policy rate to 3.50 percent from a record low of 1.25 percent in stages since July last year to cool inflation.

Flooding in the north, northeast and center of the country has killed at least 315 people since July and damaged large areas of farmland in the world's top exporter of rice.

The cost to the economy could go far higher if Bangkok, which accounts for 41 percent of gross domestic product (GDP), is hit by floods.

Monsoon rain, high tides and water flowing from reservoirs in northern Thailand had threatened the capital at the weekend but its defensive system of dikes and canals held.

However, Bangkok Governor Sukhumbhand Paribatra warned the danger was not over, even if the city escapes the sort of flooding that has overwhelmed other areas, including the ancient capital of Ayutthaya and its centuries-old temples.

"We are still concerned that there could be more rain and high sea tides at the end of this month that could put us at risk again," Sukhumbhand said on Tuesday, asking residents to leave temporary dikes made of sandbags in place.


At least six big industrial estates have now been halted by the floods, mostly in central Ayutthaya province.

Officials had sent conflicting signals about the danger to the Nava Nakorn industrial estate north of Bangkok, which has 270 plants and about 270,000 workers, until the government told firms to halt operations on Monday as floodwater breached its walls.

Hiroshi Minami, head of the local unit of Japanese chip maker Rohm Co Ltd, said the government did not appear to have learnt from experience at other industrial estates.

"We needed early warning," he told Reuters Television on Tuesday, adding Rohm customers around the world would suffer.

Reuters reporters said production appeared to have halted at the estate and workers were trying to protect their factories. An army official said at least 10 percent were under water.

Industry Minister Wannarat Channukul said Western Digital Corp could lose about 80 billion baht ($2.6 billion) in exports of hard disk drives from two plants forced to close because of the floods.

It might take the company eight months to resume operations, he added. It sources 60 percent of its global output from Thailand.

CP All Pcl, the country's biggest convenience store operator under the 7-Eleven brand, said it had closed about 150 outlets, up from 70 last week, and shut a distribution center in Nonthaburi province.

The government is pushing ahead with a big increase in the minimum wage from April 1 despite the huge bill companies face to restart their operations once the waters subside.

That will add to the central bank's dilemma at the policy meeting on Wednesday. Core inflation is near 3 percent, the top of its target range, but the economy is under threat from both the floods and lower demand in Western export markets.

To fund the recovery effort, the cabinet approved an increase in the budget deficit to 400 billion baht ($13 billion) for the fiscal year from October 1 from an initially agreed 350 billion.

Deputy Prime Minister Kittirat Na Ranong said the government would look at ways to borrow "several hundreds of billions of baht" to fund the rebuilding and Finance Minister Thirachai said it could turn to a multilateral institution to tap into its technical expertise as well as its funding.

(Editing by Robert Birsel)

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