Best of our wild blogs: 28 Oct 11

Flowerpeckers can be comical
from Life's Indulgences

Wild female Red Junglefowl sighted at Sin Ming Avenue (Part 1)
from Bird Ecology Study Group

Solo at Sentosa
from wild shores of singapore

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More wet weather ahead: NEA

Kezia Toh Straits Times 28 Oct 11;

EXPECT more rain in the days ahead, the National Environment Agency (NEA) has said.

Singapore has experienced a recent wet spell and yesterday's heavy rain once again caused flash floods - this time in Shenton Way.

This month marks the start of the second inter-monsoon period of the year, said an NEA spokesman, which leads to the north-east monsoon months of November, December and January.

Referring to long-term statistics at its climate station, NEA said October is a relatively wet month.

The wettest months for Singapore are December, November and January, followed by October.

NEA does not have complete rainfall figures for this month because October has not ended. The highest one-day rainfall recorded in October is 209.4mm in 2001.

The long-term average rainfall for October is 193.7mm.

The inter-monsoon period is characterised by weaker winds that do not come from a fixed direction, hence accounting for the more erratic weather.

Assistant Professor Koh Tieh Yong from the School of Physical and Mathematical Sciences at Nanyang Technological University said this is when south-west winds meet north-east winds, bringing moisture to the region.

As Singapore was in the zone of convergence along the Malay peninsula over the last two weeks, it led to wet weather and flash floods in places such as Little India and Serangoon.

It also explained yesterday's deluge which flooded two lanes of Shenton Way at about 1pm.

Water agency PUB said the overflow subsided in about 20 minutes and the cause of the flash floods is being investigated.

Meanwhile, experts said short spurts of intense rainfall are also on the radar.

'This is because of individual storm systems - parcels of air that are sufficiently hot that they would leave the surface and rise,' said Prof Koh.

'As they rise, they will cool and water vapour condenses, eventually forming rain,' he added.

Associate Professor Matthias Roth of the National University of Singapore's geography department also noted that there is a tendency towards more 'intense, short-lived rainfall events'.

'We can expect more rain as we enter the north-east monsoon season,' he said.

Heavy rain has also pelted the region.

Severe flooding this year has killed more than 1,000 people across Asia, with economic losses running into the tens of billions of dollars.

Thailand is suffering its worst flooding in 50 years.

But Prof Roth said more data is needed before one can point the finger at global warming.

'We need more data before we can conclusively link this to climate change or global warming - 20 to 30 years of data, not just two or three; though the somewhat extreme events we currently experience fit weather predictions in a warmer world.'

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Malaysia: 400 protected animals rescued

Adib Povera New Straits Times 27 Oct 11;

ALOR STAR: More than 400 protected animals, including 302 Asiatic cobras, were saved from ending up in the cooking pot in Thailand.

This follows the seizure by the Wildlife and National Parks Department from a house in Kampung Kandis, Kodiang, about 40km from here yesterday.

Acting on a tip-off, a four-man team led by enforcement officer Celescoriano Razond raided the house at 10.25am.

"We also found 146 box turtles and a macaque monkey during the raid. The animals were stashed in cages and several blue-coloured plastic sacks, which were found inside the house," he said, adding that the animals were protected under the Wildlife Animal Protection Act 1972.

The team also arrested a man, in his 30s, and his employer, in his 40s, during the raid.

Celescoriano said initial investigations revealed that the animals would be shipped to other countries, including Thailand, to satisfy the appetite of lovers of exotic food.

He said the case would be investigated under the Wildlife Conservation Act 2010 and the suspects faced a maximum RM100,000 fine or five years' jail or both, if convicted.

Saved from slaughter
Embun Majid The Star 28 Oct 11;

THE wildlife authorities have rescued 449 protected animals which were destined for the cooking pot in neighbouring Thailand after they raided a house in Kodiang, Kedah, less than 50km from the border crossing.

The animals — 302 snakes of the Naja naja cobra species, 146 tortoises of the Cuora amboinensis species and a monkey of the Macaca fascicularis species — were found inside sacks and cages during the raid by officers from the Kuala Lumpur-based Wildlife and National Parks Department.

The animals were destined to be smuggled out of the country and peddled to restaurants, which specialise in providing exotic dishes to diners who have acquired an adventurous appetite.

The department’s enforcement deputy director Celescoriano Razond told a press conference that the house owner and an occupant were detained during the raid to facilitate the investigation. Both suspects are in their 30s and 40s respectively.

The animals are believed to have been sourced from local wildlife traders in Kedah and Perlis.

The snakes were found inside 80 sacks, while the tortoises were found in 10 sacks and two baskets.

Razond said the two suspects could be charged under Section 60 (1) (a) of the Wildlife Protection Act 2010 which carries a fine of up to RM50,000 or jail of up to two years or both.

He said if the wildlife were of the female gender, the duo could be charged under Section 62 of the same act which carries a fine of up to RM100,000 or jail of up to five years or both.

They would also be slapped with an additional charge for allegedly smuggling the monkey.

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Malaysia: Local villagers to collect scientific data for coastline conservation project

Durie Rainer Fong The Star 28 Oct 11;

KOTA KINABALU: Villagers near here will soon take charge of looking after their coastal ecosystem thanks to a community-based coastline preservation programme.

Called the Environmental Monitoring for Marine and Coastal Ecosystems (EMMCE), the project at the seaside settlement of Kampung Meruntum in Putatan, seeks to help the villagers learn about the importance of coastline conservation.

Under the initiative, the villagers will be trained to collect baseline data about the coastline near their village using scientific means, from coastal profiling and identifying sediment composition to identifying direct and indirect threats to beaches, and coastal mapping.

Although the type of data to be collected is considered baseline information, it is crucial to help formulate future environmental conservation policies.

This will be of great use when tackling issues such as erosions or the effects on coastal areas following the monsoon seasons, among others, and the villagers will have direct involvement in addressing such problems.

A collaboration between Malaysia’s environmental watchdog Malaysian Nature Society (MNS) and oil and gas producer Talisman Malaysia Ltd (TML), the EMMCE was first launched in Pulau Redang, Terengganu last April.

The programme in Terengganu has begun to bear fruit, with villagers trained to observe their coastline using scientific methodology now becoming trainers themselves, teaching others to better manage their coastal ecosystem.

The Sabah chapter of EMMCE was launched here recently and both the collaborators hope to see the same kind of success in Kg Meruntum.

MNS executive director Clifford Clement said, as in Terengganu, the project will provide workshops for the community on how to gauge the health of their coastline.

“There has been no prior initiative to pool basic data for scientific reference and without that we are unable to lobby for policies to ensure the preservation of our nation’s coastlines,” Clement said.

With scientific data, which is verified by third parties like MNS and TML, the villagers will have a stronger case to highlight to the government in case better environmental policies are needed, he added.

“We can also use the data, for instance, during the marine parks annual general meeting from both sites in Terengganu and Sabah and say ‘this is what is happening to our beaches’,” he said.

Currently, about 30 Kg Meruntum villagers are participating in the first workshop and the collaborators are confident the figure will rise.

The project is scheduled to end in December next year but Clement pointed out they will have a lasting relationship with the villagers and continue to monitor their progress and the data collected.

TML, which has projects off Sabah, is contributing RM329,000 to the project in both locations for two years.

Its exploration manager Dr Simon Molyneux said TML believes in investing in the communities where they operate.

“We believe the EMMCE project will help to provide a platform for local-community involvement in preserving the health and wellness of the environment,” he said.

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Malaysia's Bakun dam online but criticisms persist

M. Jegathesan (AFP) Google News 27 Oct 11;

BAKUN DAM, Malaysia — The first turbine is spinning, electricity is pulsing out, and the water level is climbing in the Borneo jungle behind Malaysia's huge $2.2 billion Bakun hydroelectric dam.

But questions continue to swirl around the viability of a project described by critics as a graft-plagued human and ecological disaster -- and as opposition mounts against a dozen other planned dams in Sarawak state.

The first turbine from French giant Alstom began producing electricity in August and the dam's reservoir in the Malaysian portion of Borneo island has swelled to the size of Singapore since impoundment began a year ago.

After years of warnings about the impact on Sarawak's pristine jungles and the forced removal of thousands of local tribespeople, the dam's head Zulkifle Osman sees light at the end of the tunnel.

During a tour of the facility, the managing director of Sarawak Hidro who has overseen construction since 2000 defended the dam despite an electricity surplus in the state and the lack of a market for its power.

"It is a chicken-and-egg game," Zulkifle told AFP.

"I am confident there will be a lot of demand for electricity in Sarawak."

But dam opponents say the situation confirms warnings about Bakun as an ill-planned and unnecessary boondoggle.

The facility is located on the Balui River, a mighty waterway that drains a vast rainforested area of northern Borneo -- home to orangutan, spotted leopards, rare plants, and a renowned biodiversity.

The project was first approved in 1986 under then-premier Mahathir Mohamad as a cheap electricity source for more-developed peninsular Malaysia even though the country is a net oil and natural gas exporter.

But in a 2005 report, anti-graft watchdog Transparency International termed the dam one of the world's "Monuments of Corruption," citing years of delays, ownership changes, and overall costs that more than doubled.

"No users have made any legal written commitment for the usage of the energy," said Elli Luhat, a former Sarawak forestry official, now an environmental activist.

"I have a real fear that Bakun dam will one day become a white elephant."

Tribal residents say warnings about the dam's ecological and human impact are coming true.

Residents living in the shadow of the dam, one of the world's highest at 205 metres (673 ft), say the river's biodiversity has degenerated, fish catches have plunged, and once-clean waters smell foul and are unsafe to drink.

Silting has occurred, inhibiting navigation in the river, natives say.

Climbing into his boat in Uma Nyaving village about 10 kilometres (six miles) from Bakun, Kayan tribesman Richard Let complained of the thinning fish numbers.

"Now there is not enough for my family and the fish are small. The river is choking under silt and is making it difficult to fish with our boats," said Let, 31.

Downstream from the dam, nearly 12,000 indigenous Kayan, Kenyah, Ukit and Penan people live in traditional wooden longhouses in a resettlement area in the town of Sungai Asap. Their ancestal homes are now underwater.

They enjoy amenities unknown when they dwelt in the forest -- piped water, electricity, schools, Internet access and health services.

But Bulan Merang, 43, who moved to Sungai Asap 12 years ago, struggles to feed her eight children amid high food prices and new social strains.

"Children no longer respect their elders. Even my 21-year-old son says I am a useless woman whenever he gets drunk," she said.

The tribes, who previously grew rice and bananas and hunted wild boar, say their new land is infertile. Age-old hunting grounds are submerged and they must purchase staple foods.

"We were not dependent on money (before). Here everything is money," Bulan added.

Ironically, Sungai Asap's electricity comes not from Bakun but from a huge diesel-powered generator -- the dam's electricity is sent away on power lines criss-crossing the green terrain, headed to a state grid already at capacity.

Sarawak is rich in natural resources but poverty is rampant. Its leaders are keen to diversify from mining, agriculture and forestry and into high-tech industries and say ample power sources are needed to lure foreign investment.

"I am confident the power from Bakun will be taken up. MITI (the Ministry of International Trade and Industry) is working hard to get investors," Zulkifle said.

Zulkifle brushed aside concerns over the safety of Bakun, one of the world's largest rock-filled embankment dams, calling it "sound."

He said released water was treated to ensure it was clean and denied corruption allegations.

"All the money that is paid is audited. We are scrutinised," he said.

The dam was meant to help cut Malaysia's dependence on oil and gas for electricity generation. Up to 90 percent of output was to be sent to more industrialised peninsular Malaysia via undersea cables.

But economic downturns over the years forced protracted construction delays and shuffling of contractors, and the cable plan was shelved on cost concerns.

The Malaysian chapter of Friends of the Earth says nearly a quarter of electricity capacity in Sarawak already is unused, noting that the country as whole also has an electricity surplus.

The planned eight turbines will have a capacity of 2,400 megawatts when installed by 2014. Current Sarawak demand is 1,000 MW.

Then-finance minister Anwar Ibrahim suspended the Bakun dam and other big schemes in 1998 amid a regional financial crisis, angering Mahathir, who was known for backing grandiose projects.

It was revived in 1999 after Anwar was ousted in a falling-out with Mahathir, with Sarawak Hidro acquiring the project from original private Malaysian developer Ekran.

The dam's capacity remains far too much for Sarawak and only the undersea cable could salvage its viability, said Anwar, now opposition leader.

"Otherwise we will have a white elephant. Sarawak does not need all that power," he told AFP.

Despite the Bakun controversy, the state has plans for a dozen more dams, angering local tribes.

There are about 200 cases in Malaysian courts brought by indigenous people fighting state acquisition of their land for dams, timber concessions, or other developments.

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Shark conservation is gaining momentum - but are we doing enough?

Scientists and law-makers across the world are prioritising the protection of sharks, but critics say the measures don't work
Suzanne Goldenberg 27 Oct 11;

The shark that lands on the deck of the Coral Princess boat is 6.5ft of thrashing grey muscle and teeth, and the crew can't wait to get their hands on him.

They slip a plastic breathing tube through rows of sharp, serrated teeth to pump water over its gills, and get to work: measuring, taking blood and tissue samples, and drilling a small hole in its dorsal fin to attach a satellite transmitter. The device looks a bit like a bath toy.

Seven minutes later, the bull shark is back in the water. He's got a new name (Ben), a corporate sponsor, and a website that tracks his location every time his fin breaks the surface of the water.

Neil Hammerschlag, who heads the RJ Dunlap marine conservation programme at the University of Miami, is beaming. "He looked amazing," he says.

It's not the typical human-shark encounter, but then the human relationship with sharks is at a tipping point – and just in time. Shark populations around the world are heading towards extinction. A creature once seen as a source of dread is now seen as a top priority for conservation.

"It's starting to feel like the tide for sharks is turning. There is some really good momentum," said Elizabeth Griffin Wilson, a marine scientist at conservation organisation Oceana.

Even so, 2011 has been a particularly deadly year on both sides of the human-shark equation. This month alone, poachers killed 2,000 sharks at a marine sanctuary off Colombia. It may seem an implausible statistic but tens of millions of sharks are killed each year for their fins, which are used as a thickener in shark fin soup.

On the human side, there have been 13 fatal shark attacks on humans this year, the latest victim being an American diver who was killed off the coast of Australia last weekend.

So far, the spike in shark attacks has not affected the campaign to save sharks. This month alone, California and the city of Toronto banned the sale of shark fins. Maryland said it was considering its own ban. Taiwan has said it will ban shark finning – the practice of slicing off fins at sea, then returning the animal to the water to drown. Florida is expected to ban the catch of tiger and hammerhead sharks.

There are moves to protect sharks in their own habitat: for example last July the Bahamas put 250,000 square miles of its waters off-limits to fishing.

But the driving force has been an international campaign against shark finning.

"People have reached the point where it is so clear you have one obvious driver of shark mortality so people feel compelled to do something," said Julliet Eilperin, author of Demon Fish: Travels Through the Hidden World of Sharks.

One study estimated that the demand for shark fin – seen as a delicacy in China – killed between 26 million and 75 million sharks a year. The global trade is estimated at $800m (£498m) a year. "To be honest, sharks are being slaughtered out here," says Hammerschlag.

Conservation groups say existing anti-finning measures still do not go far enough. US law still allows sharks to be killed for their fins – just so long as the carcass is brought back to land intact. It merely stops the practice of cutting the fins off at sea.

"The amount of shark catch hasn't decreased and populations are still declining. With the new rules, they are just bringing in the fins with the body," said Matt Rand, director of shark conservation at the Pew Environment Group.

The protections are even flimsier in international waters. "It's a free-for-all. You can catch as many as you want," says Rand.

Hammerschlag argues that animals as in peril as some shark species need total protection. Shark populations have fallen by 85%, he says. "A species in that kind of decline can't be harvested sustainably," he says. "You can't have industrial fishing."

And without healthy sharks, there can be no healthy oceans.

As top predator, sharks are the master of the underwater universe. Take them out of the equation and the entire system falters, marine biologists say.

Sharks were not built for procreation, at least compared with other fish. Tuna reach maturity at age two and produce millions of eggs every year. A shark reaches maturity only in its late teens, and will then produce only a handful of pups at intervals of a few years.

And despite the Jaws lore, the majority of the 400 shark species pose no real threat to humans. Most are barely as long as an adult's arm.

Hammerschlag and his team spend 80 days a year out on the water looking for sharks, cruising the Florida Keys with a cooler full of bloody chunks of barracuda. On this trip, he took a group from the Society of Environmental Journalists who pitched in on Ben's "fitting".

The scientists are trying to determine which sharks are most vulnerable – the finicky eaters, the ones most susceptible to stress – and, through the transmitters, to discover the mating grounds and other gathering points of the extremely migratory animal. The information they gather, they hope, will help frame conservation policy.

They have tagged about 70 sharks to date, gradually building up a profile of their research subjects.

Hammerhead sharks, it seems, will fight for their life. "When it's on the hook, it's thrashing around," says Austin Gallagher, who is doing his PhD on shark responses to stress. "The hammerhead is by far the most sensitive species of shark."

Tiger sharks, though there numbers are also severely depleted, exhibit a different response.

"Tiger sharks are super chilled. They are super relaxed," says Gallagher. "The tiger shark can be on the hook for three hours and be looking at you when you get it into the boat and it's like he's saying, 'Hi, how's it going?' "

As a bull shark, Ben seems to fall into the second category – despite his species' fearsome reputation. Bull sharks tend to swim closer to shore – and even upriver into fresh water – which brings them into more frequent contact with humans.

Gallagher's blood readings show low levels of chemicals indicating stress. Ben, it seems, has not had a lot to worry about on deck. But it won't be the same now he is back in the water.

Man versus sharks

Three fatal shark attacks off the coast of western Australia since September have revived fears of great white sharks, which tend to favour shallow waters as they hunt for seala. There have been 13 fatal shark attacks worldwide this year, much higher than in previous years. But the chances of being attacked by a shark on a US beach are still about 1 in 11 million, according to the International Shark Attack File. The odds for sharks are much worse. Tens of millions of sharks are killed each year for the shark fin trade, with Indonesia, India, Taiwan, Spain, Argentina, Pakistan and Mexico leading the way in 2010. The US alone hauled in some 30,000 tonnes of shark catch last year. Half of the 400 known shark species are considered at threat of extinction. These include great white sharks, lemon sharks, tiger sharks, some hammerhead sharks and bull sharks like Ben.

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White roofs are not a global warming silver bullet, study finds

Plans to slow climate change by reflecting sunlight back into space could in fact raise temperatures, a new study concludes
David Malakoff 27 Oct 11;

Seemed like a cool idea: paint the world's roofs white to reflect more sunlight, and it could help cool down both cities and the planet. A new study, however, finds it's a lot more complicated – even as it dispels climate change deniers' claims that urban "heat islands" are a major cause of apparent temperature increases.

The land covered by urban areas more than doubled between 1992 and 2005, to about 0.128% of Earth's surface, Mark Z. Jacobson and John E. Ten Hoeve of Stanford University report in the Journal of Climate. Roofs and roads cover about half of that land, and help heat up urban areas by preventing evaporation of water and absorbing sunlight. Exactly how these urban heat islands affect global temperatures, however, has been unclear. But Jacobsen says some skeptics of climate science have argued that heat islands – and not the buildup of warming gases in the atmosphere – may be responsible for observed temperature increases, since some monitoring stations are near urban areas.

In a bid to get a better handle on the issue, Jacobsen and Ten Hoeve developed a model that meshed data on land use, vegetation, albedo (the reflective capacity of different land uses) and soil-type. Then, they ran two 20-year-long simulations to see how much heat islands contributed to "gross global warming" (warming before cooling factors) – and what impact a lot of white paint might have.

Overall, "the urban heat island (UHI) effect may contribute to 2-4% of gross global warming," they found, "although the uncertainty range is likely larger than the model range presented, and more verification is needed." In contrast, greenhouse gases are responsible for about 79 percent of warming, Jacobsen told the Stanford News Service, and dark particulates about 18 percent.

Jacobson says his high-resolution study – which divided the world into 1 kilometer squares — was the first to calculate the impact of urban heat islands on global sea-surface temperatures, sea ice, atmospheric stability, aerosol concentrations, gas concentrations, clouds, and precipitation. "This study accounted not only for local impacts of the heat island effect, but also feedbacks of the effect to the global scale," he says.

"A worldwide conversion to white roofs," they found, could actually warm the Earth slightly due a complex domino effect. Although white surfaces are cooler, the increased sunlight they reflect back into the atmosphere by can increase absorption of light by dark pollutants such as black carbon, which increases heating. The study, however, did not account for how white roofs might reduce electricity use for cooling, which could help lower temperatures by reducing emissions from power plants.

"Cooling your house with white roofs at the expense of warming the planet is not a very desirable trade-off," Jacobson says. "There are more effective methods of reducing global warming."

Source: Jacobson, M., & Ten Hoeve, J. (2011). Effects of Urban Surfaces and White Roofs on Global and Regional Climate. Journal of Climate DOI: 10.1175/JCLI-D-11-00032.1

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Countries Must Plan For Climate Refugees: Report

Deborah Zabarenko PlanetArk 28 Oct 11;

The world's governments and relief agencies need to plan now to resettle millions of people expected to be displaced by climate change, an international panel of experts said on Thursday.

Resettlement is already occurring at the rate of some 10 million people a year, said the report's lead author, Alex de Sherbinin. Climate-related resettlement projects are under way in Vietnam, Mozambique, on the Alaskan coast, the Chinese territory of Inner Mongolia and in the South Pacific.

If global temperatures rise, as predicted, by as much as 7.2 degrees F (4 degrees C) this century, "resettlement would become virtually unavoidable in some regions of the world," the scientists wrote in the journal Science.

Warming of this magnitude would have a dramatic impact on water availability, agricultural productivity, ecosystems and sea level -- all of which in turn affect where and how humans can live.

Planning for millions of refugees will be challenging, but it is vastly better than the alternative, de Sherbinin said by telephone from The Earth Institute at Columbia University in New York.

"Are we just going to respond to the next 911 (emergency) call that comes out, or are we going to actually anticipate some of these things and in so doing hopefully avert the 911 call to some extent and maybe save some money in the process?" he said.

Procedures already in use to resettle victims of such natural disasters as droughts, floods and earthquakes could be used or adapted to prepare for resettlement of climate refugees, the authors said.


Past resettlement prompted by dams, mines or other development have not always produced the projected benefits for those who were moved, de Sherbinin said.

For example, in China 1.25 million people were displaced over 16 years for the giant Three Gorges dam on the Yangtze River, according to co-author Yan Tan of the University of Adelaide in Australia.

Those who were moved were supposed to be resettled locally, but 15 percent were resettled far from their original homes.

More than 200,000 rural residents, some of whom were resettled once due to the dam project, live in vulnerable environments near the shore of the Three Gorges reservoir and will have to be relocated again, Tan said in answer to emailed questions.

Learning from this experience could help those who will deal with communities forced to move by climate change, the authors said. One lesson is to ensure that assessments made before any resettlement reflect health and social effects.

Resettlement methods may need revision. Rather than moving farmers to less vulnerable farmland elsewhere, resettlement efforts for climate refugees will likely move rural residents to urban environments, de Sherbinin said.

(Editing by Xavier Briand)

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