Best of our wild blogs: 3 Nov 11

orange fan worm @ sekudu - Oct2011
from sgbeachbum and beachflea amphipods @ sekudu - Oct2011

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Singapore to set up $11 million floating solar project in reservoir

Jessica Cheam Straits Times 3 Nov 11;

SINGAPORE will build its first floating solar system - the first of its kind in the region - in the calm waters of the western Tengeh Reservoir.

The innovative project, led by the Economic Development Board (EDB) and national water agency PUB, will cost $11 million and be operational by 2013.

National Environment Agency (NEA) chief executive Andrew Tan announced this yesterday, noting that the pilot project will be studied for the potential of using reservoir water surfaces for these systems to generate electricity.

This is to overcome Singapore's land constraints: Solar panels need large land mass to generate a large amount of energy. In Singapore, they are usually built on rooftops.

Speaking at the third Solar Pioneer Awards ceremony, where he was the guest of honour, Mr Tan said he was optimistic that 'local solar adoption will continue to proliferate, driven by factors such as increased local capabilities, innovation and government support'.

The 2-megawatt solar photovoltaic system - which will be connected to the national grid - will generate enough energy from the sun to power 450 four-room flats at any one time.

Mr Goh Chee Kiong, EDB's director of clean technology, told The Straits Times: 'This is a major step for us... if this pilot project works out, the potential is tremendous for rolling out similar projects across the island.'

He added that remote reservoirs would be good locations. Those that currently host recreational activities, such as MacRitchie, will not be considered.

Singapore got its inspiration from existing floating projects such as those in the United States' Napa Valley, where land owners built such systems to reduce water loss and overcome land constraints, he added.

Singapore's solar industry has grown into a thriving industry in recent years; The HDB recently unveiled the first solar leasing project, which allowed private firms to design, install and maintain solar energy systems.

The floating project will be a public and private partnership, where the government agencies will work with interested private-sector companies to build the system.

Singapore can learn about the technical challenges and cost-effectiveness of such systems through this test bed, which will also look into other considerations such as aesthetics and impact on the environment, said Mr Goh.

EDB and PUB will also study other potential benefits, such as the cooling effect of the water body on the solar panels, which will enable it to be more effective in generating electricity.

Other possible benefits are reduced water evaporation, and algal growth in the reservoirs.

Industry players said they were excited about the project. Mr Christophe Inglin, managing director of solar firm Phoenix Solar, who is keen to bid for it, said: 'This is a very interesting experiment... but there are some technical challenges to be ironed out. Water and electricity do not mix very well together.'

NEA's Mr Tan noted the Asian sunbelt region is viewed as the 'next exciting growth frontier for solar markets'. 'Solar energy also has the potential to help Singapore diversify its energy sources and reduce its carbon footprint,' he said.

Yesterday's ceremony was held at the inaugural PV Asia-Pacific Expo, part of the annual Singapore International Energy Week.

Five private-sector projects were given the Solar Pioneer Award, which recognises solar installations in Singapore that are at the forefront of system design, size and installation techniques.

The five are Keppel DHCS' district cooling systems plant at Changi Business Park, Hyflux's innovation centre in Bendemeer, GlaxoSmithKline Biologicals' plant in Tuas, OUB Centre's One Raffles Place Tower 2 and UOL Group's Upper Pickering hotel and office development.

Singapore to have region's first floating PV pilot project
Joyce Hooi Business Times 3 Nov 11;

IN land-scarce Singapore, after building upwards comes building on water. The Economic Development Board (EDB) is going to look at how it can float solar photovoltaic systems in the country's reservoirs, instead of fitting them conventionally on rooftops.

The $11 million floating photovoltaic (PV) pilot project was announced at the Solar Pioneer Awards yesterday, and is set to be a first for the region.

Tengeh Reservoir has been picked as the site for this 2 megawatt project because its isolated nature means that the floating structure will be less likely to get in the way of intrepid canoeists and fishing hobbyists.

The project will start next year and is expected to be up and running by 2013.

'The project . . . enables cleantech companies to address a sophisticated need which, if successful, can be scaled up and commercialised globally,' said Beh Swan Gin, EDB's managing director.

Putting the solar modules on water instead of on roofs might come with its own benefits as well. The cooling effect from the water might improve the performance of the solar modules - especially crucial in Singapore, where high tropical temperatures impede PV efficiency.

The key, however, will rest in the bottom line of the project and EDB will work with PUB to study the cost-effectiveness of a floating system. The financial mechanics of wringing electricity from the sun have even greater relevance in Singapore, where solar energy is not subsidised by feed-in tariffs. Reaching grid parity - the point at which electricity generated from solar energy costs as much as power from the grid - is consequently harder.

Of late, the prospects for solar power have brightened somewhat. Yesterday, Andrew Tan, chief executive officer of the National Environment Agency (NEA), said that some local experts are forecasting grid parity in Singapore to be achievable by as early as 2016.

'Notably, for Singapore, where energy prices are not subsidised, the price gap between solar power and grid electricity can be expected to close further as the price of solar systems falls and our knowledge and capabilities improve,' said Mr Tan.

He also noted how the size of solar installation projects here have become increasingly larger. Keppel DHCS Pte Ltd has a district cooling system in Changi Business Park which will house the country's largest PV cell installation on a building. After its expansion is completed in the second half of 2012, it will have a system size of about 550 kilowatt-peak (kWp).

For its efforts in the area of solar power, the company was one of five to receive the Solar Pioneer Award yesterday. The four other award-winning installations were UOL Group's Upper Pickering Hotel & Office Development; the GlaxoSmithKline Biologicals Solar PV system; the Hyflux Innovation Centre; and OUB Centre Ltd's One Raffles Place Tower 2.

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Bukit Brown deserves bustle of life

Andy Ho Straits Times 3 Nov 11;

HORSE riders, bird watchers and dog walkers lament the fact that Bukit Brown will soon be re-developed.

Closed as a Chinese burial ground in 1973, tombs as early as 1833 can be found there. There are now plans to build a dual four-lane road through it from 2013. This road will cover an area of 24ha and affect about 10,000 of the reputedly 100,000 tombs spread over 86ha there. Housing is slated to come up only in another 10 to 15 years.

The largest tomb there - the double one of Mr Ong Sam Leong (1857 to 1918) and his wife - is 10 times the size of a three-room Housing Board flat. If a 40-storey block were built over it, the land it alone occupies now will yield living space for 400 households.

Individuals may have different values and these values can be incommensurable, but, to me, it is always wrong to sacrifice human interests on the Gaia Altar of Biodiversity - a main reason being trotted out by those vociferously urging that Bukit Brown be left pristine.

Space is always contested, all the more so on our little island. For me, humans will always trump flora and fauna.

As detailed in 'The remains of the dead' by Tan Boon Hui and Brenda Yeoh in Spaces Of The Dead (2011), edited by Kevin Tan, resistance to state acquisition of burial land in times past came largely from clan associations to whom cemeteries 'represented a major focal point for community-bonding'.

But clan affiliation is arguably a minor component of one's identity these days. Thus, even a clan cemetery would resonate little emotionally with many a (younger) Chinese here today.

Accordingly, Bukit Brown preservationists generally have no genealogical ties to those interred there. These heritage buffs just love its historical and cultural value.

To be sure, famous people like Mrs Lim Nee Soon, Mr Lim Chong Pang, Mr Chew Joo Chiat and Mr Chew Boon Lay are buried there. They did well in life and even now are immortalised in many a place, street or town name here.

If stones could speak, their tombstones and other artistic pieces can be preserved in a (geomantically favourable) corner of Bukit Brown. The whole space could also be preserved digitally, as indeed some have suggested.

But those touting the historical and cultural reason for preserving the whole site untouched assume without arguing for it that there is something sacrosanct about keeping every stone in its place.

Be that as it may, there was indeed something sacred about Bukit Brown - but only as long as it was functioning fully as a burial ground.

As Tan and Yeoh note, 'to the various Chinese sub-communities, the burial grounds were a sacred landscape of repose'.

Yet no space is intrinsically sacred.

When temples and churches are moved, it is the continuing worship by their faithful - comprising what may be termed a theo-drama - that makes their new spaces sacred.

Meanwhile, the old sites they occupied, which used to be sacred places, revert back to being profane spaces, fit utterly for bold redevelopment into sites useful to the living.

Cemeteries do not just house the dead but also serve as platforms for their related living to perform various religious rites and rituals of respect.

It is these culturally appropriate practices, if ongoing, that transmute mere burial spaces into sacred places for the living with ties to the dead.

In short, it is the living who make the dead's place of repose sacred for the living. But in another 10 to 15 years, very few will foreseeably come by Bukit Brown for the Chinese spring and autumn ancestral rites of respect and remembrance.

Most tombs there are now weather-worn and have obviously been neglected for a very long while, being overwhelmed by creepers and undergrowth.

There is no longer any living theo-drama here. Bukit Brown's sacrality has vanished. But if no longer a sacred place, it has no legitimate claim that only it can be the last place of residence for the specific dead interred therein.

Exhumed with care, respect and decorum, any remains could be housed in columbarium niches, which can become sacred if their related living come by again to worship.

No more a sacred place, Bukit Brown has reverted to being a profane space, by which I mean an open and neutral container to be filled by human activity. The unbounded space it has become connotes future possibilities.

It deserves to now be filled with the daily drama of the living instead. And for as many of us as possible, not just the elite given to the equestrian, ornithological or canine. Or heritage buffs.

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Singapore scores on human development

It is ranked 26th in the UN index out of 187 countries for the progress it has made
Chuang Peck Ming Business Times 3 Nov 11;

(SINGAPORE) The Republic has come up 'very high' on the United Nations' 2011 Human Development Index, a measure of the progress a country has made in building its people's potential and giving them the good life.

Going by how long they live, schooling years and income, Singaporeans are ranked 26th in the index which was released yesterday, putting Singapore among the top 47 countries that have gone furthest on the development path.

And the progress and gains made in Singapore have been quite fairly spread - unlike in many countries, including wealthy ones like the United States, South Korea and Israel.

Singapore, along with European countries like Sweden, the Netherlands, Denmark and Switzerland, was singled out especially for the high standings of its women, who are in the pink of reproductive health and have made their presence felt in government and corporate boardrooms.

And where does Bhutan - often mentioned recently in parliamentary debates on the happiness levels here - stand in the UN's 2011 Human Development Index, which covers a total 187 countries?

At No 141. This does not even qualify it to be in the 'high' Human Development grouping. In fact, Bhutan barely made it to the 'medium' category, being just one position away from the 'low' index.

Indeed, Bhutan, together with Timor-Leste, Pakistan and Nepal, is highlighted by the UN to be 'among the 20 most unequal nations in educational attainment'.

Norway, Australia and the Netherlands lead in the overall annual rankings, while the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Niger and Barundi are at the bottom of the heap.

Apart from Singapore, Japan (12th), Hong Kong (13th), South Korea (15th) and Brunei (33rd) were the only Asian nations in the 'very high' rankings.

When adjusted for internal inequalities in health, education and income, South Korea drops to 32nd in the rankings, below Singapore.

The US slips from No 4 to No 23 and Israel falls from No 17 to No 25.

'The inequality-adjusted Human Development Index helps us assess the levels of development for all segments of society, rather than for just the mythical 'average person',' says Milorad Kovacevic, chief statistician for the 2011 Human Development Report. 'We consider health and education distribution to be just as important in this equation as income, and the data show inequities in many countries.'

The report says that while countries have made a big leap in development, they have over-stretched and over-heated the environment - and made the world more unequal.

'A joint lens shows how environmental degradation intensifies inequality through adverse impacts on already disadvantaged people and how inequalities in human development amplify environmental degradation,' it says.

The challenge going forward is to push for 'sustainable and equitable progress'.

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Time to save Asean's forests

Lee Poh Onn, For The Straits Times 3 Nov 11;

THE recent declaration of Bukit Timah Nature Reserve as an Asean Heritage Park may seem consequential - or is it?

Are there any tangible benefits derived from the conservation of a forested area?

To be sure, there is a certain 'feel good' factor felt by segments of the population who care that a nature reserve is conserved.

Beyond this, the protected forested area will serve as an important source of storing carbon, an increasingly significant function to mitigate the emission of greenhouse gases, especially in the light of increasing temperatures and climate change in the years to come. Biodiversity and natural ecosystems sustain the livelihoods of human populations, animals and plant species.

To ardent conservationists in Singapore, this piece of news marks a milestone in protecting biodiversity and promoting nature conservation. This is especially so in a country where land is so expensive and scarce. Bukit Timah Nature Reserve is said to hold about 40 per cent of Singapore's native flora and fauna: a diverse 840 species of flowering flora and 500 species of fauna are in this 1.64 sq km nature reserve.

Importantly, the declaration of Bukit Timah Nature Reserve as a protected area sets a precedent among Asean member countries, some of which have ample forested areas and land areas but have yet to allocate more of their forested areas to nature conservation and the protection of biodiversity.

The Asean Heritage Parks form part of the Protected Area coverage among the Asean member countries. Such protected areas reflect efforts by Asean countries to contribute to the 2010 Convention of Biological Diversity target to protect at least 10 per cent of the world's forested areas. Incidentally, Asean also has four of the world's 34 biodiversity hot spots, which are areas which have exceptional levels of endemic species facing serious loss of habitat.

Protecting biodiversity has many ramifications. One, as pointed out earlier, is to mitigate climate change, as forested areas serve as important carbon sinks. With about 43 per cent of forest cover, compared with the world average of 30 per cent, Asean has more forested areas than countries in other parts of the world. In Asean, Brunei has the highest forest to land ratio as at 2007 (76 per cent), while Malaysia has 62.4 per cent and Cambodia 55.3 per cent.

However, Asean faces a worryingly fast rate of deforestation, averaging about 1.11 per cent a year between 2000 and 2007. This appears minimal but, if compared with the global average of 0.16 per cent, translates to an annual decrease of 23,144 sq km or the equivalent land area of 14,112 Bukit Timah Nature Reserves destroyed every year. Indonesia, Cambodia, the Philippines and Myanmar had rates of deforestation above 1.6 per cent between 2000 and 2007, higher than the Asean average of 1.11 per cent.

Deforestation in the region has been caused by logging, illegal mining, farming, commercial agricultural development and the expansion of the palm oil industry.

The main driver of tropical peatlands deforestation is the development of oil palm and pulp wood plantations. Indonesia and Malaysia currently account for 85 per cent of the world's supply of crude oil. It is no surprise then that oil palm plantations are favoured above just leaving forested areas standing for carbon. Planting oil palm has been estimated to yield net present values of between US$3,835 and US$9,630 (S$4,870 and S$12,200) per hectare compared to leaving forests standing for carbon credits of between US$614 and US$994 per hectare.

One common practice - of clearing peat swamp forests for planting oil palm trees - may seem harmless and helpful for reducing greenhouse emissions. This is especially so when climate-friendly bio-diesel can be produced from processed palm oil mixed with petro-diesel.

However, peatlands contain twice the carbon stock compared with other types of forest land. Carbon emissions also continue to take place long after the conversion of such areas for other purposes. Clearing peat swamp areas for oil palm plantations and the production of bio-fuels releases about eight times more carbon when compared to emissions generated from the use of fossil fuels. Planting in other forested areas, farther away from the coast and river systems where peatlands are found, may be better options than clearing peatlands.

Deforestation and the clearing of forested areas for oil palm plantations are likely to be a major driver of greenhouse gas emissions in the years to come, especially when oil palm is planted on drained peatlands. In addition to increasing greenhouse gas emissions and causing temperature variation, climate change is likely to become the dominant driver of biodiversity loss by the end of the century.

This recent move by Singapore shows that where there is political will by a government, difficult and important decisions can be achieved that have far-reaching benefits to future generations, not only in Singapore but also in countries in the region. With this year being the United Nations International Year of Forests, it would be timely for the protection of forested areas and conservation of biodiversity around the region to begin in earnest, especially from countries which are better endowed with forested and land areas.

The writer is a fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies.

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Indonesia: Is There Any Space Left for Our Apes?

Jakarta Globe 2 Nov 11;

Around 70 percent of orangutan habitats are vulnerable to logging and other human activities because they fall outside conservation areas, a fact that could threaten efforts to protect the apes, a study has found.

Niel Makinuddin, the East Kalimantan program manager for the Nature Conservancy, said on Tuesday that only 30 percent of the endangered species’ habitat was protected because it fell within conservation areas.

As for the orangutans outside these areas, he said during the launch of the executive summary of the Kalimantan Orangutan Portrait, they are prone to getting killed or trapped by villagers after encroaching onto farmland, villages and other human habitations.

“Many local people consider orangutans as a sort of pest because they eat their crops,” he said. Niel also said that in some areas, locals were known to hunt and kill orangutans for their meat.

“A lot of them claim that orangutan meat is very nutritious. There are also those who kill the apes out of mystical beliefs or simply out of desperation for a source of protein,” he said.

“All this,” he added, “makes orangutans in unprotected areas highly vulnerable.”

Niel said that since 2007, an estimated 750 to 1,800 orangutans had been killed across Kalimantan. Local villages are believed to be responsible for up to two deaths each a year, with the rest attributed to illegal loggers and operators clearing forests for palm oil plantations.

“A lot of the people we’ve spoken to actually say they’d be proud if they could kill more orangutans,” he said.

A study on orangutans carried out by 17 nongovernmental organizations in 725 villages across East Kalimantan, Central Kalimantan and West Kalimantan showed that conflicts between humans and the apes were the most serious threat to the preservation of the endangered species.

The study also indicated that Kalimantan had the highest rate of conflict, with 18 percent of the villages in the study reporting regular conflicts with encroaching orangutans, according to Sri Suci Atmoko, from the Indonesian Association of Primate Experts and Observers.

She said many of the conflicts occurred in villages on the peripheries of palm oil plantations, rice paddies and logging concessions, indicating the apes were being chased out of their habitats by those commercial activities.

Between 2000 and 2008, about 4 percent of the region’s total forest cover was cleared, or 2.3 million hectares, according to official estimates. Independent estimates put the loss at 5.4 million hectares during this period, or 9.2 percent of forest cover.

Agus Sutito, head of species conservation at the Forestry Ministry’s Directorate General of Forest Conservation, said the issue of human-orangutan conflict needed to be addressed by regional-level teams overseen by district heads and governors.

“There need to be better coordinated efforts at the regional level to quell these conflicts, especially in regions with a lot of wildlife,” he said.

He added that there were no such coordination teams for Kalimantan yet, although teams had already been set up to address human-tiger conflicts in the Sumatran provinces of Aceh and Jambi.


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Rhino horn demand leads to record poaching

WWF 3 Nov 11;

South Africa – More rhinos have been killed in South Africa in the past 10 months than were killed in all of 2010, new poaching numbers reveal. Statistics from South Africa National Parks show that 341 animals have been lost to poaching so far in 2011, compared to a record total of 333 last year.

South Africa’s grim milestone comes on the heels of an announcement by WWF last week that rhinos have gone extinct in Vietnam. The carcass of Vietnam’s last Javan rhino was found with a gunshot wound and without its horn.

At a meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) last year, the international community concluded that the increase in rhino poaching has been caused largely by demand for horn products in Vietnam. Law enforcement efforts, while increasing, are not yet sufficient to protect rhinos from poachers or stop the smuggling and sale of their horns by organized crime rings.

“It's hardly surprising the horn was missing from the last rhino as Vietnam is the preeminent market destination for illegally sourced rhino horns," says Tom Milliken, TRAFFIC rhino programme coordinator.
In addition to being the biggest consumer of rhino horn, Vietnam is also a major market for tiger parts and other products derived from endangered species. Populations of tigers in the country are alarmingly low and could soon follow the Vietnamese Javan rhino into extinction.

“The unfounded rumour that rhino horn can cure cancer most likely sealed the fate of the last Javan rhino in Vietnam,” says Dr. A. Christy Williams, WWF’s Asian rhino expert, “This same problem is now threatening other rhino populations across Africa and South Asia.”

Three out of five rhinos are critically endangered

Of the five species of rhinoceros, three are critically endangered. With the loss of the Vietnamese Javan rhino, there are now fewer than 50 Javan rhinos remaining, all in one national park in Indonesia.

"It's tragic that the Javan rhino has been wiped out in Vietnam by the same forces that are driving rhino poaching in Africa. This is the ultimate wake-up call for the Vietnamese government to turn aggressively on its internal rhino horn market," Milliken added.

South Africa has been the focal point of poaching because it has the largest population of rhinos in the world. Law enforcement efforts there have been scaled up resulting in more arrests, and some of those convicted are being sentenced to lengthy prison terms.

However, demand for medicinal products containing rhino horn continues to increase in Vietnam and other parts of Asia. Rhino horn has no proven ability to treat cancer and is no longer a part of the official Chinese traditional medicine pharmacopeia.

Governments must scale up their efforts

Despite an international ban on commercial trade under CITES, rhino horn continues to be smuggled illegally from Africa to Asia. Additionally, legal loopholes allowing for the export of rhino hunting trophies are being exploited in some South African provinces. Improvements are needed in the regulation of hunting permits and the management of rhino horn stock piles in the country.

“Since armed protection for rhinos in South African national parks is strong, poaching syndicates are likely to shift to countries with weaker enforcement power, including possibly Asian countries that may be caught off-guard” said Dr. Carlos Drews, Global Species Programme Director at WWF. “To break the illegal trade chain, governments in source, transit and consumer countries must all scale up their efforts.”

In September a delegation of Vietnamese officials visited South Africa to discuss enhancing law enforcement cooperation between the two countries. Last year TRAFFIC facilitated a similar visit to Vietnam for South African authorities.

“Vietnam should follow South Africa’s example and start sending poachers, traders, smugglers and sellers to jail,” says Dr. Joseph Okori, WWF’s African rhino programme coordinator. “In order to save rhinos from extinction, the criminal syndicates operating between South Africa and Vietnam must be uncovered and shut down for good.”

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New study reveals coral reefs may support much more biodiversity than previously thought

Physorg 2 Nov 11;

Smithsonian scientists and colleagues conducted the first DNA barcoding survey of crustaceans living on samples of dead coral taken from the Indian, Pacific and Caribbean oceans. The results suggest that the diversity of organisms living on the world's coral reefs is seriously underestimated. The team's research "The Diversity of Coral Reefs: What Are We Missing?" was published in October in the journal PLoS ONE.

At depths of 26 to 39 feet, the scientists collected dead coral from five different locations. At two sites where removing coral is prohibited, the scientists collected man-made sampling devices that had been left in the water for one year. Combined, the coral and devices had a surface area of just 6.3 square meters (20.6 square feet), yet 525 different species of crustaceans were found living on them.

"So much diversity in such a small, limited sample area shows that the diversity of crustaceans in the world's coral reefs -- and by implication the diversity of reefs overall -- is seriously under-detected and underestimated," said Nancy Knowlton, the Sant Chair for Ocean Science at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History and co-author of the survey. "We found almost as many crabs in 6.3-square meters of coral as can be found in all of the seas of Europe. Compared to the results of much longer and labor-intensive surveys, we found a surprisingly large percentage of species with a fraction of the effort."

The world's coral reefs are some of the most endangered habitats on Earth. Given coral's rapid decline and global range, DNA barcoding offered the scientists a quick and efficient method for their survey. "DNA barcoding provides a standardized, cost-effective method of coming to grips with the staggering diversity of the world's oceans," Knowlton said. "It has enormous potential for use in broad global surveys, allowing us to find out what is living in the ocean now, and to keep track of it in the future."

Crustaceans collected for the survey were only those the scientists could see, and ranged from 0.2 to 1.9 inches long. All animals from which DNA was sequenced were preserved so they could be examined later by taxonomists.

"We collected dead corals because live corals defend themselves from being inhabited by other invertebrates," said Laetitia Plaisance of the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History and the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, and lead author of the survey.

Once a coral dies its structure becomes covered with algae, sponges, crustaceans, worms, mollusks and other creatures.

"Given the complexity and extent of the world's coral reefs, the survey covered only a very limited depth and habitat range," said Plaisance. "And yet we have so many more species than we ever expected."

Present estimates of species diversity in reefs are 600,000 to more than 9 million species worldwide. "We cannot give a new estimate today, but we may be able to in a few years," Plaisance said. Using man-made sampling structures at some 50 sites around the world, Plaisance is now working with the Smithsonian and the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration on another survey that will include all of the many organisms that live on coral reefs.

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Pollution makes powerful cyclones more likely, claim scientists

A thick layer of pollution over the Indian Ocean may be creating atmospheric conditions that promote fierce cyclones
Nic Fleming 2 Nov 11;

Powerful tropical cyclones that cause large numbers of deaths and massive property damage around the Arabian Sea are becoming increasingly common as a result of pollution, scientists say.

Analysis of the intensity of storms between 1979 and 2010 suggests that thick layers of haze have created atmospheric conditions that intensify cyclones and increase the chances they will reach land.

There has been a sixfold increase in fine aerosol emissions locally since the 1930s from forest fires, domestic heating and diesel use, creating a layer of pollution 3km thick over the Indian Ocean.

It has long been known that high wind shear – a large difference between the speed of winds near the sea surface and those higher up in the atmosphere – can prevent storms from forming or prevent existing ones from intensifying. Dr Amato Evan of the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, US, and his colleagues suggest that the giant pollution cloud reduces the surface temperature of the Arabian Sea, which in turn reduces wind shear and triggers the formation of more powerful cyclones.

"We have found a clear connection between human activity and changes in atmospheric conditions that create favourable conditions for the formation of large tropical cyclones," said Evan. "In my mind that's a big step forward. Every analysis we did pointed in the same direction. We only have 30 years of data, but we have used data from multiple different sources, so I'm confident our results are robust."

Evan's team used three sets of data on the maximum wind speed of the 10 tropical cyclones that occurred in the region between 1979 and 1996 and the 10 that developed between 1997 and 2010. The median maximum speed increased from 23 metres per second in the first period to 41 mps in the second. They used numerical modelling to develop their theory and unpick the underlying causes.

The study found wind sheer had dropped from an average of 11 mps in the period 1979-96 to eight mps in 1997-2010.

All the five strongest storms, which exceeded 50 mps, have occurred since 1998. In that year a major cyclone resulted in thousands of deaths and the inundation of numerous salt mines in India.

Other large cyclones since then have made landfall and caused loss of life and billions of pounds' worth of property damage in Pakistan, Iran and Oman.

"Storms that are more intense have a longer lifespan, so the probability that they are going to make landfall goes up," said Evan.

Dr Ryan Sriver of Pennsylvania State University, US, said that while the research shed "much-needed light" on the topic, the findings should be interpreted with caution. In an article published alongside the new research in the journal Nature, Sriver said: "This is a very small number of events to use as a basis for estimating climate trends."

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Development under threat from environmental damage and social inequity

WWF 2 Nov 11;

Gland, Switzerland: WWF has welcomed a major new UN report warning that the trend to rising living standards is coming under threat from accumulating environmental damage and rising social inequity.

According to the UN Development Program 2011 Human Development Report "Sustainability and Equity: A better future for all", sustainability is “not exclusively or even primarily an environmental issue” in a world where global population has just passed seven billion.

"This report is a salutary reminder that the economic issues currently in the headlines and topping the international agenda are the symptom, not the problem," said WWF International Conservation Director Lasse Gustavsson.

“WWF’s footprint measures indicate we are currently consuming the resources of one and a half planets, and this is the factor underlying the competition for and increasing costs of resources and our current economic instability. Behind the economic debts is a growing ecological debt.”

The 2011 Human Development Report notes that the main impacts of faltering development will fall on the world’s poorest people and countries, those most dependent on a healthy environment and also those already facing the most catastrophic climate change impacts.

“Our remarkable progress in human development cannot continue without bold steps to reduce both environmental risks and inequality,” the report says.

“WWF agrees with the report’s assessment that there are alternatives to inequality and unsustainability,” Gustavsson said. “Green and renewable development provides the pathway to greater access to essential services such as food, energy, water and sanitation.

“But the report notes that the investment to ensure access to modern energy is less than an eighth of the annual subsidies for fossil fuels and that spending on low carbon energy sources is less than two percent of the lowest estimates of what is needed.”

WWF also endorsed the report’s clear call for measurements of progress that transcend a narrow focus on income.

“The health of the environment is a key development issue, so we need national and international accounting that places environmental health at centre stage,” Gustavsson said.

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