Best of our wild blogs: 15 Nov 11

19 Nov (Sat): Talk on "Singapore's Coral Reefs" by Jeffrey Low
from wild shores of singapore

A day out with diver friends - Hantu reefs
from Psychedelic Nature

Planting for birds: Muntingia calabura
from Bird Ecology Study Group

Pulau Ubin November 2011
from Ubin.sgkopi

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'City in a Garden' will require ownership, dedication: Lee Kuan Yew

Esther Ng Today Online 15 Nov 11;

SINGAPORE - It has been almost 50 years since former Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew launched his Garden City movement.

And just as becoming a Garden City took "strong political will" and dedication, achieving the "City in a Garden" vision will need "innovation, ownership and dedication" at all levels of society, said Mr Lee yesterday.

Mr Lee was speaking at a tour of the Flower Dome, one of the two conservatories at Singapore's Gardens by the Bay.

Mr Lee hailed Gardens by the Bay as a world-class garden, a testimony to how far Singapore has progressed in greening the city-state, and one that will contribute to the vision of "City in a Garden".

"It will showcase what we can do to bring the world of plants to all Singaporeans," he said. "The gardens will no doubt continue to grow and this is where the support of the corporate community and individual will make this Garden the pride of Singapore."

He added that he was sure that Singaporeans will grow to love the gardens "as much as they do the Singapore Botanic Gardens".

Despite urbanisation, Singapore has become more green since the time he planted his first tree at Holland Road Circus in 1963, as Singapore has set aside land for gardens, parks and nature reserves, Mr Lee noted.

"Many visitors are amazed at our tree-lined roads, and this has become an economic value for us," said Mr Lee.

"More importantly, Singaporeans today live in beautifully landscaped housing estates, and are able to exercise and enjoy fresh air in the urban oases right at their doorsteps. None of this would have been possible without decades of conscientious planning and commitment," he added.

The Flower Dome is open this week to the public for preview.

Mr Lee takes in the blooms at Gardens by the Bay
Tessa Wong Straits Times 15 Nov 11;

AFTER a tour of Singapore's newest gem at Marina Bay, the man who envisioned Singapore as a Garden City declared: 'I am sure Singaporeans will grow to love Gardens by the Bay as much as they do the Botanic Gardens.'

Mr Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore's former prime minister, gave his nod of approval yesterday as he took in the bountiful blooms in the Flower Dome, one of three sections in the Gardens by the Bay complex being developed by the National Parks Board (NParks).

Under a soaring glass dome, Mr Lee viewed landscaped exhibits that featured, among others, olive and palm trees, before he stopped to admire sprays of butterfly orchids that were part of the ongoing World Orchid Show.

The show ends on Nov 20, which is when the Flower Dome will also be closed to the public until its scheduled opening next June.

The journey to building this 'world-class garden' by the bay can be traced back almost 50 years, recalled Mr Lee.

In 1963, he planted his first tree in Holland Road Circus.

'It was to make Singapore green,' he told about 100 people who were invited to yesterday's special preview of the Flower Dome for their contributions to the creation of the new Eden.

Cities of concrete buildings, tarmac and pavements would be depressing and unpleasant to live in, he said. 'You need to balance that with trees and flowers.'

Almost half of Singapore is covered with greenery, he noted, adding that 'this has become an economic value to us'.

Also important are the beautifully landscaped housing estates, he said: 'None of this would have been possible without decades of conscientious planning and commitment.'

But many countries also plant trees now and call themselves garden cities, he said, and to remain competitive, Singapore has a new vision: City in a Garden.

It is not just about developing green infrastructure: 'We are building a home to be proud of in the next few decades.'

Urging Singaporeans to work with the Government on it, he said: 'Just as becoming a Garden City took strong political will, dedication and support from Singaporeans, achieving the City in a Garden vision will need innovation, ownership, and dedication at all levels of society.'

Looking at the corporate bigwigs before him, he expressed confidence that support from 'the corporate community and individual will make this garden the pride of Singapore'.

Among the business leaders were hotelier Ong Beng Seng; his wife Christina, owner of luxury retail company Club 21 and chairman of NParks; City Developments executive chairman Kwek Leng Beng; and former banker Theresa Foo, who is chairman of Gardens by the Bay.

Dr Tan Wee Kiat, chief executive officer of Gardens by the Bay, said Mr Lee was curious to know if the plants would grow any bigger, and whether the baobab trees from Africa were all from the same genetic background.

Dr Tan told him the plants were mature and unlikely to grow bigger, and the baobabs were of different specimens.

'He was very curious, and very interested in everything he saw,' said Dr Tan.

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Singapore Cruise Centre to help save Coral Triangle

Straits Times 15 Nov 11;

AS ASIA'S leisure cruise industry prepares to grow, the Singapore Cruise Centre (SCC) is taking steps to save the seas and encourage responsible tourism.

It will partner the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) in raising awareness of the fragile Coral Triangle, a popular cruising ground that includes the seas surrounding six countries: Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands and Timor Leste.

Ms Carine Seror, director of corporate engagement at WWF Singapore, welcomed the partnership, saying pollution from litter by tourists is a threat to marine life in the Coral Triangle.

The SCC - which manages cruise and ferry terminals in HarbourFront, Pasir Panjang and Tanah Merah - will set up public education booths and display posters at its ports from early next year to reach out to its five million passengers.

It will also place WWF donation boxes on its premises and contribute $20,000 a year to support the wildlife conservation group.

Ms Christina Siaw, chief executive officer of the SCC, said Asia's cruise industry is 'on the cusp of explosive growth' fuelled by travellers from China, India and Indonesia.

'If that happens in the next five years, we're talking about over 70 million people,' Ms Siaw said. 'And when you first start to cruise, you go to the nearby places and one of the most attractive places in South-east Asia is the Coral Triangle, so (the partnership with WWF) is a timely thing.'

The SCC also plans to work with food and beverage outlets at its terminals, to encourage them not to serve shark or fish from unsustainable sources in the Coral Triangle.

The tie-up was announced yesterday by the SCC's chairman, Mr Soo Kok Leng, at its 20th anniversary celebration, held at the Maritime Experiential Museum and Aquarium in Sen-tosa.


Educating travellers on Coral Triangle
Singapore Cruise Center ties up with WWF to raise awareness
Lynn Kan The Business Times 15 Nov 11;

(SINGAPORE) As the Singapore Cruise Center (SCC) turned 20 yesterday, it gave itself the best present it could give: a good cause.

The cruise-terminal operator has teamed up with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) to raise awareness about the Coral Triangle in the neighbouring waters of Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Papua New Guinea.

When renovation of the SCC-owned HarbourFront cruise terminal wraps up in 2012, booths, donation boxes and educational material about the Coral Triangle will be rolled out.

These activities will also take place at SCC's ferry terminals at Tanah Merah and Pasir Panjang, letting WWF's message reach the five million passengers who pass through the three terminals each year.

They will get to know about the rich biodiversity of the waters here and how their actions can have an impact on the Coral Triangle eco-system and economies which rely on them.

The Coral Triangle is one of the largest centres of biodiversity in the world, carrying 75 per cent of the world's coral population and over 2,000 species of reef fish.

'If anything happens to the waters here, potentially six of the seven turtle species which rely on the Coral triangle will be wiped out,' said WWF Singapore director of corporate engagement Carine Seror.

SCC chief executive officer Christina Siaw said that as more Asian travellers discover the charms of cruise travel, they would naturally head to the nearby Coral Triangle.

'The message is going to dovetail with a lot of (cruising) traffic,' she said. 'It is a timely thing where we have to think about sustainability and to be responsible for our actions.'

Besides reaching out to the public, the SCC will work with its food and beverage tenants in HarbourFront Center to not serve species of seafood that are on the WWF's 'Avoid' list.

Moreover, SCC will introduce the conservation message into a Maritime Passenger Service course it helped develop at the Institute of Technical Education in April next year.

In the future, Ms Siaw hopes that SCC will be able to enlist the help of cruise lines which berth at SCC's terminals to minimise their impact to the Coral Triangle.

'In the near future, there's nothing to stop us from incentivising the cruise lines to be more environmentally conscious and to take steps to protect the environment,' she said.

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Lamenting the loss of another piece of history

Dr Gan Su-lin Today Online 15 Nov 11;

It started innocently enough; a notice in the newspapers about a Chinese cemetery making way for an MRT depot. This prompted me, in early 2008, to drive over with some colleagues for a look-see.

That visit saw us spending the next 13 months actively collecting information, oral histories, and documenting exhumation and temple-related rituals. Our photos reveal that we literally watched as the verdant serenity and historical riches of Kwong Hou Sua Cemetery (KHS) off Woodlands Road were utterly and irrevocably erased.

The lush greenery with its bird calls and cicada shrill were steadily replaced with the stink of excavator fumes and the barren lifelessness of uprooted trees and shrubbery. Pieces of once beautiful carved headstones and statuary lying, incongruously, in neat piles of smashed rubble.

Our work in KHS helped me realise I did not feel rooted to Singapore because I had few people, place and thing markers that made me feel proud of Singapore.

Physical markers I valued from childhood and adolescence - such as the National Theatre, National Library and what I remember as Pasir Panjang Beach - have been, like KHS, obliterated.

I do not envy our urban planners who must balance the need for modernisation with conservation. It is the work they are doing that helps keep Singapore an attractive place for investors whose contributions to our nation's economic wealth and comparatively advanced national development afford me the luxury of railing against policies with which I might not always agree.

Still, with each generation, our memories of our beginnings grow dimmer. How can we feel proud of and rooted to a home that offers mostly transient proof points for belonging?

How do we reconcile today's push for character education when our forefathers along with ecological riches and cultural heritage are ploughed under to ease traffic congestion?

With each visit to Bukit Brown, I have again felt the pain from the destruction of Kwong Hou Sua.

I lament the looming loss of the irreplaceable tangible history of our nation. I lament that we selectively remember the past that has made possible much of the present. Worse, that we have failed to systematically record and recount these stories so that our progeny and theirs will remember the many sacrifices and gifts that built Singapore.

Yet, in all my lamentations, I am also grateful for the gifts I have received through my cemetery documentation work. The people I have met, stories that have inspired me, lessons that I have learned, values that have been reinforced. I have been spurred to trace my Chinese Peranakan heritage and to learn more about Chinese culture and customs. These have, in turn, done more for my sense of Chinese-ness than did years of being forced to learn Mandarin.

Dr Gan Su-lin is with Republic Polytechnic.

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Bangkok flood: Polluted water a threat to Gulf sealife

Janjira Pongrai The Nation 15 Nov 11;

The large volume of polluted flood water being released into the Gulf of Thailand could greatly affect marine life, Thai academics warned yesterday.

At a marine scientists' seminar at Chulalongkorn University (CU), Asst Prof Pramot Sojisuporn from CU's Physical Oceanography Department, said some 10 billion cubic metres of polluted water would pour into the Gulf over a short period. This would cause the salinity to be dramatically lowered from the Gulf's normal level of 32 parts-per-thousand (ppt) to just 2 ppt.

The seawater at a 5km radius from the coast and 15km-deep would be like freshwater, affecting the mangrove bio-system and creatures exposed to such conditions for one to two months could be killed, he said.

"Normally, if freshwater pours into the sea and remains for only a week, it won't extensively affect the area and creatures. But this flood water would affect coastal incubation grounds for shells, as well as the chub, [and] mackerel in Phetchaburi and Samut Sakhon," he said.

This could affect the Gulf even more severely than the tsunami and the great flood in 1983.

Marine and Coastal Resources Department executive Micmin Jarujinda said his office was setting up 50 spots for water quality testing around the Gulf, which would monitor the salinity and dissolved oxygen levels over the next 10 days.

With the water expected to flow towards the Gulf's western coast the areas of most worry were Samut Songkhram's Don Hoi Lot, Phetchaburi, Prachuap Khiri Khan and Chumphon, he said. Bruda whales and Irrawaddy dolphins could be indirectly affected as their food, such as sea catfish and squid, would be reduced.

Thammsak Yeemin from Ramkhamhaeng, said an inspection at Chon Buri's Koh Khangkao and Koh Sichang showed the salinity level of the "upper sea" was down to 4ptt while the lower sea was at 23ptt. It also found 64-per cent coral bleaching.

The seminar, which will also propose measures to tackle the problem - was told that 40 crabs were seen dying on a 1km stretch of the Samut Songkhram coast, while the seawater had turned black-ish and smelly.

Meanwhile, the Pollution Control Department (PCD)'s Waste and Hazardous Substance Management Bureau director Rangsan Pinthong said the quality of water in Bangkok and Pathum Thani was substandard.

Test results on flood water -especially at people's homes - in Don Muang, Sai Mai and Lat Phrao districts showed a deteriorated water quality and the lower-than-standard level of dissolved oxygen. However, water on roads was a better quality because it flowed.

Water in Nakhon Sawan, Ayutthaya, Chai Nat and Lop Buri, though, was normal.

He also said there was no report of water contaminated with chemicals and a check of five industrial estates in Ayutthaya and Pathum Thani's Nava Nakorn Industrial Estate found officials had good control of the flood situation.

Rangsan said the PCD would continue to assess the situation in Lat Krabang and Bang Chan industrial estates regularly. The department would also give advice for rehabilitation after the flood on water quality to related agencies.

Disaster Prevention and Mitigation Department chief Wibul Sanguanpong urged people in flood-hit homes not to use chemicals during the flood and to securely cover containers with chemicals and put them away in case they leak into the water and cause harm or an allergic reaction by some people.

Wibul urged people to split electronic garbage such as batteries from dry trash and keep it away from water. He said people who spot chemical containers, wastewater pools or hazardous garbage underwater should alert officials so they can be disposed of properly.

Thai flood run-off threat to marine life
Damon Wake (AFP) Google News 15 Nov 11;

BANGKOK — As billions of cubic metres of water flow away from Thailand's devastating floods, experts and campaigners are warning that millions of sea creatures could be the next victims of the disaster.

Fish and shellfish farmers on the Gulf of Thailand coast have been warned by Thai authorities to protect their stocks as an estimated 10 billion cubic metres of water flow into the gulf, massively diluting the salt water.

Environmental campaigners are also warning that pollutants in the floodwaters from agriculture and industry could have a longer-term impact -- and may even enter the food chain.

Pramot Sojisuporn, Assistant Professor at the Department of Marine Science at Bangkok's Chulalongkorn University said the huge volume of water pouring into the gulf over the next month will cause salt levels to drop significantly, affecting fish and other marine animals.

"The problem is the salinity in the upper Gulf of Thailand will be reduced as it receives the fresh water -- a lot of fresh water," he told AFP.

"The fresh water will not affect the fish (so badly) but it will affect organisms that stay in the mud, so for mussels, clams, they will die."

Pramot said the deluge of floodwaters could mean salt levels fall from the usual level of around 32 parts per thousand to around two parts per thousand, and in the inner gulf the water will be like fresh water.

"If the water is fresh for over two months they will die," he said.

Aquaculture -- farming fish, cockles, mussels, shrimps, oysters and clams -- is one of the mainstays of the economy on the gulf coast, and Pramot said the sector would be badly affected by the fall in salinity.

On Monday the Fisheries Department warned fish farmers in Samut Sakhorn province, south of Bangkok, and to the west of the capital, to harvest or move their animals and strengthen flood defences on ponds.

Ply Pirom, toxic campaigner for environmental activist group Greenpeace, said the run-off would likely kill millions of sea organisms, dealing a heavy blow to fish and shellfish farmers -- and it could affect the food chain.

"For the short term we might see some dead fish along the coast of Gulf of Thailand because of the salinity," he said.

"Some smaller organisms are more sensitive to the change of water quality and salinity, so these small organisms would die eventually and this is the food for the large fish."

Ply said that while the sea would naturally restore its salinity, there were concerns of more lasting problems from flood run-off contaminated with pollutants from agriculture and industry.

"The concern is that the run-off water picks up chemicals and goes into the Gulf of Thailand, which is a closed system," he said explaining that as a result, the pollution could enter the food chain.

"The problem is that the Gulf of Thailand is quite a closed system. There is no continuous flow. It's surrounded by land. The flow of water is very slow."

A team from Chulalongkorn University will begin testing in the gulf next week in an effort to predict how the fresh water will disperse and how far it will spread.

Pramot said the northeast monsoon would most likely spread the waters to the west of the gulf, some southern provinces and possibly the popular beach resort of Hua Hin.

The Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment will also set up around 50 points around the gulf to test water quality, and more in the estuary of the Chao Phraya, the main river that flows through Bangkok.

"We have to monitor a large volume, so we can work out how it will affect sea life, how long the effects will last and how long it will take to recover," a ministry official who asked not to be named said.

Until the research is completed it is difficult to predict how much of the gulf will be affected, or for how long, but one thing is clear -- come what may, the waters will reach the sea.

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Marine life falls victim to Queensland's floods

John Taylor and staff ABC News 14 Nov 11;

Nine months after floods and cyclones battered Queensland, dugongs and turtles are dying in record numbers around the coast.

Just as many homes across the state were damaged, so too were seagrass beds under the water from the tip of the state to the New South Wales border.

Many of the creatures have starved to death, with those weakened also falling victim to boat strikes and fishing nets.

Despite nearly 1,000 turtles and 170 dugongs dying so far, the Queensland Government believes the animal populations will recover.

But some experts are concerned about their long-term survival.

"We've had all this silt plume go out and cover the seagrass. And as you know, it needs to photosynthesise. It can't do that," said Trevor Long, Seaworld's marine sciences director.

"The seagrass has died right back. In many areas, it's actually been lost completely."

Dugongs are a vulnerable species. An expedition into Brisbane's Moreton Bay earlier this year was just one of the scientific expeditions happening to monitor dugongs' health and long-term survival.

"I am worried. I think that as we're seeing changes with climate change, these type of events may become more common," Mr Long said.

"And that's why I think we need to act now. I think that we need to be trialling pilot programs, we need to be looking at ways - especially with dugong - is there a way that we can supplementary feed many of these animals."

But Queensland Environment Department spokeswoman Julia Playford does not believe the two species will decline overall.

"We don't think we're going to be seeing a species extinction or anything even close, but we think that the population will recover in subsequent years of good rainfall," she said.

"We don't really think it's the beginning of a trend. We think that it's been a one-off event. We don't have floods this size every year."

Even so, more dugongs and turtles are expected to die this year.

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Indonesia: 750 orang-utans 'killed in a year'

Hunting and shrinking habitat hit orang-utan population hard
New Zealand Herald 14 Nov 11;

Villagers living on the Indonesian side of Borneo killed at least 750 endangered orang-utans over a year-long period, some to protect crops from being raided and others for their meat, a survey shows.

Such practices, never before quantified, are now believed to pose a more serious threat to the existence of the red apes than previously thought, says Erik Meijaard, the main author of the report that appeared in the journal PLoSOne.

Indonesia, home to 90 per cent of the orang-utans left in the wild, was blanketed with plush rain forests less than 50 years ago, but half those trees have been cleared in the rush to supply the world with timber, pulp, paper and more recently, palm oil.

As a result, most of the remaining 50,000 to 60,000 apes live in scattered, degraded forests, putting them in frequent, and often deadly, conflict with humans.

"But our surveys also indicate that killing of orang-utans is happening deep inside forested areas, where orang-utans are hunted just like any other species," Meijaard said.

"This may be an uncomfortable truth, but not one that we can any longer ignore."

The Nature Conservancy and 19 other private organisations, including the WWF and the Association of Indonesian Primate Experts and Observers, carried out the survey to get a better understanding of orang-utan killings and their underlying causes.

They interviewed 6983 people in 687 villages in three provinces of Kalimantan on the Indonesian side of Borneo between April 2008 and September 2009. Neil Makinuddin, programme manager of The Nature Conservancy, said they were surprised how many respondents reported killing and then eating orang-utans - just over half.

- AP

750 orang-utans 'killed in a year'
(UKPA) Press Association Google News 14 Nov 11;

At least 750 endangered orang-utans have been killed by villagers on the Indonesian side of Borneo over a year-long period, according to a new survey.

Some were killed in order to protect farmers' crops, while others were killed for their meat, researchers found.

Erik Meijaard, main author of the report that appeared in the journal PLoS One, said he believes the killings pose a more serious threat to the apes' survival than previously thought.

Indonesia is home to 90% of the 50,000-60,000 orang-utans left in the wild.

But as forests are being cleared to make way for pulp, paper and palm oil plantations, the apes are coming into conflict with humans.

The Nature Conservancy and other organisations interviewed nearly 7,000 people in 687 villages to try to better understand the underlying causes for killing orang-utans.

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Number of sea turtles visiting Kerala shores dwindling

Viju B The Times of India 14 Nov 11;

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: Unpolluted Kerala beaches have always been the favourite nesting grounds for marine turtles, but their imprints may soon be washed away for ever.

During this time of the year, thousands of turtles swim ashore along the coastline and make nests in the sand; they then lay eggs, hatch and breed before the summer sets in.

But a Wild Wildlife Fund(WWF) survey reveals that this year only two species of turtles - Olive Ridley and Green Turtle, have reached the Kerala shores.

"Leatherback and Hawksbill turtles are yet to be spotted, which is a matter of great concern,'' says Renjan Mathew Varghese, state WWF director.

WWF researchers say the number of turtles reaching Kerala coast has been dwindling over the years.

"We are not ruling out the possibility of poaching of turtles for their eggs and meat,'' says Varghese.

Wildlife activists say poachers scout for eggs during night and then sell it for Rs 10 per piece. "The meat of one turtle is sold for Rs 500,'' a WWF volunteer said.

The poachers also cash in on the prevailing dogma that turtle meat and eggs are a good cure for asthma.

Wildlife activists say there is little monitoring done along the coast and the poachers have a field day during the breeding season. Also, many turtles get caught in trawling nets and then die due to lack of oxygen.

"Many fishermen see turtles as their enemies as they feel their fishing nets get destroyed because of them,'' says Varghese.

Indian coasts have been a safe haven for marine turtles for thousands of years. Out of the seven species of turtles found in the world, five have been reported from India.

Turtle landings and nesting have been reported in coastal states like Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Goa, Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh, Orissa and West Bengal.

A senior official from the environment department said they are planning an awareness and conservation campaign amongst the communities living along the coast to preserve breeding habitats of turtles.

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WWF sounds warning on caviar

(AFP) Google News 14 Nov 11;

SOFIA — Poaching and illegal trade in sturgeon caviar persist in Romania and Bulgaria, environmental group WWF warned on Monday, posing a serious risk to the highly threatened species of fish.

A total of 52.5 kilos (115.7 pounds) of illegal caviar, retailing for upwards of 6,000 euros ($8,200) per kilo, originating in the two countries were reported by European Union member states between 2000 and 2009, the report said.

"The real volume of illegal trade is likely to be considerably higher," the report's author Katalin Kecse-Nagy said in the statement.

"Any illegal trade poses an unacceptable risk to these highly threatened species."

The Black Sea is one of the most important sturgeon fisheries in the world, second only to the Caspian Sea. The Danube, as one of the major feeder rivers and estuaries of the Black Sea, is crucial for the fish.

According to the World Sturgeon Conservation Society, the Danube is the only large river system in Europe where protection of existing but dwindling sturgeon stocks is still possible.

Fishing and export of sturgeon and sturgeon products of wild origin was banned in Romania in 2006 for 10 years, while Bulgaria is currently under a one-year ban, the WWF said.

The WWF report recommended that Sofia and Bucharest strengthen their enforcement agencies, while also insisting for closer monitoring by the EU and more awareness among consumers and traders.

"The EU has a major responsibility to regulate the caviar trade because EU member states are the largest consumers of caviar from Romania and the second largest consumer of caviar from Bulgaria," WWF sturgeon expert Jutta Jahrl said.

"It is crucial that traders and consumers do not buy unlabelled caviar -- this simple act would strike a major blow against the illegal trade," the statement said.

"The EU must close every loophole in order to save sturgeons from extinction."

Giant Beluga sturgeons, an ancient fish which outlasted the dinosaurs, have been critically endangered by overfishing for their caviar -- uncooked roe or eggs -- and by cutting off their migration routes and altering their habitat.

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New Zealand oil spill: Rena's oiled animals set for release

Jamie Morton NZ Herald 15 Nov 11;

Feathered refugees from the Rena crisis could begin winging their way home this week, as wildlife experts count the cost of a disaster that has wiped out a generation of penguins and killed up to 20,000 birds.

The oiled wildlife centre at Mt Maunganui has swelled from a few shipping containers to a tented village during the crisis, but the emptying of all but the dregs of the Rena's load of heavy fuel oil means the camp should be mostly dismantled by the new year.

It is hoped five shags - among the first birds to be rescued after the Rena ran aground on Astrolabe Reef on October 5 - will be released to a colony near Mt Maunganui by the end of the week.

Centre manager Dr Brett Gartrell said some of the 340 little blue penguins in captivity could also be homeward bound by the weekend.

Penguins being readied for a return to the wild were being put through their paces in swimming pools yesterday - their test being to swim for six straight hours.

"If they can do that, then we figure they're ready to go," Dr Gartrell said.

Wildlife experts also had to ensure the birds' bodyweight and protein levels were adequate and that their coats, weakened by oil, could properly resist water again. Readjusting from a lifestyle of regular fish smoothies and round-the-clock care would be a shock "but the good thing about little blue penguins is that as soon they see the ocean, they'll be off - and they won't be looking back".

The shags, penned in pools covered by netting, had been preening for weeks. "You can see them flapping their wings and they're very much good to go."

Dr Gartrell hoped that by the end of the month all 406 birds would be back in their natural habitats.

The last birds to be released were likely to be the few penguins brought in over recent days and the 60 endangered New Zealand dotterels, which could be disturbed by ongoing beach clean-ups.

Dr Gartrell said the first release would be an emotional moment.

"It really will be a turning point in the whole process that we'd all love to see.

"We weren't able to think about releasing any birds until all of the oil is off and it's a huge relief that we now can."

Wildlife experts were expected to stay for six more weeks at the base, which could be re-established to cope with another major event.

"We'll have some sort of presence here as long as the ship is on the reef."

The wildlife death toll remained unknown, Dr Gartrell said, but the number could pass 20,000.

That included a generation of unborn penguin chicks sacrificed to save their parents and a large number of little diving petrels.

"We had 800 of those birds through the post-mortem tent and of the five that came in alive, none of them made it through the wash tents.

"They're deep ocean birds, so most ofthose that died would have most likely drowned before they could reach the shore to get help.

"It's certainly been a major environmental disaster for New Zealand and it's certainly had an impact on seabird life here in the Bay of Plenty - it will take time to see just how big that will be."

Meanwhile, the crane barge Sea Tow 60 has moored alongside the Rena before the next phase of the salvage operation - removing the 1280 containers. Another, larger crane barge, Smit Borneo, is on its way from Singapore to assist.

"Each set of containers will present its own unique challenges," Maritime New Zealand salvage unit manager Arthur Jobard said.

"This means it is impossible to predict exactly how long it will take to safely remove all of the containers - but realistically, it is likely to take several months of patient work."

He said the Rena's fragile state meant it could break up before all containers were offloaded.

The outlook

* Seven months - the time it could take to offload the Rena's containers.
* Six weeks - the time the oiled wildlife centre is expected to remain in operation.
* Six months - the period the Government has to decide whether it will prosecute the Rena's owners.
* One year - the timeframe of a long-term environmental recovery plan.
* Several years - the expected timeframe of ongoing environmental monitoring.
* Unknown - the time it will take to mop up oil remnants still on board the Rena and on beaches.

New Zealand crews to remove containers from grounded cargo ship
Salvors to begin complex job after teams manage to remove all but a few traces of oil from Liberian-flagged Rena
Peter Walker 14 Nov 11;

Salvage crews are preparing to remove containers from a cargo ship that ran aground on a New Zealand reef nearly six weeks ago after pumping all remaining oil from the vessel and averting an environmental disaster.

Government ministers and local politicians hailed the work of the teams after they managed to remove all but a few traces of oil from the Liberian-flagged Rena, which ran aground off Tauranga, in North Island's Bay of Plenty, in heavy seas on 5 October.

In the following days, several hundred tonnes of oil spilt into the sea after a fuel tank ruptured, washing onto beaches and affecting birds and other wildlife. There were fears that the badly damaged 47,000-tonne vessel could completely break apart, spilling a further 1,600 tonnes of fuel and causing an environmental catastrophe.

But the Rena stayed intact as salvage workers spent weeks pumping the heavy fuel oil from its tanks to an adjoining tanker, and this process was almost complete, Maritime New Zealand said on Monday.

The next stage of the operation would involve a crane barge being put into position to begin the tricky job of removing cargo containers from the ship.

An accompanying shoreline cleanup has been sufficiently successful for local beaches to be expected to reopen later in the week.

The country's prime minister, John Key, said the operation had been "very, very successful", the New Zealand Herald reported. "I think the people of Tauranga will be very happy they haven't had the environmental disaster that some predicted," Key added.

The local mayor, Stuart Crosby said: "The salvors have done an amazing job under treacherous conditions to avoid an environmental disaster. I guess we've all gone through a series of emotions that we all do in this type of event. There has been disbelief, frustration, anger, and now relief – relief that the oil has been taken away by these great people."

However, the operation to remove the containers remains long and risky, Maritime New Zealand said. It is likely to take several months, during which time the Rena could still break up.

"The salvors are taking this time to make sure that all the equipment and systems are ready and working properly before commencing operations. They also need good, calm weather to operate effectively, with safety being the top priority," the salvage unit head, Arthur Jobard, said.

"Once the testing has been successfully completed, the salvors will be lowering men down in a cage to ready the containers for removal.

"However, as we have seen with this entire operation so far, the speed at which the salvage team can work depends on many different factors. This includes weather and how complex it proves to be to access the containers, many of which are badly damaged and in very precarious positions."

He said this meant it would be "impossible to predict exactly how long it will take to safely remove all of the containers on board – but realistically, it is likely to take several months of patient and careful work".

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Artificial reefs' effect on fish populations comes under question

Kate Spinner Herald Tribune 14 Nov 11;

Artificial reefs — long believed to boost fish populations — might be doing the opposite by concentrating fish and fishermen in the same places.

For decades, Gulf of Mexico fishing regulators have tried to rebuild depleted popular reef fish, including grouper and snapper, with limited success, despite increased restrictions.

Meanwhile, many coastal communities have looked to artificial reefs as a way to increase fish populations, to provide better fishing for the public and to dispose of large piles of refuse.

But while sunken ships, concrete rubble, Army tanks and oil rigs do a great job of attracting fish, they do not help them grow and reproduce, scientists and regulators say. Rather, they concentrate fish in widely publicized spots, making them more vulnerable to hooks and spears.

Despite their limitations, artificial reefs could still play an important role in helping select species survive to breeding age. But reefs designed for conservation are not likely to succeed if they also serve as fishing destinations.

"You can use them as a tool for economies. You may be able to use them as a tool for ecological benefits, but you can't necessarily do both simultaneously with the same reef," said William Lindberg, a fisheries science professor at University of Florida in Gainesville.

Artificial reef bonanza

With its vast shoreline, Florida has one of the nation's largest artificial reef programs, with about 2,600 statewide.

The program began in the 1970s, with counties taking the lead in deciding where to place the reefs and materials to use. With a few notable exceptions, most have become very popular fishing spots that contribute greatly to local economies.

From Pinellas County to Lee County, artificial reefs generate $253 million in spending each year, according to a recent University of Florida report.

Artificial reefs get tremendous support, and state grants allow counties to spend almost no money on them, said Laird Wreford, Sarasota County's coastal resources manager.

Sarasota County has several permits from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to place material, such as old bridges and demolished buildings, off the coast as they become available.

That was the fate of the old Ringling Causeway, which is now part of the Lynn Silvertooth reef off the shores of New Pass. Wreford called the project a "glowing win" because it kept the bridge out of the landfill.

"It becomes basically a major fishery," he said.

Statewide it is up to each county to decide where to put reefs, within the confines of state and federal regulations. There is little collaboration with other counties, with scientists or with those who manage fisheries in state and federal waters.

Can reefs grow fish?

It is no secret that artificial reefs attract fish.

People have been using them for that purpose for hundreds of years, said James Cowan, a professor of oceanography and coastal science at Louisiana State University.

The question is whether they help fish grow and survive into adulthood, and several studies, dating as far back as the 1980s, consistently say they do not.


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Artificial reefs' effect on fish populations comes under question
By Kate Spinner
Published: Monday, November 14, 2011 at 1:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, November 13, 2011 at 10:37 p.m.

Page 3 of 5

While reefs provide shelter for several species, including grouper and snapper, they do not provide a primary food source. For food, those fish need to travel.

Most natural reefs are small, providing limited shelter. Most artificial reefs, by contrast, are much larger, providing a great deal of shelter — perhaps too much.

In a 2006 study, Lindberg and eight other scientists found that grouper choose safety over sustenance by congregating on large artificial reefs. The result was that grouper of the same age on those larger reefs weighed significantly less than those on smaller, less sheltered reefs.

"They're willing to sacrifice a bit of growth so as to not be eaten," Lindberg said. The concern is that the grouper may not get sufficient food to reproduce if they choose to hide instead of eat.

Think of the overlarge reef as a city.

"You can have a city of several million people, but you better have some farmland out there producing food for them," Lindberg said.

Complicating the matter, people choose to place artificial reefs in places that are convenient for them, not for the fish.

"It turns out that some of those areas where reefs are deployed are areas that would be, in nature, the nursery habitat," Cowan said.

That encourages the adult fish, particularly snapper, to live among and compete with the juvenile fish. It also attracts more predators to what would naturally be nursery habitat. In the northern Gulf of Mexico, those shifts have brought large deep-sea fish, such as bluefin, closer to shore.

As a result, the sheltering fish face two threats instead of one: more natural predators and more baited hooks.

Because reefs attract fish, they can give fishermen the perception that they increase fish populations.

"It's not self-evident that that may not be the case for the population as a whole," Lindberg said.

State and federal fishing limits, which are based on estimates of fish populations compared with the annual catch, minimize the harm that artificial reefs might pose if fishing were unrestricted.

If artificial reefs make overfishing easier, that should show up when regulators survey fish populations, Lindberg and others said.

"The saving grace is the management actions that have to be taken by fisheries managers," Lindberg said.

Artificial reefs for conservation

All artificial reefs are not created equal.

They can be randomly sited in areas that negatively alter juvenile habitat or they can be specifically designed to help juvenile fish.

Steve Bortone, executive director of the Gulf of Mexico Fisheries Management Council, has advocated using artificial reefs as a tool to enhance fish populations for more than a decade. He says the potential is there to design reefs in ways that meet the needs of fish that struggle with immense fishing pressure.

That kind of work is not being done now with conservation in mind, but that might change.

In partnership with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Lindberg is working to find out whether artificial reefs can be designed to help juvenile grouper reach breeding age.

In northern Florida, nearly 500 small reefs designed for juvenile grouper have been scattered across the continental shelf, between the seagrass nurseries and the deeper waters where adult grouper live. The assumption is that the grouper population as a whole is limited by lack of shelter for juveniles.

"If functioning properly, the number of fish on reefs farther offshore should increase," said Jon Dodrill, environmental administrator in the FWC division of fisheries management.

The key to the research — and for any other artificial reef that aims for conservation — is that it not be publicized as a fishing destination, Dodrill and other scientists said.

Recently, some communities in the Panhandle and Florida's east coast have expressed interest in building conservation reefs in undisclosed or hard-to-reach spots, Dodrill said. But no communities have made any reefs completely off limits.

Indeed, very few sites in the Gulf of Mexico are set aside as protected areas where fish can find refuge from fishing hooks.

But scientists and regulators said making fishing off-limits on some artificial reefs or even on natural reefs would probably produce the greatest benefit for exploited fish populations.

"That's just not a concept that is supported by the recreational fishing lobby — or even our own commissioners," Dodrill said.

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FAO says traditional crops key to facing climate change

FAO 14 Nov 11;

14 November 2011, Rome - Traditional food crops and other plant varieties worldwide are in urgent need of protection from climate change and other environmental stresses, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said today, as it observed the tenth anniversary of the international treaty to protect and share plant genetic resources.

FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf called on countries to develop specific policies to conserve and make wider use of plant varieties for generations to come. He lauded the injection of $6 million made available through the treaty to help farmers of traditional crops adapt to climate change.

"The conservation and sustainable use of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture are key to ensuring that the world will produce enough food to feed its growing population in the future," Diouf said.

Diouf pointed out that the global gene pool of more than 1.5 million samples of plant genetic material governed collectively and multilaterally by signature countries under the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture "constitutes the basis for more than 80 percent of the world's food derived from plants and it is possibly our most important tool for adapting agriculture to climate change in the years to come."

The Treaty's ‘Benefit-sharing Fund' is being used to support farmers and breeders in 21 developing countries to adapt key crops to the new conditions brought on by climate change, floods, droughts, plant pests, plant diseases and other factors.

"The effects of climate change on agriculture do not respect national borders, they cover entire agro-ecological zones," said Shakeel Bhatti, Secretary of the International Treaty. "For this reason, this portfolio of projects is taking a pioneering approach in generating a global knowledge base. Some of these projects will help us to establish clear priorities and action plans across borders for future actions."

Peru's Potato Park

One such project is based in a potato sanctuary in Peru, where community members combine traditional knowledge with efforts to conserve native varieties, improve agricultural production and ensure food security.

"When I was a little girl, native potatoes were cultivated in the lower lands. Today, lower zones are much hotter than before and it is not possible to cultivate potatoes anymore. As a result, we need to cultivate them much higher in the mountain," said Francisca Pacco, Potato Park Guardian.

During a recent knowledge-exchange session with visitors from Ethiopia, Pacco and other Potato Park residents showed how they used local knowledge of wind patterns, native plants and other factors to change the locations and timing for local potato cultivation. With support from the Benefit-sharing Fund, Potato Park residents are also increasing income-generating activities.

Recognition of farmers' work

"Farmers are the key actors in the conservation and sustainable use of food crops and they struggle with all the changes that are happening. If we work hard with a solid scientific basis and the integration of farmers, we will see results in two years when these projects will be over," said Zoila Fundora, a Cuba-based expert from the panel that evaluated the new projects approved.

"The fund helps farmers, in a very practical way, to adapt to climate change and contributes to food security by recognizing that one part of the solution is in the huge diversity of crops", said David Cunningham, a panel expert from Australia.

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