Best of our wild blogs: 2 Dec 11

Videos: Slugs on our shores
from Psychedelic Nature

a secretive pit viper @ SBWR
from sgbeachbum

111127 Little Sisters Island
from Singapore Nature

Pink-necked Green Pigeon eating sea apple leaf
from Bird Ecology Study Group

Preserving Singapore’s ‘Green Spine’
from the Wall Street Journal Blog by Shibani Mahtani

Potential Campaign Strategy for Bukit Brown
from AsiaIsGreen

Conservation is actually a selfish thing
from Nature rambles

Read more!

Singapore farms aim to produce 15% of fish consumed locally

Joanne Chan Channel NewsAsia 1 Dec 11;

SINGAPORE : Farms in Singapore are moving towards the target of producing 15 per cent of fish consumed locally.

Efforts by the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) to boost productivity has seen the percentage of locally-farmed fish rise to seven per cent, up from 4.5 per cent two years ago.

Singapore gets its baby fishes or fry from Taiwan or China. They are flown in and bred to maturity in a local fish farm.

But this also means production is being subjected to seasonal constraints in the source countries.

Alawn Koh, business development manager at Rong-Yao Fisheries, said: "When it comes to the winter months, there is no fry production due to unfavourable conditions up there. So with AVA's assistance, we are then able to assure a consistent supply."

He was referring to a programme by the AVA that aims to close that gap in the supply chain, by helping local farms spawn their own fry.

Following intensive research into the correct diet and spawning methods, AVA had successfully bred the first batch of fry at Rong-Yao Fisheries in July.

The eggs from the brooding stock are harvested and brought to a hatchery on another island, where the fingerlings would grow to 1.5 to two inches before being brought back to the fish farm.

The fingerlings will be bred for another four to five months before they are harvested for the supermarkets.

The first batch of locally-bred golden pomfret is expected to hit local tables and restaurants in May next year.

AVA hopes that local production of the golden pomfret will rise from 20 tonnes this year to 80 to 100 tonnes next year - equivalent to 350,000 golden pomfrets.

Rong Yao's Mr Koh also expects the quality of golden pomfret to be better with locally-produced fry.

He said: "Fry that come in from China and is a long flight, by the time they reach here, there may be some effect (on quality). With local fry production, the distances are shorter, we are able to monitor, we are able to assure the quality with AVA's assistance.....we are definitely hoping for better survival rates."

Having a secured local source also strengthens Singapore's food supply resilience.

Wee Joo Yong, assistant director of aquaculture technology at the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority, said: "In the event that there is a supply disruption from external sources, then our local consumers will have some degree of assurance that we can still depend on local production."

Meanwhile, a new branding campaign has been introduced to distinguish locally-farmed fish from foreign imports.

Seah Kian Peng, CEO of NTUC FairPrice, said: "Local fishes which are grown here, they will be fresher. Price is a consideration, no doubt, but we have to start somewhere. I think if we want prices to come down, (consumers have to) buy more of them."

- CNA/ms

Local fish supply to get a boost
AVA's effort results in commercially viable batch of golden pomfret fry
Lin Wenjian Straits Times 1 Dec 11;

SINGAPORE'S supply of fresh fish has received a boost since the successful spawning of pompano or golden pomfret fry recently.

The effort in local waters by the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) in July was the first time results had been achieved here on a commercially viable scale.

The batch of fry is now at Rong-Yao Fisheries, and the harvest is likely to land in supermarkets by April or May next year.

This transfer of technology is part of AVA's efforts to help farmers increase their productivity, and it is giving similar assistance to other fish farms.

At a press conference yesterday, AVA said it hopes local pompano production will rise thanks to the initiative.

Last year, local fish farmers produced about 4.4 tonnes of golden pomfret using fry imported mainly from China and Taiwan. The figure is expected to reach 80 to 100 tonnes by next year now local fry is available.

Prices of the popular fish, commonly served steamed or baked in households, are seasonal, but are typically between $10.90 and $12.90 a kilogram.

Mr Seah Kian Peng, chief executive of supermarket chain NTUC FairPrice, said locally harvested fish cost a bit more than imported ones as there is less supply.

However, he added: 'With greater awareness and stronger demand, local farmers will have greater incentive to produce. The supply will increase, which will in turn drive prices down.'

FairPrice started selling golden pomfret from local farms two months ago, in addition to other locally bred varieties such as grey mullet and milkfish, which have been offered since 2008.

Fish from local farms now account for 10 per cent of all fish sold at the chain. It reported a 50 per cent rise in sales of local varieties compared with last year, indicating good demand.

Rong-Yao's business development manager, Mr Alawn Koh, said it is using locally bred fry in addition to imported fry to ensure a consistent supply.

He explained: 'Supply from Taiwan and China is disrupted during the winter months in December as conditions then are not favourable for production.'

Ms Wee Joo Yong, an assistant director at AVA's aquaculture technology unit, said Singapore now has a reliable 'Plan B' to maintain a ready supply of fresh fish.

She added: 'Local production plays a crucial role in ensuring a resilient food supply. We aim to achieve some degree of self-sufficiency in key food items like fish. If external supplies are disrupted, there is some assurance that consumers can still depend on local production.'

Singapore has 119 coastal fish farms, which produce 7 per cent of the fish consumed locally - up from 4.5 per cent in 2009. AVA wants to raise the figure to 15 per cent eventually.

With increased supply, housewife Loi Siew Yan, 64, hopes to see cheaper buys come Chinese New Year next month.

'Everything is more expensive - it will be good news if fish prices come down.'

S'pore-bred pomfret to be in stores soon
Joanne Chan Today Online 2 Dec 11;

SINGAPORE - Expect to see Singapore's first batch of locally-bred golden pomfret at supermarkets and restaurants come May next year, as the authorities continue in efforts to boost productivity at local fish farms and improve food security.

The Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority (AVA) hopes that local production of the golden pomfret will rise from 20 tonnes this year to 80 to 100 tonnes next year - equivalent to 350,000 golden pomfrets.

Singapore fish farms have made headway towards producing 15 per cent of the fish consumed in Singapore by 2015, with the percentage now at 7 per cent from 4.5 per cent two years ago.

To improve the productivity of farms breeding golden pomfret, the AVA introduced a programme to produce "fry" - baby fishes - in Singapore, instead of importing them from Taiwan and China. It successfully bred the first batch of golden pomfret fry at Rong-Yao Fisheries in July, after intensive research into the correct diet and spawning methods.

Imported golden pomfret fry is subjected to seasonal constraints but, with the AVA's assistance, Singapore farms are assured of a consistent supply, said Mr Alawn Koh, business development manager at Rong-Yao Fisheries.

The eggs from the brooding stock are harvested and brought to a hatchery on another island, where they grow to 1.5 to 2 inches before being brought back to the fish farm. The fingerlings will be bred for another four to five months before they are harvested for the supermarkets.

Mr Koh expects the quality of golden pomfret to be better with locally-produced fry: "Fry that comes in from China and Taiwan ... it is a long flight, by the time they reach here, there may be some effect."

Local fry means shorter transport times and better ability to monitor the quality of the fish, he said.

Added Ms Wee Joo Yong, assistant director of aquaculture technology at the AVA: "In the event that there is a supply disruption from external sources, then our local consumers will have some degree of assurance that we can still depend on local production."

Meanwhile, a new branding campaign called "SGfish - Fresh in Singapore" has been introduced to distinguish locally-farmed fish from foreign imports.

Said NTUC FairPrice chief executive officer Seah Kian Peng: "Local fishes which are grown here, they will be fresher. Price is a consideration, no doubt, but we have to start somewhere."

Read more!

Scientists in Sulawesi Discover New Species Hidden in Mountains

Lydia Tomkiw Jakarta Globe 1 Dec 11;

An endemic Sulawesi large hanging parrot, found nowhere else in the world. Indonesian and American scientists have discovered new species hidden in the mountains of Sulawesi. (Photo courtesy of ICBG Sulawesi Project)

It takes six hours to drive from Kendari in Southeast Sulawesi to the town of Kolaka, and then another three hours to reach the Mekongga mountain range region, where a team of Indonesian and American scientists begin their trek — the real start of their epic journey.

“If you get in there [the Mekongga mountain range], there is no guarantee you can get out,” said John A. Trochet, a field ornithologist at the Museum of Wildlife and Fish Biology at the University of California, Davis. “That’s the truth.”

Since 2009, scientists from the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI), the Ministry of Forestry and the Bandung Institute of Technology have collaborated with American scientists from the University of California’s Davis, Berkeley and San Francisco campuses to survey one of the world’s most biodiverse areas.

Their destination, however, is not an easy one to reach.

“We have to cross a river six times and then it’s a very steep climb to the remnants of an old logging road,” said Trochet, who has broken a finger and hurt his ankles on past treks.

“We follow the logging road, and in many places it’s a wall on one side and a vertical drop on the other,” he said. “In many, many places the logging road has washed away over the years. It’s just very difficult.”

Sometimes more than 80 porters must assist the scientists with their equipment and all of the samples they collect as they head up and down mountains.

“The reason this project is so big is because we are doing everything from plants to birds to microbes,” said Alan T. Hitch, assistant curator at the same institution at UC Davis. “These expeditions in modern times don’t really exist anymore.”

A wealth of new species

It has been about 80 years since the last extensive survey of the area was conducted.

“There are so many insects that are undescribed and so many undescribed microbes,” said Rosichon Ubaidillah, head entomologist at LIPI.

Despite difficult conditions and weeks of Indomie on the menu, the scientists smile with excitement as they describe expeditions that may be among the last of their kind.

Several trips have yielded samples from different elevation classes, many of which still need to be identified.

“Potentially on the vertebrae side, we have at least a few new species of frogs, definitely a new species of bat, probably a couple new species of shrews, and maybe a new subspecies of rodent,” Hitch said.

More than 1,500 vertebrae specimens have been collected, he said, and fish and lizard discoveries may also be classified as new species.

On the plant side of the expedition, 109 species have been collected including a new orchid and a new begonia species.

“This is a new record for us, said Elizabeth Widjaja, a member of the botany division at LIPI, who has potentially found a new genus of bamboo. “For scientific purposes it is very important.”

In addition to the discovery of the Garuda wasp, named after the national symbol of Indonesia, there have been new discoveries of a bright blue sawfly, a long-tongued bee, and numerous flies and tiny wasps, which scientists are currently in the process of describing.

“We estimate that there might be as many as 100,000 different insect species in the region we’re working in, perhaps half of which are new to science, waiting to be discovered and described,” Lynn S. Kimsey, an entomology professor and the director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology at UC Davis, wrote in an e-mail to the Jakarta Globe.

Indonesia’s national collection has gained three species of birds from the expeditions. And that’s only the beginning.

“Out of 80-odd different species of yeasts that we’ve isolated, 37 of them are new to science,” said Kyria Boundy-Mills, a curator at the Phaff Yeast Culture Collection at UC Davis.

Cures in the making

Although studies are still in their infant stages, scientists are excited about their potential yields.

“We are finding potential activity in the plants and microbes that we are collecting in Mekongga — things that have potential for anti-cancer activity, potential effects on the nervous system, they might be new pain relievers or things for treating addictions,” Boundy-Mill said. “We are finding some very good candidates.”

But the scientists worry about protecting the watershed area, as well as the plants and animals of Sulawesi, which, as Trochet put it, “are to a tremendous degree found nowhere else.”

“This area has been logged. It is definitely not pristine rain forest,” Hitch said.

Logging officially stopped in the early 1990s and the area became protected forest, but illegal logging still occurs.

“We have to ask the local people not to go to the forest and do logging again,” Elizabeth said.

Rosichon added that establishing profitable industries in cocoa and coconut plantations could help the region turn away from illegal logging.

“For the people there, it’s easy to just go to the forest and take something from there. We would like to develop an effective biodiversity conservation strategy,” Rosichon said.

Mining interests in the area are also raising concerns.

“Local mining is already open,” Elizabeth said. “Not in the area we visited, but after that on the way to Lasusua. It belongs to Antam [mining company].”

A rise in mining activity could threaten Sulawesi’s biosphere.

“We worry about that [mining],” Rosichon said, adding that the government recently released new regulations to stop the mining in 2015.

“The mining is getting crazy … They are trying to get more and more raw material before they have to stop.”

Despite threats to the region, Rosichon remains optimistic, and the team hopes to approach the government in Jakarta with a proposal to create a larger protective area.

“Hopefully the research from this project will contribute significantly to the broad range of issues, not only for the knowledge of biodiversity in the area, but for conservation and sustainable use of the resources in Sulawesi, and also for the whole country,” Rosichon said.

Grant funding for the project from the US National Institutes of Health will end in 2013.

The scientists are hoping to expand the scope of their research past 2013 with additional grant funding.

“Why should Mekongga be special? The prospect of other areas having similar riches is extremely high,” Trochet said.

Read more!

New moss frog species found in Vietnam

Tuoitrenews 1 Dec 11;

Misty Moss Frog. Photo: Jodi j. L. Rowley/Australian Museum

Australian and Vietnamese scientists have discovered two small moss frogs of the genus Theloderma on Kontum and Lang Bian plateaus in the Central Highlands.

Based on analysis on morphology and atom genetics, the two frogs are identified as Misty Moss Frog (Theloderma nebulosum) and Cloaked Moss Frog (Theloderma palliatum).

The Cloaked Moss Frog is named after its ability to change from a dull, mottled brown to a bold, high-contrast pattern while the Misty Moss Frog is named after its mist-shrouded habitat on Kon Tum Plateau in Vietnam.

Some features that make the new species different from other frogs are their body length (under 3cm), absence of vomerine teeth, wrinkles on their skin, brown backs and eyes with two colors, and absence of webbed feet on the first two legs, said Thuy Duong, a local scientist.

According to scientist Jodi Rowley of Australian Museum, one of the people finding the new species, Southeast Asian amphibians are both poorly known and highly threatened.

“That's the biggest reason that my colleagues and I spend weeks searching the montane forests of the region, discovering and documenting the amazing diversity of the amphibians found there,” Rowley wrote in his blog.

“It's a vital first step towards amphibian conservation in the region,” he said.

Read more!

Geoengineering techniques need more study, says science coalition

The Solar Radiation Management Governance Initiative says geoengineering could be 'plan B' for climate change
Hanna Gersmann 1 Dec 11;

More research on the risks and governance of geoengineering the planet's climate by reflecting sunlight into space is needed, a grouping of science bodies and a green NGO have said, as the end of the first week of UN climate talks nears.

Concern about such techniques is significant and so more dialogue and research is needed on the risks and benefits, said the Solar Radiation Management Governance Initiative, a coalition formed in March 2010 of the Royal Society, Italian-based academy of science for the developing world Twas, and US non-profit, the Environmental Defence Fund.

Various techniques for combating global warming by reducing the amount of the sun's energy reaching the earth have been proposed, from huge space reflectors in orbit to stratospheric aerosols released in the upper atmosphere. A UK-backed plan to test the mechanics of inserting such aerosols, using a hosepipe attached to a giant balloon, was postponed in September and the so-called Spice project was criticised by scientists writing in Nature earlier this month.

Steven Hamburg, the chief scientist for the Environmental Defence Fund and co-chair of the SRMGI, said: "Solar radiation management might sound, at first, like something from science fiction – but it's not. There are already serious discussions beginning about it, and that's why we felt it was urgent to create this governance initiative. Solar radiation management could be a Plan B to address climate change, but first we must figure out how to research it safely. Only then should we even consider any other steps."

The SRMGI's co-chair, John Shepherd, said: "Unless the apparent lack of political will to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions changes soon, geoengineering may be needed and SRM methods could be used in unregulated and possibly reckless ways by individuals, corporations or individual countries. "

He added: "We must also work outside our national borders, bringing together interested parties from around the globe to debate the issues of geo-engineering, agree appropriate governance structures and ensure that any research is undertaken in a safe, transparent and socially acceptable manner. The question of whether solar geo-engineering will prove to be helpful or harmful will largely depend on how humanity can govern the issue and its political implications, and avoid unilateral action."

But Silvia Ribeiro, the Latin American director of the ETC Group, which campaigns against geoengineering, said: "This report is dominated by scientists engaged in geoengineering research in the UK, US and Canada. They are advocates for more research, several of them have claimed patents and have significant financial, institutional and professional interests in the field of geoengineering research. There are the same familiar names that we have seen in a whole series of recent reports: John Shepherd or David Keith."

In September, Shepherd wrote in the Guardian that research would be "sadly necessary". In October, David Keith of Harvard University, a member of the SRMGI working group, and founder and president of Carbon Engineering, a geo-engineering company with 10 employees funded with around $6m (£3.8m) by Bill Gates, wrote a study that said the public strongly reported research into solar geoengineering. Some 72% of the 3,105 participants in the UK, US and Canada said they somewhat or strongly supported general research when asked: "Do you think scientists should study solar radiation management?"

Ribeiro went on: "Solar radiation management technologies are high-risk and extremely dangerous and they should be treated under international law like nuclear weapons – except, unlike nuclear weapons, we have an opportunity to ban their testing and their proliferation them before the technology is fully developed, rather than trying to prevent their proliferation after the fact. This is where we should be looking to for guidance on governance. We need to ban these technologies, not facilitate their development."

The SRMGI said a ban on geoengineering would not work: "A moratorium on all SRM-related research would be difficult if not impossible to enforce. The range of SRM research runs from computer simulations and laboratory studies right up to potentially risky, large-scale experiments in the real world. While most SRMGI participants were comfortable with low risk research, there was much debate over how to govern any research outside the lab," said the coalition's report, published on Thursday.

Geoengineering could save Earth -- or destroy it
Arthus Max Associated Press Yahoo News 2 Dec 11;

DURBAN, South Africa (AP) — Brighten clouds with sea water? Spray aerosols high in the stratosphere? Paint roofs white and plant light-colored crops? How about positioning "sun shades" over the Earth?

At a time of deep concern over global warming, a group of scientists, philosophers and legal scholars examined whether human intervention could artificially cool the Earth — and what would happen if it did.

A report released late Thursday in London and discussed Friday at the U.N. climate conference in South Africa said that — in theory — reflecting a small amount of sunlight back into space before it strike's the Earth's surface would have an immediate and dramatic effect.

Within a few years, global temperatures would return to levels of 250 years ago, before the industrial revolution began dumping carbon dioxide into the air, trapping heat and causing temperatures to rise.

But no one knows what the side effects would be.

They could be physical — unintentionally changing weather patterns and rainfall. Even more difficult, it could be political — spurring conflict among nations unable to agree on how such intervention, or geoengineering, will be controlled.

The idea of solar radiation management "has the potential to be either very useful or very harmful," said the study led by Britain's Royal Society, the Washington-based Environmental Defense Fund and TWAS, the academy of sciences for the developing world based in Trieste, Italy.

Environmentalist Silvia Ribeiro, of the Canada-based ETC-Group, said geoengineering should be outlawed before it gets off the ground.

"Solar radiation management technologies are high-risk and extremely dangerous and they should be treated under international law like nuclear weapons — except, unlike nuclear weapons, we have an opportunity to ban their testing and their proliferation before the technology is fully developed, rather than trying to prevent their proliferation after the fact," she said.

The final report grew out of three days of talks in a quiet country retreat last March, the climax of a yearlong dialogue spanning experts in 22 countries.

It was prompted in part by the failure of a 20-year U.N. negotiating process to take decisive action to curb greenhouse gas emissions, mainly from burning fossil fuels, responsible for climate change.

"The slow progress of international climate negotiations has led to increased concerns that sufficient cuts in greenhouse gas emissions may not be achieved in time to avoid unacceptable levels of climate change," the report said.

But geoengineering is not an alternative to climate action, said John Shepherd, a British oceanographer from the University of Southampton who was a lead author of the report.

"Nobody thought this provides a justification for not reducing carbon emissions," Shepherd said in a telephone interview from London.

"We have to stick with Plan A for the time being, and that could be a very long time indeed," he said. "This would buy time for people to make the transition to a low-carbon economy."

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change foresees temperatures rising as much as 6.4 degrees Celsius (11.5 degrees Fahrenheit) by 2100, swelling the seas with melted glacial water and disrupting climate conditions around the globe.

Releasing millions of tons of sulfur dioxide in the upper atmosphere would mimic the cooling effects of a volcanic eruption, lowering global temperature about 0.5 Centigrade (0.9 Fahrenheit), which can last for a year or two when it occurs naturally.

But deliberately tinkering with nature to counter global warming can only be a stopgap measure, and is fraught with danger, the report said.

Action such as spraying sulfur into the air or brightening clouds with sea water to reflect more sunlight would have to be sustained indefinitely because "there would be a large and rapid climate change if it were terminated suddenly," the report said.

Hazy skies could alter weather patterns and agriculture, replacing one source of climate change with another.

Years of study are required to calculate the environmental impacts, but the bigger questions are political.

Who would decide where and when to conduct experiments, and where to set the global thermostat? What would happen if a country acted on its own without an international agreement? Would it discourage efforts to reduce reliance on fossil fuels and reduce carbon emissions?

Notions of manipulating the climate to impede global warming have been on the fringe of scientific discussion for some time, but is moving increasingly toward the mainstream.

In the United States, a group of 18 U.S. experts from the sciences, social sciences and national security unveiled a report in October urging the federal government to begin research on the feasibility and potential effectiveness of geoengineering.

"The United States needs to be able to judge whether particular climate remediation techniques could offer a meaningful response to the risks of climate change," said that report sponsored by the Bipartisan Policy Center.

Shepherd said the 65-page Thursday's report was intended to start the conversation.

"No government asked us to do this. The U.N. didn't ask us," he said.

"I hope it can be continued in a more formal and mandated framework, because eventually somebody will have to take some decisions."

Read more!

Climate may cause 'substantial' population shifts

(AFP) Google News 1 Dec 11;

GENEVA — Rising sea levels and droughts associated with climate change threaten to force vast shifts of populations, yet states have so far been slow to react, the Global Migration Group (GMG) warned Thursday.

The body, made up of 14 United Nations agencies, the World Bank and the International Organization for Migration (IOM), said urgent action was needed to deal with potentially major population movements resulting from changes to the global climate.

Rising sea levels could lead to a loss of territory on small island countries and droughts and desertification would likely force large numbers on the move.

"While there is mounting evidence that climate change has the potential to contribute to substantial movements of people, the response of the international community has so far been limited at best," said a GMG statement.

"The GMG calls on the international community to recognize that migration and displacement induced by environmental degradation and climate change require urgent action."

The statement was adopted by the group following a meeting in Paris on November 15 and presented on Thursday in Geneva, currently hosting the fifth Global Forum on Migration and Development (GFMD).

The GMG urged states to adopt "human rights and human development-oriented" measures to improve the lives of those exposed to the effects of climate change and increase their resilience to it.

"In the long term, states may wish to review existing legal instruments and policy framework to identify possible new solutions to the situation of those who move in relation to climate change," the group said.

Among its recommendations the GMG suggested immigration policy could take into account environmental factors.

Read more!