Best of our wild blogs: 13 Dec 11

Earth Helper Induction Programme by Singapore Environment Council: 17 Dec, 2.15pm from Green Drinks Singapore

Nudis at oil-slicked Tanah Merah
from wild shores of singapore and wonderful creations

Worm wholes
from The annotated budak

Jurong Bird Park presents... All about birds!
from Psychedelic Nature

Great day out at Chek Jawa boardwalk
from wonderful creation

Brown-throated Sunbird taking nectar from a ginger flower
from Bird Ecology Study Group

Insects @ BTNR
from NaturallYours

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SG Changi, SSC end motorsports hub contract

Patwant Singh Channel NewsAsia 12 Dec 11;

SINGAPORE: The Singapore Sports Council (SSC) announced that it is terminating the Changi Motorsports Hub project that was awarded to SG Changi.

SSC said it has given SG Changi a notice on 7 December to terminate the Project Delivery Agreement.

Both parties had agreed to the termination and all arrangements are to be sorted out by the end of this year.

SSC said it is "a difficult decision".

But it has to terminate the contract in light of current circumstances, one of which being SG Changi's inability to meet the contractual agreement to complete the project by this month.

"In the course of the year, SSC had also met with SG Changi's management team on several occasions to discuss and address their attempts to salvage the situation. However, it is evident, in spite of all their efforts, that they do not have a remedy that we can agree to, and we have to hold them to account," said SSC CEO, Mr Lim Teck Yin.

SSC added it has not yet decided if it wants to call for a re-tender at this point of time, as it wants to reassess the market conditions before making any decisions.

SSC had awarded the tender to SG Changi in March last year.

The group had beaten two other bidders - Singapore Agro Agriculture and Haw Par Corporation - to build and manage Singapore's first permanent race track (measuring some 3.7km) at Changi.

The S$380 million project had also planned for a 1.2km karting track and racing academy.

It was supposed to be completed by the end of 2011.

But SG Changi ran into various problems, from construction delays due to a lack of funds, to a corruption probe into alleged irregularities in the tender process.

While SG Changi is expected to make a loss after the termination of the contract, the SSC said that no public funds were invested in the project. However, the SSC is looking at conducting a full post-mortem on the entire process.

- CNA/ir

Major rethink of motorsports hub
Sports council to terminate contract with consortium
Leonard Lim Straits Times 13 Dec 11;

THE Singapore Sports Council (SSC) is doing a major rethink of the Changi Motorsports Hub, a multi-million-dollar project that has been dogged by delays, corruption allegations and financial difficulties over the past year.

First, the council is working on a mutual termination of its contract with a consortium that won the tender in March last year to build the hub. This should be completed by month's end.

Next, it will gauge market interest before deciding whether to call a second tender, or drop the project for now.

SSC chief executive Lim Teck Yin told a press conference yesterday the aim was to see if it would be 'in the public and national interest' to pursue the project.

The market consultation for a motorsports hub would be the second such exercise, after one in 2008.

Pressed on whether the $380 million project was being called off, Mr Lim would only say: 'If the conditions are not right, not suitable, if market players are not sufficiently interested to invest at this time, it could certainly mean a delay in any future motorsports hub.'

The SSC would also conduct a post-mortem of the hub and the industry, he said, stressing several times that the project had not used any public funds.

News of yet more delays - and the possibility of the entire project being shelved or cancelled - came as a blow to the motorsports fraternity.

They had been looking forward to a permanent race track that could host any race except Formula One, and which would fuel the growing interest in the sport.

SG Changi trumped bids from two other bidders and committed to completing the hub by the end of this year.

Construction began nine months later. But reports that the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau was probing alleged irregularities in the tender process spooked investors.

Work at the 41ha site near the Singapore Airshow grounds was halted in January, when SG Changi missed a $10 million instalment for piling works. The consortium was still trying to source for funding a few weeks ago.

Mr Lim said: 'It is evident, in spite of all their efforts, that they do not have a remedy that we can agree to. We have to hold them to account.

'We have together concluded that it would be very difficult for this project to succeed, because of the problems that arose.'

The SSC gave notice to SG Changi last Wednesday that the contract for the hub would be terminated. This was a difficult decision and not one taken lightly, Mr Lim added.

SG Changi issued a one-line statement yesterday, confirming it was working with the council on a mutual termination arrangement by the year's end.

It is understood that the consortium has pumped more than $50 million into the project, including paying for the land.

It was to build a track at least 3.5km long and stage at least two international events, such as MotoGP and Japan's Super GT, annually. Other facilities included a karting track and a racing academy.

Any new tender process would probably mean the hub would be ready in 2014 at the earliest.

This would mirror the delays that dogged another high-profile sports project, the $1.33 billion Kallang Sports Hub.

Originally slated for completion last year, it will be ready only in 2014. Another privately funded project, it was affected by the 2008 financial crisis and rising construction costs.

Commenting on how the motorsports hub saga turned out, Mr Lim said one important lesson was that private sector bidders 'understand all the necessary conditions that surround a particular project before they step forward to make a bid'.

Members of the motorsports community were not hopeful of any new initiative taking off given the uncertain economic climate next year. Some felt the Government should take over the project.

Said Singapore Motor Sports Association president Tan Teng Lip: 'The Government funds the building of football fields, basketball courts. Why must the Government treat motorsports differently?'

Economist Song Seng Wun, a MotoGP fan, doubted that the Government would pick up the tab.

'It will be mindful that taxpayer money is being used for spending that is considered very discretionary,' he said.

Parties that had previously expressed interest or put in bids - Group Exclusiv executive director Kevin Kwee, Haw Par Corporation executive director Chng Hwee Hong and marina owner Arthur Tay - said they would wait to see any new tender's terms before deciding whether to make a bid.

Rocky road

October 2007: Government announces plans for design tenders for a permanent race track in Changi.

March 2009: After more than six months of delays owing to market research on the hub's potential, the Singapore Sports Council (SSC) releases the request for proposals.

August 2009: Three consortia submit proposals: SG Changi, Singapore Agro Agriculture and Haw Par Corporation.

March 2010: A panel of government agencies picks SG Changi to design, finance, build and manage the hub, and it is to be ready by the end of 2011.

December 2010: About six months later than targeted, construction begins.

January 2011: Reports that the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau is probing alleged irregularities in the tender process spook investors. Construction is halted when the consortium misses a $10 million instalment for piling work.

May 2011: A former SG Changi director lodges a report with the Commercial Affairs Department, alleging that a bank guarantee submitted as part of the tender process might have been forged.

August 2011: The consortium gets a final warning letter from the SSC.

September 2011: SG Changi reiterates commitment, says it has secured funding. But construction does not resume.

December 2011: SSC announces it is working towards mutual termination of the contract.

Motorsports hub builder 'in last-ditch bid to save project'
Leonard Lim Straits Times 14 Dec 11;

A CONSORTIUM in charge of building the Changi Motorsports Hub is making a last-ditch attempt to salvage the beleaguered project.

A day after saying it was working with the Singapore Sports Council (SSC) towards mutual termination of their contract, the SG Changi group is scrambling to secure cash and stay on to complete the $380 million hub, according to sources.

The SSC's stance in a press conference on Monday was that it was having a major rethink of the project.

It would be sounding out the market to see if it would be in the public and national interest to pursue it.

Still, the Japanese-backed SG Changi is apparently not giving up. It is understood that executive chairman Fuminori Murahashi and other representatives are trying to finalise funding deals with overseas financial institutions.

Once that is sorted out, the group could put in an appeal to the SSC, a source said, adding: 'He really wants this to work out.'

It is believed that Mr Murahashi was the one who tipped off the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB) last year, after suspecting irregularities in the hub's tender process.

News reports in January of a CPIB probe spooked investors who had committed funding.

Short of cash, SG Changi missed a $10 million instalment for piling work to CSC Holdings.

Construction work was halted soon after. The hub, the centrepiece of which is a 3.7km track capable of hosting any race except Formula One, was supposed to be completed by the end of this month.

The SSC had sent a final warning letter to the group in August, giving it two weeks to prove it had the means to finish the project.

SG Changi replied to reiterate its commitment, but work did not resume.

The 41ha site near the Singapore Airshow grounds in Changi remains virtually empty.

SSC chief executive officer Lim Teck Yin said on Monday that the consortium was served notice last Wednesday that its contract to build the hub would be terminated.

This process should be completed by the end of the month.

Asked if the consortium was appealing, he had replied: 'I think SG Changi has come to terms that we need to work towards a mutual termination arrangement, and that was the essence of our meeting with them.'

It is understood that SG Changi has pumped more than $50 million into the project, including paying for the land.

One industry insider, aware that SG Changi was still trying to secure funding after the announcement that its contract would be terminated, was pessimistic about its chances.

'The question is, if you can't do it for the past few months, what is the difference now?' he said.

The consortium declined to provide an official statement yesterday and referred to what had been sent out on Monday, that it 'is discussing and working towards a mutual termination arrangement with the SSC by the end of December 2011'.

SSC spokesman Alvin Hang said yesterday: 'We are in touch with SG Changi, and nothing has changed.'

A statement from CSC Holdings yesterday said the company would explore all viable options for recovering $6.9 million owed by SG Changi.

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World's smallest frogs discovered in New Guinea

Pensoft Publishers EurekAlert 12 Dec 11;

Paedophryne dekot (A) and (B), and P. verrucosa (C), and (D). Credit: Photos by Fred Kraus

Field work by researcher Fred Kraus from Bishop Museum, Honolulu has found the world's smallest frogs in southeastern New Guinea. This also makes them the world's smallest tetrapods (non-fish vertebrates). The frogs belong to the genus Paedophryne, all of whose species are extremely small, with adults of the two new species - named Paedophryne dekot and Paedophryne verrucosa - only 8-9 mm in length. The study was published in the open access journal ZooKeys.

Previous research had led to the discovery of Paedophryne by Kraus in 2002 from nearby areas in New Guinea, but the genus was not formally described until last year (Kraus 2010, also in Zookeys). The two species described earlier were larger, attaining sizes of 10-11 mm, but the genus still represents the most miniaturized group of tetrapods in the world.

"Miniaturization occurs in many frog genera around the world," said the author, "but New Guinea seems particularly well represented, with species in seven genera exhibiting the phenomenon. Although most frog genera have only a few diminutive representatives mixed among larger relatives, Paedophryne is unique in that all species are minute." The four known species all inhabit small ranges in the mountains of southeastern New Guinea or adjacent, offshore islands. Their closest relatives remain unclear.

The members of this genus have reduced digit sizes that would not allow them to climb well; all inhabit leaf litter, and their reduced digits may be a corollary of a reduced body size required for inhabiting leaf litter and moss. Habitation in leaf litter and moss is common in miniaturized frogs and may reflect their exploitation of novel food sources in that habitat. The frogs' small body sizes have also reduced the egg complements that females carry to only two, although it is not yet known whether both eggs are laid simultaneously or at staged intervals.


Original source: Kraus F (2011) At the lower size limit for tetrapods, two new species of the miniaturized frog genus Paedophryne (Anura, Microhylidae). ZooKeys 154: 71-88. doi: 10.3897/zookeys.154.1963

References: Kraus, F. (2010) New genus of diminutive microhylid frogs from Papua New Guinea. ZooKeys 48 (2010) : 39-59. doi: 10.3897/zookeys.48.446

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Parrotfishes keeping reefs healthy

The ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies Science Alert 12 Dec 11;

Australian scientists have urged greater consideration for the brilliantly-hued parrot fishes that tend and renew the world’s imperilled coral reefs.

“Parrotfishes are the constant gardeners of the reef. They play a crucial role in keeping it healthy, suppressing weed, removing sediment and helping the corals to regrow after a setback,” explains Professor David Bellwood of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies and James Cook University.

In a major new study published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society, Prof. Bellwood, Dr Andrew Hoey and Prof. Terry Hughes have investigated parrot fish populations on 18 coral island reefs extending from Mauritius in the west Indian Ocean to Tahiti in the central Pacific.

“Parrot fish fulfil a number of key roles on the reef. They remove sick and dead corals and clean areas for new corals to settle, they remove weedy growth, and they cart away literally tonnes of sand and sediment that would otherwise smother the corals,” Prof Bellwood explains.

“But there are two sorts of parrot fish - the large ones which perform the main garbage removal task for the reef, and the much smaller once which scrape away at the reef and keep it clean, healthy and free of weed. Both are being targeted by fishers, but the smaller parrotfish appear better able to withstand the pressure.”

Prof. Bellwood says the activity of these small parrotfishes (and other reef cleaners) are the possibly the main explanation why many coral reefs around the world subject to heavy human pressures have not yet collapsed.

“These smaller fish are incredibly tough and this is good news, because it means they are in a sense buying us time to get the management of coral reefs right, as the world sorts out how it is going to cut its carbon emissions and reduce other pressures on reefs.”

While the smaller parrotfish are indeed resilient, it is nevertheless vital not to overfish them because of the role they perform in helping reefs regenerate, he cautions. Larger parrotfish have already suffered extensively from heavy targetting by spear fishers

“Our analyses found that the most heavily-fished reefs have lost virtually all of their large parrotfishes, with individuals larger than 25 cm accounting for just 3–6% of the remaining stocks on the five most heavily fished reefs,” the team say in their report.

In marked contrast reefs which were protected, as in Australia, had healthy population of large and small parrotfish, which in turn kept the corals in peak condition.

The team found a strong connection between human population densities, exposure to fishing and the depletion of parrotfishes. In many areas of the world important groups of fishes were effectively missing. It was particularly striking how few people it required to fundamentally change the ecology of a coral reef.

Their survey included Mauritius and Rodrigues in the western Indian Ocean, Cocos-Keeling and Rowley Shoals off Western Australia, the Togean Islands off Sulawesi, five reefs on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef (GBR), Binnegem and Kavieng in Papua New Guinea, Pohnpei and Kosrae in Micronesia, Apia and Nu’utele in Western Samoa, and Tahiti and Moorea in French Polynesia.

Interviews with old fishers dated the decline of parrotfish in many cases to the 1960s and 70s, as more desirable table fish became scarce and new technologies such as SCUBA and the speargun accelerated the trend.

In many areas studied large parrot fish had been virtually eliminated, and with the loss of the fishes their ecological roles are no longer delivered, only the smaller species remained to keep the reef healthy. “However on Hilder and Carter Reefs in the GBR - which are fully protected - parrot fish populations are completely intact and performing their essential roles in looking after the reef,” Prof. Bellwood says.

The team adds “The most positive aspect of our findings is that even in the face of moderately high human population densities and intensive fishing, the Indo- Pacific reefs we examined still retain enough grazing activity to prevent the phase shifts to macroalgae (seaweed) that are occurring elsewhere, particularly in the Caribbean.”

The researchers say that parrot fish are just one group of fishes that perform services essential to keep coral reefs in good condition and help ensure their rapid recovery from storms, coral bleaching or more direct human impacts..

“The significance of this work lies in the greater understanding it gives us about how coral reefs work as a system,” says Prof. Bellwood. “The tough little parrotfishes are keeping the system running – but we cannot be complacent. We have yet to see the consequences of killing their vulnerable larger relatives.”

Their paper Human activity selectively impacts the ecosystem roles of parrotfishes on coral reefs by David R. Bellwood, Andrew S. Hoey and Terence P. Hughes, appears in the proceedings of the Royal Society (Biological Sciences) 10.1098/rspb.2011.1906.

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How tourism is taking the turtles from Kenya's blue waters

A global hotspot for turtle-spotting, Kenya is facing a problem – the tourists are destroying what they come for
Jessica Aldred 12 Dec 11;

It's another perfect day on Watamu beach in Kenya, as tourists sip lunchtime cocktails beside the pool and contemplate an afternoon of water sports. Down the road that runs behind the growing line of beach resorts, tourists watch two turtles that are flipping forlornly around shaded ponds in a rehabilitation centre.

Hetty Meggy, the project manager of Local Ocean Trust's Watamu Turtle Watch (WTW), is telling them about Shela, a green turtle hit by a tourist boat who now struggles with her buoyancy, and Chokoraa, a hawksbill whose intestines were "literally made of plastic" when he was rescued.

Of the turtles admitted to the centre, 62% are there because of human-related causes – many associated with tourism. While people come to Kenya hoping to see turtles, increasing tourist numbers are putting pressure on the population. And fewer turtles will in turn mean Kenya's tourism industry will suffer.

Tourism has boomed along Kenya's 500km coastline in the past 30 years, as increasing numbers of European and American tourists have been attracted by the clear turquoise waters, white sandy beaches and abundant wildlife.

Much of the Kenyan coast has been developed, with beaches around Mombasa among the most heavily built-up coastal areas north of South Africa. Lamu, Watamu and Malindi are also established holiday destinations, while emerging areas include the Arabuko-Sokoke and Kaya coastal forests and the Tana delta.

Given that every eight tourists are estimated to create one job, this is good news for the local economy. But it's not such a welcome trend for sea turtles, who are seeing their nesting sites reduced by erosion, and who are killed by pollution and poaching.

Five of the world's seven species of turtle are found in Kenya – green, hawksbill and olive ridleys nest along the coast, and the loggerheads and leatherbacks migrate through the waters. All five species of marine turtles found in African waters are listed by the IUCN as endangered or critically endangered. The world population is estimated to have declined by 80% over the past 50 years, and the WWF says trends indicate that in the next 50 years marine turtles may vanish from eastern Africa.

"Turtles are an indicative species. When you have turtles in the sea then it means the seas are healthy," says Douglas Maina, assistant project coordinator at Kenya Sea Turtle Conservation and Management Trust (Kescom), an umbrella organisation bringing together community-based turtle conservation groups. "Without them, the whole ecosystem can break down."

For millennia, turtles have come ashore between one and 10 times a year to lay their eggs on pristine, deserted beaches. But this ancient ritual is under enormous threat because the nesting and foraging sites where the turtles lay their eggs have become prime beachfront real estate.

"Coastal developments are one of the top five threats to sea turtles. Because of the loss of land, turtles may waste their eggs in the sea or lay them in an inappropriate location, reducing their chance of survival. The greatest problem is when an entire beach is affected by coastal developments," says Meggy.

Along many parts of the coast, souvenirs are hawked from semi-permanent illegal beachfront "banda" huts, which along with beach furniture and sand castles are hazardous to turtles. On some beaches, vehicle traffic compacting the sand has made it impossible for female turtles to dig nests. Boats motor in and off the shore, and music and lights blare from beachfront discos. Females turtles will not lay eggs if they are disturbed by bright lights, loud noises or people on the beach.

Hatchlings locate the water's edge by heading for the horizon, but house and street lights can make them crawl away from the sea. The odds for hatchlings are already slim – only one in 1,000 make it to adulthood. "And humans are working against that every day," says Meggy.

Suitable nesting sites are being reduced by erosion from the construction of ports, jetties, marinas and hotels. Attempts to control the shoreline by building sea walls, dredging and sand-filling are destroying important feeding grounds, altering nesting beaches and causing loss of large volumes of sand.

Turtles are also being killed by water pollution, choking or starving after swallowing plastic debris. Heavy metals and tar balls from oil spills have been found in their systems. Rubbish on beaches can prevent hatchlings from reaching the ocean, and leaves them exposed to predators.

The potentially fatal disease fibropapillomatosis, which causes tumour-like growths on soft tissue, is also afflicting increasing numbers of turtles. The growths often cover the eyes of the turtles, causing blindness, which can lead to slow starvation because the turtles cannot see to find food. Though not yet scientifically proven, the disease has been linked to water pollution because many of the affected turtles were found near areas of heavy human use and terrestrial run-off.

"When I came here 10 years ago there was only one boat in the harbour. Now there are boats everywhere and the water is full of diesel – you can taste it," said one tourist visiting Watamu.

And turtles are still being extensively exploited for their meat, oil and shells – despite national and international laws.

All of these problems are compounded by the lack of comprehensive data on population size, nesting and foraging sites, migration and mortality. In the future, turtles will face emerging threats due to climate change.

At national level, turtles and their habitats are protected by four national parks and five reserves that come under the mandate of the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) and the Fisheries Department. In the parks, there is complete protection of natural resources, and the only activities allowed are tourism and research. Some human activities are allowed in the reserves.

At present, the law does not protect turtle and nesting and foraging sites outside protected areas, and this is where development is taking place.

Nesting sites are being spoiled by illegal development that is too close to the high water mark. "There are dollar signs in people's eyes when they think of tourists," says Meggy.

Conservationists say the development must be controlled. "There is a paradox – we are trying to encourage tourism yet we must conserve the beaches. We have to advocate development that does not impact negatively on the marine environment," Maina says.

Experts say highly valued beachfront land is more likely to be owned by Kenya's political elite who have entered into partnership with foreign investors, than local people who have an interest in protecting the environment.

"Land issues along the Kenya coast land have been historically very tense, with deep-seated issues with absentee land ownership," says Fred Nelson of Maliasili Initiatives, who wrote a 2007 paper on coastal tourism trends in east Africa.

Turtle conservation and management is increasingly shifting to local communities, with the support of groups like Kescom. It supports 19 initiatives along the coast that carry out habitat restoration, beach clean-ups, collecting data, nest monitoring and education and awareness programmes.

WTW is a Kescom project, and Meggy says that because of its work, Watamu main beach has become one of Kenya's few safe havens for nesting turtles.

"Community-based conservation is a huge and important dynamic trend. It's early days, but it looks like Kenya is becoming a leader within east Africa for developing the legal framework for the community to take charge and manage its ecosystems," said Nelson.

"With any conservation challenge, the community has got to be involved in making and enforcing the rules and regulation. If it's all top-down it's not going to work. The government is not going to have the capacity or the will to police marine areas."

Responsible operators in the tourism industry are raising awareness of the plight of turtles among hotel, staff and beach operators. Damian Davies, general manager of Turtle Bay Beach Club in Watamu, which supports WTW with a monthly donation, said: "We are only too aware of the potential negative impacts of the rapidly developing tourist market and associated coastal development on the turtle populations in Watamu. We work to preserve the delicate ecosystem that is our beach, and we are always looking for new ways to further mitigate the impact of the development in the area."

The club's responsible beach management programme includes a ban on bright, seaward-facing lights, running beach clean-up programmes, plastics recycling projects and promoting good marine practice.

Tourists can also play their part after the holiday is over. "Tourists need to put pressure on the Kenyan government to enforce marine protection legislation. The marine parks and wildlife are not equally protected. People's main focus in east Africa is protecting elephants and cheetahs, but we must encourage the protection of all endangered African wildlife," Meggy says. "We must ensure that people do not destroy what they came to enjoy."

• Jessica Aldred's trip was funded by Turtle Bay and Kenya Airways

How to have a turtle-friendly holiday on Kenya's coast
Jessica Aldred 12 Dec 11;

• Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) says: "Leave only footprints in the sand and air bubbles in the water."

• Don't dispose of litter in the sea (or anywhere else other than a bin). It's illegal and dangerous to marine life. Turtles mistake clear plastic waste for jellyfish and can die if they eat it.

• Don't buy products that have been made from sea turtle parts. Guitars, ashtrays, jewellery and other products made from sea turtles are sold to tourists around the world.

• Help the recuperation process for thousands of sick and injured turtles by funding their rehabilitation, or sponsor a turtle or a nest.

• Don't support beachfront shops that are built illegally. By law, permanent structures cannot be built within 60 metres of the high-water mark. Report illegal activities and bad beach operators.

• Try to stay in resorts that have responsible beachfront management practice – for example, banning bright lights that face the beach and can confuse nesting turtles, or keeping all beach furniture behind the high-water mark so that is does not present obstacles for turtles.

• Don't drive motorised vehicles on the beach. Compacted sand from vehicle use makes it hard for turtles to dig nests.

• Research marine tour operators and don't use those that disturb or harass wildlife such as dolphins.

• Avoid restaurants that serve undersized crabs and lobsters as this contributes to the species' demise.

• Don't buy shells or other marine products as this encourages the destruction of the beaches and reefs. The areas outside marine parks are threatened by excessive shell collection. Empty shells provide homes for hermit crabs and some fish.

• Snorkelling and diving are encouraged but under the supervision of KWS wardens who work closely with local tour operators and hoteliers to ensure strict adherence to the marine willdife code. Always check your operator.

• Don't remove, damage or touch corals. They are living organisms that take years to grow and support many species.

• Don't use flippers near corals as disturbed sand can choke the animals.

• Don't remove or collect fish, shellfish or coral from the marine park. It's illegal and will disrupt the ecosystem.

• Don't fish in the national park. It's is illegal, because parks provides a safe haven for fish stocks to breed.

• Hook and line fishing is allowed in marine reserves but prohibited in parks. Spear guns are not permitted in either.

• Write to the Ministry of Tourism, your country's ambassador to Kenya, KWS and the National Environment Management Authority to highlight any environmental problems you encountered while travelling. Report any infringement of the rules to park rangers or the managers of the hotel where you are staying.

• If you're visiting coastal forests, keep to designated tracks and paths. Take away all the litter brought with you. Don't feed wild animals or risk fires. Don't take away animals, animal products, plants or plant parts.

• In addition to the environmental considerations, don't sunbathe naked or topless as the east African coast is a predominantly Muslim area. Dress modestly outside the beach areas.

• Jessica Aldred's trip was funded by Turtle Bay and Kenya Airways

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South African rhinos survive poaching attempt

AFP Yahoo News 13 Dec 11;

Two rhinos are in a critical condition after they were dehorned in an attack in South Africa as poaching moves southwards in the country, a game reserve spokesman said Monday.

"Both the rhinos' horns, the long and short horns, were hacked off with a machete," said Pieter de Jager, spokesman for the Fairy Glen Private Game Reserve in Worcester, near Cape Town.

A bull and pregnant cow were darted with M99, a morphine, and dehorned early Sunday morning. Two darts were found in the cow's left side and have been sent for forensic tests.

"The horns were hacked out so deeply that the rhino's airwaves were damaged," De Jager told AFP.

The foetus might abort as its mother battled the drug overdose.

Poachers have killed a record 405 rhinoceros in South Africa since the start of the year, South Africa's national park board said last week.

Rhino killings have spiked from 13 in 2007 as poachers hunt for rhino horn, made of the same substance as human fingernails.

It is popular for use in Asian medicinal treatments -- especially in China and Vietnam, where it is believed to cure cancer despite scientific evidence to the contrary.

South Africa's army has been called in to police the Kruger National Park in the north, but authorities have struggled to stop poaching syndicates that use helicopters, night vision equipment and high-powered rifles to hunt their prey.

It now seems poaching has reached the country's south.

"It has very recently started moving down to the Western Cape province," said De Jager.

The province had just over 30 rhinos. More than 80% of Africa's rhino population are found in South Africa.

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Nature's medicine cabinet could yield hundreds of new drugs

NYBG scientist says the plant world has "great potential" as a source of new medicines
The New York Botanical Garden EurekAlert 12 Dec 11;

There are probably at least 500 medically useful chemicals awaiting discovery in plant species whose chemical constituents have not yet been evaluated for their potential to cure or treat disease, according to a new analysis by a New York Botanical Garden scientist who has more than 15 years of experience in collecting plants for natural-products discovery programs.

Currently, 135 drugs on the market are derived directly from plants; the analysis indicates that at least three times as many disease-fighting substances have yet to be found that could be developed into drugs or used as the basis for further drug research.

"Clearly, plant diversity has not been exhausted, and there is still great potential in the plant world," said James S. Miller, Ph.D., Dean and Vice President for Science at the Botanical Garden.

Dr. Miller's analysis, "The Discovery of Medicines from Plants: A Current Biological Perspective," is published in the December issue of the peer-reviewed journal Economic Botany.

To arrive at his estimate, Dr. Miller used a formula based on the ratio of the number of drugs that have been developed from plants to the number of plants that were screened to find those drugs. He then applied that ratio to the number of plant species that have not yet been screened.

Because of uncertainties in some of those numbers, the formula yields a range of potential drug discoveries. While there is no general agreement among botanists about the number of plant species that are likely to exist, Dr. Miller concluded that there are 300,000 to 350,000 species of plants. Of those, he determined that the chemistry of only 2,000 species has been thoroughly studied, and perhaps only 60,000 species have been evaluated even partially for medicinally useful chemicals.

Working with those numbers, Dr. Miller calculated that there are likely to be a minimum of 540 to 653 new drugs waiting to be discovered from plants; the actual number could be much greater.

"These calculations indicate that there is significant value in continuing to screen plants for the discovery of novel bioactive medicinally useful compounds," concludes Dr. Miller, who has run natural-products discovery programs that have collected specimens in North America, Central and Southeast Asia, and Africa for government agencies, pharmaceutical companies, and academic programs.

As part of his Economic Botany paper, Dr. Miller reviews the disappointing history of past plant-screening efforts and evaluates the potential for future programs.

Technological advances in the 1970s and 1980s gave medical researchers the capacity to evaluate large numbers of plant samples. That prompted the federal government and large pharmaceutical companies to institute aggressive plant collecting and screening programs. Those programs led to the development of several important drugs such as Taxol from Taxus brevifolia (used in cancer treatment) and Camptothecin from Camptotheca acuminata (derivatives of which are used to treat cancer). Other drugs indirectly trace their discovery to natural-products research, including the anti-viral Oseltamivir, which derives from Illicium anisatum and is marketed in the United States as Tamiflu.

The number of drug discoveries, however, was substantially less than anticipated. By the early 2000s, many of the large pharmaceutical companies had abandoned their efforts.

Dr. Miller argues that one possible explanation for the low yield is the relatively crude way in which plant extracts were tested for their pharmaceutical potential. Plants may contain as many as 500 to 800 different chemical compounds, but the screening programs of the late 20th century used extracts made from a whole plant or at best extracts that contained many hundreds of compounds.

Under those circumstances, one compound may interfere with the action of another, or the amount of one compound may be too small to register in a mix of hundreds of chemicals.

To correct this problem, new technologies now allow researchers to separate complex mixtures of natural products into a "library" of relatively pure compounds that can be tested individually. A 2002 study demonstrated that testing such libraries dramatically improves discovery rates.

Bringing these advances together with refinements in collecting strategies could lead to what Dr. Miller calls a "second renaissance" of natural-products discovery.

Miller undertook his analysis to highlight the fact that despite past collecting programs, the plant world represents a poorly explored source of potentially lifesaving drugs. That adds urgency, he said, to efforts to conserve natural habitats so that species are not driven to extinction before they can be studied.

"The natural world has a great and diverse array of interesting chemicals that have been only minimally studied and still hold considerable potential," he writes.

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Improve Sustainable Packaging, Matrade Tells Exporters

Bernama 12 Dec 11;

KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 12 (Bernama) -- The Malaysia External Trade Development Corporation (MATRADE) has advised Malaysian exporters to improve on their sustainable packaging efforts.

This follows from the UK government's move to encourage greater use of recycled content in packaging, as well as making packaging more recyclable.

The recent publication of a waste policy review by the UK Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) aims to reduce waste and increase recycling of domestic and business waste.

"Minimising waste and reducing carbon impact is a key trend in the UK's plastic packaging industry and Malaysian manufacturers are advised to take note of changing environmental requirements and targets when supplying to the UK or other European Union countries in the years ahead," MATRADE said in a statement today.

Malaysia is the fourth largest exporter of plastic boxes, bags and closures to the UK with total exports of 48.06 million, an increase of 3.8 per cent compared to the corresponding period in 2010.

MATRADE said that in addition to being aware to the range of statutory Producer Responsibility schemes currently in place in the UK covering packaging, Malaysian plastics exporters should also take note of British consumers' growing desire for minimal packaging that is easy to open, easily recyclable, resealable and has improved information on labelling.

"In view of this, MATRADE advises Malaysian plastics exporters to the UK and other EU nations to be proactive in their approach to ever improving international packaging and recycling standards and to invest in the necessary research and creative designs that will not only ensure full compliance with future standards but will also maintain and enhance their respective market share and access.


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