Best of our wild blogs: 15 Dec 11

Birdwatching at Bukit Brown with Dr Ho Hua Chew
from Rojak Librarian

Questionable patterns
from The annotated budak

111212 Tanah Merah
from Singapore Nature

Red crab spiders prey on dipteran larvae in slender pitchers Trina’s honours research published in the Journal of Tropical Ecology from The Biodiversity crew @ NUS

WSA 2012 Seagrass Calendar
from World Seagrass Association

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New UN Iphone Application Highlights Role of Ecosystems in Tackling Climate Change

Reuters 13 Dec 11;

Abu Dhabi (united Arab Emirates) / Nairobi — How many mangroves does it take to offset a transatlantic flight? What consumer actions can we take to reduce damage to rainforests?

Answers to these questions and many more are provided by a new iPhone application launched by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) at the Eye on Earth summit in Abu Dhabi today.

The UNEP application draws attention to the critical role played by ecosystems such as salt marshes, mangroves, tropical forests and seagrasses in tackling climate change.

Users of the application can calculate their personal carbon footprint for journeys taken by air, train or road. They will then be shown the equivalent area of a particular ecosystem (such as a tropical forest) that can store this amount of carbon dioxide.

The free iPhone application, named Blue and REDD Carbon, is already available online in English, Arabic, Chinese, French, Japanese, Russian and Spanish.

Blue and REDD Carbon

The iPhone application provides users with in-depth information on the vital role of coastal and terrestrial ecosystems in both storing and sequestering carbon.

The Blue Carbon concept aims to promote better management of coastal ecosystems such as mangrove forests, seagrass meadows, saltwater marshlands, which serve as vital 'carbon sinks', and can store, in the case of mangrove forests, up to 1,900 tons of carbon dioxide per hectare.

Information on other key climate initiatives, such as Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) is provided.

The UNEP application also highlights the valuable natural services provided by ecosystems, such as the protection of shorelines from storms, support for fisheries and provision of materials such as timber and medicine.

According to UNEP's Forests in a Green Economy report, released earlier this year, forest ecosystems provide more than a billion people with incomes and employment and contribute approximately US$ 468 billion to the global economy. Equatorial rainforests also contain around half of all plant and animal species known on Earth.

Yet many of these vital ecosystems are disappearing at an alarming rate, due to deforestation, pollution from agricultural run-off, water diversion and other factors.

The Blue and REDD Carbon application provides a variety of suggestions and guidelines to show how individual actions (such as buying sustainably-sourced fish) can help limit the environmental degradation of coastal and terrestrial ecosystems.

One UN Pavilion at Eye on Earth

The application was launched during the official opening of the One UN Pavillion at the Eye on Earth Summit in Abu Dhabi. The four-day event, organized by the Abu Dhabi Global Environmental Data Initiative (AGEDI) and hosted by the Abu Dhabi Environment Agency in partnership with UNEP, brings together experts from the worlds of philanthropy, business, government, data engineering and technology to address issues around access to environmental data and knowledge.

The summit is set to deliver a declaration towards the United Nations Conference on Sutainable Development (Rio+20), which will be held in Brazil in June 2012.

The One UN Pavillion at Eye on Earth will display information illustrating the work of the United Nations in the area of environmental data and its application in a wide variety of settings, such as environmental assessment work, humanitarian responses and peace building. Interactive exhibits will present visitors with a wide variety of scientific data on climate change, hazardous wastes and substances, ecosystems management and other topics.

The Global Pulse, the UN Secretary-General's technology for development initiative, will also be highlighted. Global Pulse functions as an innovation laboratory, bringing together expertise from UN agencies, governments, academia, and the private sector to research, develop, test and share tools and approaches for harnessing real-time data for more effective and efficient policy action.

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Peatland moratorium slipping on oil palm plans

Elly Burhaini Faizal, The Jakarta Post 14 Dec 11;

Aceh may soon lose part of its forests with the granting of a concession for commercial use to a private company by Aceh Governor Irwandi Yusuf, a decision that jeopardizes the moratorium on forest clearing, a watchdog says.

The permit issued to PT Kallista Alam to convert the protected peatland forest for use as a palm oil plantation had been legalized, thanks to the first revision of the indicative map set out in the moratorium, Elfian Effendi, the executive director of Greenomics Indonesia, said on Tuesday.

The revision, adopted in a Forestry Minister Decree that was issued on Nov. 22, allows for the issuance of permits to log and convert primary forests and peatland areas, he said.

“This revision of the indicative moratorium map has deleted one block of peatland that was already included within the palm plantation concessions of PT Kallista Alam,” Elfian told The Jakarta Post.

The permit, allowing PT Kallista Alam to develop oil palm plantations on a 1,605-hectare plot of protected peatland forest in the Nagan Raya district, which is part of the Leuser ecosystem, was signed by Irwandi on Aug. 25.

The forest was initially included in the indicative moratorium map issued on June 17. However, sheet 0519 of the first revision of the indicative moratorium map (officially published on the ministry’s website on Dec. 8) shows the areas are no longer protected.

“It has been deleted from the revised moratorium map,” Elfian said.

Greenomics Indonesia has urged Kuntoro Mangkusubroto as the chairman of the Reducing Emissions for Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) scheme to tell the public about the irregularities.

“It shows that the implementation of the moratorium has not been well organized. It lacks synergy and coordination. This is quite an embarrassment,” he said.

The issuance of the permit also drew strong criticism from other environmental organizations both in Indonesia and abroad.

Kuntoro, who is also the head of the Presidential Work Unit for Development Monitoring and Control (UKP4), a body which monitors the implementation of the moratorium, criticized Irwandi’s decision to issue the concession to PT Kallista Alam.

“I spent four years in Aceh during the tsunami reconstruction. Opening up the Kuala Tripa — an area with high conservation value and home to many animals endemic to Indonesia — is a grave mistake,” Kuntoro said last week as quoted by Reuters. He also urged the Aceh provincial administration to reexamine the decision and seek an alternative location.

Eivind Homme, Norway’s ambassador to Indonesia, has called on the government to investigate the case.

During a recent interview, Forestry Ministry secretary-general Hadi Daryanto told the Post that the government would impose sanctions on those responsible for illegally approving the land conversion project.

“It breaches of Presidential Instruction No. 10/2011, issued in May this year, which bans new permits on the clearing of primary forests and peatlands,” he said.

Greenomics, meanwhile, pointed to an inconsistency in this statement.

“It seems they said it just for the sake of having something to say. They don’t have enough data to back up their claim. We are now watching quite a huge gap on the moratorium-related information between the policymakers and those who work at the operational level. And this is very misleading information,” Elfian said.

To protect against environmental damage, Greenomics Indonesia urges the government to return the peatland area into the indicative moratorium map.

With the next revision due in six months time, the forestry minister should immediately issue a letter to overrule the permit issued by Irwandi, he said.

The Tripa Peat Swamp in Nagan Raya regency is part of a 4.8 million-hectare area of peatland that was removed from the indicative moratorium map of primary forests and peatlands. Initially, the moratorium map covered 10.7 million hectares of peatlands that were protected against any new permits.

Bambang Soepijanto, the director general of Forestry Planology at the ministry, said the indicative moratorium plan was not permanent.

“If we have new proof showing that the land does not fit the protected peat swamp zoning, we may remove the land from the [moratorium] map,” he said, adding that the ministry was still investigating the case.

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No stopping big hydro projects, despite Lao veto

Niluksi Koswanage Reuters 14 Dec 11;

KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - A surge in mega-hydropower projects across the world in the coming decade will only be affected marginally by last week's decision to delay building a large dam across the Mekong, Southeast Asia's longest river.

Hydropower remains a proven way to produce electricity on a large scale, and some governments are extremely reluctant to opt for alternatives such as nuclear. But last week's decision could mean there will be increased focus on minimizing environmental and social costs of new hydro projects, analysts say.

Laos suspended the $3.5 billion Xayaburi dam project on the lower Mekong, awaiting a study into the environmental impact of the river, the world's largest inland fishery.

The 1,260-megawatt project has been hugely controversial and underlined growing global concerns that mega-dams were a damaging and outdated way of generating power. Protests from India to Brazil and Malaysia to China have called for a halt to massive building programs.

"The decision is certainly a game changer in the lower Mekong," said Marc Goichot, who works for environmental group WWF's Greater Mekong program on sustainable hydropower.

"We hope this decision will have influence in the rest of Asia," he told Reuters in an e-mail from the Lao capital Vientiane.

But he added it was hard to pinpoint whether the decision was related to environmental concerns or something else. In September, Myanmar scrapped a $3.6 billion Chinese-led mega-dam across the Irrawaddy River also after environmental worries, but the decision was additionally seen as an attempt by its government to distance itself from Beijing.

"(Last week's) decision also raises the risk profile of these projects for investors, which will undoubtedly scare some investors away or make them more hesitant to fund mainstream dams in the future," said Aviva Imhof, campaigns director at International Rivers, an NGO which opposes large hydropower dams.

"Unfortunately, it's unlikely that the decision will affect dams (now) being built in other parts of Asia or even on tributaries of the Mekong river," she said.

The World Bank, a major hydropower investor, says the social and environmental costs of such projects have to be addressed and resolved at the planning stage -- a failure to do so can sharply increase the impact.

Laos, Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia share the lower reaches of the Mekong.

Concern has grown after China completed a series of dams on the upper reaches, with more planned, causing lower flows during the wet season and greater flows during droughts, Imhof said.

The Chinese dams also block sediment flowing downstream, causing massive erosion and affecting productivity of floodplain agriculture and in the Mekong Delta, she told Reuters in an e-mail.

The Three Gorges Dam, the world's largest hydropower plant at 22.5 gigawatts when it reaches full capacity, is a symbol of China's quest for energy and is also a taste of what is to come.

A total of 1.25 million people were displaced over 16 years for the Three Gorges dam, leading to widespread criticism and protests. Many blamed the project for widespread drought earlier this year in downstream areas of the Yangtze River.


With countries trying to limit greenhouse gas emissions from coal and other fossil-fuel based power plants, and questions over nuclear power, China and the world's other energy-hungry nations are turning to hydro in a big way.

China wants to raise installed power capacity by 470 gigawatts (GW) to 1,437 GW by 2015 -- the largest in the world. At least 110 gigawatts of the new capacity will be from hydro power -- equivalent to five Three Gorges hydropower projects. Current hydropower capacity is 216 GW, also the world's largest.

Earlier this year, the country said it has committed 400 billion yuan ($62 billion) to build four hydropower stations that would contribute 43 GW by 2015, to be built by China Three Gorges Corp.

Longer-term plans call for China to reach 450 GW of hydropower capacity by 2030. That will involve tapping the largely untouched Tibetan plateau, the source of major rivers that feed nations downstream.

This has triggered distrust at home and in Southeast Asia and a test case will be if China gives the go-ahead in the coming weeks to a series of dams on the Nu, or Salween, river that flows through China's Yunnan province and then Myanmar and Thailand.

India, which generates 18 percent of its electricity from hydropower, is implementing a large-hydro plan totaling 50 GW, or roughly Australia's total generating capacity. Government data shows that India has potential hydropower capacity of 148.7 GW, with 33.9 GW developed and a further 14.6 GW on the way.

But India's hydropower program has also been dogged by protests, especially a decades-long project along the Narmada river in central India. The scheme proposes 30 dams, with two large dams built and a third under construction for power and large-scale irrigation.

In the northeast state of Arunachal Pradesh, a planned 11 GW dam on the Siang river has run into environmental problems and objections from neighboring China. The government is looking to build it further downstream and, if completed, it would be India's largest hydropower dam.

"Hydropower has issues of resettlement, which is the most serious, it has issues of biodiversity conservation," said Pradipto Ghosh, former top civil servant in the environment ministry, and member of the prime minister's panel on climate change.

"But the point is that hydropower is very much part of the energy mix and it will continue to remain part of the energy mix," he told Reuters.

"We have to address these issues," he said. "The way that hydropower projects are now designed and implemented is a far cry from how they were back in the 1950s."


Malaysia, which generates most of its power with fossil fuels, is pushing ahead with a huge hydropower program in Sarawak state on Borneo island that is displacing indigenous communities, disrupting river flows and triggering deep anger.

The 2.4 GW Bakun dam, which started generating power this year, is by far the nation's most controversial project with more than 100 cases still pending in Malaysia's courts. The dam was first proposed in 1960s and shelved twice.

It is the second highest concrete faced rockfill dam in the world at 207 meters high (680 feet), with a reservoir roughly the size of Singapore.

Much of the power will feed an industrial zone with another 12 dams to be built to feed industries such as smelters and solar panel manufacturers.

"The building of these monuments of corruption will be a key issue that we will bring up in the upcoming elections. I believe the unhappiness among the local tribal communities is growing," said Baru Bian, a land rights lawyer in Sarawak.

"I think if the people of Sarawak can appreciate how international pressure has forced Laos to delay the Mekong dam project ... there is a possibility of stopping these projects," Bian, who is also an opposition politician with Anwar Ibrahim's People's Justice Party, told Reuters.


But a senior government official with knowledge of the Sarawak's hydropower plans denied the concerns of local communities have been ignored.

"We would not proceed if there is a big risk and so far there has not been any major risk," the official said. "We expect the opposition to use the Laos issue to campaign for stopping the dams. But it is a completely different scenario in Laos."

The International Energy Agency says the technical potential for hydropower globally is five times current production based on 2008 data.

It said China had developed 24 percent of its potential, the United States 16 percent and Brazil 25 percent and that by 2050, global hydropower generation could nearly double.

For China, India, Brazil, the Democratic Republic of Congo and others, that means more dam developments in a world where nations are under pressure to cut fossil fuel emissions. Brazil approved the 11.2 GW Belo Monte dam, the world's third largest, in June, while the DRC and South Africa last month signed a deal for a multi-billion dollar project.

"I think eventually there will be real problems. The whole hydropower sector is now in full gear and at full capacity to expand as fast as it can," said Ma Jun, director of the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs, which monitors China's water supplies.

"We are pressing to the very corners of our territory. If they continue at this speed, quite soon they are going to finish the damming of all our major rivers and at that time, the whole industry will hit a wall," he said.

(Additional reporting by David Stanway in Beijing, Frank Jack Daniel in New Delhi, Biswajyoti Das in Guwahati and David Fogarty in Singapore; Writing by David Fogarty; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)

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Eroding taboos see lemurs end up on dinner tables

Mark Kinver and Victoria Gill Science reporters BBC News 14 Dec 11;

The erosion of traditional cultural taboos in Madagascar has led to an unsustainable number of lemurs being killed for bushmeat, a study suggests.

Locals revered the primates, believing that the animals were family ancestors, but the influx of outside influences has seen a breakdown in these views.

Some species do not reach maturity for up to nine years and produce offspring once every two or three years.

The findings appear in the Public Library of Science (PLoS) One journal.

A survey of locals' eating habits by researchers from Bangor University in Wales, and the Malagasy NGO Madagasikara Voakajy showed that hunting of protected species in eastern Madagascar was increasing.

They suggested the rise in illegal hunting was the result of rapid social change, an increase in demand for meat and a decline in traditional taboos.

"When you have globalisation and outside influences, traditional cultures break down and change faster," explained co-author Julia Jones from Bangor University.

"What seems to be happening in some of the remote areas around the nation's eastern rainforests is that a lot of legal gold mining is springing up, so people from outside are moving into the area."

Taboos play an important part in Malagasy culture, she added.

Lemurs, especially indris, have been associated with very strong taboos that traditionally ensured that the primates were not hunted.

For example, one story tells of a man who was looking for honey in the forest when he fell from a tree. Before he hit the ground, he was caught by an indri.

He was so grateful that he went back to the village and said from that moment on, no lemur was to be harmed.

Another belief is that the creatures are ancestors that became lost in the rainforests and turned themselves into lemurs in order to survive.

However, Dr Jones said that although people did not prefer to eat bushmeat, it was often the only meat available.

"If they want meat to eat, there is very poor availability of domestic meat in these rural areas," she told BBC News.

"Chickens suffer terribly from disease in rainforest areas, so do not survive that well - so there is not much protein from domestic animals around."

Dr Jones explained that the influx of people, attracted by job opportunities at the mines, had led to an increase in demand for meat and because people had wages from the mines, small bars that sold bushmeat were opening.

'Shocking' figures

The survey of 1,154 households showed that the majority of meals eaten over a three-day period did not contain any meat at all.

Among the meals that did contain meat, the preference was for fish or domestic animals rather than bushmeat.

Just under 10% of meals consisted of wild-caught animals, and just 0.5% contained meat from protected species.

However, when respondents were asked if they had ever eaten a protected species, 95% said that they had.

And when the team monitored villages to see how much bushmeat was being brought in, they recorded 233 carcasses of Endangered indri, the largest species of lemur.

Dr Jones called the figures "shocking", adding that this level of hunting was a major concern for conservation efforts.

"Even if things are being eaten very rarely, if they are very slow-reproducing animals that can be having a huge impact," she said.

"Species like the indri, for example, mature at seven to nine years and then only have one young once every two or three years.

"Primates, in general, are known to be extremely vulnerable to overexploitation."

Christopher Golden, from the Harvard Center for the Environment, US, said the island nation had a rich natural heritage.

"If you look at the mammals especially, which are the main group of animals affected by the bushmeat trade, all the primates - 100% of them - are unique to the island.

Such was the nation's biodiversity, he said, new species were being found all the time.

"I first came to Madagascar in 1990 and there were 34 known species of primates. Now, there are over 100 identified primate species."

However, Dr Golden - who was not involved in the study - added: "We know from our previous studies show hunting is not sustainable in the long run here."

Dr Jones said improving the availability of alternative meat sources would be one way to overcome the lack of non-bushmeat supplies.

"The fact that people are not eating lemurs as a delicacy means that it is easier to reduce demand through substitutes, such as chickens."

However, she added, this would have to be supported by other projects, including improved veterinary vaccination programmes in order to ensure poultry or livestock did not get wiped out by viruses.

She also said improving the enforcement of existing wildlife laws could also play a role.

"It may not seem to be the most pressing issue facing the country, but wildlife is such an important source of income for Madagascar that tackling this issue should be a priority," Dr Jones observed.

"If the indri and other lemurs disappear from the forests then you are going to get fewer tourists and much less international interest.

"It would be a really positive step and would be worth some investment from the government, given the importance of wildlife to Madagascar's economy."

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