Best of our wild blogs: 30 Apr 12

Latest Green Jobs in Singapore [23 - 29 Apr 2012]
from Green Business Times

Calling all artists: Celebrate our biodiversity!
from wild shores of singapore

White Bellied Sea Eagle chased @ pasir ris - April 2012
from sgbeachbum

Male Olive-backed Sunbird attacking female
from Bird Ecology Study Group

四月华语导游 Mandarin guided walk@SBWR, April(XXIX)
from PurpleMangrove

“What animals can you find at the mangroves?” “MOSQUITOES!” My first public talk at Queenstown Primary from Nature rambles

Feral Pigeon
from Monday Morgue

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Re-introducing animals into ecosystems must be done sensitively

Straits Times Forum 30 Apr 12;

THE species of native fauna suggested by Mr Ajit Kanagasundram ('Nature parks'; last Wednesday), such as the mousedeer and civet cat, are present in our nature reserves, and we are pleased that we have seen them more often in our surveys in recent years.

There are many more interesting animals, like the pangolin and flying lemur, in the nature reserves. Their continued presence in a highly urbanised city like ours makes Singapore special. Our priority is to enhance the habitats in the nature reserves to support these animals. They are, however, shy in nature and not easy to spot. Some are also nocturnal creatures.

We have also been working with various partners and nature groups to enhance the biodiversity in our urban landscapes. For example, we have been creating habitats that are suitable for birds, butterflies and dragonflies.

However, any re-introduction of animals has to be done sensitively so as not to upset the ecosystems. One successful re-introduction is the oriental pied hornbill. This bird used to be extinct in Singapore. There are more than 100 of them here today.

We thank Mr Ajit for his feedback.

Wong Tuan Wah

Director, Conservation

National Parks Board

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Indonesia: Foreign Forestry Companies Blamed for Depletion of Kalimantan Forest

Tunggadewa Mattangkilang Jakarta Globe 28 Apr 12;

Balikpapan. Primary forest cover in East Kalimantan has been depleted from 19 million hectares in the 1960s to just 4 million hectares today due to legislation allowing foreign companies into the local forestry sector, a researcher said on Friday.

Bernaulus Saragih, head of the Natural Resources Study Center at Mulawarman University in Samarinda, the provincial capital, said on Friday that the massive deforestation in the province was triggered by 1967’s Law on Foreign Investment (PMA).

“The degradation of primary forests in East Kalimantan was drastic after 1967. That was because the PMA law allowed the rate of degradation to increase significantly” by allowing foreign loggers and plantation companies in, he said.

While Indonesian firms are the No. 1 concession holders in the province, the US Department of Agriculture noted last year that “Malaysian companies have collectively established over 1 million hectares of active oil palm plantations in Indonesia and own a further 1 million hectares of land [that] has official permits allowing its development in the future.”

Bernaulus said other policies that had contributed to the high rate of deforestation included zoning regulations to assign large tracts of forests for plantation, logging and mining operations as well as for human settlement.

Should the opening up of the province’s forests continue at current rates, he warned, there would be no more primary forest cover left in just a few years.

Izal Wardana, executive director of the East Kalimantan chapter of the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi), said the loss meant the province no longer complied with a zoning regulation requiring 30 percent of the total land area of 20.45 million hectares to be forested.

He warned that the province was losing 500,000 hectares of forest each year and that new infrastructure projects were threatening previously untouched tracts of virgin forest.

Izal urged the provincial administration to freeze the issuance of new forestry concessions and evaluate existing operations, including exhausted mining and plantation operations that have left behind an estimated 8.1 million hectares of degraded land.

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Pacific Islands On Equator May Become Refuge for Corals in a Warming Climate Due to Changes in Ocean Currents

ScienceDaily 29 Apr 12;

Scientists have predicted that ocean temperatures will rise in the equatorial Pacific by the end of the century, wreaking havoc on coral reef ecosystems. But a new study shows that climate change could cause ocean currents to operate in a surprising way and mitigate the warming near a handful of islands right on the equator. As a result these Pacific islands may become isolated refuges for corals and fish.

Here's how it would happen, according to the study by Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution scientists Kristopher Karnauskas and Anne Cohen, published April 29 in the journal Nature Climate Change.

At the equator, trade winds push a surface current from east to west. About 100 to 200 meters below, a swift countercurrent develops, flowing in the opposite direction. This, the Equatorial Undercurrent (EUC), is cooler and rich in nutrients. When it hits an island, like a rock in a river, water is deflected upward on the island's western flank and around the islands. This well-known upwelling process brings cooler water and nutrients to the sunlit surface, creating localized areas where tiny marine plants and corals flourish.

On color-enhanced satellite maps showing measurements of global ocean chlorophyll levels, these productive patches of ocean stand out as bright green or red spots, for example around the Galapagos Islands in the eastern Pacific.

But as you look west, chlorophyll levels fade like a comet tail, giving scientists little reason to look closely at scattered low-lying coral atolls farther west. The islands are easy to overlook because they are tiny, remote, and lie at the far left edge of standard global satellite maps that place continents in the center.

Karnauskas, a climate scientist, was working with WHOI coral scientist Anne Cohen to explore how climate change would affect central equatorial Pacific reefs.

When he changed the map view on his screen in order to see the entire tropical Pacific at once, he saw that chlorophyll concentrations jumped up again exactly at the Gilbert Islands on the equator. Satellite maps also showed cooler sea surface temperatures on the west sides of these islands, part of the nation of Kiribati.

"I've been studying the tropical Pacific Ocean for most of my career, and I had never noticed that," he said. "It jumped out at me immediately, and I thought, 'there's probably a story there.'"

So Karnauskas and Cohen began to investigate how the EUC would affect the equatorial islands' reef ecosystems, starting with global climate models that simulate impacts in a warming world.

Global-scale climate models predict that ocean temperatures will rise nearly 3oC (5.4oF) in the central tropical Pacific. Warmer waters often cause corals to bleach, a process in which they lose the tiny symbiotic algae that life in them and provide them with vital nutrition. Bleaching has been a major cause of coral mortality and loss of coral reef area during the last 30 years.

But even the best global models, with their planet-scale views and lower resolution, cannot predict conditions in areas as small as small islands, Karnauskas said.

So they combined global models with a fine-scale regional model to focus on much smaller areas around minuscule islands scattered along the equator. To accommodate the trillions of calculations needed for such small-area resolution, they used the new high-performance computer cluster at WHOI called "Scylla."

"Global models predict significant temperature increase in the central tropical Pacific over the next few decades, but in truth conditions can be highly variable across and around a coral reef island," Cohen said. "To predict what the coral reef will experience under global climate change, we have to use high-resolution models, not global models.

Their model predicts that as air temperatures rise and equatorial trade winds weaken, the Pacific surface current will also weaken by 15 percent by the end of the century. The then-weaker surface current will impose less friction and drag on the EUC, so this deeper current will strengthen by 14 percent.

"Our model suggests that the amount of upwelling will actually increase by about 50 percent around these islands and reduce the rate of warming waters around them by about 0.7oC (1.25oF) per century," Karnauskas said.

A handful of coral atolls on the equator, some as small as 4 square kilometers (1.54 square miles) in area, may not seem like much. But Karnauskas's and Cohen's results say waters on the western sides of the islands will warm more slowly than at islands 2 degrees (or 138 miles) north and south of the equator that are not in the way of the EUC. That gives the Gilbert Islands a significant advantage over neighboring reef systems, they said.

"While the mitigating effect of a strengthened Equatorial Undercurrent will not spare the corals the perhaps-inevitable warming expected for this region, the warming rate will be slower around these equatorial islands, which may allow corals and their symbiotic algae a better chance to adapt and survive," Karnauskas said. If the model holds true, then even if neighboring reefs are hard hit, equatorial island coral reefs may well survive to produce larvae of corals and other reef species. Like a seed bank for the future, they might be a source of new corals and other species that could re-colonize damaged reefs.

"The globe is warming, but there are things going on underfoot that will slow that warming for certain parts of certain coral reef islands," said Cohen.

"These little islands in the middle of the ocean can counteract global trends and have a big impact on their own future, which I think is a beautiful concept," Karnauskas said.

"The finding that there may be refuges in the tropics where local circulation features buffer the trend of rising sea surface temperature has important implications for the survival of coral reef systems," said David Garrison, program director in the National Science Foundation (NSF)'s Division of Ocean Sciences, which funded the research.

Journal Reference:

Kristopher B. Karnauskas, Anne L. Cohen. Equatorial refuge amid tropical warming. Nature Climate Change, 2012; DOI: 10.1038/nclimate1499

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Best of our wild blogs: 29 Apr 12

Free guided walk at Pasir Ris Mangroves with the Naked Hermit Crabs from Peiyan.Photography and Adventures with the Naked Hermit Crabs and The case of the missing and reappearing bird nest

12 May (Sat): World Migratory Bird Day at Sungei Buloh
from wild shores of singapore and Mangrove talk by Dr Dan Friess at Sungei Buloh

Oriental Pied Hornbill feeding on discarded rice
from Bird Ecology Study Group

White-barred Duskhawk in Bishan Park
from Everyday Nature

Butterfly of the Month - April 2012
from Butterflies of Singapore

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The vanishing forest of Yishun

Melissa Lin Straits Times 29 Apr 12;

I used to ask my father if there were lions living in the forest opposite our Housing Board flat in Yishun.

He was a rubber inspector, working hard to support his family of four and I was his younger daughter. He would chuckle at my question and say: 'Of course not!'

But I was just a child then, and that was before I learnt that lions were found in the wild only in sub-Saharan Africa and the Indian sub-continent.

My parents, elder sister and grandparents moved into a new multi-generational flat near Yishun Park in 1987, two years before I was born. It was much bigger than the family's previous flat in Marine Parade and more conducive for child-rearing, my mother thought.

Always the practical one, she also liked that the bus stop was right next to the block and that the 11th-floor flat escaped the direct glare of the morning and evening sun. My father, a nature lover, was happy to live at a walking distance from the park and its untamed forest which included durian trees.

They swopped the sea view for this sea of greenery, which became the landscape of my childhood.

In my young mind, I would wonder about what was concealed beneath the towering trees and thick foliage.

My imagination would run wild, in a good way. Maybe if I ventured in deep enough, I would find the Faraway Tree that my favourite childhood author Enid Blyton described - a magical tree in the heart of an enchanted forest that was the doorway to places with names like The Land Of Toys and The Land Of Goodies. I desperately wished it existed.

My best friend from primary school and I would walk home in the afternoons along a road that cut through the park. At times, when there were no cars or other people present, we would shush each other, letting minutes pass in a silence broken only by the rustling of leaves. It was a lovely sort of quiet.

Over the years, our paths diverged and we have grown apart, but those moments still stay with me.

When I grew older, I would stand along the corridor of our flat in the evenings, gaze out at my forest and watch it darken as the sky became awash in breathtaking shades of orange, pink and purple. I no longer looked out for lions, but took in the tranquility, familiarity and a sense of home.

Unlike when I was a child and the tall trees seemed to stretch on forever, I could now see beyond its boundaries. The route around it was popular with joggers, including my mother who would go there for her daily evening exercise.

Earlier this year, my mother returned from a jog and announced that there was an excavator perched atop a small hill, and an army of workers looked like they were levelling the trees.

I cried out: 'No!' I was upset before I understood why.

Like my parents growing older or the waning of childhood friendships, this was another change I would have no control over and would have to learn to accept, grudgingly.

It is harder to articulate why I feel a tinge of sadness seeing heavy construction vehicles rumble down the road I used to walk to my primary school or watching the evening sun set against tree stumps and bare land.

To most people, trees are just trees. Nobody mourns their loss for long, not when they are removed for much-needed flats in land-scarce Singapore. No doubt the new development, when complete, will come with new landscaping, including new trees, which is the Singapore way.

But also being removed is the backdrop to my childhood memories, the setting of my imaginary adventures and a pocket of greenery that all my life provided respite after a long day, even when I merely stood and gazed at it.

From the corridor outside my flat, I can now spy other new developments in the distance. There are newly built HDB blocks and condominium showrooms peeking out from behind what remains of my beloved forest.

Perhaps I am just being sentimental, but surely, there is room for that in Singapore?

I will miss having this reminder of my childhood at my doorstep. Now, I will just have to dig deeper into my memories to remember what used to be.

Melissa Lin is a final-year student at the Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information at Nanyang Technological University and a former intern at The Straits Times.

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'Island hop' at Jurong Lake Park

NParks to carve out islets and streams for visitors to enjoy at this Destination Park
Miranda Yeo Straits Times 29 Apr 12;

'Island-hopping' inland in Jurong will be possible when the Jurong Lake Park gets a makeover.

The National Parks Board (NParks) will draw inspiration from the local terrain and the park's water features to carve out islets and streams so visitors can enjoy island-hopping.

This vision of an adventure playground was mapped out by Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam at the media launch of the Jurong Lake Run 2012, which will take place on July 8.

In his speech at the JCube mall yesterday, Mr Tharman, who is an adviser to Jurong GRC's grassroots organisations, revealed that the new developments will also include more nature spaces and trails to support the rich biodiversity in Jurong Lake Park.

It is home to 78, or a third, of the country's resident bird species.

The park is one of three Destination Parks announced by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong last month, with the other two being East Coast Park and Admiralty Park.

The Destination Parks, part of NParks' City In A Garden initiative, will be designed to attract visitors from all over Singapore, not just residents in the vicinity.

Jurong Lake Park will also be one of the key points in a 150km Round Island Route, linking a host of attractions like the Gardens By The Bay, Rail Corridor and Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve.

NParks' initiatives prove that 'despite being a very small island, we can actually provide a remarkable amount of recreational opportunities and family activities', said Mr Tharman, who is also Minister for Finance and Minister for Manpower.

He cited the Round Island Route as a prime example, and urged cyclists and joggers to make full use of the upcoming recreational facilities to get closer to nature.

NParks has been gathering feedback on what features users would like to have in the Destination Parks and the Round Island Route.

Three rounds of interviews have been conducted with parkgoers at Jurong Lake Park so far. Some 70 per cent of respondents appreciated the place for its tranquillity, and 22 per cent wanted more wildlife habitats in the park.

Mr Tharman assured nature enthusiasts that NParks is 'absolutely clear' about preserving such habitats.

He added that within the next five years, there will be 'significant development' of the park, and that it will be 'transformed' within 10 years.

The public can visit an NParks roadshow in Jurong Point that aims to collect feedback over the weekend, or visit the City In The Garden website at to share ideas on the Destination Parks and Round Island Route.

Jurong Lake Park will be part of island-wide green corridor
Claire Huang Channel NewsAsia 28 Apr 12;

SINGAPORE: Jurong Lake Park will be one of the key nodes of the Round Island Route.

Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam announced the vision of "an island-hopping playground" Saturday morning at a community event.

It is one of three destination parks announced by Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong last month.

Together with recreational attractions like Gardens by the Bay and Southern Ridges, Jurong Lake Park will be part of the Round Island Route - a seamless green corridor that goes all round Singapore.

The 150-kilometre route was announced in February this year.

It was mooted by the Urban Redevelopment Authority in 2008 and will connect natural, historical and cultural attractions to the parks and park connectors.

When completed, Jurong Lake Park will be a destination park with unique features.

When designing, NParks will draw inspiration from the area's terrain and characteristics.

Rich in biodiversity, the park will have plenty of natural spaces and trails to allow the public to get closer to nature.

Mr Tharman, who is also MP for Jurong GRC, said: "The fact that we have the lake is a wonderful advantage. So NParks is going to create little running streams in a playground, and allow families and children and everyone to hop from one island to another in the playground itself."

Mr Tharman was speaking at the launch of Jurong Lake Run 2012.

MediaCorp is one of the main sponsors of the run.

The theme for the run in July is "Running as One", reflecting the commitment to attain inclusiveness within the community.

- CNA/cc

A run through nature at Jurong Lake, for a cause
Today Online 29 Apr 12;

SINGAPORE - With about 120 bird species having been spotted at the Jurong Lakeside area - including the rare Ruddy Kingfisher and Grey-headed Fish Eagle - Jurong Lake Park, when developed, will feature plenty of nature spaces and trails to support its rich biodiversity, said Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam.

And to take advantage of the park's proximity to the lake, little islets and running streams will be carved out to build an island-hopping adventure playground.

Highlighting the features park-goers can expect once Jurong Lake Park is developed as a destination park to attract visitors from all over Singapore, Mr Tharman yesterday also said the park will be one of the key nodes of the 150km Round Island Route (RIR).

The RIR links many major natural, cultural and historical attractions to parks, park connectors and intra-town cycling networks.

Mr Tharman was speaking at the launch of Jurong Lake Run 2012, which takes place on July 8. The first mega-running event in western Singapore when it debuted last year, it is now set to become an annual nationwide event, he said.

This year's run will see a portion of proceeds donated to seven charities. It is also significant because it "was conceptualised and continues to be spearheaded by youth volunteers keen to play their part for society," he said.

He unveiled the run's revamped identity of "Running as One", and this year's theme as "Run for a Cause" featuring inspirational heroes from the community.

Last year, more than 6,500 runners from 47 countries took part. Event organiser Taman Jurong Community Sports Club said more than 5,250 have signed up for this year's run so far. About 12,000 participants are expected.

The run is held in conjunction with the Community Sports Festival organised by the People's Association.

10km-race title sponsor MediaCorp invites all to 'RUN WITH ME'
MediaCorp is the main sponsor for this year's Jurong Lake Run, held on Sunday, July 8.

The broadcaster is the title sponsor of the 10km Competitive Run, which has been named "RUN WITH ME", MediaCorp 10km run.

It is one of three main categories in the Jurong Lake Run. The other two are the 6km Competitive Run and the 3km Community Walk-a-Jog.

Mr Patrick Yong, MediaCorp's head of strategic marketing, said: "MediaCorp is proud to support Jurong Lake Run 2012. As a national broadcaster, MediaCorp is always looking at opportunities to support relevant local sports and community projects as part of our engagement with our audience."

The 10km and 6km competitive runs are further divided into six sub-categories each, catering to runners 13 and above, while the 3km Community-Walk-a-Jog will be open to all ages. A total of S$17,500 in prize money will be up for grabs.

The event will also feature activities at the Chinese Garden, as the grounds transform into a playground filled with games and giveaways.

Registration for the run is open until June 8. Participants can register at or at the Taman Jurong Community Club. Fees start from S$22.

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Look mum, no shark

Eve Yap Straits Times 29 Apr 12;

Five years ago, documentary film-maker Jonn Lu's 'stomach developed a conscience' - he found he could no longer consume shark's fin soup because of the cruelty involved in its preparation.

When the dish was served to him, he would 'quietly refuse' to eat it.

Initially, his stand put his family in a spot.

His father is Mr John Y. Lu, 69, a businessman and chairman of the Singapore National Shippers' Council, who frequently hosted and attended lavish dinners where shark's fin was always served.

His Filipino-Chinese mum, Mrs Polly Lu, 65, a porcelain artist, felt it was rude to refuse the dish at the important business dinners.

She says: 'I would say to him, 'The shark is already dead. The food will be wasted if you don't eat it, a greater crime for the environment.''

So he 'ate it grudgingly', says Jonn, 40, who is also a rock climbing and technical diving instructor.

But his family, including an elder and a younger sister, came around to his way of thinking.

Jonn has been the volunteer director of Shark Savers South-east Asia for two years.

Based in Hong Kong for the past 14 years, he is back in Singapore for a spell to launch the local chapter of the pro-shark group.

On Tuesday at Orchard Cineleisure, the non-profit organisation here will be holding SharkAid Singapore 2012, the first in a series of awareness-raising concerts to be held around the world.

Jonn says the aim is to persuade the authorities to impose a trade ban as well as a ban on the dish during official functions, and drum up mass support for the message, 'I'm FINished' with shark's fin soup.

What was Jonn like as a child?

Mrs Lu: He was a handful, couldn't sit still and was always irritating his sisters. They would be playing masak-masak and he would upset all their toys.

Jonn: I was very disruptive. Now looking back, it could have been attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, but we never knew.

Mrs Lu: He liked to climb like a monkey.

Jonn: When I was in kindergarten, a boy fell and broke his arm while mimicking my monkey antics on the monkey bars.

Mrs Lu: The teacher called me and said, 'Mrs Lu, how do you train your child?'

Jonn: All through primary school, in Catholic High, I used to pretend that the erasers, pencils and rulers were good and bad guy characters, and every story ended with destruction. I would sweep all the stationery onto the floor.

Mrs Lu: Or he would draw cartoon strips in his homework book. I got calls from his teachers every other day.

What was the naughtiest thing he did as a child?

Jonn: Scoring 30 marks for Chinese was good in my book. When I got zero once, I forged Mum's signature.

Mrs Lu: One day, when he was seven, he took apart his father's favourite transistor radio. When I saw it, I was horrified.

Jonn: I told her, 'Don't worry, mummy, I can put it back.'

Mrs Lu: He said, 'See. You take this wire and this wire and put it together.' I couldn't get angry with him because it was funny. But when he bullied his sisters because he was bigger in size, that was a no-no. He would get whacked.

Who was stricter: mum or dad?

Jonn: Mum was the disciplinarian. I got righteously thrashed. Thin bamboo canes, feather-dusters... and when these could not be found, it was rulers, clothes hangers, sometimes even wooden rice ladles.

Mrs Lu: He used to hide the canes in the piano. One day when we were moving house, the movers removed a panel and more than a dozen canes fell out.

Do you resent your mum for disciplining you?

Jonn: With my mum there's always closure. After she whacked me, she sat me down and talked to me. It always ended with a hug and a kiss.

What do you think of his extreme sports?

Mrs Lu: Why does he want to do all that? Very silly.

Jonn: In everything I get into, I make sure I am properly trained and know exactly what I'm doing.

Mrs Lu: Aiyah, this son of mine. I still worry for him. If not, I'm not his mummy.

If the parent-child roles were reversed, what would you do differently?

Mrs Lu: I wouldn't be so naughty. I wouldn't have upset my mother so much as to make her punish me so heavy-handedly.

Jonn: I wouldn't change a thing. My mum was tough on me but I needed that, otherwise I would have been a hell-raiser.

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Tapirs and seed dispersal

Tom McLaughlin Borneo Post 29 Apr 12;

HOW are seeds dispersed now that large animals – elephants and rhinoceroses – have been hunted from their ecological habitats? Will tapirs take their place?

Rhinoceroses were once plentiful throughout the Southeast Asian ecosystem. They consumed vast quantities of plants and seeds and moved from one area to another releasing seeds in their excrement, thus aiding in dispersal.

However, the demand for rhinos because of Chinese medicine claims has decimated the population to the point where they are now on the critically endangered list. Conservation efforts by governments have largely failed throughout the world.

Elephants were also responsible for the wide dispersal of seeds – eating and then leaving their excrement from one place to another. Their habitat has been decimated from hunting for ivory and the planting of plantations.

Accumulating evidence has demonstrated the understory of the forest has shown a dramatic reduction in fruit trees formerly dispersed by these gentle giants. The ecological cascade has affected many species in the food web.

Could the Malayan tapir, the third largest ruminant after these great beasts, replace these wonders for seed dispersal? There are a couple of things in their favour. None of their body parts are used in traditional medicine. Their meat is not favoured. Although an endangered species, their survival looks a bit brighter than for rhinos and elephants.

Malayan tapirs are usually about 1.8 metres long and weigh about 350kg. They are solitary animals and eat fallen fruits and twigs from the forest floor. Running into thick bushes is their defence from tigers – their major predator.

An experiment conducted at the Wildlife Reserves in Singapore made an attempt to answer whether the tapir could replace the rhino and elephant for seed dispersal. Nine plant species, seven from Southeast Asia, were fed to eight Malayan tapirs, seven of which were born in captivity.

The fruits, purchased at a local market, included mango, durian, cempedak, rambutan, mangosteen, tamarind, longan, Dillenia sp (locally known as air simpoh) and papaya. A known number of seed fruit were fed to the tapirs. For example, the rambutan has a large central seed and the number the tapirs ate were counted.

Five hours later, the tapir dung was collected and the seeds counted. The seeds were then planted in pots to see if they would germinate after a journey through the digestive system.

Large seeds (durian, cempedak and tamarind) failed to germinate. Very few mid-sized seeds did not survive the gut passage. In comparison, elephants defecated 75 per cent of ingested tamarind seeds where 65 per cent germinated in a similar experiment performed elsewhere.

The tapirs are picky eaters. They have a special aversion to durians. They spat out or dropped many seeds eating only the flesh. Elephants gobbled and gulped everything in a single swallow. The tapirs also found great difficulty with eating hard elephant apples although the researchers concede this could possibly be because they were captive and had not been exposed to the fruit.

The digestive system of tapirs and elephants could also be major factor. Because of their teeth, tapirs are much better in crushing seeds than elephants or rhinos. The gut passage time is much longer in tapirs than in the larger denizens allowing the digestive juices to work more effectively.

These preliminary conclusions suggests the tapir will not replace elephants and rhinos for seed dispersal. However, the authors suggest many more studies must be performed in order to assess the role played by other dispersing critters including bears and hornbills. They also relate there needs to be further studies on the digestive systems of all major participates in seed dispersal before any concrete conclusions can be reached.

As the world’s rainforests become more fragmented and will eventually become islands surrounded by agriculture and human living space, the management of these remaining areas needs to be fully understood. This first study of the role of tapirs and seed dispersal is an important step in saving the ecosystem that will be left.

For more read ‘Asian Tapirs Are No Elephants When It Comes To Seed Dispersal’ by Campos-Arceiz et al, Biotropica 44(2):220-227 2012.

All things bright and beautiful, all creatures great and small, all things wise and wonderful, the Lord God made them all.

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Malaysia: Terrapins thriving in Sungai Kemaman

Sean Augustin New Straits Times 29 Apr 12;

ENDANGERED SPECIES: Terengganu govt urged to gazette turtles’ habitat

KEMAMAN: THE discovery of a healthy southern river terrapin population along Sungai Kemaman in Terengganu has ushered in hope for the much threatened species, especially in the state.

The Turtle Conservation Society (TCS), which made the discovery earlier this year, is hoping the state government will gazette certain areas as sanctuaries. It is also urging the latter to stop issuing sand mining licences around the area.

TCS co-founder Professor Dr Chan Eng Heng said sand-mining activities would destroy their nesting habitat and would not bode well for terrapins along the river bank here, whose population, despite being a viable one, was also aged.

“Fortunately the number of breeding adults is viable and can help rebuild the population. We have time to save the population. It is critical we encourage a younger generation to be bred in the area,” she said, adding that her main concern was to maintain and augment the current population.

While the population along Sungai Kemaman, south of Kuala Terengganu, was viable, Chan said that they were still threatened by fishing and sand-mining activities as well as rampant illegal clearing of river banks for agricultural purposes.

The recent discovery of the terrapins here, which came as surprise to TCS, also augurs well for the society’s conservation efforts in Setiu, north of Kuala Terengganu.

Setiu had been described as “ground zero” for such efforts by the Turtle Survival Alliance, a non-governmental organisation which, in 2009, had stated that Malaysia was the last stronghold in the world when it came to the conservation of painted and river terrapins due to its significant population, especially in Terengganu.

“The healthy population in both Kemaman and Setiu means the state can become a research and conservation hub for this species,” Chan said.

River terrapins, or batagur affinis, are among the top 25 most endangered turtle species in the world, according to the Turtle Conservation Coalition.

Apart from Malaysia, the species is also found in Indonesia and Cambodia.

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Philippines: Tourists Flock, But Where’s the Whale Sharks?

Ellalyn B. De Vera Manila Bulletin 28 Apr 12;

MANILA, Philippines - International conservation group, World Wide Fund for Nature- Philippines (WWF-Philippines), expressed concern yesterday over the dwindling number of whale shark (locally known as “Butanding”) sighting, mainly due to unrestrained tourism in Donsol, Sorsogon.

“Donsol now has far more visitors than it can handle. Coupled with the fact that sightings are decreasing, more and more interaction violations are being reported,” WWF Donsol Project Manager Raul Burce said.

Citing the Donsol Tourism Office’s data, WWF said the office has recorded more than 25,000 visitors in 2011.

The Department of Tourism (DOT) had earlier predicted that over 50,000 tourists will flock to the town before the whale shark season ends this June.

Burce explained that standing rules include having no more than a single boat with six swimmers per shark, limiting interactions to 10 minutes, staying at least three meters away from the shark’s body and four meters from its tail, prohibiting physical contact plus flash photography and keeping to the three hour tour limit for boats.

“I saw some swimmers break the rules today. Some touched the sharks. Twice swimmers from different bancas raced in when our spotter saw a shark. I think it’s be¬cause the guides aren’t seeing as many sharks as they are used to. Some boats saw none at all,” tourist Anton Lim said.

WWF-Philippines urged tourists, boatmen and guides to observe the existing rules in interacting with the whale sharks.

“The policies were designed not just to protect the whale sharks, but tourists as well. A 30-foot shark can accidentally swat a swimmer straying too close to its tail. By respecting the rules, we’re minimizing our impacts on the ecosystem, especially the sharks,” Burce said.

At present, WWF is attempting to track whale shark movements within Donsol Bay through the use of state-of-the art fish tracking monitors.

The current spotting system banks solely on the trained eyes of whale shark spotters, seeking shadows plying the water.

“Using just your eyes can be difficult, particularly if it is raining or overcast. When it rains, the chance of a successful interaction drops,” former Butanding Interaction Officer (BIO) Association president Allan Amanse said.

The new trackers utilize stationary sonar modules, which bounce sound-waves off all solid objects. Large creatures such as whale sharks or shoals of fish can easily be made out.

Likewise, the trackers also log water temperature.

WWF noted that the extreme heat has also a negative effect on Donsol’s eco-tourism industry.

Currently, Donsol’s surface water temperature averages 28.3 degrees Celsius or over two degrees Celsius hotter than the average of 26.1 degrees recorded during the same period in 2010.

“Our initial findings seem to indicate that the whale sharks are staying in deep water, possibly to avoid the heat,” WWF whale shark expert Dave David said.

“They are also highly migratory creatures, so it is not easy to regularly predict their whereabouts. In the summer of 2001, very few sightings were reported. It seems this year is similar,” he added.

The province of Sorsogon is host to one of the highest concentrations of whale sharks in the world. These creatures have been frequenting the waters off Donsol for generations and in 1998, the DOT declared this area an official sanctuary for the whale shark, thus protected this fascinating species.

Although “Butanding” are enormous in size and power, reaching lengths greater than 15 meters, they are remarkably gentle and docile enough that it is generally safe to swim among them. Swimming among the whale sharks is a captivating experience. If one is not comfortable swimming in the waters, then it is just as amazing to experience them from the boat. The Butanding swim along side the boat all the time. Generally, the whale sharks at Don¬sol swim very close to the surface of the water.

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New Bumblebee Gecko found in Papua New Guinea

Christine Dell'Amore National Geographic News 23 Apr 12;

The latest buzz in the reptile world is a new "bumblebee" gecko species discovered in Papua New Guinea.

The bumblebee gecko on Papua New Guinea's Manus Island, possibly the new species' only home. Photograph courtesy Robert Fisher, USGS

Dubbed Nactus kunan—kunan meaning "bumblebee" in the local Nali language—the black-and-gold striped animal belongs to a genus of slender-toed geckos, a new study says.

That means "these guys don't have the padded, wall-climbing toes like the common house gecko or the day gecko in the car-insurance commercials," study co-author Robert Fisher, a biologist at the U.S. Geological Survey Western Ecological Research Center in San Diego, said in a statement.

In 2010 Fisher was searching for invasive brown tree snakes on Manus Island (map) when locals brought him two specimens of the odd-colored animal, which appears to live nowhere else.

It's unknown how many of the roughly 5-inch-long (13-centimeter-long) geckos exist, or if the species is threatened, according to the study.

New Gecko Has Rare Coloration

The evolutionary impetus for the bumblebee gecko's colors is unknown, though the banded pattern likely helps the lizard hide on the rain forest floor.

Only one other species in the Nactus genus sports colors other than dull brown: Nactus galgajuga, a "striking" black-and-white striped species that lives in northern Queensland, Australia, said study co-author George Zug of the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C.

In fact, genetic research revealed that N. galgajuga's closest relative is the bumblebee gecko, said Zug, whose study was published April 4 in the journal Zootaxa.

Zug and colleagues expect that more new gecko species will be discovered on Manus Island, which few scientists have explored.

La Sierra University herpetologist L. Lee Grismer, who wasn't involved in the study, said via email, "What's really amazing is that the [locals] knew ... all the time being that the specimens were found in their houses.

"It just goes to show that we cannot stop looking anywhere and everywhere."

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Slaughter of rhinos at record high

Poaching could lead to extinction by 2025
David Randall and Jonathan Owen The Independent 29 Apr 12;

Rhinos are being killed in such unprecedented numbers that there are realistic fears they could be wiped from the face of the planet within a generation. If this happens, it will be the first major extinction of an animal in the wild since the worldwide conservation movement began.

The bare statistics are horrifying. In South Africa, more rhinos are being slaughtered for their horns in a single week than were killed in a whole year a decade ago. And the death toll is fast accelerating. In 2007, a mere 13 were killed. In 2008, it was 83, and, a year later, 122. Last year it was 448, and this year, by 19 April, it was 181. That is equivalent to 600 a year in a country which is home to 93 per cent of all white rhinos. One expert thinks that at this rate the species could be wiped out by 2025. Others think it could take longer. Patrick Bergin, chief executive of African Wildlife Foundation, said: "If the poaching of rhino continues at current rates, we could see their extinction within our lifetime. The situation is absolutely at crisis levels."

This attrition is being driven by the astonishing street value for rhino horn, which fetches £40,000 a kilo, more even than gold. Chinese medicine and jewellery are the main markets, but, in recent years, widespread rumours in Vietnam that rhino horn can cure cancer has seen demand there rocket. As a result, the Javan rhino became extinct in that country in November, the last known animal being found dead with its horn hacked off.

There has also been a huge and sharp rise in elephants being killed for their ivory. Mozambique reports that in just one reserve the number of elephant carcasses found in 2011 is nearly 25 times greater than 10 years before. And the wildlife trade monitoring network Traffic said that 2011 was by far the worst year for ivory seizures since the group's records began more than 20 years ago. The amount of ivory seized last year probably equates to some 2,500 dead elephants, according to Traffic.

Organised crime has moved into both rhino and elephant poaching, with hi-tech equipment used for industrial-scale killing. Reuters reported last week from the Garamba National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo on a family of elephants killed when poachers swept over them in a helicopter gunship. The report said: "The scene beneath the rotor blades would have been chilling: panicked mothers shielding their young, hair-raising screeches and a mad scramble through the blood-stained bush as bullets rained down from the sky. When the shooting was over, 22 elephants lay dead ... their tusks and genitals removed for sale in Asia."

Richard Emslie, scientific officer for the African rhino group at the International Union for Conservation of Nature, said: "We are facing a horrific situation at the moment where some of the poachers are using veterinary drugs, drugging the rhinos and then hacking off the horns and part of the face at the same time, so they get the whole lot, while the animal is still alive."

So critical is the situation that earlier this month, an emergency summit of wildlife authorities, scientists, owners of private rhino reserves and security experts was hosted in Nairobi by the African Wildlife Foundation and the Kenya Wildlife Service.

A statement issued afterwards said: "The situation is rapidly reaching crisis levels and requires far-reaching efforts to ensure the continued survival of rhinos across Africa ... Africa's rhino population is currently estimated at 25,000 – still low in relation to historical numbers – and it is suggested that, if poaching continues at current rates, there will no longer be any rhino left in the wild by 2025."

Jo Shaw, a Johannesburg-based rhino specialist for Traffic, said: "Very serious levels of organised crime are orchestrating this illegal activity. The people now trading in rhino horn used to be trading in drugs and arms and human trafficking, and probably still are, but they've found this new valuable resource that is less well protected."

Helen Gichohi, president of African Wildlife Foundation, said: "Wildlife authorities, private rhino reserve owners, conservation organisations and others have made valiant efforts to halt the rhino poaching crisis, but these disparate actions have sadly been no match for this epidemic that is plaguing Africa."

As an example of the kind of resources available to crime groups, Ken Maggs, the head of the environmental crimes investigation unit for South African National Parks, said one person who was recently arrested for trade in rhino horn had £401,180 in cash in the boot of his car.

Ben Janse van Rensburg, head of enforcement for the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites), the international treaty that governs trade in plants and animals, said: "The biggest challenge is that in the past few years there has been a big shift from ordinary poachers to organised crime groups. They are really, really well resourced and they have significant networks globally. You're dealing with serious transnational organised crime." And their targets are Africa's white and black rhino, a total population estimated by some to be as high as 25,000, but by others to be as low as 11,000.

This month's Kenya summit listed the actions needed to combat the situation; these included increasing the number of anti-poaching units, creating a DNA database of rhinos, using helicopters to track poachers, and establishing tougher laws on poaching and trading in horn. A statement said: "Strong protection forces on the ground are a must. Case studies of Asian rhino protection in certain national parks in Asia have demonstrated that the more trained and properly equipped anti-poaching staff there is in the field, the lower the rates of poaching."

In addition, Cites officials are in talks with authorities in South Africa and Vietnam in an effort to find a solution to the rhino poaching crisis. And Britain is leading a special working group to find ways of tackling the illegal trade. This will report to Cites in July.

Meanwhile, on the ground in Africa, according to the African Wildlife Foundation's Dr Bergin: "There is an arms race going on as to who can first use the latest advanced technologies – the rhino horn poachers or those of us fighting to protect this endangered species. For example, Namibia has been piloting the use of automated drones to monitor large areas for illegal incursions by poachers. In small areas, sonar can actually be used to monitor for incursions, but it is very expensive." So bad has the situation become that South Africa has sent in scores of troops to guard the border of Kruger National Park, and increased the number of rangers from 500 to 650.

These measures are unlikely to be enough on their own. A more militant approach is needed says Damien Mander, a former special forces soldier and the founder of the International Anti-Poaching Foundation in Zimbabwe, which trains rangers in combat skills.

He said: "If we're to save the rhino, we really have no choice other than to employ these kinds of tactics against the poachers. Rangers can no longer function like a bunch of boy scouts in the bush. We're no longer dealing with amateurs here; we're dealing with professional criminals who have access to the latest technology. They've militarised their assault on rhino so we must militarise our response against them."

The stakes could hardly be higher. Dr Emslie, of IUCN, said: "In terms of African rhinos, we've lost one and almost lost another of the six subspecies that existed when I was born. Just recently, the Javan rhino subspecies in Vietnam was poached to extinction; the Javan rhino is reduced to 44. There are probably only 150 to 200 Sumatran rhinos – poaching threatens them, too. If the illegal demand continues to increase and prices remain high, then it's a severe threat, not just to rhinos in Africa but all the world's five species."

Mr Janse van Rensburg of Cites said: "If the world's enforcement authorities cannot stop this increasing trend, rhino population growth will not be sustained and we could see populations in Southern Africa decline to highly endangered status in a very short time, which will be a tragedy in terms of conservation and for the rhino."

There are very few wildlife specialists who are optimistic. The conservationist Ian Craig, who helped to found Lewa Wildlife Conservancy in Kenya, said: "The current surge in poaching of rhino, and more recently elephant, across Africa, led by demand from the Far East is essentially just starting. I expect that the worst may yet still be to come."

Read more!

Best of our wild blogs: 28 Apr 12

Join this community art effort to celebrate our biodiversity!
from Celebrating Singapore's BioDiversity!

The morning storm interrupts the Earth Day Coastal Cleanup at Tanah Merah
from News from the International Coastal Cleanup Singapore

From Lornie Trail to Rifle Range Link Part 3
from Beauty of Fauna and Flora in Nature

Red Junglefowl Mother Hen and Chick
from Bird Ecology Study Group

三遇伯劳 Shrike day@Jurong Lake
from PurpleMangrove

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Do we need that plastic bag?

Issue isn't about getting rid of plastic bags, but about reducing their use
Grace Chua 28 Apr 12;

A FEW days ago, I found myself in the curious position of having no plastic bags left in the house, and needing to take out the trash.

That meant going to the supermarket and buying something that I was going to buy anyway, like a bunch of bananas, in order to get a bag to line my bin with.

Earlier this week, the Singapore Environment Council proposed that supermarkets, food outlets and provision shops start charging for plastic bags.

A flurry of letters to the press ensued, some arguing this would be too much of a burden, others calling it too little.

Like many others, I have a love-hate relationship with plastic bags.

Making and distributing them takes fossil fuels, and they do not break down in landfills or the ocean. A plastic bag, fluttering vacantly in the wind, is an easily demonised symbol for fossil fuel and resource consumption.

Yet it has multiple uses, particularly in modern cities. You may be able to eat that curry puff on the go or wrap groceries in newspaper, but you can't really get on the bus dripping a trail of fishy water from a paper bag.

In fact, the environmental case for or against plastic bags isn't so clear-cut.

An Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*Star) study found that it takes 1.22kg of crude oil and 0.4kg of natural gas to make 1kg of plastic carrier bags. The real life-cycle cost of a plastic bag must also factor in the transport of that crude oil and gas, the processing of fossil fuels into polypropylene, and transporting the finished product to the city centre.

When all those costs are taken into account, plastic bags may not be worse than paper or reusable bags.

Earlier this year, the United Kingdom's Environment Agency released a study showing that you would need to reuse a paper bag three times for its global warming impact to be as low as that of one high-density polyethylene (HDPE) plastic carrier bag.

And cotton bags are not innocent either. Making them uses fuel, water and resources. One cotton bag would have to be reused 131 times to have the same global warming impact as one HDPE bag.

If all HDPE plastic bags are reused once as bin liners, their environmental impact goes down still more. A paper bag would have to be reused seven times and a cotton bag 327 times for their impact to equal that of a plastic bag reused once.

What about biodegradable plastic and starch-plastic bags? They weigh more than ordinary plastic bags and so consume more energy during production and distribution, the UK report found.

The practical reality is, plastics are a part of modern life. They are popular for good reason: they are better than the existing alternatives at keeping food fresh or preventing contamination. They are lighter, waterproof and more durable.

So the issue is not about getting rid of plastic bags altogether. The issue is that far more are handed out each day than we really need. It's about us minimising the use of plastic bags and thinking sensibly about what is a need, and what is a want.

The proposed 10-cent levy isn't meant to defray the cost of producing or disposing of that plastic bag. It's meant to be a nudge: do you really need that bag?

So is making people pay for plastic bags a good thing? It depends.

On the plus side, it can discourage overuse. Ireland introduced a plastic bag fee, or 'PlasTax' in 2002. It cut plastic bag use by 90 per cent, or nearly a million bags a year. The tax, now at €0.33 (S$0.55) per bag, has generated over €120 million for a state-run Environmental Fund that pays for waste recycling and garbage collection.

If there is a 10-cent levy imposed, all or at least part of the 'bag tax' should go to the Government to support environmental programmes, rather than straight into the pockets of retailers.

On the negative side, bag bans or levies can backfire if they encourage poorer substitutes. After a carrier bag levy of 50 Hong Kong cents (S$0.08) was imposed in 2009 in Hong Kong, people turned to heavier, thicker garbage bags to use as bin liners. Though the number of plastic carrier bags used dropped 77 per cent, the overall use of plastics in all bags went up 27 per cent, according to a 2011 study by the Hong Kong plastics industry.

Those seeking to ban or charge for bags must understand cultural practices.

Many people in Singapore reuse plastic bags for their trash. There are no laws mandating the bagging of household rubbish in Singapore, but public hygiene - and plain neighbourliness - would prod most of us to do so anyway.

That is not to say all plastic bags are necessary. One large bakery chain bags its cakes and buns individually at the cashier, before putting them into a larger plastic bag. Over-packaging is a cardinal sin against the environment. Besides plastic bags, many single-use styrofoam and plastic items are also unnecessary, such as takeaway boxes, cups and cutlery.

The proposed levy on plastic bags is thus not a statement that plastic bags are bad and should be stamped out. It is just a small symbol of a larger push to get consumers to think twice about their habits.

One writer to The Straits Times Forum page pointed out that not everyone carries a reusable bag around for small, spur-of-the-moment purchases.

That is a good starting point to consider whether you need that small, spur-of-the-moment purchase in the first place. You don't save the environment by choosing paper bags for your unnecessary purchases; you do a better job by cutting out that consumption in the first place.

It is so difficult for us to be mindful of consumption and waste, that a bag levy would be a necessary kick in the butt in the right direction.

As for me, I don't mind paying 10 cents for the privilege of having a bag to put my rubbish in like a civilised human being, before I throw it down the chute.

That in turn makes me think twice about generating so much rubbish in the first place. Seen from that perspective, 10 cents is really a small price to pay for a regular reminder of the need to conserve the earth's resources.

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$1.3m contest to design Singapore's new-age port launched

Challenge calls for revolutionary designs from participants
Jonathan Kwok Straits Times 28 Apr 12;

A LONG-AWAITED contest with a US$1 million (S$1.25 million) top prize to design a new-age container port was unveiled yesterday.

The Next Generation Container Port Challenge, as the competition is called, had been flagged last October, sparking about 70 expressions of interest from more than 10 countries.

The heightened level of interest was apparent at the official launch yesterday at the Mandarin Oriental Singapore.

'This challenge dares participants to play the role of a port planner and submit revolutionary designs that can achieve a quantum leap in innovation, efficiency, productivity and sustainability for container ports,' said Captain M. Segar, assistant chief executive (operations) of the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA), a co-organiser alongside the Singapore Maritime Institute (SMI).

He noted that the fundamental design of container ports have not changed much since they were introduced about 40 years ago.

But global container traffic has been growing at an annual rate of 5 per cent to 7 per cent over the past decade, leading some experts to estimate that this could lead to a doubling of global container trade within 10 to 15 years. Planners also have to take into account increasingly large container ships, economic volatility and environmental concerns.

'Given the long gestation period for port development, this means that ports have to start making plans today to accommodate tomorrow's growth in container volumes,' said Capt Segar.

Participants in the contest will have to consider several operating specifications, such as an annual handling capacity of at least 20 million twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs), round-the-clock operations and a 90 per cent berth on arrival for ships.

Individuals, companies or research institutions, based here or overseas, can take part. Consortiums can also be formed.

The winning team will get a US$1 million cash prize and there can be up to six extra commendation awards of US$100,000.

Grants of $5 million have been set aside for deserving teams to pursue further research. The winning proposal will be announced at next year's Singapore Maritime Week.

Details of the contest can be found on the SMI's website.

Some observers said the port challenge could throw up ideas for a new port development in Tuas.

The land lease at the port terminals in Tanjong Pagar, Keppel and Pulau Brani expires in 2027, and the Government's Economic Strategies Committee has recommended the development of a new waterfront city in Tanjong Pagar after that.

It also suggested looking into a long-term proposal to develop a consolidated port in Tuas, with enough handling capacity to ensure ongoing competitiveness.

One likely entrant is Halcrow, a London-based infrastructure consultant that is a unit of conglomerate CH2M Hill.

Mr Julian Johanson-Brown, director of ports and maritime at Halcrow, flew into Singapore just to attend the official launch.

'When I first saw the challenge in London, I just couldn't stop thinking about it,' he said. 'You get caught in the day job, you think about providing solutions for your current clients, and there's often little time to really explore this kind of opportunity.'

Yesterday also marked the official end of the Singapore Maritime Week (SMW), although some events will continue into this weekend.

About 40,000 participants have taken part in the 25 events, including conferences, networking and public outreach sessions, up from last year's 30,000 participants.

'A good range of issues has been discussed at the dialogue sessions and conferences, further resonating Singapore's importance and growth as a major maritime thought capital,' said MPA chief executive Lam Yi Young.

Mr Patrick Phoon, president of the Singapore Shipping Association, said that SMW is 'fast gaining worldwide recognition of being a bustling hive of maritime activities' and 'delegates from far and wide travel here just to be a part of it'.

Container port of the future making waves
Academics to industry specialists from many countries excited about Next Generation Container Port Challenge
Lynn Kan Business Times 28 Apr 12;

A SINGAPORE competition seeking "revolutionary" ideas for a future container port is anything but a locals-only affair - even as it is concerned with very Singaporean issues like land scarcity, a shrinking labour pool and keeping ahead of other Asian ports.

Indeed, the Next Generation Container Port Challenge (NGCPC) has kept the barriers to entry low even as the stakes are high - a cool US$1 million in top prize money.

Its organisers, the Singapore Maritime Institute (SMI) and the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA), have decided that all nationalities from all backgrounds - interested individuals, industry professionals from within and without the port industry and academia - are welcome to the table.

The challenge comes as the demands of container shipping change, with traffic expected to double in the next 10-15 years and larger container ships requiring deeper drafts, longer berths and wider channels hit the water.

"To be future-ready, the industry needs to challenge conventional thinking and explore radical new ideas for future container ports," said Capt M Segar, MPA's assistant chief executive (operations). "Given the long gestation period for port development, this means that ports have to start making plans today to accommodate tomorrow's growth in container volumes."

Even before the challenge was revealed publicly yesterday, interest gained ground in over 10 countries, including South Africa, United Kingdom, the United States and South Korea.

London-based Julian Johanson-Brown, director of ports and maritime at Halcrow Group, was one of those who booked himself a plane ticket to Singapore to hear the specifics of the NGCPC at the Mandarin Oriental yesterday.

Contenders will have to come up with a concept for a port confined to a land area of 2.5 square kilometres - slightly smaller than the existing Keppel Terminal - and able to handle 20 million twenty-foot containers. Last year, Singapore ports handled nearly 30 million twenty-foot containers altogether.

Ideas will also be judged on efficiency, productivity and environmental and financial sustainability criteria.

From the word go, academics from the National University of Singapore's engineering faculty, Lee Soo Hay and Chew Ek Peng, were doing back-of-the-envelope calculations of the possible and the impossible. They also started planning potential tie-ups with academics from overseas universities and even their contacts among equipment makers to figure out what type of port infrastructure should go into their plan.

"We need different people with different skill sets and different ideas. When we come together, we may be able to brainstorm with a completely new idea," said Prof Lee, department head (graduate studies and research) of industrial and systems engineering.

The deadline for registration on the Container Port Challenge's website (www.maritimeinstitute/portchallenge) is July 31, while proposals are due by Dec 31, 2012. Up to seven ideas will be shortlisted in Feburary 2013.

The NGCPC is not a winner-takes-all competition. The six groups which do not win the top prize may still walk away with US$100,000 in commendation money.

Other promising proposals are eligible for R&D grants, for which the MPA and SMI have set aside up to $5 million.

To Mr Johanson-Brown, there can be no "loser" in the race to the finish.

"We can't lose because the industry will benefit from our thoughts. This is not about making money, it's about providing intellect and vision for the future of the industry," he said.

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$1m land-based Singapore fish farm opens

Apollo Aquarium's Lim Chu Kang farm will rear groupers
Grace Chua Straits Times 28 Apr 12;

FISH farm Apollo Aquarium yesterday opened a $1 million plant to rear groupers at its land-based Lim Chu Kang farm.

The 12-tank experimental system, which will rear 300kg to 400kg of fish in each tank, is a method to farm fish on land using high-tech water treatment.

Apollo Aquarium is possibly the second farm to rear fish this way. The first, a 1,400 sq m farm in Pasir Ris, rears more than a million sea-bass fingerlings each year for sale to other farms.

Farms such as these are helping to boost the productivity of Singapore's food-fish farms.

The Republic currently produces 7 per cent of the food fish that it consumes, but aims to increase that to 15 per cent.

Another experimental farm in Choa Chu Kang rears freshwater fish, such as tilapia and marbled gobies, but it uses water-cycling technology in high-rise, stackable cages.

In all of these, water is treated and recirculated in self-contained systems which clean it more efficiently. That protects the fish from disease, lowers death rates and allows more fish to be reared in a single tank.

This is not Apollo Aquarium's first foray into such technology.

In 2009, with help from a Spring Singapore technology improvement grant, it built a $600,000 system for its ornamental fish that reduced water usage dramatically and fewer fish died.

Previously, it had lost $70,000 to $100,000 worth of fish a year.

After installing the new system, its losses were slashed to $15,000 last year.

Now, its marine food-fish venture will focus on mouse groupers, a plump spotted fish worth $160 a kilogram live, tiger groupers and hybrid groupers.

The aquarium said it will conduct tests to find the type of feed and conditions that best suit these hard-to-rear, delicate fish, which are native to tropical coral reefs and now heavily overfished.

At conventional farms, the survival rate of mouse groupers is 1 to 10 per cent.

Mr Eric Ng, Apollo Aquarium's chief operating officer, said a high-fat diet for the fish was a no-go. 'After they eat, they sink all the way to the bottom and don't swim, and can develop a fatty liver,' he said.

In a year, Apollo aims to expand to two 200-tank farms, and to rear lobsters and crabs.

It recently signed a $2 million deal with a Vietnamese firm to develop a water-treatment system for shrimp farming.

Fish farm eyes raising food fish supply
Qiuyi Tan Channel NewsAsia 6 May 12;

SINGAPORE: A local fish farm in Singapore is investing in research and development (R&D) to raise Singapore's domestic production of food fish.

Ornamental fish producer Apollo Aquarium started running its marine research farm in Lim Chu Kang this March.

The mouse grouper is one food fish it is trying to breed.

It is serious business. When fully grown -- to table size, or about 500 grammes -- the mouse grouper fetches up to S$180 per kilogramme.

For this, the inland farm has developed a water-recycling system that runs on a small water footprint.

There are 12 tanks in the pilot farm, and that is just the beginning.

The whole system is a test bed that's carefully analysing the water conditions, the feeding regime and the behaviour of the fish.

Ninety per cent of the water is recycled.

Because it is a fully enclosed system, Apollo's chief operating officer Eric Ng said fish are protected from the pathogens that thrive in sea water.

"This salt water we're using in our facility is actually cultured," Mr Ng said.

"We're trying to focus on manufacturing this salt water for our usage, rather than using sea water as our source.

"The difficult part is to understand the minerals needed in this water, the salinity content needed for the young larvae, and also for the grown out fish.

"Sea water has a lot of existing pathogens, like viruses or bacteria. We have to go through a rather tedious process of cleaning it before it can be used. For manufactured or cultured sea water, we can produce clean sea water and use it immediately."

Mr Ng added this could result in more benefits.

"Clean fish, less virus, less bacterial infection," he said.

Apollo's R&D journey into marine fish farming started with a government grant in 2009.

SPRING Singapore's deputy chief executive Tan Kai Hoe said the grant was part of its Technology Innovation Programme, which provides up to 70 per cent funding support for SMEs' R&D efforts.

Mr Tan said: "You can change what is usually seen as a traditional business into a completely different one.

"Look at the current business they're in now. I think they've completely changed the productivity of the business. Completely changed the level of technology, even the level of comfort of the entire business for their workers as well."

For former waste water treatment engineer, Dave Chua, marine aquaculture has given him a whole new arena to apply his skills.

He said: "It's more on adapting because you're dealing with food fish, you have to use non-toxic [methods] in terms of water treatment. It's one of my passions in ensuring we have high quality, safe food fish for the market."

From its research farm, Apollo hopes to expand it into a commercial-sized facility that can supply groupers to the market year-round.

- CNA/wk

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Punggol Waterway bags top global award

Singapore project is first in Asia to win environmental prize rarely given outside US
Sara Pua Straits Times 28 Apr 12;

A NEW man-made waterway in Punggol New Town has won a top international award for Singapore, a first by an Asian country for an environmentally sustainable project.

The Grand Prize for Excellence by the American Academy of Environmental Engineers (AAEE) is rarely given to projects outside the United States.

My Waterway@Punggol, known to some as the 'Venice of Singapore', clinched the prize for environmental engineering in the environmental sustainability category, said the Housing Board (HDB) yesterday.

Opened five months ago, the $225 million waterway - Singapore's longest - took 21/2 years to build and is the pride and joy of the country's youngest HDB town.

What struck the judges is the way it has integrated three key design elements - Green, Water and People - to achieve a long-term balance of environmental stewardship, economic development and social well-being.

In fact, green practices were adopted right from the start of its construction, with HDB engineers using a 'cut- and-fill' method to fill the low-lying areas around the waterway with excavated earth.

Also, features such as boardwalks, footbridges and areas around the plaza were built with recycled materials. To get good quality water, eco-drains were one of the innovations introduced to ensure surface run- off water is cleaned before entering the waterway.

Recognising that Singapore's people make a difference, the waterway features not only social communal spaces but also seeks to celebrate Singapore's heritage with its Kelong bridge.

The bridge's architecture is reminiscent of stilt houses - wooden offshore platforms that fishermen built in the past for fishing and sometimes, housing.

Said HDB deputy chief executive officer Sng Cheng Keh, who received the award in Washington, DC, this week: 'Winning this award is testament to Singapore's small contribution towards being responsible global citizens by constructing an environmentally friendly waterway.'

HDB wins international award for environmental sustainability
Channel NewsAsia 27 Apr 12;

SINGAPORE: Punggol Waterway helped the Housing and Development Board (HDB) clinch its first international award for environmental sustainability on Friday.

The HDB said it was awarded the Grand Prize for Excellence in Environmental Engineering in the environmental sustainability category, presented by the prestigious American Academy of Environmental Engineers (AAEE).

My Waterway@Punggol, also known to some as the Venice of Singapore, is the only Asian winner for the Grand Prize under the Environmental Sustainability Category. It won the award five months after it was launched.

The award ceremony was held in Washington DC on Thursday.

HDB's Deputy CEO (Building), Mr Sng Cheng Keh, said: "Right from the start, we wanted to build a green, sustainable waterway, and using green construction methods too. We are glad to have achieved both objectives.

"Winning this award is testament to Singapore's small contribution towards being responsible global citizens by constructing an environmentally-friendly waterway."

The HDB said the waterway has winning features such as eco-drains to ensure surface runoff is cleansed before entering the waterway.

It also has aerators, jet fountains and water curtains to enhance water quality.

The waterway was constructed using green practices. One of them was a "cut-and-fill" method of excavation to fill the low-lying areas around the waterway.

Earth excavated from the waterway was re-used to prepare surrounding low-lying areas for future developments.

Features such as the boardwalks, footbridges and areas around the plaza were built with recycled materials.

The HDB said the waterway is an outstanding example of a vibrant and sustainable town with social communal spaces integrated seamlessly along the waterway.

It took efforts to preserve the memories and heritage from old Singapore by artistically weaving in pieces of history, such as the Kelong Bridge that captures the stilt houses of the past.

- CNA/wm

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Taking the silk road to tougher fabric

RP scientists' supersilk can be used in bulletproof vests, airplane parts
Grace Chua Straits Times 28 Apr 12;

IN THE past two years, materials scientist Willy Tan has gone from farming silkworms to weaving their silk into fabric, all in the name of science.

Now, he aims to turn the fruit of that labour into a $66 million-a-year business, putting enhanced silkworm silk into materials for bulletproof vests, lightweight airplane body parts and automotive parts.

Defence engineering firm ST Kinetics reckons such high-tech materials are worth that much to it, so it has chipped in $3 million to set up a new laboratory at Republic Polytechnic (RP), where Dr Tan is a senior academic staff member in the School of Applied Science.

The new lab, called the Advanced Composite Engineering Lab, opened earlier this month. It will offer RP students an avenue for their final-year research studies and host three to five interns a year.

Dr Tan got involved with the silkworm project in 2008 when the school was casting about for a project to commercialise. Then, it worked with National University of Singapore researchers who had filed a patent for a method to make silkworm silk stronger.

That is done by exposing the worm to an electric field before it spins its silk cocoon, causing the crystals in silk proteins to line up in a way that strengthens the strand.

In 2010, Dr Tan set up a laboratory at RP that now produces 20,000 cocoons at a time. A typical commercial silkworm farm produces about 100,000 cocoons at a go.

In the past two years, he and his colleagues have run tests on the 'supersilk', which is up to 40 per cent stronger than ordinary silk and needs two to three times the force before it breaks.

The enhanced silk also stretches 12 times as much and is lighter than current synthetic materials such as Kevlar, making it ideal for reinforced vests and helmets, for instance.

The team even visited silk farms and textile factories in Taiwan and China, and bought equipment like a state-of-the-art weaving machine for prototypes.

Woven different ways, the silk fabric also has different properties, which Dr Tan and his colleagues are now testing.

Currently, the supersilk costs $150 per kg to produce in the lab, but the cost will fall to about $80 at commercial scale.

That is cheaper than synthetic Kevlar, the material used in vests and helmets, which costs about $160 per kg.

Besides the ST Kinetics funding, the project has been supported by $2 million worth of research grants from the Ministry of Education and National Research Foundation, among others.

The RP scientists are not the only ones with an eye on silkworms. Last year, researchers from the Agency for Science, Technology and Research produced coloured and luminescent silk by feeding their silkworms various dyes.

Next, Dr Tan wants to add spider silk to the fabric to make it even stronger.

Spider silk is notoriously difficult to mass produce, but he has gone round to parks to harvest spider-web samples and work out how to make spiders produce their sticky webs on demand.

'I'm not a biologist,' Dr Tan said. 'There are so many new things that we've had to learn.'

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Plastic Trash in Oceans May Be 'Vastly' Underestimated

Jeanna Bryner, LiveScience Yahoo News 27 Apr 12;

An oceanographer who noticed a disappearing act in which the surface of the ocean went from confetti-covered to clear now suggests wind may driving large amounts of trash deeper into the sea.

Oceanographer Giora Proskurowski was sailing in the Pacific Ocean when he saw the small bits of plastic debris disappear beneath the water as soon as the wind picked up.

His research on the theory, with Tobias Kukulka of the University of Delaware, suggests that on average, plastic debris in the ocean may be 2.5 times higher than estimates using surface-water sampling. In high winds, the volume of plastic trash could be underestimated by a factor of 27, the researchers report this month in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

Plastic waste can wreak havoc on an ecosystem, harming fish and other organisms that ingest it, possibly even degrading a fish's liver; the trashy bits also make nice homes for bacteria and algae that get carried to other areas of the ocean where they could be invasive or cause other problems, the researchers noted. [Video Reveals Sea Lions Strangled By Debris]

In 2010, the team collected water samples at various depths in the North Atlantic Ocean. "Almost every subsurface tow we took had plastic in the net," Proskurowski told LiveScience, adding that they used a specialized tow net that isolated certain layers of the water, so it would only open at a specific depth and close before being pulled up.

Next, they combined the trash tally with wind measurements to come up with a mathematical model, which allowed them to calculate the amount of debris at different depths on average as well as look at how that amount changed with different conditions, such as on a windy day.

They found 2.5 times more debris in the layers of water below the "surface water" (defined as the top 9.8 inches or 25 centimeters) as was found in that surface section. The debris was distributed down to a depth of about 65 to 82 feet (20 to 25 meters).

The findings mean the estimates of plastic litter in the ocean, conducted by skimming the surface water only, may in some cases vastly underestimate the true amount of plastic debris there.

"The scope of the [plastic debris] problem is not just at the very surface but goes down to 20 meters or so, and that plastic is distributed throughout this layer," Proskurowski said during an interview.

He and his colleagues plan to publish a simplified version of the model so others investigating ocean plastics can use it.

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Malaysia: Poachers threaten Johor bird sanctuary

Mohd Farhaan Shah The Star 28 Apr 12;

JOHOR BARU: Poachers have entered the Panti Bird Sanctuary in Kota Tinggi to hunt and trap the wildlife that is supposed to be protected there.

The poachers, both locals and foreigners, have been active there for several years, said Malaysian Nature Society Johor branch chairman Vincent Chow.

He and several society members visited the sanctuary three weeks ago and came across camp sites.

“We were shocked to find a monkey's head and guts from an animal, perhaps a mousedeer or wild boar, near a river at the sanctuary.

“This is the work of poachers who came to the sanctuary and did as they pleased since there was no enforcement in the area,” he said.

Chow said it was a startling discovery as the number of animals and birds at the sanctuary had been decreasing over the years.

He said that five years ago, deer, monkeys, wild boars and tapirs roamed freely and could be easily seen.

“Once, there were more than 250 different types of birds such as the chestnut-necklaced partridge, crestless fireback, Storm's stork and Wallace's hawk-eagle.

“Now, it is hard to spot even five types of birds,” he said.

Chow added that there was no security at the sanctuary and there was no stopping the poachers from hunting down their prey.

He said the society had lodged a report with the Wildlife Protection and National Parks Department (Perhilitan).

Johor Perhilitan director Siti Hawa Yatim or officials from the department could not be reached for comment despite numerous attempts by The Star.

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Large pangolin seizure highlights timeliness of re-forming IUCN-SSC Pangolin Specialist Group

TRAFFIC 27 Apr 12;

Ha Noi, Viet Nam, 27th April, 2012—Local enforcement authorities have seized 304 kilograms (71 individuals) of live Pangolins in Nghe An Province in the north central coast of Vietnam after receiving a tip off that a car was transporting the endangered species on Tuesday.

The driver of the car, from Nghe An Province, failed to show police the legal documents required for owning and transporting the animals, and was taken into custody for further investigation. Initial investigations have led authorities to believe that the pangolins originated in Malaysia and were smuggled across the Lao PDR border into Viet Nam from where the consignment would have gone on to China.

Pangolins, or scaly anteaters, are distributed across large areas of Africa and Asia. In Southeast Asia, the animals are becoming increasingly threatened due to illicit international trade.

Pangolins are illegally harvested from countries throughout Southeast Asia and are often smuggled to consumer markets in China and Vietnam, where their scales are used in traditional medicines and the meat is considered a delicacy.

An increasingly affluent consumer market in these countries is driving the demand for pangolin products, which has led to a sharp decrease in their population throughout the region.

“TRAFFIC congratulates authorities in Viet Nam on this important seizure as well as other recent detections. Countries with wild pangolin populations and those key to the on-going illegal trade are ramping up efforts to combat the problem,” said Dr Naomi Doak, Greater Mekong Programme Coordinator for TRAFFIC.

“However, without stricter enforcement of current laws and tougher sentences for illegal wildlife traders, the future for this species in Asia looks very bleak,” added Doak.

TRAFFIC also urged authorities to incinerate any dead pangolins and transfer those still alive to a rescue centre, to ensure no one profits from the crime.

In 2010, TRAFFIC Southeast Asia reported that one syndicate in Sabah, Malaysia alone was responsible for trafficking 22,000 pangolins over an 18-month period. Since then, illegal trade in live pangolins, its meat and scales has continued to be reported throughout Asia

In response to threats to pangolin populations in both Africa and Asia, including persistent illegal trade, the IUCN, International Union for Conservation of Nature, Species Survival Commission (IUCN-SSC) Pangolin Specialist Group was recently re-formed.

“The IUCN-SSC Pangolin Specialist Group aims to further our understanding of pangolins and the threats they face,” stated Dan Challender, Co-Chair of the re-formed group and a researcher studying pangolin trade in Asia, based at the University of Kent’s Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology (DICE).

The group’s mission is to “be a global voice for pangolins by working to advance knowledge and understanding of pangolins worldwide, their conservation, natural history and ecology and to catalyze action to meet these needs.”

TRAFFIC in Southeast Asia has led on a number of pangolin focused initiatives in recent years and continues to monitor trade levels, actively engage in researching the dynamics of the pangolin trade, and assist authorities in their efforts to clamp down on the illegal trade of this species.

“The formation of this Specialist Group is a great step forward” says Chris R. Shepherd, Deputy Regional Director of TRAFFIC in Southeast Asia. “Bringing together a wide range of expertise and dedicated people to focus on the conservation of these amazing animals is key to their long term survival.”

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Pacific Reef Sharks Vanishing Near Populated Islands

Stephanie Pappas, LiveScience Yahoo News 27 Apr 12;

As many as 90 percent of reef sharks have disappeared from reefs near populated islands, a new study finds.

The research is the first to provide a large-scale estimate of reef sharks in the Pacific, a group of species that includes the gray reef shark, the whitetip reef shark and the tawny nurse shark.

"We estimate that reef shark numbers have dropped substantially around populated islands, generally by more than 90 percent compared to those at the most untouched reefs," said study leader Marc Nadon, a doctoral candidate at the University of Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine & Atmospheric Science. "In short, people and sharks don't mix."

Nadon and his colleagues pulled shark sighting data from more than 1,607 dives at 46 reefs in the central-western Pacific, which included reefs near the Hawaiian islands and American Samoa as well as extremely isolated reefs nearly devoid of human influence. Though eight species of shark were seen on the dives, the researchers excluded sharks, such as hammerheads, that aren't dependent on reefs. That left them with five shark species to tally: gray reef sharks, blacktip reef sharks, whitetip reef sharks, Galapagos sharks and tawny nurse sharks. [On the Brink: A Gallery of Wild Sharks]

Combining that data with information on human population, habitat complexity, availability of food and sea-surface temperatures, the researchers created models comparing the numbers of sharks at pristine versus human-impacted reefs.

"Around each of the heavily populated areas we surveyed — in the main Hawaiian Islands, the Mariana Archipelago, and American Samoa — reef shark numbers were greatly depressed compared to reefs in the same regions that were simply [farther] away from humans." Nadon said in a statement. "We estimate that less than 10 percent of the baseline numbers remain in these areas."

The devastation of sharks in areas near human civilization could be the result of illegal fishing, incidental killing or fishing for sport, the researchers report Friday (April 27) in the journal Conservation Biology. Human impact on the reef fish that sharks call dinner could also play a role. Human influences were shown to outweigh natural influences, such as warmer water temperatures, the researchers found.

"Our findings underscore the importance of long-term monitoring across gradients of human impacts, biogeographic, and oceanic conditions, for understanding how humans are altering our oceans," said Rusty Brainard, head of the coral reef ecosystem division at NOAA's Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center, which conducted the shark surveys.

Scientists Provide First Large-Scale Estimate of Reef Shark Losses in the Pacific Ocean
ScienceDaily 27 Apr 12;

Many shark populations have plummeted in the past three decades as a result of excessive harvesting -- for their fins, as an incidental catch of fisheries targeting other species, and in recreational fisheries. This is particularly true for oceanic species. However, until now, a lack of data prevented scientists from properly quantifying the status of Pacific reef sharks at a large geographic scale.

In a study published online April 27 in the journal Conservation Biology, an international team of marine scientists provide the first estimates of reef shark losses in the Pacific Ocean. Using underwater surveys conducted over the past decade across 46 U.S. Pacific islands and atolls, as part of NOAA's extensive Pacific Reef Assessment and Monitoring Program the team compared reef shark numbers at reefs spanning from heavily impacted ones to those among the world's most pristine.

The numbers are sobering.

"We estimate that reef shark numbers have dropped substantially around populated islands, generally by more than 90 percent compared to those at the most untouched reefs," said Marc Nadon, lead author of the study and a scientist at the Joint Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Research (JIMAR) located at the University of Hawaii, as well as a PhD candidate with Dr. Jerry Ault at the University of Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine & Atmospheric Science. "In short, people and sharks don't mix."

To obtain these estimates, Nadon and his colleagues used an innovative survey method, called 'towed-diver surveys,' which were designed specifically for the census of large, highly mobile reef fishes like sharks. The surveys involve paired SCUBA divers recording shark sightings while towed behind a small boat.

"Towed-diver surveys are key to our effort to quantify reef shark abundance," said Ivor Williams, head of the team responsible for these surveys. "Unlike other underwater census methods, which are typically at an insufficient spatial scale to properly count large, mobile species, these surveys allowed our scientists to quickly record shark numbers over large areas of reef."

The team crunched the numbers from over 1,600 towed-diver surveys, combining them with information on human population, habitat complexity, reef area, and satellite-derived data on sea surface temperature and oceanographic productivity.

The models showed the enormous detrimental effect that humans have on reef sharks.

"Around each of the heavily populated areas we surveyed -- in the main Hawaiian Islands, the Mariana Archipelago, and American Samoa -- reef shark numbers were greatly depressed compared to reefs in the same regions that were simply further away from humans." Nadon said. "We estimate that less than 10% of the baseline numbers remain in these areas."

Like all fishes, reef sharks are influenced by their environment. "They like it warm, and they like it productive," said Julia Baum, Assistant Professor at the University of Victoria, Canada, referring to the increase in reef sharks the team found in areas with higher water temperatures and productivity. "Yet our study clearly shows that human influences now greatly outweigh natural ones."

"The pattern -- of very low reef shark numbers near inhabited islands -- was remarkably consistent, irrespective of ocean conditions or region," added Williams.

"Our findings underscore the importance of long-term monitoring across gradients of human impacts, biogeographic, and oceanic conditions, for understanding how humans are altering our oceans," concluded Rusty Brainard, head of the Coral Reef Ecosystem Division at NOAA's Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center, which conducted the surveys.

Journal Reference:

Marc O. Nadon, Julia K. Baum, Ivor D. Williams, Jana M. Mcpherson, Brian J. Zgliczynski, Benjamin L. Richards, Robert E. Schroeder, Russell E. Brainard. Re-Creating Missing Population Baselines for Pacific Reef Sharks. Conservation Biology, 2012; DOI: 10.1111/j.1523-1739.2012.01835.x

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