Best of our wild blogs: 31 Jul 12

from The annotated budak

KTPH - 3 more dragonfly species recorded
from Everyday Nature

Fledgling Olive-backed Sunbird and Noni flowers
from Bird Ecology Study Group

Clean Coast Index Report 2011 - Part 4
from MNS Marine Group, Selangor Branch

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Singapore still has undiscovered marine species, says scientist

Grace Chua Straits Times 31 Jul 12;

SINGAPORE'S biodiversity has been studied only piecemeal till now, and there are still new species to be discovered, said visiting Australian scientist Peter Davie.

Mr Davie, of the public Queensland Museum, has been visiting the Republic for 25 years, first stopping over in 1987.

Here, he is helping local scientists with crustacean research, identifying and comparing crabs from around the region to determine if they are separate species or the same, which has implications for harvesting commercial crabs, for instance.

He was in town last week to give a talk on the challenges and delights of studying marine biodiversity in Australia.

Marine life here had been studied a bit at a time till Singapore started its comprehensive marine biodiversity survey in 2010, said the 57-year-old senior curator. A comprehensive survey establishes a baseline of what is out there, and can sometimes unearth new species, he said.

That Singapore is even doing such a survey is a "drastic change" from a quarter-century ago.

"When I first came here, there was a lot of interest in exploring the science but not much interest in trying to conserve," Mr Davie said. "There was a feeling that Singapore was a small island that had already been exploited and there was not much left to protect... That was the attitude back then."

Today, there is more appreciation for nature, and a stronger conservation ethic and push to create marine parks and terrestrial protection areas, he said. And species thought extinct here have been rediscovered in the past few years, such as the Neptune's Cup, a giant cup-like sponge found off Singapore's southern coast.

The museum veteran of 34 years grew up in Brisbane, snorkelling around coastal estuaries looking at fish. He got his start as a tree-hugger trying to save local mangroves with the Australian Marine Conservation Society.

He said: "We went to the museum and said, 'hey, we've found all these (mangrove) crabs - what are they?' And I ended up getting a job there." He was just 23.

The museum is an apolitical outfit, not a conservation group. It provides information to industry and government to help manage and conserve the environment. It has not shied away from thorny issues, though.

Because Australia requires new developments to do public environmental impact studies, scientists doing one such study on mining giant Rio Tinto's A$900 million (S$1.17 billion) new mine found a previously unknown freshwater crab, which Mr Davie confirmed was likely to be a new species.

But conservation need not curb economic growth, he said. Now, the firm has pledged to safeguard the creek where the new crab was found.

"It might not be a huge impact on the company's bottom line if it has to divert from a small area," Mr Davie pointed out. But firms need to know what the environmental issues are to be able to address them.

In fact, protecting the environment can have economic benefits: The Great Barrier Reef is worth A$2billion in Queensland tourism every year.

In Australia, taxonomists, who help identify and classify species, are starting to help prevent invasive species like zebra mussels from spreading, and catch smugglers of endangered South-east Asian fish species.

These are avenues that such research can take in Singapore, Mr Davie suggested. And there is room for Singapore to conserve its natural environment to set an example in the region, he added.

"It's a great thing for Singapore to say, we are valuing the natural environment. And also, you're a country that can actually afford the luxury of spending a bit on your environment," he said.

"In the end, if we don't look after our habitats and our environment, we as a species aren't going to be sustainable ourselves."

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Water is an issue of life & death for Singapore: PUB chief

S Ramesh Channel NewsAsia 30 Jul 12;

SINGAPORE: Singapore's second water agreement with Malaysia expires in 2061 but the Republic will be able to meet its water requirements independently ahead of this expiry date of the agreement "if need be", said Chew Men Leong, the chief executive of the national water agency PUB.

He made the point in a recent interview with wire agency Bloomberg.

A spokesperson for PUB also stressed that Singapore will be abiding by the 2061 agreement till it expires.

The first water agreement with Malaysia expired on 31 August 2011.

Mr Chew added that Singapore spent S$600 million to S$800 million a year since 2006 on water infrastructure to boost its supply.

And he said the Republic has made progress to the point that it is now much more confident in terms of water security and sustainability.

Mr Chew however added that his main worry is climate change and how that lowers water levels at reservoirs.

Changing weather patterns also led to heavy rainfalls and flash floods that added stress to Singapore's drainage systems, where parts of the Orchard Road shopping belt were affected over the past two years.

PUB is also working on reducing water consumption, Mr Chew said, through measures ranging from mandatory dual-flushing systems for toilets and automatic faucets in all public restrooms.

All this, because water is an issue of "life and death here" and that's always been the message, the PUB chief emphasised.

- CNA/ck

Singapore to meet water target before deadline
Today Online 30 Jul 12;

SINGAPORE - Singapore will be able to meet its water requirements independently ahead of the 2061 expiration of a century-long supply agreement with Malaysia "if need be", the head of the city-state's water utility said.

Desalination and recycling plants produce 40 per cent of the 380 million British gallons of water companies in Singapore and its 5.2 million population use daily, Mr Chew Men Leong, chief executive of PUB, said in an interview on July 27. A downtown dam adds a further 10 per cent, with the remaining coming from its reservoirs and imports from Malaysia.

"We have made progress to the point that we are now much more confident in terms of water security and sustainability," said Mr Chew, 44, a former naval chief who joined the utility about a year ago. "If you're asking me this question about when will we ever get self-sufficiency, I will put it this way that we can be self-sufficient if need be."

Singapore, which relied on Malaysia for its water needs, spent S$600 million to S$800 million a year since 2006 on new technologies to boost its supply. The push to develop the industry has drawn businesses including General Electric and Siemens to invest, and created local water companies such as Hyflux that have expanded overseas.

"What they are looking to do is create a virtual market for the water business which is much larger than Singapore," said Mr Glen Daigger, chief technology officer of CH2M Hill, an Colorado-based industry consulting firm. "By becoming a thought leader for water in Asia, then they really create a market which is orders of magnitude bigger than Singapore itself."

Chew said his main worry is climate change and how that lowers water levels at reservoirs. Changing weather patterns also led to heavy rainfalls and flash floods that added stress to its drainage systems, where parts of the Orchard Road shopping belt were affected over the past two years.

PUB is also working on reducing water consumption, he said, with measures ranging from mandatory dual-flushing systems for toilets and automatic faucets in all public restrooms.

The average usage per person is now 153.4 litres a day, down from 165 litres nine years ago, he said. That's expected to fall to 147 litres by the end of the decade and 140 litres in the following 10 years, he said.

"Here, water is an issue of life and death," Mr Chew said. "That's always been the message." BLOOMBERG

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Bidadari to retain its greenery and heritage

HDB's call for masterplan proposals reveals vision for the new town
Grace Chua Straits Times 31 Jul 12;

THE upcoming Bidadari housing estate will have a regional park, retain its hilly and lush landscape, and celebrate its history and heritage, said the Housing Board.

The estate, which sits on a 93ha former cemetery site, will "creatively incorporate" historical elements.

These will complement the existing Bidadari Memorial Garden, which holds the tombstones of 21 prominent early citizens.

The board's vision for Singapore's newest town since Punggol was unveiled in documents calling for development proposals which were obtained by The Straits Times.

The board said Bidadari town will be very pedestrian- and cyclist-friendly and have seamless connections between transport nodes and places of attraction.

All in, the HDB wants the estate - about a quarter of Clementi town in terms of land area - to be a "distinctive and sustainable tranquil urban oasis".

Bidadari ceased burials in 1972 and was exhumed through the early 2000s. It is currently a rolling expanse of greenery frequented by joggers.

Some 12,000 private and HDB homes will be developed on the site bounded by Bartley Road, Upper Serangoon Road, Sennett Estate and Mount Vernon Road.

Infrastructure work like site preparation and earthworks will start at the end of this year. The first HDB build-to-order launch could take place as early as 2015, with flats completed in 2018.

The HDB is asking planners and consultants for expressions of interest to develop the estate's masterplan. Up to five will be invited to tender for the project.

Besides the proposals for master planning and urban design of the new estate, the HDB is seeking a team to design, construct and maintain one public housing project within the estate.

The call for expressions of interest closes on Aug 6. A tender for the masterplan is likely to be awarded in November and the plan completed next February.

Commenting on the documents, MP Lee Bee Wah, who chairs the Government Parliamentary Committee for National Development, said she was pleased that the undulating terrain of Bidadari is to be retained.

"We can make this estate different from others, rather than replicate HDB townships all over again," she said, urging planners not to overlook transport requirements too.

The area is served by three MRT stations: Bartley, Woodleigh and Potong Pasir.

Environment consultant Eugene Tay said: "It's good that the proposal brief includes retaining the existing greenery and past heritage of the area, and also requirements for sustainability studies and planning."

He suggested setting quantitative environmental targets, similar to the Building and Construction Authority's Green Mark scheme for parks or districts.

As a cemetery, Bidadari was the resting place for notable personalities like doctor and reformist Lim Boon Keng and lawyer and civic leader Song Ong Siang. In the Urban Redevelopment Authority's Master Plan 2008, the area that may one day be a regional park includes the current Mount Vernon columbarium.

Ms Olivia Choong, 33, a publicist and resident of Sennett Estate in the area, is excited about the HDB town coming up next door.

"I think it's nice to have new neighbours. We'll enjoy the amenities there too," she said.

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Malaysia: 400 anti-Aedes mosquitoes let loose in Puchong

Hasini Kannan New Straits Times 31 Jul 12'

EXPERIMENTAL: Bid to cut down dengue cases

SUBANG JAYA: SUBANG Jaya Municipal Council yesterday released another 400 Toxorhynchites mosquitoes at Kampung Sri Aman, Puchong, yesterday.

The third phase was launched by council vice-president Abdullah Marjunid following the success of the first and second phases on Oct 29 of last year and Jan 17.

Toxorhynchites, a larger mosquito species, can restrict the breeding of Aedes mosquitoes responsible for spreading dengue. The larvae of Toxorhynchites prey on the larvae of other mosquitoes.
It is among the few kinds of mosquitoes that do not consume blood.

Last year saw 27 dengue cases being reported and 15 cases have been recorded this year. The council chose Kampung Sri Aman as it has a high number of recent dengue cases.

In November last year, 60 mosquito larvae trapping devices (MLTDs) were installed at Jalan Bistari 1, Jalan Bistari 2, Jalan Bistari 3, Jalan Aman 1, Jalan Aman 2 and Jalan Taqwa.

The council in a statement said the experiment had indicated showed a high number of Aedes breeding spots at the location.

Bug-eat-bug world
Yeo Yi Shuen The Star 31 Jul 12;

THE Subang Jaya Municipal Council (MPSJ), Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) and CIMB have joined forces to reduce the threat of dengue in Kampung Seri Aman, Puchong, using Toxorhynchites mosquitoes.

They recently carried out the third phase of a project that helped prevent the Aedes mosquitoes from breeding.

Cannibalistic by nature, the Toxorhynchites species is known as the “elephant mosquito” and one of the few species that does not consume blood and only eats plant nectar.

The Toxorhynchites mosquitoes, in blue, metallic green or black, are released to breed and produce larvae which will eat the larvae of the Aedes mosquitoes.

Larvae of the Toxorhynchites mosquitoes are 1.2cm to 1.8cm long and are are four or five times bigger than normal mozzies.

Kampung Seri Aman was chosen for this project because 27 cases of dengue fever were recorded last year.

MPSJ deputy president Abdullah Marjunid said the project would not endanger the public and there were no side-effects.

“A Toxorhynchites mosquito is sitting on my arm but it does not bite as the mosquitoes feed on plants. We are safe,” he said.

MPSJ health director Dr Roslan Mohamed Hussin said the project was now at a testing stage.

“During the first phase of the project, we did not see any pupae of the Toxorhynchites mosquito. However, at the second stage, we found a few.

“Hopefully, this means that the mosquitoes are adapting to their surroundings and we hope that the third phase will have even better results,” added Dr Roslan.

Some 400 adult Toxorhynchites mosquitoes and 100 of its pupae were released.

Since the project started in October last year, there has been a noticable decrease in the number of dengue cases in the area.

“Last year, there were 27 cases. So far, this year there have been less than 15 cases.

“If this project proves to be successful, we may conduct this in other areas as well,” said Dr Roslan.

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Malaysia: Barcode for trees to curb illegal logging

Natalie Heng The Star 31 Jul 12;

DNA profiling for trees will, one day, be used to curb illegal logging.

DEOXYRIBONUCLEIC acid, otherwise known as DNA, is nature’s barcode. It is inherent in nearly every cell in every organism, and could just be our answer to curbing illegal timber trade.

It might sound like science fiction or something out of an alternative CSI episode where investigators track down trees instead of killers, but DNA fingerprinting for trees based on technologies routinely used in criminal forensics holds much promise in the field of international enforcement.

In fact, these tools are prime candidates for putting a spanner on illegal logging – an industry which has devastating consequences for biodiversity, ecosystems and national economies alike.

To understand how this is possible, you need to think of DNA as a code. Genes in specific sequences translate into a variety of proteins which do most of the work in cells (structure, function, and regulation of the body’s tissues and organs, for example).

A good analogy put forward by evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins is to think of genes as instructions in a cooking recipe. The instructions “collaborate” in the cookery process to culminate in a dish. Genes are expressed in a similarly collaborative fashion, but result in developmental processes which culminate in a body, be it human, fly or tree.

Dr Lee Soon Leong specialises in the DNA found in trees. He wades through peat swamps and treks through isolated forests to expand his collection of tree DNA samples, which he studies at the genetics laboratory at Forestry Research Institute Malaysia (FRIM).

In this leafy hub of scientific activity hidden away from the dusty streets of Kepong, Kuala Lumpur, Lee heads the genetics laboratory. In recent years, his team has been engaged in research which has important implications for prosecutors trying to bring illegally logged timber cases to court.

To understand this work, however, we first need to understand a highly interesting and useful feature of DNA – some sequences are highly conservative, whilst others are more variable.

Chloroplast genes which code for proteins involved in photosynthesis, for example, perform an important function that green plants cannot do without – allowing green plants to use energy from sunlight to synthesise food out of carbon dioxide and water. The DNA in these gene sequences are therefore highly conservative, and are likely to be very consistent between individuals of the same plant species.

Not all DNA sequences actually code for genes, however, and within these intergenic regions, harmless mutations which do not pose any disadvantage will often occur, and be passed on to subsequent generations. In this way, sequence changes can clock up along these segments, so the DNA profiles of specific intergenic regions in a distantly related group of trees will be increasingly more divergent from those of their founding population. This feature makes DNA profiling the perfect tool for shedding light on the murky routes of illegal timber trade, which is often obscured by log laundering.

Dodgy paperwork is just one of the methods companies use to disguise the origin and species of timber, effectively “legalising” logs that have come from an illegal source.

When you consider how advanced the world has become – increasingly powerful and advanced technologies being made to members of the public through smartphones, for example – it is surprising just how rudimentary our global timber trade tracking system is. The main checks that occur rely on an examination of externally applied, and easily manipulated, marks such as ink, metal bands and tags. These are cross-checked against paper documents, which can be falsified.

It is hard to blame customs officials. After all, a block of wood is, to the average person, a block of wood. Shipments of processed logs all pretty much look the same when you’re not trained in wood anatomy, which is currently the standard method used in log identification.

Even then, a timber package suspicious enough to warrant checking is subject to some disadvantages – important timber tree species are not necessarily visually distinguishable from similar species in the sawn form. All these are serious problems when it comes to the mislabelling of trade-restricted or endangered species of wood for laundering purposes.

The barcode of life

Illegal loggers might be able to mess with the paper system but they cannot mess with DNA. It is a unique property inherent in trees, and present in almost every cell within a solid wood product. It is the differences in variability across the genome that has allowed scientists like Lee to play detective, taking unknown wood samples, and tracing their origins using specific DNA sequences or “DNA markers”. Highly conservative DNA markers that are consistent within a species can be used as “barcodes” for species identification, he explains.

Since their project began in 2010, Lee’s team has amassed barcodes for half of Malaysia’s 408 commercially valuable timber species. The database of barcodes can be used for rapid identification of wood species used in heavy construction and furniture manufacturing. There is also potential implication in conservation as the barcodes can be used to assess plant biodiversity.

Whilst the highly conservative barcodes can be used for timber species identification, intergenic markers can be used to track geographical origins. Closely related trees located within the same timber concession might share common marker sequences, but the further you go, the more variation you will find within those markers. This effectively enables scientists to calculate the statistical probability of an unknown wood sample coming from a specific region, or population of trees.

But first, a database of intergenic DNA markers must be compiled from samples covering the species’ geographical range. This is exact what Lee’s team has done for cengal (Neobalanocarpus heimii), a valuable timber species which reportedly fetches up to RM10,000 per tonne, and ramin melawis (Gonystylus bancanus), a rare and endangered species which is trade-restricted and found only within dwindling lowland freshwater and peat swamp forests. Work is also currently under way to create databases for kempas (Koompassia mallaccensis) and dark red meranti (Shorea platyclados).

Being able to make geographical distinctions with regards to the place of origin of the timber has ground-breaking implications. It means that a DNA sample extracted from any piece of wood, be it a shipment going through customs or a piece of furniture, can be used to cross-check the source that is stated in the paperwork.

To take things a step further, stretches of DNA known as “microsatellites” are also variable, so these can act like individual fingerprints with only two samples from the same tree providing a perfect match.

Proving that misdeclared logs have not originated from a legal timber concession remains one of the timber world’s biggest challenges.

Section 15 of the National Forestry Act 1984 prohibits the taking of forest produce from permanent reserved forest or state land forest without a licence but it has yet to be the basis for any prosecution, partly due to the difficulties involved in producing evidence strong enough to stand up in court.

Lee says the primary application for his research is to furnish enforcement agencies with the necessary tools to do their job.

Microsatellite markers, for example, should be good enough to prove beyond doubt that there has been a chain-of-custody breach along the life cycle of a wood product, especially if the DNA can be matched to a specific tree stump.

Aside from helping with the prosecution of illegal loggers, there is a bigger picture his work is helping to build.

The data his team are generating can be used for fundamental sciences and furthering our understanding about the evolutionary genetics of tropical plants, and can also be used to identify biodiversity hubs and come up with more effective conservation strategies.

“Safeguarding our forests and figuring out how best to conserve them is important,” says Lee. “Because the forest doesn’t just belong to existing generations, but also to future generations.”

Due diligence through DNA
The Star 31 Jul 12;

THE lack of practicable control mechanisms to identify the origins of timber and wood products means that every year, an undetermined amount of illegally logged timber makes it onto the mainstream market.

Up to 50% of the wood exported from South-East Asia, the Amazon, central Africa and Russia is suspected to have come from illegal sources, according to the European Union’s Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade Action Plan. This is equivalent to US$15bil (RM45bil) worth of losses in revenue and assets every year for some of the poorest countries in the world.

It is acknowledged that illegal deforestation is not just the responsibility of suppliers, but also consumer countries. Next year, a new piece of legislation will come into force, effectively banning the world’s largest single market, the European Union, from importing any illegally-sourced timber.

This has left timber supply countries, including Malaysia, which currently exports about RM2.29bil worth of timber products to the EU annually, scrambling to finalise the EU-Voluntary Partnership Agreements (VPA). Supporting this is the Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) Action Plan, to help relevant countries set up a legality assurance system so that they can comply with the new regulation.

It is in this context that technologies such as DNA fingerprinting and stable-isotyping, a technology with similar uses, are emerging to take centrestage, as they might just be the solutions the world is looking for when it comes to the due diligence required for the issuance of FLEGT timber export licences.

In line with this, Biodiversity International has launched a new facility, based in Kuala Lumpur, to promote the identification of timber species and their origins. Scientific co-ordinator for the facility, Marius Ekue, says that by the end of the three-year project, they aim to have a functional international database featuring genetic and stable isotopes for 20 major commercial species of timber.

“We also expect to have an international agreement on standards for using genetic and stable isotopes markers for timber species identification and tracking, so certification bodies and other service providers can start incorporating genetic and stable isotope fingerprinting into their evaluation criteria.”

One big advantage of DNA and stable isotopes, says Ekue, is that such markers can also be used with processed wood.

“Such tools are already being used for major food commodities. There is no reason why it should not work for wood and wood products.”

The ultimate goal is to eliminate the possibility of falsifying accompanying chain-of-custody documents, by introducing a new and effective weapon in the fight against timber laundering. Aside from recent DNA database profiling work done at the Forest Research Institute of Malaysia, there are a number of international projects geared towards similar objectives.

There is also potential for co-operation with existing databases, such as the Barcode of Life, which is an international collaboration between scientists to create a single, open access database containing barcodes for as many species as possible.

In the mean time, however, the facility will serve to bridge these individual efforts by co-ordinating a series of workshops aimed at helping various quarters reach agreements on knowledge-sharing so they can work together. A regional workshop for the Asia-Pacific region will be held in China next month.

This year, Ghana became the first country to conclude its EU-Voluntary Partnership Agreement. Two countries are currently undergoing the ratification process while seven more are still in negotiations. Malaysia, one of the first countries to begin negotiations, hopes to finalise its agreement by the end of the year.

It might be a while before the science is translated into a viable system offering DNA-based timber tracking services but at least the wheels have been set in motion, promising a better chance at curbing the global illegal timber trade. – By Natalie Heng
Applications of a tree DNA database

> Pre-purchase diligence – Buyers can test provenance of sawn timber before buying contracts are signed.

> Raw material testing – This can be done at checkpoints along product supply chains.

> Wood product quality control

> Sampling and factory inspections – Checks can be made during the manufacturing process, especially for at-risk species in regions where fraud is prevalent, or management processes are weak.

> Customs control at point of import – Inspections can be made if the legality of the timber shipment is suspect.

> Border testing by importers – This can be done to confirm the species and the origins of the timber.

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Keeping Riau’s Palm Oil Industry Strong a Careful Balancing Act

Fidelis E. Satriastanti Jakarta Globe 30 Jul 12;

“Back in the 1990s, the future of our village was bleak, but then palm oil came and changed it all,” Firdaus said.

“The economy picked up, people could afford to buy motorcycles and improve their homes.”

Firdaus is the chief of Dosan village in Riau’s Siak district, one of the countless communities in the heavily forested Sumatran province whose fortunes are tied to the controversial crop.

In 2003, the village began growing oil palm on 3,500 hectares of land. But unlike many other areas, Dosan has from the outset practiced an environmentally-sustainable form of oil palm cultivation, Firdaus said.

“We don’t want the improved conditions to come to an end, so we’ve always tried to conserve our environment,” he said at a discussion in Jakarta held by Greenpeace Indonesia and the agriculture group Perkumpulan Elang (Eagle Society).

“That’s why we have rules on not clearing the existing forest, so that our kids and grandkids will still be able to experience the forest for themselves.

“We also require residents to maintain a 100-meter-wide belt of shade trees, because before we started growing oil palms the air here was very cool.

“Once we began planting the oil palms, it got hotter and we realized we needed shade trees to restore the cool.”

Perkumpulan Elang director Riko Kurniawan said more needed to be done to empower such farmers, given how much of Riau’s oil palm plantations they manage.

“Of the 3.2 million hectares of plantations in the province, local farmers manage 2.1 million hectares, yet their productivity is very low,” he said.

“That’s because, firstly, the major palm oil companies aren’t as supportive of independent farmers as they are of the farmers they employ. Also, oil palm is a relatively new crop and many farmers don’t yet fully understand how to cultivate it properly. Also, the prices are still dictated by the companies.”

He warns that without efforts to empower the farmers, the development of oil palm plantations in the province is essentially a “ticking time bomb” for environmental destruction.

“The rate at which they clear forests for farmland will be out of control. We need the government to step in and guide the farmers on how to improve their productivity,” Riko said.

He added that the government could help by providing the farmers with access to loans and technology to help boost their productivity.

“Right now, they’re only harvesting one or two tons per hectare per month, when they could potentially be making four to seven tons. If they could intensify their productivity from their existing farmland, then the forests can be saved.”

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Indonesia: Bogor's Puncak Forest to Lose Status as Protected Zone

Vento Saudale Jakarta Globe 30 Jul 12;

Bogor will no longer have a protected forest zone in the hilly Puncak area, under planned revisions to the district’s 2008 zoning regulations.

Suryanto Putra, head of zoning and the environment at the Bogor Development Planning Board (Bappeda), said on Sunday that the 8,745 hectares of protected forest straddling the subdistricts of Cirasua and Megamendung would be changed to logging forests, farmland and residential areas.

The protected forest designation was mandated under a 2008 presidential decree on zoning in Greater Jakarta, but Suryanto said the area’s protected status could not be maintained.

“Lots of people already live inside the protected forest area. We feel sorry for them because under the current zoning regulations, we can’t issue them permits for anything in that area,” he said, adding that the change in status would occur over the next three months.

Dwi Lesmana, a researcher with the environmental group Forest Watch Indonesia, disagreed that the change would help residents living in the affected area, saying most of the homes there were holiday villas built without permits.

Ernan Rustiadi, a senior planning researcher at the Bogor Institute of Agriculture (IPB), said lifting the protected status would reduce the already dwindling forest cover of just 12 percent.

“Even with the protected forest status, the Cisadane and Ciliwung rivers are already in critical condition, so imagine how much worse it’ll be under a logging forest status,” he said.

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Logging companies gain easy access to PNG's forests, says Greenpeace

Deforestation and land sales have blighted Papua New Guinea, but new prime minister 'is progressive figure', says Greenpeace
Mark Tran 30 Jul 12;

More than 5m hectares (12.35m acres) of customary-owned land in resource-rich Papua New Guinea have been signed over to unrepresentative landowner companies and foreign-owned corporations for up to 99 years, according to a report by Greenpeace.

Of the total 5.1m hectares covered by special agricultural and business leases (SABLs), 75%, or 3.9m hectares, are controlled by foreign-owned companies under 54 subleases or development agreements. Malaysian and Australian firms control at least 3m hectares through 32 SABLs.

PNG has the world's third largest tropical forest, but demand for its logs has led to extensive deforestation. A satellite study in 2008 said the forests of this south Pacific country were being chopped down so quickly that more than half of its trees could be lost by 2021.

The 5.1m hectares of customary-owned land represent 11% of the country and more than 16% of accessible commercial forests. PNG log exports grew by almost a fifth in 2011, largely due to logging under SABLs. Since 2006, logging companies have exported more than 1.5 cubic metres of whole logs, netting $145m (£92m) for the mostly Malaysian companies involved. Almost all the logs were exported to China.

The Greenpeace report, Up for Grabs, is highly critical of the previous government of Sir Michael Somare for allocating forests to industrial logging companies, which often occured against the wishes of people who live in PNG's forests and customary landholders.

"The previous Somare government continued this predatory relationship with customary landholders by actively facilitating the granting of SABLs with legislative amendments that enabled logging companies to gain easy access to customary-held forested land," said Greenpeace.

In May 2011, the PNG government announced a commission of inquiry into SABLs following international condemnation. The commission completed its inquiry in May this year, but will not be made public until it is tabled in parliament by the newly elected prime minister this year.

Last week, PNG's rival prime ministers ended a political feud that had left the country with two leaders for most of the past year. Somare, the elder statesman of South Pacific politics at 76 and the country's first prime minister in 1975, recontested his seat despite being ill for much of last year. Peter O'Neill was voted in as prime minister after Somare was ruled ineligible due to his prolonged absence from parliament.

Although O'Neill had the support of parliament, the supreme court twice ruled that Somare was the legitimate prime minister, leaving the country with rival leaders. Last week's agreement means O'Neill is likely to head the new government and form a coalition with backing from Somare. O'Neill's People's National Congress party is expected to win most of the seats in parliament – 3,500 candidates stood for 100 seats. Votes are still being counted.

Despite PNG's mineral wealth, successive governments have been unable to deliver infrastructure or services to a country of 6.5 million people, with about 80% of the population living on subsistence village farming and small cash crops. The general elections were PNG's eighth since independence from Australia in 1975.

Greenpeace said O'Neill's leadership could be a turning point in PNG's land policy. "He is a progressive figure and is best placed to implement the findings of the commission of inquiry," said Paul Winn, author of the report. "But he's had to team up with Somare's party, with vested interests, so he might find it difficult to implement the recommendations in full." Winn said the commission had done a thorough job. "We believe it is a hard-hitting report, saying how elites have benefited from corruption."

The Greenpeace report said the single biggest issue highlighted during the commission's inquiry was the lack of fair representation of customary landholders in agreeing to SABLs being granted over their land. The report pointed out that the Department of Lands and Physical Planning, the agency responsible for evaluating and granting SABL applications and registering subleases, was described by judicial authorities as grossly incompetent and entirely corrupt. In many cases, said Greenpeace, it was the corporations applying for logging or agricultural development that financed the government approval process.

To address many of the underlying issues that led to PNG's "land grab", Winn said it was vital for the new government to seek international help – possibly from Norway, Japan and Australia – to develop a national land planning process to identify land to be used for development, conservation or tourism and to ensure that land use benefited all of the population.

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Drought's Positive Effect: Smaller Gulf Dead Zone

Jeanna Bryner Yahoo News 31 Jul 12;

Though the parched conditions have wreaked havoc on natural habitat and agricultural crops, drought may have one upside, bringing the fourth smallest dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico since mapping of this annual oxygen-free zone began in 1985.

Scientists estimate the 2012 Gulf of Mexico dead zone spans an area of 2,889 square miles (7,482 square kilometers), or just larger than the state of Delaware.

"The smaller area was expected because of drought conditions and the fact that nutrient output into the Gulf this spring approached near the 80-year record low," Nancy Rabalais, executive director of the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium (LUMCON), said in a statement. Rabalais led the survey cruise that measured the dead zone.

In fact, the last time the dead zone was this small was in 2000 when it measured 1,696 square miles, or 4,393 square km.

The number is also well below the 2011 dead zone, which reached 6,770 square miles (17,534 square km) as a result of floods that carried loads of nutrients into the water. Scientists recorded the smallest dead zone, at 15 square miles (39 square km), in 1988, while the largest zone occurred in 2002 and covered an 8,400-square-mile (21,756-square-km) swath.

Estimates for this dead zone, which forms each summer off the coasts of Louisiana and Texas, are important because the loss of oxygen can be dire for the animals that live there; the dead zone also threatens commercial and recreational fishing in the Gulf.

The lack of oxygen results from nutrients, particularly nitrogen, that run off the land, from agricultural and other human activities, down the Mississippi River and into the Gulf of Mexico. These nutrients are food for algae, which grow as a result, before dying, sinking to the sea bottom and decomposing. It's this decomposition that sucks all the life-giving oxygen from the surrounding waters. [Mightiest Floods of the Mississippi River]

Two groups of researchers had forecast earlier this summer two very different potential sizes for this hypoxic zone, one on the small side and the other more in line with an average-size dead zone. The more conservative prediction, which involved researchers at the University of Michigan, took into account the nutrient-rich agricultural run-off from the Mississippi River watershed this spring. The "average" prediction accounted for leftovers from the prior year's nutrient pollution, called a carryover effect.

The new estimate for the zone's small size suggests this carryover effect on hypoxia was limited due to the drought (low flow) conditions, the researchers noted.

Researchers at Texas A&M plan a follow-up cruise in mid-August to provide an update on the dead-zone size.

The new research was supported by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

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Evidence for climate extremes, costs, gets more local

Alister Doyle PlanetArk 30 Jul 12;

Scientists are finding evidence that man-made climate change has raised the risks of individual weather events, such as floods or heatwaves, marking a big step towards pinpointing local costs and ways to adapt to freak conditions.

"We're seeing a great deal of progress in attributing a human fingerprint to the probability of particular events or series of events," said Christopher Field, co-chairman of a U.N. report due in 2014 about the impacts of climate change.

Experts have long blamed a build-up of greenhouse gas emissions for raising worldwide temperatures and causing desertification, floods, droughts, heatwaves, more powerful storms and rising sea levels.

But until recently they have said that naturally very hot, wet, cold, dry or windy weather might explain any single extreme event, like the current drought in the United States or a rare melt of ice in Greenland in July.

But for some extremes, that is now changing.

A study this month, for instance, showed that greenhouse gas emissions had raised the chances of the severe heatwave in Texas in 2011 and unusual heat in Britain in late 2011. Other studies of extremes are under way.

Growing evidence that the dice are loaded towards ever more severe local weather may make it easier for experts to explain global warming to the public, pin down costs and guide investments in everything from roads to flood defenses.

"One of the ironies of climate change is that we have more papers published on the costs of climate change in 2100 than we have published on the costs today. I think that is ridiculous," said Myles Allen, head of climate research at Oxford University's Environmental Change Institute.

"We can't (work out current costs) without being able to make the link to extreme weather," he said. "And once you've worked out how much it costs that raises the question of who is going to pay."

Industrialized nations agree they should take the lead in cutting emissions since they have burnt fossil fuels, which release greenhouse gases, since the Industrial Revolution. But they oppose the idea of liability for damage.

Almost 200 nations have agreed to work out a new deal by the end of 2015 to combat climate change, after repeated setbacks. China, the United States and India are now the top national emitters of greenhouse gases.

Field, Professor of Biology and Environmental Earth System Science at the University of Stanford, said that the goal was to carry out studies of extreme weather events almost immediately after they happen, helping expose the risks.

"Everybody who needs to make decisions about the future - things like building codes, infrastructure planning, insurance - can take advantage of the fact that the risks are changing but we have a lot of influence over what those risks are."


Another report last year indicated that floods 12 years ago in Britain - among the countries most easily studied because of it has long records - were made more likely by warming. And climate shifts also reduced the risks of flooding in 2001.

Previously, the European heatwave of 2003 that killed perhaps 70,000 people was the only extreme where scientists had discerned a human fingerprint. In 2004, they said that global warming had at least doubled the risks of such unusual heat.

The new statistical reviews are difficult because they have to tease out the impact of greenhouse gases from natural variations, such as periodic El Nino warmings of the Pacific, sun-dimming volcanic dust or shifts in the sun's output.

So far, extreme heat is the easiest to link to global warming after a research initiative led by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the British Meteorological Office.

"Heatwaves are easier to attribute than heavy rainfall, and drought is very difficult given evidence for large droughts in the past," said Gabriele Hegerl of the University of Edinburgh.

Scientists often liken climate change to loading dice to get more sixes, or a baseball player on steroids who hits more home runs. That is now going to the local from the global scale.

Field said climate science would always include doubt since weather is chaotic. It is not as certain as physics, where scientists could this month express 99.999 percent certainty they had detected the Higgs boson elementary particle.

"This new attribution science is showing the power of our understanding, but it also illustrates where the limits are," he said.

A report by Field's U.N. group last year showed that more weather extremes that can be linked to greenhouse warming, such as the number of high temperature extremes and the fact that the rising fraction of rainfall falls in downpours.

But scientists warn against going too far in blaming climate change for extreme events.

Unprecedented floods in Thailand last year, for instance, that caused $45 billion in damage according to a World Bank estimate, were caused by people hemming in rivers and raising water levels rather than by climate change, a study showed.

"We have to be a bit cautious about blaming it all on climate change," Peter Stott, head of climate monitoring and attribution at the Met Office's Hadley Centre, said of extremes in 2012.

Taken together, many extremes are a sign of overall change.

"If you look all over the world, we have a great disastrous drought in North America ... you have the same situation in the Mediterranean... If you look at all the extremes together you can say that these are indicators of global warming," said Friedrich-Wilhelm Gerstengabe, a professor at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.

(Additional reporting by Sara Ledwith in London; Editing by Louise Ireland)

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Best of our wild blogs: 30 Jul 12

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

Sat 04 Aug 2012: Join us on our pre-National Day coastal cleanup @ Lim Chu Kang mangrove! from News from the International Coastal Cleanup Singapore

It's Hard To Mate When There's Currents
from colourful clouds

Anemone City
from Pulau Hantu and Sedimentation on Pulau Hantu Reef Slope

Underwater splendor of Terumbu Pempang Tengah
from wonderful creation

grey-headed fish eagle @ sg buloh - 29July2012
from sgbeachbum

How many monitor lizards at Sungei Buloh?
from wild shores of singapore

Baya weaver(Ploceus philippinus) outside of SBWR
from PurpleMangrove

Common Palm Civet
from Monday Morgue

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Wildlife trafficking 'at all-time high'

Enforcement not keeping up with perpetrators, says anti-trafficking expert
Neo Chai Chin Today Online 30 Jul 12;

SINGAPORE - Bears in metal jackets - with metal catheters draining bile from their gall bladders - stand in tiny cages with their muscles largely wasted. Some have had their teeth smashed, or claws cut. Others could be killed, with their paws cut off or gall bladders taken out on-the-spot - if that is what the buyer wants.

Animal welfare issues aside, these bear farms - found in countries such as Laos, Myanmar and China and where thousands of bears are kept - are also a "real concern" from a conservation standpoint, given evidence that suggests that some of these bears are caught in the wild, said wildlife monitoring network Traffic's South-east Asia Deputy Director Chris Shepherd, who was recently in town.

The two bear species in South-east Asia - the Asian black bear and sun bear - are endangered species.

Cross-border trade of bear bile products is prohibited under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), but occurs throughout the region, noted a bear bile trade report published last year that Dr Shepherd co-authored.

The bleak picture extends to wildlife trafficking in general: With growing demand fuelled by rising affluence and the rise of online trade, and enforcement agencies failing to keep up with smugglers, trafficking levels are at an all-time high, according to Dr Shepherd, who is based in Malaysia.

"The situation has never been as severe as it is now," he told TODAY. "Last year, more rhinos were killed in South Africa to supply demand in Vietnam than have ever been killed before - it was the absolute peak last year. This year, it's looking to be worse."

Last year, 448 rhinos were killed in South Africa. Conservationists have pointed to demand from Asia, in particular Vietnam. According to Traffic, Vietnamese made up 24 of the 43 arrests of Asian nationals for rhino crimes in South Africa this year, reported The Guardian last Monday.

Dr Shepherd said the aim is not to stop all wildlife trade - but to "enforce legislation to a point where wildlife is not threatened by trade and, in some cases, can be used sustainably". Such laws enacted for the white-tailed deer in North America have resulted in no detrimental effect on its wild population despite hunting, for instance.

Traffic investigates trade, provides intelligence reports and assists authorities in wildlife trafficking enforcement. It has developed materials such as species identification guides in various languages for the ASEAN Wildlife Enforcement Network, an inter-governmental initiative targeting wildlife crime.

Its most recent report, on trade of birds in the Solomon Islands, analysed 11 years of trade figures and named Singapore as a key laundering point for tens of thousands of birds caught in the wild but declared as captive bred.

Dr Shepherd urged the Singapore authorities to "better scrutinise permits on shipments" of various species. "If they closed the door here, it would have a knock-on effect globally. Singapore definitely has the potential and capacity to do that," he said.

Cases of illegal import, export and trans-shipment of wildlife and their parts or products have decreased in the last two years, according to figures from the Agri-food and Veterinary Authority (AVA). There were 33 cases in 2010 and 20 cases last year, with eight cases so far this year.

The possession and sale of illegal wildlife and their parts or products has decreased from 64 in 2010 to 14 last year. But in the first half of this year, 16 cases have already been recorded.

Three cases since 2010 have been prosecuted in court, with the rest given warnings or composition fines, said an AVA spokesperson. She added that the AVA conducts regular inspections on shops that sell wildlife, and checks all shipments from high-risk countries at ports of entry and exit. It also investigates CITES infringements based on its own intelligence and other information sources. The public may also contact the AVA at 6227 0670 to provide information on illegal wildlife sales.

Singapore consumers can play their part by not eating exotic or illegal meat in restaurants overseas, and not buying medicines and souvenirs with wildlife parts, said Dr Shepherd. They should not keep wildlife as pets and, if they come across wildlife being illegally sold by dealers, they should resist "rescuing" the animals by buying them.

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Anti-flooding measures at 11 more MRT stations

Move seen as preventive and follows earlier steps at 6 downtown stations
Royston Sim Straits Times 30 Jul 12;

THE Land Transport Authority is taking steps to flood-proof more MRT stations.

It called a tender earlier this month to beef up flood prevention measures at 11 MRT stations, several months after it did the same for six downtown stations.

The 11 stations up for enhancement works this time are: Braddell, Toa Payoh, Boon Keng, Somerset, Outram, Tiong Bahru, Bugis, Lavender, Bishan, Marina Bay and Changi Airport.

The works will include installing flood-barrier systems at the stations, sealing glass panels, vent shafts and other openings to make them watertight, and raising escape staircases.

Contractors are expected to design and install two types of flood-barrier systems at several points in each station - a manual stackable type and a swing-type which stays open during normal times.

Both systems must be designed to be watertight when flood waters are below 1.5m - the height of the flood barriers.

The flood barriers should be made of lightweight aluminium panels, said the LTA in its tender documents.

The stackable barriers must also be made so user-friendly that two people will take no more than 15 minutes to set them up.

A spokesman for the authority said: 'All MRT stations and associated structures... were designed such that the entrance and crest levels are high enough to accommodate potential flooding in lower lying areas.'

Still, the authority has decided to take additional measures to enhance the flood prevention capability of selected stations given their locations, he said.

This follows an earlier contract to flood-proof six downtown MRT stations.

That project was awarded to Sigma Builders for $2,228,776.

Those six stations - Orchard, City Hall, Raffles Place, Tanjong Pagar, Novena and Little India - are all sited in low-lying areas with track records of flash-floods, but have themselves never been flooded.

Similarly, works at all 11 stations in this second phase are preventive in nature. No MRT station has ever been flooded.

Manually-operated full-height sliding barriers will also be installed at Tiong Bahru and Bugis stations.

The LTA spokesman explained that this was due to both stations' concourses being located below the lowest level of adjacent buildings.

Work on the first six stations will be completed by the middle of next year, while the next 11 stations should be outfitted by the third quarter of 2014.

Assistant professor Vivien Chua, who teaches in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the National University of Singapore, said it is a good strategy for the authority to take preventive measures.

Temporary flood barrier systems are more reliable in holding back floodwater compared to sandbags, and are also resistant to seepage, she said.

She added that they are 'also cost-effective solutions compared to the economic cost of flood damage and the inconvenience which might result from flooding at the stations'.

Mr Kevin Kho, a 51-year-old engineer with more than 25 years of experience, said: 'As the saying goes, a stitch in time saves nine. It's more cost-effective to have good preventive measures in place.'

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Global Tiger Day - spare a thought for tiger prey too!

WWF 29 Jul 12;

As tiger range countries today celebrate Global Tiger Day, WWF is urging the governments to raise efforts to work towards Zero Poaching of tiger prey as well as tigers.

With wild tiger numbers as low as 3,200, direct, targeted poaching of tigers is the most immediate danger for the species today. However, a serious contributing factor to the plight of the tiger is the widespread decline of its forest larder – the deer, wild pigs and wild cattle such as the Gaur.

One tiger needs to eat the equivalent of a medium size deer every week to survive and without adequate food, the tiger population declines very fast. Too many forests of Asia are classed as ‘empty forests” – the trees are there but the animals are gone. Anti-poaching efforts therefore must be targeted at protecting both the tiger and its prey.

Poachers very often focus on tiger prey rather than tigers themselves. Prey animals are sought by local poachers to supply the local food market. Many of these prey species are also highly endangered and often neglected by conservation efforts. Yet, they can also benefit from the extra protection given to the tiger.

“Without protecting the tiger’s prey from poaching and forest degradation, achieving the target of doubling wild tiger numbers by 2022 is impossible,” said Mike Baltzer, Leader of WWF’s Tigers Alive Initiative. “The survival of the prey is key to the survival of the tiger.”

Tackling poaching requires high levels of professionally managed security. But if the local community is against the park or the tigers, then the continued efforts of the poachers will overwhelm even the best-trained, motivated rangers who are at the frontline protecting tigers.

A long-term WWF project in southern Thailand, working intensively with the local communities living around Kuiburi National Park, has reduced poaching by four-fold and doubled tiger prey population. The project clearly demonstrates that when local communities are well mobilized, they can be a very powerful and essential force against poaching.

Working towards Zero Poaching requires serious government intervention. The WWF Wildlife Crime Scorecard released on Monday reported that more than 200 tiger carcasses are being seized from illegal trade each year and that most countries were very far from providing protection against poaching and illegal wildlife trade, particularly those countries like China and Vietnam, where illegal traders know there is a strong demand for tiger-based products.

WWF is today releasing a short film “Confessions of an ex-poacher” that highlights the destructive trade. Interviews with two former poachers turned tiger protectors give insights into this illicit world that drives forests to become lucrative hunting grounds for poachers and making tigers their livelihoods. The film also discusses steps needed to stem out poaching in the heartland areas of forests where tigers breed. One of these is to provide those at the frontlines protecting tigers – rangers, protected area officials and local communities – with the right tools to eradicate poaching.

Local communities and protected area staff, particularly rangers or specialized enforcement officers, are the frontline against poaching and the illegal wildlife trade. Rangers put their life on the line everyday to keep wild tigers and their prey safe. They are critical in achieving Zero Poaching, yet are not always fully appreciated for their important role. WWF will be launching a special action on International Rangers Day on 31 July to honour these unsung heroes.

Elsewhere, WWF offices in tiger range countries are also joining governments and civil society in a range of Global Tiger Day celebratory events.

Bhutan: A special community event will be held in line with the theme of this year’s Global Tiger Day – “Tiger and community co-existing in harmony for mutual survival”. It will be held in Trongsa in central Bhutan, with a community that has been working on tiger conservation. There will be a skid presented by the community and a poster competition for students.

China: WWF will launch a pilot deer reintroduction programme in Wangqing Nature Reserve in northeast China, at a site where tracks of both the Amur tiger and the Amur leopard have been discovered frequently. This is part of a bigger tiger conservation programme aimed at recovering tiger prey density and restoring the habitat. A special launch ceremony will be held with officials, representatives from partner organizations and media in attendance.

Nepal: A series of public service announcements will be launched to promote awareness of the need to stop wildlife trade. There will also be a formal declaration of the results of the tiger count conducted in Bardia National Park earlier in the year. WWF will also hold an art competition for students in the Terai Arc region.

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Best of our wild blogs: 29 Jul 12

Reef Survey @ Pulau Hantu That Almost Did Not Happen
from colourful clouds

Algae Quest: Terumbu Pempang & Hantu Island
from Pulau Hantu

Butterfly of the Month - July 2012
from Butterflies of Singapore

Weaver birds @ Tampines Eco Green
from PurpleMangrove

Common Tailorbird collects fibres for its nest
from Bird Ecology Study Group

Mangroves, ice-cream and otter poop
live from a safe PCN ride on the Otter Cycling Trail with Raffles Museum Toddycats! from Toddycats

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Indonesia and Malaysia Home to New Frog Species

Antara Jakarta Globe 28 Jul 12;

Scientists discovered two new frog species — and named them Leptobrachium ingeri and Leptobrachium kanowitense — in a four-year study conducted in Belitung, Indonesia, and Sarawak, Malaysia.

The team of scientists was led by Amir Hamidy, of the Museum of Zoologicum Bogoriense, a research biology center run by the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI), and colleagues from Kyoto University, Universiti Kebangsaan in Malaysia and the University of Malaya. They published their findings in “Zootaxa Journal” on Tuesday.

Amir, who is currently studying in Kyoto University, said they found the Leptobrachium ingeri species in Belitung and the coastal area of Sarawak, while the Leptobrachium kanowitense was found in the inland areas Sarawak.

“The word ‘ingeri’ on one of the species is dedicated to Prof. Dr. Robert F. Inger, of the Field Museum in Chicago,” said Amir, the main writer of the report. “He is an expert on herpetology in Southeast Asia, especially in Borneo.”

Amir said that the word “kanowitense” on the Leptobrachium kanowitense was taken from the Kanowit city in Sarawak, where the frog was discovered.

He explained that the characteristics of the two newly discovered species are different to other frog species.

In frogs, a genetic difference of three percent is enough to classify it as a new species.

Amir explained that the DNA characteristics of the two new species show that they are related to the already-known Leptobrachium nigrops.

“The genetic differences between the Leptobrachium nigrops, Leptobrachium ingeri and Leptobrachium kanowitense are very wide, more than nine percent,” Amir explained. “Changes of weather and sea levels in the past caused several islands such as Borneo, Sumatra and others to break away from the Asian mainland.

“Population-isolation of each species’ ancestor occurred during the breakaway process. After the breakaway, each species experienced its own evolution and became the current species.”

In the “Zootaxa Journal,” researchers predicted that the Leptobrachium kanowitense’s ancestor invaded Borneo island much earlier than Leptobrachium ingeri’s ancestor and that they spread during the pleistocene geological era.

The Leptobrachium ingeri species currently occupies Belitung and coastal Sarawak areas while the Leptobrachium kanowitense species inhibits the Kanowit city of Sarawak.

The Leptobrachium nigrops species is mainly found in the Malay Peninsula, Sarawak and Sumatra’s eastern coast (Riau).

Researchers are still trying to determine if the new species are endemic to those areas but said it will take more research.


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Malaysia: Seeking ways to keep crocodile numbers in check

The Star 29 Jul 12;

IN recent years, there have been numerous reports of crocodile attacks on unsuspecting villagers in the rivers of Sarawak.

According to the Sarawak Forestry Corporation (SFC) Protected Areas and Biodiversity Conservation senior manager Oswald Braken Tisen, the crocodile population in the state has been on the increase over the last 20 years.

He describes it as a recovery stage for the reptile, scientifically known as Crocodileodylus Porosus. It is also known as the estuarine or Indo-Pacific crocodile or saltwater crocodile.

This species is one of the largest and most ferocious of all other known crocodile species alive today.

“According to the Australian authorities, we in Sarawak are now facing what they (Australians) were facing some 50 years ago,” he says in an interview with Sunday Star. Australia's crocodile population is now estimated to comprise 200,000 adult Crocodileodylus Porosus.

Braken adds that in 20 years' time, Sarawak's rivers, like Australia's, will be heavily populated by the reptile.

He says that the SFC's first section survey in 1984 on crocodile population in Sarawak rivers indicated that the average number of crocodiles then was 0.054 per kilometre of river.

“But the latest section survey along the rivers in Bako reveals that there are now up to four crocodiles per kilometre of river,” he says, while stressing that Sarawak has many long rivers.

He adds that with the increasing population of crocodile, there is bound to be human-crocodile conflicts.

A few suggestions have been brought forward to curb the numbers, including relocating the crocodiles to an uninhabited river in a nature reserve.

But he says this would be pointless as crocodiles have a “homing” habit and they would eventually find their way back to where they came from, as a study in Australia has proven.

Another proposal is culling the reptiles.

At the moment, Braken says, Crocodileodylus Porosus is listed in Appendix 1 of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), which prohibits harvesting the reptiles for international trade.

Apart from that, the Wildlife Protection Ordinance 1998 also classifies the crocodiles as protected. Killings are only allowed if the crocodiles are threatening the lives of humans.

For culling to be allowed for international trade purposes, the crocodile will have to be downlisted to Appendix 2. Before that, Malaysia has to demonstrate a survey and management programme that shows the population of crocodiles in the country is high.

“We have to prove that the recovery trend of the crocodiles is not temporary,” says Braken.

Demak Laut assemblyman Dr Hazland Abang Hipni believes people living in the Bako area could capitalise on the economic potential brought about by the rise in crocodile population to better improve their livelihood.

“About 30 years ago, the whole stretch of Bako River had fewer than 10 crocodiles but now there are five to six for every kilometre,” he says.

Dr Hazland, however, points out that the crocodile's population is still manageable and the people can co-exist with the animals by being more cautious when crossing the river in boats.

He says conflicts between people and crocodiles are inevitable as both share the same living area but better management planning and installing of safety measures could help reduce attacks by the reptiles.

For a start, he says, boatmen should increase safety measures on their boats such as by installing metal railings on both sides.

Meanwhile, Braken suggests that a community-based tourism activity on crocodile watching be done.

“In Australia, there are a lot of community-based tourism programmes where tourists are brought to a crocodile habitat to watch and even feed the reptiles,” he says.

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Best of our wild blogs: 28 Jul 12

Bivalve Big Picture: Bivalve Workshop Day 4
from wild shores of singapore

Butterfly Show & Tell
from The Green Volunteers

Yellow-crested Cockatoo family feeding on papaya
from Bird Ecology Study Group

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Grassroots green plan off to a flying start

Bukit Timah group's Firefly Park part of bid to improve neighbourhood
Grace Chua Straits Times 28 Jul 12;

THE Firefly Park off Clementi Avenue 4 opened only last week but it is already bustling with residents jogging, walking their dogs and practising taiji.

The space is one highlight of the Bukit Timah Green Plan that was distributed as a brochure to residents last week.

The plan may be the first to be put up entirely by grassroots groups in the Bukit Timah division of the Holland-Bukit Timah GRC to improve the neighbourhood.

In the case of Firefly Park, residents' committees were consulted on the 1.2ha facility's design.

Other proposals in the plan's first phase: a large community garden between Clementi Avenue 4 and Clementi Avenue 6; more green spaces in Toh Yi Drive such as a rooftop garden; and tree-planting, a fitness station and running track at the Mayfair Park estate off Dunearn Road.

Though some of these were planned earlier, Bukit Timah citizens' consultative committee chairman Kenneth Yap said it was decided to group them together in the Green Plan.

'We thought it would be better to plan it a bit more centrally instead of leaving everything to chance,' he added.

The plan has its roots in the Mayfair Park neighbourhood, a quiet estate bordered by Rifle Range Road.

In 2005, residents there worked on roadside gardens in what is now considered the first Community In Bloom project, a National Parks Board scheme to encourage community gardening.

They are now hoping to build a green link to nearby Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, said Mayfair Park Neighbourhood Committee chairman Balasupramaniam Krishna, 66, also known as Mr Bala.

Ms Sim Ann, grassroots adviser and Member of Parliament for the division, said the neighbourhood committee was invited to propose a division-level plan for Bukit Timah. 'I am very glad they took the ball and ran with it.'

But will it be a good fit for larger, more diverse neighbourhoods and get new residents of upcoming Build-To-Order blocks involved?

Mr Yap and Mr Bala said they will seek ideas from everyone.

In the plan's second phase, grassroots committees want residents to suggest ideas.

'We want people to come forward and ask, 'There's a green patch here, can we plant here?' Then we can help them with planning and getting the approvals,' said Mr Yap, 37, a civil servant.

It can be tricky, he added, to strike a balance between giving people ownership of a space so that they can tend to it and seeing that the space remains open to all.

For instance, a garden behind one Clementi preschool has a low wall around it, which marks out the space, but does not stop people from walking in.

And residents do not always get what they want from the authorities, said Mr Bala.

For instance, residents wanted to put planter boxes around the upgraded Bukit Timah market but the National Environment Agency said people might use them to discard litter.

'So they planted a few bushes instead. It's not really what we want, but it's a start, and we are going to go on and try to improve it,' he said.

Other community movements have also sprouted to protect the neighbourhood or natural landscape.

The Save Joo Chiat Work Group helped rid the district of sleaze in 2004.

In recent months, residents of Dairy Farm and Chestnut estates, and Pasir Ris, have lobbied for the preservation of patches of woodland.

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Emergency protocol works, says NParks

Straits Times Forum 28 Jul 12;

WE THANK Mr David Lim for his feedback ('Nature reserve should have basic emergency facilities'; Tuesday) and have clarified the matter with him.

Our rangers patrol the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve daily, and they are equipped with first aid skills to render quick assistance to our visitors when the need arises.

For emergencies, visitors should call NParks' 24-hour helpline number 1800-471-7300, the police, or the Singapore Civil Defence Force for immediate assistance.

The helpline number is also indicated at the visitor centre and on more than 20 signboards located within the nature reserve.

These channels of contact have been effective, for example, when our officers rendered prompt assistance to find hikers who got lost.

Wong Tuan Wah
Director, Conservation
National Parks Board

Nature reserve should have basic emergency facilities
Straits Times Forum 24 Jul 12;

RECENTLY, I was at the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve. It had been drizzling and the terrain was a little slippery.

I chanced upon a small group of people, one of whom had sprained her ankle. She was in pain, and it took her nearly an hour to get to the main road. It would normally take a reasonably fit person about five minutes to scale this section.

I descended to the ranger station to inquire whether one of its vehicles could be used to help her.

To my disappointment, a staff member said the information and help counter had been removed a while back, and in any case, vehicles that used to be stationed at the nearby nursery had been permanently moved elsewhere. I was advised to call for an ambulance if the situation was serious.

I am disappointed at the lack of facilities for emergencies.

There was a time when I could meet rangers patrolling the common paths, but that is not the case now.

The Bukit Timah Nature Reserve attracts several visitors on weekends, and an accident happening there can turn life-threatening, depending on the time taken to render assistance.

Perhaps the National Parks Board might want to deploy its resources to develop more visitor-friendly protocols at the reserve.

David Lim

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Malaysia: Ban turtle egg sale, state urged

Ling Poh Lean and A. Azim Idris New Straits Times 28 Jul 12;

BAD NAME: Terengganu has become a trading hub, says conservationist

KUALA LUMPUR: THE Terengganu government should not delay in imposing a ban on the trading of turtle eggs to avoid giving the state and the country a bad name.

In making the call, Turtle Conservation Centre co-founder Professor Chan Eng Heng said tourists would usually buy the eggs out of curiosity and the state was already famous for the wrong reason.

"If this continues, it will give a very bad name not only to the state, but also the country as we will be seen to have failed in efforts to protect the endangered species."

She noted that while the egg collection was banned in many major turtle nesting beaches, traders could still get the supply from smaller beaches and by smuggling from other states.

Chan said some traders in the state were smuggling the eggs via post from Sabah, where turtle eggs trading was banned.

"The eggs from Sabah are smuggled in from the Philippines, where such trading is also banned. Terengganu has become the hub for the eggs trading," she added.

Turtle eggs are widely available in Terengganu's markets, selling for between RM25 and RM30 per pack of 10 eggs. Chan also said they were now concentrating on educating the public not to eat turtle eggs.

"As long as there is demand, the trading will still go on in the black market even if the state government decides to impose a ban."

She said the centre had held turtle workshops in schools and at private functions to educate the public, especially the younger generation on ways to save the turtles.

WWF-Malaysia, in a statement, said in line with its reputation as a "turtle state", the state government could only be commended if it chose to take the lead in banning the trading of turtle eggs.

However, it considered the state government's effort to gazette Rantau Abang beach as a turtle sanctuary as commendable. But it also felt that allowing the sale of turtle eggs was inconsistent to the aims of safeguarding the state's icon.

Several traders at Pasar Payang bazaar in Kuala Terengganu had agreed not to sell the eggs if the government declared it illegal.

A trader, who only wanted to be known as Rofizah, said although the eggs were a good source of income, she would not break the law. The 52-year-old, who has been trading at the bazaar for more than 10 years, sells the Olive Ridley sea turtle eggs for about RM30 per packet of 10.

"Many of our customers come as far as Singapore to buy the eggs. That is what attracts many people to our stalls."

A check by the New Straits Times at the bazaar revealed at least one in 10 stalls offered packets of turtle eggs for between RM15 and RM50 each depending on the quantity and where the eggs were obtained.

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Johor Malaysian Nature Society Wants Action Plan To Deal With Destruction Of Mangrove Forests

Bernama 27 Jul 12;

JOHOR BAHARU, July 27 (Bernama) -- The Johor Nature Society (MNS) wants the authorities to activate a comprehensive action plan to tackle the serious destruction to mangrove forests in the state.

Its chairman, Vincent Chow, said the MNS detected serious damages to the mangrove forests, which were essential to the marine ecosystem, in several parts on the west coast such as in Muar and Batu Pahat.

"This is much regretted because the mangrove forest is not only important for the marine ecosystem but it is also a natural defence against huge waves and tsunamis," he told Bernama Friday.

He said strong waves would cause erosion on the coastal fringes where mangrove forests had been depleted.

According to Chow, the destruction of mangrove forests along the coast of Johor was due to timber thefts by foreign sydicates and farming and aquaculture activities.


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Refineries at Johor: Taiwan outsourcing Pollution to Malaysia?

Asia Sentinel 27 Jul 12;

A long-running saga has come to the end for a US$12.8 billion attempt by the Kuokuang petrochemical company , which is owned by Taiwan's 43 oercebt state-controlled CPC Group, to build a refinery for the production of petrochemical products such as ethylene, benzene, toluene and xylene. It is the victim of environmental protest. The government instead is now seeking to export its environmental problem to Malaysia.

In early July, the state-run oil refiner CPC Corp, without fanfare, signed an investment agreement with Malaysia's Johor state government to build the integrated refinery and petrochemical plant in the village of Pengerang, Johor. Preceding the move was close to a decade of fierce environmental protest in Taiwan, forcing the island's government to choose between major business interests on the one side and nature and health on the other.

In April 2011, Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou opted for the latter, and last month an obviously upbeat Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak announced that an undisclosed Taiwan-based petrochemicals firm had agreed to invest in a new integrated complex in the south of the country.

But for Taiwan's manufacturing industries, which need the plant to ensure smooth supply for the production chain, the Malaysia twist augurs the emergence of an acceptable solution. But it may be another case for Malaysia, where equally fierce environmental protest has stalled a US$850 million rare earth processing plant being built by Australia’s Lynas Corp. near the east coast city of Kuantan and made the plant a potent political issue.

There is little doubt that Kuokuang's implementation would help drive the Malaysian economy and aid in Najib’s effort to build a regional petrochemical hub in its quest to compete with Singapore. However, the Taiwanese must ask themselves whether their economy can cope with the precedent of environmentalists driving out a major infrastructure operation that is clearly needed by the rest of the island’s business community.

According to interviews with analysts in Taipei, confidence is the prevailing mood, along with a certain amount of satisfaction at having cleaned up what was previously one of Asia’s most polluted environments.Ta

“It won't hurt. Taiwan is now still a developing country but is well on its way to becoming like a member state of the EU,” said Winston Dang, former minister of the Environmental Protection Administration (EPA). “Taiwan must invest in the people's brains in this transitional period, not in high-polluting industries.”

And Hu Sheng-Cheng, an economist and former minister of the Council for Economic Planning and Development, predicted that if Kuokuang's Johor plant does materialize, the Taiwanese government will demand that a certain share of the products be shipped back to Taiwan, thereby ensuring that raw materials will make it to the island's downstream manufacturers. The government would furthermore speed up the upgrading of Taiwan’s own petrochemical industry, he said.

A weak point in the outsourcing scheme is the loss of jobs, however, Hu said, adding that “Taiwan's petrochemical industry is a major employer. The government better come up with subsidies to make up for the jobs leaving.”

He then pointed out that if the Johor plant doesn't come into being, Taiwan may well find itself in a dilemma, as even China has lost its enthusiasm for accepting Taiwan's polluters.

During his ministerial stint from 2007 to 2008, it was the EPA's Dang who killed Kuokuang's initial plans to build its refinery and naphtha cracker in Mailiao in Taiwan’s Yunlin County. His veto led the company to propose building it in Changhua County's Dacheng, which later became the scene of intense protests that eventually drove the project off the island all together.

The 2,000 hectares of Changhua's rare and pristine wetlands, the natural habitat of the endangered Indo-Pacific humpback dolphin near them and last but not least the predicted significant increase of air pollution, which environmentalists say would produce particles fine enough to invade even the smallest airways, led to the emergence of a powerful civic movement that decisively frustrated Kuokuang's plans.

Students and locals teamed up with academics, the media and opposition lawmakers, turning the white dolphin into the alliance's icon. After a health risk assessment report came up with the bizarre finding that the plant if built would shorten life expectancy island-wide by 23 days, about the entire Taiwanese public was in.

That then-Premier Wu Den-yih of the ruling Kuomintang was caught on record stating that the “dolphins should be smart enough to swim elsewhere” obviously did the investors no good. With presidential and legislative elections then looming, President Ma eventually withdrew support from the project.

“That was good news for the local communities – they would have got many more cancer cases but only 2 percent of the taxes Kuokuang would have paid,” said Dang.

The story, Dang said, shows that major development projects that come along with heavy pollution and high energy consumption are no longer feasible on the island.

But are they welcome in Malaysia?

While Malaysia’s Najib was obviously encouraged by winning the plant, there already have been indicators that in Pengerang an environmental storm has begun brewing. Last month saw hundreds of residents rallying against the Kuokuang project, claiming that it would bring severe pollution of air, land and sea, along with land seizures from reluctant villagers and would require relocation of residents, the town's Mandarin school as well as a graveyard containing nearly 3,000 tombs. Also the recent developments surrounding the Lynas case inevitably comes to mind.

In addition an enthusiastic group of Taiwanese environmentalists, who last year fought it out to the end for the Changhua dolphins, has since been spotted at Pengerang beach, fraternizing with their local counterparts.

But Yang Yungnane, director of Taiwan's National Cheng Kung University's Research Center for Science & Technology Governance, is cautiously optimistic that the case is about to be settled to the liking of the government of Malaysia and Taiwan as well as the business world.

“There might be a risk if local environmental groups are strong enough to make the protest getting recognition from the Malaysian public,” Yang said. “But the likelihood that the project passes is higher than it being rejected.”

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Indonesia: Whale rescue hampered by onlookers

(AFP) Google News 27 Jul 12;

JAKARTA — Rescuers in Indonesia fought Friday to help a sperm whale stuck in shallow waters to return to sea, as their efforts were hampered by local residents arriving on boats and driving it back to shore.

The 11-metre (36-feet) whale has been stuck near Pakis Jaya beach in West Java since Wednesday, said Benvika, a rescuer from the Jakarta Animal Aid Network, which is leading the rescue bid.

"We almost set it free a few times yesterday, but the noise from the engines of dozens of boats bringing in local residents confused and disoriented the creature, and it couldn't swim out to sea," he told AFP.

"It is still breathing normally but losing a lot of energy," he said by phone from the beach, 120 kilometres (75 miles) east of the capital Jakarta.

"It seems to have difficulty moving its tail, and we have to work quickly to save its life," he said, adding 16 divers were involved in the rescue effort.

Local residents were paying the equivalent of half a US dollar each for boat rides close to the whale, he said.

Some had jumped off the boats and onto the whale on Wednesday, causing wounds to its body, Benvika said.

Before rescuers arrived fishermen had also tried to crudely pull the animal back to sea, also hurting it in the process, he said, adding the whale was covered with blisters on is back.

Up to 30 boats carrying tourists had converged around the whale at one time, he added.

He said volunteers were stopping boats setting sail from the Pakis Jaya beach, but were unable to intercept vessels arriving from neighbouring coastal villages.

Trapped Sperm Whale Dies After Being Set Free By Animal Activists
Ulma Haryanto Jakarta Globe 30 Jul 12;

A sperm whale that was trapped for days in shallow waters off West Java died on Sunday shortly after rescue workers were able to return the whale to deeper waters.

The 11-meter (36-feet) sperm whale became stranded in shallow water near Pakis Jaya beach on Wednesday. The large whale attracted the attention of onlookers and fishermen, who injured the whale and hampered early rescue efforts, the Jakarta Animal Aid Network (Jaan) said. But after four days, the crews were able to turn the whale to deeper waters.

“The whale was set free at 4 p.m. [on Sunday], it looked tired because [it was] stranded for so long, but we saw that it was still able to swim,” Benvika, of Jaan, said on Monday.

But at 6:30 p.m., Benvika heard that the whale had washed ashore in Muara Gembong, West Java, an hour-and-a-half boat ride Jakarta’s Tanjung Priok.

“We sent a team back immediately and this morning another team was dispatched to coordinate the removal of the carcass,” Benvika said.

The organization was unsure why the animal repeatedly returned to shallow water.

“It could have been suicidal, or underwater drilling activities could have confused his sonar and navigation,” Benvika explained.

The whale carcass will likely be towed to sea and detonated. The whale is listed as a protected species under the 1990 Environmental Law.

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Philippines: Plea to stop feeding whale sharks

Cris Evert B. Lato Inquirer Visayas 27 Jul 12;

CEBU CITY—A photograph of a wounded “butanding” or whale shark has gone viral on social networking sites.

The butanding turned out to be “Fermin,” one of the whale sharks that regularly approach the bancas to be fed by fishermen and tourists in the waters off Oslob town, 117 kilometers south of Cebu City.

According to marine researchers, Fermin suffered deep cuts that might have been caused by boat propellers, renewing calls to stop the practice of feeding the whale sharks, which has become a major tourist attraction in Oslob.

The practice doesn’t only diminish the whale sharks’ ability to hunt for food, but it also puts them at risk of getting hurt like what happened to Fermin.


Dr. Alessandro Ponzo, president of the Italian marine research organization Physalus, said Fermin was seen on June 20 in the water off Barangay Tan-awan, Oslob town, with “very deep propeller cuts on the head.”

Physalus initiated the Large Marine Vertebrates Project (Lamave) in the Philippines in 2010. The project pushes for conservation of marine animals through education and research, and works with government agencies to reach out to communities and the private sector. It started its marine research efforts in Bohol province and later expanded to the neighboring provinces of Negros Oriental and Cebu.

Lamave researchers are in Oslob to check on Fermin. Samantha Craven, Lamave’s principal investigator on the Oslob Whale Shark Project, said Fermin suffered 11 cuts including a wound that cut across his left eye. They could not yet tell the extent of the damage to the eye.

She said sharks were fast healers so they continue to monitor Fermin’s healing. “People should know that it is wrong to treat the wounds of wildlife with our medicines. A lot of them are allergic to our medicines and that may cause harm and slow down the healing process,” said Craven, a marine biologist who is half-Filipino and half-British.

Craven said Fermin was last seen in the waters off Oslob on July 16. When he returned on July 20, local fishermen said Fermin was not feeding and had several scars across his face.

Fermin or Shark P-382 is the first whale shark identified in December 2011 by marine biologist Elson Aca, World Wildlife Fund for Nature-Philippines’ project manager.

Fermin’s presence along with six other whale sharks in the waters off Oslob have enticed tourists to visit the southern Cebu town to interact with the “gentle giants.” Local fishermen with some tourists on board paddle boats and feed the whale sharks with baby shrimps, locally called “uyap,” as they swim around the designated interaction area, which is about 30 meters from the shoreline.

Interaction is between 8 a.m. and 1 p.m. so the whale sharks can “rest.” Motorboats are not allowed in whale watching.

Whale shark feeding has become a major tourism attraction and income-earner of Oslob, a fourth-class municipality with a population of about 26,000 based on the 2010 census.

But the practice has long been opposed by Aca and Lamave researchers because it disrupts the whale sharks’ natural feeding behavior.

In his open letter to the secretaries of the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, Aca said scientists studying whale sharks in the Philippines were concerned about the possible changes in behavior of these whale sharks in Oslob that are now accustomed to feeding.

He said discussions about Oslob’s new tourist attraction didn’t focus on the whale sharks but only on the activity’s tourism potential.

“Whale sharks exhibited head scratches and scrapes from bumping into feeder boats. In addition, they have been observed to seemingly associate bubbles from divers and snorkelers with food,” he said in his letter.

“While this behavior is already accepted and understood by the fishermen of Oslob (who are not allowed to use motorboats to protect the whale sharks), it might pose a different situation once these migratory whale sharks move outside of Oslob,” he added.

In the case of Fermin, Aca said the whale shark’s usual approach of bumping the boat from behind might be seen as an aggressive behavior by other fishermen, causing them to turn on their motors and leave. Fermin might be hit by the propeller causing the wounds, Aca said.


Whale sharks are classified as vulnerable species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. They are also listed in both Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna, and the Convention on Migratory Species.

Aca said the whale shark was also protected in the Philippines under Republic Act No. 9147 or the Wildlife Resources Conservation and Protection Act, and Republic Act No. 8550 or the Philippine Fisheries Code.

“There surely is some kind of overlapping task between these agencies but instead of pointing to each other and/or claiming responsibilities, it is always beneficial if both can work together to achieve a certain goal,” he said.

Physalus’ Lamave project has identified over 60 whale sharks in the interaction area of Tan-awan, Oslob. Ten of them are seen daily, an increase from the six seen last April.

In its statement, Lamave said the number of propeller scars on the sharks in Oslob had increased since June although not as grave as what happened to Fermin.

They also expressed concern over the intent of neighboring municipalities like Moalboal, which is currently discussing an ordinance for whale shark interaction with intent to feed.

Spread of feeding

Craven said Fermin was the first of the whale sharks to obtain serious injury but this number could increase as sharks continue to develop the behavior of associating boats with food.

“The spread of feeding activities to other municipalities would exponentially increase the number of sharks learning this behavior, and thereby exposing a greater proportion of the whale shark population in the Visayas to serious injury,” Lamave said in its statement.

Craven said they would continue to work with the local community to raise awareness and education about marine life. “There is still not enough education and awareness about the butanding. A lot of people still call them whales. There has to be a collaborative effort among all people to make this more sustainable,” said Craven.

Propeller-Slashed Whale Shark Highlights Ecotourism Danger
Stephanie Pappas LiveScience 30 Jul 12;

A whale shark nicknamed Fermin who has become a popular tourist attraction in the Philippines has been slashed across the face by a boat propeller, marine biologists report.

The gentle giant — whale sharks can grown more than 40 feet (12 meters) long but eat mostly tiny plankton — is a common sight in the tourist area in Tan-awan, Oslob, a resort town in Cebu. In this area of ocean, boat operators are allowed to feed whale sharks, bringing them near their boats so tourists can see the enormous fish close up.

The practice is a popular one, but marine biologists are concerned. Not only does feeding sharks teach them to associate boats with free meals, said Samantha Craven, a scientist with the Philippines Large Marine Vertebrates Project, it also seems to dissuade the sharks from their natural migrations.

"If these sharks reach sexual maturity and don't migrate to breeding grounds, they are effectively removed from the population and would no longer be adding to the numbers of genetic diversity of their species, which is listed as 'vulnerable to extinction' by the IUCN [International Union for Conservation of Nature]," Craven told LiveScience. [Gallery: The Mysterious Lives of Whale Sharks]

A whale shark injury

Fermin is one of six whale sharks that has been feeding from the tourist boats nearly daily since late March, according to the Large Marine Vertebrates Project. The group, part of the nongovernmental organization Physalus, is the only one doing research in this area of the ocean.

Most days, a dozen or more sharks show up, Craven said, but Fermin is one of the most regular boat visitors. Between July 17 and July 19, though, Fermin disappeared. When he returned on July 20, his face was scarred with 11 deep cuts, one right across his left eye.

Whale sharks are vulnerable to propeller cuts because they're difficult to see when they swim just below the surface, Craven said. But most whale sharks that have been hit show scars on their backs or fins, indicating they've been run over. Fermin's injuries are different.

"Fermin's scars are at the front of his face, indicating contact was made head-on, as if he actively approached the boat," Craven said. [See images of Fermin's Injuries]

The grisly wounds likely came from a small propeller boat. No motor boats are allowed within the Tan-awan feeding area, and it is not clear where Fermin had his run-in. It's likely, however, that he approached a boat looking for food and came away with an injury instead.

The whale sharks that feed at Tan-awan all sport odd calluses around their mouths where they rub against the boats as fishermen drop shrimp meals into the water, Craven said. But recently, more troubling marks have been showing up.

"Since June, we have seen an increase in smaller propeller scars on the regular sharks," Craven said. "None as severe as Fermin, but I worry that it is a matter of time."

The ethics of shark feeding

Strict rules govern the interactions between humans and sharks in the Tan-awan feeding area. No more than six tourists and four scuba divers may approach one shark at a time, and no one may touch the sharks. Only members of the local fisherman's association are allowed to feed the animals.

The rules are good ones, Craven said, but they're broken "on a daily basis." The situation pits conservation against education and tourism dollars.

"I do believe that increased education and awareness about whale sharks is important, but this is a high price to pay, when more sustainable options are already proven," Craven said. "Even if there was a way to feed the sharks without creating an association of food with boats and people, we are still preventing them from migrating."

Whale shark researcher Jennifer Schmidt, a biologist at the University of Illinois at Chicago, said she felt "sick to her stomach" when she saw the photographs of Fermin's injuries. Properly regulated ecotourism that allows divers to swim alongside naturally feeding sharks doesn't seem to disrupt these threatened animals' behavior, Schmidt said. But feeding the sharks appears to be a recipe for disaster.

"I was in Oslob in April, and I saw the situation there — boats, many boats, and
sharks and swimmers and even divers all in an extremely chaotic mix," Schmidt said. "It was only a matter of time before either a shark or a person was injured, and unfortunately as long as this activity continues more sharks will be injured, even killed."

Fermin's future

Since his disappearance and injury, Fermin has returned to the feeding area almost daily, Craven said. His wounds appear to be healing, but he usually has his eye rolled back. Whale sharks commonly roll their eyes back to protect them, but Craven said it's not clear whether Fermin is rolling back his eye because of pain or because scar tissue is hindering his ability to move his eye muscles.

"I think we have to wait to see how the wounds heal, and see how the eye is over the next two weeks before we will know more," Craven said.

The popularity of Tan-awan's whale shark feedings has spurred the nearby town of Moalboal to look into allowing similar interactions in their stretch of coastline. One Philippine senator has proposed banning whale shark feeding nationally, Craven said, but it is uncertain if it will be approved.

"I think this industry is so lucrative that one shark with a bad propeller cut is not enough to stop it locally," Craven said. "It will only stop if there is regulation from national law, coupled with education on the ground as to why it is bad, and what alternative activities can be run."

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