Best of our wild blogs: 31 Aug 12

Handsome buggers
from The annotated budak

Green Drinks Singapore: Seagrass & Aqua Republica
from Lazy Lizard's Tales and TeamSeagrass

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Massive construction boom on the horizon

At least $55b of transport projects lined up, plus housing and others
Maria Almenoar & Royston Sim Straits Times 31 Aug 12;

WITH news of the latest mega-project to build the 30km Thomson rail line, Singapore is on the path of another construction boom.

Based on costs that have been announced, at least $55 billion worth of transport infrastructure is currently being built, or will be built, until 2021.

In comparison, Singapore's upcoming Sports Hub has a $1.33 billion price tag.

The biggest projects are the $18 billion Thomson Line and $20.7 billion Downtown Line, which will open in stages from next year to 2017.

Construction of the former will begin in the third quarter of next year, with tenders for civil contracts being called as early as next month.

Other rail projects include the Tuas West extension and North-South Line extension.

All these translate into 80.5km more of rail lines and 61 new MRT stations, including 17 new interchanges.

They come on top of the Circle Line, which was completed in October last year.

Two of the more significant road projects are the $4.3 billion Marina Coastal Expressway and the $8 billion North-South Expressway.

Still more projects are expected to be announced early next year, including rail lines.

The projects will put a spike in demand for - and costs of - engineering expertise, foreign workers, building materials and equipment, said industry observers.

Contractors said they are gearing up for this wave of projects, which exclude another slew of massive non-transport as well as housing projects.

Mr Or Toh Wat, the group managing director of OKP Holdings, which has snagged a number of road projects, said OKP has hired more people and added to its inventory of equipment in preparation for new contracts.

Mr Or added that the coming years will be the busiest the industry has been since the last construction boom between 2007 and 2010, when the two integrated resorts were built.

Industry watchers expect a rise in the cost of building equipment and a labour crunch. Already, the demand for construction vehicles like cement mixers has nearly doubled the cost of Certificates of Entitlement for them to nearly $60,000 in the last one year.

Singapore Contractors Association president Ho Nyok Yong noted that there are also major transport projects in the rest of Asia.

He said there is a need for more business-friendly measures to reduce the impact of the labour crunch on the industry. In 2010, there were some 355,000 construction workers in Singapore.

Contractors will feel squeezed by the Government's move to cut the number of workers allowed for a specific project and to raise foreign worker levies in a bid to reduce Singapore's reliance on foreign workers.

But Professor Chew Soon Beng of the Nanyang Technological University's division of economics said he expects the Government to stay "quite liberal" about letting foreign construction workers in to meet the demand for labour.

Major rail and road projects


42km Downtown Line: $20.7 billion, ready in stages from 2013 to 2017.
1km North-South Line extension to Marina Bay: $357.5 million, ready in 2014.
7.5km Tuas West extension on the East-West Line: $3.5 billion, ready in 2016.
30km Thomson Line: $18 billion, ready in stages from 2019 to 2021.


5km Marina Coastal Expressway: $4.3 billion, ready by the end of 2013.
New underpass and widening of roads in Kallang: $254 million, ready by 2014.
Road tunnel linking Sentosa to the mainland, widening of surrounding roads: $537 million, ready in 2015.
Interchange connecting three expressways and the Seletar Aerospace Park: $255 million, ready in 2015.
Major arterial road from the Central Expressway to Yishun Avenue 6: $354 million, ready in 2015.
21.5km North-South Expressway: between $7 billion and $8 billion, ready in 2020.

By 2021: Six MRT lines, 220km network
Straits Times 31 Aug 12;

THE MRT network will span more than 220km when the new Thomson Line is completed in 2021.

The 30km Thomson Line will be Singapore's sixth MRT line, after the North-South, East-West, North-East, Circle and Downtown lines.

It will have 22 stations and open in three phases from 2019 to 2021. Commuters can transfer to other MRT lines via six interchange stations - Woodlands, Caldecott, Stevens, Orchard, Outram Park and Marina Bay.

The 42km Downtown Line, which is currently being built, will have 34 stations and open in stages from next year to 2017.

Also in the works are the 7.5km Tuas West Extension, which will add four stations to the East-West Line, and a 1km North-South Line extension past Marina Bay.

When all the projects are completed in 2021, the network will have over 160 stations islandwide.

Passengers will be able to transfer to any of the six lines at various interchanges.

For instance, the Outram Park station will link the East-West, North-East and Thomson Lines. The Bugis station will link the Downtown and East-West Lines once it is ready next year.

The Land Transport Authority said the new Thomson Line will provide better rail connectivity for commuters and reduce travelling time.

For instance, a trip from Sin Ming estate to Gardens by the Bay will take 40 minutes via the new line, compared with 65 minutes via bus and train now.

Some 160,000 households will be within 800m of one of the new Thomson Line stations once the entire line is ready in 2021.


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Thailand: Six injured sea turtles beach in Phuket, Phang Nga in one day

Phuket Gazette 30 Aug 12;

PHUKET: The six Olive Ridley sea turtles that were found washed ashore on beaches in Phuket and Phang Nga on Tuesday were almost all suffering serious injuries from encounters with fishing equipment.

Dr Kongkiat Kittiwattanawong, who heads the Endangered Species Unit at the Phuket Marine Biological Center (PMBC), told the Gazette that the beachings were due in part to strong monsoon conditions earlier this week, which also caused other marine species to wash ashore.

“Some of the turtles have minor cuts on their flippers from fishing nets, others sustained more serious lacerations, some as deep as to the bone. Among the injured turtles is one that had both of her front legs cut off by a fishing net. Another one has a big crack on its shell, which was probably inflicted by a boat propeller,” he said.

Four of the turtles were found on Mai Khao Beach in Phuket, while the other two were rescued from Koh Khao Island and at Baan Nam Kem in Phang Nga.

Olive Ridley sea turtles have not reportedly been seen nesting in any of these areas in the past few years. However, Dr Kongkiat noted that it is currently mating season for the species and that all six turtles found were adult females.

“They usually come close to the shoreline to mate, then lay their eggs between November and January,” he explained.

Dr Kongkiat believes the reason the turtles washed ashore was due to injuries sustained by encounters with fish trawling nets.

“When sea turtles get injured. they can’t dive deep; they must remain near the surface. When they stay too long on the surface, they often get sick. In this state, rough sea conditions can force them ashore,” he said.

From August 26 to 28 more than 10 endangered marine species were found washed ashore along the Phuket and Phang Nga coastlines, including dugong and dolphins, Dr Kongkiat explained.

“The number of injured marine animals that have washed ashore recently indicate that the problem of man-made debris in the sea has reached a crisis point,” Dr Kongkiat said.

PMBC officers have noted that more than 60 per cent of the marine animals that have been washed ashore are injured, most are cut by fishing nets.

“We find that only a very small number of animals that wash ashore are suffering from natural illnesses,” he said.

“Beneath the sea, trash created by human is the most worrisome problem,” he added.

“I think it is time to get more serious about raising public awareness, especially among fisherman, about this problem. No one should throw any kind of trash into the sea, whether it be ripped fishing nets, plastic bags or boat engine oil. In the long term, the problem will affect all of us,” he warned.

“When the turtles swim close to the shore and find net with fish trapped inside, they may swim in to eat the fish. But then they can get tangled in the net themselves and may cut themselves trying to get free," he said.

– Kritsada Mueanhawong

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Thai firm pleads guilty over Australian oil spill

(AFP) Google News 30 Aug 12;

SYDNEY — A Thai state-owned firm on Thursday admitted four charges over a huge oil spill off northwestern Australia, the country's worst ever offshore drilling accident.

Thousands of barrels of oil gushed into the sea over 10 weeks following a blowout at PTTEP Australasia's West Atlas rig in the Timor Sea three years ago.

The slick from the Montara oil field spread as far as Indonesian waters and environmentalists said it grew to almost 90,000 square kilometres (35,000 square miles).

The firm, a unit of Thailand's PTT Exploration and Production, pleaded guilty to breaching the Offshore Petroleum Act, admitting it failed to take all reasonable steps to prevent the spill and placed rig workers in danger.

An Australian government inquiry blamed widespread and systematic shortcomings at PTTEP for the spill, over which Indonesia sought US$2.4 billion in compensation for damage to reefs and fisheries.

PTTEP is facing more than Aus$1 million (US$1.03 million) in fines following its guilty plea at Darwin Magistrates Court, with company chief Ken Fitzpatrick saying that "mistakes were made that should never be repeated".

"From the outset we have admitted responsibility for the incident and deeply regret it occurring," Fitzpatrick told reporters outside the court.

"The hearing today draws a line under the Montara incident and allows us to focus on delivering safe, clean operations in Australia now and in the future," he added.

PTTEP paid for the clean-up and Fitzpatrick said the environmental impact was estimated to have cost the company Aus$40-50 million. It had also driven a transformation of the firm's operations and culture, he added.

The court is expected to deliver its sentence on Friday.

PTTEP's Australian offshore drilling licence was renewed in February 2011 on a strict 18-month probation period, with the government warning it would be subject to a rigorous monitoring regime.

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Super-trawler docks in Australia despite protests

Amy Coopes AFP Yahoo News 31 Aug 12;

A massive super-trawler docked in Australia Thursday despite blockade attempts by Greenpeace activists who accuse it of depleting global fisheries and called on the government to turn it away.

The 9,500-tonne FV Margiris repelled Greenpeace protesters to dock at Port Lincoln in South Australia state for re-flagging as an Australian vessel ahead of its proposed deployment to Tasmania for bait-fishing.

Greenpeace spokeswoman Julie Macken said the Margiris powered into port despite repeated attempts to block it by activists in an inflatable boat.

The Greenpeace boat intercepted the Margiris offshore early Thursday and activists attempted to climb aboard before their ropes were cut and the dinghy was forced away by a pilot ship from the port.

The activists then chained their boat onto the wharf in a bid to block the Margiris from docking but Macken said it steamed ahead undeterred.

"When it was coming in to dock one of our inflatables got between the ship and the wharf but that was unsuccessful," Macken told AFP from Port Lincoln.

"It was pretty extraordinary how aggressively the Margiris was moved into position when our activists were actually still in the way, I was pretty gobsmacked by that."

Macken said they just managed to unlock and scramble out of the way as the Lithuanian-flagged Margiris "kept bearing down".

The 143-metre (469-foot) Margiris sparked protests among conservation groups and local fisherman when it was announced earlier this year that it would come to fish off Tasmania.

Greenpeace has led demonstrations against the super-trawler, chaining its propellers and suspending activists from the ship as it prepared to leave the Netherlands for Australia in June.

Now that it had docked Macken said "the ball is in the court of the Australian community" and government.

Canberra is yet to give final approval for the Margiris to fish Australian waters, with Environment Minister Tony Burke seeking legal advice about whether he can intervene over concerns that dolphins and other animals will inadvertently get swept up in its nets.

"He's asked for advice on that and awaiting advice," a spokeswoman for Burke said.

The Australian Fisheries Management Authority has dismissed concerns about over-fishing, saying the trawler would be allowed to catch just 10 percent of available fish and would have little if any impact on the broader eco-system.

According to local media reports, the Margiris is expected to stay in Port Lincoln for five days to be re-flagged as an Australian vessel, and undergo maintenance and government checks.

Greenpeace Oceans campaigner Nathaniel Pelle said trawlers like the Margiris "literally vacuum up entire schools of fish", amid concerns about the depletion of southern fish stocks and the impact on sea birds, seals and dolphins.

"You could fly a jumbo jet through the opening of its net with room to spare," Pelle added in a statement.

"They have overfished European waters, collapsed fisheries in the South Pacific, and devastated fishing communities in West Africa. We simply can't let the same thing happen in Australia."

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World Bank issues hunger warning after droughts in US and Europe

Damage to crop harvests from exceptionally dry weather this year raises sharply the Bank's food price index
Larry Elliott 30 Aug 12;

The World Bank issued a global hunger warning last night after severe droughts in the US and eastern Europe sent food prices to a record high.

Damage to crop harvests from exceptionally dry weather this year raised sharply the Bank's food price index taking it above its peak in early 2011.

The Washington-based bank blamed the drought in the US for the 25% price rise of maize and 17% price rise in soya beans last month, adding that a dry summer in Russia, the Ukraine and Kazakhstan lay behind the 25% jump in the cost of wheat.

"Food prices rose again sharply threatening the health and well-being of millions of people," said World Bank group president, Jim Yong Kim. "Africa and the Middle East are particularly vulnerable, but so are people in other countries where the prices of grains have gone up abruptly."

The bank said food prices overall rose by 10% between June and July to leave them 6% up on a year earlier. "We cannot allow these historic price hikes to turn into a lifetime of perils as families take their children out of school and eat less nutritious food to compensate for the high prices," said Kim. "Countries must strengthen their targeted programs to ease the pressure on the most vulnerable population, and implement the right policies."

He added that the Bank was spending $9bn this year supporting agriculture and pledged that help to poor countries affected by food price hikes would continue.

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Storms, drought overshadow UN climate talks

Apilaporn Vechakij AFP Yahoo News 30 Aug 12;

World climate change negotiators faced warnings Thursday that a string of extreme weather events around the globe show urgent action on emission cuts is needed as they opened new talks in Bangkok.

The week-long meeting in the Thai capital, which was devastated by major floods last year, aims to prepare the ground for a meeting of ministers under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Doha starting in November.

"This meeting opens in the immediate aftermath of a deadly typhoon in the Republic of Korea and a hurricane that hit near New Orleans on the seventh anniversary of Katrina -- powerful reminders of the urgent need to lower greenhouse gas emissions," said Marlene Moses of Nauru, who chairs the Alliance of Small Island States.

For small islands particularly vulnerable to climate change, "development prospects, viability and survival hang in the balance", she warned.

Some experts believe the UN target to limit the rise in global average temperatures to two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) is already unattainable.

At least 19 people were killed this week by the most powerful typhoon to hit South Korea in almost a decade and thousands of people were evacuated in New Orleans as Hurricane Isaac pounded the southern US city.

In the Philippines, storms and flooding from torrential rains killed at least 170 people in August, while the US Midwest breadbasket is reeling from the worst drought in more than 50 years.

"Climate change and typhoons or droughts like in the United States are interlinked," said UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres.

"These strong weather events will occur more frequently and more intensely but they are not caused by climate change. The frequency and intensity is affected by climate change," she told reporters.

Scientists hesitate about pinning extreme weather events to climate change, which is a longer-term phenomenon.

But they also note that worse droughts, floods and storms are consistent with models that link disruption to Earth's climate system with heat-trapping fossil-fuel emissions.

They also point to other evidence that climate change is on the march, including the announcement this week that sea ice in the Arctic has shrunk to a record seasonal low this summer.

No major breakthroughs are expected at the Bangkok event, an informal meeting of senior officials from UNFCCC member states, which number 193.

But delegates aim to make some progress on the long road set out in Durban in December to negotiating an accord that would from 2020 bring all major greenhouse-gas emitters under a single legal roof for the first time.

If approved as scheduled in 2015, the pact would become the prime weapon in the fight against climate change.

In the meantime, negotiators face the challenge of reaching an agreement on a second commitment period for the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, whose first roster of legally-binding carbon curbs expires at the end of this year.

Developing countries meanwhile will pressure rich nations to provide financing and technology to help them adapt to the impacts of climate change.

"We need massively increased finance for adaptation and for action to reduce emissions and we need to set up a proper international co-ordination process to deliver resources for adaptation to those in most need," said the chair of the Least Developed Countries group, Pa Ousman Jarju of Gambia.

"We cannot live with these issues being deferred until a new agreement is negotiated in 2015 and that would not even come into effect in 2020," he said.

Nations warn of broken promises at U.N. climate talks
Andrew Allan, Stian Reklev PlanetArk 31 Aug 12;

Almost 50 of the world's poorest nations said pledges made by rich countries to provide funds to help them adapt to a warmer planet risk being overlooked as U.N. negotiations over a global climate pact to start in 2020 got underway in Bangkok on Thursday.

The group of mostly African nations said that ill-fated talks launched in 2007 to find a successor to the Kyoto Protocol must not end without richer nations pledging financial aid to help them cope with rising sea levels cause by climate change.

Traditional industrialized nations such as the EU, the U.S. and Japan want to close down the talks, which failed in 2009 to produce a legally-binding global pact to cut emissions of heat-trapping gases starting next year.

They want to focus on a new deal to take effect at the end of the decade.

"We cannot live with these issues being deferred until a new agreement is negotiated in 2015 and that would not even come into effect in 2020," said Pa Ousman Jarju, chair of the Least Developed Countries negotiating group.

Rich nations have pledged to find $100 billion per year starting in 2020 to help nations combat the effects of climate change, but poorer nations are concerned that existing pledges of $10 billion a year will expire in December without a new interim agreement in place.

"All sides need a clearer understanding on how to get to $100 billion a year by 2020 with no gaps," said Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the U.N.'s climate department and the public face of the talks.

The call comes as traditional rich nations struggle to rein in their national debt and budget deficits, while support for proposals to tap the private sector for cash through regulating or taxing emissions from shipping and aviation have struggled to receive backing.

The Bangkok negotiations, which end next week, will also try to advance talks on whether countries that have refused to be legally bound to cut emissions under the Kyoto Protocol should be allowed access to the carbon markets launched under the 1997 treaty.

The issue is salient for the governments of Australia, New Zealand and Japan who have either given big emitting companies targets to cut emissions or plan to do so and are keen to allow them to use cheap carbon credits from the Clean Development Mechanism to cut costs.

Poorer countries want to use access to carbon credits as leverage to get those three nations to re-sign Kyoto.

Earlier this month Australia's main opposition party which is tipped to win the country's next general election said it would not object to the country taking on another legal target to cut emissions under the Kyoto Protocol, putting pressure on the government to sign up.

A spokesperson for Australia's climate change minister said the country had not yet made a decision, preferring instead to wait to see how talks advance on the new global treaty, the bare bones of which were agreed at last year's climate talks in Durban.

"The Australian government will take a decision on the Kyoto Protocol second commitment period at an appropriate time. We are carefully examining what the post-Durban international settings mean for our legislated carbon pricing scheme."

The talks will also focus on how countries can deepen voluntary pledges to cut emissions by 2020 made at the Copenhagen climate summit in 2009.

(This version of the story corrects day to Thursday from Wednesday in lede)

(Reporting by Andrew Allan, Stian Reklev. Additional reporting by David Fogarty)

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Best of our wild blogs: 30 Aug 12

Free nature guided walk @ Fort Canning Park
from The Green Volunteers

Cord in the net
from The annotated budak

mama snakehead & kids @ kent ridge - Aug2012
from sgbeachbum

Random Gallery - Pale Mottle
from Butterflies of Singapore

Adventures of Hope at the Chek Jawa cleanup
from News from the International Coastal Cleanup Singapore

Money for Mangroves
from Blue Carbon Blog

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Green petitions a sign of growing civic consciousness

Grace Chua Straits Times 30 Aug 12;

ONE group of Singaporeans has already set the ball rolling for a new national conversation: on how green - or brown - Singapore should be.

This group, or rather several groups of residents, shot to the headlines this year for banding together to save patches of forest around their homes, talking, organising and sending petitions. No radical tree-huggers, they are mostly regular folk upset at new development plans for land they had come to think of as their backyard.

Some may be truly exercised about the loss of habitat for the rufous-tailed tailorbird, civet cat and other species. Or, as some suspect, a few might have stakes no higher than concern for property values or the fear of having to squeeze into trains with more residents in their area.

Whatever the mix of near- or far-sighted sentiments that drove them, these residents' activism raised some legitimate questions about prudent land use in an increasingly crowded city.

How should Singapore decide which areas should be developed and which areas preserved? Surely the "winner" cannot be the one who protests the loudest? Does Singapore's urban masterplan have room for both a larger population and natural forests? Some question whether the City in a Garden, with its plentiful green spaces, isn't already green enough.

Singapore's planners have wrestled with these complex issues long before the residents of Limau estate decided to appeal to their MP to save a patch of land just south of the Tanah Merah MRT station, which is going to be developed into condominiums.

The very development of Singapore has been an act of planning. Even before independence, land use was laid out in colonial town plans.

There have been at least three other Limau-like cases this year. Groups have campaigned to protect areas in Pasir Ris, and Bukit Brown, and at Dairy Farm in Upper Bukit Timah. The pieces of land they wanted to preserve were mostly wooded stretches that sprung up in the last two to five decades on former kampung or plantation land. Bukit Brown is a disused cemetery where people still return to sweep the graves of ancestors.

Urban planners have long had these areas in their sights. They were already zoned for residential use or have been tagged with the mysterious "Subject to detailed planning" in the Urban Redevelopment Authority's (URA) Master Plan - which Singaporeans understand as meaning the land is being left alone until such time as the state decides to develop it.

The masterplan has always been public. But residents like Pasir Ris' Madam Cherry Fong, 54, ask if the zoning has kept up with changes on the ground. Do the planners, she wonders, account for the fact that the fast-growing forests on these pieces of land harbour uncommon species like changeable hawk-eagles and rufous-tailed tailorbirds?

Experts argue that small forest fragments outside nature reserves can have real ecological value. They may be rich habitats in their own right, or help connect one nature area to another. And as they accumulate new plant species over time, the maturing habitat can support a wider array of animals.

"What is clear is that if green areas outside the strictly protected Nature Reserves were to be cleared, Singapore's biodiversity would be lower than it is today - less habitat leads to fewer species, and smaller and thus more vulnerable animal populations," says Nature Society (Singapore) president Shawn Lum.

He sums up a growing realisation - and not just among the experts - that not all greenery is created equal. Nearly half of Singapore's land area is under green cover. But parks and gardens, no matter how gorgeously landscaped, will never offer the same air-cleaning, water-filtering services or block as much street noise as natural forest areas.

Urban planners maintain that their vision has always had healthy measures of flexibility. Land-use plans are reviewed every five years.

"Greenery has an important place in our planning, and we have set aside close to 10 per cent of Singapore's total land area for parks and nature reserves. Beyond that, we do need to strike a careful balance among the many competing needs of a nation-state," a URA spokesman said. Other nature areas, forested state land and military training grounds make up the other greenscape. In all, 47 per cent of Singapore is under green cover.

In this scheme of things, the new turn is that residents like the Limau estate group are appealing for public consultation before development. This seems a perfectly reasonable request. But the next logical question then is: Who should be consulted? Asking everyone within a 1km radius of the site might not be enough. Asking everyone within a 2km radius, too onerous.

But what is clear is, as Limau resident Han Hee Juan, 48, put it: "It shouldn't need to result in a petition every time."

Perhaps it is time for transparent, public environmental impact assessments, as several have suggested. Ambassador-at-Large Tommy Koh suggested such assessments in June, and long-time conservation activist Ho Hua Chew did so last month, in two separate articles in The Straits Times.

Then, everyone can have a say before a final decision is made.

That could help develop a consensus on which green areas to conserve, taking into account their location, what species are in them and whether they are stepping-stones for wildlife to get to reserves. In fact, Singapore already understands this principle - it is building an eco-bridge between the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve and the Central Catchment reserve for wildlife to move from one to another.

Not all wild patches can be saved from development pressures, but those that are more likely to be ecologically vital could get higher priority.

That residents want to protect their local forests is a good sign. It means they feel that their home is part of a wider neighbourhood community, and that they need to protect that neighbourhood, not just their individual homes or interests.

This is a watershed moment for civic engagement, and Singapore should capitalise on it.

It is a point worth noting and celebrating that conservation groups like the Nature Society - the traditional voice in these matters - have actually taken a back seat.

Rather, an interest in nature already exists among ordinary residents, whose growing civic and social consciousness now propel them forward.

For example, it was Madam Fong who first raised the Pasir Ris forest issue at a Meet-the-People Session last year, teenage children in tow.

And even if the nation's larger green goals override their own, Pasir Ris, Dairy Farm and Limau estate residents at least now know each other a little better.

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Malaysia: Port Dickson hotel checks in turtle eggs

Maizatul Ranai New Straits Times 30 Aug 12;

CONSERVATION EFFORT: Guests can adopt eggs and release the reptiles back into sea

PORT DICKSON: A BEACH resort here not only played host to human guests, but also to endangered turtles.

For the past three years, Glory Beach Resort had played a key role in helping to save the species by setting up a hatchery.

It rescued turtle eggs found along the seaside here, and had hatched and released 3,200 young hawksbill turtles back into the sea.

Resort general manager Isaac Mohan Raj said the turtle rehabilitation programme was a joint effort with the Malacca Turtle Management Centre and the Negri Sembilan Fisheries Department.

The programme was conceived after the Rantau Abang Turtle and Marine Ecosystem Centre (Tumec) found turtle tracks along the beaches here and the hatchery was built at the resort in June 2010.

"With help of the locals and our guests, we rescue the turtle eggs from poachers and place them at the hatchery. The public response is good and we even have schoolchildren bringing in turtle eggs to our centre."

Following the programme's success with a hatching rate of 74 per cent, Raj said the resort's centre was given the nod to buy 3,000 turtle eggs from Malacca yearly.

The resort had also launched an educational and awareness programme by inviting visitors to adopt an egg and releasing the baby turtles to the sea once they hatch. Raj said they also planned to build a gallery to raise awareness on turtle conservation efforts throughout the country.

"We also hope to put tracking device on the baby turtles so we can track their movements in the ocean," he said.

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Malaysia: 'Save knowledge of medicinal plants'

PROTECTING RIGHTS: Indigenous folk, who know the value of plants, risk losing out to foreigners due to no proper documentation
New Straits Times 30 Aug 12;

DOCUMENTING indigenous knowledge of medicinal plants is crucial for its existence, said state Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Masidi Manjun.

He added that while the communities in many parts of Sabah knew about the medicinal value of plants, this knowledge was not well documented.

"It may be lost as its custodians are passing away," he said in his speech at the launch of the Imbak Canyon Ethno- Forestry study and workshop on accessing and commercialising bio-diversity here yesterday.

The speech was read by his assistant, Datuk Elron Angin.

Masidi said the indigenous people had an understanding of the properties of plants and animals, the functioning of eco-system and the techniques for using and managing them that was particular and often detailed.

"So far, there has been little systematic ethno-botanical survey in this area."

With the advancement in science and technology, he said there was an increased interest in appropriating indigenous knowledge for scientific and commercial purposes.

"Some research and pharmaceutical companies are patenting, or claiming ownership, of traditional medicinal plants although indigenous people have used such plants for generations.

"In many cases, these companies do not recognise indigenous people's traditional ownership of such knowledge and deprive them of their fair share in the economic, medical or social benefits that accrue from the use of their traditional knowledge or practices."

He said the study and workshop was timely and would catapult Sabah into a leading position in biotechnology and pharmaceuticals.

"Traditional healers are very old and dwindling in number by the day.

"There is a danger of traditional knowledge disappearing soon.

"Advancement in science and technology has also made it easier for people to obtain medicine to treat their sicknesses.

"Hence, most of the younger generation are not interested in carrying on the tradition."

The ethno-forestry study is aimed at exploring and documenting indigenous knowledge and practice of the communities in the Imbak Canyon area.

The long-term project is being carried out under the Yayasan Sabah-Petronas Imbak Canyon Conservation Partnership.

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Almost 900 Star Tortoises seized in Thailand

TRAFFIC 29 Aug 12;

Bangkok, Thailand, 29th August 2012—A suitcase filled with a whopping 890 Indian Star Tortoises has been seized, and an Indian national arrested at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi International airport.

Acting on a tip off, Tourist Police and Royal Thai Customs officers stopped the 26-year-old man who attempted to smuggle the tortoises into the country on a Thai Airways flight from Calcutta to Bangkok, on Monday 27th August.

The tortoises, all juveniles, were found stuffed into six pillow cases and hidden inside the suspect’s suitcase.

A statement has been taken from the suspect, a resident of Chennai in South India, who is expected to face charges under Thailand’s Wild Animal Reservation and Protection Act, Customs Act and the Animals Epidemics Act.

The Indian Star Tortoise Geochelone elegans is highly prized as an exotic pet and remains a target for collection and trade despite being afforded legal protection across the species range countries of India, Sri Lanka and Pakistan. All three countries have banned the species’s international commercial export under national legislation, making all shipments from these countries illegal anywhere in the world.

Famous for the beautiful patterns on their shells, the tortoises have turned up in several major seizures at airports throughout Southeast Asia, particularly Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur and Jakarta. In a similar case in September, 2010 Customs officials at Suvarnabhumi Airport stopped a Pakistani man with 1,140 Indian Star tortoises in his suitcase.

Since 2011, published reports show that Thai authorities have stopped at least three other smugglers at Suvarnabumi Airport with at least 131 Indian Star Tortoises hidden among other illegal wildlife in their suitcases, while Indian and Bangladesh authorities have foiled the trafficking of over 800 Star Tortoises to Thailand.

Just four days ago, TRAFFIC observed at least 122 Indian Star Tortoises openly for sale at Bangkok’s popular weekend market, Chatuchak, confirming that the trade is indeed very active in Thailand. Most of the tortoises observed were juvenile animals, the size of those seized at the airport; while a handful was adult tortoises. These observations along with Monday’s seizure point to a huge demand for this species and that trade in the tortoises in Thailand continues despite its illegal nature.

“For a slow moving animal, Indian Star Tortoises are racing through the illegal trade. Still, TRAFFIC is pleased to see that the Thai authorities have come out ahead of the smugglers this time,” said Dr William Schaedla, TRAFFIC Southeast Asia’s Regional Director.

“TRAFFIC also wants to see authorities publicize the outcome of the prosecution in this case. Actual information on what happens to smugglers in the region is sparse. People must know that there is a heavy price to pay for trafficking animals if we are ultimately to win the battle against wildlife crime,” he said.

TRAFFIC also urged Thai authorities to increase enforcement efforts at local markets to remove Indian Star Tortoises while working with their counterparts in India to ensure a speedy repatriation of the tortoises seized this week, as authorities in Malaysia and Indonesia have done in the past.

In March, Indonesian authorities repatriated 19 Indian Star Tortoises that they seized at Jakarta’s Soekarno-Hatta International Airport in November 2011. Malaysian authorities seized 699 Indian Star tortoises in two separate operations in mid-2011, and sent 600 surviving tortoises back to India in December the same year.

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World's largest marine park unveiled

Neil Sands AFP Yahoo News 29 Aug 12;

The world's largest marine park, a vast swathe of ocean almost twice the size of France, has been unveiled by the Cook Islands at the opening of the Pacific Islands Forum.

Prime Minister Henry Puna said the 1.065 million square kilometre (411,000 square mile) reserve is "the largest area in history by a single country for integrated ocean conservation and management".

Puna said protecting the Pacific, one of the last pristine marine eco-systems, was the Cooks' major contribution "to the well-being of not only our peoples, but also of humanity".

"The marine park will provide the necessary framework to promote sustainable development by balancing economic growth interests such as tourism, fishing and deep sea mining with conserving core biodiversity in the ocean," he said.

The park was unveiled as the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) opened with a spectacular Polynesian welcoming ceremony.

Heralded by traditional drummers and blaring conch shells, leaders of the 15-nation grouping were carried to the summit venue in the Cooks Islands' capital Avarua on litters, while flag-waving locals cheered enthusiastically.

While some leaders such as Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard looked somewhat sheepish as they were paraded aloft before the crowd, Puna burst into song after greeting them, delighting the locals with an impromptu lounge tune.

Gillard and her New Zealand counterpart John Key wore garlands of flowers around their necks, before a spear-carrying chieftain in a headdress decorated with shells and feathers performed a customary welcoming ceremony.

Dancers in grass skirts added to the Polynesian pomp for an event organisers said was one of the largest in the nation's history, rivalled only by a visit from Queen Elizabeth II in 1974.

"This is certainly the biggest thing to happen here for decades," one official at the ceremony told AFP.

The Cook Islands protected zone will be the largest single marine park in the world, taking in the entire southern half of the nation's waters.

The 15 islands have a combined landmass of 240 square kilometres (93 square miles) -- barely larger than that of Washington DC -- but its waters include environmentally valuable coral reefs, seagrass beds and fisheries.

Marea Hatziolos, the World Bank's senior coastal and marine specialist, said the Cook Islands' initiative was a win for both the environment and the country's economy as it would help save fish stocks and promote tourism.

"There's definitely an economic dimension to this, apart from protecting biodiversity," she told AFP. "It allows small Pacific nations to generate revenue."

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will attend the summit later this week, in a move seen as sending a message to China that Washington intends to re-engage with the South Pacific to counter Beijing's influence in the region.

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard said Clinton's attendance showed "how deeply engaged America is in our region".

The absence of Fiji, which was suspended from the PIF in 2009 in the wake of a 2006 military coup, will also be a major topic of discussion.

Australia announced in June that it was creating a network of marine parks covering 3.1 million square kilometres, more than a third of its territorial waters. However, they are dotted around its huge coastline.

Tiny Pacific island nations create world's largest marine parks
Cook Islands and New Caledonia place nearly 2.5 million square kilometres of south Pacific Ocean under protection
Stephen Leahy 30 Aug 12;

Two of the world's smallest countries are to place nearly 2.5 million square kilometres of south Pacific Ocean in newly created marine protected areas.

The Cook Islands, nation of 20,000 people on 15 islands, formally announced on Tuesday the creation of the world's largest marine park covering nearly 1.1m sq km, an area bigger than France and Germany.

"This is our contribution not only to our own wellbeing but also to humanity's wellbeing," said the prime minister, Henry Puna.

"The Pacific Ocean is source of life for us. We are not small Pacific island states. We are large ocean island states," Puna said at the opening of the Pacific Islands forum, where leaders of 16 Pacific countries including New Zealand and Australia are meeting in Rarotonga.

The new Cook Island marine park will be zoned for multiple uses including tourism, fishing, and potentially deep-sea mineral extraction but only if these activities can be carried out sustainably, he said. The precautionary principle will determine what activities can take place, he said.

New Caledonia, the Cook Island's Pacific island neighbour and former French territory, also announced it will create a new marine protected area roughly half the size of India, covering 1.4m sq km.

"New Caledonia wishes to play its part in the sustainable management of our oceans," Francois Bockel, the head of regional development told the Guardian.

Pacific island nations have committed to a new approach to sustainable ocean management called the Pacific Oceanscape for the 40m sq km inside their collective exclusive economic zones. The region contains the largest pristine marine ecosystems and is home to 60% of the world's tuna stocks, scientists say.

The tiny Pacific island nation of Kiribati launched the Pacific Oceanscape concept and created the 400,000 sq km Phoenix Islands protected area in 2008. Other Polynesian nations such as Palau and Tokelau created vast whale, dolphin and shark sanctuaries in their waters. In June, Australia announced it would expand its network of marine protection reserves to 3.1m sq km including nearly 1m sq km in the south Pacific.

"Nearly every indicator shows that the world's oceans are in decline," said Michael Donoghue of Conservational International. "What is being announced here [in Rarotonga] is far more than has been achieved anywhere else in the world. It will be of enormous benefit to all of mankind."

Previously the world's largest marine reserve was the 545,000 sq km area established by the UK around the Chagos Islands in the Indian Ocean.

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Best of our wild blogs: 29 Aug 12

8 Sep (Sat): FREE Chek Jawa boardwalk tour with the Naked Hermit Crabs from Adventures with the Naked Hermit Crabs

Singapore climate change documentary Cool Red Dot airs tonight!
from Green Drinks Singapore

Pulau Ubin’s Sensory Trail closed, Aug – Oct 2012
from Otterman speaks

Adult Pied Fantail feeding a juvenile Rusty-breasted Cuckoo
from Bird Ecology Study Group

Rainforests decline sharply in Sumatra, but rate of deforestation slows from news by Rhett Butler

One extinction leads to another...and another
from news by Jeremy Hance

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Second of three dinosaurs for museum arrives

Tan Dawn Wei Straits Times 29 Aug 12;

THE second of three dinosaurs that will be the crown jewel of the upcoming Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum has arrived.

The 24m-long Apollo, or Apollonia, was packed into 14 crates and shipped from a laboratory in Utah. After a month-long voyage, it arrived last Friday.

"We are relieved," said Professor Leo Tan, 67, director of special projects at the Faculty of Science dean's office. "At least two of the three are here. Mother and child are reunited."

The first, baby dinosaur Twinky, arrived in April this year and has been stored in a secret high-security location.

The Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research at the National University of Singapore had just finished raising funds to build a 7,500 sq m purpose-built museum on campus when it heard last year of the discovery - made between 2007 and 2010 - of three diplodocid sauropod dinosaurs that were buried together in a quarry in Wyoming.

Its successful $8 million bid to buy the trio followed an intense two-month fund-raising drive.

The three sets of dinosaur bones will form the centrepiece of the new museum when it opens in 2014.

The third dinosaur, Prince, is being prepped in the Utah lab and will arrive by the end of next year.

Professor Peter Ng, 52, director of the Raffles Museum, said that while Apollo is twice the size of Twinky, the process of shipping it here was easier this time as there was a precedent.

Foreign paleontologists will authenticate Apollo's bones and put them through CT scans.

The museum has now embarked on its third phase of fundraising.

It needs to raise $10 million in endowment for professorships, fellowships and staff costs.

"This is the last hurdle," said Prof Ng.

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Singapore haze: PSI reading still in moderate range

Claire Huang Channel NewsAsia 28 Aug 12;

SINGAPORE: The Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) reading is in the moderate range at 59, as of 4pm on Tuesday.

In recent days, Singapore's air quality has dipped, with the PSI slipping from good to moderate in parts of the island.

The National Environment Agency (NEA) said Singapore is currently in the Southwest Monsoon season, which typically lasts from June to September or early October.

It's the traditional dry season for the southern ASEAN region.

NEA said an escalation of hotspot activities in Sumatra and Borneo can be expected during extended periods of dry weather.

And this can lead to transboundary smoke haze in the region.

The impact of the smoke haze on Singapore is dependent on factors such as the proximity and extent of the fires, the strength and direction of the prevailing winds, and the incidence and amount of rain.

The PSI reading is updated daily at 8am, noon and 4pm.

- CNA/cc

PSI at noon is 60, in the moderate range
Channel NewsAsia 28 Aug 12;

SINGAPORE: The Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) reading on Tuesday at noon is 60, in the moderate range.

On Monday, Singapore's air quality worsened slightly, with the PSI slipping from good to moderate in parts of the island. The PSI reading was between 33 and 53.

On 25 August, the National Environment Agency (NEA) said Singapore is currently in the Southwest Monsoon season.

The Southwest Monsoon season, which typically lasts from June to September or early October, is the traditional dry season for the southern ASEAN region.

During this season, the prevailing winds blow predominantly from the southeast or southwest.

NEA added that periods of dry weather, interspersed with occasional thundery showers in the afternoon and "Sumatra" squalls in the predawn and early morning, are common.

It said an escalation of hotspot activities in Sumatra and Borneo could be expected during extended periods of dry weather. This could lead to transboundary smoke haze in the region.

The impact of the smoke haze on Singapore is dependent on factors such as the proximity and extent of the fires, the strength and direction of the prevailing winds and the incidence and amount of rain.

The PSI reading will be updated daily at 8am, noon and 4pm.

- CNA/xq

Moderate haze spreads islandwide
Straits Times 29 Aug 12;

HAZY skies, confined to northern Singapore on Monday, spread across the island yesterday.

As of 4pm yesterday, the Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) readings ranged from 51 to 59, in the "moderate" range.

Readings of 50 and below are "good", and readings over 100 are "unhealthy".

The north, which registered a high of 53 on the PSI on Monday, went up by five points to 58 yesterday. The eastern part of Singapore was the worst hit. It recorded a high of 59 on the PSI.

The National Environment Agency's (NEA) response to media queries on Monday attributed the polluted skies to south-westerly winds carrying smoke from forest fire hot spots in Sumatra.

In a health advisory on its website, the NEA urged children, the elderly, and those with heart or lung diseases not to engage in prolonged or heavy outdoor exertion.

Dr Koh Sek Khoon, 50, from Toa Payoh Clinic and Surgery, said that "the full force of the haze" had yet to be felt.

If the haze worsened, he said, doctors would likely see a spike in patients.


Read more!

Indonesia: Haze chokes Batam, will soon reach Singapore

Fadli The Jakarta Post 29 Aug 12;

Batam and surrounding areas were covered in haze on Sunday and Monday due to smoke from fire hot spots in a number of provinces in the southern part of Sumatra.

The haze has reduced visibility from 10,000 meters to 5,000 meters.

The Hang Nadim Airport’s office of the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysical Agency (BMKG), Philip Mustamu, told The Jakarta Post on Tuesday that a number of hot spots had been detected in Jambi, South Sumatra and Lampung on Sunday and Monday.

The hot spots found in the three provinces originated from forest fires, but whether or not they were set intentionally remained unclear.

“I have no authority to answer whether the fires were set intentionally, but the hot spots apparently originated from forest fires,” Philip said.

He said that 160 hot spots had been detected by radar and the air pollutant concentrations due
to haze particles had restricted visibility at Hang Nadim Airport.

According to the Batam BMKG, visibility is variable at Hang Nadim Airport due to the haze.

On Sunday, visibility was recorded at between 6,000 and 7,000 meters, then on Monday it dropped to 5,000 meters, while on Tuesday it gradually improved to above 8,000 meters after rain began to fall in a number of locations in Batam.

Visibility is poor for flights when it is measured at between 1,000 to 2,000 meters.

During normal conditions, visibility at the airport is up to 10,000 meters.

“Despite that, airport operations continue as normal. Take-off and landings are being carried out regularly, although pilots need to be extra careful,” said Philip.

Hang Nadim Airport navigation technical group head Ricard Silitonga confirmed Philip’s remarks, saying that despite the drop in visibility, navigation activities operated as usual and there were no delays or flight cancellations for incoming or outgoing flights.

“So far, there has been no disruption in airport activities due to the haze,” Ricard said.

According to Philip, the haze covering Batam will not disappear during periods of bright sun-
shine but should fade with adequate rainfall.

Rain which started falling at 1 p.m. on Tuesday in Batam, is expected to get rid of the haze, especially if it is sufficient to extinguish the hot spots in Sumatra.

“It is raining today, so we hope the haze will disappear by itself, especially if the hot spots have been put out,” said Philip.

Whether the haze will reach Singapore and other neighboring countries may be only a matter of wind and time.

Singapore was covered in a thick haze in October 2010, however Singapore’s port and Singapore’s Changi airport still functioned as normal.

The haze at that time reportedly came from 97 hot spots in Riau province in the first week of October, 2010.

The number of hot spots jumped to 251 in the second week of October but declined to 219 in the third week before further declining to 65 over the next several days.

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Thailand: Tiger conservation gains threatened by proposed dam

WWF 28 Aug 12;

Bangkok, Thailand – The controversial Mae Wong dam in western Thailand represents a significant new threat to the country’s wild tiger population, and jeopardises the continued success of conservation efforts in Mae Wong National Park, warns WWF.

As opposition to the dam project builds, the Thai Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation (DNP) and WWF today released rare video footage of a tigress and her two cubs in Mae Wong National Park, close to the proposed dam construction site.

The 20-second footage, retrieved from camera traps in May, offers hope for the survival of the species and evidence of the success of joint efforts by the Thai government, public sector and communities to manage and restore Thailand’s western forest complex, a crucial tiger habitat.

“As tigers need large amounts of food, especially when they are nursing their young, the new footage indicates that prey in the Mae Wong-Klong Lan forests is abundant enough to support tiger reproduction and recovery,” said Rungnapa Phoonjampa, Manager of WWF-Thailand’s Mae Wong- Klong Lan National Parks Tiger Recovery Programme. “The camera traps captured many tiger prey species including gaur, barking deer, wild pig and deer, as well as other mammals, including tapir, serow, Fea's muntjac and elephant. In all over 30 mammal species were captured on film.”

Numbers of the Indochinese tiger, found in Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam, are in steep decline due to shrinking habitat, the illicit trade in tiger parts for traditional medicines, and depletion of tiger prey species. Fewer than 300 wild tigers are estimated to remain in Thailand.

Camera traps are part of collective efforts by the DNP and WWF-Thailand to track the tiger population in this part of the Western Forest Complex, which includes 17 protected areas covering over 19,000 km². Camera trapping in Mae Wong has so far recorded the presence of 9 tigers and 2 cubs, much higher than initially expected by WWF researchers. One of these tigers was previously caught on camera in the Huay Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuary in July 2011, located 40 kilometres from Mae Wong, revealing the movement of tigers from Huay Kha Khaeng into Mae Wong.

The conservation efforts in Mae Wong and Klong Lan national parks build on commitments made at the 2010 Tiger Summit in St Petersburg, Russia. During this high-level Summit, the Thai government along with the 12 other tiger range states committed to doubling the numbers of wild tigers by 2022. They also presented the Global Tiger Recovery Programme, which aims to conserve and recover tiger populations and their prey and clamp down on poaching.

“The recent camera trap footage, along with the encouraging data we have on tiger prey species, shows the conservation work of the DNP and WWF-Thailand is on the right track,” added Rungnapa. “The Mae Wong and Klong Lan forests are not only critical tiger habitat, they are also home to other threatened species. By protecting the tigers, we really can protect so much more.”

However, the new THB 13 billion (US$400 million) dam project proposed for the Mae Wong river threatens the survival of Thailand’s tigers and conservation work in Mae Wong national park, as well as the adjacent UNESCO World Heritage Site of Huay Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuary.

The dam will destroy over 20km² of the national park, submerging an area where sambar deer, an important prey species for tigers, are found and had through successful conservation efforts recovered to a healthy population. New access roads would also risk increasing poaching pressure.

WWF and other NGOs opposing the dam project have asked the government to consider alternative measures to mitigate flood and drought problems. These measures include better water management, improved irrigation, and building smaller dams outside protected areas.

“Years of successful conservation efforts will be washed away if the dam construction goes ahead, “added Rungnapa. “The Mae Wong dam must be stopped or we risk losing our tigers and so much more that Thailand loves and reveres.”

Endangered Tiger Cubs Caught on Camera Near Proposed Dam
Stephanie Pappas, LiveScience Yahoo News 29 Aug 12;

Two endangered tiger cubs and their mother have been caught on film in Thailand near the site of a proposed hydroelectric dam.

The black-and-white footage, taken in May, shows a mother tiger investigating a camera trap near the Mae Wong River. After a moment, her two cubs bound through the woods after her.

The tigers are three of the fewer than 300 wild Indochinese tigers left in Thailand, according to the WWF, which released the video of the cubs and mama tiger, along with the Thai Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation.

Panthera tigris corbetti is an endangered subspecies of tiger found only in southeast Asia. Conservation agencies estimate that there are fewer than 1,500 in the wild today, with Thailand hosting a few hundred. According to the advocacy group Tigers in Crisis, one Indochinese tiger is lost to poachers each week, on average. The big cats are also threatened by shrinking habitats and loss of prey. [See Tiger Cubs Video]

Now, environmental groups are crying out against a proposed $400 million dam project on the Mae Wong River. The dam would inundate more than 5,000 acres (2,023 hectares) of land in Mae Wong National Park. The dam, and others planned along with it, would also cut the region's fish supply by 16 percent, according to a study released Monday (Aug. 27) by WWF and the Australian National University. That food supply would have to be replaced by agriculture, according to the report published in the journal Global Environmental Change.

The WWF and other conservation agencies worry that the dam project would also bring new roads into tigers' forest habitat. Those roads, in turn, may bring more poachers into the region.

"The good news is that the footage tells us our tiger conservation efforts are on the right track and that this area is succeeding in helping wild tigers reproduce," Rebecca Ng of WWF's Greater Mekong program said in a statement. "If the dam is built, it will literally wash away years of conservation efforts and risks the future of tigers in Thailand."

The Thai government says that the project will help ease problems of drought and flooding in the region, according to the Bangkok Post. Environmental groups are taking the issue to court, filing a complaint with the country's Central Administrative Court alleging that the prime minister and cabinet violated the constitution by approving the Mae Wong dam before environmental impact studies were completed.

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The spiralling cost of invasive species

Richard Ingham AFP Yahoo News 27 Aug 12;

Some aliens arrived as stowaways. Others were brought in deliberately, for fun or profit. And others were so tiny that nobody noticed them until way too late.

They became a nightmare. They killed and devoured natives, stole their homes, sickened them with pathogens.

Sci fi? No: the alien invasion is happening right now.

It could be occurring in your garden. In the forest where you like to feel in harmony with Nature. It is almost certainly unfolding on the farms which produce your food.

It's the tale of species that Mankind brings to new habitats where they spread uncontrollably, ousting endemic wildlife and becoming major pests.

"Invasive species have a huge impact worldwide. In some countries, the cost is astronomical," says Dave Richardson, director of the Centre of Excellence for Invasion Biology at South Africa's University of Stellenbosch.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), staging a conference in South Korea next month, says foreign encroachment is the third biggest source of species threat.

Take the American grey squirrel -- "a rat with good PR," say enemies -- which is displacing Britain's scrawnier red squirrel. Or the Burmese python, gorging on small mammals in Florida's Everglades.

Invasive species inflict more than $1.4 trillion (1.12 trillion euros) in damage each year, or five percent of global GDP, according to an estimate made 11 years ago.

"Those numbers are controversial because it's difficult to put finite figures on these sorts of things," said Tim Blackburn, director of the Institute of Zoology at the Zoological Society of London.

"But the impacts are pervasive and affect so many aspects of life. The cost has the potential to escalate as we take more species to more areas where they don't naturally occur."

Many costs are indirect. For instance, US farmers use truckloads of pesticides to control foreign weeds, while in central Europe, their counterparts are surrendering tracts of land to the giant hogweed, a toxic Asian shrub.

There is the bill from the European rabbit, introduced for food by British settlers to Australia and New Zealand only to become cursed for ravaging grasslands and crops.

In the southern United States, Asian carp were imported in the 1970s to help clean up algae in commercial catfish ponds. Flooding washed the carp into the Mississippi River system, where they now threaten commercial and game fishing in the Great Lakes.

Invasive species have followed Man throughout his odyssey.

Polynesians wiped out innumerable bird species as they island-hopped across the Pacific over eight centuries, bringing in rats that had stowed away on their ocean-going canoes.

The trend accelerated in the early- to mid-19th century.

European species were shipped out to the colonies in Africa and Australasia to provide food or company, and exotics were brought back to Europe.

"There was a great flowering of 'acclimatisation societies', which were specifically set up to introduce new species to areas around the world," Blackburn recounted.

"In fact the Zoological Society of London, the organisation I work for, envisioned a golden age where we would have herds of elands roaming over the south of England."

Faster travel -- steamship, then jet plane -- accelerated the problem as global trade really took off.

Headaches include the zebra mussel, which has infested US waterways after hitching a ride from Europe in ships' ballast water. Another is the verroa mite, reported in countries in three continents, which is wiping out honey bees that pollinate many crops.

Even tinier is the chytrid fungus being spread to wild amphibians through the sale of pet frogs and frogs for food. As frog numbers plummet, insect populations surge -- another hidden cost.

In many countries, national border controls are often lax and laws are riddled with loopholes because of interest groups that trade in non-native species, said Richardson.

He said he knew of nowhere that firmly applies "polluter pays" principles, whereby someone who introduces a pest pays the bill to get rid of it.

As for international cooperation, there has been progress -- for instance, in marine conventions which oblige ships to exchange ballast water in mid-ocean.

But "in many instances, treaties and conventions do not have teeth," said Richardson.

Eradicating these threats is costly and often impossible, for it requires lots of manpower, sometimes over many years. Introducing a predator animal or insect to attack the invader sometimes makes things worse.

Jean-Philippe Siblet, director of Natural Heritage at France's Museum of Natural History, said eradication had to be "smart".

Conservationists must distinguish between useful, introduced species and those that become a burden.

"It's the globalisation of nature, and we're going to have a hard time stopping it," he said.

Read more!

U.N. body urges G20 action on food prices, waste

Patrick Lannin PlanetArk 28 Aug 12;

U.N. body urges G20 action on food prices, waste Photo: Christian Hartmann
?Jose Graziano da Silva, Director-General, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), attends a session at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, January 26, 2012.
Photo: Christian Hartmann

The world's top farm producers in the Group of 20 countries must agree coordinated action to ease worries about food prices, the head of the United Nations food agency said on Monday, as he and other experts bemoaned a huge global waste of food and water.

The third price surge in four years has come after drought in the United states and poor crops from Russia and the Black Sea bread basket region.

Senior figures from the G20 will discuss the food price rises this week, but any decisions on action are unlikely before a mid-September report on grain supply, officials have said.

U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation Director-General Jose Graziano Da Silva said he would not characterize the current food price rise as a crisis, but it could reach that level next year if harvests in the southern hemisphere were disappointing.

"We need coordinated action and I believe that the G20 is responsible enough for this action," da Silva told a news conference during a conference on water in the Swedish capital.

The annual World Water Week conference looks at how resources are used and the link between water and food security.

Speaking to Reuters, da Silva said any coordination should involve avoiding unilateral export bans and encouraging substitution of foods, for instance the eating of beans in Latin American and of casava in Africa.

He noted that between 85 and 95 percent of the crops most affected by the price rises, wheat and corn, came from the G20.

He said that even if wheat prices rose 10 to 20 percent that did not mean bread prices would rise by the same amount.

Da Silva noted that the food price rally was not as serious as in 2007/08, when there were violent protests in countries including Egypt, Cameroon and Haiti.

"There is no crisis," he told Reuters. "This kind of panic buying is what we need to avoid at the moment."

Da Silva and other experts at the conference said that there was also a massive waste of food in the world, an issue that needed to be resolved in order better to harness resources.

"Up to half of the food we produce never gets eaten," said Torgny Holmgren, executive director of the Stockholm International Water Institute.

A quarter of the water used worldwide was used to produce more than one billion metric tons of food that nobody eats, he said.

Da Silva told the conference that one third of all food production was lost and that this was due to poor storage in developing countries, or being thrown away in rich countries.

He also said water security was a vital factor for food security and that food needed to be produced in a way that conserved water, used it more sustainably and intelligently, and helped agriculture adapt to climate change.

"We need to produce more with less," he added.

(Reporting by Patrick Lannin; Editing by William Hardy and Veronica Brown)

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Food shortages could force world into vegetarianism, warn scientists

Water scarcity's effect on food production means radical steps will be needed to feed population expected to reach 9bn by 2050
John Vidal 26 Aug 12;

Leading water scientists have issued one of the sternest warnings yet about global food supplies, saying that the world's population may have to switch almost completely to a vegetarian diet over the next 40 years to avoid catastrophic shortages.

Humans derive about 20% of their protein from animal-based products now, but this may need to drop to just 5% to feed the extra 2 billion people expected to be alive by 2050, according to research by some of the world's leading water scientists.

"There will not be enough water available on current croplands to produce food for the expected 9 billion population in 2050 if we follow current trends and changes towards diets common in western nations," the report by Malik Falkenmark and colleagues at the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI) said.

"There will be just enough water if the proportion of animal-based foods is limited to 5% of total calories and considerable regional water deficits can be met by a … reliable system of food trade."

Dire warnings of water scarcity limiting food production come as Oxfam and the UN prepare for a possible second global food crisis in five years. Prices for staples such as corn and wheat have risen nearly 50% on international markets since June, triggered by severe droughts in the US and Russia, and weak monsoon rains in Asia. More than 18 million people are already facing serious food shortages across the Sahel.

Oxfam has forecast that the price spike will have a devastating impact in developing countries that rely heavily on food imports, including parts of Latin America, North Africa and the Middle East. Food shortages in 2008 led to civil unrest in 28 countries.

Adopting a vegetarian diet is one option to increase the amount of water available to grow more food in an increasingly climate-erratic world, the scientists said. Animal protein-rich food consumes five to 10 times more water than a vegetarian diet. One third of the world's arable land is used to grow crops to feed animals. Other options to feed people include eliminating waste and increasing trade between countries in food surplus and those in deficit.

"Nine hundred million people already go hungry and 2 billion people are malnourished in spite of the fact that per capita food production continues to increase," they said. "With 70% of all available water being in agriculture, growing more food to feed an additional 2 billion people by 2050 will place greater pressure on available water and land."

The report is being released at the start of the annual world water conference in Stockholm, Sweden, where 2,500 politicians, UN bodies, non-governmental groups and researchers from 120 countries meet to address global water supply problems.

Competition for water between food production and other uses will intensify pressure on essential resources, the scientists said. "The UN predicts that we must increase food production by 70% by mid-century. This will place additional pressure on our already stressed water resources, at a time when we also need to allocate more water to satisfy global energy demand – which is expected to rise 60% over the coming 30 years – and to generate electricity for the 1.3 billion people currently without it," said the report.

Overeating, undernourishment and waste are all on the rise and increased food production may face future constraints from water scarcity.

"We will need a new recipe to feed the world in the future," said the report's editor, Anders J├Ągerskog.

A separate report from the International Water Management Institute (IWMI) said the best way for countries to protect millions of farmers from food insecurity in sub-Saharan Africa and south Asia was to help them invest in small pumps and simple technology, rather than to develop expensive, large-scale irrigation projects.

"We've witnessed again and again what happens to the world's poor – the majority of whom depend on agriculture for their livelihoods and already suffer from water scarcity – when they are at the mercy of our fragile global food system," said Dr Colin Chartres, the director general.

"Farmers across the developing world are increasingly relying on and benefiting from small-scale, locally-relevant water solutions. [These] techniques could increase yields up to 300% and add tens of billions of US dollars to household revenues across sub-Saharan Africa and south Asia."

Read more!

Best of our wild blogs: 28 Aug 12

31 Aug-1 Sep: Free Wayang shows at Pulau Ubin with free boat rides from wild shores of singapore

Quality green space within a city
from Everyday Nature

A Famous Leopard Cat
from Through the Eyes of the Leopard Cat

Soft bottom lines
from The annotated budak and A strand of blue

Workshop on Marine Ecosystems and Biodiversity of the South China Sea (31st July – 4th August 2012) from Raffles Museum News

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Singapore seeing hazier skies again

Northern parts of the island worst hit by smoke from Sumatra forest fires
Grace Chua Straits Times 28 Aug 12;

LOOK up.

If it's hard to see clearly, well, that is because the haze is back.

Forest fires in Sumatra over the past week have brought to Singapore's northern areas a "moderate" PSI reading of 53 as of 4pm yesterday.

On the Pollutant Standards Index (PSI), an air-quality measurement, a reading of zero to 50 is "good". Anything above 100 is considered "unhealthy".

The poorer air quality was noted only in the northern part of Singapore however.

Other areas of the island recorded readings of between 33 and 41.

Responding to media queries yesterday, the National Environment Agency (NEA) attributed the hazy conditions to south-west winds that carried smoke from Sumatra, where forest fires have raged for the past week.

But it did not explain why air quality in the north - which includes Kranji, Woodlands, Sembawang, Yishun, Seletar and Punggol - was worse than elsewhere.

Besides the PSI, another air-quality scale, the PM2.5 that measures fine pollutants, was also higher in the north.

Because such fine particles are more dangerous - they can enter the lungs or bloodstream more easily than larger dust particles - the NEA cautioned those who were more vulnerable to avoid prolonged or heavy exertion.

These may include people with lung or heart disease, children and the elderly.

All over the island, residents have been noticing hazier skies this past week.

Ms Alexandra Romualdez, 23, a teacher at an international school in Woodlands, said it was so hazy yesterday morning that she could barely make out the landscape from the MRT train as it passed through Kranji.

"Just last week it hadn't been that bad," she said. "But I have noticed it getting worse recently."

Sengkang resident Rachel Ang, 26, who is asthmatic, said that because of the haze, she has avoided going outdoors to exercise in case it triggers an attack.

The avid runner said she ended up going to the gym instead.

The NEA did not say how long the haze would last, but said that the south-west monsoon season, which typically lasts from June to September or early October, is the traditional dry season for the southern Asean region - which includes Singapore and Indonesia.

It said that a rise in forest fires at this time could lead to "transboundary" smoke haze - which means that smoke from other countries could reach Singapore.

The NEA added that the severity of such haze would depend on a variety of factors, including wind strength, rain, and how close or large the fires were.

Earlier this month, haze from hot spots in Sumatra had also affected Peninsular Malaysia, with the air quality rated unhealthy in Perak and Selangor.

In Singapore, the last time air quality deteriorated to unhealthy PSI levels was in 2010. This was also caused by haze attributed to forest fires in Indonesia.

Last week, NEA changed its air-quality reporting to three times a day - at 8am, noon and 4pm - up from once a day.

It also began reporting thrice-daily PM2.5 data. Before this, it reported these numbers only annually.

What is the PSI?

THERE are five key pollutants in Singapore's Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) - sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, ozone, carbon monoxide and particulate matter. They are used as indicators as they are relatively easy to measure and are correlated with a group of other airborne toxins.

Besides the PSI, the NEA also reports levels of pollutants known as PM2.5, or particles smaller than 2.5 microns in size. This is measured because the finer the particle, the more likely it is to penetrate the lungs and the more dangerous it is to human health.

Singapore air quality worsens slightly
Melissa Chong Channel NewsAsia 27 Aug 12;

SINGAPORE: Singapore's air quality worsened slightly, with the Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) slipping from good to moderate in parts of the island.

The PSI as of 4pm on Monday was between 33 and 53 - up from 35 to 46 on Sunday.

The highest reading of 53 was in the northern Singapore.

On August 25, the National Environment Agency (NEA) said Singapore could experience a slight haze during this monsoon season due to an increase in hotspot activities over Sumatra in the past week.

NEA said the impact of the smoke haze would depend on wind and rain conditions, and whether the fires persist.


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Fires to Clear Forests Still in Vogue in Indonesia

Fidelis E. Satriastanti Jakarta Globe 27 Aug 12;

Residents and plantation companies continue to open plantation areas by burning forests because it is the easiest and cheapest method, the nation’s disaster-prevention agency says.

“The people and businesses burn [forests] because it is much cheaper,” Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, a spokesman for the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB), told BeritaSatu on Saturday.

“Besides, they normally burn peatland where the acid level of the land is unsuitable for plantation. [The area] will become fertile if it’s burned and the ashes can be used as fertilizer.”

Sutopo said that explained why people were still burning forests to open land despite many regulations to ban the practice.

The Environment Ministry is investigating eight companies in Sumatra — two in Riau, four in South Sumatra and two in Aceh — that allegedly burned a total of 3,814 hectares of forest land to open new plantation areas.

The government has also put eight provinces on its forest fire control priority list: North Sumatra, Riau, Jambi, South Sumatra, East Kalimantan, South Kalimantan, Central Kalimantan and West Kalimantan.

Environmental law analyst Mas Achmad Santosa said that the lack of investigators to handle environmental cases slowed the Environment Ministry from enforcing the law. “The law offers a wide scope for law enforcement on environmental crimes,” Santosa said on Sunday.

The Law on Environmental Protection and Management enables civil servants tasked with investigating environmental cases to immediately start or halt an investigation without reporting it to the police. They are also authorized to arrest suspects through coordination with the police.

But many environmental crimes investigators no longer work in law enforcement. The ministry “just needs to call the civil servants who have shifted to other fields but still working in the ministry,” he said.

Previously, Environment Minister Balthasar Kambuaya said the ministry had 1600 environmental crimes investigations to be distributed. Ministry data showed that 554 cases as of November 2010 but only 398 were active.

On Saturday morning, BNPB put out fires in an oil palm plantation area in Muarojambi district, Jambi.

“The fire on a 700-hectare plot of land in Muarojambi was contained this morning. It was an oil palm plantation area,” Sutopo said, adding that the fire-fighting effort involved artificial rain, water bombs and land-based attacks.

The agency is creating artificial rains in Riau and Central Kalimantan for 40 days because the dry season has just started.

“In Riau, the artificial rain will be created using two Cassa 212 aircraft and two helicopters for water bombs,” Sutopo said, adding that artificial rains would also be generated over Palangkaraya, Central Kalimantan.

“Artificial rains were created on Aug. 12, and we will do it again on Aug. 28 in both provinces. The process will be carried out for 40 consecutive days,” he said.

Water bombing is one method of containing forest fires, however, it has limited coverage and cannot be done over wide areas. “With artificial rains, it depends on the clouds. There are not enough clouds in mountainous areas during the dry season. ... It’s possible to be carried out on peatlands by soaking them with water so that it doesn’t burn easily, but given the condition of rivers in Indonesia, this also poses a problem,” Sutopo said.

BNPB has allocated Rp 12 billion ($1.26 million) to contain forest fires but will increase it to Rp 30 billion if conditions worsen. BNPB has also prepared three additional helicopters and two aircraft to create artificial rains.

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Philippines: Animal lovers clamor for dolphin rights, too

Rio N. Araja Manila Standard 28 Aug 12;

A coalition of environmentalists on Monday said it will sue government officials who do nothing about the import or export of dolphins.

Environmentalists hold a rally to protest cruelty to dolphins. MANNY PALMERO

Bearing the brunt of their complaint is Ocean Adventure Park in Subic, Zambales, which allegedly had the mammals shipped in from the Solomon Islands in the South Pacific Ocean.

Anna Cabrera, of the Philippine Animal Welfare Society, called on Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources director Asis Perez to stop issuing permits for dolphin importation and exportation.

“We will continue to file criminal and administrative charges against government officials,” Cabrera told reporters at a news conference in Annabel’s Restaurant in Quezon City.

She said the coalition filed charges against BAI director Angel Mateo for the last dolphin show at the Araneta Coliseum.

Cabrera also asked the Bureau of Animal Industry to deny granting organizers of dolphin shows the permits to operate.

Signing up in the cause for dolphins were A.G. Sano of the Dolphins Love Freedom Network, Trixie Concepcion of the Earth Island Institute Phils., campaign manager Rochelle Regodon of the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals-Asia, Jenica Dizon of Save the Philippines Seas, external affairs officer Luis Buenaflor of the Animal Kingdom Foundation Phils along with Kabataan party-list Rep. Raymond Palatino.

Cabrera said officials in government have taken the animal welfare as a non-issue.

“They look at us not as a serious group just because animals and trees do not vote,” she fumed. “Politicians will feel our impact in next year’s elections.”

Roy Cayaban, PAWS lawyer, said the Philippines is a signatory to an international treaty on the protection of wildlife, including dolphins.

“Import and export of dolphins is not allowed under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora,” he said.

“Republic Act 8485, or the Animal Welfare Act, from the title itself mandates every citizen to look after the welfare of the animals. We don’t give animals the right, but we as people must address their welfare. We are the voice of the voiceless animals.”

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Malaysia: Lake’s lost allure - Tasik Chini

Meng Yew Choong The Star 28 Aug 12;

The biological health of Tasik Chini continues to decline.

TASIK Chini. For years, it drew boatloads of tourists eager to catch the spectacular sight of a lake carpeted with lotus flowers. When I visited the lake 10 years ago, the water was still clear enough for me to see what was at the bottom, which was 3m to 4m deep. The whole environment looked so inviting that I was tempted to jump into the lake for a swim.

By chance, I stopped by the lake to have tea sometime in June, and casually enquired at the Tasik Chini Resort as to when I should be back again to view the famous lotus blooms. The receptionist, without a moment of hesitation, told me that the lotus was now near-extinct, but added that I could try my luck by coming back in August.

I returned there early this month, but a boat cruise across the entire lake made me realise that the lotus blooms now exist only on tourism promotional posters. I saw only a dozen or so blooms near the point where the lake drains into Sungai Chini.

A visiting French family was also left sorely disappointed. “It is a pity we couldn’t see any. It was nothing like the pictures we saw on the Internet. I think we saw only about five stems,” said Catherine Fautrez, who stayed at a guesthouse at the orang asli village of Kampung Gumum. This is a far cry from the days when one could see a sea of lotus just by standing at the jetty of the only resort beside the lake.

According to a boatman, the number of lotus blooms started to dip dramatically five years ago. “Due to the lack of lotus, tourists are shunning this place. We hardly get any business nowadays,” lamented Robert Bia, 34, who has worked as a boatman for the past eight years.

The 5sqkm freshwater lake can be found about 100km from Kuantan in the district of Pekan in Pahang, and is the second largest natural lake in the country. It is rich in biodiversity, hosting 138 species of terrestrial flora, some 300 species of non-aquatic vertebrates as well as 144 species of freshwater fish.

With a catchment size of 45sqkm, Tasik Chini is actually part of the Pahang river basin. Every monsoon season, when the Pahang River swells, water actually flows in the reverse direction back into the lake through Sungai Chini. Viewed another way, Tasik Chini is actually a giant freshwater swamp made up of 12 “lakes”, which are referred to as laut (sea) by the orang asli who live in six villages around the lake: Gumum, Ulu Gumum, Melai, Ulu Melai, Tanjung Puput and Cendahan.

The lake, gazetted as a tourism park in 1989, started losing its allure in the mid-1980s when the state government began approving land development schemes under the Federal Land Development Authority (Felda) around the lake. The situation was exacerbated in 1995 when the Federal Government built a weir at the end of Sungai Chini to facilitate navigation of tourist boats, despite protests by the orang asli.

The weir raised the level of the lake by at least 2m in a matter of months, causing the death of thousands of Eugenia trees by the water’s edge, as well as the decline of the lotus plants, which don’t typically grow in deep water.

Also submerged were many stands of rattan that the orang asli harvest.

A huge mass of dead vegetation eventually sank to the bottom of the lake and as it rotted in the low-oxygen environment, released foul-smelling methane and hydrogen sulphide, making the lake water unsuitable for drinking or human contact.

Now, it is impossible to navigate up to the river mouth as fallen trees block the way. Local boatmen said the Pahang Department of Irrigation and Drainage is supposed to call for contracts to clear the stretch, but it only does so during the monsoon season.

Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM), which operates the Tasik Chini Research Centre (TCRC) that is led by environmental toxicologist Prof Datuk Dr Mushrifah Idris, is believed to have completed studies to determine whether the weir should stay or go.

Mining disaster

A disturbing fact is that the lake is now perpetually murky, even when it has not been raining. Aside from plantations, open cast mines surround the land. Some of the mines, where iron ore is extracted, operate just 50m from the lake’s edge and it is not too difficult to imagine where silt from the exposed hills will flow to during heavy rains. In one nearby mine, the layer of soft silt in the water is at least 1m thick – probably even more as the measuring stick was not long enough.

Mushrifah said monitoring since 2004 shows that the water quality has remained pretty good. Depending on the location and whether it is the dry or wet season, the water quality hovers around Class II standard (good enough for primary contact like swimming) and some areas that are sheltered from development even achieved Class I.

“There is some concern during the dry weather, as the lake will stagnate due to insufficient flow from the rivers that feed it. As we already know from hydrological data, the lake actually suffers a water deficit for a few months each year.”

For Prof Maketab Mohamed of the chemical engineering department of Universiti Teknologi Malaysia, sources of pollution to the lake include logging at Bukit Tebakang, cultivation of oil palm at Jemberau, domestic effluent from lake-side dwellers, and the Penyor mines. The largest village, Kampung Gumum, now has sewerage infrastructure after UKM highlighted the unsatisfactory state of sanitation there.

In the past, the Tasik Chini Resort and the National Service camp were blamed for sewage discharge into the lake. Both have since cleaned up their act, though not necessarily to everyone’s satisfaction.

“I think they now have some form of treatment for their wastewater, though the question is how well the septic tanks are maintained. If they are badly maintained, then it is as good as not having any treatment,” said Maketab, an expert in hydrology and water pollution.

Other than scheduled tests by the Department of Environment, water quality in the lake is now monitored round-the-clock by UKM via automated sensors that are connected to its campus in Bangi, Selangor. “We have been engaging the stakeholders, such as plantation owners and miners, to make them aware of the impact of their operations. For example, there is such a thing as green mining but it is not being practised here, possibly due to the lack of knowledge and awareness,” said Mushrifah.

The most crucial thing to watch out for is sedimentation, she said. “There must be proper mitigation measures put in place. This year, one of the retention ponds in a mine burst, causing a torrent of silt and mud to flow into the lake. This could have been mitigated if the operator had created a more substantial buffer zone around his operations. Sedimentation is what will kill any lake, and this is a huge threat to Chini right now.”

It is not that Pahang has no inkling of what went wrong, or could go wrong, in Tasik Chini. A report generated by the state executive council after a two-month study in 2004 stated that siltation, illegal cultivation, fertilisers from nearby Felda schemes, and logging were among the main contributors to the problem. The East Coast Economic Region Development Council, a Federal outfit that plans to turn the area into a state park, acknowledged the difficulties in that because the lake has been “greatly degraded over the past decade due to encroachment of agriculture into the catchment, illegal logging, and the construction of the weir”.

Meanwhile, Pahang Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Adnan Yaakob has insisted that mining and logging – while visible to everyone – were not taking place within the gazetted area (tourism park), and that one mine had been operating before the lake was turned into a park. The state is under pressure to allow mining as the catchment surrounding the lake has substantial deposits of iron ore, among many other minerals that are now fetching a good price. Last May, Adnan revealed that iron ore mining provided huge returns, with the state government receiving royalties amounting to RM5.5mil in just four months of 2011 compared with RM4mil for the whole of 2010. He had said that Pahang would set up a special body to coordinate iron ore mining in the state, which at that point had received 3,000 applications to mine iron ore.

For tourists wishing to see the famed annual lotus blooms, there is none to view now. Even if they do make it to the lake, they will be greeted by the sight of bulldozers and machinery moving earth, as well as mounds of logs waiting to be transported out – not exactly good advertisement for a tourism park, or Malaysia’s sole Unesco Biosphere Reserve (awarded in 2009). According to Mushrifah, UKM pushed for the biosphere status when it thought that the state was committed to not allowing mining to recommence around Tasik Chini. Biosphere reserves are sites recognised as having the potential to promote sustainable development based on an innovative blend of community effort and robust science.

Community’s plight

The orang asli are furious at Adnan’s recent claim that the pollution in the lake is not as serious as stated by non-governmental groups. (Transparency International Malaysia recently launched the Save Tasik Chini campaign.) Underlying land rights issues have also contributed to much unhappiness among them even before mining commenced in the area.

“We, who have lived in this ecosystem for centuries, have been suffering from the negative effects of ecological degradation over the last few years. As a result, I cannot even eat the fish caught in the lake as they have a rotten smell. Species like the jelawat, belida and kelisa are also no longer present in the lake,” said Kampung Gumum headman Awang Alok, 71, at a press conference in Kuala Lumpur recently. “And we can no longer venture into areas where we used to harvest herbs and roots as these areas are out of bounds for us since mining started.”

Awang’s allegation is backed by the findings of Tasik Chini Research Centre, which found a 30% decline in the variety of fish in the lake. “Fish is hard to come by nowadays,” said Ismail Muhammad, who chairs the Tasik Chini action committee. “Even the toman (a hardy carnivorous fish) is difficult to spot now.”?

According to Maketab, who is also Malaysian Nature Society president, the only “right” thing that was done was the modification of the weir in 2000 to lower water levels, though the full extent of the lake’s restoration might take decades if there is no drastic intervention to assist the healing process. Right now, it is business as usual at the mines, and there are no signs that the riparian zone is going to be reinforced or reforested properly anytime soon.

Will Pahang do the right thing before it is too late?

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