Best of our wild blogs: 20 Jan 12

Kingfishers found in Singapore
from Life's Indulgences

Flight of Dragons
from Lazy Lizard's Tales and Snake spotted in Country Club

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Chinese consumers urged to be wary what they eat during New Year festivities

TRAFFIC 20 Jan 12;

Beijing, China, 19th January 2012—TRAFFIC is advising consumers to be especially vigilant in the lead up to Chinese New Year to minimise their consumption of threatened wildlife species.

“During Chinese New Year, friends and families gather to celebrate and exchange gifts, but some of the wildlife products consumed at this time are from highly threatened species, and we urge revellers to avoid the eating or giving of such items,” said Dr Jianbin Shi, Head of TRAFFIC’s China programme.

Of particular concern are items including shark’s fin and live reef fish, such as Humphead Wrasse, both traditionally served at banquets, while items made of ivory and Hawksbill Turtle shell are sometimes proffered as luxury gifts to demonstrate prestige in social settings.

All marine turtle species are fully protected in China, making consumption of meat, medicinal or shell products illegal. Although not banned, the widespread consumption of shark’s fin in Asia has led to the decline of many shark species in the wild. Ivory items in China can only be bought legally from registered outlets with regulations requiring specific permits to accompany each and every item.

“We urge consumers to be cautious—who wants to spoil what should be a joyous New Year celebration by facing the consequences of participating in illegal or unsustainable consumption?” said Dr Shi.

Some wildlife products traditionally consumed during the New Year Festivities include:

* Abalone—this prized seafood delicacy may be popular, but stocks have plummeted especially in South Africa, a major supplier of abalone to East Asia, where Hong Kong is the main importer. Continued illegal harvesting and trade are having a severe impact on abalone populations, resulting in the closure of legal fisheries and the loss of hundreds of jobs. Before purchasing abalone, ask your supplier to demonstrate that it has been legally sourced.

* Shark’s fin—soup made from shark’s fin is a traditional Chinese delicacy served at important occasions. Tens of millions of sharks are killed each year, placing severe pressures on slow-growing and vulnerable shark populations and leaving some species in danger of decline past critical levels. Finning, which involves cutting the fins off and often throwing the rest of the shark back into the sea—often still alive—is widely practiced.

*Sea cucumber—For centuries, sea cucumbers have been a popular food in East Asia. However, sea cucumbers are easily overharvested and are predominantly sourced from developing countries with little or no management in place. In Ecuador, for example, over-exploitation of one species, Isostichopus fuscus, threatens the unique ecosystem of the Galapagos Islands.

* Facai moss (Flagelliform nostoc)—This black, hair-like moss has for centuries been eaten in soups and a variety of dishes in the belief that it will increase the wealth of those who eat it. But the over-harvesting of “facai” has turned millions of acres of grasslands in China into desert and its sale in the country was outlawed in 2000.

* Health tonics are frequently consumed during Chinese New Year, but be very wary as they may contain fully protected and/or endangered species such as wild ginseng, Asian freshwater turtles, seahorses, saiga antelope, pangolins, geckos and even Tiger parts.

During the Year of the Dragon, which runs from 23rd January 2012 until 9th February 2013, China’s newly established interagency CITES Enforcement Coordination Group (NICECG) has pledged to combat illegal wildlife trade and will focus on species such as Tigers, elephants and marine turtles.

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Midges sour festive mood in Bedok

PUB, NEA stepping up efforts to control population of insects
Janice Tai and Peter Wong Straits Times 20 Jan 12;

BEDOK Reservoir resident Nigel Gette is not usually a religious person, but he is stocking up on incense sticks this Chinese New Year.

Over the past month, his family has been placing sticks of incense around the house to keep midges, which have been plaguing residents of the area, at bay.

'Our guests may not like it, but there's no choice. If the situation gets worse, we may have to hold our reunion dinner in a relative's house,' said the 18-year-old student.

Other residents near the reservoir are similarly concerned that the infestation may dampen the festive mood, as the early Chinese New Year coincides with the usual annual visitation of the insects.

Since the start of the year, the Aljunied-Hougang Town Council has received more than 100 complaints about the tiny green and blue flies.

Aljunied GRC MP Low Thia Khiang said he has been visiting the affected area and is looking into the problem. However, he noted that according to feedback from residents, this year's infestation is not as serious as last year's.

Meanwhile, national water agency PUB, together with the National Environment Agency (NEA), is stepping up measures to monitor and control the population of midges after an increase in breeding was detected last month. A biological larvicide is now applied to the area more frequently - twice a day, compared to three times a week previously.

Algae, which the larvae of the midges feed on, is also being removed from rocks daily.

The PUB has commissioned a study by insect experts from the National University of Singapore, in a bid to identify longer-term solutions to the problems. The experts will work with entomologists from the NEA's Environmental Health Institute to review the current measures taken.

One of the world's foremost authorities on midges, Professor Peter Cranston, will also be flown in next month to speak on possible methods to keep the pests under control.

When contacted, Prof Cranston, who teaches at the University of California, Davis, said one possible reason for the scale of the infestation here is the onset of heavy rain, which washes nutrients from the soil into the reservoir. This in turn causes the algae in them to bloom, boosting the number of midges as their larvae feed on algae.

'What is so short-sighted is that it seems no one has been monitoring nutrients in the water, algal densities and midge numbers to identify what exactly is going on in Singapore. Without this data, it is educated guesswork,' he said.

Meanwhile, residents have come up with various creative ways to mitigate the problem.

Sixty-year-old Irene Lim has been hanging up a 2m-long patchwork quilt, which has been soaked in water, along her corridor every day - a homemade version of a sticky trap which stalls the midges that fly into it.

Her door and four windows are also covered with netting to keep the unwanted pests out.

'The netting spoils the festive atmosphere and doesn't make my house look very presentable,' she said. 'It also makes the house very stuffy, but... it can keep out about half the number of midges that would otherwise come in and disturb my guests.'

Mr Chew She Bee said he has got used to cooking and bathing without the lights on, as the midges often swarm around fluorescent lights.

'That's still all right - what's irritating is that they get into my nostrils, and it's really uncomfortable,' said the 60-year-old salesman.

The insect explosion has also attracted large numbers of swifts, which feed on the insects, to the area. Bird droppings have become the new bugbear for some of the residents.

The infestation has hit eateries hard, and some stallholders lament that business has been down by around 30 to 50 per cent.

A Chinese restaurant, Super Lucky Restaurant, has not only had to close two hours earlier every day for the past three weeks - as the insects proliferate in the evening hours - but it also does not charge its customers for their meals should the flies land in their food.

For staff at the Mixed Vegetable Rice Stall at the Block 739 coffee shop in Bedok Reservoir, cooking at night has been a hassle.

'We have to stop all cooking at 6pm to avoid the midges. Sometimes, the customers find them in their food but we tell them that it can't be helped,' said stall assistant Kim Wong.

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Indonesia to conserve half of Borneo region

(AFP) Google News 19 Jan 12;

JAKARTA — Indonesia's forestry ministry said Thursday it would conserve nearly half its share of Borneo island, which is covered with dense rainforest, so as to meet a presidential pledge to reduce gas emissions.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono signed a decree authorising conservation of at least 45 percent of its share of Borneo island, officials said, in a nation that is the world's third-worst emitter of greenhouse gases.

"We hope with the decree, Indonesia will be able to meet its target of reducing gas emissions by 26 percent by 2020," forestry ministry secretary general Hadi Daryanto told AFP.

"At least 45 percent of Indonesian Borneo will serve as the lungs of the world," a release by the president's office said.

Global environment organisations put Indonesia as the world's third-worst emitter of greenhouse gases. They say emissions are mainly due to deforestation caused by the giant palm oil and paper industries, both rife with corruption.

Daryanto said the areas protected will be bigger than the "Heart of Borneo", a 2007 agreement signed by Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei to protect 220,000 square kilometres (85,000 square miles) of equatorial rainforest.

Indonesia's share of Borneo covers about 544,000 square kilometres (210,000 square miles). Its forests are home to some of the world's most diverse wildlife, but are under threat from mostly illegal plantations and logging.

Indonesia shares Borneo island with Malaysia and Brunei.

President: 45% of Kalimantan island for biodiversity conservation
Antara 20 Jan 12;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has signed a regulation that 45 percent of Kalimantan island must be used for biodiversity conservation and tropical rainforest vegetation reserves to make the island the world`s lungs, a report said.

Under the presidential regulation signed on January 5, 2012, the government would take a number of steps to declare the island the world`s lungs by among others preserving areas which had biodiversity for endemic plants and animals and developing ecosystem corridors among conservation areas, the Cabinet Secretariat said in its official website on Thursday.

According to the presidential regulation No. 3 of 2012, the government will also make an effort to prevent activities that may disturb the reserve areas.

The remaining 55 percent of Kalimantan island can be used to support the government`s program to achieve energy self-sufficiency and national energy barns for electrical power and develop the island into a mineral, coal, oil and gas mining center, the regulation said.

In addition, it can also be used for sustainably developed oil palm and rubber plantations and timber estate; front veranda and gateway of the country bordering Malaysia; water-based national urban area development center; tropical forest-based ecotourism and Kalimantan culture tourism; inter-mode transportation networks; and food self-sufficiency and national food barn. (*)

Editor: B Kunto Wibisono

Indonesia signals intent to conserve Borneo’s “lungs of the world”
WWF 26 Jan 12;

Jakarta - Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono signed a decree on Jan 5 authorising conservation of at least 45 percent of its share of the island of Borneo, known as Kalimantan.

The decree covers a massive area of more than 250,000 km2 encompassing vast tracts of rainforest in the Heart of Borneo and landscapes beyond.

"At least 45 percent of Indonesian Borneo will serve as the lungs of the world… with the plan ensuring that local ecosystems are protected and the biodiversity of the island is allowed to flourish," a presidential press release said. 

Indonesia is rated as the world's third-worst emitter of greenhouse gases with emissions mainly due to deforestation caused by expanding palm oil, timber and pulp & paper industries.

"We hope with the decree, Indonesia will be able to meet its target of reducing gas emissions by 26 percent by 2020," forestry ministry secretary general, Hadi Daryanto, told the international media.

The regulation looks to promote the sustainable use of the island’s resources while ensuring an ambitious network of conservation areas are linked together by a series of “ecosystem corridors". In addition, existing protected areas are to be strengthened and degraded areas rehabilitated.

A new measure of capital?

The Presidential press release also noted that Kalimantan would become a center for plantations of palm oil, rubber and other sustainable forest products, an issue which has raised concerns amongst some international organizations.

Adam Tomasek, head of the WWF’s Heart of Borneo Initiative, believes the new decree offers a fantastic opportunity to secure the future of Borneo as a place where sustainable development exists in balance with a practical and beneficial conservation regime. However, the targets set out in the regulation will not be met unless the values of ecosystems and biodiversity, or ‘natural capital’, become key features of future economic development planning.

“WWF has been working for a long time with both National and local governments to develop spatial plans, and engage businesses and communities to drive conservation and sustainable development in Borneo. The decree is a leadership statement from the President of Indonesia that will help ensure the previous commitments on the Heart of Borneo will be met,” Mr Tomasek said.

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Indonesia: Sumatran Tiger Given a Fighting Chance by Global Initiative

Jakarta Globe 18 Jan 12;

Indonesia is set to get Rp 300 billion ($33.3 million) to double its wild tiger population by 2022, as part of a global initiative to bring the iconic species back from the brink of extinction.

Endah Murningtyas, the deputy for natural resources and the environment at the National Development Planning Board (Bappenas), said on Tuesday that the funding would come from the Global Tiger Recovery Program, an initiative of the World Bank.

She said the money would be released over several years, with the eventual goal being to double Indonesia’s population of Sumatran tigers from the current estimated 450-700 adults.

The Sumatran tiger, the smallest of the five remaining tiger subspecies in the world, is also the most threatened. Categorized as critically endangered, it is just a step away from being extinct in the wild.

It is the only tiger left that is endemic to Indonesia. Two other subspecies, the Javan tiger and the Balinese tiger, were driven to extinction in the 1930s and 1980s.

Darori, the Forestry Ministry’s director general of forest protection, said efforts to save the species had so far focused more on rehabilitating tigers caught in traps or in conflict with humans, with little emphasis on actual conservation.

He attributed this to the dearth of funding allocated for the conservation of tigers and their habitats. He said the funding would go some way toward making up for the shortfall, but stressed that more money should also be raised domestically for the cause.

“We invite companies to contribute through their corporate social responsibility programs,” Darori said.

“The total amount of CSR funding from companies in Indonesia is around Rp 20 trillion a year, so if we could just set aside Rp 1 trillion for tiger conservation, it would go a long way.”

He said there were still only a handful of companies active in conservation efforts. Among them are the Artha Graha Group, which funds a tiger conservation zone inside the Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park in southern Sumatra, and Asia Pulp & Paper, which is developing a tiger observation center in Riau.

Darori said the Forestry Ministry was also planning to set up a 300-hectare tiger park of its own. 


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Malaysian Dept seizes 45 protected African parrots

New Straits Times 20 Jan 12;

GEORGE TOWN: The state Wildlife and National Parks Department (Perhilitan) foiled an attempt by a pet shop owner to smuggle in 45 rare protected birds species from Senegal, Africa, via the Penang International Airport.

Known as Senegal Parrot, the birds valued at RM70,200 were found in a carton box inside an air freight cargo. It was the first such bird species seizure uncovered by the department at the airport.

A department spokesman said its officers noted discrepancy between the import permit and documents belonging to a 50-year-old owner during a routine surveillance last Thursday.

"We found something amiss after the serial number from the permit did not match those on the documents. Upon checking, we found the birds in the box," he said, adding that the market value for the birds were about RM1,500 each.

He said the pet shop owner intended to sell the birds at a profit.

He added that the import of such birds was an infringement of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.

The spokesman said the birds seized had been kept at the Perhilitan office in Jalan Gurdwara here.

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Irrawaddy dolphins – the new hope for the “Mekong river’s soul”

VietNamNet Bridge 19 Jan 12;

Following the information about the skull of Irrawaddy dolphin caught by local fishermen, in September 2011, a research team from the Biodiversity and Development of the Institute of Tropical Biology detected and recorded the images of a population of f Irrawaddy dolphins in the waters area around the Ba Lua islands of the Kien Giang biosphere Reserve. The discovery has raised a new hope for the rare marine mammal, which is called the "soul of the Mekong".

Following the dolphins’ tracks

Irrawaddy dolphins discontinuously live in tropical and subtropical areas between Indian Ocean and the Pacific, largely concentrated in the estuaries and fresh waters areas. Due to the discontinuous situation, the status of this species has not been investigated and fully evaluated. In Vietnam, this species of animal has a “strange fate.”

The article by Vu Long, an expert in animals published on Saigon Tiep thi says that the International Union for Conservation of Nature IUCN lists Irrawaddy dolphin as “vulnerable” animal. However, as for different populations of the dolphins, the threat level is very high.

The number of Irrawaddy dolphin individuals in the Malampaya strait area is 77, while there are 114-152 individuals on the Mekong valley, and there are 58-79 individuals on Mahakam, and 58-72 individuals on Ayeyarwady River in Myanmar.

Since the relationship between evolution and genetics of the populations mentioned above has not been studied, while the number of individuals of each population is on the decrease, the IUCN’s red list has listed the species as “Critically Endangered.”

Irrawaddy dolphins were first found in the Kien Giang biosphere reserve's biodiversity center and development (CBD) in June of 2010. At that time, the center's research team in conjunction with the University of Natural Sciences in HCM City was conducting a biodiversity survey on the Ba Lua archipelago.

The main target of the research team was the flora and fauna on the islands. However, in the talks with local residents, the experts paid attention to the attention about the existence of a marine mammal. Finally, the researchers collected the skull of a marine mammal on the Hon Da Bac Island.

The skull has been later recognized as the skull of an Irrawaddy dolphin, which died because it fell into a net of local fishermen.

The discovery prompted the scientists to make further investigations to learn more about the mammal. However, only on September 9, 2011, the researchers discovered and recorded the images of a herd of 20 dolphins on the area between the Hong Chuong and Hon Re Lon islands.

Living beyond the laws

The information collected from the interview with local residents shows that the dolphins are relatively popular, which live on the Ba Lua archipelago and Kien Luong bay. There are about 40 individuals at least.

In Vietnam, there is limited information about the marine mammal. Dao Tan Ho, a scientist, and his associates once reported the death of an individual of the species which died because of the fishing nets on the Tien River in 2002. Meanwhile, the Red Book of Vietnam does not mention Irrawaddy dolphin due to the lack of the information about the status of the dolphins and the location.

The government decree No 32 on the species of animals that people must not hunt, also does not mention the species.

Since this dolphin has not been mentioned in any legal document, in principle, the rare animal has not been officially protected in Vietnam.

CBD’s scientists are now joining forces with some international and domestic organizations to build up suitable conservation programs for the rare dolphin population.

Source: SGTT

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Australia: Fish help bay bounce back after flood

Tony Moore Brisbane Times 20 Jan 12;

Coral reefs in Moreton Bay’s no-fishing zones are recovering from last year’s flood faster because fish eat damaging algae, scientists can demonstrate for the first time.

Lower levels of the algae, which prevent coral regenerating, have allowed the reefs in no-fishing zones to recover quicker than those in other parts of the bay, researchers from the Australian Rivers Institute have discovered.

No-fishing zones were controversially added when the Moreton Bay Marine Park was reviewed in 2009.

Now researchers can say the no-fishing zones have helped coral recover faster after the January 2011 flood.

However, the flood has badly damaged 40 per cent of the seagrass beds in Moreton Bay, the same research shows.

Rod Connolly, who works for Griffith University, said the results followed 12 months of tests after ‘‘unusually fresh water’’ washed hundreds of millions of tonnes of sediment into Moreton Bay.

This sediment affected the coral reefs running in an arc from Mud Island, to St Helena, past Peel Island and near Myora Creek on North Stradbroke Island.

Professor Connolly said the massive amount of fresh water and dirt washed into the bay stressed the coral reefs.

‘‘Within eight weeks of the flood, substantial amounts of the coral had bleached,’’ he said.

‘‘And what we have just found out is that largely since the coral has recovered.”

The Australian Rivers Institute believed the recovery was due to fish eating the algae which effectively killed the organism causing the colour in the coral, Professor Connolly said.

‘‘There was huge contention three years ago when they put in new ‘green zones’ [no-fishing areas] in Moreton Bay,’’ he said.

“That has resulted in larger populations of bream and rabbit fish in the green zones.

‘‘And they are out there in generally bigger numbers in these green zones.

‘‘The algae tends to inhibit the recovery of the coral, so where you get the high rate of grazing, you get the better rate of recovery of the corals.’’

He said while the finds were ‘‘of great interest scientifically’’, to the general public they were proof that the scheme allowed nature to take its course.

‘‘The point is that we sometimes bag the green zones for being a limit on our freedoms, but there are some good signs out of it,’’ he said.

However, the flood badly damaged seagrass beds on the Moreton Bay side of North Stradbroke Island.

Seagrass beds are crucial feeding beds for dugongs, turtles and fish.

‘‘All of them depend on seagrass to some extent and seagrass bed health is in effect an early warning sign for things further up the food chain,’’ Professor Connolly said.

The Australian Rivers Institute research has measured energy stores in the seagrass beds, by looking at the amount of carbohydrate in seagrass plants since the flood.

Curiously, they found seagrass beds in poorest condition, furthest from the mouth of the Brisbane River.

‘‘What we found is that the seagrass beds on that side of Moreton Bay are not used to flood waters,’’ he said.

‘‘And this year what we found is that while the flood waters were worse on the western side of the bay [near the mouth] the seagrass there was used to that experience a bit more.

‘‘However on the Stradbroke Island side, they are not used to poor water conditions at all.’’

The outcome is that 40 per cent of Moreton Bay’s seagrass beds near Stradbroke Island are now in poor condition.

‘‘They are not all dead over at Stradbroke, but they are low in reserves for this time of year,’’ he said.

‘‘And if there was a further stress, most likely another flooding event, that would be the one that we would be worried about.’’

Moreton Bay still recovering from flooding
Bayside Bulletin 19 Jan 12;

No-fishing zones implemented to protect the Moreton Bay ecosystem have proven their worth in light of last year's flooding, however the coral reefs and seagrass habitats are still at risk.

This is according to ongoing research by scientists at Griffith University's Australian Rivers Institute.

In partnership with the Department of Environment and Resource Management, flood monitoring work has revealed that substantial bleaching of the coral occurred but that it has since undergone some recovery.

"There was a massive impact from the huge slug of sediment that arrived in the Moreton Bay ecosystem," research leader Professor Rod Connolly said.

"Corals nearer to the Brisbane River mouth have been affected historically by past flooding.

"Unfortunately this has resulted in reduced diversity but the remaining species tend to be better adapted and have managed to cope with the flood water pulses they were subjected to.

"Most importantly we have discovered their ability to recover is improved where the algae doesn’t overgrow the coral. This is evident from our research within the bay's green zones.

"Having a small number of select areas where fishing is not permitted results in higher numbers of fish grazing on algae, which in turn maximises the chance for corals to recover.

"These green zones were highly contentious when first implemented three years ago, but we can now confirm real benefits in the face of the flood impacts," Prof. Connolly said.

The ARI research has also monitored energy reserves within seagrass plants which shows that seagrass meadows near Stradbroke Island are in poorer condition than expected at this time of year as a result of the flood.

Moreton Bay corals ‘still at risk’
Griffith University Science Alert 31 Jan 12;

No-fishing zones implemented to protect the Moreton Bay ecosystem have proven their worth in light of last year’s flooding however the coral reefs and seagrass habitats are still at risk.

This is according to ongoing research by scientists at Griffith University's Australian Rivers Institute.

In partnership with the Department of Environment and Resource Management, flood monitoring work has revealed that substantial bleaching of the coral occurred but that it has since undergone some recovery.

"There was a massive impact from the huge slug of sediment that arrived in the Moreton Bay ecosystem," said research leader Professor Rod Connolly.

"Corals nearer to the Brisbane River mouth have been affected historically by past flooding. Unfortunately this has resulted in reduced diversity but the remaining species tend to be better adapted and have managed to cope with the flood water pulses they were subjected to.

"Most importantly we have discovered their ability to recover is improved where the algae doesn't overgrow the coral. This is evident from our research within the Bay's green zones.

"Having a small number of select areas where fishing is not permitted results in higher numbers of fish grazing on algae, which in turn maximises the chance for corals to recover.

"These green zones were highly contentious when first implemented three years ago, but we can now confirm real benefits in the face of the flood impacts," Professor Connolly said.

The ARI research has also monitored energy reserves within seagrass plants which shows that seagrass meadows near Stradbroke Island are in poorer condition than expected at this time of year as a result of the flood.

"These meadows are along the eastern side of the bay where the plants are rarely exposed to river water and they are now vulnerable to any major flooding this summer," Professor Connolly said.

"Seagrass habitat is critical food for dugongs, turtles and fish. With the unfortunate spike in dugong and turtle deaths reported during 2011, we are continuing to closely monitor this situation."

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Thailand In Hurry To Put Flood Defenses In Place

Ploy Ten Kate PlanetArk 20 Jan 12;

Thailand is racing to implement water management schemes costing 300 billion baht ($9.4 billion) to prevent a repeat of last year's flood disaster, but companies want to see even more haste while some experts say things shouldn't be rushed.

Thailand's worst flooding in at least five decades forced the closure of seven industrial estates in central provinces from October last year, causing billions of dollars of damage and putting about 650,000 people temporarily out of work.

Many factories have still not reopened but industrialists are already worrying about the next rainy season, barely four months away, and want the government to start acting on specific, concrete plans rather than outline broad ideas.

"We still have faith in the government and what they're trying to achieve," said Setsuo Iuchi, president of JETRO Thailand, the local arm of Japan External Trade Organization.

"I rather believe that people want to be here and keep on investing but, yes, we can't deny that more clear-cut actions by the government have to be made."

Companies like Hana Microelectronics Pcl and Aapico Hitech Pcl, whose plants were inundated, have called on the government to come up with both short-term remedies and long-term solutions to prevent future floods.

Only one or two companies, such as U.S.-based chip maker ON Semiconductor Corp, have said they are closing facilities completely after suffering from the floods.

Some big names have announced sizable investments to either restore old plants or build new ones.

This week alone, Toyota Motor Corp said it would spend 8.2 billion baht to build a new plant and restart one closed in 2010, and fellow Japanese firm Minebea Co Ltd, a bearing maker, said it would invest $75 million to build a new plant.


Deputy Prime Minister and incoming Finance Minister Kittirat Na Ranong outlined water management plans last weekend involving seven projects, including flood prevention measures along the Chao Phraya river that flows from the north and through Bangkok.

It involves reforestation, the construction of dams and reservoirs and city planning. "We have to move quickly. This cannot wait," he said.

One of the seven projects is a 10 billion baht plan to plant trees and build dikes along upstream tributaries of the Chao Phraya. Another, costing 50 billion baht, involves the construction of reservoirs in the river basins where the floods developed.

Other projects include the building of floodways in 2 million rai (800,000 acres) of farmland plus irrigation systems, the cleaning-up of canals and waterways and establishing a data system for water management.

Some 120 billion baht is earmarked for the construction of floodways and flood diversion channels, with work this year involving the improvement of dikes, sluice gates and canals.

"I'm not that confident these projects would work," said Chaiyuth Sukhsri, head of the Water Resources Engineering Department at Bangkok's Chulalongkorn University.

"The time period for formulating this plan is very, very short. It usually takes a lot of time to analyze these things," he said, adding that the social impact of the plans seemed to have been ignored completely.

Even so, Chaiyuth noted that rains could be heavy this year because of the La Nina effect.

Some analysts say erratic climate patterns are complicating things for policymakers.

For example, it is becoming more difficult for dam managers to make judgments based on previous weather patterns. Water discharged too late and in huge volume from northern dams was, for some analysts, a big factor behind the disaster last year.


Last week the Industrial Estate Authority of Thailand (IEAT), under the Ministry of Industry, outlined a plan to build permanent dikes up to 6.5 meters (21 feet) high around the seven industrial estates forced to shut by floods last year.

"We now have a plan for building a permanent dike designed by the Engineering Institute of Thailand using statistics of flooding events in the past 100 years," Vithoon Simachokdee, permanent secretary of the Ministry of Industry said.

Each estate will adapt the proposed dike to its own circumstances and can apply for loans from the Government Savings Bank, which has a credit line of 15 billion baht offering loans at 0.01 percent over seven years.

The aim is for the work to be completed in August, Vithoon said.

Kobkarn Wattanavrangkul, chairwoman of Toshiba Corporation's Thai unit, said the Bangkadi industrial estate, of which she is also chairwoman, would have a dike up to 6 meters high in place in September. Last year it was inundated with up to 4.3 meters of floodwater.

"Flood-affected companies and industrial estates are doing what they can to defend themselves better, but of course we can't do it entirely without the government's help," Kobkarn said.

"If the factories and industrial estates are safe from floods but our staff's homes are submerged, they won't be able to come to work anyway. We need the government to support us," she said.

Toshiba had to halt operations at nine of its 10 production plants at Bangkadi and one in Nava Nakorn Pcl estate in Pathum Thani province in the north of Bangkok. It may take a year for some to be up and running again.

(Additional reporting by Pisit Changplayngam; Editing by Alan Raybould)

Thailand unveils $12 billion plan to fight floods
Nirmal Ghosh Straits Times 21 Jan 12;

BANGKOK: Thailand yesterday unveiled a much-awaited 'masterplan' to prevent a repeat of the massive floods that devastated the country last year, with Premier Yingluck Shinawatra pledging an integrated approach beginning from the 'first drop of rain' in the north.

The 300 billion baht (S$12 billion) plan involves scores of short-, medium- and long-term projects, including the cleaning of canals in Bangkok, reforestation of water catchment areas, and building of new dykes and reservoirs.

The Thai government hopes that these measures will prevent another disaster like the one seen last September and October, when an emergency release of water from capacity-filled reservoirs in the north resulted in massive flooding down the central plains and the Bangkok area. It left more than 600 people dead, cost the country some 1.43 trillion baht, inundated over half a dozen industrial estates and dented investor confidence.

'This is intended to create confidence for the people, farmers, business sector and investors in industrial estates affected,' Ms Yingluck told a press conference.

'In the short term, the goal is to decrease the level of damage from possible floods in 2012. In the long term, the goal is to improve the flood management system in an integrated and sustainable way.'

The masterplan emphasises an inte- grated approach. A new national topographical map, for instance, will be drawn up to provide water managers with up-to-date information that was lacking last year.

Reforestation will address the issue of forest depletion, which has contributed to faster-than-usual water runoff in catchment forests in the north and which caused reservoirs to fill rapidly.

In the north, the masterplan will focus on holding back water and delaying severe floods, while in the south, it revolves around new reservoirs, dykes and floodways.

In Bangkok, which narrowly escaped massive flooding last year, the drainage system will be overhauled, new floodways built east and west of the city to divert water from it, and some city roads adapted for use as temporary drainage canals when required.

And in industrial estates, roads will be reinforced to act as dykes, and pumping stations will be installed. The government intends to focus on 'self-sufficient flood prevention', offering low-interest loans to fund the works, while also creating a 50 billion baht insurance fund.

Meanwhile, an independent committee on water management will be set up with a 'single command' to ensure an integrated approach, said Ms Yingluck. Last year, her greenhorn administration was criticised for its haphazard response to the crisis, with officials contradicting each other over the situation and the measures needed.

Mr Pitipong Phuengboon Na Ayudhaya, a member of the committee that drew up the masterplan, said the Premier 'should have authority even over the local authorities' - an indirect reference to disagreements between the government and Bangkok's opposition-run city administration, which had hampered the response.

Investors - particularly Japanese businesses who were hit the hardest - will no doubt be studying the masterplan in coming days.

Dr Smith Thammasaroj, a former meteorological department and disaster management chief, however, raised concerns about some of the short-term plans.

'The rainy season will be here in three months,' he said. 'There's not enough time to do anything. And all these long-term measures take time, maybe two to three years.'

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Yangtze Basin lakes shrinking as climate change, development takes its toll

WWF 19 Jan 12;

Beijing - A new WWF study finds that many Yangtze River Basin lakes are shrinking dramatically and could dry up completely if measures aren’t taken to stem the impacts of climate change, increased industrialization, and urbanization along China’s longest river.

The Yangtze Conservation and Development Report 2011 (YCDR 2011) shows that lower water levels, rapid urbanization and large water infrastructure projects across the Yangtze Basin are impacting the overall health of many lakes along the 6,300km river, which supports the livelihoods of nearly one-third of China’s population.

“Lake ecosystems in the Yangtze River Basin are showing tell-tale signs of degradation, and problems like water eutrophication from industrial runoff are on the rise. We are also seeing a decline in flood retention capacity and insufficient water supply. These changes are putting increased pressure on many of the species found in the Yangtze, including the finless porpoise and Chinese carps,” says Yang Guishan, President of the Nanjing Institute of Geography and Limnology, Chinese Academy of Sciences

Climate change in the Upper Yangtze
While water resources will increase over the short term, the YCDR 2011 predicts that the long-term impacts of climate change will result in massive water shortages in headwater regions.

“Over the short term, increased glacial melt in the Qinghai-Tibetan plateau means more water. But after the glaciers are gone – and with them the source of the Yangtze River - available water resources will decline. The lack of water could cause lakes that depend on glacial melt to shrink or dry up completely,” says Yang Guishan.

Pollution, population and land reclamation
From 1950-2010, the central and lower reaches of the Yangtze lost approximately two thirds of its lakes due to increased land reclamation for agriculture and industrial development. This has resulted in a water storage capacity loss roughly equivalent to 20 million Olympic-sized swimming pools – and means that smaller floods now have the potential to inflict much more damage.

Meanwhile, population growth and rapid economic development - particularly in the central and lower Yangtze - as well as excessive fish farming has resulted in more serious water pollution issues and increased instances of eutrophication, a process where excessive nutrients diminish water quality in lakes or other bodies of water.

Water quality monitoring data from 2007-2010 in the central and lower Yangtze shows that 77 per cent of the 77 lakes with an area of 10 km2 or more could not provide safe drinking water, while over 88 per cent were in various stages of eutrophication. Meanwhile, in 2009 alone, over 33 billion tonnes of sewage was discharged into the Yangtze River Basin, nearly a 22 per cent rise from 2003.

Similar to the diagnosis offered in the previous two editions of the YCDR, the 2011 update points out that more work still needs to be done to ensure the future health of the Yangtze River:

“The Yangtze Conservation and Development Report 2011 shows that a comprehensive action plan is an absolute necessity to ensure the future of this irreplaceable resource,” said Jim Grandoville, CEO of WWF China. “WWF will be working with partners and seek solutions towards the protection and sustainable usage of the lakes along the Yangtze.”

The report also emphasizes the importance of mitigating the accumulative impacts of large infrastructure projects such as the Three Gorges Dam and South to North Water Transfer Project on the Yangtze River, especially downstream.

Known as the “Yangtze health check”, this is the third edition of the Yangtze Conservation and Development Report. It is jointly developed by WWF, the Nanjing Institute of Geography and Limnology, Chinese Academy of Sciences and the National Development Bank.

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2011 was ninth-warmest year since 1880: NASA

Reuters Yahoo News 20 Jan 12;

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The global average temperature last year was the ninth-warmest in the modern meteorological record, continuing a trend linked to greenhouse gases that saw nine of the 10 hottest years occurring since the year 2000, NASA scientists said on Thursday.

A separate report from the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said the average temperature for the United States in 2011 as the 23rd warmest year on record.

The global average surface temperature for 2011 was 0.92 degrees F (0.51 degrees C) warmer than the mid-20th century baseline temperature, researchers at NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies said in a statement. The institute's temperature record began in 1880.

The first 11 years of the new century were notably hotter than the middle and late 20th century, according to institute director James Hansen. The only year from the 20th century that was among the top 10 warmest years was 1998.

These high global temperatures come even with the cooling effects of a strong La Nina ocean temperature pattern and low solar activity for the past several years, said Hansen, who has long campaigned against human-spurred climate change.

The NASA statement said the current higher temperatures are largely sustained by increased concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, especially carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide is emitted by various human activities, from coal-fired power plants to fossil-fueled vehicles to human breath.

Current levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere exceed 390 parts per million, compared with 285 ppm in 1880 and 315 by 1960, NASA said.

Last year was also a year of record-breaking climate extremes in the United States, which contributed to 14 weather and climate disasters with economic impact of $1 billion or more each, according to NOAA . This number does not count a pre-Halloween snowstorm in the Northeast, which is still being analyzed.

NOAA's National Climatic Data Center said the average 2011 temperature for 2011 for the contiguous United States was 53.8 degrees F, which is 1 degree above the 20th-century average. Average precipitation across the country was near normal, but this masks record-breaking extremes of drought and precipitation, the agency said.

(Reporting By Deborah Zabarenko, Environment Correspondent; Editing by Xavier Briand)

World not quite as hot in 2011; ranks 11th warmest
Seth Borenstein Associated Press Yahoo News 20 Jan 12;

WASHINGTON (AP) — The world last year wasn't quite as warm as it has been for most of the past decade, government scientists said Thursday, but it continues a general trend of rising temperatures.

The average global temperature was 57.9 degrees Fahrenheit, making 2011 the 11th hottest on record, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said. That's 0.9 degrees warmer than the 20th century average, officials said. In fact, it was hotter than every year last century except 1998.

One reason 2011 was milder than recent years was the La Nina cooling of the central Pacific Ocean. La Ninas occur every few years and generally cause global temperatures to drop, but this was the warmest La Nina year on record.

And 2011 also was the warmest year on record for Spain and Norway, and the second warmest for the United Kingdom. In the United States, the average temperature of 53.8 was just 1 degree above normal, making last year only the 23rd warmest on record. But 17 cities — including Houston, Miami, Trenton and Austin — had their warmest years.

This marks the 35th straight year that global temperatures were warmer than normal. NOAA's records for world average temperatures date back to 1880.

"It would be premature to make any conclusion that we would see any hiatus of the longer-term warming trend," said Tom Karl, director of NOAA's National Climatic Data Center. "Global temperatures are continuing to increase."

NASA, which calculates global temperatures in a slightly different way, announced essentially the same temperature for the year. But NASA's record-keeping calls it the ninth warmest ever.

Both NASA climate scientist James Hansen and University of Victoria's Andrew Weaver said they expect that in the next few years the world will set yet a new record high temperature. 2010 tied for the hottest on record.

NOAA also released new figures for extreme weather. The agency recalculated the number of billion-dollar weather disasters in the U.S., bumping the total from 12 to 14. Officials added Tropical Storm Lee, which dumped rain from Maryland to New England in September, and a July hail and wind storm in Colorado to the list.

The 14 extreme events smash the old record of nine billion-dollar disasters in 2008.

"America has endured an unusually large number of extreme events, totaling damages of more than $55 billion," NOAA deputy administrator Kathryn Sullivan said. She blamed a variety of factors, including population changes.

For the year, a record 58 percent of the United States had either extreme rainfall or severe drought, about triple what is normal for the country. Seven states — New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Indiana and Kentucky — had their wettest years since those types of records were kept beginning in 1895. Texas had its driest year ever.

The record wet up north and dry down south fits with what climate change science predicts, but it is too early to say if 2011's precipitation extremes were due to global warming, Karl said. And the unusual number of deadly tornadoes can't be linked to global warming, he said.

But Kevin Trenberth, director of climate analysis at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo., which is a consortium of universities, said it's hard not to see the hand of man-made global warming behind the extremes.

"Where these events occur is largely driven by natural variability, but the fact that they are breaking records and causing tremendous damage when they do occur is undoubtedly because of the human stimulus," Trenberth said in an email.


NOAA's climate report:

NASA's climate report:

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