Best of our wild blogs: 21 Jan 12

Kids! Send your artwork on nature and trees! Win prizes!
from Celebrating Singapore's BioDiversity!

White-bellied Sea Eagle feasting on fish
from Bird Ecology Study Group

Calendar of World Environmental Events 2012
from EcoWalkthetalk

Semakau Intertidal Walk for Public Begins Again in 2012!
from Raffles Museum News

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Better model to predict floods likely

It will include 3-D land-height map of Marina catchment area for a start
Feng Zengkun Straits Times 21 Jan 12;

NATIONAL water agency PUB could be using a better flood-prediction computer model in the near future.

It will include a 3-D land-height map of just the Marina catchment area for a start, to predict the direction in which rainwater will flow at ground level during storms, and where flooding might occur.

Such a map, which the PUB has commissioned, will depict land height in that area to within 10cm accuracy.

Computer models now in use only predict how rainwater flows within drains and canals, and the intensity of rainfall they can handle.

PUB called for proposals for the land-height map last month and is reviewing the submissions.

A panel of drainage specialists appointed by the Government to tackle the flood problem recommended a national map last week.

But PUB told The Straits Times it will focus on the Marina area first.

The Marina catchment area makes up a sixth of Singapore and has been hit by floods in recent years. It includes Orchard Road, which has been hit by floods recently.

According to PUB's tender document for the map, obtained by The Straits Times, the work will cover some 100km of roads in low-lying and flood-prone areas of the zone.

The agency said it came up with the requirement that the map show the lay of the land to within 10cm accuracy by examining floods, which run between 5cm and 30cm deep.

The terrain will be captured in 3-D for the map through a technique known as ground-based light detection and ranging (Lidar).

Using this involves outfitting a vehicle with a Global Positioning System (GPS) and 360-degree laser-scanning technology.

The scanners emit laser pulses, which bounce off surfaces back to the scanners. By recording the travelling time of the pulse, a computer system calculates the distance between the car and the ground.

This data is combined with the GPS position of the car to produce a 3-D map.

Experts say this technique produces the map faster and cheaper than manual land surveys can, but it suffers in urban areas, where tall buildings may interfere with the GPS signals. The pulses may also bounce off cars and pedestrians, distorting the land-height information.

In its tender, PUB specified that the vehicle should have cameras that take high-resolution photographs, which can be used to evaluate the laser data.

The tender also calls for the Lidar- equipped vehicles to be supplemented by ground-survey crews in areas where poor GPS reception may affect accuracy.

If the data collection is distorted by parked cars or pedestrians, the surveys should be repeated at night, when such distortions are less likely, it said.

Dr Armin Gruen, a mapping specialist with Future Cities Laboratory, said one shortfall of Lidar is it does not collect details on land use which is important for flood-prediction computer models.

Whether the ground surface is soil or concrete, for example, will determine if water seeps into the ground or stays above it, he said.

To this, PUB said the Lidar car's camera system can capture land-use data.

The Future Cities Laboratory, a collaboration of the National University of Singapore, Nanyang Technological University and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich (ETH), does research on urban planning, including the use of aerial photographs to produce 3-D maps, a field called stereophotogrammetry.

Dr Gruen, who is the chair of photogrammetry in ETH's Institute of Geodesy and Photogrammetry, suggested combining the ground approach with an aerial survey to get a comprehensive data set for the computer model.

His team demonstrated to The Straits Times how a digital land-height map could be used to predict floods.

They showed a map of Singapore divided into squares, with each square assigned an arrow and a number. The arrow shows the direction water will flow over that area based on the lay of the land; the number represents the number of other squares that feed water into this square.

An '86' square, for example, gets rainwater from 86 other squares, which identifies the area in it as more flood-prone than one with a lower number.

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Grow your own kailan?

Ideas sought from public on how best to grow vegetables in high-rise apartment buildings
Esther Ng Today Online 21 Jan 12;

SINGAPORE - An Internet link about a DIY system which allows people to grow vegetables in high-rise apartments got Minister of State for National Development Lee Yi Shyan thinking: "Can we do the same in our HDB flats?"

"There are some 9,000 HDB blocks. With food security a challenge in land-scarce Singapore, surely there is potential to supplement our food supply through urban farming?" he said in a Facebook post yesterday.

He also called for ideas to grow vegetables on common corridors and within flats.

"It should be a DIY product, where residents can install it themselves and maintain it in a fuss-free way," Mr Lee said.

The best idea stands to win a cash prize of S$300. The initiative is part of the Ministry of National Development's "Cool Ideas for Better HDB Living".

Farmers Today spoke to lauded the idea, but noted that many of these vertical farming solutions such as hydroponics and vertical pot frames were not new, and that such practices would catch on more with retirees than working couples.

"Singaporeans are too comfortable about food, they don't understand food security ... And for the effort put in to grow vegetables, they would rather go to the supermarket," said Gardenasia's director Kenny Eng.

Depending on what type of vegetable is grown, it could take between 30 and 90 days before the next crop.

"It is possible to grow local vegetables like chye sim, kailan, kangkong and sprouts, but not cabbages and carrots, which need a colder climate", said Chiam Joo Seng Towgay Growers' director Thomas Tan.

Mr Eng thinks that growing herbs such as dill, coriander and rosemary in flats may be more practical than vegetables.

Singaporeans consumed 96 kg of vegetables per person in 2010, Minister for National Development Khaw Boon Wan said in a blog post yesterday. That was 2kg more than in 2009.

He also noted a "significant" shift in Singaporean's consumption preferences from fresh to frozen fish. From 2002 to 2010, frozen fish expanded its market share from 20 to 40 per cent.

"From the health view point, this preference for white meat is commendable," said Mr Khaw. "Even more commendable is the consumption for vegetables. At 96kg in 2010, vegetables exceeded all the meat items. As a former Health Minister and a vegetarian, I say: Well done, Singaporeans! Have a healthy year ahead."

The public has until April 30 to submit their "Cool Ideas for Growing Vegetables at Home" to

Singaporeans love their vegetables
Per capita consumption (kg) 2010

Chicken 32
Pork 20
Beef 4
Mutton 2
Fish 21
Vegetables 96

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Night duty with Singapore's wildlife rescuers

Sara Ann K, Multimedia Journalist, RazorTV
Straits Times 20 Jan 12;

Charlene Tan, 31, and Anbarasi Boopal (Anbu), 28, average just 1.6m in height, but that has not deterred either of them from wrestling with animals like pythons and wild boars. The girls are live-in residents at Acres (Animal Concerns Research & Education Society), which has a 24-hour emergency hotline for members of the public to call and report wildlife rescue or crime. They work from 9.30am to 5pm daily, but sometimes pull a 36-hour day when they cover the night shift as well - sometimes up to three times a week. But the night duty shifts can invariably be rather dramatic.

'Pythons especially, sometimes regurgitate as a defence mechanism,' says Ms Anbu almost apologetically, in defence of the animal she once rescued. The 28-year-old who holds dual posts in Acres as the Director of Acres Wildlife Rescue Centre (AWRC) as well as the Director of the Acres Wildlife Crime Unit, once had a reticulated python regurgitate all over her, a rescue mission she recalls as her most memorable to date.

But, it is all worth it, claim the girls. RazorTV spent a night on duty with them, where the girls shared their tales of some of the weird and wonderful creatures they have rescued.

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Submerged boardwalk now white elephant

Letter from Chin Kee Thou Today Online 18 Jan 12;

THE submerged boardwalk at MacRitchie Reservoir was opened officially on Oct 11 as part of the second phase of the Active, Beautiful, Clean Waters programme there.

The national water agency PUB had said that the boardwalk would offer visitors the charming experience of walking through shallow waters to see the plants and be in close contact with fishes and other aquatic life.

Since the end of October, the water has been drained. Ironically, this attracted more traffic to the boardwalk as a shorter route to Lornie Trail without having to remove footwear.

Recently, the gates to the boardwalk were padlocked. It is now a white elephant. Will the authority consider restoring the submerged boardwalk to its original purpose or coming up with new plans to justify the cost?

Submerged boardwalk has been reopened
Letter from Tan Nguan Sen Director, Catchment & Waterways, PUB
Today Online 20 Jan 12;

PUB, the national water agency, thanks Mr Chin Kee Thou for his letter "Submerged boardwalk now white elephant" (Jan 18). The boardwalk (picture) is one of the features under the Active, Beautiful, Clean Waters programme at MacRitchie Reservoir.

As the water in the submerged boardwalk area is part of the reservoir, its level will fluctuate accordingly with the reservoir's water level. Hence, at times, the water level on the boardwalk may be low.

The boardwalk was closed at times between last month and early this month for minor rectification works. These have since been completed, and the boardwalk is now open to the public.

PUB welcomes feedback, and the public can reach us through our 24-hour call centre (1800 284-6600), Facebook ( or our iPhone app "iPUBOne".

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Monkey Feared Extinct Rediscovered

Stephanie Pappas LiveScience 20 Jan 12;

An elusive monkey feared extinct has shown up in the remote forests of Borneo, posing for the first good pictures of the animal ever taken.

The mug shots reveal a furry Count Dracula of sorts, with the monkey's black head, face tipped with white whiskers and a pointy collar made of fluffy white fur.

The Miller's grizzled langur, an extremely rare primate that has suffered from habitat loss over the last 30 years, popped up unexpectedly in the protected Wehea Forest in east Kalimantan, Borneo.

"We knew we had found this primate that some people had speculated was potentially extinct," said study researcher Stephanie Spehar, a primatologist at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh. "It was really exciting."

But the animal is still in grave danger, Spehar told LiveScience, and no one knows how many of these langurs are left. The researchers observed only two small groups of them.

Vanishing act

The shy monkey (Presbytis hosei canicrus) was seen in the 1970s in Kutai National Park in Borneo, about 50 miles (80 kilometers) from where the new population lives. But as the years passed, fires and illegal logging devastated Kutai. By 2008, the Miller's grizzled langur seems to have vanished from the park. A survey that year found just five langurs living on the Sangkulirang Peninsula in East Kalitmantan, also about 50 miles (80 km) away from the newly discovered langur habitat. But by 2010, that group of primates had also disappeared.

"At this point, we didn't know if this animal still existed or whether it was still hiding out in little pockets," Spehar said.

Spehar has been working in the Wehea Forest of Borneo for four years, but she'd never seen a Miller's grizzled langur there. Last summer, however, one of her undergraduate students camped out by a mineral lick area for 10 days, a spot where animals come to get nutrients from mineral-rich soil and water. The student, Eric Fell, was conducting his own research project on animals' use of these licks, and was photographing the creatures that dropped by. [Gallery: Elusive Wildlife Photos]

Upon returning from his stakeout, Fell showed Spehar his photographs. Among them were images of long-tailed, black-headed langurs.

"I knew this was something special," Spehar said. "I knew that it was something that was unexpected and we hadn't seen before."

Monkey reborn

Spehar, who credits the find to the work of local communities and governments that protect the forest and support her research, showed the photos to another researcher working in the woods, the director of the conservation organization Ethical Expeditions Brent Loken. The revelation surprised both parties: It turned out that Loken's group had also been staking out a mineral lick 5 miles (8 km) away from Fell's with a motion-triggered camera. They'd captured an image of the same type of primate.

"We realized that we had basically rediscovered this animal," Spehar said. Taxonomists confirmed the find as a Miller's grizzled langur. The researchers reported their find today (Jan. 20) in the American Journal of Primatology.

The simultaneous discovery suggests that there is a decent-size population of the langurs in Wehea, but Spehar cautioned that incredibly little is known about the species. No one knows how wide the langurs' range is, she said, how many there are, or their population density. That lack of knowledge isn't uncommon for many threatened species, according to Loken.

"This monkey represents a lot of species on the planet that we know very little about," Loken told LiveScience. "We don't know how many there are, we don't know where they live, what ecological requirements they need to live, and unless we get some of that information quickly, some of these species could slip into extinction before we know anything about them, or even realize that they're gone."

While Wehea itself is a more than 98,000-acre (40,000-hectare) oasis of protection, it is surrounded by forest used for logging, palm oil plantations and mining — the same sort of human uses that presumably drove the langurs out of the habitats where they once thrived. Additionally, the forest is only protected by the local community, Loken said, not the central government.

That makes the future of the Miller's grizzled langur very uncertain, Spehar said. She and her colleagues plan to conduct further research into the monkey's range and behavior to understand how best to save it from extinction. Meanwhile, Loken's group and others are working to secure extra protection for the forest.

"What we hope to do is to work with companies and concessions and with local governments to ensure this animal's protection," Spehar said. "That's the only way we will ensure that it doesn't disappear."

Elusive endangered monkeys caught on camera in Borneo
Ella Davies Reporter, BBC Nature 20 Jan 12;

One of the world's most endangered primates has been caught on camera by scientists on the island of Borneo.

Using time-lapse recordings to investigate the diversity of the remote Wehea forest, the team were surprised to see an unusual sub-species.

Close analysis confirmed that they had photographed a group of Miller's grizzled langurs.

Fears for the monkeys' future were sparked last year when none were recorded in previously known habitats.

The international team of researchers suggest their evidence could indicate a more optimistic future.

"Our findings confirm that indeed this monkey still lives in the forests of Borneo and we found that its range extends farther inland than scientists had previously thought," said PhD student Brent Loken from Simon Fraser University, British Columbia, Canada.

"This gives us hope that we may still be able to find large enough populations of this monkey to ensure its survival."

The team's findings are published in the American Journal of Primatology.

Populations of Miller's grizzled langurs were first described in Kutai National Park and Sangkulirang Peninsula, East Kalimantan, Indonesia, in 1985.

However, due to habitat loss and hunting, subsequent studies recorded falling numbers of the monkeys in these areas with no activity recorded last year.

Scientists from Indonesia, the Czech Republic, US and Canada worked together to set up hidden cameras so they could learn more about the animals living in the rainforest.

Stunned by the results of their initial camera-trap study, scientists returned to the location to photograph the little-known monkeys in greater detail.

"It was a challenge to confirm our finding as there are so few pictures of this monkey available for study," said Mr Loken.

"The only description of Miller's grizzled langur came from museum specimens. Our photographs from Wehea are some of the only pictures that we have of this monkey."

'Extinct' Monkey Rediscovered in Borneo
Environment New Service 24 Jan 12;

VANCOUVER, British Columbia, Canada, January 24, 2012 (ENS) - Miller's grizzled langur, a species of monkey that was believed to be extinct or on the verge of extinction has been found in Borneo by an international team of scientists.

Findings of the team of Canadian, U.S. and Indonesian scientists, published in the "American Journal of Primatology," confirm the continued existence of this monkey. Photos captured by their camera trap show that it lives in an area where it was not known to exist.

Miller's grizzled langur, Presbytis hosei ssp. canicrus, once was found across Borneo, Sumatra, Java and the Thai-Malay Peninsula.

In 2008, the IUCN's Red List of Threatened Species classified this subspecies of langur as Endangered in light of a continuing decline of the population inferred from extensive habitat loss, fragmentation and hunting. Habitat loss has been at least nearly 50 percent in the past 20 years. Where the subspecies remains it is heavily hunted.

The geographical boundaries of this subspecies are unknown, says the IUCN Red List, which suggests it should be reassessed once this becomes clearer, since determining its extent could result in either a Critically Endangered or a Vulnerable assessment in the future.

In Borneo, this langur is found only in a small northeastern corner of the country. Its habitat has been degraded by fires, human encroachment and conversion of land for agriculture and mining.

The team's expedition took to them to Wehea Forest in East Kalimantan, Borneo, a large 38,000 hectare (146 square mile) area of mostly undisturbed rainforest. Wehea contains at least nine known species of non-human primate, including the Bornean orangutan and gibbon.

Team member Brent Loken of Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, Canada said, "Discovery of P.h. canicrus was a surprise since Wehea Forest lies outside of this monkey's known range. Future research will focus on estimating the population density for P.h. canicrus in Wehea and the surrounding forest."

"Concern that the species may have gone extinct was first raised in 2004, and a search for the monkey during another expedition in 2008 supported the assertion that the situation was dire," Loken said.

By conducting observations at mineral licks where animals congregate and setting up camera traps in several locations, the expedition confirmed that Miller's grizzled langur continues to survive in areas west of its previously recorded geographic range.

The photos provide the first solid evidence demonstrating that its geographic range extends further than previously thought.

"It was a challenge to confirm our finding as there are so few pictures of this monkey available for study," said Loken. "The only description of Miller's grizzled langur came from museum specimens. Our photographs from Wehea are some of the only pictures that we have of this monkey."

"East Kalimantan can be a challenging place to conduct research, given the remoteness of many remaining forested areas, so it isn't surprising that so little is known about this primate," said Dr. Stephanie Spehar, assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Wisconsin, Oshkosh.

"We are very grateful to our local partners," she said. "This discovery represents the hard work, dedication, and collaboration of western and Indonesian scientists, students, NGOs, as well as local communities and government."

"While our finding confirms the monkey still exists in East Kalimantan, there is a good chance that it remains one of the world's most endangered primates," said Loken.

"I believe it is a race against time to protect many species in Borneo," he said. "It is difficult to adopt conservation strategies to protect species when we don't even know the extent of where they live. We need more scientists in the field working on understudied species such as Miller's grizzled langur, clouded leopards and sun bears."

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US satellite detects 61 hot spots in Sumatra

Antara 20 Jan 12;

Padang, W Sumatra (ANTARA News) - The US National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Agency (NOAA) has detected 61 hot spots on Sumatra Island, according to the Ketaping Padang meteorology, climatology and geophysics agency (BMKG).

The hot spots were detected in West Sumatra, Riau, Jambi, Bengkulu and South Sumatra Provinces, and producing haze that is blanketing the areas," Padang BMKG head Syafrizal said here on Thursday.

Most of the hot spots were located in Riau Province and around 20 in West Sumatra.

Syafrizal could not confirm whether the hot spots were from forest fires or burning to clear new land in plantation areas.

"The haze will go during rains which will also extinguish the hot spots that produced the haze," he said.

The BMKG predicted that rains would fall this week.

The Indonesian government appears to be determined to reduce the number of forest fire hot spots by 20 percent annually in order to help meet the country`s pledge to cut its gas emissions by 26 percent by 2020.

Around 77 percent of forest fires in Indonesia have occurred in plantation and agricultural areas, and only 23 percent in forest area, as fire has been considered the cheapest, fastest, and most effective a land clearing method.(*)

Editor: Heru

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Indonesia: Man-eating crocodiles menace residents

Antara 20 Jan 12;

Pekanbaru (ANTARA News) - Man-eating crocodiles that often attack humans in residential areas have become a threat causing people in Indgragiri Hilir to increase their vigilance.

The chief of Sungai Raya village in Batutuangka sub-district, H Sulaiman, said here on Friday the life threatening crocodiles often appear all of a sudden and can attack people who happen to be at a river side or even near a drainage channel flowing to the Batang River.

The Batang River flows through Indragiri Hilir district.

"Recently, these crocodiles were not only seen in the Batang river but also in small streams connected with the river," Sulaiman said.

A number of resident had seen the crocodiles while they were doing their daily activities at the river`s edge or near the streams.

"The latest crocodile-related incident happened to Muhammad Amin who was attacked by a four-meter-long monster while he was urinating near a stream," Sulaiman said.

The beast already had sank its teeth in Muhammad`s legs but he was somehow able to escape although with injured legs, Sulaiman said.

According to Sulaiman, it was a mystery why the ferocious animals had suddenly appeared in the region and their bodies were larger than usual with some of them having a body length of up to five meters.

Sulaiman said he hoped the government would pay attention to the problem and especially the Natural Resources Conservation Agency (BKSDA) would immediately put an end to the human-versus-crocodile conflict.

"I wish the BKSDA will help us with this situation, because people are threatened by the attacks," Sulaiman said.

According to Batutuangka sub-district chief Sutriadi the area was actually a place where a number of crocodiles had their nest.

"The situation is related to the fact that rivers in Indragiri Hilir, including Sungai Batang, are very rarely explored by humans. Everything in those rivers is still natural, including the mangroves," said Sutriadi.(*)

Editor: Heru

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Cruise ship threatens marine paradise off Italy

Frances D'Emilio Associated Press Google News 21 Jan 12;

PORTO ERCOLE, Italy (AP) — Stone fortresses and watchtowers that centuries ago stood guard against marauding pirates loom above pristine waters threatened by a modern peril: fuel trapped within the capsized Costa Concordia luxury liner.

A half-million gallons (2,400 tons) of heavy fuel oil is in danger of leaking out and polluting some of the Mediterranean's most unspoiled sea, where dolphins chase playfully after sailboats and fishermen's catches are so prized that wholesalers come from across Italy to scoop up cod, lobster, scampi, swordfish and other delicacies.

"Even the Caribbean has nothing on us," said Francesco Arpino, a scuba instructor in the chic port of Porto Ercole, noting how the sleek granite sea bottom helps keep visibility crystal clear even 135 feet (40 meters) down.

Divers in these transparent waters marvel at an underwater world of sea horses and red coral, while on the surface sperm whales cut through the sea.

But worry is clouding this paradise, which includes a stretch of Tuscan coastline that has been the holiday haunt of soccer and screen stars, politicians and European royals.

Rough seas hindering divers' search for bodies in the Concordia's submerged section have also delayed the start of a pumping operation expected to last weeks to remove the fuel from the ship. Floating barriers aimed at containing any spillage now surround the vessel.

According to the Dutch salvage firm Smit, which has been contracted to remove the fuel, there are about a half million gallons (2,400 tons) of heavy fuel oil on board, as well as some 200 tons of diesel oil and smaller amounts of lubricants and other environmentally hazardous materials.

The ship lies dangerously close to a drop-off point on the sea bottom. Should strong waves nudge the vessel from its precarious perch, it could plunge some 90 feet (30 meters), further complicating the pumping operation and possibly rupturing fuel tanks. Italy's environment minister has warned that if the tanks break, the thick black fuel would block sunlight vital for marine life in the seabed.

A week after the Concordia struck a reef off the island of Giglio, flipping on its side, its crippled 114,000-ton hull rests on seabed rich with an underwater prairie of sea grass vital to the ecosystem. Environmentalists warn the sheer weight of the wreckage has likely already damaged a variety of marine life, including endangered sea sponges, and crustaceans and mollusks, even before a drop of fuel leaks.

"The longer it stays there, the longer it impedes light from reaching the vegetation," said Francesco Cinelli, an ecology professor at the University of Pisa in Tuscany.

The seabed is a flourishing home to Poseidon sea grass native to the Mediterranean, Cinelli told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.

"Sea grass ... is to the sea what forests are to terra firma," Cinelli said. They produce oxygen and serve as a refuge for organisms to reproduce or hide from predators.

The Tuscan archipelago's seven islands are at the heart of Europe's largest marine park, extending over some 150,000 acres (60,000 hectares) of sea.

They include the islands of Elba, where Napoleon lived in exile, and Montecristo, a setting for Alexandre Dumas' novel "The Count of Monte Cristo," where rare Mediterranean monk seals have been spotted near the coast.

Montecristo has a two-year waiting list of people hoping to be among the 1,000 people annually escorted ashore by forest rangers to admire the uninhabited island. Navigation, bathing and fishing are strictly prohibited up to a half mile (one kilometer) from Montecristo's rocky, cove-dotted coast. A monastery established on the island in the 7th century was abandoned 900 years later after repeated pirate raids.

Come spring, Porto Ercole's slips will be full, with yachts dropping anchor just outside the port. A steep hill provides a panoramic view of a sprawling seaside villa, once a holiday retreat of Dutch royals, and of the crescent-shaped island of Giannutri, with its ancient Roman ruins.

Alberto Teodori, who said he has been hired as a skipper for the yachts of Rome's VIPs for 30 years, noted that the area thrives on tourism in the spring and summer and survives on fishing in the offseason.

If the Concordia's fuel should pollute the sea, "Giglio will be dead for 10, 15 years," Teodori fretted, as workers nearby shellacked the hull of an aging fishing boat.

The international ocean-advocacy group, Oceana, describes the national marine park as an "ecological diamond," favored by divers for its great variety of species.

"If the pollution gets into the water, we are ruined," said Raffaella Manno, who with her husband runs a portside counter selling fresh fish in Porto Santo Stefano, a nearby town where ferries and hydrofoils depart for Giglio.

She said fish from the archipelago's waters are prized throughout Italy for their quality and variety.

"The water is clean and the reefs are rich" for fish to feed, she said, as trucks carrying oil-removal equipment waited to board ferries to Giglio. "The priciest markets in Italy come here to buy, from Milan, Turin, even Naples."

Concordia's captain, initially jailed and then placed under house arrest in his hometown near Naples, is suspected of having deliberately deviated from the ship's route, to hug Giglio's reef-studded coastline in order to perform a kind of "salute" to amuse passengers and islanders.

The maneuver is apparently a common practice by cruise ships, environmentalists lament.

"These salutes are an established practice by the big cruise ships," said Francesco Emilio Borrelli, a Green party official from Naples. He said that the Greens have received reports of numerous such sightings by ships sailing by the Naples area islands of Capri, Ischia and Procida.

Even before the Concordia tragedy, environmentalists had railed against what they brand "sea monsters," — massive cruise liners releasing huge amounts of greenhouse gases — sailing perilously close to the coast to thrill the passengers aboard.

"These virtual cities put at risk the richness of biodiversity, which we must never forget is at the foundation of our very survival on Earth," said Marevivo, an Italian environmental group.

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Conserving biodiversity hotspots 'could bring world's poor $500bn a year'

Study puts economic value on the indirect ecosystem services provided by the world's poorest people
Fiona Harvey 20 Jan 12;

Some of the world's poorest people would be half a trillion dollars a year better off if the services they provide to the rest of the planet indirectly – through conserving natural habitats – was given an economic value, a new study has found.

Many of these valuable habitats and species are under threat, but the people who live in these areas lack the means to improve their conservation, according to a new study in the journal BioScience.

If poor people were paid for the services they provide in preserving some of the world's key biodiversity hotspots, they could reap $500bn. There are some fledgling schemes that could help to raise this cash – for instance, the United Nations-backed system called Redd (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation), which uses carbon trading to generate cash to preserve trees – but so far they are small in scale.

The benefits of safeguarding these habitats, such as providing valuable services from food, medicines and clean water to absorbing carbon dioxide from the air, are more than triple the costs of conserving them, the researchers found.

Will Turner, vice–president of Conservation International and lead author of the study, said: "Developed and developing economies cannot continue to ask the world's poor to shoulder the burden of protecting these globally important ecosystem services for the rest of the world's benefit, without compensation in return. This is exactly what we mean when we talk about valuing natural capital. Nature may not send us a bill, but its essential services and flows, both direct and indirect, have concrete economic value."

He said that preserving areas of highest biodiversity should be the priority. "What the research clearly tells us is that conserving the world's remaining biodiversity isn't just a moral imperative - it is a necessary investment for lasting economic development. But in many places where the poor depend on these natural services, we are dangerously close to exhausting them, resulting in lasting poverty," said Turner.

Many of the benefits of conservation, so-called "ecosystem services", are invisible – for instance, maintaining wooded land can help to prevent mudslides during heavy rainfall, and provides valuable watersheds that keep rivers healthy and provide clean drinking water, as well as absorbing carbon dioxide from the air. These benefits are not assigned an economic value, however, so that chopping down trees or destroying habitats appears to deliver an instant economic return, when in fact it is leading to economic losses that are only obvious when it is too late.

The study, entitled Global Biodiversity Conservation and the Alleviation of Poverty, was led by a team from Conservation International, and co-authored by scientists at NatureServe, the US National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, and the University of Wisconsin-Madison. They looked in particular at 17 of the world's most important areas for biodiversity.

They found that some of the ecosystem services accrued to the local people themselves – for instance, using forests as sources of food, medicines and shelter – while the rest are regional or global.

The study follows on a growing body of work from the past decade that has sought to place a value on ecosystem services, as a way of ensuring that they are accounted for in economic policy. If nature is not economically valued, many scientists have argued, it is more prone to being destroyed.

Russell Mittermeier, president of Conservation International and a co-author, said: "We have always known that biodiversity is foundational to human wellbeing, but we now have a strong case that ecosystems specifically located in the world's biodiversity hotspots and high-biodiversity wilderness areas also provide a vital safety net for people living in poverty. Protecting these places is essential not only to safeguard life on earth but also to support the impoverished, ensure continued broad access to nature's services, and meet the UN millennium development goals."

He called on governments to integrate the conservation of nature into economic and poverty-alleviation policies, in order to value these services better.

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Asean officials to dwell on bio-diversity economics in Manila

The Star 20 Jan 12;

KUALA LUMPUR: Senior environment, finance and economic experts and officials from Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines and Singapore will gather in Manila next week for a high level dialogue on the economics related to biodiversity.

The dialogue on Jan 25 and 26 is part of a project being jointly undertaken by the Manila based ASEAN Centre for Biodiversity (ACB) and the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office, according to a statement issued by ACB on Friday.

The dialogue entitled "Southeast Asia Regional Policy Dialogue on The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity: Transforming Policies into Actions" would engage senior level policy drafters in recognising the economic benefits and values of ecosystems and biodiversity.

The dialogue is part of a project to disseminate and develop national capacity on The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) project, and the issue of Payments for Ecosystem Services (PES).

The statement added that the dialogue would also review Climate Change and Biodiversity Action Plans, and identify approaches to integrate TEEB and PES into such plans.

In addition, it would develop a training module on TEEB and PES for continued capacity building in the ASEAN region. - Bernama

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Rio+20's draft paper urges sustainable development goals

Yana Marull AFP Yahoo News 21 Jan 12;

With the Rio environment conference only five months away, a just-released summit draft calls for "sustainable development goals" toward a green economy but critics slam it as too vague.

Scheduled 20 years after the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Rio+20 will be held during June 20-22 to discuss a green economic model that would take into account the environment, promote better social development and eradicate poverty.

It is to take up a broad range of issues on the health of the planet including growth, food security, access to water, lifestyles, energy, biodiversity and climate.

The first official draft of the conference was released last week but critics said it amounted to a mere declaration of principles on the way forward.

Drafted with input from more than 600 contributors, the text recognizes "the limitations of GDP as a measure of well-being" and agrees "to further develop and strengthen indicators complementing GDP that integrate economic, social and environmental dimensions in a balanced manner."

It is to be further refined in the next few months before a final version can be put to the conference.

One of the key proposals involves defining "sustainable development goals" that commit countries to meeting targets in the areas of food security, access to water, green jobs and even "sustainable production and consumption models."

These goals would complement the poverty-reduction Millenium Development Goals set by 192 countries in 2000.

According to the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), the financial crisis and the depletion of natural resources have fueled "a general disillusionment with the dominant economic model."

UNEP called for an alternative model.

"RIO+20 is a great opportunity to begin thinking and measuring our economy differently," said Roberto Smeraldi, head of Friends of the Earth Brazil, a global network striving for a healthier and more just world.

"The text I think is weak as a final outcome. It is simply a restatement of a lot of principles that governments have committed to already in a number of occasions," Jacob Werksman, a program director at the US World Resources Institute, a global environmental think tank.

And the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) said the first draft of the summit document was a step in the right direction but was not ambitious enough.

It called for stronger commitments by world leaders at the conference.

Twenty years ago, more than 100 world leaders attended the Rio conference. But given the current economic crisis, it is unclear how many will show up at next June's summit here.

"We want the conference to be a success. This will require a big turnout at the level of head of state and a strong outcome leading to a landmark political document with concrete actions," said Giancarlo Summa, head of the UN office in Brazil.

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