Best of our wild blogs: 22 Jan 12

Life History of the Common Red Flash
from Butterflies of Singapore

Sungei Cina (21 Jan 2012)
from Mega Marine Survey of Singapore

banded woodpecker cooling off @ bukit brown 15Jan2012
from sgbeachbum and stinkhorn fungus

UN International Year of Co-operatives 2012
from EcoWalkthetalk

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Anchoring the anti-shark's fin message

Straits Times 22 Jan 12;

Travellers at Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal yesterday were greeted by sharks - made of cardboard.

The cut-outs are part of a campaign to persuade Singaporeans not to eat shark's fin - used mainly in soups in Chinese cuisine.

The campaign, called Say No To Shark's Fin, is a joint effort by conservation group WWF and the Singapore Cruise Centre (SCC). Booths with information about shark conservation will be located at the terminal until Feb 12.

Spokesmen from the WWF and SCC said they hope to bring the message of marine conservation to the cruise centre's passengers, especially during the Chinese New Year holidays.

Ms Christina Seow, SCC's chief executive, said the exercise marks the group's commitment to promote responsible tourism.

Visitors can learn more about shark conservation from WWF representatives at the terminal, as well as pledge to stop eating shark's fin.

One such visitor was Mr Dass Moses, 40. The operations supervisor, who describes himself as a 'shark lover', said he had seen documentaries about sharks that were left for dead after their fins were harvested. He stopped eating shark's fin more than 10 years ago.

'The poor fellas are dying out there. I feel very sad when I think about it,' he said.

Yen Feng

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Studying sea changes to predict future weather shifts

Feng Zengkun Straits Times 22 Jan 12;

The study of climate science here is receiving a boost with the arrival of a scientist who has surveyed coral reefs to uncover the climate history of the North Atlantic Ocean.

Dr Nathalie Goodkin, assistant professor of environmental science at the University of Hong Kong, plans to set up a geochemistry laboratory at the Earth Observatory of Singapore.

There, she and a team of scientists will study how changes to seas' surface temperature, saltiness and water circulation affected the South-east Asian monsoon in the past.

Piecing together this history is essential to predicting how climate in the region may change in the future, she said.

'There is a lot about tropical weather that has yet to be uncovered, and the information is crucial because of the dense populations that live in the region,' said Dr Goodkin.

In Singapore, such knowledge could also be used to plan for future drainage systems to cope with climate change.

Dr Goodkin was one of 10 scientists awarded the National Research Foundation (NRF) Fellowship on Friday.

Each year, NRF selects a group of scientists and researchers who are under 40 years old and offers them up to $3 million over five years and a salary to do research here.

There is no quota as to the number of scientists who can be chosen, and since the programme started in 2007, 38 scientists, not including this year's recipients, have accepted the fellowship.

Fellows can carry out any research provided they are hosted by a Singapore-based university or research institution.

Besides Dr Goodkin, this year's fellowships were also awarded separately for the first time to two scientists who are husband and wife.

Dr Silvija Gradecak plans to use the fellowship to continue her work on ultra-small wires, which can be used to create more energy-efficient light bulbs.

An assistant professor of materials science and engineering at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, she said changing the composition of the wires can make them emit different colours.

Combining red, green and blue light from the wires produces white light. This can be used to make light bulbs to replace current energy-wasting tungsten versions, she said.

Her team will also research other ways to reduce energy for lighting that is converted to heat instead.

'Twenty per cent of the world's electricity is used for lighting. If we can reduce heat wastage, the energy savings would be substantial,' she said.

Meanwhile, her husband, Dr Slaven Garaj, will concentrate on creating a full genome-DNA sequencing method that costs less than US$1,000 (S$1,280).

Such a technique - 10 times cheaper than current technology - could lead to a better understanding of diseases and more personalised medicine.

Dr Garaj, a researcher at Harvard University, said the method will use materials such as super-thin carbon - also known as graphene - instead of the traditional chemicals to decode DNA.

Not using chemicals makes DNA sequencing cheaper and eliminates the risk of destroying biological data, he said.

Dr Chong Yidong, who did research at Yale University, is the only Singaporean among this year's awardees. His interest is in theoretical optics, specifically how to filter light so it can be absorbed or rejected by materials.

This could be used in the future generations of computers called optical computers, which will be powered by light in addition to electrons.

Dr Francis Yeoh, the NRF's chief executive officer, said the fellowship helps young scientists to establish themselves. 'We expect many to become international scientific leaders in due course as well as role models to aspiring students,' he said.

The fellowship evaluation panel also checked on the progress of fellows in recent years and found it promising.

Said Professor Anthony Leggett, a Nobel Prize winner in physics and a member of the panel: 'It's encouraging... that these young researchers have managed to set up substantial research groups in such a short time.'

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Asia loses its taste for shark fin

Philip Lim Agence France-Presse Inquirer 22 Jan 12;

SINGAPORE – As Asia’s ethnic Chinese sit down for lavish banquets to usher in the Lunar New Year, a delicacy long considered a must at celebratory meals is fast disappearing from menus and dinner tables.

A growing number of shops, restaurants and hotels have in the past few months given up selling shark fin, which in Asia is usually eaten in soup, throwing a lifeline to the marine predator that activists say is long overdue.

“Yes, we do see an increasing number of locals and international businesses saying no to shark’s fin,” said Elaine Tan, chief executive for environmental group WWF in Singapore.

“This change in attitude could be due to an increasing awareness of the plight of sharks as well as the result of many shark campaigns worldwide,” she told AFP.

About 73 million sharks are killed every year, according to WWF, and more than 180 shark species were considered threatened in 2010, compared to only 15 in 1996.

Many are slain for their fins, considered by the Chinese to be a delicacy and costing hundreds of dollars per kilo.

Soup made from the fins is a pricey yet common staple at festive occasions such as the Lunar New Year and weddings in China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and countries with large ethnic Chinese populations such as Singapore.

One well-known shark-fin soup restaurant in Singapore sells the dish at Sg$20 ($16) per diner, but it can cost many times that.

“We are concerned about the environment and we have a strong corporate responsibility,” said Maria Kuhn, director of corporate communications of Shangri-La’s international operations.

The global luxury hotelier took shark fin off its menu on January 17, in a major boost to the campaign.

“The younger generation has specifically been very aware of the issue and been stepping away from using shark fin… In the long term it will be a natural progression anyway.”

In Hong Kong- the top shark-fin trading center, handling about 50 percent of the global trade—conservationists lauded Peninsula Hotels group’s decision two months ago to similarly ditch the dish.

“We are very happy to see what they have done and we believe the demand for shark-fin consumption in Hong Kong will reduce,” Stanley Shea, project coordinator at the Hong Kong marine conservation group Bloom, told AFP.

A survey by Bloom last year showed 78 percent of people in the southern Chinese city now consider it socially acceptable to leave shark-fin soup off the menu for a wedding banquet.

It is a sentiment which is gaining ground in Singapore too.

Alex Teo, 29, said he left shark fin off the menu at his wedding last year despite initial worries that guests might be disappointed.

“We were not sure if people would feel unhappy about it, but seven personal friends who, when they replied about their attendance, asked me if we could not have shark fin, so we went ahead,” he said.

“We actually wanted to remove it because we wanted to save sharks,” Teo, a banker, told AFP.

Mainland China – believed to be the world’s top consumer of shark fin – is also seeing a dip in its popularity.

Basketball superstar Yao Ming, who stopped eating shark fin five years ago, added his considerable size to the cause in September by urging others to join him and British entrepreneur Richard Branson in their abstinence.

As public awareness grows in China, there are even moves towards a ban on the trade.

Businessman delegate to the National People’s Congress Ding Liguo made the proposal, saying Beijing should lead the way because 95 percent of shark fin is consumed in the mainland, Taiwan and Hong Kong.

TRAFFIC, an international network that monitors the trade in wildlife, said more action from Asian governments was needed.

“We see a clear shift in the public and corporate mindset away from shark-fin consumption and sale,” Elizabeth John, an official with TRAFFIC Southeast Asia, told AFP.

“Unfortunately, it’s not reflected in decision and policy making except in very few cases.”

Hazel Oakley, a representative of Shark Savers Malaysia, which lobbies for a shark-fishing ban, said: “The time for this legislation is now.

“Public opinion has changed… The shark-fin wealthy Chinese market is definitely dying.”

Supermarket chains in Singapore have also begun to jump on the bandwagon and WWF’s Tan said an initiative encouraging restaurants to provide shark-fin-free menus has gained traction in Singapore and Hong Kong.

More than 100 hotels and restaurants in the two cities are now part of the programme, up from only 12 when it was launched in 2010, Tan said.

But it is not all good news.

Restaurants in Thailand were reporting a surge in shark-fin consumption ahead of the Lunar New Year, while high-end eateries in Malaysia – here there is a sizable ethnic Chinese population – are also holding firm.

“The number of people eating shark fin is only increasing, especially during Chinese New Year,” said Tiyamon Tiang-ngok, assistant manager at Summer Palace restaurant, at Intercontinental Hotel in Bangkok.

“Our main customers are Chinese Thais. When they dine at our restaurant, they often order our set menu, which includes shark-fin soup.”

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Malaysia: Just say ‘no’ to shark fin soup

Wong Chun Wai The Star 22 Jan 12;

Let us usher in the Year of the Dragon without the popular delicacy.

IT has taken me a long time to come to this decision but it needed to be made. I will no longer consume shark fin soup.

Enough is enough when it involves the senseless killing of sharks just for their fins, which are quite tasteless by the way.

I feel the timing is appropriate because, over the next few weeks, there will be the endless round of Chinese New Year celebration dinners to attend. Shark fin soup is compulsory at these eight-course dinners and no Malaysian host would go without it..

But more and more young Malaysians are now saying no to shark fin soup in line with the campaign to prevent the killing of sharks for their fins.

Getting the support of the young is crucial in the campaign because of the massive increase of the middle class in China and other Asian cities.

If the younger set is prepared to say no to shark fin in their menu, it will be a major step forward in the global campaign against shark-finning.

Roping in retired Chinese basketball icon Yao Ming in the fight against eating shark fin in his homeland last September was a major coup.

Together with British tycoon Richard Branson, he then made an appeal against eating shark fin to a group of 30 of China’s richest and most influential business people.

“When demand happens, the buying happens and the killing happens,” Yao, the seven-foot-six-inch-tall (2.29m) former centre who retired in July due to injuries after eight seasons with the Houston Rockets, was quoted as saying.

Yao is now using his post-retirement free time to help campaign against the slaughter of sharks, which is said to involve around 1.5 million sharks a week and is taking some of the species close to extinction.

The event sponsored by the conservation group WildAid is aimed at starting a conservation movement in China “not just to protect the sharks but to protect tigers, and to protect other species that are in peril of extinction,” Branson said.

News reports have quoted anti shark-finning campaigners as saying that fishermen kill more than 70 million sharks each year for their fins, which can sell for US$700 (RM2,175) a pound (450g) while the soup can cost up to US$80 (RM248) a bowl.

It is said that the fins are cut from the sharks and their bodies are discarded, leaving them to die.

Last week, the Shangri-La group declared that its 72 hotels would no longer offer shark fin or other shark products in their menu.

It is not clear whether the order came from Robert Kuok, the Malaysian tycoon who owns the luxury chain of hotels worldwide, many of which are in China.

Its rival, the Peninsula chain of hotels, which also has operations in China, stopped offering shark fin in their premises on Jan 1.

The Shangri-La’s decision is crucial because over 90% of shark fins are consumed in China and countries with huge Chinese population, including Hong Kong and Taiwan.

With an increasingly affluent Chinese population, the demand for shark fins has shot up sharply in recent years. This means more sharks would be hunted for their fins, and that means the population of sharks will disappear much faster than anticipated.

Besides soup, shark fin is also used in some dim sum delicacies, especially in some dumpling wrappings.

Westerners are only familiar with shark fin soup but the product is also widely used in other forms of cooking.

The campaign against eating shark fin involves film and music celebrities but businessmen must also be included as they wield tremendous power. At a practical level, they host dinners almost on a daily basis, especially in China.

They can set an example by taking shark fin soup off the menu for corporate dinners, thus sending a strong message to their staff, clients and even rivals. It is good corporate practice now to stop eating shark fin products.

Politicians should also join in the campaign because this appeals to the young set of voters who are revolted by the practice of shark-finning.

Many hotels and restaurants have also responded positively by offering artificial fins without compromising the taste of the soup.

Customers are happy to pay for the fakes as they feel that the restaurants are ready to meet the changes.

As we usher in the Year of the Dragon, the topic of conversation at the reunion dinner should not just be about political sharks, who need no saving, but of the global campaign to save the real sharks.

Let’s all join the campaign!

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Online petition to protect sharks in Sabah

Muguntan Vanar The Star 22 Jan 12;

KOTA KINABALU: An online petition drive has been kicked off by conservationist and divers in their bid to protect sharks and other marine creatures in Sabah east coast Semporna.

They are hoping to push for the setting up of the Semporna Shark Sanctuary which covers some 83 islands including the world renown diving haven of Sipadan and its neighbouring Mabul island.

A Sabah based non-governmental organisation Borneo Conservancy is promoting the move for the petition that has already received some 5,000 supporters and at least 16 organisations worldwide.

They are hoping to get at least 50,000 supporters though organisers said 10,000 would be enough for them to promote the idea of setting up a sanctuary in Semporna waters.

According to a spokesman, the local community and the tourism industry supported the Semporna Shark Sanctuary proposal.

They are hoping to submit the proposal to the state government once they get sufficient signatures.

They explained that a third of all shark species are nearly extinct and some species of sharks such as the Hammerhead have declined by up to 90% in the last 50 years.

Semporna is home over 83 Islands, including the world famous dive destinations of Sipadan.

The Semporna Sea is also home to many species of shark - from the extremely rare and elusive Borneo and Hammerhead shark to the largest fish in the sea, the graceful whale shark, the spokesman said in explaining the rationale.

He said sharks played an important role in marine diversity and if it went extinct the marine biodiversity could collapse.

In Semporna many shark species are encountered on a daily basis and we are one of the lucky places that can still say that we can 'prevent' their decline instead of having to 'reintroduce and rehabilitate, he said.

He explained that though they were supportive of the states total ban of shark hunting and finning in Sabah, it would be important for Semporna to be made a sanctuary as it could be focused and easier to enforce.

The whole of Sabah would be difficult to enforce shark hunting but if you just focus just in Semporna it will be enforceable, the spokesman said, explaining that most of the sharks were in the Semporna waters.

The petition is available at can also be accessed via its Facebook page Semporna Shark Sanctuary.

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Taiwan joins global efforts to ban shark finning

Focus Taiwan 21 Jan 12;

Taipei, Jan. 21 (CNA) The government and local hotels have stepped up their efforts to ban shark finning amid a global movement to oppose the practice -- in which fishermen cut the fins off sharks and then throw the animals back into the sea to die.

The Fisheries Agency implemented a regulation earlier this week that will force fishermen to keep shark catches intact until they arrive in port, a rule the agency hopes will prevent fishing vessels from making space to store more fins and end the cruel practice.

By being the first country in Asia to impose such a restriction, Taiwan showed its resolution to promote sustainable fishing, the agency said.

"We have to start with the supply chain -- the fishermen -- in impression on them the significance of the law so the chances of violations can be reduced," said Fisheries Agency Deputy Director-General Tsay Tzu-yaw.

Likewise, local hotels such as W Taipei, The Westin Taipei, the Silks Palace at National Palace Museum, and Shangri-La's Far Eastern Plaza Hotel in Taipei and Tainan, also pledged to strike shark fin dishes off their menus.

While the hotels would oblige if customers asked for shark fin dishes at their wedding banquets, the latest commitment means a complete ban of the ingredient, hotel operators said.

"We will suggest other same-level delicacies -- such as silky fowl and abalone -- for our customers," said Tricia Chen, assistant communications manager of Shangri-La's Far Eastern Plaza Hotel, Taipei.

The commitment makes sense, said Shih Chien-fa, a chef better known as Taiwan's "God of Cooking."

"It's the cooking skills of the chef, not the shark fin, that makes the dish delicious," said Shih, who stopped offering shark fin in his own restaurant three years ago.

The move by local hotels came after The Peninsula Hotel in Hong Kong announced a chain-wide ban last November.

Chen Yu-min, director of the Environment & Animal Society of Taiwan, said both the government's and hospitality industry's efforts were praiseworthy.

"Their actions help define what kind of country Taiwan is," Chen said. "It is very nice of them to launch the policies just before the Lunar New Year, when the consumption of shark fin could rise tremendously."

According to a Pew Environment Group report last year, Taiwan has accounted for 5.8 percent of the world's shark catch, mostly to provide shark fin for wedding banquets.

(By Lee Hsin-Yin)

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Chinese New Year causes shark fin feeding frenzy

Katie Cuttris Sydney Morning Herald 22 Jan 12;

IT'S renowned for its slippery, glutinous texture and its touted ability to ward off ageing and boost the libido.

While shark fin soup will be a staple at Chinese New Year banquets in Australia this week, it is under attack from conservation groups.

And there are growing international efforts to ban the delicacy from the table for good. Hong Kong-based Peninsula and Shangri-La hotel groups have taken shark fin soup off their menus and Singapore's largest supermarket chain, NTUC FairPrice, will cease sales of shark fin products in March. The Taiwanese government, European Union and state of California have all announced bans on shark finning.

Shark finning is banned in Australia but there is nothing to stop fisherman slicing fins off carcasses once boats land onshore - so Chinese restaurants still serve the dish.

In Sydney, the managing director of Fat Buddha restaurant, Kim Yee Joy, said tradition dictates that many customers have shark fin soup for Chinese New Year. ''It's one of our main traditions and has been eaten for many years,'' she said.

She recognised the ecological impact of shark finning, but said her restaurant ''must have shark fin soup, otherwise no one will come to the restaurant for functions, weddings or Chinese New Year. There is nothing we can do about shark finning''.

But Mike Rutzen, the founder of The Australian Anti Shark Finning Alliance, believes it is ''not an excuse to say it's tradition''.

''Foot binding was also a tradition and it is no longer in practice because it is cruel and barbaric'', he said. ''Just like foot binding, shark fin soup should be relegated to the history books.''

In an effort to ''encourage'' restaurants around the country to stop featuring shark fin soup on their menus, Mr Rutzen last year established an online registry dubbed the 'Wall of Shame', listing 184 restaurants serving the soup. Mr Rutzen said the registry had been welcomed by some restaurants, which had explained they were ''looking for an incentive to take shark fin soup off their menus and now they had an excuse''.

Among the high-profile names on the list are Fat Buddha in George Street and Golden Century Seafood in Sussex Street.The alliance, along with federal Greens MP and environment spokeswoman Cate Faehrmann, has called for legislation making it a criminal offence to possess, sell and trade shark fins.

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