Best of our wild blogs 29 Jan 12

4 Feb (Sat): Celebrate World Wetlands Day at Sungei Buloh
from Celebrating Singapore's BioDiversity!

Butterfly of the Month - January 2012
from Butterflies of Singapore

Reliving CNY moments at Big Sisters Island
from wonderful creation

Yellow-vented Bulbul: Food for the chicks
from Bird Ecology Study Group

“What lies under” by Ferdi Rizkiyanto, a statement about marine pollution
from News from the International Coastal Cleanup Singapore

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Ranking in Environmental Performance Index: Malaysia, Brunei

KL ranks 25 in world environ management
New Straits Times 28 Jan 12;

JOHOR BARU: Malaysia has improved its ranking in a worldwide performance index for environmental management, thanks to government initiatives which give focus on sustainability under the New Economic Model.

In figures released on Thursday night from the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Malaysia now ranks 25th among 132 nations under the Environmental Performance Index (EPI).

Malaysian EPI team chief Prof Datuk Dr Zaini Ujang said the latest ranking made Malaysia the best among other Southeast Asian countries, and third best among Asia Pacific nations, after New Zealand and Japan.

"In 2010, Malaysia stood at number 54 out of 163 countries worldwide, as compared with Singapore which was at number 28 the same year. Singapore now stands at number 52 in the index.

"We are now in the same group of high performance nations such as Germany, Iceland, Finland, Denmark, Japan and Belgium," said Zaini.

"This was possible through government initiatives under Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak's administration which gives weight to sustainability through the New Economic Model," said Zaini, who is also Universiti Teknologi Malaysia vice-chancellor.

The EPI was developed by Yale University and Columbia University, both in the United States, with the cooperation of the European Commission and World Economic Forum. It is used to evaluate the sustainability of a country through two main objectives: environmental wellbeing and effects of pollution on people's wellbeing.

The EPI is intended for policy makers to place importance on a target of providing transparent data, based on 25 environmental performance indicators, including climate change, agriculture, fisheries, forestry, water and air pollution that could affect life on the earth's surface.

Zaini said the cabinet had last year approved the usage of EPI on composite data gathered in relation to the country's environmental and natural resources management.

A 20-man panel from UTM spearheaded the collection of data with the help of 10 ministries.

Brunei ranked 26th in 'green' index
Brunei Online 28 Jan 12;

Brunei Darussalam has been ranked a credible 26th in the world in Environmental Performance Index (EPI) and only second behind Malaysia in the region and fourth in Asia. The environmental performance index was developed in 2002 by Yale University and Columbia University in collaboration with the European Commission and the World Economic Forum.

One-hundred-and-thirty countries were ranked on environmental health, air (effects on human health), water (effects on human health), air (ecosystem effects), water resources (ecosystem effects), biodiversity and habitat, agriculture, forests, fisheries and climate change and energy.

With a score of 62.5, Brunei has been ranked 26th out of 132 countries.

Brunei has been ranked No 1 in air, two in fisheries and three in water resources and 17 in biodiversity and habitat. The rest of the points are: environmental burden of disease - 39, water (effects on human health) - 91, ecosystem vitality - 35, agriculture - 91, air (ecosystem effects) - 79, climate change - 128 and forests - 92.

Brunei has scored high in growing stock (1), indoor air pollution (1), biome protection (1), water use (2), trawling intensity (5), marine protected areas (34) and child mortality (39).

To put Brunei's ranking in perspective, in Asean only Malaysia (25) is higher than the Sultanate. Thailand has been ranked at 34, Philippines 42, Singapore 52 and Indonesia 74.

In Asia, New Zealand tops at 14 and Japan at 23.

The latest EPI rankings reveal a wide range of environmental sustainability results.

Many countries are making progress on at least some of the challenges they face. At the indicator level, the analysis suggests that some issues are being successfully addressed at a worldwide scale, although performance on some other challenges, notably climate change, has declined globally.

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Asean GDP must mirror biodiversity’s worth

Dennis D. Estopace Business Mirror 28 Jan 12;

ECONOMIES this side of Asia may be growing but fail to reflect the value of the resources backstopping such growth and, ironically, what keeps the region unique: its diverse ecosystem.

“Policy-makers should internalize that there is a cost on the impact of export activities in the environment, in the ecosystem, and that’s not sustainable,” said Pushpam Kumar, chief of the Ecosystem Services Economics unit of the United Nations Environment Programme (Unep).

Kumar spoke during the first Southeast Asia Regional Policy Dialogue on the Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity on Friday at a hotel in Makati. It was keynoted by British Ambassador Stephen Lillie.

Organized by the Asean Centre for Biodiversity (ACB) and the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office, results of the dialogue were expected to be echoed to policy-makers in the governments of the attending representatives of Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, and, of course, the Philippines, ACB Executive Director Rodrigo Fuentes said.

Kumar’s presentation emphasized on the inability of Asian countries to evaluate that the growth in gross domestic product (GDP) excludes the poor farmers and fisherfolk who are “most seriously impacted by ecosystem losses.”

According to Kumar, these are 540 million people in the region who are engaged in farming, animal husbandry, informal forestry and fisheries.

Sure, there was GDP growth in the region in the last two decades and, indeed, contributed to the strength of the economies, Kumar said.

“[But] the productive base of the economy continues to be eroded without being reported and accounted. Indicators like GDP are distorted and does not reflect the changes in the level of welfare; growth accounting does not incorporate ESS, leading to erroneous sense of gain and/or losses; and, drivers like trade and investment impacting the ecosystems have far reaching impact for society.”

In Unep’s computation, ecosystem services, or ESS, add “only 7.3 percent” to conventional GDP, but 57 percent to what Kumar said is the “GDP of the poor.”

“The replacement of those ESS is beyond the capacity of the poor: they would need to spend twice their incomes.”

“We are also reviewing climate change and biodiversity action plans, and identifying approaches to integrate TEEB [The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity] and PES [payments for ecosystem services] into such plans,” Fuentes said in his speech at the opening of the dialogue.

“In addition, the project is developing a training module on TEEB and PES for continued capacity building in the Asean region.”

Fuentes explained that the TEEB is a landmark study that assesses the economic impacts associated with losing natural capital.

“The TEEB outlines the cost of policy inaction and finds that under a ‘business as usual’ scenario, an average year’s natural capital loss would lead to a loss of ecosystem services worth around $2 trillion to $4.5 trillion over a 50-year period.”

He added that if economies fail to account for the value of these losses, it “would lead to wrong choices and decisions in addressing sustainable development challenges.”

Fuentes told the BusinessMirror at the sidelines of the dialogue that the representatives would have to go back to their respective governments to lobby for the adoption of policy recommendations raised during the dialogue.

“At the end of the day, it would have to be the governments to decide if they seriously want to pursue a brighter future for all Asians. For the Philippines, it’s high time since we’ve been given several wake-up calls, the latest of which was the tragedy in Cagayan de Oro [and Iligan City].”

He added in Filipino: “We need to wake up those in the LGUs [local government units] that it is not enough to just do politics; the lives of many people are at stake.”

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Philippines struggles to preserve marine biodiversity

Ted P. Torres The Philippine Star 29 Jan 12;

MANILA, Philippines - Eighty-percent of the efforts to save the country’s coral reefs, known worldwide as “the center of the center of the marine shorefish diversity” are still private sector-initiated.

In a presentation at the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) conference yesterday, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) lamented that efforts to restore the biodiversity of the coastal and marine ecosystem are dispersed and uncoordinated.

Government has extensive programs to save the country’s rich biodiversity.

DENR Protected Area and Wildlife Bureau (PAWB) director Dr. Theresa Mundita Lim said that while the efforts are laudable, it is prone to errors that may negate whatever gains were achieved.

“For example, the mangrove species being planted may not be suitable to the specific restoration areas,” Lim said.

Private sector initiatives also to restore the coral reefs were numerous but without coordination with relevant government agencies.

She said that the improper development activities would in fact result to further destruction of the coastal resources.

The DENR official said others have resorted to creating artificial reefs. However, the use of tires, junk, concrete reef balls and the like, are not the proper materials.

Lim said that the country’s coasts and seas have suffered heavy degradation over half a century of destructive practices. In fact, the Philippines is one of the nine countries in the world with high to very high exposure to coral reef threats, but low to medium adaptive capacity.

Studies show that only four percent of the country’s coral reef is healthy. Twenty-seven percent was classified as poor, another 27 percent classified as good, and 42 percent classified as fair. Officials lamented that the trend has not yet been reversed.

Since the coral reefs are the most critical element in the sea and coastal biodiversity, the country’s fish catch have been declining since the early 1980s.

Fish kill in Taal Lake last year and the jellyfish dominance in the fishing nets of fisherfolk in Pangasinan are just a few signs of the negative impact of a deteriorating coastal and marine biosystem.

Meanwhile, DENR data indicate that the areas covered by mangrove forests had declines from 450,000 ha in 1918 to 288,000 ha in 1970. In 1988, it was reduced further to 140,000 ha and down to 138,000 ha in 1993.

Lim said that the downward trend has stopped as government and the private-sector initiated efforts has picked up.

But the positive results of the newly-planted mangrove forest will take decades to make an impact.

UNEP officials said that what must be attained in the near term is to stop the destruction of the coastal and marine biodiversity. “Avoiding more losses is the order of the day, rather than wait for further deterioration,” Jerker Tamelander, UNEP head for coral reef unit, said.

It will cost $2,000 to restore a 13,000 ha coral reef. But it will only amount to P40,000 to manage a marine protected area.

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Major Portion Of Philippines' Only Double Barrier Reef Degraded

Phoebe Jen Indino Manila Bulletin 28 Jan 12;

CEBU CITY, Cebu, Philippines — Due to illegal fishing activities and corals extraction, among other harmful practices within the Danajon seascape, an official from the Coastal Conservation and Education Foundation (CCEF) said a huge portion of the only double barrier reef in the country is vastly degraded.

“About 77 percent of the external portion of the reef is already degraded,” said Rizaller Amolo, CCEF Danajon Bank project director.

Amolo disclosed that if the Danajon bank will be left unprotected, lesser live corals are expected which will result to the decrease of fish population, thus not only affecting fishermen’s income but food security as well.

Danajon, which covers Bohol’s northern coast, extending from mid-Cebu islands to the shores of Southern Leyt, is considered as one of the country’s most important sources for biodiversity and a large breeding area for many species of finfish, shellfish and invertebrates. It is also a critical pathway of the Asian southward bird migratory route.

To highlight such abuses as illegal fishing inflicted on Danajon over the years, the CCEF hosted a three-day summit to come up with a manifesto calling for protection of the critical seascape.

The summit, which started last January 18, was attended by local chief executives and representatives of various concerned sectors that hope to address issues in Danajon, with emphasis on the problem of overfishing, population pressure, and serious degradation of marine habitat in the reef’s system that have caused serious threats to food security, conservation and economic growth in this critical marine eco-region.

Some 19 local governments units from the provinces of Cebu, Leyte, Southern Leyte and Bohol have jurisdiction over this marine habitat and about 28,000 fishermen are directly dependent on Danajon’s marine resources.

Meanwhile, summit participant, Mayor William Jao of Tubigon, Bohol admitted that there is a need for “strong political will” to stop illegal fishing that has caused the serious degradation of said marine habitat.

“A politician unafraid of losing in the next election will play a big role to address such illegal fishing problem,” he said.

Jao said that during his first term of office, he was able to apprehend 90 individuals engaged in illegal fishing activities and confiscated over a hundred pair of compressors used in illegal fishing.

During said summit, the Tubigon mayor also urged other public officials to strictly implement the provisions of Republic Act. 8550 of the Philippine Fisheries Code of 1998 to combat aforesaid problems.

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Accumulating 'microplastic' threat to shores

Mark Kinver BBC News 27 Jan 12;

Microscopic plastic debris from washing clothes is accumulating in the marine environment and could be entering the food chain, a study has warned.

Researchers traced the "microplastic" back to synthetic clothes, which released up to 1,900 tiny fibres per garment every time they were washed.

Earlier research showed plastic smaller than 1mm were being eaten by animals and getting into the food chain.

The findings appeared in the journal Environmental Science and Technology.

"Research we had done before... showed that when we looked at all the bits of plastic in the environment, about 80% was made up from smaller bits of plastic," said co-author Mark Browne, an ecologist now based at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

"This really led us to the idea of what sorts of plastic are there and where did they come from."

Dr Browne, a member of the US-based research network National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis, said the tiny plastic was a concern because evidence showed that it was making its way into the food chain.

"Once the plastics had been eaten, it transferred from [the animals'] stomachs to their circulation system and actually accumulated in their cells," he told BBC News.

In order to identify how widespread the presence of microplastic was on shorelines, the team took samples from 18 beaches around the globe, including the UK, India and Singapore.

"We found that there was no sample from around the world that did not contain pieces of microplastic."

Dr Browne added: "Most of the plastic seemed to be fibrous.

"When we looked at the different types of polymers we were finding, we were finding that polyester, acrylic and polyamides (nylon) were the major ones that we were finding."

The data also showed that the concentration of microplastic was greatest in areas near large urban centres.

In order to test the idea that sewerage discharges were the source of the plastic discharges, the team worked with a local authority in New South Wales, Australia.

"We found exactly the same proportion of plastics," Dr Browne revealed, which led the team to conclude that their suspicions had been correct.

As a result, Dr Browne his colleague Professor Richard Thompson from the University of Plymouth, UK carried out a number of experiments to see what fibres were contained in the water discharge from washing machines.

"We were quite surprised. Some polyester garments released more than 1,900 fibres per garment, per wash," Dr Browne observed.

"It may not sound like an awful lot, but if that is from a single item from a single wash, it shows how things can build up.

"It suggests to us that a large proportion of the fibres we were finding in the environment, in the strongest evidence yet, was derived from the sewerage as a consequence from washing clothes."

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Dolphin, seal deaths plague New England

Jay Lindsay Associated Press MSNBC 28 Jan 12;

BOSTON — Whether they got lost, sick or swam astray chasing food, 77 dolphins that beached on Cape Cod in recent weeks have died, the second time in three months New England has seen a mass of marine mammal deaths.

Now, scientists are trying to figure out why.

They're also researching whether there's any connection to a die-off this fall of 162 harbor seals, whose carcasses were found between northern Massachusetts and Maine.

Scientists later determined the seal deaths were linked to an influenza virus similar to one found in birds but never before seen in seals. In a letter earlier this month, Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry and Rep. William Keating asked Jane Lubchenco, head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, to investigate "any common cause" between the dolphin and seal deaths.

"That is a big question," said Mendy Garron, regional marine mammal stranding coordinator for the National Marine Fisheries Service, part of NOAA. The initial indications are that there is no link, she said, but it's too early for a definitive answer. Necropsies are under way to determine the causes of death, and that can take a few weeks.

The strandings stretch along 25-mile stretch of Cape Cod from Wellfleet, approaching the tip of the cape, south around the curve of Cape Cod Bay to Dennis.

The first was reported in Wellfleet on Jan. 12. Five more reports followed the next day. On Jan. 14, 30 more animals got stuck on Wellfeet and reports remained steady, then trailed off in the past week.

As of Saturday, 63 of the dolphins have been found dead and 11 died later, included at least one that was euthanized. Another 24 were released into the ocean, though three of those have died, said A.J. Cady of the International Fund for Animal Welfare. The group is leading the rescue efforts.
Image: Volunteer monitors breathing of stranded dolphin
Julia Cumes / AP
Patty Walsh, a volunteer with International Fund for Animal Welfare, monitors the breathing of a stranded common dolphin.

The total strandings are unprecedented, and two and half times the annual average of 37 common dolphin strandings over the past 12 years, Cady said.

Wellfleet harbormaster Michael Flanagan said he's seen several pods of more than 100 animals in his 14 years on the job. "But you never really see that many strandings," he said.

The affected dolphins appear to be linked by little besides their species. Their conditions range from healthy to sick, and they aren't all a particular age or sex.

"Nobody really knows for sure yet whether it's one particular thing," Cady said.

There are several possibilities. For instance, the dolphins are social animals, and some could be following a sick fellow animal to shore, researchers theorize. Changes in water temperature are a possible factor leading them into the bay, but it's unclear how.

Some dolphins could be chasing prey into Cape Cod Bay, and essentially getting lost in the geographic features of Cape Cod's inner coastline. For instance, dolphins headed north along the inner Cape's coastline looking for open ocean can get trapped in Wellfleet, which juts out like a tiny hook. Then, the area's quickly receding tides can beach them in local marshes.

Rescuers try to guide lost animals to open water, either by keeping a boat between them and the coastline, or repelling them from land with unpleasant sounds, Cady said.

Once stranded, a dolphin's own weight can damage its organs. Hypothermia and sunburn are also a danger, and Flanagan said seagulls looking for a meal turn savage and pick at the mammal's eyes and organs.

After rescuers reach a dolphin, often through major muck, they quickly assess whether it's strong enough to be moved. If so, workers slip a stretcher underneath and carry the 8-foot-long, 300-pound animals into rescue trailers for a trip to the Cape's outer coastline for release. On the way, scientists perform tests to better assess the health of the animals.

Just a few years ago, it was commonly believed to be too risky to move the stranded animals, Cady said. But, he said, tracking devices placed on some rescued dolphins have shown them moving far from where they were released.

The effort and expense is considerable — the dolphin strandings have cost between $50,000 and $60,000, Cady said. But it's well worth the cost on several levels, he added. Their health tells us about the health of the ocean, which affects everyone, Cady said. It's also simply the humane things to do, he said.

People don't have to be prodded to assist dolphins. Flanagan said he gets "a million" volunteers every time an animal is stranded.

"People can relate to these mammals, because they go and see them at Sea World. ... They can see how intelligent they are," he said. "They're such gentle animals, you can't help but feel sorry for them when they're stranded and they're out of their element and there's nothing you can really do for them."

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