Best of our wild blogs: 3 Feb 12

A friend I meet once a year
from Life's Indulgences

Spring tales
from The annotated budak

Our shores in Pioneer Magazine!
from wild shores of singapore

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Port patrol fleet gets upgrade to tackle oil spills

New boats deployed to tackle oil spills and other emergencies
Straits Times 3 Feb 12;

Each new boat is equipped with 400 litres of oil dispersant, which can be diluted to deal with different types of oil spills, and two 3m-long booms, which are flexible plastic barriers to limit the spread of the spills.

A NEW fleet of six boats, costing $19 million, will now patrol the waters in Singapore's ports and help tackle oil spills and other emergencies.

Commissioned by the Maritime and Port Authority (MPA) and built in Taiwan, they replace another six-craft fleet in use in the past five years.

Mr Lam Yi Young, MPA's chief executive, said at an unveiling ceremony yesterday at Marina South Pier that the upgrade would help the authority 'to meet not just the demands of today but also the demands of tomorrow'.

One of the world's busiest ports, Singapore gets some 130,000 port calls each year and about 1,000 vessels are in the port at any given time.

Last year, the vessel arrival tonnage hit a record 2.12 billion gross tonnes.

MPA's port inspectors patrol the waters around the clock to enforce marine safety and environmental-protection regulations. MPA also coordinates and manages responses to marine incidents in the port.

Each new boat is equipped with 400 litres of oil dispersant, which can be diluted to deal with different types of oil spills, and two 3m-long booms, which are flexible plastic barriers to limit the spread of the spills.

The boats will be deployed as first response units to limit the damage caused by such spills.

Their streamlined hull design also makes the boats more stable and easier to manoeuvre in the water.

Features such as sea charts, radar information, vessel identification markers and echo systems are combined into a single, user-friendly display.

Besides the use of low-emission engines and environmentally friendly paint, the boats also have more comfortable cabins and ergonomic chairs for the crew.

Each boat can carry up to three crew members and 12 passengers.

Mr Lam said the new fleet will help 'to ensure safety of navigation and protection of the marine environment in our port waters'.

The MPA will deploy them for five years, after which it will re-evaluate its needs.


MPA invests S$19m to boost marine security
Dylan Loh Channel NewsAsia 2 Feb 12;

SINGAPORE: The Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) has invested S$19 million to boost marine security.

It goes towards a five-year contract for the use of six new patrol boats.

The boats are being chartered from Tian San Shipping for the duration of the contract.

The boats will help enforce maritime regulations, enhance environment protection and respond to incidents like oil spills.

MPA deputy port master Jolyn Tay said: "The new fleet is equipped with anti-pollution and fire-fighting equipment which is not included in the old fleet of patrol craft.

"This will enable us to have a faster initial response, because previously, we would have to cordon off the area and have another craft to initiate the first response."

MPA chief executive Lam Yi Young said: "The port of Singapore has grown into a global hub port with vessel arrival tonnage hitting a new record of 2.12 billion gross tonnes last year.

"With some 1,000 vessels in our port at any one time, ensuring the safety and security of our port waters is of utmost importance."

The boats are eco-friendly with low-emission engines.

- CNA/wk

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2 February: World Wetlands Day!

IUCN 2 Feb 12;

Every year World Wetlands Day is celebrated on the 2nd of February, marking the day of the adoption of the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, 41 years ago in the Iranian city of Ramsar. This year the theme of World Wetlands Day is ‘Wetland Tourism, A Great Experience’.

Zooming in on the value of responsible tourism in and around wetlands, is a way of increasing awareness on the importance of maintaining the health of wetlands – both for communities who depend on them, but also for visitors who enjoy them. Wetlands and their wildlife are a key part of the global tourism experience. The expenditure from visiting tourists to wetlands can be estimated at around US$ 925 billion each year.

“Wetlands, such as mangroves, peat forests and freshwater swamps, are home to a wealth of biodiversity. Wetlands fulfill vital roles in carbon storage, pollution control and protection from natural hazards such as floods and storms. Millions of people around the world rely on wetlands for livelihoods, as wetlands provide many system services, such as food, fresh water and fuel”, says Mark Smith, Director Global Water Programme.

For example, the Niger delta hosts about 20% of the population in Mali and generates on average 90,000 tonnes of fish catch per year. The lower Mekong delta supports the world's most productive inland fisheries, valued at around USD 3 billion, caught each year. These inland fisheries provide 56 million people with up to 80% of their animal protein intake.

IUCN is increasingly promoting the idea of ‘nature-based solutions’ as part of strategies for tackling the big issues the world faces. Undoubtedly, wetlands are part of the ‘nature-based solutions’ for water supply and sanitation, for food security, climate change adaptation, for a green economy.

“Wetlands tourism though reminds us that people also rely on them for renewal, relaxation and adventure. This reflects the fact that we humans are a wetland species. Many great civilizations have evolved along rivers. It makes sense that we go back to wetlands, ‘to get away from it all’”, said Dr Smith.

On the occasion of this year’s World Wetlands Day, a special celebration took place in the US mission to the United Nations in Geneva. US Ambassador Betty E. King welcomed IUCN Deputy Director-General, Poul Engberg-Pedersen, along with Botswana Ambassador Mothusi Bruce Rabasha Palai, and Ramsar Deputy Director-General Nick Davidson, for presentations and a panel discussion on the role of wetlands tourism. This was followed by an announcement of World Wetlands Day photography winners. More information on the winning entries and the competition can be found here.

Ramsar will hold its CoP11 meeting this July in Bucharest.

Related link
4 Feb (Sat): Celebrate World Wetlands Day at Sungei Buloh on wild shores of singapore.

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Filmmaker sounds alarm over ocean of plastic

Judith Evans (AFP) Google News 2 Feb 12;

HONG KONG — On Midway atoll in the North Pacific, dozens of young albatross lie dead on the sand, their stomachs filled with cigarette lighters, toy soldiers and other small plastic objects their parents have mistaken for food.

That sad and surreal sight, says Hong Kong-based Australian film director Craig Leeson, is one of the many symptoms of a plague afflicting the world's oceans, food chains and human communities: the onslaught of discarded plastic.

"Every piece of plastic ever made since the fifties exists in some shape or form on the planet," Leeson told AFP. "We throw plastic into a bin, it's taken away from us and we never see it again -- but it still comes back at us."

Over the past year, Leeson has been following the menace of plastic from Sardinia to Canada to the Indian Ocean for a film that aims to combine the art of nature documentary with a campaigning quest.

Provisionally called "Away", the film -- backed by David Attenborough and the UK-based Plastic Oceans Foundation -- brings together new research on the spread of plastic with missions by "explorers" such as Ben Fogle to show the diverse effects of plastic trash.

Its message is that while you may throw out your plastic goods, they are never really thrown "away".

Crews under Leeson's direction have so far swum with blue whales, taken a deep-sea submarine to the depths of the Mediterranean and found swirling clumps of plastic trash in the Indian Ocean.

They have used a harpoon-like instrument to take biopsies from whales and dissected a dead Corsican turtle in a Siena laboratory -- "dead turtles are the smelliest things you can imagine", he says. Sea lions are yet to come.

The foundation cites research showing that at least 250 species have ingested or become entangled in plastic in the seas. They put forward plastic ingestion as one of the main causes of "skinny whale syndrome", in which whales are discovered mysteriously starved.

The 250 million tonnes of plastic we discard each year make their way for thousands of miles around the oceans, and Leeson's team -- many of whom have backgrounds in the BBC's Natural History Unit -- are determined to document this in spectacular fashion.

But beyond this, their goal is to show that the environmental damage is systemic, going far beyond a series of water-borne trash heaps.

In fact, Leeson said, the mass of plastic the size of Texas often said to exist in the North Pacific is a myth. Instead, particles of plastic lurk there invisibly, in seemingly clear water.

"If you trawl for it with these special nets that they've developed, you come back with this glutinous mass -- it's microplastics that are in the water along with the plankton," he said.

"The problem is that it's being mistaken for food and being eaten by plankton eaters, who are then eaten by bigger fish, and so it goes on, and it ends up on our dinner tables."

Studies have linked this with health conditions in humans including cancer, diabetes and immune disruption.

And it is not just the plastic itself that enters the food chain, but other man-made substances from sources such as industrial waste that attach themselves to plastics in the water.

The team will be shooting until mid-2012 and will also visit communities living beside rivers that are heavily polluted with plastic to see its more direct effects on human life.

This is not the first high-profile campaign on the subject: Greenpeace, currently researching plastic in the Arctic Ocean, has warned that urgent action is needed to address the sources of plastic waste, and campaign group WWF calls the problem "staggering".

But Leeson hopes the images in his film will jolt viewers out of their complacency about rubbish that apparently disappears into the waste collection system.

"When you see a toy soldier or a lighter that's manufactured in China that ends up in the stomach of an albatross at Midway Point in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, that just shows you how much effect you're having on the environment," he said.

Leeson will not divulge all the findings from new research carried out for the film, but it is clear the message will be an alarming one.

Does he think his team can compete in the busy market for alarming messages, currently dominated by the threat of climate change?

"Clearly climate change is one of the most pressing issues, if not the most pressing issue that we face, because it affects everything we do," Leeson says.

But plastic and emissions are directly linked: plastic is estimated to account for around eight percent of the world's fossil fuel use, half of it in energy consumed during its manufacturing.

The film will question the "disposable lifestyle" behind discarded plastic, but not advocate banning the substance altogether.

It will also look at solutions to the waste mountain, including plastic recycling and biogenesis, in which plastic is reduced back to its core elements while producing energy.

An initial aim, says Leeson, is to persuade consumers and manufacturers to reconsider their use of disposable plastics such as mineral water bottles.

He says responsibility for waste cuts across different environmental issues, including climate.

"Plastic is part of that, but also if we are raising awareness about issues such as plastic then we?re raising awareness about what does actually affect the planet we live on, and I think that?s a good thing," he said.

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Malaysia: One-day waiting period for visit to Royal Belum Forest

P. Chandra Sagaran New Straits Times 3 Feb 12;

New regulations on entry permits to increase number of visitors to Royal Belum Forest

THE number of visitors to the unique Royal Belum Forest is expected to increase following the state government's move to reduce the waiting period for entry permits to a day effective this year compared with between three days and a week previously.

Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Dr Zambry Abdul Kadir said records showed that the number of visitors from foreign countries had gone up by 40 per cent compared with the last three years.

"We still need permits to enter the forest as it borders the Malaysia-Thailand border, which has been categorised as a security zone.

"However, we have reduced the waiting time to only 24 hours now," he said after visiting several new facilities at the Royal Belum Forest here on Wednesday.

In a bid to actively promote and popularise the rainforest haven for flora and fauna, the Perak State Parks Corporation and the Northern Corridor Implementation Authority (NCIA) have implemented various programmes to make the forest a world-renowned destination.

Zambry said the efforts were to complement this year's Visit Perak Year.

He said that the NCIA had drawn up the master plan to promote the forest.

"To date, NCIA has spent RM4.16 million out of RM9.5 million allocated to upgrade facilities, including the jetty and pontoon."

Meanwhile, the weekly state exco meeting, which was held in Banding, also discussed the state's vision to place the forest on the world map, including extending the runway at the airstrip here.

"The present runway is only 450m and we need to extend it to between 700 and 800m to enable DHC-7 aircraft to land. I will raise this with the Defence Ministry.

"With such upgraded facilities, tourists and visitors from Subang, Pangkor and Singapore can fly directly here.

"We are also proposing to Berjaya Air, which currently operates the Subang-Pangkor flights, to extend their services to Grik once the runway is extended."

The 130 million-year-old Royal Belum Forest, which is older than the Amazon Forest, covers some 117,500 hectares, which is almost 90 per cent of the total 132,000 hectares of the Belum Forest Reserve.

Zambry also announced that the state government would organise the Royal Belum World Drum Festival, with the participation of 10 countries, at the forest on Feb 26.

Meanwhile, Malaysian Nature Society (MNS) president Professor Dr Maketab Mohamed said reducing the waiting period was a good step to encourage tourism in the area.

Maketab said the facilities and services in the area, such as accommodation, transport and nature guides, should be developed as well.

He also said MNS was more than willing to help the state government protect the Belum-Temengor Rainforest, which is home to at least 10 Hornbill species, the most that can be found in one rainforest.

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Malaysia: Proboscis monkeys still under threat

Roy Goh New Straits Times 3 Feb 12;

Best method to stabilise the population decrease of the species is to connect pockets of fragmented forests and allow them to continue attracting tourists

THE effort to connect pockets of forests fragmented by agricultural activities needs to be stepped up to increase the population of proboscis monkeys in Sabah.

It has been described as the best method to stabilise the population decrease of the species, which can only be found on the island of Borneo, and allow it to continue attracting tourists from all over the world.

Sabah Wildlife Department director Dr Laurentius Ambu said for over a decade now, there had been many conservation initiatives implemented to reconnect fragmented forests and reforestation projects to boost habitat loss.

Laurentius pointed out, however, that the effort is not enough and more needed to be done, including re-establishment of large strips of riparian forests along rivers and its tributaries where there are large concentrations of proboscis monkeys.

Researchers and conservationists in Sabah, Kalimantan and the United Kingdom have shown that proboscis monkey populations throughout Borneo may experience population decline by becoming highly-fragmented and unstable if nothing is done to stop their habitat degradation and to reconnect isolated populations.

The study, carried out by the Sabah Wildlife Department (SWD), Cardiff University and Danau Girang Field Centre (DGFC), Oxford Brookes University and researchers from Indonesia was recently published in the scientific journal Endangered Species Research.

Co-author of the paper, Dr Benoit Goossens, who is also the DGFC director, revealed that 85 per cent of the 6,000-odd proboscis monkey population in Sabah were found outside fully protected areas.

"Proboscis monkeys are mainly confined to peat and freshwater swamp forests, mangrove forests, and lowland dipterocarp (riverine) forests, habitats which are the most threatened ones in Borneo due to logging and conversion of land for agriculture," he said.

Lead author of the research, Danica Stark of Cardiff University, said in Sabah, the proboscis monkey population in the Lower Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary was used as a benchmark for the study.

"The conservation strategies evaluated in our study were eliminating hunting, eliminating fires, eliminating deforestation, reducing deforestation, implementing reforestation programmes and reconnecting sub-populations.

"Our model used current population surveys and predicted a decrease of about 1,000 individuals within the next 50 years, about 20 individuals per year in the Lower Kinabatangan area and scenarios with the greatest improvement on each population were reconnecting the population through forest corridors," concluded Stark.

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Malaysia: Pangolins in danger of being wiped out

The Star 3 Feb 12;

PETALING JAYA: Pangolins are in danger of serious decline in Malaysia due to the rampant illegal trade of the protected species.

Penang Perhilitan director Jamalun Nasir Ibrahim said this was a big problem in the country.

“We have been carrying extensive enforcement activities and managed to solve two cases last year.

“Two people involved in the first case involving 135 pangolins have been charged and sentenced, while the second case involving 35 pangolins is still pending in court,'' he said.

Traffic South-East Asia deputy regional director Chris Shepherd said there had been many incidents of pangolins being seized in the country or coming out of Malaysia over the last few years.

On the recent arrest of two Malaysian pangolin smugglers in Thailand, he said the authorities must identify the illegal trade chain.

“They should investigate to find out who are behind the illegal trading of pangolins and the middlemen and traders involved.''

Thai media reported that the men were arrested on Monday with 45 pangolins weighing over 100kg stashed under the back seat of their vehicle while passing through southern Thailand's inbound border checkpoint in Sadao district.

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Malaysia: Tapir hunted for its meat?

R.S.N. Murali The Star 3 Feb 12;

MALACCA: An injured Malayan tapir that strayed into a Bukit Katil village here could have been hunted for its meat.

State Housing, Local Government and Environment committee chairman Datuk Mohd Yunos Husin said that based on feedback, unlicensed hunters were often seen entering the secondary jungle surrounding the Kampung Tun Abdul Razak village in search of the endangered species.

“We don't know how many of these endangered species were trapped over the past year but the injured tapir found with its left hind leg severed has prompted us to act,” he said.

Mohd Yunos said he would get the relevant authorities to check if endangered species hunted in forest reserves here were ending up in restaurants serving exotic meats.

On Wednesday, the injured 200kg male tapir caused panic among some 300 village folk when it turned aggressive.

Meanwhile, State Wildlife and National Parks director Abdul Rahim Othman in an e-mail to The Star said the department did not discount the possibility that the tapir was hunted for its meat.

He said the tapir was first spotted in December last year at a jungle fringing Kg Bukit Bayan in Bukit Katil here, an area filled with traps to capture wildboars.

He said the tapir could have strayed from its natural habitat at Asahan Forest Reserve, some 40km away from where it was rescued.

Related link
Malaysia: Tapir captured after two hours New Straits Times 2 Feb 12;

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Malaysia: Second bribery bid foiled in relation to mangrove thefts

The Star 3 Feb 12;

BARELY a month after an individual was caught for allegedly trying to bribe the Selangor Forestry Department enforcement assistant director Mohd Yussainy Md Yusop for mangrove thefts, another businessman has been arrested for a similar offence.

Last week, the authorities nabbed the businessman who had offered a bribe of RM42,200 to both the Forestry Department officer and Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA).

The bribe was an inducement to release the seized logs.

In the raid, the Forestry Department, MMEA and the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission seized eight Indonesian-registered boats ferrying 11,166 logs, estimated to be worth RM110,000 and detained 34 people.

Two weeks ago, a suspected mastermind had approached Yussainy and asked if he would accept RM3,000 to release some 110 cut mangrove logs (3.5m to 4m long), a wooden boat, a boat engine and a barrel of fuel that were seized during a raid off Pulau Klang Forest Reserve and Telok Gong Forest Reserve.

Yussainy said they would go all out to stop the stealing of mangrove logs in Port Klang and the surrounding islands.

“About 5.82 million trees were felled over the last 10 years causing a huge damage to the environment and fishing grounds.

“Today, the islands in Selangor and the coastal areas are starting to recover but these thieves continue to cut the trees.

As a result, trees are being felled more than they are planted,” he said.

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Indonesia: Rare Sumatran rhino pregnancy offers hope to species

(AFP) Google News 2 Feb 12;

JAKARTA — A Sumatran rhino which is 10-months pregnant is receiving special medical care after suffering two miscarriages, a conservationist said Thursday, fuelling hope for the critically-endangered species.

The nine-year old rhino, named Ratu, is expected to give birth in July to only the fourth Sumatran rhino born in captivity and the first in Indonesia.

Her partner Andalas, born in the United States in 2001, was the first Sumatran rhino born in captivity in over 112 years.

"We have given her special hormone treatments to lessen the risk of miscarriage. Thank God, it is working well and we hope she'll have a successful birth," Widodo Ramono from the Rhino Foundation of Indonesia told AFP.

"It will be the first Sumatran rhino born in captivity in Indonesia," Ramono added.

The two-horned, hairy, forest-dwelling Sumatran rhinoceros is one of the most endangered mammals in the world, with only about 200 remaining in the wild -- about 180 in Indonesia and the rest in Malaysia.

Ratu and Andalas were paired in 2009 at a sanctuary in Way Kambas national park in Lampung, South Sumatra province, two years after Andalas was brought from the Cincinnati zoo for a breeding programme.

Poaching is one of the biggest killers of Sumatran rhinos, whose numbers have dropped more than 50 percent over the last 15 years. Their horns are reputed to have medicinal properties.

Andalas is the only remaining male Sumatran rhino at Way Kambas since Torgamba, another male, died last year. The sanctuary has three female Sumatran rhinos.

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Philippines: Living with sea turtles

Orlando A. Maliwanag Inquirer 2 Feb 12;

In 2011, a record-breaking 1.44 million green sea turtle (Chelonia mydas) eggs were laid on Baguan Island in the Philippine Turtle Islands. A good sign for sea turtles, to be sure — but what does it mean for the 6,000 impoverished human residents who share these islands with the turtles?

The Turtle Islands is a municipality of six small islands in the province of Tawi-Tawi in western Mindanao. For many people, the word “Mindanao” brings to mind stories of bombings and military-rebel encounters, kidnappings and the never-ending secessionist war being waged by various Muslim groups — including the dreaded Al-Qaeda affiliated Abu Sayyaf. In fact, most parts of Mindanao seem to be permanently included in the travel advisories of almost all foreign governments.

Many of the Turtle Islands’ current residents fled mainland Mindanao to escape these conflicts and find peace. Although the islands are part of the Turtle Island Heritage Protected Area — a sanctuary for sea turtles that is jointly managed by the Philippines and Malaysia — these refugees displaced the turtles from their nesting beaches, and communities harvested eggs for trade on the neighboring Malaysian-held island of Sabah.

For many years, the Turtle Islands were a free-for-all for local and foreign turtle and egg poachers, illegal foreign trawl fishers, and locals using destructive fishing methods like dynamite and cyanide fishing. Since the islands are far from the center of political and administrative power, the area was devoid of even basic government services and support, and implementation of the laws was more of an exemption than the rule. A local resident jokingly described the Turtle Islands as “a place of 6,000 people and 12,000 guns.”

These were just a few of the challenges that previous conservation efforts in the Turtle Islands have had to deal with over the years, and this was the backdrop when Conservation International (CI) began working there in 2007. The situation was so complex that when I first set foot on the islands in 2008, I thought, “This place is one of our conservation sites? Is my boss crazy?”

The following years proved to be very challenging in reinstituting turtle and marine conservation measures in the Turtle Islands. Long neglected by the government, the community had low regard for conservation and governance. Many people initially viewed conservation as a threat to their sources of food and income.

However, people are beginning to realize that it is possible for sea turtles and humans to co-exist here, and the situation is improving. In order to convince communities that sea turtle conservation is in their best interest, we are engaging stakeholders in dialogues and consultations, helping them rediscover the traditional cultural values of these turtles and emphasizing that their help is essential to save the turtles from extinction.

CI is also supporting alternative sources of income in communities, providing small fishers with startup capital to free them from taking high-interest loans; women with small convenience stores and equipment and materials for traditional mat-weaving; and the youth group with tools and materials for printing shirts and making handicrafts from recycled plastic and driftwood.

In order to make the Turtle Islands a true haven for turtles and people alike, there is still a lot of work to be done. One major challenge continues to be adequate law enforcement. Since there is no court in the Turtle Islands (the nearest is in the Tawi-Tawi capital town of Bonggao, 16 to 18 hours travel by boat), apprehended violators in the 12,036-hectare (29,741-acre) Baguan Island strict protection zone are not currently being sent to jail. Instead, they are only given warnings and made to do community service, such as cleaning the beaches of driftwood and garbage blocking the nesting areas. These are some of the realities that characterize law enforcement in a remote yet resource-rich area such as the Turtle Islands, even though we have helped achieve some progress by assisting in delineating the Baguan Island strict protection zone and facilitating the policy that allowed the deployment of Philippine Marines and Coast Guard to the area.

As shown by the initial results of our work, we seem to be on the right path. Last year’s 28-year record high of turtle nesting in Baguan is a source of pride for us at CI, our partners, and most especially the community in the Turtle Islands.

In retrospect, by choosing Turtle Islands as one of our conservation sites, I’ve realized that my boss was not that crazy after all.

Orlando Maliwanag is the sea turtle corridor coordinator for Conservation International-Philippines. He is based in the Turtle Islands for six months every year to coordinate CI’s program in the field. This blog originally appeared in Conservations International blog.

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