Best of our wild blogs: 2 Mar 12

Prosperity Froggie
from Macro Photography in Singapore

Juvenile Javan Myna Sips Water From Leaves & Enjoys A Water Bath
from Bird Ecology Study Group

Celebrate Earth Hour at Orchard Road on 31 Mar 2012: 8.30pm
from Otterman speaks

The Science of Tree Shade
from EcoWalkthetalk

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Sustainable population 'most critical' issue

Andrea Ong Straits Times 2 Mar 12;

THE Government is studying ways to develop a strategy that will produce a sustainable population which will ensure the country thrives as well as meets its people's aspirations in the future.

Coming up with the strategy is the 'most critical' issue Singapore faces in the long run, and it is important for the Government and people to come to a shared understanding of how to tackle the challenge, said Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean yesterday.

The outcome of the study will be made known by the end of the year when it is presented in a White Paper in Parliament.

In announcing it, DPM Teo said the study will be spearheaded by the National Population and Talent Division, which falls under his charge in the Prime Minister's Office (PMO). He was speaking during the debate on the PMO's budget.

The division is 'comprehensively examining' the nation's population goals and policies, he said. It will also discuss related issues via dialogues and online channels with other agencies, stakeholders and the public.

These issues, which include topics like the size and make-up of the population, will have an impact on how the Government plans its land use and infrastructure, said DPM Teo.

The results of its work will be incorporated into the White Paper. He said: 'Through this process, we hope to bring to light issues that are important to Singapore and Singaporeans, and develop a shared understanding of our strategies to build a sustainable population that secures Singapore's future.'

Four MPs, including Dr Lim Wee Kiak (Nee Soon GRC) and Mr Pritam Singh (Aljunied GRC), had asked for the Government's population parameters for planning purposes.

DPM Teo assured the House that Singaporeans' views, aspirations and concerns would be considered in developing a population strategy.

The strategy would maintain Singapore's vitality, strengthen its harmonious multi-ethnic society, and 'enable Singaporeans to achieve their life aspirations'.

He also had good news for those worried about the twin woes of low total fertility rate (TFR) and the foreigner influx.

Slightly more babies were born to Singapore citizens last year compared to in 2010. With 30,922 babies against 30,131 babies in 2010, the TFR rose to 1.2 from a historic low of 1.15 in 2010.

The low number of new citizens last year was partly because the citizenship application process was changed.

Would-be citizens have to go through a compulsory orientation programme before the process is complete. Hence, 4,000 who got in-principle approval for citizenship late last year will get their pink identity card this year.

The pool of new permanent residents last year was also the smallest in five years: 27,521 were made permanent residents, around 6 per cent less than in 2010.

However, DPM Teo cautioned that Singapore is at a 'demographic turning point' this year, when the first cohort of post-war baby boomers starts turning 65. This marks the start of an 'unprecedented age shift', with more than 900,000 set to retire from now to 2030.

He painted a dire picture of Singapore's future if birth rates stay at today's low levels and there is no immigration. The workforce will shrink and there will be less support for a growing elderly pool.

But DPM Teo remained optimistic: 'While we face serious demographic challenges and difficult trade-offs in managing population growth, Singapore has a good foundation on which we can build our future.'



Number of babies born to Singaporeans, nearly 3 per cent more than in 2010.


Number of new citizens, lowest in five years.


Number of new permanent residents, lowest in five years.

If the birth rate remains constant and immigration stops, the median age of citizens will rise from 39 in 2010, to 47 in 2030, and 53 in 2050.

By 2030, fewer young citizens will enter the workforce - about half the number of elderly people leaving the workforce.

Singapore's population at "demographic turning point": DPM Teo
Imelda Saad Channel NewsAsia 1 Mar 12;

SINGAPORE: The Singapore government is taking a comprehensive look at its population policies in view of the country's changing demographics.

Even as it does this, it is introducing measures to better help parents with the cost of raising a child and helping foreign spouses sink their roots here.

Speaking in Parliament during the Committee of Supply Debate for the Prime Minister's Office, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean announced enhancements to the Child Development Account.

Under the scheme introduced in 2001, parents set up a deposit account for their child.

The government matches the deposit one-for-one, up to a cap of S$18,000 per child, depending on the child's birth order.

The money can be used for the developmental needs of the child, up to age six, in areas such as child care, kindergarten and health care.

The enhanced scheme will expand the scope of this account to cover expenses at pharmacies, opticians as well as assistive technology devices for children with disabilities.

The account will also last the child up till the age of 12.

The changes will be implemented in the second half of this year.

Another announcement - the introduction of a Long Term Visit Pass Plus (LTVP+) for foreign spouses of Singaporeans, especially those with Singapore children.

The new pass will be introduced from April 1, 2012.

Currently, most foreign spouses who have yet to be granted Permanent Residency or citizenship, qualify for a Long Term Visit Pass.

Under the new Long Term Visit Pass Plus, they will have greater certainty of stay.

The new pass will last for three years in the first instance and up to five years for each subsequent renewal, instead of the current shorter periods of typically one year.

Holders of the new pass will also receive health care subsidies for inpatient treatment at public hospitals, pegged at a level close to that for PRs.

That is, about the same rate as PRs even though they have not yet been granted PR status.

Holders of the Long Term Visit Pass Plus will also find it easier to work to supplement the family income.

They need only get a Letter of Consent from the Manpower Ministry to work.

This can be obtained easily online.

To qualify for the new pass, factors such as the length of marriage and whether there are citizen children in the family will be considered.

Even as Mr Teo announced new initiatives, he stressed on the need for Singapore to attract new immigrants.

He described 2012 as a "demographic turning point" for Singapore.

That's because the first cohort of post-war Baby Boomers, that is those born between 1947 and 1965, will start turning 65 from this year.

So Mr Teo said, from now till 2030, Singapore will experience an "unprecedented age shift, as over 900,000 Baby Boomers, more than a quarter of the current citizen population, retire from the workforce and enter their silver years.

Mr Teo said at the current birth rates and without immigration, more than 1 in 4 citizens will be aged 65 and over in 2030.

The median age of Singapore citizens will rise to 47 from 39 today.

And to 53, post 2030.

Fewer working adults will also support citizens aged 65 and above.

While those entering the working-age pool will shrink.

"Without immigration, we will face a shrinking workforce and the prospect of a shrinking economy. This challenging situation is compounded by the need to support a significantly larger elderly population at the same time," said Mr Teo.

Mr Teo said the most critical long term issue is to "develop a sustainable population strategy that will maintain the vitality of Singapore, strengthen our harmonious multi-ethnic society, and enable Singaporeans to achieve their life aspirations".

To this end, the National Population and Talent Division will release a White Paper by the end of the year, setting out the issues important to Singaporeans and strategies for a sustainable population.

The division will consult various stakeholders over the course of the year.

- CNA/cc/fa

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Hong Kong airline bans dolphin cargo: activists

(AFP) Google News 1 Mar 12;

HONG KONG — A Hong Kong airline has promised to stop transporting live dolphins after coming under heavy criticism from animal welfare activists, conservationists said Wednesday.

More than 6,500 people have signed an online petition urging Hong Kong Airlines to stop the business, revealed when an internal memo about a recent delivery from Japan to Vietnam was leaked to Chinese media.

"Hong Kong Airlines wishes to convey that it is a responsible member of the transport industry caring for the future and environment," the airline said in a letter to animal welfare groups dated Wednesday.

"Since it is believed that transportation of this nature can result in endangering wildlife elsewhere, Hong Kong Airlines will immediately ban shipments of this kind," the letter stated.

A copy of the letter was posted on US-based conservation group Sea Shepherd Conservation Society website. Representatives from the group have written to the airline denouncing the dolphin shipment.

Hong Kong Airlines in an emailed reply to AFP declined to comment.

"This action should send a message to all airlines that the consequences of transporting dolphins will result in such global negative publicity as to affect a loss of business that will far outweigh any short-term financial gain from the transfers," Sea Shepherd Hong Kong coordinator Gary Stokes said.

The airline has said it complied with government rules and the International Air Transport Association regulations on live animal transportation during the January 16 delivery of the five dolphins from Osaka to Hanoi.

The dolphins are believed to have come from the Japanese town of Taiji, the scene of an annual dolphin slaughter depicted in Oscar Award winning documentary "The Cove", said China Daily, which first reported on the delivery.

The leaked memo said the flight earned HK$850,000 ($110,000) in cargo revenue. The China Daily report included a photograph of the dolphins lying in shallow, narrow containers inside the belly of a Boeing 733F cargo plane.

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Malaysia: 50 pangolins en route to Laos seized

New Straits Times 2 Mar 12;

SEPANG: Customs Department officers rescued 50 pangolins from being smuggled out to Laos at Kuala Lumpur International Airport early yesterday.

The protected mammals worth about RM57,500 were found sealed in 25 boxes which were on transit to Vientiane, the capital of Laos, during an inspection at 2am.

Customs deputy director-general (enforcement) Datuk Zainul Abidin Taib said the consignment which was sent from Penang was tagged as boxes containing live crabs, but after further checks on the boxes, they were found to be packed with pangolins.

"One of the boxes had a hole in it and when my officer inspected the box, he noticed that it contained pangolins and not live crabs," he said.

Zainul said the mammals could fetch around RM250 per kilogramme in the black market.

He said the endangered species would be handed to the Wildlife Department for further action once investigations into the falsely declared items were completed.

Pangolins are among the most illegally traded animals in Southeast Asia.

The mammals are covered in tough, overlapping scales. These burrowing mammals eat ants and termites using an extraordinarily long, sticky tongue and are able to quickly roll themselves up into a tight ball when threatened.

Eight different pangolin species can be found across Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.

Poaching for illegal wildlife trade and habitat loss have made these creatures one of the most endangered groups of mammals in the world.

Smuggling bid exposed
Simon Khoo The Star 2 Mar 12;

SEPANG: A trapped pangolin which punctured a hole in a storage box in its bid to escape exposed the attempt to smuggle out the animals at a warehouse at the KL International Airport here.

Customs officers, upon seeing the puncture, inspected the box, one of 25 that was declared to contain live crabs, and was surprised to see two pangolins tied in it.

There were similar pairs of pangolins in all the other boxes as well.

Customs assistant director-general (Enforcement) Datuk Zainul Abidin Taib said yesterday that their checks found the protected species were bound for Vientiane, Laos, from Penang.

He said a pangolin is worth about RM1,150 in the black market and the consignment of 50 pangolins could fetch RM57,500.

“If nothing is done to safeguard its existence, it may be extinct due to poaching activities,” he said, adding that it was the first success by the department this year to stop the smuggling out of protected animals.

Zainul Abidin said the case would be investigated under the Wildlife Protection Act 1972, adding that they would trace the owners and others responsible for the transshipment.

Once investigations are completed, the pangolins would be handed over to the Wildlife Protection and National Parks Department for the next course of action.

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Malaysia: Raptors begin annual migration

New Straits Times 2 Mar 12;

MALACCA: Bird-watching enthusiasts will converge on Port Dickson in a little over a week from now for the annual Raptor Watch, but they are likely to meet fewer of their feathery "friends".

The number of raptors spotted during their annual crossing over the Straits of Malacca has seen a decrease over the years, mainly due to habitat loss and environmental changes, such as global warming.

From the hundreds of thousands during the Raptor Watch, one of the biggest bird-watching events in the region, from Tanjung Tuan, Port Dickson, in the 1960s, the migratory birds now number in the tens of thousands.

In 2010, counters spotted more than 73,000 raptors, and the following year saw the number drop to 57,000. It is anyone's guess just how many will be seen during this year's Raptor Watch on March 10 and 11.

Malaysian Nature Society communications head, Andrew Sebastian, said it was important to note that raptors exist at the top of many food chains and as such, they were especially sensitive to any changes in the ecosystem structure.

"These birds of prey are good indicators of the health of the environment and food chain. For example, the decline in the population of the Brahminy Kite has been linked to the disappearance of the mangrove habitat in Indonesia. By monitoring raptor populations, we can keep an eye on the state of our environment and prevent it from reaching critical conditions."

Sebastian said MSN was also worried about the protection of equally important areas for raptors in neighbouring countries.

"Pulau Rupat, which is where the raptors will launch from Sumatra before heading to Tanjung Tuan, has had some of its forest cleared for plantations. This is a cause for worry, as the development could interrupt the usual route of the raptors," he said.

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Paper giant 'pulping protected Indonesian trees'

Presi Mandari AFP Yahoo News 1 Mar 12;

Environmental group Greenpeace accused one of the world's biggest paper companies Thursday of illegally logging internationally protected trees on Indonesia's lush Sumatra island.

A year-long undercover investigation by activists on two million hectares of land belonging to Asia Pulp & Paper (APP) in Riau province found that ramin trees classified as vulnerable were being fed to the company's main mill.

"We caught Asia Pulp & Paper red-handed. An investigation shows its main pulp mill is regularly riddled with protected ramin," Greenpeace Southeast Asia forest campaigner Bustar Maitar said.

Greenpeace filmed operations at the company's mill several times over the year and documented ramin timber being pulped alongside other species.

The activists said they took 56 wood samples from the mill to be tested at a laboratory, which found 46 to be protected ramin.

Ramin is the name given to several subspecies of tropical hardwood trees that are found in carbon-rich peatland and swampland in Malaysia and Indonesia.

It is traded primarily to make furniture and items like picture frames and pool cues.

The Indonesian government banned ramin exploitation in 2001 while the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), which regulates the international trade in species threatened through trade, listed it as vulnerable in 2004.

APP said it had launched an internal investigation to verify the veracity of Greenpeace's allegations.

"We take very seriously any evidence of violation of the regulations concerning the protection of endangered tree species. APP will now study the allegations very closely," a statement received by AFP said.

Greenpeace urged companies such as Xerox, Danone and National Geographic to stop using APP's paper in their products.

The environmental group has in recent years waged highly successful campaigns against APP, prompting more than a dozen major international companies, such as Barbie-maker Mattel, KFC and Walmart, to drop paper packaging contracts with APP.

Deforestation accounts for 70 percent of carbon emissions in Indonesia, the world's third-biggest emitter, according to UN data.

The government in May implemented a two-year ban on issuing new permits to clear primary forests and peatland in a carbon-cutting deal backed with $1 billion from Norway.

The country has pledged to cut emissions by 26 percent from 2009 levels -- or 41 percent with international help -- by 2020.

Indonesia's tiger habitat pulped for paper, investigation shows
Greenpeace evidence reveals threatened trees have been chopped down and sent to factories to be pulped
Fiona Harvey The Guardian 1 Mar 12;

The habitat of the endangered Sumatran tiger is being rapidly destroyed in order to make tissues and paper packaging for consumer products in the west, new research from Greenpeace shows.

A year-long investigation by the campaigning group has uncovered clear evidence, independently verified, that appears to show that ramin trees from the Indonesian rainforest have been chopped down and sent to factories to be pulped and turned into paper. The name ramin refers to a collection of endangered trees growing in peat swamps in Indonesia where the small number of remaining Sumatran tigers hunt.

Chopping down these trees is illegal under Indonesian law dating back to 2001, because of their status as an endangered plant species. But Greenpeace alleges that its researchers found ramin logs being prepared to be transported for pulping. The company tested logs in lumber yards belonging to the paper giant Asian Pulp and Paper, on nine separate occasions over the course of a year, and sent them to an independent lab to be tested. Out of 59 samples, 46 tested positive as ramin logs.

Asian Pulp and Paper denied wrongdoing. The company said in a statement: "Asia Pulp & Paper group (APP) maintains a strict zero-tolerance policy for illegal wood entering the supply chain and has comprehensive chain of custody systems to ensure that only legal wood enters its pulp mill operations. APP's chain of custody systems are independently audited on a periodic basis. This ensures that we only receive legal pulpwood from areas under legal license that have passed all necessary ecological and social assessments.

"APP's chain of custody system traces the origin of raw material, evaluates its legal and environmental status, to minimise the risk of contamination and to ensure that endangered species are protected – in accordance with the laws of Indonesia."

The same hardwoods that grow in the Sumatran peat swamps where the tiger lives have also been independently verified to exist in paper products found on supermarket shelves, including photocopying paper, packaging for consumer products such as tissue paper.

Because the amounts of this pulp found in the paper samples are so small, it is impossible to say that they also contain ramin. However, independent lab tests confirmed the presence of "mixed tropical hardwoods" in paper samples from a wide variety of consumer outlets in the west. This shows that valuable rainforest trees are being turned into everyday items bought by unsuspecting consumers.

These fibres are highly likely to come from the same log yards examined by Greenpeace, because once pulped these rainforest trees are widely disseminated to packaging suppliers.

Greenpeace said the links showed that APP should submit to more independent auditing. John Sauven, director of Greenpeace UK, told the Guardian: "We are really hoping for a positive response from APP. We want to see an end to the destruction of this incredibly important habitat."

Greenpeace's researchers visited APP lumber yards on nine occasions over the course of a year. Each time, they took samples of logs they suspected could be ramin, and recorded the sample-taking on video. They also recorded their exact location via GPS, and bagged the samples in tamper-proof containers. These were then sent to an independent laboratory in Germany where they were tested and most of them found to be ramin.

The same German laboratory also found significant levels of mixed tropical hardwood in consumer products from various companies, which Greenpeace believes came from the same forests.

APP's statement continued: "A recent independent report confirmed that no protected tree species are entering our supply chain. However, APP accepts that no system in the world, no matter how rigorous, is 100% failsafe. We welcome the recent report from Greenpeace International and will study it carefully – to ensure that we identify and act on any weaknesses in our chain of custody systems. It is APP's desire to work with Greenpeace and other like-minded NGOs to improve our responsible sourcing policies and practices."

The company did not provide further details of its audits.

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Sarawak denies NGO's rapid deforestation claim

New Straits Times 2 Mar 12;

KUCHING: State Assistant Minister for Environment Datuk Len Talif questioned a Dutch non-governmental organisation's "satellite imagery study" that showed that Malaysia was destroying forests more than three times faster than all of Asia combined and Sarawak was stripping its carbon-rich peat soils "even faster".

"If we are clearing our forested areas at the rate of two per cent a year as claimed, by the year 2020, we would have no forests left.

"We have been involved in logging (and forest clearing for agriculture) for the last 50 to 100 years, yet we still have our forests.

"Eighty-four per cent of Sarawak is still covered by forests by the FAO (The Food and Agriculture Organisation) definition," Len said yesterday.

Len was commenting on a Wetlands International study which claimed Sarawak was uprooting an average two per cent of its rain forests a year or nearly 10 per cent over the last five years.

The Dutch NGO's report claimed "total deforestation in Sarawak is 3.5 times as much as that of entire Asia, while deforestation of peat swamp forests is 11.7 times as much".

The study was carried out by SarVision, a satellite monitoring and mapping company that originated with scientists at Wageningen University in the Netherlands.

Satellite images show Malaysia deforestation faster than all of Asia
Yong Yen Nie Asian Correspondent 21 Feb 12;

AN article appearing on a US-based Internet newspaper claims that Malaysia is destroying its forests three times faster than all Asia combined, for palm oil plantations.

According to The Huffington Post, a report commissioned by the Netherlands-based Wetlands International said Malaysia is uprooting an average of 2% of its rainforests in Sarawak every year, its largest state located on the island of Borneo, or nearly 10% in the past five years.

On the other hand, the deforestation rate of Asia during the similar period was 2.8%. The deforestation was seen via satellite images by SarVision, a satellite monitoring and mapping company that originated with scientists at Wageningen University in the Netherlands.

“Total deforestation in Sarawak is 3.5 times as much as that for entire Asia, while deforestation of peat swamp forest is 11.7 times as much,” the Wetlands International report is quoted as saying.

It said in the last five years, 353,000 hectares of Malaysia’s peatlands were deforested, comprising of one-third of swamps that are important to the ecosystem by storing carbon from decomposed plants for millions of years and habitat to endangered plant and animal species.

Malaysia is among the world’s top producers of palm oil. Sarawak Report, a website on Sarawak politics, had accused its chief minister, Taib Mahmud, of grabbing land almost three times the size of Singapore from natives for timber and palm-oil producing.

The Rape of Sarawak
Asian Sentinel 22 Feb 12;

Environmental organization says Malaysia is destroying its rainforest, particularly in Sarawak, at a frantic pace

A Netherlands-based environmental organization, Wetlands International, is charging in a new report that Malaysia is destroying its tropical rainforest at a rate three times faster than the rest of Asia combined, particularly in the East Malaysian state of Sarawak, with the expectation that “expansion of oil palm plantations may lead to the complete loss of these vast, unique forests by the end of this decade.”

Sarawak’s chief minister, Abdul Taib Mahmud, has come in for international criticism on charges that he has sold off vast tracts of the state to international loggers to enrich his family. The Taib family has interests believed to be in the billions in Canada, the United States, Australia and the United Kingdom as well as in scores of companies in Malaysia, according to The Sarawak Report, a UK-based NGO.

Malaysia has been largely shielded from criticism by the world’s environmental organizations, who have concentrated their firepower on Indonesia. However according to the report, “Official government figures state that only 8 to -13 percent of Malaysia’s palm oil plantations were situated on carbon rich peat soils; 20 percent for Sarawak. Two studies; one conducted by global environmental organization Wetlands International and one by the remote sensing institute Sarvision show that a rapidly increasing proportion of Malaysian palm oil is produced on peat lands, leading to deforestation and degradation of organic soils. Wetlands International and Sarvision used satellite images combined with existing data and field surveys to complete the picture.

The new studies conclude that 20 percent of all Malaysian palm oil is produced on drained peat lands, with 44 percent produced on drained peat lands in Sarawak. “For recently established plantations, the percentage on forested peat swamps is even higher. “

According to the Wetlands International report, Malaysia is responsible for 45 percent of global palm oil production. The new plantations in Malaysia are almost all established in the State of Sarawak, the report indicated. Two thirds of the state’s peat lands were until recently covered by thick, biodiversity-rich rainforest.

“Between 2005-2010 almost 353,000 hectares of the 1 million hectare peat swamp forests were opened up at high speed; largely for palm oil production,” the report notes. “In just five years’ time, almost 10 percent of all Sarawak’s forests and 33 percent of the peat swamp forests have been cleared. Of this, 65 percent was for conversion to palm oil production.”

Marcel Silvius, the program head of Wetlands International, said that as the rainforest has fallen to the axe for timber extraction, the timber companies are replanting the area with oil palm, “completing the annihilation of Sarawak’s peat swamp forests.”

Malaysia has never provided verifiable information on land use in relation to soil type or deforestation, the report notes.

Niels Wielaard of Sarvision said the new report “is the first time that detailed and verified figures on deforestation and peat swamp conversion have come available for Sarawak. Free availability of satellite imagery and tools such as Google Earth are revolutionizing forest monitoring.”

Loss of unique species

Malaysia’s peat swamp forests, the report notes, are home to many endangered and endemic species and subspecies including enigmatic species such as the Borneo Pygmy elephant, the Sumatran Rhino, the Bornean Clouded Leopard, the Malayan Tapir and the Proboscis Monkey as well as lesser known endangered species such as the Storm’s Stork, False Gharial and the Painted terrapin

“The peat swamp forests of north Borneo represent a unique vegetation type characterized by the Alan tree as well as the valuable but endangered timber species,” the report notes. “This forest type has been wiped out in Sarawak and the only remaining examples now remain in Brunei. The peat swamp forests have not been intensively studied, and many undiscovered species are feared to have been lost.

Malaysia’s original peat land forests totaled some 2.5 million ha. Conversion and drainage of these natural carbon stores has causes rapid decomposition and subsidence of the organic soil leading to huge carbon dioxide emissions, lasting for decades, the report notes.

“Very cautious and conservative estimates put greenhouse gas emissions from palm oil plantations on peat at 40 metric tons of CO2 per hectare per year, the report says. “Using this very conservative estimation, the 510,000 ha of peat lands in Malaysia drained for palm oil production thus cause the release of some 20 million tons of/CO2 annually. However, twice this amount is more likely.

The rapid expansion of oil palm plantations is a result of the global increase in demand for vegetable oil for food and for a large part also for biofuels.

“European targets to increase the use of biodiesel are causing a rapid increase of the global demands for vegetable oil crops. This growth in demand leads to a massive (indirect) land use change; especially in Southeast Asia, including in carbon rich peat swamp forests. The conversion of these areas increases greenhouse gas emissions and thus fuels climate change. Biodiesel use that does not prevent these indirect land use impacts is far from sustainable and may cause much larger emissions than the use of fossil fuel diesels.”

Call for action

“The production of palm oil is welcome only if expansion can be done in a sustainable way. Wetlands International calls for a complete ban of palm oil production on peat lands and for a halt on further conversion of natural areas for this crop. Instead development should focus on the millions of hectares of degraded (non-peat) areas in South-east Asia. Companies that use palm oil should demand for this. In addition, Wetlands International calls for an end to incentives for biofuels in the EU that result in direct and indirect land use change like we now see in Malaysia.”

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Australian birds face grim future

The University of Queensland Science Alert 2 Mar 12;

A newly published study shows Australians must work with international partners if they are to save all of Australia's birds.

The joint study by The University of Queensland (UQ), Charles Darwin University and BirdLife Australia shows that the status of Australian birds was declining faster than elsewhere in the world.

The Australian Research Council funded study, which was published in the journal Biological Conservation, reports on changes in the Red List Index for all Australian species and subspecies of birds since 1990.

The Index is used by the world's governments to assess performance under the Convention on Biological Diversity and the United Nations Millennium Development Goals.

One of the paper's authors and UQ School of Biological Sciences researcher, Professor Hugh Possingham, says the new study is the first time the Index has been applied at a national level.

“The Red List Index can be considered the Dow Jones index of birds,” Professor Possingham said.

“It is important that we track it so that we can determine the impact of past and future policies on Australia's biodiversity, an asset that generates billions of dollars a year for the economy.”

Charles Darwin University (CDU) Research Fellow Dr Judit Szabo said research showed that the status of Australian birds was declining faster than elsewhere in the world.

“The main reason is a rapid decline in migratory shorebirds coming here from Asia and ongoing threats to oceanic seabirds,” Dr Szabo said.

Developer of the Red List Index, BirdLife International's Dr Stuart Butchart said that the status of birds in Australia would have been much worse if it weren't for the work being done to prevent extinctions.

“Nearly 30 species are better off than they would have been if it weren't for effective investment of time and money into threatened species conservation,” Dr Butchart said.

“The analysis shows that targeted investment can produce measurable improvement.”

The analysis also compared States and Territories. While the Index has declined in all jurisdictions, the Australian Capital Territory has the best score and Tasmania the worst. Tasmania is also the place where bird status is declining fastest.

CDU's Dr Szabo said that Island species, even those on islands as big as Tasmania, are always worse off than mainland species.

“Small oceanic islands have been the hardest hit,” she said.

“However these are also areas where investments can really pay off – a big rat and rabbit eradication program on Macquarie Island could even turn the Red List Index around next time we calculate it.”

The biggest causes of decline in Australian birds have been invasive species, like rats and cats, and changes in fire regime. Overseas the losses have been caused by ongoing coastal development in Asia and deep sea fishing.

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Thais accused of dam deceit

Mary Kozlovski Phnom Penh Post 1 Mar 12;

The Thai government is defying a regio-nal decision-making process by proceeding with the implementation of a controversial US$3.8 billion hydropower dam project in northern Laos, an environmental group said yesterday.

“Recent oversight hearings by the Thai Senate and the National Human Rights Commission confirm that the government has joined Laos in concluding that the regional process is complete, thereby allowing Thai developer Ch. Karnchang to proceed with construction,” International Rivers said in a statement.

In April, at a meeting of the Mekong River Commission, Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam raised concerns about the potential trans-boundary impact of the proposed dam.

At an MRC council meeting in Siem Reap in December, the four countries agreed “in principle” to seek support from the Japanese government and other partners for further impact studies of hydropower projects on the Mekong mainstream.

The International Rivers statement said the Thais were flouting that informal pact.

An investigation International Rivers conducted last week had revealed “preliminary construction” on the dam was continuing, the statement said.

It also said the Thai Energy Minister had informed a Senate committee in a letter dated January 30 that “the Ministry of Natural Resources confirms that the [MRC] Prior Consultation process has completed” and that the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand had signed a power-purchasing agreement with the project developer in October.

Thai government representatives and MRC communications officer Surasak Glahan were not available for comment late yesterday.

Asked about the letter quoted in the statement, Te Navuth, secretary-general of the Cambodia National Mekong Committee, said it was “internal” and did not represent the four countries.

He said the Lao delegation to the December meeting had told development partners that action had been taken to “prepare the [dam] site”, but construction would not proceed unless member countries reached an agreement.

Lao government representatives could not be reached.

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Leatherback Turtle Migration Study Identifies Pacific Danger Zones for Endangered Species

ScienceDaily 1 Mar 12;

The majestic leatherback turtle is the largest sea turtle in the world, growing to more than 6 feet in length. It is also one of the most threatened. A major new study of migration patterns has identified high-use areas -- potential danger zones--in the Pacific Ocean for this critically endangered species. This new understanding could help inform decisions about fishing practices to help reduce further deaths of this fragile species.

"The study shows that leatherbacks can be found throughout the Pacific Ocean and identifies high-use areas that are of particular importance to their survival," said lead author Dr. Helen Bailey of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science. "This information on their movements is essential for identifying hot spots and assessing where limiting fishing at particular times of year may be effective for protecting leatherbacks."

Leatherbacks are the widest-ranging marine turtle species and are known to migrate across entire ocean basins. Female leatherbacks lay their eggs on tropical nesting beaches, but then migrate to foraging areas to feed on jellyfish. These long-distance migrations are likely to increase the risk that these animals may be caught in fishing gear, undermining conservation efforts to protect turtles on their nesting beaches. Interaction with fisheries is believed to be a major cause of death, which is of particular concern in the eastern Pacific Ocean, where the number of leatherback turtles has dropped by more than 90% since 1980.

"Leatherback turtles are long-lived animals that take a long time to reach maturity, so when they are killed in fishing gear it has a huge impact on the population," said study coordinator Dr. James Spotila of Drexel University. "Their numbers are declining so rapidly it is critical that measures are taken quickly to ensure these animals don't go extinct."

Leatherback turtles can travel enormous distances between their nesting and feeding sites. In the Pacific Ocean there are two populations of leatherback turtles that nest in the eastern and western Pacific. The study used state-of-the art satellite tracking, the largest satellite telemetry data set ever assembled for leatherbacks, to track 135 turtles. Leatherbacks in the eastern Pacific were tagged at the nesting sites in Costa Rica and Mexico. The western Pacific population was tagged at two nesting sites in Indonesia and at foraging grounds off the coast of California. The tracks were combined with oceanographic satellite data provided by NOAA, NASA, and a number of international partner space agencies to provide important insights into their long distance migrations.

The study found that the western Pacific population nesting in Indonesia traveled to many different feeding sites in the South China Sea, Indonesian seas, southeastern Australia, and the U.S. West Coast, mainly in highly productive coastal areas. This wide dispersal allows for a greater likelihood to find food. It also means that the turtles are more vulnerable to being caught unintentionally by fishing gear in coastal and offshore areas.

The eastern Pacific population had a very different migration pattern, traveling from their nesting sites in Mexico and Costa Rica to the southeast Pacific. These turtles migrated south and tended to feed in offshore upwelling areas where their food, almost exclusively jellyfish, may be concentrated. The more limited feeding areas of the east Pacific turtles makes them more vulnerable to any changes that occur to the distribution or abundance of jellyfish in this area. Deaths caused by human activities, such as being caught in fishing gear, also pose a greater risk of causing this population to go extinct because they have a smaller range than the western Pacific leatherbacks.

Experts from around the world joined together to work on this landmark study of leatherback turtle migration. The collaboration included Helen Bailey of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science; James Spotila of Drexel University; George Shillinger and Barbara Block from Hopkins Marine Station of Stanford University; Stephen Morreale of Cornell University; Frank Paladino of Indiana-Perdue University; Scott Eckert of the Wider Caribbean Sea Turtle Conservation Network; Rotney Piedra of Parque Nacional Marino Las Baulas; Creusa Hitipeuw of the World Wildlife Fund for Nature-Indonesia; Ricardo Tapilatu of The State University of Papau; and Peter Dutton, Scott Benson, Steven Bograd, Tomoharu Eguchi and David Foley of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

The study, "Identification of distinct movement patterns in Pacific leatherback turtle populations influenced by ocean conditions," appears in the March issue of Ecological Applications.

The study was supported by funding the from Lenfest Ocean Program, the Leatherback Trust, the Tagging of Pacific Predators program of the Census of Marine Life, and the NOAA-Fisheries Service.

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A balanced kettle of fish – IUCN suggests a novel approach to fishing

IUCN 1 Mar 12;

An IUCN study published in the journal Science suggests major rethinking of fisheries management that could increase food security and minimize the negative impacts of fishing on the environment.

The new approach, put forward by a group of fisheries and conservation scientists of the IUCN Commission on Ecosystem Management (CEM), introduces a fundamental change to the way fisheries have been managed so far.

“For centuries, it has been believed that selective fishing that avoids young, rare and charismatic species and focuses on older and larger individuals, is key to increased harvest and reduced impacts on the environment,” says François Simard, IUCN’s Senior Adviser for Fisheries. “But old individuals largely contribute to reproduction and removing them distorts the environment’s structure and functioning. It can also have serious ecological and evolutionary side effects.”

On the Eastern Scotian Shelf for example, the use of conventional, selective fishing practices has altered the food chain structure of the environment and in the North Sea, it has led to a shift from large to smaller species.

The new approach proposed by IUCN, called ‘balanced harvesting’, involves targeting all edible components of the marine environment, in proportion to their productivity.

With fishing targets spread over a higher diversity of species and sizes, this approach makes full use of the ecosystem’s production capacity. It maintains the ability of marine resources to contribute to our food security while minimizing the negative impacts of fishing on the environment. As it requires reducing the exploitation of fish stocks, it fundamentally changes our current approach to fisheries management, which aims at full exploitation of individual populations and often results in over-exploitation.

“Balanced harvesting is a selective approach to fishing but, in line with the ecosystem approach adopted by the Convention on Biological Diversity and the Food and Agriculture Organization, this selectivity has a much broader perspective than what has been used until now,” says Serge M. Garcia, Chair of the Fisheries Expert Group of IUCN’s CEM. “Instead of focusing solely on optimizing the catch taken from selected target species and sizes, it aims at maintaining the structure and productivity of the ecosystem as a whole.”

The paper is based on a comparative study of various types of selectivity using 36 different models of ecosystems. Some examples of fishing strategies coming close to balanced harvesting have also been found in African inland artisanal fisheries.

“This new thinking about fisheries management may be seen as utopian, as human capacity to manage ecosystems is limited”, says Jeppe Kolding, member of the Fisheries Expert Group. “But it’s a utopia that allows energies to be focused in the right direction. We now have sufficient evidence that this new approach could make fishing much more sustainable, reducing its impact on the ecosystem and benefitting the marine environment and food security.”

Issues involving fisheries management will be discussed further at IUCN’s World Conservation Congress in Jeju, Republic of Korea, 5-15 September 2012.

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Ocean acidification may be worst in 300 million years: study

AFP Yahoo News 2 Mar 12;

High levels of pollution may be turning the planet's oceans acidic at a faster rate than at any time in the past 300 million years, with unknown consequences for future sea life, researchers said Thursday.

The acidification may be worse than during four major mass extinctions in history when natural pulses of carbon from asteroid impacts and volcanic eruptions caused global temperatures to soar, said the study in the journal Science.

An international team of researchers from the United States, Britain, Spain, Germany and the Netherlands examined hundreds of paleoceanographic studies, including fossils wedged in seafloor sediment from millions of years ago.

They found only one time in history that came close to what scientists are seeing today in terms of ocean life die-off -- a mysterious period known as the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum about 56 million years ago.

Though the reason for the carbon upsurge back then remains a source of debate, scientists believe that the doubling of harmful emissions drove up global temperatures by about six degrees Celsius and caused big losses of ocean life.

Oceans are particularly vulnerable because they soak up excess carbon dioxide from the air which turns the waters more acidic, a state that can kill corals, mollusks and other forms of reef and shell organisms.

"We know that life during past ocean acidification events was not wiped out -- new species evolved to replace those that died off," said lead author Barbel Honisch, a paleoceanographer at Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory.

"But if industrial carbon emissions continue at the current pace, we may lose organisms we care about -- coral reefs, oysters, salmon."

Honish and colleagues said the current rate of ocean acidification is at least 10 times faster than it was 56 million years ago.

"The geological record suggests that the current acidification is potentially unparalleled in at least the last 300 million years of Earth history, and raises the possibility that we are entering an unknown territory of marine ecosystem change," said co-author Andy Ridgwell of Bristol University.

The UN Environment Program released a report in 2010 that warned carbon emissions from fossil fuels may bear a greater risk for the marine environment than previously thought.

Rising acidity levels have an impact on calcium-based lifeforms, ranging from tiny organisms called ptetropods that are the primary food source, to crabs, fish, lobsters and coral, it said.

The UN report called for cuts in human-made CO2 emissions to reduce acidification and support for further work to quantify the risk and identify species that could be most in peril.

Oceans' acidic shift may be fastest in 300 million years
Deborah Zabarenko Reuters Yahoo News 2 Mar 12;

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The world's oceans are turning acidic at what could be the fastest pace of any time in the past 300 million years, even more rapidly than during a monster emission of planet-warming carbon 56 million years ago, scientists said on Thursday.

Looking back at that bygone warm period in Earth's history could offer help in forecasting the impact of human-spurred climate change, researchers said of a review of hundreds of studies of ancient climate records published in the journal Science.

Quickly acidifying seawater eats away at coral reefs, which provide habitat for other animals and plants, and makes it harder for mussels and oysters to form protective shells. It can also interfere with small organisms that feed commercial fish like salmon.

The phenomenon has been a top concern of Jane Lubchenco, the head of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, who has conducted demonstrations about acidification during hearings in the U.S. Congress.

Oceans get more acidic when more carbon gets into the atmosphere. In pre-industrial times, that occurred periodically in natural pulses of carbon that also pushed up global temperatures, the scientists wrote.

Human activities, including the burning of fossil fuels, have increased the level of atmospheric carbon to 392 parts per million from about 280 parts per million at the start of the industrial revolution. Carbon dioxide is one of several heat-trapping gases that contribute to global warming.

To figure out what ocean acidification might have done in the prehistoric past, 21 researchers from the United States, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Germany and Spain reviewed studies of the geological record going back 300 million years, looking for signs of climate disruption.

Those indications of climate change included mass extinction events, where substantial percentages of living things on Earth died off, such as the giant asteroid strike thought to have killed the dinosaurs some 65 million years ago.

The events that seemed similar to what is happening now included mass extinctions about 252 million and 201 million years ago, as well as the warming period 56 million years in the past.

The researchers reckoned the 5,000-year hot spell 56 million years ago, likely due to factors like massive volcanism, was the closest parallel to current conditions at any time in the 300 million years.

To detect that, they looked at a layer of brown mud buried under the Southern Ocean off Antarctica. Sandwiched between layers of white plankton fossils, the brown mud indicated an ocean so acidic that the plankton fossils from that particular 5,000-year period dissolved into muck.

During that span, the amount of carbon in the atmosphere doubled and average temperatures rose by 10.8 degrees F (6 degrees C), the researchers said. The oceans became more acidic by about 0.4 unit on the 14-point pH scale over that 5,000-year period, the researchers said.

That is a fast warm-up and a quick acidification, but it is small compared with what has happened on Earth since the start of the industrial revolution some 150 years ago, study author Baerbel Hoenisch of Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory said by telephone.


During the warming period 56 million years ago, known as the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum, or PETM, and occurring about 9 million years after the extinction of the dinosaurs, acidification for each century was about .008 unit on the pH scale, Hoenisch said.

Back then, many corals went extinct, as did many types of single-celled organisms that lived on the sea floor, which suggests other plants and animals higher on the food chain died out too, researchers said.

By contrast, in the 20th century, oceans acidified by .1 unit of pH, and are projected to get more acidic at the rate of .2 or .3 pH by the year 2100, according to the study.

The U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change projects world temperatures could rise by 3.2 to 7 degrees F (1.8 to 4 degrees C) this century.

"Given that the rate of change was an order of magnitude smaller (in the PETM) compared to what we're doing today, and still there were these big ecosystem changes, that gives us concern for what is going to happen in the future," Hoenisch said.

Those skeptical of human-caused climate change often point to past warming periods caused by natural events as evidence that the current warming trend is not a result of human activities. Hoenisch noted that natural causes such as massive volcanism were probably responsible for the PETM.

She said, however, that the rate of warming and acidification was much more gradual then, over the course of five millennia compared with one century.

Richard Feely, an oceanographer at the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration who was not involved in the study, said looking at that distant past was a good way to foresee the future.

"These studies give you a sense of the timing involved in past ocean acidification events - they did not happen quickly," Feely said in a statement. "The decisions we make over the next few decades could have significant implications on a geologic timescale."

(Editing by Peter Cooney)

Ocean Acidification Rate May Be Unprecedented, Study Says
ScienceDaily 1 Mar 12

The world's oceans may be turning acidic faster today from human carbon emissions than they did during four major extinctions in the last 300 million years, when natural pulses of carbon sent global temperatures soaring, says a new study in Science. The study is the first of its kind to survey the geologic record for evidence of ocean acidification over this vast time period.

"What we're doing today really stands out," said lead author Bärbel Hönisch, a paleoceanographer at Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. "We know that life during past ocean acidification events was not wiped out -- new species evolved to replace those that died off. But if industrial carbon emissions continue at the current pace, we may lose organisms we care about -- coral reefs, oysters, salmon."

The oceans act like a sponge to draw down excess carbon dioxide from the air; the gas reacts with seawater to form carbonic acid, which over time is neutralized by fossil carbonate shells on the seafloor. But if CO2 goes into the oceans too quickly, it can deplete the carbonate ions that corals, mollusks and some plankton need for reef and shell-building.

That is what is happening now. In a review of hundreds of paleoceanographic studies, a team of researchers from five countries found evidence for only one period in the last 300 million years when the oceans changed even remotely as fast as today: the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum, or PETM, some 56 million years ago. In the early 1990s, scientists extracting sediments from the seafloor off Antarctica found a layer of mud from this period wedged between thick deposits of white plankton fossils. In a span of about 5,000 years, they estimated, a mysterious surge of carbon doubled atmospheric concentrations, pushed average global temperatures up by about6 degrees C, and dramatically changed the ecological landscape.

The result: carbonate plankton shells littering the seafloor dissolved, leaving the brown layer of mud. As many as half of all species of benthic foraminifers, a group of single-celled organisms that live at the ocean bottom, went extinct, suggesting that organisms higher in the food chain may have also disappeared, said study co-author Ellen Thomas, a paleoceanographer at Yale University who was on that pivotal Antarctic cruise. "It's really unusual that you lose more than 5 to 10 percent of species over less than 20,000 years," she said. "It's usually on the order of a few percent over a million years." During this time, scientists estimate, ocean pH -- a measure of acidity--may have fallen as much as 0.45 units. (As pH falls, acidity rises.)

In the last hundred years, atmospheric CO2 has risen about 30 percent, to 393 parts per million, and ocean pH has fallen by 0.1 unit, to 8.1--an acidification rate at least 10 times faster than 56 million years ago, says Hönisch. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicts that pH may fall another 0.3 units by the end of the century,to 7.8, raising the possibility that we may soon see ocean changes similar to those observed during the PETM.

More catastrophic events have shaken earth before, but perhaps not as quickly. The study finds two other times of potential ocean acidification: the extinctions triggered by massive volcanism at the end of the Permian and Triassic eras, about 252 million and 201 million years ago respectively. But the authors caution that the timing and chemical changes of these events is less certain. Because most ocean sediments older than 180 million years have been recycled back into the deep earth, scientists have fewer records to work with.

During the end of the Permian, about 252 million years ago, massive volcanic eruptions in present-day Russia led to a rise in atmospheric carbon, and the extinction of 96 percent of marine life. Scientists have found evidence for ocean dead zones and the survival of organisms able to withstand carbonate-poor seawater and high blood-carbon levels, but so far they have been unable to reconstruct changes in ocean pH or carbonate.

At the end of the Triassic, about 201 million years ago, a second burst of mass volcanism doubled atmospheric carbon. Coral reefs collapsed and many sea creatures vanished. Noting that tropical species fared the worst, some scientists question if global warming rather than ocean acidification was the main killer at this time.

The effects of ocean acidification today are overshadowed for now by other problems, ranging from sewage pollution and hotter summer temperatures that threaten corals with disease and bleaching. However, scientists trying to isolate the effects of acidic water in the lab have shown that lower pH levels can harm a range of marine life, from reef and shell-building organisms to the tiny snails favored by salmon. In a recent study, scientists from Stony Brook University found that the larvae of bay scallops and hard clams grow best at pre-industrial pH levels, while their shells corrode at the levels projected for 2100. Off the U.S. Pacific Northwest, the death of oyster larvae has recently been linked to the upwelling of acidic water there.

In parts of the ocean acidified by underwater volcanoes venting carbon dioxide, scientists have seen alarming signs of what the oceans could be like by 2100. In a 2011 study of coral reefs off Papua New Guinea, scientists writing in the journal Nature Climate Change found that when pH dropped to 7.8, reef diversity declined by as much as 40 percent. Other studies have found that clownfish larvae raised in the lab lose their ability to sniff out predators and find their way home when pH drops below 7.8.

"It's not a problem that can be quickly reversed," said Christopher Langdon, a biological oceanographer at the University of Miami who co-authored the study on Papua New Guinea reefs. "Once a species goes extinct it's gone forever. We're playing a very dangerous game."

It may take decades before ocean acidification's effect on marine life shows itself. Until then, the past is a good way to foresee the future, says Richard Feely, an oceanographer at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration who was not involved in the study. "These studies give you a sense of the timing involved in past ocean acidification events -- they did not happen quickly," he said. "The decisions we make over the next few decades could have significant implications on a geologic timescale."

The study was funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation.

Journal Reference:

Bärbel Hönisch, Andy Ridgwell, Daniela N. Schmidt, Ellen Thomas, Samantha J. Gibbs, Appy Sluijs, Richard Zeebe, Lee Kump, Rowan C. Martindale, Sarah E. Greene, Wolfgang Kiessling, Justin Ries, James C. Zachos, Dana L. Royer, Stephen Barker, Thomas M. Marchitto Jr., Ryan Moyer, Carles Pelejero, Patrizia Ziveri, Gavin L. Foster, and Branwen Williams. The Geological Record of Ocean Acidification. Science, March 2, 2012 DOI: 10.1126/science.1208277

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