Best of our wild blogs: 9 Mar 12

17 Mar (Sat): Horseshoe Crab Population and Distribution Survey
from wild shores of singapore

First Marine Biodiversity Expedition (8 Mar 2012)
from Mega Marine Survey of Singapore

Down by the Boardwalk in Singapore
from The Wall Street Journal blog

pitta and bathing waterhen @ pasir ris - feb 2012
from sgbeachbum

Common Kingfisher casting a pellet
from Bird Ecology Study Group

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Malaysia: RM 22 Billion Mersing Laguna Project To Be Completed In Seven Years

Mohd Haikal Mohd Isa Bernama 8 Mar 12;

JOHOR BAHARU, March 8 (Bernama) -- Mersing Laguna, the RM22 bilion eco-tourism project which will see the transformation of Mersing from a sleepy coastal town into an international tourist destination, will be completed in seven years time.

Ungku Safian Abdullah, the chief executive officer of Radiant Starfish Bhd, the master developer of the project, said reclamation works to create three islands off the coast of Mersing which are vital to the project, will start tomorrow and completed within 36 months.

"I expect the first hotel under the Mersing Laguna project to be completed within 24 months," he told reporters after the signing of agreements with four partners of Mersing Laguna here, Thursday.

Radiant Starfish signed agreements with Sinohydro Group Limited, YPJ Holdings Sdn Bhd, Shengrong International Group Co Limited and CIMB Insurance Brokers Sdn Bhd.

Menteri Besar Datuk Abdul Ghani Othman also attended the signing ceremony.

Ungku Safian said the reclamation works to create 2,000 acres of land will be carried out by China's Sinohydro.

Touted as the biggest land reclamation work in Malaysia, the RM4.2 billion work will be carried out by Sinohydro.

Sinohydro is one of the biggest dredging and reclamation companies in the world and has been involved with the construction of the Three Gorges Dam in China and the Bakun Dam in Sarawak.

Ungku Safian said 22 parcels of Mersing Laguna's land have been also pre-sold to investors, which will see the construction of 22 hotels and about 4,000 villas and service apartments, marina facilities as well as other commercial development.

Radiant Starfish also signed agreement with Shengrong and OCT, a Chinese government-linked company to develop a water-based theme park in Mersing Laguna costing RM1 billion.

Ungku Safian said YPJ Holdings and Radiant Starfish will also join hands and participate in a RM1 billion urban renewal project to makeover Mersing town.

Abdul Ghani said the Mersing Laguna project would be a boon to Johor's tourism industry, complementing its long list of tourism products.

On Desaru, another of Johor's beachfront tourism attraction, he said, works to construct four premier hotels and golf courses worth RM1.3 billion were ongoing.


Mersing to be RM22b tourist haven
New Straits Times 9 Mar 12;

ECO-TOURISM: Laguna project to be developed on 809ha reclaimed land

THE once sleepy district of Mersing in the northeast of Johor is set to be transformed into a RM22 billion high-end international eco-tourism destination in seven years.

Called Mersing Laguna, the resort will see a new wave of exciting developments that include boutique hotels, service apartments and waterfront villas on 809ha of reclaimed land, touted to be the country's biggest land reclamation project.

The project was launched yesterday with the signing of agreements by master developer Radiant Starfish Development Bhd and four partners -- Chinese construction conglomerate Sinohydro Corporation (M) Sdn Bhd, China-based theme park developers Shengrong International Group Co Ltd, Johor education foundation YPJ Holding Sdn Bhd and CIMB Insurance Brokers Sdn Bhd.

Johor Menteri Besar Datuk Abdul Ghani Othman, who launched the event, also witnessed the signing ceremony.

Present were Johor state secretary Datuk Obet Tawil, East Coast Economic Region (ECER) chief executive officer Datuk John Isaace and Radiant Starfish Development Bhd president and chief executive officer Ungku Safian Abdullah.

Mersing Laguna, which started its three-year reclamation work, is located between the Endau-Rompin and the Marine Parks off the coast of Mersing.

The reclamation project will involve a 36km stretch of the beach. The project was one of the nine announced by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak to be implemented in the ECER region that straddles Pahang, Terengganu, Kelantan and Mersing in Johor on Feb 28.

Ungku Safian said the project took years of detailed hydrographic, environmental impact and socio-economic studies before it could take off.

"We will consciously work towards environmental sustainability by adapting green and advanced technologies in the provision of energy and waste management."

Ungku Safian was confident that the project had the potential to be a high-niche global tourist resort similar to the Gold Coast in Australia and Bali in Indonesia.

"We want to turn Mersing into a premier tourism product and use it to leverage on eco-tourism."

The reclamation work alone would cost RM4.2 billion, while related infrastructure would cost a further RM1 billion.

Another RM17 billion will be required to complete the entire development of 22 hotels, 4,000 villas, marina facilities and other commercial development, including a 80ha theme park.

On the livelihood of traditional coastal fishermen in the area, Ungku Safian said the development would not in any way hamper them, adding that the project was also expected to provide jobs for the people of Mersing.

Ungku Safian also assured Johoreans that they would be able to see for themselves the first hotel under Mersing Laguna in two years.

Ghani said Mersing now had a huge potential to develop into an international tourist destination.

"Johor is the only state with two economic growth corridors with Mersing Laguna coming under the ECER in the east and Iskandar Malaysia in the west of the state," he said, adding that Johor had a good mix of investment assets.

Ghani also said the government would improve the infrastructure connectivity between Mersing and other parts of Johor as well as the rest of the east coast.

Big plans for Mersing
Developer building $9.2b tourist playground on reclaimed land
Reme Ahmad Straits Times 9 Mar 12;

JOHOR BARU: A private Malaysian developer is planning to reclaim 810ha of land off sleepy Mersing town in north-east Johor in an ambitious RM22 billion (S$9.2 billion) project to create a tourist playground.

Led by a member of Johor royalty, the developer named Radiant Starfish Development said it plans to build hotels, serviced apartments, waterfront villas and a marina on three new islands created by reclaiming the land.

A RM1 billion theme park is being planned on the mainland.

Called Mersing Laguna, the three islands together will be larger than one of Singapore's biggest residential estates, Ang Mo Kio, which is about 680ha in size.

Mersing town, about a 90-minute drive from Johor Baru, is often visited by Singaporeans as a starting point for exploring Malaysian islands in the South China Sea, such as Pulau Tioman, and for fishing holidays on kelongs.

The town is also located near the Endau-Rompin National Park, a rainforest popular with jungle trekkers and nature lovers. Offshore are 42 small islands, which are part of the Johor marine park.

Unlike most big projects going up in Johor that form part of Iskandar Malaysia, the economic development zone in southern Johor, Mersing Laguna is part of investments in the East Coast Economic Region.

The region encompasses Kelantan, Terengganu, Pahang and Mersing district in Johor - mostly rural towns and districts which have been targeted for development.

The three reclaimed islands will be linked to mainland Johor by separate bridges, artist's impressions released by the company yesterday showed.

When asked why land is being reclaimed when there is ample land in Malaysia, Radiant Starfish president and chief executive Ungku Safian Abdullah said in an interview yesterday that he wants to retain the rustic feel around Mersing as that is what tourists look out for in eco-tourism.

This includes the fishing villages, the 36km-long beachfront and the fruit trees.

'These are my tourist products. You can buy fish from the fishermen at the jetty, get fresh fruit. How much would it cost to set up such a fishing village?' he asked.

The dredging of sand from the bottom of the South China Sea and the land reclamation will take about three years and some RM4.2 billion.

It will be carried out by China's Sinohydro Group, which was involved in building the Three Gorges Dam and Sarawak's Bakun Dam.

The islands raised from the sea will have to be left alone for just a few months before low-rise hotels, apartments and villas can be built on them.

Radiant Starfish, as the project's master developer, yesterday signed agreements in Johor Baru with several parties to kick-start the project.

The agreements included one to buy several parcels of land near Mersing town, another to dredge sand for the land reclamation and one for the development of the 80ha onshore theme park by two companies from China.

Inevitably, the huge size and cost of the project raised questions on its financing viability, as Malaysia has a mixed record on mega projects.

Ungku Safian said the project would be spread over seven years and that the company has 'presold' all the 22 parcels of land on the three upcoming islands to investors.

'It is an ambitious project. A lot of people will scoff at the period of seven years (to build up everything). I take that as a challenge,' he said.

Radiant Starfish is 30 per cent owned by foreign investors, including those from China, with the remainder being held by Malaysians. The company has a paid-up capital of about RM700 million.

Chequered history

Malaysia has a mixed record in building mega-projects.

Port Klang Free Zone

A 404ha commercial and free zone. Has been mired in controversy over escalating costs and bribery scandals.

Penang Bridge

Although panned by critics as wasteful, it became the lifeblood link to the mainland. A second, bigger bridge is being built.


The administrative capital was built to house all government ministries in one area. But the city is silent at night and its centrepiece, Putrajaya International Convention Centre, is a white elephant.

North-South Expressway

The 772km highway links Johor to northern Kedah, and helped spur development along its route.

Entertainment Village

Built at a cost of RM400 million (S$167 million) outside Kuala Lumpur, it was abandoned after failing to attract moviemakers.

Multimedia Super Corridor (MSC)

This is Malaysia's 'Silicon Valley', built just outside KL. MSC's core, Cyberjaya town, has a number of high-tech companies and several universities, but most of the land remains empty.

Kuala Lumpur City Centre

Another project that critics said was a wasteful showpiece, the twin 88-storey towers, which were ready in 1998, have become an icon of modern Malaysia.

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Malaysia: Anger over use of banned fishing gear

New Straits Times 9 Mar 12;

The rampant use of destructive fishing gear banned by the authorities is threatening to devastate the marine eco-system in the coastal area, here.

Environmental activists have condemned the widespread use of rawa sorong or sodok nets among local fishermen which pose a serious threat to the environment and marine species.

Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM) president SM Mohamed Idris said the long bamboo poles, which are dragged along the coastal seabed or river, killed cockle spats, fish fry, crabs, juvenile prawns and other marine life.

He said the Fisheries Department had stopped issuing licences for rawa sorong nets to fishermen last year, but severalnon-governmental organisations had observed that the use of these banned nets continued to be widespread in Malaysian waters.

Idris said surveys and information gathered from local fishermen showed that some 40 rawa sorong net operators in Perak had been employing illegal immigrants from Myanmar and Thailand to carry out their operations.

He said these illegal operations also took place in Perlis, Kedah, Johor, Sabah, Sarawak and other states.

"SAM is calling for increased government enforcement to curb the use of these banned fishing gear.

"Integrated cooperation between the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency and the Department of Fisheries is required for more stringent action to be taken against those who carry out these illegal activities," Idris said.

He said it was not enough to just issue compounds or warnings to those who flouted the law.

"The boat and banned fishing gear must be confiscated and destroyed," he said.

Idris said the Agriculture and Agro-Based Industry Ministry and relevant authorities should take stern action against banned and destructive fishing gear such as Apollo nets in Kuala Kurau, siput retak seribu nets and other illegal trawl nets.

"These nets are destructive to the marine ecosystem and jeopardises the sustainability of fisheries resources in Malaysia," Idris added.

Meanwhile, Malaysian Coastal Fishermen's Welfare and Education Network (Jaring) chairman Jamaluddin Mohamad also urged the authorities to enforcement of the ban on the illegal use of rawa sorong nets.

The use of the nets infringe on provisions under the Fisheries Act 1984.

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Indonesia: When the Mining Is Over, a Toxic Mess Remains

Tunggadewa Mattangkilang Jakarta Globe 8 Mar 12;

Balikpapan. The East Kalimantan administration has revealed that 230 degraded coal mining concessions in the province have never been restored by the concession holders, despite their obligation to do so.

Governor Awang Farouk Ishak said on Tuesday that among the factors behind this problem was the fact that some of the money for the reclamation was not being released by the central government.

The land-reclamation fund, known as jaminan reklamasi or jamrek , constitutes deposits paid by all mining companies to the Energy and Mineral Resources Ministry (ESDM) prior to the start of mining.

Once their mining operations are finished, the deposit is returned to the companies to use in rehabilitating and restoring any areas within their concessions that were degraded as a result of their activities.

Awang said that in many former concession sites, no reclamation had been done, leaving the areas full of gaping, rainwater-filled craters.

“We want to know why the deposits aren’t being released for the purpose of reclamation, when the companies have already paid them to the central government, in this case the ESDM,” he said at a symposium.

In January, two children drowned after falling into a disused mine shaft that had filled up with water in Samarinda, the provincial capital. The large amounts of loose soil in abandoned concessions have also contributed to landslides and flash floods during heavy rains.

Officials at the Energy and Mineral Resources Ministry did not respond to requests for comment on the governor’s claim.

Awang said another factor in the problem was that the provincial administration did not have enough authority to take action against companies failing to rehabilitate their concessions once their operations were over.

Under prevailing regulations, the matter falls under the jurisdiction of district and municipal authorities, while provincial authorities only play a monitoring role.

“We need to have a greater role because there are a lot of problem mining companies that the lower-level authorities are not cracking down on,” the governor said. “If the provincial government was given the power to act against those companies, we would do it.”

Kahar Al Bahri, the coordinator of the East Kalimantan branch of the Mining Advocacy Network (Jatam), told the symposium that no mining company in the province had rehabilitated more than 50 percent of its concessions. Most, he said, only restored around 30 percent and stopped there.

“Even the major companies only do window dressing [for their disused mines],” he said. “That means that they’ll take just a 30-hectare area out of their whole concession and rehabilitate it as much as possible so that they can show it off to visiting government officials.”

Kahar said it was urgent that all disused mining shafts be closed off, otherwise rainwater would continue to leak the toxic chemicals within into the groundwater and contaminate local water supplies.

He also said that over the next 30 years, some 3,000 mine shafts were expected to go out of commission in the province, based on data from the Forestry Ministry.

“It would be incredibly stupid of the government to expect to be able to reclaim all that land on its own,” he said. “That would be a huge burden on the government and the regional budgets.”

To get the companies to face up to their responsibilities, he urged the authorities to be more strict about enforcing the reclamation regulation.

“There must be a high level of control from the authorities. If there’s a violation, it must be addressed immediately. Revoke the company’s permit if necessary,” Kahar said.

“The problem now is that the control from the authorities and the communities is weak because the companies are denying them access to the concessions.”

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Thailand: Exotic wildlife worth Bt200m found

The Nation/Asia News Network AsiaOne 9 Mar 12;

Thai police yesterday searched a former Chatuchak Market animal vender's house in Sara Buri's Kaeng Khoi district and found wildlife animals in cages, worth Bt200 million(S$81,627) totally.

Pol Maj Gen Norasak Hemnithi, chief of the Crime Suppression Division's Natural Resources and Environmental Central Investigation Bureau, who led the search, said wildlife trader Thananuwat "Ord Bang Kluay" Boonpherm who was arrested on February 4 pointed the authority to the Sara Buri house suspected to be a place to keep wildlife for trades.

The house belonged to Si Sa Ketnative Yutthasak Sutthinon, 28. Located on an isolated 100rai plot, 20 kilometres off the Mitraparp Highway, it was barb wired, guarded by dogs and had 30 security cameras, linked via Internet to be watched from Bangkok.

Inside the police found some 300,400 animals of 51 species including five tigers, 13 white lions, 3 pumas, and two red pandas. As Yutthasak couldn't show permits to keep these animals, the officials seized the animals by guarding the place and prohibiting animal transport, pending investigation.

Yutthasak was initially charged with operating a zoo without permission and having protected animals in possession without permission - punishable to four years in jail and/or Bt40,000 in fine.

Yutthasak said he used to sell animals at Chatuchak market and a decade ago raised wildlife to open a private zoo. He said he didn't hire veterinarians full time to care for the animals but hired them on case by case basis.

He said the permits were with his father Thanajak Sutthinon who would present the permits to police later. Yutthasak also claimed that the rare animals such as red pandas, pumas and white lions were bought from Africa, Canada and South America.

Theerapat Prayurasiddhi, deputy directorgeneral of the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation, said the animals, mostly CITES and nationally protected wildlife, included Tibet originated red pandas that even Tibet didn't have any now and 65 Marmoset monkeys - the latter of which could be sold at Bt100,000 per pair.

Theerapat said this place was arrested in 2003 for having 100 wildlife animals of ten species in possession without permission and the court fined the place owner and suspended the jail term, which already expired. It would take three days to check wildlife papers.

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Philippines: Dynamite island explodes myth about illegal fishing

Paul M. Icamina Malaya Business 9 Mar 12;

CAUBIAN GAMAY, Lapu-Lapu City – Underwater explosions used to destroy the country’s only double barrier reef.

Today, seaweed farming is exploding the myth that dynamite fishing is here to stay.

Gilberto Alcoser, 34, was 13 years old when he started the deadly occupation of dynamite fishing. For seven years, he and his father would set out at sunrise to throw dynamites into the sea and catch fish, along the way blowing up coral reefs and seagrass beds that nurture the very marine life that sustains their livelihood.

They would be back in mid-morning after hauling on average 10 kilograms of fish of all kinds, even the immature ones that cannot be sold, earning P1,000 "if you’re lucky," he said.

"It was easy, all you had to do was throw and throw the dynamites," Alcoser told Malaya Business Insight. "Almost all the villagers here used to be dynamite fishers."

Many of them have since turned to alternative livelihoods, from seaweed farming to crab fishing to the tried-and-tested handline- and net-fishing.

Still, Alcoser said, "we have identified about 40 fisherfolks who continue the illegal practice."

It is still a lucrative trade, considering that a kilogram of explosives – about four dynamites – costs just P60 per stick.

Alcoser is among the 19 fish wardens, including five barangay police, who patrol in four motorized bancas part of the Danajon Bank located off northern Bohol and about an hour’s boat ride in calm seas and sunny weather from Lapu-Lapu City in Cebu’s Mactan Island.

The fish wardens guard the vast Minantaw Marine Park and Sanctuary, the country’s first multi-use marine park and sanctuary. It is the first and largest multi-use marine protected zone in the Visayas.

And it is the first to integrate a multi-use protected area with 62 hectares allotted for regulated fishing, 55 hectares for seaweed farming and 37 hectares for sustainable use; another 50 hectares is a strictly no-take zone where fishing is banned.

Minantaw is part of the Danajon double barrier reef, the only one in the Philippines and one of only three in the Indo-Pacific region. The reefs are all of 272 square kilometers spread below 40 islands with a coastline of 381 kilometers.

For all that, it is just 1 percent of the country’s coral reefs. Danajon is home to more than 200 species of corals, more than 500 species of fish and a vast seagrass bed which nurtures marine life.

It consists of three large reefs, among them Caubian, the biggest at 143 square kilometers, and partly near the adjacent Caubian Gamay and Caubian Dako, a resort island. There are five more smaller reefs in the northern outer region and one other large reef, Calituban, in the inner region in an area that touches Leyte.

All are within the jurisdiction of Lapu-Lapu City and 16 other towns in Cebu, Bohol, Leyte and Southern Leyte.

For three years now, many of the 3,000 villagers in Caubian Gamay village has turned to seaweed farming for a living, said Deputy Fish Warden Mark Denola.

"We harvest every three months, on average about 400 kilograms each time," said Jackson Matbagon, Head Fish Warden. "Villagers sell the dried first class variety at P60 per kilogram and the second class varieties at P12 per kilogram."

Cebu’s seaweed industry in Cebu gets regular produce from Caubian. The resort in Caubian Dako employs islanders. Other resorts in nearby Olango Island get crabs from Caubian fishers. Tourists from Bohol and Cebu are frequent visitors.

Crab fishers place the nets at sea in mid-afternoon and each harvests about 2 kilograms at dawn the next morning, sais Alcoser, adding the crabs are sold at P160 per kilogram in Caubian, a price that is doubled in Lapu-Lapu city.

"At first, the villagers didn’t know traditional fishing methods like using handlines and nets, they were so used to dynamite fishing they didn’t know any other way to do it," Alcoser recalled. "Many found net fishing tiresome compared to the quick dynamite fising."

At any rate, Caubian Gamay villagers, once shunned, now have access to money lenders, although it is uncelar whether this is good or bad.

All these are part of a desperate effort to save the Dinajon Reef, including the establishment of the Minantaw Marine Park and Sanctuary, a joint project of Chevron Philippines, Project Seahorse Foundation for Marine Conservation, United Fishers of Caubian and the Lapu-Lapu City government.

The sanctuary is within the Danajon Bank, long a major fishing ground for thousands of fishers in Eastern Visayas. Since the 1950s, unregulated exploitation and the absence of conservation management severely degraded the reef.

"Before the sanctuary was established,illegal fishing activities – mostly dynamite fishing – was rampant in the area. Thesedestroyed coral reefs in Minantaw and within the Danajon Bank which naturally took 6,000 years in the making," said Angelie C. Nellas, Project Seahorse Senior Biologist. "The destruction was taking place right there in their own backyard."

"It led to the demise of the livelihood of Caubian Gamay Island," she pointed out . "Ironically, most of the illegal fishers during that time were from Caubian and other neighboring barangays."

Now, she said, small fishes of various fish families that were seemingly absent in our baseline surveys are seen in the shallow areas of the reef.

"First came the anchovies, then the bigger fish until the bigger ones started coming in," said Andy B. Berame, a member of the sanctuary’s management council. "The food chain has been re-established."

"This is the first marine park and sanctuary that we have put up. as coastal managers." said Rosemarie Apurado, a Social Development Officer of Project Seahorse, a successful and award winning effort to save seahorses that started in 1996 in Handumon, Bohol, and has since spread worldwide.

"We have observed the wide span of live corals being preserved and untouched while various sizes of fish has returned," said Dario Lumapas Jr., another former dynamite fisher now turned fish warden. "The presence of star fishes indicate that the water is clean and can harbor life once again."

The Minantaw Marine Park and Sanctuary will be open to the public starting this summer.

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Australia: Dugong, turtle poaching claims to be probed

The Age 9 Mar 12;

A government investigation has been launched into claims turtles and dugongs are being poached and cruelly killed in far north Queensland.

Environment Minister Vicky Darling has ordered the Department of Environment and Resource Management to investigate the claims made by ABC Television.

"I was disturbed when I saw the footage, as I expect were many other viewers," Ms Darling said.
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"We don't know if this was traditional hunting by people with native hunting rights - that's why we need to investigate.

"If these actions weren't in accordance with the Native Title Act, then these individuals can expect the full force of the law."

Ms Darling said traditional owners have the right under Commonwealth legislation to hunt turtles and dugongs.

She was disappointed that neither the ABC nor interviewees had provided details to authorities to investigate.

"Allegations of illegal trade have been made previously - in most instances without any real evidence to substantiate them," Ms Darling said.

"Dugong or turtle meat can be lawfully moved between places in certain circumstances - for example the parties may be operating under a native title right and are able to share hunts with others."


Australia probes claims turtles, dugongs butchered alive
(AFP) Google News 9 Mar 12;

SYDNEY — Australia Friday vowed to investigate claims that turtles and the threatened dugong are being killed to feed an illegal meat trade after images of an animal being butchered alive sparked new concerns.

The Queensland state government ordered the probe after indigenous hunters were seen flipping a live sea turtle onto its back and then hitting it on the head with a brick and hacking off its flippers.

Footage on national broadcaster ABC also showed dugongs, or sea cows, being cut up for their meat.

State environment minister Vicky Darling said the inquiry would investigate whether those shown had broken the law, which in Queensland allows native title holders to hunt the animals for personal needs only.

"I was disturbed when I saw the footage, as I expect were many other viewers," Darling said.

"We don't know if this was traditional hunting by people with native hunting rights -- that's why we need to investigate.

"If these actions weren't in accordance with the Native Title Act, then these individuals can expect the full force of the law."

The footage was recorded using a hidden camera by activists who claim that despite the protected status of sea turtles and dugongs, meat from the animals was being sold illegally.

"The export or commercial sale is very concerning and that's what we'll investigate," added Darling.

Environmental campaigner Rupert Imhoff, who spent two weeks filming in the Torres Strait in northern Queensland, said one turtle was tethered to a rope for up to three days before it was killed.

He said indigenous people routinely chased their prey in motor-powered boats before spearing them, tying the animal's tail to the boat and then dragging it while holding its head under water until it drowned.

Queensland is home to the Great Barrier Reef which is brimming with marine life, including the dugong, a plant-eating mammal which can grow up to three metres (10 feet) in length and weigh 400 kilograms (880 pounds).

The long-lived but slow-breeding dugong, along with the sea turtle, is listed as being vulnerable to extinction.

Animal rights group RSPCA said a long-term plan was needed to combat the problem of how animals were killed by indigenous hunters.

"Obviously there's alternatives now so that the animal basically dies instantly and doesn't die a prolonged death," RSPCA spokesman Michael Beatty told the ABC.

Dugongs cruelly slaughtered in illegal meat trade
Sarah Dingle and Lesley Robinson ABC News 8 Mar 12;

Protected dugongs and sea turtles are being cruelly slaughtered in Queensland's Torres Strait to supply an illegal meat trade, an investigation by ABC's 7.30 has found.

The program has aired confronting footage that shows the brutal methods used to hunt the animals, with turtles being butchered alive and dugongs drowned as they are dragged behind boats.

The investigation throws into sharp relief the conflict between Indigenous Australians and animal rights activists over traditional hunting methods and exposes a black market in animal meat.

Activist Rupert Imhoff spent a fortnight in the Torres Strait, filming the hunting of the turtles and dugongs, both listed as vulnerable to extinction.

He used a secret camera to film scenes of animal cruelty, including the slow death of a sea turtle.

"It didn't actually die until they took off the bottom shell, actually peeled off the shell," he said.

"And then it just let out one last gasp of air and passed away."

Both dugongs and turtles are protected by federal law, but the Native Title Act gives an exemption to traditional owners, who can hunt to satisfy their personal, domestic or non-commercial communal needs.

The traditional hunting methods are seen by animal activists as deeply cruel but Queensland exempts native title hunting from its animal cruelty laws.
'Too sensitive'

Lawyer and advocate Rebecca Smith says conservation groups avoid criticising Indigenous hunting.

"It's just too hard, too prickly, too sensitive," she said.

"It's often deemed people who are opposed to traditional hunting are often called racist, but there is nothing racist about saying this is cruel."

National Indigenous radio broadcaster Seith Fourmile is a passionate advocate of the Indigenous right to hunt. He has nothing to do with the scenes of animal cruelty exposed by 7.30.

"We're working with the RSPCA to actually look at that cruelty to animals," he said.

"But it has got to be a cooperative approach."

The slaughter in Australia's north goes well beyond the bounds of traditional hunting.

Former abattoir worker Colin Riddell has spent years collecting evidence of dugong and turtle killing. His investigations reveal the killing goes much further south in Queensland's coastal waters.

James Epong is a Mandubarra man who lives on his traditional lands an hour south of Cairns.

The Mandubarra have declared a moratorium on the taking of turtle and dugong, but around them an illegal meat trade flourishes.

"Nine times out of 10, the illegal trade is to sell the meat for the benefit, for grog money or drugs," he said.

"One person that we know of in Yarrabah made $80,000 in one year."

Mr Fourmile says there are also non-Indigenous people involved in the illegal trade.

"They are involved with the trading, with selling it, passing it down - some of the turtle meat has gone as far south as Sydney and Melbourne," he said.

In the Torres Strait, Horn Island appears to be a transport hub for the illegal trade. On four separate occasions, 7.30 has confirmed multiple eskies arriving on the afternoon flight from Horn Island to Cairns.
'There's no jobs'

All the Indigenous people interviewed by 7.30 recognised the illegal trade and are committed to ending it.

"There's no jobs on Aboriginal community, let's not lie about it," Mr Fourmile said.

"There's no doubt this is happening. I'm not going to lie about the fact that there is some people out there doing it."

Cape York saltwater people like Frankie Deemal are working to end the esky trade.

"We don't have no legislative framework in place in which we can police the kind of rogue killing, the kind of outsiders coming into our place," he said.

"We don't have the kind of legislative assistance to do that."

And the Mandubarra people are helping to protect the turtle that has helped sustain them.

"I went out to get one where I normally go and there was just nothing there," said James Epong.

"I came home empty-handed and I thought, 'I can't have this'. I want my kids to experience what I'd experienced. So from that day we just said no more hunting."

For the Mandubarra people, the turtle hunting ended in 1993.

Queensland's Department of Environment and Resource Management was contacted by 7.30.

In a statement, the department said it "takes the claims very seriously and will investigate all reports of illegal hunting and poaching".

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Worrying declines for world’s seabirds

IUCN 9 Mar 12;

The status of the world’s seabirds has deteriorated rapidly over recent decades and several species and populations are now perilously close to extinction, according to a new review by BirdLife International, a partner of the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™. Across the globe, commercial fisheries pose the most serious threat to seabirds.

The review reveals that seabirds are now more threatened than any other group of birds. Of the 346 seabird species, 97 (28%) are globally threatened, and a further 10% are listed as Near Threatened. Almost half of all seabird species are known or suspected to be experiencing population declines. The albatross family is especially imperiled, with 17 of the 22 species currently threatened with extinction.

“This new data details the rapid deterioration of creatures that provide a crucial window onto the condition of the oceans,” says Jean-Christophe Vié, Deputy Director, IUCN Global Species Programme. “We must now use this information to enact changes that will reverse the loss of such an important group of species.”

Human activities lie at the heart of the staggering decline of seabird populations. At sea, commercial fisheries have depleted fish stocks, an important food source for seabirds, and caused the death of innumerable seabirds through accidental bycatch. On land, the introduction of invasive species has destroyed many breeding colonies.

“Seabirds are a diverse group with worldwide distribution, and as top predators they also provide a valuable indicator of wider marine health,” says Professor John Croxall, Chair of BirdLife’s Global Seabird Programme, and lead author of the paper.

There may still be time to reverse these declines and the review is clear on the actions that need to be taken. The sites where seabirds congregate—both onshore breeding colonies and offshore feeding grounds—must be protected. BirdLife has identified many Important Bird Areas (IBAs) for seabirds on land and plans to publish the first inventory of marine IBAs in the high seas. The goal is to use the identified areas to develop a global network of Marine Protected Areas and assist in the implementation of new approaches to the management and protection of marine systems.

In order to stem the disappearance of seabird populations, invasive species—specifically introduced rodents—must be removed from major seabird colonies. Several successful restoration projects have already taken place, and BirdLife is currently collaborating with Island Conservation and the University of California, Santa Cruz to compile a list of priority sites for future eradication operations. There is also a need for more research to fill existing knowledge gaps and address emerging threats such as aquaculture, energy generation operations and climate change.

“The work done by BirdLife International is extremely important in identifying needed conservation action for our pursuit to protect the world’s most threatened species,” says Jean-Christophe Vié.

Issues involving species survival will be discussed at the IUCN World Conservation Congress in Jeju, Republic of Korea, from 6 to 15 September 2012.

World seabird numbers still falling, says a new review
Daniel Boettcher BBC News 9 Mar 12;

Almost half of the world's seabirds have populations that are thought to be in decline, according to a new review.

The study, published in Bird Conservation International, found that 28% of species are considered to be in the highest categories of risk.

Conservationists are particularly concerned by the albatross family.

Threats to the birds include commercial fishing and damage to breeding colonies caused by rats and other invasive species.

Seabirds make up just a small proportion (3.5%) of the world's bird species. But researchers say they are an important indicator of the health of the oceans.

The review, carried out by BirdLife International, found that of 346 species, 47% are known or suspected to be in decline.

It says that seabirds are now more threatened than any other group of birds.

Prof John Croxall, Chair of BirdLife's Global Seabird Programme, told the BBC: "They are top predators in their marine systems. The fact that almost a third are globally threatened should really be telling us something about how we need to look after where they occur to breed on land and where they go to feed in the ocean."

BirdLife assesses the threat status of seabirds on behalf of International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), which compiles the internationally-recognised Red List. On that list, 5% of seabirds are in the highest category of Critically Endangered.

One of those is the Balearic shearwater, which can be found in UK waters in the summer.

The review also found that 17 out of 22 species of the albatross family are threatened with extinction.

Conservationists say commercial fishing is one of the key threats to seabirds with large numbers killed as a bycatch in nets and on lines.

Another is the impact that invasive species such as rats and feral cats have on breeding colonies, either damaging habitats or eating chicks and eggs.

Some of the most important breeding colonies are on remote islands in UK overseas territories. Last year an Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) project, part-funded by the UK Government, carried out a programme to eradicate rats on Henderson Island in the South Pacific.

Helicopters guided by GPS dropped rat poison pellets on the island, which is the only known breeding site of the endangered Henderson petrel.

Grahame Madge of the RSPB said: "Without projects like this, these seabirds would have a finite life. On Henderson Island the rats were bringing birds towards extinction."

A pilot study is being carried out to look at the feasibility of removing mice from another important breeding site, Gough Island in the South Atlantic.

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