Best of our wild blogs: 20 Mar 12

24 Mar (Sat): Launch of new Science Centre guidebook on snails
from wild shores of singapore

Macro Day @ Hantu Bloggers' Anniversary dive
from colourful clouds

The project so far
from Wild Boars of mainland Singapore

Hunters who hide and hop
from The annotated budak

Pasir Ris Park Mangrove Swamp
from NormanJoyEmmanuel Nature Walks

23 – 27 July Biodiversity & Taxonomy Workshop Series 3: Introduction to Tropical Bivalves
from Raffles Museum News

How best to monitor biodiversity in REDD+ projects?
from news by Jeremy Hance

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LTA announces finalised alignment for Bukit Brown road project

Joanne Chan Channel NewsAsia 19 Mar 12;

SINGAPORE: The new road that will cut across Bukit Brown Cemetery will feature a vehicular bridge for nearly a third of the way.

The Land Transport Authority (LTA) released the finalised alignment of the road on Monday.

LTA said the 670-metre bridge will go over existing creeks to minimise the impact on the biodiversity in the area.

LTA added that fewer graves will be affected than earlier estimates, following the completion of grave identification works.

In all, a total of 3,746 graves will be removed for the new dual four-lane road.

This is lower than the earlier estimate of 5,000 graves.

Despite several consultations in the past six months, civic groups are still unhappy and have continued to raise concerns over the road alignment.

Dr Ho Hua Chew, an executive committee member from the Nature Society Singapore, said: "A lot of forest birds can be badly affected. If it's under shadow (of the bridge), the vegetation will not flourish."

The authorities have also commissioned the documentation of the affected graves. A team will note family histories, stories and memories associated with the cemetery.

The full list of affected graves will be published in the newspapers and will also be available on LTA's webpage.

Next-of-kin can register their claims from March 20. Public exhumation works have also been pushed back by three months to the first quarter of 2013 to allow more time for claims to be made.

Heritage groups meanwhile would like documentation to be extended to other graves, before the area makes way for public housing in 20 years.

'Minimal impact' to Bukit Brown surrounding
Sumita Sreedharan Today Online 20 Sep 12;

SINGAPORE - The new road across Bukit Brown Cemetery will feature a vehicular bridge that will run for nearly a third of its 2km length, said the Land Transport Authority (LTA) as it announced the road's final alignment yesterday.

The 670m vehicular bridge, which will run over existing creeks in the area, will minimise "impact to the existing terrain and surrounding environment", while allowing for wildlife movement under it.

The construction of the new road will also see less graves being exhumed. A total of 3,746 graves from Bukit Brown and Seh Ong cemeteries will be affected, less than the 5,000 originally expected.

Next-of-kin of graves affected by the construction have till the end of this year to register their claim before exhumation begins in early 2013. A full list of affected graves will be published in the newspapers and on the LTA website, and next-of-kin can register with the LTA by post, fax, online, or in person.

In arriving at its final alignment, the LTA said yesterday it "minimises land take in the area and impact to the existing terrain and surrounding environment".

First announced in September, the new dual four-lane road is expected to alleviate the congestion currently experienced along Lornie Road and the Pan-Island Expressway (PIE) during peak hours and cater to expected growth in traffic. Lornie Road will also be converted to a dual two-lane road with the extra area to be used as a park.

Despite several consultations over the past six months, some civic groups continued to raise concerns over the road alignment yesterday. Dr Ho Hua Chew, who is an executive committee member at the Nature Society Singapore, told Channel NewsAsia: "A lot of forest birds can be badly affected. If it's under shadow, the vegetation will not flourish."

Minister of State for National Development Tan Chuan-Jin, who chaired a briefing and discussion with groups on the road last night, said the decision to proceed with construction has understandably "caused disappointment to those who want to conserve Bukit Brown". "I want to give assurance to those who have been giving us their views on this matter that the decision has not been an easy one," Mr Tan wrote on his Facebook page. "While we have not been able to fully accommodate their wishes, we have taken many of their views into consideration."

For instance, he noted the decision to embark on a serious documentation of the affected graves was a result of advice received from the heritage society. The LTA has also factored in feedback in its design of the road to minimise impact to the cemetery, hydrology and biodiversity, said Mr Tan. "Going forward, we need to continue with these conversations ... For example, we are now looking at working with interested stakeholders on public outreach to commemorate the history and heritage of Bukit Brown even as we continue with work on documentation."

When asked if the vehicular bridge would impact the cost of building the new road, an LTA spokesperson said: "Tenders have not been called at this point and the project cost will only be available after the tender is awarded." Construction of the road is expected to complete by 2016.

Decision to construct road at Bukit Brown wasn't easy: Tan Chuan-Jin
Hetty Musfirah Channel NewsAsia 19 Mar 12;

SINGAPORE: Minister of State for National Development Tan Chuan-Jin said the decision to construct the road at Bukit Brown cemetery has not been an easy one.

Writing in his Facebook page after a discussion with stakeholders on Monday evening, Mr Tan said it is understandable that the decision to proceed with the construction has caused disappointment to those who want to conserve Bukit Brown.

While authorities have not been able to fully accommodate all wishes, many of the views have been taken into consideration.

For instance, the decision to embark on a serious documentation of the affected graves was a result of advice received from the Heritage Society.

He said the Land Transport Authority had also factored in feedback in its design of the road to minimise impact to the cemetery.

Mr Tan said as documentation work on the cemetery continues, authorities are also working with interested stakeholders on public outreach to commemorate the history and heritage of Bukit Brown.

- CNA/fa

Green path for new Bukit Brown road
Eco-bridge will be built to reduce impact on nature and graves
Christopher Tan Straits Times 20 Mar 12;

IN WHAT some observers see as a concession to various interest groups, the Government yesterday announced that one-third of a controversial new road across Bukit Brown will be a bridge up to 10m off the ground.

This is expected to cost up to three times more than a surface road, but the option will benefit fauna in the wooded area, the site of an old cemetery.

The bridge will also mean slightly fewer graves will be affected by the road works, although the Land Transport Authority (LTA) cannot pinpoint the exact number of graves saved because of this.

All in, 3,746 graves will have to be exhumed from early next year. The LTA had initially estimated 5,000 would have to go when the road project was announced last year.

Giving its finalised plans for the dual four-lane carriageway that will bypass Lornie Road, the LTA said that it decided on something 'that minimises... impact to the existing terrain and surrounding environment'.

A 600m centre portion of the 2km road will be a bridge. The LTA explained that this was because of the undulating landscape consisting of 'several hillocks... and creeks'.

It said a bridge will maintain an 'eco-linkage' under the structure, and wildlife in the area can 'continue to traverse between both sides of the road'. Existing streams will also be preserved.

Experts said, however, that the most economical and efficient method to build a road in such an environment would be to use what is known as 'cut and fill', which is basically excavating soil from hilly terrain in the area to fill up lower ground so that the entire area is flat.

Mr Rajan Krishnan, senior vice-president (Asia) of infrastructural group Parsons Brinckerhoff, said building a bridge would cost 'at least 21/2 times' more than building a surface road as it would involve piling and added structures such as piers.

Mr Joshua Ong, vice-president of engineering consultancy Jurong Consultants, said: 'A cut-and-fill method would be the cheapest and most optimal solution. An elevated road will cost two to three times more.'

Nature Society (Singapore) president Shawn Lum told The Straits Times earlier yesterday that he was 'heartened' by the news. 'No road would have been best, but if there was going to be a road, an elevated road is the better option,' he said. The option will allow free movement of small reptiles and frogs. 'Even birds will benefit, because some don't like to fly over road,' he said.

Mr Cedric Foo, chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Transport, said the decision to build an elevated road, although costlier, 'is the right direction'.

'In the early days of our development, we focused on economic development, and conservation was a luxury we could not afford. But when a country is richer, we can accommodate some of these things,' he said. 'We can't put a dollar value to natural habitat.'

The new road will alleviate current congestion along Lornie Road during peak hours and cater to expected traffic growth. It is expected to be ready by 2016. In the longer term, the area has been earmarked for housing.

After details were announced last September, various civic society groups called for the entire area - the site of some 100,000 old graves - to be spared, citing heritage and environment reasons.

Last night, after meeting Minister of State for National Development Tan Chuan-Jin, seven groups including the Nature Society (Singapore) called for a moratorium on all works at Bukit Brown until discussions over alternatives to building a road have been exhausted. Nature Society's conservation committee vice-chairman Ho Hua Chew attended the meeting in place of Mr Lum.

The LTA yesterday said the new road is needed sooner, not later, citing a rise in traffic demand by up to 30 per cent by 2020. It added that internationally, few private graves are preserved by the state. But it acknowledged the heritage value of the place, and had together with the Urban Redevelopment Authority commissioned documentation of affected graves.

Alignment of road at Bukit Brown finalised
Sumita Sreedharan Today Online 19 Mar 12;

SINGAPORE - The alignment of the road to be built across Bukit Brown was finalised today, and will feature a bridge that the Land Transport Authority (LTA) says will complement the existing topography and allow for wildlife movement in the area.

The LTA said the road alignment - which has drawn criticism from those who want to see the heritage of Bukit Brown preserved - was chosen because it is the shortest route through the area and required no acquisition of private property.

The 670-metre bridge will make up one-third of its length. Under the finalised road alignment, which was gazetted today, less graves will also be affected.

3,746 graves from Bukit Brown and 194 graves from the Seh Ong cemetery will be affected by the new road. The LTA had originally estimated that 5,000 graves would have to make way.

Next-of-kin of graves affected by the new road have until the end of this year to register their claim to the affected graves with the LTA before the public exhumation begins early next year. Public exhumation was originally slated for the forth quarter of this year.

Registration can be done by post, fax, online, or in person and a full list of affected graves will be published in the newspapers and be available online on the LTA homepage.

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Keep a little bit of old Seletar in new developments

Straits Times Forum 20 Mar 12;

TRACTS of forest, farms and nurseries at Seletar Farmway off Jalan Kayu are being cleared, or will be cleared soon, for new developments, including, I believe, the Seletar Aerospace Park.

For many years, the area has been a rustic countryside offering families and surrounding preschools an easily accessible respite from bustling city life.

My family has many happy memories of visiting the attractions there, such as the Animal Resort and Nanyang Fish Farm.

I visited the area again with my children during the school break and was sad to find a large plant nursery gone and tracts of forest cleared.

Two buildings that have been there for as long as I can remember were boarded up, earmarked for demolition, perhaps.

One, a two-storey colonial-style structure that stood at the junction of Yio Chu Kang Road and Seletar Hills, which used to be a post office and later, a childcare centre.

Another, tucked away from public view near Seletar Farmway 4 and 6 off Jalan Kayu, is an old Taoist temple with beautiful intricate roof carvings that used to serve the villagers and farmers in its vicinity.

These two buildings occupy relatively small parcels of land and seem to be sturdy structures.

Architecturally and historically, it may be worthwhile conserving them and integrating them in the area's future development, perhaps as offices, restaurants or heritage galleries.

I hope the relevant government agencies as well as grassroots committees in the area will consider my suggestion.

Such vestiges of old Singapore should not suffer the fate of being locked away and finally fading from the memories of older Singaporeans. They should remain as something old and worth preserving in the new Singapore.

Edwin Pang

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Frequent fogging and insecticide concerns in mosquito control

Straits Times Forum 20 Mar 12;

THE widespread practice of thermal fogging using the insecticide cypermethrin for mosquito control in Singapore is a cause for concern.

In some areas, the residents cannot avoid inhaling the chemical several times a week because of frequent fogging in the neighbourhood. The chemical may also contaminate drain water, a source of Newater.

Cypermethrin is widely used in agriculture in many countries but seldom in densely populated areas.

The National Environment Agency believes cypermethrin is safe. But we really have no knowledge of the long-term effects of repeated exposure to the chemical on people, especially infants and children.

There are no perfectly harmless chemicals and drugs.

When DDT was first introduced in 1939, it was hailed as an ideal insecticide with no harmful effects on higher forms of animals. In 1962, American biologist Rachel Carson found that the chemical could cause cancer and harm animals high up in food chains. And in 1972, DDT was banned in America. Also, aspirin, considered perfectly safe for decades, is now known to have side-effects.

A chemical or drug is used justifiably if its benefits outweigh its harmful effects.

According to a field study carried out in Malaysia and tests published in natural science journal Florida Entomologist, cypermethrin's effectiveness as a larvicide (larvae killer) is doubtful.

When there is an outbreak of a mosquito-related disease, fogging should be an immediate response to kill adult mosquitoes over several hectares at one go, while doubling the efforts to clear the area of stagnant water.

However, it is ludicrous for individual home owners to have thermal fogging carried out routinely in their compounds.

Its efficacy is short-lived and the neighbours' houses can suddenly be shrouded in a chemical fog that is probably harmful to infants and children.

The United States Environmental Protection Agency classifies cypermethrin as a possible human cancer-inducing agent. A recent study has linked pyrethroids, to which cypermethrin belongs, to leukaemia and lymphoma.

Cypermethrin is a neurotoxin that can affect brain tissue and can damage many other organs.

Let us avoid the futile individual thermal fogging, and concentrate our efforts on the key to mosquito control - prevention of stagnant water formation.

Dr Ong Siew Chey

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Malaysia: Wildlife crossing for road through tiger habitats

Safe passage
Natalie Heng The Star 20 Mar 12;

A road that cuts through tiger habitats will be upgraded to include wildlife crossings.

THE TIGER is a flagship species. Protect it, conservationists say, and you protect much of the biodiversity in our forests.

Reconciling development pressures with conservation however, is a challenge that haunts all developing nations, more so for the world’s 13 tiger range countries, which house roughly half of the Earth’s population.

Nonetheless, progress has been taking place in the wake of the 2010 Tiger Summit in St Petersburg, Russia. Malaysia, which like the rest of the tiger range countries adopted a declaration on tiger conservation at the meeting, has gained recognition for its progressive land use planning.

Conservation objectives have been “mainstreamed” into development plans through the Central Forest Spine Master Plan, an initiative under the National Physical Plan (which indicates future directions for land use, development and conservation). Endorsed by the Cabinet last year, the master plan’s latest site of transformation lies somewhere in Kuala Lipis, Pahang, where the burbling Sungai Yu rushes cool and clear beneath the shade of bamboo, kasai and sesenduk trees.

The road it passes under is a colonial relic, and the only barrier to crossing wildlife at this narrowest of points between two of Malaysia’s largest forest complexes, Taman Negara and the Titiwangsa Main Range.

Constructed in the 1930s, the Gua Musang Highway which is also known as Federal Route 8, extends from Bentong, Pahang in the south, right up to Kota Baru, Kelantan in the north.

Rapid expansion of car ownership has led to horrific traffic congestion on this road. Though surrounded by dramatic landscape, the scenic drive down Federal Route 8 is a nightmare during festive seasons. Plans have already commenced to widen it into a four-lane dual carriageway. Together with a part of Federal Route 9, the two routes roughly trace the backbone of Malaysia from Kuala Krai in Kelantan right down to Simpang Pelangai in Pahang and will be known as the Central Spine Road. It is the stretch of road at Sungai Yu, however, which is to become a beacon of smart green infrastructure.

Wildlife crossings

Sungai Yu is at the centre of a 10km stretch of state land known as the Sungai Yu Wildlife Corridor, which links Taman Negara with the Titiwangsa Main Range. Combined, these two refuges make up the fifth largest tiger landscape in the world. The corridor, therefore, is a crucial site not just for the Malayan tiger, a subspecies unique to Malaysia, but the species as a whole.

The river marks a popular crossing point for wildlife and Department of Wildlife and National Parks (Perhilitan) officers are often called in to usher large mammals such as elephants off the road (where they pose traffic risks) and back into the forests. An average of 90 such incidents occur each year.

In this sense, the highway expansion could be a recipe for disaster: faster and higher volumes of traffic can lead to more accidents and roadkill. Tigers and tapirs are among the other large mammals which make use of the highway, and with less than 500 Malayan tigers left in the wild, every tiger counts.

Under the Central Forest Spine Master Plan, Sungai Yu is one of 15 green corridors between four of Malaysia’s major forest complexes – connections that are crucial for tigers which are solitary animals, occurring at very low densities of one to two tigers per 100sqkm. This behaviour relates in part to the population density of its prey, which includes wild boar, barking deer and sambar deer. There is a minimum amount of habitat required to sustain both prey and tiger populations, therefore, the corridor increases the number of individuals that can be sustained. The larger the population, the more resilient it is against factors such as inbreeding, diseases and environmental catastrophes.

To ensure that the corridor links are not threatened by the expansion of the highway, three wildlife underpasses will be built to allow wildlife to cross underneath the road and avoid being run over by traffic. Research data were used to pin-point important crossing points.

Piling works by the Public Works Department (PWD) for the structures are nearly complete. The road will feature Malaysia’s longest viaduct – a span bridge almost 1km in length – and two shorter ones of 300m and 80m. A number of smaller box and pipe culverts, built to aid water drainage during the wet season, will help secure safe passage for smaller animals during the dry season. These green features cost the Government an extra RM25mil, raising the overall project cost to RM158.7mil.

Highway patrol

Wildlife biologist Dr Kae Kawanishi who was involved in a benchmark study on the tiger population in Taman Negara says Malaysia is leading the way where green infrastructure is concerned. Chief wildlife biologist for the Sungai Yu Tiger Corridor Project which is a partnership between government and non-government agencies, she is involved in the effort to secure, maintain and enhance wildlife corridors through the implementation of three policies – the National Physical Plan, the National Tiger Conservation Action Plan and the Central Forest Spine Master Plan.

Ideally, she would have liked the entire 10km segment of the highway with existing forest connectivity to be elevated, but understands the realities of budgets and limited resources. “Sometimes it is necessary to find a compromise, hence, the best possible sites had to be selected.”

On whether wildlife will continue using those sites after construction is completed, Kawanishi says it will probably take some time for wildlife to re-colonise the area because of the disturbance.

Despite that, PWD Inspector of works Zulkifli Hussein says wildlife is using the crossing point even as construction is going on. He captured an image of what looked like a tiger paw print on his mobile phone a few weeks ago, at a spot beyond some iron piling adjacent to Sungai Yu.

“If you come here between 6.30 and 7pm, it is quite common to see elephants,” he says, also claiming to have seen barking deer and a black leopard on a hill overlooking the construction site.

Regardless, effectiveness of the underpasses can only be determined through post-construction monitoring. For Kawanishi, a crucial element is ensuring that the completed structures feature wildlife patrols.

“Poaching is the greatest threat faced by Malaysia’s endangered species. Habitat-related threats such as forest loss or fragmentation are secondary. The authorities have to seriously deliberate on finding effective ways for the deployment of more trained, permanent enforcement staff at priority tiger habitats, which include national and state parks as well as forest reserves.”

Perhilitan is aware of this, and discussions on a permanent management mechanism at Sungai Yu are underway and will be submitted to the Natural Resources and Environment Ministry before the viaducts are completed.

In the meantime, Pahang Perhilitan will enhance its patrols in the area by deploying officers from its offices in Kuala Lipis and Kuantan. For special operations, staff might also be deployed from Taman Negara. And since either side of the road is forest reserve, patrolling will also be done by the Forestry Department.

Perhilitan says in future, road developments will have to be more wildlife-friendly, with wildlife crossing areas needing enhanced management.

Tiger SOS
Natalie Heng The Star 20 Mar 12;

OVER the last century, tiger numbers have plummeted from 100,000 in the 1900s to 3,200 today. Three out of nine tiger species are already extinct, and the animal’s habitat range stands at 7% of what it used to be. With human population growth still accelerating, and development pressures continuing to encroach on tiger habitats, a revolution is needed in the way we approach tiger conservation.

Smart green infrastructure

The concept refers to designs that either avoid cutting through core wildlife habitats, or those that minimise adverse impacts from infrastructure development.

Malaysia got its first piece of Smart Green Infrastructure in 2008 at Sungai Deka, Terengganu, identified as an important green corridor under the Central Forest Spine Master Plan.

Among the green features of Sungai Deka are:

> The original alignment of the Simpang Pulai-Kuala Berang highway was modified to shift it further away from the northern portion of Taman Negara, to prevent easy access for poachers into the protected area.

> In 2008, three wildlife viaducts were constructed at a cost of RM30mil. Terengganu designated 15,000ha around the viaducts as forest reserves.

> In 2009, over 20km of the highway was furnished with electric fencing to funnel wildlife through the viaducts. The habitat around these structures was enriched with grass pastures and salt licks to attract wildlife.

> Some RM3.5mil has been allocated for various conservation components, including elephant holding facilities before translocation and construction of a temporary ranger post, from which patrolling is done almost daily.

> An 11-man management team under the Terengganu Department of Wildlife And National Parks (Perhilitan) was approved by the Public Service Department for Sungai Deka last year.

Similar wildlife-friendly infrastructure are being carried out at the Gua Musang Highway which bisects the wildlife corridor between the Tanum and Sungai Yu Forest Reserves in Terengganu and planned for the Gerik-Jeli Highway at the wildlife corridor between the Temenggor Forest Reserve and Royal Belum State Park in Perak.

Citizen action

Aside from habitat loss, another daunting issue in tiger conservation is the killing of tigers and their prey by poachers. With limited resources for patrolling, enforcement is a major challenge, which is why the Malaysian Conservation Alliance for Tigers (MYCAT, a coalition of conservation groups) started Citizen Action for Tigers (CAT) in 2010. With CAT, volunteers go on nature walks at poaching hotspots in Sungai Yu on weekends when Perhilitan enforcement staff might be off-duty, to keep an eye on illegal activities.

A form of eco-tourism, this project has had a real impact: volunteer reports to the Wildlife Crime Hotline (019-3564194) on suspicious activities have led to snare removals and poacher arrests by Perhilitan.

This success story led to CAT Trailblazer, a joint project between MYCAT and Perhilitan, where the public go on five-day “bushwhacking” trips with rangers to boost the presence of people at the borders of Taman Negara, thus deterring encroachment.

“Adventurous tourists love it, and the local communities benefit financially from increased tourism,” says MYCAT general manager Dr Kae Kawanishi. She says the functional effectiveness of smart green infrastructure must be supported by enforcement patrols as well as citizen conservation activities. “It is not just the responsibility of the government.”

Kawanishi says such conservation-cum-ecotourism activities will be a vital element of the eventual Tiger Trail tourism around Taman Negara. (For more about CAT, go to or

International co-ordination

Such partnerships between citizens and government are a welcome addition to the fight against illegal wildlife trade which remains a major threat to wildlife, according to Keshav Varma, programme director for Global Tiger Initiative (GTI).

East Asia has seen a surge in demand for illegal wildlife products, and the Mafia has moved in to take advantage of this US$10bil (RM30.2bil) market.

“It (the mafia) is getting more aggressive and more organised. What is emerging is a need for an organisation that can truly counter crimes in illegal wildlife trade. Right now, we are trailing behind,” says Varma.

He says the GTI encourages the formation of an international consortium for combating of wildlife crimes, by bringing together Interpol, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, the World Customs Organisation, CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora), and the World Bank.

Currently, the consortium is trying to tackle a previous lack of international co-ordination – which is vital because illegal wildlife trade often involves crimes that are transboundary – by building up the institutional architecture to deal with this.

“One part of the agenda is advocacy work, the other is better co-ordination and better flow of information.”

Varma is particularly concerned about Malaysia, and feels there is a need for stricter enforcement.

“Malaysia definitely has an image of being a hub, a hotspot for poaching and illegal trade, and there is a need to clamp down on this.” – By Natalie Heng

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Malaysia: Pulau Perhentian spruce -up

Daniel Quilter The Star 20 Mar 12;

Ecoteer volunteers initiate small but significant steps to keep the lustre at Pulau Perhentian.

I EXPECTED to be greeted by murky, muddy monsoon waters and waves which would be more suitable for a surfboard rather than my snorkelling gear. However, as the boat bounced along the crystal clear waters off Kuala Besut in Terengganu, I knew someone was looking down on us and this would be the start of a successful year.

As I approached the jetty at Kampong Pasir Hantu on Pulau Perhentian Kecil, I felt a sense of homecoming and saw a few familiar, smiling faces. I have balik kampung. Since June 2011, staff and volunteers of the group I founded, Ecoteer, had been staying in the village conducting various activities to enhance the living standards of the villagers, as well as raise environmental and cultural awareness amongst the villagers and tourists.

Ecoteer rely on volunteers to conduct these activities and so far, over 300 have joined us on the island. The Star Foundation is currently supporting our work there under the year-long Treasured Island collaboration.

We were on the island for most parts of last year, but the project was temporarily stopped from December to January because of the monsoon. Last month, I returned to the island. With me was Long Seh Ling, the project leader who oversees our activities on the island.

As we walked through the village, we were followed by a growing band of happy faces and by the time we reached Ecoteer House, we had an army of over 20 children eagerly waiting to enter the building. Ecoteer House acts as a base for our community and conservation activities as well as a youth centre for the village children.

Last year, we received a donation from Alice Smith International School in Kuala Lumpur which we used to buy games and sports equipment such as a foosball table and a basketball hoop for the children.

As we entered the house which had been closed for three months, we found that a major clean-up was needed. The children were more than happy to help out and enjoyed being given something to do after school hours.

It was the perfect way to be welcomed back to the village – working together and helping your neighbour, in the spirit of gotong-royong (collective community action).

Village clean-up

The following day, we took a walk around the village. One of Seh Ling’s first observation was of a beautiful place spoilt by the litter found everywhere. The rubbish piles up during the monsoon season because the contractors stop their collection.

To make things worse, many villagers nonchalantly leave their rubbish outside their homes. We chatted with village headman Pak Sudin and he told us his wish to organise more gotong-royong, not only to keep the village clean, but to regain a sense of community among villagers.

So this year, the Ecoteer Village People (a term affectionately bestowed to all volunteers at Ecoteer House) will help to address the rubbish problem by hosting gotong-royong clean-ups in the village and on some beaches every other Saturday.

Ecoteer has also teamed up with Reef Check Malaysia and the Association of Operators Pulau Perhentian to introduce a composting and recycling scheme in the village.

A recycling competition will be held – the village kid who collects the most recyclables every two months will receive a new bicycle. The recyclables will be sold to a local waste disposal company and the money raised will go to the school.

The recycling effort is not only to reduce waste heaps in the village but to also introduce good habits among the children.

The association has funded a Biomate composting machine, which is placed at the school, and the children bring in organic waste from their homes each day.

The machine can convert 25kg of waste into compost within 24 hours. The compost is then used to fertilise the Herb Garden and Nursery, another initiative by Ecoteer.

It is hoped that villagers will adopt the idea of making compost and growing greens as another potential source of income. Herbs grown in the garden can be used in the upcoming Western Cookery Classes for the womenfolk and restaurant owners on the island.

The need to create new employment becomes evident when you meet some of the less fortunate villagers.

Taxi boatmen (who ferry passengers between the island and the mainland) make the most money in the village, but not everyone can do so on a regular basis.

Some families cannot afford to upkeep their dilapidated wooden houses which are damaged by heavy monsoon rains.

Under the Home Improvement Project, The Star Foundation will help five families to repair their homes.

Once a week, the Ecoteer group shares an evening meal with a family in the village. These meals provide an opportunity for the volunteers to interact with the villagers and experience Malay culture, apart from providing the villagers with a small income.

During Seh Ling’s first Malay dinner, she helped the children with their English homework and noted their poor grasp of the English language.

Good English-speaking skills are important for these children as they will most likely be employed in the tourism industry when they are older.

To improve the children’s English-speaking and reading skills, the Ecoteer team started the English Club at the local primary school. The children will be introduced to their counterparts in England as pen pals to exchange letters.

The children also learn English from the volunteers, many of whom come from Britain, Australia and the United States. Complementing the English Club is the Environment Club which aims to improve the children’s environmental awareness through various creative medium such as songs, art and games.

Marine care

On the third day, we took a boat across to Pulau Perhentian Besar. The turquoise water of Tanjung Tukas was inviting and we quickly jumped in. Although it looked like paradise above water, it is a different story below. The coral reefs have suffered a lot of damage from strong waves during the monsoon. Some coral species such as the staghorn, have broken into pieces.

Although this sounds bad, it is actually a natural process in the reef; the coral fragments will regrow into new coral colonies.

Regardless, the reefs have suffered significant damage over the past decade due to pollution, litter, sewage from resorts (which causes algae to bloom and smother the coral), high water temperatures (particularly in 2010 when a climatic phenomenon called El Nino occurred) as well as physical damage from tourists.

The damage caused by natural phenomena might be difficult to solve but tourists can be taught responsible tourism practices such as not touching or stepping on corals while snorkelling, and ethical turtle watching.

The Association of Operators Pulau Perhentian is seeking solutions to reduce pollution and now provides educational materials for tourists.

Ecoteer is consulting with the association to schedule weekly talks for tourists to highlight the benefits of responsible snorkelling and diving practices.

The team will also assess the health of corals at five snorkelling sites, and submit the information to the global Coral Watch database managed by Queensland University.

One of Perhentian’s most prized and loved residents is the green turtle. The biggest threat to their existence on the island is surprisingly, not the deterioration of their habitat, but the consumption of their eggs. Turtle eggs are a cultural delicacy but as some scientists believe only one in 10,000 turtle hatchlings becomes an adult, the population is reduced when a portion of the eggs do not even have the chance to hatch.

Other threats to sea turtles are harassment by tourists, incidental capture in fishing nets and disturbance during nesting.

These issues will be highlighted at the school Environment Club and at the weekly talks for tourists.

Before I left the island, Seh Ling and I marvelled at a picture-perfect sunset at Petani Beach.

This was a great opportunity for us to look ahead to what the year will bring. I personally hope that through our working relationships with the village head, school, association and Reef Check Malaysia, plus the support of The Star Foundation, we can make small but significant steps towards making Perhentian a more sustainable destination, and ensure a brighter future for the village children as well the turtle hatchlings and other marine creatures which inhabit the reefs of the island.

For more information on Ecoteer’s project on Pulau Perhentian, go to or, or e-mail

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Malaysia: Talang Satang National Park A Sanctuary For Endangered Turtles

Bernama 19 Mar 12;

SEMATAN (Sarawak), March 19 (Bernama) -- The turtle adoption and conservation programme carried out by the Sarawak Forestry Corporation (SFC) at the Talang Satang National Park was to conserve the population of the Green Turtle species (Chelonia mydas).

National Park caretaker Tonny Ganyer said the three turtle islands where the turtle conservation was being carried out - Pulau Talang Besar, Pulau Talang Kecil and Pulau Satang Besar - provide a perfect sanctuary for turtles to come ashore and lay eggs.

"The Green Turtles are fast becoming an endangered species due to predators in the sea and sea gulls as well as the danger posed by human, like fishing and beach activities," he said after a briefing on turtle conservation and research in Pulau Talang Besar here.

He said last year about 3,000 turtles had landed on the shores of the three islands to lay about 200,000 eggs, between the months of March to September.

A major reason why marine turtles throughout the world are in danger is the continuing loss of nesting habitat and its is believed that marine turtles have an extremely high affinity for their nesting beaches, and therefore the loss or reduction of even a single nesting beach can have serious effects.


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Malaysia: Pangolin smugglers busted near Gerik

Fong Kee Soon The Star 20 Mar 12;

The state Wildlife and National Parks Department (Perhilitan) rescued 18 pangolins as the animals were being transported in a car.

Perhilitan officers spotted the car, a black Proton Perdana, at 2.30am as the vehicle overtook them on the East-West Highway near Gerik last Saturday.

“Based on its registration number, they identified the car as suspected of being involved in wildlife smuggling.

“They trailed the car before apprehending the driver at a petrol station.

“Following a search they discovered the pangolins, which were kept in 16 blue-coloured plastic bags,” said the department’s spokesman in a press release on the same day of the arrest.

An adult passenger was also detained.

A report was then lodged at the Gerik police station whereupon the two male adults were remanded for further investigation.

Under the Wildlife Conservation Act 2010, the offence carries a fine of not less than RM50,000 and not more than RM100,000 or a jail term of up to three years or both.

Perhilitan urged the public to alert the department any activity suspected of contravening the Wildlife Conservation Act 2010 at 1300-80-1010 or email

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Malaysia: More gaharu trees felled

The Star 20 Mar 12;

GEORGE TOWN: Officers from the state Forestry Department stumbled upon 14 felled agarwood (gaharu) trees during an inspection with a Penang Hash House Harriers (PHHH) member in a hilly area in Fettes Park, Tanjung Tokong.

Department director Abdul Wahab Deraman said they went into the area yesterday after a group of PHHH members had complained that some men were chopping down the trees during a Harriers run on March 15.

At press time, the officers were still up the hill.

“We believe the trees were felled about two months ago before we formed enforcement teams to track down culprits under Ops Jejak Karas.

“Our initial checks showed there is a possibility that the affected area is state-owned land,” he said yesterday.

PHHH member Gurdial Singh, who accompanied the forest rangers, said the department had requested help from the Harriers to monitor such illegal activities.

“This is because we are constantly running at various places around Penang island,” he said.

On Saturday, The Star reported that a group of PHHH runners stumbled upon several men, who looked like foreigners, chopping down some trees.

On Feb 12, Sunday Star reported on the illegal felling of the highly-valued trees in the rainforest near the Penang Botanic Gardens and several other places.

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Indonesia: East Asian and Australasia countries discuss bird migration

Antara 19 Mar 12;

Palembang (ANTARA News) - Thirteen countries are meeting to discuss the migration of endangered bird species in the East Asia and Australasia regions.

RI Minister of Forestry, Zulkifli Hasan, said the Government of Indonesia will provide a good habitat for the development of the endangered wild birds that have migrated to Indonesia.

"There are nine tracks of bird migration in the East Asia and Australasia region that have migrated to Indonesia," said Hasan at the East Asia-Australasia Flyway Partnership in Palembang, on Monday.

He also noted that Indonesia will protect the migrated birds.

"The habitat of the migrated birds is mainly in the swamps, so we have asked that the swamplands in South Sumatra not be converted and that bird hunting is banned," said Hasan.

The minister also launched the Sembilang National Park in Banyuasin, South Sumatra, which specializes as a wild bird conservation area.

The Sembilang National Park has also become a special eco-tourism destination in South Sumatra.

According to the Head of the Tourism Department of South Sumatra, Toni Panggarbesi, the opening of Sembilang National Park will not damage the ecosystem of birds as it`s a special event eco-tourism destination and will only be open to small groups of qualified visitors.

"The Department of Culture and Tourism will restrict the entry of tourists to the Sembilang National Park and facilitate the promotion of this special event eco-tourism destination," he remarked.

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New Frog Species with 'Weird' Croak Identified in New York City

University of Alabama Newswise 14 Mar 12;

In the wilds of New York City — or as wild as you can get so close to skyscrapers — scientists have found a new leopard frog species that for years biologists mistook for a more widespread variety of leopard frog.

This leopard frog that lives in and around New York City is now being called a new species, soon to be named. Photo: Brian Curry, Rutgers

While biologists regularly discover new species in remote rain forests, finding this one in the ponds and marshes of Staten Island, mainland New York and New Jersey — sometimes within view of the Statue of Liberty — is a big surprise, said the scientists from UCLA, Rutgers University, UC Davis, and The University of Alabama who worked together to make the unexpected discovery.

"For a new species to go unrecognized for all this time in this area is amazing," said UCLA Professor Brad Shaffer, from UCLA’s Institute of the Environment and Sustainability and UCLA’s Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. Shaffer is one of the authors on the paper announcing the discovery.

"Many amphibians are secretive and can be very hard to find, but these frogs are pretty obvious, out-there animals," said Shaffer, who is also the director of the UCLA La Kretz Center for California Conservation Science. "This shows that even in the largest city in the U.S. there are still new and important species waiting to be discovered that could be lost without conservation."

In newly released research available online in the journal "Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution," scientists used DNA data to compare the new frog to all other leopard frog species in the region and determined that it is an entirely new species, soon to be named by the researchers. The unnamed frog joins a crowd of more than a dozen distinct leopard frog species. The newly identified wetland species likely once lived on Manhattan, and though it’s now only known to live in a few nearby locations, Yankee Stadium in the Bronx would be the bull’s-eye of a target drawn around its current range.

Lead author and evolutionary biologist Cathy Newman was completing her master’s at The University of Alabama while working with Leslie Rissler, associate professor of biological sciences at Alabama, on an unrelated study of the southern leopard frog species when Newman first contacted doctoral candidate and co-author Jeremy Feinberg at Rutgers in New Jersey. Newman asked for help on her project, and in return, Feinberg, an ecologist, asked the geneticists if they could help him investigate some "unusual frogs" whose weird-sounding calls were different from other leopard frogs. 

"There were northern and southern leopard frogs species in that general area, so I was expecting to find one of those that for some reason had atypical behaviors or that were hybrids of both," Newman added. "I was really surprised and excited once I started getting data back strongly suggesting it was a new species. It’s fascinating in such a heavily urbanized area."

Feinberg, on the other hand, who is also a regional expert on amphibians and reptiles and a guest researcher at Brookhaven National Laboratory, suspected that the leopard-frog lookalike with the peculiar croak was a new creature hiding in plain sight. Instead of the "long snore" or "rapid chuckle" he heard from other leopard frogs, this frog had a short, repetitive croak. As far back as the late 1800s, scientists have speculated about the "odd" frogs, but until the advent of molecular genetics, it was difficult to prove anything, he said.

"When I first heard these frogs calling, it was so different, I knew something was very off," Feinberg said. "It’s what we call a cryptic species: one species hidden within another because we can’t tell them apart on sight. Thanks to molecular genetics, people are really picking out species more and more that would otherwise be ignored."

The bulk of Newman’s work took place at UC Davis, where UCLA’s Shaffer previously worked. When he found out about Newman’s project, Shaffer was immediately taken with it and encouraged her to pursue it. He offered guidance during Newman’s preliminary analysis of the frog’s mitochondrial DNA, taken from the samples Feinberg and other regional biologists sent of the northern, southern and "weird" frogs. The results were clear-cut: the DNA was distinct, no matter how much the frogs looked alike.

"If I had one of those three leopard frogs in my hands, unless I knew what area it was from, I wouldn’t know which kind I was holding because they all look so similar," Newman said. "But all of our results showed this one lineage is very clearly genetically distinct."

Mitochondrial DNA represents only a fraction of the amphibian’s total DNA though, so Newman knew she needed to do broader nuclear DNA tests to see the whole picture and confirm she had a new species. Shaffer helped her develop strategies for collecting data to compare the new frog to closely related leopard frog species. They shared the data in teleconferencing meetings with Feinberg; Feinberg’s adviser, ecology Professor Joanna Burger at Rutgers; and Rissler, Newman’s master’s adviser at Alabama. Together, the five researchers authored the paper announcing the new species.

"I remember in our lab meetings we were all so excited," Shaffer recalled. "We were trying to be good scientists and not jump to conclusions, but we’re looking at the data going, ‘It’s got to be a new species.’ You feel like you’ve uncovered something unique about the world that’s never been known before."

Habitat destruction, disease, invasive species, pesticides and parasites have all taken a heavy toll on frogs and other amphibians world-wide, said Rissler, program director in the National Science Foundation’s division of environmental biology while on sabbatical from Alabama. Even if you don’t particularly care about amphibians, she said, they are great indicators of problems in our own environment — problems that could potentially impact our own health.

"They are a good model to examine environmental threats or degradation because part of their life history is spent in the water and part spent on land," Rissler said. "They are subject to all of the problems that happen to both of these environments."   

The findings show that even in densely-populated, well-studied areas, there are still new discoveries to be made, said Shaffer, the conservation ecologist. The newly identified frogs appear to have a startlingly limited range, and as the director of UCLA’s La Kretz Center for California Conservation Science, Shaffer sees an immediate link to conservation.

"One of the real mantras of conservation biology is that you cannot protect what you don’t recognize," Shaffer said. "If you don’t know two species are different, you can’t know whether either needs protection."

The newly identified frogs have so far been found in scattered populations in northern New Jersey, southeastern mainland New York, and on Staten Island. Although they may even extend into parts of Connecticut and extreme northeastern Pennsylvania, evidence suggests they were once common on Long Island and other nearby regions but went extinct there in just the last few decades, Feinberg and Burger said.

"The extensive extinctions over the last few decades raise added conservation concerns that must be addressed," Burger said, adding "It is amazing to discover a new frog in Rutgers backyard and the metropolitan area of New York and New Jersey."

"This frog was probably once more widely distributed," Rissler agreed. "They are still able to hang on. They are still here, and that is amazing."

Until the scientists settle on a new name, they refer to the frog as "Rana sp. nov.," meaning "new frog species" — though more often they’re apt to call it "the weird Rana," one researcher confessed.

The paper, "A new species of leopard frog (Anura: Ranidae) from the urban northeastern US," can be found online in the journal "Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution" at Science Direct, at

New Frog Discovered in NYC: Freshwater Species of the Week
Brian Clark Howard National Geographic News 16 Mar 12;

Although the discovery of a previously unknown species is never routine, it is at least more expected in remote corners of the globe, from the deep Amazon to Pacific atolls. But few people expect to find a new species in New York City! (Except perhaps a mutated cockroach or sewer rat.)

But scientists from UCLA, Rutgers University, UC Davis, and the University of Alabama have just announced the discovery of a new species of frog in the journal Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution. Scientists have not yet named the amphibian, so they are currently calling it ”Rana sp. nov.,” meaning “new frog species,” although they sometimes call it “the weird Rana,” one researcher admitted.

Observers have noted for some time that certain leopard frogs in the New York and New Jersey area have different-sounding calls to their kin, although it wasn’t until recently that scientists used DNA analysis to confirm that the animals are genetically distinct from the dozen or so other species of leopard frogs.

This newly identified wetland species likely lived on Manhattan, before it was largely drained and paved over, as well as other low spots throughout the five boroughs and beyond.

Today the new species hangs on in part of Staten Island (officially part of NYC). The scientists noted that the center of its current known range is actually near Yankee Stadium in the Bronx.

“For a new species to go unrecognized for all this time in this area is amazing,” said UCLA Professor Brad Shaffer in a statement. Shaffer is one of the authors of the new paper.

The discovery of a new species of frog in the country’s largest city is a good reminder that scientists have much more work to do to better understand the natural world. It is also a reminder of how important it is to protect the world’s remaining wetlands. In the case of the U.S., more than 90% of our original wetland cover is gone, thanks largely to development.

What other species remain in the patchwork of existing wetlands, and what can they teach us?

Brian Clark Howard is a writer and editor with He was formerly an editor at The Daily Green and E/The Environmental Magazine and has contributed to many publications, including,,,, Yahoo!, MSN and elsewhere. His latest book, with Kevin Shea, is Build Your Own Small Wind Power System.

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One solution to global overfishing found

Largest study of tropical coral reef fisheries ever conducted shows how government, local fishers, and organizations can protect livelihoods and fish
Wildlife Conservation Society EurekAlert 19 Mar 12;

A study by the Wildlife Conservation Society, the ARC Centre for Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, and other groups on more than 40 coral reefs in the Indian and Pacific Oceans indicates that "co-management"—a collaborative arrangement between local communities, conservation groups, and governments—provides one solution to a vexing global problem: overfishing.

The finding is the outcome of the largest field investigation of co-managed tropical coral reef fisheries ever conducted, an effort in which researchers studied 42 managed reef systems in five countries. The team of 17 scientists from eight nations concluded that co-management partnerships were having considerable success in both meeting the livelihood needs of local communities and protecting fish stocks.

The paper appears today in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). The authors include: Joshua E. Cinner, Nicholas A.J. Graham, Andrew H. Baird, and Fraser A. Januchowski-Hartley of the ARC Centre for Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, James Cook University, Australia; Tim R. McClanahan, Ahmad Mukminin, Stuart J. Campbell, Rachel Lahari, Tau Morove, and John Kuange of the Wildlife Conservation Society; M. Aaron MacNeil of the Australian Institute of Marine Science; Tim M. Daw of the University of East Anglia and Stockholm University; David A. Feary of the School of the Environment, University of Technology, Sydney; Ando L. Rabearisoa of Conservation International; Andrew Wamukota of the Coral Reef Conservation Program, Kenya; and Narriman Jiddawi and Salum Hamed of the University of Dar Es Salaam.

"In an age when fisheries around the world are collapsing, fisheries experts have struggled to find the magic balance between livelihoods and conservation," said Dr. Tim McClanahan, a co-author on the study and head of the Wildlife Conservation Society's coral reef research and conservation program. "What we've found is that effective solutions require both top-down and bottom-up approaches with a foundation of community-based management."

Team leader Dr. Josh Cinner of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies and James Cook University, Australia explained: "We found clear evidence of people's ability to overcome the 'tragedy of the commons' by making and enforcing their own rules for managing fisheries. This is particularly encouraging because of the perceived failure of many open-access and top-down government-controlled attempts to manage fisheries around the world. More importantly, we have identified the conditions that allow people to make co-management successful, providing vital guidance for conservation groups, donors, and governments as to what arrangements are most likely to work."

The team studied local fisheries arrangements on coral reefs in Kenya, Tanzania, Madagascar, Indonesia, and Papua New Guinea, using a combination of interviews with local fishers and community leaders, and underwater fish counts.

The study's main finding is that co-management has been largely successful in sustaining fisheries and improving people's livelihoods. More than half the fishers surveyed felt co-management was positive for their livelihoods, whereas only 9 percent felt it was negative. A comparison of co-managed reefs with other reefs showed that co-managed reefs were half as likely to be heavily overfished, which can lead to damaged ecosystems.

"However we also found that where fisheries are closest to big, hungry markets, they tend to be in worse shape," said Dr. Nick Graham of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies and James Cook University. "This strongly suggests globalized food chains can undermine local, democratic efforts to manage fisheries better. People often assume that local population size is the main driver of overfishing – but our research shows that access to global markets and seafood dependence are more important, and provide possible levers for action."

One of the unexpected results of the study revealed that co-management benefits the wealthier people in the local community, although it is not detrimental to the poor. "In other words, the main benefits tend to trickle up to the wealthy, rather than trickle down to the poor," Dr. Cinner added. "Nevertheless, most people felt that they benefitted."

The team found that the institutional design of the fishery management arrangement was vital in determining whether or not people felt they benefited from co-management and were willing to work together to protect fish stocks by complying with the rules. "It is really important to get the structure of the co-management arrangements right, if you want people to co-operate to protect their marine resources," Dr Cinner said. "Managers and donors can help build the legitimacy, social capital, and trust that foster cooperation by making targeted investments that lead toward transparent and deliberative co-management systems, where all participants feel their voice is being heard."

According to the authors, the new study fills an important gap by providing fisheries managers with an example of how governments and local communities can work together effectively to protect local environments and food resources.

"Finding and implementing solutions to over-fishing that work for impoverished coastal communities is critical for the long-term viability of our oceans and the people that depend on them," said Dr. Caleb McClennen, Director for WCS's Marine Conservation. "This study demonstrates that long-term investment in co-management regimes is essential for the sustained health and economy of coastal populations and their supporting marine ecosystems."

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Marine Protected Areas Are Keeping Turtles Safe

ScienceDaily 19 Mar 12;

Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) are providing sea turtles with an ideal habitat for foraging and may be keeping them safe from the threats of fishing.

A study by an international team of scientists led by the University of Exeter, published March 15, shows that 35 per cent of the world's green turtles are found within MPAs.

This is much higher that would be expected as only a small proportion of shallow oceans are designated as MPAs.

MPAs are areas of ocean in which marine activities such as fishing are restricted. Regulated by governments and NGOs, in the tropics they are often rich in seagrass and algae, providing food for the turtles, whose foraging may also help to maintain these habitats. There are different categories of MPAs, with the most strictly-protected being managed mainly for science.

The research team used data on the movements of 145 green turtles from 28 nesting sites, captured through extensive satellite tracking work by a collaborative team from ten countries. Their data shows that green turtles can travel thousands of miles from their breeding sites to their feeding ding grounds. 35 per cent of these were found to be foraging in MPAs. 21 per cent were found in MPAs that are most strictly protected and older MPAs were more likely to contain turtles.

Professor Brendan Godley of the University of Exeter's Centre for Ecology and Conservation on the Cornwall Campus said: "Our global overview revealed that sea turtles appear in Marine Protected Areas far more than would be expected by chance. There has been debate over the value of MPAs, but this research provides compelling evidence that they may be effective in providing safe foraging habitats for large marine creatures, such as green turtles.

"The satellite tracking work that the University of Exeter has played such a lead role in developing allows us to assess the value of MPAs in a way that would never have previously been possible."

This study is published in the journal Global Ecology and Biogeography. It was facilitated by and the group is funded by NERC and Defra's Darwin Initiative.

Fisheries Minister Richard Benyon welcomed the results of the research: "This study unlocks some of the secrets surrounding the life cycle of marine turtles, whose movements have long been a mystery. The results will mean we will better manage the oceans and protect turtle habitats which are key to helping them survive.

"This also shows the vital collaborative role Defra's Darwin Initiative plays in the cutting edge of conservation worldwide."

Research collaborators include: Udayana University (Indonesia), Department of Environment, (Cayman Islands), Hacettepe University (Turkey), ISPA (Portugal), Kelonia (La Reunion), Office National de la Chasse et de la Faune Sauvage (Guadeloupe),WWF (Indonesia), University of Pisa (Italy), Pendoley Environmental Pty Ltd (Australia), Marine Conservation Society (UK) and ARCHELON, Protection (Greece)

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Cloud forests face destruction

While habitat loss is currently the main threat to cloud forets, human-induced climate change could cause greater damage to the delicate ecosystems in the future.
ARC Centre of Excellence for Environmental Decisions Science Alert 20 Mar 12;

Many of the world’s rarest and richest forests – its high-altitude cloud forests – could be all-but obliterated by 2080 due to the combined impact of man-made climate change and habitat destruction.

Writing in the journal Nature Climate Change, an international scientific team has warned of the near-total loss of one of the world’s most delicate ecosystems, the Mexican cloud forest, along with 70 per cent of its plant and animal species, as a result of human pressures.

“Cloud forests occur only at certain high altitudes and their species are exceptionally vulnerable to the loss of the cool, moist environment that sustains them,” explains lead author Rocio Ponce-Reyes of Australia's ARC Centre of Excellence for Environmental Decisions (CEED) and The University of Queensland.

“Habitat loss and degradation by human encroachment are the main threats to cloud forests around the world at the moment,” says Ms Ponce-Reyes.

“However, given the narrow environmental tolerance of cloud forests, the fear is that human-induced climate change could constitute an even greater peril in the near future.”

She and her colleagues decided to test whether this was so by investigating the specific impact of future global warming on Mexico’s 17,274 km2 of cloud forest.

They concluded that only about 5,557 km2 would survive.

When they factored in the impact of potential human forest clearing and land use, the surviving area was whittled down to a mere one per cent of its present extent – just 151km2.

“At present only about 12 per cent of Mexico’s cloud forest is protected – and it is not clear how effective that protection will be by the latter part of this century,” Ms Ponce-Reyes says.

“Immediate action is required to minimise this loss – expansion of the protected-area estate in areas of low climate vulnerability is an urgent priority,” the international scientific team declared.

They identify as a particular priority for rescue the cloud forest at the Sierra de Juárez in Oaxaca. This supports 22 of Mexico’s most endangered species and is expected to retain relatively large fragments of cloud forest despite rapid climate change, if only it can be protected.

While Australia has no cloud forest, the same fate could befall its highly diverse temperate rainforests in North Queensland, says CEED director Professor Hugh Possingham.

"On tops of mountains, the Wet Tropics rainforests are cool and temperate unlike the tropical forests below them. Like Mexico’s cloud forests, they harbour a highly specialised flora and fauna that occurs nowhere else in the world.

"Fortunately, the clearing of such forests has all but stopped leaving climate change as the only, but still significant, threat," he says.

The world is currently losing about 1.1 per cent of its total estate of cloud forest every year due to timber felling and land clearing alone: global warming is likely to redouble the rate of loss.

As there are no new cool, high, moist areas to which species can readily migrate, the scientists caution that loss of most of the world’s cloud forests is all but unavoidable in the absence of radical efforts by humanity to remove carbon from the atmosphere.

However, at present global carbon emissions are continuing to rise at the highest rate allowed for in the global climate scenario of the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), pointing to overall warming of +5-6 degrees Celsius by 2100.

“If bold measures are not taken very soon to reduce the concentration of greenhouse gases, these forests are unlikely to survive in their present form, with anything near their present diversity, very far into the twenty-first century,” the scientists warn.

Their article “Vulnerability of cloud forest reserves in Mexico to climate change” by Rocío Ponce-Reyes, Víctor-Hugo Reynoso-Rosales, James E. M. Watson, Jeremy Van Der Wal, Richard A. Fuller, Robert L. Pressey and Hugh P. Possingham appears in the latest issue of the journal Nature Climate Change.

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