Best of our wild blogs: 6 Apr 12

Who say Singapore is boring?
from Sengkang Babies

from The annotated budak

Water Birds In Bishan Park
from Bird Ecology Study Group

Random Gallery - The Fluffy Tit
from Butterflies of Singapore

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Bukit Brown should be a destination park

Straits Times Forum 6 Apr 12;

OUR position is to recommend to the relevant authorities that Bukit Brown be made into a public or heritage park for the benefit of all Singaporeans, not just for nature lovers or nature romantics ('Don't get carried away by biodiversity' by Mr Heng Cho Choon; last Saturday).

Bukit Brown should retain its natural and cultural values and be simultaneously promoted as an area for recreational pursuits like hiking, jogging, strolling, family picnics or appreciating nature.

Our view is very much in line with the Urban Redevelopment Authority's (URA) laudable plan to open 20 new parks in the next five years ('Coney Island set to become nature park'; Feb 19).

Bukit Brown, with its multi-faceted values, qualifies as a top candidate for a 'destination park'. Because of its cultural assets, it has great potential as a tourist attraction too.

As there is room for 20 new parks anyway, given whatever plan the authority may have for population increase and new settlements, it should be made part of URA's park scheme.

Our concern now is the planned dual four-lane expressway which will destroy the existing features of the area that are valuable assets for such a park.

The road will damage if not wipe out a beautiful valley and the service roads around it, apart from the adverse impact on the adjacent woodlands and wildlife.

This portion of Bukit Brown is also the most popular and most frequented part of Bukit Brown for visitors.

Given the value at stake, we think it is necessary to explore more carefully the possible alternatives to the planned expressway.

Being an area of more than 200ha in greenery, such an ecosystem serves all Singaporeans.

Its eco-functions include carbon sequestration, free natural air-conditioning and flood control.

Although globally small, it is highly significant in its contribution in terms of the percentage of Singapore's total land mass or population. It is imperative that we think globally but act locally.

Ho Hua Chew
Conservation Committee
Nature Society (Singapore)

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Malaysia: Johor fishermen sue for compensation in land reclamation project

578 Fishermen File Suit For Compensation For Land Reclamation Project
Bernama 5 Apr 12;

JOHOR BAHARU, April 5 (Bernama) -- Some 578 traditional fishermen in Pengerang, Kota Tinggi, today filed a suit seeking compensation for land reclamation work in connection with the Deep Sea Petroleum Terminal project.

The writ of summons and statement of claim were filed by counsel Mohd Shujaa Halim of law firm Shujaa Mazri & Co at the High Court registrar office, Menara MSC Cyberport here.

Shujaa told reporters that the three defendants named in the suit were Pengerang Independent Terminal Sdn Bhd, Dialog E&L Sdn Bhd and the Johor state government.

The fishermen are seeking compensation of RM500,000 each for loss of income and an injunction restraining the first and second defendants from continuing work until their demands are met or after the compensation is awarded.

Earlier, some of the fishermen gathered peacefully in the compound of Menara MSC Cyberport before the writ of summons and statement of claim were filed.


Reclamation Work In Accordance With Regulations, Says PITSB
Bernama 5 Apr 12;

JOHOR BAHARU, April 5 (Bernama) -- Pengerang Independent Terminal Sdn Bhd (PITSB) today stressed that its ongoing reclamation work at Pengerang is strictly in accordance with all regulatory conditions.

The company's secretary, Chew Eng Kar said this in a press statement following a legal suit filed against the company by some 578 traditional fishermen via their counsel Mohd Shujaa Halim of law firm Shujaa Mazri & Co at the High Court registrar office, Menara MSC Cyberport here today.

"It is premature to comment as the legal papers have not been served on lawyers representing Pengerang Independent Terminal Sdn Bhd (PITSB)," he said.

He said PITSB respected the right of the fishermen to seek legal redress for their alleged grievances and would investigate and respond accordingly at the appropriate time.

Chew added that PITSB was constantly enganging with the Johor State Government and all other relevant authorities to ensure genuine fishermen in Pengerang, affected by the company's project would be compensated.


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Malaysia: Green turtles in peril from fishing gear

Farik Zolkepli The Star 6 Apr 12;

KUALA TERENGGANU: The effort to save the green turtles is in peril as at least 11 dead turtles have been washed ashore in the state in the first two months this year.

WWF Malaysia executive director and chief executive officer Datuk Dr Dionysius Sharma said reports from the state Fisheries department as well as from the public showed the carcasses of green turtles washed ashore in the beaches in Marang, Dungun, Kemaman, Kuala Terengganu and Setiu.

“We believe the latest turtle deaths were due to them being caught in illegal fishing gear.

“The carcasses discovered had the same conditions and marks consistent of interaction with such gears,” he said in a statement recently.

Dr Dionysius said five of the carcasses in Kemaman, which were discovered by a local fisherman, had nylon ropes and rock tied to it.

“We believe the turtles had been killed and subsequently sunk to destroy any evidence of the heinous act.

“The placing of illegal nets along the shoreline has also been suspected to attribute to death of many turtles in recent years,” he said.

He added that there were also cases where some of the turtles were found with its skulls crushed.

“Conservation efforts would come to waste if more turtles die in this manner.

“Furthermore, turtles have eco-tourism potential and if they are killed, such turtle-based tourism activities will be adversely affected,” he said.

Dr Dionysius called on improving relations between fishermen and turtle conservationists in order to reduce turtle-fishery conflict.

“Enhanced engagement will contribute towards a better understanding on how turtle conservation impacts the fisheries sector.

“A healthy turtle population will only lead towards a healthy ocean and a more sustainable fishing industry,” he said.

Dr Dionysius said illegal ray nets, locally known as pukat pari have a mesh size of more than 25.4cm and have been suspected as the main cause of turtle entanglement and subsequent drowning.

“A total of 134 ray nets were seized in Terengganu waters by the Fisheries department between April and September last year.

“It is an offence to use such nets under the Fisheries (Prohibition of Method Fishing) Regulations 1980 but more stringent enforcement is needed to ensure the use of illegal fishing gear is effectively reduced,” he said.

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Indonesia: Thousands displaced in Jakarta flood

2,430 Displaced in Jakarta Flooding
Lenny Tristia Tambun & Dessy Sagita Jakarta Globe 5 Apr 12;

More than 2,400 people are displaced and living in tents and makeshift refuge shelters across the city after several floods inundated parts of Jakarta this week, officials said on Wednesday.

The chief of the Jakarta Disaster Mitigation Agency, Arfan Arkili, said rain in the upstream areas south of Jakarta on Tuesday evening caused fresh flooding on Wednesday, prompting the number of evacuees to grow from 850 on Tuesday to nearly three times that on Wednesday.

While the flooding that began on Monday evening and lasted through Wednesday morning displaced 2,430 people, Arfan added, it has actually affected more than 7,000.

“For the rest, there are many who choose to stay at their houses or evacuate to their neighbors’ or family members’ homes that are unaffected,” he said.

Hundreds of homes were flooded along major Jakarta waterways including the Ciliwung, Pesanggrahan, Angke and Krukut rivers, with some submerged under 1.5 meters of water.

There have not been any reported casualties from the floods, which have affected the capital for three days, but access to some areas were cut off, causing major traffic jams.

Arfan also reported that water flowing from upstream areas, along with heavy sedimentation near the Cengkareng drainage system and the West Flood Canal in West Jakarta, had caused a breach in part of a nearby dike.

The breach, he said, caused the busy Jalan Daan Mogot to be cut off by surging water.

“Traffic in the area crawled to a standstill,” he said. “It is completely inaccessible.”

Cars and motorcycles on roads leading to the area, including from the airport and the Tomang toll road, were stuck in traffic for hours before the water finally receded on Wednesday afternoon.

West Jakarta resident Afan Anugroho said he sat in traffic for more than three and a half hours to cover a distance that would normally have taken less than an hour.

In East Jakarta’s flood-prone Kampung Melayu, a total of six community units (RW) where some 1,000 people live were sitting in between 20 and 100 centimeters of water.

In South Jakarta’s Pesanggrahan and Kebayoran Baru subdistricts, at least 850 people were evacuated after their homes were inundated by 30 to 150 centimeters of water.

The city has not yet released an estimate of the financial losses incurred by the surging waters.

According to the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG), areas around Jakarta would see more medium- to high-intensity rain. The agency issued a warning for residents in flood-prone areas in Jakarta to remain vigilant and make contingency plans.

The Ministry of Health also warned residents about a possible outbreak of diseases associated with flooding.

“Diseases that normally occur during floods are diarrhea, dengue fever, canicola fever, acute breathing infections, warts and indigestion,” said the ministry’s director general on disease control and environmental health, Tjandra Yoga Aditama.

Tjandra said the chances of infectious diseases spreading during floods would increase drastically as sources of water became contaminated.

Surging water, he said, forces pests such as rats and cockroaches to come out of hiding and contaminate areas with germs and bacteria, while standing water in flooded areas can become a breeding ground for mosquitoes.

“Avoid playing in water, particularly if you have an open wound,” he said. “Use protective gear like shoes if you have to go to flooded areas.

Tjandra said that if waters do not recede soon, the number of infections could rise.

“[The ministry] has prepared [medical] supplies and personnel as well as a rapid response team at every level,” he said.

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South Africa Bars Vietnam Hunters as Rhino Poaching Surges

Franz Wild Bloomberg 5 Apr 12;

South Africa has barred Vietnamese nationals who have applied to hunt rhinos in the country because it hasn’t been assured that they won’t illegally sell the animals’ horns, which are worth more than their weight in gold.

All 23 rhino hunting applications by Vietnamese residents this year were rejected, South Africa’s Minister of Environmental and Water Affairs, Edna Molewa, said in an interview yesterday. Hunters from the southeast Asian nation didn’t convince South Africa’s government that they would adhere to permit regulations, which stipulate that trophies can’t be sold, she said. The number of rhinos poached in South Africa is projected by the government to rise to a record this year.

“A majority of the people that are being arrested here, a lot of the permits that are being applied for here, come from Vietnam,” Molewa said at the Israel-sized Kruger National Park in South Africa’s northeast. There is “no clear record of proper processes that need to be followed.”

Nearly 60 percent of the rhino hunting requests since the beginning of 2010 have come from Vietnam, where rising prosperity has fostered demand for the horn, which some believe can cure ailments including cancer, according to the government. Made out of the same matter as hair, the horn fetches as much as $60,000 per kilogram.
Illegal Hunt

About 90 percent, or 20,000, of the world’s rhinos are in South Africa, which is tightening regulations on hunters, asking Vietnam and China to help them clamp down on the illegal trade in horns and creating a rhino DNA database which will help link horns sold to animals killed.

With 159 rhinos already poached this year, the number of the animals that are illegally hunted may increase to 619 from an all-time high of 448 in 2011, according to the ministry. At the current rate of slaughter, rhinos in the wild face extinction by 2025 in Africa, conservationists including the African Wildlife Foundation said in a statement released in Nairobi, Kenya on April 3. Ninety people have been arrested so far this year in connection with illegal rhino hunting.

South Africa has set up a task force uniting government, national parks, police, prosecutors and private operators, and the army to stem the tide.
Paramilitary Training

The Vietnamese government says it has agreed to do a count of rhino trophies brought home by its residents to check whether they still have their horns. It will also coordinate a tighter surveillance of the legal import of horns with South Africa, according to an as yet unsigned agreement between the two states.

The South African officials will interview hunters requesting a permit to ensure they have prior hunting expertise and they don’t intend to sell the trophy on, Molewa said. Trophy horns will be micro-chipped, she said.

Recent examples of fraud related to rhino hunting licenses include the arrest of a Thai man last month over allegations that he was part of a syndicate which was using Thai sex workers who had never hunted before as a front to obtain a license to hunt a rhino with the trophy then sold on commercially, Adrian Lackay, the spokesman for the South African Revenue Service, said in interview from his mobile phone today.

South Africa is giving 150 new rangers intensive paramilitary training to protect the rhinos against poachers in Kruger, where illegal hunters often gain access through holes in a fence that runs along the 400-kilometer (250-mile) border with Mozambique.
Waging War

Rather than build a new fence, which would be too expensive, South Africa and Mozambique will establish a 20 kilometer buffer zone to help police the border, Molewa said.

The rangers are equipped with rifles and night vision and are deployed by helicopter to track through the bush for as long as 10 days as they try to arrest poachers.

“I feel very optimistic where we are, that we are indeed waging this war with all that we have at our disposal,” Molewa said. “We have not lost this battle. We don’t see that we are already at a decline at this point in time. We shall not give in and we will not give in.”

South Africa is not ready to appeal to members of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species to legalize the international trade in rhino horn, which some private ranchers say will undermine poachers by allowing rhino owners to control the trade, Molewa said.

The government won’t be able to adequately increase its monitoring of hunts, enforce trophy micro chipping and complete its DNA database by October, by when it would need to make such a submission, she said.

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The Greatest Challenge of Our Species

Thomas Lovejoy The New York Times 5 Apr 12;

In a cavernous London conference center so devoid of life as to seem a film set for “The Matrix,” 3,000 scientists, officials and members of civil society organizations met in the last week of March to consider the state of the planet and what to do about it.

The Planet Under Pressure conference is intended to feed directly into the “Rio+20” United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development this coming June, 20 years after the Earth Summit in Rio convened the largest number ever of heads of state and produced, among other things, two international conventions, one for climate change and the other for biological diversity.

While it is not as if nothing has been achieved in the interim or that scientific understanding has stood still, it is obvious that new science is not needed to conclude that humanity has failed to act at the scale and with the urgency needed.

In the United States, in particular (but not exclusively), far too much attention has been given to the non-issue of whether climate change is real or not. In the meantime the heating of the atmosphere proceeds inexorably, the Arctic ice has thinned and retreated at its summer low to a point that it might be tied to the exceptionally warm spring in Europe and North America. Spring bloom has erupted early in North America and Europe. Most people just say how nice the weather is with no sense of the march of climate change.

Since the industrial revolution, developed nations have contributed significantly to the atmospheric burden of greenhouse gases. That led to a two-tier arrangement in the Kyoto Protocol, originally adopted in 1997, basically giving time to developing countries to improve their economies before taking major action.

The response of the United States at the time was to abdicate its traditional leadership position with a Senate vote based on the myopic notion that there was no point in doing anything if China and India were to keep on building coal-fired power plants. In the meantime, China is making measurable progress in decarbonizing its economy and has become the largest producer of solar panels in the world.

But the issue before humanity is, in fact, bigger than fossil fuel combustion, and far bigger than climate change. The Stockholm Environment Institute summed it up nicely in an analysis that identified a planet departing from planetary boundaries in three ways: climate change, nitrogen use and loss of biodiversity.

The use and frequent overuse of nitrogen fertilizer primarily by industrialized agriculture has polluted streams and lakes, and, in turn, coastal waters around the world. The resulting dead zones in coastal waters and estuaries are devoid of oxygen and largely devoid of life. They have doubled in number every decade for four decades — an increase by a factor of 16. The amount of biologically active nitrogen in the world is twice the natural level.

The greatest violation by far of planetary boundaries is in biological diversity. This is because, by definition, all environmental problems affect living systems; biological diversity integrates them all. Running down our biological capital is pure folly.

The planet works as a biophysical system that moderates climate (global, continental and regional) and creates soil and its fertility. Ecosystems provide a variety of services, not the least of which is provision of clean and reliable water. Biological diversity is the essential living library for sustainability. Each species represents a unique set of solutions to a set of biological problems, any one of which can be of critical importance to the advance of medicine, to productive agriculture, to the biology that provides current support for humanity, and, most importantly, will provide solutions to the environmental challenge.

Looking ahead, we not only have to deal with these planetary scale problems but also find ways to feed and produce a decent quality of life for at least two more billion than the seven billion people already here. We need to do this without destroying more ecosystems and losing more biological diversity.

Human ingenuity should be up to the challenge. But it has to recognize the problem and address it with immediacy and at scale.

An important step, a “Future Earth” organization, was announced at the conference. It will bring all the relevant scientific disciplines together to work on this, the greatest challenge in the history of our species. This is essential because many physical scientists seem blind to the importance of biology in how the living planet works, and how it can provide critical solutions. Economics and social sciences are critical as well.

History will measure the impact of the Planet Under Pressure conference and the extent that Rio+20 rises to the challenge. The moment has come to realize that this planet which brought us into existence must be managed as the biophysical system that it is. It is time to get our hands on the steering wheel, not to save the planet but to keep it habitable.

Thomas Lovejoy is professor of science and public policy at George Mason University and biodiversity chairman at the H. John Heinz III Center for Science, Economics and the Environment.

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Natural Disasters Tied to Unnatural Causes

Jeanna Bryner Yahoo News 5 Apr 12;

Air pollution does more than make the skies hazy, with a new study suggesting the industrial ick is linked to drought, flooding and even hurricanes.

The research, detailed this week in the journal Nature, suggests human activity can, and already has, driven large-scale regional climate changes.

The "dirty pollution," it seems, can cause changes in the temperature of the Atlantic Ocean, which in turn drives the stormy activity, say the researchers from the Met Office, the U.K.'s National Weather Service. To a lesser extent, volcanic activity also drives this temperature variation and subsequent weather phenomena.

The researchers focused on the so-called Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation, which are shifts in sea-surface temperatures that run in cycles, with warm and cold phases lasting 20 to 40 years; since the mid-1990s we've been in a warm phase, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

A warm period in this cycle increases hurricane activity in the North Atlantic — warm water acts as fuel for the high-energy storms — and rainfall in parts of Africa, while reducing rainfall in South America. A cold phase has the opposite effects.

"Until now, no one has been able to demonstrate a physical link to what is causing these observed Atlantic Ocean fluctuations, so it was assumed they must be caused by natural variability," lead study author Ben Booth, a climate processes scientist at the MET Office, said in a statement. "Our research implies that far from being natural, these changes could have been largely driven by dirty pollution and volcanoes." [10 Climate Myths Busted]

Using a computer climate model, Booth and his colleagues looked at sea-surface temperatures in the North Atlantic between 1860 and 2005. The model, which simulates physical processes in Earth's atmosphere, reproduced these warm-cold variations in the North Atlantic. The simulations actually showed a clear link between the temperature changes in the Atlantic Ocean and the peaks and troughs in industrial pollution from surrounding countries.

Results showed that industrial aerosols and volcanic activity (to a lesser extent) could explain about 75 percent of these sea-surface temperature variations.

Here's how pollution may be linked with climate, the researchers suspect: Most clouds owe their existence to aerosols that act as tiny seeds (called cloud condensation nuclei) around which water vapor droplets can cling and condense. This mostly happens around natural aerosols, such as sea salts. However, particles in polluted air can also seed clouds. Polluted air holds much higher concentrations of water-soluble particles, and, as such, clouds formed from the polluted air tend to have more, and smaller, droplets compared with "natural" clouds, according to the NASA Earth Observatory.

The small droplets make these clouds look brighter since sunlight has many more surfaces to reflect off. With increased light scattering, these brighter clouds actually keep sunlight from reaching Earth's surface and shade the planet. Result: cooling of the ocean beneath.

If the research bears out, it could redefine some "natural" disasters.

"If so, this means a number of natural disasters linked to these ocean fluctuations, such as persistent African drought during the 1970s and 80s, may not be so natural after all," Booth said.

The researchers do caution, however, that the results are based on one computer model and that further research is needed to firm up the link between industrial pollution and climate.

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