Best of our wild blogs: 7 Apr 12

Night at the Cemetery
from My Itchy Fingers

Lobster at Seringat-Kias!
from wonderful creation and wild shores of singapore

Genetically Modified Mosquitoes: Background and Concerns
from EcoWalkthetalk

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Why are few Singaporeans going green?

Ministry hiring experts to find out what it takes to change behaviour
Grace Chua Straits Times 7 Apr 12;

SINGAPORE families are dismal when it comes to recycling and using energy efficiently, so much so that the Environment and Water Resources Ministry is seeking the help of experts to change their habits.

Consultants are being asked to carry out two studies to find out why people do not do what they should and set out an effective communication strategy to coax them to change their ways. One is on recycling, and the other, energy efficiency.

These studies to bring about behavioural change are a first by the ministry, and in line with its goals to manage waste sustainably and reduce carbon emissions per dollar of gross domestic product.

The tenders for both projects closed earlier this week. The ministry said the studies must be completed within four months of the contracts being signed. It declined to give further details.

Five companies are bidding for both projects, while one company is eyeing only the recycling study.

Tender documents obtained by The Straits Times stipulate that both studies have to carry out a face-to-face survey of a representative sample of 2,500 people from the five community development councils.

The surveys will help pinpoint the specific behaviour to adopt, identify the best group of residents to target for change, as well as set outand monitor a communication strategy to encourage them to pursue the desired behaviour more often.

Each study also has to probe beyond the commonplace explanations of why people do not do the right thing, 'by looking beyond notions of laziness and inconvenience', said the tender.

The recycling study has to focus on the recycling of glass, plastic and paper in households, it added.

These items account for 53 per cent of domestic waste each year, falling far short of their potential to be recycled.

For instance, up to 90 per cent of paper tossed out by households could have been recycled, but only 52 per cent is. Such recycling is crucial as Singapore has limited space for landfills. For instance, the landfill island of Semakau, which takes in ash from waste incineration, is expected to meet the country's needs only till 2045.

Also, the recycling rate for all waste has some way to go to meet the target set in the Sustainable Singapore Blueprint. The goal is for a rate of 65 per cent by 2020 and 70 per cent by 2030.

But last year, itwas 59 per cent. Worse, in categories like plastics, it was a mere 11 per cent, and for glass, 29 per cent.

As for energy efficiency, the study is targeting the use of air-conditioning at home as it accounts for 30 per cent of a household's energy use.

In all, households account for about one-fifth of Singapore's energy consumption.

The ministry's latest move further bolsters existing measures to coax Singaporeans to 'go green'.

It is a good effort, said Professor Ho Teck Hua, head of the National University of Singapore's Centre for Behavioural Economics.

'But it can't be a campaign for everybody,' he added. 'Maybe you'll need multiple campaigns.'

For instance, HDB dwellers are more likely to respond to high electricity prices by cutting their electricity use than people living in private property, he said.

Prof Ho also suggested that manufacturers of air-conditioners add a default button on the remote controls to make it easy to set the machines to run at an efficient 25 deg C.

Waste management company Veolia Environmental Services gives residents points for recycling that they can exchange for coupons to make purchases at retailers like Home-Fix.

Since the scheme was introduced last July, the amount of recyclables collected in the Pasir Ris-Tampines and Tanglin-Bukit Merah sectors has risen from 210 tonnes to 524 tonnes a month.

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Target rogue hunters, not shark's fin soup

Kristie Michelle Chiew Straits Times 7 Apr 12;

GROWING up in Hong Kong, I remember having shark's fin soup on every important occasion.

Shark's fin has long been a part of the Chinese culinary culture, considered a delicacy and a luxury. It's hard to avoid on a menu, especially during weddings and other special occasions.

But these days, one is expected to be repulsed at the thought of eating shark's fin. My friends cite animal cruelty and its negative impact on the marine ecosystem.

Yet, while I think it is wrong to kill a shark simply for its fin, I don't think there is a problem fishing within an unthreatened shark population.

In 2006, when the issue of extensive shark finning went viral, the Chinese cuisine and culture was blamed for the 90 per cent drop in the shark population in some oceans.

Finning may be illegal and barbaric but surely it is not solely responsible for the decline in the shark population.

So why should shark's fin soup be targeted simply because it has a part of a shark as an ingredient?

Sharks are being caught and killed every day in Australia and New Zealand for more than just their fins.

They are caught for 'flake' - a term used in Australia to refer to the meat of any of several species of small sharks, particularly the gummy shark.

Flakes are used mostly for fish and chips.

While the gummy shark is not in any danger of extinction, they inhabit the same areas as the snapper sharks, which have been overfished. An Australian news report claims there are a higher number of sharks being accidentally fished than hunted.

Fins used for the soup come from a variety of shark species, not simply the endangered ones.

Furthermore, Singaporean wildlife consultant Giam Choo Hoo has said bycatch and European consumption of shark meat are responsible for the decline in shark population, not the demand for shark's fins.

In Australia, where sharks are being legally fished, guidelines have been put in place for 'species conservation and biodiversity maintenance'.

The Australian government is also keen to improve its ability to identify and establish the numbers of shark species in their waters. It is hoped such moves will help manage the shark population.

Conservationists concerned about the declining shark population should lobby governments for similar guidelines, and not specifically take issue with shark's fin consumers. If anything, they should target rogue shark hunters - those who kill the fish only for their fins.

As far as I'm concerned, finning should be illegal but there is nothing morally wrong with cooking, or eating shark's fin soup.

The writer, 22, is a final-year political science and history major at the University of Western Australia.

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Singapore to drive road through historic cemetery

Rebecca Lim BBC News 6 Apr 12;

Bukit Brown is the kind of place that could be easily missed in skyscraper-filled Singapore.

Bordered by a major highway and several major roads, this 90-year-old cemetery sits in a peaceful, green pocket almost in the centre of the bustling city state.

Believed to be the largest Chinese cemetery outside China, it hosts about 100,000 graves - many belonging to Singapore's pioneering immigrants and war heroes.

But now the place of repose is in the spotlight. The government wants to build an eight-lane road through a part of it.

Down the line the area will be developed to provide housing for some 50,000 people and a future train station.

The fate of the site has lit a fire of activism among some Singaporeans. Not one, but seven civic groups have appealed to the government to rethink its plans.

''Development need not come at the expense of heritage, and vice versa,'' said Terence Chong, a committee member of the Singapore Heritage Society, one of the seven groups.
'Brown's hill'

Public interest in Bukit Brown was kindled in the middle of last year after it was reported that the area was designated for residential development. Letters pleading the case for the cemetery began pouring in to the newspapers.

Bukit Brown, which means ''Brown's hill'' in Malay, was named after a British merchant, George Henry Brown, who lived in the area in the 19th century.

The heritage society published a book on Singapore's disappearing cemeteries - Bukit Brown is not the first to fall victim to urban sprawl.

The Nature Society of Singapore, extolling the ecological value and biodiversity of the area, proposed that it be designated as a park that could potentially be listed as a Unesco heritage site.

Last month, officials announced details for the planned road that included some concessions.

A part of the road will be built as a bridge across a valley, hence minimising the impact on the flora and fauna and helping to preserve natural drainage.

The exhumation of graves will now take place next year, instead of later this year as planned, to give family members more time to register the graves.

For the first time, the government is funding the documentation of the tombs. A committee has been tasked with ensuring detailed records of personal histories, heritage and rituals are kept.
Living heritage

But for the activists behind the call to save Bukit Brown, that does not come close to the outcome they had wanted.

Bukit Brown is not just any old cemetery, they said. It retains a distinctive slice of the multi-ethnic country's fast disappearing heritage.

''It's one place where you can actually touch the 100-year-old tombs and see faded photos of men and women who contributed to Singapore's story in one way or another,'' said Erika Lim of the SOS Bukit Brown group.

''That's very different from viewing artefacts in a museum or reading about historical events in a textbook.''

On the same day that the details of the road were announced, the activists called for a moratorium on all development plans for the area.

''Bukit Brown is the last historic remaining cemetery in Singapore,'' said Raymond Goh of Asia Paranormal Investigators - better known as the ''ghostbusters'' of Singapore.

Mr Goh, who conducts heritage tours in Bukit Brown, said that the earliest grave found in the burial grounds dated back to 1833. ''Once destroyed, it is gone forever,'' he said.

But the decision on the road has been made.

''Planning for the long-term in land-scarce Singapore does require us to make difficult trade-off decisions,'' the Ministry of National Development said in an email to the BBC.
Engagement issues

This is not be the first time that the government, not known for tolerating dissent, has faced public outcry over development plans.

But it has also shown itself amenable to civic concerns. A plan 10 years ago to reclaim a wetlands area on an island was pushed back after nature lovers led a campaign against it. The parks authority has since built new amenities for visitors to the area.

The activists for Bukit Brown have expressed disappointment at the ''lacking'' engagement with officials.

But, the ministry said, it was ''not consulting'' on whether to build the road ''from the onset''.

''While we disagree on the road and development of Bukit Brown, we do share the belief that we need to retain and also celebrate the heritage of Bukit Brown,'' it said.

It welcomed suggestions and would continue to study ways to do so, it added

The Bukit Brown issue also points toward an evolving social compact between the government and an increasingly vocal electorate.

Singaporeans are now ''much more educated and vocal'' and ''organise together more easily'', Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong told reporters this week after the Asean summit in Cambodia.

The government, he said, had changed the way it engaged with Singaporeans, and that had been ''necessary'' and ''helpful''.

Since the country's last general election in May 2011, when his ruling party saw the lowest share of overall votes since independence at 60.1%, he has called for more engagement.

''But it will take some time more, and the balance between speaking out and working together is something which still needs to be worked upon," he said.

For many families, however, the Qing Ming festival this week could be the last time they carry out the annual Chinese tradition of visiting and cleaning the ancestral tombs in Bukit Brown.

One of the more than 3,700 graves making way for the road is a 1940 tomb that is the resting place of Toh Yong Soon's grand-aunt.

When he performed the Qing Ming rites this year, he said, he informed her that she would soon be ''moving house''. He has made plans to relocate her grave.

''We don't want to be in the way,'' he said, of the planned road. ''But it is a waste. Bukit Brown is a living museum.''

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Undersea tunnel built by year-end

It will form part of 5km-long Marina Coastal Expressway
Royston Sim Straits Times 7 Apr 12;

A 420M undersea tunnel for motorists - the first of its kind here - will be completed by the end of this year.

The first stage of the tunnel, which dives 20m under the sea, has been successfully built.

It is part of the 5km-long Marina Coastal Expressway, which is on track for completion by the end of next year, promising motorists a smoother ride to the Marina Bay area.

With a price tag of $4.3 billion, it is the most expensive expressway built here in terms of cost per kilometre.

The new expressway will link the East Coast Parkway (ECP) and Kallang-Paya Lebar Expressway (KPE) with the Ayer Rajah Expressway in the west.

With five lanes in each direction, it will be able to carry 10,000 vehicles an hour in each direction.

Once it is open, drivers can expect a smoother ride to the Marina Bay area, which is expected to see heavier traffic.

Major developments in the area include the Marina Bay Sands integrated resort, Gardens by the Bay and a new financial centre. An international cruise terminal will also be built there, along with future residential developments.

Drivers who are not headed downtown can also use the new expressway to bypass the Marina Bay area. It will have a total of nine entry and exit points to the ECP, Marina Boulevard, Central Boulevard and Maxwell Road.

The new expressway will also allow a portion of the ECP just after Benjamin Sheares Bridge to be downgraded to a network of normal arterial roads to serve the area.

Work started on the new expressway, Singapore's 10th, three years ago.

Building what is considered the largest and most complex road construction project here is an engineering feat. It features 3.6km of tunnel and 1.4km of surface road, depressed road and a viaduct.

Building the undersea tunnel is especially challenging. Engineers had to ensure temporary walls were strong enough to withstand the force of the discharge from the Marina Barrage, located 130m from the excavation area.

At its peak, the Marina Barrage discharges 2,000 cubic metres of water per second - the volume of more than 50 Olympic pools every minute.

Conducting wide and deep excavations for tunnels in reclaimed land with soft marine clay also proved a challenge.

For both problems, construction crews used robust pipe piles to support tunnel excavations, which proved effective in limiting ground movement.

Soft clay was also strengthened by injecting cement grout.

For safety, more than 5,000 monitoring instruments have been installed along the entire project to track temporary wall movements, ground settlement, soil water pressure and adjacent structures, such as the barrage.

About 13.1ha of land will be reclaimed in total at Marina Wharf and Marina East for this project - the equivalent of about 17 football fields. To date, 90 per cent of that 13.1ha has been reclaimed.

Auditor Wilfred Lim, who lives in Hougang, takes the KPE to work now. With the new expressway, he expects a quicker drive to his office in Shenton Way. Said the 26-year-old: 'The new expressway should provide a more direct route when I need to drive to work.'

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Massive Dolphin Die-Off in Peru May Remain a Mystery

Thousands of dead or dying dolphins have washed ashore in Peru since January, a marine mystery potentially caused by a combination of stress, pollution and disease
Barbara Fraser and Environmental Health News Scientific American 6 Apr 12;

LIMA, Peru -- When a retired fisherman called to report that about 1,500 dolphins had washed up dead on Peru’s northern coast, veterinarian Carlos Yaipén’s first reaction was, “That’s impossible.”

But when Yaipén traveled up the coast last week, he counted 615 dead dolphins along a 135-kilometer stretch of coastline.

Now, the death toll could be as high as 2,800, based on volunteers’ counts. Peru's massive dolphin die-off is among the largest ever reported worldwide.

The strandings, which began in January, are a marine mystery that may never be unraveled. Experts say the causes could be acoustic impact from testing for oil or perhaps an unknown virus or other pathogen. Little marine research takes place in Peru, and even in the United States, of 55 marine mammal strandings since 1991, the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has classified 29 as “undetermined.”

All of the 20 or so animals Yaipén has examined showed middle-ear hemorrhage and fracture of the ear's periotic bone, lung lesions and bubbles in the blood. To him, that suggests that a major acoustic impact caused injury, but not immediate death. Most of the dolphins apparently were alive when they beached, or had died very recently.

“The animal would become disoriented, would have intense pain, and would have to make a great effort to breathe,” he said of the injuries.

Other experts say there is not enough evidence to draw a conclusion.

Stress or toxic contaminants can make marine mammals more vulnerable to pathogens such as viruses, according to Peter Ross, a research scientist at Canada’s Institute of Ocean Sciences in Sidney, British Columbia.

In a mass die-off, “there might be a smoking gun, but often we find that it’s two or three or four factors,” said Ross, who is one of the world’s leading experts on the effects of toxic contaminants in marine mammals.

Persistent organic pollutants, such as polychlorinated biphenyls or PCBs, the pesticide DDT, dioxins and flame-retardants accumulate in fish, and the concentrations are magnified as they move up the food web to top predators such as dolphins, seals and sea lions.

Laboratory studies of rodents and cells harvested from marine mammals show that PCBs and dioxins “are very immunotoxic,” Ross said. “The immune system is exquisitely sensitive to exposure to environmental contaminants.”

Animals with weaker immune systems could be more vulnerable to stress from noise or climate change, or to diseases such as leptospirosis, brucellosis or distemper, Ross said.

Scientists say that immune suppression from PCBs and DDT contributed to several marine mammal die-offs in the late 1980s and early 1990s, including dolphins along the Atlantic Coast and in the Mediterranean Sea, and harbor seals in northern Europe.

Yaipén, founder of the Lima-based Scientific Organization for the Conservation of Aquatic Animals (ORCA), knows of no studies of pollutants in Peru’s marine mammals. He has stored tissue samples from some of the beached dolphins but ORCA – a largely volunteer organization – has not yet been able to arrange for analysis.

Peru’s entire coast is a desert, its sandy beaches punctuated by peninsular cliffs and dotted with tiny fishing villages. On one trip up the coast, Yaipén said he initially counted a few dolphins every 150 meters, then every 10 or 20 meters.

The first account of 24 dead dolphins came on Jan. 21 in Piura -- on the north coast, just south of the border with Ecuador -- the same region where the 1,500 were reported by the staff of a marine coastal reserve on March 10. Another 416 were counted in Piura on March 21. More than 870 were spotted in February and March on beaches in the Lambayeque region, south of Piura.

Since it's ongoing, it may wind up being the largest dolphin die-off ever reported.

In 1987 and 1988, about 700 bottlenose dolphins died along the Atlantic coast from New Jersey to Florida. That may have depleted the coastal stock by more than 50 percent. Scientists concluded that the dolphins, which had bacterial and viral infections, were immune-suppressed.

Then, in the early 1990s, large numbers of striped dolphins – estimated at several thousand -- died in the Mediterranean Sea, starting in Spain. Infection by a morbillivirus was apparently the cause, but immune suppression was suspected, too, since the dead dolphins had higher concentrations of contaminants than ones that survived.

In Peru, two species have been stranded. About 90 percent are long-beaked common dolphins (Delphinus capensis), which swim close to the surface and have probably migrated south from Central America to feast on the abundance of fish in the nutrient-rich Humboldt Current that sweeps Peru’s coast.

The rest are Burmeister’s porpoises (Phocoena spinipinnis), a deepwater species that moves closer to the surface to calve. All the Burmeister’s porpoises Yaipén has recorded have been pregnant or lactating females or calves.

Yaipén worries that pathogens or contaminants in the dolphins could pose a health risk for residents of fishing villages along the coast, who have been cutting meat off the carcasses for food.

If they avoid the blubber, they will avoid most of the toxic chemicals, Ross said, but if the strandings are due to disease, they could be at risk of infection.

After sick and dead bottlenose dolphins washed up on the Louisiana coast recently, the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) ordered an oil and gas exploration company to suspend seismic testing – which uses air guns to map hydrocarbon deposits on the ocean floor – until May, when calving season ends.

Several oil leases under exploration are located off the coast or Peru where the dolphin strandings occurred, but it was not clear if seismic testing was under way. The offices of Savia Peru, which holds the leases, were closed Thursday, a national holiday in Peru.

A spokesman for Houston-based BPZ Energy said the company has been doing seismic testing since early February in an offshore lot several hundred kilometers north of where the dolphins were found.

Air guns can have “myriad impacts ... on marine mammals,” said Michael Jasny, senior policy analyst at the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group that has urged BOEM to restrict seismic testing.

Although there has been more analysis of the impact of sonar than seismic testing, studies have linked loud ocean noises to ear and organ damage in marine mammals. Sounds can also change behaviors such as dive patterns – which can result in decompression sickness or “the bends” – or drive them closer to shore, where they could beach if they were disoriented.

“Lots of sound in the wrong place at the wrong time can lead to mass stranding,” Jasny said.

Environmental groups have gone to court several times to challenge the U.S. Navy’s use of sonar in military exercises, arguing that it can change marine mammal behavior and lead to strandings. There has been no information available on whether sonar has been used off Peru’s coast.

If noise is to blame in Peru, sonar could be a more likely culprit than seismic testing, according to Brandon Southall, former director of NOAA’s ocean acoustics program. He said the characteristics of the Peru strandings would be “atypical, but not impossible” for an acoustic-related stranding.

Even if sonar were a factor, the injuries may not be due directly to the impact of the sound. “Animals may react in a way that has a cascade of physiological effects,” Southall said.

Peru investigates deaths of almost 900 dolphins
AFP Yahoo News 19 Apr 12;

Officials in Peru said Thursday they are investigating what caused the deaths of nearly 900 dolphins that have washed up on its northern coast over the past four months.

Authorities said they suspect a virus may be responsible, but are awaiting test results to know whether they can rule out environmental pollution or other factors in the deaths of the marine mammals.

"So far that's the most likely hypothesis," Deputy Environment Minister Gabriel Quijandria told local radio.

Ninety-five percent of the deaths affected bottlenosed dolphins, which since January have washed up along a 170-kilometer (100-mile) stretch of coastline.

"It's not the first time this has happened. There have been other instances in Peru, Mexico and the United States," Quijandria added.

In those cases, he said, the deaths were attributed to outbreaks of highly infectious morbillivirus, related to ailments such as rinderpest, measles and distemper, an easily transmittable disease affecting dogs.

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Philippines: Bohol’s dolphins and whales

Jo Marie Acebes GMA Network 6 Apr 12;

Known as one of the prime dolphin- and whale-watching sites in the Philippines, the island province of Bohol was once lauded in national and international circles as a classic victory for conservation, when whale hunters became whale watchers for the burgeoning tourism industry. It is a name that was built on the fishing communities’ long-held tradition of hunting these large animals, and their decision to stop the practice in favor of protecting them.

After years of struggle between communities and NGOs, however, the dolphin-whale watching industry in Bohol is barely surviving, and not because of a lack of dolphins or whales. Rather, it is because tourism entails considerable investment, good marketing strategies, and business-minded people.

Tourism businesses are also seasonal; during the months when the seas are rough, very few tourists come to visit the island. Worse, competitors from nearby Panglao Island offer similar tours, with non-local tour operators wanting a piece of the pie that was promised to the former whalers in exchange for giving up whale hunting.

Last year, another threat to the livelihood of the fishers surfaced: plans to establish a dolphin rescue and breeding facility in Bohol started to circulate among conservation groups just as the island province was preparing for its first dolphin festival in May. Local fisheries staff verified that there was indeed such a plan, and this year, a reliable source reported that a local government official has approved the proposal.

Such a plan is a slap on the face of local communities that have been protecting the dolphins in the wild, out there in the calm seas where they can swim freely. After all, a dolphinarium is not just a rescue facility; it is also a ‘holding’ and training facility for dolphins. Dolphins that are “rehabilitated” are then trained to perform in marine parks, transforming the ‘rescued’ dolphin into a thousand-dollar investment that no one will just allow to swim away. A dolphin breeding center is, in reality, a business.

From whalers to whale spotters

Let’s take a few steps back and trace the origins of the first policies protecting marine mammals in the Philippines.

In the early 1990s, there was an outcry from local and foreign conservationists when the front pages of newspapers featured the traditional practice of whale and dolphin hunting in Pamilacan in Bohol. Similar reports came up in international conferences abroad, and the ensuing outrage triggered the ban on the hunting of dolphins and whales. Critics said the practice was cruel, barbaric, and unsustainable.

Thus, the Philippines became one of the first countries in Southeast Asia with policies protecting marine mammals. The country has banned the catching, selling, or transporting of dolphins and whales since 1992 through Fisheries Administrative Order 185. The Animal Welfare Act was also put in place in 1998. Fisheries Administrative Order 208 on the conservation of rare, threatened, and endangered fishery species, which includes whales and dolphins, followed in 2001. The list goes on, proving that the Philippines has progressed in terms of environmental policies and joined the ranks of more developed countries in protecting marine mammals.

But what about the traditional whale hunters? One proposed solution was to convert them into whale watchers. However, the tourism business is not a stable source of income for Pamilacan residents, who earn a few hundreds of pesos from it along with very little else from other sources. It is also seasonal, merely supplementing the livelihood that is left for them, and only a few people directly benefit from the industry.

Dolphins in captivity

Worse, whatever income the former whale hunters earn from the whale- and dolphin-watching tourism industry is under threat from indoor shows.

When I first got into marine mammal work in the Philippines, the first dolphinarium in the country was still under construction. Conservationists managed to stall its completion for several years, but were eventually overpowered by the proprietors of the facility. Today, this dolphin aquarium boasts that their “animals live and play in a natural setting of clear water teeming with marine life, coral reefs, and a lovely white sand beach.”

The battle against this dolphinarium continues with protests, appeals, and campaigns. Yet, similar places are sprouting up in different corners of the archipelago. One shocking example is the outfit off Misamis Occidental that claims to have “rescued” dolphins but instead, puts them in holding pens where tourists can swim and snorkel with the animals. Another marine park in Manila has been planning to bring in dolphins as well, and such plans have now reached the shores of Bohol.

The problem with these dolphin centers is that they propagate falsehoods to attract customers.

One fallacy is that dolphins in captivity live longer than their counterparts in the wild. In fact, many dolphins in holding pens die several years before reaching maturity. One example close to home is the four false killer whales kept in Subic that all died at young ages.

Another argument of dolphin show entrepreneurs is that they provide educational entertainment, giving people who normally will not have the chance to see the animals up close a convenient opportunity to watch them in an accessible venue. But how can this be educational? Behaviors such as jumping into the air to hit a red ball are certainly not normal in the wild. Instead, dolphin shows propagate the illusion that humans can exert control over wild animals because we are superior to them.

In Bohol, some people have suggested that a dolphin rescue facility is needed due to the increase in the reported number of animals getting stranded in coastal areas around the province. However, it is unclear how such a trend was established, and it is important to analyze the factors behind the numbers.

First of all, a baseline or reference point is needed to establish an upward or downward trend. For example, if we take the year 2000 as a reference point, we need verified reports on how many animals were stranded around the province; if a stranding was not documented, it will not be counted. There are several factors to consider here, such as people’s awareness and the development of technology. Marine mammal stranding response trainings have been conducted around the country since 1999, a lot more in the last five years, which could mean a greater number of people are now aware of the need to report such events. Furthermore, mobile phones are now ubiquitous everywhere, and this is no doubt a huge factor influencing the increase in reporting. Therefore, an increase in the number of reports of stranding does not necessarily mean an increase in the actual occurrence of stranding events.

The proponents of the Bohol dolphinarium have also argued that most of the stranded animals are still alive when found, thus the need for facilities to rescue and rehabilitate them. Regardless of whether this claim is true or not, the primary objective when responding to the stranding of a live marine mammal is to ensure the safe return of the animal to its natural habitat. Therefore, responders must employ the safest and least invasive way of returning the animal back out to sea as soon as possible. The option of rehabilitation is impractical and expensive: why spend millions to build a facility to ‘save’ a few animals when there are possibly thousands out in the wild needing protection?

Bohol as a natural marine park

If people can afford to spend more than 3,000 pesos each to take a 3-hour trip to Subic to see these animals perform tricks, why can’t they save a few thousand pesos by taking a 2-hr trip to Batangas where they can see dolphins in the wild doing their natural behavior, playfully spinning around or leaping on the surface of the water? Why can’t they take the one-hour flight to Tagbilaran or Dumaguete and go dolphin watching in the seas of Central Visayas instead?

There is no need to spend millions of pesos to build an artificial ‘dolphin park’ when the Bohol Sea is already a huge natural marine park where you can see whales and dolphins in their natural habitat as well as sea turtles, whale sharks, and numerous other species of tropical marine life.

Instead of building captive dolphin facilities, why not spend time and money in mitigating threats to wild marine mammal populations? Why not promote conservation in their natural environment, conduct more research that will allow us to better understand these animals, or help small fishing communities develop a sustainable livelihood?

Why would Bohol want to tarnish its reputation by hosting a facility that will take these wild animals from their natural habitat into enclosures that will, no matter how large, never be able to imitate their natural home and further risk the livelihoods of small island communities?

The story of the whales and dolphins in the province is the story of the dependency of fishing communities on the animals swimming wild in the Bohol Sea. Forced to give up the hook for the sake of conservation, these people are still trying to adapt to these changes in their lives. It is hoped that, for the sake of the locals and the dolphins alike, the proposal to establish a dolphinarium can be stopped. – YA, GMA News

Jo Marie Acebes is a biologist, conservationist, and a veterinarian. She worked for several conservation NGOs before starting a small group called, a non-profit organization dedicated to the research and conservation of whales and dolphins in the Philippines. She is currently pursuing a PhD at Murdoch University in Western Australia. The views expressed in this article are solely her own.

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Alabama protects wild turtles from voracious Asian markets

Verna Gates Reuters 6 Apr 12;

SELMA, Ala., April 6 | Fri Apr 6, 2012 7:11pm EDT

(Reuters) - A nationwide effort to ban harvesting of freshwater American turtles to satisfy hungry Asian markets is gaining momentum, with Alabama this weekend prohibiting collection of wild turtles and their eggs.

Asia has depleted its own turtle species and has been turning to the United States for its supply, said Jeff Miller, Conservation Advocate, Center for Biological Diversity.

The demand for turtle meat for food and medicine is voraciously consuming more than 2 million wild-caught freshwater turtles a year, Miller said.

Turtle hunters have been moving from state to state as regulations are passed to curtail turtle hunting. Maryland, Georgia, Florida, Texas, South Carolina and Oklahoma have stepped up regulations to protect turtle species, while Kentucky has started monitoring its populations, he said.

With surrounding states closing the door, Alabama has seen a surge in turtle harvesting, said Mark Sasser, Non-game Wildlife Coordinator, Alabama Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries.

In response, Alabama has passed one of the toughest commercial harvesting bans on wild turtles and their eggs on both public and private lands, which goes into effect on Sunday, Sasser said. All turtle harvesting permits were canceled in the state.

"Turtles are important to our ecosystem and we want to protect them," Sasser said.

Slow to reproduce, wild turtles cannot sustain commercial harvesting, according to Thane Wibbels, a biology professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

The average female lays 20 eggs a season, and that number will generally only produce one or two adults, according to Wibbels. There are many predators and a hatchling takes as long as five years to reach sexual maturity.

"It is very easy to deplete a turtle population," said Wibbels, who studies the diamondback terrapin, once a popular dish in the eastern U.S., even appearing on President Richard Nixon's dinner table at the White House.

Sasser said Alabama has one of the most diverse turtle populations, with 25 species, two of which are federally protected and seven of which are state-protected.

The ban does not extend to turtle farmers, who either raise hatchlings for the pet market or for food.

Private landowners can control their turtle populations but they cannot sell them.

"No one can claim to be selling turtles off of granddaddy's farm," said Sasser.

Turtles fetch hefty prices on the commercial market, either as food or exotic pets. Food turtles can bring $65 apiece and exotic black knob sawback turtles could sell for as much as $150 for pet collectors.

"It can't wag its tail at you, but people want turtles for pets," said Sasser.

Poachers caught selling turtles in Alabama face a maximum $500 fine and a year in jail. With thousands in profits at stake, Sasser believes many will take the risk. (Editing By Barbara Goldberg and Sandra Maler)

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Asia's wildlife hunted down

Growing affluence boosts demand for items like rhino horn
Amelia Teng Straits Times 7 Apr 12;

LAST year was a grim year for Asia's wildlife, says a leading activist in a group trying to eradicate the trade and killing of protected animals.

Mr Chris Shepherd, deputy regional director of Traffic South-east Asia, says 2011 'may have been the worst year yet' for Asia's wildlife, as trade in sought-after animals left a terrible toll.

In October, the Javan rhino was declared extinct in Vietnam. That had brutal consequences elsewhere around the globe. According to the World Wide Fund for Nature, a record number of 448 rhinos were killed in South Africa last year because of escalating demand for rhino horn in Vietnam.

The ivory trade flourished in Asia: more than 23 tonnes of illegal ivory were seized in markets like Malaysia, Thailand, China and Hong Kong last year. Global wildlife watchdog Traffic estimates more than 2,500 elephants were killed.

Gecko trade in the Philippines skyrocketed, with many believing in the creature's cancer-curing properties. The list goes on.

Wildlife groups like Traffic and the Coalition Against Wildlife Trafficking have estimated the illegal wildlife trade to be a multibillion-dollar business.

Asian demand is a major driver of the trade. The region's growing affluence has boosted demand for items like elephant ivory, tiger bone and rhino horn.

Markets like Bangkok's sprawling Chatuchak or weekend market, immensely popular with tourists, and Pramuka in Jakarta, which openly displays large volumes of illegal wildlife for sale, are prime examples of the brazen way traffickers ply their trade in full view of the authorities.

'Anywhere with weak enforcement draws smuggling activities,' says Mr Shepherd.

While the authorities struggle with enforcing law and order, traffickers' operations are becoming more sophisticated and advanced.

Smuggling methods include hiding small animals in suitcases and pockets, declaring a protected species to be another species unlikely to draw attention, and using fraudulent documents. Mixing illegal specimens with legal ones is done to confuse the authorities. Some export wild animals as legally captive-bred. Others bribe officials at checkpoints.

'These syndicates are part of a well-connected, well-funded network of people across the globe who can source, move and sell large volumes of protected wildlife, including rare and endangered animals,' says Traffic South-east Asia senior programme officer Elizabeth John.

She adds that many people are involved in the chain - poachers, hunters, and those who source animals from them and sell them to middlemen.

These middlemen are part of a larger network of traffickers who trade within and across countries.

Singapore is an important centre for trade and commerce in this region. Large volumes of goods, including illegally traded animals, pass through the Republic and are re-exported to neighbouring countries.

In the past decade, 2004 saw the highest number of animal seizures, with 59 cases, followed by 39 cases in 2003, said the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA). In both years, the items seized included live species and animal parts, and all were shipped from overseas.

In 2005, the number of cases dropped to 12. Last year, there were 20 seizures. The AVA says the rise and fall in the number of cases are not attributed to any specific cause, as the level of vigilance has been constant through the years.

The AVA is responsible for implementing and enforcing the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites) locally. Cites is an international agreement drawn up in 1973 to protect wildlife, to which Singapore has been a signatory since 1986.

The AVA works closely with other enforcement agencies like the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) and the Police Coast Guard to monitor Singapore's borders. It conducts regular workshops and training sessions for checkpoint officers. They are taught how to identify species and implement measures to meet Cites requirements.

AVA permits are required for the import of Cites-listed species. Cites export permits from the source country are also needed before an import permit can be obtained.

While official figures are low, it may not mean all is well. Mr Shepherd warns that 'exporters in source countries in the region, such as Indonesia, falsify permits, making it very difficult for the authorities in re-exporting and importing countries, like Singapore, to tell illegal from legal'.

In 2010, a shipment of 470 python and 363 monitor lizard skins from Indonesia that was falsely declared as synthetic leather was seized in Singapore.

Mr Shepherd believes illegal trade can be reduced with more effort, resources and commitment. But action is critically needed.

'The authorities are increasing their efforts, but we still have a long way to go before a serious dent is made.'

Illegal wildlife trade thriving in cyberspace
Ad sites turning into grounds for hunting endangered species
Amelia Teng Straits Times 7 Apr 12;

SOME say cyberspace is a jungle, with no rules.

For endangered and other protected animals, the Internet is proving a very dangerous place indeed - more dangerous than the natural predators they face in the wild.

Classified ad sites, networking sites and forums are the perfect platforms for dealers to engage in illicit exchanges. As the Internet is open and unregulated, these poachers can remain anonymous and hidden from the authorities.

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They are helped by the fact that most websites do not monitor what is being posted or sold, nor do they require sellers to prove the legitimacy of their items. It is also difficult to identify sellers online. Most postings do not provide any seller IDs, making it difficult to track them down.

An online search on Adpost, a classified ad website, turned up people looking for protected snake species like Boelen's python and the white-lipped python. Both are listed in Appendix II under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites), an international agreement to which Singapore has been a signatory since 1986.

Other Cites-listed species like green tree pythons, yellow-crowned Amazons and Indian star tortoises are also sold on such sites.

Cites has three levels of protection for threatened species. Appendix I includes species in immediate danger of extinction, and trade is permitted only in exceptional cases. Species in Appendix II require protection, and trade is controlled. Appendix III-listed species are protected in at least one country, which asks for help from other countries to monitor trade.

Under Singapore's Endangered Species (Import & Export) Act, someone importing, exporting, re-exporting or possessing any Cites species without a permit can be fined up to $50,000 a species, up to $500,000, and/or two years in jail.

'Pretty much any species can be purchased and paid for online and delivered anywhere in the world within a few days,' said Mr Chris Shepherd, deputy regional director of Traffic South-east Asia, a wildlife advocacy group. It is part of a global network linked to the World Wide Fund for Nature. Traffic South-east Asia has also seen an explosion of online sites selling tokay geckos in Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines. These lizards are prized for their perceived medicinal benefits, as some people believe they can cure cancer and Aids.

In the Philippines, gecko trading is especially active on sites like Sulit. One specimen can fetch as much as 500,000 pesos (S$14,600) online. Geckos are not Cites-listed, but are protected under the Wildlife Act of the Philippines.

Illegal online trade is also rampant outside Asia. Last year, the International Fund for Animal Welfare (Ifaw), a United States-based animal welfare group, monitored 43 websites in Britain, France, Portugal, Spain and Germany, and found a thriving trade in ivory products. More than 660 items worth almost €650,000 (S$1.1 million) were put up for sale in just two weeks.

In its more than seven years of investigative work, Ifaw has discovered that wildlife trade over the Internet extends also to rhino horn products, tiger bone, leopard skin, bear bile, live reptiles and birds.

It will take a lot more than current measures to catch criminals red-handed, said Mr Shepherd. He said there should be special teams to focus on combating the online wildlife trade, because 'finding and catching 'invisible' criminals is extremely difficult'.

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Flash floods in Jakarta due to environment exploitation: minister

Antara 6 Apr 12;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - Environment affairs minister Balthasar Kambuaya confirmed here on Thursday that the flash floods in several parts of Jakarta in recent days were due to excessive human exploitation of the environment.

"We should be introspective about the impact of the floods, while admitting to our mistakes in exploiting the environment," the minister said.

According to Kambuaya, all parties should participate in overcoming the flood issue as the funds (for flood handling) have already been allocated.

"Environmental damage has a lot to do with human attitude, so we should improve our behavior," he noted.

Meanwhile, environment deputy minister Arief Yuwono said that the public`s awareness should be raised to prevent further flash floods.

Also, the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) forecasts additional rain in Jakarta over the next three days.

Thousands of families across Jakarta have already been affected by floods caused by heavy rains on the night of April 2 in Jakarta and Bogor.

The rains and subsequent flooding have also triggered severe traffic congestion across the city.


Editor: Ella Syafputri

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