Best of our wild blogs: 15 Apr 12

Chemicals sprayed at Chek Jawa
from wild shores of singapore

Baby wild boars, nesting hornbills and grey herons at Chek Jawa
from Peiyan.Photography and wild shores of singapore

Life History of the Striped Blue Crow
from Butterflies of Singapore

First pre-dawn trip this year!
from Nature rambles

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More can be done to encourage education through outdoor play

Olivia Siong Channel NewsAsia 14 Apr 12;

SINGAPORE: More can be done to encourage regular outdoor educational activities for children.

Minister of State for the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports Halimah Yaccob said this is in line with the ministry's goal of providing holistic development for children.

It's definitely not a conventional classroom at the Easter Egg Hunt event, organized by Legoland Malaysia and Kranji Countryside Association at three farms in Singapore's Kranji area.

And while the kids might be hot and sweaty, they're not complaining as they are learning about gardening and the great outdoors - all while having fun.

The aim of the event is to encourage the benefits of education through playful learning.

Madam Halimah said: "Singaporeans in their consciousness seem to think we're a concrete jungle. We don't have much of a green patch and if we have green, we think in terms of gardens, we don't think in terms of farms. I think it's very useful that we have the children out here. We'd like the children to have holistic development."

It's hoped that more organisations will jump on board to organise such activities.

Kranji Countryside Association president Ivy Singh Lim said it is a great initiative to bring the kids out of the classroom and encourage them to "love nature and find their soul".

Legoland Malaysia general manager Siegfried Boerst, said: "It's about education as well as bringing the children out and bonding them together. There are a lot of families that come here so there are a lot of values that we share. I think it's very important that we have a partner that shares the same vision and have the same target group."

The Easter Egg Hunt will be open to the public till April 25.

Participants can stand to win four sets of annual passes to Legoland Malaysia, which is set to open in Johor by the end of 2012.

And organisers say the public can look forward to more of such activities in the near future.

- CNA/fa

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A tastier tilapia

New saltwater-tolerant breed could boost food sustainability here
Chang Ai-Lien Straits Times 15 Apr 12;

Tilapia grow fast and are relatively cheap to produce, but like other freshwater fish, they are often shunned by consumers who complain they have a muddy taste.

To cross that hurdle, Singapore's largest fish farm has started producing saltwater-tolerant tilapia, a move that could boost food sustainability here and help Singapore meet its target of raising local fish production.

Next year, Mr Malcolm Ong, chief executive officer of the Metropolitan Fishery Group, plans to harvest 100,000kg of the fish at his farm in the waters off Lim Chu Kang.

This is on top of the 600,000kg of mullet and milkfish his facility currently sells to wholesalers and supermarkets here each year.

'We are constantly asked by suppliers to increase the variety of our fish, so this was a great opportunity,' he said.

He began his tilapia-farming experiment last year, after the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) introduced him to local researchers who supplied him with days-old, 1cm-long marine tilapia fry.

In nine months, the fish each grew to a plump 500g and were ready for harvest.

So far, more than 400kg have been snapped up by wholesalers.

Fish production here is on the rise, with farmers saying that demand for local fish is high because it is seen as fresher then the produce brought in by fishing boats.

In 2010, people here ate 47.5 million kg of fish.

Singapore's 119 coastal fish farms produce about 7 per cent of the fish consumed locally - up from 4.5 per cent in 2009, said an AVA spokesman.

It wants to raise the figure to 15 per cent in a few years' time.

To this end, AVA has a $20 million fund to help diversify Singapore's food supply and develop farms' capabilities.

So far, about $6 million has been awarded to 15 projects, seven of them fish farms, including the Metropolitan Fishery Group.

This allowed Mr Ong to install an automated water monitoring system that sounds the alarm if oxygen levels fall on his farm - a common occurrence.

Staff are then able to switch on pumps and aerators so that fish do not become stressed and die, he said.

This also helped to prevent losses with the recent tilapia harvest.

Because they grow fast, are not picky eaters and are relatively easy to farm, tilapia - known as 'the aquatic chicken' - have become one of the world's most important fish in aquaculture.

Some customers have however bypassed them because of the earthy taste that freshwater fish can have.

But the tilapia from Mr Ong's farm, when sampled by Sunday Times staff, was clean-tasting, with firm, white flesh.

Wholesaler Ang Tian Sze, who bought up the first batch, agreed that the fish had been a success because they were fresh without any hint of a muddy taste.

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He maps genes of the world's fish species

Straits Times 15 Apr 12;

He is a steward of a 21st-century ark.

Scientist Byrappa Venkatesh is leading part of a mammoth effort to map out the genetic make-up of many of the world's animal species.

Called Genome 10K, the project aims to eventually sequence the complete genetic material of 10,000 vertebrates, or animals with backbones - around one from each genus.

Scientists call it a game-changing endeavour which will let them see evolution in action, as well as predict how animals will respond to challenges such as climate change and pollution.

Professor Venkatesh, who heads the Comparative Genomics Laboratory at the Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology (IMCB) under the Agency for Science, Technology and Research, is in charge of fish.

For a start, his team is looking at 28 key species ranging from seahorses and giant mudskippers that can be found in local waters to the highly prized arowana and the sex-changing gilthead sea bream. Since fish represent about half of all vertebrates, the long-term plan will be to sequence 4,000 fish genomes.

'We want to start with fishes that are each unique in their own way,' said Prof Venkatesh, who is a chair of the Genome 10K committee.

The primitive bichir, for instance, whose lineage gave rise to all fishes, has been picked because it will highlight how fishes have evolved and how their diversity has developed, he said.

There is also the commercially important golden arowana.

The $1,500 specimen he used was donated by Qian Hu fish farm, revealed Prof Venkatesh, who added: 'Some of my staff almost cried when I dissected it to get samples of blood and tissue.'

Also under the microscope is the world's largest bony fish, the sunfish (Mola mola).

This super-evolved creature has lost its tail fin and is basically just a silver disc containing brains, stomach and gonads, said Prof Venkatesh, part of the team that won the National Science Award in 2004 for its work in identifying and sequencing the fugu genome.

'All it does is eat and reproduce. I sometimes think humans are headed that way too,' he quips.

Commenting on Prof Venkatesh's leading role in the project, IMCB executive director Hong Wanjin added that it was also an opportunity for Singapore science to shine.

'The achievements and visibility further strengthen Singapore as a major centre of excellence in the area of comparative and functional genomics,' he said.

Work on the Genome 10K effort, projected to cost around US$50 million (S$63 million), began in earnest last year. Scientists from major zoos, museums, research centres and universities all over the world have been roped in.

China's BGI, formerly known as the Beijing Genomics Institute and among the world's largest genome sequencing facilities, is in the thick of the action, doing a large chunk of the sequencing work.

Noting how the project calls for enormous computing power and new algorithms, Prof Venkatesh said that an army of people working on the effort would become the next generation of computational biology experts.

'In the future, we talk about individualised medicine and sequencing each individual's genome to look at disease risk and treatment.

'These are the people who will be doing it, and making sense of all the information in human genomics,' he said.

Chang Ai-Lien

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Malaysia: No more fish to catch in our seas in 35 years?

A. Shukor Rahman New Straits Times 15 Apr 12;

DEPLETING: Consumers say some types of fish such as ikan serumbu, ikan kurau, ikan ubi and ikan kedera are becoming a rarity in markets, writes A. Shukor Rahman

MALAYSIA may have no more fish by 2048 - a mere 31/2 decades away - if our fishermen continue to utilise illegal and destructive methods to fish.

This dire warning was made by Fisheries Department director-general Datuk Ahamad Sabki Mahmood recently, but strangely enough, it has hardly caused a ripple. Most Malaysians appear unfazed.

Ahamad said local fishermen using the banned pukat rawa sorong (drag nets) are trespassing into fish breeding areas meant to boost fish population. Such an invasion has seen the fish population declining rapidly in the past 40 years, from 2.56 to 0.21 tonnes per sq km.

"Marine resources will surely become extinct when the banned equipment is used.

"Fishermen should be more responsible and aware that their action would cost the country and the people dearly in the long run."

Deputy Agriculture and Agro-based Industry Minister Datuk Wira Mohd Johari Baharom said the use of "crocodile nets", which have been found to be a threat to marine life, may also be banned.

He said the crocodile net, a drag net modified to expand its width and length, would stay afloat when it was dragged.

Fishing boat operators use this net at night in Kedah to avoid detection by the authorities.

"Since last year, many boat operators in Kedah had been found using such nets to haul tonnes of small fishes to be used as fish fertiliser."

Threats to sustainable management of Malaysian fisheries are both terrestrial and marine-based, and some of the immediate threats include:

Overfishing -- where the fish resource harvested is more than the sustainable level;

By-catch -- where the use of non-selective gears such as trawl nets catch non-target species (non-commercial fishes, juveniles of commercial fishes, turtles, dolphins and others). This practice will deplete fish resources, as well as affect the food chain and marine biodiversity;

Destructive fishing practices -- many fishermen use cyanide, bombs and electric gears to stun and catch fish easily, but the impact of these practices on the natural habitats of coral reefs, sea grass and the marine environment is devastating; and,

Clearing of natural habitats -- which include mangrove forests, mudflats, freshwater swamps, inland water bodies and wetlands. This causes significant deterioration of surrounding ecosystems and in turn deplete natural fish populations that use these areas as breeding, nursery and feeding grounds.

Perak Fisheries director Sani Mohd Isa said each person in Malaysia was expected to consume 55kg of fish per year by 2020, based on the increasing demand for this source of protein.

"A study carried out in 2000 found that the fish requirement for each person per year was 45kg, and this increased to 50kg in 2005. The increase in population each year also creates a higher demand for fish-based food."

The situation worldwide is also far from rosy. A study by scientists in 2006 found that the loss of ocean biodiversity was accelerating, and that 29 per cent of the seafood species humans consume had already collapsed.

If the long-term trend continued, in 30 years there would be little or no seafood available for sustainable harvest.

As for Malaysia, despite an increase in revenue over the years, the situation on the ground is worrying. Fisheries resources have depleted since 1970, so much so that the fish biomass has declined as much as 90 per cent between 1971 and 1997 in some fishing areas.

This is based on the department's resource survey to assess demersal fish biomass, growth, mortality, yield and catch-per unit-effort which concludes that the demersal resources for the west coast and east coast of Peninsular Malaysia, Sabah and Sarawak was already over-exploited in 1997.

Puteh Mohamad Habib, 72, from George Town, Penang said for Malaysia, the writing was on the wall since the 1970s when certain species of fish were no longer available at markets.

"Among these were ikan serumbu, ikan kurau, ikan ubi and ikan kedera.

"Kedera would sometimes be available once in a long while when it would fetch a high price as it had become a rarity."

Housewife Rohal Akmar Yahya of Shah Alam, Selangor said species such as ikan belanak, ikan kikik and ikan tamban were now hardly seen in local markets.

Sulaiman Ibrahim, from Penang, said he had not seen ikan kurau, ikan lembu, ikan gerut-gerut, ikan sebelah and ikan gelama at local markets for many years.

"In the 1960s, one could always easily get a lot of ikan gelama off Pesiaran Gurney. Today, one cannot even get ikan pedukang here. It could be due to heavy pollution.

"As for ikan terubok, there is an interesting story from the 1950s.

"There was such an abundance of ikan terubok till the price fell to rock bottom.

"Teluk Bahang fishermen then started throwing the fish back into the sea, and it seems the terubok took offence and totally disappeared from local waters since then."

Sahabat Alam Malaysia president S.M. Mohamad Idris said SAM and the Consumers Association of Penang have today been vindicated as both had been bringing up the subject of fisheries conservation since 1974, to persuade the fisheries department to conserve mangrove swamps and protect coral reefs, and to avoid big aquaculture projects, "but our efforts were largely ignored".

"Today, the department has conceded that the country's fish resources lie in a precarious situation -- a deterioration which began almost 40 years ago.

"So what can we do about the situation?

"We cannot just sit back and wait for doomsday to come.

"We cannot also go on allowing the unscrupulous among fishermen to go on using equipment that ravage the seabed day in and day out and wantonly destroy fish habitats. Fish also need time to grow.

"In some countries, a total ban on fishing is imposed during the fish breeding period of between 2 and 3 months.

"Perhaps, we should adopt the same approach," Idris said.

It is learnt that the department will go on conducting awareness programmes to educate fishermen on the best methods of fishing and the best equipment to use.

The number of fishing boats in Malaysian waters was maintained at 47,000 while the number of fishermen is 129,000 nationwide.

Mohamad Arisi Mat Nor from Kota Baru, Kelantan said it was high time the department stopped pussyfooting about this crucial issue and realise that it cannot be solved without strict enforcement.

He said the department would be regarded as being naive if it merely continued to expect fishermen to become aware and responsible even after seeing no improvement after almost four decades.

"In Kelantan, we are quite fortunate in that we can still get whatever species of fish we favour. Perhaps this is due to the fact that our supply is largely augmented by Thailand. The lack of ikan tamban for instance, would certainly cripple the keropok industry."

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Malaysia: Johor’s Asian Rotterdam

Mohd Farhaan Shah The Star 15 Apr 12;

PENGERANG (Johor): A local oil and gas company wants to transform this south-eastern part of Johor into the Rotterdam of Asia within 20 years.

Rotterdam, the second largest city in the Netherlands and one of the world's busiest ports, has reputedly the biggest petroleum terminal in the world.

In an area best known for its lobster and seafood dishes, work is being carried out on 344ha of reclaimed land to house a huge deepwater pertroleum terminal.

“Once ready, the RM5bil terminal can store up to five million cubic metres of oil,” said Pengerang Independent Deepwater Terminal Sdn Bhd chairman Ngau Boon Keat.

With 40 years' experience in the oil and gas sector, Ngau said Pengerang was ideal for the project as it is located right in the heart of shipping routes to the Middle East and China.

“We aim to make Pengerang the Rotterdam of Asia as the Dutch port is known throughout the world for having the largest petroleum terminal,” he said on Friday.

The project will be built in four phases, with the first phase of reclamation work expected to be completed next year.

Part of the terminal is expected to be ready by the first quarter of 2014.

“The terminal is on track,” said Ngau, who is executive chairman of the Dialog Group, which is a partner in the project along with the Johor Government and Royal Vopak NV, a Dutch company dealing in oil and natural gas-related products.

Ngau said the deepwater petroleum terminal would create more than 5,000 jobs, adding that Malaysians working overseas in the oil and gas sectors were expected to return to work here.

He said there were Malaysian skilled workers and experts working in the sector in the Middle East and Singapore.

“This is a shame. Many Malaysians are working in Singapore's refinery in Jurong,” he said.

He recalled that when he first obtained his Bachelor's Degree in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Canterbury in New Zealand in the 70s, it was hard for him to get a job in Malaysia in the oil and gas sector.

“I went for a walk-in interview at Mobil Singapore Pte Ltd, where I was offered a job as a refinery engineer. I worked for five years from 1975 in Petronas, when it first started.

“Malaysia has the skilled workers and the source for natural oil. I believe with this terminal, the industry can go much further and contribute significantly to our economy,” he said.

Johor Oil and Gas, a corporation under the Mentri Besar's office, said the state government was assessing the value of the houses and land of those affected by the project.

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Malaysia, Johor: Mersing reclamation work to be completed in three years

New Straits Times 15 Apr 12;

MERSING: The leading foreign contractor of the RM22 billion marina bay, Mersing Laguna, is committed to complete the project's land reclamation in 36 months.

From then on, brisk physical development, including the construction of hotels and marina facilities by local developer Radiant Starfish Development Bhd is expected to take off on the 809ha man-made islands.

Power Construction Corporation China president Ma Zong Lin said the company's subsidiary, Sinohydro, had been appointed to carry out the land reclamation.

Speaking through an interpreter during the launch of the project by Sultan of Johor Sultan Ibrahim Sultan Iskandar, Ma said the company was proud to be part of the district's development master plan under the Eastern Corridor Economic Region (ECER).

"Sinohydro is not only an expert in underwater engineering but also marine infrastructure construction.

"We are also involved in the development of the CP-1 city in Qatar and the 1,200km bullet train project from Shanghai to Beijing."

Mersing Laguna is expected to be fully completed by 2020.

Meanwhile, Johor Menteri Besar Datuk Abdul Ghani Othman said Mersing's natural beauty, with its pristine rivers and white sandy beaches, had long attracted tourists from all over the world.

Ghani was also confident that Radiant Starfish and its investors would be able to breathe new life into Mersing.

"Under the ECER, the district's potential in the tourism industry will be further expanded.

"Talks on the project took place several years ago, to make Mersing a top international destination," the menteri besar added.

'Mersing project to benefit locals'
Ahmad Fairuz Othman and Syed Umar Ariff New Straits Times 15 Apr 12;

OPPORTUNITIES ABOUND: Sultan of Johor seeks people’s support, cooperation for Mersing Laguna project

MERSING: THE Sultan of Johor is urging the people's support and cooperation in making the Mersing Laguna project a huge success, while warning detractors against undermining the RM55 billion eco-tourism endeavour.

Sultan Ibrahim Sultan Iskandar said yesterday the project stood to benefit locals, as well as Johor and the country, hence no one should attempt to make an issue out of it for political mileage or personal gains.

"I do not want those who are envious (of this project to) challenge it by spreading slander and to sabotage it.

"At the same time, let there be no party which tries to take advantage of it by staging protests for their personal or political interests, including voicing out nonsensical demands," said Sultan Ibrahim during a speech at the ground-breaking ceremony of Mersing Laguna and the opening of Festiva Mersing, near here.

The ruler also promised to look into any problems which the people had with the project as he wanted them to understand the many benefits that were in store for them.

"I have regarded Mersing as my playground since my childhood and always monitor the people's needs here. If the people of Mersing have any problems with the project, inform the district officer, who in turn will convey the matter directly to me.

"This is not a short-term project, but one which will bring about benefits in the construction sector, besides attracting more food outlets and accommodation in anticipation of the people who will stay here.

"There will be huge opportunities in the field of hospitality and this will require many workers, which in turn will uplift the local economy."

Sultan Ibrahim expressed his concern over the existing socio-economic status of Mersing folk, especially its fishing community, whose household earnings were inconsistent.

In this regard, the ruler urged the people of Mersing, particularly the fishing community and youth to take advantage of the project to improve their standard of life.

"It is time for my people to change towards a better life by obtaining a higher source of income, which is more guaranteed.

"When this project is completed, fishermen may not need to go out to sea again. The youth also must prepare themselves from now by seeking knowledge and learning more about the hotel line."

Sultan Ibrahim said the Laguna Mersing project was set to transform the town, which is currently just a stopover for tourists headed to the islands off the mainland.

"Mersing town was opened in 1892, but until now, it is not as fast-developing as other towns in Johor.

He said the project had also considered the impact on the environment and was developed with the people's interests in mind.

"Initially, I was not confident that the project would succeed. However, after five years of research by the developer, I am now convinced that the project will be beneficial to the people."

Sultan Ibrahim wants Mersing to become an internationally known major tourism town, as it had such a potential due to its natural beauty.

"The district of Mersing is abundant with natural beauty, while the islands off Mersing have been attracting tourists for a long time.

"Let us return the town to its former glory as a place of beauty, as depicted in the song Seri Mersing."

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Malaysia relatively quake-free

P. Selvarani New Straits Times 15 Apr 12;

ALERT: With increased seismic activity in the region following a series of major earthquakes in recent years, Malaysian Meteorological Department senior director Dr Mohd Rosaidi Che Abas tells P. Selvarani how these temblors affect Malaysians. He stresses, however, that they do not mean that the end of the world is near

Question: Was the 8.6 magnitude earthquake which struck off the coast of Aceh on Wednesday in any way related to the massive earthquake which hit Japan in March last year?

Answer: Not really because they are on different tectonic plates. The subduction zone where the two plates meet -- the Indo-Australian plate and Eurasian plate (where Sumatra and Malaysia sit) -- can see earthquakes occurring at any time and the magnitude can reach 9.0 or more. It can be anywhere along the fault line.

Question: When does an earthquake trigger a tsunami?

Answer: The earthquake last Wednesday occurred far from the subduction zone, about 100km away. So, the mechanism was more of a "strike slip" meaning that the movement of the seabed was horizontal. The earthquake that hit Aceh in 2004 occurred along the subduction zone where there was vertical movement of the seabed. We call this reverse faulting. That is why the Aceh 2004 earthquake generated a very big tsunami due to the vertical movement of the seabed, compared with the recent earthquake.

Question: But a tsunami warning was still issued on Wednesday.

Answer: Yes, but it was a minimal tsunami. It was observed that the maximum (height of waves) at the coastal areas of Sumatra was only one metre.

Question: Although we are not in the Pacific Ring of Fire, is there a possibility of a major earthquake occurring in Malaysia, considering our proximity to Indonesia?

Answer: In Malaysia, so far we have experienced only weak earthquakes in the Bukit Tinggi area, from 2007 until 2009. There are some fault lines in peninsular Malaysia, for example the Bukit Tinggi fault as a result of the strong earthquakes which occurred starting from the 2004 earthquake in Aceh, followed by several big earthquakes in the Sumatra subduction zone. But it triggers a weak earthquake. But we don't foresee anything more than a magnitude of 5 on the Richter scale.

Question: So any earthquake that occurs in Malaysia will not exceed 5 on the Richter scale?

Answer: Not in peninsular Malaysia. But in Sabah, it is different as there are some active fault lines. In 1976, there was a 5.8 magnitude earthquake in Lahad Datu. It occurred in the centre of the town and caused some structural damage. So, in Sabah, earthquakes that occur there can reach a magnitude of up to 6.0, but in peninsular Malaysia, it won't be more than 5.

Question: How much damage can a 5 magnitude earthquake cause?

Answer: If it occurs in a densely populated area where there are high-rise buildings, it may damage the buildings.

Question: How bad would the damage be?

Answer: If the epicentre of the quake is just below a very dense area where there are many high-rise buildings, it could cause some buildings to collapse if they are not structurally sound.

Question: In view of this, should the authorities, our developers and those in the construction industry now think of building earthquake-proof structures?

Answer: Actually, we are already doing this. We have a committee to look into this. It is under the Institution of Engineers Malaysia. They are drafting the guidelines for earthquake-proof building designs for the country.

Question: What exactly is the committee looking at?

Answer: Certain factors we should consider in the construction of buildings ....especially critical buildings such as dams, bridges, LRT and monorail networks and other major structures.

Question: When a major earthquake occurs in Sumatra, we feel the tremors here, especially in the northern states, why is it that only those in high-rise buildings feel the tremors?

Answer: Firstly, it depends on the epicentre of the earthquake. For example, if the epicentre is north of Sumatra, Penang will be more affected by the tremors. If the epicentre is near Padang (west Sumatra), then Selangor and Kuala Lumpur will experience stronger tremors, depending on how deep the earthquake is. A taller building will sway more compared with a low-rise structure.

Question: With all these major earthquakes occurring everywhere, how will Malaysia be affected? Is is true that the tectonic plates are moving closer towards Malaysia?

Answer: Actually, the movement of the tectonic plates towards our country is not so significant because the plate from the Indian Ocean will actually move down underneath Sumatra. The movement is very minimal, so we don't worry too much about that.

Since the plate from the Indian Ocean is continuously moving, it will continuously develop energy along the subduction zone. For example, Wednesday's Aceh earthquake was followed by more than 50 aftershocks because the surrounding of the epicentre was under stress and the energy was released.

But we are worried that there is a segment where the energy has not been released yet and due to the recent earthquake, there is additional pressure (on that segment) now. Maybe that segment is a very strong bed of rock and it has to wait for more energy to accumulate and when it releases that energy, it will be a much bigger earthquake.

Question: And when is that likely to happen?

Answer: We don't know when. It can occur at or in years to come. Most of the scientists now worry about the Padang one because (the) Padang (earthquake) is already due. Last Wednesday's earthquake may also increase the energy at the Padang fault line and may speed up the occurrence of an earthquake there.

We are worried because Padang is closer to us. The recent Aceh earthquake was quite far, about 800km from Penang. But if the Padang one occurs, it's only about 300km from Kuala Lumpur. If it has the same magnitude of 8.5, the tremors will be strongly felt here.

Question: Could that also trigger a tsunami?

Answer: Yes, depending on the depth. If it's shallow (less than 100km in depth), it may trigger a tsunami. But the waves may go towards the north (of Sumatra) and because we are blocked by Sumatra Island, the impact on us may be very minimal.

Question: When Wednesday's quake occurred, the Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre estimated the arrival of tsunami waves in George Town at 9.11pm and Port Dickson at 1.43am. Aren't states such as Negri Sembilan, Malacca and Johor safe from tsunamis because we are shielded by Sumatra?

Answer: From our analysis, they (the tsunami waves) travelled only until Selangor. The high-risk area is from Perlis down to Selangor. From Malacca to Johor, Pahang, Kelantan and Terengganu are considered low-risk areas.

Question: If an earthquake occurs on the Philippines side or close to the Sulu Sea, then is there a risk for these states?

Answer: Malacca, no. Johor very minimum. For Pahang it is also not so dangerous, but for Sabah, yes.

Question: So we are in no danger of a major earthquake, but we could be at risk of a major tsunami?

Answer: Yes, right now, we believe our buildings will not be damaged by earthquakes.

Question: Why did the MMD only issue a tsunami advisory and not a tsunami warning although the PTWC issued a tsunami alert following last Wednesday’s earthquake?

Answer: We use the PTWC as a guide but we do our own analysis. That’s why although India and Thailand evacuated their people after the tsunami alert was issued, we did not.

The advisory alert is to advise people to stay away from the beach. Warning means we have to evacuate people. From our analysis, we estimated that the waves will reach Malaysian shores about three to four hours later. So, we have time to give the warning. Also from our database, we estimated the maximum height of the waves will be about 0.76 metres. So we did not worry too much. That’s why we issued the advisory for the public to stay away from coastal areas. And when we confirmed there were no waves coming in, we terminated the warning. We did not have to ask people to evacuate.

Question: How effective is our tsunami alert system?

Answer: Now we are able to disseminate information and early warning within 10 minutes (of the earthquake happening). Since this year, we have reduced it to 10 minutes compared with 12 minutes last year and 15 minutes after the 2004 Aceh earthquake. We keep reducing the time. We have tsunami sirens at 23 locations now, but that siren will be activated only if evacuation is needed.

Question: Why are earthquakes now bigger and more intense? We rarely heard of these occurrences in the past as we do now.

Answer: I suppose because there is more awareness now. And compared with the last 30 years or so, we did not have many high-rise buildings. So when an earthquake occurred in Sumatera, we did not feel the tremors here.

Question: One of the reasons earthquakes occur is because of man-made activities such as the building of dams and drilling for oil in the ocean bed. How big a part do these activities play?

Answer: They may produce induced earthquakes. For example, when we built the Kenyir dam, there were a series of earthquakes, but it was only temporary. When the ground settled, it stopped. But it does not always happen. It depends on the underground structure and whether there is a fault line nearby. For example, Bakun (dam) induced earthquakes or seismic activity have been reported there so far.

Question: It was reported that after Wednesday’s earthquake, tremors that were felt in Penang were between 5 and 6 on the Modified Mercalli Intensity scale (MMI). What does that mean?

Answer: That is the measure of intensity of the tremors at the location where you are. It depends very much on the location you are at. If you live in a high-rise building, the intensity of the tremors will be more. But a scale of 5 to 6 will not cause major structural damage. Maybe the wall of the building may crack a bit. But if the reading was 7 and above, it may cause some structural damage.

Question: Are all these earthquakes and tsunamis part of climate change?

Answer: No, because earthquakes have been occurring for millions of years.

Question: People are wondering whether these are signs that the world is coming to an end, as predicted by the Mayans?

Answer: No, these are just normal natural disasters which occur from time to time. They have occurred for millions of years and will keep on occurring. It’s just that we have become more aware of these disasters now.

Question: So how should we prepare ourselves when faced with such disasters?

Answer: If you experience an earthquake or feel the tremors, don’t panic. Find shelter under a strong structure, wait until the tremors stop and then go out and wait for advice from the authorities. For tsunami, heed our early warning advice. The best is to listen to the authorities.

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Philippines: Dos and don’ts in handling ‘dugongs’ out soon

Kristine L. Alave Philippine Daily Inquirer 15 Apr 12;

What are the odds of finding a dugong (sea cow) or a whale at your doorstep?

While the answer could be one in several dozens of digits, the head of a conservation group and a bureau of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources are preparing guidelines on how to handle the animals. Just in case.

AA Yaptinchay, a veterinarian and head of the Marine Wildlife Watch Philippines (MWWP), has teamed up with the DENR-Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau (PAWB) to draft guidelines on the rescue and retrieval of dugongs stranded in shallow coastal areas.

The guidelines, which will be ready next year, would give people step-by-step procedures on the rescue of dugongs and turtles, Yaptinchay said. PAWB will also conduct awareness campaigns in coastal towns and teach residents the basics of giving first-aid to beached marine animals, he added.

Reports abound about the dugong, the largest sea-living mammal in the Philippines, getting caught in fishing nets, being stranded and drowning. They also have been hunted down, PAWB said. According to Yaptinchay, beached whales, dugong and turtles have become common sights in some areas of the country.

Unaware that these animals belong to protected species, some residents simply gawk at the animals while recording their last breath on the cameras of their mobile phones. Others kill stranded creatures for their meat and shell, Yaptinchay said.

He said recently, several dugongs have drowned after getting caught in fishing nets in Mati, Davao Oriental. “Early last year, up to four dugongs died during a three-month period,” he said.

“The release of turtles is commonly seen in the news, but a lot of them are not done properly. Hopefully this will be corrected with the issuance of the release guidelines,” he said.

Yaptinchay reminded communities that dugongs, whales or turtles caught in fishing nets should be released immediately to the sea. A stranded animal, on the other hand, requires more attention.

If you see a beached whale or dugong, the first thing to do is to assess its condition, Yaptinchay said. A beached animal should be protected from the sun. Residents could put a shade or a wet cloth over it, he said. It is vital that the skin of the species be kept wet. People should also be careful not to cover or put sand or water over the animal’s blow hole or nose. A superficial wound does not require major treatment, the vet added.

If the animal is injured and cannot be released, call an expert to handle it, Yaptinchay said. Residents should immediately report the beaching to the nearest DENR or PAWB office and also report data on the animal such as its size and injuries.

Dead animals, on the other hand, should be turned over to the DENR for disposal, Yaptinchay said.

He also urged residents to report incidents like these to MWWP through its Facebook page ( or to PAWB at telephone number (02) 9246031.

The dugong, which used to abound in Palawan and is found in lesser numbers in Zamboanga City, Davao del Norte, Davao del Sur, Davao Oriental, General Santos City, Surigao City, Iloilo, Negros Occidental, Guimaras and Polilio Island in Quezon, have been under threat because of increasing disturbances in the ecosystem, the PAWB said.

Aside from threats from fishermen, climate change is also a daunting challenge for the survival of these animals. These include changes in sea temperatures and storm surges that have put the dugong and other marine mammals at higher risk of beaching than ever.

Yaptinchay said dugongs may not be iconic or cuddly, but they play a vital role in the country’s marine ecosystem. “Green turtles and the dugong are the biggest herbivores in the sea and [contribute] to the nutrient cycle in the oceans. They affect seagrass beds through cultivation grazing, making seagrass beds more productive and nutritious,” he said.

“The turtles and dugongs have been around for millions of years and have been important players in the balance of the marine ecosystem. If we lose them, there will be some serious effect on the ecosystem which provides us with so many benefits including water, oxygen, food and even medicine,” he added.

A gentle sea creature, the dugong can measure up to 3 meters from snout tip to tail when fully grown. Breastfeeding mother dugongs are said to have inspired myths of mermaids.

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India: Where have all the sparrows gone?

India ropes in citizens for a nationwide study to try and find the answer
Nirmala Ganapathy Straits Times 15 Apr 12;

As recently as a decade ago, the house sparrow was the most ubiquitous bird in India, chirping away and pecking at the ground in any city.

But the unassuming, brown-feathered bird with a white underbelly has all but disappeared in India's massive urbanisation drive.

Shrinking green spaces, growing use of pesticides and chemicals, and even the telecom explosion have all been cited as possible reasons.

A 2009 study in the southern state of Kerala found that sparrows were building nests on mobile phone towers but their eggs never hatched. The study concluded that low-frequency electromagnetic waves were harming the thin skull of the chicks and their egg shells.

Ornithologists say no one really has the scientific data to explain why the sparrow population has fallen so precipitously.

Now the Bombay Natural History Society, a leading non-governmental organisation, has started an online campaign called Citizen Sparrow, supported by the Environment Ministry.

At, people are asked to fill out an online form with 18 questions, including where they have spotted sparrows and how often, to describe the locality, and say when mobile phone connections arrived there.

This will form the first comprehensive national study on India's disappearing sparrows.

'The causes are not easy to say because there hasn't been many studies in India,' said Dr Asad Rafi Rahmani, director of the Bombay Natural History Society.

It was not long ago that some countries considered the sparrow a pest. In China in 1958, the Chinese Communist Party asked people to exterminate it. Now in countries like Britain, studies have found that the sparrow population shrunk by more than two-thirds between 1994 and 2009.

'What we know is they have declined. With Citizen Sparrow we want to get all-India data and do a proper analysis,' said Dr Rahmani.

The request for a nationwide study came from the most unlikely of places: the Indian Parliament. In 2010, a group of legislators wanted to know why they were not seeing sparrows any more.

A question asked in Parliament piqued the interest of the Ministry of Environment and Dr Rahmani was roped in.

The project was launched on April 1 and by last Friday afternoon, 3,466 people had sent in 4,734 contributions about 3,892 locations. Researchers are hoping for 20,000 responses, the number needed for a comprehensive study. May31 is the last day for submitting responses.

One of the top contributors is Ms Sikhawali Hazarika, a 26-year-old research scholar in the geology department of Gauhati University in the north-eastern state of Assam. She recorded 17 sparrow sightings in two weeks.

'When I went to my father's family home (in Assam), all us cousins used to play hide and seek, and whenever we would go into the greenhouse, there would be a lot of sparrows and they would fly away. It became a game. But now their numbers are decreasing,' she said.

The sheer volume of responses has thrilled the campaigners.

Mr Chirag Sharma from the northern state of Punjab writes that he rarely sees the small bird any more.

But Mr Ehtesham Hasnain from the eastern state of Bihar says there are so many sparrows around him, they are even building nests in his house.

'Winters, the sparrows generally make their nests on the ceiling fans in our home. But as the summer comes we have to sadly remove those beautiful nests as the fans have to be put to work,' he said.

Such 'citizen science' projects are quite common in Europe, where people report bird sightings in their gardens or surrounding areas. But it is not common in India.

In addition, researchers are doing longer-term field studies in Bangalore, which has far fewer sparrows than before.

'We will then see if the results of field work and website information correlate. It is high time we came up with data at the national level so we can tell scientifically what is happening to the sparrow,' said Citizen Sparrow head S. Karthik.

Wildlife photographer Ganesh Raghunathan has shared 16 sightings with Citizen Sparrow. For him, sparrows remain a part of his childhood.

'At school and in college we used to spot so many sparrows. It is very sad that they have declined,' he said.

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