Best of our wild blogs: 18 Apr 12

25 Apr (Wed): U@live features Prof Leo Tan
from wild shores of singapore

Celebrate Earth Day in our mangroves!
from wild shores of singapore

朱背啄花鸟母子scalet backed flowerpecker mother & Chick@SBWR from PurpleMangrove

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Indonesia: Cameras Used to Help Save Endangered Javan Rhino

Alina Musta’idah Jakarta Globe 17 Apr 12;

The World Wide Fund and International Rhino Foundation have placed 120 additional video cameras to capture images of endangered Javan rhinos in Ujung Kulon National Park, the animal’s original habitat, in Banten.

The cameras were added to the 40 that were already in place. They are aimed at monitoring rhinos’ movements in an attempt to better identify and judge the size of the animal’s population.

“After Javan rhinos were declared extinct in Vietnam in 2011, the animal’s population in Ujung Kulon was the last in the world. We hope the additional cameras will be an important step to ensure their existence,” IRF director Susie Ellis said on Monday.

Earlier, camera traps in the park captured images of 35 Javan rhinos, five of them calves.

Researchers studying the images were able to identify 35 different rhinos, though the total number is likely higher.

The Javan rhino was once the most widespread of all Asian rhinoceroses, but it was nearly wiped out following the Krakatau volcano’s violent eruption in 1883.

The greatest threat they face today is from poachers and habitat destruction.

Experts estimate only 40 to 60 Javan rhinos remain in the park.

The last known Javan rhino in Vietnam was found dead in April, apparently after poachers killed it for its horn.

A recent survey of the rhinos has found far fewer females than males, a potential setback in efforts to save the species.

Video cameras set up in the eastern half of Ujung Kulon recorded 17 rhinos this year. Just four were female.

Mohammad Haryono, the head of Ujung Kulon National Park, said that with 160 cameras the observers could monitor not only rhinos but also other animals and human beings.

“The cameras will become key equipment to help increase the population of Javan rhinos in accordance with our conservation plan,” he said.

Haryono said officials could also take quick action if they saw people trying to kill endangered animals in the park.

Investor Dail

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Sea Level Rise Threatens Mekong Rice

Marwaan Macan-Markar IPS 17 Apr 12;

BANGKOK, Apr 17, 2012 (IPS) - With Vietnam’s fertile Mekong delta threatened by rising sea levels and salt water ingress, the country’s future as a major rice exporter depends critically on research underway in the Philippines.

Scientists at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) are working with Vietnamese counterparts in the town of Los Banos, 63 km southeast of Manila, to develop a new strain of rice that can withstand submergence for over two weeks and also resist salinity.

A flood-tolerant variety, dubbed ‘scuba rice’, which has the submergence (SUB 1) rice gene, already offers half the solution.

"IRRI is experimenting to find a rice variety to deal with both problems," says Bjorn Ole Sander, a scientist at the world’s leading non-governmental research centre on rice. "Even if we have rice crops that are tolerant to floods they can die because of salinity."

The search for this new grain had its roots in the Indian state of Orissa, home to the flood-resistant rice variety that resumes growth after being underwater for even 14 days – unlike other rice varieties that die if submerged for just over a week.

"This has been achieved without genetic manipulation, by breeding the SUB 1 variety," Sander said in an interview. "It can be submerged for 17 days."

But the quest for a salinity-tolerant variety that could be blended with scuba rice is more daunting. "It will take at least four years to find a rice variety that will be tolerant to both - salinity and flooding," he said.

"That would be the answer to the problems faced in the Mekong Delta from flooding and salinity from the rising sea tides," he added.

Salt water from the South China Sea now spreads 40 km into the delta, unlike the 10 km inland reach of the sea 30 years ago.

"The future of the delta is at stake. That is why we are working with IRRI to develop a rice variety to deal with floods and salinity," says Nguyen Van Bo, president of the Vietnam Academy of Agricultural Science, a government-backed entity in Hanoi. "Seven percent of the paddy fields in the delta are affected by rising sea levels."

Already farmers have begun to change occupations, many going from rice farming to shrimp farming, he told IPS. "There is a very noticeable shift from the previous times when growing rice and shrimp farming were seasonal."

And Vietnam’s fate – particularly on the delta – is going to worsen, warned Asian agriculture scientists and climate change specialists at a meeting in Bangkok, Apr. 11-12. It would add to existing woes from erratic weather patterns that have hit the region’s other major rice producers like Thailand, they added.

The delta accounts for nearly 50 percent of the 42 million tonnes of unmilled rice produced in Vietnam - the world’s second largest rice exporter after Thailand - with three annual harvests.

In 2011, Vietnam exported a record seven million tonnes of rice, mainly to the Philippines and other Asian markets.

For over 17 million of Vietnam’s 87 million people, who call the flat, humid delta their home, the network of waterways has been pivotal to rice production.

These arteries are fed by the Mekong River, Southeast Asia’s largest body of water, which begins its 4,880-km route in the Tibetan plateau and flows through southern China, touches Myanmar and Thailand, and winds its way through Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam before flowing out into the South China Sea.

Four dams built by China on the Mekong were the first to impact the delta’s rice farmers. As the usual water flow ebbed, salt water raced inland and the alluvial soil dumped on the delta by the river during the annual monsoon floods also dropped, reducing the natural fertility.

But, the dams provided clues to the possible impact of climate change. Almost one-third of the delta, where nearly half of Vietnam’s rice is grown, could be submerged by salt water if there is a one-metre rise in the sea levels, a report by the country’s National Institute for Hydrometeorology and Environmental Science warned in 2009.

World Bank studies rank Mekong delta communities among the most threatened by sea level rise in 87 developing countries surveyed.

Warnings that 21 percent of Asia’s crops will be affected by climate change by 2050 are yet to push government leaders from the 190 countries who gather at the annual United Nations climate change summit to include agriculture in the negotiations.

"Agriculture and food production are mentioned in the UNFCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) but they have not been translated into language that will initiate a specific work programme on agriculture in relation to climate change," says Bruce Campbell at the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR).

"There isn’t a common voice on agriculture at the UNFCCC negotiations," said Campbell, a director at CGIAR which is sponsored by the Food and Agriculture Organisation, the International Fund for Agricultural Development, the United Nations Development Programme and the World Bank.

"Climate change is impacting farming systems and it is endangering crops," Campbell told IPS. "Agriculture systems have to be transformed to make agriculture climate resilient."


Hunt on for rice to resist salt, flooding
UPI 17 Apr 12;

BANGKOK, April 17 (UPI) -- With rice production in Vietnam's fertile Mekong delta threatened by salt water from rising sea levels, researchers say they're turning to genetics for help.

Scientists at the International Rice Research Institute are working with Vietnamese counterparts in experiments in the Philippines to develop a variety of rice that can withstand submergence for over two weeks and also resist increased salinity.

An existing flood-tolerant variety, dubbed "scuba rice," already offers half the solution, researchers said.

"IRRI is experimenting to find a rice variety to deal with both problems," Bjorn Ole Sander, a scientist at the world's leading non-governmental research center on rice, told Inter Press Service.

"Even if we have rice crops that are tolerant to floods they can die because of salinity."

The search for a salinity-tolerant variety that could be cross-bred with scuba rice is daunting, he said.

"It will take at least four years to find a rice variety that will be tolerant to both salinity and flooding," he said.

With climate change and global warming the search for a solution is vital, he said, noting that salt water from the South China Sea now spreads 25 miles into the Mekong delta, unlike the 6 miles inland the sea tides reached 30 years ago.

"That would be the answer to the problems faced in the Mekong Delta from flooding and salinity from the rising sea tides."

Researchers in Britain and Japan also are working on developing saline-resistant rice.

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Laos: Xayaburi Dam Building Pact Signed

Radio Free Asia 17 Apr 12;

Plans move ahead for Laos's controversial hydropower project on the Mekong.

In a controversial move, a Thai company has signed a nearly $2 billion-dollar contract for the construction of a dam on the Mekong River in Laos even though governments in the region have not cleared the project.

Ch. Karnchang informed the Thai stock exchange Tuesday it had signed a 52 billion baht (U.S. $1.7 billion) contract with Xayaburi Power Co. Ltd., a Lao-Thai joint venture, to build the project, Thai media reported.

The Xayaburi hydropower dam would be on the lower part of the Mekong River, and environmental groups say it would affect the lives of millions in the region.

The latest contract says construction on the dam will begin on March 15 next year and be completed in eight years.

In December, Laos had shelved plans for the dam pending further environmental assessments, following a meeting by the Mekong River Commission (MRC), a regional body of Southeast Asian countries that share the river.

Leaders from Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, and Vietnam agreed further study was needed on the sustainable management and development of the river before the Xayaburi project could continue.

Despite the delay, Lao energy officials have remained committed to the project, which costs a total of U.S. $3.8 billion, Bounthuang Phengthavongsa, director-general of the Energy and Mining Ministry said in January.

“We want to build this dam and we will try hard to do so. Our intention and our hope is that in the end we will be able to build it despite all opposition,” he told RFA.

Laos has planned 70 hydropower projects on its rivers and officials have said it hopes to become “the battery of Asia.”

It is not immediately known whether the Lao government had been officially informed by the companies that signed the contract.

Preliminary construction on the project, including work access roads and a work camp, has picked up in recent months, according International Rivers, a U.S.-based environmental NGO.

"Laos has not clarified if construction on the Xayaburi Dam will stop while the study takes place. Legally, Laos may not proceed with construction until all four governments have agreed. Practically, allowing construction would undermine the study," the group said.

A large number of workers have been employed for a two-year period to construct access roads and facilities for the project, it said.

High stakes

Critics of the Xayaburi dam, which would provide 95 percent of its electricity to Thailand, say that damming the Mekong threatens to destroy the ecology of the river, disrupt the livelihood of riparian communities, and jeopardize the food security throughout the region.

“The government should take care of the environment too, at the same time as developing the economy,” a resident in the Lao capital Vientiane said.

Mekong dams have faced stiff opposition from environment activists, who say the fate of the Xayaburi project will affect future decisions on the 11 other dams planned on the mainstream part of the Lower Mekong.

"The ecosystem is already changing, and now the dam will be built on Mekong River. The Xayaburi dam will be the first; of course it will affect the ecosystem the most,” a Thai resident who lives near the Mekong said.

“If the Xayaburi dam can be built, so will 12 others. I think that is a big concern," he said.

The Stimson Center, a U.S.-based think tank, applauded Laos’s postponement of the Xayaburi project last year, saying it was the first time a Mekong country had made a decision about a mainstream dam based on the impact beyond its borders.

The Xayaburi project is the Mekong River Commission’s “biggest test” since its establishment in 1995, the think tank said in a report in March, and warned that dams on the river could have a harmful impact on the entire region.

“The negative impacts on food security, livelihoods, water availability, and water quality have the potential to jeopardize the region’s hard-won peace and stability,” it said.

Reported by RFA's Lao service. Translated by Max Avary. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.

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