Best of our wild blogs: 21 Apr 12

No Arthropod is Too Big.. To Get Eaten
from Macro Photography in Singapore

From Lornie Trail To Riffle Range Part 1
from Beauty of Fauna and Flora in Nature

Munias feeding on pennisetum grass
from Bird Ecology Study Group

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Bid to repopulate giant clams on Singapore's reefs

Team of biologists aims to put back hundreds to add to marine diversity
Jose Hong Straits Times 21 Apr 12;

BEFORE dawn broke last Monday, Ms Neo Mei Lin and Ms Kareen Vicentuan set off on a yacht from Sentosa on a 45-minute journey.

Taking advantage of the low spring tide, they anchored just off Terumbu Pempang Tengah, a submerged reef near the southern islands, before piloting a rubber dinghy onto the reef flat.

Their mission? To search for a creature once abundant in Singapore but now rarely seen - the giant clam.

Ms Neo, 25, a PhD student, and Ms Vicentuan, 31, a research assistant, both from the National University of Singapore (NUS), are part of a small team of biologists that wants to repopulate Singapore's coral reefs with hundreds of giant clams, organisms which contribute to the reefs' complexity.

But to do this, the biologists need to spawn clams of local origin. To do that, they first need to find them.

This project is funded by the National Parks Board, and its principal investigator, Dr Peter Todd, said that the results are important for Singapore's marine biodiversity.

'From the evidence of our research, we are certain that giant clams were once abundant in Singapore,' said Dr Todd, 45, an assistant professor in the NUS' department of biological sciences.

Old records dating back to the mid- 1850s indicate that the waters around Singapore used to have five species of giant clam, he said. In the 1950s, the clams could still be easily seen from the shore.

'We have lost a lot of reefs, where the clams live, due to land reclamation. Furthermore, the waters around Singapore have more sediment in them than they used to, which reduces light penetration,' Dr Todd explained.

'As the clams photosynthesise, they need light, so that may have contributed to their decline.'

Another problem of sedimentation on the reefs, he added, was that it could cover up solid substrate, which clam larvae need to attach themselves to as they develop.

Lastly, he noted that the harvesting of clams for food likely contributed to their decline.

When Ms Neo surveyed 87,500 sq m of Singapore's coral reefs in 2009 and 2010, she found only 59 individual clams of two species.

'The aim of the project is to put back what we lost,' said Dr Todd.

Last Monday, using GPS coordinates from previous expeditions, the two researchers found one small specimen of Tridacna squamosa, otherwise known as the fluted giant clam for the leaf-like projections on its shell, but left it alone as it was too young to breed. After another 20 minutes, they found another fluted giant clam large enough to be brought back to the Tropical Marine Science Institute on St John's Island. Marking it, they went to look for others.

In the 11/2 hours of remaining low tide, two Tridacna crocea, otherwise known as the burrowing giant clam, were found, and their locations recorded. But when the tide came in, the duo returned to the marked fluted giant clam.

Soon, they separated the giant clam from its base and put it into a container, ready to be transported to the lab.

There, giant clams, some local and some from overseas, will be induced to breed, their offspring raised, and experiments conducted to see how they can be transplanted onto Singapore's reefs.

It will, however, be a long time before the team knows if the placement of giant clams has been successful. Said Ms Neo: 'Realistically, it will take seven to 10 years to know if this will work.'

But as long as giant clams can grow once again on the reefs, the team will be happy. 'The wait will definitely be worth it,' she said.

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Singapore to showcase urban solutions at summit

More than 15,000 delegates, including global leaders and experts, expected at July event
Jessica Cheam Straits Times 21 Apr 12;

SINGAPORE is cementing its position as a centre for urban solutions with the launch of a three-in-one summit in July, when it plays host to global leaders and experts from around the world.

More than 15,000 high-level delegates, including the United Nations Development Programme administrator Helen Clark, are expected to congregate here to discuss a wide range of issues, such as waste and water management, urban planning and green technology.

Executive director Khoo Teng Chye of the Centre for Liveable Cities said at a media conference yesterday that Singapore has done well in integrating urban solutions that address these issues.

It is also keen to showcase its best practices even as it learns from the success stories of other cities across the globe.

Citing World Bank statistics, Mr Khoo noted that the number of people living in cities will increase from 3 billion in 2000 to 6.4 billion by 2050.

Policymakers and city planners are looking to solve problems in water, waste management, housing and transport while businesses are looking to take advantage of the burgeoning urban solutions industry, he said.

This year, the discussions will take place across three events, all held at Marina Bay Sands from July 1 to 5.

These are the World Cities Summit, Singapore International Water Week (SIWW) and the inaugural Clean Enviro Summit Singapore (CESS).

The mega summit - the first of its kind - will focus on the theme of integrated solutions, said Mr Khoo.

The Economic Development Board (EDB) has identified urban solutions as a key growth sector for Singapore, particularly in exporting its home-grown technology and to be a 'living lab' for global companies to test-bed and commercialise green solutions here.

The wider clean technology or 'cleantech' industry is expected to contribute $3.4 billion to Singapore's gross domestic product and employ 18,000 people by 2015.

Singapore has a similar strategy for water technologies.

National water agency PUB's chief executive Chew Men Leong noted yesterday that the global outlook for the water industry is 'very positive', and it is projected to grow 7.5 per cent annually to $22 billion by 2016.

Singapore-based companies had secured $8.4 billion worth of overseas projects from 2006 to 2010, he said.

The SIWW, which was an annual affair, will now take place once in two years to be in sync with the other two events.

Separately, National Environment Agency chief executive Andrew Tan said Singapore was launching the Clean Enviro Summit to meet the urgent need to address waste management as Asian cities grow in wealth and population.

He noted that two billion tonnes of municipal solid waste were generated globally last year but only 11 per cent went to waste-to-energy plants, with 70 per cent going to landfills.

At the summit, Singapore will showcase some of its latest projects, such as Punggol Eco-Town, Marina Bay and Jurong Lake District. They have adopted district-wide solutions such as smart grids, energy-efficient lighting and green transport.

Mr Patrick Boyle, general manager of tech giant IBM's government and health industry in South-east Asia, told The Straits Times that Singapore was a 'leading-edge' example of integrated urban solutions. Such solutions, he said, were increasingly being adopted around the world.

Mr Ynse de Boer, senior manager of sustainability services at consultancy firm Accenture, said the summit is 'important for both public and private sectors to collaborate and tackle environmental challenges'.

His firm estimates that the value of energy savings that can arise from such solutions could be an annual US$900 billion (S$1.1 trillion) by 2020.

IBM and Accenture are sponsors for the World Cities Summit.

Notable speakers expected at the event include India's Minister of Urban Development Kamal Nath, Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara and World Bank vice-president Pamela Cox.

Urban planners building reputations abroad
Natasha Ann Zachariah Straits Times 21 Apr 12;

HE STARTED as an urban planner with the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) in 1991. But Mr Leow Kim Guan, 49, had designs on more than Singapore. He now has his own booming company, building whole cities in China.

Mr Leow, who set up SCP Consultants as a one-man company in 2004, now has 40 employees in its Singapore office and 230 in China, and has notched up 307 urban planning projects.

He enthuses: 'There are a lot of developing countries which are looking to have properly planned cities or towns. The market for urban planners is so big.'

His is one of a number of Singaporean companies making their mark building cities abroad. Foreign governments and companies from South America to Russia, on the lookout for skilled urban planners, are beating a path to their doors.

It turns out that modern Singapore, with its 46 years of building a gleaming, efficient and eminently liveable city-state, with industrial and business parks and carefully planned suburban neighbourhoods, has been an ideal environment for urban planners to take that know-how and vision to the world.

Some urban planners, such as Mr Leow, started out in their own backyard - here in Singapore - working for government agencies such as the URA and Housing Board, planning suburban neighbourhoods. Others began in the planning units of private companies whose main business was in a related field.

Now, their achievements are being celebrated in an exhibition at the URA Centre in Maxwell Road until June 1.

Images and photographic panels of overseas projects by six local urban planning companies, including SCP Consultants, DP Architects and Jurong Consultants, are on display.

Mr Djoko Prihanto, senior vice-president at Surbana Urban Planning Group, also one of the six companies, said having the Singapore stamp gives local companies an advantage on the international playing field.

He said: 'Companies and governments who have come here see for themselves how the city is planned. They have strong confidence that we can pull it off successfully.'

Ms Nina Yang, an executive director at CPG Consultants and the master planner for the eastern catchment of Singapore and the media park in one-north, said Singapore is a 'textbook example' for other countries to see how their cities or towns could look like.

'For most of the planning work that we do overseas, Singapore offers wonderful built examples for study.'

She added that this makes for a powerful selling tool that helps clients make informed decisions.

And with five billion people expected to live in cities by 2030, the need for urban planners - particularly those with the coveted Singapore 'branding' - can only increase.

With the business of designing cities hitting new heights, Mr Leow, for one, is hoping to expand his company.

The snag? He is having trouble finding Singaporean planners to join his team. 'I want my planners to be familiar with Singapore's practices. But the planners' pool here is already so small that even if I want to expand, I may not be able to find the right person.'

Even a successful city has its limits, it seems.

Urban city warriors
natasha ann zachariah Straits Times 21 Apr 12;

Singapore urban planning consultants are going places - to make places. From Russia to South America, Singaporeans are the desired hires to design new cities.

Decades of planning and developing Singapore from a third-world country to a first-world success story has resulted in a pool of talented people who can create a city from scratch.

And now, foreign governments want them to create a slice of that success story for them too, from business parks to 'innovation cities' housing industrial factories and commercial ventures to entertainment and residential areas.

Since the mid-1990s, scores of urban projects - including cities, and industrial, business and science parks - have been built around the world, and indeed, are being built right now with design input from this Singaporean hot property.

Projects include the US$3-billion (S$3.8-billion) White Bay Master Plan in the United Arab Emirates, a marina resort community by the 12-year-old CPG Consultants, a firm borne out of the now defunct Singapore Public Works Department.

In Rwanda, nine-year-old Surbana Urban Planning Group, which is part of the Surbana International Consultants, plans a bold new city skyline with a central business district and residential townships in the Kigali Central Business District and Nyarugenge District Master Plan.

Other new cities with a little bit of Singapore in their DNA - think the downtown area or the industrial hub of Jurong - have sprung up in parts of Dubai, Moscow, Syria and Nanning in China.

The brains behind the designs involve some who honed their skills at local government agencies such as the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA), before branching out into private planning consultancies.

Others cut their teeth working in private firms on local projects such as Jurong Consultants' Changi Business Park and DP Architects' Singapore River masterplan, and having made their mark here, found their expertise was in demand overseas.

They mostly involve small teams of around five to 10 people, consisting of urban planners, architects, landscape architects and engineers, dreaming big in creating new urban landscapes.

The companies are tight-lipped on how much the projects can make, saying only that they make a profit of between 20 and 25 per cent for each project.

Senior vice-president at Surbana Urban Planning Group, Mr Djoko Prihanto, says a project by his firm for a city-level development about 735 sq km in size, can cost between US$1.5 million and US$3 million.

Recognising the business potential, some firms corporatised their services, while others such as DP Architects, which mainly does architecture projects, expanded its planning service.

Associate director at DP Architects Chan Hui Min puts it this way: 'It's a good source of income and it supports itself. You don't have to bend over backwards to keep it alive.'

This relatively unsung area of Singapore expertise is now having its day in the sun, with the URA holding an exhibition showcasing the works of six local urban planning companies.

A visitor to the show, seeing digitised images of cities-to-be in foreign places, with skyscrapers, tall residential apartments and single iconic structures, will find a touch of familiarity in features resembling the waterfront walk at the Esplanade and the new towns of Sengkang and Punggol.

Indeed, planners say that Singapore sells itself, given that it is largely urbanised and developed. Couple that with its good track record with projects such as the highly lauded Suzhou Industrial Park and the Sino-Singapore Tianjin Eco-City, and foreign countries are knocking on doors here for a local perspective.

Ms Nina Yang, an executive director at CPG Consultants, says: 'From drawing board to realisation, Singapore remains an almost textbook example of planning theories and principles. Every year, the country makes it to the list of one of the most liveable cities in the world.

'City mayors, planners and government agencies do come here to admire the city. It has certainly been very effective when we market our urban planning services overseas.'

Overseas governments are 'impressed' with the scale and how developed Singapore has become despite space constraints and in just 40 years, says senior architect and general manager for the China office for RSP Architects Planners & Engineers, Mr Li Yu Zhou.

Mr Li, who is heading a team of about 10 people including architects and engineers to design the 17.8 sq km Tatarstan Kazan Innopolis in Russia, says: 'They came to look at our science parks and liked how they were built. It was a model that they were looking for, similar to our Bangalore IT Park project, so they approached us to design the area there.'

The ongoing project, which started last year, is expected to be completed mid-year.

For foreign officials looking to build cities, Singapore is their first and only stop. Planning firms are often approached directly or through government agencies here such as Singapore Cooperation Enterprise or the URA, which does Singapore's urban planning, in-house.

The brief might go like this: Build a city or town from scratch that is welldesigned, built to last and liveable. Put in business parks, factories, hospitals, recreational facilities and homes to cater to hundreds of thousands of new city dwellers to live, commute, work and play.

Projects can take between six months and two years depending on size - from as small as Tampines to eight times the size of Singapore. Most planners do not stay till the city is built, leaving the execution of the plans to local governments and officials, which can take years.

While urban planning companies have been around for about 20 years here, the demand has picked up in the past few years amid the increased need for more cities in developing countries.

Experience gleaned working with government agencies has helped prepare the planners for working with governments overseas.

The vice-president of planning at Jurong Consultants, Mr Wilfred Loo, who was previously with the Housing and Development Board and had worked on masterplans for the Punggol 21 and Waterway there, says: 'Being involved in Singapore's urban transformation, you know the loopholes and the relevant question to ask. It definitely makes it easier to work with other governments.'

The process of working in a different environment from Singapore does have its challenges, say the planners, such as grappling with different climates and topographies and making sure plans adhere to local sensitivities.

Mr Loo gives the example of working on projects in Saudi Arabia, where it has to plan for three separate entrances in certain villas - for men, women and domestic help. As such, he says: 'It's not about rubber-stamping the Singaporean experience elsewhere. You have to look at the different culture, climate and lifestyle they have, and be sensitive when designing a space to use.'

Where: The URA Centre, 45 Maxwell Road
When: Today till June 1, 9am to 7pm (Mondays to Fridays), 9am to 5pm (Saturdays). Closed on Sundays
Admission: Free
Info: Go to

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How Science Failed During the Gulf Oil Disaster

Christopher Reddy Wired Science 20 Apr 12;

When the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig exploded two years ago in the Gulf of Mexico, many scientists, including me, stepped outside of the Ivory Tower to study what was an unprecedented — and unintended — environmental experiment. We succeeded in gathering mountains of data, learning all sorts of new things, and advancing science.

But we also failed.

Academic scientists chose the research that most interested us, rather than what may have been most important to responding to the immediate disaster. We failed to grasp the mechanics of the media. And we struggled with how our data was vetted and whom we could trust with it. Simply put, problems arose when academia did not appreciate the cultures of the other players responding to the spill.

To add to these challenges, we were very much in the fog of war, literally and figuratively. The smell of oil, floating in a sea of orange/brown oil, the roaring jets of burning oil, and the hundreds of boats was overwhelming. And on land, the press just kept calling.

Opportunities were missed when others did not understand the academic culture, too.

Unlike most previous oil spills, the ruptured Macondo well spewed oil and gas nearly a mile beneath the surface of the Gulf of Mexico. That was aqua incognita to the oil industry and federal responders, but it was a familiar neighborhood for oceanographers who had been studying the deep sea for decades.

BP as well as federal officials were under enormous pressure and did little to enlist outside help. Very few were readily aware of what academic scientists could contribute. Nor did they communicate what research would be most useful for them, or provide funds to do it. A month passed before government officials invited academic leaders to a meeting in Washington, D.C., about the spill.

Many scientists were keen to help but did not know whom to contact. In the initial days, they forged ahead without outside direction, and many were awarded rapid-response grants from the National Science Foundation. But they were guided solely by their scientific instincts and information they gleaned on their own and not by what could have helped the overall effort.

We were trying to find Atlantis instead of contributing to solving problems.

Our academic training did not prepare us for the media attention we received, and sometimes liked too much. We did not recognize that the media’s mission to provide immediate, definitive information about unfolding events to an anxious public can limit its ability to be comprehensive and complex. Academia provides us the luxury to move slowly with the goal of perfection. So we had problems explaining uncertainties, and we did not understand the ramifications of our statements to the media.

Time, more than anything else, separated us. The media has hours to make a deadline. We have five to eight years to get tenure.

An example of how this played out was the reporting of oil plumes flowing from the well deep underwater.

Oil generally floats, so in the early days of the spill, scientists were startled to find high levels of hydrocarbons deep in the Gulf and relayed their findings to the media. The scientists hypothesized that high pressure at the depth where the leak occurred was causing some hydrocarbons to flow horizontally away from the well, rather than up to the surface.

The resulting news reports gave the impression that rivers of oil were flowing at the bottom of the sea, potentially killing shrimp and fish that supported the local economy and harming the ecosystem. Government responders and industry had to respond to the press about the plumes, rather then focusing on higher priorities such as capping the well. And the public had to respond to these reports, too. I recall one Gulf resident asking me if he should sell his house and move away.

Many academics, including me, were hard on the scientists who reported the presence of plumes. We thought they had veered from the standards of good science. Their findings were not peer-reviewed. In their communications with the public, they seemed susceptible to the lure of limelight.

But I now recognize the upside. Those scientists awakened the public, and me, to an important and unrecognized phenomenon that needed further study. Soon I was out in the Gulf with cutting-edge technology and a team that, just a few months earlier, had successfully mapped oil and gas seeping naturally from the seafloor near Santa Barbara.

I wish I could say I wasn’t thinking about scooping my peers, confirming the plume, and publishing a top-notch science paper, but that wouldn’t be true. In fact, I called an editor of a journal from the bow of a boat asking him if he was interested in our findings.

A month after the well was capped, we published a study in the journal Science confirming a subsurface plume more than a mile wide and 600 feet high that flowed for miles from the Macondo well at a depth of 3,600 feet. However, this plume was not a river of oil, but rather a layer in the ocean that was enriched in hydrocarbons. Water samples taken from within the plume were crystal clear.

We had just mapped an underwater plume with a one-of-a-kind underwater vehicle carrying a state-of-the-art mass spectrometer. It could be the greatest scientific contribution of my career. But the media wasn’t that interested. They were more concerned with whether the plume was toxic.

We were confused and said to them, “You need to know where the plume is before you can consider harmful effects.” It seemed so simple to us, but it was only newsworthy if the plume, at that time, could harm marine life or the environment.

We had published the study a little more than two months after gathering the data — lightning fast for a scientific paper. But when I was the academic liaison at the oil spill’s headquarters the following month, I learned that those on the front line weren’t impressed by the publication of a paper a month after the crisis was over. Crisis responders often must make decisions on the spot, with imperfect information, even if it is risky.

During a crisis, “peer review is the biggest problem with academia” Juliette Kayyem, who was an assistant secretary at the Department of Homeland Security during the Deepwater Horizon and teaches crisis response at Harvard, told me.

But to release unvetted data is a leap of faith. I observed a very talented junior scientist struggle with this. He was afraid he might be not be 100 percent correct, word would get out, and it would affect his tenure decision.

The good news is that most of these problems are avoidable. The many stakeholders involved did not share a common language, timeframe, set of values, or pre-existing relationships. We can take a lesson from Deepwater Horizon and start opening new lines of communication before the next disaster. For example, I have asked around and many of the oil spill responders would be glad to visit campuses to explain their world.

It’s time for academia to embrace a maxim in crisis management that “a crisis is no time to start exchanging business cards.”

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Sunda Strait Bridge deal inked

Chinese firm to invest $14b in 30km bridge linking Sumatra, Java
Zakir Hussain Straits Times 21 Apr 12;

JAKARTA: The islands of Java and Sumatra are a step closer to being linked for the first time in their history by Indonesia's largest-ever infrastructure project.

The China Railway Construction Corporation has inked a deal to invest in the 100 trillion rupiah (S$14 billion) Sunda Strait Bridge to link the islands - the largest agreement signed during President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's visit to Beijing last month. The state-owned company is behind several rail projects in Africa and the Middle East.

'The challenges are huge, but this will pave the way for a breakthrough,' Mr Agung Prabowo, president director of Graha Banten Lampung Sejahtera, the Indonesian consortium behind the project, told The Straits Times. 'We're not out to break any records, but we want the bridge realised, as it will benefit people on both sides.'

His consortium brings together the provincial governments of Lampung in Sumatra and Banten in Java, as well as a subsidiary of the Artha Graha conglomerate run by tycoon Tommy Winata. It was set up to lay the groundwork for the bridge in 2007.

It is now waiting for a legal guarantee from the Indonesian government, which is expected to come within weeks. The government is eager for foreign investors to take part in building bridges, highways and other facilities to spur the economy.

The 30km bridge had been envisioned by the country's first president Sukarno since the 1960s, but only recently did steady economic growth make its construction more realistic.

A feasibility study is in the works, and construction is to start in 2014.

The bridge will link 80 per cent of Indonesia's 240 million people by road and rail, and will take some 10 years to complete. The world's largest ships will be able to pass under it, as the bridge will stand 80m at its highest.

Indonesia's longest bridge at present is the 5.4km-long Suramadu Bridge, completed in 2009, that links Surabaya in East Java with the island of Madura. It, too, was built by a consortium of Indonesian and Chinese companies over six years.

Officials on both sides of the strait near where the new bridge will start - in Anyer, Java and Bakauheni, Sumatra - are already gearing up for it, with the Banten and Lampung governments publicising the bridge to attract investors to set up shop there.

The connection will also intentionally start at Anyer, 40km south of the port of Merak, from which most ferries to Sumatra currently operate.

Geologists and disaster management officials have given the all-clear to the proposed design, by renowned Indonesian architect Wiratman Wangsadinata, which would be able to withstand an earthquake of magnitude 9 as well as eruptions of the Anak Krakatoa volcano some 50km away. It was formed after the 1883 eruption of Krakatoa.

'The Sunda Strait is likely to be the site of a major earthquake,' Professor Masyhur Irsyam of the Bandung Institute of Technology said this week. 'But this is only a problem if structures are not designed to be strong enough to resist it.'

The bridge will also be 200km from the undersea fault where the Indo-Australian and Eurasian plates meet. As a result, the impact of a tsunami on the bridge will be limited, according to simulations, National Disaster Management Agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho told The Straits Times.

But forget about hiking across the bridge for now: Winds at the strait are often fierce, and the crossing by ferry can stretch up to four hours.

In its report on the deal, the Beijing Review cited China Institute of International Studies president Qu Xing as saying that there is great demand for funds and technology in Indonesian infrastructure.

'China is highly experienced in building railways, highways, bridges and irrigation projects, and considers Indonesia one of its major prospective investment destinations,' it said.

About the bridge

AT 30km long from coast to coast, the Sunda Strait bridge will span a little more than the distance from Singapore to Batam.

It will, at its highest point, be 80m above sea level - taller than a 25-storey Housing Board (HDB) point block - so that the largest ships can pass through the shipping lane.

It will have six lanes for vehicles, emergency lanes and two railway tracks, in addition to oil, gas and water pipelines, and fibre-optic and electrical cables.

A vehicle travelling at 60kmh can cross the bridge in half an hour.

The bridge will consist of five sections - with two suspension bridges 2.2km long in the middle - and is likely to skirt the edge of Sangiang Island, a nature reserve.

The longest bridge over water at present is China's 42km-long Jiaozhou Bay bridge. It connects the coastal city of Qingdao to the suburb of Huangdao and was completed last year in time for the Communist Party's 90th anniversary.

But the Sunda Strait bridge hopes to claim a new record. The company behind it says the sections that are suspension bridges will be the longest in the world after Japan's Akashi-Kaikyo bridge, where the span length is just under 2km.

The other three sections will be a series of balanced cantilever bridges, with span lengths of around 200m between pillars.

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Fishermen blast premier dive sites off Indonesia

Today Online 20 Apr 12;

KOMODO ISLAND (Indonesia) - Coral gardens that were among Asia's most spectacular, teeming with coloUrful sea life just a few months ago, have been transformed into desolate gray moonscapes by illegal fishermen who use explosives or cyanide to kill or stun their prey.

The site is among several to have been hit inside Komodo National Park, a 500,000-acre reserve in eastern Indonesia that spans several dusty, tan-colored volcanic islands. The area is most famous for its Komodo dragons - the world's largest lizards - and its remote and hard-to-reach waters also burst with staggering levels of diversity, from corals in fluorescent reds and yellows to octopuses with lime-green banded eyes to black-and-blue sea snakes.

Dive operators and conservationists say Indonesia's government is not doing enough to keep illegal fishermen out of the boundaries of the national park, a United Nations World Heritage site. They say enforcement declined greatly following the exit two years ago of a US-based environmental group that helped fight destructive fishing practices.

Local officials disagree, pointing to dozens of arrests and several deadly gunbattles with suspects.

Mr Michael Ishak, a scuba instructor and professional underwater photographer who has made hundreds of trips to the area, said he has seen more illegal fishermen than ever this year.

When Mr Ishak returned last month to one of his favourite spots, Tatawa Besar, known for its colourful clouds of damselfish, basslets and hawksbill sea turtles, he found that a 500-square-metre section of the reef had been obliterated.

"At first I thought, 'This can't be right. I must have jumped in the wrong place'," he said, adding he swam back and forth to make sure he had not made a mistake. "But it was true. All the hard coral had just been blasted, ripped off, turned upside down. Some of it was still alive. I've never seen anything like it."

The national park's corals are supposed to be protected, but fishermen are drawn there by locally popular fish like fusiliers and high-value export species like groupers and snappers.

Fishermen can be seen in small wooden boats, some using traditional nets or lines. Others are blasting sites with "bombs" - fertiliser and kerosene mixed in beer bottles. Breathing through tubes connected to air compressors at the surface, young men plunge to the bottom and use squeeze bottles to squirt cyanide into the coral to stun and capture fish.

Dive operators are increasingly seeing dead fish on the sea floor or floating on the surface.

"The biggest problem is that fishermen seem to be free to come into Komodo, completely ignoring the zoning and resource use regulations," said Dr Jos Pet, a fisheries scientist who has worked with numerous marine conservation groups in the area in recent years.

He said they are "quite simply fishing empty this World Heritage Site".

Mr Sustyo Iriyono, the head of the park, said problems are being exaggerated and denied claims of lax enforcement.

He said rangers have arrested more than 60 fishermen over the past two years, including a group of young men captured last month after they were seen bombing fish in waters in the western part of the park.

One of the suspects was shot and killed after the fishermen tried to escape by throwing fish bombs at the rangers, Mr Iriyono said. Three others, including a 13-year-old, were slightly injured.

"You see?" said Mr Iriyono. "No one can say I'm not acting firmly against those who are destroying the dive spots!"

Dive operators and underwater photographers have asked The Nature Conservancy and similar organisations like WWF Indonesia, to return to Komodo and help with conservation efforts there.

Nature Conservancy representative Arwandridja Rukma did not address that possibility, saying even though it was heartwarming to see so much concern about this "national treasure", it only takes part in projects at the invitation of the government. AP

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Trash may kill off Sabah tourism

Vila Geraldine New Straits Times 21 Apr 12;

RAISING THE STINK: Bulk of complaints was rubbish in the sea and streets, says minister

PENAMPANG: GARBAGE is Sabah's number one threat that will drive away tourists if it is not addressed, said Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Masidi Manjun.

Over the years, the bulk of tourist complaints received by the ministry was the heaps of rubbish in the sea and on the streets.

He said Sabah was blessed with beautiful nature, but if it was lost to trash, it would mar the state's image.

"Tourists will not come to Sabah (if this problem is not overcome) and we will have no tourism and no job opportunities for the locals.

"There have been some progress in the cleanliness of the city, but overall, it is still not satisfactory," he said at the Lestari Expo at SMK Datuk Peter Mojuntin here yesterday.

Lestari Expo is an environmental day organised by the school to raise awareness among students in sustaining the environment towards a better world.

Masidi said his ministry, through the Department of Environmental Protection, had done research on three rivers in Inanam and the results were alarming.

Following that, the ministry will set up a task force to conduct thorough studies and investigations.

"The task force, comprising relevant stakeholders, is aimed at finding ways to recommend measures to resolve the problems."

In praising the school for its efforts to keep the school and the district clean, Masidi suggested the state government allocate RM10,000 for it to carry out more environment-related work.

The school made it into the Malaysia Book of Records after producing 110,751 effective micro-organisms mud balls to be thrown into drains and rivers here.

In 2005 and 2006, the school beat others and won the "Program Sekolah Lestari-Alam Sekitar" award.

"It is time the government recognised their efforts and help them so that the school will continue to perform better, not only academically, but in sports and the environment, too."

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Philippines: mangrove tree bark and corals confiscated

Norman Mendoza, Rhea Ruth V. Rosell Cebu Daily News
Inquirer News 20 Apr 12;

From land and sea, the smuggling of nature’s bounty continues.

Navy men seized a boat load of 1,000 sacks of tree bark from mangroves or tanbarks locally known as “tungog,” which arrived in Pier 1, Cebu City, yesterday.

The bark was loaded in Tawi-Tawi , Mindanao, and consigned to a certain Paul Bercina of Paknaan, Mandaue City.

The forest product is used in the production of paint, beads and food coloring among others and has a market value of P280 a kilo, according to the Naval Forces Central Command.

Documents for the cargo said the tanbarks, which weighed 51.4 tons, was previously confiscated as illegal forest products in Mindanao and then sold in a public auction to a lone bidder, Erickson D. Kho of Sulu, for only P25,520.

However, the 51.4 tons of tanbarks has a potential market value of P14,392,000.

Edward Pamploma of the Regional Anti-illegal Logging Task Force said that when they checked with counterparts in Tawi-Tawi, they found out that no public bidding actually took place.

He said the task force will hold the shipment for 72 hours to investigate further.

Mangroves, which grow in the shoreline, are considered forests of the sea that serve as fish nurseries, coastal protection against storm surges and play an essential role in marine biodiversity.

Meanwhile, around 800 sea corals ready for shipment were seized by police in a vacant lot in barangay Punta Engaño, Lapu-Lapu City.

Two women hired to pack the corals in boxes were arrested but the owner remained unidentified.

Corals of five varieties were bound for export to China and were estimated to be worth P200,000, said SPO1 Jomar Ybañez, head of Task Force Kalikasan.

A phone tip from an unnamed caller who said two women were seen packing corals led police to sitio Buot.

Punta Engaño in Mactan Island is a known source of illegally gathered corals and a transshipment point where the corals are dried, processed and packed for other destinations.

The women said they were hired by three men for P80 a day to pack the corals with newspaper sheets in a carton. They started packing at 9 a.m. and the corals were already on site when they arrived, they said.

Charges will be filed against Irenea Pagobo, 47, and Cherry Mae Inoc, 20, both residents of sitio Malingin in Punta Engano.

The penalty for illegal possession of rare sea corals is 12 to 20 years in jail with a P120,000 fine if they are found guilty under Republic Act 8550.

The corals were turned over to the City Environment and Natural Resources in Lapu-Lapu City.


In the tanbark confiscation, the Navy was alerted last week that mangrove barks were loaded on a motor launch boat M.L. Amina in Tawi-Tawi, Mindanao, going heading to Cebu but had engine trouble.

Navy and Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) personnel went looking for the boat and found it docked in Dumaguete City where fishing boats had towed it.

A Certificate of Minor Forest Products Origin was issued by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

The shipper was identified as Erickson D. Kho of Sulu and the cargo was consigned to Paul Bercina of barangay Paknaan, Mandaue City.

The sacks were transferred to another ship M.V. Filipinas of Cokaliong Shipping and transported to Cebu yesterday.

Based on the documents, the tanbarks were previously confiscated and forfeited in favor of the government. An auction was held and Kho was the lone bidder. He paid P25,870 for the whole lot.

In a separate phone interview, Maximo O. Dichoso, executive director of DENR-7, said he issued a “verbal” hold order of the shipment yesterday.

He said DENR counterparts in ARMM confirmed that they had issued documents for the tanbarks.

“They (DENR-ARMM) decided to dispose of that through public bidding and they shipped them out for the market,” Dichoso said.

But Dichoso said it was not his office’s duty to investigate whether a bidding took place or not.

“It has been validated and confirmed by the source,” Dichoso said.

Dichoso said the tanbarks will be released as soon as he reviews the documents and cargo with Regional Anti-illegal Logging Task Force.

A hold order for the tanbarks was issued by the National Anti-illegal Logging Task Force yesterday afternoon.

About 2 p.m., two 10-wheeler cargo trucks went to Pier 1 to pick up the sacks.

The anti-illegal logging task force stopped the trucks from delivering the tanbarks to Mandaue City.

Pamplona said the owner would have to show a Certificate to Transport Forest Products from Cenro first.

“It will not be released to the consignee unless we have verified that the documents are genuine and a bidding really took place,” Pamplona told CDN in Cebuano.

Pamplona said the National Anti-illegal Logging Task Force will investigate within 72 hours.

Pamplona said the task force noticed a discrepancy in the Certificate of Minor Forest Products Origin.

“The series of numbers are different,” Pamplona said.

Under an Executive Order, President Benigno Aquino III declared a moratorium on the cutting and harvesting of timber in the national and residual forests, and created the anti-illegal logging task force.

The sacks are being held under the custody of CENRO at Pier 1 in Cebu City.

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