Best of our wild blogs: 28 Apr 12

Join this community art effort to celebrate our biodiversity!
from Celebrating Singapore's BioDiversity!

The morning storm interrupts the Earth Day Coastal Cleanup at Tanah Merah
from News from the International Coastal Cleanup Singapore

From Lornie Trail to Rifle Range Link Part 3
from Beauty of Fauna and Flora in Nature

Red Junglefowl Mother Hen and Chick
from Bird Ecology Study Group

三遇伯劳 Shrike day@Jurong Lake
from PurpleMangrove

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Do we need that plastic bag?

Issue isn't about getting rid of plastic bags, but about reducing their use
Grace Chua 28 Apr 12;

A FEW days ago, I found myself in the curious position of having no plastic bags left in the house, and needing to take out the trash.

That meant going to the supermarket and buying something that I was going to buy anyway, like a bunch of bananas, in order to get a bag to line my bin with.

Earlier this week, the Singapore Environment Council proposed that supermarkets, food outlets and provision shops start charging for plastic bags.

A flurry of letters to the press ensued, some arguing this would be too much of a burden, others calling it too little.

Like many others, I have a love-hate relationship with plastic bags.

Making and distributing them takes fossil fuels, and they do not break down in landfills or the ocean. A plastic bag, fluttering vacantly in the wind, is an easily demonised symbol for fossil fuel and resource consumption.

Yet it has multiple uses, particularly in modern cities. You may be able to eat that curry puff on the go or wrap groceries in newspaper, but you can't really get on the bus dripping a trail of fishy water from a paper bag.

In fact, the environmental case for or against plastic bags isn't so clear-cut.

An Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*Star) study found that it takes 1.22kg of crude oil and 0.4kg of natural gas to make 1kg of plastic carrier bags. The real life-cycle cost of a plastic bag must also factor in the transport of that crude oil and gas, the processing of fossil fuels into polypropylene, and transporting the finished product to the city centre.

When all those costs are taken into account, plastic bags may not be worse than paper or reusable bags.

Earlier this year, the United Kingdom's Environment Agency released a study showing that you would need to reuse a paper bag three times for its global warming impact to be as low as that of one high-density polyethylene (HDPE) plastic carrier bag.

And cotton bags are not innocent either. Making them uses fuel, water and resources. One cotton bag would have to be reused 131 times to have the same global warming impact as one HDPE bag.

If all HDPE plastic bags are reused once as bin liners, their environmental impact goes down still more. A paper bag would have to be reused seven times and a cotton bag 327 times for their impact to equal that of a plastic bag reused once.

What about biodegradable plastic and starch-plastic bags? They weigh more than ordinary plastic bags and so consume more energy during production and distribution, the UK report found.

The practical reality is, plastics are a part of modern life. They are popular for good reason: they are better than the existing alternatives at keeping food fresh or preventing contamination. They are lighter, waterproof and more durable.

So the issue is not about getting rid of plastic bags altogether. The issue is that far more are handed out each day than we really need. It's about us minimising the use of plastic bags and thinking sensibly about what is a need, and what is a want.

The proposed 10-cent levy isn't meant to defray the cost of producing or disposing of that plastic bag. It's meant to be a nudge: do you really need that bag?

So is making people pay for plastic bags a good thing? It depends.

On the plus side, it can discourage overuse. Ireland introduced a plastic bag fee, or 'PlasTax' in 2002. It cut plastic bag use by 90 per cent, or nearly a million bags a year. The tax, now at €0.33 (S$0.55) per bag, has generated over €120 million for a state-run Environmental Fund that pays for waste recycling and garbage collection.

If there is a 10-cent levy imposed, all or at least part of the 'bag tax' should go to the Government to support environmental programmes, rather than straight into the pockets of retailers.

On the negative side, bag bans or levies can backfire if they encourage poorer substitutes. After a carrier bag levy of 50 Hong Kong cents (S$0.08) was imposed in 2009 in Hong Kong, people turned to heavier, thicker garbage bags to use as bin liners. Though the number of plastic carrier bags used dropped 77 per cent, the overall use of plastics in all bags went up 27 per cent, according to a 2011 study by the Hong Kong plastics industry.

Those seeking to ban or charge for bags must understand cultural practices.

Many people in Singapore reuse plastic bags for their trash. There are no laws mandating the bagging of household rubbish in Singapore, but public hygiene - and plain neighbourliness - would prod most of us to do so anyway.

That is not to say all plastic bags are necessary. One large bakery chain bags its cakes and buns individually at the cashier, before putting them into a larger plastic bag. Over-packaging is a cardinal sin against the environment. Besides plastic bags, many single-use styrofoam and plastic items are also unnecessary, such as takeaway boxes, cups and cutlery.

The proposed levy on plastic bags is thus not a statement that plastic bags are bad and should be stamped out. It is just a small symbol of a larger push to get consumers to think twice about their habits.

One writer to The Straits Times Forum page pointed out that not everyone carries a reusable bag around for small, spur-of-the-moment purchases.

That is a good starting point to consider whether you need that small, spur-of-the-moment purchase in the first place. You don't save the environment by choosing paper bags for your unnecessary purchases; you do a better job by cutting out that consumption in the first place.

It is so difficult for us to be mindful of consumption and waste, that a bag levy would be a necessary kick in the butt in the right direction.

As for me, I don't mind paying 10 cents for the privilege of having a bag to put my rubbish in like a civilised human being, before I throw it down the chute.

That in turn makes me think twice about generating so much rubbish in the first place. Seen from that perspective, 10 cents is really a small price to pay for a regular reminder of the need to conserve the earth's resources.

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$1.3m contest to design Singapore's new-age port launched

Challenge calls for revolutionary designs from participants
Jonathan Kwok Straits Times 28 Apr 12;

A LONG-AWAITED contest with a US$1 million (S$1.25 million) top prize to design a new-age container port was unveiled yesterday.

The Next Generation Container Port Challenge, as the competition is called, had been flagged last October, sparking about 70 expressions of interest from more than 10 countries.

The heightened level of interest was apparent at the official launch yesterday at the Mandarin Oriental Singapore.

'This challenge dares participants to play the role of a port planner and submit revolutionary designs that can achieve a quantum leap in innovation, efficiency, productivity and sustainability for container ports,' said Captain M. Segar, assistant chief executive (operations) of the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA), a co-organiser alongside the Singapore Maritime Institute (SMI).

He noted that the fundamental design of container ports have not changed much since they were introduced about 40 years ago.

But global container traffic has been growing at an annual rate of 5 per cent to 7 per cent over the past decade, leading some experts to estimate that this could lead to a doubling of global container trade within 10 to 15 years. Planners also have to take into account increasingly large container ships, economic volatility and environmental concerns.

'Given the long gestation period for port development, this means that ports have to start making plans today to accommodate tomorrow's growth in container volumes,' said Capt Segar.

Participants in the contest will have to consider several operating specifications, such as an annual handling capacity of at least 20 million twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs), round-the-clock operations and a 90 per cent berth on arrival for ships.

Individuals, companies or research institutions, based here or overseas, can take part. Consortiums can also be formed.

The winning team will get a US$1 million cash prize and there can be up to six extra commendation awards of US$100,000.

Grants of $5 million have been set aside for deserving teams to pursue further research. The winning proposal will be announced at next year's Singapore Maritime Week.

Details of the contest can be found on the SMI's website.

Some observers said the port challenge could throw up ideas for a new port development in Tuas.

The land lease at the port terminals in Tanjong Pagar, Keppel and Pulau Brani expires in 2027, and the Government's Economic Strategies Committee has recommended the development of a new waterfront city in Tanjong Pagar after that.

It also suggested looking into a long-term proposal to develop a consolidated port in Tuas, with enough handling capacity to ensure ongoing competitiveness.

One likely entrant is Halcrow, a London-based infrastructure consultant that is a unit of conglomerate CH2M Hill.

Mr Julian Johanson-Brown, director of ports and maritime at Halcrow, flew into Singapore just to attend the official launch.

'When I first saw the challenge in London, I just couldn't stop thinking about it,' he said. 'You get caught in the day job, you think about providing solutions for your current clients, and there's often little time to really explore this kind of opportunity.'

Yesterday also marked the official end of the Singapore Maritime Week (SMW), although some events will continue into this weekend.

About 40,000 participants have taken part in the 25 events, including conferences, networking and public outreach sessions, up from last year's 30,000 participants.

'A good range of issues has been discussed at the dialogue sessions and conferences, further resonating Singapore's importance and growth as a major maritime thought capital,' said MPA chief executive Lam Yi Young.

Mr Patrick Phoon, president of the Singapore Shipping Association, said that SMW is 'fast gaining worldwide recognition of being a bustling hive of maritime activities' and 'delegates from far and wide travel here just to be a part of it'.

Container port of the future making waves
Academics to industry specialists from many countries excited about Next Generation Container Port Challenge
Lynn Kan Business Times 28 Apr 12;

A SINGAPORE competition seeking "revolutionary" ideas for a future container port is anything but a locals-only affair - even as it is concerned with very Singaporean issues like land scarcity, a shrinking labour pool and keeping ahead of other Asian ports.

Indeed, the Next Generation Container Port Challenge (NGCPC) has kept the barriers to entry low even as the stakes are high - a cool US$1 million in top prize money.

Its organisers, the Singapore Maritime Institute (SMI) and the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA), have decided that all nationalities from all backgrounds - interested individuals, industry professionals from within and without the port industry and academia - are welcome to the table.

The challenge comes as the demands of container shipping change, with traffic expected to double in the next 10-15 years and larger container ships requiring deeper drafts, longer berths and wider channels hit the water.

"To be future-ready, the industry needs to challenge conventional thinking and explore radical new ideas for future container ports," said Capt M Segar, MPA's assistant chief executive (operations). "Given the long gestation period for port development, this means that ports have to start making plans today to accommodate tomorrow's growth in container volumes."

Even before the challenge was revealed publicly yesterday, interest gained ground in over 10 countries, including South Africa, United Kingdom, the United States and South Korea.

London-based Julian Johanson-Brown, director of ports and maritime at Halcrow Group, was one of those who booked himself a plane ticket to Singapore to hear the specifics of the NGCPC at the Mandarin Oriental yesterday.

Contenders will have to come up with a concept for a port confined to a land area of 2.5 square kilometres - slightly smaller than the existing Keppel Terminal - and able to handle 20 million twenty-foot containers. Last year, Singapore ports handled nearly 30 million twenty-foot containers altogether.

Ideas will also be judged on efficiency, productivity and environmental and financial sustainability criteria.

From the word go, academics from the National University of Singapore's engineering faculty, Lee Soo Hay and Chew Ek Peng, were doing back-of-the-envelope calculations of the possible and the impossible. They also started planning potential tie-ups with academics from overseas universities and even their contacts among equipment makers to figure out what type of port infrastructure should go into their plan.

"We need different people with different skill sets and different ideas. When we come together, we may be able to brainstorm with a completely new idea," said Prof Lee, department head (graduate studies and research) of industrial and systems engineering.

The deadline for registration on the Container Port Challenge's website (www.maritimeinstitute/portchallenge) is July 31, while proposals are due by Dec 31, 2012. Up to seven ideas will be shortlisted in Feburary 2013.

The NGCPC is not a winner-takes-all competition. The six groups which do not win the top prize may still walk away with US$100,000 in commendation money.

Other promising proposals are eligible for R&D grants, for which the MPA and SMI have set aside up to $5 million.

To Mr Johanson-Brown, there can be no "loser" in the race to the finish.

"We can't lose because the industry will benefit from our thoughts. This is not about making money, it's about providing intellect and vision for the future of the industry," he said.

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$1m land-based Singapore fish farm opens

Apollo Aquarium's Lim Chu Kang farm will rear groupers
Grace Chua Straits Times 28 Apr 12;

FISH farm Apollo Aquarium yesterday opened a $1 million plant to rear groupers at its land-based Lim Chu Kang farm.

The 12-tank experimental system, which will rear 300kg to 400kg of fish in each tank, is a method to farm fish on land using high-tech water treatment.

Apollo Aquarium is possibly the second farm to rear fish this way. The first, a 1,400 sq m farm in Pasir Ris, rears more than a million sea-bass fingerlings each year for sale to other farms.

Farms such as these are helping to boost the productivity of Singapore's food-fish farms.

The Republic currently produces 7 per cent of the food fish that it consumes, but aims to increase that to 15 per cent.

Another experimental farm in Choa Chu Kang rears freshwater fish, such as tilapia and marbled gobies, but it uses water-cycling technology in high-rise, stackable cages.

In all of these, water is treated and recirculated in self-contained systems which clean it more efficiently. That protects the fish from disease, lowers death rates and allows more fish to be reared in a single tank.

This is not Apollo Aquarium's first foray into such technology.

In 2009, with help from a Spring Singapore technology improvement grant, it built a $600,000 system for its ornamental fish that reduced water usage dramatically and fewer fish died.

Previously, it had lost $70,000 to $100,000 worth of fish a year.

After installing the new system, its losses were slashed to $15,000 last year.

Now, its marine food-fish venture will focus on mouse groupers, a plump spotted fish worth $160 a kilogram live, tiger groupers and hybrid groupers.

The aquarium said it will conduct tests to find the type of feed and conditions that best suit these hard-to-rear, delicate fish, which are native to tropical coral reefs and now heavily overfished.

At conventional farms, the survival rate of mouse groupers is 1 to 10 per cent.

Mr Eric Ng, Apollo Aquarium's chief operating officer, said a high-fat diet for the fish was a no-go. 'After they eat, they sink all the way to the bottom and don't swim, and can develop a fatty liver,' he said.

In a year, Apollo aims to expand to two 200-tank farms, and to rear lobsters and crabs.

It recently signed a $2 million deal with a Vietnamese firm to develop a water-treatment system for shrimp farming.

Fish farm eyes raising food fish supply
Qiuyi Tan Channel NewsAsia 6 May 12;

SINGAPORE: A local fish farm in Singapore is investing in research and development (R&D) to raise Singapore's domestic production of food fish.

Ornamental fish producer Apollo Aquarium started running its marine research farm in Lim Chu Kang this March.

The mouse grouper is one food fish it is trying to breed.

It is serious business. When fully grown -- to table size, or about 500 grammes -- the mouse grouper fetches up to S$180 per kilogramme.

For this, the inland farm has developed a water-recycling system that runs on a small water footprint.

There are 12 tanks in the pilot farm, and that is just the beginning.

The whole system is a test bed that's carefully analysing the water conditions, the feeding regime and the behaviour of the fish.

Ninety per cent of the water is recycled.

Because it is a fully enclosed system, Apollo's chief operating officer Eric Ng said fish are protected from the pathogens that thrive in sea water.

"This salt water we're using in our facility is actually cultured," Mr Ng said.

"We're trying to focus on manufacturing this salt water for our usage, rather than using sea water as our source.

"The difficult part is to understand the minerals needed in this water, the salinity content needed for the young larvae, and also for the grown out fish.

"Sea water has a lot of existing pathogens, like viruses or bacteria. We have to go through a rather tedious process of cleaning it before it can be used. For manufactured or cultured sea water, we can produce clean sea water and use it immediately."

Mr Ng added this could result in more benefits.

"Clean fish, less virus, less bacterial infection," he said.

Apollo's R&D journey into marine fish farming started with a government grant in 2009.

SPRING Singapore's deputy chief executive Tan Kai Hoe said the grant was part of its Technology Innovation Programme, which provides up to 70 per cent funding support for SMEs' R&D efforts.

Mr Tan said: "You can change what is usually seen as a traditional business into a completely different one.

"Look at the current business they're in now. I think they've completely changed the productivity of the business. Completely changed the level of technology, even the level of comfort of the entire business for their workers as well."

For former waste water treatment engineer, Dave Chua, marine aquaculture has given him a whole new arena to apply his skills.

He said: "It's more on adapting because you're dealing with food fish, you have to use non-toxic [methods] in terms of water treatment. It's one of my passions in ensuring we have high quality, safe food fish for the market."

From its research farm, Apollo hopes to expand it into a commercial-sized facility that can supply groupers to the market year-round.

- CNA/wk

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Punggol Waterway bags top global award

Singapore project is first in Asia to win environmental prize rarely given outside US
Sara Pua Straits Times 28 Apr 12;

A NEW man-made waterway in Punggol New Town has won a top international award for Singapore, a first by an Asian country for an environmentally sustainable project.

The Grand Prize for Excellence by the American Academy of Environmental Engineers (AAEE) is rarely given to projects outside the United States.

My Waterway@Punggol, known to some as the 'Venice of Singapore', clinched the prize for environmental engineering in the environmental sustainability category, said the Housing Board (HDB) yesterday.

Opened five months ago, the $225 million waterway - Singapore's longest - took 21/2 years to build and is the pride and joy of the country's youngest HDB town.

What struck the judges is the way it has integrated three key design elements - Green, Water and People - to achieve a long-term balance of environmental stewardship, economic development and social well-being.

In fact, green practices were adopted right from the start of its construction, with HDB engineers using a 'cut- and-fill' method to fill the low-lying areas around the waterway with excavated earth.

Also, features such as boardwalks, footbridges and areas around the plaza were built with recycled materials. To get good quality water, eco-drains were one of the innovations introduced to ensure surface run- off water is cleaned before entering the waterway.

Recognising that Singapore's people make a difference, the waterway features not only social communal spaces but also seeks to celebrate Singapore's heritage with its Kelong bridge.

The bridge's architecture is reminiscent of stilt houses - wooden offshore platforms that fishermen built in the past for fishing and sometimes, housing.

Said HDB deputy chief executive officer Sng Cheng Keh, who received the award in Washington, DC, this week: 'Winning this award is testament to Singapore's small contribution towards being responsible global citizens by constructing an environmentally friendly waterway.'

HDB wins international award for environmental sustainability
Channel NewsAsia 27 Apr 12;

SINGAPORE: Punggol Waterway helped the Housing and Development Board (HDB) clinch its first international award for environmental sustainability on Friday.

The HDB said it was awarded the Grand Prize for Excellence in Environmental Engineering in the environmental sustainability category, presented by the prestigious American Academy of Environmental Engineers (AAEE).

My Waterway@Punggol, also known to some as the Venice of Singapore, is the only Asian winner for the Grand Prize under the Environmental Sustainability Category. It won the award five months after it was launched.

The award ceremony was held in Washington DC on Thursday.

HDB's Deputy CEO (Building), Mr Sng Cheng Keh, said: "Right from the start, we wanted to build a green, sustainable waterway, and using green construction methods too. We are glad to have achieved both objectives.

"Winning this award is testament to Singapore's small contribution towards being responsible global citizens by constructing an environmentally-friendly waterway."

The HDB said the waterway has winning features such as eco-drains to ensure surface runoff is cleansed before entering the waterway.

It also has aerators, jet fountains and water curtains to enhance water quality.

The waterway was constructed using green practices. One of them was a "cut-and-fill" method of excavation to fill the low-lying areas around the waterway.

Earth excavated from the waterway was re-used to prepare surrounding low-lying areas for future developments.

Features such as the boardwalks, footbridges and areas around the plaza were built with recycled materials.

The HDB said the waterway is an outstanding example of a vibrant and sustainable town with social communal spaces integrated seamlessly along the waterway.

It took efforts to preserve the memories and heritage from old Singapore by artistically weaving in pieces of history, such as the Kelong Bridge that captures the stilt houses of the past.

- CNA/wm

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Taking the silk road to tougher fabric

RP scientists' supersilk can be used in bulletproof vests, airplane parts
Grace Chua Straits Times 28 Apr 12;

IN THE past two years, materials scientist Willy Tan has gone from farming silkworms to weaving their silk into fabric, all in the name of science.

Now, he aims to turn the fruit of that labour into a $66 million-a-year business, putting enhanced silkworm silk into materials for bulletproof vests, lightweight airplane body parts and automotive parts.

Defence engineering firm ST Kinetics reckons such high-tech materials are worth that much to it, so it has chipped in $3 million to set up a new laboratory at Republic Polytechnic (RP), where Dr Tan is a senior academic staff member in the School of Applied Science.

The new lab, called the Advanced Composite Engineering Lab, opened earlier this month. It will offer RP students an avenue for their final-year research studies and host three to five interns a year.

Dr Tan got involved with the silkworm project in 2008 when the school was casting about for a project to commercialise. Then, it worked with National University of Singapore researchers who had filed a patent for a method to make silkworm silk stronger.

That is done by exposing the worm to an electric field before it spins its silk cocoon, causing the crystals in silk proteins to line up in a way that strengthens the strand.

In 2010, Dr Tan set up a laboratory at RP that now produces 20,000 cocoons at a time. A typical commercial silkworm farm produces about 100,000 cocoons at a go.

In the past two years, he and his colleagues have run tests on the 'supersilk', which is up to 40 per cent stronger than ordinary silk and needs two to three times the force before it breaks.

The enhanced silk also stretches 12 times as much and is lighter than current synthetic materials such as Kevlar, making it ideal for reinforced vests and helmets, for instance.

The team even visited silk farms and textile factories in Taiwan and China, and bought equipment like a state-of-the-art weaving machine for prototypes.

Woven different ways, the silk fabric also has different properties, which Dr Tan and his colleagues are now testing.

Currently, the supersilk costs $150 per kg to produce in the lab, but the cost will fall to about $80 at commercial scale.

That is cheaper than synthetic Kevlar, the material used in vests and helmets, which costs about $160 per kg.

Besides the ST Kinetics funding, the project has been supported by $2 million worth of research grants from the Ministry of Education and National Research Foundation, among others.

The RP scientists are not the only ones with an eye on silkworms. Last year, researchers from the Agency for Science, Technology and Research produced coloured and luminescent silk by feeding their silkworms various dyes.

Next, Dr Tan wants to add spider silk to the fabric to make it even stronger.

Spider silk is notoriously difficult to mass produce, but he has gone round to parks to harvest spider-web samples and work out how to make spiders produce their sticky webs on demand.

'I'm not a biologist,' Dr Tan said. 'There are so many new things that we've had to learn.'

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Plastic Trash in Oceans May Be 'Vastly' Underestimated

Jeanna Bryner, LiveScience Yahoo News 27 Apr 12;

An oceanographer who noticed a disappearing act in which the surface of the ocean went from confetti-covered to clear now suggests wind may driving large amounts of trash deeper into the sea.

Oceanographer Giora Proskurowski was sailing in the Pacific Ocean when he saw the small bits of plastic debris disappear beneath the water as soon as the wind picked up.

His research on the theory, with Tobias Kukulka of the University of Delaware, suggests that on average, plastic debris in the ocean may be 2.5 times higher than estimates using surface-water sampling. In high winds, the volume of plastic trash could be underestimated by a factor of 27, the researchers report this month in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

Plastic waste can wreak havoc on an ecosystem, harming fish and other organisms that ingest it, possibly even degrading a fish's liver; the trashy bits also make nice homes for bacteria and algae that get carried to other areas of the ocean where they could be invasive or cause other problems, the researchers noted. [Video Reveals Sea Lions Strangled By Debris]

In 2010, the team collected water samples at various depths in the North Atlantic Ocean. "Almost every subsurface tow we took had plastic in the net," Proskurowski told LiveScience, adding that they used a specialized tow net that isolated certain layers of the water, so it would only open at a specific depth and close before being pulled up.

Next, they combined the trash tally with wind measurements to come up with a mathematical model, which allowed them to calculate the amount of debris at different depths on average as well as look at how that amount changed with different conditions, such as on a windy day.

They found 2.5 times more debris in the layers of water below the "surface water" (defined as the top 9.8 inches or 25 centimeters) as was found in that surface section. The debris was distributed down to a depth of about 65 to 82 feet (20 to 25 meters).

The findings mean the estimates of plastic litter in the ocean, conducted by skimming the surface water only, may in some cases vastly underestimate the true amount of plastic debris there.

"The scope of the [plastic debris] problem is not just at the very surface but goes down to 20 meters or so, and that plastic is distributed throughout this layer," Proskurowski said during an interview.

He and his colleagues plan to publish a simplified version of the model so others investigating ocean plastics can use it.

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Malaysia: Poachers threaten Johor bird sanctuary

Mohd Farhaan Shah The Star 28 Apr 12;

JOHOR BARU: Poachers have entered the Panti Bird Sanctuary in Kota Tinggi to hunt and trap the wildlife that is supposed to be protected there.

The poachers, both locals and foreigners, have been active there for several years, said Malaysian Nature Society Johor branch chairman Vincent Chow.

He and several society members visited the sanctuary three weeks ago and came across camp sites.

“We were shocked to find a monkey's head and guts from an animal, perhaps a mousedeer or wild boar, near a river at the sanctuary.

“This is the work of poachers who came to the sanctuary and did as they pleased since there was no enforcement in the area,” he said.

Chow said it was a startling discovery as the number of animals and birds at the sanctuary had been decreasing over the years.

He said that five years ago, deer, monkeys, wild boars and tapirs roamed freely and could be easily seen.

“Once, there were more than 250 different types of birds such as the chestnut-necklaced partridge, crestless fireback, Storm's stork and Wallace's hawk-eagle.

“Now, it is hard to spot even five types of birds,” he said.

Chow added that there was no security at the sanctuary and there was no stopping the poachers from hunting down their prey.

He said the society had lodged a report with the Wildlife Protection and National Parks Department (Perhilitan).

Johor Perhilitan director Siti Hawa Yatim or officials from the department could not be reached for comment despite numerous attempts by The Star.

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Large pangolin seizure highlights timeliness of re-forming IUCN-SSC Pangolin Specialist Group

TRAFFIC 27 Apr 12;

Ha Noi, Viet Nam, 27th April, 2012—Local enforcement authorities have seized 304 kilograms (71 individuals) of live Pangolins in Nghe An Province in the north central coast of Vietnam after receiving a tip off that a car was transporting the endangered species on Tuesday.

The driver of the car, from Nghe An Province, failed to show police the legal documents required for owning and transporting the animals, and was taken into custody for further investigation. Initial investigations have led authorities to believe that the pangolins originated in Malaysia and were smuggled across the Lao PDR border into Viet Nam from where the consignment would have gone on to China.

Pangolins, or scaly anteaters, are distributed across large areas of Africa and Asia. In Southeast Asia, the animals are becoming increasingly threatened due to illicit international trade.

Pangolins are illegally harvested from countries throughout Southeast Asia and are often smuggled to consumer markets in China and Vietnam, where their scales are used in traditional medicines and the meat is considered a delicacy.

An increasingly affluent consumer market in these countries is driving the demand for pangolin products, which has led to a sharp decrease in their population throughout the region.

“TRAFFIC congratulates authorities in Viet Nam on this important seizure as well as other recent detections. Countries with wild pangolin populations and those key to the on-going illegal trade are ramping up efforts to combat the problem,” said Dr Naomi Doak, Greater Mekong Programme Coordinator for TRAFFIC.

“However, without stricter enforcement of current laws and tougher sentences for illegal wildlife traders, the future for this species in Asia looks very bleak,” added Doak.

TRAFFIC also urged authorities to incinerate any dead pangolins and transfer those still alive to a rescue centre, to ensure no one profits from the crime.

In 2010, TRAFFIC Southeast Asia reported that one syndicate in Sabah, Malaysia alone was responsible for trafficking 22,000 pangolins over an 18-month period. Since then, illegal trade in live pangolins, its meat and scales has continued to be reported throughout Asia

In response to threats to pangolin populations in both Africa and Asia, including persistent illegal trade, the IUCN, International Union for Conservation of Nature, Species Survival Commission (IUCN-SSC) Pangolin Specialist Group was recently re-formed.

“The IUCN-SSC Pangolin Specialist Group aims to further our understanding of pangolins and the threats they face,” stated Dan Challender, Co-Chair of the re-formed group and a researcher studying pangolin trade in Asia, based at the University of Kent’s Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology (DICE).

The group’s mission is to “be a global voice for pangolins by working to advance knowledge and understanding of pangolins worldwide, their conservation, natural history and ecology and to catalyze action to meet these needs.”

TRAFFIC in Southeast Asia has led on a number of pangolin focused initiatives in recent years and continues to monitor trade levels, actively engage in researching the dynamics of the pangolin trade, and assist authorities in their efforts to clamp down on the illegal trade of this species.

“The formation of this Specialist Group is a great step forward” says Chris R. Shepherd, Deputy Regional Director of TRAFFIC in Southeast Asia. “Bringing together a wide range of expertise and dedicated people to focus on the conservation of these amazing animals is key to their long term survival.”

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Pacific Reef Sharks Vanishing Near Populated Islands

Stephanie Pappas, LiveScience Yahoo News 27 Apr 12;

As many as 90 percent of reef sharks have disappeared from reefs near populated islands, a new study finds.

The research is the first to provide a large-scale estimate of reef sharks in the Pacific, a group of species that includes the gray reef shark, the whitetip reef shark and the tawny nurse shark.

"We estimate that reef shark numbers have dropped substantially around populated islands, generally by more than 90 percent compared to those at the most untouched reefs," said study leader Marc Nadon, a doctoral candidate at the University of Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine & Atmospheric Science. "In short, people and sharks don't mix."

Nadon and his colleagues pulled shark sighting data from more than 1,607 dives at 46 reefs in the central-western Pacific, which included reefs near the Hawaiian islands and American Samoa as well as extremely isolated reefs nearly devoid of human influence. Though eight species of shark were seen on the dives, the researchers excluded sharks, such as hammerheads, that aren't dependent on reefs. That left them with five shark species to tally: gray reef sharks, blacktip reef sharks, whitetip reef sharks, Galapagos sharks and tawny nurse sharks. [On the Brink: A Gallery of Wild Sharks]

Combining that data with information on human population, habitat complexity, availability of food and sea-surface temperatures, the researchers created models comparing the numbers of sharks at pristine versus human-impacted reefs.

"Around each of the heavily populated areas we surveyed — in the main Hawaiian Islands, the Mariana Archipelago, and American Samoa — reef shark numbers were greatly depressed compared to reefs in the same regions that were simply [farther] away from humans." Nadon said in a statement. "We estimate that less than 10 percent of the baseline numbers remain in these areas."

The devastation of sharks in areas near human civilization could be the result of illegal fishing, incidental killing or fishing for sport, the researchers report Friday (April 27) in the journal Conservation Biology. Human impact on the reef fish that sharks call dinner could also play a role. Human influences were shown to outweigh natural influences, such as warmer water temperatures, the researchers found.

"Our findings underscore the importance of long-term monitoring across gradients of human impacts, biogeographic, and oceanic conditions, for understanding how humans are altering our oceans," said Rusty Brainard, head of the coral reef ecosystem division at NOAA's Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center, which conducted the shark surveys.

Scientists Provide First Large-Scale Estimate of Reef Shark Losses in the Pacific Ocean
ScienceDaily 27 Apr 12;

Many shark populations have plummeted in the past three decades as a result of excessive harvesting -- for their fins, as an incidental catch of fisheries targeting other species, and in recreational fisheries. This is particularly true for oceanic species. However, until now, a lack of data prevented scientists from properly quantifying the status of Pacific reef sharks at a large geographic scale.

In a study published online April 27 in the journal Conservation Biology, an international team of marine scientists provide the first estimates of reef shark losses in the Pacific Ocean. Using underwater surveys conducted over the past decade across 46 U.S. Pacific islands and atolls, as part of NOAA's extensive Pacific Reef Assessment and Monitoring Program the team compared reef shark numbers at reefs spanning from heavily impacted ones to those among the world's most pristine.

The numbers are sobering.

"We estimate that reef shark numbers have dropped substantially around populated islands, generally by more than 90 percent compared to those at the most untouched reefs," said Marc Nadon, lead author of the study and a scientist at the Joint Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Research (JIMAR) located at the University of Hawaii, as well as a PhD candidate with Dr. Jerry Ault at the University of Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine & Atmospheric Science. "In short, people and sharks don't mix."

To obtain these estimates, Nadon and his colleagues used an innovative survey method, called 'towed-diver surveys,' which were designed specifically for the census of large, highly mobile reef fishes like sharks. The surveys involve paired SCUBA divers recording shark sightings while towed behind a small boat.

"Towed-diver surveys are key to our effort to quantify reef shark abundance," said Ivor Williams, head of the team responsible for these surveys. "Unlike other underwater census methods, which are typically at an insufficient spatial scale to properly count large, mobile species, these surveys allowed our scientists to quickly record shark numbers over large areas of reef."

The team crunched the numbers from over 1,600 towed-diver surveys, combining them with information on human population, habitat complexity, reef area, and satellite-derived data on sea surface temperature and oceanographic productivity.

The models showed the enormous detrimental effect that humans have on reef sharks.

"Around each of the heavily populated areas we surveyed -- in the main Hawaiian Islands, the Mariana Archipelago, and American Samoa -- reef shark numbers were greatly depressed compared to reefs in the same regions that were simply further away from humans." Nadon said. "We estimate that less than 10% of the baseline numbers remain in these areas."

Like all fishes, reef sharks are influenced by their environment. "They like it warm, and they like it productive," said Julia Baum, Assistant Professor at the University of Victoria, Canada, referring to the increase in reef sharks the team found in areas with higher water temperatures and productivity. "Yet our study clearly shows that human influences now greatly outweigh natural ones."

"The pattern -- of very low reef shark numbers near inhabited islands -- was remarkably consistent, irrespective of ocean conditions or region," added Williams.

"Our findings underscore the importance of long-term monitoring across gradients of human impacts, biogeographic, and oceanic conditions, for understanding how humans are altering our oceans," concluded Rusty Brainard, head of the Coral Reef Ecosystem Division at NOAA's Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center, which conducted the surveys.

Journal Reference:

Marc O. Nadon, Julia K. Baum, Ivor D. Williams, Jana M. Mcpherson, Brian J. Zgliczynski, Benjamin L. Richards, Robert E. Schroeder, Russell E. Brainard. Re-Creating Missing Population Baselines for Pacific Reef Sharks. Conservation Biology, 2012; DOI: 10.1111/j.1523-1739.2012.01835.x

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Ecotourism Not a Quick Fix for Poverty, Study Indicates

Wynne Parry, LiveScience Yahoo News 28 Apr 12;

Truly impoverished people are less likely to benefit economically from nature-based tourism than those who already have access to resources, according to research that followed the effects of burgeoning tourism in Wolong, China, where pandas are the main attraction.

The study followed 220 Wolong families from 1999 to 2007 as the area's economic base shifted from agriculture to tourism. Results showed that those who were already educated, economically well off and had relationships with government officials had a much better chance of benefitting from the new industry than other individuals.

Those without these resources — the people who are the targets of many Chinese programs to lift people out of poverty —had much more difficulty.

"The policies haven't yet reached their full potential," said lead researcher Wei Liu, a doctoral candidate in the Center for Systems Integration and Sustainability at Michigan State University. "But now we have the data to show what's happening."

The Center has a 15-year history of work in Wolong.

Tourism in Wolong dropped off abruptly in 2008 with the massive Sichuan earthquake, and damage to roads and buildings in the province still impedes business development.

Like many nature reserves around the world, Wolong Nature Reserve is home to both people and animals. In Wolong's case, the natural inhabitants include several thousand species of plants and animals, including the endangered giant panda.

The research, which was funded by the National Science Foundation, appeared online Wednesday (April 25) in the journal PLoS ONE.

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Rio+20 talks 'too focused on techno fixes', UN hears

Aisling Irwin SciDev 27 Apr 12;

The conviction that new technologies will solve the world's environmental and social problems has overly dominated early negotiations leading up to the Rio+20 summit in Brazil in June, a UN General Assembly meeting has heard.

Mentions of technology were "almost endless" in the first draft of the outcome document, known as the 'zero draft', according to Pat Mooney, executive director of the Action Group on Erosion, Technology and Concentration (ETC Group), a non-governmental organisation based in Canada.

The message conveyed was that "... as policymakers, there's no longer any need to make policies, all you need to do is let technology sort your problems for you", Mooney told the General Assembly's Interactive Dialogue on Harmony with Nature earlier this month (18 April).

Although the first zero draft has been revised several times since, he said, "there is an assumption of a 'techno fix' for every problem".

Many leading areas of science and technology (S&T) are converging at the nano-scale, he said, giving rise to a belief that, together, biotechnology, genomics, nanotechnology and synthetic biology could solve various planetary crises, such as food crises, pandemics, limits to growth and peak oil.

Mooney acknowledged that S&T are "critical" to solving problems, but he said the debate leading up to Rio+20 remained too narrowly focused on solving the problem of technology transfer.

"Technology transfer is extraordinarily important, and it's a failing since 1992 [the first Earth Summit, in Rio] that we have not had adequate technology transfer."

But, in addition to this question of 'know-how', it was important to consider the 'know-what' and the 'know-why', he argued.

Calling for an international technology assessment system that could answer these questions, he said: "If you don't have in the UN system the capacity to address those three questions together, collectively, then something's going to go wrong ... and perhaps we are going to get it wrong in extraordinarily expensive ways".

Mooney argued that billions of dollars have been wasted, often by governments, on promising new technologies that have done little for the poor, citing examples such as nanotechnology and agro-biotechnology.

Adequate assessment might have led to better investment decisions, he said.

The International Council for Science (ICSU) — which co-led one of the official contributions to the zero draft — agreed that, while technology has a "huge" role to play, there had been a "fixation" on it in the first version of the zero draft.

"We were quite concerned that there seems to be lots of discussion of technology transfer rather than looking at interdisciplinary research: an overall picture of human society, behavioural change, consumption patterns, economics, is equally important," said Peter Bates, science officer for ICSU.

But he was cautious on the idea of a technology assessment body, saying that safety concerns needed to be balanced against stifling innovation.

Melissa Leach, director of the STEPS (Social, Technological and Environmental Pathways to Sustainability) Centre in the United Kingdom, agreed that there was a need for more technology assessment but said that, rather than this being done in a top-down way, it should involve participation across society.

Assessment should also recognise that most problems require a diversity of solutions, and will not respond well to a single fix, she said.

The second round of the 'Informal-informal' negotiations on the outcome document for Rio+20 continue this week (23 April–4 May).

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