Best of our wild blogs: 1 May 12

Danwei’s work on the Big-Mess-idae published as “Threatened Reef Corals of the World” in PLoS ONE from The Biodiversity crew @ NUS

Mural at Sungei Buloh Wetlands
from Art in Wetlands

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7 habits of green conscious Singaporeans

Eugene Tay Tse Chuan Today Online 1 May 12;

Earth Day was celebrated here and around the world on April 22 with events to remind us to do our part for the environment. After Earth Day, are we continuing our environmental efforts?

There are seven habits commonly found in people who are green conscious. We could learn these habits and take individual actions so that Earth Day becomes a daily event.

One, respect and renew our bond with nature and its biodiversity. Nature has much to teach us on how to live with the rest of life on Earth. Without this respect and bond, there will be no desire to protect nature. Start exploring nature areas such as Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve, Chek Jawa and Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, and join the guided walks.

Two, read up on local and global environmental issues, from various channels such as websites, books, newspapers and non-government organisations. What are the current trends and problems? What needs to be done?

Three, reduce our environmental impact in energy, water and waste. Embrace sufficiency in our consumption and practise the 3Rs (reduce, reuse and recycle) in our daily lives.

Reduce by not creating wastage or minimising waste in the beginning. Reuse by using the waste several times or for another purpose. Recycle by sending the waste to be processed as a resource.

Four, spread the green message to family, friends, classmates or colleagues. Share our knowledge with them and post about environmental problems and solutions on social media.

Influence our organisation, be it a school, company or social group, to be more environmentally friendly.

Five, participate in government initiatives such as the National Environment Agency's National Recycling Programme and the National Parks Board's Community In Bloom programme. Support local NGOs and join their activities or volunteer.

Six, participate constructively as active citizens in the formulation of government policies on the environment. This could be through government dialogues or feedback channels and through the media.

We can advocate green causes we feel strongly about and try to persuade the Government in rethinking its policies and decisions.

Seven, choose to be a responsible consumer. Buy only what we need and always think twice before buying. Choose more eco-friendly products with less impact and made by sustainable businesses.

Buy ethical products and support businesses that take care of their employees' well-being.

We can all commit to adopting these habits and to do our part for our only home. Let us celebrate Earth Day daily.

The writer is an environmental consultant.

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Stray Dogs Management Plan to be launched in Ang Mo Kio Town Garden West

Sara Grosse Channel NewsAsia 30 Apr 12;

SINGAPORE: A Stray Dogs Management Plan will be launched this week in Ang Mo Kio Town Garden West to manage the nuisance of strays.

Under the plan, strays will be rounded up in a dog enclosure and re-homed with those who're keen to adopt or foster them.

The enclosure will be ready by May 2.

The plan is a collaborative effort by the National Parks Board and animal welfare groups.

If successful, the plan could be adopted by other areas plagued with the problem of strays.

Over the past six months, residents in this area have filed over 30 complaints about stray dogs, saying they bark aggressively, howl at night and even chase park users.

One resident said: "They are normally in a pack, a few dogs at a time//"Not very comfortable but so far no attacks."

Another resident added: "About ten of them. Big and small."

In the past, NParks says it was challenging to capture and re-home stray dogs. Among some of the contributing factors was a thick forested area, as well as residents coming out to feed the stray dogs.

The solution? A 15 by 25 metre enclosure which NParks is hoping will lure the strays in with food.

Tay Boon Sin, Assistant Director of National Parks, said: "We have to cut off all the food source. So we will be working with Ang Mo Kio Town Council to make sure they clear the bins, they secure the bin centres, and once we cut off the food source, I think the chances will be much higher for us to lure the food to the enclosure to re-home the dog."

Dogs in the enclosure will then be transported to an animal welfare shelter.

And after being sterilised and assessed to be well-adjusted, the dog will be put up for adoption.

The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) will help NParks in finding a new home for the dogs, but adds it will not be easy.

Corinne Fong Executive Director of SPCA, said: "With our own fosterers already, on our pool, but they are used to taking care of little puppies and kittens, and I'm not sure with dogs out here it might present a challenge, but we are willing to try."

The animal welfare group says it will give the dogs adequate time and space to rehabilitate.

The Stray Dogs Management Plan will be reviewed on a weekly basis.

- CNA/de

NParks to trap stray dogs in pilot project
It will work with animal groups to rehabilitate Ang Mo Kio pack of 20
Judith Tan Straits Times 1 May 12;

AN ENCLOSURE was put up yesterday at Ang Mo Kio Town Garden West to capture 20 stray dogs living there.

Built by the National Parks Board (NParks), the fenced-up area measuring 25m by 15m will help solve the problem of strays living there in a humane way, said NParks' assistant director Tay Boon Sin.

NParks is working with three animal welfare groups - the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA), Action for Singapore Dogs (ASD) and Save Our Street Dogs (SOSD) - to rehabilitate and re-home the dogs after their capture.

Announcing this to the media yesterday, Mr Tay said that if this pilot project proved successful, it would be adopted in other areas where stray dogs roam.

Singapore has about 8,000 stray dogs.

Dog lovers viewed the move yesterday as a welcome departure from how strays are usually handled. It was only a year ago that two tenders called by NParks for the catching and culling of stray dogs had upset civic society groups and dog lovers.

Past exercises to trap strays in Ang Mo Kio failed due to the area's thick foliage. Feeders also tampered with the traps.

In the last six months, NParks has received more than 30 complaints from residents and park users at Ang Mo Kio Town Garden West.

'(The complaints) include strays barking aggressively and chasing park users, and howling at night, disturbing residents' sleep,' Mr Tay said, adding that the strays posed a growing safety issue to the public, especially young children.

Property agent Angel Teo, 30, who moved into the block of flats next to the park in January, said she felt frustrated every night for the first few weeks when the dogs' barking and howling kept her then-five-month-old daughter awake.

Mr Eric Kok, 50, who jogs regularly at the park, said: 'They come out only late at night and do not worry us when we jog. They bark only when we pass by the wooded area.'

But other residents have complained of the dogs chasing park users, especially those who push trolleys with groceries.

Now, instead of catching and culling the 20 strays, including five puppies, NParks will work with the animal welfare and non-government groups to house and rehabilitate them.

After the dogs are rounded up, they will be taken to the premises of the animal welfare groups or the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) to see if they are suitable for adoption.

'Those that shy away from humans and are skittish will be sent for rehabilitation and slowly socialised for as long as it takes so they would be able to be housed,' said SPCA executive director Corinne Fong, adding that more people are needed to provide foster care to dogs until they get adopted.

ASD founder Ricky Yeo told reporters at the press conference that the safety and welfare of the dogs must be ensured.

'We must ensure they do not drag the dogs by the leash when they are putting them into the vans for transporting them, but have proper cages,' he said.

SOSD secretary Malina Tjhin said: 'It has taken months to come to fruition, but at least we are doing something good for the dogs.'

An AVA spokesman said it received news about strays in Lorong Halus and Punggol Waterway and will survey those areas to ensure public safety.

Mr Tay said NParks' rangers will be stationed 24/7 at the Ang Mo Kio enclosure from tomorrow to entice the dogs with food and to look out for feeders.

'We will make weekly assessments on the project. When it succeeds, we will study how to adapt it to the other areas where the problems and layouts may be different,' he said.

What to do when confronted by dogs

If you spot a pack of dogs ahead of you in the distance, change your route to avoid confrontation, say animal welfare activists.

If you are close to their territory, it is important for the dogs to know you are in the area so you do not startle them. You may consider whistling and talking in a low calm voice, but do not try to scare or startle them.

Some dogs may think they are in your territory and simply run away. Based on their reaction, you will be able to determine whether you should continue on the same route or go back in the direction you came from.

If the dogs are aggressive - that is, barking, growling and showing their teeth - turn around and walk away. Do not scream and start running because the dogs can overtake you.

Avoid 'stare-downs'. If you can, show your profile and avert your eyes rather than approaching the dogs straight on, as this can be construed as confrontational behaviour.

Even if a dog appears friendly, do not stick out your hand to let it sniff you.

If a dog does come at you, try to get another object in its mouth, whether it is an item of clothing, a handbag, an umbrella, a water bottle or a stick. An attacking dog will grab anything. Remember, do not run.

If you are knocked to the ground by a dog, try to curl your body tightly, cover your ears and face, and tuck in your chin to protect your throat. Try to remain still and silent until the dog loses interest in attacking you.

If you are on a bicycle and spot dogs ahead, approach slowly but use a gear that will allow you to accelerate away rapidly should the dogs give chase after you have passed.

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Malaysia: Tracking hornbills

Natalie Heng The Star 1 May 12;

One nature group is keeping a watch on hornbills in Temengor to see how logging is affecting the species.

THERE IS one place where Malaysia’s most endangered hornbill species can be observed in the hundreds and thousands, and dozens of people flock there once a year to see it.

Plain-pouched hornbills were not known to exist in Malaysia until the 1990s. — Photo by Lim Kim Chye

It is nestled within haunting landscape – a dense blanket of jungle interspersed with 172sqkm of lake. This large swathe of Temengor Forest Reserve in Perak disappeared under water after the Temengor dam was constructed in 1978. What remains are islands – the tips of submerged hilltops – surrounded by state land where logging still takes place.

One spot, Pos Chiong, is located not far from a logging concession. And it is where excited nature lovers gather in August and September, at dawn and at dusk, atop a flat hill, to wait. Some have binoculars slung around their necks; others stand at the ready, armed with notebooks, pens and cameras. Though everyone has been through at least one dry run, when hundreds of plain-pouched hornbills begin to descend from three different directions, flapping in a rotating “V” formation, a few inevitably begin to panic.

Presumably taking turns to enjoy the slipstream created up front, the moving mass of birds can be overwhelming. It usually takes a couple of minutes for volunteers to regain composure and remember everything they’ve learned. Once they’ve gotten over the spectacle, the count begins – 10 ... 20 ... 100 ... 1,000 ... 3,000!

That last figure was the biggest number ever recorded during a single count. It happened in 2008, the first year volunteers were invited to join the hornbill-counting expeditions led by the Malaysian Nature Society (MNS), which had up until then been sending out two- to three-man teams into the jungle to make counts.

“Having more eyes and ears really helps,” says Yeap Chin Aik who heads the nature group’s conservation division. “With just a two- or three-man research team, we could only do surveys a few days every month. But now we have about 50 people doing counts spread over two months.”

The sheer size of the numbers observed led researchers to suspect that the flocks probably constitute the bulk of Temengor’s population of plain-pouched hornbills. Three thousand is a sizeable number, especially considering there is thought to be a (decreasing) population of fewer than 10,000 mating individuals worldwide.

The plain-pouched hornbill, which graduated from its listing as “near-threatened” on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List in 1988 to the more ominous category of “vulnerable to extinction” in 1994, used to be abundant in Toungoo, a town along the Sittang River in south-central Myanmar. After the town’s forest cover was cleared for rice cultivation, people stopped seeing the plain-pouched hornbill in its historical stronghold, a testament perhaps of how intolerant the species is to forest clearance.

The species is also found in west, south-west and south Thailand where populations are estimated at over 1,000 individuals, though recent discoveries of a roost containing 900 birds indicate that this number should be revised upwards.

These figures show that Malaysia’s population of plain-pouched hornbills may be the largest yet. Intriguingly, Malaysia did not even know it had the species until sometime around 1998. Up until then, Malaysia officially harboured nine hornbill species.

Even the Jahai, a sub-group of Peninsular Malaysia’s indigenous Semang population which has long been established in the Temengor area, was unaware of the differences between plain-pouched and wreathed hornbills, two morphologically similar species referred to in native Jahai tongue as sang kor.

The mass flocking event was observed for the first time in 1992 and it was a few years later that birdwatchers suggested that the birds might not be wreathed hornbills. Subsequently, consistent observations of certain physical features unique to the plain-pouched prompted the MNS Bird Conservation Council to accept this as the tenth hornbill species in Malaysia.

Mysterious birds

Hornbills are one of Malaysia’s most recognisable birds but there is still much that we do not know about them – for a number of reasons. If one wanted to do a proper population study, it would take time and cost a lot. Often, there are no open spaces with clear views of the sky, to enable a proper count.

In addition to that, looking for a hornbill nesting site is not easy. It can’t be an easy task for hornbills either; they can’t excavate their own cavities and must therefore prospect for homes by scouting for large trees with suitable nesting holes.

“Some hornbills require certain conditions ... good insulation, the correct hole size. Some are only interested in holes of a certain angle, whilst others might prefer cavities at the knob of a fallen branch,” says Yeap.

Such requirements mean suitable trees are far and few between. To search for them, MNS researchers initially replicated tried and tested methods employed by Thai researchers – stand at a vantage point to spot for hornbills making repeated flights across the forest, on the off chance that some might be breeding pairs. It yielded limited success, so MNS eventually changed tactics, paying local indigenous people for guidance to known nest sites in the forest.

MNS now knows of 17 nesting sites belonging to six hornbill species within the Belum-Temengor Forest Complex. With funding from Yayasan Sime Darby, they will be setting up a camera at one of these sites to better study breeding behaviours.

Yeap hopes the camera footage will shed light on the many gaps in our knowledge – like how hornbills breed, when they breed and how long they breed for.

“We definitely need to know a whole lot more about hornbills,” he says, adding there is currently no one in Malaysia specialising in hornbill research.

Even the crowd-drawing mass flocking events that begin around July before peaking in August and September is to a large extent, a mystery. “Why July? We don’t know,” says Yeap.

Some think that it has to do with the bird’s breeding cycle. Reports have shown the species spend time nesting in Thailand between January and May, during which time mating pairs would be geographically restricted. This is because the female bird seals herself and her chick into the tree cavity, relying on the male, who forages for food and feeds them through a small slit. Hornbill chicks are thought to leave the nest at three months – perhaps this is when they start departing Thailand for Temengor.

The Jahai have commented that hornbill arrivals coincide with the fruiting season. Our understanding of the cyclical and seasonal fruiting patterns within the Belum-Temengor forest is, however, incomplete, making clear correlations difficult. It has also been suggested that moving in large numbers might prove beneficial in terms of foraging efficiency.

Vital species

Whatever the reasons for mass flocking, the hornbill’s eating habits is important in the shaping of plant diversity in our forest. Seed dispersal plays a critical role in the maintenance and recovery of forests, and hornbills are large frugivores capable of dispersing larger seeds.

Considering its ecological importance, and the fact that this might be the world’s most important population of this endangered creature, the threats hovering over plain-pouched hornbills are cause for alarm.

Selective logging practices which involve only harvesting trees of a certain size pits loggers searching for large trees directly against hornbills searching for suitable nest sites. It is therefore important to monitor how logging of Temengor Forest Reserve, which is mainly a production forest, is affecting the birds. This is why the annual MNS hornbill-count is important. So far, however, records from yearly counts have revealed a fluctuating population trend, from which no clear conclusions can be drawn.

In 2004, just over 1,000 hornbills were counted in Temengor. This dropped to under 200 in 2005, before rising to over 1,500 in 2006. The year 2007 saw another drop to the low hundreds, before the amazing 2008 bumper year, where over 3,000 were counted. In 2009, numbers dropped once again to below 100 but rose to just below a thousand in 2010.

Explanations for these bouncy figures vary. Some think birds are altering their flight path due to disturbance to the forest – land clearing by indigenous people and commercial logging.

No one has a clear picture of what’s going on, which is why MNS preaches caution. To protect the hornbill’s habitat, it has been campaigning to get Temengor gazetted, in order to create a single transboundary protected area spanning southern Thailand and northern Peninsular Malaysia. Similar campaign efforts succeeded in getting the neighbouring Royal Belum State Park gazetted in 2007.

The Belum-Temengor rainforest complex is special. Comprising the Temengor Forest Reserve, Belum Forest Reserve and the Belum Royal State Park, it is 266,170ha of contiguous forest cover. What’s more, the forest complex links up with two other protected areas in southern Thailand, the Hala Bala Wildlife Sanctuary and Bang Lang National Park.

Protecting plain-pouched hornbills is not just a matter of sentiment; the birds have a lot of potential to bring economic benefits to the country. The spectacular mass movements of these birds can be marketed as a tourist attraction. MNS is currently working with the Tourism Ministry to promote bird watching in Belum-Temengor.

Life in the jungle
The Star 1 May 12;

WHEN lawyer Tai Lai Choy first went to Belum-Temengor to count birds, he was not expecting the entire experience, including staying with the Jahai orang asli, to leave such a big impact on him.

A birdwatching member of the Malaysian Nature Society, he was happy to rough it out for the chance to see the birds during the annual hornbill counting project.

He knew what he was in for. “You must go with the mindset that you are going to live simply,” says Tai, 51. The volunteers cooked and lived in a simple hut consisting of a bamboo-strip platform and thatched roof.

“Open plan,” says Tai. “Very cool, because air can come in through the floor. It was very comfortable.”

The structure of the hut was an introduction into the simple life lived by the Jahai, one of the 19 orang asli groups living in Malaysia. Classified under the Semang (Negrito) subgroup, they are traditionally semi-nomadic, but the Jahai of Temengor was to an extent, forced to settle down after the Temengor Dam flooded most of the forest in the 1970s.

In between three hours of hornbill counting in the morning and evening, the volunteers have time to get to know more about the lives and cultures of the Jahai, who Tai says are great teachers when it comes to living off the land.

“On the rakit (bamboo raft), they paddled us across the lake to gather food for dinner. They took us into the jungle, and taught us how to identify ferns that are edible, and then demonstrated how they cook it. They would just stuff the fern into a bamboo together with some ginger and spices, and cook it over a fire.”

Tai says it was fascinating to see how easy it was to make a tasty meal using fresh, natural ingredients from the forest. In between counting birds, the Jahai, who served as forest guides, showed excited volunteers a budding rafflesia, took them to a waterfall, and showed them how to plant tapioca.

Tai, who has volunteered with the project twice and has been to Temengor on recreational trips previously, observes changes in the landscape.

“There is a lot of logging now. You see tractors, and behind the hills ... you don’t know what’s happening there.”

The hornbill conservation project, in Tai’s eyes, serves an important purpose. “MNS is doing this is to create awareness. The more people are aware, the more they can rally and try to save this pristine forest. But it also helps you understand not just the importance of preserving the forest, but also the importance of preserving the rich, traditional lifestyle of the orang asli. If you experience it (the forest) first-hand, it’s beautiful and it’s eye-opening,” says Tai.

This year’s hornbill count starts from August and runs until September, with group rotations of four or five days. Costs to participate in the project range from RM270 to RM400, with all proceeds going back into research work. For more information, go to or, or contact Mabel at

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Malaysia: In the dark over sun bears

Kristy Inus New Straits Times 30 Apr 12;

CONSERVATION CENTRE: Lack of awareness and data on species hampering efforts

KOTA KINABALU: IT has been more than three years but not many know about the existence of the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC) in Sandakan.

The facility located near the existing Sepilok Orang Utan Rehabilitation Centre (SOURC) is an effort to provide care, rehabilitation and eventual release of orphaned and captive sun bears.

With on-going work to develop the 2.5ha park continuing, the facility hopes to address the lack of knowledge and awareness about this little-known species, said chief executive officer Wong Siew Te.

Wong, 43, who had conducted research on the species of bear at Danum Valley (Lahad Datu) for six years, said despite the knowledge that the bear population in the peninsula and Sabah was declining, there was no data on the exact number of the sun bears remaining in the wild.

According to the website dedicated to the centre at, the Malayan sun bear (Helarctos malayanus) found only in south-east Asia, is the world's smallest bear species.

The Bornean sun bear (Helarctos malayanus euryspilus) is known to be the only sub-species of sun bear, and is distinctly smaller.

"While they are facing extinction due to habitat destruction following deforestation and humans taking their cubs as pets, there is also the issue of lack of exposure and very little study done on these bears.

"There is also the threat of bear-poaching for commercial exploitation. The fact that sun bears have a slow reproductive life -- a female bear which can produce five cubs in her lifetime would be considered very productive -- also contributes towards its low population density," he added.

There are currently 25 bears at the centre, all seized by the Wildlife Department from people who kept them as pets.

As for funding, he said the centre had received RM5 million. He said RM2 million came from the government and the rest from the private sector.

More about the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre

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Drama Amid Indonesia's Disappearing Mangroves

Anthony Kuhn NPR 1 May 12;

The rising tide laps at the feet of local children and fishermen and submerges all but the tops of the mangrove trees of Tiwoho village in Indonesia's North Sulawesi province. At one degree of latitude north of the equator, the climate here is about the same all year round: hot, wet and perfect for the forests of salt-tolerant trees that grow along sheltered coastlines.

Indonesia has one-quarter of the world's mangrove forests, but it's losing them at an alarming rate of 6 percent a year. The world as a whole is estimated to have lost half of its mangroves in the past half-century.

The flooded forests help protect coastlines from tidal floods and erosion, provide a home to an important variety of biodiversity, and provide important absorption of the world's carbon dioxide.

Replanting, Re-Educating

But for the villagers, the mangroves have meant something else. The villagers used to cut down the trees for firewood, timber and to make shrimp ponds. But two decades ago, farmer Kamal Amani and other villagers began to replant them.

"Looking at the mangroves now, I am very pleased," he says, surveying the expanse of vegetation from a hilltop. "I am proud of what we have achieved for future generations. And we're very proud of Professor Jamaluddin."

Rignolda Jamaluddin, a marine scientist at a local university, has devoted himself to rebuilding North Sulawesi's mangroves, one village at a time.

He says he has tried to explain to the residents how the mangroves serve as a breeding ground for the tuna and grouper that teem in the local waters, protect the shoreline from tsunamis, and provide an abundance of useful materials that can be gathered without harming the forest.

"We can take benefits from the mangrove by not cutting the trees," Jamaluddin says. "For example, we make alcohol, we make sugar from mangrove trees." Villagers have also learned to make and sell bamboo furniture and develop ecotourism.

The mangrove forest also protects a neighboring ecosystem: the coral reefs, which are a favorite with divers. The mangroves help to filter and capture river sediment that would otherwise bury the reefs.

Role In Carbon Capture

Jamaluddin walks over the sandy soil and into the thick underbrush of the mangrove forest. At first glance, all seems silent and deserted. But look and listen closely, and you'll find a microcosm of constant change, cycles of life and death, growth and decay.

Some mangrove roots poke upward through the soil to breathe, like an ocean full of snorkels. Other mangroves grip the mud with a lattice of roots, like the flying buttresses of a cluster of gothic cathedrals. All of them have adapted to their environment by developing filtration systems to survive in saltwater that would kill other trees.

There's a constant snapping and popping sound in the forest, which Jamaluddin says is the sound of crabs snapping their pincers and mollusks shutting their shells. Those animals are not just tasty links in the local food chain; they're also helping to compost fallen leaves and organic matter, turning them into an underground layer of carbon-rich peat.

Mangroves are a "very efficient living system in terms of sequestering carbon dioxide," says Daniel Murdiyarso, a climate change expert at the Center for International Forestry Research in Bogor, Indonesia. The carbon dioxide, he continues, is "stored in the leaves, and the leaves will be consumed by the feeders, including crabs and all those microorganisms below the ground."

Murdiyarso says mangroves store five to eight times more carbon underground than above ground. The more mature the mangrove forest, the deeper underground its peat layer extends.

Mangroves account for less than 1 percent of the world's tropical forest area, Murdiyarso says, but their destruction produces 10 percent of all carbon emissions from deforestation. Deforestation, meanwhile, is the second-largest source of carbon emissions after the burning of fossil fuels.

Jin Eong Ong, of the Mangrove Action Project and a professor at the Universiti Sains Malaysia, estimates that Indonesia's mangroves absorb and store enough carbon dioxide to offset the annual emissions of 5 million cars, roughly equivalent to all the registered vehicles in Massachusetts.

Best Strategy May Be The Local One

There's no doubt that Indonesia's mangroves provide many valuable services: storing carbon, filtering water and nourishing wildlife. The question is: How much are the services worth, and how can paying for them help protect the mangroves?

In Jakarta, Forestry Ministry official Eko Warsito frames the problem this way: "More than 50 percent of Indonesia's population lives in coastal areas, and most of them are poor. An ordinary plot of mangroves is worth $84 an acre. But if it's cleared and planted with oil palms, it can be worth more than $20,000 an acre."

Warsito says some developed countries, including Spain and the Netherlands, have already begun paying Indonesia to plant mangroves. In exchange, they get carbon credits that they can trade or use as a permit to emit carbon.

The city of Jakarta is buying mangrove seeds from the Forestry Ministry and planting them in Jakarta Bay, Warsito notes. Restoring the mangroves, city officials hope, will stop saltwater from seeping inland and contaminating the city's water supplies.

And, he adds, Indonesia is set to issue a presidential decree outlining a strategy for the sustainable management of its mangroves.

Then again, in Tiwoho, the villagers have restored mangroves without government policies or foreign investment. The fact that the village is in Bunaken National Park doesn't seem to have helped the mangroves much.

Jamaluddin argues that government management is less effective at protecting mangroves than community-based education.

"If the local people have their own strategy, their own knowledge and the ecosystem already functioning naturally, then we don't need the regulation, like the national park," he says. "So just let them manage the resources in their own way."

This is not just the most cost-effective way to protect the mangroves, Jamaluddin says; more importantly, it's nature's way.

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Saving Thailand’s mangroves

Phuket Gazette 30 Apr 12;

“Conserving the mangroves may not be as sexy as saving the rainforest, but it’s arguably even more important for the environment,” says Udo Gattenlöhner, Executive Director of the Global Nature Fund (GNF).

The non-profit, independent foundation is facilitating an international project designed to rehabilitate lost mangrove forests in Thailand, India, Sri Lanka and Cambodia.

Funded by the German government, the collaboration between NGOs in the four Asian countries aims to rehabilitate a hundred hectares of damaged or destroyed mangrove forest while creating a network to enable effective knowledge transfer between the partners.

Jaruwan Kaewmahanin, Field Coordinator for the Trang-based Asia branch of the Mangrove Action Project (MAP) which hosted the initial project meeting in Krabi said, “Mangrove forests are a really important habitat and nursery ground for fish, plants and many other

organisms, and around 40% of the World’s mangroves are located in Asia.

“While they’re one of the most productive, they’re also amongst the most threatened ecosystems on Earth. Half of the world’s mangrove forests have been destroyed and the rate of destruction has been fastest in the last 30 years,” Jaruwan said.

Local people living around the coasts or near tidal areas are becoming increasingly aware of the benefits of retaining intact mangrove forests, which can ensure a sustainable source of income from the harvesting of fish, crabs, wild shrimps as well as other animal and plant sources of food, fuel and medicines.

They also provide a defense against coastal erosion, storm surges and even catastrophic events such as the Boxing Day tsunami of 2004.

Bang Don, a community leader in Ban Lang Da village on the Krabi estuary, has been a consistently supportive advocate of efforts by MAP and Wetlands International to restore lost mangroves near his village. He says that many of the local mangroves have been destroyed during his lifetime and that he has observed first-hand, as a result, the decline in wild fish and other species in the area.

GNF’s Udo Gattenlöhner says that any efforts to rehabilitate lost mangroves must engage with, and support, local interests. Local communities must be fully involved and supportive, he says, and they must see tangible benefits from the results of mangrove rehabilitation.

At a restoration project near Ban Taleh Nok, close to Ranong, Nipa Palm was chosen as one of the main species to plant in consultation with local people as it provides a direct economic value to their community. However, the choice of mangrove species to plant is highly dependent on factors such as water salinity, depth and flow. Potential economic value has to consider whether local conditions will enable plants to thrive.

The GNF project partners will utilize the principles of Ecological Mangrove Restoration (EMR) which is being promoted by MAP as the best method to rehabilitate mangroves. During the meeting in Krabi, representatives of the partner organizations received training in EMR techniques which offer a more holistic approach to mangrove restoration incorporating consideration of the wider ecosystem and including the interests of local people.

The EMR approach starts from the premise that mangrove forests may recover naturally without the need for extensive planting efforts, and recommends that inhibiting factors such as blocked waterways are first corrected. Restoring the natural hydrology is a key element of the EMR approach to mangrove rehabilitation, returning water flows to their original courses where this is possible. Planting is only utilized when the level of mangrove recovery doesn’t meet the objectives of the project.

One of the difficulties associated with efforts to restore mangrove habitats in Thailand is the existence of regulations which forbid the use in mangrove areas of heavy machinery which can be very helpful in restoring the original tidal exchange patterns, breaking down former pond walls and performing other heavy earth moving functions.

While commercial shrimp ponds in places like Ban Taleh Nok have been created by removing mangroves (and often without legal right to use the land) with tractors and other large machines, those attempting to restore them may not be allowed to use similar machinery to rehabilitate them without going through the bureaucratic and often time consuming process of obtaining a permit. While the regulations have been designed to protect mangroves, in some cases their effect may be to hamper efforts to restore them.

Jim Enright, MAP’s Asia Coordinator, explains that having arranged a contractor with heavy machinery for rehabilitation work at Ban Taleh Nok, the NGO waited almost five months for official permission to go ahead. Becoming frustrated with the delay as project funding was only for a one year period, MAP proposed an alternative approach and succeeded in motivating the local villagers to clear the drainage channels and reconfigure the former shrimp ponds equipped with only spades, specialized buckets and shovels.

Enright said, “This actually turned into a win-win situation. The work was done in a reasonable amount of time and having been so engaged in the activity, the community now has gained full stewardship for the restoration site and will make sure a healthy mangrove area is maintained here.”

Experts have calculated that Asia has around 250,000 hectares of abandoned shrimp ponds which were previously mangroves. Much of this area is capable of being returned to healthy mangrove through restoring the hydrology and allowing natural regeneration to take place without the need for planting.

Doing so should ensure a return to the biodiversity of the original mangrove forest over time.

An important goal of the GNF program is the establishment of an international network for the protection of mangroves, which will meet regularly to discuss activities and exchange experience and knowledge. One of the outputs from the project will be the publication of a guidebook to help inform restoration efforts elsewhere.

Partners in GNF’s Mangrove Restoration in Asia project include: The Nagenahiru Foundation and EMACE Foundation, Sri Lanka; Center for Research on a New International Economic Order (CReNIEO), India; Fisheries Action Coalition Team (FACT), Cambodia and the Mangrove Action Project (MAP), Thailand.

For more information on the Mangrove Action Project visit For more information on the Global Nature Fund visit

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Australia: Koalas added to threatened species list

ABC News 1 May 12;

Koalas in Queensland, New South Wales and the ACT are being classified as vulnerable and added to the threatened species list.

Koala numbers have dropped by 40 per cent in Queensland and by a third in New South Wales over the past 20 years. There are no wild koalas in the ACT.

Federal Environment Minister Tony Burke says it is not a national listing because there are large koala populations in South Australia and Victoria.

"In Victoria and South Australia, koalas have actually been in such high numbers they've been eating themselves out of habitat. There's what you call population control measures going on there ... like sterilisation," he said.

"But in places like NSW and Queensland, their numbers have been taking a massive hit."

Mr Burke says a species is usually not considered endangered if it is bountiful in some locations.

"On a species as iconic as the koala, I really don't think I could have credibly said to the Australian people, 'oh don't worry, you might not have any more in Queensland the way things are going, but you can go to South Australia if you want to see one'," he said.

Mr Burke says the listings will be state wide and developers will have to take into account the changes when making building applications.

"If someone wants to make a development there is a tougher hurdle as a result of a species being endangered," he said.

"That is what environmental legislation is designed to do."

The Government has also announced $300,000 of new research funding to find out more about koala habitats.

But Queensland Premier Campbell Newman says the listing of koalas as a threatened species will add unnecessary green tape.

Mr Newman says the decision is at odds with the Federal Government's previous commitment to reduce regulations, and existing state protections could simply have been improved.

"It's more needless duplication, it's more mindless green tape, it's more delay and obstruction by Canberra and I just ask the Prime Minister to go and have a long hard look at what her government is trying to achieve," he said.

Not enough

The Australian Koala Foundation says it is a victory for Queensland and New South Wales.

But foundation CEO Deborah Tabart says the protection does not go far enough and the Federal Government has underestimated the danger koalas face.

She says she believes Mr Burke has been misinformed that there are 200,000 koalas in the wild.

"At the moment we're still of the opinion that there's not that many koalas, less than 100,000. Victoria still needs to be protected," she said.

"I'm delighted with this because it is going to slow things down, but it's not going to save our koalas."

It is the fourth time since 1996 the Government's advisory group, the Threatened Species Scientific Committee (TSSC), has considered the koala's situation.

Ms Tabart says she wants to see the science the decision is based on.

"We have offered our maps to Minister Burke, $8 million worth, 26,000 man hours, 100,000 trees, 2,000 field sites," she said.

"So for me to see money thrown into mapping, $300,000, I still want to see the science. We've never seen any science from the TSSC. We just usually get a letter that says yes or no."

Australia lists the koala as a threatened species
Koala populations in parts of the country face a 'serious threat' from urban expansion and climate change, government says
Oliver Milman 30 Apr 12;

The Australian government has listed the koala as a threatened species in parts of the country for the first time, admitting that the species faces a "serious threat" from factors such as urban expansion and climate change.

Koala populations in Queensland, New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory have been placed on the national list of vulnerable species, following intervention by environment minister, Tony Burke, on Monday.

The listing, designed to provide a barrier to development in areas where koalas are threatened, is aimed at halting a precipitous drop in numbers that has seen the species decline by 40% in Queensland and by one-third in NSW over the past two decades.

The decision by Burke follows a Senate report released last year that made 19 recommendations, including listing the species as threatened in certain areas of the country and boosting the funding for koala monitoring.

The report outlined numerous threats to the koala, including climate change, disease and habitat loss.

Fatal attacks on koalas by domesticated dogs were also cited as a problem, particularly during recent unusually warm summers, where the marsupial has been sighted in residents' gardens, unable to climb trees and drinking from swimming pools and water bowls.

Koala populations have been under pressure for some time, with many hunted to near extinction in eastern Australia by early European settlers for the fur trade.

The species also suffers from a limited diet of eucalypts, which has been aggressively cleared for urban development. Meanwhile, the remaining eucalypts' nutritional value has been tarnished by increased CO2 in the atmosphere, leading the IUCN to list the koala as one of the 10 most vulnerable species in the world to climate change.

"Koalas are an iconic Australian animal and they hold a special place in the community," Burke said. "People have made it very clear to me that they want to make sure the koala is protected for future generations. Koala populations are under serious threat from habitat loss and urban expansion, as well as vehicle strikes, dog attacks, and disease."

"However, koala numbers vary significantly across the country, so while koala populations are clearly declining in some areas, there are large, stable or even increasing populations in other areas."

"In fact, in some areas in Victoria and South Australia, koalas are eating themselves out of suitable foraging habitat and their numbers need to be managed."

"But the Queensland, New South Wales and Australian Capital Territory koala populations are very clearly in trouble, so we must take action. "

While environmental groups have welcomed Burke's decision, concern has been raised that the minister failed to include Victoria and South Australia in the threatened species listing.

Larissa Waters, environment spokesperson for the Australian Greens, said: "It would have made more sense to give the koala a national listing, instead of waiting for koala populations in South Australia and Victoria to fall into decline without protection, like those in Queensland and New South Wales."

"We now need a prompt, comprehensive and well-enforced recovery plan to get the koala back off the threatened species list, and we need protection for other species not as famous as the koala but still sliding closer to extinction every day."

There is also dispute over the exact number of koalas left in the wild. The federal government estimates there are around 200,000 remaining koalas, but the Australian Koala Foundation has challenged this figure.

The foundation's chief executive, Deborah Tabart, told ABC news: "At the moment we're still of the opinion that there's not that many koalas, less than 100,000. Victoria still needs to be protected."

"I'm delighted with this because it is going to slow things down, but it's not going to save our koalas."

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Twenty-Four New Species of Lizards Discovered On Caribbean Islands Are Close to Extinction

ScienceDaily 30 Apr 12;

In a single new scientific publication, 24 new species of lizards known as skinks, all from islands in the Caribbean, have been discovered and scientifically named. According to Blair Hedges, professor of biology at Penn State University and the leader of the research team, half of the newly added skink species already may be extinct or close to extinction, and all of the others on the Caribbean islands are threatened with extinction. The researchers found that the loss of many skink species can be attributed primarily to predation by the mongoose -- an invasive predatory mammal that was introduced by farmers to control rats in sugarcane fields during the late 19th century.

An Anguilla Bank skink. Blair Hedges and his team have discovered and scientifically named 24 new species of lizards known as skinks. (Credit: Karl Questel)

The research team reports on the newly discovered skinks in a 245-page article published April 30 in the journal Zootaxa.

About 130 species of reptiles from all over the world are added to the global species count each year in dozens of scientific articles. However, not since the 1800s have more than 20 reptile species been added at one time. Primarily through examination of museum specimens, the team identified a total of 39 species of skinks from the Caribbean islands, including six species currently recognized, and another nine named long ago but considered invalid until now. Hedges and his team also used DNA sequences, but most of the taxonomic information, such as counts and shapes of scales, came from examination of the animals themselves.

"Now, one of the smallest groups of lizards in this region of the world has become one of the largest groups," Hedges said. "We were completely surprised to find what amounts to a new fauna, with co-occurring species and different ecological types."

He said some of the new species are six times larger in body size than other species in the new fauna.

Hedges also explained that these New World skinks, which arrived in the Americas about 18 million years ago from Africa by floating on mats of vegetation, are unique among lizards in that they produce a human-like placenta, which is an organ that directly connects the growing offspring to the maternal tissues that provide nutrients.

"While there are other lizards that give live birth, only a fraction of the lizards known as skinks make a placenta and gestate offspring for up to one year," Hedges said.

He also speculated that the lengthy gestational period may have given predators a competitive edge over skinks, since pregnant females are slower and more vulnerable.

"The mongoose is the predator we believe is responsible for many of the species' close-to-extinction status in the Caribbean," Hedges said. "Our data show that the mongoose, which was introduced from India in 1872 and spread around the islands over the next three decades, has nearly exterminated this entire reptile fauna, which had gone largely unnoticed by scientists and conservationists until now."

According to Hedges, the "smoking gun" is a graph included in the scientific paper showing a sharp decline in skink populations that occurred soon after the introduction of the mongoose. Hedges explained that the mongoose originally was brought to the New World to control rats, which had become pests in the sugarcane fields in Cuba, Hispaniola, Puerto Rico, Jamaica and the Lesser Antilles. While this strategy did help to control infestations of some pests; for example, the Norway rat, it also had the unintended consequence of reducing almost all skink populations.

"By 1900, less than 50 percent of those mongoose islands still had their skinks, and the loss has continued to this day," Hedges said.

This newly discovered skink fauna will increase dramatically the number of reptiles categorized as "critically endangered" by the International Union for Conservation of Nature in their "Red List of Threatened Species," which is recognized as the most comprehensive database evaluating the endangerment status of various plant and animal species.

"According to our research, all of the skink species found only on Caribbean islands are threatened," Hedges said. "That is, they should be classified in the Red List as either vulnerable, endangered, or critically endangered. Finding that all species in a fauna are threatened is unusual, because only 24 percent of the 3,336 reptile species listed in the Red List have been classified as threatened with extinction. Most of the 9,596 named reptile species have yet to be classified in the Red List."

Hedges explained that there are two reasons why such a large number of species went unnoticed for so many years, in a region frequented by scientists and tourists.

"First, Caribbean skinks already had nearly disappeared by the start of the 20th century, so people since that time rarely have encountered them and therefore have been less likely to study them," he said. "Second, the key characteristics that distinguish this great diversity of species have been overlooked until now."

Hedges also noted that many potential new species of animals around the world have been identified in recent years with DNA data. However, much more difficult is the task of following up DNA research with the work required to name new species and to formally recognize them as valid, as this team did with Caribbean skinks.

The other member of the research team, Caitlin Conn, now a researcher at the University of Georgia and formerly a biology major in Penn State's Eberly College of Science and a student in Penn State's Schreyer Honors College at the time of the research, added that researchers might be able to use the new data to plan conservation efforts, to study the geographic overlap of similar species, and to study in more detail the skinks' adaptation to different ecological habitats or niches. The research team also stressed that, while the mongoose introduction by humans now has been linked to these reptile declines and extinctions, other types of human activity, especially the removal of forests, are to blame for the loss of other species in the Caribbean.

Funding for the research comes from the National Science Foundation.

Journal Reference:

S. Blair Hedges & Caitlin E. Conn. A new skink fauna from Caribbean islands (Squamata, Mabuyidae, Mabuyinae). Zootaxa, April 2012

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New Zealand: Extreme floods could be annual 30 Apr 12;

Extreme floods which usually only occur once a century could eventually happen every year as sea levels rise, National Institute of Water & Atmospheric Research (NIWA) says.

New Zealand needs to start preparing for that possibility now - before it’s too late, NIWA’s principal scientist Rob Bell said.

Once sea levels have risen by half a metre, once in 100-year flooding events could occur annually, Bell said.
Higher storm surges could damage beaches, seawalls, buildings and roads and may affect drinking water, Bell said.

When the half a metre rise will occur is uncertain, but Bell said a one metre rise by 2100 could not be ruled out.

It was crucial that councils started thinking about the risks as sixty-five per cent of Kiwis lived within five kilometres of the sea, Bell said.

They needed to consider the rising sea levels when thinking of where to build a road, or where to place a footpath, he said.

A new road may last for only 40 years if it is not built in the right place, but if it is built with the rising sea levels in mind, then it could last much longer, Bell said.

“It’s mostly about risk…New Zealand’s Coastal Policy Statement directs that we also avoid further increasing risk in the future.

“So for large new subdivisions and developments, we should be building into this new development sufficient capacity to absorb even higher rises in sea level, given the permanent nature of subdivisions."

What needs to be done to mitigate the risks will be the subject of a two day conference in Wellington next week.

One of the guest speakers will be Tim Reeder, who will discuss how his team has adapted to sea-level rise in the Thames Estuary in the United Kingdom.

Scientists warn of sea-level dangers
Amelia Wade New Zealand Herald 1 May 12;

Sea levels are rising and scientists warn that action is needed to reduce risks of damage. Photo / Supplied
Sea levels are rising and scientists warn that action is needed to reduce risks of damage. Photo / Supplied

The sea level is rising and scientists warn that action is needed to minimise the risks of flooding, damaged beaches and infrastructure and infected drinking water.

Sixty-five per cent of New Zealanders live within 5km of the sea, including 12 of the country's 15 largest towns and cities.

And with a sea-level rise of at least one metre predicted, storm surge flooding will start to occur in those areas more frequently on king tides, the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research says.

Principal scientist Rob Bell said that because of their preference for coastal living, New Zealanders needed "to really consider what rising sea levels mean for us", especially for higher tides.

Dr Bell said it must be determined which coastal areas were the most vulnerable.

As well, new developments and subdivisions must start to take into account the rising sea-level.

Higher storm surges could damage beaches, seawalls, buildings, roads and other infrastructure; they might also affect drinking-water supplies in lowland rivers and groundwater, he warned.

A report by Niwa and Victoria University last year looked at how the predicted sea-level rise would affect the Mission Bay and Kohimarama area in Auckland.

It found that even with conservative predictions of how much the sea would rise, it would present a "significant risk to the people and property" of the community, especially during storms.

The New Zealand Climate Change Centre is holding a two-day conference at Te Papa in Wellington next week to discuss the "growing concern".

As well as a speech from Dr Bell, there will speakers from the British Environment Agency, Massey University and oceanographer John Church from the Centre for Australian Weather and Climate Research.

Scientists will present a synthesis of recent projections for sea level rise, discuss the uncertainties associated with these projections and will identify anticipated impacts on New Zealand's coastal environment and infrastructure resulting from climate change.

Said Dr Bell: "Planners and engineers here in New Zealand need sound guidance on what sea level rises are expected along our shores, working around the key uncertainty about how quickly the polar ice sheets may melt in future."

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