Best of our wild blogs: 10 May 12

Festival of Biodiversity: Learning Journey for Schools
from Peiyan.Photography

Giant clams at Terumbu Semakau
from wild shores of singapore

Moving north, heading for Pulau Sekudu
from Psychedelic Nature

Tuas (9 May 2012)
from teamseagrass

So, how much waste did we generate today?
from Otterman speaks

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First green library for kids taking root here

Leslie Kay Lim Straits Times 10 May 12;

IN A year, children visiting the National Library in Victoria Street will be able to step into an 'enchanted forest' containing a collection of green-themed books, programmes and displays.

Four- to 12-year-olds will even be able to curl up with books in their very own tree house there.

The facility, the world's first green library for children, comes courtesy of the National Library Board (NLB) and property developer City Developments, for which this is a project in corporate citizenry.

Called 'My Tree House', the 500 sq m library will have 70,000 books, many of them with a nod to nature themes.

NLB chief executive Elaine Ng said the library aims to familiarise children with the environment and green practices. 'We hope this will contribute to a new generation of nature lovers,' she added.

My Tree House will be in the current children's area in the basement of the National Library Building.

City Developments and its partners Interface and Royal Philips Electronics have pledged to provide the expertise and resources for the green library. Their joint experience with green-building innovations means the library will be built with green materials and practices.

The tree house centrepiece, for instance, will be made of recycled timber, PVC pipes, aluminium cans and plastic bottles; the library will be kitted out with carpets made of 70 per cent recyclable materials and energy-efficient LED lighting as well.

The design firm for the project, ADDP Architects, has a track record with green buildings; its leading design consultant Tang Kok Thye was recently named Green Architect of the Year by the Building and Construction Authority.

Mr Tang said the challenges in the project came in the retrofitting of the library's space, and the changes made to the original design.

Along the way, his team had input from what he called 'little consultants': These likely users of the library said they preferred slopes over stairs. They also said the phrase 'green' brought to mind vegetables more than the environment, which is how the tree house concept evolved.

The library's interior will have high-tech interactive displays such as a shadow wall and a tree stump with rings reacting to sound and temperature.

Most of the library will be built off-site to minimise interruptions to the library's operations. The NLB hopes to showcase the green library at the World Library Information Congress to be hosted here in August next year.

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Encyclopedia of Life Reaches Historic One Million Species Pages Milestone

ScienceDaily 9 May 12;

The Encyclopedia of Life has surged past one million pages of content with the addition of hundreds of thousands of new images and specimen data from the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History (NMNH). Launched in 2007 with the support of leading scientific organizations around the world, the Encyclopedia of Life provides global access to knowledge about life on Earth by building a web page for each of the 1.9 million recognized species.

The new content from NMNH recently added to EOL includes type specimen information from the botany, entomology, vertebrate zoology and invertebrate zoology departments. In taxonomy, type specimens are the first found material from which new species are scientifically defined and given names. These specimens are vital resources for scientists who study the classification of organisms and to all studies of comparative biology.

"The Encyclopedia of Life is a consortium of partners who generate and integrate biodiversity information worldwide. To achieve our ambitious goals, we have to continuously increase the number of species pages and the amount of trusted information in each of them," said Dr. Erick Mata, EOL Executive Director. "Thanks to the hard work of our international collaborators, we hit the one million page mark with plenty of momentum for the next five years."

The new images now available on EOL include specimen photos of bones and skins, mounted specimens, x-rays, and photos from collecting expeditions. Some highlights include image galleries for pressed plants, mollusk shells and other marine invertebrates, insects, fish and herpetology.

Reaching the milestone of one million pages of rich content underscores how far the EOL initiative has come since its inception five years ago. When EOL first launched, it offered only 30,000 species pages from fewer than a dozen content partners. Today, EOL has more than 200 collaborators around the world, a global member community, and active contributors who share their time, creativity and knowledge through EOL.

"This isn't just a big milestone for us -- it's also an important one for all of our users, supporters and partners who have helped build the global EOL network," said Dr. Cynthia Parr, Director of EOL's Species Pages Group. "We are well on our way towards building a resource that will have maximum impact on the understanding and conservation of biological diversity."

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Citizen Backlash Keeps Malaysia Rare Earth Plant On Hold

Siva Sithraputhran PlanetArk 10 May 12;

The expensive machinery lies silent, idling as Malaysia's government weighs a delicate decision to allow shipments of raw material to arrive from Australia and finally start operations at the world's largest rare earths plant outside China.

At the industrial estate on the country's east coast, 20 or so protesters gathered in the searing afternoon heat have begun a chant. "No to Lynas. Lynas go home!".

The handful of demonstrators seems an unlikely obstacle to plans by Australia's Lynas Corp to build its company-making 2.5 billion ringgit ($800 million) plant, seen as crucial to challenging China's near monopoly on the production of rare earths, used in items ranging from smartphones to smart bombs.

But the expanding protest movement they represent, feeding off broader frustrations with Malaysia's government as elections loom, has already delayed the project by eight months and cast a shadow over its future.

The resistance - fed by social networks and Malaysia's increasingly lively independent online media - also raises broader questions over the global expansion of an industry that has created huge environmental problems in China, which currently accounts for about 95 percent of global supply.

"Western countries don't want it. Why should we in Malaysia?," said Norizan Mokhtar, who lives less than 10 km (6 miles) from the plant in the industrial area of Gebeng, close to fishing villages and Kuantan, a city of half a million people.

"My youngest is six, the effects might not be seen now but in the future. We eat fish every day, what if there is radiation?"

She's afraid controls on the plant will become slack after the first few years.

Lynas has been plagued by delays and controversy in Malaysia since it broke ground on the plant two years ago with the aim of easing China's grip on the supply of rare earths and capitalizing on rising prices for the material.

Its share price has halved since early last year as investors worry that it will lose out in the race to feed surging world demand.

Lynas has orders covering its first 10 years of production. Japan, the world's biggest consumer of rare earths, is counting on Lynas to supply 8,500 tonnes a year by early 2013.

"Our customers are waiting," Mashal Ahmad, the managing director of the Lynas plant, told reporters during a tour of the plant for media last month.

"We have nothing to hide," he said, adding that "too much misinformation" had been spread about the company.


Prized for their magnetism, luminescence and strength, world consumption of rare earths is estimated to rise to around 185,000 metric tonnes (203,928 tons) a year by 2015, from 136,000 tonnes in 2010.

China imposed export quotas in 2009 to fight pollution caused by illegal mining and processing, turning up the pressure to find alternative sources.

The Lynas plant is one of a handful under construction. It is 98 percent complete and would supply about 11,000 tonnes in its first year, eventually rising to 22,000 tonnes.

Elsewhere, Canada's Great Western Minerals is teaming up with a Chinese group to build a rare earth processing plant in South Africa, while U.S. firm Molycorp is set to churn out just under 20,000 metric tons of rare earth oxide this year at its site near California's Death Valley.

The Malaysian protest movement gathered strength last year after allegations - denied by Lynas - that it was cutting corners on safety, fanning fears that radioactive run-off from waste material stored at the plant could seep into the local water system after being chemically treated.

An estimated 8,000 people rallied against Lynas in Kuantan in February and the issue has been seized on by the country's opposition to show the government is out of touch with citizens' concerns.

Malaysia's government at first showed few signs of heeding the protesters' concerns, but it appears to have been caught off-guard this year by the strength of opposition to the plant as it prepares for a closely run election within months.

Pahang, the state where the plant is being built, is a key stronghold for the long-ruling Barisan Nasional coalition that it can ill-afford to lose. Responding to lobbying by citizens' groups, the government set up a parliamentary select committee in March to look into the safety of the plant, after halting a conditional temporary operating license granted in February.

A decision is expected after the committee presents its findings at the end of June.

Prime Minister Najib Razak has vowed the government will not allow Lynas to operate the plant if there is any doubt over its safety. But he must also weigh the costs of sending a negative signal to foreign investors as he tries to reinvigorate the economy of the Southeast Asian country.

"We will never compromise the safety of the people and the environment," he said in a radio broadcast last month.

Lynas officials say they are confident the plant will win approval in coming months. Opponents suspect the government is waiting until after the election to approve the plant at a less sensitive time.

"The timing could be all too convenient," said Fuziah Salleh, a local opposition member of parliament who has thrown her weight behind the protest movement. "Basically it is a delay tactic until approval."

Fuziah and leaders of the protest movement "Stop Lynas, Save Malaysia" say they will continue to fight against Lynas in the court if it wins approval, signaling more uncertainty ahead.

The opposition - which made historic gains in 2008 polls and has an outside chance of winning the next election - has said it will scrap the Lynas project altogether if it takes government.


Opponents say the Lynas plant doesn't meet with best practice standards for the industry as it is too close to heavily populated areas and in a place where the ground water level is high. Molycorp's plant in California, by comparison, is situated far from residential areas in an arid climate.

"There never was any public consultation before the building of the plant got underway. I faced resistance from the start," said Fuziah.

If the protesters' views are trenchant, then Lynas' resolve is also hardening. The company has started legal action against a Malaysian news portal and a protest group for defamation.

Rare earths have a tainted history in Malaysia. In 1992, a unit of Mitsubishi Corp closed a rare earths plant in Bukit Merah in Perak state amid acrimony over radioactive contamination. Residents of Bukit Merah say they have suffered a high numbers of birth defects and leukemia.

Lynas says comparisons with Bukit Merah are unfair because the raw material there was over 40 times more radioactive than the concentrate to be used at its plant.

It says commercial - not environmental - reasons brought it to Malaysia, where the government has granted the company "pioneer" status, giving it a 10-year tax holiday.

Lynas says it has added earthen fill to the site for the storage facility to double the distance between waste products and the water table to 4.1 meters (14 feet).

The waste will contain low levels of thorium, a radioactive chemical which can cause cancer, but the concentration of thorium is very low and stays low, it says.

But it isn't clear how long the waste matter will be stored at the plant. Lynas says its storage facility has been built to a standard that would allow the waste to be stored permanently, although it only expects storage for 17 or 18 years. It hopes to sell the waste as a base for road construction after reducing its radioactivity concentration to safe levels.

Treated waste water from the plant will go into the Balok river at an average rate of 213 cubic meters (7500 cubic feet) per hour, raising concerns about the impact on marine life and on the livelihoods of the fishermen along the coast. Officials at Lynas say the concerns are unfounded and the discharged water will meet with Malaysian regulations.

From her perch close to the Balok river, Kak Su, who sells the daily catch local fishermen bring in, smiles quietly. She is resigned to her fate.

"The government will decide, I don't think they'll make a bad decision," she says. "I don't think the protesters will get anywhere," she adds.

(Editing by Stuart Grudgings and Richard Pullin)

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App to fight wildlife trafficking in Cambodia

TRAFFIC 9 May 12;

9th May 2012—A new iPhone app informing travellers to Cambodia about species threatened by trade and letting them take action in the fight against wildlife trafficking has been launched by a partnership that includes TRAFFIC.

The educational app developed by Wildlife Alliance, Trigger LLC, Jeff Corwin Connect and TRAFFIC provides both a catalogue of South-East Asian animal and plant species, showcases the forms in which endangered wildlife is most frequently traded, which are the most threatened and how to pick them out by their unique features.

It also features a built-in system that allows users to report the suspected illegal sale of wildlife and wildlife based products directly to Wildlife Alliance’s Rapid Rescue Team.

The app is designed to aid the ongoing efforts to preserve the region’s wildlife. It raises the profile of many wild plant and animal species that are trafficked for traditional medicine, exotic meat and pets. The information enables tourists to make responsible choices about their purchases while on holiday and gives them the opportunity to play an active role in preserving Cambodia’s natural heritage.

The app opens with an introduction by Jeff Corwin from the Animal Planet and features maps, photographs and a list of markets where visitors might see wildlife in trade. It is free to download.

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One-Quarter of Grouper Species Being Fished to Extinction

ScienceDaily 9 May 12;

Groupers, a family of fishes often found in coral reefs and prized for their quality of flesh, are facing critical threats to their survival. As part of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Species Survival Commission, a team of scientists has spent the past ten years assessing the status of 163 grouper species worldwide. They report that 20 species (12%) are at risk of extinction if current overfishing trends continue, and an additional 22 species (13%) are Near Threatened.

These findings were published online on April 28 in the journal Fish and Fisheries.

"Fish are one of the last animal resources commercially harvested from the wild by humans, and groupers are among the most desirable fishes," said Dr. Luiz Rocha, Curator of Ichthyology at the California Academy of Sciences, and one of the paper's authors. "Unfortunately, the false perception that marine resources are infinite is still common in our society, and in order to preserve groupers and other marine resources we need to reverse this old mentality."

The team estimates that at least 90,000,000 groupers were captured in 2009. This represents more than 275,000 metric tonnes of fish, an increase of 25% from 1999, and 1600% greater than 1950 figures. The Caribbean Sea, coastal Brazil, and Southeast Asia are home to a disproportionately high number of the 20 Threatened grouper species. (A species is considered "Threatened" if it is Critically Endangered, Endangered, or Vulnerable under IUCN criteria.)

Groupers are among the highest priced market reef species (estimated to be a multi-billion dollar per year industry), are highly regarded for the quality of their flesh, and are often among the first reef fishes to be overexploited. Their disappearance from coral reefs could upset the ecological balance of these threatened ecosystems, since they are ubiquitous predators and may play a large role in controlling the abundance of animals farther down the food chain.

Unfortunately, groupers take many years (typically 5-10) to become sexually mature, making them vulnerable for a relatively long time before they can reproduce and replenish their populations. In addition, fisheries have exploited their natural behavior of gathering in great numbers during the breeding season. The scientists also conclude that grouper farming (mariculture) has not mitigated overfishing in the wild.

Although the prognosis is poor for the restoration and successful conservation of Threatened grouper species, the authors do recommend some courses of action, including optimizing the size and location of Marine Protected Areas, minimum size limits for individual fish, quotas on the amount of catch, limits on the number of fishers, and seasonal protection during the breeding season. However, the scientists stress that "community awareness and acceptance, and effective enforcement are paramount" for successful implementation, as well as "action at the consumer end of the supply chain by empowering customers to make better seafood choices."

Journal Reference:

Yvonne Sadovy de Mitcheson, Matthew T Craig, Athila A Bertoncini, Kent E Carpenter, William W L Cheung, John H Choat, Andrew S Cornish, Sean T Fennessy, Beatrice P Ferreira, Philip C Heemstra, Min Liu, Robert F Myers, David A Pollard, Kevin L Rhodes, Luiz A Rocha, Barry C Russell, Melita A Samoilys, Jonnell Sanciangco. Fishing groupers towards extinction: a global assessment of threats and extinction risks in a billion dollar fishery. Fish and Fisheries, 2012; DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-2979.2011.00455.x

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New spider species found in urban setting

UPI 8 May 12;

Trapdoor spider. Credit: Graham Manning

AUBURN, Calif., May 8 (UPI) -- Researchers at Auburn University say they've discovered a previously unknown trapdoor spider species in the heart of the city of Auburn, Ala.

The discovery in a long-urbanized area highlights how much remains to be revealed about life in our own world, Auburn biology Professor Jason Bond said.

"The discovery of a new species in a well-developed area like this further demonstrates the amount of biodiversity on our planet that remains unknown; we know so little about our home planet and the other organisms that inhabit it with us," Bond said.

The new species, Myrmekiaphila tigris, has been affectionately dubbed the Auburn Tiger Trapdoor spider in honor of Auburn University's costumed Tiger mascot, Aubie, a university release reported Tuesday.

Trapdoor spiders construct subterranean burrows that they cover with a hinged door made of a mixture of silk and soil, and females spend nearly their entire lives in the single silk-lined burrow from which they forage as sit-and-wait predators.

Burrows can often be found in relatively young, secondary growth forests in natural areas of urban neighborhoods, the researchers said.

The study was published in the open access journal ZooKeys

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'We have seen the enemy': Bangladesh's war against climate change

Devastating cyclones, floods and ruined crops have made Bangladesh 'the world's most aware society on climate change'
John Vidal 9 May 12;

Rebecca Sultan's life has been shattered twice in a few years. First, the 140mph winds of Cyclone Sidr ripped through her village, Gazipara, flattening houses, killing 6,000 people and devastating the lives of millions as it slammed into southern Bangladesh in 2007.

Then, 18 months later, as Sultan was recovering, Cyclone Aila tore in from the Bay of Bengal with torrential rains, breaching the coastal embankments and flooding her fields with salt water.

Storms of this intensity historically happen in Bangladesh once every 20 to 30 years. But two "super-cyclones" in two years, followed by a narrow escape when super-cyclone Nargis killed 100,000 people in nearby Burma a year later, convinced Sultan and her village, as well as many sceptics in government, that climate change was happening and Bangladesh's very survival was at stake.

Gazipara, like thousands of other villages in coastal Bangladesh, is now racing to adapt to the increased flooding, erosion and salt-water intrusion.

Sultan and 30 other women have raised their small houses and toilets several feet up on to earth plinths. Others are growing more salt-tolerant crops and fruit trees, and most families are trying different ways to grow vegetables. "We know we must live with climate change and are trying to adapt," said Sultan.

Elsewhere in Bangladesh, hundreds of communities are strengthening embankments, planting protective shelter belts, digging new ponds and wells and collecting fresh water. Some want to build bunkers to store their valuables, others want cyclone shelters.

"I am quite amazed at how people are grappling with climate change and are adapting," said Saleemul Huq, a Bangladeshi scientist who is head of the climate change group at the International Institute for Environment and Development in London and an adviser to the Bangladesh government on how to adapt to climate change.

"It's by far the most aware society on climate change in the world," Huq said. "It has seen the enemy and is arming itself to deal with it. The country is now on a war footing against climate change. They are grappling with solutions. They don't have them all yet but they will. I see Bangladesh as a pioneer. It has adapted more than any other country to the extremes of weather that climate change is expected to bring."

With the latest research showing more droughts in the country's north and rising sea levels, more than 30 million Bangladeshis are liable to lose everything from climate change in the next 30 to 50 years, said Atiq Rahman, director of the Bangladesh Centre for Advanced Studies and a lead author of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's fourth assessment report.

"It's extreme events, like super-cyclones and the droughts, that will dominate in future, not the mean [average]," Rahman said. "It's the extra days of heat or cold or the intensity of the cyclones that will affect life most. Poor people cannot wait for global leadership on climate change – they are acting now. They are paying with their own lives, their own resources, their own efforts. They cannot wait. It is not a question of choice."

The trouble, Rahman told a conference on community adaptation last week in Dhaka, is that traditional knowledge about when to plant which crops, or to harvest, may not be sufficient. "Government recognises it is a very real threat. But what happens in the future will not be indicated by what has happened in the past. There is a new knowledge challenge," he says.

"Many know to plant more tolerant crops in hard years, but lack the drought-tolerant or salt-resistant seeds now needed to deal with worsening conditions. We need new technologies, funds and knowledge."

But, said the foreign minister, Dipu Moni, rich countries had not given the money they had pledged to help Bangladesh and other vulnerable countries adapt. "Climate change is real and happening," Moni said. "A 1C rise in temperatures for Bangladesh equates to a 10% loss of GDP. One event like Sidr can take 10 to 20 years to recover from and cost us billions of dollars. But we don't see the money coming.

"The people being affected are not the big banks but the poor. Our plight goes quite unnoticed. It does not make the rich countries produce trillions of dollars overnight. It's a shame, but we keep trying."

According to her ministry, Bangladesh has received $125m (£78m) so far, including $75mfrom the Department for International Development (DfID). "But [countries] have refused to [say] if the climate change money is taken out of [the existing] aid basket," said a senior civil servant. "We want clear guarantees that this money will be on top of official development assistance money. DfID has not clarified this is additional to ODA."

On the coast, Sultan pondered the changes. "The difference we've all seen in the weather in just a few years is great. Now we are getting sudden rains, we don't know when to expect them; the water levels rise faster, the erosion is greater and we are getting more salinity. We used to know when the seasons would change; now they are temperamental. We are resilient and determined to adapt to whatever happens, but it is hard."

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World Bank calls on countries to take urgent steps to protect 'natural capital'

Putting a monetary value on natural ecosystems is a key step on the road to 'green' economic growth, report says
Fiona Harvey 9 May 12;

Countries must take urgent steps to value their natural capital – such as forests, peatlands and coastal areas – as part of their economic development, the World Bank has urged.

Placing a monetary value on natural ecosystems is a key step on the road to "green" economic growth, according to the World Bank, which published a report on green growth on Wednesday at a conference in Seoul, Korea.

By making such estimates, countries can develop policies that ensure the pursuit of economic growth does not occur at the expense of future growth potential, by destroying natural assets such as water sources or polluting air, rivers and soil.

Rachel Kyte, vice president for sustainable development at the bank, said that the patterns on which economic growth had been achieved in recent decades were unsustainable, because of the amount of environmental degradation involved.

She said: "At current rates, we are in danger of undermining the basis on which growth has been achieved in the last decades. We do not believe that current growth patterns are sustainable."

She gave the example of the government of Thailand, which has moved towards more environmentally sustainable growth by attempting to place a value on its mangrove swamps. The exercise has been illuminating – chopping down mangrove for wood gives a return of less than $1,000 per hectare; removing the mangroves to make room for a shrimp farm might generate nearly $10,000 per hectare; but if the mangrove swamps were retained and their importance in providing a barrier against floods was taken into account, they could be valued at more than $16,000 per hectare.

Kyte acknowledged that few countries had so far taken steps to evaluate their natural systems in this way, and said the failure to do so had contributed to countries allowing their environment to be degraded in the pursuit of short term economic growth.

There may be increasing pressure to do so. For instance, rich countries providing aid to their poorer counterparts were likely to look more closely in the future at the ways in which developing country governments have attempted to preserve natural protections. The cost of natural disasters has risen sharply in recent years – last year was the worst ever – and if measures can be taken to protect against them by investing in natural ecosystems, donor countries may be increasingly reluctant to give funds to countries that have ignored such advice and suffered exacerbated disasters as a consequence.

But Kyte said such "conditionality" attached to aid should not be the focus of "natural capital accounting". She said that countries could benefit from looking beyond GDP as the sole measure of economic growth, though she insisted that GDP continue to be the key measure for many years. "It's very important that we are talking about growth – we are not talking about no growth, or about slowing growth, or about reversing growth. [For developing countries] that is a fundamental – they need growth rates of 6% plus of GDP per year, in order to achieve the things they need."

Some green NGOs and economists have suggested that countries should move away from ideas of economic growth, especially that measured by GDP, in order to conserve the environment. But Kyte said: "To talk about anything other than how to grow is a non-starter."

However, an alternative was to look at "GDP Plus", said Kyte, which would incorporate both traditional measures of GDP and measures of natural capital. This would include ways of valuing natural capital.

In 2010, India said it would become the first country in the world to publish accounts of its natural wealth as well as financial measurements such as GDP.

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