Best of our wild blogs: 18 May 12

26 May (Sat): Conserving our Biodiversity Symposium at the Festival of Biodiversity from Celebrating Singapore's BioDiversity!

Sharing our shores with MPA
from wild shores of singapore

USR on Labour Day
from Beauty of Fauna and Flora in Nature

Calling NUS Biology alumni: Join us to guide for four hours at the Festival of Biodiversity, 26-27 May 2012
from Otterman speaks

Change in timings for talks
from Festival of Biodiversity 2012

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Protest over condo plan for forest site

Upper Bukit Timah residents raise 'green' issue
Grace Chua Straits Times 18 May 12;

RESIDENTS of a clutch of housing developments in Upper Bukit Timah have banded together to protest against the development of what might be taller condominiums in their neighbourhood.

Last Friday, about 50 of them from Dairy Farm, Chestnut and Cashew estates showed up for a meeting in Dairy Farm Estate to discuss the issue; and a Facebook group set up for the cause has already garnered 62 'likes'.

The focus of their concern: A 1.86ha site between Petir Road and Dairy Farm Estate, bordered by Dairy Farm Road, and the 410 condominium units the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) estimates can be built there.

The site, now secondary forest, is on the URA's reserve list and developers can apply for it from next month.

These residents' first concern is that if property developers bite, the development there may tower over their low-rise homes and block their verdant views.

Their second concern: the construction will harm the plant and animal life and increase surface runoff into a canal, which already fills when it rains.

A third concern: A road planned in the area will cut into a canal-side jogging trail popular with residents at dawn and dusk.

Dairy Farm Estate resident Kevin Kho, a 51-year-old engineer spearheading the community's protest, said he saw the site on the reserve list of the Government Land Sales programme in March.

If a developer offers more than the URA's reserve price for the site, it will trigger its release and open up bidding to other developers as well.

This site aside, two other developments, Foresque and Tree House - both 24 storeys tall - are also coming up farther away.

Mr Kho said such developments would overshadow homes in the area and that the clearing of the secondary forest would threaten its animal life, which includes macaques and tree snakes.

Last month, his neighbour Ong Hui Guan, 48, wrote to their Member of Parliament Vivian Balakrishnan to ask for the jogging trail along the canal to be retained and the mature trees preserved.

Dr Balakrishnan replied that he would work with the Land Transport Authority to retain the trail; he also agreed with Mr Ong's call to connect the Dairy Farm area to the Green Corridor, the strip of former railway land, and to the Nature Reserve across the Bukit Timah Expressway.

The URA, which said it has received feedback from residents, told The Straits Times in an e-mail that it would take heed of their views and work with agencies and developers to ensure that the area is developed sensitively and in line with the Master Plan.

Chestnut Ville resident Juliet Kelly-Wong, 42, when asked whether she was worried that the construction would affect her property's value, said: 'No.'

Property consultant Donald Han of the HSR Property Group said future developments there could in fact boost property values; with more people, services such as kindergartens and coffee joints will spring up.

Institute of Policy Studies senior research fellow Gillian Koh said she would hesitate to call this an instance of Nimby, or the not-in-my-backyard syndrome.

Citing the recent opposition to the building of facilities for seniors in Toh Yi as an example, she said Nimby applies when something recognised as being for the public good is at stake, blocked by people out of self-interest.

Referring to the Dairy Farm residents' cause, she said: 'We have to let them help us understand their claims better, and if they are indeed anticipating things, to invite government engagement on the use of land in their neighbourhood. That might be a good thing. But if it's clear there is no public interest at stake, they'll have even less of a case to defend in taking up the state's time.'

The residents are to meet Dr Balakrishnan on June 9 to propose that property developers in the area be required to build green roofs and to retain a buffer of greenery in the upcoming developments.

Mr Ong said: 'I don't think most of us are opposed to development here. It is the way development takes place; that it ought to take into account our views.'

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Live dolphins export not sustainable in Solomon Islands

Radio Australia 17 May 12;

An independent assessment shows that the population of dolphins in Solomon Islands cannot sustain the export of live dolphins.
Live dolphins export not sustainable in Solomon Islands: SPWRC (Credit: ABC)

There's been a lot of controversy over the Solomon Islands government's policy which allows the export of 50 live dolphins each year.

The report by the South Pacific Whale Research Consortium just released in Honiara, says this quota is way beyond what the population of the species of dolphin concerned can sustain.

It says in Guadalcanal Province where most of the dolphins for export are captured, the sustainable quota is one dolphin in five years.

Report warns Solomons dolphin exports unsustainable
Radio Australia 18 May 12;

An independent assessment of Solomon Islands dolphin exports has warned the current quota is unsustainable.
Solomons Islands decision to continue exports of 50 live dolphins each year has been met with controversy. [File photo, Shark Bay Dolphin Project]

The Solomons' decision to continue exports of 50 live dolphins each year has been met with controversy.

A report by the South Pacific Whale Research Consortium, presented in Honiara, says that level of export is way beyond what the population can sustain.

It says the dolphin population in Guadalcanal Province, which has been the biggest source of dolphins for export, may have been depleted by as much as half - and recommend no more than one dolphin should be removed from there every five years.

The report also highlighted the number of dolphins that die during capture before they are exported, and recommended the government base the quota on the number of dolphins captured, rather than the number for export.

It also found that as dolphin populations in the region do not intermingle, individual populations should be managed separately.

The report was presented at a two day workshop in Honiara, which Solomons Islands Ministry of Environment says will lead to a national management plan for the dolphins.

The Solomon Island's Government is yet to react to the report.

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Plastic Bags Banned on All Hawaiian Islands

ENS 17 May 12;

HONOLULU, Hawaii, May 17, 2012 (ENS) - Hawaii has just become the first U.S. state to enact a statewide ban on plastic bags. While no law has yet been passed on the state level, each of the counties in the state has now enacted its own plastic bag ban, making the ban statewide in practice without a state law.

Honolulu Mayor Peter Carlisle Friday signed a bill banning the distribution of plastic bags by retailers beginning July 1, 2015. So Hawaii residents and visitors alike will have three years to learn to take reusable bags with them when they go shopping.

The City and County of Honolulu, which encompasses all of the island of Oahu, was the last of Hawaii's counties to enact a ban on single-use plastic bags at the point of sale. The Honolulu City Council approved the bill on a 7-1 vote on April 25.

Bans are already in place in Maui County, which includes the islands of Maui, Molokai, Lanai and Koho'olawe, and in Kauai County, which covers all of the island of Kauai.

Last December, Hawaii County, the Big Island's jurisdiction, passed a plastic bag ban that will take effect next year.

Under the new Honolulu law, plastic bag is defined as "a bag that is made from nonbiodegradable plastic, and is not specifically designed or manufactured for multiple re-use."

A business caught violating the measure would be fined between $100 and $1,000 for each day of violation.

As the Honolulu bill was working its way through the political process, consumers and environmentalists testified in support of the ban while some retailers wanted a ban that also would take into consideration paper bags.

Under the new law, plastic bags would still be allowed if they are distributed to package loose fruit, vegetables and nuts, or to contain or wrap specialty items such as frozen foods, prepared foods, beverages, flowers, laundry or live fish.

The many exceptions to the law include bags provided by pharmacists to contain prescription medications, newspaper bags for home delivery, door-hanger bags, and laundry, dry cleaning, or garment bags, including bags provided by hotels to guests to contain wet or dirty clothing.

Bags sold in packages containing multiple bags intended for use as garbage, pet waste, or yard waste bags are exempt, and so are bags used to transport chemical pesticides, drain-cleaning chemicals, or other caustic chemicals sold at the retail level, provided that this exemption is limited to one bag per customer.

The Oahu campaign was marked with some drama. On February 9, Kalani High School sophomore Diana Sellner and her friends staked 400 plastic grocery bags to the state Capitol lawn in Honolulu to call attention to the 400 million plastic bags now used each year on the island of Oahu.

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Tiger recovery efforts progressing, urgent action still needed to fight poaching

WWF 17 May 12;

New Delhi, India – Tiger range countries in their first meeting to review efforts on doubling the number of wild tigers by 2022, reported significant progress, but recognized that urgent and elevated action is still needed to halt poaching.

“Steady progress is being made towards meeting the goal of doubling wild tiger numbers,” said Mike Baltzer, Leader of WWF’s Tigers Alive Initiative. “But tiger range governments must urgently and seriously step up action to eliminate poaching if they do not want their investments to go to waste.”

In November 2010 at the “Tiger Summit” in St. Petersburg hosted by the Government of Russia and the World Bank, the 13 Tiger Range Governments and partners committed to doubling the number of wild tigers by 2022 (TX2). They presented the Global Tiger Recovery Program (GTRP), which represents the plans towards meeting this goal.

The meeting in New Delhi, held from 15-17 May 2012, was the first time since the Tiger Summit that senior government officials from all 13 countries have met to review progress on implementation of the GTRP and plan the next steps.

Before the meeting, WWF released results of a preliminary assessment of 63 legally protected areas in seven tiger range countries that showed only 22, or 35%, maintain WWF’s minimum standards of protection. This indicated that tigers in most of the protected areas are still very vulnerable to poaching.

Poaching of tigers, to feed consumer demand for their body parts and products, is now the main factor reversing the gains made by governments, donors and other partners working towards the 2022 goal. Nearly all tiger range countries spoke of the poaching problem and efforts they are taking on the ground to tackle it. These include strengthening capacity and introducing new, innovative law enforcement monitoring tools, such as M-STrIPES and SMART, to better manage protected areas with tigers. They also considered new approaches to reduce consumer demand for tiger derivatives.

“We are pleased that the approaches we recommended on demand reduction are being considered to support implementation of the GTRP,” said Sabri Zain, Director of Advocacy and Campaigns, TRAFFIC International. “It is critical that we implement new approaches to changing consumer behaviour if we are to successfully stem out poaching in the long run and therefore in achieving TX2.”

During the meeting, TRAFFIC also presented new figures from its latest research into the rising number of tiger part seizures taking place in Asia. With 53 seizures occurring each year, levels remain high. The analysis also identified persistent tiger trade hot-spots such as Kathmandu, Hanoi and the Russia/Northeast China border. It is essential that a tiger trade monitoring system be established as information such as this can assist enforcement efforts in the field where it is most needed.

In a sign indicating tiger range countries are increasingly working together to save the tiger across their borders, the meeting witnessed the signing of a bilateral agreement on trans-border cooperation between India and Nepal and another between India and Russia.

''This gathering of tiger range states shows that the momentum to save tigers is indeed building, but the pressure on the species continues,” said Ravi Singh, Secretary-General and CEO, WWF-India. “Coordinated anti-poaching measures across tiger range states are called for. These need to be scaled up and implemented urgently to achieve zero poaching."

WWF is supporting tiger range countries in their enforcement efforts through both training and helping to develop computer-based, law enforcement monitoring systems. It has also identified three actions tiger range governments can take immediately to launch an elevated operation towards Zero Poaching. These include identifying and delineating the most important sites requiring good protection from poaching, and ensuring these sites have sufficient numbers of enforcement staff who are well trained to monitor and improve their effectiveness by using monitoring systems. WWF also suggests that the police and judiciary need to help to ensure strict punishment on poaching and to actively engage local communities living adjacent to important tiger conservation areas.

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Myanmar mega-project may be on a road to nowhere

Reuters AsiaOne 17 May 12;

DAWEI - A simple, red sign on a white beach marks the start of a billion-dollar highway that will, one day, lead to a vast industrial project to be built close to impoverished Myanmar's border with Thailand.

But with years to go before it is up and running, the US$50 billion (S$63 billion) port and industrial complex in the southern city of Dawei is already struggling to look relevant as Myanmar emerges from untouchable state to Asia's latest Eldorado.

Conceived during the day's of military rule when Myanmar faced crippling sanctions, the project was at the time a very welcome offer of major foreign investment.

Officials insist that nothing has changed despite the rapidly growing list of investors looking hopefully at a rapidly changing Myanmar.

"It will go ahead," said Tin Maung Swe, an official from Myanmar's Home Ministry who works as liaison officer on the project which he says has the backing of reformist President Thein Sein.

"I'm staying here," he told a group of journalists on a rare trip to the site. "I can contact the president directly."

The visit was laid on this month by the project's developer, Italian-Thai Development Pcl, Thailand's biggest construction company, which first made a deal with the Myanmar Port Authority in 2008 when few investors would, or could, go near the country.

The tour coincided with the debt-laden company's struggle to tempt investors to fund the $8.5 billion it needs for the first phase, details of which it hopes to finalise by the end of the year.

Italian-Thai - the "Italian" refers to one of its founders 54 years ago - is pressing ahead and has started to relocate 30,000 people to make way for the 250 sq km (97 sq mile) complex which will allow in pollution-belching heavy industry that Thailand doesn't want.

Even the government has raised questions about Dawei. Energy Minister Than Htay told Reuters in January that the country could develop home-grown special economic zones more quickly, including one south of the commercial capital, Yangon, and another on the Bay of Bengal, where a China-Myanmar pipeline starts.

Slow progress on the project and Italian-Thai's own financial difficulties reinforce the scepticism of some analysts.

It hasn't helped confidence that the construction of a huge 4,000-megawatt coal-fired power plant destined for the zone was vetoed this year after an outcry over the environmental impact.

"It's very challenging for Italian-Thai," said Kasem Prunratanamala, head of research at CIMB Securities in Bangkok, who visited the site in February. "The company's balance sheet is not strong because it has a debt burden, which could raise doubts about the viability of the project."


But around the site, preparatory work is going ahead. In one big area of scrubland outside the zone, workers are clearing the land and knocking in support pillars for two-storey cement houses that villagers will be relocated to.

More than 1,800 families, most of them reliant on farming, will move there from five villages inside a 42 sq km zone set aside for heavy industry.

"We have already paid compensation for about 5 per cent of these areas," said Panno Kraiwanit, the Italian-Thai project manager in charge of relocation.

In total, about 30,000 people from 16 villages will move out by the end of next year, with Italian-Thai footing the bill to compensate them for housing and the loss of livelihoods from rubber, betel and cashew nut and other crops.

The company is also committed to providing infrastructure, power and water, schools and medical services for the new communities.


The company says that by the end of 2015 it will open a US$1 billion, four-lane highway to Thailand, a US$1.2 billion deep-sea port plus infrastructure including a 400-MW power plant.

Construction of the asphalt highway is expected to start early next year and could be expanded to eight lanes by 2017.

Italian-Thai has completed a 132 km (80-mile) dirt road linking Dawei with the Thai border in western Kanchanaburi province, said Anusorn Makornpan, project manager for the road.

It has also built a small, temporary port for local use and to bring in construction materials for the project.

"The priority is the road and deep-sea port, which should be opened by the end of 2015. How can you invest in a project without a road? Power and water will be ready the same year,"said Kiwamu Honda, a senior adviser to Italian-Thai.

Once the infrastructure is in place in 2015, the focus will switch to developing heavy industries including steel, oil and petrochemicals, Honda said, adding that the Japan Bank for International Cooperation and the World Bank were keen to provide support.

Asian investors including Japanese and South Korean firms were interested in investing in the steel project, he said.

Outside the project site, surrounded by thick jungle and mountains, Italian-Thai has to contend with the Karen National Union (KNU), an ethnic minority rebel group that dominates areas bordering the road to Kanchanaburi.

Here at least, the political climate in Myanmar is working in Italian-Thai's favour. The KNU has agreed a truce with the government in its fight for greater autonomy and in April became the first rebel group to begin talks on a political settlement.

The company had set up a committee with the KNU to soften the impact of the project on the environment, said Nophadol Briksuvand, an Italian-Thai environmental adviser.

"Everyone says it's risky for the company because they have to pay for everything. But it's a good opportunity for the company to be brave and invest," he said.

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South Africa Seizes 10 Rhino Horns In Arrest Of Vietnamese

Jon Herskovitz PlanetArk 17 May 12;

South African police have arrested a Vietnamese man suspected of being in illegal possession of 10 rhino horns, one elephant tusk and cash with a total value of nearly $3 million, an official said on Wednesday.

South Africa, the country home to the most rhinos in the world, has been losing almost two of the threatened animals a day to poachers who sell the horns in China and Southeast Asia for use by the affluent as a traditional medicine ingredient.

"There was a tip-off that we acted on speedily in fear that the suspect may try to dispose of incriminating items," police spokesman Vishnu Naidoo told Reuters.

The man, who has yet to be identified, is expected to appear in court on Thursday. He was arrested on Tuesday night in a Johannesburg-area apartment and the suspected contraband was seized.

Despite evidence showing rhino horns are useless as medicine, their street price is higher than gold.

(Editing by Ed Stoddard)

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UN talks take first steps on 2015 climate deal

AFP Yahoo News 18 May 12;

UN members on Thursday took their first steps in a marathon to negotiate a new global pact by 2015 that for the first time will place rich and poor under a common legal regime to tackle climate change.

Meeting in Bonn, the 195 parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) began wrangling over how to work towards the target enshrined at their landmark conference in Durban, South Africa, last December.

Maite Nkoana-Mashabane of South Africa, who presided over the maiden session, urged countries as they embarked on the long road to set aside "old and unhelpful negotiating practices," a reference to the bickering that typically dogs climate talks.

"Time is limited and we need to take very seriously the desperate calls of some of our brethren, especially the small island states," she said, referring to low-lying nations threatened by rising seas.

The inaugural session of the ad-hoc working group, webcast over the Internet, took place in UNFCCC talks at senior level running in the former German capital to May 25.

If all goes well, a new accord will be wrapped up in 2015 and take effect in 2020, placing rich and poor under the same legal roof for tackling greenhouse-gas emissions that drive climate change.

At present, legal constraints under the UN's climate banner are divided among developed and developing countries -- a format dating back to the 1990s that critics say is badly out of date.

Rich countries bear most of the historical responsibility for global warming today.

But they say it is unfair to shoulder the burden for fixing the problem in the future.

Their places in the league table of emitters are being taken by emerging giants such as China, India and Brazil, which are massively burning coal, oil and gas as they battle to rise out of poverty.

Small-island states and African countries on Thursday sounded a loud alarm over the "ambition gap" -- the difference between pledges for cutting emissions and what is needed to avoid dangerous warming.

Scientist say current emissions are stoking possible warming of four degrees Celsius (7.2 degrees Fahrenheit), twice the 2 C (3.6 F) goal set by UNFCCC parties in 2011 as a safe maximum.

"The inadequate mitigation pledges... risk temperature increases that will have catastrophic impacts worldwide, and particularly for Africa," said Seyni Nafo, spokesman for the African group.

Speaking for small island states, Marlene Moses of Nauru warned that the "ambitions gap" was now so wide that by 2015, the negotiations could be dealing with how to relocate people from countries that had become inhabitable.

So far, the 2015 canvas is blank, except for the requirement that it meets the UNFCCC principle of "common but differentiated responsibilities." This term distinguishes between the demands that should be placed on poorer and richer economies respectively.

Who will curb their emissions and by how much, the pact's compliance regime and even its legal status are among the many issues that will have to be agreed in a hugely complex, multi-track arena.

Developing countries are demanding a show of goodwill from rich economies.

They want the European Union and its allies to renew and deepen their vows under the Kyoto Protocol, the world's only treaty that specifies cuts in greenhouse gases.

In contrast, the United States, which refuses to ratify Kyoto, is leading the charge for emerging giants to beef up their emissions pledges and open their vows to scrutiny.

In a sign of the tussles ahead, the UNFCCC said the first meeting of the board of the Green Climate Fund (GCF) -- an initiative designed to channel up to 100 billion dollars a year in aid to poorer countries -- had been postponed.

The May 31 meeting has been delayed "pending finalisation of the process for nominations" from countries seeking a place on the 24-seat panel, it said.

"The next window to meet will be the last week in June or first week in July, in Geneva," said Christiana Figueres, the UNFCCC's executive secretary.

"There is great enthusiasm from countries to be represented on the Board. While I would have liked to see the Board get down to work immediately, a short postponement to reach full agreement on its membership means it can launch smoothly and push ahead with the tasks before it."

The GCF was launched at the ministerial-level meeting in Durban. Germany, Mexico, Namibia, Poland, South Korea and Switzerland are bidding to host the fund.

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