Best of our wild blogs: 21 May 12

Latest Green Jobs in Singapore [14 - 20 May 2012]
from Green Business Times

Meet Ms Soctopus and friends at the Festival of Biodiversity!
from wild shores of singapore

yellow-vented bulbul @ ketam quarry @ ubin - may2012
from sgbeachbum

Updates on the Olive-backed Sunbirds’ nesting – A casualty
from Bird Ecology Study Group

Giant Asian Pond Turtle
from Monday Morgue

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Make it green for mountain bikers

Letter from Leonard Lim Today Online 21 May 12;

THE outdoors are like a second home to me and so too for many others. Unfortunately, access to most of Singapore's lush nature reserves, such as the Central Catchment Nature Reserve, has recently been cut off for mountain bikers.

The reason given is that mountain bikers are destroying the nature reserves. This misconception has resulted in an unnecessary show of force by the National Parks Board, whose officers are staking out these areas, imposing fines and even confiscating bikes.

As a mountain biker, whenever I cycle in the great outdoors, I make sure to stuff my empty food wrappers and drink bottles/cans into my pockets and backpack.

If the concern is about litter or destruction of the terrain, then fine the culprits instead of banning an entire group. If a motorcyclist litters in a public car park, do we then ban all motorcyclists from that car park?

The preservation of nature is everyone's responsibility, not just that of NParks. As far as I have seen, no mountain biker has wilfully sought to destroy the trails or leave trash behind.

Mountain biking is a way to keep fit and also helps to keep our youth out of trouble. Not everyone has the money and/or time to go to Malaysia, where land is vast, or Pulau Ubin's biking trails.

Cycling in our own backyard is the closest piece of heaven mountain bikers would have. But the restrictions in Singapore are getting excessive.

Mountain biking more damaging than hiking

Letter from Michael J Vandeman Today Online 23 May 12;

I REFER to the letter "Make it green for mountain bikers" (May 21). It is obvious that mountain biking is much more damaging than hiking. The alleged scientific articles supporting mountain biking are junk science.

Bicycles should not be allowed in any natural area. There is no right to mountain biking. In the United States, that was settled in a federal court in 1994.

Mountain bikers have exactly the same access as everyone else, on foot. Why is that not good enough?

A favourite myth is that mountain biking is no more harmful to wildlife, people and the environment than hiking. This is not true. I read the research and found that of the seven studies cited, all were written by mountain bikers.

In every case, they misinterpreted their own data to come to the conclusion they favoured.

They also avoided mentioning another scientific study, which did not favour mountain biking and came to the opposite conclusions.

Those were experimental studies. Two other studies used a survey design, which is incapable of comparing hiking with mountain biking. Mountain bikers often cite them, but scientifically, they are worthless.

Mountain biking accelerates erosion, creates V-shaped ruts, kills small animals and plants on and next to the trail, drives wildlife and other trail users out of the areas and teaches children that rough treatment of nature is okay. What is good about that?

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Environmental sciences at NTU?

Tan Weizhen Today Online 21 May 12;

KANDY (Sri Lanka) - The Nanyang Technological University (NTU) is studying the possibility of starting a new school in environmental sciences within the next three years.

Its president, Professor Bertil Andersson, told reporters last week that internally, discussions are at an "advanced" stage.

He hopes the new school can take in 100 undergraduates annually.

However, the university has not discussed the matter with the Ministry of Education, which will have to give the approval for the new school, said Prof Andersson.

He was speaking to reporters on the sidelines of a trip to Sri Lanka to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the University of Peradeniya in environmental science and engineering.

Prof Andersson said there is a need to educate people on environmental problems, including the causes. "In environmental engineering, it is actually solving the problems, but for environmental sciences, it's more to (go) upstream to look at the cause of the problems," he said.

On the proposal to start a new school, Prof Andersson said: "The whole world is starting to address more and more of environmental issues, and Singaporeans cannot be the only one in the world that does not have any indication into tomorrow's challenges. I mean, tomorrow's challenges is not only banking and such."

Singapore, he pointed out, is not immune to issues such as ash clouds as a result of volcanoes in Indonesia.

There is also a petrochemical industry here, he said.

He also noted that NTU currently has two research centres of excellence in earth sciences and bio-fields.

Prof Andersson said he hoped that the world's "best scientists" from these centres will take charge of the new "inter-disciplinary" school.

Professor Ng Wun Jern, executive director of the Nanyang Environment and Water Research Institute, added: "The sciences confer a level of understanding that is very useful when we move to translation and developing solutions.

"At most academic institutions, it is either one or the other, but at NTU, we now have a chance to develop both ... then it makes for a very powerful combination."

In January this year, it was announced that the Yale-NUS College will offer a Master of Environment Sciences.

However, currently, there are no undergraduate programmes in this field.

On the MOU, Prof Andersson said it will pave the way for greater research collaboration on environment science and engineering projects between the two universities - for instance, wastewater treatment, water quality management and sanitation.

NTU helps to clean lake in Sri Lanka
Project uses canna plant to get rid of pollutants in water
Straits Times 21 Apr 12;

Three plots of "floating wetlands" (above, foreground) were installed to filter out pollutants and silt at an inlet to Kandy Lake in central Sri Lanka. Eventually, 100 of them will be installed. Such wetlands are also used elsewhere in the world, including Singapore and the United States. ST PHOTO: LIN ZHAOWEI

KANDY (Sri Lanka) - As a teenager, he would quicken his pace when he passed the polluted Kandy Lake and the Mid-Canal on his way to school.

Some 20 years later, when Dr Shameen Jinadasa returned to his hometown after his postgraduate studies in Singapore and Japan, he decided to do something about it.

With the help of researchers from the Nanyang Technological University (NTU), the 38-year-old embarked on an ambitious project to clean up the 18ha lake in the sacred city - a Unesco World Heritage Site.

'When I walked past the lake in my younger days, I sometimes saw dead fish and algae formations in Kandy Lake, and the Mid-Canal was also very dirty,' said Dr Shameen, who started teaching at the University of Peradeniya in Kandy in 2010.

With a growing residential population and greater commerce, the waterway has become a dumping ground for anything from bottles to animal parts from the slaughterhouse. 'I thought that it's not good for the environment and our health,' he told Singapore reporters who visited the lake as part of a trip last week sponsored by NTU's Nanyang Environment and Water Research Institute (NEWRI).

Since 2010, he has been working with NEWRI to find a cost-effective solution. They came up with 'floating wetlands' that look like ornamental floating flowerbeds.

The way it works is that each 'wetland', measuring 1.8m by 1.2m, is covered with plants that help to trap river sediment and absorb pollutants such as nitrogen.

Dr Shameen and his team from the University of Peradeniya used cannas as the natural 'filter'. The flowering plant, native to the region, was found in experiments to absorb up to 60 per cent of pollutants within four days. It is also pleasing to the eye - an important consideration because the lake is one of the country's top tourist spots.

Currently, three pilot plots are floating near an inlet at the lake's south-east. Another 17 will be up within the next three to four months. Eventually, 100 in total will be installed, costing about $40,000.

The NTU-University of Peradeniya project is funded by the philanthropic Lien Foundation, under a fellowship programme for researchers working on projects to improve water, sanitation and energy efficiency in less developed parts of Asia.

Successful candidates work with NEWRI specialists for up to six months to develop solutions. Six other projects are under way, including one in Myanmar to set up clean water systems at Inle Lake.

The Kandy Lake clean-up will be a gradual process. Professor Ng Wun Jern, executive director of NEWRI, said the plants in the three pilot plots look extremely healthy.

'Over time, when the plants don't seem so healthy any more, we know that the water is much cleaner,' he said.

The project is expected to benefit all 150,000 Kandy residents because water from the lake and Mid-Canal flows into the Mahaweli River, the source of their water.

'So if the water in the river is clean, the government will spend less money to treat the water,' said Dr Shameen. 'This will mean less expensive water bills for residents.'


When I walked past the lake in my younger days, I sometimes saw dead fish and algae formations in Kandy Lake. ? Dr Shameen Jinadasa
Background story

NTU-Sri Lankan varsity tie-up

NANYANG Technological University (NTU) students will benefit from more overseas field work opportunities, with a new tie-up with a top university in Sri Lanka.

Last Monday, a memorandum of understanding was signed between NTU and the University of Peradeniya in Sri Lanka's Kandy city. It will provide for staff and student collaborations in the area of environmental engineering.

NTU president Bertil Anderssen told reporters that non-engineering students - such as those from humanities and media studies - will have a chance to participate in the tie-up, as environmental issues have to be addressed from many perspectives. 'It's important to know that there is a cultural context in addition to the technological context,' he said.

The upcoming Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine at NTU could be involved as well, as contaminated water is among the biggest killers in the world, he added.

Prof Anderssen emphasised the need for students to have hands-on experience in addition to class and laboratory work. 'When you talk about the environment, you have to have a real case... Sri Lanka is a fantastic student laboratory,' he said.

He also revealed that he is thinking of setting up a school for environmental and earth science at NTU, hopefully in the next three years. This is because he expects demand for expertise in such areas to rise. He said: 'Singapore has all the chances in the world to create an environmental industry, and have environmental start-ups.'

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Deepwater port near Batam set to rival Singapore

Work to begin next year on major transshipment centre for Indonesia
Zakir Hussain Straits Times 21 May 12;

JAKARTA - Work on a new deepwater port for container ships on an island between Batam and Bintan is set to begin next year, creating a potential rival to Singapore's port.

The port, on Tanjung Sauh, aims to be a major transshipment centre for Indonesia, and is part of the country's overhaul of its transport infrastructure to cope with growing domestic demand.

It also looks set to be a direct competitor to Singapore's port, as it aims to capture shipping to and from East Asia.

'They should not just be a centre for transshipment cargo to Indonesia but to other regions, and it will be good if they can keep costs low,' said Mr Wijaya Surya, managing director of Hong Kong-based shipping advisory and consultancy company Aptus Maritime.

As an alternative to Singapore, Mr Wijaya said, 'turnaround time will be a key factor'.

Indonesia Port Corporation (IPC) chief executive Richard J. Lino said the Tanjung Sauh port will more likely 'complement' Singapore.

Container traffic to and from Indonesia is also set to pick up, he said, adding that Singapore 'will also reap the benefits' from a more vibrant Batam.

Mr Lino told The Straits Times that the port's initial 2km of wharves will target handling four million TEUs - twenty-foot equivalent units, the size of a container - when ready around 2015. He projects the new facility will require an initial investment of seven trillion rupiah (S$967 million).

It will be part of a 'sea corridor' that will also see the ports of Medan, Jakarta, Surabaya, Makassar and Sorong form six large ports that can serve as transit points for smaller feeder ports all across the archipelago.

Vice-minister for Transport Bambang Susantono said this corridor is a private undertaking that will reshape how goods are moved in the region.

For example, smaller ports across the archipelago may see more frequent services to the nearest hubs like Batam and Medan.

Mr Lino sees Tanjung Sauh as an ideal location as almost no dredging or reclamation is needed. And it will have room to grow, being across the island from the existing port at Batu Ampar.

Batam officials back the project, which they hope will revive the island's moribund economy. The island is already a special economic zone.

The move also comes as Jakarta's port, Tanjung Priok, will see more than US$2.5 billion (S$3.2 billion) pumped in to triple its present annual capacity to over 18 million TEUs by 2023.

Still, some wonder whether the Batam project will take off on time, given the country's history of delayed and aborted projects.

French company CMA-CGM won a tender to develop a smaller-scale container terminal at Batu Ampar in 2005, but the deal fell through.

Mr Teo Siong Seng, managing director of Pacific International Lines, said Singapore's ports will always face competition from ports in the region, with shippers weighing cost against quality.

Shipowners will want to go to the ports with the best facilities, he said. 'Competition should be welcomed,' he added. 'It will only push us to be more efficient.'

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Indonesia: Ivory Poachers Suspected in Aceh

Jakarta Globe 19 May 12;

Environmentalists say the discovery of another decapitated elephant in Aceh Jaya suggests that ivory poaching in the area was not only still happening, but might be on the rise.

The Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi) urged authorities to do what they can to stop the illegal practice.

“If nothing is done, it will result in the extinction of the protected animal,” said T.M. Zulfikar, Walhi’s Aceh executive director.

On the black market, a one-meter-long piece of ivory costs between Rp 250 million and Rp 600 million ($27,000 and $65,000).

Aceh Jaya forest ranger Mukhtar said the male elephant recenly discovered in Pante Kuyun village was poisoned and its body had turned blue. This was the second incident of a poisoned elephant in Aceh Jaya in the past month.

“It was no different than the female elephant that died on April 30 in Krueng Ayon village. This wild animal was poisoned,” Mukhtar said of the recent find.

While initial assumptions were that the deaths were due to elephant-human conflicts, the fact that they were decapitated suggested otherwise, said Taf Haikal, an activist from Aceh’s Western and Southern Coastal Caucus, .

“The death of the male elephant and its missing ivory are evidence that ivory poaching may be happening not only in Aceh Jaya, but in all Aceh forests,” Taf said.

He said that poaching of elephants was not a mainstream activity and that the crime was being committed by a small minority for the purpose of ivory trading.

Taf urged the police, the Natural Resource Conservation Office (BKSDA) and other parties to investigate the death of the Sumatran elephants and to establish whether their deaths are linked to an ivory-trading mafia.

“The death and decapitation of the male elephant was likely caused by poachers,” Taf said.

Aceh Jaya District Legislative Council (DPRK) chairman Hasan Ahmad also called on parties to settle the elephant-human conflict within the hinterlands community.

“We hope all parties can overcome the elephant-human conflicts so that the animal can remain protected, and residents can earn a living peacefully,” Hasan said.

Hasan said the government has alocated a large sum of money to overcome elephant-human conflict in the Ulu Masen area. The tensions have existed for years, especially in Aceh Jaya.

Taf also urged the government to find a solution to the animal-human conflict in the area.


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Malaysia: Captured elephant sent off to Belum State Park

S. Ista Kyra New Straits Times 21 May 12;

JUMBO TASK: Efforts ongoing to move others to reduce conflicts with villagers

SUNGAI SIPUT: A wild elephant captured near Kampung Jalong here was relocated to the Royal Belum State Park yesterday.

The female elephant, believed to be between 10 and 12 years old and weighing 1.5 tonnes, was transported by lorry on the five-hour journey at 5pm, a week after it was caught near the perimeter of the Piah Forest Reserve.

A team of 27 men from the state Wildlife and National Parks Department (Perhilitan) and National Elephant Conservation Centre took two hours and used two tame elephants to lure the wild pachyderm onto the lorry, 300m from where it was caught.

The elephant was from a herd of nine other elephants spotted in the area two weeks ago.

Head of the Elephant Unit under the National Elephant Conservation Centre, Nasharuddin Othman, said the capture was part of efforts to reduce conflicts between elephants and people in the area.

Nasharuddin said since January, there had been a rise in complaints from residents living in Kampung Jalong and Kampung Jaya Setia nearby, who suffered losses after their crops in their plantations were destroyed by roaming wild elephants.

"We will continue with our efforts to capture them to reduce the number of elephants in the area.

"By doing so, we hope to also lessen the extent of damages to crops and villages nearby," he said when met at the site here.

He added that work to build an 18km electric fence had started to prevent wild elephants from the Piah Forest Reserve straying to nearby villages, smallholdings and plantations.

He said the captured elephant was a "sub-adult" and looked to be in good health.

Nasharuddin said the animal, which had been subdued with tranquilliser to aid in relocation operation, was treated for superficial flesh wounds and fitted with a radio collar before being released.

"Since it is a young female, we believe it would be easily accepted by existing herd elephants in the Belum forest reserve."

Nasharuddin said the previous operations to capture elephant in the area was carried out in 2008.

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Vietnam: Elusive 'Asian Unicorn' Faces Extinction

Andrea Mustain Yahoo News 21 May 12;

This month marks the 20th anniversary of a spectacular day for zoologists. Two decades ago, in May 1992, scientists announced the discovery of a new species — the saola — living in the lush mountain forests that straddle the Vietnam-Laos border.

It was the first large mammal discovered since the 1930s.

Yet celebrations are muted in light of the elusive species' plight; the saola, also known as the "Asian unicorn," is likely fast disappearing, conservationists warned in an announcement today, and they say there could be only 200, or even as few as just several dozen of the animals left on the planet.

The saola is a small, horned animal that resembles a strange antelope hybrid, but is more closely related to a type of wild cow.

Vietnamese scientists first identified the new species only through the bizarre, horned skulls that villagers living near the animal's range had collected.

Stark markings on the face, long, graceful horns and a tufted tail lend to the animal's mystique. [See rare photos of saola.]

But according to Barney Long, an Asian species expert for the conservation organization WWF, the creature got its mythical moniker more for its habits than its looks.

"It's so rare to see that it would almost be like seeing a unicorn," Long told OurAmazingPlanet in 2011, when a protected area for saola was created in Vietnam.

These secretive ungulates wander the steamy green forests of South Asia's Annamite Mountains, where poaching is rampant. Although saola themselves are not prized in the wildlife trade or for their meat, many of their neighbors are.

"Saola are caught largely as bycatch — like the tuna and dolphin scenario," William Robichaud, coordinator of the Saola Working Group, said in a statement.

And although the rare creatures are caught and killed by snares, scientists have never observed them in the wild. The rare saola that has been captured alive has quickly died.

"When they're in captivity, they seem to act extremely tame, and they're very open to having people come up to them and touch them," Long said, but explained that their sweet demeanor is likely a sign of extreme stress. "The animal is freaking out," he said.

Conservationists said it's encouraging that saola are not a direct target for poachers, and offered hope that the critically endangered animals can be saved.

"But we still need to act," Robichaud said. "One of the rarest and most distinctive large animals in the world has been quietly slipping toward extinction through complacency."

Saola still a mystery 20 years after its spectacular debut
WWF 21 May 12;

Two decades after the sensational discovery of a new ungulate species called the saola, this rare animal remains as mysterious and elusive as ever.

WWF, the Saola Working Group (SWG) of the IUCN Species Survival Commission and the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) warn the species is sliding towards extinction because of intensive hunting pressure and poor reserve management.

A cousin of cattle but recalling an antelope in appearance, the saola was discovered in 1992 by a joint team from Vietnam’s Ministry of Forestry and WWF surveying the forests of Vu Quang, near Vietnam's border with Laos. The team found a skull with unusual long, straight horns in a hunter's home and knew it was something extraordinary. The find proved to be the first large mammal new to science in more than 50 years and one of the most spectacular zoological discoveries of the 20th century.

Twenty years on, little is still known about the saola’s ecology or behaviour. In 2010, villagers in the central Laos province of Bolikhamxay captured a saola, but the animal died several days later. Prior to that, the last confirmed record of a saola in the wild was in 1999 from camera-trap photos in Bolikhamxay.

“Saola are extremely secretive and very seldom seen,” said Nick Cox, Manager of WWF-Greater Mekong’s Species Programme. “While they inhabit a very restricted range, there is still no reported sighting of a saola in the wild by a scientist, and the handful of saola that have been taken into captivity have not survived.”

The difficulty in detecting the animal has prevented scientists from making a precise population estimate. “If things are good, there may be a couple of hundred saola out there,” said William Robichaud, Coordinator of the Saola Working Group. “If things are bad, the population could now be down in the tens.”

Greatest threat comes from illegal hunting

While development is encroaching in the saola’s forest habitat, the greatest threat comes from illegal hunting. Saola are caught in wire snares set by hunters to catch other animals, such as sambar deer, muntjac deer and civets, which are largely destined for the lucrative wildlife trade, driven by traditional medicine demand in China and restaurant and food markets in Vietnam and Laos.

“Paradoxically, the saola seems to be one of the few vertebrates in the Annamites without a high price on its head,” added Robichaud. “Saola are caught largely as bycatch – like the tuna and dolphin scenario.”

Since the discovery of the saola, Vietnam and Laos have established a network of protected areas in the animal’s core range and some reserves are pursuing innovative approaches to tackle rampant poaching. In the Saola Nature Reserve in Vietnam’s Thua Thien Hue Province, a new approach to forest guard co-management, supported by WWF, is delivering good results. Since February 2011, the newly established team of forest guards patrolling the reserve have removed more than 12,500 snares and close to 200 illegal hunting and logging camps.

“The establishment of critical reserves by the governments of Vietnam and Laos is to be commended,” said Dr. Barney Long, Asian species expert for WWF-US. “However, without increasing efforts to adopt new approaches to manage the protection of saola habitat through targeted snare removal, these protected areas will be little more than lines drawn on a map.”

“If hunting levels can be significantly reduced, we are optimistic about the species' prospects,” said Chris Hallam, WCS-Laos’ Conservation Planning Advisor. “This will require funds for more patrol boots on the ground in saola areas, developing positive incentives for its conservation, and ultimately reducing consumer demand for wildlife meat and products.”

Efforts to save the saola have reached a greater level of urgency since another of Vietnam's iconic species, the Vietnamese Javan rhino, was confirmed extinct in 2011 after the battle to save the last individual was lost to poachers.

“The saola has made it to its twentieth anniversary, but it won’t have many more anniversaries unless urgent action is taken,” added Hallam.

An icon for biodiversity in the Annamite mountain range

The saola is an icon for biodiversity in the Annamite mountain range that runs along the border of Vietnam and Laos. This biodiversity hotspot boasts an incredible diversity of rare species, with many found nowhere else on the planet. In addition to the discovery of the saola, two new species of deer, the large-antlered muntjac and the Truong Son muntjac, were uncovered in the Annamite’s rugged, evergreen forests in 1994 and 1997 respectively.

“The lack of significant demand for saola in the wildlife trade gives great hope for its conservation,” said Robichaud. “But we still need to act. One of the rarest and most distinctive large animals in the world has been quietly slipping toward extinction through complacency.”

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Vietnam: A lot of rare fish species in danger

VietNamNet Bridge 20 May 12;

Anh Vu (Semilabeo notabilis), Mang (Chanos chanos), Ca Lo, (Cyprinus multitaeniata), ram xanh (Altigena lemassoni Pellegrin et Chevey) and many other rare precious fishes have been named in the Vietnam’s Red Book, because their existence has been threatened.

Dat Viet cited a report by Dr Mai Dinh Yen, Deputy Chair of the Vietnam Ecology Association, as reported that the wild fish catching volume on the Gam River was about 300 tons per annum. However, the exploited output has been decreasing sharply.

A survey conducted by the Institute of Ecology and Biological Resources also found out that Anh Vu fish (Semilabeo notabilis), a kind of precious fish, has still been living on the Gam river, but the volume is very modest. The output of the fish has dropped by 70 percent in comparison with the exploited volume in 1970 or 1971.

Besides, Ca Lang (Hemibagrus elongatus), Ca Chien (Bagarius) and ram xanh (Altigena lemassoni Pellegrin et Chevey), which all have high economic value, have also got exhausted because of the massive exploitation.

If going along the riverside in the upper area (Bao Lac and Bao Lam districts of Cao Bang province), one would see a lot of fishing boats with different tools for catching fish, waiting on every section of river for the opportunities to catch up fish.

Local residents would use everything they can to catch fish, from net, cages to electricity and chemicals.

Dr Le Hung Anh from a team which is making a research work on the diversification of the aquatic creatures on the Gam River in the northwest of Vietnam, said that the quality of the Gam river’s water has been downgrading seriously due to the afforestation, gold and sand exploitation, hydropower plants’ water reservoir building and the urban area development.

A lot of rare and precious fishes on the river, which once brought big benefits to local residents, have got exhausted because of the people’s industrial production.

The Gam River originates from China. Its total length is 297 kilometers, while the section or river running across the Vietnamese territory (Cao Bang, Ha Giang and Tuyen Quang provinces) is 217 kilometers.

Though scientists can anticipate the bad consequences of the activities of exploiting sand, chopping the forest on the environment, there have been not many research works about the aquatic creatures on the Gam River and the operation of the Tuyen Quang hydropower plant water reservoir recently. The documents about the habitat, the spawning grounds, and the living areas of precious fishes are still lacking. Especially, there has been no survey about the living environment of the Gam River in the Na Hang and Chiem Hoa areas after the water reservoir was set up.

Scientists have pointed out that the protection and management over the natural resources on the Gam River and Tuyen Quang hydropower reservoir system have not got the appropriate attention.

Local authorities have geared up in their plans to rescue and protect rare precious fishes in their localities.

Local newspapers have quoted Nguyen Thi Ngoc Trinh, Director of the An Giang provincial Aquatic Breeder Center, as saying that the center has successfully created 30,000 ca ho (Catlocarpio siamensis) individuals, paving the way for the protection and conservation of the rare fish.

A Ca ho, with white and delicious meat, weights 50-100 kilos. The products are selling at 400,000 per kilo. However, the supply still cannot satisfy the demand, and the products are not available on the market because they are collected all by restaurants and hotels.

C. V

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Mowing down seagrass meadows will cut loose carbon

Michael Slezak New Scientist 20 May 12;

They may be trickier than trees for environmental protesters to chain themselves to, but it turns out that seagrass ecosystems hold as much carbon per hectare as the world's forests – and are now among its most threatened ecosystems.

In the past century, 29 per cent of seagrass has been destroyed globally", mostly by water pollution, dredging for new developments, and climate change. With seagrass meadows disappearing at an annual rate of about 1.5 per cent, 299 million tonnes of carbon are also released back into the environment each year, according to research published this week in Nature Geoscience (DOI: 10.1038/ngeo1477).

Piecing together old and new data from 946 seagrass meadows around the world, an international team of researchers estimated that seagrass captures 27.4 million tonnes of carbon each year, burying it in the soil below. And unlike forests that hold carbon for about 60 years then release it again, seagrass ecosystems have been capturing and storing carbon since the last ice age.

That means that up to 19.9 billion tonnes of carbon are currently stored within seagrass plants and the top metre of soil beneath them – more than twice the Earth's global emissions from fossil fuels in 2010. If the seagrass dies, all of that could be released into the environment, says marine ecologist and study author James Fourqurean from Florida International University in Miami, US.

"These are scary numbers," says Gary Kendrick, a co-investigator on the project from University of Western Australia at Crawley, Australia. "It would put us very much into the extreme of greenhouse situations very very quickly."

This grim outlook is reinforced in a study published at the same time in Nature Climate Change (DOI: 10.1038/nclimate1533). Gabriel Jorda from the Mediterranean Institute for Advanced Studies in Esporles, Spain, found the warming climate is eradicating the Mediterranean seagrass Posidonia oceanica, which is likely to be extinct before 2050. That is particularly worrying because Posidonia oceanica holds about 10 times as much carbon as most other species.

"It does look like there's going to be a global tipping point for many of these environments," Kendrick says.

Seagrass physiologist Peter Ralph from the University of Technology Sydney in Australia, who was not involved in the research, said continued destruction of seagrass meadows could ultimately "release the genie from the bottle".

"Destroy them and we're going to release a lot of carbon that we have assumed is sequestered and tied up for a very long period of time," says Ralph.

Seagrass stores carbon like trees
The University of Western Australia Science Alert 22 May 12;

Researchers at The University of Western Australia have contributed to the first global analysis of carbon stored in seagrasses which shows they can hold as much carbon as the world's temperate and tropical forests.

The study 'Seagrass Ecosystems as a Globally Significant Carbon Stock,' published in the journal Nature Geoscience provides further evidence of the important role the world's declining seagrass meadows have to play in mitigating climate change.

Results gathered from 3640 observations of 946 distinct seagrass meadows across the globe show that coastal seagrass beds store up to 83,000 metric tons of carbon per square kilometre, mostly in the soils below them. In comparison, a typical land forest stores around 30,000 metric tons per square kilometre.

The research also estimates that, although seagrass meadows occupy less than 0.2 per cent of the world's oceans, they are responsible for more than 10 per cent of all ‘blue carbon' stores buried annually in the ocean and rival carbon stores in the extensive peat deposits of mangroves.

Data sets as deep as one metre were concentrated in Florida Bay, USA; the Spanish coast of the Western Mediterranean; and Shark Bay, Western Australia. The greatest concentration of carbon found was in the Mediterranean where seagrass meadows stored carbon many metres deep. According to the study, seagrass meadows store ninety per cent of their carbon in the soil and continue to build on this indefinitely.

UWA Professors Gary Kendrick and Carlos Duarte contributed to the study led by Dr James Fourqurean, a professor of biology at Florida International University.

"These results show that seagrass meadows are key sites for carbon storage and probably are far more important as carbon dioxide sinks than we realised," Professor Kendrick said.

Seagrasses are among the world's most threatened ecosystems. Around 29 per cent of all historic seagrass meadows have been destroyed, mainly due to dredging and degradation of water quality and a further 1.5 per cent of seagrass meadows are lost each year. The study estimates that emissions from destruction of seagrass meadows can potentially emit up to 25 per cent as much carbon as deforestation on land.

"The good news is if seagrass meadows are restored they can effectively and rapidly reestablish lost carbon sinks and stores as well providing a range of other valuable ecosystem benefits, including water quality protection, and as an important biodiversity habitat," Professor Kendrick said.

Seagrasses Can Store as Much Carbon as Forests
ScienceDaily 23 May 12;

Seagrasses are a vital part of the solution to climate change and, per unit area, seagrass meadows can store up to twice as much carbon as the world's temperate and tropical forests.

So report researchers publishing a paper this week in the journal Nature Geoscience.

The paper, "Seagrass Ecosystems as a Globally Significant Carbon Stock," is the first global analysis of carbon stored in seagrasses.

The results demonstrate that coastal seagrass beds store up to 83,000 metric tons of carbon per square kilometer, mostly in the soils beneath them.

As a comparison, a typical terrestrial forest stores about 30,000 metric tons per square kilometer, most of which is in the form of wood.

The research also estimates that, although seagrass meadows occupy less than 0.2 percent of the world's oceans, they are responsible for more than 10 percent of all carbon buried annually in the sea.

"Seagrasses only take up a small percentage of global coastal area, but this assessment shows that they're a dynamic ecosystem for carbon transformation," said James Fourqurean, the lead author of the paper and a scientist at Florida International University and the National Science Foundation's (NSF) Florida Coastal Everglades Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER) site.

The Florida Coastal Everglades LTER site is one of 26 such NSF LTER sites around the world in ecosystems from forests to tundra, coral reefs to barrier islands.

"Seagrasses have the unique ability to continue to store carbon in their roots and soil in coastal seas," said Fourqurean. "We found places where seagrass beds have been storing carbon for thousands of years."

The research was led by Fourqurean in partnership with scientists at the Spanish High Council for Scientific Investigation, the Oceans Institute at the University of Western Australia, Bangor University in the United Kingdom, the University of Southern Denmark, the Hellenic Center for Marine Research in Greece, Aarhus University in Denmark and the University of Virginia.

Seagrass meadows, the researchers found, store ninety percent of their carbon in the soil--and continue to build on it for centuries.

In the Mediterranean, the geographic region with the greatest concentration of carbon found in the study, seagrass meadows store carbon in deposits many meters deep.

Seagrasses are among the world's most threatened ecosystems. Some 29 percent of all historic seagrass meadows have been destroyed, mainly due to dredging and degradation of water quality. At least 1.5 percent of Earth's seagrass meadows are lost every year.

The study estimates that emissions from destruction of seagrass meadows can potentially emit up to 25 percent as much carbon as those from terrestrial deforestation.

"One remarkable thing about seagrass meadows is that, if restored, they can effectively and rapidly sequester carbon and reestablish lost carbon sinks," said paper co-author Karen McGlathery, a scientist at the University of Virginia and NSF's Virginia Coast Reserve LTER site.

The Virginia Coast Reserve and Florida Coastal Everglades LTER sites are known for their extensive seagrass beds.

Seagrasses have long been recognized for their many ecosystem benefits: they filter sediment from the oceans; protect coastlines against floods and storms; and serve as habitats for fish and other marine life.

The new results, say the scientists, emphasize that conserving and restoring seagrass meadows may reduce greenhouse gas emissions and increase carbon stores--while delivering important "ecosystem services" to coastal communities.

The research is part of the Blue Carbon Initiative, a collaborative effort of Conservation International, the International Union for Conservation of Nature, and the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of UNESCO.

Journal Reference:

James W. Fourqurean, Carlos M. Duarte, Hilary Kennedy, Núria Marbà, Marianne Holmer, Miguel Angel Mateo, Eugenia T. Apostolaki, Gary A. Kendrick, Dorte Krause-Jensen, Karen J. McGlathery, Oscar Serrano. Seagrass ecosystems as a globally significant carbon stock. Nature Geoscience, 2012; DOI: 10.1038/ngeo1477

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Botanists launch bid to rescue the world's threatened habitats

One hundred of the most endangered habitats in the world are to be restored in a major global project.

Richard Gray The Telegraph 20 May 12;

They are some of the world's most threatened natural landscapes, devastated by decades of pollution and deforestation.

Now a major new project is aiming to restore some of the most damaged habitats on the planet to their former glory.

Experts from botanical gardens around the world will next week sign an agreement to work together in a 20 year long project to rescue 100 ecosystems that they fear are on the verge of being lost forever.

Among the landscapes they are hoping to save are the arid huarango woodlands in southern Peru, which have almost completely been turned to desert after being cut down to make way for farming.

Upland forests in the mountains of Kenya, which support rich varieties of plants and animals, have been so heavily cleared by tea plantations that just five per cent of the forests now remain.

In Britain they plan to restore areas of semi-natural grassland that were once common across much of the UK and supported large numbers of wild flowers and insects.

They will also target wetlands, a habitat which has reduced by almost half in UK over the past 75 years.

The Ecological Restoration Alliance, which includes botanic gardens from around the world including in China, Brazil, Hawaii, Kenya, Mexico, South Africa and Venezuela, was formed in response to a United Nations call to restore at least 15 per cent of the world's damaged ecosystems by 2020.

Dr Bruce Pavlik, head of restoration ecology at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew, which is one of the lead institutions in the project, said: "We have set ourselves an ambitious goal, but the aim is to heal the wounds that humans have inflicted on the planet on a global scale.

"Right now most restoration projects are very small. If we are going to change the way we treat the planet over the next century then we need to focus on a larger scale."

Some of the most endangered habitats have suffered massive losses to deforestation to make way for agriculture and to provide timber, while mining has caused many rare landscapes to be destroyed.

Many areas require careful management to restore the soil quality and to ensure that the plant species build up in the right order before animals and wildlife can return.

Each botanic garden will draw on the expertise of their scientists to find the best ways of restoring the endangered habitats.

The scientists will also use seed banks like Kew's Millennium Seed Bank, which now has specimens from more than 10 per cent of the world's wild plant species, to help replant the habitats.

In some cases species from the last remnants of the habitat will also be cultivated and transferred to repopulate the land being restored.

The project has been given initial funding of £50 million and the final locations of all 100 habitats will be decided later this year.

Dr Pavlik said: "We are looking at ecosystems that are very diverse, from tropical rainforests to temperate deserts and grasslands.

"One of the main causes of degradation is fragmentation where agriculture has impinged on an area of forest and it has become isolated. Minding is also a problem as soil is often removed and the organisms that live in that soil go with it, so restoring that land is difficult.

"Deforestation should be relatively easy to overcome, but many reforestation projects use the wrong species."

An example of this is in the upland forests of Kenya, which have been cleared to make way for tea plantations and have reduced in numbers by up to 95 per cent since the early 1900s.

Threatened mammals including leopards, African wild dogs and the rare golden cat live in these upland forests along with more than 650 species of bird.

In many places the trees have been replaced with monotonous groves of foreign species such as pine, eucalyptus and acacia, which support little wildlife and are mainly used for firewood.

Mark Nicholson from the Brackenhurst Botanic Gardens near Nairobi has found that by reintroducing native tree species, which can tower up to 30 feet high, the canopy can provide shelter for rare plants including lianas and orchids, along with many animals.

Researchers found that the restored forest can support over 170 species of bird while the eucalyptus only supports 30.

The huarango arid woodlands of Peru are another of the rare landscapes the Alliance will attempt to save. Huge areas have been turned into virtually barren, sandy desert as the trees have been cut down to create farmland.

Without the huarango trees to release moisture into the atmosphere, however, the area has become prone to drought. Scientists at Kew are now hoping to reestablish these woodlands to transform the landscape back into a lush, green environment.

Similarly the high altitude forests of Mexico are among the richest on earth, containing 12 per cent of the country's plant species. These forests help to condense water from the atmosphere and supply water for many of the cities below.

In the US the Alliance will attempt to restore the prairies, which have been so heavily exploited for agriculture and development that just small pockets remain.

In Britain researchers at Kew are also looking at recreating the chalk and acidic grasslands that were once prominent across much of England.

A switch from traditional farming and grazing methods saw many of these grasslands being lost, with up to 90 per cent of chalk grassland disappearing since the 1950s.

The scientists have discovered a method for replanting grasslands that ensures the survival of almost all of the plants.

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Climate scientists say they have solved riddle of rising sea

AFP Yahoo News 21 May 12;

Massive extraction of groundwater can resolve a puzzle over a rise in sea levels in past decades, scientists in Japan said on Sunday.

Global sea levels rose by an average of 1.8 millimetres (0.07 inches) per year from 1961-2003, according to data from tide gauges.

But the big question is how much of this can be pinned to global warming.

In its landmark 2007 report, the UN's Nobel-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) ascribed 1.1mm (0.04 inches) per year to thermal expansion of the oceans -- water expands when it is heated -- and to meltwater from glaciers, icecaps and the Greenland and Antarctica icecaps.

That left 0.7mm (0.03 inches) per year unaccounted for, a mystery that left many scientists wondering if the data were correct or if there were some source that had eluded everyone.

In a study published in the journal Nature Geoscience, a team led by Yadu Pokhrel of the University of Tokyo say the answer lies in water that is extracted from underground aquifers, rivers and lakes for human development but is never replenished.

The water eventually makes it to the ocean through rivers and evaporation in the soil, they note.

Groundwater extraction is the main component of additions that account for the mystery gap, according to their paper, which is based on computer modelling.

"Together, unsustainable groundwater use, artificial reservoir water impoundment, climate-driven change in terrestrial water storage and the loss of water from closed basins have contributed a sea-level rise of 0.77mm (0.031 inches) per year between 1961 and 2003, about 42 percent of the observed sea-level rise," it says.

The probe seeks to fill one of the knowledge gaps in the complex science of climate change.

Researchers admit to many unknowns about how the oceans respond to warming, and one of them is sea-level rise, an important question for hundreds of millions of coastal dwellers.

Just a tiny rise, if repeated year on year, can eventually have a dramatic impact in locations that are vulnerable to storm surges or the influx of saltwater into aquifers or coastal fields.

In its 2007 Fourth Assessment Report, the IPCC said the oceans would rise by between 18 and 59 centimetres (seven to 23 inches) by the century's end.

But this estimate did not factor in meltwater from the mighty Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets.

A study published last year by the Oslo-based Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Project (AMAP) said sea levels would rise, on current melting trends, by 90 cms to 1.6 metres (3.0 to 5.3 feet) by 2100.

Draining of world's aquifers feeds rising sea levels
Trillions of tonnes of water have been pumped up from deep underground reservoirs in every part of the world, says report
Damian Carrington 20 May 12;

Humanity's unquenchable thirst for fresh water is driving up sea levels even faster than melting glaciers, according to new research. The massive impact of the global population's growing need for water on rising sea levels is revealed in a comprehensive assessment of all the ways in which people use water.

Trillions of tonnes of water have been pumped up from deep underground reservoirs in every part of the world and then channelled into fields and pipes to keep communities fed and watered. The water then flows into the oceans, but far more quickly than the ancient aquifers are replenished by rains. The global tide would be rising even more quickly but for the fact that manmade reservoirs have, until now, held back the flow by storing huge amounts of water on land.

"The water being taken from deep wells is geologically old – there is no replenishment and so it is a one way transfer into the ocean," said sea level expert Prof Robert Nicholls, at the University of Southampton. "In the long run, I would still be more concerned about the impact of climate change, but this work shows that even if we stabilise the climate, we might still get sea level rise due to how we use water." He said the sea level would rise 10 metres or more if all the world's groundwater was pumped out, though he said removing every drop was unlikely because some aquifers contain salt water. The sea level is predicted to rise by 30-100cm by 2100, putting many coasts at risk, by increasing the number of storm surges that swamp cities.

The new research was led by Yadu Pokhrel, at the University of Tokyo, and published in Nature Geoscience. "Our study is based on a state-of-the-art model which we have extensively validated in our previous works," he said. "It suggests groundwater is a major contributor to the observed sea level rise." The team's results also neatly fill a gap scientists had identified between the rise in sea level observed by tide gauges and the contribution calculated to come from melting ice.

The drawing of water from deep wells has caused the sea to rise by an average of a millimetre every year since 1961, the researchers concluded. The storing of freshwater in reservoirs has offset about 40% of that, but the scientists warn that this effect is diminishing.

"Reservoir water storage has levelled off in recent years," they write. "By contrast, the contribution of groundwater depletion has been increasing and may continue to do so in the future, which will heighten the concerns regarding the potential sea level rise in the 21st century." Nicholls, who was not part of the research team, said there are a wide range of projections of future sea level. "But this work makes one worry about the uncertainty at the high end more," he said.

The researchers compared the contribution of groundwater withdrawal and reservoir storage to the more familiar causes of rising sea level: ice melted by global warming and the expansion of the ocean as it warms. The pumping out of groundwater is five times bigger in scale than the melting of the planet's two great ice caps, in Greenland and Antarctica, and twice as great as both the melting of all other glaciers and ice or the thermal expansion of seawater.

The scale of groundwater use is as vast as it is unsustainable: over the past half century 18 trillion tonnes of water has been removed from underground aquifers without being replaced. In some parts of the world, the stores of water have now been exhausted. Saudi Arabia, for example, was self-sufficient in wheat, grown in the desert using water from deep, fossil aquifers. Now, many of the aquifers have run dry and most wheat is imported, with all growing expected to end in 2016. In northern India, the level of the water table is dropping by 4cm every year.

Pokhrel's team also investigated the effect of rising temperatures on other ways in which water is stored on land. They found that the drying of soils and loss of snow added almost a tenth of a millimetre per year to sea level rise.

Prof Jonathan Bamber, of the University of Bristol, said the washing of vast volumes of groundwater into the sea was a large factor, but did not appear to have accelerated over the past 50 years, despite the world population more than doubling in that time. In contrast, the melting of ice sheets and glaciers as global temperatures rise has accelerated over the past 20 years, he said: "So it is pretty clear to me that this will be the dominant contributor in the future."

The new work reveals the surprisingly large effect of deep water wells on the oceans, said Martin Vermeer, at Aalto University in Finland, but would not radically alter overall estimates of sea level rise by 2100. "It's an incremental change, nothing revolutionary, assuming the result of this paper holds up. Science is never built upon a single result."

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