Best of our wild blogs: 22 May 12

Painting the Real Thing!
from Festival of Biodiversity 2012

Awesome marine colouring sheet - get it at the Festival of Biodiversity from wild shores of singapore

Shameless Self-promotion
from Lazy Lizard's Tales

Firefly Larva - The Night Flashers
from Macro Photography in Singapore

Mandai Track 15
from Beauty of Fauna and Flora in Nature

Raffles Museum in weekend media blitz
from Raffles Museum News

Video update 1: A jar of hornbills
from Rimba

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Interview with Ambasssador Tommy Koh on the Earth Summit

Earth Summit Deadlocked Until Eleventh Hour
IPS U.N. Bureau Chief Thalif Deen interviews Ambassador Tommy Koh of Singapore, chair of the 1992 Preparatory Committee
IPS 21 May 12;

UNITED NATIONS, May 21, 2012 (IPS) - The 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro has been described as one of the largest international conferences in the history of the United Nations, attracting over 20,000 participants, including more than 100 world leaders.

The landmark summit, which strongly reaffirmed that environment was an integral part of development, endorsed Agenda 21, a global plan of action for sustainable development, and also the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development.

Additionally, the summit also approved the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change and the U.N. Convention of Biodiversity – besides the creation of the U.N. Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD).

In an interview with IPS, Ambassador Tommy Koh of Singapore, who chaired the Preparatory Committee (PrepCom) of the Earth Summit, admitted that the long drawn-out negotiations "were very difficult" – and went on until the 59th minute of the eleventh hour.

There were four sessions of the PrepCom, twice in Geneva, and one each in Nairobi and New York, with final negotiations going right down to the wire just before the world leaders arrived in Rio de Janeiro, he said.

"I recall that on the last day, the negotiations went through the night and ended at 6:00 am," Ambassador Koh said, recounting the protracted round-the-clock meetings back in June 1992 (which is likely to happen at the upcoming Rio+20 summit in Brazil, according to U.N. officials).

Through that long night, he said, "I did not know whether we would succeed or fail."

"As chair of the negotiations in Rio, I was, however, determined to succeed and sought to overcome the divisions and other obstacles with patience, determination and strong collective leadership," said Koh, a skilled diplomat who also served as his country's ambassador to the United States, and presided over the Law of the Sea Conference when it adopted a major international treaty governing the oceans back in the 1980s.

Koh spoke to IPS U.N. bureau chief Thalif Deen a month before the Rio+20 summit convenes to take stock and chart a future path.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said last week that an estimated 70,000 people, including over 100 world leaders, are expected to gather in Brazil in June, more than triple the 20,000 participants two decades ago.

Excerpts from the interview follow.

Q: How would you characterise the successes and failures of the Earth Summit? Were there any lasting or tangible gains?

A: The 1992 Earth Summit has brought about a paradigm shift in the world. Because of that summit, all the 193 member states of the United Nations have a ministry of the environment or an environmental protection agency. In every country of the world, sustainable development is the new norm.

Q: How did it impact on the developing world?

A: In the developing world, there is no longer a constituency for those who believe in development at any cost or to get rich first and clean up later. I consider these as some of the tangible gains of the Earth Summit.

Q: After 20 long years, there are sceptics who say the global environment has gone from bad to worse: greenhouse gas pollution, climate change, deforestation, conspicuous consumption of food, water and energy, rising population and the gradual destruction of the marine ecosystems. What are your thoughts on this?

A: It is regretfully true that, at the global level, we have made no progress in reducing the emission of greenhouse gases or in slowing down the loss of forests, natural habitats and biodiversity or in the good management of our oceans. However, at the national and regional levels, significant progress has been made.

Take Singapore as an example. The love of nature and the will to live in harmony with nature has been growing. As a result, in spite of our high population density, 47 percent of our land area is covered in greenery.

Singapore has also taken the lead in galvanising support from the contracting parties of the Convention on Biodiversity to adopt the Singapore Cities Index on Biodiversity. We have made tremendous progress in the efficient use of water and recycling of waste water. The public opinion strongly supports the growing trend towards green buildings, energy-efficient appliances and green technologies.

Q: The current PrepCom apparently still remains divided - also on North-South lines - on a global action plan for a sustainable future, to be adopted next month. How difficult was the negotiations on Agenda 21? Any advice to the PrepCom?

A: Twenty years later, the world has become more inter-dependent and, at the same time, more divided. The United States is facing both a weak recovery and a presidential election. The European Union (EU) is seeking to restore confidence in the Euro, to reduce its sovereign debt and stimulate growth.

These are difficult times for the West. It will be hard for them to make bold decisions and commitments. However, there is so much at stake. Failure is not really an option. I am confident that Rio+20 will end successfully.

Q: How did the Earth Summit meet the funding demands of developing countries?

A: The funding demands were met in three ways: by creating the Global Environmental Facility (GEF); by increased official development assistance (ODA), specifically earmarked for sustainable development; and by commitments by the various international financial and development institutions.

Q: What influence did the report of the Brundtland Commission (on the global environment) have on the Earth Summit?

A: The Brundtland Commission Report was an inspiration for me and my colleagues.


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$2m educational materials for park visitors to Gardens by the Bay

Sara Grosse Channel NewsAsia 21 May 12;

SINGAPORE: Two million dollars is being invested in educational materials for park visitors to Gardens by the Bay.

The sponsorship by ExxonMobil is the single-largest community investment in Singapore.

The money will go towards the development and installation of state-of-the-art educational resources around Dragonfly Lake.

These will include high-tech interactive media and educational programmes about aquatic life and horticulture.

Dragonfly Lake serves as a natural filter system for the gardens and the connecting reservoir.

Mr S. Iswaran, Minister (Prime Minister's Office), Second Minister for Trade and Industry, says the opening of Gardens by the Bay next month is expected to enhance Singapore's tourism industry.

Mr Iswaran said: "It means an emphasis not merely on the number of visitors but perhaps even more importantly, on the quality of the visitor experience and how they remember their experience here.

"But perhaps most importantly is the partnerships that STB (Singapore Tourism Board) and the government of Singapore seeks to forge, in developing new and differentiated world class attractions, which will attract both business and leisure events to Singapore."

- CNA/de

$2m boost for Gardens by the Bay
Straits Times 22 May 12;

AS GARDENS by the Bay gets ready to open next month, a third company - ExxonMobil Asia Pacific - has stepped in, with a $2 million sponsorship.

The sum, which represents the oil major's single largest community investment here, will fund educational resources at the Dragonfly Lake. These include special binoculars that will allow visitors to better zoom in on aquatic life and horticulture.

Visitors can also use their handheld devices such as smartphones and tablets to scan barcodes on storyboard panels located around the lake to download information.

At the sidelines of the event to mark ExxonMobil's sponsorship yesterday, chief executive of Gardens by the Bay, Dr Tan Wee Kiat, said sponsorships enhance the basic infrastructure provided for by the development budget.

OCBC Bank is contributing $8 million for an aerial walkway and a light-and-sound show, while Kikkoman's $1 million will help build features such as a mini-waterfall and spring-water system for the Kingfisher Lake.

Sponsors are being sought for the Children's Garden, which is scheduled to open at a later date.

'If we're fortunate, we should be able to have a sponsor on board (and) we can complete the main infrastructure work by the end of the year,' Dr Tan said.

As the end-June opening looms for the Bay South Garden, Dr Tan said it is mostly ready, except for the planting. There are about 130,000 plants and each has to be planted by hand, he added. To date, more than half the work has been done in this area.

The Bay South Garden is expected to attract five million visitors yearly. Highlights include its cooled conservatories - the Flower Dome and Cloud Forest - and supertrees from 25m to 50m tall.

Gardens by the Bay has other parts - Bay East and Bay Central - which will be developed later.


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Philippines goes after sea turtle restaurants

(AFP) Google News 21 May 12;

CEBU, Philippines — The Philippines on Monday said it would form a special task force to go after restaurants selling the meat of protected sea turtles.

The eight-member team was created after news reports revealed the proliferation of roadside restaurants in the central island of Cebu serving dishes made from the government-protected marine animals.

"The task force is created to pursue and initiate an aggressive protection and conservation movement of the endangered marine turtles which are now on the verge of total depletion," regional environment chief Maximo Dichoso said.

The team was instructed to investigate the trading, hunting, sale, and killing of marine turtles in the area, the environment department said.

News reports said numerous small eateries in a coastal district of Cebu City were serving dishes made from sea turtle.

Cebu City Mayor Michael Rama conceded that the practice had been going on for a long time but there had been no concerted effort to stop it.

Those caught trading, hunting, collecting or killing sea turtles, which are considered an endangered species, face a fine of 100,000 pesos ($2,350) and one year in jail.

The discovery of Chinese fishermen catching sea turtles and other protected marine species in the South China Sea last month triggered a high-profile maritime standoff between Philippine and Chinese ships.

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Vietnam gibbons edge closer to extinction

Acrobatic Primates Edge Closer to Extinction
Jeanna Bryner Yahoo News 21 May 12;

A group of acrobatic primates living, and swinging from tree branches, in Vietnam are not faring so well, with three of the six species inching closer to extinction, finds a new report, released today (May 21), on these primates called crested gibbons.

Gibbons are relatively small, slender primates that are exceptionally agile, using their extra-long arms for a spectacular arm-swinging locomotion called brachiation in which they move through the tress with a hand-over-hand technique. Currently, seven species of crested gibbons in the genus Nomascus are recognized taxonomically. Six of these live in Vietnam.

Gibbon numbers

In the new study, which is an update of a similar survey carried out in 2000, the researchers collected data from all sites in Vietnam where gibbons are known to live, counting them and evaluating the effectiveness of conservation efforts there.

Results showed the three species doing the poorest, and moving dangerously close to extinction, include the eastern black gibbon (N. nasutus), western black gibbon (N. concolor) and northern white-cheeked gibbon (N. leucogenys). The remaining three gibbons in Vietnam — the southern white-cheeked gibbon (N. siki), northern yellow-cheeked gibbon (N. annamensis) and southern yellow-cheeked gibbon (N. gabriellae) — have suffered large population reductions, the researchers report. [Gibbon Gallery: Photos of Acrobatic Primates]

Overall, the few remaining populations that appear viable reside in protected areas that in nearly all cases lack the standard of protection required to ensure their ultimate survival, the report authors say.

"While gibbons are afforded the highest level of legal protection in Vietnam, this is not widely appreciated by either law enforcement officials or local communities," Conservation International primatologist Ben Rawson said in a statement.

"Now largely restricted to protected areas, gibbon populations are being whittled away, individual by individual, to the point where many areas no longer contain viable populations."

That's because even in protected areas, the animals' habitat is being gobbled up by human activities, including illegal logging, agricultural encroachment and infrastructure development such as hydropower dams and roads. In fact, access to the forests for hunters is also a major issue impeding the survival of the gibbons, researchers say.

"Tackling illegal hunting and wildlife trade are key to retaining Vietnam’s wonderful gibbon fauna," Rawson said.

Other highlights from the report include:

— The eastern black gibbon was the only Vietnamese gibbon species whose population appears to have improved during the past decade; the species was rediscovered in 2002 on the border with China in the Trung Khanh District, Cao Bang Province, which is the only location where the species is known to exist — a population of about 110 individuals.

— More than half of the population of western black gibbons has been lost since surveys were first carried out in 2000 and 2001.

— The northern yellow-cheeked gibbon is a new species to this genus, described in 2010; its distinct calls and genetics qualified the animal as a separate crested-gibbon species. All areas where this species was surveyed show declines in numbers.

— The most southerly distributed species, the southern yellow-cheeked gibbon, may be under increasing threat from hunting in southern Vietnam, which may be increasing, the researchers say, due to a growing demand there for gibbons as pets or for use in folkloric medicine.

The report's authors note the loss of gibbons is a bad sign for biodiversity in general.

"Gibbons are wonderfully charismatic and gentle creatures, which do not harm anyone's livelihoods, but charm us with their beauty, acrobatics, song, and they are our closest relatives in Vietnam," researcher Nguyen Manh Ha, of Vietnam National University, said in a statement.

Ha added, "If nothing can be done to secure the long-term future of gibbons in Vietnam, what hope is there for the rest of Vietnam’s biodiversity and the fragile environment its human population depends upon?"

The report, "The Conservation Status of Gibbons in Vietnam," was carried out by Fauna & Flora International and Conservation International.

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Malaysia: Handbook on Islamic view of nature to be launched soon

The Star 22 May 12;

KUALA TERENGGANU: WWF Ma­­laysia and the Institute of Islamic Understanding Malaysia (Ikim) are working together to produce a handbook on conserving the environment with an Islamic perspective.

The book, the first of its kind in Malaysia, will be launched in July, said Ikim director-general Datuk Nik Mustapha Hassan.

“This book is produced as a reference for Muslims, particularly leaders who are imam, religious speakers and teachers who can help in the effort to conserve the environment.

“Citing Quranic verses, hadiths and parables of prophets as well as presenting comprehensive facts, the handbook can benefit all levels of society in contributing to the protection of the environment and wildlife in Malaysia,” he said yesterday.

Nik Mustapha said the publication was in line with Ikim’s function, which is to carry out research on the role of Islam and Muslims in facing challenges due to the ever-changing global situation.

“Through this handbook, we would like to emphasise that problems and issues related to the environment and wildlife have relevance to Islamic teachings,” he said.

He said Ikim authors visited two WWF Malaysia project sites – the Belum-Temengor Forest Complex in Gerik, Perak, and Setiu, Terengganu – while working on this book.

“Both locations are habitats for various endangered species including the two national icons, the Malayan tiger and turtle, which will be given particular focus in this handbook,” he said.

Meanwhile, WWF Malaysia chief executive officer, Datuk Dr Dionysius Sharma said the project was a continuation of ongoing activities carried out based on the Islamic approach in wildlife species conservation.

He explained that among the efforts made by WWF Malaysia with the local communities and Ikim included the preparation of a Friday sermon text titled “Environmental conservation is our collective responsibility” for 428 mosques throughout Terengganu in 2008.

“Nature conservation is an important aspect that is recognised by many religions around the world,” he said, adding that the world’s five main religions had declared their responsibilities to care for the environment through the Assisi Declaration in 1986.

These religions are Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Judaism and Islam. Three others, Baha’ism, Jainism and Sikhism, issued a similar declaration later.

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Malaysia: How to nip project conflicts in the bud

Prof Datuk Dr Zaini Ujang New Straits Times 21 May 12;

TIMELY INSIGHT: MIT professor's expertise on conflict management and resolution will help us, especially on issues related to the environment and society, writes Zaini Ujang

AS part of its effort to create a dynamic intellectual ecosystem, Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (UTM) encourages an array of academic activities, including its UTM Premier Lecture Series, started last year, which features accomplished, thought-provoking and innovative leaders from a variety of disciplines from around the world who would share their expertise, insights and perspectives on pertinent issues of relevance that would impact society and make a difference.

This month, UTM is privileged to have a distinguished speaker, Prof Lawrence E. Susskind, Ford Professor from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the United States for its UTM Premier Lecture Series tomorrow, at UTM Kuala Lumpur Campus (at 2pm, Dewan Besar), who will share his experiences and insights on a topic which is most enriching and applicable to the current scenario in Malaysia entitled "New Tools for Democratic Decision-Making".

Susskind's talk is very timely as it would enlighten the audience with yet another dimension of professionalism in the context of decision-making and managing conflicts in today's challenging environment.

With his vast experience in mediating more than 50 disputes, including land-use conflicts, facility- siting controversies, public policy disagreements, and confrontations over issues of water, for instance, Susskind is the person with the right capacity to guide us on various issues of concern that would impact us in many ways, especially in relation to conflict management and conflict resolution.

In the context of development projects in Malaysia and other developing countries, the issue related to the environment is becoming more challenging, with the public becoming more vocal in voicing their views and opinions.

As such, the talk by Susskind could not have come at a better time as we struggle with complex issues related to our environment and society.

For instance, the Lynas Rare Earth Project could have been resolved if social aspects as well as the involvement of stakeholders were taken into consideration right from the initial stage of the project.

Other incidents include the solid waste incinerator project in Broga, the construction of the Bakun Dam in Sarawak and the raw water transfer project from Pahang to Selangor.

With increased public awareness and the dominant role of social media, conflicts of this nature will increase due to anxiety or misunderstanding especially with regard to safety and environmental issues.

It cannot be denied that among the factors that led to conflicts over the projects mentioned earlier is the lack of emphasis on the involvement of stakeholders, especially the general public in decision-making.

Among the challenges is how to ensure that the government, the public, multinational companies and the scientific community understand and accept decisions made.

It is worth noting that most of the projects involved have sound principles of science with sophisticated technology applied.

However, in the current situation where the public can gain access to a wealth of information, resolving the issue based only on technical aspects would not suffice, without taking into consideration public acceptance of the issue. In fact, the perception of the public at large sometimes overrides the real issue.

The issue is, can the conflict in question be avoided? Can the conventional approach, that is Decide-Announce-Defend (DAD), in making decisions and in project implementation be harmonised?

In general, the DAD approach places a lot of emphasis on technical aspects without giving attention to issues that would affect the public. In the end, the project developer or government will adopt a defensive attitude in responding to critique after critique. At the same time, the increasingly complex socio-ecology system makes it difficult for us to understand and predict the future in a confident way.

With issues becoming more complex and unpredictable, the process of decision-making should be handled with care and in a democratic way, taking into consideration the sensitivity and welfare of the public, especially related to public safety and the environment.

The premier lecture by Susskind will highlight on the need to have the involvement of the public, especially in resolving conflicts related to science and technology policy.

The alternative to the DAD approach Decide-Announce-Defend (DAD) involves three important processes, namely 1) collaborative, 2) adaptive, and 3) management or CAM.

Collaborative means active involvement and transparency of all stakeholders or those affected by a particular development project. Adaptive is necessary when there is scepticism or difficulty arising from a particular project.

Implementation in stages is better so that the parties responsible will have an in-depth understanding and will make improvements continuously. The management aspect needs to take the collaborative and adaptive approach. This means that improvement of the management system should be done in a collective and transparent way, with the concerted effort of all parties.

The DAD approach in decision-making is also important in managing the main resources such as water, land, and clean air. In the short term, we need the DAD approach to resolve issues of raw water flow across borders, for example, and management of catchments in a comprehensive way.

To ensure the success of a project, the decisions agreed to need to be sealed in the form of agreement. Normally, agreement is achieved based on “zero-sum terms”.

Nevertheless, the community can achieve more benefit through “value creating agreement”.

Although the CAM approach can be an alternative to the DAD approach, it must be carefully looked into in terms of suitability in relation to the problems arising and local context. There needs to be involvement of various parties, including the university, NGO and the government, deliberating and discussing these issues before decisions are made.

The UTM Premier Lecture Series is open to the public, free of charge.

Prof Datuk Dr Zaini Ujang is vicechancellor of Universiti Teknologi Malaysia

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Malaysia: Environmental laws one of the three factors why investors love Sabah

Roy Goh New Straits Times 21 May 12;

RAPID ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT: Right leadership, stability and sound policies drawing investors to the state

KOTA KINABALU: SABAH'S political stability, sound policies and focused economic directions are three key factors that have caught the attention of the country's business community.

Associated Chinese Chambers of Commerce and Industry of Malaysia president Tan Sri William Cheng Heng Jem said this here yesterday after leading a delegation for a meeting with Chief Minister Datuk Seri Musa Aman.

"Rapid economic development has taken place in Sabah. It looks different and the economic landscape is different," Cheng said, adding that the three factors were prerequisites investors looked for in a country or state.

"Sabah is rich in natural resources, such as timber, minerals, oil and gas. However, what is important is it takes the right leadership to take the state to greater heights."

Cheng said tourism and agriculture, including aquaculture, were doing well in the state and had the potential to grow.

"I am also told that Sabah has strong environmental conservation laws.

"This is also good in terms of ecotourism."

Meanwhile, Musa said investors were interested in Malaysia because of the conducive atmosphere, good government policies and stable politics under the able leadership of Prime Minister Dauk Seri Najib Razak.

He said the environmental laws on conservation had a long-term positive impact on the overall development of the state.

"Protecting the forests, phasing out logging and focusing on reforestation means that future generations can once again have tropical rainforests, which had been logged, in 30 to 40 years' time."

Similarly, he said a clean and unpolluted environment helped to draw investors to Sabah.

Citing a United States-based multinational company, Darden Incorporated, he said the food giant had committed about US$2 billion (RM6.3 billion) to develop lobster farming off the coast of Semporna because the water was not polluted.

"They also told me that another important reason why they chose to invest here was because of the prevailing economic and political stability in Malaysia."

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Indonesia peatland back on protected list in test case

Reuters 21 May 12;

(Reuters) - Indonesia's government said on Monday it would protect a strip of peatland in Aceh province at the centre of an international storm over palm oil development, in a case that had become a test of the country's commitment to halt deforestation.

Indonesia imposed a two-year moratorium on clearing forest last May under a $1 billion climate deal with Norway aimed at reducing emissions from deforestation, but the former governor of the country's westernmost Aceh province breached the ban by issuing a permit to a palm oil firm to develop the peatland.

This prompted legal action from environmental groups and probes by the police and several government bodies.

The resulting preliminary investigation showed that the permit was issued to palm oil firm Kallista Alam without following proper procedures, a government official said.

The forest, home to endangered orangutans, was partly cleared by burning, even before the permit was issued, said Mas Achmad Santosa, an official at the presidency.

"The case of Kallista Alam in Aceh is the typical problem we are facing ... some parts have been turned to palm oil plantations, some have been burned, and it turned out the permit does not exist," said Kuntoro Mangkusubroto, who is in charge of overseeing forestry sector reform.

He said the peatland would again be listed as a protected area.

Former Aceh governor Irwandi Yusuf issued the permit to open 1,605 hectares of land for palm oil in the Tripa peatland area in August last year.

Indonesia is the world's largest palm oil exporter and has seen rapid growth in production of the edible oil, used to make cooking oil and biscuits, in recent years.

(Reporting by Olivia Rondonuwu; Editing by Neil Chatterjee and Jeremy Laurence)

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Thailand: Environment study on dam decried as flawed

Opponents say report glosses over likely effects
Bangkok Post 22 May 12;

NAKHON SAWAN : Environmentalists have slammed the environmental impact report of the controversial Mae Wong Dam, saying it was poorly conducted and underestimated the likely damage to wildlife and forest ecology.

The project's Environmental and Health Impact Assessment (Ehia) study was put up for final public review at a forum in Lat Yao district yesterday.

Around 1,000 people and some veteran environmentalists attended the forum, organised by Creative Technology Consultant, which was commissioned by the Royal Irrigation Department (RID) to conduct the study.

Opponents and supporters of the 13.3-billion-baht dam hotly debated the pros and cons of the project.

Sasin Chalermlap, secretary-general of forest conservation group Seub Nakhasathien Foundation, said the methodology used by the study to estimate the potential impact on wildlife and on the ecosystem was unreliable.

He said the consulting firm spent less than a year collecting information about wildlife in Mae Wong National Park and assessing the impact the dam would have on them.

"The study gives only numbers of wildlife species but does not give details about measures to mitigate the impact of the dam on wild animals and forest ecology," Mr Sasin said.

Mae Wong Forest is part of the country's western forest complex. It is home to many wildlife species, including tigers, hornbills and peacocks.

The RID, which is the dam's developer, is expected to submit the Ehia study to the National Environment Board for approval in July.

The study estimates there are 280 wildlife species that might be affected by the construction of the dam.

Nearly 700,000 trees, including 116,743 teaks valued at 1.07 billion baht, will be cut to create the reservoir.

A total of 13,200 rai of Mae Wong National Park area will be inundated.

The forest helps store over 91,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide and produces 242,744 tonnes of oxygen per year.

Boonsong Kaigate, who headed the Ehia study, yesterday conceded his team did not have enough time to conduct the field study and had to ask for second-hand information about wildlife species from park officials and local villagers.

"Due to the short timeframe, it was impossible to conduct the field study in the forest," Mr Boonsong said.

However, he insisted the Ehia study was reliable and covers all requirements of relevant environmental laws.

Mr Boonsong said the study concludes that the dam's benefits outweigh its negative impacts on the environment and the project is worth the investment.

He said more than 102 villages of five districts in Nakhon Sawan, Kamphaeng Phet and Uthai Thani province will benefit from the dam, which aims to solve problems arising from flood and drought.

The dam will irrigate about 300,000 rai of farmland in Nakhon Sawan.

"Only 2.2% of the Mae Wong National Park will be inundated, while the dam will increase the household income of Lat Yao people to 285,000 baht per year," Mr Boonsong said.

"We will conduct projects in other areas to replace the damaged forest."

He said a wildlife evacuation plan would be drawn up to prevent a repeat of the Ratchaprapa incident, when the 1986 construction of a dam in Surat Thani province without proper measures in place to rescue wildlife led to mass deaths of animals in the area.

Hannarong Yaowalers, chairman of Thai-Water Partnership, said the dam could hold only 258 million cubic metres of water and so could not irrigate an area as large as the RID claimed.

Many local villagers attending yesterday's public forum voiced support for the project, saying it would help increase rice yield in their farmland.

"It's OK to lose some forest if the dam can help improve our quality of life," said one villager.

"We have been waiting for the dam for several years. The NGOs and conservationists should understand our difficulties regarding water shortages."

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U.S. Marine Aquarium Fish Trade Study Reveals Fewer Fish, More Species Imported than Previously Estimated

MarketWatch 21 May 12;

BRISTOL, R.I., May 21, 2012 /PRNewswire via COMTEX/ -- First study of its kind finds aquarium tropical fish imports to the U.S. often misreported

As the popularity of marine aquariums rises, so does the demand for wildlife inhabiting them. Most aquarium fish are harvested from their natural habitats - primarily coral reefs - and imported into the United States by the millions annually.

After a detailed review of import records for marine tropical fish entering the United States over a year's span, scientists found 1,802 species imported, or 22 percent greater biodiversity than previously estimated. More than 11 million fish were imported from 40 countries, which was less than previously reported as many freshwater fish and marine invertebrates were being mistakenly counted as marine fish. Additionally, they discovered that more than half of government importation forms during that time had numerical or other reporting discrepancies - resulting in a 27 percent overestimation of trade volumes.

"There is a delicate balance between the global demand for aquarium fish, and its environmental and economic impacts," said lead author Andrew Rhyne, assistant professor of marine biology at Roger Williams University and research scientist at the New England Aquarium. "Without mechanisms in place designed specifically to monitor the aquarium fish trade, we will never have a keen understanding of how it impacts our oceans and the global economy."

"Coral reefs globally are already under tremendous stress from climate change, habitat destruction and pollution," noted co-author Michael Tlusty, director of research at the New England Aquarium. "Poor harvest practices of tropical fish for the home aquarium trade can add to that decline, yet when done right, it can help counter those effects provided the economic benefits of long term sustainability are met locally. That small scale fisheries can provide a framework on which to develop better overall management schemes to protect the reefs."

The unprecedented study published today in the Public Library of Science (PLoS), was funded by the National Oceanic and Atmosphere Administration's (NOAA) Coral Reef Conservation Program, and conducted by scientists from Roger Williams University, New England Aquarium, U.S. Geological Survey, Boston University, Conservation International, NOAA and the Khaled bin Sultan Living Oceans Foundation.

At present, multiple sources of trade data exist, but not all data systems were intended to monitor the marine wildlife trade. Researchers looked at aquarium trade imports by comparing the available commercial invoices to government forms.

The review of shipment invoices revealed the number of fish reported on shipping declarations matched the invoices only 52 percent of the time. Scientists found repeated instances of declarations marked as marine ornamental fish also containing other species, such as freshwater fish, corals and other non-marine wildlife.

The aquarium fish trade is an economic boon for its largest exporters, notably the Philippines, Indonesia and Sri Lanka. However, as the demand for these exports rise, natural habitats and species are impacted. Harvesting these wild species can lead to loss of biodiversity, overfishing, and the use of cyanide and environmentally destructive fishing practices. Furthermore, import countries are at risk for the introduction of non-native species and diseases.

"Despite all of the negatives, coral reef conservation is an often overlooked benefit of the marine aquarium trade," said co-author Les Kaufman, professor of biology at Boston University and senior marine scientist at Conservation International. "Hobbyists who enjoy these fish and the seaside villagers who collect them have a common interest - to maintain the coral reefs. Without coral reef stewardship, the marine aquarium trade would eventually cease to exist."

About the New England AquariumThe New England Aquarium is one of the most prominent and popular aquariums in North America and is a recognized international leader in ocean conservation, education and research. The Aquarium is among the region's most-visited tourist attractions and is cultivating widespread public awareness about the benefits and responsibility in improving the health of the oceans and the earth.

About Roger Williams UniversityRoger Williams University located in Bristol, R.I., is a leading independent, coeducational university with programs in the liberal arts and the professions, where students become community- and globally-minded citizens. With 42 academic majors, an array of co-curricular activities and study abroad opportunities on six continents, RWU is an open community dedicated to the success of students, commitment to a set of core values and providing a world-class education above all else. In the last decade, the University has achieved unprecedented successes including recognition as one of the best colleges in the nation by Forbes, a College of Distinction by Student Horizons, Inc., and as both a best college in the Northeast and one of the nation's "greenest" universities by The Princeton Review.

SOURCE Roger Williams University

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Can 'Blue Forests' Mitigate Climate Change'

Manipadma Jena Inter Press Service Reuters AlertNet 20 May 12;

YEOSU, South Korea, May 21 (IPS) - Fifty-five percent of global atmospheric carbon captured by living organisms happens in the ocean.Between 50-71 percent of this is captured by the ocean's vegetated "blue carbon" habitats, which cover less than 0.5 percent of the seabed, according to a 2009 United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) report entitled ‘Blue Carbon - The role of healthy oceans in binding carbon,' one of the first documents to demystify the term.

These recent discoveries - of the efficiency of ocean vegetation in mitigating greenhouse gases and ocean ecosystems' ability to store atmospheric carbon dioxide for millennia - has sent scientists running to probe the potential role of 'blue forest's in global efforts to lessen climate change.

An international symposium on the effects of climate change on the world's oceans, at the Yeosu Expo 2012 being held here from May 12-Aug. 12 under the theme ‘Living Oceans and Coasts', brought together scientists and researchers to discuss the carbon management of blue forests.

"Carbon stored and taken out of the atmosphere by coastal ecosystems such as mangroves, seagrass and salt marsh is called blue carbon," explained Nairobi-based Gabriel Grimsditch of the UNEP.

"Blue carbon is important because it allows investment in protection of coastal ecosystems. These ecosystems are important for more than just carbon sequestration and storage - they provide food through fish and protect coastal populations from storms and tsunamis," he added.

Wendy Watson-Wright, executive secretary of the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) and assistant director-general of UNESCO, told IPS, "In order to make good policy we need good science. Not much about blue carbon is known outside the scientific community but it is of crucial importance that its huge benefits be known to policy makers and particularly local communities who take care of and derive their livelihood from this ecosystem."

In a paper presented at the symposium, ‘Vegetated Coastal Habitats as Intense Carbon Sinks: Understanding and Using Blue Carbon Strategies', Nuria Marba Bordalba, a scientific researcher at Spain's Mediterranean Institute of Advanced Studies, claimed that there is more carbon stored in the soils of vegetated marine habitats than the scientific community had hitherto accounted for.

An important aspect of blue carbon is that most of it is found in the soil beneath the ecosystems, not in the biomass above ground. Carbon can be stored for millennia due to sea level fluctuation, as opposed to terrestrial forests that reach the carbon saturation point earlier.

But there are risks. The flip side to blue carbon is that if these ecosystems are degraded or destroyed, the huge amount of stored carbon - sometimes accumulated over millions of years - is released into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide due to oxidation of biomass and of the organic soil in which carbon may have been stored.

In fact, some key questions on the table at the symposium were: how vulnerable are coastal carbon sinks to climate change habitat degradation? And, if the habitat is destroyed, how do carbon stocks react?

"The rate of carbon emission is particularly high in the decade immediately after disturbance but continues as long as oxidation occurs," Grimsditch told IPS.

"When a wetland is drained, carbon is released, first slowly, then (at an) accelerated pace," said San Francisco-based Stephen Crooks, co-chair of the International Blue Carbon Science Working Group.

"There is now a growing realisation that we will not be able to conserve the earth's biological diversity through the protection of critical areas alone," said Gail Chmura, associate professor at the Canadian McGill University's Department of Geography.

The East Asian Seas region of the world has lost 70 percent of its mangrove cover in the last 70 years. A recent publication, ‘From Ridge to Reef', by the Global Environment Facility (GEF) warned that if this pattern continues the region will lose all its mangroves by 2030.

This would be a disastrous scenario, since the region's coast is comprised of six large marine ecosystems and supports the livelihoods of 1.5 billion people.

"On the global scale, mangrove areas are becoming smaller or fragmented and their long-term survival is at great risk. In 1950, mainland China had 50,000 hectares of mangroves. By 2001, it was down to 22,700 hectares - a 50 percent loss," Guanghui Lin, professor of ecology at the Centre for Earth System Science in Beijing's Tsinghua University, told IPS.

Researchers currently estimate loss of mangroves, seagrass beds and salt marshes at between 0.7 to two percent a year, a decline driven largely by human activities such as conversion, coastal development and over harvesting.

"Ecological restoration is a critical tool for biodiversity conservation and sustainable development," Chmura stressed.

During the last three decades China has established 34 natural mangrove conservation areas, which account for 80 percent of the total existing mangrove areas on the mainland, according to Lin.

"One of the replicable regeneration policies is a mandatory funding from the real estate sector for mangrove regeneration," Lin said.

"The cost of seagrass restoration may be fully recovered by the total carbon dioxide captured in 50 years in societies with a carbon tax in place," Bordalba suggested.

"Seaweed production as a climate change mitigation and adaption measure (also) holds great promise because it will (contribute to) global food, fodder fuel and pharmaceutical requirements," said Ik Kyo Chung from the oceanography department of the Pusan National University of South Korea.

While acknowledging the considerable uncertainty surrounding estimates and a lack of concrete data, the UNEP report suggests that blue forests sequester between 114 and 328 teragrammes of carbon per year.

Luis Valdes, head of Ocean Science at IOC-UNESCO told IPS, "There are two sides to the blue carbon issue, one is the scientific aspect of how much carbon is actually sequestered, technology transfers and so on; the second facet is political - identifying and negotiating with developing countries, collaborating and funding for blue carbon projects."

"Socialist countries in South America like Venezuela or Cuba are skeptical of blue carbon. They are often opposed to market-based solutions to climate change," said Grimsditch.

Mexico, Senegal and Bangladesh are already trying out blue carbon sequestration through demonstration projects. Senegal is using mangroves for carbon credits and REDD+, something the UNEP is pushing in other countries' policies too.

UNEP and GEF with Indonesia have initiated a Blue Forests Project, which seeks to standardise methodologies for carbon accounting and ecosystems valuation.

"We also need to better understand the economics of blue carbon, and whether it is possible to pay for ecosystem management through carbon credits," said Grimsditch.

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