Best of our wild blogs: 24 May 12

Prepping for the Festival: Chek Jawa
from wild shores of singapore

Where is biodiversity in Singapore?
from News from the International Coastal Cleanup Singapore

Meet the marine volunteers of Singapore!
from wild shores of singapore

The Hantu Blog Celebrates World Turtle Day!
from Pulau Hantu

Eventful morning in Sungei Buloh’s mangrove swamp
from my gap year and World Migratory Bird Day 2012 and An evening with the macaques of Bukit Timah and Chek Jawa with Teamseagrass!

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PUB maps Marina's flood-prone areas

Specially fitted car gathers land height data for digital map
Feng Zengkun Straits Times 24 May 12;

A DIGITAL map of the Marina catchment area will be created by the end of the year to help identify places where flooding may occur.

National water agency PUB announced the $450,000 project yesterday by unveiling the car equipped with laser-scanning technology that will do the job.

Fitted with a rooftop machine that emits laser pulses to collect land height data, the car was put through its paces on a demonstration drive near Newton Circus.

The project started last month and will take about six months to complete.

It will cover some 100km of roads in the catchment's low-lying and flood-prone areas.

The Marina catchment zone makes up a sixth of Singapore and includes Orchard Road and Bukit Timah, which have been hit by floods in recent years.

The map will show the lay of the land to a height accuracy of within 10cm, and the PUB said it can use it to better identify places where water will flow over the ground during storms if the canals and drains are overwhelmed.

Computer models now in use predict only how rainwater flows within drains and canals, and the intensity of rainfall they can handle.

The PUB added that it will work with other agencies such as the Singapore Land Authority to gather land height data on other parts of the catchment area.

It already has information on the ground types in the

area, which affect how much water flows over land instead of seeping into the ground.

In future, the digital map may also be combined with data from other equipment such as rain gauges and water sensors in the canals to give people more advance warning of floods.

A panel of drainage experts appointed by the Government last year to tackle floods had recommended a national map, but the PUB said it will start with the Marina catchment area first.

'This is a pilot project, so we also want to make sure the system works first,' said Mr Tan Tien Ser, who is assistant director of the PUB's catchment and waterways department.

The PUB said it had come up with the 10cm height accuracy requirement by examining floods in the Republic, which run between 5cm and 30cm deep.

The field work will be done mostly at night, when there are fewer vehicles on the road to interfere with the data collection.

In areas where the data is distorted by other vehicles or poor Global Positioning System signals, ground survey crews will be supplied by the contractor to collect the information.

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Designated trails safeguard biodiversity

Letter from Wong Tuan Wah Director, Conservation, National Parks Board
Today Online 24 May 12;

WE refer to the letter "Make it green for mountain bikers" (May 21) and thank Mr Lim for his feedback.

The nature reserves are gazetted for the protection of Singapore's remaining native flora and fauna.

We encourage the public to visit the nature reserves to enjoy its rich biodiversity.

Walking trails are designated to guide our visitors so that they do not inadvertently destroy rare plants or disturb the fragile habitats of wildlife.

In order to meet the needs of cyclists, we have specially created mountain biking trails around the perimeter of the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve and in Kent Ridge, Tampines and Pulau Ubin.

The mountain biking trails at Bukit Timah and Pulau Ubin were designed to meet competition standards and races have been held at these trails.

We urge cyclists to use these designated mountain biking trails. Cycling in areas of the nature reserves which are not designated for this activity destroys the flora and fauna.

Some cyclists continue to do so, even in places where we have erected signs to prohibit cycling. We were, therefore, left with little choice but to take enforcement action against such cyclists.

We will continue to work with the nature groups to raise awareness for appropriate behaviour in the nature reserves.

This is necessary because we do want to create more opportunities for Singaporeans to enjoy nature.

Mr Lim will be happy to hear that we are planning to develop more amenities for walking and cycling around the nature reserves.

We are finalising the details and will announce these plans when ready.

Again, we urge the public to keep to designated trails so that we can allow more people to enjoy the nature reserves without damaging the assets that make the nature reserves unique.

For further feedback, we welcome Mr Lim and members of the public to contact us at or at 1800-4717300.

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Special Interests Chip Away At Jakarta Tree-Cutting Ban

Eric Bellman Wall Street Journal 23 May 12;

JAKARTA—After drawing international acclaim, Indonesia's moratorium on forest clearing has proved hard to implement, as special interests whittle down the area protected under the agreement, environmental groups say.

A year ago this week, Indonesia kick-started plans to radically reduce its greenhouse-gas emissions by pledging to stop issuing new forest-clearing permits for two years. But the plan to make millions of hectares of pristine jungle off-limits for development has been hurt by violations, challenges to the agreement and the emergence of numerous forest-clearing permits the central government didn't know had existed.

Environmentalists are calling for better legislation, tougher enforcement and an extension of the moratorium.

Overall, Indonesian officials say, about 60 million hectares of forest are subject to the moratorium—a major achievement in a country long known as having one of the world's fastest deforestation rates, but less than what some had hoped to achieve. The exact amount of land under protection is disputed, and may be getting smaller as more exemptions to the moratorium are allowed, environmentalists say.

Last year, the country drafted a map showing areas that fell under the plan, but individuals and corporations with claims on different tracts of land came forward to dispute it. As a result, millions of hectares of forest have been moved off the protected list.

So many clearing permits were issued over the years by different levels of government that Jakarta still doesn't know exactly who holds unused claims. The map has been redrawn every six months to keep up with disputes. The version drawn late last year showed close to five million hectares reclassified as unprotected because of previous permits, mostly to make way for palm-oil plantations, said Daniel Murdiyarso, a Jakarta-based senior scientist for the Center for International Forestry Research.

"My impression is more [exceptions] will be revealed" with every new map, he said. "The most important thing to do in the second year is improve governance" to prevent legal loopholes and local officials from opening new spaces for clearing.

Enforcement of the clearing ban in far-flung provinces and deep jungles has been particularly difficult, with cutting and burning continuing in some supposedly protected areas.

"The moratorium has been breached many times in its first year," said Hapsoro, director of Forest Watch Indonesia, who like many Indonesians goes by only one name. "The two-year limit needs to be extended to allow the moratorium to be strengthened and improved."

Indonesia's forest-protection project was announced with fanfare at a conference in Oslo in 2010. The government aim is to reduce the country's greenhouse-gas emissions by 26% by 2020, through the moratorium and through increased forest-monitoring efforts. It could slash emissions by as much as 41% if richer countries give more support, the government said.

The clearing of peat and forest land for industry—including paper and palm-oil production—is important to growth in Southeast Asia's largest economy, but makes Indonesia one of the world's top sources of greenhouse gases.

Huge amounts of carbon dioxide are released into the air when forests and peat lands are cut down and burned. In tropical developing countries like Indonesia, most greenhouse gases come from forest clearing rather than automobiles or industry.

Norway has pledged to pay Indonesia as much as $1 billion for proven emissions reductions—a test of whether international incentives can persuade developing countries to risk crimping economic growth to help the environment. Government officials in Indonesia and Norway, as well as some environmentalists, say the moratorium is only the beginning, meant to give officials time to write rules and build institutions to better monitor and protect pristine forest.

"We are impressed by Indonesia. We think the moratorium has been a breakthrough in terms of transparency in the forest sector," said Bård Vegar Solhjell, Norway's environment minister. "We have also seen significant change in policy debate around land usage."

Supporters of the plan say much of the criticism is only possible because of new disclosures by the government connected to how Indonesia's forests are being exploited. The government's map, for example, has made it easier for environmental groups to see changes in forest status and has helped the groups report violations of the moratorium.

The moratorium still represents a crucial change in the way Indonesia thinks about and protects its lush jungles, said Agus Purnomo, head of the secretariat for Indonesia's National Council on Climate Change. "You can't say that we are not succeeding or not achieve something here," he said.

Many environmentalists beg to differ. They say moratorium has brought the issue to the forefront and has given advocates more information about what is happening in the jungles, but it also has exposed the plan's loopholes and a lack of enforcement.

"President [Susilo Bambang] Yudhoyono's moratorium commitment to protect our remaining natural forests and peat lands is being undermined by weak legislation and weak enforcement," said Bernadinus Steni, program manager of Indonesia's Association for Community and Ecologically Based Law Reform. "The first year of the moratorium provides little extra protection for forests or carbon-rich peat lands."
—Yayu Yuniar contributed to this article.

Indonesia Wilts as Deforestation Moratorium Loopholes Go Unaddressed
Alexandra Di Stefano Pironti Jakarta Globe 23 May 12;

Unless the rapid deforestation in one of the world’s most richly-forested countries is controlled, Indonesians may one day wonder, “where are all the flowers gone.” To those lyrics by legendary US singer Joan Baez they might also have to add, and where are all the tigers, elephants, orangutans, birds and ancient forest communities gone.

While the 1960s icon was singing against the US war in Vietnam, green groups in Indonesia are waging war against deforestation, in a country that is home to about 15 percent of all known species of plants, mammals and birds. Some are already critically endangered as a result of deforestation by the palm oil, mining and paper industries.

As Indonesia marks the first year of a two-year moratorium on deforestation that followed a pledge of a billion dollars from Norway, a coalition of international and local green groups urged Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono this week to strengthen the moratorium so that it becomes a real instrument to reduce, and ultimately halt, deforestation in the country.

“The existing moratorium only suspends the issue of new forest use permits, it did not order a review of existing permits. There are other glaring loopholes in the moratorium which need to be addressed if Indonesia is to honor its international commitments,” Yuyun Indradi, forests policy adviser, Greenpeace Southeast Asia, said at a press briefing on Monday.

Such concerns are being raised ahead of the Rio+ summit on sustainable development next month.

The environment groups say the ban is being undermined by weak legislation and weak enforcement, and provides little extra protection for forests or carbon-rich peatlands, and nothing to protect the rights of forest-dependent indigenous peoples and local communities.

They added that if deforestation rates continue to average more than a million hectares a year, all of Indonesia’s forests will have been destroyed within the next 50 years.

Earlier this month, the groups said they had witnessed continuing forest destruction by several companies despite the moratorium. They estimated that 4.9 million hectares of primary forests and peatland, out of a total 71.01 million hectares covered by the moratorium, will be lost to palm-oil industries, coal mines and other forest conversions by the end of May.

Last week, Indonesia’s Asia Pulp & Paper (APP), one of the world’s largest paper companies and one that has been most criticized by green groups, announced that it would suspend natural forest clearance from June 1, and would hold better environmental procedures.

The announcement brought a quick reaction from Greenpeace, denying good practices from APP. It said images from their latest overflight in February indicate ongoing clearance of forests across Sumatra region.

Deforestation is devastating wildlife. Fewer than 400 Sumatran tigers remain in the wild, orangutans on Sumatra island have gone down from 1,000 in early 2000 to less than 200 in 2012, while only 3,000 Sumatran elephants are still in the wild, half the number since 1985, the groups say.

“It is reasonable to expect that there are many threatened undocumented species,” Louis Verchot, a scientist with the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), told Inter Press Service.

Deforestation has also affected whole communities of indigenous people dependent on the forest for food, shelter and their livelihood. Since most of the land belongs to the state, the government has given up ancestral rights of the native communities to businesses, according to indigenous rights groups.

The deforestation taking place in Indonesia goes much beyond the archipelago’s more than 17,000 islands. The country is the third largest emitter of climate changing greenhouse gases after China and the United States.

Greenpeace says a large volume of the gases comes from the destruction of Indonesia’s peatlands, considered the world’s most critical carbon stores. They are believed to store about 35 billion tons of carbon, and when drained, burned and replaced by acacia, eucalyptus or palm oil plantations, they release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

While green groups believe Indonesia should do more to stop deforestation, some Indonesian officials believe the country needs more incentives to do so.

“The Ministry of Forestry needs a budget of Rp 5 trillion ($538 million) per year to fight deforestation,” Darori, director general of the Forest Protection and Nature Conservation from the Ministry of Forestry, told IPS. With a wave of his hand Darori dismissed the billion dollar pledge by Norway as “not enough.” Indonesia “needs the support of the world” to carry out this task, he said.

Commenting on Darori’s remarks, Greenpeace spokesman Indradi said money “is never enough if we cannot solve the corruption problems in the forestry sector.”

CIFOR’s Verchot said, “the pledge by Norway was not supposed to solve the whole problem, but it has transformed the discussion in Indonesia, and in that sense it is successful … Norway’s pledge over several years is significant and if it paves the way for additional REDD + money, then the programme can become sustainable.” REDD+ (Reducing Emission from Deforestation and Forest Degradation Plus) is a global mechanism to reduce emission and deforestation as well as forest degradation.

Darori, the Indonesian official, told IPS that authorities have given eight-year jail terms to 12 plantation owners in Sumatra for illegal logging, and imposed five billion rupiah ($534,000) fines on each.

Indonesian President Yudhoyono has pledge to cut emissions in his country between 26 percent and 41 percent with the help of the international community by 2020. But he has pointed out the importance of the contribution of the forest-based industries to the country’s economy.

A recent study showed this contribution to be approximately 21 billion dollars a year — 3.5 percent of the national economy. The sector employs around 4 percent of the working population.

Inter Press Service

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Imported Animals May Cause Extinction To Thai Wildlife

Bernama 23 May 12;

BANGKOK, May 23 (Bernama) -- The import of foreign animals may affect food sources and habitats of native animals in Thailand, Thai News Agency (TNA) reported quoting an academician as saying.

Panthep Ratanakorn, Dean of the Faculty of Veterinary Science of Bangkok-based Mahidol University, said on Tuesday that native animals in Thailand have become endangered due to Thailand's continual imports of foreign animals over the past several years, namely Japanese tortoises and ornamental fish.

Panthep called for strict control on the import and pointed out that imported foreign animals have seriously taken over food sources and habitats from indigenous animals in Thailand and have also brought epidemics to the country, acknowledging that some native animals cannot tolerate the diseases and become extinct.

The senior veterinarian called for strict control on foreign animals and the active conservation of Thai indigenous animals, which could effectively protect ecological systems in the country, noting that his faculty, in conjunction with private crocodile farms, would breed Siamese crocodiles and release them in the wild to support biodiversity.

Sumet Pujjakan, from Burapha University in the Thai East, said that rapid climate changes and human-caused pollution have affected marine ecological systems, resulting in continual coral bleaching, frequent colour changes of seawater, damages to marine life and migrations of some animals from the Thai waters, urging concerned organisations to reduce pollution in the sea to allow natural rehabilitation and recommending that the conservation of mangrove forests is an effective way to protect marine ecosystems.


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Peru Dolphin Death Mystery Deepens, Algae Eyed

Caroline Stauffer PlanetArk 24 May 12;

The mystery surrounding the deaths of at least 877 dolphins in Peru deepened on Wednesday as the government said human activity was not to blame but failed to pinpoint a natural cause for the massive die-off.

A final report from the Peruvian government's Ocean Institute, which manages one of the world's richest marine ecosystems, said the dolphins did not die from a lack of food, hunting by fishermen, poison from pesticides, heavy metal contamination, an infection or a virus.

It also said there was no conclusive evidence that linked seismic offshore exploration by oil companies to the deaths of the long-beaked common dolphins along the Andean country's northern coast.

But it did leave open the possibility that abnormally warm surface water temperatures and high levels of algae may have played a role, saying further analysis would be needed to determine if any red and brown plankton species in the sea were toxic.

"The dolphins were killed by natural causes and not due to any human activity - that is what you might say is the major conclusion," said Minister of Production Gladys Triveno, who oversees the government's Ocean Institute.

However, ORCA, a local NGO, says the deaths occurred after seismic events - which locals attribute to exploration by oil companies - damaged the ears of the sound-sensitive mammals and caused them to surface too rapidly.

"We found cells that had injuries due to bubbles that are associated with decompression sickness," said Carlos Yaipén-Llanos, director of ORCA.

The government and many independent scientists say it is impossible to prove the bubbles were caused by decompression sickness, known by divers as the bends.

Houston-based BPZ Resources Inc has said it conducted seismic surveys starting on February 8 in part of the area but that it adheres to strict environmental standards and that the first deaths happened before it began exploration work.

Another company, Savia Peru, has said it was not working on its concessions in the area at the time of the deaths.

Both companies have said seismic exploration technology is used widely around the world and has never been linked to massive die-offs.

Large-scale dolphin deaths are relatively common globally and often go unexplained, though algae has at times been cited as a cause.

Between 1987 and 1988 as many as a thousand bottlenose dolphins died off the East Coast of the United States. Experts said the deaths occurred after the dolphins ate fish that had been contaminated by an algae rarely found in those waters.


Dolphins were not the only animal to have died in Peru's rich coastal waters in recent weeks. This month, warmer surface waters sent anchovies lower down into cooler waters where pelicans could not dive deep enough to reach them. Some 5,000 birds starved to death as a result.

The government says there is no link between the pelican and dolphin deaths.

Peru's northern coast is often hit by temperature oscillations between warm equatorial waters and the frigid Humboldt current the runs north from Chile. The Humboldt current is considered one of the world's most productive fisheries.

The region is in a transition phase from the La Nina to El Nino weather phenomenon that occur in the southeastern Pacific, said Bill Patzert, an oceanographer at NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab in California.

He said the warmer temperatures do not yet signal the arrival of El Nino, which has been linked to extreme weather globally.

But he did say that warm surface waters often bring foreign plankton to coastal areas.

"When you see a massive die-off of bird species and marine mammals, often it's some kind of weird toxic bloom," said Patzert.

(Editing by Terry Wade and Jackie Frank)

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Los Angeles Largest U.S. City to Ban Plastic Bags

Environment News Service 23 May 12;

LOS ANGELES, California, May 23, 2012 (ENS) - Los Angeles City Council today voted to adopt a ban on plastic bags at retail checkouts, making the " City of Angels" the largest in the country to phase out the single-use bags.

The City Council voted 13 to 1 to phase out plastic bags; Councilman Bernard Parks cast the single no vote.

The ban will be phased in during the next 10 to 16 months at about 7,500 stores. First there will be a four-month environmental review of the ban, followed by passage of an ordinance requiring that retailers stop giving out the carryout bags.

Then, larger stores would have six months to phase out plastic bags and smaller markets would have a 12-month phase-out period. Council members declined to also ban the use of paper grocery bags.

Mayor Anthony Villaraigosa said, "Today, City Council approved a motion that will move us one step closer to making Los Angeles a greener, cleaner, more sustainable city. The little things matter - removing plastic bags that clutter our streets and damage our waterways will go a long way towards protecting Angelenos and Los Angeles wildlife for generations."

"Los Angeles is leading the state and the nation in making smart choices for our future," Villaraigosa said. "With this new measure, 1 in 4 Californians will be living plastic bag-free. We hope our actions will encourage other big cities, counties, and states to take action."

An estimated 2.3 billion single-use plastic bags are given out in Los Angeles each year and the shoppers that have relied on them will have to learn to carry reusable bags for their purchases.

The mayor says their needs will be taken into account. "We will make sure that both retailers and shoppers have ample time to adjust and adapt before any permanent changes take effect, while moving us forward towards a cleaner, plastic bag-free city," he said.

The vote adds Los Angeles to the list of 47 other California cities and counties that have banned plastic bags, which create unsightly litter, clog landfills and storm drains and pose a threat to wildlife and the environment.

Nonprofit groups have been campaigning for the ban. Environment California is joined by Heal The Bay, Plastic Pollution Coalition, Environmental Media Association and others in a letter sent to Council urging a yes vote and a rally in front of City Hall just before the vote today.

Many film, TV and music stars supported the ban, including: Julia Roberts, Jeff Bridges, Amy Smart, Kyra Sedgwick, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Ted Danson, Rosario Dawson, John Cusack, Peter Fonda, Jackson Browne, Bonnie Raitt, Linda Ronstadt, Ed Begley Jr. and many more.

Analyses by city staff and others have determined that single use bags cost Los Angeles consumers and taxpayers more than $75 million annually in higher grocery costs and pollution clean-up costs.

Plastic bags have been found to be one of the largest and costliest contributors to litter and pollution in the Los Angeles River and Ballona Creek.

Under Clean Water Act, city tax/rate payers have been forced to spend an estimated $10 million annually to clean up and keep plastic bags out of these impaired water bodies.

"Plastic bags often become litter after being properly disposed," said Mark Murray, executive director of Californians Against Waste. "They blow out of trash cans, garbage trucks and landfills, and are carried by the wind and water throughout the environment. This is one instance where recycling doesn't seem to be the answer."

Los Angeles has tried recycling plastic bags at curbside, but Murray says that effort has proven to be costly and unsuccessful. "Despite previous promises from the plastics industry, financial support and end-use markets for plastic bags collected at curbside have failed to materialize. The costs and contamination imposed in the city's curbside program by plastic bags far exceed any environmental benefit," he said.

Environment California, which advocates for clean air, water and open spaces across the state, says single-use plastic bags have gone from a public nuisance to an environmental crisis.

"Designed to be used for only minutes, plastic bags never degrade and last hundreds of years in the ocean. Plastic pollution can kill wildlife that mistake it for food or become entangled in it," says Environment California, pointing out that over the past 25 years, plastic bags have been one of the top items collected on International Coastal Cleanup Day.

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Web of Marine Life Dissolving Under Human Onslaught

Environment News Service 22 May 12;

NEW YORK, New York, May 22, 2012 (ENS) - Oceans cover about 72 percent of Earth's surface area and there are an estimated 250,000 marine species. "Yet, despite its importance, marine biodiversity has not fared well at human hands," UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said today in his message to mark the International Day for Biological Diversity.

More than half of global fisheries are exhausted and a further third depleted, warned the secretary-general. Between 30 and 35 percent of critical marine environments, such as seagrasses, mangroves and coral reefs, have been destroyed.

Plastic debris continues to kill marine life, and polluted runoff from land-based activities is deadening vast areas of coastal waters, leaving these dead zones without oxygen.

"Added to all of this," said Ban, "increased burning of fossil fuels is affecting the global climate, making the sea surface warmer, causing sea level to rise and increasing ocean acidity, with consequences we are only beginning to comprehend."

The UN General Assembly proclaimed May 22 as the International Day for Biological Diversity, to increase understanding and awareness of biodiversity issues. The theme for this year's observance is marine diversity.

Commercial fisheries are the most serious threat facing the world's seabirds, finds the nonprofit advocacy organization BirdLife International, which says fisheries are responsible for the incidental deaths of hundreds of thousands of seabirds each year. Longliners, trawlers and gillnetters are all to blame.

"For several species of albatross, this level of mortality is unsustainable and they are now perilously close to extinction," says BirdLife. "In addition, the negative impact of overfishing on seabirds continues to increase as fisheries target ever smaller fish."

The IUCN Red List Index for birds shows that nearly half of seabird species are known or suspected to be experiencing population declines. Open ocean bird species are faring particularly badly. Of the 346 known seabird species, 97 species are globally threatened, while 17 are listed as Critically Endangered.

Secretary-general Ban says that on land nearly 15 percent of surface area is under some kind of protection, but at sea, "little more than one percent of marine environments are protected."

"Lately, some progress is being made, particularly with the establishment of large-scale marine reserves and documenting areas of ecological or biological significance in open-ocean and deep-sea habitats," he said.

On Monday, Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber made some progress in protecting coastal waters as he signed legislation designating three marine reserves and protected areas off Cape Falcon, Cascade Head, and Cape Perpetua, creating Oregon's first system of marine reserves.

Combined with two new sites designated in January, the law creates an initial network of marine reserves and protected areas off the Oregon coast to provide places for plants and animals to reproduce and thrive.

"This is a historic day for Oregon," said the Pew Environment Group's Susan Allen, who directs the Our Ocean Coalition, a statewide association of Oregon conservationists, scientists, ocean users and business leaders. "Our state has a long history of natural resources stewardship. This is the most important law to protect our Territorial Sea since the landmark Beach Bill of 1967."

In the European Union, the International Day for Biological Diversity was marked with a three day series of events centered on sustainable activities for oceans and seas called "Blue Growth."

The starting point was Sunday with a maritime festival in Gothenburg, Sweden. Exhibits focused on: maritime research, threats to the sea environment, the effects of climate change, fishing, shipping, the development of harbors, marine national parks, maritime spatial planning, wind and wave energy.

On Monday, the conference hosted high-level key speakers such as Maria Damanaki, European Commissioner for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, who said, "The dual purpose of Blue Growth [is] creating new jobs in the maritime economy and letting maritime economy grow, but sustainably and inclusively."

Today, there were 26 Blue Growth workshops and an exhibition area, where maritime stakeholders showcased policy initiatives related to seas and oceans.

But the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, which maintains the authoritative Red List of Threatened Species, and other marine conservation organizations have warned that bluefin tuna, sea bass and hake are threatened with regional extinction in the Mediterranean Sea because of overfishing and pollution.

Concern is particularly high over the disappearance of the Atlantic bluefin tuna, Thunnus thynnus, which the IUCN lists as Endangered, saying, "This species has become rare relative to historical levels because of massive overfishing." More than 40 species of marine fish could disappear from the Mediterranean, including many rays and sharks, warns the IUCN, .

Secretary-general of the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, Anada Tiéga, reminded the world of the direct impact of human activities on ocean health.

"An estimated 60 percent of the world's human population live on or close to the coast, which is directly or indirectly causing many stresses affecting sustainability in the coastal zone, such as loss of habitat, increased pollution, accelerated sea-level rise, and interruption of flow of water and sediments," said Tiéga.

"Many of these problems seriously affect coastal wetlands and their capacity to continue to provide vital functions for people and biodiversity in these areas," Tiéga said.

The global conservation organization WWF, as part of the Antarctic Ocean Alliance, today unveiled a new vision for the creation of the world's largest marine protected area across Antarctic marine habitats.

The new report, "Antarctic Ocean Legacy: A Vision for Circumpolar Protection" calls on governments to support increased marine protection for this unique environment.

Antarctic waters make up almost 10 percent of the world's seas and are some of the most intact environments left on Earth. They are inhabited by almost 10,000 diverse species such as penguins, seals and whales, yet they are under increasing pressure from commercial fishing and climate change.

The WWF report says that over 40 percent of the Southern Ocean warrants protection and is calling on the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources, to protect this area now while it remains largely intact.

CCAMLR has agreed to create a network of marine protected areas around Antarctica this year and next.

"The world must act now to conserve our diverse marine environment before it is too late," said John Tanzer, global marine director, WWF International. "The oceans need all the support governments and bodies such as CCAMLR can give in this era of increasing threats."

Secretary-general Ban said that next month Rio+20, the UN Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janerio, Brazil, will provide an opportunity to safeguard the oceans.

"Rio+20 must galvanize action to improve the management and conservation of oceans through initiatives by the United Nations, governments and other partners to curb overfishing, expand marine protected areas and reduce ocean pollution and the impact of climate change," Ban said.

"By taking action at the national, regional and global levels, including enhancing international cooperation," said Ban, "we can achieve the Aichi Biodiversity Target of conserving 10 percent of marine and coastal areas by 2020, a crucial step in protecting marine biodiversity for the future we want."

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U.N. Chief Disappointed Over Deadlocked Rio+20 Negotiations

Thalif Deen IPS 23 May 12;

UNITED NATIONS, May 23, 2012 (IPS) - Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who has invested heavily in the success of the upcoming U.N. Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD), is publicly expressing his frustration at the lack of substantial progress on a final plan of action for a greener economy and a sustainable future worldwide.

"I am disappointed with the negotiations. They are not moving fast enough," he complained last week.

The secretary-general, who thinks the summit of world leaders in Brazil next month is a virtual panacea for most of the world's economic and environmental ills, said, "We have an ambitious plan for real progress. But we need agreement on the tough issues."

That agreement, however, remains elusive despite several rounds of closed-door negotiations.

Daniel Mittler, political director of Greenpeace International, who has been closely monitoring the negotiations, told IPS, "We welcome that Ban Ki-moon has put sustainable development at the centre of his second term (in office)."

"We share his disappointment at governments putting polluters first, watering down commitments and getting lost in hundreds of brackets (indicating disagreements) instead of delivering the future we want: a future of zero deforestation, healthy oceans and energy for all delivered by renewable energy and through efficiency."

The secretary-general must continue to make it clear that business as usual is simply not good enough, said Mittler.

Asked how confident he was about a positive outcome document before the summit opens, he said: "So far, what is on the table for Rio+20 is shamefully inadequate."

He said governments have been listening to the polluters not the people.

Mittler specifically accused the United States and Canada of "watering down commitments".

At one session during negotiations, he said, the U.S. government said "we have a problem with the word 'commit'."

"That sums up where we are today - with governments shamefully unwilling to commit and deliver the transformational changes we need," Mittler said.

The UNCSD, which is also known as Rio+20, is a follow-up to the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio which strongly reaffirmed the integration of environment into the U.N.'s development agenda.

After two long sessions of negotiations, a Preparatory Committee (PrepCom), comprising all 193 member states, has remained sharply divided.

Following an inconclusive weeklong meeting last month, the PrepCom will hold another session beginning May 29, with a final three-day session scheduled for mid-June in Brazil just ahead of the summit Jun. 20-22, on the proposed plan of action called the "zero draft".

In characteristic U.N. jargon, the meetings are called "informal informals". The negotiations also covered five regional meetings.

Anticipating another failure next week, the secretary-general said he had told governments to finalise the plan of action titled "The Future We Want" far ahead of the summit.

"We cannot wait until they get to Rio," he said, and summed up the importance of the summit by pointing out that "success will mean light in homes where people live in darkness. It will also mean food for families that are now hungry."

He said the agreement in Rio will protect oceans and improve life in cities. "It will create progress across our planet," he declared.

Ban's spokesperson Martin Nesirky told reporters last week it shouldn't come as a surprise this is a difficult process.

"It is a major and a very important conference, the aims of which are obviously also profoundly important for the whole of humankind," he said.

Therefore, he pointed out, "negotiations in the run-up could be expected to be complex."

Ban said last week that an estimated 70,000 people are expected to participate in the summit, including more than 100 world leaders, and representatives of civil society, the business community, and the international media.

Mittler told IPS that Rio+20 should be about zero deforestation and an energy revolution based on renewables and efficiency - but governments seem set to deliver just business as usual.

However, there is one area where governments can still make a real step forward at Rio+20 - the area of high seas protection, he noted.

Currently, the high seas - over 60 percent of our oceans - are being exploited Wild West-style, and there is no legal way to create protected areas on the high seas, which are not under any particular national jurisdiction.

Many governments, scientists and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have been pushing for the launch of a High Seas Biodiversity Agreement to be a key outcome of Rio+20.

For the moment, Mittler said, such a launch is still in the negotiation text.

"Whether governments commit to it or not will show clearly who they are listening to - the people or the polluters," he declared.

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