Best of our wild blogs: 1 Jun 12

FREE Pasir Ris Mangrove Boardwalk Tours on 9th & 23rd June 2012 from Mangrove Action Squad

Celebrate World Oceans Day at Pasir Ris and Tanah Merah!
from Through The Backyards

Stalk-Eyed Flies... It Gets Longer!
from Macro Photography in Singapore and Look Into My (Black) Eyes

Mon 04 Jun 2012: 10am – Nanthinee Jeevanandam on figs & fig wasps in urban Singapore from The Biodiversity crew @ NUS

How to take good scientific specimen photos
from wild shores of singapore

Read more!

Malaysia: Land officers under probe over sand theft and smuggling into Singapore

Elan Perumal and Stuart Michael The Star 1 Jun 12;

PETALING JAYA: The Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission is investigating several Pekan district land officers in relation to alleged sand smuggling from Sungai Pahang near Tanjung Agas Oil and Gas Logistic Park into Singapore.

It is learnt that MACC officers have taken from a company shipping dockets, bank-in slips and other documents related to the movement of vessels from the river to the South China Sea.

According to an MACC source, the commission has also obtained evidence of money transactions between private parties and the land officers.

He said the investigation into the smuggling started several months ago following a tip-off from the public.

“We have scrutinised the movement of vessels in Sungai Pahang right up till the sea and opened up a file on the alleged sand theft three months ago.

“The private company was found to have falsified dockets on movement of barges and other vessels to escape the authorities,” he said.

The source also said that the documents gave the impression that the barges were dumping waste material 30 nautical miles off the coast when they were actually transporting sand to Singapore.

“We believe that the culprits have been smuggling sand worth millions of ringgit into Singapore for over a year,” the source added.

Yesterday, The Star reported that a private company, engaged by the operator of the Tanjung Agas Gas and Oil Logistic Park in Pahang, was being investigated for smuggling sand into Singapore.

The company was contracted to carry out sand reclamation and dredging work in and along Sungai Pahang to complete the infrastructural development of the park, which has a planned area of 1,710ha.

It was also reported that the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency had arrested more than 10 foreigners in a recent raid and seized a dredger, six barges and two tugboats.

Read more!

Wildlife galore

Straits Times 26 May 12;

At the National Parks Board's (NParks') first Festival of Biodiversity this weekend, visitors can appreciate Singapore's natural heritage and take part in guided walks and exhibitions. The Straits Times looks at some species that were unearthed by marine and rainforest surveys across the island.

Read more!

Indonesia: Fishermen revive coral reef in Bali

Antara 31 May 12;

Denpasar, Bali (ANTARA News) - Two hectares of damaged coral reefs off the Serangan beach in Denpasar, Bali, have been rehabilitated during 2003-12 by Pesisir Karya Segara, a group formed by local fishermen.

"The rehabilitation was targeted for an area of five hectares. However, since 2003, we have managed to revive only two hectares by planting seeds of coral reefs," Pesisir Karya Segara member I Wayan Patut said here on Thursday.

He added the rehabilitation effort was being made in collaboration with the private sector, which involved the planting of 32 seedlings of branched coral reefs.

"In addition to planting the seeds of the coral, we also released 36 seahorses which will likely attract more marine fish species into this region," Patut noted.

He explained the gradual rehabilitation of coral reef over five hectares was part of a 15-year plan and was expected to finish in 2018.

However, Patut added, the process was not easy, particularly because of the difficulties involved in procuring planting equipment and seeds.

"We are grateful to the government and private institutions that are concerned about the preservation of coral reefs near Serangan beach," he said.

Editor: Priyambodo RH


Read more!

Indonesia: Sumatran elephant dies at Riau conservation park

Antara 31 May 12;

Pekanbaru (ANTARANews) - A Sumatran male elephant was found dead at Tesso Nilo National Conservation Park in Riau province on Thursday, the park chief said.

"We think the elephant died a day ago," Head of Tesso Nilo National Conservation Park Kuppin Simbolon said here on Thursday.

The body of the elephant was found by the park`s officials and members of the Riau`s WWF on Thursday morning, he added.

Kuppin noted the tusks of the elephant were still intact and the cause of its death was not yet known.

"A team of doctors from Riau Nature Conservation Service is now heading to the location to investigate the cause of the elephant`s death," he stated.

Local sources said the elephant died at Sei Tapak, Lubuk Kembang Bunga village, Pelalawan district, Riau. The area has oil palm plantations belonging to local residents.

Including the recent finding, the number of elephants found dead in Riau in 2012 has reached four. Earlier, the three elephants that were found dead reportedly belonged to a wild elephant group of Tesso Nilo park.

Editor: Priyambodo RH

Three rare elephants found dead in Indonesia
AFP Yahoo News 3 Jun 12;

Three critically-endangered Sumatran elephants have been found dead in an oil palm plantation in western Indonesia and are believed to have been poisoned, an NGO said Saturday.

Villagers found the dead animals on Thursday in a government-owned oil palm plantation in the eastern part of Aceh province. They were estimated to be four and five years old, local environmental group Fakta said.

"We suspected that they died after consuming bars of soap laced with poison we found near the carcass," the group's chief Rabono Wiranata told AFP.

"It seems that the elephants have died around one week," he said.

The animals are usually either killed by villagers, who regard the beasts as pests that destroy their plantations, or by poachers for their tusks.

Early last month, two other Sumatran elephants were found dead in the west of the province.

There are fewer than 3,000 Sumatran elephants remaining in the wild, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, marking a 50 percent drop in numbers since 1985.

WWF changed the Sumatran elephant's status from "endangered" to "critically endangered" in January, largely due to severe habitat loss driven by oil palm and paper plantations.

Conflicts between humans and animals are increasing as people encroach on wildlife habitats in Indonesia, an archipelago with some of the world's largest remaining tropical forests.

Read more!

Malaysia: Marine cops foil mangrove bark smuggling

The Star 1 Jun 12;

KOTA KINABALU: A regular patrol along a river in Sabah’s east coast netted the police Marine Operations Force (MOF) a haul of about seven tonnes of illegally harvested tangar or mangrove tree bark.

State MOF chief Asst Comm Abdul Manaf Othman said their patrol vessel was carrying out surveillance around Sungai Tagahang, about 40km from Sandakan, when the personnel spotted a boat laden with the tree bark at about 4.15am on Wednesday.

Upon seeing the police, the individuals in the boat tried to speed off and when they realised they could not outrun the MOF vessel, they jumped into the sea and escaped.

He said MOF personnel, however, managed to detain a 45-year-old man on the boat who turned out to be a Filipino national.

ACP Manaf said the man’s arrest and seizure would be referred to the state Forestry Department as the offence came under the Forest Enactment 1968.

Authorities here are facing an uphill task to protect mangroves along Sabah’s east coast from tangar strippers, most of whom are from southern Philippines, where the bark is used in the manufacture of alcoholic beverages.

Mangrove areas around Pulau Banggi as well as those in the Pitas and Beluran districts are the most susceptible to thieves.

Read more!

Australia: Reef dugong numbers hit 20-year low

Andrea Frost ABC News 30 May 12;

A researcher in north Queensland says the number of dugongs on the Great Barrier Reef is at its lowest level in 20 years.

Professor Helene Marsh says last year's cyclones and flooding damaged much of the dugong's habitat on the reef.

She says latest observations shows the mammals have migrated north to waters off Cape York.

"I think that obviously some animals died - there were record numbers of animals found dead last year, but I actually think that a lot of animals have probably left the area for greener pastures," she said.

Professor Marsh says commercial development is the dugongs' greatest threat.

"Habitats in a pretty bad state after the cyclones and floods last year and is threatened by port development," she said.

"The major sources of mortality are things like vessel strike and adults accidentally being caught in fishing nets."

Read more!

Shark-finning: Clear and present danger

Environmental groups warn that some shark species could be wiped out in only a few years never to return
Derek Baldwin Gulf News 1 Jun 12;

Dubai The stench wafting in the 42 degrees Celsius heat at Deira Fish Market is enough to make a stray cat retch as pools of blood collect beneath a loading island slathered with hundreds of freshly killed Gulf sharks.

As the sun dips below the Deira Corniche horizon, a ritual rarely witnessed by outsiders plays itself out as dozens of pectoral and caudal fins, hacked from black-tipped sharks, are snapped up by buyers hungry for lucrative trade with dried-seafood brokers in Hong Kong.

According to the UN Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO), the UAE is the fifth largest exporter of shark fins to Hong Kong, where the virtually tasteless marine appendages are a high-end, brothy delicacy in soup served at luxury social gatherings.

The culinary war on global sharks for their fins has decimated shark stocks by up to 90 per cent at inshore reef systems around the globe, say experts, leading to the deaths of more than 70 million sharks every year.

If the trend continues, environmental groups warn that some shark species could be wiped out in only a few years.

“For you, these fins for Dh150 a kilo,” mumbles a ruddy faced man lording over the butchered shark fins at market. “Bigger fins? Bigger is Dh200 or Dh300. Tell me.”

The man boasts he can handle orders of any size but points out that the price remains the same for high-volume fin orders, fresh or dried.

Enter the dark side of the shark fishing industry in the UAE, where Dubai-bought fins are flipped for a much higher price in the Far East, with one large fin fetching up to 1,000 euros (Dh4,689.6). A bowl of shark-fin soup can command up to 80 euros and is sought-after for its cartilaginous texture.

The cultural importance of the dish lies within the ability of hosts of banquets or weddings to show respect to guests through an expensive broth served for centuries by the Chinese elite and now by the country’s growing middle class.

Banned in September 2008 by the UAE Ministry of Environment and Water, shark-finning is the practice of hacking off the fins of live sharks caught at sea and releasing to certain death the predators back into the deep.

Tonight, however, at the fish market the sale of fins is legal because the sharks they once belonged to landed at the market whole and intact. Shark-fishing season is open from May 1 to December 31 in UAE waters.

In only the first month of the season there seems to be no end to the legal shark harvest as scores of refrigerated trucks with Dubai plates deliver their quarry to market.

Smell of money

How one can withstand the overwhelming odour blanketing the fish market? One shark trader overseeing the unloading of his daily catch was glib. “The smell of money is worse,” he said. “Once you get used to the smell of money from a good catch, it’s highly addictive. You can’t stop.”

A final count of his catch yielded 30 black-tipped sharks which fetched almost Dh25,000 in an on-site auction surrounded by middle-men operators.

A quick count up and down the loading island, referred to as the “Gargoor side” at the market, revealed more gory details. One lot contained 22 sharks, another 11 large sharks, while another double row contained 139 sharks of all sizes and ages. Deep into the night, trolleys, tendered by registered fish-market workers, ferried dozens more to waiting traders as reefer trucks rolled into the parking lot

Shark catch studied

Cambridge University PhD candidate Dareen Almojil was knee deep in the blood and guts of the maritime bounty. Wearing plastic gloves, she tagged the sharks as part of her efforts to estimate the local shark population. Almojil also collected blood and tissue samples. The catch of the day rounded up four Gulf varieties of shark for Dareen to study from the black-tipped and spinner to spot tails and bull sharks.

“The sharks here are from Dubai, Sharjah and Abu Dhabi, with most coming from Abu Dhabi today,” said Almojil, a Kuwait native.

Dareen lauded the UAE government’s initiative to ban finning.

By forcing commercial fishing companies to land whole sharks, fewer sharks are being taken because traditional fishing methods take longer. In contrast, the practice of cutting off fins only and dumping sharks back into the sea is quicker and can cut through shark populations with deadly efficiency.

“They have to land these as whole fish,” she told Gulf News in the thick of the market frenzy. “By taking the whole body, they really limit the catch. We still need new regulations, new size limits.”

One of the upsides of procuring fins from government-regulated shark-fishing facilities is that buyers know the fins were taken legally using government-approved methods. “The problem, otherwise, is that when you buy dried shark fins, you don’t know if the sharks were finned or not,” she said.

According to media reports, there has been a drop, globally, in shark-fin prices by up to 20 per cent since late last year, which some conservation groups attribute to heavy environmental campaigning during the last decade.

“I think it’s more about younger people in China now being more aware of the shark-finning problem,” Dareen said. “Chinese youth are not serving shark-fin soup at their weddings like they used to.”

Several vendors at the 180 separate fish stations at Dubai Fish Market said the prices of sharks in the UAE have declined. A vendor at the market showed Gulf News about a dozen baby sharks for sale, noting that the smallest could be had for Dh25 or Dh50 for a slightly larger one.

Fin demand growing

Keith Wilson, marine programme director of Dubai-based Emirates Marine Environmental Group (EMEG), said prices may have dipped but demand continues to grow as the gap between the rich and poor in China — the mainstay market for shark fins — narrows.

“The market in China is ever increasing because there are now 300 to 400 million middle-class Chinese,” Wilson told Gulf News. “Now they can afford it.”

Some experts peg demand for the fins growing by five per cent annually.

Other new trends in the Far East, he said, such as “pounding up shark cartilage and using it as an anti-cancer medicine”, are also depleting shark populations to the brink of collapse, especially in areas such as the Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia.

As inshore shark populations collapse and inch towards imminent extinction, relatively healthy inshore shark populations along Arabian shores face a similar future, he warned, if more measures are not taken to stop the killings.

“At the current rate of capture, I can’t see it being sustainably exploited here,” Wilson said. “It won’t take long to get through these stocks.”

The concern is not only for the 30 or so shark species that call Gulf waters home.

Shark-fin demand has led to a surge in the taking of shark giants such as the six-metre long Great Hammerhead sharks — the largest of their kind — from the relative shallows of Oman.

Wilson pointed out that their larger fins are more highly sought, leading to an influx of the Hammerheads from Oman into the UAE, from where they are shipped to Hong Kong.

“If they’re being caught in Oman, it’s not an offence,” he said. “They come in from Oman, are traded and shipped.”

Only three shark varieties — Great White, Basking and Whale — are not legal to be commercially harvested, in keeping with Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

Oman is one of the very few places left on earth where there is a healthy population of Great Hammerheads, Wilson said, a stock that is threatened by over-fishing as females take years to reach maturity and give birth only to a small number of pups every year.

“It can’t take this rate of exploitation,” he added.

Read more!