Best of our wild blogs: 17 Jun 12

Butterfly of the Month - June 2012
from Butterflies of Singapore

Kids out at Chek Jawa with the Naked Hermit Crabs!
from wild shores of singapore

Surprise catch: Angler hooks baby shark at Punggol End
from Lazy Lizard's Tales

Collared Kingfisher Bathing in Sea Water
from Bird Ecology Study Group

Clambering around the Tanah Merah seawall
from Nature rambles

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Malaysia: Haze at unhealthy levels in Klang Valley with worse to come

Teh Eng Hock and Regina Lee The Star 16 Jun 12;

PETALING JAYA: The haze has returned to peninsular Malaysia with four areas recording unhealthy Air Pollutant Index levels in the Klang Valley and the worse is yet to come.

As in previous years, several hotspots in central Sumatra in Indonesia are causing the haze.

Both the Department of Environment and Indonesian authorities expect the situation to worsen with the hot and dry spell in the Riau district of Sumatra set to peak over the next two weeks.

Air quality in Klang Valley deteriorated progressively yesterday with four locales noting unhealthy API readings as of 5pm.

They were Port Klang (147), Kuala Selangor (129), Shah Alam (120) and Cheras (105).

Most of the 51 areas monitored by DOE also showed increases, with several places in the Klang and Kinta valleys hovering at the edge of unhealthy API readings of more than 100.

The DOE classifies API readings of between 0 and 50 as Good, 51-100 (Moderate), 101-200 (Unhealthy), 201-300 (Very Unhealthy) and more than 301 as Hazardous.

“With the relatively dry weather in several northern and east coast states in the peninsula, the haze is expected to continue over the next few days,” said the DOE in a statement.

Indonesian daily The Jakarta Post, reported recently that peat and forest fires in the district were causing the haze and more fires were expected.

Satellite image reports issued by the Asean Specialised Meteorological Centre (ASMC) showed an increase in hotspots in Sumatra from 67 on Tuesday to 122 on Wednesday.

The centre reported a decline in the number of hotspots in the Riau district because of cloud cover over the satellite but noted that the south-westerly wind had blown the haze towards peninsular Malaysia.

Meantime, the DOE has activated its action plan to curb open burning and peat fires as well as step up enforcement on exhaust fumes from motor vehicles and factories.

The Meteorological Department's Fire Danger Rating System also reported that almost the entire country was at high risk of fires from the hot and dry weather.

The Fine Fuel Moisture Code (FFMC) chart on the department's website rated the ignition potential of many parts of the country as “extreme”.

The code, which is a numerical rating for moisture content of litter and other cured fine fuels (grass, bushes, dried leaves), is used as an indicator of potential for fires to start and spread in an area.

It is affected by temperature, relative humidity, rainfall and wind speed.

In Selangor, one case of peat fire was recorded yesterday in Pulau Kempas, Kuala Langat, where firemen fought to keep it under control.

Health Department Director-General Datuk Seri Dr Hasan Abdul Rahman said people should drink more water while high-risk patients with respiratory problems should seek early treatment if symptoms developed.

He also urged the public to visit the Health Ministry's website at for health advice on coping with haze.

Haze worsens in Sumatra and parts of Malaysia
Zakir Hussain Straits Times 17 Jun 12;

JAKARTA: Visibility plummeted to as low as 100m in parts of Sumatra's Riau province as forest fires smouldering across the Indonesian island intensified, increasing the possibility of haze blanketing Singapore's skies this week.

In fact, the haze was so bad in cities such as Dumai and Pekanbaru that motorists had to drive with their headlights on in broad daylight and flights were delayed.

Smoke from the fires has already spread across the Strait of Malacca. Worst hit in Malaysia was Port Klang. The air pollutant score there reached 140, and was 130 in Kuala Lumpur and Petaling Jaya as of 5pm yesterday.

Readings of 101 to 200 are deemed unhealthy while normal air quality is 50 and below.

A spokesman for the National Meteorological, Climatology and Geophysics Agency's office in Pekanbaru told The Sunday Times that 80 hot spots were detected in Sumatra yesterday. More than half - 44 - were in Riau, which reported just seven hot spots on Friday.

Pelalawan had the most number of hot spots yesterday, with 13, raising the spectre that haze could reach Singapore in the coming days.

Another 11 hot spots popped up in Aceh, eight in Jambi, six each in North and South Sumatra and five in West Sumatra.

Indonesia's Environment Minister Balthasar Kambuaya told The Sunday Times that his ministry was taking the matter seriously.

Task forces on the ground are working with forestry and agriculture officials to detect and snuff out hot spots, he said.

'This is a serious matter and we are following it closely,' he said.

He said some fires were not set intentionally, but sparked by the recent spell of dry weather, especially in peatlands.

'They are not easy to detect,' said Dr Kambuaya, referring to peat fires, some of which smoulder underground. 'But we will continue to appeal to the community (to stop burning). This must be a focus.'

He said that businesses and corporations ought to be responsible for safeguarding the environment.

Environmental groups have continued to blame pulp and paper companies and others for not doing enough to prevent slash- and-burn methods to clear land.

Dr Kambuaya, an economics professor and rector of Papua's Cenderawasih University before being appointed environment minister last October, appears to have taken a more measured tone on his country's environmental obligations.

He pointed out that he had met several of his Asean counterparts in Brunei last month to discuss ongoing efforts to tackle the haze.

He also said that he had invited regents from affected districts to Brunei so they could see how serious the matter was.

But he noted that the number of hot spots had been declining from year to year, and better detection had made it easier to quell them further.

Dr Kambuaya's comments come as Indonesia appears to take a greater interest in environmental concerns.

Flagging off cars at an ecologically friendly driving rally yesterday, he said: 'Responsible behaviour is important, by individuals and as a nation, in ensuring clean air.'

Last week, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said his country had moved away from putting a priority on growth to a more ecologically friendly approach.

A moratorium on clearing primary forest is also in place, even though some parties say it does not go far enough.

Haze situation worsens
Regina Lee The Star 16 Jun 12;

KUALA LUMPUR: The haze situation has worsened from Friday, when residents in the Klang Valley woke up to thick smog outside their homes.

The Environment Department reported worse conditions on Saturday morning, with all seven areas monitored in Selangor and Kuala Lumpur recording unhealthy Air Pollutant Index (API) levels, three more areas than Friday.

As of 7am, they are Port Klang (144), Shah Alam (129), Cheras (129), Batu Muda (127), Petaling Jaya (127), Banting (117) and Kuala Selangor (101).

The DOE classifies API readings of between 0 and 50 as Good, 51-100 as Moderate, 101-200 as Unhealthy, 201-300 as Very Unhealthy, and more than 301 as Hazardous.

It was previously reported that the haze originated from peat and forest fires in Riau, the central Sumateran district of Indonesia, with the south-westerly wind blowing it across the Straits of Malacca.

The Health Department issued an advisory late yesterday for affected members of the public to reduce their outdoor activities.

"Be indoors all the time. If you have to be outside, do wear the right masks," the department said in a statement.

Indonesia Blamed as Haze Returns to Malaysia
Jakarta Globe 16 Jun 12;

Kuala Lumpur. Haze caused by forest fires in neighboring Indonesia blanketed parts of Malaysia including the capital on Saturday, causing air pollution to hit unhealthy levels.

Haze is an annual problem during the monsoon season from May to September as winds blow the fumes from Sumatra across the Malacca Strait to Malaysia.

Skies over Kuala Lumpur on Saturday were gloomy and visibility was described as poor by the Meteorological Department. With dry weather forecast for the next week, air quality is expected to deteriorate further.

The Air Pollutant Index reached 127 in the capital Kuala Lumpur, 144 in Port Klang, the Southeast Asian country’s top port and 129 in the township of Shah Alam. Readings of 101-200 are considered unhealthy.

The Star newspaper on Saturday said that the haze situation was expected to worsen with the “hot and dry spell in the Riau district of Sumatra set to peak over the next two weeks.

“As in previous years, several hotspots in central Sumatra in Indonesia are causing the haze,” it said.

Haze builds up during the dry season, affecting tourism and contributing to health problems across the region.

Indonesia’s government has outlawed land-clearing by fire but weak law enforcement means the ban is largely ignored.

Agence France-Presse

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The green movement at 50: Mission unaccomplished

In the fourth part of our series marking 50 years of the green movement, Michael McCarthy looks at the areas where environmental activism has failed
Michael McCarthy The Independent 14 Jun 12;

If you've ever seen large-scale deforestation, especially of the rainforest, and seen it close up when it's just happened, you feel you're in the aftermath of an armoured battle. The scale of the destruction stuns you: cleared ground which seems to be everywhere smoking, burning tree stumps flickering like huge candles. It feels as if some giant beast has torn off a great lump of the landscape and savagely consumed it, leaving bits of it bleeding behind.

Serious deforestation has been going on for more than 30 years across the tropical zones of the world, starting in Amazonia and gathering speed, spreading to Indonesia and then to West Africa.

The effect has been staggering: rainforests, which provide us with so much, from oxygen production to carbon storage, once covered 14 per cent of the Earth's surface; now they cover about 6 per cent, and the devastation is continuing.

This is something which the Green Movement, despite immense effort and a certain amount of progress, has not been able to stop. There have been many success stories in modern environmentalism, some of which featured in these pages yesterday.

But if we examine the 50 years of the Green Movement's existence and try to tot up its failures, the inability to halt deforestation would probably be near the top of the list.

We might bracket it with a similar calamity, this one taking place in the world's oceans: overfishing, and the parallel inability, despite great exertions, to bring it under control.

According to the UN's Food and Agricultural Organisation, some 77 per cent of the world's fisheries are either fully-exploited, over-exploited, depleted or recovering from depletion, and the problem continues.

Why have green activists had such success in limiting pollution, but not in curbing overfishing and deforestation? The answer is that pollution is in essence a tactical environmental issue, something that can be dealt with on its own, while the other two are strategic, meaning they are part of the very structure of things.

So pollution can be brought right down by operating your company differently, and the only reason companies did not do that in the first place was either laziness or miserliness: truly bad publicity will always make them change.

But deforestation and overfishing are something else entirely, part of the human exploitation of natural resources. The pressure for these processes to continue may in the first instance be driven by the greed of private companies and particular individuals, but it is ultimately driven by rising demand, which is in turn caused by the rise in human numbers – or to put it another way, by the ever-expanding scale of the human enterprise.

How to deal with that? There's no "end of pipe" solution to the effects and demands of a world population which doubled from three billion to six billion between 1960 and 2000, is now seven billion-plus, and likely to be nine billion before 2050.

Dramatic confrontations by eco-warriors in small boats might have ended the dumping of British nuclear waste in the sea, but such actions will do nothing to halt the soaring demand for more and more forests to be cut down and turned into agricultural land to feed the coming hunger of nine billion.

Serious environmental thinkers realise the problem now is strategic rather than tactical, and although public attitudes have clearly been changed by the Green Movement, some of them would say that the biggest failure of all during its first 50 years has been not to change those attitudes profoundly enough.

Andrew Simms of the New Economics Foundation says: "If your objective is to give the greatest priority to nature and society, you cannot win in an economy built on endless accumulation and the legal guarantee that the interests of capital come first."

The former director of Friends of the Earth, Tony Juniper, sees the problem as even deeper, about culture rather than economics.

"There are two really big failures of the Green Movement, underpinned by a third," he says.

"The first is that there are two parallel discourses going on: one is about planetary boundaries and nature, and the other is about is about economic growth, and they're going in polar opposite directions.

"The second is that we have failed to link an ecological narrative with popular culture. The fact that most people in the country regard a trip to the shopping mall on a Saturday as a better day out than a trip to a nature reserve says quite a lot." And he adds: "But the profoundest failure of all is our underlying disconnect from the Earth.

"We work to take on these environmental challenges without having any kind of profound connection with nature. We've lost it talking in a mechanistic, policy-oriented way.

"We've tried to make it all about numbers, parts per million, complicated policy instruments, and as a result, we've lost something that's essential. Most people couldn't tell you the names of country flowers by the side of the road, the birds that are singing. It's a disconnect in our world view – a failure in our philosophy."

Changing culture is much harder than changing what comes out of a pipe. It's a recognition that that the next 50 years of the environment movement may not offer the clear-cut, achievable victories of its first half century.

Additional research by Tim Greiving

Tomorrow: Part 5 - After the first half-century, we look at the green movement's next 50 years

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