Best of our wild blogs: 26 Jun 12

Flying Fish Friends Speak
from Flying Fish Friends

Secret Sirens of Singapore: Dugongs in our midst
from wild shores of singapore

Another side of Mandai mangroves
from wild shores of singapore

Palp romance
from The annotated budak

eagle v kamikaze @ high street - June 2012
from sgbeachbum

Brown-Throated Sunbird Collecting Cocoon Silk
from Bird Ecology Study Group

The Asian Green Youth Challenge Conference 2012
from Green Drinks Singapore

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Researcher, residents study and observe wild boars

Evelyn Lam/Valerie Chang Channel NewsAsia 25 Jun 12;

SINGAPORE: News that a wild boar wandered out of the forest around Lower Peirce Reservoir and charged at a security guard and a five-year-old boy at Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park last Friday may have raised concerns in some quarters.

But now a wild life researcher says wild boars moving out of the woods does not necessarily mean that there is an overpopulation of them.

Mr Ong Say Lin, Research Student, Department of Biological Sciences at the National University of Singapore, said: "This may not just be a sign that their numbers are increasing too quickly. We don't know that for sure yet, and I can't deny that as well. They are coming out and they are spreading to bigger areas. And they can't tell the difference between a natural area and a housing estate that has planted fruit trees. To them it's really all the same, and it's just their normal foraging behaviour."

And observing wild boars' foraging behaviour has become a new past-time for some of the residents at Upper Thomson.

They say wild boars foraging for food by the roadside is now almost a daily occurrence, which attracted many drivers to take snapshots of them.

One resident even turned his home-grown jackfruit tree into an 'observation post', where he spends up to two hours watching the wild boars from a safe distance.

To better understand wild boars, Mr Ong has put in place more than 30 camera traps to track the animals.

He has also set up a webpage and Facebook page where he published his research findings, to be shared with the public.

The public can share their sightings or knowledge of wild boars on the Facebook page to help others learn more about the habits and behaviour of the animals.

- CNA/de

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Culling wild boars: Explore humane options

Straits Times 26 Jun 12;

THERE is currently insufficient scientific data to support the proposed culling of wild boars. We are not calling for no action to be taken, but for humane solutions to be explored.

Two reasons were given for culling wild boars, and both have not been properly justified ('Why wild boars have to be culled'; June 16).

The first reason is that the wild boar population is surging, and this has a detrimental impact on our forests.

At a meeting with non-governmental organisations last month, however, the National Parks Board (NParks) stated that the current carrying capacity for wild boars in our forests is 500.

This means that our forests can sustain a maximum of 500 wild boars.

NParks also stated that the current population of wild boars in Singapore is between 200 and 300; this is about half the maximum carrying capacity.

Scientifically, there is no need to cull the wild boars yet.

All other arguments provided, such as the 'detrimental impact on our forests', are based on impressions rather than proper scientific studies.

More studies need to be conducted before a conclusion is made and any action taken.

The second reason given is public safety, which is undoubtedly important.

The reality, however, is that 'wild boars are not aggressive by nature, but all wild animals will attack if provoked'.

Culling in response to public safety does not address the root of the problem.

Wild boars will venture out of our forests if we continue to have fruit-bearing plants in the areas bordering our nature reserves. Wild boars simply do not understand that they have to remain in the nature reserves and that they will be killed if they venture out.

To address the issue of public safety, NParks should consider fencing up hot spots where wild boars have been spotted, and erecting signs on the road to urge motorists to slow down.

Other countries have already fenced up their protected areas, and this recommendation has been suggested by the public for the past few years.

We have been working with NParks to clamp down on the poaching of wild boars, and it has been actively destroying wild boar traps found in our forests. It would seem contradictory to now cull the wild boars we fought so hard to protect.

We live in a highly urbanised city and there will be more human-wildlife conflicts. Let us promote tolerance, compassion and respect for other species we share this island with.

Louis Ng
Executive Director
Animal Concerns Research and Education Society

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Hotter days ahead, says weatherman

Maximum temperature may hit 34 deg C in the coming weeks
Jalelah Abu Baker & Melissa Pang Straits Times 26 Jun 12;

WHILE possible rain in the next few days may bring some cheer to Singaporeans suffering in a sweltering June, the weatherman is also projecting hotter days ahead.

The Meteorological Service Singapore yesterday noted that while the highest temperature in this month's first 24 days was 32.7 deg C, daily maximum temperatures in the coming weeks may hit 34 deg C.

June temperatures so far have been milder compared with those in the past five years, with the highest in 2007 at 34 deg C. The highest temperature ever recorded in June is 35 deg C in 1985.

A spokesman for the meteorological service blames the sweaty conditions on strong solar heating, low rainfall and light winds.

While the next few days are expected to be rainy, the amount of rain may not be able to alleviate the heat, the spokesman added.

Professor Ong Choon Nam, director of National University of Singapore's Environmental Research Institute, said it has been a dryer June compared with last year, when floods occurred.

A dry spell could mean there is less moisture in the ground to absorb heat from the sun, causing more heat to be reflected.

The amount of rain is significantly less than in past years, noted Dr Lim Hock Beng, director of research and development at the Intelligent Systems Centre, Nanyang Technological University (NTU). Data from a weather station at NTU showed there have been only four days of rain so far this month, compared with 15 last year.

The heatwave has led to more people seeking help in hospitals. Khoo Teck Puat Hospital had 11 patients with heat disorders from January to June 21 this year. There were eight such cases in the first six months of last year.

Changi General Hospital has had 19 cases so far this year, compared with 14 in the same period last year. Dr Benny Goh of theemergency department said these were mostly athletes who spent long hours training in the sun.

Some traditional Chinese medicine clinics are treating more patients for illnesses related to 'heatiness' like sore throat and fever. Physician Chong Shaw Fong, who runs a medical hall in Upper Cross Street, said it handled about 23 such patients in the past month - twice the usual number.

Construction firms have tweaked their practices to protect workers from the sun. Staff at YMH Builder get 30-minute breaks from about three weeks ago, instead of 15-minute ones.

But some businesses are making hay while the sun shines.

A spokesman for supermarket NTUC FairPrice said sales of ice, ice cream, house-brand water and canned and bottled drinks have increased by 15 per cent this month compared with June last year.

Mr Eugene Fung, managing director of diner Merry Men, which offers al fresco dining, said business has soared twofold because there is less rain.

'More people tend to sit outside but they do not stay too long because of the heat,' he said. 'So overall it is good for business, as when there are empty tables we can then take in more people.'

Additional reporting by Walter Sim and Janice Tai

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Taiwan looking to Singapore on sea landfill

Taiwan EPA to hold land reclamation project conferences soon
Officials are reviewing the experience of countries such as Singapore and Japan in creating landfills utilizing sea reclamation
Lee I-chia Taipei Times 26 Jun 12;

The Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) has scheduled four conferences in August aimed at developing a consensus on a proposed sea reclamation project using waste resources.

Industrial manufacturing and economic development have contributed to the generation of waste, the EPA said, adding that although about 80 percent of industrial waste is now reused or recycled, a shortage of landfill sites has led to an increase in illegal dumping.

Given that existing landfill and construction soil treatment sites are expected to reach capacity within three to four years, while local community protests hinder the building of news ones, the lack of final disposal sites has become a serious problem, the EPA said.

To address this problem, the EPA, drawing on the experience of countries such as Japan and Singapore, has proposed an interdepartmental project, creating a landfill by sea reclamation using waste resources.

The project, which has aroused concern that it could cause pollution, is now undergoing an environmental impact assessment, it said.

The EPA cited successful examples of sea reclamation using waste materials, such as the Tokyo Bay Central Breakwater Reclamation Project and the Osaka Bay Phoenix Project in Japan and the Pulau Semakau in Singapore, adding that not only did they solve the problem of waste treatment, but also created new land.

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Protecting Malaysia's richly diverse seascape

Tan Cheng Li The Star 26 Jun 12;

The twin scourge of tourism and pollution is slowly denuding our underwater rainforest.

OUR coral reefs are slowly losing their shine. That, more or less, sums up the condition of this underwater realm, said to rival tropical rainforests in terms of species diversity.

Surveys by volunteer divers show that our reefs have only “fair” coverage of live hard and soft corals. In fact, coral cover has declined over the last three years, from 49.94% to 42.57% last year. Sponges, algae, recently killed corals, rocks, rubble, sand and silt make up the rest of the reefs. (Coral coverage of 51% to 75% is considered “good” and above that, “excellent”.)

Some reefs are smothered by algae, pointing to nutrient pollution that is likely to have come from poor sewage treatment. Many species of fish which are routinely used to gauge healthy reefs were absent during the surveys carried out by volunteers trained in the Reef Check survey method.

Founded in 1996, Reef Check is an international coral reef monitoring programme involving volunteer recreational divers and marine scientists. The local chapter, Reef Check Malaysia, was set up in 2007. It runs several programmes dedicated to coral reef conservation and its annual reef survey is now going into its sixth year.

Reef scrutiny

It is important to monitor reefs on a regular basis, as changes can then be detected and corrective action taken to avert further deterioration of the reef. Last year, 100 surveys were completed – 52 covered islands off the east coast of Peninsular Malaysia (Bidong, Kapas, Perhentian, Redang, Tenggol, Tioman and Yu), while 48 were at the Lankayan, Mataking and Mabul islands in Sabah, and Miri in Sarawak.

To see how reefs are faring, divers observe the substrate cover (whether it is live or dead corals, rubble or sand) and look for “indicator species” which include certain species of fish and invertebrates. They also note down damage to the reef caused by coral bleaching, anchoring, destructive fishing methods and pollution.

In its recently released report, Reef Check Malaysia states that table fish such as sweetlips, Barramundi cod and grouper, as well as giant clams and lobsters, were seen only in low numbers in many reefs, an indication of current or historical fishing pressure. Bumphead parrotfish were a rare sight too while humphead wrasses, which are netted for the live fish trade, were not recorded in a single site. On a more positive note, butterfly fish were fairly common – a good indication of low collection pressure for the popular aquarium fish. The high numbers seen at some sites reflect the fairly healthy status of these reefs as the fish thrive in areas with flourishing corals.

The abundance of these indicator fish species has changed little over the past three years – possibly due to low abundance in the first place and difficulties in monitoring them. What is clear, however, is that the population of these species has not grown over the last three years. So Reef Check Malaysia advocates greater protection of coral reefs and fishing restrictions to aid recovery of the fish population. It says the absence of some fish species has dire consequences for reefs. For instance, parrotfish, being herbivores, are important for protecting corals from a proliferation of algae.

Several marine invertebrates which are sought after for the aquarium and curio trade – such as pencil and collector urchins and triton shells – were absent in all the surveys conducted in the peninsula. Sea cucumbers, widely collected for food and medicinal use, have also become uncommon. Although known to be uncommon in some of the sites, the rarity of these species suggests that small populations might have been affected by previous over-harvesting activities and are recovering very slowly.

Tourists’ footprints

Island tourism has grown massively, but without the ensuing supporting infrastructure such as sewage treatment, garbage disposal and ecologically mindful construction. Reefs off the east coast have high levels of algae, suggesting nutrient pollution. This, coupled with low herbivorous fish populations (which feed on the algae), can spell disaster for the reef. Algae is a natural and essential part of the reef but if allowed to grow unchecked, can smother corals, cutting off the sunlight they need for photosynthesis.

Algae-smothered reefs were most extensive off islands with many resorts and villages, namely Perhentian, Redang and Tenggol. Fuelling the algal growth is the discharge of raw or inadequately treated sewage from these facilities. This is consistent with data from the Department of Environment, which shows Escherichia coli (a bacteria associated with raw sewage) contamination in waters off islands and marine parks.

Eventually, the shift from coral- to algae-dominated reefs can reduce the tourism appeal of these places. Most resorts and village houses on the islands rely on septic tanks which, if not correctly designed and maintained, can overflow, releasing sewage into the sea. To improve sewage treatment on the islands, the report recommends that state governments establish a system for regular desludging of septic tanks to ensure that they operate effectively. This will be cheaper and less disruptive than constructing big, centralised sewage treatment facilities.

Plenty of trash

Growing visitor numbers has also left many islands with a garbage problem. Only Pulau Tioman has a trash incinerator. At the other islands, garbage is shipped to the mainland for disposal but sometimes, ends up indiscriminately dumped or buried in secluded corners and eventually, gets washed into the sea. Waste segregation needs to be encouraged among resort operators and villagers, as it will allow for easier recycling of valuable waste, composting of organic waste and separation of hazardous wastes (such as used engine oil and batteries). To promote better waste management and reduce littering, there should be more education and awareness campaigns.

Reef Check Malaysia also voices concern over the mushrooming of resorts and tourism infrastructure, such as jetties. It says if poorly planned and lacking in environment protection measures, construction activities can be destructive to the marine realm. Resort development should be managed to ensure minimum land clearing, otherwise, silt will cloud up the sea and smother reefs. Jetties should be sited where they will have the least impact on water movement, and should not be built directly on reefs. It is also important for tourists to be briefed and supervised by tour operators on “reef etiquette”, to minimise their impact on coral reefs. Harmful actions include touching and standing on corals, and littering.

Harmful fisheries

Illegal fishing around some islands, particularly Perhentian and Tenggol, often occur during the monsoon season when visitor numbers drop and enforcement patrols are restricted by the rough sea.

In Sabah and Sarawak, dynamite fishing is still rampant and has reduced many reefs to rubble, as observed in the islands of Mataking and Pom Pom off Sabah. The devastation is long-lasting as it will be years before the reefs regenerate.

The growing population in Sabah and Sarawak is also raising fishing pressure, with commercial trawlers sweeping up fish from the reefs in some areas. Bumphead parrotfish, the last large fish species in Miri, are commonly sold in the local fish market. In the Lahad Datu market, traders tout the meat of giant clams.

Educational programmes for local populations are needed to curb the use of bombs to fish, and to create awareness on the economic importance of reefs for future generations. Presently, large areas of coral reefs in Sabah and Sarawak remain unprotected. Gazetting more reefs as protected areas, and ensuring effective enforcement, can reduce threats such as dynamite fishing.

Another threat to reefs comes in the form of silt from the mainland. Sabah and Sarawak are drained by long rivers, resulting in huge outflows of sediment into the sea. During surveys, divers detected layers of silt covering corals. They also saw accelerated algal growth in reefs formerly free of the plants. This is linked to fertiliser-laced run-offs from oil palm plantations.

Reef Check Malaysia asserts that managing and reducing local threats such as dynamite fishing, over-fishing and damaging tourism development, will ensure coral reefs are healthy and resilient enough to face what is to come – climate change. Higher sea temperatures will lead to coral bleaching and ocean acidification. Reefs have barely recovered the massive coral bleaching event of 1998, which killed an estimated 40% of corals in reefs around the peninsula, before soaring sea temperatures in 2010 again caused the corals to expel the life-supporting and colourful algae that live within their tissues (a phenomenon known as coral bleaching).

Scientists foresee more widespread coral bleaching as the world warms up. The Marine Parks Department and Reef Check Malaysia have prepared a bleaching response plan which includes tracking the severity of a bleaching event and closing off affected areas to tourists, to prevent more damage. Also, scientists are slowly recognising that reefs should be connected as this will provide a corridor to support coral larvae flow, and encourage the development of networks of marine protected areas rather than isolated ones. Such underwater connectivity will enable coral larvae to move from resistant and resilient reefs to damaged sites.

Monitoring of additional coral reefs, including those outside of marine parks, is essential to provide better information on the health of our reefs and fish stocks, asserts Reef Check Malaysia. This will help managers draw up improved management plans and fishing policies. Getting more locals, tour operators and tourists involved in reef monitoring will enhance the sense of ownership and responsibility while creating awareness about the reefs. It also allows for large amounts of data to be collected at a lower cost.

Reef Check Malaysia trained 50 people – five of whom are officers with the Marine Parks Department – in the reef survey method last year. But with some 4,000 sqkm of reefs skirting the country’s coasts and islands, the group certainly could do with more help.

Reef Check Malaysia general manager Julian Hyde asserts that the laws to set up marine parks are in place; what is required now is heightened awareness among all related parties so as to improve legal compliance. “If more people understand how important reefs are, they will take a more active role in protecting them. I used to operate a dive centre on Tioman and I recognised that the reefs were my key business asset. Without the reefs, I would have no more customers, no more business. We need more people to start thinking like that so that conservation is embedded in the way they operate their businesses.

“Let’s not forget that reefs are valuable both ecologically and economically. They are an important source of biodiversity, not to mention an important habitat for marine species. Economically, they provide jobs for thousands of people in the fisheries and tourism industries. Once reefs are destroyed, these values are also gone, along with the food source and the jobs. But are we ever truly going to understand just how important reefs are to so many people? If we don’t, will we really commit to controlling these threats to allow damaged reefs to recover and become productive?”

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Sustaining the Coral Triangle’s Marine Biodiversity and its People: “Building Sustainable Blue Economies”

WWF 25 Jun 12;

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil -- A group of countries from Southeast Asia and the Pacific came together at the Rio+20 Summit this week to showcase their combined efforts to save the Coral Triangle, one of the most biologically diverse and ecologically rich marine regions on earth.

On the world stage at Rio, Brazil, at a high level side event hosted by the Government of Indonesia, the Coral Triangle countries renewed their commitment to the multi-country partnership ‘Coral Triangle Initiative on Coral Reefs, Fisheries and Food Security’ (CTI-CFF).

In 2009, the six countries (Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Solomon Islands and Timor Leste) signed onto one of the world’s most comprehensive regional marine and coastal resource management plans.

They agreed to an ambitious and visionary 10-year Regional Plan of Action (RPOA) to safeguard the Coral Triangle’s marine and coastal biological resources.

Strategically, the Initiative has goals and regional priority actions to address the major threats to the region’s marine biodiversity and resources, many of which are common threats faced around the globe.

The strategies are also demonstrably effective actions which are strategically placed to deliver on marine and oceans related priorities arising from the Rio+20 Summit.

The CTI-CFF side event at the Rio+20 Summit was attended by Indonesia’s Minister for Marine Affairs and Fisheries, together with the Prime Minister of Solomon Islands, Malaysia’s Minister for Natural Resources and Environment, the Philippines’ Undersecretary, Department of Environment and Natural Resources, and Timor Leste Vice Minister for Economy and Development.

A number of the countries expressed their vision for developing blue economies, recognising the importance of people-centred approaches and healthy marine ecosystems to the livelihoods, income and sustainable development of their countries.

His Excellency Sharif C. Sutardjo, Minister for Marine Affairs and Fisheries, Indonesia said “Indonesia is strongly committed to the CTI-CFF as an implementing framework for developing a blue economy.”

WWF, a development partner to the Coral Triangle Initiative, congratulated the countries for their leadership, and commitment.

“WWF shares the vision for the Coral Triangle Initiative to be an implementing framework for developing blue economies that can derive economic and social benefits from oceans in an efficient, equitable and sustainable way,” said Yolanda Kakabadse, WWF International President.

Kakabadse also congratulated the Australian Government for its announcement committing eight million (AUD) dollars to the Initiative and welcomed the interest in the Coral Triangle expressed by the Government of Germany.

“As one of seven development partners to the CTI-CFF, WWF offers continued support to the Initiative, and remains committed to helping achieve the critical political, economic and social force capable of leading the rapid and large-scale changes required to halt and reverse the threats facing the Coral Triangle,” said Ms Kakabadse.

“The Coral Triangle is an illustration of the importance of countries cooperating on a regional basis to provide sustainable management of their significant and shared ocean and coastal resources to secure the linkages between healthy ecosystems and sustainable livelihoods and incomes” she added.

Indonesia’s Minister for Marine Affairs and Fisheries extended an invitation to the Coral Triangle countries to attend a CTI-CFF summit at the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) which will be hosted by Indonesia in 2013.

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Malaysia, Sarawak: Peat fire has firemen swamped

New Straits Times 25 Jun 12;

MIRI: An army of firefighters, battling a week-old underground peat fire raging in Kuala Baram near the the Sarawak-Brunei border, now have a real fight on their hands.

The fire has spread further to inaccessible parts of the forest.

The 100 firefighters, comprising regular firemen and civil defence personnel as well as personnel from a host of other government agencies, now fear the fire could get out of control as their task to extinguish it had been made more difficult.

Their biggest fear is that a gust of wind could further fan the flames in the tinder box forest.

State Department of Environment (DOE) director Ismail Ithnin said that even if they brought the fire under control, a gust of wind could cause it to flare up again.

The thick smoke and ash of the fire had enveloped a large part of the area in Baram, sending the air quality plummeting to the "unhealthy" level in the DOE's Air Pollutant Index (API).

At noon yesterday, the API reading of the areas surrounding the Miri Industrial Training Institute stood at an unhealthy 144.

The reading for Miri, 27km away, was 66 (moderate quality) as of noon.

Apart from the institute, the nearby Kompleks Kebajikan Hamidah, an orphanage which houses about 100 children and Sekolah Jenis Kebangsaan (SJKC) Chung Hua Tudan, were also among the hardest hit by the smoke and ash.

Residents of areas close by have also complained of breathing difficulty and particles raining down on them.

So far, none of the residents of the orphanage have been moved out, nor has the school been ordered to shut down. To avert potential health problems, the DOE had distributed 850 face masks to the orphanage and school.

Firefighters are now working round the clock to bring the fire under control and Ismail said the plan was to flood more of the peat land and deprive oxygen to the fire burning under ground.

He said so far, 18 areas of the forest had been flooded.

"We plan to flood two more areas."

Ismail said firefighters plan to create two more water wells, bringing to eight the number of wells from which they could draw water, to flood the remaining burning peat land.

Better air quality, except in Miri
New Straits Times 25 Jun 12;

KUALA LUMPUR: Air quality in Klang Valley and other parts of the country improved yesterday with the exception of Miri in Sarawak.

Department of Environment's air quality monitoring stations nationwide recorded 16 areas with "good" air quality at 11am, compared with nine on Thursday, 33 areas with "moderate" and only one with an "unhealthy level".

The Air Pollutant Index (API) in Klang Valley improved from readings of above 100 registered a week earlier to below 60 in most areas yesterday.

The department 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 300 as "hazardous".

Meanwhile, the dry weather and hot spell is expected to continue with the Malaysian Meteorological Department forecast for the next three days showing no rain throughout Kuala Lumpur, Selangor, Malacca, Pahang and Johor, with only isolated showers in the afternoon.

Penang's weather outlook is cloudy with isolated rain over the coastal areas. Perak is also predicted to be cloudy in the morning with no rain in the day.

Kedah forecast shows isolated rain over coastal areas in the morning, while Terengganu is expected to have isolated afternoon thunderstorms.

On the other hand, isolated rain and thunderstorms were forecast over Sarawak.

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