Best of our wild blogs: 5 Jul 12

BESG starting a mirror site
from Bird Ecology Study Group

from The annotated budak

Softie Changi
from Psychedelic Nature

Stunning sea fan garden at Changi
from wild shores of singapore

Predawn surprises at Changi shore
from wonderful creation

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Online digital archive of plants, animals open

Straits Times 5 Jul 12;

Prof Peter Ng and Dr Yaacob Ibrahim at the Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research, which has launched a book that shows the biodiversity found in Singapore's rainforests and efforts to conserve them. -- ST PHOTO: LAU FOOK KONG

AN ONLINE digital archive of 700 species of plants and animals found here is now open to the public.

But the Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research (RMBR) at the National University of Singapore, which set this up, has given itself another goal - to grow the archive so that it captures the tens of thousands of species - extinct or not - that have been sighted in Singapore since the early 1900s.

The Digital Nature Archive of Singapore (DNA) was launched by Minister for Information, Communications and the Arts Yaacob Ibrahim yesterday. He also launched a book on rainforests in Singapore.

The listings in the archive are sorted by classification and habitat, and include known information such as general biology, range, historical sightings and where they can be found. For example, the fever nut plant, a medicinal plant with spiny fruit, can be found only on Lazarus island, Pulau Semakau and in Punggol.

Users can also do searches by location, for example, Admiralty Park. They will learn that birds like the black-naped oriole and zebra dove can be sighted there.

The archive contains videos of species sightings, recordings of vocal calls and a trove of academic theses as well.

All these were painstakingly put together in more than a year from thousands of contributions from researchers, photographers, nature enthusiasts and the RMBR's habitat surveys.

To grow the archive, the RMBR will need users to contribute content, as well as more funds. It has received funds from HSBC bank's 'Care-for-Nature' programme.

Professor Peter Ng, the museum's director, said: 'Officially, there are 30,000 to 50,000 species here. We believe that's an underestimate. By exactly how much, we don't really know. But by many more times, for sure.'


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PUB uses 'fish alert' to monitor clean water

Straits Times 5 Jul 12;

SINGAPORE is now home to some award-winning, water quality-monitoring fish.

National water agency PUB's automated fish activity monitoring system has won an Honour Award in the applied research category at the biennial Asia Pacific Regional Project Innovations Awards, organised by the International Water Association.

The top prize in the category went to Australia for a new water purification and sludge recycling method.

The honour for Singapore was announced on Tuesday during the Singapore International Water Week, which ends today.

The PUB project began research in 2006 and uses freshwater tiger barbs to detect contaminants in the water supply. The fish's physiology is similar to that of human beings.

Starting last year, 42 units with one tank each have been deployed around the country. They are located where water is treated and distributed, such as waterworks and service reservoirs, which store treated water.

Water samples are diverted to the standalone tanks, which contain 20 fish each. The system monitors the fish using cameras and detects their movement. If half of the fish die, an alert is triggered and a water sample is automatically collected for testing.

A PUB spokesman said the technology reduces the manpower needed to monitor multiple locations at the same time. PUB has used the fish before but its staff had to manually inspect the tanks.

'The signals from the systems are all sent to one control centre, so you need only four to five people there to monitor many installations around the island,' she said.

Each unit costs up to US$80,000 (S$101,300) and the technology was jointly developed by PUB and the Agency for Science, Technology and Research's Institute for Infocomm Research.

The fish also detects unknown contaminants, making them better than other detection methods.

In addition to this, the PUB has carried out about 350 research projects with the local water community.


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Why chilli crab is good, but shark's fin bad

How to save our reefs, according to Conservation International advisor and underwater photographer Mark Erdmann
Edric Sng Today Online 5 Jul 12;

SINGAPORE - When Dr Mark V Erdmann, senior advisor for Conservation International-Indonesia's marine programme, talks about saving the seas, you know it comes from the heart.

The underwater photographer and taxonomist is soaked in brine, having logged nearly 10,000 scuba dives and published 101 articles on all things aquatic. His latest work, co-authored with Dr Gerald Allen, is a masterpiece in the classic sense of the word: Reef Fishes Of The East Indies is a three-volume book set describing each of the 2,631 currently known reef fish species from the region and featuring more than 3,600 photographs, of which about 40 per cent have never before been seen in print.

Dr Erdmann was due in town last week, but a last-minute change of schedule meant he talked to TODAY's digital media and science editor Edric Sng via email, rather than over an environmentally-sustainable plate of chilli crab.

Of the thousands of photos in Reef Fishes Of The East Indies, which is your favourite?

Gerry (Dr Allen) and I were striving to photograph every known reef fish species from this region, and that includes a number that are either extremely shy or cryptic, or those that dwell in depths beyond normal scuba diving range.

One that holds special significance to me is the tilefish that is named after me, Hoplolatilus erdmanni. I found this fish while we were conducting a biodiversity survey of Triton Bay in West Papua in the 40m to 70m depth range.

When I saw the tiger stripes on this fish in the near-twilight conditions, I knew immediately it was something new, and did my best to capture it. Unfortunately it is a wily fish and my initial attempt failed. After a long decompression, I got back to the boat and told Gerry about it.

He was dubious about the stripes and reckoned I had imagined them. He remained sceptical, and sent me down to try to find it again. On my second attempt, I managed to catch a specimen, and while I was doing an hour-long decompression, the fish started to die and its stripes began to fade! I was terrified that by the time I got back to the ship to show Gerry, it would have lost its stripes and he'd just shrug his shoulders at me!

So I did everything I could to pass water over the gills and keep the fish alive. Fortunately, it survived and so I was able to show Gerry the live colouration, and he immediately agreed it was a new species. Later, he named the fish after me!

Which was the hardest fish to shoot?

Gerry took the vast majority of the shots in the book, and we will both tell you that the most difficult reef fish subject is the male "flasher" wrasse. These animals are only 5cm to 6cm long, and at most times they have quite drab colouration.

But just as the sun starts to set, they begin a display for the harems of females that follow them around. They rise up in the water column, erect all of their fins, turn on their neon bright colours and frantically swim around, "flashing" the females. Catching them in focus - all fins up and colours pulsing - is the ultimate challenge for an underwater photographer.

Why should the health of a coral reef in, say, Raja Ampat matter to the city dwellers in Singapore?

In the same way that the world is now increasingly "connected" via the Internet and social media, there are many other examples of increased connectivity on our planet today, such that the fate of the reefs in Raja Ampat most definitely has an impact on Singaporeans. Allow me to give a few examples.

Raja Ampat has become a top dive destination for many Singaporeans, so there is of course that direct link with those that enjoy the spectacular beauty of Raja Ampat.

Then there is the relatively cliched, but nonetheless important, connection that Raja Ampat - as the global epicentre of marine biodiversity - is in essence a globally outstanding "library" of tremendous biodiversity that has untold possibilities for uses to humankind, including medicines and industrial applications.

Beyond this, there are other links though as well. Singaporeans certainly love eating seafood, and this seafood comes from throughout the region, including Raja Ampat. If the reefs and the fish stocks around the region are not properly safeguarded and managed for sustainability, delicacies like grouper, lobster and even chili crab will eventually be nothing more than restaurant legend.

Moreover, the reefs in Raja Ampat and Indonesia are exceedingly important for the food security of the local communities; if this food security of millions of Indonesians and coastal southeast Asians is lost, the long-term threat to ASEAN stability is a serious consideration.

Where have you seen the worst damage to the reefs?

Unfortunately, I've seen horrible damage to reefs throughout South-east Asia - Indonesia, Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei, and all the way to Africa and the Caribbean. Within the vaunted "Coral Triangle" of South-east Asia, the worst damage is typically due to destructive fishing practices such as blast fishing, which reduces thriving reefs to lifeless rubble piles in a matter of seconds.

Large-scale net fishing can frequently be nearly as damaging. And increasingly, we are seeing massive reef degradation around the region due to smothering of the corals by sediment, sometimes due to active reclamation of coral reefs - such as the ridiculous reclamation going on in Manado, Indonesia, where the economy is based on marine tourism but the government is approving more reclamation on top of stunning reefs in order to build more malls!

Then there's coastal strip mining or bad development practices, like building roads with no coastal vegetation buffer.

Is there hope for the reefs of South-East Asia? What steps can be taken?

Without question I remain very hopeful, in large part because I've been fortunate to see a wide range of success stories throughout the region, especially those where local communities, dive operators, and increasingly governments are working together to sustainably manage their reefs.

I am a huge believer in the importance of creating marine protected areas (MPAs), in which the various marine uses are carefully managed and 20 to 30 per cent of the areas are set aside as "no-fishing zones" in order to allow the replenishment of fish stocks.

Strict enforcement against destructive fishing practices is also highly important - the reefs of South-east Asia are actually incredibly resilient - we just need to give them a chance by removing the most serious stressors like blast-fishing and they recover very well!

What can individuals do to help?

Obviously, individuals can consider donating to their favorite organisations who are working in the realm of marine conservation and management.

For those that are interested in marine tourism - snorkelling, diving, kayaking - choosing a destination where the local government and communities are actively managing their reefs is a big contribution to those local economies.

We also can all make more sustainable choices in our own lifestyles, from focusing on using mass transit like MRT to choosing only sustainable seafood when eating at local restaurants. Chili crab, for instance, is a generally excellent choice - these mangrove crabs grow fast and reproduce in the millions. Sharks are at the other end of the spectrum: They grow extremely slowly, mature late in life, and generally only give birth to a few pups at a time, meaning their populations simply cannot withstand intensive harvesting.

How would you describe what you do: A hobby, a passion, a job, a duty?

For marine conservation, I would probably classify it as "all of the above". While I get paid as a marine conservationist, it is far more than just a job for me - it is an all-consuming passion. I feel a strong sense of duty: Our oceans are in trouble, and I want to do everything I can to ensure that my children can see the same amazing sights and enjoy experiences I have had underwater for the past 30 years.

The fish photography and taxonomy are a relatively small part of my overall job responsibilities, but it qualifies now as my most consuming hobby and without question I'm happiest now when exploring South-east Asian reefs for new fish species.

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50 endangered sea turtles found slaughtered in southern Vietnam 4 Jul 12;

The carcasses of 50 sea turtles found slaughtered at the house of a man in the southern province of Dong Nai

Police in the southern province of Dong Nai Tuesday found 50 slaughtered sea turtles at the home of a local man, Tuoi Tre newspaper reported Wednesday.

Nguyen Ngoc Dong Anh, 28, told police that he had been buying sea turtles from a person in the Mekong Delta province of Tien Giang since last October.

He then hired people to slaughter and process them before selling them both locally and to China, Tuoi Tre reported.

Police confiscated all the turtles and sent them to be identified, it said, adding that they measured between 43 centimeters 78 centimeters long.

People suspected of being involved were also summoned for questioning.

Five of the world’s seven species of sea turtles found in Vietnam are the loggerhead (Caretta caretta), the green turtle (Chelonia mydas), the leatherback (Dermochelys coriacea), the hawksbill (Eretmochelys imbricata) and the olive ridley (Lepidochelys olivacea).

According to the red list of the International Union for Conservation of Nature, the loggerhead and green turtles are “endangered,” while the hawksbill and leatherback turtles are considered to be “critically endangered.”

It listed the olive ridley as “vulnerable.”

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Seabirds Study Shows Plastic Pollution Reaching Surprising Levels Off Coast of Pacific Northwest

ScienceDaily 4 Jul 12;

Plastic pollution off the northwest coast of North America is reaching the level of the notoriously polluted North Sea, according to a new study led by a researcher at the University of British Columbia.

The study, published online in the journal Marine Pollution Bulletin, examined stomach contents of beached northern fulmars on the coasts of British Columbia, Canada, and the states of Washington and Oregon, U.S.A.

"Like the canary in the coal mine, northern fulmars are sentinels of plastic pollution in our oceans," says Stephanie Avery-Gomm, the study's lead author and a graduate student in UBC's Department of Zoology. "Their stomach content provides a 'snapshot' sample of plastic pollution from a large area of the northern Pacific Ocean."

Northern fulmars forage exclusively at sea and retain ingested plastics for a long period of time, making them ideal indicators for marine littering. Analysis of beached fulmars has been used to monitor plastic pollution in the North Sea since the 1980s. The latest findings, when compared to previous similar studies, indicate a substantial increase in plastic pollution over the past four decades.

The research group performed necropsies on 67 beached northern fulmars and found that 92.5 per cent had plastics -- such as twine, Styrofoam and candy wrappers -- in their stomach. An average of 36.8 pieces per bird were found. The average total weight of plastic was 0.385 grams per bird. One bird was found with 454 pieces of plastic in its stomach.

"The average adult northern fulmar weighs five pounds, or 2.25 kilograms," says Avery-Gomm. "While 0.385 grams in a bird may seem inconsequential to us, it's the equivalent of about five per cent of their body mass. It would be like a human carrying 50 grams of plastic in our stomach -- about the weight of 10 quarters."

"Despite the close proximity of the 'Great Pacific Garbage Patch,' an area of concentrated plastic pollution in the middle of the North Pacific gyre, plastic pollution has not been considered an issue of concern off our coast," says Avery-Gomm, "But we've found similar amounts and incident rates of plastic in beached northern fulmars here as those in the North Sea. This indicates it is an issue which warrants further study."

The researchers propose annual monitoring of trends in plastic pollution and the effectiveness of marine waste reduction strategies.

"Beached bird surveys are providing important clues about causes and patterns of sea bird mortality from oil spill impacts, fisheries by-catch and now plastic ingestion," says co-author Karen Barry with Bird Studies Canada, a not-for profit organization that helped facilitate the study.

Journal Reference:

Stephanie Avery-Gomm, Patrick D. O’Hara, Lydia Kleine, Victoria Bowes, Laurie K. Wilson, Karen L. Barry. Northern fulmars as biological monitors of trends of plastic pollution in the eastern North Pacific. Marine Pollution Bulletin, 2012; DOI: 10.1016/j.marpolbul.2012.04.017

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Plastic bag use in Wales plummets due to 5p charge, figures show

Welsh supermarkets report reductions of up to 96% in the use of single-use bags since the charge was introduced last year
Adam Vaughan 4 Jul 12;

Supermarkets in Wales have reported reductions of up to 96% in the use of single-use plastic bags following the introduction of a 5p charge last October.

The charge, which was introduced to cut waste, has also seen a big rise in the number of people using their own bags in shops and a surge in support for the scheme. The scheme covers all single-use bags, including paper ones.

Bag use at 13 retailers including M&S, McDonalds and Sainsburys saw reductions of 70-96% for food retail, and 68-75% for fashion, figures compiled by the British Retail Consortium show.

The number of Welsh people always taking their own bags to the supermarket rose from 42% before the charge to 64% after, according to a survey of 1,000 people by the Welsh government. The survey also showed support for the charge had risen since its introduction, with the number "strongly supporting" it rising from 35% before to 49% after.

Environmental charity Keep Wales Tidy, which is primarily funded by the Welsh government, has already received £105,000 in donations from the scheme since its launch. The RSPB is another of the charities to have received donations from the charge.

John Griffiths, the Welsh assembly's environment minister, said:

"I am delighted that research and retail figures support what shoppers and retailers have been telling us for some time. The Welsh public have adjusted brilliantly to the Welsh bag charge and the majority now regularly take their own bags with them when they go shopping."

Ireland introduced a plastic bag tax in 2002, Northern Ireland is set to bring in a 5p charge in 2013 and last month Scotland opened a consultation on a proposed minimum charge of 5p which, if adopted, would leave England as the only country in the UK without one.

Last week, new figures showed Welsh households recycle almost half their waste - putting the country well ahead of England, where the average recycling rate is around 40%.

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South Korea unveils 'scientific' whaling proposal

Richard Black BBC News 4 Jul 12;

Minke whale poking its head out of the water (file photo) Some minke whale stocks around South Korea are already severely depleted

South Korea is proposing to hunt whales under regulations permitting scientific research whaling, echoing the programmes of its neighbour, Japan.

Hunting would take place near the Korean coast on minke whales. How many would be caught is unclear.

The South Korean delegation to the International Whaling Commission (IWC) said the research was needed "for the proper assessment of whale stocks".

Many governments at the IWC meeting condemned the Korean announcement.

There are several different stocks, or groups, of minke whales in the region, and one of the them, the so-called J-stock, is severely depleted.

Given that fact, "we believe that scientific whaling on this stock borders on the reckless," New Zealand's delegation head, Gerard van Bohemen said.

But Joon-Suk Kang, the head of the South Korean delegation, said the programme was necessary to answer questions about minke whale stocks that non-lethal research had been unable to solve.

He said the proposal was not finalised, and that whaling would not begin until plans had been discussed by an international group of expert scientists convened by the IWC.

The Koreans' eventual stated aim is to prepare the ground for a resumption of "coastal whaling" - a rather vague concept that Japan is also pursuing, and that would see whale hunting return as a normal activity.
'Breach of faith'

The region around the port of Ulsan, in the south-east of South Korea, has a whale-eating tradition that appears to date back thousands of years, judging by prehistoric cave art.

Fishermen in the region already catch whales in fishing nets. Officially, this happens accidentally, but local environment groups say the minkes are deliberately caught, and that the meat is easily bought in markets and restaurants.

Dr Kang said that fishermen in the area are now complaining that a growing whale population is eating more and more fish.

Any government is entitled under the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling (ICRW) to embark unilaterally on a scientific hunting programme, although Japan is the only one that currently does so.

Anti-whaling governments and conservation groups argue that Japan's programmes in the North Pacific and Antarctic are an abuse of process, as the regulation was originally designed to allow for the taking of a few whales here and there, and not hundreds per year.

They argue that the real purpose is to provide a supply of whalemeat, albeit to a dwindling customer base.

"Scientific whaling is an obsolete and sad consequence of a document drafted 60 years ago," said Monaco's IWC commissioner, Frederic Briand.

"There's no reason to do it, given the enormous body of scientific literature [on cetaceans] obtained via non-lethal means."

South Korea was one of the first countries to take the scientific whaling route after the global moratorium on commercial hunting came into place in 1986, but the programme was in operation for just a single season.

Then, the country came under intense diplomatic pressure to stop, and Dr Kang admitted to BBC News that his government is now likely to feel a similarly huge pressure not to start.

However, Korea, Japan, Iceland and Norway all complain regularly that anti-whaling governments have no intention of ever agreeing to a resumption of hunting anywhere, however healthy the stocks, and that this amounts to a breach of promises made when the moratorium came into existence.
Troubled waters

Earlier, Japan lodged a proposal to allow coastal whaling by four villages around the coast - among them Ayukawa, which was devastated by the 2011 tsunami.

It has tabled similar bids for many years, and they have always been defeated by anti-whaling governments, who view the move as a way of breaking the whaling moratorium.

Here, Australia's Donna Petrochenko was one of many taking the same line, telling the meeting: "This is commercial whaling, clear and simple."

Japan put its proposal to one side and it will be discussed again later in the meeting, although it is doubtful whether it will go to a vote, given that Japan clearly does not have the three-quarters share of the vote it would need to win.

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