Best of our wild blogs: 11 Jul 12

Mandai mangroves: Lessons for Southeast Asia’s mangroves
from wild shores of singapore

Juvenile Grey Heron and the Fiddler Crab
from Bird Ecology Study Group

Birth of Cockroaches
from Macro Photography in Singapore

Random Gallery - Green Oakblue
from Butterflies of Singapore

Scariest Boat Ride Evar!
from Darwin Shrugged

Honey for nothing
from The Annotated Budak

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Marine Life Park director to make dolphins 'ambassadors'

Ex-zoo GM moves from land to marine life with ease
Tan Dawn Wei Straits Times 11 Jul 12;

FOR 18 years, Singapore Zoo stalwart Biswajit Guha tended to land creatures, but he has since moved on to taking care of sea animals.

The former general manager of the zoo quietly joined the new Marine Life Park of Resorts World Sentosa (RWS) in March as its director of education and conservation.

He had quit the zoo last December under a cloud of controversy, when its parent company Wildlife Reserves Singapore (WRS) appointed its board member Isabella Loh as its group chief executive.

Mr Guha, 44, makes no bones about there having been a 'strong push factor' for him to up and go.

'The direction had changed. It was not in sync with what I want to do and am capable of contributing,' he said.

When the new management took over, the emphasis became producing scientific papers with a more academic bent, he said, which 'won't have much impact on real-world conservation issues'.

With his exit, others from WRS also joined Marine Life Park as frontline operations personnel and keepers.

He is well aware that his joining the Marine Life Park means plunging into another controversy - RWS' sticking to its decision to showcase 27 wild-caught bottlenose dolphins for its oceanarium, the world's largest, despite protests from animal activists.

Two of those dolphins died of a bacterial infection last October in a holding facility in Langkawi, Malaysia.

The invertebrate zoologist, who who has spent the last four months settling in before granting this interview, said: 'Yes, I did think about it, but to me, that was not an issue that would create a barrier for me to join this organisation.'

He said that he wants to pursue wildlife education and conservation work - something he had been doing since he joined the zoo as a keeper in 1993, after graduating in zoology from the National University of Singapore (NUS).

He said of the dolphin controversy: 'I thought the negative publicity had clouded a lot of important issues that people needed to focus on.

'For me, the dolphin issue was taking a turn that wasn't very scientific. It was tugging at people's heartstrings.'

Instead, the focus should be on making the dolphins ambassadors to inspire visitors to make a difference. Data collected from managing animals in captivity can also go a long way in helping those in the wild, he said.

He is targeting schools, from nursery schools to junior colleges, in his education and conservation programmes; students will be allowed to interact with the animals and learn from aquarists and marine mammal specialists.

Eventually, there will also be a classroom, a laboratory and a lesson plan developed by his team that will tie in with the Education Ministry's curriculum.

Families can also sign up for sleepovers and camps, and technology will figure hugely to hold young visitors' interest.

The park has already signed an agreement with the non-profit United States-based Sea Research Foundation to develop the Jason Project, a multimedia marine environmental curriculum designed to connect students with top scientists to learn about real-world situations.

Mr Guha is also looking at partnering researchers and non-governmental organisations to do conservation work in the field.

These organisations can tap RWS' Marine Life Conservation Fund, which has dished out undisclosed sums to anti-poaching and shark conservation efforts in the Galapagos Marine Reserve and China since 2008.

Resorts World Sentosa spokesman Robin Goh said that Mr Guha's network of contacts in the wildlife industry landed him the job.

There were a few contenders from here and overseas for the position, but he was the front runner for the post because of his knowledge and experience, said Mr Goh.

To get up to speed on marine wildlife, Mr Guha has spent the last few months researching and talking to marine environment experts at NUS.

'I want to make sure we are addressing issues that are relevant, and we can make that difference,' he said.

RWS' Marine Life Park likely to open by year end
Straits Times 11 Jul 12;

THE last piece of puzzle for the $7 billion Resorts World Sentosa (RWS) will be in place by the final quarter of this year.

Workers are putting the finishing touches to the integrated resort's Marine Life Park, which, at more than eight hectares - or the size of about 13 football fields - will be the largest oceanarium in the world.

RWS declined to say how much it cost to build the park, located in the west zone of the integrated resort. But the new attraction will come with separate zones featuring more than 100,000 marine creatures from 800 different species.

The park has received about 10 per cent of them, which have arrived from all over the world. Visitors will be able to see those marine animals in, among other facilities, an aquarium with a travellator.

Getting top billing will no doubt be a pod of 25 bottlenose dolphins, which will be marketed as a separate attraction, said RWS spokesman Robin Goh. But he said there will also be other 'heavyweights', although he declined to say more.

While animal activists objected to the captivity of the wild dolphins and had lobbied for RWS to release them back to their natural habitat, Mr Goh said the dolphins are in good shape.

'While there is a group of people opposed to them coming here, there is also a large group who can't wait to see them,' he said.

RWS said there will be opportunities for visitors to interact with the dolphins, which will be in a large interconnected enclosure made up of different pools and passages.

They are now housed in Subic Bay in the Philippines. No date has been set for their arrival, said Mr Goh.

RWS has ruled out live shows featuring the dolphins and instead will focus on educating the public about the marine mammals. It also has no plans to bring in more dolphins, but hopes the resident ones will breed.

Education and conservation will be a cornerstone of the park, which will run rescue and rehabilitation as well as breeding programmes.

About one-third of the current 300-strong staff are foreigners, who mostly work as veterinarians, marine mammal specialists and marine curatorial staff. Staff strength is expected to hit 500 by the time the park opens.

The Straits Times understands that former Wildlife Reserves Singapore chiefs Bernard Harrison and Fanny Lai were considered for roles at the new Marine Life Park. But Mr Goh declined to comment, citing RWS' policy of not discussing potential hires.

With the opening of the Marine Life Park, RWS - with its six hotels, Universal Studios Singapore, Maritime Experiential Museum, spa and casino - will be completed.

It has not, however, decided on ticket prices for the upcoming park.


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PUB chief: Developers can help manage storm water

Roof gardens, tanks will be needed; part of PUB moves to prevent floods
Feng Zengkun Straits Times 11 Jul 12;

THE chief executive of the national water agency has called on owners of new buildings here to take responsibility for containing storm water on their property.

To do this, said Mr Chew Men Leong, they will need to build roof gardens or detention tanks to retain storm water, or reduce the amount entering the national drainage system.

Saying these are ideas the PUB will push out to developers by year-end, he added: 'The idea is to manage the water at source, before it reaches the drains. Each development is to manage the run-off it generates through its green features.'

This is among many moves the former navy chief outlined yesterday, in an interview with The Straits Times in his office at the Environment Building in Newton.

Following a series of serious floods last year, PUB introduced stricter flood-protection regulations for new buildings, but it said building owners were free to propose other ways of preventing floods if site constraints made it tough for them to fall in with the new rules.

Mr Chew, 44, took the PUB hot seat last December, succeeding Mr Khoo Teng Chye after a 22-year military career.

It was just at the time when the national water agency had become the subject of public ire as parts of Orchard Road went underwater during the year-end rainy season, causing millions of dollars in damage and lost revenue.

The public blamed poor drainage maintenance, excessive urbanisation and even the Marina Barrage for the water woes; PUB quickly responded by raising part of Orchard Road and rolling out a flood-alert service.

Mr Chew, acknowledging the good work PUB had done in flood management in the last 30 years, said of the road ahead: 'There continue to be patches which we have to deal with; some of them will remain costly and some will be more difficult to deal with.'

Flood control will continue to be a priority; the findings of a study on flood prevention measures, such as the building of a water retention pond or diversionary canal in Orchard Road will be announced by the month's end.

But Mr Chew is setting his sights farther in the future.

One challenge lies in the shrinking space available for water infrastructure, such as treatment plants.

A larger population and companies will continue to drive up demand for water here and reduce available land.

Another key concern is the rising energy cost of water.

Recycling used water and treating sea-water are energy-intensive, but these methods will grow in importance and supply at least 80per cent of water demand by 2060.

Mr Chew warned: 'At the current trajectory, if we don't find new technologies, the energy cost of water could triple in the next 50 years.'

For example, the possibility of putting reservoirs, power plants and facilities such as desalination plants underground is being studied. With these next to each other, heat and energy from one plant can be used to run another.

Another new technology to be rolled out: An intelligent water-management system using sensors to track the flow, pressure and quality of water in the water supply network and the used water level in sewers.

Mr Chew said the PUB will build on the success of the latest Singapore International Water Week, which ended last week. The event will be held every two years with the World Cities Summit and the CleanEnviro Summit.

'Combining the events will help us learn from the best urban practices of other agencies in Singapore and even of other countries,' he said.

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Laos playing growing role in illegal ivory trade: report

AFP Yahoo News 11 Jul 12;

Laos is playing an increasingly important role in the illegal international ivory trade with foreign tourists, particularly Chinese, driving growing demand for the substance, a report said Tuesday.

The report, by wildlife trade monitoring network TRAFFIC, highlights a "significantly higher volume of ivory items openly on sale" in Laos and multiple seizures of African ivory heading to the communist country.

This "strongly suggests that Lao PDR is now playing a more prominent role in the international ivory trade than was previously thought, especially as a conduit for large shipments to China," the report said.

A TRAFFIC survey, carried out in August 2011, found 2,493 pieces of ivory, including jewelry, name seals and raw tusks, openly on sale in the capital Vientiane -- up from around one hundred ivory items seen on sale in 2002.

Prices for the items were quoted in US dollars and Chinese Yuan, not the Laotian Kip, indicating "international visitors appear to be the main buyers" the report said.

According to data from the Elephant Trade Information System, Laos was implicated as the destination in four large seizures made between 2009 and 2011, totalling more than four tonnes of ivory.

"Laos certainly functions as a transit point for ivory heading to China and Thailand, but it may also be emerging as a final destination (with a) growing market for ivory products," the report said, calling on the government to do more to crackdown on the illegal trade.

"Countries in Asia must do their part to help African countries shut down the illegal ivory supply chain by finding out how the ivory got to them and who was responsible for bringing it there," said Chris Shepherd, deputy director of TRAFFIC Southeast Asia.

"Elephant poaching is at crisis levels and demands a coordinated global response," Shepherd, who was co-author of the report, said in a statement Tuesday.

All ivory trade in Laos is forbidden and no commercial export of ivory from the country is permitted.

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Climate has already changed reefs

12th International Coral Reef Symposium
Science Alert 11 Jul 12;

The impact of a warming climate on reefs is not a future event — complex changes have already begun that could fundamentally change what reefs look like in the future.

That was the overarching message today from a panel of coral reef experts, who are on the forefront of understanding the varied impacts of a rising seawater temperatures and ocean acidification on such areas ranging from coral growth and fish behaviour to the ability of reefs to provide fish and other services to millions of people worldwide.

The panel conducted a media briefing on climate change and at the International Coral Reef Symposium, the premier coral reef conference held every four years and a hotbed of the latest advances in coral reef science. The research and findings presented at ICRS 2012 are fundamental in informing international and national policies and the sustainable use of coral reefs globally.

The panel included Janice M. Lough, of the Australian Institute of Marine Science; John M. Pandolfi, of the University of Queensland; Roberto Iglesias Prieto, of the National Autonomous University of México; and Philip L. Munday, of James Cook University.

A full video of the briefing and each panellist’s expanded statements is available online at

“Tropical coral reef waters are already significantly warmer than they were and the rate of warming is accelerating,” said Janice Lough. “With or without drastic curtailment of greenhouse gas emissions we are facing, for the foreseeable future, changes in the physical environment of present-day coral reefs.”

Lough said, over the past century global temperatures have warmed by 0.7oC and those of the surface tropical oceans by 0.5oC. This raising of baseline temperatures has already resulted in widespread coral bleaching events and outbreaks of coral diseases. Current projections indicate that the tropical oceans could be 1-3oC warmer by the end of this century.

Lough focuses on long-term growth histories from massive coral skeletons. Even with the modest amount of warming to date —compared to future projections—coral growth rates are responding to these observed temperature changes. Several reefs, including the Great Barrier Reef, have witnessed slower massive coral growth in recent decades, while cooler reef sites off Western Australia have, initially, responded by increasing their growth rates. The latter is unlikely to be sustainable, given the setbacks in growth following coral bleaching and, as temperatures continue to warm, optimum temperatures for coral growth are exceeded, she said.

Pandolfi further elaborated that there is large variation in the vulnerability of coral reef species in their response to temperature change and ocean acidification, so some taxa may survive but others could go extinct. In addition, coral reefs that are already degraded from human pressures, such as overfishing or land-based pollution, will be much less likely to handle the increase in temperature and ocean acidity.

“There will be winners and losers in climate change and ocean acidification, but reefs will demonstrably change and, for most people's idea of what reefs are, not for the better,” says John Pandolfi.

Pandolfi added that ultimately the global community must act to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But new science is also showing that, given that the impact on corals will be more variable than first realized, our management approaches must become more sophisticated, with particular focus on reducing local threats such as overexploitation and pollution. Managing reefs for local stress will ensure maximum health as they continue to confront a changing global climate.

Munday said changes to coral reef habitat caused by climate change will also potentially lead to changed fish populations. The direct impacts, which are already occurring, are reduced coral cover and less habitat structure for fish.

“That will mean fewer species and lower fish abundance,” Munday said. “Some species will fair better than others. For example, fish that eat coral will be more severely impacted, but overall we can expect a decline in fish numbers.”

Over time, he said, more carbon dioxide dissolved in the ocean can also cause abnormal behavior in fish leading to reduced survival. In a recent study, Munday and his team examined the changes to fish in tanks with artificially high levels of carbon dioxide. They found neurological changes that resulted in fish being less effective at avoiding predators, because of adverse impacts to their sense of smell and an increased tendency to stray further from reef areas where they can hide. At the same time, some fish showed, over generations, an ability to adjust to temperatures changes.

“Like coral, there will be winners and losers and the communities of fish we see on reefs in the future are likely to be different to those of today,” Munday said.

Roberto Iglesias-Prieto underscored that these changes will ultimately have severe impacts on the millions of people worldwide who depend on reefs for food, income and storm protection. Reefs also contribute to national economies through such sectors as tourism and commercial fisheries.

“To truly understand the impacts of climate change on reefs, you have to be an ecologist, an economist and a political scientist,” Iglesias-Prieto said.

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Climate change boosts odds of extreme weather: study

Kerry Sheridan AFP Yahoo News 11 Jul 12;

Severe droughts, floods and heat waves rocked the world last year as greenhouse gas levels climbed, boosting the odds of some extreme weather events, international scientists said Tuesday.

The details are contained in the annual State of the Climate report, compiled by nearly 400 scientists from 48 countries and published in the peer-reviewed Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society.

The report itself remains "consciously conservative" when it comes to attributing the causes of certain weather events to climate change, and instead refers only to widely understood phenomena such as La Nina.

However, it is accompanied for the first time by a separate analysis that explains how climate change may have influenced certain key events, from droughts in the US and Africa to extreme cold and warm spells in Britain.

"2011 was notable for many extreme weather and climate events. La Nina played a key role in many, but certainly not all of them," said Tom Karl, director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)'s National Climatic Center.

Last year was among the 15 warmest since records began in the late 1800s, and the Arctic warmed at about twice the rate of lower latitudes with sea ice at below average levels, according to the report.

Greenhouse gases from human pollution sources like coal and gas reached a new high, with carbon dioxide emissions exceeding 390 parts per million -- up 2.10 parts per million from 2010 -- for the first time since modern records began.

Despite the natural cooling trend brought by back-to-back La Nina effects, which chill waters in the eastern equatorial Pacific Ocean, 2011 was among the 12 highest years on record for global sea surface temperatures.

The double La Nina punch influenced many of the world's significant weather events, like historic droughts in East Africa, the southern US and northern Mexico, said the report.

La Nina trends also were associated with the wettest two years on record in Australia.

An accompanying analysis in the same journal, titled "Explaining Extreme Events," examined the links between human-driven climate change and six selected weather crises in 2011, including the Texas drought that lasted half the year.

The authors found that "such a heat wave is now around 20 times more likely during a La Nina year than it was during the 1960s," said Peter Stott, climate monitoring and attribution team leader at the UK Met Office.

"We have shown that climate change has indeed altered the odds of some of the events that have occurred," he told reporters. "What we are saying here is we can actually quantify those changing odds."

Looking at Britain's unusually warm November 2011 and the cold snap of December 2010, scientists found that frigid Decembers are half as likely to occur now compared to 50 years ago, and hot Novembers are 62 times more likely.

However, a close look at the floods along the Chao Phraya River that swamped Thailand last year showed that climate change was not to blame, but rather human activities increased construction along the flood plain.

The damage caused by the floods was unprecedented, but the amount of rain that actually fell "was not very unusual," said the analysis by experts from NOAA and Britain's Met Office along with international colleagues.

While it remains hard to link single events to human-caused climate change, "scientific thinking has moved on and now it is widely accepted that attribution statements about individual weather or climate events are possible," the report added.

The key is analyzing to what extent climate change may be boosting the odds of extreme weather, said the report, likening the phenomenon to a baseball player who takes steroids and then starts getting 20 percent more hits than before.

Scientists can consider steroids as the likely cause for the increase in hits, but must still take care to account for natural variability in the player's swing.

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