Best of our wild blogs: 12 Jul 12

19 Jul (Thu): The Wallace Lectures "Marine Biodiversity in Australia: Exploration, Documentation, Conservation and Public Engagement" from wild shores of singapore

Sungei Loyang (11 Jul 2012)
from Mega Marine Survey of Singapore

Giant clams in Singapore and how to save them
from wild shores of singapore

Piece of cake
from The annotated budak and Lepus marinus

Hornbills at Lily Avenue, Singapore
from Bird Ecology Study Group

ButterflyCircle Plays Host to US Researcher
from Butterflies of Singapore

Hello from Singapore! (@HellofrmSG)
from Lazy Lizard's Tales

Tales from Rimba 5: Give them (us) a break
from Nature rambles

Singapore’s National Climate Change Strategy 2012 – Random Thoughts from Low Carbon Singapore

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Wild boar culling to go ahead: NParks

In response to petition from residents, it says move is necessary to protect forest
Feng Zengkun Straits Times 12 Jul 12;

RESIDENTS of Old Upper Thomson Road who started an online petition to ask the National Parks Board (NParks) not to cull wild boars in their neighbourhood have been told that their wish has not been granted.

The petition, which garnered 150 signatures, was submitted to Mr Inderjit Singh, MP of the area, last Friday.

Some of the petitioners had urged NParks to study other options such as sterilising or relocating the animals, or housing them in the zoo.

'The Australians have their koalas and the Chinese have their pandas. There is no reason we should not take pride in the creatures found in our own backyard,' said resident Constance Ong, 47, a housewife.

The e-mail message to Mr Singh also asked for a scientific count of the boars in the Lower Peirce area, and for a panel of experts to be assembled to discuss how to manage its population. He had given the petition to NParks on the petitioners' behalf.

But NParks responded last night, saying the culling will go ahead. 'We know that reducing the wild boar population in the Lower Peirce area by culling is not popular,' it said in an e-mail message.

'Having taken into consideration the views of experts, we conclude that it is, however, necessary.'

Boars have been in the spotlight since The Straits Times reported last month that NParks was considering culling them in the Lower Peirce area. Its conservation director Wong Tuan Wah has said the decision is necessary to protect the Lower Peirce forest and lower the risk of human-boar conflicts.

In an interview with The Straits Times last month, he said NParks staff had observed two herds totalling some 80 to 100 boars in the 1.5 sq km area, about the size of 340 football fields.

This population density, which could double by the end of the year, far exceeds that of other forests such as the Pasoh Forest Reserve in Malaysia, where extensive damage to flora and fauna has been recorded, he noted.

'You can now see far into the Lower Peirce forest, which would not have been the case if the seedlings and tree saplings had been given the chance to grow,' he said.

He added that a boar attacked people in Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park last month and killed a pet dog at the Chestnut area in Upper Bukit Timah last December.

'We don't want to wait for a serious accident to happen before taking action,' he said.

The agency said it had ruled out sterilisation and contraceptives after consulting veterinarians. Chemical contraceptives on the market now would require follow-up injections, which are not practical for the free-ranging boar, said Mr Wong.

Surgical sterilisation would require capturing and sedating the animals, which is invasive and stressful for them.

Dr Shawn Lum, president of the Nature Society, said relocating the boars to other reserves on the island would only transfer the problem elsewhere, especially since their numbers already appear to be too high for Singapore.

NParks said other measures such as public education on the animals will be carried out. It will also explore other options in future, such as removing the boars' food source in the Lower Peirce area.

But it added that culling may be necessary on a regular basis if the population continues to grow. It said it is still working with Wildlife Reserves Singapore to explore a culling method.

Ms Ong said: 'We're a bit disappointed, but we'll keep trying, perhaps by seeking the views of experts ourselves.'

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Gardens by the Bay looking at ways to control stray dogs

Jalelah Abu Baker Straits Times 12 Jul 12;

GARDENS by the Bay will be exploring various options to improve the stray dog situation in the park after a woman was bitten by one on Monday evening.

A spokesman said yesterday that the stray dog had ventured into the park's Bay East Garden from a nearby worksite.

The mega park opened last month, but two more sections of the project are still being built.

The Bay South Garden is the biggest, and was completed after five years of construction.

A spokesman for the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) said dog traps have been placed in the park, and it has been conducting control operations since January in view of stray dog sightings in the area.

The attack on Monday was the first time such a case has happened since the 101ha attraction opened on June 29.

So far, seven dogs have been rounded up. Two of them were rehomed and five euthanised, said the AVA.

One dog was also caught in a dog trap set up at the Bay East Garden and subsequently euthanised.

The 22-year-old woman was attacked by what may have been a large mongrel when she was strolling in the Bay East Garden at about 6.30pm.

The section, located in the Tanjong Rhu area, is frequented by joggers. It is believed that there were two other dogs in the area during the attack.

The woman, who was bleeding from her legs, was ferried in an ambulance to Tan Tock Seng Hospital, but has since been discharged.

Staff from Gardens by the Bay have visited her, and will continue to render assistance, the spokesman said.

Mr Ricky Yeo, president of Action for Singapore Dogs, said that the best thing a person who accidentally enters the territory of a pack of two or more dogs can do is try not to scream or flail his arms.

He explained that dogs gain strength in numbers.

'If they are at a distance, once you see them, avoid them,' he said. 'By avoiding, it means no eye contact, and try to change your direction.'

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Towards a robust clean air strategy

Grace Chua Straits Times 12 Jul 12;

LAST week, the Singapore Institute of International Affairs (SIIA), a think tank, launched a Clean City Air Coalition to raise awareness of air pollution issues in the region and even within Singapore.

Our island-state has better air quality than many South-east Asian neighbours but it is still not up to World Health Organisation (WHO) standards.

Air pollutant levels here, while on a downward trend since 2005, were actually worse last year than in 2007, according to statistics released by the Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources last month.

Critics say there are gaps in both data and policy, and a lack of comprehensive air quality management.

Still, done right, there are opportunities for Singapore to lead in managing urban air pollution, they add.

Data issues can be sticky and the first hurdle is defining what is clean air exactly. The way WHO sees it, the goal is protecting human health so the levels of pollutants in air must be so low as to have a significant reduction in health risks.

Each year, some three million people around the world die prematurely from indoor and outdoor air pollution. Urban air pollution, such as black-carbon particles from transport systems, is a big culprit.

In Singapore, there have been a handful of studies on air pollution and human health - some linking haze to asthma and one showing that hawker centre workers have up to twice the normal risk of cancer from higher exposure to fine particles generated by cooking.

The next challenge is measuring the pollutants. While there are five key pollutants in Singapore's Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) - sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, ozone, carbon monoxide and particulate matter - they are not the only villains.

The five are used as indicators as they are relatively easy to measure and correlated with a cocktail of other airborne toxics. For example, nitrogen dioxide emissions from vehicles tend to increase in tandem with benzene or particulate matter levels.

Not included in the PSI is a pollutant known as PM2.5 or particles smaller than 2.5 microns in size. Still, it is measured because the finer the particle, the more likely it is to penetrate the lungs and the more dangerous it is to human health.

Last year, the annual mean PM2.5 level here was 17 micrograms per cubic metre. The National Environment Agency (NEA) aims to cut that to 12 by 2020. The WHO standard is 10 micrograms per cubic metre.

Similarly, the local standards for sulphur dioxide, ozone and particulate matter do not meet the WHO ideals.

A second problem for policymakers is that efforts at clearing the air, while staving off climate change, can be at odds with each other.

At last week's Clean Air Forum, organised by SIIA as part of the Clean Enviro Summit at Marina Bay Sands, National University of Singapore researcher Kua Harn Wei illustrated the contradiction with the example of catalytic converters which convert toxic chemicals from vehicle emissions into less toxic ones. These may reduce the amount of carbon monoxide belched out from tailpipes but they can also increase the amount of nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas. So this measure aimed at cleaning up pollutants ends up feeding global warming.

SIIA director and Nominated Member of Parliament Nicholas Fang pointed out at the same forum that low-carbon diesel cuts carbon emissions but can spew particulate matter into the air, giving some people breathing problems.

Yet another example is the power plant being built on Jurong Island to burn low-sulphur, low-ash coal, palm shells and wood waste. The good news is that new technologies may keep ash and sulphur dioxide from being pumped into the air but the fact is that coal still generates more greenhouse gas emissions than natural gas.

It can seem as though climate change and air quality are managed completely in isolation from each other.

Scientists also point out that Singapore needs more detailed risk assessments, maps and models of air pollution.

In May, atmospheric scientists Matthias Roth of the National University of Singapore and Erik Velasco of the Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology published a paper pointing out gaps and identifying the opportunities in Singapore's air pollution management.

The paper acknowledged: 'Singapore is far from being a hazy and highly polluted city.'

But it also noted a gap. Singapore has specific air quality targets, and it has long trumpeted its general strategies for improving air quality, such as promoting public transport, improving energy efficiency or enhancing land use planning - yet there is no apparent technical analysis of how well these will work to reach the proposed targets.

It said: 'A formal risk assessment... which evaluates the co-benefits for other pollutants of attaining these standards, is not apparent, nor is there an air quality management plan for addressing these goals.'

Dr Roth and Dr Velasco suggested more models and maps of how air pollutant levels vary in time and space, even as frequently as hourly or daily, and recommended studies into how multiple pollutants are formed, emitted and transported in Singapore's tropical urban atmosphere. There could be more live maps and visualisations of air quality, such as Europe's live ozone-pollution map. And there should be more specific, detailed inventories of emissions - to better protect those in high-risk micro-environments like hawker centres.

Plus, the researchers said, air quality management must take into account seasonal shifts in weather patterns, such as the annual south-west monsoon. For instance, more than half of sulphur dioxide emissions here come from refineries located in the south-west, either on the mainland or offshore. When the wind blows from that direction during the monsoon, residents in those areas could be affected.

It can't be denied that Singapore's efforts at air pollution management are evolving. Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan had told Parliament earlier this year that the NEA is reviewing PSI to include reports on the levels of PM2.5 on its website more frequently, although he did not say when that would start.

In another change, the NEA stipulated that from this month, newly imported non-road diesel engines, such as those in cranes, excavators, forklifts and diesel generators, must meet more stringent emissions standards.

There may be room, too, for private industry to get involved in managing air pollution. Last week, computing giant IBM signed a $13 million collaboration with the NEA, funded by both and the Economic Development Board, to develop better models of various environmental risks - including air quality.

The SIIA's Clean City Air Coalition comprises parties involved in controlling air pollution, such as Senoko Energy, and those who could bear the brunt of failed efforts at controlling air pollution, such as the Sentosa Leisure Group.

Such firms have contributed about $100,000 in funding to the coalition, which aims to increase companies' and the public's understanding of what clean air really means and help shape regulatory policy.

If air quality measurements can be crowd-sourced, say by snapping geo-tagged pictures of smoky installations or with the sort of smartphone air quality sensors now being developed elsewhere, better air quality management need not be costly.

In fact, as Dr Roth and Dr Velasco pointed out, Singapore could be at the forefront of tropical air quality research and management. Combined with its strengths in water management and green building design, this would help seal the island-state's reputation as a sustainable green city.

But first, let's usher in a comprehensive air quality management strategy.

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Malaysia: Pulling sea turtles from the brink

The leatherbacks are not the only ones going extinct. The Olive Ridley and Green turtles are also in danger of disappearing from the face of the earth, writes Jaspal Singh
New Straits Times 12 Jul 12;

THE mere mention of turtles is bound to conjure up images of large leatherback reptiles pulling their weight slowly to lay eggs on Terengganu's famous Rantau Abang beach.

The shores of Rantau Abang have become famous, thanks largely to the immense publicity the threatened leatherback species has received due to its endangered species tag.

But many are not aware that there are other endangered turtle species, albeit smaller in size, which come to the Malaysian peninsula shores to lay their eggs.

Two of them -- the Olive Ridley and the Green turtle -- have made Malaysian shores their home for generations. Dozens come here every year to lay eggs.

And to the surprise of many, it is not the east coast that these species are calling home.

It is the west coast of Peninsular Malaysia.

Both the Olive Ridley and the Green turtles have made Perak, Penang and Malacca home, where each year mother turtles swim to the shore at night to lay eggs.

Of the three locations, Perak receives the highest number. Dozens of turtles crawl up to the beach of Kampung Segari almost every month.

With the highest concentration of the Olive Ridley and the Green turtles at the shores of Kampung Segari, Pasir Panjang, located 95km south-west of Ipoh, it is surprising that many Malaysians are still unaware that they can visit the Turtle and Marine Ecosystem Centre or TUMEC to learn more about these reptiles.

It is at TUMEC, established by the Fisheries Department, that intense efforts are being undertaken to prevent the Olive Ridley and the Green turtles from disappearing from the face of the planet.

Located on a 2.4ha site, less than 50m from the spot where the turtles come to lay eggs, the centre boasts not only an information centre for visitors, but more importantly, a hatchery.

The centre, according to Perak Fisheries Department director Sani Mohd Isa, is involved with five main programmes -- turtles hatchery, hatchling release, conservation, public awareness and research.

"These programmes are linked to our primary focus, which is protecting turtles from the threat of extinction.

"Both Olive Ridley and Green turtles are threatened species. At TUMEC, we take every effort to make sure that these two species are protected," he said when met after the opening of the Turtle Conservation Awareness Talk at the centre yesterday.

The one-day event, which involved students from four schools near the centre, was organised by Malakoff Corporation Berhad as part of the company's corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiative to spread awareness of turtle conservation among the younger generation.

Sani, who takes a keen interest in turtle conservation, said TUMEC's main priority was the hatchery programme and hatchling release.

Last year, turtles from the two species laid about 8,000 eggs, of which half were hatched and released back to the ocean.

Until June this year, the turtles laid about 2,300 eggs, of which 430 were hatched.

According to Sani, the lower figure for this year did not mean that there were fewer turtles coming to the shore to lay their eggs.

"Turtles are in the habit of searching for proper egg-laying spots. Sometimes they would visit Kampung Segari shores two or three times before laying eggs.

"What is more important is the role played by TUMEC to conserve these species. Once the eggs are laid, we immediately dig them out and bury them in our hatchery a few metres away from the beach," he said, pointing out that the turtles would come to the shore between 1am and 5am to lay eggs.

A fertile female turtle could lay up to 150 eggs per beach trip. The eggs are buried in sand hatchery for a period of up to eight months. If the eggs do not hatch, they are then dug out and disposed of.

Hatchlings from eggs successfully hatched are then removed to small sea-water cubicles where they will be kept and fed for a month before being released into the sea.

Sani said the sand at the hatchery was replaced every year to avoid spread of bacteria or other life-threatening organisms.

Despite the organised structure and system at the centre, Sani said TUMEC was in continuous need of funding to ensure that its programmes were run without hiccups.

"We receive funding both from the Federal and state governments but this is not adequate.

"We can only hope that more companies will embrace turtle conservation as part of their CSR programmes like that done by Malakoff," he said.

Malakoff's programme saw students from SK Segari, SJK (T) Ladang Huntly, SJK (C) Pei Min and Sekolah Agama Rakyat Segari taking part in a quiz, tour of TUMEC's various facilities, colouring contest, gotong-royong at the turtle beach and witnessing the release of about 60 hatchlings into the sea.

Malakoff, which is conducting the turtle CSR programme for the second year, presented a cheque for RM10,000 to help improve amenities at the centre.

"The turtle conservation effort in Perak is still not widely known but we are trying our best. Malaysians can certainly do more if they are aware about how important it is to protect these sea creatures.

"Do it for the coming generations so that they too can see and touch these graceful and beautiful turtles," he said.

The days of turtles in PD long gone
The Star 16 Jul 12;

I REMEMBER going fishing with my father, uncle and brothers in the waters around Port Dickson.

During the late 80s and early 90s every 10 to 15 minutes, we could see or hear turtles coming up for air.

It was always exciting to hear the gulping of air and the splash of water as this beautiful animal dived back into the deep blue sea.

I still go fishing around Port Dickson but sad to say, I hardly see or hear the turtle anymore.

More effort must be made to save this beautiful animal.

It’s really sad to hear that the Leatherback and the Olive Ridley sea turtles are already extinct in Malaysian waters.

There are many reasons why this has happened. But the most damaging one is the collection and consumption of turtle eggs.

It’s high time that the Federal Government ban the sale of turtle eggs for consumption.

Kuala Terengganu, popularly known as the country’s “turtle town”, is slowly losing its name as such.

Turtle eggs are still being sold openly at wet markets all around Kuala Terengganu.

I hope the the state government will ban its sale.

If that does not happen, then the Federal Government should step in and do the right thing.

Port Dickson

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Pythons, lorises and a monkey siezed at Bangkok airport

TRAFFIC 11 Jul 12;

Authorities displaying the suitcase in which a dozen lorises, 11 pythons and a marmoset were found Click image to enlarge © TRAFFIC Bangkok, Thailand, 11th July 2012—Lorises appear to be the preferred target of wildlife traffickers, turning up in markets around the South-East Asian region and in seizures—including the dozen found in a traveller’s suitcase at Suvarnabhumi International Airport this morning.

Authorities at Thailand’s largest and busiest airport found the lorises stuffed in cloth bags inside the suitcase of a Kuwait bound traveller, who was also carrying 11 pythons and one marmoset in her luggage.

Alert officers at the luggage-scanning counter of the airport noticed something odd about the x-ray images of the woman’s bag and found the animals when they opened it for examination.

As a downside of their cute, wide-eyed appeal, slow lorises are in high demand as pets not only in Southeast Asia but globally. The trade is ongoing in spite of a worldwide ban on international commercial trade that has been in place since 2007.

A local daily reported on Monday that Thai police in the beachside resort town of Patong arrested two men and confiscated three lorises that were being offered to tourists for photographs.

Despite strong legal protection in the countries where they occur naturally, and protection under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Flora and Fauna (CITES), lorises are openly sold in many markets and on Internet pet forums, indicating weak enforcement and little fear of the law.

Thailand is not the only country in Southeast Asia where the illegal trade of slow lorises is a concern. Last month, TRAFFIC researchers observed 55 Slow Lorises for sale in two markets in Jakarta, Indonesia, including three Endangered Javan Slow Lorises. 13 were seen in Barito Market, and 42 more in Jati Negara market.

In Thailand, the Deputy Director General of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation Department, Theerapat Prayulsit estimates that from October 2011 to July this year, authorities have rescued 12,332 wild animals from wildlife traffickers and arrested 13 people in connection with wildlife trade related offences.

Speaking at a press conference today, he said the list includes Tigers, pangolins, marmosets, snakes, turtles, bears, birds and primates like the lorises found today.

The woman caught attempting to smuggle the lorises out of the country has been detained for questioning by the Natural Resources and Environmental Crime Suppression Division of the Royal Thai Police.

“TRAFFIC congratulates the Thai authorities on this seizure. We also urge them to remain vigilant. At a broader level, more must be done throughout Southeast Asia, to quell the insatiable demand for slow lorises,” said TRAFFIC Southeast Asia Regional Director William Schaedla.

“Effective enforcement and successful prosecutions are crucial to the protection of such species. The fact that so many are openly for sale illustrates a lack of commitment on the part of the authorities.”

“Without better co-ordination and market closures, lorises will end up going the way of so many other species threatened by illegal wildlife trade,” he added.

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“We can still save our reefs”

ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies
Science Alert 12 Jul 12;

John Pandolfi keeps his optimism alive despite the grim scientific evidence he confronts daily that the world’s coral reefs are in a lot of trouble – along with 81 nations and 500 million people who depend on them.

The world-renowned coral scientist from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies and University of Queensland has traced the story of the world’s reefs over more than 50 million years and is deciphering delicate signals from the past to reveal what doomed them in previous extinctions – and how this compares with today.

This knowledge is priceless in understanding what we humans have to do to prevent such a tragedy recurring, he says.

“I’m an optimist – you have to be, to devote your life to this field,” he explains. Despite scientific predictions that the current trajectory of human development will eliminate 90% of the world’s coral reefs by the end of the century, Pandolfi considers it is still within our power to save 60 or 70%, provided we act quickly to limit the things that drive corals to ruin.

“Corals themselves are remarkably resilient. They have stood up to several episodes of global warming and high CO2 in the past – and bounced back, even from mass extinction events.

But the sobering fact is that it can take coral reefs up to ten million years to re-establish after a major extinction event, he says. “That’s a long time to wait if your industries, communities and food supplies are dependent on reefs.”

The big issue today is that most of the world’s coral reefs face a ‘double whammy’ of accelerated global change combined with local stresses from pollution, runoff and overfishing. These local, man-made, factors were absent during previous world coral crises, he points out.

“Also, while corals have withstood hot climates and high CO2 in the past, we have so far been unable to identify any period in Earth’s history when CO2 levels rose as rapidly as today.”

The good news, he says, is that experiments in Australia and round the world have shown it is possible to curb overfishing, runoff and pollution, to limit their local impact on corals. “Our latest studies have shown corals have a great capacity to bounce back if you take these pressures off them – and this means we still have a window of opportunity to act.

“But we need to act immediately.”

Prof. Pandolfi says the action required is threefold – (i) aggressively reduce CO2 emissions (ii) reduce overfishing, pollution and coral habitat destruction and (iii) implement sound management to improve overall reef health.

On Thursday, July 12, Prof Pandolfi presented his team’s latest research to the International Coral Reef Symposium. This work aims to disentangle the impact of local effects (like runoff and rainfall) from global effects (like warming and ocean acidification) on the coral’s ability to calcify (or grow) by studying rates of calcification in the columnar coral Goniopora over the past 1000 years.

“We’ve observed widely different effects in some corals – for example when calcification of Porites corals declined by 14% on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, it increased by 24% on Western Australian reefs. This has got to be down to local effects, as both corals are experiencing some of the same global impacts.”

Managing corals so they thrive, as in the case of WA, may hold the secret of saving the world’s coral reefs in a time that might otherwise bring near-extinction.

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Debris from Japan tsunami extends 2,000 miles across Pacific

Expedition discovers huge plume including half a fishing boat, with debris expected to wash up on US Pacific coast in October
Suzanne Goldenberg 11 Jul 12;

Wreckage from Japan's devastating tsunami now stretches across a vast expanse of the North Pacific up to 2,000 miles wide, an ocean expedition has discovered.

The first research vessel to journey into the debris field from last year's Japanese tsunami returned to port in Hawaii after 28 days at sea with new evidence of the wreckage now making its way to North American shores.

"There is a huge plume. We estimate it's more than 1,000 miles wide, maybe almost 2,000 miles wide – and that debris field is largely in the centre of the ocean," said Marcus Eriksen, captain of the Sea Dragon.

It does not, however, form a solid mat. "It really isn't a thick field. It is very, very dispersed," he said.

But there were still astonishing finds. What looked at first to be a whale on the horizon turned out, on closer inspection, to be the front half of a fishing boat, with Japanese characters still on the prow.

The crew also spotted a tatami mat and a truck tire with its rim intact.

The expedition was a joint effort between three non-profit groups: Eriksen's 5 Gyres Institute, the Algalita Foundation, and the Ocean Voyage Institute.

Debris from the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami has swept across the Pacific far faster than scientists expected. Light, floating objects, such as buoys and oil drums, began reaching land last winter, carried along by winds as well as currents.

There have been more solid finds too: a Harley Davidson motorcyle, still in a packing crate, washed up in British Columbia. A football turned up on an unihabited island off Alaska, and was traced to its schoolboy owner back in Japan.

The Japanese government estimates that nearly 5m tonnes of debris was washed out to sea. Most of the debris is expected to begin hitting the Pacific coast of North America in October.

And it will almost certainly continue arriving in dribs and drabs, based on the Sea Dragon's observations. Eriksen dismissed fears of a tidal-wave like arrival of rubbish on North American beaches.

"We are not going to have this avalanche, this wave of debris hitting North America at one time," he said. "It's just going to be a slow trickle."

On average, Eriksen and his crew encountered a piece of debris every 3.6 minutes. Almost all of those objects were plastic. The timber, and other organic materials that were swept out to sea, had disintegrated.

Based on current trajectories, and wind and current patterns, scientists expect the majority of the debris – perhaps 95% - to remain in the west Pacific, eventually joining the existing fields of plastic debris. But, said Eriksen, some of it with eventually wash up in Hawaii, and maybe even whip around back towards Japan.

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