Best of our wild blogs: 20 Jul 12

How are Sentosa's seagrasses doing?
from wild shores of singapore

Learning about Australia's marine biodiversity at the first Wallace Lecture from wild shores of singapore

Brown-throated Sunbird feeding in the evening
from Bird Ecology Study Group

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Public engagement to save Pasir Ris green belt

From Jeremy Ang Today Online 20 Jul 12;

I refer to the reports "Save our green lung, say Pasir Ris residents" (July 9) and "How to give residents a bigger say" (July 14).

As highlighted in the latter, I, too, believe that Singaporeans would like to be engaged in the planning developments that affect their estate.

With the recent plans to raze a lush woodland in Pasir Ris - a sanctuary for many scarce bird species - it is timely if the relevant authorities were to gain the confidence of nature lovers and residents by involving them in the plans and seeking their buy-in.

Regardless of the outcome, it would be a robust, thought-out process that takes the people's voice into consideration.

On this note, I applaud Pasir Ris Town Council for its dialogue session on preserving our green, to be held Aug 5, in line with the recent Saving Gaia campaign for generating green awareness.

How to give residents a bigger say
Forget NIMBYism, time for a consultation SOP when development plans affect estates
Tan Weizhen Today Online 14 Jul 12;

SINGAPORE - As Singaporeans increasingly demand to be heard on planning developments that affect their neighbourhoods and estates, it may be time to formalise channels - like setting up local planning councils or holding public hearings - that will give residents more say in such municipal-level affairs.

Members of Parliament (MPs), political analysts and sociologists told TODAY that they see an urgent need to regularise the rules of engagement, following a slew of petitions by groups in the past year against (or for) various developments in their estates.

Those that have made headlines include groups rallying over proposed eldercare centres; apartment residents unhappy with MRT construction works; households upset with a condominium developer's positioning of the refuse bin centre; and a Pasir Ris group seeking to save a forest belt.


In the United States, for instance, there are local councils that engage in consultation with the authorities on new developments that could impact the town or neighbourhood.

Joo Chiat MP Charles Chong is all for moving towards a system of public hearings, where the authorities seek the views of residents and other stakeholders on major municipal issues or key legislation. Experts and interest groups may also be brought in.

"Over there (in the US), they have all sorts of consultations, even if it is to build a church or mosque in the area.

"In Singapore, the Government should consult on issues as long as it is not about national survival. For instance, the building of facilities that will affect the district," said Mr Chong.

Explaining why this is important as citizens get louder, he said: "Not everyone will get their way but at least the process is there and it is transparent. For now, it appears like it is everyone against the Government, who appear to be forcing changes upon the people.

"But with a system like in the US, everyone has their say and it is less emotive, with more facts and figures to support various points of view."

Such dialogue, as a start, could take the form of regular town-hall meetings, suggested Mr Chong, whose own Joo Chiat residents have been a textbook case of activism. (Efforts of the Save Joo Chiat Work Group in 2004 to combat sleaze in their district and promote its Peranakan heritage led to a freeze in new licences for pubs and KTV lounges in the area. Today, the area is known for trendy eateries and furniture shops.)


Others feel that Singapore is not ready for local planning councils. Several, like Sembawang GRC MP Ellen Lee and grassroots leader David Sim, 47, are more for expanding the role of Residents' Committees - which promote neighbourliness, racial harmony and community bonding - to include a consultative role on estate developments.

They pointed out that RC members typically have experience and knowledge of the ground, and they know other residents well and seek out their views. Town councils, on the other hand, deal mainly with implementation and are not suited for a consultative role, the MPs felt.

"We can't have a one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to public consultation. But a formal process should be started if more negative reactions for a particular project are anticipated," said Tanjong Pagar GRC MP Indranee Rajah, who has been liaising with a group of Emerald Hill residents who have petitioned against an upcoming condominium development's construction of a rubbish-collection access gate on Saunders Road.

Nominated MP and Assistant Professor of Law Eugene Tan thinks the manner of consultation with residents should evolve; guidelines can be tweaked with each new situation that arises, until a set of protocols coalesces over time.

But the need for engagement is urgent, he feels. "Sometimes gathering feedback on the ground will enable the Government to make even better policies," he said. "An agency may know what is needed at the national level but, in terms of implementing it, that is where intimate local knowledge becomes important."


That does not mean that every minor decision or change in estate affairs should be put up for discussion.

Ms Lee, who dealt with a petition from residents against the building of an eldercare centre on Woodlands St 83, thinks formal consultation should be set in motion only for larger developments that affect many.

"Projects could be derailed and the whole process becomes tedious and prolonged if residents are to be consulted for everything," said Ms Lee, echoing a common view.

Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC MP Hri Kumar said MPs should decide what is major enough. He is carrying out a couple of simple consultation exercises: Sending out letters before building a park in the Shunfu area and gathering feedback before allowing a REACH family service centre to set up an office at a void deck.


Emerald Hill resident and petition-leader Tan Tiang Yeow says that whether he would be willing to sit on a neighbourhood council would depend on how effective it is.

"We can give feedback 24 hours a day but what does it register as - a complaint, or something taken into account that will effect a rethink?"

Mr Tan, 46, said that there is sometimes a "disconnect" between how residents and the authorities see an issue.

To address this, he suggested that every neighbourhood could have a website detailing plans for any future development, repair work or upgrading and an explanation of how land-use decisions are made, as well as channels to foster discussion.

Regulations could also be put in place to make it necessary for developers or the authorities to inform residents before a decision is made, as well as a time-frame for it to be done in.

Clementi resident Lester Yeong said he would be happy to sit on a residents' council and represent his community's views on town planning and development.

The lab manager, 35, who backed the case of a group of Clementi Ave 4 residents who were farming illegally on State land, said: "It's my community and my responsibility for the well-being of the area I live in."

Asst Prof Tan believes that this is the crux of the issue facing Singapore - that resident activism should not be equated with NIMBYism (not in my backyard).

"You short-circuit the whole dialogue process if the Government is convinced it is just a NIMBY issue. They are not going to be interested in feedback," he said.

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Detention tank, diversion canal to enhance flood prevention

Olivia Siong Channel NewsAsia 19 Jul 12;

SINGAPORE: National water agency PUB has announced measures which it said will help prevent major flooding in Orchard Road from occurring again.

It plans to build a diversion canal and detention tank at the Stamford Canal Catchment to better deal with intense storms.

Prolonged heavy rains led to major flooding at Orchard Road in the last two years.

This was due to the Stamford Canal exceeding its capacity.

PUB is implementing two new measures after a nine-month study.

Firstly, PUB plans to build a new diversionary canal to ease the load on the existing Stamford Canal.

Storm water at the upper catchment, which serves areas like Napier Road and Holland Road, will flow to the Singapore River instead of the Stamford Canal.

So the new two-kilometre long canal will run beneath the surface starting from Grange Road, along Hoot Kiam Road, River Valley Road and off Kim Seng Road to the Singapore River.

The diversion canal along Bukit Timah Road is one of two existing diversion canals in Singapore. It was built in 1991 and diverts storm water to the Kallang River.

The new diversion canal will be about one third the size of the one along Bukit Timah Road.

A new underground water detention tank will also be built at Tyersall Avenue near Holland Road, opposite the Ginger Garden.

The tank will be built below a proposed nursery and coach park, which will be built by National Parks Board.

The tank will collect excess rainwater from drains along Holland Road during a heavy downpour.

The water will then be pumped back to the drains and discharged after a rain storm into the Marina Reservoir through the new diversion canal.

It will be able to hold about 15 Olympic-sized swimming pools of water - that's about 38,000 cubic metres of water.

The tank will also be about four-storey high. It will be the second water detention tank in Singapore. The first was built and completed in 2002 at Opera Estate.

The new water tank will be two-and-a-half times the size of the existing one.

PUB said while the new measures might not completely eradicate flash floods, they will help alleviate the situation.

Director of Catchment and Waterways for PUB, Mr Tan Nguan Sen, said: "Whatever structural design you build, engineering design you have, if you have a storm that's 'higher' than your design, you'll still have some residual flood risk. But definitely it'll be much less extensive and much less severe."

Mr Tan added motorists might be inconvenienced during the construction of the diversion canal and detention tank.

"It'll be something like what you see in typical road construction or drainage construction. The traffic may have to be diverted temporarily and then reinstated later.

"We will have to work together with the other agencies to make sure there's minimum traffic disruption and to ensure the traffic will continue to flow as per normal," Mr Tan explained.

Detailed design for the construction tenders for both measures will be carried out in the second half of this year.

Work on the diversion canal is expected to be done by the end of 2017.

And the detention tank is set for completion by the end of 2015.


New canal to help ease Orchard floods
Detention tank also part of several measures to handle rainwater surge
Floodwaters in the carpark behind Orchard Building in the Orchard Road shopping belt on Dec 23, 2011. Singapore will build both a detention tank and a diversion canal to reduce flooding in the Orchard Road area. -- PHOTO: STOMP
Feng Zengkun Straits Times 20 Jul 12;

IN ONE of its most extensive efforts to fight floods, national water agency PUB will build a canal and a water detention tank to ensure Singapore's key shopping district and surrounding areas do not go under water again.

The 2km-long diversion canal will start at the same point as the Stamford Canal serving the Orchard Road area, but will steer rainwater towards the Singapore River. It will be ready in 2017.

The water detention tank, to be completed by 2015, will be built under a new carpark for coach buses near the Botanic Gardens. It will hold 38,000 cubic m - the volume of about 15 Olympic-sized swimming pools - and store rainwater from drains in the area temporarily during storms. The water in it will be pumped out to the drainage network after storms.

The two projects will reduce the Stamford Canal's catchment area by more than a third, easing the load on this canal, which runs from Grange Road through Orchard Road to the Marina Barrage.

This announcement comes after a series of high-profile floods along Orchard Road in the past two years, which caused millions of dollars in damage.

An expert panel appointed by the Government last June to look at ways to reduce flooding had concluded that the Stamford Canal was no longer big enough to handle the recent more intense rain.

News of the two projects yesterday came at the close of a nine-month study into long-term solutions to the floods. It looked at past floods and used a computer model to simulate even worse storms, such as one which lasts four hours and could dump 100mm of rain in an hour.

PUB chief executive Chew Men Leong said: 'The agency has put in place a multi-pronged plan to strengthen flood resilience across Singapore to cater to increasing weather uncertainty and urbanisation.'

Besides the two projects, the plan includes a more advanced forecasting system to be tested next year, and using building features to capture rainwater.

A weir, or barrier, will be built across the Stamford Canal to force upstream water to flow into the new diversion canal.

Professor Chan Eng Soon, who led the flood expert panel, said that with the diversion canal capturing water from about 40 per cent of the Stamford Canal catchment, it will be able to handle more intense storms.

'I think it would be able to handle the storms of 2010 and last year, except for some minor areas due to the local factors,' he said.

PUB will call for detailed design tenders for both projects by year-end; construction is likely to start next year. It declined to comment on the cost of the projects.

It said it will work with others such as the Land Transport Authority to minimise disruption during the works.

The new canal will run under only roads, not buildings. PUB said it will maintain the number of traffic lanes on affected roads.

The agency used computer models to check that the diversion canal will not transfer flood risk to other places.

Property consultant Colin Tan said property prices in flood-hit areas could recover because of these projects, although the construction work may drive down rentals in the meantime.

PUB previously built two diversion canals to ease the load on the Bukit Timah Canal. The first was completed in 1972; the second, twice as long and three times as large as the new canal, cost $240 million when it opened in 1990.

More measures to keep flooding at bay
PUB to build storage tank and under-road diversion canal to ease load on Stamford Canal
Woo Sian Boon Today Online 20 Jul 12;

SINGAPORE - Following a nine-month study on long-term anti-flood measures, national water agency PUB yesterday announced plans to build an underground detention tank and a 2-km diversion canal, which will ease the load on the Stamford Canal.

Detailed design for the construction tenders of both projects will be conducted this year.

The four-storey high detention tank is set for completion by the end of 2015. It will be built beneath a proposed nursery and coach park at Tyersall Avenue next to the Botanic Gardens. With an estimated capacity of 38,000 cubic metres - or 15 times that of an Olympic-sized pool - it will store excess stormwater from the existing drains along Holland Road. The excess stormwater will be pumped back into the drains for discharge into the Marina Reservoir via the proposed diversion canal after the rain subsides.

Work on the diversion canal is expected to be done by the end of 2017. It will divert rainwater from 38 per cent of the Stamford Canal catchment to the Singapore River.

About 3m to 4m deep, the new canal will run beneath the surface, starting from Grange Road, along Hoot Kiam Road, River Valley Road and off Kim Seng Road to the Singapore River.

As the projects will be up for tender, PUB said it is premature to estimate the cost. Nevertheless, it said the issues of cost and feasibility of solutions had been taken into consideration.

In January, Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan said in Parliament that building a diversion canal would cost between S$300 million and S$400 million, as he spoke about the possible options to alleviate future floods in the area.

PUB said it will work with the relevant agencies and stakeholder groups, such as the Land Transport Authority (LTA), to minimise disruptions during the construction.

At a media briefing yesterday, PUB Director of Catchment and Waterways Tan Nguan Sen said: "There will be operations where part of the road will be diverted, but the diversion will ensure that the number of lanes on the road will be maintained."

Speaking to TODAY, Professor Chan Eng Soon, who chaired an expert panel on drainage design and flood protection measures, said the duration of the construction of the diversion canal was understandable. He said: "You're looking at the diversion of a significant amount of rainfall runoff, so it'll be quite a sizeable canal to build.

"Naturally, the construction will need to take time."

PUB has previously rolled out several drainage improvement projects in the area to alleviate flash floods including the removal of sections of the NEWater pipeline in the canal and the smoothening of the canal wall with polymer lining.

Owners of buildings along Orchard Road, such as Lucky Plaza, Tanglin Mall and Wisma Atria, have also put in place measures to improve flood protection. For example, Wisma Atria has raised its platform to prevent floodwater from entering its basement.

Orchard Road Business Association executive director Steven Goh said that last week, PUB had informed his association of its plans.

Welcoming PUB's latest initiatives, Mr Goh acknowledged PUB's efforts in addressing the issue as well as engaging the stakeholders. "Right now, even without the canal, they are already trying to improve the flow of the water by installing the polymer lining in different pockets of Orchard Road," he noted.

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A little green dot? It's on the cards

Polytechnic student serves up a new card game to educate S'poreans about local flora
Alvin Chong Today Online 20 Jul 12;

SINGAPORE - If you cannot tell one tree from another, a new "environmental bonding" card game, GREENERDot, could help kickstart your education on Singapore's diverse flora.

GREENERDot is "a game to educate all Singaporeans about environmental issues in Singapore", according to its designer, Nanyang Polytechnic student Pang Yu Han.

The 18-year-old came up with the game after signing up for the Bayer Young Environmental Programme 2012, a programme for tertiary students that aims to help ease environmental issues in Singapore.

"I thought this would be a good chance for me to really help the earth," she said. "I wanted a game - I think games help people learn better."

The name GREENERDot is a play on words, explained Yu Han: "By being a green nerd, you can make our little red dot, Singapore, a greener dot."

The game features a deck of 50 cards and gameplay involves collecting sets of "Green Spaces" and growing plants on them. The Green Spaces feature popular parks in Singapore, such as the recently launched Gardens By The Bay, and each contains a description of the park's history.

Trees are grown using "Sapling", "Compost" and "Adult Tree" cards, each with a description for players to learn more about growing a plant. Some of Singapore's common trees are also featured with descriptions.

The game also has "Impact Cards" that can affect the growing process, with positives such as "Reforestation" and negatives such as "Pollution". Players can defeat the negatives by playing a "Change Agent" card.

"The real Change Agents are humans. If we do our part, we can get rid of negative impacts on the environment and save the earth," she said.

Yu Han designed all the cards herself, which took a whole week with barely any sleep. Before she designed the game, Yu Han was "not very concerned about the environment". But since starting on the game, she has become an active member of the Nanyang Polytechnic Geo Council, a CCA that helps equip students with environmental knowledge.

While she said that the current environmental situation in Singapore is "quite healthy", she feels that awareness has to be raised to prevent things from deteriorating. For Yu Han, GREENERDot is just the first step towards a green future. "My long-term aim is to do something different from others and to help the world," she said.

GREENERDot is in its initial launch and those interested in getting a pack can email Limited sets are available. Go to for more.

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Malaysia: Underpass for wild animals

New Straits Times 20 Jul 12;

IPOH: A viaduct to allow safe passage for wildlife across the East-West Highway will be built on a site near Pulau Banding.

State Wildlife and National Parks Department (Perhilitan) director Abdul Kadir Abu Hashim said construction of the 1km underpass would begin next year.

"We choose the site as studies conducted by the department found that most wildlife passes that area.

"The government has, in principle, agreed on the site," he told the New Straits Times here yesterday.

It was reported that the cabinet had approved RM60 million to build the viaduct over the highway, which connects Grik in Perak and Jeli in Kelantan

Besides the Pulau Banding site, the cabinet had also approved similar projects in Terengganu and Pahang, costing RM110 million.

The viaduct, vital in linking fragmented tiger populations and reducing conflict with humans, was to save wildlife from being killed or injured when crossing the highway.

It will also allow safe passage between conservation corridors such as the Greater Taman Negara and Belum-Temengor Priority Tiger Landscape.

Kadir said if given a choice, the department would love to have several viaducts along the 100km highway.

"But based on the allocation given to us, we need to prioritise."

Extra manpower would be deployed at the viaduct area once construction was completed, he said, adding that this was to deter poachers.

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Malaysia, Terengganu: Coastal erosion kept in check

New Straits Times 19 Jul 12;

THE forces of nature cannot be fathomed. Every year, the monsoon season never fails to unleash torrential rain, thunderstorms and metre-high waves which hit Terengganu and the other east coast states.

With the state’s shoreline stretching 240km, the monsoon causes low-lying areas to be flooded.

Another real and present danger is coastal erosion brought about by the constant pounding of huge waves which cause large portions of sand and earth to be swallowed by the sea.

Big casuarina trees that can withstand strong coastal winds are toppled by the waves, which also destroy roads and buildings near the shore.

Realising the huge impact of coastal erosion on the livelihood of the local population, who are mostly fishermen, the state government has implemented erosion control measures through the Department of Irrigation and Drainage (DID).

One of the affected areas is Kampung Tok Jembal in Gong Badak, where gazebos have been swallowed by the sea, trees uprooted and a road destroyed during unusually high tides last year.

The DID has acted fast to stem the destruction by extending a seawall built two years ago to protect fishing boats.

Contractors not only had to extend the granite wall but also repair sections destroyed by the waves.

The task was far from a breeze as the tide and waves, sometimes as high as three metres, “gobbled” chunks of the granite wall even as the workers, aided by heavy machinery, were driving them into the ground.

Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Ahmad Said visited the site as excavators and earthmovers worked day and night, racing against the tide to complete the seawall.

“On the whole, the erosion control project in Tok Jembal will cost about RM81 million,” he said.

Despite the bad weather, the seawall has been completed on time and now visitors are back again at the Tok Jembal beach, a popular picnic spot among locals.

Fisherman Sulaiman Muda, 50, thanked the state government for building the seawall. Before it was put up, seawater used to reach the doorsteps of fishermen’s houses located about 70m inland.

“The waves are more powerful than any wall man can build. But at least now we are shielded by the wall and have ample time to move our boats further inland during high tide,” he said.

Building seawalls is not cheap and the state government has allocated millions of ringgit to construct them along various affected beaches in the state.

State DID director Mat Hussin Ghani put the cost for every metre of seawall at RM5,000.

“The wall has to be very strong to withstand the waves’ ferocious power.” Another area badly affected by erosion is the Teluk Lipat beach in Dungun and the state government wasted no time in allocating RM1.8 million to repair the damage.

A 1km road running parallel to the beach was destroyed after it was inundated by seawater and lashed by strong waves.

Infrastructure Development and Public Amenities Committee chairman Datuk Zaabar Mohd Adib said RM1.5 million has been allocated to construct three breakwaters in the area.

The DID, meanwhile, has been directed to complete the design of the breakwater as soon as possible.

“Once the design has been finalised, work can immediately start.” Zaabar said sand dredged from the Sungai Dungun estuary could be used in the construction of the breakwater.

T he depa r t ment ha s a l so embarked on several flood mitigation projects statewide, such as the RM5.6 million pumping system to prevent flash floods in Pusu Tiga, Gong Badak, and the RM6.7 million work to deepen and widen Sungai Pertang in Hulu Terengganu.

Apart from dedicated flood mitigation projects, the Hulu Terengganu hydroelectric project will also play a role by way of river water flow control.

This will be effected by a dam, now under construction upriver of Tasik Kenyir, which will reduce the threat of floods caused by the river overflowing its banks during the monsoon season.

Natural disasters like floods cannot be totally prevented but measures taken by the state government have mitigated the threat and damage.

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Malaysia, Sarawak: Planted forest target unmet

New Straits Times 20 Jul 12;

KUCHING: The slow pace of achieving the target of having one million hectares of forests replanted by 2020 may force Sarawak to open the door to the development of Licensed Planted Forests (LPF) to foreign participation.

Permanent Secretary to the Ministry of Resource Planning and Environment Datuk Sudarsono Osman said only about 30 per cent of the target had been met.

He was speaking at a Sarawak Timber Industry Development Corporation's industry forum yesterday.

He said priority for the job would always be given to locals, but as the locals showed lukewarm interest, the government would be forced to consider other options.

Sudarsono urged the licensees to fulfil their obligation to plant the forest plantations.

"With the current low level of achievement of planted forest and declining supply of raw materials from the natural forest, the forest plantation sector should be given top priority for the survival of the timber industry."

He said it was the policy of the Sarawak government to encourage the establishment of tree plantations to sustain timber resources and relieve the pressure of natural forest.

Sudarsono said if the target of 1 million hectare of LPF was achieved, the supply of raw material from them would be 15 million cubit metres - more than enough to meet the current installed capacity of the primary industry of 12 million cubit metres annually.

Last year, Sarawak produced 9.6 million cubic metres of logs from natural forests, which Sudarsono pointed out was insufficient to meet the requirements of the domestic industry.

Out of that total production, 3.1 million cubic metres were exported while the rest was for domestic use.

Hii Tow Peck, the senior assistant director of the Forest Plantation and Reforestation Division of the Forest Department, in his paper presented at the forum, said the planted forests were needed to sustain timber supply, complement the production of timber from natural forests and rehabilitate degraded and shifting cultivation areas.

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Bodies of 14 rare Sumatran tigers seized in Indonesia

AFP Yahoo News 18 Jul 12;

Indonesian police seized 14 preserved bodies of critically-endangered Sumatran tigers in a raid on a house near Jakarta, a spokesman said Thursday.

A man identified as F.R. was arrested Tuesday in a suburban area of Depok suspected of his involvement in the illegal wildlife trade, national police spokesman Boy Rafli Amar told AFP.

"We confiscated whole preserved bodies of 14 tigers, a lion, three leopards, a clouded leopard, three bears and a tapir and a tiger head," he said, adding that investigations were ongoing.

"We believe he is connected to a network of rare animal traders. But we have not established yet if the animals are for the domestic or international market," he said.

The suspect could face up to five years' jail and fines of 100 million rupiah ($11,000) for violating natural resources conservation laws.

Poachers often sell tiger body parts to the lucrative traditional Chinese medicine market.

There are fewer than 400 Sumatran tigers left in the wild. Several die each year as a result of traps, poaching or other human actions.

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Triple Whammy Led to High Rate of Bottlenose Dolphin Deaths in Gulf of Mexico

Cold weather, the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and an influx of cold fresh water combined to cause record cetacean mortality
Melissa Gaskill Scientific American 19 Jul 12;

From Nature magazine

Bottlenose dolphins in the northern Gulf of Mexico were hit by a triple whammy of events, leading to an unusually high death rate in early 2011, a paper published in PLoS ONE suggests.

Between January and April 2011, 186 bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) washed ashore in the northern Gulf of Mexico. Of these, 86 were near-term or newborn, nearly double the historical average. Dolphin deaths are being monitored by an ongoing Unusual Mortality Event (UME) survey, which began in response to high numbers of adult dolphins dying during a period of sustained cold weather in early 2010.

The PLoS ONE study suggests that the cold weather was the first of three factors that weakened the dolphin population and contributed to the high death rate. The second was the Deepwater Horizon oil spill that followed in April. And the third was large volumes of cold fresh water from melting snow entering Mobile Bay — an inlet in the Gulf of Mexico — in 2011.

Dolphins naturally encounter seasonal temperature and freshwater fluctuations, says lead author Ruth Carmichael, a marine scientist at Dauphin Island Sea Lab in Alabama, and neither factor alone would necessarily cause strandings or death. But the cold freshwater pulses may have been the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back, if the dolphin population was already weakened due to depleted food resources caused by preceding events, such as oil in the northern Gulf food chain, or bacterial infection.

Between June 2010 and January 2012, 12 of the 51 stranded dolphins tested for Brucella bacteria gave positive results, according to Teri Rowles, coordinator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Response Program in Silver Spring, Maryland. Brucella, which is present in some healthy animals, can cause pneumonia, encephalitis, skin and bone infections, and abortion in dolphins.

“Studies show that dolphins were in poor condition after Deepwater Horizon and some particularly cold winters, and we know from theNOAA analysis that some had Brucella,” says Carmichael. “For animals already stressed and in poor condition, this freight train of cold fresh water could certainly have affected the timing of mortality.” The cold water pulsed into Mobile Bay during the spring birthing period, and the greatest number of newborn strandings were found close to this area. Since dolphins have a gestation period of 12 months, some of the stranded newborns would have been conceived during the oil spill, which could have affected their ability to survive.

“It’s a common fact that animals in good shape nutritionally are much more able to withstand change and stress,” says marine biologist Moby Solangi, executive director of the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies in Gulfport, Mississippi. “With multiple environmental challenges, we may not be able to say it was one thing or another. We do know that dolphins in the northern Gulf have been subjected to a number of environmental challenges in the past few years, and we do know that each one of those challenges will have affected their ability to deal with the others.”

As is often the case with strandings, few of the dolphins were recovered in good enough condition to determine the cause of death, Rowles says. Nor do scientists have full data on the causes of death from those that have been analyzed. The UME survey is still ongoing, and final data and analysis are typically not available until 18 months after an event.

Carmichael hopes that the study will encourage scientists to consider the physical and chemical environments in which events such as strandings happen, as these could affect the way species respond to stresses.

High Dolphin Deaths in Gulf of Mexico Due to Oil Spill and Other Environmental Factors, Study Finds
ScienceDaily 18 Jul 12;

The largest oil spill on open water to date and other environmental factors led to the historically high number of dolphin deaths in the Gulf of Mexico, concludes a two-year scientific study released July 19.

A team of biologists from several Gulf of Mexico institutions and the University of Central Florida in Orlando published their findings in the journal PLoS ONE.

For the past two years, scientists have been trying to figure out why there were a high number of dolphin deaths, part of what's called an "unusual mortality event" along the northern Gulf of Mexico.

Most troubling to scientists was the exceptionally high number of young dolphins that made up close to half of the 186 dolphins that washed ashore from Louisiana to western Florida from January to April 2011. The number of "perinatal" (near birth) dolphins stranded during this four-month period was six times higher than the average number of perinatal strandings in the region since 2003 and nearly double the historical percentage of all strandings.

"Unfortunately it was a 'perfect storm' that led to the dolphin deaths," said Graham Worthy, a UCF provosts distinguished professor of biology and co-author of the study. "The oil spill and cold winter of 2010 had already put significant stress on their food resources, resulting in poor body condition and depressed immune response. It appears the high volumes of cold freshwater coming from snowmelt water that pushed through Mobile Bay and Mississippi Sound in 2011 was the final blow."

The cold winter of 2010 was followed by the historic BP Deepwater Horizon disaster in April 2010, which dumped millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, likely disrupting the food chain. This was in the middle of the dolphins' breeding season. A sudden entry of high volumes of cold freshwater from Mobile Bay in 2011 imposed additional stress on the ecosystem and specifically on dolphins that were already in poor body condition.

"When we put the pieces together, it appears that the dolphins were likely weakened by depleted food resources, bacteria, or other factors as a result of the 2010 cold winter or oil spill, which made them susceptible to assault by the high volumes of cold freshwater coming from land in 2011 and resulted in distinct patterns in when and where they washed ashore," said Ruth Carmichael, a senior marine scientist at the Dauphin Island Sea Lab, an assistant professor of Marine Sciences at the University of South Alabama and the lead author of the study.

The majority of perinatal strandings were centered on the Mississippi-Alabama coast, adjacent to Mobile Bay, the 4th largest freshwater drainage in the U.S. The onshore movement of surface currents during the same period resulted in animals washing ashore along the stretch of coastline where freshwater discharge was most intense.

Others who contributed to the study include: William M. Graham and Stephan Howden from the University of Southern Mississippi, Stennis Space Center and Allen Aven from the Dauphin Island Sea Lab and the University of South Alabama.

Worthy is the Hubbs Professor of Marine Mammalogy. He received his PhD in 1986 from the University of Guelph in Canada and then completed post-doctoral training at the University of California at Santa Cruz, where he studied elephant seals, bottlenose dolphins and California sea lions. He spent 11 years as a faculty member in the Department of Marine Biology at Texas A&M University at Galveston and served as the State Coordinator for the Texas Marine Mammal Stranding Network.

Worthy and his team at UCF have been studying dolphin populations in the Pensacola and Choctawhatchee bays for years.

Journal Reference:

Ruth H. Carmichael, William M. Graham, Allen Aven, Graham Worthy, Stephan Howden. Were Multiple Stressors a ‘Perfect Storm’ for Northern Gulf of Mexico Bottlenose Dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) in 2011? PLoS ONE, 2012; 7 (7): e41155 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0041155

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Wild biodiversity provides hope for a protected planet

IUCN 19 Jul 12;

The wild biodiversity of the world’s parks, reserves and protected areas can be a vital component for conservation, according to the latest volume in a series on landscapes and seascapes that are influenced by humans. The book, published by IUCN’s (International Union for Conservation of Nature) World Commission on Protected Areas (WCPA), is titled Protected Landscapes and Wild Biodiversity. It provides a diverse set of worldwide case studies in protected areas with rich cultural, spiritual and natural heritage. Examples include Makuira National Park in Colombia, where the traditional knowledge and management system of the local indigenous Wayuu people has led to a well-protected area that benefit local communities; and the indigenous Angami people of Khonoma Village in Northeastern India, where an active youth organization plays an important role in management of local hunting.

Protected Landscapes and Wild Biodiversity is the first global attempt to evaluate the effectiveness of protected landscapes for biodiversity conservation and is the third volume in the series Values of Protected Landscapes and Seascapes. With the IUCN World Conservation Congress less than two months from now, the book is a vital document of progress and challenges for protected areas, which will inform the progressive steps that must be taken at Congress. A launch of Protected Landscapes and Wild Biodiversity will take place at the Protected Planet Pavilion in Jeju, South Korea, on 7 September from 09:30 – 10:30am.

Key Issues:
• Recognition and fostering of indigenous people and local communities’ cultures and traditional roles in land and sea stewardship can bolster natural resources conservation and sustainable development. “Protected areas have long provided a vehicle for official recognition of traditional management and support emerging ideas that protected areas need not be managed by the state but can be effective if they are under the control of indigenous peoples, local communities, and individuals,” says Jessica Brown, volume Editor and Chair of the WCPA Specialist Group on Protected Landscapes. “Challenges remain, but local communities in countries from Australia to Croatia have shown that wild biodiversity in protected areas with a heavy human footprint can still thrive—these case studies serve as an important blueprint for the future.”

• Protected landscapes are effective for biodiversity conservation, yet good management is key. “We set out to investigate whether protected areas in human-influenced, cultural landscapes can provide effective biodiversity conservation—a critical issue for an increasingly crowded planet,” says Nigel Dudley, of Equilibrium Research, the volume’s Co-editor. “Our research suggests that if correctly managed, such areas can conserve biodiversity, but we are still at the beginning of learning how to carry out these landscape approaches that put conservation into practice.”

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