Best of our wild blogs: 22 Jul 12

High five on Terumbu Pempang Tengah
from wild shores of singapore

Life History of the Bifid Plushblue
from Butterflies of Singapore

Finally! Decent shots
from Life's Indulgences

Mangrove Boardwalk Tour at Pasir Ris, 23rd June 2012 a great success! from Mangrove Action Squad

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Mourning the loss of the rural soul

Linda Collins Straits Times 22 Jul 12;

I staggered from the time-travel capsule known as an airplane into the self-contained city known as Changi Airport into a bubble on wheels called a taxi.

It whisked me along the highway past a sea-city of container ships on one side and a shimmering city of office towers and hotels on the other. The highway of this super city unfurled seamlessly like a ribbon of welcome. (It was after rush hour).

Newly returned from the boondocks of a remote rural area of New Zealand, I was a slack-jawed yokel, craning my neck this way and that as the bubble/taxi sped along.

I marvelled at downtown Singapore's utopian reality of shiny homages to mammon and pleasure. I marvelled at the people toiling diligently in their offices, so close to me as I passed them, above it all on the unfurling ribbon of welcome.

And I recoiled from who I was at that moment - an outsider from farmsville, easily impressed by Bright Lights, Big City.

This person was a slacker self, an open-faced, chatty, easy-going self, useless for life in the fast-paced metropolis, a self to be sloughed off once I was not above it all but in the fray and earning a buck.

But that was the future. For this bubble moment, I was seeing Singapore through the eyes of a hickster, not a hipster.

By the year 2050, tens of millions of other people will have experienced such a bubble moment, of a rural self suspended at the moment before that self must change and adapt to survive.

It is estimated that by then, 70 per cent of the world's population will live in cities. Already, 60 million people worldwide move into cities each year in search of jobs.

The figures of rapid urbanisation and massive migration emerged at the recent World Cities Summit held in - where else? - that city where the future has arrived, Singapore. In fact, in the three-day summit, Singapore was named the Asian city best prepared for the future by a magazine published by Britain's Financial Times Ltd.

Experts discussed issues such as infrastructure, water and environmental matters.

But what of that intangible thing - the loss of the rural soul? It is a soul of ancient seasonal rhythms, that puts the being into human. It seems there is no place for it now.

No wonder I felt a stranger in a place that has given me a job and a home for well over a decade.

I was in a fug of dislocation. Some might say, what do you expect, after being in a backwater with 31 million sheep? Singapore's founding father Lee Kuan Yew says of New Zealand in the book Hard Truths: 'I think it's not an exciting, happening economy. Yes, they grow the world's best grasses, good for horses and cows and sheep. But a dull life.'

It was a dullness without stress, however. A dullness where life's simplicity was not an inferior way of being, but gave the chance to enjoy nature and one's fellow man.

The South Island farming village where I stayed (population: 443) certainly lacked infrastructure - the wooden bridge to access it was built in 1896; there is only one shop.

In winter, when I visited, life revolved around fire and food, in an elemental survivalist way.

The main task of the day was lighting a fire in our woodburner stove and feeding the flames to keep warm. It involved sorting wet wood from dry wood, of kindling sticks from logs, of sparky pine from solid-burning cedar. Of the precise way to rip a newspaper to best generate flame to start the fire.

Then, there was visiting a blood- splattered chamber of horrors to choose the parts of a beast that a few days ago was munching grass in a nearby field. Answering the butcher's charmingly unhurried inquiries took another hour.

At first, this activity was a novelty, punctuated by the relief of darting to a laptop or smartphone.

But as the days passed, the pared-down life took over. I weaned myself off the addiction of the status update. The winter-shortened days of rural existence exerted their own rhythms of connection. I awoke at daybreak to crowing roosters and a paralysing cold that defied double-glazed windows.

Night came swiftly. At 5pm, I would huddle on the balcony and watch wild ducks slip across the sky under the cover of the dying light.

But here I am now, back in the city, needing to earn money to pay for two weeks of rural escape. I'll don the face of the 21st century city dweller in a keyboard-fixated hurry, and re-enter Singapore's happening economy alongside the five million others competing for a slice of the pie. And feel a little less of a human being, in the process.

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Malaysia: Sabah protection for sharks hailed

Avila Geraldine New Straits Times 22 Jul 12;

WIN-WIN: Positive outcome for all parties concerned

KOTA KINABALU: A HOLISTIC approach must be taken to protect sharks, whose population in Sabah has dropped significantly in the last 20 years, a forum was told.

Local residents and fishermen said fish stock had also declined.

They voiced their concerns at an open forum on shark fishing and conservation held in Semporna last Sunday.

The forum was attended by representatives from the Federal Government, Fisheries Department, District Office, tourism stakeholders, restaurants associations, shark experts, fisheries association and the local fishing community.

Dr James Alin of the School of Business and Economics at University Malaysia Sabah said sharks brought in RM192.5 million a year to Sabah against RM5 million from the import and export of sharks.

He said a holistic approach such as the Semporna Shark Sanctuary proposed by Borneo Conservancy was needed as it would encourage collaborative management among the community and stakeholders to ensure the co-existence of various stakeholders and marine life.

A statement by the Borneo Conservancy said the establishment of a shark sanctuary would create a "win-win" solution and positive outcome for all.

Its director, Daniel Doughty, stressed that the shark sanctuary would provide green job opportunities for the local community as well as a partnership with the local university, government departments and stakeholders in its implementation.

"The shark sanctuary will be the first in Southeast Asia and will demonstrate areas where sharks can thrive and be protected, so the marine ecosytem can be restored.

"A partnership with the dive industry will enable a robust sustainable financing mechanism to be created, hence encourage ownership and sustainable funding to manage, protect and achieve such vision."

During the forum in Semporna, Doughty presented the government with a petition booklet that had over 38,000 signatures of support from non-governmental organisations, tourists, and government ministers around the world.

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Malaysia: Entangled reef shark dies in marine park

Koi Kye Lee New Straits Times 22 Jul 12;

PUTRAJAYA: A BLACKTIP reef shark which was found dead, entangled in a fishing net at a marine park in Terengganu, has irked divers and environmentalists.

The 1.2m-long adult shark was trapped in a fisherman's net at the Black Coral Garden diving site, off Pulau Lima, Redang.

A diver, who only wanted to be known as T.C. Lim, said he came across the disturbing sight while diving on Friday.

"It is the desire of all divers to see sharks on a dive, but that particular experience was definitely one to forget.

"More importantly, how can there be commercial fishing going on at a marine park?

"This is rather widespread as we have seen evidence of nets underwater at several other diving sites, too," he told the New Sunday Times yesterday.

Lim said, as a result of the nets, many large pelagic fish were now either fewer or missing.

"I have been diving in Redang since 2001, and I no longer see fish such as the barramundi, cods, giant groupers, large snappers and rays.

"Fishing boats are also often sighted and this shows that there is a lack of enforcement by the ministry and marine parks unit."

It is important, said Lim, for all the main stakeholders -- especially the tourism and environment and natural resources ministries, marine parks units and resort operators -- to ensure that there was effective enforcement.

Malaysian Nature Society (MNS) communications head Andrew Sebastian said the society was concerned with the discovery of the netting within the country's marine parks.

"MNS is calling on all the relevant authorities, especially the Fisheries Department and marine parks unit, to take immediate action to monitor and enforce the protection of our marine parks.

"If the agencies in question do not have the capacity and resources to undertake this exercise, we call upon the Federal Government to provide assistance immediately."

Sebastian added that local resort operators and stakeholders on all marine park islands should cooperate and collaborate with the authorities and media to submit or provide information and be vigilant on all illegal activities carried out within the marine parks.

A blacktip reef shark can grow to a maximum length of about 1.8m.

Such sharks are shy creatures. They prefer to avoid humans and are not considered dangerous as they feed on small fish.

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Indonesia: Can Heavily Deforested Sebangau National Park Be Saved?

Liberty Jemadu Jakarta Globe 21 Jul 12;

Palangkaraya, Central Kalimantan. Rosdy Abaza is under no illusions about the task before him as the person in charge of restoring the sprawling Sebangau National Park in Central Kalimantan to pristine condition.

“We’re attempting to restore a forest that has been comprehensively destroyed, so you could say this is a mission impossible,” he tells the Jakarta Globe at one of the observation posts scattered across the 568,700-hectare park.

The park, between the Katingan and Kahayan rivers, was only formally established in 2004. Between 1980 and 1995, it was the site of 13 massive logging concessions that left the formerly dense and pristine peat forest stripped bare and dried out.

In the unregulated years between being a logging forest and a national park, the Sebangau area was the target of massive illegal logging that was estimated to have cleared some 66,000 hectares of forest.

Rosdy says the park area previously covered by peat swamp — a meters-deep layer of hundreds of years’ worth of decaying vegetation — makes up 85 percent of the total area, and to restore it back to its pre-logged state would take another several centuries.

One of the first things the loggers did when they came in was to carve out a network of more than 1,000 canals, two to four meters wide, to drain the peat swamp to make it easy to transport the logs downstream. That left the exposed peat layer, in some places up to 12 meters deep, highly vulnerable to forest fires.

Also to blame was the government’s misguided Mega Rice Project of 1996, a scheme to clear-cut the centuries-old peat forests in Kalimantan, drain the soil and set up a million hectares of rice paddies.

Part of the land for the MRP was a wide swath between the Sebangau and Kahayan rivers. When the MRP was abandoned, there was no attempt to restore the peat forest and the affected area on the eastern third of the Sebangau National Park remains severely degraded.

The key to restoring the condition of the peat forest is to get the water back into the ground, which Rosdy acknowledges is a daunting task.

The park management’s two main conservation programs deal with blocking the former logging canals and reforesting the denuded land. The success of the latter is contingent on that of the former, but the canal-blocking program has stumbled on funding issues.

Of the 428 dams built since the start of 2011 to block up the canals, only one was funded by the park. The rest were funded by the World Wide Fund for Nature.

“Ideally we should be building 100 dams a year,” Rosdy says, adding that the cost for each dam is about Rp 80 million ($8,500).

Like the canal-blocking program, the reforestation program has also been slow to take off.

Just 4,868 hectares — less than 1 percent of Sebangau’s total area — have been reforested. Of that figure, less than half was funded by the state, with the rest coming from conservation groups and corporate social responsibility programs.

But against the overwhelming odds, Rosdy says there is reason to be hopeful about the future of the park.

Thanks to the damming program, the water level in the peat layer in some areas has begun rising since 2005, leading to the return of native tree species, including the critically endangered red balau, the hardwood jelutong and the softwood pulai.

The recovering water levels have also meant less frequent forest fires. “We haven’t had any major forest fires in this area since 2009,” Rosdy says.

As the forest slowly recovers, there is also hope for the survival of the various wildlife species native to the area. These include Bornean orangutans, proboscis monkeys and Bornean gibbons, all of which are endangered species.

Sebangau is home to an estimated 6,000 orangutans, the largest wild population of the ape anywhere in the world.

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