Best of our wild blogs: 26 Jul 12

Algae Quest
from Pulau Hantu

from The annotated budak

Bivalve Workshop at Kranji with horseshoe crab rescue
from wild shores of singapore

NSS Kids’ Birding Fun at Lorong Halus
from Fun with Nature and NSS Kids' Fun at the Butterfly Trail @ Orchard and Fun with Bukit Brown’s Natural and Cultural Heritage

Assembly talk – 400 Nanyang Primary students learn about marine life in Singapore! from News from the International Coastal Cleanup Singapore

Clean Coast Index Report 2011 - Part 3
from MNS Marine Group, Selangor Branch

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Anti-flood tank design tried and tested

Upcoming tank at Botanic Gardens similar to smaller version near Siglap
Feng Zengkun Straits Times 26 Jul 12;

A NEW water detention tank to be built near the Botanic Gardens by 2015 to help prevent floods in the area is not the first in Singapore.

It is likely to be similar to a smaller version built in Opera Estate near Siglap in 2001 to reduce the risk of floods there, according to plans unveiled by national water agency PUB last week.

The tank was built under a school field and cost $31 million when it was completed in 2001. The new tank, which will be under a new carpark for coach buses at the Botanic Gardens, is expected to be 11/2 times larger.

PUB declined to say how much it will cost.

Independent engineers told The Straits Times that the process of building the underground tank, if done properly, will not affect the safety of the ground and buildings nearby.

The rainwater from the new tank could also be used to irrigate the greenery in the Botanic Gardens and nearby Dempsey area, they said.

The Gardens tank is expected to be 15m - or about four housing block storeys - deep, and have a 38,000 cubic metre capacity, about the volume of 15 Olympic-sized swimming pools.

It will hold rainwater temporarily during storms and pump the water back into the drainage system after the storm ends.

It is one of PUB's two new infrastructure projects to keep the Orchard Road and surrounding areas dry.

The other major project is a canal to be completed by 2017, which will divert rainwater from the over-stressed Stamford Canal to the Singapore River.

PUB will call for tenders for both projects by the year end.

Mr Kevin Kho, 51, an engineer with more than 20 years' experience, said the larger size of the new tank is not likely to make its construction more difficult.

He said that there are several tried and tested ways to make sure construction of the tank does not affect the surrounding area.

One is to pipe in a mix of cement and sand to harden the soil before excavating it. This prevents cave-ins of soil which may weaken the ground nearby.

Another method is to drill lines of deep holes 1m to 2m-wide and fill them with concrete. These are called caisson piles and are used to create walls which can be braced to prevent soil slips.

After the ground is excavated, a frame of pillars is used to hold up the new roof, said Mr Kho.

'This is very old technology used in basements and underground carparks throughout Singapore. It's nothing very risky,' he said.

A PUB spokesman said last week that contractors for the new detention tank will have to show that its roof can withstand the weight of the coach buses in the new carpark.

Since the Opera Estate underground detention tank was built, floods in the area have been reduced from four to six times a year to almost none.

The construction company which built the tank has since folded.

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Indonesia: Illegal Logging the Cause of Padang Flash Floods

Jakarta Globe 25 Jul 12;

Padang Mayor Fauzi Bahar blamed illegal logging for Tuesday's widespread flooding that inundated five sub-districts of the West Sumatra capital.

Eight people remained missing on Wednesday as search and rescue crews converged on the flood-hit region. Heavy rains caused the Lubuk Linggau and Batang Kuranji rivers to overflow on Tuesday, forcing hundreds of families to flee their homes for safety.

Fauzi pointed to the large logs send downstream in the flood as evidence of the impact of illegal logging.

“The city administration has not issued any logging licenses for the protected forest around the city,” he said.

But more than 20 percent of the 12,000 hectares of protected forest within city limits have been felled by illegal loggers, Fauzi said.

The mayor asked local villagers to report instances of illegal logging to the police.

Batu Busuk village remained isolated by flood waters Wednesday morning after a bridge leading to the village collapsed in the floods.

Padang’s city administration have sent emergency aid to help villagers until the bridge is rebuilt.


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Protected tropical forests' biodiversity 'declining'

Mark Kinver BBC News 25 Jul 12;

Despite having protected status, the biodiversity in a large number of tropical forests is still continuing to decline, a study has suggested.

The authors said the findings should cause concern because the areas have been seen as a final refuge for a number of threatened species.

Habitat disruption, hunting and timber exploitation have been seen as signs of future decline, they added.

The findings have been published online by the science journal Nature.

"The rapid disruption of tropical forests probably imperils global biodiversity more than any other contemporary phenomenon," the international team of research wrote.

"Many protected areas in the tropics are themselves vulnerable to human encroachment and other environmental stresses."

Tropical forests are considered to be the biologically richest areas on the planet.

In order to assess the state of the world's protected areas, the team considered data from 60 areas, based on "262 detailed interviews, focusing on veteran field biologists and environmental scientists, who averaged more than two decades of experience".

"Our study was motivated by three broad issues: whether tropical reserves will function as 'arks' for biodiversity and natural ecosystem processes," the team wrote.

They added: "Whether observed changes are mainly concordant or idiosyncratic among different protect areas; and what are the principal predictors of reserve success or failure."

The study covered 36 nations across the tropics in Africa, Asia and South America.

The findings suggested that "protecting biodiversity involved more than jut safeguarding the reserves themselves".

"In many cases, the landscapes and habitats surrounding the reserves are under imminent threat," they observed.

"For example, 85% of [the observed] reserves suffered declines in surrounding forest cover in the [past] 20 to 30 years, whereas only 2% gained surrounding forest."

The team reported that the data showed that forest disruption, over-exploitation of wildlife and forest resources had the greatest "direct negative impact".

They also observed that "air and water pollution, increase in human population densities and climatic change" had a weaker or more indirect impact.

The team - headed by Prof William Laurance from James Cook University, Australia - concluded that the activities outside the protected areas had an impact on the resilience of the biodiversity within the protected areas.

"It is not enough to [protect] interiors while ignoring surrounding landscapes, which are being rapidly deforested, degraded and over-hunted," they observed.

"A failure to limit inter-related internal and external threats could predispose reserves to ecological decay, including taxonomically and functionally array in species communities and an erosion of fundamental ecosystem processes."

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Thai villagers to fight Lao Mekong dam in court

Thin Lei Win AlertNet 25 Jul 12;

CHIANG RAI, Thailand (AlertNet) - The inhabitants of Ban Pak Ing Tai, a leafy village in Thailand’s far north nestled between the mighty Mekong River and one of its tributaries, know only too well what dams can do.

This used to be a fishing village but nowadays local men are more likely to be found toiling away in corn fields or working as labourers than out on their boats.

They say vital sources of their food, water and livelihoods - from fish and riverweeds to seasonal wetlands for agriculture - are fast disappearing due to Chinese dams on the Mekong, which flows through six countries.

As a result, they vehemently oppose plans for big hydropower projects that would involve building dams on the Mekong in Laos, largely aimed at selling electricity to Thailand.

Village headman Phoomi Boonthom, 54, only fishes in his spare time now. Despite more than four decades of experience, he catches less than a kilo of fish after two sessions on the river on a hot June afternoon in peak season.

“This year’s been the worst in terms of catch. In the past, I used to get 10 kilos per round,” he told AlertNet, displaying a small box with some ice and fish.

The water level is too low and fluctuates too sharply for the fish to migrate, he said, putting the blame firmly on China.

“They built dams and blocked the water,” he said. “I also saw news on TV that if (Laos) finishes the Xayaburi and Pak Beng dams, there will be lots of problems, from here all the way down to Vietnam.”

The Mekong, flowing from the Tibetan plateau to the South China Sea through China, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos, is the world’s 12th largest river.

The Mekong River Commission says its fisheries have an estimated value of $5.6 to $9.4 billion a year, and provide food and livelihoods for some 60 million people living along its banks.

Experts say fish and other aquatic animals provide 40 to 80 percent of animal protein in local diets. And more than 80 percent of the populations of Cambodia and Laos, as well as communities in large areas of Thailand and Vietnam, meet their water needs from the Mekong basin’s rivers.


Much is at stake – and that is why, in an unprecedented action, Thai villagers from eight Mekong provinces are planning to take the government to court over the controversial $3.5 billion, 1,260-megawatt Xayaburi hydropower project in neighbouring Laos, which plans to export 95 percent of the power it produces to Thailand.

The dam is to be part-financed by Thai banks and its main developer is Thailand's second-biggest construction firm, Ch Karnchang Pcl.

The plaintiffs accuse the state-run Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (EGAT) of agreeing to purchase energy generated by the Lao scheme without an adequate assessment or public consultation, as required by Thai law.

“This is the only way we can fight (these powerful interests),” said Niwat Roikeaw, director of the Chiang Khong Conservation Group in northern Thailand’s Chiang Rai province, upstream of the planned dam. “We used reason and tried to present everything that could happen (because of the dam) but they didn’t listen.”

Niwat, representing Chiang Rai – and villagers like Phoomi – is part of the Thai’s People Network of Eight Mekong Provinces which is threatening to file a lawsuit on August 7 unless the agreement to purchase power from Xayaburi is cancelled.

“This is the first regional legal case on a transboundary project involving overseas investment,” said Pianporn Deetes, campaign director for environmental group International Rivers in Thailand.

“We hope it will set a new ‘standard’ for overseas investment from Thailand and the Mekong hydropower… for social and environmental responsibility,” she added.

The EGAT declined to comment on the lawsuit, and Ch Karnchang - which has a 57 percent share in the Xayaburi project - did not respond when contacted by AlertNet.


Xayaburi is the first of a dozen dams planned by landlocked, impoverished Laos, which has ambitions to become the “battery of Southeast Asia” by exporting most of the power generated by its hydro projects.

But critics say Xayaburi’s Thai developer has not properly assessed the dam’s social and environmental impacts, which could include damage to fish migration routes, farm land, food security and local livelihoods.

A report by the U.S.-based Stimson Center, Mekong Turning Point, said the company’s Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) identified the area for study as extending only 10 km downstream, when the impacts would clearly reach much further.

“(Xayaburi) is not only about water flows and destroying migratory fish population, but also upstream dams holding nutrient-rich silt that (Vietnam’s) Mekong delta needs,” said the report’s author Richard Cronin, a senior associate with the Stimson Center.

“Cambodia is worried about the Tonle Sap Lake and millions of Cambodians who depend on the fisheries for food and livelihood. You’re talking about people already living on $1 or $2 a day losing everything,” he added.

Cronin said such cross-border consequences mean the debate over Xayaburi and other Mekong dams goes far beyond basic trade-offs involving water and food.

“Laos has the sovereign right to go ahead, but it’s a question of what’s the cost going to be, particularly in terms of relations with your neighbours and regional stability?” he said.

Xayaburi has already angered Cambodia's government and upset Laos's biggest ally, Vietnam, over its possible downstream effects.

In December, under pressure from neighbouring countries, Laos agreed to put the project on hold, pending further studies led by Japan.

Nonetheless, International Rivers said in June it had witnessed Ch Karnchang resettling villagers, building a large retaining wall, and undertaking dredging to deepen and widen the riverbed – a claim denied by official media in Laos.

In mid-July, Laos declared publicly for the first time that work on the dam had been halted.

The Mekong River Commission has recommended a 10-year moratorium, but it is unclear how long Laos is prepared to wait.


For the communities who rely on the Mekong’s water, ecosystems and biodiversity for survival, preserving those natural assets is paramount.

But for investors and energy-hungry governments, the electricity that could be produced by harnessing the river’s waters in hydro schemes is an opportunity to generate profits and economic growth.

Nathanial Matthews, a researcher with London’s King’s College, said hydropower development in the Mekong region amounts to “water grabbing”, which he defines as “when powerful actors take control of water resources for their own benefit”.

The benefits are rarely shared with local people, he told AlertNet. They tend to be ethnic minorities and vulnerable people relying on the river’s resources who are more likely to experience any negative effects.

China, for example, has been accused of changing the Mekong’s natural hydrology and causing the devastating 2008 floods in northern Thailand by releasing water from upstream dams and destroying rapids to facilitate dam construction and boost trade.

Some activists and academics also say Thailand’s electriticy authority is overestimating future demand and emphasising the need for new capacity rather than efficiency gains.

The 12 dams planned for Laos would meet only around 6 percent of Thailand’s total energy demand by 2020 – an amount the southeast Asian nation could save through reasonable energy efficiency measures, according to the Stimson Center’s Cronin.

"If dams are going to be built, which I think is inevitable to an extent, we need to make sure the costs don't outweigh the benefits," Matthews said. “It's not about being anti-dams. It’s about better dams.”

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Maps spark concern over corporate water grab

Astrid Zweynert PlanetArk 25 Jul 12;

As competition for clean water grows, some of the world's biggest companies have joined forces to create unprecedented maps of the precious resource that flows beneath our feet.

The Aqueduct Alliance, which allows users to create maps by combining hydrological data with geographically specific details, gives companies and investors unprecedented detail of water availability in some of the world's largest river basins.

The promoters say the data should help companies use water more responsibly while helping them to manage their exposure to risk.

But critics fear the data could be used to cash in on an increasingly scarce natural resource - two thirds of people are expected to face water shortages by 2025.

The maps, which are powered by previously proprietary Coca-Cola data collected over years of research in locations wherever the world's biggest soft drinks firm had manufacturing sites, are now publicly available for free on the Internet (here).

They allow users to create detailed high-resolution maps by aggregating and weighing indicators that drive water risk, much of it physical data but also local regulatory structures and media coverage of the issue.

Promoters and experts say communities will also be able to exploit the maps and contribute data and local knowledge so that practical solutions can be devised about how to use water sustainably at a local level.

"This goes beyond just looking at how much water is being used to produce something," said Betsy Otto, director of the alliance, launched last year by U.S.-based think-tank the World Resources Institute (WRI) in cooperation with GE, Goldman Sachs, Dow, Bloomberg and Talisman Energy.

"Our tool allows a look at the local context, to see how scarce water is in the region, what is the quality, how much competition there is for water resources," she told AlertNet.


From just one map at the start, the alliance has ambitious plans to map more than 20 river basins that provide water for irrigation and industry use as well as food production.

So far it has created detailed maps of China's Yellow River and the Orange-Senqu basin, which runs through Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia and South Africa.

By the end of this year it aims to have added the Colorado River in the United States, which has suffered years of drought, and the Yangtze River in China, where at least 1.3 million people were displaced by the Three Gorges dam.

Maps will also go live by year-end of the Mekong River basin in southeast Asia, which is threatened by ambitious dam-building projects, and the Murray Darling, a river at the centre of Australia's controversial water rights purchasing market.

The risk of water shortages can be projected as far ahead as 2095 by measuring 14 indicators grouped into physical, quality and regulatory/reputational categories.

Working with a Taiwan-based computer screen manufacturer, for example, Otto said Aqueduct was able to predict water scarcity by 2025 in some of the key locations used by the firm.


For millions of people water scarcity can have a devastating impact on livelihoods, which is why sustainable water use has become an important driver of development policy.

Some are concerned that tools such as Aqueduct's maps will simply enable companies and investors to make more money without taking local people's needs into account.

"The risk is that the concerns of local people are left behind in the rush to secure access to water and reduce risk for companies," said Lori Pottinger, Africa campaigner at International Rivers, an organization that works to protect rivers.

But experts say with more input from local communities, the risk atlas could contribute to sustainability by giving companies a different perspective on how their water use affects people living in a river basin.

A small community could use the tool to include data based on its own knowledge of local water challenges, an approach aid agencies and governments have used in participatory mapping projects with local people in many developing countries.

"This is a tool that needs to develop into something more in tune with the reality of local communities," said Vibhu Nayar, founder of the Centre of Excellence for Change in Chennai, India, which works on mitigating climate change-related water and food crises.

"If you give communities tools to draw their own maps, you will get more realistic results," said Nayar, a senior civil servant who has worked on collaborative water management with local people in Tamil Nadu in southern India.

Local community mapping projects have sprung up all over the world. Techniques range from simple hand-drawn maps to using global positioning systems (GPS), geographic information systems (GIS) and other digital technologies.

Residents of Kibera, a slum in Kenya's capital Nairobi, for example, are using GPS and open-source mapping tools to map water access points and toilets, combining valuable and unique local knowledge with technology.

Coca-Cola learned the hard way the importance of engaging with local communities.

The company had to close its plant in the Indian state of Kerala after a drought sparked criticism that it was sucking the water table dry. Coke denied the allegation but its image was still hurt.

Greg Koch, managing director of Coca-Cola's Global Water Stewardship, said it was in the company's business interest to share its water data.

In fact, one of the reasons why the Aqueduct Alliance developed the risk atlas was to help companies become more aware of the environment they operate in rather than just focusing on how they can save water, Otto said.

"We have a very robust water risk management and mapping program but when the Aqueduct Alliance came around...we realized our efforts are never going to be enough...and that you need all users in a watershed, all stakeholders, to understand the issues and then work together to try and mitigate those risks and those stresses," Koch told AlertNet.

(This story is part of a special multimedia report on water produced by AlertNet, a global humanitarian news service run by Thomson Reuters Foundation. Visit

(Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)

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Loss of Arctic sea ice '70% man-made'

Study finds only 30% of radical loss of summer sea ice is due to natural variability in Atlantic – and it will probably get worse
Alok Jha The Guardian 26 Jul 12;

The radical decline in sea ice around the Arctic is at least 70% due to human-induced climate change, according to a new study, and may even be up to 95% down to humans – rather higher than scientists had previously thought.

The loss of ice around the Arctic has adverse effects on wildlife and also opens up new northern sea routes and opportunities to drill for oil and gas under the newly accessible sea bed.

The reduction has been accelerating since the 1990s and many scientists believe the Arctic may become ice-free in the summers later this century, possibly as early as the late 2020s.

"Since the 1970s, there's been a 40% decrease in the summer sea ice extent," said Jonny Day, a climate scientist at the National Centre for Atmospheric Science at the University of Reading, who led the latest study.

"We were trying to determine how much of this was due to natural variability and therefore imply what aspect is due to man-made climate change as well."

To test the ideas, Day carried out several computer-based simulations of how the climate around the Arctic might have fluctuated since 1979 without the input of greenhouse gases from human activity.

He found that a climate system called the Atlantic multi-decadal oscillation (AMO) was a dominant source of variability in ice extent. The AMO is a cycle of warming and cooling in the North Atlantic that repeats every 65 to 80 years – it has been in a warming phase since the mid-1970s.

Comparing the models with actual observations, Day was able to work out what contribution the natural systems had made to what researchers have observed from satellite data.

"We could only attribute as much as 30% [of the Arctic ice loss] to the AMO," he said. "Which implies that the rest is due to something else, and this is most likely going to be man-made global change."

Previous studies had indicated that around half of the loss was due to man-made climate change and that the other half was due to natural variability.

Looking across all his simulations, Day found that the 30% figure was an upper limit – the AMO could have contributed as little as 5% to the overall loss of Arctic ice in recent decades.

The research is published online in the journal Environmental Research Letters.

Day said that there are a number of feedback effects that could see the Arctic ice loss continue in the coming years, as the Earth warms up.

"[There is] something called the ice-albedo feedback, which means that when you have less ice, it means there's more open water and therefore the ocean absorbs more radiation and will continue to warm," he said.

"It's unclear what will happen – it definitely seems like it's going in that direction."

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