Best of our wild blogs: 31 Jul 12

from The annotated budak

KTPH - 3 more dragonfly species recorded
from Everyday Nature

Fledgling Olive-backed Sunbird and Noni flowers
from Bird Ecology Study Group

Clean Coast Index Report 2011 - Part 4
from MNS Marine Group, Selangor Branch

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Singapore still has undiscovered marine species, says scientist

Grace Chua Straits Times 31 Jul 12;

SINGAPORE'S biodiversity has been studied only piecemeal till now, and there are still new species to be discovered, said visiting Australian scientist Peter Davie.

Mr Davie, of the public Queensland Museum, has been visiting the Republic for 25 years, first stopping over in 1987.

Here, he is helping local scientists with crustacean research, identifying and comparing crabs from around the region to determine if they are separate species or the same, which has implications for harvesting commercial crabs, for instance.

He was in town last week to give a talk on the challenges and delights of studying marine biodiversity in Australia.

Marine life here had been studied a bit at a time till Singapore started its comprehensive marine biodiversity survey in 2010, said the 57-year-old senior curator. A comprehensive survey establishes a baseline of what is out there, and can sometimes unearth new species, he said.

That Singapore is even doing such a survey is a "drastic change" from a quarter-century ago.

"When I first came here, there was a lot of interest in exploring the science but not much interest in trying to conserve," Mr Davie said. "There was a feeling that Singapore was a small island that had already been exploited and there was not much left to protect... That was the attitude back then."

Today, there is more appreciation for nature, and a stronger conservation ethic and push to create marine parks and terrestrial protection areas, he said. And species thought extinct here have been rediscovered in the past few years, such as the Neptune's Cup, a giant cup-like sponge found off Singapore's southern coast.

The museum veteran of 34 years grew up in Brisbane, snorkelling around coastal estuaries looking at fish. He got his start as a tree-hugger trying to save local mangroves with the Australian Marine Conservation Society.

He said: "We went to the museum and said, 'hey, we've found all these (mangrove) crabs - what are they?' And I ended up getting a job there." He was just 23.

The museum is an apolitical outfit, not a conservation group. It provides information to industry and government to help manage and conserve the environment. It has not shied away from thorny issues, though.

Because Australia requires new developments to do public environmental impact studies, scientists doing one such study on mining giant Rio Tinto's A$900 million (S$1.17 billion) new mine found a previously unknown freshwater crab, which Mr Davie confirmed was likely to be a new species.

But conservation need not curb economic growth, he said. Now, the firm has pledged to safeguard the creek where the new crab was found.

"It might not be a huge impact on the company's bottom line if it has to divert from a small area," Mr Davie pointed out. But firms need to know what the environmental issues are to be able to address them.

In fact, protecting the environment can have economic benefits: The Great Barrier Reef is worth A$2billion in Queensland tourism every year.

In Australia, taxonomists, who help identify and classify species, are starting to help prevent invasive species like zebra mussels from spreading, and catch smugglers of endangered South-east Asian fish species.

These are avenues that such research can take in Singapore, Mr Davie suggested. And there is room for Singapore to conserve its natural environment to set an example in the region, he added.

"It's a great thing for Singapore to say, we are valuing the natural environment. And also, you're a country that can actually afford the luxury of spending a bit on your environment," he said.

"In the end, if we don't look after our habitats and our environment, we as a species aren't going to be sustainable ourselves."

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Water is an issue of life & death for Singapore: PUB chief

S Ramesh Channel NewsAsia 30 Jul 12;

SINGAPORE: Singapore's second water agreement with Malaysia expires in 2061 but the Republic will be able to meet its water requirements independently ahead of this expiry date of the agreement "if need be", said Chew Men Leong, the chief executive of the national water agency PUB.

He made the point in a recent interview with wire agency Bloomberg.

A spokesperson for PUB also stressed that Singapore will be abiding by the 2061 agreement till it expires.

The first water agreement with Malaysia expired on 31 August 2011.

Mr Chew added that Singapore spent S$600 million to S$800 million a year since 2006 on water infrastructure to boost its supply.

And he said the Republic has made progress to the point that it is now much more confident in terms of water security and sustainability.

Mr Chew however added that his main worry is climate change and how that lowers water levels at reservoirs.

Changing weather patterns also led to heavy rainfalls and flash floods that added stress to Singapore's drainage systems, where parts of the Orchard Road shopping belt were affected over the past two years.

PUB is also working on reducing water consumption, Mr Chew said, through measures ranging from mandatory dual-flushing systems for toilets and automatic faucets in all public restrooms.

All this, because water is an issue of "life and death here" and that's always been the message, the PUB chief emphasised.

- CNA/ck

Singapore to meet water target before deadline
Today Online 30 Jul 12;

SINGAPORE - Singapore will be able to meet its water requirements independently ahead of the 2061 expiration of a century-long supply agreement with Malaysia "if need be", the head of the city-state's water utility said.

Desalination and recycling plants produce 40 per cent of the 380 million British gallons of water companies in Singapore and its 5.2 million population use daily, Mr Chew Men Leong, chief executive of PUB, said in an interview on July 27. A downtown dam adds a further 10 per cent, with the remaining coming from its reservoirs and imports from Malaysia.

"We have made progress to the point that we are now much more confident in terms of water security and sustainability," said Mr Chew, 44, a former naval chief who joined the utility about a year ago. "If you're asking me this question about when will we ever get self-sufficiency, I will put it this way that we can be self-sufficient if need be."

Singapore, which relied on Malaysia for its water needs, spent S$600 million to S$800 million a year since 2006 on new technologies to boost its supply. The push to develop the industry has drawn businesses including General Electric and Siemens to invest, and created local water companies such as Hyflux that have expanded overseas.

"What they are looking to do is create a virtual market for the water business which is much larger than Singapore," said Mr Glen Daigger, chief technology officer of CH2M Hill, an Colorado-based industry consulting firm. "By becoming a thought leader for water in Asia, then they really create a market which is orders of magnitude bigger than Singapore itself."

Chew said his main worry is climate change and how that lowers water levels at reservoirs. Changing weather patterns also led to heavy rainfalls and flash floods that added stress to its drainage systems, where parts of the Orchard Road shopping belt were affected over the past two years.

PUB is also working on reducing water consumption, he said, with measures ranging from mandatory dual-flushing systems for toilets and automatic faucets in all public restrooms.

The average usage per person is now 153.4 litres a day, down from 165 litres nine years ago, he said. That's expected to fall to 147 litres by the end of the decade and 140 litres in the following 10 years, he said.

"Here, water is an issue of life and death," Mr Chew said. "That's always been the message." BLOOMBERG

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Bidadari to retain its greenery and heritage

HDB's call for masterplan proposals reveals vision for the new town
Grace Chua Straits Times 31 Jul 12;

THE upcoming Bidadari housing estate will have a regional park, retain its hilly and lush landscape, and celebrate its history and heritage, said the Housing Board.

The estate, which sits on a 93ha former cemetery site, will "creatively incorporate" historical elements.

These will complement the existing Bidadari Memorial Garden, which holds the tombstones of 21 prominent early citizens.

The board's vision for Singapore's newest town since Punggol was unveiled in documents calling for development proposals which were obtained by The Straits Times.

The board said Bidadari town will be very pedestrian- and cyclist-friendly and have seamless connections between transport nodes and places of attraction.

All in, the HDB wants the estate - about a quarter of Clementi town in terms of land area - to be a "distinctive and sustainable tranquil urban oasis".

Bidadari ceased burials in 1972 and was exhumed through the early 2000s. It is currently a rolling expanse of greenery frequented by joggers.

Some 12,000 private and HDB homes will be developed on the site bounded by Bartley Road, Upper Serangoon Road, Sennett Estate and Mount Vernon Road.

Infrastructure work like site preparation and earthworks will start at the end of this year. The first HDB build-to-order launch could take place as early as 2015, with flats completed in 2018.

The HDB is asking planners and consultants for expressions of interest to develop the estate's masterplan. Up to five will be invited to tender for the project.

Besides the proposals for master planning and urban design of the new estate, the HDB is seeking a team to design, construct and maintain one public housing project within the estate.

The call for expressions of interest closes on Aug 6. A tender for the masterplan is likely to be awarded in November and the plan completed next February.

Commenting on the documents, MP Lee Bee Wah, who chairs the Government Parliamentary Committee for National Development, said she was pleased that the undulating terrain of Bidadari is to be retained.

"We can make this estate different from others, rather than replicate HDB townships all over again," she said, urging planners not to overlook transport requirements too.

The area is served by three MRT stations: Bartley, Woodleigh and Potong Pasir.

Environment consultant Eugene Tay said: "It's good that the proposal brief includes retaining the existing greenery and past heritage of the area, and also requirements for sustainability studies and planning."

He suggested setting quantitative environmental targets, similar to the Building and Construction Authority's Green Mark scheme for parks or districts.

As a cemetery, Bidadari was the resting place for notable personalities like doctor and reformist Lim Boon Keng and lawyer and civic leader Song Ong Siang. In the Urban Redevelopment Authority's Master Plan 2008, the area that may one day be a regional park includes the current Mount Vernon columbarium.

Ms Olivia Choong, 33, a publicist and resident of Sennett Estate in the area, is excited about the HDB town coming up next door.

"I think it's nice to have new neighbours. We'll enjoy the amenities there too," she said.

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Malaysia: 400 anti-Aedes mosquitoes let loose in Puchong

Hasini Kannan New Straits Times 31 Jul 12'

EXPERIMENTAL: Bid to cut down dengue cases

SUBANG JAYA: SUBANG Jaya Municipal Council yesterday released another 400 Toxorhynchites mosquitoes at Kampung Sri Aman, Puchong, yesterday.

The third phase was launched by council vice-president Abdullah Marjunid following the success of the first and second phases on Oct 29 of last year and Jan 17.

Toxorhynchites, a larger mosquito species, can restrict the breeding of Aedes mosquitoes responsible for spreading dengue. The larvae of Toxorhynchites prey on the larvae of other mosquitoes.
It is among the few kinds of mosquitoes that do not consume blood.

Last year saw 27 dengue cases being reported and 15 cases have been recorded this year. The council chose Kampung Sri Aman as it has a high number of recent dengue cases.

In November last year, 60 mosquito larvae trapping devices (MLTDs) were installed at Jalan Bistari 1, Jalan Bistari 2, Jalan Bistari 3, Jalan Aman 1, Jalan Aman 2 and Jalan Taqwa.

The council in a statement said the experiment had indicated showed a high number of Aedes breeding spots at the location.

Bug-eat-bug world
Yeo Yi Shuen The Star 31 Jul 12;

THE Subang Jaya Municipal Council (MPSJ), Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) and CIMB have joined forces to reduce the threat of dengue in Kampung Seri Aman, Puchong, using Toxorhynchites mosquitoes.

They recently carried out the third phase of a project that helped prevent the Aedes mosquitoes from breeding.

Cannibalistic by nature, the Toxorhynchites species is known as the “elephant mosquito” and one of the few species that does not consume blood and only eats plant nectar.

The Toxorhynchites mosquitoes, in blue, metallic green or black, are released to breed and produce larvae which will eat the larvae of the Aedes mosquitoes.

Larvae of the Toxorhynchites mosquitoes are 1.2cm to 1.8cm long and are are four or five times bigger than normal mozzies.

Kampung Seri Aman was chosen for this project because 27 cases of dengue fever were recorded last year.

MPSJ deputy president Abdullah Marjunid said the project would not endanger the public and there were no side-effects.

“A Toxorhynchites mosquito is sitting on my arm but it does not bite as the mosquitoes feed on plants. We are safe,” he said.

MPSJ health director Dr Roslan Mohamed Hussin said the project was now at a testing stage.

“During the first phase of the project, we did not see any pupae of the Toxorhynchites mosquito. However, at the second stage, we found a few.

“Hopefully, this means that the mosquitoes are adapting to their surroundings and we hope that the third phase will have even better results,” added Dr Roslan.

Some 400 adult Toxorhynchites mosquitoes and 100 of its pupae were released.

Since the project started in October last year, there has been a noticable decrease in the number of dengue cases in the area.

“Last year, there were 27 cases. So far, this year there have been less than 15 cases.

“If this project proves to be successful, we may conduct this in other areas as well,” said Dr Roslan.

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Malaysia: Barcode for trees to curb illegal logging

Natalie Heng The Star 31 Jul 12;

DNA profiling for trees will, one day, be used to curb illegal logging.

DEOXYRIBONUCLEIC acid, otherwise known as DNA, is nature’s barcode. It is inherent in nearly every cell in every organism, and could just be our answer to curbing illegal timber trade.

It might sound like science fiction or something out of an alternative CSI episode where investigators track down trees instead of killers, but DNA fingerprinting for trees based on technologies routinely used in criminal forensics holds much promise in the field of international enforcement.

In fact, these tools are prime candidates for putting a spanner on illegal logging – an industry which has devastating consequences for biodiversity, ecosystems and national economies alike.

To understand how this is possible, you need to think of DNA as a code. Genes in specific sequences translate into a variety of proteins which do most of the work in cells (structure, function, and regulation of the body’s tissues and organs, for example).

A good analogy put forward by evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins is to think of genes as instructions in a cooking recipe. The instructions “collaborate” in the cookery process to culminate in a dish. Genes are expressed in a similarly collaborative fashion, but result in developmental processes which culminate in a body, be it human, fly or tree.

Dr Lee Soon Leong specialises in the DNA found in trees. He wades through peat swamps and treks through isolated forests to expand his collection of tree DNA samples, which he studies at the genetics laboratory at Forestry Research Institute Malaysia (FRIM).

In this leafy hub of scientific activity hidden away from the dusty streets of Kepong, Kuala Lumpur, Lee heads the genetics laboratory. In recent years, his team has been engaged in research which has important implications for prosecutors trying to bring illegally logged timber cases to court.

To understand this work, however, we first need to understand a highly interesting and useful feature of DNA – some sequences are highly conservative, whilst others are more variable.

Chloroplast genes which code for proteins involved in photosynthesis, for example, perform an important function that green plants cannot do without – allowing green plants to use energy from sunlight to synthesise food out of carbon dioxide and water. The DNA in these gene sequences are therefore highly conservative, and are likely to be very consistent between individuals of the same plant species.

Not all DNA sequences actually code for genes, however, and within these intergenic regions, harmless mutations which do not pose any disadvantage will often occur, and be passed on to subsequent generations. In this way, sequence changes can clock up along these segments, so the DNA profiles of specific intergenic regions in a distantly related group of trees will be increasingly more divergent from those of their founding population. This feature makes DNA profiling the perfect tool for shedding light on the murky routes of illegal timber trade, which is often obscured by log laundering.

Dodgy paperwork is just one of the methods companies use to disguise the origin and species of timber, effectively “legalising” logs that have come from an illegal source.

When you consider how advanced the world has become – increasingly powerful and advanced technologies being made to members of the public through smartphones, for example – it is surprising just how rudimentary our global timber trade tracking system is. The main checks that occur rely on an examination of externally applied, and easily manipulated, marks such as ink, metal bands and tags. These are cross-checked against paper documents, which can be falsified.

It is hard to blame customs officials. After all, a block of wood is, to the average person, a block of wood. Shipments of processed logs all pretty much look the same when you’re not trained in wood anatomy, which is currently the standard method used in log identification.

Even then, a timber package suspicious enough to warrant checking is subject to some disadvantages – important timber tree species are not necessarily visually distinguishable from similar species in the sawn form. All these are serious problems when it comes to the mislabelling of trade-restricted or endangered species of wood for laundering purposes.

The barcode of life

Illegal loggers might be able to mess with the paper system but they cannot mess with DNA. It is a unique property inherent in trees, and present in almost every cell within a solid wood product. It is the differences in variability across the genome that has allowed scientists like Lee to play detective, taking unknown wood samples, and tracing their origins using specific DNA sequences or “DNA markers”. Highly conservative DNA markers that are consistent within a species can be used as “barcodes” for species identification, he explains.

Since their project began in 2010, Lee’s team has amassed barcodes for half of Malaysia’s 408 commercially valuable timber species. The database of barcodes can be used for rapid identification of wood species used in heavy construction and furniture manufacturing. There is also potential implication in conservation as the barcodes can be used to assess plant biodiversity.

Whilst the highly conservative barcodes can be used for timber species identification, intergenic markers can be used to track geographical origins. Closely related trees located within the same timber concession might share common marker sequences, but the further you go, the more variation you will find within those markers. This effectively enables scientists to calculate the statistical probability of an unknown wood sample coming from a specific region, or population of trees.

But first, a database of intergenic DNA markers must be compiled from samples covering the species’ geographical range. This is exact what Lee’s team has done for cengal (Neobalanocarpus heimii), a valuable timber species which reportedly fetches up to RM10,000 per tonne, and ramin melawis (Gonystylus bancanus), a rare and endangered species which is trade-restricted and found only within dwindling lowland freshwater and peat swamp forests. Work is also currently under way to create databases for kempas (Koompassia mallaccensis) and dark red meranti (Shorea platyclados).

Being able to make geographical distinctions with regards to the place of origin of the timber has ground-breaking implications. It means that a DNA sample extracted from any piece of wood, be it a shipment going through customs or a piece of furniture, can be used to cross-check the source that is stated in the paperwork.

To take things a step further, stretches of DNA known as “microsatellites” are also variable, so these can act like individual fingerprints with only two samples from the same tree providing a perfect match.

Proving that misdeclared logs have not originated from a legal timber concession remains one of the timber world’s biggest challenges.

Section 15 of the National Forestry Act 1984 prohibits the taking of forest produce from permanent reserved forest or state land forest without a licence but it has yet to be the basis for any prosecution, partly due to the difficulties involved in producing evidence strong enough to stand up in court.

Lee says the primary application for his research is to furnish enforcement agencies with the necessary tools to do their job.

Microsatellite markers, for example, should be good enough to prove beyond doubt that there has been a chain-of-custody breach along the life cycle of a wood product, especially if the DNA can be matched to a specific tree stump.

Aside from helping with the prosecution of illegal loggers, there is a bigger picture his work is helping to build.

The data his team are generating can be used for fundamental sciences and furthering our understanding about the evolutionary genetics of tropical plants, and can also be used to identify biodiversity hubs and come up with more effective conservation strategies.

“Safeguarding our forests and figuring out how best to conserve them is important,” says Lee. “Because the forest doesn’t just belong to existing generations, but also to future generations.”

Due diligence through DNA
The Star 31 Jul 12;

THE lack of practicable control mechanisms to identify the origins of timber and wood products means that every year, an undetermined amount of illegally logged timber makes it onto the mainstream market.

Up to 50% of the wood exported from South-East Asia, the Amazon, central Africa and Russia is suspected to have come from illegal sources, according to the European Union’s Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade Action Plan. This is equivalent to US$15bil (RM45bil) worth of losses in revenue and assets every year for some of the poorest countries in the world.

It is acknowledged that illegal deforestation is not just the responsibility of suppliers, but also consumer countries. Next year, a new piece of legislation will come into force, effectively banning the world’s largest single market, the European Union, from importing any illegally-sourced timber.

This has left timber supply countries, including Malaysia, which currently exports about RM2.29bil worth of timber products to the EU annually, scrambling to finalise the EU-Voluntary Partnership Agreements (VPA). Supporting this is the Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) Action Plan, to help relevant countries set up a legality assurance system so that they can comply with the new regulation.

It is in this context that technologies such as DNA fingerprinting and stable-isotyping, a technology with similar uses, are emerging to take centrestage, as they might just be the solutions the world is looking for when it comes to the due diligence required for the issuance of FLEGT timber export licences.

In line with this, Biodiversity International has launched a new facility, based in Kuala Lumpur, to promote the identification of timber species and their origins. Scientific co-ordinator for the facility, Marius Ekue, says that by the end of the three-year project, they aim to have a functional international database featuring genetic and stable isotopes for 20 major commercial species of timber.

“We also expect to have an international agreement on standards for using genetic and stable isotopes markers for timber species identification and tracking, so certification bodies and other service providers can start incorporating genetic and stable isotope fingerprinting into their evaluation criteria.”

One big advantage of DNA and stable isotopes, says Ekue, is that such markers can also be used with processed wood.

“Such tools are already being used for major food commodities. There is no reason why it should not work for wood and wood products.”

The ultimate goal is to eliminate the possibility of falsifying accompanying chain-of-custody documents, by introducing a new and effective weapon in the fight against timber laundering. Aside from recent DNA database profiling work done at the Forest Research Institute of Malaysia, there are a number of international projects geared towards similar objectives.

There is also potential for co-operation with existing databases, such as the Barcode of Life, which is an international collaboration between scientists to create a single, open access database containing barcodes for as many species as possible.

In the mean time, however, the facility will serve to bridge these individual efforts by co-ordinating a series of workshops aimed at helping various quarters reach agreements on knowledge-sharing so they can work together. A regional workshop for the Asia-Pacific region will be held in China next month.

This year, Ghana became the first country to conclude its EU-Voluntary Partnership Agreement. Two countries are currently undergoing the ratification process while seven more are still in negotiations. Malaysia, one of the first countries to begin negotiations, hopes to finalise its agreement by the end of the year.

It might be a while before the science is translated into a viable system offering DNA-based timber tracking services but at least the wheels have been set in motion, promising a better chance at curbing the global illegal timber trade. – By Natalie Heng
Applications of a tree DNA database

> Pre-purchase diligence – Buyers can test provenance of sawn timber before buying contracts are signed.

> Raw material testing – This can be done at checkpoints along product supply chains.

> Wood product quality control

> Sampling and factory inspections – Checks can be made during the manufacturing process, especially for at-risk species in regions where fraud is prevalent, or management processes are weak.

> Customs control at point of import – Inspections can be made if the legality of the timber shipment is suspect.

> Border testing by importers – This can be done to confirm the species and the origins of the timber.

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Keeping Riau’s Palm Oil Industry Strong a Careful Balancing Act

Fidelis E. Satriastanti Jakarta Globe 30 Jul 12;

“Back in the 1990s, the future of our village was bleak, but then palm oil came and changed it all,” Firdaus said.

“The economy picked up, people could afford to buy motorcycles and improve their homes.”

Firdaus is the chief of Dosan village in Riau’s Siak district, one of the countless communities in the heavily forested Sumatran province whose fortunes are tied to the controversial crop.

In 2003, the village began growing oil palm on 3,500 hectares of land. But unlike many other areas, Dosan has from the outset practiced an environmentally-sustainable form of oil palm cultivation, Firdaus said.

“We don’t want the improved conditions to come to an end, so we’ve always tried to conserve our environment,” he said at a discussion in Jakarta held by Greenpeace Indonesia and the agriculture group Perkumpulan Elang (Eagle Society).

“That’s why we have rules on not clearing the existing forest, so that our kids and grandkids will still be able to experience the forest for themselves.

“We also require residents to maintain a 100-meter-wide belt of shade trees, because before we started growing oil palms the air here was very cool.

“Once we began planting the oil palms, it got hotter and we realized we needed shade trees to restore the cool.”

Perkumpulan Elang director Riko Kurniawan said more needed to be done to empower such farmers, given how much of Riau’s oil palm plantations they manage.

“Of the 3.2 million hectares of plantations in the province, local farmers manage 2.1 million hectares, yet their productivity is very low,” he said.

“That’s because, firstly, the major palm oil companies aren’t as supportive of independent farmers as they are of the farmers they employ. Also, oil palm is a relatively new crop and many farmers don’t yet fully understand how to cultivate it properly. Also, the prices are still dictated by the companies.”

He warns that without efforts to empower the farmers, the development of oil palm plantations in the province is essentially a “ticking time bomb” for environmental destruction.

“The rate at which they clear forests for farmland will be out of control. We need the government to step in and guide the farmers on how to improve their productivity,” Riko said.

He added that the government could help by providing the farmers with access to loans and technology to help boost their productivity.

“Right now, they’re only harvesting one or two tons per hectare per month, when they could potentially be making four to seven tons. If they could intensify their productivity from their existing farmland, then the forests can be saved.”

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Indonesia: Bogor's Puncak Forest to Lose Status as Protected Zone

Vento Saudale Jakarta Globe 30 Jul 12;

Bogor will no longer have a protected forest zone in the hilly Puncak area, under planned revisions to the district’s 2008 zoning regulations.

Suryanto Putra, head of zoning and the environment at the Bogor Development Planning Board (Bappeda), said on Sunday that the 8,745 hectares of protected forest straddling the subdistricts of Cirasua and Megamendung would be changed to logging forests, farmland and residential areas.

The protected forest designation was mandated under a 2008 presidential decree on zoning in Greater Jakarta, but Suryanto said the area’s protected status could not be maintained.

“Lots of people already live inside the protected forest area. We feel sorry for them because under the current zoning regulations, we can’t issue them permits for anything in that area,” he said, adding that the change in status would occur over the next three months.

Dwi Lesmana, a researcher with the environmental group Forest Watch Indonesia, disagreed that the change would help residents living in the affected area, saying most of the homes there were holiday villas built without permits.

Ernan Rustiadi, a senior planning researcher at the Bogor Institute of Agriculture (IPB), said lifting the protected status would reduce the already dwindling forest cover of just 12 percent.

“Even with the protected forest status, the Cisadane and Ciliwung rivers are already in critical condition, so imagine how much worse it’ll be under a logging forest status,” he said.

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Logging companies gain easy access to PNG's forests, says Greenpeace

Deforestation and land sales have blighted Papua New Guinea, but new prime minister 'is progressive figure', says Greenpeace
Mark Tran 30 Jul 12;

More than 5m hectares (12.35m acres) of customary-owned land in resource-rich Papua New Guinea have been signed over to unrepresentative landowner companies and foreign-owned corporations for up to 99 years, according to a report by Greenpeace.

Of the total 5.1m hectares covered by special agricultural and business leases (SABLs), 75%, or 3.9m hectares, are controlled by foreign-owned companies under 54 subleases or development agreements. Malaysian and Australian firms control at least 3m hectares through 32 SABLs.

PNG has the world's third largest tropical forest, but demand for its logs has led to extensive deforestation. A satellite study in 2008 said the forests of this south Pacific country were being chopped down so quickly that more than half of its trees could be lost by 2021.

The 5.1m hectares of customary-owned land represent 11% of the country and more than 16% of accessible commercial forests. PNG log exports grew by almost a fifth in 2011, largely due to logging under SABLs. Since 2006, logging companies have exported more than 1.5 cubic metres of whole logs, netting $145m (£92m) for the mostly Malaysian companies involved. Almost all the logs were exported to China.

The Greenpeace report, Up for Grabs, is highly critical of the previous government of Sir Michael Somare for allocating forests to industrial logging companies, which often occured against the wishes of people who live in PNG's forests and customary landholders.

"The previous Somare government continued this predatory relationship with customary landholders by actively facilitating the granting of SABLs with legislative amendments that enabled logging companies to gain easy access to customary-held forested land," said Greenpeace.

In May 2011, the PNG government announced a commission of inquiry into SABLs following international condemnation. The commission completed its inquiry in May this year, but will not be made public until it is tabled in parliament by the newly elected prime minister this year.

Last week, PNG's rival prime ministers ended a political feud that had left the country with two leaders for most of the past year. Somare, the elder statesman of South Pacific politics at 76 and the country's first prime minister in 1975, recontested his seat despite being ill for much of last year. Peter O'Neill was voted in as prime minister after Somare was ruled ineligible due to his prolonged absence from parliament.

Although O'Neill had the support of parliament, the supreme court twice ruled that Somare was the legitimate prime minister, leaving the country with rival leaders. Last week's agreement means O'Neill is likely to head the new government and form a coalition with backing from Somare. O'Neill's People's National Congress party is expected to win most of the seats in parliament – 3,500 candidates stood for 100 seats. Votes are still being counted.

Despite PNG's mineral wealth, successive governments have been unable to deliver infrastructure or services to a country of 6.5 million people, with about 80% of the population living on subsistence village farming and small cash crops. The general elections were PNG's eighth since independence from Australia in 1975.

Greenpeace said O'Neill's leadership could be a turning point in PNG's land policy. "He is a progressive figure and is best placed to implement the findings of the commission of inquiry," said Paul Winn, author of the report. "But he's had to team up with Somare's party, with vested interests, so he might find it difficult to implement the recommendations in full." Winn said the commission had done a thorough job. "We believe it is a hard-hitting report, saying how elites have benefited from corruption."

The Greenpeace report said the single biggest issue highlighted during the commission's inquiry was the lack of fair representation of customary landholders in agreeing to SABLs being granted over their land. The report pointed out that the Department of Lands and Physical Planning, the agency responsible for evaluating and granting SABL applications and registering subleases, was described by judicial authorities as grossly incompetent and entirely corrupt. In many cases, said Greenpeace, it was the corporations applying for logging or agricultural development that financed the government approval process.

To address many of the underlying issues that led to PNG's "land grab", Winn said it was vital for the new government to seek international help – possibly from Norway, Japan and Australia – to develop a national land planning process to identify land to be used for development, conservation or tourism and to ensure that land use benefited all of the population.

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Drought's Positive Effect: Smaller Gulf Dead Zone

Jeanna Bryner Yahoo News 31 Jul 12;

Though the parched conditions have wreaked havoc on natural habitat and agricultural crops, drought may have one upside, bringing the fourth smallest dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico since mapping of this annual oxygen-free zone began in 1985.

Scientists estimate the 2012 Gulf of Mexico dead zone spans an area of 2,889 square miles (7,482 square kilometers), or just larger than the state of Delaware.

"The smaller area was expected because of drought conditions and the fact that nutrient output into the Gulf this spring approached near the 80-year record low," Nancy Rabalais, executive director of the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium (LUMCON), said in a statement. Rabalais led the survey cruise that measured the dead zone.

In fact, the last time the dead zone was this small was in 2000 when it measured 1,696 square miles, or 4,393 square km.

The number is also well below the 2011 dead zone, which reached 6,770 square miles (17,534 square km) as a result of floods that carried loads of nutrients into the water. Scientists recorded the smallest dead zone, at 15 square miles (39 square km), in 1988, while the largest zone occurred in 2002 and covered an 8,400-square-mile (21,756-square-km) swath.

Estimates for this dead zone, which forms each summer off the coasts of Louisiana and Texas, are important because the loss of oxygen can be dire for the animals that live there; the dead zone also threatens commercial and recreational fishing in the Gulf.

The lack of oxygen results from nutrients, particularly nitrogen, that run off the land, from agricultural and other human activities, down the Mississippi River and into the Gulf of Mexico. These nutrients are food for algae, which grow as a result, before dying, sinking to the sea bottom and decomposing. It's this decomposition that sucks all the life-giving oxygen from the surrounding waters. [Mightiest Floods of the Mississippi River]

Two groups of researchers had forecast earlier this summer two very different potential sizes for this hypoxic zone, one on the small side and the other more in line with an average-size dead zone. The more conservative prediction, which involved researchers at the University of Michigan, took into account the nutrient-rich agricultural run-off from the Mississippi River watershed this spring. The "average" prediction accounted for leftovers from the prior year's nutrient pollution, called a carryover effect.

The new estimate for the zone's small size suggests this carryover effect on hypoxia was limited due to the drought (low flow) conditions, the researchers noted.

Researchers at Texas A&M plan a follow-up cruise in mid-August to provide an update on the dead-zone size.

The new research was supported by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

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Evidence for climate extremes, costs, gets more local

Alister Doyle PlanetArk 30 Jul 12;

Scientists are finding evidence that man-made climate change has raised the risks of individual weather events, such as floods or heatwaves, marking a big step towards pinpointing local costs and ways to adapt to freak conditions.

"We're seeing a great deal of progress in attributing a human fingerprint to the probability of particular events or series of events," said Christopher Field, co-chairman of a U.N. report due in 2014 about the impacts of climate change.

Experts have long blamed a build-up of greenhouse gas emissions for raising worldwide temperatures and causing desertification, floods, droughts, heatwaves, more powerful storms and rising sea levels.

But until recently they have said that naturally very hot, wet, cold, dry or windy weather might explain any single extreme event, like the current drought in the United States or a rare melt of ice in Greenland in July.

But for some extremes, that is now changing.

A study this month, for instance, showed that greenhouse gas emissions had raised the chances of the severe heatwave in Texas in 2011 and unusual heat in Britain in late 2011. Other studies of extremes are under way.

Growing evidence that the dice are loaded towards ever more severe local weather may make it easier for experts to explain global warming to the public, pin down costs and guide investments in everything from roads to flood defenses.

"One of the ironies of climate change is that we have more papers published on the costs of climate change in 2100 than we have published on the costs today. I think that is ridiculous," said Myles Allen, head of climate research at Oxford University's Environmental Change Institute.

"We can't (work out current costs) without being able to make the link to extreme weather," he said. "And once you've worked out how much it costs that raises the question of who is going to pay."

Industrialized nations agree they should take the lead in cutting emissions since they have burnt fossil fuels, which release greenhouse gases, since the Industrial Revolution. But they oppose the idea of liability for damage.

Almost 200 nations have agreed to work out a new deal by the end of 2015 to combat climate change, after repeated setbacks. China, the United States and India are now the top national emitters of greenhouse gases.

Field, Professor of Biology and Environmental Earth System Science at the University of Stanford, said that the goal was to carry out studies of extreme weather events almost immediately after they happen, helping expose the risks.

"Everybody who needs to make decisions about the future - things like building codes, infrastructure planning, insurance - can take advantage of the fact that the risks are changing but we have a lot of influence over what those risks are."


Another report last year indicated that floods 12 years ago in Britain - among the countries most easily studied because of it has long records - were made more likely by warming. And climate shifts also reduced the risks of flooding in 2001.

Previously, the European heatwave of 2003 that killed perhaps 70,000 people was the only extreme where scientists had discerned a human fingerprint. In 2004, they said that global warming had at least doubled the risks of such unusual heat.

The new statistical reviews are difficult because they have to tease out the impact of greenhouse gases from natural variations, such as periodic El Nino warmings of the Pacific, sun-dimming volcanic dust or shifts in the sun's output.

So far, extreme heat is the easiest to link to global warming after a research initiative led by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the British Meteorological Office.

"Heatwaves are easier to attribute than heavy rainfall, and drought is very difficult given evidence for large droughts in the past," said Gabriele Hegerl of the University of Edinburgh.

Scientists often liken climate change to loading dice to get more sixes, or a baseball player on steroids who hits more home runs. That is now going to the local from the global scale.

Field said climate science would always include doubt since weather is chaotic. It is not as certain as physics, where scientists could this month express 99.999 percent certainty they had detected the Higgs boson elementary particle.

"This new attribution science is showing the power of our understanding, but it also illustrates where the limits are," he said.

A report by Field's U.N. group last year showed that more weather extremes that can be linked to greenhouse warming, such as the number of high temperature extremes and the fact that the rising fraction of rainfall falls in downpours.

But scientists warn against going too far in blaming climate change for extreme events.

Unprecedented floods in Thailand last year, for instance, that caused $45 billion in damage according to a World Bank estimate, were caused by people hemming in rivers and raising water levels rather than by climate change, a study showed.

"We have to be a bit cautious about blaming it all on climate change," Peter Stott, head of climate monitoring and attribution at the Met Office's Hadley Centre, said of extremes in 2012.

Taken together, many extremes are a sign of overall change.

"If you look all over the world, we have a great disastrous drought in North America ... you have the same situation in the Mediterranean... If you look at all the extremes together you can say that these are indicators of global warming," said Friedrich-Wilhelm Gerstengabe, a professor at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.

(Additional reporting by Sara Ledwith in London; Editing by Louise Ireland)

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