Best of our wild blogs: 1 Aug 12

Volunteers Wanted
from The Green Volunteers

Living shores of Pasir Ris!
from wild shores of singapore

Some reefs can do well in murky water
from wild shores of singapore

Sivasothi on “I Think, I Care, I Act – reflections from 15 years of battling marine trash in Singapore” from News from the International Coastal Cleanup Singapore

Earth Day celebrations – Sea Grass Angel Jocelyne Sze speaks at Queenstown Primary School! from News from the International Coastal Cleanup Singapore

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Malaysia: We’ll ensure Johor refinery project is done right

The Star 1 Aug 12;

KUALA LUMPUR: The MCA has assured Pengerang residents in Johor that the party will ensure that the Refinery and Petrochemical Integrated Development (Rapid) project is carried out in a balanced manner without adversely affecting the environment.

“We support any economic development that benefits the nation,” party president Datuk Seri Dr Chua Soi Lek said.

“Any development is bound to have some environmental issue but there must be mitigation measures in place (to safeguard the environment),” he said after chairing the party’s presidential council meeting here yesterday.

He also said a task force had been set up to handle the relocation of over 3,000 Chinese graves that would be affected by the project.

“It was set up two weeks ago when the matter was raised at the National Economic Council (NEC) meeting,” said Dr Chua, who is also a member of the NEC.

“The task force will look into the sensitivities involved,” he said, adding that some 11,000 Muslim graves had already been relocated.

On the Chinese school affected by the project, Dr Chua said it would not be relocated if there was no alternative land and money offered.

“Our stand is clear – no land, no money, then no relocation. So, whoever who wants to use the school land must find an alternative land and money,” he said. “Otherwise, the Chinese school stays put.”

On a rally in Segamat, Johor, last Sunday by Chinese education group Dong Zong demanding for an independent Chinese school, Dr Chua said there were already two independent schools near Segamat.

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Haze in Malaysia: Bad air days ahead, again

Ling Poh Lean New Straits Times 1 Aug 12;

UNHEALTHY LEVELS: Tanjung Malim and Port Klang record worst pollution

KUALA LUMPUR: KLANG Valley is once again blanketed in haze which blew in from Sumatra yesterday.

Based on the Air Pollutant Index (API) chart at the Department of Environment's (DOE) website, the air in two areas, Tanjung Malim in Perak and Port Klang in Selangor, was polluted.

As of 5pm yesterday, Tanjung Malim topped the chart with a reading of 122 followed by Kuala Selangor (109).

The API in Tanjung Malim had jumped from moderate level with an API of 64 at 11am to an unhealthy level at 5pm.

An air quality reading of 101 to 202 is considered "unhealthy", 51 to 100 is "moderate" and 0 to 50 is "good".

The air quality readings in some other areas as of 5pm yesterday include Cheras (80) in Kuala Lumpur; Banting (84), Kuala Selangor (76) and Petaling Jaya (73) in Selangor; Ipoh, Perak (75) and Seberang Prai, Penang (82).

The deteriorating air quality was first spotted in Port Klang at 11am on Monday with API of 118. The reading increased to 122 at 5pm on the same day.

A statement by the department said strong winds from the southwest of Sumatra, which is across the Straits of Malacca, had blown in the direction of Peninsular Malaysia, causing the haze. The department has also ordered a ban on open burning in all states.

As peat areas are known to be easily flammable, the department has also implemented the standard operating procedure for the prevention of peat fires and has begun conducting checks on gas emissions from factories and vehicles.

A satellite image given by the Asean Specialised Meteorological Centre showed 22 hotspots in Sumatra on Monday.

The DOE updates the API readings three times a day at 7am, 11am and 5pm and the data is available at

The Meteorological Department said the country was expected to experience hot and dry weather until October.

Based on the weather forecast by the department's website, there will be no rain in Kuala Lumpur, Putrajaya, Kelantan and Johor for the next three days.

The department forecast isolated rains and showers in Perlis, Kedah, Penang, Perak, Pahang, Selangor, Malacca, Negri Sembilan, Sabah and Sarawak over the next three days.

More places hit by haze
The Star 2 Aug 12;

PETALING JAYA: Haze continues to shroud the country with more areas recording moderate air quality readings. However, there were no areas with an unhealthy Air Pollutant Index as at 5pm yesterday.

The air quality for Port Klang and Kuala Selangor, which recorded an unhealthy API of 101 and 102 at 11am yesterday, improved to 94 and 98 respectively by 5pm, according to the Department of Environment’s website.

(A good API reading is from 0-50, moderate 51-100, unhealthy 101-200, very unhealthy 201-299 and hazardous from 300 and above.)

As at 5pm yesterday, 42 areas or 82% recorded moderate air quality readings compared to 37 the previous day.

Among the areas with high moderate readings were Seri Manjung, Perak, with an API of 86, Cheras (81), Petaling Jaya (78), Kuala Terengganu (75) and Kuching (70). Some areas recorded an improvement of readings throughout the day while others showed a slight increase.

The Meteorological Department noted that most parts of the country recorded normal (above 10km) or near normal visibility levels by 7pm yesterday except for Alor Star (6km), Batu Embun, Kedah (8km), Bayan Lepas (8km). Butterworth (7km), Langkawi (7km) and Prai (7km).

According to the latest regional hazemap, scattered and isolated hotspots continue to be detected in Borneo and Sumatra respectively. But no significant smoke plumes were visible from satellite images.

The transboundary haze is an annual affair during this southwest monsoon season which brings about drier weather.

Meanwhile, the DOE in a statement yesterday stated that it received 10 complaints of open burning on Tuesday which had been investigated and the necessary action taken.

Of the complaints, four were minor agriculture fires, two were bush fires while the remaining involved the burning of garbage, it said.

Complaints on open burning can be forwarded to the Fire and Rescue Department at 999 or DOE at 1800-88-2727.

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Car ferry to connect Kota Tinggi and Changi

The Star 1 Aug 12;

KOTA TINGGI: The first modern roll-on and roll-off (RoRo) ferry service between Malaysia and Singapore will be introduced by the end of next year.

Transport Minister Datuk Seri Kong Cho Ha said the ferry service would link Tanjung Belungkur here and Changi.

He said a one-way trip between the two terminals would take less than 30 minutes.

The service, he said, would enable people to bring along their vehicles such as cars, vans and small lorries when they criss-crossed between the two countries.

“The RoRo service is quite similar to the ones in Penang and with this mode of transportation, the ministry expects this terminal to be quite busy.

A similar service was introduced at the terminal in 1993 but it ceased operations in 2002 due to lack of interest.

Kong said this time around, the RoRo service was expected to do a roaring business due to mega development projects around Pengerang and Mersing.

“We need to attract investors to come here and with the introduction of the service, the travelling time between the two countries would be considerably shorter,” he told a press conference after visiting the terminal here yesterday.

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Indonesia: Endangered Sumatran Tigers Face New Threat Online

Ismira Lutfia Jakarta Globe 31 Jul 12;

Activists from HarimauKita, a Sumatran tiger conservation forum, have sounded the alarm about the illegal trade in tiger parts now being conducted online, including through social media sites.

Hariyo T. Wibisono, head of monitoring at HarimauKita, said on Sunday that it was important for people to be aware of the illegal trade and to fight it.

“Our focus is to make people aware of how widespread the trade in tiger parts has become online,” he said at a campaign event at National Monument (Monas) Park in Central Jakarta.

“We want them to report to us if they find any indications of it on social networking sites or Internet forums.”

Hariyo said HarimauKita would then forward the reports to the Forestry Ministry, whose jobs he said it was to coordinate with law enforcement agencies in tracking down the traders.

“Our function as a civil society organization is just to monitor the illegal wildlife trade over the Internet,” he added.

HarimauKita’s campaign at Monas was held to mark Global Tiger Day, first celebrated on July 29, 2010.

H.A. Wahyudi, the group’s executive director, said the day was an opportunity to increase public interest and participation in the task of conserving wild tiger populations worldwide.

He said the threat against tigers was particularly high because of online trading, which allowed traders to interact with a wide range of buyers without having to meet them in person.

“We need to narrow down the space in which these people can operate, and for that we need greater public participation to fight the illegal trade in Sumatran tiger parts through the Internet,” he said.

He added that hundreds of HarimauKita volunteers, grouped under the TigerHeart Network, had compiled a list of hundreds of websites dealing in tiger parts since 2010.

“We’ve also identified several sites that have frequently been used as portals to buy and sell tiger parts,” Wahyudi said. “In fact, some perpetrators have even been arrested.”

He said it was also important for the government to participate in the campaign by shutting down sites dealing in the illegal trade.

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Indonesia seizes 85 endangered pangolins

AFP Yahoo News 31 Jul 12;

Indonesian police have intercepted 85 endangered pangolins, most of them alive despite being stuffed into sacks by suspected smugglers, an official said Tuesday.

The animals, also known as scaly anteaters and prized mostly in China and Vietnam as food and medicine, were packed in 14 sacks when they were seized at a bus station in the city of Medan in North Sumatra province on Saturday, said Yoris Marzuki, chief detective of the local police.

"About 80 percent were still alive. We suspect that they were being smuggled abroad via Malaysia to Hong Kong or mainland China," he told AFP.

He said police had acted on a tip-off but that no arrests had been made.

"We are still investigating the case," he said, adding that police were working with the natural resources conservation agency to release the animals back to the wild.

The pangolin, which eats termites and ants, is protected under the UN's Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, and trading in it and its products is illegal.

Conservation groups say smuggling of the animal is rampant and they are frequently poached from the wild, mainly in Indonesia and Malaysia, exacerbating the threat of extinction from rapid deforestation.

They are transported through southeast Asia, mostly ending up in China and Vietnam, where pangolin flesh is a delicacy and its scales -- the only mammal known to have them -- are ground into a powder for supposed medicinal purposes.

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Hong Kong to return over 100 rare reptiles to Philippines

AFP Yahoo News 1 Aug 12;

Scores of endangered reptiles including turtles and a python that were smuggled into Hong Kong will be returned to their native Philippines on Wednesday, officials said.

A 22-year-old man is serving a six-week prison sentence for smuggling the 105 reptiles into the city packed in plastic containers inside his checked-in luggage on June 14, the officials said.

The 39 Philippine pond turtles, 46 Southeast Asian box turtles, 19 Mindanao water monitor lizards and one reticulated python required specialist care before they could be shipped home.

"It was difficult for them to breathe," Kadoorie Farm and Botanic Garden head of fauna conservation Gary Ades said.

"Many of the animals when they arrived were underweight and dehydrated and so they required treatment," Ades said, adding most of them had recovered.

Trade in the reptiles is restricted under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), although it is legal to keep them as pets in Hong Kong.

"By returning these reptiles to their native range, we can sustain populations in the wild," Kadoorie Farm conservation officer Paul Crow said.

Hong Kong endangered species protection officer Alfred Wong said the reptiles most likely would have entered the pet market.

Customs officials arrested the same man in February for smuggling 36 live turtles from the Philippines into Hong Kong. He was fined HK$8,000 ($1,000) for that offence.

Trafficking in pond turtles is punishable by a six-year prison term and a million-peso ($23,000) fine in the Philippines, but authorities say they lack resources to properly enforce the law.

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World's Northernmost Coral Reef Discovered in Japan

Crystal Gammon Yahoo News 31 Jul 12;

When you think of coral reefs, you probably picture scuba divers gliding through warm, crystal-clear waters. And for the most part, you'd be right: more than 90 percent of the world's coral reefs are located in the tropics.

Now researchers in Japan have found what is — so far — the world's northernmost coral reef. Located off the coast of Tsushima Island at 34 degrees north latitude, the newly discovered reef is far different from other coral reefs and is 217 miles (350 kilometers) north of most others in the region.

"Coral reefs have been believed to develop under warm-water settings — at least 18 degrees Celsius [64 degrees Fahrenheit] in winter. This setting is 13 degrees Celsius in winter [55 degrees Fahrenheit], which is unbelievably low," Hiroya Yamano, a researcher at Japan's National Institute for Environmental Studies, told OurAmazingPlanet. "The species, and thus seascape, is completely different from normal reefs."

Unfriendly waters

A team led by Yamano found a similar reef off the coast of Japan's Iki Island in 2001, and until now, that reef was the planet's northernmost. The newfound Tsushima Island reef is 43 miles (70 km) north of the Iki Island reef. [Images: Dazzling World of Coral, Unveiled]

Yamano's team tracked down this reef after poring over old manuscripts and interviewing local residents. Their sleuthing paid off, and they eventually found the 4,300-year old reef in one of Tsushima's murky inner bays.

"The water in this bay is basically turbid" — cloudy with lots of suspended particles — "and water temperatures are low, especially in winter," Yamano said.

Both of those qualities make life difficult for most corals. But this reef is composed of a genus of corals called Favia, a massive brown coral type. Most reefs are made up of corals from the genus Acropora, which can be a variety of colors and grow in branching or platelike polyps. Favia species tend to tolerate cold, turbid waters better than Acropora do, Yamano said.

So why did this reef start building itself in such an unfriendly environment? The team isn't sure, but Yamano thinks the Tsushima Warm Current, a stream of warm water flowing along the northwestern coast of Japan, probably helped transport coral larvae northward into the turbid inner bays of Iki and Tsushima islands. Yamano thinks there may be many more undiscovered reefs in similar settings throughout the region.

Changing species, changing climate?

Reefs like this one might help researchers measure ecosystem changes in warming oceans.

Although the Tsushima and Iki reefs both formed in very cold waters and predominantly house Favia coral species, Acropora corals have begun settling near the reefs over the last 20 years. Comparing coral species in older parts of the reef to newly arrived corals might help scientists determine how climate change and warming waters are affecting these reef ecosystems, Yamano said.

His team's findings were published online July 12 in the journal Geology.

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Lost habitat not easily replaced

The ARC Centre of Excellence for Environmental Decisions
Science Alert 1 Aug 12;

With up to a billion hectares of wilderness likely to be cleared to feed the world in the coming half century and an area the size of China devoured by cities, leading environmental scientists are urging caution over the extent to which lost ecosystems can be replaced or restored.

In a major scientific article, a team including Australian researchers from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Environmental Decisions (CEED) has advised governments worldwide to think twice before assuming an environment lost to development can easily be replaced elsewhere.

“There’s been a lot of talk among policymakers about ‘offsets’, meaning that if you damage or lose the environment in one place you compensate by restoring or protecting an equivalent area somewhere else,” explains Professor Richard Hobbs of CEED and The University of Western Australia.

Currently there are more than 64 such programs under way around the world and policy support for the solution is gathering steam, “But the science to date suggests it is very hard to replace a lost environment in another locality so there is no net loss of species,” he adds.

Also “When habitat is re-created on a highly degraded site through revegetation, the revegetated site rarely resembles the target ecosystem,” the paper states.

“Current conservation policies talk glibly about offsets and seem to promise much – but it isn’t clear they really appreciate how difficult and expensive it can be to translocate a whole ecosystem with all its species and their relationships. Or even to restore one that has been damaged to full vitality. You can’t simply go and plonk species somewhere else and feel you have conserved them,” says Prof. Hobbs.

Lead author Dr Martine Maron from The University of Queensland says “In some cases, we are trying to use offsets to replace centuries-old trees. For some species, the long wait before newly-planted trees can provide food or nesting hollows for fauna means that offsetting is a very high-risk strategy.”

Professor Hobbs says the purpose of the article was to inject a bit of realism into the current conservation policy debate about how much was genuinely achievable with ‘offsets’.

Prof. Hobbs says there are outstanding examples where environments have been very well protected or restored, instancing Perth’s famous King’s Park native bushland, and the jarrah forest restoration work of aluminium producer Alcoa on WA’s Darling Escarpment. “But these kinds of restoration are very expensive and, even then, it isn’t always clear that you have fully restored everything.”

At a less costly level, promising work has been undertaken to restore native vegetation in the Gondwanalink project across WA’s Great Southern region, by reconnecting islands of bush, use of carbon offsets and sandalwood plantations to regenerate land once cleared for agriculture. “This is a much lower budget project, and appears to be working well in the woodland areas – it is the heathlands, with their remarkable biodiversity, that are the real challenge,” he says

The team’s work brings together the issues of how you measure biodiversity, how long it takes to re-establish and the risks of not achieving the goal.

“Confidence in the ability of restoration to deliver genuine biodiversity offsets is undermined by the problems of defining and measuring the biodiversity values that are lost and gained, considerable uncertainty surrounding the effectiveness of restoration techniques, and long time-lags,” the scientists say.

“The rapidly-increasing reach of biodiversity offsetting into many areas of environmental policy— including threatened species protection, environmental impact assessment and protected area investment—makes closer collaboration between policy makers and restoration scientists and practitioners an urgent priority.”

The paper ‘Faustian bargains? Restoration realities in the context of biodiversity offset policies’ by Martine Maron, Richard J. Hobbs, Atte Moilanen, Jeffrey W. Matthews, Kimberly Christie, Toby A. Gardner, David A. Keith, David B. Lindenmayer and Clive A. McAlpine appears in Biological Conservation 155 2012 (Elsevier).

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Century of Drought May Be Ahead

Jesse Emspak Yahoo News 31 Jul 12;

Western forests could be facing a 100-year drought, turning to scrubland by the end of the century – and taking their ability to soak up carbon with them, according to a new study.

The new research, published in Nature Geoscience July 29, suggests the western evergreen forests, which cover an area from southern Canada to northern Mexico, took up a lot less carbon from the atmosphere during the drought that lasted from 2000-2004. That's normal, and expected. The question is what happens after that.

Christopher Schwalm and his colleagues at Northern Arizona University's School of Earth Science and Environmental Sustainability think that there is a good chance the drought could be the new normal. If that happens, a big carbon sink will be lost.

Drought of 2000

The group calculated that during the drought of 2000-2004, the amount of carbon the western forests took up dropped by between 30 million and 298 million metric tons per year. Ordinarily they would take up between 177 million and 623 million metric tons. By comparison, a 2011 study from the U.S. Forest Service estimated the global sink from forests is between 2 billion and 2.8 billion metric tons per year. [Images Reveal Forests' True Colors]

There's a lot of uncertainty in those measurements, but even assuming the smallest loss and the highest carbon uptake — which is unlikely — it still means a non-trivial dent in the amount of CO2 removed from the atmosphere.

A lengthy drought will cause a big dieback of the evergreen forests that are familiar to hikers and skiers, bringing in vegetation that will likely more resemble a desert scrubland. Those kinds of plants take up carbon, but not as well as forests do.

Climate change is the likely culprit for such a long drought, or "megadrought" that lasts decades, say the researchers. As the climate warms, many areas that were dry become drier, and some that were wet become wetter. Not only have the last three decades contained some of the hottest years on record, the amount of rainfall in western North America might drop – a lot.

The result is that where mountainous forests previously recovered from long drought events — such as the one in the 12th century that may have resulted in the abandonment of the ancient towns of the southwest — that might not happen again in the future. Or at least, not on a time scale that's helpful to humans. [The Worst Droughts in US History]

If people don't cut back emissions or mitigate the die-off somehow, the result will probably be an increase in the rate of carbon-dioxide accumulation in the atmosphere, leading to greater warming, Schwalm told LiveScience.

Schwalm and his team used several sources of data to get their estimates, such as Fluxnet, a network of sensors run by the Oak Ridge National Laboratory; the Center for Climatic Research at the University of Delaware; and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

What's to come

The idea was to gather all of the best estimates for the carbon flux — the rate at which carbon enters and leaves the atmosphere — in the region in question. For example, the Department of Agriculture measures crop yields, and knowing that gives a good estimate of how much carbon (in the form of food) was sequestered by agricultural land. In the forests, the Fluxnet sensor towers measure carbon dioxide in the atmosphere in a forest, which can then be compared with other locations.

The study also looked at the severe the turn-of-the-century drought using the "Palmer Drought Severity Index," which measures precipitation, runoff and other factors. Taking a five-year average, and using indicators such as tree-ring data, Schwalm found that this most recent drought of 2000-2004 was as bad as any since about the year 1200.

That doesn't bode well; there is a real possibility given current trends that this drought could be one of those that lasts decades, or even a century, he said.

Even that wouldn't be so bad for the forest, but he noted that it's important that the kind of forests that exist change after each of these drought cycles. The evergreen species we see now in the four corners region are probably different from those that were there 1,500 years ago.

There are several mitigation strategies, such as "industrial forestry" – using specially bred trees, for instance, to re-forest the areas where diebacks occur. And there will be some adaptation on the part of the plants. But there are limits in terms of how "plastic" or amenable to changing these plants will be. "A lot of species are a lot more plastic than we give them credit for," Schwalm said. "But at a certain point the plasticity fails."

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