Best of our wild blogs: 2 Aug 12

Baby Seahorse & Invisible Octopus
from Pulau Hantu

Colourful Changi with Motherload of Seagrass anemones
from wild shores of singapore

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Vital to have balanced approach to land use

Straits Times Forum 30 Jul 12;

WE THANK Dr Ho Hua Chew for his commentary ("Preserving Singapore's green heartland"; July 14) and subsequent writers on the issue ("City of gardens doesn't make a garden city" by Dr Isaac Seow En" and "Preserve the natural connection" by

Mrs Katrina Dub'e", July 19; and "Wildlife affected by excessive development" by Mr Steven Chong, Forum Online, last Monday).

Greenery has always had an important place in the planning for Singapore. Despite being land-scarce, we have set aside close to 10 per cent of Singapore's total land area for parks and nature reserves.

In addition to the nature reserves, another 18 nature areas have been retained in the current Master Plan 2008.

Where possible, nature areas with rich bio-diversity are integrated into parks and other recreational spaces, so that they are accessible and available for public enjoyment.

We will be increasing our parks and open spaces within the next 10 to 15 years from about 3,600ha to 4,200ha. This will enable us to offer a greater diversity of recreational areas and green spaces.

We have to be judicious in land allocation.

Besides land for parks and open spaces, we also need to cater for other competing needs such as industry, housing, defence, transport, basic utilities and so on. Land is allocated for these activities in the Master Plan, which is reviewed every five years.

This requires discipline and a delicate balance in land use because land is a scarce resource in Singapore.

While we wish we could have an abundance of everything, the reality is that we need to strike a careful balance among the many competing needs of a nation-state. Land earmarked for other uses will eventually need to be developed when the need arises.

Putting aside land for parks and open spaces is not the only option available to us.

Our public agencies and community have done well working together to find our own solutions to improve the quality of greenery and to integrate greenery deeply into our cityscape.

Efforts like the Community in Bloom, the park connector network, the ABC Waters Programme and encouraging more skyrise greenery will bring greenery closer to homes and transform Singapore into a City in a Garden.

Some 47 per cent of Singapore is covered in greenery despite urbanisation, a collective achievement that we can be proud of.

Through good planning and collaboration with public agencies and the community, we can certainly strive to do better in the years to come.

Tan See Nin
Director (Physical Planning)
Urban Redevelopment Authority

Heartened by bid to keep Singapore's green edge
Straits Times 2 Aug 12;

IT IS heartening to note that 47 per cent of Singapore's land mass is covered in greenery, of which 10 per cent has been set aside for parks and nature reserves, according to the Urban Redevelopment Authority ("Vital to have balanced approach to land use"; Monday).

But increasingly, natural areas in neighbourhoods from Bukit Timah to Thomson to Pasir Ris are being scaled back either by new residential and commercial property developments or road expansion projects.

In places like Punggol Park and Gardens by the Bay, much of the natural vegetation has been replaced by artificially manicured and landscaped gardens that are intended more to be aesthetically pleasing to photographers than ecologically friendly to wildlife.

While being included as part of green spaces, sites like golf courses and military training reserves are not openly accessible to the public.

So, with the land pressures from the rapidly expanding population and a burgeoning property market, it is understandable why the nature-loving public may feel that Singapore is being deforested even as it looks "green" in satellite images.

Given the anxieties over these trends, I am therefore heartened by the Housing Board's plans to retain the heritage and greenery of the former Bidadari Cemetery ("Bidadari to retain its greenery and heritage"; Tuesday).

I am also excited by the possibility that the new estate will be significantly more pedestrian-friendly with less reliance on vehicular roads.

If well implemented, this plan reflects the Government's commitment towards making Singapore an organic and liveable city that has life, history and nature even in the backyards of our heartland.

The concept of the garden city has distinguished Singapore from the uncontrollably congested and over-urbanised cities in Asia.

While other countries can easily overtake us with more impressive buildings and quality products and services, it will be harder for them to outdo Singapore as a metropolis in terms of "greenery".

As such, we should not see natural spaces in the country as "spare" land that can be bulldozed for short-term development, but essential intangible assets to the survival of Singapore in the long term.

Liew Kai Khiun

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Television among items found during Pulau Ubin beach cleanup

AsiaOne 1 Aug 12;

79 young eco-champions did their part for the environment by collecting and categorizing the marine trash on the beaches of Pulau Ubin on July 29.

The coastal cleanup event was organised by Outward Bound Singapore (OBS), in collaboration with International Coastal Cleanup Singapore (ICCS).

Some of the items collected include abandoned car tyres, pails, styrofoam boxes and even a television set weighing 27kg.

Said Asyraf Ramli, a 16-year-old student from Manjusri Secondary School, “I was very shocked when I found the TV. I expected to see only plastic bottles and plastic bags. It is an eye-opener to see that the beaches in Pulau Ubin littered with such trash because there are no cleaners here, unlike in East Coast Park.”

The youngest volunteer, 10-year-old Mark Joshua John participated in the event with his mother, Magdalene Ng. Said Ms Ng, “Mark has really come a long way. He used to be afraid of sitting on the sand because he found it dirty. Now, he is actually cleaning the beach for a good cause.”

The event aimed to provide a platform for past participants of OBS programmes to serve the community and for them to gain a deeper appreciation for their environment. They can then hopefully be ‘green’ ambassadors who will spread the message of environmental conservation among their peers.

Guess where this television was found?
Today Online 2 Aug 12;

Abandoned car tyres, pails, Styrofoam boxes and a television were among the items collected by 79 youths in a coastal clean-up at Pulau Ubin beach on Sunday. Organised by Outward Bound Singapore (OBS), in collaboration with International Coastal Cleanup Singapore, the event provided a platform for past OBS participants to serve the community and gain deeper appreciation for their environment. Asyraf Ramli, a student, said: 'I was very shocked when I found the TV. I expected to see only plastic bottles and plastic bags. It is an eye-opener to see the beaches in Pulau Ubin littered with such trash because there are no cleaners here, unlike in East Coast Park.' PHOTO OUTWARD BOUND SINGAPORE

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Mangrove conservation is 'economic' CO2 fix

Nick Crumpton BBC News 1 Aug 12;

Protecting mangroves to lock carbon away in trees may be an economic way to curb climate change, research suggests.

Carbon credit schemes already exist for rainforests; the new work suggests mangroves could be included too.

But other researchers say the economics depend on the global carbon price.

Presenting their results in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), the US-based team emphasises that protecting mangroves has important benefits for wildlife as well.

Mangrove habitats comprise less than 1% of all forest areas across the world.

But for the biodiversity they support, and the benefits they bring to communities in the form of fishing habitats and storm protection barriers, they are extremely important.

They are also being lost at a greater rate than tropical rainforests.

Similar to rainforests, they store carbon within their "biomass", which is released when the habitat is destroyed.

Their ability to capture carbon may be on average five times that of tropical rainforests, so they have become of interest to carbon-focused conservation strategists.

Now, Dr Juha Siikamaki of the think tank Resources for the Future and his US colleagues have shown that protecting mangroves and thereby reducing the amount of CO2 released may be an affordable way for countries to mitigate their carbon emissions.

"We make the surprising finding that in most places, preserving mangroves is justified solely based on the avoided emissions, without any regard for the many other ecological and economic benefits mangroves are particularly well known for," Dr Siikamaki told BBC News.

The research, which used new high resolution surveys of global mangrove biomass, suggests that protecting these habitats could be a viable means for reducing emissions in comparison to other "carbon offset" methods.

"The bonus is that in doing so, we can preserve important habitats critical to coastal fisheries, rich in biodiversity, and home to hundreds of species of plants and animals, many of them endangered," co-author Professor James Sanchirico, from the University of California, Davis, said in a press statement.

But Freya Roberts, a researcher at fact-checking service The Carbon Brief, told BBC News that the price of carbon quoted - on which this research is based - might be out-dated.

"Since [the research was conducted], carbon prices have dropped due to an over-supply of permits," she said.

"With too many permits available, and poor economic conditions meaning big businesses are emitting less carbon dioxide, competition isn't forcing the carbon price up."

Other incentive programs are available, such as the EU's Emission Trading Scheme (ETS). The authors report that the preservation of mangroves is cheaper than these other schemes; but Ms Roberts remained cautious.

"Carbon permits now cost roughly $8-10, which is at the lower end of the price range where the majority of emissions from mangroves could be avoided."
Financial incentives

The recommendations of the researchers to protect mangroves in order to store "blue" carbon as part of climate policy frameworks resembles current REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation) strategies.

REDD enables nations to receive financial incentives for reducing deforestation, leading to decreases in carbon emissions.

"Projects that involve and respect local people and that use the market for carbon offsets to fund development and conservation are beginning to emerge," Professor Mark Huxham of Edinburgh Napier University, who was not involved with the study, told BBC News.

"This paper is further encouragement for them to succeed," he said.

Dr. Siikamaki said that "institutional" barriers, although still remaining, should not hinder mangrove conservation.

"Developing programmes to compensate for the CO2 benefits of mangrove conservation could provide an important step towards this goal," he said.

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Thailand: Pollution Strikes Phi Phi, Mysterious Oil Slick Drives Tourists from Beach

Rattanawan Vatcharasorat PhuketWan 1 Aug 12;

PHUKET: Phi Phi, perhaps the most iconic tourist destination in the Phuket region, is suffering a serious environmental crisis after an oil slick polluted a beach.

Officials don't know where the slick came from - and at this stage there has been no official attempt to remove the one-kilometre long sludge from Ao Lo Dalam beach.

Tourists were covered in the slick's black slime for the first time on Saturday, sounding the alarm that one of Thailand's natural gems is under threat.

Visitors are still staying away from the beach, with a few locals trying their best to scrape the oil from the sand and bag it for disposal.

Wirapat Jantaro, President of the Tourist Association of Phi Phi, told Phuketwan today that local authorities needed to becoming involved to prove they could deal with an environmental threat.

So far there has been no official reaction, he said.

''Tourists are unable to use the beach and the slick is clearly a threat to future tourism on Phi Phi,'' he said. ''It really does call for action.''

Locals have no idea where the slick came from, and no idea when or if the sludge will disappear.

Lieutenant Commander Chisiri Koondam, the Marine 5 Office chief for Krabi province, which oversees Phi Phi, said today: ''We are not sure when it will go. We suspect the oil may have come from a passing trawler.

''Perhaps they were working on the engine or taking on a load of fuel at sea.''

He said it was even possible that the slick could have drifted with the currents from further afield, in Phuket or mainland Phang Nga province.

''There is no swimming at the beach for now,'' he said. ''It may be a small environmental issue compared to other country's problems, but it's an indication of the need for the Andaman region and Phang Nga Bay to be prepared.''

Phi Phi, a rites-of-passage destination for many 20-somethings, has yet to have June's tragic double death riddle resolved.

Forensic scientists are still making laboratory tests on both sides of the world to solve the mystery of what killed Canadian sisters Noemi and Audrey Belanger.

Audrey, 20, and Noemi, 26, were found dead in a room at the Palm Residence Phi Phi on June 15.

The riddle was an all-too-real reminder that the cause of death of American Jill St Onge, 27, and Norwegian Julie Bergheim, 22, on Phi Phi in May, 2009, has also never been determined.

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India: Mangroves hit by oil spills show no new growth

Snehal Rebello Hindustan Times 2 Aug 12;

Two years after an oil spill off the Mumbai coast contaminated dense mangrove vegetation around the city’s shoreline, no new mangroves have grown in the affected areas.

Mangroves are crucial to a coastal city such as Mumbai as they act as a buffer against erosion of the coast and
as a sponge to prevent flooding in the city. They also form the breeding ground for marine life.

A report, ‘Study on the impact of oil spill on the mangroves of Mumbai and Raigad coast’, prepared by the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) states that the presence of oil in the soil is preventing mangrove seeds from germinating. The report was submitted to the Ministry of Environment and Forests in June.

“Seeds are getting contaminated because of the presence of oil in the soil. Hence, mangrove seedlings will not survive owing lack of oxygen in the soil for the roots,” said Deepak Apte, assistant conservation director, BNHS and principal investigator for the report.

“When seedlings do not survive, its consequences can be seen continuously for two to three years and it could affect the mangrove eco-system. There has been no recovery process in the last two years,” said Apte.

Except two locations, Mand-wa and Rewas, which have low oil content, there has been no regeneration of mangroves in eight other sites despite seeding in two seasons. The worst-affected sites include Colaba, Vashi, Sewri, Uran, Sasawane and Gharapuri Isle (Elephanta Island). The report recommends immediate afforestation.

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Tiger Population in Nepal Park Doubles in 2 Years

Douglas Main Yahoo News 1 Aug 12;

Camera traps in Nepal's Bardia National Park identified 37 tigers living in and near the park in 2011, a marked increase from two years before when only 18 were recorded there, according to the conservation group World Wildlife Fund (WWF).

Shubash Lohani, a researcher with the group originally from Nepal, credits the increase to a commitment by the Nepalese government to protect the endangered big cats and crack down on illegal poaching, as well as better training and resources given to park rangers, cooperation by local communities and improvements in grassland habitat.

The growth of the Bengal, or Indian, tiger populations in this region shows that the animals can rebound quickly if given the opportunity, Lohani told OurAmazingPlanet.

"This is a result of the government's commitment to doubling Nepal's tiger numbers [by 2022] and is proof positive that this goal is achievable if grassroots efforts by local communities and rangers on the frontlines of tiger conservation are complemented by high-level political support," he said.

Threats to tigers remain

The group has worked with the Nepalese government and local communities to double the number of guard posts in the park since 2008. Rangers have cracked down on poaching, arresting more 300 poachers and traders in the country in 2011 alone.

However, illegal hunting of the endangered cats throughout their range remains an enormous threat to their survival and is fueled by growing demand for their parts, which are traditionally thought to have medicinal value (despite strong evidence to the contrary), Lohani said.

Camera traps used in the study, published in an announcement by the government of Nepal, also found tigers moving through the Khata wildlife corridor to reach India's Katarniaghat Wildlife Sanctuary.

These wildlife corridors are vital for allowing the animals to move throughout their range, and in the future, the WWF plans to better protect and improve the habitats of these pathways in Nepal and elsewhere, Lohani said.

Tigers identified

Researchers have improved grassland habitats by removing trees and conducting controlled burns over the past few years, which has allowed ungulates and other deer species — a primary food source for tigers — to thrive.

Tigers can have many offspring if they are healthy; photographs by tourists suggest that one Nepalese female has given birth to eight cubs in the past few years, Lohani said.

Camera traps took about 300 photographs of tigers in the park in 2011, from which 37 individuals were identified by their unique pattern of stripes, Lohani said.

In 2011, locals voluntarily gave up 135 guns to the park authorities as a result of grassroots anti-poaching activities supported by WWF Nepal. The group also works with 12 community-based anti-poaching units to help stop wildlife crime.

But there is still much work to be done if tigers are to be saved. "Although this is an encouraging result, we need more cooperation from other countries where tigers live to protect the animals, and to crack down on poaching and illegal trade in wildlife," he said.

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East Africa's forests shrink, especially near parks

Alister Doyle PlanetArk 31 Jul 12;

Forests in East Africa have shrunk over the past years, especially around the fringes of parks, complicating efforts to protect wildlife and fight climate change, a study showed on Monday.

The report indicated that forest cover decreased by about 9.3 percent overall from 2001-09 in about 12 nations studied. Losses were biggest in Uganda and Rwanda, while only southern Sudan - which is now the independent country South Sudan - made fractional gains.

"The decrease in forest cover is strongest just outside protected areas," Rob Marchant of the University of Leeds, who co-ordinated the study in the journal PLOS One by experts in Britain, Denmark and the United States, told Reuters.

"Outside the parks there is very little legislation to prevent people from chopping down trees for timber or charcoal," he said. The study concluded there had been "mixed success" for protected areas in East Africa.

Population growth outside parks puts pressure on species of animals and plants. Loss of forests contributes to climate change - trees soak up carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas, when they grow and release it when they burn or rot.

The losses of forests were high in bands 10 km (6 miles) from parks and other protected areas, where many people were drawn to live by jobs in forest management or tourism.

Forest area inside national park boundaries increased by 3.2 percent overall, thanks largely to successful expansion in Tanzania. Overall, forests in 26 of 48 national parks got bigger or stayed the same size, while they shrank in the remaining 22.


Among recommendations to improve management was to get local communities more involved in protecting forests, such as in the Mukogodo Forest Reserve in Kenya.

Marchant said the study also showed the difficulties of designing U.N. schemes meant to reward countries for preserving their forests as a way to slow global warming.

Such schemes backfire if forest protection in one area simply means that trees are chopped down elsewhere.

According to U.N. estimates, the forestry sector, worldwide, contributes about 17 percent to global warming from human sources, mainly because of deforestation in developing nations.

(Editing by Alessandra Rizzo)

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Nature soaks up more greenhouse gases, brakes warming

Alister Doyle PlanetArk 2 Aug 12;

Oceans and land have more than doubled the amount of greenhouse gases they absorb since 1960 in new evidence that nature is helping to brake global warming, a study showed on Wednesday.

"Even though we have done very little to decrease our emissions, the Earth continues to lend us a helping hand," lead author Ashley Ballantyne of the University of Colorado told Reuters.

Carbon soaked up from the atmosphere by the seas and by plants and soil on land rose to an estimated 5 billion metric tons (1.1023 tons) in 2010 from 2.4 billion in 1960, according to the findings by his team of U.S.-based scientists in the journal Nature.

Over the 50-year period, nature had soaked up 55 percent of mankind's greenhouse gas emissions that totaled 350 billion metric tons, mostly carbon dioxide (CO2) from burning fossil fuels, it said.

Knowing how nature reacts to rising concentrations of man-made greenhouse gases in the air is vital to understanding climate change, blamed for raising temperatures and more floods, droughts, heatwaves and rising sea levels.

The figures were in line with data by the Global Carbon Project, grouping scientists around the world, which put nature's rising absorption at 5 billion metric tons of carbon in 2010, Corinne Le Quere, co-chair of the project, told Reuters.

Plants, both on land and in the seas, use carbon to grow. Ocean waters also absorb carbon dioxide.

"The Earth is pretty resilient," Ballantyne said. "The flip side is that if the Earth wasn't taking up all that CO2 we would be experiencing much more warming over the last 50 years than we have observed."


The report said: "Several recent studies suggest that rates of carbon uptake by the land and ocean have remained constant or declined in recent decades. Other work, however, has called into question the reported decline.

"As of 2010 there is no empirical evidence that carbon uptake has started to diminish on the global scale."

While the uptake by the oceans and land has doubled, human emissions have quadrupled in the past 50 years. China, the United States, the European Union and India are top emitters.

Le Quere, also director of the Tyndall Center in Britain, said the main point of controversy was how far nature's "sinks", like the oceans and forests, would keep on soaking up carbon.

But she said the new study "doesn't go very far" towards answering the question of when nature would be saturated.

In a warmer world, changes in ocean chemistry or faster rotting of plants might stop overall carbon absorption. When that happens, heat-trapping emissions of CO2 to the atmosphere would stay there, accelerating warming.

Average world temperatures have risen by 0.8 degree Celsius (1.4 F) since the Industrial Revolution. The warmest 13 years since records began in the mid-19th century have been in the past 15, according to United Nations data.

Ballantyne said his findings focused on the rising uptake by the oceans and the land. Other recent studies "suggest that sinks will become saturated within the coming century, maybe in the next 30 to 50 years," he said.

And there were signs of big oscillations in carbon uptake by nature in the past 20 years, perhaps linked to an eruption of Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines in 1991 and a strong El Nino warming in the Pacific Ocean in 1998, the study said.

Ballantyne suggested the continued high rate of absorption could be a sign that some areas yet to be studied in detail, such as the Arctic, may be taking up more carbon. In the Arctic, summer sea ice is shrinking and permafrost is thawing.

(Editing by Janet Lawrence)

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