Best of our wild blogs: 7 Aug 12

Stonefish and slug at Tanah Merah
from wild shores of singapore

Shark sighting at Cyrene Reef – best ending to 5 years of seagrass monitoring! from Nature rambles

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Marine park opening welcome but...

Straits Times Forum 7 Aug 12;

WE ARE disappointed to learn that Resorts World Sentosa (RWS) has acquired more animals caught in the wild for its upcoming Marine Life Park attraction ("Marine park gets ready for opening"; last Friday).

Its previous decision to buy 27 wild-caught dolphins already went against the recommendation of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), which advised that such trade might be detrimental to the survival of this species in the Solomon Islands.

RWS has stated that most of the creatures were caught in the wild. How many wild-caught creatures are of the species listed as critically endangered, endangered, vulnerable, near threatened or data deficient in the IUCN's red list of threatened species? How were these animals caught in the wild?

Although the report said RWS wants its suppliers to guarantee that they use only "non-destructive methods of capture", the reality is that these animals were forcefully removed from the wild.

We look forward to the opening of the Marine Life Park attraction. However, we hope that the attraction focuses on the ethical acquisition of animals and complies with all international guidelines.

Louis Ng
Executive Director
Animal Concerns Research and Education Society

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Malaysia: World’s richest reefs plundered for aquarium trade

Filling the fish tank
Tan Cheng Li The Star 7 Aug 12;

The world’s richest reefs are being plundered to furnish aquariums with exotic fish and corals.

AQUARIUM hobbyists were once happy having a few fish swimming in a glass tank decorated with artificial plants and rocks. Not anymore. Today, home aquariums house “mini reefs”, which are almost perfect replicas of real marine ecosystems. Eager to recreate lively and colourful coral reefs in glass tanks, hobbyists are seeking not only the most unique reef fish, but also marine invertebrates such as sponges, anemones and starfish, and of course, live corals.

This enthusiasm is fuelling growths in the marine aquarium trade, now a multi-million-dollar industry of enormous diversity – over 2,000 species of fish, 500 of invertebrates and 200 of corals are being traded. At the International Coral Reef Symposium last month in Cairns, Australia, marine scientists voiced concerns over the burgeoning business.

Indonesia and the Philippines account for well over 60% of the trade in ornamental fish and marine invertebrates, according to marine biologist Dr Elizabeth Wood of Britain’s Marine Conservation Society.

“Reliable data is scarce but estimates from a number of studies suggest a global catch of 20 to 30 million fish annually. Recent analysis of the packing lists of US imports for one year (2004/05) showed a total of 11 million fish being imported,” she says.

Much sought-after are damselfish, anemone fish, gobies, wrasses, anthias and butterfly fish. The more expensive fish are the rarities such as clown trigger fish, various angelfish and tang fish.

And with the growing preference for miniature coral reefs, demand for live corals has surged while that of coral rocks has taken a dip. Wood reveals that one million to 1.4 million pieces of live corals are traded annually, with Indonesia providing about 70% of stocks. Other major suppliers are the Philippines, Brazil, Maldives, Vietnam, Sri Lanka and Hawaii.

Driving the trade are not just hobbyists, but also public aquaria which, having large tanks, seek charismatic big fish such as sharks, rays, groupers and moray eels. Most of the coral reef animals end up in the United States, Europe, and increasingly, the Far East.

Unfortunately, much of the trade involves “illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing”, according Dr Barbara Best, coastal resources and policy adviser at the US Agency for International Development (USAID). “Many countries with coral reefs lack the policy and regulatory tools necessary to prevent large-scale trafficking and to effectively manage the trade in a way that promotes sustainable use,” she writes in her paper Coral Reef Wildlife Trade: Global Goods And Shared Management Responsibility.

The unsustainable practices and lax regulation worry scientists as they threaten the health of vulnerable coral reef species and ecosystems. Fishermen often over-exploit fish populations and use fishing methods, such as cyanide fishing, that harm marine organisms and habitats. “The unsustainable trade adds to the cumulative stresses that coral reefs are facing from climate change, ocean acidification, over-fishing, destructive fishing and land-based pollution,” writes Best.

Wood says harvesting of corals and coral rocks is potentially damaging for not only does it remove and damage habitat, it reduces coral density and diversity, and can eventually undermine the reef structure. Also, targeted collection of desired fish and popular colour morphs puts some species at risk of depletion.

Much depends on the intensity of collection, the population size and the biological characteristics of the species concerned, she adds. “Currently, there is no evidence of any species collected for the marine ornamental trade being at risk of global extinction but there is evidence of local depletions.”

The Banggai cardinalfish (Pterapogon kauderni), found only in the Banggai Islands of Sulawesi, Indonesia, is a case in point. In the mid-2000s, as many as a million specimens were captured annually from a population believed to be only around two million. Today, surveys show drastic declines in the wild, and local extinction at some sites.

Over-harvesting of targeted species can also have an ecosystem-wide impact – for instance, the removal of herbivores and grazers will mean that algae will proliferate in reefs.

Then there is the problem of invasive, alien species. The gorgeous lionfish, native to the Indian and Pacific Oceans, were exported in large numbers for home aquariums the world over and soon found their way into Atlantic and Caribbean waters. In the US state of Florida, they are devouring smaller fish such as juvenile groupers and snappers, thus destroying local fisheries.

Controlling trade

Considering the pressures currently faced by reefs, it is important that aquarium fisheries are monitored and managed to ensure they are sustainable. A number of countries have prohibited harvesting and commercial trade in wild-harvested corals and coral rocks – among them are Mozambique, Vietnam, Vanuatu, Marshall Islands and Tonga. The inclusion of corals in Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) has driven management action as permits are required for their trade.

But management challenges and uncertainties remain. For instance, countries set their own export quotas, and these might not be based on scientific assessments. Also, the seahorse is the only marine aquarium fish species that is listed in CITES. Among the non-fish species, only giant clams, queen conch, and marine mussels are controlled under CITES.

Laura Dee, a PhD student at the University of California, Santa Barbara, the United States, found that “laws, management strategies, and trade reforms have been implemented worldwide, but with varying efficacy”. In her survey on the management efforts of 24 countries, she found that only a third have fisheries management plans and less than 5% have assessed stocks of traded species or restrict collection volumes. There are laws protecting endangered species in only 38% of the countries and 46% do not have protected marine areas.

She found that Indonesia and the Philippines, the two largest suppliers of ornamental coral reef wildlife, do not survey wild stocks to determine the amount of corals and fish that could be harvested, and do not designate collection areas.

Farmed corals can relieve pressure on wild stocks but they now make up only a fifth of the trade and there is no immediate prospect of the volume growing significantly, chiefly because propagation has been successful so far only for the fast-growing, small-polyp varieties such as staghorn corals (Acropora), plate or table corals (Montipora) and cauliflower or brush corals (Pocillopora). Fragments of these can be grown out to produce colonies of marketable size.

There has been little or no commercial success with large-polyp varieties such as elegance corals (Catalaphyllia), bubble corals (Plerogyra) and brain corals (Trachyphyllia), which are hugely popular among aquarium hobbyists.

Wood says coral and fish harvesting can be sustainable provided they are managed on-site and are based on sound information about species abundance, vulnerability and resilience.

Reef-rich countries, she says, need to set total allowable catch (TAC) and export quotas, to ensure that vulnerable species are not over-exploited. Harvesting can be controlled through licensing and restricting the number of collectors. Designating collection and “no-take” areas will also help conserve stocks. Species known to have poor chances of survival should not be traded. Certification can also help promote sustainable fisheries and good practice.

She says that in Papua New Guinea, the aquarium fishery was started only after the Department of Natural Resources had carried out surveys of collecting areas and established TACs. The main challenge is that the implementation of TACs and quotas requires considerable resources on the ground, such as recording of daily catch and capacity to quickly analyse the data and provide feedback.

Wood also urges for mandatory minimum standards of handling and welfare to reduce the current high mortality (30% to 40%) of aquarium fish during transportation.

USAID’s Best says that since demand is driven by importing countries, they must be part of the solution. She says both exporting and importing countries should have complementary regulating and policy frameworks. “Appropriate policies by importing countries can support efforts by the exporters to regulate the trade, promote best practices, support local management efforts and create incentives for sustainable use and conservation of coral reef ecosystems.”

For instance, the European Union, wanting to prevent wild-collected corals, has suspended imports from Indonesia. Governments can also disallow import of cyanide-caught fish. Sounding promising is a new test to detect cyanide traces in fish.

Governments should also emulate the action of Maldives, which has prohibited export of several species known to have poor chances of survival in captivity.

“Some species just should not be kept and consumers must be made aware of this,” says Dr Andrew Rhyne of Roger Williams University in Rhode Island, the United States. He cites the example of the flame angelfish, which is “cute when tiny ... big, ugly, mean and nasty as adults.”

Ultimately, it is the consumer who calls the shots. “It is important for consumers to know how the fish have been collected, to ask questions about stocks and conservation, and to understand that their buying them will have an impact. That will put pressure on collectors,” says Wood.

That awareness has to spread fast. Demand for clownfish rose 30% after the release of the animated feature Finding Nemo and with a 3D version of the film coming out soon, we can expect fishers to again plunder reefs to satiate the public’s taste for the cute creatures.

Controlled collection
The Star 7 Aug 12;

IN Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, collection of corals is done in a managed manner. The Queensland coral fishery started in the 1930s with coral pieces being sold as ornaments. From the 1950s to 80s, demand rose in tandem with the growth in tourism. Since the 1980s, the demand is more for aquariums, with live corals becoming increasingly popular.

Anthony Roelofs, senior fisheries biologist at the Queensland Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, says Queensland launched a new coral fishery policy in 2006, featuring harvest quotas and designated collection areas.

The coral fishery is jointly managed by his department and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority. Ecological risk assessment was done, which identified 12 coral groups and two collection sites (off Cairns and the Keppel Islands) that are at low risk from the fishery.

The department has issued 59 coral harvesting licences to 24 businesses with a total allowable take of 200 tonnes annually, consisting of 60 tonnes of living corals and 140 tonnes of dead ones. Queensland’s coral fishery is small by international standards – only 74 tonnes were collected from 2010 to 2011, way below the allowed quota.

To safeguard the reef, Roelofs says the corals can only be collected by hand and hand-held, non-mechanical tool (for instance, hammer and chisel). No destructive, heavy machinery is allowed. Individual quotas exist for each licence as well as limits on the boat and collectors. Only one boat may be used and only three people may collect under the licence at a time.

A system of individual transferable quota applies with the harvest tracked through a quota monitoring system. Roelofs says the aquarium supply industry has also implemented a stewardship action plan that defines collection standards in order to mitigate risk.

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PUB to install 162 CCTVs by year-end

They will help track floods, vandalism and unsafe activity
Feng Zengkun Straits Times 7 Aug 12;

KEEPING an eye on Singapore's waterways, reservoirs and recreational water spots will soon be easier for the authorities.

National water agency PUB plans to install 162 closed circuit television cameras (CCTVs) across the island by year-end to help it track floods, vandalism and unsafe activity.

The PUB has called for tenders for the project and wants to install the cameras by October.

Some of these cameras will be in known flood-prone areas such as Bukit Timah's Sixth Avenue and Dunearn Road.

Others will be found in areas such as Marina Reservoir, which takes in rainwater from a sixth of Singapore's land.

The reservoir will have nine cameras at various spots, including at Boat Quay, Clarke Quay and the Esplanade.

According to the tender document, the new CCTVs in the waterways will be paired with rain and flood sensors to provide early warning and updates on the flood situation to the PUB.

"The CCTVs can also help the agency to monitor water quality in the outlet drains to reservoirs, by detecting signs of illegal discharge such as illegal chemicals," said a PUB spokesman.

All of the cameras will be able to provide both day and night views, and the spokesman added that footage from some of the new cameras could be made available to the public.

Currently, images from cameras at 24 locations islandwide can be found on the PUB's website. These include flood-prone and critical areas such as Orchard Road and Shenton Way.

The new project is part of the agency's ongoing plan to combat floods and ensure the safety of reservoir waters.

The agency currently has 66 such cameras installed in various flood-prone areas and hot spots. It also taps the Land Transport Authority's cameras.

In January, the agency conducted a trial with the installation of four CCTVs at the floating deck and fishing jetty in Bedok Reservoir to watch for unsafe acts and vandalism.

Since 2004, the PUB has opened up most of the reservoirs for recreational activities such as kayaking, canoeing, dragon boating and fishing, raising the need for surveillance. According to the tender document, the agency's officers will be able to access footage from the new cameras via the Internet on their computers, smartphones or tablets.

If the rain intensity during storms in certain areas could lead to floods, or if there are floods, footage from the relevant cameras could automatically pop up on a video wall in the PUB's operations centre at the Environment Building in Scotts Road.

This centre is manned by officers around the clock.

Mr Eugene Heng, founder and chairman of the Waterways Watch Society which monitors and promotes water bodies, supports the project, saying: "It will help with the agency's enforcement duties, for example, to prevent littering."

But he added that officers with access to the footage should respect people's privacy. "It would be problematic if they spied on people or posted embarrassing images on social media sites."

Mr Charles Chong, a member of the Government Parliamentary Committee for National Development and the Environment, said the presence of the cameras could deter people from anti-social acts such as vandalism.

"Footage from the cameras could also be used after such acts as evidence, if necessary," he said. According to the tender document, the contractor must provide enough data storage capacity to hold one month's worth of footage.

The new cameras are expected to be weather-proof and powered by solar energy. They will also be checked at least once a week. The PUB said in the tender document that it may install more cameras in future.

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Indonesian Authorities Save 3,900 Turtle Eggs From Smugglers

Bernama 7 Aug 12;

PONTIANAK, Aug 7 (Bernama) -- A joint team comprising personnel from several authorities in Pontianak, West Kalimantan, has thwarted an attempt to smuggle 3,900 turtle eggs to Sarawak, Indonesia's ANTARA news agency reported.

"The seizure was on Saturday, at 1.30 am local time," said Bambang Nugroho, the Head of Pontianak's marine resources and fisheries surveillance office (P2SDKP), here on Sunday evening.

The arrest was conducted by several officers from Pontianak Conservation of Natural Resources, Jagoi Babang Conservation Resort of Natural Resources, Jagoi Babang P2SDKP, Jagoi Babang Fish Quarantine and Jagoi Babang Police.

The turtle eggs were owned by a woman from Pemangkat in West Kalimantan.

"The smuggling of turtle eggs to Sarawak is a common occurrence in Pontianak. In 2011, P2SDKP recorded two smuggling attempts to Malaysia," he added.

Turtle has become an endangered species. The north coastal zone of West Kalimantan is one of areas where the turtles spawn. Meanwhile, Jagoi Babang, which is situated almost 300 kilometres away from Pontianak city, is a traditional transport terminal for goods coming from Malaysia to Pontianak vice versa.


Thousands of marine turtle eggs seized - again
TRAFFIC 9 Aug 12;

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia 9th August 2012—In a repeat of events that took place just over a year ago, authorities in West Kalimantan, Indonesia, on Saturday foiled an attempt to smuggle close to 4,000 turtle eggs into neighbouring Sarawak, in Malaysia.

A multi-agency taskforce confiscated the 3,900 turtle eggs from a truck in the border district of Jagoi Babang where in April 2011 they stopped a truck driver carrying over 3,405 turtle eggs in a consignment declared as mangoes destined for the market in Serikin, Sarawak.

Jagoi Babang in the Bengkayang Province of West Kalimantan is a traditional transport hub for goods coming into the East Malaysian state of Sarawak.

Indonesian media reported that the owner of the consignment seized on Saturday was released on humanitarian grounds and allowed to cross the border into Malaysia. The 50-year-old Indonesia woman was reportedly headed for a popular market in Serikin, Sarawak where she usually traded in various goods.

However, news reports also quoted officials as saying that the woman from Pemangkat, Sambas in Indonesia, would be called in for questioning.

Marine turtle eggs are in high demand as they are considered a traditional delicacy by some consumers and an aphrodisiac by others. They are commonly found in seizures in all three countries that share the island of Borneo—Indonesia, Malaysia (which includes the states of Sabah and Sarawak) and Brunei.

In August 2011 Brunei Marine Police seized 4,700 turtle eggs from a fishing boat that was attempting to smuggle them into Brunei from Malaysia, while in October the same year, Sabah Marine Operations Force seized 5,000 eggs being smuggled into the state in the waters off Kampung Forest, Sandakan.

In August 2010, Sabah Marine Police seized 6,250 turtle eggs that were being smuggled into the state, reportedly from a neighbouring country. Though enormous, this seizure paled in comparison to one in November 2008, in which they seized 10,000 marine turtle eggs reportedly smuggled into the country by a Philippine syndicate.

All marine turtles, including their eggs, are listed in Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) making any commercial trade across international borders illegal. Marine turtles are increasingly threatened by poaching of their eggs for commercial sale. Meat and shells of marine turtles, as well as whole stuffed specimens, are also illegally sold. All three countries sharing the island of Borneo are Parties to CITES.

“Authorities across Borneo must see the same patterns we do; surely they realise that it’s the same story over and over again, and that for trafficking to end earnest co-operation, stronger enforcement, and more convictions are essential,” said Chris R. Shepherd, Deputy Director of TRAFFIC in Southeast Asia.

“Marine turtles are not only an important part of the regions ecosystem but also a major attraction for tourists to the region. More must be done to stop criminals from decimating species and robbing people of legitimate and sustainable livelihoods.”

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Microbes, Sponges, and Worms Add to Coral Reef Woes

ScienceDaily 6 Aug 12;

Microbes, sponges, and worms -- the side effects of pollution and heavy fishing -- are adding insult to injury in Kenya's imperiled reef systems, according to a recent study by the Wildlife Conservation Society and the University of Azores.

The authors of the study have found that pollution and overfishing on reef systems have an ecological cascading effect -- the proliferation of microbes, sponges, and worms -- that further degrade corals, a discovery that underlines the complexity of reefs and possible solutions.

The study appears in the online edition of Marine Ecology Progress Series. The authors include M. Carreiro-Silva of the Center of IMAR of the University of Azores and Tim McClanahan of the Wildlife Conservation Society.

The paper examines how human activities can create unexpected complications in coral reef recovery and management. For instance, recent experimental studies by Carreiro-Silva and colleagues in Belize and Kenya demonstrated that a higher nutrient content in coral reefs associated with growing agriculture activity and urbanization increased the rate at which reefs eroded from microbes such as bacteria, fungi, and algae, as well as larger animals like sponges and worms. While the study cites previous work suggesting a faster erosion of reef calcium carbonate with high pollution levels, the experimental manipulations and use of reefs experiencing different levels of fishing and pollution strongly supports those previous conclusions.

An entirely new finding from this research is that worms are major eroders of reefs where fishing is heavy, while sponges play this same role in unfished reefs of the kind found in marine parks. This suggests that it is not only nutrients and pollution that are eroding the reef substratum. Marine consumers like fish and sea-urchins also appear to be influencing species that erode the reef substratum.

In heavily fished reefs, sea-urchins are the dominant grazers, and their grazing activity is so intense that only fast-growing early colonist species such as worms are able to grow inside the reef substratum. The lack of fish may also make these holes a safe haven for worms. In this scenario, worms then take over the role that sponges usually play.

"This change in the roles of worms and sponges shows how the affects of fishing can cascade down even into the hidden crevices of coral reefs," said Dr. Carreiro-Silva of the Department of Oceanography and Fisheries at the University of the Azores in Portugal and the lead author of the study.

In areas impacted with high levels of runoff and drainage from land, such as some of the oldest marine parks in Kenya, researchers have found the highest levels of reef decay; in these instances, the increased pollution produces an abundance of sponges that live in and erode reef cavities.

Dr. Tim McClanahan, senior conservationist for the Wildlife Conservation Society and co-author of the study added: "This problem is outside of the usual control of park managers and shows the importance of maintaining clean waters if reefs are to grow and keep up with the rise in sea levels."

The study authors are concerned about the cascading effects of pollution and overfishing on already stressed coral reef systems. Intensive erosion of carbonates has the potential to undermine reef growth and diminish reef structure over time, an increasing challenge as ocean temperatures and sea levels rise. The authors point out that reducing pollution, the influence of run-off, drainage of highlands and wetlands, and other sources of non-point pollution and land development in coastal areas are critical in conserving the ecological services provided by coral reefs.

Dr. Carreiro-Silva speculates that one unstudied but looming problem is the increased acidification of the ocean that will add to the growing intensity of impacts. Acidification created by increased emissions of carbon dioxide weakens coral skeletons and creates opportunities for species that like to live in hidden crevices and further dissolve the reef structure.

"Ultimately, the synergy between these different impacts may lead to the deterioration and eventual collapse of the reefs unless greater efforts are made to reduce the many sources of pollution and excessive use of coral reefs as fisheries," she added.

Journal Reference:

Carreiro-Silva M, McClanahan TR, Kiene WE. Effects of inorganic nutrients and organic matter on microbial euendolithic community composition and microbioerosion rates. Marine Ecology Progress Series, 2012 [link]

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Hong Kong government criticized over plastic spill on beaches

Clement Tan and Tan Ee Lyn PlanetArk 6 Aug 12;

Hundreds of millions of potentially toxic plastic pellets from containers knocked off a vessel during Hong Kong's worst typhoon in 13 years have washed up on its beaches where they lay for more than a week, activists said on Saturday.

The Hong Kong government estimated that 150 metric tons (165 tons) of the pellets may have been spilled on its beaches, of which a third have been cleaned up so far.

Local media questioned the government's lack of public notice about the spill, almost two weeks after Typhoon Vincente which was upgraded to Signal 10. It was the first time since 1999 that the city's meteorological body had invoked its highest measure.

In response, the government said its marine and environmental protection departments responded immediately after receiving public complaints on July 24 and 26 respectively.

Both departments are working with the ship owner to clean up the spill, they said in a joint email reply. The Environmental Protection Department said water quality had not been affected.

Gary Stokes, a representative for Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, an international marine life conservation non-profit and another stakeholder in the clean-up operation, said the government had been forthcoming with its assistance.

China Petroleum and Chemical Corp (Sinopec), manufacturers of the pellets, told Reuters the pellets were not toxic or hazardous on their own.

But while the pellets are harmless in their original state, they absorb toxins and pollutants over time and could poison the food chain when marine creatures consume them.

Also known as nurdles or mermaid tears, the tiny pellets are widely used to make plastic products.

"It looked like it snowed in east Lamma," said Sea Shepherd's Stokes, referring to the beaches on the eastern coast of Lamma island, just south of the main Hong Kong island and around which remnants of three 40-foot containers holding thousands of 25-kg bags of the white-colored pellets were found scattered.

(Reporting by Clement Tan and Tan Ee Lyn; Additional reporting by Chen Aizhu in BEIJING; Editing by Stephen Powell)

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India: Whale shark found dead near Mangrol

The Times of India 7 Aug 12;

AHMEDABAD: The coastal dwellers of Mangrol in Porbandar district woke to a strange sight. The carcass of a huge whale shark, that weigh 10 tonnes and was about 47 feet long, had been washed up on the shores of Mangrol on Sunday.

As the news spread, people living in nearby villages rushed to the coast to see the big shark which was lying on the shore. The forest department and the local police had a tough time controlling the endless stream of visitors that went close to the shark to touch it and even took photographs, posing before the dead shark.

Officials of the forest department said that the full grown whale shark was examined to find if it had died due to some fishing boat or any other factor. But, post mortem examination revealed that the whale shark had died due to natural causes. The forest department buried the shark close to the spot where it was found, after the medical examination.

A senior official said that this would be among the few full grown sharks that have been found dead on the shore. This, once again, reveals that the sharks are found in the Indian water and come here during the monsoons.

The state government in association with the Wildlife Trust of India has also tagged few sharks for satellite tracking. "Tags are put on the sharks to get information about the path that they take to come to Gujarat coast and also to get the details as to where do they actually come from," said an official.

The whale shark was listed under Schedule I of the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act in 2001, according to the highest level of protection. It is this Mangrol, a small fishing town situated along the Gujarat coast, that has a mascot - the whale shark. The adoption was declared during the Whale Shark Day celebrations to mark the successful Whale Shark Campaign.

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FAO lowers global rice forecast for 2012

But world production will still increase
FAO 6 Aug 12;

Bangkok, Thailand, 6 August 2012 - Below normal monsoon rains in India are the chief cause of a 7.8 million tonnes downward revision in the forecast for global rice paddy production in 2012, although world output should still slightly surpass the excellent results achieved in 2011, according to the July 2012 issue of the Rice Market Monitor released by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations today.

Global paddy production is expected to total 724.5 million tonnes (483.1 million tonnes on a milled basis), compared with the original forecast in April of 732.3 million tonnes (488.2 million tonnes on a milled basis). The downward revision was mainly the result of a 22 percent lower-than-average monsoon rainfall in India through mid-July, which is likely to reduce output in the country this season. Production forecasts were also reduced for Cambodia, the Chinese Province of Taiwan, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, the Republic of Korea and Nepal, all of which may see a production drop in 2012.

In sharp contrast with trends observed in the maize and wheat markets, rice prices have remained surprisingly stable after gaining 2 percent in May. Amid abundant rice supplies and stocks , the likelihood of a strong price rebound in coming months is minimal, but the future direction of rice prices remains uncertain.

Production gains

Some countries are expected to register production gains, including China (Mainland), Indonesia and Thailand, along with several other countries in Asia. Production in Africa may increase by as much as 3 percent, while Australia's rice harvest was 32 percent higher than last year. Prospects are also good for the South American nations of Bolivia, Colombia, Guyana, Peru and Venezuela, but poor precipitation and shifts towards more remunerative products in Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay are behind a 7 percent drop of production in Latin America and the Caribbean as a whole.

Asia accounts for the lion's share of global rice production, and FAO is predicting the region will reap 657 million tonnes in 2012, up 0.4 percent from its strong 2011 performance.

Global rice trade in 2012, however, is expected to decline by 1 million tonnes to 34.2 million tonnes, largely as a result of reduced import demand from Asian countries. Thailand is expected to face a sharp decline in exports, with Argentina, Brazil, China (Mainland), Myanmar, Uruguay and Viet Nam also shipping less rice.

Global rice inventories at the close of the 2012-2013 marketing years were revised upward by 200 000 tonnes to 164.5 million tonnes (milled basis). This would imply a 9 million tonnes increase from the previous year and mark the eighth consecutive season of stock accumulation. Thailand needs to release its abundant stocks before the October harvest, which could impact prices.

FAO cuts global rice output forecast for 2012
Reuters 6 Aug 12;

Aug 6 (Reuters) - The United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organisation said on Monday it had cut its 2012 global forecast for rice paddy production by 7.8 million tonnes to 724.5 million tonnes, due mainly to below average monsoon rains in India.

A 22 percent lower than average monsoon rainfall in India through mid-July is likely to reduce output in the country this season, FAO said. Production forecasts have also been cut for countries including Cambodia and Nepal.

It said that based on the new forecast, world rice paddy output in 2012 would still be marginally above levels reached in 2011.

As rice supplies and stocks are abundant, the likelihood of a strong price rebound in coming months is minimal, but the future direction of rice prices remains uncertain, FAO said.

In an interview with Reuters in July, FAO cited plentiful supplies of rice as one reason why world markets are not yet facing a food crisis of the kind seen in 2007/2008, despite soaring grain prices.

(Reporting By Catherine Hornby; editing by Keiron Henderson)

FAO worried about grain rally, sees no food crisis
Reuters 20 Jul 12;

(Reuters) - The United Nations' food agency is worried about an ongoing drought-fuelled grain price rally and sees no respite in price rises for the time being, a senior economist and grain expert at the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) said on Friday.

"We are concerned for two reasons: first the pace at which price rises are taking place and second because at least for the time being there seem to be no relief in prices, in particular for corn, soybeans and wheat," FAO's Abdolreza Abbassian told Reuters in a telephone interview.

But the current situation on the world markets is not a repeat of the 2007/08 food crisis when high prices sparked riots in many poor countries. This is because supplies of rice, a key staple in many developing countries, is abundant and the wheat situation is better, Abbassian said.

"We do not see any production or supply problems with rice. That is very important for food security of millions of people around the world," he said.

The FAO expected world coarse grain supplies to tighten in the current season due to corn problems in the drought-stricken United States.

(Reporting by Svetlana Kovalyova; Editing by Alison Birrane)

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