Best of our wild blogs: 16 Aug 12

Singapore ranked low in global ocean health index
from wild shores of singapore

Extensive works on Pulau Ubin's northen coast to Jan 2013
from wild shores of singapore

The reefy exploration of triple B
from wonderful creation

Aggressive behaviour of Striated Heron: Fight, Flight or Fright?
from Bird Ecology Study Group

Ria Tan of WildSingapore gets it right!
from Otterman speaks

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Punggol waterway wins global award

David Ee Straits Times 16 Aug 12;

INSTEAD of taking the simple solution of a pipe to connect Punggol and Serangoon reservoirs, Housing Development Board (HDB) planners carved out an entire river, giving Punggol residents a lush riverine upgrade. And the accolades continue to flow in.

My Waterway@Punggol has clinched the top honour at the International Water Association's (IWA) biennial Project Innovation Awards, the first Asian project ever to do so.

The project was also honoured in April by the American Academy of Environmental Engineers, another first for Asia.

The 4.2km man-made river, which opened last October, meanders through Punggol Eco-Town.

Planners took an ecological approach, determined to minimise environmental impact. Excavated earth was reused, boardwalks were built with recycled materials and special gravel drains were installed to filter and clean surface water before it enters the river.

Dr Gertjan Medema, chief science officer at the KWR Watercycle Research Institute in The Netherlands, was a judge. He praised the project for encompassing practical and human considerations, and commended the HDB for "taking a step back and looking at the whole picture of what they were trying to achieve".

"Nobody would have appreciated a pipe underground," he said.

Mr Paul Reiter, executive director of the IWA, said that inventive thinking was a treat to behold.

"It is sensible. It is just thinking," he said. "The No. 1 ingredient is having a picture of what is possible."

HDB's deputy chief executive officer for building, Mr Sng Cheng Keh, affirmed the board's commitment to sustainably building "rich, vibrant and unique" towns.

It plans to make existing towns more environmentally friendly, starting with a pilot project in Jurong East to introduce water- and energy-saving facilities. The nationwide programme, termed Greenprint, was announced in March.

"Under Greenprint, HDB will introduce the concept of green and sustainable lifestyles to other towns beyond Punggol," said Mr Sng.

Singapore is first Asian country to win International Water Association top award
Channel NewsAsia 15 Aug 12;

SINGAPORE: The Housing and Development Board (HDB) on Wednesday won the Global Superior Achievement Award for the Punggol Waterway project.

The waterway was lauded for its innovation, green practices and novel technologies.

The award is the highest honour conferred by the International Water Association for the most outstanding project in all categories.

It is also the first time an Asian country has clinched the prestigious award since its inception in 2006.

The previous top winning projects were from the United States and Australia.

HDB's Punggol Waterway also clinched the Global Grand Winner in the planning category.

Thirteen prizes were given out for six different categories.

The award ceremony will be held in Busan, Korea, on September 19 in conjunction with the eighth IWA World Water Congress and Exhibition next month.

HDB's deputy CEO (building) Sng Cheng Keh said the award is not just a big win for the board, but also a proud moment for Singapore as it was the first and only Asian country to have won the IWA's highest award.

Projects vying for the top Global Superior Achievement Award were judged based on the following criteria:
Excellence in water engineering
Originality and innovative use of technology
The future value it brings to the engineering profession
The social, economic and sustainable design considerations
The complexity of the situation.

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Malaysia: Guide, turtle have 'special bond'

Eunice Au and Evangeline Majawat New Straits Times 16 Aug 12;

TOUR OPERATOR APOLOGISES: Admits mistake in bringing turtle to the water surface for snorkellers to touch

KUALA LUMPUR: THE youth, who rescued a turtle 12 years ago, has a special bond with the reptile which he called Pupu, since then.
Mohamad Shafarien Othman was 8 when he rescued Pupu from a fishing net and had taken care of it for a year before releasing it back into the sea, said his father Othman Mohamad.

"The turtle, which we named Pupu, lives in the waters around here and my son would play with it every day.

"It is as if the turtle recognises its rescuer," he said, adding that Shafarien would clean Pupu's shell once a fortnight.

Shafarien said when he rescued Pupu, it was so tiny and its throat was injured.

"It would have been eaten by larger fish if I had released it immediately."

The special connection between Shafarien and Pupu, however, had been misconstrued by some quarters including the conservationists when Othman's company uploaded a series of snapshots on Facebook showing people touching, manhandling and riding a green turtle.

The photos and a 33-second video clip were quickly taken down following an outcry in the social media on Tuesday night.

Surprised at the public outrage against his actions, Shafarien clarified that turtle-back riding was not part of the snorkeling tour's itinerary.

"The water was not clear that day and the customers could not see Pupu clearly so I thought there was no harm in bringing him up to the surface.

Othman confirmed that the tour guide involved -- the boy in a white rash guard top -- was his 20-year-old son Shafarien.

Although he realised it was against the law to touch a marine animal, he stressed that the turtle in the pictures had a special connection to Shafarien.

The 40-year-old tour operator, however, admitted his mistake and promised that there would be no repeat incidents.

Following complaints from green groups and the public, the Marine Parks Department issued a warning letter to Perhentian Setia.

Othman has since submitted the names and details of the boatman, tour guide and tourists involved in the incident to the department.

In an immediate response to the incident, Tourism Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ng Yen Yen said the ministry had urged the Department of Environment to provide the ministry with a set of guidelines for tour operators to incorporate into the nation's tourism policy.

"There is currently no policy under the ministry on animal conservation," she said.

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Biggest Asian wildlife traffickers are untouchable

Denis D. Gray Associated Press 15 Aug 12;

BANGKOK (AP) — Squealing tiger cubs stuffed into carry-on bags. Luggage packed with hundreds of squirming tortoises, elephant tusks, even water dragons and American paddlefish. Officials at Thailand's gateway airport proudly tick off the illegally trafficked wildlife they have seized over the past two years.

But Thai and foreign law enforcement officers tell another story: Officials working-hand-in-hand with traffickers ensure that other shipments through Suvarnabhumi International Airport are whisked off before they even reach customs inspection.

It's a murky mix. A 10-fold increase in wildlife law enforcement actions, including seizures, has been reported in the past six years in Southeast Asia. Yet, the trade's Mr. Bigs, masterful in taking advantage of pervasive corruption, appear immune to arrest and continue to orchestrate the decimation of wildlife in Thailand, the region and beyond.

And Southeast Asia's honest cops don't have it easy.

"It is very difficult for me. I have to sit among people who are both good and some who are corrupt, says Chanvut Vajrabukka, a retired police general. "If I say, 'You have to go out and arrest that target,' some in the room may well warn them,'" says Chanvut, who now advises ASEAN-WEN, the regional wildlife enforcement network.

Several kingpins, says wildlife activist Steven Galster, have recently been confronted by authorities, "but in the end, good uniforms are running into, and often stopped by bad uniforms. It's like a bad Hollywood cop movie.

"Most high-level traffickers remain untouched and continue to replace arrested underlings with new ones," says Galster, who works for the FREELAND Foundation, an anti-trafficking group.

Galster, who earlier worked undercover in Asia and elsewhere, heaps praise on the region's dedicated, honest officers because they persevere knowing they could be sidelined for their efforts.

Recently, Lt. Col. Adtaphon Sudsai, a highly regarded, outspoken officer, was instructed to lay off what had seemed an open-and-shut case he cracked four years ago when he penetrated a gang along the Mekong River smuggling pangolin.

This led him to Mrs. Daoreung Chaimas, alleged by conservation groups to be one of Southeast Asia's biggest tiger dealers. Despite being arrested twice, having her own assistants testify against her and DNA testing that showed two cubs were not offsprings from zoo-bred parents as she claimed, Daoreung remains free and the case may never go to the prosecutor's office.

"Her husband has been exercising his influence," says Adtaphon, referring to her police officer spouse. "It seems that no policeman wants to get involved with this case." The day the officer went to arrest her the second time, his transfer to another post was announced.

"Maybe it was a coincidence," the colonel says.

In another not uncommon case, a former Thai police officer who tried to crack down on traders at Bangkok's vast Chatuchak Market got a visit from a senior police general who told him to "chill it or get removed."

"I admit that in many cases, I cannot move against the big guys," Chanvut, the retired general, notes. "The syndicates like all organized crime are built like a pyramid. We can capture the small guys but at the top they have money, the best lawyers, protection. What are we going to do?"

Chanvut's problems are shared by others in Southeast Asia, the prime funnel for wildlife destined for the world's No. 1 consumer — China — where many animal parts are consumed in the belief they have medicinal or aphrodisiacal properties.

Most recently, a torrent of rhino horn and elephant tusks has poured through it from Africa, which suffers the greatest slaughter of these two endangered animals in decades.

Vietnam was singled out last month by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) as the top destination country for the highly-prized rhino horn.

Tens of thousands of birds, mostly parrots and cockatoos plucked from the wild, are being imported from the Solomon Islands into Singapore, often touted as one of Asia's least corrupt nations, in violation of CITES, the international convention on wildlife trade.

According to TRAFFIC, the international body monitoring wildlife trade, the imported birds are listed as captive-bred, even though it's widely known that the Pacific Ocean islands have virtually no breeding facilities.

Communist Laos continues to harbor Vixay Keosavang, identified as one of the region's half dozen Mr. Bigs, who has been linked by the South African press to a rhino smuggling ring. The 54-year-old former soldier and provincial official is reported to have close ties to senior government officials in Laos and Vietnam.

Thai and foreign enforcement agents, who insist on anonymity since most work undercover, say they have accumulated unprecedented details of the gangs, which are increasingly linked to drug and human trafficking syndicates.

They say a key Thai smuggler, who runs a shipping company, has a gamut of law enforcement officers in his pocket, allowing him to traffic rhino horns, ivory and tiger parts to China. He frequently entertains his facilitators at a restaurant in his office building.

According to the agents, Chinese buyers, informed of incoming shipments, fly to Bangkok, staying at hotels pinpointed by the agents around the Chatuchak Market, where endangered species are openly sold. There they seal deals with known middlemen and freight operators.

The sources say that when they report such investigations seizures are either made for "public relations," sink into a "black hole" — or the information is leaked to the wrongdoers.

Such a tip-off from someone at Bangkok airport customs allowed a trafficker to stop shipment of a live giraffe with powdered rhino horn believed to be implanted in its vagina.

"The 100,000 passengers moving through this airport from around the world everyday are oblivious to the fact that they are standing in one of the world's hottest wildlife trafficking zones," says Galster.

Officials interviewed at the airport, one of Asia's busiest, acknowledge corruption exists, but downplay its extent and say measures are being taken to root it out.

Chanvut says corruption is not the sole culprit, pointing out the multiple agencies which often don't cooperate or share information. Each with a role at Bangkok's airport, are the police, national parks department, customs, immigration, the military and CITES, which regulates international trade in endangered species.

With poor communication between police and immigration, for example, a trader whose passport has been seized at the airport can obtain a forged one and slip across a land border a few days later.

Those arrested frequently abscond by paying bribes or are fined and the case closed without further investigation. "Controlled delivery" — effectively penetrating networks by allowing illicit cargo to pass through to its destination — is rare.

Thailand's decades-old wildlife law also awaits revision and the closing of loopholes, such as the lack of protection for African elephants, and far stiffer penalties.

"The bottom line is that if wildlife traffickers are not treated as serious criminals in Southeast Asia we are just going to lose more wildlife," says Chris Shepherd, TRAFFIC's Southeast Asia deputy director. "How often is anyone arrested? They just run off, they must be the fastest people on Earth."

Chalida Phungravee, who heads the cargo customs bureau at Suvarnabhumi, says just the sheer scale makes her job difficult. The airport each year handles 45 million passengers and 3 million tons of cargo, only some 3 percent of which is X-rayed on arrival. The main customs warehouse is the size of 27 football fields.

But seizures are made, she said, including boxes of tusks — the remnants of some 50 felled elephants — aboard a recent Kenya Airlines flight declared as handicrafts and addressed to a nonexistent company.

"We have cut down a lot on corruption. It still exists but remains minimal," she said, citing recent computerization which has created a space — dubbed "the Green Line" — between customs officials, cargo and traffickers.

Galster says unlike the past, traffickers are no longer guaranteed safe passage, describing a daily battle at Suvarnabhumi with "undercover officers monitoring corrupt ones and smugglers trying to outwit them all."

Such increased enforcement efforts in the region have slowed decimation of endangered species, he says, "but there is still a crash going on. If corruption is not tackled soon, you can say goodbye to Asia's tigers, elephants and a whole host of other animals."

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Malaysia: Idle land contributing to peat fires will be confiscated immediately

Elan Perumal The Star 16 Aug 12;

LAND belonging to those caught committing open burning and left idle at Kampung Johan Setia in Klang will be confiscated.

The Selangor State Executive Council made this decision during its weekly meeting yesterday, in a drastic move to put an end to peat fires in the area.

State Tourism, Consumer Affairs and Environment Committee chairman Elizabeth Wong said the state was left with not much option but to act tough against the errant land owners.

Wong said the state had been empowered to do so under the National Land Code which provided it with the clout to confiscate land allocated to individuals but left idle.

She said they had also ordered the Klang District Land Office to take action with immediate effect.

“It is state land and was awarded to the individuals about 10 years ago for cultivation.

“There are 500 landowners with a total of 600ha in Johan Setia,’’ she said.

Wong said a state-level task force had been formed to identify idle land and speed up the confiscation process.

Wong said this was because the land owners had also indirectly contributed to the rampant peat fires in the area and the worsening air pollution.

She added that observations revealed that uncultivated and idle land were prone to peat fires.

“Sometimes, the fire also spreads to other areas, including those with crops.

“This is not fair to the landowners who are occupying or cultivating their plots,’’ she said.

Wong said some of the landowners were not even aware of the fire on their land until they faced legal action.

“Under the circumstances, it is important that the state takes drastic measures to resolve the peat fire problem,’’ she said.

Wong added that the irresponsible action of the landowners had also caused the state losses amounting to millions of ringgit in putting out the fires and conducting prevention programmes.

Temporary dams use to control peat fires
The Star 16 Aug 12;

FIVE check dams have been built in Kampung Johan Setia, Klang, to control peat fires in the area. The strategically-located dams will help prevent the fires from spreading.

State Tourism, Consumer Affairs and Environment Committee chairman Elizabeth Wong said the efforts by the state government had worked well to keep peat fires under control.

“We found that the many drains built by farmers in the area for cultivation of various crops had resulted in water being drained away, causing dryness in the area.”

Wong also said the state had deployed 28 personnel including firemen and Klang Municipal Council workers to the area since June and were working hard to put out and control the fires in Johan Setia.

She said they were monitoring the situation round-the-clock and those with information on fresh fires could contact the Fire and Rescue Services Department.

Wong said they were also in the process of getting Rela personnel as reinforcement for the existing firemen and council staff.

She said officers from the state Environment Department were monitoring the situation and carrying out enforcement measures.

“Their presence has helped to deter villagers from carrying out open burning,” she said, adding that legal action had been taken against some errant farmers.

Wong said the smoke from peat fires in Johan Setia combined with the haze caused by fires in Sumatra, Indonesia had worsened the quality of air in Bandar Puteri, Bandar Parklands, Bandar Botanic and Bandar Bukit Tinggi.

She said Klang had been put under red alert due to the condition in Johan Setia where API reading averaged around 70.

She added that other badly affected areas in Selangor were Kuala Langat, Hulu Selangor and Kuala Selangor.

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Indonesia: Slash-and-burn practices lead to forest fires in South Sumatra

Ansyor Idrus,The Jakarta Post 15 Aug 12;

Officials from the South Sumatra provincial administration have been puzzled by the insis-tence among local farmers in continuing their slash-and-burn practices to convert forests for the development of rubber and oil palm plantations.

Such practices constituted the number one cause of forest fires in South Sumatra, said Indra Purna, head of information and observation at Palembang’s Climatology Station on Tuesday.

Achmad Taufik from the South Sumatra Forestry Office’s forest fire control division also confirmed that most forest fires in South Sumatra were caused by slash-and-burn techniques, carried out by local farmers to prepare land for rubber and oil palm estates.

“It is difficult to change the habits among farmers. Such practices have been conducted for years as it is a fast and cheap process,” Achmad said.

Slash and burn farming is a generations-old agricultural practice to clear land quickly through the cutting and burning of forests and woodlands to clear the sites for agricultural purposes.

Achmad said they could only try to persuade farmers against the practice and disseminate legal information on forest burning to help reduce the number of cases.

According to Article 78 of the 1999 law on forest burning, anyone found guilty of burning forests is subject to up to 15 years in prison and a maximum fine of Rp 5 billion (US$525,000).

Aside from the forest burning, peatland found in Banyuasin, Musi Banyuasin, Ogan Ilir and Ogan Komering Ilir is also prone to fires. “They only have to be sparked by cigarette butts and they will go up in flames,” Achmad said.

Indra said that his section had detected up to 691 hot spots in August in 15 regencies and cities across South Sumatra. “The largest number of hot spots was found in Musi Banyuasin with 170, followed by Musi Rawas with 154, and 95 in Banyuasin,” he said.

According to Indra, the number of hot spots would continue to rise until September. “The number of hot spots usually peaks in September when the dry season comes to an end,” he said. Responding to the thick haze blanketing Jami and Riau over the last several days, Indra said it had been caused by winds blowing from South Sumatra to Jambi and Riau.

“Most of the forest fires in South Sumatra have occurred in Musi Banyuasin, which borders Jambi. Moreover, the winds blow to both Jambi and Riau,” Indra said.

Achmad added, however, that despite the various hot spots in the province, they could still be extinguished. This is in contrast to last year, when forest fires affected local activities in nearby areas and cloud seeding was organized
to curb it.

Achmad also explained that his division had set up an integrated team in cooperation with the local police and fire office to control the forest fires. Monitoring posts have also been set up, he added.

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Malaysian Nature Society: Kedah is ‘short-sighted’ in forest status downgrade

Isabelle Lai The Star 15 Aug 12;

PETALING JAYA: The Kedah government should not have stripped a section of the Pedu forest reserve of its High Conservation Value Forest (HCVF) status, said the Malaysian Nature Society (MNS).

Its honorary-secretary Lim Teck Wyn said the entire expanse of the Ulu Muda forest, which encompasses the Ulu Muda Forest Reserve and the Pedu Forest Reserve, should be considered HCVF due to its rich biodiversity.

“My position is that the whole of the forest is HCVF. It is completely wrong for the state government to say that it only applies to a small area,” he said, pointing out that the area was also home to a vital water catchment area.

Lim, who is also a forestry consultant, said the state government’s decision to remove the HCVF sta-tus from the area was “short-sighted”.

“In the long run, the small and medium-sized trees will grow. Different sorts of trees which

are important will also still be there.

“From a national and international biodiversity perspective, this forest is still of very high value,” he said, adding that it was MNS’ view that all of Malaysia’s natural forest cover must be protected.

Lim urged the state government to consult all stakeholders when determining HCVF status, adding that it seemed to be looking at the meaning of HCVF from a “narrow perspective”.

“We feel this perspective is not following the procedures spelled out in the Malaysian Criteria and Indicators for Forest Management Certification, which was developed by the Malaysian Timber Certification Council,” he said.

According to a Kedah Forestry Department source, the Pedu forest reserve was initially identified as HCVF due to the concentration of Tualang trees.

Forest Research Institute of Malaysia director-general Datuk Dr Abd Latif Mohmod said the Tualang tree was a very important one for wildlife in the forest.

He said bees often built their hives there, while the honey they produced, madu tualang, was one of the best quality.

“Tualang is also considered one of the tallest trees in the region. It currently fetches an average of RM3,000 to RM4,000 per cubic metre,” he said when asked about its market value.

Logging intensifies in Pedu
Elan Perumal and Embun Majid The Star 16 Aug 12;

PETALING JAYA: Logging has intensified at what used to be a High Conservation Value Forest in Pedu, Kedah, amid protests from non-governmental organisations.

The signboard indicating the conservation status of the trees had been removed, but Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Azizan Abdul Razak maintained that the logging was being carried out after discussions with the state Forestry Department.

“The department is part of the committee that approves logging in the state, including at the Pedu forest reserve.

“All logging activities were approved on the advice of the department,” he said yesterday.

The Department of Environment, meanwhile, said no EIA had been obtained for the logging which would be necessary if the area exceeded 500ha.

Although a signboard indicated that only 81ha had been approved for logging, Azizan declined to confirm or deny this while Pedu assemblyman Datuk Seri Mahadzir Khalid alleged that a much bigger area had been earmarked.

“I have learnt that the state government had approved logging on 500ha for a start. They are cutting down trees without regard to the environment and wildlife because they are desperate for revenue,” Mahadzir said.

“They have refused to heed the pleas of the nearby villagers, NGOs and Mada.”

The Pedu forest reserve is known to be home to elephants and tigers, among other animals.

The Star found that the logging area had been expanded since last month, and a huge number of logs had been piled according to size.

The state government was recently forced to halt logging on 5,000ha in Gunung Hinas near Baling because it did not have an EIA.

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Indonesia: Jambi Forest Needs Protection - Warsi

Jakarta Globe 15 Aug 12;

Jambi. Up to two million hectares of forest land in Jambi province, or 40 percent of the total land area, is in a degraded state and leading to a gamut of social and environmental problems, conservationists say.

Rudi Syaf, communications manager for environmental group Warsi, said the only remaining stretch of forest in the province was inside protected or conservation areas, which were also under threat.

“There’s so much illegal logging and forest clearing going on, yet it’s important to preserve the forests to ensure the sustainability of life,” he said.

He warned that the increasing scale of forest degradation had led to landslides during the rainy season and acute water shortages during the dry season.

Rudi also cited the increasing frequency of flash floods in the province, as rivers became heavily silted from loose topsoil which burst the banks.

“When it comes to the dry season, you can see how much harder it is for people to get clean water,” Rudi said. “The piped water supply often stops because the reservoirs have run dry, while the wells that villagers dig also dry up.”

The growing frequency of human-animal conflicts, particularly the Sumatran elephant and the Sumatran tiger, was another consequence of increased human activity in forests, he said.

Warsi has recorded at least 11 cases in the past four years of tigers killing humans after being driven out of their natural habitats, and more instances of people being injured by tigers or elephants.

Rudi said this was a clear sign that the extent of the deforestation in Jambi was out of control, and he called for stringent measures to preserve the remaining forests and restore “the natural balance.”

He suggested protecting the Bujang Raba forest area, the source of three major rivers that pass through the province, to help restore water levels in downstream areas.

“We need a comprehensive and sustainable scheme to manage the ecosystem,” Rudi said.

The area covers 109,000 hectares of protected forest, indigenous land, logging forest, oil palm and rubber plantations.


Jambi has largest community forest in Indonesia
Antara 9 Aug 12;

Jambi (ANTARA News) - Jambi province has the largest community-based forest in Indonesia, covering 52,521 hectares, according to Jambi River Basin Management (BPDAS) head Garendel Siboro.

The community-based forest in Indonesia is expected to cover an area of 10 million hectares by 2015, while the reserve area is expected to reach 854,289 hectares, he said here on Thursday.

"The community-based forest management program covers several forest management projects on community forestry and rural forestry, among others" Garendel added.

He noted that community-based forest management was the most effective way to preserve and protect forests, particularly in the upstream areas.

"We admit that several mistakes have been made during this time, which stemmed from lack of agreement between the government and local administration on policies. One of the issues related to issuance of forest management permits, which hampered forest preservation efforts," Garendel explained.

"Through community-based forest management, the local people can be directly involved in protecting their environment. Besides, the forests can also provide employment opportunities for locals, who can benefit from selling non-timber products," he said.

Meanwhile, Yulgori, the coordinator of Indonesian Conservation Community (KKI) Warsi, Jambi, also stated that community-based forest management scheme would help preserve the forests as well as benefit the local economy.

"People can exploit the forests either individually or in groups, as long as they obey the rules and get permission. Therefore, awareness about the benefits of environmental sustainability must be raised among all the stakeholders," he added.

Editor: Priyambodo RH

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How Healthy Are Earth's Oceans?

Wynne Parry Yahoo News 15 Aug 12;

In a new perspective on ocean health, one that looks through the lens of both humans and the natural world, scientists give Earth's seas a grade of 60 out of 100, meaning there's lots of room for improvement, they say.

The new index ranks oceans' health and the benefits they provide to humans using 10 categories, such as biodiversity, clean waters, ability to provide food for humans and support of the livelihood of people living in coastal regions.

In addition to assessing the present, the index provides a benchmark against which to measure progress in the future, writes the research team led by Benjamin Halpern at the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis in California.

The global score applies only to waters within countries' Exclusive Economic Zones, because sufficient data is not available for the high seas, they write. [Oceans & Us: A Gallery]

"The global score of 60 is a strong message that we are not managing our use of the oceans in an optimal way," study researcher Bud Ris, president and CEO of the New England Aquarium said in a statement. "There is a lot of opportunity for improvement, and we hope the Index will make that point abundantly clear."

Countries' individual scores ranged from 36 to 86, with the Atlantic coast of the west African nation Sierra Leone ranking the least healthy, while the protected Pacific waters around Jarvis Island, an uninhabited island designated a U.S. wildlife refuge ranked as the healthiest.

In general, developed countries performed better than developing nations, however, there were exceptions. Poland and Singapore scored poorly, 42 and 48, respectively, while some developing tropical nations, such as Suriname and Seychelles scored relatively well, at 69 and 73, respectively.

The U.S. waters ranked 63, Canada's ranked 70 and the United Kingdom ranked 61.

The scores on individual goals varied by country. Here are the 10 goals upon which the ranking is based:

1) Food provision: This goal refers to the amount of seafood a country catches or grows, all sustainably, from its waters.

2) Artisanal fishing: The opportunity for the small-scale fishing efforts that are particularly crucial in developing nations.

3) Natural products: The sustainable harvest of living, non-food natural products, such as corals, shells, seaweeds and fish for the aquarium trade. It does not include bioprospecting, oil and gas or mining products.

4) Carbon storage: The protection of three habitats, mangroves, seagrasses and salt marshes, which store carbon, keeping it out of the atmosphere and therefore mitigating global warming.

5) Coastal protection: The presence of natural habitats and barriers, including mangroves, coral reefs, seagrasses, salt marshes and sea ice, which physically protect coastal structures, like homes, and uninhabited places, like parks.

6) Coastal livelihoods and economies: Jobs and revenue produced from marine-related industry, alongside the indirect benefits of a stable coastal economy.

7) Tourism and Recreation: The value people place on experiencing and enjoying coastal areas, not the economic benefit which is included in coastal economies.

8) Clean waters: Whether or not waters are free from oil spills, chemicals, algal blooms, disease-causing pathogens, including those introduced by sewage, floating trash, mass kills of organisms and oxygen-depleted conditions.

9) Biodiversity: The extinction risk faced by species as well as the health of their habitats.

10) Sense of Place: Aspects that people value as part of their identity, including iconic species and places with special cultural value.

Oceans suffering from sea sickness, says study
AFP Yahoo News 15 Aug 12;

Seychelles and Germany have the healthiest seas of any inhabited territory, while Sierra Leone has the unhealthiest, according to a new index that says many oceans score poorly for biodiversity and as a human resource.

Topping the list with a score of 86 out of 100 was the uninhabited South Pacific territory of Jarvis Island, owned by the United States, as well as a clutch of other unpopulated Pacific Ocean islands.

The Seychelles, one of only two developing nations in the top 12, ranked fourth with a score of 73 out of 100 -- the same as that of Germany.

The index was devised by researchers in the US and Canada who measured whether the world's oceans are able to provide food and recreation while also sustaining sea life.

They examined the overall condition of 171 exclusive economic zones (EEZs) -- sea areas managed by coastal countries and stretching up to 200 nautical miles into the ocean.

The 171 EEZs represent 40 percent of the world's ocean, but yield the bulk of sea-derived food, recreation and means of livelihood.

Put together, the EEZs scored 60 out of 100, suggesting "substantial room for improvement", said a report in the journal Nature on Wednesday.

"Humans undoubtedly have substantial negative impacts on the ocean, and index scores are negatively correlated with coastal human population," it said.

Nearly half of the world's seven billion people live near the coast.

Developing countries in West Africa, the Middle East and Central America generally scored poorly, while richer nations in northern Europe, Canada, Australia and Japan had higher scores.

There were some notable exceptions, with developing country Suriname joining Seychelles in the top 12 while Poland and Singapore from the first world were ranked among the worst performers.

The lowest score of 36 went to the West African state of Sierra Leone.

The researchers measured the oceans in 10 categories including food provision, their ability to support coastal livelihoods and economies, clean water, coastal protection, artisanal fishing, carbon storage, tourism and biodiversity.

"The index is an important tool to assess where we've been and where we want to go," study co-author Benjamin Halpern, of the Center for Marine Assessment and Planning at the University of California at Santa Barbara, told AFP.

"This is the first time that we can quantitatively and directly compare and combine hugely different dimensions -- ecological, social, economic, political -- that define a healthy ocean."

He added the index only looked at how each nation managed its own EEZ, not on how they were affecting those of other countries.

Ocean Health Index Provides First Global Assessment Combining Natural and Human Dimensions of Sustainability
ScienceDaily 15 Aug 12;

Using a new comprehensive index designed to assess the benefits to people of healthy oceans, scientists have evaluated the ecological, social, economic, and political conditions for every coastal country in the world. Their findings, published Aug. 15 in the journal Nature, show that the global ocean scores 60 out of 100 overall on the Ocean Health Index. Individual country scores range widely, from 36 to 86. The highest-scoring locations included densely populated, highly developed nations such as Germany, as well as uninhabited islands, such as Jarvis Island in the Pacific.

Determining whether a score of 60 is better or worse than one would expect is less about analysis and more about perspective. "Is the score far from perfect with ample room for improvement, or more than half way to perfect with plenty of reason to applaud success? I think it's both," said lead author Ben Halpern, an ecologist at UC Santa Barbara. "What the Index does is help us separate our gut feelings about good and bad from the measurement of what's happening."

The Ocean Health Index is the first broad, quantitative assessment of the critical relationships between the ocean and people, framed in terms of the many benefits we derive from the ocean. Instead of simply assuming any human presence is negative, it asks what our impacts mean for the things we care about.

"Several years ago I led a project that mapped the cumulative impact of human activities on the world's ocean, which was essentially an ocean pristine-ness index," said Halpern, who is a researcher at UCSB's National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS), as well as UCSB's Marine Science Institute. He also directs UCSB's Center for Marine Assessment and Planning. "That was and is a useful perspective to have, but it's not enough. We tend to forget that people are part of all ecosystems -- from the most remote deserts to the depths of the ocean. The Ocean Health Index is unique because it embraces people as part of the ocean ecosystem. So we're not just the problem, but a major part of the solution, too."

In all, more than 30 collaborators from universities, non-profit organizations, and government agencies, led by NCEAS and Conservation International, pulled together data on the current status and likely future condition for factors such as seafood, coastal livelihoods, and biodiversity. All together, 10 "shared goals" define the health of the ocean as its ability to provide such benefits now and in the future.

The Index emphasizes sustainability, penalizing practices that benefit people today at the expense of the ocean's ability to deliver those benefits in the future. "Sustainability tends to be issue-specific, focused on sustainable agriculture, fisheries, or tourism, for example," said Karen McLeod, one of the lead authors who is affiliated with COMPASS, a team of science-based communication professionals. "The Index challenges us to consider what sustainability looks like across all of our many uses of the ocean, simultaneously. It may not make our choices any easier, but it greatly improves our understanding of the available options and their potential consequences."

By re-envisioning ocean health as a portfolio of benefits, the Ocean Health Index highlights the many different ways in which a place can be healthy. Just like a diversified stock portfolio can perform equally well in a variety of market conditions, many different combinations of goals can lead to a high Index score. In short, the Ocean Health Index highlights the variety of options for strategic action to improve ocean health.

"To many it may seem uncomfortable to focus on benefits to people as the definition of a healthy ocean," said Steve Katona, another of the study's lead authors, who is with Conservation International. "Yet, policy and management initiatives around the world are embracing exactly this philosophy. Whether we like it or not, people are key. If thoughtful, sustainable use of the oceans benefits human well-being, the oceans and their web of life will also benefit. The bottom line is 'healthy ocean, healthy people, healthy planet.'"

Around the world, ocean policy lacks a shared definition of what exactly "health" means, and has no agreed-upon set of tools to measure status and progress. "The Index transforms the powerful metaphor of health into something concrete, transparent, and quantitative," said McLeod. "This understanding of the whole, not just the parts, is necessary to conserve and restore ocean ecosystems. We can't manage what we don't measure."

This first global assessment of the health of the ocean provides an important baseline against which future change can be measured. Without such a baseline, there is no way to know if things are actually getting better in response to management and conservation actions.

"The Index can provide strategic guidance for ocean policy," said Andrew Rosenberg, another of the lead authors and a former member of the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy. "Because the Index includes current status, trends, and factors affecting sustainability for 10 broadly shared goals, it enables managers to focus on key actions that can really make a difference in improving the health of the ocean and benefits we derive from a healthier ocean."

Jake Rice, with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans in Canada, who was not involved in the study, said: "No index, by itself, can be a sufficient guide to case-by-case decision-making. However, the Index can inform the public policy dialogue that is essential to sound governance. Moreover, the Index will improve and adapt with use and experience. All who care about the health of the oceans and the well-being of human societies that depend on them, should be looking forward to both the near-term benefits we can take from this work, and to the evolution of the Index as we gain experience with it."

The authors readily acknowledge methodological challenges in calculating the Index, but emphasize that it represents a critical step forward. "We recognize the Index is a bit audacious," said Halpern. "With policy-makers and managers needing tools to actually measure ocean health -- and with no time to waste -- we felt it was audacious by necessity."

Other co-authors from NCEAS are Catherine Longo, Darren Hardy, Jennifer O'Leary, Marla Ranelletti, Courtney Scarborough, and Ben Best. Co-authors from Conservation International are Elizabeth Selig, Leah Karrer, and Greg Stone. Jameal Samhouri and Mike Fogarty are from NOAA. Sarah Lester, Steve Gaines, Kelsey Jacobsen, and Cris Elfes are from UCSB. Kristin Kleisner, Daniel Pauly, Rashid Sumaila, and Dirk Zeller are from the University of British Columbia. Other co-authors are Dan Brumbaugh from the American Museum of Natural History; F. Stuart (Terry) Chapin from the University of Alaska Fairbanks; Larry Crowder from Stanford University; Kendra Daly from the University of South Florida; Scott Doney from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution; Heather Leslie from Brown University; Elizabeth Neely from COMPASS; Steve Polasky from the University of Minnesota; Bud Ris from the New England Aquarium; and Kevin St. Martin from Rutgers University.

The founding partners of the Ocean Health Index are Conservation International, National Geographic, and New England Aquarium. The founding presenting sponsor of the Ocean Health Index was Pacific Life Foundation and a founding grant was provided by Beau and Heather Wrigley.

Journal Reference:

Benjamin S. Halpern, Catherine Longo, Darren Hardy, Karen L. McLeod, Jameal F. Samhouri, Steven K. Katona, Kristin Kleisner, Sarah E. Lester, Jennifer O’Leary, Marla Ranelletti, Andrew A. Rosenberg, Courtney Scarborough, Elizabeth R. Selig, Benjamin D. Best, Daniel R. Brumbaugh, F. Stuart Chapin, Larry B. Crowder, Kendra L. Daly, Scott C. Doney, Cristiane Elfes, Michael J. Fogarty, Steven D. Gaines, Kelsey I. Jacobsen, Leah Bunce Karrer, Heather M. Leslie, Elizabeth Neeley, Daniel Pauly, Stephen Polasky, Bud Ris, Kevin St Martin, Gregory S. Stone, U. Rashid Sumaila, Dirk Zeller. An index to assess the health and benefits of the global ocean. Nature, 2012; DOI: 10.1038/nature11397

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Asian nations 'face greatest natural disaster risk'

Mark Kinver BBC News 15 Aug 12;

Emerging economies in Asia, including India and the Philippines, face the greatest financial risk from natural disasters, an analysis suggests.

The authors based their rankings on nations' economic activity and exposure to natural hazards, such as floods, droughts, earthquakes and cyclones.

The nations' limited ability to recover from disasters left them exposed to severe disruption, they added.

Risk analysis firm Maplecroft compiled the Natural Hazards Risk Atlas.

Last year was deemed to be the most costly 12 months on record for natural disasters, costing US $380bn (£242bn).

The main reason for the spike was the earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan in March 2011, which was estimated to have cost US$210bn.

'Heavily exposed'

The authors said that the world's key growth economies were among those most exposed to risks related to natural hazards.

"China, Mexico, India, Philippines, South Korea, Indonesia, Turkey, Bangladesh and Iran are each heavily exposed to major destructive natural hazards, such as earthquakes, flooding and tropical cyclones," they wrote.

"Businesses operating in, investing in or sourcing from emerging economies are therefore particularly exposed... and need to build their resilience to mitigate the disruption and impact of an event."

Lead author Helen Hodge, an associate director at Maplecroft, said Asian economies - particularly those located in the south-east of the continent - faced a variety of potentially devastating hazards.

"The Pacific Ring of Fire is a belt of seismic risk that draws in Indonesia, Philippines, Japan and Taiwan etc," she told BBC News.

"So that exposes these nations to seismic risk, and high risk from earthquakes, but also - as we saw in Japan - the secondary risk of tsunamis.

"This combined with the hydro-meteorological risks. For example, along the Mekong Delta, we do see very high flood risks.

"There are the drought risks as well when we see Monsoons failing or arriving late.

"It is not really one risk in particular but it is the combination of multiple risks that are prominent in the areas."

Night lights

Ms Hodge explained that in order to create the atlas's maps and rankings, the authors assessed the underlying risk from 12 natural hazards and then compared this with economic output.

"In order to look at economic output, we use a technique where we look at night-time lights, and then distribute economic exposure according to night-time lights," she added.

"This is based on research that shows you tend to get concentrations of economic exposure coinciding with bright lights.

"We then used [Geographic Information System] techniques to effectively map the different data across each other, so where does the seismic risk lie? Where does the tropical cyclone risk lie?"

Although the report identified Japan, the US, China, Taiwan and Mexico as the nations having the highest economic exposure to natural hazards in absolute terms, the authors said the huge economies had the capacity to recover relatively quickly.

This was a result of a high degree of resilience, such as established infrastructure, disaster preparedness and tight building regulations.

"A way to explain how this might differ is by looking at somewhere like the US, where clearly down the west coast and alongside the east coast, you have got major concentrations of economic output hazards - earthquakes on the west, and hurricanes on the east," observed Ms Hodge.

"That alone is going to drive the US into high rankings for absolute economic exposure.

"However, if you look at that as the wider relative economic output - because there are concentrations of economic exposure in places like the mid-west that are not as heavily exposed to this risks - this has a balancing effect."

"[But] when you consider that the Haitian earthquake in 2010, if you look at the proportion of the Haitian economy that was exposed to that earthquake, some of the upper estimates was close to the nation's annual GDP."

Shanghai 'most vulnerable to flood risk'
Mark Kinver BBC News 21 Aug 12;

Shanghai is the most vulnerable major city in the world to serious flooding, a study suggests.

Despite its economic wealth, the Chinese city is considered to be more exposed to the risk of flooding than much poorer cities such as Dhaka.

As well as evaluating a city's physical attributes, the study also considers social and economic factors when rating an area's vulnerability.

Details of the research appear in the journal Natural Hazards.

A team of scientists from the UK and the Netherlands has developed a Coastal City Flood Vulnerability Index (CCFVI) based on exposure, susceptibility and resilience to coastal flooding.

Co-author Nigel Wright, from the University of Leeds' School of Civil Engineering, said that current methods tended to be two dimensional.

"Very often we look at these sorts of things in a very deterministic way," he explained.

"We look at physical exposure, so if you live by a river you are exposed to the risk of flooding."

Prof Wright said that the CCFVI used a range of data, consisting of 19 components.

"We still use the physical ones but also economic and social ones, such as how much attention is given by local or national governments to protect citizens and citizens' property through investing in various forms of resilience," he told BBC News.

These included the percentage of a city's population living close to the coastline; the amount of time needed for a city to recover from flooding; the amount of uncontrolled development along the coastline, as well as the volume of measures to physically prevent floodwater entering a city.
Same but different

"What this index tries to do is to widen this out and look at social indicators too," Prof Wright added.

"You can have people who live in the same area but their vulnerability is actually different.

"Age is one of those things; if you are over 65 or under 18 then you are more vulnerable than an adult because you are not able to take the actions necessary to protect yourself or evacuate."

He explained that past experiences played a role in a region's attitude towards the risk of flooding.

"Economies that are developing rapidly have not had to implement resilience in the past because there has not been the economic output to protect.

"At the other end of the scale, somewhere like the Netherlands, where there have been serious floods in the past that have had an impact so they know they need to do it."

While flooding has a local, physical impact, the economic consequences can be felt globally.

Prof Wright observed: "After the Japanese tsunami a lot of hard disk manufacturing was moved to Bangkok, then there were the floods in Bangkok and the price of hard disks went up dramatically because the factories had to close down and there was a shortage of hard disks."

The team's paper focused on nine coastal cities built on river deltas, including Shanghai, Dhaka (Bangladesh), Casablanca (Morocco), Buenos Aires (Argentina), Calcutta (India) and Rotterdam (the Netherlands).

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Melting of Greenland Ice Sheet Breaks 30-Year Record

Jeanna Bryner Yahoo News 15 Aug 12;

On Aug. 8, the Greenland ice sheet shattered a seasonal record, with more cumulative melting since record-keeping began more than three decades ago, new research finds.

Greenland's melting season usually begins in June, when the first puddles of meltwater emerge, and lasts through early September, when temperatures begin to cool. This year, a full four weeks before the end of the melt season, the ice sheet had shed more water than the record reached during the full season in 2010.

"With more yet to come in August, this year's overall melting will fall way above the old records. That's a Goliath year — the greatest melt since satellite recording began in 1979," said study researcher Marco Tedesco, assistant professor of Earth and atmospheric sciences at The City College of New York.

To calculate Greenland ice-sheet melting, Tedesco and his colleagues used data collected by microwave satellite sensors, as part of the U.S. Air Force Defense Meteorological Satellite Program, across the Greenland ice sheet. [Giant Ice: Photos of Greenland's Glaciers]

The results showed extreme melting in nearly every region of Greenland, including the west, northwest and northeast. Particularly, melting occurred at high elevations, where, in most years, the snow and ice melt for a few days, at most. This year, that melting has already continued for two months, Tedesco found.

"Part of the meltwater will refreeze and part of the meltwater will run off to create streams and eventually take off into the sea and contribute to sea-level rise or the hydrological cycle," Tedesco told LiveScience during an interview.

The meltwater that puddles up on the surface of Greenland can also percolate through the snow and into the ice, lubricating that ice and possibly speeding its journey into the sea.

This meltwater record is different from one announced in mid-July, when NASA satellite images showed that over just a few days, nearly all of the veneer of surface ice atop Greenland's massive ice sheet had thawed, breaking a more than 30-year record.

Most of that ice, however, refroze rather than running off into the ocean or creating streams within or on top of the ice sheet, Tedesco said.

"The melting in terms of how much water was produced is relatively small," Tedesco said of the July event.

As for the cause of the new meltwater record, Tedesco points to warming temperatures. He added that scientists are looking into whether or not this warming is part of a larger pattern of global warming.

"We have to be careful because we are only talking about a couple of years and the history of Greenland happened over millennia," Tedesco noted in a statement.

He added to LiveScience, "It's no doubt that the warming of the Arctic and whatever is related to that is responsible at least for triggering the melting mechanism at the beginning of the season and providing enough gas to keep it going."

Tedesco is referring to a feedback that occurs when snow melts away, leaving bare ice, which is darker and absorbs more heat (called a high albedo) than the brighter snow.

Overall, southern Greenland is going through changes, with the ice sheet thinning at its edges and steams and lakes growing atop its glaciers.

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