Best of our wild blogs: 23 Aug 12

The Problem with Birds
from Trek through Paradise

The pool of high places
from The annotated budak and Due for a hiding

Big Sisters' Island - Seahorse Mission: Completed
from Peiyan.Photography

Banded Woodpecker feeding
from Bird Ecology Study Group

Rick shares about Mandai mangroves
from wild shores of singapore

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Residents fail in bid to save forested area

Sites near Tanah Merah MRT station will be developed 'sensitively': URA
Grace Chua Straits Times 23 Aug 12;

THE plea by a group of residents to keep a stretch of greenery near their homes has been turned down - the latest in a growing number of cases this year of groups that favour conservation instead of development.

The site, a woodland area belonging to the Government, is about the size of four football fields and is located next to Tanah Merah MRT station.

One section of 3.2ha went on sale this month; another of 2.69ha is on the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) reserve list, meaning it will be sold if developers are interested. Both sites will be used for housing.

On Aug 14, residents in nearby Limau estate met URA representatives and the area's MP, Dr Mohamad Maliki Osman, to appeal against the potential sale of the two sites.

"We're not anti-development. We understand the constraints of this country," said resident Rajpal Singh, 46, an infotech security specialist. "But development has to come with a sense of balance."

Asked if he was worried that development would eat into the value of their property, he said he and his wife, a general practitioner, have no intention of selling.

They bought their home three years ago precisely because of the greenery, trading up from a four-room Housing Board flat in Bedok South over the years, he said.

They were concerned that adding hundreds of homes would cause a sharp increase in peak-hour congestion at the already-packed Tanah Merah MRT station.

The area in question, a cleared kampung on which forest has grown back, is one of the few woodland patches in Bedok South, said Dr Ho Hua Chew of Nature Society Singapore. "It's a refuge for a lot of species."

The residents had asked Dr Ho to survey the site, and over two mornings he observed more than 20 species, including the common palm civet and blue-throated bee-eater.

In turning down the residents' appeal, the URA said the release of the two sites for sale would not be deferred, but it would ensure that new developments were carried out "sensitively".

These include plans to retain the estate's mature trees in addition to imposing urban design guidelines to minimise the impact on nature.

The authority said it weighs many factors when putting up sites for sale. For instance, it intensifies use of land near MRT stations and bus interchanges in housing estates to provide easier access to public transport.

Site zoning is reflected in its Master Plan, and sites selected for sale are listed online under its government land sales scheme.

The URA added that the Limau estate sites were among the last in the area to be developed, and that flatter sites with less vegetation north of the Tanah Merah MRT station were chosen to be developed first.

When residents asked why other empty spaces near MRT stations such as Kembangan or Paya Lebar were not developed first, the URA said these were zoned for commercial or mixed residential and commercial use.

In response, the group of more than 40 residents said they would submit a petition to the Ministry of National Development (MND) to appeal against the URA decision. At 5pm yesterday, their online petition had 189 signatures.

But Mr Han Hee Juan, 48, another resident behind the Save The Limau Estate Woodlands campaign, said: "It shouldn't need to result in a petition every time."

The Limau estate issue is the latest in a number of cases this year - from Dairy Farm in Upper Bukit Timah to Pasir Ris - with residents writing petitions and meeting their MPs.

Asked why more residents are suddenly keen on preserving forest fragments, National University of Singapore geographer Harvey Neo cited a rise in civic consciousness among people accustomed to seeing these pockets of nature. "The act of attempting to 'save' these areas can be seen as an illustration of residents wanting to have more say in how they live their lives," he said.

"In other words, the act of trying to preserve these spaces is not a mere means to an end; the act in itself is indicative of the changing ways in which residents see themselves in relation to their living environment and those who govern them."


The act of trying to preserve these spaces is not a mere means to an end; the act in itself is indicative of the changing ways in which residents see themselves in relation to their living environment and those who govern them.

- National University of Singapore geographer Harvey Neo

Other efforts to preserve plots


Residents met their Member of Parliament Vivian Balakrishnan in June to discuss saving a 1.75ha patch of forest slated for development. The plot is sandwiched between Dairy Farm Road and a canal with a footpath popular among residents.

After the meeting, the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) agreed to keep the area's building height at between five and 15 storeys, relocate a proposed commercial development and consider enhancing the footpath.

The site opened for tender last month and it will close next month.


Residents formed a group called the Pasir Ris Greenbelt Committee to push for the retention of a plot at the junction of Pasir Ris Drive 3 and Elias Road. The size of two football fields, it is home to several endangered birds.

Some 200 residents showed up at a meeting with their MP Zainal Sapari, the URA, the National Parks Board and citizens' consultative committees this month.

More than 1,200 residents signed a petition that was submitted to the authorities, but there has been no news to date.


This stretch of state land by a disused railway line near Clementi Avenue 6 was being farmed illegally by residents, who were told by the Singapore Land Authority that they had to clear out by March.

Bukit Timah MP Sim Ann stepped into the fray. The farms are being turned into an official community garden, and the residents have been invited back to do their gardening there.

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NParks steps up efforts to manage wild boar nuisance

Chng Kheng Leng/Kimberly Spykerman Channel NewsAsia 22 Aug 12;

SINGAPORE: The authorities are stepping up efforts to manage the menace of wild boars in the Lower Pierce Reservoir area.

They are now trying to round up the animals and then put them to sleep.

The wild boars have been damaging the forest and park area as they root around for worms and insects, especially in the last few months.

Mr Wong Tuan Wah, Director of Conservation at NParks, said: "Previously it was pockets of just a few square metres of rooting. At the moment, we are looking at the severity of damage - and the amount of damage now is not tolerable."

The population of wild boars has grown significantly, disturbing even other animals in the areas.

Mr Wong said: "In the past, if you come to Lower Pierce, you may spot a mousedeer six or seven times out of 10 times. But now, it's very rare to spot a mousedeer. And we believe this is due to the presence of wild boars affecting the habitat and scaring away the mousedeer."

NParks says problem can't just be fixed by sterilising or relocating the wild boars.

Mr Wong said: "By sterilising them, you don't actually reduce the numbers at all. The animal will still be present and still continue to cause impact to the forest."

What it needs to do urgently is to reduce their numbers.

NParks will round up the wild boars, sedate them with dart guns and put them to sleep with drug injections.

It will also cut off their sources of food, especially those near the roads.

Mr Wong said: "They congregate near areas with high food source, for example areas with oil palms and rubber trees. We are looking at reducing their food sources - removing the oil palm trees as well as the rubber trees so as not to encourage them to come out to our park area and become a concern to the public."

The wild boars caused public concern in June, when two of them attacked a security guard and a boy in Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park.

As NParks works to reduce their numbers, it also has to protect the natural habitat.

It will restore the forest by planting native trees and ensuring that they will thrive - away from the threat of the wild boars.

- CNA/de

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Indonesia: No Gnawing! New Rat Without Molars Discovered

Stephanie Pappas LiveScience 21 Aug 12;

A newly discovered rat in Indonesia doesn't have any molars, making it the only known rodent in the world without back teeth.

The long-snouted fuzzball has been dubbed Paucidentomys vermidax. "Paucidentomys" translates roughly to "few-toothed mouse," while "vermidax" means "worm devourer" — a reference to the new species' diet.

"When we caught the animal, we were in the forest, and we knew right away that it was something different," said Jacob Esselstyn, a postdoctoral researcher in biology at McMaster University in Ontario, Canada. "But we couldn't see inside of its mouth, so had no idea of the unusual lack of teeth."

Esselstyn and his colleagues caught two specimens of the rat in pitfall traps on Sulawesi Island in Indonesia. These traps are essentially buried buckets, with tops level to the ground so that any small mammal running across the forest floor will fall in.

The rats live in wet, mossy forests at high elevation, Esselstyn told LiveScience. It's not yet clear how common they are, though they do seem difficult to trap. One of the rats had a stomach full of worm segments and nothing else, suggesting that the rodents eat mostly or only earthworms. [See Photos of the New Rat]

What makes Paucidentomys vermidax unique among rodents is its teeth. Every other rodent species ever discovered has molars for grinding food, Esselstyn said. P. vermidax has none. The rat also has unusual incisors at the front of its mouth. Instead of being wedge-shaped for gnawing like most rodent incisors, this rat's teeth are double-pointed bicuspids.

These odd teeth "may be used to cut or to tear earthworms into segments, but we don't really know how that works," Esselstyn said.

The likely closest relative of the new rat does have molars, Esselstyn said, suggesting that this rat lost its back teeth at some point during its evolutionary history. The ability to grind and gnaw has helped rodents become one of the most successful groups of mammals on the planet, Esselstyn said, adding that it's interesting this particular species has reversed that trait.

"It's just a good illustration of how much biodiversity is out there that we're not yet aware of," he said.

The researchers announced the find today (Aug. 21) in the journal Biology Letters.

Editor's Note: This story has been updated to correct the rat's location. It is found in Indonesia, not the Philippines.

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South Korean aquarium apologises for whale shark's death

(AFP) Google News 22 Aug 12;

SEOUL — A South Korean aquarium publicly apologised Wednesday for the death of a captive whale shark, and said it would release a second such shark following protests from conservationists.

"We admit a lack of proper preparations (for sustaining whale sharks in captivity) and we regret causing concern among the people," Aqua Planet, which opened last month in the southern island of Jeju, said in a statement.

Whale sharks, the world's largest fish, are protected under the Convention for International Trade in Endangered Species.

The aquarium said they were caught by chance in a fisherman's nets off the southern island last month, about a week before the facility opened.

One of them stopped feeding around the end of last month and died last week.

The Korea Federation for Environmental Movement of Jeju said the whale shark had died of extreme distress in captivity.

It criticised the aquarium for holding the pair in a tank 25 metres (82 feet) long, 23 metres wide and 8.5 metres high, along with some 8,000 other fish.

Awareness of conservation is growing in South Korea. Jeju will host a major international congress on the issue next month.

In April, a court on the island ordered the release into the ocean of five dolphins which had been captured without permission and used in a circus.

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Dam projects threaten Mekong biodiversity

ABC News 22 Aug 12;

here is pressure on authorities in Laos to halt the development of a controversial dam project after a report showed the dam could cause a dramatic deterioration in biodiversity.

The report, a major survey of biodiversity in Indo-Burma carried out by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, found that while the Mekong River is still relatively healthy, construction of the Xayaburi and other dams could have drastic consequences.

Head of Southeast Asia Group for the International Union for Conservation of Nature, Robert Mather, told Radio Australia's Asia Pacific if all 11 dams planned for construction on the Lower Mekong before 2025 go ahead, fish and mollusc species will suffer.

"The percentage of threatened species will increase by 11 per cent for the fish and 14 per cent for the molluscs," Mr Mather said.

However Mr Mather says the data is deficient in some areas so the true impact on species of the Xayaburi dam may not be known.

"When no proper surveys up to this point had been done on that stretch of the river, we don't even know if there's anything there that's important or of conservation significance."

Pollution and overharvesting are also threatening the river species.

Mr Mather says the food security of people in the region may be at risk with fish providing 60 per cent of total animal protein.

"With the Mekong fisheries alone being valued at several billion dollars a year at point of first becomes very important that we manage to conserve these fish species and mollusc species and so on for the benefit of local peoples' livelihood."

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March of the dead zones

Julian Cribb Science Alert 23 Aug 12;
First published in the Canberra Times.

Out of sight, and largely out of mind, something deeply disturbing is taking place in the world’s oceans and estuaries: hundreds of dead zones, areas devoid of oxygen and the sea life it supports, are forming.

In recent decades the number of these aquatic black spots has risen steadily. At the latest count there were 479 such sites, distributed along the most populous coastlines of Europe, Asia, the Americas and even Australia. Together they cover an area somewhat larger than Victoria.

Dead Zones are not a new phenomenon. The first one was spotted in the 1850s when industrialisation killed the Mersey River in the UK. But since then they have metastasized, steadily and remorselessly invading all the oceans and seas most affected by human activity on land. Like the ominous blotches on a cancer patient’s x-ray, you can see their spread on the world map at:

The cause of Dead Zones is well understood: they are driven by the avalanche of nutrients which humanity dumps in the oceans – from agriculture, sewage, leaky landfills, urban stormwater, soil erosion, industrial and vehicle emissions. This rich nutrient soup provides the food source for vast blooms of algae – and as these die off they sink to the sea floor and decompose causing blooms of bacteria which strip the essential oxygen from the water column, often resulting in fish kills – their most visible impact. They are also hastened by global warming, which stratifies the water, trapping the stagnant water and preventing it from mixing with the oxygen-rich surface layer.

What many people do not realise is that some of the worst extinctions in the history of life on Earth occurred because of a process very similar to this. In the biggest of the lot, the Great Death of the Permian around 252m years ago, an estimated 95 per cent of marine species were wiped out – rugose corals, nautiloids, armoured fish, trilobites – never to be seen again.

What triggered it is still a scientific mystery – an outbreak of volcanism, striking asteroids, a giant solar storm, colossal seabed methane eruptions: who knows? – but the geological evidence points to a massive global spike in CO2 levels, accompanied by rapid planetary warming, huge outbreaks of anoxia (loss of oxygen from seawater) and the destruction of marine habitats. One thing is fairly clear – by the end of it all fungi and moulds were rulers of the Earth, feasting on the dead.

The multiplying Dead Zones in the world’s oceans today not only resemble the Permian event on a local scale in terms of what drove them – but have two additional drivers: overfishing and pollution from the 83,000 chemicals which humans manufacture on the land and then carelessly liberate into the global environment.

The biggest contributors of all are the 110 million tonnes of nitrogen, 9 million tonnes of phosphorus and other nutrients which we unleash into the planetary ecosystem every year as we try to feed ourselves. That is off-the-scale compared with what the pre-human Earth circulated naturally.

The really unsettling fact is that, if we continue to depend upon agriculture for our food supply, then humanity’s dependence on artificial fertilisers is likely to double by the 2060s – and so will our indiscriminate release of nutrients into the world’s rivers, lakes and oceans. That release, in turn, will spawn more and larger Dead Zones – like that affecting 22,000 square kilometres of sea at the mouth of America’s Mississippi river. In Australia we are not short of warnings, in the form of the Gippsland lakes, WA’s Peel-Harvey inlet, the Hawkesbury and Richmond rivers in NSW, Queensland’s Moreton Bay and a dozen more.

The solution to this unsettling problem is quite simple and even technically feasible: it is to recycle our nutrients. It is to prohibit the discharge of any form of nutrient-enriched waste by any individual, company, government or agency. And it is to mandate the return of all such wastes into the food and fibre producing industries or other productive uses, like carbon plantations or algae farms for food and fuel production.

At present neither Australia, nor indeed most other countries in the world, has a plan to recycle nutrients. Without such a plan, despite the assertions of politicians and their public servants, nations will remain food insecure, exposed to scarcities and price shocks of oil and fertilisers.

Most societies increasingly recycle their glass, their aluminium, their steel, their building materials, their paper, even their water – so why the blind spot with nutrients? It is almost as if we do not understand what keeps us alive, what causes our living planet to function (or dysfunction).We have to be smarter than that.

The recycling of nutrients can not only avert the death of large areas of ocean and freshwater – potentially it can green our cities, feed us and our animals and power all our vehicles, ships and aircraft renewably. It will generate a host of sustainable new industries, interesting high-tech jobs, both urban and rural, and valuable knowledge exports. It will ensure we never need entrust our nation’s future to unreliable foreign imports of oil, fertiliser or food.

By heeding the warning signal provided by the Dead Zones, we can generate great national advantage, self-sufficiency and resilience, show international leadership – and thus help to avoid overstressing the Earth systems on which we all depend. We have a choice: we can either bequeath the planet to our great grandchildren – or to the fungi. Which would you prefer?

Julian Cribb is a Canberra-based science writer and author of ‘The Coming Famine: the global food crisis and what we can do to avoid it’ (UCP 2010)

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El Nino lurks, limited impact on Australia likely

David Fogarty PlanetArk 22 Aug 12;

An emerging El Nino weather pattern is likely to have only a modest impact on crops and mining in Australia and could benefit sugar cane growers in Queensland, a senior forecaster said.

Drier conditions have already settled in over much of the country, with August rainfall to date only about 20 percent of normal, said Andrew Watkins, manager of climate prediction at Australia's Bureau of Meteorology's National Climate Centre.

But full-blown drought was not in the forecast for the coming months, he said.

Anxiety has been growing about the impacts of the developing El Nino in the Pacific Ocean.

Drought in other parts of the globe has sent food prices soaring and the worry is El Nino will hurt more crops and fuel even higher price rises. Australia is the world's number two wheat exporter and the third largest sugar exporter.

"The odds are there for drier than normal conditions - eastern Australia particularly and northern Australia as well later on when it comes to the monsoon," Watkins said in an interview from Melbourne.

El Nino is a periodic warming of the eastern tropical Pacific Ocean and typically weakens or even reverses the trade winds that normally blow to the west. The winds are a key driver for rainy weather in Southeast Asia and parts of Australia.

Miners, oil and gas firms in the U.S. Gulf and insurers are also following the event closely because El Nino can trigger global weather chaos - typically drought in Australia, Southeast Asia and India and floods and storms in parts of South and North America. Severe El Ninos in the past have killed thousands of people and caused billions in damage.

Watkins said El Ninos typically means fewer cyclones forming around northern Australia from November to April. That means coal, iron ore and bauxite miners, as well as oil and gas rigs and liquefied natural gas production plants will likely face fewer disruptions, a marked change from 2010-12.

El Nino's polar opposite, La Nina, typically brings floods and more storms to Australia and Southeast Asia. Back-to-back La Nina events in 2010-12 flooded coal mines in Queensland, shutting some for months and costing billions in lost production.


Japan this month declared a weak El Nino was under way but Australia and the United States have been more cautious because it has yet to have a significant impact on atmospheric circulation patterns in the Pacific.

"I think it's going to probably bubble along close to the threshold to some degree - it may well tease us for a little while longer," Watkins said.

For large parts of Australia's main agricultural zones, soil moisture remains average to above average, providing a buffer for drier months. The wheat-growing areas of western Victoria state and the southwest of Western Australia were the exception, he said, after recent very dry weather in those regions.

Drier weather after recent rains will help the sugar cane harvest in Queensland, he added.

Globally, computer models used by weather agencies also show that, on average, a mild El Nino will form.

The problem is no two El Ninos are the same. A 1997-98 event, one of the strongest on record, had only a weak impact on crops in Australia but a severe impact on Southeast Asia.

Yet weak to moderate El Ninos of 2002-03 and 2006-07 caused widespread crop losses in Australia.

The 2002-03 El Nino slashed the wheat crop to 10.1 million tonnes from 24.3 million in 2001-02, according to the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences.

That is because in some El Ninos, the warming shifts more towards the central Pacific. In the past, such events tended to trigger drier conditions in Australia and Southeast Asia.

The current emerging event is also showing signs of similar ocean warming in the central tropical Pacific, Watkins said, adding there was a trend towards more of this type of El Nino.

"So this is one to watch. The science isn't settled but there is something to suggest they have a little bit more impact than if they were purely an eastern Pacific event."

(Editing by Robert Birsel)

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