Best of our wild blogs: 26 Aug 12

30 Aug (Thu): Siti to speak on seagrasses at Green Drinks
from teamseagrass

A Long Hike Into The Forest
from Beauty of Fauna and Flora in Nature

Butterfly of the Month - August 2012
from Butterflies of Singapore

Read more!

PSI reading still in good range, says NEA

Channel NewsAsia 25 Aug 12;

SINGAPORE: A slight hazy condition affected Singapore on Friday evening, with prevailing winds from the south of Singapore.

The National Environment Agency (NEA) said the 24-hour PSI reading at 10pm was between 34 and 47, in the good range.

The PSI at 8am on Saturday was 47 (good).

NEA said Singapore is currently experiencing the Southwest Monsoon season which typically lasts from June to September/early October.

NEA said this is the traditional dry season for the southern ASEAN region.

Over the past few days, weather conditions in the region have become drier and an increase in hotspot activities has been observed in Sumatra.

NEA said scattered hotspots with smoke haze have been detected mostly over central and southern Sumatra.

NEA is monitoring the haze situation closely and will provide updates should the air quality deteriorate.

- CNA/cc

Read more!

Malaysia: EIAs required, but state government has final say

New Straits Times 26 Aug 12;

WILDLIFE as well as plant life must be taken into account under the environmental impact assessment (EIA) guidelines.

"We have to study and document how the project affects wildlife and plant life," says Dr G. Balamurugan, from the ERE consulting group, who has done numerous EIAs for development.

He says when the EIA was introduced in 1988, it was initially not very effective as the Department of Environment (DOE) was still not well established then.

"Over the years, it has improved. It has tighter guidelines and public awareness is also very high. It is definitely better now."

However, Balamurugan says the DOE can improve further especially in certain states, such as Kelantan, Terengganu and Johor, where land is being cleared for the planting of rubber timber as well as oil palm.

"They are getting approvals. These areas may be wildlife crossings. There is a need to be more alert."

He says in some cases, there is a lot of pressure from the state governments for development.

"Kelantan ignores all EIA requirements. Even the national park is being invaded. If all these state governments respect the central forest spine, then there will be no problem.

"Whenever land is developed and if there are animals living there, some will run away while others will die. If the land is an island of forest, they have nowhere to run to.

"When they go on the roads, they get run over. If they go into the villages, they get shot."

However, he says, there are many cases where the DOE has stopped a project by referring to it as "sensitive to the environment".

Balamurugan says the current DOE procedure is to refer to the National Physical Plan to see if an area is sensitive.

"All the sensitive areas have been mapped and identified.

"Under the DOE's current guidelines, all important wetlands, freshwater swamps and national parks have been mapped."

He adds that the total area involved is about 50 per cent of the land area in the country which is protected.

"Sometimes, they will allow exceptions, for example, where the Public Works Department (PWD) is building a road through the forest. This is on the basis of national importance and public good.

"These roads require wildlife crossings. Most PWD projects over the last five years have culverts and viaducts to allow animals to cross."

Balamurugan says the government is working on creating what is called the central forest spine.

This project is under the purview of the Town and Country Planning Department which is responsible for all land use in the peninsula.

The central forest spine identifies 31 priority sites across the peninsula where forests need to be connected either via underground culverts or by replanting tracts of land to become forests.

Connecting these tracts of forest allow better transfer of genes as well as plant seeds.

He says every professional is accountable when working on an EIA and has to report truthfully.

"A number of consultants have been suspended and given warnings in the past. The DOE is now more strict with them."

He says a number of methods are used to determine whether animals roam a particular area.

"The existence of animals at a particular site can be derived from secondary data, such as studies by non-governmental organisations, the Forestry Department and others on tigers and elephants."

The land may be where the animals live or it may be used as a crossing from season to season as they migrate.

Once secondary data is collected, they proceed with the field work.

This may involve trapping, in the case of small animals, or identifying footprints and droppings in the case of bigger animals like elephants and tigers.

"In the case of birds, we may go to the field to observe over a period of 18 hours, 24 hours or even one week."

The requirements for EIAs differ from project to project.

Balamurugan says while housing estates and townships below 50ha do not require an EIA, all roads, no matter what size, require an EIA.

Read more!

Year after Irene, New Yorkers ponder sea barriers

Jennifer Peltz Associated Press Yahoo News 23 Aug 12;

NEW YORK (AP) — Two years before Hurricane Irene created the prospect of a flooding nightmare in New York City, 100 scientists and engineers met to sketch out a bold defense: massive, moveable barriers to shield the city from a storm-stirred sea.

Though the storm caused billions of dollars in damage along the Eastern Seaboard, Irene proved not to be the urban catastrophe forecasters feared. But in the wake of the close call a year ago, elected officials and community groups are pressing for an evaluation of whether sea barriers make sense for New York.

The city has been gathering information, while stressing that barriers are only one of many ideas being studied.

Initially hesitant to recommend spending money studying a remote possibility, state Assemblyman Richard Gottfried now finds the barrier idea realistic enough that he and state Sen. Thomas Duane have urged the city to give it a thorough examination. Gottfried changed his mind before Irene, but feels the storm — which hit the city head-on as a tropical storm on Aug. 28, 2011 — brought the point home to others.

"I think it did make it clear to a lot of New Yorkers that we could not take our safety for granted," he said this week.

To advocates, Irene — which shuttered subways, spurred evacuation orders for 370,000 people and raised fears that a surge of seawater would cripple the U.S. financial capital — added urgency to what they see as the best hope for protecting New York against a mounting threat. But some experts believe the city is better off focusing on more moderate, immediate measures to limit potential damage from storms and rising seas.

The discussion illuminates a potential dividing line for this city and others projected to face a more flood-prone future in a changing climate: take big, difficult steps in hopes of thwarting high water, or a roster of smaller ones intended to help manage it?

New York, for its part, says it's giving equal time to both approaches.

The city administration is working toward a hard-numbers analysis of natural risks and how well various coast-protection techniques would address them, said Adam Freed, the deputy director of Mayor Michael Bloomberg's Office of Long-Term Planning and Sustainability. Storm-surge barriers are among the options being examined; officials have talked in recent months with some participants in a 2009 academic conference on the issue.

In the meantime, the city also has flood-proofed some places — by installing floodgates at sewage plants, for example, and raising the ground level while redeveloping a low-lying area in Queens.

"There's no one-size-fits-all solution to the risk we face, and it's not just one risk," Freed said, noting that the city also is preparing for more frequent heat waves, more extreme rainstorms and other anticipated global-warming effects. "It is going to be a suite of strategies that encompass everything."

Proponents say sea barriers would solve a big piece of the problem, and they point to examples in cities ranging from London to Providence, R.I. But some scientists and engineers feel the structures could create a false sense of security and raise environmental and social-equity questions.

"Who gets included to be behind the gate, and who doesn't get included? ... How do you make that decision in a fair way?" said Robert Swanson, an oceanographer at Long Island's Stony Brook University, where the barrier idea is a topic of cordial debate.

Two of his colleagues, oceanography professor Malcolm J. Bowman and lecturer and engineer Douglas Hill, are driving forces behind the idea and helped galvanize the 2009 conference, which featured conceptual designs from engineering firms.

One strategy entailed an estimated $9.1 billion set of barriers a mile long or shorter at three critical points around the city's waterways. The network would protect Manhattan and parts of the four outer boroughs and New Jersey, but not some vulnerable swaths of Brooklyn and Queens.

Some of them stood to gain protection in an alternative design: a single, 5-mile-long barrier between Sandy Hook, N.J., and the Rockaway Peninsula in Queens, estimated at $5.9 billion.

Both approaches were designed to block a 25-foot storm surge but had navigational locks or other mechanisms to let water and ship traffic flow under normal conditions. Some designs featured visible walls or berms above the waterline, but one envisioned a wall that would lie flat underwater and rise into position when needed.

Advocates note that an 1821 hurricane flooded what's now Manhattan's financial district — and that experts estimate the city could face a surge as high as 25 feet and a 3 million-person evacuation if threatened by a storm as strong as a notorious 1938 hurricane that sawed through nearby Long Island. Moreover, the city projects global warming could boost sea levels by up to 4 ½ feet by the end of the century, making flooding a growing threat.

Troubled by the projections, retired newspaper publisher and community activist Robert Trentlyon started broaching storm-surge barriers with local organizations and officials about two years ago.

Then came Irene, a 500-mile-wide hurricane that weakened to a tropical storm with 65-mph winds just before its center made landfall at Brooklyn's Coney Island.

"There's absolutely no question: From the time of Irene, for the next six months, people were more concerned," said Trentlyon, who now makes his rounds with a growing file of supportive statements.

U.S. Rep. Jerry Nadler urged city officials in a letter this month to take a comprehensive look at storm-surge barriers, bulkheads and other flood-fighting devices.

The City Council's Environmental Protection Committee heard from barrier advocates, among others, at a hearing in December, and Chairman James Gennaro would like the barriers to be among ideas getting further review by a city climate-change task force.

The council passed a proposal Wednesday to expand the group's scope to assess how heat, storms and flooding affect various aspects of the city.

Read more!

West Africa forest biomass 'on rise despite drought'

Mark Kinver BBC News 26 Aug 12;

The carbon storage capacity of protected forests in West Africa has increased despite the region suffering a 40-year drought, a study suggests.

A team of UK and Ghanaian researchers found that the tree composition in these areas favoured species that were able to cope with drier conditions.

Previous studies suggested that drought conditions resulted in less carbon being stored as vegetation died.

The findings have been published in the journal Ecology Letters.

"Despite the long-term drought, there was no biomass loss in the forests. In fact, the biomass actually increased during that period," explained co-author Sophie Fauset from the University of Leeds.

Biomass is a vital component in the global carbon cycle. When plants grow, they absorb carbon dioxide and water in the photosynthesis process.

While oxygen is released into the atmosphere as a waste product of this process, the absorbed carbon primarily remains locked in the plant until it dies.

"We think it is the result of a shift in species composition," Dr Fauset said, explaining why the study showed an increase in biomass.

"Because you have got this long-term environmental shift, it is possible for the species composition of the forests to reshuffle slightly, so the species that can survive under those conditions are favoured.

"This means you are getting less negative impacts of the drought."
Changing landscape

The team of UK and Ghanaian researchers tracked more than 10,000 trees between 1990 and 2010.

The West Africa region has experienced drought conditions since 1970. Rainfall has fallen by up to 23% compared with pre-1970 levels.

Dr Fauset said the study widened the current thinking on the consequences of drought conditions on an area's flora and fauna.

"It is generally thought that if you have droughts then you are going to see a decrease in biomass," she told BBC News.

"Certainly, studies that have looked at short-term, quite extreme droughts do seem to show biomass loss.

"It could be that the increase in biomass (recorded in this study) could be the result of something else, but we think that the maintenance of the forest structure, despite the drought conditions, is a result of a change in species composition.

"This basically means that you cannot take those short-term studies of extreme droughts and extrapolate the findings to a long-term event with different kinds of precipitation changes."

Findings presented at an international forest conference earlier this year found that tropical forests in Africa may be more resilient to future climate change than the Amazon and other major forest regions.

It suggested that the region's surviving tree species had endured a number of climatic catastrophes over the past 4,000 years.

As a result, they were better suited to cope with future shifts in the climate.

The continent's tropical forests form the second-largest continuous forested area in the world.

Dr Fauset observed: "It is very important for the global carbon cycle that these forests are maintained."

Read more!

Demand for Horn Fuels Record-High Rhino Poaching

Live Science Staff Yahoo News 24 Aug 12;

A rhino poaching crisis in South Africa is fed by an insatiable demand in Vietnam for the large animals' horns, which are believed to promote health, cure hangovers and even cancer, according to a new report.

In South Africa, more and more rhinos are being killed illegally. In 2007, 13 rhinos were poached, this number rose steadily to a record 448 in 2011. In early 2012, rhinos were being poached at a rate of almost two rhinos per day, and officials expect the total loss to stand at 515 by the end of this year if the rate continues, according to the report issued by TRAFFIC, a nongovernmental global network that monitors wildlife trade.

Arrests are rising too, but organized crime is involved, TRAFFIC reports. The crime syndicates involved in rhino poaching are also linked to drug and diamond smuggling, as well as human trafficking and the illegal trade in other wildlife parts, such as elephant ivory, the report says.

The demand for the horn has prompted those who want it to attempt to exploit legal sport hunts for rhinoceros, according to the report, which notes that earlier this year South Africa attempted to address this problem by suspending the issuance of hunting licenses to Vietnamese nationals, and introducing other changes. However, rhino traders are attempting to circumvent these changes, TRAFFIC reports.

Meanwhile, criminals have begun looking elsewhere for horns. In recent years at least 65 horns on display in South Africa have been stolen, as have others in the United States and Europe, TRAFFIC reports. [Images from a Rhino Bust]

"However, with the surging demand from Asia, people willing to pay high prices to get their hands on rhino horn, and little fear of capture by those smuggling horn, it was perhaps inevitable that this 'commodity' would catch the attention of the hardened criminal fraternity, creating a 'perfect storm' for rhino poaching and horn trade," said Jo Shaw, a program officer with TRAFFIC and a co-author of the report, in a statement.

Vietnam provides the main market for horn. The primary users are those who believe in the horn's detoxification properties. Affluent users frequently use the horn as a hangover cure and general health tonic, grinding it up and mixing it with water or alcohol.

The horn is also sometimes marketed as a cancer cure for terminally ill patients, "a cynical marketing poly to increase the illicit trade," according to TRAFFIC.

"The surge in rhino horn demand from Viet Nam has nothing to do with meeting traditional medicine needs, it's to supply a recreational drug to party goers or to con dying cancer patients out of their cash for a miracle rhino horn cure that will never happen," said Tom Milliken, a rhino expert with TRAFFIC, and a co-author of the report.

Poaching has already had grave consequences for rhinos. In the last decade, the western black rhino went extinct and the Indochinese Javan rhinoceros was eradicated from Vietnam, with fewer than 50 individuals remaining in Java.

The 175-nation treaty, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, makes nearly all commercial trade in rhino horns and other species threatened with extinction illegal. Signatories also committed to regulating trade within their borders.

The report is called The South Africa—Vietnam Rhino Horn Trade Nexus. TRAFFIC is a joint program of the World Wildlife Fund and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.

Read more!