Best of our wild blogs: 28 Aug 12

31 Aug-1 Sep: Free Wayang shows at Pulau Ubin with free boat rides from wild shores of singapore

Quality green space within a city
from Everyday Nature

A Famous Leopard Cat
from Through the Eyes of the Leopard Cat

Soft bottom lines
from The annotated budak and A strand of blue

Workshop on Marine Ecosystems and Biodiversity of the South China Sea (31st July – 4th August 2012) from Raffles Museum News

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Singapore seeing hazier skies again

Northern parts of the island worst hit by smoke from Sumatra forest fires
Grace Chua Straits Times 28 Aug 12;

LOOK up.

If it's hard to see clearly, well, that is because the haze is back.

Forest fires in Sumatra over the past week have brought to Singapore's northern areas a "moderate" PSI reading of 53 as of 4pm yesterday.

On the Pollutant Standards Index (PSI), an air-quality measurement, a reading of zero to 50 is "good". Anything above 100 is considered "unhealthy".

The poorer air quality was noted only in the northern part of Singapore however.

Other areas of the island recorded readings of between 33 and 41.

Responding to media queries yesterday, the National Environment Agency (NEA) attributed the hazy conditions to south-west winds that carried smoke from Sumatra, where forest fires have raged for the past week.

But it did not explain why air quality in the north - which includes Kranji, Woodlands, Sembawang, Yishun, Seletar and Punggol - was worse than elsewhere.

Besides the PSI, another air-quality scale, the PM2.5 that measures fine pollutants, was also higher in the north.

Because such fine particles are more dangerous - they can enter the lungs or bloodstream more easily than larger dust particles - the NEA cautioned those who were more vulnerable to avoid prolonged or heavy exertion.

These may include people with lung or heart disease, children and the elderly.

All over the island, residents have been noticing hazier skies this past week.

Ms Alexandra Romualdez, 23, a teacher at an international school in Woodlands, said it was so hazy yesterday morning that she could barely make out the landscape from the MRT train as it passed through Kranji.

"Just last week it hadn't been that bad," she said. "But I have noticed it getting worse recently."

Sengkang resident Rachel Ang, 26, who is asthmatic, said that because of the haze, she has avoided going outdoors to exercise in case it triggers an attack.

The avid runner said she ended up going to the gym instead.

The NEA did not say how long the haze would last, but said that the south-west monsoon season, which typically lasts from June to September or early October, is the traditional dry season for the southern Asean region - which includes Singapore and Indonesia.

It said that a rise in forest fires at this time could lead to "transboundary" smoke haze - which means that smoke from other countries could reach Singapore.

The NEA added that the severity of such haze would depend on a variety of factors, including wind strength, rain, and how close or large the fires were.

Earlier this month, haze from hot spots in Sumatra had also affected Peninsular Malaysia, with the air quality rated unhealthy in Perak and Selangor.

In Singapore, the last time air quality deteriorated to unhealthy PSI levels was in 2010. This was also caused by haze attributed to forest fires in Indonesia.

Last week, NEA changed its air-quality reporting to three times a day - at 8am, noon and 4pm - up from once a day.

It also began reporting thrice-daily PM2.5 data. Before this, it reported these numbers only annually.

What is the PSI?

THERE are five key pollutants in Singapore's Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) - sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, ozone, carbon monoxide and particulate matter. They are used as indicators as they are relatively easy to measure and are correlated with a group of other airborne toxins.

Besides the PSI, the NEA also reports levels of pollutants known as PM2.5, or particles smaller than 2.5 microns in size. This is measured because the finer the particle, the more likely it is to penetrate the lungs and the more dangerous it is to human health.

Singapore air quality worsens slightly
Melissa Chong Channel NewsAsia 27 Aug 12;

SINGAPORE: Singapore's air quality worsened slightly, with the Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) slipping from good to moderate in parts of the island.

The PSI as of 4pm on Monday was between 33 and 53 - up from 35 to 46 on Sunday.

The highest reading of 53 was in the northern Singapore.

On August 25, the National Environment Agency (NEA) said Singapore could experience a slight haze during this monsoon season due to an increase in hotspot activities over Sumatra in the past week.

NEA said the impact of the smoke haze would depend on wind and rain conditions, and whether the fires persist.


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Fires to Clear Forests Still in Vogue in Indonesia

Fidelis E. Satriastanti Jakarta Globe 27 Aug 12;

Residents and plantation companies continue to open plantation areas by burning forests because it is the easiest and cheapest method, the nation’s disaster-prevention agency says.

“The people and businesses burn [forests] because it is much cheaper,” Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, a spokesman for the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB), told BeritaSatu on Saturday.

“Besides, they normally burn peatland where the acid level of the land is unsuitable for plantation. [The area] will become fertile if it’s burned and the ashes can be used as fertilizer.”

Sutopo said that explained why people were still burning forests to open land despite many regulations to ban the practice.

The Environment Ministry is investigating eight companies in Sumatra — two in Riau, four in South Sumatra and two in Aceh — that allegedly burned a total of 3,814 hectares of forest land to open new plantation areas.

The government has also put eight provinces on its forest fire control priority list: North Sumatra, Riau, Jambi, South Sumatra, East Kalimantan, South Kalimantan, Central Kalimantan and West Kalimantan.

Environmental law analyst Mas Achmad Santosa said that the lack of investigators to handle environmental cases slowed the Environment Ministry from enforcing the law. “The law offers a wide scope for law enforcement on environmental crimes,” Santosa said on Sunday.

The Law on Environmental Protection and Management enables civil servants tasked with investigating environmental cases to immediately start or halt an investigation without reporting it to the police. They are also authorized to arrest suspects through coordination with the police.

But many environmental crimes investigators no longer work in law enforcement. The ministry “just needs to call the civil servants who have shifted to other fields but still working in the ministry,” he said.

Previously, Environment Minister Balthasar Kambuaya said the ministry had 1600 environmental crimes investigations to be distributed. Ministry data showed that 554 cases as of November 2010 but only 398 were active.

On Saturday morning, BNPB put out fires in an oil palm plantation area in Muarojambi district, Jambi.

“The fire on a 700-hectare plot of land in Muarojambi was contained this morning. It was an oil palm plantation area,” Sutopo said, adding that the fire-fighting effort involved artificial rain, water bombs and land-based attacks.

The agency is creating artificial rains in Riau and Central Kalimantan for 40 days because the dry season has just started.

“In Riau, the artificial rain will be created using two Cassa 212 aircraft and two helicopters for water bombs,” Sutopo said, adding that artificial rains would also be generated over Palangkaraya, Central Kalimantan.

“Artificial rains were created on Aug. 12, and we will do it again on Aug. 28 in both provinces. The process will be carried out for 40 consecutive days,” he said.

Water bombing is one method of containing forest fires, however, it has limited coverage and cannot be done over wide areas. “With artificial rains, it depends on the clouds. There are not enough clouds in mountainous areas during the dry season. ... It’s possible to be carried out on peatlands by soaking them with water so that it doesn’t burn easily, but given the condition of rivers in Indonesia, this also poses a problem,” Sutopo said.

BNPB has allocated Rp 12 billion ($1.26 million) to contain forest fires but will increase it to Rp 30 billion if conditions worsen. BNPB has also prepared three additional helicopters and two aircraft to create artificial rains.

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Philippines: Animal lovers clamor for dolphin rights, too

Rio N. Araja Manila Standard 28 Aug 12;

A coalition of environmentalists on Monday said it will sue government officials who do nothing about the import or export of dolphins.

Environmentalists hold a rally to protest cruelty to dolphins. MANNY PALMERO

Bearing the brunt of their complaint is Ocean Adventure Park in Subic, Zambales, which allegedly had the mammals shipped in from the Solomon Islands in the South Pacific Ocean.

Anna Cabrera, of the Philippine Animal Welfare Society, called on Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources director Asis Perez to stop issuing permits for dolphin importation and exportation.

“We will continue to file criminal and administrative charges against government officials,” Cabrera told reporters at a news conference in Annabel’s Restaurant in Quezon City.

She said the coalition filed charges against BAI director Angel Mateo for the last dolphin show at the Araneta Coliseum.

Cabrera also asked the Bureau of Animal Industry to deny granting organizers of dolphin shows the permits to operate.

Signing up in the cause for dolphins were A.G. Sano of the Dolphins Love Freedom Network, Trixie Concepcion of the Earth Island Institute Phils., campaign manager Rochelle Regodon of the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals-Asia, Jenica Dizon of Save the Philippines Seas, external affairs officer Luis Buenaflor of the Animal Kingdom Foundation Phils along with Kabataan party-list Rep. Raymond Palatino.

Cabrera said officials in government have taken the animal welfare as a non-issue.

“They look at us not as a serious group just because animals and trees do not vote,” she fumed. “Politicians will feel our impact in next year’s elections.”

Roy Cayaban, PAWS lawyer, said the Philippines is a signatory to an international treaty on the protection of wildlife, including dolphins.

“Import and export of dolphins is not allowed under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora,” he said.

“Republic Act 8485, or the Animal Welfare Act, from the title itself mandates every citizen to look after the welfare of the animals. We don’t give animals the right, but we as people must address their welfare. We are the voice of the voiceless animals.”

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Malaysia: Lake’s lost allure - Tasik Chini

Meng Yew Choong The Star 28 Aug 12;

The biological health of Tasik Chini continues to decline.

TASIK Chini. For years, it drew boatloads of tourists eager to catch the spectacular sight of a lake carpeted with lotus flowers. When I visited the lake 10 years ago, the water was still clear enough for me to see what was at the bottom, which was 3m to 4m deep. The whole environment looked so inviting that I was tempted to jump into the lake for a swim.

By chance, I stopped by the lake to have tea sometime in June, and casually enquired at the Tasik Chini Resort as to when I should be back again to view the famous lotus blooms. The receptionist, without a moment of hesitation, told me that the lotus was now near-extinct, but added that I could try my luck by coming back in August.

I returned there early this month, but a boat cruise across the entire lake made me realise that the lotus blooms now exist only on tourism promotional posters. I saw only a dozen or so blooms near the point where the lake drains into Sungai Chini.

A visiting French family was also left sorely disappointed. “It is a pity we couldn’t see any. It was nothing like the pictures we saw on the Internet. I think we saw only about five stems,” said Catherine Fautrez, who stayed at a guesthouse at the orang asli village of Kampung Gumum. This is a far cry from the days when one could see a sea of lotus just by standing at the jetty of the only resort beside the lake.

According to a boatman, the number of lotus blooms started to dip dramatically five years ago. “Due to the lack of lotus, tourists are shunning this place. We hardly get any business nowadays,” lamented Robert Bia, 34, who has worked as a boatman for the past eight years.

The 5sqkm freshwater lake can be found about 100km from Kuantan in the district of Pekan in Pahang, and is the second largest natural lake in the country. It is rich in biodiversity, hosting 138 species of terrestrial flora, some 300 species of non-aquatic vertebrates as well as 144 species of freshwater fish.

With a catchment size of 45sqkm, Tasik Chini is actually part of the Pahang river basin. Every monsoon season, when the Pahang River swells, water actually flows in the reverse direction back into the lake through Sungai Chini. Viewed another way, Tasik Chini is actually a giant freshwater swamp made up of 12 “lakes”, which are referred to as laut (sea) by the orang asli who live in six villages around the lake: Gumum, Ulu Gumum, Melai, Ulu Melai, Tanjung Puput and Cendahan.

The lake, gazetted as a tourism park in 1989, started losing its allure in the mid-1980s when the state government began approving land development schemes under the Federal Land Development Authority (Felda) around the lake. The situation was exacerbated in 1995 when the Federal Government built a weir at the end of Sungai Chini to facilitate navigation of tourist boats, despite protests by the orang asli.

The weir raised the level of the lake by at least 2m in a matter of months, causing the death of thousands of Eugenia trees by the water’s edge, as well as the decline of the lotus plants, which don’t typically grow in deep water.

Also submerged were many stands of rattan that the orang asli harvest.

A huge mass of dead vegetation eventually sank to the bottom of the lake and as it rotted in the low-oxygen environment, released foul-smelling methane and hydrogen sulphide, making the lake water unsuitable for drinking or human contact.

Now, it is impossible to navigate up to the river mouth as fallen trees block the way. Local boatmen said the Pahang Department of Irrigation and Drainage is supposed to call for contracts to clear the stretch, but it only does so during the monsoon season.

Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM), which operates the Tasik Chini Research Centre (TCRC) that is led by environmental toxicologist Prof Datuk Dr Mushrifah Idris, is believed to have completed studies to determine whether the weir should stay or go.

Mining disaster

A disturbing fact is that the lake is now perpetually murky, even when it has not been raining. Aside from plantations, open cast mines surround the land. Some of the mines, where iron ore is extracted, operate just 50m from the lake’s edge and it is not too difficult to imagine where silt from the exposed hills will flow to during heavy rains. In one nearby mine, the layer of soft silt in the water is at least 1m thick – probably even more as the measuring stick was not long enough.

Mushrifah said monitoring since 2004 shows that the water quality has remained pretty good. Depending on the location and whether it is the dry or wet season, the water quality hovers around Class II standard (good enough for primary contact like swimming) and some areas that are sheltered from development even achieved Class I.

“There is some concern during the dry weather, as the lake will stagnate due to insufficient flow from the rivers that feed it. As we already know from hydrological data, the lake actually suffers a water deficit for a few months each year.”

For Prof Maketab Mohamed of the chemical engineering department of Universiti Teknologi Malaysia, sources of pollution to the lake include logging at Bukit Tebakang, cultivation of oil palm at Jemberau, domestic effluent from lake-side dwellers, and the Penyor mines. The largest village, Kampung Gumum, now has sewerage infrastructure after UKM highlighted the unsatisfactory state of sanitation there.

In the past, the Tasik Chini Resort and the National Service camp were blamed for sewage discharge into the lake. Both have since cleaned up their act, though not necessarily to everyone’s satisfaction.

“I think they now have some form of treatment for their wastewater, though the question is how well the septic tanks are maintained. If they are badly maintained, then it is as good as not having any treatment,” said Maketab, an expert in hydrology and water pollution.

Other than scheduled tests by the Department of Environment, water quality in the lake is now monitored round-the-clock by UKM via automated sensors that are connected to its campus in Bangi, Selangor. “We have been engaging the stakeholders, such as plantation owners and miners, to make them aware of the impact of their operations. For example, there is such a thing as green mining but it is not being practised here, possibly due to the lack of knowledge and awareness,” said Mushrifah.

The most crucial thing to watch out for is sedimentation, she said. “There must be proper mitigation measures put in place. This year, one of the retention ponds in a mine burst, causing a torrent of silt and mud to flow into the lake. This could have been mitigated if the operator had created a more substantial buffer zone around his operations. Sedimentation is what will kill any lake, and this is a huge threat to Chini right now.”

It is not that Pahang has no inkling of what went wrong, or could go wrong, in Tasik Chini. A report generated by the state executive council after a two-month study in 2004 stated that siltation, illegal cultivation, fertilisers from nearby Felda schemes, and logging were among the main contributors to the problem. The East Coast Economic Region Development Council, a Federal outfit that plans to turn the area into a state park, acknowledged the difficulties in that because the lake has been “greatly degraded over the past decade due to encroachment of agriculture into the catchment, illegal logging, and the construction of the weir”.

Meanwhile, Pahang Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Adnan Yaakob has insisted that mining and logging – while visible to everyone – were not taking place within the gazetted area (tourism park), and that one mine had been operating before the lake was turned into a park. The state is under pressure to allow mining as the catchment surrounding the lake has substantial deposits of iron ore, among many other minerals that are now fetching a good price. Last May, Adnan revealed that iron ore mining provided huge returns, with the state government receiving royalties amounting to RM5.5mil in just four months of 2011 compared with RM4mil for the whole of 2010. He had said that Pahang would set up a special body to coordinate iron ore mining in the state, which at that point had received 3,000 applications to mine iron ore.

For tourists wishing to see the famed annual lotus blooms, there is none to view now. Even if they do make it to the lake, they will be greeted by the sight of bulldozers and machinery moving earth, as well as mounds of logs waiting to be transported out – not exactly good advertisement for a tourism park, or Malaysia’s sole Unesco Biosphere Reserve (awarded in 2009). According to Mushrifah, UKM pushed for the biosphere status when it thought that the state was committed to not allowing mining to recommence around Tasik Chini. Biosphere reserves are sites recognised as having the potential to promote sustainable development based on an innovative blend of community effort and robust science.

Community’s plight

The orang asli are furious at Adnan’s recent claim that the pollution in the lake is not as serious as stated by non-governmental groups. (Transparency International Malaysia recently launched the Save Tasik Chini campaign.) Underlying land rights issues have also contributed to much unhappiness among them even before mining commenced in the area.

“We, who have lived in this ecosystem for centuries, have been suffering from the negative effects of ecological degradation over the last few years. As a result, I cannot even eat the fish caught in the lake as they have a rotten smell. Species like the jelawat, belida and kelisa are also no longer present in the lake,” said Kampung Gumum headman Awang Alok, 71, at a press conference in Kuala Lumpur recently. “And we can no longer venture into areas where we used to harvest herbs and roots as these areas are out of bounds for us since mining started.”

Awang’s allegation is backed by the findings of Tasik Chini Research Centre, which found a 30% decline in the variety of fish in the lake. “Fish is hard to come by nowadays,” said Ismail Muhammad, who chairs the Tasik Chini action committee. “Even the toman (a hardy carnivorous fish) is difficult to spot now.”?

According to Maketab, who is also Malaysian Nature Society president, the only “right” thing that was done was the modification of the weir in 2000 to lower water levels, though the full extent of the lake’s restoration might take decades if there is no drastic intervention to assist the healing process. Right now, it is business as usual at the mines, and there are no signs that the riparian zone is going to be reinforced or reforested properly anytime soon.

Will Pahang do the right thing before it is too late?

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Malaysia: 'Stop rape of Camerons'

Jaspal Singh New Straits Times 28 Aug 12;

WOES: Illegal land clearing, too many projects a bane

CAMERON HIGHLANDS: THE Pahang government has been urged to stop the environmental degradation here caused by greedy parties, including farmers, over the past 12 years.

The Regional Environmental Awareness of Cameron Highlands (REACH), a community-funded organisation, claimed that illegal land clearing was on the rise.

In a 29-page report sent to Pahang Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Adnan Yaakob, the organisation claimed that this had affected the riverine system and water supply.

REACH president R. Ramakrishnan said infrastructure, physical development as well as agriculture projects were being carried out in violation of the Land Conservation Act and other laws.

"One of the most important direct contributors to the depletion of primary forests in Cameron Highlands is illegal land clearing for agriculture," he said in the report titled "Illegal Land Clearing in Cameron Highlands".

On top of that, development projects have saturated the habitable area in the district, causing approvals to be given for the construction of new buildings on high-gradient slopes and forested areas.

"Today, Cameron Highlands has become saturated with apartments, hotels, shops and stalls.

"The capacity of the towns (Tanah Rata, Berinchang and Ringlet) has been exceeded."

Ramakrishnan urged Adnan to look into the issue and halt the degradation.

The report warned the state government of the environmental risks posed by the projects as half the land area of Cameron Highlands has a gradient of more than 20 degrees and more than three quarters of the highlands has an erosion rate of more than 150 tonnes per hectare per year.

"The likelihood of landslides occurring is high if land clearing continues unabated. Siltation of rivers and water shortages will also become constant features."

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Malaysia: More turtles at Cherating

Fahirul N. Ramli New Straits Times 28 Aug 12;

GLIMMER OF HOPE: Turtle landings have increased but fewer tourists are coming to sanctuary

KUANTAN: AFTER a continuous drop in turtle landings at the Cherating beach in Pahang in the past few years, there is a glimmer of hope as 163 of them have returned and 15,465 eggs have been collected in the first half of this year.

The last increase in turtle landings recorded in Cherating was in 2007 when 307 landings were documented compared with 259 in the previous year.

However, the number of landings has steadily waned since then, when only the green turtle species returned to the beach.

In 2010, it came down to 189 landings with 16,175 turtle eggs collected before the number dropped further to 177 landings with 16,037 eggs collected last year.

The steady decline has also reduced the number of eggs collected and hatched manually at the Fisheries Department's Turtle Sanctuary and Information Centre in Cherating, which was established to help conserve the creatures.

State Fisheries Department director Adnan Hussin said the department was optimistic that it could arrest the decline.

"We are excited because 3,980 of the eggs collected this year were successfully hatched and since the landing period is mostly from April to September, a bigger number can be recorded this year."

Sanctuary manager Abdul Karim Mohd Sham, 54, said he had witnessed many green turtles laying eggs but had never encountered the penyu karah or hawksbill turtles in the area in previous years.

Karim, who assumed the post six years ago, said the last he heard of hawksbill turtles coming to Cherating was almost 10 years ago.

"Turtles usually land on beaches to lay eggs between 10pm and 1am. They easily get annoyed by noises and also by camera's flashlights.

"In many cases, frightened turtles will move to other locations. They will not lay eggs once the second or third diggings are disturbed," said Karim.

To deal with problem, the sanctuary has since last year restricted the number of tourists entering the 3.5km turtle-landing beach stretch from 7.30pm to 7.30am. The beach strip is manned by six rangers.

Such a restriction unfortunately, has reduced the number of visitors from 60,912 in 2010 to 45,668 last year while as of June this year, only 26,303 people visited the sanctuary.

"To protect the turtles and safeguard their landing site, we need stricter rules for turtle-watching and steady funds. But if fewer people come, we get less revenue and that may also hamper our efforts to protect the habitat and educate the public," said Karim who is also responsible for a 14m by 6m fenced-in "spawning sands", where the turtle eggs are placed for hatching.

"The ideal temperature should be between 27oC and 34oC, and the fencing prevents predators, like birds and monitor lizards, from eating the eggs.

"Just like the fussy turtle mother, we choose the best spot for her eggs and will relocate them if necessary," he said, adding that it would take from 45 to 60 days for the eggs to hatch.

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Malaysia: Sale of turtle eggs widespread in Sandakan

The Star 28 Aug 12;

SANDAKAN: The sale of turtle eggs, banned under the Wildlife Conservation Enactment 1997, is widespread in this town.

A Bernama survey found that the eggs were sold in areas close to the Sandakan market.

The sellers go about their business discreetly, using hand signals to lure customers. They would only take out the eggs from plastic bags when buyers showed interest.

The bags are hung on the walls lining the five-foot paths of shophouses.

A seller, who wished to be identified only as Sam, said turtle eggs were sold because there was public demand.

He said the eggs were smuggled in through Pulau Taganak in the Philippines, about an hour’s travel by boat from here.

“Each egg is sold at RM1.20,” he said. “The price per egg goes up if supply is scarce.”

Anyone keeping turtle eggs in the state could be charged under Section 41(2) of the Wildlife Conservation Enactment 1997, which carries a fine of up to RM50,000 or five months’ jail. — Bernama

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Blue carbon: A new hope for Indonesia

Andreas A. Hutahaean Jakarta Post 28 Aug 12;

While carbon dioxide emissions reductions are currently at the center of global climate change discussions, the critical role of coastal-marine ecosystems for carbon sequestration or as sinks has been overlooked or even neglected. The reasons are mainly due to the lag of scientific data because of the complexity of coastal-marine ecosystems.

In Indonesia, these ecosystems have not received sufficient attention considering their importance for climate change strategy, as most of the attention has gone to terrestrial ecosystems, such as the forest and agricultural sectors.

Moreover, the Indonesian program on REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) is running slow and its forest moratorium has not worked well, making it unlikely that the Indonesian government will meet its pledge to reduce carbon emissions by 26 percent by 2020.

Tropical coastal-marine ecosystems such as mangroves and seagrass meadows are known as hot spots for biodiversity and for their valuable ecosystem services. Recently, scientists found out about the important functions of the ecosystems as carbon sequestration or sinks. This carbon, captured by coastal-marine organisms through photosynthesis, has been called blue carbon.

In this process, mangrove and seagrass binds carbon dioxide and water, and, with the assistance of sunlight, is converted into sugars and oxygen to support their growth. The remaining excess production of the plant is buried in the sediment, where it can remain stored.

Indonesia, an archipelagic country, is located along the equator at the heart of the so-called Coral Triangle. The nation’s geography causes warm climate over the country and has made the Indonesian coastal-marine environment become a suitable habitat for the growing of mangroves and seagrass.

Recently, researchers found that seagrass meadows could store up to 83,000 tons of carbon/m3/km2, mostly in the sediments beneath them. In comparison, terrestrial forests store about 30,000 tons of carbon/m3/km2, most of which is in the form of wood. This study was the first global analysis of carbon stored in seagrass and the finding was published in Nature Geoscience in May.

The study also estimates that, although seagrass meadows take up small percentage of global coastal area (about less than 0.2 percent of world’s oceans), they are responsible for more than 10 percent of all carbon buried annually in the sea.

Similar to seagrass, mangrove ecosystems have been known for their high productivity in the carbon cycle. The ecosystem can store a large amount of carbon in the deep organic sediment in which it thrives. It has the ability to store five times as much carbon as has been observed in temperate, boreal and tropical rainforests. This high amount carbon storage suggests mangroves could play an important role in climate change mitigation.

However, Indonesia’s blue-carbon ecosystems are among the world’s most threatened. About 3 to 7 percent of the ecosystems are disappearing every year, with the worst conditions found on the north coast of Java. The main reasons is mostly dredging, the degradation of water quality, deforestation and aquaculture activities.

A pilot project on Indonesian Blue Carbon in Banten Bay found at least 70 percent of the mangrove ecosystem was lost to aquaculture farms or land reclamation, while only 20 to 30 percent was used effectively by fisherman. To overcome these problems, strong attention from local communities and the government are needed.

Healthy natural coastal-marine ecosystems, such as mangrove and seagrass, provide a vast array of important co-benefits to coastal communities, particularly fishermen. These benefits include ecosystem services such as the protection of shorelines from storms, erosion or sea-level rise; the provision food from fisheries; the maintenance of water quality and landscapes for ecotourism.

In a blue carbon context these ecosystems also store and sequester a vast amount of carbon in sediments and biomass. Also from a global perspective, blue carbon mostly covers the tropical coastal-marine environment and is among the most effective carbon sinks known today.

Having the largest mangrove and seagrass ecosystems in the world makes blue carbon important for Indonesia’s climate change strategy, not only in international forums, but also to fulfill the government’s pledge to reduce carbon emissions by up to 26 percent by 2020.

The writer is principal investigator of the Indonesia Blue Carbon Project and a researcher at the Coastal and Marine Resources Research Center at the Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Ministry.

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Mekong dams could rob millions of their primary protein source

WWF 27 Aug 12;

Stockholm — Hydropower dams planned for the lower mainstem of the Mekong River could decimate fish populations and with them the primary source of protein for 60 million people. The impact of the dams would extend far beyond the river, as people turn to agriculture to replace lost calories, protein and micronutrients, according to a new study by WWF and the Australian National University.

There are 11 planned dam projects on the Mekong mainstem, and another 77 dams planned in the basin by 2030. The study, “Dams on the Mekong River: Lost fish protein and the implications for land and water resources”, looked at two scenarios: replacement of lost fish protein directly attributable to the proposed 11 mainstem dams, and replacement of the net loss in fish protein due to the impact of all 88 proposed dam developments.

If all 11 planned mainstem dams were built, the fish supply would be cut by 16 per cent, with an estimated financial loss of US$476 million a year, according to the study. If all 88 projects were completed, the fish supply could fall 37.8 per cent.

Study co-author Stuart Orr, freshwater manager at WWF International, says policymakers often fail to recognize the crucial role of inland fisheries in meeting food security. “The Mekong countries are striving for economic growth, and they see hydropower as a driver of that growth. But they must first fully understand and take into account the true economic and social value of a free-flowing Mekong,” says Orr.

The lower Mekong, flowing through Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Viet Nam, is renowned for its biological diversity, with more than 850 freshwater fish species. These fish are fundamental to diets and economies in the region, with 80 per cent of the 60 million inhabitants relying directly on the river for their food and livelihoods.

The report also looks at the effects on land and water as people are forced to shift to cows, pigs, poultry and other sources to meet their protein requirements. On top of 1,350km2 of land lost to dam reservoirs, the countries would need a minimum of 4,863km2 of new pasture land to replace fish protein with livestock. The high end of the estimate if all dams were built is 24,188km2 – a 63 per cent increase in land dedicated to livestock.

Water requirements would jump on average between 6 and 17 per cent. But these averages mask the considerably higher figures for Cambodia and Laos. Under scenario one, with 11 dams on the mainstem, Cambodia would need to dedicate an additional 29-64 per cent more water to agriculture and livestock; Laos’ water footprint would increase by 12-24 per cent. Under the second scenario, with all 88 dams, these numbers shift dramatically, with an increase of 42-150 per cent for Cambodia and 18-56 per cent for Laos.

“Policymakers in the region need to ask themselves where they are going to find this additional land and water,” says Orr. “The Mekong demonstrates the links between water, food and energy. If governments put the emphasis on energy, there are very real consequences for food and water – and therefore people.”

The report, published in the journal Global Environmental Change and presented during World Water Week in Stockholm, comes at a critical time in the debate over hydropower development in the region. Construction work appears to be moving ahead on the controversial Xayaburi dam in Laos, despite a decision by the intergovernmental Mekong River Commission to halt the project pending further studies. It would be the first of the planned dams to span the lower Mekong mainstem.

“We hope this study can help fill some of the knowledge gaps about the effects of the proposed dams,” says co-author Dr Jamie Pittock from the Crawford School of Public Policy in the Australia National University.

WWF urges the lower Mekong countries to defer a decision on the mainstem Mekong dams for 10 years to ensure critical data can be gathered and a decision can be reached using sound science and analysis. WWF further advises lower Mekong countries considering hydropower projects to prioritize dams on some Mekong tributaries that are easier to assess and are considered to have a much lower impact and risk.

An abstract of the study, with the option to download the full text, is available here:

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Arctic Sea Ice Shatters Historic Record Low

Wynne Parry Yahoo News 27 Aug 12;

Arctic sea ice, the white cap that covers the watery northern edge of the planet, has melted back to a record low level.

However, the ice is unlikely to stop shrinking. Arctic sea melts through the summer usually reaching its annual minimum in September.

On Sunday (Aug. 26), Arctic sea-ice extent fell to 1.58 million square miles (4.10 million square kilometers), surpassing the previous low, set on Sept. 18, 2007, the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) reports. Sea-ice extent refers to the area of ocean covered at least 15 percent by sea ice, according to the NSIDC.

The record low, set in 2007, stood at 1.61 square miles (4.17 square kilometers).

But this year's melt is unlikely to stop soon. The melt season still has another two or three weeks to go. [10 Things to Know about Sea Ice]

Continuous satellite records of sea-ice extent began in 1979. But in recent years, satellite data have shown a shift in the fluctuating ice cover. For example, including this year, the six lowest ice extents in the satellite record have occurred in the last six years, the NSIDC reports.

Scientists attribute the shift to a combination of natural forces, for example, a storm in early August coincided with an acceleration of melt that occurred at the same time. However, over time, the effects of winds, clouds and other natural conditions should, in theory, balance themselves out. It is the emission of greenhouse gases that alters the long-term trend by warming the planet, Walt Meier, a research scientist at NSIDC told LiveScience last year.

This year's melt rate was much faster than the normal rate for this time of year, the NSIDC reported today (Aug. 27).

Sea ice matters to the animals, such as polar bears and walruses, that depend on it for habitat, and scientists worry the loss of ice could have serious consequences for them.

Sea ice also affects weather and global climate, because it reflects most of the sun's energy back out to space. If sea ice melts, the dark water beneath it absorbs most of the energy, which in turn enters the natural system. In this way, scientists believe the melting of sea ice will aggravate global warming.

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