Best of our wild blogs: 30 Aug 12

Free nature guided walk @ Fort Canning Park
from The Green Volunteers

Cord in the net
from The annotated budak

mama snakehead & kids @ kent ridge - Aug2012
from sgbeachbum

Random Gallery - Pale Mottle
from Butterflies of Singapore

Adventures of Hope at the Chek Jawa cleanup
from News from the International Coastal Cleanup Singapore

Money for Mangroves
from Blue Carbon Blog

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Green petitions a sign of growing civic consciousness

Grace Chua Straits Times 30 Aug 12;

ONE group of Singaporeans has already set the ball rolling for a new national conversation: on how green - or brown - Singapore should be.

This group, or rather several groups of residents, shot to the headlines this year for banding together to save patches of forest around their homes, talking, organising and sending petitions. No radical tree-huggers, they are mostly regular folk upset at new development plans for land they had come to think of as their backyard.

Some may be truly exercised about the loss of habitat for the rufous-tailed tailorbird, civet cat and other species. Or, as some suspect, a few might have stakes no higher than concern for property values or the fear of having to squeeze into trains with more residents in their area.

Whatever the mix of near- or far-sighted sentiments that drove them, these residents' activism raised some legitimate questions about prudent land use in an increasingly crowded city.

How should Singapore decide which areas should be developed and which areas preserved? Surely the "winner" cannot be the one who protests the loudest? Does Singapore's urban masterplan have room for both a larger population and natural forests? Some question whether the City in a Garden, with its plentiful green spaces, isn't already green enough.

Singapore's planners have wrestled with these complex issues long before the residents of Limau estate decided to appeal to their MP to save a patch of land just south of the Tanah Merah MRT station, which is going to be developed into condominiums.

The very development of Singapore has been an act of planning. Even before independence, land use was laid out in colonial town plans.

There have been at least three other Limau-like cases this year. Groups have campaigned to protect areas in Pasir Ris, and Bukit Brown, and at Dairy Farm in Upper Bukit Timah. The pieces of land they wanted to preserve were mostly wooded stretches that sprung up in the last two to five decades on former kampung or plantation land. Bukit Brown is a disused cemetery where people still return to sweep the graves of ancestors.

Urban planners have long had these areas in their sights. They were already zoned for residential use or have been tagged with the mysterious "Subject to detailed planning" in the Urban Redevelopment Authority's (URA) Master Plan - which Singaporeans understand as meaning the land is being left alone until such time as the state decides to develop it.

The masterplan has always been public. But residents like Pasir Ris' Madam Cherry Fong, 54, ask if the zoning has kept up with changes on the ground. Do the planners, she wonders, account for the fact that the fast-growing forests on these pieces of land harbour uncommon species like changeable hawk-eagles and rufous-tailed tailorbirds?

Experts argue that small forest fragments outside nature reserves can have real ecological value. They may be rich habitats in their own right, or help connect one nature area to another. And as they accumulate new plant species over time, the maturing habitat can support a wider array of animals.

"What is clear is that if green areas outside the strictly protected Nature Reserves were to be cleared, Singapore's biodiversity would be lower than it is today - less habitat leads to fewer species, and smaller and thus more vulnerable animal populations," says Nature Society (Singapore) president Shawn Lum.

He sums up a growing realisation - and not just among the experts - that not all greenery is created equal. Nearly half of Singapore's land area is under green cover. But parks and gardens, no matter how gorgeously landscaped, will never offer the same air-cleaning, water-filtering services or block as much street noise as natural forest areas.

Urban planners maintain that their vision has always had healthy measures of flexibility. Land-use plans are reviewed every five years.

"Greenery has an important place in our planning, and we have set aside close to 10 per cent of Singapore's total land area for parks and nature reserves. Beyond that, we do need to strike a careful balance among the many competing needs of a nation-state," a URA spokesman said. Other nature areas, forested state land and military training grounds make up the other greenscape. In all, 47 per cent of Singapore is under green cover.

In this scheme of things, the new turn is that residents like the Limau estate group are appealing for public consultation before development. This seems a perfectly reasonable request. But the next logical question then is: Who should be consulted? Asking everyone within a 1km radius of the site might not be enough. Asking everyone within a 2km radius, too onerous.

But what is clear is, as Limau resident Han Hee Juan, 48, put it: "It shouldn't need to result in a petition every time."

Perhaps it is time for transparent, public environmental impact assessments, as several have suggested. Ambassador-at-Large Tommy Koh suggested such assessments in June, and long-time conservation activist Ho Hua Chew did so last month, in two separate articles in The Straits Times.

Then, everyone can have a say before a final decision is made.

That could help develop a consensus on which green areas to conserve, taking into account their location, what species are in them and whether they are stepping-stones for wildlife to get to reserves. In fact, Singapore already understands this principle - it is building an eco-bridge between the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve and the Central Catchment reserve for wildlife to move from one to another.

Not all wild patches can be saved from development pressures, but those that are more likely to be ecologically vital could get higher priority.

That residents want to protect their local forests is a good sign. It means they feel that their home is part of a wider neighbourhood community, and that they need to protect that neighbourhood, not just their individual homes or interests.

This is a watershed moment for civic engagement, and Singapore should capitalise on it.

It is a point worth noting and celebrating that conservation groups like the Nature Society - the traditional voice in these matters - have actually taken a back seat.

Rather, an interest in nature already exists among ordinary residents, whose growing civic and social consciousness now propel them forward.

For example, it was Madam Fong who first raised the Pasir Ris forest issue at a Meet-the-People Session last year, teenage children in tow.

And even if the nation's larger green goals override their own, Pasir Ris, Dairy Farm and Limau estate residents at least now know each other a little better.

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Malaysia: Port Dickson hotel checks in turtle eggs

Maizatul Ranai New Straits Times 30 Aug 12;

CONSERVATION EFFORT: Guests can adopt eggs and release the reptiles back into sea

PORT DICKSON: A BEACH resort here not only played host to human guests, but also to endangered turtles.

For the past three years, Glory Beach Resort had played a key role in helping to save the species by setting up a hatchery.

It rescued turtle eggs found along the seaside here, and had hatched and released 3,200 young hawksbill turtles back into the sea.

Resort general manager Isaac Mohan Raj said the turtle rehabilitation programme was a joint effort with the Malacca Turtle Management Centre and the Negri Sembilan Fisheries Department.

The programme was conceived after the Rantau Abang Turtle and Marine Ecosystem Centre (Tumec) found turtle tracks along the beaches here and the hatchery was built at the resort in June 2010.

"With help of the locals and our guests, we rescue the turtle eggs from poachers and place them at the hatchery. The public response is good and we even have schoolchildren bringing in turtle eggs to our centre."

Following the programme's success with a hatching rate of 74 per cent, Raj said the resort's centre was given the nod to buy 3,000 turtle eggs from Malacca yearly.

The resort had also launched an educational and awareness programme by inviting visitors to adopt an egg and releasing the baby turtles to the sea once they hatch. Raj said they also planned to build a gallery to raise awareness on turtle conservation efforts throughout the country.

"We also hope to put tracking device on the baby turtles so we can track their movements in the ocean," he said.

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Malaysia: 'Save knowledge of medicinal plants'

PROTECTING RIGHTS: Indigenous folk, who know the value of plants, risk losing out to foreigners due to no proper documentation
New Straits Times 30 Aug 12;

DOCUMENTING indigenous knowledge of medicinal plants is crucial for its existence, said state Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Masidi Manjun.

He added that while the communities in many parts of Sabah knew about the medicinal value of plants, this knowledge was not well documented.

"It may be lost as its custodians are passing away," he said in his speech at the launch of the Imbak Canyon Ethno- Forestry study and workshop on accessing and commercialising bio-diversity here yesterday.

The speech was read by his assistant, Datuk Elron Angin.

Masidi said the indigenous people had an understanding of the properties of plants and animals, the functioning of eco-system and the techniques for using and managing them that was particular and often detailed.

"So far, there has been little systematic ethno-botanical survey in this area."

With the advancement in science and technology, he said there was an increased interest in appropriating indigenous knowledge for scientific and commercial purposes.

"Some research and pharmaceutical companies are patenting, or claiming ownership, of traditional medicinal plants although indigenous people have used such plants for generations.

"In many cases, these companies do not recognise indigenous people's traditional ownership of such knowledge and deprive them of their fair share in the economic, medical or social benefits that accrue from the use of their traditional knowledge or practices."

He said the study and workshop was timely and would catapult Sabah into a leading position in biotechnology and pharmaceuticals.

"Traditional healers are very old and dwindling in number by the day.

"There is a danger of traditional knowledge disappearing soon.

"Advancement in science and technology has also made it easier for people to obtain medicine to treat their sicknesses.

"Hence, most of the younger generation are not interested in carrying on the tradition."

The ethno-forestry study is aimed at exploring and documenting indigenous knowledge and practice of the communities in the Imbak Canyon area.

The long-term project is being carried out under the Yayasan Sabah-Petronas Imbak Canyon Conservation Partnership.

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Almost 900 Star Tortoises seized in Thailand

TRAFFIC 29 Aug 12;

Bangkok, Thailand, 29th August 2012—A suitcase filled with a whopping 890 Indian Star Tortoises has been seized, and an Indian national arrested at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi International airport.

Acting on a tip off, Tourist Police and Royal Thai Customs officers stopped the 26-year-old man who attempted to smuggle the tortoises into the country on a Thai Airways flight from Calcutta to Bangkok, on Monday 27th August.

The tortoises, all juveniles, were found stuffed into six pillow cases and hidden inside the suspect’s suitcase.

A statement has been taken from the suspect, a resident of Chennai in South India, who is expected to face charges under Thailand’s Wild Animal Reservation and Protection Act, Customs Act and the Animals Epidemics Act.

The Indian Star Tortoise Geochelone elegans is highly prized as an exotic pet and remains a target for collection and trade despite being afforded legal protection across the species range countries of India, Sri Lanka and Pakistan. All three countries have banned the species’s international commercial export under national legislation, making all shipments from these countries illegal anywhere in the world.

Famous for the beautiful patterns on their shells, the tortoises have turned up in several major seizures at airports throughout Southeast Asia, particularly Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur and Jakarta. In a similar case in September, 2010 Customs officials at Suvarnabhumi Airport stopped a Pakistani man with 1,140 Indian Star tortoises in his suitcase.

Since 2011, published reports show that Thai authorities have stopped at least three other smugglers at Suvarnabumi Airport with at least 131 Indian Star Tortoises hidden among other illegal wildlife in their suitcases, while Indian and Bangladesh authorities have foiled the trafficking of over 800 Star Tortoises to Thailand.

Just four days ago, TRAFFIC observed at least 122 Indian Star Tortoises openly for sale at Bangkok’s popular weekend market, Chatuchak, confirming that the trade is indeed very active in Thailand. Most of the tortoises observed were juvenile animals, the size of those seized at the airport; while a handful was adult tortoises. These observations along with Monday’s seizure point to a huge demand for this species and that trade in the tortoises in Thailand continues despite its illegal nature.

“For a slow moving animal, Indian Star Tortoises are racing through the illegal trade. Still, TRAFFIC is pleased to see that the Thai authorities have come out ahead of the smugglers this time,” said Dr William Schaedla, TRAFFIC Southeast Asia’s Regional Director.

“TRAFFIC also wants to see authorities publicize the outcome of the prosecution in this case. Actual information on what happens to smugglers in the region is sparse. People must know that there is a heavy price to pay for trafficking animals if we are ultimately to win the battle against wildlife crime,” he said.

TRAFFIC also urged Thai authorities to increase enforcement efforts at local markets to remove Indian Star Tortoises while working with their counterparts in India to ensure a speedy repatriation of the tortoises seized this week, as authorities in Malaysia and Indonesia have done in the past.

In March, Indonesian authorities repatriated 19 Indian Star Tortoises that they seized at Jakarta’s Soekarno-Hatta International Airport in November 2011. Malaysian authorities seized 699 Indian Star tortoises in two separate operations in mid-2011, and sent 600 surviving tortoises back to India in December the same year.

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World's largest marine park unveiled

Neil Sands AFP Yahoo News 29 Aug 12;

The world's largest marine park, a vast swathe of ocean almost twice the size of France, has been unveiled by the Cook Islands at the opening of the Pacific Islands Forum.

Prime Minister Henry Puna said the 1.065 million square kilometre (411,000 square mile) reserve is "the largest area in history by a single country for integrated ocean conservation and management".

Puna said protecting the Pacific, one of the last pristine marine eco-systems, was the Cooks' major contribution "to the well-being of not only our peoples, but also of humanity".

"The marine park will provide the necessary framework to promote sustainable development by balancing economic growth interests such as tourism, fishing and deep sea mining with conserving core biodiversity in the ocean," he said.

The park was unveiled as the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) opened with a spectacular Polynesian welcoming ceremony.

Heralded by traditional drummers and blaring conch shells, leaders of the 15-nation grouping were carried to the summit venue in the Cooks Islands' capital Avarua on litters, while flag-waving locals cheered enthusiastically.

While some leaders such as Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard looked somewhat sheepish as they were paraded aloft before the crowd, Puna burst into song after greeting them, delighting the locals with an impromptu lounge tune.

Gillard and her New Zealand counterpart John Key wore garlands of flowers around their necks, before a spear-carrying chieftain in a headdress decorated with shells and feathers performed a customary welcoming ceremony.

Dancers in grass skirts added to the Polynesian pomp for an event organisers said was one of the largest in the nation's history, rivalled only by a visit from Queen Elizabeth II in 1974.

"This is certainly the biggest thing to happen here for decades," one official at the ceremony told AFP.

The Cook Islands protected zone will be the largest single marine park in the world, taking in the entire southern half of the nation's waters.

The 15 islands have a combined landmass of 240 square kilometres (93 square miles) -- barely larger than that of Washington DC -- but its waters include environmentally valuable coral reefs, seagrass beds and fisheries.

Marea Hatziolos, the World Bank's senior coastal and marine specialist, said the Cook Islands' initiative was a win for both the environment and the country's economy as it would help save fish stocks and promote tourism.

"There's definitely an economic dimension to this, apart from protecting biodiversity," she told AFP. "It allows small Pacific nations to generate revenue."

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will attend the summit later this week, in a move seen as sending a message to China that Washington intends to re-engage with the South Pacific to counter Beijing's influence in the region.

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard said Clinton's attendance showed "how deeply engaged America is in our region".

The absence of Fiji, which was suspended from the PIF in 2009 in the wake of a 2006 military coup, will also be a major topic of discussion.

Australia announced in June that it was creating a network of marine parks covering 3.1 million square kilometres, more than a third of its territorial waters. However, they are dotted around its huge coastline.

Tiny Pacific island nations create world's largest marine parks
Cook Islands and New Caledonia place nearly 2.5 million square kilometres of south Pacific Ocean under protection
Stephen Leahy 30 Aug 12;

Two of the world's smallest countries are to place nearly 2.5 million square kilometres of south Pacific Ocean in newly created marine protected areas.

The Cook Islands, nation of 20,000 people on 15 islands, formally announced on Tuesday the creation of the world's largest marine park covering nearly 1.1m sq km, an area bigger than France and Germany.

"This is our contribution not only to our own wellbeing but also to humanity's wellbeing," said the prime minister, Henry Puna.

"The Pacific Ocean is source of life for us. We are not small Pacific island states. We are large ocean island states," Puna said at the opening of the Pacific Islands forum, where leaders of 16 Pacific countries including New Zealand and Australia are meeting in Rarotonga.

The new Cook Island marine park will be zoned for multiple uses including tourism, fishing, and potentially deep-sea mineral extraction but only if these activities can be carried out sustainably, he said. The precautionary principle will determine what activities can take place, he said.

New Caledonia, the Cook Island's Pacific island neighbour and former French territory, also announced it will create a new marine protected area roughly half the size of India, covering 1.4m sq km.

"New Caledonia wishes to play its part in the sustainable management of our oceans," Francois Bockel, the head of regional development told the Guardian.

Pacific island nations have committed to a new approach to sustainable ocean management called the Pacific Oceanscape for the 40m sq km inside their collective exclusive economic zones. The region contains the largest pristine marine ecosystems and is home to 60% of the world's tuna stocks, scientists say.

The tiny Pacific island nation of Kiribati launched the Pacific Oceanscape concept and created the 400,000 sq km Phoenix Islands protected area in 2008. Other Polynesian nations such as Palau and Tokelau created vast whale, dolphin and shark sanctuaries in their waters. In June, Australia announced it would expand its network of marine protection reserves to 3.1m sq km including nearly 1m sq km in the south Pacific.

"Nearly every indicator shows that the world's oceans are in decline," said Michael Donoghue of Conservational International. "What is being announced here [in Rarotonga] is far more than has been achieved anywhere else in the world. It will be of enormous benefit to all of mankind."

Previously the world's largest marine reserve was the 545,000 sq km area established by the UK around the Chagos Islands in the Indian Ocean.

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