Best of our wild blogs: 5 Sep 12

Oriental Pied Hornbill raided Little Heron’s nest
from Bird Ecology Study Group

Evening out at Pasir Ris Mangroves
from wonderful creation

Yellow Bittern feeding
from Bird Ecology Study Group

Sticks to stones
from The annotated budak

Random Gallery - Storey's Palmer
from Butterflies of Singapore

Job: 2-year Research Assistant on a freshwater crab conservation project in Singapore from The Biodiversity crew @ NUS

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Malaysia, Johor: Special housing ownership scheme for residents affected by Pengerang petrochemical projects

Ahmad Fairuz Othman New Straits Times 5 Sep 12

ADDITION TO COMPENSATION: Offer from state government goes to more than 3,000 residents affected by oil and gas projects in Pengerang

THE state government is offering a special housing ownership scheme for more than 3,000 residents who are affected by the oil and gas (O&G) projects in Pengerang.

Menteri Besar Datuk Abdul Ghani Othman said the categories of houses offered are based on the valuation of the owners' existing houses.

All the new houses come with about 557 sq metres of land each.

The valuation and offer of new homes, which were stated in a press release recently, are based on the criteria below:

a) For existing houses valued between RM10,000 to RM40,000, villagers will be able to own new houses (70 sq metres built-up area) with 557 sq metres of land at an estimated market value of RM120,000 by paying only RM35,000 -- a fraction of the market price. The state government will subsidise a minimum of RM85,000.

b) For existing houses valued between RM40,001 and RM75,000, villagers will be able to own new houses (93 sq metres built-up area) with about 557 sq metres of land at an estimated market value of RM180,000 by paying a mere RM65,000. The subsidy by the state government is RM115,000.

c) For existing houses valued at RM75,001 to RM95,000, the state will subsidise RM130,000 for the villagers to own new houses with 121 sq metres built-up area and about 557 sq metres of land at an estimated market value of RM215,000 by paying only RM85,000.

d) For existing houses valued above RM95,000, villagers will be able to own new houses (about 149 sq metres) with about 557 sq metres of land at an estimated market value of RM245,000 by paying only RM105,000. The state will subsidise RM140,000 under this category.

This special housing ownership scheme is an addition to compensation that will be paid out to affected residents, whose land or properties are acquired for the development of the O&G projects.

Ghani said the cash compensation will be offered based on a valuation process on the affected properties and land, conducted by the Valuation and Property Services Department.

An ongoing public hearing is being held until Sept 14 in Pengerang to allow residents to state their cases on matters of government compensation.

The state government will acquire some 8,094ha of land in Pengerang for the development of the Pengerang Integrated Petroleum Complex (PIPC).

This complex will use up about 2,550ha for the Petronas Refinery and Petrochemical Integrated Development (Rapid), while 544ha will be for the Pengerang Independent Deepwater Petroleum Terminal, which is a joint venture between Dialog Group, Royal Vopak and Johor's State Secretary Incorporated.

These are the first two projects to be developed in PIPC.

Future potential investors and supporting industries will take up the remaining land in PIPC.

This massive development is the state government's initiative to transform Pengerang into a regional downstream oil & gas hub.

It will involve the relocation of 3,122 people from 927 families currently residing at the affected areas.

Phase One of the relocation exercise will begin in March 2013 involving three villages, namely Kampung Sg Kapal, Kampung Teluk Empang and Kampung Langkah Baik.

By October 2013, another four villages will follow suit. These are Kampung Sebong, Kampung Batu Mas, Kampung Jawa and Kampung Sungai Buntu.

The affected families in these villages will be moved to a new resettlement area, Taman Bayu Permai in Kampung Dato Abdul Ghani Othman covering 157 hectares.

The new resettlement area is within a 15km radius of their existing villages.

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Indonesia: 260 Hot Spots Detected in Sumatra, Reducing Visibility in Some Areas

The Jakarta Globe 4 Sep 12;

The Padang chapter of the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency has detected 260 hot spots in Sumatra, mostly in the lower half of the island, in Jambi, South Sumatra and Lampung, a report said on Monday.

The Central Kalimantan forestry office also confirmed several forest fires in a number of districts in the province, creating thick smoke that was blown to nearby cities, as the dry season continues in Indonesia.

The condition has prompted concerns that the smoke could blow toward neighboring countries, especially Singapore and Malaysia, which would cause rebukes across the region.

“The hot spots have caused several areas in Sumatra to be blanketed by smoke, including West Sumatra,” Antara news agency quoted Neli Elfira, a weather analyst at the Padang office of the agency known as BMKG, as saying.

Neli said that most of the hot spots were in Jambi and Lampung. But BMKG was not certain how they started, whether caused by fire in dry forests or by land clearing from farmers or plantation companies despite an official ban on using the slash-and-burn method.

The analyst said that dry winds from Australia will continue to head to the Asian mainland in the next few days. There would be no let-off and only rain could reduce the number of hot spots, she said.

“In a climatic condition that is hot and dry, forest fires can erupt easily and therefore people are asked to be more alert,” Neli said.

She said that the smoke is reducing visibility in many areas to just 7 to 10 kilometers, even though the figure was still safe for aviation.

Although banned, land clearing via burning before the new planting season is still being practiced in the face of weak law enforcement.

“We hope the hot spots can decrease and the wind does not blow too strong so that we don’t have to export smoke to our neighboring countries,” said Neli.

In Sampit, Central Kalimantan, the Forestry Ministry office said that it detected 87 hot spots in the district alone.

“Satellite observation by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has detected 87 hot spots in August and September,” said Andreas Dody, head of data management at the office.

He expressed fear that the number of hot spots on the island will continue to increase in September as people clear lands using fire during the dry season.

Forest fires in Sumatra and Kalimantan over the past week have brought to Singapore’s northern areas a “moderate” Pollutant Standards Index reading of 53 as of 4 p.m. on Monday.

On the PSI, an air-quality measurement, a reading of zero to 50 is “good.” Anything above 100 is considered “unhealthy.”

Last week, the poor air quality was noted only in the northern part of Singapore however. Other areas of the island recorded readings of 33 to 41.

Earlier this month, haze from hot spots in Sumatra had also affected Malaysia. The air quality was rated as unhealthy in Perak and Selangor.

Surge in number of hot spots
Cloud seeding in Riau and other provinces fails to contain haze
Wahyudi Soeriaatmadja Straits Times 5 Sep 12;

JAKARTA - The number of hot spots in Sumatra and Kalimantan has shot up despite intense cloud seeding efforts by the Indonesian government, raising fears that haze will again choke the region.

Satellite images show that the number of hot spots in Indonesia's most forest fire-prone provinces - Riau, Jambi and South Sumatra - rose to 733 over a three- day period that ended on Monday. That is up substantially from 110 in the previous three-day period.

The smoke has shrouded several cities, including Pekanbaru in Riau, where the country will hold the National Games for two weeks starting from Sept 9.

In Singapore as of yesterday afternoon, pollution readings were "good", ranging from 30 to 40.

In Malaysia, several districts recorded higher-than-normal pollutant levels, although they remained in the "moderate" range, Bernama reported yesterday.

The highest reading at 11am was recorded in Nilai in Negri Sembilan, which had an Air Pollutant Index (API) reading of 93. Kuala Lumpur's API level was 76, the news agency said.

Indonesia has been pressing provincial governments to enforce a no-burning policy. But implementation and law enforcement have been weak.

In Riau, Mr Marzuki, Pekanbaru's weather forecaster, said: "We haven't had rain for a week, and this has prompted people to burn to clear farmlands."

Farmers and plantation companies often resort to clearing land by cutting down vegetation and burning it, as opposed to using costly excavators. Much of the burning takes place on peat land, which catches fire easily.

Fires and the haze they produce have plagued Sumatra and Kalimantan every year for more than a decade.

But Indonesia remains the only country that has yet to ratify an Asean-wide agreement on cutting out haze pollution across boundaries. The law has been mired in Parliament for years.

This year, Indonesia started major cloud seeding operations on Aug 14. They will go on for 40 days, with a focus on Riau and surrounding provinces. Two Cassa aircraft, two helicopters and a fund of 12 billion rupiah (S$1.6 million) have gone into the operations.

This is to ensure Pekanbaru will have clean air during the National Games, where sportsmen from all 33 provinces compete once every four years.

The cloud seeding has not proven effective so far, despite the government's claims of success. MetroTV yesterday showed a blanket of smoke at the main Rumbai Sport Centre.

In a TV interview, a runner from Riau complained that the smoke was disrupting his daily practice. "I can't breathe freely," he said. "The smoke gets right into my lungs."

The situation could be worse if cloud seeding had not been carried out, claimed the chief spokesman for Indonesia's disaster mitigation agency, Dr Sutopo Purwo Nugrowo.

"We have managed to induce rains in several areas, especially Riau, and kept the number of hot spots to a restrained level," he said.

In Jambi, the air quality index was at 60 yesterday.

"Jambi has been mostly enveloped by the haze since Aug 8, except for a few days with short-lived rains," Mr Muslim Sanusi, a weather forecaster at Jambi's meteorological office, told The Straits Times.

In West Kalimantan, satellite images show that the number of hot spots surged to 495 on Sept 3, from 77 and 26 on Sept 2 and 1 respectively.

Thick haze feared to affect National Games athletes’ health
Rizal Harahap, The Jakarta Post 6 Sep 12;

Athletes arriving in Pekanbaru, Riau, from provinces across Indonesia for the upcoming 18th National Games (PON), which will officially begin next Tuesday, expressed their fears on Wednesday about the effect of thick haze blanketing the Games’ venues.

Chairman of the East Kalimantan athletic contingent, Ridwan, said he became worried when the plane he was on landed at the Sultan Syarif Kasim II Airport in Pekanbaru. “When the plane entered Riau territory, the haze was very thick. I hope such conditions will not disrupt the arrival schedules of other contingents,” he said.

Ridwan hoped the haze would be cleared as soon as possible so, as not to affect the stamina of the athletes who were unused to this phenomenon.

Harry, head of the Maluku contingent, said it was the first time he had seen the thick haze over Riau, an annual spectacle that has been reported by media for years. “We were worried when we saw the haze. Fortunately, after several days of being in Pekanbaru, we are getting used to it,” Harry said.

Head of the West Java contingent management division, Djuharman F, said there was no other choice but to adapt to the extreme weather conditions in Riau. “We can only urge the athletes to adapt to it as soon as possible,” he said.

Besides the haze, it is feared that the high temperatures will also affect the atheles’ performances. One of the basketball players from the Central Java contingent, Rally Pratama, admitted he was having difficulties in the training sessions in Pekanbaru.

“Pekanbaru is the hottest city in Indonesia I’ve ever visited. The weather conditions are worrying, especially in indoor venues. They are causing us a great deal of fatigue,” said the profession basketball player from the Satria Muda Jakarta club.

The thick haze that has descended over the city of Pekanbaru during the last few days has reduced the air quality. According to the Air Pollution Standard Index, levels reached 82 and 80 on Monday and Tuesday, respectively, bordering the category of unhealthy.

Riau Governor HM Rusli Zainal, who is also the chairman of PON XVIII, admitted he was also worried about the dense haze. The Riau branch of the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) and the Riau Forestry Office reported that the thick haze in Riau was blown in from Jambi and South Sumatra provinces. The latest data shows there are 202 forest hotspots across the island of Sumatra, of which 102 are in South Sumatra.

In Riau alone, 19 hotspots were detected on Tuesday, two of which were in Pelalawan regency, eight in Indragiri Hulu, six in Indragiri Hilir and three in Kuantan Sengingi. The number of hotspots overall, however, had dropped sharply from 44 on Sunday and 22 on Monday.

“The BNPB has deployed a Casa 212 airplane and two helicopters to drop cloud seedings in a bid to help extinguish forest and bush fires in Riau,” Rusli said.

Meanwhile, in order to help reduce impact of the haze on the National Games, the Riau Health Office has prepared 50,000 masks to be distributed to 10 regencies and cities where different events for the Games will be held.

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Indonesia: Asia Pulp & Paper Co. Sows Greener Image

Eric Bellman The Wall Street Journal 4 Sep 12;

JAKARTA, Indonesia—Asia Pulp & Paper Co. is trying to improve its image as it attempts to become the industry's biggest player.

But environmental activists are skeptical, saying they have been burned by the company's promises before.

Environmental groups such as Greenpeace say APP is one of the most pernicious forest clear-cutters on the planet, leading companies such as Mattel Inc. MAT -0.48% and office-supplies chain Staples Inc. SPLS -0.55% to stop buying the Indonesian company's products. Greenpeace supporters dressed in tiger outfits recently stalked KFC restaurants that use APP packaging.

While APP's Paperline printer paper and Paseo toilet tissue appear on shelves in Asia, the company supplies primarily private-label paper and packaging in the West, where the company's name and products are less recognizable.

APP has unveiled measures recently that it says will enable the company to become a bigger, greener paper-and-pulp powerhouse.

The company says its initiatives go beyond what is required by law, including supporting a third-party survey of the forest under its control. Once the survey is done, APP says, it will commit not to cut any forest classified as crucial to sustaining the surrounding ecosystem. APP also has pledged to clean up its supply chain so that only wood from managed plantations—as opposed to virgin forest—will be used to feed its mills.

"We have realized that we are no longer just an Asian company. We are a global company, and it is our duty to adopt global standards," says Aida Greenbury, APP's managing director of sustainability. "We are not conservationists—we are a pulp company—but it's good to sustainably grow our business."

Environmental activists are crying green wash. They say there are too many loopholes in how APP monitors the mountains of wood needed for its mills and that the company historically has looked the other way so it can pad earnings, even when it meant destroying the habitats of endangered tigers and orangutans.

"There are a lot of things they say, but it has not convinced us yet," says Bustar Maitar, head of Greenpeace's forest campaign. "What will convince us is when they say, 'We will no longer touch any natural forest.' " The company's pledge to buy wood only from managed plantations doesn't kick in for another three years, during which time a fair amount of damage can be done, critics say.

APP rivals, particularly those in Southeast Asia, such as Indonesia's Asia Pacific Resources International Ltd., have encountered criticism as well, but APP has borne the brunt of the opposition.

Whether APP can make its operations more sustainable while earning enough to pay off more than $5 billion in debt, will help determine whether it realizes its ambition of becoming the world's biggest paper company. APP became notorious a decade ago when it failed to meet obligations on more than $13 billion in debt, at the time the biggest default in emerging-market history.

The company generated total company revenue of nearly $6 billion. And its production of 8.5 million tons made APP the world's third-largest paper producer by volume, behind No. 1 UPM-Kymmene UPM1V.HE -1.52% Oyj and Stora Enso STERV.HE -0.86% Oyj, both of Finland. APP is in a tropical zone, where it is easy to grow pulp trees and close to a source of rising demand: China.

The company's success or failure could also reverberate across other businesses in emerging markets, such as Indonesia, where many of the biggest export industries, including mining, fishing and palm oil, are struggling with the sustainability challenges as well.

"In the past, we have done some bad things, but we are cleaning up now and we are more and more committed" to protecting the environment, says Tony Wenas, Indonesia president commissioner for Asia Pacific Resources. "There is significant international scrutiny because we export."

International pressure is helping to push companies toward sustainability. France-based supermarket chain Carrefour SA CA.FR -2.64% in July unveiled a brand of cooking oil in Indonesia called Carrefour Eco Planet, made of palm oil from sustainably managed plantations. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency this year said Indonesian palm oil shouldn't be approved for use in biofuels because cutting forests offsets the lower emissions from the fuel.

"Indonesian companies are increasingly recognizing that any association with deforestation, biodiversity loss and [greenhouse-gas] emissions, whether legal or not, can be harmful to reputation and business," says Moray McLeish, a technical adviser to PricewaterhouseCoopers, which provides environmental consulting to Indonesian companies.

APP says it can have growth and create jobs without destroying the environment. The company and its suppliers have rights to cut trees on more than 2.5 million hectares in Indonesia, including areas that are managed as plantations and others that are considered natural, or undeveloped, forest.

Scientists at APP's research-and-development complex on Sumatra have developed heartier, faster-growing eucalyptus and acacia trees that eventually should more than double plantation productivity, ending the need to cut natural forest, the company says. APP also is altering its product portfolio to require less wood pulp, expanding into specialized paper products like sticky notes and the thin, sturdy paper used to print the Quran.

In addition to pledging to restrict its logging to managed plantations by 2015, APP plans to bring them in line with some of the most strict international standards five years later. The company temporarily halted clearing natural forests to feed its mills in June to assess which forestry concessions should be protected on a more permanent basis as high-conservation-value forest, a global classification of areas that experts say should be left alone to protect ecosystems.

The company also says it is tightening monitoring to ensure that its suppliers aren't selling wood to APP from endangered forests and that it plans eventually to better trace each tree back to its source to assure customers that the company isn't destroying pristine jungle.

Environmentalists say that they see evidence that APP is improving its techniques but remain skeptical. They have been disappointed with the company in the past and say other companies that supply wood to APP still are among the world's most flagrant violators of environmental standards and will continue to clear natural forest on APP's behalf.

"This is not a road map to sustainability but a road map to pulp more of Indonesia's forests," says Rod Taylor, director of the World Wildlife Fund's international forest program.

APP says it welcomes scrutiny from green groups and is inviting auditors onto its forestland.

"This will change the industry in Indonesia," Ms. Greenbury says.

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Rhino horn: Vietnam's new status symbol heralds conservation nightmare

Soaring demand among new consumer groups is fuelling an unsustainable rise in wildlife crime and poaching in South Africa
David Smith The Guardian 4 Sep 12;

It is the new delicacy of choice among Vietnam's high-rollers. When the young, fashionable and rich gather to party, they increasingly spice up their drink with a special ingredient: rhino horn powder.

These status-conscious hedonists include men who believe that rhino horn can enhance their sexual performance. They apparently know or care little that, thousands of miles away, their obsession could one day drive a glorious animal to extinction.

Between 1990 and 2005, poachers in South Africa killed an average of 14 rhinos a year. Since then the number has soared. In 2010, 333 rhinos were poached. In 2011, it was 448. So far this year, 339 rhinos have been killed for their horn, putting 2012 on course to be the deadliest since records began.

"Losing 500 a year, when it used to be 12 or 14 a year, is a crisis," said Tom Milliken, east and southern Africa director of the wildlife trade monitoring network Traffic. "Rhino horn is fetching the highest prices I've ever seen in my career."

A Traffic report, co-authored by Milliken and published last month, blames "a deadly combination of institutional lapses, corrupt wildlife industry professionals and Asian crime syndicates". It identifies four main consumer groups fuelling the demand.

"Belief in rhino horn's detoxification properties, especially following excessive intake of alcohol, rich food and 'the good life', has given rise to an affluent group of habitual users, who routinely mix rhino horn powder with water or alcohol as a general health and hangover-curing tonic," the report said. "There is a strong, socially bonding element to such consumption which typically unfolds at group functions, including so-called 'rhino wine associations' in which other Asian expatriate business elites participate."

The notion that Asian traditional medicine used rhino horn as an aphrodisiac was a myth of the western media, Milliken said, but now, "rather incredibly", he said, it had been embraced by Vietnamese men. "The myth has come full circle: it has taken on a life of its own."

A second group of consumers are people who believe another myth: that rhino horn is a miracle cure for cancer. It is promoted as such by unscrupulous dealers to desperate, often dying people. Milliken said: "We've had stories of rhino horn touts who go into cancer wards in hospitals with the hard sell."

By monitoring online chatrooms, Milliken and his team were able to identify a third group: middle-class and wealthy young mothers who keep rhino horn as a home preparation to treat high fever. "If their child falls ill and other medicines fail, they have it on hand in case of emergency."

Finally, there are those using it for expensive gifts to curry favour with elites – rhino horn can be seen as "the gift of life". It is sometimes used as an informal currency for luxury products, such as partial payment for a new car.

There is little awareness of where the horns come from and by what brutal means. In South Africa, rhinos are usually shot dead by AK-47 assault rifles, the report found, although lately a growing number have died from a single shot from a high-calibre rifle normally associated with wildlife industry professionals. This, along with evidence of helicopters in some incidents, suggests the emergence of "corrupt game industry insiders".

From the poacher there follows a series of middlemen buyers, exporters and couriers. A courier can travel from Vietnam to South Africa, pack rhino horns into his rucksack and return within 24 hours.

South Africa has stepped up anti-poaching measures in Kruger national park and other game reserves, making 192 arrests this year. The Vietnamese government, however, is accused of not taking the crisis seriously, despite pressure from the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites).

But Do Quang Tung, deputy director of Cites management authority in Vietnam, said Vietnam could not be the main market for South African rhino horn – "not even close". Vietnamese authorities and conservationists have denied the allegations in the study, saying it is not objective or based on evidence.

Milliken said: "As far as we can tell, there has not been a single seizure since 2008. Vietnam is the only country in the world where rhino horn grinding bowls are mass produced; I went to a factory that's making 30,000 of them."

He added: "If they publicly signalled that the trade is unacceptable and gives Vietnam a bad image, that would set a whole direction of the country and lead to better law enforcement. So far we're not seeing that. Everyone at the highest level is ducking and diving."

South Africa has an estimated 18,000 white rhinos and 1,195 black rhinos. The number of births still exceeds the number of deaths. But Milliken warns that if the country loses more than 500 a year, the population will start shrinking by about 2018.

While the country's elephant population has been on an upward curve, a sharp increase in the legal export of lion bones – again for traditional medicine in the far east – has raised fears of illegal poaching of lions. A recent report in South Africa's Mail & Guardian newspaper detailed smuggling routes used by criminal cartels and said a complete lion skeleton can sell for up to 80,000 rand (£6,000). It quoted conservationists as saying big cats could be extinct in the wild within 10-12 years.

Joseph Okori, African rhino manager at the WWF, said: "Wildlife crime in Africa is on the increase. Asia's economies have been growing and people who would not be able to afford these products in the past can afford them now. The only way they obtain them is through illegal means. This has created a global market that is self-perpetuating.

"It's a complicated situation and it will not be solved overnight. It needs international co-operation at the highest level, not just at the African Union but at the UN."

South Africa and Vietnam to Sign Anti-Poaching Pact 4 Sep 12;

South Africa is to sign a memorandum of understanding with Vietnam to help tackle the ongoing poaching of rhinos in the country, says the Department of Environmental Affairs.

"South Africa's efforts to address the ongoing poaching of rhino for its horns will be taken to a new level when South Africa signs a memorandum of understanding with Vietnam at the 11th meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP11) to the Convention on Biological Diversity," the department said in a statement this week.

COP11 is due to take place in Hyderabad, India from 8 to 19 October.

The agreement will cover co-operation between South Africa and Vietnam in the field of biodiversity management, law enforcement, and compliance with the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) and other relevant legislation.

Vietnam is one of the main transit or consumer countries for rhino horn.

A total of 373 rhinos have been killed by poachers in South Africa since the beginning of this year.

The Kruger National Park has lost 229 rhinos, while the Limpopo, KwaZulu-Natal and North West provinces continue to be hard hit by poachers, together accounting for the loss of 117 rhinos.

The number of individuals so far arrested in the country in connection with rhino poaching is 199. Of those arrested, 176 are at the level of poacher, while 10 were receivers and 13 couriers.

South Africa is home to approximately 22 000 white and black rhinos, of which 12000 are found in the Kruger National Park. This represents 93% of the world's total rhino population.

Jail term for poachers welcomed

Meanwhile, Mpumalanga Economic Development, Environment and Tourism MEC Norman Mokoena has welcomed the jail term handed down by the Nelspruit Magistrates Court to two men for rhino poaching.

Geasson Corsa, 35, and Ali Nkuna, 25, were sentenced to 29 years in jail for trespassing, being in possession of hunting rifles and ammunition, and poaching a rhino and its calf.

Passing sentence on Friday, Magistrate Catherine Hugo said the sentence should be a deterrent to other would-be rhino poachers.

The latest conviction follows the 18-year and 10-year sentences given to two rhino poachers by the magistrates' court in Newcastle, KwaZulu-Natal on 16 August.

South Africans are urged to report incidents of rhino poaching or any tip-offs that could lead to arrests or prevention of illegal poaching to 0800 205 005.

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Shark Rules Need Teeth, Groups Tell IUCN

4 Sep 12;

The Wildlife Conservation Society and over 35 government agency and NGO partners participating in IUCN's World Conservation Congress this week are urging the world's governments to take urgent steps to save the world's sharks and rays from the relentless pressure of over-fishing for international trade.

WCS and others are specifically calling on the world's governments and the IUCN membership of NGOs, governments, and government agencies to advocate for the listing of sharks and rays under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), the 175-member treaty that regulates international trade in animal and plant species.

"Sharks and rays have traveled the Earth for more than 400 million years," said Dr. Cristián Samper, President and CEO of the Wildlife Conservation Society and keynote speaker at the Jeju congress. "Yet, in only recent decades, many of these species have become threatened from overfishing and, in some instances, have disappeared entirely from major portions of their range. The potential loss of one of only two groups of the world's living fishes is a crisis the world community must take decisive action to address. We are calling for governments around the world to vigorously support CITES international trade regulations and strengthen fisheries management and protection measures for shark and ray species. We cannot continue to allow the destruction of these wonders of evolution."

The upcoming efforts by WCS and partners could triple the number of sharks and rays that are afforded protection under CITES. Currently, only a handful of shark and ray species -- the whale shark, basking shark, great white shark, and sawfishes -- are listed. Yet, numerous other species are considered to qualify for CITES listing, including several that have been proposed to CITES before.

Priority species for CITES listing in March 2013 are:

Porbeagle shark
Oceanic whitetip shark
Scalloped hammerhead shark
Giant manta ray and reef manta ray
Devil rays

"The international trade in shark and ray products, including fins, meat, and other body parts, is driving shark and ray fisheries around the world, and most of these are unmanaged or only minimally managed," said Dr. John Robinson, WCS's Executive Vice President for Conservation and Science. "Lack of controls on fisheries and international trade puts species at risk but also jeopardizes sustainable fisheries, ecosystems, and food security. A commitment by the international community is crucial. We ask all concerned to join us in ensuring the right actions are taken on behalf of sharks and rays at CITES in March 2013."

In addition to efforts to enlist support for CITES listings, WCS and others have sponsored several motions at the congress -- the world's largest conservation event -- calling for a range of measures to improve fisheries management and conserve sharks and rays. Unlike many bony fish species, most of these cartilaginous fishes are long-lived, late-to-mature, and produce few young, which makes them particularly vulnerable to overfishing and their populations slow to recover once depleted.

WCS is a co-sponsor of a motion to limit catches of mako sharks and hammerhead sharks. A third motion calls for review of all shark and ray species on IUCN's Red List of Threatened Species for possible CITES regulation.

"We estimate that many millions of sharks are killed annually through both legal and illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing for the trade in fins, the prime ingredient in shark fin soup," said Dr. Rachel Graham, director of WCS's Gulf and Caribbean Sharks and Rays Program. "The high price for fins has caused the global shark fishery to expand far beyond what is sustainable. The need for international regulation and enforcement has never been greater."

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Illegal wildlife trading in internet's deepest, darkest corners

Organised wildlife criminals are using online tools more commonly associated with serious financial crime, drug trafficking and child pornography
Nic Fleming The Guardian 4 Sep 12;

Bashful and skittish, the Kaiser's spotted newt is intriguing and beautiful. With only around 1,000 adults left in the wild in just four mountain streams in Iran, it is also critically endangered.

But the black, white and orange salamanders are openly on sale for as little as £65 on numerous websites. While these may have been bred in captivity, they are descended from rare individuals taken from the wild, and investigators have identified dealers who say their stocks come from Iran.

Two years ago the Kaiser's spotted newt was listed as one of the first species to be put at risk of extinction by online dealers. Now conservationists are warning that the internet is fueling unprecedented levels of illegal wildlife trade and that for many species this is now the principal threat to their survival.

A report due to be published later this year concludes that a growing proportion of wildlife crime is using "deep web" tools more commonly associated with serious financial criminals, drug traffickers and child pornographers.

"The internet has without a doubt facilitated the huge expansion of illegal international wildlife trading over the last decade," said Crawford Allan, of the wildlife trade monitoring network Traffic. "Rare jewels of the forest can now be caught, boxed and shipped almost overnight just like any other express commodity."

It is a wide-ranging business. Elephant ivory is used for ornaments, and parts of tigers and rhinos are used in traditional medicine or ground down and added to wine. Pelts from leopards and polar bears fetch high sums, while rare reptiles, birds and fish are bought as pets.

There are no precise figures on the scale of the problem. Global Financial Integrity, a Washington-based lobby group, last year estimated the global illegal wildlife trade to be worth at least £5bn. Various reporting systems and investigations suggest commercial exploitation of many at risk species has reached – or is close to – all-time high.

Protected live animals and body parts are still traded in shops and markets in cities such as Bangkok and Jakarta, however much of the business is now handled online by middlemen using varying degrees of secrecy.

Previous investigations have found a lot of trade taking place relatively openly on auction sites, via classified ads and in enthusiast chat rooms. Products from rhino, tigers and elephants are often advertised as historical artefacts without documentary proof. Animals caught in the wild are described as captive bred. Acronyms, mis-spellings and code words are used to evade detection.

"Once you know the terminology and you know how to search, then a lot of it is pretty open," said Vincent Nijman, a researcher at Oxford Brookes University who has studied the trade.

An investigation by the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) highlighted the sale of 2,275 elephant ivory items on eight different eBay websites in a single week in 2007. The site subsequently banned such sales, but conservationists say sellers simply avoid using the word "ivory" in item descriptions.

In August, for example, a search on eBay's UK site for "ox bone" – widely used as a euphemism for elephant ivory – yielded more than 5,000 results. An eBay spokesman told the Guardian: "eBay works closely with conservation groups such as the IFAW and goes beyond legal requirements to restrict the sale of ivory products on the marketplaces site. The eBay trust and safety team proactively enforces eBay's policy on ivory products and works quickly to take action to remove listings of items of concern."

In 2008 IFAW identified more than 7,000 wildlife products from threatened species being offered for sale in dozens of online auctions, forums and classified ads. Last year it found ivory worth £500,000 for sale on 43 sites based in the UK, France, Germany, Spain and Portugal.

International trade in wildlife is regulated by the Cites convention. Exploitation of around 800 threatened species is largely banned, while both exporting and importing many others requires permits.

A forthcoming report from Traffic, the wildlife trade monitoring network, will reveal how researchers in Canada received emails from dealers offering to export coral without required permits by pretending the specimens were glass.

IFAW, which has been working with Interpol, says organised wildlife criminals are becoming increasingly secretive online. The "deep web" has long been used by criminals in other spheres to evade law enforcement. Sites that are not accessible via search engines and which require software to access are used. Communications are bounced through large numbers of computers to maintain anonymity.

"Online wildlife trade is seen as a high-profit, low-risk activity by some criminals," said Kelvin Alfie of IFAW. "A lot is shifting from publicly accessible sites to dark corners of the web."

A report on the ivory trade in the EU to be published later this year by IFAW will highlight the use of tools such as mailing list servers, password-protected sites and encryption.

National and international laws to control the trade often pre-date the online trade, and the internet has made the jobs of those trying to enforce the law and protect wildlife even harder.

However some say the net can also be used against wildlife criminals. While it helped Kaiser spotted newt dealers to find buyers, the online traces they left alerted investigators to the existence of the trade.

"It works both ways," said Ernie Cooper, also of Traffic. "The internet has made it easier for traders, but it has also helped us research and monitor their activities."

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Tigers Work the Night Shift in Nepal

Stephanie Pappas Yahoo News 4 Sep 12;

In the forests of Nepal, daytime belongs to humans, but the night is the time of the tigers, a new study finds. The results may reveal how people and predatory cats manage to coexist.

A two-year study of video from more than 70 motion-activated cameras near Chitwan National Park in south-central Nepal finds that endangered tigers aren't necessarily driven from their forest habitats when humans share the same space. Instead, the tigers restrict their usual round-the-clock activity to nighttime.

"This has highly important implications," said study researcher Jianguo Liu, a sustainability researcher at Michigan State University. "In the past, people were always thinking we needed to have tigers and people separate across space. This study indicates they can share the same space."

Chitwan National Park is home to the greatest number of Nepal's tigers, though the big cats are rare: A 2010 survey by the Nepalese government and conservation organizations National Trust for Nature Conservation and WWF-Nepal found that about 125 tigers live in Chitwan and its surrounding areas. Tiger attacks on humans are rare, though a 17-year-old was killed by a tiger in Chitwan in April after going into the park to cut grass.

Bengal tigers (Panthera tigris tigris) are listed as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. There are likely fewer than 2,000 of these tigers in the wild.

For the most part, Liu said, tigers steer far clear of humans. The camera footage revealed that inside the park, 80 percent of tigers caught on film were roaming at night. Outside the park, that number was 95 percent.

"In other areas, tigers actually have more activity during the day, so that means these tigers are forced to be more active at night due to human activity," Liu told LiveScience.

Liu and his colleagues report their findings Monday (Sept. 3) in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The researchers aren't yet sure whether being forced into a night-owl existence is bad for the tigers. They plan to research that question further, Liu said.

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Philippines: Forest conservation saves vanishing eagle

Imelda V. Abaño Business Mirror 4 Sep 12;

DIMINISHING forests aggravated by the threats of disasters and climate change continues to threaten the survival of the rare and endangered Philippine Eagle and other wildlife species in the country, according to the Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau (PAWB).

While the natural ecosystem continues to be threatened, more comprehensive programs such as reforestation of remaining forests and denuded watershed, mangrove planting and protection of natural heritage parks should be vigorously undertaken, said PAWB Assistant Director Nelson Devanadera.

“Stopping deforestation and forest degeneration are more urgent so we could conserve wildlife and endangered species such as the Philippine Eagle. It should also be noted that hunting of these rare birds and other threatened species is a criminal offense under the wildlife law,” Devanadera told the BusinessMirror, saying that wildlife-conservation efforts have been implemented throughout the country.

Considered among the largest eagles in the world, the Philippine Eagle is usually found in the Sierra Madre and Cordillera mountain ranges in Luzon, and in forested areas of Mindanao.

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature has categorized the Philippine Eagle as critically endangered. The continued destruction of its natural forest habitat threatens its survival in the wild.

According to the Philippine Eagle Foundation (PEF), a non-profit organization that serves as a research and breeding facility of the Philippine Eagle in Davao City, indiscriminate hunting, logging, expanding agriculture and mining are major causes of the species’ dwindling population.

Roli Pinsoy, Communication Officer of the PEF, said that at present, there are only 400 pairs or 800 birds, of Philippine Eagle remaining in the wild. There are only 35 eagles at the PEF eagle center in Malagos in Davao. He said that since the 1970s, the center has admitted 69 eagles, most of them rescued or turned over to the center.

Pinsoy said the PEF needs to raise at least P20 million to sustain its operation. He said at least P150,000 a year is needed for the upkeep of each rare eagle in the center which includes food, medicine and maintenance of its aviary. He said the PEF hopes to save the Philippine Eagle from extinction through its conservation and education awareness programs. Its Adopt-An-Eagle program encourages any individual or company to adopt an eagle by donating P125,000 per year to the center for the rehabilitation and medicine needs of the adopted eagle.

“We have existing projects with the government through the environment department on the research and conservation program for the Philippine Eagle. We also have to sustain partnership with other organizations so we could sustain our advocacy in saving these endangered species,” Pinsoy told the BusinessMirror.

Earlier, Presidential Adviser on Environmental Protection Nereus Acosta told the BusinessMirror that in order to save the Philippine Eagle as well as other threatened species, national efforts to implement conservation measures should also be undertaken to protect heritage parks in the country.

There are four heritage parks in the Philippines declared by the Asean Center for Biodiversity: the natural parks in Mt. Apo, Mt. Iglit-Baco, Mt. Kitanglad Range and Mt Malindang Range.

“If we can’t protect our forests, then there is no life to sustain, no livelihood and economics to speak of. We have to protect and value our natural resources through the implementation of effective governance and management at all levels,” Acosta said.

While climate change is likely to affect forest expansion and migration and exacerbate threats to biodiversity, Dr. Rodel Lasco of the World Agroforestry Center earlier said some of the measures for ecosystem adaptation are: improved technologies for tree plantation development and reforestation; comprehensive inter-sectoral programs that combine measures to control deforestation and forest degradation with measures to increase agricultural productivity and sustainability; and reducing logging waste, implementing soil conservation practices, and using wood in a more carbon-efficient way.

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Plants need a 'new deal' to stem their decline, warns Kew director

The economic and environmental benefits of plants must not be overlooked, says the outgoing director of Kew Gardens
Alok Jha 4 Sep 12;

People around the world need to embrace a "new deal" to recognise the economic, health and environmental benefits of plants, according to the outgoing director of Kew Gardens in London. A fifth of the planet's plant species are in danger of extinction within the next century, said Prof Stephen Hopper in an exclusive interview with the Guardian, and governments around the world needed to make firm plans to reverse the decline.

"We're at a crossroads in many ways, we now have half the remaining wild vegetation on the planet left that was around 200-300 years ago," said Hopper, who will leave his position as chief executive and chief scientist at Kew Gardens in a few weeks, after six years at the top. "It's really important for us to decide, as a global community, do we want to care for what remains and get into the business of repairing and restoring diversity? Or continue on the path of ever more incursions into wild places in the hope that human beings will be able to exploit resources and continue with a reasonable quality of life?"

Hopper said there were reasons to be optimistic, because people and institutions around the world had already demonstrated that conservation and restoration programmes could work in turning the tide against ecological degredation. All that was needed was to ramp up the speed and scale of the efforts, he said.

"All the indicators suggest that a new deal of some sort needs to occur with biodiversity and plant life in particular," said Hopper.

Plants form the bulk of our everyday experience and they are the things we most often manipulate for human benefit, said Hopper. "We can grow them, use them for food, medicine, shelter, culture, clothing – you name it. [Conservation] is something that has to grasp the hearts and minds of a significant majority of people in most nations. It's not a nice-to-do, it's a must-do."

There are an estimated 400,000 species of plants on the Earth, compared to around 10,000 species of birds and around about 7,000 species of mammals. To get a handle on the conservation status of the world's flora, scientists at Kew worked with colleagues at the IUCN and the Natural History Museum in London to assemble information on a sample of known species. Assessing all of the world's plant species would have been impossible but, by selecting key groups and several thousand species, the scientists got a robust handle on the state of plant diversity.

"One-third of the plant species we looked at, we didn't have enough data," said Hopper. "Of the two-thirds for which we did have data, one-fifth of them were threatened in some way. We finally have reasonable statistics at a global level to understand the scale of the problem and it's formidable. Some 80,000 species on the planet at some risk of going extinct over the next 50-100 years."

The pressures on plants come from a combination of human incursion into wild habitats, through agriculture and urbanisation, and also the direct effects of man-made climate change. The latter not only affects water availability but also plant life cycles. "If you're a plant that produces annually, the timing of when you germinate can vary – you might not germinate at the right time and grow fast enough to be around when your pollinator's emerging if it's an insect, and you get into a reproductive spiral downwards," said Hopper.

The physical changes brought by climate change were already showing how the environment was being pushed hard, he said.

Agricultural plants themselves have also become worryingly limited. Hopper cited a 2000 study by scientists in the department of nutrition at the University of California, which found that, in recent centuries, humans have focused efforts on relatively few plant species with the result that 80% of total dietary energy intake, globally, is obtained from twelve domesticated species: eight cereals (barley, maize, millet, rice, rye, sorghum, sugar cane and wheat) and four tubers (cassava, potato, sweet potato and yam).

There are ways to head off some of the problems. Projects such as Kew's Millenium Seed Bank collect seeds from tens of thousands of species of plants and store them in cold, low humidity conditions. As such, these banks can serve as an ecological backup in case things go wrong in nature.

There are also more direct moves afoot to restore damaged environments. In May, Kew Gardens partnered with botanic gardens in Chicago, Kings Park, New York and Missouri to restore degraded habitats. Over the next 20 years, the alliance will work with 100 places that have been damaged or destroyed across six continents.

Bruce Pavlik, head of restoration ecology at Kew Gardens said that healing the wounds that humans have inflicted on the planet will require a global, scientific effort. "Botanic gardens have already begun the healing process, building native forests and rich grasslands on degraded earth, but their efforts are small in scale and woefully underfunded," he said. "Forming a worldwide alliance [...] will spread the effort across six continents, training a new generation of practitioners, improving knowledge and techniques and producing restored ecosystems with high value to biodiversity and to human economies."

In 2009, South Korea announced re-afforestation and river care plans, with the idea of creating a million jobs within five years. "Some governments are starting to bite the bullet and starting, at scale, to make a difference," said Hopper.

Maintaining plant diversity would also be important for future ecological health. "People might say we don't need 400,000 species, we can just have a few plants and they'll provide the oxygen. There might some sense in that if the world was unchanging but the power of diversity - like cultural or intellectual diversity in humans - is all about a risk strategy in changing circumstances," said Hopper. "You simply reduce your options if you say you'll deplete the diversity down to the lowest possible level."

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Liberia forests sold off in secret logging contracts: report

Fran Blandy AFP Yahoo News 5 Sep 12;

Forty percent of Liberia's forests have been sold off in secretive and often illegal contracts, Global Witness said Tuesday, just days after the country's president announced a probe into the issuing of logging permits.

An investigation by the London-based natural resource watchdog has shown how, despite efforts to reform the country's logging sector, companies have used a legal loophole to score contracts covering a quarter of the nation's landmass.

The report comes after President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf announced on Friday an independent probe into the controversial permits, after suspending the managing director of the Forestry Development Authority, Moses Wogbeh.

"The new logging contracts termed Private Use Permits now cover 40 percent of Liberia's forests and almost half of Liberia's best intact forests," said a press release from Global Witness.

"They have given companies linked to notorious Malaysian logging giant Samling unparalleled access to some of Liberia's most pristine forests."

Samling and its subsidiaries have been involved in cases of illegal logging from Cambodia to Guyana to Papua New Guinea.

The Private Use Permits were designed to allow private land owners to cut trees on their property. But the investigation found that the 66 permits that have been issued are in fact allowing logging companies to sneak past Liberia's carefully crafted forest laws and regulations.

"Companies holding these permits are not required to log sustainably and pay little in compensation to either the Liberian government or the people who own the forests for the right to export valuable tropical timber," Global Witness said.

"Private Use Permits are great news for logging companies. They are very bad news for pretty much everybody else in Liberia," said Robert Nyahn of Save My Future Foundation, which also took part in the investigation.

Liberia's forests make up 42 percent of what is left of the Upper Guinean Rainforest -- just part of a fragmented system that once covered most of west Africa but has been reduced to 12 percent of its original reach.

Deforestation has been alarming, with 70 percent of the population involved in slash-and-burn farming, the country's Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) told AFP in 2010.

While the use of "blood diamonds" to fund wars in the region is better known, it was timber that propped up armed factions, notably those of former president Charles Taylor, during 14 years of Liberian conflict that left over 250,000 people dead from 1989 to 2003.

In the nine years since the end of the conflict the Liberian government and international partners have worked hard to reform the industry, with the United States giving $30 million to help communities manage their forest resources.

The EU and the Liberian government have also recently negotiated a trade agreement meant to ensure that Liberia provides legal timber to European markets.

United Nations sanctions on the country's timber industry were lifted in 2006 and the government issued new licences covering nine percent of the country.

Global Witness said these new contracts have failed to deliver the promised benefits to the Liberian people and that many of these companies owe significant back taxes.

Silas Siakor of Liberia's Sustainable Development Institute said recent statements by the president on the logging scandal were "promising".

"Too frequently, those who abuse Liberia's natural resources have not been held to account," he was quoted as saying in the Global Witness press statement, calling for a comprehensive independent investigation.

According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation's 2010 deforestation report, Africa has lost 3.4 million hectares (8.4 million acres) of forest in the past 10 years.

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James Cook University survey finds significant decline in dugong numbers in Great Barrier Reef

The Courier-Mail 5 Sep 12;

A SURVEY has shown a significant decline of dugong numbers in the Great Barrier Reef.

"In the southern Great Barrier Reef region the estimated size of the dugong population - about 500 to 600 - was the lowest since surveys began in 1986," Professor Helene Marsh from James Cook University said yesterday.

But the report indicates dugong numbers further south, in Hervey Bay and Moreton Bay, are steady.

Prof Marsh said widespread flooding and Cyclone Yasi in early 2011 had a detrimental impact on seagrass, which is the staple of the dugong's diet.

"The data indicates that Townsville and Gladstone were the dugong mortality hotspots," she said.

"In both these places seagrass was in poor condition."

The report called on the state and federal governments to create larger protected areas for dugongs, and create an indigenous group to co-ordinate responses to major weather events.

‘Lady of the Sea’ under threat
James Cook University Press Release 4 Sep 12;

No dugong calves were seen in the southern Great Barrier Reef in a survey last year, and numbers are the lowest since the mid 1980s, indicating a dramatic decline in the endangered mammal’s population in the region.

The results show a reduction in fertility in response to the extreme weather conditions in 2011, which exacerbated a decline in their seagrass feeding grounds over several years.

James Cook University Distinguished Professor Helene Marsh recently conducted a project to examine the concern: Marine wildlife management in the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area.

Professor Marsh said severe weather along the Queensland coast in the summer of 2010/11 had affected the Great Barrier Reef’s endangered dugong population.

“The latest aerial survey by researchers from JCU of dugong distribution and abundance indicates a significant decline in the dugong population of the southern Great Barrier Reef,” she said.

“Although aerial survey estimates of dugong are underestimates, they track trends in the population.

“The recent survey report, estimates a total number of about 3000 dugongs in south-east Queensland’s Moreton and Hervey Bays, similar to the previous aerial survey figure in 2005.

“However it was a different story in the southern Great Barrier Reef region where the estimated size of the dugong population - about 500 to 600 - was the lowest since surveys began in 1986.

“Similarly, while the proportion of dugong calves in Hervey and Morton Bays was within the range expected for normal conditions, no calves were seen in the southern Great Barrier Reef during the 2011 survey, indicating a reduction in fertility in response to the extreme weather in 2011 which exacerbated a decline in their seagrass feeding grounds over several years.”

Professor Marsh said dugong mortalities recorded by StrandNet (the Queensland Marine Wildlife Mortality Database) in 2011 were the highest ever recorded.

“The data indicates that Townsville and Gladstone were the dugong mortality ‘hotspots’. In both these places seagrass was in poor condition.

“The report’s recommendations include several measures to protect dugongs along the coast, including increasing the proportion of protected dugong habitat in Moreton and Hervey bays to support their high density dugong populations.

“They also recommend re-establishment of a regional Indigenous coordinating group to coordinate responses of Traditional Owners to extreme weather events in their Sea Country and the introduction of regional zoning of the East Coast Inshore Finfish Fishery to minimise interactions between fishers and dugongs.”

Professor Marsh said the report also called on the Queensland and Australian Governments to develop policy that favours the establishment of several well managed mega-ports along the GBR coast, which would pose fewer risks to dugongs and their habitats than a larger number of smaller ports.

This research was conducted with the support of funding from the Australian Government’s National Environmental Research Program.

Moreton Bay dugong birth rate falling
Jacinda Tutty 9 News 20 Sep 12;

New research shows the birth rate of dugongs in Brisbane's Moreton Bay has fallen since the 2011 Brisbane floods.

Researchers from the University of Queensland and experts from Seaworld and Sydney Aquarium teamed up to test and assess dugongs in the Moreton Bay area to determine any risks to the population.

UQ research leader, Janet Lanyon, says early observations by the six-day mission show reproduction rates have slowed since last year's flooding.

Since Saturday 15 dugongs have been caught and released after scientists took samples for research - six were females and none of them were pregnant.

"Normally half the females would be pregnant," Ms Lanyon told AAP.

More research will be needed to assess the extent of the problem accurately.

But Ms Lanyon said the initial results were not unexpected given the high rates of mercury and lead pollution in run-off after the flooding.

"I suspect we will get fewer breeding females this year, as we know dugongs suffered from low nutrient content in damaged seagrass after the floods," she said.

A year on, the seagrass beds have begun to return to normal but have not fully recovered.

Ms Lanyon said preserving the seagrass meadows and managing pollution were the keys to sustaining dugong populations and returning reproduction rates to normal.

"We know from dolphins and whales a presence of heavy metals like mercury and lead can lead to reproduction problems," she said.

UQ and Seaworld research groups wrapped up the research project on Thursday.

Dugong blood, urine, semen and weight measurements will be examined to make a thorough assessment of the health and reproduction status of dugongs in the area.

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Swamp Rats & Baby Dolphins! How Hurricanes Impact Animals

Stephanie Pappas Yahoo News 5 Sep 12;

The aftermath of Hurricane Isaac has washed ashore tens of thousands of dead "swamp rats," invasive species whose rotting corpses are now presenting a health hazard in Mississippi.

The drowned rodents, known as nutria, are a stark reminder of the effects of hurricanes on wildlife, which can range from mass death to — surprisingly enough — dolphin baby booms. In the case of the nutria, the drownings may be a blessing for the Gulf Coast, where the beaver-like creatures wreck havoc on native marsh vegetation.

The clean-up, though, is proving unpleasant.

"They're actually starting to swell up and bust," Hancock County Supervisor David Yarborough told local news station WLOX. "It smells really bad." [See Photos of the Nutria Washed Ashore]

Animals and hurricanes

Nutria aren't the only animals to suffer after hurricanes. A study of alligators in southwest Louisiana after Hurricane Rita hit in 2005 found that the reptiles were physically stressed a month after the initial storm surge inundated their marshy habitat. Blood tests on the gators showed elevated stress hormones as well as other signs of ill health, the researchers reported in February 2010 in the Journal of Experimental Zoology Part A: Ecological Genetics and Physiology.

Research on Florida manatees has suggested that docile "sea cows" die more frequently during years with extreme storms, perhaps due to immediate causes like getting swept out to sea, or perhaps due to post-hurricane environmental changes such as cooling in coastal waters, according to a 2006 paper published in the journal Estuaries and Coasts. That study tracked a handful of manatees through the 2004 and 2005 hurricane seasons and found that the animals tended to "ride out" the storms in place rather than attempt to avoid them.

Other studies have found changes in fish populations right after hurricanes, as well as changes in phytoplankton, the algal basis of the ocean food chain, though these changes are short-lived. Sometimes, though, hurricane effects echo over long time periods. A 2010 study on bottlenose dolphins found that two years after Hurricane Katrina, the number of baby dolphins in the Gulf of Mexico suddenly skyrocketed. [Photos: World's Cutest Baby Animals]

Some of the jump could be explained by dolphin mamas getting pregnant sooner than usual after losing their previous calves in the storm, the researchers reported in the journal Marine Mammal Science. But the storm had another effect: It destroyed a significant chunk of the Gulf of Mexico fishing fleet. Fewer fishermen meant more food for dolphins and their young, the researchers concluded.

Nutria death zone

Mississippi's nutria population took a hit from Isaac. Sanitation workers have been cleaning up the carcasses with pitchforks and front-end loaders.

"Estimates are there will be over 20,000 carcasses, but that is unclear now," Robbie Wilbur, a spokesman for the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality, told LiveScience. "Eventually, the totals will be numerated in tons when they're all disposed."

The carcasses are being sent to the Pecan Grove landfill in Harrison County, Miss., Wilbur added.

"It's starting to get bad," said Mark Williams of the Department of Environmental Quality's Solid Waste Management branch. "It's heated up over the last two or three days, and of course that really expedites the degradation process."

Nutria are native to South America, but the rodents were brought to North America in the late 1800s and farmed for their fur. Escaped and released nutria established themselves in the marshes of the Gulf Coast, where they gnaw the roots of marsh plants, destroying the vegetal web that keeps the marshes from washing away.

Hurricane Isaac likely won't set Mississippi's nutria population back for long. Nutria can produce litters with as many as 13 babies, and they're capable of reproducing twice a year starting at as early as four months of age. Baby nutria begin supplementing their mother's milk with marsh vegetation within hours of birth.

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US and EU must change biofuel targets to avert food crisis, says Nestlé chief

Food company chief executive labels biofuels an aberration and expresses concern about potential impact of water wastage
John Vidal 4 Sep 12;

Nestlé, the world's largest food company, has added its weight to calls by the UN and development groups for the US and EU to change their biofuel targets because of looming food shortages and price rises.

"We say no food for fuel," said Paul Bulcke, chief executive of Nestlé, at the end of the World Water Week conference in Sweden. "Agricultural food-based biofuel is an aberration. We say that the EU and US should put money behind the right biofuels."

Under laws intended to reduce foreign oil imports, 40% of US maize (corn) harvest must be used to make biofuels, even though one of the deepest droughts in the past 100 years is expected to reduce crop yields significantly. In addition, EU countries are expected to move towards drawing 10-20% of their energy supply for transport from biofuels to reduce carbon emissions.

But Nestlé, which has 470 food factories around the world and 25% of the world's bottled water market, says clean economy and US energy independence should not be pursued at the expense of food supplies or massive price increases.

"[Using biofuels] was well-intentioned at the time, but when you have better information then you have to be coherent," said Bulcke. "You have to know when to say: 'Stop here'. Now we see, too, that the carbon [reduction] element of biofuels is not as clear as it was intended to be."

Bulcke said Nestlé had lobbied the US and EU governments to change their quotas. "We have said [it] to [the] US government, but politically it's hard. We are an important food company and, yes, we do have a voice. We try to be vocal with our convictions."

He argued water is the world's coming crisis because, without better use of it, food supplies – which the UN predicts must increase around 50% in the next 40 years – will be severely limited.

"The relationship between food and water is clear," said Bulcke. "Water should have a value. There is so much much waste in the system. Upstream on farms, industry, food waste, food spoilage. Agriculture is responsible for 70% of all water being used globally, and 90% in some developing countries." Water is one cause of the food crisis. Governments took their eyes off the ball. For years, research and development investments were very low, at 1.5% annually. We have a crisis in the making. We cannot continue to use water in the same wasteful way as before.

"What is environmentally unsustainable today will become socially unsustainable in a not so distant future," added Bulcke. "We risk up to 30% shortfalls in global cereal production due to water shortage by 2025. It seems as if we will have to go through a massive global crisis before becoming aware that we cannot leave a paradox of this importance unresolved.

"The main challenge – water for farming – is also the main opportunity. Saving potentials in agriculture are still huge; physiological needs of plants amount to only 40-50% of actual withdrawals today. And there are more savings of water possible further down the value chain."

According to Nestlé, which operates in 86 countries and is the world's most profitable corporation, it is moving strongly to conserve water, both by helping farmers save waste by growing crops that need less, and by improving factory efficiency. It has also lowered its milk wastage dramatically, effectively saving its per-dollar water use, which has been reduced from 4.5 litres in 2002 to 1.5 litres today.

Earlier this month, UN FAO director general José Graziano da Silva said suspension of the [biofuel] quota would allow more of the crop to be diverted for food production. "The worst drought for 50 years is inflicting huge damage on the US maize crop, with serious consequences for the overall international food supply," he wrote in the Financial Times.

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UN urges action to avert global food crisis

AFP Yahoo News 3 Sep 12;

The United Nations warned Tuesday of a possible repeat of the 2007-2008 food crisis and called on world leaders to act quickly to prevent a catastrophe which would affect tens of millions of people.

"The current situation in world food markets, characterized by sharp increases in maize, wheat and soybean prices, has raised fears of a repeat of the 2007-2008 world food crisis," the UN's food agencies said in a statement.

"But swift, coordinated international action can stop that from happening. We need to act urgently to make sure that these price shocks do not turn into a catastrophe hurting tens of millions over the coming months," they said.

There are fears that the drought in the United States, which has pushed grain prices to record highs, could spark another crisis like the one seen in 2007-2008, which pushed the total number of hungry people to over a billion.

In the statement, released by the Rome-based Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO), the agencies said leaders must tackle both the issue of high food prices as well as the question of how food is produced and consumed.

The latter is particularly important "in an age of increasing population, demand and climate change", the report said.

"Countries must avoid panic buying and refrain from imposing export restrictions which, while temporarily helping some consumers at home, are generally inefficient and make life difficult for everyone else," it warned.

Along with the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and World Food Programme (WFP), the FAO stressed that the risks were sizeable.

"In a good year, global grain production is barely sufficient to meet growing demands for food, feed and fuel. This, in a world where there are 80 million extra mouths to be fed every year," the agencies said.

They said the challenge governments face is to reduce and spread the risk.

"The most obvious way is to promote sustainable food production in poor, food-importing countries, where there is often huge potential to improve production... especially in rural areas where 70 percent of the world's poor live."

Governments should address the fact that, globally, one third of food produced is wasted or lost to spoilage, damage and other causes, as well as develop resources such as safety nets to safeguard against price shocks.

These include assistance for smallholder farmers, nutritional support to mothers and children, and school meals, the report said.

Climate threat to world's poor is underestimated: Oxfam
Nigel Hunt PlanetArk 5 Sep 12;

Climate change may pose a much more serious threat to the world's poor than existing research has suggested because of spikes in food prices as extreme weather becomes more common, Oxfam said on Wednesday.

More frequent extreme weather events will create shortages, destabilize markets and precipitate price spikes on top of projected structural price rises of about 100 percent for staples such as maize over the next 20 years, the charity said in a report.

Droughts in the U.S. Midwest and Russia this year have helped to propel prices for maize and soybeans to record highs and United Nations food agencies this week said that world leaders must take swift action to ensure that food-price shocks do not turn into a catastrophe that could hurt tens of millions of people.

The UN's Food and Agriculture Organization has estimated that the 2007/08 price spike contributed to an 8 percent rise in the number of undernourished people in Africa.

"For vulnerable people, sudden and extreme price hikes can be more devastating than gradual long-term rises to which they may have more chance of adjusting," Oxfam said in a report.

"Though the price spike and coping strategies may be short-term, the impacts are often felt across generations. An increase in malnutrition can cause stunting and reduce developmental potential in young children."

Oxfam added that existing research, which considers the gradual effects of climate change but not extreme weather, significantly underestimates the implications of changing weather patterns.

The charity insisted there is an "urgent need for a full stress test of our fragile and dysfunctional food system" and called for a reversal of decades of underinvestment in small-scale sustainable and resilient agriculture, as well as urgent action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

"Climate change could lead to a permanent increase in yield variability and excessive food price volatility, however, which could leave many poor countries with potentially insuperable food security challenges," Oxfam said.

(Editing by David Goodman)

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