Best of our wild blogs: 7 Sep 12

Grey Heron with chick under its wing or is it a tumour?
from Bird Ecology Study Group

Read more!

When it comes to Braddell Hill, let woods be woods

Patricia Thong Soo-Ping Today Online 7 Sep 12;

I refer to the Singapore Land Authority's letter "Felled trees were a threat to safety" (Aug 20).

I am a resident of 13 years in Braddell View and, in general, I understand the need to selectively fell trees for public safety. But in this case, what are the "significant safety threats" and to whom? As the name Braddell Hill suggests, the woods are up a small hill with low, if any, human traffic.

Even if it was deemed necessary to fell the perimeter trees, could not those in the middle have been spared?

Keeping mature trees is one way to provide scarce habitat for birds and small animals that struggle to survive in urban Singapore.

Moreover, Braddell Hill is adjacent to MacRitchie Reservoir and not far from Bukit Brown. It may thus function as a buffer or transit zone for such creatures.

The authorities should reconsider not felling the remaining trees, and let woods be woods.

Felled trees at Braddell within close proximity of residents
From Yap Chung Lee Director, Land Operations (Public), Singapore Land Authority
Today Online 9 Sep 12;

We refer to Ms Patricia Thong's letter, "When it comes to Braddell Hill, let woods be woods" (Sept 7).

Albizia trees are vulnerable to storms and prone to falling down because of their brittle wood structure and shallow root system. There have been recent reports of Albizia trees that fell as a result, causing substantial damage.

All 12 Albizia trees at Braddell Hill which must be removed are along the perimeter and not in the middle. As they are within close proximity of residents, they endanger public safety. Seven have been removed, and the rest will be removed this month.

We reassure Ms Thong that the decision was made in the interest of the public, particularly Braddell View residents, and only after consulting the National Parks Board.

The Singapore Land Authority does not remove vegetation unless absolutely necessary. Where appropriate, we will replant trees that are better able to withstand adverse weather conditions.

Related links
Save the Braddell Road forest Ong Ruici Today Online 11 Aug 12;

Read more!

Car hits wild boar in Thomson

Straits Times 7 Sep 12;

A wild boar was killed when it was hit by a car at Upper Thomson Road on Wednesday night.

The driver who was left dazed but unhurt said he was on his way home from work, Chinese evening daily Lianhe Wanbao reported yesterday. The man, who identified himself only as Mr Lin, told Wanbao that the animal had dashed out suddenly from the bushes at the side of the road. The accident left his car dented.

Read more!

Singapore: PSI hits 64, highest level this year

Jennani Durai & Wahyudi Soeriaatmadja Indonesia Correspondent Straits Times 7 Sep 12;

MUCH of Singapore was blanketed in haze yesterday, which caused the PSI to soar to its highest level this year.

In the northern and eastern parts of Singapore, the reading hit a high of 64, and ranged between 58 and 61 elsewhere. This put it out of the "good" range of 0 to 50 and into the "moderate" range of 51 to 100.

But with hot spots in the Indonesian regions nearest to Singapore drastically reduced in number from earlier this week, weather experts surmised that the pollution must have been carried in by the winds blowing from Jambi or South Sumatra, which are further away.

The National Environment Agency (NEA) advised people to limit outdoor activity and said the haze should start lifting from today.

Satellite images showed the number of hot spots in Sumatra, to the south of Singapore, at a low of 21 yesterday, down from some 400 over the weekend.

In Riau, the Indonesian forest fire-prone province closest to the Republic, the number of hot spots decreased from 98 last Saturday to none yesterday.

These regions have had rain and cloud seeding operations, said Indonesian weather forecaster Warih Budilestari.

The effects seen in Singapore yesterday were likely from forest fires concentrated in the Jambi and South Sumatra provinces a few days ago, weather forecaster Supriandi from the meteorological office in West Kalimantan told The Straits Times.

Agreeing, Assistant Professor Koh Tieh Yong from the Earth Observatory of Singapore said: "It's possible that what we see now in Singapore is the result of winds carrying haze from Jambi and South Sumatra, which had a few hot spots on Wednesday. Given the speed of the wind, what's over there is approximately one day away from us."

He said haze levels in Singapore depend both on the number of hot spots and the direction of the winds, which blow predominantly from the south-east or south-west this time of the year until September or early October.

An annual occurrence, the haze is caused by farmers and logging companies burning forests to clear land for cultivation between June and September, the region's dry season.

The NEA said prevailing winds are expected to turn and blow from the south-east or south from today, which would gradually improve the hazy conditions.

Yesterday's gloomy skies were the talk of many. Ms Joyce Pereira, in her 60s, mistook the overcast skies for an impending storm. The hotel guest relations manager said the haze gave her a dry cough and watery eyes.

Civil servant Zen Lai, 24, was at a hawker centre and thought the air was choked by vendors cooking with charcoal. On leaving the place, she realised it was like that everywhere.

Haze worsens
Woo Sian Boon Today Online 7 Sep 12;

SINGAPORE - The Pollutant Standard Index (PSI) yesterday reached its highest reading so far this year, with the readings for the northern and eastern areas recorded at 64 as at 4pm yesterday.

The PSI across the island was between 58 and 64, falling in the "moderate" range. The level of particulate matter (PM) 2.5 - a very fine pollutant which can cause respiratory problems - was at 71 in the eastern region, the highest among different parts of the island.

Yesterday's hazy skies came as general practitioners TODAY spoke to reported a spike in the number of patients they are seeing for respiratory or skin problems caused by the haze.

In an update on its website, the National Environment Agency (NEA) said the situation will ease gradually in the days ahead.

However, the reprieve could be temporary. "For the following week, Singapore could still experience slight hazy conditions on some days," NEA said.

The haze was due to "an increase in hotspot activities observed over Sumatra" in the past one week. "The current prevailing winds blowing from the southwest or south have transported the haze from fires in southern Sumatra towards Singapore," the agency said.

It added that the prevailing winds are "expected to turn and blow from the southeast or south and bring a gradual improvement" to the hazy conditions from today.

NEA advised everyone to "limit prolonged or heavy exertion". For children, older adults as well as people with heart or lung disease, they were advised to "reduce prolonged or heavy outdoor exertion".

Ms Geraldine Tan, 24, who has sinus problems, said she has been experiencing breathing discomfort. "This usually happens when the haze season rolls around. I'll generally feel very uncomfortable, and start sniffling a lot more," she said.

Dr Tan Tze Lee, a GP at Edinburgh Clinic, told TODAY the number of patients he is seeing with lung discomfort has doubled. Another GP, YS Teo Family Clinic and Surgery's Dr Victor Teo, added: "There has been more cases of upper respiratory tract infections, throat irritation, pre-existing cases of asthma and even cases of eczema over the last couple of weeks."

The GPs advised the public, especially those with pre-existing conditions, not to over-exert themselves outdoors. "They can still exercise, but probably indoors, using the treadmill or weight machine, it's just not advisable to jog outside and breathe in lots of the haze, especially if they have asthma," said Dr Teo.

Singapore sees hazier skies
Sara Grosse Channel NewsAsia 6 Sep 12;

SINGAPORE: Thursday saw hazy conditions across Singapore.

The 24-hour PSI reading at 12pm was in the moderate range of 54 to 59, with the highest reading in the east.

Air quality worsened, with the PSI reading rising slightly to 64 at 4pm for areas in the north and east.

Air quality is considered unhealthy only when the PSI reading hits above 100.

Polyclinics Channel NewsAsia spoke with said they did not see an increase in patient attendance for Upper Respiratory Tract Infection cases - which are conditions that may increase due to the haze.

However, some doctors did.

Dr Chong Yeh Woei, physician, Internal Medicine, Singapore Medical Specialists Centre, said: "My colleagues and I have seen some increase in cases, perhaps about 10 to 20 per cent increase in cases. (These include) asthmatic patients, smokers with lung disease and heart disease patients."

As the haze worsens, Dr Chong said it is important to take note of its particle size.

The particulate matter 10 (PM10) identifies particles likely to be inhaled by humans.

"Essentially it's 10 micron in size. The particles that are bigger than 10 we don't worry too much about it because they go into the throat and lodge there. But those between 2.5 and 10 will go into your lungs and stay there," said Dr Chong.

The National Environment Agency said Singapore could still experience slight haze conditions from this week on, though some gradual improvement is expected.

Some precautionary measures doctors advise taking is to avoid exercising outdoors when the PSI is high and for those with pre-existing illnesses, such as asthma, to take more caution when they go outside.

- CNA/cc

Read more!

Haze in Singapore: 'People power' can make a difference

Nicholas Fang and Henrick Tsjeng Today Online 6 Sep 12;

Singapore has once again felt the impact of the haze blowing in from forest fires in Sumatra.

Even though our air has not reached unhealthy levels, the lowering of visibility and the rancid smoke remind us again that Singapore's clean air is something we cannot take for granted.

It is easy to point fingers and blame our southern neighbour. But this is neither productive nor responsible. It must be remembered that while the haze still strikes the region annually, much effort has been undertaken to control forest fires and Singapore in recent years has not been as adversely impacted compared to the 1997-1998 period.

Other cities in Asia, on the other hand, experience worse smog than Singapore on a more frequent basis.

Last month, Hong Kong registered its worst smog in two years, with pollution readings reaching "very high" levels and residents being warned to stay indoors.

The fact that Singapore's air quality levels are normally within the "good" range despite the latest haze illustrates that we are on the right track, although there is always room for improvement.


The Government, on its part, has been working to curb air pollution and continues to do so today.

The Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources recently announced new measures, including requiring all new diesel vehicles to adopt Euro V emission standards (up from Euro IV) by January 2014, and all new petrol vehicles to adhere to Euro IV standards (up from Euro II) by April 2014.

The higher standards are significantly more stringent than their predecessors.

The National Environment Agency (NEA) has also increased the reporting frequency of the Pollution Standards Index (PSI) from once a day to three times a day, and this now includes very fine particles, or PM2.5.

PM2.5 levels - finer particles that can penetrate deeper into the lungs and other organs and are considered more dangerous than fine particles, or PM10 - were previously only released on an annual basis and not included in daily air quality readings.

These efforts show the Government's commitment to maintaining good air quality. But Singapore can ill-afford to be complacent. The authorities' measures can be further boosted if the general public also does its part in promoting clean city air.


If citizens can organise themselves together to raise awareness of and call for cleaner air, this would lend a major boost to Government initiatives, in addition to making the authorities and the general public more aware of new air pollution problems. It could also be a catalyst for change.

The public could give the authorities greater support to amplify the effectiveness of air pollution control measures.

Last month, it was reported that the NEA was clamping down on vehicles that emit smoke. The agency is mounting video cameras in its vans to capture images of offending vehicles.

Citizens can also supplement these efforts. Pedestrians on the street can photograph and report instances where they see polluting vehicles. They could also share these photographs using social media, and reach out to a larger number of viewers. Most people, after all, carry smartphones with cameras and have ready access to the Internet.

Taking such pictures and spreading the word will not only highlight that vehicular emissions are indeed a problem, but also deter vehicle owners from flouting emission rules.

Promote green VEHICLES

In the same way, social enterprises can play a major role. The Government is conducting a trial of electric vehicles, while several manufacturers also sell a range of hybrid vehicles. However, awareness about such vehicles remains slim.

One company has taken a major step to provide rental services for electric vehicles. This will enhance the electric vehicle initiatives, in addition to letting the public try out these green vehicles and raising awareness of their utility.

These measures show us how the actions of the public can complement government measures, and put the protection of our air quality into the hands of the major stakeholders - the citizens themselves.

SIIA, along with several corporate partners, launched the Clean City Air Coalition in July, and will be hosting the SIIA-IndoChine Cocktail Fundraiser on Sept 12. The event, which will be held at the IndoChine Bar Opiume at the Asian Civilisations Museum, seeks to raise the profile of the institute's Environment and Resources Programme.

Nicholas Fang is the Director of the Singapore Institute of International Affairs (SIIA). Henrick Tsjeng is a researcher at the SIIA.

Focus on the root of our haze problem
Ang Peng Hwa Today Online 16 Sep 12;

I had thought that the story about a man who searched for his car keys under a lamp post because there was light, even though that was not where he dropped them, was a fable.

Then I read the commentary "'People power' can make a difference" (Sept 6), in which the writers stated: "It is easy to point fingers and blame our southern neighbour. But this is neither productive nor responsible."

So what do they recommend as presumably more productive and responsible? "If citizens can organise themselves together to raise awareness of and call for cleaner air, this would lend a major boost to Government initiatives, in addition to making the authorities and the general public more aware of new air pollution problems."

I found the statements baffling because it is not Singaporeans - the general public or the authorities - but some from our southern neighbour whose awareness needs to be raised.

Yes, it is easier to raise awareness in Singapore, like searching for keys under a lamp post. But with all due respect to the writers and our neighbour, we should focus on where the keys really dropped.

The writers are right on one point: That Singaporeans are not entirely helpless. In 2007, when the haze was bad, a group got together to strategise some courses of action and raise funds to implement some of those strategies.

A group of students from the Wee Kim Wee School at Nanyang Technological University, where I work, came up with the name for our group, Haze Elimination Action Team. One of the courses of action, education, was reported.

Some members went to Jambi to show how some alternatives might be adopted. In the recent haze, Jambi appears to be free from the fires, as it has been in the past few years.

Another course of action is a boycott targeted at the offending companies. Today's technology makes it possible to trace paper to the tree from which it came. So, it is possible to boycott those who make the products or plant in areas cleared by burning.

The haze appears to have abated for now. But many of us are literally sick and tired from facing it so often. So, while there is no urgent need for action now, we should not wait. We should prepare the plans and then execute those plans when conditions warrant.

"People power" has worked in other countries. For a start, join the Facebook group Haze Elimination Action Team. Singaporeans' people power, deployed correctly, can make a difference.

Read more!

Philippines: 'Mystery' stick insect discovered

Matt Walker BBC Nature 4 Sep 12;

A mysterious new species of stick insect has been discovered living in the Philippines by scientists.

The stick insect is wingless, lives on the ground rather than in trees, and is spectacularly coloured, having a green-blue head and orange body.

The insect also vents a foul-smelling spray to deter predators.

The stick insect is so unique that scientists have given it its own genus and do not yet know its relationship to other stick and leaf insects.

"Recently a colleague, entomologist Oskar Conle, showed us some museum specimens of a strange-looking stick insect found several years ago on Mount Halcon, a remote locality in the Philippine island of Mindoro," explains Marco Gottardo, who is studying for a PhD at the University of Siena, Italy.

The insect was found on the third highest mountain in the archipelago, which is considered one of the richest areas of biodiversity in the world.

"We were baffled. It looked so different from any other known stick insect in the world that we immediately realised it was something very special."

Mr Gottardo and colleague Philipp Heller carefully examined the specimen.

"We concluded that it represented an unknown genus and species of stick insect," Mr Gottardo told BBC Nature.

The scientists have published details of the discovery in the journal Comptes Rendus Biologies.

"The new stick insect is wingless, with a stout body and rather short legs," says Mr Gottardo.

The scientists think these features are likely to be special adaptations for living in the low-growing vegetation of a montane rainforest.

Most tree-dwelling stick insects that live in the forest canopy have slender and elongated bodies and legs, thought to provide good camouflage among stick and leaves.

"Another unique characteristic is the spectacular colour pattern. [A male] has dark bluish-green head and legs, and a bright orange body with distinctive bluish-black triangle-shaped spots on its back," he adds.

It is more likely that the insect uses these striking colours to warn off predators, rather than as a form of camouflage.

"In fact we have discovered that the new stick insect has the ability to release a potent defensive spray from glands located behind its head.

"The defensive substance is sprayed when the insect feels threatened, and has a strong distasteful smell, which likely functions to repel potential predators in a similar way to skunks," says Mr Gottardo.
Enigmatic origin

The scientists have named the insect Conlephasma enigma.

"We have named the new stick insect with the specific epithet "enigma" because its systematic position in the tree of life of stick and leaf insects remains a mystery," says Mr Gottardo.

Many of the stick insect's distinctive features are unlike those recorded on other stick insects.

One feature, however, has been seen before. The microstructures of Conlephasma enigma's mouthparts are strikingly similar to those held by another group of stick insects. The problem is that these stick insects live in tropical America, on the other side of the world, raising the question of how two insects so far apart might share a similar trait.

The researchers hope that a more detailed molecular analysis of the stick insect's genetics may shed light on its true identity.

"We also hope that the discovery of this particular new insect species may draw attention into the problem of rainforest conservation in the Philippines, which are home to unique and still poorly known wildlife," Mr Gottardo says.

Read more!

Indonesia: Another Whale Found Dead on West Java Beach

Jakarta Globe 6 Sep 12;

Cianjur, West Java. Another whale was found dead on a West Java beach on Thursday, making it the fourth whale or big fish found since July.

The black whale found on Sinar Laut beach in the southern coast of Cianjur district weighed six tons and measured 10 meters in length. The carcass was found dead in shallow water some 100 meters from the beach on Thursday morning when local residents found it as they were about to go fishing — they reportedly then pulled the carcass to the beach.

“The whale is predicted to have died one or two hours before the residents found it — it was still fresh, wasn’t rotten yet,” an Indonesian Military (TNI) officer stationed in the area, Second Lt. Assistant Muzakir, said on Thursday. He said local officials were still investigating the cause of the death.

Rahmat, 45, said the weather and seas off Cianjur had been “unfriendly” over the past few weeks, citing four meter-high waves common this time of year that often discourage local fishermen from going to sea.

Rahmat added that this was not the first time people in Cianjur have found a dead whale stranded on its beaches, saying they find one nearly every year.

But the whale found on Thursday is the second one found dead in West Java over the past couple of months, after residents found a live sperm whale stranded on a northern beach in the district of Karawang on July 28, which died shortly after it was returned to sea.

In early August, two whale sharks were stranded and died on Yogyakarta beaches in the southern coast of Java.


6-tonne whale washes up on Cianjur beach
Antara 6 Sep 12;

Cianjur (ANTARA News) - A dead whale weighing about 6 tonnes washed ashore in the southern coast of Cianjur district, West Java province on Thursday.

"A lot of people arrived to see the whale and later started cutting its meat for consumption. Within a few minutes, there was no meat left on the whale`s body," said Muzakir, a local rural official.

Local security guards could not stop the large number of people from cutting the whale into pieces.

"There were not only local villagers but also inhabitants from neighbouring villages who had come on cars and motorbikes," Muzakir noted.

Jamal, a 32-year-old village man from Sindangbarang, which is situated about 50 kilometres from the beach where the whale was stranded, said he had come to get a piece of whale meat.

"Apart from my curiosity, I came here hoping to get a piece of the whale`s meat. Last year, I had done the same thing and I found that whale meat was good for my stamina," he explained.

Meanwhile, Rahmat, a 45-year-old fisherman from the same village, said the 10-metre-long whale was most likely killed after being shot by a poacher.

He stated that there were four bullet holes in the whale`s body.

"The whale is considered to be a blessing. Local people believe that whale`s meat can cure various diseases," Rahmat added.

Editor: Priyambodo RH

Read more!

Indonesian Environmental Group Scores Big Win Over Illegal Oil Palm Permit

Fidelis E. Satriastanti Jakarta Globe 6 Sep 12;

Environmental activists have hailed a court decision demanding that the Aceh administration revoke an oil palm plantation permit in an ostensibly protected peat forest.

The Aceh chapter of the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi) said in a statement on Wednesday that the decision by the Medan State Administrative Court in neighboring North Sumatra province was a victory “for all the people of Aceh and those groups, national or foreign, concerned with saving the forests of the Tripa peat swamp.”

The ruling, handed down last Thursday, calls on the Aceh administration to scrap the permit for a 1,600-hectare concession awarded to plantation firm Kallista Alam in the Tripa area, which was included inside a deforestation moratorium map published in May 2011.

The area was later dropped from the exclusion zone in a revised map published in November that year, but Kallista’s permit was issued three months earlier, which Walhi and other environmental groups contended made it clearly illegal.

However, a suit filed by Walhi over the permit was thrown out in April this year by the Banda Aceh State Administrative Court, which claimed that it did not have the authority to rule on the case and suggested that Walhi try to reach an out-of-court agreement with Irwandi Yusuf, the Aceh governor at the time, and Kallista.

Teuku Muhammad Zulfikar, the Walhi Aceh executive director, lauded the Medan court’s decision and expressed hope that it would set a precedent for more stringent enforcement of environmental laws.

“Walhi Aceh calls on the governor of Aceh to immediately follow up by revoking the plantation permit given to Kallista Alam in the Tripa peat forest,” he said.

“We also hope that all the legal cases brought by the Environment Ministry and by civil society in relation to other companies still operating in the Tripa area will be processed thoroughly.”

Mas Achmad Santosa, an environmental legal advocate and member of a presidentially appointed task force that has also weighed in on the Tripa controversy, greeted the Medan court’s ruling as “a good sign” for the continued protection of the high-biodiversity area.

“I hope that now the Aceh administration will exercise better judgement in its decisions related to the protection of the environment, because now the world’s eyes are on Aceh,” he said.

“Whatever happens there, the world will be quick to notice.”

The Tripa forest, part of the rich Leuser Ecosystem, is home to the world’s densest population of critically endangered Sumatran orangutans and one of the few places on earth where orangutans, Sumatran tigers and sun bears can still be found living side-by-side.

Kallista has already cleared at least 30 hectares in its concession.

Nirarta Samadhi, chairman of the task force monitoring the implementation of the deforestation moratorium, also welcomed the decision and pointed out that his office had long recommended that Kallista’s permit be revoked.

“This decision confirms that we were right about this,” he said.

“We’re going to use this ruling to resume our talks with the new governor [Zaini Abdullah] so that hopefully the permit can be revoked immediately.”

While still in office late last year, Irwandi insisted that he did nothing wrong when he signed the permit, claiming that the controversy was part of a smear campaign ahead of the gubernatorial election, which he duly lost this April.

Read more!

Australia: Queensland farmers allowed to shoot flying foxes from today

Brian Williams The Courier-Mail 7 Sep 12;

QUEENSLAND will re-introduce the shooting of flying foxes today - ironically on Threatened Species Day.

Two of the species to be shot - grey headed and spectacled - are listed as vulnerable by the Federal Government.

State Environment Minister Andrew Powell will allow farmers to shoot flying foxes despite the Government's Animal Welfare Advisory Committee finding it is inhumane.

Outright kills are difficult and young left at camps by lactating mothers die slow deaths from dehydration.

In an effort to make the process as humane as possible, only farmers can apply for permits, they must use 12-gauge shotguns with heavy shot and only on stationary animals rather than those in flight.

An annual quota of 10,580 will be set for four species. The kill will be 4000 little reds, 3500 blacks, 1280 grey headed and 1800 spectacled flying foxes. Blacks and reds are common.

Mr Powell said the numbers to be shot would be about the same as when shooting was last allowed four years ago and he was confident culling could be done humanely.

Farmers could obtain a permit to shoot only if they had proved non-lethal methods had failed. Quotas would be set for individual orchards and farmers would identify species.

"Farmers are aware of which species are in their area and the department will keep an eye on this," Mr Powell said.

Conservationist Carol Booth said the decision was in marked contrast to government regulations in June to reduce cruelty towards turtles and dugong during some indigenous hunts.

Dr Booth said growers could protect crops more effectively with nets, which could cost as little as $8000 per hectare.

Stanthorpe nectarine grower Ian Mungall said netting cost about $60,000 a hectare and was not viable unless subsidised by the Government.

Growers did not want to shoot native animals but saw it as an economic necessity.

Read more!

Destroyed Coastal Habitats Produce Significant Greenhouse Gas

ScienceDaily 6 Sep 12;

Destruction of coastal habitats may release as much as 1 billion tons of carbon into the atmosphere each year, 10 times higher than previously reported, according to a new Duke-led study.

Published online this week in PLoS ONE, the analysis provides the most comprehensive estimate of global carbon emissions from the loss of these coastal habitats to date: 0.15 to 1.2 billion tons. It suggests there is a high value associated with keeping these coastal-marine ecosystems intact as the release of their stored carbon costs roughly $6-$42 billion annually.

"On the high end of our estimates, emissions are almost as much as the carbon dioxide emissions produced by the world's fifth-largest emitter, Japan," said Brian Murray, director for economic analysis at Duke's Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions. "This means we have previously ignored a source of greenhouse gas emissions that could rival the emissions of many developed nations."

This carbon, captured through biological processes and stored in the sediment below mangroves, sea grasses and salt marshes, is called "blue carbon." When these wetlands are drained and destroyed, the sediment layers below begin to oxidize. Once this soil, which can be many feet deep, is exposed to air or ocean water it releases carbon dioxide over days or years.

"There's so little data out there on how much carbon might be released when these ecosystems are disturbed," said Oregon State University's Daniel Donato, co-lead author of the paper. "With this analysis we tried to reduce some of that uncertainty by identifying some 'bookends' that represent the lowest and highest probable emissions, given the information available."

The PLOS ONE study looked at the potentially massive amount of carbon tucked away from the atmosphere by the slow accretion, over hundreds to thousands of years, of soils beneath these habitats. Previous work in the area has focused only on the amount of carbon stored in these systems and not what happens when these systems are degraded or destroyed and the stored carbon is released.

"These coastal ecosystems are a tiny ribbon of land, only 6 percent of the land area covered by tropical forest, but the emissions from their destruction are nearly one-fifth of those attributed to deforestation worldwide," said Linwood Pendleton, the study's co-lead author and director of the Ocean and Coastal Policy Program at the Nicholas Institute. "One hectare, or roughly two acres of coastal marsh, can contain the same amount of carbon as 488 cars produce in a year. Comparatively, destroying a hectare of mangroves could produce as much greenhouse gas emissions as cutting down three to five hectares of tropical forest."

The critical role of these ecosystems for carbon sequestration has been overlooked, the study said. These coastal habitats could be protected and climate change combated if a system -- much like what is being done to protect trees through Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) -- were implemented. Such a policy would assign credits to carbon stored in these habitats and provide economic incentive if they are left intact.

"Blue carbon ecosystems provide a plethora of benefits to humans: they support fisheries, buffer coasts from floods and storms, and filter coastal waters from pollutants," said Emily Pidgeon, senior director of Strategic Marine Initiatives at Conservation International and co-chair of the Blue Carbon Initiative. "Economic incentives to reverse these losses may help preserve these benefits and serve as a viable part of global efforts to reduce greenhouse gases and address climate change."

The work was funded by Linden Trust for Conservation and Roger and Victoria Sant.

The study was led by Linwood Pendleton of Duke's Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions and Dan Donato of Oregon State University. Others from Duke's Nicholas Institute, Conservation International, ESA Phillip Williams & Associates, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, School of Public and Environmental Affairs, Florida International University, Oregon State University, Mediterranean Institute for Advanced Studies, Smithsonian Environmental Research Center, International Union for Conservation of Nature and the Ocean Conservancy contributed as co-authors.

Journal Reference:
Linwood Pendleton, Daniel C. Donato, Brian C. Murray, Stephen Crooks, W. Aaron Jenkins, Samantha Sifleet, Christopher Craft, James W. Fourqurean, J. Boone Kauffman, Núria Marbà, Patrick Megonigal, Emily Pidgeon, Dorothee Herr, David Gordon, Alexis Baldera. Estimating Global “Blue Carbon” Emissions from Conversion and Degradation of Vegetated Coastal Ecosystems. PLoS ONE, 2012; 7 (9): e43542 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0043542

Read more!

Weak El Niño will last through February 2013: CPC

Josephine Mason PlanetArk 7 Sep 12;

The government forecaster has issued its most definitive report since first raising the El Niño alert three months ago, forecasting a weak phenomenon that will last until the Northern Hemisphere spring.

The latest assessment from the Climate Prediction Center (CPC) could reduce the risk of a major drought in Asia, which produces some of the world's major food staples - such as sugar cane and grains. But it is unlikely to offset mounting fears about global food supplies.

The much-feared El Niño will develop weakly this month after mostly neutral conditions in August and persist through February of next year, the CPC predicted in its monthly report. It had forecast weak-to-moderate conditions in August.

"At this point the most likely outcome is a weaker event," Michelle L'Heureux, meteorologist and head of the CPC team that assesses the El Niño and La Niña phenomena, told Reuters.

A strong El Niño, essentially a warming of waters in the equatorial Pacific Ocean, can cause widespread drought in Australia, parts of Africa, Southeast Asia and India, but also bring rains to other parts of the globe.

But based on the CPC's outlook, this year could be on par with previous less-disruptive episodes in 2004-05 and 2006-07 and far off a repeat of 2009 when drought damaged crops across Asia.

"Supported by the model forecasts and the continued warmth across the Pacific Ocean, the official forecast calls for the development of most likely a weak El Niño during September 2012, persisting through December-February 2012-13," it said on Thursday.

El Niño is still likely to influence weather patterns, but it will be on a more moderate scale, Donald Keeney, agricultural meteorologist with the Cropcast weather service, told Reuters.

For instance, a gentler El Niño reduces the threat of full-scale drought in Southeast Asia, a key region in the production of palm oil.

"There will (still) be some areas of dryness, but a half to two thirds of Southeast Asia will see average rainfall," Keeney said.

To be sure, El Niño will still be closely monitored for any impact on global weather, as it will strike as the world seeks to prevent a potential food crisis with harvests falling short of needs for the coming year.

In the United States, the corn belt this summer has suffered its worst drought in more than a century, pushing grain prices to record highs and raising concerns about inflation.

The CPC, part of the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration, issued this year's first El Niño watch in June, warning the phenomenon could materialize in the second half of the year.

El Niño is the warming of sea-surface temperatures in the equatorial Pacific that occurs every four to 12 years, affecting crops from Asia to the Americas and reducing the chances of storms forming in the Atlantic basin during the hurricane season that runs to November 30.

(Reporting by Josephine Mason, editing by Gary Crosse)

Read more!

Rising chemicals output a hazard, clean-up needed by 2020: U.N.

Alister Doyle PlanetArk 6 Sep 12;

Increasing misuse of chemicals is causing health and environmental damage especially in emerging economies and governments must do more to carry out a promised clean-up by 2020, a United Nations report said on Wednesday.

Production and use of chemicals - from plastics to pesticides - is shifting to developing nations where safeguards are often weaker, the U.N. Environment Programme (UNEP) said. Unsafe disposal and recycling adds to risks, it said.

Poisonings from industrial and agricultural chemicals are among the top five leading causes of death worldwide, contributing to more than a million deaths every year, UNEP said in a statement of its Global Chemicals Outlook.

"The gains that chemicals can provide must not come at the expense of human health and the environment," Achim Steiner, head of UNEP, said of its first assessment of chemicals.

The report said chemicals are ubiquitous in modern products, from food to mobile phones, and meant millions of people live "richer, more productive and more comfortable lives".

Scientists have only assessed the risks of using a fraction of an estimated 140,000 chemicals marketed worldwide, in everything from plastics to pesticides, UNEP said.

Governments promised in 2002, and reaffirmed the promise at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in June, to produce and use chemicals by 2020 "in ways that minimize significant adverse effects on the environment and human health."


Progress in improving safeguards and finding better production methods so far have been "slow" and results "are too often insufficient", UNEP said. It listed firms such as Bayer, Boots or BASF as having ways to avoid damaging chemicals.

"The world is not on target" for the 2020 goal, Mounkaila Goumandakoye, a director of the UNEP regional office for Africa, told a news conference in Nairobi. Stockpiles of dangerous, obsolete pesticides in Africa totaled 50,000 tonnes, he said.

Chemicals including ammonia, hydrogen sulphide, styrene and formaldehyde are among frequent air pollutants. Chemicals flowing into waters include nitric acid, manganese, methanol, and formaldehyde.

The report said that the value of global chemicals output surged from $171 billion in 1970 to $4.12 trillion by 2010, but often without adequate environmental protection.

And the share produced by rich nations in the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) fell from 77 percent to 63 percent from 2000 to 2009, while big developing nations such as China and India took on a rising share.

Risks "are compounded by the steady shift in the production, use and disposal of chemical products from developed countries to emerging and developing economies, where safeguards and regulations are often weaker," UNEP said.

Better management of chemicals could help a shift to greener economy that would safeguard the environment and help growth.

"Sound chemicals management is as valid an area as education, transport, infrastructure, direct health care services and other essential public services," said Maria Neira, director for public health and the environment at the World Health Organization.

The phase-out of lead in gasoline in recent decades, for instance, provided global benefits worth an estimated $2.45 trillion a year, or 4 percent of world gross domestic product, UNEP said. Lead has been shown to cause brain damage.

And the "the accumulated cost of illness and injury linked to pesticides in small-scale farming in sub-Saharan Africa could reach $90 billion" from 2005 to 2020, it said.

The study also said rich nations are failing to recycle electronic waste, such as from old computers or television sets.

"Estimates suggest that up to 75 per cent of the e-waste generated in Europe and approximately 80 per cent of the e-waste generated in the United States goes unaccounted for," it said.

(Editing by Mark Heinrich)

Read more!