Best of our wild blogs: 13 Sep 12

15 Sep (Sat): Prof Leo Tan speaks on "Greening the Red Dot - Creating a Legacy for the future?" from Celebrating Singapore's BioDiversity!

Singapore crab featured in the world's 100 most threatened lifeforms from Celebrating Singapore's BioDiversity!

Random Gallery - Tawny Coster
from Butterflies of Singapore

Birds and the caterpillars of the Atlas moth
from Bird Ecology Study Group

21 Sep (Fri): The Wallace Lectures "Marine Biodiversity: Known and Unknown"
from wild shores of singapore

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Jurong oil spill update: "No oil patches in affected waters"

Oil Spill Following Collision Between "Sunny Horizon" and "DL Salvia" at Temasek Fairway - Update: 3
MPA News Release 12 Sep 12;

Since the collision between Hong Kong-registered bulk carrier "Sunny Horizon" and Korean-registered Liquefied Petroleum Gas carrier "DL Salvia" on 9 Sep 2012, the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) has worked with its partners from various agencies and the industry to clean up the spilled oil.

As of 12 Sep 2012, a total of 14 craft, 2 containment booms, oil recovery equipment such as a harbour buster, and more than 100 personnel were deployed for the clean-up efforts at sea and land.

No oil patches have been observed in the affected waters as at 1800 hrs today. MPA will continue to monitor our waters closely and carry out any necessary clean up. MPA's patrol and emergency response craft remain deployed at the West Jurong area to deal with any oil patches that may surface.

The shoreline clean up operation along Jurong Island's T-bund and along Tuas View Extension has also been completed. Most of the shoreline has been cleaned, with only small light stains left. The light stains will be removed tomorrow.

MPA would like to thank the following agencies and companies for their invaluable assistance:
1. Anthony Consultancy Services
2. JTC Corporation
3. National Environment Agency
4. Oil Spill Response Limited
5. Singapore Salvage Engineers Pte Ltd
6. Spica Services Pte Ltd
7. SVITZER Asia Pte Ltd
8. Tian San Shipping Pte Ltd
9. Universal Terminal (S) pte Ltd
10. Veolia Environmental Services Singapore

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Trans-boundary haze top agenda at ASEAN Environment Ministers' meeting

Saifulbahri Ismail Channel NewsAsia 12 Sep 12;

SINGAPORE: Environment and Water Resources Minister Dr Vivian Balakrishnan said the issue of trans-boundary haze will be a top agenda when ASEAN Environment Ministers meet in Bangkok later this month.

Dr Balakrishnan was speaking to reporters on the haze problem on the sidelines of an environment fund-raiser event on Wednesday.

The skies have been hazy in recent days. This condition is set to continue as dry weather fuels hotspot activities in Sumatra, Indonesia.

Dr Balakrishan said he had written to his Indonesian counterpart offering help with fire-fighting and other ancillary services.

However, Indonesia said help is not needed at this point in time.

Dr Balakrishnan pointed out action is needed to ensure commercial operators do not take the easy way out and embark on clearing the forest and peat lands by cheap and easy burning.

"First we must get political commitment and equally, and even more importantly we must get action on the ground. That's the only thing that's going to put an end to this recurrent problem every year," he said.

- CNA/de

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Malaysia: Villagers in Pengerang affected by land acquisition for petrochemical project will receive damages

Zazali Musa The Star 13 Sep 12;

JOHOR BARU: Villagers affected by the land acquisition process in Pengerang will receive their compensation in cash within 14 days of their acceptance.

The assurance given by the state government was for the on-going public hearing on the land acquisition award that started on Sept 3.

The hearing was for villagers in three villages whose lands are affected by the Rapid project located within the proposed Pengerang Integrated Petroleum Complex (PIPC).

Mentri Besar Datuk Abdul Ghani Othman said recently that Phase one of the public hearing until Sep 14, would enable the three villages affected to receive their compensation.

The three villages affected by the acquired land and properties are part of Kampung Sungai Kapal, part of Kampung Teluk Empang and part of Kampung Langkah Baik.

The public hearing implementation is based on Land Acquisition Act 1960.

“Affected villagers should not worry about their rights because it will be done according to provisions of the Act,’’ he said.

Abdul Ghani said the compensation offered would be based on valuation conducted by the Valuation and Property Service Department.

He said it was based on prevailing market prices (transaction values) at the time before Section 4, was gazetted and would not be arbitrarily decided upon by the state government.

Over and above this compensation, the state government would also be offering a special housing ownership scheme in a new resettlement area to villagers, whose houses were affected.

The scheme offers villagers the opportunity to own new detached houses at substantially discounted prices.

All the new houses come with 6,000 sq ft of land each, for which the villagers need to pay a nominal fee of RM1 only.

The categories of the new houses on offer are based on the valuation of the owners’ existing houses:

a) For existing houses valued between RM10,000 to RM40,000, villagers will be able to own new houses (750 sq ft built-up area) with 6,000 sq ft 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 (1,000 sq ft built-up area) with 6,000 sq ft 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 government will subsidise RM130,000 for the villagers to own new houses with 1,300 sq ft built-up area and 6,000 sq ft 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 (1,600 sq ft) with 6,000 sq ft of land at an estimated market value of RM245,000 by paying only RM105,000. The state will subsidise RM140,000 under this category.

Villagers will be able to use the compensation payout received for the affected houses to offset the costs of owning the new houses.

Additionally, the state will also award two acres of agriculture land at a minimal premium to be paid by the landowners, on top of the cash compensation to be paid for the acquired agricultural land.

The land will be awarded to villagers who own agricultural land that meet the prescribed criteria set by the government.

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Asian frogs becoming extinct before they can be identified, biologists warn

Scientists fear amphibian destruction will be disastrous, with many species disappearing uncatalogued
Fiona Harvey 12 Sep 12;

Frogs and other amphibians are being wiped out at such a rapid rate across Asia that many are going extinct before scientists even have a chance to identify them as new species, biologists warned at an international conservation meeting in South Korea this week.

The scale of the destruction – caused by habitat loss, disease, pollution and other factors – is hard to quantify, but scientists fear the result will be disastrous. Amphibians have been suffering a wave of devastation all around the world, in part because of the spread of the fungal disease Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, known as BD or chytrid fungus, which has wiped out whole populations within the space of a few years.

But while conservation and monitoring efforts have so far focused on the Americas and Europe, little work has yet been done in the world's most populous continent, with the result that many amphibian species there are as yet uncatalogued and unstudied. For instance, according to one researcher, there are probably at least three to four times as many amphibian species in India alone as are currently catalogued.

"These creatures are disappearing before we even know they exist. We know this is happening – this has already been shown in cases such as Sri Lanka," said Bruce Waldman, associate professor at Seoul National University in Korea. "These are living jewels – but we don't know even how many we have, and we are not saving them."

He said rapid economic development in Asia was taking a toll on amphibians, with an increase in the level of nitrogen pollution in the water, from fertiliser use, and habitats being rapidly destroyed.

He called for an urgent approach to the problem in Asia and across the world: "We need to very quickly address the global crisis in amphibians."

Frogs and other amphibians are among the most threatened creatures in the world today – globally, at least a third, probably 40%, of amphibian species are in urgent danger of extinction, making a total of more than 2,000 species of amphibian so far documented to be officially "threatened", "endangered" or "vulnerable", classifications used by scientists to describe the level of threat. "This is higher than any other terrestrial animal," said Jaime García-Moreno, executive director of the Amphibian Survival Alliance.

The plight of frogs and other amphibians is of particular concern to scientists because many think the devastation afflicting them could be a foretaste of that in waiting for other creatures. Their physiognomy makes amphibians particularly sensitive to small changes in their environment, including temperature changes such as global warming, and to water and air pollution.

This sensitivity, some scientists believe, could be behind the sudden and unexpected extinction of certain species even from well-protected areas. Waldman pointed to the golden toad of Costa Rica which "disappeared from a pristine habitat".

García-Moreno said that the loss of frog species could have knock-on effects not just on biodiversity and the food chain, but on human development. He pointed to research that has identified naturally occurring chemicals, such as skin secretions from frogs, that can be turned into medicine to treat human beings.

"Amphibians play a very important role in ecosystems – they are a conveyor of energy and nutrients from very small animals to larger animals," he said. "They are natural pest controllers too. Some have chemicals in their skins that can be useful to medical treatments, such as cancer and perhaps Aids. We must try to conserve these creatures."

Scientists could also learn more about the deadly chytrid disease from studying Asia, noted Mi-Sook Min, research professor at Seoul National University. Some indicators suggest the disease could even have come from the continent, as most cases to date have been found in other continents which may indicate a long history in Asia whereby amphibians have evolved to live with the disease. However, there are also indications in other research that the disease could have been existing in Latin America since the 1880s.

Waldman emphasised: "We just don't know – in fact the Asian crisis [over the disease] may be even worse [than in other, better documented areas] but we just don't have enough information. We are overwhelmed by our ignorance."

Global trade, including the pet trade but also commerce more generally, has helped the fungus to spread widely. In some afflicted areas, frog populations plummeted by 95% in less than a decade. The fungus appears to disrupt fluid and electrolyte balance in frogs, depleting their sodium and potassium levels and causing cardiac arrest and death, according to research from the University of California, Berkeley, and the San Francisco State University.

García-Moreno said some areas of trade were badly monitored. For instance, millions of frogs' legs are sold, imported and exported around the world today for human consumption, with few restrictions or monitoring. He called for tighter controls.

The scientists, presenting their work at the World Conservation Congress, the quadrennial meeting of the International Union for Conservation of Nature, in Jeju this week, called for more research into amphibians in Asia as a matter of urgency.

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Threatened Vietnam cave bugs draw little sympathy

Mike Ives Associated Press Google News 12 Sep 12

HON CHONG, Vietnam (AP) — Hundreds of species live in the limestone caves of Hon Chong in southern Vietnam, and many of them are found nowhere else on Earth. Yet their habitat is being blown apart, chunk by chunk, in the name of making cement.

One reason, biologists lament, is that these are creatures no one would want to hug, and many would want to stomp.

Spiders. Mites. Millipedes.

People who have been trying to save them from extinction for more than 15 years have found few allies in government, industry or among local residents.

"The problem is that limestone caves do not (have) any charismatic animals or plants that would melt people's hearts if they died out," Peter Ng Kee Lin, a biologist at the National University of Singapore, said by email.

The degradation of Asia's vast but fragile limestone ecosystems is continuing apace as the region's demand for cement grows along with its economies. Limestone is a key ingredient in cement, the second-most consumed substance on Earth after water, and is used to build desperately needed houses, roads and bridges.

Holcim Vietnam — a joint venture of the Switzerland-based company Holcim and a state-owned Vietnamese construction company — began quarrying 200 hectares (490 acres) of Hon Chong limestone in 1997. It is licensed to quarry about 91 million tons of limestone at three hills over 50 years.

Hon Chong has among the few limestone outcroppings in southern Vietnam and lies about 250 kilometers (155 miles) west of the southern economic hub of Ho Chi Minh City.

Its isolated cave ecosystems are among the world's most biodiverse, according to Louis Deharveng, a biodiversity specialist at the Museum National d'Histoire Naturelle in Paris.

Letters from scientists and a biodiversity study obtained by The Associated Press show that Holcim Vietnam and a key donor have received repeated warnings in recent years about the threats the company's quarries pose to Hon Chong's cave-dwelling invertebrates. Three respected European scientists have accused the company of ignoring red flags over two decades and provoking an ongoing "ecological disaster."

"It's rather like a company going in to mine the Galapagos just before Charles Darwin arrives," said one of the scientists, Tony Whitten, a former biodiversity specialist at the World Bank who is now regional director for Asia-Pacific at the UK-based conservation group Fauna & Flora International. "How many species is a company prepared to eliminate from a planet we are supposed to be managing and sustaining?"

Holcim Vietnam says its operations meet the highest international standards for social and environmental responsibility and that it is working to offset the damage it causes to Hon Chong's limestone.

It partners with the Switzerland-based International Union for Conservation of Nature to relocate rare monkeys living near the caves, and has also donated $30,000 toward a wetland-based crane conservation project managed by the U.S.-based International Crane Foundation, according to the groups.

Holcim and the Swiss conservation group also are working with provincial authorities to create two protected areas of about 2,000 hectares each near the Hon Chong quarries — one for grasslands and the other for limestone.

Holcim is also working with the International Union for Conservation of Nature to develop a "biodiversity action plan" for Hon Chong that is expected to be finalized in October. Jake Brunner, Mekong program coordinator for the conservation group, said Holcim does not have a perfect environmental record but is an "island of excellence" when compared to Vietnam's state-owned cement companies.

Holcim's critics, however, said that while the company is helping to mitigate the damage done to monkeys and cranes, it is slowly killing off the small cave dwellers that play an undervalued but important role in the ecosystem.

Cave invertebrates are pollinators and the base of food chains that support a rich web of life, scientists say. Because limestone hills have rugged terrain and have largely been spared from agricultural development, their interior caves are now "islands" of tropical biodiversity, and most of the organisms living inside those caves are unknown to science.

Ng, the Singapore biologist, said the destruction continues in part because caves do not house "sexy" animals that galvanize the general public's sympathies.

"Our disregard for them speaks volumes of human wisdom," he said.

Nguyen Cong Minh Bao, Holcim Vietnam's sustainable development director, said ecological factors couldn't be considered independent of economic ones.

"That's the reality where we are living," he said in an interview at company headquarters in Ho Chi Minh City.

Holcim declined a request by the AP to visit its Hong Chong quarries and cement production plant, saying it did not have enough advance notice to arrange a tour. But in July, AP reporters interviewed local residents who said they were grateful for the jobs, infrastructure and social welfare programs the company assists in.

"Holcim has done a good job protecting the environment," said provincial environmental official Vo Thi Van. "It's not right to say the quarries have caused an ecological disaster."

Holcim's plant was built with help from the International Finance Corporation, the private-sector arm of the World Bank. It arranged financing of $97 million for the project, though Deharveng warned the corporation in 1995 that "no comparable ecosystem exists elsewhere in Vietnam."

The decision to go through with the loan was made based on an environmental impact assessment by Vietnamese scientists that did not specifically address threats to Hon Chong's cave biodiversity, said Richard Caines, one of the finance corporation's principal environment specialists.

The corporation later commissioned a biodiversity survey that in 2002 reported "wide species diversity" in Hon Chong's limestone hills. The loan was paid off in 2003, but Caines said the corporation continued to work with Holcim Vietnam after that, in part because the quarrying operations posed a "reputation risk" to both parties.

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Indonesia: Dry Season Parches Lombok

Fitri Jakarta Post 10 Sep 12;

West Lombok, West Nusa Tenggara. “Quick! The water’s coming!”

The cry echoes through the dusty village of Batu Layar, in the West Lombok subdistrict of the same name, as a tanker truck rolls down the main street.

The village, languishing in the oppressive heat of the dry season, suddenly springs to life. Residents rush out of their homes carrying buckets, jerricans and other water receptacles.

They jostle around the tanker to get their fill, while village officials try to restore some semblance of order by ensuring that the women get their share first.

For those like Inaq Nurhasanan, the arrival of the water tanker, courtesy of the district’s social services agency, is a welcome relief in more ways than one.

“We need the water for every aspect of our lives, which makes the drought this year particularly hard for us,” she says.

The driest of seasons

Batu Layar’s 150 families have for the past four months been grappling with the most intense drought there in living memory.

Twice a day, the village’s men, women and children trudge three to five kilometers to neighboring villages to get water, often returning empty-handed as wells across the area dry up.

Last year’s rainy season ended a month early, in March; by May, the wells had bottomed out and the riverbeds had run dry. Now, 750 hectares of rice crops have failed, and there is no sign of the dry season ending. Official predictions are that the rainy season will not return until late October.

In the early days of the water crisis, the district disaster mitigation agency, or BPBD, set up large tanks in each village to hold water reserves, but these have been dry for weeks now.

The severity of the drought has forced local officials to send out tanker trucks to affected areas, but Batu Layar’s remote location and lack of properly paved roads means deliveries are few and far between.

“We’ve been waiting for a long time for the truck to come,” Nurhasanan says.

“This is only the third time it’s come here in the past four months.”

When it does come, the relief it brings is short-lived. Each household is restricted to just 20 liters of water. If they run out before the tanker returns, they go back to walking long distances in search of the precious commodity.

When they do find a functioning well, the villagers often must pay exorbitant prices for the water, leaving them struggling to afford basic foodstuffs.

Struggling to cope

Muhamad Taufik, the Batu Layar village chief, says there is little he can do about the situation, short of directing villagers to the nearest functioning well or pleading with the social services agency to send its tanker trucks more frequently.

Bachruddin, head of the civil registry at the provincial social services agency, acknowledges the severity of the drought this year and points out that Batu Layar is not an isolated case: Ten other villages in West Lombok are also in the grip of crippling water shortages, along with 11 villages in East, North and Central Lombok.

He says the agency is scrambling to address the crisis, but only has three tanker trucks to serve the entire island. Each district-level social services agency, meanwhile, only has one truck, except hard-hit West Lombok, which has none.

Budget constraints are also a factor. Bachruddin says his agency can only allocate Rp 50,000 ($5.22) per delivery — a sum dwarfed by the cost of the fuel alone for the long trips to more isolated villages.

Jajaki, head of the agency’s disaster mitigation unit, points out that the water shortage, though particularly acute this year, is an annual problem here.

To deal with it over the long term, the agency is encouraging villages like Batu Layar to plant more trees to restore their depleted water catchment areas and thereby raise the water level.

“We’ve already handed out thousands of seedlings to villages,” he says.

“We hope the campaign will be successful, or at the very least that the people will become aware that protecting the local vegetation is crucial to preserving their water sources.”

Mastur, a Batu Layar villager who has given up hope of an early rainfall this year, agrees that reforesting the area is the only way to ensure that there are no more dry spells like this in the future.

“Over the years we’ve destroyed the trees that ensured our water sources. Now we’re having to make amends by planting new ones,” he says.

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