Best of our wild blogs: 17 Sep 12

Latest Green Jobs in Singapore [10 - 16 Sep 2012]
from Green Business Times

Pelagic Outing September 2012
from Con Foley Photography

A Few Butterflies at USR
from Beauty of Fauna and Flora in Nature

Checklist of Bird Calls and Songs for Singapore and Malaysia
from Bird Ecology Study Group

Wild facts updates: snails, clams and other critters
from wild shores of singapore

Giant Honeybees
from Monday Morgue

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Indonesia: The Cruelty and Illegality Of Killing Sharks for Fins

Lida Pet-Soede Jakarta Globe 16 Sep 12;

A recent report by wildlife trade monitoring group Traffic shows that Indonesia continues to be the biggest shark-catching country in the world, based on UN Food and Agricultural Organization data.

Indonesia’s average annual reported shark catch in the past decade represents more than 13 percent of the reported global catch. Up to 65 percent of Indonesia’s catch is taken from the Pacific Ocean and the remainder from the Indian Ocean. In the Indian Ocean, Indonesia owns the major shark fleets, with average catches fluctuating between 8,500 to 16,500 tons per year in recent years.

Most sharks are predators in coral reef and ocean ecosystems, sitting on top of the food pyramid and helping control the balance of the marine environment.

Losing one of these predators leads to uncontrolled population growth of other species. Sharks eat sick or wounded organisms to help maintain the ecosystem’s health. Without them, the entire food chain would collapse.

The practice of shark-finning has drawn a lot of attention and reactions. And since social media has made it even easier to report incidents, tourists and divers are now able to post their holiday observations.

Likewise, the progress made in the United States and Hong Kong on increasing consumer awareness and the reduced availability of shark-fin soup in restaurants are also receiving a lot of media attention. There is now an increasing outcry for governments to stop shark-finning.

“Finning” is a callous and careless practice in which sharks are caught, their fins sliced off, and their bleeding bodies thrown back into the water where they die a slow and painful death. Not only is this a cruel practice, it is illegal, inefficient and a waste of food resources.

Scientists have also joined the international community’s call for urgent action on the shark-fishing industry, acknowledging that the market for shark fins will continue to grow because increased buying power will create a bigger consumer base. On top of that, target species in shark fisheries grow slowly and mature late with few offspring, hence they are easily overfished.

The Indonesian government has had few legal tools in the past decades to prohibit or restrict shark fishing. Traffic suggests that the increase in shark and ray fishing in Indonesia has outgrown existing fisheries management approaches.

The only regulation and law enforcement related to shark fisheries and shark products was for sawfish and the implementation of the regulations was only applied to monitoring and banning the rostrum trade rather than to regulate trade of other parts of the body as it was considered too difficult to identify the species.

Pursuant to its membership in the UN Food and Agricultural Organization, Indonesia was mandated to develop a national plan to protect sharks. Recognizing the importance of developing management regulations specific to shark fisheries, a research project funded by the Australian Center for International Agricultural Research on artisanal shark and ray fisheries in Eastern Indonesia and their relationships with Australian resources, was undertaken in 2004 to develop a national plan of action.

The plan identifies key issues for shark and ray management in Indonesia and broad strategies to address these as well as the competent authorities. However, there are two big challenges underlying the implementation of the plan for sharks.

First is the considerable illegal shark fishing in Indonesian waters and some cases of corruption on the part of those charged with enforcement, and second is the predominance of the artisanal sector in shark catch.

Without the willingness to change, and without any strong legal basis to protect sharks and ban finning, the national plan of action for sharks is not being implemented.

Recently, the directorate of fisheries resources at the Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries agreed to promulgate regulations — but not until 2013.

WWF is identified as a partner in implementing the initiatives identified in the plan. We examined the laws on animal welfare and protection, and determined that even without a viable national plan of action, certain provisions of existing laws on animal welfare could be applied to implement a ban on shark-finning now.

The two most prominent laws that support a ban on shark-finning are the Indonesian criminal code and Law No. 18/2009 on husbandry and animal health.

Article 302 of the Indonesian criminal code prescribes imprisonment for up to nine months for anyone guilty of maltreatment of animals, which means anyone who “without reasonable objective or by overstepping what is permissible in reaching such objective, with deliberate intent” commits an act toward an animal resulting in illness longer than one week, mutilation, serious harm or death.

Clearly, finning is a mutilation, and even if one were to argue that harvesting of shark fin for soup is a “reasonable objective,” finning can hardly be considered a permissible way to achieve it.

Law No.18/2009 on husbandry and animal health contains potent provisions on animal welfare that clearly apply to sharks. Sharks are “animals” and “wild animals” under the law. The law’s definition of animal welfare is to protect animals “from any unreasonable action … against an animal that is beneficial to human beings.” Article 66 states that animals must be kept free from ill treatment, torture and misuse, subject to penalty. “Misuse” is defined as obtaining “satisfaction and/or profit” from animals by utilizing them “unreasonably,” e.g., “pulling out a cat’s claw.” Cats can live without their claws; sharks cannot live without their fins.

Provisions on animal welfare apply to “all types of animals that bear backbone,” and even to spineless animals that can feel pain, such as crabs. If crabs are entitled to fair treatment, surely sharks deserve legal protection from finning.

While the well-being argument will surely raise many eyebrows in a country where sharks are seen as man-eaters, and pro-poor development strategies are not supportive of restricting access to more or less free-for-all natural resources, the public should be aware that it is illegal, under existing animal welfare laws, to fin sharks, and that the government has neglected its obligation to implement the national plan of action.

Proper management regulations on shark fisheries need to be enforced, allowing only for quota-based culling of shark populations that are not at an overfished level.

In absence of any such comprehensive data, the government should consider completely banning all shark fishing, allow for stocks to recover, develop a meaningful stock monitoring program and only allow for shark fishing of species that are proven to be in healthy stock status, by communities in coastal areas with small-scale gear, in support of sustainable fisheries and livelihoods of those who need it most. It’s time for the government to act.

Dr. Lida Pet-Soede is a leader of the WWF’s Coral Triangle Global Initiative in Jakarta. She oversees a diverse team working in cooperation with the governments, private sector and coastal communities of Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Papua New Guinea, East Timor and the Solomon Islands.

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Most Coral Reefs Are at Risk Unless Climate Change Is Drastically Limited, Study Shows

ScienceDaily 16 Sep 12;

Coral reefs face severe challenges even if global warming is restricted to the 2 degrees Celsius commonly perceived as safe for many natural and human-made systems. Warmer sea surface temperatures are likely to trigger more frequent and more intense mass coral bleaching events. Only under a scenario with strong action on mitigating greenhouse-gas emissions and the assumption that corals can adapt at extremely rapid rates, could two thirds of them be safe, shows a study now published in Nature Climate Change. Otherwise all coral reefs are expected to be subject to severe degradation.

Coral reefs house almost a quarter of the species in the oceans and provide critical services -- including coastal protection, tourism and fishing -- to millions of people worldwide. Global warming and ocean acidification, both driven by human-caused CO2 emissions, pose a major threat to these ecosystems.

"Our findings show that under current assumptions regarding thermal sensitivity, coral reefs might no longer be prominent coastal ecosystems if global mean temperatures actually exceed 2 degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial level," says lead author Katja Frieler from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. "Without a yet uncertain process of adaptation or acclimation, however, already about 70% of corals are projected to suffer from long-term degradation by 2030 even under an ambitious mitigation scenario." Thus, the threshold to protect at least half of the coral reefs worldwide is estimated to be below 1.5 degrees Celsius mean temperature increase.

A more comprehensive and robust representation than in previous studies

This study is the first comprehensive global survey of coral bleaching to express results in terms of global mean temperature change. It has been conducted by scientists from Potsdam, the University of British Columbia in Canada and the Universities of Melbourne and Queensland in Australia. To project the cumulative heat stress at 2160 reef locations worldwide, they used an extensive set of 19 global climate models. By applying different emission scenarios covering the 21st century and multiple climate model simulations, a total of more than 32,000 simulation years was diagnosed. This allows for a more robust representation of uncertainty than any previous study.

Corals derive most of their energy, as well as most of their famous color, from a close symbiotic relationship with a special type of microalgae. The vital symbiosis between coral and algae can break down when stressed by warm water temperatures, making the coral "bleach" or turn pale. Though corals can survive this, if the heat stress persists long enough the corals can die in great numbers. "This happened in 1998, when an estimated 16% of corals were lost in a single, prolonged period of warmth worldwide," says Frieler.

Adaptation is uncertain and ocean acidification means even more stress

To account for a possible acclimation or adaptation of corals to thermal stress, like shifts to symbiont algae with a higher thermal tolerance, rather optimistic assumptions have been included in the study. "However, corals themselves have all the wrong characteristics to be able to rapidly evolve new thermal tolerances," says co-author Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, a marine biologist at the University of Queensland in Australia. "They have long lifecycles of 5-100 years and they show low levels of diversity due to the fact that corals can reproduce by cloning themselves. They are not like fruit flies which can evolve much faster."

Previous analyses estimated the effect of thermal adaptation on bleaching thresholds, but not the possible opposing effect of ocean acidification. Seawater gets more acidic when taking up CO2 from the atmosphere. This is likely to act to the detriment of the calcification processes crucial for the corals' growth and might also reduce their thermal resilience. The new study investigates the potential implications of this ocean acidification effect, finding that, as Hoegh-Guldberg says: "The current assumptions on thermal sensitivity might underestimate, not overestimate, the future impact of climate change on corals."

This comprehensive analysis highlights how close we are to a world without coral reefs as we know them. "The window of opportunity to preserve the majority of coral reefs, part of the world's natural heritage, is small," summarizes Malte Meinshausen, co-author at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and the University of Melbourne. "We close this window, if we follow another decade of ballooning global greenhouse-gas emissions."

Journal Reference:

K. Frieler, M. Meinshausen, A. Golly, M. Mengel, K. Lebek, S. D. Donner, O. Hoegh-Guldberg. Limiting global warming to 2 °C is unlikely to save most coral reefs. Nature Climate Change, 2012; DOI: 10.1038/NCLIMATE1674

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