Best of our wild blogs: 26 Sep 12

Little Grebe’s Splashing Good Time
from Bird Ecology Study Group

Rice hopper
from The annotated budak

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Malaysia: 10 big questions to ask about Pengerang petrochemical projects

Thomas Fann Malaysian Insider 25 Sep 12;

SEPT 25 — On May 13, 2011, PM Najib announced that Petronas will invest RM60 billion in a major integrated refinery and petrochemical complex in Pengerang, Johor. The Refinery and Petrochemicals Integrated Development (RAPID) project by Petronas, as it is known, is expected to be commissioned by the end of 2016, as part of the national oil company’s efforts to expand its downstream production.

Exactly a year later on May 13, 2012, when the RAPID project was officially launched, the total value is now RM120 billion, with expected investments from Taiwanese and German petrochemical companies, easily making this Pengerang project the biggest-ever in the history of this nation.

In the midst of all the excitement and promises of economic benefits to the state of Johor and the nation, there has been some disquiet amongst the Pengerang community. Local NGOs were formed and had submitted memorandums to various authorities and several protests were organised this year.

It would be wrong to say that these NGOs and the people they represent are against any form of development in Pengerang but what many are concerned about is that it has to be sustainable. These local NGOs have adopted a unifying theme — Kekalkan Pengerang Lestari, or Maintain the Sustainability of Pengerang. Development of such scale must be embarked upon with regards for the people affected by it and be done responsibly to minimise its impact on the environment.

We have to ask honest questions and hear honest answers to these questions so that the concerns of not just the Pengerangites but also Malaysians are allayed.

There are many issues and questions to ask but I want to list down 10 big questions to ask the government about this massive project.

Question 1: The RAPID Project requires 6,424 acres of land but why is the Johor government using the Land Acquisition Act 1960 to acquire 22,500 acres of land? We hope a plausible and detailed explanation for its justification is forthcoming so that the government would not be accused of using Rapid as an excuse to grab land from the ordinary people of Pengerang.

Question 2: What is going to happen to the fishermen and smallholders who would have lost their means of livelihood? There are about 3,100 residents within the seven villages affected, who earned a living as fishermen and smallholders. Though some argued that 40,000 jobs would be created during the construction phase and 4,000 by the time the projects are completed in 2016, the reality are for many of these affected fishermen and farmers, it would be difficult for them to work in these new jobs because their skills are different.

Question 3: It has been reported that licensed fishermen are being offered RM30,000 compensation whilst unlicensed ones are offered half that amount. Smallholders with 1-2 acres land are offered between RM65,000 and RM105,000 for their land. As a “sweetener”, the Johor government is offering “subsidised” alternative housing on 6,000 sq ft of land with built-up area between 750 and 1,600 sq ft. The discounted prices the villagers would have to pay for these houses range from RM35,000 to RM105,000. In short, they would have given up their 1-2 acres of land and houses in exchange for 6,000 sq ft of land with a house on it, some 15-20km away, with little or no money in their pocket and no land to earn a living. I am told many of these lands are shared between several siblings in the first place, thus, after dividing the compensation they won’t even be able to afford the “subsidised” housing. Is this a fair deal?

Question 4: Why is our government so keen to welcome KuoKuang Petrochemical of Taiwan when they have been rejected by their own country? Again, like the Lynas case, is our government telling us that Malaysian lives are worth not only less than the Australian but also now, less than the Taiwanese? We have to understand why the Taiwanese people were so against KuoKuang before we welcome them into our land.

Question 5: Is it true that a petrochemical plant the scale of Rapid would need massive amount of processed water a day to operate, almost 75 per cent of Johor’s current daily consumption? If this is true, wouldn’t it cause acute water shortages in Johor? Have the government foresaw this and made plans to increase the supply of processed water for the state?

Question 6: Apart from consuming large quantity of water, it would also need large quantity of electrical energy? If not, has the government made plans to increase the energy output in Johor? Has this got anything to do with the rumoured nuclear power plants to be setup in Pengerang? What would our neighbour across the straits have to say about this, especially in the light of the recent Fukushima nuclear disaster?

Question 7: In May 2009, during a visit to Singapore, PM Najib proposed to his counterpart PM Lee that a third link be built linking Pengerang to Singapore. When would this proposal be followed-up with another announcement? Would it be after all the land near this third link has been acquired and parceled to third party companies so that they can make a killing?

Question 8: Currently, the Department of Environment (DOE) requires developers to submit the EIA report. This report is paid for by the developers, in this case Petronas. Can we trust the glowing DEIA (Detailed Environmental Impact Assessment) report by Integrated Envirotect Sdn Bhd? Isn’t it a case of “he who pays the piper calls the tune”? Shouldn’t an independent panel of local and international experts be appointed to do the DEIA so that the integrity of the report would not be compromised and the truth of potential environmental impact can be known?

Question 9: It is oppression to the local communities when you unilaterally announce a major development without consultation. That was what happened in Pengerang. When PM Najib made the announcement in May 2011, it was said that even the local state assemblyman was clueless, let alone the villagers. Free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) is an approach outlined in international human rights law and declarations. It recognises the right of local affected people to be consulted, and to negotiate with, project developers on the impact of a project on their community. Have the voices of the Pengerang people being heard?

Question 10: For all the claims of huge economic benefits these petrochemical projects would bring to this country, we hear that the Taiwanese company, KuoKuang Petrochemical will be given a tax holiday of 10 years! Their government rejected them and ours give them this incentive to move here. While we, the taxpayer pay our government to look after us, hazardous foreign companies are invited into our country to pollute us tax-free, denying us probably billions in taxes which could have bee used to clean up the environment and improve health care here. What is going on here?

In Conclusion...

What do we value in our society? Have we come to a point where everything is valued by ringgit and sen? If a project is valued at RM120 billion, then it is more valuable than the rights of people, our heritage, creatures under our care, our floral and fauna, and the environment? If so, how are we different from the prostitute who offers herself to the highest bidder?

As Malaysians, we are concern with what is happening in Pengerang not because it could directly impact us but because it could be our homes and livelihood that would be taken next. What we are confronting is not an isolated situation but a systemic problem of lack of transparency, disregards for the people’s rights and the environment.

These are honest questions that are in need of answers from the only people who can answer them — the government. We hope that honest answers will be forthcoming in the days to come. We hope that the declaration “Rakyat didahulukan, Pencapaian diutamakan” (People first, Performance now) is more than an empty slogan when it comes to Pengerang.

But for now, myself and thousand others will be attending Himpunan Hijau Lestari Pengerang on September 30 because we are seeking answers and standing in solidarity with our fellow Malaysians in Pengerang. For more information, you can visit

* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insider.

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Indonesia: Thick Haze Paralyzes Jambi Airport

Jakarta Globe 24 Sep 12;

Jambi. Thick smoke from ground and forest fires have severely curtailed visibility and forced the closure of the Sultan Thaha Syaifuddin airport in Jambi city on Monday, an airport executive said.

The airport was closed for landing as visibility was down to 500 to 1,000 meters. The day's first scheduled flight at 6:00 a.m. had to be delayed by about 30 minutes.

The first flight scheduled to land at the airport, a Lion Air flight from Jakarta that should have landed at 7:30 a.m., was not able to do so and was diverted to the airport in Palembang.

Alzog Pendra, the operations manager of the Jambi airport, said they have warned aircraft against forcing to land if visibility was not permitting.

The thick haze began to disrupt the flight schedule at the Jambi airport on Sunday, Alzog said.

On Sunday, the same first flight from Jakarta operated by Lion air also failed to land because of the low visibility and was diverted to Palembang in neighboring South Sumatra. But similar low visibility due to haze in Palembang' Sultan Mahmud Badaruddin airport forced the plane to return to Jakarta instead.

A Garuda flight from Jakarta that had been due to arrive on Sunday morning only managed to land in Jambi at 1 p.m. after visibility improved.

An air pollution control index showed that in Jambi city, the air was entering the level of serious pollution, with smoke and ash at 90 particles per million over the past three days.

Bambang Priyanto, the deputy mayor of Jambi, said he has asked the city's health office to begin distributing free masks to the public because of the worsening air quality there.

"We have prepared some 70,000 masks in anticipation of the smoke," he said. The city, Bambang added, was also currently considering whether to temporarily close down schools, especially for kindergarten and primary schools.

Suara Pembaruan

Ongoing Jambi Fires Spark Public Health Fears
Jakarta Globe 26 Sep 12;

Jambi. The thick and chocking haze from ground and forest fires that has blanketed Jambi for the past three months has pushed up the number of sufferers of respiratory tract ailments, health officials said on Tuesday.

Andi Pada, from the Jambi provincial health office, said the number of people suffering from respiratory tract ailments in the Sumatran province has risen to 3,020, with 1,241 of them in the capital.

Batanghari district followed with 943 people, East Tanjung Jabung with 581 and Muarojambi with 455. There were no reports yet from the seven other districts and municipalities in Jambi.

Andi said the standard air pollution index in Jambi city had already reached unhealthy levels at more than 100 particles per million.

The local health office has already distributed some 3,000 masks to the population, especially for motorists.

Zubaidi, the head of the Jambi Disaster Mitigation Agency, said that a team from the Agency for the Assessment and Application of Technology (BPPT) was attempting to artificially induce rains in the area by spreading salt in the sky over Jambi.

However, he said, the rain-making often failed because of the scarcity of clouds and the very dry nature of the air.

“But this Tuesday morning, rains have begun to fall, although not heavily,” Zubaidi said.

“Hopefully there will be enough clouds over Jambi in the next few days for the rains to overcome the problems of smoke and ground and forest fires in Jambi.”

A thin rain began to fall over Jambi city at around 7:30 a.m. but only lasted for 15 minutes, failing to rid the city of the thick and chocking smoke.

Even after the rain, visibility was well below one kilometer and monitoring from the Jambi Environmental Agency showed the air pollution index at 95 to 97 particles per million.

By 8 a.m., no flights had been able to land at Jambi’s Sultan Taha Syaifuddin Airport because of the low visibility. The first airplanes usually land at the airport at 7 a.m. Alzog Pendra, the operational manager of the airport, said that planes can only land if visibility is at least two kilometers.

Meanwhile, environmental activists in Jambi on Tuesday criticized the local governments for its slow response to the haze problem that began three months ago.

Rakhmat Hidayat, the executive director of the Indonesian Conservation Community and the Jambi Conservation Information Stall, deplored the local government for not acting quickly to deal with the growing haze problems in the region.

He said that the government was not fast enough in preventing the use of fire for land clearing, both by large plantation companies and by individual farmers.

The practice of clearing land with fire is outlawed but enforcement has been hard because of the limited funding and personnel.

Rakhmat said that thousands of plantations and forests in Jambi were now on fire, mostly intentionally, but the local government has not taken any actions against those making the fires.

He also said that the government was late in distributing masks to minimize the number of sufferers of respiratory tract ailments.

Suara Pembaruan

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Malaysia: Terengganu villagers now see the need to save terrapins

Farik Zolkepli The Star 25 Sep 12;

THE struggle to save painted terrapins, an endangered species, is seeing a breakthrough with the release of 80 baby terrapins in Kampung Mangkuk, Setiu, Terrenganu.

The activity, organised by WWF-Malaysia, saw the involvement of more than 60 students from SK Mangkuk and villagers.

WWF Malaysia Terengganu Turtle Conservation team leader Rahayu Zulkifli said the organisation has been making headway in efforts to save the terrapins with the cooperation of local villagers.

“This activity show the support of the locals and their awareness of the importance of saving the terrapins.

“We have been going full force in doing studies to save the terrapins since 2009 but it would not have been possible without the locals,” she said recently.

She added that the event was all the more special with the presence of the students.

“It is important to spread awareness on terrapin conservation from young. The students’ participation means they can be educated on the importance of such conservation,” she said.

Rahayu said WWF’s buy-back scheme was one of the milestones in the effort to save the terrapins as well as turtles.

“The purchase of painted terrapin eggs and turtle eggs purchased from licensed egg collectors has been successful in protecting these eggs from being sold to the markets, and subsequently eaten.

“We managed to collect 10 nests in 2009 from Kuala Baru Utara and Mengabang Sekepeng near here but the number increased to 101 nests last year,” she said, adding that the hatching rate for last year was 78%.

Meanwhile, local fisherman Mat Rahim Mamat, 63, said he fully supported the effort to save the terrapins.

“The awareness on the need to save the terrapins has been growing over the last five years. I, along with other fishermen, now have the mindset to pass any eggs we may find to the WWF,” he said.

He added that the habit of eating turtle eggs was also slowly diminishing.

“We want the future generation to be able to see terrapins, so the fight to save it must begin now,” he said.

SK Mangkuk Year Six pupil Noralia Syafiqah, 12, said she felt fortunate to take part in the release of baby terrapins for the first time.

“The experience has made me want to protect them even more.

“I hope such events are held more in the future,” she said.

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Thailand: Phuket endangered species experts launch turtle preservation project

Phuket Gazette 25 Sep 12;

PHUKET: Islanders living on Koh Ra and Koh Pratong in Phang Nga have been selected by the Phuket Marine Biological Center (PMBC) to participate in a pilot scheme for a community network to preserve the sea turtle population.

Dr Kongkiat Kittiwattanawong, who heads the PMBC’s Endangered Species Unit, told the Phuket Gazette that the number of turtles laying eggs on beaches along the Andaman coast has decreased drastically.

Citing discarded fishing nets and other human activities among the main causes of turtles being washed ashore, Dr Kongkiat said that the PMBC needs help from local villagers to preserve sea turtle numbers.

“Preserving sea turtle populations is not the responsibility of just one country. Every country needs to work on it together, especially among Asean members as many of us share the same ocean,” said Dr Kongkiat.

“The PMBC will launch the project around Koh Ra and Koh Pratong. We want to instill awareness of the problem and build up a preservation network in the community.

“We chose Koh Ra and Koh Pratong because these islands have plenty of seagrass and the conditions are suitable for Olive Ridley, Hawksbill, Leatherback and Green turtles to lay eggs,” he added.

Referring to the damage to the turtles’ egg-laying sites, Dr Kongkiat pointed the finger at local departments who he said had failed to look after the beaches.

“Now only Green and Leatherback turtles lay eggs on these two beaches,” he added.

According to PMBC statistics, in 2009 officials counted 30 turtle nests on the beach. By 2010 that figure had dropped to only four or five nests and last year only two nests were identified.

“So far this year we have counted only three nests on Koh Ra and Koh Pratong. We need to get into the community and ask for everyone’s cooperation. I believe that if the villagers help us and do not encroach into the egg laying areas, the turtles will return and the number of eggs being laid will increase,” Dr Kongkiet said.

The preservation project comes in the wake of the PMBC recovering at least 24 injured turtles that washed ashore on beaches in Phuket and Phang Nga over the past three months.

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Indonesia has succeeded in reducing deforestation: President

Antara 25 Sep 12;

New York (ANTARA News) - President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has stated that Indonesia has succeeded in reducing deforestation and the government is continuing its reforestation efforts by implementing a number of programmes involving the local community.

"The most depressing event relating to deforestation in our country is when we lost 3.5 million hectares of rain forests during the transition-to-democracy period in 2000," he said in New York on Monday night.

"From that point on, Indonesia launched a number of policies to regain its forest cover," he added.

President Yudhoyono admitted that it was not easy to implement such policies, which required cooperation of the local community as well as the international community.

"One of our decisions was to make a breakthrough by implementing the REDD plus program in cooperation with the Norwegian government," he said.

However, the decision was widely criticized across Indonesia. The head of the state had to assure his countrymen that the move was part of the government's efforts to preserve the environment and it would benefit Indonesia in the long term.

"We also issued a moratorium to protect our forests, as part of our reformation efforts," the President said.

"One of the positive outcomes of the policy is that 35 percent of Indonesia`s tropical rain forests are currently protected by the government," he explained.

"Besides, we also aggressively initiated our reforestation efforts. I led the campaign and have managed to plant one billion trees every year. So far, we have planted about three billion trees," President Yudhoyono stated.

He also called on the global community to cooperate with Indonesia in its efforts to achieve sustainable economic growth.

Editor: Ella Syafputri

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Global shark conservation plan in the balance at landmark talks

Representatives from 50 nations have met to discuss the draft plan to ban shark finning and manage populations
Stanley Johnson 25 Sep 12;

A ban on shark finning and the adoption of a global shark conservation plan is being sought at a meeting of more than 50 countries in Bonn this week.

The UK-backed draft plan to monitor and manage shark populations is under discussion at the first official meeting of signatories to a landmark memorandum of understanding on the Conservation of Migratory Species (CMS). A decision is expected on Thursday.

The market for shark fins, used in shark fin soup, is a major threat to shark populations, with fins among the most expensive fish products in the world at $740 (£456) per kilo. The high value of fins compared to the usually lower value of the rest of the shark meat creates an economic incentive for the wasteful practice of slicing off a shark's fins and discarding the body at sea. Several hotel chains in Asia, including Shangri-La and Peninsula, have banned shark fin soup as a result of campaigning for an end to finning.

Shark finning has been banned by more than 60 fishing nations as well as the European Union. But in the EU and in many countries, permits for processing on board can be obtained in some cases, whereby shark fins can be removed from the carcasses and stored separately. A vote in the European parliament's committee on fisheries voted on the issue on 19 September, but failed to close the loopholes.

Sandrine Polti, shark policy adviser to the Pew Environment Group, said: "Pew strongly supports the European commission's proposal [made in 2011, to end the permits] and urges all parliamentarians to endorse a strict EU policy against removing shark fins at sea, without any more exceptions,"

The plan under discussion at this week's CMS would commit countries to: "Where not already in place, consider enacting legislation or regulations requiring sharks to be landed with each fin naturally attached."

Officials from the UK hope to strengthen the language so as to achieve a global, watertight and exception-free commitment to a ban on shark finning. The fisheries minister, Richard Benyon, plunged into a tank of sharks – behind a net – at the Sealife London Aquarium in August to highlight the UK's opposition to shark finning.

• Stanley Johnson's new book, Where the Wild Things Were: Travels of a Conservationist, is published by Stacey International

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UN recognizes wildlife crime as threat to rule of law

WWF 25 Sep 12;

New York - Poaching and the illicit trafficking of wildlife products were raised on the floor of the United Nations General Assembly for the first time Monday during discussions on strengthening national and international governance. World leaders gathering in New York for the global body’s 67th annual meeting highlighted wildlife trafficking along with other severe threats to the rule of law such as corruption and drug running.

In a written statement, permanent Security Council member United States highlighted “the harm caused by wildlife poaching and trafficking to conservation efforts, rule of law, governance and economic development.” The rapidly-growing illicit international trade in endangered species products, such as rhino horn, elephant ivory and tiger parts, is now estimated to be worth $8-10 billion per year globally.

“Such organized crime is increasingly affecting the environment and biodiversity through poaching and illegal fishing,” Gabon’s President Ali Bongo said during the High-level Meeting on the Rule of Law. “Gabon intends to strengthen its criminal justice system to combat this phenomenon. But such efforts will require a greater international legal cooperation.”

Permanent member France also emphasized the severity and negative impacts of wildlife crime. “There are still entire sectors of activity without any legal safety,” French Minister Delegate for Development Pascal Canfin said. “International law is lacking when it comes to the plundering of natural resources, for example, or the trafficking of fauna.”

President Bongo took the occasion to reaffirm his country’s commitment to “combating violations of the Convention on International Trade [in] Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora as well as other conventions to protect the environment and biodiversity.”

In response to record levels of elephant poaching in Africa, President Bongo oversaw the burning of Gabon’s seized ivory stockpile earlier this year after a full audit supported by WWF and TRAFFIC. Organized criminal syndicates, sometimes linked to armed insurgent groups, are believed to be behind many of the tens of thousands of elephant poaching deaths occurring in Africa each year. Ivory tusks are highly valuable on Asian black markets.

“Illicit wildlife trafficking can have severe consequences for people as well as the environment, yet it is not considered a serious crime by many governments. It is often a low risk and high profit criminal activity, which is a dangerous combination,” said Wendy Elliott, WWF Global Species Programme Manager. “Governments have made a significant step forward by introducing the issue into this important forum on the rule of law. We now call on all them to increase their law enforcement responses to wildlife crime on a commensurate basis.”

Roland Melisch, Director of TRAFFIC’s Africa & Europe programmes said: “Good governance is essential to prevent crimes such as illicit wildlife trafficking. Countries need to be held accountable to their commitments under relevant United Nations treaties.”

WWF and its partner TRAFFIC, the wildlife monitoring network, are campaigning for greater protection of threatened species such as rhinos, tigers and elephants. In order to save endangered animals, source, transit and demand countries must all improve law enforcement, customs controls and judicial systems. WWF and TRAFFIC are also urging governments in consumer countries to undertake demand reduction efforts to curb the use of endangered species products.

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