Best of our wild blogs: 28 Sep 12

Red guards
from The annotated budak

raptor mobbed @ balang padifields - Sept2012
from sgbeachbum

IUCN to kick-off Green List for 'fully conserved' species
from news by Jeremy Hance

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Let the land be, please

Pang Kong Eng Today Online 20 Sep 12;

Mr M Lukshumayeh thought that the land next to Whampoa Community Club is "unsafe for recreation", has been "unused for almost 40 years" and suggested that "work" be done to "Put this land to safer, more effective use" (Aug 29, online).

In fact, that land has been serving important needs effectively over that period and had gone unnoticed, almost. One need only be observant to notice the facts lying beyond the veil of grass.

First, let us reconsider the assumption that good use of land equates to being built-up or set upon by human traffic.

A 2006 study in the Netherlands showed that green spaces in an urban environment have a positive effect on health, well-being and social safety. Scientific and medical research elsewhere have drawn similar conclusions.

Singapore is land-scarce and our people are stressed, precisely why we need green spaces like the plot in question. This is even more so in the heartlands. The land is providing essential health and social benefits which we enjoy without setting foot on it.

Second, the piece of land has been a precious educational resource. It is undisturbed, because of its unevenness and potholes, and blessed with rich biodiversity, such as egrets, herons and kingfishers in the mornings and evenings.

Children get to listen to crickets, frogs and birds singing in the rays of the setting sun, right in their neighbourhood. Such is the fabric from which imagination and mental resilience are weaved. Any work done to "make it safer" may unwittingly sterilise it.

Thirty years ago, there was a similar field in front of the current kindergarten at Block 85 of the same neighbourhood. Before work was done to that field, it had a healthy population of toads, frogs and other flora and fauna.

After reading about tadpoles and guppies, we would go to field to look at the real thing. Now, children may read or sing a rhyme about toads croaking, but we have denied them that authentic learning experience.

I once asked a class of 40 pupils if they knew from where a chicken comes. "The supermarket," came their reply, sadly. The only form of chicken they know, other than pictures and videos, is usually cooked, most likely from a fast-food restaurant.

Gardening, qigong, t'ai chi, taekwondo and silat have their values. Yet, the learning and inspiration from the presence of nature is immeasurable. That land is more than useful as it is.

Put this land to safer, more effective use
M Lukshumayeh Today Online 29 Aug 12;

The Singapore Land Authority has allowed the State land next to Whampoa Community Club to be used for recreation, a good gesture with a downside: The plot of land is unsafe for recreation, as it has potholes and is uneven.

The irony is that the land has been unused for almost 40 years.

Work could have been undertaken to make it safer, whether for recreation or sports use, so that this fairly sizeable State land could be put to more effective use in land-scarce Singapore, especially in the heartlands, for more people.

It is not too late for imaginative ideas that would put the land to greater use, including for interest groups such as in gardening, qigong, t'ai chi, taekwondo or silat, since the limited area within the Community Club is overused.

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Underground, the next frontier for Singapore

Soil studies for long-term plan are in progress, says BCA chief
Lim Yan Liang Straits Times 28 Sep 12;

SINGAPOREANS may one day live, work and play below ground in vast, subterranean caverns that make today's underground malls look like home basements.

This is because the Government is keen to look at how to expand Singapore's limited space in unexplored ways, said Building and Construction Authority CEO John Keung in an interview with The Straits Times.

"Of course you can build up, but there is a limit, because we have airports. You can reclaim, but there is also a limit, as you need to keep fairways and anchorages for your port," said Dr Keung.

"The only thing left is to go underground."

Studying the feasibility of expanding Singapore's space by digging down started in 2010, when BCA set up the Singapore Geological Office to carry out soil studies.

Plans are also in the works to collaborate with local universities and the Earth Observatory of Singapore to study rock fractures and the composition of local soil.

"Of course, this is a longer-term thing: we are looking at 2050, 2100," said Dr Keung.

Since 2008, BCA has embarked on new areas of work, with longer timelines, far outside its traditional purview.

Another long-term project could see the Government usher in a sophisticated flood protection system for the island to deal with rising tides caused by global warming.

Since the Coastal and Project Management Department was formed within the BCA in 2008, the statutory board has led other government agencies in coastal protection efforts.

The six-person department has made working trips to study strategies adopted by other coastal countries such as Denmark, the Netherlands and Britain.

A three-year study initiated by BCA in 2010, on the impact of rising sea levels on Singapore's coast and possible economic implications, will conclude soon.

"We are also the coastal protection authority of Singapore," said Dr Keung.

"We are looking at the impact of sea-level rise on our shore line. We want to know, if it rises by half a metre, a metre or two metres, what happens?"

Even as BCA widens its long-term role, Dr Keung said one of the statutory board's more immediate goals is to overturn the perception that the construction industry is dirty, noisy and unglamorous, and to attract more Singaporeans to the sector.

To do that, BCA has been encouraging greater mechanisation of construction firms here.

It is doing that by subsidising up to 50 per cent of the cost of buying productivity-boosting hardware such as scissor lifts and automated wheel- washers, and software like Building Information Modelling (BIM) tools, which replace traditional two-dimensional plans and drawings.

Dr Keung said $67 million of the $250 million Construction Productivity and Capability Fund (CPCF) set up in 2010 by the Government has been disbursed to more than 1,600 companies here. Of this, more than $9 million has been used to subsidise BIM software to help local companies stay competitive not just here, but overseas as well.

From next year, BCA will also mandate that all architectural drawings submitted must use BIM, whether they are private or public projects. From 2014, this will include structural plans drawn up by engineers, and by 2015, all plans and drawings.

"Our architects know that if they want to compete for projects overseas, or in the region, they need to use BIM because the other consultants are using it."

The agency has also been making a big push for local firms to adopt prefabrication and precasting, which further reduces the need for manpower at worksites, in addition to reducing the levels of noise and pollution associated with traditional construction sites.

"If you look at our industry in the next three to five years, I am quite confident that there will be more on-site assembly rather than on-site construction," said Dr Keung.

In sum, BCA's goal is to remain the guardian of Singapore's built environment, said Dr Keung.

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Fond memories of sleepy, rural Punggol

Straits Times 28 Sep 12;

SLEEPY Punggol Point, once known for its rows of seafood eateries, may no longer be a place in the Singapore of today, but it still has a place in Mr Lee Hsien Loong's heart.

The Prime Minister can remember the first time he visited the area in 1967, when he was a 15-year-old boarding the ferry from Punggol Point to the Outward Bound School.

"Punggol was a very rural environment," he said, recalling how he would get "suddenly lost" on orienteering exercises in the kampung and secondary jungle areas.

"Today, you can't get lost in Punggol any more," he said with a tinge of nostalgia.

Mr Lee was responding to a question on whether he loved or missed any part of Singapore which has since been built over.

The importance of memories in defining the "soul of the nation" was a key theme of the Prime Minister's National Day Rally last month. In his speech, he reminisced about vanished places dear to him, and stressed the importance of memories of old places and friends in keeping Singapore the best home.

His memories of Punggol Point, however, were more recently sparked by a visit on Sunday to the "beautiful new town" of Punggol West. The area has undergone an extensive makeover over the years, from pig farms being resettled from the 1970s and bustling seafood restaurants moving out in 1994, to the building of new housing estates.

In 2007, Mr Lee unveiled plans for Punggol 21-Plus, setting the stage for the homes, parks and watersports facilities that have since sprung up there. The centrepiece is the 4.2km-long Punggol Waterway, which he opened last year.

And while he has fond memories of the old Punggol, the new Punggol is "better", said Mr Lee of the town, which will be almost as big as Ang Mo Kio.

"There's one 'Ang Mo Kio' coming up, south of the Punggol Waterway. And north of Punggol Waterway, another 'Ang Mo Kio' will rise one day, progressively."

At the same time, Mr Lee took comfort in the fact that a bit of the old Punggol has been retained.

Kelong Bridge, one of five footbridges along the waterway, looks like one of the old fishing villages which used to dot Punggol's shoreline. A stretch of Old Punggol Road, which used to lead to Punggol Point, and an old bus stop have also been conserved.

"I'm not sure if the bus still stops there any more, but they've kept the old bus stop," he quipped. "I think it's a nice microcosm of how Singapore has changed in one generation."


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Flash floods hit some parts of Singapore

Ng Kai Ling Straits Times 28 Sep 12;

FLASH floods hit several parts of Singapore last night when heavy showers came down islandwide for about an hour.

Kim Tian Road, Tanjong Pagar Road and Marina South underpass were affected, although waters receded in less than an hour.

National water agency PUB said that flash floods were also reported in Jalan Bukit Merah, Mount Elizabeth Road, South Bridge Road and New Bridge Road, but there were no signs of flooding when it investigated.

Business owners along Trengganu Street told The Straits Times last night that the road flooded between 9.30pm and 10pm.

"The rain was very heavy and water just started flowing in from Temple Street. The water was about ankle-deep," said Mr Feng Shi Hua, who runs a souvenir shop at the corner of Temple Street and Trengganu Street.

He added that some of his goods were damaged but not severely.

Mr Lee Ah Soon, who runs a street stall along Trengganu Street, managed to save his mooncakes from being damaged.

He added: "When I saw the water rising, I quickly moved them to the table."

Last night the National Environment Agency (NEA) carried a heavy rain warning on its website.

Typically, this happens when there is rainfall with rates exceeding 50mm in an hour and affecting more than one-fifth of the island.

Weather forecast for the next two days is for cloudy skies, with late morning and early afternoon showers on Sunday.

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Malaysia: Protected song birds seized

New Straits Times 28 Sep 12;

JOHOR BARU: A boat carrying protected song birds worth about RM100,000, was detained by the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA) in the waters off Teluk Ramunia in Pengerang, Johor on Wednesday.

The vessel was stopped by MMEA enforcement personnel at 11.25am and they found more than 150 protected white-rumped sharma (or commonly called burung murai batu) packed in plastic baskets.

MMEA southern region operation director, Maritime Captain Ibrahim Mohamed said a agency boat on routine patrol had spotted the boat which then sped off.

"We managed to stop the boat after a 10-minute chase at about 1.5 nautical miles south-east from Teluk Ramunia," he said yesterday.

On inspection, the agency's personnel found 16 plastic baskets filled with more than 150 protected song birds.

The white-rumped sharma is a protected bird species and it is an offence to be in possession without proper documentation.

The birds, which are prized as song birds in Malaysia, can fetch up to RM600 per bird depending on their size.

Ibrahim said investigations revealed that the boat from Pasir Gudang and en-route to Penggerang when it was intercepted by the MMEA patrol.

A local man, in his 40s, was detained. The suspect did not have any documents or permits for the birds.

He claimed that he was only told to deliver the birds to the location in Penggerang.

Ibrahim said the seized boat and suspect were sent to the Stulang Darat jetty. The case has been transferred to the Johor Baru Wildlife and National Parks Department (Perhilitan) for further action.

"The case is being investigated under Section 60(1)(a) of the Wildlife Conservation Act 2010 for having in possession protected animals without a licence which carries a maximum penalty of up to RM50,000 or jail term or both," he said.

Bird smuggling bid foiled
Desiree Tresa Gasper The Star 28 Sep 12;

JOHOR BARU: The Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA) has successfully thwarted an attempt to smuggle 150 white-rumped Shama birds in Pengerang.

Maritime operations director Maritime Capt Ibrahim Mohamed said the protected species were in 16 plastic cages and believed to have been transported from Pasir Gudang here yesterday.

“Officials noticed a suspicious looking fibreglass boat at around 11.15am and when they approached for inspection, the driver suddenly steered away,” he said.

Capt Ibrahim said officials immediately gave chase and after 10 minutes they managed to detain the boat off Teluk Ramunia.

“We discovered a large stack of plastic cages filled with birds.

“We also arrested a local man in his 40s who was handling the boat,” he said.

Capt Ibrahim said the boat did not have any registration number.

“Investigations revealed that the man was trying to transport the birds from Pasir Gudang to Pengerang.

“The man, however, claimed he was only following instructions and did not know where the birds were from,” he said.

He added that the man also did not have documents to certify that he was allowed to transport the birds.

“The Shama has an estimated market value of between RM300 to RM600 each depending on size.

“The bird is protected and possessing or transporting it without proper documents is illegal,” he said.

Capt Ibrahim said the birds were handed over to the state Department of Wildlife and National Parks for further action.

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Forest Fires Rage in Central Java, East Kalimantan

SP/Imron Rosyid & Tunggadewa Mattangkilang Jakarta Globe 27 Sep 12;

Solo/West Kutai. Forest fires have razed thousands of hectares of land in Central Java and East Kalimantan as an unusually intense and protracted dry spell drags on, officials reported on Wednesday.

In Karanganyar, Central Java, more than 500 hectares of forests and tree nurseries on the slopes of Mount Lawu have been torched since Monday, with the fires still raging as of Wednesday.

Aji Pratama, head of the Karanganyar Disaster Mitigation Agency (BPBD), said the extremely dry conditions and strong winds were fueling the flames and making it hard for firefighters to douse them.

“The fires started in Ngawi district [in East Java] and have spread here because of the winds,” he said.

“It’s not just the brush and shrubs that are getting burned, but also trees, especially pines.”

Much of the affected area on Mount Lawu consists of logging concessions that include pine, acacia and eucalyptus trees.

Sunardi, a resident of Ngargoyoso subdistrict further down the slope, said the ash from the burning vegetation was raining down on residential areas. He added residents were afraid that the fire would reach their homes.

“We’re 25 kilometers away from the fires, but you never know with the way the wind’s blowing,” he said.

Maryono, coordinator of the district emergency response unit, said the size of the scorched area was increasing by the hour, with the fire now encroaching on a community forest.

Rina Iriani, the Karanganyar district head, said fires were not an uncommon problem on Lawu’s slopes, but this year’s blaze was worse because of the dry conditions and strong winds.

She said she had ordered all hiking routes in the area to be temporarily closed and called on resident’s living on the mountain’s slopes to help in putting out the fires.

In West Kutai, East Kalimantan, forest fires have razed more than 1,500 hectares of land since Monday. A harsh dry spell has also been blamed for the extent of the disaster there.

Yustinus A.S., head of the district forestry office, said the fires were not believed to be man-made. He said the affected area, on the periphery of the Kersik Luway orchid park, a forest conservation area, had previously experienced severe fires lasting several months in 1987 and 1997.

“Both those previous times we lost around 5,000 hectares of forest. This time it’s only around 1,500 hectares, most of which was forest area that was replanted after the 1997 fire,” Yustinus said.

He added that firefighters and residents alike were trying to put out the flames and prevent the fire spreading to the orchid park.

Haze from the fire is also causing problems at West Kutai’s Melalan Sendawar Airport, where visibility was down to one kilometer on Wednesday, well below the usual three kilometers.

The conditions forced the airport to freeze operations from Wednesday. Suparno, the airport manager, said scheduled flights to Samarinda and Balikpapan had to be canceled because of the haze. “We don’t know yet when we can reopen the airport,” he said.

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Waves continue to sweep injured turtles onto Phuket

Phuket Gazette 27 Sep 12;

The turtle recovered yesterday, like many before it, had a flipper amputated, most likely by a discarded fishing net. Photo: Kritsada Mueanhawong

PHUKET: Officers at the Phuket Marine Biological Center (PMBC) recovered a juvenile Olive Ridley sea turtle suffering from lacerations, and its front left flipper amputated entirely, from Mai Khao Beach yesterday.

“We received a report from The Mai Khao Marine Turtle Foundation that the turtle had washed ashore in front of Renaissance Phuket Resort & Spa – Marriott at Mai Khao Beach,” Dr Patcharaporn Gaewmong, a veterinarian for the Endangered Species Unit (ESU) at PMBC, told the Gazette

“We retrieved the turtle and brought it back to our center for treatment. Staff here cleaned its wounds and started it on an antibiotic regime. We will continue to monitoring its health,” she said.

An examination by ESU staff, revealed that the turtle had cuts to its front left flipper, which Dr Patcharaporn thinks was probably as a result the young turtle fighting to free itself from discarded fishing net.

“Some 30 turtles have been found washed ashore since June. Most of those had cuts to their flippers from fishing nets,” she said.

“We are trying our best to save them.” she added.

Those interested in making a difference by cleaning the reefs of Phuket and the surrounding islands of rubbish and discarded fishing nets are encouraged to join Go Eco Phuket, the Phuket Gazette and hundreds of individuals in what is expected to be the world’s biggest coral reef cleanup this Sunday.

Kritsada Mueanhawong

Carnage to Phuket’s marine life continues
Phuket Gazette 28 Sep 12;

PHUKET: In just one day, half a dozen Olive Ridley sea turtles were rescued in Phuket, all suffering lacerations caused by fishing nets, and a young dolphin was stranded on Mai Khao Beach.

Kongkiat Kittiwattanawong, head of the Endangered Species Unit (ESU) at the Phuket Marine Biological Center (PMBC), revealed yesterday that ESU officers received a report from lifeguards at Karon Beach that three adult turtles had washed ashore.

Later, the center received another report telling them that three more turtles had washed ashore in separate locations along the coastline from Mai Khao to Phang Nga.

Of the three rescued at Karon Beach, Dr Kongkiat said, “They were all female Olive Ridley sea turtles, their shells measuring about 50-60 centimeters long.

“We brought them back to the center for examination and treatment as they were all suffering from cuts to their flippers.”

In addition to damaged flippers, examinations revealed that their shells were in poor condition, exhibiting bacterial or fungal growth. From that, ESU staff assessed that the three turtles were caught in fishing nets for about a month.

Dr Kongkiat’s team also responded to the three turtles reported washed ashore in the north of Phuket.

“We received a report from villagers that one sea turtle washed up on Tah Chat Chai Beach in Mai Khao. A second and third turtle were reported ashore in Phang Nga province. All three were females and had also been ensnared by finishing nets for about a month,” Dr Kongkiat said.

“They are all undergoing treatment at the center,” he added.

According to Dr Kongkiat, over the past five decades the number of Olive Ridley turtles laying eggs along the western beaches of Phuket and Phang Nga had dropped from somewhere between 500 to 1,000 to only about 10 to 30.

PMBC Officers believe that having turtles washing ashore in numbers is a good sign that many more turtles are out at sea trying to get to the beaches in order to lay their eggs.

“I hope a lot more Olive Ridley sea turtles can avoid the fishing nets and other dangers and make it to the beaches safely to lay their eggs,” he added.

Notwithstanding the six turtles they had to deal with yesterday, ESU staff also recovered a young female dolphin that had beached in Mai Khao.

Identified as a Spinner dolphin, Dr Kongkiat estimated that the marine animal is around one year old, a meter in length and weighing about 20 kilograms.

“The dolphin is still able to swim unaided but her balance is not very good. We believe she has an internal infection,” he said.

Two weeks earlier, two dead dolphins washed up on Mai Khao Beach, said Dr Kongkiat.

“Spinner dolphins in the Andaman Sea usually live in schools of about 20 to 100. Sometimes they are found living with other species of dolphins,” Dr Kongkiat explained.

Asked about the cause of dolphin strandings, Dr Kongkiat replied that the monsoon season, which brought with it rough seas and strong waves, was most likely the cause.

– Kritsada Mueanhawong

Three more injured turtles wash up on Phuket's beaches
Phuket Gazette 29 Sep 12;

PHUKET: Another three young Olive Ridley sea turtles were discovered washed up on Phuket beaches yesterday. All were missing limbs, presumed to have been severed by discarded fishing nets.

Dr Kongkiat Kittiwattanawong, who heads the Endangered Species Unit at the Phuket Marine Biological Center (PMBC), told the Phuket Gazette that the turtles were discovered by local residents and lifeguards at Kata Beach and Yanui Beach, in the south of Phuket, and at Surin Beach further north.

“The three turtles had flippers cut off by fishing nets. We have provided some initial treatment for their injuries. One of them is a female, but the rest two are too young to identify their gender,” said Dr Kongkiat.

“The three turtles bring the total number of injured ones that have washed ashore local beaches since July to 40. All are now in our care to 40. All of them are Olive Ridley turtles. Most of them are disabled,” Dr Kongkiat added.

– Kritsada Mueanhawong

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Philippines: Tubbataha Reef hailed as conservation model

Julie M. Aurelio Philippine Daily Inquirer 28 Sep 12;

The Philippines’ Tubbataha Reef was recently recognized by an international policy research body for the excellent care of the heritage site, hailed as a model in coral reef conservation.

The World Future Council gave one of two Silver Awards to the Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park Act, the policy measure that created a protected marine sanctuary of almost 100,000 hectares of high-quality marine habitats containing three atolls and a large area of deep sea.

The Tubbataha Reef, which sits in the center of the Sulu Sea southeast of Palawan, is located within the Coral Triangle, a global focus for coral biological diversity. It is home to a wide diversity of marine life and is a popular dive site.

World Heritage Site

It was declared a World Heritage Site by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (Unesco) in 1993. It is administered as part of Cagayancillo, Palawan, and is under the protective management of the Department of National Defense.

In a statement, the World Future Council lauded the Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park Act for ensuring the effective management of the Unesco World Heritage Site.

Model in conservation

“Tubbataha has demonstrated that with carefully planned management, local communities need not bear the burden of closed protected areas, but can be their primary beneficiaries; as a nursery site for fish, the reef supports local artisanal fisheries,” the council said.

The World Future Council also praised the management of the Tubbataha Reef by local authorities and nongovernment organizations, citing the excellent condition of the reef compared with neighboring sites.

“The Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park Act has been hailed as a model of coral reef conservation and already similar legislation has been enacted in the neighboring Apo Reef,” the statement added.

The second Silver Award was given to Namibia’s Marine Resources Act of 2000 “for instituting an ecologically and economically viable fishing industry.”

Winning top honors was the Micronesian country of Palau, which received the Future Policy Award for 2012 for two outstanding marine policies, the Protected Areas Network Act, initiated in 2003, and its Shark Haven Act from 2009.

The World Future Council said the three winning countries “contribute most effectively to the sustainable management of the world’s oceans and coasts for the benefit of current and future generations.”

Leading by example

The winners were announced at a press conference recently at the United Nations headquarters in New York.

According to its website, the World Future Council is an international policy research organization that provides effective policy solutions for decision-makers.

“With the Future Policy Award we want to cast a spotlight on policies that lead by example. The aim of the World Future Council is to raise awareness for exemplary policies and speed up policy action towards just, sustainable and peaceful societies,” said Alexandra Wandel, World Future Council director.

The winners will receive their awards on Oct. 16 at the 11th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity in Hyderabad, India.

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Countries Agree New Plan for Global Shark Conservation

press release AllAfrica 27 Sep 12;

Bonn — Government representatives from 50 countries have gathered in Bonn, Germany, for the first meeting of signatories to the Memorandum of Understanding on the Conservation of Migratory Sharks concluded under the UN Convention on Migratory Species (CMS)

Participants adopted a new conservation plan, which aims to catalyze regional initiatives to reduce threats to migratory sharks. Signatory states also agreed to involve fishing industry representatives, NGOs, and scientists in implementing the conservation plan.

Under the agreement, countries agreed to exchange information among government bodies, scientific institutions, international organizations and NGOs. Improved monitoring and data collection will help assess the structure, trends and distribution of shark populations necessary to design targeted conservation measures.

The MoU on the Conservation of Migratory Sharks (2010) is the first global instrument dedicated to migratory sharks and complements a suite of existing wildlife and fisheries agreements.

Since migratory sharks cross the high seas and national waters of different states, closer collaboration between countries is needed to tackle over-fishing and other threats.

"The Convention on Migratory Species welcomes the continued cooperation among governments and partners and challenges participants to take meaningful actions to promote shark conservation within their waters and on the high seas," said CMS Acting Executive Secretary Elizabeth Maruma Mrema.

Sharks are under serious threat around the globe. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has classified 17 percent of more than 1000 assessed species as threatened, according its 'Red List' criteria. Sharks are caught intentionally or as accidental "by-catch" in virtually all types of fisheries worldwide.

The new conservation plan will encourage fisheries-related research on incidental and direct shark catches with the aim to ensure that all shark catch is sustainable.

In particular, governments will work with fishing industries, regional fisheries management organizations, scientists and NGOs to avoid the capture of two of the largest sharks in the world: the basking shark and great white shark. These shark species are considered endangered migratory species and are listed in Appendix I of CMS.

Other species targeted by the conservation plan include mako, spiny dogfish, porbeagle, basking, white, and whale sharks

Countries also stressed that the accidental capture of sharks in fishing gear needs to be more closely regulated. Participants at the Bonn meeting agreed to encourage catch quotas to ensure sustainable use of targeted sharks and stricter limits on endangered shark species. No international fishing quotas have been established to date for the short and long fin mako sharks, which traverse ocean basins, are fished by multiple countries, and are covered by the CMS agreement.

The conservation plan also suggests that sharks should be landed with their fins still attached in order to prevent shark "finning" (slicing off a shark's fins and discarding the body at sea). The high value of fins has created an economic incentive for shark finning , but to date, more than 60 fishing nations, including the 27 Member States of the European Union (EU), have banned the practice.

However, in the EU and some other countries, processing sharks on board vessels is still allowed in some cases. This means that shark fins can be removed from carcasses and stored separately under a fin-to-carcass weight limit that can be difficult to properly enforce. In 2011, the European Commission proposed putting an end to these permits and requiring that sharks be landed with their fins attached. On 19 March 2012, the Council of the European Union endorsed the Commission's approach. The proposal is currently being debated by the European Parliament.

It is estimated that 26 to 73 million sharks are killed every year to support the global shark fin market. Shark fins, used in the traditional Asian dish shark fin soup, are among the world's most valuable fishery products. The price of shark fins reached more than US$ 700 per kilo in 2011, according to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Sharks are also sought for meat and liver oil and, increasingly, their cartilage skeletons are also marketed.

Most sharks are long-living species that grow slowly, mature late, and produce few young. These biological factors make sharks particularly vulnerable to overfishing and mean that populations can be slow to recover once depleted.

Representatives from other UN bodies such as the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) as well as INTERPOL also participated at the meeting of signatories, in addition to leading NGO representatives and shark fisheries experts.

CMS is working with Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and Regional Fisheries Management Organizations (RFMOs) to promote the conservation and sustainable use of sharks.

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Recognition at last for Alfred Russel Wallace, who lived in Darwin's shadow

Victorian naturalist's extensive collection of specimens and papers appear together for first time in online project
Ian Sample The Guardian 27 Sep 12;

Alfred Russel Wallace arrived in Singapore in 1854 with a simple plan in mind. He would survey the region's wildlife and ship specimens back to London for sale to museums and wealthy collectors. His financial security rested on the foreign exotica for which Victorians had a seemingly insatiable appetite.

The British naturalist amassed thousands of insects and birds during eight years in southeast Asia. And though Wallace's strange creatures sold for good money back home, the collection had a more profound value. Through studying the animals, Wallace hit on one of the world's greatest scientific discoveries: the theory of evolution through natural selection.

Wallace's work on the theory, along with major insights into biodiversity, are described in thousands of pages of books, articles, drawings and paintings, which appear together for the first time today, in a web project directed by John van Wyhe, a historian at the National University of Singapore. The Wallace Online project was funded by an anonymous US donor, and comes ahead of next year's centenary of Wallace's death.

Wallace's publications were distributed among thousands of magazines and newspapers, and had never been collected together in one place. The project contains 28,000 pages of searchable documents and 22,000 images. They include stunning pictures of blue-throated bee eaters, asian fairy-bluebirds and meticulous drawings of butterflies and beetles.

Van Wyhe, who directed a similar project for Darwin's works several years ago, said the Wallace collection was intended as a reliable source of information on the naturalist whose name was so eclipsed by Darwin's. "This needed to be done for Wallace. He's far less well known than Darwin, and it's high time people had reliable material on his work," van Wyhe said.

The history of science is littered with names overlooked, but few so much as Wallace. In July 1858, the first papers on natural selection were read aloud at the Linnean Society in London, one from Darwin, the other from Wallace. Though both men announced the theory at the same time, Darwin's publication, On the Origin of Species, the following year was the seed of revolution that made senior scientists take notice.

The book was not the only factor. Victorian modesty played a part in Wallace's diminished place in history, and perhaps some deference to what he, a poor and unprivileged man, saw as the great figures of science. "The Victorians were falling over themselves to be more modest than everybody else. Modesty was a high virtue. So Wallace, from the very beginning, referred to it as Darwin's theory, and he never relented to the end of his life," said van Wyhe.

From 1855, Wallace published a series of articles that came ever closer to declaring the theory of evolution through natural selection. In the midst of a malarial fever, on the island of Ternate in Indonesia, he had a moment of clarity, that many are born, lots die, and only a few survive. He sent an essay from the island to Darwin, who passed it to the great geologist, Charles Lyell, who then proposed it to the Linnean Society alongside an essay from Darwin.

"It's one of the greatest ironies in history. Wallace sends his essay to the one man in the world who has been working on this for 20 years. And Darwin, again the perfect gent, passes it to Lyell, and they decide to publish essays from them both," said van Wyhe.

Wallace's thorough survey of wildlife led to another breakthrough in 1859, known today as the Wallace line. He noticed that species on either side of an invisible line between Australia and Asia were substantially different, despite being close geographical neighbours. The observation clashed with the thinking of the day, that species were created for their particular environment. Wallace proposed the animals came from two ancient, larger landmasses, a Super Asia and a Super Australia, which had long since sunk beneath the waves. "He couldn't have imagined plate tectonics, which is the real explanation, and that Australia started out in South America," said van Wyhe.

Among Wallace's other writings are notes on local cuisine. In a passage on the durian fruit, Wallace describes a large coconut-sized fruit with short, stout spines, liable to fall from trees and cause spectacular wounds to the unwary. "When brought into a house the smell is often so offensive that some persons can never bear to taste it. This was my own case when I first tried it in Malacca, but in Borneo I found a ripe fruit on the ground, and, eating it out of doors, I at once became a confirmed Durian eater," he writes. Having declared the taste almost impossible to describe, he offers "a rich butter-like custard, highly flavoured with almonds gives the best general idea of it, but intermingled with it come wafts of flavour that call to mind cream-cheese, onion-sauce, brown sherry, and other incongruities".

In other papers, Wallace laments the rate at which species are being forced to extinction, and makes one of the earliest calls for conservation. He likens species to letters that make up the volumes of Earth's history, and their loss obliterating an invaluable record of the past.

"Future ages will certainly look back upon us as a people so immersed in the pursuit of wealth as to be blind to higher considerations," he writes from the Malay archipelago in 1863.

Evolution theorist Alfred Russel Wallace goes online
Jonathan Amos BBC News 27 Sep 12;

The great naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace now has an online presence to match that of Charles Darwin.

The two men independently formulated the theory of evolution by natural selection, and announced it in tandem in July 1858

But it is one of those quirks of history that Darwin got all the fame.

His collected works were digitised and posted on the web in 2006. Now, the writings and drawings of Wallace have received the same treatment.

The effort has been completed by the same historian, too - John van Wyhe.

But whereas Dr van Wyhe produced Darwin Online from Cambridge University, UK, he has led the new Wallace Online project from the National University of Singapore (NUS).

Wallace was a major scientific figure in South East Asia.

"What this should hopefully do is result in a major upgrade in the quality of writing about Wallace," the historian told BBC News.

"Next year is the centenary of his death. Just like 2009 was the big Darwin year, 2013 will be the big Wallace year. And I hope now that people have access to all of his literature, it will make a big difference to what they say and write about him."

Wallace Online gathers together in one place for the first time all of the naturalist's writings and illustrations.

There are 28,000 pages of searchable documents and 22,000 images. Among the online gems is that first announcement of the theory of evolution delivered to a London scientific meeting 154 years ago.

It remains one of the great coincidences in scientific history that the one person Wallace should choose to approach to share his ideas on natural selection was the only other scientist who separately had come to the same conclusions - Charles Darwin.

Quite why Wallace never achieved a similar level of fame has long been debated, but the lower profile should not be seen as a reflection on the man's talents or achievements, argues Dr van Wyhe.

The Wallace Online collection certainly bears testament to a prolific output. Like Darwin, Wallace was also a great traveller, spending large chunks of time in Brazil (1848-1853) and in South East Asia (1854-1862).

"It's very appropriate that we've done Wallace Online from NUS because Wallace was the pioneering figure in the study of this part of the world," said Dr van Wyhe.

"He spent eight years here, using Singapore as his base. He made major discoveries - he discovered hundreds of new species, going to places no naturalist had ever gone to before. And then, of course, there is The Wallace Line."

The Wallace Line is a term still in use today and refers to the sharp division between the types of animals in Australia and those on the Asian archipelago.

Wallace identified this abrupt transition, but could not satisfactorily explain it. Nor would he have been able to.

It is only with the 20th Century theory of plate tectonics that scientists can now describe how Australia, with its unique flora and fauna, was delivered from another part of the globe and abutted to South East Asia.

Dr van Wyhe said: "Wallace is an amazing example of somebody who had no privilege, no wealth, no connections - and who went out on his own to make his own way in the world; and he discovered so many amazing things, not just evolution.

"That's why for so many people, he remains such an inspiring figure.

"He's the sort of person that you can aspire to be. You can just do it yourself through independent thinking and hard work."

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Great ape habitat in Africa has dramatically declined

Matt Walker BBC Nature 27 Sep 12;

Great apes, such as gorillas, chimps and bonobos, are running out of places to live, say scientists.

They have recorded a dramatic decline in the amount of habitat suitable for great apes, according to the first such survey across the African continent.

Eastern gorillas, the largest living primate, have lost more than half their habitat since the early 1990s.

Cross River gorillas, chimps and bonobos have also suffered significant losses, according to the study.

Details are published in the journal Diversity and Distributions.

"Several studies either on a site or country level indicated already that African ape populations are under enormous pressure and in decline," said Hjalmar Kuehl, of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, who helped organise the research.

But a wider perspective was missing; so various organisations and scientists joined to conduct the first continent-wide survey of suitable great ape habitat.

"Many of the authors have spent years to collect the data used in this study under extremely difficult conditions with a lot of personal commitment," Dr Kuehl told BBC Nature.

"Nothing comparable exists."

The scientists conducted the survey in two stages.

First, they determined the exact location of more than 15,000 sites where the various species and subspecies of African great ape have been confirmed living during the past twenty years.

"We then evaluated the environmental conditions at these locations and at all other locations across tropical Africa where great ape presence was not confirmed. This assessment included for instance percentage forest cover, human population density or climatic conditions," said Dr Kuehl.

From that the researchers could calculate the environmental conditions required for great apes to live. Then, using a statistical model, they predicted the amount of such habitat surviving across Africa, first for the 1990s, then the 2000s.

The results are grim reading for conservationists.

Gorillas have been significantly affected. Cross River gorillas have seen 59% of their habitat disappear over the past two decades. Eastern gorillas, the largest gorilla and largest surviving primate, have lost 52% of their habitat, while western gorillas have lost 31%.

The various species and subspecies of chimp have also suffered.

Bonobos, once known as pygmy chimpanzees, have lost 29% of their habitat. Of the different subspecies of common chimpanzee, those living in central Africa have lost 17% and those in western Africa 11% of their habitat respectively.

"From several site and country level studies we knew that pressure on great apes is increasing enormously. But despite these expectations it is outrageous to see how our closest living relatives and their habitats are disappearing," said Dr Kuehl.

The pressures on the great apes vary significantly depending on region.

For example, in western Africa, the loss of suitable habitat is being driven by forest clearance and hunting.

In Central Africa, huge swathes of pristine forest remain, but it is no longer suitable for great apes due to the extensive hunting that occurs within to supply the trade in bushmeat.

The scientists would like to improve their study, which provides a large scale picture of the habitat loss suffered by great apes, by including more local data.

Including socioeconomic data may help explain why apes still live in close proximity to people in some areas, while in most others they have disappeared.

"The situation is very dramatic, many of the ape populations we still find today will disappear in the near future," Dr Kuehl told BBC Nature. "In an increasingly crowding world with demand for space, wood, mineral resources and meat, apes will continue to disappear.

"Without a fundamental change in perception of how precious apes and their habitats are the current situation will not improve."

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Plastic debris reaches Southern Ocean, previously thought to be pristine

Researchers on 70,000-mile voyage to investigate climate change say effect of humans is now 'truly planetary'
Zoe Holman 27 Sep 12;

The first traces of plastic debris have been found in what was thought to be the pristine environment of the Southern Ocean, according to a study released in London by the French scientific research vessel Tara.

The finding comes following a two-and-a-half-year, 70,000-mile voyage by the schooner across the Atlantic, Pacific, Antarctic and Indian Oceans, to investigate marine ecosystems and biodiversity under climate change.

"We had always assumed that this was a pristine environment, very little touched by human beings," said Chris Bowler, scientific co-ordinator of Tara Oceans. "The fact that we found these plastics is a sign that the reach of human beings is truly planetary in scale."

Samples taken from four different stations at locations in the Southern Ocean and Antarctica revealed traces of plastic at a measure of approximately 50,000 fragments per square kilometre — a rate comparable to the global average. While traces of plastic pollutants are customary in many of the world's oceans, with the highest levels found in the North Atlantic and North Sea, researchers had anticipated rates in the Southern Ocean to be some 10 times lower than the global average.

"Discovering plastic at these very high levels was completely unexpected because the Southern Ocean is relatively separated from the world's other oceans and does not normally mix with them," Bowler explained before unveiling Tara's findings at an event at the Science Museum in London on Wednesday. The microscopic fragments, invisible until accumulated in trawling nets, are the result of waste products such as plastic bags and bottles, degraded over years or decades by UV light and sea water. Tara researchers, whose work was recently hailed by UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon, were also surprised to find that synthetic fibres, largely constituted by clothing from washing-machine residue, made up a significant portion of the plastic fragments.

Identifying the regional source of such general waste, which has made its way to the Southern Ocean over some half a century, remains more problematic. However, it is believed to originate from Africa, South America or Australia.

The fatal impact of plastic pollutants on the marine environment has been widely observed, as birds and fish regularly consume waste products, which can be easily mistaken for jellyfish or other prey but cannot be degraded in the stomach. Plastics also slowly release toxins and other chemical substances that work their way up the marine food chain.

"It's too late to do much about what's already out there at this stage, as this stuff is going to hang around for thousands of years," said Bowler. However, he says the best way to mitigate future pollution is to advocate the use of biodegradable technologies while emphasising a shift in consumer practices.

Tara will continue its marine research activities in 2013 with a groundbreaking mission to the Arctic circle to investigate the ocean environment following the melting of Arctic ice as a result of climate change.

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