Best of our wild blogs: 16 Oct 12

20 Oct (Sat): Public forum on Bukit Brown and on wild pigs in Singapore from wild shores of singapore

"The Power of We": Nature Outreach & Environmental Efforts in Singapore
from Lazy Lizard's Tales

A Forest Worth Fighting For (II)
from Diary of a Boy wandering through Our Little Urban Eden

Cuttlefish, Pipefish & Seahorses
from Pulau Hantu

The Northern Expedition begins!
from Mega Marine Survey of Singapore

juvenile brahminy kites @ lim chu kang road - Oct2012
from sgbeachbum

Dragonfly (1) – Agrionoptera Sexlineata
from Dragonflies & Damselflies of Singapore

Our wild shores in a children's Chinese activity book
from wild shores of singapore

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Reconsider felling so many trees

Straits Times Forum 16 Oct 12;

I AM part of a regular group of walkers who use the jungle trail leading to the Tree Top Walk in MacRitchie Reservoir.

Recently, many big trees on the trail were cut down.

When we inquired why this was so, we were told by National Parks Board (NParks) staff that a soldier was killed recently by a falling tree, albeit in another location ("NSman's death: Tree was checked in April"; Sept 29).

So far, about 40 trees have been cut, with the total number expected to be 50 or so, we were told.

While the incident is one in which a life was lost, it is such a waste to cut down so many majestic and old trees, which may have taken many decades or even a hundred years or more to grow to the stature they are now.

The trail has also lost part of its ambience as it seems open and barren, unlike the jungle trail that it was before.

The flora and fauna could be adversely affected too.

The need to protect life and limb in the jungle from falling branches and trees must surely take into account how long it took the trees to grow to what they are now, and the overall integrity of the trees with regard to the danger.

My group hopes that NParks will not fell all the trees they have lined up for this exercise as the trees, once cut down, are gone from the jungle forever, and the damage may extend to the flora and fauna on the trail.

Larry Quah

More native trees for Venus Link
Straits Times Forum 19 Oct 12;

SOME non-native trees along Venus Link were recently removed as they were prone to breakage and uprooting during stormy weather ("Reconsider felling so many trees" by Mr Larry Quah; Tuesday).

This is part of our tree management plan, through which we identify storm-vulnerable trees and remove them in the interest of public safety.

We will be planting even more trees to replace the ones we removed.

Native tree species will be selected, as these will add conservation value to the surroundings, and complement the trees in the Nature Reserve nearby. They will also eventually provide shade for visitors, and shelter for the animals.

Wong Tuan Wah
Director, Conservation
National Parks Board

Yes, reconsider too much tree culling
Straits Times Forum 20 Oct 12;

I SUPPORT the call by Mr Larry Quah ("Reconsider felling so many trees"; Tuesday).

I am baffled by the National Parks Board's (NParks) act of cutting down so many trees after a national serviceman was killed by a falling tree, albeit in another location.

Trees take years to grow and provide not only shade, but also add to the splendour and beauty of the surrounding environment.

It is more logical to check the trees and take the necessary steps to cut them down only if they are found to be sickly.

Do we remove lamp posts from our streets, if someone is hit by one?

Bennie Cheok

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What works in the forest may not work in a garden

Straits Times Forum 16 Oct 12;

WHILE it is laudable that the Bird Ecology Study Group will compile an archive listing more than 200 species of flora and detailing birds that frequent them ("Matching trees and birds"; Oct 6), planners such as the National Parks Board should exercise prudence and care when using such resources to decide what and what not to plant in our parks and gardens, in their effort to attract fauna.

The finding that the common mahang, a tree found in our forests here, draws more than 20 bird species to its fruit does not recognise the fact that a tree growing in a forest, when grown in our gardens and parks, might not attract an equal number of bird species.

Birds that are forest-dependent will not visit the same mahang tree grown in a garden or park that is outside the forest.

If the fruits of the mahang tree draw the liking, too, of the noisy Asian glossy starlings or mynahs, we might even inadvertently propagate more roosting sites for these community roosting birds - a scenario we do not want.

The common mahang tree is also well known for attracting ants to its leaf stalks.

The presence of ants and the consequences when one unwittingly touches them, or if they drop on someone standing below the tree, also need to be taken into consideration.

The safety of the public is of paramount concern.

While we would certainly like to see a "City in a Garden" full of life and biodiversity, we must also be cognisant of the fact that what works in one place might not work in another.

No one size fits all.

Even lizards and butterflies have their own niches and will not readily adapt to a habitat unfamiliar and foreign to them.

Certainly, a lot more experimenting and study of what we want to plant has to be done first before we embark on planting any one species of flora.

Chia Yong Soong

Plant the right trees or risk attracting the wrong birds
Straits Times Forum 16 Oct 12;

THE Bird Ecology Study Group should be commended for compiling an archive that will list more than 200 species of flora and detail the birds frequenting them ("Matching trees and birds"; Oct 6).

But planting a common mahang tree outside the forest environment will not attract the same species and number of birds. This is because forest-specific birds like the cream-vented bulbuls, red-eyed bulbuls and red-crowned barbets will not move out of the forest habitats to urban parkland to forage.

Planting food trees outside the reserves may instead attract the more adaptable Asian glossy starlings and mynas, whose populations the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority is trying to control.

Botanists know that many of the wild scrubs and trees do not grow well or even survive outside the forest without the support of the ecosystem. Such trees are not used in our parks and open spaces. On the other hand, fig trees, with their root systems, are destructive to buildings, homes and roads.

The best way to protect biodiversity is to conserve their habitats, which cannot be replicated. You cannot "grow" back a primary forest.

Hospitals, community development councils, schools and corporations have been drawing from the database of the National Parks Board and the Nature Society (Singapore) for many years now to create butterfly- and bird-friendly trails, gardens and open spaces. Let us hope the Bird Ecology Study Group's archive can supplement the existing databases for the greater good.

Alan Owyong

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Haze hotspots spiked after falling in past six years: Balakrishnan

Channel NewsAsia 15 Oct 12;

SINGAPORE: After falling steadily in the past six years, the number of haze-causing hotspots in Indonesia has suddenly spiked to numbers that now exceed those in 2006.

Minister for the Environment and Water Resources, Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, said this is a "considerable backslide".

Singapore, as chair of the sub-regional Ministerial Steering Committee on Transboundary Haze Pollution, is actively promoting regional collaboration to address the haze problem, he told Parliament on Monday.

A new initiative the committee is looking into is using satellite mapping to identify companies whose concession areas see excessive fire outbreaks.

But the minister said law enforcement can only do so much.

He said: "There are several evidential difficulties with this. First, if you actually look at the list of concession map, you will realise that there is a lot of companies, shell companies, subsidiaries, joint ventures and a variety of business arrangements behind the clearing of lands and the planting of oil palms. So that's first level.

"Second level is that actually in order to achieve prosecution in court, you need to have caught the person in the act, circumstantial evidence on its own, probability may not be sufficient.

"The third difficulty is that, these are local crimes and need to be prosecuted in local jurisdiction.

"So what we can do more of now is to introduce more transparency, list out who owns which pieces of land, list out the number of hotspots which are occurring, in real time, in those pieces of land and then, after that, this involves the consumer groups, non-government organisations, international organisations, who all have a stake in this value chain.

"I think that's the only effective way, because you can pass all the laws you like in the respective governments, but if you can't enforce your law and you can't ensure that people comply with regulations and rules...this problem will keep recurring."


Collaborations to be expanded
Singapore, Malaysia to help build up fire detection, suppression capabilities in fire-prone Indonesian provinces
Woo Sian Boon Today Online 16 Oct 12;

SINGAPORE - In light of a spike in the number of hotspots this year, Singapore and Malaysia will expand their joint collaborations with the Indonesian provinces of Jambi and Riau to build up capabilities of fire detection and suppression.

Member states of the Association of South-east Asian Nations (ASEAN) are also exploring the use of satellite imagery to identify companies whose land experiences "excessive hotspot activities", said Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan in Parliament yesterday.

While the Indonesian government has allocated funds to fire-prone provinces and initiated pilot projects to prevent land and forest fires, resulting in a steady reduction in the number of hotspots since 2006, the number of hotspots this year has exceeded the cumulative annual total witnessed six years ago - the last time Singapore experienced a prolonged haze spell.

Said Dr Balakrishnan: "Progress in the region's fight against this continued, chronic problem requires strong commitment from all ASEAN countries, effective enforcement of laws on the ground, close and cooperative partnerships among the countries and the support and pressure that non-governmental organisations can come to bear on the stakeholders."

Member of Parliament Lee Bee Wah (Nee Soon GRC), who wanted to know the progress made in haze reduction over the past five years, among other questions, pressed Dr Balakrishnan further on whether more measures could be implemented to reduce the number of hotspots.

Dr Balakrishnan felt the heart of the problem was economics, as it is cheaper for companies to use fire to clear their land.

"And until and unless economic pressure is felt by these companies who are operating this, they will not change their behaviour," he added.

This led Non-Constituency MP Yee Jenn Jong to ask if any of the identified companies were local and whether they could be prosecuted. This, however, posed challenges as a variety of complex business models operate in the hotspot areas, said Dr Balakrishnan.

Further, the culprit must also be caught in the act of burning the land and they would have to be dealt with under Indonesian laws, he noted.

Citing the successful example of enforcing commercial sanctions on the timber industry to encourage sustainable logging, Dr Balakrishnan suggested similar pressure could be exerted on the companies. "We will have to explore using this approach to apply relevant ... commercial pressure on these companies to clean up their act," he said, as he further suggested highlighting positive examples of companies with sustainable practices to encourage others to do the same.

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Littering penalties and fines being reviewed

Amanda Lee Today Online 16 Oct 12;

SINGAPORE - The National Environment Agency (NEA) is reviewing penalties and fines for those caught littering, Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan said yesterday.

Responding to a motion tabled by Nee Soon GRC MP Lee Bee Wah on the standard of cleanliness in Singapore, Dr Balakrishnan added that senior members of non-government organisations and grassroots organisations - armed with a warrant card and given proper training - could also be roped in to enforce against littering in the community. Last year, the NEA received 5,232 complaints about litterbugs, up from 4,449 in 2010.

Dr Lee had earlier shared with the House her experience of how bags of rubbish were collected in her Nee Soon South ward last Friday, after she told Town Council cleaners not to do any cleaning from 5pm onwards.

"I'm sure this is not unique to Nee Soon South and it happens in a lot of places in Singapore," said Dr Lee. "And perhaps we have indeed become complacent."

Dr Lee said she used to "take delight" in hearing tourists and foreign friends express admiration over sparkling pavements here. Such a picture, however, is fading, she noted.

Citing a successful scheme implemented in Seoul, Dr Lee suggested that the authorities here could start a campaign, named "Shame on you litterbug", where citizens could post the culprit's "bizarre acts" online.

While Singapore has transformed itself through meticulous cleaning, public campaigns and strict enforcement in just over four decades, being known as a clean city internationally is not unique today, noted Dr Balakrishnan. He, however, stressed that being a clean city is "a source of competitive advantage" and "a badge of honour", which is something Singapore "cannot afford to backslide on".

Merely increasing fines or having more anti-littering public education messages broadcast on television will not be sufficient, said Dr Balakrishnan.

Rather, the authorities also need to work with MPs and community leaders to "create peer pressure" in maintaining a clean environment, he added. Amanda Lee

Everyone has a part in keeping environment clean: Lee Bee Wah
Channel NewsAsia 15 Oct 12;

SINGAPORE: Member of Parliament for Nee Soon Group Representation Constituency Er Dr Lee Bee Wah filed a motion for adjournment in Parliament, on the standard of cleanliness in Singapore.

Citing experience from her own ward, she stressed everyone should play a role in keeping the environment clean.

She recounted: "In Khatib Centre, we have cleaners working at 9am as well as 5pm. Last Friday, I told town council cleaners not to do any cleaning from 5pm onwards. And on Saturday, myself and about 100 grassroots leaders and community leaders went to Khatib Centre. We picked up bags and bags of rubbish."

"I'm sure this is not uniquely Nee Soon South and it happens in a lot of places in Singapore. And perhaps we have indeed become complacent," she commented. "Perhaps, a new generation has not learnt the lesson of what impact filth and grime can have on environmental health."

"Deputise senior members of non-government organisations, maybe even for grassroots organisations to act as enforcement officers who have a warrant card and be properly trained," suggested Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, Minister for Environment and Water Resources.

He also suggested reviewing fines and penalty regimes for littering.

- CNA/xq

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Current nuclear technology not suitable for Singapore: Study

Risks of housing nuclear energy plant here outweigh benefits, says Iswaran
Grace Chua Straits Times 16 Oct 12;

CURRENT nuclear energy technology is not suitable for Singapore, a pre-feasibility study has concluded.

Mr S. Iswaran, Second Minister for Trade and Industry, said in Parliament yesterday that the risks of housing a nuclear power plant here to generate electricity still outweigh the benefits, given the country's size and dense population.

But the two-year study by government agencies, external consultants and independent expert advisers, in response to an Economic Strategies Committee recommendation in 2010, did not rule out nuclear energy totally.

It recommended that Singapore continue to monitor new technologies.

The country also needs to strengthen capabilities to understand nuclear science and technology, and in emergency response and radioactive waste disposal, said Mr Iswaran, who is also Minister in the Prime Minister's Office and Second Minister for Home Affairs.

Many of the Republic's Asean neighbours are planning to build nuclear power plants. Vietnam aims to build 10 nuclear reactors by 2030. Malaysia is studying having one in operation by 2021.

Hence, Singapore should also play a role in global and regional cooperation on nuclear safety. It is, for example, a member of the International Atomic Energy Agency, an inter-governmental body that promotes the peaceful use of nuclear energy.

Dr T.S. Gopi Rethinaraj, an assistant professor and nuclear energy expert at the National University of Singapore's (NUS) Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, is not surprised the nation has ruled out the nuclear option for now.

"Current technology may not be suitable," he said. This is because the designs require large safety buffers, including an uninhabited zone with a 2km radius and a 5km low-density zone.

Newer, safer designs exist only on paper, he added. These would be at least 20 to 30 years from commercial development.

"In the foreseeable future, the best bet would be natural gas in the near term," he said.

Singapore aims to have a stable, economically competitive supply of energy while minimising carbon emissions and pollution. Eighty per cent of electricity is generated from natural gas piped from Indonesia and Malaysia. It has limited scope for solar, wind and other renewable energies.

But a liquefied natural gas terminal, set to begin operations next year, will allow Singapore to import gas from other countries.

This and the growth of unconventional gas sources like shale gas could help alleviate Singapore's energy security concerns even without a nuclear power plant, said Dr Michael Quah of NUS' chemical and biomolecular engineering department.

And even if Singapore does not build a nuclear plant, others in the region will, and it can help train people for regulatory and other industry roles. "Nuclear has long coat-tails. Where in the supply chain can we develop manpower?" said Dr Quah.

Current nuclear energy technology "not suitable for use in Singapore"
Olivia Siong Channel NewsAsia 15 Oct 12;

SINGAPORE: Second Minister for Trade and Industry S Iswaran said a pre-feasibility study has concluded that current nuclear energy technology is not suitable for use in Singapore, even though the latest designs of nuclear power plants are much safer than older designs which remain in use in many countries.

The study involved government agencies, external consultants and independent expert advisers.

Mr Iswaran was speaking in Parliament on Monday in response to a question filed by MP for Nee Soon GRC Lee Bee Wah.

Eighty per cent of Singapore's energy is generated from natural gas imported from neighbouring countries Indonesia and Malaysia.

In 2010, the government embarked on a pre-feasibility study to explore more energy options, looking to overcome Singapore's energy constraints and improve energy security.

The study concluded that nuclear energy will not be an option, for now.

Mr Iswaran said: "The risks to Singapore, given that we are small and dense, still outweigh the benefits at this point. As we are planning for the very long term and not for our immediate energy needs, we prefer to wait for technology and safety to improve further before reconsidering our options. Over time, nuclear power plants with safer and more robust designs will be developed."

Experts added these risks may be unexpected like the Fukushima nuclear plant incident in Japan last year.

National University of Singapore's executive director for Energy Studies Institute, Professor S. K. Chou, said: "You might say the Fukushima incident might never happen to us...But if you look at planning for a disaster or an event, we cannot exclude possibilities. We need to be ready to respond and I think our people will need to be ready to address some of these issues of disaster relief, supplies and logistic issues, ensuring that we can contain the disaster within a certain closed area. If something happens in Jurong, you can't run away to Katong to hide because we are such a small island and because of that we need to be extra vigilant."

Konstantin Foskolos, project adviser from Switzerland, said: "Singapore should wait for a reactor technology that cannot have a severe accident like in Fukushima - where the probability of such an accident is practically zero. Fukushima reactors belong to a technology which is 30,40 years old. They cannot compare with today's reactors. This zero probability for an accident can be achieved by different kinds of technology, which are currently under scrutiny and under development."

Mr Iswaran added that nuclear energy will continue to be part of the energy mix for many countries.

Two-thirds of nuclear power plants being built are located in Asia, with some planned in Southeast Asia.

Mr Iswaran said: "Singapore needs to continue to monitor the progress of nuclear energy technologies, and to strengthen our capabilities to understand nuclear science and technology. It is also important to track related developments in areas such as emergency response and radioactive waste disposal. Then we can assess the implications of evolving nuclear energy technologies and regional nuclear energy developments for Singapore. This will also strengthen our operational preparedness and our existing capabilities in radiation and incident response."

To do this, the government will support research in areas of nuclear science and engineering and train a pool of scientists and experts through education programmes in local and overseas universities.

Mr Iswaran also said Singapore will also play an active role in global and regional cooperation on nuclear safety.

- CNA/cc/ck

Nuclear energy 'not yet suitable' here

Current designs of nuclear plants pose more risks than benefits for Singapore: Iswaran
Woo Sian Boon Today Online 16 Oct 12;

SINGAPORE - The Government has decided, after recently concluding a pre-feasibility study, that "nuclear energy is not yet suitable for deployment in Singapore", said Second Minister for Trade and Industry S Iswaran in Parliament yesterday.

This is because the current designs of nuclear power plants, while much safer than older designs, still pose more risks than benefits for Singapore, a densely populated city, he said in response to Member of Parliament (Nee Soon GRC) Lee Bee Wah, who asked for an update on the pre-feasibility study.

Two years ago, Mr Iswaran announced in Parliament the decision to embark on a pre-feasibility study on nuclear energy, as part of efforts to diversify Singapore's energy mix and ease energy constraints in the long term.

"As we are planning for the very long term and not for our immediate energy needs, we prefer to wait for technology and safety to improve further before reconsidering our options," Mr Iswaran told the House yesterday.

But given that two-thirds of nuclear power plants under construction today are in Asia, Singapore has to continue to monitor the progress of nuclear energy technologies and strengthen its capabilities to understand nuclear science and technology, he noted.

The Government will, therefore, support research in relevant areas of nuclear science and engineering, and a pool of scientists and experts will be trained in local and overseas universities.

"This will also strengthen our operational preparedness and our existing capabilities in radiation and incident response," said Mr Iswaran.

He added that Singapore will be playing an active role in global and regional nuclear safety. As an existing member of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Singapore is working closely with other member countries to implement that IAEA Action Plan on Nuclear Safety.

Experts TODAY spoke to emphasised the need for Singapore to monitor nuclear energy developments.

Said Dr Eulalia Han, a Fellow specialising in energy security at the National University of Singapore's Energy Studies Institute: "As a result of Singapore's high urban density, it will be difficult for Singaporeans to escape the effects of a potential nuclear accident in the region."

"In order to prevent a potential nuclear fallout, it is important for ASEAN to engage in nuclear energy cooperation prior to countries acquiring nuclear energy," she added.

Mr Konstantin Foskolos, a consultant in nuclear technology and project advisor for Singapore's pre-feasibility report, also suggested Singapore establish up-to-date, monitoring and early warning systems "in case something goes wrong" in one of the neighbouring countries.

To deal with potential radiological threats, Mr Foskolos, who is the former deputy head of the Nuclear Energy and Safety Research department in Switzerland's Paul Scherrer Institut, suggested complementing the warning systems with Singapore's existing emergency preparedness system.

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Malaysia: Elephant calf found abandoned in plantation

T.N. Alagesh New Straits Times 16 Oct 12;

IN SAFE HANDS: Wildlife dept sends year-old animal believed from a herd in a nearby forest to Kuala Gandah Elephant Sanctuary

TEMERLOH: A BABY elephant, which was found roaming alone in a plantation near Mentelong forest in Rompin last week, will be the latest attraction at Kuala Gandah Elephant Sanctuary in Lanchang near here.

The year-old female calf is now the youngest mammal at the sanctuary, which currently has a total of 28 elephants aged up to 70.

The oldest is Lokimala, a female elephant which arrived at the sanctuary in 1978 to help in the relocation of wild elephants.

Wildlife and National Parks Department (Perhilitan) elephant unit head Nasaruddin Othman said when the rangers spotted the calf there were no adult elephants in sight and checks revealed that the confused animal had been roaming the area for more than two weeks.

"We believe that the calf may have come from a big herd from the nearby forest.

"It may have lost its way after failing to keep up with the group," he said yesterday.

Nasaruddin said several plantation workers who had spotted the animal, alerted the state Perhilitan.

"Due to its young age and unfamiliarity with the surroundings, the team from the elephant sanctuary did not face much problem in tracking down the animal and catching it."

Weighing about 200kg and 1.2m tall, the calf was later brought out of the plantation on a tractor before a one-tonne lorry was used to transport it to the sanctuary on Friday.

Despite a tiring four-hour journey from Rompin, the calf appeared joyful as it was fed with papayas and given full attention by the caretakers at the sanctuary.

Nasaruddin said the calf was healthy and had been placed with other elephants at the sanctuary.

The young elephant was lucky as it was not caught in a nylon or wire snare which was usually laid by poachers to trap other wild and endangered animals in the area.

In 2007, the elephant unit rescued a seven-year-old female elephant, which was later named Selendang, after her front foot was caught in a steel cable snare set for wild boars by poachers in Rompin. Selendang's foot was later amputated and replaced with a prosthetic limb.

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Thailand: Phuket Dolphin, Turtles, Whale Shark Join List of Dead and Dying Marine Life

Prasit Tarnsirisin Phuket Wan 15 Oct 12;

PHUKET: The deaths of a dolphin, three turtles and a seven-metre whale shark at the weekend have illustrated the Phuket region's losing battle to save its marine environment.

The dolphins and the turtles died at the Phuket Marine Biological Centre at Phuket's Cape Panwa while the male whale shark washed onto a beach at Koh Lanta in Krabi.

"We did our best to save them [the dolphin and turtles]," said marine biologist Dr Patcharaporn Kaewmong. "We wil autopsy the dolphin to see what led to its death."

The 1.2 metre female spinner dolphin was taken to the Phuket centre on September 27.

A virus apparently caused it to become separated from its pod and it swam close to shore at Mai Khao, one of Phuket's quieter west coast beaches.

Turtles, many with flippers or carapaces severely damaged, have washed ashore in greater numbers than ever before at Phuket's west coast beaches this monsoon season.

Those with pierced shells are usually unable to dive to feed and need constant care.

The seven-metre whale shark became the latest marine creature to be beached yesterday at Klongnin, Koh Lanta. Locals and marine biologists buried the carcass after taking DNA samples.

Awareness of the threats to the Phuket region's marine inhabitants has never been greater. Hundreds of volunteers turmed out for a Go-Eco dive on September 30 that cleared dumped nets and trash from Phuket's surrounding coral reefs.

However, precise preventative action is required to stop the dumping and save the turtles especially. Turtles once hatched at all Phuket beaches, but no longer.

Local authorities mostly declare an interest in a "livable and sustainable" Phuket and sometimes even propose erecting more statues of dolphins to show they mean what they say.

Phuket update: Whale shark found dead on Lanta beach
PHUKET: A large whale shark was found dead on Koh Lanta on Sunday morning (October 14), washed ashore on Klong Nin Beach near the Lanta Nice Beach Resort.
Tanyaluk Sakoot The Phuket News 16 Oct 12;

Measuring eight meters in length and weighing about eight tons, the shark is thought to have been dead between five and seven days before being cast ashore.

The Phuket-based Andaman Sea Fisheries Research and Development Centre sent scientists to examine the carcass. They concluded that the animal might have been mortally wounded by a trawler.

Lanta Yai municipality organised an excavator to bury the dead shark under the beach.

Whale sharks are the largest fish in the ocean, growing to recorded lengths of more than 12 metres and weighing more than 20 tons.

Moving ponderously through the water, whale shark are filter feeders, living mainly off plankton. The species is considered “vulnerable” by the UN-affiliated International Union for the Conservation of Nature.

Phuket Talks Aim to Save Marine Life as Fisheries, Tourism Play Blame Game
Prasit Tarnsirisin Phuket Wan 16 Oct 12;

PHUKET: The Director of the Phuket Marine Biological Centre hopes to talk to authorities in the fishing and tourism industries with the aim of better protecting the Phuket region's marine life.

Ukrit Satapoomin made his comment after the burial of a seven-metre whale shark on a beach at Koh Lanta.

The large whale shark died on the same weekend that a sick dolphin and three maimed turtles died as marine biologists at the Phuket centre tried to nurse them back to health.

Marine deaths and maimings have prompted debate about what needs to happen to preserve Phuket's coral reefs and beaches and the creatures that inhabit the waters around them.

The growth in the tourism industry - with more boats and garbage going into the sea - and the fishing industry are blamed for the perception that more marine creatures are now being needlessly killed or maimed.

The Director Of the Phuket Provincial Fisheries Office, Kawi Saranakhomkun, said today that trawlers were well aware of the 3000 metre protected zone around Thailand's coast and did not fish within it.

''Our members operate within the law and every year we hold meetings to remind the captains that they must release endangered animals caught in their nets.''

Khun Kawi said he believed that tourism did far more harm to the Phuket region's marine life than fishing.

''Our industry causes minor damage compared to plastic trash that chokes the animals to death,'' he said. ''There are also more tourist vessels operating within the 3000 metre protected zone than ever before.

''This inevitably leads to propellors hitting the turtles.''

Biological Centre Director Khun Ukrit believes that businesses and local administrations on Phuket have to first take care of all bad water before releasing it into the sea.

''Once that is done, the coastal environment will improve,'' he said. ''Fortunately, Phuket is blessed in some ways by having strong currents that provide some relief.''

He says there are strong economic arguments why the fishing industry needs to be preserved and efforts to change the approach needed to be carried out within those limitations.

''I hope to be able to hold some talks aimed at reducing the toll on marine life,'' he said. ''But there is only so much we can do because the laws are plain.''

More local politicians are using the word ''sustainability'' without necessarily being empowered to achieve it.

Phuketwan has suggested that a Phuket Beach Authority needs to be created to protected all beaches from the rapid damage occurring because of privatisation and pollution.

Meanwhile, the whale shark has been buried on a beach on Koh Lanta. Once the bones have been stripped clean, marine biologists hope to dig up the skeleton for display.

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India's marine mammals face threat

U. Sudhakar Reddy Deccan Chronicle 15 Oct 12;

Marine animals like blue whales and dolphins are facing a serious threat to their existence along India’s coasts and seas.

Joining this endangered group is the Olive Ridley turtles found in Srikakulam in AP.

A Greenpeace report, Identifying Conservation Needs in India’s Offshore Waters said it has identified 51 points of occurrence (habitats) of marine mammals and sea turtles in the Indian Exclusive Economic Zone. The report said that activities like deep sea fishing are likely to increase pressure on these habitats.

“Marine mammals and sea turtles deserve attention as they are vulnerable. A tracking study is needed to determine migratory patterns and deep sea reserves. Regulations giving data on species distribution and ranges should be made. Measures to set aside safe areas and corridors have to be incorporated into project plans,” the report said.

State Biodiversity Board chairman Dr R. Hampaiah said the focus must shift to marine diversity protection.

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Sumatran orangutan rescued in western Indonesia

Associated Press Yahoo News 16 Oct 12;

JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) — A critically endangered Sumatran orangutan was rescued from an isolated forest area in western Indonesia where palm oil companies have been illegally destroying the environment, a conservation group said Monday.

The adult male orangutan, named Seuneam, had been trapped for several days in an area surrounded by palm oil plantations and was isolated from the rest of the surviving orangutan population in Tripa swamp in the Nagan Raya district. It was found and safely evacuated over the weekend, the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Program said.

The Tripa swamp was home to around 3,000 orangutans in the 1990s but now has only about 200. Still, the population is the densest in the world with about eight per square kilometer (20 per square mile), the group said.

Tripa is a legally protected area, but several palm oil companies are under investigation for breaking the law, and the permit for one plantation has been canceled, it said.

"We are always happy to see a successful rescue take place, but these activities are expensive, logistically challenging and also dangerous, for both staff and the orangutans themselves," Ian Singleton of the group said. "It's not the orangutans that should be leaving this area, it is the palm oil companies who are breaking the law."

There are an estimated 6,600 Sumatran orangutans remaining in the wild.

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25 primate species reported on brink of extinction

Nirmala George Associated Press Yahoo News 15 Oct 12;

NEW DELHI (AP) — Twenty-five species of monkeys, langurs, lemurs and gorillas are on the brink of extinction and need global action to protect them from increasing deforestation and illegal trafficking, researchers said Monday.

Six of the severely threatened species live in the island nation of Madagascar, off southeast Africa. Five more from mainland Africa, five from South America and nine species in Asia are among those listed as most threatened.

The report by the International Union for Conservation of Nature was released at the United Nations' Convention on Biological Diversity being held in the southern Indian city of Hyderabad.

Primates, mankind's closest living relatives, contribute to the ecosystem by dispersing seeds and maintaining forest diversity.

Conservation efforts have helped several species of primates that are no longer listed as endangered, said the report, prepared every two years by some of the world's leading primate experts.

The report, which counts species and subspecies of primates across the world, noted that Madagascar's lemurs are severely threatened by habitat destruction and illegal hunting, which has accelerated dramatically since the change of power in the country in 2009.

Among the most severely hit was the northern sportive lemur, with only 19 known individuals left in the wild in Madagascar.

"Lemurs are now one of the world's most endangered groups of mammals, after more than three years of political crisis and a lack of effective enforcement in their home country, Madagascar," said Christoph Schwitzer of the Bristol Conservation and Science Foundation, one of the groups involved in the study.

"A similar crisis is happening in Southeast Asia, where trade in wildlife is bringing many primates very close to extinction," Schwitzer said.

More than half of the world's 633 types of primates are in danger of becoming extinct because of human activity such as the burning and clearing of tropical forests, the hunting of primates for food and the illegal wildlife trade.

While the situation appears dire for some species, wildlife researchers say conservation efforts are beginning to pay off, with several primates being removed from the list, now in its seventh edition.

India's lion-tailed macaque and Madagascar's greater bamboo lemur have been taken off the endangered inventory for 2012 after the targeted species appeared to have recovered.

Also, conservation efforts have ensured that the world did not lose a single primate species to extinction in the 20th century, and no primate has been declared extinct so far this century, said Russell A. Mittermeier, president of Conservation International and the chairman of the IUCN Species Survival Commission's primate specialist group.

"Amazingly, we continue to discover new species every year since 2000," Mittermeier said. "What is more, primates are increasingly becoming a major ecotourism attraction, and primate-watching is growing in interest."

In a separate report on global urbanization released Monday at the Hyderabad conference, the United Nations urged urban planners to incorporate green spaces in cities as more and more people move away from rural areas in search of work.

Green areas in big cities perform important ecological functions, such as "filtering dust, absorbing carbon dioxide from the air and improving air quality," the Convention on Biological Diversity said in its new assessment.

The "Cities and Biodiversity Outlook" is the first global analysis of how urban land expansion will impact biodiversity in the coming decades.

The world's total urban area is expected to triple between 2000 and 2030, with urban populations set to double to around 4.9 billion in the same period.

Data from the United Kingdom show that a 10 percent increase in tree canopy cover in cities may result in a 3-4 degree Celsius decrease in ambient temperature, thus reducing energy used for air conditioning, the report said.

Urban biodiversity also delivers important health benefits, with studies showing that proximity to trees can reduce the prevalence of childhood asthma and allergies.

Top 25 Most Endangered Primate Species Revealed
Stephanie Pappas Yahoo News 16 Oct 12;

A tiny tarsier with a face like a Furby and a lemur that stands like a boxer when threatened are among the 25 most endangered primates in the world, the United Nations announced today (Oct. 15).

Indonesia's pygmy tarsier and Madagascar's northern sportive lemur are barely clinging on in the wild, according to the UN's new report, titled Primates in Peril: The World's 25 Most Endangered Primates, 2012-1014. The list includes nine Asian primate species, six from Madagascar, five from Africa and five from South and Central America.

"Once again, this report shows that the world's primates are under increasing threat from human activities. Whilst we haven't lost any primate species yet during this century, some of them are in very dire straits," Christoph Schwitzer, the head of research at the Bristol Conservation and Science Foundation and an editor of the report, said in a statement.

"In particular, the lemurs are now one of the world's most endangered groups of mammals, after more than three years of political crisis and a lack of effective enforcement in their home country, Madagascar. A similar crisis is happening in South-East Asia, where trade in wildlife is bringing many primates very close to extinction," Schwitzer added. [In Photos: The World's Most Threatened Primates]

Of the 633 primate species on the planet, 54 percent are classified as at least threatened by extinction by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The animals on the top 25 list are in the most dire straits. For example, the northern sportive lemur (Lepilemur septentrionalis), which stands on its back legs like a boxer when threatened, has only 19 individuals living in the wild. In fact, 91 percent of Madagascar's 103 lemur species and subspecies are threatened with extinction, according to the IUCN.

The pygmy tarsier (Tarsius pumilus) was thought to be extinct until 2000, when one stumbled into a rat trap in central Sulawesi, Indonesia. In 2008, researchers confirmed the continued existence of the species by trapping three with nets and observing a fourth.

Primates are a boon for ecotourism as well as being crucial to tropical forest ecosystems, said Russell Mittermeier, the president of the environmental group Conservation International.

"They often serve as seed dispersers and help to maintain forest diversity," Mittermeier said in a statement. "It is increasingly being recognized that forests make a major contribution in terms of ecosystem services for people, providing drinking water, food and medicine."

There is some good news in the report, including the fact that no primate species went extinct in the 20th century, nor have any been declared extinct in the 21st century. Two species have been taken off the list due to recovery: India's lion-tailed macaque (Macaca silenus) and Madagascar's greater bamboo lemur (Prolemur simus).

Primates in peril – conservationists reveal the world’s 25 most endangered primates
IUCN Media Release 15 Oct 12;

Hyderabad, India - The world’s 25 most endangered primates have been revealed in a new report released today at the UN’s Convention on Biological Diversity COP11. Primates in Peril: The World’s 25 Most Endangered Primates, 2012–2014 has been compiled by the Primate Specialist Group of IUCN’s Species Survival Commission (SSC) and the International Primatological Society (IPS), in collaboration with Conservation International (CI) and the Bristol Conservation and Science Foundation (BCSF).

Mankind’s closest living relatives – the world’s apes, monkeys, lemurs and other primates – are on the brink of extinction and in need of urgent conservation measures. The report, announced by some of the world’s leading primate experts every two years, reveals those species most in danger of becoming extinct from destruction of tropical forests, illegal wildlife trade and commercial bush meat hunting.

The list features nine primate species from Asia, six from Madagascar, five from Africa and five from the Neotropics. In terms of individual countries, Madagascar tops the list with six of the 25 most endangered species. Vietnam has five, Indonesia three, Brazil two, and China, Colombia, Côte d’Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ecuador, Equatorial Guinea, Ghana, Kenya, Peru, Sri Lanka, Tanzania and Venezuela each have one.

With this report, conservationists want to highlight the plight of species such as the Pygmy Tarsier (Tarsius pumilus) of southern and central Sulawesi, which was only known from three museum specimens until 2008, when three individuals were captured inside the Lore Lindu National Park and one more was observed in the wild. The few remaining fragmented and isolated populations of this species are threatened by human encroachment and armed conflict.

Madagascar’s lemurs are severely threatened by habitat destruction and illegal hunting, which has accelerated dramatically since the change of power in the country in 2009. The rarest lemur, the Northern Sportive Lemur (Lepilemur septentrionalis), is now down to 19 known individuals in the wild. A red-listing workshop on lemurs, held by the IUCN SSC Primate Specialist group in July this year, revealed that 91% of the 103 species and subspecies were threatened with extinction. This is one of the highest levels of threat ever recorded for a group of vertebrates.

The list of the world’s 25 most endangered primates has been drawn up by primatologists working in the field who have first-hand knowledge of the causes of threats to primates.

“Once again, this report shows that the world’s primates are under increasing threat from human activities. Whilst we haven’t lost any primate species yet during this century, some of them are in very dire straits,” says Dr Christoph Schwitzer, Head of Research at the Bristol Conservation and Science Foundation (BCSF). “In particular the lemurs are now one of the world’s most endangered groups of mammals, after more than three years of political crisis and a lack of effective enforcement in their home country, Madagascar. A similar crisis is happening in South-East Asia, where trade in wildlife is bringing many primates very close to extinction.”

More than half (54%) of the world’s 633 primate species and subspecies with known conservation status are classified as threatened with extinction on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™. The main threats are habitat destruction, particularly from the burning and clearing of tropical forests the hunting of primates for food, and the illegal wildlife trade.

“Primates are our closest living relatives and probably the best flagship species for tropical rain forests, since more than 90 percent of all known primates occur in this endangered biome,” says Dr. Russell Mittermeier, Chair of the IUCN SSC Primate Specialist Group and President of Conservation International. “Amazingly, we continue to discover new species every year since 2000. What is more, primates are increasingly becoming a major ecotourism attraction, and primate-watching is growing in interest and serving as a key source of livelihood in many local communities living around protected areas in which these species occur.”

“It’s also important to note that primates are a key element in their tropical forest homes”, adds Dr Mittermeier. “They often serve as seed dispersers and help to maintain forest diversity. It is increasingly being recognized that forests make a major contribution in terms of ecosystem services for people, providing drinking water, food and medicines.”

Despite the gloomy assessment, conservationists point to the success in helping targeted species recover. Due largely to the efforts of dedicated primate conservationists, and underpinned by considerable public and media interest in the plight of our closest relatives, the world has not lost a single primate species to extinction in the 20th century, and no primate had yet to be declared extinct in the 21st century either, although some are very close to total extirpation. This is a better record than for most other groups of larger vertebrates that have lost at least one, often more, species.

Several species have been removed from the list — now in its seventh edition — because of improved status, among them India's Lion-Tailed Macaque (Macaca silenus) and Madagascar's Greater Bamboo Lemur (Prolemur simus), which appeared on the first six lists, but has now been taken off thanks to the great increase of interest generated by its appearance as a top 25 species

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USA: What are the Mangrove Trees Telling Us About the Texas Coast?

Dave Fehling NPR 15 Oct 12;

The other day, a team of Texas A&M researchers was comparing satellite photos of the Texas coast. As the scientists looked at the images from the past 20 years, they noticed something different: there are now a lot more mangroves.

“Across the whole Texas coast we’ve seen a 70% increase in mangrove area,” said Anna Armitage, a marine biology professor at Texas A&M’s research and teaching campus on Pelican Island. The seaside compound is joined by a bridge to Galveston Island.

“It’s a change and we’re trying to understand what that change means,” Armitage told StateImpact.

What’s a mangrove?

Mangroves are trees and shrubs that grow in the salty sediment along the coast. Armitage talked with StateImpact as she walked through a salt marsh on the island. She pointed out mangroves that had grown to 10 feet tall.

“Even though they’re not huge, they’re much taller than the marsh vegetation. So they out-compete the marsh vegetation,” Armitage said.

Armitage is part of a research team that’s using $400,000 funding from NASA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture to do a three year study on how changes in land development and vegetation are affecting the ability of Texas coast wetlands to absorb carbon dioxide. An increase in mangrove population raises new questions for the team about how climate change is affecting the Texas Coast.
Why are they growing?

One thing they’re looking at is what role hard freezes might play. In the past, freezes that reached the coast are believed to have killed off mangroves.

“We don’t know for sure (if it’s related to climate change), because it’s always difficult to pinpoint one particular change,” said Patrick Louchouarn, the principal investigator on the team.

Coastal wetlands are environmentally important for many reasons, but what the A&M researchers are most interested in is what capacity the coast has for absorbing carbon dioxide. Generally, they say coastal wetlands are capable of storing more of the greenhouse gas than inland forests. Therefore, it makes sense to protect or restore wetlands as part of the global effort to reduce greenhouse gases.
A possible benefit as wetlands are lost

The A&M scientists said that mangroves might actually absorb more carbon dioxide than the marsh grasses they’re displacing.

“It could even be a benefit,” said Armitage.

Texas has already lost tens of thousands of acres of wetlands since the 1950’s, mostly due to subsidence, the sinking of land caused when cities pump groundwater. While steps have been taken to reduce subsidence, land development due to the state’s surging population and industrial growth also threatens wetlands.

Applying the research

“The (Texas) coast is poised for development,“said Samuel Brody, one of the researchers, who besides being a marine scientist, is also a professor of urban planning.

“This is one issue we need to look at. If we’re going to develop the coast and reap the financial benefit, are we sacrificing other, more important benefits,” said Brody.

Wetlands fall under Federal regulation and some states have their own, comprehensive wetlands regulatory programs. Texas incorporates wetlands regulations in several land-use laws and charges several different agencies with enforcement, including the the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and the Texas General Land Office.

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Gulf Stream Diverted More Than 100 Miles North in 2011

Douglas Main Yahoo News 16 Oct 12;

Last fall, fishermen in the Northeast United States noticed stronger currents and higher water temperatures than usual, so they tapped scientists from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts to help them find out what was going on.

A study by the scientists, published recently in the journal Scientific Reports, suggests the cause was a change in the direction of the Gulf Stream, the current that ferries warm water from the Gulf of Mexico northeast into the Atlantic and along the U.S. East Coast. The scientists found that the center, or core, of the Gulf Stream was diverted as much as 125 miles (200 kilometers) to the north of its average position, according to a WHOI statement.

In late October 2011, temperatures increased at two deep-water sensors attached to lobster traps off Nantucket by as much as 12 degrees Fahrenheit (6.7 degrees Celsius) over the course of several days. That pushed water temperatures above 64 F (18 C), which is very unusual in the waters off southern New England for that time of year. It's also 4 F (2 C) higher than temperatures have been at one of these locations in the last decade, said study author and WHOI researcher Glen Gawarkiewicz.

While the diversion lasted for only a couple weeks, the warm water stuck around for months, into early 2012.The strange conditions likely had and will have an effect on marine life near the edge of the continental shelf, the underwater extension of the North American continent that creates relatively shallow waters until it abruptly drops off. The continental shelf off the Northeast is home to an abundance of fish. Studies in Northeast waters have shown that temperature increases of 4 F (2 C) have caused major northward shifts in populations of silver hake, a commercially important fish.

In spring 2012, migratory bluefish and striped bass were also seen off the coast of Cape Cod much earlier than in previous years. But more research is required to determine if the Gulf Stream diversion was the cause.

It's still unclear exactly why the Gulf Stream shifted so far to the north, Gawarkiewicz told OurAmazingPlanet. One possible explanation is that the heavy rainfall dropped by Hurricane Irene affected its course by altering ocean salinity. Another possibility is that it was jolted northward by an eddy of cold water off the southeastern United States that appeared in the fall of 2011, he said.

Typically, the Gulf Stream only indirectly influences ocean currents and temperatures near the continental shelf south of New England when eddies separate from the Gulf Stream and drift northward, causing limited warming.

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Indonesia's "Frankentrees" turn cocoa dream into nightmare

Lewa Pardomuan and Michael Taylor Reuters Yahoo News 16 Oct 12;

PINRANG/JAKARTA (Reuters) - Nurhaedah, a vivacious Indonesian cocoa trader, shakes her head in disappointment as she sifts through a pile of blackened, shriveled beans. Yet another crop from "Frankentrees": weak, misshapen cocoa trees toppling under their own weight.

A $350-million campaign to boost cocoa yields in Indonesia, the world's third largest producer of the commodity, is turning sour as farmers send streams of poor-quality beans plucked from the defective trees to a collecting center Nurhaedah runs.

"Farmers are complaining the beans are so small they look like roasted peanuts," said Nurhaedah, as her deft fingers sought out the bigger beans whose size indicated better quality.

"I don't think anyone has told us what went wrong. Many trees have fallen down and when you pull them up, it's obvious they don't have taproots."

Farmers' disappointment at the outcome of the three-year campaign that aimed at increasing cocoa output to offset tight supplies and satisfy rising demand is ironically driving some to cultivate palm oil, which brings in more money for less work.

The main growing island of Sulawesi, where Nurhaedah works for a trading firm based in Singapore, is the center of a three-year-old effort to boost cocoa output to 600,000 metric tons (661,387 tons) by 2013, to meet demand from grinders in Indonesia and elsewhere in Asia.

As top cocoa grower Ivory Coast struggles to stamp out an outbreak of fungal disease in the face of bad weather, problems in Indonesia and the likelihood of a disruptive El Nino weather pattern could leave the global market with a deficit of around 40,000 metric tons (44,092 tons) in the current crop year, driving prices higher.

Ratios, an indicator of demand, have rallied more than 40 percent since January in Asia, boosted by year-end festive demand and a drop in grindings in Europe that curbed supply of cocoa butter, which makes chocolate melt in the mouth.


To meet the growing appetite for chocolate in Asia, fed by rising incomes and growing populations, multinational firms such as Cargill and Barry Callebaut, the world's top chocolate maker, have built grinding projects in Indonesia.

In the last five years, the country's grinding capacity has doubled to reach around 400,000 metric tons (440,925 tons) this year, making it Asia's largest after Malaysia.

"Everybody realizes we need more supply because the demand is growing," said Ruud Engbers, president director of Mars Symbioscience Indonesia, a unit of privately owned Mars Inc, one of the world's leading food manufacturers, which turns out Snickers and Twix candy bars.

The world will need an additional 1 million metric tons (1.1023 million tons) of cocoa beans annually by 2020, Engbers estimates.

But a smaller than expected share of that increase will come from Indonesia, battered by bad weather and a cloning technique gone awry, yielding the outsize, misshapen trees that traders and farm researchers have dubbed "Frankentrees".

Despite the battle to boost output, dry weather is expected to keep Indonesia's output this year at between 435,000 and 450,000 metric tons, or a drop of almost a third since 2006.

Moreover, farmers say output from cocoa trees in much of Sulawesi appears to have been hurt by the cloning technique, originally intended to hasten seed production, but which has led instead to sickly trees that yield small, discolored beans.

The technique called somatic embryogenesis, or SE, was invented to produce high-yielding, disease-resistant seeds. A success in Ecuador in the early 2000s, it had never been used on a large scale until Indonesia adopted it in 2009.

Seedlings from the new clone take only three years to produce cocoa pods, versus four years for non-cloned varieties.

But in Indonesia, farmers say, it has produced trees that are a meter taller than usual with extra branches, which need support from stakes tied to their trunks to keep upright, yet are still prone to disease.

The trees have been producing elongated cocoa pods in strange orange-red hues, compared to the usual reddish-purple.

Cocoa trees planted in 2009 have matured this year to yield poor quality pods, with up to 160 beans in every 100 grams, far more than the national standard of 110. Plantations normally yield up to 450 kg of cocoa per hectare a year, but small beans cut that output in half.

"Many trees are dead, the beans are small and I don't think the whole thing is a success," said Siti, a 73-year old widow who looks after plantations owned by her son-in-law in the lush, hilly region of Pinrang, about 170 km north of Makassar, the capital of South Sulawesi.

"My own plantation didn't get the SE seedlings but my son-in-law's did. The result is bad," said Siti, speaking outside a stilt hut at the plantation, and pointing to the elongated, cocoa pods infested by bean-eating pests.

Almost 1 million Indonesian families, most of them in Sulawesi, rely on cocoa for their livelihood, but its stubbornly low output is a pointer to low overall rates of productivity.

"If the farmers are unhappy and they cannot make a proper living, there will never be a sustainable supply chain," Engbers told Reuters at Mars' sprawling 17,000-tonne annual capacity grinding plant in Makassar, the capital of South Sulawesi.

A survey by the nearby Hasanuddin University showed that most trees grown from the new seeds died or fell over, or were likely to do so, prompting cocoa farmers to switch to crops such as palm that are easier to care for.

In Southeast Sulawesi, desperate farmers are cutting down cocoa trees to make way for oil palm plantations that bring better returns. Indonesia is the world's biggest producer of the edible oil used in products from biscuits to biofuel.

"I've been taking care of my palm oil plantations in the last three years, while getting rid of cocoa trees," said 50-year old Mustafa, adding that 1,200 palm oil trees now grow on a plantation where he once had 12,000 cocoa trees.

A cocoa farmer can earn 8 million rupiah a year from one hectare of land, or about half the 15 million earned by cultivating palm instead.

Yet these signs did not prove the national cocoa campaign had failed, Indonesian Agriculture Minister Suswono said.

"It is true that some cocoa farmers in Sulawesi have replaced cocoa trees with palm oil, but acreage is still very limited," Suswono told Reuters. "There must be a scientific answer on the real cause of declining output."


The Indonesian Coffee and Cocoa Research Institute (ICCRI), which distributed about 74 million specially developed seedlings to farmers across a tenth of the nationwide growing area of 1 million hectares by 2011, has done its own plantation survey.

It has offered advice ranging from proper of use of fertilizer to better handling of seedlings on their way to plantations from nurseries, as well as how to fight Vascular-Streak Dieback, a virus that decimated Sulawesi's trees in 2008.

"There were cases when nursery workers didn't properly treat the roots. I don't want to blame anyone, but it may also be due to our fault for not providing clear instruction to farmers," said ICCRI research head Soetanto Abdoellah.

Although the government-sponsored rejuvenation program has kept output from falling further, the quality of Indonesian beans will be a headache for grinders in the next few years.

"The program should be extended but the strategy should be changed," said Zulhefi Sikumbang, chairman of exporter body the Indonesian Cocoa Association. "We need more field facilitators to help farmers and help transfer the technology."

With domestic grindings set to rise to 650,000 metric tons next year, imports of about 180,000 metric tons of cocoa beans will be needed from Ghana, Ivory Coast or Papua New Guinea, he said.

Back in Pinrang, Nurhaedah sorted beans in her combined home and office, amid a faint whiff of chocolate given off by sacks of dried cocoa stacked in a corner of her living room.

"Had farmers known from the beginning the trees would eventually fall over, they wouldn't have planted them," she said.

($1=9,580 rupiah)

(Additional reporting by Yayat Supriatna in Jakarta and Yusuf Ahmad in Southeast Sulawesi, Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

Factbox: Snapshot of Indonesia's cocoa industry
Reuters Yahoo News 16 Oct 12;

JAKARTA (Reuters) - A $350-million campaign to boost cocoa yields in Indonesia, the world's third largest producer of the chocolate ingredient, is turning sour as re-planted trees are still prone to disease, have poor roots and have been producing beans of poor quality.

Here are some facts on Indonesia's cocoa industry:


Indonesia has around 1.5 million to 1.6 million hectares of cocoa plantations, double the 2000 figure of 749,917 hectares, industry and agriculture ministry data shows. About 65 percent are on Sulawesi island with 15 percent on the island of Sumatra, while the rest are on the islands of Java, Bali, Kalimantan, Maluku and Papua.

Smallholders own about 95 percent of the total plantation area, with the rest held by state-owned and private plantation firms.


Indonesia's bean exports in 2012 will be 150,000 tonnes, down 29 percent from 210,000 tonnes last year because of rising domestic grinding capacity. Nearly half its cocoa bean exports go to Malaysia, with the United States also a top buyer.

Indonesian grinders also import high-quality fermented African cocoa beans to blend with Indonesian beans and improve flavor and color when producing cocoa powder, which is used to make biscuits and chocolate drinks.

Indonesia's African bean import volumes vary, depending on local bean production and grinding, but range between 20,000 and 31,000 tonnes a year. This may rise above 100,000 tonnes in 2013.


Indonesia has been struggling to increase production because its ageing cocoa trees, most of them planted in the 1980s, are vulnerable to disease that is hard to stamp out because of the vast network of smallholders.

Many are individual farmers who own less than a hectare of land and use poor farming techniques. With low cocoa prices, farmers may not have enough money to buy fertilizer or pesticide for their crop.

Indonesia's cocoa output this year is estimated to be little changed between 435,000 and 450,000 tonnes from last year's 435,000 tonnes, the industry estimates, as dry weather and disease curb output.

Farmers have also been battling the pod borer, a worm-like creature that eats cocoa beans and became a menace in 1999. the disease Vascular Streak Dieback, which attacks leaves, branches and tree trunks, returned to key cocoa-growing areas of Sulawesi in 2008.

Poor farming techniques and the spread of disease have cut productivity to about 660 kg per hectare/year from 1.1 tonnes over the past 5 years. Cocoa output hit a record 621,873 tonnes in 2006 but has since failed to exceed 600,000 tonnes.

Indonesian beans are known for their poor quality, because they are small, leave a lot of waste and fetch a low price, partly because they are not fermented, and so need to be blended with imported beans to produce cocoa powder.

Small farmers, many living hand-to-mouth, would rather get immediate cash for their crop than wait to ferment beans.


In 2009, the government launched a $350 million program to boost cocoa output to 600,000 tonnes per year by 2013. It distributed free fertilizer to boost productivity of cocoa trees over 145,000 hectares, and produce better seeds and trees.

The program covers tree rejuvenation over 235,000 hectares by side-grafting, or the removal of non-productive branches, followed by the insertion of young branches from other trees that are more productive and resistant to diseases and pests.

About 70,000 hectares of cocoa plantation, which were badly damaged, are also being replanted with new trees.

An independent survey in July said many newly planted trees had died, with many farmers now switching to oil palm cultivation instead.


Chocolate consumption in Indonesia has scope to grow, with annual cocoa demand estimated at just 0.2 kg per person, against 0.6 kg in neighbor Malaysia and 10 kg in Europe.

To boost domestic grinding capacity, Indonesia launched a monthly export tax for cocoa beans of up to 15 percent in April 2010. The tax is decided by the government every month based on export prices.

Key cocoa grinders are PT General Food Industries, a unit of Singapore-based Petra Foods Limited; privately-owned PT Bumi Tangerang; PT Effem Indonesia, a unit of privately-owned Mars, which produces Mars bars and Snickers; and publicly listed PT Davomas Abadi Tbk.

Malaysia's Guan Chong has set up a new cocoa grinder with maximum capacity of 150,000 tonnes on Batam island of Sumatra.

The country is also attracting companies such as U.S. agribusiness giant Cargill and Barry Callebaut, the world's top chocolate maker, which plan to invest almost $150 million in cocoa grinding plants.

Indonesia's annual cocoa grinding capacity is about 350,000 tonnes this year, and is likely to rise above 600,000 tonnes next year as the country expands its grinding sector.

Last year, 20,000 tonnes of cocoa beans were imported from Africa for blending, a figure set to surpass 100,000 tonnes in 2013.

Sources: ICCO, Indonesia Cocoa Industry Association, ASKINDO, the State Statistic Agency (BPS), Mintel

(Reporting by Michael Taylor; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

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Into the deep unknown – scientists unveil the secrets of our seas

IUCN 15 Oct 12;

Hyderabad, India, 15 October 2012 – New facts about marine life enable scientists to locate some of the ocean’s most ecologically and biologically significant areas (EBSAs), in the planet’s most remote places. At the 11th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) in Hyderabad, India, IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) calls on the international community to protect them.

This is the first time the world ocean, including its international waters, comes under scientific scrutiny, combining new facts about the distribution, migration routes and reproductive, nesting and nursing grounds of many threatened species, such as tuna, sharks, turtles and whales. The Global Ocean Biodiversity Initiative, of which IUCN is a partner, has been engaged in compiling and processing the new data.

“Many of these important areas lie outside of national jurisdiction, and thus remain neglected or poorly protected,” says Kristina Gjerde, IUCN Senior High Seas Advisor. “We need to bring these remote places to the center of government attention.”

Over 120 marine ‘hotspots’ located by experts in the Western South Pacific, the Mediterranean, the Wider Caribbean and Western Mid-Atlantic are now waiting to be approved by the CBD. This approval is needed to push the international community to recognize and protect these areas. The new knowledge gathered about them should be used by those managing marine activities to preserve areas beyond national boundaries, in line with international law – according to IUCN.

“We are calling the Convention to approve the proposed EBSAs and urge the international community to protect them – for the sake of our oceans and the services they provide to people around the world,” says Patricio Bernal, IUCN Coordinator of Global Ocean Biodiversity Initiative. “If we fail to do this, we risk losing rich marine life before we even have the time to explore it.”

The oceans are a vital part of the earth's life support system and are home to an estimated 80% of the world's biodiversity, from tiny phytoplancton to blue whales – the largest creatures on the planet. They provide us with oxygen, food and water and regulate the earth’s climate. While unsustainable human use, climate change and ocean acidification continue to threaten their biodiversity, only about 2% of the world's oceans is protected – including less than 1% of their international waters – and much of them remains unexplored.

Among other features, scientists assessed the biological diversity and the number of rare species in the areas. They also looked at how important these places are for the survival of threatened species and how vulnerable they are to threats such as climate change and human activity, including pollution and illegal and badly managed fishing.

“Unregulated fishing is responsible for the mass mortality of sharks, which can cause dramatic shifts in the whole of the marine environment,” says Kristina Gjerde. “Plastics are pervasive in all ocean basins, contaminating the food chain with unknown effects. Emerging activities such as deep seabed mining threaten to industrialze the seafloor on a scale as yet unimagined.”

One of the areas, the Sargasso Sea serves as a crossroad of the Atlantic Ocean. Its iconic floating Sargassum seaweeds provide a unique shelter to many species some of which, like the Sargassum anglerfish, are unique to the area. Some 30 species of whales, dolphins, and porpoises breed, live in or migrate through the Sargasso Sea, as do species of tuna, turtles, sharks, rays and the European and American eels.

New tracking technologies have allowed researchers to examine migration routes of many species, including the Pacific leatherback sea turtles, threatened by poaching and unintentional fishing. Better protection of these areas could ensure the survival of this species, listed as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™.

The new data has been gathered through international cooperation of experts initiated by the 10th Conference of Parties to the CBD and was reviewed by the Convention’s scientific body in May 2012.

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