Best of our wild blogs: 3 Nov 12

Plant-Bird Relationship: 9. Myrtaceae
from Bird Ecology Study Group

Farquhar gallery refreshed!
from Otterman speaks

Job: Lab Tech for project on “Role of animals in the transmission of pathogens in Singapore” from The Biodiversity crew @ NUS

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The real lesson about dolphins at Resorts World Sentosa

Straits Times Forum 3 Nov 12;

HAVING dolphins in Resorts World Sentosa may be perceived to be educational ("Vocal minority shouldn't hold others hostage" by Mr Steven Chua; Oct 26) but bringing the animals to Singapore will do more harm than good.

Damaging the dolphins' natural habitat by uprooting and placing them in a strange habitat may be detrimental and is not an episode children should learn. We should teach children not to unnecessarily tamper with the natural world.

With the advancement of technology, children can surely learn more about dolphins without causing damage.

Joyce Choong (Miss)

Vocal minority shouldn't hold others hostage
Straits Times Forum 26 Oct 12;

IT IS alarming when a vocal minority seeks to deny the rest of society an opportunity to view the dolphins at Resorts World Sentosa ("Philippine activists defiant on dolphins"; last Saturday).

In my view, having the dolphins will be educational, especially for children living in an unmitigatingly urban environment who rarely get to glimpse animals of any type, apart from the usual pets.
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The dolphins will certainly be a change and a welcome addition to Singapore.

The reasons that animal rights lobbies like the Animal Concerns Research and Education Society offer against exhibiting the dolphins are not convincing.

Steven Chua

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It's a big bird and a nuisance, but it's protected

Straits Times Forum 3 Nov 12;

I LIVE in an HDB estate in Queenstown surrounded by lush greenery.

Unfortunately, for over a year, my estate has been invaded by Asian Koels, which are large black birds with a distinct and piercing cry.

Their loud and aggressive cries begin as early as 5am and continue throughout the day.

As a result, my family and I have had to put up with having our sleep disturbed.
When I first wrote to my town council last November, I was informed by the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) that the bird is protected under the Wild Animals and Birds Act, and no further action will be taken unless the bird poses a health hazard to our community.

The AVA offered to trim the trees to reduce their roosting areas.

As there was hardly any improvement to the situation since then, I complained to the town council again.

The reply: Such noise issues are prevalent in HDB estates everywhere and town councils are collectively consulting the AVA for a solution, since the bird is a protected species.

Why is this bird a protected species and what is the AVA's plan to resolve the problem?

Daniel Ng

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Iskandar Malaysia - the green mega-city rising above Singapore

Planned eco-city for 3m people matches Luxembourg in size and showcases urban 21st-century smart living, say developers
Fiona Harvey 2 Nov 12;

Standing opposite Singapore, across the strait of Johor, is the site of a new project that its architects and developers hope will be the future of urban life in south-east Asia – a mega-city built along eco-friendly lines, with green energy and an end to the pollution that afflicts so many of Asia's cities.

Occupying an area the size of Luxembourg, the site is expected to have a population of 3 million by 2025, living as an ultra-modern "smart metropolis". Energy will be provided from renewable sources, transport will be publicly provided, waste will be diverted to other uses, and the city is planned by the Malaysian government as a showcase to be copied on a bigger scale across the region.

The world's urban population overtook the number of rural-dwellers for the first time in 2007, and future population growth in south-east Asia – at least 9bn people are expected to inhabit this planet by 2050, up from 7bn at present – is expected to be mainly in cities in the developing world. By far the greatest growth will be in slums, by current estimates.

Iskandar Malaysia offers an alternative. The plans are for a city that not only incorporates the latest in environmentally friendly technology, but that is designed for social integration. Green spaces and areas where people can mingle and relax will improve people's mental wellbeing and encourage social cohesion, it is hoped. Skyscrapers will be mixed with low-rise buildings and small self-contained "neighbourhoods".

Najib Razak, prime minister of Malaysia, said in a speech: "Iskandar Malaysia [is] a smart city template – protecting the environment, promoting equitable development and addressing urban development challenges [through] the creation of smart, liveable urban communities that will yield an improved quality of life for thousands of citizens, with safer, cleaner, healthier, more affordable and more vibrant neighbourhoods, serviced by more efficient and accessible transportation systems – great destinations for businesses."

Ellis Rubinstein, president of the New York Academy of Sciences, which is working on the "edu-city" university campus area, said it could be "a model to countries needing to accommodate the social and economic needs of fast-rising populations and environmental challenges".

However, the project's developers will have to overcome significant obstacles. New eco-cities have been planned in the past, from China to the US, but most have floundered. China's Dongtan was heralded as the world's first planned eco-city, but plans have been mired in difficulty for years. A UK project for "eco-towns" was widely ridiculed and has been all but abandoned.

So far, the Malaysian government has managed to attract support from Pinewood Studios, which will build new facilities in Iskandar, and Legoland which will build its first Asian theme park in the city. Several UK universities – including Newcastle and Southampton – are also planning to open up remote campuses.

More than $30bn has been promised for the city, of which more than a third will come from outside Malaysia.

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Malaysia: Don't fear Ramsar status, those near wetlands told

New Straits Times 2 Nov 12;

KOTA KINABALU: Efforts to get KK Wetlands listed in the Ramsar Site for wetlands of international importance will bring a positive impact for its residents and landowners.

Sabah Wetlands Conservation Society (SWCS) president Zainie Abdul Aucasa said stakeholders should not worry about the listing.

This was because the listing would add value to the surrounding land and not jeopardise property prices as feared by some people.

"Ramsar itself is a branding that is equivalent to world heritage status.

"In terms of tourism, the listing will enhance the area because people will be drawn to visit the wetlands," he said, adding that such a scenario would lead to an increase in property value.

Zainie was speaking after a dialogue session with stakeholders.

KK Wetlands, located in Likas, is about 10 minutes drive from the city centre.

It covers 24ha of mangrove forest and is used primarily as a model wetland centre for the purpose of conservation, education, recreation, tourism and research.

Almost 90 bird species can be found at the wetlands, which has been designated as a bird sanctuary since 1996.

During the dialogue, many stakeholders expressed concern about the possibility of the listing affecting landowners.

Sabah Biodiversity Centre director Dr Abdul Fatah Amir said the listing would not restrict development as it only served to provide a more comprehensive protection of the wetlands as an important ecosystem for the maintenance of biodiversity.

He added that landowners who wished to develop their land would still be able to do so provided that they complied with existing rules and regulations.

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Rising sea forces Panamanian islanders to move to mainland

Lomi Kriel Reuters 1 Nov 12;T

(Reuters) - Every rainy season, the Guna people living on the Panamanian white sand archipelago of San Blas brace themselves for waves gushing into their tiny mud-floor huts.

Rising ocean levels caused by global warming and decades of coral reef destruction have combined with seasonal rains to submerge the Caribbean islands for days on end.

Once rare, flooding is now so menacing that the Guna have agreed to abandon ancestral lands for an area within their semi-autonomous territory on the east coast of the mainland.

"The people know this isn't normal," said Francisco Gonzalez, 38, the school principal on Carti Sugdub. "When the water comes in, they can't do anything but wait."

It is the largest of the Guna's 45 inhabited islands, and its planned evacuation is among the first blamed largely on climate change. Scientists say worldwide sea levels have risen about 3 millimeters (0.12 inch) a year since 1993. Recent research suggests they could rise as much as 2 meters (6.5 feet) by 2100.

The phenomenon threatens low-lying communities around the world. Central America, a strip of land between two oceans, is particularly vulnerable. In western El Salvador, rising tide has swallowed up at least 1,000 feet of mangroves separating residents of La Tirana from the Pacific.

"It's another example that climate change is here, and it's here to stay," said Hector Guzman, a marine biologist at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama.

The Guna have accelerated change by mining surrounding coral reefs to build up the islands. From 1970-2001, nearly 80 percent of the peripheral coral disappeared as the Guna population more than doubled, Guzman and other Smithsonian researchers found.

They say the dilemma faced by the Guna is a harbinger of what might happen to other low-lying lands protected by reefs. The greenhouse gas carbon dioxide makes oceans more acidic, killing off coral.

In April, Guna leaders signed a resolution agreeing to move, saying, "Climate change will sooner or later affect the islands ... it's our responsibility to prevent a catastrophe."

Some Guna are resisting. One of Latin America's most independent and politically active indigenous groups, the Guna rebelled against Spanish conquistadors and Panamanian rulers, and they have lived on the islands for decades.

In Carti Sugdub, residents say they're ready to go.

"The children get sick. The trash flows in the street," said Laura Sanchez, a 53-year-old teacher dressed in the bright colors for which Guna women are renowned. "We've had enough."

The overpopulated island is also running out of space. Families squeeze up to 15 people into huts measuring barely 5 square meters (54 square feet), sleeping side by side in narrow hammocks.

The Panamanian government has agreed to help fund the relocation. But progress has been slowed by bureaucratic struggles and a lack of resources. The mainland's thick jungle, home by dengue and malaria, must be cleared.

Leaders are also pressing for better-planned communities for the largely impoverished Guna, with the running water, electricity and plumbing many currently lack.

"People thought this was going to happen really quickly," said Blas Lopez, secretary of the Guna General Congress. "But this is a massive undertaking," he added, noting it would take about a decade to settle all 65,000 Guna inland.

Carti Sugdub residents are expecting to leave in late 2014. On the mainland, construction is set to start on a school that would include a gymnasium and two soccer fields - which school principal Gonzalez said could bring other benefits.

"Maybe we could finally win a game if the kids have space to practice," Gonzalez said.

(Editing by Dave Graham and Eric Walsh)

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Nations fail to agree plan to protect seas around Antarctica

Alister Doyle PlanetArk 2 Nov 12;

Major nations failed to reach agreement on Thursday to set up huge marine protected areas off Antarctica under a plan to step up conservation of creatures such as whales and penguins around the frozen continent.

The 25-member Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) agreed, however, to hold a special session in Germany in July 2013 to try to break the deadlock after the October 8-November 1 meeting in Hobart, Australia.

Environmentalists criticized the failure to agree new marine protected areas in the Ross Sea and off East Antarctica, home to penguins, seals, whales and seabirds as well as valuable stocks of shrimp-like krill.

"We're deeply disappointed," Steve Campbell of the Antarctic Ocean Alliance, grouping conservation organizations, told Reuters at the end of the CCAMLR annual meeting. He said that most resistance had come from Ukraine, Russia and China.

Environmentalists said that the United States, the European Union, Australia and New Zealand were among countries pushing for agreement on new protected zones.

Some fishing fleets are looking south because stocks nearer home are depleted and some nations worry about shutting off large areas of the oceans. CCMALR comprises 24 member states and the European Union.

"This year, CCAMLR has behaved like a fisheries organization instead of an organization dedicated to conservation of Antarctic waters," said Farah Obaidullah of Greenpeace.

Among proposals, a U.S.-New Zealand plan would have created a 1.6 million sq km (0.6 million sq miles) protected area in the Ross Sea - about the size of Iran.

And the EU, Australia and France proposed a series of reserves of 1.9 million sq km (0.7 million sq miles) off East Antarctica - bigger than Alaska.

Last week, Hollywood actor Leonardo di Caprio launched a petition to protect the seas around Antarctica with campaigning group Avaaz, saying "the whales and penguins can't speak for themselves, so it's up to us to defend them."

Governments in 2010 set a goal of extending protected areas to 10 percent of the world's oceans to safeguard marine life from over-fishing and other threats such as pollution and climate change. By 2010, the total was 4 percent.

CCAMLR said in a statement that members had identified several regions of the Southern Ocean that warrant high levels of protection.

"These important areas can provide a reference for scientific research on the impacts of activities such as fishing, as well as significant opportunities for monitoring the impacts of climate change in the Southern Ocean," it said.

(Writing by Alister Doyle, Environment Correspondent in Oslo; editing by Mark Heinrich)

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China struggles for solution to growing NIMBY movement

John Ruwitch and David Stanway PlanetArk 2 Nov 12;

It looked like another victory for the people when the Chinese city of Ningbo announced the suspension on Sunday of a petrochemical project after days of street protests by citizens concerned it would pollute their community.

It may turn out to be more complicated.

As China's increasingly affluent urban population battles back against the breakneck growth-at-all-costs model that has fuelled the economy for three decades, environmental activists say the apparently straightforward narrative that has played out several times in recent years - government backs down, citizens win - is simplistic.

A spokesman for the Ningbo government said in a statement on Sunday that there would be no further work done on the massive project, which includes a facility for the production of paraxylene (PX), a potentially harmful chemical used in making some plastics, pending further "scientific debate."

But a source in Ningbo closely linked to the project told Reuters that once the public furor dies down, China Petroleum and Chemical Corporation (Sinopec) will likely proceed with the $8.8 billion dollar expansion to the plant in Ningbo's Zhenhai district, including PX production.

Public worries could force the project owners to downplay or disguise the PX facility by renaming it as something like "affiliated PTA product capacity expansion," the source said speaking on condition of anonymity. PTA is a downstream product made using PX, and a key component in producing polyester.

The rationale for the government to beat a public retreat in Ningbo and other places like it is clear enough.

"Capitulating relatively quickly to the demands of the local populace seems a worthy trade-off when thinking about the potential for these large scale protests to spread and transform into something much larger," said Elizabeth Economy, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and author of a book on China's environmental challenges.

"Of course, this is not a sustainable governance model, but it is clear that neither Beijing nor local officials know what to do."

The Ningbo protest came at a highly sensitive time for the government about two weeks before a once-a-decade leadership transition within the Communist Party.


A quiet resumption of the Ningbo plan would hardly be unheard of.

"Previously, similar cases were reactivated without much scrutiny from the public. The public is much less organized, so when the crisis calms down it's difficult for them to monitor what's going on," said Li Bo, Secretary General of the NGO Friends of Nature in China.

In several cases, what appeared at the outset to be government capitulation turned into quiet compromise. In Dalian last August, demonstrators protested against a PX plant after a typhoon damaged the facility. The government agreed to move it, but months later the plant was still running.

Environmental activists told Reuters that according to the local government, the plant was being steadily wound down rather than shut completely, and would finally be closed and relocated to an outlying industrial park by 2013.

"They have said it is impossible to close immediately because of safety problems and because other petrochemical plants nearby are using the PX as a feedstock," said Tang Zailin, director of the Dalian Environmental Volunteers Association, a local NGO.

A large demonstration in Xiamen in 2007, also against a PX plant, is widely viewed as a watershed moment in urban China's growing environmental consciousness. The government cancelled the project, environmental groups hailed the move as a victory, and paraxylene became a symbolic target for activists everywhere.

While Xiamen turned out to be a triumph for the city's NIMBY (Not in My Backyard) movement, the resolution there has become a familiar one. The government over a year later decided to move the facility into someone else's backyard - in this case that of farmers in the neighboring municipality of Zhangzhou. Residents there protested sporadically, but to no effect.


The rising tide of protests may be raising costs and uncertainty for some businesses - including foreign firms once attracted to China's lower costs and its willingness to cut through regulatory red tape.

In July, a violent demonstration broke out in the city of Qidong, just north of Shanghai, over a planned waste pipe at a Japanese-owned paper factory. It prompted the local government to capitulate and pledge to stop the project altogether.

Since then, however, the company, Oji Paper Co Ltd, has been left in the dark.

"We don't know what the status is. There is no information, and we can't even get a hold of local government public relations officials," said spokesman Yasushi Iizuka.

"We are operating on the premise that the pipeline will be built. There is no alternate plan."

The government of Qidong declined to comment when contacted by Reuters.

Companies, foreign and domestic, hope the government's now ad hoc and opaque regulatory processes will improve with time. More effective environmental regulation is a key pillar of the current five year plan.

But for now, analysts say, they must simply be more attentive to the possibility of environmental backlash to big investments. Duncan Innes-Ker, senior China analyst for the Economist Intelligence Unit, says the public's rising environmental awareness is forcing changes to the way companies handle large scale projects.

"In the past," said Innes-Ker, "you really had to manage local government officials, and once you'd managed that you pretty much were home and dry. Nowadays, you really have to manage the local population as well."

(Additional reporting by Chen Aizhu and Ben Blanchard in BEIJING and Mayumi Negishi in TOKYO; Editing by Bill Powell and Jonathan Thatcher)

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