Best of our wild blogs: 9 Nov 12

New Wild Singapore book is launched
from wild shores of singapore and Otterman speaks

Bidadari Cemetery – soon to be a site for the living
from Bird Ecology Study Group

Job: Two Research Assistant positions for project on ‘Enhancing Singapore’s Coral Reef Ecosystem’ (deadline: 16 Nov 2012) from The Biodiversity crew @ NUS

Reflection by Lee Raphael
from Senior High Student Council EXCEL Exposure and Reflection by Jinjing

Read more!

Malaysia: Floods hit Negri Sembilan, situation in Johor and Malacca worsens

The Star 9 Nov 12;

KUALA LUMPUR: Residents in Negri Sembilan have are the latest to get hit by floods in the peninsula while the situation in flood-hit Johor and Malacca has taken a turn for the worse.

However, the flood situation was reported to be improving in Selangor and Perak.

In Negri Sembilan, Kampung Keru Hilir in Tampin was flooded by up to one metre following incessant heavy rain overnight and forced 34 people from nine families living there to evacuate.

Tampin Land Office deputy administrator Mohd Amin Ludin said the victims were being sheltered at the kampung's surau and that all necessary assistance was being rendered.

According to the National Security Council's flood portal, in Johor, the number of flood victims had increased from 767 people to 1,095 people overnight.

It said four more relief centres had to be opened in the state, two each in Johor Baharu and Kulai Jaya.

Six relief centres in Batu Pahat and one in Ledang are already in operation in Johor.

In Malacca, the number of victims more than doubled overnight, from 61 people to 134 people.

The victims are all in Jasin and are being sheltered in one relief centre.

In Selangor, the number of food victims dropped from 1,012 people last night to 983 people this morning.

All the victims are sheltered at four relief centres in Kuala Langat while three relief centres in Dengkil have been closed and the victims housed there allowed to return to their homes.

In Perak, the number of victims dropped to 134 people from 177 people Thursday night with just one relief centre still operating in Hilir Perak.

So far, no casualty has been reported since floods broke out in the peninsula since six days ago and neither has there been closure of any road.

Meanwhile, the Drainage and Irrigation Department said the water levels at major rivers in Selangor, Johor and Pahang were still above the warning level.

The level of Sungai Langat at Bukit Changgang, Selangor is now at 3.83 metres; Sungai Selangor at Rantau Panjang (7.45m), Sungai Lenik at Batu Pahat, Johor (5.32m) and the Repas Dam in Bentong, Pahang (113.67m).

The department also issued a flood warning for Selangau in Sarawak following the water level at Sungai Selangau B exceeding the danger level of 17.92 metres. - Bernama

Heavy rainfall expected over next six days
Up to 2,000 evacuated in past week because of flooding in five states
Yong Yen Nie Straits Times 10 Nov 12;

KUALA LUMPUR - If you are planning to drive to Malaysia for a break this weekend, be sure to slow down a little and take along an umbrella and raincoat.

The forecast for this weekend is more rain, which may keep some already flooded areas on the outskirts of Johor, Malacca and Negeri Sembilan inundated, and most other parts of the country wet.

So far, the number of Malaysians who are affected by floods is still low, and major tourist destinations such as the Malacca heritage town area remain accessible.

Nevertheless, the Meteorological Department expects thunderstorms to continue around the country for the next six days as the north-east monsoon season begins.

The monsoon occurs between November and March each year. However, the Met said continuous heavy monsoon rains, which last more than two days at a stretch, have not begun.

"For Malacca and Penang, we expect frequent thunderstorms to occur in the afternoon or early evening," an official from the Met told The Straits Times.

"Continued heavy rain for one hour or more can lead to flash-flooding occurrences, especially in low-lying areas."

According to the department, evening thunderstorms are also expected to hit all parts of Johor - including Mersing and Johor Baru - as well as Kuala Lumpur from today until next Thursday. However, no road closures were reported.

Meanwhile, morning rain is expected in the states of Kelantan, Pahang and Terengganu.

In the past week, some 2,000 Malaysians were evacuated because of floods in five states - Johor, Malacca, Negeri Sembilan, Perak and Selangor.

However, some victims in Perak and Selangor returned home yesterday, leaving only 1,700 in evacuation centres.

Four more evacuation centres were opened in Johor yesterday, including two in Johor Baru, to accommodate more flood victims, Ms Khatijah Abdullah, a temporary relief centre officer, told The Straits Times.

The number of flood victims in Johor rose to 1,095 overnight from 767 on Thursday.

Meanwhile, 12 evacuation centres were closed yesterday in areas where waters had receded.

In Malacca, only one evacuation centre is operating in Jasin, with 134 flood victims.

Despite the continuous rain, relief officers said the flooding is not as bad as anticipated.

"We are able to keep the pace of helping flood victims evacuate and allow many to go home as soon as the waters have receded," Mr Abdul Hadi Hamzah, an officer in Selangor, said.

Malaysia faced its worst flood crisis in 2006, after experiencing unusually heavy rainfall due to Typhoon Utor that hit the Philippines and Vietnam. The floods wiped out farms and caused some 100,000 people in Johor to be evacuated.

Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, who is also the National Disaster Management Committee chairman, said all agencies and emergency units are on standby to assist flood victims.

"We are ready. The relief centres are ready and there is a stockpile of food for flood victims," he said on Thursday.

The Met expects floods to get worse in the coming months as thunderstorms are expected to continue until March.

So far, tourists appear unperturbed.

Mr Joseph Lim, sales coordinator of Mahkota Hotel in Malacca, said bookings for hotel rooms are still brisk.

"We have recorded up to 80 per cent occupancy rate for this weekend, with the higher number of travellers arriving from Singapore due to the Deepavali holiday," he said.

Read more!

Mangrove losses raising risks in South Asia - experts

Amantha Perera Reuters AlertNet 8 Nov 12;

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AlertNet) – Rapid destruction of South Asia’s mangroves, which act as a buffer against extreme weather conditions such as storm surges and rising sea levels, is endangering lives and livelihoods in the region, experts say.

Asia is home to 41 percent of the world’s mangroves, but in countries including Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Bangladesh and India they are fast disappearing. Ajanta Dey, a project director at the Nature, Environment and Wildlife Society, a Kolkata-based organisation that works on environmental and sustainable livelihood issues in eastern India, says her organisation believes at least 40 percent of Asia’s mangroves have been lost in the last 50 years.

“There has been a lot of destruction,” she told AlertNet.

Preserving mangroves is important because they can act as a natural shield against storm surges and other severe weather. Most are also rich biodiversity hotspots, harbouring fish, shellfish and other animals that can provide food and income for people in the area.

But in Pakistan, over 80 percent of the mangrove cover has been lost in the last 80 years, according to the Pakistan office of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Mangrove forests that once covered over 600,000 hectares are now reduced to around 86,000 hectares.

And such mangrove losses are now spreading increasingly across South Asia, including to India and Bangladesh’s coastal Sundarbans region, and to regions of Sri Lanka undergoing rapid development after years of conflict.

Along Pakistan’s Indus Delta, mangroves have been cut down largely to be used as firewood, or low-lying mangrove areas have been used for landfill, IUCN research found.

Tahir Qureshi, a senior advisor on coastal ecosystems at IUCN Pakistan, told AlertNet that communities living near mangrove forests bear the brunt of the harmful impacts from their destruction.

“Livelihoods of local populations (have) decreased, poverty has increased and the coastal areas have become exposed to cyclones, tsunami and other natural disasters,” Qureshi said.

According to Siddiq Roonjha, an elderly fisherman from Kerti Bunder, a coastal village in Pakistan’s Thatta District about 200 km (125 miles) southeast of Karachi, the villagers did not fear storms and cyclones before development set in and the mangroves were destroyed.

“In those days there used to be thick mangrove forests and we would go and hide our boats in them. That is why no storm or rain was such a danger to us,’ Roonjha recounted in a short video titled ‘Sentries of the Coast’ released by IUCN Pakistan.

The old villager blames the depletion of the mangroves on the development and expansion of Karachi. As the city grew, so did the demand for firewood and the mangroves were cut down en masse.


“We are afraid of the future. There is no cover. We are left with nothing,” Roonjha lamented. The fisherman said his catch had been reduced so much that he had gone hungry on some days.

A similar scenario is evolving in Sri Lanka and India, where rapid cutting of mangroves is threatening the incomes of local communities while putting them at increased risk from extreme weather.

After the devastating 2004 Asian tsunami that killed over 30,000 people, interest in protecting Sri Lanka’s mangroves grew because of the protection they offered.

But as the island recovers from over two decades of civil war, rapid development is now threatening mangroves on the northwestern, eastern and northern coasts.

Such development “is likely to impact on the remaining mangrove areas” in the country’s Northern and Eastern Provinces, an IUCN study said.

Delicate natural habitats along Sri Lanka’s northwest Mannar lagoon are already threatened by rapidly advancing tourism projects. The Coast Conservation Department says the area is now prone to heavy coastal erosion because of changing monsoon rain patterns that mean the rain now comes in short, intense bursts.

In India, depletion of mangroves in the low-lying Sundarbans region is affecting the lives of millions who live close to them.

“Everyone knows that mangroves are essential to their existence in this vulnerable area,” Dey told AlertNet. In particular, the mangroves help protect delicate sand embankments around villages from cyclones and storm surges.

Dey said that research by her organisation found that there was a direct link between the income levels of nearby communities and depletion of their nearby mangroves.

In Kolkata, Dey and her group are engaged in a project to replant around 6,000 hectares (13,200 acres) of mangroves, with a target of replanting 4,500 hectares (9,900 acres) in 2012. By the end of 2011, close to 2,500 hectares (5,500 acres) had been replanted.

In Pakistan the IUCN has so far replanted around 30,000 hectares (66,000 acres) while the government has agreed to replant 100,000 hectares (220,000 acres) by 2018.

“We need to keep focused and stick to our targets,” Dey said.

Read more!

Malaysians lose bid to halt rare earths plant

Eileen Ng Associated Press Google News 8 Nov 12;

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — Malaysian activists lost a court battle Thursday to halt Australian miner Lynas Corp. from firing up a rare earths plant that has sparked health and safety concerns.

After months of delay, Lynas in September obtained the Malaysian government's approval to start processing rare earths, which are minerals crucial for manufacturing high-tech products.

But villagers and civic groups took the case to court, calling for the Australian company's operating license to be suspended until the court rules on whether it would permanently block production.

Coalition leader Tan Bun Tet said the High Court refused Thursday to suspend Lynas' license before a final decision on the plant's fate is made.

"The court ruled that our fears are premature because the plant is not in operation yet. We are disappointed with the decision but we will appeal. We will fight to the end," Tan told The Associated Press.

The court ruling paves the way for Lynas to start operations immediately but it can still face obstacles later on if the court rules in favor of the villagers.

Lynas Malaysia managing director Mashal Ahmad told AP that the company plans to start operations "as soon as possible, definitely by this year."

The 2.5 billion ringgit ($818 million) refinery in northern Pahang state is to be the first in years outside China, which has restrictions on rare earth exports.

Rare earths are 17 minerals used in the manufacture of hybrid cars, weapons, flat-screen TVs, mobile phones, mercury-vapor lights, and camera lenses. China has about a third of the world's rare earth reserves but supplies about 90 percent of what is consumed.

Residents living nearby the plant and civic groups have staged protests for months over fears of health and environmental risks posed by potential leaks of radioactive waste. Lynas has said its plant has state-of-the-art pollution control.

Controversy over the project poses a headache to the government with general elections expected to be called by April.

The Lynas plant is expected to meet nearly a third of world demand for rare earths, excluding China. It will refine ore from Australia. Lynas said output for the first phase has been sold out for the next decade.

Malaysia's last rare earths refinery — operated by Japan's Mitsubishi group in northern Perak state — was closed in 1992 following protests and claims that it caused birth defects and leukemia among residents. It is one of Asia's largest radioactive waste cleanup sites.

Read more!

Humans Caused Historic Great Barrier Reef Collapse

Tia Ghose, LiveScience Yahoo News 7 Nov 12;

The expansion of European settlement in Australia triggered a massive coral collapse at the Great Barrier Reef more than 50 years ago, according to a new study.

The study, published Nov. 6 in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, found that runoff from farms clouded the pristine waters off the Queensland coast and killed the natural branching coral species, leaving a stunted, weedy type of coral in its place. The findings suggest that decades before climate change and reef tourism, humans were disrupting the ecology of the Great Barrier Reef.

"There was a very significant shift in the coral community composition that was associated with the colonization of Queensland," said study co-author John Pandolfi, a marine biologist at the University of Queensland Australia.

Europeans began to colonize Queensland, Australia, in the 1860s, cutting down forests to make way for sheep grazing and sugar plantations. By the 1930s, large amounts of fertilizer and pesticide-laden runoff poured from rivers into the nearby ocean.

Several recent studies have shown that snorkelers and climate change kill coral, and one study found that half of the majestic Great Barrier Reef has vanished over the last 30 years.

But Pandolfi's team wondered whether humans had been altering reef ecology for much longer.

To find out, the team drilled sediment cores, 6.5 to 16.5 feet (2 to 5 meters) long, from the seafloor at Pelorus Island, an island fringed by coral reefs off the Queensland coast. When coral dies, new coral sprout on the skeletons of old organisms and ocean sediments gradually bury them in place, Pandolfi told LiveScience.

By dating different layers of that sediment, the team reconstructed the story of the reef.

The fast-growing Acropora coral dominated the reef for a millennium. This massive, three-dimensional coral can grow to 16 feet (5 m) high and span 65 feet (20 m) across, forming a labyrinth of nooks and crannies for marine life to hide in, Pandolfi said. [Image Gallery: Great Barrier Reef Through Time]

"They're like the big buildings in the city, they house a lot of the biodiversity" he said.

But somewhere between 1920 and 1955, the Acropora stopped growing altogether and a slow-growing, spindly coral called Pavona took its place.

That spelled trouble for the panoply of animal species that shelter in the reef, and for the nearby coastline, because the native Acropora species provide wave resistance to shelter harbors.

The team believes that over time, polluted runoff clouded the normally pristine Pacific water and poisoned the native species. The same polluted water fueled an algal bloom that choked out the native coral species when they tried to grow back, he said.

"They just weren't able to come back after the 1950s."

While the findings suggest humans have been damaging reefs far longer than previously thought, the problem has a straightforward, local solution: Reduce polluted runoff into the ocean, Pandolfi said.

"Any kind of measures that are going to improve the water quality should help those reefs to recover."

Read more!