Best of our wild blogs: 11 Nov 12

Jellyfishy at Chek Jawa with the Naked Hermit Crabs
from Peiyan.Photography and wild shores of singapore

Awesome scientific photos of the Northern Expedition finds
from Mega Marine Survey of Singapore

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300 nature lovers go on tree expedition

Channel NewsAsia 10 Nov 12;

SINGAPORE: Some 300 tree enthusiasts spent the weekend learning more about green landmarks in various parts of the island.

The Heritage Tree Learning Journey is an annual programme organised by the National Parks Board.

The Learning Journey aims to promote the appreciation of mature trees and to educate the public on the importance of protecting mature trees.

About 200 of these green landmarks have been recognised as Singapore's Heritage Trees.

More than half were nominated by the public and about 90 of them are found in private compounds.

- CNA/ck

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Animal welfare laws: Panel calls for tougher penalties

Report by committee on animal welfare laws will be presented to the Government soon

David Ee Straits Times 11 Nov 12;

A committee reviewing animal welfare laws wants tougher penalties for animal abusers - individual culprits as well as those in the pet industry.

Senior Minister of State for National Development Tan Chuan-Jin said this is among the panel's recommendations to be presented to the Government for consideration soon.

"There are people in this society, unfortunately, who will ill-treat and mistreat animals. I do not think that is acceptable, so we need to see how we can step up on this front," he said.

The committee is also calling for action to ensure the reasonable care and welfare of animals, foster greater responsibility in the pet industry and among pet owners, and raise awareness of animal welfare.

Mr Tan said he supported strengthening laws to protect animals, but stressed that the action taken had to be balanced against the diverse interests of the community. While many animal lovers wanted action sped up on several fronts, he said, there were others who felt uncomfortable about having animals in their midst.

The Animal Welfare Legislation Review Committee was set up earlier this year to review existing laws and gather public feedback. It is wrapping up its report, which will be sent to the National Development Ministry.

Panel members told The Sunday Times yesterday that they were unanimous in calling for stiffer fines and jail terms for abusers, as well as options to send those who mistreat animals to do community work with animal welfare groups.

"It is a very strong message," said panel member Corinne Fong, executive director of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

She said some pet lovers suggested caning animal abusers, and others wanted laws to ban certain practices in the pet industry, such as debarking - operating on dogs' vocal cords to reduce the volume of their barking. Such changes might be "difficult to enact", she said.

Committee chairman Yeo Guat Kwang, an MP for Ang Mo Kio GRC, said action should be taken against not only individual abusers, but also errant breeders and sellers.

They were speaking to The Sunday Times at the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) Responsible Pet Ownership roadshow at the Singapore Expo, which drew scores of pet owners with their dogs, cats, rabbits and birds.

There have been a number of recent developments focused on animal care, including pilot projects for the adoption of dogs and cats.

In his speech, Mr Tan noted efforts to encourage responsible pet ownership, saying it was important that owners do the right thing, as there are complaints of dog walkers not bagging dog poo.

"Little things like that go a long way in building confidence and social acceptance among non-pet lovers. At the same time, I think we would like neighbours to be considerate and tolerant," he said.

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Zero Litter Footprint Movement launched

Channel NewsAsia 10 Nov 12;

SINGAPORE: The South East Community Development Council (CDC) and National Environment Agency (NEA) have introduced a new ground-up initiative called Zero Litter Footprint Movement.

The initiative aims to engage and rally the community to make a personal commitment to keep the environment clean.

Individuals can do their part and pledge to support Zero Litter.

Senior Minister of State for National Development and MP for East Coast GRC Lee Yi Shyan, who launched the initiative, said he hopes that individuals will join in to promote good habits that lead to a clean and green Singapore.

He was speaking on Saturday at a carnival organised by the CDC to celebrate Clean & Green Singapore.

Students from ITE College East will take part in the initiative as litter-free ambassadors. They will promote good practices on how to dispose waste properly.

- CNA/al

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Malaysia, Singapore to cooperate in oil spill control in Johor Strait

Sin Chew Jit Poh 9 Nov 12;

KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 9 (Bernama) -- Malaysia and Singapore today agreed to further enhance collaboration in the prevention and control of oil spill in the Straits of Johor, and continue to organise a joint emergency response exercise to counter chemical spill at the second crossing.

These are among of the cooperation discussed and agreed upon between Malaysian Natural Resources and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Douglas Unggah Embas and his counterpart Singapore Environment and Water Resources Minister Dr Vivian Balakrishnan at the two-day 25th Malaysia-Singapore Annual Exchange of Visits held here today, said a joint statement by both ministers.

It said Malaysia agreed to organise the 9th Joint Emergency Response Exercise under the Emergency Response Plan for Chemical Spill at the Malaysia-Singapore Second Crossing, tentatively in the third quarter of next year.

It will provide a good opportunity for both countries to test and improve further their existing response plan, said the statement.

Under the Emergency Response Plan (ERP) for Chemical Spill In the East Johor Straits, Singapore will organise the first field exercise tentatively next year, said the statement.

On collaboration between Malaysia and Singapore in the area of oil spill prevention and control in the Straits of Johor, both countries have been working together to exchange information to prevent and control oil pollution in the strait.

Both countries have operationalised existing procedures for control of tanker desludging activities and disposal of tanker sludge in Malaysia and Singapore, it said.

Both countries also have agreed to continue to monitor the seawater quality in the Straits of Johor, while researchers and scientists from Singapore and Malaysia have agreed to continue the exchange of information on the monitoring of ecology and morphology in and around the strait in order to conserve the biodiversity resources of both countries.

Meanwhile, the Environment Institute of Malaysia (EiMAS) and Singapore Environment Institute (SEI) will continue their collaboration in conducting several training exchange programmes.

On control of vehicular emissions, both countries had made marked improvement in tackling vehicular pollution and would continue to share experiences on controlling vehicular emissions, such as the tightening of vehicular emission standards and promoting the use of "green vehicles," it said.

Tomorrow both ministers and their delegations will be participating in friendly games with some 200 staff and officials taking part.

It said the next Annual Exchange of Visits will be held in Singapore next year.

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Insights from iconic wildlife documentary maker David Attenborough

Nilakrisna James The Star 10 Nov 12;

David Attenborough draws on 60 years of filming in the wild to look ahead at what Man needs to do, to be a good planetary steward.

HAVING had the extraordinary privilege of spending a week with David Attenborough in October last year filming in Sabah for his BBC series Attenborough: 60 Years In The Wild, I realised why producer/director Miles Barton described this iconic wildlife presenter as “the master communicator”.

Everything Attenborough says is pure gold and I could not miss the opportunity to capture some of those brilliant observations which have made him an outstanding wildlife documentary maker.

Attenborough spent 60 years filming for BBC and this celebration of his life’s work explores six decades of natural history broadcasting and how science – and the world – have changed in that time.

Everywhere we went, Attenborough had fans clamouring for an autograph or a photo opportunity. He was unfazed by the attention and gracefully accepts that he may have had an enormous impact as one of the world’s most celebrated spokesmen for wildlife conservation.

We discussed the impact climate change may have had on conservation. He admitted that, despite many years of exposure to the subject matter, this is not something that he could professionally comment on.

“Climate change is a recent pre-occupation ... 60 years ago, nobody thought there was any problem about species expiration,” Attenborough explained. It would have been irresponsible of him, he said, to talk about climate change to his audience if he was not an expert in the field.

“I am not a climate scientist. I am a naturalist. I certainly talked about species conservation which is a clear-cut thing … those things you have straightforward facts about.”

With new species being discovered so often in our Malaysian rainforests, I asked Attenborough if there’ll be a never-ending desire to document these new discoveries. He explained that “the problem is not finding new species; the problem is finding a scientist who is significantly expert in that particular group who actually knows it is a new species.”

The big names in wildlife documentaries seem to have shifted their focus to document what Attenborough says are “new behaviours” rather than new species.

Barton certainly agreed with this, saying that rather than filming new things, they often filmed things in new ways and that their cameramen would often surprise local scientists with what they captured on film, shedding light on potentially new behaviour which could be critical to species survival and conservation.

By the same token, as new species evolve or are discovered, many more are becoming extinct. As a conservationist, Attenborough is well aware of the various theories that surround matters of species survival and extinction.

He is adamant that in as much as the orang utan and rhinoceros, for example, depend on our help directly, they are also dependent on us “not knocking down the environment in which they live” and believes strongly that the answer simply lies in looking after the environment.

Human encroachment

Yet Attenborough laments the increasing human population, which he believes has trebled since he started documenting natural history. Addressing the needs of humans has taken priority over the needs of other species and human encroachment into spaces which could have been left for the wild is all too evident.

“They all want houses to live in, quite understandably, they all want food, they all want to educate their children … by and large, it’s all going to come from existing wild country,” Attenborough said. “Why make all these palm oil plantations? Because there is a huge appetite worldwide for what palm oil produces.”

Realising the sensitivity of arguing about personal choices of curtailing human population growth, Attenborough also believes that part of the answer in addressing this problem – which would indirectly allow wild country to survive human encroachment – is the need to raise the standard of living for women, allowing women to determine their choices and their primary roles in curbing human population growth.

As a feminist, I was astounded by his incredible foresight as he tells me: “The only source for hope that I can see is that wherever women are in charge of their lives and not men in charge of women’s lives, wherever that is the case, wherever women have education and are literate and have medical facilities … the birth rate falls, which is a very good reason why standard of living in other countries should be raised and why Europe should help in that process.”

Attenborough is not one to shy away from a controversial debate and I asked if Man being a more superior species would naturally be the fittest to survive at the expense of other species. He replied, “Only if you assume that human beings have no foresight.

“If they use foresight, they can see that their survival, which is what we’re talking about, depends upon healthy environments,” he explained. Does this assume that Man would be driven by conscience? Probably by self-interest, he replied.

The eco-tourism factor

We explored the issue of a nation’s economic self-interest and how eco-tourism could be both a mask for profits and a genuine goal towards conservation.

Attenborough believes strongly that had it not been for eco-tourists, many more species would have gone extinct. In his view, there needs to be a careful balance of economising visitor contact to the animals, allowing rehabilitative areas to flourish and determining wildlife tolerance to such human exposure, for eco-tourism to succeed.

“Eco-tourism is not just about making animals available to people. They require very careful, very skilled management and there’s a huge expertise in that. It isn’t just about putting a fence around and charging people a few dollars,” he added.

So what brought Attenborough to Borneo in the first place?

Perhaps the greatest insight into what foreign filmmakers find so fascinating about the Malaysian rainforests is Barton’s observation that Borneo simply has “fantastic animals and fantastic locations.”

Barton added: “There is also a mystique for the British audience. They still have an affection for Borneo. (It) means something. It means somewhere exotic and exciting.”

Attenborough concluded: “There are people who never see real wild creatures from dawn to dusk. Television can play a really crucial role in maintaining a contact and insight and understanding of the natural world.”

The writer is a lawyer, activist and former broadcast journalist.

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Malaysia: 'Green courts' to handle environmental cases

Ili Liyana Mokhtar New Straits Times 11 Nov 12;

PROTECTING NATURE: Sessions Courts nationwide to take up the role of such courts, says chief justice

KUALA LUMPUR: ENVIRONMENTAL cases will now be assigned to dedicated "green courts", Chief Justice Tun Arifin Zakaria said yesterday.

He said the cases would be heard in Sessions Courts nationwide.

"If there is no Sessions Court in a certain area, the case will then be heard in a magistrate's court. At present, we have 76 courts nationwide," he said after opening a national seminar on Green Courts here.

Arifin said the courts would address cases, such as wildlife crime, pollution, illegal logging and fishing, and land clearing.

The three-day seminar is aimed at training judges and court staff on environmental issues and crimes.

This is the first time such a seminar was organised since the establishment of the "green courts" in September.

He added that the establishment of dedicated green courts was vital in preserving and protecting the nation's natural environment.

"As for the judiciary, I pledge to give our full commitment to enforcement agencies and that environmental issues will be our top priority," he said in his opening speech.

Arifin said he was glad the Environmental Quality (Amendment) Act, which was passed recently in Parliament, would be enforced next year.

He also said the amendment would pave the way for a more effective enforcement system where the act empowered the Environment Department director-general to arrest, or issue a stop-work order to persons carrying out activities which may cause environmental damage.

It also provides for the director-general, or any officer authorised by him, to have the power to investigate and arrest offenders.

Any person who contravenes this provision shall be liable to a maximum fine of RM500,000 or a jail sentence of up to five years, or both.

Malaysia is one of the very first countries in the region to have an Environmental Quality Act back in 1974.

It was reported earlier this year that Malaysia ranked 25th out of 132 countries in the Environmental Performance Index last year.

The rankings was announced at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

It puts Malaysia in the same league as high-scoring countries like Germany, Iceland, Fin-land, Denmark, Japan and Belgium.

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The Last Drop? Climate Change May Raise Coffee Prices, Lower Quality

Wild Arabica coffee could go extinct in 70 years, study warns.
Amanda Fiegl National Geographic News 8 Nov 12;

What would life be like without coffee?

In a world that drinks 1.6 billion cups each day, the prospect probably gives a lot of us the jitters. But a new study led by London's Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, warns that, thanks to climate change, the most consumed coffee species, Arabica, could be extinct in the wild by 2080.

Calm down; things aren't quite as black as you might think. The study is about wild coffee plants, while the stuff in our cups is brewed from their domesticated descendants. Still, wild losses leave cultivated crops genetically vulnerable to a host of enemies, which could ultimately lead to lower quality and higher prices for coffee consumers.

"Arabica's history is punctuated by problems with diseases, pests, and productivity problems—and growers have always gone back to the wild and used genetic diversity to address them," said Aaron Davis, head of RGB Kew's coffee research program.

There are only two main types of cultivated coffee, Arabica (which comes from the wild plant Coffea arabica) and Robusta (derived from Coffea canephora). But there are more than 125 species in the wild, with more still being discovered, said Davis, who has been researching coffee plants for 15 years.

"That's one of the things that really surprised me when I first started working with wild coffee," he said. "I mean, here's this immensely important crop, and we don't even know what all the species are yet! And among all those wild species, there are certainly useful genes."

Arabica's Shaky Future

Arabica is the backbone of the coffee industry, accounting for 70 percent of global production, according to the International Coffee Organization. But most of it can be traced back to a handful of plants taken from Ethiopia in the 17th and 18th centuries, Davis said, and its narrow gene pool makes it "very susceptible."

The new study, led by Davis and published in the journal PLOS ONE this week, combined field observations and computer modeling to envision how different climate scenarios could affect wild Arabica species. It focused on Ethiopia—the birthplace of cultivated Arabica, and Africa's largest coffee producer—as well as parts of South Sudan. (Explore an interactive map of the effects of global warming.)

The prospects are "profoundly negative," the study concluded. Even in a best-case scenario, two-thirds of the suitable growing locations would disappear by 2080—and at worst, nearly 100 percent. And that's factoring in only climate change, not deforestation.

Davis and other researchers visited South Sudan's Boma Plateau in April, intending to assess the feasibility of coffee production there. Instead, they discovered wild Arabica plants in extremely poor health.

"After a week or so in those forests, we realized that our objective had changed: It became a rescue mission," Davis said.

The study recommends that specimens from the Boma Plateau should be preserved in seed banks as soon as possible, because the species could be extinct as soon as 2020.

Arabica typically grows in the upper zones of vegetation on tropical mountains, explained botanist Peter Raven, who was not involved in the study. Because such species are already living on the edges of ecosystems, the plants have nowhere to go when temperatures rise.

"The kinds of cloud forest climates where Arabica is native are disappearing, and the plants and animals that occur in them are going to be among the most threatened on Earth," Raven said. "Most coffee production throughout the world will be in trouble as the climate shifts."

In Ethiopia, the world's third largest producer of Arabica coffee, the mean annual temperature has risen by 2.3 degrees Fahrenheit (1.3 degrees Celsius) since 1960, according to a report by the United Nations Development Programme. (Interactive map: "Earth's Changing Climate.")

Previous studies have established that both wild and cultivated Arabica are very climate sensitive, thriving only within a very narrow range of temperatures, Davis noted.

"So even if you do some very simple sums, it doesn't take much to realize that there's an intrinsic threat to these species from accelerated climate change," he said. "The logical conclusion is that coffee production will be negatively impacted as well."

Taking Action

The purpose of the study isn't to scare people, Davis said, but rather to inspire action.

"We're trying to understand: What if we don't do anything—what will happen? And what can we do about it now?" Davis said. "If we're proactive, we can avoid a dire situation."

The study identifies several "core sites" where wild Arabica can likely survive until at least 2080, and recommends that these areas be targeted for conservation.

Conservation activities have helped other species avert extinction, Davis said, so he remains optimistic about the future of wild coffee. Raven, however, takes more of a cup-half-empty view. While the goal of preserving plant species in the wild is "laudable," he said, seed banking is extremely important even in areas where extinction is not yet imminent.

"Regardless of what measures are taken in nature, we can confidently, and sadly, expect the genetic diversity of those populations to go downhill steadily year after year," said Raven. "Seeds from the most genetically valuable species should be stored now, before it is too late."

An Acquired Taste

Robusta—a hardier coffee domesticated in the 19th century in response to a leaf rust epidemic that decimated Arabica crops in Southeast Asia—is mostly used in stronger brews like espresso and Turkish coffee. It can grow at lower altitudes and higher temperatures, so it's somewhat better poised to cope with climate change.

But that doesn't mean most coffee drinkers would simply switch what's in their cup without sputtering, Davis said.

"I can guarantee that we will not all be happy just drinking Robusta," Davis said. "As the name suggests, it's quite strong. Most people don't like the taste, and it has up to twice as much caffeine as Arabica. It's simply not the same drink. If we lost Arabica, I think large segments of the coffee market would disappear."

Such a shift could cause a serious economic jolt: According to the International Coffee Organization, coffee is the second most traded global commodity after oil, and the industry employs about 26 million people.

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