Best of our wild blogs: 16 Nov 12

Tiger on Terumbu Semakau
from wild shores of singapore

Random Gallery - Bigg's Brownie
from Butterflies of Singapore

rain, seagrass, a driftnet, 101 BBQ mesh squares and seacils @ labrador - 14Nov2012 from sgbeachbum

Great surprises on my first seagrass monitoring
from Peiyan.Photography

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Foam escape not a laughing matter

Straits Times Forum 16 Nov 12;

WHILE some may have found the 2km stretch of escaped foam in Choa Chu Kang amusing ("Fiery start, foamy end"; Wednesday), I thought it was alarming.

We should not take it lightly when 40 barrels of detergent- based concentrate, of 200-litre capacity each, send chemicals flowing into our waterway.

Chemical-based detergents contain several types of harmful chemicals such as phenols, phosphates, chlorine bleach, chemical fragrance, dioxane and sodium lauryl/laureth sulphate.

At high concentrations, they are not only environmentally harmful, but can also hurt people.

Although the article said the detergent is bio-degradable and water-soluble, these qualities do not make it safer.

The term bio-degradable is so widely used in marketing a product these days that it leads consumers to believe that anything bio-degradable is good.

Most people do not ask how long it takes for something to bio-degrade.

These are some unanswered questions pertaining to the foam escape:

What kind of detergent was it?

What were the chemicals and and their concentration levels?

Which was the company or factory responsible?

I also hope that no children were playing with the foam. Children, unlike adults, do not have the ability to detoxify toxins very effectively.

Roy Kee

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Most Ocean Species Remain Undiscovered

Tia Ghose Yahoo News 15 Nov 12;

Up to a million species live in the seas, and two-thirds of those ocean-dwellers may still be undiscovered, according to a new study that also cataloged all of the known species that dwell beneath the waves.

The findings, published today (Nov. 15) in the journal Current Biology, suggest that the oceans remain a vast, uncharted territory. The new registry could help guide marine conservation efforts by giving scientists a universal way to describe the underwater creatures.

"If you want to understand life on Earth, then of course you need to know what life there is on Earth," said the study's lead author, Ward Appeltans, a member of the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). "If you want to protect the ocean you need to know what you want to protect."

Appeltans began assembling a European list of sea life in 1999. In 2007, his team decided to expand the effort to encompass all of the world's marine species. [Images: Catalog of Strange Sea Creatures]

It was a massive undertaking. Appeltans and colleagues contacted more than 250 world experts on marine life to catalog all known species.

"When there's a child that's born you need to go to city hall and register the name of the baby, but when you create a new species the only thing you need to do is publish a paper in an official journal," Appeltans told OurAmazingPlanet.

As a result, many species names were duplicated.

"For every five species that were described, two were described before," he said.

So far, the team has cataloged 226,000 species, excluding marine bacteria. Another 65,000 are waiting to be described in museums and collections. By using a computer simulation, Appeltans and his team concluded that between 700,000 and 1 million species live in the sea.

Anywhere from one-third to two-thirds of sea life has not been discovered yet, by their estimate. Most of those hidden sea creatures are probably crustaceans, mollusks, worms and sea sponges, they said.

The new database, called the World Register of Marine Species (WoRMS), fulfills deep human curiosity, Appeltans said.

"It's in our nature that we want to know what exists on Earth," Appeltans said. "We want to know what's out there in our oceans."

But beyond human curiosity, an orderly system for categorizing marine life may also help scientists conserve endangered species or keep track of medicinal chemicals derived from ocean dwellers, he said.

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Seal cull will not revive Canada's cod stocks, say scientists

Open letter from marine scientists at Dalhousie University challenges claim that cull is needed to help fish stocks
Stephen Leahy 15 Nov 12;

Canada's multimillion dollar proposal to cull grey seals will not bring back the ravaged stocks of Atlantic cod it is intended to help, scientists have said.

In October, the Canadian Senate approved a controversial plan to kill 70,000 grey seals in the Gulf of St Lawrence under a bounty system next year, ostensibly to revive the cod stocks that the seals were eating.

But a group of marine scientists at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, have said in a recent open letter: "There is no credible scientific evidence to suggest a cull of grey seals in Atlantic Canada would help depleted fish stocks recover.

"Seals are being used as a scapegoat, just like whales were once blamed for fishery declines," said Hal Whitehead, marine biologist at Dalhousie, told the Guardian. He called the proposed cull an abuse of the science. "I don't like the idea of slaughtering all these animals for no reason."

Canada's Atlantic cod stocks, once estimated at 1.5-2.5 billion fish of reproductive age, collapsed in the early 1990s from overfishing. Despite a nearly total ban on cod fishing for the past 20 years, stocks have not recovered.

That's not the case for grey seals. Similarly depleted by hunting, numbers stood at just a few thousand in the 1970s. Following the collapse of markets for seal fur, mainly due to bans by European countries, their numbers increased dramatically. Grey seals are now estimated at 300,000 to 400,000.

Canada's standing Senate committee on fisheries and oceans report declared last month that since there are more seals, and seals eat fish, they are "an important cause" in the lack of recovery of Atlantic cod, as well other groundfish like American plaice, winter skate and white hake.

The committee, after looking at reports by fishermen and the Department Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) studies estimating that cod represents 1-7% of seal diets, said it was "convinced" that predation by seals was a major reason cod stocks had not recovered.

The cull request was currently being reviewed, said a DFO spokeswoman. That seals are a factor in the lack of cod and groundfish recovery was "a logical conclusion given that an individual grey seals eat between 1 and 2 tonnes of fish every year", she told the Guardian.

But Sara Iverson, a researcher in physiological ecology at Dalhousie University, said cod madke up a very small part of the grey seal's diet. Iverson, who has studied their diets for 17 years, said they prefer fatty fish, while cod are lean with only 1% body fat.

There are all kinds of reasons why the cod have not bounced back, Whitehead said, adding that there has never been a complete ban with some local fisheries continuing, and there is a problem of bycatch.

However he said the leading theory amongst scientists was a species shift. When an abundant species like the cod suddenly declines, other species step into their ecological niche. "Northern shrimp have taken over and are now the big fishery in the region," he said.

John Bennett, executive director of Sierra Club Canada, described the bounty system of payment to seal hunters a "nothing more than a subsidy for a dead industry

"The money could be put to better use by buying out sealing licences and creating sustainable employment for the sealers."

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U.S. drought persists despite rain; wheat struggles

Carey Gillam PlanetArk 16 Nov 12;

A storm system that brought cold, wet weather to much of the United States last week helped ease drought in many states, but some areas that were most in need of moisture were missed, according to a climatology report issued on Thursday.

The U.S. High Plains, which includes key farm states of Nebraska, South Dakota, and Kansas, saw slight improvement last week due to good precipitation. But three quarters of both Kansas and Nebraska continued to suffer from extreme or exceptional drought.

In South Dakota, extreme or worse drought still covers nearly 55 percent of the state.

Roughly 58.83 percent of the contiguous United States was in at least "moderate" drought as of November 13, down from 59.48 percent a week earlier, according to Thursday's Drought Monitor, a weekly compilation of data gathered by federal and academic scientists.

The portion of the contiguous United States under "extreme" or "exceptional" drought - the two most dire classifications - improved to 18.30 percent from 19.36 percent.

The persistent drought has hindered growth of the new winter wheat crop in many U.S. Plains states. The U.S. Department of Agriculture said this week that wheat in Nebraska, South Dakota, and Montana has shown very poor emergence and is well behind the average pace.

Texas and Oklahoma, also key wheat growing states, continued to struggle with drought.

Overall, the new winter wheat crop is rated 36 percent good to excellent, below last year's rating at this time of 50 percent. Kansas wheat is rated 21 percent poor to very poor.

Wheat in Nebraska, South Dakota, Colorado, and Oklahoma is struggling with more than 30 percent of it in each of those states rated poor to very poor, according to USDA.

In Texas, the drought deepened as the state was largely missed by the rain storms that swept through the Plains and Midwest. In contrast, most of Oklahoma, Arkansas, and western Tennessee measured widespread "decent" precipitation, according to the Drought Monitor.

(Editing by Bob Burgdorfer)

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