Best of our wild blogs: 20 Nov 12

Awesome creatures of the Northern Expedition
from wild shores of singapore

Odd combination
from The annotated budak

Ubin nature walk (10 November)
from Rojak Librarian

Yellow-Rumped Flycatcher Taking A Bath
from Bird Ecology Study Group

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Dolphins arrive at Resorts World Sentosa

Today Online 19 Nov 12;

SINGAPORE - Resorts World Sentosa (RWS) today welcomed a group of bottlenose dolphins from the Philippines.

According to RWS' Marine Life Park blog, the dolphins arrived safely under the care and supervision of RWS' experienced team of veterinarians and marine mammal specialists. As the animals acclimate to their new home, they will remain under a restricted quarantine period.

The Philippines authorities yesterday approved the export of 25 Indo-pacific bottlenose dolphins to RWS's Marine Life Park, after animal welfare groups tried to block the export of the dolphins in a court case.

"We look forward to introducing our dolphins to our Singaporean community and international guests through observation, educational and interactive opportunities," said RWS in its blog.

First batch of dolphins here at RWS
Animals now under quarantine; the rest will be arriving in groups
Straits Times 20 Nov 12;

THE first batch of dolphins have arrived at Resorts World Sentosa (RWS) after it was reported that a court in the Philippines had issued export permits for them.

RWS said on its blog that the first group of bottlenose dolphins arrived yesterday afternoon at its Marine Life Park, where they will be quarantined.

The company said on the blog: "Our dolphins arrived safely from the Philippines under the professional care and supervision of our experienced team of veterinarians and marine mammal specialists."

The company's spokesman would not provide any more details, including the duration of the quarantine period or even how many dolphins are here.

The park, which is set to open by Dec 7, will eventually have 25 dolphins.

The dolphins are here despite strong protests from animal rights groups to release them back to the wild.

They had been kept at a facility in Subic Bay in the Philippines since 2008 while the Marine Life Park was being constructed.

The protests escalated into a court case last month after the groups, including the Earth Island Institute, Philippine Animal Welfare Society and the Compassion and Responsibility Philippines, filed a suit alleging that it was illegal to export the dolphins.

Last month, a court in Quezon City denied a petition by the animal welfare groups to stop the dolphins' export.

And on Sunday, the Philippine Star reported that the Department of Agriculture had issued the export permit.

It was not clear when the permit was issued.

RWS' spokesman said the rest of the dolphins will be arriving in groups. They will then be introduced slowly to their new home.

The public will be able to see them only next year.


Singapore gets dolphins after tussle with activists
(AFP) Google News 20 Nov 12;

SINGAPORE — A first batch of dolphins has arrived at a new oceanarium in Singapore after activists failed to have the animals' transfer from the Philippines blocked, officials said Tuesday.

A spokesman for the Marine Life Park, part of the Resorts World Sentosa (RWS) casino, told AFP that the bottlenose dolphins had arrived on Monday and were under quarantine. He declined to disclose how many animals had been transported.

The resort acquired 27 dolphins from the Solomon Islands in the South Pacific between 2008 and 2009. Two of them died and the remaining 25 have since been kept in the Philippines pending their transfer to Singapore.

Animal rights activists in the Philippines last month filed a civil suit to stop the animals being transported to Singapore, saying that their capture violated an international treaty on the trade of endangered animals and plants.

While a court in the Philippines initially agreed to a temporary ban on exporting the dolphins, another court later overturned it.

A Singapore-based animals rights group has also opposed the inclusion of the dolphins in the marine mark, saying catching them from the Solomon Islands is detrimental to the survival of the species there.

A picture on the park's blog on Tuesday showed four bottlenose dolphins "undergoing acclimatisation in their new residence".

When all the dolphins are ready, they will be housed at the park's twin attractions: the S.E.A Aquarium and Adventure Cove Waterpark.

The aquarium is touted as the world's largest with 100,000 marine animals spanning over 800 species in 45 million litres (12 million gallons) of water, while the water park features slides and wave pools in addition to marine life.

The park is set to open to the public on Thursday but the dolphin attraction will only be ready next year.

RWS' Marine Life Park opens tomorrow
Sentosa will have two underwater attractions with park's opening
Ng Kai Ling Straits Times 21 Nov 12;

SENTOSA will be host to two underwater attractions when Resorts World Sentosa opens its Marine Life Park tomorrow.

RWS' oceanarium - billed as the world's largest with 100,000 animals spread over 8ha - is sited about 1.5km from the 21-year-old Underwater World.

Ticket prices are comparable - $29 for the oceanarium at Marine Life Park and $25.90 for Underwater World.

Travel agents interviewed said Underwater World will face an uphill battle to hold its own.

When Underwater World opened in 1991, it was the biggest of its kind in Asia with over 2,300 marine animals. On average, it receives about 1.5 million visitors every year.

"It's a fine attraction. However, when juxtaposed against a spanking new development like Marine Life Park, it would certainly lack that bit of lustre," said Ms Jane Chang, spokesman for Chan Brothers Travel.

Travel agents said Underwater World could remain attractive by lowering its ticket prices.

A spokesman for the Association of Singapore Attractions said that while the two attractions have the same theme, they offer different experiences.

She added that Underwater World could bring in new exhibits and have promotional packages.

Underwater World, which is run by Haw Par Corporation, could not reply by press time.

RWS' new attraction features 49 marine habitats. Visitors will go on an underwater tour of different regions starting from South- east Asia to East Africa.

Though visitors will be able to see about 40,000 animals from about 500 species at the aquarium, this is fewer than half of the intended 100,000 animals from 800 marine species that will eventually be showcased.

An "open ocean habitat" at the aquarium will bring visitors face to face with deep-ocean species such as rays, sharks, groupers and wrasses.

This habitat is the largest in the aquarium, with the biggest viewing panel measuring 36m wide and 8.3m tall. When all the animals are in this habitat, there will be more than 50,000 of them from 70 species.

Eleven hotel suites on the other side of the aquarium have floor-to-ceiling windows offering views underwater, giving guests a submarine-like experience. They cost a cool $3,000 or so a night.

The Marine Life Park comprises the S.E.A. Aquarium and Adventure Cove Waterpark, which has six water slides.

The waterpark will also open tomorrow and tickets - sold separately from the aquarium - go for $29 as well. Tickets for children and senior citizens cost $20 each.

Activities such as diving with the sharks and getting up close with dolphins at the waterpark will be available later.

The first batch of dolphins arrived on Monday from the Philippines. They are still being quarantined.

An RWS spokesman said that the well-being of its marine life is a priority.

"Depending on our team's assessment of the various habitats to introduce more marine animals, we expect our 100,000 marine residents to call Marine Life Park home by next year."

With the opening of Marine Life Park, RWS is fully operational and will hold its grand opening ceremony on Dec 7.

World's largest oceanarium opens Nov 22 at RWS
Sara Grosse Channel NewsAsia 20 Nov 12;

SINGAPORE: Resorts World Sentosa (RWS) will open the world's largest oceanarium on November 22.

The S.E.A Aquarium, which is one of the attractions of the Marine Life Park, will be home to 100,000 marine animals spanning over 800 species in 45 million litres of water.

The centrepiece of the Aquarium is the Open Ocean Habitat with a viewing panel that stands at 8.3 metres tall by 36 metres wide.

Besides schools of fish, visitors can expect to see stingrays, zebra sharks and Queensland groupers. And over time, new species will be added to the aquarium.

The 25 controversial bottlenose dolphins, which animal activists have been lobbying to release back to their natural habitat, will also call this place home. They will be on display next year to help provide a complete experience.

"Marine Life Park is more than just the dolphins. We are here to present to visitors and guests that walk through our attraction that there is a huge urgent need in the marine environment for conservation and education, and dolphins is one of the components," said Biswajit Guha, Director of Conservation & Education at the Marine Life Park.

For those who want to get wet and wild, the challenge lies at the Adventure Cove Waterpark, which has the region's first hydro-magnetic coaster and a 620-metre Adventure River.

Visitors will also have the opportunity to snorkel with thousands of fish at the Rainbow Reef.

- CNA/il

World's largest aquarium to open
Resorts World Sentosa's Marine Life Park welcomes visitors from tomorrow
Teo Xuanwei Today Online 21 Nov 12;

SINGAPORE - The Marine Life Park, the last of Resorts World Sentosa's (RWS) attractions to open, will welcome visitors starting tomorrow although they will not be able to see one of its controversial attractions - 25 bottlenose dolphins - until next year.

The first group of the dolphins arrived in RWS on Monday but will be off-limits while they acclimatise. RWS declined to specify a date visitors will be able to see them.

The attraction comprises the world's largest aquarium and a water theme park. Tickets for these two are sold separately, at S$29 for adults and S$20 for children for each attraction.

The S.E.A. Aquarium will house some 100,000 marine animals of over 800 species that come from 49 different habitats, including the tropical waters of the Strait of Karimata, which connects the South China Sea to the Java Sea, and freshwater lakes and mangroves in East Africa.

Its centrepiece is the Open Ocean habitat with over 50,000 marine animals that visitors can view through the world's largest aquarium panel (the size of two rows of three double-decker buses).

The well-heeled can enjoy the habitat away from the crowd by booking one of the 11 duplex suites with floor-to-ceiling viewing panels. Booking opens at the end of the year and rack rates are S$3,000 a night.

At the Adventure Cove Waterpark, thrillseekers can choose from six different waterslides, including the Riptide Rocket where your dinghy gets propelled through the 225m course in only 40 seconds.

Visitors can also snorkel among thousands of fishes, feed rays, or interact with sharks and dolphins.

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Rustic nature park for Coney Island

Work to start next year on only basic fixtures in bid to preserve bird haven
Royston Sim Straits Times 20 Nov 12;

WORK to develop a rustic nature park on Coney Island is slated to start in the latter half of next year, with nature lovers calling for it to be preserved as a haven for migratory birds.

The National Parks Board (NParks), which shares their sentiments, said only basic park furniture and non-concrete footpaths will be installed, along with minimal lighting to avoid disturbing wildlife at night.

NParks director of parks development Yeo Meng Tong said: "We intend the park to be as rustic and natural as possible with only a few built structures."

The tender for the development will be called by the year end and it should be ready by 2014, he added.

Coney Island, also known as Pulau Serangoon, is mostly covered with lush vegetation. The western end is linked by a bridge to Punggol Promenade. A separate bridge and path links the eastern end to Pasir Ris Coast Industrial Drive 6, which is off Lorong Halus.

The island is currently fenced off for redevelopment.

Given its proximity to Punggol, the island's green theme will be mirrored in the upcoming new town. The town - slated to have 96,000 HDB flats and private homes in the next 15 years or so - will have paths lined with greenery and extend north to reach the promenade and Coney Island. The next phase of development for Punggol was unveiled last month.

One such "green finger" will be the 1.5km Old Punggol Road, which will be converted into a heritage trail for pedestrians.

Nature lovers like Dr Ho Hua Chew, vice-chairman of the Nature Society's conservation committee, do not want homes to be built on Coney island as it is an important stop for birds flying to Singapore from Johor.

Dr Ho said the island will become increasingly important as a "green" stretch, given the "relentless housing development" along the north-eastern sector of Singapore in areas like Pasir Ris.

Coney Island's casuarina trees harbour birds of prey such as the brahminy kite and white-bellied sea eagle, which hunt for food along the coast and in the Johor Strait. "It's important for them to find places where they can rest or perch to devour their food," Dr Ho said. "Being the tallest trees along the coast, the casuarina trees are used by the birds for such purposes."

Migratory birds such as the blue-throated bee-eater and jerdon's baza, a rare migrant, also come from temperate regions in the north during winter to take refuge and hunt for food, he added.

Coney Island is also popular with anglers. An enthusiast in his 50s, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said "quite a few" fishing fans go to the island to fish, particularly on weekends, despite notices that warn against trespassing on state land. "The fish are bigger there," he said.

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New jetty at Pasir Ris for fish farmers

Feng Zengkun Straits Times 20 Nov 12;

A NEW jetty at Pasir Ris next year will make it easier for fish farmers to load and unload stock.

This is expected to cut transportation costs for some farmers and reduce overcrowding at the Changi Creek landing point next to Changi Jetty.

The new jetty will be located near the Pasir Ris Beach Park and is expected to be completed by next September.

The proposed design for the structure shows that up to 30 boats can dock there at the same time, but the plan has not been finalised.

When asked, the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) said it had received feedback from fish farmers about "overcrowding during peak hours and the difficulties in loading and unloading activities at Changi Creek".

Climbing up a ladder to Changi Jetty is the only way for fish farmers in Singapore's eastern waters to legally load and unload supplies and fish stocks that can weigh hundreds of kilograms.

Last year, the Maritime and Port Authority noted that some fish farmers illegally beach their motorised boats at Pasir Ris Beach Park, which may damage the boats and endanger people who use the waters for canoeing and kayaking.

"The (new jetty) site was identified after discussions with the fish farmers and relevant agencies," said the AVA.

Mr Timothy Ng, 64, president of the Fish Farmers Association of Singapore, estimated that the jetty would help about 60 fish farmers in Singapore's eastern waters. "Landing points in Singapore are very limited now. The new jetty will serve the farmers very well," he said.

Under AVA's targets, each coastal fish farm here must produce at least 17 tonnes of fish per half-hectare of space a year, or risk losing its licence.

Currently, the 130 inland and coastal fish farms here are on track to produce 8 per cent of local consumption this year, the AVA said. The goal is to increase this to 15 per cent eventually, to reduce the Republic's reliance on imported fish.

Fish-tagging to help consumers make informed choice
Jessica Lim Straits Times 20 Nov 12;

BY TAGGING his fish with plastic labels, Mr Malcolm Ong, 49, the owner of Singapore's largest fish farm, hopes to stay ahead of what he thinks will become a growing trend.

The tags, attached to the tails of three species he breeds - mullet, milkfish and tilapia - will be introduced at NTUC FairPrice Finest stores this Friday.

Each tag, the size of two adjacent 50-cent coins, indicates whether the fish is seawater-farmed and free of antibiotics.

The farm's website is listed too, so consumers can learn more about the 3ha Metropolitan Fishery Group farm in Lim Chu Kang.

Mr Ong, whose business produced 600 tonnes of farmed fish last year, said the tags will allow consumers to make an informed choice while helping to differentiate his produce.

The cost of the tags and the labour involved - his estimate is 25 cents per fish - will not be passed on to consumers.

Pick up a fresh fish at a supermarket now and chances are that no one will be able to tell you which farm it is from.

Last year, Singapore imported about 116,700 tonnes of seafood from countries including Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand. Of this, about 60 per cent is handled at the two fishery ports here.

They are sorted into piles according to species, then sold to supermarkets or traders, who distribute stock to wet markets and eateries.

At Sheng Siong, for instance, fish is sourced from many different countries and then classified according to species, rather than the country of origin. Its spokesman, Mr Tan Ching Fern, said that it would be too time-consuming to tag every fish.

Fish-tagging is relatively new in Singapore.

Several kilograms of tagged black tilapia from Malaysia have been sold at selected supermarkets on an ad hoc basis since 2010. But this will be the first time that tagged fish is making an appearance across various species on such a scale.

Metropolitan approached FairPrice in September to discuss the possibility of tagging its fish, and was given the green light after showing its samples.

"We felt that it would resonate well with our customers," said FairPrice managing director of group purchasing, merchandising and international trading Tng Ah Yiam.

"Feedback reveals that customers today are more informed and want to know more about the products available to them."

FairPrice will stock more of their stores with tagged fish if demand is good, said Mr Tng. The chain will start by selling about 20kg of tagged fish a day across its nine FairPrice Finest outlets, according to Metropolitan.

Mr Tng said FairPrice started indicating origin countries on its house brand vegetable products more than a year ago. It will soon be extending this to house brand meats.

Other supermarket chains, like Cold Storage, only tag fish on an ad hoc basis for special species or promotions. Only the wild cod sold at its Jelita outlet is tagged.

The trend of tagging fish has taken off in other countries. The two biggest supermarket chains in Canada, Loblaws and Metro, tag their seafood items. So do Whole Foods and Walmart in the United States.

Food and beverage consultant Mark Lionel Tay, 38, said it may take some time for tagged fish to make its mark here. "In general, consumers here care about the origin of the high-end products they buy. Less so for everyday products, where price is more important," he said.

"Singaporeans trust that all the food here is safe and they are not as sceptical."

But he added that tagged fish will help with identification. "If something goes wrong, you can trace it to the source."

It will also make it easier for consumers to go local.

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Up to 1 million marine species, with most yet to be discovered

Grace Chua Straits Times 20 Nov 12;

Prof Ng says many parts of the undersea world are still poorly explored. -- ST FILE PHOTO

AN INTERNATIONAL team of researchers has estimated that the oceans may harbour up to a million marine species.

That figure includes the tiniest crustaceans to the largest whales.

The estimate is based on the rate at which species were discovered in the past and also on a range of expert opinion.

These were backed up by the World Register of Marine Species, an open online database of marine species around the world.

About 226,000 of those species have so far been "described", which means studying a specimen's physical characteristics, showing that it is indeed new and giving it a formal scientific name.

There are estimated to be another 65,000 species awaiting description in specimen collections, researchers reckon.

The work, led by Mr Ward Appeltans of the Unesco Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission, was published online last week in the journal Current Biology.

National University of Singapore crab expert Peter Ng, who contributed to the crustacean section of the work, said that for crabs alone, 50 to 60 new species are named every year.

He said it is important to know how many species there are. "People keep talking about conservation, biodiversity crisis, extinction crisis and so on. All these mean we need to know the scale of the work at hand," he said.

But many parts of the undersea world are still poorly explored, he added, such as deep reefs, sea cliffs and rubble zones. And collecting animals in the sea, with its depths and currents, is even more expensive and difficult to do than on land.

While plenty of scientists work on "charismatic" types of corals, fish and turtles, there are few who work on the small animals that live in the sand or mud, or worms - a group so diverse "there are too few experts alive to work on them", Professor Ng said.

Mr Giam Xingli, a Singaporean ecology and evolutionary biology graduate student at Princeton University who was not involved in the research, said:

"Numbers are useful to remind private citizens, concerned NGOs (non-governmental organisations) and governments about what we know and what we don't, as well as the scale of the problems.

"If we could go one step further and identify the likely hot spots of undescribed marine species, then we will know which areas to conserve and which areas to focus on for species discoveries."

Besides the number of species, scientists also need to know how each species responds to disturbance - which are the most sensitive or resilient, how long the impacts last and whether ecosystems or communities can bounce back, he added.

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World's most expensive coffee tainted by 'horrific' civet abuse

Asian palm civets are force-fed a debilitating diet of coffee berries to create Kopi Luwak, say animal welfare groups
Oliver Milman 19 Nov 12;

It's the world's most expensive coffee and is made from faeces, but connoisseur drinkers should feel most squeamish about the "horrific" abuse that mars its production process, animal welfare groups have claimed.

The civets are almost exclusively fed coffee berries, which they then excrete. This image was taken on a civet farm just outside Surabaya, Indonesia. Photograph:

Kopi Luwak, or civet coffee, is created mainly in Indonesia from beans of coffee berries that are fed to Asian palm civets – small, cat-like creatures found in south-east Asia.

The brand has experienced a recent surge in popularity, fuelled in part by a memorable appearance in the 2007 film The Bucket List, pushing its export price up to $230 (£145) a pound.

Kopi Luwak has spread from Indonesia to the US and Europe, with a London outlet last year announcing that it will charge patrons £70 for a cup.

But its high-end pricing and idiosyncratic origin mask the grim reality of the coffee's production, which has morphed from a casual cottage industry for rural Indonesians to intensive farming.

The Guardian visited a coffee shop in Medan, on the Indonesian island of Sumatra, where a female civet was kept in a cramped cage at the back of the premises. Her two young offspring were separated from her in a similarly small cage, with a further 20 cages hidden away from view on the shop's roof.

Animal welfare groups contend that growing numbers of such civet "farms" are emerging across south-east Asia, confining tens of thousands of animals to live in tiny cages and force-fed a debilitating diet. The Asian palm civet is common, but conservationists claim that related species are sometimes used which are under threat of extinction. The binturong, another cat-like species that is sometimes used to produce Kopi Luwak, is classed by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature's red list as "vulnerable".

The animals are almost exclusively fed coffee berries, which they then excrete. The enzymes in their stomach acid help produce a bean that is washed and roasted to create a coffee that has been lauded for its smooth, caramel-like taste.

"The conditions are awful, much like battery chickens," said Chris Shepherd, deputy regional director of the conservation NGO Traffic south-east Asia. "The civets are taken from the wild and have to endure horrific conditions. They fight to stay together but they are separated and have to bear a very poor diet in very small cages."

"There is a high mortality rate and for some species of civet, there's a real conservation risk. It's spiralling out of control. But there's not much public awareness of how it's actually made. People need to be aware that tens of thousands of civets are being kept in these conditions. It would put people off their coffee if they knew."

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Malaysia: Amassing a citizen army against wildlife trade

Natalie Heng The Star 20 Nov 12;

Curbing the illegal wildlife trade calls for not just enforcement strength, but also an alert and informed public.

LAST YEAR was the worst on record for rhino poaching globally. But 2012 is shaping up to be worse: until October, 488 rhinos have been killed.

“In 2011, 400 rhinos were killed in South Africa alone. In 2010, it was around 300, and the 10 years before that it averaged around 20 a year,” says Chris Shepherd, deputy regional director of wildlife trade monitoring network, Traffic South-East Asia.

There is a huge demand for rhino horns in Vietnam, where people believe it can cure cancer. Last year, Vietnam’s last remaining Javan rhinoceros was found shot dead and hornless, in Cat Tien National Park. Elephants face a similarly bleak outlook. A huge resurgence in demand for their tusks has fuelled thousands of killings every year – some estimate up to 25,000 in 2011. It isn’t just Africa that’s getting hit.

“The illegal wildlife trade is draining South-East Asian forests of its wildlife,” says Shepherd, adding that big cats such as leopards and lions are beginning to show up in seizures and traditional medicine labels – an indication that traders are looking for alternatives in light of dwindling tiger populations.

Whether it’s “Harry Potter owls” in the pet trade, or a bogus claim that tokay geckos can cure HIV, it is the consumption demands of people that hold up the trafficking pyramid – cut off the base, and the rest with crumble. Which is why getting through to the consumers is key to stemming this rising tide of illegal wildlife crime.

Emerging trends are further complicating enforcement efforts. It is no longer just porous borders or innovative smuggling techniques which we need to worry about; the trade is moving online. People are buying highly endangered turtles on web-trading sites, and getting them shipped straight to their doorsteps. The fact that wildlife protection laws pre-date this new trend only serves to make more difficult an already challenging task of monitoring and enforcement by wildlife agencies that typically suffer from being small and under-funded.

Fortunately, there are plenty of people who want to help; they just do not know how.

“I get people asking all the time,” says Shepherd. “One guy even told us, ‘I have a gun and pilot’s licence … how can I use my skills to contribute?”

But it is not heroes that Traffic is looking for. The bulk of work when it comes to saving wildlife does not involve high-adrenaline confrontations with bad guys. It involves data collection – building the evidence for convictions, and supplying information which will shed light on one of the world’s murkiest underground industries.

As enforcement officer numbers in the field and at custom checkpoints pale in comparison to the sheer scale of this illegal industry, the only way wildlife protection efforts stand a chance is if lay persons join in the fight. For this to happen, it will require an alert and informed public. Which is why the Malaysian Conservation Alliance for Tigers (MYCAT) recently held a workshop on Identification of Commonly Traded Wildlife Species and Products. By ensuring people are well-versed with the issues surrounding illegal wildlife trade, it hopes for a multiplier effect, as each person will be better-equipped to share his knowledge with others. Whether it’s explaining to friends and family how their decision to buy an exotic pet or consume wild meat is causing havoc to ecosystems and potentially fast-tracking the road to extinction for some species, or doing undercover surveys of restaurants, medicine shops and pet stores, or reporting suspected wildlife crimes, Average Joes can make a difference.

Know the subject

During the five-hour workshop held in Petaling Jaya, Selangor, we see pictures of animals, dead and alive, sometimes in parts or no longer recognisable as derivatives in a medicine bottles.

“Step one involves learning about the issues,” says Shepherd. “Get your head around the wildlife trade, because only then can you start talking to people, and only then, will you be in a good place to do something about it.”

There isn’t a better person to relay those details than Shepherd, who has spent much of his life fighting the illegal wildlife trade. His words are coloured with personal accounts of the sheer blatancy employed by those flaunting the law, and the number of people who get away with it, scot-free.

He guides the room of 30 participants through a 101 on the trade, easing us in by explaining the differences between illegal, and legally traded, wildlife. It might not occur to people that everyone consumes wildlife. The term does not just refer to tigers and exotic reptiles, but a host of everyday items: the paper we write on, the anchovies in our nasi lemak, maybe even the orchids in your grandmother’s garden. The trick is being able to distinguish between the two.

Due diligence starts with simple questions: What’s the difference between a reticulated python bought from a pet store with and without licence?

Some answers are simple: possession of the latter would be illegal. For others, the answers might be more obscure. For example, how do we know that the licence is real, and not forged? How do we know that the licence was not meant for another snake?

Understanding where the lines can begin to blur is important – not least because the legal trade is of huge economic importance. Global imports in legal wildlife products were estimated at US$323bil in 2009 (the bulk of which was timber and fisheries products). Provided sustainable management policies are in place, the legal wildlife trade benefits millions of people each year. The illegal trade, on the other hand, benefits few and occurs at the expense of everyone. Accurate numbers are impossible due to the illegal nature of the trade but estimates go up to US$7.8bil to US$10bil (RM23.4bil to RM$30bil) a year, excluding timber and fisheries. It’s the middlemen who gets the biggest slice of the pie. The poachers, often estate workers or rural farmers, take on the most amount of risk and get a disproportionately small amount.

Whilst wealth in the hands of criminals grow, everything else suffer: wild animal populations decline; governments lose revenues from duties and taxes; and there is heightened risk of infectious diseases epidemics. The emergence of HIV, Ebola and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) have all been linked to the wildlife trade.

It pays to get one’s head around these facts, Shepherd suggests. That way, when a friend innocently argues that the exotic pet he just bought is not harming anybody, one is better-equipped to explain otherwise.

Workshop participant Shivani Chakravarty, 18, knew the trade existed, but now she understands how widespread and devastating it can be, as well as how Malaysia’s laws fit into the picture. For example, now she can explain to any friends interested in buying an exotic pet, that they should at least make sure it has the appropriate licence.

An alarming number of illegal wildlife or wildlife products slips through the cracks every year, acquiring “legal” documentation, due to loopholes in the system. There is a black market for instance, in documentation for legal ownership of elephant ivory. Sugar gliders, those cute marsupial possums found in Indonesia, Australia, and Papua New Guinea that have become popular pets here, could easily have been smuggled in from the wild.

The only country which has export quotas for wild-caught sugar gliders is Indonesia. In 2010 and 2011, 225 were allowed to be harvested from the wild annually. However, it has been estimated that as many as 10,000 or more could be removed from Indonesia’s forests every year, the bulk of which end up in breeding farms in Jakarta, which export these wild-caught animals as captive-breds.

Malaysia has picked up on the problem and recently listed sugar gliders as a protected species under the Wildlife Conservation Act 2010, making it a legal requirement for owners to apply for licences to own or breed this species.

Call the hotline

Shepherd’s take-home message to the workshop participants is that everyone can learn to be diligent by educating themselves. One of the simplest ways for the public to help curb the illegal wildlife trade is to report them by calling the Wildlife Crime Hotline: 019-3564194. Launched in 2007 by MYCAT (a coalition of Traffic, the Malaysian Nature Society, Wildlife Conservation Society Malaysia Programme and WWF Malaysia), the hotline makes it easier for people to report on suspected wildlife crimes. It seems to be working for reports which can be acted upon have rose from 22 in 2008 to 106 in 2011. The wildlife crimes vary, ranging from animal cruelty to illegal gaharu collection to tiger poaching.

MYCAT, which mans the hotline, will forward the reports to the relevant government authorities, be it wildlife, forestry, fisheries or veterinary services agencies. Informants are kept confidential and MYCAT follows up on the actions taken. The results are published, which helps make enforcement processes more transparent and accountable. Action was taken on 41% of the reports made in 2008, 71% in 2009, 61% in 2010, and 97% in 2011. Thanks to the tip-offs, traders have been arrested, confiscations made at stalls and wild meat restaurants and a good deal of snares, deactivated.

But there are other loopholes to tackling Malaysia’s wildlife crimes. Up until recently, most illegal wildlife traders who have had their licences to trade, keep or display of wildlife taken away by Perhilitan have been able to continue operating under business licences issued by the local authorities.

Perhilitan is onto this, and together with MYCAT, has developed the Cancelling Licences to Aid Wildlife (CLAW) initiative. The idea is simple: facilitate the flow of information between Perhilitan and local authorities, to ensure that the latter have the necessary information to decide whether to revoke the licences for commercial business operations. However, no business licences have been revoked under the programme so far due to lack of information on repeat offenders.

This is why CLAW needs more members of the public to make use of the Wildlife Crime Hotline. Malaysia already has tougher laws in place, so what it needs next is an army of educated and alert citizens to do ground surveillance and help pin-point the culprits.

How the public can help
The Star 20 Nov 12;

WILDLIFE officers alone cannot overcome the sheer volume and extent of the illegal wildlife trade.

By providing them with the right information, you will be making an invaluable contribution to clamping down on the damaging trade. Here is how you can play your part:

1. Understand legality

There are two laws you need to be aware of, when it comes to understanding what’s legal and what’s not:

> The Wildlife Conservation Act 2010 lists down species that are totally protected and those which can be hunted or traded with licences in Peninsular Malaysia (Sabah and Sarawak have their own corresponding laws).

> The International Trade in Endangered Species Act 2008 regulates trade in wildlife species in line with the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). It has three appendices: Appendix I lists down species where no commercial trade is allowed (tigers, leopards and Asian bears); Appendix II features species requiring trade licences (tortoises, pangolins and hill mynahs); and Appendix III are traded species originating from specific countries (various types of mongoose and binturong.)

To confirm the status of an animal, you can call the Department of Wildlife and National Parks Hotline at 1800885151 or download both Acts at

2. Know the issues

One can start by asking key questions:

> Is the trade in this animal sustainable?

> Is this animal listed under CITES?

> Is this animal listed as a “protected” or “totally protected” species in the Wildlife Conservation Act 2010?

> Does this animal or animal product have the correct permits for trading?

If there is any doubt, the best thing to do is to avoid supporting its trade.

3. Think before you buy or consume

Whether it is enjoying a bowl of shark fin soup, or purchasing a pair of red coral earrings, you might unknowingly be contributing to the illegal trade in wildlife. When the buying stops, the killing stops.

So, think before you buy.

4. Make your voice heard

There have been numerous occasions where public outrage has contributed to action. For example, demonstrations were held outside a zoo a few years ago in response to a video that had surfaced online, where a staffer was found to be mistreating a tiger.

More recently, outraged netizens raised awareness about sea turtle harassment after a video of some tourists riding a sea turtle surfaced online.

5. Report wildlife crime

Save this number on your phone now: 019-3564194.

If you see or suspect that a wildlife crime has taken place, call the Wildlife Crime Hotline and make a report, providing information on:

> What type of crime? (Is the wildlife traded as traditional medicine, wild meat, souvenir or pet?)

> Where? (Name the shop, market or restaurant, and provide the address)

> When? (Date and time of the incident)

What’s on sale

Wildlife products which you are likely to encounter:

> Medicine: rhino (horn), pangolin (scales), bear (bile), antelope (horn), deer (musk), sea horses and tiger (bone)

> Pets: sugar glider, turtle and tortoise, snake, song bird, Asian leopard cat, tokay gecko and owl

> Wild meat in restaurant: bear paw, pangolin, tiger, bat, snake, soft-shelled turtle, civet, porcupine, deer

> Trophies and luxury products: ivory, cat skins, snake and crocodile skins, tortoise shells, feathers and beaks, deer antlers, claws, canines.

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Malaysia: Templer Park under threat

Nicholas Cheng and Noel Foo The Star 20 Nov 12;

PETALING JAYA: Rampant logging and development are threatening the natural beauty of Templer Park.

The Malaysian Nature Society said it was alarmed over the construction of an elevated highway and the planned building of luxury bungalows in the park.

MNS Selangor branch chairman Henry Goh said approvals for these projects should be retracted because they contradicted the Selangor State Structure Plan and the Selayang Municipal Council Local Plan.

“These projects are completely at odds with the Government's pledge to hold a moratorium on logging in forest reserves and the promise to consult the public before any development takes place in green areas,” he added.

Over 39.44ha of the Kanching Forest Reserve is being cleared for a 60m-high elevated highway called the Rawang Bypass.

It was reported that the federal project, carried out by developer Panzana Enterprise Sdn Bhd, is under the Public Works Department and was approved in 2005.

At the fringe of the reserve, 6.29ha of hillslopes at a private lot near Bukit Takun have been approved by the Selayang Municipal Council for the building of 60 luxury bungalows.

Nearby residents said they were told the project would involve clearing Class 3 and 4 hillslopes of 25 degrees and above 35 degrees respectively.

It was reported that only national infrastructure development projects are allowed on such slopes.

The Selangor Government had previously frozen development on such land pending proper guidelines.

Goh said the projects could threaten the “ecological integrity” of the park, which is a water catchment area as well as a natural habitat of rare species of wildlife and trees.

“Studies by MNS reveal that the Rawang Bypass project could affect the rare Hopea subalata tree population. Moreover, an investigation by the Wildlife Department on the Bukit Takun housing project confirms that the area designated for development is a natural habitat of an endangered species of serow,” he said.

Forest Research Institute Malaysia botanist Dr Lilian Chua said the Hopea subalata was a rare, endemic species found only in the Kanching Forest Reserve.

“Hopea subalata is confined to certain parts of the forest reserve and has very low adult population densities. This is reason enough to conserve the area,” said Dr Chua in a 2004 paper in the Journal of Tropical Forest Science.

Experts believe the bypass project would cut through compartments where Hopea subalata was found and estimate a 10% decimation of its population.

World Wildlife Fund Malaysia species conservation manager Dr Han Kwai Hin said the Sumatran serow (Capricornis sumatraensis) was a species of goat-like mammal which he estimated to number about 500-750 in the country.

“They are solitary creatures with a low reproductive success rate,” he said.

“They are highly sensitive to habitat disturbance, let alone habitat destruction.”

Groups want park projects halted
The Star 20 Nov 12;

PETALING JAYA: Environmental organisations have slammed plans for development in Templer Park and want the projects halted.

Environmental Protection Society Malaysia president Nithi Nesadurai expressed his concern over logging in what was initially gazetted as a forest reserve.

“Templer Park has for decades served as a green space and recreational area for the public. With the rapid development in Greater Klang Valley, it is essential that these green spaces are left as they are,” he said.

EcoKnights president Yasmin Rasyid said she was surprised that approvals for development in the area could be given and hoped the development would be halted.

Malaysian Nature Society (MNS) communications head Andrew Sebastian said: “We should not sacrifice crucial areas of our forests for commercial reasons.”

Templer Villa Residence Association chairman Thay Peng Kee said residents were peeved by silt and mudslides caused by land clearing activities that were clogging up roads.

On the same issue, authorities are claiming the projects are being closely monitored to ensure minimal damage.

Selangor Forestry Department director Yusoff Muda said the Rawang Bypass development project was being done in the Kanching Forest Reserve.

He said the bypass was a Federal Government project under the Public Works Department to alleviate traffic congestions in Rawang, but added that it was carefully planned to have little impact on the reserve.

Yusoff added that JKR would launch an effort to replant and “green” the area again after the project was completed.

On claims that rare Hopea subalata trees would be affected by logging, state executive councillor for tourism, consumer affairs and environment Elizabeth Wong said all trees felled had been identified and catalogued.

“No tree of that species has been cut down,” she said.

Read more!

New Species Sit on Museum Shelves for 21 Years

Stephanie Pappas Yahoo News 19 Nov 12;

Discovering a new species must be a heady experience — the collection in the field, the "eureka" moment when you realize you've got something new, the jubilant announcement to the rest of the scientific community.

Well, not quite.

In fact, an average of 21 years pass from the time a new specimen is discovered until the time it's identified and reported to the world, a new study finds. The individual steps may still be very exciting, but they're often incredibly slow. And at this rate, species may go extinct in the wild while the specimens that might have identified them languish unstudied on museum shelves.

"Inthe context of the current extinction crisis, it is a matter of documenting what will otherwise never have been known, as species may become extinct even before the scientific community becomes aware of their existence," said study researcher Benoît Fontaine, a diversity researcher at France's Le Muséum national d'Histoire naturelle.

Species shelf life

Working in a museum triggered Fontaine and his colleagues' interest in how long it takes to get a new species on the record. After all, Fontaine told LiveScience, he spends his days surrounded by shelves and drawers full of specimens waiting to be studied. [6 Strange Species Discovered in Museums]

The researchers randomly chose 600 species out of the amazing 16,994 new species described worldwide in 2007 for an estimate of how long specimens wait. In 570 cases, the date of first collection was available. The average, or mean, length between collection and description was 20.7 years.

"We suspected the shelf life was long, but not that long!" Fontaine said.

The length of time varied widely, from almost immediate announcements to a whopping 206 years between discovery and identification. A temple pit viper from the Indonesian island of Sulawesi, Tropidolaemus laticinctus, took the prize for longest time to describe. It's an animal with a complicated taxonomy, Fontaine said, and assigning species is difficult, because differences in the snake's color patterns don't always correlate with its geography or other body shapes, making identification tough.

What takes so long?

Some factors influenced how fast a species got off the shelf and into public knowledge. Plants and vertebrates (organisms with backbones) took longer than other organisms, perhaps because museums have huge backlogs of plants, vertebrates and insects to study, but have relatively fewer fungi and non-insect invertebrates lurking in storage rooms, meaning there is less to sift through.

When a species is part of a recently revised scientific category, it's more likely to get a quick ID, likely because it's easier to describe organisms by modern, rather than archaic, standards. It takes longer to describe species when the main scientist is from a wealthy country, again likely because wealthier countries have more of a backlog of specimens. New speciesalso get described quicker when an amateur, non-scientifically-trained person discovers them.

Part of the problem, Fontaine said, is the vagaries of scientific publishing. About 60 percent of new species get described in books or journals without an impact factor — basically, a score of how influential that publication is and how often other researchers cite it in their journal articles. Only 8 percent of new species get described for the first time in publications with high impact factors. Scientists' own careers can depend on publishing in journals with high impact factors, so they have little incentive to describe new species in little-noticed journals.

A 2011 study in the journal Trends in Ecology and Evolution estimated the price tag for cataloguing all the unknown speciesin the world would be $263.1 billion.

Quicker identification of species would require training more taxonomists and streamlining the methods for describing new species, Fontaine said. Researchers would also need to spend more time outside.

Taxonomists usually need several specimens to positively identify a new species, Fontaine said, so multiple trips to the field are often required.

"Most speciesare rare, and as a result, a field expedition often produces only one specimen of a given species," Fontaine said.

The researchers report their results Nov. 20 in the journal Current Biology.

Read more!

UK bird population down by 44m since 1966, report finds

BBC Nature 19 Nov 12;

The UK bird population has declined by 44 million since 1966, according to a report by conservation groups.

The study is the first of its kind to give an overall view of how birds in the UK have fared over the decades.

It found that while certain species had increased in number, populations of some common birds had diminished dramatically.

The report, "State of the UK's Birds 2012", was compiled from volunteers' observations of birds since the 1960s.

According to the report, carried out by experts from organisations such as the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) and the British Trust for Ornithology, there are an estimated 166 million birds nesting in the UK compared with 210 million in 1966.

House sparrows were found to be among the worst hit, with numbers down by 20 million compared with the 1960s.

Since 2000 a modest increase has been reported in sparrow numbers, but causes of the overall decline of the bird population remain unclear.

"It's like the bird populations of the UK are on a roller-coaster, and we've seen a lot of ups and downs," said RSPB spokesperson Grahame Madge.

"We have more species breeding in the UK now than any other time in history... but we've got 44 million fewer individual birds nesting than in the 1960s."

Birds that are reliant on farmed land, such as lapwings, cuckoos and turtle doves, have seen a significant decrease in numbers, according to the study.

Experts believe this is largely down to changes in landscape providing less habitat in which birds can feed and nest.

"But what we're seeing at the moment is a huge interest from farmers in trying to help the wildlife on their land," added Mr Madge.
Successful species

"We know... that some species like wood pigeon and collared dove have done incredibly well and increased their populations," commented Mr Madge.

The wood pigeon has doubled its population since 1970, to an estimated 5.4 million nesting pairs.

Another example of a bird doing well is the great spotted woodpecker.

Mr Madge explained: "Many of our woodland birds are in trouble but great spotted woodpeckers have gone up 368% since the 1970s, which is an incredible increase."

But Mr Madge went on to say that despite such success stories the overall findings of the report were of concern, and that the report had allowed experts to appreciate "the enormity of the decline".

"When you see en masse that the UK has lost such a huge number of birds, the figures themselves are quite staggering," he said.

Read more!

Urban sprawl bad for birds

The University of Queensland Science Alert 19 Nov 12;

Australian cities can keep their native wildlife – but only if they can kick their habit of urban sprawl.

That’s the finding of a new study by leading Australian environmental researchers Jessica Sushinsky, Professor Hugh Possingham and Dr Richard Fuller of The University of Queensland.

“While urban development usually reduces the number of birds in a city, building more compact cities and avoiding urban sprawl can slow these reductions significantly,” says lead author Jessica Sushinsky. “Compact housing developments leaves birds’ homes untouched, leading to fewer local extinctions.”

The researchers surveyed native and feral birds in Brisbane’s urban areas, including residential and industrial suburbs, public parks and gardens, major roadways, outdoor shopping centres and airports. They then used statistical modelling to find out what will happen to the birds as the city grows.

The first scenario was compact growth – where multiple homes are built on land that previously had only one house.

The second scenario was sprawling growth – a familiar pattern where low density suburbs straggle beyond the city’s current boundaries.

The team’s forecasts showed that a much greater diversity of species was lost over 20 years under the sprawling scenario compared to the more compact strategy.

“Urban sprawl resulted in the disappearance of many urban-sensitive birds – birds that only live in areas where there is native vegetation, such as parklands and woodlands,” Ms Sushinsky says. “It also led to an increase in feral birds such as the common myna or the spotted turtle dove, as they tend to thrive in low density suburbs.

“On the other hand, we found the city with the compact development retained more birds, including species such as Lewin’s honeyeater, grey shrike-thrush, the red-backed fairy-wren and the striated pardalote, because it kept more of its parks and green areas.”

To reduce land conversion, the Queensland Government has adopted a more compact urban growth strategy, which—this study confirms—is better news for Australia’s native birds, the researchers say.

“These birds are habitat specialists – they need a particular environment to do well,” says Prof. Possingham. “So instead of having only ‘classic’ parks with short grass and scattered trees, we need ‘high quality’ green spaces with dense vegetation, including denser thickets, tall trees, low-growing shrubs and scraggly grass.”

“While compact development means smaller backyards, it can also make our entire cities more biodiverse,” according to Dr Richard Fuller. “The study shows that we should hold on to our green spaces instead of clearing them for sprawling development.”

This is the first time science has modelled the effects of different urban growth strategies on birds, the researchers say. “Statistical models like these are important because they help decision makers understand the ecological consequences of a particular decision,” says Dr Fuller.

The team’s paper “How should we grow cities to minimize their biodiversity impacts?” by Jessica Sushinsky, Jonathan Rhodes, Hugh Possingham, Tony Gill and Richard Fuller appears in the latest issue of Global Change Biology. See:

Read more!

Violent dolphin deaths in the U.S. a mystery for scientists

Tamara Lush Associated Press Yahoo News 20 Nov 12;

ALONG THE GULF COAST (AP) — Over the past several months, dolphins have washed ashore along the northern Gulf Coast with bullet wounds, missing jaws and hacked off fins, and federal officials said they are looking into the mysterious deaths.

The most recent case was of a dolphin found dead off the coast of Mississippi, its lower jaw missing.

Officials from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said Monday they're asking everyone from beachgoers to fishermen to wildlife agents to be on the lookout for injured or dead dolphins — and any unusual interaction between the mammals and people.

"It's very sad to think that anyone could do that to any animal," said Erin Fougeres, a marine mammal scientist for NOAA's southeast office in St. Petersburg, Fla. "There have been some obviously intentional cases."

Fougeres said five dolphins have been found shot. In Louisiana, two were shot in 2011 and one in 2012. And in Mississippi, three were found shot this year, the most recent one last week, which was first reported by the Sun-Herald newspaper.

Besides the shootings, a dolphin in Alabama was found with a screwdriver stuck in its head over the summer. Another in Alabama had its tail cut off, and that animal survived. Still others were missing fins or had cuts to their bodies.

"I think it is outrageous," said Moby Solangi, the executive director of Institute for Marine Mammal Studies in Gulfport, Miss. "These animals are very docile, very friendly and they're very curious. They come close to the boats, so if you're out there, you'll see them riding the bows. And their curiosity and friendship brings them so close that they become targets and that's the unfortunate thing."

Dolphins are among the species protected by the 1972 Marine Mammal Protection Act. Violators can be fined up to $10,000 per violation and sent to prison for a year.

The California-based Animal Legal Defense Fund said it is offering a $5,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of whomever harmed the dolphins.

The gruesome discoveries are heartbreaking for Gulf Coast scientists, who follow the population. Fougeres said that two months before the 2010 oil spill disaster off the coast of Louisiana, dolphins began stranding themselves and that there were unusually high mortality rates — possibly due to a cold winter that year.

Since then, the spill and another cold winter in 2011 have contributed to several deaths within the Gulf's dolphin population, experts say. Investigators have also found discolored teeth and lung infections within some of the dead dolphins.

Since Feb. 2010, experts have tallied more than 700 recorded dolphin deaths.

Experts have also found increased "human interaction" cases, which include dolphins tangled in fishing lines — and the more violent incidents.

Fougeres cautions that some of the dolphin mutilations might have happened after the animal died from natural causes and washed ashore. She said that in the case of the dolphin with the lower jaw missing, someone could have cut off the jaw for a souvenir after the animal died.

"We have to do a necropsy on the animal and collect tissue samples to try to determine whether or not the injury was pre-or post-mortem" she said.

She also said that the increase in cases might be due to NOAA's dolphin stranding network becoming better trained to notice cruelty cases or unusual deaths.

Some have suggested that the deaths are the work of a few angry fishermen who are upset about bait-stealing dolphins. Yet the majority of fishermen say that while dolphins can be annoying, they wouldn't harm the creatures.

"I don't know who to suspect ... I was really sickened when I read about it," said Tom Becker, of T&D Charters out of Biloxi, Miss., and head of the Mississippi Charter Boat Captains Association, said he's never had a problem with dolphins.

The mammals tend to swim behind his boat until a fish too small to keep is tossed over the side.

"You'll see him under your boat," Becker said, about the dolphin. "He'll get it before it can reach the bottom. I usually leave the area if they're doing that."

Fougeres said she doesn't think the dolphins are being targeted by a gang of people or even by a lone, sick individual.

"The cases are fairly spread apart," she said. "I don't think there is one dolphin murderer out there."

She added that anyone who sees a dead or stranded dolphin, or spots people harassing a marine animal can call the NOAA Enforcement hotline at 800-853-1964.

AP writer Janet McConnaughey contributed from New Orleans.

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Tropical Reefs Become Biggest US Marine Sanctuary Yahoo News 20 Nov 12;

A pristine tropical reef that has weathered several natural disasters is now part of America's largest marine sanctuary.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) finalized a huge expansion of the Fagatele Bay National Marine Sanctuary in American Samoa last month, from 0.25 square miles (0.65 square kilometers) to 13,523 square miles (33,024 square km).

The boost takes the sanctuary from a single protected coral reef to a marine area larger than the state of Maryland. The agency also renamed the protected region, now calling it the National Marine Sanctuary of American Samoa.

Five new marine units joined Fagatale Bay's reef: Fogama'a/ Fagalua (Larsen Bay), waters around Swains Island and Muliva, also known as Rose Atoll, and some of the waters around Aunu'u Island and Ta'u Island.

NOAA cited the "tremendous advancement in marine discovery and exploration, marine conservation science, and ecosystem-based management" as factors in its decision to expand the sanctuary. The decision was published July 26 and finalized Oct. 31 in the Federal Register.

"The Sanctuary contains a unique and vast array of tropical marine organisms, including corals and a diverse tropical reef ecosystem with endangered and threatened species, such as the hawksbill and green sea turtles, and marine mammals like the Pacific bottlenose dolphin," NOAA said in the Federal Register.

Of the five new units, one was already under federal protection. Rose Atoll was designated a marine national monument in 2009 by President George W. Bush. It is the world's smallest atoll, and home to American Samoa's largest populations of giant clams, nesting seabirds and rare reef fish.

Ta'u Island hosts some of the oldest and largest known corals in the world, with one colony measuring 23 feet (7 meters) tall and 135 feet (41 m) in circumference, according to NOAA. And from June to September, southern humpback whales migrate north from Antarctica to calve in the protected waters surrounding American Samoa.

Fagatele Bay National Marine Sanctuary was established in 1986 in response to a proposal from the American Samoa government. The impetus was a devastating attack on the region's coral reefs by crown-of-thorns starfish in the late 1970s. Millions of starfish ate their way across the reefs, destroying more than 90 percent of living coral. Hurricanes and coral bleaching have also hit the coral in the last 20 years.

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Deforestation risks turning Somalia to desert

Boris Bachorz (AFP) Google News 19 Nov 12;

JALELO, Somalia — Hassan Hussein cuts down 40 trees every month to fuel his charcoal business, fully aware of the impact his action has on the environment.

But for the livestock keeper, the forests are the last remaining resource. And he is not alone.

Hundreds of thousands of Somalia's traditional pastoralist herders do the same, putting their impoverished country on a path of heavy deforestation that risks turning large swathes of their country into a desert.

"I used to keep animals, but I lost my herd to famine and disease and am the eldest in the family," says Hussein, 27, adding that he has 10 mouths to feed back home -- two children, seven brothers and his mother.

Four years ago, Hussein had 25 camels and 300 goats. Now, only three camels and 15 goats from his once respectable sized herd are left.

Thus every morning, with an axe slumped over his shoulder, he sets off in search of wood for charcoal.

Once he locates and cuts down a tree, it takes two days of burning, and two more days of cooling the smouldering heaps before he can sell the charcoal, at six dollars (five euros) for a 20 kilogramme sack.

The village of Jaleo, in the northern self-declared state of Somaliland, once prided itself on being at the heart of the savannah.

British explorer Harald Swayne recounted, in his 19th century memoirs, the adventures he had while tracking and hunting "a large herd of elephants."

But the last elephant was killed in 1958, and were Swayne to retake his journey today, he would only find the smallest of game in a rocky landscape dotted with shrubs and charred tree stumps.

"Twenty percent of the forest has disappeared in the last ten years -- definitely this country is turning into a desert," Ahmed Derie Elmi, director of forests in Somaliland's environment ministry, recently tells AFP.

"If the deforestation continues at this pace, this country will be a desert in two or three decades," echoes Ahmed Ibrahim Awale of the Candlelight organisation, which tackles environmental and health issues in Somaliland.

Charcoal burning has not always been preferred in Jalelo.

Three years ago an outbreak of Rift Valley Fever in the Horn of Africa forced Gulf states to suspend importation of animals or animal products from the region, forcing the herders to look for alternative sources of income.

But it is urbanisation and a population explosion that are the biggest threats to the country's environmental well-being.

Somaliland's capital Hargeisa has a population of 850,000 people, six times its population in the 1970s, which consumes approximately 250 tonnes of charcoal daily.

Elmi says that charcoal is the main source of energy, as electricity is rare and expensive for many.

The rampant deforestation is not unique to Somaliland. In southern Somalia, Al Qaeda-linked Shebab insurgents turned charcoal burning and exportation into one of their major sources of income.

In a report, the UN monitoring group on Somalia and Eritrea says the Islamist group made up to 25 million dollars every year from charcoal trade.

Several regions of southern Somalia were declared famine zones by the United Nations last year, with the deforestation contributing to an extreme drought.

In a bid to put an end to rampant deforestation, Somalia's newly elected President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud in one of his first official duties banned all exportation of charcoal, in line with a UN embargo in February.

However, much more than a UN declaration and a presidential decree are needed to bring the deforestation to an end.

"The underlying causes of poverty and the general decline of the size of livestock herds have to be addressed," says Awale.

Alternative sources of energy must be harnessed to cater for the population, massive reforestation campaigns need to be initiated and some of the pastoralists need to switch to agriculture.

In a country where the government faces numerous challenges, environmental matters are not a priority.

"The Ministry of Environment has the smallest budgetary allocation that only covers the salaries of 187 employees," says Elmi.

"All the mature trees have disappeared.... In the past one could get six or seven 25 kilogramme sacks of charcoal from a tree. Today, maybe one or two," Awale says.

As a consequence, charcoal prices in Somaliland have doubled in the past four years, to 10 dollars a sack.

"Each time I cut down a tree, I am left with a bitter taste in my mouth," Hussein says. "The future is bleak.... All the trees will have disappeared."

Read more!

No nation immune to climate change: World Bank

Anna Yukhananov PlanetArk 19 Nov 12;

All nations will suffer the effects of a warmer world, but it is the world's poorest countries that will be hit hardest by food shortages, rising sea levels, cyclones and drought, the World Bank said in a report on climate change.

Under new World Bank President Jim Yong Kim, the global development lender has launched a more aggressive stance to integrate climate change into development.

"We will never end poverty if we don't tackle climate change. It is one of the single biggest challenges to social justice today," Kim told reporters on a conference call on Friday.

The report, called "Turn Down the Heat," highlights the devastating impact of a world hotter by 4 degrees Celsius (7.2 Fahrenheit) by the end of the century, a likely scenario under current policies, according to the report.

Climate change is already having an effect: Arctic sea ice reached a record minimum in September, and extreme heat waves and drought in the last decade have hit places like the United States and Russia more often than would be expected from historical records, the report said.

Such extreme weather is likely to become the "new normal" if the temperature rises by 4 degrees, according to the World Bank report. This is likely to happen if not all countries comply with pledges they have made to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Even assuming full compliance, the world will warm by more than 3 degrees by 2100.

In this hotter climate, the level of the sea would rise by up to 3 feet, flooding cities in places like Vietnam and Bangladesh. Water scarcity and falling crop yields would exacerbate hunger and poverty.

Extreme heat waves would devastate broad swaths of the earth's land, from the Middle East to the United States, the report says. The warmest July in the Mediterranean could be 9 degrees hotter than it is today -- akin to temperatures seen in the Libyan desert.

The combined effect of all these changes could be even worse, with unpredictable effects that people may not be able to adapt to, said John Schellnhuber, director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, which along with Climate Analytics prepared the report for the World Bank.

"If you look at all these things together, like organs cooperating in a human body, you can think about acceleration of this dilemma," said Schellnhuber, who studied chaos theory as a physicist. "The picture reads that this is not where we want the world to go."


As the first scientist to head the World Bank, Kim has pointed to "unequivocal" scientific evidence for man-made climate change to urge countries to do more.

Kim said 97 percent of scientists agree on the reality of climate change.

"It is my hope that this report shocks us into action," Kim, writes in the report.

Scientists are convinced that global warming in the past century is caused by increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases produced by human activities such as the burning of fossil fuels and deforestation. These findings by the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change were recognized by the national science academies of all major industrialized nations in a joint statement in 2010.

Kim said the World Bank plans to further meld climate change with development in its programs.

Last year, the Bank doubled its funding for countries seeking to adapt to climate change, and now operates $7.2 billion in climate investment funds in 48 countries.

The World Bank study comes as almost 200 nations will meet in Doha, Qatar, from November 26 to December 7 to try to extend the Kyoto Protocol, the existing plan for curbing greenhouse gas emissions by developed nations that runs to the end of the year.

They have been trying off and on since Kyoto was agreed in 1997 to widen limits on emissions but have been unable to find a formula acceptable to both rich and poor nations.

Emerging countries like China, the world's biggest emitter of greenhouse gases, have said the main responsibility to cut emissions lies with developed nations, which had a headstart in sparking global warming.

Combating climate change also poses a challenge for the poverty-fighting World Bank: how to balance global warming with immediate energy needs in poor countries.

In 2010, the World Bank approved a $3.75 billion loan to develop a coal-fired power plant in South Africa despite lack of support from the United States, Netherlands and Britain due to environmental concerns.

"There really is no alternative to urgent action given the devastating consequences of climate change," global development group Oxfam said in a statement. "Now the question for the World Bank is how it will ensure that all of its investments respond to the imperatives of the report."

Kim said the World Bank tries to avoid investing in coal unless there are no other options.

"But at the same time, we are the group of last resort in finding needed energy in countries that are desperately in search of it," he said.

(Reporting by Anna Yukhananov; Editing by Diane Craft)

Climate Scientists Applaud Dire World Bank Report
Stephanie Pappas Yahoo News 22 Nov 12;

Climate scientists who have been warning of the dangerous effects of global warming now have the World Bank on their side, after a new report from that organization calling for action to prevent climate catastrophe.

"The World Bank did a great service to society by issuing this report," said Michael Mann, a climate researcher at Pennsylvania State University and the author of "The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars" (Columbia University Press, 2012).

Climate deniers often claim that solutions to global warming are part of a "global socialist agenda," Mann told LiveScience.

"The fact that the World Bank — an entity committed to free market capitalism — has weighed in on the threat of climate change and the urgency of acting to combat it, puts the nail in the coffin of that claim," he said.

A changing world

The report, issued by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and Climate Analytics for the World Bank, urges nations to work to prevent the Earth from warming 7.2 degrees Fahrenheit (4 degrees Celsius) past preindustrial averages. Already, global mean temperatures are running about 1.3 degrees F (0.8 degrees C) hotter than before the onset of the industrial revolution.

Likewise, carbon-dioxide concentration in the atmosphere is high and rising. As of September, the concentration was 391 parts per million, a record high, up from a preindustrial 278. That number is now rising by about 1.8 parts per million each year.

All of these changes are accompanied by ice loss, including accelerating melting in Greenland, according to research published this week. As a result, average sea level has risen between 6 and 8 inches (15 and 20 centimeters) or so on average around the world. [8 Ways Global Warming Is Already Changing the World]

Dire warnings

But what the World Bank warns of is an even bleaker future. Even if the world's nations deliver on their promises of emission limits and global warming mitigation, there is a 20 percent chance that the world will hit the 4 degrees C mark by 2100, according to the report. If emissions continue as is, the planet may reach that point by the 2060s.

International negotiators have agreed that warming should be limited to just half that, or 3.6 degrees F (2 degrees C), in that time. A world that is 2 degrees warmer would have its own consequences, but it is crucial to hold that line, the World Bank report argues. A 4-degree warming would mean a sea-level rise of 1.6 to 3.2 feet (0.5 to 1 meter) on average, with the tropics catching the brunt of the change.

Climate research also suggests tropical storms would strengthen and drought would increase across much of the tropical and subtropical world.

"A world in which warming reaches 4 degrees C above preindustrial levels (hereafter referred to as a 4 degree C world), would be one of unprecedented heat waves, severe drought, and major floods in many regions, with serious impacts on human systems, ecosystems, and associated services," the authors wrote in the World Bank report.

Climate scientists agree.

"I am inclined to think that things will break before we get there," Kevin Trenberth, a climate scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, said of a 4-degree-C world. Ecosystems would change so much and agriculture would be so disrupted that the result would likely be "major strife, conflicts and loss of population," Trenberth told LiveScience.

Among the flashpoints, according to the World Bank report, would be sparse water availability, food insecurity and loss of resources such as coral reefs, which are threatened by acidification as more carbon dioxide is dissolved in the oceans. Coral reefs provide not only food to many local economies, but also tourism dollars. Areas becoming unsustainable would likely lead to mass exodus, creating environmental refugees, Mann said. [10 Surprising Results of Global Warming]

Avoiding the 4-degree world

Avoiding the 4-degree-warmer world is a matter of political will, said Mann, who sees signs of optimism, including increased awareness and more calls to transition away from fossil fuels.

"The alternative energies (wind, solar, geothermal, etc) are there," Mann wrote in an email to LiveScience. "We just need to deploy and scale them up by investing immediately in the necessary infrastructure."

Slowing the warming may be as useful as stopping it, Trenberth said.

"It is not just the absolute amount of warming, but also the rate at which
we change things to get there," he said. "Two degrees warming in 50 years is extremely stressful, but 2 degrees warming in 500 years is perhaps manageable through adaptation."

If the world fails to act, the world will become a more disrupted, damaged place, the World Bank concluded — and the poor will suffer most.

"The projected 4°C warming simply must not be allowed to occur — the heat must be turned down," the authors wrote. "Only early, cooperative, international actions can make that happen."

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