Best of our wild blogs: 1 Dec 12

Seagrassy with nudi at Tanah Merah
from wild shores of singapore

Favourite Nectaring Plants #2
from Butterflies of Singapore

Red-breasted Parakeet eating tamarind fruits
from Bird Ecology Study Group

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RWS to help save dolphins in Thai lake

But some activists wonder if conservation project is a PR move
Ng Kai Ling Straits Times 1 Dec 12;

IT HAS been accused of exploiting dolphins for profit. Now, Resorts World Sentosa - which has had to manage the fallout from the recent death of one of its dolphins - is moving to save them.

The company is spending $500,000 to take on its first conservation project, to help save a group of dolphins in Thailand.

The aim of the three-year initiative is to prevent the Irrawaddy dolphins in Songkhla Lake, located in the south of the country, from being wiped out.

The project, which will begin next year, is a collaboration between RWS' Marine Life Park, Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok and Thailand's Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment.

Dr Nantarika Chansue, a veterinarian and the director of the Veterinary Medical Aquatic Animal Research Centre at Chulalongkorn University, said it is not known how many dolphins are left in the lake, but the population is fast depleting.

She said about 20 were counted at the lake "many years ago". She pointed out that the dolphins live in polluted and shallow waters, and often die after getting caught in fishing nets.

"These lovely animals have the right to live with us in the same environment," said Dr Nantarika, who was in Singapore to sign a memorandum of understanding with Marine Life Park.

She noted that the newly opened park has the expertise and equipment needed for the project.

It is estimated that there are only about 6,150 Irrawaddy dolphins left in the world, and they are considered vulnerable to extinction.

They can be found in the Indo-Pacific region, in areas such as Indonesia's Mahakam River, the Ayeyarwady River in Myanmar and off the coast of Bangladesh.

Dr Alfonso Lopez, the chief veterinarian at Marine Life Park, said the first step is to determine how many dolphins there are in the lake and ascertain their health.

If fewer than 10 remain, "we will relocate them to another lake or establish a protected area in Songkhla Lake", he added.

He said the aim is to put together a long-term plan that will include constant monitoring of the dolphins and educating the local population about their plight.

On Marine Life Park's own bottlenose dolphins, Dr Lopez said they are still under quarantine and adapting well to their new enclosures. Eventually, the public will be allowed to get up close and feed them in the dolphin pools.

Just last week, one of the 25 dolphins imported from the Philippines died in transit. Animal rights groups there had gone to court to try to stop their export but were unsuccessful.

Asked if the Thai conservation project would be seen by some as an attempt to placate those who oppose keeping dolphins in captivity, Mr Biswajit Guha, the park's director of education and conservation, said it focuses on conservation, research and education.

He said: "There will always be cynics, but there will always be optimists like us."

Dr Nantarika, a self-confessed animal activist, said: "I've learnt there is no way of saving them without touching them and seeing what's inside them. This can happen only with them in captivity."

Yesterday, opponents of RWS' move to keep dolphins in captivity said the Thai project was a commendable effort.

However, they said the company's actions - saving some dolphins in the wild while keeping others in captivity - seemed contradictory.

"I don't know if this is a public relations gimmick because it is not congruent with what they have been doing," said Ms Corinne Fong, the executive director of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

Ms Jennifer Lee, the founder of Project: Fin, which campaigns against shark's fin consumption, said: "No amount of conservation efforts can make up for their taking dolphins from the wild."

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Dispersant Makes Oil 52 Times More Toxic

Douglas Main Yahoo News 1 Dec 12;

For microscopic animals living in the Gulf, even worse than the toxic oil released during the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster may be the very oil dispersants used to clean it up, a new study finds.

More than 2 million gallons (7.5 million liters) of oil dispersants called Corexit 9527A and 9500A were dumped into the Gulf of Mexico in an effort to prevent oil from reaching shore and to help it degrade more quickly.

However, when oil and Corexit are combined, the mixture becomes up to 52 times more toxic than oil alone, according to a study published online this week in the journal Environmental Pollution.

"There is a synergistic interaction between crude oil and the dispersant that makes it more toxic," said Terry Snell, a study co-author and biologist at Georgia Tech. Using dispersants breaks up the oil into small droplets and makes it less visible, but, "on the other hand, makes it more toxic to the planktonic food chain," Snell told LiveScience.

Toxic mixture

That mixture of dispersant and oil in the Gulf would've wreaked havoc on rotifers, which form the base of the marine food web, and their eggs in seafloor sediments, Snell said.

In the study, Snell and colleagues tested ratios of oil and dispersant found in the Gulf in 2010, using actual oil from the well that leaked in the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and the dispersant. The mixture was similarly toxic at the various ratios tested, the study found. His group exposed several varieties of rotifers to concentrations of the oil-dispersant mixture likely seen over a large area of the Gulf.

"The levels in the Gulf were toxic, and seriously toxic," Snell said. "That probably put a big dent in the planktonic food web for some extended period of time, but nobody really made the measurements to figure out the impact." [Deepwater Horizon: Images of the Impact]

The dispersant makes the oil more deadly by decreasing the size of the droplets, making it more "bio-available" to small organisms, said Ian MacDonald, a researcher at Florida State University. "The effect is specifically a toxic synergy — the sum is worse than the parts," said MacDonald, who was not involved in the research.

A cautionary tale

This is one of the first studies to look at the impact of the oil-dispersant mixture on plankton. A decline in populations of plankton could impact larger animals all the way up to whales, he said. In general, plankton can rebound quickly, although the toxicity to larvae in sediments is concerning, since it reduces the size of the next generation. This ocean-bottom oil slurry could have also impacted other species that spend part of their life cycles here like algae and crustaceans.

"This is an important study that adds badly needed data to help us better understand the effects of oil spills and oil spill remediation strategies, such as the use of dispersants," said Stephen Klaine, an environmental toxicologist at Clemson University who wasn't involved in the research. "Species' differences in the sensitivity to any toxic compounds, including the ones in this discussion, can be huge."

The results contrast with those released by the Environmental Protection Agency in August 2010. That study found that a mixture of oil and Corexit isn't more toxic than oil alone to both a species of shrimp and species of fish. However, several studies have found the mixture is more toxic than oil to the embryos of several fish species. The EPA could not immediately be reached for comment.

"To date, EPA has done nothing but congratulate itself on how Corexit was used and avow they would do it the same way again," MacDonald said.

However, Snell said the dispersant should not be used. It would be better to let the oil disperse on its own to minimize ecological damage, he said.

"This is a cautionary tale that we need to do the science before the emergency happens so we can make decisions that are fully informed," Snell said. "In this case, the Corexit is simply there to make the oil disperse and go out of sight. But out of sight doesn't mean it's safe in regard to the food web."

"It's hard to sit by and not do something," Snell said."But in this case, doing something actually made it more toxic."

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Oil refiners face profit squeeze

Linette Lim Channel NewsAsia 30 Nov 12;

SINGAPORE: Oil refining companies are expected to see a profit squeeze.

Overcapacity in the sector and slower demand from developed economies are weighing down their margins.

Analysts said this means dimmer business prospects for refineries and other downstream oil and gas players.

OCBC Research, for instance, has an underweight call on the sector.

Global oil refining margins are under pressure, with more refining capacity being created.

This after oil refining majors expanded their capacity with new investments following the oil boom in recent years.

At the same time, oil demand growth, particularly in the developed economies, has slowed.

This is due to flagging economic growth rates, saturated car ownership rates, as well as the use of fuel-efficient technology like electric vehicles.

As a result, the world's net refining capacity is forecast to grow by 8.7 million barrels per day by 2016.

However, demand is expected to grow by seven million barrels per day, said the International Energy Agency.

Ravi Krishnaswamy, vice-president of Energy & Power Systems Practice at Frost & Sullivan (Asia-Pacific), said: "We see a massive build-up in the Eastern hemisphere, so looking at China and India, they've been rapidly expanding. India was about 193 million tonnes per annum last year. They're expected to go up to about 300 million tonnes in the next six to seven years."

Almost all of the oil refining capacity growth is from developing Asia, and analysts said this trend is likely to continue.

"It is mainly funded by national oil companies as part of a greater government initiative. Although global refining margins are relatively low compared to the past, they are less sensitive to near term market price movements, so we expect the refining capacity to continue to increase in the near future," said Low Pei Han, an analyst at OCBC Investment Research.

This is expected to push refining margins on brent crude oil marginally down next year to around US$6 per barrel.

Singapore's Economic Development Board has recently said that it has no plans to attract any more green-field refinery investments, according to an analyst report by OCBC Research.

Analysts said this means Singapore-based downstream oil and gas players such as engineering, procurement and construction companies will be under greater pressure to look overseas for business opportunities.

They added that the SGX-listed companies that could be impacted include PEC, Rotary Engineering and Ezra.

- CNA/fa

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Australia's Lynas fires up Malaysian plant

AFP Yahoo News 29 Nov 12;

Australian miner Lynas Corp said Friday it had begun processing rare earths at a controversial new plant in Malaysia after being delayed for more than a year due to public opposition over health fears.

Lynas earlier this month cleared a final hurdle when a court gave the go-ahead for the company to fire up the $800 million plant in the eastern state of Pahang despite residents' and activists' fears over radioactive waste.

"This is a significant milestone for Lynas," the Sydney-listed company's chairman Nicholas Curtis said in a statement on the plant's start-up.

He said the long-delayed start of operations would now "provide real data that will assure people that the LAMP (Lynas Advanced Materials Plant) is entirely safe for our local communities and the environment."

The refinery is set to become one of few sites outside China to process rare earths -- metals used in high-tech equipment ranging from missiles to mobile phones that have become increasingly important to the world economy.

Lynas and the Malaysian government have touted the facility as an important high-tech foreign investment project that will benefit the local economy and provide jobs.

But it has been dogged by criticism from environmentalists and residents, opposition that has galvanized a nascent "green" movement in Malaysia and seen anti-Lynas protests by thousands of people.

Legal moves to block the plant have repeatedly postponed its start-up.

Following Lynas's court victory, opponents this month staged a 13-day, 300-kilometre (186-mile) march from Kuantan to the capital Kuala Lumpur to rally opposition.

Media reports said the march had swelled to several thousand by the time it reached the capital.

Lynas, however, insists the plant is safe and that any radioactive waste would be low-level and not harmful.

A photo posted Friday on Lynas Malaysia's official Facebook page showed an electronic screen at the plant's entrance displaying information on air and water quality.

China currently supplies about 95 percent of the world's rare earths. Lynas hopes the Malaysian plant, which will process material from its Mount Weld mine in Western Australia, will help break Chinese dominance of the market.

Lynas has said that by early 2013 the plant will be able to supply 22,000 tons of rare earth concentrates per year.

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UN climate boss: No support for tough climate deal

Karl Ritter Associated Press Yahoo News 1 Dec 12;

DOHA, Qatar (AP) — The United Nations climate chief is urging people not to look solely to their governments to make tough decisions to slow global warming, and instead to consider their own role in solving the problem.

Approaching the half-way point of two-week climate talks in Doha, Christiana Figueres, the head of the U.N.'s climate change secretariat, said Friday that she didn't see "much public interest, support, for governments to take on more ambitious and more courageous decisions."

"Each one of us needs to assume responsibility. It's not just about domestic governments," she said.

Her comments came as negotiators from nearly 200 countries were struggling to prepare draft agreements on how to move forward on greenhouse emissions cuts and climate aid for poor countries.

Some delegates worried that gains made at last year's climate talks in Durban, South Africa, were at risk of unraveling, as rich and poor nations bickered over how to pull the world away from a path of potentially dangerous warming.

"There is a mutual mistrust that is very clear," said Brazil's chief negotiator Andre Aranha Correa do Lago. "We need to get back to the spirit of Durban."

The slow-moving U.N. process has failed to deliver a global pact to rein emissions of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases.

Such emissions, primarily from the burning of fossil fuels, have grown 20 percent since 2000, according to a recent U.N. report, which showed the gap is growing between what governments are doing and what science indicates must be done to contain warming.

Research presented on the sidelines of the conference Friday indicated that some countries, including the U.S., are unlikely to meet their current, voluntary, emissions pledges unless they step up their climate efforts.

The Obama administration has already taken some steps to rein in emissions, such as sharply increasing fuel efficiency standards for cars and trucks and investing in green energy.

But the study from Climate Analytics, Ecofys and the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research said U.S. policies won't be enough to meet its stated goal of reducing emissions by 17 percent by 2020, compared to 2005 levels.

Others said the U.S. will come pretty close to that goal with new standards affecting emissions from coal-fired power plants.

"I think we can get within spitting distance of the 17 percent," said Jake Schmidt, of the Natural Resources Defense Council.

In Doha, delegates are expected to extend the expiring Kyoto Protocol, an agreement limiting greenhouse emissions of some industrialized countries. The U.S. never ratified that agreement because it didn't include fast-growing developing countries including India and China, the world's top carbon emitter.

Delegates are also supposed to agree on a work plan for a wider pact that would include all countries. It's supposed to be adopted in 2015 and take effect five years later.

Figueres predicted that the conference would end with countries agreeing on a package of compromise decisions, "fully recognizing that whatever comes out of Doha is not at the level of ambition that we need."

Climate activists urged governments, especially from developed countries, to increase their commitments to fight climate change, which scientists say already is melting ice in the Arctic, raising sea levels and shifting weather patterns with impacts on floods and droughts.

"No developed country has come here and raised its emission-target as the science requires," said Mohamed Adow of Christian Aid.

Artur Runge-Metzger, the chief negotiator for the European Union, defended the EU's record on climate action, but admitted the pace of the talks was too slow.

"I'm often frustrated at the slow process," he said. "Still, I think it's worth investing (in these talks), because we invest for future generations."

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