Best of our wild blogs: 7 Dec 12

Yellow-vented Bulbul swallowing Muntingia calabura fruit
from Bird Ecology Study Group

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WWF-Malaysia on captive sea turtles at Turtle Sculpture Gallery

Letter to Editor: "Proposed Turtle Sculpture Gallery" in Negeri Sembilan
WWF-Malaysia 5 Dec 12;

Dear Editor

WWF-Malaysia spots ‘red flags’ in the proposed RM10 million Turtle Sculpture Gallery that will be established in Negeri Sembilan as reported by New Straits Times in ‘Malaysia’s first turtle gallery’, 27 November 2012.

The national conservation trust expresses its concern over the statements made by State Executive Councillor in charge of Culture, Arts, Heritage and Malay Customs, Datuk Mohammad Radzi Kail. The article quoted Y.B. Datuk Mohammad Radzi as saying that the turtle sculpture cum gallery would be the first of its kind in the world once completed. Cited as a collaboration between Port Dickson Municipal Council and Glory Beach Resort, the turtle statue would be a major boost to the tourism industry in the country and was part of the continuing efforts by Glory Beach Resort to help protect and conserve endangered turtles.

WWF-Malaysia firmly deems the argument behind this proposed turtle venture as being flawed from the start.

The first concern is that “the gallery would feature an aquarium, where the four species of turtles would be displayed.” The four marine turtle species that can be found in Malaysia are either listed as Endangered or Critically Endangered under the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List. Nesting populations have also plummeted from its historical figures where we see a 99.9% decline of Leatherbacks, 95% for Olive Ridleys, and more than 60% decline in population for the Green Turtles. There have been no recorded nestings of Leatherbacks in Malaysia for the last three years, and Hawksbill populations in Terengganu, Johor and other states have declined by more than 60% where currently only remnant numbers remain.

Exhibiting any wildlife species especially those which are listed as Endangered or Critically Endangered in an artificial environment is not something that Malaysia should aim to showcase to the public and to the world at large. Keeping marine turtles in captivity goes against the norm of turtle conservation, whereby it also deprives the marine ecosystem of the ecological benefits turtle provide while in its natural habitat.

The article also stated that “the aquarium will be connected to a pond where the turtles could lay eggs." Turtles do not lay eggs in a pond, but instead migrate from their foraging areas hundreds, if not thousands, of kilometers away, mate and come to shore to nest and lay their eggs on a selected sandy beach. Kept in captivity and forced to lay their eggs in a pond disrupts the natural pattern of the turtle behaviour. Since there is still a lot of knowledge gap in issues related to turtle biology, interfering with their natural nesting behaviour may prove to be detrimental to the well-being and future of an already endangered/critically endangered wildlife.

While the shortcomings of this proposal are apparent, WWF-Malaysia acknowledges Glory Beach Resort’s intention to play their role in turtle conservation. Therefore, WWF-Malaysia recommends for the respective stakeholders of this project to reconsider their proposal for a Turtle Gallery.

If the parties are truly interested in conservation and the well-being of the species, WWF-Malaysia recommends that the RM10 million allocated be used to build a professionally run and well-equipped centre for marine turtle research and rehabilitation centre – the first of its kind in this country, if not in this region. This would imply that turtles injured from ingesting fishing hooks or other foreign material, accidentally hit by a boat, or incapacitated in whatever way, can be given professional medical treatment and rehabilitated accordingly before being released back into the ocean. For this purpose, it is only appropriate that this project’s proposal be socialized with the Department of Fisheries which is the authority responsible for matters pertaining to turtles and their conservation in this country. WWF-Malaysia believes that this would be a more meaningful utilisation of the funds allocated, and most importantly, to the fledgling turtle population.

Dato’ Dr Dionysius S.K. Sharma, D.P.M.P.
Executive Director/CEO

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Malaysia: Terengganu boosts turtle conservation

Rahmat Khairulrijal and Ashraf Hafizuddin New Straits Times 7 Dec 12;

NEW STEPS: More hatcheries, ban on turtle eggs trade proposed

KUALA LUMPUR: THE Terengganu Department of Fisheries has pledged to expand its turtle awareness programme in line with Visit Terengganu 2013.

Its director, Abdul Khalil Abdul Karim, said more activities would be held for the public such as road shows and exhibitions at the turtle sanctuaries.

He said the Rantau Abang Turtle Conservation and Information Centre had hatched 95 to 98 per cent of turtle eggs under its hatchery programme.

"The department plans to enhance the conservation programme by setting up more turtle hatcheries as we only have 12 in the state."

Turtles that land in the state's shores comprise the leatherback, green, hawksbill and olive ridley species.

"We are collaborating with local universities and non-governmental organisations to promote turtle conservation among the younger generation," he said, adding that Pulau Redang and Kemaman were common spots for turtle landings.

Khalil said the department's awareness programmes had been well-received by the public.

"Last year, we received RM550,000 from the state and Federal Government, which allowed us to hatch 377,494 turtle eggs."

On the sale of turtle eggs at Pasar Payang in Terengganu, he said the department had no power to impose a ban on turtle egg trading as it was legal in the state.

However, he said, there were plans to amend the Fisheries Act 1985 to ban the trading of turtle eggs, which was discussed at a joint meeting with state directors in May last year.

"Only the sale of leatherback turtle eggs is banned in the state."

WWF-Malaysia urged the Federal Government to come up with better legal protection for this natural heritage through the federal laws.

Its Peninsular Malaysia seas communications officer, Nadiah Rosli, said the fund had sent a memorandum to the prime minister in 2010 with 100,000 signatures to support the ban on sale and trading of turtle eggs.

"Turtles are Terengganu's icons and the state government should take the lead in banning the sale of turtle eggs. This national heritage must be protected."

She also said the state government should consider listing more turtle nesting areas as sanctuaries.

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Big, Old Trees in Decline Worldwide Yahoo News 7 Dec 12;

Big, old trees are in decline throughout the world, which spells trouble for the forests in which they play such an important role, a new study finds.

These elders of the forest do many things that smaller, younger trees cannot; for example, providing homes for many types of animals, providing space for other plants to grow in tropical rainforests and producing large amounts of seeds that serve as food for other animals and replenish tree populations, according to the study, published today (Dec. 6) in the journal Science.

Old trees also store an enormous amount of carbon and continue to sequester it as they grow, even in their old age, said study co-author David Lindenmayer, a researcher at Australian National University. One study published in PLoS ONE in May found that although big trees, with a diameter of more than 3 feet (1 meter) at chest height, made up only 1 percent of trees in a study plot in California's Yosemite National Park, they accounted for 50 percent of the area's biomass.

Global decline

Another study found that huge mountain ash trees in southern Australia and Tasmania provide homes for more than 40 species of animals, which live in cavities in the old trees, Lindenmayer said. Smaller trees provide homes for far fewer animals.

The decline in these trees is happening globally. "Large old trees are declining rapidly in all kinds of ecosystems worldwide — forests, rainforests, boreal forests, woodlands, agricultural areas, cities and savannahs," Lindenmayer told OurAmazingPlanet.

While the loss of these sylvan elders is sometimes obvious, in the case of forest fires or clear-cutting, their disappearance is usually less apparent, said Nate Stephenson, an ecologist with the Western Ecological Research Center in Three Rivers, Calif. "Losses of big, old trees can take place over decades, generally too slowly for people to notice, become alarmed about and take actions to correct," said Stephenson, who wasn't involved in the Science study. "The next generation may not know that big old trees were once common in the nearby forest."

Why the decline?

Big trees are in decline for a number of reasons, including logging and clearing of land for agriculture, introduction of non-native insects or pathogens (an example being chestnut blight), past management practices (for example, fire exclusion that has led to denser forests, which can be more vulnerable to insect outbreaks and severe fires), air pollution and climatic changes, Stephenson said.

The decline in any one place, though, is specific to the area, Lindenmayer said. "It might be elephants plus fire plus fungi in [South Africa's] Kruger National Park, versus fire plus logging plus climate change in the wet forests of Victoria," in Australia, he said. "But the problem manifests in broadly the same way in all systems: rapid loss of existing large old trees and often a failure to recruit new big trees, leading to a massive vacuum."

Though almost none of the "big tree" species are in danger of going extinct, the largest individuals could become very rare, said James Lutz, a researcher at the University of Washington, who wasn't involved in the study.

To prevent losing more forest giants, people need to protect individual large trees and places where they are more likely to grow, Lindenmayer said. It's also important that land managers realize the importance of big old trees. "Many managers have no idea about this," he said.

"We all know that big animals like whales, tigers are in trouble — now we have seen that big trees are too," he said. The problem is these trees take centuries to get big, he said.

Big trees are important to people, as well, Lutz said. "They are majestic, though they were once as all the other saplings," he said. "By preserving them, we preserve our heritage and our hope and maybe a bit of ourselves as well."

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In typhoon-hit Philippines, warnings were ignored

Bullit Marquez Associated Press Yahoo News 6 Dec 12;

NEW BATAAN, Philippines (AP) — Surrounded by steep mountains, far-flung New Bataan town has long been a tragedy waiting to happen in a valley of disasters. A government-issued geological hazard map identifies the extremely precarious location of the farming community in the southern Philippines as "highly susceptible to flooding and landslides."

Yet, like in many other places on resource-rich Mindanao Island and elsewhere in this disaster-prone Southeast Asian nation, such warnings went unheeded — until a powerful typhoon struck this week, washing away emergency shelters, a military camp and entire families. The storm killed more than 350 people, with nearly 400 missing.

Survivors of Typhoon Bopha like Joseph Requinto, a farmer, counted their blessings. After a night of pounding rain, floodwaters started rising around 4 a.m. Tuesday, trapping Requinto, his wife and two young children in their house near a creek.

"After that I saw some people being swept away. We were able to save ourselves by climbing up (the hill)," he told The Associated Press. "Some of my relatives died and their bodies were recovered near the village. We were on higher ground. ... The water was as high as a coconut tree. All the bamboo trees, even the big ones, were all mowed down."

He said he carried his two children and sought shelter behind boulders that shielded them from coconut trees rolling down the hill. "We were 70 plus in all," he said.

It was a repeat of a tragedy last December, when 1,200 people died on the opposite end of Mindanao as a powerful storm overflowed rivers. Then and now, raging flash floods, logs and large rocks carried people away to their deaths. In an impoverished nation where the jobless risk life and limb to feed their families, there is little the government can do once such danger zones spring up.

"It's not only an environmental issue, it's also a poverty issue," said Environment Secretary Ramon Paje. "The people would say we are better off here, at least we have food to eat or money to buy food, even if it is risky. But somehow we would like to protect their lives and if possible give them other sources of livelihood so that we can take them out of these permanent danger zones."

At least 200 of the victims of Typhoon Bopha died in Compostela Valley alone, including 78 villagers and soldiers who perished in a flash flood that swamped two emergency shelters and a military camp in the village of Andap in the Compostela Valley municipality of New Bataan. The town, crisscrossed by rivers, was founded in 1968 by banana, coconut, cocoa and mango farmers who cut down trees to make room for land on hillsides.

"There is the Mayo River there, it's a natural channel way of the water from the upstream," said Leo Jasareno, director of the Bureau of Mines and Geosciences. "The water has no other path but Andap village."

He said that even before the typhoon, his regional bureau in Mindanao served local authorities an "official notice informing them that it is a flood-prone area and it must be evacuated."

In fact, Jasareno said, about 80 percent of the Compostela Valley is a danger zone due to a combination of factors, including the mountains and rivers, as well as logging that has stripped hills of trees that minimize landslides and absorb rainwater. Logging has been banned since last year's fatal flooding but continues illegally.

Compostela Valley Gov. Arturo Uy, whose province is a rich source of timber and gold dug by small-scale miners, rejected criticism by scientists and government officials in the capital, Manila, that these towns should relocate.

"It's not possible to have no houses there because even the town center was hit. You mean to say the whole town will be abandoned?" Uy told the AP. He doubted the basis for classifying the area as dangerous and said he had urged the central government to review the hazard maps.

"Even when we have floods, the water would not spill over so much. People are wondering why there was such a huge volume of water," he said.

"We thought they would be safe there, but the volume of water was so huge," he said.

He said that residents sought shelter in the village hall, the health center and the covered court in an area that is elevated and was never flooded before this week. Most of the casualties occurred there.

Interior Secretary Mar Roxas, who visited New Bataan on Wednesday, saw the town covered in 15 centimeters (6 inches) of mud. He was told by townsfolk that a pond or a small lake atop the mountain collapsed, causing torrents of water to rampage like a waterfall.

"There is hardly any structure that is undamaged in New Bataan town," he said. "Entire families may have been washed away."

On Thursday, residents armed with hammers began to repair devastated homes and wash their muddy belongings, taking advantage of the sunny weather. A rescuer in orange overalls blew his whistle after seeing a hand protruding from a muddy heap of logs, rocks and debris, drawing a throng of army troops and volunteers armed with shovels and crowbars.

Four bodies were pulled out from the muck, including two children.

Dozens of people in search of missing relatives waited at a government information center, staring blankly at their devastated town. Authorities planned to display about 80 newly washed bodies in coffins at a Roman Catholic church Friday, hoping relatives could identify some of them.

The deaths came despite efforts by President Benigno Aquino III's government to force residents out of high-risk communities as the typhoon approached. Vice President Jejomar Binay on Thursday directed local executives, police and military officials not to allow those displaced to return to their homes in areas classified as danger zones. However, it wasn't clear how quickly and where substitute homes would be built.

After slamming into Davao Oriental and Compostela Valley with winds of 175 kilometers (109 miles) per hour and gusts of up to 210 kph (130 mph), Typhoon Bopha roared quickly across the southern Mindanao and central regions. On Thursday, the typhoon was over the South China Sea west of Palawan province, and forecasters said it may dissipate after two days due to a surge of cool and dry air.

Some 20 typhoons and storms lash the northern and central Philippines each year, but they rarely hit the vast southern Mindanao region. Sprawling export banana plantations have been in place there for decades because strong winds seldom topple trees.

Associated Press writers Jim Gomez, Teresa Cerojano, Oliver Teves and Hrvoje Hranjski in Manila contributed to this report.

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'Open your eyes': typhoon-hit Philippines tells climate meet

Mariette le Roux (AFP) Google News 7 Dec 12;

DOHA — The Philippines urged bickering UN climate negotiators in Doha on Thursday to take heed of the deadly typhoon that struck the archipelago this week and wake up to the realities of global warming.

Philippine climate envoy Naderev Sano made an emotive appeal for action as the annual United Nations gathering hit deadlock on the issue of money for poorer countries' efforts to adapt to a warming world in the next few years.

"I appeal to the whole world, I appeal to leaders from all over the world, to open our eyes to the stark reality that we face," he said to applause from delegates.

"An important backdrop for my delegation is the profound impacts of climate change that we are already confronting. As we sit here, every single hour, even as we vacillate and procrastinate here, the death toll is rising."

Officials say 477 people were killed and a quarter of a million people made homeless by the Philippines' worst typhoon this year -- the kind of extreme weather event scientists believe will become more frequent as global temperatures rise.

Yet the penultimate day of the Doha talks was marked by deep divisions between negotiators from nearly 200 countries on financial assistance to the developing world.

The issue is key to the adoption of a package of plans by Friday for limiting greenhouse gas emissions in a bid to halt the march of climate change, which United Nations chief Ban Ki-moon called a "crisis" in addressing delegates on Tuesday.

Developed countries, many of which face unpopular austerity measures at home, are being asked to show how they intend to keep a promise to raise climate funding for poor countries to $100 billion (76 billion euros) per year by 2020 -- up from a total of $30 billion in 2010-2012.

Developing countries say they need at least another $60 billion between now and 2015 to deal with the fallout from climate change and convert to cleaner energy.

But the European Union and the United States have refused to put concrete figures on the table in Doha for new 2013-2020 climate funding, even as pledges have trickled in from individual EU member states.

"I appeal to all, please, no more delays, no more excuses," said Sano.

"Please, let Doha be remembered as the place where we found the political will to turn things around... for the future we want."

Ministers were expected to meet late into the night to try to reach a compromise on the funding issue.

"Finance has reached a critical point," Brazil senior negotiator Andre Correa do Lago said late Thursday.

"We lack resources proportionate to the gravity of the situation."

German Environment Minister Peter Altmaier predicted: "The conference will be on the knife's edge up to the last moment."

Conference president Abdullah Bin Hamad al-Attiyah urged negotiators to speed up their efforts.

"Tomorrow (Friday) we should close our business -- the whole world is waiting on us."

The talks in the Qatari capital are also meant to extend the life of the Kyoto Protocol, the world's only binding pact on curbing greenhouse gas emissions. Barring renewal, it expires on December 31.

The Kyoto deal binds developed nations to emissions curbs, but excludes major developing polluters, such as China and India -- as well as the US which refused to ratify it.

Agreement on finance and a follow-up period for Kyoto should smooth the way to a new, comprehensive climate pact that is due to be drafted by 2015 and come into effect by 2020.

But a group of NGOs including Greenpeace, Oxfam and the WWF warned the Doha talks were "on the brink of disaster", urging negotiators to strike a deal "that reflects the planetary emergency facing humanity".

"Yes, the entire world is facing an economic crisis. But small island developing states are facing an existential crisis," said negotiator Camillo Gonsalves of St Vincent and the Grenadines.

"Our existential crisis is neither cyclical nor temporary. It cannot be solved by austerity, stimulus or elections. And it is immune to delay, empty promises or excuses."

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Tensions mount as UN climate talks near end

Karl Ritter Associated Press Yahoo News 7 Dec 12;

DOHA, Qatar (AP) — U.N. climate talks are heading into the final stretch with a host of issues unresolved, including a standoff over how much money financially stressed rich countries can spare to help the developing world tackle global warming.

That issue has overshadowed the talks since they started last week in Qatar, the first Middle Eastern country to host the slow-moving annual negotiations aimed at crafting a global response to climate change.

Tensions built up Thursday — the penultimate day on the schedule — as the Philippines made an emotional call for action to keep global warming in check, citing the devastation caused by a powerful typhoon that killed around 350 people.

Meanwhile, Greenpeace and five other activist groups accused rich nations of pushing the talks to the "brink of disaster," while a small group of warming skeptics appeared at a side event where they dismissed the entire process as a sham to transfer wealth to the poor world.

British climate change skeptic Christopher Monckton even managed to slip into a conference hall where he addressed a plenary session, apparently mistaken for an official delegate. A tweet from the U.N. climate secretariat said he was "debadged and escorted out" of the venue "for impersonating a Party" and violating the conference's code of conduct.

Rich nations pledged three years ago to deliver long-term financing to help poor nations switch to clean energy and adapt to rising sea levels and other impacts of global warming. They offered $10 billion a year in 2010-2012 in "fast-start" financing and said the amount would be ramped up to $100 billion in 2020. But they didn't say how.

Developing countries are demanding firm pledges before the Doha conference ends, like a midterm target of $60 billion in the next three years, or written agreement that funds will be scaled up annually until 2020. But rich countries have been reluctant to make such commitments, citing the financial turmoil that is straining their budgets.

"We are not going to leave here with promises upon promises," said Gambia delegate Pa Ousman Jarju, who represents a group of least developed countries. "The minimum that we can get out of here is a demonstration that there will be $60 billion on the table moving onward."

Negotiators were working into the night trying to resolve that issue. They were also trying to finalize an agreement to formally extend the Kyoto Protocol, an emissions pact for rich countries that expires at the end of this year.

The U.S. never joined Kyoto while Japan, New Zealand, Canada and Russia don't want to be part of the extension, meaning it would only cover about 15 percent of the world's emissions of greenhouse gases.

Governments have set a deadline of 2015 to agree on a wider deal that would include both developed and developing countries, which now represent a majority of the world's emissions.

Philippine envoy Naderev Sano said that deadly storms like Typhoon Bopha, which hit his country earlier this month, were nightmare scenarios the world may face more frequently if climate change is left unchecked.

"As we vacillate and procrastinate here, we are suffering," he said. "Heartbreaking tragedies like this are not unique to the Philippines."

Climate scientists say it's difficult to link a single weather event to global warming. But some contend the damage caused by the recent Hurricane Sandy and other tropical storms was worse because of rising sea levels.

The goal of the U.N. talks is to keep temperatures from rising more than 2 C (3.6 F), compared to preindustrial times. Temperatures have already risen about 0.8 C (1.4 F) above that level, according to the latest report by the U.N.'s top climate body.

A recent projection by the World Bank showed temperatures are expected to increase by up to 4 C (7.2 F) by the year 2100.

"I'm getting concerned that ministers are not stepping up to the mark and providing solutions that we need at this stage of the game," Gregory Barker, Britain's minister of climate change told The Associated Press.

"We need increased flexibility on all sides and a higher sense of urgency," he said. "Developed countries also need to demonstrate a clear ambition across the board in terms of climate goals."

Climate activists focused their criticism on developed nations. Kumi Naidoo of Greenpeace said the U.S., in particular, was a stumbling block to the negotiations.

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 a climate bill that would have capped U.S. emissions stalled in the Senate.

In a message to the conference, U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer said "there are leaders in Congress who understand the urgent threat facing the globe, and we are dedicated to preventing the terrible impacts of unchecked climate change."

Her message contrasted with that of another U.S. senator, Republican Jim Inhofe, who spoke in a video recording shown at the side event in Doha with climate skeptics. Calling global warming a "hoax," he said the focus of the Doha conference was not the environment, but "spreading the wealth around."

In 2010, a survey of more than 1,000 of the most cited and published climate scientists found that 97 percent of them believe climate change is very likely caused by the burning of fossil fuels.

"It's getting harder and harder to be a climate denier as the evidence of climate change grows," said Michael Oko, a spokesman for the World Resources Institute, an environmental think tank. "Fortunately, I'm sure the negotiators here won't let this take away from what needs to be done to address this global challenge. We need more solutions, not distractions."

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