Best of our wild blogs: 28 Dec 12

Strange snakey thing at Pasir Ris
from wild shores of singapore

from The annotated budak

milky stork buffet @ sungei buloh wetland reserve - Nov 2012
from sgbeachbum

Feeding strategies: 1. Birds feeding on Figs (Ficus spp.)
from Bird Ecology Study Group

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The Year Gone Wild: Dispute over dolphins

This year, animals hogged national panda-monium over Kai Kai and Jia Jia and controversy over the culling of wild boar to the debate on keeping dolphins in captivity at Resorts World Sentosa’s Marine Life Park. Grace Chua looks at the year animals took centre stage.
Straits Times 28 Dec 12;

FOR four years, Resorts World Sentosa (RWS) has been fighting a public relations battle with animal welfare activists over its move to bring in 25 wild-caught bottlenose dolphins. When two of them died in 2010 in Langkawi, furore erupted.

Before RWS could mend fences, another died en route to Singapore last month, prompting advocacy group Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (Acres) to call for a global boycott of all properties owned by parent firm Genting.

In the Philippines, environment activists sued RWS and two government agencies, in a bid to stop the dolphins' export. But while the case was being heard, RWS shipped the dolphins to Singapore, and could face indirect contempt of court charges. RWS said the export complied with all regulations.

Its first project under its conservation programme is one to save Irrawaddy dolphins in a southern Thailand lake.

Acres has invited RWS to a public debate on Jan 19 next year, for the public to make its own decisions on the issue.

Marine Mania
Straits Times 28 Dec 12;

MORE of Singapore's marine life was unearthed, dredged up or netted this year, on a wide-ranging expedition in October.

The northern shores expedition was the first major one in the five-year Comprehensive Marine Biodiversity Survey, an audit of Singapore's marine and shore life that began in late 2010.

The survey was led by the National Parks Board with the National University of Singapore.

From Chek Jawa to Changi, local and international researchers and an army of volunteers spent two and a half weeks digging up, preserving, photographing and cataloguing the specimens, which ranged from the tiniest, never-seen-before sea slugs to plate-size horseshoe crabs.

Originally three years long, the study was this year extended to five years to fully document marine life here. It is funded by private donations from firms like Shell, as well as public funds, and will help government planners identify and prioritise biodiversity hot spots to conserve.

Next year, there will be another expedition - this time to the Southern Islands.

Pig Tales
Straits Times 28 Dec 12;

IT WAS hardly a "boar-ing" year for animal welfare activists who, in May, were shocked to hear the National Parks Board (NParks) planned to cull the island's wild pigs using somewhat questionable methods.

The creatures, previously thought to live only on Pulau Ubin and Pulau Tekong, have been spotted in greater numbers on mainland Singapore in recent years and if uncontrolled could become a public menace, said NParks.

True enough, barely a month later, two found their way to Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park. One apparently charged at a boy, five, and knocked him over.

Still, NParks' decision did not sit well with activists and even residents of Upper Peirce, where the largest wild boar population has been seen.

NParks had told welfare groups it was planning to shoot them with bows and arrows, but activists desired a more humane solution. Residents, too, sided with the pigs, insisting they were hardly a nuisance. NParks relented, but only to the extent of considering other culling methods.

Now, an enclosure has been built to round them up before vets sedate and euthanise them. NParks said none has been caught and put down yet.

The birds of Bidadari
Straits Times 28 Dec 12;

THE former Bidadari cemetery near Woodleigh is slated to become an HDB estate with some 12,000 homes - but it is also a haven for the birds.

Nature lovers have been flocking to the 93-hectare patch of grassland, documenting the migratory and resident birds there. They want a 24ha section of the future housing estate conserved, saying it is a particular hot spot for hornbills, eagles, kingfishers and even rare migratory birds like the Japanese paradise flycatcher.

Birders have set up a Facebook group to share their sightings, and the Nature Society is submitting a proposal to the authorities specifying which parts of Bidadari are richest in wildlife.

The first infrastructure work to turn Bidadari into a housing estate is expected to begin by the end of this year, and the new town may be completed as early as 2018; its design is supposed to emphasise the area's heritage and greenery

Cats in Flats
Straits Times 28 Dec 12;

AFTER years of scratching at lawmakers' doors, meowing plaintively and begging, cat lovers living in Housing Board flats in Chong Pang are now allowed to keep kitties in their apartments, under a new two-year pilot scheme.

They have to microchip and sterilise their cats, make sure they stay indoors, and put mesh on their windows and doors to prevent the cats from sneaking out.

HDB owners keen on the scheme, which covers about 120 blocks, must register with the Cat Welfare Society by Jan 31.

In April, Action for Singapore Dogs and the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals started a year-long pilot scheme to rehome stray mongrels in HDB flats. Most are medium-sized dogs, which the HDB does not permit in public housing. To date, 18 dogs have found new homes.

A committee reviewing animal welfare laws here is finalising its recommendations, and will submit them to the Government early next year.

Read more!

PUB tightens regulations on used water discharge from industries

Alice Chia Channel NewsAsia 27 Dec 12;

SINGAPORE: Stiffer penalties on improper discharge of used water from industries, trade and businesses, will come into effect sometime next year.

This follows changes to the Sewerage and Drainage Act in September, aimed at minimising the risk of used water pollution.

Under the new regulations, offenders could be fined up to $15,000, up from the current $5,000, and jailed up to three months, for the illegal discharge of used industrial water.

Such discharge may contain hazardous chemicals, which will in turn affect water reclamation and NEWater production.

National water agency PUB said since November, it has installed a system costing S$2.5 million to monitor the amount of chemicals in the sewers.

The system comprises 40 real-time remote monitoring units installed at industrial sites.

When it detects illegal discharge, an alert is sent to the PUB.

Since the system was deployed, the PUB has received 20 alerts.

In 18 of these cases, the PUB has been able to identify the culprits that had discharged the chemicals into the public sewers. Investigations are still on-going for the remaining two cases.

Mr Idaly Mamat, Senior Engineer at PUB, said: "In the past, we did not have a continuous monitoring system. We did - and still do - regular surveillance, regular monitoring and inspection of premises that discharge trade effluent.

"Since implementing this system, we are able to track the concentration of VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds) immediately. We are able to react faster to any sudden discharges of VOCs in the network."

To further secure the used water network, the PUB has also installed about 1,000 sensors in manholes to monitor water levels in the sewers. Each sensor costs S$3,000.

The sensors were deployed in March.

When the water rises beyond the normal level, SMS and email alerts will be sent to the PUB.

They can then investigate and rectify the problem.

This helps to prevent overflow from the sewers, which may pollute waterways and reservoirs.

Mr Idaly Mamat added: "In the past, we only found out about these cases through public feedback. Usually we see that there was water overflowing from the sewers or the manhole. We could only then rectify the situation. Now with these level sensor system, we are able to detect any surcharges before it overflows from the sewers."

Since the sensors were installed, the PUB has received about 10 alerts per day, most related to blockages in the sewers.

- CNA/de

Tougher penalties for dumping of waste water: PUB
Woo Sian Boon Today Online 28 Dec 12;

SINGAPORE - Fines for the dumping of waste water containing chemicals into public sewers will be tripled to S$15,000, while offenders could also be jailed for up to three months.

These are the tougher penalties national water agency PUB will introduce, as 11 factories were caught illegally dumping waste water containing high levels of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) into the sewerage system. Seven offenders were brought to court, while the remaining four had their offences compounded with a fine.

The number of offenders caught this year has surpassed the total number of illegal dumping cases in the last two years. There were seven cases last year, up from two in 2010.

VOCs such as paints, methane chloride are commonly present in waste discharges, known as trade effluent, from electroplating, pharmaceutical, printing and food businesses, trades and industries.

Mr Idaly Mamat, Senior Engineer of PUB's Water Reclamation (Network) Department, said: "As some VOCs are toxic and flammable, the discharge of trade effluent containing high concentration of such VOCs into the public sewer poses fire and safety hazards to workers or operators working in the public sewerage system.

"It can also affect the treatment process at water reclamation plants, and subsequently, impact the production of NEWater or industrial water."

Waste water containing levels of these compounds should be collected by licensed toxic industrial waste collectors for off-site treatment and disposal.

The PUB will be amending the Sewerage and Drainage (Trade Effluent Regulations) to effect the stricter penalties. The amendment will kick in by next year.

To further monitor the quality of waste water, the PUB installed 40 VOC sensors last month in industrial sites such as Tuas, Pioneer Sector and Woodlands to monitor the concentration levels of chemicals discharged into the sewerage system.

An SMS alert will be sent to PUB if any illegal discharge is detected, and officers will be deployed on site to trace the discharge.

The sensors also enable PUB to closely monitor 1,783 factories identified as "concerns", out of 4,800 listed in its records,

Since the deployment of the sensors, 20 more cases of waste water with high VOC levels discharged into the public sewerage system were detected, with 18 offenders identified by the PUB. Investigations are ongoing to identify the rest of the culprits.

To further ensure public sewers are free from obstruction - which might lead to overflows and the subsequent pollution of waterways and reservoirs - the PUB has progressively installed some 1,000 sensors since 2010 in manholes island-wide to monitor used water levels.

"Before we had these water-level sensors, we had to depend on public feedback to notify us on water overflowing from manholes into the surroundings," said Mr Idaly.

"With the sensors, we are able to detect this before it happens, so we can stop a blockage before the water overflows into our canals and waterways. This prevents water pollution and prevents public nuisance as well."

Fines for illegal waste water discharge into sewage to be raised
Woo Sian Boon Today Online 27 Dec 12;

SINGAPORE - National water agency PUB said there were 11 cases of factories discharging large amounts of waste water containing high concentration of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) into the sewage system this year. Of the 11 cases, seven were brought to court while four had their offences compounded with a fine.

To prevent the contamination of the waters here, the PUB uses a series of water level sensors and VOC sensors to monitor Singapore's used water network, which comprises public sewers and manholes.

Some 1,000 level sensors installed around the island provide PUB with early warning of any accumulation of used water, while 40 VOC sensors monitor the concentration levels of illegal substances discharged from industrial areas.

To enhance deterrence, fines for dumping waste water under the Sewerage and Drainage (Trade Effluent) Regulations will be raised to S$15,000 next year, from S$5,000 currently. This is to better aligned it with changes to the Sewerage and Drainage (Amendment) Act which came into effect Sept 1 this year.

Dump illegal substances into sewers? Sensors will smell a rat
Devices placed near factories help PUB protect S'pore's water network
Feng Zengkun Straits Times 28 Dec 12;

COMPANIES that dump their waste chemicals into the sewage system will now be up against a smarter opponent.

National water agency PUB has installed a $2.5 million network of 40 sensors across the island to help it nab such offenders.

They can detect up to 400 chemicals and are sensitive enough to pick up highly diluted concentrations of the substances.

Previously, PUB officers had to check the sewers with hand-held devices to identify toxic compounds like solvents and paint.

The new sensors are placed at points in the sewers that serve large clusters of factories, such as those in Kranji and Jurong's industrial areas.

These include sectors which are heavily reliant on chemicals, such as pharmaceutical and food companies, and toxic industrial waste collectors.

Since the monitoring network went online last month, it has alerted PUB officers to 20 instances of pollutants being dumped in the water.

The agency has identified the culprits in almost all of the cases and investigations are ongoing, it said during a briefing on the sensors yesterday.

PUB senior engineer Idaly Mamat said toxic and flammable chemicals in the water could endanger workers.

"An overly high concentration and illegal discharge of the volatile organic compounds could also affect the structural integrity of the public sewers," he added.

The agency said it is studying the sensors' effectiveness and will decide later whether to install more of them.

The new surveillance system is only the latest weapon in the PUB's arsenal to protect Singapore's water network.

To deter polluters, fines for dumping waste water with illegal substances under the Sewerage and Drainage (Trade Effluent) Regulations will be raised from $5,000 now to $15,000 next year. This is to align it with harsher penalties in the Sewerage and Drainage (Amendment) Act which took effect in September.

A new law introduced in April also allows PUB officers to enter homes and other buildings without notice, even if the occupants are not around.

Previously, the agency had to give advance notice of at least six hours, which could be a handicap when it came to gathering evidence of wrongdoing.

It can now react faster to search premises and collect evidence such as documents and water samples, and also compel the relevant parties to help out with investigations.

Read more!

JTC tenders for Jurong Rock Caverns operator

Channel NewsAsia 27 Dec 12;

SINGAPORE: JTC Corporation launched the second stage of its two-stage tender on Thursday to engage an operator for Jurong Rock Caverns (JRC), Singapore's first underground hydrocarbon storage facility.

JTC said in a statement that phase one of the project on Jurong Island, which comprises five caverns, will be completed in stages between 2013 and 2014. It aims to appoint an operator by mid-2013, which will be given a 15-year contract.

In the second stage of the tender, qualified participants will have to submit proposals which will be evaluated based on individual merits, with an emphasis on the fee as well as technical, commercial and legal propositions.

To ensure rigour in the selection process for a capable and qualified operator, JTC said the second stage will also include a pre-qualification stage for new interested participants who had missed the first stage.

The pre-qualification stage, which opens on Thursday, will close on 21 January 2013.

JTC added that four participants who were shortlisted under the first stage have been invited to submit their proposals for evaluation in the second stage. These participants were evaluated based on criteria such as financial stability, experience, capability and track record.

JTC's assistant chief executive officer David Tan said: "JRC will cater to the growing need for additional storage capacity for liquid hydrocarbons at Jurong Island.

"The project will help to optimise our land resource and ensure the competitiveness and sustainability of Singapore's chemical industry in the long run."

The Jurong Rock Caverns project is the first underground rock cavern for hydrocarbon storage in Singapore and Southeast Asia.

Located at a depth of 130 metres beneath Selat Banyan at Jurong Island, it is expected to provide infrastructural support to manufacturers on Jurong Island, and meet the storage needs for liquid hydrocarbons such as crude oil, condensate, naphtha and gas oil.

- CNA/al

JTC seeks operator to run underground storage caverns
Melissa Tan Straits Times 28 Dec 12;

INDUSTRIAL landlord JTC Corporation is continuing its search for an operator to run the first five caverns of Singapore's first underground hydrocarbon storage facility.

These giant rock caverns, part of the Jurong Rock Caverns (JRC) project, will store oil and petrochemicals on Jurong Island. The first five make up the $890 million first phase of the project.

They will be completed in stages between next year and 2014, JTC said in a statement yesterday.

Two of the five are expected to be completed by June next year.

The first five caverns will offer 1.47 million cubic m of storage space to companies.

More caverns will be built in the second phase, though no further details are available yet.

JTC said it has already shortlisted four proposals in the first stage of its request for proposals.

It invited more firms yesterday to submit their proposals in a second stage of the process.

New proposals will be evaluated alongside the original four.

But to "ensure rigour in the selection process for a capable and qualified operator, the second stage will also comprise a pre-qualification stage for new interested participants who missed the first stage", JTC said.

JTC intends to appoint an operator to manage, operate and maintain the caverns by the middle of next year. The operator will be given a 15-year contract.

"We're confident that through this rigorous two-stage request for proposals, we will be able to bring on board a suitable and qualified operator for JRC by next year," said JTC assistant chief executive David Tan.

JTC also put up three indus-trial land plots for sale yesterday, at Ubi and Tuas South.

The 0.35ha site at Ubi Avenue 4 is zoned for "Business 1", or light industry, and has a lease period of 30 years.

The two sites at Tuas South are zoned for "Business 2", or heavy industrial use.

One is a 3.96ha land parcel at Tuas South Avenue 10, which has a 30-year lease.

The other is a 0.3ha plot at Tuas South Street 8, which comes with a shorter tenure of 22 years and five months.

This smaller plot is targeted at industrialists who need to custom-build their own facilities, JTC said in a statement.

These sites were all released under the confirmed list.

The tenders for the three sites will close on Feb 7 next year at 11am.

Read more!

Malaysia: Injured spinner dolphin rescued in Tuaran

Mugunta Vanar The Star 28 Dec 12;

KOTA KINABALU: An injured dolphin rescued on Boxing Day in Tuaran is being nursed by experts at the Borneo Marine Research Institute (BMRI).

BMRI director Prof Dr Saleem Mustafa said the spinner dolphin weighing about 70kg was still stressed and efforts were under way to calm it as much as possible.

“I do not think the dolphin is out of danger. We do not know if it will survive despite our best efforts. All I can say is that probably it would not have survived at all had it been not been rescued.

“We can say with more certainty about its chances of survival once we see it regaining normal swimming posture, resting position and appetite,” he said.

Saleem said they would continue to monitor its health condition according to quarantine requirements. If any sign of infectious disease appears, the next course of treatment will be decided.

The seven-year-old spinner dolphin or Stenella longirostris was found along the Tuaran coast about 35km from here at about noon on Wednesday.

He said the dolphin was a bit restless from its ordeal and might have other problems which cannot be diagnosed by external observations.

“I could not see it sleeping. A healthy dolphin rests by floating at the surface, with one eye open.

“After some time, it closes one eye and opens the other one. I have not seen this alternative eye opening and closing activity. Obviously, the dolphin is restless,” he said.

Saleem said BMRI could not establish whether the dolphin belonged to the resident population in Sabah or migrated from other area.

He said the dolphin might have eaten contaminated organisms, suffered exhaustion or sickness, disorientation or injuries from being beached.

Injured dolphin getting care at varsity institute
New Straits Times 28 Dec 12;

KOTA KINABALU: An injured dolphin rescued from Tuaran near here is in a critical condition at a research facility.

A marine life expert said yesterday the mammal, which was at the Universiti Malaysia Sabah (UMS) Borneo Marine Research Institute (BMRI), appeared to be stressed and disoriented.

The adult male pantropical spotted dolphin (Stenella attenuata) was found in a mangrove area in Pulau Gandang, Teluk Selamat, Tuaran, about 34km from here on Wednesday.

A team from the state Wildlife Department, Fisheries Department and UMS were deployed to rescue the mammal, which is 2m long and weighed about 70kg. It was later sent to BMRI and placed in a large tank under close supervision by the team.

BMRI director Professor Saleem Mustafa said the dolphin would be kept at the facility to monitor its health and would only be returned to the sea only if it was strong enough.

Saleem said the dolphin seemed restless and did not appear to be sleeping, which were signs of stress.

"There are no visible signs of dehydration, no extreme dryness of skin or skin peeling and cracking. But certainly, there must be some degree of dehydration that we do not know.

"It was not in an emaciated condition, so if the animal is sick, the illness could be recent."

He said BMRI would continue working with other agencies in taking care of the animal and reducing its stress as much as possible.

"We will monitor its health according to quarantine requirements. If there are signs of an infectious disease, the next treatment will be decided."

Read more!

Malaysia: Replacing forests with latex timber clone plantations destroys biodiversity says expert

The Star 28 Dec 12;

GUA MUSANG: Conversion of natural forests to latex timber clone (LTC) plantations completely destroys an area's natural biodiversity and ecology and could wipe out endemic species altogether, said environment and forestry expert Lim Teck Wyn.

“We are talking about thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of species.

“Some are known to be rare, some found only in Kelantan and some only in one specific location.

“If we destroy a locality like that, there is a possibility that the plant would be made extinct immediately,” he warned.

In addition, he said plantations contained very little minor forest produce, such as rattan or bamboo natural resources that the orang asli depend on.

He noted that the law currently allowed forests to be cleared as long as it was replanted with “timber producing trees”.

It would then still be considered a forest reserve, despite the fact that LTCs would drastically change the character of the forest, he said.

“In Peninsular Malaysia, there are plans to create more than 400,000ha of LTCs, while I hear almost 200,000ha has been planned in Kelantan,” he said.

Lim claimed that some of the clearing work done in Kelantan was a violation of the guidelines, with scant regard for the hill slope degree or an environmental impact assessment.

He said very few animals could live in plantations as well, which further affect orang asli villages throughout the area.

“The orang asli don't just live on a dot on the map.

“They live in a more complicated system which encompasses the forest surroundings,” he said.

Orang asli in dire straits
Isabelle Lai The Star 28 Dec 12;

GUA MUSANG: Years of protests have come to naught for an estimated 10,000 orang asli who are living in dire straits due to extensive logging and forest conversion in Kelantan.

Orang asli activists, who have accused the state government of turning a deaf ear to their grouses, are now upping the ante in the battle to have their land rights legally recognised.

One of them, Dendy Johari, 20, claimed that Mentri Besar Datuk Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat's administration was not taking responsibility for their welfare.

“The MB must understand our problems as they affect us directly, day in and day out. We are not greedy for a lot of land.

“We just want our native territory to be ours and left unspoiled.

“We want to live in a forest full of natural resources.”

He said the orang asli were also disappointed with the state Orang Asli Development Department (Jakoa) as it had not assisted them despite numerous complaints about logging.

Water tanks were installed at the villages in 2010 but the water ran out within weeks, he claimed.

“We joked that the water tanks in the villages were mere decorative items. What use are they?

“We still rely on the river for our water needs,” he said.

Another orang asli activist, Awir Awe, said their villages, while left untouched, were surrounded by vast areas of logged forest which had been converted to monocrop industrial plantations, including latex timber clone plantations.

This has affected their livelihood as they depended on the forests for their food and materials for their craftwork, medicine and other daily requirements.

The logging, he claimed, had also muddied the rivers, while pesticide use in plantations had triggered fears of water pollution and health issues.

However, Awir said the orang asli were no longer taking the pillaging of what they deemed as their “native territory (wilayah adat)” lying down.

They are outraged that all of these activities have been done throughout the years with scant regard for their well-being as well as no prior consultation with them.

Awir is one of a rising number of people who have been fighting for their land rights to be legally recognised by the state government.

Memorandums had been sent, protests and blockades held, and complaints made but to no avail, he claimed.

“Now we are compiling evidence of the history of our occupation in this territory to show how we have used the land for years. Then we will bring this to the court, we will never give up,” he said.

He said they had also documented the chronology of events whenever a new area had been breached, including details about the company involved and the complaints made.

Due to the logging, Awir said even small animals such as squirrels, monkeys and wildboar that the orang asli hunted for food were becoming rare.

“It takes us six hours to hunt for game. When the rivers turn muddy, our rice turns red when we cook it because we have no other water source,” he said.

Kg Guling resident Adi Buru, 54, said all land surrounding the village had been converted into an oil palm plantation without prior engagement with the orang asli.

“Because of the polluted river as well, our children have worms in their stomachs and often have diarrhoea,” he said.

Kelantan has tried to improve the lives of orang asli
The Star 28 Dec 12;

PETALING JAYA: The Kelantan government has tried to bring development to the orang asli in Gua Musang and change their lives for the better through its plantation schemes, said state exco member Datuk Nik Amar Nik Abdullah.

He said the state government had hoped that the orang asli would find jobs working in the oil palm plantations where they could earn around RM300 to RM500 a month.

“But they are not interested. There are jobs, but the companies are forced to take in foreign workers,” he said in an interview.

Nik Amar said the orang asli found it “very difficult to open themselves to change”, adding that plantation work would offer them permanent jobs.

When asked about their unhappiness about the ongoing logging and forest conversion, he said he understood their feelings.

“But if all the forests cannot be touched, how is the Government going to obtain resources?” he asked.

Nik Amar also dismissed the notion that the orang asli deemed the territory around their villages as native territory (wilayah adat), pointing out that this was only applicable in Sabah and Sarawak.

“We will not stop them if they want to file a case against us. But we have acted according to the law,” he said.

He expressed hope that the orang asli can adapt to changing times and stop relying on the forests.

“It's better for them to take a chance, join the development. Their kids need education and a better life,” he said.

State Housing, Public Works, Utility and Environment Committee chairman Datuk Anizam Abd Rahman said he would verify with Jakoa and the land office on all the claims made by the orang asli.

Read more!

China boom savages South China Sea coral reefs: study

(AFP) Google News 27 Dec 12;

SYDNEY — China's economic boom has seen its coral reefs shrink by at least 80 percent over the past 30 years, a joint Australian study found, with researchers describing "grim" levels of damage and loss.

Scientists from the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies and the South China Sea Institute of Oceanology said their survey of mainland China and South China Sea reefs showed alarming degradation.

"We found that coral abundance has declined by at least 80 percent over the past 30 years on coastal fringing reefs along the Chinese mainland and adjoining Hainan Island," said the study, published in the latest edition of the journal Conservation Biology.

"On offshore atolls and archipelagos claimed by six countries in the South China Sea, coral cover has declined from an average of greater than 60 percent to around 20 percent within the past 10-15 years," it added.

Coastal development, pollution and overfishing linked to the Asian giant's aggressive economic expansion were the major drivers, the authors said, describing a "grim picture of decline, degradation and destruction".

"China's ongoing economic expansion has exacerbated many wicked environmental problems, including widespread habitat loss due to coastal development, unsustainable levels of fishing and pollution," the study said.

Coral loss in the South China Sea -- where reefs stretch across some 30,000 square kilometres (12,000 square miles) -- was compounded by poor governance stemming from competing territorial claims.

Some marine parks aimed at conservation had been established but study author Terry Hughes said they were too small and too far apart to arrest the decline in coral cover.

"The window of opportunity to recover the reefs of the South China Sea is closing rapidly, given the state of degradation revealed in this study," he said.

More than 30 years of unbridled economic growth has left large parts of China environmentally devastated, with the nation suffering from some of the most severe air, water and land pollution in the world, global studies have shown.

Such destruction has led to widespread local frustration and a number of protests, some of which have succeeded in getting proposed new factories and facilities cancelled or postponed.

The government has laid out a road map to transform China's development mode to one that is more environmentally friendly and less dependent on headlong economic growth.

The South China Sea is strategically significant, home to some of the world's most important shipping lanes and believed to be rich in resources.

China claims most of the sea including waters near the shores of its neighbours. Rival claimants include Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam, and tensions over the issue have flared in recent years.

China's corals doomed
ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies Science Alert 3 Jan 13;

Overfishing, pollution and unrestrained coastal development have contributed to the decline of 80 per cent of China's coral reefs. Researchers refer to this as a 'wicked problem' given the window of opportunity to save them is closing rapidly.
Image: Mark_Doh/iStockphoto

The first comprehensive survey of the state of corals along mainland China and in the South China Sea reports a grim picture of decline, degradation and destruction resulting from coastal development, pollution and overfishing.

A new study by Professor Terry Hughes and Matthew Young of the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies and James Cook University, and Dr Hui Huang of the South China Sea Institute of Oceanology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, published in the prestigious journal Conservation Biology describes the situation as a ‘wicked problem’ – meaning it has no easy solutions.

“A wicked problem is one that is very hard to solve without having a whole lot of other foreseen and unforeseen consequences to people, industries and to the environment itself,” Prof Hughes explains.

“China’s ongoing economic expansion has exacerbated many wicked environmental problems, including widespread habitat loss due to coastal development, unsustainable levels of fishing, and pollution,” the report states.

“We found that coral abundance has declined by at least 80 per cent over the past 30 years on coastal fringing reefs along the Chinese mainland and adjoining Hainan Island. On offshore atolls and archipelagos claimed by six countries in the South China Sea, coral cover has declined from an average of >60 per cent to around 20 per cent within the past 10-15 years,” it says

“So far, climate change has affected these reefs far less than coastal development, pollution, overfishing, and destructive fishing practices. Ironically, these widespread declines in the condition of reefs are unfolding as China’s research and reef-management capacity are rapidly expanding.”

The corals of the South China Sea region cover an area of 30,000 square kilometres, have high conservation values, and support the livelihoods of tens of thousands of fishers. The fact that some reefs are claimed by several different countries makes conservation and management particularly difficult.

“Typically, when a coral reef degrades it is taken over by seaweeds – and from there, experience has shown, it is very hard to return it to its natural coral cover. The window of opportunity to recover the reefs of the South China Sea is closing rapidly, given the state of degradation revealed in this study,” Prof Hughes says.

The scientists conclude that the loss of coral cover in the South China Sea, as elsewhere, is due mainly to a failure of governance on the part of the nations responsible for the marine environment.

China and other countries in the region have recently established a number of marine parks, but they are too small and too far apart to prevent the decline in coral cover, he adds.

“Governing wicked problems becomes more challenging as they increase in extent from local to regional or global scales, particularly where institutions are weak or nonexistent,” the scientists caution. Cases such as the Spratly Islands, which are claimed by six different countries, highlight the dilemma.

“There is no quick fix to a wicked problem as complex as securing a sustainable future for coral reefs in China and the South China Sea,” they add.

“We suggest that governance of China’s coastal reefs can be improved by increasing public awareness, by legal and institutional reform that promotes progressive change, by providing financial support for training of reef scientists and managers, expanding monitoring of coral reef status and dynamics, and by enforcing existing regulations that protect reef ecosystems.”

They suggest that China’s centralised system of government is well-placed to quickly rescue the region’s imperilled coral reefs in collaboration with neighbouring countries – but this will require innovative leadership and strong public support.

Their article “The Wicked Problem of China’s Disappearing Coral Reefs” by Terry P. Hughes, Hui Huang and Matthew A.L. Young appears in the online edition of Conservation Biology.

Map of the South China Sea coral regions at:

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Gales to wreak more havoc in Indonesia

Such winds caused 36 deaths and displaced more than 27,000 this year
Zakir Hussain Straits Times 28 Dec 12;

JAKARTA - Residents of Sumput in Sidoarjo, East Java, already forced to stay home because of heavy rain on Wednesday afternoon, got a double whammy when a sudden gale-force wind struck their village, toppling trees and electric cables and blowing the roofs off several houses.

No one was injured, but such strong winds - less deadly than tropical cyclones or tornadoes - have been identified by disaster officials as a growing and destructive weather threat.

The national agency for disaster management (BNPB) projects that such gale-force winds are set to cause more damage in the near future, going by their increasing frequency in recent years.

The forecast comes as officials nationwide urge residents to brace themselves for extreme weather over the next few months, which coincide with the annual rainy season.

The BNPB recorded 14 instances of such winds - referred to as "puting beliung" in Indonesia - in 2002, 122 in 2007, and 259 this year - before Wednesday.

"We expect the threat to grow in tandem with the rising impact of climate change globally," said Dr Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, the head of the BNPB's data centre.

"We're still trying to understand the phenomenon," he added. "Alas, these are still near-impossible to detect in advance, as they often last under 10 minutes and cover an area with a radius of less than 2km."

He told The Straits Times that global warming has led the tropics to expand over the past 30 years, and has also resulted in the formation of larger anvil-shaped cumulonimbus clouds, which are associated with thunderstorms and heavy rainfall.

Scientists in the United States have also said that climate change could spawn more tornadoes in future.

In Indonesia, such winds killed 36 people this year - mostly a result of falling trees or roofs - and displaced more than 27,000.

Some 115 million people spread over 404 regencies and cities are in areas at risk of such winds, Dr Sutopo added.

The highest-risk areas are located along the coast: the western coast of Sumatra, the northern coast of Java - where Jakarta and several major cities are located - East Nusa Tenggara and South Sulawesi.

Dr Sutopo said his agency is in discussions with the Meteorological, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) and the Agency for the Assessment and Application of Technology on developing a warning system for such whirlwinds.

"At the moment, we can only urge people to stay clear of trees or billboards during heavy rain," he added.

BNPB data also shows that 232 people died in floods or landslides, or a combination of both, so far this year. Another 28 died as a result of earthquakes, of which there were no major ones this year.

BMKG chief Sri Woro Harijono also announced that Jakarta is expected to see average monthly rainfall of 200mm to 300mm until April.

Officials are preparing supplies for those who may be displaced, and also getting down to cleaning drains and sewers so that water can flow off quickly.

"The government can only manage these disasters; it cannot prevent or predict them," said Coordinating Minister for People's Welfare Agung Laksono, who oversees agencies dealing with climate and rescue concerns.

But Dr Sutopo is worried that many still fail to take precautions to mitigate the impact of natural disasters, such as using sturdy building material that can withstand quakes and strong winds.

"We are also quick to forget, and become complacent," he said. "For instance, we fail to see that littering in rivers contributes to flooding until it's too late."

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