Best of our wild blogs: 3 Jan 13

Stalking a Blue-tailed Dartfish
from Compressed air junkie

A Close Look at the Critters of Pulau Hantu
from Pulau Hantu

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Scientists find new uniquely Singaporean species in our waters

The New Paper AsiaOne 3 Jan 13;

THE waters off Pulau Ubin are teeming with life, and scientists are just beginning to catalogue uniquely Singaporean species.

More than 10,000 specimens were discovered during the Singapore Marine Biodiversity Workshop at Pulau Ubin between Oct 15 and Nov 2 last year.

The specimens were found in waters around Pulau Ubin, mostly from the East Johor Strait. Some were also found in waters in the West Johor Strait.

Of the new discoveries, Dr Tan Koh Siang of the Tropical Marine Science Institute at the National University of Singapore (NUS) said: "We are certainly excited about the specimens we have collected since quite a few are either new records for Singapore, or are 're-discovered' after many decades. "Some may eventually prove to be new science. "

About 200 participants were involved in the recent expedition, which was led by the National Parks Board (NParks) and NUS. The participants included 20 scientists from 10 countries, local scientists, conservation officers and volunteers.

The expedition to collect these never-before seen creatures was part of the Comprehensive Marine Biodiversity Survey, which began in 2010 and is led by NParks.

The five-year study is supported by universities, non-governmental organisations and a small team of volunteers.

The average depth of the Johor Straits ranges from 5m to 20m, and the creatures discovered, which live in a variety of habitats, were collected from the intertidal shore or dredged from the seabed.

In response to The New Paper's queries about the 12 new discoveries featured here, Dr Tan said: "They remain undetermined and have no assigned scientific names at the moment."


This small animal belongs to a unique group of bivalves that have extended their skin to cover the shell. The skin bears club-like protrusions that may have a deterrent function against predators.


Brittlestars are related to starfish, and grow between 1cm and 10cm long. They crawl beneath the surface of the seabed using flexible arms. They are scavengers that feed on organic particles and are common in Singapore waters.


Sea cucumbers are marine animals with spines or spicules embedded in their skin and an elongated body containing a single, branched gonad. They are found on the sea floor worldwide.


Stonefishes have venomous spines that can inflict a lot of pain though it is rarely fatal to humans. They are very common in Singapore waters, both in the Johor and Singapore Straits.


The flatworms are bilaterians, which means they have bilateral symmetry. But unlike other bilaterians, they have no body cavity, and no specialised circulatory and respiratory organs. They can often be seen in tidal pools on mudflats, mangroves and coral reefs.


Mantis shrimps are marine crustaceans. Some species can exceed 30cm long. They are common animals around Pulau Ubin.


Bristle worms are mostly marine. They are segmented worms, generally less than 10cm long.


Crustaceans include familiar creatures like crabs, crayfish and shrimps. They are mostly free-living aquatic animals, but some are terrestrial, living in either marine or freshwater environments.


A family of predatory sea snails that are 9mm to more than 50cm long. Some species are harvested as food in Malaysia and Singapore. They feed on other molluscs like clams and snails.


Squids have a distinct head, bilateral symmetry, a mantle and arms. Many species are popular as food and the type found in Pulau Ubin waters is edible.


Sea anemones are a group of water-dwelling, predatory animals. In this case, it is likely that the sea anemone and the crab have a mutually-beneficial relationship.


Sea spiders are not related to true spiders. They are found across the tropics to the poles. There are more than 1,300 known species, ranging in size from 1mm to over 90 cm in some deep water species.

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Patrolling a way to beat poachers

Nuradilla Noorazam New Straits Times 3 Jan 13;

LIFELINE: More people entering forests will boost efforts to conserve elephants

KUALA LUMPUR: REGULAR patrolling in high-risk areas will provide a much needed lifeline for elephant conservation efforts.

Management and Ecological of Malaysian Elephants conservationist Steven Lim Boon Hock said creating presence in high-risk areas would intimidate poachers.

"If more people enter the forest to hike, document and preserve its treasures, poachers will think twice about entering the area and setting up snares for fear of being caught," said Lim, who is stationed at the Royal Belum and Temenggor forests.

He said Malaysian elephants were under threat from relentless poaching and human-animal conflicts.

"Elephants are not just hunted for their ivory but also their meat and organs.

"People sell small ivory as trinkets and jewellery while the feet are made into stools.

"It is sad to see these animals dying in big numbers just because some people want to make money. It makes you wonder, what is the real value of life?"

Lim, 49, used to have a high-flying job in the corporate world, earning a five-figure salary.

But his love for nature and wildlife was too strong to be kept as a hobby during the holidays. A few years ago, he quit his job to be a full-time conservationist.

"Compared with our neighbours, the number of Malaysian elephants is rapidly decreasing. The World Wide Fund for Nature estimated in 2010 that there were only 1,700 wild elephants left in the country.

"In Sri Lanka, there are more than 7,000 wild elephants while India is home to 20,000 wild elephants."

Lim added that elephants used to be very important in the lives of people in then Malaya.

During the sultanate era, monarchs used elephants as part of their entourage.

"During wars, elephants were used as the first line of defence. However, as time passed, elephants started to lose their significance in local culture.

"Now, you hear stories of elephants being poisoned by farmers when the animals trampled on their plants. Elephants are also being killed and dismembered by individuals trying to make a quick buck."

International Southeast Asia senior programme officer Kanitha Krishnasamy said poor planning of land use, such as converting forest land for plantations, was also causing conflicts between wildlife and people.

"When these animals are found encroaching on villages or plantations, it will create conflict and harm."

For example, the Gerik-Jeli highway that passes through both Belum and Temengor forests is one of the reasons for such a conflict.

Conservationists said road users could easily spot wild elephants at night when they came out from the forest to forage for food by the roadside.

This, however, exposed them to danger. Tales of accidents involving elephants and sounds of gunshots near the highway at night are common to the locals.

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Politics Is Key to Avoiding Global Warming Catastrophe

Stephanie Pappas Yahoo News 3 Jan 13;

Delaying global action on climate change by 20 more years will put the goal of keeping the world relatively cool out of reach forever, no matter how much money humanity later spends to try to solve the problem, a new study finds.

Since the 1990s, scientists and international negotiators have aimed to keep global temperatures from warming more than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), but little progress has been made so far in concrete steps toward that goal. The most recent climate talks, in Qatar in December, ended with only modest steps that fail to address growing greenhouse gas emissions, climate scientists said.

It's these delays that ultimately make dealing with climate change more expensive and perhaps eventually impossible, according to a study published this week (Jan. 4) in the journal Nature. While it's true there are still uncertainties about how the climate will respond to specific strategies, these uncertainties are nothing compared with potential disaster caused by delay, said study researcher Joeri Rogelj of Switzerland's Institute for Atmospheric and Climate Science in Zurich.

"The uncertainties about how the climate system will respond have been previously used as an argument to postpone action until we have learned more," Rogelj told LiveScience. "We show that such a delay strategy is unsupported and that the most important factor for staying below 2 degrees C is the timing of when we start tackling this problem at a global scale."

2-degree world

Many researchers have attempted to weigh the costs and benefits of climate-change strategies ranging from a carbon tax on emissions to requirements for sequestering carbon underground rather than releasing it into the atmosphere. What Rogelj and his colleagues did differently was to rank the importance of "the known unknowns." These are the uncertainties that keep scientists from predicting exactly how the future of climate will unravel. They include geophysical uncertainties — how the climate system of our planet will respond to specific strategies — as well as social uncertainties, such as future growth and energy demand. Technological uncertainties include what innovations will be available for lowering emissions. And finally, there are the political uncertainties: When will the world decide to act to prevent further warming? [8 Ways Global Warming Is Already Changing the World]

For the first time, Rogelj and his colleagues quantified and ranked the importance of each of these uncertainties. They found that politics dominated.

Delay hurts

In other words, the timing of climate-change action plays a more important role in keeping the planet from possibly catastrophic warming than social, geophysical or technological hurdles. If humanity delays in taking action, even the best-case social, geophysical and tech scenarios will do little good.

"When delaying action by two more decades, chances to stay below 2 degrees C become very low and we find that they cannot be improved later on, no matter how much money we throw at the problem in the future," Rogelj said.

Without drastically reducing energy demands, two decades of delay will mean only a 20 percent chance of staying below 2 degrees C, Rogelj said. A move toward a highly energy-efficient society would increase those odds to 50 percent. [The Reality of Climate Change: 10 Myths Busted]

In fact, conservation and energy efficiency (social and technological uncertainties) play big roles in making mitigation strategies such as carbon taxes or carbon capture more effective, the researchers found. For example, if carbon emissions were immediately taxed at $40 a metric ton, there would be an 80 percent chance of staying below 2 degrees in an energy-efficient world. The same carbon price would give only a 66 percent chance of hitting that temperature goal in an intermediate-demand world. In a future with a high demand for energy (20 percent greater than the intermediate scenario), carbon would have to cost $150 per metric ton just to reach that same 66 percent likelihood.

A low-energy future has upsides beyond climate mitigation, Rogelj said.

"If one can continue to prosper in the future and deliver the same services with less overall energy, this will in the first place save you money, but also very significantly improve your national energy security situation," he said. "It seems to me that such benefits should be appealing to any decision-maker who cares about the long-term development and prosperity of his or her country."

Fixing climate

Even though the study examined more than 700 future climate scenarios, there are some limitations to its analysis. The research didn't take into account the cost of disasters such as coastal flooding if climate change is not mitigated. Nor did it consider "runaway climate change" scenarios. For example, if the melting of the permafrost releases trapped methane stores into the atmosphere, that gas could trap heat even more efficiently than carbon dioxide, sending temperatures soaring faster than expected.

The researchers' middle-of-the-road predictions for economic growth and population growth are also "somewhat optimistic," according to Steve Hatfield-Dodds of Australian National University, who was not involved in the study. That could mean that the estimated likelihoods of climate-mitigation success are also optimistic, Hatfield-Dodds wrote in an editorial accompanying the study in Nature.

Nevertheless, "the findings should help to make risks and consequences more transparent, and thereby support better-informed economic and political decisions," Hatfield-Dodds wrote.

Cost of combating climate change surges as world delays - study
Alister Doyle PlanetArk 3 Jan 13;

An agreement by almost 200 nations to curb rising greenhouse gas emissions from 2020 will be far more costly than taking action now to tackle climate change, according to research published on Wednesday.

Quick measures to cut emissions would give a far better chance of keeping global warming within an agreed U.N. limit of 2 degrees Celsius (3.6F) above pre-industrial times to avert more floods, heatwaves, droughts and rising sea levels.

"If you delay action by 10, 20 years you significantly reduce the chances of meeting the 2 degree target," said Keywan Riahi, one of the authors of the report at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Austria.

"It was generally known that costs increase when you delay action. It was not clear how quickly they change," he told Reuters of the findings in the science journal Nature based on 500 computer-generated scenarios.

It said the timing of cuts in greenhouse gases was more important than other uncertainties - about things like how the climate system works, future energy demand, carbon prices or new energy technologies.

The study indicated that an immediate global price of $20 a ton on emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2), the main greenhouse gas, would give a roughly 60 percent chance of limiting warming to below 2C.

Wait until 2020 and the carbon price would have to be around $100 a ton to retain that 60 percent chance, Riahi told Reuters of the study made with other experts in Switzerland, New Zealand, Australia and Germany.

And a delay of action until 2030 might put the 2C limit - which some of the more pessimistic scientists say is already unattainable - completely out of reach, whatever the carbon price.

"The window for effective action on climate change is closing quickly," wrote Steve Hatfield-Dodds of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization in Australia in a separate commentary in Nature.

Governments agreed to the 2C limit in 2010, viewing it as a threshold to avert dangerous climate change. Temperatures have already risen by 0.8 degree C (1.4F) since wide use of fossil fuels began 200 years ago.


After the failure of a 2009 summit in Copenhagen to agree a worldwide accord, almost 200 nations have given themselves until 2015 to work out a global deal to cut greenhouse gas emissions that will enter into force in 2020.

Amid an economic slowdown, many countries at the last U.N. meeting on climate change in Qatar in December expressed reluctance to make quick shifts away from fossil fuels towards cleaner energies such as wind or solar power.

Each U.S. citizen, for instance, emits about 20 tons of carbon dioxide a year. There is no global price on carbon, only regional markets - in a European Union trading system, for instance, where industrial emitters must pay off they exceed their CO2 quotas, 2013 prices are about 6.7 euros ($8.83) a ton.

The report also showed that greener policies, such as more efficient public transport or better-insulated buildings, would raise the chances of meeting the 2C goal.

And fighting climate change would be easier with certain new technologies, such as capturing and burying carbon emissions from power plants and factories. In some scenarios, the 2C goal could not be met unless carbon capture was adopted.

(Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

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