Best of our wild blogs: 16 Jan 13

Random Gallery - Scarce Silverstreak
from Butterflies of Singapore

Singapore sponges and Henry Carter
from wild shores of singapore

By The Water: GARS clinics along Lower Seletar, 2013
from Gamefish And Aquatic Rehabiliation Society

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Thai ivory ban needed to save elephants

WWF 15 Jan 13;

Massive quantities of African ivory are being laundered through shops in Thailand and fuelling the elephant poaching crisis, conservation group WWF says. The organization today is launching a global petition asking Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra to ban all ivory trade in Thailand in order to curb the illegal killing of African elephants.

Although it is against the law to sell ivory from African elephants in Thailand, ivory from domestic Thai elephants can be sold legally. Criminal networks are exploiting this legal loophole and flooding Thai shops with blood ivory from Africa.

“Existing laws are not effective at keeping illegal African ivory out of the Thai market. The only way to prevent Thailand from contributing to elephant poaching is to ban all ivory sales,” said Janpai Ongsiriwittaya, campaign leader in WWF-Thailand. “Today the biggest victims are African elephants, but Thailand’s elephants could be next. Ms Shinawatra can help put an end to the killing, and I believe Thai citizens will support greater protection for these iconic animals.”

Poaching is at record levels in Africa with tens of thousands of elephants being slaughtered each year for their ivory tusks. Trade data released last month shows that international ivory trafficking has reached its highest ever recorded rate. Thailand is the biggest unregulated ivory market in the world and a top driver of poaching and illegal trade.

“Thailand’s legal allowance of trade in ivory tusks from domesticated Asian elephants is exploited to market African elephant ivory as worked products through hundreds of retail outlets,” according to the 2012 report of the Elephant Trade Information System.

“Many foreign tourists would be horrified to learn that ivory trinkets on display next to silks in Thai shops may come from elephants massacred in Africa. It is illegal to bring ivory back home and it should no longer be on sale in Thailand,” said Elisabeth McLellan, manager of WWF’s Global Species Programme.

In March, representatives from 176 governments will meet in Bangkok to discuss global wildlife trade issues, including rampant elephant poaching in Africa. WWF is calling on Ms Shinawatra to use the opportunity to announce her country’s commitment to banning ivory trade in Thailand.

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Indonesia: Sumatran elephant deaths on the rise

Antara 15 Jan 13;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) has reported that an increasing number of Sumatran elephants (Elephas maximus sumatranus) are dying every year, due to which their population has plunged to the lowest levels since the 1980s.

Citing WWF data, the Program Coordinator of Tiger and Elephant Species of WWF in Indonesia, Sunarto, said here on Tuesday that the elephant population had declined from 1,342 in 1985 to 210 in 2007.

"People think that the elephant is their enemy. One of the websites of a palm oil plantation had put elephants in the same category as caterpillars and other pests," he added.

WWF reported 27 cases of elephant deaths last year, comprising 15 in Riau (eastern Sumatra) and 12 in Aceh (northern Sumatra).

"The elephants` habitat has declined over the years. Therefore, only a few of them are left in what remains of the deep forests of Sumatra," Sunarto explained.

"The decline is mainly due to palm oil plantation companies that are increasingly encroaching upon the elephants` habitat. And elephants feed on young palm trees," he continued.

"Therefore, the animal has become an enemy of the palm oil industry and the plantation people do everything - from shooing them away by bursting firecrackers to even using poison - to keep the elephants away," Sunarto said.

He noted that the conflict between elephants and palm oil businessmen was not a recent development but was becoming worse over time as forest land was getting increasingly exploited for palm oil farming.

"The WWF has also reported about the systematic illegal hunting of elephants, which has led to an increasing number of elephant deaths in the region," Sunarto pointed out.

"We have also found evidence. Many elephants have been found dead with their tusks cut off and missing," he added.

Editor: Priyambodo RH

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Indonesia forestry ministry seeks moratorium extension

* Government decision on forest moratorium expected in May
* Agriculture and Forestry ministries have conflicting views
* Palm industry urged to use degraded forest land

Michael Taylor Reuters 14 Jan 13;

JAKARTA, Jan 14 (Reuters) - Indonesia should embrace its key role in climate change and extend a ban on the destruction of forests and peatlands despite opposition from the agriculture minister and the influential palm oil industry, a senior forestry ministry official said.

Indonesia, home to the world's third-largest expanse of tropical forests, is under intense international pressure to limit deforestation and destruction of its carbon-rich peatlands, at risk from urbanisation and the rapidly expanding palm oil and mining sectors.

Southeast Asia's largest economy imposed a two-year moratorium on clearing forest in May 2011 under a $1 billion climate deal with Norway aimed at reducing emissions from deforestation, and the government has yet to announce what it plans to do about the ban.

Hadi Daryanto, secretary general at Indonesia's forestry ministry, told Reuters he hoped it would be extended.

"The ministry of forestry would like to continue the moratorium and provide degraded land for business," said Daryanto, whose ministry is legally responsible for the economic and ecological management of Indonesia's forests.

"We have had success with the moratorium," he added, citing a decline of the deforestation rate since 2011.

Illegal deforestation is common in Indonesia, and especially in Central Kalimantan, where scores of palm oil and mining concessions overlap with protected forests.

The forestry ministry makes millions of dollars from selling permits to use forests each year, and a recent survey by the government's anti-graft agency showed it was perceived as one of the most corrupt institutions in the country.

Daryanto said a more transparent tender procedure should put an end to allegations of graft, adding: "The corruption is in the past."

Indonesia in the world's biggest producer of palm oil and its pledge to protect its forests is being tested by soaring demand for the edible oil. Palm oil companies such as Sime Darby , Wilmar International, Sinar Mas and Astra Agro Lestari, are some of the biggest in the country, and edible oil exports totalled $21.6 billion in 2011.

Environmental groups see the moratorium as a step in the right direction, but activists lament the various loopholes in the ban that they say are concessions to the palm oil industry.

Palm oil companies want the moratorium scrapped, saying it casts Indonesia's management of plantations in a bad light.

The agriculture minister also says the ban is unnecessary and should be replaced by a stricter permit criteria for palm plantations.


Palm estates sprawl across around 8.5 million hectares in Indonesia, and that number is expected to rise by about 200,000 hectares a year for the next decade.

Daryanto said palm oil plantations should expand on the almost 24 million hectares of degraded forest land currently available, even if the area is inhabited.

"It is better to use degraded land for investment for palm oil," he said. "The companies don't want degraded land because normally people are already there, and to remove them is very expensive."

Last month, Indonesia approved a rainforest conservation project that sets aside an area roughly the size of Singapore and rewards investors with tradeable carbon credits in the first of its kind to win formal backing in the country.

The project, Rimbay Raya Biodiversity Reserver, is part of a U.N.-led scheme called reducing emissions from deforestation and degradation (REDD) and is aimed at showing forests can pay for themselves and compete with powerful palm oil, mining and timber interests.

Norway, however, has said Indonesia's progress in reforming its forestry sector will not be sufficient to meet its pledge to reduce carbon emissions by 26 percent by 2020. ($1 = 9635.0000 Indonesian rupiah) (Additional reporting by Yayat Supriatna and Rieka Rahadiana; Editing by Miral Fahmy)

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Fish Poop Helps Spread Seagrass

Douglas Main Yahoo News 15 Jan 13;

To spread and regenerate, an important marine plant depends on animals to eat its seeds and poop them out around the ocean, according to recent research.

Seeds from eelgrass, a type of marine grass found around the world, can survive and germinate after being eaten by three types of fish, one turtle and one type of bird, said Sarah Sumoski, a researcher at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science and co-author of a study published recently in the journal Marine Ecology Progress Series.

It's hard to understate the importance of eelgrass and other seagrasses, which globally can store up to twice as much carbon as the world's temperate and tropical forests, according to a separate study. This is potentially important as humans pump more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Eelgrass meadows, which grow on the ocean floor in shallow waters, also help shelter many different types of fish and crabs, and serve as food for animals as diverse as manatees and ducks, Sumoski told OurAmazingPlanet.

By hitching a ride in these animals' digestive tracts, the grasses' seeds can travel long distances, establishing far-flung seagrass meadows. Sumoski's study found that a type of diving duck called the lesser scaup can transport seeds more than 12 miles (19.5 kilometers); after this journey, the seeds can still sprout, Sumoski said.

This is the first study to show how these seeds fare when eaten by multiple types of animals, said Sumoski. The ability of some of the seeds to sprout after being eaten surprised Sumoski, she said, especially in the case of one fish species, which commonly feed on the grasses and are well equipped to break down plant material.

The study's results will help Sumoski and co-author Robert Orth in their efforts to reintroduce eelgrass to Virginia's coastal bays. In the 1930s, an outbreak of wasting disease and an enormous hurricane virtually wiped out these eelgrass beds, which provide a bedrock for marine life. The environmental impact was so great that bay scallops (a type of shellfish) disappeared; until that time the scallops had supported a significant local fishery.

For the last 15 years, Orth and a large group of collaborators have planted eelgrass shoots and millions of seeds throughout the coastal bays. Now, more than 6.6 square miles (17 square km) of lush eelgrass meadows line these bays, according to a release from the Virginia Institute of Marine Science. The researchers think the fish and other creatures have already helped spread the grasses beyond the areas planted by conservationists. Scientists hope that the animals will continue to spread the meadows in the future.

"Animals consuming seeds in one location and then excreting them in another location where they can germinate is not new," said Matt Harwell, a seagrass ecologist who was not involved in the study. "However, it is a new finding for a seagrass species that is found across much of the world. Understanding population dynamics is very important to understanding the health, longevity, and resilience of a seagrass meadow to stresses, especially since recent estimates suggest that seagrass loss — globally — is around 7 percent per year."

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Helping nature help us: conserve ecosystems, reduce the risk of disasters

IUCN 15 Jan 13;

To help protect communities from disasters and tackle the adverse effects of climate change, a new IUCN project will show how healthy ecosystems can help reduce the risks and make livelihoods more resilient.

Avalanches and landslides threaten human settlements and transport lines in mountainous regions of countries such as Nepal, Chile and China. Coastal communities in Thailand are exposed to tropical storms and soil salinization due to the degradation of mangrove forests while droughts, floods and other extremes seriously affect communities in Burkina Faso and Senegal.

Around the world environmental degradation reduces the capacity of ecosystems such as forests and wetlands to meet people’s need for food and fresh water and to protect them from hazards by providing a physical buffer, regulating floods and stabilizing slopes. Healthy and diverse ecosystems are more robust in the face of extreme weather and are better able to continue providing benefits to communities after disaster has struck.

IUCN’s Ecosystems Protecting Infrastructure and Communities (EPIC) project will be implemented in six countries in collaboration with Swiss NGO ProAct Network.

“The goal of the project is to document evidence that highlights the need for promoting and conserving ecosystem services for both climate change adaptation and in planning for disaster risk reduction,” says Radhika Murti, Programme Coordinator for IUCN's Ecosystem Management Programme.

“EPIC will also work with policy makers at national and local levels to promote policies that link the various sectors such as environment, disaster management, land-use planning and public finance, and help in coordinated planning,” she adds.

This five-year project, funded by Germany’s Federal Ministry of the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety’s International Climate Initiative, is being implemented with several partners including the University of Lausanne, the Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique in France, Mangrove Action Project and the Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research.

Empirical and applied scientific information will be compiled from case studies addressing different scenarios in Chile and Nepal (avalanches), China and Nepal (landslides), Burkina Faso and Senegal (droughts and floods) and Thailand (coastal hazards). Based on lessons learned from the case studies, workshops will be held to improve ecosystem-based risk management in the selected countries.

It is hoped that longer term ecosystem-based adaptation strategies will be built upon the results shown from managing ecosystems for disaster risk reduction.

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Black carbon a powerful climate pollutant: international study

Deborah Zabarenko PlanetArk 16 Jan 13;

Black carbon, the soot produced by burning fossil fuels and biomass, is a more potent atmospheric pollutant than previously thought, according to a four-year international study released on Tuesday.

Emitted by diesel engines, brick kilns and wood-fired cookstoves, black carbon is second only to carbon dioxide as the most powerful climate pollutant, according to the study published in the Journal of Geophysical Research-Atmospheres.

But because black carbon only lasts in the atmosphere a matter of days, compared to carbon dioxide's atmospheric endurance of centuries, addressing it could be prime target for curbing global warming, the report said.

"This new research provides further compelling evidence to act on short-lived climate pollutants, including black carbon," Achim Steiner, chief of the United Nations Environment Program, said in a statement.

Steiner pointed to efforts under way to cut black carbon emissions from heavy-duty diesel vehicles, brick production and municipal waste disposal as part of the international Climate and Clean Air Coalition. The United States was one of the coalition's founders last year.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in mid-December also tightened limits on soot pollution from power plants, diesel engines and burning wood from levels set in 1997.

The report found black carbon's effect on climate is nearly twice what the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimated in its landmark 2007 assessment.

At that time, climate scientists ranked black carbon third behind carbon dioxide and methane. The new research, conducted by a multinational team of 31 experts, moves black carbon up in the ranking.

The new assessment found black carbon emissions caused significantly higher warming over the Arctic and other regions, could affect rainfall patterns, including those of the Asian monsoon system, and have led to rapid warming in the northern United States, Canada, northern Europe and northern Asia.

The sooty particles that make up black carbon can be a major component of urban air pollution like that now blanketing Beijing, said Durwood Zaelke, president of the Washington-based non-profit Institute for Governance and Sustainable Development and a reviewer of the study before its publication.

"Black carbon is not only more important for climate than we thought, it also kills over a million people every year who contract deadly respiratory diseases by breathing air polluted by black carbon," Zaelke said in a statement.

The study was published four days after the United States released a draft assessment of the climate, finding that the consequences of climate change are now evident in U.S. health, infrastructure, water supply, agriculture and especially more frequent severe weather.

That report followed a U.S. announcement that found 2012 was the hottest year on record in the contiguous United States, with thousands of individual weather records shattered.

(Editing by Paul Simao)

Climate change: Soot's role underestimated, says study
Matt McGrath BBC News 15 Jan 13;

Black carbon, or soot, is making a much larger contribution to global warming than previously recognised, according to research.

Scientists say that particles from diesel engines and wood burning could be having twice as much warming effect as assessed in past estimates.

They say it ranks second only to carbon dioxide as the most important climate-warming agent.

The research is in the Journal of Geophysical Research-Atmospheres.

Black carbon aerosols have been known to warm the atmosphere for many years by absorbing sunlight. They also speed the melting of ice and snow.
Half a degree

This new study concludes the dark particles are having a warming effect approximately two thirds that of carbon dioxide, and greater than methane.

"The large conclusion is that forcing due to black carbon in the atmosphere is larger," lead author Sarah Doherty told BBC News.

"The value the IPCC gave in their 4th assessment report in 2007 is half of what we are presenting in this report - it's a little bit shocking,"

The researchers say black carbon emissions in Europe and North America have been declining due to restrictions on emissions from diesel engines. But they have been growing steadily in the developing world. However as these type of particles don't last very long in the atmosphere, cutting their number would have an immediate impact on temperatures.

"Reducing emissions from diesel engines and domestic wood and coal fires is a no-brainer as there are tandem health and climate benefits," said Professor Piers Forster from the University of Leeds.

"If we did everything we could to reduce these emissions we could buy ourselves up to half a degree less warming, or a couple of decades of respite," he added.

The report warns that the role of black carbon is complex and can have cooling and warming effects.

"Mitigation is a complex issue because soot is typically emitted with other particles and gases that probably cool the climate," said Prof Forster,

"For instance, organic matter in the atmosphere produced by open vegetation burning likely has a cooling effect. Therefore the net effect of eliminating that source might not give us the desired cooling," he added.

Black carbon is said to be a significant source of rapid warming in the northern United States, Canada, northern Europe and northern Asia. The particles are also said to have an impact on rainfall patterns in the Asian monsoon.

Last year a six nation coalition of countries began a combined effort to curb the impact of short lived climate agents such as black carbon.

The authors say that while cutting back on soot is important, cutting carbon dioxide emissions is the best way to address climate change in the long term.

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2012 was in top 10 warmest on record

Matt McGrath BBC News 15 Jan 13;

US scientists say that 2012 was among the 10 warmest years the world has experienced since 1880.

Nasa researchers said it was the ninth warmest year while experts from another American agency said it was the tenth.

Both teams said that temperatures would have been higher if it hadn't been for the La Nina weather pattern that brought cooling to some regions.

They were equally certain carbon dioxide had been the principal driver of the rise over the past 50 years.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (Noaa) said that their analysis of temperature data from a global network of weather stations indicated that the average temperature for 2012 was 0.57C above the 20th century average.

The agency stated that all 12 years of the 21st Century rank among the 14 warmest in the 133-year period of record keeping.

"This past year, unlike the US they were not a record globally but they certainly were warm," said Thomas Karl, director of NOAA's National Climatic Data Centre.

"In fact it marks a persistent above average - every year has been above average since 1976."

Using the same data but carrying out a slightly different analysis, Nasa said it was the 9th warmest year with temperatures 0.6C warmer than the mid 20th century baseline.

Dr James Hansen, from Nasa's Goddard Institute for Space Studies acknowledged that even in a period of global warming some seasons will be cooler than the long term average.

"The perceptive person should notice that the frequency of unusually warm extremes is increasing. It is the extremes that have the most impact on people and other life on the planet," he said.

According to both groups of researchers most areas of the world had higher than average temperatures in 2012 while the Arctic experienced a record breaking ice melt.

NASA: 2012 Was 9th Hottest Year on Record Worldwide
Tia Ghose Yahoo News 15 Jan 13;

Last year was the ninth hottest year for the globe since 1880, according to new data released by NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) today (Jan. 15).

Of the nine hottest years on record, eight have come since the year 2000, with 2005 and 2010 sharing the dubious title of hottest year on record. The new data reveal the alarming, long-term trend of global warming caused by human emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, climate scientists said.

"The planet is out of balance, there's more energy coming in than going out," said James Hansen, director of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, during the press conference. "So therefore we can predict with confidence that the next decade is going to be warmer than the last one."

To calculate the global surface temperature, scientists at the NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York collect temperature data from 1,000 weather stations around the world and combine that with sea-surface temperatures derived from satellite imagery and data from Antarctic research stations. The global surface temperature last year was about 58.3 degrees Fahrenheit (14.6 Celsius), about 1 degree Fahrenheit (0.6 Celsius) above the average from 1951 to 1980.

While the planet overall experienced a warm year, the continental United States faced a particularly hot year that blew all previous records away. The average temperature, about 55.3 degrees Fahrenheit (12.9 Celsius) was 3.25 degrees Fahrenheight (1.8 degrees Celsius) higher than the average from 1951 to 1980. [The 7 Hottest Climate Change Stories of 2012]

"We've broken the record by more than one degree, that is quite impressive," said Thomas R. Karl, director, NOAA's National Climatic Data Center, Asheville, N.C., during a press briefing today. "It literally smashed the record."

The incredibly warm spring and summer in the United States led to early greening of vegetation, followed by extreme drought conditions that are still going on, Karl said in the press conference.

The findings emphasize that skyrocketing emissions of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and methane are warming the planet. These gases trap heat in the atmosphere rather than letting it escape back into space.

The amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has risen precipitously since the advent of the industrial revolution: In 1880, the atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration was about 285 parts per million, while today, it is more than 385 parts per million, according to NOAA's data. Though that carbon dioxide can come from natural sources, most of it comes from the burning of fossil fuels to power modern society.

Natural variations in weather mean the spike in atmospheric carbon dioxide may not translate into a year-over-year, consistent increase in the planet's temperature, but each successive decade will probably be warmer.

But one trend that will most probably occur next year is 2012's stunning loss of sea ice in the Arctic this summer and fall, Karl said. That can have global implications because the Arctic can affect weather patterns across the planet.

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