Best of our wild blogs: 22 Jan 13

Green Drinks: Environment & Sustainability Career Pathways
from Green Drinks Singapore

Nudis Galore! Tozeuma shrimp and leaf-like sponge
from Pulau Hantu

Grey-headed Fish-eagle mobbed by Osprey
from Bird Ecology Study Group

hawk-cuckoo @ labrador park - Jan 2013
from sgbeachbum

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Malaysia: Updates on Pengerang petrochemical project

Pengerang fishermen to get RM12mil grant
The Star 22 Jan 13;

JOHOR BARU: A RM12mil allocation to upgrade fishing boats in Pengerang here is expected to be disbursed to eligible fishermen by year's end.

“There are about 520 fishermen in Pengerang who have been affected by the US$20bil (RM60bil) Petronas Refinery and Petro-chemical Integrated Development (Rapid) project.

“We hope that the allocation will enable these fishermen to upgrade their boats to venture further out to the sea,” said Agriculture and Agro-based Industry Committee chairman Datuk Abdul Aziz Kaprawi.

He said this to reporters after delivering his New Year message to officials from the state Agriculture Department at the Glulam Gallery here yesterday.

Abdul Aziz said the Fisheries Department had submitted a working paper on the allocation.

On a separate matter, he dismissed allegations that the fish and seafood supply in Johor would be affected by the Rapid project.

“Only 3% of the fishermen in the state conduct fishing activities in Pengerang and they are traditional fishermen who only travel two to three nautical miles off the coast,” he said.

He said the only major issue for the fishermen would be the relocation of the main jetty.

“This has caused some inconvenience but the Government has already allocated RM33mil to relocate the jetty from Sg Renggit to Sg Musuh,” he said.

Abdul Aziz added that the new location was a distance from the Rapid project.

The Rapid project is poised to make Pengerang a major oil and gas hub in the Asia-Pacific region.

The first phase of the project covers 2,428ha and will need about 40,000 contract workers.

Once completed, the two refineries will be able to process 450,000 barrels of oil per day.

BASF, Petronas scrap plans to deepen partnership
Reuters 21 Jan 13;

* End plans for joint site in Pengerang, Malaysia
* BASF says both remain committed to Kuantan site
* Deals blow to BASF's quest to boost Asia business (Adds background)

FRANKFURT, Jan 21 (Reuters) - BASF and Malaysian state-owned oil and gas firm Petronas have decided not to pursue an extension of their partnership to a second specialty chemicals plant after failing to agree on terms.

"Petronas and BASF concluded that it would be in their mutual interest to terminate the HoA (Heads of Agreement) as both parties were unable to come to an agreement on the terms and conditions," the German chemicals group said on Monday.

The two companies scrapped their plans to build a new plant in Pengerang, Johor, Malaysia, but they remain committed to the expansion of an existing joint site in Kuantan, also Malaysia, BASF added.

Both expansion projects combined would have cost BASF 1 billion euros ($1.33 billion) in investments, but the company declined to say how much it would have spent just on the Pengerang facility.

"We expect BASF to look into other Asian markets (perhaps even more in China) to look for alternative investments, as the overall Asian chemical markets remains the key growth region for the next decade," said Baader Bank analyst Norbert Barth.

The company is seeking to lift its proportion of sales from emerging markets to 45 percent from 34 percent by 2020 but has said that finding suitable takeover targets in Asia was difficult.

About 40 percent of global chemicals production takes place in Asia, more than in any other world region. But the region accounts for only 20 percent of BASF's sales and the group aims to lift that proportion to 25 percent by 2020.

BASF aims for sales from Asian customers to grow 8 percent per year through 2020, eyeing faster growth there than the 4.5 percent expected in Europe and 5.5 percent in North America.

The group was more successful on Monday in its bid to shore up its nutrition business to reduce its reliance on the business cycle as it won over enough Pronova shareholders to secure control over the Norwegian fish-oils maker. ($1 = 0.7524 euros) (Reporting by Frank Siebelt and Ludwig Burger; Editing by Hans-Juergen Peters)

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Malaysia: Birder's instinct pays off

Chuah Bee Kim New Straits Times 22 Jan 13;

A flock of Asian Openbill Storks spotted in a padi field in Teluk Rimba, Muar, Johor, on Sunday. Pic courtesy of Vincent Chow

FIND OF A LIFETIME: Nature society chairman chances upon rare storks in padi field

MUAR: A MALAYSIAN Nature Society (MNS) Johor member who has been on the trail of the Asian Openbill Storks since a pair was spotted in Johor Baru recently, scored big when he came across more than 140 of the rare bird species at Teluk Rimba here on Sunday.

MNS Johor chairman Vincent Chow said he was on the way to the Johor National Park in Gunung Ledang when his instincts prompted him to make a left turn instead of right at the junction to Gunung Ledang.

The detour led him to Teluk Rimba, where Chow said he saw a group of Asian Openbill storks frolicking at a padi field there.

Chow said he had been carrying out research on the birds (Anastomus oscitans) since the first pair of Asian Openbill was spotted in Johor Baru.

"Hundreds of the species had been spotted in Kuala Gula, near Taiping, and Penanti, Penang, on Jan 8 and the Batang Tiga padi fields in Malacca the following day.

"The species was first sighted in Ulu Dedap, Perlis, in March 2008.

"I knew there would be more of the birds in Johor. Since there are numerous padi fields in Muar, I decided to check the place out.

"True enough, the birds have found their natural habitat which included lakes, marshes and padi fields," Chow told the New Straits Times yesterday.

He said the Asian Openbill was the smallest of the nine species of storks found in Southeast Asia.

"In Peninsular Malaysia, we have the Lesser Adjutant, Milky Stork, Painted Stork and the rarer Storm's Stork. Sightings of the Asian Openbill in such a large group is unprecedented and a very important entry for the record of our local natural history as it is not found here," said Chow.

He estimated the flock in Muar to number more than 140.

"To a regular person, they may just be a flock of birds. But birders will drop everything in an instant to come here because they know that it is a rare occurrence and once these migratory birds fly off, birders would have missed the opportunity of a lifetime."

He said the Asian Openbill was so named as the beak was arranged in such a way that a gap was seen in the closed mandibles in adult birds. This feature was not developed while at the juvenile stage.

"They serve to accommodate the snails that they feed on and this rather usual feature gave them the name of 'openbill'.

"The bird ranges from India, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and are occasionally seen as a vagrant in Malaysia as records indicate.

"I spent an hour watching the Asian Openbill here and confirmed that they were the real McCoys.

"I also talked to the farmers in the area and they confirmed that they have never seen these birds at the padi field before.

"I don't know what the birds are doing here, but let us welcome them with open arms as their presence will certainly boost the tourism sector."

Avitourism is a multi-billion industry, with birders from Singapore willing to pay as much as RM16,000 to local guides who can help them find a particular species of bird.

However, MNS Johor has called on the relevant authorities to step up efforts to train more nature guides if the Iskandar Regional Development Authority was serious in developing the lucrative niche market.

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Malaysia: Nature lovers trail after poachers in bid to deter illegal hunting

Natalie Heng The Star 22 Jan 13;

Volunteers are reclaiming the wilderness from poachers through recreation.

IN THE fading light, Muna Noor’s 4WD is hurtling down the tarmac. The road is long and narrow, and dramatic limestone karst formations rise up on either side of us.

It will take at least five hours to get from Kuala Lumpur to Taman Negara Sungai Relau in Merapoh, Pahang, but Muna does this drive as often as she can because when she’s at home, all that she can think about is, the jungle.

“I just keep thinking that every week, if I don’t do it, there could be poachers out there. Every time we go into the forest, we make a difference. What we do, it really counts.”

Our destination is the Sungai Yu Tiger Corridor, an important but unprotected stretch of forested land, 15km south of the entrance to Taman Negara Sungai Relau. Tigers pass through this area when they move between two of Malaysia’s great tiger landscapes – the forests of the Main Range and Greater Taman Negara.

Rich in wildlife, the area is vulnerable to poaching because it is surrounded by stateland forest which anyone can enter without a permit.

This spot has never been frequented by hikers as there are no attractions, such as waterfalls, nearby. Neither do the orang asli, who live further away, frequent it – which leaves the forest nice and quiet for poachers.

“The idea is that if we can get more people to use these forests for recreation, this will deter poachers from setting up traps there,” explains Muna.

A friend had introduced her to the Cat (Citizen Action for Tigers) Walks which she now leads. Formerly the editorial director of a new media publishing house, her life has always been fast-paced. After leaving the company and before starting her new job, she had time to spare and so dived head first into the world of tiger conservation.

Started by the Malaysian Conservation Alliance for Tigers (Mycat), Cat Walks are made for people like Muna – urban dwellers who feel helpless and frustrated with news of the forest being drained of its wildlife by illegal hunters. Instead of just giving their cheques to the conservation body of their choice, and wondering how much money will go towards administration costs, they can get out into the field, and make a direct impact.

The walks take place along jungle routes that are quiet and secluded, and so, preferred by poachers. Many of those who hunt in the Sungai Yu corridor are thought to be opportunistic.

Therefore, the idea is that if they know they are being watched, they would be deterred from poaching. The Cat Walks have made a difference, because every time trekkers encounter suspicious activities, they make a report to the Wildlife Crime Hotline (019-356 4194 / In 2011, such reports resulted in raids, arrests and the removal of snares.

Mycat senior programme officer Ashleigh Seow is the guy who identifies potential Cat Walk trails. To do so, he says, you have to think like a poacher. He finds new routes by driving up and down the road, exploring potential access points, and studying maps. Once he has found a good track, he maps it out on the GPS for the next Cat Walk.

Cat Walkers are made up of volunteers. Any reasonably fit member of the public can join the leisurely, weekend hike. And it’s cheap.

“Usually, people have to pay a lot of money for guides and experts like Ashleigh, who has so much knowledge and motivation,” Muna points out.

Volunteers often carpool from Kuala Lumpur (or some other departure point), or take the bus or train. “All you really need to pay for is petrol and accommodation, which, if you stay in the hostel at Taman Negara, costs about RM15 a night.”

All walks of life

When we pull up at our destination in Taman Negara Sungai Relau, night has fallen, so we grab a quick Milo and then it’s time for bed. The next morning, we meet the rest of the volunteers. Six employees of pewter company Royal Selangor are on the company’s second trip, organised under its corporate social responsibility programme. Product designer Tan Jooi Chong, 59, is the most experienced of the group. A nature guide with the Malaysian Nature Society, he first heard about Cat Walks through a fellow guide, Seow. He then put forward the idea of incorporating Cat Walks into his company’s campaign, and now they plan to do one company Cat Walk every three or four months.

Also in the group is David Chin, 55, who learnt about Cat Walks from The Star’s Do Good. Volunteer campaign. Chin has done two walks and now that he has retired from working in the welfare industry, he hopes to lead some walks in the future. Both Tan and Chin are relatively experienced nature walkers, but there are some in the group who aren’t. For Hilda Rozali, a communications retail executive who usually spends her free time curled up with a book, this will be her very first time in the jungle. It is the diverse mix of people – students, travellers, retirees and managing directors – that make Cat Walks fun.

After breakfast, we load ourselves into a convoy of jeeps. We drive past breathtaking landscapes before pulling up into a small track off the road, where Muna gives us a prep-talk. She started off as a Cat Walker, before attending a Cat Walk trip leader workshop, where she learned to read maps, use a GPS, identify animal tracks and potential snare and trap sites, as well as what to do if a trapped animal is encountered. This will be the second Cat Walk that she is leading.

“Animals you are most likely to encounter: leeches. Your best friend? Mud … (it) gives you a much better chance of spotting animal tracks. And if we encounter an elephant, remember, NO flash photography. We don’t want to accidentally startle them and risk being charged at.”

Following instructions, everyone sets off up a steep slope, diligently making sure the person behind us is visible at all times. As soon as we make it to flat ground again, we find our first trap – a small, inconspicuous loop of string that tightens like a noose when set off by small animals. Muna whips out her GPS, and starts taking down the coordinates to be submitted later to the Wildlife Crime Hotline.

Alias, an orang asli from a local Batek tribe who is guiding us, has keen eyes, and soon spots dozens more traps up ahead. One was tightened around a small bone – Seow suspects it to be that of a great Argus pheasant, a large ground bird.

“The first time we visited the trail up ahead, we found an Argus feather, so we named the logging road the Feather Trail. And then we found this side trail, and lots of bird traps, so we called this place, Bird Valley.”

The traps keep appearing, and soon we find something more chilling – a metal wire snare, along with the dug-out hole it had probably been set up at.

“Wire snares suggest hunters are looking for big, strong animals,” explains Seow.

The number of traps we discover along this route surprises even Muna, who says this is more traps than she’s encountered on any Cat Walk thus far. Most of the traps have already been deactivated, possibly by a Mycat researcher who has previously been through. Seow thinks the Bird Valley trail might have actually been created by poachers, because it doesn’t go anywhere.

“There is no village around here, the trail just leads to an old logging road.”

The Wildlife and National Parks Department (Perhilitan) has since sealed the logging road off, preventing jeeps from driving in via the road.

A gruesome find

As we continue walking, everyone is excited to find bear claw marks up a tree. But as we round the corner, things take a dark turn. Lying on the ground is a foot-long skull, tinged green with algae. All around it are bones and what look like large, curved, cat claws. Silence falls as the group collects around the area and Seow asks Muna to send pictures via her Blackberry to alert the Wildlife Crime Hotline, which would then inform Perhilitan. Everyone seems a little shaken, most of all Muna. This is precisely why she is so committed to doing Cat Walks, to deter poachers from going in there and setting up traps.

Perhilitan officers arrived at the scene about two hours later. They note the location so that they can investigate further. The Cat Walkers move on, filled with conviction.

The rest of the three-day trip was full of fun activities – lunch and a swim by the river, an excursion to a cave, and camera-trap maintenance, with opportunities to check out the amazing footage (there were tigers, elephants and panthers).

We ended the trip exhausted, but filled with memorable experiences. But most of all, we left knowing that what we had encountered in the forest was proof that what Muna said was true: What we do counts.

(After studying pictures of the skull, Mycat thinks it could be that of a black leopard. It says poachers could have intentionally left the animal to rot, in order to attract a bigger predator, such as the tiger.)

To join a Cat Walk, go to malayantiger or or contact Wong Pui May at or 03-7880 3940.

Local threat

RESEARCH by the Malaysian Conservation Alliance for Tigers (Mycat) has revealed the disturbing absence of tiger prey species such as the sambar deer, in the Sungai Yu Tiger Corridor. It says the locals generally know who the poachers are. While conducting research, Mycat was told where the poachers live, and that wild meat could be found in restaurants along Federal Route 8 (Gua Musang Highway).

“When Mycat conducted school outreach programmes in Sungai Yu, we found that the children are familiar with snares and know how and where they are set,” said Mycat general manager Dr Kae Kawanishi.

The local poachers are opportunistic, and are likely to stop if they know they are being watched, according to Kawanishi. Though the Wildlife and National Parks Department has previously raided a restaurant and houses in the area, people tend to start poaching again once the fear has dissipated because most of the time, illegal activities go undetected.

MYCAT wants the Pahang Forestry Department to gazette the stateland forests in the corridor as Permanent Reserved Forests. “The importance of the corridor has been recognised as it has been identified as Primary Linkage 1 in the Central Forest Spine Masterplan,” Kawanishi adds.

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Philippines says salvaging U.S. ship should not damage reef

Rosemarie Francisco PlanetArk 22 Jan 13;

Philippine President Benigno Aquino has given instructions not to allow the U.S. navy to salvage its grounded USS Guardian minesweeper without Philippine involvement, in order to minimise damage to coral reefs, a senior official said on Monday.

The ship, which is stuck on a reef at the Tubbataha natural marine park, a UNESCO World Heritage site, had just completed a port call at Subic Bay in the western Philippines when the grounding occurred last Thursday.

Officials said there were no reports of fuel leaking from the vessel. U.S. ships regularly dock in the Philippines for refuelling.

Transportation Secretary Joseph Abaya said any salvage operation should be vetted by the Philippines government.

"He (the president) wanted to make sure that we would be proactive on this, we minimise damage," Abaya told reporters when asked about Aquino's reaction to the incident.

"We should have close coordination with the Americans that we shouldn't just allow them to conduct their salvage operations on their own," Abaya said.

A salvage plan may involve draining fuel from the ship before it is moved to prevent the possibility of a major oil, he said.

The international conservation group World Wildlife Fund has said that a quick inspection showed that at least 10 meters (30 feet) of the minesweeper's hull had damaged the reef.

The World Bank said in a 2005 report that the Philippines' coral reefs contribute at least $1 billion annually to the local economy via tourism and sustainable fisheries.

(Reporting by Rosemarie Francisco; Editing by Michael Perry)

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Can oil save the rainforest?

When another new oil field was found beneath the Amazon jungle, campaigners feared the worst. But a radical and daring plan to ransom the drilling rights could save the planet's most biodiverse area
John Vidal The Guardian 20 Jan 13;

American biologist Kelly Swing thwacks a bush with his butterfly net and a dozen or so bugs and insects drop in. One is a harvester, or daddy-long-legs, another a jumping spider which leaps on to a leaf where two beetles are mating.

This is the Tiputini research station, on the edge of the Yasuni national park in Ecuador, where the foothills of the Andes meet the Amazonian rainforest right on the equator. Swing and I are searching for unidentified creatures and within a minute or two of looking we may well have found several. The daddy-long-legs, the spider, possibly the beetles on the leaf, even the bee that, disturbed, flies out of the undergrowth to bite Kelly on the neck, may well be unnamed by science, says Swing. Yasuni is terra incognita, one of the beastliest, lushest, most fecund, abundant but unknown places on earth. Up to 100 people from two tribes of warlike Huaorani Indians live there in voluntary isolation and, within a kilometre of where we are standing, it has been estimated, live 150 frog, 120 reptile, 600 bird and 200 mammal species, including nearly 100 species of bat. To give a sense of scale, there are only 18 bat and six reptile species in the whole of Britain.

Yasuni has astonished biologists, who say it could have the greatest concentration of species on the planet, having been a refuge during the last ice age. So far, nearly 1,500 species of plants and 400 fish species have been found in the 1.2m sq km national park. More species of frogs and toads have been recorded than are native to the US and Canada combined; more birds than in all of Europe. But when it comes to insects, says Swing, Yasuni is world class. "There are perhaps 10 million insect species in the world, of which one in 10 could be living here. It would take a team of scientists possibly 400 years just to identify them all, and a book of 10,000 pages to record them in," he says.

A walk in this Garden of Eden is revelatory, like going to the supermarket via the chemists' and the zoo. These berries make soap, those plants are good contraceptives, this leaf is good for kidney and heart diseases. There are troops of spider and woolly monkeys, frogs smaller than a fingernail, tapirs the size of horses, as well as ants which taste of lemon and berries so poisonous you could die in seconds if you ate one. Most amazing is the "walking tree" which follows the light, hitches up its roots and moves 7m or more.

Last month, some Yale University undergrads stumbled across a mushroom capable of eating polyurethane plastic. It could revolutionise landfills. "Frankly," says Swing, "no one knows what is here."

It wasn't until he and a colleague from San Francisco University in Quito paddled their way here 20 years ago to set up the science research station that anyone really understood the true abundance of life in Yasuni.

And it wasn't until 2007, when 960m barrels of oil were discovered in one part of the Yasuni park, that people realised that the most biodiverse place on earth could be totally destroyed. The oil under Yasuni, it was calculated, would earn Ecuador $7bn but would last the world just 10 days.

Ecuador's first barrel of oil sits in a corner of the Temple of Heroes in a military museum in Quito, alongside the bones of fallen combatants in old independence wars, British machine guns and German torpedoes. It is surprisingly small. It was discovered by the Gulf and Texaco oil company on 29 March 1967. Five years later, when the area was exploited, Ecuador's military dictatorship paraded this barrel through the streets. Old film footage shows people trying to touch it for luck.

It was touted as the start of a new era of development: Ecuador joined Opec and borrowed massively. In the first years, oil built hospitals, schools and roads. But 45 years later, Ecuador has just half of its reserves left – 4.5bn barrels, of which 20% lies below Yasuni.

Albert Acosta was the oil and mines minister when the Yasuni find was made. Today he is a radical ecologist, and will stand as a presidential candidate for a group of leftwing parties in next month's election.

"The reality is that oil has not brought development," this charismatic academic tells me, when we meet in his office at Flacso university, Quito. "It has helped our infrastructure, but it has brought us immense contamination and environmental destruction. Oil has not solved the problems of Ecuador."

While most politicians would have immediately sent for the drillers, Acosta hesitated. He knew that the find presented the country with perhaps its last chance to develop in the traditional way, but he also knew it would push the oil frontier deeper into the Amazon, release 400m tonnes of climate-changing gases and make the destruction of a vast and pristine area inevitable. To extract oil from Yasuni would need wells, ports, pipelines, roads and villages. "And because this is a particularly heavy crude oil," he adds, "vast amounts of water will have to be injected back into the earth, inevitably leading to pollution.

"I knew the oil industry. I used to work in it. I could see the monster from the inside. I began to think we were poor because of our resources. I called it the curse of abundance."

Working with NGOs and academics, Acosta prepared two options – "Plan A", as it became known, was a revolutionary scheme to leave the oil in the ground in perpetuity in return for half of its value (around $3.6bn). Plan B was to send in a Chinese company. For the first time in history, a nation seriously considered not exploiting oil.

"We should be an intelligent country," says Acosta. "Oil is unsustainable. We must see it in the long term. Climate change is a limit and we can't continue to keep burning oil. Perhaps we must change our model of life. We cannot live without nature but nature can live without us."

Plan A has received overwhelming support, with polls showing 95% of Ecuadoreans want Yasuni preserved as a jewel of nature, like the Galapagos, and in 2010 president Rafael Correa guaranteed not to extract its oil if the world gave Ecuador $3.6bn over 13 years. The UN has now set up the Yasuni fund and, led by a $50m donation from Germany, more than $300m has been offered or received from national, regional and local governments, individuals, companies and institutions in Europe, Japan and the US. This alternative "aid" money is not touched by Ecuador's government, but is administered by a trust to develop renewable energy projects and conservation.

And it seems to be working. "So far, so good," says Ivonne Baki, secretary of state for the Yasuni initiative and Ecuador's former ambassador to the US, when I ask her how the project is going. "The world is watching. If this succeeds it may open a new era of conservation. If it fails, it will discourage developing countries from adopting bold climate measures."

To see what could happen to Yasuni if the oil there is exploited, I travel to Lago Agrio, Texaco's base camp in the 1970s, now an oil-rush town. The great primary forests have long gone. Waves of settlers have moved in and Lago Agrio and the area around it is a social and ecological disaster zone, after the company allegedly spilled nearly 17m gallons of crude oil and dumped 20bn gallons of drilling wastewater between 1964 and 1990. Guerilla groups, drug traffickers and criminal gangs pour over the nearby Colombian border into what is now an industrialised landscape; pipelines snake within feet of houses; companies flare gas night and day from refineries; and the pollution, while far better than it was in the 1970s, continues.

I meet Luis Yanza, a local community leader who was 16 when his family moved to Lago Agrio from the pristine south of Ecuador. "It was the wild west, just oil and prostitutes when it started," he tells me. "It was like going to hell. We would see huge smoke clouds – they used to spill the oil into pits and when they were full set fire to them. The water smelled of oil. We had an oil pipeline right by our house, which was close to the main Texaco camp, and we all had spots on our faces." Yanza is one of a number of residents who has spent 20 years suing Texaco (bought by Chevron in 2001) to clean up the forests, through the Ecuadorean and US courts. Last year the communities won $18bn damages, but Chevron has refused to pay, claiming corruption in the Ecuadorean courts.

My guide round the oil fields is Diego, a half-Huaorani, half-Kechwa man in his 40s. He is distraught at the changes he has seen in 30 years. There is little primary forest left and most of the land is farmed. Roads built though the forest by the oil companies have allowed in waves of settlers, farmers, timber companies and bushmeat hunters. New oil wells are still being drilled, and villages that only a decade ago were little more than a few houses are now small towns with street lighting, parks, restaurants and shops.

We reach Shushufindi, a town of 30,000 where Texaco used to dump oil and which is now the site of a refinery, billowing black smoke and flames. "Look," says Diego. "I remember this when it was forest. Now it's wrecked. Even years ago the pollution was terrible – we used to swim in oil. Now, we can't breathe because of the air pollution." He does not want to stop the car for fear the refinery guards will try to arrest him.

Like many indigenous people in Ecuador, Diego was educated by evangelical missionaries from the American Summer Institute of Linguistics (Sil) who came in 1952 to "convert" the forest tribes and translate the Bible into their languages. The military dictatorship gave them charge of all Huaorani health and education but it was later claimed that the missionaries were collaborating with the oil companies to pacify and then relocate the Indians out of the oil-rich forest. Sil was expelled from Ecuador in 1980 at the request of the indigenous peoples.

Although Diego has heard the stories that his teachers worked with the oil companies, he won't hear a word against them. "When you are young you do not know these things. What I know is that they were good people." His godmother, he tells me, was Rachel Saint, the sister of Nate Saint, one of five missionaries attacked and speared by the Huaorani in 1956 after entering Huaorani territory. Rachel forgave them and then set up a "protectorate" for them where she lived until she died in 1994. Ironically, her work allowed Texaco to build a road deep into the forest and resulted in a flood of people moving in and destroying more than 2m hectares (4.94m acres) of forest.

Diego loves, but fears for, Yasuni. "I spend up to five months at a time there. When I am alone, I see all the animals. I walk quietly. I take a small kayak, I see electric eels, dolphins. The real treasure of Yasuni is not the oil, but the forest itself. I don't want to think about oil coming to Yasuni. It would be a catastrophe. There will be money in the short term. But there will be no more Yasuni jungle."

Back in the deep forest at the Tiputini research station the primatologists tell me they now hear oil company planes flying overhead and say that the animals show signs of fear. Opinions at Tiputini are divided over whether Yasuni will be sooner or later exploited. The station's resident director, biologist Diego Mosquera, fears it cannot hold out for long. "Who owns the oil has the power," Mosquera tells me. "Oil is 100 times bigger than anything else in Ecuador. Honestly, I don't think the companies can be stopped."

But Kelly Swing is more optimistic. "Yes, we are very nervous that all this will be lost and that Yasuni will become like Lago Agrio," he says. "But this time we have a unique chance to save a lot of nature for very little. If we can't justify saving a place that has more species per square inch than anywhere else on the planet, then what hope is there for anything? What then do we keep? What then can we save?"

Donations to the Yasuni initiative can be made at

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Global action on biodiversity needed

Monash University Science Alert 21 Jan 13;

In contrast to climate change, there is no coordinated global system in place for measuring and reporting on biodiversity change or loss. An international team of biologists is now addressing this gap.

In Science, 30 researchers led by Henrique Miguel Pereira, from the Centre for Environmental Biology of the University of Lisbon, proposed a global biodiversity monitoring system based on a set of essential variables.

By determining the most essential measurements to accurately and usefully report on biodiversity loss, known as essential biodiversity variables (EBVs), the researchers hope to improve the information feeding into biodiversity policy and stimulate investment in the measurement of global biodiversity change.

Examples include the genetic diversity of wild, crop and domestic species, the population abundances of representative groups of species (such as birds, and threatened and problem plants and animals), the cover and three-dimensional structure of habitats, and nutrient use in sensitive ecosystems.

Co-author Associate Professor Melodie McGeoch of Monash University's School of Biological Sciences said that over the past 20 years, biodiversity loss has continued at an alarming rate, but there are critical gaps in scientific knowledge.

"For example, only 11 per cent of countries have adequate information on invasive species, and a recent report by the United Nations showed that, in spite of forest certification practices now being widely implemented, illegal timber harvesting remains prevalent around the world," Associate Professor McGeoch said.

Previous research has indicated that biodiversity loss has a significant detrimental effect on the functioning, efficiency and stability of ecosystems and the services that they provide to humanity.

"The impact of biodiversity change on human well-being and survival is likely to accelerate as human populations grow and the climate warms, as demand for water and other resources increases and as native habitat is converted for development purposes," Associate Professor McGeoch said.

"Informed policy decisions are essential to a sustainable future, and a globally harmonized system for monitoring essential components of biodiversity is needed to achieve this.”

Lead author, Dr Pereira said it was essential to discuss the sharing of international responsibilities in the development of a truly global biodiversity monitoring system.

"The biggest gaps in biodiversity monitoring occur in developing countries, in regions receiving some of the largest environmental pressures, and many of these pressures are caused upstream by developed countries," Dr Pereira said.

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Report: $700 Billion a Year Needed for Climate Change

Susan Graybeal Yahoo News 22 Jan 13;

According to a new report from the World Economic Forum, an additional $700 billion a year is needed to address climate change through clean-energy infrastructure, low-carbon transport, energy efficiency in building and industry and for forestry. Here are the details.

* Total investment in climate-change mitigration and adaptation in 2011 was estimated at $268 billion from the private sector, with an additional $96 billion from the public sector, the report stated.

* 2011's investment in combating climate change is 93 percent higher than in 2007, the World Economic Forum reported, but "this business-as-usual investment will not lead to a stable future unless it achieves environmental and sustainability goals."

* According to a World Economic Forum blog post from Bruno Berthon, the Global Managing Director of Strategy and Sustainability Services at Accenture, failing to shift from conventional investments to green alternatives will lock the world into high-emission, low efficiency technologies for the next 30 to 50 years.

* "Progress in green investment continues to be outpaced by investment in fossil-fuel intensive, inefficient infrastructure," stated the executive summary of the report, adding that -- as a result -- greenhouse gas levels are on track to create a global average temperature of at least 4 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

* The higher global average temperatures, the summary stated, the more frequent the natural disasters such as extreme heatwaves, hurricanes and rising sea levels.

* According to the report, the ongoing global economic crisis is constraining the availability of financing for green energy infrastructure, as is market uncertainty and the "unintended consequences of financial market reform."

* The World Economic Forum report stated that closing the green investment gap is affordable, but only with the support of public policy, including grants, increased lending, carbon credit revenues, grant money that is combined with technical assistance and phasing out fossil-fuel subsidies.

* "The transition is financially viable," the report stated. "The incremental costs of greening growth are insignificant compared with the costs of inaction."

* According to Reuters , the World Economic Forum's report, which was compiled by Green Growth Action Alliance, comes in advance of a forum to be held in Switzerland this week in which government and business leaders will talk about who should pay the cost of lowering emissions of greenhouse gas.

* As Berthon explained, the Green Growth Action Alliance was founded at the 2012 G20 meeting in Mexico and is a collaboration of business, governments, civil society and organizations whose mission is securing investment for green growth.

* The World Economic Forum's Green Investment Report 2013 is the first formal output from the Alliance, Berthon stated, and is one of the ways the Alliance is attempting to advance the green growth agenda.

Curbing climate change will cost $700 billion a year: report
Alister Doyle PlanetArk 22 Jan 13;

The world must spend an extra $700 billion a year to curb its addiction to fossil fuels blamed for worsening floods and heat waves and rising sea levels, a study issued by the World Economic Forum (WEF) showed on Monday.

As government and business leaders prepare to meet at the forum in Davos, Switzerland this week, the world's nations are divided over who should pay for lowering emissions of greenhouse gases blamed for a growing number of extreme weather events.

Recessions in Western economies since the global financial crisis have slowed carbon emission growth but also left governments with scarcer state funds to channel into green technologies.

The Green Growth Action Alliance, which compiled the study on behalf of the WEF, said the extra spending was needed to promote other forms of energy generation and greater efficiency in sectors including building, industry and transport.

The $700 billion, part of which would promote cleaner energies such as wind, solar or hydro-power, would be on top of about $5 trillion projected to be spent each year on infrastructure under a scenario of business as usual until 2020.

"Shaping a global economy fit for the 21st century is our greatest challenge," former Mexican President Felipe Calderon and chair of the Alliance wrote in the report.

The Alliance is a public and private group tied to the WEF that was launched at a Group of 20 meeting in Mexico last year.

The study said a $36 billion annual rise in global public spending to slow climate change - less than the estimated $50 billion cost of damage by Superstorm Sandy in the United States in October - could unlock far greater private investment.

It suggested a $36 billion jump in state spending to $126 billion a year, from a current $90 billion, might trigger $570 billion from private investors if properly managed.

It noted that the world population was set to rise to about 9 billion by 2050 from 7 billion now.

"Greening the economy is the only way to accommodate 9 billion people by 2050," said Thomas Kerr, Director of Climate Change Initiatives at the WEF.


Governments and the private sector have often failed to work in tandem to mobilize funds to combat climate change.

"There is still private sector money going to climate destruction," said Jake Schmidt, international climate policy director at the National Resources Defense Council in Washington. "To deal with climate change, everyone has to be moving in the right direction."

"And the key to all of this is how do you unlock big sources of private finance... Sovereign wealth funds, pension funds have a lot of capital. Mobilizing them would be the holy grail."

The WEF-commissioned report pointed to some hopeful signs -- global investment in renewable energy in 2011 rose to a new record $257 billion, up 17 percent from 2010.

But U.N. climate negotiations in Qatar in December ended with little progress on a global framework for emissions cuts.

Instead, governments agreed to devise a new United Nations pact to limit climate change that would enter into force from 2020.

A study published in the science journal Nature this month said it would be far cheaper to act now to keep global warming within an agreed U.N. limit of 2 degrees Celsius than to wait until 2020.

(Editing by Tom Pfeiffer)

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