Best of our wild blogs: 2 Feb 13

ICCS Otters Meeting 1 (01 Feb 2013)
from Otterman speaks

Sat 23 Feb 2013: 1.30pm - Darwin Day 2013 @ Woodlands Library: evolution of flowers, wildlife of Singapore and Darwin's discoveries
from Habitatnews

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Land Use Plan: Worrying environmental impact

Straits Times Forum 2 Feb 13;

IN CONCERT with the release of the Population White Paper, the Government has unveiled its Land Use Plan on how land will be used in 2030 ("Plan to grow space for rising population"; yesterday).

Worryingly, this map shows major reclamation taking place in Pulau Tekong and Tuas, and possible changes to Pulau Ubin and the coastlines of Kranji, Mandai, Pasir Ris, Changi and Tanah Merah, as well as the Southern Islands of Pulau Hantu and Pulau Semakau.

Does this mean that valuable hot spots of native biodiversity such as Chek Jawa, and the mangroves and mudflats of the northern coastline (except for Sungei Buloh), as well as various small coral reefs and intertidal areas, would be lost forever?

Also, terrestrial nature areas such as Bukit Brown, which are home to rich native wildlife, are to become housing estates.

If we truly are to be a "City in a Garden", as the White Paper says, then we need to stop bulldozing the natural gardens that already exist in our backyard and replacing them with manicured parks.

Jonathan Tan Yong How

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Island south of Sentosa zoned for housing

Kezia Toh Straits Times 2 Feb 13;

IN MORE than two decades, some residents could call Pulau Seringat - a tiny island south of Sentosa - home.

The island, reported as a potential site for a casino resort six years ago, has been zoned for residential use under the Ministry of National Development's (MND) Land Use Plan announced on Thursday.

The six southern islands - Kusu, St John's, the Sisters' Islands, Kias, Lazarus and Seringat - were reportedly set to be clustered into one of the two casino resorts, which were eventually sited at Marina Bay and Sentosa.

Pulau Seringat bore marks of progress when The Straits Times visited yesterday afternoon, with paved roads, covered shelters and a visitors' centre greeting boats docking at a small jetty.

It is open to the public and the island's crown jewel is a sparkling crescent-shaped beach with clear greenish-blue water.

But some parts are still rustic: beachgoers trek through a sandy dirt path to the beach, and the bulk of the island teems with overgrown greenery.

It was a desolate sight at the visitors' centre, with locked toilets, an empty VIP room, and no staff present.

All that is set to change if bulldozers take to the island, which is linked by a bridge to neighbouring St John's Island.

The islands have gas, water, electricity and telecommunication lines from Sentosa.

Visitors take the ferry, which runs between Marina South Pier, St John's Island and Kusu Island, or charter a private boat to reach the island.

It is a spot popular among swimmers and couples who like the rustic scenery for their wedding pictures, said boat captain Junrey Millan, 33. He runs about four trips daily to the island, and brings in maintenance staff twice a week, so that they can clear litter and trim the grass.

Asked about its plans for the area, the MND said that there were no further development plans for Pulau Seringat at this time, and the southern islands would be retained for recreational uses.

According to property firm SLP International's head of research and consultancy Nicholas Mak, the island will likely house high-end homes in order to stay exclusive, rather than mass-market public housing, which can lead to problems transporting a large number of residents to and from the mainland every day.

But island living will only take off if transport arrangements are smooth, he said, adding that apart from a marina for residents to dock their private boats, an underwater tunnel linking the island to the mainland could be feasible.

"You cannot have a man driving his Ferrari, parking it at VivoCity, then waiting for a ferry to take him home."

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6.9 million population projection is "worst case scenario": Khaw

Channel NewsAsia 1 Feb 13;

SINGAPORE: National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan has stressed that the projected 6.9 million population by 2030 is the "worst case scenario".

In his latest blog post, Mr Khaw said the government hopes that the country does not reach that figure and added that it may never reach it.

Mr Khaw said as planners, the government has to ensure that the infrastructure can accommodate such a figure if need be but it hopes that the actual figure would turn out to be much lower.

Mr Khaw said infrastructure must be built ahead of demand and some planning assumption is needed in order to achieve it.

He explained that in any long term plan, a key assumption is the projected population size.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said he fully agrees with Mr Khaw's explanation that a 6.9 million population is not a target, but just a worst case, aggressive scenario the government must prepare for.

In his Facebook post, Mr Lee said the government needs to plan consciously and responsibly for the future so that Singaporeans can continue to enjoy a good quality of life, and that Singapore continues to thrive.

Mr Khaw said the White Paper on Population released this week offers the basis for one such projection but he stressed the projection is not a forecast or a target.

It simply states the assumptions going forward, based on certain set of productivity and workforce growth rates.

Mr Khaw explained that for planning purpose, it is safer to take the more aggressive projection and plan infrastructure needs based on it.

And by doing so, Mr Khaw said the government will not be caught under-providing as what Singapore is facing now.

The government plans long term, anticipates future challenges and tries to address them early.

Mr Khaw said the White Paper on Population and the Land Use Plan were released this week as the government knows the country's demographic challenges are severe.

He said the government cannot simply pretend the challenges do not exist and then pass the problem to the future generation to deal with.

Mr Khaw said it would be irresponsible and that is not the government's style.

The minister said the responsible thing to do is to prepare for the worst but to hope for the best.

- CNA/fa

6.9m 'a worst-case scenario, not a target'
'Aggressive' projection is for planning ahead, say PM Lee and Khaw
Goh Chin Lian Straits Times 2 Feb 13;

PRIME Minister Lee Hsien Loong has made clear that the projection of a 6.9 million population by 2030 "is not a target, but just a worst-case, aggressive scenario that we must prepare for".

He said he fully agreed with Minister for National Development Khaw Boon Wan's explanation of the figure, which has been the focus of debate since the release of the Government's White Paper on Population on Tuesday.

In a Facebook post yesterday, Mr Lee wrote: "Fully agree with Khaw Boon Wan's explanation that a 6.9m population is not a target, but just a worst-case, aggressive scenario that we must prepare for.

"We need to plan consciously and responsibly for the future, so Singaporeans continue to enjoy a good quality of life, and Singapore continues to thrive."

On Thursday, Mr Khaw told journalists that 6.9 million was an aggressive projection, to enable planners to prepare for the worst and avoid the under-provision of infrastructure and land space.

Yesterday, he blogged about it, saying that the White Paper and the Land Use Plan were about ensuring a better quality of life for Singaporeans. "That is why we plan long term, anticipate future challenges and try to address them early. That is why we put out these two reports, because we know our demographic challenges are severe. If they are not dealt with properly, our children will suffer," Mr Khaw wrote.

He explained that to plan long term, one needs to make assumptions, such as projecting population. The White Paper, he said, offers the basis for such projection.

It explains that Singapore can have a population of 6.5 million to 6.9 million in 2030, assuming it wants to grow at a sustainable pace economically, maintain a strong Singaporean core and remain vibrant and liveable.

Mr Khaw said yesterday of the figure: "It is not a forecast or a target. It simply states the assumptions going forward, based on (a) certain set of productivity and workforce growth rates. For planning purpose(s), it is safer to take the more aggressive projection and plan infrastructure needs based on it. This way we will not be caught under-providing, as we are experiencing currently."

He said the 6.9 million figure should be read in this light.

"It is the worst-case scenario. We hope we do not reach that figure; we may never reach that figure. But as planners, we have to ensure that the infrastructure could accommodate such a figure, if need be.

"Our hope is that the actual figure would turn out to be much lower. This is following the time-tested survival mantra: prepare for the worst, but hope for the best. It is the only responsible thing to do."

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Malaysia: 'Logging has to stop in Ulu Muda reserve'

Nuradilla Noorazam New Straits Times 2 Feb 13;

DEVASTATING EFFECTS: Its rivers feed 80pc of Penang water supply

KUALA LUMPUR: AN urgent management plan for Ulu Muda Forest Reserve is needed to stop further logging activities in the crucial water catchment area.

Failure to do so would cause grave consequences to the livelihood of people in the northern states.

The logging activities could cause devastating effects to the 135 million-year-old natural forest that functions as the water catchment for the Ahning, Pedu and Muda dams.

Friends of Ulu Muda (FoUM) spokesman Sirin Suksuwan said the water quality of Ulu Muda would be affected due to logging activities.

"Logging in the area is likely to result in the loss of environmental services provided by the forest.

"Without the water storing and filtering functions of natural forests, rainfall will not be captured and stored.

"Water from these three dams are supplied to Kedah, Langkawi and Penang. Eighty per cent of water supply in Penang and 100 per cent in Langkawi depend on the dams.

"Without sufficient water supply, the agriculture industry in these states, particularly padi farmers, would be gravely affected.

"Deterioration of water quality caused by logging activities would also have adverse effects on industries based in the northern region such as Kulim Hi-Tech Park in Kedah and the tourism industry in Langkawi," he said on Thursday.

According to FoUM data, more than 48,000 families in the northern states, who depend on agriculture, would be affected by the disruption of water supply and its quality from the three dams.

Sirin recommended the state government gazette the 160,000ha forest as water catchment forest under the National Forestry Act 1984.

"The protection of Ulu Muda forest should be enhanced by establishing a state or national park with a proper management plan.

"The state government plays a very important role in gazetting all identified water catchment areas to confront issues related to development in these important forests," he said.

One of the last remaining tracts of large continuous forests in northern Malaysia, the Ulu Muda Forest Reserve is rich in flora and fauna.

It has more than 450 species of floral plants, 305 species of birds and 111 species of mammals such as elephants, tapir and gaur.

The logging activities, which have been reportedly going on for the past month, poses inevitable danger to the wildlife.

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Indonesia: East Kalimantan imposes forest moratorium

Indonesia's agric ministry backs province's forest moratorium
* Aim is to improve land concessions and land use
* Province produces two-thirds of Indonesia's coal
* Produces 2 million tonnes of palm oil annually
Reuters 1 Feb 13;

JAKARTA, Feb 1 (Reuters) - Indonesia's agriculture ministry backs a move by East Kalimantan to impose a forest moratorium in the province, an official said on Friday, in what may signal a softening in the department's opposition to extending the nationwide forest destruction ban.

East Kalimantan imposed a one-year forest moratorium for 2013, citing the need to cut back on land disputes in the palm oil and coal producing province.

"We support East Kalimantan provincial government's measure to impose plantation moratorium for 2013," Gamal Nasir, director general of plantation at the agriculture ministry, told Reuters.

"We support it because the aim of this moratorium is to fix and improve land concessions and land-use for the sake of better management of natural resources in East Kalimantan," he added.

Plantation firms have doubted whether provincial governments have the authority to issue a separate forest moratorium policy.

East Kalimantan produces about two-thirds of Indonesia's coal, while palm plantations cover about 700,000 hectares of East Kalimantan and produce 2 million tonnes of output each year.

Recently ranked fourth among Indonesia's 33 provinces in terms of infrastructure development and quality of life, East Kalimantan sits on about 40 percent of Indonesia's coal reserves or 8.5 billion tonnes.

Palm oil companies such as Astra Agro Lestari, Sime Darby, Sinar Mas and BW Plantation are some of the biggest in Indonesia and will contribute to the 27.5 million tonnes of production forecast for this year.

"Although temporarily it may halt oil palm plantation expansion in East Kalimantan, it could also result in better and improved land use and the expansion stoppage will be temporary for less than one year," Nasir said, referring to the fact that a two-year nationwide ban on clearing forest was up for renewal in May.

Indonesia, home to the world's third-largest expanse of tropical forests, is under international pressure to curb deforestation and destruction of its carbon-rich peatlands.

Southeast Asia's largest economy imposed a two-year moratorium on clearing forest in May 2011 under a $1 billion climate deal with Norway, and the agriculture minister said in late December that he opposed its extension.

In contrast, Indonesia's Forestry Ministry and influential government officials have backed an extension beyond May. (Reporting by Yayat Supriatna; writing by Michael Taylor; editing by James Jukwey)

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Indonesian Peat Emissions a ‘Global Disaster’

Hayat Indriyatno Jakarta Globe 1 Feb 13;

Thousands of years’ worth of carbon stored in Indonesia’s peat forests is being released at an alarming rate as a result of deforestation, a new study by UK scientists shows.

In the paper “Deep instability of deforested tropical peatlands revealed by fluvial organic carbon fluxes,” published online in Thursday’s edition of the journal Nature, the researchers noted that tropical peatlands “contain one of the largest pools of terrestrial organic carbon,” amounting to about 89 billion tons.

“Approximately 65 percent ... is in Indonesia, where extensive anthropogenic [man-made] degradation in the form of deforestation, drainage and fire are converting it into a globally significant source of atmospheric [CO2],” the paper says.

“We measured carbon losses in channels draining intact and deforested peatlands, and found it is 50 percent higher from deforested swamps, compared to intact swamps,” Sam Moore, the lead author of the study and former Open University PhD student, said in a press release.

“Dissolved organic carbon released from intact swamps mainly comes from fresh plant material, but carbon from the deforested swamps is much older — centuries to millennia — and comes from deep within the peat column.”

The researchers said that carbon emissions from deforested peat swamps “may be larger than previously thought.”

“Carbon dating shows that the additional carbon lost from deforested swamps comes from peat which had been securely stored for thousands of years. Carbon lost from the drainage systems of deforested and drained peatlands is often not considered in ecosystem exchange carbon budgets, but the research team found it increased the estimated total carbon loss by 22 percent,” they said.

“[W]ater falling as rain would normally leave the ecosystem through transpiration in vegetation, but deforestation forces it to leave through the peat, where it dissolves fossil carbon on its way.”

Vincent Gauci, the paper’s corresponding author and a senior lecturer in earth systems and ecosystem science at The Open University, attributed the loss of stored carbon to increased agriculture, especially for oil palms.

“Ancient carbon is being dissolved out of Asian peatlands as they are increasingly turned over to agriculture to meet global demands for food and biofuels,” he said.

“This has led to a large increase in carbon loss from Southeast Asian rivers draining peatland ecosystems — up by 32 percent over the last 20 years, which is more than half the entire annual carbon loss from all European peatlands. The destruction of the Asian peat swamps is a globally significant environmental disaster, but unlike deforestation of the Amazon, few people know that it is happening.”

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Australia: Dugongs under threat

Tony Moore 2 Feb 2013;

Queensland Environment Minister Andrew Powell admits dugongs could be under threat from thick sediment now being washed down the Brisbane River.

More than 80 per cent of Moreton Bay's seagrass beds were lost in some areas after sediment flowed into the bay in 2011.

Mr Powell said some dugongs could die as a result of the sediment, but said others would leave.

“It's true that if the sea grass is in short supply, a small proportion of the population can be expected to die," he said.

"But most of the dugongs will move away from the area and return as the sea grass beds recover."

Two Griffith University ecologists yesterday told Fairfax Media they believed the sediment – four times as dense as river sediment after January 2011 floods – were now pushing Moreton Bay close to an environmental tipping point.

Mr Powell said flood plumes from the 2010-2011 flood events which caused significant damage to Moreton Bay's seagrass beds, could be higher this time around.

“Sediment washed into Moreton Bay after the Australia Day long weekend storms may be higher than two years ago, given the sediment load in the Brisbane River is four times higher than then,” Mr Powell said yesterday.

“We lost more than 80 per cent of sea grass in some locations and marine life was affected for more than a year afterwards."

Mr Powell said he understood the turtle and dugong populations would recover.

"Indications at the end of last year were that they were recovering fairly well," he said.

However Professor Rod Connolly this week disagreed with Mr Powell.

"What I think is that seagrass beds that were fine last time are now tipped over the edge of what they can cope with," he said.

Lord Mayor Graham Quirk, the chairman of the South East Queensland Council of Mayors, said the sediment flowing into Moreton Bay was on the agenda at the next meeting of the council.

The higher level of sediment came from soil from Lockyer Valley small crop farms, he said.

"The level of sediment there is considerable greater than what you get from the grazing lands around the Stanley (River) through the Wivenhoe Dam," Cr Quirk said.

Healthy Waterways Partnership chief executive Peter Schneider said he supported "a lot" of the issues raised by the two ecologists from the Australian Rivers Institute.

"For the past 12 months or so, we have been saying sediments are our really big issues," he said.

Mr Schneider said the Healthy Waterways Partnership believed a full-day planning workshop – with all levels of government, industry and ecology group at the meeting – could put forward plans.

"If we could get all levels of government there, yes. You can't lose because everything starts with a conversation," he said.

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Australian government pledges to protect Great Barrier Reef

Jane Wardell Reuters 31 Jan 13;

Feb 1 (Reuters) - The Australian government pledged to stop coal port or shipping developments that would cause damage to the Great Barrier Reef as it responded to a Friday deadline amid U.N. warnings that the reef's conservation status could be downgraded.

UNESCO warned last June that the World Heritage Site could be listed as "in danger" if there was no evidence of progress by Feb. 1 on protecting the reef from threats that also include climate change and the predatory crown-of-thorns starfish, which is wearing away the world's largest living structure.

"The Great Barrier Reef is an iconic Australian environmental asset, the government is absolutely committed to the protection of the reef and our oceans," said Federal Environment Minister Tony Burke as he released the country's report to UNESCO. "We will not cut corners or give an inch on protecting it."

Heralded as one of the seven natural wonders of the world, the 2,000 km (1,200 mile) Great Barrier Reef is home to 400 types of coral, 240 species of birds and 1,500 species of fish. It is worth A$6 billion a year in tourism to the local economy.

But coal is one of Australia's top export earners and the state of Queensland is the country's largest coal producer. The reef faces growing threats from shipping driven by coal project expansions.

UNESCO, which gave the reef World Heritage status in 1991, made a number of proposals to the national and Queensland state governments on managing the reef, such as halting further port construction and limiting ship numbers.

"The World Heritage Committee can be assured that no new port developments or associated port infrastructure have been approved outside existing long-established major port areas since the committee made this recommendation," the government's report said.

"A project will only be approved by the Australian government environment minister if the residual impacts on protected matters, including 'outstanding universal value', are determined to be not unacceptable."

The Australian government has already invested A$200 million ($208 million) in its Reef Rescue program and said on Friday it would provide an additional A$800,000 to fight the crown-of-thorns starfish, which prey on the reef and have multiplied amid nutrient rich flood waters in the past few years.

Most of the extra funding will be used to employ a second boat to remove the starfish from "high-value tourism reefs" identified as under threat, with the remainder going to the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) to investigate a long-term solution.

A recent study by AIMS researchers found that the pace of coral loss on the reef has increased since 2006 and if the trend continues, coral cover could halve again by 2022, with the southern and central areas most affected.

Globally, reefs are being assailed by myriad threats, particularly rising sea temperatures, but the threat to the Great Barrier Reef is even more pronounced, the AIMS study found.

The government said in its report it believed the reef has the "capacity to recover if the right conditions are in place."

Green groups, who are hoping place the reef on the political agenda this year amid campaigning for a federal election in September, said the report does not go far enough.

"The sheer size and speed of port and associated development along the Reef coast is unprecedented, said Robert Leck, the campaign director of the World Wildlife Fund. "There's more dredging, more ships and more turtles and coral dying." ($1 = 0.9587 Australian dollars) (Reporting By Jane Wardell, editing by Elaine Lies)

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When Mangroves No Longer Protect the Coastline

Science Daily 1 Feb 2013;

The mangrove forests in the Guyanas (French Guiana, Surinam and Guyana), which spread across the Orinoco and Amazon deltas, are among the most extensive in the world. This particular ecosystem, between the earth and the sea, plays a major role in protecting the particularly unstable muddy coastline (2) against erosion. However, most of the Guyana mangroves have been destroyed to develop the coastal plain. The retreating mangrove wall will result in large-scale coastal erosion, threatening populations and their economic activities, as demonstrated in a study conducted by researchers from IRD and the University of Aix-Marseille.

Gaining ground on the sea

Although the French Guiana coastline remains protected by human developments for the time being, that of Guyana is already highly disrupted. The entire coastal strip is now inhabited. In order to conquer this space and subsequently develop the aquaculture and agriculture -- mainly rice cultivation -- the coastal swamp areas have been transformed into polders (3). To this end, dikes have been built, reducing the 1km mangrove strip to just a few dozen metres wide.

Less protective dikes

More than three quarters of Guyana's 450 km of coastline along the Atlantic are currently diked up. Coastal stability now depends on these earthen dikes. However, these dikes do not provide the same level of protection as mangroves against the swell, which is the main cause of erosion. Moreover, they would not withstand the strength of the waves if the mangroves were to disappear completely. Yet, they prevent the sedimentation of mud coming from the Amazon, which enables forest regeneration.

Coastal stability in danger

Scientists have identified the main geomorphological processes at work across the entire Guyana coast. Thus, they could assess the high risk of destabilisation of the coastline due to the reduction in mangroves. Rocky dikes are currently being built in order to protect economic activities, such as agriculture. However, such works are prohibitively expensive. The only means of protection consists of rebuilding the mangroves.

This assessment will enable the Guyana government to specify the measures for action that should be implemented to help the mangroves recolonise the coastline. French Guiana, of which the coastal area in turn suffers growing demographic pressure, must also draw lessons from these works so as not to encounter the same problems as its neighbour in the medium term.

Notes :

This assessment was carried out for and with the support of the Guyana government, in collaboration with MWH and funded by the Europaid programme.
The 1,600 km coastline between the mouths of two major rivers is composed of mud from Amazon sediments.
Polders are dried shore areas below sea level, with the water removed (usually artificially).

Journal Reference:

Anthony E. J., Gratiot Nicolas. Coastal engineering and large-scale mangrove destruction in Guyana, South America : averting an environmental catastrophe in the making. Ecological Engineering, 2012, 47, p. 268-273. ISSN 0925-8574 fdi:010057269

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