Don't remove Punggol forested knoll

Straits Times Forum 15 Feb 13;

THE article ("Save our knoll, urges Punggol residents' group"; Feb 5) reported on a plea from Punggol residents to save a forested hill fringing their estate.

The elevation of the knoll straddling the Punggol Waterway provides visitors to the waterway with a good view of the waterway.

The proposed road through the knoll will harm the last natural feature left around the waterway.

The knoll has been left untouched and is the last vestige of the old forests and remaining hillock in Punggol. It should be preserved.

Visitors to the waterway have come to associate it with the forested knoll as its backdrop. It would be a nasty shock if this beautiful natural backdrop is removed.

The proposed road is not necessary as the future network of roads, MRT line and Punggol LRT west loop would be adequate for transport connectivity.

I hope the Urban Redevelopment Authority, HDB, Land Transport Authority and National Parks Board will preserve the knoll for natural heritage and retain its scenic view of the waterway, now a national iconic asset.

Tan See Ting

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New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg calls for Styrofoam container ban

Michael Muskal Los Angeles Times 14 Feb 13;

The billionaire mayor who has fought smoking, large-sized sugary drinks and excessive fat and salt announced on Thursday that he will now target Styrofoam, seeking to ban the product used for take-out -- and leftover -- fare.

In his 12th and last State of the City address, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said he will seek to have the City Council ban polystyrene foam, the ubiquitous, lightweight packaging colloquially known by the brand name Styrofoam. The product has long been criticized by environmentalists because it seems to last forever, easily outliving most anything organic.

“One product that is virtually impossible to recycle and never biodegrades is Styrofoam,” Bloomberg said in his annual speech. It is "something that we know is environmentally destructive, that is costing taxpayers money, and that is easily replaceable.

"I think it is something we can do without," Bloomberg said. "And don’t worry: The doggie bag and the coffee cup will survive just fine."
The city estimates about 20,000 tons of the foam product are dumped into New York’s waste stream every year, adding an estimated $20 a ton to the cost of recycling because it must be handled separately. Bloomberg’s proposal now goes to the City Council where a similar ban has been stalled in recent years even though some cities on the environmentally conscious West Coast have moved toward full or partial bans.

The ban is part of an environmental program that Bloomberg, a lame duck, put forward. He called for more parking spaces and more vehicle chargers -- both for electric cars. He also called for doubling the city’s recycling rate to 30% by 2017.

In his speech, given at the Barclays Center arena in Brooklyn, Bloomberg stressed that the city has never been stronger, repeating the formula that most chief executives use in giving their annual appraisal of their efforts. Among the milestones his aides have stressed in recent days is the record-low homicide rate of 419 (less than Chicago and about the same number as the much smaller Detroit); the record number of tourists; and the record number of private sector jobs.

Bloomberg, who is termed out this year, is known nationally for his efforts to curb gun violence, having funded and created a coalition of mayors, which has pushed for tougher gun control laws.

In terms of policy, Bloomberg will always be associated for his efforts in the public health field, earning him praise from activists and derision as a “nanny” mayor from opponents.

He pushed to limit the size of sugary drinks, sold principally by fast-food outlets, to 16 ounces. The limit is scheduled to go into effect next month, but is still being challenged by the beverage industry.

During his first term, Bloomberg successfully got a ban on smoking in bars and restaurants, which has proven very popular even in a city where smoke-filled rooms were seen as a sine qua non. He also fought for a ban on trans fats, which makes French fries more than shoe-stringed shaped ballast. He also got a requirement for fast-food restaurants to post calorie information in large type, making public what was once tastefully hidden.

Much of Bloomberg's speech dealt with economic development issues, but the mayor also noted Superstorm Sandy, which tore through the city and much of the metropolitan area in a deadly swath of destruction.

“We’ll take the same approach to the single most important piece of unfinished business that lies ahead of us in 2013: rebuilding the communities hit hardest by Hurricane Sandy -- and creating a more resilient and sustainable city," Bloomberg said.

“Forty-three New Yorkers lost their lives in that storm, and it’s up to us to do all we can to prevent that from happening again," he insisted.
“This year, we’ll develop a long-term plan so that when extreme weather hits -- we’ll be able to get the lights back on quickly and ensure that the heat keeps working, the gas stations stay open, the hospitals maintain power and the transportation system keeps operating."

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Indonesian Forestry Minister Commits to Dolphin Protection

Daniella White Jakarta Globe 14 Feb 13;

World-renowned dolphin activist Richard O’Barry has praised Forestry Minister Zulkifli Hasan for agreeing to help end the dolphin trade in Indonesia.

The minister met with O’Barry and the Jakarta Animal Aid Network on Tuesday following a discussion last week on dolphin protection.

Zulkifli on Wednesday traveled to Bali to investigate dolphins being kept inside Akame restaurant, which were captured by the travel show company Wersut Seguni Indonesia.

“I think he’s a hero. He never knew about the issue and as soon as he did he moved to action,” O’Barry said. “He’s going to get lots of positive international public attention for what he’s doing.”

O’Barry, who stars in the Academy Award-winning documentary “The Cove,” first came to Indonesia after hearing about what he believed to be the last traveling dolphin circus in the world. At Tuesday’s meeting, the minister said he was shocked to learn about traveling dolphin shows and that he wanted to work with the JAAN to protect dolphins.

In 2010, a memorandum of understanding was signed between the JAAN and the Forest Ministry to protect, save and rehabilitate captured dolphins in Indonesia.

However, since March 2011, following a change in the director of the ministry, the discussions stalled.

JAAN co-founder Femke den Haas alleged that local levels of the forestry agency prevented the minister being informed about the issue, as they were receiving kickbacks from the traveling dolphin shows. She added that JAAN had been trying to reach the minister for two years.

Zulkifli said that he had not received letters sent to him about the issue and was not aware that an MoU had been signed.

“It was hidden from him because people were looking for profit, not protection,” she said.

O’Barry said he was confident the minister did not know the true depth of the issue until last week’s discussion.

“I’m 73 and I’ve learned to be able to read people’s body language. When I gave him the MoU [at the discussion], I could tell he was reading it for the first time,” he said.

The JAAN hopes the captive dolphins at the Bali restaurant will be the first candidates to go to a dolphin rehabilitation center in Karimunjawa, Central Java. The center is currently empty, but is ready to admit dolphins. O’Barry said it was not common for dolphins to be rehabilitated.

“When they get captured, they rarely get another chance at life,” he said.

Questions Over Fate of Dolphins Slated for Rescue in Bali
Dessy Sagita & Made Arya Kencana Jakarta Globe 26 Feb 13;

The manager of a traveling dolphin show is ignoring accusations made by activists about the alleged theft of two dolphins in Bali who were supposed to be transferred to a rehabilitation center in Central Java.

“Whether or not we have transferred the dolphins is none of their business, if you want to know where the dolphins are please find out yourself,” Ade Kusmana, a representative of dolphin show company Wersut Seguni Indonesia, told the Jakarta Globe on Monday.

Ade complained that the Indonesian media had been portraying him as a criminal while treating Richard O’Barry, a world-renowned dolphin activist, as a hero.

The kidnap allegation started when the Jakarta Animal Aid Network received an anonymous call over the weekend, reporting two dolphins kept inside the Akame restaurant in Denpasar, Bali, had been loaded onto a truck and transferred to Central Java, instead of being transferred to a rehabilitation center as the restaurant promised Minister of Forestry Zulkifli Hasan.

“Our source said the dolphins were loaded onto a truck, covered by a piece of tarpaulin and brought to Gilimanuk Port. We suspected they would be brought back to Central Java, where the dolphin travel show is located,” JAAN co-founder Femke den Haas told the Globe.

“This transport should not have been allowed. The dolphins are heading into a tropical depression with heavy rain and sustained winds up to 40 knots predicted for the next four to five days,” she said.

An Akame staff member who did not want to be named denied the accusation, saying that the dolphins were still in the restaurant.
However, when a Globe reporter visited the restaurant, the pool where the dolphins were kept was empty.

During his trip to Akame restaurant, Zulkifli said he was shocked to learn about traveling dolphin shows, and he declared that he wanted to work with the JAAN to protect dolphins.

“This is very typical, first the minister was very cooperative but now he goes silent, or maybe he still doesn’t know,” Den Haas said.
In 2010, a memorandum of understanding was signed between the JAAN and the Forestry Ministry to protect, save and rehabilitate captured dolphins in Indonesia.

Den Haas alleged that local forestry agency officials prevented the minister being informed of the issue as they were receiving kickbacks from the traveling dolphin shows.

She said the organization was mulling stronger action to protest the alleged theft.

“We could file a report because we signed an MoU, our status is higher than the company that uses the dolphins, I don’t understand why they are lying, saying the dolphins are still at the restaurant,” she said.

Previously, JAAN had said the dolphins will be the first candidates to go to a dolphin rehabilitation center in Karimunjawa National Park, Central Java.

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Insects attack Sunderbans mangroves

Krishnendu Mukherjee Times of India 15 Feb 13;

KOLKATA: Two insect species have made a surprise attack on the mangroves of the Sunderbans, wiping out series of Avicennia Alba (locally known as Kalo Bain) plantations in the Unesco World Heritage Site.

What makes environmentalists worried is that Kalo Bain is one of the very few dominant and salt-tolerant species, which acts as a natural bio-shield for the Sunderbans against threats like rising salinity and sea levels.

Members of Nature Environment and Wildlife Society (NEWS), which is working on mangrove plantation and mapping in the Sunderbans, first observed this in September, 2011. "These insects were spotted in the seeds, which flow with the tide. The seeds had both red and black patches, which is not at all their nature," said Ajanta Dey, the project director of NEWS, adding the seeds were sent to the Zoological Survey of India (ZSI) to identity the insects.

ZSI scientist V D Hegde confirmed that two insects, found in the seeds, were identified as Paedurus Fuscipes Curt and Philonthus SP. Sources said these are commonly known as Rove Beetles and are found mostly in southeastern Asia.

By the time this report reached NEWS members in end-2011, almost 80% of the 5 lakh Alba saplings in their nurseries at Sagar, Namkhana and Patharpratima were destroyed in the insect attack.

"As we ventured close to the forests of Ajmalmari and Bharatgarh near Matla, we discovered black and red patches on the full-grown Alba plants, only confirming our fears that it was taking the proportion of an epidemic among these plants," said Biswajit Roy Chowdhury, secretary, NEWS. Their fears were confirmed when the plants released a negligible number of seeds in September,


However, Tushar Kanjilal, an expert on the Sunderbans, sees no reason to panic at the moment. "There was no documented evidence of this before. We should wait and watch this trend for a while. Locals involved in plantation have reported some unknown disease in these plants to me before," he added.

For mangrove expert Kumud Ranjan Naskar, this problem may be zone-specific. "As far as release of seeds are concerned, it also depends on the water current. If the current is not adequate, seeds won't flow in the water," he added.

According to experts, if the trend is not checked, the unique succession pattern of the mangroves will be disturbed, leaving the forests more vulnerable to the effects of climate change, such as rising salinity and sea level. "Kalo Bain releases a special toxin which forces other local plants like Proterecia and Coractatus downwards a mud flat, making a natural bio-shield of these plants on the mud flats," added Dey.

Of the 84 mangrove species in the Sunderbans, 15 are dominant species and Avicennia Alba, one of the salt-tolerant species, is one of them.

Sunderbans Biosphere Reserve director Pradeep Shukla said he would comment after going through the report. NEWS members have already contacted an NGO, Yagasu, which is working on several livelihood projects in Indonesia, where this mangrove is also known to be a dominant species. But their members are yet to come across any such trend in the Alba plants there.

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Pangolins Remains a Threatened Species

Liz Komen AllAfrica 14 Feb 13;

INTERNATIONAL Pangolin Day is celebrated on the third Saturday of February every year and it falls on the 16th of February this year.

The use of the word celebration is somewhat inaccurate for a family of animals that are the target of an enormous amount of illegal trafficking. And attached to poaching there are of course some serious allegations on the shocking conditions concerning the welfare of these timid and harmless yet useful animals.

Namibia recorded a number of transgressions concerning pangolins over the past year including confiscation by authorities and rescues of pangolin escapees found in urban environments. When considering the illegal activities occurring globally and whether local incidents are linked to larger trafficking networks or not, the authorities need to be on high alert.

Namibia is host to only one of four pangolin species in Africa, one of eight in the world. Smutsia temminckii, the African ground pangolin, occurs across a number of African countries, and for that reason the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has listed this animal as an Appendix 11 "least concern".

This listing allows some trade of skins or scales under CITES (Convention for International Trade in Endangered Species) export and import licences, though nearly all the African countries where pangolins occur have national laws, regulations and policies that would deny permits for any and all trade.

The IUCN listing can create problems of control, because permits are much more readily and easily falsified when authentic copies are permissible.

The extent of illegal trafficking in wildlife species is realised by authorities worldwide. Enormous consignments, up to 23 tons, of whole frozen pangolins, skins and scales were uncovered in a number of incidents in Asia in recent years. These consignments of mostly Asian pangolin species including two listed as endangered under CITES, were en route to markets in China.

But of concern are recent consignments found with African pangolins or pangolin parts, though these could be from any of the four African species. The warnings signs are there, human populations are increasing, natural habitats are being reduced and if trade goes on unchecked the African pangolin species will no doubt land in the same endangered category as their Asian counterparts.

International concern for the health of wildlife populations has been dominated by the shocking events of rhino poaching, especially in southern Africa, including one known recent incident in Namibia.

Although overshadowed by the more conspicuous species, the plight of Asian pangolins and the extent of the illegal trade is critical. Africa needs to take heed and be sure that not only advocacy but information on policies concerning illegal hunting , trade and animal welfare are in place. Our concern and support must be given to port and border authorities who require the capacity to fully investigate all consignments leaving Namibia. The pangolin's plight has been taken up by a Species Specialist Group, mandated under CITES, of which Namibia is a ratified member, but we need all citizens to actively engage in halting activities that threaten our heritage.

Advocacy needs to define strong deterrents for any pangolin use. Information needs to go to civil society especially farmers and to public officers including officers from the police and the ministries of Environment and Tourism, Agriculture Water and Forestry and Health and Social Services.

The Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry because it is mandated to monitor developments in bush clearing for charcoal production and thus can facilitate the identification of persons who scour areas of Namibian land and must be finding all sorts of wildlife, including pangolins.

The Ministry of Heath and Social Services is mandated with the registration and perhaps to some extent control of traditional healers in Namibia, who use pangolin parts in unverified cures as well as simply for luck.

Africa and Namibia in particular have to deal with multicultural value systems. With the rapid increase in global trade and the influx of foreign nationals, a number of extra protective measures will need to be put in place in order to guarantee the safety of national standards, resources and heritage.

February 16 is International Pangolin Day, but protection is needed every day from illegal and unethical poaching and trade of these vulnerable animals.

To date Namibia has little information on both the distribution and the density of our pangolin population. A database on sightings of pangolin in Namibia would be useful to feed to a larger regional group of pangolin scientists and conservationists.

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Chinese appetite for shark fin soup devastating Mozambique coastline

Mantas and hammerheads to 'disappear' from divers' paradise if plunder is unchecked
David Smith 14 Feb 13;

Standing among coconut and mango trees near the coast of Mozambique, Fernando Nhamussua carefully prepares shark meat for a family meal – and contemplates a basket with a profitable haul of four dried shark fins.

"I want to sell them to the Chinese," the 33-year-old admits with disarming candour, estimating that a kilogram's worth will fetch around 5,000 meticals (£104). "We take them to town where there is a place for Chinese buyers. It's good money."

Nhamussua reckons he has sold 20 fins so far, boosting his normal income and his hopes of completing a modest concrete house that stands unfinished. But this burgeoning trade along the Mozambican coast is putting precious species such as manta rays in existential danger, according to local conservationists.

Fishing for sustenance has long been a staple here, with few alternative sources of income. But it is an open secret that Chinese syndicates are supplying improved fishing nets, buying shark fins and manta ray "wing" tips and shipping them back to Asia, where there is increasing demand for delicacies such as shark fin soup.

Nhamussua's nephew, Americo Gilamba, is 19 and has scant other career prospects. "We do it because we don't have a good job," he explained, standing in the small, sandy family settlement that includes huts made of reeds and coconut leaves. "We know it's not good and the Chinese are killing things that are not allowed to be killed, but we do it to survive and get some money. We don't want to have to steal from other people. If we were given an alternative, we would stop."

Inhambane's beaches and ocean are a diver's paradise with one of the most fabulous concentrations of marine life in the world. Tourism, a vital lifeline in one of the world's poorest countries, could be threatened.

Carla Victorino Guicome, who last year became the first Mozambican woman to qualify as a diving instructor, said: "I am sad, I am angry because if it continues like this it's going to kill tourism in Mozambique. No more tourists will come here."

She continued: "People come from all over the world to enjoy diving with sharks and manta rays, but if this goes on, they won't be there any more.

"The Chinese don't respect marine life and they're trying to destroy our heritage. We have tried and tried, but the government don't seem to be doing anything to stop it. If nothing is done, the animals will disappear."

Conservationists have called for legal protection of species such as sharks and manta rays, the banning of gillnets – which create a wall of netting to catch fish – and greater education of and alternative livelihoods for fishermen. But the fisheries ministry is powerful.

Andrea Marshall, director of the Marine Megafauna Foundation in Tofu, said: "I would argue that far more people benefit from tourism here than from the fishing industry. The economic argument for preserving these charismatic animals in the long term surely outweighs a one-off profit for a few fishermen and Chinese."

Time is running out for the manta ray, a beautiful fish with big, triangular pectoral "wings" that has a meagre reproductive cycle.

Inhambane has one of the biggest populations in the world, with 908 known to the foundation, but has witnessed an 87% drop in the past decade. This means that where visitors could once expect to see six or seven of the creatures in a single dive, now the average is less than one.

Marshall, principal scientist for the manta ray programme, said: "We're looking at decimation in the next decade or decade-and-a-half. Manta rays are in big trouble along the coastline. If current trends continue, I don't give this population more than a few generations."

Fishermen are more efficient than ever before thanks to bigger nets and more sophisticated equipment. "Sometimes the fishing nets are given by the Chinese, other times they're part of official schemes intended to benefit fishing communities," Marshall added. "We've been to the fishing camps and you can see the high-quality hooks and lines that they have now."

And when she followed the money, it led to China. "It's a very secretive operation, but we've had confirmation of the Chinese buying and shipping them out. There are containers that are just reeking. Everyone knows who owns those containers, but nobody does anything."

Many Chinese people are in Inhambane on legitimate business and working on government infrastructure programmes.

But the fishing controversy echoes wider concerns over what some in Africa regard as a Faustian pact with China. The Environmental Investigation Agency has said nearly half of the timber exported from Mozambique to China is done so illegally, costing the impoverished nation tens of millions of dollars a year.

Based on evidence given by fishermen, the Guardian visited a Chinese-run shop said to be a front for the illicit trade in marine life; an expensive car was parked outside. Its owners said they were aware of such trade in recent years, but claimed it had declined of late. Asked where shark fins could be obtained, a co-owner shook her head and said: "I don't know."

But Lon Chen, a resident of five years and owner of a supermarket in Inhambane, claimed that he been offered such items in the past. "The local people kill them and bring them," he said.

"They came here to ask if we needed it or not. I said no, but some Chinese are buying that kind of food. They don't eat it at all; they are buying it to export to Asia. It's their business and they're surviving on that."

Mozambican authorities are said to be taking the problem seriously, but are working with limited resources, including only one or two patrol boats to cover the immense coastline, although focusing on Inhambane with its abundant marine life would be a start.

Carlos Carvalho, an activist based in the capital, Maputo, claimed that sea turtles and dolphins are also being targeted for their flippers and organs, although observers in Inhambane could not verify this. Chinese traders are seeking to obtain boats to extend the fishermen's range, he added.

"The Chinese are gangsters and they have the protection of certain officials in Inhambane province," Carvalho said. "Every month it is escalating. Inhambane is out of control. It is the killing field of Mozambique and nobody is doing anything about it. It absolutely devastates me."

But the issues are complex and there is a danger that fishermen will be scapegoated. Timothy Dykman, director of Ocean Revolution, said: "It's about the markets, conditions and global impacts far beyond the control of local fishermen that are being run by organised criminal networks. Networks are also selling drugs and engaged in human trafficking."

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