Best of our wild blogs: 2 Mar 13

Lesser Whistling-ducklings all in a row
from Bird Ecology Study Group

Raffles Bulletin of Zoology Vol. 61 (1)
from Raffles Museum News

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PUB calls for better fishing habits

It is working with angling groups to stop pollution, depletion of fish stock
David Ee Straits Times 2 Mar 13;

SOME of them pollute reservoirs with discarded bait. Others take their catch home, depleting fish stocks. They often leave trash behind too.

Even as national water agency PUB continues to open up more designated spots at reservoirs for fishing, now permitted at 10 reservoirs after the inclusion of Marina Reservoir last December, it is concerned about anglers not fishing responsibly.

It is reaching out to angling groups, asking them to set an example, aware that demand for more reservoir fishing spots remains unabated.

With PUB's support, the conservation group Gamefish and Aquatic Rehabilitation Society (Gars) has been conducting monthly responsible fishing clinics at Lower Seletar Reservoir since January.

The weekend sessions run till June.

They encourage good practices such as using artificial lures instead of polluting bait such as chicken liver or worms, practising catch and release, and cleaning up their fishing spots after use.

Online angling forum Fishing Kaki has also helped to get the word out through its posts on the clinics.

The PUB said in a statement that it would "continue to work with angling groups to encourage anglers to practise ... responsible fishing habits".

"There are always rotten apples," said Gars committee member Chia Lee Wee.

He estimated that up to 40 per cent of Singapore's 300,000 or so anglers don't follow PUB's rules and guidelines.

"We understand where PUB is coming from," he said. "If we don't educate, (reservoirs) will become like the Singapore River of old... a sewer."

Currently, PUB prohibits the use of live bait and rules dictate that anglers dispose of trash properly.

But enforcement is difficult despite regular PUB patrols, said Mr Chia, given the size of reservoirs and the sheer number of anglers.

"We're helping as PUB's 'neighbourhood watch'," he added, but admitted that it "would take decades to change attitudes".

Owner of Fishing Kaki Luke Gino Cunico said: "Many anglers have been fishing like that for years. It's been ingrained into them."

He called for more educational efforts by PUB and fishing groups. On his part, Mr Cunico intends to begin posting public service announcements on his forum soon, encouraging members to fish responsibly.

Opening up more fishing spots, which anglers continue to call for, would only aggravate the problem of overfishing and pollution if anglers don't change their mindsets, he said.

"Education must start with the kids," said Mr Chia.

Gars' clinic last month attracted only about 20 anglers. It hopes more will start taking part, beginning with its next clinic on March 15.

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Higher fines, longer jail term for animal abusers proposed

Tan Qiuyi Channel NewsAsia 1 Mar 13;

SINGAPORE: The Animal Welfare Legislative Review Committee is calling for heavier penalties for animal abuse and abandonment.

After a year-long review, the committee has submitted its recommendations to the National Development Ministry for consideration.

The current penalty for animal abuse is a fine of up to S$10,000, one year in jail, or both.

The committee calls for a more detailed penalty structure that differentiates the intent and severity of the offence, with the maximum penalty for repeat and malicious cases going up to S$50,000, three years' jail and a one-year ban on keeping animals.

At the same time, the proposal calls for higher penalties for businesses - between S$20,000 and S$100,000, and a ban on animal-related business for up to a year.

The Animal Welfare Legislative Review Committee said the objective is to send a strong message to deter wrongdoers.

Ricky Yeo, president of Action for Singapore Dogs, said: "The higher penalties of course may pose a deterrent to would-be offenders. But I think what's important really is enforcement.

"To move forward, there has to be some priority assigned to prosecution of this kind of cases - which means lots of investigations, and to do that I think logistically, the authorities need a lot more manpower. This is something the animal welfare groups can be empowered to help."

Most people Channel NewsAsia spoke to support the call for harsher penalties.

Another key proposal is to legally require all staff in all pet businesses to be appropriately trained in animal care and handling.

The committee is recommending regulation for all commercial pet breeding activities, and for all pet boarding facilities to be licensed.

It also wants to see pet shops screen potential buyers to ensure pets are sold to responsible and committed owners.

Mr Chua Ming Kok, who represents the Pet Enterprises and Traders Association of Singapore in the committee, said: "There will definitely be some resistance from the smaller players.

"But we'll have in place schemes to train them, to try to help them come on board this scheme. The major players in the industry have already given their consensus to be on this scheme."

George Tan, who owns Joy Doggy, a small pet shop which sells puppies, said: "Overall, the recommendations are OK. The main concern is about staff training. The turnover rate for my staff is very high, it's going to be very, very difficult for me financially to send them for training.

"If, let's say, there is a free course ... conducted by the government for us, I'll be most willing to send my staff in for training because it really will raise the standard of the industry."

Committee chairman Yeo Guat Kwang said their job is far from over.

"It's not a job that's been done. We definitely need to do more. But let's take one step at a time, and with this big step forward, I'm confident many other suggestions which are practical and reasonable will definitely also be taken into consideration in future," he said.

The committee's report details 24 recommendations in total, including a call to set a minimum age of 16 years for buying a pet. It is the result of a year-long review, including consultations with animal welfare activists, pet industry representatives, and the public.

Underpinning the recommendations is a call for interest groups on different sides of the animal welfare debate to work together.

National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan said his ministry will carefully study the recommendations.

In a blog post, he said his instinct is that the law may need to be updated.

- CNA/ck/xq

Tougher penalties proposed to MND for animal abusers
Sumita Sreedharan Today Online 1 Mar 13;

SINGAPORE — Harsher penalties for animal abuse, a minimum age and pre-sale screening for pet buyers — these are some of the recommendations of the Animal Welfare Legislation Review Committee, which submitted its report to the Ministry of National Development yesterday, following a year-long review.

Chaired by Member of Parliament (Ang Mo Kio GRC) Yeo Guat Kwang, the committee represents various stakeholders such as community leaders, animal welfare groups, vets and members from the pet industry.

It was formed last year as part of efforts to better protect animals, in light of continued abuse cases.

National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan, who tasked Mr Yeo to chair the committee, said on his blog yesterday that his ministry will carefully study the committee’s recommendations and see how they can collectively raise the bar for animal welfare here.

“My instinct is that our law may need to be updated but this is an area which the Government alone cannot deliver a good outcome,” he noted.

Mr Yeo said he is confident that the report is feasible as it has input and support from stakeholders.

“It’s a practical and well-rounded report as we are able to address most of the concerns and, at the same time, everyone is on board,” he said.

One issue that the report addressed is the penalty for animal abuse.

Currently, the maximum fine for animal abuse is S$10,000 and a one-year jail term.

The committee recommended that the penalty be doubled for offenders who are deemed to have had malicious intent when hurting the animal. It also called for a maximum fine of S$50,000 and/or a three-year jail term to be imposed on repeat offenders.

Mr Yeo said these penalties are meant to send a strong deterrent message and are benchmarked against those in countries such as Australia and New Zealand.

According to the Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority, over the last three years, six cases of animal abuse were heard in court and the average fine imposed per offence charged was S$4,250. In three of these six cases, the offenders could not pay the fines and were jailed for five to 10 weeks.

A lack of leads and concrete evidence to prosecute cases of animal cruelty are factors that hamper efforts to reduce animal abuse, stated the report.

To address this, it recommended initiatives to encourage witnesses to step forward to assist in investigations and to testify in court.

Ms Veron Lau from the Cat Welfare Society welcomed the recommendations, but admitted that enforcement was a big barrier to cases proceeding to court.

“I would suggest having fines at more increments and allowing the authorities to have the power to fine people who, for example, do not pick up after their dogs or allow their cats to roam,” said Ms Lau.

Other recommendations include a minimum age of 16 for pet buyers in order to curb impulse buying, and that pet shops which do not comply face a fine of up to S$5,000.

Currently, there is no age limit for pet ownership.

The committee also recommended making it a requirement for all pet-related operators to be trained and for the licensing of commercial pet breeding activities and pet boarding facilities.

Animal welfare panel calls for stiffer fines, jail terms
David Ee Straits Times 1 Mar 13;

BIGGER fines, longer jail terms and screening of pet buyers were among a slew of recommendations submitted to the Government yesterday by a panel set up to review animal welfare laws.

The 11-member panel, chaired by MP for Ang Mo Kio GRC Yeo Guat Kwang, sent its widely anticipated report to the National Development Ministry yesterday after gathering public feedback and deliberating for a year.

It proposed introducing tiered penalties that take into account the intent of someone found guilty of ill-treating animals.

The current maximum penalty is a fine of up to $10,000 and/or a one-year jail term, but repeat or malicious offenders could soon be fined up to $50,000 and/or jailed for three years. They would also be barred from keeping pets for up to a year.

Those caught neglecting pets the first time would face the current penalty but would also have to perform community service with animal welfare groups.

Harsher penalties would be extended to pet shops and farms, which could be fined up to $100,000 and banned from operating for up to a year.

Animal abuse convictions should also be reported by the media and on social networks to act as a deterrent, the report added.

But Mr Yeo stressed that the panel, which also comprised animal welfare activists and industry representatives, sought preventive - not just punitive and deterrent - measures.

Its proposals for mandatory pre-sale screening of pet buyers, training staff at pet-related businesses and the stepping up of efforts to encourage responsible pet ownership were ways to "address the problem at the root", he said.

Screening pet buyers would help them make "informed decisions", added the report, and minimise impulse purchases.

The Pet Enterprises and Traders Association of Singapore, which has 61 members, has agreed to lead the forming of accreditation schemes for pet farms and breeders to spur them to improve standards. There are about 400 pet, accessories and grooming shops here.

"This is not an easy move for the industry, particularly as they worry about their bottom lines. But I'm glad we have come to a consensus and they understand that they have a key role to play," said Mr Yeo.

Animal welfare groups welcomed the report but said that without enforcement, proposed penalties would prove toothless.

Animal abuse cases handled by the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) and the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals rose from 1,162 in 2007 to 1,426 in 2011, but during this period, warnings or fines were issued in only about 300 cases.

"Higher penalties alone won't deter people," said Mr Ricky Yeo, president of Action for Singapore Dogs. "The only way is successful prosecution. I didn't really see any enforcement framework emphasised in the report."

The police could support the AVA in investigations, suggested Ms Eunice Nah, chief advocate of the Agency for Animal Welfare.

Happy Paws pet shop owner Steven Ker, 40, said he would sign up to an accreditation scheme. He said: "If we do well, customers will see that we are a responsible shop. We may attract more customers."

Dog owner Gail Sethi, 49, supported publicising abuse convictions. "The only thing that will make them behave is prosecuting and shaming them," she said.

National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan said in a blog post that the ministry would study the recommendations carefully. "My instinct is that our law may need to be updated," he wrote.

The report is available at

Protecting Animal Welfare by Minister Khaw Boon Wan

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Singapore is the most natural location for a regional LNG hub: IEA

Yvonne Chan Channel NewsAsia 1 Mar 13;

SINGAPORE : The International Energy Agency (IEA) says the emergence of a trading hub for liquefied natural gas (LNG) could significantly lower price and that would help companies that use it as a source of power.

And Singapore may soon be able to add another spoke to its "hub" status.

The IEA says Singapore is the most natural location to be the regional LNG hub.

Already an important centre for global oil trading, the Republic is being eyed as the next hub for LNG.

Stiff supply contacts presently keep the price of LNG higher than it needs to be.

Current LNG prices are kept artificially high by rigid long-term contracts, or oil price indexation.

For example, the IEA reports that Japan's import bill for LNG is US$10 billion higher than what it could be in a properly efficient LNG market.

Experts say less regulation and a freer market approach would foster competition and potentially lower prices, which would make the use of LNG in Asia more sustainable in the long term.

According to the IEA, gas consumption in Asia Pacific will outstrip demand by 2017.

Asia is also likely to be saddled with the highest LNG prices prices until it develops an LNG trading hub that promotes more transparent pricing.

A unique characteristic of the natural gas trade in Asia-Pacific is the limited amount of natural gas that is traded via pipelines, and the region's growing dependence on the global LNG supply chain.

The IEA, which gives policy advice to its 28 member countries, says Singapore has advantages over its competitors in becoming the main regional LNG hub although China may also be in the race.

Laszlo Varro, Head of Division, Gas, Coal, and Power Markets Division, IEA, says: "China is the only country in the region that has a realistic prospect of developing pipeline imports from outside the region. China can import gas from Uzbekistan and Russia. In the case of Korea, Japan and Taiwan, this is not only the economic development but also geography. They are isolated energy systems - Japan and Taiwan are islands. Korea has only North Korea as a neighbour so they have no physical option to bring in the gas except for LNG."

Singapore is on track to have its first operating LNG terminal costing S$1.7 billion by the second quarter of 2013.

And it will also be the first LNG terminal in Asia to provide third-party access.

Singapore is also providing storage facilities for traders, which is important to promote a competitive market.

Warner ten Kate, Public affairs Advisor, Gasterra, says: "You have a government in place that provides the long-term signals for stability and hands-off market attitude. You have the big financial players in place to support your activities, so the only thing you would need is somebody who could facilitate the actual hub and make it clear when that's going to happen. What you need as a trader is a haven to allow the flexibility to arrive and I don't think Singapore has a competitor at the moment.

The Shanghai hub has potential, Japan has potential but they have so much more stuff to do at the same time than Singapore would have. From our perspective, Singapore has the best starting position but needs to continue to work. So the things they need to work on are things like policy, create more clarity, what are they going to do, which institutes are involved."

Shanghai remains the closest competitor to Singapore due to China's rapid growth in domestic demand, with many of its factories already using LNG the primary source of power source.

Singapore an 'ideal hub for Asia gas trade'
IEA cites Republic's global oil trading hub status, good location, legal climate
Feng Zengkun Straits Times 2 Mar 13;

SINGAPORE has the best chance of becoming a trading hub for natural gas in Asia, said a global energy association yesterday.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) backed the Republic ahead of other countries such as South Korea, Japan and China, and said Singapore could set up this hub within three years if it went full steam ahead.

It unveiled an 86-page report, Developing a Natural Gas Trading Hub in Asia, at the Orchard Hotel and said that Singapore led the pack partly because it is already a global hub for oil trading.

"Some of its broader strengths, including its good location and supportive legal environment, will be applicable for liquefied natural gas trading as well," said IEA head of gas, coal and power Laszlo Varro.

Currently, the market for natural gas in Asia is dominated by long-term contracts with prices linked to those of oil. These deals give countries energy security but may also lock them into high prices. Large reserves of shale gas, recently discovered in the United States, have led to lower prices there.

Developing a natural-gas trading hub for the region would allow countries to negotiate shorter-term contracts with prices determined mainly by supply and demand. This would allow them to respond to market forces more quickly and could lead to cheaper electricity prices in the long run.

A more transparent price signal will also help "steer investments in natural gas infrastructures", said the IEA.

Mr Chee Hong Tat, chief executive of Singapore's Energy Market Authority (EMA), said yesterday at the event that the country would benefit from having greater flexibility and diversity in its gas contracts.

Currently, about 80 per cent of Singapore's electricity is generated using piped natural gas from Malaysia and Indonesia. The other 20 per cent comes from fuel oil and other sources such as waste and renewable energy.

The country's first liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal in Jurong Island is expected to start operations this year and will allow for the import of gas from more countries. The EMA expects natural gas to make up more than 90 per cent of Singapore's electricity fuel mix in future.

Said Mr Chee: "While we remain open to having some of our gas supplies come from long-term, oil-indexed contracts, it would be useful for Singapore to build up a diversified gas portfolio, comprising reliable and price-competitive supplies from different sources around the world.

"In this way, we avoid being overly exposed to a particular supply source or price index."

He added in his welcome remarks that the EMA would work with industry partners here to develop their LNG-related activities but stopped short of committing Singapore to becoming a natural-gas trading hub.

"We have seen a steady growth in the presence of major trading houses and industry players such as Shell, BP and Gazprom, which are interested to use Singapore as a hub for their business in the region," he said.

"Shell, for example, has decided to locate its global gas operations in Singapore."

Last year, when asked in an interview whether Singapore could become a regional hub for LNG trading, Minister in the Prime Minister's Office and Second Minister for Trade and Industry S. Iswaran said: "We are open to the idea of leveraging on the LNG terminal as a platform to facilitate trading. The terminal could facilitate the physical trading of LNG as well as financial trading. We are open to both options."

He has also said that the terminal will "catalyse business opportunities such as LNG trading, break-bulk services and LNG bunkering".

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Malaysia: Life lessons from raptors

Zuhaila Sedek-De Booij New Straits Times 1 Mar 13;

Four birdwatchers tell Zuhaila Sedek-De Booij about the joys of observing the creatures on their migratory journey

IT is scorching hot at Tanjung Tuan in Port Dickson and there are beads of sweat on everyone’s foreheads. Birdwatchers Andrew J. Sebastian, Khoo Swee Seng, Caroline Ho and Lam Mow Sum are waiting anxiously. They hope to see raptors emerge from among the cottony clouds.

Ho keeps one eye on the lens of her telescope. In one hand, she holds a clicker counter. Click... click... She is counting the number of raptors she spies with the telescope. The instrument lets her see what’s not visible to the naked eye.

While Ho is busy taking count, the rest carry big digital cameras in their hands. They wait patiently, observing the clear blue sky.

Every end of February till early March, the four birdwatchers go to Tanjung Tuan to be part of the Raptor Watch, an event organised by Malaysian Nature Society. At the event, bird lovers witness magnificent views of migrating raptors that fly over the waters of Straits Malacca. Among the species of raptors that migrate through this waterway are the Oriental Honey Buzzard, Black Baza, Japanese Sparrowhawk, Chinese Goshawk and Grey-faced Buzzard.
The quartet’s effort at Tanjung Tuan is not only a hobby, but also a contribution to the environment. Here’s why:


For Sebastian, 42, birdwatching has been a passion since the last decade. He became hooked on it after seeing a rare Red Head Dragon bird in Fraser’s Hill some years ago.

“I was so surprised to see such a wonderful creature in Malaysia. I saw this beautiful bird on a bench but I didn’t know what species of bird it belonged to. I bought a guidebook and saw a picture of of it. It triggered my interest in birdwatching,” says Sebastian who is also Malaysian Nature Society’s head of communications.

Apart from Tanjung Tuan, he has gone birdwatching in Hong Kong, Indonesia and Thailand. To date he has seen about 800 species of birds.

He believes that birdwatching can bring people closer to nature. “Sometimes, in our busy lives, we forgot to look up at the sky and see how wonderful the world is. Birdwatching gives you a chance to do that.”

At Tanjung Tuan, events like Raptor Watch can help the public understand the importance of conserving natural forest, such as the coastal forest at the area. Tanjung Tuan is significant to migrating raptors. The coastal area offers a shorter passage from Peninsular Malaysia and Sumatra to Pulau Rupat in Indonesia. From Pulau Rupat, the migrating birds will continue their way towards Indonesia’s other archipelago islands.
Tanjung Tuan is also one of the last remaining coastal rainforests in the west coast of Peninsular Malaysia.

Raptors need the right thermals for flight. Tanjung Tuan acts as a rest stop for the raptors while waiting for the right thermals.
“Tanjung Tuan is located along their way, they need trees to take a break from a long journey.”

The migrating raptors originate from North Asia, Northeastern Asia, Eastern Siberia, Kamchatka, Northeastern China, the Korean Peninsula and Japan and fly along the East Asian Flyway.


For married couple Khoo and Ho, watching the raptors at Tanjung Tuan is an annual event. They spend a few weeks at Tanjung Tuan lighthouse to watch and capture images of the raptors and, most importantly, count the number passing through Malacca Straits. Both are volunteers for raptor-counting.

Khoo, 52, is a remisier by profession. He takes time off from work to go birdwatching. The couple go up the lighthouse at 9am and set-up their tents and equipment to carry out the count till the evening.
Khoo captures the images while Ho, 34, counts the birds.

The data collected is given to Malaysian Nature Society for researchers.

Though they are volunteers, Khoo and his wife have spent RM30,000 on equipment for birdwatching.

“When you see hundreds of Honey Buzzard in the sky, words can’t describe what you feel. Even though you’ve seen it before, the amazement never seems to wear off,” says Khoo.

For Ho, not knowing what’s coming their way makes the venture more adventurous. If they are lucky, they get to see rare species.

“We have been counting the birds for many years. We feel like it is a responsibility,” says Khoo.

The duo started birdwatching at Tanjung Tuan since the first Raptor Watch in 2000. At that time, they watched by the seaside. Now, they get a better view from the lighthouse. But they worry that there may not be anyone to take their place.

“Finding an apprentice is not easy. You must have the passion to watch out for and count the birds,” says Ho.


Watching the migrating birds is calming. Lam suggests birdwatching as a remedy for stress.

“Whenever I watch the migrating birds, I feel very relaxed. Birdwatching is all about observing and doesn’t require you to run around,” says the 62 year-old retiree.

The former teacher started birdwatching around his school compound.

“The raptors are amazing. They are so beautiful and they make the world a better place,” says the soft-spoken Lam.

“These birds need their habitat so we have to safeguard it.”

He also learns a lot from these wonderful creatures. “They are tough. Despite the challenges ahead of them, they will try to make it,” says Bentong-based Lam.

He recalls raptors gasping due to fatigue while in the air.

“You can tell they are struggling when their beaks are open. Once, I saw a bird crash into the trees. I felt so bad for not being able to do anything.” .

As a senior citizen, he believes that the younger generation can learn life lessons from the raptors.

Birds of prey
• Their population is sensitive to the alterations in ecosystem structure and energy flow.
• They are birds of prey like hawks, eagles, falcons, vultures and owls.
• If they fall in the water while migrating, chances are they are going to die. This is because they need thermals to elevate them so that they can fly.
• Sixty five species of raptors are protected under the protection of Wildlife Act 1972 in Peninsular Malaysia.
• In the 1990s, the numbers of raptors migrating through the Straits of Malacca was about 350,000. Last year, the number was 47,000.
• The biggest threat for raptors is the loss of habitat.

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The future of energy: Natural gas or solar?

Two scenarios by Shell stress need to address global resource problem
Fiona Chan Straits Times 2 Mar 13;

THE world's energy demand may double in the next 50 years as the population grows to 9.5 billion and millions of people rise out of poverty, according to projections by oil and gas giant Shell.

Depending on the pace of global economic growth, Shell foresees either natural gas becoming the dominant energy source, or coal remaining widely used until solar power takes over.

These two scenarios, released by Shell on Thursday, underscore the critical role that governments and businesses play in shaping the energy system of the future, said chief executive Peter Voser.

"Above all, the scenarios reinforce the urgency of addressing the world's resource and environmental stresses," he added.

In the next seven years, the world could generate new energy demand equivalent to China's entire energy system, he said.

To address this, more use should be made of natural gas, renewable energy and technology that captures carbon dioxide emissions and stores them underground, he said.

Shell's scenarios highlight the danger of "policy drift and unbalanced regulation", which Mr Voser said could lead to higher greenhouse gas emissions and more pressing resource scarcity.

The first scenario, which Shell has termed Mountains, projects a sluggish pace of global economic growth, taking some pressure off energy demand.

In this environment, policymakers undertake smart urban planning in growing cities, triggering a transformation of the transportation sector.

Cars and trucks powered by electricity and hydrogen could dominate the road by the end of the century, and global demand for oil might peak around 2035.

This leads to greenhouse gas emissions starting to fall after 2030 and the eventual displacement of coal by natural gas, the cleanest burning fossil fuel.

This scenario also envisions the use of nuclear power becoming more widespread as well. Its market share could increase by about 25 per cent by 2060, Shell said.

The second scenario, called Oceans, paints a more prosperous but volatile world where the energy landscape is dictated by market forces and civil society, rather than government policies.

Public resistance and slow adoption of policies and technology limit the development of nuclear power and restrict the growth of natural gas outside North America, Shell said.

Coal remains widely used until at least the middle of the century, and oil demand continues to grow until about 2040, with higher energy prices spurring the development of hard-to-reach oil resources.

But Shell surmises that in this scenario, the rise in oil prices will also encourage the development of solar power as an alternative.

By 2070, solar photovoltaic panels will become the world's largest primary source of energy, according to Shell.

Although both scenarios project that global emissions of carbon dioxide will drop to near zero by 2100, the Oceans scenario takes a longer time to get there. This will result in greater fossil fuel use and higher total carbon dioxide emissions over the century than in the Mountains scenario, said Shell.

In drawing up the scenarios, the company noted areas of public policy likely to have the greatest influence on a more sustainable energy future.

These include measures to promote energy-efficient cities, transportation and buildings, encourage the safe development of cleaner-burning natural gas, and put a price on carbon dioxide emissions.

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Shark fin-hungry China drives 'chaotic' fishing in Indonesia

Sonny Tumbelaka (AFP) Google News 1 Mar 13;

BENOA, Indonesia — Dozens of weary Indonesian fishermen sail into a busy port on the resort island of Bali celebrating their lucrative and controversial haul that is destined to end up at Chinese banquets.

The fishermen show off about 100 shark fins, already sliced off the carcasses, that are ready to be sold to middle-men and then most likely onwards to mainland China or cities around the world with big Chinese populations.

"We don't only look for sharks -- we mainly catch tuna and marlin -- but finding sharks is a good bonus. Their fins are worth a lot and the meat is easy to sell locally," said 33-year-old Warsito, who goes by one name.

Fishermen around Bali sell shark fins fresh off the boat for between $15 and $50, helping to satiate an ancient but fast-growing Chinese appetite for soup in which it is the main ingredient.

Shark fin soup was once a delicacy for China's elite, but shark populations have been decimated around the world as the country's 1.3 billion people have grown wealthier and incorporated it into their festivities.

While the Chinese government has banned shark fin soup from state banquets, and some five-star restaurants in Hong Kong and Singapore have dropped it from their menus, a burgeoning middle class in China continues to stoke demand.

Humans kill about 100 million sharks each year, mostly for their fins, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), and conservationists are warning that dozens of species are under threat.

Ninety percent of the world's sharks have disappeared over the past 100 years, mostly because of overfishing in countries such as Indonesia, the FAO said.

Conservationists also point out that "finning" -- slicing the valuable fins from live sharks -- is simply inhumane, as the rest of the animal is typically dumped back into the ocean where it bleeds slowly to death.

How to save the shark will be a top concern at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) that begins in Bangkok, Thailand, on Sunday.

World authorities will look at restricting trade of certain shark species.

Restrictions would apply to manta rays and five shark species -- the porbeagle, scalloped hammerhead, great hammerhead, smooth hammerhead and oceanic whitetip -- and must be approved by two-thirds of member states.

However, experts say laws to restrict trade will mean little unless there are total bans on fishing, with greater efforts needed to control unregulated fisheries.

Indonesia is particularly important because it is the world's biggest fisher and exporter of sharks, with thousands of small-time fishermen such as those in Bali able to operate with impunity.

Management of the Indonesian industry has been "total chaos", Conservation International Indonesia marine programme director Tiene Gunawan said, with no national restrictions on the trade.

In 2010, the Indonesian government designed a national plan of action to better manage the shark fishing industry, but it has so far issued no regulations.

Rampant shark fishing has already affected ecosystems in Indonesian waters, Gunawan said, including the world-famous diving spot Raja Amapat in the region of Papua.

However recent efforts by the provincial authorities there -- emanating from a recognition that there is greater economic benefit in maintaining shark populations -- could be a model for the future.

After authorities in Raja Ampat noticed a surge in boats carrying hundred of shark fins but no carcasses, the local government banned shark fishing in 2010.

Last week the ban was made into law, creating the country's only shark and manta ray sanctuary. It is also the first in the Coral Triangle, a massive region in Southeast Asia known as the "Amazon of the ocean".

"What they realised, and our studies support this, is that the value of a dead shark is much lower than if we keep it alive for tourism," Gunawan said.

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Shark Fisheries Globally Unsustainable: 100 Million Sharks Die Every Year

Science Daily 1 Mar 13;

The world's shark populations are experiencing significant declines with perhaps 100 million -- or more -- sharks being lost every year, according to a study published this week in Marine Policy.

"Sharks have persisted for at least 400 million years and are one of the oldest vertebrate groups on the planet. However, these predators are experiencing population declines significant enough to cause global concern," explains lead author Boris Worm, professor of biology at Dalhousie.

In the recently published paper, "Global Catches, Exploitation Rates and Rebuilding Options for Sharks," Worm and three other researchers from Dalhousie University teamed up with scientists from the University of Windsor in Canada, as well as Stony Brook University in New York, Florida International University (FIU) in Miami and the University of Miami, to calculate total shark mortality and outline possible solutions to protect the world's shark populations.

"This is a big concern because the loss of sharks can affect the wider ecosystem," said Mike Heithaus, executive director of FIU's School of Environment, Arts and Society and co-author of the paper. "In working with tiger sharks, we've seen that if we don't have enough of these predators around, it causes cascading changes in the ecosystem, that trickle all the way down to marine plants." Such changes can harm other species, and may negatively affect commercial fisheries, Heithaus explains.

Based on data collected for the latest study, shark deaths were estimated at 100 million in 2000 and 97 million in 2010. The total possible range of mortality is between 63 and 273 million annually.

The biggest culprit in the significant population decline is a combination of a global boom in shark fishing -- usually for their valuable fins -- and the relatively slow growth and reproductive rates of sharks. Because adequate data of shark catches is lacking for most of the world, the wide range of possible mortality is based on available data of shark deaths and calculated projections for unreported, discarded and illegal catches. But even with the uncertainty there is little question that sharks are being caught faster than they can reproduce.

"Sharks are similar to whales, and humans, in that they mature late in life and have few offspring' said Boris Worm. "As such, they cannot sustain much additional mortality. Our analysis shows that about one in 15 sharks gets killed by fisheries every year. With an increasing demand for their fins, sharks are more vulnerable today than ever before."

While some sharks are receiving protection through national and international agreements, the team of researchers suggests legislation should be expanded to a greater number of species. Imposing a tax on the export and import of shark fins could also help curb demand and generate income for domestic shark fisheries management, according to the study.

"The findings are alarming, but there is hope. Existing regulations are a great start but we must ensure they are adequately enforced," said Samuel Gruber of the University of Miami. "In addition, more nations must invest in sustainable shark fisheries management. This means introducing catch limits, trade regulation and other protective measures for the most vulnerable species and those that move across international boundaries."

The key message in this research is sustainability. Because of the role sharks play in the sustainability of marine ecosystems, the researchers insist that protective measures must be scaled up significantly to avoid further depletion and possible extinction of some of the world's top predators.

The information from this report comes at a critical time, as 177 governments from around the world will attend the March 3-14 meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) in Bangkok. CITES is widely considered one of the best tools for protecting vulnerable species from extinction. Hammerheads, Oceanic whitetip, and porbeagle sharks are currently being considered for protection under CITES.

Journal Reference:

Boris Worm, Brendal Davis, Lisa Kettemer, Christine A. Ward-Paige, Demian Chapman, Michael R. Heithaus, Steven T. Kessel, Samuel H. Gruber. Global catches, exploitation rates, and rebuilding options for sharks. Marine Policy, 2013; 40: 194 DOI: 10.1016/j.marpol.2012.12.034

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