Best of our wild blogs: 26 Mar 13

Happy 10th Anniversary Dives to Hantu Blog!
from Psychedelic Nature

Eastern Cattle Egret Eating A Frog
from Bird Ecology Study Group

Overseas community service (OCS)/ Youth expedition project (YEP) part 3: Are there still more things to check if my water is safe? from Water Quality in Singapore

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More funds to be raised for new natural history museum

Sara Grosse Channel NewsAsia 25 Mar 13;

SINGAPORE: An additional S$10 million is being raised for the new Lee Kong Chian Natural History for manpower and programme needs.

So far, the National University of Singapore (NUS) has raised S$56 million for the first purpose-built natural history museum which opens in 2014.

President Dr Tony Tan Keng Yam, who is also the NUS Chancellor, said this after a visit to the Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research.

The Raffles Museum will close at the end of March to move to the new natural history museum.

The President opened the museum 24 years ago.

He said the museum still plays an extremely scientific and national role.

"It should be used to educate our young Singaporeans about nature. And to interest them in what they see around them and to know that what is unique about our ecological surroundings here," Dr Tony Tan said.

- CNA/ck

Museum homecoming for President Tan
Tan Dawn Wei Straits Times 26 Mar 13;

ABOUT 25 years ago, President Tony Tan Keng Yam launched a collection that was to play an instrumental role in the growth of the Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research in Kent Ridge.

Yesterday, it was like a homecoming when he was invited to tour the place, one week before the packing starts on one of the largest collections of South-east Asian animals in the region.

The museum is moving to a new and larger home next year, about 850m away on the National University of Singapore campus.

It will be renamed Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum.

"It's very interesting for me to see how it has evolved and still playing an extremely valuable scientific and national role," said President Tan after an hour-long tour of the public gallery and the compacter shelves, where most of the specimens are kept.

The collection has grown from 160,000 in 1988 - when President Tan, then education minister, opened the Zoological Reference Collection at the NUS science faculty - to 500,000 now.

Calling the museum a "national treasure", President Tan said a proper natural history museum is "highly needed in Singapore" and will be a valuable addition to the country's medley of museums and the study of nature.

Its director Peter Ng said the museum's closure marks "the end of one cycle".

In the last 25 years, it has grown beyond being just a reference collection for scientific research. In 2001, a public gallery was created as the museum embarked on outreach, education and heritage programmes.

"We want to do it on an even grander scale in our new home," said Professor Ng.

Related links
Donate to the new natural history museum.

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Flood-proofing can boost water security in Singapore

Steven Lee Thien Poh Today Online 26 Mar 13;

In his commentary, “Treading between the painful and the popular” (March 22), Mr Terence Poon suggests that there must be a trade-off between flood-proofing and water security.

He suggests flood-proofing was a decision to win votes but might hurt Singapore in the long term, while proper water management would hurt in the short term but help in the long run.

To my mind, both are equally important, need to be addressed together and would benefit Singapore in the long term.

He mentioned that flood-proofing will cost S$750 million, whereas the damage from the flash floods in June-July 2010 amounted to only S$23 million. However, the S$750 million is to ensure that we do not have flash floods for years to come.

And we cannot assume that flood damage would, at most, be S$23 million every year. Global warming is causing climate change, the risk of floods will get higher and the damage will get bigger. Flood-proofing is also likely to be costlier in the future.

Mr Poon said that technology such as membranes for reverse osmosis, used in NEWater processes, have done more to wean Singapore off imported water, whereas drainage work only channels rainwater to reservoirs and boosts water supply.

However, there will be more demand for water as the population and economic activities increase. Just recycling the current waste water would be insufficient. The flood-proofing work now will make more water available for treatment to meet the extra demand.

I agree, though, that we must continue spending on water treatment research and development.

Treading between the painful and the popular
Terence Poon Today Online 22 Mar 13;

When they turn on the tap, Singaporeans know there will be water. They know it will be clean and safe to drink. The tap symbolises Singapore’s progress from water rationing to water security over the past 50 years.

But Singapore faces risks in continuing its remarkable success story in handling water and flood issues, as more Singaporeans seek a say in national decisions.

The risk in the water sector is simple: Will the Government make decisions that could lose votes in the coming years, but help Singapore in coming decades?

Or will it make decisions that win votes in the near term, but might hurt the country in the long term?

As voters speak louder, the Government will need to learn how it can strike a balance between populism and paternalism, in regard to water and other national issues. A failure to learn may impede popular participation or create problems decades later.


A comparison of water management in the 1970s and today illustrates this challenge. Decades ago, the Government adopted water policies that hurt in the short term, but helped in the long term.

In 1977, it cleaned the Singapore River. More than 40,000 squatters were resettled and 610 pig farmers lost their way of life. The farmers voted against the People’s Action Party (PAP) for many years after, recalled former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew.

Yet this unpopular policy made the river clean enough so its water can be made potable. The Singapore River became the Marina Reservoir in 2010, with a capacity to supply 10 per cent of water used in Singapore. An unpopular decision with short-term pain led to benefits — greater water security.

Today, the Government risks adopting water policies that enrich in the short term, but could hurt in the long term. The PUB is investing S$750 million over five years to improve expand drainage capacity in 20 areas, after the flash floods in 2010 and 2011 and the last General Election.

This figure compares with an estimated S$23 million of damages from flash floods in June–July 2010. It dwarfs the S$470 million the Government has allocated to finance R&D and grow the water industry since 2006.

Although drainage works channel rainwater to reservoirs and boost water supply, technologies like membranes for reverse osmosis, used in NEWater processes, have played a bigger role in weaning Singapore off imported water.

In expanding drainage capacity, the Government is responding to the people, as it should. But it risks overlooking more important water needs, like R&D. Short-term gains may hurt in the future.


This generation of political leaders, not so accustomed to having to win the hearts and minds of the people at the polls, will need to tread carefully.

On the one hand, it needs to take into account views from the majority, the minority, the noisy, the silent, as people seek a louder say in making policy. Popular participation will give people a stake in the country. It preserves autonomy.

On the other, the Government and citizens need to take into account longer-term benefits, such as water security or fiscal sustainability; for the selfish, the future is a problem for future generations.

To address this challenge, the Government could share crucial information so it partners people in informed discussion about trade-offs: Flood-proofing or water security? Informed discussion could lead to novel suggestions and improve policies.

It could help the Government consider issues from new perspectives and people reinterpret their interests. For instance, people may consider the benefit of water security for their children and grandchildren to outweigh the cost of occasional flash floods to themselves.

Informed discussion will enable Singaporeans and their leaders to recognise problems, options and trade-offs. Informed discussion can even make hard decisions easier: People can accept decisions they disagree with if they understand why it is made and if they have been involved in it.

Yet, crucial nuggets of information are often hard to find in Singapore, impoverishing discussion. For instance, does the S$750-million drainage investment add to or repackage planned investment? What are the monetary and non-monetary returns on drainage works compared with that on R&D?

Without information, people cannot suggest improvements, reconsider interests or support a policy with which they disagree but understand.

The Government will need to learn to share information and exchange ideas with the people.

It has started Our Singapore Conversation to spark discussion with and among citizens about the future of Singapore. Similarly, it can learn to converse with citizens about the possible future of Singapore’s water story, strike a balance between populism and paternalism, and build “water for all”.


Terence Poon is a Master in Public Administration student at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy.

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India: Population of ‘sea cows’ off Gujarat coast declining, says minister

The Indian Express 26 Mar 13;

Ahmedabad A survey by the Wildlife Institute of India has confirmed the dugong population off Gujarat coast is declining because of fishing-related activities, pollution and habitat degradation, Union Environment Minister Jayanthi Natarajan has said.

The Gulf of Kutch is the only region in the western Indian coast where the mammal, also known as sea-cow due to its appearance and vegetarian diet that mainly comprises of sea-grass, is found.

The marine mammal's population off Tamil Nadu, another area it is found, is also declining, the minister told Trinamool Congress MP Professor Saugata Roy, who raised a question in the Lok Sabha.

"The Government of India has supported the Gujarat Ecological Education and Research (GEER) Foundation to assess the populations of dugong using interview based survey in 2009 and found that the populations of dugong were declined in its all ranges," Natarajan said.

"Primary analysis of the survey carried out by WII in 2012-13 has also confirmed that the dugong populations in Gujarat and Tamil Nadu is declining due to fisheries related activities, pollution and habitat degradation. However, the dugong population in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands is found to be stable," she added.

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Reef-building corals lose out to softer cousins due warming

Alister Doyle PlanetArk 26 Mar 13;

Climate change is likely to make reef-building stony corals lose out to softer cousins in a damaging shift for many types of fish that use reefs as hideaways and nurseries for their young, a study showed.

Soft corals such as mushroom-shaped yellow leather coral, which lack a hard outer skeleton, were far more abundant than hard corals off Iwotorishima, an island off south Japan where volcanic vents make the waters slightly acidic, it said.

A build-up of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is turning the oceans more acidic in a process likely to hamper the ability of creatures such as lobsters, crabs, mussels or stony corals to build protective outer layers.

"Soft coral has the potential to be a winner in coral reefs," lead author Shihori Inoue of the University of Tokyo told Reuters by e-mail of the findings, the first study of likely winners and losers among soft and hard corals.

"Reef communities may shift from reef-building hard corals to non-reef-building soft corals under (carbon dioxide levels) predicted by the end of this century," the authors wrote in Monday's edition of the journal Nature Climate Change.

When it reacts with water, carbon dioxide in the atmosphere can form carbonic acid. That damages hard corals, tiny animals that secrete calcium carbonate to form their stony protective layer.

"When combined with their ability for rapid colonization, soft corals may out compete hard corals in coral reef environments subject to ocean acidification," the scientists wrote.


"Hard corals are important reef builders and provide complex three-dimensional habitats for many reef organisms," they wrote, adding that a shift could have damaging effects for many fish and other marine creatures that live around reefs.

A community of soft coral "hardly works like hard coral as a nest for small living organism such as ... shrimp, and little fish," Inoue said. The 2003 animated movie "Saving Nemo" shows how clownfish live and grow around reefs.

Covering less than one percent of the ocean floor, reefs support about 25 percent of all marine life, with over 4,000 species of fish alone, according to the International Coral Reef Initiative which seeks to protect reefs.

The scientists said that the levels of carbon dioxide in the water off Iwotorishima, an island near Okinawa in the Pacific, corresponded varied from equivalent to 550 parts per million (ppm) of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to as high as 970. Both levels are within the range seen as possible by 2100 according to the U.N. panel of climate scientists.

Current atmospheric levels are about 395 ppm, a sharp rise from 280 ppm before the Industrial Revolution. And emissions of carbon dioxide are continuing to rise - China, the United States and the European Union are the top emitters.

Other studies have also shown that stony coral reefs are vulnerable to rises in temperature that can cause a whitening that can lead to death.

Gas vents in the Mediterranean and corals around a carbon dioxide seep off Papua New Guinea have also been used to study the likely future conditions of the oceans.

"Soft coral may not always be the winner in acidified waters. In temperate oceans, it has been shown that algae or sea anemones can be winners at high-carbon dioxide vents," they wrote.

(Reporting by Alister Doyle; Editing by Jason Webb)

Climate change brings opportunities
Coralcoe Science Alert 26 Mar 13;

Climate change will bring both big opportunities and threats to the fish-dependent nations of the Pacific, international scientists say.

While the coral reef fisheries of Pacific islands are likely to take a major hit from warming and ocean acidification, there is potential for well-managed tuna stocks to grow, improving both national food security and economic prospects in many countries.

The finding appears in the journal Nature Climate Change and is the work of a team of marine scientists from Australia, France, New Caledonia and Fiji.

“Nowhere else in the world do so many countries and territories depend as heavily on fish and shellfish for economic development, government revenue, food security and livelihoods, they point out, adding fishing accounts for 25% or more of the GDP of 12 of the 22 Pacific countries.

“Fish is also a cornerstone of food security in the region,” says Professor Morgan Pratchett of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies and James Cook University.

“The tropical Pacific has warmed substantially over the past 50 years,” the report says. “This has reduced the sea’s salinity over large areas and is a trend we expect to see continue as tropical rainfall rises.

“The outlook for El Nino events is still unclear, but there are expected to be fewer, stronger tropical cyclones. Some important currents will weaken. The ocean will continue to acidify with further increases in atmospheric CO2, much of which dissolves in seawater. Sea levels will rise between a half and one metre by 2100. All these changes will affect fish – and the people and communities that depend on them.”

The researchers consider that the Pacific Warm Pool – an immense area of hot water north of Papua New Guinea – is liable to expand, and this may cause a decline in the plankton on which tuna feed.

This will cause tuna to shift their feeding and breeding grounds towards the south and east Pacific, meaning that countries lying to the east of 170 degrees may emerge as ‘winners’ and gain more fish, while others to the west may be ‘losers’.

Overall, there could be a ‘net gain’ in the Pacific tuna catch, provided the stocks are well managed and fishing pressure controlled, the report indicates.

For coral reef fisheries the outlook is uniformly dire: “Even under good management (for example, controlling runoff), coral cover is expected to decrease from the present-day maximum of 40% to 1-30% by 2035 and 10-20% by 2050,” due mainly to bleaching, says Professor Pratchett, who was responsible for analysis of coastal fisheries projections.

“At the same time mangroves and seagrass beds – important as fish nurseries – are also likely to suffer.”

A projected 20 per cent decline in coral reef fish, shellfish and crustacean harvests is likely to have a significant effect on regional food security, the scientists caution.

“In countries (such as) PNG, Samoa, the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu, even well-managed coastal fisheries will not supply the 35 kg of fish per capita per year recommended for good nutrition in the years to come owing to the limited areas of coral reef relative to population size, and rapid population growth.”

Good management of tuna stocks, especially, could in fact enhance regional food security under climate change, they add.

The paper “Mixed responses of tropical Pacific fisheries and aquaculture to climate change” by Johann D. Bell1, Alexandre Ganachaud, Peter C. Gehrke, Shane P. Griffiths, Alistair J. Hobday, Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, Johanna E. Johnson, Robert Le Borgne, Patrick Lehodey, Janice M. Lough, Richard J. Matear, Timothy D. Pickering, Morgan S. Pratchett, Alex Sen Gupta, Inna Senina and Michelle Waycott appears in Nature Climate Change.

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