Best of our wild blogs: 10 Apr 13

26-28 Apr: NEA Hackathon to create solutions for a sustainable Singapore from wild shores of singapore

Die Die Must Share – Collaborative Consumption in Singapore
from Green Business Times

from Singapore Nature

Oil spill dispersants do more harm than good
from wild shores of singapore

Still hope for tropical biodiversity in human modified landscapes from news by Jeremy Hance

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Indonesia: Wildfire destroys 60-ha of Riau peatland and forests

Rizal Harahap The Jakarta Post 10 Apr 13;

A haze has blanketed Bukit Kembar, Bengkalis, Riau, as around 60 hectares of a total of 300 hectares of peatland in the area have been destroyed by fire in the last few days.

Bengkalis Disaster Mitigation and Fire Agency (BPBD-Damkar) acting chief Jaafar Arief has blamed the wildfire on land clearing of the unattended peatland, which has been the center of a dispute between local residents and an agriculture company.

“People usually clear and burn peatlands for agricultural purposes and development needs. The land clearing has caused fires and uncontrolled haze,” said Jaafar on Tuesday.

“But we still have no idea who did this because in this kind of situation, nobody wants to confess and they blame each other instead. I keep pleading with the people who live here and with the agribusiness not to burn the peatlands because it is against the law,” he added.

The land clearing, by slash and burn, started wildfires on Saturday, which are destroying forests and the nearby oil palm plantations which belong to local people.

It was reported on Tuesday that the fire almost reached the acacia plantation which is owned by PT Arara Abadi, a subsidiary of Sinar Mas Forestry.

“The problem is that this is a peat swamp area and it will take some time to put out the wildfire. The fires spread so fast in this kind of terrain,” Jaafar went on.

BPBD-Damkar, who is struggling to control the devastating blaze, has deployed more than 100 firefighters, alongside with additional firefighters from PT Arara Abadi.

The teams tried to block the fires as they raged through Pelintung, but failed to do so.

“We cannot take all necessary heavy equipment with us as the locations are so inaccessible. The weather is so hot and dry. The wildfire spreads quickly out of control. It is only the rain which can put out this kind of wildfire,” he said.

PT Arara Abadi spokeswoman Nurul Huda declared that her company’s plantations were still safe from the wildfire, so far.

“We have sent around 100 firefighters to help extinguish the blaze and to assist with situation any way they can. The wildfire has poses a serious threat to our acacia plantations,” she added.

The smoke has also affected residents of Bengkalis Island.

Budi Suprayitno, an islander, claimed that the haze appeared in the morning and it lasted until evening.

“The sky looks cloudy, even though it is scorchingly hot. We cannot see the sun. The haze hurts our eyes. Many of us prefer to stay at home to avoid the haze,” said Budi.

“Sometimes we cannot even see the Bukit Batu area, which is only just across bay, as it is covered by the thick miasma. Normally, we can see it clearly from the island,” he added.

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Hazy skies return to Singapore

Today Online 9 Apr 13;

SINGAPORE — Smoggy skies returned to Singapore today, with the PSI reading, a measure of air pollution, at 35 to 51 in the good and moderate range at 12pm. The level of PM2.5, or very fine particulate matter, was between 23 and 32 micrograms per cubic metre.

The PSI reading as at 4pm was at 38-50, still considered to be in the good range.

According to the National Environment Agency, the hazy conditions is due to the onset of Inter-Monsoon conditions in the region late last month. This is a transition period between Northeast Monsoon and Southwest Monsoon, and typically last from late March to May. The Inter-Monsoon months are characterised by warm weather and occasional heavy thunderstorms, and with winds that are generally light and variable in direction.

During this period, Singapore is unlikely to be affected by significant transboundary haze, added NEA. However, Singapore may experience brief slight haziness from time to time, especially in the morning. This is due to the accumulation of particulate matter under light wind conditions and, or mist, and would usually clear later in the day.

Hazy skies to persist for a few days
David Ee Straits Times 10 Apr 13;

EXPECT to wake up to light hazy skies for a few more mornings yet.

Yesterday's hazy conditions which affected much of Singapore are expected to persist for a few days, said the National Environment Agency (NEA).

Hot spots in Myanmar, Thailand and Laos, which are experiencing their traditional dry season, have increased in number in recent weeks.

This has led to more dust particulates in the air.

When winds here weaken, as they typically do from late March to May, these particulates accumulate in the air, leading to the haze, explained an NEA spokesman.

As of noon yesterday, the Pollutant Standards Index readings hovered between 35 and 51, in the good to moderate range.

A hazy March and April is not unusual with similar conditions recorded in past years.

But the NEA spokesman also added that Singapore is unlikely to suffer from significant haze during this period, and that the NEA would continue to monitor the situation.

Ms Tan Lay Teen, a 48-year-old marketing consultant, said her skin and eyes were irritated and itchy yesterday as she walked in the Central Business District.

"I have been constantly thirsty too, and drinking lots of water doesn't seem to help," she added.

Members of the public who are unusually sensitive to haze should consider reducing prolonged or heavy exertion, the NEA said.

Air quality readings and health advisories are available on NEA's website, its Twitter feed NEAsg, the myENV app, or by calling 1800-2255-632.

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Take active role in enforcing diving safety

Straits Times Forum 10 Apr 13;

AS A recreational diver, I applaud the great work done by the National Water Safety Council and the Singapore Underwater Federation in promoting recreational diving safety over the years ("Measures for safe diving culture"; last Thursday). However, I also truly empathise with the concerns raised by Ms Angela Chong ("Adopt zero-tolerance approach to diving mishaps"; March 26).

The Technical Reference for Recreational Diving, or TR 32, is a step in the right direction - if only it could be more readily available to the public.

The TR 32 is currently available only through a singular third-party printing company, for a fee. It seems to be directed more at diving instructors and diving-related interest groups than at the novice recreational diver, the very people who would benefit most from it.

I also have my doubts about the feasibility of the DiveSafer initiative of accrediting dive operators.

If this accreditation is not internationally recognised, then it is an exercise in futility. Would it really matter to the diver whether a dive operator is DiveSafer-accredited, if it is already certified (which most are) by international training agencies such as the Professional Association of Diving Instructors, National Association of Underwater Instructors and Scuba Schools International?

The current recommendation from the Recreational Diving Safety Guide suggests an instructor to student ratio of 1:4-6. However, there is no similar recommendation for leisure divers.

It is not uncommon to see local dive operators taking on the mammoth task of controlling groups in excess of 20 divers with just two or three dive guides.

Enforcing a maximum instructor to diver ratio for local operators would probably be essential to ensure that adequate attention is being given to every diver.

Also, automated external defibrillator (AED) training is currently an optional module in the divemaster/instructor training course.

The use of an AED can greatly improve the outcome in any cardiopulmonary resuscitation effort. Would it perhaps be prudent to make AED training compulsory for all local divemasters and instructors, and ensure that they take along an AED for all dive trips?

Merely rolling out guidelines and offering suggestions to dive operators will not work. Regulatory bodies need to take an active role in enforcing safety, before the next diving accident happens.

Ng Yau Hong (Dr)

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Deepwater Horizon: Gulf of Mexico 'deep-cleaned' itself

Jason Palmer BBC News 9 Apr 13;

New details have emerged about "self-cleaning" effects in the Gulf of Mexico witnessed in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

Researchers reporting at the American Chemical Society conference revealed details of a cascade of micro-organisms that spring into action to degrade oil.

Research has also outlined how chemical "dispersants" used in clean-up efforts actually frustrate these processes.

However, the long-term effects of the weeks of oil exposure remain unknown.

And concern was expressed about the ultimate resilience of the Gulf.

Terry Hazen of the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, has been studying oil-degrading microbes in greater and greater detail since the disaster, even discovering some that had never been seen before.

They can break down the long-chain carbon-based "alkane" molecules present in oil - and in isolated conditions will even move towards oil.

"They're really oil-seeking missiles," he told the meeting.
'Deep cleaning'

In a sense, it is no surprise that the seas should host oil-hungry microbes; natural seeps from the ocean floor have been releasing oil into the world's waters for millions of years.

A 2003 US National Academy of Sciences report put the annual average of this seepage in the Gulf at 140,000 tonnes.

But Prof Hazen's research has revealed more of the complex web of microbes that feed on oil - and are in turn fed on.

Through recent studies, most recently in Frontiers of Microbiology, he and collaborators have begun to map the genomes of these microbes and determine which genes contribute to oil-degrading properties when oil concentrations rise.

A release like that of Deepwater Horizon contains a rich mix of carbon-containing molecules - alkanes, methane and what are called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), each presenting its own risks to the environment.

The new finding is about methanotrophs, which feed on methane - among the last compounds to be degraded.

Prof Hazen said that the sudden release of methane, rather than slow seeps, created a lucky effect.

"All of a sudden the [methanotroph populations] go up to really high densities and they're fat and happy - and then [the methane is] gone." he told BBC News.

"At that point, they degrade anything else that's there fortuitously, and they'll degrade it down below what would be usable as a carbon and energy source - so it's really sort of a 'deep-cleaning' effect.

"That's why I think the Gulf of Mexico is cleaner than you would expect, not only from the oil but from everything else that goes into it."
'Dramatic traumas'

Back on shore, Gabriel Kasozi, now of the Makerere University of Kampala in Uganda, studied the sediments in coastal areas of Louisiana after the disaster.

"We took samples 3m and 15m from the shores… followed that for about a year and did some modelling. We found that the half-life of the half-lives of the alkanes was about 70 days and PAHs was 100 days," he told the meeting.

"After a year, the concentrations had pretty much reduced to background levels."

What is becoming clearer with time is that the chemical dispersants typically used in clean-up efforts to break masses of oil up into small droplets does more harm than good.

A study in Environmental Pollution in February found that the toxicity of the oil-dispersant mix was 52 times more toxic to bacteria that are important to the ecosystem than either component alone.

But Dongye Zhao from Auburn University in the US said that the dispersants also caused sediments to absorb more of the harmful compounds, lengthening their effects on the environment.

"Preliminary results show us that adding dispersants induces a series of hystereses," he told the meeting.

"That means it's really going to… increase absorption, which is quite counterintuitive."

The group's work presented here also showed that dispersants interfered with other natural processes that degrade oil, including effects from sunlight and ground-level ozone.

Prof Hazen said that while the Gulf was cleaner, faster than was once assumed, the effects of spills are yet to be fully quantified.

"There was a lot of oil out there for 84 days," he told BBC News.

"Fish and bacteria and plankton and everything else were swimming through that oil, and we don't know what long-term effects that'll have.

"I am quite worried about how resilient the Gulf of Mexico is," Prof Hazen said.

"She's had some pretty dramatic traumas, and I'm worried how much the ecosystem can actually tolerate."

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Indonesia: Coastal Erosion Threatens Life on Derawan Island

Tunggadewa Mattangkilang Jakarta Globe 9 Apr 13;

Berau, East Kalimantan. An increased rate of marine erosion on the island of Derawan off the coast of Berau district threatens a local community and the endangered turtles that lay their eggs there, officials and conservationists warn.

Bahri, the chief of the island’s sole village, told the Jakarta Globe on Monday that rising sea levels since 2004 have accelerated the rate of coastal erosion.

“The rate at which the erosion is occurring is really fast. The island is visibly decreasing in area,” he said.

“We’ve already lost a volleyball court and a helipad that were built along the coast. Some people have even lost their homes.”

He added that officials from the district and provincial administration had conducted a survey of the phenomenon in 2010 and agreed on the need to build artificial breakers off the coast, but there had been no follow-up action since then.

“With the weather conditions getting worse every year, we’re concerned that the rate of the erosion will keep increasing and the island will eventually be wiped out,” Bahri said.

Rusli Andar, the coordinator for WWF Indonesia’s East Kalimantan marine program, said separately that the main stretch of beach on Derawan was getting narrower as a result of the erosion, with up to 15 meters of land lost to the sea in some areas.

He said this posed a major threat to the green sea turtles that laid their eggs on the beach. The endangered species already faces threats from poachers, theft of eggs and the habitat pollution.

“There haven’t been any efforts by the local authorities to address the erosion, which continues to get worse,” Rusli said.

The population of green turtles inside the Berau marine conservation area, which includes Derawan Island, was estimated at between 30,000 and 50,000 in 2010, according to the WWF. This is down significantly from the estimated 100,0000 to 150,000 turtles in 2002.

Mappasikra, a spokesman for the Berau administration, said the authorities were aware of the problem on Derawan and already had plans in place to relocate most of the island’s 1,800 villagers to the mainland.

He said this was not in response to the erosion issue, but part of conservation efforts to minimize human activity on the island.

But he added the administration also planned to deal with the erosion by building artificial breakers off the island.

“In the near future we hope to be able to put up a reef of rocks to slow the waves that hit the coast, but our main focus for now is to relocate the residents from the island,” Mappasikra said.

“We need to ensure that the island remains in pristine condition, which means limiting the number of people allowed to live there.”

The island is a key ecotourism site, drawing around 22,000 foreign visitors a year, according to district officials.

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Sea level rise will threaten land species

UPI 9 Apr 13;

VIENNA, April 9 (UPI) -- A predicted 3-foot rise in sea levels by century's end will leave many land animals at risk of extinction in Southeast Asia and Pacific regions, scientists say.

U.S. and European researchers said the risk of extinction is highest for species endemic to only on certain islands and already endangered species.

The researchers' study encompassed the entire Southeast Asian and Pacific region with more than 12,000 islands and the distribution of more than 3,000 vertebrate species of birds, amphibians, reptiles and mammals.

Climate change models indicate many islands and atolls in the study region will lose large parts of their land area and some islands will even become completely submerged.

"Some Pacific atolls stand to lose one-third of their land area with sea level rise of just one meter, and the species living there would be seriously at risk," study author Florian Wetzel of the University of Veterinary Medicine in Vienna said. "In contrast, other volcanic island groups and their resident species will incur area losses of just a few percent."

The researchers said their study, one of the first to examine the potential impacts of a rising sea level on biodiversity, should lead to strong calls to take sea level increases into account when planning species conservation measures in the affected areas.

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