Best of our wild blogs: 12 Apr 13

Should we care about Pulau Ubin? Seeking views and comments
from Lazy Lizard's Tales

Free guided tours of Sentosa's natural shore at Tanjung Rimau
from wild shores of singapore

Dr Francis Seow discusses his love for stick insects in Berita Minggu from Raffles Museum News

Job: Manager at National Biodiversity Centre, NParks
from The Biodiversity crew @ NUS

Bachelor of Business / Environmental Science – GIS Sessional Lecturers / Tutors [Jobs] from Green Business Times

LOHAS Asia and Green Drinks event: Singapore Skincare Discussion from Green Drinks Singapore

Fighting deforestation—and corruption—in Indonesia
from news

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Letter informs Ubin residents of possible resettlement

Poon Chian Hui Straits Times 12 Apr 13;

SOME residents on Pulau Ubin appear to be facing resettlement to make way for a possible adventure park.

They have been sent a letter telling them that their homes are slated for "clearance".

The Housing Board document said officers will visit their premises to conduct a "census survey" and determine their "eligibility of resettlement benefits". It also suggested the houses will be making way for an adventure park on the 1,020 ha boomerang-shaped island, which is home to some of Singapore's last kampungs.

No details were provided but the last time a project like this was mentioned was in 1993. Back then, it was reported that the Government would acquire 254 ha of the private land on Pulau Ubin within the following year, partly to create an adventure park.

Today, about 100 villagers live on the island. They are mainly older folk, some of whom depend on farming and fishing for a living. Others run small businesses, such as bicycle rental shops, to serve the 300,000 visitors who come every year.

The HDB said in the letter that the Singapore Land Authority had sought its assistance to clear the houses. It asked residents to prepare several documents, such as birth certificates, property tax bills or proofs of ownership of their houses.

These should be presented to officers who will visit their premises to conduct the census survey.

Responding to queries, the relevant agencies said they would provide more details at a later date. But affected residents said the exercise started a few months ago.

It is not yet known how many people are affected. HDB's Land Clearance Section officers are also involved in the survey. This department is the principal agency involved in clearing squatters from state land on behalf of the Government and other statutory boards, for public development.

Long-time Ubin resident Chai Tien Soong, 67, said officers came to inspect his house about two months ago and he showed them documents proving that he owns the place.

The driver, who has lived in Pulau Ubin since he was 17, was given approval to continue living in his current premises. But he said people from about five Malay kampungs have been asked to move out, or pay rent. It is understood they were offered compensation.

Speaking in Mandarin, Mr Chai said: "Everyone is having a headache over this now."

Dismay at Pulau Ubin houses possibly being cleared for development
Eugene Neubronner Today Online 12 Apr 13;
[Comment: shortly after this article came online, the link no longer takes us to the article.]

SINGAPORE - Residents and visitors on Pulau Ubin have reacted with dismay about the possibility of the squatter houses being cleared by the authorities.

It is understood about 10 houses are affected, all along a small stretch of road near Murai Hut on the island.

A letter, dated March 12, has been put up at the door of these houses. It said the Singapore Land Authority had "sought HDB Land Clearance Section’s assistance” to clear the squatter houses. It added that officers would visit the premises to conduct a census survey “for the purpose of determining (the owner’s) eligibility for resettlement benefits”. It’s header suggested that the homes would make way for an adventure park.

A resident, Miss Amidah Awang, who is in her 50s, said she was born on the island and had lived there all of her life. "It's cool, quiet, what food we need we can get from the forest or from fishing... I don't really want to move (to the mainland)."

She added: "If they really ask us to leave, we'll have to go to my sister’s house in Singapore.”

One of the houses affected is being used by to conduct Malay cooking classes on weekends there.

Senior Art Director Brice Li, 44, who was visiting the island with some friends from the United States, said he visits the island regularly.

He said that it would “very sad” for the houses to make way. Nevertheless, the silver lining was that wildlife had flourished now that there are fewer people living on the island, he said.

Related links
Eviction of residents at Kampung Melayu, Pulau Ubin: What's happening? from The Lazy Lizard's Tales blog: a compilation of conversation and information shared on social media about this issue.

More about Pulau Ubin on wildsingapore: how to get there and what to see and do.

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Sentosa au naturel

The island is more than glitzy resorts and sandy beaches, with lots of flora and fauna on offer
Sarah Roxanne Sim Straits Times 12 Apr 13;

Think of Sentosa, and glitzy resorts and tourist spots come to mind. Yet, scattered among the fancy hotels and crowded theme parks are the island's hidden secrets - endangered trees, cheeky critters and beautiful plants.

In January this year, the Sentosa Development Corporation - known as Sentosa Leisure Group with its subsidiaries - was named a finalist in the Tourism For Tomorrow Awards, a worldwide travel industry accolade for sustainable tourism efforts.

The corporation, tasked with developing Sentosa as an attraction since 1972, was up for the Destination Stewardship Award, a category open to any country, region, state or town that protects its natural and cultural heritage while promoting itself as a vacation spot. This year's award eventually went to the Peaks of the Balkans committee, responsible for creating a 192km hiking trail across the mountains of Kosovo, Montenegro and Albania.

While Sentosa's charms are more modest, compared to the formerly war-torn region's transformative tourism feat, it is the result of decades-long planning which fiercely guards its green areas, despite the temptations of lucrative over-building.

The 10-year Sentosa Green Plan was launched in late-2009 to help ensure that at least 60 per cent of the 500ha island is made up of flora, fauna and open space. Currently, that figure stands at 58 per cent, estimates the Sentosa Leisure Group's environmental sustainability manager Lieow Shao Wei.

Ms Lieow says: "In Singapore, we may not have pristine lakes or big mountains like The Rockies in Canada. When most people think of Sentosa, they think of going to the beach or going to the attractions. Very few people think of exploring nature here.

"That is how we approach sustainability in terms of nature. It may not be a main draw yet, but it is something that goes hand-in-hand with the rest of the activities on the island."

Despite major developments and high visitorship on the island over the years (19 million visitors in 2011), deliberate steps have been taken to preserve the island's rich heritage and island charm. The island's ecological efforts are reflected in its meticulous land planning and usage as well as island operations.

Developers on the island are given strict guidelines by Sentosa Development Corporation. Luxury resort Capella Singapore, which opened in 2009, was made to build around five heritage trees on its compound. And Resorts World Sentosa moved more than 200 trees at its site and replanted them in other parts of the island, in order to conserve the wildlife and minimise the environmental impact of constructing the integrated resort.

As a result, pockets of Singapore's natural heritage have been preserved, dotting the island formerly known as Pulau Blakang Mati. The isle is home to 30 heritage trees. Four of these - namely, an Angsana, a Common Pulai tree, an Indian Pulai, and an cempedak tree - are the largest of their kind in Singapore. The island also harbours numerous species of wildlife, such as the Oriental Magpie-Robin and the Oriental Pied Hornbill, which are listed in the Singapore Red Data Book compilation of threatened wildlife here.

Nature Society Singapore's president, Dr Shawn Lum, sees the corporation as having a long-term plan for its green areas - one that balances "expansion of facilities and attractions" with careful management of "its green inheritance".

"Sentosa is home to very diverse and beautiful natural habitats, such as rocky shores and several distinct kinds of forests," adds Dr Lum.

Bearing this observation out, some visitors say they are drawn to Sentosa as much for its lush greenery and myriad animals and insects, as they are to its man-made entertainment.

On a Tuesday afternoon, Indonesian tourist Anita Ng was reading up on the wildlife in Sentosa at the Sentosa Nature Discovery, a small hub for nature lovers and rookies alike to learn more about the wildlife found on the island.

Ms Ng, 35, a housewife on her maiden trip to Sentosa, says that the wildlife is an "added bonus" to the activities on the island. She adds: "I was surprised by how green it is here. The balance of nature and fun activities is what makes Sentosa interesting and special."

Hit the eco trails
Straits Times 12 Apr 13;


Where: A five-minute walk from Shangri-La's Rasa Sentosa Resort. The coast, which is the last remaining natural coastline on Sentosa, is behind the hotel.

What: Wildlife enthusiasts can glimpse monitor lizards and kingfishers and anemones such as the sea mat zoanthid at Tanjong Rimau, a relatively unspoilt shore.

Expect to see a 7ha forest, filled with trees such as the podocarpus polystachyus, commonly known as the sea teak, perched atop a cliff that Nature Society Singapore experts estimate has been holding up since the pre-Jurassic era.

If you are lucky, and have eagle eyes, you may even spy a macaque strolling by, or a sea cockroach darting across the sand.

Info: Call Sentosa on 6736-8672 or e-mail to schedule a free guided tour. As the area's colourful rocks are slippery, the occasional high tides can pose a danger to the uninitiated. Visitors should join the Sentosa team's guided tour instead of going unaccompanied.


Where: Starts from the tram roundabout near Rasa Sentosa Resort and the Flying Trapeze at Siloso Beach, and ends near the Resorts World Sentosa development.

What: This relatively short nature trail, which takes about 15 minutes to complete, offers a taste of the six main trails on the island such as the two segments that make up the 620m-long Imbiah Loop.

Just five minutes away from Tanjong Rimau, it offers a leisurely stroll surrounded by greenery. Squirrels and geckos can be spotted amid unique trees, such as dragon blood trees which produce red sap, thorny Nibong palm trees, and the Litsea Elliptica, commonly known as Medang trees.

Mr Daniel Seah, 58, an arborist with Sentosa Leisure Group, says visitors are often surprised to find out that Litsea Elliptica is often used in traditional medicine to treat fevers, headaches and stomach ulcers.

You can rent a hybrid bicycle for $15 an hour from the Segway Hub at Beach Station, and explore the island in an eco-friendly way.

Info: Take the Sentosa Express monorail service to Beach Station. Hop on the Siloso Beach Tram from Beach Station and get off at stop 4A near Rasa Sentosa Resort. The first train leaves Sentosa Station at VivoCity at 7am, and the last train leaves Beach Station at midnight. The Beach Tram service runs from 9am to 10.30pm from Sundays to Fridays, and from 9am to midnight on Saturdays.


Where: Imbiah Lookout, near the Merlion

What: Visitors who want to be nature detectives can head to this attraction.

Converted in 2009 from a defunct monorail station, this hub for nature lovers has walls of information on the island's wildlife - from animals to insects and plants.

Visitors can also take a stroll down the 200m-long boardwalk, which is built out of recycled timber over the old monorail tracks.

Tembusu trees flank the boardwalk, and along the way, visitors can spot everything from colourful cotton stainer bugs to Oriental Magpie-Robins, which are an endangered species of birds listed in the Singapore Red Data Book of threatened wildlife here.

The boardwalk ends near a nature trail at the top of the Imbiah rainforest, one of two green lungs on the island.

Designated by Sentosa Development Corporation as nature zones, these large areas - with Mount Imbiah spanning 15ha and Mount Serapong spanning 25ha - must remain undeveloped.

History buffs can take a stroll to the top and explore colonial-era military forts and bunkers there.

Info: Take the Sentosa Express to Imbiah Station. Take the escalator at the Merlion Plaza up to Imbiah Lookout.

Related links
More about Sentosa's natural shores on wildsingapore and wild shores of singapore

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Lower dues and other perks to make Singapore port more attractive

Jermyn Chow Straits Times 12 Apr 13;

REDUCED fees and other incentives aimed at boosting port competitiveness and making better use of anchorage space were announced last night.

The key change, which starts in July, will see port dues lowered for up to 83 per cent of the container ships that pull in here.

A 20 per cent concession on port dues, which is due to expire at the end of June next year, will also be made permanent.

The moves unveiled by the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) will mean shippers which dock in Singapore can expect to save about $22 million a year.

The revised dues are likely to benefit ships that can turn around fast. Long-staying vessels - up to 7 per cent of those calling here - may have to pay higher fees.

Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew, who announced the changes, said they are aimed at ensuring that Singapore's port becomes more attractive in terms of financing and costs.

Mr Lui told the annual Singapore International Maritime Awards - part of the Singapore Maritime Week - last night: "I know in difficult times and challenging times that you all face in the maritime sector, this is something that we in Singapore and the MPA can help you along."

He also announced more incentives and discounts for ships to become more ecologically sustainable. These discounts fall under a $100 million Maritime Singapore Green Initiative launched in 2011.

Rebates for ships that burn cleaner fuels at Singapore's port will go up from 15 per cent to 25 per cent.

Another incentive will mean Singapore-flagged ships that adopt designs that reduce fuel consumption and sulphur oxide emissions will pay only one-quarter of their initial registration fees. Previously, these fees were halved.

Local maritime companies that develop and adopt green technologies that can achieve more than 10 per cent reduction in emission levels can also get more funds.

The moves to boost the maritime sector follow initiatives announced by Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam on Tuesday to raise the beleaguered industry's productivity.

Although shippers are grappling with tight margins due to high fuel and manpower costs, container volumes are expected to grow in Asia.

The maritime sector accounts for about 7 per cent of Singapore's gross domestic product.

Team bags $1.2m prize with radical design

A TEAM of engineering researchers and a crane manufacturer have won a US$1 million (S$1.24 million) prize for its radical design for a double-storey container port terminal with driverless trucks.

The team, comprising the National University of Singapore (NUS), Shanghai Maritime University and Shanghai Zhenhua Heavy Industries Company, beat six other finalists to win the first Next Generation Container Port Challenge last night.

The competition, launched last year by the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore, is aimed at unearthing the ideal port design - a design that could well materialise when Singapore develops the new Tuas Port.

Dubbed Singa (Sustainable Integrated Next Generation Advanced) port, the idea was to save space and use less manpower, said one team member, NUS Associate Professor Lee Loo Hay.

Few, if any, ports in the world have multi-storey or double-storey port terminals.

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Malaysia: Secret Population of Orangutans Found in Sarawak Yahoo News 11 Apr 13;

A population of 200 of the world's rarest orangutans was found tucked away in the forests of the island of Borneo, according to the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS).

All subspecies of Bornean orangutans are listed as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. But scientists estimate just 3,000 to 4,500 individuals are left in the subspecies known as Pongo pygmaeus pygmaeus, making them the most severely threatened.

Two-thousand of those live in the Malaysian state of Sarawak in Batang Ai National Park and Lanjak-Entimau Wildlife Sanctuary, researchers say. The previously unknown population was found by conservationists near the Batang park, in an area covering about 54 square miles (140 square kilometers).

Local communities apparently had been aware of the apes, but no major research projects had been undertaken in the area until February, when conservations with WCS and other groups surveyed the region. They found a total of 995 orangutan nests, including fresh nests that indicated the rare population was recently using the area.

Previously, researchers studying fresh nests left by wild orangutans in Indonesia found they are incredibly complex, made in the crooks of large branches. The orangutans bend and interweave living branches about an inch (3 centimeters) wide to form the nest.

"They are just bent. They can actually stay living and later on you can go back to them and see they are like an archeological artifact of all these strangely bent items," said Roland Ennos of the University of Manchester, in the United Kingdom, when the study was published last year in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. "It's very similar to weaving a basket, they have to break the branches, weave them together and form a nice, strong, rigid structure."

The Sarawak state government is now mulling new protections (including new national parks) for the area where the hidden orangutans were documented.

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Malaysia: Treasuring A National Treasure-The Great Hornbill

Wan Shahara Ahmad Ghazali Bernama 12 Apr 13;

KUALA LUMPUR, April 12 (Bernama) -- On a trip to Langkawi, nature lovers would be able to enjoy a 360-degree view of the Langkawi group of islands from two mountain peaks, namely Gunung Mat Cincang, which is accessible via a cable car, and Gunung Raya, where one can drive up to.

And if one is lucky, one might get a glimpse of the priceless national treasure - the Great Hornbill - the world's largest hornbill that resides in these mountainous regions.

Most visitors usually miss the sight of the bird, although the hornbill with the scientific name of Buceros bicornis is a large bird that measures 1.5 metres when it spreads its wings.

The weight of the bird can reach up to four kilogrammes, which probably also explains why the bird does not fly as freely as other birds and is usually seen hopping on to the highest branch of a tree before taking flight in a ski-like fashion as it spreads its wings in the air.

The size of the Great Hornbill, also known as Enggang Papan locally, is another factor why there needs to be preservation of its natural nesting place -- usually trees with huge diameters, which themselves are in danger of being sacrificed as timber for trade.


The endangered Great Hornbill builds its nest within the natural cavities of trees that are large enough to house both mother and baby hornbills for a period of three months.

Within the tree hole, the mother-to-be will stay cocooned, with the opening of the crevice almost completely sealed by a mix of bird droppings, mud and saliva, leaving only a small hole where the partner bird is able to pass on food to the nesting mother.

Major food for the bird includes wild fruits, which are also an important source of water for the body, while the birds' usual diet consists of small animals, birds and insects.

Within the tree cavity, the mother hornbill prepares a nest using some of her own features and will go on to hatch her eggs, while her partner flies out to bring food for all three.

This also means that should the tree, in which the mother and her baby are nesting, be cut down, both the mother and baby hornbills will die trapped and hungry, while the partner will also suffer, as hornbills are known to be monogamous or partners for life.


In fact, a bird watcher and member of the Malaysian Nature Society (MNS), Langkawi branch, Irshad Mobarak, tells a tragic story involving a hornbill.

He said he had once witnessed a hornbill wailing loud and long upon seeing the felling of a tree and the destruction of the nest in the tree that had housed its partner and baby.

It was even more painful to see the hornbill regularly returning for several years to the place where the tree had once stood.

"Unfortunately, in Langkawi, the hornbill does not only face the threat of losing its habitat due to illegal logging activities, clearing of hills or indiscriminate development, but it is also hunted and killed illegally by irresponsible people just to cater to the demands of foreign tourists seeking aphrodisiac food," Irshad lamented.

Meanwhile, should one want to watch the sheer magnificence of the Great Hornbill, taking up a spot in Gunung Raya, just after the fajar prayers or before the twilight hour, would be the best bet to personally witness the great birds flying.

One could also witness the birds flying across from one forest area to another in Pantai Kok, Langkawi, late in the evenings and before the sun sets.


Currently, world records show that there are only 55 hornbill species existing, including 31 species in Asia and the rest in Africa.

Only 12 of these species are found in South East Asia, but an interesting fact is that Malaysia is the sanctuary for 10 of these species -- a rich heritage indeed.

Even more interesting is that all these species of hornbills can be found in the Belum-Temenggor Forest Complex (BTFC) in Perak, which encompasses the Royal Belum State Park and the Temenggor forest reserves.

Bird watchers have the opportunity to see all the 10 species, including the Plain-pouched Hornbill, which is already classified as vulnerable to extinction by the Merah International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). These birds are presently found only at the BTFC.

The irony is that Malaysia did not even know that it was home to the Plain-pouched Hornbill, till researchers from MNS identified them and confirmed their identity in 1998 as the 10th specimen of the Hornbills found in the country.


During a recent visit to the forest, a conservation officer at MNS, specifically for the hornbill conservation project, Ravinder Kaur, explained that prior to the finding, the 10th specimen was said to be seen only in Myanmar and Thailand, with a population of about 1,000. The figure has come down though since, she said.

"When MNS made the efforts to organise the second Belum-Temenggor scientific expedition in 1998, they made a discovery that went beyond their expectations, which was the group of Plain-pouched Hornbills," she said, further explaining that the physical features of the bird were also similar to that of the Wreathed Hornbill.

In 2008, history was also created, with the recording of an impressive number of 3,000 Plain-pouched Hornbills at one count.

The number had astounded the researchers as scientists had estimated that only a total of 10,000 adults of the hornbill species could have existed worldwide at that time.

This finding also further underlined the importance of the forest complex, which comprises 266,170 hectares that should be a priority area and accorded due protection, especially the Temenggor forests that were yet to be fully protected.

There is no denying that many would want the Belum-Temenggor forest complex, which has been acknowledged as an Important Birds Area (IBA) in the world, to be given continued protection so that it would remain a tourist attraction and also a centre for bird watchers to gather every year, while generating small time businesses for the local people.


Meanwhile, in Sabak Bernam, the villagers of Kampung Parit 13 Sungai Panjang, have established their own way of helping to conserve the Oriental Pied Hornbill, with the help of Universiti Putra Malaysia's Department of Biology Science.

These species of hornbill, the smallest among the hornbills found in the country, have adapted to living in village environments and indeed, are often the focus of tourism activities in these villages. They also contribute to raising awareness towards their conservation.

Initially, the loss of habitat had forced the birds to live within the ecosystem of humans living in the same areas. This distressed the people, who had to put up with disturbances to their crops, but eventually, they ended up adapting and accommodating each other.

Curiously, the birds have also adopted the earthen pots, made by villagers, as their nesting ground for laying eggs and protection during the breeding season.

Once the female hornbill enters the pot to prepare for hatching eggs, its partner will seal up most part of the pot's opening with clay, leaving only a little space for the passing on of food.

However, although the hornbills seem to have adjusted to the environment of human beings, a nesting mother hornbill will not accept any food from humans and will only accept food from its partner.

The remaining of the hornbills found in Malaysia are the Enggang Bulu (White Crowned Hornbill), Enggang Kawan/Buluh (Bushy Crested Hornbill), Enggang Berkedut (Wrinkled Hornbill), Burung Kekek/Burung Gatal Birah (Malayan Black Hornbill), Enggang Badak (Rhinoceros Hornbill), and Burung Tebang Mentua (Helmeted Hornbill).


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Malaysia: Marauding elephant caught

News Straits Times 12 Apr 13;

BALING: More than 100 villagers in Kampung Rambong Padang near here are relieved after state Wildlife and National Parks Department (Perhilitan) managed to capture a male elephant which had been destroying their crops for the past four months.

Acting on complaints from the villagers, a team from the department together with Rela volunteers captured the pachyderm while it was roaming alone in a bush about 300m from the village at 11.30am on Wednesday.

Kedah Perhilitan director Razidan Md Yasin believed that the elephant came to the bush scavenging for food when it was captured.

"The elephant is from the Ulu Muda forest reserve which is about 10km away from the village.

"We believe there are another two elephants on the loose based on footprints found in the area.

"We will continue to monitor the area to prevent elephants from harassing the villagers."

Razidan also said the captured elephant would be relocated to another area this Saturday.

A 53-year-old villager said he felt relieved that one of the elephants roaming the area had been captured.

Alias Md Daud learned that some of his friends were suffering losses after their orchards were destroyed by the elephants.

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Indonesia: Giant leopard shark washed up on Dulupi beach

Antara 11 Apr 13;

Gorontalo (ANTARA News) - A giant leopard shark was found stranded on Dulupi beach at Bajo hamlet in Boalemo district, Gorontalo, on Wednesday, according to Deo Datus Kaban, a local resident.

Kaban said here on Thursday that the shark, about 8 meters long and more than 100 kilograms, was found alive by local fishermen on Wednesday night.

"The shark was first discovered by local fishermen on Wednesday at around 21 pm on the beach, and now the local people are trying to trying to drag to the shore," he said.

Fishermen had trouble pulling in the stranded shark to the shore after it was washed out from a high tide, and stranded on the shore during low tide.

Safety nets are installed in the attempted to pull the fish safely and alive, since the fishermen believe if the fish is a sign carrier blessing.

This shark is now become a local resident`s spectacle Deo said.

According to Deo the local residents are still waiting for government`s instruction whether to release the shark, because it is still alive.

"Residents hope the fish will be released back, if it`s getting better," said Deo. (*)

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Indonesia to maintain deforestation moratorium

Indonesia 11 Apr 13;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - Indonesian Forestry Minister Zulkifli Hasan has reiterated the country`s commitment to continuing the implementation of moratorium of new licenses logging concessions for primary forests and peat lands.

Minister Hasan expressed the commitment when speaking in the tenth United Nations Forum on Forests (UNFF) held in Istanbul, Turkey, April 8-9, 2013, the forestry ministry said in a statement here on Thursday.

During the 2009-2013 period, Indonesia has managed to reach averaged economic growth rate at 6.3 percent annually, despite the implementation of the moratorium.

Indonesia has also managed to cut the deforestation rate from the average of 3.5 million hectares during the 1999-2002 period to 450 ha during 2010-2011, through various forestry policies such as the movement of One Billion Indonesian Trees for the World.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono signed the Presidential Instruction No. 10/2011 on Moratorium on New Logging Concessions for Primary Forests and Peat lands in May 2011.

On the sidelines of the UNFF, the Indonesian ministry held meetings among others with the US deputy secretary of state to discuss the bilateral cooperation between Indonesia and the US.

Minister Hasan also met WRI Director Nigel Sizer on April 9, 2013 during the launch of Global Forest Watch.

The UNFF meeting was officially opened by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and participated in by 250 ministers from 197 nations.

In October 2000, the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations (ECOSOC), in its Resolution 2000/35 established the United Nations Forum on Forests (UNFF), a subsidiary body with the main objective to promote "the management, conservation and sustainable development of all types of forests and to strengthen long-term political commitment to this end" based on the Rio Declaration, the Forest Principles, Chapter 11 of Agenda 21 and the outcome of the IPF/IFF Processes and other key milestones of international forest policy.

Editor: Priyambodo RH

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The tricky task of protecting plants in a globalized age

FAO 12 Apr 13;

12 April 2013, Rome - Odds are, today you ate something that came from another hemisphere. A mind-boggling $1.7 billion worth of agricultural products are traded internationally each year, with food items accounting for 82 percent of the total.

And where fruit or plants can travel, so too can less-savory characters. Fruit fly eggs hidden in the skins of oranges go unseen. Beetles burrow into wooden shipping pallets and escape detection. Fungal spores worm their way between the seams of metal shipping containers and so travel radically farther than the wind might ever blow them.

If they are not dealt with when they arrive at their destination, the consequences can be dire: every year global crop yields are reduced by somewhere between 20 and 40 percent due to plant pests and diseases, according to the FAO-based Secretariat of the International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC). Precise data are not available, but a significant number of these plant pests were introduced via international trade.

It's not just food production that is at risk. Forests across the globe — relied on by 1.6 billion people in some way for their livelihoods — have been hard hit as well.

In addition to the more notorious "usual suspects" — Mediterranean fruit flies, wheat rust, African Army worms — a veritable panoply of culprits are damaging crops and undermining farmers' livelihoods around the globe: Eggplant Borers, Cassava Bacterial blight, Potato Cyst Nematodes, the European Grapevine Moth, and giant, rice-eating snails of the Pomacea genus. The list is both long and colorful.

Beyond the immediate impacts they have on crop yields and food security, there are other consequences.

Dealing with pest introductions and outbreaks costs governments, farmers and consumers billions of dollars every year. Once pest species are established their eradication is often impossible, and controlling them takes up a significant percentage of the cost of producing food.

Which is why the IPPC was created.

Standards a key tool

With the volume of trade in agricultural products picking up steam, in 1952 the international community came together to establish a mechanism through which countries could work together to prevent plant pests and diseases from spreading via agricultural commerce.

The IPPC serves as a network for information sharing between countries on pest occurrences, active control measures, phytosanitary regulations and best-practices — supporting their efforts to protect plant resources and trade safely. Other IPPC core activities include implementation of standards through capacity development and trade dispute settlement.

The main IPPC activity is the formulation of science-based, internationally-agreed standards which detail how plants and plant products should be handled during trade, known as International Standards for Phytosanitary Measures, or ISPMs.

Fifty ISPMs have been developed so far, covering issues ranging from how plant products or wooden packing materials should be treated prior to export, to recommended procedures and methodologies used by agricultural inspectors, to procedures for conducting risk analysis and required formats for phytosanitary certificates. Another 90 topics are under consideration.

"We now live in a globalized and incredibly interconnected world, full of opportunities for plant pests and diseases to spread from country to country. Reducing risks and preventing or minimizing that spread is far more cost-effective than trying to eradicate or manage an outbreak after-the-fact," says Craig Fedchock, IPPC Secretariat Coordinator.

"Doing so, we protect farmers from the economic devastation of pest and disease outbreaks, shield industries and consumers from the costs of control and eradication, and prevent the loss of biodiversity — as well as help maintain viable, well-functioning ecosystems," Fedchock adds.

Updates for two standards - Sea containers under the spotlight

This week the IPPC's governing body, the Committee on Phytosanitary Measures (CPM), approved two revised ISPMS during its annual meeting (8-11 April 2013).

The first was an update to existing ISPM 11: Pest risk analysis for quarantine pests including analysis of environmental risks and living modified organisms which adds detailed guidance on how authorities should undertake risk analysis for determining if a imported plant might be a pest to cultivated or wild plants, whether they should be regulated, and how to identify phytosanitary measures that reduce the risk to an acceptable level.

Additionally, ISPM 15: Regulation of wood package material in international trade, was revised to provide more specific guidance on approved treatments of wood packaging material.

The CPM also agreed to continue moving ahead on a new ISPM aimed at reducing the transmission of plant pests and diseases via sea containers. (Shipping containers account for around 90 percent of all of the goods transported into the world, with about 5 million in transit by sea at any given moment.)

CPM members also discussed options for improving monitoring and pest controls for international shipments of grain.

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Report: Global warming didn't cause big US drought

Seth Borenstein Associated Press Yahoo News 12 Apr 13;

WASHINGTON (AP) — Last year's huge drought was a freak of nature that wasn't caused by man-made global warming, a new federal science study finds.

Scientists say the lack of moisture usually pushed up from the Gulf of Mexico was the main reason for the drought in the nation's midsection.

Thursday's report by dozens of scientists from five different federal agencies looked into why forecasters didn't see the drought coming. The researchers concluded that it was so unusual and unpredictable that it couldn't have been forecast.

"This is one of those events that comes along once every couple hundreds of years," said lead author Martin Hoerling, a research meteorologist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. "Climate change was not a significant part, if any, of the event."

Researchers focused on six states — Wyoming, Kansas, Nebraska, Colorado, Missouri and Iowa — but the drought spread much farther and eventually included nearly two-thirds of the Lower 48 states. For the six states, the drought was the worst four-month period for lack of rainfall since records started being kept in 1895, Hoerling said.

He said the jet stream that draws moisture north from the Gulf was stuck unusually north in Canada.

Other scientists have linked recent changes in the jet stream to shrinking Arctic sea ice, but Hoerling and study co-author Richard Seager of Columbia University said those global warming connections are not valid.

Hoerling used computer simulations to see if he could replicate the drought using man-made global warming conditions. He couldn't. So that means it was a random event, he said.

Using similar methods, Hoerling has been able to attribute increasing droughts in the Mediterranean Sea region to climate change and found that greenhouse gases could be linked to a small portion of the 2011 Texas heat wave.

Another scientist though, blasted the report.

Kevin Trenberth, climate analysis chief at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, a federally funded university-run research center, said the report didn't take into account the lack of snowfall in the Rockies the previous winter and how that affected overall moisture in the air. Nor did the study look at the how global warming exacerbated the high pressure system that kept the jet stream north and the rainfall away, he said.

"This was natural variability exacerbated by global warming," Trenberth said in an email. "That is true of all such events from the Russian heat wave of 2010, to the drought and heat waves in Australia."

Hoerling noted that in the past 20 years, the world is seeing more La Ninas, the occasional cooling of the central Pacific Ocean that is the flip side of El Nino. Hoerling said that factor, not part of global warming but part of a natural cycle, increases the chances of such droughts.

Some regions should see more droughts as the world warms because of greenhouse gases from the burning of fossil fuels like coal, oil and gas, he said. But the six state area isn't expected to get an increase of droughts from global warming — unlike parts of the Southwest — Hoerling said.

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