Best of our wild blogs: 7 May 13


11 May (Sat): “Our Coastal Natural Heritage in Singapore" by N. Sivasothi from wild shores of singapore

May 26 Battlefield Tour
from a.t.Bukit Brown. Heritage. Habitat. History.

Pelagic Outing May 2013
from Con Foley Photography


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Ocean Invaders: Singapore Port Most Vulnerable to Invasive Species

Becky Oskin LiveScience.com Yahoo News 7 May 13;

The world port at highest risk of invasive species is Singapore, according to a new study.

The Suez Canal and Hong Kong follow Singapore, according to the study, which reveals the 20 ports most likely to be attacked by invasive species.

The highest ranking U.S. locale is the port of New York and New Jersey, which comes in at No. 13.

Global shipping has carried exotic animals and plants such as lionfish, zebra mussels and killer algae around the world on ship's hulls or in their ballast water, which ships add and dump for balance. Recently, cargo ships started carrying automatic identification systems that track their movements, giving researchers new insight into the vessels' journeys.

Marine invaders need more than just a ride on a ship to infest a new ecosystem, however — conditions at their next port of call must be just right. So scientists combined data about ports' environmental conditions, marine biogeography and ballast water release protocols with data from nearly 3 million ship voyages. They used this combined information to estimate the invasive species risk from ballast water at different ports.

The new model thus accounts for the fact that bioinvasion is a multistage process, the researchers said. "Our model combines information such as shipping routes, ship sizes, temperatures and biogeography to come up with local forecasts of invasion probabilities," study author Bernd Blasius, a professor at the University of Oldenburg in Denmark, said in a statement. The results were published April 24 in the journal Ecology Letters.

The good news is that most ports are unlikely to receive invaders via ballast water. For example, ports in the North Sea (between Great Brittan and mainland Europe) fall outside of the top 20 endangered ports despite their enormous shipping traffic, the researchers said.

Some invaders from the U.S. East Coast have established a toehold in North Sea ports, but overall, the region's cold climate has made it tough for exotics to survive there, the researchers said.

The ports with the highest risk are in Southeast Asia, the Middle East and the United States.

After Hong Kong, the rest of the ports at highest risk are, in descending order:

Panama Canal
Kaohsiung
Suez
Port Said
Busan
Jebel Ali
Kawasaki
Durban
Yokohama
New York & New Jersey
Long Beach
Xiamen
Fujairah
Los Angeles
La Plata
Qingdao
Santos

The research also revealed that for marine life hitching a ride inside ships, there is a "sweet spot" distance between the organism's home and a new habitat: 5,000 to 6,200 miles (8,000 to 10,000 kilometers).

In what could be called a Goldilocks effect, the researchers conclude that, at short distances, it's unlikely an introduced species will be non-native. At long distances, the chance to survive transport is small and there's not much shipping, resulting in low invasion risk.

In another positive result, the shipping model shows the benefits from ballast water treatment. Scientists and regulators have been trying to come up with better ways to prevent the spread of invasive species, but no one has settled on the best method. (Global standards from the International Maritime Organization could be implemented as soon as 2020.) [Image Gallery: Invasive Species]

The study suggests that even moderate efforts are helpful, because the cumulative effect of treating ballast water at each port stop multiplies during a trip.


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High-rise havens or jails?

Straits Times 7 May 13;

CHINESE architect Wang Shu, who won the coveted Pritzker Prize last year, is not one to mince his words.

At last Friday's public forum on how technology and governance shaped cities, Professor Wang challenged city planners to hold true to their native cultures and traditions.

Speaking in Mandarin, he flashed slides of downtown Beijing, with its elevated rail tracks and skyscrapers, and then said: "I'm not sure if those designing Asian cities like Beijing were influenced by European architecture, whose building designs are based on the concept of jails.

"The isolated individuals closed up in their own apartments are all like prisoners - they come out to do some work, have some food and entertainment and then go back to their jails. And they're happy with it." Professor Wang heads the China Academy of Art's architecture school in Hangzhou in Zhejiang province.

His critique of high-rise living made for uncomfortable listening for many at the forum, including Harvard University's celebrated urban economist Edward Glaeser, who champions high-rise living in his critically lauded book, The Triumph Of The City.

Professor Glaeser's point is that cities have been essential to human progress, especially since many talented people flock there in search of better opportunities and rewards.

Besides the fact that educational institutions are found mostly in cities, Prof Glaeser argued that city dwellers also gained valuable knowledge and skills "that one got from standing around watercoolers" because they were able to interact more intensely with so many more people in cities.

But eye doctor Geh Min, the former Nature Society of Singapore president who was in the audience, took issue with Prof Glaeser's rosy view of the city as a fount of knowledge.

She said: "My concern is that these exchanges of knowledge are mainly among human beings and are ultimately short-circuited or incestuous... because people who live in cities are not sufficiently exposed to nature and therefore what they are learning is not the big picture."

Also, noting Prof Wang's call to be original and have greater regard for nature for better living, she said: "Nearly 20 years ago, there was a huge earthquake in the city of Lijiang in Yunnan province. In its aftermath, the people found that its traditionally built structures had not collapsed, but its modern high-rise ones had.

"Obviously, the people there had learnt from tradition to build mud houses that would withstand earthquakes."

To all that, Prof Glaeser said: "I'm not a lifestyle consultant, but a sense of purpose and satisfaction with life is not higher in bucolic areas than in cities, so let's not mythologise rural or traditional parts. And while modern engineering has sometimes screwed up, overall, it is more efficient (than traditional methods)."

CHEONG SUK-WAI

Technology shapes cities for the better
Cheong Suk-Wai Straits Times 7 May 13;

ONE of the chief concerns about living in a city is how easy it is for one to get from Point A to Point B quickly, safely and cheaply.

As Indian entrepreneur Narayana Murthy pointed out at a public forum at The Fullerton hotel last Friday, settling that not only boosts one's well-being, but can actually be a big boon to economic productivity too.

For example, he noted that the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in 2009 surveyed Toronto and found that those living in this largest Canadian city were so stuck in daily traffic jams that employers lost C$3.3 billion (S$4 billion) worth of productive hours.

The OECD is an international body that helps countries tackle the economic, social and governance challenges of globalisation.

When you consider that 3.4 billion of the global population now live in cities, among whom 828 million live in slums, the losses in productivity can be very large indeed.

The forum, on how technology and governance are shaping cities today, was hosted jointly by the Singapore University of Technology and Design's Lee Kuan Yew Centre for Innovative Cities (LKYCIC) and the Ministry of National Development's Centre for Liveable Cities.

Mr Murthy, who founded the IT multinational Infosys and is dubbed the Bill Gates of India, was among four speakers, the others being former civil service chief Peter Ho, Harvard University don Edward Glaeser and acclaimed Chinese architect Wang Shu.

The quartet are part of LKYCIC's international advisory panel, which had its inaugural meeting last Thursday.

The panel's three other members are former diplomat Chan Heng Chee, who chairs the seven- month-old LKYCIC; SMRT chief Desmond Kuek; and Mr Lee Tzu Yang, who chairs the Shell Companies in Singapore.

Given that the past 20 years have unleashed the most rapid technological developments in history, it might seem only good sense to wire one's city to the hilt to ease life there.

But Professor Chan, who moderated the full-house forum, wondered how risky it was to rely too much on technology, which is always replacing itself within months.

To that, Mr Murthy said: "We have found that replacing technological infrastructure is becoming easier, cheaper and more comfortable for the user. So as long as city planners are comfortable with the returns that the new technology brings, obsolescence should not be an issue."

Agreeing, Professor Glaeser said: "Rarely have countries been locked in by technology; they are locked in by human capital."

So, he added, governments should stoke entrepreneurship by rewarding those willing to try new things.

Pointing out that technology was but an enabler, Mr Ho said good governance boiled down to choosing robust technologies that suited one's city best.

"We take our MRT for granted and complain a lot when it breaks down, but imagine the alternative explored many years ago, which was to have an all-bus system - if we had adopted that instead and continued to grow as we are growing today, we'd be having big problems," he said.

Mr Murthy said that upcoming software and IT-enabled services would shift power from the rich to the poor and middle classes, and so "rulers of cities will have to change their mindset", which has long been fixated on attracting only the super-rich to their urbanscapes.

Another result of this power shift, said Mr Murthy, is that technology would make everything more transparent and so enable one to pinpoint who is accountable for specific actions.

He said: "We will begin to see fewer abandoned projects because it is city elites who abandon projects that threaten their power and interests."


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Steep rise in chikungunya cases this year

101 local infections so far, mostly in Kranji-Sungei Kadut, Bukit Timah
Salma Khalik Straits Times 7 May 13;

MORE than 100 people have been infected by chikungunya in Singapore this year, a steep rise from just three to six annually for the past three years.

Most of the cases are in the Kranji-Sungei Kadut area, but a growing cluster has emerged in the Bukit Timah area.

This painful mosquito-borne disease is not endemic here, unlike dengue which is raging in the eastern part of Singapore.

In the past three years, there were between 12 and 26 cases of chikungunya a year, of which only three to six each year were contracted in Singapore.

But this year, 101 of the 107 confirmed cases were local infections. The rest got it overseas.

The cases include at least 14 people living or working in the upscale area of Fifth and Sixth Avenues, off Bukit Timah Road.

There may be more as a Health Ministry official said its officers are still investigating possible cases there.

A spokesman for the National Environment Agency (NEA) said it has inspected 543 premises in Namly Crescent and Fifth Avenue and fined 20 homes for breeding mosquitoes.

In the bigger cluster at Kranji-Sungei Kadut, however, most of the casualties are foreign workers living in dormitories.

NEA officers have inspected more than 260 factories in the largely industrial area and found mosquito breeding in 128 of them. They have been fined too.

Said the NEA spokesman: "Operations to suppress the mosquito population in the area will continue until the cluster is closed."

This will happen when there are no new cases for 15 days in a row.

Singapore had its first locally transmitted case of chikungunya in 2008. A major outbreak ensued, with 690 people coming down with it that year and another 343 the following year.

But the NEA broke the chain of transmission, resulting in only three to six locally-infected cases annually for the past three years.

Symptoms for chikungunya are almost identical to those for dengue - high fever, headache, eye ache, joint pain, rashes and lethargy. Fatigue caused by both viral diseases can last weeks or even months.

While dengue can be fatal, chikungunya rarely is, though the joint pain can sometimes last for several months.

It is also often accompanied by nausea and vomiting.

Both are spread by the Aedes mosquito, although the Aedes aegypti is more likely to spread dengue and the Aedes albopictus the chikungunya virus.

The recent hot and wet weather, as well as a change in the dominant dengue viral type, has caused a surge in dengue, leading experts to predict a huge epidemic this year.

The number of people down with dengue has been climbing every week for seven straight weeks, with 547 confirmed cases last week.

This brings the total for the year to 5,929, surpassing the 4,602 cases for all of last year.

But there have been no dengue deaths this year, unlike in the previous big epidemics.

In 2005, 14,000 people got it and 25 died; and in 2007, 8,700 were stricken with it and 24 died.


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Hong Kong 'risks losing pink dolphins'

(AFP) Google News 6 May 13;

HONG KONG — Conservationists warned Monday that Hong Kong may lose its rare Chinese white dolphins, also known as pink dolphins for their unique colour, unless it takes urgent action against pollution and other threats.

Their numbers in Hong Kong waters have fallen from an estimated 158 in 2003 to just 78 in 2011, with a further decline expected when figures for 2012 are released next month, said the Hong Kong Dolphin Conservation Society.

"It is up to the government and every Hong Kong citizen to stand up for dolphins. We risk losing them unless we all take action," said society chairman Samuel Hung.

Two weeks ago a tour guide from Hong Kong Dolphinwatch spotted a group of pink dolphins helping a grieving mother support the body of her dead calf above the water in an attempt to revive it.

The scene, captured on video and widely shared on Facebook, has raised fresh concerns about the dwindling population in a city where dolphin watching is a tourist attraction.

"We're 99 percent certain the calf died from toxins in the mother's milk, accumulated from polluted seawater," said Hong Kong Dolphinwatch spokeswoman Janet Walker, who added it was the third such incident reported in April alone.

Fewer than 2,500 of the mammals survive in the Pearl River Delta, the body of water between Macau and Hong Kong, with the majority found in Chinese waters and the rest in Hong Kong.

Experts say their number has dropped significantly in the past few years due to overfishing, an increase in marine traffic, water pollution, habitat loss and coastal development.

Hung said proposals to build a third runway on reclaimed land at the Hong Kong international airport would place further strain on the dolphins' habitat.

Campaigning against such developments and lobbying boat companies to divert traffic away from dolphin-inhabited areas are some of the ways people can support the mammals, he said.

The Chinese white dolphins, a population of the Indo-Pacific humpback dolphin species, are listed as "near-threatened" by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

The pink dolphin was the official mascot at the handover ceremony when the former British colony was returned to Chinese rule in 1997


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South Africa and Vietnam Sign Biodiversity Conservation and Protection Implementation Plan

allafrica.com 6 May 13;

The Deputy Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs, Ms Rejoice Mabudafhasi and the Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, Ha Cong Tuan, today signed an action plan to implement the Memorandum of Understanding on Biodiversity Conservation and Protection signed by the two countries in Hanoi, Vietnam, in December 2012.

The Implementation Plan, effective until 2017, gives further impetus to the fight against wildlife crimes, particularly rhino poaching. The Plan is reviewable during, and at the end, of the said period.

It is the direct result of cooperation and continued negotiations following the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding by the Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs, Ms Edna Molewa and the Minister of Agricultural and Rural Development of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, Dr Cao Duc Phat in Vietnam.

The objective of the MoU is to promote cooperation in the field of biodiversity management, conservation and protection. It is also expected to assist in curbing the scourge of rhino poaching because the MoU seeks to promote cooperation in law enforcement, compliance with the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) and other relevant legislation and Conventions on the basis of equality and mutual benefit.

The signing today of the Action Plan is the culmination of intensive negotiations and discussions between the two governments. It aims to put into operation the agreements defined in the signed MoU.

The Action Plan is particularly aimed at reinforcing efforts that would assist in addressing rhino poaching. It also promotes cooperation in law enforcement, compliance with the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) and other relevant legislation and Conventions on the basis of equality and mutual benefit.

Put into action is the development of joint legislative efforts to conserve biodiversity, to build capacity and promote participation of international organisations and non-governmental organisations in the process.

Priority areas of cooperation include: Biodiversity management, conservation and protection


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Rising sea levels threaten migratory birds: study

(AFP) Google news 6 May 13;

SYDNEY — Millions of birds that stop at coastal wetlands during annual migrations could die as rising sea levels and land reclamation wipe out their feeding grounds, researchers warned Monday.

The study into the migratory habits of shorebirds predicted that a loss of 23 to 40 percent of their main feeding areas could lead to a 70 percent decline in their population.

Led by a team of scientists from Australia's government-backed National Environmental Research Programme, the study said some areas have already reported alarming population losses of 30-80 percent.

"Each year, millions of shorebirds stop at coastal wetlands to rest and feed as they migrate from Russia and Alaska to the coasts of Southeast Asia and Australasia," said researcher Richard Fuller.

"We've discovered that some of these wetlands are highly vulnerable to sea level rise and might be lost in the next few decades.

"If the birds can no longer stop at these areas to 'refuel', they may not be able to complete the journey to their breeding grounds."

The researchers studied wetlands along migration routes across Alaska, Russia, China, North Korea, South Korea, Japan, Philippines, Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, Australia and New Zealand.

In many cases rapid coastal development and reclamation for agriculture were already chewing into tidal wetlands the birds use as feeding grounds on their long journeys, which sometimes extend half way around the world.

Species showing signs of being in trouble include the bar-tailed godwit, curlew sandpiper, great knot, grey-tailed tattler, lesser sand plover, and red knot, said the study, published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society journal.

The scientists used "graph theory", a mathematical approach, to estimate the impact of the loss of these wetlands on shorebirds.

It found that if a tidal wetland habitat served as an important "stepping stone" for the shorebirds, a small amount of habitat loss could trigger disproportionately large declines in bird populations.

"This is because some of these tidal wetlands are 'bottleneck' sites where the majority of the birds stop to refuel," said Takuya Iwamura, of Stanford University.

"For example, we discovered that a sea level rise of 150 centimetres (59 inches) may result in the loss of 35 percent of coastal wetlands, but it could lead to a 60 percent decline in curlew sandpipers, eastern curlews and great knots."

The scientists are embarking on a second study to identify the best ways to save the disappearing shorebirds and get a better grip on the scale of the problem.

Sea level rise threatens birds
ARC CoE for Environmental Decisions Science Alert 6 May 13;

Millions of shorebirds could be lost as sea levels rise in the coming decades, international environmental scientists have warned.

World-first research predicts that a loss of 23 to 40 per cent of the birds’ main feeding grounds could lead to a 70 per cent decline in their population.

This places some of the world’s shorebirds at greater risk as some areas have already reported alarming population losses of 30-80 per cent.

“Each year, millions of shorebirds stop at coastal wetlands to rest and feed as they migrate from Russia and Alaska to the coasts of Southeast Asia and Australasia,” says Dr Richard Fuller of the National Environmental Research Program’s (NERP) Environmental Decisions Hub and The University of Queensland (UQ).

“We’ve discovered that some of these wetlands are highly vulnerable to sea level rise and might be lost in the next few decades. If the birds can no longer stop at these areas to ‘refuel’, they may not be able to complete the journey to their breeding grounds.”

The NERP researchers studied wetlands along the shorebirds’ migration route across coastal Alaska, Russia, China, North Korea, South Korea, Japan, Philippines, Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, Australia and New Zealand.

In many cases rapid coastal development and reclamation are already chewing into the tidal wetlands the birds use as feeding grounds on their long journeys, which sometimes extend halfway round the world. Species already showing signs of being in trouble include the bar-tailed godwit, curlew sandpiper, eastern curlew, great knot, grey-tailed tattler, lesser sand plover, red knot and terek sandpiper.

The scientists used “graph theory”, a mathematical approach to estimate the impact of the loss of these wetlands on shorebirds.

“We found that if a tidal wetland habitat serves as an important ‘stepping stone’ for the shorebirds, a small amount of habitat loss can trigger disproportionally large declines in the population,” says Dr Takuya Iwamura of Stanford University, who conducted the research at NERP. “This is because some of these tidal wetlands are ‘bottleneck’ sites where the majority of the birds stop to refuel.

“For example, we discovered that a sea level rise of 150 centimetres may result in the loss of 35 per cent of coastal wetlands, but it could lead to a 60 per cent decline in curlew sandpipers, eastern curlews and great knots.”

NERP scientists are also embarking on a second international study to identify the best ways to save the disappearing shorebirds. This research is crucial for federal policy because Australia has signed migratory bird agreements with China, Japan and South Korea.

“We’re aware that some shorebird species have declined in the past few decades, but we still know very little about all the causes for these declines or the scale of the problem,” says Mr Rob Clemens of NERP and UQ.

“Our studies attempt to piece together what is happening throughout the entire migration journey of these birds,” he says. “We can then determine which species should be protected, how best we can monitor the birds, and where and how we should act to save them.

“But while more knowledge would be useful, it’s important that we start protecting the birds based on what we already know, such as halting the reclamation of coastal wetlands in the vulnerable regions.”

Dr Richard Fuller explains that huge areas of the world’s coastal wetlands have been reclaimed for urbanisation and agriculture in recent years, reducing the size of the wetlands available for migratory birds.

While some existing wetlands can shift inland as sea levels rise, sites along highly developed coastlines, for example in Japan, China and the Republic of Korea, cannot move at all because of the scale of human development close to the coast.

“While we can build sea walls to defend ourselves against rising sea levels, the cost of this will only increase as time goes by,” Dr Fuller says. “We could instead be looking for opportunities to return our coastlines to a more natural state.

“We must act now to protect these crucial ‘stepping stones’ for migratory shorebirds – if you lose one critical site, you risk losing the entire population of a species that stops there.”

The study “Migratory connectivity magnifies the consequences of habitat loss from sea-level rise for shorebird populations” by Takuya Iwamura, Hugh P. Possingham, Iadine Chad├Ęs, Clive Minton, Nicholas J. Murray, Danny I. Rogers, Eric Treml and Richard A. Fuller appears in the latest issue of Proceedings of The Royal Society B.


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Nations seek flexible climate approach, but no breakthrough in Bonn

Alister Doyle PlanetArk 6 May 13;

New, more flexible ways to fight climate change were sketched out on Friday at the end of a week of talks between 160 nations, but there was no breakthrough in bridging a deep divide between China and the United States.

The meeting of senior officials in Bonn, Germany, aired formulas to resolve disputes between rich and poor on sharing out the burden of curbing greenhouse gas emissions as part of a new U.N. deal, a successor to the 1997 Kyoto Protocol.

Attempts to reach agreement have foundered above all on a failure to agree on the contribution developing countries should make to curbing the industrial emissions responsible for global warming. The next ministerial conference to try to reach a deal is scheduled for Paris in 2015.

The United States, recently overtaken by China as the world's biggest carbon polluter, never ratified Kyoto because it set no binding emissions cuts for rapidly growing economies such as China and India.

The United Nations said there was a broad agreement among delegates in Bonn that any new accord should have flexibility to ratchet up curbs on emissions, without a need for further negotiations, if scientific findings about floods, droughts and rising sea levels worsen in coming years.

That approach would be a big shift from the Kyoto Protocol, which binds about 35 industrialized nations to cut greenhouse gases, with targets set every few years.

"There's been quite a lot of common ground appearing," said Christiana Figueres, head of the U.N. Climate Change Secretariat. But she said no nation was doing enough to combat global warming.

"The agreement of 2015 cannot be cast in stone, cannot be frozen in time," she said of the idea of greater flexibility.

Some developed nations also suggested that a deal should have mechanisms, perhaps linked to per capita gross domestic product, so that governments in emerging nations would make bolder actions as their economies grew.

Governments agreed in 2010 to limit a rise in temperatures to no more than 2 Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial times but are far off target. Economic slowdown has sapped many countries' willingness to act on climate change.

MERCURY RISES

Temperatures have already risen about 0.8 C (1.4F) and many leading scientists say the 2C target is slipping out of reach. A U.N. panel says it is at least 90 percent certain that man-made greenhouse gases are the main cause of warming.

There were no breakthroughs in Bonn, with tougher decisions put off at least until a next session in June.

Developing nations said rich countries appeared unwilling to keep promises to take the lead in cutting emissions, and called for more focus on burden-sharing to safeguard the interests of the poor.

"If we fail to act now, a vastly more expensive response will be required later," a group of 83 of the least developed nations and small island states said in a statement.

China and the United States showed little indication of closer cooperation despite agreeing last month to step up efforts on climate change, saying they hoped that would inspire action by others.

China stuck to its insistence that developed nations should collectively cut greenhouse gas emissions by between 25 and 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2020. President Barack Obama's plan is the equivalent of a 4 percent cut.

The United States won some support for a suggestion that the 2015 deal should be based on national promises of action, while China wants far more binding commitments by the rich.

Chinese chief negotiator Su Wei also said China could not impose caps on its rising emissions because it needed time to focus on economic growth, despite U.S. calls for tougher action by Beijing.

"In China the per capita income is just around $5,000, compared to the industrialized countries where you have $40,000 or even more," he told Reuters.

(Reporting By Alister Doyle, Environment Correspondent; Editing by Pravin Char)


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