Best of our wild blogs: 20 May 13

Latest Green Jobs in Singapore [13 - 19 May 2013]
from Green Business Times

Biodiversity for kids during the June school holidays
from Celebrating Singapore's BioDiversity!

Butterflies Feeding on Ripened Melastoma Fruits
from Beauty of Fauna and Flora in Nature

Random Gallery - Two Sergeants
from Butterflies of Singapore

Giant Top Shell
from Monday Morgue

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A transportation plan that crosses the line

Vinita Ramani Mohan Today Online 20 May 13;

I continue to read with dismay the ongoing plans to develop the Cross Island Line, which will cause habitat damage in the Central Catchment Nature Reserve.

As one who is interested in regional development issues, I have travelled widely in South-east Asia.

Citizens I have met from large, densely populated cities such as Bangkok, Manila, Kuala Lumpur and Jakarta seem somewhat resigned to the pollution, traffic and poor urban planning in their cities.

But they are proud of their respective country and its vast hinterlands: Beaches, hillsides, forest reserves and ancient monuments or temples nestled in jungles.

Friends from smaller cities such as Dili, Phnom Penh and rapidly developing Yangon are determined to ensure that their cities are green, well-planned and mindful of conservation values.

But they, too, have hinterland to be proud of, and they tell me to venture into provinces beyond the capital or main city.

Here lies the critical difference between Singapore and almost every other country in the region: We have no real hinterland.

We would tell visitors to head to the Central Catchment Nature Reserve, Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve, Bukit Brown, the rail corridor or farms in Lim Chu Kang. We are proud of these places, since we have nothing by way of vast countryside, ancient temples or other heritage sites.

Each time I go away and return to Singapore, I long for our nature reserves. I am not a botanist or zoologist, but I feel a proud sense of stewardship and marvel at what exists on such a tiny island.

We withdraw from the crowds in urban areas and visibly relax in an environment that alleviates stress.

I take foreign visitors to these places and emphasise this: What we lack in size, we more than make up for in the diversity of species that our natural environment, the primeval and old secondary growth forests, support.

There is also a strong spiritual and cultural value attached to these places. I see Singaporeans meditating, doing tai chi and stilling their minds in the forest reserves. I see families teaching their children about nature.

The Cross Island Line is worrying because it sends the message that we need not care about stewardship and responsibility.

Unlike the Burmese, Cambodians or others in the region, we have little to point to as our heritage and legacy. The forests are our heritage, a vital relic of old Singapore. They existed long before immigrants arrived here, and they survived colonial rule and the war.

It would be a pity to see them irreparably damaged by transportation developments.

In a word, destroyed by Singaporeans who have a responsibility to protect their land.

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Changi Airport steps up in the battle against stray wildlife

Dylan Loh Channel NewsAsia 19 May 13;

SINGAPORE: A truck that "thinks its a bird" -- Changi Airport's weapon of choice for scattering winged wildlife off its premises. A loudhailer, which emits birds' distress calls, is mounted above the truck -- helping chase away stray wildlife.

Singapore's air hub is finding innovative ways to keep stray animals from crashing into planes.

Four patrols are done daily from dawn to dusk to scour the airport for stray wildlife. More patrols are added during peak seasons when birds migrate, typically towards the year-end.

Afzal Laily, a patrol officer with the wildlife management team at Changi Airport, said: "What we look out for is birds. Birds in concentration. Things like bird species. And birds in concentration is not good for the airport, so what we do is bird dispersal."

Mimicking birds' distress calls to disperse them is one method.

Another is using anti-perching devices to discourage the creatures from roosting.

See Seng Wan, vice president of airside operations at Changi Airport, said: "Changi Airport is actually located in a area whereby you have a coast on one side, and a little bit of forested area on the other side. And definitely it's a very good place for wildlife to come, but we're trying our very best and taking all kinds of measures to minimise the wildlife coming (into the airport)."

On the list of new measures that may be introduced include the use of bird deterrent chemicals, avian radars and bird dispersing lasers.

In 2012, over 27,000 planes took off and landed monthly.

An average of 13 aircraft and wildlife collision reports are lodged every four weeks, but flight delays seldom result. That is because in a contest of wills, the "metal bird" usually triumphs over the real one.

- CNA/ac

Changi keeps fowl-ups to a minimum
Airport adopts measures to halve cases of birds hitting planes
Royston Sim Straits Times 20 May 13;

WHEN a bird comes up against an aeroplane, the result is not always pretty, sometimes even for the machine.

But various initiatives, from mimicking birds' distress calls to covering canals, has seen Changi Airport halve the number of such wildlife strikes from 13 to around seven a month in the last year.

The most serious incident to date happened last June, when a Brahminy Kite, a medium-sized bird of prey, flew into the engine of an Airbus A320 shortly after its wheels touched the ground.

The arriving plane's schedule was delayed by around two hours, as airport staff removed the carcass and inspected the aeroplane to ensure it was safe to fly.

Such incidents are rare at Changi, which has more than 27,000 flights per month. Most wildlife strikes are minor, with little or no damage to aircraft.

Yet they can pose significant problems, said Changi Airport Group (CAG) vice-president of airside management See Seng Wan.

In 2009, in what has been labelled the "Miracle on the Hudson", a US Airways plane struck a flock of geese after take-off and lost power in both engines. Its pilot made an emergency landing in New York's Hudson River. All 155 occupants were safely evacuated.

The issue of wildlife strikes is more pertinent for Changi which, given its proximity to wooded areas and the coast, naturally attracts animals. Birds commonly spotted there include mynas, crows and egrets.

The largest is the white-bellied sea eagle, which weighs up to 4kg. Other wildlife include bats, snakes and dogs.

To minimize the risk of wildlife strikes, CAG has ramped up a range of initiatives to keep birds and other animals out. Its wildlife management team, which comprises 12 officers, began conducting four to six two-hour patrols a day last year, compared to eight times a month previously.

Birds spotted near aircraft movement areas are dispersed by broadcasting bird distress calls from the patrol vehicle or through loudhailers. Officers can select up to 20 calls that mimic the sounds made by different species when in distress.

All bird sightings and subsequent actions taken are recorded in a system, so hot spots can be identified.

There are specific measures for different birds. Distress calls are mainly for birds that flock, while anti-perching devices were installed on railings in three locations last year to discourage larger birds.

Added Mr See: "Birds and animals are always looking for two things, food and shelter. So we also try and eradicate their source of food."

The CAG horticulture team ensures no fruit-bearing trees or plants that attract animals are planted within the airport.

Its engineering team has a grass cutting and maintenance programme that keeps the 600ha of turf around the airport unattractive to birds. For instance, grass is not cut when it is wet, so that the soft topsoil along with its insects will not be churned out and attract birds, said Mr See.

All dustbins are covered so animals cannot forage for food. Staff are also forbidden from eating or drinking airside, where aircraft can access, and those caught face a fine.

CAG works with various partners such as the National University of Singapore's Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research, which conducts a quarterly census to determine the amount of bird activity within the airport.

Another partner is the Nature Society, which shares its knowledge of local bird species and helps identify unknown carcasses.

Its bird group chairperson Alan Owyong said the key solutions are to remove nesting sites and food sources. He has also advised CAG to cover bodies of water, which attract birds such as herons, and it has taken action.

The CAG has awarded a contract to cover these bodies of water, which include canals, with netting. Its staff also remove silt and floating plants from these areas.

All these measures have brought the number of reported bird strikes down by half, and without the CAG having to cull birds in the past three years.

Still, it is currently assessing new methods to manage wildlife, such as long-range acoustic devices and grass sprays which help keep birds away.

Said CAG spokesman Robin Goh: "Animals are naturally able to adapt, so we constantly explore new measures to manage wildlife for the safety of our flights and passengers - which is always top priority."

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From risk to opportunity: reducing the risk of disasters the natural way

IUCN 19 May 13;

Healthy ecosystems and sound environmental management can go a long way in protecting people from disasters. But this fact is not yet widely appreciated among the many parties responsible for reducing the risk of disasters and responding to them once they happen.

The task of IUCN experts gathering in Geneva this week is to showcase the evidence that conserving biodiversity and improving the way we manage ecosystems such as forests, river basins and wetlands can boost human security and sustainability.

IUCN’s delegation will be talking to government agencies, insurance companies, humanitarian aid organizations, civil society agencies and many others at the Fourth Session of the Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction that starts today.

Human and economic losses from hazards such as floods, landslides and hurricanes are increasing at an unprecedented rate/intensity with environmental destruction and climate change as the main causes.

Environmental degradation reduces the capacity of ecosystems to meet people’s needs for food and water, and to protect them from hazards through flood regulation, slope stabilization and coastal protection.

“The services provided by ecosystems are not luxury but rather a basic necessity to disaster risk reduction. We must work with nature if we are to keep ourselves safe while facing an increasingly hazardous time,” says Radhika Murti of IUCN’s Ecosystems Management Programme.

“The lessons we have learned are that investing in nature-based solutions not only reduces risk by being better prepared, but can also be a cost-effective means to address restoration and recovery,” says Trevor Sandwith, Director of IUCN’s Global Protected Areas Programme.

“Global studies such as the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment and TEEB (The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity) indicate clearly that the maintenance of healthy and resilient ecosystems are a foundation of any strategy for sustainable development,” adds Sandwith.

There are many examples of nature-based approaches being successfully implemented. In Switzerland, management of ‘protection forests’ is approximately 5-10 times less expensive than the construction and maintenance of alternative technical measures to reduce risks from rock falls.

In South Africa, the Working for Water Programme has resulted in watershed restoration for job creation, business and skills development, water production, flood and fire risk management and biodiversity conservation.

Japan, a highly influential country in the disaster/humanitarian aid community, recently declared a national park along the entire coast that was affected by the March 2011 tsunami. It also plans to expand existing protected areas to restore the coastal and marine ecosystem, together with the associated fisheries and livelihoods, in cooperation with local communities.

The Global Platform is the world's leading gathering of stakeholders committed to reducing disaster risk and building the resilience of communities and nations. This conference aims to build the momentum of prior meetings into a sustained effort from all actors (governments, NGOs, international agencies and organizations, academic and technical institutions and the private sector) to take shared responsibility in reducing risks and reinforcing human resilience.

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Climate change meltdown unlikely but human disaster looms, claims new research

But forecast global temperature rise of 4C heralds disaster for large swaths of planet with oceans absorbing most global warming
Fiona Harvey The Guardian 19 May 13;

Some of the most extreme predictions of global warming are unlikely to materialise, new scientific research has suggested, but the world is still likely to be in for a temperature rise of double that regarded as safe.

The researchers said that warming was most likely to reach about 4C above pre-industrial levels if the past decade's readings were taken into account.

That would still lead to catastrophe across large swaths of the Earth, causing droughts, storms, floods and heatwaves and with drastic effects on agricultural productivity leading to secondary effects such as mass migration.

Some climate change sceptics have suggested that because the highest global average temperature yet recorded was in 1998, climate change has stalled. The new study, which is published in the journal Nature Geoscience, shows a much longer "pause" would be needed to suggest that the world was not warming rapidly.

Alexander Otto, at the University of Oxford, lead author of the research, told the Guardian that there was much that climate scientists could still not fully factor into their models. He said that most of the recent warming had been absorbed by the oceans, but this would change as the seas heat up. The thermal expansion of the oceans is one of the main factors behind current and projected sea level rises.

The highest global average temperature ever recorded was in 1998, under the effects of a strong El Niño, a southern Pacific weather system associated with warmer and stormy weather, which oscillates with a milder system called La Niña. Since then, the trend of average global surface temperatures has shown a clear rise above the long-term averages – the 10 warmest years on record have been since 1998 – but climate sceptics have claimed that this represents a pause in warming.

Otto said that this most recent pattern could not be taken as evidence that climate change has stopped. "Given the noise in the climate and temperature system, you would need to see a much longer period of any pause in order to draw the conclusion that global warming was not occurring," he said. Such a period could be as long as 40 years of the climate record, he said.

Otto said the study found that most of the climate change models used by scientists were "pretty accurate". A comprehensive global study of climate change science is expected to be published in September by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, its first major report since 2007.

Jochem Marotzke, professor at the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology in Hamburg and a co-author of the paper, said: "It is important not to over-interpret a single decade, given what we know, and don't know, about natural climate variability. Over the past decade, the world as a whole has continued to warm, but the warming is mostly in the subsurface oceans rather than at the surface."

Other researchers also warned that there was little comfort to be taken from the new estimates – greenhouse gas emissions are rising at a far higher rate than had been predicted by this stage of the 21st century, and set to rise even further, so estimates for how much warming is likely will also have to be upped.

Richard Allan, reader in climate at the University of Reading, said: "This work has used observations to estimate Earth's current heating rate and demonstrate that simulations of climate change far in the future seem to be pretty accurate. However, the research also indicates that a minority of simulations may be responding more rapidly towards this overall warming than the observations indicate."

He said the effect of pollutants in the atmosphere, which reflect the sun's heat back into space, was particularly hard to measure.

He noted the inferred sensitivity of climate to a doubling of carbon dioxide concentrations based on this new study, suggesting a rise of 1.2C to 3.9C was consistent with the range from climate simulations of 2.2C to 4.7C. He said: "With work like this, our predictions become ever better."

Climate slowdown means extreme rates of warming 'not as likely'
Matt McGrath BBC News 19 May 13;

Scientists say the recent downturn in the rate of global warming will lead to lower temperature rises in the short-term.

Since 1998, there has been an unexplained "standstill" in the heating of the Earth's atmosphere.

Writing in Nature Geoscience, the researchers say this will reduce predicted warming in the coming decades.

But long-term, the expected temperature rises will not alter significantly.

The slowdown in the expected rate of global warming has been studied for several years now. Earlier this year, the UK Met Office lowered their five-year temperature forecast.

But this new paper gives the clearest picture yet of how any slowdown is likely to affect temperatures in both the short-term and long-term.

An international team of researchers looked at how the last decade would impact long-term, equilibrium climate sensitivity and the shorter term climate response.
Transient nature

Climate sensitivity looks to see what would happen if we doubled concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere and let the Earth's oceans and ice sheets respond to it over several thousand years.

Transient climate response is much shorter term calculation again based on a doubling of CO2.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reported in 2007 that the short-term temperature rise would most likely be 1-3C (1.8-5.4F).

But in this new analysis, by only including the temperatures from the last decade, the projected range would be 0.9-2.0C.

"The hottest of the models in the medium-term, they are actually looking less likely or inconsistent with the data from the last decade alone," said Dr Alexander Otto from the University of Oxford.

"The most extreme projections are looking less likely than before."

The authors calculate that over the coming decades global average temperatures will warm about 20% more slowly than expected.

But when it comes to the longer term picture, the authors say their work is consistent with previous estimates. The IPCC said that climate sensitivity was in the range of 2.0-4.5C.
Ocean storage

This latest research, including the decade of stalled temperature rises, produces a range of 0.9-5.0C.

"It is a bigger range of uncertainty," said Dr Otto.

"But it still includes the old range. We would all like climate sensitivity to be lower but it isn't."

The researchers say the difference between the lower short-term estimate and the more consistent long-term picture can be explained by the fact that the heat from the last decade has been absorbed into and is being stored by the world's oceans.

Not everyone agrees with this perspective.

Prof Steven Sherwood, from the University of New South Wales, says the conclusion about the oceans needs to be taken with a grain of salt for now.

"There is other research out there pointing out that this storage may be part of a natural cycle that will eventually reverse, either due to El Nino or the so-called Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation, and therefore may not imply what the authors are suggesting," he said.

The authors say there are ongoing uncertainties surrounding the role of aerosols in the atmosphere and around the issue of clouds.

"We would expect a single decade to jump around a bit but the overall trend is independent of it, and people should be exactly as concerned as before about what climate change is doing," said Dr Otto.

Is there any succour in these findings for climate sceptics who say the slowdown over the past 14 years means the global warming is not real?

"None. No comfort whatsoever," he said.

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