Best of our wild blogs: 28 Jun 13

Natural reefs on artificial seawalls with OTTERS!
from wild shores of singapore

Down Memory Lane - Orange Albatross
from Butterflies of Singapore

Indonesia to spend $10M on cloud-seeding scheme to slow haze from news by Rhett Butler

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Singapore Zoo hopes to expand current site at Mandai

Alfred Chua Today Online 28 Jun 13;

SINGAPORE — The Singapore Zoo is hoping to expand its current site, amid plans previously announced by the Government to develop the surrounding Mandai area into an eco-tourism destination.

The zoo currently occupies 26ha of land and, with the growth in population, space might be an issue, said Ms Claire Chiang, Chairman of Wildlife Reserves Singapore (WRS), which runs the zoo.

“At our peak of 14,000 visitors a day, we are nudging each other. We need space ... I hope there can be certain extensions and certain enhancements made,” she told reporters at the zoo’s 40th anniversary celebrations yesterday.

Last year, Second Minister for Trade and Industry S Iswaran announced that the Government was looking to add more tourist developments in Mandai, such as hotels and more restaurants, to transform the area into a complete tourist destination.

Ms Chiang hoped the authorities “can keep this whole Mandai parcel intact for eco-tourism”.

“It has the opportunity to be a huge integrated reserve,” she added.

Former President SR Nathan attended the anniversary celebrations as guest of honour.

To thank visitors for their support, all Singaporeans and permanent residents visiting the zoo next month will enjoy 40 per cent off ticket prices, said WRS.

Sharing her hopes for the Singapore Zoo, Ms Chiang felt that zoos of the future should be “interactive, immersive and edu-taining”.

Commenting on its future, she said: “It’s not just to showcase animals, (but) to look at biodiversity and sustainability, and ... how animals, nature and men can exist in a way that can be a win-win (situation).”

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Haze finger-pointing: Time for companies to show and tell

Neo Chai Chin Today Online 28 Jun 13;

If you felt confused or none the wiser after reading reports on the names of several major palm oil and pulp companies thrown up as culprits of the haze, as well as their subsequent denials, you could hardly be blamed.

If the companies accused say they are not behind the fires, who is?

Some media reports and non-government organisations (NGOs) have spelled out clearly what needs to be done by governments, corporations, as well as consumers to prevent the haze from occurring annually. This includes Indonesia ratifying the ASEAN Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution and enforcing its laws.

An essential — and highly achievable — first step forward is for companies to regularly disclose all their concession areas and geographical coordinates, so that the information can be overlaid with satellite images of hot spots for current and future burning seasons.

Since the names of companies under investigation emerged, some major palm oil and pulp companies have publicly stated their no-burn policies and noted the presence of fire management programmes and efforts to assist in fire-fighting.

But none have volunteered detailed information of their concession areas to enlighten NGO watchdogs and the public.


In the absence of up-to-date, comprehensive information, organisations such as Greenpeace, WWF and the World Resources Institute (WRI) have utilised the best-available data. Over half of Riau province’s fire alerts occurring between June 12 and 23 were in concession areas, the WRI found.

It noted in a June 24 Insight article that “concession maps for 2013 are still not available to the public and cannot be accessed freely online. This and other data, such as details on company ownership, would strengthen the ability of groups working on this issue to conduct analysis, including the Indonesian government”.

Singapore-listed First Resources has indicated its willingness to help establish facts, saying on Sunday that it “welcomes and will provide assistance to any party who wishes to confirm information pertaining to its plantations and concessions”.

This is more than what some others are doing — but it is not enough. Companies need to disclose much more, if we are to move beyond the current stalemate of finger-pointing and better investigate future episodes of burning.

Maps of forestry, timber and oil palm concessions; how they overlay with forest and peatland areas (especially peat areas deeper than 3 metres, which are illegal to develop) and the distribution of hot spots when they occur, as well as information on fire risk and weather conditions should be made available by the Indonesian government on its websites, said Professor Luca Tacconi, Director of the Asia Pacific Network for Environmental Governance.

The Indonesian government should also publish records of companies on whose concessions fires have occurred, the actions taken and their outcomes, Prof Tacconi told TODAY.


On its part, Singapore can legislate the disclosure of concession areas, as well as land-clearing and planting practices by firms, as part of its stock exchange-listing requirements, said Professor Alan Tan Khee Jin, executive committee member of the Asia Pacific Centre for Environmental Law.

At least seven companies with palm oil operations in Indonesia are listed in Singapore, including major players like Wilmar International and Golden Agri-Resources.

The path to greater disclosure may not be easy, however.

Concessions and their boundaries are extremely ill-defined in Indonesia and, often, companies “do not know for certain (nor do they care) where the boundaries are”, said Prof Tan. The land could also be subject to overlapping rights such as community lands and protected areas.

In the confusion, local governments tend to award concessions to large companies without regard to existing occupants, he said. Fires could be set by farmers doing slash-and-burn or out of anger, with companies retaliating in similar fashion, he noted.

It is also inaccurate to assume companies with the concessions own their lands and have control over them, said Prof Tan. The term “concession” could mean no more than a right to purchase the oil palm harvest from local farmers at a pre-determined price, with firms sub-contracting clearing of land and planting to the locals.

“In such circumstances, the companies can claim they have no role in the burnings, and the involvement of powerful and corrupt local leaders often results in little or zero enforcement of anti-burning laws,” he said.

Under Indonesian law, any company or person guilty of an illegal forest fire could be jailed up to 10 years and fined up to 5 billion rupiah (S$640,000).


The challenges are real, but they should not derail any disclosure of information. Companies could report concession zones with caveats on areas that are unclear or ill-defined, for example.

Also, given how some companies have stated that no fires have been detected in their operating areas, the logical assumption is that they are clear what their operating areas are.

One of the purported benefits of palm oil plantations is the provision of jobs and livelihoods to local communities. But when we drove last week through some areas blanketed with smog and close to massive plantations that had been burnt in Riau province, villagers — including children — without face masks were a common sight.

There was no respite for them, no air-conditioned space to escape to. I could only imagine the respiratory and other illnesses that could afflict them through prolonged exposure to the fumes.

The companies owe it to local communities to do better. Greater disclosure could also help consumers around the world to equip themselves with information to make the right choices.

Tackling the haze effectively will be complex and almost certainly long-drawn. But for a start, companies, perhaps with prodding by the authorities, must be more accountable.


Neo Chai Chin is a senior reporter with TODAY who reports on the environment. She spent five days in Riau recently to cover the hot spots and fire-fighting efforts.

More plantations, more haze to come?
Simon Tay and Chua Chin Wei Today Online 28 Jun 13;

In the wake of record levels of haze, environment ministers from Malaysia and Singapore will be meeting their Indonesian counterpart as soon as July 17 for the Ministerial Steering Committee (MSC).

This follows the apology graciously given by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and — more importantly — the actions taken by the Indonesian government to suppress the worst of the fires. Governments must do their part to signal, as well as to act.

But they are not the source of the problem. Past MSC meetings have recognised that palm oil corporations are key to reducing the haze, yet this is the first time that governments in Malaysia and Singapore have called for the companies to be named and pledged to act no matter what the nationality of these companies.

It is right to take action against errant corporations — not only to name them but also to shame and penalise them. While fire has been traditionally used by smallholders for hundreds of years to clear land, the key difference today is scale. The rapid expansion of plantations across Indonesia is the reason why it was only from the 1990s that the haze has caused alarm across the region; further growth explains many of the spikes in haze pollution since.

According to a report, the total plantation area in Indonesia grew by 50 per cent from 2005. Come 2020, this is slated to increase by a further 60 per cent — a total of five million hectares, about 70 times Singapore’s size. Unless the industry can be greened, more haze must be anticipated.

More information needs to be gleaned from transposing satellite images on maps of plantation concessions, but there are gaps in these maps. Plantations also claim that the fires were set by others or spread to their concessions from other areas. Ultimate ownership and responsibility are often ambiguous.

To establish the facts, much hard groundwork is needed. The Indonesian authorities can only do so much of this, given the vast land areas and limited capacity. Non-government organisations will need to work with the local communities to provide eyes on the ground.

To date, few cases have been brought to court and fewer still have been successfully prosecuted.

Given this, some argue that the entire industry must be boycotted. However, palm oil is near ubiquitous — contained in more than half the products sold in a typical supermarket.

Moreover, in a multi-billion-dollar industry, Indonesia is the world’s No 1 producer, Malaysia is second and Singapore supports the trade and financing with some major producers based and even listed here. Governments want to solve the haze but would not want to kill the industry.


Instead of a blanket ban, effort must be made to recognise and incentivise companies to act sustainably. This is best done in tandem with prosecutions, as a stick-and-carrot strategy.

Some palm oil companies do try to institutionalise sustainability plans. When quizzed, Golden Agri-Resources and Wilmar International have been quick to reiterate their zero-burn policy. But having a zero-burn policy is different from enforcing one.

Certification will be essential to differentiate between those who are green from those who merely claim to be. One attempt has been made by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), an industry-led effort. But, with some RSPO members accused of using fire, some question the group’s effectiveness. Investigations by RSPO against errant members will be closely watched to see if companies dodge responsibility or take steps to reform.

Another measure is to provide traceability — so that traders and buyers in the supply chain can trace the product back to the producer and precise plantation. The demand for traceability of food produce has grown and some companies such as Nestle now commit to using only traceable palm oil. Many others, however, still trade and purchase uncertified and untraceable palm oil.

Citizens — not just in Singapore and Malaysia but also in Riau nearest the fires — have called for the haze to be ended. Governments are starting to address the issue, notwithstanding political sensitivities and the urgency of the meeting of environmental ministers signals progress. But there are clear limits to what environmental ministers can command without the buy-in from their ministerial colleagues in charge of the economy and industry.

Governments will have to coordinate between the environmental ministers who will meet and their counterparts in charge of economic and industry matters. Only then will palm oil and other resource companies have the right stick and carrots to green their businesses.


Simon Tay is Chairman and Chua Chin Wei a Deputy Director of the Singapore Institute of International Affairs.

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Shanmugam clears air over his links to firms accused of causing haze

S Ramesh Channel NewsAsia 28 Jun 13;

SINGAPORE: Singapore's Law and Foreign Affairs Minister K Shanmugam has clarified his past directorships in Asia Food & Properties Ltd (AFP) and Golden Agri-Resources Ltd (GAR) which are controlled by the Sinar Mas Group (SMG).

Writing on his Facebook page, he said these questions have been raised because one senior Indonesian official said last week that the Sinar Mas Group, which has some companies in Singapore, was among those involved in the forest burning in Indonesia that caused the haze.

Mr Shanmugam revealed that in June 1996, the Singapore Exchange (SGX) had asked him and two others to become independent directors of a listed company called Amcol because Amcol was in serious trouble.

Most of Amcol's then directors were told to step down. Amcol had over 11,000 shareholders and many of them were Singaporeans who had invested using their CPF.

Amcol went into Judicial Management, and a white knight, the Sinar Mas Group was eventually found for Amcol.

The group took over Amcol in 1997, through Asia Food and Properties Limited (AFP), an SMG subsidiary.

Mr Shanmugam said AFP was then listed and he became a director of AFP. He stressed that he did not charge or receive any legal fees for this work as the work was done to help the public, who were Amcol shareholders.

Legal fees refer to payment that a lawyer performing work in a similar situation could have received.

He added that Golden Agri Resources was listed in 1999 as a subsidiary of AFP, and he was appointed a director of the company.

When AFP was listed in 1997, Mr Shanmugam said he wanted to step down as the work SGX had asked him to do was completed.

However, Sinar Mas Group asked him to stay on for a period to give confidence to shareholders, given that the company had gone through difficult times.

Mr Shanmugam agreed to the request.

In 2001, he stepped down from both the AFP and GAR Boards, as the transition was over, and SMG had found new directors.

Throughout this period, Mr Shanmugam stressed he did not own any shares in Amcol, AFP or GAR.

However, as a director of AFP and GAR, he said he received director's fees, similar to other directors.

- CNA/fa

Shanmugam clears air on past links to firms
Andrea Ong Straits Times 29 Jun 13;

FOREIGN Minister K. Shanmugam yesterday explained his past position as director in two companies controlled by an Indonesian conglomerate reportedly linked to the fires causing the haze.

The conglomerate, Sinar Mas Group (SMG), has some companies in Singapore and was named by a senior Indonesian official last week as one of the alleged culprits burning forests and contributing to the haze enveloping the region.

In a Facebook post yesterday, Mr Shanmugam, who is also Law Minister, detailed how he came to be involved in the two SMG-controlled companies: Golden Agri-Resources (GAR) and Asia Food & Properties (AFP).

In June 1996, he and two others were asked by the Singapore Exchange (SGX) to be independent directors of then listed company Amcol, he said. The company, many of whose shareholders were Singaporeans who had invested using their Central Provident Fund savings, was in "serious trouble".

Most of its directors had been told to step down, he said.

"The three of us were asked to go in and see how the investing public shareholders of Amcol could be helped," said Mr Shanmugam, then a lawyer with expertise in securities law.

They managed Amcol's affairs with judicial managers and a white knight, SMG, was found.

SMG took over Amcol in 1997 using AFP, which was listed that same year. In 1999, GAR was listed as a subsidiary of AFP.

Mr Shanmugam was appointed director of both companies after their listing. The Amcol shareholders who kept their shares ended up getting "a substantial benefit".

But, he said, "I did not charge or receive any fees for this work - the work was done to help the public, who were Amcol shareholders". He had wanted to step down when AFP was listed in 1997 as the task given to him by SGX - to help Amcol shareholders - had been completed.

He, however, agreed to SMG's request to stay on for a period, to give confidence to shareholders.

He stepped down from the boards of AFP and GAR in 2001.

"Throughout this period, I did not own any shares in Amcol, AFP or GAR," he said. "I did my duty on behalf of shareholders as requested by SGX. And I have never owned any shares in any of these companies." He received director's fees for his AFP and GAR posts, similar to other directors.

Mr Shanmugam said he had also been asked about Asia Pulp and Paper (APP), which a top Indonesian official said owned land with hot spots. GAR and APP are units of SMG. Noting that APP was listed on the New York Stock Exchange, he said: "I had no dealings whatsoever with APP."

On Tuesday, a foreign online report highlighted Mr Shanmugam's links with these companies.

Late on Wednesday night, he called lawyer Choo Zheng Xi, who co-founded The Online Citizen, to discuss the report. Yesterday, he said he knew Mr Choo and had discussed issues with him before over dinner and the phone.

In a Facebook post yesterday, Mr Choo, 28, said: "Minister shared his views about the article, noting that he thought it was libellous... I agreed that there were many unverifiable facts in the article and that it appeared to me that the article was libellous." He added that he had told friends of the conversation and the minister's views. "I had earlier in the day informed them of my opinion that the article was libellous under Singapore's laws on defamation."

Mr Shanmugam said he was "surprised" to see blogger Kirsten Han posting on Thursday that she found the late-night call "troubling" and "worrying".

"Unfortunately the picture Ms Han has painted is quite untrue. To give her the benefit of the doubt, she was not part of the conversation and may not therefore have had the full picture," he said.

Yesterday, he also told reporters that Mr Choo had sent him an e-mail saying his posting explaining what happened was fair.

In another post last evening, Mr Choo took responsibility for the mischaracterisation of the minister's phone call to him, which was a personal call. "I apologise to both the minister and Kirsten for the miscommunication, which was solely occasioned by me," said Mr Choo.

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Canal pleasures

The transformation of canals and reservoirs into recreational areas puts water play back in style
Nicholas Yong Straits Times Life 28 Jun 13;

The haze over the past couple of weeks has cast a pall over outdoor activities. But if the weather holds out over the weekend, stir-crazy folks cooped up indoors can head for some idyllic water spots located right in their backyards.

There are currently 27 Active, Beautiful, Clean Waters (ABC Waters) projects all over the island. The long-term initiative aims to transform Singapore's drains, canals and reservoirs into streams, rivers and lakes that are also recreational spaces.

More than 100 potential sites have been identified for ABC Waters Implementation by 2030.

The ABC Waters Programme even bagged the Public Utilities Board the Utility Performance Initiative of the Year at the Global Water Awards 2013.

From Sengkang to Jurong to Kallang Bahru, Life!Weekend takes a look at five of the lesser known projects, where you can take a stroll, cycle, fish and even race remote-controlled boats.


Completed in 2011, the 1.2km stretch of Alexandra Canal from Tanglin Road to Delta Road has become an open waterway.

A short stretch of the waterway has been decked over to create a water cascade and a shallow stream. A series of viewing decks gives visitors and residents a bird's eye view of the waterway.

There is a series of urban wetlands with flora and fauna such as turtles and aquatic plants, which help clean the water. They also provide outdoor learning opportunities for nearby schools such as Crescent Girls' School.

When Life!Weekend visits on a weekday afternoon, stay-at-home dad Gary Millers, 44, is keeping an eye on his son Ayden. The eight-year-old is zipping up and down the viewing decks on his skate scooter.

Mr Millers, an Australian expatriate who has been living in the area for four years, appreciates the effort to beautify the area. He notes: "We like the park. It's quiet and there are not many cars. There are not many places in Singapore that are this compact."

Domestic worker Loida Cantano, 41, whose employer also lives in a nearby condominium, enjoys walking at the viewing decks at night. She says: "It's nice to walk here and it's very breezy. I also like the view of the water features."


The three-year-old Sengkang Floating Wetland at Punggol Reservoir provides a natural habitat for birds and fish and plant species such as dwarf papyrus, piai raya and pandan wangi.

Located just behind Serangoon Sports and Recreation Centre, its features include boardwalks that get you up close and personal with the water plants.

Dotting the boardwalks is a large mangosteen-shaped shelter, as well as benches shaped like oranges cut in half. There are also educational signboards all around, with information about the wetland ecosystem.

The first of its kind in Singapore, the floating wetland also connects the Anchorvale Community Club and Sengkang Sports Complex on one bank, and the Sengkang Riverside Park on the other bank.

Junior college student Kelvin Tan, 17, lives a 10-minute walk from the wetland and often goes there to study. The eldest of three siblings, he enjoys the peace and quiet in the area.

"Here, you can get close to nature and it's different from other parks because it's connected to other areas.

"You can reach Punggol and Serangoon from here. It's also ideal for running and cycling at night, which I do once a month. Sometimes, I come here with my siblings too."


Sitting in the shadow of HDB blocks that surround it, Kolam Ayer ABC Waterfront is the result of a project that has transformed a 250m stretch of Kallang River between Bendemeer Road and Kolam Ayer Pedestrian Bridge.

Located in Kallang Bahru, the project brings the waterfront literally to the doorstep of the heartlander. The main features of the Kolam Ayer project include water sensitive landscaping along the riverbanks, a floating deck and tiled pavements.

There are also interactive water features such as a water wheel with bicycle pedals and three Archimedean screws for visitors to play and get closer to the water.

Completed in 2010, kayaking and dragon boating are also a regular feature along this stretch of water. Kolam Ayer Community Centre also conducts regular elementary kayaking clinics here, on the first Saturday of every month, which start from $18 for members.

Retiree Syed Esa, 63, lives just five minutes' walk from the water. The grandfather of six often takes relatives and visitors to the water body.

"It's beautiful and very peaceful here. The kids will run about and they like to play with the wheels," says Mr Syed, who has been living in the area for almost a decade.

He adds: "I like the river. It's a very different feeling from when I'm in the city because they developed this place with the concept of a natural riverside."


The three-year-old Pandan Reservoir in the West Coast is a vibrant water sports arena for canoeing, sailing and rowing, with an amenities centre housing the offices of several national sports associations.

Landscaping and wetlands help soften the banks of the reservoir, while there are also platforms for viewing and fishing, as well as radio-controlled boating.

There is an unusual-shaped pontoon boardwalk, with space for anglers and strollers alike. Fountains also spout water between 11am and 2pm and 8 and 9pm.

When Life!Weekend visits on a Monday afternoon, there are almost 10 anglers along the boardwalk, casting their lines and comparing their catches.

One of them is Tan Kwang Jie, 18. The ITE student is a keen angler who travels all the way from his home in Toh Guan to Pandan Reservoir every few months. He says: "I come here to be alone. It's quiet and peaceful for people to fish. You can catch fish such as tilapia."


Located near Yuan Ching Road and Chinese Gardens MRT station, Jurong Lake was designed as a water playground for families in the west.

Completed in 2010, amenities include a stage, a viewing promenade for community events and a boardwalk for visitors to enjoy views of the lake. Wetlands also keep the waters clean and attract wildlife such as fish and birds.

Kayaking and dragon boating are a regular feature on the lake, with dedicated lanes for competitive rowing. There is also a water activity-based centre operated by the People's Association.

Automated fountains on the lake also go off three times every day, from 7 to 9am, noon to 2pm and 6 to 9pm.

Technician Ruzaman Mohd (top), 45, grew up in the area and comes to Jurong Lake once a week. A passionate angler, he is drawn by the many species of fish in the lake such as snakehead, tilapia and soon hock.

"I have at least one catch each time I come here," says the father of one who grew up in the area and has been frequenting the water spot for the last three decades.

He adds: "It was more natural last time, with a lot of aquatic vegetation and a very good ecosystem for the fish. The water looks clean, but it all feels a bit artificial. But it's still a nice place to hang out. I bring my wife and daughter here on weekends, they ride bicycles and we have quality time."

Gardener Johnny Yek, 67, helps maintain the greenery around Jurong Lake and says he has a great job. "I love working here because of the scenery. It's very quiet and peaceful. It's my wife's favourite place for morning walks, and sometimes, I accompany her."

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Larger mangrove areas for Punggol

Kash Cheong Straits Times 28 Jun 13;

HUGE swathes of freshwater mangroves and floating wetlands will be planted at Punggol Waterway to benefit future residents and visitors.

The Housing Board began "greening" the area in June 2011 by planting 160 sq m of mangroves. This is set to grow massively to about 6,000 sq m of freshwater mangroves and 500 sq m of floating wetlands.

"The plants absorb nitrates from the water, therefore acting as a natural filter," said the HDB's principal architect Alan Tan. "Freshwater mangroves also strengthen the embankments. The greenery has attracted 80 species of birds so far."

Some 50 sq m of floating wetlands have been successfully test-bedded at Sunrise Bridge on the eastern side of the 4.2km waterway.

The expansion of mangroves and floating wetlands, which will take place over the next three to five years, will cost about $2.65 million in total. Funding has been secured by the Ministry of National Development, Mr Tan said.

Mangroves covered about 13.5 per cent of Singapore's land area in the 1960s but due to urbanisation, this has become reduced to around 0.5 per cent now.

Mr Christopher Chong, who will move into his Punggol Waterway flat in 2015, said: "I do not disagree with the principle of spending money to replace at least some of the greenery we remove. However, I hope the Government can be more transparent about why the projects cost $2.65 million."

Said Punggol resident Tan Kang Sheng, 24: "The expansion is quite a good move. Punggol could be a model for future towns - sustainable, green and aesthetically appealing."

Additional reporting by Chan Huan Jun

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Indonesia: Three fire hot spots detected in Tabalong, Kalimantan

Antara 28 Jun 13;

Tanjung, South Kalimantan (ANTARA News) - A satellite of the National oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has detected three hot spots from forest fires in Tabalong District, South Kalimantan Province, since early June 2013.

The hot spots were detected in Lano Village (Jaro Sub District), Maburai Village (Murung Pudak Sub District), and Santuun Village (Muara Uya Sub District), Yandi Sa`ban, a forest ranger of the Tabalong forestry service, said here on Friday.

The number of hot spots was smaller than that in the previous year because rains have fallen in Tabalong this June.

Tabalong has 230,000 hectares of forests including protected forest, industrial forest and conservation forest.

In East Barito District, Central Kalimantan, two hot spots were detected recently. (*)

Editor: Heru

Indonesia allocates Rp100 billion to overcome forest fires
Antara 28 Jun 13;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - A total of Rp100 billion has been allocated for making rain, procuring materials and providing planes to conduct water bombing to fight forest and land fires in Riau province, a senior Indonesian minister said.

"The government would lease planes from Korea and Russia that are able to carry 4,000 to 5,000 liters of water for water bombing operations," Coordinating Minister for People`s Welfare Agung Laksono said after a coordination meeting to discuss the problem here on Thursday.

The meeting at the Forestry Ministry was attended by Forestry Minister Zulkifli Hasan, Defense Forces (TNI) Commander Admiral Agus Suhartono, Environment Minister Balthasar Kambuaya, Deputy Foreign Minister Wardana, officials from the police force, the Attorney General Office, the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB), the National Development Planning Board (Bappnenas), the Agency for Technology Assessment and Application (BPPT), the National Institute of Aeronautics and Space (Lapan), the Ministry of Research and Technology, the Ministry of Agriculture and from Jambi, South Sumatra and South Kalimantan provincial administrations.

Agung said the meeting did not only discuss fires in Riau but also anticipatory measures in eight other provinces.

On offers of assistance from Malaysia and Singapore to fight the fires the minister said that they were not yet needed as the government was still able to overcome them with support from all parties at home.

He said the government would even encourage private parties at home to participate in the efforts.

Forestry Minister Zulkifli Hasan meanwhile said 14 people were currently being questioned with regard to the fires consisting of 11 persons from plantation companies and three from local communities.

"If proven guilty they could be jailed for five years and have their permits revoked," he said.

He said the government is now still focusing on fighting the fires and is expecting support from all parties.

"We need support from all parties and all companies must protect their forests from fires," he said.

He said the handling of the fires had been taken over the central government as they have been considered a national problem.

He said BPPT has successfully made rain in Riau while water bombing has also been carried out involving six helicopters and more that will come this week to extinguish the fires. (*)

Editor: Heru

Thousands of soldiers deployed to fight fires
Fazar Muhardi Antara 27 Jun 13;

Pekanbaru, Riau (ANTARA News) - Thousands of soldiers have been sent to fight remaining forest and land fires in six locations in Riau province.

"Based on satellite monitoring at around 4pm on Wednesday six fires were still seen and have the potential to cause haze in several regions and they would be immediately put out. Forces have been sent to the locations," the commander of the task force dealing with Riau haze disaster, Brigadier General Teguh Rahardjo, said to Antara here on Thursday.

Teguh, who is also the chief of the 031/Wirabima Military Resort, said the fires based on NOAA satellite monitoring were found in Dumai, Bengkalis and Pelalawan districts.

"There are three fires in Dumai, two in Bengkalis and one in Pelalawan," he said.

Earlier, the Indonesian military (TNI) had deployed 1,400 personnel to overcome haze problem caused by peat land fires in Riau.

TNI Commander Admiral Agus Suhartono had also ordered the deployment of TNI experts to help tackle the problem.

The 1,400 TNI members deployed to fight fires in the province came from army special unit Kopassus, Marine Corps and army reserve command Kostrad.

Teguh said in addition to thousands of military forces from Jakarta all forces in the region had also been ordered to participate in the fire fighting efforts.

"The army personnel have worked maximally and successfully put out fires in several areas," he said.

He said the number of hotspots in Riau had dropped significantly after quite heavy rains fell in several areas.

According to the Meteorology, Geophysics and Climatology Agency (BMKG) station in Pekanbaru, the number of fires in Riau reached 263 but later dropped to 84 on Tuesday and six later on Wednesday.


Editor: Jafar M Sidik

Jakarta to step up water bombing
Wahyudi Soeriaatmadja Indonesia Correspondent In Jakarta
Straits Times 28 Jun 13;

INDONESIA plans to step up its efforts to contain the haze with larger scale water-bombing operations, said the top official overseeing the disaster response effort.

"We will do water-bombing on a bigger scale. Hopefully, we can start in one week's time," Coordinating Minister for People's Welfare Agung Laksono told reporters yesterday.

Indonesia will rent Russian Kamov helicopters with belly tanks that can drop more water than those in use now, forestry official Sonny Partono added.

A Kamov helicopter can carry some 8,000 litres of water, compared to just 500 litres by the helicopters being used in Riau.

The haze situation has improved in recent days following cloud-seeding and water-bombing efforts by disaster response teams in Riau province.

But the government plans to step up operations amid concerns that the haze may return.

Enforcement action has also gathered pace.

Yesterday, police said 16 people had been named suspects in land-clearing fires in Riau. Investigators have also been gathering evidence against the eight companies that Indonesia says are responsible for setting the fires.

Meanwhile, a group of consumer goods giants meeting in Jakarta yesterday sought to pressure Indonesian suppliers of palm oil and pulp and paper products into making sure that sustainable practices are enforced down their supply chains.

The first meeting of the Tropical Forest Alliance brought together companies, civil society groups and officials aiming to end deforestation by key industries by 2020.

Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who opened the meeting, said the practice of land-clearing which causes the haze remains a challenge.

"Companies have to ensure compliance which is enforced to the lowest level of operations on the ground," he said.

Additional reporting by Zakir Hussain in Jakarta

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Jakarta agrees to earlier talks on tackling haze

Zakir Hussain Indonesia Bureau Chief And Wahyudi Soeriaatmadja Indonesia Correspondent In Jakarta
Straits Times 28 Jun 13;

INDONESIA has agreed to a proposal to bring forward to July 17 a meeting of five Asean countries to tackle the haze, Environment Minister Balthasar Kambuaya said after meeting his Malaysian counterpart here yesterday.

The meeting will take place in Kuala Lumpur, and involves Singapore, Brunei and Thailand as well. It was originally slated for Aug 20, but Malaysia and Singapore asked for an earlier date as forest fires in Riau saw pollutant indexes reach hazardous levels in all three countries.

A spokesman for Singapore's Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources said Singapore "agrees with Malaysia's proposed date of July 17" for the meeting.

At the Jakarta meeting yesterday, Malaysian Environment Minister G. Palanivel also handed a letter from Prime Minister Najib Razak to Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, and offered his country's help with firefighting staff and aircraft.

Coordinating Minister for People's Welfare Agung Laksono said in response that "we are still able to do it ourselves". But he added "we can do training, sharing of knowledge".

Meanwhile, Singapore's Health Minister Gan Kim Yong outlined his ministry's action plans in the event the haze worsens. The priority will be on three key areas: Maintaining patient safety, meeting the demand of more patients and minimising the disruption to medical services.

Separately, the National Environment Agency said slight haze is expected at the weekend, even though thundery showers are also expected. The 24-hour levels of small, toxic particles called PM2.5 are likely to remain slightly higher than usual today.

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Indonesia says building criminal cases against 8 firms over fires

Aubrey Belford Reuters 27 Jun 13;

JAKARTA | Thu Jun 27, 2013 8:47am EDT

(Reuters) - Indonesian investigators are building criminal cases against eight Southeast Asian companies they suspect of being responsible for raging fires that have blanketed neighboring Singapore and Malaysia with hazardous smog.

The Environment Ministry last week named the firms for their alleged role in Southeast Asia's worst air pollution crisis in 16 years, which has raised concerns over public health and hurt business and tourism in Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia.

Owners of five of the plantations have denied any wrongdoing. Reuters has not been able to contact the others.

A 2009 law carries tough penalties for environmental crimes, although such regulations have rarely been enforced due to Indonesia's endemic corruption and sprawling geography.

And investigators could find it hard to pin the blame on specific firms because of the complex ownership of palm oil concessions and pulp and paper holdings on Indonesia's Sumatra island where most of the fires are burning.

But outrage from Singapore as well as environmental groups is putting pressure on Jakarta. Fires are used to clear land on plantations and can burn for weeks because of peat deposits below the surface.

"This is the first major haze since the new law. This is the first big opportunity for the government to use it," said Peter Kanowski, deputy director general of the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), a conservation organization based in Indonesia.

Three of the firms under investigation are owned by government-linked companies in Malaysia. Unlike Singapore, Malaysia has not publicly admonished Indonesia over the smog.

An initial on-the-ground investigation by dozens of officials in Sumatra's Riau province found evidence of fires on land licensed to PT Tunggal Mitra Plantations and PT Bhumireksa Nusa Sejati, said Sudariyono, the Environment Ministry's enforcement chief.

The two firms are owned by the world's largest palm oil planter by landbank, Malaysia's Sime Darby Bhd, via its Indonesian subsidiary Minamas Plantation.

In a statement, Sime Darby said the latest satellite maps from the U.S. government agency NASA, overlaid with the company's own map of its concessions, showed no fires at Tunggal Mitra Plantations.

There were three fires in Bhumireksa Nusa Sejati's concession area. However, they were outside the company's operating area, said Sime Darby, which is backed by state funds in Malaysia.

Sime Darby cited Indonesian regulations, imposed in the 1980s, under which local farmers can use concession land without restrictions. The firm said it has not cleared land since April.

Some farmers illegally clear land using "slash and burn" techniques during the June to September dry season.

Fourteen people had been arrested this week for lighting fires, national police spokesman Boy Rafli Amir said. He declined to say if any were employed by the named companies, but added there was evidence of fires at concessions owned by all eight firms.

Sudariyono said investigators had visited concessions of all the firms and were using GPS data to establish the location of fires. They were focusing initially on "going after the local companies" and would pursue any links to parent firms later.

He declined to give more details, but said more companies would be investigated.


The Environment Ministry and the police are leading the investigation and say they will decide if there is enough evidence to recommend the attorney general's office pursue the case further.

A team of 58 police officers and nine officials from the Environment Ministry were on the ground in Riau, the epicenter of the fires, police said.

Action has rarely been taken against plantation companies since the first major Indonesian haze crisis in 1997, when smog disrupted shipping and air travel across Southeast Asia.

Under the 2009 law, a person or company found guilty of starting a forest fire can face up to 10 years in jail and 10 billion rupiah ($1 million) in fines.

A guilty company can also have their profits seized, operations shut down and be sued for damages.

Palm oil is a key ingredient for products such as cooking oil and biofuel. Global demand has nearly doubled in seven years to more than 51 million tonnes (1 tonne = 1.102 tons), with much of it produced in Indonesia and Malaysia.

Industry data show oil palms cover about 5 million hectares in Malaysia and more than 8 million hectares in Indonesia.

Among the other firms Sudariyono listed was PT Multi Gambut Industri, known officially in Malaysia as PT TH Indo Plantations.

It is a unit of the Malaysian state-linked Pilgrimage Fund Board. Kuala Lumpur-listed TH Plantations Berhad, also a unit of the fund, manages TH Indo Plantations.

TH Plantations said it had "zero-burning" policies, adding it had observed instances of open burning outside the boundaries of the estates it managed. ($1=9,925 rupiah)

(Additional reporting by Janeman Latul, Michael Taylor and Andjarsari Paramaditha in Jakarta, Niluksi Koswanage in Kuala Lumpur, and Eveline Danubrata in Singapore; Writing by Randy Fabi. Editing by Jason Szep and Dean Yates)

WWF calls for zero burn laws as hotspot analysis fingers pulp and palm oil industries
WWF 27 Jun 13;

Singapore – WWF has renewed calls for zero-burn policies to be enacted and enforced, as satellite hotspot analysis showed the single jurisdiction of Riau Province, Sumatra as the location of over 88% per cent of the fire hotspots that have seen Singapore and parts of Malaysia blanketed with the worst haze and pollution since 1997.

The call comes as Sumatra NGO coalition Eyes on the Forest (EoF) - WWF-Indonesia, Jikalhari and Wahli Riau - released a new analysis linking NASA indications of fire hotspots to concession areas. Fire and haze information is now available online through interactive maps through a joint project of EoF and Google Earth Outreach.

According to the most current analysis, more than 9000 fire hotspots were mapped in Sumatra by NASA satellites between 1 and 24 June, with more than 8000 in Riau province. Nearly 40 per cent overlapped with large scale pulpwood concessions or oil palm plantations.

WWF-Indonesia and EoF caution that ground truthing will be required and is underway to better indicate responsibility for the fires. Concession holders have legal responsibilities over concessions but it does not necessarily follow that the companies are responsible for lighting the fires.

Many are likely linked to the supply of palm oil. WWF-Indonesia this week released a report detailing the supply of oil palm fruit illegally grown inside the iconic Tesso Nilo National Park.The hotspot analysis shows the Tesso Nilo forest complex (the national park and two adjacent selective logging concessions) to be a significant source of haze, with 449 hotspots (6 per cent of the overall total for Riau) recorded there.

“With this data in hand, WWF stands ready to help governments and agencies across the region”, said Ms Elaine Tan, CEO, WWF-Singapore, “Fires in Riau are a global issue that affects us all due to serious carbon emissions they cause.”

Fully 88 per cent of hotspots were in peatland, where fires can trigger huge emissions of carbon.

Dr Efransjah, CEO of WWF-Indonesia, added that “This is a complex issue, but with the right data, the appropriate enforcement and company protection of their lands, we can make a difference”.

In Riau province, long a centre of controversy over clearing and plantation establishment for pulp and paper production, the most recent analysis shows 30 per cent of the hotspots overlapping with pulpwood concessions, 1,075 linked to Asia Pacific Resources International Ltd (APRIL) and its suppliers and 1,027 on concessions linked to Asia Pulp and Paper (APP).

Some 9 per cent (696) of Riau’s hotspots showed within well managed large scale oil palm plantations. These areas likely overlap at least in part with the concession boundaries of palm oil majors but this has yet to be verified by EoF.

The devastating scale and impact of the recent fires has prompted WWF to renew the call to fully implement and enforce “Zero Burning” --- a set of prescriptions that restricts the use of fire for land clearing or replanting of industrial tree crops. Instead of fire, heavy machines are used to crush, chip, pile or bury plant residues.

Indonesian law prohibits the use of fire to clear land for any agriculture, and this applies to both corporations and small land holders. Also reflecting the regional significance of these fires, ‘Zero Burning’ is an important part of ASEAN’s (Association of South East Asian Nations) Haze Action Plan and the recently signed legally binding Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution.

WWF calls for the Indonesian government authorities to take control of land allocation for palm oil and strictly enforce the “Zero Burning” laws that apply to both smallholders and large corporations. Particularly for smallholders, assistance to manage the land without fire should be provided by the government, with the support from corporations and NGOs. Moreover, WWF calls for pulp and palm oil industries to stop the use of fire in their own concessions and to control any fires that come onto their land.

Further field investigations are needed to quantify the major causes of fires outside known pulpwood concessions and oil palm plantations. WWF suspects some of them are related to non-corporate oil palm plantation development as “available” lands in the Riau have often been used to produce palm oil fruit to sell to large companies like the case of Tesso Nilo. WWF calls for palm oil companies to take responsibility for the full supply chain of palm oil and ensure that fruit or processed oil bought from third-party providers are not fueling the haze.

Forest protection responsibility of all parties
Antara 27 Jun 13;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has said the protection of tropical forests in Indonesia was the responsibility of all parties, including the central and regional governments, private companies, and the civil society.

Speaking at a function to open Intenational Tropical Forest Alliance workshop here on Thursday, President Yudhoyono said all parties should be responsible in protecting the tropical forests in the country.

The workshop was themed Promoting the Sustainability and Productivity of Oil Palm, Pulp, and Paper.

"We all have responsibility but we cannot do it alone. In my view, partnership is important. Central and regional governments, private companies, and the civil society should cooperate to prevent deforestation and to promote reforestation," President Yudhoyono noted.

Besides, he said the developed countries should play their role in reducing green house gas emission while the developing countries were working even harder.

"This is what I call a share of responsibility," the president said.

He pointed out the protection of tropical forests was very important for economic sustainability in the future because Indonesia is a country with the largest tropical forest in the world.

Industries in forestry sector in Indonesia contribute 3.5 percent of the total national economy.

Indonesia is the world`s largest pulp and paper producing country that produces 8 million tons of pulp and 13 million tons of paper per year. Pulp and paper industries can absorb 3.76 million workers.

Indonesia is also the largest oil palm producing country in the world that produced around 26 million tons last year, and with Malaysia they control 85 percent of palm oil production.


Editor: Jafar M Sidik

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Sarawak blackout may have been triggered by Bakun plant, says Sarawak Energy CEO

The Star 28 Jun 13;

KUCHING: The blackout in Sarawak may have been triggered by a frequency drop originating from the Bakun hydro-electric plant, said Sarawak Energy Berhad (SEB) chief executive officer Torstein Dale Sjotveit.

He said the system trip led to a total failure of SEB's system and all its power stations were down, including at Sejingkat in Kuching, Batang Ai, the Mukah coal plant as well as the Bintulu and Miri gas plants.

"The reasons for the incident that started at 5.36 pm yesterday are still not fully known, but with the facts retrievable as of now it looks like the frequency drop may have originated from the Bakun hydro-electric plant," he said in a press statement.

Over two million people in Sarawak were affected by the statewide blackout caused by tripped circuits at the Kemena-Bintulu transmission lines at 5.40pm.

However, the operator of the Bakun Dam said Thursday that said the source of the electricity disruption was not from the dam.

Bakun Dam chief engineer Zulkifle Osman, when contacted by The Star, said there was no serious technical breakdown of the dam's machines.

Sarawak endures worst ever blackout
Raynore Mering The Star 28 Jun 13;

KUCHING: Power supply finally came rolling back to Sibu at about 11.30pm Thursday night after it spent some seven hours of darkness as a result of Sarawak's worst blackout so far this year.

The power interruptions started at 5.40pm after circuits at the Kemena-Bintulu transmission power line tripped.

At about 7pm, the first signs that supply was being restored were seen in several neighbourhoods here when their lights suddenly flickered back to life.

A SESCO spokesperson said an investigation into the cause of the power disruption was being carried out and they would inform the public when more information was available.

The blackout caused severe traffic jams in the major urban centres of the state and caused huge losses for many businesses.

The fact is that power supply interruptions are not unusual in Sarawak. The state had experienced several blackouts last year with the longest lasting about three hours.

Responding to public outrage, Sarawak Energy Bhd had said in November that it was taking serious measures to mitigate the power interruptions, including reinforcing the transmission system.

It said a second state power grid was under construction and was scheduled for completion in 2015.

“With the completion of this second grid, the state will be well protected against the incidence of system blackout,” the company said.

Sarawak plunged into darkness at peak hour
Stephen Then and Raynore Mering The Star 28 Jun 13;

KUCHING: Sarawak was plunged into darkness, causing massive traffic jams and bringing business here and in other major towns to a sudden standstill.

Sarawak Energy Bhd said the electricity disruption was due to tripped circuits at the Kemena-Bintulu transmission power line at 5.40pm yesterday.

“Our engineers and technicians are working to restore power, and we are doing everything within our capacity to restore power as soon as possible,” it said in a statement.

The blackout could not have occurred at a worse time.

When traffic lights suddenly stopped during the rush hour, there was chaos.

At least one multi-vehicle pile-up was reported at a junction here.

By 7pm, the power supply was returning to some areas in the outskirts of Kuching.

But as of 9pm, most of the state was still in darkness with some even blaming Bakun Dam for the blackout.

In Miri, the dam's operators said they had nothing to do with the outage.

Bakun Dam chief engineer Zulkifle Osman said: “Every one of our machinery is in good working condition, and we did not face any major technical breakdown before the blackout.

“We ourselves are affected by the blackout because the disruption in supply along the state's main grid also triggered a trip in Bakun,” he said.

“We are still trying to churn out a small amount of electricity from the Bakun turbines while trying to figure out where the main source of the disruption is,” Zulkifle said.

“The cause of the blackout could be along any point of the main grid.”

Assistant State Minister for Communications Datuk Lee Kim Shin said he had received a message from Sarawak Energy Miri office that it would “take some time” before full electricity supply could be restored to every part of the state.

Sarawak blackout triggered by Bakun
Sharon Ling The Star 29 Jun 13;

KUCHING: A sudden drop of 456MW in the power supply at the Bakun hydroelectric plant has been identified as the cause of Thursday evening's blackout in Sarawak.

Apologising for the incident, Sarawak Energy Bhd (SEB) chief executive officer Torstein Dale Sjotveit said that an investigation would be carried out with the support of third parties, including Bakun operator Sarawak Hidro Sdn Bhd, to ensure that it would not recur.

He said that the outage occurred at 5.36pm when a serious and unexpected frequency drop in the system, originating from Bakun, led to the shutdown of SEB's power stations in Sejingkat, Batang Ai, Mukah, Bintulu and Miri.

“Just before this incident, the system had a total load demand and supply of 1,555MW. Bakun, which at the time had a load of 884MW, dropped its load by 456MW in 10 seconds, causing a serious frequency drop to below 47.5hz in the system. The normal operating frequency in Sarawak is at 50hz.

“All power stations have automatic tripping when the frequency drops. As a consequence of the drop in load from Bakun and the frequency drop, all the power stations tripped. In addition, the transmission system between the south and north of Sarawak also tripped. This is termed as a no recovery situation',” he told a press conference at SEB headquarters here yesterday.

Sjotveit said that SEB initiated its blackout restoration plan within 10 minutes of the outage to start up its generation plants, with the Batang Ai hydroelectric plant being restarted at 5.53pm, Tun Abdul Rahman power station at 5.56pm, Bintulu power station at 6.21pm and Miri at 7.45pm.

He said Bakun was only able to be synchronised to the grid after 10pm.

The delay meant that two power islands were created in north and south Sarawak, leading to a serious delay in restoring power supply to Sibu.

“When we have a system split like this, it's quite difficult to synchronise everything again because if the system is not in balance, you may face another collapse. We were struggling for quite a few hours before it was possible to do so.

“But by 11.30pm we were able to re-establish the connection between south and north Sarawak and all loads were fully restored by 2.07am on Friday,” he said.

He also gave his assurance that the system was now stable and all possible measures had been taken to ensure that it did not happen again, adding that SEB had a team on site at Bakun to sample the data and establish the facts of the case.

On losses and possible compensation, Sjotveit said SEB had so far not held any discussions with the business community on their losses, adding that the company's practice was not to provide compensation unless it was in serious breach of normal operating procedures.

Meanwhile, the state Public Utilities Ministry will investigate the cause of the blackout and the mitigation measures to avoid such occurrences in the future.

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Malaysia: 'Stop the destruction of Niah Cave'

New Straits Times 28 Jun 13;

KUCHING: Sarawak's famous prehistoric site, Niah Cave, and its surrounding areas, are under threat.

This is because limestone quarry construction works are being carried out in the south of its main attraction, Niah Great Cave.

The Great Cave is located in a large limestone block, about 1km long and about half-a-km wide, that is detached from the main Mount Subis complex by a valley, which is 150m to 200m wide.

Because of its rich historical significance, the National Park was created to protect the Great Cave.

However, zoologist Dr Christopher M. Stimpson said while the establishment of the park was commendable, it was a small area in the vast jungle.

"The imestone quarry will encroach into the area and make the park smaller than before," said Stimpson, who is with McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, University of Cambridge.

Stimpson did his doctorate on Niah Great Cave from 2006 to 2010, and is now back for further research.

He is working with archaeologists from Sarawak Museum.

Stimpson urged the local government to stop the further destruction of the place.

"The Niah Great Cave is biologically, archeologically and historically rich. It is important not only to the country but to the world."

The cave's historical significance rose with the discovery of human remains, dating back 40,000 years, making it the oldest recorded human settlement in East Malaysia. It also houses rock paintings dating back 1,200 years.

Stimpson, who is conducting an avian zoo archaeology seminar on Niah avian remains, said they discovered that the Niah Great Cave was home to a huge number of birds.

He added that his team had found 164 bones of non-cave birds of which the hawk species was dominant.

The others comprised of owls and eagles.

Five hundred bones of cave birds were also found, with the majority being three swiftlets species -- white belly,black nest and mossy nest swiftlets.

Stimpson's studies also show that the birds were not part of the prehistoric settlers' food chain. Their skeletal remains indicated no burn or cut marks.

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Malaysia: Sun Bears Target Of Demand In Traditional Medicine

Haslin Gaffor Bernama 21 Jun 13;

SANDAKAN, June 21 (Bernama) -- Hunted for generations in the jungles of Borneo for the bile from its gall bladder and for food, the Malayan Sun Bear continues to be a target for the ever present global demand in traditional medicine and exotic meat, threatening the world's smallest bear which is said to have dwindled in numbers by 30 per cent in the last three decades.

Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC) founder and chief executive officer Wong Siew Te said natives, particularly in Borneo, traditionally believe that the Sun Bear's bile ejects itself out of the gall bladder and spreads inside a bear's body, healing injuries in a fall.

"Sun Bears can climb high up on trees and normally climb down slowly from the tree. However when they encounter human encroachment in the forest when they are on a tree, they tend to slide down quickly or even drop themselves from the tree. They then recover quickly and go about their day.

"This has erroneously made people believe that the phenomenon is due to the power of the Sun Bear bile that spreads within the body and heals the bears, allowing them to recover instantly. This is why Sun Bears are traditionally hunted in the wild for their bile, apart from their meat," Wong said.

He said in some parts of the world, Asiatic Black Bears are kept in unimaginably cruel conditions in small metal cages and their bile extracted for up to 20 years, and then killed once they are unable to produce the liquid.

While there are no bear bile farms in Malaysia, bear bile is consumed locally. Bear gall bladder, bear bile capsules and other bile products are sold illegally in traditional medicine stores.

"With this demand, Sun Bears continue to be at risk of getting hunted in the wild," he said in a statement here today, to create awareness on the plight of Sun Bears.

While the actual number of Sun Bears in the wild is unknown, its status as a 'Totally Protected' species under the Sabah Wildlife Conservation Enactment and its listing as "Vulnerable" on The IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) Red List is not keeping those after its bile away from the risk of prosecution.

Under the Enactment, those found in possession of a Sun Bear or its product could face a fine of up to RM50,000 or a jail term of five years, or both.

Wong said Sun Bears are still hunted in Borneo for their purported medicinal properties, and he cited a recent news report on bear meat and parts being sold at a market in Kapit, Sarawak.

Other threats that Sun Bears face include habitat loss and demand for the exotic pet trade.

"Sun Bear cubs are cute and there is demand for such a pet. To get a cub, the mother is killed to prevent hunters from getting harmed. Once these cubs grow, they become aggressive and it becomes dangerous to keep them as pets.

"This is when they are surrendered to the authorities. They lose survival skills when kept as pets, as this is something they learn from their mothers," he said.

Bears surrendered to or confiscated by the Sabah Wildlife Department are sent to the BSBCC adjacent to the Sepilok Orang Utan Rehabilitation Centre. It is currently home to 28 Sun Bears.

Awareness activities will be stepped up once the BSBCC is officially opened to the public, tentatively by early next year.

The BSBCC is planning to hold a fund raiser on July 20 in Sandakan to meet the ever increasing costs of caring for Sun Bears in captivity and for awareness work.

The fundraising dinner with the theme "Big Dreams, Little Bears" will see Wong sharing with guests updates on Sun Bears, apart from an exclusive photographic art auction by Jonathan Tan and performances by Jaclyn Victor, Gary Chow, Pink Tan and Amir Yussof and friends.

A free documentary screening is scheduled for July 21 at the Sabah Hotel for 500 students, teachers and representatives of local associations.

The BSBCC is a non-governmental organisation set up in 2008 through collaboration of the Sabah Wildlife Department, Sabah Forestry Department and Land Empowerment Animals People (LEAP).

Major funders for BSBCC include Yayasan Sime Darby, the federal Tourism Ministry, Sabah Tourism, Culture and Environment Ministry, the Sabah State Government and other foreign and local organisations.


Sun Bear Centre To Raise Funds, Calls For Public Support
Bernama 27 Jun 13;

SANDAKAN, June 27 (Bernama) -- The Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC) will hold a fundraising dinner to raise RM500,000 to partially fund the construction of a second bear house before it is opened to the public early next year.

Chief executive officer and founder Wong Siew Te said part of the money raised will also be used to construct a one hectare enclosure for the new bear house and to meet operational costs for the year.

The fundraising dinner to be held on July 20 at the Hakka Association Hall here comes almost five years after a similar event in Kota Kinabalu raised RM1.3 million that was partly used for the construction of the first bear house.

Wong said this year's operational and construction costs run into RM2 million and despite the commitment of generous donors, it needs to meet shortfall in expenses.

"We appeal to Malaysians, especially the Sandakan business community to support this fundraiser. By attending the event, you will be able to better understand the significance of sun bears and the types of threats this species faces."

The BSBCC which started operation in 2008 with seven rescued sun bears currently provides refuge to 28 sun bears.

"It is the first and the only facility of its kind in the world and the only one that conduct rescue, education, research and rehabilitation. We should be proud that it is located in Malaysia, specifically in Sandakan," Wong said in a statement to announce the fund raising dinner, here today.

The BSBCC is located next to the world famous Sepilok Orang Utan Rehabilitation Centre and also close to the increasingly popular Rainforest Discovery Centre.

Habitat loss, poaching for parts used in traditional medicine and the pet trade are among key threats that have led to a 30 per cent decline of the sun bear population in the last three decades.

Sun bears, the smallest of the world's eight bear species, are found throughout mainland Asia, Sumatra and Borneo.

The exact number of sun bears in the wild is unknown, making it even more pressing to protect the species classified as 'vulnerable' on the IUCN Red List, and at risk of becoming endangered unless circumstances threatening their survival improve.

Sun bears are also classified as a 'Totally Protected Species' under the Sabah Wildlife Conservation Enactment 1997, providing it the same status as the Orang Utan and Sumatran Rhinoceros.

Prior to the establishement of BSBCC, sun bears were kept illegally as pets while confiscated bears were housed at a government facility.

The BSBCC provides care and the chance for sun bears to learn what it is like to live in the forest by accessing an attached natural forest within an enclosed area.

Wong said an observation platform and boardwalk were completed last year and that it was poised to become an important education and awareness facility, and could also serve as an ecotourism destination.

"However, we need a second bear house and enclosure to accommodate all the sun bears before we can officially open it. We also need to complete the visitor centre and educational exhibits."

Sime Darby Foundation, the Sabah government, Sabah Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Environment, Ministry of Tourism Malaysia, and several foreign organisations and zoos in the United States are among agencies that had contributed towards the development of BSBCC.

The fund raising dinner with the theme "Big Dreams, Little Bears" will include photographic art auction by Jonathan Tan.

Performers lined up include Jaclyn Victor, Gary Chaw @ Cao Ge, Pink Tan and Amir Yussof and friends with Lina Teoh and Vincent Huang as masters of ceremony.

A free documentary screening is scheduled for July 21 at Sabah Hotel for 500 students, teachers and representatives of local associations.

The event is supported by the Sabah Tourism, Culture and Environment Ministry with Sabah Hotel as the main sponsor.

The BSBCC was set up through collaboration of the Sabah Wildlife Department, Sabah Forestry Department and Land Empowerment Animals People (LEAP).


Sun bears need bigger home
Olivia Miwil New Straits Times 28 Jun 13;

RM500,000 GOAL: Centre hopes to get enough money from fundraising dinner for second enclosure

SANDAKAN: THE Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre aims to raise another RM500,000 for its operations and build a second enclosure for the animals.

Its chief executive officer and founder, Wong Siew Te, said it was the only facility in the world involved in rescuing, educating, researching and rehabilitating the species.

"The centre provides care to sun bears and the chance for them to experience what it is like to live in the forest as it has a natural forest within an enclosed area."

The centre is supported by the Tourism Ministry, Sabah Tourism, Culture and Environment Ministry, Sime Darby Foundation and several foreign organisations and zoos in the United States.

The sun bear is the smallest of the world's eight bear species and is found throughout mainland Asia, Sumatra and Borneo.

The animal has been classified as "vulnerable" on The International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List.

It is also classified as a "totally protected species" under the Sabah Wildlife Conservation Enactment 1997, which is the same status as the orang utan and Sumatran rhinoceros.

Wong said prior to the setting up of the centre, sun bears were kept illegally as pets and those that were confiscated were housed in a government facility.

The centre rescued and housed seven sun bears in 2008.

The number has increased to 28 today.

"We need a second enclosure to accommodate the sun bears.

"The management is also looking to build a visitor centre and educational exhibits before the centre is officially opened to the public early next year."

The facility, located next to the Sepilok Orang Utan Rehabilitation Centre, has an observation platform and boardwalk.

Wong hoped that the centre could raise the funds at its fundraising dinner at the Hakka Hall here on July 20.

The performers who have been lined up for the event include Jaclyn Victor, Gary Chaw @ Cao Ge, Pink Tan and Amir Yussof and Friends.

"We appeal to Malaysians, especially the Sandakan business community, to support this event.

"Attendees will be able to better understand the significance of sun bears and the types of threats that this species faces."

For more information on the event, visit the centre's Facebook page at

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Malaysia: 6,500 sea turtle eggs confiscated

Marine cops seize turtle eggs
The Star 28 Jun 13;

KOTA KINABALU: Marine police in Sabah’s east coast Sandakan district have seized 8,000 turtle eggs barely a month after 6,500 eggs were confiscated from a nearby area.

Sandakan Marine Operations Base commanding officer Asst Supt Amran Che Mat Noor said the eggs, which were in gunny sacks, were found in a pump boat in the Sungai Batu 2 area yesterday.

“Marine officers spotted a pump boat sailing slowly towards Sungai Batu 2 at about 4.45am. When they approached it, the boatman suddenly jumped into the sea and escaped,” he said.

“We believe that they were meant to be smuggled into Sandakan for sale,” said ASP Amran.

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Japan's whaling is not science, expert witness tells World Court

Thomas Escritt PlanetArk 28 Jun 13;

The Japanese practice of catching and killing nearly 1,000 whales a year cannot be justified as science, an expert witness told the World Court on Thursday in a case Australia has brought against Japan.

Despite an international whaling moratorium in force since 1986, Japan continues to catch the aquatic mammals in the Antarctic under a clause allowing scientific research, but critics say the real reason for the hunt is to continue harvesting whale meat.

That view was supported by Marc Mangel, a mathematical biologist from the University of California Santa Cruz, who told the International Court of Justice that "lethal take" - catching and killing specimens - needed to answer specific scientific questions if it was to count as science.

"Lethal take can only make sense if we have a question that needs to be answered ... a meaningful question," said Mangel, who was called as a witness by Australia to the World Court, a U.N. body that settles legal disputes between nations.

Japan and Australia have both agreed to be bound by the Hague court's verdict and activists are hoping for a ruling against Tokyo that they believe will put an end to whaling in the Southern Ocean.

One of only a handful of countries that continues to hunt whales, Japan says the 815-or-so whales it kills each year contribute to research designed to establish if whale stocks are recovering from previous over-hunting. The meat is eaten by the many Japanese consumers who consider it a delicacy.

Japan says its whaling is no threat to the survival of any species, but environmentalists and animal rights activists say whale hunting should be stopped completely.

Under a 1946 treaty on whaling, to which Japan is a signatory, countries can catch unlimited numbers of whales if they are needed for scientific purposes, regardless of the moratorium agreed in the 1980s.

The treaty does not address what counts as science. But lawyers for Australia said the collection of raw data without having in mind a specific question did not count.

"What you have before you is not a scientific research program. It is a heap of body parts taken from a pile of dead whales," said Phillippe Sands, a lawyer for Australia.

Japan will start presenting its case to judges on Tuesday.

(Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

Japan says Australia trying to impose its culture in whaling row
Thomas Escritt PlanetArk 3 Jul 13;

Australia's opposition to Japanese whaling is an attempt to impose foreign moral standards on Japan and has no legal basis, Japan told the World Court on Tuesday in a case brought by Australia.

Despite an international whaling moratorium in force since 1986, Japan continues to catch whales in the Antarctic under a treaty that allows unlimited whaling for scientific research.

But critics say the real reason for the hunt is to continue harvesting whale meat.

Speaking in the second week of hearings, Japan's deputy foreign minister, Koji Tsuruoka, said his country had the right to hunt and kill the marine mammals for scientific research.

"Japan is conducting a comprehensive scientific research program because it wishes to resume commercial whaling, based on science, in a sustainable manner," he said.

The hearings at the Hague-based International Court of Justice (ICJ), which settles disputes between nations, are the latest act in a long-running debate over Japan's whaling.

Under a 1946 treaty on whaling, to which Japan is a signatory, countries can catch unlimited numbers of whales if they are needed for scientific purposes, regardless of the moratorium agreed in the 1980s.

The treaty does not address what counts as science, but Australia argues that Japan's collection of raw data without having in mind a specific question does not qualify and that its research is just a smokescreen.

Tsuruoka said Japan caught and killed 850 whales each year, providing data that would allow the country to whale without risking a repeat of past over-whaling and stock depletion.

"Are all cetaceans sacred and endangered?" asked Tsuruoka. "I can understand the emotional background to this position but fail to see how it can be translated to a legal position."

The divergent attitudes of Japan and Australia on whaling were a reflection of their different cultures, he said.

"We do not criticize other cultures," he said. "Were it necessary to establish the superiority of one culture over another the world would never be at peace."

Both countries have agreed to be bound by the verdict of the Hague-based court.

Activists are hoping for a ruling against Tokyo that they believe will put an end to whaling in the Southern Ocean - though Japan could withdraw from international whaling agreements and continue whaling even if it did lose the case.

Whaling was once widespread around the world, but Japan is now one of only a handful of countries that continues the practice. The meat is eaten by many Japanese consumers who consider it a delicacy.

(Reporting by Thomas Escritt; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

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Microbes Make Cozy Homes in Ocean's Garbage

Wynne Parry LiveScience Yahoo News 26 Jun 13;

For about four decades, it's been known that plastic is collecting in the open ocean. Now, scientists have found this debris harbors unique communities of microbes, and the tiny residents of this so-called plastisphere may help break down the marine garbage.

Inhabitants of the plastisphere include members of a group of bacteria, the vibrios, known to cause disease, and microbes known to break down the hydrocarbon bonds within plastics, genetic analysis revealed. But most important, the communities of microbes on the plastic pieces were quite different from those found in samples of surrounding seawater.

"It's not a piece of fly paper out there with things just sticking to it randomly," said study researcher Tracy Mincer, an associate scientist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, referring to the plastic. "There are specific groups of microbes that are attracted to that environment and are adhering to it and living on it."

Potential pathogens & plastic degraders

Vibrios accounted for nearly 24 percent of the residents on one of the six small pieces of plastic used in the study.

"Because most plastic originates from land it begs the question how far these vibrios are coming from. … And are they potential pathogens, not just of humans, but for animals, such as fish," said study researcher Linda Amaral-Zettler, an associate scientist at the Marine Biological Laboratory. Some species in the genus Vibrio cause disease, but it’s not clear what species were within the samples, since the analysis for this study did not identify individual species of bacteria.

Burrowed in

Meanwhile, microscope images revealed microbestucked into pits that conformed to the shape of their single-celled bodies. The pits suggest the microbes are perforating the plastic and accelerating the natural weathering process, breaking it down, Mincer said. (The researchers aren’t certain which bacteria are in the pits; most bacteria cannot be identified through microscope images.)

"Either the cells have to settle into the perfectly shaped pits or they have something to do with creating the pits," said study researcher Erik Zettler, associate dean and professor of oceanography at the Sea Education Association in Woods Hole, Mass.

If the microbes are indeed burrowing into the plastic, they may be doing so mechanically or they could be metabolizing, otherwise known as "eating," the plastic, Zettler said.

The presence of hydrocarbon-degrading bacteria, related to those that bloomed after the Deep Horizon oil spill, indicates that bacteria may indeed be responsible for the pits.

Good or bad for ocean life?

The scientists aren't sure if bacteria-aided breakdown of plastics is good or bad for ocean ecosystems.

Whereas smaller pieces may accelerate the removal of plastics from the oceans, they may also have negative consequences. Smaller trash bits have a larger surface area (and more contact with the surrounding water) relative to volume so they can release more of the pollutants that plastics can absorb.

These itsy bits of plastic are also morelikely to enter the bottom of food chains when animals such as tiny, floating creatures called zooplankton consume them,and accumulate in the predatorsat the top, Zettler said.

Much of the plastic debris in the ocean has been broken down into confetti-size pieces. During voyages in the North Atlantic, researchers and students onboard a Sea Education vessel collected bits of plastic for this study, which was published online by the journal Environmental Science & Technology on June 7.

This research is part of a National Science Foundation-funded project to study microbes living on marine plastic.

Going forward, Mincer is interested in finding the genetic mechanism that has enabled the plastic colonizers to attach to it so quickly and effectively.

"We think it may lead to a story of microbes adapting to a changing world," he said, pointing out that plastics are quite different from any surface upon which open ocean microbes would naturally settle.

Scientists Discover Thriving Colonies of Microbes in Ocean 'Plastisphere'
Science Daily 27 Jun 13;

June 27, 2013 — Scientists have discovered a diverse multitude of microbes colonizing and thriving on flecks of plastic that have polluted the oceans -- a vast new human-made flotilla of microbial communities that they have dubbed the "plastisphere."

In a study recently published online in Environmental Science & Technology, the scientists say the plastisphere represents a novel ecological habitat in the ocean and raises a host of questions: How will it change environmental conditions for marine microbes, favoring some that compete with others? How will it change the overall ocean ecosystem and affect larger organisms? How will it change where microbes, including pathogens, will be transported in the ocean?

The collaborative team of scientists -- Erik Zettler from Sea Education Association (SEA), Tracy Mincer from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), and Linda Amaral-Zettler from the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL), all in Woods Hole, Mass. -- analyzed marine plastic debris that was skimmed with fine-scale nets from the sea surface at several locations in the North Atlantic Ocean during SEA research cruises. Most were millimeter-sized fragments.

"We're not just interested in who's there. We're interested in their function, how they're functioning in this ecosystem, how they're altering this ecosystem, and what's the ultimate fate of these particles in the ocean," says Amaral-Zettler. "Are they sinking to the bottom of the ocean? Are they being ingested? If they're being ingested, what impact does that have?"

Using scanning electron microscopy and gene sequencing techniques, they found at least 1000 different types of bacterial cells on the plastic samples, including many individual species yet to be identified. They included plants, algae, and bacteria that manufacture their own food (autotrophs), animals and bacteria that feed on them (heterotrophs), predators that feed on these, and other organisms that establish synergistic relationships (symbionts). These complex communities exist on plastic bits hardly bigger than the head of a pin, and they have arisen with the explosion of plastics in the oceans in the last 60 years.

"The organisms inhabiting the plastisphere were different from those in surrounding seawater, indicating that plastic debris acts as artificial 'microbial reefs," says Mincer. "They supply a place that selects for and supports distinct microbes to settle and succeed."

These communities are likely different from those that settle on naturally occurring floating material such as feathers, wood, and microalgae, because plastics offer different conditions, including the capacity to last much longer without degrading.

On the other hand, the scientists also found evidence that microbes may play a role in degrading plastics. They saw microscopic cracks and pits in the plastic surfaces that they suspect were made by microbes embedded in them, as well as microbes possibly capable of degrading hydrocarbons.

"When we first saw the 'pit formers' we were very excited, especially when they showed up on multiple pieces of plastic of different types of resins," said Zettler, who added that undergraduate students participating in SEA Semester cruises collected and processed the samples. "Now we have to figure out what they are by [genetically] sequencing them and hopefully getting them into culture so we can do experiments."

The plastic debris also represents a new mode of transportation, acting as rafts that can convey harmful microbes, including disease-causing pathogens and harmful algal species. One plastic sampled they analyzed was dominated by members of the genus Vibrio, which includes bacteria that cause cholera and gastrointestinal maladies.

The project was funded by a National Science Foundation Collaborative grant, a NSF TUES grant, and a Woods Hole Center for Oceans and Human Health Pilot award.

Journal Reference:

Erik R. Zettler, Tracy J. Mincer, Linda A. Amaral-Zettler. Life in the “Plastisphere”: Microbial Communities on Plastic Marine Debris. Environmental Science & Technology, 2013; 130619162220002 DOI: 10.1021/es401288x

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More Species at Risk from Climate Change Than Thought

Megan Gannon Yahoo News 26 Jun 13;

Climate change predictions paint a bleak picture for much of the world's flora and fauna: Species that can't keep up with a warming world will be pushed toward extinction unless conservation efforts can save them, the thinking goes. But a new study warns that many of the creatures most vulnerable to climate change are not currently considered conservation priorities.

A group of researchers with the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) assessed all of the world's birds, amphibians and warm-water reef-building corals — 16,857 species in total — and analyzed their exposure to climate change, as well as a long list of biological and ecological characteristics that would affect each species' sensitivity and adaptability to changes in their natural habitat. These wildlife groups were chosen because they are relatively well-studied and they cover terrestrial, freshwater and marine environments.

Up to 83 percent of birds, 66 percent of amphibians and 70 percent of corals that they identified as highly vulnerable to climate change are not on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, the study found. The Red List is the most widely recognized inventory of the planet's most endangered species. Species on the list are considered the most threatened with extinction and have generally experienced a sharp decline in population or a shrinking geographic range.

The researchers also made maps showing clusters of the most vulnerable animals that are not on the Red List. The most highly threatened but unlisted birds are concentrated in the Amazon basin and eastern South America, Europe, the Congo basin, parts of North America, northern and central Asia and Australia. The most vulnerable amphibians are bunched in the Amazon basin, Eurasia, southern North America to Mesoamerica and Madagascar, while at-risk but unlisted corals are concentrated in the Caribbean and southern Red Sea, the researchers wrote.

"The findings revealed some alarming surprises," study leader Wendy Foden, of the IUCN Global Species Programme, said in a statement. "We hadn't expected that so many species and areas that were not previously considered to be of concern would emerge as highly vulnerable to climate change. Clearly, if we simply carry on with conservation as usual, without taking climate change into account, we'll fail to help many of the species and areas that need it most."

Previous research has shown that birds, amphibians and corals are all facing existential threats due to climate change and other environmental factors. A study in the journal PLoS One last year found that bird extinctions are on the rise mainly because of habitat destruction for agriculture development. Amphibians have seen a precipitous decline in the past several decades. Their permeable skin and water-and-land life cycle make them especially vulnerable to changes in the environment, and the deadly spread of the chytrid fungus has sent frog populations plummeting worldwide. As for corals, warming oceans could mean more frequent bleaching for the reef-builders and eventually lead to mass die-offs.

The IUCN study was detailed this month in the journal PLOS One.

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Studies Show Indonesia Home to Most At-Risk Species

Hayat Indriyatno Jakarta Globe 27 Jun 13;

Two new, separate studies have identified Indonesia as one of the countries where biodiversity is most at threat, both in terms of species’ conservation status and in their vulnerability to climate change.

In the paper “Global Patterns of Terrestrial Vertebrate Diversity and Conservation,” researchers used new data on more than 21,000 vertebrate species to identify “centers of richness for all species, small-ranged species and threatened species listed with the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.”

The resulting maps, using a spatial grain 100 times finer than in previous assessments, yielded a picture of the biodiversity hotspots that the paper’s authors argued should be made the priorities for conservation resources.

“What I did was add up the range maps for all the threatened species in the world and Southeast Asia comes out as the peak number of threatened mammals,” lead author Clinton N. Jenkins, from North Carolina State University, says in an email to the Jakarta Globe.

He adds that the islands of Southeast Asia are also home to a high concentration of threatened bird species, second only to southeast Brazil.

The researchers say that their maps, whose finer resolution is more compatible with the needs of local policymakers than the coarser biodiversity maps produced to date, clearly show that most threatened species live outside protected areas.

“Only a third of the diversity centers for total species richness have any protection, and only 11 percent [have] strict protection,” the paper says.

“The situation of diversity for small-ranged [vulnerable] and threatened species is more worrisome. Less than 20 percent [have] protection… with only 10.2 percent of the centers of diversity for small-ranged species and 7.1 percent of the centers for threatened species having strict protection,” it says.

The study, in the latest issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, makes the case for local authorities to focus their conservation efforts on the areas highlighted, particularly for small-range species, which are concentrated in limited areas and deemed particularly vulnerable to extinction.

“We consider the level of protection of the priority areas to be inadequate given their high biodiversity value,” it says.

“A stronger focus on the concentrations of small-ranged species would have an inordinate impact in preventing vertebrate extinctions, especially given the large-scale evidence that protected areas benefit habitat protection worldwide.”

Meanwhile, a study in the online journal PLoS One looked at the vulnerability of 16,857 bird, amphibian and coral species to the effects of climate change.

The paper, titled “Identifying the World’s Most Climate Change Vulnerable Species,” found that the Sundaland region encompassing Indonesia, Malaysia and southern Thailand was home to “large numbers of highly climate change vulnerable [bird] species,” while “highly climate change vulnerable corals are concentrated in the Coral Triangle, Sumatra and Java.”

“Species that are both highly climate change vulnerable and threatened and the regions in which they are concentrated deserve particular conservation attention to both mitigate current threats and plan for future climate change adaptation interventions,” the paper says.

“Species that are highly climate change vulnerable but are not currently threatened potentially represent new priorities for conservation.”

It adds that these include up to 41 percent of bird species, up to 29 percent of amphibian species and up to 22 percent of coral species.

The researchers contend that a given species’ prospects of survival should not be based on based solely on its IUCN conservation status, but should also take into consideration its vulnerability to climate change and adaptability.

“The species and regions we highlight as having high climate change sensitivity and low adaptive capacity should be considered as more vulnerable than exposure-based assessments alone may suggest,” the study says.

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