Best of our wild blogs: 2 Jul 13

Job: Museum Officer position at the Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research (deadline: 30 Jul 2013) from The Biodiversity crew @ NUS and Raffles Museum News

Oil spill off East Coast, 2 Jul 2013
from wild shores of singapore

deadfish II @ northwestern Singapore @ SBWR - 01July2013
from sgbeachbum

Are there dead fishes at Mandai mangroves?
from wild shores of singapore

Festival of Biodiversity 2013 - Vivocity on 13 & 14 July from Psychedelic Nature

The Vintage Pulau Ubin
from Pulau Ubin Tour with Justin

Study in scarlet
from The annotated budak

Butterflies Galore! : Chocolate Pansy
from Butterflies of Singapore

The Diversity and Distribution of Seagrass in Singapore
from teamseagrass

Hazy woes - (Bizarre!) East Coast 25062013
from Psychedelic Nature

Javan Munia courtship and feeding
from Bird Ecology Study Group

APP reports accidental breach of deforestation moratorium
from news by Rhett Butler

Wilmar to cut off suppliers found to be setting fires
from news by Rhett Butler

Fire at recycling plant shows Chinese lanterns should be banned
from the Guardian Environment blog

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Oil spill due to collision near Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal

Rachel Tan Straits Times 2 Jul 13;

The Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore's (MPA) patrol craft MPA III (left) is seen spraying dispersant at the incident site with Oriental Pioneer (background right) on Tuesday, July 2, 2013. Two foreign bulk carriers collided at sea about 6.6km south-west of Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal on Tuesday, causing a fuel oil spill of 100 metric tonnes from a bulk carrier. -- PHOTO: MARITIME AND PORT AUTHORITY OF SINGAPORE

Two foreign bulk carriers collided at sea about 6.6km south-west of Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal on Tuesday, causing a fuel oil spill of 100 metric tonnes from a bulk carrier.

The Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) received a report around 5.30 am about a collision between South Korean-registered bulk carrier Oriental Pioneer and Bahamas-registered bulk carrier, Atlantic Hero. Oriental Pioneer and Atlantic Hero are anchored in the Eastern Bunkering Anchorages.

In a statement on Tuesday, MPA said it dispatched patrol craft to handle the spill while oil spill response companies were activated to augment the patrol craft.

MPA has issued navigational broadcasts to ships, warning them to be cautious when in the vicinity of the affected site. No injuries are reported and port operations are unaffected.

Bulk carrier collision causes oil spill near Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal
Chitra Kumar Channel NewsAsia 2 Jul 13;

SINGAPORE: A collision involving two foreign registered bulk carriers caused a fuel oil spill south-west of Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal early on Tuesday morning.

The Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) said work to clean up the spilled oil is continuing.

MPA said the collision happened about 6.6 kilometres south-west of Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal at 5.30am.

The collision involved a South Korean-registered bulk carrier, Oriental Pioneer and a Bahamas-registered bulk carrier, Atlantic Hero. One of the bunker tanks of Oriental Pioneer was damaged and caused it to spill approximately 100 metric tonnes of fuel oil.

MPA has issued broadcasts to ships to navigate with caution when in the area of the incident site.

The two vessels are currently safely anchored in the Eastern Bunkering Anchorages. No report of injury and port operations remain unaffected.

MPA is investigating the cause of the collision.

- CNA/ac

Oil spill following collision between Oriental Pioneer and the Atlantic Hero
MPA media release
2 July 2013

At about 0530hrs on 2 July 2013 (Singapore time), the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) received a report that a South Korean-registered bulk carrier, Oriental Pioneer, and a Bahamas-registered bulk carrier, Atlantic Hero, had collided at about 6.6km south-west of Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal. One of the Oriental Pioneer's bunker tank was damaged and approximately 100 metric tonnes of fuel oil was spilled.

Upon notification, MPA immediately dispatched its patrol craft to deal with the oil spill. Oil spill response companies were also activated to augment the patrol craft. A total of 10 patrol and anti-pollution craft have been deployed to clean up the spilled oil. Work is currently continuing and MPA is co-ordinating the clean up with other government agencies and the ship owners.

The two vessels involved in the collision are currently safely anchored in the Eastern Bunkering Anchorages. MPA has issued navigational broadcasts to ships to navigate with caution when in the vicinity of the incident site. There is no report of injury and port operations remain unaffected.

Traffic in the port and the Strait of Singapore is unaffected.

MPA is investigating the cause of the collision.

For media enquiries, please call MPA's media hotline at 8366 2293.

Oil spill off Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal: MPA
Today Online 2 Jul 13;

SINGAPORE — The Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) has said that it has dispatched 10 patrol boats and anti-pollution craft to clean up an oil spill off the east coast today (July 2).

In a statement on its website, the MPA said that a collision occurred between South Korean-registered bulk carrier Oriental Pioneer and Bahamas-registered bulk carrier Atlantic Hero at about 5.30am, roughly 6.6km south-west of the Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal.

Approximately 100 metric tonnes of fuel oil was spilled, with one of the Oriental Pioneer’s bunker tanks damaged.

The MPA said that it dispatched its patrol boats and also activated oil spill response companies upon notification of the collision, and that it is coordinating the clean-up with other government agencies and the ship owners in the continuing clean-up work.

The two vessels involved in the collision are safely anchored in the Eastern Bunkering Anchorages and the cause of the collision is being investigated.

The MPA has issued navigational broadcasts to ships to navigate with caution when in the vicinity of the spill.

Traffic in the port and the Strait of Singapore is unaffected and there is no report of injury, the MPA said, adding that port operations have also remain unaffected.

Major oil spills in Singapore history
Today Online 2 Jul 13;

SINGAPORE — The largest oil spill in Singapore waters was on Oct 15, 1997, when over 28,000 tonnes was spilled following a collision between Cyprus-registered tanker Evoikos and Thai-registered crude-oil tanker Orapin Global 5km south of Pulau Sebarok, which lies between the Raffles Lighthouse and Sentosa island.

According to the Maritime and Port Authority, the operation led by the MPA and involving 16 ministries and agencies, the Singapore Armed Forces, oil terminals, salvage companies and oil spill response companies was cleaned up in a record time of three weeks.

The waters around Pulau Bukom, Pulau Senang, Pulau Pawai and Pulau Sudong looked like a sea of black coffee as a result of that spill, according to Singapore Infopedia.

The last major oil spill in Singapore waters before today was on May 25, 2010, when an estimated 2,500 tonnes of crude oil was spilled into the sea in the same area when Malaysian-registered tanker MT Bunga Kelana 3 collided with Grenadines-registered bulk carrier MV Waily off the Changi Naval Base at around 6am.

Clean-up efforts were led by the National Environment Agency. Oil patches were seen at on stretches of the coast between the naval base and the Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal, as well as between the National Sailing Centre and the NSRCC-Safra Resort.

Oil spill following collision between Oriental Pioneer and Atlantic Hero -Update 1
MPA media release 2 Jul 13;

Good progress has been made in containing and cleaning up the oil spill resulting from the collision between the South Korean-registered bulk carrier, Oriental Pioneer, and the Bahamas-registered bulk carrier, Atlantic Hero.

There has been no further spillage of fuel oil from Oriental Pioneer. As a precautionary measure, an oil boom and an oil spill response craft have been deployed around the vessel. Bio-degradable oil dispersants were used to break up the oil slick in the waters. As of 1700hrs, no significant patches of oil were sighted in the waters.

In total, 11 craft and some 100 personnel from MPA and oil spill response companies have been deployed as part of the containment and clean up efforts. A helicopter was also deployed to conduct aerial surveillance of the affected waters.

Vessel traffic in the Strait of Singapore and port waters remain unaffected. Port operations are also not affected.

Members of the public can contact MPA's 24-hour Marine Safety Control Centre at 6325-2488/9 to report any sighting of oil slick in our waters or coastlines.

The collision between Oriental Pioneer and Atlantic Hero occurred about 6.6km south-west of Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal at 0530hrs on 2 Jul 2013 (Singapore time). Prior to the collision, MPA's Port Operations Control Centre had provided information and issued warnings to the vessels when they were about 1.5 nautical miles (about 2.8km) apart. The ships were also in communication with each other.

MPA is investigating the cause of the collision.

Oil spill as vessels collide off Tanah Merah
Maryam Mokhtar Straits Times 3 Jul 13;

ABOUT 100 tonnes of fuel oil spilled into the waters off Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal yesterday morning when two bulk carriers collided.

No one was injured in the accident which involved the South Korean-registered Oriental Pioneer and the Atlantic Hero, a Bahamas- registered carrier.

Damage to an Oriental Pioneer bunker tank caused the spill.

The Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) said in a statement yesterday that the incident happened at 5.30am some 6.6km south-west of the terminal.

In total, 11 craft and 100 personnel from the MPA and oil-spill response companies were involved in the containment and clean-up efforts.

A helicopter conducted aerial surveillance of affected waters.

Bio-degradable oil dispersants were used to break up the oil slick. As of 5pm yesterday, no "significant patches of oil" were seen, said the MPA.

There has also been no further spillage from Oriental Pioneer, but an oil boom and oil spill response craft have been deployed around the vessel as a precautionary measure. Port operations and vessel traffic in port waters were not affected.

The MPA said it is investigating how the collision occurred even though its Port Operations Control Centre gave warnings to the vessels when they were about 2.8km apart. The vessels are currently anchored in the Eastern Bunkering Anchorages.

The National Environment Agency said the oil spill did not affect beaches and coastal areas here.

The last major oil spill here happened in May 2010, when a collision between an oil tanker and a bulk carrier caused 2,500 tonnes of crude oil to leak into the waters off the Changi coast.

Video AIS replay of the collision between the 2 bulkers Atlantic Hero and Oriental Pioneer

Related links
Latest updates on oil spills in Singapore in this facebook page.

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Singapore's clean image sullied by Indonesian smog

AFP 30 Jun 13;

AFP - Singapore's clean and green reputation has taken a hit from Indonesian forest fires and its standing as a corporate and expatriate haven could be hurt if the smog becomes an annual scourge, analysts warn.

Singapore has long been a destination of choice for thousands of foreign companies and expat families drawn by its gleaming infrastructure, topnotch healthcare and education, and lush green environs that offer a high quality of living.

But its image took a heavy beating in the third week of June after palls of smoke from slash-and-burn agricultural fires on the nearby Indonesian island of Sumatra pushed levels of haze to record highs, shrouding the city in acrid smog.

Favourable winds, thunderstorms and cloud-seeding by Indonesia over Sumatra have dissipated the smog, but Singapore officials warn that severe air pollution could return any time during the June-September dry season.

If the smog becomes an annual crisis, some multinational companies may consider relocating offices, key operations and expatriate families out of Singapore, analysts warn.

"The long-term reputation of Singapore as a clean-environmental place to live in is at risk if the problem gets worse every year and no solution is in sight," said Jonathan Galaviz, managing director of US-based business consultancy Galaviz and Company, which specialises in Asia.

"I know what it's like," said Galaviz, who was an exchange student in Singapore in 1997 when similar blazes resulted in weeks of choking smog across vast swathes of Southeast Asia and billions of dollars in economic losses for the region.

Many expatriate families living in Singapore were already overseas on summer holidays as smog levels started to rise in mid-June. Air pollution also reached harmful levels in neighbouring Malaysia.

Expatriates who stayed in Singapore were hardly comforted by the chatter on online forums, where some members wondered whether their governments would evacuate them as the smog hit unhealthy levels. Some families, desperate for a respite, fled to neighbouring countries on short breaks.

If smog becomes a prolonged or recurring problem, Singapore's tourism industry, which accounts for 6.0 percent of the city-state's GDP, could suffer badly. International arrivals, currently averaging 40,000 a day, could fall, economists say.

During the SARS epidemic in 2003 that grounded air travel during peak periods of the flu-like virus, Singapore's daily arrivals of around 20,000 at that time plunged to 5,000-6,000 a day in the first quarter, said regional economist Song Seng Wun of Malaysian bank CIMB.

At the height of the current haze crisis, several outdoor tourist attractions shut down while some visitors left Singapore earlier than planned. An international conference on reducing the threat of nuclear weapons was cancelled.

More troublingly, observers warn that if the problem escalates there could be a gradual exodus of foreign companies that have set up offices or regional headquarters in Singapore.

Initially, companies might consider "temporarily" relocating key operations should the haze persist for weeks, said Rajiv Biswas, chief Asia Pacific economist at research firm IHS Global Insight.

"However, if the haze escalates to hazardous levels for a protracted period, to the extent that a state of emergency is declared for an extended time, firms may consider shifting some essential operations to other international hubs," Biswas told AFP.

The problem could tarnish the "long-term perceptions of Singapore as a safe, clean environment for expatriates to locate their families compared to other leading global business hubs and financial centres", he added.

But Delphine Granger, a 40-year-old French-British housewife and a mother of two young girls, is unfazed by such dire predictions. She said Singapore offered far better prospects as an expatriate haven than many other Asian capitals that are beset by natural disasters, political turmoil and traffic gridlock.

"Singapore is well ahead of other cities," Granger, who has been based in the city for nine months, told AFP.

Observers point out that rivals Hong Kong, Shanghai and Beijing are burdened by chronic air pollution. Bangkok, the gateway to the Indochinese region, is periodically hit by floods and political unrest, as is Manila, which is fast emerging as a global outsourcing hub.

"I don't think (Singapore's) image is tarnished. There are no natural disasters here. It's not an earthquake zone, it's not a volcano zone. This is a man-made disaster," Granger said.

Meanwhile, Singapore appears keen to step up pressure on Indonesia as it struggles to contain slash-and-burn farming in its rainforests that generates vast plumes of smoke during the dry season.

"We need to put in place a permanent solution to prevent this problem from recurring annually," Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said after Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono apologised to Singapore and Malaysia for the haze crisis.

The smog issue was discussed over the weekend at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations annual foreign ministers' meeting in Brunei, where Indonesia said the forest fires had been greatly reduced and vowed to sustain its efforts to address the problem.

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Singapore's forested areas rapidly dwindling in face of urban development

Straits Times Forum 2 Jul 13;

THE report ("Mr Lee plants another tree, 50 years on"; June 17) quoted former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew as saying: "You take away all the trees... you have a darker and uglier Singapore."

It was Mr Lee's vision to make Singapore a garden city. It was also reported that the National Parks Board will get the public to plant 1,963 trees to mark 50 years of greening Singapore.

This is ironic as just recently, about 200 trees outside my HDB block in Pasir Ris Drive 3 were cut down and the land levelled for a condominium project.

Further up the road, another 150 trees were felled for the building of four condos.

Of course, one may reason that the developers of these condos will plant some trees and flowering plants to beautify the environment, but to chop down about 350 trees that have taken years to grow is too much.

Roland Scharenguivel

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Haze: Time for consumers to act

Jennifer Lee Today Online 2 Jul 13;

The commentary “More plantations, more haze to come?” (June 28) provided good coverage on the environmental impact of palm oil plantation. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong also said recently that action will be taken against any Singapore firms, or foreign companies linked to the Republic, which are responsible for causing the fires in Sumatra.

Many have blamed the people of Indonesia for burning their forests and causing the haze. However, the problem stems from our reliance on unsustainable palm oil.

The forests in Indonesia are burnt to make way for palm plantations, and palm oil is now used in most food products and even toiletries.

Indonesia is the world’s biggest producer of palm oil, and with continued demand comes the need for more land for plantations. There have been reports that link a number of these multi-billion dollar companies, responsible for mass deforestation in Indonesia, to Singapore.

Based on satellite imagery done by WWF in 2010, Sumatra has lost nearly half of its natural forest cover between 1985 and 2009. The forests were cleared at a rate of 542,000 hectares, or 2.1 per cent per year. More than 80 per cent of forest loss occurred in lowlands, where the most biodiverse ecosystems are found.

Many species of their native animals are endangered. Indonesia ranks second in the world for their level of biodiversity. They are home to over 300,000 species of animals with over 2,000 endemic species of mammals and birds found only in Indonesia. To name a few, the Sumatran tiger, Sumatran orangutan and the Javan rhino are now at the brink of extinction.

As the forest burns, thousands of animals lose their homes and die painful deaths.

Apart from causing severe damage to the wildlife and environment, many Indonesian villagers who relied on their forests for food, medicine and shelter have also lost their homes and livelihoods over the years, and are forced to abandon their culture and village lives to earn meagre salaries in town.

Let us take the lead in targeting the root of the problem. Singapore should send a strong message to the companies responsible for the fires by putting up a national trade boycott with these companies.

As long as we continue relying on unsustainable palm oil, the forest fires will continue. It is also time for food manufacturers and food & beverage operators to re-look their ingredients and replace palm oil — which is sometimes labelled as vegetable oil — with products that are clearly labelled as 100 per cent sunflower oil, corn oil or canola oil.

Do note that soybean oil is often associated with the destruction of rainforest in Brazil.

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Not all that matters is measured in dollars and cents

Tan Wu Meng Today Online 1 Jul 13;

Even as we respond to the haze, it is useful to think about the lessons of this recent adversity. We cannot always predict the future, but we can put ourselves in a good position to respond.

In times of challenge, why do some countries fragment into the downward spiral of every man for himself, whereas others emerge stronger from fire (or smoke), with the steel of renewed resolve?

The key ingredient is social cohesion: A sense of common cause and common purpose, which yields the uncommon courage needed to face untoward odds.

Communities grow cohesive for many reasons. The older civilisations possess a sense of long history: The idea that people have survived great challenges before, that they can and will do so again. For some, it is shared experience: A defining time in history, binding a generation in shared memory. In others, it can be a common ancestry, a common language.

Singapore faces especial challenges in the forging of social cohesion. We are a nation of diverse colours, tongues and faiths. Being a young country, our shared history is short. Immigration continues to shape the face of our population: Whether the older migrants of our parents’ and grandparents’ generations, or the newer faces arriving today.


The financial bottom line is a long-standing principle of Singapore’s governance — it is only proper that taxpayers’ money is carefully stewarded to maximise value and avoid waste. To optimise revenue, market-based strategies have been deployed, such as competitive bidding and auctions. Public-private partnerships seek to attract private sector investment in support of public projects.

But not all fiscal optimums lead to a prime outcome. Some result in negative externalities and hidden costs, such as a weakening of social cohesion.

For example, a rent maximisation model might prioritise supermarkets and food courts over wet markets and hawker centres. Yet, the latter provide common spaces accessible to Singaporeans across a diverse income spectrum, while preserving aspects of local culture amid architectural change.

Elderly Singaporeans living alone can find a peer group at the local hawker centre — friends who will enquire if they drop out of peer gatherings. This can make the difference between early attention after a sudden illness (or an accident at home) and receiving help too late. When new hawker centres are built, it is not only about food but nourishment for society.

Public-private partnerships require careful handling, too. A flagship project such as the new National Stadium is more than the sum of bricks, mortar and design; it is a symbol.

Decisions on pricing and access can convey deep powerful signals. Premium memberships with special privileges may increase revenue, but send the wrong message about what kind of society Singapore should be.


Social mobility and progressive redistribution — both hallmarks of an inclusive society — are also integral to social cohesion. No society can survive unless each citizen feels a personal stake in the country, and that his or her children will have a fair start in life.

Social cohesion must therefore be an explicit consideration — or even a Key Performance Index (KPI) — in government policymaking. It need not be the be-all and end-all of every policy, but derogating from the social cohesion KPI should be a conscious, considered decision.

There is a great difference between considering an angle but carefully proceeding regardless, and not seeing the angle at all.

There is established precedent for viewing public policy through lenses other than the bottom line. To help safeguard Singapore’s security and sovereignty, investments have been made in the expensive NEWater project — even though it would have been cheaper in the short term to purchase water from external sources.

Singapore’s independence depends on many factors: A strong defence, coupled with water, energy and resource security — and the economic wherewithal to maintain them. Also crucial is how we bind ourselves and our fellow citizens together, how we nurture the sense of looking out for each other in times of crisis and how we become resilient people.

This is why social cohesion must be a core consideration in public policy-making — not an afterthought.


Tan Wu Meng is a medical doctor working in a public sector hospital.

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Wilmar to Cut Off Palm Suppliers Caught Burning in Indonesia

Michelle Yun, Ranjeetha Pakiam and Eko Listiyorini Jakarta Globe 1 Jul 13;

Singapore/Jakarta/Kuala Lumpur. Wilmar International, the world’s largest palm oil trader, plans to cut ties with Indonesian suppliers that clear land with illegal fires after blazes engulfed Singapore in a record haze.

Wilmar, which bans burning on its own plantations, relies on third parties for more than 90 percent of the crude palm oil for its refineries. Sime Darby, the biggest publicly traded palm oil producer, also prohibits burning at its own plantations and relies on other sources for supplies, buying as much as half the commodity for its plants from others.

Palm oil refiners are being pushed to enforce their no burning policies to suppliers after hundreds of illegal blazes raged last month in Indonesia, the world’s top producer of the commodity. Unilever, buyer of 3 percent of the world’s palm oil, said the haze is a reminder of the need to accelerate sustainability efforts.

“We need the money to speak,” said Scott Poynton, founder of The Forest Trust, which worked with Nestle SA and Golden Agri-Resources on sustainability policies.

If companies “made a no-deforestation commitment that says to these communities, ‘you can’t burn because we won’t buy your oil,’ that’s money directly speaking to the people,” he said.

Palm oil is the world’s most-used edible oil. It’s in Unilever’s margarine, ice cream and soap. The London- and Rotterdam-based company made a commitment to buy sustainable palm oil and wants all its supplies to be from certified, traceable sources by 2020.

Burning banned

“What the industry has realized is that they can’t be simple bystanders in an ecosystem that gives them life in the first place,” Unilever Chief Executive Officer Paul Polman said June 27 in Jakarta.

While Indonesia and Malaysia ban burning to clear or manage acreage, 17 timber concession and 10 palm oil plantations had land affected by fires in Indonesia, according to June 24 data from the non-government World Resources Institute, or WRI.

Indonesia is investigating a number of companies suspected to be involved in illegal fires and will announce those names once the probe is completed, Environment Minister Balthasar Kambuaya said last week.

Wilmar deals with some of the companies identified by WRI on the assurance they don’t burn, the company said in an e-mailed response to Bloomberg News.

Buying policy

“Should they be found to be involved in burning to clear land for cultivation, we will stop doing business with them,” Wilmar said. The company’s buying policy states suppliers must comply with all local and national laws and regulations.

Indonesia’s disaster management agency said June 28 that in general people start fires on peatlands to fertilize the soil ahead of planting crops.

Kuala Lumpur-based Sime Darby said in a June 28 statement it had found fires on land at one of its units, though the blazes were in an area where local communities plant crops such as corn and sugar and not in areas planted by the company.

The company buys from palm oil growers in Indonesia that participate in plans run by the company and that adhere to a strict zero-burn policy. Part of its efforts to promote no burning is to continuously educate third-party suppliers on the benefits of complying with RSPO principles, Sime Darby said in a separate e-mail.

Fire and haze are common during Indonesia’s July-to-September dry season because local villages and farmers have long favored cheaper, slash-and-burn land clearing, according to Wilmar. Using machinery to clear costs more than $250 a hectare, while fires cost almost nothing, it said.

Sustainability efforts

Wilmar, based in Singapore, as well as Sime Darby, Golden Agri and Cargill all prohibit burning at their own plantations. That’s in line with the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil criteria which include a commitment to avoid clearing land with fires. The RSPO was formed in 2004 to promote sustainability in an industry that’s been dogged by concerns about deforestation, pollution and the environment.

“It is inconceivable that any listed plantation companies is willing to risk open burning to clear their land, not after years of battling the non-government organizations on issues pertaining to deforestation, orangutans and native land rights,” Malayan Banking said in a June 24 report.

No big plantation group would be involved today with deforestation, Wilmar said. Many of the problems are caused by small farmers, which makes it difficult to control, it said.

Malaysia had 183,774 small palm growers as of May, while Indonesia has more than 2 million. The Indonesia Palm Oil Farmers Association has a “zero burning” policy for its members, and other crop farmers may be responsible for the blazes, said Secretary General Asmar Arsjad.

Investor concern

For some investors, concerns about deforestation remains. Norway’s sovereign wealth fund, the world’s largest with assets of $737 billion, sold investments in 23 palm producers including Wilmar, Golden Agri and Kuala Lumpur Kepong, in the first quarter of 2012 citing concern about deforestation, according to its annual report released in March.

Golden Agri, the second-biggest palm plantations operator, is “absolutely” against burning and “would also encourage best management practices to all stakeholders,” the company said in an e-mail.

It buys less than 10 percent of its fresh fruit bunches from outside suppliers. Cargill gets 95 percent of its third-party crude palm oil in Indonesia from RSPO members.

“Those suppliers have signed on to the RSPO criteria which includes a commitment to not to use burning for land clearing,” Cargill said by e-mail.

“It is one of the reasons why we target RSPO member for our third-party out supply.”

The number of Wilmar’s suppliers that are RSPO certified is still small, though steadily increasing, it said.

While the haze has lessened in Singapore, it will return, according to The Forest Trust’s Poynton.

“Singapore will choke again because globalization demands it,” he said from Geneva.

“These fires are happening to clear the way to grow a commodity for the global supply chain.”


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Indonesia: Four hotspots left in Riau

Antara 1 Jul 13;

Pekanbaru, Riau Province (ANTARA News) - The Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) Pekanbaru office said weather monitoring and geothermal Terra and Aqua satelite detected four fires still remained in Riau province on Monday.

"Two of the hotspots are in Siak District, one in Rokan Hulu District and another one in Rokan Hilir District," the BMKG Pekanbaru office analyst Warih Budi Lestari said.

National Disaster Management Agency (BPNB) spokesman Dr. Agus Wibowo said the number of hotspots is decreasing each day.

Earlier on Sunday, Agus said aerial survey`s results showed dozens of hotspots, but now only four left.

According to him, the declined number of hotspots indicated both water-bombing and weather modification efforts that had been carried out were successful.

He added water bombing had been done by using some helicopters during operations on Sunday (30/6).

A helicopter flew to Perawang, Tualang Sub-Dsitrict, Siak District at 9:46 to 14:47 pm and done water bombing 25 times.

While two other helicopters, according to Agus, operating from 10:30 to 14:46 pm to Tanjung Palas, Dumai, had conducted water bombing 44 times.

"Maximal water bombing had been done and many fires were able to be extinguished," he said adding the TNI and Brimob forces had assured it.

Agus said BNPB will proceed operations to some other locations in the country, especially the island of Borneo, if operations in Sumatra, especially in Riau, were done.

"But we are still waiting for orders. Operations could be completed in the next few days. Meanwhile, two helicopters and a special water boombing aircraft leased from Russia is planned to participate in the operations," he said.


Editor: Jafar M Sidik

Police arrest 23 suspects over forest fires
Antara 1 Jul 13;

Pekanbaru, Riau (ANTARA News) - The Police of Riau have arrested 23 suspects in connection with forest and peat land fires in the province that have caused blanketing haze over the Sumatran region and some neighboring countries.

Spokesperson of the Riau Police Command, Adjunct Senior Commissioner Hermansyah, said here on Monday that two more suspects had been arrested following reports from local people making the number of the suspects to reach 23 who are all now under police detention.

The last two suspects namely Ham, arrested in Tanjung Leba Village, Bukit Batu Subdistrict of Bengkalis and BA, arrested in Sang Kemang Village, Koto Gasib Subdistrict of Siak District.

"However, we haven`t received data about the areas that had been burned. The crime scenes varied," Hermansyah said.

The 23 suspects have allegedly caused forest and land fires in 15 areas located in some districts in the Riau Province.

Besides Ham, there were five other suspects arrested by Bengkalis Police, namely Subari (46), Hartono (35), Ali Imron, Ali Umar and Atim.

In Rokan Hulu District, 11 suspects in four cases had been arrested, namely Hotman Purba (56), Ketiman, Sukadi, Aswin, Rizal, Heriyadi Saputra, Eka Budi Arianto, Marlin Nasution, Mohammad Yasir, KH Johari and Abdul Wahab.

Two suspects, Sumardi (42) and Shokai Autlo were arrested by Pelalawan District Police.

The Siak and Dumai District Police respectively arrested two suspects.

"The 23 suspects are being detained in their respective district police offices for investigation. The number of suspects might still increase," Hermawan said.

The Police are coordinating with the Ministry of Environment to investigate any indication of involvement of companies in the forest fires.

Meanwhile, the Riau Health Office`s Environmental Health Section Chief Dewani said about 10,382 citizens in Riau Province have been suffering from acute respiratory infections (ISPA) due to haze that has hit the area since the past several weeks.

Among the areas that have the most number of victims are Indragiri Hulu District (2,863 people), Dumai city (1,554 people), Bengkalis District (1,438 people) and Siak District (1,183 people).

However, the air quality index in Riau continues to improve in line with the declining number of hotspots following fire fighting operations.

Natural Disaster Mitigation Agency`s Spokesperson Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said efforts to fight land and forest fires are still continuing including through water bombing and artificial rain making.


Editor: Jafar M Sidik

Three flights from Dumai cancelled due to haze
Antara 1 Jul 13;

Dumai city, Riau province (ANTARA News) - Three flights from Dumai city are cancelled due to low visibility following haze that is still happening in the area, chief of Dumai airport`s authority, Catur Hargowo, said here on Monday.

"From Monday morning until afternoon the visibility is still below standard namely at around 1,000 meters (normal visibility must be around 2,500-4,500 meters). It is considered as unsafe for flights," he said.

The three cancelled flights are Sky Aviation flight scheduled to leave for Pekanbaru city (Riau province`s capital) and Pelita Air Pertamina and Pelita Air Chevron flights (both to leave for Jakarta).

Catur added he is not sure of when flights in the airport would be resumed.

Earlier the head of public relations and information data center of the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB), Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, said air quality index in Riau has continued to improve in line with the declining number of forest and land fires following fire fighting operations.

Until the 10th day of operations to eradicate haze in Riau several indicators had shown a positive trend, he said.

Based on the results of monitoring through NOAA satellites on June 22 the number of fires was still recorded at 92 while on June 24 it reached 265 but on June 29 only one was left over.

This has resulted in the improvement of air quality in the region and visibility, he said.


Editor: Jafar M Sidik

Indonesia's haze battle enters 'preventive mode'
Night patrols increased; cloud-seeding planes on standby in case of new fires
Zubaidah Nazeer, Indonesia Correspondent, In Pekanbaru (Riau Province)
Straits Times 2 Jul 13;

INDONESIAN disaster officials say they are now shifting into preventive mode in the battle against the haze, in a bid to respond faster and put out the fires before they spread out of control.

This approach is based on an increase in night patrols, keeping water-bombing and cloud-seeding aircraft on standby and distributing pamphlets warning farmers of heavy sanctions for slash-and- burn tactics.

The National Disaster Management Agency (BNPB) spokesman in Riau, Dr Agus Wibowo, said: "We cannot be reactive and respond only when a fire breaks out. We are anticipating seven other provinces to be hit by fires as the dry season picks up."

Yesterday, he said planes being deployed for cloud seeding and water bombing in Riau should be able to fly out at short notice to Jambi, South Sumatra and Lampung in Sumatra, and four provinces in Kalimantan.

Indeed, as most Riau residents are breathing easier after the BNPB declared its 10-day operation to counter the fires and haze a success, attention is now shifting to fire-prone provinces elsewhere. The number of hot spots in Riau was drastically reduced from 262 last Monday to four yesterday, but three planes had to be diverted from landing in Dumai airport in northern Riau, indicating that the battle against large-scale fires is far from over.

Dumai was one of the worst-affected regencies in Riau, hitting a record 900 on the Pollutant Standards Index last Monday, with visibility at less than 500m. Some 1,554 residents complained of respiratory problems last month.

Weather forecasters say winds are helping to blow the thinning haze away from Singapore and Malaysia, but the reprieve from the haze could be temporary as the dry season will peak next month and last as long as October.

Said Dr Agus: "We are hoping that within these few days, the hot spots will be gone in Riau."

Brigadier-General Tatang Sulaiman said: "Water bombing has helped but can put out fires only if they are on the surface. Now, our soldiers are trying to put out peat fires below the ground."

National police spokesman Agus Rianto said six more farmers have been caught for illegal land-clearing using fire, bringing the tally to 23.

The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) said large corporations have got to take action against farmers and others whom they pay to clear their land if their land gets burnt, even if they practise zero-burning policies.

A WWF patrol on Sunday into the Tesso Nilo forest complex in southern Riau that contains a national park, logging concession areas and illegally deforested areas found a large area razed.

In a statement last Thursday, it said: "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 fuelling the haze."

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ASEAN urges Indonesia to ratify haze pact

AFP Yahoo News 1 Jul 13;

BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN, Brunei (AFP) - Southeast Asian nations urged Indonesia Sunday quickly to ratify a treaty aimed at preventing fires in its giant rainforests that regularly inflict choking smog on its neighbours.

Thick grey smoke from the fires on Sumatra island sent air pollution to record levels in neighbouring Singapore and Malaysia this month, forcing people to wear face masks and schools to close.

The crisis prompted the two nations to raise the problem at the annual Association of Southeast Asian Nations foreign ministers' meeting in Brunei on Sunday.

Indonesia is the largest member of the 10-nation bloc.

"We... stressed the importance for regional countries to uphold their international obligations and work together to tackle the transboundary haze pollution problem," the foreign ministers said in a joint communique.

They "called upon ASEAN member states that have not yet ratified and operationalised the (treaty) to do so expeditiously".

Indonesia is the only member which has still not ratified an ASEAN Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution brokered in 2002.

The treaty aims to stop cross-border smog pollution caused by forest fires by requiring parties to prevent burning, monitor prevention efforts, exchange information on the problem and provide mutual help.

It also binds signatories to "respond promptly" to requests for information sought by another country affected by the smoke and to take steps to implement their obligations under the treaty.

Indonesia, a freewheeling democracy since the fall of strongman Suharto in 1998, has blamed its parliament for the long delay.

The government had sought legislators' approval to ratify the haze agreement but the proposal was rejected in 2008.

Indonesia Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa said the treaty had been resubmitted to the current legislature, although no timeline for ratification was given.

Environmental group Greenpeace International, however, said Indonesia was reluctant to ratify the treaty because it would affect the expansion plans of palm oil companies in the country.

The Sumatra fires have been largely blamed on palm oil firms using the illegal but cheap method of burning vast tracts of rainforests and peat lands to clear them for planting.

Indonesia is the world's top producer of palm oil, which is used for many everyday items such as soap and biscuits.

Some of the world's most biodiverse rainforests cover vast areas of Sumatra and other parts of the sprawling Indonesian archipelago.

But environmental campaigners warn these forests are being cleared at a disastrous rate to make way for palm oil plantations, as well as for mining and logging.

Singapore Foreign Minister K. Shanmugam voiced satisfaction at progress on the haze issue at the talks.

The ASEAN statement "focuses on the importance of putting out the fires, it focuses on the importance of monitoring, verifying to prevent recurrence in the future", he told reporters.

"It gives a framework for us to move ahead."

However Greenpeace's chief Indonesia forest campaigner, Bustar Maital, said ASEAN must widen its focus to prevent the rapid rate of deforestation in Indonesia and across the region, rather than simply focus on the fires.

"Deforestation is the main driver of the forest fires," he told AFP.

Asean reaffirms commitment to fight haze
Senior officials directed to consolidate initiatives, propose preventive steps
Leonard Lim In Bandar Seri Begawan Straits Times 2 Jul 13;

ASEAN yesterday showed its resolve to tackle the haze that has choked the region in recent weeks, by directing its senior officials to both consolidate current initiatives and recommend steps to prevent a recurrence.

A joint communique issued after the 10 foreign ministers met here also said there would be a progress report on these efforts to top leaders at the next Asean summit in October.

Asean also reaffirmed its commitment to establish effective monitoring, rapid response and firefighting systems. It called on countries which have not ratified a 2002 Asean Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution - Indonesia is the only one - to do so "expeditiously".

The consensus was worked out by foreign ministers from Singapore, Indonesia and Malaysia during an informal meeting last Saturday, and agreed to by the rest during yesterday's Asean Ministerial Meeting.

Last Saturday's meeting, which involved the three countries worst hit by the haze, took place at the suggestion of Singapore's Foreign Minister K. Shanmugam. He said the haze paragraph in the communique focuses on "the importance of putting out the fires, of monitoring, verifying to prevent recurrences in the future".

Details have yet to be worked out but Singapore has emphasised as recently as a week ago that the long-term solution is for Indonesian farmers to adopt a more sustainable method of clearing plantations.

While it may not be possible to totally stop poor farmers from slash-and-burn practices, Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong said on Facebook that it "should be easy" to prevent commercial plantation owners from doing so next year.

"With satellite technology, new laws if necessary, and political will, smoking guns can be identified, confiscated and made to pay if they are fired," he wrote, on a day when the Pollutant Standards Index in Singapore fell to its lowest level in a fortnight.

Separately, Mr Shanmugam said Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia had also agreed on a trilateral process where officials will look at what is happening on the ground and make recommendations on the way forward. These officials could come from the foreign affairs and environment ministries, and Indonesia's forestry ministry. The group will also give an update at the Asean summit.

Indonesia's Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa said it was good to have an outcome that recognises the haze as an issue that must be addressed at the national level, and in synergy with regional efforts.

Asked if Singapore's objectives had been achieved, Mr Shanmugam said: "What you really want is for the entire region to be free of haze, and that will involve actions over a period of time."

The challenge would be in implementation but "I would say our views as to how Asean needs to deal with it have come true".

Meanwhile, a spokesman for Indonesia's National Disaster Mitigation Agency said the number of hot spots has fallen from a peak of 265 last Monday to one last Saturday.

ESM Goh also thanked Indonesia's President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono for showing will, graciousness and dignified statesmanship in dealing with the haze.

"This is appreciated, in contrast with the boorish remarks of some of his ministers," he added.

Additional reporting by Zubaidah Nazeer in Pekanbaru (Riau province)

The haze and ASEAN: Environmental politics, diplomacy and stability
Yang Razali Kassim For The Straits Times 2 Jul 13;

IF INDONESIA'S President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's unilateral apology last week to Singapore and Malaysia over the haze came as a surprise, the domestic criticism he provoked for doing so was equally unexpected. Fortunately for Asean, the regional foreign ministers' meeting that was coming up in Brunei around the same time saw environmental politics shifting quickly to become environmental diplomacy.

The upshot: an agreement on how to prevent the haze problem from recurring - plus a big hint to Indonesia to start ratifying a 2002 regional haze agreement it had signed but not ratified for far too long.

For the cynics of Asean, the Brunei solution over the weekend may not be good enough. But the haze problem has sharpened the awareness of how environmental issues can easily trigger tensions in a region already saddled with many other challenges. The ensuing disputes between Indonesia and its neighbours have led to more awareness and an acceptance among Asean states that the region's haze problem constitutes its so-called non-traditional security.

The haze episode began around June 20, when the Singapore skies were enveloped with thick smoke caused by forest fires in Riau, Sumatra. It quickly became the worst haze since 1997, reaching at one point a hazardous level of 401 on Singapore's Pollutant Standards Index. While Singapore scrambled into defensive mode, not much trouble-shooting was sensed on the Indonesian side at first. Indeed, the Riau province was in the news at the time for the wrong reason - its governor was detained for corruption, partly linked to an alleged abuse of deforestation permits.

As the political temperature rose, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong dispatched Environment Minister Vivian Balakrishnan as his special envoy, bearing a personal letter to President Yudhoyono, to be followed by emergency ministerial talks.

As this was happening, Malaysia lobbied for an urgent Asean meeting in Kuala Lumpur, which it fast-tracked from August to this month. It too sent a minister and a letter of concern from Prime Minister Najib Razak to President Yudhoyono.

Against the growing regional tensions, Dr Yudhoyono called a press conference. "For what has happened," he said, "as President, I say sorry, and seek the understanding of our brothers in Singapore and Malaysia."

He also rebuked his ministers and officials for their undiplomatic remarks that aggravated the haze-related tensions.

"There are statements by several office-holders that I feel need not be put across that way. Sometimes the facts have not been checked, and that becomes an issue. This has become a concern from Singapore and Malaysia."

But the President was virtually alone; indeed, the blowback against him was swift. His statesman-like apology struck a nationalistic nerve and was almost instantly attacked by sections of Jakarta's elite, including a former vice-president, and the vocal media. A common thread in all these attacks was the view that an Indonesian apology was out of place given that Singapore- and Malaysian-linked companies could be as complicit in the Sumatran fires. In truth, some of the Singapore-linked players are Indonesian-owned. Virtually all of the companies with Sumatran plantations claim to have a zero-burning policy.

Dr Yudhoyono, nonetheless, ticked off the Riau provincial government for being slow to act, citing this as a reason he invoked his presidential authority and sent firefighting troops. Indeed, his intervention marked a significant turn of events. In so doing, he demonstrated how decisive Indonesia can be given the political will. The number of hot spots for the haze-causing forest fires consequently was reduced dramatically.

There are several conclusions or implications from this latest twist in the longstanding haze problem which has afflicted South-east Asia since 1997.

First, despite 15 years into the post-Suharto reformasi era that has been marked by political reform and desentralisasi, Indonesia is still adjusting to the downside of a decentralised political system.

Second, while power has been diffused to the provinces in a more democratic system, this has also slowed down national decision-making. At the same time, national challenges, including corruption, have also been decentralised. What used to be a problem centred in Jakarta is now spread to the regions. Nothing is more illustrative than the current detention of the Riau governor on corruption allegations partly linked to forestry permits.

Third, Indonesia's neighbours will have to live with the spillover effects of a regional giant that is still finding its feet despite more than a decade of reformation. Demokratisasi, or the democratisation of the political system, has produced a legislature or MPR (Majelis Permusyawaratan Rakyat) that proudly defends its independence of the Executive. This is why Indonesia is the only member state that has yet to ratify the 2002 Asean Agreement on Haze - even though the Indonesian government signed the pact 11 years ago.

Fourth, it is troubling that Indonesian lawmakers, caught up in the legislative politics in Jakarta, do not seem to fathom the corrosive implications the failure to ratify the haze accord may have in the long run: It can undermine regional confidence in Indonesia's commitment to pacts, and eventually its leadership in Asean.

Fifth, environmental issues will continue to influence politics in this region. Challenges arising from climate change, such as sea-level rise and climate refugees, will get worse over time and stress intra-Asean ties.

There are two things the political elite in Jakarta must do: One, ratify the 2002 Asean Agreement on Haze without further delay. Two, reform the way the political system is governed - even if it means starting a new phase of reformasi.

Otherwise, South-east Asia will continue to face the unsettling prospect of a friendly power which is also a source of the region's future problems. Which can be just as discomforting as a less-than-friendly power that causes no trouble.

The writer is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University.

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Malaysia: Cyanide and fish bombing harming reefs

‘Foreigners harmed marine habitat’
Ruben Sario The Star 2 Jul 13;

KOTA KINABALU: Foreigners are being blamed for two of the most destructive fishing activities in Sabah – fish bombing and the use of cyanide – both harming coral reefs and other marine habitat, the Royal Commission of Inquiry on illegal immigrants was told.

Sabah Fisheries Department Mohd Yusoff Anthony Abdullah said 209 foreigners were charged in court for fishing using these destructive methods between 1999 and 2012.

When pointed out by Conducting Officer Manoj Kurup that the figure was slightly more than the 148 people with Malaysian identity cards charged for similar offences during the same period, Yusoff said: “We have to take it they are locals, we cannot tell the validity of their documents.”

He said the most frequent locations of fish bombing were waters near Pulau Mengalum and Pulau Mantanani – some of the richest fishing grounds off Sabah’s west coast – and near the internationally renowned diving havens of Pulau Sipadan and Pulau Mabul in the state’s east coast.

Yusoff said an explosive comprising a bottle filled with fertiliser and detonator typically cost about RM10 and the “returns” for the offender could be as much as several hundred kilogrammes of fish.

He said the bombed fish usually comprise the yellow tail fusilier or ikan sulit and white shouldered whiptail or ikan anjang anjang as well as ikan putih or travalley.

Yusoff said cyanide was squirted to stun highly prized marine creatures, such as grouper fish and lobsters, which were meant for export.

He said his unit was proposing to amend the state’s fisheries laws to provide for stiffer penalties against illegal fishing offenders – such as just being in possession of bombed or poisoned fish will be sufficient for a conviction – as current legislation requires the authorities to prove that offenders knew they had such contraband in their possession.

Currently, those convicted of such offences could face jail of up to 18 months or a RM10,000 fine.

Meanwhile, a construction supervisor told the commission that the industry in Sabah could be crippled in the absence of foreign workers whom he described as more hard working, disciplined, had better skills and lasted longer in their jobs than locals.

Shak Choon Hau said employers also preferred to hire foreigners who were willing to do the same work at lower wages compared to locals.

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Five problems caused by Chinese lanterns

Kathryn Westcott BBC News Magazine 1 Jul 13;

A massive fire at a recycling plant in the West Midlands is thought to have been started by Chinese lanterns. As well as fire risk they're associated with other problems.

Fire chiefs called for an "urgent review" into the use of Chinese lanterns after more than 200 firefighters were called to the fire in the town of Smethwick.

The lanterns have become an increasingly popular sight at weddings, Halloween celebrations, music festivals and even funerals, with an estimated 200,000 being sold in the UK every year.

The paper lanterns consist of a candle or a fuel cell filled with paraffin wax suspended inside a frame of wire or bamboo. When lit, they float gently upwards and drift away, landing when the fuel has run out. They can reach up to 1,000 metres in height and drift for several miles in the breeze.

There are already bans or restrictions on the lanterns in a number of countries because of the hazards they can cause.

1. The danger to the environment and fire risk led Glastonbury festival organisers to ban Chinese lanterns. In 2011, festival organiser Michael Eavis called for a nationwide ban. Farmers' groups and animal charities have long pushed for the lanterns to be withdrawn from sale, arguing that animals can eat parts after they have landed. In 2010, a cow died from eating a piece of a lantern's wire frame, which ruptured its stomach, and a foal had to be put down after it injured itself on a fence because it was startled by two lights that landed in its field. A number of firms in the UK offer what they describe as eco-friendly lanterns, where the frame is made from bamboo rather than wire, but the RSPCA argues these are still potentially harmful. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has turned down calls for a ban after concluding that the risk of death and injury they posed to livestock was "low".

2. False alarms at sea for both the Coastguard and RNLI, after lanterns were mistaken for flares, led to more calls for a ban. In 2010, the RNLI said it saw a significant increase in the number of lifeboat call-outs caused by lanterns. The Marine Conservation Society last year added its voice to the campaign after a survey of beaches found an increase in rubber, paper and pieces of metal. The charity wants the lanterns to be classed as litter so people releasing them could be fined as much as £2,500, arguing that they are a danger to marine life, among other things.

3. According to civil aviation authorities, there is a danger of lanterns being sucked into engines while airborne. On the ground, lantern debris has the potential to cause damage to aircraft engines, tyres and fuselage, they argue. The lanterns have been banned in the popular tourist destination of Sanya, China, after dozens of flights had to be delayed. Last year, the Civil Aviation Authority in Donegal warned against the use of the lanterns after one landed near a container packed with thousands of gallons of aviation fuel.

4. They pose a fire risk. In a nationwide survey in 2011, a third of Britain's fire brigades said they had received emergency call-outs to extinguish lanterns. Damage caused included scorched gardens and roofs. But firefighters said they had experienced a number false alarms as the lanterns had burnt themselves out before they arrived. The lanterns are at their most dangerous in the summer because of drier conditions. They have been banned from a number of local authority firework displays.

5. UFO sightings dramatically increased as lanterns became more popular. Recently released National Archive files show that the Ministry of Defence's now-defunct UFO desk logged three times as many reports in 2009 - the year it was shut down - than in an average year. At the time, Nick Pope, head of the MoD's UFO Project, supported the theory that many of those sightings were down to Chinese lanterns. "I'm not disparaging the whole UFO phenomenon," he said at the time. "But I'd say 99% of UFO reports involving orange lights in the sky these days are attributable to these lanterns." One of the earliest UK newspaper headlines revealing the confusion between lanterns and UFOs was in 2006. Residents of a small Scottish town who spotted strange lights in the sky called the police, but the "saucers" turned out to be Chinese lanterns released during a wedding ceremony. The Daily Star reported the incident with the headline: "DID THE EARTH MOVE 4 UFO? ALIENS WEDDING PANIC.

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21,000 species at risk of extinction

Nina Larson (AFP) Google News 1 Jul 13;

GENEVA — A freshwater shrimp, an island-dwelling lizard and a pupfish from Arizona have been declared extinct, while nearly 21,000 species are at risk of dying out, an updated "Red List" showed.

"The overall picture is alarming," said Jane Smart of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), which is behind the Red List of Threatened Species that to date has assessed 70,294 of the world's 1.82 million known species of plants and animals.

Smart, who heads IUCN's biodiversity conservation union, insisted urgent and more efficient action was needed "if we are serious about stopping the extinction crisis that continues to threaten all life on Earth."

According to the update, 20,934 species are currently listed as "threatened with extinction", compared with 20,219 last October.

IUCN's Red List Manager Craig Hilton-Taylor pointed out to AFP that the rise of more than 700 species in this category was explained by increased pressure on a number of them. It was also due to species moving down from the more serious "endangered" category, as well as new species being added to the assessment list.

Tuesday's updates focused especially on the decline among conifers, a category of cone-bearing trees and shrubs that includes the world's oldest and largest organisms, such as the Bristlecone Pine that can live to be almost 5,000 years old and the Coast Redwood which can reach a height of 110 metres (360 feet).

The report, which provided the first global reassessment of conifers since 1998, showed that a full 34 percent of the world's cedars, cypresses, firs and other such plants are threatened with extinction -- compared with 30 percent 15 years ago.

A full 33 species of conifers had declined during this period, with the number now in the "endangered" category, teetering on the edge of extinction, jumping to 27 from 20 in 1998, according to Hilton-Taylor.

"We are sending a warning," he told AFP, stressing the huge importance of conifers both in economic terms as sources for paper and timber industries, and in environmental terms for their role of sequestering carbon.

"The more we have deforestation in the northern hemisphere, the greater the impact will be in terms of climate change," he said.

Tuesday's report also provided the Red List's first-ever global assessment of freshwater shrimps, lamenting that a full 28 percent of the carideans vital to freshwater ecosystems are threatened with extinction.

One such species, the Macrobrachium leptodactylus, was declared extinct after it fell "victim of habitat degradation and urban development," it said.

The Cape Verde Giant Skink, a lizard that had lived on a single island and two small islets and which was last seen in 1912, was also declared extinct, as was the Santa Cruz Pupfish, once found in the Santa Cruz River basin in Arizona, which disappeared due to water depletion.

Hilton-Taylor told AFP it varies greatly how quickly a species can be declared extinct, pointing out that the Cape Verde Giant Skink was believed to have been driven into extinction 100 years ago by the introduction of rats and cats, but that its rocky habitat had made it difficult to determine for sure that it was gone.

The Santa Cruz Pupfish, meanwhile, had not been seen in the wild since the 1960s, he said, voicing hope though that "it may still be in some hobbiest collection somewhere."

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