Best of our wild blogs: 3 Jul 13

Macro Photography Workshop Session 1
from Macro Photography in Singapore

Three days of small group training at the 2013 ICCS Workshop Series for Organisers! from News from the International Coastal Cleanup Singapore

Butterflies Galore! : Malayan Sunbeam
from Butterflies of Singapore

Saving Singapore's Giant clams
from wild shores of singapore

Yes, dead fishes are from fish farms
from wild shores of singapore

IUCN SSC Pangolin Specialist Group Conference
from sundapangolin

Can palm oil be part of green growth in Indonesia?
from news by Rhett Butler

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Thousands of fish dead as dry spell hits farms

Feng Zengkun Straits Times 3 Jul 13;

THOUSANDS of dead fish from coastal fish farms were found in Lim Chu Kang in the past few days, some in the sea and on the shore.

The Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) said yesterday that about 90,000kg of fish from farms in the area had died due to the recent hot and dry weather spell.

It said the weather, combined with a lack of rainfall, resulted in low levels of dissolved oxygen in the waters near the farms. Rainfall churns the water, which helps to dissolve atmospheric oxygen in it.

The AVA added that other factors, such as a slight rise in the water's temperature, had also contributed. It has been monitoring the water's condition and had alerted the farms to take precautions such as installing standby aeration systems to add oxygen to the water, said a spokesman.

"As a result, most farms were not affected. The situation has since stabilised and returned to normal. We will continue to work closely with the farms to address any issues they may face," she said, adding that the dead fish came from four farms and included species such as milkfish and mullet.

Singapore has had other instances of mass fish deaths. In December 2009, for example, a plankton bloom killed 400,000 fish in farms off Pasir Ris and Pulau Ubin.

Fish farmers in Lim Chu Kang told The Straits Times that they use water pumps and other machinery to artificially churn the water when there are prolonged periods without rain.

However, this may not help if the natural oxygen levels are too low, said Mr Ong Kim Pit, who has run a fish farm in Lim Chu Kang for 20 years.

Some of the fish can still be sold, but fish farmers are supposed to hire private contractors to dispose of the remainder responsibly, added Mr Ong, who is in his 60s.

Nature enthusiast Ria Tan, who runs the WildSingapore website, told The Straits Times she saw dead fish strewn over the Lim Chu Kang mangroves yesterday morning.

"It looks like some of the fish farmers just dumped the dead fish into the sea and they washed up here," she said.

"It's disgusting. If you had a chicken farm and your chickens died, you wouldn't dump them all over the road."

Dead fish everywhere
Hundreds of dead fish seen floating at Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve
Jose Hong The New Paper 3 Jul 13;

On Satuday, a 43-year old man who gave his name only as Andy took his Danish friend to Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve to show him Singapore's more rustic side.

But instead of mudskippers, monitors and otters, they were faced with the sight and smell of dead fish everywhere.

Andy, a volunteer at the park, said he counted around 150 dead fish that day along the shore of the Sungei Buloh Besar river or stuck in the mangroves.

He said: "The whole area smelled of decomposing matter."

At first he wondered if pollution was affecting the fish in the reserve, but he soon realised that the dead fish were all from two speices: mullet and milkfish, which probably came from the fish farms off Lim Chu Kang.

This was confirmed by a spokesman for the Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) who said the recent "hot and dry weather with little or no rainfall" had resulted in "low levels of dissolved oxygen in the waters near the coastal fish farms at Lim Chu Kang."

The spokesman said 80 to 90 tonnes of fish, such as milkfish and mullet, from four farms in the area had died, and were in places such as Sungei Buloh.

Mr Malcom Ong, the chief executive officer of Metropolitan Fishery Group, Singapore's largest marine farm which is in the Straits of Johor near Lim Chu Kang, said the oxygen levels had dropped from the early hours of last Thursday to Friday night.

He said that while low oxygen level usually affected only small parts of his farm at a time, allowing this staff to deal with the problem, the low levels of those days were so severe and widespread that he had to prioritise which fish to save.

In the end, his farm lost approximately 40 tonnes (12%) of its milkfish stock, a six-figure loss.

AVA said the farmers affected were advised to dispose of the dead fish by bagging them and placing them in the waste disposal bins.

Additionally, AVA activated a waste disposal company to increase its waste disposal frequencies because of the expected higher amount of waste, the spokesman said.

While Mr Ong said his farm disposed of the dead fish in the bins on mainland Singapore, while trying to rescue its stock, the farm released some dying fish to "at least give them a chance to swim away."

The New Paper understands that the dead fish which had drifted into Sungei Buloh were disposed of by the National Parks staff daily.

Would the dead fish have impacted Sungei Buloh negatively?

Marine ecosystems

Professor Chou Loke Ming from the Department of Biological Sciences, Faculty of Science, National University of Singapore, said marine ecosystems like mangroves would be able to overcome an overload of dead fish over time.

He added: "Normal ecological processes will break down the carcasses" and return the remains back to the food chain, noting that the only significant impact of around 100 tonnes of dead fish spread over a large area would be the stench.

Ms Ria Tan, a nature blogger and environmentalist, can attest to this fact. Yesterday, she went to survey the mangroves at the end of Lim Chu Kang Road to see the situation for herself.

Blogging about her experience, she said she could smell the fish long before she could see them.

AVA said the water conditions have stabilised and are now back to normal. It has conducted a workshop for farmers on possible measures to deal with such situations, and will continue working closely with the farms to take care of any future issues.

Mass fish death causes

Professor Chou Loke Ming from the Department of Biological Sciences, Faculty of Science, National University of Singapore, said fish deaths can also be caused by

1. Sudden and large discharges of toxic pollutants.

2. Overstacking fish in cages in sheltered waters with little water flow, leading to a lack of dissolved oxygen.

3. Algal blooms which also lower the dissolved oxygen in the water.

In the past few years, Singapore has been a few cases of mass fish deaths.

29 March 2012: More than 1,000 dead saltwater fish called baby tamban washed up along Sungei Tampines.

20 Mar 2012: Thousands of dead sardines washed up along Pasir Ris and Sungei Api Api.

Late December 2009: 400,000 fishes were killed in farms off Pasir Ris and Pulau Ubin due to a plankton bloom.

Tonnes of dead fish spotted at Lim Chu Kang, Sungei Buloh, due to lack of oxygen in waters
Nurul Azliah Aripin Yahoo News 3 Jul 13;

Tonnes of fish from four farms at the Lim Chu Kang area have died due to the lack of oxygen in the water, said the Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority (AVA).

Some of the close to 90,000kg of dead fish, mainly mullet and milkfish, have also been sighted at Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve (SBWR).

According to a statement by the AVA, the lack of oxygen is due to the recent hot and dry weather conditions with little rainfall.

Rainfall is important to produce a “churning effect”, which helps to dissolve “atmospheric oxygen” in the water, it said.

Other factors such as “slightly warmer temperatures” have also contributed to the mass death.

Spotted by bloggers

The mass death was initially brought to light on 29 June after a blogger posted photos of the dead fish found on Lim Chu Kang beach as well as at SWBR. The nature lover, who was on a walk with a friend, snapped photos of fish stuck on rocky bunds and trees at SBWR's mangrove boardwalk area.

According to his entry, some of the fish found at SBWR were already producing a “pungent smell of decomposing fish”. He added that he the “SWBR staff had cleared what they could reach but there were just too many”.

On Monday, Ria Tan from nature site “Wild Shores of Singapore” followed up with more photos of the dead fish at Lim Chu Kang.

“The dead fish looked like those raised by fish farms,” she wrote.

Proper disposal

The AVA has advised affected farmers to dispose the dead fish and has increased “the frequency of waste disposal” by activating waste disposal companies. It is also working closely with the farms to help with the situation and provide assistance.

One way for farmers to “mitigate” the low levels of oxygen in the water, is by setting up “standby aeration systems”, according to the AVA and it is rendering the necessary assistance.

Thousands of dead fish spotted at Lim Chu Kang
Channel NewsAsia 4 Jul 13;

SINGAPORE: Thousands of dead fish have been found floating at sea and on the shore at the Lim Chu Kang area as well as the Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve.

The dead fish were among 90 tonnes of fish belonging to four farms in the Lim Chu Kang area.

AVA said the fish have died due to lack of oxygen in the water. This, it said, was caused by the hot and dry weather which lowered the level of dissolved oxygen in the water.

AVA has been working closely with local farmers to encourage good farm practices which include properly bagging dead fish and disposing of them in bins.

Fish farms in Singapore are licensed by AVA. Under the conditions of licensing, coastal fish farms have to ensure that waste generated from their operations are properly disposed of in approved waste containers on land.

However, AVA noted that during the farms' emergency operations to remove the dead fishes for disposal, some could have dropped into the sea and got washed ashore.

In anticipation of more waste, AVA said it had activated the waste disposal company to increase the frequency of disposal.

Three additional trips were made on top of the usual trip to clear waste last weekend.

AVA also conducts routine surveillance and monitors fish farms regularly for compliance to licensing conditions.

“We will take enforcement action if farms are found to be disposing their farm waste into the waters. In addition, we work with relevant agencies to detect illegal dumping of waste into the sea by fish farms," said a spokesman from AVA.

Under the Fisheries Act, any person who illegally disposes of dead fish into the waters can be jailed up to 12 months, and fined up to S$10,000.

- CNA/fa

Fish prices rise about 10%: Punggol Fish Merchants Association
Hu Jielan Channel NewsAsia 4 Jul 13;

SINGAPORE: The price of fish has risen by about 10 per cent, according to the Punggol Fish Merchants Association.

With the monsoon season and Ramadan fasting month coming up, the association said prices could continue to rise, especially for species like the white snapper and threadfin.

Some fishmongers and hawkers are feeling the pinch.

One of them told MediaCorp: "The fish used to cost S$8 to S$9 per kilogramme, but now it is S$12 to S$13."

The association said the recent death of fish in local farms should not have affected prices, as Singapore imports 95 per cent of its fish supply.

- CNA/ms

Related links
Fish farm dumping dead fishes? on wild shores of singapore

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New living ideas: Keep in mind ecological, psychological and emotional impact

Straits Times Forum 3 Jul 13;

LAST week's Urban Sustainability Research and Development Congress presented underground caverns and floating islands as two examples of new living spaces ("Future living ideas: Going underground"; last Friday).

Researchers studying these new frontiers promote their limitless potential.

However, questions pertaining to their ecological, psychological and emotional impact were superficially, if not dismissively, addressed.

The researchers did not see living and working underground as a problem as we are already commuting underground on the MRT and remain in our offices with the blinds drawn down for hours.

Similarly, the ecological impact of floating islands may be seen as a necessary trade-off that we can afford to make as Singapore urgently needs more space.

There is an absence of ecologists, psychologists, sociologists, philosophers and even religious scholars studying the impact of these living ideas at the same level and with the same amount of funding and prominence as technologists.

There is a need for greater inter-disciplinary scrutiny of novel concepts of human habitation. I cannot help sensing that behind the current research and development initiative, the intensification of our urban space is an unquestionable given. Hence, it is technologically biased towards minimising the impact of urban intensification.

No initiative has been mooted to study the necessity and the means of minimising the very need for urban intensification.

I suspect our hope for a sustainable future lies somewhere in between, but the current initiatives are geared towards one direction.

Osman Sidek

Human dimension considered in urban planning
Straits Times Forum 9 Jul 13;

WE APPRECIATE Mr Osman Sidek's views ("New living ideas: Keep in mind psychological impact"; Forum Online, last Wednesday).

Indeed, in exploring innovative urban solutions, we are mindful that considerations must go beyond technology and incorporate the human dimension - both at the individual and social level.

This point was also raised by speakers and participants during forum discussions at the Urban Sustainability R&D Congress, and the general consensus was that technical innovations must ultimately be for the good of the people and for our environment.

The congress was conceived as a multi-disciplinary forum and was first organised in 2011 to provide a national platform for stakeholders from the private and public sectors, as well as the research community, to discuss and co-create research and development (R&D) solutions to address Singapore's urban sustainability challenges.

Urban sustainability has multiple interconnected elements that go beyond just technology.

Hence, the congress was planned to ensure a good mix of topics and participants. For instance, there was a dedicated track to discuss social behavioural issues, which was also one of the best-attended sessions. And besides urban planners and technical experts, we also invited sociologists and ecologists, among others, to participate and share their views at the congress. More information can be found at

The Land and Liveability National Innovation Challenge R&D initiative will also provide funding for relevant social and behavioural research studies.

Derek Tan

Chairman, Urban Sustainability R&D Congress Working Committee

Ministry of National Development

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Singapore’s increasing waste poses potential crisis

Usual disposal methods no longer sustainable and viable, says Balakrishnan
Kok Xing Hui Today Online 3 Jul 13;

SINGAPORE — The dense haze episode two weeks ago was a “special, extreme case of waste disposal gone wrong”, said Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan yesterday.

It was agricultural waste incinerated out in the open, leading to smog in the air that people were forced to breathe, said the minister, who cited the haze as an example of how the rising amount of waste generated posed a threat to the environment.

Speaking at the Waste Management Symposium and 3R Packaging Awards yesterday, he noted that the amount of waste generated per person per day currently has doubled from the World Bank estimate of 0.64kg a decade ago. The 0.64kg figure is expected to triple in the next 10 years.

This poses a potential environmental crisis, as air and environment quality is crucial in a world where half the people live in densely-populated cities. This compared to the past, when cities were less populated and “only a few are inconvenienced” if things went wrong.

Dr Balakrishnan cautioned that the usual ways of waste disposal are no longer sustainable and viable. “The day will come when we no longer have any more landfills,” he said. “And a day will come when we will have to recycle — not just because the raw materials are valuable but because you can’t afford to dump it anywhere else.”

He cited packaging waste as an example, saying that it makes up a third of what the public discards at home. “It is ethically wrong that more than 80 per cent of our waste consists of recyclable material … yet so little of that is recycled,” he added.

Sixteen companies were lauded yesterday for their efforts and achievements in reducing packaging waste. These companies were amongst 128 signatories to the second Singapore Packaging Agreement signed in 2012 .

Since the first agreement in 2007, 12,900 tonnes of packaging waste were cumulatively reduced, saving signatories about S$31 million in the material costs of locally consumed products. Firms who signed the second agreement will work towards a total annual reduction of 6,500 tonnes of packaging waste by 2015. As of last month, the total amount reduced was about 4,800 tonnes.

Dr Balakrishnan, however, felt that the productivity of Singapore’s waste disposal industry could improve. “Our labour productivity, our land productivity, our use of technology, and really, the value-add of a worker for this sector is far too low,” he said. “We should be able to do so much more with fewer workers, but to be able to pay them more as well.”

The Republic’s waste disposal industry employs 12,000 workers. Waste Management and Recycling Association of Singapore (WMRAS) chairman Jerome Baco said: “Adoption of new technologies might help increase the labour productivity to match the higher ratios that we can see in Taiwan or Japan.”

The minister added that Singapore has roughly 1,000 drivers and crew who have undergone Workforce Skills Qualifications training and the country needs to enable these workers to progress to a “higher occupational level”, such as supervisors and managers, and to pay them more.

Singapore 'behind others' in managing waste
Firms yet to adopt new technology that uses space and labour efficiently
Grace Chua Straits Times 3 Jul 13;

SINGAPORE lags behind other developed countries when it comes to waste management, a symposium on the subject was told yesterday.

Waste Management & Recycling Association of Singapore chairman Jerome Baco said the industry employs 12,000 staff and occupies 517ha but processes just 1.6 tonnes of waste per worker per day - half of Taiwan's productivity and a third of Japan's. Firms are not using new technologies, which are costly but space- and labour-efficient, he told the second Waste Management Symposium at Singapore Expo.

Environment and Water Resources Minister Vivian Balakrishnan also said the Republic can do "so much more" to improve its waste management record.

Speaking as guest of honour, he said the National Environment Agency and the association have been working since last November to develop new standards, training and technology for the sector.

If productivity can be lifted, then fewer workers will be needed and they can be paid more, Dr Balakrishnan said.

The lack of public participation in recycling is also a problem with household waste like plastic and food often being incinerated and going to landfill.

Each year, 803,400 tonnes of plastic waste is generated, making it fourth among the top five waste streams, after ferrous metals, construction debris and paper or cardboard, which all have higher recycling rates. Just 10 per cent of plastic is recycled, a rate that has stayed the same since 2001.

"One-third of the waste we discard at home is packaging waste," Dr Balakrishnan noted. However the 128 companies and groups that have signed the Singapore Packaging Agreement since 2007 have reduced their packaging waste by 14,900 tonnes.

The voluntary agreement aims to get producers to reduce the material used in product packaging and recycle packaging waste.

Dr Balakrishnan also presented the 3R Packaging Awards to 16 firms for outstanding efforts in doing this. Winners included Nestle Singapore, which cut packaging from its Yang Sheng Le herbal soups and Milo powdered drink mixes, and LHT Holdings, which makes pallets, packaging and doors from horticultural and industrial wood waste.

LHT began using recycled material in the late 1990s, after then Environment Minister Yeo Cheow Tong announced that fees for waste incineration would rise. Its managing director Neo Koon Boo said: "Our target is zero waste."

Productivity of Singapore's waste management industry 'abysmal': Vivian Balakrishnan
Channel NewsAsia 2 Jul 13;

SINGAPORE: Environment Minister Dr Vivian Balakrishnan said there is a big gap in Singapore's current performance in waste management.

While the industry employs 12,000 workers, he said productivity figures are "abysmal".

Speaking at the Waste Management Symposium on Tuesday, Dr Balakrishnan said more could be done with fewer workers who should be paid more.

"Today, one-third of the waste we discard at home is estimated to be packaging waste and each person discards about 100 kilogrammes of packaging waste in a year. The packaging waste is almost entirely recyclable and yet most of that packing waste does not end up being recycled," he said.

Using the haze in Singapore as an example, Dr Balakrishnan also said air quality is no longer a luxury but a necessity.

"It was agricultural waste. It was incinerated not in an incinerator but out in the open and all that smog ended up in the air which we were all forced to breathe without any choice two weeks ago. What we experienced was a clear example of waste disposal gone wrong."

The Singapore Packaging Agreement may offer a solution to that.

Since 2007, companies have reduced a total of 14,900 tons of packaging waste.

Sixteen companies were also recognised for their efforts in reducing packaging waste at the 3R Packaging Awards.

A new Singapore Packaging Agreement (SPA) drawn up on Monday will see companies reduce packaging waste by another 6,500 tons by 2015.

Initiatives include reducing the size of product packaging and switching to reusable packaging.

- CNA/fa

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Lost in the Haze: The Story of a Couple’s Tragic Death in Riau’s Blaze

Jakarta Globe 2 Jul 13;

Lamiem Purba had already stopped breathing by the time the search party found her laying with her husband in a muddy irrigation canal near their Rokan Hilir plantation.

The couple was found holding each other in the canal as the fires burning through the Riau closed in, blanketing their Sumatran village in a thick layer of choking gray smoke that would remain for weeks. It was June 18, the early days of a blaze that would later grow to engulf more than 850 hectares of land in the worst forest fires to strike Indonesia in more than a decade.

They were found by their son, a man who, concerned by their absence and the spreading flames, organized a small search party to find his parents, according to reports in Indonesian media.

Johan Purba, 20, walked across the charred remains of his family’s plantation, stepping on embers and searching the dark smog for his parents. Tears, he said, glistened in his eyes as he scoured the grounds, looking for his family after they returned to the farm in a last-ditch effort to save some of the harvest from the flames.

Johan found his mother dead in a ditch, her arms wrapped around her husband Dulsani. The son leaned forward and whispered “Allah” in his mother’s ear, trying to rouse her stiff body. Johan used a wet rag to wipe the soot from his father’s face as the 49-year-old man mouthed “Astagfirullah” (“God forgive me”) in a breathless refrain, his voice small and hollow, according to local media.

Dulsani was rushed to a nearby hospital, where he died eight days later of complications from smoke inhalation. It was June 25 and newspapers carried headlines of the death of an asthmatic woman in Malaysia. Indonesia was deeply involved in this year’s blame game with Singapore and Malaysia as the countries’ leaders traded diplomatic barbs while the smog obscured Kuala Lumpur’s iconic Petronas Twin Towers and left Singapore shrouded in a milky haze.

It was two weeks until the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) released a report mentioning their deaths. The story was lost amid the firestorm of news coverage, much of it focused on the ensuing political theater as neighbors with a long-standing history of rocky relations jumped at the chance to lob complaints across the border.

We read about the air quality in Malaysia. The impact of the haze on Singapore’s squeaky-clean image. The status of a long-stalled treaty on slash-and-burn land clearing.

Somewhere along the line we lost touch with Riau.

The deaths warranted a brief write-up by Malaysia’s state-run news agency Bernama after Dulsani died. Indonesia’s own state-run news wire, Antara News Agency, ran a similar report. The Jakarta Globe devoted 51 words to Lamiem’s death based on early information obtained over the phone from a public official, much of which proved to be wrong.

The local affiliate the Pekanbaru Tribun was seemingly one of the few media outlets to visit the hospital before Dulsani died. Much of this piece’s information has been gleaned from that first story.

This is the story for much of Riau, a region hit hardest by the fires but overshadowed by the haze. Here’s what we know: the blaze left two dead, 51 hospitalized and some 16,000 with respiratory and skin problems, according to a report released by the BNPB late last night. An additional 39,000 masks have been distributed to the residents of Riau, the agency reported.

Hundreds of hectares of land burned, leaving heavy-hit areas like Rokan Hilir and Bengkalis a scarred landscape of scorched twigs and smoking earth. There were only seven hotspots reported in Sumatra on Tuesday, down from the 264 recorded at the height of the blaze after thousands of fire fighters soaked the soil for weeks and heavy, artificially triggered rains fell across Riau.

The National Police announced additional arrests on Tuesday, upping the number to 25 as officers worked to round-up those allegedly responsible for sparking the initial fires under the gaze of international condemnation. Eight palm oil companies are also under investigation, but it remains to be seen whether any were actually involved in setting the fires.

“One suspect lives on [land owned by] a company, but whether or not the company was involved, we’re still investigating it,” National Police spokesman Sr. Comr. Hilman Thayid said.

The haze has receded in Singapore. Twenty-four hour air quality measured 31-37 PSI on Tuesday, according to the National Environment Agency. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations is pushing for Indonesia to ratify the neglected treaty at a regional meeting in Brunei while response teams in Riau prepared to move on to other affected areas in Sumatra, Jambi and Kalimantan on Tuesday. The story, it seems, is drawing to a close.

But for people like Johan or the thousands of others in Riau who lost their crops, their homes or their health, the impact of this year’s forest fires will likely be felt long after the ground cools.

Riau hit by haze-related infections
Straits Times 3 Jul 13;

PEKANBARU - The heavy haze that has engulfed Riau for weeks may have started to fade but the region's problems are far from over.

The disaster has left an estimated 10,400 residents suffering from acute respiratory infections.

About half the patients were reportedly children under five years old, the Riau Health Agency said.

Its disease control and environmental health head Tengku Zul Effendi said the number may rise as it covered only eight of the 12 regencies and cities across Riau.

The number of people suffering from the infections has risen steadily since June 18, 10 days after the haze started to blanket the province.

"This number really raises our concerns," said Mr Zul. "Parents need to keep their children indoors while the haze is still around."

The haze has also been blamed for asthma attacks in 699 people and for triggering pneumonia in 708 others. As many as 538 people suffered from skin irritations, while 622 had eye irritations.

"A mixture of haze and post- fire dust residue has contributed to skin and eye irritations," Mr Zul said, adding that the administration would pay for the treatment of haze-related illnesses.

"These are relatively minor diseases and are directly due to the haze. But they have to be treated immediately to prevent further infections."

The agency has distributed 120,000 masks across 12 regencies and cities since the haze hit the province, as well as providing an additional 170,000 masks.

Land and forest fires have for years been a major problem for Riau as smallholders and plantation firms allow slash-and-burn farming methods.

Mr Martinho Pinto, of the Indonesian Ministry of Forestry police in Riau, said it would take time to sort out responsibility in each district of the provinces for slash- and-burn clearing.

"We're still investigating, so give us time," he said shortly before his team located a burning hillside near Pontain Mekar village. "We're not sure if it's the companies or the communities."

"No one wants to take responsibility, or to tell who did it," said Mr Afdhal Mahyuddin, a researcher with Eyes on the Forest, a coalition of non-governmental organisations in Riau that focuses on environmental issues.

As the crisis begins to wind down, the Indonesian authorities are shifting their focus to assigning responsibility for the disaster. Environment Minister Balthasar Kambuaya said that the government had identified 14 companies believed to have started fires.

"There's a total lack of law enforcement in regard to the plantations and concessions," said Mr Afdhal. "The Ministry of Forestry has failed to stop it, so you have encroachment by illegal farmers, as well as companies setting fires to clear land."


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Asean 'back on track' to fight haze

All 10 members on board as part of solution: Jakarta
Leonard Lim In Bandar Seri Begawan Straits Times 3 Jul 13;

ASEAN is back on track to tackle the haze issue with all 10 members on board as part of the solution, Indonesia's Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa told The Straits Times yesterday at the close of meetings with his counterparts.

He praised the Asean spirit and pointed to good "building blocks" that have been put in place to tackle the air pollution which plagues the region around this time each year. The source of the problem is the Indonesian farmers and plantation companies which resort to fire to clear their land.

In the past three weeks, the haze hit Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and Brunei, and the amount of pollutants in the air rose to dangerous levels in many of these countries. But air quality has since returned to the good-to-moderate range after sustained firefighting efforts by Indonesia in the past week.

Yesterday, Dr Marty said after four days of meetings: "We're back on track in terms of all presenting themselves as part of the solution.

"It's about partnership, it's about working closely together, communicating, understanding what the problems are."

On Sunday, Asean directed its senior officials to both consolidate current initiatives to combat the haze and recommend steps to prevent a recurrence.

A joint communique issued after the 10 foreign ministers met also stated that a progress report on anti-haze efforts would be sent to the top leaders at the next Asean summit in October.

The grouping 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 challenge now is in implementing what has been discussed, Singapore Foreign Minister K. Shanmugam has acknowledged. Asked when he expects to get clarity on whether Singapore-linked firms are involved in the burning - a diplomatic note was conveyed to Indonesia a week ago - he said he is still waiting for Indonesia to respond.

"The Indonesians have said that they are investigating, and they are not sure whether any Singapore companies are involved," he said yesterday.

Since the weekend, there has been a significant drop in the number of hot spots in Riau, from 262 a week ago to four on Sunday.

Disaster officials say they are shifting into preventive mode, to respond faster and put out the fires before they spread out of control.

Tackling transboundary issues such as the haze involved "a lot of painstaking and consistent effort", Dr Marty said, and required work at the national, regional and international level.

"Thankfully, after those efforts, we are beginning to see results on the ground," he added.

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Haze: APRIL stresses no-burn policy

Neo Chai Chin Today Online 3 Jul 13;

RIAU — Fibre, pulp and paper giant Asia Pacific Resources International Limited (APRIL) has come out strongly to affirm its no-burn policy and detail its fire-fighting efforts, worth millions of dollars annually, as it fends off charges of a significant proportion of Riau hot spots falling within concession areas linked to it.

Hosting a visit by TODAY to its Pangkalan Kerinci operation in Riau province last Saturday, company officials presented its fire management measures and showed, via a helicopter ride, that fires were occurring on community land just outside its concession areas.

Headquartered in Singapore, APRIL’s concessions cover 350,000ha in Riau, Sumatra.

Non-government organisation coalition Eyes on the Forest said last week in a press release that 1,075 hot spots out of 8,055 detected via NASA data in Riau from June 1 to 24 occurred in concessions linked to APRIL and Royal Golden Eagle suppliers. The fire locations are indicative and the organisation said ground investigations are necessary to reveal who started the fires.

APRIL showed TODAY concession data outlining how some fires said to be within its concessions actually occurred just outside of them. The company does not burn as it would be akin to damaging its fibre assets, said Mr David Goodwin, APRIL’s Director of Sustainability and External Affairs.

Fires in its concessions either spread from outside, or are started by communities living in the concessions.

The company prepares and manages the land of some communities under a profit-sharing agreement, while other communities prefer to manage their own land — the company has limited influence and control over the latter, filing a police report and helping to put out the fire when it occurs, its head of emergency taskforce coordination (fire-fighting) Periasamy said.

The company’s fire coordination centre receives up-to-date satellite data daily at about 5pm, calculates the geographical coordinates of hot spots in its concessions and sends out a report by 8am the next day, said Dr John Bathgate, Senior Manager for Lowland Plantation Management.

The standard procedure is to investigate every hot spot within 500m of its concession or that of its supply partners. “In these high and extreme conditions it’s been stretched to 1km,” he said. Once a fire is verified, the aim is to contain it within 48 hours.

During the helicopter ride, APRIL’s fire-fighters were seen putting out a blaze on the fringe of its concession. Many plumes of smoke were spotted on forested patches and some oil palm plantations near the Kampar River and Dr Bathgate clarified with a map that these were not part of APRIL’s concessions.

On why the company chooses not to make public up-to-date information on its concession areas, Mr Goodwin cited risks in doing so and said the company is engaging several parties to clarify certain facts — such as a recent meeting with the World Resources Institute and the media visit by TODAY.

He said: “The issue has only been in the spotlight for a reasonably short period of time and those conversations are occurring.”

Asked if APRIL should take responsibility for fires within its concession areas, even if they are set by local communities residing on the land, Mr Goodwin replied that while the company has fire mitigation measures in place, those starting the fires are ultimately responsible.

“If you were a landlord of a block of flats in Singapore, you’d be expected to have good fire extinguishers there, to have processes for reacting when something goes wrong,” he said. “I think we follow those sorts of procedures from what you’ve seen of our operations. The concept of responsibility must start by looking at who started the fire.”

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Malaysia: Meeting to clear air over Malaysian firms and open burning

The Star 3 Jul 13;

KUALA LUMPUR: A meeting will be held with representatives of Malay­sian companies involved with plantation activities in Sumatra, Indonesia, to clear the air over alleged open burning blamed for the haze affecting Malaysia and Singapore.

Natural Resources and Environ­ment Minister Datuk Seri G. Palani-vel said it would be held in Kuala Lumpur on July 9 and would in-clude Plantation Industries and Com­mo­dities Minister Datuk Seri Douglas Uggah Embas.

“We will be holding talks to determine the extent of their activities in Sumatra and how to deal with the problem of open burning,” Palanivel told reporters after presenting the Forestry Department’s Forester Monitoring Certificates to 74 forest rangers here. He said the companies had denied their involvement in open burning as they had adopted a zero burning policy.

Indonesian Environment Minister Balthasar Kambuaya had said eight Malaysian companies, including Sime Darby, were being investigated for open burning activities.

Sime Darby backed up its denial with satellite imagery of its plantations in Sumatra.

On a related issue, Palanivel said Asean environment ministers would hold a three-day talk on how to deal with the annual haze woes affecting the region.

He said ministers would press Indonesia to ratify a 2002 joint agreement to ensure compliance with measures to deal with open-burning and the haze.

On a separate issue, Palanivel said efforts to protect 4.7 million hectares of permanent forest reserve and wildlife in peninsular Malaysia were hampered by the lack of Forestry Department rangers.

“The department has only 200 of them and it is impossible for them to monitor such a large area against illegal logging and wildlife poachers,” he said.

He said that talks were underway with the Public Services Department to double the department’s enforcement manpower.

“However, such a move requires the cooperation of the respective state governments as the rangers’ salaries are borne by the state.”

Palanivel said there were also plans to increase the forest reserve area by a million hectares.

On wildlife conservation, Palanivel said the ministry was also considering a proposal under the National Tiger Plan to create tiger parks or sanctuaries, such as in India, to better monitor and protect the endangered animal.

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World’s top dolphin scientists urge NZ government to act now or Maui’s will be extinct in 20 years

WWF 2 Jul 13;

Auckland: Some of the world’s leading whale, dolphin and porpoise scientists have expressed their ‘extreme concern’ about the survival of New Zealand’s Maui’s dolphin, urging the government to take immediate action to ensure ‘full protection of Maui’s in all areas throughout their habitat’.

The Scientific Committee of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) acknowledged in its 2013 report, released this weekend, that Maui’s will decline to just 10 adult breeding females in six years and become functionally extinct in less than 20 years—unless their full range is protected from gillnetting and trawling. This followed a similar call from the IWC in 2012.

Global conservation organization WWF presented a paper to the IWC Scientific Committee 65th meeting in Jeju, Korea in June that highlighted the lack of progress from New Zealand to save the last estimated 55 Maui’s dolphins.

WWF-New Zealand’s Executive Director, Chris Howe, said: “One year after the IWC urged immediate action to protect our critically endangered dolphins, it is unacceptable that Maui’s are still at risk of dying needlessly while we wait for adequate protection.

“The government needs to step up now to do everything in its power to save Maui’s dolphins. We call on Conservation Minister Nick Smith and Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy to announce permanent measures that remove fishing gear which kills dolphins from their waters, and help affected fishermen adopt dolphin-friendly methods. Anything less will not give the species a fighting chance at survival.”

The government announced interim protection measures in June 2012, but dangerous fishing activity is still allowed to continue in parts of Maui’s habitat, including off the Taranaki coast and inside harbours.

Eight months ago a public consultation on the Threat Management Plan for Maui’s dolphin closed, yet the government has yet to make a decision on protecting them.

Scientists’ estimate that over 95% of unnatural Maui’s deaths are caused by entanglement and drowning in gillnet or trawl fishing. An expert panel convened by the government in 2012 estimated that around 5 Maui’s are killed each year in fishing nets, a rate 75.5 times what the population can withstand.

Howe said: “The world is watching and waiting for New Zealand to take action to save these small and critically endangered dolphins. Both the survival of Maui’s and our international reputation is on the line.”

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Third of conifers under threat of extinction, study says

Alister Doyle PlanetArk 2 Jul 13;

A third of the world's conifers, the biggest and longest-lived organisms on the planet, are at risk of extinction, with logging and disease the main threats, scientists said on Tuesday.

The study of more than 600 types of conifers - trees and shrubs including cedars, cypresses and firs - updates a "Red List" on which almost 21,000 of 70,000 species of animals and plants assessed in recent years are under threat.

"The overall picture is alarming," said Jane Smart, head of the biodiversity conservation group of the IUCN, the International Union for Conservation of Nature, grouping scientists, governments and environmental organizations.

The IUCN said in a report that 34 percent of conifers were at risk of extinction, up from 30 percent in the last assessment in 1998.

California's Monterey Pine, the world's most widely planted pine and prized as a fast-growing source of pulp, was moved to a rating of "endangered" from "least concern" because of threats such as a spread of fungal disease.

Conifers are the largest and longest-lived species on the planet. The Bristlecone Pine can live 5,000 years and the Coast Redwood can grow as high as 110 meters (360 ft).

Craig Hilton-Taylor, manager of the Red List, which is updated twice a year, told Reuters that diseases were compounding existing threats from logging, pollution and forest clearance caused by a rising human population.

And global warming might be making conifers, standing in the same place for hundreds or even thousands of years, vulnerable to new pathogens as temperatures and rainfall patterns changed, he said.

The report said there were some successes. Better management and plantings of disease-resistant stock of Lawson's Cypress in California and Oregon had helped a recovery of trees that were once heavily traded as timber.

Among other findings, scientists added the Santa Cruz Pupfish, which used to live in Arizona, a freshwater shrimp and a lizard known as the Cape Verde Skink to the list of extinct creatures.

"The Skink was last seen in 1916. It's taken a lot of surveys to conclude that it is extinct," Hilton-Taylor said. A total of 799 animals and plants are listed as having died out in the past 500 years or so.

(Reporting By Alister Doyle, Environment Correspondent; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

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