Best of our wild blogs: 17 Jul 13

Jobs: Research Assistants for “Enhancing Singapore’s Coral Reef Ecosystem in a Green Port” by 16 Aug 2013 from The Biodiversity crew @ NUS

"Small stuff" at the Southern Expedition and why we should care
from Mega Marine Survey of Singapore

Butterflies Galore! : Bigg's Brownie
from Butterflies of Singapore

Two photo albums from the Festival of Biology 2013
from Toddycats! and Thank you Toddycats

Palm oil body, Greenpeace spar over Indonesia fire blame from news

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Prices of some fish set to rise after KL export ban

Malaysia won't be supplying five types of fish for two months
Jessica Lim Straits Times 17 Jul 13;

SINGAPORE fish importers are paying at least 20 per cent more for five types of fish banned for export for two months by Malaysia.

The increase will, in turn, likely force fishmongers at wet markets to raise their prices by between 10 per cent and 30 per cent, they told The Straits Times yesterday.

But the situation varies at Singapore's three main supermarket chains.

Prices at Sheng Siong have risen by an average of 10 per cent while NTUC FairPrice expects prices to increase soon.

Cold Storage, however, is keeping its prices unchanged for now, said a spokesman.

The fish that Malaysia has banned for export since last Wednesday are: Indian mackerel (kembung), short bodied mackerel (pelaling), hardtail scad (cencaru), round scad (selayang) and one finlet scad (selar).

The importers said Malaysia's Fisheries Development Authority notified them of the ban three days before it took effect.

It did not give any reason but the president of the Singapore Fish Merchants' General Association, Mr Lee Boon Cheow, suspects that it could be due to a shortage of the fish in Malaysia.

"Typically, during this time, there is a shortage because it is the fasting (Ramadan) period and the fishermen don't go out to sea. So supply falls," he said.

The association will meet today to discuss the issue, Mr Lee added.

Singapore gets 28 per cent of its fish supply from Malaysia, said the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA). The banned species form the bulk of the imports.

The AVA also said it is monitoring the situation and that importers are looking at alternative sources to meet local demand.

Fish merchants like Mr Kenneth Lim have already turned to suppliers from Indonesia and Thailand.

"We've very good links with suppliers all over the world. We just call them and, the next day, the fish is here," said Mr Lim, who is the owner of Elite Fisheries and Trading. He imports about 10 tonnes of fish from Malaysia each month, half of which are of the banned variety.

But smaller merchants like Mr Eric Teo are in a bind.

He said prices of the kembung and selar fish he sells have risen from $4.50 per kg last week to about $7.50 per kg - an almost 70 per cent increase.

Size matters in the business, according to Mr Lee.

"Larger wholesalers and retailers have greater bargaining power. Their suppliers won't dare to increase prices by much.

"But smaller players, like the wet market fishmongers, buy today and sell today at market prices," Mr Lee added.

Sheng Siong's spokesman said supply from Thailand and Indonesia is helping to meet demand, "so our prices did not go up significantly".

FairPrice, Singapore's largest grocery store chain with 116 outlets, expects prices of the banned fish "to increase slightly by the end of the week".

It is working closely with suppliers and has various sources to tap, added its director of purchasing and merchandising, Mrs Mui-Kok Kah Wei.

Meanwhile, Singaporeans like cleaner Joriah Awang are making the switch to other types of fish.

The 56-year-old used to stir-fry the kembung and selar fish with sambal for her daily lunch or breakfast.

Now, she uses other small fish like the kekek.

Similarly, teacher Peggy Lim, 46, who regularly cooks the banned fish, said: "When prices increase, I'll look at the fish's freshness. If it's so-so, I won't buy it."

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Jakarta has to tackle haze 'on three fronts'

Officials call for a single map, clear laws, carrot and stick approach
Zubaidah Nazeer Indonesian Correspondent In Jakarta Straits Times 17 Jul 13;

AS MINISTERS from five Asean countries prepare to meet today to discuss the haze issue, Indonesian officials and forest campaigners say Jakarta has to get its act together on three fronts.

The Asean meeting in Kuala Lumpur was brought forward to this week after forest fires in Sumatra blanketed Singapore and parts of Malaysia with thick haze last month.

Indonesian authorities are being urged to commit to completion of the One Map initiative.

This aims to mark all forest boundaries and concessions clearly on one official map, which will improve transparency and accountability, and also minimise land disputes.

Second, the authorities should cut through confusing and overlapping regulations by assigning clear responsibilities for law enforcement.

Third, they should adopt a carrot-and-stick approach towards farmers and companies whose slash-and-burn method of clearing land gives rise to the haze.

The suggestions are not exactly new but getting them off the ground has taken on a new urgency since last month's haze.

The One Map initiative, for instance, has been around since late 2010 when President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono called for different maps being used by the National Agency for Land Administration, Forestry Ministry and Agriculture Ministry to be integrated.

The idea is also to allow government officials and non-governmental organisations to synchronise the land data they have and update them on a single map available online for all parties to check against. But it is not an easy task.

"It is a live map being filled in by everyone... and sometimes not updated even if there are changes... so this is not easy," Forestry Minister Zulkifli Hasan told The Straits Times in May.

Still, backed by satellite images of hot spots and fires, an integrated map can help pinpoint whose land is being torched so that officials can go after the culprits.

As of last year, the Forestry Ministry estimated there were some 2,500 cases in which land- owners breached the terms of their licences, such as clearing land for mining or plantations without proper approval.

Mr Agus Purnomo, the presidential adviser on climate change, is seeking a legal review to put the burden of responsibility on concession holders or district chiefs, regardless of whether the fires were started by them.

"If there is a fire on your concession land and you are unable to put it out within a week, you will lose your licence," he told The Straits Times.

"Similarly, if you are a district head and you have, say, 10 hot spots that continue for a week, we will send you to jail. But if you don't assign responsibility and back it with sanctions, you end up with a blame-game."

Forest campaigner Peter Holmgren calls for "more public investment in fire-monitoring, prevention and firefighting, and more education to make sure there is an understanding of the consequences of burning".

"Some things that need to be in place are beyond just law enforcement," said Dr Holmgren, director-general of the Centre for International Forestry Research.

Mr Riko Kurniawan, chief of the Riau chapter of the Indonesian Forum for the Environment, said banks can play a part by demanding proof of zero-fires before granting loans to plantation firms. Incentives, such as rewarding districts that have no fires with a bigger budget, should be also considered.

The time has come to act, says Mr Riko. "This is a man-made disaster... it can be solved. The question is, will it be done, and when?"

Malaysia: Firms may be roped in to help prevent haze
Rozanna Latiff and Nuradilla Noorazam New Straits Times 17 Jul 13;

POOLING RESOURCES: They have equipment, knowledge of fire-prone areas and can educate communities

KUALA LUMPUR: LARGE companies based near fire-prone areas in Indonesia may be called to help local communities prevent haze.

Global Environment Centre director Faizal Parish said while many companies had taken precautions against burning on their own land, smaller incidents of fire in other areas remained unchecked.

"Like it or not, these companies are part of this issue, even when they are not involved in starting fires.

"So, a proposal will be put forward to see if it is possible for them to pool their resources and help local governments act quickly in identifying the source of the fires and putting them out," he said at the 15th Meeting of the Technical Working Group on Transboundary Haze Pollution here.

Faizal, who is a senior technical adviser to the Asean Peatland Forests Project (APFP), said the suggestion had received positive response from companies such as Sime Darby, which is one of five Malaysian companies under probe in connection with the latest haze incident.

Faizal said Indonesia's rural authorities often lacked resources, such as fire-fighting and aerial surveillance equipment, to stop fires before they spread.

"By the time the central government and international authorities step in, it is often too late.

"This is where the companies can help, not only because they have the equipment, but also because they are more familiar with these areas.

"They can also play other roles, like educating the smaller farming communities and local groups on other methods of clearing land, apart from burning."

Some 40 delegates from Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Brunei and Thailand met yesterday to finalise a proposal to strengthen collaboration against haze.

The Indonesian authorities are investigating several firms based in Sumatra and Riau, including eight Malaysian companies, that are suspected of being responsible for the haze which shrouded parts of Malaysia and Singapore last month.

To date, one Malaysian firm, a subsidiary of Kuala Lumpur Kepong (KLK) Berhad, has been named a possible suspect. KLK has denied the charges.

Meanwhile, Bernama reports that the delegates are expected to lay the groundwork and present the outcome of the discussion to their respective ministers at the 15th Meeting of the Sub-Regional Ministerial Steering Committee on Transboundary Haze Pollution today.

The meeting will be hosted by Natural Resources and Environment Minister Datuk Seri G. Palanivel.

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Malaysia: Rare botanical finds on limestone outcrops

Tan Cheng Li The Star 16 Jul 13;

Lush hills: Soaring limestone outcrops, such as Gua Panjang, tower over the landscape of Kampung Merapoh, Pahang. Botanists say each hill is dominated by different flora. – Photo by LAILI BASIR

Botanists uncover a flora treasure trove in Merapoh hills.

THE drive along Federal Route 8, or the Gua Musang Highway, in Pahang, is a rather scenic one. Towering over the expanse of oil palm estates, which are broken up in parts by rural kampung and lush forests, are majestic-looking limestone outcrops.

Some 20 limestone karsts – some people say it is at least 30, as not all are shown on maps – are scattered along the road stretching from Chegar Perah to Merapoh in the district of Lipis before the land inches into Kelantan territory.

The karsts are highly visible as one makes the drive but surprisingly, they are completely unknown from a botanical viewpoint.

“We looked for data and found no record of the plants there. None of the limestone hills have been botanically explored before. For us, it’s a botanical blank on the map of flora,” says Dr Ruth Kiew, a plant taxonomist at the Forest Research Institute of Malaysia (FRIM).

And so, when her team converged on the hills around Merapoh, there were plenty of interesting discoveries – there were rare, endemic plants, and even an undescribed one.

At Gua Gunting, the hill which will be quarried, they recorded over 200 plant species in just two days. This is hardly surprising as limestone hills are known for their rich plant diversity.

Peninsular Malaysia’s limestone hills cover only 0.3% of the land area but are home to 14% of her plant species. Unfortunately, none of the limestone hills in Merapoh are protected, and hence, are at risk from wanton development. The FRIM team made two trips this year, where they surveyed five hills.

“From what we have found so far, it’s a unique place as the flora on each hill is so different. This is unique from my experience of working in Malaysia,” says Dr Kiew, a leading authority on limestone flora. “I expected the flora to be an extension of limestones from Gua Musang (in Kelantan), so I was surprised that the hills are so different and we’re picking up unexpected things.”

One such instance is the discovery of Pararuellia sumatrana (below) var. ridleyi which is previously known only from Batu Caves, Selangor.

Pararuellia sumatrana var. ridleyi was thought to grow only in Batu Caves, Selangor, but was recently found in Merapoh.

Another important find is that of a balsam, Rhynchoglossum obliqua, previously known only from Gunung Tupus (at Chegar Perah, south of Merapoh) and another undisclosed site. FRIM scientists failed to locate the plant at Gunung Tupus, now surrounded by oil palms, and believe it has become extinct there.

“This is just one indication of what can happen. If limestone hills are surrounded by oil palms and there is burning to clear the land, that will destroy the flora. If the hills are not protected with a buffer, then it is easy for species to become extinct.”

The Merapoh hills also harbour species of fern, begonia and balsam that grow only on limestone. The scientist also found the Pandanus irregularis which is endemic to Peninsular Malaysia and grows only on the summits of limestone hills.

Some other finds:

> Spelaeanthus chinii – Endemic to Pahang, it was previously known only from Taman Negara and another hill in Lipis.

> Zippelia begoniifolius – Known from only three collections, the last one in the 1930s.

> Monophyllaea musangensis - Previously known only from Gua Musang, Kelantan.

> Tridynamia megalantha – Last collected in Perak in the 1880s.

> Calciphilopteris alleniae - A rare endemic fern known only from five limestone hills.

> Cleisostoma complicatum – This is the third locale for this orchid which is found in Pahang for the first time.

These are just the preliminary findings; the botanists have bags of specimens awaiting analysis and they intend to make more trips to Merapoh.

“We’re just scratching the surface as we’ve only surveyed five hills. We need to survey all 20 hills to document the plants and see which is critically important for conservation because of rare and endangered species.

“Limestone hills have a lot of micro-habitats. For instance, at the foothills you get plants suited to damp conditions. On the rock face, there are other types of flora and at the hilltop, you get plants which are exposed to the sun. So, you must survey all habitats to get a complete list of the flora,” says Dr Kiew.

She adds that surveys of fossils, micro-snails and cave fauna are also needed to determine the importance of the hills for wildlife.

Preservation of the caves is important, she adds, as they can be part of the Sungai Yu wildlife corridor, a stretch of forest that is important for connecting Taman Negara and the Main Range, the country’s two largest forest complexes.

Caving in to development
Tan Cheng Li The Star 16 Jul 13;

Villagers of Merapoh, Pahang, fear that a proposed quarry and cement plant will mar their idyllic rural environment.

ZOO Imam Mat is sad and angry at the same time. You would be, too, if the fish farm that you have been nurturing for 16 years was forcibly closed. “He is very frustrated. The source of his livelihood is suddenly gone,” says his son, Sabri Zoo.

His 78-year-old father had started the caged fish culture business in 1997 in a pond near their village of Merapoh, Pahang, under a state government-initiated project. The Fisheries Department had provided the villagers with cages, fish fries and feed to kick-start the project. It thrived and Merapoh farmed fish became sought after by restaurants in nearby towns.

“The patin and talapia that you get in Gua Musang and Kuala Lipis are from here. They are in demand as they don’t have any muddy taste because a stream runs through the pond,” says Sabri, 32. “My father used to earn between RM5,000 and RM8,000 a month from the caged fish and with that, he raised a family of 12. Now, it is all gone,” he says, pointing to the 20 cages abandoned by his father.

Ordered to vacate

Some 15 villagers involved in the fish farming were instructed to remove their cages, numbering about 120, two years ago but a few, including Zoo, held on until early this year. It appears that the area is the site for a quarry and cement plant. The land had been leased to the company Bintang Tower, while the cement manufacturing licence had been given to Lipis Cement.

Villagers first heard about the development over 10 years back but it never took off, so the caged fish culture continued and bloomed. All was quiet but in June 2010, Pahang Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Adnan Yaakob told the press of plans for a cement factory there, a joint venture between the government and a local firm. Revival of the project appears imminent when in late 2011, Singapore-based company, ASN Cement, proposes to take over Lipis Cement.

The villagers voiced their protest for the project through social media and the press and recently, they were told that the state legislative assembly has “rejected the application of the cement plant.” State officials also told the press of plans to gazette the area into a park. The villagers, however, remain wary; they fear that the decision can be overturned upon the appeal of the company.

“There is nothing in black and white. We don’t know whether we can go back (to the pond) as it is still their land,” says Mohd Sapri Khalid, 51, chairman of the association for caged fish culture. He says the villagers are still awaiting compensation for their losses. “We were previously told that we will be compensated when we remove our cages but now, the new company says this offer was given by the previous company, not them.”

For Sabri, if the project goes ahead, it will deal him with not one, but two blows: aside from the loss of his family’s fish farming business, he has to give up his budding caving eco-tourism plans. Scores of limestone outcrops surround Merapoh in the district of Lipis, all largely unexplored. Sabri, a trekking guide at Taman Negara, last year teamed up with another nature enthusiast, Laili Basir, to explore the feasibility of bringing visitors into the caves. Both are new to caving but with help from locally based caver Liz Price, and others from Croatia and Japan, they have to date explored over 85 caves, and mapped 12.

From their finds, the Merapoh caves have loads of visitor appeal. Some caves have large chambers; others are filled with unique formations or have interesting geology. Some hide pools of crystal-clear water harbouring fish and tortoises. Gua Hari Malaysia (named such because they found it last Sept 16) has an almost kilometre-long river flowing through it, forming cascades and pools. In Gua Tahi Bintang, a now dried-up stream had eroded its walls to expose layers of bedding (sedimentary rock deposits) and also carved rimstone dams. Its name is derived from one wall filled with streaky formations resembling shooting stars. Gua Seribu Cerita, meanwhile, has loads of old cave paintings – and possibly some made-to-look-old graffiti, too – along an overhang.

Although the licence held by Lipis Cement allows the quarrying of two hills, Gua Gunting and Gua Goyang, the villagers fear that the others will eventually be mined since the land lease is for 100 years.

A possible adverse impact is water pollution, say Wan Amiruddin Wan Ibrahim, who heads the local protest group. “All kinds of chemicals and waste will enter Sungai Merapoh. Eight villages depend on water from this river. It is our only water source. It is a small river and we pump it for use downstream of the development. ”

The former penghulu points out that as Sungai Merapoh feeds the tributaries of Sungai Pahang, the repercussion of water pollution will be widespread. He says dust pollution will also affect the inhabitants of the over 300 homes in the village.

“The haze lasted a week and it already caused so much health problems for the old people here. With this project, dust will be a daily affair. And when the dust settles on our crops, it will cause reduced yields,” says Wan Amiruddin.

He adds that the villagers do not think that the project will create jobs. “We don’t want this sort of job which is unhealthy. We already have orchards, oil palm and rubber estates. We want to maintain the area. If we save the caves, there will be opportunities for villagers to become tourist guides and we will also protect the environment.”

Threat to biodiversity

There is much else at stake, too, if the quarrying goes ahead. Limestone hills are known to harbour rare, endangered flora, a fact underscored by recent botanical surveys by the Forest Research Institute of Malaysia. Botanists made several remarkable discoveries, including plants found only in Malaysia, growing at Gua Gunting – the very hill that will be quarried. That same limestone outcrop yielded a new species of rock gecko and two new species of bent-toed geckos during a survey by US herpetologist Dr Lee Grismer last month.

“The Merapoh area is very important because the limestone formations provide unique habitats in which many species have evolved that would not be there in the absence of the limestone formations. We only spent two nights there but in that short time we were surprised at the high amphibian and reptile diversity we observed. It was far greater than we had expected. These limestone formations are an important part of Malaysia’s natural heritage and harbour significant components of this country’s biodiversity,” says Dr Grismer of La Sierra University in California.

Such finds are indication of the importance of the limestone hills and surrounding forest as wildlife sanctuaries. In their explorations, the cavers have encountered fauna such as racer snakes, porcupines, spiders, scorpions, bats and toads. In the forests that clad the hills, they have seen the serow and sunbear, and also found bones of an elephant and a black panther. As such, they hope to see the limestone hills preserved as a geopark.

Surveying the hidden chambers of the outcrops has given the cavers a better understanding of these geological structures and their ecological roles. “Caves are very important for us,” says Laili, 41. “They function as a water source, they provide a habitat for fauna. The bats and insects in caves are linked to our daily lives. Bats are pollinators … without them, our trees will not fruit. As we learn about the caves, we’re also educating the villagers at the same time.”

He has initiated the Save Merapoh Caves campaign to raise awareness and support for the cause. “There is no point in us promoting the caves only to have them blown up. The fish cage business has been operating for some 20 years. It is supported and funded by the government which has now given the land away. That’s why I want to help … to make right what is wrong.”

If the cement plant and quarry goes ahead, he fears there will be severe repercussion. “It will affect everything … our quality of live, the quality of our nature. The worst part is, our next generation will not see what we have now.”

Plant rethink
The Star 16 Jul 13

Plans to build a cement plant near Kampung Merapoh in Pahang are now on hold.

LIPIS Cement had received approval for a clinker and cement plant near Kampung Merapoh, Pahang, as far back as 1997. The project site had also been delineated as a heavy industries zone. The project never took off but the company still holds the manufacturing licence, while the lease to the land is held by another company, Bintang Tower.

Singapore-based ASN Cement revealed its interest to restart the project 18 months ago but it has not applied for any licence. The company declined to be interviewed but in a short e-mail to The Star, states that its plan is now on hold.

“ASN Cement is fully aware of the concerns surrounding the project. Due to these concerns and other considerations, the project is presently being held in abeyance,” says Michael Madrigal, head of commercial and marketing. “In the event that ASN Cement should proceed with the project, we would like to highlight that the concerns of the local community and the public in general, will be adequately addressed.”

A source familiar with the project explains that the company had intended to buy over the shares of Lipis Cement, and as such, take over the manufacturing licence. “ASN is just reviving a project that has been there a long time ago,” he says, adding that the company takeover plan has not been finalised as there are conditions attached to it.

The source says that Lipis Cement holds an approved Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) for the project but ASN has conducted a fresh and detailed EIA, which has yet to be submitted. He says 12 caves were found within a 5km-radius of the project site but none will be affected by it. “We recognise that some of the caves are spectacular and we have even offered to establish accessibility to the sites and support development of tourism there.”

He says the two limestone hills which will be quarried do not have caves. “Within the project site, there is no unique biodiversity as the area has been logged over and mined for gold in the 1980s,” he says.

The source says that the cement plant will use approved technology similar to plants recently approved for operations in Gopeng and Bahau in Perak, and all emissions will be within Department of Environment (DOE) standards.

He adds that the Pahang Government has not officially stated if it is for or against the project. He says as the area has been zoned for heavy industries, another company could still carry out the project should ASN abandon its plan, and other industries might be established. The source also points out that the local authority should clarify why the impact on flora and fauna was not looked at when the area was zoned for heavy industries in the late 1990s. – TAN CHENG LI

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Updated Study Shows Massive Losses From Indonesia’s Forestry Graft

Suzannah Beiner Jakarta Globe 16 Jul 13;

Mismanagement and corruption has cost Indonesia’s forestry industry an estimated US$7 billion in lost revenue between 2007 and 2011, according to a Human Rights Watch report released on Monday.

The report, an update of the 2009 HRW report “Wild Money,” highlights the disconnect between the country’s revamped forestry policies and uncontrolled forest fires, causing harmful smog in Indonesia and neighboring countries.

Indonesia’s most recent forestry reforms have been hailed as a part of the government’s commitment to a sustainable “green growth” model.

However, new laws have been criticized for not being tough enough on the very violations they are supposed to deter.

The House of Representative’s approval last Tuesday of the Law on Preventing and Eradicating Forest Destruction, an amendment to the 1999 law, was the latest of such measures.

The new law notably focuses on large-scale, systematic destruction to forests.

HRW called the steps “manifestly inadequate” in addressing undocumented logging and illegally set fires.

“The return of the smog is only the most tangible evidence of the damage from Indonesia’s continuing failure to effectively manage its forests,” HRW deputy program director Joe Saunders said.

Less readily evident but equally damaging to the government’s claim of pursuing a “green growth” model, are records of a very red budget.

HRW places the loss in revenue for 2011 alone at more than $2 billion, a figure greater than Indonesia’s entire health budget for the year.

Additionally, the new report details the government’s lack of transparency concerning forestry practices.

The government has imposed stricter limitations on information accessible to independent organizations.

This has particularly affected government and environmental watchdog organizations.

The most-recently passed laws affecting the activities of nongovernmental groups include tighter definitions of legally permissible activities, restricted access to foreign funding and the government’s ability to disband groups posing a threat to the “national interest.”

Forest communities have perhaps been the hardest hit by the government’s practices.

Forest communities have constitutionally recognized rights to use surrounding land or receive compensation upon their destruction. But a new certification system may not honor those rights because the system itself fails to determine whether the timber harvested is collected in violation of communities’ rights.

The government’s failure to address compensatory issues has led to land disputes between villagers and palm oil companies.

The limited land available for palm oil companies’ expansion has led to an increase in violence.

In 2011, a land dispute erupted into a violent clash leaving two farmers and seven palm oil employees dead after the villagers’ complaints went unresolved in the Mesuji sub-district of South Sumatra.

The increase in conflict has created an increased military presence to handle disputes.

“The Indonesian government has been selling the expansion of its forestry sector as an example of sustainable ‘green growth’ and an antidote to climate change and poverty, but the evidence suggests otherwise,” Saunders said.

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Australia accused of 'affront' to Japan's dignity in whaling case

Australia has unfairly accused Japan of lying, says lawyer launching final defence of whaling program in The Hague
Justin McCurry 16 Jul 13;

Japan has accused Australia of an affront to its national dignity as it launched a robust final defence of its controversial whaling program at the international court of justice in The Hague.

The court is the setting for an unprecedented legal battle between the two countries that could put a permanent end to Japan's annual whale hunts in the Antarctic.

Australia has accused Japan of using scientific research as a cover for commercial whaling, which was banned by the international whaling commission in 1986, and is demanding that the court revoke the fleet's whaling license.

Japan uses a "lethal research" clause in the international convention for the regulation of whaling to kill more than 900 minke whales in the Southern Ocean every winter.

Meat from the slaughtered mammals is sold legally in Japanese restaurants and supermarkets.

Payam Akhavan, a lawyer acting for Japan, told the court that Australia had unfairly accused Japan of lying about the purpose of its whaling program.

"Needless to say, this is a serious accusation, and an affront to the dignity of a nation. Surely it is not an accusation to be made lightly," he said.

Akhavan claimed that Australia supported the direct action taken against Japan's whaling fleet by the marine conservation group Sea Shepherd, and that it would continue to back the activists if it loses its legal challenge at The Hague. "Even as the court deliberates, the [whaling] vessels will face another season of violent attacks," he said.

Japan has killed more than 10,000 whales since the IWC ban went into force, although its fleet has returned to port with only a fraction of their intended catch in recent years, following confrontations with Sea Shepherd.

Akhavan said Japan had decided not to leave the IWC because it preferred to settle the whaling dispute peacefully and according to the rule of law.

"Australia comes before this court to take advantage of that commitment," he said. "To unfairly and unreasonably portray Japan as a rogue state at the IWC; to level accusations of bad faith against what it deems to be a friendly state that it can mistreat with impunity …"

Australia's agent to the court, Bill Campbell QC, reiterated his claim that Japan's whaling program had no scientific value.

"The position remains fundamentally the same; we say that what's going on is commercial whaling," he said. "We don't believe it falls within the research exception, and that remains the case despite what Japan said this morning."

Opponents of Japan's whale hunts say research into the animals' migratory, reproductive and other habits can be conducted without killing them.

The 16-judge ICJ panel is expected to issue a ruling later this year. When the hearings opened late last month, the Australian attorney general, Mark Dreyfus, said he was confident that the court would ban the hunts before the next hunting season begins at the end of the year.

Whale meat consumption has fallen dramatically in Japan since the end of the second world war.

Australian accusations that the whaling program is a purely commercial venture are wide of the mark, the conservative newspaper Yomiuri Shimbun said in an editorial this week.

"The whaling regulation convention requires that whales killed for scientific purposes should be processed as much as is practicable," the newspaper said. "Using whale meat as a byproduct of research activities for food is in line with the spirit of the convention."

WWF statement on ICJ whaling case
WWF 16 Jul 13;

Today public hearings closed at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in the case between Australia and Japan over whaling by Japan in the Southern Ocean surrounding Antarctica.

In May 2010, the Australian government initiated legal proceedings in the ICJ against the government of Japan alleging that so-called ‘scientific’ whaling by Japan is in breach of the country’s international treaty obligations. Whaling for commercial purposes has been banned internationally since 1986 and the Southern Ocean was declared a whale sanctuary in 1994 affording it an additional layer of protection.

The Australian government has requested the ICJ to order the government of Japan to cease its ‘scientific’ whaling programme in the Southern Ocean, and to provide assurances and guarantees that it will not take part in any further ‘scientific’ whaling in this zone. New Zealand has intervened in support of Australia’s case.

After extensive commercial whaling in the twentieth century brought most great whale species in the Southern Ocean close to extinction, the governments party to the International Whaling Commission (IWC) established the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary, recognizing the critical importance of protecting whales in this special place.

Japan exploits a clause in the IWC treaty that allows for the killing of whales for “scientific purposes.”

“Since the whaling treaty was signed there have been great scientific advances that allow data about whales to be obtained through non-lethal means. The International Court of Justice has heard abundant evidence on why hunting hundreds of whales in the Southern Ocean is not necessary for science,” said Wendy Elliott, species programme manager at WWF.

“In this day and age there is no reason to kill whales for scientific research and WWF strongly hopes for a positive ruling by the court that will end whaling in the Southern Ocean.”

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No deal on huge Antarctic marine reserves

BBC News 17 Jul 13;

International talks on establishing huge marine reserves in Antarctica have failed to reach a consensus.

Russia blocked attempts by western countries to set up the protected areas in the Ross Sea and Eastern Antarctica.

The Russian representative challenged the legal basis that would allow for the creation of such reserves, according to organisations at the talks in Germany.

The proposal was previously scuppered when governments met in 2012.

The Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) is made up of countries with an interest in the Southern Ocean, and includes Australia, the US, the UK, China and Russia among its members. Any decisions taken require consensus among all parties.

This meeting in Bremerhaven has been called to deal specifically with proposals for the establishment of reserves that would ban fishing and protect species including seals and penguins. If successful the plans would more than double the area of the world's oceans that are protected.

Parties met in Hobart, Australia, last October, but failed to reach a deal because of opposition by China and Russia, supported by Ukraine, which said restrictions on fishing were too onerous.

As a result, they agreed to an exceptional meeting this July. It was only the second time that the CCAMLR has met outside its annual gathering.

The fate of the proposed marine sanctuaries now lies in the next annual meeting of CCAMLR in Hobart, which runs from 23 October-1 November.

Andrea Kavanagh, director of The Pew Charitable Trusts' Southern Ocean sanctuaries project, said: "The actions of the Russian delegation have put international cooperation and goodwill at risk, the two key ingredients needed for global marine conservation.

"That we missed a critical opportunity to protect some of the most pristine ocean areas on Earth is a loss for the ecosystem and the international community. We urge world leaders to appeal to Russia to work with other countries, and it is imperative that countries send their delegates back to the table in three months to find consensus to protect Antarctic waters."

The US and New Zealand were again backing a proposal to create a marine protected zone in the Ross Sea with a total area of 2.3 million sq km, making it the biggest in the world.

Another proposal from Australia, France and the European Union would have created protected areas in East Antarctica covering around 1.63 million sq km.

The Antarctic Ocean Alliance, which is also campaigning for the reserves, described the failure to reach a deal as "the loss of an extraordinary opportunity".

"After two years of preparation, including this meeting, which Russia requested to settle the scientific case for the Ross Sea and East Antarctic proposals, we leave with nothing," said Steve Campbell, Director of the AOA.

Fishing has been a major sticking point in the talks, with species like krill and patagonian toothfish proving highly lucrative for boats from a range of countries, including South Korea, Norway and Japan.

The tiny shrimp like Antarctic krill are a key element of the ecosystem, as they are part of the diet of whales, penguins, seals and sea birds.

However demand for krill has risen sharply in recent years thanks to growing interest in Omega-3 dietary supplements.

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Sharks Thrive in Fiji's Protected Waters

Megan Gannon Yahoo News 16 Jul 13;

In Fiji's largest marine reserve, shark populations are benefiting from "no-take" protections that keep their food supply steady, according to a new study.

Compared with waters where fishing is allowed, there are up to four times as many reef sharks in a protected zone called the Namena Reserve, researchers say.

This 23-square-mile (60 square kilometers) reserve was designated in 1997 off the southern coast of Vanua Levu, Fiji's second largest island. For three weeks in July 2009, researchers used underwater video cameras to survey sharks at eight sites within Namena and eight sites outside the reserve.

Hour-long clips from all 16 locations captured images of five different species: grey reef sharks, whitetips, blacktips, silvertips and zebra sharks. By analyzing this footage, researchers found that shark abundance and biomass in the protected zone was twice as great at shallow sites and four times as great at deep sites, compared with similar spots just outside of the reserve. [Images: Sharks & Whales from Above]

Sharks are harvested for their meat, liver oil, cartilage and their famously valuable fins; these cartilaginous parts are hacked off, often from live sharks, to be used in shark fin soup, a prized delicacy in East Asia. Since sharks have slow growth and reproductive rates, it can be difficult for their populations to bounce back from big losses and unsustainable hunting practices. A study published earlier this year estimated that 100 million sharks are killed by fisheries each year.

In Fiji, tradition has kept shark harvesting in check. Many people in the island nation consider sharks to be sacred and see eating the predators as taboo, according to researchers with the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) who worked on the new study. Within the Namena Reserve, sharks likely are thriving because restrictions on fishing make their prey plentiful, the researchers say.

"The news from Fiji gives us solid proof that marine reserves can have positive effects on reef shark populations," Caleb McClennen, director of WCS's Marine Program, said in a statement last week. "Shark populations are declining worldwide due to the demand for shark products, particularly fins for the Asian markets. We need to establish management strategies that will protect these ancient predators and the ecosystems they inhabit."

Sharks in Fiji may still be vulnerable to foreign fishing fleets, the researchers warn, and local communities may be driven to hunt the venerated animals as prices for shark parts increase. According to the World Wildlife Fund, a shark's fin can sell for up to $135 per kilogram (about 2 lbs) in Hong Kong.

There has been a recent international push to protect the apex predators. At the meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), conservationists voted to regulate the trade of several shark species that are targeted for their fins.

The study on the Namena Reserve was published online in the journal Coral Reefs.

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India says nearly 6,000 missing a month after devastating floods

Sruthi Gottipati PlanetArk 16 Jul 13;

India says nearly 6,000 missing a month after devastating floods Photo: Danish Siddiqui
Posters of missing people, caused by the flash floods and landslides, are placed on a gate as an Indian Air Force helicopter lands at a base in Dehradun, in the Himalayan state of Uttarakhand June 26, 2013.
Photo: Danish Siddiqui

India officially declared on Monday that nearly 6,000 people were missing a month after flash floods ravaged large parts of its northern state of Uttarakhand, but stopped short of saying they were presumed dead.

The figure of 5,748, based on tallies of missing persons from around the country, was the first official estimate following weeks in which the numbers of dead and missing fluctuated wildly from a few hundred to several thousand.

Their families will now be eligible for financial relief, Uttarakhand Chief Minister Vijay Bahuguna told a news conference, adding that his government would pay 150,000 rupees ($2,500) to families in the state, besides compensation from the federal government.

"We are not getting into the controversy whether the missing persons are dead or not," said Bahuguna. "We are abiding by what the families of the victims say, and if they think that they haven't come back and have no hope as well, (then) we are providing them monetary relief."

The official death toll still stands at 580, an official of the National Disaster Management Authority told Reuters. More than 4,600 of the missing in Uttarakhand had come from elsewhere in India, said the official, who declined to be identified as he was not authorized to speak to the media.

Record rains in June caused devastating landslides and flooded rivers in Uttarakhand, trapping tens of thousands of Hindu devotees, who flock there each year on a pilgrimage to the temple towns of Kedarnath, Gangotri, Badrinath and Yamunotri.

The rains buried villages in silt and washed away roads, while raging rivers like the Ganges swept away homes on their banks.

The disaster, dubbed a "Himalayan tsunami" by officials and media, prompted one of the largest airlifts in the history of the Indian air force, as helicopters flew hundreds of sorties to rescue residents and pilgrims and drop thousands of kilograms of relief material.

More than 100,000 people were rescued by the air force and security force personnel on the ground, officials said.

($1=59.9250 Indian rupees)

(Additional reporting by Nita Bhalla,; Writing by Sruthi Gottipati, Editing by Ross Colvin and Clarence Fernandez)

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World Bank to limit financing of coal-fired plants

Anna Yukhananov and Valerie Volcovici PlanetArk 16 Jul 13;

The World Bank's board on Tuesday agreed to a new energy strategy that will limit financing of coal-fired power plants to "rare circumstances," as the Washington-based global development powerhouse seeks to address the impact of climate change.

The Bank will amend its lending policies for new coal-fired power projects, restricting financial support to countries that have "no feasible alternatives" to coal, as it seeks to balance environmental efforts with the energy needs of poor countries.

The impact of this energy strategy may not be seen immediately, since bilateral donors and the private sector will still continue to finance coal. Some analysts hope the new strategy could send a signal that coal is a risky investment and prompt countries to turn to alternative energy sources.

In its "Energy Sector Directions Paper," updated every 10 years, the Bank also backed increased support for hydro electric power, reversing its decision to abandon those projects in the 1990s under pressure from aid groups that warned they would displace people. For full report, see

Large-scale dams provide the Bank with a way to balance global energy needs with its pledge to help scale down greenhouse gas emissions.

Some environmental groups warned that while the energy strategy may have improved its coal policy, it has taken a few steps backwards on its funding of hydropower.

"The World Bank ignores that better solutions are readily available. In the past 10 years, governments and private investors installed more new wind power than hydropower capacity," said Peter Bosshard of advocacy group International Rivers.


Under World Bank President Jim Yong Kim - the first scientist to head the poverty-fighting institution - the bank has launched a more aggressive stance to spur action on climate change. Kim has said it is impossible to tackle poverty without dealing with the effects of a warmer world.

Multilateral institutions like the World Bank have come under criticism for urging global action to cut emissions of carbon dioxide while simultaneously funding coal-fired power plants. Such plants are seen as one of the main causes of rising pollution from heat-trapping gases.

The World Bank argues funding coal-fired power plants is sometimes necessary to bring energy to the world's poorest nations and to help them eradicate poverty.

Analysts say coal is often the cheapest energy source in places like Kosovo, where the World Bank is mulling whether to support the country's plans for a coal-fired power plant.

Emerging market countries like Brazil and China - which relies heavily on coal for its ballooning energy needs - have previously blocked proposals to limit coal financing at the bank. They argue the developing world should use whatever means it can to catch up to advanced economies, and that limiting coal to only the poorest would be discriminatory.

The World Bank's strategy affirms "each country determines its own path for achieving its energy aspirations," likely a nod to the concerns of developing countries like China.


"While it misses an opportunity to close the door for good (on coal lending) it only allows it in narrowly defined cases where there are no feasible alternatives," Justin Guay, a Washington representative for the Sierra Club, said about the new strategy.

Guay said there had been concerns China would not allow the new language to go through, as had happened with past proposals to cut back on coal funding.

The real test of the strategy may come next year, when the World Bank should decide whether to provide loan guarantees for the Kosovo power plant fired by coal.

The World Bank last approved funding for a coal-fired power plant in 2010, in South Africa, despite lack of support from the United States, Netherlands and Britain due to environmental concerns.

U.S. President Barack Obama in June said the United States would stop investing in coal projects overseas, part of a broad package of climate measures, and called on multilateral banks to do the same. The United States is the world's second-biggest emitting nation after China, and has sought to cut emissions of gas blamed for warming the planet.

(Reporting by Anna Yukhananov and Valerie Volcovici; Editing by Ros Krasny, Leslie Gevirtz and Andrew Hay)

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