Best of our wild blogs: 26 Jul 13

Triple Terumbus for Giant Clams
from wild shores of singapore

Transformation of the Mirror Spider
from Macro Photography in Singapore

Down Memory Lane - Singleton
from Butterflies of Singapore

Kopsia arborea
from The Total Vascular Flora of Singapore Online

How YouTube has put the world's only poisonous primates at risk from news by Jeremy Hance

Read more!

Malaysia: Penang chokes under haze

Hafiz Marzukhi and Edmund Goh The Star 26 Jul 13;

GEORGE TOWN: Air quality continued to worsen in Penang due to the haze while neighbouring Kedah, Perlis and Perak saw slight improvement.

The Air Pollutant Index (API) registered at the Department of Environment (DOE) monitoring station in Seberang Jaya showed an unhealthy level of 102 at 1pm before improving to 100 two hours later.

At the stations in Prai and Uni­­versiti Sains Malaysia, the readings were moderate at 94 and 88, respectively, as at 3pm.

This was an increase compared to Wednesday when it was 83 (Prai), 78 (Seberang Jaya) and 79 (USM) at 5pm.

Visibility levels in Bayan Lepas and Prai were at 6km at 3pm while in Butterworth, it was at 5km.

Meanwhile, most stations in Perak recorded only slight improvement in the reading.

According to the DOE, the highest reading of 98 came from the SK Jalan Pegoh station in Ipoh as of 2pm.

The Seri Manjung station recorded a reading of 93, an improvement from its Wednesday reading of 123.

The reading for Kampung Air Putih in Taiping was 78, while the Jalan Tasek station in Ipoh and Tanjung Malim station were 68 and 65, respectively.

In Kedah, the haze situation was relatively better with an API reading of 51 recorded at the Alor Setar station and 73 at the Batu Arang station in Sungai Petani.

In Perlis, the air quality was considered good as the reading was at 44.

Penang air quality near 'unhealthy'
New Straits Times 26 Jul 13;

GEORGE TOWN: Penang was shrouded in haze yesterday morning as the Air Pollutant Index (API) readings in the state hit the highest in the past week.

From 6am to 10am, the readings in Prai, Seberang Jaya and Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) hit above 80, close to the "unhealthy" level of between 100 and 200.

At USM, the API was at 81, 84 and 83 at 8am, 9am and 10am respectively, while in Prai, the readings were at 84, 86, 88, 90 and 92, increasing steadily from 6am to 10am.

The API readings were the highest in Seberang Jaya at 90, 93, 95, 97 and 98.

Visibility was poor, with motorists on the Penang Bridge hardly able to see the island or mainland.

State Department of Environment director Datuk Hassan Mat said the state had one of the worst API readings in the country yesterday morning.

He said it was difficult to predict whether the air quality would worsen, but hoped for rain to clear the air.

"The current situation is not as bad as that in June, when the API readings reached the 'unhealthy' level at one point."

Hassan said the causes of the haze were hot spots in Sumatra, Indonesia, and the wind blowing across the Straits of Malacca and moving northwards.

"We can only hope that rain will come, so that the air quality will improve and return to normal.

"For now, we advise the public to limit outdoor activities, wear face masks and refrain from carrying out burning activities."

The API readings at other stations nationwide recorded "moderate" and "healthy" readings, except for one station in SK Jalan Pegoh in Ipoh, Perak, which recorded an "unhealthy" reading of 104 at 3pm yesterday.

Seri Manjung, Perak, which recorded an "unhealthy" reading on Wednesday, improved to a "moderate" reading of 93 yesterday.

Overall, 14 stations recorded "healthy" readings and 36 recorded "moderate" readings, compared with Wednesday's 12 "healthy" readings and 39 "moderate" readings.

API levels of between 0 and 50 are rated as good, 51 to 100 as moderate, 100 to 200 as unhealthy, 200 to 300 as very unhealthy and more than 300 as hazardous.

Read more!

Malaysia: Palm oil bashing a cause for concern

Isabelle Lai The Star 26 Jul 13;

PETALING JAYA: The National Association of Smallholders Malaysia (NASH) has urged French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault to put a stop to anti-palm oil campaigns in France.

Its president Datuk Aliasak Ambia said the campaigns were a major cause of concern for hundreds of thousands of small farmers as well as the entire industry.

“False allegations about nutrition and the environment cannot be allowed to stand. The reality is that palm oil is the most efficient vegetable oil in the world, which is 100% free of trans fats,” he said in a joint statement with Malaysian Palm Oil Council chief executive officer Tan Sri Datuk Dr Yusof Basiron yesterday.

The statement was an open letter to Ayrault ahead of his upcoming visit here.

Aliasak said oil palm cultivation was a major catalyst for poverty reduction and increased prosperity in Malaysia and elsewhere.

He said these were facts known to scientists and academics, including those from French institutions such as the Institute Pasteur.

Malaysia’s commitment to preserve forest cover was much greater than France’s pledge to preserve 29% of its forests, he said.

“The strong and growing trade relationship between France and Malaysia must be a two-way one, built on trust and mutual understanding.

“Palm oil is one of Malaysia’s most important exports and many families in our community depend on it. A stop to the anti-palm oil campaigns will certainly go a long way in supporting the small farmers and their families,” he said.

He urged Ayrault to ensure French companies Casino, Systeme U, Findus, Lesieur, Lays and Jacquet immediately cease their campaigns, including labelling that denigrated palm oil.

He also asked that the government agency responsible for regulating consumption and competition, Direction Generale de la Concurrence, de la Consommation et la Repression des Fraudes (DGCCRF), use its authority and powers to investigate the companies.

Read more!

Malaysia: ‘Get harsh on pangolin wildlife smugglers’

The Star 26 Jul 13;

PETALING JAYA: Harsher punishments must be imposed to deter pangolin poachers from dabbling in the highly-lucrative illicit trade, said wildlife trade monitoring network Traffic Southeast Asia.

Its senior programme officer Kanitha Krishnasamy said this was still lacking although Malaysia had among the strongest wildlife protection laws in the region.

“Pangolin smugglers are often found guilty when prosecuted, but the severity of the penalties is the problem.

“Based on court observations, prosecutors are not fighting as strongly for our wildlife as they should, resulting in criminals getting away with a mere slap on the wrist,” she said.

Under the Wildlife Conservation Act, the maximum fine for hunting totally protected wildlife including pangolins, is not more than RM100,000, not more than three years’ jail or both.

Kanitha pointed out the case of ex-policeman Muhammad Norazzuan Ahmad Zahari, who was caught trying to smuggle 18 pangolins across the Malaysia-Thailand border at Bukit Kayu Hitam in September 2012.

He was found guilty in January on all four counts, which carried a total maximum jail term of 24 years but was sentenced to a total of 36 months in jail, with no fines imposed.

In addition, he only needs to serve 12 months in jail as the sentences were ordered to run concurrently.

“So for all intents and purposes, a law that was designed to impose punishments of up to 24 years’ jail had its worth diminished to one year,” she said, stressing the need for prosecutors to make a strong case against wildlife smugglers.

In contrast, she said a Malaysian, Ng Soo Heong, had been sentenced to life imprisonment in China for smuggling 2,090 frozen pangolins and 1,800kg of scales from Malaysia to Guangdong on June 6, 2010.

“Although China is the largest market for the pangolin trade, its Government has been cracking down strongly on captured traders. Its stiff penalties are sending a strong deterrent message to traders,” she said.

“The authorities must also continue efforts to root out the kingpins of the pangolin trade.

“Based on the seizures, those captured are usually the middleman and it is obvious that some of them are being bankrolled,” she noted.

Read more!

Rapid Arctic thawing could be economic timebomb, scientists say

Methane released by a thinning permafrost may trigger catastrophic climate change and cost the world $60tn
John Vidal The Guardian 25 Jul 13;

Rapid thawing of the Arctic could trigger a catastrophic "economic timebomb" which would cost trillions of dollars and undermine the global financial system, say a group of economists and polar scientists.

Governments and industry have expected the widespread warming of the Arctic region in the past 20 years to be an economic boon, allowing the exploitation of new gas and oilfields and enabling shipping to travel faster between Europe and Asia. But the release of a single giant "pulse" of methane from thawing Arctic permafrost beneath the East Siberian sea "could come with a $60tn [£39tn] global price tag", according to the researchers who have for the first time quantified the effects on the global economy.

Even the slow emission of a much smaller proportion of the vast quantities of methane locked up in the Arctic permafrost and offshore waters could trigger catastrophic climate change and "steep" economic losses, they say.

The Arctic sea ice, which largely melts and reforms each year, is declining at an unprecedented rate. In 2012, it collapsed to under 3.5m sqkm by mid September, just 40% of its usual extent in the 1970s. Because the ice is also losing its thickness, some scientists expect the Arctic ocean to be largely free of summer ice by 2020.

The growing fear is that as the ice retreats, the warming of the sea water will allow offshore permafrost to release ever greater quantities of methane. A giant reservoir of the greenhouse gas, in the form of gas hydrates on the East Siberian Arctic Shelf (ESAS), could be emitted, either slowly over 50 years or catastrophically fast over a shorter time frame, say the researchers.

The ramifications of vanishing ice will also be felt far from the poles, they say because the region is pivotal to the functioning of Earth systems, such as oceans and climate. "The imminent disappearance of the summer sea ice in the Arctic will have enormous implications for both the acceleration of climate change, and the release of methane from off-shore waters which are now able to warm up in the summer," said Prof Peter Wadhams, head of the Polar ocean physics group at Cambridge University and one of the authors of the paper published in the journal Nature.

"This massive methane boost will have major implications for global economies and societies. Much of those costs would be borne by developing countries in the form of extreme weather, flooding and impacts on health and agricultural production," he said.

According to the authors, who using the Stern review, calculated that 80% of the extra impacts by value will occur in the poorer economies of Africa, Asia and South America. "Inundation of low-lying areas, extreme heat stress, droughts and storms are all magnified by the extra methane emissions," they authors write. They argue that global economic bodies have not taken into account the risks of rapid ice melt and that the only economic downside to the warming of the Arctic they have identified so far has been the possible risk of oil spills.

But, they say, economists are missing the big picture. "Neither the World Economic Forum nor the International Monetary Fund currently recognise the economic danger of Arctic change. [They must] pay much more attention to this invisible time-bomb. The impacts of just one [giant "pulse" of methane] approaches the $70-tn value of the world economy in 2012", said Prof Gail Whiteman, at the Rotterdam School of Management and another author.

The Nature report comes as global shipping companies prepare to send a record number of vessels across the north of Russia later in 2013, slashing miles travelled between Asia and Europe by over 35% and cutting costs up to 40%.

According to Russian authorities, 218 ships from Korea, China, Japan, Norway, Germany and elsewhere have so far applied for permission to follow the "Northern sea route" (NSR) this year. This route uses the Bering Strait between Siberia and Alaska and is only open for a few months each year with an icebreaker.

But following 2012's record collapse of the Arctic sea ice, shipping companies are gaining confidence to use the route. In 2012, only 46 ships sailed its entire length from the Atlantic to Pacific oceans and in 2011 only four. The route can save even medium-sized bulk carrier 10-15 days and hundreds of tonnes of bunker fuel on a journey between northern Norway and China.

Satellite data collated from the US National snow and ice data centre in Boulder, Colorado this week showed ice loss now accelerating and, at 8.2m sqkm (3.2m square miles) approaching the same extent as during last year's record melt. Over 130,000 sqkm of sea ice melted between July 1 and 15. "Compared to the 1981 to 2010 average, ice extent on July 15 was 1.06m sqkm (409,000 square miles) below average," said a spokesman.

Read more!