Best of our wild blogs: 5 Aug 13

Salvaging Efforts at Pulau Hantu
from Pulau Hantu

Crabs meet cobra at Chek Jawa
from wild shores of singapore

Sekudu survey in the predawn
from wonderful creation

Horror in the heartlands
from The annotated budak and A closer loop

Butterflies Galore! : White Palm Bob
from Butterflies of Singapore

Endangered Species Awareness for Children
from Bird Ecology Study Group

"Tigers" @ Gardens By the Bay
from Beauty of Fauna and Flora in Nature

Spotted Dove
from Monday Morgue

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No slick explanation for huge PTT oil spill

The true cause of the accident that has seen crude washing up on our beaches, with potentially devastating affects on the tourism industry, seems shrouded in mystery
Bangkok Post 4 Aug 13;

The head of PTT's oil slick clean-up team was driving back to Bangkok last Sunday evening from Rayong when he received a phone call he wasn't expecting.

After determining the situation was under control following the spraying of dispersants from ships and a Singaporean plane, PTT Global Chemical (PTTGC) president Bowon Vongsinudom had decided to head home and leave the monitoring of the situation to his staff and marine officials stationed in the area.

He had spent most of the last two days trying to minimise the damage from a crude oil spill 20km offshore, when a floating hose transferring oil from a tanker to a PTT refinery pipeline broke sending, PTT says, 50,000 litres of oil spewing into the coastal waters.

At 8pm on Sunday night Mr Bowon received a call from one of his staff informing him oil was washing on to Koh Samet's Ao Phrao beach in large quantities.

''We were puzzled where this oil was from,'' Mr Bowon told Spectrum. ''It is one of the puzzles that I cannot find the answers to yet. One is how the hose broke, and where this oil was from. It's a huge amount.''

The oil spill and the stain it has left on Thailand's world famous beaches and image as a pristine tourist destination has led to intense debate on PTT's handling of the crisis and the emergency plan it deployed.

There are also serious questions being asked by academics about the size of the oil spill due to the vast area it covers and the volume of dispersants sprayed on it, which is by some estimates six times the amount required to treat a 50,000 litre spill.


Mr Bowon says he first learned of the accident between 6-7am on Saturday morning, but it was unclear when it happened. One of the tanker's two floating hoses connected to an underwater buoy, which is attached to a fixed pipeline to the PTT refinery, had broken. Despite earlier media reports, Mr Bowon said the breakaway coupling on the floating hose had not come loose. A source from the Marine Department, which PTT is required to report to on the accident, said the safety valves were closed manually.

The PTTGC chief said when the hose broke the safety system activated immediately and the only oil that was spilled was the amount contained in the floating hose.

Mr Bowon however could not confirm whether the valves were closed automatically or manually.

At a press conference on Thursday, PTT said that the valves had closed automatically and there was no time lag after the hose broke.

PTT estimates that only 50,000 litres of oil leaked into the the sea. This was calculated by the amount of oil believed to be in the 100m floating hose at the time of the accident.

As per standard procedures, a boom was in place when the oil transfer was underway but in this case it was of little use in stopping the spread of the oil in the sea.

Mr Bowon said PTT decided to use dispersants to clear the slick although he refused to say what type or the amount used. The Marine Department source said the dispersant Slickgone, composed mainly of paraffin and dioctyl sodium sulphosuccinate, was used.

On Saturday, PTT deployed 10 ships to help spray dispersant on the slick. The Marine Department source said they used about 120 200-litre tanks of dispersant _ about 24,000 litres in total.

On Sunday, Singapore-based clean-up company Oil Spill Response Ltd was called in. It deployed a plane that sprayed 12,000 litres of dispersant on the slick. The ratio for the spraying of the chemical to oil is 1:20, so the amount of the dispersant used was considered high.

Napa Wangkiat, of the Engineering Faculty of Rangsit University said the Pollution Control Department gave the company permission to use only 5,000 litres of dispersant.

''One litre of dispersant is used for 20 litres of oil spilled, so 5,000 litre should be enough for as much as 100,000 litres of oil spilled,'' Mr Napa said. ''However, the company report to the Stock Exchange of Thailand mentioned that 32,000 litres of dispersant was used in the clean up.

''The public does not know how the company used those chemicals. Did they mix it with water or other substances to make such a high volume?''

PTT says the dispersant works by breaking down oil globules which are then ''digested'' by bacteria. The process takes one to two weeks to complete.

Mr Bowon said as the oil slick spread, the ships followed its trail and kept spraying dispersant. The plane from Singapore took over the task at 3pm on Sunday. It informed PTT that the slick had only spread to one area which it sprayed until it was covered.

Mr Bowon said they believed the initial stage of the clean-up had been completed as the sprayed areas started to turn brown, an indication they were reacting to the dispersant. He asked the plane to double check the area and they replied that everything was okay.

Their biggest fear _ that based on tides and weather modelling maps the slick would hit Koh Samet _ appeared unfounded.

It was early on Sunday evening and PTT staff and Marine Department had checked both ends of the island and believed the battle had been won, but the victory would only last a few hours.


Mr Bowon didn't get to go home. When Spectrum visited Ao Phrao beach on Wednesday he was there observing the clean-up operation involving dozens of PTT staff, the ugly gloop from the oil splattering their white bio suits and rubber boots.

''At this point, I cannot say it is impossible that there will not be oil washed ashore,'' he said. ''We will keep monitoring it and that is the only thing we can do.''

An oil extracting machine, which clears oil from the beach, is still pumping away and white sand has re-emerged in places. But as the morning tides came in so do sheets of oil and the water in front of Ao Phrao turns a dirty brown in contrast with the sparkling green sea further off shore.

Mr Bowon is proud of the efforts of his workers who have used paper sheets to mop up the oil. So far they have managed to scoop up enough to fill 80 one-cubic metre tanks. Hundreds of enlisted men and women from the Sattahip naval base have also lent a hand.

He says he still has no idea where the oil came from and believes that oil globules, which were broken up by the dispersant, were picked up and ''packed together'' by sea waves.

But another PTTGC executive Spectrum spoke to on condition of anonymity was adamant the procedures they had deployed during the clean-up were correct and successful.

He said using booms to contain the spill near the tanker would not have worked as they would have been scattered by the rough seas so they mainly relied on the use of dispersants. As the oil was spilled in water 20m deep PTTGC considered it safe to use the chemicals. However, the official added that not all the oil may have been broken up and a ''small amount'' could be what had landed on Ao Phrao.

He said the environmental impact was minimal and according to their monitoring the water quality was already improving.

Pakorn Prasertwong, chief of the Environment Division of the Marine Department, who has helped in the operation, said the company had tried its best to follow its 100-page emergency plan.

He agreed with Mr Bowon that some of the oil molecules may have been ''packed again'' and washed ashore in the calmer waters off Ao Phrao. He said the type of dispersant used was approved by the government but the amount used was questionable.

''Considering the conditions they had, I think they did what the theory required,'' he said.

Satellite images from the Geo-Informatics and Space Technology Development Agency (GISTDA) show that the initial size of the spill covered a large area, but has now reduced to a quarter of that size.

On July 27 the oil slick covered an area of 19 square kilometres and was moving east. But by Thursday it covered an area of five square kilometres.


Associate professor Siwat Pongniumchan from the National Institute of Development Administration (Nida) believes PTTGC and government agencies involved in the mop-up are hiding the truth.

Mr Siwat, who heads Nida's research and development centre and management of disaster, questions not only the amount of oil spilled, but also the long-term environmental impact of chemical dispersants.

He said he agreed with other academics, such as Somporn Chuai-aree of Prince Songkhla University, who believed a far greater amount of oil was spilled than indicated by the oil giant.

Mr Somporn said based on his analysis of the GISTDA satellite images from the beginning of the accident the likely amount of oil spilled was as low as 108,000 litres or as high as 190,000 litres.

Mr Siwat urged the government to establish an independent panel to investigate not only the cause of the accident, but also the volume of the spills and the clean-up process which he believes will have long-term impact on the marine and coastal ecosystem.

He also pointed out that the volume of an oil spill had an impact on any fine and the amount of compensation paid.

''A report of a small amount of oil spilled may help the company receive lower fines,'' he said. ''But don't forget that the incident occurred only 20km from the shore, the impact on people and natural resources is tremendous.''

Mr Siwat noted that the Australian unit of PTT Exploration and Production (PTTEP) admitted to four charges over the 2009 Montara oil spill, 250km off Australia's northwestern coast. Thousands of barrels of oil gushed into the ocean over a 10-week period following a blowout at PTTEP Australasia's West Atlas rig in the Timor Sea, with the slick spreading as far as Indonesian waters and environmentalists claiming it grew to almost 90,000 square kilometres.

The company estimated the clean-up cost at A$40-$50 million, and the Darwin Magistrates Court fined it $510,000 last September.

Mr Siwat said despite numerous oil spills involving the company, PTT invested little in clean-up equipment.

The Eco Marine company in conjunction with the Thailand Institute of Science and Technology Research had developed an environmentally friendly substance called Keeen, which has for four years been used to treat oil spills in the south, especially in shallow water mangrove areas.

A spokesman for the company said there was no guarantee chemical dispersants would work.

''The chemical dispersant may make the oil spill vanish from sight, but it doesn't go anywhere, it just remains under water for a long period of time,'' said a representative from the company.

He said there was a possibility that oil particles could be washed up onto beaches by the tides.

Trin Varuwanich, chairman of the Oil Industry Environment Safety Group Association (IESG) said they had had no request to help, but were on standby to do so if PTT asked them.

''We discussed the matter with the company from the first day of the incident,'' Mr Trin said. ''The company said the problem is not that big and can be handled by the company and its partner from Singapore.''

PTT and 16 other oil companies are members of the association that has equipment to clean up oil spills and regularly organises training drills.

''We moved some equipment from the warehouse in Si Racha in Chon Buri province to Rayong so that the PTTGC can use when necessary,'' he said.

Under a 1998 national plan on oil spills, the IESG has responsibility for oil spill clean-ups along with the other government agencies, including the Harbour Department, the Royal Thai Navy and the provincial authorities.

The Pollution Control Department, an agency under the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, is responsible for providing information to the operating team on where the oil spill is heading and other information to support the clean up work.

But the joint operation is only activated when the volume of the oil spill is deemed large, for example more than 100,000 litres.

''Most oil companies have their contracts with companies on oil spill clean up work. However, they can ask for help from the association if they want or if the scale of the problem is large, the clean up operations be conducted under the national plan,'' Mr Trin he said.

According to the Pollution Control Department report, the national plan was activated in several cases when the amount of oil spill was as high as 160,000 litres.

Mr Trin suggest that the national plan needs to be reviewed due to increase in oil industries with higher risk of oil accidents.

The bulk of the oil spill incidents in the 1970s were the result of ship collisions, mainly due to poor navigation systems or incompetence. Since the early 1990s, however, these navigation difficulties have mostly been ironed out and the majority of spills since have resulted from technical problems during the transfer and transportation of oil. Thailand's major recent oil spills are listed below.

1. WHEN: April 10, 1973

WHERE: Chao Phraya river mouth

HOW MUCH: 1.6 million litres

CAUSE: Ship collision

2. WHEN: May 29, 1977

WHERE: Chao Phraya river mouth

HOW MUCH: 240,000 litres

CAUSE: Ship collision

3. WHEN: 1979

WHERE: Off Koh Sri Chang,

Chon Buri

HOW MUCH: 240,000 litres

CAUSE: Container ship fire

4. WHEN: March 6, 1994

WHERE: Off Koh Sri Chang,

Chon Buri

HOW MUCH: 400,000 litres

CAUSE: Ship collision

5. WHEN: anuary 16, 1996

WHERE: Chao Phraya river mouth, Samut Prakan

HOW MUCH: 160,000 litres

CAUSE: Ship collision

6. WHEN: October 30, 1996

WHERE: Map Ta Phut industrial estate, Rayong

HOW MUCH: 152,000 litres

CAUSE: Container ship collision

7. WHEN: May 22, 2001

WHERE: Map Ta Phut industrial estate, Rayong

HOW MUCH: 24,000 litres

CAUSE: Container ship collision

8. WHEN: January 15, 2002

WHERE: Off Koh Juang, Chon Buri

HOW MUCH: 187,200 litres

CAUSE: Ship collision

9. WHEN: December 17, 2002

WHERE: Laem Chabang port,

Chon Buri

HOW MUCH: 168,000 litres

CAUSE: Ship collision

10. WHEN: October 6, 2007

WHERE: Chevron's Trident-16 (Offshore Mobile Drilling Unit), Gulf of Thailand

HOW MUCH: 26,400 litres

CAUSE: Storage tank leak

11. WHEN: December 9, 2007

WHERE: Songkhla's Sating Phra district

HOW MUCH: 20,000 litres

CAUSE: Shipwreck

12.WHEN: June 15, 2008

WHERE: Chao Phraya river, Samut Prakan

HOW MUCH: 40,000 litres

CAUSE: Ship collision.

13. WHEN: September 4, 2011

WHERE: Phuket's west coast

HOW MUCH: 40,000 litres

CAUSE: Ship caught in bad weather

The Pollution Control Department classifies oil spills into three different tiers of severity and outlines standard response measures to each.


Any oil spill not exceeding 20 litres. This type of spill normally occurs due to minor leaks while oil is being transferred between storage depots and ships. The company which spilled the oil will be solely responsible for the clean-up, but can request help if necessary. The Marine Department must be notified of any such spill.


Any oil spill between 20 to 1,000 litres. This type of spill normally occurs from minor collisions or other accidents between ships. The government and private sectors must work together to clean up such a spill. The Marine Department must be notified immediately, and foreign help may be sought if the situation gets out of control.


Any oil spill exceeding 1,000 litres. This type of spill normally occurs from serious ship collisions and pipeline or storage tank leaks. Foreign assistance is usually necessary.

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Climate causing ocean changes

CoECRS Science Alert 5 Aug 13;

Profound changes are taking place in marine life around the planet in response to global warming, an international team of scientists has found.

Marine species – including fish, shellfish, crustaceans, plankton, mangroves and seagrasses – are now shifting the areas they inhabit at an average rate of 72 kilometres per decade as a result of one degree of planetary warming.

Some species have moved up to 470 kms in a decade , says a report in the journal Nature Climate Change by scientists from Australia, Germany, South Africa, the UK, the US, Denmark, Spain and Canada. This contrasts with an average 6 km movement by life on land. Most of the movement is towards the poles as sea life searches for cooler waters.

Sea creatures are now going into their seasonal breeding cycles an average of 4.4 days earlier - almost twice as early as land animals – in response to warmer waters, they found.

The team analysed 208 reports on marine life and fisheries, covering 857 different marine species or groups from around the world for changes in their normal distribution, abundance, breeding cycles, community composition, shell formation and age structure. It is the biggest marine study of its kind so far and fills an important blank in understanding of global change.

“The results were quite a shock,” says co-author Professor John Pandolfi of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies and University of Queensland. “We found that changes in sea life attributable to a one degree increase in the Earth’s overall temperature appear much greater than those seen in life on land so far.”

The oceans are estimated to have absorbed 80 per cent of the extra heat put into the Earth system by human use of fossil fuels, but have nevertheless warmed more slowly than the land owing to their huge mass, he says.

“This makes the very large changes in the behaviour of sea life all the more surprising. We put it down mainly to the fact that marine organisms often produce substantial numbers of floating larvae that are easily dispersed by ocean currents.”

The study took in research from all the world’s oceans, with a particular focus on what is happening on the east and south coasts of Australia, both US coastlines, the European Atlantic and Mediterranean.

It included marine mammals, fish, seabirds, turtles, squid, plankton, molluscs, deep sea invertebrates and crustaceans, mangroves, seagrasses and deepwater algae and covered the polar, temperate, subtropical and tropical oceans.

It found phytoplankton – which provide the basic food for all life in the seas – are now blooming an average of six days earlier in the season, compared with land plants. Baby fish appear to be hatching around 11 days earlier in the season.

The researchers caution that these big shifts in the timing of major events could produce disruption to ocean food webs. This has implications for all sea life, as well as for humans who depend on the sea for food, says Prof. Pandolfi.

“When you see changes as large as these, life generally has three options – migration, adaptation or extinction. In the case of migration and extinction, these can directly affect industries like fishing and tourism which depend on local sea life.

“On the other hand, as sea life moves around the planet and adapts to the changes, new opportunities may also open up – so it isn’t all bad news,” he says. “Your favourite fishing spot might not be there any more – but another may appear somewhere else.

“The study tells us that the situation with life in the oceans is now very dynamic and fast-changing, and marine managers, fishers and others who depend on the seas for a living need to take account of that.

“For example, we need to minimise the sorts of stresses we put on sea life to give it the best chance of re-establishing in new places and environments.”

As the first worldwide investigation of the impacts of climate change on life in the oceans, the study complements 28,586 similar observations carried out on land and will be an important input to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) as it prepares its next report on global warming.

“The results of this work are so clear-cut that it is no longer tenable to suggest that global warming isn’t happening, or that we humans don’t have a hand in it,” Prof, Pandolfi adds. “The changes are on a par with those we see in the fossil record when the Earth previously underwent large episodes of warming.”

Their paper “Global imprint of climate change on marine life” by Elvira S. Poloczanska, Christopher J. Brown, William J. Sydeman, Wolfgang Kiessling, David S. Schoeman, Pippa J. Moore, Keith Brander, John F. Bruno, Lauren B. Buckley, Michael T. Burrows, Carlos M. Duarte, Benjamin S. Halpern, Johnna Holding, Carrie V. Kappel, Mary I. O’Connor, John M. Pandolfi, Camille Parmesan, Franklin Schwing, Sarah Ann Thompson and Anthony J. Richardson appears today in the journal Nature Climate Change.

Global Investigation Reveals True Scale of Ocean Warming
Science Daily 4 Aug 13;

Warming oceans are causing marine species to change breeding times and shift homes with expected substantial consequences for the broader marine landscape, according to a new global study.

The three-year research project, funded by the National Centre for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis in California, has shown widespread systemic shifts in measures such as distribution of species and phenology -- the timing of nature's calendar -- on a scale comparable to or greater than those observed on land.

The report, Global imprint of climate change on marine life, will form part of the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change Assessment Report due for publication in 2014, and is published in this month's Nature Climate Change. It was undertaken by eminent scientists at 17 institutions across the world, including the University of Queensland, Plymouth University, Aberystwyth University, and the Scottish Association for Marine Science (SAMS).

One of the lead authors of the report, Professor Camille Parmesan, National Marine Aquarium Chair in Public Understanding of Oceans and Human Health within Plymouth University's Marine Institute, said the study offered a "very simple, but important message."

Professor Parmesan said: "This is the first comprehensive documentation of what is happening in our marine systems in relation to climate change. What it reveals is that the changes that are occurring on land are being matched by the oceans. And far from being a buffer and displaying more minor changes, what we're seeing is a far stronger response from the oceans."

The research team assembled a large database of 1,735 changes in marine life from the global peer-reviewed literature which helped them investigate impacts of climate change. The team found that 81% of changes were in a direction consistent with climate change.

The evidence showed that the leading edge or 'front line' of some marine species, such as phytoplankton, zooplankton and bony fish, is moving towards the poles at the average rate of 72km per decade, which is considerably faster than the terrestrial average of 6km per decade -- and this despite the fact that sea surface temperatures are warming three times slower than land temperatures.

They also found that spring phenology in the oceans had advanced by more than four days, nearly twice the figure for phenological advancement on land. The strength of response varied among species, but again, the research showed the greatest response in invertebrate zooplankton and larval bony fish, up to 11 days in advancement.

Professor Mike Burrows at SAMS said: "Most of the effects we saw were as expected from changes in climate. So, most shifts in the distributions of, say, fishes and corals, were towards the poles, and most events in springtime, like spawning, were earlier."

Some of the most convincing evidence that climate change is the primary driver behind the observed changes could be found in footprints that showed, for example, opposing responses in warm-water and cold-water species within a community; and similar responses from discrete populations at the same range edge.

Dr Pippa Moore, Lecturer in Aquatic Biology from Aberystwyth University, said: "Our research has shown that a wide range of marine organisms, which inhabit the intertidal to the deep-sea, and are found from the poles to the tropics, have responded to recent climate change by changing their distribution, phenology or demography.

"These results highlight the urgent need for governments around the globe to develop adaptive management plans to ensure the continued sustainability of the world's oceans and the goods and services they provide to human society."

Journal Reference:

Elvira S. Poloczanska, Christopher J. Brown, William J. Sydeman, Wolfgang Kiessling, David S. Schoeman, Pippa J. Moore, Keith Brander, John F. Bruno, Lauren B. Buckley, Michael T. Burrows, Carlos M. Duarte, Benjamin S. Halpern, Johnna Holding, Carrie V. Kappel, Mary I. O’Connor, John M. Pandolfi, Camille Parmesan, Franklin Schwing, Sarah Ann Thompson, Anthony J. Richardson. Global imprint of climate change on marine life. Nature Climate Change, 2013; DOI: 10.1038/nclimate1958

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Fish die as Alaska temperatures continue to break records

Yereth Rosen PlanetArk 5 Aug 13;

Alaska's summer heat wave has been pleasant for humans but punitive for some of its fish.

Overheated water has been blamed for large die-offs of hatchery trout and salmon stocks in at least two parts of the state as hot, dry weather has set in, according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

Hundreds of grayling and rainbow trout died in June after being placed in a Fairbanks lake, the department reported. An unusually cold spring caused lake ice to linger much longer than normal, before the water quickly became too warm, department biologist April Behr said.

Surface temperatures in the lake rose to about 76 degrees Fahrenheit (24 degrees Celsius), she said. The precise number of dead fish was not yet known. "We picked up several hundred," she said.

A similar incident occurred in mid-July at the Crystal Lake Hatchery south of Petersburg in southeast Alaska.

An estimated 1,100 hatchery king salmon died while returning to a lake to spawn, local public radio station KFSK reported. Fish and Game sport fish biologist Doug Fleming told the radio station that air temperatures were in the 80s at the time.

Record-breaking heat has also created elevated wildfire risks in Alaska, even in the normally rain-soaked Tongass National Forest in the state's southeastern panhandle.

Wildfires have charred more than a million acres across Alaska, according to state and federal wildfire managers, more than the five-year season-total annual average of 952,113 acres. Some 75 active fires were still burning on Friday, with much of the fire season still to come.


One blaze that has consumed 85,000 acres near Fairbanks has drawn congressional scrutiny. The so-called Stuart Creek 2 Fire was sparked in June by Army artillery training conducted in hot, dry conditions against the advice of federal wildfire managers, according to the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.

U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski, an Alaska Republican, said on Thursday she had launched an inquiry into the origins of that blaze, which prompted the evacuation of hundreds of area residents and racked up a firefighting bill of $19 million.

She persuaded the Senate Defense Appropriations subcommittee to insert language into a budget bill requiring the Army to explain its decision to hold the artillery exercise.

Numerous heat records have fallen this year around the state throughout the summer.

Fairbanks on Thursday set a new record for the total number of summer days with temperatures at 80 degrees or above in that city - 31 straight to beat the previous mark of 30 days set in 2004, the National Weather Service said.

Anchorage on Wednesday set a new benchmark for consecutive days with temperatures at 70 degrees or above, with a 14-day run that bested the previous record, set in 2004, by one day.

Daily record temperatures have been set over the past week in Anchorage, Valdez, McGrath and King Salmon. Numerous other communities saw record highs earlier in the summer.

The unusual warm conditions derive from a persistent weather pattern high in the atmosphere above Alaska, according to the National Weather Service.

The heat is expected to gradually give way to cooler, rainier conditions more typical for August as a new pressure system builds over the Bering Sea, said Dan Samelson, a Weather Service meteorologist.

"It'll be a little bit slow in coming," he said.

(Editing by Steve Gorman and Prudence Crowther)

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