Best of our wild blogs: 21 Aug 13

Bukit Timah Trail - The sad stage of abuse!
from Mountain and Sea

Surprises from Sekudu in not-so-low tide
from wonderful creation and wild shores of singapore

Twig Spider @ Macro Marathon
from Macro Photography in Singapore

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Singapore will be able to cope with rising global sea levels: Experts

Xue Jianyue Today Online 21 Aug 13;

Singapore will be able to cope should global sea levels rise by more than 90cm by the end of the century as scientists predicted, experts here said, citing the sea walls that have been built on the coastlines.

Even so, the Republic should look into cutting carbon emissions, ensuring food security and changing mindsets, they added.

Assistant Professor Forrest Meggers, from the National University of Singapore (NUS) School of Design and Environment, said: “Every molecule of carbon dioxide released contributes to sea level rises in the future.” A way to reduce carbon footprint is having more “zero-emission” buildings — an easier and cheaper response to building more or higher sea walls, he noted.

Currently, about 70 to 80 per cent of Singapore’s coastal areas have hard walls or stone embankments, according to the National Climate Change Secretariat (NCCS) website. The rest are natural areas such as beaches and mangroves.

In 2011, the Government decided the height of all new reclamations must be 2.25m above the highest recorded tide level — an increase of a metre over the previous mandated minimum height. Environment and Water Resources Minister Vivian Balakrishnan was quoted by Reuters as saying that the costly but necessary move was “buying insurance for the future”.

NUS Senior Lecturer Nirmal Kishnani pointed out that should sea levels rise drastically, Singapore’s imported food supplies might be disrupted, citing the potential loss of low-lying farm lands in the region, such as the Mekong Delta in Vietnam.

NUS Assistant Professor Kua Harn-Wei noted that the Government has been planning for rising sea levels and temperatures over the past decade.

He was more concerned with whether Singaporeans can adapt to the environmental impact of climate change.

“Rising sea levels may be just one of the many effects. We are going to get more complicated effects like stronger winds, greater storms and more flash floods. Those are the problems that we need to get ready and prepared for,” he said.


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Haze in Singapore due to Sumatra fires: NEA

Channel NewsAsia 20 Aug 13;

SINGAPORE: The skies over Singapore were slightly hazy on Tuesday.

The National Environment Agency (NEA) said the haziness was due to smoke from fires in southern Sumatra, brought over by the southwesterly winds overnight.

At 1pm, the 3-hour PSI hit the moderate range of 55, edging up to 56 at 2pm and 3pm before coming down to the good range.

At 7pm, the 3-hour PSI stood at 27.

The PSI reading in Singapore hit a record high of 401 on 21 June this year as a result of smog from forest fires in Indonesia.

However, the NEA website indicated the number of hotspots in Sumatra decreased from 82 on Monday to 29 on Tuesday.

"However, due to extensive cloud cover in the central and northern regions of Sumatra, we cannot be certain of the exact situation. Nevertheless, recent showers over central and southern Sumatra would have helped to further subdue the hotspot activities there," said NEA.

It added that over the next few days, Singapore may experience slightly hazy conditions in the morning due to the accumulation of particulate matter under light wind conditions.

"The 24-hour PSI for the next 24 hours is expected to be in the higher end of the 'good' band (that is ≤50). The 24-hour PM2.5 is expected to be slightly elevated," said NEA. "All persons can continue with normal activities."

Thundery showers are forecast over Singapore in the late morning and early afternoon on Wednesday, it added.

- CNA/ir

Slight haze possible over next few days
Normal activities can continue, NEA will monitor situation and provide updates
Woo Sian Boon Today Online 21 Aug 13;

SINGAPORE — There could be “slightly hazy conditions” in the mornings over the next few days although air quality today is expected to remain in the “good” band, the National Environment Agency (NEA) said, after hazy skies yesterday morning prompted Singaporeans to wonder if the respite from the thick smog in June was over.

Social media platforms like Twitter were abuzz with the #sghaze hashtag yesterday after Singaporeans in many areas were reminded of the worst haze episode two months ago — the three-hourly Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) hit a record 401 on June 21 — when they woke up to a slight haze and a burning smell in the air.

Starting from 10am yesterday, the three-hour PSI readings crept up to hit the moderate range of 56 at 2pm, but dipped back to the good range from 5pm.

The NEA sent a media advisory at 2pm, saying south-westerly winds overnight had brought over the smoke from fires in southern Sumatra and the light and variable winds over Singapore had led to particulate matter accumulating in the atmosphere.

It added that the number of hot spots detected in Sumatra yesterday was 29, compared to 82 and 199 on Monday and Sunday respectively, but noted that it “cannot be certain of the exact situation” due to extensive cloud cover in central and northern Sumatra.

In its 24-hour PSI forecast yesterday, the NEA said air quality today is forecast to be in the higher end of the “good” band, while the PM2.5 reading is expected to be slightly elevated.

It added that low-level winds over Singapore are expected to blow from south-southeast or south-southwest over the next few days, possibly bringing about slightly hazy conditions in the mornings, but gave the assurance that normal activities for the general public can still continue.

Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan posted on his Facebook page to provide reassurance that the NEA will continue to monitor the situation and provide updates.

Last week, Foreign Minister K Shanmugam met his Malaysian and Indonesian counterparts on the sidelines of the ASEAN Foreign Ministers retreat in Thailand, where they renewed their commitment to fight the recurring haze.

A conclusion, however, was not reached regarding the sharing of official concession maps, with Indonesia and Malaysia citing risk-competitiveness and legal issues if these are made public.

Expect slightly hazy mornings over next few days
Melissa Lin Straits Times 21 Aug 13;

THE hazy skies that affected Singapore yesterday morning are expected to persist over the next few mornings, as southerly winds blow smoke here from forest fires in Indonesia.

The three-hour Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) reading hit 56 at 2pm, the highest since the June 30 reading of 71. A PSI reading of zero to 50 is "good", while a reading above 50 up to 100 is "moderate". Anything above 100 is considered "unhealthy".

The latest spike is still relatively low compared with levels on June 21, when the reading peaked at 401 in the "hazardous" range.

But there was a buzz online yesterday as people posted photos on social media and voiced worries that the pollution was back.

Ms Geraldine Hor, a 24-year-old recruiting manager, said she could smell the haze from her 27th-storey office in Raffles Place. "There was a burnt smell in the morning," she said.

The National Environment Agency (NEA) said Singapore may experience slightly hazy conditions in the mornings over the next few days, due to low-level winds blowing from the south.

Thundery showers forecast for late morning and early afternoon today are set to bring some relief. As of 4pm yesterday, the 24-hour PSI ranged from 30 to 37.

Professor Ong Choon Nam, director of the National University of Singapore's Environmental Research Institute, said it was hard to predict when the haze would return. "It depends on the wind direction, the number of fire spots over the past week and whether it will increase, and the rainfall in the region," he said.

The 24-hour PSI forecast that ends at 6pm today is expected to be in the higher end of the good band, or less than 50. The 24-hour PM2.5 reading, which measures fine particulate matter less than 2.5 microns in size, is expected to be slightly elevated, but normal activities can continue.

Meanwhile, the number of hot spots detected in Sumatra fell to 29 yesterday from 82 the day before. Recent showers over central and southern Sumatra will have helped to reduce the number of hot spots, said NEA.

In Riau, the Indonesian province closest to Singapore that is prone to forest fires, it has been raining almost every day for a week in the city of Dumai.

Despite the clearer skies, cloud seeding and water bombing will continue until October, Mr Agus Wibowo, data department head at the national disaster management agency BNPB, told The Straits Times. He added that it was normal for the number of hot spots to fluctuate, as farmers set fire to their land and those fires are then spread by the wind.

Additional reporting by Wahyudi Soeriaatmadja in Indonesia

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Indonesia: Turtle Egg Thefts Out of Control -- WWF

Tunggadewa Mattangkilang Jakarta Globe 21 Aug 13;

Balikpapan. Conservation activists have warned of a massive increase in thefts of turtle eggs in the past month from a key nesting island off East Kalimantan’s Berau district, as locals continue to defy a ban on the practice.

Rusli Andar, the coordinator for WWF Indonesia’s East Kalimantan marine program, said on Tuesday that around 4,000 eggs were being stolen from the beaches of the ostensibly protected Sangalaki Island every day, or the equivalent of what 40 turtles could lay in a night.

“This has been going on for a month now, because whenever the BKSDA [provincial natural resources conservation agency] tries to patrol the area, it faces threats from villagers from neighboring islands,” Rusli said.

“That’s allowed the theft of the eggs by the villagers to get out of control.”

He warned that the spike in the thefts, coinciding with the nesting season for the endangered green turtle that runs from May until September, posed a serious threat to the survival of the species.

Conservation activists from WWF Indonesia and the Berau Turtle Foundation were forced off Sangalaki by residents of neighboring Islands in September last year, leaving the turtle nesting sites largely unprotected. Since then, the only conservation presence on the island has been a single BKSDA official, Rusli said.

He added the islanders were taking advantage of the high prices offered for the eggs in the Kalimantan hinterland, particularly Tarakan in North Kalimantan, where consumers were willing to pay up to Rp 10,000 (94 US cents) per egg.

Rusli credited tighter law enforcement for the reduction in the turtle egg trade in Samarinda, the East Kalimantan capital and previously the regional hub of the illegal practice, and called for more to be done to crack down on the trade elsewhere in the region.

He added that WWF Indonesia had urged the Forestry Ministry to put an end to the long-running problem of turtle egg thefts, especially given that they were occurring on Sangalaki, which is meant to be off-limits to human activity.

“This is supposed to be a conservation area, but if the government can’t manage it properly, it should allow the private sector to take over,” he said.

Tandya Tjahyana, the BKSDA chief, said separately that his office was powerless against the sheer number of people trespassing onto the island to steal the eggs.

“Of course we have officials posted on Sangalaki, but they can’t cover every area,” he said.

“And we can’t deploy all our officials there. Besides, we don’t want to spark any conflict with the residents. I understand why people feel we’re not being serious about protecting the area, but the truth is we can’t do it all on our own.”

Rusli previously said that since conservation activists were expelled from the island, large amounts of trash had piled up on the beaches where the turtles nested, further reducing the prospects of the eggs hatching properly and the young turtles swimming out to sea.

“There are no more conservation activities going on there. The turtles are laying their eggs and people are promptly taking them. There’s just no attention being paid to this problem,” he said in April.

“If this isn’t addressed immediately, we will lose a key turtle habitat, because Sangalaki is the biggest nesting site for green and hawksbill turtles in the Berau marine conservation area.”

Sangalaki is one of 12 islands in the Berau maritime conservation area, which spans 1.2 million hectares and contains 3,000 fish species and at least 500 species of coral.

The illegal turtle egg trade in Kalimantan has also had an impact further afield, with poachers supplying the eggs from as far away as South Sulawesi.

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Divers Willingness to Pay for Biodiversity Could Help Conservation Efforts

Science Daily 20 Aug 13;

Aug. 20, 2013 — Now teeming with life, a new study using the "Tamar Reef" shows that divers assign economic importance to aspects of reef biodiversity. These findings could help underwater conservation efforts.
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According to the study published in the ICES Journal of Marine Science, divers were willing to pay to improve the reef's attributes and were able to differentiate and rank their preferences of biodiversity, numbers of fish and corals, coral species richness, fish species richness, coral size, coral abundance, and fish abundance.

Respondents ranked biodiversity as the most desirable value, while fish abundance was the least important.

"This result was exiting to us, since it shows that the general public as well as scientists place a high value on biodiversity and that visitors understand the fundamentals that constitute a coral reef community," says Dr. Nadav Shashar of BGU's Marine Biology and Biotechnology Program in Eilat, Israel.

"This may help direct conservation efforts undertaken in designing future marine reserves and pre-planned artificial reefs."

Dr. Shashar and his team surveyed 295 divers to evaluate their willingness to pay for improving various elements of a coral reef. They were shown a series of photographs of the BGU-created Tamar Reef with varied densities and compositions of fish and coral species.

The researchers focused on the overall aesthetic value of each component, but also how divers' aesthetic preferences compare with scientific biodiversity attributes that might be of interest for conservation purposes.

The artificial reef project is a collaboration between Israelis and Jordanians to restore the local Gulf reef culture. The Tamar Reef was the first of four reefs installed in the Red Sea. Students and faculty from both countries work together in studying the artificial reef and how it affects the marine ecology in the area.

Special coral nurseries were developed to augment coral diversity. Small fragments developed into large corals and were planted on the artificial reefs.

"One of the nurseries developed into an entirely new ecosystem of a floating coral reef with all types of fish; we even filmed a turtle stopping by to feed," Shashar explains.

"We are not just studying biodiversity but helping to reestablish fish and marine life that has been depleted in the Gulf."

The study was partly supported by the US-AID MERC program under grant number TA-MOU-05-M25-069 and by the Halperin and the Schechter foundations.

Journal Reference:

O. Polak, N. Shashar. Economic value of biological attributes of artificial coral reefs. ICES Journal of Marine Science, 2013; 70 (4): 904 DOI: 10.1093/icesjms/fst014

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Scientists warn sea anemones are vulnerable to bleaching

The World Today Stephanie Smail ABC News 20 Aug 13;

An international research team is warning that sea anemones are bleaching on a large scale.

The anemones are home to 28 species of fish, including the clownfish, which could also be at risk.

Researchers from the United States, Saudi Arabia, Australia and France surveyed 14,000 sea anemones from the Red Sea to the Pacific Ocean and found huge patches of the usually vibrant coral had bleached white.

While scientists have been studying coral bleaching for years, this is the first time a study has focused solely on whether or not anemones are bleaching too.

The study looked specifically at the species of sea anemones that shelter fish.
Audio: Are sea anemones bleaching? (The World Today)

It found seven out of 10 are vulnerable to bleaching and in some places entire anemone beds had turned white.

Dr Ashley Frisch from the ARC Centre for Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University says the researchers were alarmed by what they found.

"Normally anemones are relatively brightly coloured, they're rich in colour," he said.

"They can be brown, they can be pink or purple. They're just always rich in colour. A normal, healthy anemone is never white.

"What we find is when you go to places where there's been an increase in temperature in recent times the anemones are white like a piece of paper and that is not normal.

Dr Frisch says sea anemones living in Australian waters were not the worst affected and the Great Barrier Reef only had small patches of bleaching.

"In some places anemones form a significant proportion of the habitat or the cover of the sea floor," he said.

"In some places it's measured on a scale of tens of metres squared where you'll just be [seeing] enormous patches of white where the anemones have bleached.

"It's not like that on the Great Barrier Reef, fortunately. It's more isolated cases. But in some other places of the world where there's a significant and sustained increase in temperature, we've seen vast fields of anemones become bleached."

Dr Frisch says there is evidence some anemones can survive bleaching and recover but there is also a risk some will die off.

He says that poses a risk to 28 species of anemone fish that can not survive anywhere else.

"They might [survive] in an aquarium, but out there in the wild you never see anemone fish without an anemone," he said.

"The simple reality is without them they are exposed to predation and they just get eaten. We've done experiments to prove this. We've covered up an anemone and deprived the anemone fish of access to its house and very quickly that anemone fish gets eaten.

"We've also captured them and translocated them to a different place, dozens of metres away and within a very short time they just get eaten. So they are really dependent on that anemone for their survival."

The short-term study did not reveal exactly what is causing the bleaching.

Dr Frisch says that is the next step for him and his colleagues, along with finding out how the bleaching impacts anemone fish.

"Why is it that fish on bleached anemones appear skinny? Why do they decline in number? And what are the long term consequences for the fish?" he said.

"And of course, that has flow on effects for the aquarium trade and for the wellbeing of lots of fisherman who catch anemone fish for their livelihoods."

'Nemo' won't go home
Science Alert 21 Aug 13;

Round the planet the loveable clownfish Nemo may be losing his home, a new scientific study has revealed.

Research by an international team of marine scientists has found that sea anemones, which provide shelter for clownfish and 27 other fish species, are facing the same worldwide threat as coral reefs – bleaching and loss due to rising water temperatures.

“Our study showed that at least seven of the ten anemone species suffer from bleaching when water temperatures get too high,” says Dr Ashley Frisch of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University, a co-author of the report which has highlighted a potential crisis for two of the world’s most popular marine species.

“Importantly, we found bleaching of anemones occurring wherever we looked – from the Red Sea and Indian Ocean to the Indo-Australian region and the Pacific. Sometimes it was on a massive scale.”

The bleaching appears to be due to the same cause as coral bleaching – loss of the anemone’s symbiotic algae, which supply an important part of its nourishment. This happens when the surrounding water becomes too warm.

But it also involves the loss of the brightly coloured fishes which the anemone protects – and which in turn protect it. The result is a collapse in the delicate three-way partnership between algae, anemone and fish.

“Anemones are naturally tough and live for many years. As a result their rates of reproduction are slow – and when they are hit by a killer bleaching event, it can result in their complete loss from an area over a period of time. It appears they cannot reproduce fast enough to make good the loss, especially if the fish are also gone,” Dr Frisch explains.

“Bleaching causes the loss of anemonefish, like nemos, which have nowhere to hide and without the anemones to protect them are quickly gobbled up by predators.

“Also, because the fish appear to perform useful services for the anemone like protecting them from grazing fish, it may also be that the loss of anemonefishes following a bleaching event means the anemones themselves are much less likely to recover.”

The researchers, from Australia, Saudi Arabia and the USA surveyed nearly 14000 anemones worldwide and found 4 per cent were bleached. However bleaching rates ranged from 20-100 per cent, following five major bleaching episodes.

They conclude that in some areas, anemone “population viability will be severely compromised if anemones and their symbionts cannot acclimat(is)e or adapt to rising sea temperatures.

“Anemone bleaching also has negative effects to other species… including reductions in abundance and reproductive output of anemonefishes.

“Therefore, the future of these iconic and commercially valuable coral reef fishes is inextricably linked to the ability of host anemones to cope with rising sea temperatures associated with climate change.”

The study concludes “If host anemones (and their symbiotic algae) cannot acclimate or adapt to rising sea temperatures, then populations of host anemones and associated anemonefishes are anticipated to decline significantly.”

Dr Frisch says that apart from their roles in coral ecosystems, anemones and their fish are of economic importance to both tourism and the aquarium trade, and many poor coastal communities depend on the income they bring.

The report “Taxonomic, Spatial and Temporal Patterns of Bleaching in Anemones Inhabited by Anemonefishes’ by Jean-Paul A. Hobbs, Ashley J. Frisch, Benjamin M. Ford, Michele Thums, Pablo Saenz-Agudelo, Kathryn A. Furby and Michael L. Berumen appears in the journal PLOS One.

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How Extreme Australian Rains Made Global Sea Levels Drop

NPR 20 Aug 13;

Global sea level has been rising as a result of global warming, but in 2010 and 2011, sea level actually fell by about a quarter of an inch.

Scientists now say they know why: It has to do with extreme weather in Australia.

The sea level drop coincided with some of the worst flooding in that continent's history. Dozens of people died and torrents washed away houses and cars, forcing thousands from their homes.

Some of those floodwaters simply ran back into the ocean, so they didn't affect sea level. But a lot of that water was trapped on the Australian land mass. That's because the continent has an odd geography.

"It's kind of like if you took a plate and turned it upside down, the whole center area doesn't run off back to the ocean," says at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo. "In fact, there are major river basins that run back toward the center of the continent."

Some years, rainfall pools up in the middle of the continent and creates a temporary freshwater sea called Lake Eyre.

"You get millions of birds migrating to the area and the whole ecosystem transitions from a desert to an inland sea in a few months," Fasullo says.

He and his colleagues are publishing a paper in Geophysical Research Letters that concludes that the reappearance of that inland sea — and similar features elsewhere — are enough to explain the drop in global sea level.

During that time, sea level dropped by a quarter of an inch, though normally it rises by an eighth of an inch per year.

The inland sea has gradually evaporated, and a lot of that water has rained back into the oceans, raising sea levels once again. But that's not the end of the story.

"Since that time we've shot past the long term trend [in the rate of sea level rise] and we're way up above it," Fasullo says.

In fact, over the past two years, global sea level has risen by nearly an inch — that's more than three times faster than normal, "and with that we have a new mystery," Fasullo says.

Once again, fingers are pointing toward odd rainfall patterns. There's drought in Australia and the Americas right now, which means more rain is falling into the ocean and less is falling on land.

a climatologist at Texas A&M University agrees that's a likely answer. And, he adds, we wouldn't even know about these small variations if not for precise satellite observations.

"It's not something you can go to the beach and notice, but we can detect it now," he says.

And there's no question — the long-term trend is toward a higher sea level as the planet warms. That's because seawater expands as it warms — and because into the world's oceans.

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In the red for the rest of 2013: humanity’s demands exceed Earth’s carrying capacity

WWF 20 Aug 13;

Gland, Switzerland: Today, 20 August, is Earth Overshoot Day – when humanity has used as much renewable natural resources as our planet can regenerate in one year. For the rest of 2013, we are “in the red” – effectively “overdrawn” on the balance sheet of nature’s goods and services that we require to survive.

Based on Ecological Footprint data – measuring how much nature we have, how much we use, and who uses what – Earth Overshoot Day is an initiative of WWF’s partner, the Global Footprint Network, to raise awareness and inspire action around ecological “overspending”.

Climate change is a major impact of overshoot, as using fossil fuels causes harmful emissions of carbon dioxide that the planet simply cannot absorb. Forests are shrinking, fish stocks are waning, land is getting degraded, freshwater resources are dwindling, and biological diversity is depleting.

“Nature is the basis of our wellbeing and our prosperity – but we are using up way too much of the Earth's finite resources.

"WWF's Living Planet Report shows clearly that humanity's demands exceed our planet's capacity to sustain us – simply put, we are asking for more than we have available,” said Jim Leape, Director General of WWF International.

In 1961, the year WWF was established, humanity was using two thirds of the Earth’s available natural resources and most countries had ecological reserves – meaning our footprint was lighter and more sustainable.

By taking action now we can reverse the trend.

Switching to clean, renewable, abundant energy sources like sun and wind will slash dirty emissions that strain our oceans and forests, and pollute our air. Choosing sustainable goods like seafood labelled with the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) blue tick, and wood that is certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) helps ensure products come from well managed sources.

“More than 50 per cent of humanity's Ecological Footprint is composed of our carbon footprint, especially from the burning of fossil fuels.

"WWF is currently running a global campaign, Seize Your Power, pressing for much greater investment in renewable energies.

“For a clean and healthy future for our children, we must preserve the natural capital that is left – and be much better stewards of the planet we call home,” said Leape.

Singapore's global footprint here

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