Best of our wild blogs: 24 Aug 13

Our MacRitchie forest – a place to love and a place to keep, now and for our future from Otterman speaks

Seagrassy Pasir Ris Park
from wild shores of singapore

Trashy Pasir Ris: where does the rubbish come from?
from wild shores of singapore and Pasir Ris floating security barrier: some questions and Pasir Ris: mystery pipes discharging to the sea

From Ulu Sembawang Park Connector to Upper Seletar Reservoir from Beauty of Fauna and Flora in Nature

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More land acquired in recent years for expanding MRT lines, expressways

Channel NewsAsia 23 Aug 13;

SINGAPORE: The government has acquired more land in recent years, because of projects to build new MRT lines and expand expressways.

Last year, the Singapore Land Authority (SLA) acquired 284 commercial and residential properties. This is the highest number in 10 years.

It is also a sharp increase from the 43 acquisitions between 2003 and 2009.

To cope with the increased workload, SLA has hired more staff to handle such cases.

From fewer than 10 officers five years ago, SLA has more than 20 officers now to deal with land acquisitions.

SLA said there were 150 appeals on compensation in the last five years.

It is providing staff with training to help them communicate better with affected tenants and residents.

Nelson Liew, head of land acquisition at SLA, said: "Acquisition is never easy on the land owners and we understand the impact on them, that's why we'll try our best to help them in every way possible to mitigate the impact of acquisition and make it more bearable for them."

- CNA/xq

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Look for more humane solutions to pest problem

Straits Times Forum 24 Aug 13;

IT IS unfortunate that poisoned bait meant for pigeons killed a pet dog ("Dog dies after eating bait left out by pest control firm"; Wednesday).

I do not support the culling of pigeons but I understand that the practice is carried out for health and hygiene reasons. Even so, isn't there a more humane way to cull them?

Being poisoned is an extremely cruel and painful way to die. Using poison in bait also poses a threat to children and pets that may accidentally eat or come into contact with the poisoned food.

The Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority seems to use culling as its first method to solve problems caused by what it considers to be pests - pigeons and stray dogs, for instance. This is obviously the most convenient solution, but is it humane or kind?

We talk so much about being a kind society, but surely this kindness should also be extended to animals, even those considered pests.

Are Singaporeans forsaking kindness by being too quick to complain about minor irritations caused by wildlife or stray animals? I hope we can be more tolerant and learn to co-exist with such animals and, where this is not possible, look for kinder solutions.

Jill Hum (Ms)

Dog dies after eating bait left out by pest control firm
Company given warning after tainted bread meant for pigeons poisons pet dog
Joanna Seow Straits Times 21 Aug 13;

A pest control firm has been given a warning after a dog died from eating poisoned bread meant to kill pigeons.

Tiger, a jack russell terrier, started limping, trembling and foaming at the mouth after apparently swallowing bait left by the side of a Housing Board block.

The 10-year-old pet was rushed to see a vet but died on the way.

West Coast Town Council told The Straits Times it had warned its pest control contractor to comply with safety procedures.

Meanwhile, Tiger's owners said they feared children playing nearby could touch the bread and get poison on their hands.

"Do they really want a human life taken before they do something?" asked Mrs Regine Chan, 32, an executive. Her husband Alvin Chan told The Straits Times their pet died on July 22 after playing at the void deck of Block 412, Commonwealth Avenue West.

First, Tiger disappeared to the side of the building.

A cleaner then walked out and said "cannot makan (Malay for "eat"), got problem", before sweeping pieces of bread from the floor.

Within minutes, Tiger started to limp. The trembling then began in the animal's legs, before spreading to the upper body.

Before long, the dog was foaming at the mouth, with eyes bulging.

Shocked and confused, Mr Chan rushed Tiger to Mount Pleasant Animal Medical Centre in Sunset Way but the pet died before they got there.

The 37-year-old former bank analyst said a vet confirmed that poison was the cause of death.

Suspecting that the bread was meant to cull pigeons, Mr Chan and his wife contacted West Coast Town Council and the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA).

Last week, the council told The Straits Times that a pest control technician had been culling pigeons at the time the dog died.

The employee from Clean Solutions laid the bait and went to check for nuisance birds at two other blocks, before coming back.

This contradicts AVA guidelines that say somebody should be on hand to supervise the whole process.

"We have warned our pest control contractor to comply with the standard procedure," said a council spokesman. She added that residents used to be notified before the culling started. But this practice was stopped because people kept deliberately feeding the pigeons in advance so they were too full to take the bait.

The AVA confirmed it has guidelines that cover issues such as how to dispose of dead birds and remove any remaining poison.

Clean Solutions told The Straits Times that it provides pest control to five town councils and this was the first time a pet had died.

A spokesman said pigeons are culled using a chemical called Bird Cool, which is usually mixed with bread, grain or green beans before being left out as bait.

He added that the company will assign two men to the job in future, instead of just one.

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Singapore and the deep sea

The last frontier on Earth
Singapore may soon be diving deep into the unexplored riches of our ocean floors.
Tommy Koh, For The Straits Times 24 Aug 13;

SEVENTY per cent of the Earth's surface is covered by sea and ocean. However, we seem to know less about ocean space than we do about outer space. On March 26 last year, the award-winning American movie director, James Cameron, descended alone in a submersible called the "Deepsea Challenger" to the bottom of the Mariana Trench. It is the deepest part of the ocean floor at 11km below the surface. He took pictures and collected samples from the ocean floor, and said the ocean was "the last frontier for science and exploration on this planet".

One of the surprising discoveries is the life on the ocean floor. In spite of the darkness and the pressure, scientists have discovered many forms of life such as the shrimp-like crustaceans known as amphipods; gelatinous animals called holothurians; and other strange life forms. Scientists have isolated a compound from one of the amphipods, called scyllo-inositol. It is being investigated for its potential to treat Alzheimer's. Scientists are also studying the rocks from ocean trenches in their quest for a better understanding of the earthquakes that create the powerful tsunamis around the Pacific Rim.

Minerals below

I AGREE with Cameron that the ocean space is our last frontier. One of the mysteries of the deep seabed and ocean floor is the discovery of deposits of polymetallic nodules, polymetallic sulphides, and cobalt-rich ferromanganese crusts. The polymetallic nodules contain precious metals such as manganese, cobalt, nickel, copper and rare earth elements.

As the supply of these precious metals from land begins to diminish, as demand continues to increase and as metal prices remain high, interest in recovering the nodules and exploiting the sulphides and crusts has increased.

There are, however, many challenges. The polymetallic nodules, which are black in colour and resemble potatoes and golf balls, lie on top of the floor of the seabed in very deep waters. The depth ranges from 4,000m to 5,000m. Technology has not yet been perfected to harvest them in a way that is commercially viable and environmentally benign. The good thing is that as the nodules lie on the seabed, they need only to be recovered. There is no need for digging or dredging like conventional mines on land. The three methods being considered are to use nets, claws and suction to raise them to the mothership.

Whether deep sea mining will become feasible will partly depend on the technology, and partly on whether the costs of recovering the metals from ocean space can compete with the costs of recovering them from mines on land. The industry is, however, optimistic about the future. It believes the technological problems will be solved by leveraging on established offshore drilling technology in the oil and gas industry, which has ventured into very deep waters. Given our insatiable demand for these precious metals, it believes it is a matter of time before deep sea mining becomes a reality.

Ownership of resources

THIS leads us to the legal question: To whom do these resources belong? The answer is that it depends on where the resources are located. The Papua New Guinea government has granted a concession to a private company to recover the polymetallic nodules located within its territorial sea. The Cook Islands government announced it has rich deposits of polymetallic nodules within its exclusive economic zone and continental shelf and intends to tender out the exploration licences. These resources belong to the Cook Islands. If the resources are located within a coastal country's territorial sea, contiguous zone, exclusive economic zone or continental shelf, they belong to the coastal country.

What about the resources at the bottom of the seabed and ocean floor beyond the national jurisdiction of coastal states? The answer is that they belong to all of us. The 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea calls them "the common heritage of mankind".

The convention has established an institution to act on behalf of mankind and to regulate seabed mining - it is the International Seabed Authority (ISA) in Kingston, Jamaica. Any state or company that wishes to mine the seabed has to apply to the ISA for a contract to do so.

In the case of an application by a company, it must be sponsored by a state that is a party to the convention. Without this contract, it would be difficult to raise the financing for a seabed mining project.

To date, the ISA has signed 13 contracts of exploration for polymetallic nodules, four contracts of exploration for polymetallic sulphides and will sign two contracts of exploration for cobalt-rich ferromanganese crusts.

Keppel's venture

A SINGAPORE company with a sterling reputation and track record in the offshore and marine sector, Keppel, has incorporated a subsidiary company called Ocean Mineral Singapore (OMS) to venture into deep sea mining. The Singapore Government is sponsoring the application of OMS because it has the resources and relevant technology and expertise. OMS is 78.1 per cent owned by Keppel, while UK Seabed Resources Limited (UKSRL) and Lion City Capital Partners hold the remaining shares. OMS is effectively controlled by Keppel.

In July, I led a Singapore delegation to the 19th annual session of the ISA. The delegation consisted of the representatives of the ministries of Foreign Affairs and Trade and Industry, the Attorney-General's Chambers, and Keppel. We submitted an application to the Legal and Technical Commission for a contract of exploration for a mine site which is located in the deep seabed, east of Hawaii and west of Mexico. It is between the Clarion Fracture Zone, in the north, and the Clipperton Fracture Zone, in the south. The Clarion-Clipperton Zone contains one of the richest known deposits of polymetallic nodules.

The mine site that OMS applied for was originally half of a larger mine site that UKSRL had applied for. Under the convention, UKSRL was obliged to give up half the mine site to the ISA as a "reserved area" for the benefit of developing countries. As a developing country, Singapore is therefore entitled to apply for a "reserved area".

Next year's prospects

THE Legal and Technical Commission unfortunately ran out of time at its meeting in July. As a result, the applications of Russia, Britain, India and Singapore were deferred to its next meeting in February next year.

If the applications are approved, the commission's recommendations will be considered by the council of the ISA, at its next meeting in July next year.

I am optimistic that the application of OMS will be successful. The contract of exploration will give the company 15 years to conduct its research and prospecting.

There is an opportunity for Singapore's oceanographers, marine biologists and marine geologists to participate in the research.

At the same time, the ISA is starting work to develop an exploitation code for deep sea mining. If everything turns out well, Singapore, through OMS, will join four other Asian countries - China, India, Japan and South Korea - in exploring the deep seabed and ocean floor.

Exciting new job opportunities will be created for our young engineers, marine scientists and lawyers. A new era is about to begin.

The writer was president of the UN Conference on the Law of the Sea, 1981-1982, and presided over the conference's final session in Montego Bay, Jamaica, in December 1982, where the Convention on the Law of the Sea was signed. He led a Singapore delegation to the 19th session of the International Seabed Authority last month.

By Invitation features expert views from opinion leaders in Singapore and the region.

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More resources to rise from ashes

Facility to recover metal from ash expected to be ready from second half of next year
Neo Chai Chin Today Online 23 Aug 13;

SINGAPORE — Instead of ending up in the Semakau Landfill, more metals found in incinerator ash will be recovered and given a new lease of life from the second half of next year.

That is when a metal recovery facility for incinerator bottom ash (IBA) — or ash collected in pits at incineration plants — could be up and running in Tuas, according to the National Environment Agency (NEA).

The agency recently called a tender to develop and operate the facility, which will recover ferrous metals — those with iron content and magnetic properties — and non-ferrous metals, such as aluminium and copper, from bottom ash generated at the four incineration plants here.

Over 1,500 tonnes of bottom ash are generated a day, and the NEA projects that the figure could rise to about 2,100 tonnes by 2023. Metals make up about 8 to 15 per cent of the bottom ash by weight.

Currently, ferrous pieces up to 30 centimetres are removed from the ash stream by magnetic separators at the incineration plants.

The facility is part of the Government’s plans to put incinerated ash to greater use and prolong the lifespan of the Semakau Landfill beyond 2045.

It is developing environmental standards and application guidelines for ash reuse over the next few years but is, in the meantime, “looking at initiatives to recover metal from IBA as part of resource recovery”, the NEA stated in its tender. When the standards and guidelines for ash reuse are developed, the residue after metal recovery can be processed “to make it suitable for safe application”.

Putting bottom ash to good use is not a new concept; it has been used here as a foundation layer for new roads on a trial basis, and is used in roads and car parks as foundation material, and in concrete and cement in places like Denmark, the Netherlands and Taiwan.

Sustainable Energy Association of Singapore Chairman Edwin Khew said much research is taking place to ensure products made from bottom ash do not leach out toxic substances, like heavy metals, that may be embedded in the ash.

Research is also being done in some countries to recover a higher proportion of metal from bottom ash. Delft University of Technology, for instance, has developed technology to treat bottom ash, so that the bulk of moisture and particles smaller than 0.5 millimetres — which make the ash so sticky and clumpy that it is difficult to recover all non-ferrous particles — are removed, wrote Dr Peter Rem on the “Resources and Recycling” blog of Delft’s Faculty of Civil Engineering and Geosciences.

Delft researchers aim to create a low-cost process that recovers “so much metal and mineral value from IBA that even relatively small incinerators will be tempted to install it into their plant”.

Mr Khew said recovering and recycling valuable products from waste is “always good” and will attract investments in treating and extracting metals from bottom ash.

According to the NEA tender, which closes on Sept 24, the metal recovered from bottom ash will belong to the facility’s operator, which is expected to “apply the optimal technology necessary”.

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VWOs welcome volunteer youth corps

Tan Qiuyi Channel NewsAsia 23 Aug 13;

SINGAPORE: Voluntary welfare organisations (VWOs) said they welcome the setting up of a volunteer youth corps.

However, they noted that sustained funding and support for those who provide the volunteer training will be critical.

VWOs will be roped in to build up the volunteer youth corps' strong training component.

Details are pending, but the National Youth Council is looking into funding for these training providers.

Iris Lin, senior social worker at Fei Yue Community Services, said: "A lot of times we are running on shortage of manpower, so with that kind of funding it will really justify a lot of the time and hours put into for instance, training volunteers, even for meetings, discussions with them. All these take time."

The workflow for VWOs is a concern as well, but Fei Yue Community Services said they want to be sure they can give volunteers a meaningful experience.

One way is to encourage youths to come up with their own projects.

Iskandar Idris, member of the management committee at Malay Youth Literary Association, said: "Youth can contribute first of all, in providing fresh ideas that we may have overlooked, and second, youth may also help to identify certain factions of society that are maybe currently not captured in existing programmes that VWOs are offering."

Most organisations welcome the boost in volunteer numbers the youth corps will bring about. The target is 6,000 every year.

But for organisations that offer specialised social services, there is a limit to what young, inexperienced volunteers can do.

For example, the Singapore Anti-Narcotics Association (SANA) focuses on rehabilitating ex-drug offenders and this requires professional counselling skills.

However, SANA has education and awareness programmes that are in need of youth volunteers.

Steven Tham, assistant director at SANA, said: "In a society like Singapore, very affluent, we really need to help them (young people) to realise there are needs in Singapore. Many of our youths do not see these needs."

This is one perception that welfare organisations said they hope the volunteer youth corps will change.

- CNA/xq

Better matching of needs & efforts for more effective volunteerism
Kimberly Spykerman Channel NewsAsia 24 Aug 13;

SINGAPORE: The Volunteer Youth Corps will provide resources and opportunities for young Singaporeans to serve, but its success will also depend on whether they are passionate about serving and find volunteerism meaningful, said Education Minister Heng Swee Keat.

He made the comment on Saturday at a dialogue with some 90 youth leaders from eight school-based uniformed groups, which included the Scouts, Girl Guides, Boys' Brigade, Girls' Brigade, and National Cadet Corps.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had announced the setting up of the Volunteer Youth Corps at the National Day Rally on August 18.

Some ideas raised at Saturday's dialogue included keeping youth active in volunteerism while juggling school and work commitments, making environmental education part of the school syllabus, and creating better opportunities for disadvantaged students.

Other topics the students discussed covered social entrepreneurship, community integration, and building public confidence as youth get involved in social services.

The dialogue was part of a Youth Leaders Forum organised by the Singapore Scout Association.

Desmond Chong, assistant chief commissioner of projects at the Singapore Scout Association, said: "After seeing the whole OSC (Our Singapore Conversation) process, this is also an opportunity for young people to talk about what is it now they want to do with some of the ideas that were generated as a result of the forum earlier.

"We deliberately got together all the uniformed groups, because this is really one of those very big sectors in our youth population. It's about 25 per cent of all school-going kids, and we want to make sure we reach out to this group."

Many of the students at the dialogue are leaders within their own school communities, and it is hoped that not only will they be able to bring the ideas of their fellow students to the table, but be able to play an active role in bringing about the changes they want to see within their communities.

Mr Heng and the students also discussed how effective the Volunteer Youth Corps would be in motivating young Singaporeans to continue serving after they have left school.

The minister said there's a need to see how to better link what's being done in schools with what the new youth corps is promoting so as to sustain the movement.

He said: "The youth corps will provide a network as well as resources and opportunity. It will provide for better matching of needs and efforts, and in that way we can make volunteerism even more effective and more meaningful for the participants.

"This is just a start. We have to build on what we already have. In fact there are many young people who have started their own little movements -- all doing very meaningful work.

"And what we hope to do is to catalyse this further and to give them the support. I think if we can make it a norm in Singapore for our young people to volunteer, then I think it will have a very big impact later on.

"If you look at the uniformed group -- 25 per cent of our students are in uniformed groups and -- even if a fraction of that continues to volunteer, it will make a big impact."

He added: "As we've heard from many of the participants, it helps to develop their leadership qualities, it helps to develop their social skills, and it develops a greater awareness of the community -- both in Singapore as well as outside of Singapore."

For the youth, Saturday's dialogue was a chance to exchange experiences.

Lee Hui Ting, a member of The Girls' Brigade Singapore, said: "They're not just young leaders, some of them are actually volunteers at grassroots. So as a volunteer there, they see a lot more things than I do. It gives me (greater) perspective."

Nicholas Oh, a member of the The Raffles Scout Group, said: "I feel very invigorated after attending this. We are actually machines of change, we can actually do something for the society."

Mr Heng said he was impressed with the idealism, energy, and creativity of the youths involved in the dialogue.

- CNA/al

Volunteer Youth Corps teaches life lessons, says Balakrishnan
Alice Chia Channel NewsAsia 25 Aug 13;

SINGAPORE: Environment and Water Resources Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said the Volunteer Youth Corps will give young Singaporeans an opportunity to get a lesson in life as to how difficult life can be for some people.

Dr Balakrishnan said: "By giving young Singaporeans an opportunity to volunteer, they'll discover for themselves the vicissitudes of life, the difficulties of life.

“It's all about getting a more active community, and really, empowering Singaporeans to take charge, to pursue the causes that they feel passionately about, and to uplift Singapore society as a whole."

Dr Balakrishnan was speaking on the sidelines of a charity event by SMILE -- "Supporting and Motivating Individual Ladies Through Empowerment".

The funds raised from the event will go towards a programme to teach skills to underprivileged women.

- CNA/gn

Match welfare groups with volunteers: Heng
Pearl Lee Straits Times 25 Aug 13;

A game-changer for the volunteer youth corps will be its ability to match volunteers more closely with welfare organisations, Education Minister Heng Swee Keat said yesterday.

Speaking at a Young Leaders' Forum, Mr Heng said this would both ensure that the help given is relevant and provide mentoring and training to members of the youth corps.

"I (know of) one instance where someone told me, 'Oh dear, this year the school sent 200 volunteers when I only needed 20. So we ended up having to create work for the 180 people'," he recounted.

To prevent such instances, the National Youth Council's new volunteer youth corps - which the council hopes will be 6,000-strong - will have to work out the details on providing the relevant training and ensuring an effective matching system, he added.

About 80 youth leaders from uniformed groups, such as the Scouts, National Civil Defence Cadet Corps (NCDCC) and Red Cross Youth, participated in the forum, which was organised by the Singapore Scout Association.

Other issues such as social entrepreneurship and environment education in schools here were also raised by students. One of them was 19-year-old Moy Hong, who started volunteering with the NCDCC after graduating from Bowen Secondary three years ago.

While his commitment takes up most of his free time, the third-year Ngee Ann Polytechnic student says he finds satisfaction in seeing cadets mature into responsible young people.

"You give what you can, and don't expect anything in return," he said. "That is the true spirit of volunteerism."

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Malaysia: Still no legal weight to Sabah's proposal for shark hunting ban

Rashvinjgeet S. Bedi The Star 23 Aug 13;

PETALING JAYA: The Sabah state government hopes that its proposal to ban shark hunting and finning will have legal weight soon.

Last year, Sabah proposed an amendment to the Fisheries Act that would give force to such a ban, but the Federal government had yet to pass it.

Sabah Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Masidi Manjun said they were frustrated at length of time it was taking.

"We have sent over (the draft) but we are still waiting. It is a bit frustrating in the sense that there seems to be no urgency on the issue," he told The Star Online.

Masidi said that local environmental groups estimated that the shark population in Sabah had declined by 80% over the past 30 years.

He said that the sharks could only be found in certain places such as Semporna and off the coast of Kudat and Tawau.

"We are only asking that they ban it in Sabah. We have no business interfering in the matters of other states," he said.

A recent study by Traffic, a conservation NGO, showed that Malaysia played a significant role in the global shark trade and was amongst the top 10 importers and exporters in the world from 2000-2009.

The report also said that Malaysia caught 231,212 tonnes of sharks from 2002 to 2011, the eighth highest globally, accounting for 2.9% of the total global reported shark catch during that period.

Masidi said that he had no issue against the consumption of shark fin's soup, but the matter had to be viewed objectively, taking the overall economy of Sabah into account. He said that many divers wanted to see sharks in its waters.

"The economic and environmental benefits of maintaining the shark population outweigh that of killing them for their fins.

"If they are gone, there might be less incentive for divers to come here. This might jeopardise an industry that hires many locals," he said.

He said the diving industry brought in more than RM200mil a year to the state.
"Once tourists stop coming here, who will patronise the seafood restaurants? It is all related to one another," he said.

WWF: Save the sharks now
The Star 24 Aug 13;

PETALING JAYA: A national action plan to include a freeze on shark fishing should be implemented immediately by Malaysia to check overfishing as part of efforts to conserve the marine eco-system, said WWF-Malaysia.

Making the call on the back of reports that Malaysia ranks among the top 10 in the global shark trade, it said the national action plan for all states in the country was inevitable and was the best option.

WWF-Malaysia executive director Datuk Dr Dionysius Sharma said the action plan should include implementation of regulations for the export of shark parts as well as monitoring and recording catches.

He said there was a need to have more knowledge on the status of shark populations in Malaysia.

“This is to establish that the catch data is accurate to ensure sustainability of harvest from the sea,’’ he said in urging all Malaysians to stop consuming sharks, both fins and meat, by issuing the sustainable seafood guide.

He said the Sabah Government wanted to ban shark hunting and finning under its wildlife conservation laws where offenders could be jailed up to three years or fined RM30,000.

However, the state needed to have the same legal provision to be included in the federal Fisheries Act 1985, draft amendments for which were submitted to the Government last year.

“WWF-Malaysia urges the Government to review and consider the (Sabah) draft amendments, which include a moratorium on shark fishing and the promotion of alternative livelihood for affected shark fishers or communities.

“A precautionary approach using a moratorium on shark fishing until its population is assessed and, where needed, given time to rebound, is the best solution for now.”

Dr Sharma also said that a recovery plan should be put in place to allow for the reef shark population to fully recover, and protected areas be set up for shark conservation that would eventually lead to supporting healthy reef ecosystems.

Dr Sharma also noted that the international report by Traffic that Malaysia plays a major role in the global shark trade showed an ugly truth of inefficient implementation of international as well as national conservation commitments.

The report stated that Malaysia was one of the biggest players when it comes to shark trade globally, ranking among the top 10 importers and exporters within the period of data collection from 2000 to 2009 by Traffic.

Fulfil Commitments in Conservation of Marine Biodiversity, WWF-Malaysia Urge Government
WWF 23 Aug 13;

23 August 2013, Petaling Jaya: The recent report* in The Star (17 August 2013) confirmed shocking facts on the role Malaysia plays in the global shark trade.

The report revealed the ugly truth of inefficient implementation of international as well as national conservation commitments. Malaysia is now in the league of being one of the biggest players when it comes to shark trade globally, ranking among the top 10 importers and exporters within the period of data collection from 2000-2009 by TRAFFIC.

Tracking back into the history of Malaysia’s commitment in the conservation of the country’s biodiversity, besides being a signatory to the CITES agreement and the Convention on Biological Diversity in 1993, our Prime Minister, Dato’ Sri Mohd Najib bin Tun Haji Abdul Razak, declared the country’s commitment to protect biodiversity in Malaysia as part of the Coral Triangle region during the Leaders Summit of the Coral Triangle Initiative (CTI) in May 2009. However, this commitment falls far short when it comes to sharks.

Malaysian seas contain one of the most diverse varieties of marine flora and fauna in the world. Hence, it is our responsibility to protect the biodiversity of our seas including sharks. These large predators play a crucial role in keeping the ecosystems balanced and allowing populations of other creatures to maintain healthy levels.

Yet, our marine environment is severely threatened and at the brink of collapse, unless something is done to address overfishing. There is also a lack of implementation of conservation measures which jeopardize the livelihoods of the coastal communities, and the tourism industry (resort and dive operators), who depend on a healthy marine environment. Studies have shown that sharks are able to draw in up to US$1,000,000 over their lifetime to the tourism industry**.

WWF-Malaysia is in line with TRAFFIC in urging the government to take further action for immediate impact. The effective implementation of the National Plan of Action on the ground for all states in the country is inevitable.

Stricter regulations in export of shark parts out of the country should be implemented, and monitoring of catches record by fishermen at landing ports should also be done regularly. This is to establish that the catch data is accurate to ensure sustainability of harvest from the sea. Supporting this position, WWF-Malaysia has urged all Malaysians to stop consuming sharks, both fins and meat, by issuing the sustainable seafood guide ***.

The Sabah State Government had stated its intention to ban shark hunting and “finning” under its wildlife conservation laws whereby offenders can be jailed up to three years or fined RM30,000. Sabah wants to have the same legal provision to be included in the federal Fisheries Act 1985. The draft amendment was submitted to the Federal Government last year.

“WWF-Malaysia urges the government to review and consider the draft amendment, which includes a moratorium on shark fishing and the promotion of alternative livelihoods for affected shark fishers or communities. A precautionary approach using a moratorium on shark fishing until populations are assessed and, where needed, given time to rebound, is the best solution for now,” said WWF-Malaysia Executive Director/CEO, Dato’ Dr Dionysius Sharma.

“A recovery plan should be put in place and when resident reef shark populations have recovered, some can be protected in fully protected no-take reserves which will support healthy reef ecosystems. Where pelagic sharks are known to aggregate, protected areas can be established to protect them in this vulnerable life-history stage,” he added.

“We are at a stage where habitat protection alone will not be sufficient. It will need to be supported by measures to control take of shark, be it targeted or by-catch. This is especially for areas beyond the coverage of protected area for sharks,” Dr Dionysius said.

While the advocacy for legal protection for sharks in Malaysia is in progress and management plans are being promoted, there are still gaps to be filled with regard to the knowledge we have on the status of shark population and fisheries in Malaysia and the implementation of the government’s commitment. More research has to be carried out and data collection methods from landing ports should be improved.

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Thai Officials Play Down Effects of Oil Spill

Thomas Fuller New York Times 23 Aug 13;

KOH SAMET, Thailand — Two rescue operations were set in motion last month when a burst pipeline sent tons of crude oil gushing into the sea near this idyllic resort island. One was cleaning up the spill. The other was defending the image of Thailand’s tourism industry, crucial to the country’s increasingly fragile economy.

Thai officials immediately played down the environmental impact of what was the country’s third-largest oil spill. An executive with the state-owned oil group, PTT, speaking a day after the July 27 accident, told reporters that “everything was restored to normal.” A day later, when a thick black tide of crude filled a bay of this popular resort island, the same executive, Pornthep Butniphant, said the oil would decompose naturally and have “no effect on the environment.”

But it has taken far more than nature to remove the crude from the shoreline. Military units have spent the past three weeks decontaminating the bay. The soldiers have been joined by dozens of contractors who have been brushing rocks with dish-washing liquid to extract remaining traces of crude. A leading marine biologist said it would be years before marine life returned to normal in the worst-affected area.

Tourism is often seen in Thailand as a buffer when other economic activities slow down. With the economies of Southeast Asia entering an uncertain period, officials appear to be doing everything they can to sustain the record numbers of visitors of recent years.

In an effort to convince the public that swimming was safe, the sometimes-theatrical deputy prime minister, Plodprasop Suraswadi, summoned reporters Aug. 9 to watch him swim in Phrao Bay, the area affected worst.

Six days after his publicity stunt, the government’s own pollution control department issued a report saying that the area was too polluted to swim, with potentially cancer-causing hydrocarbons present in the water that were nearly six times the permissible level.

Environmentalists say the government has been too hasty in declaring the area safe and has given misleadingly upbeat assessments about the spill.

Ply Pirom, a coordinator with the environmental group Greenpeace who specializes in toxic substances, said that government officials were being pressured to produce data that showed the water was clean, and that the government was too cozy with PTT, the highly profitable oil group. Thailand’s natural resources and environment minister, Vichet Kasemthongsri, was previously chairman of the board at PTT.

“Everything about this issue is suspicious,” Mr. Ply said. “They are saying the water is clear, but people are worried about what they don’t see.”

Mr. Plodprasop, the deputy prime minister, has criticized government data, saying other findings of the pollution control department — that mercury in the water greatly exceeded safe levels — were wrong. After his criticism, those findings were rejected by the Thai cabinet, and new tests were ordered. These produced lower mercury readings.

Thon Thamrongnawasawat, a marine biologist who has examined the coastline extensively since the spill, said the government had been “too hasty to claim that everything had returned to normal.”

“Nature takes time to recover,” he said. “The Thai government has been too optimistic — and is not in sync with reality.”

Piamsak Menasveta, a marine-pollution expert at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok and the chairman of the country’s Independent Commission of Environment and Health, called for an independent verification of the government’s pollution data, particularly of the inconsistent mercury findings. “I am confident that there are some mistakes,” he said in an interview.

Hotels have reported cancellations since the spill, especially among Western Europeans and weekend visitors from Bangkok, which is a two-and-a-half hour drive from the jetty that connects Koh Samet with the mainland.

But the beaches here are far from empty, perhaps owing to the positive spin the government has put on the accident. A dozen tourists interviewed on the eastern side of the island, which was not directly affected by the spill, said they were unaware it had occurred.

“I don’t know anything about this,” said Wang Zhaoyang, a university student from Xian, China, visiting with her family. “If I knew before I came, I might have reconsidered.”

Chinese and Russian tourists continue to arrive in large groups, tour operators say. “We would be in real trouble without the Chinese,” said Sanya Boonyarit, a speedboat pilot who ferried tourists to the island.

The director of Thailand’s pollution control department, Wichean Jungrungrueng, told Thai news outlets Thursday that beaches on the eastern side of the island were safe for swimming but that Phrao Bay still contained levels of total petroleum hydrocarbon, the potentially harmful chemicals found in crude oil, above acceptable limits.

The PTT official charged with the cleanup, Kun Patumraj, an executive vice president for engineering and maintenance, predicted that the affected area would be ready to receive tourists for the high season, which begins in November. He spoke in an interview Thursday on a beach where workers were flushing out small brown globules of oil from nearby rocks, causing a faint smell of crude to waft through the air. The company is carrying out regular tests of sand and water in the area affected by the spill, but Mr. Kun acknowledged a trust deficit. “It’s difficult,” he said. “Sometimes people don’t believe us.”

Mr. Ply of Greenpeace said the spill had highlighted a broader and longer-term question for Thailand: the sustainability of pristine beaches so close to industrial zones. Foreign visitors often envision Thailand as country of rice paddies and beach resorts, but the country is also a regional industrial powerhouse with the largest car industry in Southeast Asia and thousands of factories making a range of products like computer hard drives and chemicals.

At dusk on Koh Samet, tourists flock to a spot above a stretch of rocky shoreline on the island, where they watch the sunset. From the same spot in the evenings, a visitor can see twinkling lights and gas flares in the distance — a petrochemical complex known as Map Ta Phut. The oil that spilled into the Gulf of Thailand in July, which a government committee says amounted to 54,000 liters, or 14,000 gallons, was bound for a refinery in the industrial zone.

A lawsuit by residents four years ago in Map Ta Phut temporarily stopped expansion of the refineries on environmental grounds. Government studies have shown that at least eight types of cancer among Thais were highest in Rayong Province, where Map Ta Phut and other industrial zones are located.

Mr. Piamsak, the maritime-pollution expert, said that regulations were lax and that the government did not have contingency plans to deal with oil and chemical spills. Critics say PTT was ill-prepared for the July spill. The company’s largest boom, the tubular barriers used to contain spills, was only 200 meters — or 650 feet — long, vastly inadequate for a spill that spanned several kilometers.

Koh Samet, which is about 35 kilometers, or 20 miles, from the refineries, is technically part of a national park, although nearly every beach is blanketed with hotels and guesthouses, and back alleys are strewn with trash. Yet considering its proximity to industry, the waters here are remarkably clear.

To Ms. Wang, the tourist from China, where waterways are often blacked by pollution, the island appeared pristine. After emerging from a swim in a bikini, she scanned the beach.

“It’s very beautiful here,” she said.

Poypiti Amatatham contributed reporting.

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