Best of our wild blogs: 28 Nov 13

Green Drinks Singapore turns 6 today!
from Green Drinks Singapore

Fri, 29 Nov 2013, 1.00am @ CR1: Kimberly Carlson on “Oil palm plantations alter stream ecosystem function in Borneo” from The Biodiversity crew @ NUS

Butterflies Galore! : Great Eggfly
from Butterflies of Singapore

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Expand Istana’s green refuge

Liew Kai Khiun Today Online 28 Nov 13;

The Prime Minister’s Facebook post about a surprise visit by a barn owl has attracted significant public interest, with 27,100 “likes” and 1,790 “shares” of the post.

This is perhaps a hearty response to his remarks: “The Istana grounds are a green refuge for many species of birds and animals. We should preserve and create many such green spaces all over our island, so that in our urban environment, we can enjoy the natural flora and fauna of Singapore.”

Originally a nutmeg plantation before it was converted into Government House in 1867, the Istana possesses both the built and natural heritage of Singapore.

The lush 43ha Istana premises are like an oasis in the heart of the dense city centre. It has tropical and heritage trees as well fruit plants, which were home to 75 bird species, including the endangered hornbills, 25 butterfly species and 23 dragonfly species, according to the 2006 wildlife census.

As natural vegetation is expected to shrink after the redevelopment of military training grounds and other forested areas such as Bukit Brown and Bidadari, it is perhaps timely to consider expanding the Istana’s natural landscape to mitigate the loss.

Like the appropriation of several golf courses in the Urban Redevelopment Authority’s draft Master Plan 2013, the Government could convert the Istana’s nine-hole golf course into a mini-forest that could serve as a bigger green lung within the city centre.

A golf course is associated with exclusivity and extravagance in land-scarce Singapore. A lusher Istana, with a larger wildlife sanctuary and botanical repository, would reflect a more progressive and environmentally conscious vision of Singapore as a liveable, loveable place for man and nature.

PM's visitor a real hoot
Audrey Tan The Straits Times AsiaOne 24 Nov 13;

SINGAPORE - A stray barn owl paid a surprise visit to the Prime Minister's office in the Istana on Wednesday morning.

The bird had most probably flown into the building during the night and was found perched "comfortably high up out of reach" when he went to his office in the morning, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in a Facebook post on Wednesday.

Personnel from the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) and Jurong Bird Park were called in to help, he added.

The 30cm-tall bird was caught and released safely into the grounds behind the Prime Minister's official residence at the Istana, Sri Temasek.

"The Istana grounds are a green refuge for many species of birds and animals," PM Lee said in his post, which has attracted more than 24,000 likes and some 1,500 shares.

"We should preserve and create many such green spaces all over our island, so that in our urban environment, we can enjoy the natural flora and fauna of Singapore."

The AVA said it received a call from an Istana staff member at around 11am on Wednesday.

Together with staff from Jurong Bird Park and the Istana, the owl was caught "using nets, scissor lift and poles".

"The bird was checked when caught and was found to be uninjured and in good health," the AVA said in a statement.

The barn owl, which has a heart-shaped face and a speckled chest, is one of nine species of owls that have been recorded here.

An urban dweller that feeds on rodents like rats, it can be seen in places such as those under bridges and in buildings.

"The Istana is a good place for a barn owl as it is a green lung in the city," said wildlife consultant and nature guide Subaraj Rajathurai, 50.

"The bird was probably out hunting when it flew into an open window."

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Plant more fruit trees in forests to keep monkeys away

Thomas Lee Chee Chee Today Online 28 Nov 13;

On the issue of the monkey menace, especially in landed housing estates, animal welfare groups feel that one of the problems lies with these residents leaving leftover food exposed.

It is not uncommon, however, to see groups of monkeys rummaging through rubbish bins provided by the waste collector. My uncle who lives near a nature reserve has to keep watch over his papaya and banana trees whenever his dogs bark at approaching monkeys.

Perhaps a possible solution is for animal welfare groups to work with relevant agencies to plant and maintain more fruit trees in the forest. Until these mature and bear fruits, there could be a designated part in nature reserves where fruits are provided to the monkeys.

For the immediate future, culling is necessary to control the monkey population. Sterilisation could also be helpful. No amount of change in human behaviour would lessen the problem.

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Philippines to rehab mangroves and natural beach forests as storm surge defence

DENR to allot P347M for Visayas mangrove rehab
Ellalyn De Vera Manila Bulletin 27 Nov 13;

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) will be allocating P347 million for the rehabilitation of mangroves and natural beach forests in Eastern Visayas as it will serve as the first line of defense against storm surge in the future.

DENR Secretary Ramon Paje said the P347 million will finance the restoration of mangrove and natural beach forests in the coastal areas of Eastern Visayas region, particularly Leyte province, which was devastated by typhoon “Yolanda” last November 8.

“Tacloban City (in Leyte) is a major concern given its being a major population center, but the undertaking will cover practically the entire eastern seaboard of Eastern Visayas,” Paje said.

Other areas covered by the coastal rehabilitation plan are Dulag town in Leyte; municipalities of Guiuan, Llorente and Balangiga in Eastern Samar; and the town of Basey in Samar.

He said the main objective is to restore the region’s degraded coastal forests to make its coastlines less vulnerable to extreme weather events, such as storm surge.

“It is clear in the law that we cannot allow people to build houses in areas for mangroves and beach forest,” Paje said, as he referred to Presidential Decree No. 1067, also known as the Philippine Water Code.

Article 51 of said water code states that “banks of rivers and streams and the shores of the seas and lakes throughout their entire length and within a zone of three meters in urban areas, 20 meters in agricultural areas and 40 meters in forest areas, along their margins are subject to the easement of public use in the interest of recreation, navigation, floatage, fishing and salvage.”

Citing a study by the Department of Science and Technology (DOST), Paje said the “strength of an eight-meter storm surge is concentrated within the lower six meters with the upper two meters as only having tidal currents.”

“The surge can only destroy the leaves, but it cannot uproot the mangroves because they are so deep- rooted and strong that they will regrow in time,” Paje said.

He also stressed that mangroves are natural barriers against tsunamis, storm surge and other wave action, and therefore, should not be destroyed.

“Had the mangroves in Leyte and Eastern Samar not been decimated, the storm surge in those areas would have been dissipated by 70 to 80 percent of its strength,” he explained.

Under the DENR plan, some 19 million seedlings and propagules from mangrove trees and beach forest species like Talisay will be planted over 1,900 hectares of coastline under the National Greening Program.

Paje said that about 80 percent of the allocation will be used for the government’s cash-for-work program for typhoon survivors, who will take part in seedling production, planting site preparation, actual planting and maintenance of mangrove and beach forest areas.

“Restoring the coastal forests in Eastern Visayas will set the foundation for the reconstruction and recovery of both coastal communities and urban areas in the province,” Paje explained.

“We will design it properly and have it approved by concerned local government units,” he added.

He also said that the establishment of “coastal green belts” will be done in clusters to allow fisher folk access to the shorelines, as well as other sustainable activities like ecotourism and coastal management

He said the budget proposal is awaiting approval by the National Economic Development Authority (NEDA).

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Malaysia: Sabah’s endangered species much sought after

Stephanie Lee The Star 28 Nov 13;

KOTA KINABALU: Sabah’s exotic wildlife species are treasures sought by international collectors and smugglers, going by the millions of ringgit of seizures over the years.

These animals, many being endangered and protected species, are also being smuggled for their meat, among other purposes.

Sabah Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Masidi Manjun, however, said the Government was doing its best to prevent smuggling and illegal hunting of endangered species in the state.

“Our efforts have led to the capture of poachers and smugglers over the years, as well as seizure of protected animals and meat, including pangolin meat, worth millions of ringgit,” he said when launching the Wild Animal Rescue Network (WARN) conference here.

“This is an indication we are being targeted for our animals,” he added.

Masidi said there were many private collectors and exotic food lovers who would pay hefty sums of money to get their hands on these animals, be it for their meat or for other uses.

“Looking at our biodiversity, I’m sure that Sabah is a fertile ground for the smugglers,” he added.

Masidi said that WARN, a non-governmental organisation that aims to reduce and prevent the smuggling of endangered and protected animals, had commended Sabah for its animal protection and smuggling prevention efforts.

“In fact, Sabah is said to be among the best in Asia in this field ” he added.

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Marine plastic pollution: the threat pervading Australia's waters

Disposable packaging is breaking down into tiny particles, posing a danger to marine and human life, shows research
Oliver Milman 27 Nov 13;

The waters around Australia are riddled with more than 4,000 tiny pieces of plastic per square kilometre, posing a threat to marine life and humans, new research has found.

The study, conducted by the University of Western Australia and CSIRO, found the vast majority of plastic particles were polyethylene and polypropylene, used to create disposable packaging, such as water bottles, and fishing equipment.

Researchers took seven voyages along Australia’s coastline, finding plastic concentrations were heaviest near Sydney and Brisbane, although the remote region of south-west Tasmania was also inundated with plastic, potentially swept in by the Antarctic current.

Overall, Australia is judged to have a plastic contamination level similar to the Caribbean Sea, but lower than the Mediterranean Sea. Australia, the research notes, uses nearly 1.5m tonnes of plastic a year, with only 20% of it recycled.

The study warns that plastics, if ingested by fish, “can affect the health of food webs, which include humans as an apex predator”.

Julia Reisser, lead author of the report, told Guardian Australia she was surprised to see such large quantities of plastics in Australian waters.

“Since the 1970s, we’ve been aware of the issue of plastic pollution when it comes to large vertebrae animals such as turtles and seabirds, but these particles are also affecting the little fish and plankton,” she said.

“We know that plastic is ingested by a broad range of organisms. What concerns me most is that these plastics are loaded with pollutants, such as fertilisers, because the plastic acts as a sponge for other things.

“This can be transferred via small fish to bigger fish and then us. It impacts the whole food chain. There has been research that shows toxins from plastics are causing tumours on the livers of some fish.”

Reisser said the true number of plastic particles is likely to be far higher than 4,000 pieces per square kilometre, due to the difficulty in counting extremely small pieces. Most of the particles found by Reisser measured less than 5mm across.

“The long-term solution is to decrease plastic waste, which involves the decrease in production of throwaway packaging,” she said. “Clean-up ideas are also welcome, although it won’t be a solution. There are lots of complex things that need to happen, including the Australian government helping create international laws to stop the dumping of plastics in the oceans.”

The issue of rubbish being dumped into the ocean was highlighted in October by an Australian sailor, who described parts of the Pacific Ocean as “dead” as he dodged debris for thousands of kilometres on a journey to Japan.

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Shellfish Growers Feeling Economic Hit as Ocean Acidifies

Julia Roberson Yahoo News 28 Nov 13;

Julia Roberson directs Ocean Conservancy's ocean acidification program. She contributed this article to LiveScience's Expert Voices: Op-Ed & Insights.

Numerous studies have revealed the effects of changing ocean chemistry on marine life, and many of the findings are disturbing. However, as Katherine Gammon reported in her Oct. 2012 LiveScience article "Oysters' Future Imperiled as Oceans Acidify," the harmful effects of acidification on bivalve species such as oysters, clams and mussels are happening now, and have been happening for a while.

A few years ago, oyster growers operating in waters off the U.S. West Coast began experiencing devastating losses of juvenile oysters — up to 80 percent of their typical harvest — due to increasingly corrosive seawater. These oysters were not able to extract enough calcium carbonate to build their shells. Cold water is naturally low in calcium carbonate, so the effects of more acidic seawater have been documented first in the Pacific Ocean. The effects of acidification have also recently been felt by Maine clammers on the U.S. East Coast, who are reporting weaker shells, due, in part, to more acidic waters.

The good news is states are beginning to take action to help people who earn their living in the shellfish business. When West Coast growers suffered a devastating harvest loss, funding was made available to develop monitoring systems that enabled these businesses to tackle acidification. In late August 2013, California announced a West Coast science panel that builds on the efforts of Washington State to respond to ocean acidification. In June 2013, the Maine legislature passed a resolution identifying acidification as a major threat to Maine's economy and culture.

And last month, the XPRIZE Foundation announced its next major competition, the Wendy Schmidt Global Ocean Health XPRIZE competition for the best ideas for better, cheaper, more accessible sensors to monitor ocean acidification. Once developed, these sensors will bolster existing efforts by U.S. states and the shellfish industry to monitor what's changing in seawater, as well as how fast it's changing.

Shellfish growers are now seeking support from national policy makers. Representatives of the Pacific and East Coast shellfish growers associations, Margaret Pilaro Barrette and Bob Rheault, together with other growers, met recently with members of the U.S. Congress and officials from President Barack Obama's administration. Barrette and Rheault described the escalating threat to shellfish and requested that Congress fully fund much-needed research under the Federal Ocean Acidification Research and Monitoring Act.

For more on the damaging effects of ocean acidification on shellfish, watch the video.

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