Best of our wild blogs: 29 Nov 13

The trash on the Pulau Serangoon shore
from News from the International Coastal Cleanup Singapore

Cigarette lighters from Singapore, for Shigeru Fujieda at Kagoshima University, Japan from News from the International Coastal Cleanup Singapore

Carpenter Bees visiting flowers of Melastoma malabathricum
from Bird Ecology Study Group

Butterflies Galore! : Great Mormon
from Butterflies of Singapore

Mon, 02 Dec 2013, 11.00am @ CR1: Dominik Kneer on “Dynamics of seagrasses in a heterogeneous tropical reef ecosystem” from The Biodiversity crew @ NUS

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Monkey trouble? Build homes away from our forests

Heng Cho Choon Today Online 29 Nov 13;

The suggestion to “Plant more fruit trees in forests to keep monkeys away” (Nov 28) would not ameliorate the problem of monkeys encroaching on human property. Instead, more people would go searching for fruits during fruiting seasons and on weekends.

I have seen this happening in Bukit Batok Nature Park and the forest at Rifle Range Road. People invariably trample on the undergrowth, eventually causing soil erosion. Some even camp overnight to wait for durians to drop.

The authorities should be more discerning in granting permits when developers submit their building plans.

At Hindhede Drive, several condominiums are built so close to the nature reserve that residents are troubled by monkeys and snakes on the premises.

My friend who lives at Swiss Club Road also bemoans the unwanted visitors to his bungalow premises. Monkeys invade his garden to feast on bananas, squirrels gnaw at his wires and civet cats devoured the koi in his pond.

Human dwellings should be built far from the forests to minimise human-animal conflicts.

There should also be heavier penalties for those caught poaching in forests, as it is not easy for the National Parks Board to monitor every nature park and the park connector network.

Limited land means not all homes can be far from forests
Thomas Lee Chee Chee Today Online 30 Nov 13;

In our land-scarce island, there is little opportunity to only build homes away from forested areas. (“Monkey trouble? Build homes away from our forests”; Nov 29)

Even if houses are far from forested areas, monkeys would go looking for food when they cannot find enough in the forest. This is natural. Have we not heard of wild boars swimming from Johor to Pulau Tekong to look for food?

I was not suggesting, in “Plant more fruit trees in forests to keep monkeys away” (Nov 28), trees with tempting fruit like the durian. People might fight over durians, but I have not heard of monkeys doing so.

Many fruit trees, not only papaya and banana, can attract monkeys, and we would not eat the fruits or seeds from those trees. The experts could decide on suitable types. As to people intruding into our forests, that is a different follow-up matter for the authorities.

In short, I think my suggestion is perhaps the closest to pleasing most parties.

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Indonesia’s REDD+ Challenges

Alex Hamer Jakarta Globe 28 Nov 13;

While recent moves to stimulate sustainable business practices in the manufacturing sector have gained wide attention, Indonesia’s efforts to slow deforestation, which accounts for 59.4 percent of all national emissions, has struggled to make headway as extreme weather events become more common globally, likely due to climate change.

In 2010, the Norwegian government promised $1 billion in funding for the United Nations-designed Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation Plus project (REDD+) to be established in Indonesia. Simply put, the project aims to protect carbon-rich forest and peatland from being burned or logged. Indonesia’s peatland holds 57 billion tons of carbon dioxide; according to UN estimates, that is 142 times Indonesia’s current annual carbon emissions.

Peatlands are burned and drained in order to clear the land for palm oil and acacia-tree plantations, and forests are logged for timber and pulp.

So far, only $50 million of the results-based Norwegian funding has been handed over for the Central Kalimantan-based program. An Australian-funded REDD+ project, which began in 2008, was canceled in July when little progress had been made reverting drained swamps back to peatland in Borneo.

According to those involved in REDD+, overall progress has been blocked by confusion over responsibility between federal, provincial and local authorities, the difficulty in enforcing the 2011 moratorium on new logging project licenses, obtuse policies from the forestry and agriculture ministries, and big business not coming on board.

Engaging business in conservation was a key goal of the recent Warsaw talks, where it was noted the role of business had been “marginal” at best. A goal of the three-week conference was to appeal to big business because it “often lacks a seat at the major international negotiation tables,” and is the “largest terrestrial agent of change.”

Norwegian ambassador to Indonesia Stig Traavik believes there has been some improvement in the logging and palm oil industries’ approach to conservation since REDD+ launched. He singled out Sinar Mas subsidiary Asia Pulp & Paper and Nestle for their commitment to zero new deforestation.

A Greenpeace report on APP’s progress under the new commitment was largely positive, concluding that “overall the implementation of the forest and peatland moratoriums has been successful, though the [two breaches] revealed a number of failings in internal sign-off processes.”

“Many of the big companies are changing their ways, [which] creates an atmosphere of corporate responsibility,” Heru Prasetyo, deputy at the Presidential Work Unit for Development Monitoring and Control (UKP4).

Heru said problems come from smaller landholders, who often operate on the edges of protected forests and ignore government rulings on what areas can or cannot be deforested.

“Smaller companies are still hungry, trying to catch up, and there has to be incentives [from the government] for them not to cut trees, and even worse, not to burn forests in preparation for a plantation.”

The moratorium on new licences is also undermined, he said, by the ministries of agriculture and of mining and energy, which both have the right to issue licences for development. The protected area has been reduced from 69 to 64 million hectares.

“After we came out and said ‘this is the area that will be exempt from new licences,’ the agriculture ministry said ‘no, no, I have to have licences here,’ and then the mining ministry does the same thing, so it keeps on reducing.”

REDD+ origins

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has been the driving force of the project, which is a key part of his plan to reduce carbon emissions by 26 percent by 2020. While this target has been labeled unrealistic, this year he announced REDD+ would become a government agency and extended the moratorium on new logging licences for previously untouched areas.

Heru is leading the design of the new ministry with UKP4, and he said the president has decided on the minister, but will not make an announcement for several weeks.

Currently, REDD+ is run by a task force, and Heru says the formation of the ministry will give it greater power when dealing with Agriculture and Mining, both of which can currently override its environmental protection.

Doctoral candidate at the Australian National University Erik Olbrei said the peatlands in particular are extremely important globally, and need to be protected to keep global warming to the 2 degrees centigrade limit set by the United Nations Panel on Climate Change.

“Of 13 million hectares of peatland in Sumatra and Kalimantan provinces, only 4 percent remains in pristine condition,” Olbrei said. “Indonesia’s peatlands are one of the last endangered species, with oil palm and Acacia going up all over the place.”

Current problems

Heru is philosophical about the current state of REDD+, comparing it to another major effort involving all levels of government and NGOs.

“We faced similar problems when we were trying to reconstruct Aceh post-tsunami. It’s definitely unknown territory, it’s unprecedented. Everybody has their own constituents to report to, and their own standards,” he said.

Ambassador Traavik said it was not worthwhile using “good or bad” to describe REDD+’s progress.

“Some things are going really well, and some things are not going as expected. Overall, since 2010, the positive changes in some areas have been much bigger than he had hoped. The moratorium has been a big thing, the [increase] in public awareness in Indonesia has been a big change,” he said.

The Norwegian funding follows the global REDD+ model, which only allows for some startup money and then only once results are proven. From 2010 to mid-2013, the task force survived on the $30 million initial grant. An extra $20 million came when the president announced the creation of the agency.

“You might say we have gotten a lot of change for cheap, because we haven’t spent a lot of money yet. That is not something we’re happy about, because we would like to speed up the protection,” Traavik said.

A Human Rights Watch report entitled ‘The Dark Side of Green Growth’ details the problems associated with the forestry sector.

“A 2010 investigation by the KPK [Corruption Eradication Commission] found that the Ministry of Forestry failed to accurately map forests, land use, and concession boundaries, and did not fairly allocate use rights. The KPK found that these weaknesses were central causes of persistent corruption and lost government revenue, as well as high levels of deforestation.”

As much as the corruption and inadequate policing of protected forest and peatland affects the success of REDD+, the mapping problems severely hinder the reporting and monitoring the task force can do. The discrepancy has been put at millions of hectares by the United Nations.

“The best map the Ministry of Forestry has is not good enough,” Heru said.

A group including members of the Norwegian mission, UKP4 and the United Nations Office for REDD+ Coordination in Indonesia (Unorcid) is working on better monitoring methods for the program. Currently, work is being done on properly mapping the areas involved. The level of detail in maps of Central Kalimantan, among others, is still not detailed enough to determine whether revegetation efforts have been successful.

Heru explained this is one problem that could be solved using the “leverage” REDD+ will have as an agency.

“We will have greater access to the Indonesian National Institute of Aeronautics and Space’s satellite technology to map these forested areas.”

The future of REDD+

“One of the points to come out of Warsaw is saying that the coordinating agency for REDD+ will be the global implementing agency. That means the REDD+ agency we are creating here is the [global] agency for REDD+, which is excellent,” Heru said.

Another product of the Warsaw talks was to change the funding model of REDD+. Currently, it is solely results-based. As the Indonesian program shows, funding can be scarce when results are hard to measure. The proposal is to balance the funding between startup costs and rewards for success.

Ambassador Traavik said the funding model was right for the project — it encouraged action and kept motivation for success high.

Lead author on the HRW report Emily Harwell made clear the results-based funding was not always successful.

“When funding slows to a trickle, the results are not going to come,” she said.

Heru used analogy to describe the different starting points of countries in REDD+ programs, and why funding should be evenly spread.

“Some people are stranded on a small island, and they need to swim to the mainland before they can get started. Once they get in the water, there are sharks, so they must struggle even more to survive,” he said.

Traavik said the clearest indication REDD+ was getting through was the attitudes of people on the ground in Central Kalimantan.

“We visited some rubber-tappers in a village, and I asked them if they were worried about climate change. These guys said ‘Yes, we are very worried — the weather used to be predictable, we had rainy seasons, dry seasons, but never long droughts or long periods of flooding. Both those are happening much more often, so we are really worried about climate change,” he said

According to the Traavik one problem can easily be fixed — the name no one is going to remember.

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Philippines: Mangroves shielded Sagay islets’ residents

Carla P. Gomez Inquirer Visayas 29 Nov 13;

SAGAY CITY, Negros Occidental—With monster winds, Supertyphoon “Yolanda” (international name: “Haiyan”) roared through the mangroves off Sagay City’s three islets of Molacaboc on Nov. 8, shearing branches and blowing them every which way, but failing to bring down any of the hardy trees.

“The mangroves are still standing, but there are circles in the middle where the branches of the trees had been sheared … They helped save us from the fury of Yolanda,” Milane Desamparado said.

Desamparado, who lives on Molocaboc Diut but teaches at Molocaboc Integrated School on Molocaboc Daku, believes the mangroves growing on many parts of the islet are buffers against the wind and waves.

Roger Rochar, the school principal, can attest to that.

“I was in the house when [Yolanda struck] so I did not see the action in the mangrove area. But by the looks of it, places where there are no mangroves were the ones badly hit,” Rochar said.

Yolanda’s powerful winds toppled many houses and heaved 5-meter storm surges that destroyed fishing boats. But the three islets that compose Molocaboc village suffered no casualties, village chief Antonio Pasaylo said.

The mangroves that line the shorelines of Molocaboc Daku, Molocaboc Diut and Matabas shielded the residents against Yolanda’s wrath, although it was the evacuations before the typhoon arrived that saved lives, he said.

Nevertheless, the national government has recognized the defensive value of mangroves to coastal communities and is encouraging local governments to develop green walls of mangrove and beach forests as natural protection against storms.

“Mangroves are natural barriers against tsunamis [and] storm surges [and they] should not be destroyed,” Environment Secretary Ramon Paje said in Manila on Wednesday.

Paje announced a P347-million project of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) that would see 19 million mangrove seedlings and seedlings of other beach-forest trees like the talisay planted on 1,900 hectares of coastline.

Paje said most of the coastlines damaged by Yolanda were once mangrove swamps and beach forests and they were converted into settlements by informal settlers or for development.

“Had the mangroves in Leyte and Eastern Samar provinces not been decimated, the storm surge in those areas would have been dissipated by 70 to 80 percent,” Paje said.

Paje cited a study by the Department of Science and Technology that showed that the strength of an 8-m storm surge is concentrated within the lower 6 m, with only the upper 2 m having tidal power.

“The surge can destroy the leaves, but it cannot uproot the mangroves because they are so deeply rooted and strong,” Paje said.

The Molacaboc islets are found in the eastern part of Sagay, bound in the north by the Visayan Sea and in the south by the Tañon Strait.

The islets can be reached by boat in 20 to 45 minutes from the Vito and Old Sagay ports.

Molocaboc Daku has an area of 147 hectares and a population of about 1,600. It is 7 kilometers away from the mainland at Vito Sagay.

Molocaboc Diut has an area of 120 hectares and a population of about 600. It is connected to Daku by a footwalk.

Matabas is 80 hectares and it has a population of 250.

Pasaylo said Yolanda battered the islets for almost four hours starting at mid-morning on Nov. 8. Luckily, it was low tide.

“There was zero visibility. You could barely see a person a foot away. The winds roared like airplanes flying toward you,” he said.

Jose Dalisay, principal of Matabas Elementary School, said the mangroves on one side of Matabas served as pads against the rushing waves.

“I discovered that on the other side [where there were no] mangroves, the solid stone was destroyed by the big waves… . We attempted to plant mangroves in that area, but failed due to the waves. Mangroves for us are important to protect the entire island of Matabas,” Dalisay said.

Molocaboc village has 500 ha of mangroves, 100 ha of which have been reforested, according to Lilibeth Cordova, an environmentalist who works closely with the island communities.

The three islets are part of the 32,000-ha Sagay Marine Reserve where massive mangrove reforestation, regeneration of corals and marine habitat and a strict ban on illegal fishing have long been in force.

Former Sagay Mayor Alfredo Marañon Jr., now governor of Negros Occidental province, launched the marine sanctuary in the 1970s.

When he was a congressman, he authored Republic Act No. 9106, which called for the establishment and management of Sagay Marine Reserve. The law was enacted on April 14, 2001.
In Molocaboc, 85 percent of the residents rely on fishing for their livelihood, and they practice sea ranching.

By creating an artificial habitat on the seabed using used tires and large rocks, fishermen draw fish to their miracle hole and, in three to four months, harvest about 20 kilos of fish, Pasaylo said.

Desamparado said Yolanda’s winds began to hit Molocaboc Diut, where she lives, at 4 a.m., followed by a fog-like darkness that engulfed the place. By 9:30 a.m., the islet felt the full force of the typhoon.

“If you attempted to get out of your house, you had to crawl to avoid being blown away,” she said.

Earlier, many people sought refuge in stronger houses, but even some concrete houses were “pulverized,” Desamparado said.

“We were lucky Yolanda did not land at night and the tide was low, or we could have been washed out to the sea,” she said.

“Our mangroves took the brunt. Some were uprooted while the branches of the rest were broken,” she said.

Desamparado now believes that “it is important for islets like ours to have mangroves because they help mitigate the gravity of a typhoon.”

Haide Rublico, principal of Molocaboc Diut Elementary School, said four buildings of her school were damaged, but those in the area shielded by mangroves sustained no damage.

Mangroves also helped cushion the blows of Yolanda on Suyac Island, according to Melanie Mermida, secretary of Suyac Island Eco-Tourism Association and Suyac Island Fishermen’s Association.

Some of the houses were damaged, but no one died, Mermida said.

The 1.8-ha Suyac islet, 3 km from mainland Sagay, has a population of 782 and a 4-ha mangrove area.

Suyac Island Mangrove Eco-Park, where one can walk on a path through century-old mangroves, is a tourist destination, though it is temporarily closed for repairs.—With a report from DJ Yap

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China's Guangdong carbon market, world's second biggest, to start in December

Kathy Chen and Stian Reklev PlanetArk 28 Nov 13;

Guangdong, China's most populous province with more than 100 million people, is to launch a carbon permits market next month that will be the world's second biggest after the European Union.

China, the world's biggest emitter of greenhouse gases, has pledged to reduce its carbon dioxide emissions per unit of GDP by up to 45 percent by 2020. Shanghai launched a carbon market on Tuesday and Beijing follows on Thursday.

The scheme in heavily industrialized Guangdong will cap carbon dioxide emissions from 202 companies at 350 million tons for 2013, according to a statement on the website of the provincial Development and Reform Commission.

Most permits, including 97 percent of what emitters get, will be handed out free on December 10, but the local government will also auction 29 million permits for this year from mid-December, it said, without giving a specific date.

The Guangzhou-based China Emissions Exchange will then launch a secondary market for permits by the end of December.

Among the firms covered by the scheme, which will dwarf the markets in Australia and California, are state-owned power companies Datang, Huaneng and Shenhua, along with manufacturers and petrochemical firms.

Opening bids for the auctioned permits should be made at 60 yuan ($9.85), the government said, but the Guangdong emissions trading scheme does not have a formal floor price.

Carbon permits on the Shenzhen market, China's first, ended at 72.76 yuan on Tuesday while those in Shanghai made their debut the same day at 27 yuan.

Beijing's market will be around a quarter the size of the Guangdong scheme in terms of CO2 covered.

Further markets are due to open in Hubei province and the cities of Chongqing and Tianjin in 2014.

The permits auctioned in Guangdong will include 10.5 million for the quotas of the 202 emitters. The rest are from a reserve of 38 million permits set aside to cover new entrants and various "adjustments", the local government document said, without offering further detail.

Guangdong will keep the level of auctioned permits at 3 percent of quotas next year but from 2015 some 10 percent will be sold.

In total, the seven pilot markets in China will regulate around 700-800 million tons of carbon dioxide annually, roughly equal to the annual emissions of Germany, and will cover areas accounting for nearly a third of China's gross domestic product.

The regional markets are meant to generate valuable experience as central government is planning a national trading scheme later in the decade.

(Reporting by Kathy Chen and Stian Reklev; Editing by Alan Raybould)

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