Best of our wild blogs: 8 Jan 14

Sat 11 & Sun 12, Jan : Morning Guided Walks
from a.t.Bukit Brown. Heritage. Habitat. History.

Workshop on Free Web Tools for Green NGOs (19 Feb 2014)
from Green Future Solutions

Blue-winged Pitta and the Changeable Lizard
from Bird Ecology Study Group

Butterflies Galore! : Lesser Darkie
from Butterflies of Singapore

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Bidadari development could force squirrels out, threaten native species

Neo Chai Chin Today Online 8 Jan 14;

SINGAPORE — With the Bidadari area due for housing development, some nature enthusiasts are concerned that a non-native squirrel species there could venture closer to nature reserves, threatening native species.

The creature in question is the Finlayson’s squirrel, a non-native species believed to have originated from escaped or abandoned pets. It has been around for more than 20 years, said Nature Society Singapore council member Tony O’Dempsey. It can be sighted in Bidadari and Woodleigh Park, but is native to Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam.

Mr O’Dempsey and other nature enthusiasts believe the Finlayson’s squirrel, which is typically brown or orange-red with a lighter underside, should be removed as it is considered a fairly aggressive squirrel that could displace native species such as the slender squirrel and plantain squirrel. It also preys on small native animals like chicks and is known to damage the bark of trees.

“Further development of park connectors may aid the expansion of (the Finlayson’s squirrel’s) current range,” he said. It would do “a lot of damage” if it moves into the nature reserves.

The National Parks Board is aware of the squirrel’s presence in Bidadari and Woodleigh. The board “is in the process of working with non-governmental organisations and Singapore naturalists to monitor the population and study the appropriate measures to take, if necessary,” said Dr Geoffrey Davison, Deputy Director of the National Biodiversity Centre.

Despite a few sightings of the squirrel elsewhere in Singapore, Dr Davison said there was no evidence of any sustained population outside Bidadari and Woodleigh. Its impact on vegetation is also similar to that caused by native squirrel species.

However, he noted the impending development of Bidadari may displace the squirrel and result in competition for space and food with native species. He did not provide an estimate of the squirrel’s population, but said it has increased gradually over the years.

Members of the nature community called for a study on the current range and number of the Finlayson’s squirrel, also known as the variable squirrel. This would inform any management strategy for the squirrel and allocation of resources, said Nature Society President Shawn Lum.

“There’s been enough interest generated in the animal that we may soon see a group of people coming together to carry this out,” he added.

Experiments to determine the best way of removing the squirrels should also be done, said Mr O’Dempsey.

When asked about relocation possibilities for the squirrel, Chief Executive of the Animal Concerns Research and Education Society Louis Ng noted the lack of alternative nature areas in Singapore and said ACRES would be keen to look into the possibility of trapping and sending the squirrels back to their native countries.

“We don’t want to send the message animals can be just culled … it’s a problem we created and it’s a problem that we should solve — and it’s not by killing the animals,” he said.

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Govt to make energy and chemicals industry more competitive: PM Lee

Channel NewsAsia 8 Jan 14;

SINGAPORE: Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said Singapore will continue to support the energy and chemicals industry and that the government stands fully behind petrochemicals companies here to help them succeed.

Mr Lee was speaking on Wednesday at the opening ceremony of ExxonMobil's Singapore Chemical Plant expansion in Jurong Island.

While Asia's continued growth will fuel demand for chemical products, Mr Lee added that there are several challenges too.

Among them, growing competition from other petrochemical hubs in US, China and Europe, rising global concern over carbon emissions and domestic constraints such as the cut in foreign labour as well as more expensive land.

Mr Lee said bold decisions like Jurong Island have enabled Singapore to overcome its constraints and forge a leading position in the energy and chemicals industry.

He added that Singapore supplies a third of Southeast Asia's total fuel needs and is one of a few countries capable of producing low sulphur automotive and bunker fuels.

To maintain Singapore's lead in the industry, Mr Lee outlined several strategies.

They include what Mr Lee called - Jurong Island version 2.0 - the upgrading of Jurong Island to make it more competitive and sustainable so as to attract new investment.

There are also efforts to upgrade capabilities through workforce training and research and development.

Mr Lee said Singapore will continue to play its part in helping to tackle climate change even as it grows the industry by working with the industry to reduce emissions and other pollutants.

The energy and chemicals sector contributes to a third of Singapore's manufacturing output.

It also provides many positive spill-over effects in the services sector, logistics, innovation and enterprise.

Mr Lee added that jobs in this industry are the highest paid within the manufacturing sector and many Singaporeans have built successful careers in the industry.

With the expansion, the Singapore Chemical Plant is now ExxonMobil's largest integrated refining and petrochemical facility in the world.

ExxonMobil said its Singapore Chemical Plant is positioned to serve growth markets from China to the Indian subcontinent and beyond.

ExxonMobil's total investment in Singapore across its various operations amounts to over US$10 billion.

- CNA/fa

ExxonMobil’s largest petrochemical complex unveiled
Government will help to make the industry more competitive and sustainable, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong says

Wong Wei Han Today Online 8 Jan 14;

SINGAPORE — ExxonMobil today (Jan 8) unveiled its latest expansion at the Singapore Chemical Plant, officially completing a project that more than doubles the plant’s production capacity to meet rising demand in Asia Pacific.

The expansion, which began in November 2007 and ended last month, also made the facility ExxonMobil’s largest integrated petrochemical complex globally, chief executive Rex Tillerson said.

“With this project complete, our regional capacity has been expanded by more than 50 per cent, and we have added production capacity across six product lines,” he said at the opening ceremony at Jurong Island today.

The expansion centres on a new world-scale steam cracker — the plant’s second — and its peripheral units, producing chemicals like ethylene and polyethylene that are crucial for a broad range of manufacturing processes.

And as Asia’s consumer demand soars, the added capacity will position ExxonMobil to tap that growth.

“We expect global chemical demand to grow at a faster pace than GDP ... and two-thirds of that growth in chemical demand will be here in Asia Pacific,” Mr Tillerson said. “This expansion establishes a world-scale integrated platform ... to meet the demand growth across this region.”

Also speaking at the ceremony was Prime Minister Mr Lee Hsien Loong, who complimented ExxonMobil’s role in Singapore’s energy and petrochemical industry.

The sector, which makes up one third of manufacturing here, also empowers various industries along the supply chain while creating rewarding careers for Singaporeans, he added.

ExxonMobil currently hires around 3,300 people in Singapore, including 2,000 at its refinery and chemical plant here.

“We will continue to support the industry. First, we will upgrade Jurong Island … taking a bigger step to make it more competitive and sustainable,” Mr Lee said. “Second, we are also upgrading our software and capabilities, growing our pipeline of science and engineering graduates (and) promoting continuous education and training.”

Singapore will also be committed to helping tackle climate change, working closely with the industry to be more environmentally friendly, the Prime Minister added.

Singapore aims to keep lead in chemicals, energy sectors: PM
Today Online 9 Jan 14;

SINGAPORE — The Government will continue to support the energy and chemicals industry here, ensuring Singapore retains its status as a major global hub for the sectors.

Several initiatives are underway to achieve that goal, including the enhancement of the infrastructure on Jurong Island, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday at the official opening of ExxonMobil’s expanded chemical plant.

Dubbing the programme of initiatives Jurong Island Version 2.0, Mr Lee said a key development is the introduction of alternative feedstock sources such as LPG (liquefied petroleum gas) to increase competitiveness and reduce the costs for the plants here. Another strategy is to use waste heat for water desalination to save energy, he said.

As a feedstock — or raw material — for chemical manufacturing, LPG is gaining popularity as an industry alternative and Singapore needs to make sure it can deliver what companies such as ExxonMobil require.

To ensure Singapore continues to attract new investments, a new LPG terminal will be built on Jurong Island, the Economic Development Board’s Director For Energy and Chemicals Eugene Leong told TODAY.

“The new terminal will allow LPG to be stored and distributed to plants on Jurong Island … We’re in the final stages of discussion and expect to make an announcement in the first quarter this year,” he said.

Other developments on the island include Tuas Power’s Tembusu Multi-Utilities Complex to provide cost-effective utility services for industries and the launch of Jurong Island Terminal last year to reduce dependence on trucking, Mr Leong added.

Besides hardware, Singapore is also keen on upgrading its capabilities through workforce training and research and development.

“A skilled workforce is an important part of this. We’re growing our pipeline of science and engineering graduates ... promoting continuous education and training ... and creating knowledge through research and development,” he said.

“At the same time, we want to assure all the energy and petrochemicals companies in Singapore that the Government stands fully behind them,” Mr Lee added. “Companies like ExxonMobil depend on us to maintain a predictable environment for their investments to succeed.

Home to many petrochemical companies such as BASF, Mitsui Chemicals, Shell and Sumitomo Chemicals, Singapore’s openness, transparency and free trade were key factors in ExxonMobil’s decision to expand its chemical plant here, Chief Executive Rex Tillerson said at the opening ceremony yesterday..

ExxonMobil’s expanded plant is Singapore’s largest manufacturing investment to date. Its chemical plant expansion takes its total investment in Singapore to more than S$10 billion

The multi-billion-dollar investment — which transforms the chemical plant into ExxonMobil’s largest integrated refining and petrochemical complex globally — will allow the American energy giant to double its finished product capacity in Singapore.

Completed in December 2012, the five-year project further enables ExxonMobil to tap Asia’s booming economy and demand for energy and petrochemical products, Mr Tillerson said.

“By the year 2040, the overall economy of Asia is likely to triple in size,” he said. “We expect global chemical demand to grow at a faster pace than gross domestic product as people seek higher standards of living … Two-thirds of that growth in chemical demand will be here in the Asia-Pacific region and the Singapore chemical plant is uniquely positioned to serve these growth markets.”

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Tags reveal leatherback turtle by-catch hotspots

Mark Kinver BBC 8 Jan 14;

A study using satellite data from tagged leatherback turtles has identified possible "by-catch hotspots" in the Pacific Ocean.

By tracking 135 turtles, researchers highlighted areas where the critically endangered animals were likely to come into contact with fishing vessels.

The authors hoped the findings could be used to help cut the number of turtles accidentally killed as by-catch.

The paper appears in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B journal.

The species, scientifically known as Dermochelys coriacea, is globally listed as vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature's Red List of Threatened Species.

However, conservationists have identified a number of distinct populations in the world's various oceans. Within the Pacific, the two populations - eastern and western - are considered to be critically endangered.

Tagging teamwork

For this study, data was collated from numerous projects between 1992 and 2008, explained lead author John Roe from the University of North California's Pembroke campus.

"To really get an idea about where the leatherbacks go, you have got to have turtles tagged from multiple locations," he said.

"So it took getting just about everyone who has put a satellite tag on a leatherback for other research purposes to collaborate to get a sample size large enough to allow us to answer that question."

Dr Roe and his colleagues from a range of US and Costa Rican institutes then integrated the turtle location data with similar data of where the longline fishing activity in the Pacific Ocean was highest.

"We used that data to overlay with the data of the areas the turtles were using in order to figure out where the turtle hotspots matched with the fisheries hotspots to identify the areas where by-catch was most likely to occur," he told BBC News.

Writing in their paper, the team observed: "For East Pacific nesters, an area of potential risk occurs along the primary leatherback migration corridor between Costa Rica and the Galapagos Islands.

"For the West Pacific population, ...the greatest by-catch was predicted to occur adjacent to nesting beaches in north-west New Guinea."

They added that the analysis represented the largest compilation of data of its kind.

However, Dr Roe said that more tagging data was required in order to establish a more detailed picture.

"We need to target these areas to see if the turtle persistently use these areas over and over again," he said.

"That would provide really useful information in the management of by-catch because the fisheries authorities would have that knowledge and adjust their fishing efforts accordingly."

He added: "We are just trying to highlight some areas to make it easier to look for these needles in a haystack.

"The idea now is to try and get some more refined information in those targeted areas but we now know where and when to look, and where to concentrate our efforts."

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Sun bear sanctuary to save 'forgotten species'

South-east Asia's endangered bears losing habitat to palm oil plantations as poachers target them for their bile and meat
Ami Sedghi 6 Jan 14;

Like a proud dad, Siew Te Wong's office walls and desk are covered in baby pictures, but unlike ordinary infants these possess four-inch claws and a taste for insects and honey. Wong, a leading sun bear researcher, has a heartfelt passion for the world's smallest bear that is as big as the problems facing the species.

The sun bear (Helarctos malayanus) lives in south-east Asia, Sumatra and Borneo and was first listed as "vulnerable" on the IUCN's "red list" of threatened species in 2007. Traffic, the wildlife trade monitoring network, said in 2011 that the sun bear population was suspected to have declined by more than 30% in the past 30 years. Deforestation, uncontrolled exploitation for trade and illegal poaching were named as major causes.

Named sun-bear man by the local Malayan press, Wong is working hard to raise awareness of what he calls the "forgotten bears species". The Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre, nestled next door to the Sepilok Orangutang sanctuary in Sabah, Malaysia, is set to be the first of its like in the world. Due to open to the public on 16 January, it will focus on animal welfare, education, research and rehabilitation.

"We need the public, from all levels, to understand the importance of the rainforest," says Wong. "I think education is fundamental because sun bears are still lacking in terms of the conservation work and research. And a lot of that boils down to the fact that people do not know about the species, people do not care about the species."

WWF says that the global demand for palm oil has been a major driver in the level of deforestation seen in Indonesia, while Greenpeace warns that Indonesia is planning for another 4m hectares of pam oil plantations by 2015, in addition to the existing 6m.

When asked about palm oil, which is used in a variety of food products from margarine to biscuits, Wong sighs and says: "Yes, but again, who causes it? You and me. You know, we are responsible." He points to human population growth and the demand it creates for more resources and the destruction of habitat that, in turn, threatens wildlife.

Despite the species being protected by law for decades, Wong thinks more can be done to enforce wildlife law – the maximum penalty is five years in jail or 100,000 ringgit (almost £20,000) or both. "It's always considered not to be a priority," he explains, "so the law is rarely being enforced and sometimes people don't know that it's actually against the law."

He tells stories of encounters with villagers keeping sun bear cubs as pets; "oh, my grandfather used to have two bears, my father used to have one bear, why can I not have one bear?" and shocking use of the bear's paws for food, a dish he tells me that was once considered an Emperor's dish. "If you Google bear paw stew you can actually find recipes on the internet. They teach you how to cook bear paw stew, can you believe that?" he shakes his head incredulously. "It's crazy. Absolutely crazy."

Among the piles of reports on his desk, horror stories of bears squashed into tiny cages, being farmed for their bile, Wong picks up a picture of him in his younger years with a rescued sun bear cub after its mother was killed by poachers. "I just cannot turn a blind eye," he says, glancing at the image. "Even though the number may not be great, it has to be taken care of."

Related link
Bornean Sun Bear Conservation blog

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Geoengineering could bring severe drought to the tropics, research shows

Study models impact on global rainfall when artificial volcanic eruptions are created in a bid to reverse climate change
Damian Carrington 8 Jan 14;

Reversing climate change via huge artificial volcanic eruptions could bring severe droughts to large regions of the tropics, according to new scientific research.

The controversial idea of geoengineering – deliberately changing the Earth's climate – is being seriously discussed as a last-ditch way of avoiding dangerous global warming if efforts to slash greenhouse gas emissions fail.

But the new work shows that a leading contender – pumping sulphate particles into the stratosphere to block sunlight – could have side-effects just as serious as the effects of warming itself. Furthermore, the impacts would be different around the world, raising the prospect of conflicts between nations that might benefit and those suffering more damage.

"There are a lot of issues regarding governance – who controls the thermostat – because the impacts of geoengineering will not be uniform everywhere," said Dr Andrew Charlton-Perez, at the University of Reading and a member of the research team.

The study, published in the journal Environmental Research Letters, is the first to convincingly model what happens to rainfall if sulphates were deployed on a huge scale.

While the computer models showed that big temperature rises could be completely avoided, it also showed cuts in rain of up to one-third in South America, Asia and Africa. The consequent droughts would affect billions of people and also fragile tropical rainforests that act as a major store of carbon. "We would see changes happening so quickly that there would be little time for people to adapt," said Charlton-Perez.

Another member of the research team, Professor Ellie Highwood, said: "On the evidence of this research, stratospheric aerosol geoengineering is not providing world leaders with any easy answers to the problem of climate change."

The study considered what would happen if carbon dioxide levels quadrupled in the atmosphere – the sort of extreme situation in which geoengineering might be seriously considered. Without intervention, temperatures rose by 4C, far above the 2C level considered dangerous by the world's governments.

But the temperature rise was reduced to zero if a massive geoengineering effort took place. The 60m tonnes of sulphur dioxide pumped into the stratosphere each year in the simulation is equivalent to five volcanic eruptions, each on the scale of Mount Pinatubo, the huge 1991 eruption in the Philippines that cut global temperatures by about 0.5C in the following year or two.

The sulphate particles in the model not only reflected incoming sunlight, cutting temperatures, but also absorbed heat rising up from the Earth's surface. This reduced the temperature difference between the lower and upper atmosphere, which is the engine that drives cloud formation and rainfall. The reduction in rainfall seen in the geoengineering model was as big as the increase in rainfall projected if global warming was unabated.

Dr Matthew Watson, a researcher at the University of Bristol and advocate of further research into geoengineering, said: "The researchers chose an extreme climate scenario so we should not be surprised if that, and any geoengineering attempt to counter it, had severe and uneven impacts."

He added: "It remains the case that our only guaranteed way forward is to reduce the record levels of greenhouse gases we continue to pump into the atmosphere. It's vital that scientists continue researching geoengineering; but no government serious about climate change should see it as a quick fix."

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