Best of our wild blogs: 24 Jan 14

Yellow-vented Bulbul eats Thalia geniculata flower
from Bird Ecology Study Group

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Malaysia Met Department: Colder days ahead

New Straits Times 24 Jan 14;

DRASTIC WEATHER CHANGE: Condition caused by dry winds from China

THE country is experiencing record low temperatures in several areas, with meteorological experts forecasting colder days ahead. Kuala Krai in Kelantan broke the record yesterday with its temperature dropping significantly from the 32oC recorded on Jan 7, to 17.2oC on Wednesday. It was 17.5oC yesterday.

Several countries in the region are also getting increasingly colder, with northern Vietnam snowing last month and Thailand's capital, Bangkok, hitting 15oC. The Malaysian Meteorological Department (MMD) is expecting this drastic weather change, attributed to cold dry winds from China which is currently experiencing winter, to gradually pass on sometime next month.

Its central forecast division director, Muhammad Helmi Abdullah, poured cold water on speculations that it could snow in Malaysia, a nation that sits on the equator.

"The months of January and February will usually record the lowest temperatures in the country every year because of the cold and dry air from the Northeast monsoon.

"However, over the last few days the temperatures recorded were below the average minimum temperature we had recorded in the past," he told the New Straits Times yesterday, adding that the huge drop in temperature was especially significant in some areas of the east coast and the north.

The department has also attributed the dip in temperature to the cloudless nights in recent days, which, otherwise, would serve to trap heat on the ground.

In Perlis, MMD's weather station in Chuping recorded the temperature in the district at 32oC on Wednesday. It recorded a 10oC drop yesterday.

The state, known as the hottest spot in the country where temperature can soar to 40oC, is expected to get colder in the next few days.

Earlier this month, the state recorded a temperature of 19.8oC. However, its record of 17.8oC was on Feb 26, 1994.

Drastic plunges in temperature within several hours were also recorded in Alor Star, Kedah and Besut in Terengganu.

Just on Wednesday, the temperature in Alor Star was 32oC. Yesterday, it dipped to 22oC.

Besut's temperature two days ago was 22oC. It was 30oC on Jan 7.

The department has cautioned those staying in areas, which are experiencing sudden dips in temperatures, to take precautionary measures to keep their health in check.

From observation, those staying in the affected areas were mostly wrapped in thicker clothing.
In Kuala Krai, locals wore socks at home and extra layers of clothing to stave off the cold.
Their blankets were also stored away as they had to rely on duvets to keep themselves warm at night.

Villager Rosmanita Zainal Abidin, 42, from Kampung Sungai Dala in Jalan Tualang here, said she had been boiling large pots of water every morning to bathe her children.

"Water from the tap has become too cold for bathing.

"Even during mid-day, water from the pipes feels like it is coming from the fridge."

Mohamed Mustapha Baharum, 62, said he had stopped his regular morning walk as it was too cold.
"Now, I prefer to snuggle under the blanket as it is too cold outside, not only in the morning but also in the late afternoon and night."

In Arau, food stall operators Mohd Suhail Safini, 18, and Sharul Azuan Kamarol, 28, said as the state experienced low temperatures especially at night, it would be too chilly to wear just a T-shirt.
The hawkers, who were wearing jackets while attending to customers, were not complaining as their income had spiked in recent days.

"People tend to get hungry faster and eat more during cold weather."

Meanwhile, Perlis Menteri Besar Azlan Man, when contacted yesterday, said the change in weather would not effect the state's signature export -- the Harumanis mangoes.

"The change in weather has not affected the Harumanis industry.

"We are lucky that this is happening after the flowering period and that there is no heavy and consistent rain, as that would have affected it.

"Right now, 90 per cent of the mangoes are ready for harvest and this should augur well for the impending Harumanis Festival, which is a tourist attraction," he said, adding that Perlis would be able to sustain its 10-tonne export of the fruit to Japan and Singapore.

Across the South China Sea in Kota Kinabalu, a temperature of 22.1oC was recorded yesterday.
The temperature here is expected to be between 20oC and 27oC until next week.

Keningau had recorded 17oC, even lower than Kundasang's highland temperature of 20oC.
It has been 19oC for Ranau since last week.

"The highlands will be colder and it is not impossible for Mount Kinabalu to reach 15oC," said state MMD director Abdul Malik Tussin.

The department also said the video of snow falling in Indonesia was fake.

"Snow only happens in places with moderate climate and regions with four seasons."

Cities, districts experiencing cold weather conditions
T. Avineshwaran The Star 23 Jan 14;

PETALING JAYA: Many cities and districts in Malaysia are experiencing cold weather thanks to the cold winds from the Northeast monsoon.

Cities and towns like Subang Jaya, Kota Kinabalu, Sandakan, Kota Bharu, Kuantan and Petaling Jaya are experiencing conditions below 25 °C similar to that of Cameron Highlands and Genting Highlands.

The minimum temperatures were recorded since New Year’s Day and it is expected to continue for the next few weeks.

MMD reported on Thursday that from Jan 1-22, the lowest recorded temperature for Kuantan was 21.0°C, Kota Kinabalu 22.1°C, Petaling Jaya 23.6 °C, Kota Bharu 23°C, Kuching 22.0°C while Northern districts like Alor Setar, Kedah and Chuping, Perlis recorded 22.4°C and 23.3 °C respectively.

“Based on our information, among all the months, January will always record the lowest temperature every year,”

According to the Malaysian Meteorological Department (MMD), the dip in temperature is due to the cold winds from Northeast monsoon and this is not the first time such a phenomenon has occurred.

“The temperature fluctuates from time-to-time and during the Northeast monsoon, such minimum recordings is usual and has happened many times during the season,”

“Cold temperatures are usually recorded in East Coast and Northern region of peninsular Malaysia because of the Northeast monsoon wind which is pretty strong.

“The wind comes from Mainland China, which is experiencing snow right now.

“Also, good weather and non-cloudy conditions in Malaysia this week helped reduce the temperatures in the early morning and night.

“Atmosphere without clouds is similar to a situation where there is no blanket to keep us warm. The blanket is the cloud and our body is earth,” said MMD.

MMD also dispelled rumours that it snowed in Indonesia as they said it’s impossible for a tropical country to experience such a phenomenon.

Cooler days ahead in Malaysia
T. Avineshwaran, P. Aruna, and Julia Khaw The Star 24 Jan 14;

PETALING JAYA: It’s going to be a chilly Chinese New Year with the cold north-easterly wind forecast to continue for the next few weeks.

Many parts of the east coast and northern and central regions are experiencing cold weather because of the wind, according to the Meteorological Department.

It said that cities and towns like Subang Jaya, Kota Kinabalu, Sandakan, Kota Baru, Kuantan and Petaling Jaya are experiencing temperatures of below 25°C similar to conditions in Cameron Highlands and Genting Highlands.

Yesterday, Kuala Krai recorded a temperature of 17.2°C – the lowest for a lowland area.

From Jan 1 to 2, the lowest recorded temperatures were 21°C for Kuantan, 22.1°C for Kota Kinabalu, 23.6°C for Petaling Jaya, 23°C for Kota Baru and 22°C for Kuching. Alor Setar and Chuping in Perlis experienced temperatures of 22.4°C and 23.3 °C, respectively.

Meteorological Department deputy director Alui Bahari dismissed speculation that the drop in temperatures was due to the lack of activity in the sun, or what is called the “sleeping sun” phenomenon.

“Based on our records, January is always the coldest month,” he said.

According to Alui, the dip in temperatures is due to the cold north-easterly winds, and this is not the first time that such a drop has occurred.

He added: “Temperatures fluctuate from time to time. Such low recordings are usual and have happened many times during the season.

“The north-easterly wind which is pretty strong comes from mainland China, which is experiencing cold weather right now.

“Also, good weather and non-cloudy conditions in Malaysia this week helped reduce the temperatures in the early morning and night.

“Atmosphere without clouds is similar to a situation where there is no blanket to keep us warm. The blanket is the cloud and our body is earth.”

'Sleeping sun' phenomenon partly cause of chilly weather
The Star 24 Jan 14;

PETALING JAYA: The weather usually gets colder at this time of the year but temperatures seem to be dropping lower than usual.

Faizal Parish, an expert in biodiversity and the climate, said the sudden change is related to the extreme weather conditions in other parts of the region, as well as in Europe and the United States.

Scientists are saying that the causes are global climate change and a reported drop in activity on the surface of the sun, called the “sleeping sun” phenomenon.

“The scientists are seeing lower sunspot activity now compared to the past 10 years,” explained Faizal, who is director of the Global Environment Centre here.

“There is now less radiation from the sun reaching us but that alone does not cause a drastic drop in temperature.

“It is the cold mass of air coming from Russia and China that is lowering temperatures.”

He said that while this cold air would usually remain in China, it is now coming further south due to a change in the high-altitude wind flows.

Scientists in Europe have warned that the lack of sunspot activity could lead to a new mini ice-age there, similar to one that happened in the 17th century.

Named the Maunder Minimum, it was a period of drastically reduced sunspot activity that occurred bet­ween 1645 and 1715. It also caused London’s River Thames to freeze over.

Faizal also explained that the switch in wind patterns was due to global climate change.

“The impact of climate change is not just global warming. It can lead to extreme weather, such as heatwaves, cold snaps or droughts,” he said.

“Melting sea ice in the Arctic and changing weather patterns are both possible drivers of the new winter weather trends.”

He pointed out that there have been dramatic weather changes in other countries in the region, such as in northern Vietnam where it snowed for the first time in many years, and parts of Thailand were declared disaster zones after the mercury dipped below 5°C last month.

Solar activity is expected to return to normal in the future.

Farmers feel the pressure of cold spell
The Star 24 Jan 14;

PETALING JAYA: If you noticed that the weather is slightly cooler these few days, you are not alone.

The Meteorological Department said it is normal for it to be cooler this time of the year, but many remember that it was warmer around this period in 2013 and before that.

Farmers in Cameron Highlands have been complaining of extra low temperatures that are extending the maturity period of their crops.

Chai Kok Leong, 45, the owner of a vegetable farming business in Brinchang, watched in frustration as his crops took longer to grow.

“For example, when the minimum temperature was 18°C, we harvested cabbages in three months.

“Now that the temperature has declined to 12°C, we are forced to wait an extra half a month before we can sell them,” he said.

Another farmer, Tan Ching Long, said he waited patiently for his Cameron apples to grow, but saw many of them wither.

“The apples that survived were not as big as before,” he said.

Not all vegetable farmers were alarmed.

Lim Hock Ling, 43, believed that the phenomenon will only affect fruits and vegetables temporarily.

On a scale of 10, two would describe the extent to which his vegetables were affected, said Lim.

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Indonesia: Stakeholders plan act to protect coral reefs from coral bleaching

Desy Nurhayati Bali Daily Jakarta Post 23 Jan 14;

Several NGOs are conducting joint efforts with local communities and government agencies to formulate action plans to recover coral reefs affected by mass bleaching due to global warming.

In a recent workshop on coral bleaching, they discussed the impact of the coral bleaching in 2009 and 2010 and took lessons from the incidents to anticipate possible bleaching in the future by formulating mitigation efforts.

Besides participants from Aceh, Bali and Lombok, representatives from Malaysia and Thailand were also present to exchange ideas and experiences on dealing with coral bleaching. They also discussed how the incidents would affect marine tourism.

“It is predicted that coral bleaching incidents could become more severe and frequent, as seawater temperatures have continued to increase significantly,” said Scott Heron, marine physicist from The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Coral Reef Watch.

Coral bleaching occurs when corals lose their algal symbion, zooxanthellae, due to stressful conditions. The coral tissue becomes transparent, making the corals look bleached. Without the zooxanthellae, the coral will not only lose its color, but also slowly starve to death.

In the drafted action plans, one of the main aspects in anticipating coral bleaching was to improve engagement, communication and coordination between local communities, businesses, NGOs and governments about coral reef management.

“This should also be conducted during bleaching events, by developing and disseminating information about bleaching response plans. Establishing a kind of ‘response committee’ is also needed to quickly take action to recover the bleached corals,” said Naneng Setiasih from Coral Reef Alliance.

Temporary closure of snorkeling and diving sites, or limiting the number of divers at certain locations during bleaching events, might also be needed if the bleaching was severe, she added.

Participants also shared ideas on the importance of enforcing the prevailing regulations, particularly those related to preservation and management of marine parks and fisheries.

Coral bleaching could negatively impact tourism, particularly divers’ satisfaction with reef conditions and marine life. Therefore, dive operators should also be involved in training and capacity building activities on reef management, said Derta Prabuning of Reef Check Foundation Indonesia.

“In Bali and the Gilis, monitoring training for dive operators and snorkel guides on coral bleaching and other management aspects has been conducted,” he said.

To ensure that snorkeling and diving were not damaging coral reefs, developing and implementing codes of conduct and certification programs for divers, dive operators, snorkel guides and tourism businesses was also crucial, he added.

Implementing education and outreach programs to raise awareness for snorkelers and divers was also included in the action plans.

Marine scientists have warned that coral reefs in Indonesia could experience another cycle of bleaching this year after mass bleaching was recorded in several areas around the archipelago in 2009 and 2010.

Studies show that 2010 was not a good year for reefs in Southeast Asia, since there were unusually high or prolonged summer sea temperatures resulting in mass bleaching.

For the first time since 1998, the mass bleaching has affected coral reefs across a wide area of Southeast Asia and the Indian Ocean. Bleaching has been reported in Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines, the Maldives and parts of east Africa.

The bleaching has reached an alarming rate, although it was patchy in some areas.

NOAA’s Coral Reef Watch Program has stated that the bleaching was very strong and could result in a lot of corals dying. An estimated 16 percent of the world’s reefs were killed during the bleaching in 1997-1998, the worst in 700 years.

In Indonesia, mass bleaching has been recorded in 20 locations, including Aceh and Padang in Sumatra, in the Thousand Islands National Park and Karimun Jawa National Park in Java, in Bali, the Gili Islands in Lombok, as well as in Wakatobi and Tomini Bay in Sulawesi, Maluku and Raja Ampat in West Papua.

Bali has up to 40 percent bleaching at Lipah Bay in Amed, Karangasem regency. Observation in Bali’s Pemuteran in April recorded 40 to 60 percent bleaching on acropora and porites.

Other bleaching events were also reported at Bali’s Menjangan Island and Labuhan Lalang, where some corals experienced bleaching, although less than 15 percent, as well as in Pemuteran at some 20 percent. In Lovina, Tejakula and Tulamben, there was bleaching of some 10 percent of corals.

A survey using the Manta tow method conducted by Reef Check in June in the Gili islands showed bleaching between 10 and 55 percent in the reef flat area, affecting seriotopora, acropora, favia, favites and porites.

Naneng further stated that there was an urgent need for reef managers to reduce all existing threats to coral reefs to ensure they had the best chance of recovering from bleaching events.

“Coral reefs in Indonesia are already under threat from destructive and overfishing, anchoring, coral mining, pollution, sedimentation and reclamation of reefs associated with coastal development. Reefs affected by these stresses have less chance of recovering from coral bleaching,” she said.

“What we can do is to reduce other environmental stressors. Some ongoing programs in Bali and the Gilis have included these aspects,” she added.

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Indonesia makes arrest in case of smuggling protected wildlife

UPI 23 Jan 14;

JAKARTA, Jan. 23 (UPI) -- Indonesian officials say they arrested an international wildlife trader who specialized in smuggling baby primates, Komodo dragons and other protected wildlife.
The arrest was made in Bali by forest rangers from the Ministry of Forestry who confiscated four endangered Javan gibbons, four baby siamangs -- a type of gibbon -- and two palm cockatoos, officials said.

The alleged trader is connected to illegal wildlife trafficking rings in Russia, Singapore, Thailand, and Cyprus, the Wildlife Conservation Society's Wildlife Crimes Unit, which participated in the investigation, reported Thursday.

The trader, whose name has not been released by Indonesian officials, allegedly shipped two Komodo dragons to Thailand last month and has sent hornbill beaks and threatened turtle species to Singapore, the WCS said.

"WCS congratulates BKSDA Bali and the Jakarta National Police Investigation Division for arresting this notorious trader," WCS Executive Director for Asia Programs Joe Walston said. "This arrest sends a message that Indonesia is serious about protecting its wildlife heritage from the ravages of the illegal wildlife trade."

Javan gibbons, siamang, Komodo dragons and palm cockatoo are all strictly protected under Indonesian law, and all are listed as Endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, except for Komodo dragon which is listed as Vulnera

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'Planting trees could stop flooding'

Roger Harrabin BBC 23 Jan 14;

Britain should turn swathes of its upland pastures into woodland to help prevent flooding, according to a former environment minister, Lord Rooker.

He said new forests would slow flooding by trapping water with their roots.

The idea of "rewilding" the uplands is catching on fast as parts of Britain face repeated flooding, with more rainfall on the way.

Environment Secretary Owen Paterson said he would seriously consider innovative solutions like rewilding.

The government has been criticised for being slow to capitalise on the benefits of capturing rain where it falls.

'Highly effective'

Lord Rooker, a Labour peer, said too much emphasis had been attached to the look of the countryside rather than practical considerations like trapping water.

"We pay the farmers to grub up the trees and hedges; we pay them to plant the hills with pretty grass and sheep to maintain the chocolate box image, and then wonder why we've got floods," he said.

The idea of reintroducing forests into catchments has been strongly supported by several leading scientists.

The government is sponsoring a handful of catchment trials to assess the potential of the upstream areas to catch water and send it slowly downhill.

A research paper for the Environment Agency shows that some of the schemes, like partly damming streams with felled trees to cause local flooding, are highly unpredictable when employed on their own.

If they divert rainfall on to surrounding fields that can actually make flooding downstream worse if the water then flows off the fields, bypassing bends in the river.

But the study, which is not yet peer-reviewed, suggests that reintroducing flood forests to upland areas can be highly effective - and potentially much cheaper than conventional flood defences.

The author, Simon Dixon, said: "Complex forested floodplains dramatically slow water moving over them as they have an irregular surface covered by tree roots, upright tree trunks and dead wood."

He explains the process this way: "As a simple analogy during a flood many 'packets' of water are delivered to the main trunk river from all its tributaries.

"If the delivery of a single large 'packet' of water can be significantly delayed it will then arrive at the main river after the peak of the flood, and thus the main flood peak height has less 'packets' of water in it and is lower."

The best results come, he says, when rivers are partly dammed and a forest is allowed to grow on the floodplain. "This shows substantial and predictable responses in downstream flood height," he said.

'Ruined carpets'

This is exactly what would have happened if farmers had not been encouraged by government to maximise food production by felling forests to graze sheep on the uplands.

Lord Rooker got the idea of reintroducing forests from an article by the green journalist George Monbiot, who complained that farmers are subsidised to keep sheep even though the grazing animals actually make flooding worse by compacting the earth.

"Instead of a steady flow sustained around the year by trees in the hills, by sensitive farming methods, by rivers which are allowed to find their own course and their own level, to filter and hold back their waters through bends and braiding and obstructions, we get a cycle of flood and drought. We get filthy water and empty aquifers and huge insurance premiums and ruined carpets. And all of it at public expense," Mr Monbiot wrote earlier this month.

The idea of catching water upstream is strongly supported by the water and environment professional body, the Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management (CIWEM).

Its spokesman Katherine Pygott has previously told BBC News: "Flooding is getting worse with changing weather patterns, but these schemes are taking a very long time and a lot of energy.

"Projects working with nature to reduce flood risk are needed right across the country - but it is complicated, with many different organisations involved, and it will need political leadership from the highest level to make it happen. So far we haven't seen that leadership."

Environment Secretary Owen Paterson told me he would give serious consideration to innovative solutions to flooding, like rewilding.

The government could theoretically encourage farmers to rewild key parts of their catchments using grants under the Common Agricultural Policy, but CIWEM say that at the moment it is much easier for farmers to get grants for wildlife protection than flood protection.

Mr Paterson had hoped to divert more cash into a fund that could be used for these sort of measures but was overruled by the prime minister after a campaign by farmers demanding to keep the maximum amount of their grants into direct payments for farming - in effect, for owning land.

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Beijing bans new refining, steel, coal power to curb pollution

Kathy Chen and David Stanway PlanetArk

The document, published on the Beijing government's official website ( on Wednesday, said the ban would take effect from March.

The policy document, approved by the local legislature last week, also commits China's capital city to cut total emissions of PM 2.5, a key component of air pollution, by 5 percent this year.

Beijing was hit by weeks of hazardous smog last January, prompting the central government to pledge tough new measures to improve air quality throughout the country and head off public disquiet about the environmental costs of economic growth.

The new measures are part of the local government's efforts to implement a pollution masterplan drawn up by the central government last September, which committed China to reduce its dependence on coal and close outdated industrial capacity.

The policy document also said the city would strive to control the total number of vehicles on its roads as well as establish zones where high-polluting fuels like coal would be banned completely.

Firms that fail to install emissions technology, or meet tough pollution standards could be fined up to 500,000 yuan ($82,600) and have their emission permit allocation cut for the following year.

Environment minister Zhou Shengxian said earlier this month that China was currently looking into establishing a nationwide trading system for pollution permits as part of its efforts to establish market mechanisms to clean up its environment.

($1 = 6.0505 Chinese yuan)

(Editing by Miral Fahmy)

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China could lose millions of hectares of farmland to pollution

Agriculture official says land could be taken out of production because of severe heavy metal pollution
Jennifer Duggan 23 Jan 14;

Millions of hectares of agricultural land in China could be withdrawn from production because of severe heavy-metal pollution, according to a Chinese agriculture official.

Chex Xiwen, the deputy director of China’s top agricultural authority said that farmland near rivers, especially which are sources of drinking water, will also be taken out of production if there is a risk of pollution from the use of fertilisers and pesticides.

The warning follows comments by the vice minister of land and resources in December, who said that an estimated 3.3 million hectares of land is polluted, most of which is in regions that produce grain.

Withdrawing so much farmland from production could have an impact on food security, an issue that has been highlighted in the first government policy document of the year. The No 1 Central Document, issued by the Central Committee of the Communist Party, stressed the need for improvement of the national food security system and said that China will begin pilot programmes for restoring contaminated farmland this year.

The Ministry of Agriculture estimates that 3.3m hectares of arable land is contaminated and said that farming on land almost the size of Belgium has been stopped so that the can can be “rehabilitated”. The vice minister of land and resources, Wang Shiyuan, said that much of the contaminated land is in grain-producing areas.

According to state media this accounts for approximately 2% of China’s total farmland. The environmental protection ministry has estimated that 12 million tonnes of grain are polluted by heavy metals every year.

Concerns among the Chinese public have been growing in recent years over the extent of soil pollution caused by overuse of fertilizers and pesticides and contamination by heavy metals from industry. While soil pollution is more difficult to verify and tackle than other forms of pollution, there have been frequent reports of incidents. In May 2013, it was reported that rice grown in China’s central Hunan province was found to be contaminated with cadmium.

Soil pollution such as air and water pollution is becoming more widely discussed and there is increasingly more open debate within state media. Earlier this month, the 21st Century Business Herald, a business newspaper in China, called for a database on soil pollution to be made public and said that people had been “kept in the dark about the serious health threat for too long.”

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