Best of our wild blogs: 1 Feb 14

Stress and more stress on Kusu Island
from wonderful creation

Any Impact on Chek Jawa from Dec flood at Johor?
from Chek Jawa Mortality and Recruitment Project

Afternoon Walk At Venus Drive (30 Jan 2014)
from Beetles@SG BLOG

Black-naped Oriole turns head 180 degrees
from Bird Ecology Study Group

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Guide dogs now welcome in HDB homes

Channel NewsAsia 1 Feb 14;

SINGAPORE: National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan has asked the Housing and Development Board (HDB) to allow visually-impaired people to keep guide dogs in their HDB flats.

The HDB said that, currently, guide dogs are not on the "approved dog list", but it has made exceptions for families who appealed.

Writing on his blog, Mr Khaw said: "I told them to make it an open policy: Guide dogs are welcome in HDB homes of their masters."

To further simplify the process, HDB residents requiring guide dogs now need only approach the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) for licensing.

AVA will coordinate with HDB, thus there is no need for the resident to submit a separate application to the housing authority.

Mr Khaw added that the Building and Construction Authority has also included a design guide in its Code on Accessibility for the Built Environment to help architects and design professionals understand space requirements for a visually-handicapped person with a guide dog.

He said that to visually-handicapped people, a trained guide dog can be a "life saver".

He cited the story of how a black Labrador guide dog named Orlando made the news recently when he protected his visually-impaired master who had accidentally fallen onto a New York City subway track.

Mr Khaw noted that because guide dogs are "not common (yet) in Singapore, our society is not yet as guide dog-friendly as in many developed cities".

In New York, for example, such dogs are welcome in restaurants.

Mr Khaw said: "It is the Year of the Horse. But let's be kind to all beings, including guide dogs."

- CNA/nd

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Australia approves plan to dump dredge spoil in Barrier Reef

(AFP) Google News 31 Jan 14

Sydney — Australia's Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority on Friday approved the dumping of up to three million cubic metres of dredge waste in park waters in a move blasted by environmentalists.

The decision follows the government giving the green light to a major coal port expansion for India's Adani Group on the reef coast in December, under some of the strictest-ever environmental conditions.

It will see Adani dredge three million cubic metres of material from the seabed to allow freighters to dock at the port in Abbot Point, lifting the facility's capacity by 70 percent to make it one of the world's largest coal ports.

Conservationists warned it could hasten the demise of the World Heritage-listed reef, which is already considered to be in "poor" health, with dredging smothering corals and seagrasses and exposing them to poisons and elevated levels of nutrients.

The reef is already facing pressures from climate change, land-based pollution and crown-of-thorns starfish outbreaks.

"This is a sad day for the reef and anyone who cares about its future," said WWF Great Barrier Reef campaigner Richard Leck.

"The World Heritage Committee will take a dim view of this decision, which is in direct contravention of one of its recommendations."

The reef is facing a World Heritage downgrade from UNESCO this year due to concerns about rampant coastal development proposed in the region, particularly port, gas and coal operations. UNESCO are due to meet in June, when they are expected to discuss the issue.

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) chairman Russell Reichelt said he recognised there was intense community concern and debate about the application by North Queensland Bulk Ports Corporation to dispose of dredge spoil in the park.

But he said allowing the project to proceed would help contain development to existing ports, and the reef itself and seagrass meadows would still be protected.

"This approval is in line with the agency's view that port development along the Great Barrier Reef coastline should be limited to existing ports," he said.

"It's important to note the sea floor of the approved disposal area consists of sand, silt and clay and does not contain coral reefs or seagrass beds."

The GBRMPA, whose board is currently under investigation for its links to the mining industry, added that the strict environmental conditions imposed on the project by the federal government would help protect the reef.

The conditions require that sediment entering the marine park be reduced by 150 percent over the long term -- a "net benefit" to water quality -- and that $81 million be contributed to reef conservation programmes and specific measures observed to protect marine flora and fauna.

WWF Australia has said the material dredged during the port expansion would be enough to fill 150,000 dump trucks that "lined up bumper-to-bumper would stretch from Brisbane to Melbourne", a distance of more than 1,000 kilometres (620 miles).

UPDATE 2-Australia permits dredge dumping near Great Barrier Reef for major coal port
Sonali Paul Reuters Google News 31 Jan 14;

Jan 31 (Reuters) - Australia's Great Barrier Reef watchdog gave the green light on Friday for millions of cubic metres of dredged mud to be dumped near the fragile reef to create the world's biggest coal port and possibly unlock $28 billion in coal projects.

The dumping permit clears the way for a major expansion of the port of Abbot Point for two Indian firms and Australian billionaire miner Gina Rinehart, who together have $16 billion worth of coal projects in the untapped, inland Galilee Basin.

"This is a significant milestone in developing our Galilee Basin coal projects, which represent the creation of over 20,000 direct and indirect jobs and over $40 billion in taxes and royalties," said Darren Yeates, chief executive of GVK-Hancock, a joint venture between India's GVK conglomerate and Rinehart's Hancock Prospecting.

Environmentalists, scientists and tour operators had fought the plan to dump soil 25 km (15 miles) from the reef, which they fear will harm delicate corals and seagrasses and potentially double ship traffic through the World Heritage marine park.

"It's a really disappointing decision," said Selina Ward, a marine biologist at the University of Queensland who was among 240 international scientists who urged the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority to refuse the permit.

"What we need to do is to stop putting pressure on the reef, certainly not to be adding further stress to it by dumping 3 million tonnes of sediment on it."

If all the dredged material were dumped on land, the pile would be bigger than the Great Pyramid of Giza.

The reef authority, an independent government agency charged with protecting the reef, said the permit was approved as one third of the marine park was designated high protection and two-thirds allows other uses, such as dredging disposal as ports have always been a part of the area.

Authority chairman Russell Reichelt said expanding Abbot Point would require much less dredging than other options along the reef, which covers an area larger than the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and Switzerland combined.

"It's important to note the seafloor of the approved disposal area consists of sand, silt and clay and does not contain coral reefs or seagrass beds," Reichelt, said.


The permit to dump 3 million cubic metres of mud within the marine park could place at risk the World Heritage-listing of the Great Barrier Reef, one of Australia's top tourist attractions generating an estimated $5.7 billion.

UNESCO, which awarded the reef its heritage listing, last year postponed a decision to June 2014 on whether to put the Great Barrier Reef on its "in danger" list or even cancel its World Heritage listing. It is awaiting a report from the national government on steps taken to address its concerns.

The permit allows North Queensland Bulk Ports Corp to dump dredged material in the reef marine park to deepen Abbot Point for two terminals planned by Adani Enterprises and GVK-Hancock, which have long term plans to export 120 million tonnes a year of coal all together.

North Queensland Bulk Ports Corp and Reichelt said the permit approval should not raise alarm at UNESCO, particularly as the reef authority on Friday urged the state and national governments and industry to come up with a new sustainable ports plan that would reduce the need for dredging along the reef.

"What I've called for today is exactly in line with what they (UNESCO) would like to see put in place," Reichelt said.

The reef authority imposed strict conditions on the dumping permit, including no environmental, cultural or heritage damage to areas beyond 20 km (12 miles) from the disposal site, and urged the ports corporation to consider other dump sites.

Even with the permit, it's unclear how soon the dredging will go ahead, as Adani and GVK-Hancock's projects have been delayed amid funding challenges in the face of sliding coal prices and China's efforts to cut coal use to battle smog.

New report: government failures put Reef World Heritage Status “on the line”
WWF 30 Jan 14;

A new report shows the Australian and Queensland Governments are failing to act on the World Heritage Committee’s major concerns about the Great Barrier Reef.

UNESCO’S World Heritage Committee has made a series of recommendations on improving management of the Reef and asked the Australian Government to report on progress by 1 February 2014. The Committee meets in Doha, Qatar this June and without substantial progress it could list the Great Barrier Reef as World Heritage in Danger.

WWF-Australia and the Australian Marine Conservation Society today released the 72 page report, which assesses progress on the recommendations, and an accompanying scorecard which lists the government failures.

Of the seven detailed recommendations from the World Heritage Committee the Australian and Queensland Governments have failed to make “good progress or completed” any of them.

Some of the major concerns detailed in the report are:

• Federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt recently approved four major developments within the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area. This includes the dumping of dredge spoil in Reef waters in direct contravention of one of the World Heritage Committee’s recommendations
• The Federal Government is handing over environmental approval powers to the Queensland Government just as the Queensland Government is watering down state legislation in ways that “actively impede” protection of the Reef.
• The health of the Reef continues to decline and “If pollution impacts are not properly addressed through greatly increased investment and on-ground action, it is highly unlikely that the Outstanding Universal Value of the Great Barrier Reef will be conserved.”
• Halting and reversing the overall declining condition of the Reef won’t be possible using current management approaches

“We’re going backwards on the Reef – that’s the sad truth,” said WWF Reef Campaign Director Richard Leck.

“What we get from the Australian and Queensland governments is lots of talk but very little action.

“The reality on the ground is that major destructive industrial projects that involve outdated practices like dumping dredge spoil in Reef waters continue to be approved.

“Our World Heritage Status for the Reef is on the line. Do we really want to join the list of shame and have the Reef declared World Heritage in Danger? Imagine the impact that would have on our tourism industry?” he said.

AMCS Great Barrier Reef Campaign Director, Felicity Wishart, said governments had dropped the ball.

“It seems the Federal and Queensland governments either don’t understand what’s at stake or worse they’re deliberately ignoring the World Heritage Committee,” she said.

“This is serious – our governments have botched or defied the World Heritage Committee's key recommendations about the Reef.

“With plans by the Federal Government to hand over its environmental approvals to the Queensland Government, which is busy stripping away environmental protection, it is a recipe for disaster for the Reef.”

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