Best of our wild blogs: 10 Feb 14

10 Feb 2014: Another oil spill near Sisters Islands
from wild shores of singapore

What will AVA do about fish farms dumping dead fishes in the sea?
from wild shores of singapore

Sat Feb 15: A Walk in Remembrance of the War Dead
from a.t.Bukit Brown. Heritage. Habitat. History.

Toddycats launch the second series of MacRitchie forest walks with a 15 Feb 2014 event! from Love our MacRitchie Forest

Darwin Day 2014 ‘Celebrates the Science of Life’ – four talks @ U Town on Thu 13 Feb 2014: 7.00pm from Otterman speaks

Carpenter Bee And Yellow Alder Plant
from Bird Ecology Study Group

Old Pictures of Bukit Brown
from Rojak Librarian

Common Snakehead
from Monday Morgue

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80 tonne oil spill off Sebarok

Collision between Hammonia Thracium and Zoey
MPA 10 Feb 14;

At about 1535hrs on 10 February 2014 (Singapore time), the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) received a report that a collision had occurred between the departing Liberia-flagged containership "Hammonia Thracium" and the Panama-flagged chemical tanker "Zoey" in the Singapore Strait, off Sebarok Island (about 10km south of mainland Singapore). Prior to the incident, MPA's Port Operations Control Centre provided traffic information to the two vessels and alerted Zoey that the vessel Hammonia Thracium was crossing the traffic lane.

Hammonia Thracium reported that one of her bunker tanks sustained damage, resulting in spillage of some 80 metric tonnes of bunker fuel. Upon notification, MPA immediately dispatched four patrol craft to deal with the spillage. Oil spill response companies have also been activated to support the clean-up efforts.

The two vessels are currently in stable condition outside of Singapore's port limits and are assessing their situations. There is no report of injury, and port operations remain unaffected.

MPA is investigating the cause of the collision.

Two maritime vessels collide in Singapore Strait
Channel NewsAsia 10 Feb 14;

SINGAPORE: Two maritime vessels collided in the Singapore Strait, in the third such incident in 13 days.

On Monday, a Liberia-flagged container ship "Hammonia Thracium" and a Panama-flagged chemical tanker "Zoey" collided off Sebarok Island, which is about 10km south of mainland Singapore.

The Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) said its Port Operations Control Centre had provided traffic information to the two vessels and alerted the chemical tanker that the container ship was crossing the traffic lane.

The container ship reported that one of its bunker tanks sustained damage, and about 80 metric tonnes of bunker fuel were spilled as a result.

MPA said it immediately dispatched four patrol craft to deal with the spillage and activated oil spill response companies to support the clean-up efforts.

It said the two vessels are in stable condition outside of Singapore's port limits and are assessing their situations.

MPA added that there is no report of injury and that port operations remain unaffected.

It is investigating the cause of the collision.

- CNA/nd

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Farms along East Johor Straits report fish mortality

Hu Jielan Channel NewsAsia 9 Feb 14;

SINGAPORE: More than 20 fish farms along the East Johor Straits have reported incidents of fishes dying just before the start of the Lunar New Year.

This has caused an estimated loss of more than S$3 million.

According to the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA), this could be due to low levels of oxygen or a phenomenon known as the plankton bloom, which is caused by the hot weather and neap tide - which is when high tide is at its lowest level.

Plankton are microorganisms found in the seawater that can multiply quickly in a very short period of time.

Some of the farms claimed to have spotted about 200 to 300 dying fishes.

AVA said it had earlier advised coastal fish farms in the Straits of Johor to take precautions for the neap tide this weekend.

It has been working with the farmers to deal with the arising problem that could occur with neap tide since Friday to mitigate its impact.

AVA has collected samples from the affected farms for analysis to find out the cause of the deaths.

Meanwhile, AVA is assisting the farmers by advising them on how to mitigate the farm's losses while it continues to monitor the situation closely.

- CNA/xq

Chinese news report about dead fish from fish farms along the East Johor Straits.

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Sharp rise in monkey business in last year

Jalelah Abu Baker My Paper 10 Feb 14;

FROM getting drunk on beer to dislodging window panes, monkey business in Singapore has gone up sharply in the past year.

Last year, the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) received about 1,860 reports related to monkeys, more than double the number it received in 2012.

Most of the feedback came from residents living near the Central Catchment and Bukit Timah Nature reserves.

There have also been isolated sightings in Jurong West and Sengkang in recent months, a spokesman said.

Security guard R. Krishnan, at Le Wood condominium in Hindhede Drive, has seen all sorts of antics by monkeys that live in the area, which is near Bukit Timah Nature Reserve.

"Once a resident forgot to close the window, and a monkey went into her home, pushed things around, and made a mess.

"She called me in a panic, and when I got there, the monkey was standing, like a king."

Bukit Timah residents have also seen monkeys drinking beer from cans that they snatch, while the AVA said it had a case last year of a monkey that repeatedly dislodged window panes from a school chapel. It did not disclose the name of the school.

Only a small fraction of the cases reported to AVA - about 100 - were of monkeys acting aggressively, such as snatching belongings and chasing pedestrians and cyclists, and biting, scratching or injuring people or pets.

But things can get out of hand. In September last year, a monkey entered a condominium unit and seriously injured an infant.

The increase in monkey sightings can be attributed to ramped-up development of forested areas.

But Mr Louis Ng, executive director of the Animal Concerns Research and Education Society, said the reports could have increased because the AVA hotline, which handles such monkey feedback, now runs 24/7, as opposed to only during working hours on weekdays.

In the first half of last year, the AVA culled almost 360 long-tailed macaques, the most commonly seen breed of monkey here. The breed made up almost a fifth of the estimated 2,000 monkeys here.

Their numbers have increased despite the heavy culling by the AVA because, ironically, such culling motivates macaques to breed, Mr Ng explained.

"Biologically, once a male monkey sees that one of his wives doesn't have a baby, he will want to impregnate her," he said.

He added that the solution is co-existence, which may need residents to install non-lethal electric fences that will prevent monkeys from entering their homes.

He also said that the natural tendency for macaques is to live on the edge of forested areas and not deep inside them.

AVA said that humane euthanasia is used as a "last resort" in land-scarce Singapore, as these monkeys "cannot be easily relocated".

Also, monkeys, accustomed to human food, are likely to continue to venture out of forests.

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Malaysia: New dengue strain ‘found’

Tharanya Arumugam and Aliza Shah New Straits Times 10 Feb 14;

KUALA LUMPUR: MEDICAL experts believe that the discovery of a fifth dengue variant in the country is just the tip of a greater risk to human lives.

Their worry is that the discovery of the latest dengue "Den-5" virus by researchers, was a portent of things to come.

Malaysia Medical Association president Datuk Dr N.K.S. Tharmaseelan said dengue researchers believed that the virus had been circulating in the jungles of Malaysia and Indonesia for possibly thousands of years without jumping into the urban transmission cycle.

They believed that that this may no longer be the case.

He said although the virus had not been detected in humans, except for one man in Sarawak who was found to be infected by the Den-5 virus several years ago, the need to keep the strain, as well as other possibly unidentified new dengue variants dormant in these obscure areas, couldn't be more pressing.

The Den-5 virus, exclusive only to Sarawak so far, is claimed to be the fifth dengue strain to be detected in the country.

It is the first new subtype in 50 years and those in medicine believe that this could be another challenge to the development of a dengue vaccine.

"This threat warrants better monitoring of dengue infections in Malaysia and the Indonesian archipelago, as researchers believe there may be more dengue variant to be discovered in the jungles of these two countries.

"The jungles are among the places where they believe dengue viruses evolved in primates, from ancestral viruses.

"The new subtype has only been found in Sarawak, where it could be circulating among macaques living in the forests, but its discovery calls for urgent preventive measures in controlling the disease," he said of the latest subtype.

Before the Den-5 discovery, dengue viruses identified in patients were exclusive to four serotypes-- the Den-1, Den-2, Den-3 and Den-4 viruses.

Dr Tharmaseelan told the New Straits Times yesterday that the Den-5 subtype was identified during screening tests on virus samples that were collected during an outbreak in Malaysia in 2007.

He said analysis carried out on the virus showed that the characteristics of the new variant were unique from the four existing viruses.

The virus was found in the blood sample of a man from Padawan, Kuching, by a group of researchers from the Institute of Health and Community Medicine (IHCM) of Universiti Malaysia Sarawak, headed by its director Associate Professor Dr David Perera.

A sample from the patient who has now recovered fully was sent for lab analysis and it is understood that the researchers managed to isolate the virus.

However, it remains unknown whether there are others who had been infected by the virus as there was no published evidence to suggest that the dengue strain could be found elsewhere.

He said lab tests on monkeys infected with Den-5 found that the virus induced different sets of antibodies from the primates compared with those that fight off the other four subtypes.

Dr Tharmaseelan said , there had been no solid evidence to establish the pattern of how the Den-5 virus is spread, unlike the clear "human-to-mosquito-to-human" cycle of the four strains.

In a reaction to MMA's assessment of the spread of dengue in the country Health Ministry deputy director-general of Health (public health) Datuk Dr Lokman Hakim Sulaiman dismissed the existence of the Den-5 virus.

"There is no new variant of dengue circulating in Malaysia or in the world.

"Our lab dengue virus surveillance showed no evidence of a new dengue strain... nothing was reported in the world scientific literature either," he told the NST.

The group of IHCM researchers who claimed to have discovered the Den-5 virus is expected to reveal their findings in April, which NST understands will include the full case of the man in Padawan who was infected as well as the virus' prevalence and symptoms in those infected.

It was reported that dengue fever resulted in 17 deaths throughout the country from January to Feb 2, this year, an increase of 240 per cent or 12 deaths compared with only five cases for the same period last year.

Throughout the period, 9,453 cases of dengue fever were reported nationwide, up 269 per cent or 6,894 cases, compared with 2,559 cases during the same period last year.

Health Ministry vector borne diseases section head Dr Rose Nani Mudin said analysis from blood samples, collected from dengue patients in 44 clinics and hospitals nationwide, showed that most of them were infected with the Den-2 virus (most dangerous) followed by Den-1, Den-4, and Den-3.

"Patients with Den-2 virus will show more severe effects, such as dengue shock syndrome and bleeding," she said.

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Global warming 'pause' due to unusual trade winds in Pacific ocean, study finds

Oliver Milman The Guardian 10 Feb 14;

Global warming ‘pause’ due to unusual trade winds in Pacific ocean, study finds
The IPCC in 2013 pointed out that more than 90% of the world’s extra heat is being soaked up by the oceans, rather than lingering on the surface. Photograph: Universal History Archive/Getty Images

The contentious "pause" in global warming over the past decade is largely due to unusually strong trade winds in the Pacific ocean that have buried surface heat deep underwater, new research has found.

A joint Australian and US study analysed why the rise in the Earth's global average surface temperature has slowed since 2001, after rapidly increasing from the 1970s.

The research shows that sharply accelerating trade winds in central and eastern areas of the Pacific have driven warm surface water to the ocean's depths, reducing the amount of heat that flows into the atmosphere.

In turn, the lowering of sea surface temperatures in the Pacific triggers further cooling in other regions.

The study, which is published in the journal Nature Climate Change, calculated the net cooling effect on global average surface temperatures as between 0.1C and 0.2C, accounting for much of the hiatus in surface warming. The study's authors said there has been a 0.2C gap between models used to predict warming and actual observed warming since 2001.

The findings should provide fresh certainty about the reasons behind the warming hiatus, which has been claimed by critics of mainstream climate science as evidence that the models are flawed and predictions of rising temperatures have been exaggerated.

The UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) addressed the warming pause issue in its 2013 climate report, pointing out that the Earth is going through a solar minimum and that more than 90% of the world's extra heat is being soaked up by the oceans, rather than lingering on the surface.

Matthew England, a climate scientist at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, and leader of the research, said that while the solar minimum and aerosol particles have contributed to the slowdown, strong trade winds are the significant factor.

"Temperature models have an envelope of uncertainty but it is clear that the last decade has seen a much flatter temperature change compared to the 1980s and 1990s, when the increase was rapid," he said.

"We found that the wind acceleration has been strong enough in the past 20 years to pump a lot of the heat into the ocean. Winds accelerated in this period more than at any time in the past century; it really is unprecedented and the models haven't captured it all."

The acceleration of Pacific trade winds has been twice as strong in the past 20 years compared with the prior 80 years, cooling the east Pacific and propagating the trend to other parts of the world.

The study suggests the warming hiatus could continue for much of the present decade if the trade winds continue; however, should the winds return to their long-term average speeds, rapid warming will resume.

"Even if the winds accelerate even further, sooner or later the impact of greenhouse gases will overwhelm the effect," England said. "And if the winds relax, the heat will come out quickly. As we go through the 21st century, we are less and less likely to have a cooler decade. Greenhouse gases will certainly win out in the end."

England said it was unclear what has caused the increase in Pacific trade winds, although warming in the Indian Ocean has been cited as a potential trigger.

Dr Steve Rintoul, research team leader at CSIRO Marine and Atmospheric Research, said the research shows that pauses in the rate of global warming are to be expected.

"The oceans have continued to warm unabated, even during the recent hiatus in warming of surface temperature," he said.

"Natural variations of the climate system also mean that climate trends estimated over a short period are unlikely to reflect long-term changes. A decade or two of slower or faster warming does not tell us anything about long-term climate change."

Richard Allan, professor of climate science at the University of Reading, said it is likely the current warming slowdown is only a temporary reprieve from brisk increases in global temperatures.

"This new research suggests that when the trade winds weaken again, the planet can expect rapid warming of the surface to resume, as greenhouse gas concentrations continue to rise," he said.

"We don't know what is causing these unprecedented changes, but the implications could be substantial."

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Experts, volunteers assessing oil spill damage

Grace Chua The Straits Times AsiaOne 10 Feb 14;

SINGAPORE - Marine experts and nature enthusiasts have been documenting the damage to the Southern Islands after two sets of vessel collisions last week left some of their shores oil-slicked.

Since Jan 30, officers from the National Parks Board have conducted multiple visual habitat and biodiversity assessments of the oil spill, including one with volunteers from the WildSingapore group, in the affected sites, NParks' National Biodiversity Centre director Lena Chan told The Straits Times.

She said: "As of our most recent visual assessment from a boat on Feb 5, we did not observe oil on the surface of the waters along the route of the boat journey around several of the Southern Islands.

"However, some oil residue was observed on the north-eastern coastline of Pulau Semakau and the sea walls of offshore islands like Sisters' Island and St John's Island," she added.

The impact on biodiversity is "most likely minimal", said Dr Chan, compared to a 2010 oil spill off Tanah Merah, when some 2,500 tonnes of oil was spilt in a collision between a bulk carrier and a tanker.

Then, areas like Chek Jawa and Changi Beach were affected.

A Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore spokesman said the container ship Feihe spilt about 280 tonnes of fuel oil in its collision on Jan 29, while the NYK Themis spilt about 400 tonnes of fuel oil on Jan 30.

Said Dr Chan: "We will continue to monitor the situation and will work closely with NGOs, volunteer groups and academics to evaluate the impact of the oil spill on the biodiversity in the affected areas."

Some volunteers spent the Chinese New Year holiday weekend visiting the oil-slicked shores, taking photos and blogging.

Ms Heng Pei Yan, 27, a guide with volunteer group Naked Hermit Crabs, was at Kusu Island last Friday, the first day of Chinese New Year, and Pulau Semakau the following day.

At Kusu Island, she saw oil marks on the inner sea wall of the lagoon and on the sand flats. Corals in the lagoon had trapped some oil and there was a sheen on the water.

"I was a bit shocked and worried for the animals," she said. "We found sea hares (a type of sea slug) covered in oil and they were so stressed. The best we could do was to try and relocate as many as we could to a 'cleaner' location."

Coral reef expert Chou Loke Ming, from the National University of Singapore, said oil slicks can coat plants and fish gills, preventing them from getting enough oxygen, and cut corals off from sunlight.

Volatile organic compounds in oil can also dissolve in water and be toxic to marine life.

Over time, oily sludge will break down, and it does so faster in a hot, sunny tropical climate than a cold one, said Professor Chou. "The removal of most of the oil slick - that was a good response," he said.

The oil was skimmed off or dispersed as it floated, and bags of oil-slicked sand were shovelled up and removed from beaches by the authorities.

Life can return to a damaged shore or tide zone from elsewhere within a few months if conditions improve but full recovery can take years, he added.

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