Best of our wild blogs: 12 Feb 14

Your help needed! Take photos of disposal tank at Changi for dead fishes
from wild shores of singapore

Birds and Bridelia tomentoas fruits
from Bird Ecology Study Group

Toddycats’ MacRitchie forest walks in 2014
from Toddycats!

Blood, sweat and tears – 50+ research students since Chek Jawa
from Otterman speaks

Read more!

160 tonnes of dead fish found in farms along Johor Straits

Amanda Lee Today Online 12 Feb 14;

SINGAPORE — About 160 tonnes of fish from fish farms on both the East and West Johor Straits have been found dead, possibly due to low levels of dissolved oxygen in the waters or a plankton bloom or both, as well as the hot weather, the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) said yesterday.

The authority has received reports of fish deaths — which include groupers, threadfin, golden trevally and rabbitfish — at 34 fish farms along the East Johor Straits and five fish farms along the West Johor Straits.

TODAY understands that fish supplies to Singapore are unlikely to be affected, as the numbers are relatively low for now. In 2012, fish imports totalled 103,859 tonnes while 5,128 tonnes of fish were produced locally.

Plankton are micro-organisms found in the seawater that can bloom or multiply quickly in a very short time. Plankton blooms can be triggered by fickle weather, higher concentrations of nutrients in sea water and poor water exchange between high and low tides. When their numbers rise quickly, they drain seawater of oxygen and this can result in fish death. The AVA said it has collected samples from the affected farms for analysis and no marine biotoxins were detected.

Clusters of dead fish have been found in various parts of Singapore since last week, including yesterday at the beach at Pasir Ris Park and Raffles Marina. Responding to queries about the dead fish at Raffles Marina, the National Environment Agency said its officers yesterday spotted about 40 dead fishes, most of them mostly grey mullet. “Water samples taken showed that the water quality parameters are in the normal range,” said a spokesperson, noting that the dead fish could have been brought in by the incoming tide.

Last Wednesday, more than 400 dead fish washed up on the shores of the river at Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park, with the PUB saying they could have died due to the low levels of dissolved oxygen in the water as a result of the recent hot and dry weather.

Fish farmers TODAY spoke to said they last saw such a phenomenon in 2009, and weather changes could have brought it on. Mr Timothy Hromatka, who has been operating FinFisher for the past three years, said: “The change in the local climate (causes) the plankton to bloom which could kill the fish, along with the neap tide.” A neap tide is when the difference between high and low tides is at its lowest, leading to poor water exchange. He estimated that he has lost about 20 tonnes of fish, with losses adding up to about S$150,000.

Mr Phillip Lim, Chairman of Singapore Marine Aquaculture Cooperative, said he has lost about five tonnes of fish worth about S$25,000 to S$30,000, and has taken mitigating steps. “I transfer my fish onto fish nets with green mussels to act as a filter so they can eat the plankton,” he said.

The AVA spokesperson said its staff is assisting and advising farmers to set up standby aeration systems, lower net cages and reduce or stop feeding, so as to improve water quality and circulation to help prevent more mortalities.

A water disposal vessel was activated to collect fish carcasses from the affected fish farms and in nearby fish farming zones and a skid tank will be placed at Changi Point Ferry Terminal, where farmers can dispose of dead fish, the spokesperson added.

Theses photos appear to have been added to the Today Online article when it was updated on 12 Feb at 4.30pm

Channel 8 news report on the mass fish deaths

Read more!

Singapore faces threat of early, prolonged haze

The NEA said Singapore might experience occasional slight haze due to the accumulation of particulate matter under stable atmospheric

Neo Chai Chin Today Online 12 Feb 14;

SINGAPORE — The Republic is facing an early, and prolonged, bout of haze, with Environment and Water Resources Minister Vivian Balakrishnan and a pulp and paper giant both warning of an increase in burning in Indonesia.

In a strongly-worded Facebook post last night, Dr Balakrishnan said: “Again. Hot spots increasing dramatically in Sumatra, with 458 visible today. Haze may worsen when the winds weaken next week. Some rain expected, but not enough to douse the fires.

“We will try to encourage them to take action — but we all know the welfare of close neighbours is not their priority. Hard truths of regional politics,” he added.

The minister’s comments came on the same day Asia Pacific Resources International Limited (APRIL), which has extensive plantations and operations in the Riau province of Sumatra in Indonesia, warned of a prolonged haze season, citing the early start of burning season. The company, Asia’s second-largest pulp and paper maker, reported 55 fires near its plantations in the first five weeks of this year.

According to the National Environment Agency (NEA) website, there were 458 hotspots detected yesterday, with more than half (246) of these in the Riau province. This was more than double the 187 detected on Monday.

Although the likelihood of transboundary haze affecting Singapore this week remains low because prevailing northeasterly winds are expected to remain for these two weeks, NEA said Singapore may experience “occasional slight haze due to the accumulation of particulate matter under stable atmospheric conditions”.

As at 9pm yesterday, Singapore’s three-hour Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) reading was 38 — within the “good” air quality range.

Yesterday, APRIL said that with Sumatra seeing little rain since last month, burning — the cheapest way to clear land for agriculture — has started early this year.

Its head of Technical Services in Riau MP Periasamy said: “All it takes is five days (without) rain for the land to dry out and the temptation rises in the community to set fires.”

The dry season in Indonesia typically lasts from June to October, but dry weather has been forecast until mid-March. More than 320 hectares of forests near APRIL’s plantations have been burnt and 15 hectares of its plantations have been damaged by fires that spread from neighbouring forests, said the Singapore-headquartered company, which has 350,000 hectares of concessions in Riau.

APRIL, which dispatches crews to each location identified from space as a hot spot, said only a small number of hot spots detected from daily satellite images are actual fires. However, the current fire danger is at its highest level in nearly 70 per cent of its plantations, and the company has placed its firefighting management staff on 24-hour standby.

Singapore experienced its worst bout of haze in June last year, with the PSI hitting a record high of 401 at one point.

The Haze Monitoring System for five countries in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, including Singapore and Indonesia, has made little headway since its adoption at last October’s ASEAN Summit.

Law and Foreign Affairs Minister K Shanmugam noted “a lack of movement” on the system last month at the ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Retreat in Bagan, Myanmar.

Read more!

Malaysia likely to be free of haze till June

hemananthani sivanandam The Star 11 Feb 14;

PETALING JAYA: Malaysia is likely to escape severe haze despite the detection of nearly 300 hotspots in Indonesia’s Sumatra, said the Malaysian Meteorological Department (MMD).

A hotspot is registered when there is intense heat over a sizeable area, which typically happens during land clearing by way of open burning.

Dr Hisham Mohd Anip, a Department spokesman, said haze from forest fires was not expected to spread to Malaysia based on predicted wind patterns.

However, MMD warned that the risk would be higher between June to August as winds would likely change directions.

“So far, we are still in the northeast monsoon season. Therefore, any haze or smoke from Indonesia will not come to us,” Hisham said on Tuesday.

Indonesia news agency Antara reported that the Terra and Aqua Satellite detected 297 hotspots in Sumatra on Tuesday morning, a significant increase from the 62 detected on Monday.

An analyst from the Pekanbaru Meteorological, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) in Indonesia said the hotspots did not have anything to do with the eruption of Mount Sinabung in northern Sumatra.

Read more!

Malaysia: More bush fires due to heat wave

Ben Tan and Phuah Ken Lin New Straits Times 12 Feb 14;

HOT AND DRY: Bush fires on the rise nationwide

KUALA LUMPUR: THE heat wave engulfing the country has not only left Malaysians running for the shade, but also hinted at more severe consequences in store.

The dry spell has triggered a series of bush fires nationwide, keeping emergency services personnel busy around the clock.

The lack of rain has also raised concerns over depleting water levels in dams, such as Negri Sembilan's Kelinchi dam, which had almost reached critical level.

Bush fires sparked by the hot spell are on the rise, with 312 cases reported nationwide in just 24 hours since Monday.

Selangor recorded the highest number of bush fires with 79 cases followed by Perak with 70, between Monday and yesterday.

An official from the Fire and Rescue Department operations centre said the spike began on Jan 28, when they recorded 139 cases nationwide.

"This was a dramatic rise from Jan 26, which had only 100 cases. On regular days, we record fewer than 100 cases daily.

He said all states had increased the number of personnel on duty to cope with the problem.

Selangor Fire and Rescue Department operations assistant director Mohamad Sani Harul said the total number of cases from Feb 1 to Feb 9 had surpassed last month's figures.

Checks also showed that the weather had resulted in deteriorating air quality in several states.

As of 6pm yesterday, Muar, Johor topped the air pollutant index chart with a reading of 68, followed by Banting, Selangor and Bakar Arang, Kedah with 66.

In Butterworth, the prolonged hot spell in the state had triggered 700 bush fires in the past three months.

Penang Fire and Rescue Department director Azmi Tamat said the number of bush fires had escalated and the department expected the drought to continue throughout this month.

He said firemen also had a tough time tackling open fires due to some sites which are geographically isolated, such as the blaze in Bukit Gambir early yesterday.

In Ipoh, the drought has taken its toll on the forested area in northern Perak with fire raging through a section of the green canopy near Banding Lake, at the Royal Belum border.

Perak Fire and Rescue Department assistant director in charge of operations Wan Azmi Ahmad said their personnel encountered difficulties reaching the area due to the terrain.

"As of now, I was told that the team are using boats to cross the large lake. From there they will have to hike to the affected area to assess the situation."

Despite being the wettest town in Malaysia, Taiping has not been spared water woes since the dry spell began.

"Taiping has been experiencing low pressure since Chinese New Year," said Perak Water Board general manager Datuk Mohd Yusof Mohd Isa.

He said the board had been sending water tankers to Taiping to resolve the situation.

Yusof also advised Perak's 2.4 million population to use water sparingly as the drought season was expected to continue until next month.

In Kuantan, firefighters were kept busy battling a peat fire at an oil palm plantation near the Endau-Rompin Forest Reserve in Rompin.

State Fire and Rescue Department director Datuk Abdul Wahab Mat Yassin said firefighters from Rompin and Kuantan would ensure that the fire does not spread into the forest reserve and destroy the rich fauna and flora there.

"We believe that the fire could have caused by open burning." Additional reporting by Jaspal Singh, Aliza Shah and Iskandar Tajuddin

Malaysia, Ipoh: Massive forest fire puts dept on full alert
The Star 13 Feb 14;

IPOH: The state Fire and Rescue Department is on full alert over a massive fire that has engulfed almost 60ha of forest near Tasik Bersia in Gerik.

A spokesman at the rescue operations centre said they received a report on the fire at 11am on Tuesday but they had yet to find out how and when it started.

He said initial investigations showed that there were no villages or settlements around the affected area.

“An operations centre was set up some 15km away from the fire zone so that we could get first-hand updates on the situation there,” he said.

State Fire and Rescue Department director Yahaya Madis said they would do the necessary to prevent the fire from spreading.

He said a rescue team had been deployed to inspect the site.

“We are looking for an alternative route to get there. Our operations are hindered by many geographical restrictions on the mountainous land.

“We are seeking a shorter route through waterways so that we can get there as soon as possible,” he said.

Yahaya said he had ordered about 190 officers and members from all over the state to join the operations.

Number has tripled due to dry spell, says D-G
The Star 13 Feb 14;

PETALING JAYA: The number of forest and bushfires nationwide has tripled due to the current dry spell.

Fire and Rescue Department director-general Datuk Wan Mohd Nor Ibrahim said the country recorded an average of 300 forest fires daily compared to 100 on normal days.

“The states with the most number of cases are Selangor, Johor and Perak,” he said yesterday.

According to Wan Mohd Nor, another contributing factor to forest fires was open burning by irresponsible people.

“An open burning can spread like wildfire if it is allowed to continue.

“In the current dry weather, small fires, whether to burn rubbish or other items, can easily become larger and lead to forest fires,” he said.

Wan Mohd Nor also cautioned smokers against flicking cigarette butts in areas that could cause accidental fires.

“More than 13,000 department personnel are on stand-by in case the situation worsens,” he said.

In PUTRAJAYA, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Jamil Khir Baharom urged mosques and surau to organise a solat hajat (special prayer) for the current dry spell to end.

He said they could organise the prayer after Friday prayers tomorrow. As for surau, the prayer could be organised at its committees’ convenience, he said.

Meanwhile, rainfall in several areas in the Klang Valley yesterday provided some respite for the Kuala Lumpur Fire and Rescue Depart­ment’s battle against bushfires.

Deputy director Azizan Ismail said the rain had made their job easier in battling a spate of bushfires around Bukit Jalil area.

The department has faced a series of bushfires since early this week due to the hot weather.

Read more!

Indonesia: Low visibility due to haze disrupts flights in Pekanbaru

The Jakarta Post 11 Feb 14;

Haze caused by forest fires and fog blanketing Riau province disrupted flights to and from the Sutan Syarif Kasim II airport in Pekanbaru on Tuesday.

"Garuda and Lion Air, whose flights were scheduled to arrive at 7 a.m. and 8 a.m. from Jakarta, were delayed until 10 p.m.," airport duty manager Baiquni said as quoted by Antara news agency.

He further said that an Air Asia aircraft from Bandung, West Java, had also been delayed for two hours,

A number flights from the airport were also delayed since morning.

This was the worst haze in recent weeks in Riau, with visibility in some places reaching only 500 meters Baiquni said.

He said that the Pekanbaru Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) disclosed that the haze was the result of smoke from forest fires and thick morning fog. (idb)

Air pollution in Riau city soars to hazardous levels
Wahyudi Soeriaatmadja, The Straits Times Jakarta Post 12 Feb 14;

Air pollution in Dumai, the epicentre of last year's extreme haze, soared to very hazardous levels on Tuesday morning, as the dry season - and open burning - started much earlier this year.

The Air Pollutant Index in Dumai, Riau province, surged on Tuesday to 449, close to levels seen at the peak of the haze last June, when Indonesia was forced to dump water from airplanes to douse forest fires.

Dumai, some 270km northwest of Singapore, was at the centre of the worst haze in years last year as farmers slashed and burned to clear land, causing air pollution to hit record highs in nearby Singapore and Malaysia.

On Tuesday, the number of hot spots in Sumatra more than doubled to over 450, from about 190 a day earlier, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration satellite.

For now, winds are blowing away from Singapore and Peninsular Malaysia, said Agus Wibowo, head of the data department at Indonesia's disaster mitigation agency (BNPB). He said there were no reports of the two neighbouring countries being affected by haze so far.

In Siak district, south-east of Dumai, 210 schools were closed and students sent home on Tuesday. Schools are expected to remain closed at least until Wednesday, after fire raged in a sago plantation owned by PT Nasional Sago Prima in a neighbouring district of Meranti Islands.

Flights in Pekanbaru, Riau and Palembang, South Sumatra, were delayed this week due to low visibility.

Farmers and plantation companies in Sumatra and Kalimantan, faced with unusually dry weather over the past few weeks, have been burning to clear land, the cheapest way to do so.

Open burning is against the law but the rule is widely flouted.

Provincial heads of the disaster mitigation agency from eight haze-affected provinces, including Riau, North Sumatra and West Kalimantan, called on the government on Tuesday to begin water bombing.

"Most of the fires were caused by deliberate burning by residents, not fire accidents," said BNPB head Syamsul Maarif in an interview, citing reports from the disaster agency's provincial heads. "Many of the fires were near the main roads, access roads, indicating the starting of the fires was deliberate."

The BNPB will help with water bombing and cloud seeding operations by deploying air force aircraft and hired helicopters, said Syamsul.

The agency is gearing up for an especially hot and dry season starting from April, he added.

"Learning from last year's experience, we don't want to be late this time round," he told The Straits Times.

Syamsul said the agency will rent Russian Kamov helicopters with belly tanks that can carry 8,000 litres of water, compared with the 500 litres helicopters in Indonesia can carry. The agency also plans to rent helicopters from Australia, he added.

Meanwhile in Malaysia, Johor's fire department told The Star newspaper that it recorded 1,226 cases of open burning in the southern state between January 1 and February 8, including bushfires, forest fires, fires in plantations and burning of garbage.

That compared with only 1,856 open-burning cases for the whole of last year.

Penang, too, has seen bushfires in the past few weeks due to the dry weather.

In Australia, climate models indicate an increased chance of an El Nino weather pattern emerging later this year, the country's weather bureau said on Tuesday.

El Nino can cause flooding and heavy rains in the United States and South America and trigger drought conditions in Southeast Asia and Australia.

Indonesia detects 297 hot spots
New Straits Times 12 Feb 14;

PEKAN BARU (Riau): The Terra and Aqua Satellite detected 297 hot spots of forest fires on Sumatra yesterday morning, a significant increase from 62 hot spots detected on the previous day, Indonesia's Antara news agency reported.

Of the number, 140 hot spots were in North Sumatra, 81 in Riau province, 67 in Aceh Darussalam, three respectively in Riau Islands and West Sumatra, Bibin Sulianto, an analyst from the Pekanbaru meteorological, climatology and geophysics agency (BMKG), stated here yesterday.

Sulianto said that the hot spots did not have anything to do with the eruption of Mount Sinabung.

On Feb 1, the satellite had detected 93 hot spots, or areas of intense heat indicative of forest fires in the Riau province.

"The largest number of forest fires has been detected in Bengkalis," said Ardhitama of the Pekanbaru Meteorological, Climatology and Geophysics Agency.

In the Bengkalis district, 52 hot spots were detected in the plantation, forest and farming areas, he elaborated.

The Pelalawan district had 18 hot spots, while Siak had 16. Indragiri Hilir had four hot spots; Duma had three, and Rokan Hilir had one hot spot while a number of cities in Riau were covered by haze. Bernama

Malaysia: More Sumatra hotspots detected
The Star 12 Feb 14;

PEKANBARU, Riau: The Terra and Aqua Satellite detected 297 hotspots of forest fires on Sumatra Island on Tuesday morning, a significant increase from 62 the previous day.

Indonesia's ANTARA reported that of the total 297 hotspots, 140 were in North Sumatra, 81 in Riau province, 67 in Aceh Darussalam, three respectively in Riau Islands and West Sumatra, said Bibin Sulianto, an analyst from the Pekanbaru meteorological, climatology and geophysics agency (BMKG).

Sulianto noted that he did not know where the hotspots came from but he was sure that they did not have anything to do with the eruption of Mount Sinabung in North Sumatra.

The satellite is more accurate in detecting geothermal than the NOAA-18 satellite, which used to be the reference for the Pekanbaru BMKG.

On Feb 1, the satellite detected 93 hotspots, or areas of intense heat indicative of forest fires in the Riau province.

"The largest number of forest fires has been detected in Bengkalis," Ardhitama of the Pekanbaru Meteorological, Climatology and Geophysics Agency pointed out recently.

In the Bengkalis district, 52 hotspots were detected in the plantation, forest and farming areas, he elaborated.

The Pelalawan district had 18 hotspots, while Siak had 16. Indragiri Hilir had four hotspots; Duma had three, while Rokan Hilir had one hotspot.

A number of cities in Riau were covered by haze caused by the fiery hotspots.

Indonesia is hit by forest fires almost every year. Some of the fires have been set deliberately by irresponsible plantation companies hoping to clear the land for plantations or farming activities. This is against the existing laws in Indonesia.

Haze arising from land-clearing fires often degrades the air quality, triggers health problems for some people and reduces visibility in affected areas, in particular, parts of Sumatra and the Kalimantan Islands.

Last year, the Indonesian government declared a state of emergency in the Riau province on June 21, after heavy smog blanketed parts of Sumatra Island, Singapore and Malaysia. - Bernama

Read more!

Malaysia: 100 fishermen urge Perak MB to halt project that is destroying replanted mangroves

Jaspal Singh New Straits Times 12 Feb 14;

SHOCKER: Construction of farm is destroying mangrove forest, they say

BAGAN SERAI: MORE than 100 fishermen are asking Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Dr Zambry Abdul Kadir to stop a freshwater prawn project from proceeding in Kampung Teluk Rubiah.

The calls to halt the project by a private company which had been in full swing since early this month, was raised following the clearing of a mangrove forest at a site where saplings had been planted by companies, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), federal and state agencies.

Sahabat Hutan Bakau Kuala Gula chairman and local fishing community spokesman Zakaria Mohamad, 48, said the locals were shocked when they learnt that the 100-hectare site of mangrove replanting area had been "invaded" and cleared for a freshwater prawn aquaculture project by a company from Penang.

"We have collected photographic evidence of bulldozers being used to clear the site which we then handed over to the Kerian Land and District Office.

"We were informed that the project was legal and that most of the land in Kampung Teluk Rubiah had been acquired for the project."

In the past six to seven years, the fishermen with the assistance of government departments, the corporate sector, NGOs and university students, had planted 200,000 saplings.

Zakaria said he considered the efforts by the federal and state authorities which had spent more than RM500,000 to conserve the mangrove forest at Kampung Teluk Rubiah for eco-tourism purpose, as a waste.

"Part of the site of the aquaculture project is a feeding ground for migratory birds that fly between the northern and southern hemispheres during the winter season.

"If big projects are allowed in mangrove forest areas around Kuala Gula, we will see the number of migratory birds dwindling.

"Sahabat Hutan Bakau Kuala Gula urges the MB to intervene in this matter."

Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM) field officer Meor Razak said although the company was given the land to carry out its prawn project, the company should respect the mangrove conservation initiative.

Both NGOs implored Zambry to intercede in the matter while SAM urged the state government to review the approval given for the project.

Meor said the project could also affect the primary source of livelihood for the fishing community of Kuala Gula.

40,000ha of mangrove forest in Kerian district threatened by land clearing
Ivan Loh and Elween Loke The Star 13 Feb 14;

PARIT BUNTAR: One of Malaysia’s biggest mangrove ecosystems is under threat as land clearing activities have begun at a patch near Kampung Kuala Gula.

At over 40,000ha, the Matang mangrove forest in Perak’s Kerian district is the largest mangrove ecosystem in the peninsula, but it was subject to a series of land clearing activities last week.

Friends of Mangroves (FoM) chairman Zakaria Mohamed said about 6ha of mangroves had been cleared to pave way for the construction of a shrimp farm located about 30km from here.

The area is near the popular Kuala Gula bird sanctuary, where an estimated 200,000 birds stop over during the migration season between August and April every year.

“What upsets us the most is seeing our efforts in rehabilitating the mangrove swamps go down the drain,” Zakaria said.

Since the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, a heightened sense of awareness about the importance of mangroves has been ingrained in the locals, especially in the Kerian area, which was one of the coastal areas in Perak to be hit.

Villagers from Kampung Kuala Gula are concerned that the removal of the plot of mangroves from a swamp by the name of Teluk Rubiah here will lead to even more land clearing.

“We have planted countless mangrove trees in the last seven years with the support of government agencies and other NGOs. But now, we do not know how much longer we can keep up with our endeavours,” said Zakaria.

The 500ha Teluk Rubiah mangroves – not to be confused with a bay with the same name near Sitiawan, also in Perak – are 6km away from the village.

Besides migratory bird watching, the Kuala Gula area is well known for ecotourism, including village homestays, boat rides to observe mangroves, fireflies, cage culture farms, traditional fishermen at work, cockle culture and shrimp paste processing factories.

Zakaria said ecotourism here would probably suffer a setback as a result of reduced mangrove forest cover, as migratory birds would seek other places for shelter.

Malaysian Nature Society conservation head Balu Perumal said the locals were upset and at the same time anxious about the land clearing activities, with FoM having reported the matter to the district office.

“The Forestry Department and the Environment and Natural Resources Ministry have also been notified about the matter,” said Balu, adding that locals had helped to plant about 200,000 mangrove trees there.

“If there is any other swamp land in Teluk Rubiah that has fallen into private hands, we hope the authorities can reacquire it and convert it into a community park,” he said.

A spokesman for a shrimp farm confirmed that the land was privately owned but declined to elaborate further, while the Kerian Land and District Office could not be reached for comment.

Malaysia: We should protect our mangroves
Audrey Dermawan New Straits Times 17 Feb 14;

COASTLINE PROTECTION:These 'living sea walls' are more effective than concrete structures during a tsunami, say researchers

SHOULD development projects that benefit only a select few, be carried out at the expense of nature? This question is probably running through the heads of many Perak folk after the New Straits Times reported that a 100-ha mangrove replanting site in Kampung Teluk Rubiah, Kuala Gula had been cleared for a freshwater prawn aquaculture project.

The saplings were planted by companies, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), federal and state agencies over the past six to seven years.

It was learnt that a company from Penang had begun clearing the area since the start of this month, and that most of the land in Kampung Teluk Rubiah had been acquired for the project. It must be stressed that the project is legal.

The fishing community has urged Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Dr Zambry Abdul Kadir to halt the project.

Zambry has pledged to look into the matter and told newsmen after last week's state executive council meeting that he had asked the relevant agencies to submit a report to him.

Sahabat Hutan Bakau Kuala Gula chairman and fishing community spokesman Zakaria Mohamad said the efforts by the federal and state authorities, which had spent more than RM500,000 to conserve the mangrove forest for eco-tourism purposes, would be a waste if the land was cleared.

The concern here is whether it is right to clear the mangrove forest to make way for such a project. I am certain the fishing community and others share similar concerns. The fishermen's fear that the project would affect their source of livelihood is understandable.

As Meor Razak of Sahabat Alam Malaysia puts it: "Although the company was given the land to carry out its prawn project, the company should respect the mangrove conservation efforts."

Have the people forgotten how important mangrove forests are to us?

After the 2004 tsunami, there has been a heightened sense of awareness on the importance of mangroves, especially in the Kerian area, one of the coastal areas in the state to be hit.

Several studies found that mangrove forests have a protective role in the event of a tsunami. In one of the studies, researchers described mangroves as live sea walls that were more effective than concrete structures.

In India, mangrove forests are worshipped. The Philippine Department of Environment and Natural Resources has allocated substantial funds to replant much of the affected coastal zones with mangroves following typhoon Haiyan.

Isn't it strange for us to be clearing the mangrove forests for development when countries around the world are replanting them?

The country's lawmakers should be cautious when approving projects in future, especially if it concerns the environment.

If possible, feedback from people living around the project site should be taken into consideration. In this case, the fishing community or even environmentalists should have been consulted first.

It is pointless to cry over spilt milk when damage has been done. More importantly, areas like these should be gazetted to protect them from development.

The people of Perak should be proud that the Matang mangrove forest, at more than 40,000ha, is recognised as the best managed sustainable mangrove ecosystem in the world.

Everyone has a role to play to ensure it remains this way for a long time. It is our responsibility to ensure we can pass this treasure to the next generation.

Read more!

WWF, Traffic urge Malaysia to increase anti-wildlife smuggling efforts

The Star 11 Feb 14;

KUALA LUMPUR: The World Wide Fund for Nature - Malaysia (WWF-Malaysia) and The Wildlife Trade Monitoring Network (Traffic) have urged the Malaysian Government to act forcefully in combating poaching and wildlife trade in Malaysia.

In a statement issued here Tuesday, both organisations said they made the call in view of Malaysia's participation in the Illegal Wildlife Trade Conference in London on Feb 12 and 13.

Conference participants include source, transit, and destination countries for illegal wildlife goods, and countries with available resources to tackle trafficking.

"The two-day conference is an opportunity for governments to commit to finally ending illegal trade in elephants, rhinos, tigers and wildlife.

"Any measures agreed in London must be backed at home by delivering actions equal to the challenge," said WWF-Malaysia's executive director/CEO, Datuk Dr Dionysius Sharma.

Traffic's Southeast Asia regional director Dr Chris R Shepherd said Malaysia had already lost much of its wildlife to poachers.

"We call on the Government to make the fight against wildlife poachers and traffickers a priority in the national agenda," he said.

Both organisations urged the Malaysian government to sign the Conference Declaration and prioritise seven key areas including cracking down on illegal wildlife trade networks operating in the country.

The organisations also urged the Malaysian government to set up a National Tiger Task Force to oversee the implementation of the National Tiger Conservation Action Plan, as well as anti-poaching efforts to protect tigers and other wildlife.

"Poaching for trade is clearly the most chronic threat to Malaysia's wildlife. Local and foreign poaching syndicates are emptying the forests of tigers, their prey, and other wildlife.

"Most of these poachers are armed and they enter the forests without any fear of getting caught," said Dr Sharma. - Bernama

Read more!

Malaysia: Kuala Selangor Nature Park aiming for Ramsar recognition

Zora The Star 12 Feb 14;

KUALA SELANGOR: The popular Kuala Selangor Nature Park (KSNP) has been proposed as the country’s eighth Ramsar site.

The park is a wetlands comprising about 600ha of riverine mangrove forest, lake and secondary forest.

The target is to make the wetlands a site of global importance within two years.

Malaysian Nature Society (MNS) president Dr Prof Maketab Mohamed, who disclosed this, said the project was important to better protect the site from environmental degradation.

The Ramsar Convention is an inter-governmental treaty that embodies the commitment of member countries to maintain the ecological character and plan sustainable use of all wetlands.

Currently, there are 2,177 Ramsar sites in the world including six in Malaysia.

The seventh, the Kota Kinabalu Wetlands, is in the process of being certified as a Ramsar Site.

“We have been wanting to have KSNP recognised as a Ramsar site for many years and we have good cooperation from all Federal and state agencies and the Kuala Selangor District Council to make it a reality.

“There are nine Ramsar criteria and we fulfilled five of them,’’ he added.

MNS conceptualised and proposed the KSNP in 1987. It is the first nature park to be managed by an NGO.

KSNP, which is part of the north-central Selangor coast, is also an Important Bird Area of Birdlife International.

Prof Maketab said another plan was to get the coastal area of Selangor, stretching over 100km, to be internationally recognised as an important flyway for migratory birds.

The extensive mudflats and coastal mangroves attract tens of thousands of migratory waterbirds annually from the northern hemisphere to feed and rest between September and March.

Some globally threatened species such as the spoon-billed sandpiper and Nordmann’s Greenshank have been sighted at KSNP.

District Council chairman Noraini Roslan said the locals already knew of the importance of wetlands and migratory birds and welcomed the move to have it recognised as a Ramsar site.

Read more!

Study shows urbanisation's impact on biodiversity

Mark Kinver BBC News 11 Feb 14;

A dataset, described as the largest of it kind to date, has assessed the impact of urbanisation on biodiversity levels around the globe.

It found that cities supported far fewer species of birds and plants compared with similar areas of undeveloped land.

However, it showed the vast majority of flora and fauna in a city reflected an area's "unique biotic heritage".

The findings appear in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

"While we show that urbanisation has caused cities to lose large numbers of plants and animals, the good news is that cities still retain endemic native species, which opens the door for new policies on regional and global biodiversity conservation," explained co-author Myla Aronson, a research scientist from Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, US.

"In particular, the study highlights the value of green space in cities, which have become important refuges for native species and migrating wildlife."

The international team of researchers collected lists of plants in 110 cities and lists of birds found in 54 cities around the world.

"We were interested in plants and birds that were found in all parts of the city - from buildings, roads, vacant lots, brownfields, managed greenspaces, and natural greenspaces - to understand how cities support biodiversity as a whole," Dr Aronson told BBC News.

Unique biotic heritage

The team analyses the data and found that cities retained about just 8% of bird species and 25% of plant species of comparable undeveloped land.

But Dr Aronson added: "Contrary to popular belief, we show that the plants and birds of cities are not all the same across the world.

"Owing to the fact that cities around the world share similar structural characteristics - buildings, roads etc - it is thought that cities share a similar biota no matter where they are in the world.

"Few species are shared across cities, such as pigeons and annual meadow grass, but overall, the composition of cities reflects the unique biotic heritage of their geographic location."

She said that the data revealed that, overall, cities supported close to 20% of the world's bird species and 5% of known plant species.

"Conserving green spaces, restoring natural plant species and adding biodiversity friendly habitats within urban landscapes could, in turn, support more bird and plant species," Dr Aronson suggested.

Commenting on the study's findings, Prof Philip James from the University of Salford - who was not involved in the research - said that many cities grew in areas that were diverse and rich in terms of natural resources, and plants and animals.

"So the challenge is to use our knowledge of urban ecology to enrich the lives of the ever increasing number of people living and working in cities," he told BBC News.

"Seeing birds from our windows, hearing their songs and having pleasant, natural places to walk are all beneficial to our health and well-being."

Dr Aronson said that by improving the understanding the ecology found in urban areas, city planners and managers would be better placed to preserve and promote biodiversity, which provides important ecosystem services, such as water quality and flood protection.

She added: "Of course this is a coarse-scale study but we still come up with patterns that are similar in cities around the world."

Read more!