Best of our wild blogs: 20 Feb 14

Butterflies Galore! : Ancyra Blue
from Butterflies of Singapore

Rags to Riches: Origins of Kopi Luwak
from Project LUWAK SG

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Fish deaths a double whammy

Melissa Lin The Straits Times AsiaOne 19 Feb 14;

Business at Ms Noven Chew's two coastal fish farms was already bad.

Since last year, the 37-year-old has been facing stiff competition from Malaysian farmers who sold their fish here at prices cheaper than she can afford to sell her produce.

During Chinese New Year came an even bigger blow which is set to sink her business. Almost 7,000 fish - nearly her entire stock - died within a span of one week.

The five tonnes of dead fish included sea bass, tiger grouper and mouse grouper, which can fetch between $80 and $100 per kg, she said.

The losses cost her $15,000. And if the fish had grown to their maximum size, their worth could have as much as doubled, she estimated.

Others were also not spared the sudden mass deaths - 39 farms in the East and West Johor Strait lost around 160 tonnes of fish.

That is around 3 per cent of what local farms produced in 2012, according to Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) figures.

Last Thursday, AVA attributed the deaths to low levels of dissolved oxygen and a plankton bloom due to hot weather and high tides being at their lowest levels.

Signs that something was amiss began showing a few days before the start of Chinese New Year late last month, said Ms Chew.

Neighbouring fish farmers told her that their coral trout - which she does not rear - were dying. A check in the waters around her farms found that fish were avoiding the area.

As a safety precaution, she moved a few hundred of her giant groupers into mussel nets. Mussels eat plankton and act as a filter, she said.

They survived, but she did not have enough mussel nets to save her other fish.

Ms Chew's losses could have been worse if she had not diversified her business following a plankton bloom in December 2009, when 25 tonnes of fish worth $70,000 died in her farms.

After that setback, she and her business partner, Singapore Marine Aquaculture Cooperative chairman Phillip Lim, decided to rear lobsters. Their farms now have more than 10,000 of the crustaceans, which were unaffected by the recent deaths.

"We didn't want to rear so many fish because the price of local fish was dropping," Ms Chew added.

Sea bass from Malaysia can be bought for the retail price of as low as $5 a kilogram, but for local fish farmers, it costs $8 just to rear the same amount of fish, she said.

The Institute of Technical Education graduate had previously worked as a retail assistant, a wonton noodle seller and a chicken rice seller.

The divorcee went into the fish farming business in 2008, thinking it would allow her more time with her daughter, now 12.

A year later, she sold her four-room flat in Sembawang for $350,000, and invested the entire sum into her business. Now she lives on one of her farms - each of which sits on 0.5ha of sea area off the coast of Changi - while her daughter lives with her former mother-in-law.

Ms Chew owns the farms but pays an annual licence fee of $850 for each of them. She declined to reveal how much she earns from farming.

Last Thursday, Minister of State for National Development Mohamad Maliki Osman said farmers affected by the recent mass deaths do not have to worry about missing mandated productivity targets. Each year, fish farms must produce 17 tonnes of fish for every 0.5ha of space to keep their licences.

But this is cold comfort to Ms Chew, who does not have any savings and may have to head to the mainland to find a way to support herself and her daughter.

"I'll have to find a part-time job outside. I want to support the national food security efforts, but how can I do so if I can't even support my own family?"

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Public feedback sought on Bill targeting firms that cause haze

Monica Kotwani Channel NewsAsia 19 Feb 14;

SINGAPORE: The government hopes a proposed new law targeting companies and other commercial organisations that play a part in haze pollution in Singapore will send a strong signal of deterrence.

Environment and Water Resources Minister Dr Vivian Balakrishnan said this on his Facebook on Wednesday evening.

The ministry is embarking on a month-long public consultation to get feedback on the proposed Transboundary Haze Pollution Bill.

At its peak in June last year, the haze reached a PSI reading of 400 in Singapore.

To help address the issue, the government's proposed Bill will make it a criminal offence when a company or entity engages in, condones or authorises, any activity that causes transboundary haze.

It will target all companies or entities -- whether they are based in Singapore or overseas.

They can be fined up to S$300,000, with the fine going up to S$450,000 if they have repeatedly ignored the authorities' requests to take action, prevent or reduce haze pollution.

It also provides for the public to take a civil action against errant companies.

Hazri Hassan, deputy director of international relations at the Environment and Water Resources Ministry, said: "Beyond criminal prosecution and civil liabilities, there is this thing about the image of a company which would be a very strong deterrent if the company were to conduct itself in such an irresponsible behaviour."

But before it goes to Parliament, the Environment and Water Resources Ministry is seeking feedback from the public.

Catching culprits based in Singapore may be clear-cut, but currently, the only way to catch those based overseas is if somebody in the entity's management position comes to Singapore. And while there are concerns that this may be tough, some experts actually think otherwise.

Associate Professor Simon Tay, chairman of the Singapore Institute of International Affairs, said: "Singapore is a natural hub for the region -- finance, airport -- (and) a second home... for many people in the region (for its) health services.

"The chances of these people coming to Singapore is quite high. A number of companies actually have headquarters here. Some of them are even being listed here or have financing through here."

He said that the Bill, through the presumptions set out, will also allow for authorities to get more information and clarity from the companies involved -- such as their internal land maps, something which governments have struggled to obtain.

The consultation period starts on Wednesday and ends on March 19.

The public can submit their feedback via email to

- CNA/nd/ms

Government proposes law to allow action against firms causing haze
Woo Sian Boon Today Online 19 Feb 14;

SINGAPORE — In a move aimed at sending “a strong signal of deterrence” to errant companies, the Ministry of Environment and Water Resources plans to introduce a law that will allow legal action to be taken against companies, both local and foreign, that cause transboundary haze.

Under the draft Transboundary Haze Pollution Bill, errant companies can be fined up to S$300,000 if their activities outside Singapore result in the island being blanketed by unhealthy levels of haze. The draft Bill is up for public consultation until March 19.

TODAY understands that the only way for the Government to take action against errant companies that do not have any presence here is when any of their representatives holding management positions set foot on Singapore soil.

Environmentalists and observers TODAY spoke to lauded the proposed legislation as “a great first step” towards tackling the haze menace, but some pointed out that identifying errant companies and taking them to court could be a challenge, and that the proposed maximum fine was too low.

Besides criminal liability, the proposed law will also allow the National Environment Agency (NEA) to ask relevant parties to reduce or control the haze pollution, such as putting out fires or adopting zero-burning practices. If they deliberately ignore such requests, they can be fined up to S$450,000.

Singaporeans affected by the haze can also sue these errant companies for personal injuries, damage to their properties or any other losses due to the haze.

Plans to table the Bill were revealed last year by Environment and Water Resources Minister Vivian Balakrishnan following Singapore’s worst haze episode in June. The three-hour Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) had then hit an unprecedented high of 401, beyond the hazardous level of 300.

Dr Balakrishnan had said that he hoped to have the Bill passed within the first half of this year. In a Facebook post yesterday evening, he noted that transboundary haze had recurred “for too many years” in the region.

“The root cause (of transboundary haze) is commercial ... Errant companies have been clearing land by illegal burning because it is the cheapest way to do so. Although there are domestic laws against this practice, there are real problems in investigation and enforcement in those countries,” Dr Balakrishnan said.

“We hope this legislation will send a strong signal of deterrence to such errant companies.”

Singapore Institute of International Affairs Chairman Simon Tay said the proposed law will allow individual lawsuits against companies, hence bypassing any “friction” that might occur if the matter has to go through governments. With companies having to prove that they are not liable for the haze, they “will feel more pressure to be transparent and responsible”, he added.

A chain reaction might also follow, such as banks becoming more careful when approving loans to companies since the financial institutions would not want to expose themselves to more risks of civil or criminal liability, Dr Tay said.

The proposed law “isn’t a silver bullet, but … it could play a role in creating the overall ecology, for the right kind of approach to this”, Dr Tay added.

Lauding Singapore’s move as “an important step ahead”, Mr Bustar Maitar, head of the Indonesia Forest Campaign of environment group Greenpeace, said: “It also provides an interesting test case to explore the effective legal reach of this proposal.”

In an email reply from Jakarta, Mr Bustar said that while Singapore is leading the way with the proposed law, this must be “equally matched by equally strong measures from the Indonesian government”.

Singapore Environment Council’s Executive Director Jose Raymond felt heavy fines would be an effective deterrence but questioned if the proposed fine is high enough.

Nominated Member of Parliament Faizah Jamal also felt the proposed fines were “paltry”, and suggested that errant companies be ordered to carry out reforestation and compensate victims of the haze, or even prohibited to do business in Singapore instead.

She also felt it would be difficult to take foreign companies to task and questioned whether the NEA would be able to work with their foreign counterparts on enforcement.

Since last year’s haze episode, many firms have found themselves in the spotlight, with Singapore-listed companies, such as a palm oil trader Wilmar, and pulp and paper maker APRIL, emphasising that they have zero-burning policies.

A spokesperson for First Resources, a Singapore-listed palm oil company, said it will support any move to hold those directly responsible for contributing to the haze. ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY NEO CHAI CHIN

Haze: Govt seeking views on new bill to fine local, foreign companies responsible
Woo Sian Boon Channel NewsAsia 19 Feb 14;

SINGAPORE — The Ministry of Environment and Water Resources is seeking public views on a draft Transboundary Haze Pollution Bill which will introduce new legislative measures against errant companies in or outside of Singapore that cause or contribute to haze here.

The consultation period will last for a month from today (Feb 19) until Mar 19.

Under some proposed features of the Bill, a penalty of up to S$300,000 may be imposed on anyone or any company — both foreign or Singapore-linked — whose conduct causes or contributes to haze in Singapore. This will be increased up to S$450,000 if the entity has deliberately ignored requests by authorities to take appropriate action to prevent, reduce or control haze pollution.

The Bill will cover the operations of all Singapore and non-Singapore companies whose activities inside or outside of the country contributes to haze here.

Affected parties may also bring civil suits against errant entities involved in causing or contributing to the haze in Singapore.

There is currently no law in the world that allows a country to prosecute commercial entities in other countries for such offences.

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Kellogg's to buy only sustainably sourced palm oil

Company forces suppliers to protect forests and peatlands, and respect community rights
John Vidal 19 Feb 14;

The food giant Kellogg's has caved in to public pressure and agreed to buy palm oil only from suppliers who can prove that they actively protect rainforests and peatlands and respect human rights.

The move, which follows intense pressure from consumer groups around the world, is expected to improve the survival chances of highly endangered animals like the Sumatran tiger and the orangutan in southeast Asia, as well as provide some protection for indigenous peoples in Indonesia, Malaysia, New Guinea, Latin America and west Africa who depend on tropical rainforests for a living.

At least 30,000 square miles of tropical forest has been cut down in the past 20 years to supply the burgeoning global food industry with cheap palm oil to make packaged foods, ice cream and snacks. The deforestation has led to illegal land grabs, forest fires and social conflict in communities which depend on forest resources for their livelihoods. The heavy loss of peatlands has also contributed significantly to the increase in climate change emissions.

In a statement, Kellogg's said that it will require its suppliers to "protect forests, endangered species habitat, lands with high carbon content, and peatland of any depth. Suppliers will also be required to protect human and community rights."

"While palm oil is a very small percentage of our total ingredients, as a socially responsible company, concerns about the sustainable production of palm oil are clearly on our radar screen," said chief sustainability officer Celeste Clark.

The company, whose brands include Corn Flakes, Rice Krispies, Special K and Pringles is thought to use about 50,000 tonnes of palm oil a year, said that it planned to impose the changes by December 2015. It has sales of $14bn (£8bn) annually, manufactures in 35 countries and sells food in over 180 countries.

"This is clearly a step in the right direction. Now it needs to be implemented. This will limit the damage that has already been done but it shows that the palm oil industry is in transformation. Now it needs other major US and European companies to follow," said Pat Venditti, deputy forest campaign director at Greenpeace.

The Kellogg's move, said Venditti, is expected to raise standards and increase pressure on other food giants and their suppliers to follow suit.

It also represents a major success for environment and consumer groups who have challenged the industry's longstanding assurances that palm oil cultivation in Asia was "sustainable" and which has hidden behind easily-obtained green "certificates" which have not stopped the forest destruction even in national parks and on fragile peatlands.

Kellogg's follows a string of food companies and their suppliers who have committed themselves to raising standards. It acted following reports last year that it had been using illegally-grown palm oil from Indonesia sourced from its supply partner Wilmar International, which controls over a third of the global palm oil trade. In December 2013 Wilmar committed to ban its suppliers from destroying forests and peatlands.

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Malaysia: Wildlife enforcers raid restaurants with endangered animals on V-Day menu

r.s.n. murali The Star 20 Feb 14;

MALACCA: Plans by several restaurants to serve exotic dishes to celebrate Valentine’s Day in a town notorious for such eating habits fizzled out when wildlife enforcers raided the joints to seize numerous packets of near-extinct wildlife meat and several live species.

The enforcement officers from the National Parks and Wildlife Department (Perhilitan) raided the three premises in Machap Baru, about 7km from Alor Gajah, in a 5.45pm to 6.35pm operation on Feb 14.

A source told The Star that the enforcement officers from the Perhilitan headquarters raided three premises following a tip-off that exotic meat was on the dinner menu for Valentine’s Day.

Since the 1980s, this town has been well-known to gastronomes with an appetite for exotic food and the restaurants stock their kitchens with snakes, river terrapins, salamander and different species of animals and birds, some of which are endangered.

In the first raid at Macap Baru, the raiding party seized 27 packets of meat, believed to be that of flying fox, 12 packets of civet cat meat and four packets each of macaque and river terrapin meat.

In the second raid, the officers found two species of live Red Eared Sliders (a semi-aquatic turtle) believed to be kept by the 52-year-old owner to prepare it as a candlelight menu that evening.

The final seizures at a kitchen of a restaurant in Machap Umboo were two live river terrapins.

The seized items are now being stored and kept at the department’s office here.

The restaurant owners of the errant joints are expected to be charged within the next few days.

Malacca Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals chairman Vincent Low, in lauding the seizures, said many people went for exotic dishes due to the belief that such dishes possessed health properties.

“Some believe that stewed river terrapins cure cancer, civet cats relieve asthma and pangolin scales regulate menstruation.

“I think the dishes that were to be served on Valentine’s Day supposedly had aphrodisiac values,” he said yesterday.

“It is believed that the wilder the animal, the better its curing effects are for a particular illness,” said Low, adding that more consumers had acquired a taste for such dishes.

He suspects that the supplies come from Pahang.

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Malaysia: Cloud seeding to proceed when weather is suitable

New Straits Times 20 Feb 14;

KUALA LUMPUR: Cloud seeding will be carried out to ease the water supply shortage following the severe dry spell when there is suitable weather, said Energy, Green Technology and Water Ministry secretary-general Datuk Loo Took Gee.

"Of course, it is an option. But we need to wait until there are favourable clouds to perform the cloud seeding."

She said the exercise required specific types of clouds and ideal wind conditions for it to be carried out successfully.

"We need rainfall in the correct locations. In the past few days, rain has not been falling at water catchment areas."

She said the ministry would also instruct the National Water Services Commission (SPAN) to issue notices to water concessionaires and consumers to embark on water conservation exercise.

She said a meeting would be held with the water concessionaires today to identify critical areas in the peninsula.

"The Klang Valley area is at a critical stage but we are identifying other areas in the peninsula and will issue notices after the meeting," she told the New Straits Times yesterday.

She said consumers should use water judiciously in light of the impending water crisis.

The Meteorological Department yesterday confirmed it had received a request from the Selangor Water Management Board (Luas) to carry out cloud seeding over the Klang Gate Dam in Ampang.

Its deputy director-general, Dr Mohd Rosaidi Che Abas, said the exercise would be carried out as soon as weather conditions were suitable.

"We have studied the request from Luas and agreed to go ahead with cloud seeding in the specified area. This will be done as soon as possible, and the cost will be borne by Luas."

Rosaidi said the weather forecast indicated the dry spell would continue until mid-March, with only moderate rainfall in certain areas. "However, the monsoon transition period will begin in mid-March, with steady rainfall expected to resume then."

Luas director Mohd Khairi Selamat said water reserves at three of the seven dams in Selangor had fallen below 80 per cent as of yesterday due to the dry spell.

"The water reserve level at the Klang Gate Dam has dropped to 56.12 per cent, Sungai Selangor Dam to 52.65 per cent and Langat Dam stands at 78.02 per cent," he said, adding that the decrease in the water level at the dams was unusual as it usually occurred between May and September during the southwest monsoon season.

Read more: Cloud seeding to proceed when weather is suitable - General - New Straits Times

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Indonesia: Riau Schools Close as Police Arrest 12 Over Sumatra Forest Fires

Jakarta Globe 19 Feb 14;

A resident sprays water on a peatland fire in Pekanbaru district in Riau province on Feb. 16, 2014. (AFP Photo)

Jakarta. Police in Riau have arrested 12 people in connection with forest fires that have contributed to hazardous air quality in the Sumatra province, as schools were told to close and residents in the worst-affected subdistricts were advised to stay indoors.

“[The 12 farmers] have been detained and will go through questioning by detectives in district police offices,” Riau Police spokesman Adj. Sr. Cmr. Guntru Aryo Tejo told the state-run Antara News Agency on Tuesday.

Four district police offices — Bengkalis, Indragiri Hilir, Pekanbaru and Rokan Hilir — were conducting investigations. The suspects, all farmers, were each suspected of burning up to five hectares of forest. None owned the land they stood accused of burning, police said.

The arrest of 12 people for five hectares’ worth of fires only plays at the margins of the problem. Haze in Riau is responsible for a proportion of Indonesia’s vast carbon emissions and leads to misery for the local population. The fires are also responsible for a near-annual diplomatic locking of horns with Singapore as the haze drifts over the Strait of Malacca and disrupts business as usual in the Lion City.

A total of 5,875 hectares of land were on fire on Wednesday, and, according to the Pekanbaru office of the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG ), 256 hotspots have been detected by Nasa’s Terra and Aqua satellites, mostly in the Bengkalis and Teluk Meranti sub-districts.

Pekanbaru BMKG spokesman Slamet Riyadi said on Wednesday that the fires could burn for some time as the short-term weather forecast had only light rain in store for the area.

Some flights have been canceled or delayed due to haze around Sultan Syarif Kasim II International Airport in Pekanbaru. On Wednesday, Silk Air flights out of Singapore and Sky Aviation flights from Malaka were delayed amid reports that visibility was down to 800 meters.

Domestic airlines including Garuda Indonesia and Lion Air also experienced delays and cancellations.

Some 15,292 residents have fallen ill because of the haze, Riau Health Agency official Erdinal said, according to the Indonesian news portal

“Mostly they suffer upper-respiratory tract infections because of the declining air quality,” Erdinal said, adding that air was still at a “hazardous level,” with pollution index readings above 250.

Common symptoms within this range included asthma as well as eye and skin irritations — a heightened risk of pneumonia was also a concern, she said.

Readings above 50 exceed the healthy level.

Erdinal suggested that locals wear masks and avoid outdoor activities — which would preclude the majority of the population from working.

The Pekanbaru Education Agency has suspended all school until Feb. 20, saying that the air quality was hazardous for children.

Dumai's air quality on Wednesday morning hazardous to health
Antara 19 Feb 14;

Dumai (ANTARA News) - The Pollutant Standard Index (PSI) over Dumai city, Riau province, reached 410, on Wednesday at around 8 a.m. local time, indicating that the citys air quality is hazardous to health.

Dumais air quality has worsened as the city has been blanketed by haze coming from the forest, plantation and peat land fires over the past few weeks, Marjoko Santoso, the Dumai health offices head, stated here, on Wednesday.

However, at about 9 a.m., on the same day, the air quality improved significantly to 46 PSI, which is categorized as "good".

"The air quality index has been fluctuating. In the evening, until early morning, the smog haze is quite thick, and at noon, it gradually comes back to normal again," he explained.

The authorities have urged Dumai residents to stay indoors and drink water as much as possible, and if they have to outside, then they are advised to wear facemasks.

They have been asked to go to nearby hospitals or community health posts in case they face breathing or respiratory problems.

A local inhabitant, identified as Tia, stated that she stayed at home on Tuesday evening, but the haze entered her house through the ventilation and caused eye irritation and respiratory problems.

Editor: Priyambodo RH

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Indonesia: Pulp Company April Challenges Conservation Groups to Chip in on Land Care

Muhamad Al Azhari Jakarta Globe 19 Feb 14;

Jakarta. Asia Pacific Resources International, a leading fiber, pulp and paper producer, has called on environmental groups as well as the government to pay more attention to unmanaged land, as it is prone not only to illegal logging, but also slash-and-burn farming methods.

“These unregulated pieces of land are the cause of many problems we have today,” Petrus Gunarso, April’s director for sustainability, said during a media visit to BeritaSatu on Tuesday.

Petrus said illegal logging and slash-and-burn farming activities have contributed to the loss of export income.

According to official forestry ministry data, Indonesia has forest areas of roughly 130 million hectares. But only 48 million hectares are in good condition, and an additional 50 hectares have been deemed unmanaged, which means the government has not appointed an outside party to manage the area.

“The land has not been designated as a conservation area; it remains unregulated, it has zero community developments, but it has experienced unforeseeable changes,” Petrus said.

“If [environmental groups] say they care about Indonesia’s forests, why not help manage these 50 hectares of land? The local government may find it too costly to supervise such a vast area,” he said.

APRIL, a Singapore-based management company, which controls pulp and paper businesses of the Sukanto Tanoto family’s Royal Golden Eagle, has been accused by environment groups — particularly Greenpeace — of greatly contributing to deforestation in Indonesia.

APRIL and its Indonesian affiliates currently control some 817,000 hectares of land throughout the country, 51 percent of which is suitable for planting.

But with nearly half of the company’s concession areas located in Sumatra’s Riau province — an area witnessing one of fastest rates of deforestation in the world — the group’s operation is often accused of supporting illegal logging.

“Anyone can check our supply chain. We have always been transparent,” APRIL president director Kusnan Rahmin said, adding that the company is ready to show its commitment to anyone who wishes to investigate its efforts to protect, manage and enhance forest areas.

APRIL announced a renewed commitment to sustainable practices this week, promising to cease expansion of its plantation holdings by the end of this year, and to halt forest clearing entirely by 2019.

The company has also established a no-burn policy in its concession.

Greenpeace Indonesia, a vocal critic of the pulp company, fired back saying that it’s efforts restore peatland damaged by the company’s activities in Pelalawan, Riau, was hindered by April.

“We used to worked with the Teluk Meranti community [in Pelalawan] which was impacted [by] April’s operations,” said Yuyun Indradi, a campaigner at Greenpeace. “We supported collaboration with the community in developing a nursery to restore destroyed peatland caused by April’s operation. Unfortunately, April also destroying the effort of restoration done by the community with GP support.”

The NGO said it would continue campaigning against companies accused of cutting down Indonesia’s forests.

“Our mission is to stop deforestation,” Yuyun said. “I was witnessing their destructive operations in Riau and it was heartbreaking to see all of the devastation.”

— Jonathan Vit contributed to this report

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Indonesia to protect two of world's largest manta ray species

UPI 19 Feb 14;

NEW YORK, Feb. 19 (UPI) -- A U.S. conservation group says it applauds Indonesia for its decision to protect two of the world's largest ray species from fishing and trade in the country.

On Jan. 28 Indonesia's Fisheries and Maritime Affairs Minister declared both the giant manta ray and reef manta ray as protected species under Indonesian law.

The Wildlife Conservation Society has commended the Indonesian government, saying their decision represents a major advancement in efforts to conserve manta rays, which in 2013 were added to the list of species regulated under of CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.

"The listing of oceanic and reef manta rays on CITES last year was a great first step towards mitigating the threat to these magnificent animals from overfishing," Stuart Campbell, Director of WCS's Indonesian Marine Conservation and Fisheries Program, said in a release from the society's New York headquarters.

"But far more needs to be done, particularly at the country level, to reduce this fishing pressure. By fully protecting these fishes, the Government of Indonesia has demonstrated its commitment to these new CITES rules while offering real hope for these species' future in Indonesia and beyond."

Manta rays are among the largest fishes on the planet, which "wingspans" that can reach 23 feet. Long-lived -- reaching ages of 20-30 years -- they mature late, and give birth to generally a single pup every two years after a gestation period of one year.

That low reproductive rate makes them exceptionally vulnerable to overfishing, the WCS said.

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Philippines: Large cache of smuggled exotic animals seized in Surigao

Inquirer AFP 19 Feb 14;

MANILA, Philippines — Wildlife officers said Wednesday they had seized almost 100 exotic animals and birds, including cockatoos, echidnas and wallabies, that had been smuggled into the Philippines for sale to wealthy collectors.

The cache, hidden in small containers in a van, was made up of wildlife from Australia, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea, said Eric Gallego, spokesman for the local office of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

They included yellow-crested cockatoos and long-beaked echidnas, two species listed as “critically endangered” by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.

They also included four wallabies from Australia and about 90 exotic parrots from Indonesia, said Gallego.

Several of the birds or animals had died, possibly from the stress of long travel in harsh conditions, he told AFP.

Law enforcers acting on a tip stopped a van with the wildlife and two attendants in the southern city of Surigao on Mindanao island on Saturday, just as the vehicle was about to board a ship heading north.

The birds and animals are believed to have been shipped from Indonesia to Malaysia and then across the maritime border to the southern Philippines where they would be taken to Manila, said Gallego.

“There must have been an order from a rich person in Manila for the animals as collector’s items. It must be someone who is into rare animals,” he told AFP.

The head of the government’s wildlife division Josefina de Leon said a crime syndicate with members from different countries was known to be smuggling rare animals from Malaysia into the southern Philippines.

Two men caught with the van will be charged with illegally transporting wildlife, a crime punishable up to six months in jail and a P50,000 ($1,120) fine depending on the rarity of the animals involved.

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Laos: Dam threatens survival of Mekong dolphins

WWF 19 Feb 14;

Phnom Penh, Cambodia – The Lao government’s decision to forge ahead with the Don Sahong hydropower project in southern Laos, located just one kilometre upstream of the core habitat for Mekong dolphins, could precipitate the extinction of the species from the Mekong River, warns a new WWF brief.

According to the WWF paper, the dam builders intend to excavate millions of tonnes of rock using explosives, creating strong sound waves that could potentially kill dolphins which have highly sensitive hearing structures. Increased boat traffic, changes in water quality, and habitat degradation represent other major direct risks to the dolphins, along with the cumulative indirect effects of disturbance and stress.

“Plans to construct the Don Sahong dam in a channel immediately upstream from these dolphins will likely hasten their disappearance from the Mekong,” said Chhith Sam Ath, WWF-Cambodia’s Country Director. “The dam’s impacts on the dolphins probably cannot be mitigated, and certainly not through the limited and vague plans outlined in the project’s environmental impact assessment.”

Freshwater Irrawaddy dolphins are critically endangered in the Mekong River, where their numbers have dwindled to around 85 individuals restricted to a 190km stretch of the Mekong River mainstream between southern Laos and north-east Cambodia. The dolphins are already threatened from accidental entanglement in gillnets and low calf survival, additional pressures on the population will likely herald their demise.

“Pressures on the Mekong dolphins are immense, but as long as they survive there is hope,” added Sam Ath. “But the attitude implicit in the dam developer’s impact assessment – that the dolphin population is already vulnerable and therefore should not stand in the way of development – will do nothing but seal their fate.”

In September last year, Laos announced its decision to proceed with the Don Sahong dam on the Mekong mainstream, bypassing the Mekong River Commission’s (MRC) consultation process. The dam will block the only channel suitable for year-round fish migration, putting the world’s largest inland fishery at risk. Despite objections from neighbouring countries, construction is expected to start soon and finish in early 2018.

Alternatives to the Don Sahong dam exist, such as the Thako Project, which could generate approximately the same amount of electricity as Don Sahong but at lower cost and with far less impacts as it does not involve building a barrier across any of the channels of the Mekong mainstream. Unfortunately the Thako project cannot move ahead if the Don Sahong dam proceeds as they would be competing for the same water.

“It is not too late to suspend the Don Sahong project and consider smarter alternatives,” said Gerry Ryan, Technical Advisor with WWF-Cambodia and author of the brief. “Not building the Don Sahong dam is not an irreparable blow to the development aspirations of Laos, or their ability to produce electricity, but building it will almost certainly cause the extirpation of their dolphins and threaten critical fisheries.”

Mekong dolphins also have great cultural significance to local communities and bring tangible livelihood benefits. “Dolphin-watching tours are a major contributor to growth, bringing in much needed income to local communities,” added Ryan. “It is clear that saving the dolphins also means smart development.”

The dolphins are also an important indicator of the health and sound management of the freshwater resources, and their decline could signal a potentially devastating decline in the health of the entire river ecosystem.

WWF is calling for the suspension of the Don Sahong dam to allow decisions to be reached using sound science and in consultation with impacted countries. “Lower Mekong countries are bound by the MRC agreement to hold inter-governmental consultations before proceeding with dams that impact their neighbours,” said Sam Ath. “Laos’ failure to honour the consultation agreement is threatening transboundary cooperation, the livelihoods and food security of millions, and critically endangered species.”

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