Best of our wild blogs: 11 Apr 14

Have the Beans been to Ubin?
from The Green Beans

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Former WRS chief suggests 'un-zoo' as unique attraction

David Ee The Straits Times AsiaOne 11 Apr 14;

SINGAPORE - The man who founded the Night Safari - a world-first when it opened in 1994 - has another radical idea.

Mr Bernard Harrison revealed yesterday that he has suggested to the Singapore Tourism Board the creation of an "un-zoo", in which visitors can enjoy "random" up-close encounters with trained animals like monkeys and otters.

Such encounters, orchestrated by guides, will be more exciting than seeing animals "behind glass", he said.

He was speaking to more than 100 civil servants, academics and consultants during a lecture at the Ministry of National Development organised by the Centre for Liveable Cities.

The former Wildlife Reserves Singapore (WRS) chief executive later gave the example of zoo visitors seeing the most dangerous snakes in the world kept in enclosures.

"By the fifth one you're saying: 'Let's get out of this place.' It gets boring," the 63-year-old, who left WRS in 2002 and now runs a zoo design consultancy, told The Straits Times. "Then you walk out, and in front of you wriggles a small, green snake. It goes in front of your path, and you say: 'Did you see that?'"

Mr Harrison said that the experience in an "un-zoo" - which if created would also be a world-first - would be managed but without visitors realising it.

It would also be safe, he said, as the wildlife would be tame. Pulau Ubin could be a possible site for locating one, he added.

Last month, it was announced in Parliament that the public will be asked to give their ideas on how Pulau Ubin can be protected.

Even as he held up an "un-zoo" as a creative tourist attraction, during his lecture Mr Harrison panned recent Singapore sights like Gardens by the Bay as too costly to build, and the integrated resorts as uninspired.

He also urged the Singapore Zoo, which he headed for 29 years, to put back ticket discounts for some Singaporeans, which he instituted during his tenure. NTUC members and those holding POSB cards were given 30 per cent to 40 per cent off admission charges, he said.

"There are sections of the population that really can't afford to go to the zoo. The point is they should be... they're the ones who should benefit from this whole green experience," he said. "Whereas the rich ones are probably going off somewhere else."

WRS does offer year-round credit card promotions to its parks only available to Singapore residents, said a WRS spokesman. A full-price ticket to the Zoo currently costs $28.

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Singapore needs more experts to fight climate change: Scientist

Neo Chai Chin Today Online 11 Apr 14;

SINGAPORE — It was only after its Nobel Peace Prize gong in 2007 that governments paid more attention to the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) assessment report, said the only Singaporean scientist among the authors behind the now-closely-watched report.

Governments “woke up” after the IPCC’s accolade that year, said Dr Wong Poh Poh, noting that for the latest report — of which the second of four parts was released last week — countries sent in “their best negotiators and climate science people to argue on words, words that reflect certain things to their benefit and things like that”.

Final deliberations for the report on impacts, adaptation and vulnerability, including its 44-page Summary for Policymakers went on for five days, often into the wee hours of the morning, he said. More than 100 countries were represented including Singapore.

While greater attention is now being paid to climate change issues, Dr Wong, 68, said the Republic needs an integrated risk management framework, as well as for more Singaporeans to be trained in a wide range of climate-related topics.

The IPCC report released so far has projected sea level rises of 0.26m to 0.82m by the period between 2081 and 2100 — depending on the level of greenhouse gas emissions — and found the world ill-prepared for the risks of climate change in many cases.

Dr Wong, who was a coordinating lead author of the chapter on coastal systems and low-lying areas, said areas that should be of immediate concern to Singapore are: Its coasts in the face of sea level rises, its need to plan carefully as an urban island, sufficiency of its water supply given climate variability and reducing the incidence of floods.

These four areas should form the initial basis of an integrated risk management framework. “It’s not urban planning; you’re planning for risks,” he said.

Many assets here are in low-lying areas and some of Singapore’s reclaimed land is below critical heights of future sea levels, he noted.

There is also the need to train a larger pool of Singaporeans in a wide range of climate-related topics, from modelling and adaptation, to environmental economics and education.

“At a higher level, you may need to negotiate with countries and with regions so you have to train people in negotiation skills,” he added.

Government agencies should have climate change scientists in their ranks to keep abreast of latest research, Dr Wong said.

Dr Wong is satisfied with the broader coverage of the latest report, which now includes oceans and four chapters on adaptation. His hope is that it will be thoroughly read by civil servants and policymakers and contribute to a better universal agreement on climate change next year.

However, having been involved in three assessment reports, Dr Wong is not very optimistic that governments will put in place essential mitigation and adaptation infrastructure — despite the fact that measures, such as planting of mangroves, need not be costly.

“Governments will drag their feet despite what the scientists say,” he said.

Dr Wong was invited to be part of the third assessment report in the late-1990s “partly by accident”, he said. He was never trained in climate change, but the IPCC was looking for someone with expertise in coastal tourism for its small-islands chapter. This, he had in abundance after conducting field work in many countries including Malaysia, Seychelles, Indonesia and the Philippines.

With work on the IPCC report completed, he will take on a UN Environment Programme assignment looking at coastal erosion and mitigation in Thailand and Pakistan.

The avid gardener is also a consultant on the geography syllabus for schools here.

Asked about scientists who dispute the IPCC’s assessments on, say, the risk of food insecurity due to warming or drought, Dr Wong said evidence points to the fact that temperatures have gone up since pre-industrial times, partly due to greenhouse gases caused by the burning of fossil fuels.

In any case, “what is wrong with taking low-regrets or no-regrets measures? These are all good for us. At the end of it, we’re not wasting resources, we’re not polluting the earth”.

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Malaysia: Selangor faces more water woes

NURADILLA NOORAZAM New Straits Times 10 Apr 14;

LONG HAUL: Water rationing may be extended for another three months

SHAH ALAM: SELANGOR residents may have to endure further anguish as authorities yesterday warned of an impending "state-level water emergency" should the water level at the Sungai Selangor dam fail to reach 55 per cent capacity by the end of the month.

Specifically, they are seeing the possibility of the current water-rationing exercise, affecting 6.7 million consumers, being extended for another three months. This will also affect consumers in the Federal Territory.

Selangor Water Management Authority (Luas) director Md Khairi Selamat said the water level at the Sungai Selangor dam, one of the state's most important facilities, was at 37.31 per cent yesterday.

"The Sungai Selangor dam supplies water to 60 per cent of Selangor residents and needs to reach 55 per cent of its capacity before we can end the water rationing exercise," he said. "However, the low quantity of rain at water catchment areas has not raised the water level in dams across the state by much."

Khairi said according to a decision made by the Selangor state government at a meeting with the state water concessionaires, Luas and the National Water Services Commission (Span), the ongoing water rationing exercise would end once the dam's water level reached 55 per cent or 126.5mm.

"The rate of rainfall needed for the water level to increase is about 40.7mm and the number of days for the dams to be filled up is dependant on the rain," he said at the Luas headquarters here, yesterday.

Khairi said the water capacity in Sungai Selangor would reach the critical level of 69mm in 71 days if the situation did not improve.

The water level at Klang Gates dam would hit the critical mark in 88 days. He did not deny the possibility of a state-level "water emergency" if efforts to increase the water level in the state dams, including cloud seeding, failed.

Luas, he said, was in talks with Span to face the crisis by enacting a "water emergency plan".

The state water rationing exercise, initiated in February, entered its fourth phase early this month and is expected to end by month's end.

More than 722,032 households have been affected by water rationing. The latest round of water rationing was met with a mixture of disbelief and outrage.

It was reported that residents and business owners had demanded that the authorities figure out a way to improve the situation fast.

Khairi said the state government, Span, Luas and the concessionaires were focusing on raising the water level at state dams through several initiatives.

“We have intensified cloud seeding, especially in water-catchment areas, such as the Sungai Selangor and Klang Gates dams.

“We initiated cloud seeding from April 1 to April 4, and we will continue with the effort this week.”

On the water level at dams in the state, Khairi said the Klang Gates Dam’s water capacity was at 53.89 per cent compared with 91.45 per cent last year; the Langat Dam was at 49.47 per cent compared with 92.53 per cent, and Sungai Tinggi Dam was at 61.29 per cent from 100 per cent .

He said the unusual dry spell had caused a severe drop in the water levels at the dams.

“The last time we were hit with such dry weather was in 2005 and in 1998.”

'Rationing helps public value water'
ELVINA FERNANDEZ New Straits Times 11 Apr 13;

LESSON LEARNT: Water experts say people will be more careful from now on

KUALA LUMPUR: THE Malaysian Water Association (MWA) said the water rationing exercise will serve as a reminder to the public to use water more mindfully.

Its secretary-general, Mohmad Asari Daud, said besides being a mechanism to conserve water in dams for a longer period, it also served as a moral lesson to consumers.

"The rationing will teach consumers to value water and they will carry on with the habit even when water supply is back to normal," he told the New Straits Times yesterday.

Asari predicted that rationing would end sooner than the three months announced for the 6.7 million consumers in Kuala Lumpur and Selangor.

"With the recent continuos heavy rain, consumers may have an earlier reprieve from the rationing. If the rain helps increase water level in the rivers, our dependence on the dams will be reduced."

Malaysia Water Forum Research and Policy executive Mathini Arveena Ravee said though the public was well updated on the water rationing process, their frustration was building up.

"However, there is no one to be blamed for this (rationing), it is solely on the water. The dry season has been unpredictable and we are paying the price for it."

She said that with Malaysia being among the top water users in South-east Asia, consumers should be more responsible with their water usage even when rationing ended.

"The rationing is necessary for us to have a comfortable July and August and hopefully it does not recur in January.

She said the additional rationing period would help increase the water level in dams as preparations for the coming dry spell as predicted by the Malaysian Meteorological Department.

"The purpose of rationing is to save water so we should continue to be mindful in our daily usage and avoid wastage. "

Treatment plants produce additional water after rain
g. surach The Star 11 Apr 14;

PETALING JAYA: Several treatment plants have begun to produce additional water after improved levels at Sungai Selangor and Sungai Langat following recent heavy showers, providing a boost in water supply to consumers.

Water management company Syarikat Bekalan Air Selangor Sdn Bhd (Syabas) said, however, this does not mean an end to the ongoing water rationing exercise.

Reacting to rumours that the rationing had stopped, Syabas corporate communications assistant general manager Priscilla Alfred said certain areas affected by the schedular rationing will get normal suppy because of the additional production from these treatment plants.

“This follows a bit of improvement in the water level at Sungai Selangor and Sungai Langat as a result of heavy rain lately.

“The additional water is distributed to areas under the rationing exercise, on a rotational basis.

“This means areas supposed to be covered by the rationing exercise will get normal supply . . . at least for a day or even longer. Nevertheless, this situation is just temporary,” Alfred said in a statement to The Star yesterday.

She said, in essence, there is no change in the schedule over the four phases of the rationing exercise and neither is there a move to shorten the water rationing.

“Rather, the additional water supply is temporary until a decision to end the water rationing is issued by the Selangor government and the National Water Services Corporation (SPAN).

Alfred said the showers in recent days in areas around Sungai Selangor had increased the river flow and this opportunity was taken by five treatment plans to produce additional supply even when the feedback from the Selangor Water Management Authority (Luas) showed the level at the Sungai Selangor dam was still low and critical.

She added that the water distribution was controlled and resumed by Syarikat Pengeluar Air Selangor Sdn Bhd (Splash).

Alfred advised consumers who were receiving additional water to be prepared for the schedular rationing in the event the treatment plants cease providing extra water.

She said at this juncture the Cheras Batu 11 and Bukit Tampoi treatment plans, which reopened on March 30, remained operational although they face the risk of ammonia content that remains uncertain at Sungai Langat.

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Malaysia: Agarwood theft rife

The Star 11 Apr 14;

JOHOR BARU: Illegal harvesting of gaharu (agarwood) by foreigners is rampant in Johor’s forests, especially in the Endau-Rompin National Park and Panti Forest Reserve, said Malay­sian Nature Society Johor chairman Vincent Chow.

He said there was good money to be made from gaharu wood as the highest grade could fetch up to RM60,000 per kilo while the low quality RM30,000 per kilo.

The syndicates, he claimed, knew their way around the forests, thus enabling them to avoid detection.

They were also armed with wea­pons and equipped with gadgets such as satellite phones while they were in the forests, he added.

He said Mersing and Kuala Rompin were the favourite staging points for them to enter the forests via rivers at night.

“Most of the poachers are Thais and Indonesians and they will normally spend about two weeks inside the forests to harvest the gaharu,” Chow claimed.

State health and environment chairman Datuk Ayub Rahmat said the state government was aware of such illegal gaharu harvesting.

He said that static cameras installed on trees in the Endau-Rompin National Park to capture images of wild animals managed to record movements of illegal poachers.

Sniffing out illegal trade
yip yoke teng The Star 15 Apr 14;

AGARWOOD syndicates are laughing their way to the bank thanks to the commodity’s popularity in shopping destinations in the Klang Valley, especially those frequented by tourists.

Bukit Bintang, for example, has become a hotbed for illegal agarwood trading, compounding the difficulty faced by authorities fighting hard to control rampant harvesting of the precious commodity in Malaysian forests.

Kiosks and shops can be seen in prominent locations in the Golden Triangle, openly displaying chunks of agarwood together with woodchips, incense and essential oil.

These outfits are mostly run by foreigners who possess normal business licences but they make no attempt to ensure the legitimacy of their supplies.

A trader said the woodchips could fetch between RM3,000 and RM5,000 per kilogramme, depending on quality. He said his company’s main store in Ampang could offer more variety and bigger volume.

The essential oil, he disclosed, was sold at between RM200 and RM400 per bottle depending on the size.

When asked where the agarwood was sourced from, he replied that it was from Kelantan and Terengganu but did not display any harvesting licence or trading permit.

The export of agarwood products is stringently controlled, and is permitted only with the necessary certificates issued by the Malaysian Timber Industry Board.

All Aquilaria species, as well as the related Gyrinops trees, have been listed in Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

However, while the export of these endangered species is being closely watched, the domestic trade of this expensive commodity has gone under the radar.

No more leniency

Forestry Department of peninsular Malaysia director-general Datuk Prof Dr Abd Rahman Abd Rahim conceded that the Klang Valley has become the hub for illegal agarwood trading in peninsular Malaysia due to convenience.

He also admitted the department had been lenient with the domestic sale of agarwood and its products in the past, to help locals achieve economic growth.

“But it has become too rampant and we have to be stringent from now on. Enough is enough,” he said at the department’s headquarters in Kuala Lumpur.

“We believe these illegal traders have formed a cartel and the products are mostly sold to Middle Eastern tourists, on top of the large volume exported to the region,” he added.

Under Section 2 of the National Forestry Act 1984, agarwood is a forest produce when found in or brought from permanent reserved forest, state land, mining land, reserved land or alienated land.

Section 14 of the Act states that all forest produce are the property of the state authority, unless a licence is granted to remove the commodities as per Sections 19 and 40 of the Act

Also, Sections 68(1) and 84(1) state that possession of forest produce must be accompanied by legal documents that include the removal licence.

According to Dr Rahman, only one removal licence for agarwood has been issued in peninsular Malaysia, to a company in Kelantan.

Furthermore, there is a moratorium on logging and all forest produce harvesting in Selangor and no new licences had been issued since 2008.

Still, this does not seem to hamper the aggressive harvesting of wild agarwood wherever it can be found, especially by foreigners from the South-East Asian region who have started coming to our shores as the Aquilaria population dwindles in their respective countries.

Serious damage

Dr Rahman said Penang, Perak, Pahang and Johor were among the worst-hit states while Aquilaria trees found in the forest reserves of Selangor were also not spared.

Malaysian Nature Society, Selangor branch vice-chairman Lim Teck Wyn said unlicensed agarwood harvesting had caused as much harm to wildlife in the forests as to the trees themselves.

“The collectors hunt in order to survive for weeks in the forests. They have also killed tigers, elephants and other animals that they feel will attack them,” he said.

“Hundreds of foreigners have entered our forests for agarwood in the past few years, but in fact, only 10% of Aquilaria trees in the wild produce agarwood but they would have been severely damaged by the time the collectors find out,” he said.

He added that two full-grown Aquilaria trees in the Ampang Forest Reserve had been completely uprooted while the few in the Bukit Nanas Forest Reserve were also badly harmed.

“These collectors are highly skilled, they work in squadrons — staying in the forest for weeks on end to chop, chip and collect agarwood. The entire operation is like an organised crime syndicate,” said Dr Rahman.

“The foreign collectors collaborate with local middle men to pass the commodity on to traders and exporters.

“As long as the locals are involved, it is going to be difficult for us,” he said, adding that he had appealed for more manpower and funds to beef up patrolling but said the enforcement officers were unable to monitor beyond the forest reserves.

To control domestic trading, he said the department would start conducting spot checks on retailers and would require them to show the legal documents required to possess the forest produce and products.

He said failure to do so would lead to confiscation of the products.

However, no arrests have been made so far because the department’s enforcement activities have been focused on cutting off the illegal supply.

“We urge the public to help us by acting as our eyes and ears, either looking out for collectors in the forests or asking for proof of legitimacy from agarwood retailers. The retailers can help us by informing us where they source their raw materials from,” he added.

The future

According to Dr Rahman, replanting of Aquilaria trees is being actively carried out in an attempt to make up for the loss. These trees are infected artificially to produce agarwood for commercial purposes.

Dr Rahman said currently there were 89 planters in peninsular Malaysia and the plantation area amounted to 1,928ha.

The Forestry Department has planted another 440ha of Aquilaria trees, creating a cultivation area of 2,368ha in total on private, state and reserve land to ensure sustainability of the industry.

As of 2004, there were 3.5 million standing stems of Aquilaria malaccensis trees nationwide on the inventory. The latest inventory is not ready, so the department has no idea how many stems are left now, said Dr Rahman.

Foreigners target agarwood in Malaysian forest reserves
The Star 15 Apr 14;

AGARWOOD, more popularly known locally as gaharu, is the resin-embedded heartwood that forms in the Aquilaria and Gyrinops trees when they become infected with a type of mould.

Thanks to its fragrance, agarwood has been treasured by many cultures for centuries and is used as incense, perfume, medicine and even in sculptures.

The increased demand and escalating price of agarwood over the past 20 years have led to rampant harvesting in the wild, raising concerns that these trees, native to South-East Asia, may face extinction.

Depletion of wild resources in other South-East Asian countries has prompted illegal collectors to sneak into Malaysian forests, many of which are forest reserves, for the pricey commodity.

Aquilaria and Gyrinops have been listed in Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). The export of these items is closely watched by Customs, while the Malaysian Timber Industry Board is tasked with issuing the permits.

As for trading, the Gua Musang Guideline — which provides reccomendations on the harvest, trade and processing procedures for agarwood — states that all gaharu traders are only allowed to buy Aquilaria products from contractors registered with the state Forestry Department.

They also have to report to the department the amount of agarwood bought and sold, among other requirements.

Cultivation is another proactive effort to maintain the number of these trees, and they are infected artificially to produce agarwood in a sustainable manner for economic growth.

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Indonesia: Understanding Haze

David Gaveau Jakarta Globe 10 Apr 14;

The smoke rising over Sumatra has started early this year, with peatland fires in Riau, Sumatra, creating a haze so thick that in March it grounded flights and closed schools; at least two deaths were attributed to the choking smoke. It was a grim reprise of June 2013, when windblown haze from peatland fires in Riau clouded Malaysia and Singapore, leading to Singapore’s highest air pollution measure on record.

Now, a major multilateral effort to stop the haze is gaining traction, seeking to encourage more research into a few key areas.

The fires that create Riau’s haze are no accident — they are deliberately set by people to clear land for agriculture. Nor are they “forest fires,” as was initially reported in June — they are fires on already-deforested areas, chiefly peatlands, in an area where oil palm and paper pulp plantations dominate the landscape, where ignitions by both local communities and companies contributed.

A workshop held in January in Jakarta was the first major step in trying to better understand the drivers of the fires, to spur greater collaboration among Indonesian and regional stakeholders at all levels, and to analyze the regulations governing these issues in Indonesia. The workshop, hosted by the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), drew researchers, government officials, and leaders from communities, civil society and the private sector, among others. At the workshop, the stakeholders — many who had never met before — gathered to discuss what they knew, what they thought they knew, and what they needed to know about the fires.

There were more questions than answers, but one issue became clear during the discussions at the workshop: Numerous regulations and policies that govern land use and fires already exist in Indonesia, among them a national moratorium on the granting of new concession licences for logging and conversion of forests and peatlands.

In the face of this law and others, why do the fires persist?

This question lies at the heart of the issue, and is complicated by other factors that were discussed at the workshop — chiefly, overlapping land claims and a lack of collaboration among actors and governments at all levels.

To answer this overarching question, we need to unravel the complex governance and socioeconomic context and climatic feedbacks behind fires on peat lands. Four additional questions about the fires were identified as a result of the workshop. These questions must be answered via more research if there is to be any real progress on snuffing out the haze.

1. Will fires become more frequent and more extreme? At this point, the answer is pointing to yes. Data show more fires — and more extreme fires — in the past two decades in Riau. While the fires are enabled by dry conditions, conditions in Riau suggest other variables are having a greater effect: An influx of people to the area has led to greater deforestation, which due to vegetation loss renders areas more prone to fire. Compounded by a push to convert forested areas to oil palm plantations as well as a lack of land-use governance, this creates a scenario in which fires are a worse and more recurrent problem.

2. What are the true emissions of these fires? The truth is, we don’t really know. Many studies have been done with respect to emissions from land fires, but not from Riau. Knowing the true aerosol and carbon content of the fires enables us to set baselines that we can measure against.

3. To what extent do overlapping claims over land drive the fires? We know that there are cases of this, but to what extent these conflicts lead to the burning of land needs to be confirmed before we can make a meaningful attempt at addressing the root causes of the fires.

4. Do markets for palm oil drive fires on peatlands? We think that this is the case: the Indonesian government aims to expand palm oil production by 2020. The 2013 fires reflect ongoing conversion of recently deforested peatlands to oil palm. But it needs to be proven.

At least one thing we think we do know: These fires will persist and worsen unless something is done soon. We must act now.

As there are gaps in the research, so there are gaps between the many stakeholders in this drama.

Large-scale paper-pulp plantation companies say they are “the victim” in the haze crisis and complain of being scapegoated. Small-scale community groups say the same, and complain of being scapegoated and pushed aside. Different agencies within government show disagreement over responsibility over the fires. Local communities say they are largely left out of discussions and solutions. And there are complaints of a power imbalance among local communities, governments and commercial companies.

Luckily, there is a strong impetus for us to tackle this problem now. It starts with research — more research is needed to address gaps in knowledge, pull evidence together, and apply it to policy making and actions on the ground. Last year’s crisis produced quick responses from governments: High-level regional talks in September led to a proposed transboundary haze monitoring system, and in early 2014, Singapore drafted a bill that would allow it to fine companies for fires that take place on Sumatran plantations. But these actions alone will not solve the problem.

This is one of the key topics of discussion at the upcoming Forests Asia Summit on May 5-6 in Jakarta. A session at this summit will discuss, among other things, the role of conflicts over land ownership between communities and companies and between local and central government in mediating fires. More details are at

Indonesia alone cannot solve the haze crisis, and that is why continuing the discussion — and ramping up more research — is so important. There is no time to lose.

David Gaveau is a scientist at CIFOR who specializes in using remote sensing to monitor deforestation in Indonesia. BeritaSatu Media Holdings, of which Jakarta Globe is affiliated, is a media partner of the Forests Asia Summit.

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Philippines: No need to replant most mangroves in Yolanda-hit areas – study

GMA News 10 Apr 14;

Mangroves along the path of the typhoon that tore through the central Philippines last year mostly sustained "partial/minimal to no damage at all", which may mean savings from a massive P1-billion reforestation program.

A composite team of scientists and members of non-government organizations made a four-month assessment of mangroves from Leyte to Eastern Samar and found that many of the mangroves sustained "partial/minimal to no damage at all."

"Our survey revealed that probably 100-200 hectares only in 13 municipalities and one city suffered total mortality and therefore need new planting, in addition to enrichment planting of gaps in partially-damaged areas," said Dr. Jurgenne Primavera, Pew Fellow in Marine Conservation and Co-chair of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Mangrove Specialist Group, in an email to media.

"After all, they are bioshields. Damage-cum-recovery is part of their course," she added.

Researchers said, though, that the mangroves will still need protection. Mangrove beach forests are coastal bioshields that provide storm protection. They also serve as nursery areas for fish, and homes for some birds indigenous to the Philippines.

Most of the mangroves in the Philippines have disappeared, except in Palawan, Surigao, Samar, and Leyte.

Researchers from University of the Philippines – Diliman, University of the Philippines – Visayas, Tacloban College, Ateneo de Manila University, and De La Salle University provided the research framework for the assessment.

Meanwhile, non-government organizations Zoological Society of London, Guian Development Foundation, Inc., Haribon Foundation, and Conservation International provided the logistics.

President Benigno Aquino III last November issued a directive to the restore the mangroves to prevent the repeat of deadly storm surges.

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) allotted P1 billion for the "massive reforestation of mangrove and beach forest across the country." Eastern Visayas would get a "sizeable chunk" of the project budget, according to a DENR report.

Eastern Visayas is also implementing the Leyte Gulf Rehabilitation program, with P38 million going to mangrove and beach forest planting along the coastline covering Palo, Leyte to San Juanico Bridge, Tacloban City and other areas along the San Juanico Gulf. — Kim Luces/JDS, GMA News

P1 billion fund for mangrove rehab 'misguided,' scientists warn
KIM LUCES GMA News 11 Apr 14;

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources' (DENR's) P1 billion fund allotted for mangrove and beach forest reforestation across the country—most of which is set to be spent on Yolanda-affected areas—is misguided and “even risky”, scientists said.

The DENR allotted P1 billion for the "massive reforestation of mangrove and beach forest across the country." Eastern Visayas would get a "sizeable chunk" of the project budget, according to a DENR report. President Benigno Aquino III also sent a directive in November last year to restore the mangroves to serve as a buffer against future storms.

But in a recent survey, local scientists discovered that mangroves in Leyte and Eastern Samar were hardly damaged by super typhoon Yolanda. This is not to say that the mangroves are not in need of protection, they said, but are in a more sustainable state than warrants such a massive influx of funds —especially considering the lives that still need to be rebuilt in the aftermath of the storm.

Mangroves still alive

The mangroves may not have leaves, their stems may be broken, they could even be completely fallen and lying down, but if their roots are still attached to the ground, they're not dead yet, she explained in a phone interview with GMA News Online on Friday.

It will only take six months for damaged mangroves to recover, she explained.

"After all, mangroves (and beach forests) are Nature's coastal bioshields, therefore damage and subsequent (natural) recovery are part of their course," said Dr. Jurgenne Primavera, one of the scientists who conducted the survey, in an email to GMA News Online on Friday. Primavera is the Chief Mangrove Scientific Advisor of the Zoological Society of London.

“Our findings of partial to minimal to no damage at all, and recovery, from Typhoon Yolanda to the E. Samar-Leyte mangroves are not new,” she added.

Primavera cited Eric Buduan of the Philippine Tropical Forest Conservation Foundation who said: "In October 1998, Supertyphoon Ilyang with maximum wind strength of 240 kph and gustiness of 250 kph, hit coastal Isabela (Northern Sierra Madre Natural Park). The mangroves were significantly damaged, however, there was no cleaning or human intervention undertaken. The mangroves just regenerated naturally, as long as these were protected from human destruction."

Where to spend the money for Leyte, Eastern Samar

Since is no need to spend so much on mangrove planting in Leyte and Eastern Samar, Primavera suggests spending more on protecting the mangroves through the following methods:

Impose strict guidelines on what to cut during cash-for-work and other mangrove cleaning programs. To the untrained eye, recovering mangroves may look like dead even when they're not. "This is risky because the recipients (cash-starved survivors) could easily clear remaining viable and recovering but inconspicuous mangrove stands (with slow-growing shoots, small seedlings) -- just to show some work done and avail of the Cash for Work scheme!" Primavera said in an email sent to the media on Thursday.
Include mangroves in Comprehensive Land Use Plans (CLUPs). Villagers and fisherfolk encroaching mangrove areas should first be relocated to sturdy houses with main services (roads, water, power), amenities (markets, schools, clinics, church) and accessible jobs available.
Old growth forests should be developed as ecoparks for ecotoursim by the local government units and provincial offices.

Satellite imagery vs. on-the-ground observations

Before the conducted on-the-ground surveys in January and March 2014, satellite imagery showed that 28,000 hectares or almost 12% of the total hectarage of mangroves in the Philippines are 'likely affected' by the typhoon.

"This is precisely why we need eyes on the ground to validate these data," said Primavera who in 2008 was listed as one of Time Magazine's "Heroes of the Environment" for her work on mangroves.

After surveying five municipalities and two cities in Leyte, and seven sites in six municipalities in Eastern Samar, a conservative estimate of 200 hectares were said to be totally damaged.

Primavera, together with the Philippine Tropical Forest Conservation Foundation, recently conducted a briefing with the Department of Budget and Management on upland reforestation and mangrove damage in Leyte and Samar. — TJD, GMA News

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Drought in Brazil drives the price of coffee beans to a record high

The International Coffee Organisation warn consumers that the coffee crop could be affected for a number of years
Rupert Neate The Guardian 10 Apr 14;

Coffee bean prices have hit their highest level in more than two years amid fears that droughts in Brazil could lead to a global shortage of coffee. The price of arabica beans – the most popular variety – has risen by 20% this week and hit $2.07 (£1.23) per lb on Thursday, the highest since February 2012. So far this year, the price of arabica beans, originally indigenous to Ethiopia and favoured by Starbucks, Costa Coffee and Caffè Nero, has risen by 70%.

The price was driven higher on Thursday by further dry weather forecasts for Brazil – the world's biggest producer, which has already experienced its worst droughts in decades. Analyst expect global demand to be around 146m bags this year, outstripping supply by more than 7m bags, and warned that prices could hit $3 per lb.

The International Coffee Organisation warned that the coffee crop could be affected for years to come. "It is difficult to estimate the extent of the damage from the drought and high heat until the crop is being harvested, although a recent study has referred to it as the largest climate anomaly since the 'Black Frost' of 1975 [when more than 70% of Brazil's coffee crop was wiped out for two years running]," the ICO said. "The damage to the 2015/16 crop could be even worse."

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Shark fin imports to world’s biggest market drop by third

WWF 10 Apr 14;

Hong Kong - The volume of shark fin products imported into the city of Hong Kong in 2013 dropped by 34.7 percent, according to government data analysed by WWF. Statistics show that there was also a significant decline in the number of shark fins re-exported from Hong Kong to other locations.

Viet Nam overtook mainland China as the top destination for fins leaving Hong Kong, the city which accounts for over half of the global trade volume. While it is not illegal to consume shark fin in most places, many shark species are being hunted at highly unsustainable rates putting their futures at risk.

Recent trends indicate that shark fin, once perceived as a delicacy or an essential part of dinner banquets, may be no longer as socially acceptable as it once was. WWF has made significant progress in convincing caterers like hotel chains, and transporters like airlines, to stop carrying shark fins. Additionally, the Chinese government has banned shark fin at official state functions, which may be impacting demand for fins.

Famous Hong Kong wedding planner Tim Lau says, “Shark-free banquets have become more popular over the past two years. At least 20 per cent more wedding couples now choose shark-free banquets.”

As of this month, 116 caterers have joined WWF’s Alternative Shark Free Menu programme and 168 corporations have taken the No Shark Fin Corporate Pledge.

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