Best of our wild blogs: 17 Apr 14

Thousands of farm fishes rot at Sungei Buloh
from wild shores of singapore

Evening stroll through Pasir Ris Mangroves
from Adventures with the Naked Hermit Crabs

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Malaysia: More cloud seeding ops this week

New Straits Times 17 Apr 14;

CYBERJAYA: Cloud seeding operations will be intensified in Selangor, mainly over Sungai Selangor, for the rest of the week, said the National Water Services Commission (SPAN).

Its chairman, Datuk Ismail Kassim, said continuous high-intensity rain would help resolve the water crisis.

He said the water rationing exercise would continue until the end of this month before the commission decides whether to stop it.

"We will monitor the weather condition, the amount of rainfall and improvement of water level in dams, which has so far shown no improvement," he said at SPAN headquarters here yesterday.

Ismail said if the situation improved by the end of this month, they might reduce rationing.

He said the Sungai Selangor dam's water problem began even before the start of the year, with its water level recorded at slightly above 205m before it drastically dipped to below 190m at the end of March.

For the same period last year, the water level remained at about 220m and only gradually dipped from mid-June.

Span chief executive officer Datuk Teo Yen Hua said they would resort to pumping water from Sungai Semantan through the Pahang-Selangor Raw Water Transfer Project (Tunnel) into the Langat treatment plant to ensure that the plant continued to operate.

Measures to curb water woes

CRITICAL SITUATION: 3 mitigation plans to kick off by early next year, says SPAN

CYBERJAYA: THE Federal Government is ready to come in to implement immediate mitigation projects that will give the millions affected by the ongoing Selangor water woes some reprieve.

National Water Services Commission (SPAN) chairman Datuk Ismail Kassim, in describing the current situation as "critical", said three mitigation plans were expected to kick off by early next year.

The short-term measures, he said, would aid in mitigating the issue while waiting for the Langat 2 project to take off by 2017.

He said the Federal Government had allocated RM121 million for the three projects and was willing to come up with a loan facility for Selangor to implement the projects.

The first mitigation plan will be the transfer of raw water from Negri Sembilan to Selangor through an underground pipeline connection in Nilai.

The RM35 million project involves the Triang dam that will supply water to the Ngoi-Ngoi treatment plant.

The Triang water supply scheme will produce 454 million litres of water per day (MLD).

Another water treatment plant will be built in Ngoi-Ngoi and the water will be sold to the Federal Government.

Ismail said the second mitigation plan involved a RM37 million upgrading work of the existing Langat treatment plant.

"The plant is designed to treat 386 MLD of water.

"However, Puncak Niaga Bhd has been overloading the plant up to 500 MLD.

"The government will be upgrading the plant design to ensure it can produce 500 MLD of water to cater to increasing demand," Ismail added.

Meanwhile, the third mitigation plan, which costs RM40 million, was to upgrade several Syarikat Bekalan Air Selangor (Syabas) water pumps to reduce the risk of the pumps breaking down.

"The Selangor government has agreed to all three plans and the authorities are working closely with the Federal Government to expedite the mitigation projects," he said, adding that the plans, mooted last year, were now in the planning stage.

Ismail said that by 2025, Langat 2 would be unable to sustain demand.

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Malaysia: Four more sea turtles found killed

muguntan vanar The Star 17 Apr 14;

KOTA KINABALU: Four more endangered green sea turtles have been killed in Sabah’s east coast waters off Semporna.

The turtles were seen floating between Bum Bum Island and Kulapuan Island by a Fisheries Department staff, who then posted it on his Facebook page but later removed it.

The latest killings came hardly a month after the discovery of 50 dead green sea turtles in Pulau Tiga in the northern Kudat district, a case that remains unsolved.

Sabah Wildlife Department and WWF-Malaysia have begun an investigation into the deaths of the green sea turtles in Semporna.

Universiti Malaysia Sabah academician and researcher Dr James Alin, who discovered the Pulau Tiga killings last month, said it was another sad episode in Sabah’s turtle conservation efforts.

Dr Alin said such deaths were unfortunately common in Semporna as he had seen them during his field trips to the area.

Following his discovery of the dead turtles in Kudat, he said he was called to meet with officials from the state Tourism, Culture and Environ­ment Ministry, which oversees various wildlife conservation efforts.

“At the beginning of that meeting, I showed slides of sea turtles kept alive inside a pen (fish cage) in Balambangan Island. I asked if any of the enforcement agencies was interested to arrest the owner.

“None of them seemed to be keen despite me offering to take them to the place,” he claimed, adding that a lack of manpower and logistics were not an excuse as many other agencies, including maritime, were ready to assist.

He claimed that wildlife officials were upset with him for highlighting the dead turtles in the media.

On the latest killing of sea turtles, Dr Alin said the suspects could be farmers, fishermen or the foreign crew of deep sea trawlers operating under joint venture companies in Sabah waters.

“The possible suspects are seaweed farmers who are wary of the turtles (known to the locals as Bokko) that can wipe out their seaweed farms overnight,” he said.

Meanwhile, Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Masidi Manjun said a hotline would be set up by end of the month for people to report about turtle killing and hunting.

“This will enable us to respond faster in our efforts to protect sea turtles,” he said.

Masidi, who said they were investigating the death of the sea turtles, said the move was part of efforts to strengthen enforcement.

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Indonesia: Lake Maninjau and the Tragedy of the Commons

Azis Khan Jakarta Globe 17 Apr 14;

Lake Maninjau, the 11th-largest in Indonesia, lies about 460 meters above sea level in the Tanjung Raya subdistrict of Agam in West Sumatra. It has a surface area of almost 100 square kilometers and a water catchment area of almost 25,000 hectares. Sadly, it is one of 15 lakes in Indonesia that are severely degraded, which has a serious impact on the lives of communities surrounding it.

Almost every year, fish die in the lake on a large scale, and biodiversity is declining along with water quality.

At the same time, the panoramic lake is becoming increasingly unattractive as a tourist destination because of the many floating net cages belonging to the people living in the lake’s surroundings.

Large-scale fish deaths

As reported by VIVAnews last month, the mass of fish dying prematurely in one such incident reached at least 175 tons, with total losses amounting to Rp 3.5 billion ($307,000). This was already the third such incident this year. Similar incidents have occurred in previous years.

One theory is that the mass fish deaths are caused by changes in the bottom of the lake, with sulfur being lifted to the surface during volcanic activity, as the lake sits in a massive caldera. But another suggestion is that the lake’s bottom layer is polluted due to highly concentrated ammonia from fish feed sludge and household waste, which is occasionally lifted to the surface due to wind-driven turnover.

Proponents of this theory say sulfur should be ruled out as a cause because there is no indication volcanic activity in the lake, suggesting that the mass fish deaths are far more likely to be caused by environmental damage related to human activity in the area.

A study done by the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI) and the Bandung Institute of Technology (ITB) some time ago, found that the environmental damage was most likely caused by the large number of aquaculture cages used in the lake. This study suggested that the lake would be able to sustain just 10 percent of floating net cages currently in use.

So, in 2011, when the number of cages exceeded 15,000, just 1,500 would have been a more sustainable figure.

But it’s not just the number of cages that poses a problem. Their positioning is another major issue. The head of the local Marine and Fisheries Office has long ago stated that the fishermen must place cages at least 200 meters from the lake’s shore, at a depth of 15 meters. The distance between cages should be at least 10 meters, the office ruled.

Despite the ruling, as recently as 2012 cages were located just 50 meters from the shoreline, at shallow depths of five meters, with the distance between them being only a meter. The marine and fisheries head said that almost every year copies of his regulation are distributed, but most people seem to disregard it.

Tragedy of the commons

The problems at Lake Maninjau bring to mind Garrett Hardin’s thesis of the Tragedy of the Commons (TOC). Understanding the concept of TOC is very important in tackling environmental challenges. This concept was first clearly articulated by Hardin in his now famous article of the same title in the journal Science in 1968.

The basic idea is that when a resource is held in common to be used by all, and left unregulated, then the resource will eventually be destroyed. In other words: “Freedom in a common brings ruin to all.”

Could this happen to Lake Maninjau?

If we compare the situation at the lake with that of a commonly held pasture used by several goat farmers, an example used by Hardin, we would expect that every fisherman would try to install as many floating net cages as possible to maximize individual gain — just like goat herders would try to let as many animals as possible graze on the pasture.

In this scenario, sooner or later the gains per cage will decline due to the increasing number of cages used by others in the lake. When the total number of cages is still within the natural capacity of the lake, then any increase in the number of cages will mean farmers’ incomes will fall as the available resource has to be shared by more people. Such a situation will continue until the limit of the natural ability of the lake to sustain cage nets is reached.

When that happens, the resource available will decline in absolute terms, with all farmers suffering losses. And ultimately, when the lake’s ecosystem is completely destroyed — as evidenced by mass fish deaths for instance — there is nothing left to share.

All in it together

The main lesson we should learn from the concept of TOC is that natural resources, such as clean water in the case of Lake Maninjau, cannot be exploited without limit and that technological innovation is no panacea. To solve the tragedy of Lake Maninjau, what is required is a fundamental change in human values and our and ideas of morality.

In short, the fishing communities around the lake all need agree to work together to preserve the lake’s resource and, if necessary to force one another to comply with regulations drawn up for the common good. Mutual coercion will be essential.

As Hardin himself argued, and as echoed by Jared Diamond in his 2005 book “Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed,” tragedy is not inevitable, as long as people manage to impose restrictions to ensure the economic sustainability of the community. In the case of Lake Maninjau, the arrangement could include agreements to ensure the lake is designated for the purposes of tourism, hydro-electric power generation, fish farming or a combination of these. Whichever solution is found, it will be crucial that the people living in the lake’s surrounding areas collectively agree.

Local authorities may play an important role, as they understand the current conditions at the lake and the needs of the communities it sustains. If nothing is done, complete destruction of Lake Maninjau is only a matter of time.

Azis Khan is a freelance writer who specializes in natural resource management and policy analysis.

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EU seeks to cut plastic bag use by 80 percent by 2017

Tom Heneghan PlanetArk 17 Apr 14;

The European Parliament passed a directive on Wednesday aimed at cutting the use of thin single-use plastic carrier bags by 50 percent by 2017 and 80 percent two years later.

The directive leaves it to individual states to choose their strategy, for example taxing bags or banning them. EU ministers are due to debate the law in June and the parliament will take it up again later this year following elections in May.

Some 100 billion plastic bags are used every year within the European Union and an estimated 8 billion end up as litter that turns up in Europe's seas.

The stomachs of 94 percent of all birds in the North Sea contain plastic, according to figures from the European Commission.

Environmental groups welcomed Wednesday's vote, but representatives of the European plastics industry were critical.

"Discarded plastic bags are killing millions of marine animals each year. It has become a massive problem across Europe and one we must deal with together," Chris Davies, Liberal Democrat European Environment spokesperson, said.

Karl-H. Foerster, executive director of the trade association PlasticsEurope, said Europe needed better waste management rather than new rules.

"A ban on plastics bags is not the solution to tackle the problem of irresponsible disposal," he said, adding that letting countries set their own rules would be "detrimental to the free movement of goods in Europe".

Plastic bag use varies significantly across member states.

In Denmark, where they are taxed, the average person uses 4 single-use bags per year - the lowest in the European Union. Meanwhile 466 plastic bags are used per person in Portugal, Poland and Slovakia, according to Commission figures.

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Booming demand pushes Florida to limit sea cucumber harvest

Zachary Fagenson PlanetArk 17 Apr 14;

Booming demand pushes Florida to limit sea cucumber harvest Photo: Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission/Carli Segelson/Handout
A sea cucumber is seen on the ocean floor in this handout picture courtesy of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission taken near Palm Beach, Florida in October 2013.
Photo: Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission/Carli Segelson/Handout

Florida is capping the number of sea cucumbers that fisherman can pull from state waters after booming Asian demand led to four times as many being harvested in 2013 compared to previous years.

The leathery, cylindrical creatures scour ocean floors across the globe feeding on decaying organic matter. Named for their similarity to the vegetable, the marine animals are prized in China, sought for everything from an aphrodisiac to a cure for joint pain.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) said in a statement on Wednesday that from June 1, daily sea cucumber hauls will be limited to 200 per vessel.

The decision was prompted by a booming trade that saw fisherman pull nearly 60,000 of them from the waters surrounding Key West in 2013.

Previously about 16,000 were caught annually, the agency said. The rule showed how the sea cucumber was "an important part of the ecosystem and how easily affected they are by over-harvesting," said FWC spokeswoman Amanda Nalley.

"Sea cucumbers are vulnerable to over-fishing due to their sedentary nature, which makes them easy to locate and collect," the FWC said in a statement. "They are also ecologically important as they help cycle nutrients in nutrient-poor tropical reefs and oxygenate sediments."

Sea cucumber over-harvesting has destroyed populations in nearly a dozen countries' waters, Nalley added, including Costa Rica, India and Ecuador.

In China, sea cucumbers from Japan can sell for up to $5,000 per pound, according to Eric Lee, president of Florida Sea Cucumber Corp, in the Florida Keys.

Sea cucumbers from the Caribbean can fetch between $70 and $150 per pound, though in most parts of the United States, they sell for only a dollar, he added.

The new rule, along with a recent dive in sea cucumber prices due in part to an austerity drive by China Premier Xi Jinping, shuttered Florida Sea Cucumber, located about an hour from Key West.

Xi in mid-2013 implemented budgetary restrictions aimed at curbing the lavish spending habits of government elites to improve the Communist Party's image.

Lee had been planning a major marketing effort to introduce Florida sea cucumbers to China, hoping to sell them for about $200 per pound.

"We have to go back and figure out what to do now that we're out of business," he said.

(Editing by G Crosse and David Adams)

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