Best of our wild blogs: 22 Apr 14

24 Apr: Youth Dialogue on Climate Change
from Green Drinks Singapore

Two Quiet Outings to Upper Seletar Reservoir Park
from Beauty of Fauna and Flora in Nature

Spotted Wood-owl and gular fluttering
from Bird Ecology Study Group

Certification: The next big thing for the kopi luwak industry?
from Project LUWAK SG

APRIL continued destroying high conservation rainforest up until January pledge from news by Rhett Butler

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Faking it till the corals make it

Grace Chua The Straits Times AsiaOne 22 Apr 14;

Coral in Singapore's reefs releasing egg-sperm bundles in 2010. The bundles will break up upon reaching the surface of the sea to allow fertilisation to occur. A new round of coral spawning is expected this weekend.

SINGAPORE - Singapore may be tiny, but it is home to one-third of the world's coral species.

However, it has lost 60 per cent of its original reefs, especially deeper ones, to development and silt kicked up by reclamation.

When these threats clash with the need to conserve natural habitats, artificial reefs can be a potential solution.

Industrial developer JTC Corporation (once the Jurong Town Corporation) is planning a small pilot test of an artificial reef at the north-west corner of Sisters' Island in Singapore's southern waters.

Last month, it called a tender for experts to work out the environmental impact of the proposed pilot reef and the details of a coral transplantation programme. The tender closes on April 22.

Among the factors to be studied: the quality of the water at the site; the amount of sediment the site gets; whether sediments contain heavy metals and chemicals toxic to marine life; the shape and slope of the sea floor; whether it will affect other corals growing naturally nearby; and whether it will have any impact on ships' safe navigation, among other things.

If the artificial reef project is feasible, the next step will be to transplant corals onto a prism-shaped structure made of granite rocks.

A JTC spokesman told The Sunday Times that the project was a follow- up from a theoretical study two years ago that identified Sisters' Island as a possible trial site for an artificial reef.

And depending on its success, further studies can be conducted to select additional sites if required in the future.

She said: "When planning for possible future coastal development plans, one of the factors that JTC takes into account is the coral reef habitat.

"As some developments might potentially cause impact to the corals, one possible pre-emptive mitigation measure is to create artificial reefs to house affected coral habitats. This will help to safeguard Singapore's coral reef biodiversity."

But the JTC effort is not the first of its kind here. Over the years, at least three artificial reef projects were set up for various purposes, but they have had mixed results.

Why would anyone build an artificial reef? Initially, they were used in Japan and the United States to attract fish to commercial and recreational fisheries, said National University of Singapore marine biology expert Chou Loke Ming.

In some countries, they are used for dive tourism. Shepherding divers to a sunken car or underwater statue garden helps take pressure off other reef sites.

And in Indonesia's Komodo National Park, piles of granite rocks were used as a cheap, readily-available base for corals to grow back after dynamite fishing damaged existing reefs.

The latter project was the inspiration for JTC's reef design, said Dr Karenne Tun, deputy director of the coastal and marine department at the National Parks Board's National Biodiversity Centre.

In 1989, Professor Chou and fellow researchers sank the first artificial reefs in Singapore - 20m deep - off the island of Pulau Busing, near Pulau Hantu. Then, they were made from tyres roped together, and hollow concrete blocks. Rather than growing corals, they attracted fish, barnacles and other wildlife.

But the ropes holding the tyres together frayed and degraded after years in the ocean, and the tyre piles fell apart.

In 2005, Prof Chou and colleagues put small fibreglass domes at two Southern Islands to see if they could serve as artificial reefs for coral to grow. Two years on, some had washed away as they were not anchored well, but others had dug in and were covered with corals and other reef life.

About six years ago, a team from the Singapore Maritime Academy at Singapore Polytechnic placed structures made of concrete and PVC pipes off Labrador Park, and transplanted corals onto them.

Some of the corals have survived. But Mr Charles Rowe, 64, a commercial diving supervisor who led the project with Maritime Academy lecturer Captain Frederick Francis, said he wished it had received more scientific help from the start.

Said Dr Tun: "Having a comprehensive matrix to select your site is really the precursor to whether the project will succeed."

Factors to look at include determining whether the surface is stable, the water quality is suitable, and if it's shallow enough for corals to get enough light.

She said the Sisters' Island site, with its strong currents, could serve as a good "seed reef" from which coral larvae could be spread all through Singapore's waters.

After some coral species spawn, their eggs and sperm join to form free-floating larvae, which - if they survive - can settle and transform into polyps and form colonies that make up a reef.

Others grow when polyps bud off to form new colonies, or when fragments from a parent structure fall off, say, during a storm.

And Singapore's corals are still spawning, with the next round expected to start this weekend.

There is no difference to coral growth whether the reef is a man-made structure or a bleached, barren piece of rock recovering from damage, Dr Tun added.

"If it's a suitable place, coral larvae will settle and they will grow," she said.

But it takes five to 10 years of monitoring to make sure artificial reef projects thrive, noted Prof Chou.

One of his students is now checking on the success of the fibreglass domes placed almost 10 years ago. "To be out of the woods requires decades," he said.

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Malaysia's seahorses finally get the right kind of love

lim chia ying The Star 21 Apr 14

Earth Day, Earth Warriors: Save Our Seahorses (SOS) is standing up for the little fishes in a big pond.

Their bizarre, equine appearance, and their odd way of bobbing about in the water, are among the traits that make seahorses popular as keepsakes in fish tanks. But for those who think keeping seahorses is cool, one non-governmental organisation is advocating otherwise. It says the act contributes to the species’ fast-dwindling population, worsening the impact seahorses already suffer from sea trawling and heavy trading for medicinal purposes.

Save Our Seahorses Malaysia (SOS) has, for the past 10 years, been fighting for seahorses’ survival through research and awareness projects. Field trips conducted for volunteers and students inform them about why seahorses are important and should be left where they are – in the sea.

When SOS founder Choo Chee Kuang passed away last year, a lot of advocacy and research work fell on the hands of marine biologist Adam Lim, who is now project leader of the organisation.

“Previously in Malaysia, no one paid much attention to the plight of seahorses, until Choo started SOS, which comprised an informal group of volunteers who believe in the cause. Until today, SOS is very much volunteer-driven,” says Lim, 28. (SOS was recently registered as an NGO.)

Lim’s involvement with SOS dates back to 2007 when he joined field trips to the estuary of Sungai Pulai, Johor, to carry out seahorse tagging and sighting exercises. It wasn’t until his third trip there that he spotted a pair of seahorses. He recalls feeling elated and getting a sense of accomplishment with the find.

Choo, he says, became his mentor when he was studying for his degree in marine biology. Lim is currently pursuing his PhD at Universiti Malaya with his thesis on the topic of “sound production of seahorses”. He is investigating if the acoustic sounds they produce have any bearing on their behaviour. He travels to Sungai Pulai regularly to conduct awareness trips for the public, while also writing scientific papers and articles to disseminate information about the little-known species.

“The volunteer visits are conducted every month during neap tide. When the water recedes, seahorse sightings can be done, and for that, anyone can become citizen scientists and learn a small part of marine biology.”

Seahorses have a unique feature: the male bears the unborn young. When mating, the female deposits her eggs into the male’s pouch, and he fertilises them internally. He carries the eggs in his pouch until they hatch. Lim says seahorses need protection because of their high mortality rate – only 1% of the babies survive into adulthood.

“There isn’t another species like the seahorse, made up of different animal-like compositions. It has the head of a horse, the curled tail of a monkey, a kangaroo-like pouch, and the eyes of a chameleon, all of which grant it camouflage abilities. Seahorses are important for various ecological, biological, economic and medicinal reasons. These fishes are important predators of the sea bottom community and removing them will only disrupt the marine ecosystem.”

There are about 53 species of seahorses worldwide, and Malaysia has 13 of them, which Lim considers as one of the most diverse in any country. Among them are the yellow seahorse (or common seahorse) that can be found in the Straits of Malacca, five species of the pygmy seahorse, tiger-tail seahorse, thorny seahorse, Kellogg’s seahorse (largest in Malaysia), three-spotted seahorse, hedgehog seahorse and the latest find, the Japanese seahorse.

“Over the last 10 years, we have tagged between 780 and 790 seahorses. Each time we recapture one, it helps us determine if it has moved from its previous location, its growth rate, and other indicators like its reproductive status and the species’ sex ratio.”

SOS has plans to extend its research beyond Johor to other states. A future project is a photo gallery where people can contribute visuals and share experiences of their encounters with seahorses.

Asked about his job motivation, Lim says he sees every day as a new challenge, and that only true passion will carry one through. “What many see on TV documentaries is just a small portion of what we really do. A lot of time is spent waiting, keying in data, being underwater to assess the marine life,” he says.

He stresses that much remains to be done for the conservation of seahorses. “They are not protected under any legislation, except for those within the confines of marine parks, which isn’t enough.

“The Sungai Pulai estuary, which has the biggest seagrass bed in Malaysia and hosts the largest population of the yellow seahorse, is not protected at all. Though a small area at only 1.8km in length and 38ha in size, it contains multiple ecosystems shared by different marine life. By destroying any one of the systems, a species’ survival is threatened,” he says.

SOS has been lobbying for protection of the Sungai Pulai estuary for years, and for the sake of seashorses, Lim hopes it will succeed.

Related links
Save our Seahorses website and facebook page
RIP Choo Chee Kuang on wild shores of singapore

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Malaysia: Sabah's Mabul Island gets a marine biologist's protection

lim chia ying The Star 22 Apr 14;

Earth Day, Earth Warriors: A marine biologist is making a sea of changes among Sabah's Mabul islanders to safeguard their fragile marine resources.

Its reputation as a world-class diving spot has gotten tourists flocking to Mabul Island in Sabah. The rich marine biodiversity is an underwater experience to savour, and this is made possible by the people who work tirelessly to spread marine awareness and monitor unlawful activities to help preserve this paradise.

Marine biologist Choo Poh Leem is one of these passionate “warriors”. She has devoted much time and energy to oversee the marine life while doing educational outreach. Mabul Island, she explains, is part of the Semporna Priority Conservation Area (PCA), a special marine area of about 7,680 sq km in south-eastern Sabah, believed to harbour the largest concentration of coral reefs in Malaysia.

“These reefs are globally significant in terms of biodiversity and are recognised as a ‘globally outstanding priority conservation area’ at the apex of the Coral Triangle. And the Coral Triangle is the nursery of the seas, with amazing biodiversity that rivals that of the Amazon and the Congo Basin,” says Choo, 27.

The Coral Triangle is an area of tropical marine waters bordered by Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, Timor Leste, and the Solomon Islands, and is deemed to be an area of high marine biodiversity. Since 2011, Choo has been working for WWF-Malaysia’s Semporna PCA Team, which addresses marine conservation issues plaguing the area.

Mabul is famed for “muck diving”, whereby critters such as the blue ring octopus, pipefish, seahorses, sea slugs and cuttlefish can be seen in sandy and sometimes, muddy, sea bottom. With the popularity of the island among recreational divers, Choo says the local community can switch from a fishery-based livelihood to a tourism-based one.

“There is potential to start community-based tourism that is sustainable and environmentally-friendly, and the locals themselves can become conservation champions,” she says.

Choo, who studied ecology and biodiversity at Universiti Malaya and has a Master’s degree in tropical marine biology from James Cook University in Australia, says her career choice stemmed from her love for the sea, and fascination with pretty underwater photos from books and television from a young age.

“I was born in Penang Island and raised at Batu Feringghi, and have always enjoyed all kinds of water sports and the wonderful underwater world. All these spurred my interest.”

One of her tasks is conducting training for the Green Semporna youth club and awareness activities with school children. She also carries out reef surveys twice a year. She says continuous reef monitoring is useful to show the condition of the coral reefs – whether they are improving or degrading.

“There’s a lot of planning and collaboration involved. To ensure that we monitor the large expanse of reefs in Semporna PCA, we collaborate with partners such as Scuba Junkie and Reef Check Malaysia,” she explains.

A problem that besets Semporna PCA is fish bombing or dynamite fishing – the use of explosives to harvest fish. Choo is working on an Anti-Fish Bombing campaign jointly with Sabah Parks, Sabah Fisheries Department, the Marine Police, Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency, dive operators and local communities. The campaign rallies for increased monitoring and patrolling.

She stresses that fish bombing has far-reaching destructive ecological impacts; a lot of untargeted fish get killed, and coral reefs which the fish depend on for survival are destroyed. Fish bombing is illegal under the Fisheries Act 1985 but the local communities perceive the act differently.

“The locals say that these fishermen share their fish with the others and feed the community, so there’s some sort of respect for these fish bombers,” shares Choo. Thus, she readily admits that effectively communicating conservation solutions remain a challenge, and it is compounded by additional barriers like language and cultural differences.

In the meantime, the composition of tourists has changed dramatically in the past few years, she says.

“It used to be seasonal with the influx of tourists hailing mainly from European countries. However, visitors from China are now constant throughout the year. Most Chinese tourists have never seen the sea before, so they have no idea how valuable marine resources are to the people of Semporna. So sometimes, harm to the marine life comes in the form of ignorance.”

She sadly notes that some species that had thrived previously can no longer be sighted in Semporna waters today, such as leatherback turtles and pygmy seahorses, which have not been spotted for the past two years. The endangered status of certain species found in Semporna PCA further highlights their vulnerability if nothing is done to protect them. They include four species of marine turtles, the humphead wrasse, six out of seven species of giant clams, the barramundi cod, and various shark and ray species.

So what inspires her to do this every day of her life?

“Positive feedback from supporters has always been my inspiration and motivation. There are a lot of people interested in conservation but they might not have the proper guidance to turn their passion into real action. Hence, as long as I can engage someone who is willing to change his or her perception and we can train more conservation champions, then conservation will win in future,” she says.

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Indonesia: As Many as 23 Companies Said to Be Involved in Riau Fires This Year

Jakarta Globe 21 Apr 14;

Pekanbaru. Indonesian Environment Minister Balthasar Kambuaya said on Monday that as many as 23 companies were allegedly responsible for fires and haze that struck Riau earlier this year, although police so far have named only one of them a suspect.

“Civilian investigators of the [environment] ministry have questioned 46 companies, and found evidence that 23 companies burned forests and lands,” Balthasar said during a meeting in Pekanbaru, according to Indonesian news portal “We will delve into this case; this is an environmental crime.”

A total of 21 ministry investigators have been sent to Riau to investigate the case, Balthasar said.

He refused to name any of the companies, saying only that investigations are expected to be completed in six months.

More than 700 hotspots were detected across Riau at the height of the fire and haze crisis in the province in March, disrupting flights at the local airport and neighboring ones, as well as causing air pollution to spike to hazardous levels.

More than 100,000 people in Riau and neighboring provinces suffered from respiratory illnesses due to the haze, according to local health agencies.

The emergency status for Riau was only lifted in early April after three weeks of special operation involving central government officials, police officers and the military (TNI). By that time, police had named 110 individuals and a plantation firm — National Sago Prima, a subsidiary of Sampoerna Agro — as suspects in the case.

Balthasar said the environment ministry would coordinate with Riau Police for legal proceeding as soon as investigations by ministry officers were completed.

“We’ve also involved expert witnesses to support investigations,” the minister added.

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In Indonesia, new Riau burning season threatens

Fidelis E. Satriastanti Reuters 21 Apr 14;

JAKARTA, Indonesia (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – One of Indonesia's most unique biosphere reserves is at risk of being destroyed by forest fires unless local and national government can work together to save it, a UNESCO expert says.

Covering around 700,000 hectares of the Bengkalis and Siak subdistricts of Riau province, Giam Siak Kecil-Bukit Batu was declared a UNESCO Man and the Biosphere Reserve in 2009, in recognition of the way it balances conservation and sustainable use.

Giam Siak is home to two wildlife reserves that provide a sanctuary for endangered species such as the Sumatran tiger and the Sumatran elephant. The area also has 78,000 hectares of its mainly tropical peatland forest allocated for timber-industry concessions.

Now Giam Siak's existence is being threatened by forest fires allegedly caused by illegal logging. The latest blaze reached Giam Siak's core zone – the site of its timber industry – in early March, a month after fires first appeared in the forests of Riau.

According to Yohanes Purwanto, executive director of Man and the Biosphere UNESCO-Indonesia, by the time the fires were put out in early April, around 2,900 hectares had been destroyed.

"We are talking about massive loss of biodiversity, much of which we have yet to discover its uses and benefits," he said. "Not to mention damaged habitat which will take years to recover."

The search for the source of the fires has led investigators to 20,000 hectares of unmonitored land in parts of Giam Siak, which allows open access to encroachers clearing land mainly for palm oil plantations.

“Most of the hotspots were revealed to be coming from these ‘no man’s land’ areas," said Purwanto, adding that fires set in peatland forests are difficult to fully extinguish because they can keep burning, unseen, under the soil.


Supriyadi, the head of spatial planning at the Riau Development Planning Agency, said that local government is supposed to be overseeing Riau's forest areas. However, before assigning responsibility, the Development Planning Agency and the Ministry of Forestry must decide which status to give the various parts of Riau's forests, including which should be made conservation areas and which should be granted permission for development – a costly process that has been stalled by budget constraints.

“Only 1.7 million hectares of Riau's 9 million hectares was given the forest areas release permit by the Ministry of Forestry, which means that we are allowed to build or make land-use changes in those areas,” said Supriyadi. “Meanwhile, the remaining areas are still forest areas."

As long as there is uncertainty over who is in charge of parts of Riau, said UNESCO's Purwanto, Giam Siak remains vulnerable to forest fires.

“One of our hopes is for local government to clarify the ownership for those no man’s lands, because tackling the fires is easier when you know who’s responsible for which areas," he said.

Purwanto also wants to see authorities working more closely together to help create sustainable jobs – such as fish farming or planting rubber – for local communities.

“We don’t want Man and the Biosphere to be just a slogan," he said. "We need government to encourage more empowerment, because that’s the key. If people’s welfare is achieved they would not need to turn to illegal logging.”

Until a long-term solution can be found, Surano, head of the Fire Fighting and Damage Control Unit at the Ministry of Forestry, said that the ministry has been approaching local timber companies to try to convince them to arm themselves with fire extinguishers and build retention basins to provide water to put out any future fires.

“We are reaching dry season, from June to August," he said. "So we need to increase awareness to stop these fires from happening again."

Fidelis E. Satriastanti is a Jakarta-based writer with an interest in climate change issues.

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Vietnam: Con Dao National Park named a world Ramsar site

VietNamNet Bridge 21 Apr 14;

With an environment favorable for the conservation of such marine species as sea turtle, dolphin and dugong, Con Dao mangrove forest has been recognized as a Ramsar site of the world.

The Ramsar Convention Secretariat has recognized Con Dao National Park in Ba Ria-Vung Tau Province as one of the 2,203 wetlands of international importance. This is the sixth wetland area [of Vietnam to be named a Ramsar site] , and the first marine Ramsar site of Vietnam.

According to, Ramsar sites are named after the city of Ramsar in Iran. It was here in 1971 that an international treaty on the protection and preservation of wetlands was signed.

Wetlands are defined as areas of marsh, fen, peatland or water, whether natural or artificial, permanent or temporary, with water that is static or flowing, fresh, brackish or salt, including areas of marine water the depth of which at low tide does not exceed six meters.

Ramsar sites may also incorporate riparian (banks of a stream, river, pond or watercourse) and coastal zones adjacent to the wetlands, and islands or bodies of marine water deeper than six metres at low tide lying within the wetlands.

According to, the Con Dao National Park was established in 1977, but protection extended only to the flora and fauna on land. The region was given protected status in 1984 and was made a national park in 1993. The park now covers fourteen of the sixteen islands and their surrounding marine areas.

The forest cover on the islands is dense: a sizable proportion is in pristine condition, particularly the humid hill forest growing above 500m above sea level. Over a thousand hectares of Con Dao National Park’s coral reefs survive in the shallow waters—a stark contrast to other areas of Vietnam that have low coral cover as a result of overexploitation, destructive fishing, and sedimentation.

According to, in 1998, the park was extended to include 14,000ha of sea together with an additional 20,500ha marine buffer zone. The Con Dao National Park officially covers 45,000ha, encompassing beautiful beaches and forests. It is home to 882 floral species, 135 species of animals, and more than 1,300 species of marine creatures.

The national park is characterized by a diverse ecosystem. Many species of coral and especially the sea turtle are found here. In 2006, a delegation of UNESCO Vietnam representatives surveyed the area and concluded that the park is eligible to be a natural-cultural mixture world heritage site. The Vietnamese government is preparing the necessary documents to submit to UNESCO soon.

Con Dao’s environmental significance is recognized internationally and is included in the list of “Areas of highest regional priority” in The World Bank Global System of Marine Protected Areas. The entire marine area is rich in biodiversity: over 1,300 species of sea animals have already been identified. The ecosystems on Con Dao are favourable habitats for rare species such as the Hawksbill, Green Turtles & Dugong, the strange creatures popularly known as ‘sea cows’ and believed to be the source of the ‘mermaid’ legends from their habit of sunbathing on rocks .

Prior to Con Dao’s recognition as a Ramsar site, five other sites in Vietnam had been named to the Ramsar list of wetlands. They include Tram Chim National Park (Dong Thap province), Mui Ca Mau National Park (Ca Mau Province), Xuan Thuy National Park (Nam Dinh Province), Bau Sau wetland (Dong Nai Province) and Ba Be National Park (Bac Kan Province).

S. Tung

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