Best of our wild blogs: 24 Apr 14

Corals Spawning in Singapore!
from Hantu Blog

Cyrene Reef (19 April, 2014)
from teamseagrass

Butterflies Galore! : Great Helen
from Butterflies of Singapore

Fragments from Macritchie Walk on 8th February
from The Green Beans

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Singapore to beef up nuclear technology expertise

Leong Wai Kit Channel NewsAsia 23 Apr 14;

SINGAPORE: Singapore is beefing up its nuclear technology expertise with a newly-announced programme.

The 10-year Nuclear Safety Research and Education Programme was announced on Wednesday by the National Research Foundation (NRF).

For a start, S$63 million of funding will be set aside for the programme for the first five years.

There are now only a handful of nuclear experts in Singapore, as such the NRF hopes to train some 100 scientists and engineers in this area, in the next decade.

By about 2024, it is hoped that these scientists and engineers will be experts in three areas -- radiochemistry, radiobiology, and risk assessment.

Radiochemistry is the study of radiation in the environment -- such as in the air, water, and soil. Uses include detecting the presence of radiation in imported goods, such as seafood.

In radiobiology, scientists study the impact of low-level doses of radiation on humans; while those in risk assessment will study the activities of a nuclear reactor, and what to do if things go wrong.

The NRF said that the programme is part of plans for Singapore to keep abreast of nuclear technology developments in the region.

Professor Low Teck Seng, CEO of the NRF, said: "This is important because as a nation, we need to build up capabilities in nuclear technology for many reasons. One, nuclear technology is now pervasively used in many different industries. Two, nuclear technology, nuclear energy is something that we need to be aware of.

"Many of our neighbours are also looking at nuclear technology, and it is important as the Prime Minister says, for us to be aware, to be knowledgeable, and as such, be able to assess the technology and its impact on Singapore -- be it in terms of potential that it has for us, in terms of the risk that we face, as well as the ability to harness its potential in every aspect."

The programme is made up of two components -- the Singapore Nuclear Research and Safety Initiative (SNRSI) and the Nuclear Education and Training Fund (NETF).

The SNRSI will focus on research and developing capabilities in nuclear safety, while the NETF will support education and training in those areas.

For a start, the National University of Singapore will offer Engineering and Physics students a minor in Medical Physics, which is set to give students with an interest in nuclear technology a foundation in the subject.

With this minor, Physics and Engineering students can opt for nuclear physics subjects that can be applied in medicine -- such as imaging techniques like Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) or CT scans.

All these advanced techniques are usually not accessible to the general public, in terms of how they work, how it is being operated -- so when students come in next year, they will learn all the basics and the foundations on how such technology is being applied and how it is being used.

There will also be post-graduate scholarships for students to pursue nuclear technology studies overseas.

The NRF is also looking into public education -- to strengthen awareness of the benefits and safety aspects of nuclear technology.

- CNA/nd/ac

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Malaysia: Whale shark dies after getting caught in fishing net

stephanie lee The Star 23 Apr 14;

Locals measuring the carcass of the dead whale shark that died after getting caught in fishing nets.

KOTA KINABALU: A whale shark died after getting trapped in fishing nets in waters off Kota Belud, as villagers and nearby resort workers frantically called in vain for help from authorities.

The seven-metre whale shark died close to the shore of Kg Tituru Laut about 90km from the state capital here.

Fishermen from the fishing village towed the whale shark to shore with the help of four boats, before using a tractor to take it to a burial site about a kilometre away.

Manana Borneo Resort operator Sofian Abdul Aziz said that the whale shark was discovered around 8.30am on Sunday and could have died soon after.

"We tried to get help from the Fisheries Department, but they did not come," he said, adding that he had to call State Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Masidi Manjun for help instead.

The Wildlife Rescue Unit under the Ministry arrived on Tuesday, but the carcass had already been buried by villagers as it was beginning to decay.

According to Sofian, whale sharks are a common sight in the area between Feb and May.

He did not discount the possibility that the whale shark might have been dying and was heading towards the shore.

"Fishermen told us that it was still alive in the nets but it appeared lifeless after a while," he added.

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Malaysia: Marine turtles lure foreign tourists

New Straits Times 24 Apr 14;

KUANTAN: Marine turtles continue to lure foreign tourists to Terengganu.

The magic weaved by these reptiles has seen a marked influx of foreign tourists to the state.

The turtles were the main reason why foreign tourists visited the state annually, said Public Service Department deputy director-general (Operations) Datuk Seri Zainal Rahim Seman.

“Therefore, continuous conservation (of the turtles) is needed. Effective conservation of turtles should be continued for education and research, and for our next generation before they face extinction,” said Zainal Rahim.

He said this after witnessing the release of two green turtles and 200 newly-hatched turtles at the Cherating Turtles Conservation Information Centre here yesterday.

Last year, the Terengganu Fisheries Depart­ment recorded 516 turtle landing areas, resulting in over 50,000 eggs. — Bernama

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Indonesia can handle haze on its own: Minister

Rizal Harahap, The Jakarta Post 23 Apr 14;

Though haze caused by land clearing in Sumatra has become a worsening scourge for neighboring countries in recent years, Environment Minister Balthasar Kambuaya has asserted that Indonesia can handle the problem on its own.

“The haze issue is very serious but Indonesia doesn’t need help from Malaysia and Singapore,” said Balthasar in his keynote speech at the 2014 Sumatra Eco-region Environmental Management Coordinating Meeting in Pekanbaru, Riau, on Monday.

He added that the Indonesian government would never accept equipment assistance from Malaysia and Singapore, though that did not preclude possible environmental collaborations in the future.

Balthasar complained that the two countries had characterized substandard equipment they had previously given to Indonesia as “considerable assistance”, thus making Indonesia look bad.

He went on to say that the Environment Ministry would implement three initiatives to prevent perennial forest and peatland fires plaguing Riau — typically the worst affected province — for the past 17 years.

The first initiative is to develop a hotspot early warning system by involving the local community.

“Right now, the governor [of Riau] receives a report on a fire after a week, when 300 hectares of forest have already been razed,” said Balthasar.

“In the future, the role and the number of personnel will be raised, especially during the dry season. If left unchecked, fires will further spread and many forested areas will be engulfed by fire.”

The second initiative is to change the behavior of local residents who set fire to forests to clear them, usually at the behest of plantation companies.

The third initiative is to strengthen law enforcement. Balthasar said 21 investigators had been dispatched over the past month to probe 46 plantation and forestry companies in Riau believed to be involved in setting haze-causing fires over the past two years.

“As many as 23 companies are being processed further as they were found to have intentionally set fire to the forest,” he said.

“Proving an environmental crime is no easy task, as teamwork among stakeholders is crucial. Besides producing expert witnesses to strengthen evidence, I will also coordinate with the relevant ministries to trace who had issued permits to the companies in question. We will jointly resolve the issue,” he added.

Balthasar declined to give the names of the companies found to have intentionally set fires, but he promised he would bring the cases to court.

“I have formed a team to speed up the legal process and given a six-month deadline,” said Balthasar.

“Some say the fires were due to natural factors, but I’m sure most of them were caused by humans.”

He has asked relevant provincial, regency and municipal administrations to continue coordinating with his ministry regarding fire prevention and fighting.

“May and June will be dry and we must be prepared to anticipate the haze issue so it will no longer become a regional issue.”

Meanwhile, Riau Governor Annas Maamun said his administration had launched a number of programs to anticipate the forest and peatland fires, such as increasing the number of surveillance and firefighting personnel in villages and educating people about the potential disasters during the dry season, which is predicted to take place from May to September this year.

“The past haze in Riau brought negative impacts to people’s lives, especially regarding the local economy, education and health sectors,” he said.

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Philippine Airlines agrees to stop shipping shark fins

Philippine carrier announces 'total stop' after 6.8-tonne shipment found in Hong Kong
South China Morning Post 23 Apr 14;

Philippine Airlines has joined a growing number of carriers refusing to transport shark fins after a report by conservation groups that the airline had brought a 6.8-tonne shipment from Dubai to Hong Kong.

"It's a total stop," spokeswoman Cielo Villaluna told the South China Morning Post yesterday. "We are stopping the shipments on all fronts ... not just to Hong Kong."

The airline said the decision - hailed by a campaigner as a victory for sharks - was made "in support of its commitment to sustainable development".

Conservation group WildLifeRisk and ocean-advocacy group Fins Attached said on April 16 they had found 136 bags, each with 50kg of dried shark fins, "freshly arrived from Dubai" on Philippine Airlines.

"Obviously we're delighted that Philippine Airlines has seen fit to turn its back on the dirty shark fin trade by joining a growing family of airlines that take their corporate social responsibilities seriously," WildLifeRisk director Alex Hofford said last night.

"It's another victory for the sharks and we hope that other regional carriers such as Singapore Airlines and Thai Airways will quickly follow."

Hofford said his group had called the Philippine flag carrier's attention to its shipments of "illegal, unregulated, and unreported fish, shark and shark products" in a letter in August last year, but had received no reply.

The Hong Kong consignment had been shipped from Dubai agent International Maritime and Aviation to dried seafood trader Global Marine. The company denied the Dubai shipment was illegal.

Villaluna said after the shipment was found that the airline could not comment because its president and chief operating officer Ramon Ang was abroad.

Yesterday it issued a statement saying it "will formalise and strengthen a freight policy it has recently adopted to stop the shipment of shark fin".

It said it would circulate a policy for "immediate implementation and strict compliance across the organisation", adding: "PAL takes the issue of protection and conservation of endangered marine life seriously."

At least five airlines have followed Cathay Pacific's lead in restricting or banning shark fin shipments over the last two years. Korean, Asiana, Qantas and Air New Zealand enforce a blanket ban; Fiji-based Air Pacific allows fins from sustainable sources.

PAL hailed for ban on shark fin cargo
DJ Yap Philippine Daily Inquirer 25 Apr 14;

MANILA, Philippines—Environmentalist groups on Thursday commended Philippine Airlines (PAL) for responding positively to an online petition against the transport of shark fins, joining a number of other Asia-Pacific carriers in taking a stand for marine conservation.

In a statement, Greenpeace said online pressure had prompted the flag carrier “to publicly announce its commitment to sustainable development” approximately 12 hours after a petition on the website against shark fin transport was launched by the Save Sharks Network Philippines.

The group cited a PAL press release posted on the airline’s website and Facebook page on April 23 saying it would “formalize and strengthen a freight policy it has recently adopted to stop the shipment of shark fin in support of its overall commitment to sustainable development.”

The PAL statement also mentioned circulating “a policy for immediate implementation and strict compliance across the organization,” Greenpeace noted.

Victory for sharks

“The announcement of PAL is also a victory for all sharks species who are brutally murdered for their fins,” said Anna Oposa, cofounder of Save Philippine Seas and founder of the Shark Shelter Project in Malapascua Island.

“PAL, being Asia’s first airline and our flag carrier, will be taking a bold step and leading in marine conservation by ceasing the transportation of shark fins,” she added.

Oposa said the PAL’s move would send a powerful message to the government and other airlines about how the private sector could significantly contribute in sustainability efforts.

Public awareness, combined with concerted social media efforts, was instrumental to this development, according to Greenpeace.


Shark fins are prized in certain markets like China and its territories, where they are used in soups and traditional cures. But animal welfare groups strongly oppose the trade, which usually involves taking only the fins and leaving the rest of the shark in the ocean to die.

Conservationists say that a booming demand for such fins has put pressure on the world’s shark populations, prompting calls for measures to restrict their trade.

In March, representatives from the network met with members of PAL Cargo to discuss shark fin transport, since the airline had no existing policies to address the issue, the group said.

In that meeting, PAL said it would begin to move internally to have rules in place even as it claimed to have no data of transporting shark fins and related products because its cargo operations were outsourced, Greenpeace said.

Protection of marine life

“PAL values the issue on protection and conservation of endangered marine life seriously, recognizing that the company’s long-term interest is and should be consistent with sustainable and responsible business practices,” a PAL statement said.

Air New Zealand as well as South Korea’s two largest airlines, Korean Air and Asiana, separately announced last year that they would ban shark fins from their cargo flights, a year after Hong Kong’s Cathay Pacific also stopped shipping them.

Fiji Airways announced last year it would no longer carry “shark fins and shark-related products sourced from unsustainable and unverified sources,” and would only carry fins from species not threatened with extinction. With a report from AFP

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Study Offers Hope For Survival Of Island Nations As Sea Levels Rise

Bernama 23 Apr 14;

WELLINGTON, April 23 (Bernama) -- Some of the world's smallest nations might survive rising sea levels brought about by climate change but in different forms as their atoll islands grow and change, according to a New Zealand research.

Pacific island atolls might in fact be getting larger or remaining stable in their size as new gravel and sand is carried by waves from their coral reefs to shore, said Professor Paul Kench, head of the University of Auckland's School of Environment which is conducting the study.

Tiny island nations, such as Tuvalu and Kiribati, had been thought to be among the most vulnerable to rising sea levels but the study has shown very few islands shrinking in size, Kench told Xinhua news agency on Wednesday.

Researchers were building a dataset of changes over the past 50 years to 1,000 islands in the Pacific, and now had more than 500 examples.

Most of them, like Tuvalu, had either remained stable or grown, while some had been moving on their reef surfaces.

"We can't as yet determine whether some island groups are more susceptible or sensitive to change than others. However, this is something we believe we should be able to identify as the larger dataset develops," said Kench.

Some of the islands could hold relatively large populations, such as the more densely populated islands including South Tarawa on Kiribati, where at least 20,000 people lived, and Fongafale, Tuvalu, which was home to about 5,000 people.

"However, these are the urban capitals. There are many islands with small communities of 100 to 800 people. There are still many more islands with no one currently living on them," said the professor.

The least populated and least developed islands were likely to be more robust against rising sea levels than the bigger population centres.

"At some densely populated sites pollution may have reduced reef health and sediment production is diminished. The best mitigation measure that communities could engage in would be to maintain reef health," Kench said.

"It is possible that some islands may eventually have to be abandoned. However, this should not mean all islands in a nation will disappear.

"There are some large and uninhabited islands in most small nations that could be used to establish new settlements in the future. This infers that there may need to be some migration within a country," the professor said.

Vegetation could colonise newly accreted land very quickly, but the Pacific had many examples of people living on islands with a lack of vegetation.

However, urgent research is needed into whether water resources would change and communities would still be able to grow food crops such as taro.

More research is also needed into ocean acidification, another side-effect of climate change, and the impact this would have on the ability of reefs to generate fresh sand and gravel to build islands.

"It is possible that it might compromise the ability to generate fresh sand and gravel supplies from surrounding reefs," said Kench.

"However, others suggest that weaker skeletons of corals and other organisms might lead to a pulse of new sediment available for island building. There simply hasn't been sufficient research undertaken to resolve this question," he added.


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