Best of our wild blogs: 25 Apr 14

Trees for Birds: 2. Macaranga bancana (Common Mahang)
from Bird Ecology Study Group

Youth Dialogue on Climate Change Summary Report
from ECO @ COP

Job: Full-time Teaching Assistant (FTTA) for Undergraduate Courses for Life Sciences (deadline: 23 May 2014) from The Biodiversity crew @ NUS

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Mantis shrimp's 'armed' power

Feng Zengkun The Straits Times AsiaOne 24 Apr 14;

SINGAPORE - The future of medical devices such as hip implants and prosthetic limbs, and even body armour, could literally lie in the arms of a tiny sea creature.

Researchers in Singapore have found out why the tiny mantis shrimp is able to strike its prey at the speed of a 5.56mm rifle bullet while suffering little to no damage to its club-like arms.

The team identified not only the arm's components but also how its inner arrangement improves its ability to absorb forces without harm. This work could lead to incredibly damage-resistant products for people.

The team, led by Assistant Professor Ali Miserez and graduate student Shahrouz Amini from Nanyang Technological University (NTU), published its findings in the prestigious scientific journal Nature Communications in January.

The findings put researchers globally one step closer to replicating the material. But the team - from NTU's School of Materials Science and Engineering and School of Biological Sciences and elsewhere - said this would likely take at least three to four years.

While the components are easy to find and reproduce, said Prof Miserez, "the challenge is to reproduce the structure with the same level of organisation that you would find in the natural system".

The mantis shrimp arm's key element is a mineral called fluorapatite.

This is also found in shark's teeth. More importantly, it is very similar to the hydroxyapatite in human teeth and bone.

"You would need to have the proper tests and controls, but there is no reason why it wouldn't be biocompatible with people," said Prof Miserez. "It's almost the exact same thing we already have in our bodies."

Biocompatible implants would address bone loss from wear and tear, as well as toxic and immunity reactions from fine particles in metal implants.

The shrimp's arm also contains calcium sulphate, a common chemical used in plaster of Paris, and calcium carbonate, which exists naturally as chalk and limestone and also helps form mollusc shells and stony corals.

The sulphate helps the fluorapatite become more crystalline in the arm's outer layers, adding to its hardness. The fluorapatite in the inner layers, on the other hand, exists in a softer glassy form, which helps the arm absorb forces like a cushion.

"With these findings we can take calcium sulphate - which is easy enough to buy - and use it to try and crystallise fluorapatite to create strong and biocompatible materials," said Prof Miserez.

The scientists plan to further study the arm's structure, chemistry and mechanics, and how the shrimp is able to strike so quickly. They will also use computer simulations to examine exactly what happens to the arm when it hits an object.
- See more at:

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Truck sinks into ground along Upper Changi Road East

Today Online 25 Apr 14;

Tipper truck sinks into road along Upper Changi Road East. Photo: Don Wong

SINGAPORE — A section of Upper Changi Road East caved in yesterday morning, causing a tipper truck to sink in, where it remained trapped for more than two hours.

The driver was not injured and no other injuries were reported. The Land Transport Authority (LTA), which is investigating the incident, said the “depression” had appeared in the centre lane of the road at about 8.30am. Part of the passing truck slipped in, leaving its front wheels hanging in the air.

Two lanes of traffic were closed while the truck was recovered and the LTA deployed traffic wardens to divert and guide traffic flow. “The LTA is currently carrying out reinstatement works,” a spokesperson said in a statement.

The incident took place near construction works for the upcoming Downtown Line 3.

“We will also continue to monitor underground construction works in the surrounding area. This incident is not expected to impact the construction progress of the Downtown Line 3,” the spokesperson said.

In March last year, excavation works of Downtown Line Stage 2 caused an underground water pipe to rupture, resulting in a sinkhole on Woodlands Road. Earlier that month, a sinkhole had appeared twice on the same spot on Clementi Road. Other sinkhole incidents included one in January last year on Keppel Road that trapped a car for more than an hour.

Following the incidents, Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew said in Parliament in April last year that the LTA would step up its monitoring efforts, such as by installing more extensometers to monitor for movement in soil and rock, and checking for voids under pavements or roads near excavation sites.

It would also work with utility agencies and companies to check their underground structures and records, as well as carry out any necessary removal or rectification works.

Truck falls into road "depression" along Upper Changi Road East
Olivia Siong Channel NewsAsia 24 Apr 14;

SINGAPORE: The driver of a tipper truck found himself stuck with his vehicle in a large hole along Upper Changi Road East on Thursday.

The Land Transport Authority said a "depression" appeared at the road's centre lane around 8.30am.

The truck, which was passing by, fell into the hole and tilted on its side.

No one was injured.

To ensure the safety of motorists, two adjoining lanes were immediately closed to traffic while the truck was recovered.

Traffic has been diverted and LTA said it has deployed traffic wardens to guide traffic flow.

Reinstatement works are ongoing and LTA is investigating the incident.

The depression is located near a Downtown Line 3 construction site.

LTA said it does not expect the incident to impact the construction progress of the MRT line.

It added that it will continue to monitor underground construction works in the surrounding area.

- CNA/de

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Malaysia: Turtle killings the work of syndicates - Dept

The Star 25 Apr 14;

KOTA KINABALU: Wildlife officials suspect that syndicates are behind the killings of turtles in Semporna, Labuan and Kudat in the last two months as they have found few leads on the incident.

Sabah Wildlife Department director Datuk Dr Laurentius Ambu said yesterday that there was growing suspicion that syndicates were involved.

“It did not look like the work of local fishermen or villagers,” he said.

Dr Laurentius said they were still gathering information over the killings.

“When we asked fishermen around the areas, they said they do not know anything. When we ask the larger fishing companies, they say they only use nets which allows trapped turtles to escape,” he added.

Dr Laurentius said some companies even said that they used turtle excluder devices to ensure that none were trapped and killed when they go fishing.

“We are concerned. It looks like there’s a syndicate here that is killing our turtles for commercial reasons,” he added.

In March, 60 turtle carcasses were found strewn in separate locations around Pulau Tiga in northern Kudat.

Four more green turtles were found in Semporna on April 17, followed by two hawksbill turtle carcasses in Labuan four days later.

Dr Laurentius said wildlife officials and the Tourism, Culture and Environment Ministry would discuss with members of the Eastern Sabah Security Command (Esscom) on ways to prevent syndicates from carrying out their activities.

On the seven-metre whale shark that died after being caught in fishing nets near a coastal resort in Kota Belud district on Sunday, Dr Laurentius said: “The villagers had already buried it when we arrived about two days later. So, we will leave it there for now.”

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Malaysia: Society fights for a green Earth

Sim Bak Heng New Straits Times 25 Apr 14;

THE Green Earth Society (GES), which is less than two months old, organised an environmental forum recently.

The forum highlighted the problems of pollution, environmental degradation and destruction due to development, and the importance of environmental conservation and preservation.

Several speakers were invited to present their views, followed by a question-and-answer session.

The interactive forum and the good response from the floor showed that the guests were eager to know more about environmental issues affecting their surroundings and the steps taken by the state government to address them.

Malaysia Environmental Protection Society president Nithi Nesadural gave a lengthy presentation of what the Earth will ultimately become if people continue to pollute the environment.

He quoted facts and figures to convince the guests that it is now a wake-up call to save the environment.

He expressed his worries that some fauna and flora may disappear from the earth sooner than later, and the future generation will have to rely on historical records to view the extinct species.

Another speaker, Dzulkefly Ahmad, criticised the uncontrolled development in Iskandar Malaysia, especially that involving coastal and mangrove swamps.

He revealed that a lot of mangrove swamps along the Johor Straits have been earmarked for development, despite the importance of mangroves in checking against coastal erosion.

Coastal development is nothing new in Iskandar Malaysia.

In fact, it is set to become the trend of the future.

Most of the projects launched in Iskandar Malaysia, which are targeted at foreigners, are basically waterfront developments offering a scenic view of the Johor Straits.

While the forum has highlighted the problems, it is not enough just to end there.

The GES has a lot of follow-ups to do such as relaying the issues highlighted during the forum to the authorities.

Otherwise, it is as good as shouting loudly from a sound-proof room which serves no purpose at all.

GES founder and chairman P. Sivakumar set up the non-governmental organisation because he could not bear to see how some developments are carried out at the expense of the environment.

He once told me that he did not even dare to pluck a leaf or snap a tree branch.

It sounds a bit far-fetched but this is what environmental conservation is all about.

It takes just minutes to chop down a tree but years to grow one.

In the case of mangrove trees, it is even harder to grow back due to the presence of tidal waves.

Dzulkefly pointed out that traditional fishermen along the Johor Straits are losing their livelihood due to dwindling catch.

They might be asking for compensation. But even if they managed to claim a big sum of money, this is not helping them to solve the problem.

The fact is that it is getting more and more difficult to make a living as fishermen anymore.

The birth of GES is the first step in the right direction.

I wish them every success.

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Malaysia: Underground water may not be safe

hemananthani sivanandam The Star 25 Apr 14;

PETALING JAYA: Experts have urged the Selangor government to conduct feasibility studies before pumping underground water to overcome the shortage in the state.

Association of Water and Energy Research Malaysia president S. Piarapakaran said the state government has to analyse the chemical content in the water of former mining pools that it plans to pump.

“Have they done analysis on the carcinogenic (cancer-causing) materials there?

“Abandoned mining pools also have low-level radioactivity,” he added when contacted.

Piarapakaran said that minor tapping of groundwater in rural areas would not usually have an adverse impact on the environment. But large-scale projects would need environmental impact assessment.

Piarapakaran also cautioned that tapping underground water could cause land subsidence and drop in groundwater levels.

“This will encourage the people concerned to dig deeper.

“As our groundwater recharge is directly related to rainfall and the amount of forest cover in Malaysia, large-scale projects can have a huge environmental impact,” said Piarapakaran.

“Another possible problem is an increase in peat fires during dry seasons as the groundwater levels will be getting lower due to extraction.”

Water and Energy Consumer Association of Malaysia secretary general Foon Weng Lian agreed that detailed studies must be done on tapping underground water to avoid negative impact to the surrounding environment.

“Where are all the reports and feasibility studies?

“Use of underground water has to be carefully studied and planned because the impact will be long term,” said Foon.

On plans to seek the help of Thailand’s “Royal Rainmaking Centre” to harvest rain at the Sungai Selangor dam, both Foon and Piarapakaran said it was a good idea.

“It is better than traditional cloud seeding that we are doing now to increase rainfall in the water catchment areas,” said Piara­pakaran.

On Wednesday, the Selangor government announced it has approved a RM10mil allocation to build infrastructure to facilitate the transfer of water from sources such as former mines and ponds into Sungai Selangor.

Mentri Besar Tan Sri Abdul Khalid Ibrahim also announced that water rationing would only be lifted in stages when the water level at the Sungai Selangor dam goes over 40%.

According to the Selangor Water Management Authority website, the level at Sungai Selangor Dam stood at 39.26% as of 8am yesterday.

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Indonesia: Riau haze investigation focuses on companies

The Jakarta Post 24 Apr 14;

The Riau Police are intensifying their investigation into haze by probing a number of companies in Bengkalis and Indragiri Hilir regencies in connection to forest and peatland fires in Riau.

Riau Police chief Brig. Gen. Condro Kirono, however, have refused to reveal the names of the companies. “The cases are still under investigation. We are also digging deeper into the PT NSP [for alleged involvement in forest fires in Meranti Islands regency]. We have questioned 18 witnesses so far,” said Condro on Wednesday.

“One thing is for sure, we will bring all offenders, be they individuals or companies, to justice because they have caused great losses on many fronts, including health, education and the economy. They have also tainted Riau’s image in the international world.”

Condro said the Riau Police were currently handling 70 cases involving forest and peatland fires. As many as 116 individual suspects have been detained. “The dossiers of 62 cases have been completed and will soon be handed over to the court by the prosecutor’s office,” he added.

Meanwhile, Riau provincial administration is preparing for an extreme dry season, which is expected to start in May.

“The dry season will come at the end of May. We need to stay alert because the upcoming dry season is forecast to be drier than usual and will last until the end of August,” said a weather analyst at the Pekanbaru Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG), Ardhitama.

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Indonesia: How to Better Manage Forests And Farms? Start Talking

Peter Kanowski Jakarta Globe 24 Apr 14;

The persistent, high-impact and high-profile haze problem in Riau has been a salutary reminder of how difficult it can be to manage landscapes once some “tipping points” have been passed. The adage about closing the stable door after the horse has bolted comes to mind. But recent issues in Riau are only one example of many worldwide — think of the history of conflicts over land use in the Amazon, or the so-called “land grabbing” for agricultural expansion in Africa.

Landscapes have been transformed by people since our ancestors began practicing agriculture. The scale and rate of change have accelerated over the past 100 years, and especially the past 50. And economic and social forces, such as rising demand for food and biofuels, and demographic changes, will continue to transform landscapes globally.

Managing landscape transformations well is the key to realizing outcomes that are sustainable, and that deliver economic and social benefits without unacceptable environmental or social costs. Indonesia, and other land- and resource-rich emerging countries, will continue to be the focus for many of these transformations.

But managing landscape transformations well is hard — often, very hard. Orderly, planned processes like those designed by academics or bureaucrats, and that look good on maps on computer screens, are almost impossible to achieve in practice. There are many competing interests to be reconciled: some of them are pressing and urgent, like improving the income of poor people; some of them are hard to value, like biodiversity and climate change mitigation. And, in all countries, there are limits to the actual power of governments to manage change on the ground.

For these reasons, landscape transformations are usually messy rather than orderly, contested rather than agreed, and thus often lead to suboptimal outcomes — for people and the environment, and between shorter- and longer-term interests. Change processes favor some people more than others, and often leave the poor behind; government, businesses and communities find themselves in conflict; and perverse, unintended outcomes — like the use of fire in peatlands — are common.

So, what to do?

One hard-learned conclusion from experience worldwide is the need to understand the landscape — not just its geography and ecosystems, but its people and values — as a whole, and to share and integrate that knowledge across sectoral interests. Another hard-learned conclusion is that it’s much easier said than done. And a third is that there are many benefits in bringing all the stakeholder groups in a landscape together, in conversation and negotiation, at an earlier rather than a later stage.

A month ago, this is exactly what the Center for International Forestry Research, a global intergovernmental research institute headquartered in Bogor, and The Forests Dialogue, a multistakeholder platform hosted at Yale University, did with the support of the government of Central Kalimantan and relevant ministries of the government of Indonesia. Seventy people participated, including 30 from countries outside Indonesia who had experience of these challenges in their own situations, and spanning the diversity of interests in landscapes: traditional and local communities; community-based and non-governmental organizations; government agencies with responsibilities across the spectrum for planning, land management and development; forestry and oil palm companies and their representative bodies; and researchers and practitioners.

They met for four days in and around Palangkaraya to understand and learn from how local, provincial and national governments are planning and managing landscape change in Central Kalimantan — where the governor and provincial government have been promoting green growth that benefits local people, where there are already many degraded landscapes that would benefit from large-scale investment such as that brought by oil palm plantations, and where there are globally significant environmental values such as the carbon storage of peatlands and the biodiversity exemplified by orangutans.

Participants sought to identify practical approaches that were relevant not only for Central Kalimantan, but in the nearly 40 countries they represented or worked in.

The first priority they identified was integrating the province’s development plans (for advancing economic and social well-being) with spatial plans (for determining where and how to do so).

The second was the need to strengthen the capacity of local people — including through greater inclusion, transparency and information exchange — to contribute to shaping these plans, and to ensure that the plans were a means to an end, not an end in themselves.

The third was the need to elevate the status of small-scale farmers and landholders as agents of development, through freer choice, more equitable partnerships and better connections to markets.

The fourth, complementing the third, was that engaging the private sector, whether multinational corporations or small and medium enterprises, is essential for achieving sustainable development.

And the fifth overarching priority that the participants recognized was the need to understand forests as part of a wider landscape, subject to broader economic and development forces; and that social issues — including indigenous and human rights, and better livelihoods for communities — are just as much a part of the landscape as the trees and farms.

The Central Kalimantan dialogue was only one of the many steps that are needed in helping to better manage landscape transformations. More dialogue between stakeholders, more commitment to action, and more research to support good decisions are needed. Participants from the dialogue will share their learning at the upcoming Forests Asia Summit on May 5-6 in Jakarta, and inform discussions there. They hope these discussions will help catalyze the changes we need for the transformation to more sustainable landscapes.

Prof. Peter Kanowski is deputy director general of the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR). BeritaSatu Media Holdings, of which Jakarta Globe is affiliated, is a media partner of the Forests Asia Summit.

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Philippines: DA bans trade of brown algae and sea grass in the wild

Czeriza Valencia The Philippine Star 25 Apr 14;

MANILA, Philippines - The Department of Agriculture (DA) has prohibited the trade of brown algae and sea grass in the wild to preserve marine ecosystems.

Through Fisheries Administrative Order 250, Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala has banned the collection, gathering, sale and export of brown algae and sea grass to prevent lost of shelter and food base of marine organisms dependent on algae and seagrass beds for survival.

He said the high commercial value and global market demand for algae seaweeds has resulted to uncontrolled harvesting in the wild.

Seagrass and algae beds provide shelter and food to diverse species of juvenile and adult fish as well as crustaceans. In dense growth areas, seagrass and algae can form underwater forests that serve as nurseries for larger fish species.

“The mangroves, coral reefs, seagrass beds, and seaweed forests being parts of the marine ecosystems are important natural resources of the state, inter-dependent with each other, serve significant ecological functions where a balance in the over-all condition each must be maintained to ensure the survival of diverse fish and aquatic species,” Alcala said.

“It basically provides a life support system to most aquatic marine organisms,” he added.

Alcala noted that natural re-colonization and recovery of damaged seagrass and algae areas would take decades.

Fisheries director Asis Perez said violators of the ban are punishable with a maximum imprisonment of two to 10 years and a fine of P100,000 to P500,000.

The Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR), however, may still issue a special permit to collect, harvest and export seaweed and seagrass for scientific and educational purposes,.

“The BFAR director, through Agriculture Secretary Alcala, may grant research institutions limited gathering of seaweeds and seagrass to determine the ecological and socio-economic impact of the activity on the fisheries resources,” he said.

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