Best of our wild blogs: 25 Apr 14

Mass coral spawning 2014
from wild shores of singapore

Coral spawning 2014
from Compressed air junkie

New Butterfly Book Launched!
from Butterflies of Singapore

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Food manufacturers mull measures to curb wastage

Lim Wee Leng Channel NewsAsia 25 Apr 14;

SINGAPORE: In a bid to reduce food waste, the Singapore Food Manufacturers' Association (SFMA) is looking at developing a set of food standards with Singapore Standards Council.

These will look at the complete food process -- from production in the factory, to transportation to supermarket shelves, and what happens to food when near expiry dates.

Under current practice, when food is very close to expiring, the retailer will exchange the packages with the manufacturer.

The amount of food waste in Singapore has increased by 31 per cent over the last five years.

In 2013 alone, it amounted to 796,000 tonnes, which works out to almost 147 kilogrammes per person.

Wong Mong Hong, immediate past president of SFMA, said: "One of the important things we would like to introduce is try to set a date well before the expiry of the product..."

These standards are likely to take two to three years to be in place.

- CNA/xq

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Malaysia: Anti-pollution Unit not doing its job, claim NGOs

New Straits Times 26 Apr 14;

SLACK: Task force criticised for delay in punishing polluters of waterways and sea

GEORGE TOWN: IT has been one and a half month since a task force was set up by the state government to address the deterioration of Penang waterways and sea.

However, to date there has been no reports on these rivers and marine life or any action taken against polluters.

Non-governmental organisations disappointed with the lack of action have urged the state government to explain the delays.

Malaysian Nature Society Penang branch adviser D. Kanda Kumar said the state government should punish the polluters to show that it is serious in combating pollution.

"They formed a task force to tackle river and marine pollution but until now no action has been taken.

"This shows a lack of seriousness on their part," he said.

Kanda Kumar said the state government should at least explain to the public what was causing the delay.

"They should update us regularly and not leave us wondering," he added.

Also questioning the inaction was Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM) president SM Mohamed Idris who urged the state government to act swiftly.

"Survey the rivers in the state, identify the pollutants, look for the sources of pollutants and throw the book at the offenders.

"It is simple as that. People would then think twice about throwing their refuse into the river," he said, adding that he was appalled at the delay by the authorities to act.

In February, Local Government Committee chairman Chow Kon Yeow said the state government had set up a river and marine pollution task force, coordinated by the state Drainage and Irrigation Department (DID), to monitor the waterways and sea.

The members of the task force, which included the Department of Environment (DoE), Public Works Department and two local authorities, will be tasked with identifying polluters and to strictly enforce the law against them.

Meanwhile, Chow when contacted by Streets, said the task force was still preparing the report on the state rivers and marine.

"The DID and DoE are in the midst of preparing the report which will be presented at the state executive meeting early next month," he said.

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Malaysia: Protected turtle found dead

LOGHUN KUMARAN New Straits Times 26 Apr 14;

HOOKED BY FISHING LINE: NGO calls for fishing ban to preserve Perak's only turtle landing site of Pasir Panjang

LUMUT: AN endangered green sea turtle (Chelonia mydas) has been found dead in the waters off Teluk Senangin near here two days ago. It was believed to have been hooked by a fishing line.

Sahabat Alam Malaysia field officer Meor Razak Meor Abdul Rahman said the male turtle, believed to be around 30 years old, was found floating in the sea by a fisherman.

The fisherman, Mohd Saufi Ahmad, claimed that the 1m-long carcass was found with a strand of fishing line in its mouth.

Meor Razak said both of them had notified the Perak Fisheries Department of the discovery, adding that the department had yet to collect the carcass from the beach.

"Saufi and I had reported the finding to a state fisheries officer at the Pasir Panjang turtle rehabilitation centre. After documenting the condition of the carcass, the officer determined that the turtle had been dead for four days before it was found by Saufi."

Meor Razak said the department should have taken the turtle's carcass to conduct further investigations.

"The post-mortem is important as the green sea turtle is categorised as an endangered species on the International Union for Conservation of Nature's (IUCN) red list of threatened species."

He said the incident illustrated how important it was to preserve the natural condition of Pasir Panjang beach, which was the state's last turtle-landing site. He added that the department should ban fishing at designated areas of the beach, especially during the egg-laying season which runs from March to June.

"Sea turtles run a high risk of injuring themselves on fishing lines during the egg-laying season as more of them come to the beach to lay eggs. A reduction or ban on fishing activities along the turtles' nesting grounds will be sufficient to reduce this risk without hurting the fishing industry."

Meor Razak urged the state government to halt the development of two industrial plants in the neighbouring Tanjung Hantu area.

Announced last year, the projects were believed to be a liquefied natural gas plant and a steel coil mill.

Construction work on both have not been carried out.

"If these projects are built, the lights and sounds from the buildings and factories will drive the turtles away as they are very timid and sensitive creatures.

"The government needs to stop development in this area if it wants to keep the only remaining turtle landing site in the state," he said.

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China hopes to take rare animals off the menu with tough jail sentences

People who knowing eat products made from 420 species classified as endangered face of up to 10 years or more in prison
Jonathan Kaiman 25 Apr 14;

Chinese diners who enjoy bear bile, tiger bones and pangolin meat now have a new reason to lay down their chopsticks.

China's top legislative body passed a new "interpretation" of the country's criminal law on Thursday that will allow authorities to jail people who knowingly eat products made from rare wild animals. Prison sentences for the offence range from under three years to more than a decade, the state newswire Xinhua reported.

Beijing classifies 420 species as rare or endangered, including giant pandas, golden monkeys, Asian black bears and pangolins – scaly, slow-moving anteaters which curl into balls to avoid their predators. While China already promises harsh fines and jail sentences for people who catch, kill, traffic, buy and sell the animals, it has until now remained unclear on the potential consequences for eating them.

"This is very, very encouraging," said Grace Gabriel, Asia regional director for the International Fund for Animal Welfare, a US-based animal rights organisation. "Including wildlife consumption in the criminal law can play a very important part in curtailing, and also stigmatising, wildlife consumption."

In recent decades, China's growing wealth has engendered a thriving illegal market in endangered wildlife products. Many businesspeople and status-obsessed officials believe that certain rare animal parts – shark fins, bear bile, tiger bone – posses medicinal properties, and that spending large amounts of money on them confers social prestige.

"Eating rare wild animals is not only bad social conduct but also a main reason why illegal hunting has not been stopped despite repeated crackdowns," Lang Sheng, deputy head of the legislative affairs commission of the NPC standing committee, told Xinhua.

Chinese authorities finally seem to recognise the scope of the problem. In March, 24 people were arrested for trafficking in wild animal parts and 4,500 products confiscated in police raids across nine provinces, state media reported. In January, authorities in the southern province Guangdong crushed six tonnes of confiscated elephant ivory in a public ceremony to discourage smugglers.

Last summer, customs officials in the northern Inner Mongolia region arrested two Russian nationals for smuggling 213 bear paws into China in the tyres of a van – their load, state media said, was worth more than £250,000.

Earlier this month, three Chinese nationals were arrested in Namibia, after they were found trying to board a flight to Hong Kong with 14 foil-wrapped rhino horns and leopard skins hidden in their luggage.

China to outlaw eating of protected animal species
Ben Blanchard PlanetArk 29 Apr 14;

China will jail people who eat rare animals for 10 years or more under a new interpretation of the criminal law, state media reported, as the government seeks to close a legal loophole and better protect the natural environment.

China lists 420 species as rare or endangered, including the panda, golden monkeys, Asian black bears and pangolins, some or all of which are threatened by illegal hunting, environmental destruction and the consumption of animal parts, including for supposedly medicinal reasons.

Consumption of rare animals has risen as the country has become richer, with some people believing spending thousands of yuan on eating them gives a certain social cache.

"Eating rare wild animals is not only bad social conduct but also a main reason why illegal hunting has not been stopped despite repeated crackdowns," Lang Sheng, deputy head of parliament's Legislative Affairs Commission said, the official Xinhua news agency reported late on Thursday.

The new interpretation "clears up ambiguities about buyers of prey of illegal hunting", the report added.

Knowingly buying any wild animals killed by illegal hunting will now be considered a crime, with a maximum penalty of three years in jail, Xinhua said.

"In fact, buyers are a major motivator of large-scale illegal hunting," Lang said.

(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Stephen Coates)

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China’s water is even worse than its air

BLOOMBERG EDITORS Today Online 25 Apr 14;

In recent months, Chinese leaders have pledged drastic steps to clear their nation’s smog-choked air. The bigger question, though, may be how far they are willing to go to clean up its water.

Say one thing for the lung-burning pollution that regularly blankets Beijing and other cities: At least everyone can see the problem. In contrast, a recent benzene spill that poisoned the water supply of Lanzhou — a city of more than two million people — was terrifyingly odourless and colourless. If anything, polluted water poses a more insidious threat to Chinese people than dirty air does.

Seventy per cent of the groundwater in the heavily populated north China plain has become unfit for human touch, let alone drinking or irrigation. Because the area encompasses several of the country’s largest farming provinces, crops and livestock are exposed to dangerous contaminants as well. The nine in 10 Chinese who say they are highly concerned about the safety of their food and water have reason to be alarmed.

The authorities have shown they can restore blue skies, at least temporarily, as they did during the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Cleaning up China’s water will be more difficult, time-consuming and expensive. Industries that pollute water are not concentrated in a few places, as coal-fired power plants are, but spread out across thousands of localities. And dirty water is harder to assess than gritty air; discharges have to be measured near the source. In any case, industry accounts for only half of water pollution. The rest comes from millions of small farmers and livestock producers, whose fertilisers, pesticides and waste runoff leach undetected into the water table.


The sheer scale of the problem demands root-and-branch reforms — the kind that Chinese academics and activists have long promoted, but the government has been reluctant to make. A new environmental law, for instance, may include tougher penalties: Violators who ordinarily pay cheap fines and then continue to pollute would be subject to daily, unlimited penalties and possible criminal charges. However, this law is in its fourth draft and still undergoing revisions, and there is no guarantee the stronger penalties will survive to the final version.

Even if they do, they will be of little use unless China’s Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP) is given greater power. As things stand, so many agencies have a say in environmental oversight, it is almost impossible to take strong, swift action.

Groundwater monitoring alone is overseen by three different ministries, as China Water Risk, a non-profit watchdog based in Hong Kong, points out, and this makes enforcement slow and ineffective. Talk of merging ministries or responsibilities into the MEP has so far gone nowhere.

Another barrier to progress is that many officials remain uncomfortable enlisting ordinary citizens and environmental groups in the battle against pollution — something that, given how broad the problem is, could be critical to success.

The authorities have allowed local journalists and environmental activists to expose some polluters. However, they are wary of protests against specific factories, or even civil lawsuits. Last week, a court ruled that residents could not sue the city’s water supplier over the spill in Lanzhou.

Chinese Internet giant Alibaba Group Holding now offers US$10 (S$12.60) handheld kits that buyers can use to test their local water, then upload the data to a digital map. Such information could greatly aid the task of naming and shaming offenders — and it is precisely the sort of transparency the government needs to encourage, not restrict.

Chinese leaders understand the scope of the challenge, and they have said they will spend almost two trillion yuan (S$400 billion) to combat it. They have made local officials responsible for preserving the environment as well as promoting economic growth, which should encourage more determined enforcement efforts.

Officials have talked about introducing tiered pricing for water usage by industries, while raising discharge standards and fees. They are also encouraging the consolidation of small farms into bigger, more efficient plots that use less fertiliser.

However, China’s water problems are too big and too dangerous to leave any weapons lying on the table.

Northern China already confronts a drastic scarcity of water and pollution further reduces the supply.

Chinese leaders should worry less about what may happen if they unleash regulators and the public on polluters, and more about what will happen if they do not. BLOOMBERG

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China strengthens environmental laws

Amendments to country's environmental protection are first in 25 years and will remove limits on fines for polluting factories
Jonathan Kaiman 25 Apr 14;

Chinese legislators have passed the first amendments to the country’s environmental protection law in 25 years, promising greater powers for environmental authorities and harsher punishments for polluters.

The amendments, which the Standing Committee of National People’s Congress passed on Thursday after two years of debate, will allow authorities to detain company bosses for 15 days if they do not complete environmental impact assessments or ignore warnings to stop polluting. The new law will come into practice on 1 January.

Since China’s environmental protection law was passed in 1989, the country has become the world’s second-largest economy and its biggest carbon emitter; decades of breakneck economic growth have left many of its rivers desiccated and its cities perennially shrouded in smog.

Over the past year, the Chinese government has begun to emphasise environmental protection in its official rhetoric. The new law “sets environmental protection as the country’s basic policy,” state news agency Xinhua reported.

At an annual parliamentary meeting in March, premier Li Keqiang said that the government will “resolutely declare war against pollution as we declared war against poverty”.

Yet environmental groups say that China’s greatest environmental problems arise from a gap between legislation and implementation.

“If you look at China’s air pollution or water pollution control laws, they’re pretty good compared to global standards,” said Ma Tianjie, program director for mainland work at Greenpeace East Asia. “But no matter how good [the laws] look on paper, the true test will always be the willingness of local authorities to enforce them.”

The amended law will remove limits on fines for polluting factories, which are currently so low that many enterprises prefer to pay them than take long-term anti-pollution measures. It will also encourage “studies on the impact environmental quality causes on public health, urging prevention and control of pollution-related diseases,” Xinhua

“Local officials may be demoted or sacked, if they are guilty of misconduct, including covering up environment-related wrongdoing,” the newswire reported. “If offenders' behaviors constitute crimes, they will be held criminally responsible.”

This month, Chinese environmental researchers concluded that nearly 60% of the country’s groundwater quality is either “relatively poor” or “very poor”. A separate official report claimed that 16% of the country’s land is polluted, some of it with chemicals such as arsenic and mercury. Earlier this month, dangerous levels of the carcinogenic chemical benzene were detected in the northwestern city Lanzhou’s water supply, triggering a run on bottled water.

Reducing the country’s noxious smog has also become a challenge for growth-minded local officials. On Thursday, the UK shadow climate change minister Baroness Byrony Worthington led a well-attended "training course" for Chinese mayors on strategies for combatting air pollution.

“Every single person we’ve met so far has mentioned the words, ‘smoggy weather,’” said Worthington, who is on a four-day trip to China representing Globe International, an organisation of legislators focused on sustainable development. “They fear that the external world is pointing and laughing at this stage which China’s environment has
reached – it’s a kind of loss of face.”

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Agreement reached on deep sea mining

David Shukman BBC News 25 Apr 14;

Plans to open the world's first mine in the deep ocean have moved significantly closer to becoming reality.

A Canadian mining company has finalised an agreement with Papua New Guinea to start digging up an area of seabed.

The controversial project aims to extract ores of copper, gold and other valuable metals from a depth of 1,500m.

However, environmental campaigners say mining the ocean floor will prove devastating, causing lasting damage to marine life.

The company, Nautilus Minerals, has been eyeing the seabed minerals off Papua New Guinea (PNG) since the 1990s but then became locked in a lengthy dispute with the PNG government over the terms of the operation.

Under the agreement just reached, PNG will take a 15% stake in the mine by contributing $120m towards the costs of the operation.

Mike Johnston, chief executive of Nautilus Minerals, told BBC News: "It's a taken a long time but everybody is very happy."

"There's always been a lot of support for this project and it's very appealing that it will generate a significant amount of revenue in a region that wouldn't ordinarily expect that to happen."

The mine will target an area of hydrothermal vents where superheated, highly acidic water emerges from the seabed, where it encounters far colder and more alkaline seawater, forcing it to deposit high concentrations of minerals.

The result is that the seabed is formed of ores that are far richer in gold and copper than ores found on land.

Mr Johnston said that a temperature probe left in place for 18 months was found to have "high grade copper all over it".

For decades, the idea of mining these deposits - and mineral-rich nodules on the seabed - was dismissed as unfeasible because of the engineering challenge and high cost.

But the boom in offshore oil and gas operations in recent years has seen the development of a host of advanced deep sea technologies at a time when intense demand for valuable metals has pushed up global prices.

The mine, known as Solwara-1, will be excavated by a fleet of robotic machines steered from a ship at the surface.

The construction of the largest machine, a Bulk Cutter weighing 310 tonnes, has just been completed by an underwater specialist manufacturer, Soil Machine Dynamics (SMD), based in Newcastle, UK.

The plan is to break up the top layer of the seabed so that the ore can be pumped up as a slurry.

The agreement with PNG now clears the way for Nautilus to order a specialist vessel to manage the operation. Mining itself could start within five years.

Environmental campaigners have long argued that seabed mining will be hugely destructive and that the precise effects remain unknown.

Richard Page, oceans campaigner for Greenpeace, said: "The emerging threat of seabed mining is an urgent wake-up call for the need to protect the oceans.

"The deep ocean is not yet mapped or explored and so the potential loss of fauna and biospheres from mining is not yet understood.

"Only 3% of the oceans and only 1% of international waters are protected, which makes them some of the most vulnerable places on earth - what we desperately need is a global network of ocean sanctuaries."

According to Nautilus, the mine will have a minimal environmental footprint, covering the equivalent of about 10 football fields and focusing on an area which is likely to be rapidly re-colonised by marine life.

Mr Johnston said: "It's a resilient system and studies show that life will recover in 5-10 years. An active venting site 1km to the southeast has the same bugs and snails and the current will carry the bugs and snails to the mine site. We expect it to recover quite quickly."

But this will be the first attempt to extract ore from the ocean floor, so the operation - and the company's assurances about the impacts - will be watched closely.

So far, 19 licences to search for seabed minerals have been awarded by the International Seabed Authority, the UN body policing this emerging industry.

The International Seabed Authority (ISA), which has welcomed the Nautilus Minerals agreement with Papua New Guinea, is currently drawing up guidelines for the environmental management of future seabed mining.

Michael Lodge of the ISA told the BBC: "This is a very exciting opportunity and we are looking forward to learning from the tests of the new machine, which is a world first and should give us some valuable insights into technical feasibility and environmental impact."

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Rich nations' greenhouse gas emissions fall in 2012, led by U.S.

Alister Doyle Reuters Yahoo News 25 Apr 14;

OSLO (Reuters) - Industrialized nations' greenhouse gas emissions fell by 1.3 percent in 2012, led by a U.S. decline to the lowest in almost two decades with a shift to natural gas from dirtier coal, official statistics show.

Emissions from more than 40 nations were 10 percent below 1990 levels in 2012, according to a Reuters compilation of national data submitted to the United Nations in recent days that are the main gauge of efforts to tackle global warming.

Still, with emissions rising elsewhere, experts said the rate of decline was too slow to limit average world temperature rises to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial times, a ceiling set by almost 200 nations to avert droughts, heat waves and rising seas.

In 2012 "the success story is the declining emissions in the United States," said Glen Peters, of the Center for International Climate and Environmental Research in Oslo. "Europe is a mix with slow GDP growth offset by a shift to coal in some countries."

Total emissions from industrialized nations fell to 17.3 billion tonnes in 2012 from 17.5 billion in 2011 and compared with 19.2 billion in 1990, the base year for the U.N.'s climate change convention.

U.S. emissions fell 3.4 percent in 2012 to 6.5 billion tonnes, the lowest since 1994, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said on April 15. [ID:nL2N0N71SJ] The fall was linked to low natural gas prices, helped by a shale gas boom and a shift from coal, a mild winter and greater efficiency in transport.

In the European Union, emissions dipped 1.3 percent in 2012 to 4.5 billion tonnes and were 19.2 percent down from 1990 levels, the European Environment Agency said.


Road transport emissions declined in some EU nations such as Italy, Spain and Greece that are suffering prolonged economic downturns. Emissions rose against the trend in Germany and Britain, with more coal used to generate electricity.

Among other major nations, emissions dipped in Canada in 2012 but rose in Russia, Japan and Australia.

The overall decline in emissions by industrialized nations is not enough to offset a rise in world emissions, driven by emerging economies such as China, India, Brazil and South Africa which are using more energy as their populations get richer.

Global emissions surged to 49 billion tonnes in 2010 from 38 billion in 1990, according to the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

Governments aim to agree a pact to slow climate change by the end of 2015 to succeed the U.N.'s Kyoto Protocol, which binds only some developed nations to cut emissions until 2020.

The IPCC says that it is at least 95 percent probable that human activities, rather than natural variations in the climate, are the dominant cause of warming since the mid-20th century. Even so, opinion polls show that many voters are doubtful.

Corinne Le Quere, professor of climate change at Britain's University of East Anglia, said far tougher action was needed to reach the target of limiting global warming to 2 degrees C, with global cuts of about 3 percent a year.

"It requires a transformation in the way we use energy," she said. "In the short term, there are a lot of gains to be made in energy efficiency - in buildings, appliances, transport."

Industrialized nations' emissions have fallen since 1990 partly because many manufacturers had shifted operations abroad to emerging economies with lower costs, she said, meaning there was no overall reduction in emissions.

Counting greenhouse gases emitted to make products consumed in rich nations - from cars to washing machines - emissions by industrialized nations had risen an estimated 6 percent since 1990, she said. Data submitted to the United Nations, however, only cover emissions inside each country.

(Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

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