Best of our wild blogs: 7 Jun 14

Swallowtail moth (Lyssa zampa) in Singapore Biodivesity Records
from News from Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum

Another year of fires, another year of inaction
from news

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Hotter waters from El Nino could kill Singapore’s coral

JORDAN SKADIANG Today Online 7 Jun 14;

Coral bleaching occurs when increased temperatures cause a normal coral, as seen on the left, to turn pale, resulting in the pale coral seen on the right. Photo: Ria Tan

SINGAPORE — The increased likelihood of El Nino could hit Singapore’s coral reefs hard, say nature lovers, who have already observed signs of coral bleaching on the reefs dotting the offshore islands.

With temperatures expected to rise about 1°C on average, as an NEA report issued last week showed, there is concern that the rate of coral bleaching, a phenomenon already plaguing reefs in local waters, will accelerate.

El Nino is the abnormal warming of the tropical Pacific Ocean which, in the case of South-east Asia, leads to prolonged drier and warmer weather.

Coral bleaching occurs when increased temperatures cause algae residing in the coral to be expelled by the millions. Prolonged exposure to higher water temperatures causes the coral to turn pale — hence the term bleaching — and eventually die.

During the strongest recorded El Nino event to date in the 1997 to 1998 period, 50 to 90 per cent of the reef organisms residing in Singapore were adversely affected, resulting in several colonies dying out. In 2010, unusually high water temperatures led to 60 per cent of coral colonies in Singapore showing signs of bleaching.

The NEA has predicted that weak to moderate El Nino conditions could develop in the next few months

Professor Chou Loke Ming, head of the Reef Ecology Lab at the National University of Singapore, said the Republic “can expect to lose some species of corals” if the temperature increases as forecast.

While the NEA did not mention any official plans to mitigate the impact of El Nino on marine life here, Prof Chou said the reefs’ resilience to environmental changes can be increased by managing them properly, adding that the ability of these ecosystems to survive should not be underestimated.

Wildlife enthusiast Ria Tan, who posted photos of coral bleaching at Terumbu Pempang Laut and St John’s Island on her blog Wild Shores of Singapore last week, concurred. “It’s not all bad news”, she said in an email response to queries, citing a report by marine biologist James Guest in 2012 that found certain coral species were recovering rapidly from bleaching, a sign that they were gradually able to cope with higher water temperatures.

While rising sea temperatures are inevitable, Prof Chou believes the fate of the reefs is in the hands of Singaporeans.

“We are blessed with a natural heritage of coral reefs and are within the global centre of coral diversity, with the richest reef species in the whole world. If we throw it away, then we are very poor stewards of the natural environment,” he said. Jordan Skadiang

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Clean Enviro Summit: Start afresh, dump old habits

Grace Chua The Straits Times AsiaOne 7 Jun 14;

To change people's recycling behaviour, one has to change their social norms, pit them against each other, tug at heartstrings or hit where it hurts - the wallet - say international experts at a waste-management convention.

Experts from the United Kingdom, Belgium, Taiwan and Austria shared their various economies' success stories - and some of their failures - at the CleanEnviro Summit Singapore at Marina Bay Sands on Tuesday.

Making recycling compulsory and charging for waste has worked in Belgium, Taiwan and Austria.

In 1998, for instance, the small Belgian city of Antwerp began mandating that residents separate plastic, paper, glass, and vegetable and garden waste, said its municipal sanitation operational director, Mr Tim De Mulder.

It also charges for each bag of waste disposed using high-tech passcard-based bins. Enforcement stops people from simply dumping their waste beside bins.

While residents howled at first, noted Mr De Mulder, they recycled more and their trash shrank - to 145kg per person a year today, down from 555kg a year in 1997.

And the Flemish government ran a campaign featuring cleaning workers saying things like "Every day I lift seven tonnes of waste" or "Every day I clean two football fields' worth of streets". This built respect for cleaning employees, Mr De Mulder added.

Some countries prefer the carrot to the stick, although this does not always do the trick, as some campaigners have found.

For instance, incentives may not work if they reward only those who are already recycling, rather than getting people to start doing it, said Ms Sarahjane Widdowson of environmental policy consultancy Ricardo-AEA, pointing to a prize draw for recycling in the London district of Westminster, which drew just 2,500 entries in an entire year, and barely increased recycling.

As for people here, what they see as a social norm will have to change if recycling is to take off, said the National University of Singapore business school's Professor Catherine Yeung.

" 'Trash all items' is a social norm in Singapore," she said.

She proposes pitting housing blocks, work teams in an office or school classes against one another to see who could recycle more, and giving them feedback on how they do - something that has worked in the United States in decreasing household energy use.

CleanEnviro Summit closes with S$318m of deals
Channel NewsAsia 6 Jun 14;

SINGAPORE: More than S$318 million worth of projects were announced at the second edition of the CleanEnviro Summit Singapore (CESS), with an estimated S$369 million worth of potential deals in the pipeline, the event’s organisers said on Friday (June 6).

Deals signed at the summit, which ended on Wednesday, include a S$15 million project for the development and operation of a metal recovery facility to recover metals from incineration bottom ash. Two tenders for Integrated Public Cleaning contracts worth S$301 million were also awarded.

Organised by the National Environment Agency (NEA), the summit was held from June 1 to 4 in conjunction with the World Cities Summit and Singapore International Water Week. More than 20,000 participants - including ministers, government officials, industry leaders, academics and representatives from international organisations - from 118 countries attended the events, according to the NEA.

Said NEA Chief Executive Officer Ronnie Tay: “The vibrant exchange of best practices and experiences, as well as innovation and technologies across government and industry sectors over the past few days is testament to the strong level of commitment from stakeholders to adopt innovative solutions to address rising challenges. This is a positive step in changing mindsets to make environmental issues a critical part of business decisions.”

The next CleanEnviro Summit Singapore will be held from July 10 to 14, 2016, at the Sands Expo and Convention Centre in Marina Bay Sands, NEA said.

- CNA/cy

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Malaysia: 8 Penang rivers ‘nearly dead’

PREDEEP NAMBIAR New Straits Times 7 Jun 14;

CRITICAL: 4 in Batu Ferringhi dirty, black and emit foul stench

GEORGE TOWN: EIGHT rivers in the state are listed as being nearly “dead”, said a state waterway and sea task force.
Out of the eight rivers, four of them are in Batu Ferringhi, with water quality at Class IV and V.

Class IV are polluted rivers while Class V are “dead” rivers, as they are dirty, black and emit a foul stench.

The rivers are Sungai Batu Ferringhi, Sungai Mas, Sungai Satu and Sungai Kechil. The other nearly “dead” river on the island is Sungai Pinang, located south of here.

Three mainland rivers, Sungai Kereh in Tasek Gelugor, Sungai Pertama in Prai and Sungai Jawi in Nibong Tebal, are listed as critical.

The task force listed 32 recommendations to tackle the pollution. Twenty will be implemented immediately or within a year.

The proposals include installing food and grease traps at wet markets by the municipal councils, and enforcement on abattoirs and indiscriminate discharge of waste into rivers.

Task force chairman Chow Kon Yeow said the rivers were polluted because of discharge of effluents by sewage treatment plants and indiscriminate rubbish dumping from illegal businesses, among others.

“The reduction in water quality is because of discharge of effluents from sewage treatment plants, such as Indah Water Konsortium (IWK) and privately held ones.”

The IWK had been blamed for the Sungai Batu Ferringhi pollution in February, and the Department of Environment’s water samples had reported a higher than usual E. coli bacteria count. IWK, however, said that it was not at fault.

The task force was formed some five months ago after the New Straits Times exposed rampant pollution in the rivers of Batu Ferringhi, threatening to destroy the popular beach destination.

Enforcement, not awareness, lacking, says NGO
New Straits Times 7 Jun 14;

GEORGE TOWN: Environmental interest groups expressed concern about the eight heavily polluted rivers in the state.

Malaysian Nature Society Penang adviser D. Kanda Kumar said enforcement was key as many knew that polluting rivers was not right.

“There is no use educating people anymore. In this day and age of the Internet, it is common knowledge that polluting the river is wrong.

“People know it is wrong but they do it anyway.“It is all about enforcement and political will.”

Kanda acknowledged the 32 measures by the state’s waterway pollution task force, but cautioned that hasty decisions would not solve the problems.

“This is a complex issue and we cannot solve it through piecemeal solutions.

“Piecemeal solutions are just knee-jerk reactions. You must be brave enough to enforce the law.”

Kanda was sceptical over the measures, saying efforts by the authorities over the past 15 years had not yielded results.

Kanda said authorities were looking at the wrong place all these years, as most pollution of rivers occurs upstream.
He said downstream clean-up would be counter-productive, as it was a matter of time before the river became dirty again.

He added that the pollution was made worse with hillside farmers disposing waste and dirt upstream of rivers.
“There are many settlements mushrooming along riverbanks, too. The authorities have resettled some from Sungai Pinang, but there are more.”

Kanda also felt there was a lack of concerted effort to remove illegal eateries, which had been discharging waste directly into the drains.

“The waste goes into the drains. The drains flow into the rivers. How do you expect them to be clean?”
Consumers’ Association of Penang research officer S. Mageswari said the state government had failed to look at the effect of the swelling pollution earlier on.

She said Penang’s dirty waterways have been an age-old problem, despite many measures throughout the years.
“The authorities must look at non-point sources, such as sedimentation from hill-cutting. They approve new factories but fail to see the cumulative effect of the pollution.”

Meanwhile, Penang Gerakan secretary Oh Tong Keong said the state government’s motto, “Cleaner, Greener Penang” was a joke.

He said despite spending a substantial amount to keep Penang clean, the DAP-led government’s efforts had been futile.
“Such campaigns are widely publicised in the newspapers. It seems that the campaigns are mere publicity stunts.”

Oh added that the state government ought to focus on long-term river protection plans rather than short-term superficial publicity.

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Malaysia: Turtles becoming a washed-up problem

VICTORIA BROWN The Star 6 Jun 14;

A dead turtle found washed up at Teluk Bidara beach, Dungun, Terengganu. - Photo taken by Mona Tan

ALONG a pristine beach, with waves lapping on golden sand and the warm sun shining down, lay a rotting carcass of a dead turtle.

Turtles are endangered, but this is not the first time a dead turtle has washed-up to shore for unsuspecting beachgoers to stumble across.

Mona Tan was one unfortunate beachgoer to come across a dead turtle during a trip to Teluk Bidara, Dungun, Terengganu, with her friends.

“When my friends and I first arrived at the beach, we were met by a family from Johor who were the ones that spotted the dead turtle and alerted us,” said Tan.

Tan described the sight as “heart wrenching” - the turtle’s body was already severely decomposed.

“The turtle’s intestines were showing, its body was bloated, and there was a stench,” said Tan.

“At first glance, it looked like the turtle had died due to getting its head caught in a plastic bag.

“But upon closer inspection, we realized that there was no plastic bag on the turtle’s head, but rather its head became so rotten that there wasn’t any flesh left. With only the turtle’s skin remaining, it looked very plastic-like,” she said.

Tan said that there was a string around the turtle's neck which was attached to a rock, leading her to believe that it caused the turtle to drown.

“My friends and I were sad but we didn’t know what else we could do except to take a picture to show everyone what cruelty is going on in the Land of Turtles,” said Tan.

Tan expressed her distress that the encounter with the endangered turtle came after it had died.

“It is sad that we are doing so little to protect what we have,” she said.

Did you know that despite many populations of marine turtles being on the brink of extinction, several are still killed or are in danger of dying?

The natural obstacles faced by young and adult turtles are staggering, but it is the increasing threats caused by humans that are driving them to extinction.

One of the main causes of concern is the harvesting of turtle eggs for consumption, ending the life of a turtle even before it begins.
Some other threats are ocean pollution, coastal development, artificial lighting (hatchlings are drawn to bright lights), fishing gear and global warming.

World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Malaysia communications officer Nadiah Rosli said that having turtles stranded offshore is pretty much an “open secret”.

“Terengganu is currently home to one of the largest Green Turtle populations in Peninsular Malaysia, but they are under threat,” said Nadiah.

Nadiah said she has come across several cases where fishermen would kill turtles which get caught in their nets.

“Many fishermen would resort to killing the turtle, getting it out of the nets and dumping it in the sea, so that they can fix their nets,” she said.

Some turtles also fall victim to the speed boat's propeller blades.

“I saw a turtle in Malacca which got its flipper cut off, we saved it, but we hope that it will survive,” she said.

It is an unfortunate reality to know that the turtle populations in Malaysia is decreasing, and at this rate we risk losing the species forever.

According to WWF, records from 1984-2008 showed a 99.9% decline of Leatherbacks, 100% for Olive Ridleys, 70% for Hawksbills and more than 60% for the Green Turtles.

The statistic is staggering but our Federal Government is still not implementing the laws we need to further protect this species.

"We are still pushing for a Federal ban on the consumption and sale of turtle eggs,” said Nadiah.

“At present, there is no national ban on the consumption of turtle eggs, with only the sale of Leatherback Turtle eggs banned in Terengganu while the eggs of other turtle species can be consumed and traded.

“We submitted a memorandum in 2010, but we received no response. Sabah and Sarawak have already issued a ban on the sale and consumption of turtle eggs, which is great.

"But we are still advocating for the law to be implemented here in Peninsula Malaysia,” she added.

Thankfully, there are organisations like WWF which are raising awareness on the plight of the turtles through public programmes.

With World Sea Turtle Day coming up on June 16, WWF will be celebrating this day by raising awareness on the need to protect this endangered species in a two-day roadshow in Terengganu on June 21 and 22.

WWF will be travelling to several towns starting from Setiu (the northern tip of Terengganu), to Cukai (the southern tip of the state).

“One of the key messages communicated at these outreach programmes is to not sell, buy or eat turtle eggs,” said Nadiah.

“We want to raise awareness on the protection of turtles as a whole. We need to protect their nesting beaches and to prevent unplanned development from encroaching their territory,” she added.

This species is not only the icon and pride of Terengganu but also a significant natural and cultural heritage for the state.

Nadiah urged the public to develop a sense of ownership for this species.

“Turtles are an icon to our country, it’s no point to hail them as the state animal of Terengganu or put them on our RM20 note if they are going to go extinct.

“We should be proud to have this species in Malaysia, and we should do more to protect them,” she said.

Turtles are well known animals, almost everyone would know how one looks like. But how many know the danger turtles are in? How many people realise that if we do not do anything, turtles are going to become extinct?

There is room for a lot more awareness programmes and conservation projects in Malaysia. But I believe that the Federal Government should take the first step by implementing the necessary laws to protect the species.

So let us all work towards the protection of this species before the only turtles we see are on pictures and our RM20 notes.

What are your thoughts on turtle conservation in Malaysia? Share your thoughts in the comment section below.

For more information on WWF’s World Sea Turtle Day Celebration roadshow in Terengganu on June 21 and 22, keep an eye out their website and Facebook page (

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Indonesia: Fitryanti Pakiding - Saving turtles helping people

Netty Dharma Somba, The Jakarta Post 6 Jun 14;

Fitry is one of nine winners of the prestigious 2014 annual Whitley Awards, the so-called Green Oscars, which recognize conservation leaders across the globe.

The 41-year-old lecturer and researcher won for leading work protecting the largest remaining aggregation of leatherback turtles in the Pacific, on Jamursba Medi and Wermon beaches, and for empowering a community.

The Shears Foundation through the Whitley Fund for Nature awarded a total of £35,000 (US$58,565) in installments for the conservation and community empowerment work that Fitry and her team at the State University of Papua (Unipa) have done and will do.

“I am very thankful for the fund because it will enable us to expand the advocacy program in more villages for at least 10 months,” Fitry told The Jakarta Post recently. She has been teaching in the university’s agriculture and agricultural technology department since 1998.

Fitry said that her team has been working on the program since 2005. Although leatherbacks are no longer exploited on the beaches, a low rate of successful hatchings has hindered the recovery of the critically endangered population and poaching still occurs in other areas.

The beaches and areas around the beaches are under the indigenous communal land tenure rights of the people in three villages – Saubeba, Warmandi and Wau in Manokwari, West Papua.

The communities live in poverty, rendering them unable to support marine conservation program.

“We realize that the success of efforts to stop the leatherback’s decline lies in empowering the people. In 2010, we started an advocacy program to elevate their capacity and welfare,” Fitry, who earned a master’s degree in agricultural economics at Oklahoma State University in the US, said.

A lack of money meant that the team could only run the advocacy program in Saubeba.

Unipa sent a crew of eight to monitor and guard nests and hatchlings on the beach led by conservationist Richardo F. Tapilatu.

Fitry herself led three supervisors, two field assistants and two project managers in the village, supported by about 15 students from the university in a yearly program.

“Each year, we would evaluate our work and look for more funding to sustain it,” she said.

Fitry’s team helped local residents improve their agricultural and game-meat processing skills; as well as introduced post-harvest technology to produce cooking oil, among other things.

With help from the students, the team also ran literacy and basic arithmetic classes, as well as campaigns on turtle conservation for children.

“We held ‘turtle camps’ on the beach to nurture their love and awareness of the endangered species,” Fitry said.

Thanks to the award, the team will be able to triple its efforts by running similar programs at the other two villages, she added.

Fitryanti, who was born in Tana Toraja, South Sulawesi, said that she fell in love with nature and wildlife during her youth, which was spent in Jayapura, Papua. “As a child, I loved playing in the woods and rivers near my house. As an adult, I became more aware of the vast richness of Indonesian flora and fauna when translating a book series on Indonesian ecology.”

She became interested in leatherback conservation after learning of the declining population in the species’ last stronghold. “It happens in our back yard, in West Papua. I felt that I could help the program with my knowledge by empowering the people around the nesting area. Although they live near the beach, most of them are farmers”.

Fitryanti said she hoped that she could continue the program and that the people of Saubeba, Warmandi and Wau would be able to live in prosperity and become the guardians of the turtles.

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Give Hong Kong's green turtles a fighting chance to survive

South China Morning Post 7 Jun 14;

Michael Lau says if Hong Kong wants to safeguard its endangered green turtle population, action is needed to protect the waters around the last remaining breeding ground on Lamma

Seven species of sea turtle inhabit the world's tropical and subtropical waters. Six of these are threatened, while the status of the Australian flatback turtle is listed as "data deficient". Sea turtles face a multitude of threats, from being accidentally caught and drowned in fishing nets to the overexploitation of their eggs at their nesting beaches.

Five species of sea turtle can be found in Hong Kong. One of them, the green turtle, actually nests here. This giant used to nest on the beaches of several offshore islands, and the eggs were harvested and sold by local villagers. Now, only Sham Wan on Lamma Island supports a very small breeding population.

A decline in sea turtle populations has been observed in many locations across Asia. One increasingly significant cause is the exploitation of turtles for trade in their products or even in whole specimens.

A report by Traffic, the wildlife trade monitoring network, indicates that there has been an increase in demand for sea turtle products in China. There have also been strong indications that some fishing vessels from China are targeting sea turtles in their operations in tropical Asia. This is reflected by a growing number of cases of Chinese fishing vessels being detained by Southeast Asian countries and protected sea turtles being found on board.

Green turtles are slow to mature: it takes between 26 and 40 years before they are able to breed. Once they reach adulthood, they have few natural enemies and can live and reproduce for a long time.

The most vulnerable stages of their lives come when they are in the egg and when they are small hatchlings. It is estimated that only two to three turtles in every thousand survive to return to their natal beaches to breed.

Their exceptional orientation abilities ensure that they can find their way across vast oceans to return to the natal beach to nest; however, when subject to heavy exploitation, breeding becomes extremely difficult and it takes a long time for a depleted population to bounce back, as there is unlikely to be any "recruitment" from other, healthier populations.

Another special adaption of sea turtles is that their sex is determined by the temperature at which their eggs are incubated. If the incubation temperature is below 29 degrees Celsius, males, predominantly, will be produced, while only females will be produced at temperatures above 30.4 degrees. Rises in temperature resulting from climate change pose a great uncertainty for their future survival.

Green turtles migrate long distances from their breeding sites to feeding grounds, which increases their chance of coming into harm's way. Satellite tracking by Hong Kong's Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department shows turtles can travel several hundred kilometres from Hong Kong, to waters near Hainan Island , eastern Guangdong and Vietnam. Adults feed mainly on algae and sea grass but also eat some invertebrates. They often mistake pieces of floating plastic for squid. Today, ingestion of non-digestible plastics is a common cause of sea turtle death.

Hong Kong's nesting green turtle population now probably consists of just a few adult females. Some years may see zero nesting activity.

In 1999, the government established Sham Wan as a restricted area, with no entry allowed without a permit during the nesting season. The fisheries department also patrols the nesting beach, and when natural incubation of the eggs is deemed too risky, artificial incubation will be carried out.

These efforts have resulted in baby turtles being hatched successfully either naturally or artificially.

However, the weakest link in conserving this species here is that the coastal waters adjacent to the nesting beach at Sham Wan are not protected and are subject to disturbance from people engaging in water sports.

It is in these same shallow waters that male green turtles will wait for the females - to mate with them before they lumber up the beach to lay their eggs.

The waters around South Lamma were identified as a potential marine park or reserve in a previous planning study. Indeed, with the Convention on Biological Diversity being extended to Hong Kong in 2011, we have a responsibility to contribute to the convention's biodiversity targets, one of which states that 10 per cent of coastal and marine waters should be conserved as protected areas by 2020.

To save the remnants of our green turtle population, we should spare no effort to protect the waters off Sham Wan and give these turtles space and time, and thus the best possible chance, to recover.

Michael Lau is senior head of programme for local biodiversity and regional wetlands at WWF-Hong Kong

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