Best of our wild blogs: 18 Jun 14

28 Jun (Sat): Help needed at Tampines Eco Park
from Green Volunteers

Coral bleaching check at Terumbu Bemban
from wonderful creation and wild shores of singapore

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A glimpse of the future at Jurong Lake District

Gurveen Kaur My Paper AsiaOne 18 Jun 14;

SINGAPORE - Litterbugs busted from afar. Rubbish bins analysed from a distance. Even traffic lights adjusted to smoothen travel on the roads.

The future is smart and you will soon get a glimpse of it in Singapore's west, as Jurong Lake District becomes a testbed for how the Republic uses technology to ease the flow and movement of its people. A smart nation, in other words.

The 360ha area - the size of Marina Bay - will be turned into a high-tech "playground" where tech-savvy denizens can even find driverless vehicles plying the roads

They are linked and controlled by more than 1,000 sensors.

You can better predict where and when to take a cab, avoiding long queues, with a system that can monitor the crowd at taxi stands.

On the roads, traffic lights can also be timed and adjusted to ease the gridlock while pedestrians just need to turn on their smartphones to find out where's the nearest sheltered walkway to avoid the hot sun or rain.

There will also be more eyes on the street.

Litterbugs and those who park illegally or light up in prohibited zones can be easily picked up with advanced video-sensing or detection technologies.

Just how quickly a rubbish bin is filled compared to another can be analysed and used to allocate where cleaners should be deployed first.

These are among the 15 trials that will be conducted in the third quarter of this year which are aimed at improving urban mobility, and improving sensing and situational awareness.

Led by the Infocomm Development Authority (IDA), the tests are being carried out by the public and private sectors.

"Insights gained from this data would enable us to better anticipate citizens' needs and help in better delivery of services," said Minister for Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim at the opening ceremony of imbX 2014 yesterday.

"We believe that a smart nation can become a reality if we successfully combine policy, people and technology in a concerted fashion," said Dr Yaacob.

Beyond Jurong, smart solutions are being explored in homes as well, like a system that enables everyday objects such as the shirt on your back, cutlery and beds to "talk" to one another.

Dubbed the Internet of Things, the high-tech system can better help the growing number of elderly here.

For instance, the cutlery a person eats from and a wristband that he is wearing could detect if he is not eating well and has low blood pressure, and hence, prompt him to see a doctor.

These efforts, said IDA assistant chief executive Khoong Hock Yun, will allow Singapore to be the "leading lighthouse for what a smart nation can be".

Jurong Lake District to serve as Smart Nation Platform test bed
Nicole Tan Channel NewsAsia 17 Jun 14;

SINGAPORE: Some of the key technologies that will make up the Smart Nation Platform (SNP) will be tested at the Jurong Lake District.

When fully rolled out, the technologies are expected to make life better and more efficient for people living in and moving around Singapore.

One way this will be carried out is through the use of sensors installed around the island to collect data on the behaviour and preferences of people. Authorities can then use the data to facilitate planning and enhance urban mobility.

For example, video sensors at taxi stands can help to monitor the length of taxi queues. This real-time information can then be provided to commuters to help them make better travel decisions, and also to alert taxi companies as to where there is the highest demand for cabs.

Sensors could also be used to monitor the amount of rubbish in bins, or detect littering, so that cleaning schedules can be fine-tuned to be more efficient.

Such monitoring systems are among 15 technologies being tested as part of a pilot programme at the Jurong Lake District. More than 1,000 sensors will be deployed as part of the programme.

To facilitate data collection from these sensors, above-ground (AG) boxes could be installed islandwide. There are already three AG boxes implemented as part of the pilot programme, with further plans to roll out some 100 more across the island.

AG boxes will allow “people to either take a piece of wire from their sensor -- it can be a smell sensor, sound sensor, air sensor, or CCTV -- and connect it to the box, which will feed it with both connectivity and power,” said Khoong Hock Yun, assistant chief executive of the Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore (IDA).

“It provides various potential services, like light control systems, traffic monitoring, environment sensors, pedestrian crossing, speeding monitors, traffic light controls, monitoring how crowded a junction is, through such a box."

These AG boxes will also boost street-level Internet connectivity by supplying points for fibre access and power.

As more data is collected under the Smart Nation Platform, some firms are already testing applications that can tap on such information to benefit citizens. These include apps that can help users, particularly those with mobility constraints, to find travel routes that cater to their specific needs.

“We are developing the app, but the data set is, at the moment, still in a gathering phase,” said Tan Teck Guan, vice president of land information systems at ST Electronics.

“The engine that we have is to make use of all this data to determine the best route for the people to use. The idea is to organise the data, manage the data, and provide it in a useful manner so that people can find it beneficial to themselves."

IDA and partner agencies are working with more than 20 industry players to test such technology from the third quarter of 2014.

- CNA/ec

Jurong Lake District to be test bed for 'smart nation'
Irene Tham Technology Correspondent The Straits Times AsiaOne 18 Jun 14;

LATER this year, the Jurong Lake District will become a mini version of a "smart city" - with more than 1,000 sensors deployed to control and monitor everything from traffic to street lights, and crowded buses.

Its residents will be able to use phone applications that can help them find sheltered walkways. Motorists stuck in a jam may find traffic light timings adjusted automatically to ease the gridlock, but they should also watch where they park, for there will be high-tech cameras that can help wardens issue tickets for illegal parking more swiftly.

These are just some of the 15 innovations to be tried out in the area, which was yesterday named as the test bed for Singapore's push to be a "smart nation".

"What would a smart nation look like? The upcoming Jurong Lake District would provide us with a glimpse into the future," Minister for Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim said yesterday at the opening of the week-long Infocomm Media Business Exchange (imbX) trade show at Marina Bay Sands.

"We believe that a smart nation can become a reality if we successfully combine policy, people and technology in a concerted fashion."

In the trial starting from the third quarter, sensors will be deployed in parks to adjust the lighting based on factors such as the time of day and motion detection.

They will be able to detect illegal smoking and determine the cleanliness of public areas. Sensors on smartphones can even send data on how bumpy a bus ride is.

Also being tested are driverless vehicles that may eventually be used to ferry people from the Jurong East MRT station to nearby buildings.

One key innovation will be the pooling of all this smart infrastructure among different government agencies, which can lead to more efficiency and cost savings, said Mr Khoong Hock Yun, assistant chief executive officer of the Infocomm Development Authority (IDA).

For instance, the Ministry of Home Affairs and the Land Transport Authority have been setting up more surveillance cameras and sensors across Singapore, but these efforts tend not to be coordinated. In the Jurong test bed, public agencies will be sharing the use of equipment such as "above-ground boxes" built by telco M1.

Such boxes are typically installed at traffic junctions, parks or bus stops to power surveillance cameras or traffic sensors.

They can be plugged into the national fibre broadband network in order to transmit the data they collect to the relevant public agencies promptly.

Plans are under way for an islandwide deployment of 100 of these boxes as early as next year.

The IDA, which did not say how much the 15 trials in the Jurong Lake District will cost, will also be testing what is known as a "heterogeneous network".

This will allow mobile users to switch to another cellular provider, or to Wi-Fi operators when, say, a service outage occurs. Trials are expected next year.

Jurong resident Lee Meicheng, 40, an administrator, is looking forward particularly to the new technology that promises to show residents where covered walkways are in her estate.

"I will appreciate the phone app as my mother is in a wheelchair and I need to know how to wheel her around on a rainy day without getting wet," she said.

Housewife Sakura Siow, 40, said having a "super traffic auntie" may be a good thing. "My car was vandalised before, but the culprit was not caught. Hopefully, the high-tech installations will change things," she said.

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Malaysia: Enough food to weather El Nino

The Star 18 Jun 14;

THERE will be adequate food supply for the people during the anticipated dry season due to the El Nino phenomenon, expected to strike the country in the next few months, says Agriculture and Agro-based Industry Deputy Minister Datuk Tajuddin Abdul Rahman.

He added that measures were in place to prevent food shortages, especially of rice, which was the main staple of the people.

“The country has a stockpile of rice for 45 days, but this amount can be increased to last up to between four and six months,” he said during Question Time.

He said Malaysia’s padi fields are provided with irrigation canals and the ministry will provide tube well facilities so that rice production will not be affected by the dry weather.

On the supply of chicken, Tajuddin said the country had “more than enough” supply for the population.

“An average of 1.7 million chickens are produced daily. Sometimes, this number can go up to two million during festive seasons.

As for fruit, Tajuddin said plantations in the highlands such as Cameron Highlands and Lojing, Kelantan, will not be affected by El Nino.

“There is enough water supply in the highlands and it is unlikely for crops to be affected there,” he said.

Tajuddin was replying to a question by Dr Mansor Abd Rahman (BN - Sik), who asked the ministry to state the initiatives taken by the Government to prevent a food crisis in the country should the El Nino phenomenon arrive.

El Nino begins as a giant pool of warm water swelling in the eastern tropical Pacific that sets off a chain reaction of weather events around the world, some devastating and some beneficial.

The El Nino generally results in lower than average rainfall in Malaysia during the dry South-West Monsoon, which started on May 15 and is expected to continue until September.

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Indonesia: Activists March on Bali Governor’s Office to Protest Reclamation of Benoa Bay

Made Arya Kencana Jakarta Globe 18 Jun 14;

Denpasar. Hundreds of activists and residents demonstrated on Tuesday outside the office of Bali’s governor in the island’s capital, rallying against a presidential decree supporting the reclamation of Benoa Bay.

Organized by Bali’s Forum Against Reclamation (ForBali) the protest began with a march from the Bajra Sandhi monument in Renon, Denpasar, and ended at the doorsteps of Governor Made Mangku Pastika’s office.

Demonstrators carried posters and banners calling on the government to “annul 2014 presidential decree no. 51” and pleading, “don’t reclaim Benoa Bay!”

A 2011 decree on the spatial planning of Denpasar, Badung, Gianyar and Tabanan deemed Benoa Bay a conservation area and, therefore, off limits to commercial development.

The governor then backpedaled on the decision by adding an article exempting certain coastal areas — Zone P — from the previously laid out rules, classifying it a public zone and allowing a range of activities, which includes — among others — fishery, tourism, residential development and places of worship.

According to the revision, Benoa Bay now falls under Zone P, changing it from a “water conservation area” to a buffer zone open for forms of exploitation.

Rally coordinator Wayan Gendo Suardana said the revised decree was meant to pave the way for Tirta Wahana Bali International (TWBI), a company owned by Jakarta-based businessman Tomy Winata, to reclaim the bay.

“It has been turned into zone for public purposes. As a consequence, it can be reclaimed,” Gendo said. “The presidential decree was not made to protect the Balinese, but pave the way for investment.

“In the old presidential decree, there was no buffer zone. This [the buffer zone] is merely a way to reduce the conservation area for the interest of capital owners. This is a bad precedent of manipulative spatial planning.

“This is a human rights violation using the law; the state bows down to the interest of capital owners.”

If plans for a reclamation are put into effect, Gendo added, the environmental ramifications could potentially be devastating; erosion, irrevocable damage to mangrove forests and pollution flooding the four rivers that feed into Benoa Bay.

“This project increases the risk of disaster, mainly tsunamis,” he said, adding that ForBali is preparing to file a suit with the Supreme Court to revoke the additional article.

“Our team has been working [on the suit] and we won’t stop until we are successful.”

A decree permitting the Benoa Bay reclamation project was first issued without fanfare on Dec. 26, 2012, but was later revoked by Bali Governor Made Mangku Pastika.

However, the governor later granted TWBI permission to conduct a feasibility study — detailed research analyzing the pros and cons of a proposed business venture — on the area.

The land-use permit issued for this project, meanwhile, makes provisions for a myriad of commercial activities, including yacht marinas, race tracks, casinos, nightclubs, a large entertainment complex and theme park, resort hotels, a golf course, a luxury shopping complex, restaurants and apartment buildings.

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Huge haul of rare anteater scales seized in Hong Kong

AFP Yahoo News 18 Jun 14;

Hong Kong customs officials have seized $2 million-worth of scales from the endangered pangolin, or "scaly anteater", authorities said Tuesday, in their biggest such haul in five years.

Officials intercepted two shipments bound for Southeast Asia containing three tonnes of pangolin scales from Africa around the end of last month, amid a rise in illegal smuggling of the species.

Pangolin scales are prized as an ingredient in traditional Chinese medicine while the rare anteater's tough, scaly skin is also used in fashion accessories in Asia.

Prices on the black market have surged in recent months as illegal trade has boomed, partly to meet growing demand from mainland China, according to activists.

"The seizure was the largest in five years for Hong Kong," a customs spokeswoman told AFP, adding that the raids uncovered 3,300 kilos (8,160 pounds) of the scales, worth about HK$17 million (USD$2.19 million).

"Customs officers selected a shipment arriving from Kenya for inspection and found about 1,000 kilos of pangolin scales. With subsequent intelligence gathered... customs officers found about 2,340 kilos of pangolin scales," a customs statement said.

One man has been arrested in connection with the haul.

The larger shipment originated from Cameroon disguised as sawn timber.

Pangolins are small, insect-eating mammals covered nearly entirely with keratin scales -- the same protein that makes up human hair.

The scales are used in Chinese traditional medicine to treat allergies and boost male virility, while the meat is also considered a delicacy in China and Vietnam.

But activists say it is a myth that pangolin has medicinal properties.

"There are still many people in Asia, notably in Vietnam and China, who mistakenly believe that consuming pangolin scales or rhino horn can cure cancer and other illnesses. It cannot," Alex Hofford, a Hong Kong-based consultant to the charity WildAid, told AFP.

"The increase in the price of pangolin scales reflects the spiralling price of rhino horn, as pangolin is often used as a substitute for rhino horn," he said.

Prices per kilo have risen to HK$5,000 from HK$2,000 five years ago, the South China Morning Post quoted an unnamed government source saying.

Trade in pangolins is banned by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species.

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Australia sees chance of El Nino at 70 percent, some signs ease

Colin Packham PlanetArk 18 Jun 14;

Australia's weather bureau said on Tuesday the chance of an El Nino forming over the next few months remains at 70 percent, though the agency said some key indicators associated with the weather pattern had eased in recent weeks.

"We still believe an El Nino is likely," Andrew Watkins, Supervisor Climate Prediction at the Australian Bureau of Meteorology, said.

"The recent observations may suggest a later El Nino and it has perhaps reduced the chance of very strong El Nino like we saw in 1997/1998."

The bureau said ocean warming had leveled off, counter to typical observations prior to previous El Nino events when temperatures continued to rise.

The agency also said it had observed a recent positive value for the Southern Oscillation Index - a measure of large-scale fluctuations in air pressure occurring between the western and eastern tropical Pacific. A positive value is linked to abnormally cold ocean waters across the eastern tropical Pacific associated with an opposite La Nina weather event.

However, despite the easing of some indicators, the Australian bureau said it continued to expected an El Nino in the southern hemisphere's 2014 spring.

El Nino - a warming of sea temperatures in the Pacific - affects wind patterns and can trigger both floods and drought in different parts of the globe, hitting crops and food supply.

U.S. and Japanese weather forecasters also expect an El Nino to develop.

(Reporting by Colin Packham; Editing by Ed Davies)

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World's energy systems vulnerable to climate impacts, report warns

Generators from nuclear reactors to coal-fired power plants will feel the brunt of the weather changes
Fiona Harvey 18 Jun 14;

Rising sea levels, extremes of weather and an increase in the frequency of droughts and floods will all play havoc with the world's energy systems as climate change takes hold, a new report has found.

Energy companies are more often cited as part of the problem of climate change, generating the lion's share of the world's greenhouse gas emissions, amounting to around 40% of the total. But they will also suffer as global warming picks up pace, as generators – from nuclear reactors to coal-fired power plants – feel the brunt of the weather changes.

Many large plants are particularly at risk from droughts, because they need water to cool their facilities, and floods, because they lack protection from sudden storms. Electricity distribution networks are also likely to be affected.

The vulnerability of energy systems to natural shocks was shown starkly when the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan had to be closed down following the 2011 tsunami, which prompted governments around the world to review their nuclear policies.

The World Energy Council (WEC), which compiled the study along with Cambridge University and the European Climate Foundation, urged generators to examine their vulnerability to climate change, saying that with suitable adaptations – such as protecting power plants from water shortages and building resilience into power networks – the worst of the problems could be avoided.

Christoph Frei, secretary general of WEC, said governments must play a key role in ensuring the world's vital infrastructure is protected: "Climate change is certain to impact the energy sector. We need robust and transparent policy frameworks to unlock the long-term investments that are urgently needed to deliver the future we want. Leadership will be required at all levels."

Despite efforts to increase energy efficiency, the amount of energy used globally is still set to rise. But the effects of this could be mitigated if companies invest in renewable and low-carbon forms of energy, such as windfarms and nuclear power.

Another key focus must be energy distribution networks – grids – according to the report, as new technology can be used to make grids "smarter", saving energy by distributing energy from generators to users in more intelligent ways than has been the case with existing grid infrastructure technology, much of which is now decades old.

"The time has come to get real about the challenges facing the energy sector," Frei said.

Hundreds of billions of pounds will be needed to invest around the globe in making energy systems more resilient in the coming decade, but most of this is money that must be spent anyway, just to keep the current systems going. If that investment is directed towards lower carbon fuels and greater efficiency, this could cut carbon dioxide emissions in the longer term, the study found. Switching to low-carbon energy would also reduce air pollution and bring health benefits, the authors said.

However, there is little sign so far that energy companies around the world have taken up this message. Fossil fuels continue to dominate new investments in energy generation capacity, according to the International Energy Agency. Attempts to create a global price on carbon emissions, that could help to reverse this trend, have largely foundered.

Philippe Joubert, executive chairman of WEC's global electricity initiative, and former president of Alstom Power, said large companies were taking note. "Leading businesses in this sector increasingly realise that business as usual is no longer possible or acceptable."

The report, released at the Asian Clean Energy Forum on Wednesday in Manila, was based on the latest findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which predicted that the effects of climate change would become vastly more apparent in the coming decades, if no, or inadequate, action was taken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

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Climate change threatens tourism as ski slopes thaw, seas rise

Alister Doyle PlanetArk 18 Jun 14;

Climate change is a growing threat to tourism, from thawing ski resorts to coral reefs hit by warmer seas, and the industry itself should do more to curb its soaring greenhouse gas emissions, a study showed on Tuesday.

Tourism's greenhouse gas emissions, on current rising trends buoyed by ever more travel, are set to reach about 10 percent of the world total by 2025 from between 3.9 and 6 percent now, it said.

"The tourism industry will be severely impacted by climate change," according to the study by Cambridge University's Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL) and its Judge Business School and the European Climate Foundation.

Coral reefs, for instance, contributed $11.5 billion a year to tourism earnings and are under threat from warmer sea temperatures, rising sea levels and an acidification caused by a build-up of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, it said.

And warmer winters are shortening winter sports seasons and threatening the viability of some ski resorts, according to the report which distils findings about tourism from studies this year by the U.N. panel of climate scientists.

Ski resorts can try to adapt by attracting summer hikers, for instance, or buy more snow making machines. "But it is hard to tell a positive story around ski resorts," Eliot Whittington, climate change director at CISL, told Reuters.


A few areas of the world might benefit from a shift in tourism, such as Alaska or northern Europe. And elsewhere, seasons may shift.

The report said the Costa Brava region of Spain's Mediterranean coast, for instance, was trying to draw tourists outside the summer months, responding to a lack of water and high temperatures during the high season.

The study also said there was some evidence of people traveling to new destinations at risk of vanishing in a warming world, such as glaciers, the Arctic, Antarctica or coral atolls.

"However, the opportunities presented by such 'last-chance' tourism will, by definition, be short-lived," the report said.

It also said that an increase of 1 meter (3 feet) in sea level rise this century - the upper bound of scenarios by the U.N. panel - would damage up to 60 percent of resort properties in the Caribbean and swamp many airports and ports.

"Every part of the industry needs to ... think about what more can be done to adapt to climate change, as well as how to continue the process of reducing the impact of their operations on the environment," Stephen Farrant, director of the International Tourism Partnership, said in a statement attached to the report.

Travel accounts for about 75 percent of tourism's greenhouse gas emissions. More efficient planes, vehicles and greener fuels could help curb emissions, it said.

(Reporting By Alister Doyle, editing by Louise Heavens)

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Obama to expand marine reserves and crack down on seafood black market

President vows to 'protect our most precious marine landscapes' as Leonardo DiCaprio pledges $7m to 'meaningful' ocean protection
Suzanne Goldenberg The Guardian 17 Jun 14;

Barack Obama used his executive powers as president on Tuesday to create the world's largest marine sanctuary, banning commercial fishing, mining and oil exploration in a vast expanse of the Pacific.

The move – which saw Obama once again bypass an unwilling Congress to advance his environmental agenda – could potentially put nearly 800,000 sq miles in the south-central Pacific off-limits to commercial exploitation.

In a related measure, the White House announced a new task force to crack down on illegal fishing operations and black market seafood making its way to US supermarkets.

"We can protect our oceans for future generations," Obama said in a brief video address to an international ocean summit at the US State Department.

Seeking to deflect an anticipated Republican backlash against his use of his executive authority, Obama said he was following the lead of earlier presidents by expanding an existing protection zone.

“Like Presidents Clinton and Bush before me I am going to use my authority as president to protect some of our most precious marine landscapes, just like we do for mountains and rivers and forests,” Obama told the summit.

The marine sanctuary under consideration would vastly expand the areas protected around the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument, which was originally established by George Bush.

The area, around seven uninhabited islands and atolls under US control, contains some of the most pristine marine environments in the world, the White House said in a statement.

The statement said Obama would decide on the final geographic scope of the protection zone after consulting scientists, conservation experts, and fishing interests.

But the Washington Post which had an early look at the announcement, said the sanctuary could extend up to 780,000 square miles, doubling the area of ocean under protection.

Obama was also convening a task force to fight unreported and illegal fishing, the White House said.

Officials said rogue trawlers undermine government's efforts to manage fish stocks. Scientists estimate about one of every five fish is caught illegally, robbing up to $23bn a year from legitimate commercial fishing operations around the world.

The task force would work on coming up with a comprehensive strategy to end pirate fishing by the end of 2014, the White House advisor, John Podesta, said.

In addition to the economic and environmental costs, he said rogue fishing operations were a security threat – “vectors for criminals who traffic in guns, drugs and other human beings”.

The task force will look at requiring fishing vessels to install transponders to track their movements at sea and the source of seafood that ends up in US supermarkets. “Customers will know exactly who caught it, where and when,” the secretary of state, John Kerry, told the summit.

The twin announcements from the White House were intended to spur action from government officials, business leaders and environmental groups attending the ocean summit. “For this effort to succeed, it has to be bigger than any one country,” Obama said.

Moments after his video address, the actor Leonardo DiCaprio told the summit he would donate an additional $7m over the next two years to “meaningful” ocean protection. The actor had earlier given about $2m to the Oceana conservation group.

On Monday, Kiribati's president, Anote Tong, said the Pacific island nation would close off an ocean area the size of California to commercial exploitation by the end of this year. Tong said the ban on commercial fishing in the 157,630-sq-mile area protected area would help speed the recovery of tuna and other fish stocks.

The marine protection area Obama was proposing was originally envisaged by Bush. In his last two weeks in the White House, Bush used his executive powers as president to set up marine sanctuaries in three areas in the Pacific.

Obama was now considering expanding one of those areas, near Wake Island and six other uninhabited atolls.

The Pew Charitable Trusts estimated the move could potentially expand the area Bush protected by a factor of nine to some 780,000 sq miles.

Expanding other sanctuaries designated by Bush, such as the Northern Mariana Islands, would increase the area to 1.5m sq miles, according to Pew.

But the move was in some ways symbolic. Because the islands are uninhabited, there is very little fishing in the area Obama proposes to protect, and no indication mining or drilling is imminent.

However, scientists say bigger marine sanctuaries are easier to enforce and allow more species to recover.

More than 350 scientists this week signed on to a letter to the White House urging Obama to expand marine sanctuaries to up to 20% of each ocean region under US control.

Conservation groups praised Obama's move, as well as his proposals for tracking seafood.

Scientists believe as much as a third of the wild-caught seafood sold in US is landed by illegal fishing trawlers, undermining efforts to sustainably manage stocks

The Oceana conservation group said the task force was “a historic step forward” to stop illegal fishing and seafood fraud.

“Tracking where, when and how our seafood is caught, and ensuring that this basic information follows the product through each step in the supply chain, will help to eliminate seafood fraud and the illegal fishing it can disguise,” the group said in a statement.

Other environmental groups praised the action on illegal fishing, but urged Congress to implement a treaty that would put identification numbers on all fishing vessels and curb landings of illegal fish catches.

“As one of the top seafood importers in the world, the US has a responsibility to ensure that every fish bought in our stores, markets, and restaurants is fully traceable to where it was legally caught,” the World Wildlife Fund said.

Expansion of US marine protected zone could double world reserves
Matt McGrath BBC News 17 Jun 14;

The US plans to create the world's biggest marine protected area (MPA) in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

The White House will extend an existing protected area, known as the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument.

Fishing and drilling would be banned from an area that could eventually cover two million sq km.

The extended zone would double the world's fully protected marine reserves.

Rare species

The Pacific Remote Islands Area is controlled by the US and consists of seven scattered islands, atolls and reefs that lie between Hawaii and American Samoa.

Essentially uninhabited, the waters that surround these remote islands are home to a wide range of species including corals, seabirds, sharks and vegetation not found anywhere else in the world.

In 2009, President Bush declared the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument, giving the islands the same level of protection as statues or cultural sites.

Now President Obama has signalled that he will extend the area that will be off limits to fishing and mineral exploitation to the limit of US economic control - some 200 nautical miles around the islands.

The White House said the final size of the protected zone would depend on consultations with scientists, fishing and conservation organisations.

The Washington Post reported that this would eventually cover up two million sq km.

"This area contains some of the most pristine tropical marine environment in the world," said White House senior counsel John Podesta, who made the announcement.

"These tropical coral reefs and associated ecosystems are among the marine environments facing the most serious threat from climate change and ocean acidification."

Financial incentives
Speaking ahead of the announcement, President Obama said that protecting marine areas wasn't just a good idea for the environment, it made good economic sense as well.

"If we ignore these problems, if we drain our oceans of their resources, we won't just be squandering one of humanity's greatest treasures, we will be cutting off one of the worlds major sources of food and economic growth," he said.

Last year, attempts to create huge marine reserves in Antarctica failed when Russia blocked plans by the US and others for a third time.

Ocean campaigners have welcomed the new US plan as an important step.

"This is incredibly significant and shows global leadership from the US on this issue" said Karen Sack from the Pew Charitable Trusts.

"There is an amazing array of biodiversity around these islands, there are sea mount systems with a lot of deep sea species, all types of marine mammals."

Marine Protected Areas currently make up around 2.8% of the world's oceans - but Karen Sack says the areas that have a full ban on fishing, drilling and other activities are much smaller, which increases the significance of the US move.

"Less than 1% of the global ocean is fully protected," she said.

"While this area may be far away from anywhere the designation adds to the part of the ocean that is protected in this way which is critical."

Conserving marine species isn't just the preserve of large nations like the US.

In recent days the tiny Republic of Kiribati announced that the Phoenix Islands Protected Area, will close to all commercial fishing by the end of 2014.

This fishing zone, which is close to the newly extended US MPA, is within a region that is home to the largest remaining stocks of tuna on Earth.

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The unsustainability of organic farming

RICHARD CORNETT Today Online 17 Jun 14;

“Sustainable” has become one of the buzzwords of the 21st century. Increasing numbers of universities offer courses or even programmes in sustainability and many large companies boast substantial departments devoted to the subject. In April, many of the iconic multinational companies in the agriculture/food sector were represented at a three-day Sustainable Product Expo convened by Wal-Mart — the largest retailer in the United States — at its Arkansas headquarters.

But, as with many vague, feel-good concepts, sustainability contains more than a little sophistry. For example, sustainability in agriculture is often linked to organic farming, whose advocates tout it as a sustainable way to feed the planet’s rapidly expanding population.

But what does sustainable really mean and how does it relate to organic methods of food production?


The organic movement’s claims about the sustainability of its methods are dubious.

For example, a recent study found that the potential for groundwater contamination can be dramatically reduced if fertilisers are distributed through the irrigation system according to plant demand during the growing season. However, organic farming depends on compost, the release of which is not matched to plant demand. Moreover, though composting receives good press as a “green” practice, it generates a significant amount of greenhouse gases (and is often a source of pathogenic bacteria in crops).

The study also found that “intensive organic agriculture relying on solid organic matter, such as composted manure that is mixed into the soil prior to planting, resulted in significant down-leaching of nitrate” into groundwater. Increasing nitrate levels in groundwater is hardly a hallmark of sustainability, especially with many of the world’s most fertile farming regions in the throes of drought.

A fundamental reason that organic food production is far less sustainable than many forms of conventional farming is that organic farms, though possibly well adapted for certain local environments on a small scale, produce far less food per unit of land and water. The low yields of organic agriculture — typically 20 to 50 per cent below conventional agriculture — impose various stresses on farmland, especially on water consumption.

A British meta-analysis published in 2012 identified some of the stresses that were higher in organic agriculture. For example, it found that “ammonia emissions, nitrogen leaching and nitrous oxide emissions per product unit were higher from organic systems”, as were “land use, eutrophication potential and acidification potential per product unit”.

Lower crop yields in organic farming are largely inevitable, owing to the arbitrary rejection of various advanced methods and technologies. Organic practices afford limited pesticide options, create difficulties in meeting peak fertiliser demand and rule out access to genetically engineered varieties. If organic production were scaled up significantly, the lower yields would lead to greater pressure to convert land to agricultural use and produce more animals for manure, to say nothing of the tighter squeeze on water supplies — all of which are challenges to sustainability.


Another limitation of organic production is that it works against the best approach to enhancing soil quality — namely, the minimisation of soil disturbance (such as that caused by plowing or tilling), combined with the use of cover crops. Such farming systems have many environmental advantages, particularly with respect to limiting erosion and the run-off of fertilisers and pesticides. Organic growers do frequently plant cover crops, but in the absence of effective herbicides, they often rely on tillage (or even labour-intensive hand weeding) for weed control.

At the same time, organic producers do use insecticides and fungicides to protect their crops, despite the myth that they do not. More than 20 chemicals (mostly containing copper and sulphur) are commonly used in growing and processing organic crops — all acceptable under US rules for certifying organic products.

Perhaps the most illogical and least sustainable aspect of organic farming in the long term is the exclusion of genetically engineered (also known as genetically modified) plants — but only those that were modified with the most precise techniques and predictable results. Except for wild berries and wild mushrooms, virtually all the fruits, vegetables and grains in European and North American diets have been genetically improved by one technique or another — often as a result of seeds being irradiated or undergoing hybridisations that move genes from one species or genus to another in ways that do not occur in nature.

The exclusion from organic agriculture of organisms simply because they were crafted with modern, superior techniques makes no sense. It not only denies farmers improved seeds, but also denies consumers of organic goods access to nutritionally improved food, such as oils with enhanced levels of omega-3 fatty acids.

In recent decades, conventional agriculture has become more environmentally friendly and sustainable than before. But this reflects science-based research and old-fashioned technological ingenuity on the part of farmers, plant breeders and agribusiness companies, not irrational opposition to modern insecticides, herbicides, genetic engineering and “industrial agriculture”.



Henry Miller, a physician and molecular biologist, was founding director of the United States Food and Drug Administration’s Office of Biotechnology and is a fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution. Richard Cornett is communications director for the Western Plant Health Association, a California-based nonprofit agricultural trade group.

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