Best of our wild blogs: 14 Jul 14

July 26, Saturday: Free guided walk at Chek Jawa Boardwalk
from Adventures with the Naked Hermit Crabs

Celebrate National Day with a mangrove cleanup @ Lim Chu Kang on Saturday, 9th August 2014!
from News from the International Coastal Cleanup

Singapore's First Marine Park at Sisters Islands
from Psychedelic Nature

Giant clam project featured at the Festival of Biodiversity 2014!
from Neo Mei Lin

Terumbu Semakau: still no seagrass recovery
from wild shores of singapore

reef octopus hunting @ terumbu semakau - July 2014
from sgbeachbum

Butterflies @ Upper Peirce Reservoir Park
from Beauty of Fauna and Flora in Nature

Three species of water snakes found in Singapore’s mangroves @ Festival of Biodiversity 2014
from Monday Morgue

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Seagrass meadows at risk from reclamation

David Ee The Straits Times AsiaOne 14 Jul 14;

The largest continuous stretches of seagrass meadows are found at Chek Jawa in the north, and Pulau Semakau and Cyrene Reef in the south. These can be seen at extremely low tides. Losing these last few remaining seagrass habitats to land reclamation means losing the critically endangered and elusive dugong. It passes through local waters and depends on seagrass as its main food source.

Half of Singapore's only flowering sea plants killed in the last 50 years

LAND reclamation is putting Singapore at risk of losing all of its seagrass meadows - lush, underwater "gardens" of the only flowering plants that live in the sea.

A National University of Singapore (NUS) study has found that filling the island's coastal waters with sand over the almost five decades since independence has killed 1.6 sq km of seagrass - nearly half of the country's total.

Dredging and reclamation works either bury it or cloud the water with sediment, blocking out the sunlight that it needs to thrive.

"One of the main threats to seagrasses is declining water quality," said marine ecologist Siti Maryam Yaakub, who recently graduated after carrying out the four-year study as a PhD student.

"It can take weeks to months for the suspended sediment to settle."

Seagrass meadows are often confused with seaweed, which is an algae. They were once commonplace along parts of the west and east coasts, and the southern islands.

Today, the largest continuous stretches are congregated at Chek Jawa in the north, and Pulau Semakau and Cyrene Reef in the south. These can be seen at extremely low tides.

Future land reclamation would threaten these last few remaining habitats, said Dr Siti.

Singapore's land use plans beyond 2030, released in January last year, indicate possible large-scale reclamation at Pulau Semakau, the country's sole landfill site.

Chek Jawa at Pulau Ubin has also been previously under threat of reclamation.

Seagrass meadows harbour crabs and prawns, and are nursery habitats for juvenile fish.

Losing the meadows would also mean losing the critically endangered and elusive dugong, or sea cow, said Dr Siti. It passes through local waters and depends on seagrass as its main food source.

Given Singapore's small land area, Dr Siti does not expect the Government to scale back reclamation plans. She only hopes that the "unsung" seagrass will be given the same consideration as similarly threatened coral reefs.

Indeed, various recent government efforts to relocate Singapore's declining number of reefs are helping to save them from reclamation and port development.

This could save the country's seagrass too, said Dr Siti.

"The fact that we still have seagrass when a lot of big cities in coastal areas have lost theirs is something to be proud of... we should try as much as possible to preserve what we have left."

Dr Siti's work was published last month in the Marine Pollution Bulletin.

NUS marine biologist, Professor Chou Loke Ming, who has dived in seagrass meadows, compared them to "tall fields of lalang grass" in the sea.

"But we shouldn't appreciate them just for their beauty. We have to appreciate what they provide as an ecosystem and a habitat," he said.

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$12k grant to help scientist make waves with clam research

Cheryl Faith Wee The Straits Times AsiaOne 14 Jul 14;

A seven-year-old cultured fluted giant clam. Once commonly found here, giant clams are now few in number as their natural habitat has been lost to land reclamation and pollution.

Most people think of food when they think of clams, but for biological sciences researcher Neo Mei Lin, conservation is what comes to mind.

The National University of Singapore (NUS) scientist goes scuba diving about twice a month to survey the giant clam population and scrubs their shells to ensure they stay healthy in a hatchery.

Once commonly found here, giant clams are now few in number as their natural habitat has been lost to land reclamation and pollution.

Dr Neo, 28, is receiving funds to help her in her quest to conserve clams: She became one of 10 people from NUS and the Nanyang Technological University to win US$10,000 (S$12,400) grants each from the World Future Foundation (WFF) on Thursday.

This was the fifth year that the non-profit group gave awards to PhD students for their research in environmental sustainability.

Dr Neo, who has been involved in research on the giant clam population here since 2007, will use part of the money on equipment and overseas workshops.

She still remembers the first wild giant clam she saw. It was a fully grown one of about 40cm in length, spotted at Pulau Jong off the southern coast of Singapore.

"The tide had gone out and it was sitting on a patch of sand. It was brownish green and had a striped pattern on its shell. In May, I came across the same clam again. I brought it back to our lab and took healthy eggs from it," she said. Giant clams can grow to become more than 1m long and weigh more than 300kg.

Other research projects this year include those on energy storage and solar cells.

Dr Feng Lun, WFF board chairman, hopes the projects are sustained. "Even if they start off as very tiny things, they can have effects that will snowball and help humanity and mankind," he said.

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Malaysia: Wanted - turtle eggs

TAN CHENG LI The Star 14 Jul 14;

Since saving the eggs will save the turtles, one turtle guardian is stopping as many eggs as possible from reaching the market.

WHEN word went out in early May that a new turtle hatchery has come up in Chendor, Pahang, and the owner was looking to buy eggs, the response was swift. In no time, collectors with pails of soft-shelled, golf-ball-sized eggs, freshly dug out from their nests, showed up at the hatchery. They were paid cash, which probably explained their willingness to sell to the facility instead of to market vendors.

In just over two months, the facility has purchased 3,069 green turtle eggs from 67 nests and 53 painted terrapin eggs from four nests – that’s over 3,000 eggs saved from being consumed, and potentially over 3,000 turtle hatchlings given a shot at survival.

At the new hatchery, the eggs were buried for incubation and in late June, Angela Hijjas caught her first sight of hatchlings emerging from their nest and scampering to sea.

“It’s a great experience to come face to face with wildlife, not in a zoo, but in a natural setting,” says the ardent supporter of the arts and the environment, who had set up the hatchery. “It’s also rewarding to know that you’ve actually had a role in nurturing something.”

Turtle nesting sites

The long shoreline between Cherating and Chendor in Pahang is known to host nesting turtles. The Fisheries Department has gazetted the southern stretch at Cherating as a turtle sanctuary, so all the eggs laid there go to its hatchery. However, the northern portion of the beach, which is where Angela’s property sits, is unprotected. That means the eggs are collected and sold in markets.

Angela shares that her husband, award-winning architect Hijjas Kasturi, had bought the 12ha piece of land in 1969. It was left idle all these years because the site lacked access, except from the beach. Recently, after acquiring land that provides a route to their site, they decided to build a resort there. Angela, being passionate about the environment, insisted on the project having a conservation value to compensate for the development.

Doing something for the turtles was the obvious thing: “Because my land is near the beach, and I know turtles come up there and people are digging up the eggs and selling them. That’s something I would like to change. It’s easy to do, and I can afford it. If the eggs are not re-buried, they’d be eaten.”

Keeping prices stable

Angela, 64, is based in Kuala Lumpur, so she employs a worker with knowledge of turtle hatcheries. She also gets advice and assistance from Pak Su, a tour guide experienced in turtle conservation efforts in Geliga, Kemaman. The facility will be opened to the public and the Pahang Malaysian Nature Society will support the centre by planning educational visits for students.

Angela has spent almost RM8,000 in two months just to purchase the eggs, paying RM2.50 for a turtle egg and RM4 for a terrapin egg. She keeps to the market rates, as advised by a Fisheries Department official.

“I was told that if I offered higher prices, it might lead to thefts of eggs belonging to the department. It’s in everyone’s interest to keep the price stable so we can get as many eggs as possible into hatcheries.

“We will buy any eggs available during the peak season, which is from April to October.

“According to Pak Su, there were 1,900 landings in the area from the southern coast of Terengganu to Cherating last year. Each nest averages 100 eggs. That means, about 200,000 eggs can be found. Some will go to hatcheries, but most will end up in markets. In Terengganu markets, there is no shortage of turtle eggs.”

The collectors are not selling all the eggs to her; it seems they keep half of what is collected, most probably for personal consumption. In any case, Angela’s effort is rescuing at least a portion of the eggs. And there were no records in the past of the total landings in the area; there is now, as her staff records all egg purchases and hatchlings.

She has also instructed her workers to release the baby turtles upon emergence from the nest and not keep them in tanks. In many hatcheries, it is common practice to retain the hatchlings in order to show visitors, but this can affect their survival in the wild.

Taking action

Of course, buying turtle eggs to prevent them from ending up in someone’s stomach is an expensive conservation exercise, but until state governments outlaw the consumption of turtle eggs, this is one way to safeguard the future of turtle species.

“For me, it’s a way of actually doing something that might make a difference,” says Angela. “We’ve already had over 3,000 eggs, out of that only two or three will make it to maturity (scientists say only one in 1,000 hatchlings will reach adulthood). But for me, that’s money well-spent. It’s something I can do.

“I have been involved in environmental conservation efforts, but sometimes the decision-making process must consider all parties. This was a decision and initiative I could take on my own.

“It’s something within my control and my capacity, so why not? Am I going to spend the money on a fancy handbag? I don’t think so.”

In any case, Angela is optimistic that when the resort is completed, guests and visitors will not mind having the cost of a turtle nest added to their bills.

“That may be one way of defraying the cost, but at the moment, I intend to continue (funding the project).

“I’ll go on as long as I can. Thanks to the inheritance from my parents, I have the money to do this. If they knew, they’d be pleased. So, it’s something for them as well.”

She says the resort will consist of only 27 chalets so that the natural vegetation is retained. The site has sand dunes and typical East Coast coastal forest consisting of casuarina trees on the beach and jambu laut and nibong palm further inland.

A survey by the Forest Research Institute of Malaysia shows it has over 50 tree and plant species. Botanists have also identified some sites worth conserving as these have unique species and are examples of coastal forests that we have little of now.

Angela also intends to replace the non-native and invasive acacia trees growing on the road leading to her property.

Given her way, this site might eventually mirror Rimbun Dahan, her 6ha home in Kuang, Selangor, where she grows various plants and tropical forest trees, effectively turning it into a repository of culturally important and rare flora. Her new project in Chendor will be that, and more, as there is the addition of a turtle sanctuary.

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Malaysia: High waves hit northern states after supermoon

ROYCE TAN The Star 14 Jul 14;

GEORGE TOWN: Septuagenarian Tee Ah Ghim watched in fear as waves hit the walls of her squatter house at Pantai Bersih in Bagan Ajam.

The 70-year-old retiree, who has been living there for more than five years with her younger sister, in her 60s, is fearful of the recurrence of an incident in 2010 where strong tidal waves swept away fishing boats and damaged property there.

“I hope that the high tide will recede soon. If the waves hit any higher, most of our things will be damaged and we won’t have any other place to live,” said Tee as she stared solemnly out of her window.

The southwesterly winds travelling between 40kph and 50kph, whipped up waves up to 3.5m over the waters off Perlis, Kedah, Penang, Sarawak (Miri), Sabah (Kudat and West Coast) and Labuan yesterday.

The strong winds also sent waves crashing over the seawall at the Esplanade here.

Several popular seafront locations, such as Batu Ferringhi, also experien­ced rough seas and strong winds.

While many would try to avoid the splash, American tourist Rebekah Russell, 22, enjoyed getting soaked and even continued her stroll along the seafront alone.

She described the high waves as a rare thing and never experienced such a phenomenon before.

At the coastal road along Lebuhraya Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu near Teluk Kumbar, the high tide sent sea water seeping through the gaps and holes between the seawall, creating huge puddles of water on the road.

Traffic slowed to a crawl as motorists tried to avoid the water.

There was a lunar perigee on Saturday when the moon was closer to Earth than at any other time and appeared larger than usual. The phenomena is also referred to as “supermoon”.

During this time, the tidal force is stronger, causing higher tides than usual. High waves also occurred in Koh Samui (Thailand), Labuan, Straits of Malacca (north) and Sulu.

A check at the Meteorological Department’s website showed that strong northeasterly winds of 50kph to 60kph with waves up to 4.5m hit Layang Layang island off Sabah, Phuket in Thailand, Condore island off southern Vietnam and Palawan island in the Philippines.

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Japan sees lower chance of El Nino this summer, high chance in autumn

Yuka Obayashi PlanetArk 11 Jul 14;

Japan's weather bureau said on Thursday that the possibility of an El Nino pattern forming this summer is lower than previously forecast, but it sees a high chance in autumn.

The Japan Meteorological Agency, which said last month that the El Nino phenomenon could emerge this summer and last at least until autumn, now expects one could only emerge sometime between September and November.

The El Nino - a warming of sea-surface temperatures in the Pacific - can trigger drought in Southeast Asia and Australia and floods in South America, hitting production of key foods such as rice, wheat and sugar.

The weather bureau lowered its forecast for sea surface temperatures in the monitoring area for summer as it expected the temperatures in July and August would be closer to average, Ikuo Yoshikawa, weather forecaster at the Japan Meteorological Agency said by phone.

Last month, the U.S. weather forecaster gave its strongest forecast that an El Nino weather phenomenon will strike during the Northern Hemisphere summer, pegging the likelihood at 70 percent in its monthly outlook. That was in line with the Australian Bureau of Meteorology's latest outlook.

(Reporting by Yuka Obayashi; Editing by Michael Urquhart and Michael Perry)

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India: Monsoon rains sharply lower than average

Ratnajyoti Dutta PlanetArk 11 Jul 14;

Monsoon rainfall was 41 percent below average for the week ended July 9, the weather office said on its website on Thursday, the fifth straight week of poor rains after a late start to the season.

A poor monsoon season cuts exports, stokes food inflation and leads to lower demand for industries ranging from cars to consumer goods, while even a slow start can delay exports of some crops and increase the need for imports.

Rainfall was 53 percent below average in the previous week as the first month of the June-September rain season was the weakest in five years.

The seasonal deficiency stood at 43 percent below average even after the gap shrank last week due to marginal improvement in rainfall in some areas of central and north India.

Last week, rains occurred in many parts of soybean areas of central region and cane areas of north region, but the downpours were far less than averages. Weather officials said a cyclone 'Nanauk' over the Arabian Sea delayed progress of the annual rains towards the central and north regions, causing a huge gap in the seasonal downpours.

"Lull in monsoon continues though rainfall activities are expected to improve in the next two to three days," said D.S. Pai, lead forecaster of the Indian weather office. India, one of the world's top producers and consumers of rice, corn, cooking oil, sugar and cotton, relies heavily on the summer rains as nearly half of its farmland is rain-fed.

The farm sector accounts for around 14 percent of its nearly $2 trillion economy, and two-thirds of the 1.2 billion population live in rural areas.

This year, monsoon arrived five days late on the Kerala coast, and then covered half of India four days later than the usual date of June 15.

(Reporting by Ratnajyoti Dutta; editing by William Hardy)

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World cities, home to most people, to add 2.5 billion more by 2050: U.N.

Mirjam Donath PlanetArk 11 Jul 14;

More than half of the world's seven billion people live in urban areas, with the top "mega cities" - with more than 10 million inhabitants - being Tokyo, Delhi, Shanghai, Mexico City and Sao Paulo, according to a United Nations report on Thursday.

That proportion is expected to jump, so that more than six billion people will be city dwellers by 2045, the U.N.'s World Urbanization Prospects report said.

The jump will be driven by a "preference of people to move from rural to urban areas, and the overall positive growth rate of the world's population, which is projected to continue over the next 35 years," John Wilmoth, director of the Population Division in the UN's Department of Economic and Social Affairs said at a news conference Thursday at the UN.

Indeed, urbanization, combined with overall population growth, will boost the number of people in cities by 2.5 billion over the next three decades, with much of that growth in developing countries, especially in Asia and Africa.

India, China and Nigeria will make up 37 percent of the projected growth in the next three decades, with India adding 404 million city residents, China 292 million, and Nigeria 212 million, by 2050.

The key challenge for these countries will be to provide basic services like education, health care, housing, infrastructure, transportation, energy and employment for their growing urban populations.

"Managing urban areas has become one of the most important development challenges of the 21st century," Wilmoth said.

He said providing such services for a dense urban population was typically cheaper and less environmentally damaging than doing the same for a dispersed, rural population.

"The thing to be afraid of is situations in which governments do not plan for the growth that is going to take place," Wilmoth said. "Then you can get sprawls, and slums and cities that are not pleasant places to live."

The world's urban population has grown so rapidly that while in 1990, there were only ten mega cities, today there are nearly three times as many - 28 worldwide.

Sixteen of those are in Asia, four in Latin America, three each in Africa and Europe, and two in Northern America.

Tokyo is the world's most populous city with 38 million inhabitants, followed by Delhi with 25 million, Shanghai with 23 million and Mexico City, Mumbai and Sao Paulo, each with around 21 million people.

The New York-Newark urban area, the world's third-largest in 1990, fell to ninth place and is expected to drop further to 14th position by 2030 as cities in developing countries become more prominent, the report said.

Low fertility, economic contraction and natural disasters were the most common factors that contributed to population losses in some Asian and European cities in recent years. Emigration was also a factor.

Meanwhile, the world's rural population, which is now close to 3.4 billion, is expected to reach its peak by 2020, after which it will decline to 3.1 billion by 2050.

While Africa and Asia are urbanizing rapidly, they are still home to nearly 90 percent of the world's rural population.

(Editing by Bernadette Baum)

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Australia: Seafood guide says five of top 11 species 'unsustainably managed'

Snapper, shark (flake), blue grenadier and imported prawns, squid and octopus 'should be avoided'
Oliver Milman 13 Jul 14;

Five of the 11 most commonly eaten species of fish in Australia, including shark and snapper, are unsustainably managed and should be avoided by consumers, a new analysis has found.

A study of Australia’s 11 most popular types of seafood identifies imported prawns, squid and octopus, blue grenadier, shark (sold as flake) and snapper as seafood the public should avoid.

The Australian Marine Conservation Society’s sustainable seafood guide, which has been periodically updated since 2006, lists Atlantic salmon as the most popular fish among Australian diners, followed by imported prawns and then Australian prawns.

Three of the top five most popular fish are marked red in the AMCS traffic light system, meaning the organisation strongly recommends avoiding them.

The sustainability guide rates fish by a number of criteria, including how abundant they are, the impact of fishing equipment on the marine environment, management of fisheries and whether catching the species involves the inadvertent deaths of creatures such as dolphins and turtles.

The marine campaigns officer at AMCS, Tooni Mahto, told Guardian Australia there was a key trend towards farmed fish rather than those caught wild.

“More and more of the seafood on our shelves comes from farming operations,” she said. “Atlantic salmon, barramundi and prawns are all very popular farmed species.

“Overall, there have been significant improvements in farming and the industry is improving its transparency due to the fact more people care about where their seafood comes from. So we’d applaud them on that.

“But there is still a lot of work to do. It still takes 2.5kg of wild-caught fish, to be used as fish food, to create 1kg of farmed fish. It’s also hard to tell what the long-term impact of fish farming is on the marine environment.”

Mahto said at-risk species needed to be identified to help industry and consumers make better choices. “We hear a lot from the Australian government that all our fisheries are sustainable but it’s not fair to say that,” she said. “We’ve got really significant issues in fisheries, especially with bycatch.

She said Australians loved shark, “but globally 25% of shark and ray species are threatened by extinction so our consumption of shark meat is propping up this decline”.

“As an apex predator, sharks are crucial to the health of our oceans and we are still killing a lot of them with zero understanding of the impact that will have.

“Snapper is a victim on its own popularity on Australian tables, unfortunately. It needs strong management but because it’s so popular it has been hard to do that.”

Mahto said species imported from southeast Asia also posed ethical concerns, with prawn farming linked to pollution and destructive trawl fishing of squid and octopus blamed for damage to coral reefs.

Fish given the green light by ACMS include farmed barramundi, yellow fin bream, Spanish mackerel, Australian-farmed prawns and King George whiting.

“Australians need to look at their choice of seafood now, if we are to provide the next generation with the fantastic choice of fish we currently have,” Mahto said.

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