Best of our wild blogs: 18 Jul 14

Ubin Stamp Series
from Pulau Ubin Stories

fringe-eyed flathead @ terumbu samakau - July 2014
from sgbeachbum

Common Macaranga (Macaranga bandana) and its ants
from Bird Ecology Study Group

Butterflies Galore! : Quaker
from Butterflies of Singapore

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Pulau Ubin stamp series launched

Today Online 17 Jul 14;

The complete set of stamps. Photo: SingPost
Four landmarks showcased on stamps: Main Jetty, Chek Jawa, The Wayang Stage and a Quarry

SINGAPORE — A series of stamps depicting Pulau Ubin’s iconic landmarks will be available from tomorrow (July 18).

The stamps, launched by SingPost and the National Heritage Board, feature images of four landmarks: The Main Jetty (2nd local), Chek Jawa (S$0.65), the Wayang Stage (S$0.80) and a Quarry (S$1.10).

The complete set is priced at S$2.87. Other products include a Pre-Cancelled First Day Cover affixed with the complete set of stamps, priced S$3.70 ,and a Presentation Pack with complete set of stamps, priced at S$4.65.

The new stamp issue, Islands of Singapore - Pulau Ubin, will be available at all post offices, the Singapore Philatelic Museum and online at

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15 of 41 AVA buildings left vacant

KOK XING HUI Today Online 18 Jul 14;

SINGAPORE — Of the 41 buildings the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) had leased at Sembawang, 15 were left vacant for two to 14 years and three were partially occupied for eight to 11 years. That is almost a third of the gross floor area left unused.

The Auditor-General’s Office (AGO) also found some of the empty buildings to be poorly maintained. One had termites while others had condemned furniture and discarded items.

This was tantamount to a waste of public resources, said the AGO yesterday in its report.

Of the three specialised centres the AVA has at Lim Chu Kang, the AGO said 1,287 sqm in total were left vacant for more than a decade. And of the five laboratories the AVA has in its third centre, four were used only for seven to 12 days per month between January 2008 and November last year.

“The AVA should carry out a thorough review of its space requirements for the two sites so that land and buildings no longer required by the AVA could be put to better use,” it said.

The AVA also under-used or left unused a number of assets, such as a tractor and a trailer bought at S$31,200, a marine vessel that cost S$98,000 and was refurbished for S$477,000, and 263 assets of mainly research equipment and machinery.

The report said the AVA has initiated a review of its land and building use and has plans to retrofit certain vacant space and expand research collaborations to up laboratory use. The AVA also said it would review the need for its assets. KOK XING HUI

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Warmer days ahead in July: NEA

Channel NewsAsia 17 Jul 14;

SINGAPORE: Southwest Monsoon conditions are expected to persist over Singapore until the end of the month, the National Environment Agency (NEA) said on Thursday (July 17).

Characteristic of the Southwest Monsoon season are periods of consecutive dry days which, when coupled with strong daytime heat, would bring up the maximum temperature for the next two weeks to about 34oC, the NEA said.

Singapore may also experience slightly hazy conditions on a few days over the next fortnight, NEA said. There will also likely be short-duration showers with thunder in the late mornings and afternoons on three to four days during this period, as well as thunderstorms with gusty winds during the pre-dawn hours and mornings on one to two days.

The first two weeks of July have seen average rainfall, with Singapore experiencing thundery showers mainly in the late mornings and afternoons on a few days between July 1 and 14, said the NEA. The Sumatra squalls affected Singapore in the pre-dawn hours and mornings on several days, with a particular squall on July 5 bringing wind gusts of 69km/h to the Tuas area, it added.

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Indonesia: Riau hotspots increasing

Rizal Harahap, The Jakarta Post 17 Jul 14;

Hotspots, which had been doused by rain at one point, re-emerged in a number of regions in Riau on Wednesday as shown by satellite images, which detected 75 hotspots in the province.

The figure accounted for more than half of the total of 118 hotspots monitored in Sumatra.

The hotspots were found in 10 regencies and cities in Riau, with the majority being in Rokan Hilir (34), followed by Bengkalis (19), Pelalawan (seven), Dumai and Indragiri Hilir (four each), Kampar (three) and one each in Kuantan Sengingi, Rokan Hulu, Siak and Indragiri Hulu.

“Around 30 of the hotspots are believed, with a confidence level of 70 percent, to be fires. The fires are spread over four locations — 23 in Rokan Hilir, Bengkalis with five and one each in Dumai and Pelalawan,” Agus Wibowo, head of information and data affairs at the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) said in a statement on Wednesday.

The number of hotspots and fires on Wednesday was higher than the previous day. On Tuesday afternoon, Riau only detected 45 hotspots and 12 fires. The fires were located in the same four locations.

“The increasing number of hotspots and fires is caused by the rise in temperature. Riau is still experiencing blistering heat,” Agus said.

He said the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysical Agency (BMKG) predicted that on Thursday, the weather in Riau would still be clear with local light showers occurring at night along the eastern, western and southern coasts of the province.

The fires created a thin haze that covered the cities of Rengat and Dumai. The visibility in both cities on Wednesday dropped to 5 kilometers (km), while in other observation posts in Pekanbaru and Pelalawan, visibility amounted to 8 km.

“The Riau Haze Disaster Response Task Force is continuously making efforts to extinguish the fires by aerial and land operations,” said Agus.

Separately, Riau Police told the press that they had named 67 suspects in forest and peatland arson and illegal logging cases in April.

“The number is likely to rise as law enforcers are still hunting suspects on the ground,” Riau Police spokesman Adj. Sr. Comr. Guntur Aryo Tejo said on Wednesday.

He said PT National Sago Prima was the only company to have been named as a suspect for fires that occurred in the company’s sago plantation.

Investigations into the case, he said, were still ongoing by the Special Crimes and Intelligence Directorate of the Riau Police.

“So far, we’ve only named the company as a suspect rather than an individual in the management. It’s no easy task to name an individual or a person in charge of a company as a suspect because investigators must obtain sufficient evidence and witness testimony,” he said.

Earlier this week, Indra Purnama, the head of the information and observation division at South Sumatra BMKG’s Kenten station, said the province had lately been cloudy with light rain, Antara news agency reported in Palembang.

He said residents in the province, which is home to 8.6 million people, must be alert to the occurrence of hotspots and strong winds because they could trigger haze, which disrupts flights, daily activities and affects health.

The regions most prone to hotspots, which could trigger forest and peatland fires, are Ogan Komering Ilir, Ogan Komering Ulu, Banyuasin, Musi Banyuasin, Muara Enim and Musi Rawas regencies.

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Five Species That Are Quietly Dying Off While Nobody Pays Attention

Alexandra Andersson Time 18 Jul 14;

They're vanishing fast, but the world is paying scant attention

Everyone knows that rhinos or pandas are threatened with extinction. But there are plenty of species slipping away silently, without celebrity advocates or high-profile campaigns. “So many species are just not popular enough, or well-known enough to share the spotlight with the world’s threatened megafauna,” says Chris Shepherd, director of conservation group Traffic South East Asia.

1. Seahorses

Population trend: A 50%-80% global population decline in the past 20 years according to the Seahorse Trust.

All 38 species of this shy creature are, like many species, facing threats on several fronts. They live in coastal waters, leaving them vulnerable to habitat loss from human development and indiscriminate trawling. There’s also a unsustainably high demand in traditional Chinese medicine for seahorses, which are used to alleviate kidney ailments and circulatory problems. According to the Seahorse Trust, 150 million seahorses are used in Chinese medicine each year. The home aquarium trade, the trust says, is responsible for another million or so annually.

Seahorses remain on the now ten-year-old Appendix II to the internationally recognized Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) — a categorization that allows for regulated trade. But while 25 million seahorses are legally traded yearly, it’s estimated that further 125 million enter the black market. So far this year, Hong Kong customs have intercepted over 1,000 lbs of undeclared, smuggled dried seahorses, worth about $130,000. This level of capture and commercial trade is leading to a collapse in seahorse sightings. In 2011, the Centre of Marine Science at the University of Algarve, Portugal, reported a 85% reduction of long-snouted seahorses and 56% for other species that occur in the region.

“CITES listings should have all seahorse species down as highly endangered and at risk of extinction,” says Neil Garrick-Maidment, executive director of The Seahorse Trust. “There should, without a doubt, be a complete moratorium on seahorse fishing for 10 years.”

2. Sun bears

Population trend: The IUCN estimates that sun bears have decreased by 30% in the past 30 years.

Sun bears are traditionally found in much of Southeast Asia – from Bangladesh across to Yunnan, China and down to Borneo, Malaysia — but have become regionally extinct in much of the region, including Singapore and parts of China. The reason is a rapidly disappearing habitat, since vast swathes of lowland forest are being cleared – legally and not – for commercial monoculture cultivation, particularly palm oil.

In what forest remains to them, they are hunted by poachers who are after the bear’s paws and gall bladder, both of which fetch a high price on the black market – the former as a culinary delicacy, and the latter due to alleged medicinal properties when treating gall stones, inflammation, pain and liver troubles. “Numerous bears observed in bear bile farms, or on camera trap photos are missing limbs due to snares,” says Shepherd, who adds that China, South Korea, Vietnam and Malaysia are where demand is highest for bear bile.

Sun bears are listed in CITES Appendix I, which only permits regulated noncommercial trade (such as trade for scientific research, for example). But despite this degree of protection, “sun bears face tremendous pressures from illegal hunting and trade” according to Kanitha Krishnasamy, senior program officer, Traffic South East Asia. “Few people know of the threats this species faces, and fewer care,” adds Shepherd. “There are only a handful of people working to save the sun bear, all of them with inadequate amounts of funding, low levels of government support, and very little support from the public.”

3. Freshwater turtles and tortoises

Population trend: Decline in turtle and tortoise populations in Asia over the past decade has been so sharp it has a name: the Asian Turtle Crisis.

Distinct species of tortoises and freshwater turtles occur in low densities across the globe, each with characteristics adapted for specialized habitats. The Roti Island Snake-necked Turtle, for example, has a 20cm long neck and was endemic to Roti Island in Indonesia when it was discovered in the 90s. Now it’s critically endangered. Sadly, its story rings true for many of the 31 turtle and tortoise species now considered critically endangered by the IUCN, and there is one major cause – illegal trade in the creatures as pets and as food.

Although habitat loss and water pollution are a serious threat to these fascinating reptiles, it’s their meat and ornate shells that put them in real danger. As South East Asia becomes more affluent, the demand for these species has skyrocketed, On May 14, 230 Black Spotted Turtles were discovered by Thai Customs in unclaimed bags from Kolkata at Bangkok’s Suvanabhumi International Airport. Conservationists say that current levels of demand mean that many species do not have a hope of survival.

4 Slow lorises

Population trend: Four of the five subspecies – found between Bangladesh and China, down to Indonesia and the Philippines – have experienced a 30% population decline in the past 25 years. The Javan slow loris, meanwhile, has declined by 80% over the same time period, and is considered critically endangered.

The decline in the populations of these lemur-like primates has traditionally been related to rampant habitat loss as the jungles are cleared or agriculture such as commercial cashew and palm oil plantations and rice paddies. This has forced slow lorises into gardens, settlements and farmlands, where it encounters a even greater threat to its survival: its desirability as a “cute,” exotic pet.

A quick YouTube search reveals many slow loris videos, many with several million views that have been a disastrously successful marketing tool, despite all species being listed under CITES Appendix 1 in 2007. Lorises are still routinely spotted in markets in Jakarta, Hanoi and Kuala Lumpur by conservation organisations such as Small Carnivore Conservation Project in Thailand, which saw lorises in a Jakarta market as recently as mid-June.

The underground trade in lorises is harmful on many levels. Individual lorises often cannot survive the stresses of capture and transport, where they are stuffed in boxes, sacks or suitcases and shipped as far as Russia, Japan and the United States. If they are to be sold, their venomous incisors must be pulled, resulting in infection and often death. They also do not fare well in captivity, and excessive handling, forced daytime activity and poor diet lead to high mortality rates.

5. Dugongs

Population trend: In Queensland, Australia, catch rates – a major population indicator – for dugongs in 1999 were just 3% of what they were in 1962, in an area that is considered a relative safe haven for the ‘sea cows’.

Dugongs have a traditional range spanning the waters of 48 countries and 140,000km of coastline – from the East African coast and Madagascar through the Middle East and Indian coasts down to Australia and Papua New Guinea. But they are now only found in relict populations, separated by large spans of ocean. Dugongs have been declared extinct in the waters of Taiwan, Mauritius and the Maldives, and studies indicate that in former ‘strongholds’ such as the Thai Andaman sea, Philippine archipelago and Sri Lanka, colonies of less than 100 individuals struggle to get by.

Dugong survival is hugely dependent on the availability of seagrass, and the fact is the species is suffering a chronic, and worsening, food shortage. Net entanglement, vessel traffic and socio-political impediments to conservation efforts also play a part, but it’s the pollution of coastal waters and consequent seagrass loss that is the biggest problem for these sensitive beasts. Trawling, mining, dredging, coastal clearing and land reclamation lead to an increase in sedimentation, smothering the seagrass of sunlight vital for its growth. Sewage, agricultural herbicide runoff and heavy metals also lead to a degradation in seagrasses, which can take over a decade to recover.

This, when considered in combination with their slow reproductive rates, spells disaster. Females give birth to just one calf at a time, with a two-to-seven year period between pregnancies. Lack of public awareness and pressure is a key restricting factor to dugong survival, according to UNEP: “for management to be effective, the general public has to be concerned about dugong conservation,” – a point that is vitally relevant to so many quietly disappearing species.

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Dredging does impact coral reefs, world-first scientific study finds 17 Jul 14;

IN A world-first study, Queensland scientists have shown that dredging impacts are damaging to places like the Great Barrier Reef.

It shows that corals near dredging sites have twice as much disease as other sites.

Dredging made water muddy and eventually led to disease, a major factor in coral diseases, the report found.

The findings are at odds with the campaign run by Environment Minister Andrew Powell to stop UNESCO from listing the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage area in danger.

Citing a 2009 Australian Institute of Marine Science report, Mr Powell has argued that the Reef’s biggest impacts are extreme weather, coral bleaching and crown-of-thorns starfish, not dredging, ports or shipping.

Conservationists have agreed that these issues have a great impact, but say the coal-driven port boom occurred mostly after the 2009 study, and that dredging is another stress that the Reef struggles to handle.

Mr Powell has described conservationists campaigning for better Reef protection as liars. Although half the coral has disappeared, he has said the Reef is ``looking fantastic’’.

AIMS and James Cook University scientists said the study, released this week, was the first to examine the link between dredging and coral disease in the natural environment.

It was conducted near Barrow Island off Western Australia and close to an 18-month, seven-million-cubic-metre dredging project which saw a channel dug for shipping.

Corals died, leaving behind white coral skeletons and it was feared the diseases might linger well after dredging ended.

JCU researcher Joe Pollock said dredging was a pressing issue on the Great Barrier Reef.

Mr Pollock said he was not arguing against dredging, but the need for better management of projects.

He said there was no particular distance that could be set for dredging or spoil dumping from corals because much depended on how far plumes could travel under local conditions.

Mr Powell declined to comment.

Mining Resources Council chief executive Michael Roche said the study showed that impacts of the dredge plume at Barrow were temporary and localised.

Describing the Reef as pristine, he said the research would be studied.

AIMS scientist Britta Schaffelke said turbidity and sedimentation were critical pressures on coral reefs.

``What this study does is highlight a direct link between coral disease and sedimentation and turbidity,’’ Dr Schaffelke said.

Mr Pollock said twice as much disease was found at dredging sites than control sites.

A WWF spokesman said given that turbidity levels were worse in Queensland compared to WA, it meant the impact from dredge plumes here was likely to be worse than in WA.

Originally published as Will Reef come to grief from dredging?

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Better use of world’s existing cropland could feed 3 billion more people: study

Research reveals large increases in population expected in the next three decades need not result in widespread hunger
Fiona Harvey 17 Jul 14;

The world’s existing cropland could feed at least 3 billion extra people if it were used more efficiently, a new study has found, showing that the large increases in population expected in the next three decades need not result in widespread hunger.

More than half of the fertiliser currently poured on to crops in many countries is wasted, according to the study. About 60% of the nitrogen applied to crops worldwide is not needed, as well as about half of the phosphorus, an element whose readily available sources are dwindling.

Cutting waste even by modest amounts would also feed millions, the authors found: between one-third and a half of the viable crops and food produced from them around the world are wasted, in the developing world usually because of a lack of infrastructure such as refrigerated transport, and in the rich world because of wasteful habits.

The study, published in the peer-review journal Science and led by scientists at the University of Minnesota in the US, suggested that a focus on staple crops such as wheat and rice in key countries, including China, India, the US, Brazil, Indonesia, Pakistan and Europe, would pay off in terms of producing more food for the world’s growing population. Most forecasts are that the world will number more than 9 billion people by 2050, up from about 7 billion people today.

Looking after water could also yield vast dividends, the report found: if the water used for irrigation was pinpointed more efficiently to where it is needed, then much more could be grown, but currently much of it is sprayed uselessly over crops. Between 8% and 15% of the water currently used could be saved, the study suggested.

But the research also found that at least 4 billion people could be fed with the crops we currently devote to fattening livestock, fuelling the argument that the over-reliance on meat in the west and among the growing middle classes in the developing world is an increasing problem when it comes to feeding the world.

Paul West, of Minnesota’s Institute of the Environment, and lead author of the paper, said the research would enable funders and policymakers to focus their efforts better on areas of agriculture where it could do most good. For instance, increasing agricultural productivity in Africa, where the actual crop yields lag severely behind their potential, could produce enough to feed hundreds of millions of people.

By focusing fertiliser use where it is needed, and avoiding overuse, countries could also bring down greenhouse gas emissions markedly. Agriculture currently amounts to between one-fifth and one-third of greenhouse gases, coming from deforestation, methane and fertilisers.

West said that the report gave cause for optimism, showing that the world’s growing population could be adequately fed in the future if basic measures are taken to look after food supply. But he said that politics would play a big role in whether the world grasps these opportunities.

He said: “Sustainably feeding people today and in the future is one of humanity’s grand challenges. Agriculture is the main source of water use, greenhouse gas emissions, and habitat loss, yet we need to grow more food.”

He advocated “focusing on areas, crops and practices with the most to be gained”, as the first step for governments, companies and NGOs, with a focus on China, India, the US, Brazil, Indonesia and Pakistan.

The study also noted that preventing the waste of meat was vital, as the disposal of a single kilogram of beef was equal to the waste of 24 kilograms of wheat, in terms of the effort – water, fertiliser, greenhouse gases, cropland needed – that had gone into its production.

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