Best of our wild blogs: 22 Aug 14

Sharing Chek Jawa with Wheelock College
from wild shores of singapore

Butterflies Galore! : Cornelian
from Butterflies of Singapore

Map of Pulau Ubin, NParks webpage (2014)
from Otterman speaks

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Island hoppers turn volunteer guides

Audrey Tan The Straits Times AsiaOne 22 Aug 14;

Fishing parrot fish out of the waters near southern Singapore's Pulau Seringat is a memory that Mr Richard Kuah deeply cherishes. But for the 43-year-old finance sector executive, the haul from those trips he made with his father was more than just the rainbow-streaked fish that ended up on the dinner table.

He also treasures the myths and legends he learnt about Singapore's offshore islands.

Last month, Mr Kuah visited Raffles Lighthouse on Pulau Satumu, Singapore's southern-most land possession, on a free Lighthouse Trail organised by the National Heritage Board (NHB) as part of this year's Singapore HeritageFest.

Last Saturday, Mr Kuah was one of four volunteers who joined the same tour - but this time as a guide.

During the trip of nearly seven hours, participants got to see the former Fullerton Lighthouse from a bus, sail past Sultan Shoal lighthouse near Jurong Island and explore Raffles Lighthouse.

Mr Kuah, who is married with an eight-year-old son, said he wanted to share Singapore's rich maritime heritage with other Singaporeans.

This year's Singapore HeritageFest, held from July 18 to 27, focused for the first time on Singapore's island heritage.

The island-hopping tours were the most popular of the over 60 offerings this year.

Registrations had to be closed for a while as the website could not handle the response. NHB later added 2,700 places for the tours, from the initial 300. Registration for all the island tours has closed.

Festival director Angelita Teo said the response was encouraging "as it shows our offerings resonate with Singaporeans".

Mr Shawn Yon, 32, a medical social worker who also volunteered as a guide, said: "It is a rare opportunity to be at Raffles Lighthouse as it is usually restricted.

"I got to understand and appreciate it better, and even saw a baby shark at the jetty there - twice!"

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Explore the hidden depths of Singapore's waters

Explore murky waters and one finds a 'marine parade' and bounty of corals
Audrey Tan Straits Times 22 Aug 14;

Dark and murky waters surround Pulau Hantu, an island off Singapore's southern coast.

But go deeper - 6m to 16m under, as The Straits Times did on a scuba-diving trip last Saturday - and one discovers a "marine parade".

Bathed in green and yellow, this underwater town is dotted with hard rocks and corals that are branched out like trees.

Shiny fish dart in and out so fast that they appear as slivers of silver - they are the speedsters of the aquatic world.

Like a shy schoolgirl at her first dance, a copper-banded butterfly fish hangs around just long enough to be seen but zooms away when approached.

Farther along the reef, soft corals sway in the underwater current, as though jiving to the music of revving motorboat engines and ship horns. Here, as on land, there is no avoiding heavy traffic.

Despite a name that means Ghost Island, Pulau Hantu is surrounded by life, rich sea life. Likewise, Singapore, the last place people think of when they think nature and wildlife, has plenty of bounty under the sea.

The waters around Singapore are home to more than 250 species of hard corals alone - about 40 per cent of the types of corals found in South-east Asia.

Corals are found not only around Pulau Hantu but also near other islands such as Pulau Sudong, a restricted area used by the military for live firing. Lucky divers get glimpses of sea turtles, dolphins or even reef sharks.

But it is not easy to see what lies beneath.

The waters around Pulau Hantu, for instance, are heavily sedimented, with visibility going only as far as an outstretched arm.

Yet, up until the mid-1960s, Singapore had waters as clear as those at Tioman, said marine conservationist and lawyer Francis Lee, 68.

National University of Singapore (NUS) marine biologist Chou Loke Ming said back then, corals and other reef life at 10m underwater could be seen from a boat.

But as Mr Lee said: "But by the late 1960s, the clarity of the waters went downhill."

Most of the damage was caused by intensive land reclamation and development, he added.

Many people cannot see the splendour of Singapore's underwater life. Professor Chou, who is also principal investigator of the Reef Ecology Lab at NUS, said: "Since visibility is restricted, most people don't see our reef life - it becomes a case of 'out of sight, out of mind'."

Unlike projects today, reclamation works then did not take precautions, such as having barriers around the work site to contain the sediment spread, he added.

When the seabed is stirred up by reclamation, particles become suspended in the water and are abrasive against the soft tissue of the corals.

They also affect visibility, meaning less sunlight pass through the water and less algae grow on the corals. As corals depends largely on algae for food, many slowly died.

Singapore has lost more than 60 per cent of its reef cover as a result.

The good news is that more is being done nowadays. Last month, the authorities announced that Singapore will have its first marine park - a 40ha patch that includes the Sisters' Islands and reefs off nearby St John's Island and Pulau Tekukor.

Coral colonies have also been moved for their protection. In April, the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore started to relocate 1,600 coral colonies from the south-western Sultan Shoal to waters near St John's island to shield them from the "fallout" from the building of the new Tuas Terminal.

Dive centres and conservation groups here see a growing interest in Singapore's waters.

At local dive company GS-Diving, for instance, the number of participants on their weekly local dive trips have gone up from about eight divers per trip six years ago to about 15 now.

Nature lovers have started groups, like Blue Water Volunteers or Hantu Bloggers, to spread the word about Singapore's marine diversity. The groups often organise diving trips and document the seahorses, sea slugs or other sea creatures they see.

Coral reefs have helped soften the edges of Singapore, often seen as a hard-driving city with scant regard for nature.

Said Ms Debby Ng, founder of the Hantu Bloggers: "(Many think) that there are no coral reefs because much of our coastline is reclaimed, and that living reefs cannot live alongside heavy industry.

"But the fact that we have several living reefs that remain productive around our heavily developed southern coast shows that living reefs and development can find a way to co-exist."

The jetty at Pulau Hantu Kechil. The seas of Singapore are teeming with aquatic life, contrary to the popular belief that there is a lack of biodiversity in the country’s waters. Corals are found not only around Pulau Hantu but also near other islands, such as Pulau Sudong. Lucky divers get glimpses of sea turtles, dolphins or even reef sharks. -- ST PHOTOS: CAROLINE CHIA

A lion fish; a pair of clown fish (above); mushroom hard coral; a black-margined nudibranch; and a feather star – all photographed in the waters of Pulau Hantu. -- PHOTOS: LOH KOK SHENG, CAROLINE CHIA, HENG PEI YAN - See more at:


Since visibility is restricted, most people don't see our reef life - it becomes a case of 'out of sight, out of mind'.

- National University of Singapore marine biologist Chou Loke Ming, who is also principal investigator of the Reef Ecology Lab at NUS

A beautiful 'marine parade'


How fitting that this fish with the red and white stripes and regal fins was spotted on National Day at the intertidal area of Pulau Hantu. Teacher Loh Kok Sheng, 30, saw it while surveying the reefs before sunrise. "As the trip was held on National Day, it was meaningful to spot the lion fish on the Lion City's birthday," he said.


It looks like a flower with petals like birds' feathers. But it is no plant but an animal, up to 20cm in diameter, which can be found on the reefs at the Southern Islands, and on the sea floor.


One of the roughly 250 species of hard corals in Singapore, it often plays host to small creatures such as shrimp, and is usually seen in the waters near the southern isles.


This fish, which resembles the Disney cartoon character Nemo, is often found among large sea anemones and in Singapore's southern waters. Usually taken in large numbers for the aquarium trade.


This sea slug, between 3cm to 5cm long, can be found on rubble at the reefs in southern Singapore's waters.

Facts credit: Professor Chou Loke Ming,

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Wildlife photographers tied bird down for good shots

Judith Tan The New Paper AsiaOne 22 Aug 14;

Who are the animals here?

The birds or the group of photographers who tied a chick to a shrub just so they could get a better picture of its parents?

You decide.

What Mr Jaieden Ace Shen saw on Monday shocked him.

It was his first time trying to photograph wild terns (a type of seabird) and their chicks in their habitat at Tuas South.

It was not easy and he was not the only one trying. There were three other photography buffs nearby.

That was when Mr Shen, 30, saw a photographer trying to direct a chick to a spot so its picture could be taken. The chick was not cooperative.

"Then one of them, the guy in red, tied one of the chick's legs together before attaching it to the shrub. It took him quite a while.

"After that, the chick was screaming as it fell down repeatedly, struggling to escape," he recounted.

"While all this was happening, the guy who did the tying and his female companion snapped close-up shots of the parents circling very close to the ground where the chicks were," he said.

The trio in front of him had initially "shoo-ed" the chicks to where they had set up for shots, but "the chicks kept running back to their original hideout," Mr Shen told The New Paper.

Although he was rooted for 10 minutes, "shocked, confused, and upset while witnessing this cruel act", he still managed to secretly document everything.

He said he was too scared to intervene and left after 10 minutes.

"I'm deeply ashamed for being cowardly and for not doing anything about it.

"But it was a stressful moment as I was all alone in a very secluded place I've never been to before and with three total strangers," he said.

It was only after consulting a few friends that he decided to post the photos of the act online that night, first on the wall of the Singapore Bird Group, then on his own.

"Being a newbie and not affiliated with any birding cliques or groups, I was also worried for my own safety should I bump into them again on one of my expeditions," said the introvert, who usually prefers to go bird-watching alone.

The pictures angered both bird and photography enthusiasts.

Many called the act "sick" and "cruel".

Mr Mansur Ahamed commented that it was sad that people "go to this extent to take that one good shot".

"I am sure he could not have done anything alone and would have ended up losing what he (Mr Shen) has documented," he wrote on the Singapore Bird Group Facebook page.

Another netizen, Roland Chua, added: "I thought the whole point of taking wildlife photography is to let the subject be in their natural habitat.

"What's with all these 'shooing', and scaring and pin downs?"

Mr Alan Owyong, past chairman of the Bird Group of Nature Society Singapore, said: "We have always been advocating that the welfare of birds and other animals comes first.

"The society has a 25-page Code of Ethics to guide our members and the public on proper behaviour in the field.

"When our members come across such behaviour, we do try to explain why it is harmful to the birds and other animals."


Founder and chief executive of Animal Concerns Research and Education Society Louis Ng said: "It is appalling that the birds were tied up and they were clearly terrified and suffered in the process.

"We hope that AVA (Agri-food and Veterinary Authority) will prosecute the photographers for animal cruelty and send a strong deterrent message that animal cruelty will not be tolerated in Singapore."

In a reply to The New Paper, an AVA spokesman said: "AVA has received feedback on the case and we are looking into it. We have not received reports of such nature previously.

"AVA does not condone animal cruelty."

In January, Law and Foreign Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam announced stiffer fines and longer jail terms for animal abusers.

Under the new legislation, expected to be passed this year, those convicted of animal cruelty under the Animals and Birds Act face fines of $50,000 and/or a jail term of up to three years for repeat offenders.

The penalty is now a fine of up to $10,000 and/or a maximum jail term of one year, or both.

Photos of 'bound bird' rile community
Audrey Tan The Straits Times 22 Aug 14;

Photographs of a man who appeared to be mishandling a little tern chick have ruffled the feathers of the birding community here.

The red-shirted man seemed to be tethering the baby bird's legs to a bush so it could be posed for a photograph. Shots posted on Facebook on Monday showed the young tern struggling in front of a bush, unable to move away.

Little terns are a species native to Singapore which nest on sandy ground. The young are usually flightless until they fledge, which takes about 25 days.

The man is believed to have done this to allow two other bird photographers to snap a shot of the chick against a "clean, mess-free background with good lighting".

"He continued even when the parent tern was in distress, flying overhead and close to the ground - the other photographers then took the opportunity to snap shots of the bird in flight," said Mr Jaieden Shen, an amateur bird photographer who witnessed the incident.

Mr Shen, who is in his early 30s, had visited the site in Tuas on Monday afternoon to take pictures of the terns.

Upon realising what the trio was up to, Mr Shen said he took some shots and left, as he felt uncomfortable about the situation.

Mr Shen also said he informed the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA), which asked for more details of the trio but also told him that tying up a bird's legs was technically not illegal.

Mr Alan Owyong, former chairman of the Nature Society's Bird Group, said there were ethics in dealing with nature, which most photographers adhere to.

He said: "The welfare of the birds, animals or plants is the top priority."

AVA said it has received feedback on the case and is investigating. Anyone found guilty of animal cruelty can be fined up to $10,000, jailed up to a year, or both.

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Singapore part of key international route for illegal bear products: Report

Paul Lim Today Online 21 Aug 14;

SINGAPORE — According to a report by an international group monitoring wildlife trade, Singapore is part of a key international trade route for bear bile products and has a well-developed domestic market.

In its report released today (Aug 21), Traffic examined 694 cases of seizures of bears and bear products between 2000 and 2011 from 17 Asian countries or territories. Singapore accounted for 3 per cent or 23 of the seizures.

During that period, at least 2800 bears were traded, with the majority of seizures involving Cambodia (27 per cent), China (21 per cent) and Vietnam (15 per cent).

The report said the high demand for medicines containing bear bile could have driven the trade in Asia. Bears are commonly traded for its meat and skins, or for making traditional medicines with their gall bladders and bile.

“The number of seizures are a credit to the enforcement agencies, but they undoubtedly only stop a fraction of the overall trafficking because bear products are still widely and easily available across Asia,” said Dr Chris R Shepherd, regional director of Traffic in South-east Asia.

The report recommends that CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) authorities and parties to the Convention take appropriate steps to assist countries in addressing the issue and to close illegal bear farms.

In its research methods, the researchers sent formal requests for bear seizures to relevant CITES Management Authorities in 22 Asian countries or territories. Data on seizures were also obtained from other sources, including seizure records from Traffic and various NGOs.

Responding to TODAY’s queries, the Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority said it was aware of Traffic’s report and was studying it. Adding that most species of bears are highly endangered and protected under CITES, the authority said trade in bear and their bile products for primarily commercial purposes is generally prohibited.

Singapore on 'key trade route for bear bile'
David Ee The Straits Times AsiaOne 24 Aug 14;

SINGAPORE is part of a long-established trade route for illegal bear bile products and "sustains a well-developed" domestic market for them, a new report claims.

Traffic, an international group that monitors illegal wildlife trade, analysed 694 officially reported seizures of bears and bear products from 2000 to 2011 in 17 Asian countries.

Singapore accounted for just 3 per cent, or 23, of these cases. The main culprits were Cambodia, China, Vietnam and Russia.

However, the report noted, the seizures reported here had occurred "consistently" - in seven of the 12 years studied - indicating that there is "a continual trade route for processed bear products".

The report showed that at least 2,801 individual bears were traded within Asia for their parts and products between 2000 and 2011.

Bear bile is taken from the gall bladders of bears held captive at illegal "bear farms" in Asia. It is used as an ingredient in traditional Chinese medicines, to treat ailments such as epilepsy and fever.

Bears are also trafficked for their meat, skin and paws, and as trophies.

This trade violates international conservation laws as it targets endangered Asian black bears and sun bears. Under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites), which Singapore has signed, trade in bears and their parts and products is prohibited.

Dr Chris Shepherd, Traffic's regional director for South-east Asia, said: "The number of seizures is a credit to enforcement agencies, but they undoubtedly stop only a fraction of the overall trafficking as bear products are still widely and easily available across Asia."

Apart from tougher law enforcement, the report urged Singapore and other Asian nations to find ways to reduce the consumption of bear bile in traditional medicines, through education, and to carry out research into possible substitutes.

The Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) told The Straits Times that it regularly monitors shops and online sources for illegal wildlife products, and carries out surprise checks on shops. AVA also distributes advisories to educate retailers about Cites and its requirements.

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Energy labels to be revised from Sep 1

Channel NewsAsia 22 Aug 14;

SINGAPORE: Energy labels on air-conditioners, refrigerators and clothes dryers will be revised to make it easier for consumers to choose more energy-efficient models, the National Environment Agency (NEA) said on Friday (Aug 22).

Under the new rating system, to be launched on Sep 1, the most efficient models of air-conditioners and clothes dryers will be awarded five ticks, compared with four in the previous system. Labels for refrigerators will continue to have a maximum of four ticks as the current models available here do not comply with the requirements of the five-tick system.

One tick will replace zero ticks as the lowest efficiency band, following consumer feedback that a zero-tick band was confusing, the NEA said.

The new energy labels will also indicate the annual estimated energy cost of using the product for a typical household. This will help consumers better understand how the energy performance of the appliance they buy will translate into cost savings, the agency said.

- CNA/cy

New energy-labels and rating system for electrical appliances
Paul Lim Today Online 22 Aug 14;

SINGAPORE - Beginning next month, consumers looking to buy energy-efficient air conditioners, refrigerators and clothes dryers will be able to do so more easily.

The appliances registered under the National Environment Agency (NEA) will be given a new energy label, alongside a rescale of the energy rating system Mandatory Energy Labelling Scheme (MELS).

With the revised MELS, the most efficient models will now be awarded five ticks, instead of just four ticks. The energy labels will also reflect the annual estimated energy cost of using the product, so that buyers are more aware of their appliance-expenditure.

Currently, the majority of refrigerator and air-conditioner models are categorised into just two energy efficient bands. This means that within the two bands, there can be a wide range of differing levels of energy efficiency. For example, the most efficient air-conditioner models are almost 50 per cent more efficient than borderline models in that band.

With this new system in place, consumers will be able to better identify energy-efficient products and even generate savings for themselves, said the NEA. This revision was done due to a greater demand for more energy efficient product, aided by the MELS and technological developments.

Revised energy labels for air-cons and clothes dryers
Audrey Tan The Straits Times AsiaOne 25 Aug 14;

Buying home appliances that can help cut electricity bills will become easier.

Air-conditioners, refrigerators and clothes dryers will have new labels that more accurately reflect their energy efficiency.

This comes amid growing sophistication of both producers and consumers in the market for greener products.

For instance, in 2008, only less than 10 per cent of refrigerators sold here were rated four-ticks, indicating that they were the most energy-efficient. This grew to more than 40 per cent in 2012.

The number of models of four-tick chillers in the market has also increased sharply, from about 20 in 2008 to nearly 300 in June this year.

To help consumers make even greener choices, the National Environment Agency is tweaking its labelling from Sept 1.

The most efficient models will be given five ticks, instead of the current four.

The least green products will have one tick. In the present system a product could receive a no-tick rating.

"Consumers can look forward to having better energy-efficient home appliances and better identify models which will translate to greater cost savings," said the agency in a statement.

These new labels, which are mandatory, will apply to air-conditioners and clothes dryers.

However, refrigerator ratings will only go up to four ticks as current models in the market do not even meet the revised four-tick rating.

Manufacturers of the three types of appliances are also required to state on the label the estimated energy cost of using the products in one year.

This is based on typical usage, energy consumption and an electricity tariff of 27 cents - the five-year average cost from 2009 to 2013.

The new labels will allow consumers to distinguish the top-performing green appliances.

For example, about 230 air-conditioner models have the maximum four ticks now.

This is despite some models being almost 50 per cent more efficient than others.

With the revision, only about 20 of the most-efficient models will get the new maximum five ticks.

The changes to differentiate products are a good move, said business analyst Allan Chia of SIM University, as consumers "should always be provided with sufficient information to consider before making a purchase".

Welcoming the new rating, housewife June Tan, 53, said: "Many ticks are better as it is more visual for me, and those who are less educated."

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Malaysia: Tapir wanders into housing area

ALANG BENDAHARA New Straits Times 21 Aug 14;

SEREMBAN: A female tapir weighing 300kg believed to have been lost was found in a gated residential area of Sri Carcosa in Seremban 2 here today.

Residents of the elite neighbourhood adjoing a forest noticed the Malayan tapir or its scientific name Tapirus indicus (also called the Asian tapir) wandering around at 7.30am and reported it to the state Malaysian Civil Defense Department (JPAM).

Civil Defense personnel along with state Wildlife Protection and National Parks Department (Perhilitan) were sent to the location to save the animal.

State Perhilitan director Wan Mat Wan Harun said their joint team surrounded the tapir to force it to enter the trap installed there.

"The trapped animal was then given treatment by veterinary officers and later tagged with marking chip for us to detect animal in the future," he said yesterday.

Wan Mat said the tapir was then released back into a Perhilitan protected area in the state.

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Philippines: New tarsier species found

Janvic Mateo The Philippine Star 22 Aug 14;

Photo taken by researcher Melizar Duya shows a Dinagat tarsier, which has darker hair and skin than its Bohol cousin.

MANILA, Philippines - A team of 16 researchers from various countries, including biologists from the University of the Philippines, has confirmed a new tarsier species in the Dinagat Islands and northeast Mindanao.

Genetic sampling, according to a recently published study on PLOS ONE (, showed the existence of a previously unidentified lineage of tarsiers, which researchers dubbed as the Dinagat-Caraga variant.

Two other evolutionary lineages of tarsiers were identified in the study — the Bohol-Samar-Leyte and the Mindanao variants.

Biologist Perry Ong, in an article released on the UP website, said the Dinagat tarsier has darker hair and skin.

The researchers said conservation strategies should be refined in light of this discovery, noting that members of the new lineage live in economically impoverished areas, lacking low-elevation protected areas.

“Such an approach will greatly enhance the prospects for continued survival of this endemic primate and, combined with many other recent discoveries in the country, will contribute to the recognition of the archipelago as a globally significant biodiversity conservation priority,” they said.

Mining operations in the area are also seen as a possible threat to the remaining suitable habitat of the new variant of tarsiers.

Researchers also noted that current conservation efforts only involve the tarsier sanctuary in Bohol Island while another is being planned in Leyte.

“Would these two, and only these two, efforts adequately conserve genetic components of Philippine tarsier diversity? We argue that they would not,” said the study.

“We argue that such an approach would fail to conserve the genetic variation elucidated here,” it added.

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Tasmania prepares to tear up forestry peace deal

Environmentalists say the move by the state government would open up 1.5m hectares of largely pristine forest to logging
Oliver Milman 21 Aug 14;

The Tasmanian government is on course to pass legislation that would tear up the state’s forestry peace deal, with environmentalists claiming the move will open up 1.5m hectares of largely pristine forest to logging.

The state government’s forestry bill has already passed the lower house, which it controls, and is in the process of negotiating the legislative council, the upper house of parliament. Key independent Robert Armstrong has indicated support for the bill, meaning it is likely to pass.

The bill will remove 400,000ha of native forest from reserves set up by the Tasmanian Forest Agreement.

An additional 657,000ha in conservation areas and 454,000ha in regional reserves will also be opened up to “partial logging” for the speciality timber industry.

Green groups say that 1.5m hectares of forest, some of it pristine old growth rainforest that has been protected for 30 years, could potentially be felled.

The state government argues that the existing forestry agreement, which ended decades of battles between loggers and conservationists, is stifling jobs and investment in the timber industry.

Paul Harriss, Tasmania’s minister for resources, said he was “optimistic” the bill, which designates particular species of tree for logging, would pass.

“The bill rips up the job-destroying Tasmanian Forest Agreement and provides a framework to rebuild and future-proof the industry,” he said.

“The forestry bill does not provide for native forest timber harvesting in any existing reserves. Under current legislation the management objectives for regional reserves and purposes of reservation for regional reserves already explicitly provide for special species timber harvesting.”

Last week he set up a new ministerial advisory council made up entirely of timber industry and agriculture representatives, with no one from an environmental group.

The state government is also introducing tough new anti-protest laws, aimed primarily at anti-logging activists, dismissing claims they impinge upon the freedom of speech.

Environmental groups, which have conducted an advertising blitz attacking the new forestry bill, claim the Liberal government has gone beyond its election pledge to rip up the peace deal.

Jenny Weber, campaign manager at Bob Brown Foundation, said: “This is undoing 30 years of protection in some places. It’s going further than they ever said they would.

“What we are seeing here is a vast area of Tasmania’s land opened up to logging. There is this myth that specialist timber is environmentally sensitive. We are very concerned about the forestry roads, the burning after logging and the method of logging. It’s very destructive.”

Weber said the areas opened up to logging will include large areas of the Tarkine wilderness in the north-west of the state, as well as Bruny Island in the south. She added that threatened species such as the swift parrot, spotted tailed quoll, wedge tailed eagle and Tasmanian devil would all suffer from an expansion in logging.

“We have a very conservative government here in Tasmania, as in Australia, that is intent on attacking the environment,” she said. “We need to acknowledge that these forests are a scarce, valuable resource.”

In June, the United Nations rejected a bid, supported by both the Australian and Tasmanian governments, to strip 74,000ha of forest from the state’s world heritage area. The justification for the move was described as “feeble” by a member of the UN’s world heritage committee.

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Orangutan experts plead for Australian food manufacturers to reject palm oil

Apes, elephants, rhinos and tigers at dire risk if unsustainable palm oil plantations allowed in Sumatran reserve
Oliver Milman 22 Aug 14;

One of the world’s leading orangutan experts has called on Australian food manufacturers to speed up efforts to ditch unsustainable palm oil, warning that the situation “has never been so desperate” for the threatened primates.

Dr Ian Singleton, head of the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Program, said the apes, with the Sumatran elephant, rhino and tiger, were facing a “major extinction event” due to plans to open up a critical reserve for logging and construction.

The vast Leuser ecosystem in northern Sumatra is the only place on Earth where orangutans, elephants, rhinos and tigers co-exist.

Despite this, the regional Aceh government has approved a plan to allow roads, palm oil plantations, logging and mining in the ecosystem. Construction work has started, despite objections put forward by the central Indonesian government.

Singleton warned the situation was “dire” for the threatened species, warning that the development plan would completely wipe out the Sumatran rhino, and leave just a few hundred orangutans.

There are an estimated 6,700 Sumatran orangutans, primarily in the dense rainforests on the north of the island. But their numbers have been severely depleted by forest clearing, largely for palm oil plantations. This has led to apes wandering on to newly established farms, where they are regularly beaten, tortured and killed.

Singleton, with Zoos Victoria, is urging companies based in Australia to commit to certified sustainable palm oil, which is not sourced via the destruction of orangutan habitat. Palm oil is used in many products, from food to toothpaste.

So far, just two businesses – Robern Menz and Thomas Chipman – have moved to 100% sustainable palm oil. Ferrero and Arnotts have said they will move to sustainable palm oil by the end of the year, says Zoos Victoria.

Other businesses plan a much slower transition, including Unilever, Nestle, Cadbury, Kellogg’s, Mars, Coles and Woolworths. And Colgate-Palmolive has made no commitment to shift its supply, Zoos Victoria says.

Singleton, who is on a speaking tour of Australia, said: “If Aceh’s plan is approved by the central Indonesian government, its implementation will have devastating environmental and social consequence, and make a mockery of Indonesia’s claimed commitments to reduce carbon emissions from the forestry sector.

“The livelihoods and wellbeing of thousands of people also rests on the protection of important ecosystems such as Leuser, in Aceh. These internationally protected areas are of great significance to the world’s biodiversity but they are being levelled to make way for palm oil.

“Until all Australian food manufacturers who use palm oil have switched to only sourcing [certified sustainable palm oil] then they cannot hand on heart say that they are not driving the environmental crisis in Aceh. It’s time for Australian companies to step up and make sure they deliver on their commitments.”

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Global warming slowdown 'could last another decade'

Matt McGrath BBC News 21 Aug 14;

The hiatus in the rise in global temperatures could last for another 10 years, according to new research.

Scientists have struggled to explain the so-called pause that began in 1999, despite ever increasing levels of CO2 in the atmosphere.

The latest theory says that a naturally occurring 30-year cycle in the Atlantic Ocean is behind the slowdown.

The researchers says this slow-moving current could continue to divert heat into the deep seas for another decade.

However, they caution that global temperatures are likely to increase rapidly when the cycle flips to a warmer phase.

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), global average temperatures have increased by around 0.05C per decade in the period between 1998 and 2012.

This compares with a decadal average of 0.12 between 1951 and 2012.

More than a dozen theories have been put forward on the cause of this pause in temperature growth that occurred while emissions of carbon dioxide were at record highs.

These ideas include the impact of pollution such as soot particles that have reflected back some of the Sun's heat into space.

Increased volcanic activity since 2000 has also been blamed, as have variations in solar activity.

The most recent perspectives have looked to the oceans as the locations of the missing heat.

Last year a study suggested that a periodic upwelling of cooler waters in the Pacific was limiting the rise.

However this latest work, published in the journal Science, shifts the focus from the Pacific to the Atlantic and Southern oceans.

The team, lead by Prof Ka-Kit Tung from the University of Washington, US, says there is now evidence that a 30-year current alternately warms and cools the world by sinking large amounts of heat beneath these deep waters.

They've used observations from a network of devices called Argo floats that sample the oceans down to 2,000 metres.
Ice age fears

The researchers say that there was another hiatus between 1945 and 1975 due to this current taking down the heat, that led to fears of a new ice age.

From 1976 though, the cycle flipped and contributed to the warming of the world, as more heat stayed on the surface.

But since the year 2000, the heat has been going deeper, and the world's overall temperatures haven't risen beyond the record set in 1998.

"The floats have been very revealing to us," said Prof Tung.

"I think the consensus at this point is that below 700 metres in the Atlantic and Southern oceans [they are] storing heat and not the Pacific."

A key element in this new understanding is the saltiness of the water. The waters in the Atlantic current coming up from the tropics are saltier because of evaporation. This sinks more quickly and takes the heat down with it.

Eventually though, the salty water melts enough ice in Arctic waters to lower the saline level, slowing down the current and keeping the heat near the surface.

"Before 2006 the saltiness was increasing, this indicated that the current was speeding up," said Prof Tung.

"After 2006, this saltiness is diminishing but it's still above the long-term average. Now it is slowly slowing down.

"Once it gets below the long-term average, then it is the next period of rapid warming."

As well as the data from the Argo floats, Prof Tung has also examined the Central England Temperature record, that dates back over 350 years. He believes that this confirms the regular 70-year cycles of warm and cold spells.

This historic pattern, he says, could extend the current period of pause.

"We probably may have another 10 years, maybe shorter as global warming itself is melting more ice and ice could flood the North Atlantic, but historically we are in the middle of the cycle."
Rising staircase of warming

Several other researchers in this field acknowledge the Tung analysis is part of a growing body of evidence that suggests the Atlantic has a role in the pause.

Prof Reto Knutti from the ETH Zurich has recently published a review of all the current theories on the hiatus.

"I see the studies as complementary, and they both highlight that natural variability in ocean and atmosphere is important in modifying long term anthropogenic trends," he said.

"A better understanding of those modes of variability is critical to understand past changes (including differences between models and observations during the hiatus period) as well as predicting the future, in particular in the near term and regionally, where variability dominates the forced changes from greenhouses gases."

Other scientists say that the Atlantic hypothesis is interesting but a much longer range of observations is needed.

"We really don't have a lot of data," said Dr Jonathan Robson from the University of Reading, UK.

"So if there is this 60-year oscillation in the ocean, we haven't observed it all, basically we've observed the impact of it. We may have to wait 15-20 years to know what's going on."

Prof Tung believes that whatever the cause and the length of the pause, we are on a "rising staircase" when it comes to global temperatures that will become apparent when the Atlantic current switches again.

"At the end we will be on the rising part of the staircase, and the rate of warming there will be very fast, just as fast as the last three decades of the 20th Century, plus we are starting off at a higher plateau. The temperatures and the effects will be more severe."

Atlantic slows warming, temperature rises seen resuming from 2030: study
Alister Doyle PlanetArk 22 Aug 14;

The Atlantic Ocean has masked global warming this century by soaking up vast amounts of heat from the atmosphere in a shift likely to reverse from around 2030 and spur fast temperature rises, scientists said.

The theory is the latest explanation for a slowdown in the pace of warming at the Earth's surface since about 1998 that has puzzled experts because it conflicts with rising greenhouse gas emissions, especially from emerging economies led by China.

"We're pointing to the Atlantic as the driver of the hiatus," Ka-Kit Tung, of the University of Washington in Seattle and a co-author of Thursday's study in the journal Science, told Reuters.

The study said an Atlantic current carrying water north from the tropics sped up this century and sucked more warm surface waters down to 1,500 meters (5,000 feet), part of a natural shift for the ocean that typically lasts about three decades.

It said a return to a warmer period, releasing more heat stored in the ocean, was likely to start around 2030. When it does, "another episode of accelerated global warming should ensue", the authors wrote.

Almost 200 governments aim to agree a deal to combat climate change at a summit in Paris in late 2015 and the hiatus has heartened skeptics who doubt there is an urgent need for a trillion-dollar shift from fossil fuels to renewable energies.

Several previous studies have suggested that the larger Pacific Ocean is the likely site of the "missing heat" from man-made greenhouse gases, perhaps linked to a series of La Nina cooling events in the Pacific in recent years.

Other suggestions for the slowdown in warming have included a rise in industrial pollution that is blocking sunlight.


A separate team of scientists writing in the journal Nature Geoscience on Sunday said that factors including swings in the sun's output and sun-blocking dust from volcanic eruptions may account for gaps in understanding the warming trends.

In addition, La Nina cooling events in the Pacific Ocean had played a role, according to the report that examined why computer models of the climate had over-estimated temperature rises in the past decade.

But no one knows for sure.

"It will be interesting to see how and if these ideas are connected" with the theory of the Atlantic, lead author Markus Huber said of the study by the Institute for Atmospheric and Climate Science at ETH Zurich.

Thursday's study said a shift in salinity may have caused more heat to be transferred to the depths of the Atlantic.

Warm, salty water from the tropics flows north on the Gulf Stream in the Atlantic and sinks when it meets cooler water. The "great ocean conveyor belt" then makes cold water flow in the depths to the Southern Ocean.

Even though global warming has slowed, 13 of the 14 warmest years on record have been this century, according to U.N. estimates.

A U.N. panel says it is at least 95 percent certain that human emissions, rather than natural variations in the climate, are the main cause of rising temperatures since 1960 that have caused more heatwaves, downpours and rising sea levels.

(Editing by Gareth Jones)

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