Best of our wild blogs: 13 Sep 14

3,500 International Coastal Cleanup volunteers hit the beach in Singapore today!
from News from the International Coastal Cleanup Singapore

The fast fading ghosts of Ghost Island
from The Long and Winding Road

Morning Dew
from Bugs & Insects of Singapore

Carpenter Bee Sunbathing
from Bird Ecology Study Group

Nature Calls!
from Stir-fried Science

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Indonesia: Four factors destroy forests - Activist

Antara 12 Sep 14;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - The non-governmental environmental organization Wahana Lingkungan Hidup (WALHI) stated that four factors cause destruction to forests in Indonesia.

"The four factors are industrial plantations, oil palm plantations, mining, and forest concessions," manager of WALHIs Forests and Plantations, Zenzi Suhadi, stated here on Friday.

He noted that the four factors are the major causes for destroying forests since the reform era (1998) to the present.

However, according to the recent review by the government, the cause of destruction of forests during the 1966-1998 period was illegal logging.

"The government should work hard to conserve forests in Indonesia, and if concrete action is not taken our forests will be lost and disasters will emerge," Zenzi pointed out.

He said that since the reform era (1998) until 2011, 56 million hectares of forest has been destroyed and has continued to increase every year.

"Data from the last two years have revealed that forest destruction in all the islands in Indonesia has increased up to almost 1 million hectares, caused by illegal plantations," Zenzi said.

Therefore, the government must be more assertive in taking legal action against the perpetrators--individuals or companies--who endanger the forest through plantations, mining, or logging.

The administrations must thoroughly review and observe the field conditions on areas where the companies operate.

"We hope the government will be serious in forest conservation and will take firm action against any company that has been found to be destroying forests," Zenzi added.

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Malaysia: Brace for haze, says Meteorological Dept

patrick lee The Star 12 Sep 14;

PETALING JAYA: Smoke from Sumatran fires in Indonesia are expected to cross over into Malaysia soon, the Meteorological Department said on Friday.

Spokesman Dr Hisham Mohd Anip said drier-than-usual weather was in the region, and that winds would carry haze from Indonesian fire hotspots over Malaysia.

"Expect the weather to be a bit drier starting from tomorrow, and also the possibility of haze," he told The Star on Friday.

He added that a tropical cyclone in The Philippines's east was also drawing winds southwest of it, namely from Indonesia and Malaysia.

This, Dr Hisham said, meant that winds from the region would likely push haze clouds over Malaysia.

"These are southwest winds moving northeast. Maybe it will last until the end of next week," he said.

According to a Jakarta Post report, a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) satellite detected 225 hotspots across Sumatra on Thursday.

This was an increase of 49 hotspots from the day before, which seemed to be present on the island's Riau, North Sumatra, Jambi and South Sumatra provinces.

Meanwhile, most Malaysian cities on the Peninsular's West Coast appeared to show a mixture of moderate and good air quality readings.

According to the Department of Environment website, the most unhealthy readings in the country were recorded in Malacca's Bukit Rambai.
It had an Air Pollutant Index (API) reading of 72. Meanwhile, most areas in Selangor and Kuala Lumpur had moderate API readings of between 51 and 60.

More hotspots detected across Sumatra
The Jakarta Post 12 Sep 14;

The NOAA satellite detected 225 hotspots across Sumatra on Thursday, up significantly from 176 hotspots a day earlier, according to data from Riau's Disaster Mitigation Agency received by Antara news agency on Friday.

The hotspots were found in the provinces of Riau, North Sumatra, Jambi and South Sumatra, the data showed.

Most hotspots are allegedly the result of forest fires caused by deliberate slash-and-burn activities by local people to make way for new plantation areas.

Forest fires in Riau frequently cause thick haze to blanket the province and its neighboring areas, including Singapore and Malaysia.

Forest and land fires occurring in Riau between February and April 2014 caused economic losses worth more than Rp 20 trillion, according to data released by the National Disaster Mitigation Board (BNPB).

"It should be kept in mind that once a forest fire breaks out, it will be difficult to extinguish and can cause huge losses," BNPB chief Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said.

The largest loss caused by forest and land fires in Indonesia was in 1997, when fires wiped out millions of hectares of forest and plantation areas with losses estimated at US$2.45 billion. (hhr)

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Historic day as sharks and manta rays receive UN protection

TRAFFIC 12 Sep 14;

On Sunday 14th September, five species of sharks and two manta ray species will receive protection under the United Nation’s Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) when formal measures to regulate their international trade come into effect.

The five sharks and two manta rays species include Scalloped Hammerhead Shark Sphyrna lewini, Great Hammerhead Shark Sphyrna mokarran, Smooth Hammerhead Shark Sphyrna zygaena, Oceanic Whitetip Shark Carcharinus longimanus, Porbeagle Shark Lamna nasus and manta rays Manta spp.

All the sharks except Porbeagle are caught for their fins, which are exported to East Asia, especially Hong Kong, where they are the key ingredient in sharks-fin soup, an expensive, but popular delicacy.

The Porbeagle Shark is mainly caught for consumption of its meat within the European Union, while the gill plates of manta rays are highly valued as a health tonic in southern China.

All the species are commercially valuable and threatened through over-harvesting.

Under the newly introduced CITES measures, their commercial trade must be strictly regulated and the species can only be exported or taken from national and international waters when the exporting / fishing country certifies they were legally sourced and that the overall level of exports does not threaten the survival of the species.

In March last year, representatives from the 178 government Parties to CITES voted to include the shark and ray species within Appendix II of the Convention.

There are a number of technical issues associated with this listing, such as enforcement agencies learning how to identify products in trade, especially the fins that are usually traded in dried form and the Parties were given an 18 month period to prepare for the introduction of CITES requirements.

Many organizations, including the CITES Secretariat, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), plus non-governmental organizations including TRAFFIC and WWF have therefore worked to improve capacity on managing shark fisheries to bring them in line with CITES rules before today’s deadline.

Supported by the German government, TRAFFIC developed guidelines for countries who will need to make informed decisions—so-called “non-detriment findings” or NDFs—about the levels of trade shark populations can sustain, before CITES permits can be issued. The NDF guidelines are being widely distributed to fisheries management authorities.

In parallel, as part of a UK government supported project, TRAFFIC has developed M-risk, a novel method to quantify the risk of over-exploitation of shark stocks as a result of poor or inadequate management.

“TRAFFIC is fully committed to ensuring successful implementation of CITES measures for these shark and ray species, both in terms of demonstrating the value of the Convention for regulating trade in commercially important marine species and also that there is ultimately conservation benefit in doing so,” said Glenn Sant, TRAFFIC’s Fisheries Trade Programme Leader.

Many of the sharks are caught as a secondary catch by vessels targeting tuna.

“International co-operation to implement the new CITES measures will be essential, and the member governments of those organizations who manage tuna fisheries in the world’s oceans have a key role to play in ensuring their success,” said Sant.

“There are no insurmountable technical obstacles to overcome in implementing CITES requirements, and the NGO community, including TRAFFIC is standing by ready to assist, if required.

“There is a lot at stake here: restoring the world’s shark stocks is crucial to maintaining the health of our oceans.”

TRAFFIC and WWF have created Sharks: Restoring the Balance, a joint global initiative to promote responsible shark fishing, improve the regulation of international trade in shark products and reduce consumer demand for unsustainably sourced shark and ray products.

First ban on shark and manta ray trade comes into force
Matt McGrath BBC News 14 Sep 14;

All trade in five named species of sharks is to be regulated from now on, in a significant step forward for conservation.

Without a permit confirming that these sharks have been harvested legally and sustainably, the sale of their meat or fins will be banned.

The regulation was agreed last year at a meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites) in Thailand.

The rules also apply to manta rays.

Shark numbers have been under severe pressure in recent years as the numbers killed for their fins soared.

Scientific estimates put the number at about 100m a year, with demand driven by the fin soup trade in Hong Kong and China.

Campaigners have been seeking to stop the unregulated trade in sharks since the 1990s but it was only at the Cites meeting in Bangkok last year that they finally managed to achieve sufficient votes to drive through the ban.

From Sunday, the oceanic whitetip, the porbeagle and three varieties of hammerhead will be elevated to Appendix II of the Cites code, which means that traders must have permits and certificates.

Manta rays, valued for their gills which are used in Chinese medicine, will also be protected.

The survival of all these species has been threatened by over fishing.
Tangible protection

The move is seen as the most significant move in the 40 year history of Cites to protect these species.

"Regulating international trade in these shark and manta ray species is critical to their survival and is a very tangible way of helping to protect the biodiversity of our oceans," said Cites Secretary General John Scanlon.

"The practical implementation of these listings will involve issues such as determining sustainable export levels, verifying legality, and identifying the fins, gills and meat that are in trade. This may seem challenging, but by working together we can do it and we will do it."

Under the regulations, all trade in these sharks and rays across 180 countries will not be allowed unless they have been authorised by the designated national authorities.

Trade in shark fins has already declined significantly as a result of campaigns to raise awareness. Recently it's been reported that sales have gone down by 70%.

Earlier this year the hotel chain, Hilton Worldwide stopped serving shark fin at its 96 owned and managed Asia-Pacific properties.

However several countries have entered reservations to the Cites regulations on some of these species.

Denmark (on behalf of Greenland), Canada, Guyana, Japan, Iceland and Yemen have all said they will not be bound by the new rules and will continue to fish for some or all of these species.

Under the regulations though, they are only able to trade with other countries that have also registered a reservation.

Officials from Cites point out that for such a controversial issue, the number of countries registering reservations is small. The point to the fact that China, the main consumer market, has not done so.

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Majority of consumer products may be tainted by illegal deforestation - report

Carey L. Biron, Inter Press Service Reuters 11 Sep 14;

Any views expressed in this article are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

WASHINGTON, Sep 11 2014 (IPS) - At least half of global deforestation is taking place illegally and in support of commercial agriculture, particularly to supply overseas markets, new analysis released Thursday finds.

Over the past decade, a majority of the illegal clearing of forests has been in response to foreign demand for common commodities such as paper, beef, soy and palm oil. Yet governments in major markets such as the United States and European Union are taking almost no steps to urge corporations or consumers to reject such products.

Indeed, doing so would be incredibly difficult given the incredibly widespread availability of potentially "dirty" products, the new analysis, published by Forest Trends, a Washington-based watchdog group, suggests. In many countries, consumers are likely using such products on a regular basis.

"In the average supermarket today, the majority of products are at risk of containing commodities that come from illegally deforested lands," Sam Lawson, the report's author and director of Earthsight, a British group that investigates environmental crime, told IPS.

"That's true for any product encased in paper or cardboard, any beef, and any chicken or pork given that these [latter] animals are often raised on soy. And, of course, palm oil is now in almost everything, from lipstick to ice cream."

In the absence of legislation to prevent such products from being imported and sold, Lawson says, "There's always this risk."

Overall, some 40 percent of all globally traded palm oil and 14 percent of all beef likely comes from illegally cleared lands, the paper estimates. The same can be said of a fifth of all soy and a third of all tropical timber, widely used to make paper products.

Meanwhile, some three-quarters of Brazilian soy and Indonesian palm oil are exported. Such trends are growing in countries such as Papua New Guinea and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

While many case studies on these issues have previously been published on particular countries, sectors or companies, the new report is the first to try to extrapolate that data to the global level.

"Consumer demand in overseas markets resulted in the illegal clearance of more than 200,000 square kilometers of tropical forest during the first 12 years of the new millennium," the report estimates, noting this adds up to "an average of five football fields every minute".

While much this illegal clearing is being facilitated by corruption and lack of capacity in developing countries, Lawson places the culpability elsewhere.

"It's companies that are carrying out these acts and they bear ultimate responsibility," he says. "Big consumer countries also need to stop undermining the efforts of developing countries by allowing these products unfettered access to their markets.

Logging lessons

The ramifications of degraded forestlands, of course, are both local – impacting on livelihoods, ecosystems and human health – and global. Standing, mature forests not only hold massive amounts of carbon but also continually suck carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere.

Between 2000 and 2012, the emissions associated with illegal deforestation for commercial agriculture each year was roughly the same as a quarter of the annual fossil fuel emissions in the European Union.

The new findings come just ahead of two major global climate summits. Later this month, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will host international leaders in New York to discuss the issue, and in December the next round of global climate negotiations will take place in Peru, ahead of intended global agreement next year.

The Lima talks are being referred to as the "forest" round. Some observers have suggested that forestry could offer the most significant potential for global emissions cuts.

This rising global consensus around the importance of maintaining forest cover in the face of global climate change has led to significant international efforts to tackle illegal logging. And these have met with some important success.

Yet Earthsight's Lawson says that some of the companies that were previously involved in illegally cutting tropical hardwoods are now engaging in the illegal clearing of forests to make way for large-scale agriculture.

"The biggest threat to forests is gradually changing, and that threat is today from commercial agriculture," he says. "What we need now is to repeat some of the efforts that have been made in relation to illegal logging and apply those to agricultural commodities."

The European Union, for instance, is currently in the process of implementing a bilateral system of licensing, in order to allow for legally harvested timber to be traced back to its source. Similar bilateral arrangements, Lawson suggests, could be introduced around key commodities.

Proven legality

Such a process would charge governments and multinational companies with ensuring that globally traded commodities do not originate from illegally cleared forestlands. In essence, this would create a situation in which the base requirement for entry into major markets would be proven legality.

Today, of course, the choice of whether or not to purchase a product made with ingredients potentially sourced from illegally deforested lands is up to the consumer – if that information is available at all. Yet such a new arrangement would turn that responsibility around entirely.

"All of this onus on the consumer bothers me – it really shouldn't have to be so difficult to make these choices," Danielle Nierenberg, the president of Food Tank, a Washington think tank focused on sustainability issues, told IPS.

"The fact is, consumers are still blind to these issues – despite the growth of the local food movement in Western countries, there remains significant demand for a range of inexpensive products. That's why the real action has to come from the corporate side, and governments need to take a bigger interest."

The United States has landmark legislation in place that bans the use of illegally sourced wood products in the country. By many accounts, that legal regime has been notably effective in cutting off the country's massive market to those products.

Yet for now, Nierenberg says that there is no political appetite in Washington to do something similar regarding agricultural commodities.

"Instead, the real opportunity for government initiative comes from the developing world," she says. "They need to invest more in small- and medium-scale farmers, protect their lands from land grabs, and invest in simple agricultural technologies that actually work. That's where the real change could happen."

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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