Best of our wild blogs: 27 Sep 14

Draft Campaign Strategy on Marine Trash in Singapore
from Green Future Solutions

Nature photography in Singapore – attitude and perspectives
from Bird Ecology Study Group

Call Playback, Mealworm Use, Flash Photography, Mist Netting & the Like: What Lengths to get The Shot?
from Bird Ecology Study Group

Tue 07 Oct 2014: 4.00pm @ The Orchard Hotel – The Second Asia Environment Lecture – The Green Economy: Will Asia Embrace It?
from News from Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum

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Malaysia: Explain clearly, Forest City developer told

BEN TAN New Straits Times 27 Sep 14;

JOHOR BARU: THE developer of the controversial Forest City project must be clear in their explanation about the development and its impact on the affected villagers in the area, said Tan Sri Shahrir Samad.

The Johor Baru member of parliament said this was because he felt that the explanation offered to the Kampung Pok community in Gelang Patah by the developer, Country Garden Pacific View Sdn Bhd, had raised more questions than answers.

“They should have had the dialogue session earlier to address the concerns regarding the environmental impact and the villagers’ concern,” Shahrir, who is also Iskandar Regional Development Authority adviser, said after launching the IM Klik photography competition here yesterday.

Present was Iskandar Investment Berhad president and chief executive officer Datuk Syed Mohamed Syed Ibrahim.

Shahrir said many villagers were not satisfied with the developer’s explanation.

“The developer needs to be more realistic in giving the real picture of their development not only to potential buyers, but to the surrounding community as well.”

Bernama had reported that since reclamation works for the project started in March this year, fishermen’s haul had dwindled.

“In the past, our haul would reach between 20kg and 40kg, but now, it is difficult for us to get even 1kg,” Abu Talib Khamis, 56, said.

The fisherman, who started going to sea at 12, claimed that the massive reclamation works under the Forest City Project at the Johor Straits had impacted negatively on fishermen.

The Forest City project is a joint-venture between a property developer from China and a local agency to create four artificial islands in the area.

The project’s gross development value is expected to reach RM600 billion in 30 years.

State Malaysian Nature Society chairman Vincent Chow had in July described the continental shelves off Tanjung Adang and Merambong in the Johor Straits as a sensitive marine heritage.

Zulkifli Hassan, 49, said he and other fishermen were now forced to go further out to sea.

“We have to make a detour to avoid the reclamation area.”

He said the project had affected the sea currents, endangering the safety of fishermen using small boats.

“We are also using more fuel to reach new fishing spots and using bigger vessels to rough out the stronger currents.”

During the public dialogue held last Sunday at the Kampung Pok community hall in Gelang Patah on the detailed environmental impact assessment (DEIA) briefing of the Forest City project, villagers had voiced their protests.

Among others, they questioned the credibility of the survey on the social and economic impact conducted by the DEIA consultant.

Of the 100 villagers polled, 60 per cent of them had apparently said “yes” to the controversial project.

The audience questioned the methodology used in the survey and whether the sample was sufficient.

Kampung Pok Village Development and Security Committee deputy chairman Azman Abdul Rahman said he did not
know when the survey was conducted, and if it had ever been conducted.

KPRJ Urged To Allay Residents Fears On Forest City Project
Bernama 26 Sep 14;

JOHOR BAHRU, Sept 26 (Bernama) -- Kumpulan Prasarana Rakyat Johor (KPRJ) has to enlighten local residents on the Forest City project which entails land reclamation and creation a man-made island, Iskandar Regional Development Authority adviser Tan Sri Shahrir Abdul Samad said.

He said the local community wanted to have a clearer picture of the project and being the government investment arm, KPRJ was seen to have failed to provide actual information on the development.

"They (KPRJ) should not only focus only on benefits to potential buyers or investors.

"Instead, they need to realistically resolve how to answer basic questions raised by residents in the affected area," he told reporters after launching a photography contest organised by Iskandar Investment Bhd here today.

He was commenting on a recent dialogue between Kampung Pok, Gelang Patah residents and KPRJ over the RM600 billion project.

Shahrir, who is also member of Parliament for Johor Baharu, said he learned that many questioned raised by residents could be answered satisfactorily by the company, thus raising concern over the effects of the project on them.

"Local residents, who are mostly fishermen, are worried that the project could affect their livelihood and they regretted that they were not consulted over the project," he said.

He said KPRJ should allay local community fears on various aspects of the project, including its environmental impact.

The 30-year project, located southwest of Johor Baharu and partly in the Straits of Johor, is undertaken by China-based property developer Country Garden Holdings Co Ltd on a joint-venture basis with the state-owned KPRJ.


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Malaysia: Forest City – more clarity please

The Star 20 Sep 14;

A MASSIVE project in Johor that will reclaim more than 2,000ha from the Straits of Johor and see a new island – or several connected islands – rising out of the sea abutting Singapore’s west coast is turning into a seemingly classic story of rampant big business, huge profits and nagging controversy.

Whether this hoary perception is true or not, the lack of transparency surrounding the project has certainly not helped matters.

Conceived as a luxurious settlement for the rich, Forest City is said to be a 30-year project undertaken by Country Garden Pacific View Sdn Bhd, a joint venture between China’s seventh-largest property developer, Country Garden Holdings Ltd, and the investment arm of the Johor state government, Kumpulan Prasarana Rakyat Johor.

Everything about the project is superlative.

It will be the biggest land reclamation project ever in Malaysia. It will reportedly have a gross development value of RM600bil. And the developer, according to one estimate, stands to walk away with a cool RM290bil. That works out to a staggering RM9.6bil a year, compared to S P Setia Bhd, currently the country’s most profitable developer, which only makes a net profit of about RM410mil.

Unfortunately, much about the project is also hazy.

Exactly what kind of development will take place, timeline included, has not been revealed. There were reports that a stadium for Johor’s football team might be built there. And that Forest City might even be developed into a tourism hub and get duty-free status.

If there is a blueprint for the project, then it is still tucked away in somebody’s desk somewhere.

Meanwhile, environmental issues dog the project.

In June, critics charged that Forest City did not have an environment impact assessment (EIA) done. The state government said the project did not require an EIA, as reclamation work was only for 49ha, one ha short of requiring it, and that reclamation work was being done in phases of 49ha.

Later, the state health and environment committee said that, in fact, a preliminary EIA had been submitted.

There are also worries that the project may lead to siltation and a shallower sea, posing a threat to nearby Port of Tanjung Pelepas.

In addition, our neighbour down south is pretty anxious about how this mega-project so close to its maritime boundaries might affect it. Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has personally written to Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak on the matter, asking for clarification.

To begin to get a handle on things, the Johor state government needs to be forthright on all aspects of Forest City’s development. Just lay all the facts on the table. And, they must also candidly address all the issues that have cropped up.

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RWS Dolphin Island, SEA Aquarium accredited by zoo association

Channel NewsAsia 26 Sep 14;

SINGAPORE: Resort World Sentosa's (RWS) SEA Aquarium and Dolphin Island have been granted accreditation by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA), the integrated resort announced in a release on Friday (Sep 26).

“By meeting the highest standards, SEA Aquarium and Dolphin Island are ranked among the best zoos and aquariums in the world,” said AZA President and CEO Jim Maddy. “When people visit these attractions at Resorts World Sentosa, they can be assured that they are supporting a facility that is a leader in the care and conservation of wildlife.”

"Marine education, conservation and research, as well as the well-being of our animals have always been our utmost priority," added Senior Vice President of Attractions at Resorts World Sentosa John Hallenbeck. "We are delighted to be one of the few facilities outside of the United States to receive the accreditation from AZA, and we look forward to inspire more visitors to do their part for our oceans.”

RWS said that both attractions underwent thorough reviews in animal care, veterinary programmes, conservation, education and safety to ensure that the facilities have and continue to meet standards. The AZA requires zoos and aquariums to successfully complete the accreditation process every five years in order to be a member of the association.

However, the Animal Concerns Research & Education Society (ACRES) has questioned the accreditation, asking if RWS was also open to being accredited by animal protection non-governmental organisations and "not only by their own industry professionals".

Mr Louis Ng, chief executive of ACRES, also said that "RWS’ acquisition of 27 wild-caught dolphins from the Solomon Islands contributed to the depletion of this species there and pushed this species one step closer towards extinction in the Solomon Islands".

On the conservation front, ACRES said it noted that "4 wild-caught dolphins have died under the care of RWS", adding that it has filmed at least one dolphin swimming in circles at RWS, which it said was a sign of stress.

The animal welfare organisation also pointed out the deaths of four wild-caught dolphins in captivity at the resort.

"Similarly, while RWS has launched a conservation project for manta rays, we note that two of their manta rays died earlier this year," Mr Ng added.

The AZA is a nonprofit organisation that is the accrediting body for zoos and aquariums in the United States and six other countries. SEA Aquarium and Dolphin Island appear to be the first facilities accredited in Singapore.

The SEA Aquarium was also recently ranked at seventh in Asia for Aquariums, according to travel website TripAdvisor.

- CNA/av

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Malaysia: Dept sets up monitor lizard traps

M. HAMZAH JAMALUDIN New Straits Times 27 Sep 14;

ROMPIN: THE Wildlife and National Parks Department (Perhilitan) has set up traps at several locations on Pulau Tioman to catch monitor lizards that may endanger locals and tourists.

Perhilitan Pahang director Khairiah Mohd Shariff is leading a five-member team to check the situation on the island after an 8-month-old infant was attacked by a monitor lizard on Monday.

“Our aim is to ensure that there is no overpopulation of monitor lizards on the island.

“It is more on managing the numbers of the reptile where some of them may need to be relocated, especially those which could cause harm to people,” she said yesterday, adding that monitor lizards were generally non-vicious and would not attack humans.

“We have also identified several spots to erect notices to warn the public to be cautious of monitor lizards.”

At present, Perhilitan does not have a record on the total number of the reptiles on the island.

“We will conduct a bigger operation to catch the monitor lizards after Hari Raya Aidiladha next month,” Khairiah said.

On Monday, Nurhidayah Abdul Rahman was mauled and dragged by a monitor lizard at a resort workers’ quarters about 10am. Her mother had fought off the monitor lizard in an attempt to save her.

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Indonesia: Thousands suffer from respiratory issues

Rizal Harahap and Jon Afrizal The Jakarta Post 26 Sep 14;

Thousands of people in a number of provinces in Sumatra have been suffering from respiratory problems for the last two weeks due to the continuing haze.

Riau provincial Health Agency reported that as of Sept. 25, as many as 2,254 people had been affected by the smog and suffered from acute respiratory infection (ISPA).

The haze has also been blamed for causing 96 others to suffer from asthma, 64 from pneumonia, 187 from skin irritation and 191 from eye irritation.

Head of the agency’s disease prevention, control and sanitation division (P4L), Andra S., said the data was obtained from Kuantan Singingi, Pelalawan, Rokan Hulu, Indragiri Hulu, Kampar and Siak regencies and Pekanbaru cities and regencies.

“The number of patients most likely will increase as five other regencies/cities have not yet sent reports on their cases. Besides, the haze is still coming into Riau,” Andra said Thursday.

He hoped the authorities in South Sumatra and Jambi would put an end to the forest and peatland fires in their respective regions as soon as possible.

He said hot spots were also still being found in Riau but the condition was not as severe as previously thanks to measures taken by the local administrations to deal with the fires.

He also called on residents in the province to reduce outdoor activities.

Meanwhile, Riau provincial administration secretary Zaini Ismail said that the province still had Rp 7 billion (US$583,576) in emergency response funds that could be spent if the haze worsened.

“The funds can only be disbursed when the governor declares an emergency response status for the haze,” Zaini said.

Separately, in Jambi, haze has been covering Merangin regency for the last three days and is worsening. Many have been admitted to hospitals and community health centers (Puskesmas) in Bangko, the regency capital, for respiratory infection.

A staffer at Puskesmas Bangko, Ita Irawati, said her center had recorded 223 patients suffering from respiratory problems this September alone. Meanwhile, Puskesmas Pematang Kandis had treated 786 ISPA patients.

In Jambi city, rain over the region on Wednesday could not disperse the haze. Visibility was limited to only 50 meters in the morning and 100 m in the afternoon.

Haze was also reported to have covered the coastal areas and the marine routes through East Tanjung Jabung waters, limiting visibility to between only 300 and 500 m in the morning and afternoon.

Some fishermen in the area decided not to go to sea.

Meanwhile, in South Sumatra, Palembang municipal Environmental Agency (BLH) head Muhammad Tabrani said, as quoted by Antara news agency that air quality in the region had exceeded the allowed standard, thus, called on locals to wear masks if they conducted outdoor activities.

Smog From Forest Fires Cripples Jambi
Suara Pembaruan Jakarta Globe 26 Sep 14;

Jakarta. Thick smog continued to cripple the city of Jambi in Sumatra on Friday as visibility dropped to as little as 500 meters.

The smog, caused by a string of forest fires in the province of the same name, as well as neighboring South Sumatra and Riau, caused flights to and from Jambi’s Sultan Thaha Syaifuddin airport to be canceled.

Several residents also complained about respiratory problems with one health clinic saying that they treated 40 patients on Friday, mostly children and the elderly.

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Australia: Illegal traders of dugong, turtle meat targeted with $5m poaching crackdown

ABC News 27 Sep 14;

The Federal Government is warning anyone involved in the illegal trade of dugong and turtle meat that they will be caught.

The Government has allocated $5 million to a dugong and turtle protection plan that involves the Australian Federal Police (AFP), Customs and Border Protection, and the Australian Crime Commission.

Environment Minister Greg Hunt said the Crime Commission has been given $2 million to investigate the illegal trade.

Traditional owners have given their backing to the Government's protection plan.

"They know that their good name is being used by poachers," Mr Hunt said.

"We are determined to end the illegal trafficking in dugong and turtle meat and to protect these majestic creatures."

Under the Native Title Act of 1993, Indigenous people with native title rights can hunt marine turtles and dugong for personal, domestic or non-commercial communal needs, and "in exercise and enjoyment of their native title rights and interests".

Dugong and turtle poaching has been identified as a problem in the Northern Territory and Queensland, where the animals are hunted and the meat sold illegally.

National Indigenous radio broadcaster Seith Fourmile said non-Indigenous people were also involved in the illegal trade.

"They are involved with the trading, with selling it, passing it down - some of the turtle meat has gone as far south as Sydney and Melbourne," he said.

Mr Hunt warned poachers to "be worried".

"It's time to protect these species. We're putting serious resources and serious people on the task," he said.

"If you are poaching dugong and turtle meat, transporting it illegally, you should be worried because the toughest cops on the beat are coming after you."

An Australian government survey in 2003 into dugong populations in the NT estimated the coastline from Daly River to Milingimbi at supporting over 13,000 animals.

It lists a number of threats to dugongs, including accidental entanglement in gill and mesh nets set by commercial fishers, habitat loss and degradation, boat strikes and harassment by tourists.

Other listed threats include acoustic and chemical pollution, disease, tidal surges and "capture stress", after two animals died while being fitted with radio devices for research purposes.

Plan to tackle dugong, turtle poachers muddle-headed, says Northern Land Council boss Joe Morrison
James Dunlevie ABC News 28 Sep 14;

The Federal Government's $5-million plan to crackdown on the illegal trade of dugong and turtle meat has been called a "muddle-headed" approach to conservation.

The dugong and turtle protection plan involves the Australian Federal Police (AFP), Customs and Border Protection, and the Australian Crime Commission to investigate and prosecute those trading in meat and products.

But the strategy should instead be left to local Indigenous people, said Northern Land Council CEO Joe Morrison.

Environment Minister Greg Hunt said traditional owners had given their backing to the Government's plan.

"They know that their good name is being used by poachers," Mr Hunt said.

"We are determined to end the illegal trafficking in dugong and turtle meat and to protect these majestic creatures.

"If you are poaching dugong and turtle meat, transporting it illegally, you should be worried because the toughest cops on the beat are coming after you."

But Mr Morrison said sentiment was clouding the issue and survey numbers showed a healthy population of dugongs.

"[It's] a bit like whale hunting around the world, it becomes emotional," he said.

"Once we understand the facts... there has been recent surveys to look at population. I don't think there is a big problem at all.

"Just suggesting outright from some of the politicians involved [that there is a problem] is a muddled-headed approach to conservation."

Mr Morrison said any such plan would infringe on people's rights to hunt foods as their ancestors had done and said Mr Hunt's statement about traditional owners backing the plan was "nonsense".

"Quoting some traditional owners from a particular area as being representative of all Aboriginal islander people across the country is nonsense," he said.

He said any action to combat the illegal harvest of dugong or turtle meat by Indigenous or non-Indigenous people should come from the communities.

"People who are most concerned about these matters are Indigenous people who have to live with the consequences of animals becoming threatened or extinct, particularly especially when they are so spiritually significant and when they provide protein in the diet," Mr Morrison said.

Under the Native Title Act of 1993, Indigenous people with native title rights can hunt marine turtles and dugong for personal, domestic or non-commercial communal needs, and "in exercise and enjoyment of their native title rights and interests".

Dugong and turtle poaching has been identified as a problem in the Northern Territory and Queensland, where the animals are hunted and the meat sold illegally or traded for drugs.

A 2008 study by the Australian Centre for Applied Marine Mammal Science concluded "the dugong population in the Gulf of Carpentaria region is substantial (approximately 12,500 individuals), making it one of the most important regions for dugongs in Australia and the world".

"We believe that there is time to work with local traditional owners and commercial fishers to develop appropriate management arrangements without dugongs becoming locally extinct within this region," the study said.

A 2003 Australian government survey into dugong populations in the NT estimated the coastline from Daly River to Milingimbi at supporting over 13,000 animals.

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Up to 216m threatened by rising sea levels: Study

Tan Hui Yee The Straits Times AsiaOne 27 Sep 14;

Scientists have long warned that global warming could swallow hundreds of islands and large swathes of coastal areas by the end of the century. But a new study has identified just how many people - and where - could find their homes under water come 2100.

Some 147 million to 216 million people would find their homes below the sea or subject to chronic flooding by the end of the century, assuming that the emissions of greenhouse gases continue at the current rate, according to analysis by Climate Central, a news and scientific organisation.

Among the top 20 countries and territories with the greatest number of people exposed to the risk of flooding or submerged homes, 12 are located in Asia.

Over a quarter of Vietnam's population will risk seeing chronic floods or their homes submerged, while 12 per cent of Thais and 10 per cent of Japanese will face the same threat.

In terms of sheer numbers, China topped the chart with more than 50 million people exposed, followed by Vietnam, with more than 23 million considered vulnerable. India, Bangladesh, Myanmar, the Philippines and Indonesia are the other countries at risk.

In Singapore, between 0.9 per cent and 1.4 per cent of its population - or up to 72,000 people - would be affected, said Climate Central in response to queries from The Straits Times.

Dr Ben Strauss, a Climate Central director, said: "The degree of underestimation is likely to be greatest or at least higher than average in large, dense urban areas… So since Singapore's population is concentrated pretty much exclusively in such an area, I am confident that - unfortunately - the ultimate numbers will prove much higher."

The study was based on analysis of the most detailed sea-level data available, looking at how heat-trapping gases such as carbon dioxide would melt the ice caps and raise sea levels, while taking into account likely reductions in emissions in the future, as well as the sensitivity of sea levels to temperature changes.

Much of the greenhouse gas is released when fossil fuels are burned for energy, but the rapid loss of forests has also accelerated the process as it leaves fewer trees to absorb carbon dioxide.

Small island states like the Maldives are particularly vulnerable to being obliterated by rising sea levels.

Among the countries or territories with more than one million people, the Netherlands had the greatest percentage of population exposed to floods or submergence, but the study also noted that its extensive network of levees may protect its residents.

Residents of China - currently the biggest contributor to such gases - form the largest group of people who would have to contend with homes under water.

Climate Central warns that the figures in its report are probably understating the severity of the problem because of the likely imprecision of the data used. "If the overall error factors we calculated for the US apply globally, then 300 to 650 million people live on land that will be submerged or exposed to chronic flooding, by 2100, under current emission trends," it said on its website.

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