Best of our wild blogs: 8 Oct 14

Bats in my porch: 17. Folivory
from Bird Ecology Study Group

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Malaysia: Forest City ‘shows Sultans’ rising clout in Malaysia’

Today Online 8 Oct 14;

KUALA LUMPUR — At the murky shore of a fishing village on the Malaysian side of the Singapore Strait, Ghazali Malik cleans out the mud and small stones tangled in his boat’s fishing net.

He says his daily catch of fish, prawns and crabs has slumped since land reclamation work began this year on a controversial 2,000ha man-made island called Forest City, a project between the Sultan of Johor and a Chinese developer.

“My net used to last up to years, but nowadays I have to replace it after three months,” said the 24 year-old fisherman.

The mammoth project, which has drawn concern from Singapore and environmental groups over its impact on the narrow channel, is a sign of what critics say is the increasing political and business influence of Malaysia’s traditional rulers, the Sultans.

A decline in support for the long-ruling coalition, led by the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), at the last two general elections has left a power vacuum. Analysts say that the country’s nine traditional rulers have stepped into the void, with the tacit support of the government.

“If the national opposition front were the ruling government in Putrajaya (Malaysia’s seat of government), this would not have happened,” said Mr Abdul Aziz Bari, a constitutional law expert.

“It shows that UMNO is so desperate to cling on to power.”

A government crackdown on dissent has coincided with a flurry of cases involving allegedly seditious remarks against the traditional rulers. Out of more than a dozen prosecutions under the colonial-era Sedition Act this year — most against anti-government activists or opposition politicians — five have centred on comments voiced about the Sultans or their powers.

Mr Aziz Bari is currently being investigated under the Sedition Act over comments he made about a Sultan.

The role of the Sultans, descendants of centuries-old ethnic Malay kingdoms, goes beyond the ceremonial. They wield real power as the official guardians of Islam and can withhold consent for the dissolution of state assemblies and appointments of chief ministers. Many, including the Sultans of Johor in the south and Selangor, Malaysia’s richest state, have built up large business interests.

The Johor and Selangor palaces declined to comment on the issues when contacted by Reuters. The Prime Minister’s office also declined to comment, but some of his ministers have publicly expressed their support for the Sedition Act and Malay royalty.

The Sultans also make up a Conference of Rulers, which can block changes to the Federal Constitution affecting the special status held by majority Malays over minority Chinese and Indians.

Many commentators trace the recent assertion of royal power back to 2009, when the then Sultan of Perak declined the opposition’s request for fresh state elections after it had lost its majority. The Sultan allowed the ruling coalition to form the state government.

The Perak crisis came a year after the opposition made sweeping gains in a national election, handing the now 57-year-old ruling Barisan Nasional its worst election setback.

“The reason they (the Sultans) are asserting themselves is the change in the political scenario in the country,” said Professor Azmi Sharom, a law professor at Universiti Malaya.

“That is not necessarily a problem as long as they work within the Constitution. However, even pointing out what their constitutional limits are you put yourself at risk for sedition.”

A few days after speaking to Reuters, Azmi was charged under the Sedition Act for saying that what happened in Perak was legally wrong and the result of a secret meeting.

Last month, the Selangor Sultan appointed a new Chief Minister who had not been formally proposed by the opposition coalition, in what analysts said was an unprecedented royal snub of the established democratic process.

Sultan Sharafuddin Idris Shah said last month that some politicians had misunderstood his role as only ceremonial.

“Politicians come and go ... but my position as Sultan and Ruler of Selangor will continue until the end of my days,” he was quoted as saying by the Malaysian media. REUTERS

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Haze from Indonesia may be a problem for Singapore, Malaysia till at least mid-October

Wahyudi Soeriaatmadja Straits Times 7 Oct 14;

INDONESIA is expecting a delay in the start of the rainy season, which means the hazy weather in Singapore and Malaysia may last till at least the middle of the month, depending on wind conditions.

The rainy season, originally expected in early October in Riau province, will now start in the middle of the month at the soonest, due to the el-Nino phenomenon, said Mr Bibin Julianto, a weather forecaster at the meteorological, climatological and geophysical office in Pekanbaru.

Riau is the second closest province to Singapore, after the Riau Islands province where Batam is located. Last June, Dumai city in Riau was the epicentre of the haze, and Singapore as well as Malaysia saw record-high Pollutant Standards Index (PSI).

Jambi province, another hotspot area, may see rainy season start three to four weeks late, said state weather forecaster Nurangesti, who goes by only one name.

Whether Singapore and Malaysia will experience a prolonged period of hazy weather will depend on the wind directions.

In the next two to three days, the westerly winds (from west to east) and the south-easterly winds (from south-east to north-west) will be predominant above Riau, Mr Bibin told The Straits Times.

"The westerly winds are going in the Singapore direction," he said, but added that this is a transition period where the wind direction could change.

Haze from forest and plantation fire in Jambi, South Sumatra and Riau is being blown to this region, as Indonesia is focusing fire fighting efforts in the southern part of Sumatra, where most of the fires have been detected in the past weeks.

"The number of hotspots is actually declining now, but the haze from the previous episodes (of forest and plantation fires) was stuck in the air because there was not enough rain, and is now being blown to Singapore," said Mr Agus Wibowo, head of data at the national disaster mitigation agency (BNPB), which coordinates national fire fighting efforts.

BNPB is doing cloud-seeding and water bombing operations in South Sumatra, the centre of the firefighting operations for Sumatra. A military hercules and several helicopters have been stationed there to help with the operations, said Mr Agus.

Riau has had rainfalls and is seeing PSI falling to below 50 on Tuesday, according to Mr Bibin, while Jambi's PSI is below 100. PSI levels above 100 is considered unhealthy, and between 51 and 100 are deemed moderate.

On Tuesday morning, there are 10 hotspots detected in Sumatra by the MODIS satellite - four in South Sumatra, four in Riau, one in Jambi and one in North Sumatra.

"A small number, but more could have been undetected by the satellite due to the thick haze. A lot of the haze above Riau came from South Sumatra," Mr Agus said.

In Palangkaraya, Central Kalimantan, the local authority continued to shut schools until Thursday due to the thickening haze, Kompas daily reported. Schools have been closed since last week when the PSI reached very unhealthy levels.

Almost all 10 flights leaving and going to Palangkaraya were cancelled on Monday as visibility level fell to as low as 200 metres.
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Maritime security to be strengthened with more physical barriers

Amanda Lee Today Online 8 Oct 14;

SINGAPORE — Another 80km of physical barriers, such as fencing and floating sea barriers, will be erected to cover about 70 per cent of the Republic’s coastline to prevent illegal entry, said Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Home Affairs Teo Chee Hean in Parliament yesterday.

These barriers have been put up where feasible to deter illegal landing at vulnerable areas, he said. And together with the coordinated and multilayered security regime that maritime security agencies have been improving and tightening over the years, these measures have proven to be “generally successful”, said Mr Teo.

Currently, there are 63km of such land- and sea-based barriers around Singapore’s shores, and there are plans to erect another 80km of these, he added.

“These will cover 143km of our 197km coastline, deterring and preventing illegal entry and channelling vessels,” Mr Teo told Parliament. “This allows our security agencies to focus their attention on areas and vessels that are more likely to pose a threat.”

In response to media queries, a Ministry of Home Affairs spokesperson said the first 30km of the additional barriers would be erected by around 2019, with the rest to be completed thereafter.

Mr Teo was responding to a question raised by Member of Parliament Hri Kumar Nair about the steps the Government has taken to secure Singapore’s borders and prevent the unauthorised entry of people and goods into the country, in the wake of three foreigners entering Singapore illegally in August through Raffles Marina.

In that incident, a woman had sought the help of two foreigners to sneak into Singapore by sea, in an attempt to wrest her two-year-old son from her husband’s family. She and the boatman were each sentenced to 10 weeks’ imprisonment, while the third foreigner, managing director of non-governmental organisation Child Abduction Recovery International, got 16 weeks in jail.

Yesterday, Mr Teo pointed out that while Singapore’s land and aviation domains were areas where the authorities can funnel and control the movement of people entering or leaving the country, the policing of the maritime domain is far more complex.

For instance, the distance between the international boundary and Singapore’s shoreline is short — in some places, it is less than 500m — compared with the length of the coastline, he noted. Many of the 180 wharves and jetties dotting Singapore’s shoreline are also within private premises, such as shipyards and marinas.

The high volume of sea traffic within and across Singapore’s waters also poses a daily challenge for the maritime agencies, he added. Last year, about 140,000 foreign vessels — ranging from large passenger and cargo vessels, to small pleasure, trading and fishing craft — called into Singapore.

From 2011 to last year, 46 vessels were seized for intruding to Singapore, while 144 people were arrested for entering Singapore waters illegally or attempting to land illegally by sea, said Mr Teo.

Last year, 2,890 vessels were detected and stopped from entering Singapore’s territorial waters. The majority of these vessels had strayed off course and complied with instructions from the authorities, he added. Forty-nine people were also arrested for entering Singapore waters illegally or attempting to land illegally by sea.

Mr Teo said the Ministry of Home Affairs would continue to work with relevant agencies and private partners to review and tighten security processes, including studying the August incident. The Home Team agencies and their maritime security partners will also further review the security regime and work closely with stakeholders in the coming months to put in place any additional measures needed to keep Singapore’s waters and borders safe and secure, he added.

Maritime security to be tightened: DPM Teo
Channel NewsAsia 7 Oct 14;

SINGAPORE: More land- and sea-based physical barriers will be erected around Singapore’s shores, while a review of the current maritime security regime will be undertaken to deter and prevent illegal entry, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Home Affairs Teo Chee Hean told Parliament on Tuesday (Oct 7).

Responding to a query by MP Hri Kumar on the steps taken by the Government to secure the country’s shoreline following an incident where three foreigners entered Singapore illegally via Raffles Marina in August, Mr Teo said maritime security agencies have adopted a “co-ordinated and multi-layered security regime”.

There are plans to erect another 80km of land- and sea-based physical barriers, such as fencing and floating sea barriers, which will increase such barriers to 143km of Singapore’s 197km coastline, Mr Teo said.

“This allows our security agencies to focus their attention on areas and vessels that are more likely to pose a threat,” he said, adding that these measures have proven to be “generally successful”.

Between 2011 and 2013, 46 vessels were seized for intruding into Singapore. In the same period, 144 persons were arrested for entering Singapore waters illegally or attempting to land illegally by sea. Last year alone, 2,890 vessels were detected and stopped from entering Singapore’s territorial waters, although most of these vessels had strayed off course and complied with instructions when advised.

"Because we're an island, the maritime domain is far more complex," he said. "Our coastline is 197km long, and the distance between our international boundary and the shoreline is short, in some places less than 500 metres, compared to the length of our coastline. Along the shoreline, there are 180 wharves and jetties. Many of these wharves and jetties are within private premises, such as shipyards and marinas. The volume of sea traffic is also high and they fall into multiple categories."

A review of the current security regime will be undertaken in the coming months by the Home Team agencies and their maritime partners, Mr Teo said, adding that they will work closely with stakeholders to put in place any needed additional measures to keep the country’s waters and borders safe and secure.

He also called on owners and occupiers of vessel landing points to ensure there are adequate security measures on their premises, and the seafaring and coastal community to alert authorities of any suspicious vessels or activities occurring within Singapore’s territorial waters.

- CNA/cy/xy

More barriers to safeguard coastline
Lim Yan Liang, Aw Cheng Wei The Straits Times AsiaOne 10 Oct 14;

Singapore's maritime security will be tightened by the setting up of more physical barriers on land and at sea, even as a review of current measures is undertaken.

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Home Affairs Teo Chee Hean made this clear in Parliament yesterday, in his response to a question on an immigration breach at Raffles Marina in August. Then, a Mongolian woman and two foreign men sneaked into the country after sailing from Langkawi on a catamaran.

Mr Hri Kumar (MP for Bishan- Toa Payoh GRC) wanted to know what the government has done to beef up border security since the incident.

Mr Teo said an additional 80km of barriers, such as fences, will be added to the 63km already in place. This means 143km of Singapore's 193km coastline will be barricaded. A spokesman for the Ministry of Home Affairs told The Straits Times that the first 30km of the new barriers will be up by 2019.

Mr Teo told Parliament that the barricades, together with regular patrols, have proven to be "generally successful".

Between 2011 and 2013, Mr Teo said, 46 vessels were seized for intruding into Singapore's waters and 144 persons arrested for illegally entering Singapore waters or attempting to do so.

Last year, 2,890 vessels were detected and stopped from entering Singapore's waters, although most had simply strayed off course, added Mr Teo.

In the border breach on Aug 19, the 30-year-old woman had wanted to snatch her two-year-old son from his paternal grandparents and take him back to London, after winning custody in her divorce from her Singaporean banker husband in the British courts.

She hired Adam Christopher Whittington, 38, managing director of Child Abduction Recovery International. After finding out that Raffles Marina in Tuas West Drive was guarded only from 9am to 5pm, they sneaked in at about 6am, after arriving here on a ship skippered by Australian Todd Allan, 39. All three were arrested and jailed for 10 to 16 weeks.

While the authorities will study this incident and work with security agencies and private partners to review measures to keep Singapore's coastline secure, said Mr Teo, he also urged the seafaring community to alert the authorities to any suspicious activity.

He explained that securing Singapore's waters is "a daily challenge" because of the high traffic and long coastline, which in some places is less than 500m from international waters.

For land and flight travel, "we can funnel and control the movement of persons entering or departing Singapore via a small number of immigration checkpoints at the airport, Woodlands and Tuas". But "because we are an island, the maritime domain is far more complex".

Mr Teo pointed out that there are 180 wharves and jetties along Singapore's shoreline - many within private premises such as shipyards and marinas. He said that owners and occupiers of such landing points have a responsibility to ensure there is adequate security in their areas.

Early this year, two Malaysians - a delivery driver and a teacher, who was later declared to be of unsound mind - managed to get past immigration checks at the Woodlands Checkpoint in separate incidents, sparking a review of security there.

Experts told The Straits Times they welcome the new review of maritime security, and hope to see more coastal patrols and greater use of advanced surveillance technology.

Mr Mark Fallon, a former United States Navy counter-intelligence agent who worked with the Singapore Police Force and Internal Security Department in the 1980s, pointed to the American practice of having "maritime intelligence fusion centres" where information and warnings are coordinated. "The integration of information and the ability of entities to work within a well thought-out strategic framework is essential," he said.

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Tougher penalties proposed for animal cruelty

Siau Ming En Today Online 8 Oct 14;

SINGAPORE — More than a year after the Animal Welfare Legislation Review Committee (AWLRC) submitted its recommendations to the Government, Members of Parliament (MPs) yesterday tabled a Bill to amend the law governing animal welfare, that included a proposal for stiffer penalties for those convicted of animal cruelty.

If the proposed changes to the Animals and Birds Act are passed, first-time offenders under the tiered penalty structure could be fined up to S$15,000 or jailed for up to 18 months, or both. Those in animal-related businesses face heftier punishments for animal cruelty under the proposed amendments: Up to S$40,000 in fines or jail not exceeding two years, or both, for a convicted first offender.

Under the current legislation, anyone convicted of animal cruelty could be fined up to S$10,000 or jailed for up to 12 months, or both.

In a statement released yesterday, Mr Yeo Guat Kwang, chairman of the AWLRC and MP for Ang Mo Kio GRC, noted that the process of translating the committee’s recommendations to legislation has been a long one. “It is important to balance the varied interests of the community and prioritise having a harmonious living environment for animals and animal lovers, on the one hand, and those who may not be comfortable with animals, on the other,” he added.

Tabling the Bill on behalf of Mr Yeo was MP for Chua Chu Kang GRC, Mr Alex Yam. Besides a strengthening of current regulations, Mr Yam, who also chairs the Multi-Stakeholder Collaboration Committee, which had arisen from the AWLRC recommendations, said it was hoped that the proposed changes would emphasise that animal welfare was a shared responsibility among all stakeholders.

“Ensuring and strengthening animal welfare should not be seen solely as the responsibility of the Government but the responsibility of everyone who plays a part in an animal’s life cycle,” he said.

The AWLRC, which was formed in 2012 to look into how animals could be protected, had submitted 24 recommendations to the Government in March last year. Besides harsher penalties, the proposed amendments would also require staff who work with animals in related industries to hold qualifications or be trained in animal care and handling.

In addition, the proposed amendments will also adopt codes to set the standard for animal welfare and spell out the duty of care that animal owners need to abide by. This includes taking reasonable steps to ensure that the animal is provided for and has adequate food, water and shelter. In cases where an animal has gone missing, its owner must have made a reasonable effort in looking for it, among other things.

The Government would also be empowered to issue directives to owners and persons-in-charge to improve the care of an animal.

In April, a businessman was fined S$10,000 — the maximum for animal cruelty — for failing to seek timely treatment for his pet. It was the first time the maximum fine had been imposed by the courts for animal abuse.

A 33-year-old man was also fined S$41,000 in March for illegal possession of 32 wild or endangered animals — the biggest seizure of illegal wildlife from a home in 11 years. The Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) then filed a Notice of Appeal against the sentence for Ong Ming Shiang.

In response to TODAY’s queries, an AVA spokesperson said it had reviewed the court’s sentence, in consultation with the Attorney-General’s Chambers, and decided not to pursue an appeal.

She added: “The fine ... is the highest ever imposed on a private individual in possession of illegal wildlife. (It) constitutes sufficient deterrence and was appropriate in the circumstances of that case.”

Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals executive director Corinne Fong called the proposed changes a good step, given that the previous amendment to the Act was made back in 2002. “I hope that with these new changes, the AVA will have more bite, more teeth to prosecute,” she added.

Cat Welfare Society vice-president Veron Lau said the proposed amendments were a huge step forward. But she added that more could be done in specifying the conditions needed for owners to be convicted, other than quantifiable distress observed in animals, for example. An act of abandonment that does not lead to death or extreme suffering would not hold up in court, she said. ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY JOY FANG

Animal welfare Bill proposes tougher penalties for offenders
Kimberly Spykerman Channel NewsAsia 7 Oct 14;

SINGAPORE: A Bill on animal welfare was tabled in Parliament on Tuesday (Oct 7), proposing tougher penalties for offenders. This comes after the Government accepted recommendations put forward by a committee tasked to improve animal welfare.

One of the recommendations requires owners to provide reasonable care for animals placed under their charge. Staff in businesses dealing with animals must also be trained in how to care for and handle them.

Harsher penalties have also been proposed. First-time offenders can be fined up to S$40,000 or jailed for up to two years, or both.

In a statement, the committee's chairman, Mr Yeo Guat Kwang, said it is important to balance the varied interests of the community. This includes prioritising having a harmonious living environment for animals and animal-lovers, and those who may not be comfortable with animals.

MP for Chua Chu Kang GRC Alex Yam, who also sits on the committee, read the statement. "Beyond strengthening the legislation, the primary aim of our review is to emphasise animal welfare as a shared responsibility among all stakeholders and to continue the ground-up approach taken by the Animal Welfare Legislation Review Committee,” he said.

- CNA/dl

Pet-lovers welcome harsher penalties for animal abusers
Channel NewsAsia 10 Oct 14;

SINGAPORE: Pet-lovers say they support the harsher penalties recommended for those convicted of animal abuse, following proposed changes to the Animals and Birds Act introduced in Parliament earlier this week.

But some experts say some cases may stem from ignorance, rather than deliberate abuse. Temasek Polytechnic offers a Skills Certificate in Pet Care and Management, and its mandatory course for pet retail personnel has trained 270 workers in the industry since 2010. The course is also open to the public and covers regulations from the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore, animal care, accommodation and disease.

Dr Lim Choon Kwang, a research scientist at the polytechnic's School of Applied Science, said a lack of knowledge on how to care for pets properly has led to the rise of pet abuse. "A common weakness of pet shop owners is that they are not familiar with the nutritional needs of their animals - what to feed them, when to feed them and how much to feed them. They are not adept at identifying diseases either - for example, skin diseases or even the common cough."

Regardless of the cause, some feel that animal abuse must be taken seriously. As Sam's Pet and Aquarium Director Chua Ser Kang put it: "Whether a pet dies of natural causes or not, this has to be determined by medical examination. Abuse, inhumane treatment, major damage to organs, these should all be dealt with severely. This is a life."

- CNA/xy

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Malaysia: 'Development reduces floods in Penang'

BALVIN KAUR New Straits Times 7 Oct 14;

GEORGE TOWN: BRUSHING off criticism that overdevelopment is the main cause of the floods in Penang yet again, state Local Government, Traffic Management and Flood Mitigation Committee chairman Chow Kon Yeow said contrary to popular belief, development has actually mitigated the floods.

He said when the council received an application for development, it would study the existing drainage and irrigation systems in the area before making the necessary changes to accommodate new development.

The changes included building new drainage pipes or upgrading existing ones.

“This project and infrastructure development go hand in hand,” he said at Town Hall here yesterday.

On Friday, many thoroughfares on the island — including Jalan Scotland, Jalan Transfer, Jalan Macalister, Jalan Gurdwara, Jalan Anson and Jalan Mount Erskine — were flooded following a downpour.

The floods, which reached waist high in certain areas, also caused massive traffic congestion ahead of the long Hari Raya Aidiladha weekend.

In an immediate reaction, Chow had said the floods were caused by unprecedented rainfall as a result of climate change

He also dismissed claims that the floods were caused by overdevelopment on the island.

It was reported that Penang Barisan Nasional chairman Teng Chang Yeow refuted Chow’’s reasoning and cited the numerous development projects on the island as the main contributing factor.

He said the areas affected by flash floods had expanded over the last few years, with places that had never experienced floods being affected this time around.

Teng said the floods were a manifestation of uncontrolled development, overdevelopment and excessive hill cutting.

He claimed the infrastructure was not developed in tandem with the projects, contributing to the worsening situation.

Teng said the upgrading of infrastructure had no proper planning, causing traffic congestion.

Chow, however, denied Teng’s claims, saying it was not true that development had led to the flash floods.

He said the state government was working on completing the state drainage and irrigation masterplan to better tackle the flood issue.

“We are handling the studies and surveys on a district-by-district basis.

““The Northwest district masterplan was completed last year.

“The Central Seberang Perai district masterplan is about 50 per cent complete, the South Seberang Perai masterplan’’s funding was just approved, while the North Seberang Perai and NorthWest district masterplans are in the pipeline.”

Chow said the masterplan would also come in handy when approving projects, as the council could refer to the masterplan of specific districts to see what improvements were needed.

‘Flood plains nearly wiped out’
Phuah Ken Lin and Predeep Nambiar New Straits Times 8 Oct 14;

GEORGE TOWN: SAHABAT Alam Malaysia (SAM) has rubbished the DAP-led state government’s claim that ongoing development would mitigate flash floods in the state.

Its president, SM Mohamed Idris, said yesterday rapid development, which involved hill cutting and natural flood plains being turned into concrete jungles, had contributed to the problem.

“Floods resulting from surface water runoff have increased as many areas become urbanised. Development over the years has caused natural flood plains in Penang to become almost non-existent.”

Idris was commenting on state Local Government, Traffic Management and Flood Mitigation Committee chairman Chow Kon Yeow’s claim that ongoing development in Penang would mitigate flash floods.

Chow, who ruled out overdevelopment as the cause of flash floods in the state, had instead blamed the problem on unprecedented rainfall due to climate change.

Idris said the number of impervious areas, such as roads, pavement and buildings, had grossly reduced ground area which could absorb excess water naturally.

“The state government has to conduct a comprehensive study on the ability of the infrastructure to cope with the rate of development.”

Over the years, he said, SAM had encountered and highlighted cases of mud floods and floods due to earthworks as well as development on hillslopes.

“Future flood mitigation plans must factor in weather patterns, intensity and frequency of rainfall, and the rise in sea level.”

Malaysian Nature Society Penang branch advisor D. Kanda Kumar also blamed the flash floods on overdevelopment, adding that other factors included hill cutting and poor drainage system.

“The authorities must be strict in enforcing laws on indiscriminate hill cutting. There must be a review of the state’s drainage system in view of the rapid development.”

Unusually-heavy rainfall has caused the water level at the Air Itam dam here to be filled almost to the brim.

Penang Water Supply Corporation corporate affairs manager K. Jeyabalan said water level at the dam
was at its optimum level or 92 per cent of its total capacity of 2.6 billion litres.

“It is normal for the dam to fill up during monsoon seasons and there are no inherent dangers.”

Jeyabalan said some 50 million litres of water from the dam was quickly processed to avoid it
from overflowing, adding that if there was an overflow, excess water would be discharged into Sungai Air Itam.

Despite the heavy downpour, two other dams in the state, in Teluk Bahang and Mengkuang, recorded only 57 per cent and 32 per cent of their total capacities respectively as of yesterday.

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Indonesia: Mangrove restoration to safeguard Sembilang National Park

Ansyor Idrus, The Jakarta Post 7 Oct 14;

Sembilang National Park in South Sumatra, home to diverse species, is under threat. Each year, its eastern coast bordering the Bangka Strait is exposed to abrasion as deep as 15 meters, while fish pond activity is eroding the coastal area.

It’s a long journey to reach the park from the provincial capital, Palembang. After an hour’s drive to Jembatan Simpang, it takes another hour and half by boat along the Bungin River to reach Sungsang River terminal in Banyuasin Regency, then another two-hour trip overland to reach the park.

The trip’s agenda that day was to survey the park’s coastal zone restoration project by growing mangroves.

The Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) has provided funds and training for the park management and fishpond operators to preserve the habitat for the area’s flora and fauna.

Along the road leading to the park’s seedling nursery center, replanted mangroves create lush greenery on the park’s coastline, serving as a barrier to sea waves responsible for the abrasion.

Head of Sembilang National Park Syahimin said the project had restored 200 hectares of the park’s coastal zone. Underway since 2010, the project is expected to finish in 2015.

JICA has also helped ecosystem restoration in the national parks of Bromo Tengger Semeru (East Java), Mount Ciremai (West Java), Manupeu Tanah Daru (East Nusa Tenggara) and Mount Merapi (Yogyakarta and Central Java).

The project also involves people living in the Sembilang area who run fishponds.

JICA Chief Advisor Hideki Miyakawa revealed that thousands of hectares of Sembilang’s coastal zone are still waiting to be restored. The park covers 202,896.31 ha with about 87,000 ha of pristine mangroves.

“Degradation has mainly been because of fish ponds. But the breeders will abandon this zone within 20 years. So we should conduct restoration from now on,” said Miyakawa in fluent Indonesian.

Miyakawa suggested the planting of mangrove species other than Rhizophora Apiculata and Rhizopora Mucronata, which are cheaper and easier to grow but prone to insect attacks. “Various species should be grown so that when Apiculata is invaded by insects, there are still resistant ones,” he says.

The 200 ha already restored served as a pilot project in which technical guidance was provided for the mangrove rehabilitation effort. According to Miyakawa, the restoration cost Rp 15 million (US$1,228) per ha, totaling Rp 3 billion for the 200 ha, excluding the cost of participants’ accommodation and monthly honorariums.

A resident joining the project, Selamet Riyadi, 55, said illegal fishpond activity had caused damage to the park’s coastal area and the problem has been worsened by the abrasion coming from sea waves from the Bangka Strait, scraping away 15 meters from the shoreline annually.

“We’re virtually racing with the waves. Mangrove planting is the best solution for conserving the natural habitat at Sembilang park,” he added.

Selamet lives alone in a cabin by the bank of the Barong Kecil River, which empties into the strait. He works for 20 days with 10 days off to see his family in Jambi. Besides his hut is a nursery of different mangrove seedlings.

The park’s management, in cooperation with JICA, has built a 600m-mangrove trail to make it easier for visitors to observe the mangroves already planted. Each mangrove species bears a label with its name and plant description.

The mangrove trail is teeming with birds. Crab nest holes around the roots of mangroves are a common sight.

Snakes can sometimes be found looping mangrove trees. Deeper into the parkland are swamps and a secondary peat forest abounding with wildlife.

Among the animals roaming the park are otters, wild cats, Sumatran tigers, clouded leopards, deer and honey bears.

Resident bird species include oriental darters, milky storks, lesser adjutant storks and several migratory birds moving from Siberia to Australia.

Most fish breeders at the park have settled there since 1995. A participant of the JICA restoration program, Mohammad Taher, 45, said around 200 families had moved from Sungai Burung village, Dente Teladas district in Tulang Bawang regency, Lampung. They had previously also operated fishponds in Lampung.

He claimed they were forced to leave by a large company that built fishponds in their village.

The declaration of Sembilang as a national park in 2003 made Taher and his peers anxious, still traumatized by the past eviction.

“Fortunately we didn’t receive such treatment. Park personnel met with us to discuss the best way of ensuring our future,” recalled Taher. He later joined the restoration project on a monthly salary while continuing his fish breeding business.

“As a temporary solution, ditches are dug on the sides of fishponds and mangroves are planted in the middle. They can still breed fish and the restoration program continues,” said first assistant to the Banyuasin Regent, Husnan Bhakti.

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New UN report warns of ‘devastating’ effects from ongoing destruction of mangrove forests

UN Press Release 29 Sep 14;

The world is losing its mangroves at a faster rate than global deforestation, the United Nations revealed today, adding that the destruction of the coastal habitats was costing billions in economic damages and impacting millions of lives.

In a new report launched today at the 16th Global Meeting of the Regional Seas Conventions and Action Plans, held in Athens, Greece, the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) warned that the deforestation of the planet’s mangroves was exceeding average global forest loss by a rate of three to five times, resulting in economic damages of up to $42 billion annually and exposing ecosystems and coastal habitats to an increased risk of devastation from climate change.

“The escalating destruction and degradation of mangroves – driven by land conversion for aquaculture and agriculture, coastal development, and pollution – is occurring at an alarming rate, with over a quarter of the earth’s original mangrove cover now lost,” said UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner.

“This has potentially devastating effects on biodiversity, food security and the livelihoods of some of the most marginalized coastal communities in developing countries, where more than 90 per cent of the world’s mangroves are found,” he added.

The Executive Director noted that mangroves – which are found in 123 countries around the world – provide ecosystem services worth up to $57,000 per hectare per year, storing carbon that would otherwise be released into the atmosphere and providing the over 100 million people who live in their vicinity with a variety of goods and services such as fisheries and forest products, clean water and protection against erosion and extreme weather events.

Mr. Steiner stressed that their continued destruction “makes neither ecological nor economic sense.”

In addition to the economic problems posed by mangrove deforestation, the report, entitled The Importance of Mangroves: A Call to Action, also cautions that a continued reduction in the surface area of mangrove forests would inevitably expose coastal environments to the harmful effects of climate change.

In the Caribbean, for instance, mangrove-lined “hurricane holes” have functioned for centuries as safe-havens for boaters needing to ride out storms. Meanwhile, the complex network of mangrove roots can help reduce wave energy, limit erosion and form a critical barrier to the dangers posed by the strengthening tropical storms, cyclones and tsunamis which have been assailing coastal communities in recent years due to climate change.

In order to safeguard what UNEP calls “one of the most threatened ecosystems on the planet,” the report outlines a number of financial mechanisms and incentives designed to stimulate conservation, including the creation of a Global Mangrove Fund, encouraging mangrove conservation and restoration through carbon credit markets, and promoting economic incentives as a source of local income from mangrove protection, sustainable use, and restoration activities.

Mr. Steiner admitted that it was important to present the survival of mangroves in real terms, underlining the economic impact their destruction would have on the local and global communities and pushing for greater international concern for their overall preservation.

“By quantifying in economic terms the value of the ecosystem services provided by mangroves as well as the critical role they play in global climate regulation, the report aims to encourage policymakers to use the tools and guidelines outlined to better ensure the conservation and sustainable management of mangroves.”

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High rate of coral bleaching seen around Hawaiian island of Oahu

Alex Dobuzinskis Reuters Yahoo News 8 Oct 14;

(Reuters) - A survey of coral reefs off the Hawaiian island of Oahu has shown warm ocean waters recently contributed to a higher rate of coral bleaching than the state has seen in decades, sparking concerns about the ecosystem, a state official said on Tuesday.

The findings from dives last week by researchers with the Hawaii Division of Aquatic Resources follows federal warnings of a possible large decline in coral cover in the archipelago this century due to climate change and warming oceans.

Coral underpins the region's aquatic ecosystem by providing shelter to countless species of fish, and Hawaii's varied marine life supports the local economy by attracting visitors from around the world.

"People come to Hawaii to see corals, they come to Hawaii to use our oceans," said Frazer McGilvray, administrator of the Division of Aquatic Resources. "If our corals die, it could potentially take a long, long time for them to recover."

He said that when ocean waters warm, it distresses coral and leads the organism to expel the algae that is vital to its survival, which in turn causes bleaching of the coral.

As water temperatures cool, coral can recover its color, and it remains unclear how much of the coral has died as it has bleached white, McGilvray said. The survey did not produce forecasts for how much of the coral may die from the bleaching.

He said his agency had received reports of coral bleaching throughout the archipelago so it sent divers to investigate in the waters of Waimanalo, Lanikai and Kaneohe Bay, all sites around the Hawaiian island of Oahu.

The survey found 75 percent of major reef-building coral at those sites was showing signs of bleaching, McGilvray said, adding that the last time researchers saw a similar rate of bleaching in Hawaii's ocean waters was in 1996, and even then it was less severe.

"It's pretty alarming," McGilvray said. "That's a high, high percentage of corals to be bleaching."

The bleaching comes as Hawaii has experienced a recent warm spell. Divers with the Division of Aquatic Resources have measured ocean temperatures of around 85 degrees Fahrenheit (29.4 Celsius), which is higher than the normal range of 72 degrees to 78 degrees (22.2 to 25.5 C), McGilvray said.

(Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles; Editing by Sandra Maler)

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Drought fears across southern Australia after months of below average rainfalls

Bureau of Meteorology says the drought affecting Queensland and northern NSW is edging south into Victoria and SA
Australian Associated Press 7 Oct 14;

Farmer Rob Turnbull holds dry soil in his hands on what would have been a wheat field on his property near Lightning Ridge. The farm has not had significant rain in almost three years. Farmer Rob Turnbull holds dry soil in his hands on what would have been a wheat field on his property near Lightning Ridge. The farm has not had significant rain in almost three years. Photograph: Dan Peled/AAP

Near-drought conditions are spreading further across eastern Australia as summer approaches.

The Bureau of Meteorology’s latest drought statement says the big dry gripping northern NSW and Queensland is extending south, with parts of Victoria recording their driest ever September and widening long-term rainfall deficiencies in NSW, Victoria and South Australia.

“Particularly, southern NSW, Victoria and NSW are beginning to see a sequence of very dry months and as a result we are starting to see the emergence of some rainfall deficiencies,” BoM climate monitoring and prediction manager David Jones said.

“About half of Victoria, for example, is currently experiencing serious or severe rainfall deficiencies or just outside of that category, so we are starting to see a large spatial extent of these deficiencies further south.”

Jones said all of southern Australia had below average rainfall in September, save for some isolated good falls in the WA Goldfields region and regions north of Perth.

The Queensland coast north of Rockhampton had an improvement but much of the state’s southeast and interior is suffering the effects of prolonged dry conditions.

Jones said relief from the ongoing dry conditions was unlikely.

“At this stage, it doesn’t look like it. We’ve had increasing dry over most areas as the year has gone on, and the seasonal outlook suggests below average rainfall is pretty likely to continue in the next three months,” he said.

“While we always live in hope that we get some relief from the dry pattern, the odds are definitely stacked against that.”

Dry conditions and above average temperatures are expected to continue.

“It has been yet another very warm year across Australia, and the warmth adds to the dry,” Jones said.

The above average temperatures are likely to continue at least until the end of the year, he said.

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