Best of our wild blogs: 9 Oct 14

MORE fun workshopping with volunteer guides at the Sisters Islands Marine Park!
from wild shores of singapore

Butterflies Galore! : Spotted Black Crow
from Butterflies of Singapore

Read more!

Wanted: A 'closed system' to protect fish stocks

Feng Zengkun The Straits Times AsiaOne 9 Oct 14;

Fish farmers in Singapore hurt by massive die-offs in recent years could soon get help to prevent them from happening again.

The Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) has asked firms for proposals to design and develop a "closed containment aquaculture system" to help the 116 coastal fish farms here.

Most of the local food fish supply is produced by farms using open net cage systems, made up of net cages submerged in the sea to house the fish.

"The fish stocks are exposed to environmental changes which the farmers have no control over," the AVA said, adding that massive algae blooms and spills from maritime activities could harm or kill the fish.

In January and February, 39 coastal farms lost 160 tonnes of fish due to plankton blooms, the latest in a series of die-offs in recent years.

Experts said there are several methods to prevent such problems, including two closed containment systems - the flowthrough system and the recirculated aquaculture system (RAS).

They told The Straits Times that, unlike net cages, these systems separate the water where the fish are kept from the water in the natural environment.

These can be tanks or bags submerged in the sea or placed on barges or on land.

In the flowthrough system, sea water is treated as it flows into the tank to remove potentially harmful bacteria, viruses and algae. It is then cleaned up again before it flows out of the tank.

"In recirculated aquaculture systems, you pump in the water once and it is recycled over and over again," said Dr Guillaume Drillet, a marine biologist dealing with aquaculture at research and consulting group DHI Water and Environment.

These systems give fish farmers control over the water quality, but are considerably more expensive than net cages due to the technology involved.

Singapore Aquaculture Technologies, a seabass farm near Pulau Ubin, has installed both the flowthrough system and RAS.

Co-founder Dirk Eichelberger said its RAS, which can hold 20 cubic metres of water, costs $50,000, while a flowthrough system is $25,000 to $30,000 for 50 cubic metres. "The systems get cheaper as you scale them up," he said.

The hefty investment is worthwhile, he added, as the closed systems can support up to 50kg of seabass per cubic metre, compared with just 15kg for the net cage systems.

Fish farms here must produce 17 tonnes of fish per 5,000 sq m of farm space a year to keep their licences. Dr Eichelberger said: "In the same amount of space, with this technology, we believe we can produce 250 tonnes to 400 tonnes.

These systems could help improve Singapore's food security by a lot."

The AVA said that if a suitable system is developed, fish farmers will be able to tap the Agriculture Productivity Fund to install it.

Read more!

Air quality ‘unhealthy’: 3-hour PSI level reaches 107 at 9pm

Today Online 8 Oct 14;

SINGAPORE — Air quality entered the unhealthy range this evening (Oct 8), with the three-hour Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) level registering 107 at 9pm (Oct 8).

The PSI levels remained in the higher end of the moderate range for most of the day, with the three-hour PSI gradually increasing from 68 at 1am to 78 at 7am. At 8am, the reading fell slightly to 77 and continued to do so until 12pm where it registered 71. From 1pm onwards, the reading crept up to 74 and chartered a gradual increase, eventually hitting the unhealthy range at 6pm with 102.

A PSI reading of 101 to 200 falls within the unhealthy range, while a 51 to 100 reading is considered moderate.

The 24-hour PSI readings at 7pm stood at at 75-85 and has remained in the moderate range so far today.

The three-hour PSI reading on Monday registered a high of 153, the highest in recent weeks. The PSI levels returned to the moderate range later on yesterday and most of today before creeping into the unhealthy range again in the evening.

The National Environment Agency's (NEA) daily haze situation update at 6pm today highlighted that the hazy conditions are “due to smoke haze blown in from southern Sumatra by the prevailing southerly winds” and is “expected to persist tonight”.

The NEA also noted that widespread smoke haze was visible in parts of Kalimantan and Sumatra. "The total number of hotspots detected in Sumatra and Kalimantan today was 110 and 58 respectively. The low hotspot count for Kalimantan was due to partial satellite coverage and cloud cover," the statement said.

The NEA forecast that the hazy conditions are expected to continue for the next 24 hours with PSI levels hovering in the high-end of the moderate range and low-end of the unhealthy range.

The NEA advised that given the air quality forecast for tomorrow, healthy people should reduce prolonged or strenuous outdoor physical exertion. The elderly, pregnant women and children should minimise prolonged or strenuous outdoor physical exertion, while those with chronic lung or heart disease should avoid prolonged or strenuous outdoor physical exertion. People who are not feeling well, especially the elderly and children, and those with chronic heart or lung conditions, should seek medical attention.

Read more!

A morbid occupation, taxidermy still thrives in modern Singapore

Dawn Karen Tan Channel NewsAsia 9 Oct 14;

SINGAPORE: Taxidermy relies on the dead, but still thrives in Singapore despite being a subject few know anything about. It is an art of preparing, stuffing and mounting the skins of animals for display.

When Singapore's first polar bear Sheba died at the age of 35, a decision to preserve her means she 'lives on' - immortalised through taxidermy.

But more than just a load of stuffing, making dead animals look alive dates back to Egyptian times when pets, among other more exotic animals, were mummified for eternity. Even today, there is a demand to keep pets around long after their death.

Mr Ken Mar is one of Singapore's last remaining taxidermists. "I have come across many pet owners with tears in their eyes when they bring their pets to me ... it's quite heart-wrenching. A client who collected her deceased pet dog burst into tears and called the name of her pet and happily brought it home," he said. But a passion for the preserved goes beyond a teary reluctance to say goodbye.

Singapore's very first Natural History Museum, set to open next year, will house hundreds of thousands of immortalised specimens.

Ms Kate Pocklington, conservator at Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum, said: "Without the collections you can't compare anything to the past ... it's like a library, but a library of a different sort. There's been a lot of debate about this lately, because people are saying, 'why can't we use photographs?' But then you can't access the DNA, you can't get all the information from the specimens."

Professor Peter Ng, Head of Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum, said: "When we built up a small gallery in the university in 1998, we had all these old specimens ... from the 1800s, 1900s, 1920s, 1930s there, and when we see all the kids and the public walking through, what they were excited about was not that this bird is beautiful or nicely mounted in all its glory, but they would look at the labels, 'You mean this used to be in Siglap? You mean Pasir Ris was like this?' They get excited when they see something that they know is real. It's not a cast, it's not a model, it's something real, linked to something they can identify with."

And taxidermied animals could be closer. Many are finding their way into homes. The costs, which include the imported pelt, import fees and the services of the taxidermist do not come cheap.

In Hougang, a Hamydryas baboon graces one family's dining room. In a Bishan HDB flat, a pricey North American black bear is a permanent feature in the bedroom, while in Bukit Timah, a $14,000 African lioness takes pride of place in a semi-detached home.

Despite their flamboyant pastime, many collectors prefer to remain private. Ms Rachel, a private taxidermy collector, said: "There's a range of reactions that I get from friends, they are fascinated by it and there are those who just hate the taxidermy. It's something that evokes strong emotions in different people, mostly they are polite about it."

Rachel's interest began with a coyote. Her most recent acquisition is an African Zebra that straddles two rooms in her residence. "I love animals, a lot of my taxidermy (collections) are pests, they are not hunted purely to become a taxidermied trophy. Then there are some animals like the tiger, it's high on the list of conservation. I personally would not get that. There's a line to be drawn somewhere," she said.

That line has become controversially blurred around the world. In a new trend, hipsters are going for 'rogue' taxidermy. Gutsy taxidermists, looking for glory, compete to create more unique pieces. The more creative the final result, the cooler the cadaver.

But it's not a style the scientific world readily embraces. Ms Pocklington said: "I'm sure there are people who have taxidermy for decoration, but there's two ways to look at it. You make it look like it was alive, that's the kind of stuff that goes on display in the museum. That's when you see the tiger growling at you or an orangutan in a tree. But then you have the other kind, which is scientific - each one is there for the measurements, for colour. If you just do it anyhow, there's no creativity in that."

- CNA/de

Read more!

Malaysia: API in several parts of country reaching unhealthy levels

The Star 8 Oct 14;

PETALING JAYA: The Air Pollutant Index (API) in several parts of the country is continuing to get closer to the ‘unhealthy’ level of 100.

As of 5pm yesterday, Tanjung Malim recorded a reading of 90.

This was a drastic increase from the previous reading of 57 which was in the ‘moderate’ zone.

However, the haze improved in Muar, Malacca City and Bukit Rambai in Malacca, from 90 to between 51 and 66.

Many areas in the peninsula and Sabah and Sarawak were safely within the good to moderate zones.

The lowest and cleanest readings were in Keningau and Sandakan, at 29, followed closely by Kota Kinabalu at 30.

API readings of between 0 and 50 indicates good air quality; 51 and 100 (moderate), 101 and 200 (unhealthy), 201 and 300 (very unhealthy) and over 301 (hazardous).

The Meteorological Department had stated that the current haze was caused by winds blowing from open burning detected in Sumatra.

The department has forecast isolated thunderstorms in the peninsula in the afternoons, with little to no rain in the morning or evening.

Sabah and Sarawak can expect isolated thunderstorms, with isola­ted rain over coastal areas.

Read more!

Malaysia: Pahang folk bracing for worst in monsoon season

New Straits Times 8 Oct 14;

KUANTAN: Despite the Meteorological Department’s forecast of a lower total rainfall this year, relevant agencies and those living in flood-prone areas are nevertheless gearing up for the monsoon season next month.

Among those who had made early preparations were the people of Sungai Isap, which was badly affected by floods during last year’s monsoon season.

Shop assistant Mohd Azwan Mohamed Rosli, 25, said his employer had already instructed him to relocate the machineries and raw materials to a safer place before the rainy season began.

“Most of the items were on the first floor. We can’t wait until the eleventh hour as floods can happen overnight just like last year.”

During the floods in December, he said many of the machineries and materials were submerged, with losses of up to thousands of ringgit.

Mastura Ali, 50, said she had relocated some important items to her attic, which had been modified into a storage area.

“Hopefully the floodwaters will not reach the attic or else all my belongings would be damaged,” said Mastura.

She added that the victims of the December floods had received various forms of assistance, including new furniture, dry goods and cooking utensils.

Sekolah Agama Rakyat Alif principal Rosli Ahmad, 50, said apart from the help provided by government agencies, his school also received assistance from various non-governmental organisations and Universiti Malaysia Pahang.

Meanwhile, the state government had begun sending food and essential items to 80 forward bases — an increase from last year’s 73 — in Pahang from Oct 1, as preparation for the monsoon season which is expected to begin on Nov 15.

State Natural Disaster Relief Committee chairman Datuk Seri Muhammad Safian Ismail said the Welfare Department had allocated RM1 million to provide food products and essential items.

Built at strategic locations, forward bases store food and essential items that can be easily distributed to relief centres when they are cut off from the main roads by floods.

Safian said the committee had also identified a centralised relief centre at Indera Mahkota here to replace the existing ones in Sungai Isap and Bukit Rangin, which were hit by floods last year.

He said the evacuation team — comprising personnel from the Armed Forces, police and other agencies — would help relocate the flood victims in Sungai Isap and Bukit Rangin to the new relief centre if their homes were affected.

State Meteorological Department director Azemi Daud said although the total rainfall was expected to be lower this year, the committee should make early preparation as an accurate weather forecast could only be made between 48 and 72 hours before the actual date.

Read more!

Indonesia: 353 hotspots of forest fires detected in Sumatra

Antara 8 Oct 14;

Pekanbaru (ANTARA News) - Some 353 hotspots of forest and plantation fires were detected across Sumatra Island on Wednesday.

"Based on the data received from the Terra and Aqua satellites in Sumatra this morning, 353 hotspots were detected, with the majority in South Sumatra," Head of the Pekanbaru meteorological, climatology and geophysics office Sugarin stated.

The number significantly increased from 75 hotspots recorded on the previous day.

South Sumatra had 284 hotspots, Jambi 26, Riau 24, Bangka Belitung 10, and Lampung nine hotspots.

In Riau Province, 24 hotspots were detected on Wednesday, up from four on the previous day. The hotspots were detected in Indragiri Hilir (18), Rokan Hulu (three), Pelalawan (two), and Indragiri Hulu (one).

In the meantime, the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) will carry out cloud seeding operations to create artificial rain using a C-130 Hercules aircraft of the Air Force in order to extinguish the fires at the hotspots in Sumatra and Kalimantan. The exercise will be carried out throughout the month of October.

"We plan to resort to artificial rain until October," BNPBs Head of the Data Information Center and Public Relations, Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, recently noted in Jakarta.

The artificial rain is one of the measures adopted by the officials in charge of extinguishing the forest fires in Sumatra and Kalimantan.

He stated that cloud seeding has been carried out in the provinces of Riau, South Sumatra, and Central Kalimantan.

"We have officials in Palembang (provincial capital of South Sumatra) where they are still inducing artificial rain," Sutopo remarked.

He added that the operation to produce artificial rain could also be conducted beyond South Sumatra, such as in Lampung and Jambi provinces, depending on the cloud conditions in those areas.

Read more!

Rising seas seen causing routine floods in U.S. cities: study

Ryan McNeill Reuters 8 Oct 14;

(Reuters) - As sea levels rise, tidal flooding along the U.S. coast is likely to become so common that parts of many communities, including the nation’s capital, could become unusable within three decades, according to a new report from the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Rising sea levels create a higher platform for tides and storm surges. Scientists compare the effect to slam dunks in basketball: Raising the gymnasium floor would increase the number of slam dunks per game.

The report’s projections build on recent studies - including one by Reuters published in July - that documented a dramatic increase in tidal flooding over the past half century. Many coastal communities are already struggling to cope with routine flooding that makes streets impassable and overwhelms storm-water systems.

Using a methodology similar to those of the recent studies, scientists projected the trends 15 to 30 years into the future at 52 sites around the country. The study used moderate sea-level rise projections from the National Climate Assessment, a U.S. government report based on input from some 300 scientists, engineers, industry officials and other specialists.

The Union’s study posits a sea rise of about 5 inches over the next 15 years and about 11 inches over 30 years. Under that scenario, the new study found, most of the 52 locations could experience the equivalent of twice-monthly coastal flooding within 15 years. In 30 years, one in three of the locations would average 180 or more tidal floods a year.

Washington, D.C., is among the most vulnerable. By 2045, it could experience nearly 388 tidal floods a year, the study projected.

The study also projected that flooding will grow more extreme. In 15 years, the tides that cause today’s so-called nuisance floods could become far more extensive in seven cities, enough to threaten lives and property.

The scientists recommended that communities, states and the federal government begin flood-proofing homes and infrastructure. They said development should be limited in vulnerable areas, while officials should examine the use of sea walls and other adaptations to higher seas.

The Union of Concerned Scientists, based in Cambridge, Mass., is a science advocacy organization that in the past has urged such policy steps as tighter fuel standards.

The study is available here: here#.VDRX6_ldVgk

Read more!

Mangroves protecting corals from climate change

United States Geological Survey ScienceDaily 8 Oct 14;

Corals are finding refuge within the red mangroves at Hurricane Hole, a mangrove habitat in the US Virgin Islands, from threats such as warming ocean temperatures, solar radiation and increased ocean acidification.

Certain types of corals, invertebrates of the sea that have been on Earth for millions of years, appear to have found a way to survive some of their most destructive threats by attaching to and growing under mangrove roots.

Scientists with the U.S. Geological Survey and Eckerd College recently published research on a newly discovered refuge for reef-building corals in mangrove habitats of the U.S. Virgin Islands. More than 30 species of reef corals were found growing in Hurricane Hole, a mangrove habitat within the Virgin Islands Coral Reef National Monument in St. John.

Corals are animals that grow in colonies, forming reefs over time as old corals die and young corals grow upon the calcium carbonate or limestone skeletons of the old corals. Coral reefs make up some of the most biologically diverse habitats on Earth, and face many threats such as coastal pollution, dredging and disease. However, some of their most widespread threats involve warming ocean temperatures, solar radiation and increased ocean acidification.

It is from these threats that corals are finding refuge under the red mangroves of Hurricane Hole. Red mangroves, subtropical or tropical trees that colonize coastlines and brackish water habitats, have networks of prop roots that extend down toward the seafloor, and corals are growing on and under these roots.

How does it work?

Mangroves and their associated habitats and biological processes protect corals in a variety of ways.

The shade provided by mangroves protects the corals from high levels of solar radiation. This in turn, may reduce some of the stress caused by warming ocean waters.

A combination of chemical, biological and physical conditions around the mangrove habitats helps protect the corals by keeping acidity in the water below harmful levels. With oceans becoming more acidic due to the increased amount of carbon dioxide absorbed from the atmosphere, ocean animals like corals are threatened by rising acidity levels, which can slow coral growth and impact reef structure.

The shade provided by the mangroves helps deter coral bleaching, a condition that essentially starves coral and can, in prolonged cases, result in their death. With climate change, coral bleaching episodes are becoming more frequent around the world.

Bleaching occurs when corals lose their symbiotic algae. Most corals contain algae called zooxanthellae within their cells. The coral protects the algae, and provides the algae with the compounds they need for photosynthesis. The algae, in turn, produce oxygen, help the coral to remove waste products, and, most importantly, provide the coral with compounds the coral needs for everyday survival. When corals are under prolonged physiological stress, they may expel the algae, leading to the condition called bleaching.

When examining corals for this study, researchers found evidence of some species thriving under the mangroves while bleaching in unshaded areas outside of the mangroves. Boulder brain corals, for example, were found in abundance under the mangroves and were healthy, while many of those in unshaded areas a short distance away were bleaching.

Adapting to Climate Change?

Organisms throughout the world are threatened as climate and other conditions change. If they can find ways to adapt, as it appears these coral have, they can continue to survive as part of an invaluable piece of this world's intricate ecological puzzle. It is not known how many other mangrove areas in the world harbor such a high diversity of corals, as most people do not look for corals growing in these areas. No coral reefs have been identified to date that protect from rising ocean temperatures, acidification and increased solar radiation like these mangrove habitats in St. John.

Journal Reference:

K. K. Yates, C. S. Rogers, J. J. Herlan, G. R. Brooks, N. A. Smiley, R. A. Larson. Diverse coral communities in mangrove habitats suggest a novel refuge from climate change. Biogeosciences, 2014; 11 (16): 4321 DOI: 10.5194/bg-11-4321-2014

Read more!

Great Barrier Reef dredge approval was ‘suicide’ for reef authority

Coral reef expert says Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority has lost its credibility and budget cuts left it unable to protect the world heritage site
Australian Associated Press 7 Oct 14;

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority “committed suicide” when it permitted millions of cubic metres of dredge spoil to be dumped near the reef, a coral reef expert says.

Former Australian Institute of Marine Science chief scientist Dr Charlie Veron also says the authority no longer has the expertise to protect the reef after $2.8m was cut from its budget, leading to the loss of 17 staff, including five directors.

“We’ve lost our prime place in the world as leaders of reef research; we’re no longer able to provide the science that is needed to protect it,” he told ABC Radio.

“It lost its credibility allowing the dumping and now it’s gutting its most effective staff.

“We’re not able to provide the science that is needed to protect [the reef].”

Veron, considered one of the world’s leading coral reef scientists, says GBRMPA lost its credibility and “committed suicide” when it gave North Queensland Bulk Ports the nod to dump dredged spoil in the marine park as part of a project to expand Abbot Point coal port.

The federal environment minister, Greg Hunt, is considering a new onshore disposal plan, meaning it is now unlikely any spoil will be dumped at sea.

Veron says he is now the only person in Australia who is tracking the loss of coral species along the entire reef.

Some of the staff who accepted redundancy packages as a result of the funding cut say there was a drop in morale within GBRMPA after the Abbot Point dredge disposal plan was approved.

They say some within the organisation disagreed with the decision.

One of those who took a redundancy, Paul Marshall, a former GBRMPA climate change director, told the ABC there was once eight to 10 people working on climate change but now there was no one entirely focused on the issue, which a federal government report this year named the most serious threat to the reef.

GBRMPA chairman Russell Reichelt said the organisation was going through an “evolutionary change” but he was confident he had a “very good team” despite losing five directors under the restructure.

“I do come with a lot of support from the staff and I feel confident that I can lead the agency in the right direction,” he told the ABC.

Reichelt said he acknowledged about a third of staff were unhappy with the Abbot Point decision.

The Australian Marine Conservation Society and WWF-Australia have both called for assurances the authority remains independent and properly resourced to ensure the reef is protected.

AMCS reef campaign manager Dr Lissa Schindler says the authority plays an important role in ensuring the world heritage committee doesn’t list the reef as a site “in danger” when it meets in June.

Comment has been sought from the state and federal environment ministers.

Read more!

Scientists sound alarm over ocean acidification

AFP Yahoo News 7 Oct 14;

Ocean acidification has risen by a quarter since pre-industrial times as a result of rising carbon emissions, casting a shadow over the seas as a future source of food, scientists warned on Wednesday.

In the past two centuries, the sea's acidity level has risen 26 percent, mirroring the proportion of carbon dioxide it absorbs from the air, they said in a report to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) meeting in South Korea.

Rising acidity will have damaging consequences for shellfish, corals and other calcium-making organisms which play a vital part in the food web, they said.

"It is now nearly inevitable that within 50 to 100 years, continued anthropogenic [man-made] carbon dioxide emissions will further increase ocean acidity to levels that will have widespread impacts... on marine organisms and ecosystems and the goods and services they provide," they said.

Acidification may already be affecting shellfish farms in the northwestern United States, they said.

The report, authored by 30 experts, was released at a conference in Pyeongchang of the CBD, an offshoot of the 1992 Rio Earth Summit.

The 102-page document, based on a review of hundreds of published studies, said the ocean's pH level was falling -- a benchmark of rising acidity -- and the consequences would be enduring.

"Recovery from a major decrease in ocean pH takes many thousands of years," it said.

The scientists pointed to a mysterious mass extinction from natural causes called the Paleo-Eocene Thermal Maximum, which occurred around 56 million years ago. The fossil record suggests it took around 100,000 years for calcifying organisms to recover from the acidification shock.

The experts sounded a special warning for tropical coral reefs, whose health is already affected by warmer seas.

The risks "are of great concern, since the livelihoods of around 400 million people depend on such habitats," they said.

The report said ocean acidification was as complex as it was important, yet there were many knowledge gaps.

It pointed to likely changes in the ecosystem as some species benefitted from the change while others were hit, and shifts in the ocean's chemistry that, in turn, may even add to warming above the surface.

"The scale and importance of these effects are not yet well understood," it warned.

Read more!