Best of our wild blogs: 11 Dec 14

December of Dolphins
from wild shores of singapore

Poultry in motion
from The annotated budak

We Need the Sharing Economy
from Green Future Solutions

To collect or not to collect? Experts debate the need for specimens
from news by Jeremy Hance

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NParks to keep track of monkeys using GPS collars

The one-year project to track the movements of monkeys from different groups will start next year. There were 420 monkey- related complaints this year as of mid-August, compared with 1,860 last year and 920 in 2012.
Feng Zengkun The Straits Times AsiaOne 11 Dec 14;

SINGAPORE - Where exactly do monkeys in Singapore go during the day, and how can this information be used to manage them? The National Parks Board (NParks) intends to find out soon by starting a one-year project to track up to 30 of the long-tailed macaques. Slated to start next year, it will use collars with global positioning system (GPS) to study the monkeys' ranges and movements in areas such as the Central Catchment Nature Reserve.

When asked, NParks said up to 30 of the monkeys from different groups will have collars put on them to understand the groups' movements, "as it is not practical to collar all monkeys".

The collars will have a releasing mechanism that can be triggered remotely, although monkey researchers said there should be a back-up plan to remove them in case the mechanism fails.

Asked how the information could be used to address human-macaque conflicts here, NParks only said that "the study will help guide the development of long-term management strategies for the macaques". But monkey researchers said the authorities could use the data to keep the animals away from homes more effectively, and hopefully without having to cull them.

In August, Ms Sim Ann, an MP for Holland- Bukit Timah GRC, said the monkey issue was "vexing" as many residents complain about the animals, and yet others are upset about the culling.

The Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) killed about 570 long-tailed macaques last year, and another 100 as of mid-August this year. This was a third of the estimated islandwide population of around 2,000 monkeys.

The culling appeared to have been effective: The AVA said there were 420 monkey-related complaints this year as of mid-August, compared with 1,860 last year and 920 in 2012.

But the researchers said the data could be used, for example, to show residents how much time the monkeys actually spend near their properties, in cases where they may wrongly believe the monkeys are there all the time.

Ms Amy Klegarth, a doctoral candidate at the University of Notre Dame in the United States who has tracked the monkeys here using GPS collars, added that the information could show the authorities which human homes the animals may rely on for food. "If the monkeys spend a lot of time at a particular apartment complex, it's likely because someone there is feeding them reliably, or the rubbish there is poorly sequestered," she said.

The monkeys' movements may also change at different times, for instance during the dry and wet seasons, and based on the fruiting patterns of plants in their diet.

More knowledge about these seasonal changes could help the authorities to refine strategies to keep them away from homes, the researchers said.

The Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (Acres) has suggested that the authorities use trained guards to shoo the monkeys away from residential areas. The researchers said this method would be more effective if the authorities could more precisely predict monkeys' movements.

Said Acres macaque rescue team and campaigns executive Sabrina Jabbar: "Collaring one monkey per group would enable us or park rangers to easily locate the groups in conflict zones, to quickly respond to complaints."

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Singapore’s carbon intensity level decreases by 30 per cent

SIAU MING EN Today Online 10 Dec 14;

SINGAPORE — Singapore’s carbon intensity — the amount of carbon dioxide emissions per GDP dollar — fell by 30 per cent between 2000 and 2010, much more than the global average decrease of 0.12 per cent in the same period, noted Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan today (Dec 10).

Speaking at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Lima, Peru, Dr Balakrishnan also noted how Singapore has been generating relatively low levels of carbon emissions per GDP dollar in the world, where it was ranked 113th out of 140 countries.

In the Biennial Update Report — a summary of the country’s actions to mitigate climate change and its effects — that Singapore had just submitted, it noted that the switch to a cleaner fuel mix, from fuel oil to natural gas, was one of the key policy initiatives that resulted in this decrease in carbon intensity levels.

Natural gas has lower carbon content per unit of electricity generated and the proportion of Singapore’s electricity generated by it increased from 26 per cent in 2001 to 84 per cent in 2012.

Other factors that helped lower carbon intensity levels include introducing various schemes that have promoted energy efficiency, such as the Green Mark Scheme for buildings and the Grant for Energy Efficient Technologies for industry.

The conference aims to lay the foundation for a new climate change agreement that will have to be finalised at the next UN Climate Change Conference in Paris next year.

In his speech at the conference, Dr Balakrishnan stressed the need to build momentum for the Paris conference and the importance of encouraging universal participation and recognising each country’s unique national circumstances.

Reaffirming Singapore’s commitment towards dealing with climate change issues, he also cited the recent launch of the Sustainable Singapore Blueprint 2014 as an example of the country’s plans in areas such as energy efficiency and climate resilience.

Singapore to cut carbon intensity by 30 per cent
SIAU MING EN Today Online 11 Dec 14;

SINGAPORE — The Republic has dramatically reduced its carbon intensity — or the amount of carbon dioxide emissions per dollar of gross domestic product — between 2000 and 2010, largely due to its switch from fuel oil to natural gas as the main energy source. Over that period, the carbon intensity fell by 30 per cent, compared to the global average decrease of only 0.12 per cent.

The improvement was revealed by Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan, when he delivered the Republic’s national statement at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Lima, Peru.

Between 2000 and 2010, Singapore’s total greenhouse gas emissions increased by about 21 per cent — to 46.83 million tonnes — while its GDP grew by about 76 per cent. Dr Balakrishnan noted that Singapore has been generating relatively low levels of carbon emissions per GDP dollar, ranking 113th out of 140 countries in the International Energy Agency 2014 Key World Energy Statistics report. “We contribute very little at aggregate level to global emissions but we will play our part,” he said.

Singapore has submitted its first Biennial Update Report — a summary of the country’s actions to mitigate climate change and its effects. The report noted that the Republic’s switch to a cleaner fuel mix was one of the key policy initiatives that led to the decrease in carbon intensity.

The proportion of Singapore’s electricity generated by natural gas – which has lower carbon content per unit of electricity generated – jumped from 26 per cent in 2001 to 84 per cent in 2012.

Other factors that helped lower carbon intensity levels include introducing various schemes that have promoted energy efficiency, such as the Green Mark Scheme - a benchmark for sustainable building practices - and a grant for owners and operators of industrial facilities to invest in energy efficient technologies.

Carbon intensity measures how efficient a country is in its use of fossil fuels such as fuel oil and natural gas.

The report said that the energy and transformation industries, which burn fossil fuels to generate electricity, contributed 46 per cent of the carbon dioxide emissions from fuel combustion in the energy sector in 2010, while industrial activities account for 38 per cent.

Experts hailed Singapore’s achievement in reducing carbon intensity but they noted that more can be done.

For example, Professor Rajasekhar Balasubramanian from the National University of Singapore cited how the public sector has been working towards decarbonisation by building greener buildings and looking at ways to convert waste into energy.

Nanyang Technological University economist Chang Youngho pointed out that efforts to further reduce carbon intensity may be costly. For instance, adopting energy efficient technology may lead to higher production costs, which could in turn affect economic growth.

Mr Kavickumar Muruganathan, Resident Engineer at the Singapore Environment Council, noted that the Grant for Energy Efficient Technologies has not been sufficiently tapped by the private sector since it was put in place in 2005. “More can be done to market these schemes... and get (firms) to switch to clean technology and renewable energy sources,” he said. Still, he said it will be harder to match the strides made in earlier years. “We might not be able to expect such a steep decrease in years to come, primarily due to the limitations in technology and nature,” he said, citing the example of solar energy which cannot yet fully replace natural gas as an energy source given existing technologies and the Republic’s environmental conditions.

At the conference, Dr Balakrishnan reaffirmed Singapore’s commitment to dealing with climate change issues, citing the recent launch of the Sustainable Singapore Blueprint 2015 as an example. The Republic has embarked on policies and measures that will reduce its emissions by 7 to 11 per cent below 2020 business-as-usual levels - estimated to be about 77.2 million tonnes.

The conference in Peru was aimed at laying the foundation for a new climate change agreement that will come into effect in 2020. The agreement has to be finalised at the UN Climate Change Conference in Paris next year.

Singapore will do its part to combat climate change: Vivian Balakrishnan
Imelda Saad, Channel NewsAsia 10 Dec 14;
SINGAPORE: The Republic has achieved a 30 per cent decrease in carbon intensity, for a 10-year period between 2000 and 2010.

Speaking at a UN Climate Change Conference in Lima, Peru on Wednesday (Dec 10), Environment and Water Resources Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said this compares favourably with the global average decrease of 0.12 per cent over the same period.

Singapore is a member of the Small Island Developing States. On a global scale and at an aggregate level, the Republic contributes very little to global emissions. It is ranked 113th out of 140 countries, when it comes to carbon emissions generated per GDP dollars.

However, every little bit counts when it comes to combating climate change and Singapore will do its part, said Dr Balakrishnan.

Through various Government initiatives, the country has achieved a substantial decrease in carbon intensity, such as the move in the Year 2000 to switch from fuel oil to natural gas - a cleaner form of fossil fuel.

Today, close to 90 per cent of power in Singapore is produced by natural gas. There have also been moves to encourage the development of green buildings with energy-saving features and getting industries to take up machinery to reduce electricity consumption.

A reduction in carbon intensity essentially means that even as the nation develops, Singapore has managed to keep the levels of pollution in the country low. The challenge is in getting consumers and industries to reduce their reliance on energy and switch to clean energy sources.

In Peru, Dr Balakrishnan underlined the importance of encouraging universal participation and recognising each country's unique national circumstances in order to build a durable and effective global agreement on climate change.

“So for Singapore, we are a small island, we import almost 100 per cent of our energy needs and at the same time, we are alternative-energy constrained. By which we mean we have no access to renewable energy sources,” said director of the National Climate Change Secretariat, Mr Yuen Sai Kuan.

“For us, the most likely renewable energy source that we can tap on is solar, but even then, with the current state of technology, there are some limitations. For example, if there is thick cloud cover, which we often encounter in Singapore, this limits the effectiveness of solar power," he added.


Mr Yuen said: "Climate change is a global issue and the inter-governmental panel on climate change has over the last year released its projections for what the world's climate will be like in the Year 2100.

"So as a small island, we will certainly be affected by all the climate change that will happen, and if you look at some of the recent weather phenomenon that we see, dry spells, more intense rainfall, Singapore will certainly be affected. So as a responsible member of the global community, and in our own interests, we would want to reduce our own carbon emissions to help address this problem."

The meeting in Peru sets the stage for member states to finalise a new climate change agreement by 2015. It will come into effect from 2020 and Dr Balakrishnan said Singapore is committed to support this new global initiative.

- CNA/ek

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Grown trees uprooted at Bedok Reservoir after Sunday storm

The New Paper AsiaOne 11 Dec 14;

He saw the dark clouds loom above the shop on Sunday afternoon and sensed that a downpour was imminent.

Mr Low Eng How, 68, who works at a bird shop in Bedok Reservoir, knew it was time for him to move the cages further into the store.
He also had to lower the awnings so that the birds would be shielded from the rain.

He was right. The rain came - and more. It was a storm. And it was so powerful that it caught him completely off guard.

Mr Low told The New Paper yesterday: "The wind was just too strong. My friend and I had to hold the awnings down for a good 10 minutes just to keep the rain out.

"We also saw that chairs from the neighbouring shops were blown away."

Mr Low, who has been working at the shop for 20 years, said that although the area is prone to occasional storms, the one on Sunday was easily the worst he has experienced.

"It wasn't like anything I've seen in Singapore," he said.

"It felt more like something you'd see on the news when they report about disaster events in Taiwan or Japan."

Assistant supervisor Lau Ngie Kiang, 35, who works at a supermarket at Block 739A, Bedok Reservoir Road, felt the same way.

He and his colleagues had to slip on their raincoats to push their wares away from the downpour.

But the rain was so heavy that even with their raincoats on, all of them were drenched by the time they completed the task.


Mr Lau said: "I was in Hainan, China, eight years ago and experienced a typhoon. This storm felt like that - it was that strong.

"I'm surprised at how powerful the storm was as it was not something you would expect to happen in Singapore, but I guess with the climate change, you never know."

He also said that the storm caused a tree to fall close to where he was working.

"Thankfully, no one was hurt," he said.

TNP went to the area yesterday and found that the 20 trees lining the reservoir had either been uprooted, or snapped at the trunks.

Some had landed on playgrounds and fitness corners.

Responding to queries from TNP, the Meteorological Service Singapore said that the maximum wind gust in Bedok on Sunday was about 20.2 metres per second.

Its spokesman said that the highest total daily rainfall recorded there that day was 44.8mm.

The National Environment Agency (NEA) had reportedly issued an advisory earlier on Sunday, warning that thunderstorms with gusty winds were expected over many areas of Singapore between 3.10pm and 4pm.

According to the NEA, the north-east monsoon season is from December to early March.

It said: "North-east winds prevail, reaching speeds of up to 20kmh. Spells of widespread moderate to heavy rain to occur, lasting from one to three days at a stretch."

The weather in Singapore is expected to be partly cloudy today and tomorrow. Thundery showers are expected on Thursday afternoon.

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Dog lover launches campaign against pet peeve

EMILIA TAN Today Online 11 Dec 14;

SINGAPORE — Several pet shops have failed to meet the housing and environment standards to ensure the welfare of animals being put up for sale, according to a man who has launched a campaign to highlight the issue.

Real estate agent Jacky Tan, who started the Dogs Hate Cages campaign on Facebook in late October, hopes to improve the housing conditions of dogs in pet shops here and, eventually, end the practice of putting these animals in cages.

The 38-year-old dog lover was prompted to launch the campaign after he had come across a pet store in Geylang in June that housed dogs in cages that looked too small and uncomfortable.

Mr Tan, who alerted the Singapore Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA), was eventually referred to the Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA), whose purview includes safeguarding the welfare of animals.

Under the AVA’s housing and environment guidelines, the length of a cage or enclosure in pet shops must be a least twice the size of the length of the animal (from the nose to the base of the tail), while the width or depth of the cage must at least be one and a half times bigger than the animal.

The height of the cage should also allow the animals to comfortably stand upright on their hind legs. Shop owners are also required to provide mats that cover at least half the floor area if the floor is made of thin wire or if the wire mesh has gaps larger than 1cm-by-1cm.

In early October, Mr Tan went to survey the housing conditions of seven other pet stores and found six of them to have “violated the guidelines”.

Mr Tan said the cages were either short in length, width or their height did not allow the dogs to stand on their hind legs. At some of the stores, the animals were not provided with mats or clean drinking water at the time of his visit, he added.

Mr Tan then decided to launch his campaign on Facebook on Oct 30, which has attracted 379 likes at press time yesterday.

In response to TODAY’s queries, the AVA said yesterday: “Under the AVA’s pet shop licensing conditions, pet shops are required to ensure that the cages or enclosures are safe and comfortable for the animals.

“This includes ensuring the cage or enclosure is in good condition, keeping the cage or enclosure clean and dry and ensuring the flooring provides firm and comfortable support for the animals.

“Following the feedback, the AVA has inspected the pet shops. Of the shops inspected, one of the pet shops displayed a dog in a cage that was small. Upon our advice, the pet shop has moved the dog to a larger enclosure. The dogs in the pet shops were inspected and found to be in satisfactory condition,” it added.

Three pet shops contacted by TODAY said they were aware of the AVA guidelines.

Ms Kelly Ng, owner of Sookee Kennel at Balestier Road, said: “Our cages meet the requirements by the AVA. We have different sizes of cages for dogs of different sizes. Our puppies are not always caged up.

“We let them out individually up to five or six times a day for 45 minutes each and we provide them with towels to sleep.

“Sometimes, we have to remove the towels after their dinner so they will not pee or poo on them.”

An employee from Wellfond Pets Katong said: “Some people misunderstand and do not know that certain breeds have very sharp teeth and they will chew up the mat we provide. The bits they swallow will cause them serious health problems so we don’t give them mats.”

Mr Timothy Loh, a spokesperson for Pet Lovers Centre, whose tenant Pick-A-Pet sells puppies, said: “Besides dimensions, one should also consider the comfort level of the enclosures — customised enclosures with comfortable padded flooring like what they (the shops) provide, as opposed to metal cages, which can be painful for the dogs — as well as how fast the dogs are being sold.”

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Trash talk: 269,000 tons of plastic litter choke world's oceans

Will Dunham Reuters Yahoo News 11 Dec 14;

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - There are plastic shopping bags, bottles, toys, action figures, bottle caps, pacifiers, tooth brushes, boots, buckets, deodorant roller balls, umbrella handles, fishing gear, toilet seats and so much more. Plastic pollution is pervasive in Earth's oceans.

Researchers unveiled on Wednesday what they called the most scientifically rigorous estimate to date of the amount of plastic litter in the oceans - about 269,000 tons - based on data from 24 ship expeditions around the globe over six years.

"There's much more plastic pollution out there than recent estimates suggest," said Marcus Eriksen, research director for the Los Angeles-based 5 Gyres Institute, which studies this kind of pollution.

"It's everything you can imagine made of plastic," added Eriksen, who led the study published in the scientific journal PLOS ONE. "It's like Walmart or Target set afloat."

Ninety-two percent of the plastic comes in the form of "microplastic" - particles from larger items made brittle by sunlight and pounded to pieces by waves, bitten by sharks and other fish or otherwise torn apart, Eriksen said.

Experts have sounded the alarm in recent years over how plastic pollution is killing huge numbers of seabirds, marine mammals and other creatures while sullying ocean ecosystems.

Some plastic objects like discarded fishing nets kill by entangling dolphins, sea turtles and other animals. Plastic fragments also lodge in the throats and digestive tracts of marine animals.

The researchers said plastic litter enters the oceans from rivers and heavily populated coastal regions as well as from vessels navigating shipping lanes.

Larger plastic objects, abundant near coastlines, often float into the world's five subtropical gyres - big regions of spinning currents in the North and South Pacific, North and South Atlantic and Indian Ocean.

In the middle of these gyres, plastic trash has accumulated into huge "garbage patches" that act as "giant blenders - shredders that eviscerate plastic from large pieces to microplastics," Eriksen said.

The study, based on data from expeditions to all five subtropical gyres, coastal Australia, the Bay of Bengal and the Mediterranean Sea, estimated that there are 5.25 trillion particles of plastic litter. Tiny plastic particles, down to the size of a sand grain, have fanned out through the oceans and reach even remote polar regions.

The researchers said the particles readily absorb chemical pollutants like PCBs, DDT and others, and these toxins enter marine food webs when ingested by fish and other sea creatures.

(Editing by Eric Walsh)

Full scale of plastic in the world's oceans revealed for first time
Over five trillion pieces of plastic are floating in our oceans says most comprehensive study to date on plastic pollution around the world
Oliver Milman Guardian 10 Dec 14;

More than five trillion pieces of plastic, collectively weighing nearly 269,000 tonnes, are floating in the world’s oceans, causing damage throughout the food chain, new research has found.

Data collected by scientists from the US, France, Chile, Australia and New Zealand suggests a minimum of 5.25tn plastic particles in the oceans, most of them “micro plastics” measuring less than 5mm.

The volume of plastic pieces, largely deriving from products such as food and drink packaging and clothing, was calculated from data taken from 24 expeditions over a six-year period to 2013. The research, published in the journal PLOS One, is the first study to look at plastics of all sizes in the world’s oceans.

Large pieces of plastic can strangle animals such as seals, while smaller pieces are ingested by fish and then fed up the food chain, all the way to humans.

This is problematic due to the chemicals contained within plastics, as well as the pollutants that plastic attract once they are in the marine environment.

“We saw turtles that ate plastic bags and fish that ingested fishing lines,” said Julia Reisser, a researcher based at the University of Western Australia. “But there are also chemical impacts. When plastic gets into the water it acts like a magnet for oily pollutants.

“Bigger fish eat the little fish and then they end up on our plates. It’s hard to tell how much pollution is being ingested but certainly plastics are providing some of it.”

The researchers collected small plastic fragments in nets, while larger pieces were observed from boats. The northern and southern sections of the Pacific and Atlantic oceans were surveyed, as well as the Indian ocean, the coast of Australia and the Bay of Bengal.

The vast amount of plastic, weighing 268,940 tonnes, includes everything from plastic bags to fishing gear debris.

While spread out around the globe, much of this rubbish accumulates in five large ocean gyres, which are circular currents that churn up plastics in a set area. Each of the major oceans have plastic-filled gyres, including the well-known ‘great Pacific garbage patch’ that covers an area roughly equivalent to Texas.

Reisser said traversing the large rubbish-strewn gyres in a boat was like sailing through “plastic soup.”

“You put a net through it for half an hour and there’s more plastic than marine life there,” she said. “It’s hard to visualise the sheer amount, but the weight of it is more than the entire biomass of humans. It’s quite an alarming problem that’s likely to get worse.”

The research found that the gyres themselves are likely to contribute to the problem, acting as “shredders” to the plastic before dispersing it.

“Our findings show that the garbage patches in the middle of the five subtropical gyres are not the final resting places for the world’s floating plastic trash,” said Marcus Eriksen, another of the report’s co-authors. “The endgame for micro-plastic is interactions with entire ocean ecosystems.”

The research, the first of its kind to pull together data on floating plastic from around the world, will be used to chart future trends in the amount of debris in the oceans.

But researchers predict the volume will increase due to rising production of throwaway plastic, with only 5% of the world’s plastic currently recycled.

“Lots of things are used once and then not recycled,” Reisser said. “We need to improve our use of plastic and also monitor plastics in the oceans so we get a better understanding of the issue.

“I’m optimistic but we need to get policy makers to understand the problem. Some are doing that – Germany has changed the policy so that manufacturers are responsible for the waste they produce. If we put more responsibility on to the producer then that would be part of the solution.”

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Critically Endangered Porpoise Could Be Extinct in Four Years

Tia Ghose Yahoo News 11 Dec 14;

The rarest and most endangered marine mammal in the world could go extinct in four years without stepped-up enforcement measures, new research suggests.

Vaquitas, rare porpoises that live off the coast of Mexico, have been dying in droves, because the animals get caught in fishing nets. Now, a new study shows that governments are doing little to protect the animals against illegal fishing nets.

The vaquita, or Phocoena sinus, lives in the Gulf of California, off the coast of Mexico. The animals have winsome faces with a distinctive look.

"They look like they're wearing dark lipstick and mascara," said Rebecca Lent, executive director of the Marine Mammal Commission, an independent federal agency that aims to protect and conserve marine mammals.

The smallest type of porpoise, the vaquita measures just 4 to 5 feet (1.2 to 1.5 meters) in length and is typically hard to spot.

"These vaquita porpoises are very shy. They hardly ever appear," Lent told Live Science. "Most of the ones we have are ones that came up dead in fishing nets."

This cetacean is considered critically endangered, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature. And conditions are only getting worse. A July 2014 report used the animals' acoustic calls to estimate that fewer than 100 of these elusive creatures still live in the wild. The cetaceans have a baby just once every other year, and the most recent report suggests the population has dropped 18.5 percent in the last year.

Illegal fishing

The main culprit for the vaquita's steep drop is the rise of illegal fishing, according to July report. Boats hunting for an endangered fish called the totoaba, prized in China for the supposed medicinal properties of its swim bladder, have taken to using gill nets, a kind of vertical net that traps fish by their gills.

"It's essentially a wall across the environment," said Peter Thomas, International and Policy Program director for the Marine Mammal Commission "It's not visible to the vaquita," Thomas told Live Science. As a result, the animals get entangled in these nets.

While most of the vaquita's range is not currently protected from gill net fishing, about a fifth of their habitat is a protected area where the practice is outlawed.

Now, new photos taken on Dec. 4 reveal that extensive gill net fishing is going on, even in that small region. About 90 fishing boats have been in the area since the start of the new fishing season, with at least 17 confirmed to have gill nets aboard, the study found.

The new images highlight the importance of stepping up enforcement against illegal fishing, Lent said. The entire vaquita range should be protected, and more ships should patrol the area, he said. And to ensure that this type of fishing truly stops, simply having a gill net aboard should be illegal, Lent said.

"We're really down to the wire now" to save the vaquita, Lent told Live Science. "We really only have a couple of years."

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Rhino species to die unless science can help

JASON STRAZIUSO Associated Press Yahoo News 11 Dec 14;

OL PEJETA, Kenya (AP) — The task was never going to be easy: Fly four highly endangered rhinos from a Czech Republic zoo to East Africa, drive them to the savannah grasses of Mount Kenya and hope that the natural environment helps produce a calf, staving off extinction.

The experiment has all but failed.

The keepers of three northern white rhinos in Kenya — half of the world's remaining rhinos of that species — have begun saying publicly for the first time that their one male and two female rhinos will certainly not reproduce naturally.

The silver lining, though, is science. Efforts will now be made to keep the species alive through in vitro fertilization, and possibly by working with the rhinos' genetic material in a budding field known as de-extinction.

"We always knew from the very beginning that the chances of this working were small even if they bred," said Richard Vigne, chief executive of the Ol Pejeta Conservancy, where the rhinos have lived since December 2009.

The conservancy said in a statement Wednesday that artificial reproductive techniques "could provide the last chance of survival for the world's most endangered mammal."

That echoed the phrase written on the wooden crates the rhinos were transported in from Nairobi to Ol Pejeta: "Last Chance to Survive."

Some animal experts at the time said the effort was too little, too late, and that the experiment's budget could have been better spent on other conservation projects. But the bulk of the more than $100,000 effort came from a donor — Alastair Lucas, then the vice chairman of Goldman Sachs in Australia — who wanted to see the project carried out.

Vigne said the project was not done in vain.

"They've been returned to Africa from a zoo, and they've thrived in that environment. In that way it's been a success," he said. "The fact they haven't bred is clearly a massive disappointment, but there are new technologies being invented all the time to rescue technically extinct species."

One of the two male rhinos transferred to Ol Pejeta died of an unknown cause earlier this year. Veterinarians that examined the remaining three last month determined that the male's sperm count is very low and that the two females either cannot get pregnant or not carry a pregnancy to term.

The loss of the last six northern white rhinos does not signal the end of the rhino. Southern white and black rhinos still exist in bigger numbers. But southern white rhinos cannot live in central Africa.

The in vitro fertilization experiment could take place with a southern white surrogate mother. And Vigne said scientists are working with old genetic material to see if they can resurrect the passenger pigeon or dodo bird. By contrast, he noted that the genetic material from northern whites is still alive.

Ol Pejeta sits on a high-elevation plain in view of Mount Kenya's slow and ominous rise. The conservancy has 104 black rhinos and 26 whites — mostly of the southern variety. Because of increasing demand for rhino horn in Vietnam — a phenomenon that has resulted in more than 3,000 rhinos killed by poachers in South Africa since 2010 — the animals must be closely guarded.

Mohamed Doyo is one of the rhinos' main keepers. He rubs their back and hind legs when they are inside their smaller wooden pens. And he helps shoo them outside into the much bigger penned area where they can roam. He points out how Najin, the 25-year-old female rhino, has a pronounced limp, one of the reasons she likely cannot bear a calf. He blames it on her time in her concrete zoo pen.

The northern white rhino is a major mammalian species that is "probably or potentially" going to become extinct in the coming years, Vigne said, notwithstanding new reproductive technology.

"And to me that's a real indictment of the human race," he said. "We're all responsible for it, and to stand by and watch it happen ... I think would have been horribly wrong."

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U.N.'s Ban says no 'time for tinkering' on global warming action

Valerie Volcovici and Mitra Taj Reuters Yahoo News 11 Dec 14;

LIMA (Reuters) - U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, expressing deep concern about slow action to combat climate change, told governments at U.N. talks in Lima on Tuesday there was no "time for tinkering" and urged a radical shift to greener economies.

Ban said there was still a chance of limiting global warming to an internationally agreed ceiling of 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial times to help avert floods, droughts, desertification and rising sea levels.

"But the window of opportunity is fast narrowing," he told delegates from about 190 nations at the Dec. 1-12 talks working on a deal, due in Paris in a year's time, to limit rising world greenhouse gas emissions.

"This is not a time for tinkering; it is a time for transformation," he said. Despite signs of progress, "I am deeply concerned that our collective action does not match our common responsibilities."

"We must act now," he said. He also urged wider involvement by the private sector.

The U.N. talks got a lift on Tuesday when the U.N.'s new Green Climate Fund reached a U.N. target of $10 billion for a first capitalization, helped by a pledge of about $166 million by Australia and $64 million by Belgium.

"We've got above one of the psychologically important milestones," Hela Cheikhrouhou, head of the fund, told Reuters. Pledges by 24 nations now total $10.14 billion, she said.

She said the fund, which aims to help developing nations cut emissions and adapt to changes such as heat waves and more powerful storms, was likely to start disbursing funds for projects in 2016.

Ban urged developed nations to "meet and exceed" a wider goal set in 2009 of mobilizing at least $100 billion a year, in both public and private finance, by 2020 to help developing nations.

The Lima talks are trying to work out draft elements of a deal for Paris next year but face numerous fault lines about what should be included.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is due to visit the talks on Thursday to add momentum.

Developing nations are pushing for a more ambitious outcome, with some calling for a target of cutting world greenhouse gas emissions to a net zero by 2050. OPEC nations, worried about loss of income from a shift to renewable energy, favor much vaguer long-term goals.

"We cannot have a climate agreement that condemns Mother Earth and humanity to death," in favor of enriching the few, Bolivia's left-wing President Evo Morales said, denouncing capitalism and consumption.

And Maria van der Hoeven, head of the International Energy Agency, said world leaders have a "golden opportunity" with plunging oil prices to put a price on carbon emissions since cheaper fuel makes the move less risky politically.

Separately, Peru's government denounced Greenpeace for laying out a banner promoting renewable energy near the famed Nazca lines, giant 1,500-year-old depictions of monkeys, hummingbirds and other creatures etched in the desert.

The government filed a criminal complaint against Greenpeace and asked a judge to ban activists who took part in the action from leaving the country.

(Writing by Alister Doyle; Editing by James Dalgleish and Cynthia Osterman)

Green Climate Fund to back energy 'paradigm shift': director
Megan Rowling PlanetArk 11 Dec 14;

The Green Climate Fund will invest in energy projects that shift away from "business as usual" and have a significant impact on curbing climate change, its executive director has said.

"I think there is genuine appetite to really move the boundaries, and move into those areas that have so far not been the mainstream of investments in terms of technologies," Héla Cheikhrouhou told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Her comments come after green groups and development agencies sent a letter last week asking the fledgling Green Climate Fund (GCF) to adopt an explicit policy that its funds will not be used directly or indirectly for financing fossil fuel or other polluting energy initiatives.

That request came in the wake of revelations that Japan had lent around $1 billion of its early climate finance to construct three coal-fired power plants in Indonesia.

"We cannot allow the fossil fuel industry, whose products are the main cause of climate change, to take the limited funds intended for responding to the devastating impacts of climate change," Samantha Smith, leader of WWF's climate and energy initiative, said in a statement on the letter.

"Renewable energy must be prioritized in the distribution of climate funding and fossil fuels excluded," she added.

Cheikhrouhou said the Green Climate Fund's board had identified three areas of focus in energy technology: clean energy solutions, efficient cities and industries, and clean transport.

"In those three result areas...there is a clear wish to sharply move away from business as usual," she said in an interview on the sidelines of U.N. climate talks in Lima.

The fund - which won additional donor pledges on Tuesday, lifting total contributions above an informal target of $10 billion - will allocate resources to help poorer countries adopt greener energy systems and deal with the impacts of climate change according to six criteria, its head said.

Within those, "they need to prove to us that this is something that promotes a paradigm shift, and that its climate impact is quite significant," she added.


Cheikhrouhou did not say whether the GCF would draw up a list of things it will not fund, as civil society groups called for in their letter.

But once project proposals begin to come in next year, the fund will compare them "and see which ones are really moving us away from the unsustainable path we are on," she said.

She urged developing countries that have not already done so to designate a national authority or focal point to work with the fund. Just over half - 70 states - have taken this step, and 27 of them have requested support to get ready and access money.

"I think it will require quite a bit of handholding to the countries, to the institutions, so they internalize our rules and how we work, and what we can finance," she said.

Besides helping developing countries pursue low-carbon growth, the GCF aims to allocate half of its resources over time to projects that help poor communities adapt to more extreme weather and rising seas.

The fund's board hopes to approve a "sample" of projects and programs by the time of the U.N. next major climate conference in a year's time in Paris, where governments are due to agree a new global deal on climate change, Cheikhrouhou said.

Money will start flowing to projects on the ground in 2016, she added.

She urged more countries, including developing nations, to join the 24 that have contributed so far to the fund.

"The data is's much cheaper to invest now than years from now" to deal with climate change, she said.

(Editing by Laurie Goering)

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