Best of our wild blogs: 12 Dec 14

Sat 27 Dec’2014 : 9am – 12 pm: Collections, Recollections and Our Favourite Moments
from a.t.Bukit Brown. Heritage. Habitat. History.

Pollination of Skyvine by Carperter bees
from Bird Ecology Study Group

An app to save 400 million animals
from news by Rhett Butler

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Photographer who tethered a tern chick's legs fined $500 for animal cruelty

In August, a man was caught on film tying a little tern to a bush in Tuas so it could be photographed. Photos posted online showed the bird struggling. -- PHOTO: JAIEDEN SHEN

AUDREY TAN Straits Times 12 Dec 14;

A photographer who tethered a tern chick's legs to a bush for a photograph has been found guilty of animal cruelty.

The Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) told The Straits Times that it has completed investigations into the case, and the photographer has been fined $500.

"Based on testimony from witnesses and available evidence, AVA has taken enforcement action against the photographer for committing an act of animal cruelty. The photographer has since paid the composition fine," said an AVA spokesman.

The incident drew the ire of the birding community in Singapore in August, when photographs posted on Facebook showed a young tern struggling in front of a bush, unable to move away.

On Aug 17, amateur photographer Jaieden Shen had seen a man tying a baby bird's legs to a bush in Tuas so that it could be photographed, and caught the act on film. The man was believed to have done so to allow two other photographers to snap a better shot of the tern chick.

Little terns are a species native to Singapore which nest on sandy ground. The young are usually flightless until they fledge, which takes about 25 days.

The AVA said that, in general, wildlife in Singapore is protected under the law. A spokesman said: "AVA would like to remind the public who encounter wildlife not to approach, disturb, feed or try to catch them."

Mr Alan Owyong, a committee member of the Nature Society (Singapore) Bird Group, said the welfare of the birds and animals "should be paramount" when people come into contact with them in the wild.

"AVA's actions have served as a warning against the abusive acts of cruelty to the birds and animals in the wild, and those guilty will be punished," he added.

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Discovering roots: A tree doctor explains his passion

Kenneth Lim Channel NewsAsia 11 Dec 14;

SINGAPORE: Mr Eric Ong grew up wanting to be a doctor. At 33, he is living his dream of sorts as a certified arborist, also known as a tree doctor.

Mr Ong, who is the Assistant Director of Streetscape at the National Parks Board (NParks), told Channel NewsAsia: "Saving a human life and saving a tree life – it’s still saving lives. It's very interesting because the more you get to know about trees, they do have body language, like humans do."

Tree doctors care for the flora and fauna along Singapore's roads, making sure they are healthy and safe. "With all the urbanisation, all the work, rush hours and stuff like that, we need these soft scapes to help soothe our nerves,” Mr Ong said.

Mr Ong joined NParks six years ago, after studying horticulture at the University of Queensland. He attended the Certified Arborist Programme, which consists of 80 hours of training and certification. Admission to the programme also requires at least three years experience in tree care.

Personally, he has also had to untangle some myths about his work. "Sometimes, I do hear my friends saying: 'Oh you're a tree hugger, so if I want to cut any tree it's a definite 'no' right?' If the tree is structurally sound and there are no safety issues, of course we would want to keep the tree. It takes many years for a tree to mature. It's really a pity to cut down a majestic tree,” he said.

Ultimately, Mr Ong's passion for his work runs deep. He wants to explore policy planning next, or look after an entire forest. "Being in this position, I see myself being able to do more for Singapore. I'm able to shape, in control of how the roadside turns out to be, the greenery aspect. I find that an accomplishment, and very fulfilling,” Mr Ong said.

- CNA/dl

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Malaysia: Killer weed discovered in Malacca, Johor - Agriculture Department

TASHNY SUKUMARAN The Star 11 Dec 14;

PUTRAJAYA: The invasive weed Parthenium hysterophorus has now been discovered in Malacca and Johor, said Agriculture Department director-general Datuk Ahmad Zakaria Mohd Sidek.

This brings the total number of affected states to six, with Negri Sembilan, Kedah, Selangor and Perak previously reporting infestations.

"So far, more than 1,500 P. hysterophorus plants have been found spread around Johor, although the number could be higher," Ahmad Zakaria said.

"As we discover more infestations or if the public comes forward to inform us of infested areas, we will update our figures," he said at a press conference here on Thursday.

He said that the Department would be meeting experts and scientists next week to further discuss methods of controlling the outbreak.

The P. hysterophorus has been dubbed the “worst weed of the century”, destroying native flora and crops, causing rashes that can leave humans permanently scarred and damaging the intestines of animals that eat it.

It was first detected here in September last year in Ulu Yam, Selangor.

Initial accounts show that the plant has even resisted attempts to control it through weedkillers.

A species of flowering plant native to Mexico, it can cause severe skin disease and hayfever in humans.

It is also toxic to livestock such as goats and cows, causing fevers, ulcers, anorexia and intestinal damage, and can quickly replace native flora by releasing toxic substances, causing massive crop loss.

Similar in appearance to ulam raja, P. hysterophorus is classified as a dangerous pest under the Plant Quarantine Regulations 1981 and can quickly propagate.

Ministry: Take proper action to weed out harmful plants
TASHNY SUKUMARAN The Star 11 Dec 14;

PETALING JAYA: The Health Ministry has appealed to the relevant authorities to weed out the allergy-triggering Parthenium hysterophorus weed as it poses a risk to human health.

“Appropriate action should be taken to control or eradicate weeds or plants that can adversely affect the health of the public. The people should refrain from getting into contact with the weed,” Health director-general Datuk Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah said in a statement.

Although there has been no increase in cases of rashes or respiratory-related issues such as asthma in the states affected by P. hysterophorus, the ministry cautioned those who had been exposed to the weed to seek treatment immediately.

“There is no trend of increasing patients with skin allergies or respiratory symptoms such as asthma reported from health facilities in the affected states like Perak, Selangor and Negri Sembilan.

“We advise those who suffer from allergies or respiratory symptoms from exposure to this weed to immediately seek treatment at health facilities and inform the treating medical practitioner of their history of exposure,” he said.

The ministry said groups at risk of allergic reactions were those who were directly exposed to the weed, particularly children and the elderly.

“However, not all who are exposed suffer allergic reactions or allergies. Some people experience symptoms only after continuous and repeated exposure. Symptoms of allergic reactions include skin rashes or peeling, itchiness, puffy eyes, and allergic rhinitis and respiratory system disorders such as colds and asthma.”

The ministry assured the public that it was closely monitoring the situation.

The Star had earlier reported that P. hysterophorus, also known as “the worst weed of the century”, was mushrooming across various states in Malaysia.

Believed to have been spread by the import of animals from weed-infested nations, the Veterinary Department has been tasked to source animals from non-infested areas for importation.

All state agricultural agencies have been informed of P. hysterophorus, which does not only harm humans but also severely impacts agriculture, livestock and natural ecosystems.

Killer weed cases mushrooming
TASHNY SUKUMARAN The Star 12 Dec 14;

PETALING JAYA: More people are coming forward to report Parthenium hysterophorus infestations since The Star’s report on the menace was published earlier this week in conjunction with the Department of Agriculture’s (DOA) outreach efforts.

Within just a few days, P. hysterophorus has been discovered in Johor and Malacca, bringing the total number of affected states to six.

In just a week, more than 1,500 P. hysterophorus plants have been discovered around Johor.

“We will update our figures as we discover more infestations or receive more reports from the public,” said DOA director-general Datuk Ahmad Zakaria Mohd Sidek at a press conference here yesterday.

Statistics released on Nov 26 noted a mere 4.8ha were infested nationwide, but data released just over a week later showed 28.28ha, nearly a six-fold jump.

While the DOA cannot predict how widespread the infestation truly is as public awareness is in its infancy, it has pledged to update its data fortnightly.

DOA is working overtime to era­dicate the noxious weed which is harmful to both humans and animals as well as crops, and is collaborating with several agencies.

“We have already asked the Department of Veterinary Services to import livestock from farms with no trace of the weed,” he said.

It is believed that P. hysterophorus, sometimes referred to as “congress grass” or Santa Maria feverfew, was transported to Malaysia via imported livestock.

“Unfortunately, we do not know when it was first brought here as the seeds can lie dormant for up to 10 years,” said Ahmad Zakaria, who revealed that the department would press on with intensive protective measures, including herbicide sprays for up to five years.

“This is an ongoing operation and we have to remain alert,” he said.

On biological controls such as the Parthenium beetle, which eats the weed before it can flower; or growing competing species that will vie with the weed for nutrients, DOA Plant Biosecurity Division director Faridah Aini Muhammad said caution had to be in place.

“We will be meeting scientists and researchers next week to discuss the next step. We have to be wary of simply bringing in fo­reign insects as we don’t know what effects they will have on our ecosystem,” she said.

Currently, the main methods to remove the weed, which can also cause intestinal damage to ruminants and allergic reactions in humans, are pulling it out, using herbicides, or spraying a saline solution (one part salt to four parts water).

Currently, known infestations are in Negri Sembilan, Selangor, Johor, Malacca, Kedah and Perak.

Killer weed found in six Perak districts
MANJIT KAUR The Star 14 Dec 14;

IPOH: The highly-allergenic par­thenium hysterophorus, described as the “worst weed of the century”, has been discovered in six districts in Perak.

State Agriculture Department (DOA) director Zabidi Dun said the weed, locally known as Rumpai Miang Mexico, was discovered in Kinta, Hulu Perak, Perak Tengah, Kuala Kangsar, Manjung and Larut, Matang and Selama districts.

He said the department, together with the locals which included farmers, were taking measures to destroy the weed, found in 44 locations.

“We have set up a committee to look into the matter,” said Zabidi.

“After the issue was highlighted in the media, people have been calling us to provide information,” he said yesterday.

“In Perak, the weed has been found in residential areas, farms and grazing fields,” said Zabidi.

“Some people may have unknowingly used the weed for landscaping purposes.”

Last week, The Star reported that the weed had encroached on grassland in Malaysia, causing allergic reactions in people.

Believed to have been spread by the import of animals from weed-infested countries, all state agricultural agencies have been alerted of the P. hysterophorus, which does not only harm humans, but also severely affects agriculture, livestock and the natural ecosystems.

Zabidi warned the public to be careful of the weed.

“It looks like the ulam raja. The flowers of the weed are white and small.

“The ulam raja has pink and bigger flowers,” he pointed out.

“The leaves of ulam raja has a scent to it. This weed has none.”

‘Herbicide not a long-term solution’
TASHNY SUKUMARAN The Star 15 Dec 14;

PETALING JAYA: As the Agriculture Department shifts into high gear in locating and eradicating the invasive weed Parthenium hysterophorus, some quarters have warned the authorities against relying too heavily on herbicides.

Universiti Putra Malaysia’s Dean of the Agriculture Faculty Professor Dr Abdul Shukor Juraimi said herbicides were not an effective method for the long-term as P. hysterophorus could develop resistance to the chemicals used.

“Chemicals are not good for the environment in the long term. Besides P. hysterophorus developing resistance, some herbicides can also affect the ecosystem,” he warned.

The active ingredients in the weedkiller used by the DOA are glyphosate, atrazine or metribuzin.

The use of atrazine, which has been banned in the European Union, has raised some eyebrows as studies have shown it can contaminate drinking water and alter natural hormone levels in animals and humans.

Dr Abdul Shukor, who is currently working with the authorities and other academics on control methods, said that as atrazine could “stay for quite long in the soil”, it should not be used frequently.

“It takes a while to leave the ecosystem, so we must calculate how frequently it can be used. We will work hard to come up with safe controls.”

He said his team was looking at biological controls such as fungal diseases to control and eventually root out the weed.

Dr Abdul Shukor added that the DOA was working with the Department of Veterinary Services to track cattle imports over the years to see where the weed might have spread, as it is believed that P. hysterophorus was transported to Malaysia via imported livestock.

The Pesticide Action Network Asia and Pacific (Panap) also highlighted their concerns over the use of herbicides.

“Despite having encountered the problem a year ago, the authorities have resorted to destroying the plant by increasing the dosage instead of using an integrated approach to weed management, including non-­chemical alternatives,” said its executive director Sarojeni Rengam.

Sarojeni warned that relying on toxic pesticides would increase human exposure and promote pest and weed resistance.

She said Panap’s research over the years had shown that pests targeted with chemicals quickly developed resistance and subsequently required higher and higher doses.

“Inadvertently, this causes a drastic impact on the delicate ecological balance in the environment, as well as harming other living organisms including human beings,” she added.

No herbicide used to rid killer weed in populated areas
TASHNY SUKUMARAN The Star 18 Dec 14;

PETALING JAYA: The Department of Agriculture will not be spraying herbicides, including the chemical atrazine, in populated areas to get rid of the toxic invasive weed Parthenium hysterophorus.

Plant Biosecurity Division director Faridah Aini Muhammad told The Star that atrazine, which has been criticised by Pesticide Action Network Asia and Pacific (Panap) due to its potential to linger in groundwater, was only used in unpopulated areas.

“We spray a herbicide mix of atrazine, glyphosate and metribuzin in no-man’s land. If the weed is found around homes or business premises, we use manual methods (pulling it out by hand) or spray it with a salt water solution,” she said.

Faridah also said the recently discovered P. hysterophorus infestation in Kampung Tunku, Petaling Jaya, had been tackled.

“We sprayed weedkiller at the cemeteries that were affected,” she said.

The weed has also been discovered in Ranau, Sabah, bringing the total number of affected states to nine.

The others were Selangor, Negri Sembilan, Malacca, Johor, Perak, Kedah, Perlis and Penang.

In just five days, reports of P. hystero­phorus have flooded the Department of Agriculture.

Statistics showed that 35.6ha of land was infested nationwide, a seven-fold jump from 4.8ha in the early days.

Faridah told The Star that a task force had been set up to search for biological agents that suppress the weed and that they hope to see results by next year.

“By March, we hope to have a variety of methods at our disposal, including biological agents,” she said.

It is believed that P. hysterophorus, sometimes referred to as congress grass or Santa Maria feverfew, was transported to Malaysia via imported livestock.

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Malaysia: Published: Johor to have new system to check factory pollution

The Star 12 Dec 14;

PASIR GUDANG: Johor will introduce a new system to monitor air pollution in industrial areas.

State Health and Environment Committee chairman Datuk Ayub Rahmat said the system would be used in all factories in the state from January.

He said this was to adhere to the Environmental Act 1974 (Amendment 2014), as the Federal Government was emphasising more on a pollution-free environment.

“The Johor government will table a motion in the next State Assembly sitting to enable stricter enforcement against pollution.

“Among the methods we are looking at is introducing a system to better monitor air quality at factories,” he said after opening an environment seminar at a hotel here yesterday.

Ayub said the application for the system was locally designed and its main function would be to track down factories which were pollu­ting the air.

“The state government will be organising a roadshow to create awareness on this project,” he said.

He said the Department of Environment (DEA) had been finding it difficult to fine factories for air pollution.

“Each factory has its own application to check on air quality but they are able to manipulate some of the data which makes it difficult for the department to act against them,” he said.

Ayub said beginning next year, the department would conduct random checks at all factories.

He added that three factories were so far known to be among those polluting the air.

“We urge such factories to use green technology in their manufacturing process as it will help lessen the amount of pollution and keep the environment clean,’’ he said, adding that the errant ones would be slapped with maximum compounds.

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Indonesia: Strengthening environmental safeguards

Peter Oksen and Taswin Munier, Jakarta Post 11 Dec 14;

Protecting the environment starts with policymaking as well as the development and design of projects. Environmental safeguarding tools can minimize hidden environmental costs and should be brought to the forefront of the environmental agenda by the new Environment and Forestry Ministry.

Most previous plans and projects in Indonesia have resulted in the accelerated degradation of natural resources. This will eventually create costs. Those who will have to bear the costs are the affected locals, the state and hence its tax payers. From an international point of view, the resulting loss of unique biodiversity and climate change impacts are of very high concern.

Environmental costs are often hidden costs as they are not well known and not included in the economic calculations used for evaluating the profitability of a project.

This could be costs associated with loss of habitat and the pollution of rivers, soil, the sea and air. The pollution could, for example, result in fewer catches of fish or the poisoning of people living off polluted land and breathing polluted air.

Usually, no budget is set to mitigate the costs as such costs are often referred to as externalized costs.

However, internationally, and also in Indonesia, increasing attention is being placed on externalized costs.

Methods and policies are developed to include these costs and concerns in the planning and permit-acquisition process. Green banking, triple bottom line, full-cost accounting, ecoBudget, extended cost-benefit analyses and many other tools and methods have been developed, often used voluntarily by large companies as part of their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) strategies.

And then there are the officially required Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA/KLHS) and Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA/AMDAL).

These two tools are presently the only commonly used environmental safeguarding tools in Indonesia.

As such, their effective implementation is critical for maintaining the biodiversity and environmental quality of Indonesia.

The SEA/KLHS is used to evaluate the environmental impacts of plans and policies. According to the Environmental Law, all major plans shall have a SEA made as part of the planning process, that is, not after the plan is finalized.

In the SEA, all impacts, including bio-physical, chemical, social, economic, health, and cultural, are assessed in a systematic way.

The focus is on strategic issues, that is, issues that cut across boundaries, population groups, regions, areas, and projects. Ideally, the externalized costs of a plan and policy should be calculated to give an idea of what hidden costs may be present.

If done well, a SEA will act as a policy dialogue tool for planners and policy makers, to engage the public and experts in making a plan or policy that is as green as possible. Recently, a major SEA has been completed on the Master Plan for the Acceleration and Expansion of Indonesian Economic Development (MP3EI).

The EIA/AMDAL is similar to SEA, only it is assessing a specific project rather than a plan. However, the EIA is also part of the permit-acquisition process and must be approved before a project can be implemented.

Both SEA and EIA were anchored in the former environment ministry, while the actual assessments are made by the plan, policy, and project owners who often hire specialized consultants to write them.

In the case of SEA, its development as an efficient policy dialogue tool has been slowed down by a lack of clear government regulations, which has resulted in six ministries having their own guidelines.

It is therefore difficult to apply a coherent approach to SEA’s and there is a need for a central agency to provide technical guidance and quality assurance.

With the merging of the environment and forestry ministries, there is a golden opportunity to take up and reinforce this important role. The Danish government and the Danish International Development Agency (Danida) support the development of SEA and EIA through the Environmental Support Program.

The new ministry should take the lead in ensuring efficient and focused SEA’s and EIA’s of high technical quality.

This could have an enormous positive impact on both the environment and forests in Indonesia.


Peter Oksen is national program advisor and Taswin Munier is the national program administrator at the Danish International Development Agency (Danida) Environmental Support Program. The views are personal.

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Hong Kong's rich biodiversity threatened by lack of public awareness

Karen Lee says more must be done by the government, as few seem aware of its efforts to engage people in the development of an effective conservation strategy
Karen Lee South China Morning Post 11 Dec 14;

With more than 500 species of bird, 50 species of mammal, 100 reptile and amphibian species and countless species of insect - including several that are unique to the territory - Hong Kong's rich biodiversity should be treasured; protecting it should be a broad community endeavour.

The international Convention on Biological Diversity was extended to Hong Kong in 2011. It requires the government to develop, in collaboration with the community, a biodiversity strategy and action plan that takes into consideration local needs and priorities.

In his last policy address, the chief executive announced the launch of Hong Kong's participatory process for the action plan. Unlike a typical public consultation, in which pre-formulated policy options are offered up for people to offer feedback, the strategy is supposed take an open form, with public engagement from the start.

This is the first time such a policy process has been attempted in Hong Kong. It involves a three-tiered committee structure, bringing together stakeholders including government officials, academics, environmental non-government organisations and conservationists. There is also a series of public engagement events, including eight roving exhibitions and four public lectures run by the government. These meetings will forge the parameters for a more traditional public consultation, set to begin early next year. So what happens in those meetings is crucial.

Unfortunately, despite these engagement efforts, the public remains largely unaware of the plan. Publicity has been inadequate. Although the lectures were open to all, little news of their existence reached the wider public. At the first, walk-in participants voiced their concerns about the lack of promotion.

Although two engagement forums were held in June, details were not announced until a few days beforehand. As a result, the participants were mainly existing committee members, principally NGO representatives. Three YouTube videos were produced by the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) to promote the biodiversity strategy and action plan in March. Yet, on average, they have each attracted around 700 views since their launch. Evidently, the promotion of the high-quality videos must be improved.

Furthermore, as the strategy is intended to develop a holistic approach to managing biodiversity, it requires the collaboration of all government departments to incorporate biodiversity considerations into mainstream policies, from housing to health. Yet, it appears that only the AFCD is heavily involved in its formulation. Such an imbalanced distribution of effort will not get Hong Kong very far in terms of protecting biodiversity.

Clear and in-depth implementation details, including the schedule, budget and specific actions of the plan, should be made available to the public as soon as possible. More thorough public engagement is needed, as are more documents and guidance for the wider public and among government departments, to help raise awareness of the importance of biodiversity conservation. This is the only way Hong Kong can protect its rich biodiversity.

Karen Lee is senior project manager at Civic Exchange

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Biodiversity: Life ­– a status report

Species are disappearing quickly — but researchers are struggling to assess how bad the problem is.
Richard Monastersky Nature 10 Dec 14;

Of all the species that have populated Earth at some time over the past 3.5 billion years, more than 95% have vanished — many of them in spectacular die-offs called mass extinctions. On that much, researchers can generally agree. Yet when it comes to taking stock of how much life exists today — and how quickly it will vanish in the future — uncertainty prevails. (Download a PDF of the graphic.)

Studies that try to tally the number of species of animals, plants and fungi alive right now produce estimates that swing from less than 2 million to more than 50 million. The problem is that researchers have so far sampled only a sliver of Earth’s biodiversity, and most of the unknown groups inhabit small regions of the world, often in habitats that are rapidly being destroyed.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) highlighted the uncertainty in the latest version of its Red List of Threatened Species, which was released in November. The report evaluated more than 76,000 species, a big increase over earlier editions. But that is just 4% of the more than 1.7 million species that have been described by scientists, making it impossible to offer any reliable threat level for groups that have not been adequately assessed, such as fish, reptiles and insects.

Recognizing these caveats, Nature pulled together the most reliable available data to provide a graphic status report of life on Earth (see ‘Life under threat’). Among the groups that can be assessed, amphibians stand out as the most imperilled: 41% face the threat of extinction, in part because of devastating epidemics caused by chytrid fungi. Large fractions of mammals and birds face significant threats because of habitat loss and degradation, as well as activities such as hunting.

Looking forward, the picture gets less certain. The effects of climate change, which are hard to forecast in terms of pace and pattern, will probably accelerate extinctions in as-yet unknown ways. One simple way to project into the future would be to assume that the rate of extinction will be constant; it is currently estimated to range from 0.01% to 0.7% of all existing species a year. “There is a huge uncertainty in projecting future extinction rates,” says Henrique Pereira, an ecologist at the German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research in Leipzig.

At the upper rate, thousands of species are disappearing each year. If that trend continues, it could lead to a mass extinction — defined as a loss of 75% of species — over the next few centuries.

Conservation policies could slow extinctions, but current trends do not give much comfort. Although nations are expanding the number of land and ocean areas that they set aside for protection, most measures of biodiversity show that pressures on species are increasing. “In general, the state of biodiversity is worsening, in many cases significantly,” says Derek Tittensor, a marine ecologist with the United Nations Environment Programme’s World Conservation Monitoring Centre in Cambridge, UK.

Despite all the uncertainty, researchers agree that they need to devote more attention to evaluating current and future risks to biodiversity. One approach is to develop comprehensive computer models that can forecast how human activities will alter ecosystems. These general ecosystem models, or GEMs, are in their infancy: earlier this year, Tittensor and his colleagues published initial results from the first global model that seeks to mimic all the major ecological interactions on Earth in much the same way as climate models simulate the atmosphere and oceans (M. B. J. Harfoot et al. PLoS Biol.12,e1001841; 2014).

Building the GEM took 3 years, in part because the model tries to represent all organisms with body masses ranging from 10 micrograms (about the weight of small plankton) to 150,000 kilograms (roughly the size of a blue whale). “It needs a lot more development and testing, and ideally there will be a lot more variety of these models,” says Tittensor. But if they do a decent job of capturing the breadth of life in a computer, he says, “they have real potential to alert us to potential problems we wouldn’t otherwise detect”.

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Protecting mangroves can lower disaster risks, offer cash: experts

SALEEM SHAIKH Reuters 11 Dec 14;

LIMA (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Better protecting the world's fast-disappearing mangroves could have big economic, social and environmental benefits, experts said at the U.N. climate talks in Lima this week.

Besides protecting shorelines from extreme weather and providing fish a safe place to breed, mangroves could play a big role in trapping climate-changing carbon emissions, something that has so far been largely overlooked, they said.

The world needs to ensure that, at both national and international levels, "mangroves have a place in REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) strategies and other low carbon development strategies such as National Appropriate Mitigation Actions (NAMAs),” said Achim Steiner, the U.N. Environment Program's executive director.

Right now, an absence of a carbon finance mechanisms for mangroves, and a lack of policy to support mangrove ecosystems - as well as widespread losses of mangroves themselves - mean hundredsof billions of dollars worth of potential benefits are being lost, the experts said.

As mangroves are cleared at a rate three to five times faster than other forests, according to UNEP estimates, those losses are particularly felt in developing countries where most mangroves are located, including Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Kenya, Senegal, West Bengal, Vietnam and Sumatra.

A joint report by UNEP and the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), launched in Lima, estimates the economic cost of the destruction of carbon-rich mangroves worldwide at $42 billion annually.

Tim Christophersen, a forest and climate change expert with UNEP, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation that protecting and conserving mangroves is crucial for the climate resilience of the world’s coastlines as they face threats such as rising sea level, increasingly frequent and powerful storms and saltwater intrusion into drinking water.

The UNEP report argues that while policymakers and financial markets are beginning to take action, more needs to be done to hammer out methodologies for carbon accounting for mangroves and other coastal wetland ecosystems.

That would help conserve mangroves and increase their profile in the U.N.-led REDD+ program and within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the report said.

“The management of coastal wetlands is replete with numerous benefits including fisheries production and shoreline protection which promote adaptation in coastal communities,” said Stephen Crook, climate change director at the California-based environmental science and planning firm ESA, and a lead author of the IPCC’s 2013 wetlands supplement.


UNEP’s Christophersen shared success stories of coastal wetlands carbon projects launched in India’s West Bengal state, as well as in Kenya, Senegal and Indonesia’s Sumatra island.

For instance, a Gazi Bay community-led carbon finance project in Kenya, which has helped conserve manage and restore 117 hectares of mangroves by late 2014, has been able to certify it is sequestering 3,000 tonnes of carbon and sold carbon credits based on that.

The funds have then been allocated to community protects and additional mangrove activities overseen by the village leaders themselves, Christophersen said.

"One of the many successes of the project is a significant cut in illegal harvesting of mangroves,” he said. The project also has included planting of fast-growing forest species on nearby land to serve as alternate wood sources, and has ensured that communities have ownership of the mangroves, he said.

Crook said that such community-based mangroves protection initiatives could be replicated in countries such as Pakistan, Bangladesh, India and Sri Lanka, and scaled up to help reduce the impacts of tropical cyclones, typhoons and sea level rise.

(Reporting by Saleem Shaikh; editing by Laurie Goering)

To restore mangrove forests, it’s all in the planning

LIMA, Peru—Conservation and restoration of the world’s coastal wetlands and mangroves—threatened by excavation and drainage for shrimp farms and development—can buffer the effects of climate change, protect livelihoods and avoid the emission of thousands of tons of greenhouse gases every year.

But those benefits will wash away with the next storm unless the project is planned well and implemented effectively, experts say.

Drawing on examples from around the world, a new publication from the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) and the UN Environment Program (UNEP) provides guidance for successful wetland or “coastal blue carbon” projects.

“Guiding principles for delivering coastal wetland carbon projects” offers information ranging from an overview of the carbon stored in coastal ecosystems to possibilities for carbon financing.

The publication was launched Dec. 9 at an event hosted by the Indonesian government on the sidelines of the UN climate summit in Lima, Peru.

“This publication is very timely,” Heru Prasetyo, the head of Indonesia’s National REDD+ Agency, said at the book launch. “In the discussion of climate change, the issue of blue carbon, or ecosystems going beyond landscapes and merging into seascapes, is very important.”


Coastal wetlands deliver among highest ecosystem service values of all natural systems, said Tim Christopherson, UNEP senior program officer for forests and climate change.

Because they store large amounts of carbon while providing other services—including protection against storm surges, ecotourism opportunities and spawning habitat for fish—mangroves and wetlands both mitigate greenhouse gas emissions and help people living along the coast adapt to a changing climate, said Daniel Murdiyarso, principal scientist at CIFOR and one of the publication’s co-authors.

“The question is how to find synergies between mitigation and adaptation strategies,” he said. “Coastal wetlands vary from place to place, and no single size fits all. There must be options.”
Although inclusion of coastal ecosystems in carbon finance markets is new, lessons can be drawn from around the world, said co-author Stephen Crooks, climate change program manager at Environmental Science Associates (ESA).

The cases examined by the authors included wetlands in Abu Dhabi, China, Guyana, Kenya, the United States and West Papua.

“The fundamental message is to conserve first,” said Crooks, who works with a group that has restored 1,500 wetlands in the past four decades.

Degraded wetlands can be restored, as long as planners remember that mangroves must be planted above the mean tide level and consider factors such as sea level rise and allowing room for wetlands to migrate as conditions change, Crooks said.

That means thinking on a landscape scale and planning for the future, as well as practical considerations, such as dealing with unclear land tenure and restoring natural ecosystem processes instead of resorting to levees and culverts.

“Poor project planning is one of the most important factors in project failure,” Crooks said.


The publication offers guidelines for planning a blue carbon project, such as choosing a carbon standard and a greenhouse gas accounting method and evaluating the risk of leakage—the possibility that conservation or restoration of a wetland in one place could lead to more clearing for shrimp farms somewhere else.

The authors also highlight the need to gain support from local residents by stressing the many services mangroves and other coastal wetlands provide.

“These ecosystems aren’t just important for carbon,” Crooks said. They are also important for biological diversity, flood and storm protection, forest products, ecotourism possibilities, and cultural and spiritual values, he said. “And they provide a lot of fish.”

For more information about CIFOR’s research on mangrove forests, please contact Daniel Murdiyarso at

CIFOR’s research on mangroves forms part of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry.

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Most-wanted environmental fugitives list leads to arrest of ivory suspect

Suspected ivory smuggler arrested in Zambia following first ever public appeal by Interpol to catch environmental criminals
Arthur Neslen The Guardian 11 Dec 14;

Ben Simasiku, a 31-year-old suspected ivory smuggler, has been arrested in Zambia after the first-ever Interpol public appeal, dubbed to track down nine environmental fugitives.

Simasiku had been on the run since a shoot-out between wildlife officials and 13 alleged poachers in Botswana’s Chobe National Park, on the Zambian border in July. One suspected poacher was killed in the gunfight.

Botswana’s authorities reportedly recovered recovered live ammunition, 34 ivory tusks, four axes, four elephant tails, 12 bags of assorted game meat and a digital weighing scale at the scene.

Stefano Carvelli, the head of Interpol’s fugitive investigative support unit told the Guardian: “Since we launched our global public appeal for information, Interpol has received many tips regarding the fugitives sought. The arrest of Ben Simasiku highlights the important role the public can play in helping police locate them. We encourage people worldwide to remain vigilant and to assist in bringing the remaining fugitives to justice.”

Simnasiku was captured by the Zambia Wildlife Authority (ZAWA)‘s intelligence and investigations unit on 2 December, and will now face trial in Zambia.

“The Zambian authorities are to be congratulated for acting quickly and capturing this criminal,” said Nathan Gichohi, an officer for the African Wildlife Foundation. “It is important we focus on stopping the middlemen, traffickers and kingpins of the ivory and rhino horn trade as much as the poachers.”

Along with with Botswana, Zimbabwe and Namibia, Zambia hosts Africa’s largest elephant populations. But since the 1960s, poachers are thought to have killed 90% of Zambia’s 250,000 elephants, and all of its 3,500 black rhino.

As rhino extinctions have spread, the vast majority of rhino poaching now takes place in just two countries, Zimbabwe and South Africa. Forest elephant populations in Africa meanwhile fell by around 62% between 2002 and 2011.

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