Best of our wild blogs: 16 Dec 14

Internship position open
from News from Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum and We will be officially opened in Apr 2015!

Pond Heron plunge-fishing
from Bird Ecology Study Group

barracuda cant jump @ SBWR - Dec 2014
from sgbeachbum

Article Alert! – Review articles on giant clam ecology
from Neo Mei Lin

AVA takes action on large marine trash washed up at Sungei Buloh
from wild shores of singapore

Read more!

Lifeline for offshore marine research unit

Audrey Tan, The Straits Times AsiaOne 16 Dec 14;

Singapore's only marine academic research station has overcome its money woes and found a way to prevent its centre from being shut down.
Its lifeline is a set of cables and water pipes that, when up and running, will provide potable water and electricity from a nearby grid to its offshore facility on St John's Island.

This means that by 2016, the National University of Singapore's Tropical Marine Science Institute (TMSI) will no longer have to pay through its nose for generator maintenance, diesel fuel and fresh water.

"Diesel is expensive, and as seawater is corrosive, it is a nightmare to maintain the generator," said Professor Peter Ng, who stepped down from TMSI's helm in September, after six years as director.

The St John's facility was established in 2002 to study aspects of marine biology such as aquaculture, giant clams, corals and ecotoxicology. TMSI's other centre in the NUS Kent Ridge campus focuses on environmental modelling, climate change and underwater communications, among other things.

But since 2010, the offshore research facility has been beset by rising operating costs, such as running boats to and from the island, security and, most notably, diesel for the lab's generator.

This year, for instance - out of a total institute budget of $1.9 million, operating costs amounted to more than $1.7 million. About half of this was spent on diesel alone. In addition, fresh water had to be trucked in from the mainland by boat, adding to costs.

In January, the St John's laboratory looked set to close its doors for good, as it was unable to cover its operating costs.

Back then, lead researchers had been told by the university not to accept new projects involving the lab, as it was "no longer financially possible or justifiable to continue operations on (St John's Island)".

But there has been a last-minute reprieve.

Professor Ng suggested tapping the output from nearby Kias Island, a reclaimed shoal that could supply power to St John's, Pulau Seringat and Lazarus Island, three linked islands.

Cables had been installed there in 2006 as part of plans to develop the area for high-end resorts or housing, although those plans are now on hold.

The cost of building a sub-station and laying additional cables about 1.5km to 2km in length is high, at $6 million to $8 million.

But in May this year, TMSI was given a lifeline. The Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA), which has a marine aquaculture centre adjacent to TMSI's premises on the island, came on board to help pay for the extension of the cables.

Responding to queries, the AVA confirmed that it will be co-funding the project, and that a tender will be called next year.

Said its spokesman: "The project will help to reduce the utility cost for the facility, which is currently running on generators."

Professor Wong Sek Man, TMSI's new director, stressed why the centre is so important.

"Singapore is a maritime nation, surrounded by water," he said. "It is important to study how factors such as climate change, our intense shipping industry and invasive species could affect our waters."

A coastal facility would aid in this research, as it provides researchers with easy access to oceanic samples, he added.

Prof Wong is a virologist by training and the director of alumni relations and special duties at the NUS Faculty of Science.

One research focus will be the effect of climate change on sea levels and marine organisms.

"With climate change and global warming, ice melting could lead to a rise in water levels," said Prof Wong.

"As ice melting will dilute the salinity of the ocean, there could be changes in the marine ecosystem."

Another key area is green engineering techniques that would allow development and conservation to co-exist.

This includes, for instance, using design or materials to promote biodiversity or coral colonisation when building seawalls, or devising structures to manage the impact of sedimentation during dredging and building works.

Prof Wong added that his background in virology could also help advance Singapore's maritime research.

"Viruses are thought of as something that affects only humans. But in fish farming, for instance, it is easy for such viruses to spread," he noted, adding that this would be a concern for Singapore and local fisheries.

About his successor, Prof Ng said: "Viruses may not be sexy, but it doesn't mean they are not important. Prof Wong is able to bring his expertise to this area of marine research and grow it."

Read more!

AVA investigates allegations of animal deaths at cat cafe

EMILIA TAN Today Online 16 Dec 14;

SINGAPORE — Cat cafe Cuddles, which opened at *SCAPE in mid-September, is being investigated by the Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority (AVA) over some cat deaths and complaints about its training for staff, among other things.

The allegations are made by some ex-employees of the cafe, who said as many as eight cats have died.

Mr Jonathan Tan, who owns the cafe, confirmed the cat deaths but declined to say how many of the 30 he had bought for the business had died. He left 10 of these cats in his home after the authorities capped the number of cats he could have at the shop at 20.

Mr Tan said the cats died after undergoing sterilisation or had feline infectious peritonitis — a disease caused by a coronavirus that attacks the cells of the intestinal wall and is fatal in more than 95 per cent of cases, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

When contacted, the AVA would only say it is “investigating the various allegations against Cuddles Cafe”.

Dr Jeremy Lee, a veterinary surgeon interviewed by TODAY, said cat deaths arising from sterilisations are quite rare “although we do see complications such as infections of surgical wounds caused by animals licking its wounds”. He said: “The risk of complications also depends on the health status of the cat at the time of the operation — healthy cats are at lower risks of complications.”

Dr Lee added that feline infectious peritonitis is “not as common now as compared to the early days of vet medicine”, noting that he sees an average of one case every three months. “It’s not an infectious disease but it’s fatal most of the time.”

The former staff of Cuddles Cafe also claimed that there was no proper training provided to staff on handling and taking care of cats — something that Mr Tan refuted. One of the ex-employees, who only wanted to be known as KJ, said: “The owner of Cuddles Cafe would just show us YouTube videos of how to shower cats.”

Mr Tan, however, said that his staff are taught how to handle cats, including checking for cats’ comfort level, grooming, showering, cleaning them, as well as how to disinfect their food and water sources, and litter boxes.

The ex-employees also expressed concern over the health of the cats in the cafe as they had had contact with the cats that died before the cafe opened for business.

In response, Mr Tan said that although the cats “lived together at some point before the cafe opened”, the cats in the cafe are all healthy.

“We constantly monitor the cats’ health and their general well-being, and bring them for veterinary attention should they be sick,” he added.

Mr Tan also told TODAY that the interim licence the AVA issued to it for the display of cats expires tomorrow but he has not heard from the authorities about the licence renewal.

Cuddles Cat Cafe owner refutes ex-employee's allegations
Channel NewsAsia 16 Dec 14;

SINGAPORE: The owner of Cuddles Cat Cafe, which is currently facing allegations of multiple cat deaths and complaints about how its staff was trained, has come out to say that the current allegations against his shop are untrue.

The cafe at *SCAPE, which houses a total of 18 felines, is the largest of its kind in Singapore, spanning across 2,500 square metres.

Owner Mr Jonathan Tan said: "We are in the midst of obtaining evidence regarding this situation. We will like to emphasise that the current allegations are not true.

"Ever since we opened the doors for operation, none of the cats have passed away and all the cafe cats are completely healthy. We have started acquiring cats for this business since January this year. The moment we detect that any cat requires medical attention, we will bring them straight to the vet for veterinary attention."

He added that staff are provided training before they join on how to look out for signs and symptoms of medical or behavioural problems in the cats.

Mr Tan said this in response to queries, after Facebook user Emily posted further allegations online in response to a report that said that the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) was investigating the cafe. It was reported that Cuddles was being investigated for the deaths of several cats and complaints about its training for staff, following allegations by former cafe staff.

In her post, Ms Emily - who said that she had worked with Cuddles "short of a month" - alleged that Mr Tan was negligent in his decision making. She added that he had brought kittens to be sterilised before they were sufficiently mature, and reiterated the accusations that no training was given to staff, who were chosen based on their looks over their experience.

"Guys, I'm prepared to give up my life for the cats at the cafe should that happen," wrote Ms Emily. "Even though I've only been with them short of a month, I genuinely love them (the cats) all ... no matter what souvenir claw or bite marks they give."

"Honestly, the staff are the only ones giving these poor kitties love, and I believe they deserve better," she added.

However, Mr Tan disputed Ms Emily's account, issuing a follow-up Facebook post detailing the deaths of seven cats, which died during the span of January to September, before the cafe opened.

On the point that cats were brought for sterilisation before time, he said the three kittens that died during the course of the sterilisation had all been "certified completely healthy for sterilisation in accordance to a vet" and had "no pre-existing medical conditions". The kittens were between four and nine months old.

Dr Christopher Tham, head veterinarian at Jerih Veterinary Clinic, said: "In most cases, the acceptable age still varies, there is still some debate over that. Most of the time, the acceptable age is about four months old.

"They can go through anaesthetics and minor surgical procedure. Weight wise, we want to make sure they are heavy enough, big enough. If they are four months old and they look scrawny and skinny and thin, we will say let's wait a couple of months later before we proceed with any surgery."

As for the other four cats that contracted Feline Infectious Peritonitises (FIP), Mr Tan said it is a "fatal, incurable disease that affects cats". Peak ages for FIP are from six months to two years old, he added, and the four fell in this age range.

While Mr Tan gave his assurance that his cafe adopts the best practices for both his cats and customers, many animal lovers have expressed their anger on the net.

The cafe was closed on Tuesday (Dec 16), a day before his current three-month interim licence expires.


The Cat Welfare Society (CWS) also said it is taking all allegations against Cuddles Cat Cafe and its owner "seriously".

"We have taken these allegations seriously and provided all feedback received to AVA to aid in the investigation," said CWS. "We also hope that AVA investigates the supplier of bred cats to the cafe for its condition, care and sale protocols, which may have contributed to the FIP condition and compromised health."

CWS CEO Ms Joanne Ng said Mr Tan had previously interacted with the society before he opened his store in September.

"We spoke before at a very initial stage and encouraged them to adopt cats. They came to one of our adoption drive and that's it," said Ms Ng. "Thereafter, the public alerted us they listed CWS as partners on their website and we instructed them to remove it. And they did take it down."

CWS has also said that in the event that the cat cafe is closed down, “CWS will offer to help AVA with sterilisation of the cats and help re-home the cats”.

- CNA/av/ek

Cat cafe under AVA investigation confirms seven cat deaths
XUE JIANYUE Today Online 17 Dec 14;

TODAY earlier reported that the cafe, which opened at *SCAPE in mid-September, is being investigated by the Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority (AVA) over several cat deaths and complaints about its training for staff, among other things. The allegations were made by some ex-employees of the cafe. Cafe owner Jonathan Tan had earlier confirmed the cat deaths — which occurred after sterilisation or due to feline infectious peritonitis — but declined to say how many had died.

Today, the cafe posted detailed accounts of the seven deaths.

A nine-month old male cat by the name of Cookies, for example, developed a anaphylactic reaction – a serious and rapid allergic reaction that may cause death – to sedation administered before the sterilisation. This was despite the cat being certified completely healthy for sterilisation by a vet, and having no pre-existing medical conditions, said the cafe.

With regards to the FIP infection, the cafe said the infection is a mutation of Feline Enteric Coronavirus (FECV). FECV itself is “very common” especially in places where large groups of cats are kept together, such as animal shelters, the cafe said.

Exposure to FECV often produces no clinical signs and carriers of this virus may pass the infection to another cat. In cats with weak immune systems, such as very young and very old cats, the chances of mutation to FIP – which is fatal and incurable – increases, they said.

Adding that they hope members of public will now be able to evaluate the deaths as fairly as possible, the cafe said: “We love our cats a lot, and we want the best for them. None of us here at Cuddles would want any of our cats to pass away. We have consulted with experienced vets on the topics of sterilisation and Feline Infectious Peritonitises.”

They added: “Nonetheless, we apologise to the public for any upset caused. We understand that there are more publications and rumours being spread. We will do our best to answer each and everyone of these allegations in due time.” 
Investigations are currently underway by the AVA.

Facebook comments made in reaction to the cafe’s statement were largely negative and cafe staff were seen engaging the commenters.

A Facebook user by the name of Zuraidah Banafee was not persuaded by the cafe’s explanation. “We have a number of other cat cafes here, many have been around longer and some new. The fact that Cuddles has been the ONLY one in the news for all the wrong reasons to no end, speaks for itself,” she said.

Another user, Weixing Changprom, criticised the environment the cats were immersed in.

“The cats are just like your little chess pieces to manipulate your business, in all honesty from my experience of 15 years of keeping cats, cats don’t need to be around an environment where tons of strangers come touching them, screaming and laughing at volume detrimental to a cat’s hearing,” he said.

Some users expressed appreciation for the cafe’s detailed explanation. Ms Danella Lim, who described herself as a regular visitor at the cafe, said the cafe had always briefed visitors on how to handle the cats.

“I’m sure no one wants to see another living being die without cause or at least without attempting some form of medical intervention,” she wrote. “Cuddles Cat Cafe has attempted to provide a very detailed explanation as to the reasons why these unfortunate events have occurred yet it is not sufficient for many.”

Animal exhibition license for Cuddles Cat Cafe will not be renewed: AVA
Channel NewsAsia 17 Dec 14;

SINGAPORE: In response to media queries, the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) said on Wednesday (Dec 17) that it would not be renewing Cuddles Cat Cafe's animal exhibition license, as it is still "investigating the various allegations" against the establishment.

Cafe owner Jonathan Tan, who is the subject of scrutiny for allegations of multiple cat deaths and complaints about staff training, had said earlier that he was putting the business up for sale.

In a Facebook post, Mr Tan said: "After thorough considerations, I believe that in the best interest of our cats, they should be kept together as a family under a new owner. Hence, Cuddles Cat Cafe will be offered up for a business takeover."

He invited interested parties to drop him a message, and thanked everyone who supported and believed in the cafe. "I would have hoped for an opportunity to improve, but circumstances would not allow it. I am truly sorry about everything," he said.

Mr Tan added that he will be "screening the new owners very thoroughly".

In the post, Mr Tan also apologised for the deaths of the seven cats. "Under my care, seven cats died in a one-year time-period – accidents from sterilisation surgery, as well as the fatal FIP disease. My inexperience resulted to these issues. I am very sorry towards Cookies, Puffy, Earl Grey, Munchy, Pumpkin, Foxy and Cream."

- CNA/dl

Owner of cat cafe under AVA investigation writes lengthy apology to public
EMILIA TAN KENING Today Online 17 Dec 14;

SINGAPORE — Cuddles Cat Café owner Jonathan Tan today (Dec 17) publicly addressed the death of seven cats at his establishment and said he is looking for interested parties to do a business takeover.

Mr Tan wrote a lengthy apology on Facebook, “seeking forgiveness from the public, and to express my upmost regret and remorse on the current situation”.

“Under my care, seven cats died in a one year time-period.... My inexperience resulted to these issues,” he admitted.

Mr Tan also addressed other allegations against his business like the health statuses of his 30 cats and the lack of proper training provided to his staff.

“I have been on a learning journey since the opening of the café, and I regretfully admit that there were lapses in the standards in the initial phase of the café,” he said.

He also admitted that some of his cats were sick with Ringworm and Irritable Bowel Syndrome and some ex-employees and other cats had contracted Ringworm as a result.

Although he said he would have liked for an opportunity to improve, “circumstances would not allow it”.

The 30-year-old called for interested parties to do a business takeover, with a wish to keep the remaining cats together as a family under a new owner instead of rehoming them. Mr Tan said he would screening prospective owners “very thoroughly”.

“As a closing note, Cuddles Cat Café hopes that the premises would continue to improve to provide the best possible loving environment for our cats to live and thrive in,” Mr Tan wrote.

Two other posts put up on the café’s Facebook page earlier were harshly rebutted by angry netizens. One commented that Mr Tan was “only interested in the dollars and cents,” more than the welfare of the cats, while others suggested that he should have adopted instead of buying cats for his café.

The café’s license to display animals expires today (Dec 17). Cuddles café’s animal exhibition licence will not be renewed as investigations are still ongoing.

Cuddles Cat Cafe closes but staff volunteer to care for cats
EMILIA TAN Today Online 18 Dec 14;

SINGAPORE — Operations at Cuddles Cat Cafe ceased today (Dec 18) and its staff were told they would no longer be employed there, after the authorities did not renew the cafe’s licence to display animals while they investigated the seven deaths of cats under the owner’s care.

However, even after they were informed by owner Jonathan Tan that the four-month-old cafe was closed, more than 10 employees offered to lend a helping hand and return to the cafe to continue grooming, feeding and taking care of the remaining cats, without expecting to be paid.

Responding to TODAY’s queries about the immediate plans for the cats, an employee who declined to be named said: “People are asking us a lot of questions that we have no answers or control over. We just hope that the cats will not be separated. As staff, we can see the special bonds that the cats have with each other.”

He added: “We are also not worried about our pay because he’s (Jonathan) our boss and I trust him. We’ve been getting our pay very promptly at the end of every month, so I believe that it would be as usual this month.”

Others who worked at the cafe took to social media to express their sadness over the closure.

Ms Claris Pang posted her thoughts on her Twitter account @Thewayiluv: “Even though I’ve been there for a month only, I’ve really enjoyed working there, with my Cuddles family and my babies furballs.”

Ms Hannah Lim tweeted on her account @Lhyhx: “No place can ever replace cuddles. I’ll never feel as happy anywhere else.”

While Mr Tan had previously announced through a Facebook post that he was putting up his business for sale, it is not yet known if the cats would be rehomed or continue living at the cafe under a new owner.

Cat Welfare Society chief executive officer Joanne Ng said in a statement: “We have offered our assistance to Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (in rehoming and sterilisation) and also urge that they ensure that provisions are made for the cats at the cafe and owner’s home under experienced personnel.”

Read more!

Singapore Zoo to end elephant rides by January 2015

Channel NewsAsia 15 Dec 14;

SINGAPORE: Starting Jan 5, 2015, elephant rides and other activities where elephants are taken out of their exhibits will cease at the Singapore Zoo.

Wildlife Reserves Singapore (WRS) on Monday (Dec 15) announced it would be introducing the protected contact elephant management system for the two elephants at Night Safari and eight at the Singapore Zoo. The two attractions will be among the first zoological institutions in Asia to implement the protected contact management system for all elephants in its collection, it added.

The new system, which will take three to five years to be implemented, will require all staff training and interaction with elephants to be conducted through a physical safety barrier. The system will be based on positive reinforcement where animals are motivated by rewards such as food.

Said Dr Cheng Wen-Haur, the Chief Life Sciences Officer at WRS: “The decision to adopt the protected contact management system was made after an internal review by our elephant managers and healthcare experts, who found that this system of management offers a safer work environment for the elephant keepers.

"Importantly, the new system will continue to allow our keepers access to the elephants for their daily care, although separated by a safety barrier.”

Though elephant rides and other activities where elephants are taken out of their exhibits will cease, “visitors to Singapore Zoo will still be able to enjoy the Elephants at Work and Play show, and take part in elephant feeding sessions which happens after each show,” added WRS.

- CNA/ek

Singapore Zoo to cease elephant rides
Today Online 15 Dec 14;

SINGAPORE — The Singapore Zoo will no longer offer elephant rides and other activities where elephants are taken out from their exhibits, from Jan 5.

This is part of a new elephant management system being adopted by Wildlife Reserves Singapore (WRS), which enhances the safety for those working with elephants while ensuring proper animal care and welfare.

However, visitors to Singapore Zoo will still be able to enjoy the Elephants at Work and Play show and take part in elephant feeding sessions which happen after each show for now.

Under the new protected contact management system — which is already in place at zoos elsewhere in the world — all staff training and interaction with elephants will be conducted through a physical safety barrier. The system is based on positive reinforcement where animals are motivated by rewards such as food.

By ceasing programmes involving direct visitor contact with the elephants, the animals will be able to spend more time in the exhibits and to socialise among themselves.

WRS chief life sciences officer Cheng Wen-Haur said in a statement today (Dec 15): “The decision to adopt the protected contact management system was made after an internal review by our elephant managers and healthcare experts, who found that this system of management offers a safer work environment for the elephant keepers. Importantly, the new system will continue to allow our keepers access to the elephants for their daily care, although separated by a safety barrier.”

The Singapore Zoo and Night Safari currently have 10 elephants. The new system will take three to five years to fully implement as it will involve major redesign and construction of the elephant exhibits, back-of-house facilities, re-training of the elephants and elephant keepers.

No more elephant rides at zoo from Jan 5
Tanjeetpal Singh, My Paper AsiaOne 16 Dec 14;

Elephant rides will no longer be offered at the Singapore Zoo from Jan 5.

Wildlife Reserves Singapore (WRS) is phasing in a new elephant-management system at the Night Safari and zoo over the next few years.

This is to improve the animals' welfare by allowing them to spend more time in the exhibit socialising among themselves.

It will also offer elephant keepers greater safety. A bull elephant gored its keeper in 2001, but no other serious injuries have been reported since.

Under the new management system, all contact with the elephants can take place only while they are in their enclosure. Visitors must stand outside the exhibit's safety barrier.

At present, visitors to the zoo can ride elephants and catch them during special appearances.

Cheng Wen-Haur, chief life sciences officer at WRS, said: "The decision to adopt the protected contact management system was made after an internal review by our elephant managers and health-care experts, who found that this system...offers a safer work environment for the elephant keepers."

Visitors will still be able to see the elephants at the Elephants of Asia exhibit.

"I remember taking the elephant ride when I was five or six. It was an experience which I enjoyed and treasure," said Simon Tang, a 25-year-old sales executive.

"It's sad to think that children will no longer be able to enjoy the rides, although if animal welfare and staff safety will be greatly improved after this, then I think the zoo is doing the right thing."

The new system will take three to five years to implement, and involves major redesign of the exhibits.

Read more!

World's beaches being washed away due to coastal development

From Florida to the Costa del Sol, costly sea defences are accelerating beach erosion and will ultimately fail to protect coastal towns and cities from rising tides, say experts

John Vidal The Guardian 15 Dec 14;

The world’s beaches are being washed away as coastal developments increase in size and engineers build ever higher sea walls to defend against fierce winter storms and rising sea levels, according to two of the worlds’ leading marine geologists.

The warning comes as violent Atlantic and Pacific storms this week sent massive 50ft waves crashing over sea defences, washed away beaches and destroyed concrete walls in Europe, north America and the Philippines.

“Most natural sand beaches are disappearing, due partly to rising sea levels and increased storm action, but also to massive erosion caused by the human development of the shore,” said Andrew Cooper, professor of coastal studies at the University of Ulster.

“The widespread damage on western Europe’s storm-battered shores, the devastation caused by hurricane Sandy along the northeastern US seaboard, the deaths brought on by typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines all exemplify the total inadequacy of [coastal] infrastructure and the vulnerability of cities built on the edge of coastlines”, said Orrin Pilkey, professor of earth and ocean sciences at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina.

Pilkey and Cooper say in a new book, The Last Beach, that sea walls, which are widely believed by many local authorities to protect developments from erosion and sea level rise, in fact lead to the destruction of beaches and sea defences and require constant rebuilding at increasing cost.

Dunes and wide beaches protect buildings from storms far better than sea walls, say the authors. “The beach is a wonderful, free natural defence against the forces of the ocean. Beaches absorb the power of the ocean waves reducing them to a gentle swash that laps on the shoreline. Storms do not destroy beaches. They change their shape and location, moving sand around to maximise the absorption of wave energy and then recover in the days, months and years to follow,” said Pilkey .

Beaches in nature are almost indestructible, but seawall construction disrupts the natural movement of sand and waves, hindering the process of sand deposition along the shorelines, said Cooper.

“The wall itself is the problem. If you build a sea wall to protect the shore, the inevitable consequence is that the beach will disappear. The wall cannot absorb the energy of the sea. All beaches with defences ... are in danger. When you build the sea wall, that is the end of the beach,” he said.

“Beaches have become long, narrow engineering projects sustained only by constant maintenance and ongoing expenditures. Ugly seawalls have removed beaches altogether. Trying to hold the shoreline in position makes a flexible response to sea level rise more difficult,” said Pilkey.

Many of the world’s most famous beaches are now ecologically dead and dependent for their survival on being replenished with sand or gravel, they say. “The death knell has already sounded for large stretches of beaches along densely developed shorelines like those in Florida, Spain’s Costa del Sol, Australia’s Gold Coast and Brazil’s Rio de Janeiro,” says Pilkey.

Driven by tourism and trade, coastlines have become home to a growing proportion of the world’s population, but no country will be able to prevent its beaches being washed away and its defences destroyed, the authors warn.

As sea level rise adds to the damage done by the increasingly frequent storms expected with climate change, retreat from the shoreline will become imperative - but next to impossible.

“We will have to retreat [from the shoreline]. There is no choice. In economic terms alone, it will be impossible to defend everything. Defending cities like London or Rotterdam in Europe mean there will be no money for all the other smaller seaside towns,” says Cooper.

Sea level rise will mean that cities will have to build much higher sea walls to survive and this will cause beaches to disappear. “A world without beaches is a distinct possibility. [Coastal cities] will end up with massively high sea walls. In years to come you may not be able to see the sea from many developments [in places like Florida] except from second or third floors. By building high rise developments along coastlines we have made it impossible to retreat,” he says.

The authors accuse engineering consultancies and government agencies of promoting a hard-engineering, anti-ecological, short-term response to beach erosion. “The US army corps of engineers, the Dutch institute for Delta Technologies in Holland and HR Wallingford in UK are major movers in shoreline engineering, whose whole raison d’etre is to make money by building defences,” said Pilkey.

But their work often proves misguided, he said. “After Hurricane Sandy hit the US east coast in 2011,the Corps pumped 200,000 cubic metres of sand on to Atlantic Beach, New Jersey. Within five months it had disappeared, leaving a 9m-high cliff cut into the shoreline, and an estimated bill of $4m to deal with it”.

“Rising seas around the world will multiply these bills by millions because of such misguided, short-term schemes, with beaches needing to be replaced every few years”, he said.

But Jonathan Simm, technical director for flood management at HR Wallingford defended engineers. “We are but servants. There are some very difficult social and political decisions that have to be made about which frontages should be defended. Engineers get struck in the middle between different… political and technical arguments.

“The reality is that major urban conurbations are going to want to sustain their existing defences. But a lot of beaches are under stress so the engineering is going to become much more expensive.”

Sea level rise, which is expected to raise levels significantly over the next 100 years, will affect beaches in different ways, said Pilkey. “Although the sea has only risen a foot (0.3 meters) over the last 100 years or so, that amount can have a real impact on shoreline retreat on very gently sloping coasts. In theory, a one-foot sea-level rise should push the shoreline back 2,000 feet.”

As beaches disappear, countries are turning to increasingly expensive sand replenishment programmes which dump thousands of tonnes of dredged sand on existing, eroded beaches.

But these artificial beaches usually erode at least twice as fast as natural beaches and can only ever be a temporary solution, said Cooper. “As time goes on and as the sea level rises, the interval of re-replenishment will get shorter because the beach becomes less stable. Beach replenishment is only a plaster that must be applied again and again at great cost. It doesn’t remove the problem, it treats the symptoms. Eventually and inevitably beach replenishment will stop either as sand or money runs out”.

It also smothers all life on the beach. “The near shore food chain that originates with the tiny organisms living between grains of sands and surviving on occasional influxes of seaweed is now gone. The whole ecosystem is out of whack. Habitats for turtle and bird nesting are being destroyed,” said Cooper.

“We have a mentality to just rebuild everything after a storm. The simplest solution would be to move the infrastructure back. The problem is the obsession with building and defending property right next to the beach and to hold the beach in place. This process just destroys the beach.”

Read more!

Indonesian Environmentalists Pan New UN Climate Change Deal

Erwida Maulia Jakarta Globe 16 Dec 14;

Fifty-one people are believed to have died in the landslide in Banjarnegara, Central Java on Dec. 13, 2014. (JG Photo/ Dhana Kencana)

Jakarta. Indonesian environmentalists expressed concerns that “disappointing” outcomes of the United Nations’ climate change meeting that concluded in Peru over the weekend will dampen Indonesia’s efforts to reduce carbon emissions.

More than 190 nations who sent their representatives to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)’s 20th session conference in Lima, Peru, agreed on Saturday on “ground rules” on how all countries can submit their contributions to a new climate deal scheduled for approval in Paris late next year.

The Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs), nations’ commitments to the climate agreement, will form the foundations for action until 2020, when the new agreement is set to come into effect.

Nongovernmental groups have criticized the Lima outcome, with the World Wildlife Fund calling it a “half-baked” plan to cut emissions.

“Governments crucially failed to agree on specific plans to cut emissions before 2020 that would have laid the groundwork for ending the fossil-fuel era and accelerated the move toward renewable energy and increased energy efficiency,” Samantha Smith, leader of WWF’s global climate and energy initiative said in a statement.

The nonprofit organization criticizes developed nations’ lack of commitment during the two-week negotiations.

“Governments [of developed countries] couldn’t even manage to explain how they will deliver the long-promised $100 billion per year in climate finance by 2020,” Smith said. “In a move that seemingly dismissed the plight of the most vulnerable countries, they completely removed any meaningful language about ‘loss and damage.’ ”

In Indonesia, one of the main contributors of global greenhouse gas emissions through deforestation, environmentalists worry the Lima outcome would demotivate the government in tackling climate change. The new administration of President Joko Widodo is already seen as being less ambitious than his predecessor, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, in climate and environmental commitments.

“The prospect for [intensified measures] to reduce carbon emissions is getting smaller,” said Zenzi Suhadi, a forest campaigner with the Indonesian Forum for the Environment, or Walhi.

Zenzi expressed his disappointment especially with the refusal of wealthier nations to take responsibility, saying it will only burden island nations of the South, including Indonesia, who would be hit hardest by rising sea levels and extreme weather triggered by global warming.

He accused big corporations, including those with an interest in Indonesia’s forestry sector, of impeding climate talks and deals for their own benefit.

“We know how major corporations in Indonesia’s plantation and forestry industries are trying to legitimize their businesses through ecological restoration schemes,” Zenzi told the Jakarta Globe.

“But that is ‘greenwashing.’ They claim they are saviors of the environment by campaigning for such schemes, when the restoration zones are much smaller than the forested areas they have destroyed.

“And many of the areas they claim to use for restoration are actually primary forests, or were grabbed from the local population,” he added.

Rizaldi Boer of the Bogor Institute of Agriculture (IPB) criticized developed nations for focusing on mitigation efforts in climate negotiations, while giving less attention to adaptive measures.

“Adaptation has been sidelined, when there should be a balance between mitigation and adaptation,” Rizaldi said.

But despite the “disappointing” Lima conclusion, Indonesia must make the most of some of the meeting’s outcomes, such as the $10.2 billion pledged for the Green Climate Fund. The government should apply for a portion of the funds to support the development of renewable energy and other green technologies to reduce carbon emissions, he said.

“How should Indonesia benefit from opportunities offered in the international [forum]? We can do it as long as we’re committed [to environmental causes and reducing emissions],” Rizaldi added.

Agus Purnomo, coordinator of Indonesia’s National Council for Climate Change (DNPI) during Yudhoyono’s term, is confident Indonesia will stick to its commitment to reducing carbon emission by 26 percent by 2020 using its own resources, and 41 percent with international assistance.

“But we need to take this opportunity, provided by the Lima deal, to make clear our commitments beyond 2020,” Agus said.

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Tropical rainforests not absorbing as much carbon as expected, scientists say

Findings could indicate some forests are not helping mitigate effects of climate change by removing excess carbon dioxide from atmosphere
Stuart Clark The Guardian 15 Dec 14;

The increase in the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is not making trees in tropical forests grow faster, say scientists who have analysed over 1,100 individual trees from forests in Bolivia, Thailand and Cameroon.

Researchers had expected higher CO2 levels to act as a tree fertiliser so boosting growth. The finding could indicate that such forests are not helping mitigate the effects of climate change by removing excess CO2 from the atmosphere.

The results contradict previous studies that made inventories of the total number of trees in particular regions of tropical forests and found the numbers increasing. So it may be that tropical forests are becoming more dense rather than individual trees growing faster.

CO2 is essential to trees. It is absorbed from the air and turned into sugar using energy from light during photosynthesis. The sugar is then transported around the tree allowing it to grow. Each year, a tree lays down a new tree ring. Its width indicates how fast the tree has put on weight during that growing season.

Over the past 150 years, the concentration of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere has increased by 30% to 35%. This should drive more photosynthesis meaning more growth and fatter tree rings.

However, Peter van der Sleen at Wageningen University, The Netherlands and his colleagues found no such increase in the 1109 trees from 12 species they studied. “It was very surprising. The results call into question whether tropical forests are carbon sinks,” said van der Sleen.

The tropical forests contain a quarter of all the carbon found in living things on Earth. They have been suggested as a major carbon sink, removing carbon dioxide from the air. If left in the atmosphere, that carbon dioxide would help retain more heat in the atmosphere and have more of an impact on climate change.

But the new findings, published in Nature Geoscience, run contrary to older experimental conclusions. A network of 50-metre-high towers in some tropical forests measure the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere above the canopy of trees. These towers show that CO2 does appear to be pulled from the air by the forests. So where is it going?

Studies known as forest inventories may have the answer. In these studies, forest plots are singled out and inventoried at regular intervals. Over the past several decades, these have shown that the density of trees is increasing as more carbon is used up.

This would increase the biomass of the forest by adding more trees rather than accelerating the growth of older ones. Either way, it would scrub carbon out of the atmosphere as a result. But it does not explain why the established trees do not grow faster.

“The experiments that predicted accelerated tree growth with increases in carbon dioxide are elegant and convincing,” said van der Sleen. “Why tree density would be enhanced but not existing tree growth is very difficult to answer.”

New experiments in Brazil will investigate. Called free-air CO2 enrichment (Face), the experiments will bathe patches of the tropical forest in high levels of CO2 and measure what happens to the growth rate of established trees versus saplings.

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Amazon peatlands are 'most carbon-dense ecosystem'

Mark Kinver BBC News 15 Dec 14;

The most dense store of carbon in Amazonia is not above ground in trees but below ground in peatlands, a study has calculated.

An international team of researchers said their work, which uses satellite data and field measurements, provides the "most accurate estimates to date".

Protecting these landscapes is vital if efforts to curb climate change are to be successful, they added.

The findings appear in the journal Environmental Research Letters.

Writing in the paper, the scientists observed: "This investigation provides the most accurate estimates to date of the carbon stock of an area that is the largest peatland complex in the Neotropics."

They said it also confirmed "the status of the [Pastaza-Marañón foreland basin in north-west Peru] as the most carbon-dense landscape in Amanozia".

"We expected to find these peatlands but what was more of surprise was how extensive they were, and how much this relatively small area contributed to Peru's carbon stock," explained co-author Freddie Draper from the University of Leeds.

The 120,000 sq km basin accounts for just about 3% of the Peruvian Amazon, yet it stores almost 50% of its carbon stock, which equates to about three billion tonnes.

Deep peat

Mr Draper told BBC News that the team used a new approach to produce their figures: "We used quite a novel method, combining a lot of field data - for about 24 months, we measured how deep the peat was, how dense it was and how much of it was carbon.

Peru's peatlands need to be a conservation and research priority, the authors suggest
"That measured how much carbon was in the ground, and then we estimated how much carbon was in the trees.

"Probably the most novel part, because the study covered such a large area, we used different satellite products (radar and images) to identify where these peatlands were."

The team said that the basin remains "almost entirely intact", but threats are increasing.

"Maintaining intact peatlands is crucial for them to continue to act as a carbon sink by continuing to form peat and contribute fully to regional habitat and species diversity," explained co-author Katy Roucoux from the University of St Andrews.

Dr Roucoux told BBC News that scientists are still learning about the contribution these landscapes make to the global carbon cycle.

"An important issue is the extent to which the peatland ecosystems are continuing to lock up and store carbon as peat today. It certainly looks as though they are as the environmental conditions are right, ie water-logged."

She added: "Our ongoing work in this area also concerns the processes of peat accumulation: what controls the species make up of the peatland ecosystems and under what vegetational, environmental and climatic conditions peat forms, in order to identify their sensitivity to future environmental changes resulting from climatic and/or land use change."

The findings have been published shortly after the conclusion of international climate negotiations in Peru's capital city, Lima.

The talks - scheduled to concluded on Friday - continued into the weekend, as delegates struggled to reach agreement over a framework for setting national carbon budget pledges to be submitted to the next UN climate summit in Paris next year.

"Following the recently agreed Lima Call for Climate Action at COP20 and in the run-up to COP21 in Paris next year, there is a strong onus on countries to produce ambitious plans to reduce carbon emissions," explained fellow co-author Tim Baker from the University of Leeds.

"For a carbon-rich country such as Peru, understanding where carbon is stored and developing policies to protect those ecosystems is an important part of this process."

The paper's findings, Dr Baker added, suggest that the peatlands must become a conservation and research priority.

"Undoubtedly more work needs to be done to protect these areas effectively, as the major national park in the region - Pacaya Samiria - does not cover the most carbon dense vegetation, nor the broad diversity of forest types in this area."

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Greenland ice melt underestimated, study says

Amount of land covered by supraglacial lakes on Greenland ice sheet will double by 2060, exacerbating melting as temperatures rise

Press Association The Guardian 15 Dec 14;

Melting ice from the coast of Greenland could make a much bigger contribution to rising sea levels than has previously been thought, a new study suggests.

Scientists believe a previously overlooked side-effect of global warming could greatly increase the rate of melting of the vast Greenland ice sheet.

The ice covers 1.7m sq km (656,000 sq m), an area three times the size of Texas. If all the ice melted and flowed into the sea, oceans around the world would rise by as much as six metres (20ft), causing extensive damage to coastal communities.

While such a disaster is not expected to happen, ice losses from Greenland are predicted to contribute 22 cm (8in) to global sea levels by 2100.

But the new findings related to lakes formed from melted ice and snow indicate that this figure may be significantly too low.

The study shows that as Arctic temperatures rise, Greenland will develop a rash of these “supraglacial” lakes which are expected to spread much further inland.

By 2060, the amount of land they cover could be double what it is today.

One key effect the lakes have, once they reach a critical size, is to drain through fractures in the ice to reach the ice sheet base. Like a lubricant, the lake water causes the melting ice to slide more rapidly into the ocean.

The lakes also have a direct impact on ice sheet melting because, being darker than ice, they absorb more of the sun’s heat.

Lead researcher Dr Amber Leeson, from the University of Leeds’ School of Earth and Environment, said: “Supraglacial lakes can increase the speed at which the ice sheet melts and flows, and our research shows that by 2060 the area of Greenland covered by them will double.

“When you pour pancake batter into a pan, if it rushes quickly to the edges of the pan, you end up with a thin pancake. It’s similar to what happens with ice sheets: the faster it flows, the thinner it will be.

“When the ice sheet is thinner, it is at a slightly lower elevation and at the mercy of warmer air temperatures than it would have been if it were thicker, increasing the size of the melt zone around the edge of the ice sheet.”

The scientists based their findings on observations of the ice sheet from European Space Agency satellites and predictions of future ice melting from a climate simulation model.

Until now, supraglacial lakes have been restricted to a 62-mile wide low-lying band around Greenland’s coastline. At higher elevations further inland it has been too cold for lakes to form.

The new results suggest that warmer temperatures will cause the lakes to spread up to 68 miles further inland by 2060, doubling the size of the area they cover.

Leeson added: “The location of these new lakes is important; they will be far enough inland so that water leaking from them will not drain into the oceans as effectively as it does from today’s lakes that are near to the coastline and connected to a network of drainage channels.

“In contrast, water draining from lakes farther inland could lubricate the ice more effectively, causing it to speed up.”

The research is published in the journal Nature Climate Change.

Professor Andrew Shepherd, director of the multi-institution Centre for Polar Observation and Modelling (CPOM), who is also from the University of Leeds, said: “Because ice losses from Greenland are a key signal of global climate change, it’s important that we consider all factors that could affect the rate at which it will lose ice as climate warms.

“Our findings will help to improve the next generation of ice sheet models, so that we can have greater confidence in projections of future sea-level rise. In the meantime, we will continue to monitor changes in the ice sheet losses using satellite measurements.”

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