Best of our wild blogs: 12 Jan 15

2015 TeamSeaGrass Monitoring Trips Are Up
from teamseagrass

The last of a line
from The annotated budak

Raining snakes at Pasir Ris
from wild shores of singapore

Unusual feeding behavior of the Long-tailed Parakeets by Shirley Ng
from Singapore Bird Group

Twin-barred Tree Snake (Chrysopelea pelias) @ Rifle Range Road
from Monday Morgue

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The climate-change sceptic who did a sharp about-turn

Cheong Suk-wai The Straits Times AsiaOne 12 Jan 15;

The crash of Indonesia AirAsia Flight QZ8501 exactly two weeks ago has been blamed on weather so extreme that it tossed the plane about and froze its controls. The search for its ill-fated passengers' remains has been similarly hampered by white-out clouds, whipping winds and a whirling sea.

This tragedy has since put many people off flying. That change of heart towards what has become a way of life is just what Canadian journalist Naomi Klein hopes more people will have now.

That is because, as she canvasses in her new book This Changes Everything, humanity has exacerbated extreme weather and global warming to such an extent with hyper-consumption that civilisation itself may be going the way of the dodo.
The "This" in the title refers to climate change, which comes from the ever-increasing burning of fossil fuels to run everything from factories to cars and, yes, planes.

The burning sends carbon dioxide into the air, which not only traps heat that then warms the earth, but hangs around in the atmosphere for hundreds of years. Small wonder, then, that in 2012, Greenland saw its mega ice sheet melting for the first time in history.

As she notes in the book, by 2013, global carbon emissions were 61 per cent higher than in 1990, the year generally considered to be the start of the current wave of globalisation. The trouble is, as she says again and again in her book This Changes Everything, people keep "looking away" from climate change because they either believe it is a Trojan Horse for anti-capitalists or simply because nobody cares to wean themselves off luxuries, recycle stuff and cycle to work just to save the planet, as it were.

In this, she stresses, she is not advocating that everyone goes back to living in caves; it is enough just to live as if one were in the 1970s, when everyone made do with just enough and were into do-it-yourself projects.

You might think her suggestion all too predictable when you learn that she is the daughter of hippies, with their "make love not war" stance and fondness for all things natural. But Klein, an award-winning journalist who has covered environmental tragedies like the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010, used to be obsessed with designer brands, decking herself out in them in silent protest against her parents' earth-loving ways. She was also, for years, a climate-change sceptic, averting her eyes whenever anyone spoke or wrote about the subject.

What changed her mind and led to her spending five years writing this book was a conversation with a Bolivian ambassador to the World Trade Organisation (WTO) who showed her how fighting climate change was also a way to redistribute the world's income, if rich polluters gave money to poor "climate creditors" like Bolivia, to help them buy and use green technologies and grow their economies sustainably.

Klein traces the roots of global warming and climate change to the present model of economic growth, which is largely skewed towards helping the rich get richer quickly by relying on coal-heavy industries that pollute the environment, and by stoking the consumerism that keeps these industries going at full throttle.

Her book is most valuable for its chunks of inconvenient truths about how people are making the planet "hotter, colder, wetter, thirstier, hungrier and angrier", just to satisfy their many, unending desires, be they for fuel, food or x.

Among the most inconvenient truths she has rooted out are that:

Fracking, or using water pressure to break rocks to release gas, has been weakening the earth's faultlines and so triggering small earthquakes. On top of that, fracking releases a lot of heat-trapping methane; Starfish on the Pacific Coast have been melting into distorted globs, likely from seawater made increasingly acidic from dissolved carbon dioxide; Many environmental champions have betrayed everyone by, ironically, enabling oil companies to drill for fuel. For example, the Nature Conservancy in the United States was meant to protect the endangered prairie chicken. But it let oil companies drill in protected lands and, by 2013, the species died out; and

Many respected scientists and entrepreneurs are trying to reverse global warming by pursuing The Pinatubo Option, named after Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines, which erupted in 1991 and spewed sun-dimming ash into the region. The Pinatubo Option involves spraying sulfate aerosols into the atmosphere, as the chemical's particles act like mirrors to deflect heat from the earth's surface, thus cooling the planet. Thing is, such cooling will curb rainfall to such an extent that swathes of Africa and Asia will become deserts.

She is most critical of world leaders and the WTO because the former insist on non-binding targets to reduce carbon emissions while the latter penalises countries which try to live more sustainably. She does not spare even former American vice-president Al Gore, who won the Nobel Peace Prize for raising awareness of climate change.

The way she tells it, he championed only cosmetic changes and did little to oppose the setting up of the environmentally unfriendly North American Free Trade Agreement.

The main plank of her solution - an Occupy-like global movement against "Big Polluters" - is, alas, weak. She herself admits in the book that it could be "reckless" to rally everyone to protest against - gasp! - economic growth as we know it. But she insists that climate change needs just such a response and that it is gaining ground in Canada, Greece and Romania. In so saying, she points to other great social mass movements in history, such as the abolition of slavery and the move for civil rights in the United States, and making do with less during World War II in Britain, including rationing, growing vegetables and banning driving for pleasure.

Klein is best when she lets the facts speak for themselves, and she has amassed a good many - and as current as April 2014 - with the help of her lead researchers, Rajiv Sicora and Alexandra Tempus. For example, she found out that Exxon Mobil chief Rex Tillerson has quietly sued to stop fracking-related activities near his $5 million home, claiming it will lower property values.

If you believe that knowing is half the battle won, this book will show you how to leave a lighter footprint on nature.

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Malaysia: Destruction of mangroves continues in Pitas, Sabah

Borneo Post 12 Jan 15;

KOTA KINABALU: Sabah’s environmental laws which were put into place to safeguard the environment is being blatantly disregarded by the project proponents of the Pitas Shrimp Park which is also known as the Pitas Aquaculture Project, according to Sabah Environmental Protection Association (Sepa).

The project is a joint venture between Inno Fisheries Sdn Bhd which is under the Sabah Foundation and Sunlight Seafood (Sabah) Sdn Bhd.

“Environmental laws have been put into place as safeguards for the benefit and protection of all our futures and breaking these laws should be as serious as any other crime and not as something that can be ignored,” said Sepa president Lanash Thanda.

According to him, the law is clear – there should be no development activities until the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is approved.

“As far as we are aware, this project has not had its EIA approved. Is the project proponent above the law?

“This situation raises alarming questions with regards to other development projects. Does this mean that projects that are government linked do not have to follow the law?

“What has happened in this situation makes a mockery of the hard work and legal procedures that have been put in place for Sabah. Does this now mean that the people of Sabah cannot rely on the EIA system to safeguard the environment?” asked Lanash.

It has been reported that the project proponents were clearing land as early as April 2013 with commencement of earthworks for shrimp ponds but the first step of an EIA was only approved in July 2013.

In January 2014, the project received EPD approval for only the development of infrastructure such as putting in water pipes and electricity in consideration for the needs for the local community. However electricity has been available in the area since 1997. Meanwhile the illegal work on the shrimp ponds still continued.

In addition, as the area is classified as mangrove swamp, a riparian zone of 100 meters must be maintained. However upon inspection of areas that have been cleared, Sepa found that they were no riparian buffers.

This project was identified under the Economic Transformation Programme (ETP) and Sabah Economic Development & Investment Authority (Sedia) and began clearing mangrove areas months before the EIA review meeting was even held in June 2014. It was understood at the time of the review the project’s EIA, it was rejected due to serious environmental issues that had not been addressed adequately in the EIA.

“This project has been developed unsustainably from the beginning. A state authority such as the Sabah Foundation should have acted in a responsible and accountable manner. It could even be argued that this whole ‘project’ is illegal from the start for not complying with the State Laws,” said Lanash.

The Malaysian transformation agenda is built on a platform of sustainability and inclusiveness to ensure long-term sustainability. Certification is also a large component of this programme and due to the illegal manner which this project has been carried out, no internationally recognised certification scheme will certify this project.

“Mangroves are crucial to our fisheries industry. Wildlife and local community who rely on the sources of income derived from the natural resources available. You cannot rebuild a destroyed ecosystem such as this. And this project is 39 times the size of the Kota Kinabalu Wetlands, so it is a sizeable area that has been destroyed to do an aquaculture project,” stated Lanash.

In addition, it is understood that shrimp aquaculture had a long history of devastating outbreaks of diseases throughout the nation, including in Sabah since the 1990s.

Sepa also provided photographs taken as recently as August 2014 showing the continued clearing and destruction of the mangrove system against the wishes of some of the community of the area.

“This destruction must stop immediately and the project proponents must be answerable to laws of this State and remedial efforts be carried out immediately by them at their own cost,” concluded Lanash.

'Pitas Shrimp Park needs EIA'
The Star 12 Jan 15;

KOTA KINABALU: Environmentalists are pressing for an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) before the Pitas Shrimp Park project at a mangrove swamp area in northern Sabah proceeds.

“As far as we are aware, this project has not had its EIA approved,” Sabah Environmental Protection Association (SEPA) president Lanash Thanda claimed.

Previous news reports said park, which is also known as the Pitas Aquaculture project, will be Malaysia’s largest prawn farm.

In a statement yesterday, Thanda said Sabah’s environmental laws, put in place to safeguard the environment, had been disregarded.

The law was clear that there should be no development activities until EIA was approved, she said.

“Mangroves are crucial to our fisheries industry, wildlife and local community who rely on the natural resources available to earn an income,” Thanda said.

Pitas firm gets EIA approval
MUGUNTAN VANAR The Star 15 Jan 15;

KOTA KINABALU: The company carrying out controversial mangrove clearing for a shrimp aquaculture project in Sabah’s northern Pitas has obtained environmental impact assessment (EIA) approval.

“As the EIA report for the project has been approved, any mangrove clearing within the project boundary is considered legal. No action will be taken against them unless they contravene the specified requirements,” said state environmental department director Datuk Yabi Yangkat.

The EIA allows the project proponents to carry out mangrove swamp clearing for the project.

Yabi said this yesterday to clear the air over mangrove swamps clearing in Pitas amid concerns raised by the Sabah Environmental Protection Association that the project had no approved EIA.

Yabi said among the conditions of the EIA was for the project developers to put in place mitigation measures for wildlife corridors, mangrove buffer zones, riparian reserves and rehabilitation of certain disturbed mangrove areas.

The aquaculture project is a joint venture between Sunlight Inno Seafood Sdn Bhd and state-owned Yayasan Sabah subsidiary Inno Fisheries Sdn Bhd. The EIA was prepared by DH Water and Environmental Consultant (M) Sdn Bhd.

The terms and reference for the project were submitted on May 13, 2013, and approved by the state environment department on July 10 that year.

This was followed up with the submission of the EIA report on April 29 last year that was initially rejected by the EIA review committee on June 5 but approved on Dec 19 after issues of concern were resolved.

Yabi said his department was aware of the environmental sensitivity of the project and that the EIA implementation would be monitored closely.

He said the company was fined RM30,000 on Aug 1, 2013 for commencing work on the project without EIA approval.

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Malaysia: Floods hit caged breeding industry badly, causing 50% drop in supply

RAZAK AHMAD The Star 12 Jan 15;

TEMERLOH: The country’s ikan patin (silver catfish) capital here will not be able to live up to its reputation for some time.

The recent floods hit the patin caged fish breeding industry badly, causing an estimated 50% drop in supply, a shortage which breeders said would require them up to six months to recover from.

Despite the floods, retail prices remain fixed at RM15 per kg, meaning the breeders will have to fully absorb their losses.

There are about 200 breeders whose cages line an estimated 20km stretch of Sungai Pahang here, making this town and district famous throughout the country for the fish which many consider a delicacy.

The fish is still available here at food stalls and restaurants but operators say stocks have become limited after the floods.

“The floods this time was so severe that it uprooted trees and swept away cut logs. As these travelled downstream, they hit our cages and either broke them or carried them away altogether,” said Khaidir Ahmad, who has 38 patin cages along the river at Kampung Durian Tikus.

Khaidir, 52, was a TV3 employee who recently accepted the network’s mutual separation scheme to concentrate on his patin business.

Twelve of his cages, each of which contain up to 800kg of patin when the fish reaches maturity after six months, were swept away the floods, causing losses of more than RM100,000.

The floods totally submerged his house along the river bank.

Locals said the water from the river would spill over its banks every year during the November to March northeast monsoon, but the recent episode which started on Dec 25 was the worst since 1971.

Khaidir said the 200 breeders in Temerloh, who each have a minimum of 12 cages of patin as well as tilapia, all suffered losses.

Over the years, the water in the river has also become murkier, possibly due to increasing logging activities upstream, he said.

The post-flood outlook is bleak for many of the smaller operators such retiree Amran Alias, 57, a private sector employee who had used up all his Employees Provident Fund savings to set up four patin cages.

All his cages broke, and he was seen rowing a boat along the banks, poking a stick in the water in a desperate attempt to find his cages, each of which cost RM3,000 excluding the fish stock.

Some breeders had been planning to harvest this month to meet the increased demand for Chinese New year, but their fish are now all gone, said Mohd Taufik Abdullah, an employee working at one of the many stalls selling fresh ikan patin that line the road along the river.

His stall reopened for business on Thursday.

The floods damaged his equipment, including a fish cutting machine, and carried away his industrial refrigerator.

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Malaysia floods: Health Ministry estimates RM500 million losses

ELVINA FERNANDEZ New Straits Times 11 Jan 15;

TEMERLOH: The Health Ministry estimates more than RM500 million losses due to the recent flood in the east coast.

Its minister Datuk Seri Dr S. Subramaniam said rebuilding cost was estimated at about RM900 million.

"This is an estimated figure so it could be more,"

"So far we have got figures for RM300 million," he told reporters after addressing ministry staff at the Sultan Haji Ahmad hospital here.

He added that the ministry was looking at rebuilding and relocating some of the clinics as well as hospitals at the badly affected areas because they can no longer function.

He expressed appreciation to MOH staffs who were involved directly and indirectly during the floods, also those who worked tirelessly during this worst flood in our history.

Seven confirmed leptospirosis cases in Pahang
ELVINA FERNANDEZ New Straits Times 11 Jan 15;

KUALA KRAU: A total of 23 suspected and seven confirmed leptospirosis cases have been recorded in Pahang during the flood.

Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr S Subramaniam said the ministry was taking the necessary measures to conduct early detection and the preparation to conduct clinical test was ready.

"Most important of all is a high index of suspicion by doctors in both government and private facilities, to refer the patients for further medical checks," he said after visiting the Kuala Krau health clinic.

The public, he added should also be aware of the disease and practice cleanliness at all times.

"Always boil drinking water and maintain proper hygiene when preparing meals," he added.

The ministry, he said will also increase public awareness campaigns to educate the public on water borne diseases in affected areas.

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Indonesian indigenous groups look to tourists to protect forests

Reuters 9 Jan 15;

(Reuters) - Indonesian indigenous communities launched a project on Friday to encourage foreign tourism in ancestral forests to slow the advance of logging operations and palm oil plantations.

The GreenIndonesia non-governmental organization, working with six indigenous groups, said the plan would ease poverty, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and diversify from traditional forest-based incomes such as weaving.

"We're trying to draw tourists to areas of Indonesia where communities are working to preserve their land and ... show how they are helping to prevent forests from being lost," Chandra Kirana, head of GreenIndonesia, said.

The project was inspired by similar initiatives in the Amazon region of Latin America, she said at a tourism exhibition in Oslo.

Raymundus Remang, head of the Sui Utuk community in West Kalimantan, said the villagers, who have preserved 9,000 hectares (22,000 acres) of forest from illegal logging and palm oil expansion, would welcome more visitors. Tourists could stay in the community's vast longhouse, where about 250 people live.

"Everyone in the village has the same feeling of having to protect the forest because it comes from our ancestors," he told Reuters via an interpreter.

Indonesia has lost vast tracts of forests in recent years, threatening the livelihoods of forest peoples as well as endangered creatures such as orangutans and Sumatran tigers.

Indonesian Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar endorsed the eco-tourism project and said the government of President Joko Widodo, who took office in October, was working on a decree recognising the rights of indigenous groups.

GreenIndonesia's Kirana said she hoped the initiative would draw hundreds, perhaps thousands, of tourists in a first year. She added the communities would seek ways to limit the extra stresses on fragile ecosystems from more visitors.

(Reporting By Alister Doyle; Editing by Sam Wilkin)

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Thailand: Microchips to be removed from three dugongs off Trang

The Nation 12 Jan 15;

OFFICIALS HAVE agreed to remove microchips from three wild dugongs after fishermen protested over the move, saying cables for the tags make it more difficult for the sea cows to feed on marine grass and increases their risk of getting caught.

"We would like to apologise for what happened," Chonlatid Suraswadi, head of the Marine and Coastal Resources Department, said yesterday.

Had Chao Mai National Park officials implanted microchips in the three dugong - which belong to a vulnerable species - in the middle of last month to study their behaviour and demarcate safety zones for them.

The Local Fishermens' Club based in Trang lodged a complaint with the National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation Department, describing the tagging as a form of torture.

Chonlatid met with club members to assure them that the tags would be removed as soon as possible.

Natural Resources and Environment Minister Dapong Ratanasuwan and the chief of the National Parks Department had ordered the tags to be removed, he said.

The National Parks Department wanted the tags to be removed by today, but the Marine Department plans to hold a meeting today with the team in charge of handling the removal to determine the best method.

The team has been set up by the National Parks Department, while the Marine Department will provide support in the form of boats and veterinarians.

"We will invite representatives of Chulalongkorn University to witness the tag-removal operation," he said.

Many foreign countries have tagged rare sea animals such as whales and dugongs for research purposes.

"But as the fishermen in Trang have had concerns about the tagging, we have agreed to remove them," he said. In collaboration with Japanese researchers, the Marine Department had a plan to set up underwater recorders to track dugongs' sounds next month.

"So before we start the installation, we will try to build mutual understanding with the public," he said.

Trang fishers oppose dugong tagging
Methee Muangkaew Bangkok Post 7 Jan 15;

A group Trang province fishermen has called for the scrapping of a project to tag endangered dugongs with satellitetrackable markers, fearing they might harm the animals.

More than 30 fishermen on Wednesday took turns in voicing their disapproval with the Marine and Coastal Resources Research Centre research project to attach satellite tags on rare dugongs to monitor the behaviour of the mammals, their sea­grass habitat and the animals' migration route in the Trang sea.

So far, the research team, comprised of Thai and Japanese biologists, has tagged only three dugongs.

The fishermen aired their views during a forum held at the Andaman Foundation in Muang district of Trang. Representatives from the Department of the National Parks, Wildlife, and Plant Conservation observed.

Issama­el Bensa­ard, a representative of the Trang fishermen's club, said the local anglers wanted the tagging project halted and talks held between locals and national­park authorities to find a way to conserve rare dugongs in Trang.

His club will step up pressure to stop the project if authorities ignore their call, he said.

Aren Phrakhong, deputy chairman of the Trang fishermen's club, insisted his group had no ulterior motive. It did not want
to ask for state funding, but merely wanted a role in conserving dugongs.

Members of his club have taken care of marine resources in the Trang sea for a long time and have never received
financial assistance from the state, he said Most local fishermen consider the sea and its marine resources their home, he added.

Manot Wongsureerat, chief of Hat Chao Mai national park in Trang, defended the tagging project, saying more studies
had been conducted on use of tags on dugongs and found this method was accepted by many countries.

About 20 million baht has been allocated for the satellite­based tagging project, he said, adding it was worthwhile and
useful, as it enabled officials to know the life circle of dugongs in a bid to find ways to conserve them.

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