Best of our wild blogs: 13 Feb 15

Join us for our March Holiday Programme – Under the Sea! Workshop
from News from Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum

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More hazy in eastern part of Singapore this morning

Channel NewsAsia 13 Feb 15;

SINGAPORE: The eastern part of Singapore is slightly hazier than the other regions on Friday morning (Feb 13), as the PSI reading showed it was at 78 while the others ranged between 57 and 61 at 8am, according to the National Environment Agency's (NEA) website.

The amount of PM2.5 pollutants in the east was also higher overnight, peaking at 79 at 3am before coming down to 78 at 8am, NEA data showed. The PM2.5 reading measures particulate matter of 2.5 microns or smaller in diameter.

Channel NewsAsia also received pictures and feedback from residents in the east on our Facebook and Twitter platforms stating it is hazy and smoky.

Facebook user Tay YL told us at 7.32am that it was "very hazy and smoky at Bedok", while another Facebook user Nicolas Ng said "there is a very thick haze smell in Bedok South".

Twitter user @DillonLFC7 also said there was "definitely a strong smell" of burning and haze in the Tampines area. Another Twitter user @vzmahajan said there was "poor visibility" at Pasir Ris Drive 6 at 7.20am.

ST readers complain of strong burning smell in the east of Singapore
LEE MIN KOK Straits Times 12 Feb 15;

SINGAPORE - A strong burning smell was prevalent in the eastern part of Singapore on Thursday evening.

An ST reader wrote in to say she detected the smell while riding on the MRT from Tanah Merah station towards Pasir Ris.

Twitter user @theGretL claimed it smelt like burning plastic, while readers staying in Siglap, Bedok, Pasir Ris and East Coast Road said they were affected as early as 6.30pm.

As of 9.30pm, the Singapore Civil Defence Force confirmed that there had been no fires reported in the affected areas.

A check on the National Environment Agency's app MyEnv revealed that that the hourly PM2.5 reading in the east peaked at 44 at 9pm, an unusually high reading compared to the other parts of Singapore. It dropped down to 30 at 10pm. The PM2.5 reading for the north, west and central at 9pm hovered at 16 and the south registered 5.

PM2.5 are small, toxic particles that can be emitted by forest fires, vehicles, power plants, refineries, ships and aircraft, and to a lesser extent by construction and land reclamation.

Are you affected? Tell us.

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Proposed law will allow Govt to acquire specific stratum of underground space

YVONNE LIM Today Online 12 Feb 15;

SINGAPORE — A new law that enables the Government to acquire a specific stratum of underground space to develop public projects, instead of having to acquire the entire column of land, was proposed in Parliament today (Feb 12).

The Land Acquisition (Amendment) Bill, which seeks to amend the existing Land Acquisition Act, will also allow for acquisition of a specific stratum of airspace.

Additionally under the proposed law, landowners whose land rights have been violated due to temporary occupation, acquisition of underground or airspace stratum, or severance, may request for the Government to acquire their land.

The Bill will also seek to streamline and refine the legal framework for temporary occupation of land for public purposes. These amendments will facilitate the Government’s future long-term plans to use and develop underground space “in land-scarce Singapore”, a statement by the Ministry of Law (MinLaw) said.

“More extensive use of underground space will benefit Singaporeans as surface land may be used for other purposes, such as park and greenery, homes and offices,” MinLaw said.

Meanwhile, amendments to the State Lands Act were also introduced today under the State Lands (Amendment) Bill. The amendments state that landowners also possess 30m of subterranean land below the Singapore Height Datum (SHD). Land deeper than 30m SHD will belong to the State.

The SHD is a level fixed across the whole of Singapore, from which height measurements take reference. It is pegged to Singapore’s historical mean sea level.

Currently, the law states that any land surface — and the column below it — is for the use and enjoyment of the landower as “reasonably necessary”. But the law does not spell out the specific amount of underground land belonging to the landowner.

The amendments will not affect how landowners use and develop their underground space, and they will still have all the space they need, the MinLaw statement said, as basement developments in Singapore generally only extend to about 15m underground.

Changes proposed to State Lands Act regarding underground space
Faris Mokhtar Channel NewsAsia 12 Feb 15;

SINGAPORE: Land owners of both residential and commercial properties can only develop its underground space up to a depth of 30 metres under the Singapore Height Datum, under proposed changes to the State Lands Act.

The Singapore Height Datum is a level fixed across the whole of Singapore, from which height measurements take reference.

The State Lands Act was one of two Acts introduced in Parliament on Thursday (Feb 12) that will see changes to facilitate long-term planning for the use and development of underground space.

Currently, the State Lands Act is ambiguous in nature regarding the extent of underground ownership - it only states that those who own the land above ground also own the underground space, to a depth reasonably necessary for the use and enjoyment of the property.

Proposed changes to the Act will seek to clarify that. However, the Ministry of Law said it will not affect how land owners currently use and develop their underground space. The drilling of piles to the depths required for the support of surface developments will also still be allowed.

In general, the developments of underground space can extend to about 15 metres deep. For example, ION Orchard's underground basement reaches a depth of about 10 metres, while the development beneath Fusionopolis measures about 15 metres deep to build the One-North MRT line.

The Land Acquisition Act will also be amended, giving the Government flexibility to acquire a specific pocket of underground space or airspace should it be required for development of a public project. This will minimise inconveniences, especially to landed property owners.

The Law Ministry said that changes to the two Acts are "necessary" to facilitate the Government's long-term planning for the use and development of underground space in the future.

- CNA/ac

2 Bills pave way for city beneath city
Cheryl Ong The Straits Times AsiaOne 15 Feb 15;

As land-scarce Singapore looks to develop more underground space, legal amendments were tabled yesterday to pave the way for this city beneath a city.

Two Bills were introduced in Parliament to clarify ownership rights to underground and above-ground space and to allow for the acquisition of this space.

The main focus for now is below ground. Landholders will be deemed to own the space down to 30m below a level known as the Singapore height datum (SHD) - a flat islandwide plane not varying according to land contours and pegged to the mean historical sea level - unless stated otherwise in the land title.

Land more than 30m below the SHD will belong to the State and developments at such depths are "unlikely" to affect the owner's property use, said the Ministry of Law. Most basements here, for instance, go no deeper than about 15m below the SHD.

The changes will bring clarity to an existing law that stipulates only that ownership applies to a depth that is "reasonably necessary for the use and enjoyment of the property". Piling works are unaffected by the changes.

The move follows a proposal by National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan last September to lay out an underground master plan. This includes possible underground pedestrian links, cycling lanes, shopping areas and public spaces. The Jurong Rock Caverns is the deepest underground project here, at 150m below the SHD. So far, Fusionopolis in one-north is the deepest commercial project, at 15.8m below the SHD.

A second Bill means the Government would be able to acquire strata space below or above ground to develop public projects, without owning the surface land.

An example of above-ground use of space might be a flyover.

For underground space, land owners will be compensated for the acquired stratum at "market value", or for any subsequent damage to the surface development.

Though it is unclear how underground space will be valued, a ministry spokesman said compensation will be "site specific" .

"The boundaries of all surface land are precisely marked out," said the spokesman. "What we are trying to do is clarify the boundaries for the vertical plane of this space as well."

The Bills will not change laws that allow for compulsory acquisition of land by the Government.

The Rochor Centre housing and commercial complex in Ophir Road, for instance, was acquired to make way for a segment of the new North-South Expressway.

Mr Robson Lee, a corporate lawyer, said of the move: "The Government is planning for the future, and will need to have legislative backing to give legal basis to do what it needs to do."

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Licensing regime to be introduced for deep seabed mining

SIAU MING EN Today Online 12 Feb 15;

SINGAPORE — Singaporeans and companies based here will have to obtain a licence before mining for minerals in the open sea as the Deep Seabed Mining Bill was passed in Parliament today (12 Feb).

The Bill — which covers the seabed, ocean floor and subsoil beyond territorial waters — will not only protect the marine environment from mining activities on the ocean floor, but is also in line with Singapore’s obligations under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

Speaking in Parliament during the second reading of the Bill today, Minister for Trade and Industry Lim Hng Kiang said the licensing regime will ensure that companies “undertake deep seabed exploration and extraction activities in a responsible manner, and not cause damage to the marine environment”.

“Penalties will be put in place to serve as deterrence against potential violations or, in the event of non-compliance, to hold errant companies accountable for their actions,” said Mr Lim.

Under the new laws, offenders may be fined up to S$300,000 for an initial offence or jailed for up to three months or both. They may also be subjected to a further fine of no more than S$50,000 every day for a continuing offence, which is capped at S$500,000.

Mr Lim added that to obtain a licence, companies must meet certain conditions, such as having the technological and financial capabilities to carry out their activities and taking necessary measures to minimize damage to the marine environment.

Noting that the deep seabed mining is an emerging industry, Mr Lim said the Bill allows Singapore companies to enter the industry. Singapore can also leverage on its strengths and experience in the offshore oil and gas, marine engineering and trading sectors to capitalise on the growing opportunities within the deep seabed mining industry, he added.

During the debate, Member of Parliament Fatimah Lateef (Marine Parade GRC) raised questions about the Bill, including the authorities’ capabilities to question and scrutinise applications, and how the monitoring of these companies will be carried out given that these contracts can stretch between 10 and 15 years.

In response, Mr Lim said companies will have to apply for a contract with the International Seabed Authority (ISA) and get the Singapore authorities to sponsor the application. On Singapore’s end, an inter-agency taskforce — comprising of the Ministry of Trade and Industry, the Ministry for the Environment and Water Resources, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Law and the Attorney General’s Chamber — has also been set up to oversee applications for licenses.

As for monitoring these contracts, Mr Lim said that on top of ISA’s regular monitoring mechanism, which requires contractors to submit annual reports on their exploration activities, companies will also be required to file reports on a regular basis to Singapore authorities.

“We will monitor our sponsor entities on this basis and will intervene if our companies are at risk of non-compliance,” he said.

To date, only one Singapore-based company, Ocean Mineral Singapore, has notified the authorities about their plans to undertake deep seabed exploration, said Mr Lim.

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Indonesia: Bamboo conservation along Ciliwung watershed can prevent floods

Antara 12 Feb 15;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - Bamboo conservation along the Ciliwung watershed can be an alternative measure for long-term flood prevention.

"Bamboo can be a long-term alternative solution to flood prevention in Jakarta," Coastal Program Officer and Chairman of the Small Islands Indonesian Biodiversity Foundation (KEHATI), Basuki Rahmat, said here on Thursday.

KEHATI has been cooperating with various sections to plant bamboo saplings around the Ciliwung watershed in order to prevent floods and erosion.

In addition to preventing floods, bamboo is more environmentally-friendly than stereo foam and other materials.

"If the Jakarta government prohibits restaurants from using stereo foam, then people living around the Ciliwung river will enthusiastically plant more bamboo saplings. This will also earn them some extra income," he affirmed.

Unorganized development of cities will damage the ecosystem and affect their surroundings.

Rainwater will be absorbed by plants and soil in green spaces or will be streamed to places that can hold water, such as a dam in the city.

However, large cities such as Jakarta lack sufficient green spaces. Law No. 26 of 2007 states that of the total area of any city, 30 percent should be green space.

Jakarta currently has only about 10 percent green space, so the absorption and water capacity of urban ecosystems are often inadequate.

Earlier on Tuesday, some 5,986 Jakarta residents were forced to evacuate to safer places as floods continued to inundate the capital city, according to the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB).

"Some 5,986 people have taken shelter in 14 locations," BNPB spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho stated here Tuesday, adding that the number of evacuees was likely to increase as more reports were awaited from field officers.

The Jakarta disaster mitigation office reported that floods have affected 307 neighborhoods located in 97 urban villages in 33 subdistricts.

"Floods have affected 4,830 families constituting 15,517 people as their houses were inundated. Some 5,986 people have taken refuge in temporary shelters," he stated.

Of the total flood-affected neighborhoods, some 108 neighborhoods in 23 urban villages across eight subdistricts are located in West Jakarta. Some 8,237 people of 2,738 families remain affected by floods.

"Around 1,668 people have been evacuated in two locations. In Central Jakarta, 11 neighborhoods in eight urban villages across six subdistricts were inundated, but there have been no evacuees," he revealed.

In South Jakarta, floods hit 38 neighborhoods in 21 urban villages in seven subdistricts, with the number of flood victims reaching 7,280 across 2,092 families.

In East Jakarta, 60 neighborhoods in 27 urban villages in seven subdistricts have been flooded and 1.8 thousand refugees have been accommodated in six temporary shelters.

At least 89 neighborhoods in 18 urban villages in five subdistricts have been affected by floods in North Jakarta, forcing 2,518 people to seek shelter in six locations.

Incessant heavy downpours have triggered floods in various parts of Jakarta since Sunday.(*)

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Indonesia winning battle to save world's richest reef system

Johnny Langenheim The Guardian 12 Feb 15;

Indonesian authorities scuppered another illegal fishing boat on Tuesday, this time in the remote south of the Raja Ampat Islands, just off the coast of West Papua. Local Papuan rangers spotted the 55-tonne Vietnamese vessel as it deployed a gill net in a Marine Protected Area (MPA). On board, police found more than two tonnes of drying shark fins and 80 critically endangered Hawksbill turtles bound for the Philippines.

Though the cargo is depressing, the boat’s capture and sinking reflects one of the biggest success stories in marine conservation, one that has triggered a major shift in marine policy throughout Indonesia. Over the last three years, rangers from local communities in Raja Ampat have reduced local violations of MPA rules from around 50% to just 10%. A concerted effort by local authorities and communities has bucked the trend of ineffective enforcement that besets so many MPAs and since 2011, more than 30 boats have been captured.

There is good reason to focus conservation efforts on Raja Ampat – the region supports more marine species than anywhere else on the planet, including at least 553 types of coral and 1470 species of reef fish. There are single reefs here that contain more species than the entire Caribbean. Scientists also believe that Raja Ampat’s corals may be more resilient to bleaching episodes caused by rising sea temperatures.

“Since creating their MPA network eight years ago, the people and government of Raja Ampat have developed some of the most effective marine patrol systems in the Coral Triangle,” says Matt Fox, Seascapes Management Adviser with Conservation International (CI). “They’ve maintained their zero tolerance policy and it has worked - destructive fishing has given way to high end dive tourism.”

Two years ago, the authorities in Raja Ampat issued a law protecting all species of shark and ray in the province – the first legislation of its kind in South East Asia. It was a significant milestone in Indonesia, which is still the world’s biggest supplier of shark fins. Mark Erdmann, a Senior Adviser to CI’s Indonesia programme has observed the change with his own eyes. “Since that time, we’ve seen a significantly increased recovery of sharks in Raja Ampat, such that on almost any given dive you will now see at least a few reef sharks,” he says. “Around most resorts and patrol posts, we now see lots of baby sharks in the shallows and manta rays are very much thriving.”

A coalition of conservation charities led by Shark Savers and Misool Eco Resort (a high end dive retreat that has been catalysing policy change & driving blue economies) encouraged the local government to establish the shark and manta sanctuary. “The government recognised the value of their burgeoning tourism industry,” says Matt Fox. “So we worked with The Nature Conservancy (TNC), to help them draft the legislation.” A year later, Indonesia made international headlines by establishing a countrywide manta sanctuary – the biggest in the world.

This month, Raja Ampat took another trailblazing step by setting up a public service board that will channel tourism revenue straight back into the MPA network. Visitors now pay a $100 fee for ecosystem services – money that will pay for local patrol groups like the one that spotted the Vietnamese fishing boat, as well as community projects, scientific research and tourism services. “Sustainable finance is a real challenge for MPAs,” says Fox, “this is the first time a structure like this has been used in Indonesia – it’s a concrete example of how you can pay for marine conservation. And it’s working, it’s almost paying for itself.”

Indonesia’s national MPA target is 20 million hectares by 2020 – it’s currently at 15.5 million. Sustainable financing models like this one could help the country achieve its goal and just as important, establish MPAs that actually work.

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Great Barrier Reef: warmer waters helping coral-eating starfish thrive

The survival chances of crown-of-thorns starfish increase by as much as 240% if sea-surface temperatures rise 2C, say Australian researchers
Joshua Robertson The Guardian 12 Feb 15;

Warmer seas are creating an additional threat to the Great Barrier Reef, with new research suggesting rising temperatures are helping a key coral predator thrive.

Crown-of-thorns starfish that eat coral are more likely to survive with rising sea-surface heat levels, according to a study by the Australian Institute of Marine Science (Aims).

An Aims scientist, Sven Uthicke, said a study largely carried out at the institute’s marine laboratory in Townsville showed a 2C rise in sea temperature increased the starfish’s chances of survival by up to 240%.

“Warmer sea temperatures were found in this study to enhance COTS [Crown-of-thorns starfish] survival along with other, cumulative pressures on the reef,” he said.

“Given that the most moderate climate change scenarios predict a 1C-2C increase in average sea temperatures, the present study further demonstrates the value of taking a holistic, multi-variable approach to understand better how cumulative factors affect the survival of species such as COTS.”

Outbreaks of the starfish, also known as Acanthaster planci, have been instrumental in coral cover on the reef halving between 1985 and 2012, a range of previous studies indicated. Scientists attributed 40% of that overall decline to the starfish.

Warmer seas also kill coral through bleaching. Extensive bleaching can be triggered by as little as six weeks at temperatures of 1C-1.5C above the long-term summer maximum, according to the federal environment department.

Uthicke said scientists could better understand starfish outbreaks by recognising the synergies of sea-surface temperatures and increased nutrient flows that feed starfish larvae.

For the study, Uthicke and other scientists used the institute’s national sea simulator, which enables them to manipulate environmental factors to conduct large, long-term experiments on the impact of complex environmental changes.

The study was published on Thursday in the online peer-reviewed journal Scientific Reports.

Unesco’s world heritage committee is due to publish a draft report on the Great Barrier Reef in mid-May, and a decision on whether the site should be listed as “in danger” is to be made later this year.

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Australia: Dugong poachers face fines of up to $1 million; funding approved for threatened animals like bandicoots and quolls

Bridget Brennan ABC News 12 Feb 15;

Illegal poachers of dugongs and turtles in far north Queensland are about to face tougher penalties, as the Federal Government announces new measures to protect threatened species.

New laws passed in the Senate have increased the hunting fines to up to $1 million in Commonwealth marine areas.

Environment Minister is Greg Hunt said it was important legislation.

"I am determined to wipe out any residual practice of poaching of dugongs and turtles," he said.

"I think what we find is that these are majestic creatures."

Traditional owners welcomed the move. Gavin Singleton, a project officer at the Dawul Wuru Indigenous Corporation in the Cairns region, said poaching was an insidious practice in far north Queensland.

"We do have a lot of people who are taking those kinds of marine resources," he said.

"It's unsustainable."

Mr Singleton said he hoped the tougher fines would deter poachers while native title holders should still be able to hunt dugongs.

Under the Native Title Act of 1993, Indigenous people with native title rights can hunt marine turtles and dugong for personal, domestic or non-commercial communal needs.

"For traditional owners, within the traditional sea country area, that's where there's a bit of uncertainty," he said.

Dugongs are among many Australian species under serious threat.

A new study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences said 21 per cent of Australian mammals were threatened.

Co-author Dr John Woinarski, a conservation professor at Charles Darwin University, warned the situation for threatened mammals was "catastrophic".

The Federal Government has announced it would give an additional $743,000 to boost the work of 11 conservation projects around the country.

Mr Hunt said the Government was already investing $50 million towards threatened species research and protection.

Some of the conservationists that would benefit from a boost in funding were working to save animals like the eastern barred bandicoot in Victoria and the western quoll in South Australia.

Mr Hunt said another of the projects had been crucial to the survival of the eastern bettong in the ACT.

"It's being reintroduced into the mainland, there are real things happening that are making a big difference," Mr Hunt said.

Dr Woinarski said the new investment was a good step but there were many more animals facing what he deemed an "extinction calamity".

"The extent of the problem is huge and the extent of resources committed to it is nowhere near sufficient at this stage," he said.

"Many of those species have declined drastically over the last decade or so and they do need our help badly."

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China tiger farms put big cats in the jaws of extinction

Neil Connor AFP Yahoo News 12 Feb 15;

Harbin (China) (AFP) - A fearsome tiger snarled as a doomed chicken flapped helplessly in its mouth -- but campaigners say such "entertainment" in China is putting big cats further in the jaws of extinction.

"How ferocious, he doesn't let anyone come near him," said one visitor over the sound of crunching bones, as she recorded the grisly scene on her smartphone.

Buying chickens to feed the exhibits at the Siberian Tiger Park in northeast China's Harbin city costs 60 yuan ($10) -- though the menu has plenty of other choices, even cows are available to serve up.

But wildlife protection campaigners allege such parks, along with the dedicated tiger breeding centres or "farms" dotted around the country, actually make their big money selling on body parts from the big cats when they die -- a practise which potentially further threatens the endangered species.

Global tiger numbers have plummeted from 100,000 a century ago to only 3,000 in the wild today, according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, which classes them as endangered, with poaching and habitat loss primary threats to their survival.

China's tiger farm industry says the trade in captive animals helps to relieve the pressure on wild felines, but wildlife groups argue it reduces the stigma around buying the animals or their body parts, and could create new markets for them.

Debbie Banks, head of the London-based NGO the Environmental Investigation Agency, said that such sales of the body parts of captive tigers was "stimulating demand and sustaining the poaching pressure".

"Raising a tiger to maturity in captivity costs more than poaching a tiger in the wild," she told AFP.

"Wild tigers, leopards and snow leopards are targeted as a cheaper alternative to skins of captive bred tigers."

Figures from TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network, show that from the turn of the millennium, at least 1,590 tigers were poached around the world up to April 2014 -- an average of two a week.

Among the 13 countries with native tiger populations, numbers are increasing in India and Nepal, which do not have tiger farms, said Banks. But in Laos, Vietnam, Thailand and China, where tigers can legally be bred for commercial purposes, wild populations are struggling.

At the same time captive tiger numbers are soaring in China, with up to 6,000 -- twice the global wild population -- in about 200 farms across the country.

- Wanted dead or alive -

Used for entertainment when the tigers are alive, what happens to the skins and bones of animals that die in captivity is a murky issue.

Tiger bones have long been an ingredient of traditional Chinese medicine, supposedly for a capacity to strengthen the human body.

China banned trade in tiger bones in 1993, but the law is regularly flouted, campaigners say. Legislation is also unclear on whether cats bred in captivity are considered endangered in China, and there is little regulation around what needs to be declared when they die.

The animal is considered a symbol of prestige for many in China, with tiger pelt rugs sought-after luxury items, along with tiger bone wine -- bottles labelled with tiger images sell for nearly 5,000 yuan ($800) at the park shop in Harbin.

In December, a wealthy Chinese businessman who bought, slaughtered and ate three tigers was jailed for 13 years.

The gang involved had killed 10 tigers in total, domestic media reported, some of them smuggled in alive "from Southeast Asian countries".

The tigers cost them 200,000 to 300,000 yuan ($48,000) each, and they reaped profits of more than 100,000 yuan per animal, reports said.

Chinese tiger purchases came under scrutiny at an anti-poaching conference in Nepal last week attended by around 100 experts, government and law officials from tiger habitat nations.

Campaigners say that the mere availability of "farmed" tiger products fuels the demand, which Mike Baltzer, leader of the WWF Tigers Alive Initiative, described as "so huge that it's very difficult to address the issue".

"When you have a cultural perception among wealthy people in China that owning a tiger is a matter of prestige, you can't change it overnight," he said.

Foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei insisted that Beijing was taking action to tighten laws against poaching, adding: "We have adopted a recovery plan on China’s wild tigers and work to improve the habitats of wild tigers."

- Big cat in a bottle? -

There are only about 45 wild tigers in China, according to EIA. But there are more than 1,000 at the Siberian Tiger Park, which was launched in 1986 with just eight animals.

Park representatives have repeatedly been quoted saying that the trade in captive-bred tiger products reduces pressure on wild animals, and that they hope to reintroduce some of their creatures into the wild.

But repeated requests by AFP for comment on whether they sell on the dead animal parts or use them in products went unanswered.

In the park's souvenir shop "bone strengthening wine" is sold in elaborate bottles adorned with tigers.

A shop assistant denied to a foreign visitor that tiger bone was an ingredient.

But when AFP telephoned the shop an employee gave a different impression, saying: "In order to avoid the penalties for selling tiger-bone wine, the name was changed from 'tiger bone wine' to 'bone strengthening wine.'"

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Coastal communities dumping 8m tonnes of plastic in oceans every year

China ranked top polluter as figures suggest total plastic litter ending up in the seas could rise tenfold by 2025
Ian Sample The Guardian 12 Feb 15;

Coastal populations put about 8m tonnes of plastic rubbish into the oceans in 2010, an annual figure that could double over the next decade without major improvements in waste management efforts, scientists warn.

The mountain of plastic litter, including bags, food packaging and toys, was equivalent to five full shopping bags of debris for every foot of coastline bordering nearly 200 countries the team studied.

Though researchers have known about plastic waste in the oceans for 40 years, the latest report, published in the journal Science, is the first to attempt a detailed estimate of how much plastic made on the planet finds its way into the oceans.

The figures suggest that about 10 to 30 times more plastic debris ends up in the oceans than surveys have found floating about on the surface. In one recent survey, an international team reported more than 5 trillion pieces of plastic are floating in the world’s oceans, collectively weighing nearly 269,000 tonnes.

In the latest study, researchers at the University of Georgia and the Sea Education Association in Massachusetts calculated the amount of waste plastic generated in 192 countries with coastlines on the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans, and the Mediterranean and Black seas. From data on regional manufacturing and waste management practices, they worked out that 4.8m to 12.7m tonnes of plastic rubbish wound up as ocean debris in 2010.

“This input of plastic waste to the oceans is several orders of magnitude more than we can see, which means there’s a lot of plastic out there that we are not finding,” said Jenna Jambeck, the first author of the study at the University of Georgia.

Some countries still dump plastic litter into watercourses that carry the material out to sea. But much of the plastic made on land becomes marine debris because it is not properly disposed of in landfills or at recycling plants. Left in piles in coastal areas, the waste can easily blow into waterways or be carried out to sea by flood water.

Once plastic reaches the oceans it forms floating waste, washes up on coastlines, and accumulates on sea floors. Larger items like bags, wrapping and fishing gear can entangle dolphins, turtles and even whales. Small pieces are eaten by fish, turtles and seabirds. Over time, the material weathers down into tiny particles that can be ingested even by small marine animals. The pollution is extremely difficult to remove from the environment or trace back to its source.

In the study, Jambeck and her colleagues ranked the 20 countries responsible for the most waste plastic ending up in the oceans. The greatest sources were not only the major plastic producers, but generally those nations with the worst waste management practices.

China topped the table with 1.32 to 3.53m tonnes of plastic reaching the oceans in 2010. Indonesia followed, where 83% of waste was mismanaged, added 0.48 to 1.29m tonnes of marine plastic to the seas that year. The US ranked 20th, where only 2% of waste was badly handled, and 0.04 to 0.11m tonnes of plastic found its way to the ocean. Sixteen of the top 20 polluters are middle income countries where fast economic growth is not accompanied by major improvements in waste handling.

According to the report, the cumulative amount of plastic in the seas will soar tenfold by 2025 if nothing is done to slash waste generation or manage it more effectively. The current annual rate of 8m tonnes put into the oceans could also double by 2025 without action.

If changes are made, they could have a huge impact, the scientists claim. Reducing mismanaged plastic waste by 50% in the top 20 ranked countries would cut the pile of plastic likely to end up in the oceans by 41% in 2025. More stringent caps on plastic in waste streams, and better disposal in the top ten-ranked countries could reduce the amount of new marine plastic to 2.4 to 6.4m tonnes annually by 2025.

Though the greatest gains would come from better waste processing in regions where waste management is the poorest, Jambeck stressed that substantial improvements were possible even in countries with effective waste disposal. “It’s not just about improving the infrastructure in other countries.” she said. “There are things we can do in our daily lives to reduce the amount of waste plastic we all produce.”

In December, a team led by Lucy Woodall at the Natural History Museum in London, found “microplastic” debris had accumulated in deep sea sediments, with some as deep as 3000m.

“Marine litter appears to be a much more serious phenomenon than previously thought with studies from the last six months suggesting this pollutant is all pervasive in our oceans and is present in much larger quantities than previously thought,” Woodall said.

“The world’s oceans cover such a large surface area and by nature are remote from much of human habitation, therefore it is unsurprising that every new study adds to our understanding how serious this issue is. This environmental challenge is one entirely of human making, but we can all help by starting to value, reduce, recycle and reuse plastic products.”

World's oceans clogged by millions of tons of plastic trash
Will Dunham Reuters Yahoo News 13 Feb 15;

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The world's oceans are clogged with plastic debris, but how much of it finds its way into the seas annually? Enough to place the equivalent of five grocery bags full of plastic trash on every foot (30 cm) of every nation's coastline around the globe.

That's according to scientists who released research on Thursday estimating that a staggering 8 million metric tones of plastic pollution enter the oceans each year from the world's 192 coastal countries based on 2010 data.

Based on rising waste levels, they estimated that more than 9 million tons would end up in the oceans in 2015.

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

China was responsible for the most ocean plastic pollution per year with an estimated 2.4 million tons, about 30 percent of the global total, followed by Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Egypt, Malaysia, Nigeria and Bangladesh.

The United States was the only rich industrialized nation in the top 20, and it ranked No. 20. Coastal EU nations combined would rank 18th.

The trash encompasses just about anything imaginable made of plastic including shopping bags, bottles, toys, food wrappers, fishing gear, cigarette filters, sunglasses, buckets and toilet seats.

"In short, you name it and it is probably somewhere in the marine environment," said Kara Lavender Law, a research professor of oceanography with the Massachusetts-based Sea Education Association.

The estimates were based on information including World Bank data for trash generated per person in all nations with a coastline, coastal population density, the amount of plastic waste countries produce and the quality of their waste-management practices.

"I think this is a wake-up call for how much waste we produce," said University of Georgia environmental engineering professor Jenna Jambeck.

The researchers calculated that 275 million tons of plastic waste was generated in the 192 coastal countries that year, with an estimated 8 million tons entering the ocean and a possible range between 4.8 million and 12.7 million tons.

"The most pressing need is to capture plastic waste to prevent it from entering the environment," Law said. "This means investing in waste management infrastructure, especially in those countries with rapidly developing economies."

"In high-income countries, we also have a responsibility to reduce the amount of waste, especially plastic waste, that we produce," she added.

The research was published in the journal Science.

(Reporting by Will Dunham; Editing by Sandra Maler)

Plastic waste heading for oceans quantified
Jonathan Amos BBC 12 Feb 15;

About eight million tonnes of plastic waste find their way into the world's oceans each year, say scientists.

The new study is said to be the best effort yet to quantify just how much of this debris is being dumped, blown or simply washed out to sea.

Eight million tonnes is like covering an area 34 times the size of New York's Manhattan Island to ankle depth.

The details were released at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

Dr Jenna Jembeck, the study’s lead author from the University of Georgia, had another way to try to visualise the scale of the problem.

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“The quantity entering the ocean is equal to about five plastic grocery bags full of plastic for every foot of coastline in the world,” she told BBC News.

Unseen pollution

Researchers have for some time now reported on the mass of plastic caught up in ocean currents, just going round and round.

What is slightly shocking about this new study, also published in Science Magazine, is that it helps quantify all the plastic in our oceans - not just the material seen floating on the sea surface or sitting on beaches.

The newly published estimate is 20 to 2,000 times greater than the reported mass of plastic trapped in high concentration in ocean gyres.

It is clear now that large quantities of debris must be hidden on the seafloor or have been weathered into tiny fragments that are just not apparent to casual surveys. The latter are being ingested by marine animals with unknown consequences.

In doing its analysis, the team pulled together international data on population, waste generation and management (and mismanagement). The group then modelled scenarios for the likely sums of plastic getting into the ocean environment.

For 2010, the estimated range runs from 4.8 to 12.7 million tonnes. Eight million tonnes is the mid-scenario. It is a few percent of the total plastic waste generated that year.

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That lower bound of 4.8 is roughly equal to the size of the global tuna fishery.

"In effect we're taking out the tuna and we're putting in plastic," commented co-author Kara Lavender Law from the Sea Education Association at Woods Hole.

Eight million tonnes is the mid-scenario, though. It is a few percent of the total plastic waste generated each year.

The scientists have compiled a list of the nations they find to be responsible for most of this wayward plastic.

These top 20 countries account for 83% of all mismanaged material available to enter the ocean.

China is at the top, producing more than a million tonnes of marine debris on its own.

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But the team cautions against making simple judgements because this position is a result in the main of the Asian nation’s immense population, a large fraction of which lives along an extensive coastline.

Likewise, the United States, makes an entry at 20th on the list. It too has large coastal communities. It also has much better waste management practices. But what pulls its performance down is the sheer volume of waste produced by each individual citizen – and some of this inevitably finds its way into the ocean.

(The EU is considered as a bloc but would appear 18th in the list if treated as a single nation).

The team says various solutions are required.

Rich nations need to reduce their consumption of single-use, disposable plastic items, like shopping bags; and developing nations must improve their waste management practices.

It is evident from the list that a relatively small number of middle-income, rapidly developing countries are having acute difficulties.

Dr Jembeck commented: “Economic growth is coupled with waste generation. Now, economic growth is a positive, but what you often see in developing countries is that waste management infrastructure is put to one side. And rightly so to some extent; they are looking more closely at getting clean drinking water and improving sanitation.

"But from a waste perspective, I don't want them to forget about this management issue because if they do, the problems are only going to get worse."

The study suggests that, left unchecked, 17.5 million tonnes a year could be entering the oceans by 2025. Cumulatively, that is 155 million tonnes between now and then.

And with global "peak waste" unlikely to be reached before 2100, according to World Bank calculations, the situation becomes ever more pressing.

Co-author Roland Geyer, from the University of California at Santa Barbara, said it was not feasible to clean the oceans of plastic; "turning off the tap" was the only solution," he told BBC News.

"How could you even collect plastics from the ocean floor given that the average depth is 14,000ft? We need to prevent plastics entering the oceans in the first place. Lack of formal waste management systems causes high plastic waste inputs into the ocean. So, helping every country to develop a sound solid waste management infrastructure is a top priority."

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US faces worst droughts in 1,000 years, predict scientists

Climate change is likely to cause decade-long mega-droughts across US south-west and Great Plains, new study shows
Suzanne Goldenberg The Guardian 12 Feb 15;

The US south-west and the Great Plains will face decade-long droughts far worse than any experienced over the last 1,000 years because of climate change, researchers said on Thursday.

The coming drought age – caused by higher temperatures under climate change – will make it nearly impossible to carry on with current life-as-normal conditions across a vast swathe of the country.

The droughts will be far worse than the one in California – or those seen in ancient times, such as the calamity that led to the decline of the Anasazi civilizations in the 13th century, the researchers said.

“The 21st-century projections make the [previous] mega-droughts seem like quaint walks through the garden of Eden,” said Jason Smerdon, a co-author and climate scientist at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory.

Researchers have long known that the south-west and Great Plains will dry out over the second half of the 21st century because of rising temperatures under climate change.

But this was the first time researchers found those droughts would be far worse even than those seen over the millennia.

The years since 2000 give only a small indication of the punishment ahead. In parts of Arizona, California, Nevada, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas, 11 of those years have been drought years.

As many as 64 million people were affected by those droughts, according to Nasa projections.

Those conditions have produced lasting consequences. In California, now undergoing its fourth year of drought – and the worst dry spell in 1,200 years, farmers have sold off herds. Growers have abandoned fields. Cities have imposed water rationing.

But future droughts could be even more disruptive, because they will likely drag on for decades, not years.

“We haven’t seen this kind of prolonged drought even certainly in modern US history,” Smerdon said. “What this study has shown is the likelihood that multi-decadal events comprising year after year after year of extreme dry events could be something in our future.”

The study, Unprecedented 21st-Century Drought Risk in the American Southwest and Central Plains, was published in a new online journal Science Advances.

The researchers said the effects of drought would likely be exacerbated by population growth in the south-west and rising demands for water.

Already current demands for water – for agriculture and for daily life – have drastically reduced groundwater sources in California and across the south-west.

Under the current warming trajectory, the south-west and Great Plains could expect to see chronic water shortages, making it impossible to carry out farming and ranching under current methods.

“Given the likelihood of a much drier future and increasing water resources demand, groundwater loss and higher temperatures will likely exacerbate the impacts of future droughts, presenting a major adaptation challenge,” the paper said.

The researchers used data derived from tree rings, whose growth patterns show the effects of dry and wet years, sampled across North America, and soil moisture, rainfall and evaporation records, and 17 climate models to study the effects of future temperature rise on the region.

Study sees even bigger longer droughts for much of US West
SETH BORENSTEIN Associated Press Yahoo News 12 Feb 15;

SAN JOSE, California (AP) — As bad as recent droughts in California, the Southwest and the Midwest have been, scientists say far worse "megadroughts" are coming — and they're bound to last for decades.

"Unprecedented drought conditions" — the worst in more than 1,000 years — are likely to come to the Southwest and Central Plains after 2050 and stick around because of global warming, according to a new study in the journal Science Advances on Thursday.

"Nearly every year is going to be dry toward the end of the 21st century compared to what we think of as normal conditions now," said study lead author Benjamin Cook, a NASA atmospheric scientist. "We're going to have to think about a much drier future in western North America."

There's more than an 80 percent chance that much of the central and western United States will have a 35-year-or-longer "megadrought" later this century, said study co-author Toby Ault of Cornell University, adding that "water in the Southwest is going to become more precious than it already is."

Megadroughts last for decades instead of just a few years. The 1930s Dust Bowl went on for more than 35 years, Ault said.

The study is based on current increasing rate of rising emissions of carbon dioxide and complex simulations run by 17 different computer models, which generally agreed on the outcome, Cook said.

The regions Cook looked at include California, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, northern Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota, most of Iowa, southern Minnesota, western Missouri, western Arkansas, and northwestern Louisiana.

Looking back in records trapped in tree ring and other data, there were megadroughts in the Southwest and Central Plains in the 1100s and 1200s that lasted several decades, but these will be worse, Cook said. Those were natural and not caused by climate change, unlike those forecast for the future, Cook said.

Because of changes in the climate, the Southwest will see less rain. But for both regions the biggest problem will be the heat, which will increase evaporation and dry out the soil. The result is a vicious cycle: The air grows even drier, and hotter, Cook said.

Scientists had already figured that climate change would increase the odds of worse droughts in the future, but this study makes it look worse and adds to a chorus of strong research, said Jonathan Overpeck, co-director of the Institute of the Environment at the University of Arizona.

"These results are not surprising, but are eye-opening nonetheless," said Overpeck, who wasn't part of the research, in email.

Science Advances:

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'Climate intervention' strategies unlikely to work

AFP Yahoo News 11 Feb 15;

Miami (AFP) - Attempts to curb climate change by capturing carbon underground or geo-engineering to help the Earth better reflect incoming sunlight are nowhere near ready for use, a US panel of scientists said.

"There is no substitute for dramatic reductions in greenhouse gas emissions to mitigate the negative consequences of climate change," said the National Research Council in a two-part report on proposed climate-intervention techniques.

"If society ultimately decides to intervene in Earth's climate, any actions should be informed by a far more substantive body of scientific research, including ethical and social dimensions, than is presently available."

The panel urged against "albedo-modification technologies, which aim to increase the ability of Earth or clouds to reflect incoming sunlight," saying they "pose considerable risks and should not be deployed at this time."

Such techniques "would only temporarily mask the warming effect caused by high CO2 concentrations, and present serious known and possible unknown environmental, social, and political risks, including the possibility of being deployed unilaterally," said the report.

Carbon dioxide removal is better understood "but current technologies would take decades to achieve moderate results and be cost-prohibitive at scales large enough to have a sizeable impact," it added.

"Direct air capture of carbon is an immature technology with only laboratory experiments carried out to date and demonstration projects in progress," the report said.

"Technologies for storing the captured carbon are at an intermediate stage, but only prototypes exist and are not at the scale required for significant sequestration."

Other techniques such as forest restoration and low-till agriculture are "mature, readily deployable technologies with well-known environmental consequences," the report said.

It also warned against ocean-based approaches to accelerate natural removal of carbon dioxide, saying they "carry significant environmental and socio-political risks."

The study was sponsored by the National Academy of Sciences, the US intelligence community, the US space agency NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the Department of Energy.

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