Best of our wild blogs: 18 Feb 15

Ten ways to an ethical and fin free Lunar New Year
from The Dorsal Effect

Green Drinks 25 Feb: Enabling Behaviour Change in Organisations and in Society from Green Drinks Singapore

Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve Extension – Finding Solace in a Busy World from Travelled Paths

Some Otters
from Go Wild Now!

Peekaboo False Eyes of a Hawkmoth Caterpillar
from Macro Photography in Singapore

Golden Gem mating and ovipositing
from Bird Ecology Study Group

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Liak Teng Lit: 5 million people, 70,000 cleaners...that's ridiculous!

Rachel Chang The Straits Times AsiaOne 18 Feb 15;

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong ticked off Singaporeans earlier this month over the trash left after the Laneway music festival. Cue Mr Liak Teng Lit, 61, chairman of the Public Hygiene Council, which leads the Keep Singapore Clean Movement. The group chief executive of Alexandra Health System tells Rachel Chang that his interest in cleanliness started out as a fear of communicable diseases spreading. Now, he fears that the disease is in Singapore’s societal values.

Q: Earlier this month, the Prime Minister, referring to trash left behind by festival-goers at Gardens by the Bay, said that Singaporeans had to strive to be a “clean” city, not just a “cleaned” one. You were the one who first came up with that phrase. How did you feel about the episode?

The reality is we actually look clean because we have 70,000 cleaners cleaning up after us. Singaporeans don’t think much about cleanliness because it looks okay. But, ironically, it hides our problem.

Your neighbour dumps something at the lift lobby, you saw the guy do it, but (you think), “never mind lah, the cleaner will come and pick it up”. Now it’s very different if this were in Japan or in Taiwan. Your neighbour dumps something, nobody is going to clean it and when you come back from work it’s going to be there, the next day it’s there, by the third day it will start smelling. You’re never going to forgive a neighbour who does that.

But here, if the place is not clean, it’s not your neighbour’s fault, it’s the cleaner’s fault. “Town council no good.”

Q: When did Singaporeans’ standards on cleanliness start to drop?

My memory of the 1980s was that Singapore was perfect. And we truly could be proud of being a clean city. Things were by and large okay for the next 10, 15 years. But slowly, it gradually deteriorated. My own impression is that the last couple of years were particularly bad. Behaviour began to shift, people no longer worried about being caught for littering.

The lack of enforcement (in catching litterbugs), or the sharp decline in enforcement, probably has escalated the problem but it’s also the whole society changing. There are a lot of people who take it for granted that people will pick up after you.

A couple of years back, when they started having cleanliness as a Key Performance Indicator for town councils, it became that every time (one) didn’t do a good job picking up litter, they got a scolding.

And the public started gaining experience (on how public servants reacted). You litter because you say, “Oh, I can’t find a dustbin”. And some public servant actually responded by saying, “I will go and put more dustbins”. It is like (when) somebody gives an excuse, however unreasonable, you accept it and you start responding to it. So after a while that excuse sounds reasonable.

I like to ask, have you been to Japan? Korea? Taiwan? Name me one city that has got more dustbins than us. We probably have the highest density of dustbins anywhere in the world and still there are Singaporeans who claim they litter because there are not enough dustbins.

Q: Who’s at fault for this state of affairs?

I blame some of the parents. I have seen it more than once that the kid drops something and he wants to pick it up, the parent says, “No. Dirty. Let the cleaner do it”.

So they are teaching the children the wrong thing. I think the self-awareness is a problem. First, we don’t even see the rubbish. Then when we see the rubbish, we don’t see it as our problem. We see it as the cleaner’s problem, we see it as the foreigner’s problem (for littering), we see it as education system’s problem.

But the fundamental problem is a lack of consideration for one another. In health care, we say a rash on the skin is a symptom. This is a symptom. The disease is actually our values and our lack of consideration for one another.

Q: Do you think we have to bring down the number of cleaners in Singapore?

I certainly think so. Taipei, with a few million people, has 5,000 cleaners. Singapore, we have five million people and 70,000 cleaners. That’s two Singapore armies. It’s quite ridiculous.

Productivity is not just about sweeping very productively. Real productivity is when people don’t throw rubbish around.

Today, Singapore is rich, Singapore can spend. Singapore today is where Japan was 20 years ago. But what happened to Japan is that they splurged. And you know what is dangerous? The age profile of Singaporeans is almost what Japan was 20 years ago. So we will get older. Can we be so rich (forever) as to be able to afford this large number of foreign cleaners? Singaporeans will demand a higher wage.

No First World country serves you a cup of coffee for $1 (like here). Can we pay the cleaner $1,500 to $2,000 a month and then keep the service & conservancy charges (for residents) as it is?

So if we want to keep the charges low, we’d better clean up our act. It is a fairy tale that you can pay the cleaners more, have the same number of cleaners and not increase the charges. Anyway, why do we need so many cleaners to begin with? Other countries are not like that.

Q: Do you think Singapore can ever reach a Japanese or Taiwanese level of cleanliness?

I hope so. But we should do it soon. There are people who say, “Oh, you’ve to wait for another generation”. But another generation will be even worse.

Look at the Taiwanese. Their background is similar to ours, immigrants from the southern part of China. (The Public Hygiene Council) went to Taipei recently to see how they do it. We went to three schools and it was the same: There are no cleaners in the school. The children clean it three times a day – in the morning before they start, midday and then after classes.

And (the principals and teachers) were adamant it is part of education. It’s character education, teaching yourself to be self-reliant and teaching you to use your hands. And to respect labour, to respect people who use their hands. So, in Taiwan, the cleaners are not seen as doing a “low-down” job. Many are graduates. It is a profession. So, I totally agree that schools in Singapore should be bolder. I’m trying to persuade some of the principals to do it here and remove most of the cleaners.

Don’t have cleaning as a punishment for students (as it is done now). Cleaning is part of life. After all, you use the classroom, you clean the classroom.

Q: Most Singaporeans will say, I don’t litter! The problem is not with me.

The most important thing is that the majority of Singaporeans, who don’t litter, set that good example. But there is also the sin of omission. Which is that when we see people litter or we see people behaving badly, we choose to keep quiet. That itself allows ugly people to behave badly. So here’s the problem. If we choose to say nothing, you are the problem.

Whenever I see people leave a mess or litter, I make it a point to give a big smile and say, “Excuse me, Sir, I hope you don’t mind, I don’t think you should do that”. Out of every 20, 10 or 12 will be embarrassed and say, “Sorry, sorry”, and they will pick it up. About six or seven will give you a dirty look and ignore you. And one in 20 will give me a scolding: “Who are you to tell me that?”

But it’s okay because you’re able to influence people. Let’s face it, the problem is us, it’s our problem.

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Malaysia: Agriculture sector suffers RM299mil loss due to floods

The Star 18 Feb 15;

BERA: Malaysia’s agriculture and agro-based industry suffered a loss of RM299mil due to the recent floods in several states.

Agriculture and Agro-Based Industry Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob said RM194mil was lost due to damage to agriculture produce, RM99.5mil due to infrastructure damage and RM5.5mil due to damage to assets.

“In Pahang alone, the losses amounted to RM68.28mil. Of this, RM54.4mil was losses to agriculture produce, RM790,000 asset damage and RM13.04mil infrastructure damage.

“At the same time, 15,403 farmers, livestock breeders and fishermen were affected by the floods, involving 16,342 hectares of agriculture land,” he told reporters after presenting financial aid to 937 families affected by floods in the Bera district here yesterday.

Ismail Sabri, who is also Bera MP, said Kelantan recorded the highest number of livestock breeders, fishermen and farmers who were affected by the floods, numbering 7,119, while Pahang had 4,972, Terengganu 1,694 and Perak 1,617.

He said the government, through the National Security Council (MKN), would provide compensation to the three groups of people whose agriculture produce were affected by the recent floods.

He added that the rate of payment would be RM1,800 a hectare for padi (with a maximum payment for three hectares only), RM700 per buffalo (maximum 10 buffaloes), RM600 for each head of cattle and deer (maximum 10 for both), RM150 per goat (maximum 20), RM5 per chicken (maximum 100) and RM2 per quail (maximum 200).

“Payment for the aquaculture industry will be RM1,500 per pond (maximum two ponds) and caged fish rearing at RM200 per section (maximum 12 sections),” he said. — Bernama

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Malaysia: Little being done to protect hunted serow - Expert

PATRICK LEE The Star 17 Feb 15;

PETALING JAYA: Amid the excitement of ushering in the Year of the Goat, environmentalists are bemoan­ing the fate of Malaysia’s only native goat – the heavily-hunted Sumatran serow.

Standing up to 1m at shoulder height, the serow is a shy and solitary animal that can be found in mountain forests, said Traffic Southeast Asia regional director Dr Chris Shepherd.

“It is very large, black, and has a mane like a horse. It has very sharp horns,” he said in an interview.

Dr Shepherd said that very little was known about Malaysia’s serow, its numbers or its effect on ecosystems.

Most people, he said, had never come across, much less seen, a serow except on dinner plates and in medicine shops here.

“The trade in them is extremely heavy. People eat them, use their horns (and use) them in traditional medicine,” he said.

Fully protected under conservation laws, it can only be hunted via a special permit issued by the Natural Resources and Environment Minister.

Those found guilty of hunting, taking or keeping serow parts can be fined between RM100,000 to RM500,000 and be jailed up to five years.

However, Dr Shepard said little was being done to stop the killing of serow.

In a 2012 Traffic survey of 165 restaurants serving wild meat nationwide, 18 of them had serow on the menu. Six were in Johor.

Citing the Department of Wildlife and National Parks, Dr Shepherd said only 10 confiscations of serow parts were recorded from January 2003 to January 2012, with only five convictions.

He said that the serow were threatened by habitat loss, adding that limestone hills which it frequented were often quarried for cement.

It was reported that the serow was found in parts of Gunung Kanthan in Perak, which were eyed by a cement company there for mining.

Dr Shepherd clarified that goats in farms here may have originated from Africa, adding that they were definitely not from Malaysia.

He added that the only area in the whole country set up to protect the serow was in Klang Gates, Selangor.

However, he added that it was probably empty of serow today.

There are no serow in Sabah and Sarawak.

The IUCN Red List – which tracks threatened species worldwide – lists the Sumatran serow as a “vulnerable” animal, although Dr Shepherd said it was probably a lot more threatened.

“I doubt that it’s in the thousands. We need to see these wild meat restaurants shut down, and people need to stop eating them,” he said.

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Indonesia: Riau, Jambi prepare forest, land fire prevention

Rizal Harahap and Jon Afrizal, The Jakarta Post 17 Feb 15;

Riau and Jambi are preparing efforts to prevent forest and land fires that have caused annual disasters in the provinces.

Acting Riau Governor Arsyadjuliandi “Andi” Rachman on Monday issued Gubernatorial Decree No. 5/2015 on forest and land fire mitigation and prevention action plans, which is aimed at freeing the province from the disasters that have been taking place for the past 17 years.

Witnessed by Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya and National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) head Syamsul Ma’arif, the ordinance, which regulates the duties and responsibilities of relevant agencies in forest and land fire mitigation in Riau, Andi immediately handed tasks to the 12 regents and mayors in Riau.

“There are 16 actions plans that greatly require support from the relevant stakeholders at the central, provincial, regency and mayoralty levels, including from the private sector,” said Andi.

The action plans include the designation of peat land as a protected area in Riau spatial planning, canal blocking to maintain the wetness of peat land, document evaluation and environmental licensing for plantation and forestry companies in preventing and mitigating forest and land fires, law enforcement against companies disobeying audits and the establishment and provision of incentives for fire-aware communities in fire-prone areas.

The managing director of PT Riau Andalan Pulp and Paper (RAPP), Tony Wenas, said the company would help the administration to overcome forest and land plantation.

“We have prepared a helicopter at Roesmin Nurjadin Air Forces base in Pekanbaru,” Tony said.

Meanwhile, some 350,000 hectares of peat lands in Jambi have been reportedly damaged mostly because of conversion into plantations or industrial forests (HTI), but also because of annual forest fires during dry seasons.

The executive director of the Indonesian Forum for the Environment’s (Walhi) Jambi branch, Musri Nauli, said the damaged areas accounted for about 50 percent of the total peatlands in the province.

“The damage is spread throughout the three regencies of East Tanjungjabung, West Tanjungjabung and Muarojambi,” Musri said on Sunday.

He said Walhi had helped propagate measures for anticipating peat land fires during a recent study on peat land and field management in the Sungai Bungur subdistrict, Kumpehilir district, Muarojambi.

Saving peat lands in Jambi, according to Musri, would be very difficult to do as long as their conversion into plantations and HTI continued unabated.

He said Jambi would even completely lose the vast peat lands in its eastern regions, especially in East and West Tanjungjabung regencies, if the government kept issuing licenses for oil palm plantations and HTI businesses.

To help save the fields and peat lands in the province, Musri said, local people should to be given the rights and the chance to manage them. People’s involvement in the management of peat lands would help prevent the peat lands from being damaged.

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Sinking Poachers’ Boats Doesn’t Float With Environmentalists

Basten Gokkon Jakarta Globe 17 Feb 15;

Jakarta. Indonesia’s fisheries minister, Susi Pudjiastuti, has fast become one of the most popular ministers in President Joko Widodo’s cabinet, thanks in large part to her trigger-happy policy of sinking foreign fishing vessels caught poaching in Indonesian waters.

The sinkings began on Dec. 5 when three vessels flying the Vietnamese flag were scuttle off the Riau Islands.

Since then, the minister has been on a crusade, with the Navy behind her, to sink more boats, the most recent being on Feb. 10, when another Vietnamese vessel met a fiery fate in the pristine waters of the Raja Ampat archipelago in Papua.

But while the policy has earned Susi brownie points with the public (a survey last month identified her as the most popular minister in the cabinet), environmentalists are appalled at the gung-ho sinking of vessels, using explosives, in delicate maritime ecosystems.

“The debris of the vessels can end up becoming trash floating around in the sea,” says Arifsyah Nasution, an oceans campaigner at Greenpeace Indonesia.

“The use of explosives to sink the boat disturbs and threatens the fish near the location of the explosion — in a way, it has the same effect as using dynamite to catch fish.”

There is also no indication that the Navy properly cleans out the vessels of their highly polluting diesel and bunker oil before sinking them.

“The bigger the boat, the more oil is left over in the tanks, and that oil will contaminate the sea,” says Anton Wijonarno, the manager of the marine protected area for fisheries program at WWF Indonesia.

Both Arifsyah and Anton conceded that there has been little research on the impact to maritime ecosystems of blowing up wooden boats, but say the explosions need to stop, at least for now.

“There should be a discussion among maritime ecosystem experts on this matter as a precautionary approach before the government carries on sinking more vessels,” Arifsyah says.

Anton says the government must consider several factors to minimize damaging delicate ecosystems, such as Raja Ampat, which is an important habitat for manta rays and other rare marine species that flock to its extensive coral reefs.

“Any explosion should be conducted in an area where the water depth is at least 40 meters, not in shallow areas where coral grows,” Anton says.

He notes that while sunken wrecks can and often do serve as artificial reefs in coastal waters, the “excessive use” of explosives by the Navy can end up “destroying the vessels completely, thus rendering them useless as artificial reefs.”

President Joko claims that destroying illegal foreign fishing vessels has proven an effective deterrent against poachers. There are, however, no statistics available on the proliferation of such boats in Indonesian waters before and after the sinkings began to corroborate this.

For her part, Susi claims the government has, through the new hard-line policy, managed to slash the number of illegal vessels operating in the country’s waters by 90 percent — another figure that cannot be independently verified — and prevented them from “stealing the archipelago’s underwater natural resources.”

Greenpeace’s Arifsyah said that no matter how effective the government made the policy out to be, it should still consider sinking boats in the middle of the sea using explosives as an act of last resort.

“There are two other ways: sinking them without any burning or use of explosives, or towing them back to shore and breaking them up and selling the parts,” he says.

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Vietnam: Oil pollution damaging sea environment

VietNamNet Bridge 17 Feb 15;

The sea near Vietnam has been seriously damaged by waste from industrial and agricultural production, aquaculture, domestic rubbish, and oil pollution caused by shipbuilding and shipping.

Scientists recently warned that oil pollution is becoming more and more serious. In theory, the 0.1 mg per liter concentration is large enough to kill plankton species and affect larvae of benthic organisms.

Meanwhile, in the Hai Phong coastal areas, the oil concentration in water often exceeds the permitted level by 100-300 percent.

The latest report of the Hai Phong City Department of Natural Resources and the Environment showed that the Hai Phong Seaport usually has oil concentration of 0.3-0.6 mg per liter. The same concentration level has been found in the coastal area in the districts of Hai An and Kien Thuy.

An environmental expert noted that the high concentration of oil in water are in areas where there are a majority of fishing boats, cruises and military ships to gather for cleaning and discharging oil. The waste from the process and the oil are directly discharged into the sea.

Meanwhile, under the Marpol Convention, the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution From Ships, all the ships are prohibited from discharging waste water into the seaports’ waters.

Experts pointed out that the 4 million tons of fuel consumed every year by 1,700 transport ships and 130,000 fishing boats is a major source of pollutants affected coastal areas and the sea, damaging the sea ecosystem and sea resources, and harming people’s health.

Binh Dinh province, in the central region of Vietnam, with a focus on developing a sea-borne economy, has 7,000 boats and ships, including 2,500 ships for offshore fishing.

The local authorities plan to help fishermen in 28 coastal localities to modernize their fleet to help them improve tuna fishing capacity.

However, there has been no information about the use of new shipbuilding technology that meets new green maritime standards.

Scientists say that with current shipbuilding technology, which requires much fuel, the volume of waste oil is huge. The waste changes the physicochemical characteristics of the sea water, thus affecting aquatic creatures, harming salt production, aquaculture and sea tourism.

Reducing and controlling noxious emissions to restrict the influence on ocean acidification is now a burning issue all over the globe.

Recent reports showed that the warming of the globe is leading to heavy rain, ocean acidification and rising sea water levels.

Chi Mai

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Rising Sea Levels Are Already Making Miami’s Floods Worse

NEEL V. PATEL Wired 17 Feb 15;

You don’t have to look 85 years into the future to see what a sinking world looks like—you only need to look as far as Miami.

Climate scientists have been warning the world about sea level rise for years, pleading with governments to cut back on carbon lest all our coastal cities go the way of Venice. In 2014, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released its fifth Assessment Report, predicting that oceans would rise more than 3 feet by 2100. Those projections make for some alarming visions of the future—cities water-logged, monuments submerged, islands created.

But the flooding is already happening in Florida. At the University of Miami’s Department of Atmospheric Sciences, Brian McNoldy and other researchers have been accumulating sea level data from Virginia Key (a small island just south of Miami Beach) since 1996. Over those nineteen years, sea levels around the Miami coast have already gone up 3.7 inches. In a post updated yesterday, McNoldy highlights three big problems that follow from those numbers—and they should worry all of us.

First: Sea level rise is accelerating—perhaps faster than the IPCC has projected. When McNoldy tracked the average daily high water mark, when flooding events are most likely to occur, he saw it increase over time—but he also saw the rate of that increase go up. The last five years saw an average increase of 1.27 inches of water per year. If that rate holds steady for the next 50 years (and if McNoldy is right, it will only get worse), high tide levels in Miami would go up over five feet.

Second: Predictions about day-to-day tide levels are less accurate than ever, threatening the city’s ability to plan for weather events. Tidal predictions are made through what’s called “astronomical factors”—essentially the moon’s orbit around the earth. But these don’t take into account factors like weather or sea level rise—so as climate change exacerbates sea level rise, tidal predictions will be more and more unreliable. While water levels in May 1996 typically were close to predicted values, McNoldy observed that the same values in May 2014 were consistently higher than predicted. That kind of discrepancy can’t be caused by weather alone.

Third: Besides creating higher risks of flooding, sea level rise is creating an unexpected danger: saltwater intrusion into aquifers used to extract freshwater. Almost 90 percent of south Florida’s drinking water is supplied by porous limestone aquifers. As sea levels rise, the saltwater exerts more pressure on the fresh water in the aquifer, and fresh water is pushed off further from the coast. Already, some cities have shut down wells because of saltwater contamination.

Based on what scientists can glean from sea level data from the past 20,000 years, McNoldy estimates that the world could still have up to 100 feet of sea level rise to go. He believes even if humans were to slow down or stop the man-made factors contributing to climate change, “we’re already pretty well committed to significant sea level rise. We would be more prudent to consider how to adapt to those conditions.”

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Warm ocean temperatures may mean major coral bleaching

NOAA 17 Feb 15;

NOAA Coral Reef Watch’s newly-released four-month bleaching outlook indicates the greatest threat for coral bleaching through May 2015 is in the western Pacific and Indian Oceans in areas such American Samoa, Samoa, Western Australia, and Indonesia.

NOAA scientists are warning that warm ocean temperatures in the tropical Pacific and Indian Oceans could set the stage for major coral bleaching events across the globe in 2015.

Their warnings follow severe bleaching in 2014, and come with the release of the most recent outlook from NOAA’s Coral Reef Watch, a weekly product that forecasts the potential for coral bleaching up to four months in the future.

“The new outlook gives us greater confidence in what it shows for future coral bleaching and it comes at an important time,” said Mark Eakin, NOAA Coral Reef Watch coordinator. “The outlook shows a pattern over the next four months that is similar to what we saw during global coral bleaching events in 1998 and 2010. We’re really concerned that 2015 may bring the third global coral bleaching event.”

Coral bleaching infographic. (Credit: NOAA)

Coral bleaching takes place when corals are stressed by changes in conditions such as temperature, light or nutrients. They expel the symbiotic algae living in their tissues, causing them to turn white or pale. Without the algae, the coral loses its major source of food and is more susceptible to disease.

The outlook shows the greatest threat for coral bleaching through May 2015 is in the western South Pacific and Indian oceans. In the Pacific, thermal stress has already reached levels that cause bleaching in the nations of Nauru, Kiribati, and the Solomon Islands, and is expected to spread to Tuvalu, Samoa, and American Samoa in the next few months. In the Indian Ocean, thermal stress may reach levels that cause bleaching around Madagascar, Mauritius, Seychelles, and parts of Indonesia and western Australia.

NOAA scientists in American Samoa are already seeing the start of bleaching on their shallow reefs. “In the coming months, we will be watching to see if the model predicts conditions that can cause bleaching in Southeast Asia and the Coral Triangle region around mid-2015,” said Eakin.

The outlook, derived from NOAA’s operational climate forecast system models, shows regions that may be most affected by elevated ocean temperatures four months in advance. This latest generation of the outlook features greater global coverage, improved accuracy, and finer resolution.

In another significant advance, NOAA’s Coral Reef Watch program has refined its satellite observational capacity that provides near real-time information on coral reef environmental conditions. It now can focus on reef areas as small as five square kilometers, with an increase of as much as 50 times more data than before. This allows coral reef managers and scientists to accurately pinpoint bleaching thermal stress levels at coral reef scales and take actions to protect their coral reefs.

Initial tests of the outlook and daily five-kilometer bleaching thermal stress products proved useful for predicting, monitoring, and understanding major coral bleaching and mortality events in Guam, the Mariana Islands, the Northwestern and main Hawaiian Islands, the Marshall Islands, Kiribati, the Florida Keys, and elsewhere in 2014.

“Climate change and its impacts, which can include bleaching, are some of the most pressing global threats to coral reef ecosystems today,” said Jennifer Koss, acting program manager for NOAA’s Coral Reef Conservation Program. “This suite of products is vital to help scientists, coral reef managers, and decision makers in the U.S. and around the globe prepare for bleaching events.”

NOAA’s Climate Program Office, Coral Reef Conservation Program and National Centers for Environmental Prediction funded development of the outlook. NOAA Coral Reef Conservation Program and NASA’s Biodiversity and Ecological Forecasting program funded development of the five-kilometer coral bleaching thermal stress products.

For more information on coral bleaching and these products, visit:

World's coral reefs face major bleaching event this year, US agency warns
Sophie Yeo for RTCC, part of the Guardian Environment Network The Guardian 19 Feb 15;

2015 could see coral bleaching on a global scale for the third time in history – and the first in the absence of an El Niño.

That is the latest prediction from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (Noaa), which has just launched a model to forecast threats facing the colourful reefs.

“It started in 2014 – we had severe bleaching from July to October in the northern Marianas, bad bleaching in Guam, really severe bleaching in the north western Hawaiian Islands, and the first ever mass bleaching in the main Hawaiian Islands,” said said Mark Eakin, Noaa’s Coral Reef Watch coordinator.

“It then moved south, with severe bleaching in the Marshall Islands and it has moved south into many of the areas in the western south Pacific.

“Bleaching just now is starting in American Samoa. In Fiji we’re starting to see some, the Solomon Islands have seen some. We’ve already seen a big event.”

Bleaching takes place when corals are stressed due to changes in light, nutrients or temperature – though only the latter can cause events of this magnitude. This causes them to release algae, lose their colour and in some cases die off.

It is a relatively rare occurrence. Large-scale bleaching was recorded in 1983, followed by the first global scale event in 1998. A second global wave came in 2010.

The latest global event appears to be following the path of the earlier two, with bleaching starting in the Pacific and expected to sweep through the Indian Ocean, south east Asia and the Caribbean.

The bleaching seen last year is expected to spread into 2015, added Eakin.

This week, Noaa launched an updated version of its Coral Reef Watch, which provides a four month forecast of how ocean ecosystems will be affected by high temperatures.

Normally, these are expected to show no bleaching. But high ocean temperatures throughout 2014 and into 2015 means that bleaching is predicted on a mass scale.

This is in spite of the fact that an El Niño – a natural phenomenon that raises ocean temperatures – did not develop as expected.

Instead, the ocean warming which is damaging the reefs has been caused by climate change.

Scientists at the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change say that 90% of the energy accumulated on the planet between 1971 and 2010 was stored in the ocean.

In 2014, oceans reached their highest temperature on record.

“The amount of heat that has been absorbed in the oceans and the warming that has gone on has resulted in the oceans being primed to reach levels that can cause coral bleaching even without big El Niño events,” said Eakin.

Maps released by Noaa of coral bleaching predictions between February and June show a 60% chance that almost all the coral reefs in the southern hemisphere – where it is summer – will experience at least some stress.

It is likely that this trend will move into the northern hemisphere as the seasons change, said Eakin, although the models do not forecast this far.


It remains difficult to predict how severe the bleaching this year will be, he added, but some ecosystems are already under pressure.

“I doubt it’s going to be worse than 1998, and it may not even be worse than 2010 – we don’t know,” he said.

“But in some areas it has already been worse. What happened in the Marianas Islands, in the Marshall Islands, in the north western Hawaiian islands, those were the worst they’ve ever seen.”

In a large scale bleaching event, the damage caused could last for decades – and in some cases, the reefs never recover. Those that do become more susceptible to diseases.

But Noaa’s four month forecasts can help reef managers to prepare, and also to assess which reefs are more resilient, and which require more protection when a large scale bleaching is on the horizon.

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