Best of our wild blogs: 4 Mar 15

Dead fish update: How are Pasir Ris mangroves?
from wild shores of singapore

Dead fish update: a dead monitor lizard among the fishes
from wild shores of singapore

Chan Yoke Meng: Photographer with a mission
from Bird Ecology Study Group

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Lab test sheds further light on fish deaths

NEO CHAI CHIN Today Online 4 Mar 15;

SINGAPORE — Laboratory tests of a seawater sample taken off Pasir Ris have zeroed in on the type of algae that wiped out massive quantities of farmed and wild fish in recent days.

The species of algae behind the mass fish deaths off Pasir Ris likely belongs to the Gymnodinium group. It is suspected to be Gymnodinium mikimotoi, according to the experts at DHI Water & Environment, but the exact species can only be confirmed through further genetic tests. Gymnodinium mikimotoi, also known as Karenia mikimotoi, is not toxic to humans, but has been associated with massive kills of wild and farmed fishes in Japan and Korea.

TODAY commissioned the laboratory test yesterday (March 3) using a water sample provided by a fish farmer operating off Pasir Ris. The sample was taken last Saturday when most affected fish farmers reported the sudden deaths of their stocks.

The test showed concentrations of the algae at 88,529 cells per millilitre – a “very, very high” concentration, according to Dr Hans Eikaas, head of environmental technology and chemistry at DHI, a not-for-profit group offering consultancy and water-modelling services.

Concentrations above 10,000 cells per millilitre are considered a full algal bloom by any international standard, he said. Seawater in normal conditions contain 200 to 300 cells per millilitre and comprise 100 or more different plankton species. Dr Eikaas said the algae bloom was the main cause of the fish deaths, with the algae likely clogging up the gills of the fish.

But ammonia in the seawater probably magnified the scale of fish deaths. Ammonia is a waste product of fish, and is also produced when bacteria decomposes organic matter without oxygen. More ammonia is produced when water is warm, and when there is more organic matter, such as when algae dies. In gas form, it is toxic to fish and can cause convulsions and death, said Dr Eikaas.

Water rich in ammonia and nitrogen is advantageous to algae in the Gymnodinium group. Warm water, which the Republic has seen in recent weeks, also stresses fish out. These factors mean “multiple blows” dealt to the marine life, Dr Eikaas said.

“I would assume ammonia building up could have caused sub-lethal toxicity to the fish – mainly, their gills get inflamed. Then algae doubles every 24 hours… (and the deaths) appear like a sudden event,” he explained. The algae would have taken about a week to bloom to the level shown in the lab test, he added.

If the suspected species is indeed the Gymnodinium mikimotoi, the algae is not known to cause any effect to humans who have eaten affected fish, Dr Eikaas said. Associate Professor Lim Po Teen of the University of Malaya’s Institute of Ocean and Earth Sciences said nutrient-rich coastal waters from human activities are believed to be the triggers of algal blooms. Another source of the problem is the introduction of algae species through ships’ ballast water. Efforts to mitigate harmful algal blooms so far include setting up perimeters at aquaculture farms and reduced feeding of farmed fishes, he said.

Dr Eikaas said the recent harmful algal bloom is a natural occurrence that is almost impossible to prevent, but with a monitoring system and simulation forecasting programme, it is not impossible to get a heads-up on. “With regular daily monitoring, we should have had several days’ lead time on this,” he said.

According to the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in the United States, Gymnodinium mikimotoi is associated with recurring blooms off the coasts of Japan and Korea and are associated with massive fish and shellfish kills. Blooms have also been reported in Australia, Denmark, Norway and Scotland.

Farmers contacted yesterday said they have spent recent days clearing dead fish from their farms. Some expressed hope that the Agri-food and Veterinary Authority would provide financial assistance, while others said they would relocate if given the chance. Fish farmer Simon Ho said his entire stock of over 30 tonnes of silver pomfret was wiped out. Marine Life Aquaculture chief operating officer Frank Tan said the company’s offshore operations lost 120 tonnes of four-finger threadfin and sea bass. The company had previously identified two sites – near the Southern Islands and Pulau Tekong – as possible areas to move to, but Mr Tan said that with different conditions such as bigger tidal waves, a move would entail a change of operations and re-investment.

Mass fish deaths: Supermarkets take measures to ensure safety of supply
Alice Chia Channel NewsAsia 4 Mar 15;

SINGAPORE: Fish harvested from local farms are largely supplied to supermarkets. With the recent mass fish deaths, some supermarkets have stopped selling fish harvested from local farms temporarily. Some are also taking measures to ensure the fish supplied are fresh.

Sheng Siong supermarket, which imports 5,000kg of live fish every month, said that quality control measures for fish harvested from local farms are the same as those for imported fish.

If there are problems with the stocks, they will be returned to the supplier, a representative said.

"If there are problems with the fish, their eyes will be red and swollen, and their bodies will be injured," said Mr Wong Nee Kook, manager of the seafood department at Sheng Siong Group.

Meanwhile, NTUC FairPrice said it has spoken with the Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) and requested that local fish farms ensure that supplies are safe for consumption. FairPrice said it will closely monitor the supply of fish as well.

The supermarket chain said that locally-bred fish make up less than 10 per cent of its total fish stocks. Channel NewsAsia understands that AVA will also conduct checks at supermarkets.

- CNA/dl

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Malaysia: Supply of treated water in Negri and Johor under threat


PETALING JAYA: Water levels at the Gemencheh Dam in Negri Sembi­lan and several rivers in Johor have dipped, threatening the supply of treated water to several areas.

Water Services Commission chairman Datuk Ismail Kasim said the level at the Gemencheh Dam had fallen to 93.9m – below the critical level of 95m – putting the water reserve at only 19.23%.

The dam provides raw water to the Gemencheh treatment plant which supplies to consumers in Tampin and Rembau.

“Currently, the plant only produces 20.5mil litres per day compared to capacity of 45.5mil litres per day,” he said in a statement here yesterday.

Ismail said the state government – through its water supply operator Syarikat Air Negri Sembilan Sdn Bhd (Sains) – had resorted to procu­ring 9mil litres per day of treated water from Malacca for 5,300 user accounts in Tampin and Batang Melaka.

He added that Sains was also planning to provide 18mil litres of treated water per day from the Sawah Raja plant in Rembau as well as build a pump and pipe station with a capacity to pump 54mil litres of raw water per day from Sungai Jelai in Johol to Gemencheh Dam.

“The construction of the station has started,” he said, adding that this was expected to be completed before December.

The level at several rivers in Johor had also reportedly fallen, with Sembrong Kiri River in Kluang reaching the critical mark while the Sungai Lebam Dam had been put on the alert list.

The Sembrong Kiri River, which provides raw water to the Sembrong Timur treatment plant, has decreased from 32mil litres per day to 26mil litres per day. It supplies water to Kluang.

“The state water operator, SAJ Holdings (SAJH), is monitoring the situation and is trying to redistribute the supply from other nearby systems. If the situation worsens, water rationing will be considered,” he said.

The Government, said Ismail, was also in the midst of building Sungai Kahang Dam to tackle water shortage in Johor and it was expected to be completed in June 2017.

The state government, through SAJH, was also in the midst of increasing the capacity of the Sungai Kahang water treatment plant for Kluang residents.

“On Monday, the water level at the Sungai Lebam Dam was 11.55m with the critical level at 12.27m with a reserve of 47.04%,” he said, adding that the treatment plant was still operating as usual.

In Kuala Lumpur, Deputy Energy, Green Technology and Water Minister Datuk Seri Mahdzir Khalid said the Federal Government was working hard to finalise the restructuring of the Selangor water supply agreement.

“The minister (Datuk Seri Dr Maximus Ongkili) had said the Government is optimistic that the main agreement can be finalised by Monday. So far, we are on track.

“Only one or two items have yet to be resolved but we are confident,” he told reporters after attending the Chinese New Year open house hosted by Tenaga Nasional Berhad at its headquarters in Bangsar yesterday.

The transfer of water assets should have been completed in mid-January but this had been extended twice with the latest deadline being next Monday.

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Indonesia Vice-President Kalla shoots down complaints about haze

Channel NewsAsia 4 Mar 15;

JAKARTA: Mr Jusuf Kalla, Vice-President of Indonesia, on Tuesday (Mar 3) took to task neighbouring countries' complaints about the haze.

“For 11 months, they enjoyed nice air from Indonesia and they never thanked us. They have suffered because of the haze for one month and they get upset,” The Jakarta Globe quoted Mr Kalla as saying.

He also said foreign demand and foreign technology was to blame for the fires. “Somebody once told me that Indonesia must restore its tropical forests, and I told him: ‘Excuse me? What did you say? Do you know who damaged our forests?’”

The haze which spreads over Singapore and Malaysian skies is caused by forest fires in Sumatra and Kalimantan. The number of "hotspots" in the region grew almost 58 per cent in the past year, from 18,129 in 2013 to 28,580 in 2014. Last year, there were 12 days in which the Pollutants Standard Index went into the "unhealthy" territory in Singapore.

In response, Singapore's Ministry of Environment and Water Resources enacted the Transboundary Haze Pollution Act last August, allowing regulators to prosecute those in neighbouring countries responsible for causing severe air pollution. Indonesia also ratified the ASEAN Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution last September, 12 years after it was established in 2002.

- CNA/es

Indonesia's Vice-President Jusuf Kalla criticises neighbours for grumbling about haze
Straits Times 5 Mar 15;

JAKARTA - Cabinets may change but Indonesian leaders remain touchy when it comes to the haze brought on by forest fires.

Yesterday, in an echo of seasons past, Indonesian Vice-President Jusuf Kalla rapped neighbouring countries for complaining about the haze, and asked them instead to be grateful for the clean air they enjoy for the rest of the year.

"For 11 months, they enjoyed nice air from Indonesia and they never thanked us," he said.

"They have suffered because of the haze for one month and they get upset," Jakarta Globe quoted him as saying on Tuesday.

It was a flashback to 2013, when Mr Agung Laksono, a minister in the previous government, hit out at murmurs from Singapore, which was shrouded by the haze.

"Singapore shouldn't be like children, in such a tizzy," he said.

Some days later, his colleague Jero Wacik warned Malaysia and Singapore not to "tell stories to the world".

These remarks prompted then President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to apologise for the haze.

In a reference to that, Mr Kalla said Indonesia has repeatedly apologised for the forest fires that lead to hazy conditions in Singapore and Malaysia.

Losses to Indonesia due to the fires are also substantial, the Globe said. The National Disaster Mitigation Agency said economic losses from the fires and haze recorded from Feb 26 to April 4 last year were estimated at US$1.6 billion (S$2.2 billion).

This week, fires caused haze in Indonesia's Riau province. Regional wind patterns were, however, blowing the haze away from Malaysia and Singapore.

Last year, Indonesia ratified the Asean Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution, which says countries have to cooperate in taking measures to prevent, monitor and mitigate the haze by controlling the sources of fires, in exchanging information and technology, and in helping one another manage outbreaks.

But weak law enforcement in the country means fires continue to burn and often spread uncontrollably during the dry season.

Singapore's Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources enacted the Transboundary Haze Pollution Act last year, to give regulators the legal right to prosecute those countries responsible for causing severe air pollution.

Mr Kalla had previously deflected blame for the forest fires, saying it was foreign demand and foreign technology that caused it. "Somebody once told me that Indonesia must restore its tropical forests, and I told him, 'Excuse me? What did you say? Do you know who damaged our forests?' " he said.

- See more at:

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Thailand: Haze rises to unhealthy levels in Chiang Mai

Pollution readings far exceed WHO guidelines; situation could worsen
TAN HUI YEE Straits Times 4 mar 15;

Haze hit unhealthy levels in the northern Thai province of Chiang Mai yesterday as dry-season fires shroud the region in smoke.

It is an annual scourge in northern areas of the country from January to April as Thai farmers, as well as those in Laos, Myanmar and Cambodia, torch the land to clear scrub or agricultural waste.

The growth of contract farming has also exacerbated the problem.

During this period, Doi Suthep - Chiang Mai's landmark peak - can disappear from view while thousands of locals seek treatment for breathing ailments.

Yesterday, the Pollution Control Department's monitoring stations in Chiang Mai registered elevated 24-hour average readings of particulate matter of up to 10 microns in size (PM10).

At 2pm, there were up to 175 such particles per cubic metre of air, beyond Thailand's acceptable standard of 120 or the World Health Organisation's guideline of 50.

These unhealthy readings were also registered in the northern provinces of Lampang, Tak, Nan, Lamphun, Phayao and Mae Hong Son, which had the worst reading at 232.

Local media reported that Mae Hong Son ordered the closure of its airport yesterday due to poor visibility.

If weather conditions are unfavourable, the situation could worsen in the coming days, said Mr Jongklai Worapongsathorn, director of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment's Chiang Mai office.

"The big concern is the westerly wind blowing from Myanmar, which carries the haze across the border," he told The Straits Times.

"Satellite observation shows a lot of 'hot spots' within the country, and if the wind continues blowing in this direction, the situation could escalate within this week... The (PM10 reading) could be over 200 or even close to 300, like in recent years."

The Thai government has had little success with its attempts to control open burning and encourage agricultural waste to be ploughed into the soil instead of being burnt.

Fires are also causing haze in Sumatra's Riau province that is adjacent to Singapore, and are being worsened by a lack of rain over the past month.

Efforts are under way to fight fires in Bengkalis and Rokan Hilir districts in the province.

In Bengkalis, the number of hot spots declined to three yesterday from 15 in mid-February, according to Mr Herman, a villager and firefighting volunteer.

Regional wind patterns meant the haze was blowing towards the south-east, away from Singapore and Malaysia.

Mr M. Ali, secretary of Sepahat village in Bengkalis district, said sluice gates have been built in eight canals in the area to provide water to douse fires.

He praised the efforts of the military, police, Forestry Ministry officers and local volunteers.

"Fires emerge there, they move already. Very quick action."

Additional reporting by Wahyudi Soeriaatmadja in Jakarta

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Satellite data suggests forest loss is accelerating

Kyle Plantz PlanetArk 3 Mar 15;

Satellite data suggests forest loss is accelerating Photo: Bruno Kelly
A view is seen from the Amazon Tall Tower Observatory (ATTO) in Sao Sebastiao do Uatuma in the middle of the Amazon forest in Amazonas state January 10, 2015.
Photo: Bruno Kelly

Satellite images suggest tropical forests from the Amazon to the Philippines are disappearing at a far more rapid pace than previously thought, a University of Maryland team of forest researchers say.

The annual rate of deforestation from 1990 to 2010 was 62 percent higher than in the previous decade, and higher than previous estimates, according to a study carried out of satellite maps covering 80 percent of the world's tropical forests.

The new study questions the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization's (FAO) assessment, which suggested that the rate of deforestation actually decreased 25 percent from 1990 to 2010.

Until now, "the Forest Resource Assessment (FRA) report of the United Nation's FAO was the only one available source to estimate long term forest change and its trends," said Do-Hyung Kim, lead author of the study that is expected to be published in Geophysical Research Letters.

"However, the FAO report has been criticized for inconsistency in its survey methods and the definition of what is a forest. Our result is important in that we are providing a satellite-based alternative for the FRA," he said.

The FAO assessment has been based in large part on self reporting from tropical forest countries, Kim said. In contrast, Kim and his University of Maryland colleagues analyzed 5,444 Landsat images from 1990, 2000, 2005 and 2010 to assess how much forest was lost or gained 34 countries, which account for about 80 percent of tropical forest land in the world.

During the 1990 to 2000 time period, the annual net forest loss across all the countries was 4 million hectares (about 15,000 square miles or 40,000 square kilometers) per year, according to the study.

From 2000 to 2010, the net forest loss increased 62 percent to 6.5 million hectares (about 25,000 square miles or 65,000 square kilometers) per year - an area of forest clearing the size of Sri Lanka each year.


The study found that tropical Latin America showed the largest increase annual net forest losses - 1.4 million hectares (about 5,400 square miles or 14,000 square kilometers) per year from the 1990s to the 2000s. Brazil topped the list with an annual 0.6 million-hectare loss (about 2,300 square miles or 6,000 square kilometers) per year.

Tropical Asia showed the second largest increase in deforestation with 0.8 million hectares (about 3,100 square miles or 8,000 square kilometers) lost per year, led by countries including Indonesia, Malaysia, Cambodia, Thailand and the Philippines.

Tropical Africa showed the least amount of annual net forest area loss, but still saw a steady increase due to cutting primarily in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Madagascar.

The U.N.'s Forest Resource Assessment reported during the same time period that there was a 25 percent decrease in deforestation in tropical forest countries.


However, Rodney Keenan, a University of Melbourne forest science researcher who participated in the FAO's last forest assessment, said the agency's report might not be as flawed as it seems.

"The Kim study uses automated remotely sensed imagery only," he said. "This gives a picture of one aspect of forest change, while ground estimates and management information give other perspectives," such as whether land without trees is set to be reforested.

"Most experts consider that relying on remote sensing alone, as these authors have done, is of limited value in understanding forest dynamics and management," he said.

Keenan agreed that both approaches could be considered "complementary" and the new study presents "interesting new data".

However, Kim said the Forest Resource Assessment missed deforestation that is obvious in satellite images. For example, the FRA reported no change of deforestation rates in 16 of 34 countries looked at in both studies, including Colombia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The new study, however, found increasing deforestation in those countries, he said.

Drivers of increased deforestation include an increase in urban population, logging and growth of agriculture, according to research from NASA.

Deforestation contributes about 10 percent of human-induced greenhouse gas emissions that drive global warming, studies suggest, which has led to a range of efforts to reduce the problem.

The UN-led Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) effort, for instance, helps channel money from richer nations to poorer tropical forest ones in exchange for efforts to protect tropical forests.

Satellite imaging is one way to hold countries more accountable for their deforestation, Kim said. He noted that "as deforestation accelerates, we can project climate change will also accelerate."

Keenan said better understanding where and why deforestation happens can help "explore the opportunities to reduce (forest) conversion."

"Reducing deforestation, increasing forest area and sustainably managing our forests can be an important contribution to action on climate change," he said.

The FAO is set to issue an updated forest assessment in September at the World Forestry Congress.

(Editing by Laurie Goering)

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