Best of our wild blogs: 5 Mar 15

A Quiet Morning @ Mount Faber and Telok Blangah Hill Park
from Beauty of Fauna and Flora in Nature

4 Lessons on Visual Storytelling from Chai Jing’s Documentary on Smog in China
from Green Future Solutions

Fishes dying at Sungei Buloh?
from wild shores of singapore

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Fish farms may move from Changi after mass deaths

Carolyn Khew The Straits Times AsiaOne 4 Mar 15;

AFTER a plankton bloom at the weekend wiped out almost all their stocks of fish, some farmers in Changi are looking at moving to sites with stronger tide conditions.

Others told The Straits Times they planned to invest in more costly closed containment systems that would be protected from such blooms, which can suffocate marine life.

The weekend incident was a blow to farms still trying to recover from a similarly devastating bloom a year ago. One of them, Ah Hua Kelong, went online to appeal for donations to help it meet its daily running costs.

Mr Frank Tan, chief operating officer of Marine Life Aquaculture, which produces about 200 tonnes of seabass and threadfin annually, said he had planned to move to two sites - one on Pulau Tekong and the other on the Southern Islands - following last year's incident, which wiped out 20 tonnes of his fish.

Last Saturday's bloom killed 120 tonnes of his fish.

"We spent the past year rebuilding our business and were planning to move only in about a few years' time.

Yesterday, he was still busy directing staff to bag and remove the dead fish.

Following the authorities' warnings, he had managed to save a few hundred adult fish by moving them to an offshore site located near his Changi farm.

Mr Tan said he will be ready to move in one to two months. He estimates the tides at Pulau Tekong to have a water flow rate three times stronger than those at Changi, so stronger support structures need to be built for the farm.

Fin Fisher owner Timothy Hromatka, 42, is not discounting a move to Pulau Tekong, but estimates he would need $500,000 to do so.

"Tekong is farther away (from the mainland), and this means higher operational costs."

The smell of rotting fish was strong around the fish farms, located near the Lorong Halus jetty, yesterday as workers continued to dispose of the dead fish.

As of October last year, home-grown farms contributed about 7 per cent to the industry, producing fish like sea bass and grouper as well as lobsters.

Plankton blooms are caused by factors such as warmer weather and a neap tide, when the high tide is at its lowest.

Some farmers such as Mr Malcolm Ong, chief executive of The Fish Farmer, who is in his 50s, are looking at farming under controlled conditions to protect their stocks from such unpredictable blooms.

But another farmer, Mr Simon Oh, in his 60s, said the systems can be challenging to install. He lost all 35 tonnes of his pomfret last week.

"I have no funds to restart my business, much less invest in such equipment," he said.

Additional reporting by Isaac Neo

Fish supply, prices in supermarkets unaffected by plankton bloom
CAROLYN KHEW Straits Times 5 Mar 15;

With local produce accounting for less than 10 per cent of their supply, supermarkets still have plenty of fish even after a devastating plankton bloom over the weekend killed more than 300 tonnes of stocks at farms in Changi.

Dairy Farm, which owns both Cold Storage and Giant supermarkets, said neither its supply nor price is affected as it practises "diversified sourcing", buying fresh fish from countries such as Indonesia and Malaysia.

About 10 per cent of Giant's fish supply comes from local farms while Cold Storage buys a "minimal" amount, said a spokesman. Local farms supply species such as grey mullet, golden snapper and golden pomfret, she said.

Home-grown produce makes up just 5 per cent to 10 per cent of FairPrice's fish, and less than 5 per cent of Sheng Siong's.

"Most of the local fish farms do not have the required facilities to transport live fish directly to our chain stores. So, at the moment, most of our live fish comes from Malaysia," said a Sheng Siong spokesman. The supermarket chain buys about 500kg of fresh fish daily from local farmers, mainly milkfish and mullet.

FairPrice and Sheng Siong said they are still buying local fish and reassured consumers that they are safe to eat. Overall, local fish farms contribute about 7 per cent to Singapore's supply.

The unexpected plankton bloom, the second in as many years, affected Changi farms located off Lorong Halus jetty most badly, with some losing almost all of their fish stock overnight. Plankton blooms can be deadly as they suck oxygen from the water, suffocating other marine life.

One farm alone, Marine Life Aquaculture, lost 120 tonnes of threadfin and seabass.

Another, Kelong FC116 in Pasir Ris, appealed for funds on crowdfunding website Indiegogo yesterday to keep operating after losing more than 20 tonnes of fish. It is the second farm to look for help online, following in the footsteps of Ah Hua Kelong.

Between Saturday and last night, Ah Hua Kelong had managed to raise more than $16,000.

Marine life has also been found washed up along the shores of Pasir Ris Beach and near the Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve Extension.

Dr Diana Chan, course manager for the diploma in veterinary technology at Temasek Polytechnic's School of Applied Science, said the concentration of farms in Changi and their close proximity to each other could create a situation in which water cannot flow freely.

A plankton bloom is caused by various factors like warm temperatures and high nutrients leading to lower levels of dissolved oxygen. It happens worldwide, including in countries such as Malaysia and the Philippines, say experts.

Associate Professor Federico Lauro from the Asian School of the Environment at the Nanyang Technological University said the micro-organisms can double every three to four hours.

"With a better understanding of the many factors leading to a bloom, scientists should be able to provide risk assessment tools for the conditions leading to a bloom. We are just not at that stage yet."

Still, farmers can brace themselves for such eventualities by employing systems to monitor dissolved oxygen and nutrient levels, said Mr Chan Wei Loong, programme chair of Republic Polytechnic's diploma in marine science and aquaculture.

Even though when a plankton bloom occurs is "anyone's guess", a trained person will know how to read this information and be prepared for it, he said.

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Malaysia: Lafarge’s encroachment into eco-sensitive areas causes alarm

PATRICK LEE The Star 5 Mar 15;

PETALING JAYA: Quarrying at Perak’s Gunung Kanthan by cement giant Lafarge Malaysia has alarmed green groups, who say work has encro­ached close to “sensitive” areas.

According to a source, a small hill within the limestone mountain’s southern area was cut down in January.

He expressed concern that rocks from “Area B” where the hill was located would be strewn along the adjacent “Area C”, causing fears that quarrying there would follow.

Gunung Kanthan, which is home to many endangered species of flora and fauna, is divided into several sections with “Area C” and “Area D” located in the south.

Malaysian Nature Society (MNS) president Henry Goh, who confirmed that quarrying had been conducted on the hill, cautioned that the removal of forestry there would have damaging effects on Area C and Area D.

The Star previously reported the discovery of two new flora species in Area C, which is also home to nine species that are on Malaysia’s Red List of Endangered Plants.

Goh said Lafarge Malaysia had assured him that both Area C and Area D would not be affected.

He also claimed that temples embedded in or around the mountain had received evacuation notices.

Goh said a biodiversity report by Universiti Malaya, commissioned by Lafarge Malaysia, had not been revealed.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has highlighted its concerns to Lafarge chairman Bruno Lafont in France.

“We are concerned to learn that a road is being blasted immediately adjacent to Area C,” IUCN Species Survival Commission chairman Simon Stuart wrote in a Feb 13 letter.

He stated that Google Earth images showed the forested valley next to Area C “is being filled with rubble”.

It was learnt that Lafarge Malaysia had yet to meet the Forest Research Institute of Malaysia (FRIM) which wanted to preserve Areas C and D.

Speaking to The Star, Lafarge Mal­aysia vice-president Mariano Garcia maintained that Area C and Area D were out of the mining plans.

He said the biodiversity report on Gunung Kanthan was completed before Christmas.

Garcia said he did not know of the said evacuation notices, but said monks and temple staff had entered the quarry site and verbally abused his workers.

He also said Lafarge Malaysia had been trying to meet FRIM to no avail.

“It has been very difficult ... (FRIM) refuses to work with us,” he added.

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Indonesia: Haze worsens in Riau

The Jakarta Post 5 Mar 15;

Persisting forest and land fires in regencies across Riau have led to deteriorating air quality, bringing the pollution rate to a dangerous level in the province’s northern areas on Wednesday.

The province’s Environmental Management Agency (BPLHD) reported that air pollution standards index (ISPU) equipment indicated that air quality had reached an alarming level of 300 on the pollutant standards index (PSI) Wednesday morning.

Thick haze blanketed Bengkalis regency in the morning, creating smog that reduced visibility at the Bengkalis seaport to less than 1 kilometer.

The haze was said to have been caused by land fires on Padang Island in the Meranti Islands regency, sent southward by winds at a speed of between 9 and 39 km per hour.

Antara news agency said that port authorities declared an alert status due to the conditions.

Air pollution, however, improved later in the day, with air quality recorded at 84 PSI, or medium level.

The Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) said that Terra and Aqua satellites had detected 86 hot spots in a number of regions in Riau on Wednesday.

“Data from 7 a.m. on March 4 shows that the 86 detected hot spots are among 96 hot spots across Sumatra,” head of the BMKG’s Pekanbaru office, Sugarin, said.

Of the 86 hot spots, 55 were indicated to be fires, with a reliability of 70 percent.

The Riau provincial administration has declared an emergency status for forest fires in Riau, where slash-and-burn agriculture practices are believed to be the culprit behind the annual disaster.

Between January and March this year, no less than 379 hectares were affected by fires, according to data from the Riau Emergency command post.

Most of the hot spots were detected in the northern part of the province. A total of 36 hot spots were recorded in Bengkalis, 16 in the Meranti Islands, 12 in Pelalawan regency, eight in Siak regency, six in Rokan Hilir, three in Kota Dumai, two each in Rokan Hulu and Kampar and one in Indragiri Hilir regency.

Since Tuesday, the Agency for the Assessment and Application of Technology (BPPT) has created artificial rain south of Bengkalis and north of Siak regencies. The operation will be focused on the eastern coast of the province over the next few days, especially in peat areas in Bengkalis, Siak, Pelalawan and Dumai regencies.

The cloud-seeding method has been chosen to help solve the difficulty of reaching the locations of the fires.

The Riau administration has created an action plan for forest and land fire mitigation and prevention, which is aimed at freeing the province from the disasters that have been taking place for the past 17 years.

The action plan includes the designation of peatland as a protected area, canal blocking to maintain the wetness of peat, document evaluation and environmental licensing for plantation and forestry companies to prevent and mitigate 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.

In Jakarta, Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya has asked all parties to remain alert.

The minister said that according to the BMKG, Indonesia would be influenced by weak El Nino weather patterns until June, resulting in lower intensity and frequency of rain. Among the prioritized fire prevention and mitigation provinces are Jambi, Riau, South Sumatra, West and Central Kalimantan.

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Disasters have same human impact as tuberculosis: U.N.

Megan Rowling PlanetArk 5 Mar 15;

Deaths, economic damage and other negative impacts from disasters have caused losses equivalent to 42 million life years annually since 1980, a measure that is comparable to the burden of tuberculosis worldwide, the United Nations said.

More than 90 percent of the total "years" lost in disasters between 1980 and 2012 were in low and middle-income countries, representing a serious setback to their development, the U.N. Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR) said.

"If these figures show that disaster loss is as much a critical global challenge to economic development and social progress as is disease, they also show that it is a challenge unequally shared," the UNISDR said in a report on Wednesday.

Bina Desai, UNISDR policy and research coordinator, referred to the number of years lost due to disaster-related deaths, injuries, economic damage and other losses as an "opportunity cost".

"It is lost time that could otherwise be invested in development and social progress," she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

In particular, risk from recurring, smaller disasters rather than huge one-off events drives poverty through destruction of homes, water supplies, infrastructure, and health and education facilities, the report said.

Yet 10 years after governments signed up to a global plan to tackle disasters, known as the Hyogo Framework for Action, disaster risk "has not been reduced significantly", it said.

"We are playing with fire," said U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in a statement.

"There is a very real possibility that disaster risk, fueled by climate change, will reach a tipping point beyond which the effort and resources necessary to reduce it will exceed the capacity of future generations."

Governments will meet in Japan from March 14 to 18 to adopt an updated version of the framework, still being negotiated.


Disaster risk is already making it hard for many countries to afford the capital investment and social spending they need to develop sustainably, the report said.

Growing global inequality, increasing hazard exposure, rapid urbanization and overconsumption of energy and natural resources threaten to drive risk to dangerous and unpredictable levels with systemic global impacts, it warned.

Expected losses from disasters caused by earthquakes, tsunamis, tropical cyclones and river flooding worldwide are estimated at $314 billion per year, or almost $70 for each person of working age, according to the report.

This includes only damage to commercial and residential properties, schools and hospitals, Desai said. The figure would be even higher if it included other hazards such as drought, and other sectors like utilities and agriculture.

"This is not what will happen in terms of losses on an annual basis - it is what countries should prepare for," Desai said. "But you can reduce these risk levels."

Global annual investment of $6 billion in managing disaster risk - only 0.1 percent of the $6 trillion per year that will be required to build infrastructure over the next 15 years - would result in total avoided losses of $360 billion, the report said.

"For many countries, that small additional investment could make a crucial difference in achieving the national and international goals of ending poverty, improving health and education, and ensuring sustainable and equitable growth," it added.

Measures to reduce the risk of disasters include rules that strengthen buildings and prevent construction on floodplains, urban drainage, early warning systems and insurance schemes for small farmers.

(Editing by Tim Pearce)

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