Best of our wild blogs: 20 Mar 15

Battling the curse of marine litter – a challenge we will face with determination!
from News from the International Coastal Cleanup Singapore

CNY Day 3: St John's Island
from wonderful creation

Spine-tufted Skimmer mating and ovipositing
from Bird Ecology Study Group

Which Honey Buzzard is this? Alan OwYong and Tan Gim Cheong.
from Singapore Bird Group

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Developers of Johor's Forest City, near Second Link, say environmental concessions were made


KUALA LUMPUR - The developers of Malaysia's controversial Forest City reclamation project, close to Singapore's Tuas Second Link, have insisted that they have made compromises and concessions due to environmental concerns.

Pointing out that their project is on a far smaller scale than reclamation done by Singapore, Country Garden Pacificview (CGPV) boss Othman Yusof told reporters today that the plan, worth RM450 billion (S$169 billion) in gross development value, had been reduced by 30 per cent after a Detailed Environmental Impact Assessment (DEIA) and Hydraulic Study.

"Singapore's land reclamation of Tuas, some parts are only 200m from the (maritime border)," Datuk Othman said, adding that Malaysia's Department of Environment (DoE) recommended that Forest City build at least 1km from the border.

"Even the nearest island to the border is 1.1km away," he said.

The original 1,978ha project has been mired in controversy due to concerns from the local population, some of whom fish in the Johor Straits for a living, and from Singapore over damage to the marine environment.

It was reduced to 1,624ha after a hydraulic study forced the company - which the Sultan of Johor reportedly has a significant interest in - to split the development into four islands to protect sea grass and other marine wildlife.

The DEIA approved it in January, then reduced it further to 1,386ha - about three times the size of Singapore's Sentosa Island.

CGPV is 60 per cent owned by one of China's largest property firms Country Garden, while Esplanade Danga 88 - controlled by the Sultan - holds the remaining 40 per cent.

The company expects to launch its first units for sale by the end of this year, and expects the first owners to move in around 2020.

Forest City reclamation work starts, developer says

Infographic of coastal reclamation projects off Straits of Johor, by The Malaysian Insider

Today Online 19 Mar 15;

KUALA LUMPUR — Reclamation work on the controversial Forest City project in Johor has restarted after eight months, with its developer saying yesterday that it had obtained approval from Malaysian authorities and had carefully looked at how to minimise any impact on the environment.

The developer, Country Garden Pacific View (CGPV), said the Malaysian Department of Environment had approved its Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) in January, and its Environmental Management Plan (EMP) last month.

“We are pleased to be able to ­recommence our work, and, with our proven track record and quality of delivery, we are confident that the project will be completed within our timeline,” said CGPV executive director Md Othman Yusof.

A Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman said that Singapore has recently received the EIA reports, and is studying them closely.

“As conveyed to Malaysia earlier, Singapore is concerned about the potential transboundary impact from Malaysia’s land reclamation projects in the Straits of Johor, given their close proximity to Singapore,” said the spokesman, who was responding to queries from TODAY.

Since May 2014, Singapore had requested for all relevant information regarding such reclamation projects in the Straits of Johor, including EIA reports, from Malaysia in accordance with its obligations under international law and in particular under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

“Singapore has recently received the EIA reports for Forest City and R&F Princess Cove from Malaysia, and is studying the reports closely. We will work with Malaysia to address any potential transboundary impact on Singapore,” added the spokesman.

The R&F Princess Cove is a separate development project in Johor involving reclamation.

Forest City, an origiinally 1,978 hectares project, has been mired in controversy due to concerns from the local population, some of whom fish in the Johor Straits for a living. Locals had argued that the reclamation would lead to the loss of their land and livelihood. Local fishermen have blamed the ongoing reclamation works for mass fish deaths in the Johor straits recently. During a public dialogue on September 21 last year, residents accused developer CGPV of bulldozing the project through.

The project was reduced in size to 1,386 hectares after a hydraulic study forced the company to split the development into four islands to protect sea grass and other marine wildlife.

“At 1,978 hectares, we estimated it (gross development value) to be RM600 billion (S$225 billion). With the reduction of size by 30 per cent to 1,386 hectares now, the gross development value is around RM450 billion,” Mr Othman told the media yesterday (THURS).

The mixed-development project, which will include residential and commercial lots, is estimated to be completed in 2045.

CGPV said the company had voluntarily stopped its reclamation works earlier to conduct the EIA, in line with its commitment to preserve the environment and to ensure all mitigation measures were in place prior to the recommencement of work.

Mr Othman said that during the construction period, various environmental preservation, safety, health and environment related measures would be implemented according to their EMP to minimise inconvenience to the community and environment.

The measures, he said, included the installation of a double silt curtain and a daily water monitoring system to ensure no major or sustained anomalies were found in the water readings.

CGPV also defended the reclamation work, saying the project was further from Singapore’s maritime border than the Singapore’s own reclamation work in Tuas.

The Sultan of Johor Ibrahim Ismail spoke in defence of the project in an interview published on Wednesday, saying that it would benefit both Malaysians and Singaporeans who find housing in Kuala Lumpur and Singapore too expensive. The ruler added that reclamation was a strategic necessity for the state especially since Singapore has been reclaiming land as early as the 1820s while Johor has yet to do so.

CGPV is expected to make a profit of nearly RM290 billion over the next 30 years through the project.

The company is a 66 per cent - 34 per cent joint venture between China’s Country Garden Holdings Ltd and Esplanade Danga 88 Sdn Bhd, whose main shareholder is the Johor sultan. AGENCIES

Forest City size revised, GDV now cut to RM450bil
NG BEI SHAN The Star 20 Mar 15;

PETALING JAYA: Work at the high-profile Forest City project, which has seen its gross development value (GDV) cut by 25% to RM450bil, has recommenced after a halt since June 16 last year.

The acreage of the development, which has been revised twice, was reduced from its original 1,978ha to 1,386ha, the developer of the project Country Garden Pacificview (CGPV) said in a statement.

With the downsizing, the GDV of the project was expected to decrease to RM450bil from RM600bil initially.

It said construction work on the project had started again after the Department of Environment’s approval on the detailed environmental impact assessment (DEIA) in January and environmental management plan last month.

Its executive director Datuk Md Othman Yusof said the company was confident the project would be completed by 2045.

To recap, CGPV completed the land alienation of the project site in November 2013 and fully paid all land premiums.

The resizing of the project by 354ha was to ensure the sea grass was preserved for future generations while maintaining the flora and fauna of the surrounding area, the company said.

It would preserve a 48.5ha sea grass area to synergise with the existing ecosystem, ensuring the anchorage area is wide enough for ships to sail through and also took consideration of the Port of Tanjung Pelepas’ future expansion plans.

There were earlier allegations that reclamation work between southwest Johor and northwest Singapore had disrupted marine life and affected the livelihood of fishermen. The luxury project consists of four man-made islands of 979 acres, 1,896 acres, 405 acres and 145 acres.

It is a 66:34 joint venture between China-based developer Country Garden Holdings Ltd and Johor state government’s subsidiary company, Kumpulan Prasarana Rakyat Johor.

Othman also said the company was applying for incentives such as tax relief as the project fell under the economic region of Iskandar Malaysia.

The project was currently being funded internally while it did not rule out financing from local or foreign banks, he added.

Forest City developers insist green issues tackled
They say project is on a far smaller scale than reclamation done by S'pore
Shannon Teoh, Malaysia Correspondent, Straits Times 20 Mar 15;

DEVELOPERS of the controversial Forest City reclamation close to the Tuas Second Link insisted yesterday that they have made compromises and concessions to assuage environmental concerns.

Saying that their project is on a far smaller scale than reclamation done by Singapore nearby, Country Garden Pacificview executive director Othman Yusof told reporters that the development was 30 per cent smaller after a Detailed Environmental Impact Assessment (DEIA) and Hydraulic Study, with its gross development value reduced by a quarter to RM450 billion (S$169 billion).

Datuk Othman said Malaysia's Department of Environment recommended that Forest City build at least 1km from the border.

"Even the nearest island to the border is 1.1km away," he said of the plan to build four man-made islands in the Johor Strait just west of the Second Link.

The original 1,978ha project has been mired in controversy because of concerns from the local population, some of whom fish in the strait for a living, and from Singapore, over damage to the marine environment. It was reduced to 1,624ha after a hydraulic study forced the company - in which Johor Sultan Ibrahim Ismail has a significant interest - to split the development into four islands to protect seagrass areas.

The environmental assessment approved in January then reduced it further to 1,386ha, about three times the size of Sentosa island and requiring an estimated investment of RM230 billion. Country Garden Pacificview (CGPV) is 60 per cent owned by one of China's largest property firms, Country Garden, while Esplanade Danga 88 - controlled by the Sultan - holds the remaining 40 per cent.

The company expects to launch its first units for sale by year end, with the first owners moving in around 2020. This is despite delays due to a voluntary halt in June last year, when CGPV chose to await full approvals before continuing work on-site.

However, Forest City's first offerings are likely to enter the market when there is a supply overhang. Some real estate consultants calculate that about 550,000 residential units will be available in southern Johor by 2017, too many for a population of about two million people.

Although the expected timeline for completion of Forest City is 20 to 30 years, CGPV admitted it was carefully studying potential oversupply in its business model.

"We see a lot of oversupply in residentials but... we choose an employment-based model, rather than residential-based," said its business strategy chief Yu Runze, referring to plans to create up to 250,000 jobs in Forest City.

Part of its environment management plan includes mangrove edges and breakwaters, and avoiding dredging until after 2030.

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Project reunites islanders on St John's after 4 decades

Melody Zaccheus The Straits Times AsiaOne 20 Mar 15;

Late last year, 80 former island-dwellers returned to their home on St John's Island for their first reunion in four decades.

They spent a day swimming in its familiar waters and tracing the winding paths they once took to get to school. Many took their grandchildren along to give them a glimpse of kampung life, pointing out familiar sites along the way.

The islanders were reunited on the initiative of photographers Edwin Koo, 36, Zakaria Zainal, 30, and Juliana Tan, 25, for their project Island Nation, which documents life on 12 of Singapore's Southern Islands.

It took them almost four months to piece together the name list of St John's Island residents who now live on mainland Singapore.

Mr Koo said they had set out to "capture a part of history not recorded in textbooks and to reunite forgotten communities". The end result will be a multimedia website.

Their work is one of 74 irememberSG fund projects that will go on show from next month till August as part of the National Library Board (NLB) Singapore Memory Project's Past Forward event, launched yesterday by Minister for Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim.

The fund offers each project up to $50,000 and projects can take the form of short films, photo exhibitions, publications, websites, digital games and animation. A preview of 20 projects, including Island Nation, is on at the National Library's plaza in Victoria Street until tomorrow.

NLB chief executive Elaine Ng said Past Forward showcases the curated stories of the man in the street.

"We hope the memory movement that the Singapore Memory Project helped to generate will inspire more Singaporeans to capture memories for posterity," she said.

Dr Yaacob said: "This year, as our nation celebrates SG50, it is timely to reflect on our past, appreciate the progress we have made, and look forward to the future with confidence."

Another project on show involves Singapore icons made of Lego bricks, including the Merlion, a conserved shophouse and a double- decker bus.

Dr Yaacob said his ministry, together with its statutory boards, has planned a series of events to mark Singapore's jubilee year. These include the Singapore Memory Project's film festival in May, screening of films from the 1940s to 1960s at the newly restored Capitol Theatre by the Media Development Authority in August, and the Infocomm Development Authority's festival of technology the following month.

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Malaysia: Dead fish in riverbank now number in the thousands

The Star 20 Mar 15;

Watery grave: Villager Hafizie Jamaludin, 20, scooping up ‘ikan duri’ among the dead fish found along the Sungai Kerian riverbank.

NIBONG TEBAL: Thousands of dead fish were found afloat along the Sungai Kerian riverbank near the Ampang Jajar water gate.

Comprising mostly of ikan duri, ikan moyong and prawns, they were first found in small numbers belly up on Tuesday. However, by yesterday, they numbered in the thousands.

Authorities are investigating the cause but speculation is rife that there could be water pollution or that the fish died due to the current hot weather.

Ampang Jajar sluice gate caretaker Saiful Alehzaidin, 42, said a strong stench now came from the river.

“Villagers nearby are finding it unbearable,” he said.

“The fish are decaying and the smell is revolting. I have been working here for the past 18 years and this is first time I have seen so many dead fish and prawns,” he said yesterday.

Seri Ampangan Village Development and Security Committee chairman Ahmad Furanji Shariff said: “The situation has worsened as the sluice gates remain closed.

“We hope the authorities will help get rid of the dead fish as they are posing a health problem.”

Fishermen Supian Mohd said their catch would be affected if the problem was not solved soon.

“It is going to affect out income. If the pro­blem is caused by irresponsible people, action must be taken against them,” he said.

Contractor hired to clear dead fish near Penang water gate
The Star 21 Mar 15;

GEORGE TOWN: A contractor has been tasked to clean up thousands of dead fish along the Sungai Kerian riverbank near the Ampang Jajar water gate.

Drainage and Irrigation Department (DID) South Seberang Prai district engineer Zahid Zainal Abidin said the process would take a few days.

“The contractor started the work this morning,” he said when contacted by The Star yesterday

It was reported yesterday that the fish, comprising mostly of ikan duri, ikan moyong and prawns, were first found in small numbers belly up on Tuesday. However, by Thursday, they numbered in the thousands.

Zahid said the DID has ruled out claims by the public that the fish and prawns died due to changes in water salinity.

“Sungai Kerian flows across Perak and Penang. The water in the Perak side consists of fresh water while the Penang side contains a mixture of fresh and salt water.

“However, we have ruled out this reason as the cause for the deaths,” he said.

Zahid said the state’s Department of Environment took water samples and samples of the dead fish on Thursday for further testing and a report would be ready in a month’s time.

State Health Department director Datuk Dr Zailan Adnan said his department was also checking whether the fish could cause any side effect on humans if consumed.

“I can only comment further after the report is out,” she said.

Meanwhile, Penang Agriculture, Agro-based Industry, Rural Development and Health Committee chairman Dr Afif Bahardin said he had instructed the state Fisheries Department to investigate the river’s condition.

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Malaysia: Government seeks to clamp down on ivory smuggling

The Star 20 Mar 15;

The Government wants to impose higher penalties under the Wildlife Protection Act to deter smuggling of ivories and hunting trophies involving endangered animals, the Dewan Rakyat was told.

Deputy Natural Resources and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Dr James Dawos Mamit said the Government was considering a higher fine for those caught smuggling hunting trophies such as tiger skin.

“If the authorities seize these items, we want to slap the offenders with higher fines,” he said in reply to a supplementary question from Datuk Irmohizam Ibrahim (BN-Kuala Selangor), who asked whether the Government was looking to increase higher penalties against those caught smuggling ivory into the country.

To the initial question, Dr James said the Customs Department had seized a total of 4,624 elephant tusks involving 11 cases between 2011 and last year.

He said the seizures were made at several entry points including Pasir Gudang Port, Butterworth Port, Port Klang, KL International Airport (KLIA) and LCCT.

“However, the seizures made by the Customs Department only involved consignments of illegal trading and investigations have been launched under the Customs Act 1967, as authorities have yet to identify the culprit,” he told Zairil Khir Johari (DAP-Bukit Bendera).

Zairil had asked the ministry to reveal the number of ivory confiscated, arrests and those charged for selling ivory.

Dr James said the Wildlife and National Parks Department also arrested four suspects involving a seizure of 43 units of ivory.

“A Chinese citizen has been sentenced to two months’ jail and a fine of RM250,000 for possession and exporting of 16 units of elephant tusks without special permit, a local was fined RM200,000 or 36 months of jail for having in possession nine units of elephant tusks while another was fined RM2,000 for having two units of elephant tusks.

“Another case involving the possession of 16 units of elephant tusks is still under investigation,” he said, adding that the seized ivories were kept by the Government.

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Malaysia: Dolphin found stranded in Likas Bay

STEPHANIE LEE The Star 19 Mar 15;

KOTA KINABALU: A team of biologists are frantically trying to save a stranded dolphin that was found in shallow waters near Likas Bay not far from here.

Villagers found the dolphin, measuring three metres and believed to be a female, at a reef area barely able to move at about 5.30am on Thursday.

They called the Universiti Malaysia Sabah (UMS) Marine Research Unit and the Wildlife Department for help.

UMS staff and students transferred the dolphin ‎using a boat and placed it in waters within the varsity compound for observation.

Lecturer Dr John Madin from the Marine Research said the dolphin was in a weak condition.

Students of UMS are helping to keep the dolphin alive with a veterinarian from the wildlife ‎department.

Wounded dolphin stranded in Likas waters
AVILA GERALDINE New Straits Times 19 Mar 15;

‎KOTA KINABALU: A wounded dolphin was found stranded in shallow waters near Likas here, this morning.

Villagers discovered the 3-m long dolphin stuck at a reef area at about 5.30am and immediately informed the Marine Research Unit of Universiti Malaysia Sabah.

‎UMS staff and students transferred the dolphin ‎using a boat and placed it at waters within the varsity compound for observation.

Lecturer Dr John Madin from the Marine Research said the dolphin, believed female, was in a weak condition.

"Our students are helping it to keep afloat so it will not drown," he said when met at UMS.

A veteranian from the ‎department was also there to check on its condition.‎

Not much hope for stranded dolphin
RUBEN SARIO The Star 20 Mar 15;

KOTA KINABALU: One can only hope for the best for a male dolphin that was stranded in reefs near Likas Bay three days ago.

Sabah Wildlife Department assistant director Dr Sen Nathan said the mammal was believed to have suffered from chronic bacterial, virus or parasitic infection.

“That’s what made it too weak to go against the currents causing it to be stranded in the shallow areas,” he said.

The Risso's dolphin has been moved to the Borneo Marine Research Institute (BMRI) at Universiti Malaysia Sabah (UMS).

Dr Sen said marine biologists had given the dolphin antibiotics, anti-inflammatory medication, appetite stimulants and vitamins.

“Realistically, its chances for recovery is slim as with any other stranded marine mammal. But we can only hope for the best,” he said.

The dolphin was spotted at a reef area in the Likas Bay about 5.30am on Friday and the department was immediately alerted about its presence.

The department contacted marine biologists at UMS who immediately rushed to the area and provided initial treatment before transporting it to a tank at the BMRI.

Rescuers hope sick dolphin will live
The Star 21 Mar 15;

KOTA KINABALU: Marine biologists are keeping their fingers crossed that a male dolphin found floundering in shallow waters of the Likas Bay will survive

The risso dolphin has since been moved to the Borneo Marine Research Institute at Universiti Malaysia Sabah.

Sabah Wildlife Department assistant director Dr Sen Nathan said the dolphin was believed to have suffered a chronic bacterial, virus or parasitic infection.

“That’s what made it too weak to go against the water current, causing it to be stranded in the shallow areas,” he said.

“Realistically, its chances for recovery is slim as with any other stranded marine mammal. But we will hope for the best,” Sen said.

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Indonesia: Haze reaches dangerous level in Riau

The Jakarta Post/Asia News Network AsiaOne 19 Mar 15;

Haze had been blanketing Dumai city in Riau for the past couple of days, touching a hazardous level, an official said on Wednesday.

Dumai Environmental Office head Bambang Suriyanto said an Air Pollution Standard Index (ISPU) board owned by a multinational company operating in the city showed air quality had reached 500 parts per minute (ppm) at one point.

"The data was recorded yesterday at 6 a.m. local time, when the haze was quite thick. Fortunately, the haze gradually diminished at noon," said Bambang.

"We have to yet receive data on the air quality this morning. We will inform the public when we do," he added.

Bambang advised residents to avoid outdoor activities.

According to him, the level of 500 ppm indicates that the air is filled with fine particles from remnants of land and forest fires.

"Fine dust in the air is very dangerous for people suffering from asthma and other respiratory disorders. The dust can also cause respiratory infections and heart conditions" said Bambang.

Joko Prabowo, head of the Dumai Forest Police's technical working unit, suspected the haze blanketing Dumai was from neighbouring areas.

"We haven't received any information about land fires reported at the call centre. Direct observations in the field have also not detected fires," Joko said.

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A tenth of Europe's wild bees risk extinction: report

Reuters Yahoo News 20 Mar 15;

OSLO (Reuters) - Almost one in 10 of Europe's wild bee species is at risk of extinction because of threats from the spread of farms and pesticides among other factors, a first assessment of the continent's bee populations showed on Thursday.

Bees are vital to food production but are in decline in many parts of the world. There are 1,965 wild bee species in Europe and 9.2 percent of them are at risk of extinction while another 5.2 percent are likely to be threatened in the near future, according to the international study, funded by the European Commission.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) also said its study showed that 57 percent of all European bee species, which include types of bumblebees, honey bees and solitary bees, were so little known that it was impossible to judge whether they were at risk or not.

"We're laying down a benchmark" to help judge future trends, lead author Ana Nieto of the IUCN, which groups governments, scientists and conservationists, told Reuters. "We were shocked that there is not enough information for so many species."

The bees work in pollinating crops is worth an estimated 22 billion euros ($23 billion euros) a year in Europe, and 153 billion euros worldwide, according to the study.

Cullum's bumblebee, found in Europe and Asia, was among those most at risk and was rated "critically endangered" because of the loss of its favorite clover flowers to farming.

The report said that threats to bees included more intensive farming, insecticides, and climate change - causing more heavy rainfalls, droughts and heat waves that can harm bees and their access to food.

(Reporting By Alister Doyle; Editing by Susan Fenton)

One in ten wild bees face extinction in Europe
Helen Briggs BBC News 20 Mar 15;

Almost one in 10 of Europe's native wild bees face extinction, according to the most comprehensive expert assessment so far.

The European Red List, drawn up by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, found 9.2% of nearly 2,000 species are threatened with extinction.

Another 5% are likely to be threatened in the near future.

Threats include loss of habitat from intensive farming, pesticide use, urban development and climate change.

Jean-Christophe ViƩ, of the IUCN Global Species Programme, said the assessment was the best understanding so far on wild bees in Europe, but knowledge was incomplete due to "an alarming lack of expertise and resources".

"Bees play an essential role in the pollination of our crops," he said.

"We must urgently invest in further research in order to provide the best possible recommendations on how to reverse their decline."

The new assessment made a number of recommendations, including:
=Better monitoring and assessment of common and rare species
=More protection for habitats supporting bees
=Regulation of trade in managed bees, which may spread diseases
=Long-term incentives to farmers to provide habitats for bees.
=Flowers in gardens attract bees
=Pollination is delivered by a range of insects
=Allotments in urban areas provide habitat
=Allotments in urban areas can provide valuable habitat for bees

The study adds to growing evidence that multiple environmental pressures are driving the loss of bees both in the wild and in hives.

Commenting on the findings, Prof Mark Brown of the School of Biological Sciences at Royal Holloway, University of London, said: "A lot of our bees have been in decline or are at risk of extinction and we need to change how the landscape is managed to deal with that.

"Bees need to be incorporated into how we think about and develop sustainable agriculture."

Insect pollination has an estimated economic value of 15bn euros per year in the EU alone.

Boosting populations of pollinators would bring benefits to wildlife, the countryside and food producers, said the report.

"Our quality of life - and our future - depends on the many goods and services that nature provides for free," said Karmenu Vella, EU commissioner for Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries.

"If we don't address the roots of the decline in wild bees, and act urgently to stop it, we could pay a very heavy price indeed."

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Arctic sea ice extent hits record low for winter

Helen Briggs BBC News 19 Mar 15;

Sea ice in the Arctic Ocean has fallen to the lowest recorded level for the winter season, according to US scientists.

The maximum this year was 14.5 million sq km, said the National Snow and Ice Data Center at the University of Colorado in Boulder.

This is the lowest since 1979, when satellite records began.

A recent study found that Arctic sea ice had thinned by 65% between 1975 and 2012.

Bob Ward of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics said: "The gradual disappearance of ice is having profound consequences for people, animals and plants in the polar regions, as well as around the world, through sea level rise."

The National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) said the maximum level of sea ice for winter was reached this year on 25 February and the ice was now beginning to melt as the Arctic moved into spring.

The amount measured at the end of February is 130,000 sq km below the previous record winter low, measured in 2011.

An unusually warm February in parts of Alaska and Russia may have contributed to the dwindling sea ice, scientists believe.

Researchers will provide the monthly average data for March in early April, which is viewed as a better indicator of climate effects.

NSIDC scientist Walt Meier said: "The amount of ice at the maximum is a function of not only the state of the climate but also ephemeral and often local weather conditions.

"The monthly value smoothes out these weather effects and so is a better reflection of climate effects."

Analysis by David Shukman, Science editor, BBC News

The Arctic Ocean freezes every winter and much of the sea-ice then thaws every summer, and that process will continue whatever happens with climate change. Even if the Arctic continues to be one of the fastest-warming regions of the world, it will always be plunged into bitterly cold polar dark every winter. And year-by-year, for all kinds of natural reasons, there's huge variety of the state of the ice.

So what does this new record for the lowest level of winter ice actually mean?

For a start, it does not automatically follow that a record amount of ice will melt this summer. More important for determining the size of the annual thaw is the state of the weather as the midnight sun approaches and temperatures rise. But over the more than 30 years of satellite records, scientists have observed a clear pattern of decline, decade-by-decade.

So at some point this century the summers are on course to be clear of ice, opening up new shipping lanes, making it easier to access the region's oil and gas and possibly also altering the path of the jet stream that drives our weather. So the matter of when all this might happen is the subject of intense research.

Meanwhile, at the other end of the world, researchers are puzzling over the growth of sea-ice around parts of Antarctica. Overall, there is a fall in the global total of sea-ice but with lots of questions about its pace.

Commenting on the data, Alexander Shestakov, director of the WWF Global Arctic Programme, said: "This is not a record to be proud of.

"Low sea ice can create a series of reactions that further threaten the Arctic and the rest of the globe."

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