Best of our wild blogs: 17 Apr 15

Interview with Raghav, an early bird
Singapore Bird Group

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Man jailed 8 months for smuggling puppies, animal cruelty

Today Online 16 Apr 15;

SINGAPORE – The puppies were sedated, stashed under the front passenger seat of the car, which restricted their movements, and given no food or water during transportation. One died as a result of the journey, and subsequently several others died.

For importing seven puppies into Singapore without the relevant import permits, a 25-year-old Malaysian was sentenced to five months jail today (April 16). He was also sentenced to three months jail for subjecting the puppies to unnecessary suffering or pain. Both sentences will run consecutively.

The man, who was driving a Malaysia-registered car, had pulled up for arrival clearance at the Woodlands Checkpoint on March 30, at around 8.20pm.

During inspection, Immigration & Checkpoints Authority (ICA) officers uncovered the live puppies in cardboard boxes underneath the front passenger seat of the vehicle. One of the puppies was found dead, while the remaining six had appeared to be sedated.

Eventually five others died after their condition deteriorated. The remaining puppy is currently under quarantine at AVA’s Sembawang Animal Quarantine Station where it is being observed for clinical signs of infectious or contagious disease

A joint release issued by the Agri-food and Veterinary Authority Singapore (AVA) and ICA warned that animals that are smuggled into Singapore are of an unknown health status.

In the case of dogs and cats, rabies, a fatal viral disease, can be transmitted to humans by the bite of a rabid animal. Singapore has been free from rabies for 60 years but the statement cautioned against complacency as the disease is endemic in the region.

AVA prosecutor Yap Teck Chuan added that the danger of the introduction of diseases, such as rabies, into Singapore is real: “The efforts of AVA and other authorities in regulating importation and enforcing quarantine measures, in order to ensure the safety of Singaporeans, will be futile if offenders continue to import puppies from dubious sources through illegal means.”

The statement also said that an animal needs to meet AVA’s import conditions, including vaccination and health certification requirements, before getting imported into the country.

“Our borders are our first line of defence in safeguarding Singapore’s security. The security checks are critical to our nation’s security,” said the statement, adding that the ICA will continue to conduct security checks at the checkpoints to prevent attempts the smuggling in of undesirable persons, drugs, weapons, explosives and other contrabands.

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Malaysia: En route to better environmental conservation

DR. ZAKI ZAINUDIN New Straits Times 16 Apr 15;

MUCH coverage has been given to the sombre state of the Malaysian environment.

Pollution, it seems, is related to institutional, administrative and legislative limitations. While it is true much still needs to be done to achieve environmental sustainability, not everything is doom and gloom. The Department of Environment usually gets a lot of flak when it comes to environmental issues and degradation.

What many don’t realise is that the agency itself has its own hurdles to face. For example, not all pollution sources are governed under the Environmental Quality Act (EQA), 1974, (the main act which the agency enforces to control pollution).

This is perhaps why the Selangor Water Management Authority (Luas) introduced the Selangor Water Management Authority Enactment 1999, Emission or Discharge of Pollutants (State of Selangor) Regulations 2012 as a measure to control pollution sources not “traditionally” governed in the EQA, 1974. This is a good measure. Even the establishment of Luas is a feat in environmental conservation.

It provides a platform for respective agencies (both state and federal) to coordinate various aspects of river basin management in the state. It is a move towards realising the philosophy of Integrated River Basin Management. This strategy is also now being emulated by other states.

The authorities have also done a tremendous job in advancing environmental management in the country. The Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) procedure, for example, was introduced in 1987. It is a tool to manage and minimise environmental impacts from emerging developments (or “prescribed activities”).

During the EIA process, potential impacts towards the environment are ascertained so that adequate mitigation measures can be identified.

Some detractors argue that an EIA is just a “rubber stamp” with little bearing; “projects” get approved anyway. Here is where a bit of pragmatism is required.

EIA approval does not constitute environmental loss. Unless a project causes significant disturbance/impact towards the surrounding environment, it should be approved, shouldn’t it ? Just because a project is approved does not mean the EIA process failed and the environment loses.

We should all be for development. What’s important is the impact is adequately managed and minimised. Unfortunately, there are still irresponsible parties that try to bulldoze a project without an EIA study (or any sort of environmental management plan).

They are either ignorant of the requirement or just sheer arrogant. Under such circumstances, stop-work orders are issued by the authorities until an EIA study is conducted and proper approval obtained. The stop-work order is irrespective of private or public sector proponents. The bottom line is that the law has been violated and action must be taken.

Now, imagine the environmental situation in the country if there were no legislation/regulations, no enforcing agency and no EIA required.

A country where greed roams free and greedy parties can do whatever they want to the environment. Certainly the environmental condition would be even worse than how it is today. The authorities also conduct comprehensive environmental monitoring around the country.

The Air Pollution Index (API) indicates air quality relative to health risks/hazards.

The tool is of particular importance during the haze phenomenon as it determines crucial decisions, such as the closure of schools or declaring a state of emergency, etc, based on the air quality. To generate the data, continuous online monitoring is conducted at strategic locations nationwide. Establishment of stations (and network) takes a lot of effort and rigorous quality control.

It should be noted that these stations were established at a time where “online” systems were only an emerging concept. Besides this, river water samples are also collected at over 800 stations (excluding the 10 online water quality stations). The data gives indication of the country’s environmental status and is presented in the annual “Environmental Quality Report”.

I salute environmental officers and enforcers who have given their best for environmental preservation. Sometimes, they even have to stand toe-to-toe with arrogant and dangerous parties; putting their own safety on the line! There has also been advancement in environmental awareness. This is a direct result of education and development of expertise, particularly at universities.

In the 1980s and 1990s, Malaysian students went overseas to pursue studies on the environment and were able to apply what they had learned and contribute to the country’s environmental management upon their return. Technology and knowledge transfer from foreign partners/specialists also transpired.

Those in academia also imparted their knowledge in local universities. Environmental courses are now part of many science and engineering programmes in local universities. Environmental research has also taken centre stage in many institutions of higher learning. Thus, educators are also important advocates of environmental conservation.

In this aspect, academia helps to structure a more environmentally conscious society. These are just some examples of environmental progressions. So, while improvement is still needed, we should look at it as a glass half full rather than half empty.

The writer is an associate professor at the Department of Engi

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Commercial agriculture and forestry could have a net positive impact on biodiversity – IUCN report

IUCN 16 Apr 15;

Gland, Switzerland, 16 April 2015 (IUCN) – A new IUCN study examines, for the first time, how commercial agriculture and forestry production could reduce global biodiversity loss by applying innovative approaches already used by some companies in the extractive and infrastructure industries.

The report, No Net Loss and Net Positive Impact: Approaches for Biodiversity, finds that under certain conditions, applying No Net Loss (NNL) and Net Positive Impact (NPI) approaches to agriculture and forestry landscapes associated with companies’ operations and supply chains could have a greater impact in reducing biodiversity loss than in other sectors.

According to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™, agriculture impacts 8,482 threatened species globally, while forestry impacts 7,953 threatened species, compared to the infrastructure and extractive sectors, which impact up to 4,688 and 1,692 threatened species respectively.

Adopting the NPI approach would require companies in the agriculture and forestry sector to take a systematic and scientific approach to evaluate their biodiversity impacts, establish biodiversity conservation goals and implement actions to realise these goals, according to the report.

“The NPI approach goes beyond responsible management practices to ensure measurable conservation impact,” said Gerard Bos, Director of IUCN’s Global Business and Biodiversity Programme, which oversaw the report. “With today’s growing demand for food, fibre, fuel and forest products, it is imperative that these sectors recognise their biodiversity impacts and implement action plans to become more sustainable.”

Both NNL and NPI are increasingly recognised as biodiversity goals for development projects that strive to either balance the biodiversity impacts (NNL) or outweigh the negative impacts with conservation gains (NPI). The NPI approach involves using a mitigation hierarchy for managing biodiversity risk. The report concludes that an NPI approach could potentially be applied by companies operating in the agriculture and forestry sectors where the goal is to enhance or protect native wildlife, including species of conservation concern, and improve crop diversity, crop productivity and the efficiency of natural resource use on-site, combined with protecting natural habitats off-site from conversion.

The report is an outcome of a working group convened by IUCN’s Global Business and Biodiversity Programme in 2013 that brought together experts on this issue from both the business and conservation communities. It builds on the experience of the extractives and infrastructure sectors, and on the ongoing sustainability efforts in the commercial agriculture and forestry sectors. The next step is to pilot the NPI approach in suitable agriculture and forestry sites. For more information please contact:

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U.S. sued to curb deaths of sea turtles by shrimping industry

Barbara Liston PlanetArk 16 Apr 15;

Environmentalists seeking to curb the deaths of an estimated 53,000 sea turtles each year from getting caught in commercial shrimp nets off the southeastern United States sued federal regulators on Wednesday for stronger protections.

Oceana, an ocean conservation group, is suing the National Marine Fisheries Service to force the agency to enact closer monitoring of and stricter limits on the number of turtles that can be caught and killed by the Gulf of Mexico and southeast Atlantic shrimping industry.

"If people knew that their order of shrimp cocktail came with a side of government-authorized sea turtle, they would be horrified," Oceana lawyer Eric Bilsky said in a statement.

The fisheries service has estimated that 500,000 loggerhead, green, leatherback, hawksbill and Kemp's ridley sea turtles, all listed as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act, are injured in some way each year by shrimp fishing gear, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court in Washington, claims that shrimp fleets kill more turtles than all other Atlantic fisheries combined.

The suit comes a year after the fisheries service issued an analysis, known as a biological opinion, finding that the annual sea turtle death toll does not jeopardize the likelihood of survival or recovery of any of the five imperiled species.

The lawsuit asks the judge to discard that opinion, asserting that the fisheries service made no quantitative analysis to come to its conclusion.

Oceana hopes the government will compel shrimp trawlers to use so-called turtle excluder devices designed to allow air-breathing turtles to escape the nets before they drown.

The devices, which consist of a grid of bars attached to an opening part way down the net, allow larger creatures to escape while keeping the shrimp flowing to the bottom of the net.

They have been shown to release up to 97 percent of caught turtles without losing shrimp, yet federal regulations do not require all trawlers to use them, according to the lawsuit.

The suit also seeks the establishment of a turtle catch limit backed by monitoring and seasonal or area closures once the limit is reached.

A spokeswoman for the fisheries service said the agency could not comment on pending litigation.

(Editing by Jonathan Kaminsky and Sandra Maler)

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At least 70 percent chance of El Nino in June: Australia weather bureau

Colin Packham PlanetArk 15 Apr 15;

At least 70 percent chance of El Nino in June: Australia weather bureau Photo: David Gray
A surfer looks at waves as storm clouds move in at Sydney's Manly Beach, August 26, 2014. The Australian Weather Bureau said models suggest El Nino development remains possible during the coming months.
Photo: David Gray

Weather models show an El Nino is likely to emerge this year, with at least a 70 percent chance the weather pattern could arrive as early as June, the Australian Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) said on Tuesday.

El Nino, or a warming of sea-surface temperatures in the Pacific, can prompt drought in Southeast Asia and Australia and heavy rains in South America, hitting production of food such as rice, wheat and sugar.

"The chances of El Nino occurring in 2015 have increased," the Australian weather bureau said. "Ocean temperatures in the tropical Pacific continue to be warmer than average, trade winds remain weaker than normal, and all models surveyed suggest further ocean warming will occur," it added.

Tropical Pacific Ocean sea surface temperatures are now just shy of El Nino levels, the BOM said.

Should an El Nino emerge, the system would likely bring below-average late winter and spring rainfall over eastern Australia and above-average daytime temperatures over the southern half of Australia.

This would hurt the wheat crop in Australia, the world's fourth-biggest exporter of the grain.

Wheat production is expected to total 24.39 million tonnes in the 2015/16 season starting July 1, Australia's chief commodity forecaster said this month, up 3 percent from this year's 23.61 million tonnes.

Another season of poor wheat production from Australian east coast farmers will extend headwinds for GrainCorp Ltd, the country's largest bulk grain handler. [ID:nL4N0W103L]

(Editing by Himani Sarkar)

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Warning over aerosol climate fix

Simon Redfern BBC 16 Apr 15;

Any attempts to engineer the climate are likely to result in "different" climate change, rather than its elimination, new results suggest.

Prof Ken Caldeira, of Stanford University, presented research at a major conference on the climate risks and impacts of geoengineering.

These techniques have been hailed by some as a quick fix for climate change.

But the impacts of geoengineering on oceans, the water cycle and land environments are hotly debated.

They have been discussed at a meeting this week of 12,000 scientists in Vienna.

Researchers are familiar with the global cooling effects of volcanic eruptions, seen both historically and even back into the deep past of the rock record.

With this in mind, some here at the European Geosciences Union General Assembly have been discussing the possible worldwide consequences of pumping sulphate aerosols into the stratosphere to attempt to reflect sunlight back into space and cool the planet.

Planetary sunshade

Two hundred years ago this month, the huge volcano Mount Tambora erupted in Indonesia, throwing tonnes of gas and ash into the stratosphere.

Maybe as much as 100 million tonnes of sulphur dioxide aerosols spread as a blanket around the globe, acting like a planetary sunshade.

Global temperatures plummeted, and across America and Europe 1816 became known as the year without a summer.

Such global cooling processes, but managed in a geoengineering solution, have been touted by some as a possible mechanism to extricate the planet from its path towards a warmer future.

Solar radiation management would use stratospheric sulphate aerosols to dim the Sun. Using a variety of climate models, Ken Caldeira, from the Carnegie Institution for Science in Stanford, California, has investigated the likely consequences of such geoengineering on agriculture across the globe.

His research shows that while dimming could rapidly decrease global temperatures, high CO2 levels would be expected to persist, and it is the balance between temperature, CO2, and sunlight that affects plant growth and agriculture.

Exploring the regional effects, he finds that a stratospherically dimmed world would show increased plant productivity in the tropics, but lessened plant growth across the northerly latitudes of America, Europe and Asia.

It is easy to see how there might be geopolitical shifts associated with changes in regional food production across the globe.

"It's probably the poor tropics that stand to benefit and the rich north that stands to lose," said Prof Caldeira.

But what if geoengineered sulphate aerosols were, nonetheless, deployed and then a large volcanic eruption like Pinatubo in the Philippines took place? Three such eruptions occurred in the last century so the scenario seems likely.

Bad timing

Hannele Korhonen, of the Finnish Meteorological Institute, suggests that the climate impacts could be quite unexpected.

Her results indicate increased temperatures in the Southern Ocean and in northerly latitudes, as well as the mid-Pacific, but cooling in African and Asian mid-latitudes.

Regional weather patterns would still change, as they did after Tambora in 1816, with similar widely felt disruption.

"Deploying solar radiation management methods would lead to a completely new climate state with enhanced greenhouse effect and reduced solar radiation," said Korhonen, adding: "There are great uncertainties, related especially to the regional climate impacts of solar radiation management."

Commenting on the results, Helene Muri, of the University of Oslo, said: "These modelling experiments have highlighted the new risks associated with solar radiation management. The safest option is, of course, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and aim for a more sustainable way of living and managing the planet."

It is not at all obvious what the other consequences of global geoengineering approaches might be. For example, Patrick Applegate from Pennsylvania State University, reported that solar radiation management may yet fail to prevent sea-level rise from melting ice sheets, which respond on much longer time scales than the temperature effects of solar shielding.

Aside from being ineffective in stemming sea-level rise, solar radiation management - according to results from Jerry Tjiputra at Bergen University - would lead to increased ocean acidification in the North Atlantic.

These results also suggest that climate engineering could not offer a long-term solution, with the world eventually being in the same place, by 2200, as it would reach without any geoengineering interventions.

Asked whether he believed solar radiation management would be deployed, Prof Caldeira responded: "A lot has to do with how bad climate change will end up being. Humans are quite adaptable as a species.

"On the other hand, projections for summers in the tropics suggest almost every summer will be hotter than the hottest summer yet on record, associated with crop failures. There is the possibility that there would be widespread crop failures in the tropics in the summer.

"The only thing a politician can do to start the planet cooling is solar geoengineering. If a catastrophic outcome does occur, the pressure to deploy a scheme could be overwhelming.

"Research into this is an act of desperation on the part of scientists. People see the greenhouse gas concentrations increase and are looking for other ways to reduce environmental risk."

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