Best of our wild blogs: 27 Apr 15

Mangrove cleanups with RUM
Restore Ubin Mangroves (R.U.M.) Initiative

Pellets from Tuas: 9. Black-shouldered Kite removing entrails from mice
Bird Ecology Study Group

Raffles Lighthouse (Singapore Maritime Week 2015) Part II
Rojak Librarian

Wing of Blue Glassy Tiger (Ideopsis vulgaris macrina) @ Sungei Buloh
Monday Morgue

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Nature under stress from photography boom

AMANDA LEE Today Online 27 Apr 15;

Photographers come to Punggol Barat with their telephoto lens to capture photographs of birds. Photo: Ooi Boon Keong/TODAY

SINGAPORE — Some shift birds’ nests for better composition. Others have been spotted trimming tree branches for a clearer view. And rubbish, such as half-drunk packet drinks, litters the ground after the task is done.

With the surge in interest in Singapore’s wildlife — and more importantly, being the first to photograph them — nature lovers are increasingly concerned about the ugly behaviour that sometimes accompanies it, and are taking steps to address it.

The Nature Photographic Society Singapore (NPSS) and National Parks Board (NParks) will be holding workshops later this year to share acceptable practices. A study involving scientific evidence and a small-scale survey are also in the works to highlight the impact of errant conduct on biodiversity.

Mr David Tan, a National University of Singapore (NUS) biological sciences research assistant who will be conducting the study, said: “We hope to be discussing the ethics of nature photography, using literature review to understand whether certain actions mean doing something right or wrong.”

Nature education group NUS Toddycats! also intends to sign up more volunteers with NParks to guide visitors on the dos and don’ts at popular nature sites.

Wildlife lovers said the boom in digital photography and the ease of sharing sightings on social media have led to a spike in hordes of photography enthusiasts descending on sites where a rare species — such as a type of bird — has been spotted.

Butterfly Circle founder Khew Sin Khoon said: “The easy access to digital photography has literally caused an explosion of photos of flora and flauna … Social media made available a platform for people to share their photos (and) learn about nature much faster than in the past.”

Added nature hobbyist Shirley Ng: “Once someone posts (a photo) online of a rare (nature species) … everyone wants to have a shot of the ‘flavour of the month’.”

Last Sunday, the promise of a glimpse of the uncommon pin-tailed whydah drew more than 30 birdwatchers, many of them photographers, to Pulau Punggol Barat.

Those interviewed said it is a common sight to see more than 50 photographers huddling under a tree for hours only to get the perfect shot. This has led to overcrowding — which can cause damage to the surroundings — as well as questionable behaviour. Last year, a photographer was fined S$500 for tying a chick to a shrub.

NPSS president Fong Chee Wai said: “The question we should always be asking ourselves is ‘What’s your motive for capturing the photo? Is it for your own glory and fame or do you really want to share and protect the species?’”

His society bans members from posting pictures of birds during active nesting seasons, while Butterfly Circle has a code of conduct that includes guidelines against destroying flora and fauna to get closer to the butterflies. The Nature Society (Singapore) also restricts participation size for activities and limits nocturnal events at sensitive areas.

Groups TODAY spoke to said those who behave inconsiderately are still in the minority. They added that many photography enthusiasts could be new and may not be aware of the impact of their actions. Nature photographer Lily Low said some are also reluctant to criticise others as they risk alienation.

NParks’ director of conservation Wong Tuan Wah, in response to queries, noted the increasing appreciation for nature among Singaporeans. While there are photographers who will encourage others not to disturb wildlife and damage plants, “we are also aware of undesirable behaviours from some photographers who are hoping to get the best possible shots”.

To encourage responsible actions, there are regular patrols and signs installed at nature areas.

Dr Fong suggested that video cameras be installed at popular spots and that these visuals be shared to satisfy the general public’s curiosity. Other nature lovers also proposed the ideas of issuing permits to restrict the number of visitors to certain areas, and park users being asked to sign an undertaking before entry.

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Malaysia: Tar balls found at turtle breeding area

The Star 27 Apr 15;

PETALING JAYA: An unusual amount of sticky tar balls have been found washed up along the shores of the Lang Tengah beach, one of the country’s sea turtle breeding grounds.

It is situated between the iconic Perhentian and Redang islands.

Lang Tengah Turtle Watch co-founder Raphe van Zevenbergen said he noticed clumps of tar balls washing up ashore along the 15m-stretch beach and immediately lodged a report with the marine park authorities.

“So far, we have collected some 13 bags of tar balls. We are concerned that the tar might seep into the sand. We have also asked for help from the nearby resorts.

“They have been very obliging in cleaning their own sections of the beach as we all await assistance from the authorities,” he said.

Lang Tengah Island, which is just under three kilometres in length, is popularly known as Turtle Bay due to its known turtle nesting population, predominantly the green turtles.

Van Zevenbergen, who has worked on the island for three years and is a trained conservationist, said the tar balls might have come from the purging of oil from engines of big vessels near the island.

“The first couple of hours were spent racing against the encroaching sunlight as the tar simply melts into the sand once it heats up, making it impossible to retrieve without removing all the sand along with it.

“We are waiting for authorities to collect the tar balls and investigate the matter. We are worried that the tide might bring the tar balls towards Pulau Redang next,” he said.

More tar balls found on Perhentian Island beaches
FIRDAOUS FADZIL The Star 1 May 15;

KUALA TERENGGANU: More tar balls were found washed up along the shores of Perhentian Island’s beaches.

This follows Monday’s incident where similar tar balls were found on the shores of Lang Tengah Island, which is located near Perhentian Island.

Perhentian Island Ecoteer volunteer Loh Seh Ling, 31 said she noticed the clumps of tar balls on Wednesday night during a patrol around the island as part of their turtle conservation project with the Fisheries Department there.

“We saw the tar on the beach two nights ago while we were patrolling the turtle beach but we could not collect them because we did not bring any plastic bags with us," said Long on Friday.

She said that when her team returned the next morning, the tar had melted into the sand as the sun was already out.

Loh together with some 15 volunteers are planning to do the clean up at night as it would be easier for them to collect the tar balls.

This is because they expect the tar balls to clump up at night.

“There's so many of them and the balls seem to be everywhere on the beaches at Perhentian Island now,” said Loh.

She added that the plan was to pick up the tar balls and place them in plastic bags to ship back to the mainland by boat.

Loh added that she had sent an email to the marine park management asking the management to investigate where the tar came from.

There is a possibility the tar balls came from a big vessel.

“Marine park management replied that they would look into the matter but said their jurisdiction was only within 2 nautical miles from the island and they will hand it over to the Marine Department of Malaysia,” she said.

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Malaysia: Sharks on the edge of extinction

The Star 27 Apr 15;

KOTA KINABALU: An action plan is being proposed to protect the fast-diminishing sharks.

Special attention is paid to the Borneo river shark and Roughnose stingray that are only found in Borneo waters, said Sabah Shark Alliance (SSA).

The organisation is drawing up strategies that include establishing new marine protected areas, banning the trade in sharks as well as pushing awareness on the need to protect sharks and rays in the waters off Sabah.

In a statement yesterday, the group said surveys conducted in the diving haven of Semporna waters over the past four years also indicated that the Borneo river shark and Roughnose stingray were becoming very rare and could be on the verge of extinction.

The SSA is made up of the Malaysian Nature Society (Sabah branch), Marine Conservation Society (MCS), Shark, Education, Awareness and Survival (SEAS), Scubazoo, Tropical Research and Conservation Centre (TRACC), WWF-Malaysia, Shark Stewards and Land Empowerment Animals People (LEAP).

The group said that with the strategy related to Marine Protection Areas, they hoped to push for official recognition of the Semporna Priority Conservation Area including focusing on the Si Amil and Ligitan islands in the area.

They also hoped for greater protection for other important areas for sharks and rays such as Layang-Layang and Sugud Islands Marine Conservation Area (SIMCA).

The second strategy the group was pursuing was to get relevant laws to ban the capture and finning of sharks for consumption with lessons learned from other countries that have dealt with similar activities.

SSA wants to raise awareness and provide technical support to the government with a focus on the National Plan of Action for the Conservation and Management of Sharks, and to work with the tourism sector including restaurants and dive operators, consumers and local communities and fishermen.

Sharks play a critical role in the health and balance of ocean ecosystems with over-fishing disrupting marine ecosystems worldwide.

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