Multiple dams are an ominous threat to life on the Mekong River

A total of 11 dams are planned along the Mekong, storing up trouble for millions of people, the world’s largest inland fishery and critically endangered species
Marc Goichot in Ho Chi Minh City The Guardian 6 May 15;

In a remote part of northern Laos, history is being made. Construction has begun on the final stage of the $3.5bn Xayaburi dam – the first dam to span the entire mainstem of the lower Mekong River. At the same time, in southern Laos, where the Mekong River’s braided channel flows languidly around thousands of sandy islands, preliminary work has begun on the roads and bridges needed to build the $300m Don Sahong dam.

This historic moment, however, is an ominous sign for the river’s 60 million downstream residents, some of the planet’s most endangered wildlife species and the world’s most productive inland fishery. With a total of 11 dams planned for the lower Mekong River, the future of this mighty waterway is in grave danger.

Harmful hydropower

Thailand has committed to increase its production of renewable energy to 25% of output by 2021 using a variety of sources, including hydropower. The Energy Generating Authority of Thailand (EGAT) will purchase over 90% of the power from Xayaburi dam and may purchase power from Don Sahong as it looks to bolster Thailand’s fast-growing demand for energy and reduce its dependency on fossil fuels.

The Xayaburi dam is being developed by Thailand’s CH. Karnchang while the Don Sahong dam is being built by Malaysia’s Mega First Corporation Berhad. Both dams have met steadfast opposition from broad coalitions of environmental groups and local communities, which say the developments will be disastrous for the millions of people who rely on the river’s rich bounty of fish for their livelihoods and food security. A quarter of all the freshwater fish caught across the globe are pulled out of the Mekong and the river is second only to the Amazon for the number of fish species, with new species being discovered every year.

The growing scientific evidence against the proposed Don Sahong dam is stark. It will block the Hou Sahong channel, the main passage for dry-season fish migrations on the Mekong. This will put the world’s largest inland fishery at risk and threaten the spectacular torrent of water that rushes over Khone Falls, a popular tourist attraction.

What’s more, the dam builders intend to excavate millions of tons of rock using explosives, creating strong sound waves that could kill dolphins located only two miles away in neighbouring Cambodia. There will also be a damaging impact on other rare species, such as Mekong giant catfish and freshwater stingrays.

Taking action

For the Xayaburi dam, the impact could be felt as far away as the Mekong Delta in south-western Vietnam, which feeds half the country’s 90 million people and makes Vietnam the world’s second largest exporter of rice. Sand will be trapped behind the dam, threatening a delta that is already under extreme pressure from climate change, unsustainable sand-mining and existing Mekong dams in China.

Closer to home, Thailand’s Supreme Administrative Court has agreed to hear a lawsuit from a group of villagers in Thailand who will be severely affected by the Xayaburi dam. The lawsuit contends that EGAT’s power purchase agreement (PPA) was unconstitutional due to the lack of environmental and social impact assessments and a failure to adequately consult with them – a key requirement of the Mekong River Agreement signed by the member states of the Mekong River Commission (Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam and Laos). The PPA is the main guaranty for the lenders, thus its suspension could halt construction.

The Mekong River Commission has so far been unable to provide a platform to reach consensus on these projects. Downstream countries have consistently voiced objections to the dams and called for fully transparent, independent transboundary assessments of both the environmental and social impacts, along with a 10-year moratorium on mainstem dams until studies are completed. These calls have fallen on deaf ears as Laos ramps up construction.

Seeking solutions

A possible alternative to the dam is the Thako Water Diversion Project, which would produce almost as much energy as the Don Sahong dam but with much less damage. The Thako project would not involve a dam or reservoir across any of the channels of the mainstem Mekong River in the Khone Falls.

To date, the Thako project has never been seriously considered and is no longer on the table, but no explanation has been given for this.

What happens to the Mekong River has global implications, whether it is to fish stocks, rice exports, sand supplies or climate regulation. Furthermore, it is essential that the demand for energy and economic development be balanced with the need to keep this iconic, culturally significant and environmentally bounteous river as intact and free-flowing as possible.

Balance is the key word if countries like Thailand are to achieve energy security and protect natural resources and livelihoods. What’s needed is an energy mix that includes increasingly affordable solar power, wind power, geothermal power and sustainable hydropower that leaves the smallest footprint possible.

Marc Goichot is lead for WWF’s sustainable hydropower work in the Greater Mekong. He lives in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

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Best of our wild blogs: 7 May 15

Reducing Marine Trash in Singapore
Green Future Solutions

“Operation WE (coastal) Clean Up” – 30 volunteers remove 892kg of trash @ Lim Chu Kang Beach
News from the International Coastal Cleanup Singapore

Pelagic Survey on the Singapore Strait – 3 May 2015
Singapore Bird Group

An evening with the Bishan otter family
Francis Yap Nature Photography

A tale of two Changeable Lizards
Bird Ecology Study Group

Win a pair of tickets to the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum!
News from Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum

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Help for fish farmers hit by plankton bloom

But they must show AVA they have plans in place to cope with future incidents
CAROLYN KHEW Straits Times 7 May 15;

FISH farmers who had their stock wiped out in the plankton bloom in February and March will receive government help to get back on their feet. But the aid comes with a condition - the farmers need to show that they are able to cope with future plankton blooms.

The plankton bloom affected 75 fish farms in the East and West Johor Strait, resulting in mass fish deaths. About 500 to 600 tonnes of fish died.

The Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) said it will cover 70 per cent of the farmers' cost of restocking fish fry. But the farmers have to develop operationally ready contingency plans to show that they are prepared for recurring blooms.

Last year, the AVA co-funded 70 per cent of the cost to buy fish fry and co-funded the same amount for cost of new equipment. This time, AVA said farmers can tap the Agriculture Productivity Fund to purchase the equipment for contingency plans. They may receive co-funding support of 50 per cent, up to a cap of $50,000.

The requirement for contingency plans will help farms "build resilience through the development of a deployable contingency plan to handle similar future incidents", the AVA told The Straits Times. "During the recent incident, farmers who heeded AVA's alert and advice took quick actions to save their fish stocks and were able to avert significant losses," the spokesman said.

The AVA alerted fish farmers to elevated plankton levels about two weeks before the bloom. They were advised to take precautions, like using canvas bags to protect the fish from the external environment, harvesting fish early and moving them to unaffected areas.

Mr Gary Chang, 58, whose fish farm is located near Pulau Ubin, lined his net cages with canvas bags and used a simple filtration system to maintain the water quality during the plankton bloom. He managed to cut losses this year to $30,000, compared to $300,000 last year.

"In the long run, you'd need to do something more than that. We could study what other countries have done to deal with the recurring plankton blooms," he said.

Canvas bags are not without their shortcomings. For one thing, preparation is needed ahead of the transfer of fish from cages to bags, said Mr Chang. The fish need to be starved a week beforehand to reduce the amount of waste they produce, which will accumulate in the bags and become harmful to the fish.

President of the Fish Farmers Association of Singapore Timothy Ng said while the AVA condition this year has "good intentions", the effectiveness of the backup plans has to be proven, especially when huge quantities of fish are at risk.

The AVA said it will conduct training on what makes a good contingency plan and how to tap mitigating measures.

Last month, the association sent the AVA a proposal listing possible solutions to tackle the effects of a plankton bloom.

They include clay flocculation - the spraying of clay particles into the water so that they can bind to the plankton before they clump together and sink to the sea floor.

The AVA said it is reviewing the proposal, and will "explore the possibility of conducting studies on the proposed options with agencies and experts".

Fish farmer Frank Tan, who lost 120 tonnes of fish in the last incident, said the help is good news. "The Government wants to push farmers to have higher resilience. Everyone has to play a part," he said.

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Singapore Night Trail lets children overcome anxiety by having fun with family

The New Paper AsiaOne 7 May 15;

Energizer Singapore Night Trail 2015: a good number of international tourists from Europe, USA, Israel, Japan, Australia and the southeast Asian countries participating in this year’s trail.

More than 5,000 people ran, jumped and climbed through obstacles and trails on Saturday, near the Singapore Zoo.

Participants as young as six took part in the Singapore Night Trail race at Mandai, organised by Energizer Singapore.

It was split into six different events, including a 3km open obstacle race and an 18km trail race.

The obstacle courses saw participants climbing through hurdles made from string, and crawling under large nets.

The trail events had them running up and down slopes through the mud, thanks to the previous day's rain.

It is the fifth time the annual race has been held here.

The flag-off for the first event was at 3pm. The whole race ended at about 10.30pm.

The event is part of Energizer's global initiative to make a positive impact on the environment by supporting charities and spreading awareness as part of their corporate social responsibility programme.

Energizer Singapore also donated $11,000 to SportCares Foundation's beneficiary and youth ambassador, Mr Ashiq Arshad, in support of the foundation's sports programmes for the underprivileged and at-risk youth.

Mr Perry Sim, 38, a businessman, took part in the 3km parent-and-child obstacle race with his son, Aurelius, seven.

He said: "The obstacles were fun for the children, although they were too easy for the adults.

"But the distance was just nice. It took us less than an hour."

He said that his son cried because he was afraid of one of the obstacles at first.

But that did not stop them from enjoying themselves.

"It's a good event that not only allowed us to bond but also helped him overcome some of his fears.

"He said he wanted to come back again the next time. Hopefully, I can bring my other son as well," said Mr Sim.

Another participant, Mr Lim Lip Pheng, 48, an IT consultant, took part in the same event with his wife and son Joshua, nine.

He said: "It was a little bit of cross-country mixed with obstacles.

"We managed to clear everything, and we had a lot of fun.

"The morning after, the first thing Joshua said to me was 'I want to do it again'.

"So I guess we'll be back next year."

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Singapore's first urban beach to pop up at Marina Bay

Channel NewsAsia 6 May 15;

SINGAPORE: The Republic’s first pop-up urban beach will be appearing in the heart of Marina Bay next month, complete with a pool, palm trees and a beach bar, said DBS Bank on Wednesday (May 6).

The beach, measuring 50-by-50 metres, will also include a pool where activities such as stand-up paddling and yoga will take place, it added in the press release.

DBS said creating a man-made beach will be “no mean feat” - 28,000kg of sand will be brought in and that is expected to take up to 300 man-hours. The beach can hold up to about 250 people, together with 30 deck chairs and one beach bar.

“The sand will be laid onto a protective ground sheet that covers the entire area of the beach. A raised edge will help to contain the sand, and grass lining the perimeter of the beach will ensure that the sand remains within the beach’s boundaries,” the bank said.

Karen McGregor, Senior Vice President of Group Strategic Marketing and Communications at DBS said: “With this year being Singapore’s Jubilee year, and having the 28th SEA Games Traditional Boat (Dragon boat) and Sailing races take place in conjunction with the DBS Marina Regatta, we wanted to celebrate this landmark occasion by igniting the bay with even more transformative experiences.”

In addition to SEA Games Sailing races, the DBS Marina Regatta - an annual water sports festival - will also see an estimated 2,500 paddlers competing at across nine categories.

The beach will be located at The Promontory@Marina Bay from Jun 13 to 14.

- CNA/ct

Singapore's first-ever pop-up beach at Marina Bay
AsiaOne 6 May 15;

SINGAPORE - Visitors to Marina Bay in June will get to enjoy a pop-up urban beach complete with palm trees, deck chairs, and a beach bar.

The initiative by DBS Bank is part of the DBS Marina Regatta. Tapping on the growing trend of urban beaches across the world, DBS aims to transform Singapore's new financial district and to bring more people down to the bay to watch the 28th SEA Games races.

The beach will also serve to present a fun, relaxed yet innovative side of Singapore to SEA Games visitors.

Measuring 50 metres by 50 metres, the beach will be located at The Promontory@Marina Bay during the third weekend of the DBS Marina Regatta from June 13 to 14, 2015. The beach will also feature a 25m by 15m pool where a host of activities including stand-up paddling and stand-up yoga will take place.

Said Ms Karen McGregor, Senior Vice President of Group Strategic Marketing and Communications at DBS: "Urban beaches have proven to be a popular concept around the world, transforming urban landscapes in major cities such as Paris, Berlin, Prague, Brussels, and Toronto - and now Singapore.

"With this year being Singapore's jubilee year, and having the 28th SEA Games Traditional Boat (Dragon boat) and Sailing races take place in conjunction with the DBS Marina Regatta, we wanted to celebrate this landmark occasion by igniting the bay with even more transformative experiences.

"Ultimately, we want to ensure everyone has a good time at the regatta. The urban beach is just one of many exciting new possibilities and experiences that the DBS Marina Regatta is bringing to the bay this year."

A logistical feat

The task of creating a man-made beach in the heart of one of the world's leading financial centres will be no mean feat as organisers bring in 28,000kg of sand in an operation that is expected to take up to 300 man-hours.

The sand will be laid onto a protective ground sheet that covers the entire area of the beach. A raised edge will help to contain the sand, and grass lining the perimeter of the beach will ensure that the sand remains within the beach's boundaries.

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Nation-wide survey of Singapore’s heritage sites to kick off in coming months

Today Online 6 May 15;

SINGAPORE — The National Heritage Board (NHB) will be launching its most comprehensive survey to date on Singapore’s tangible heritage in the middle of this year, said the statutory board today (May 6).

The survey — first announced by Minister for Community Culture and Youth, Lawrence Wong at the Ministry’s Committee of Supply budget debate in March — will cover buildings, structures, sites and landscape features of architectural, historical or cultural interest, including structures or sites completed before 1980. Sites and structures associated with historical events, as well as those that carry social, cultural or educational significance, will also be examined.

The NHB says it hopes to gain a more complete understanding of Singapore’s tangible heritage and their value through this process. The research and data garnered will be made available to other public agencies so that heritage considerations can be incorporated during decision-making and planning phases.

An eight-member Heritage Advisory Panel (HAP), comprising experts from fields such as anthropology and sociology, will be guiding the NHB on the survey’s methodology and implementation.

There will be two components to the survey: desktop research and field work. Desktop research involves consolidating existing information on the heritage sites through sources such as maps, newspaper records, archival materials and publications. Field work, on the other hand, captures information on the current conditions of the buildings, structures, sites and landscapes through descriptions, photographs and geographic coordinates.

“As Singapore’s population grows, it is important to ensure that in tandem with intensified development, there are increased efforts to preserve our heritage,” says NHB CEO Rosa Daniel. “This survey is a step forward to enhance our capabilities in research, documentation and commemoration.

NHB launches survey as part of stock-take on heritage landscape
Project is most comprehensive to be conducted yet, says National Heritage Board
Today Online 7 May 15;

SINGAPORE — A nationwide survey of the Republic’s heritage buildings and sites will be launched in the middle of this year, as part of a stock-take on the local heritage landscape.

The National Heritage Board (NHB) survey will cover buildings, structures, sites and landscape features of architectural, historical or cultural interest, including structures or sites completed before 1980. Research will also be carried out on buildings and sites associated with historical events that influenced the development of the nation or local community, as well as those with social, cultural or educational significance.

Apart from carrying out a stocktake on the current state of these buildings and sites, the survey also aims to develop a broad understanding of Singapore’s heritage landscape for the purpose of long-term heritage planning, the NHB said yesterday.

Mrs Rosa Daniel, CEO of the NHB, said: “As Singapore’s population grows, it is important to ensure that in tandem with intensified development, there are increased efforts to preserve our heritage.

“This survey is a step forward to enhance our capabilities in research, documentation and commemoration. The outcomes will also contribute to our land planning and development processes to preserve heritage and mitigate the loss of heritage value”.

The survey, described by the NHB as the most comprehensive to be conducted yet, comprises desktop research and field work.

Those involved in the desktop research will consolidate existing information from sources such as maps, newspaper records, archival materials and publications.

Field work involves capturing information on the current conditions of the buildings, structures, sites and landscapes, through descriptions, photographs and geographic coordinates.

The board will be tapping the expertise of the newly-formed Heritage Advisory Panel (HAP) to help it with the survey methodology and implementation. The panel comprises experts from various fields, such as architecture, geography, sociology, anthropology and history.

Professor Brenda Yeoh, who heads the HAP, said its members will be able to offer different perspectives on heritage issues.

“By combining documentary research with ground-level surveys, the aim is to build a comprehensive database that will stand us in good stead in supporting endeavours to enrich Singapore’s heritage,” said the dean of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences at the National University of Singapore.

NHB to launch nationwide survey on heritage buildings, sites
Channel NewsAsia 6 May 15;

SINGAPORE: The National Heritage Board (NHB) will launch a nationwide survey in mid-2015 as part of a stock-take on the current state of Singapore’s heritage buildings and sites.

The survey will cover buildings, structures, sites and landscape features of architectural, historical and cultural interest. The survey also aims to develop an understanding of Singapore’s heritage landscape for long-term heritage planning, said NHB in a news release on Wednesday (May 6). It is expected to be completed in 16 months.

Some areas of historical interest the NHB will look into include Joo Chiat, Balestier and Mount Pleasant.

The survey includes structures or sites completed before 1980, those associated with historical events which influenced the development of the nation or local community and those with social, cultural or educational significance, NHB added.

Apart from the name and address, the survey will also capture information such as typology, geographical coordinates, architecture and physical condition of the site.

Researchers will study maps, newspaper records, archival materials and publications, as well as information on current conditions of the structures.

When there is limited information on the site, interviews with locals and other informants will be conducted to get more details.

The survey will be guided by members of the newly-formed Heritage Advisory Panel, which comprises experts in fields such as architecture, geography, sociology, anthropology and history. The panel has come up with guidelines on how analysis of places of historical interest will be conducted.

"The criteria will look at some factors such as the age of the building - whether it's associated with any historical events or whether notable people have visited or lived in the place, as well as community or social memories associated with the place," said Mr Yeo Kirk Siang, Deputy Director of Impact Assessment and Mitigation at NHB.

The research data and findings will be made available to other public agencies so that heritage considerations can be incorporated during planning phases.

NHB’s CEO Mrs Rosa Daniel said: “As Singapore’s population grows, it is important to ensure that in tandem with intensified development, there are increased efforts to preserve our heritage. This survey is a step forward to enhance our capabilities in research, documentation and commemoration.”

The survey was first announced by Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Lawrence Wong during this year’s Committee of Supply debate in March.

Apart from the survey on tangible heritage, another nationwide survey covering the intangible heritage of Singapore - such as traditional trades, crafts, festivals, rituals and cultural practices - will be launched at the end of the year.

- CNA/fs/dl

NHB survey on heritage sites gets the thumbs up
Melody Zaccheus My Paper AsiaOne 7 May 15;

THE first survey of Singapore's heritage sites and structures will kick off within "the next two months".

The National Heritage Board (NHB) yesterday revealed more details of the project, which will study places of architectural, historical, cultural, social or educational significance. It will also include sites or structures completed in or before 1980.

The survey aims to do a stock-take on the current state of heritage buildings and sites here, and was first announced by Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Lawrence Wong in March.

The effort is expected to cost approximately $1 million.

NHB said that the exercise will have two components.

The first involves "desktop research", which will tap on maps, newspaper records, archival material and other publications to consolidate data about a place.

The second involves field work, which will document and photograph the geographic coordinates, typology, and physical condition of the structure or site.

If information is limited, interviews with the community and other stakeholders will be conducted. The survey is expected to take about 16 months.

The board will use its findings to work with the Urban Redevelopment Authority at each stage of land planning. This includes the 10-year Concept Plan or the five-year Master Plan.

Significant buildings and structures identified through the survey could undergo further research for possible preservation or conservation.

NHB chief executive Rosa Daniel said the exercise is a step forward in enhancing the country's capabilities in research, documentation and commemoration.

"As Singapore's population grows, it is important to ensure that in tandem with intensified development, there are increased efforts to preserve our heritage," she said.

NHB said that it adapted the heritage survey from similar ones done in other cities.

The board cited Hong Kong's 1996 survey, in which more than 8,800 historic buildings built before 1950 were identified. This was followed by more in-depth research and assessment to identify buildings of greater heritage value.

Singapore's version will be guided by members of a newly formed eight member Heritage Advisory Panel comprising architecture, geography, sociology, anthropology and history experts.

They include Brenda Yeoh, dean of the National University of Singapore's Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences; Eric Chin, director of the National Archives of Singapore; and Zahidi A. R. Arkitek's principal architect, Zahidi Abdul Rahman.

The heritage community welcoms the survey as it represents the first step towards a more long-term strategic plan for heritage issues.

Kevin Tan, president of the International Council on Monuments and Sites Singapore, said that, for the survey to be effective, the criteria for what constitutes a heritage building should be "crafted as widely as possible".

For it to be truly comprehensive, he believes that surveyors should comb every square metre of the Republic.

"Such a scan will help the authorities consider everything in an area as comprehensively as possible, to help them uncover new stories and things they didn't know about places before," he said.

Heritage enthusiast and editor Choo Lip Sin believes the survey will help the authorities make more informed decisions.

He hopes there will be space for public input to be factored into the exercise, "beyond what the authorities value as heritage".

A separate survey on the country's intangible heritage, spanning cultural activities and traditional trades or businesses, will be launched at the end of the year.

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Indonesia: Lake Maninjau in dire straits from ‘keramba’ (caged fish) overfarming

Syofiardi Bachyul Jb, The Jakarta Post 6 May 15;

The West Sumatra Environmental Management Agency (BPLHD) has urged the Agam regency administration immediately to remove 10,000 floating fish cages (keramba) from Lake Maninjau to prevent further damage to the environment.

Agency head Asrizal Asnan said the lake was currently home to more than 16,000 floating cages owned by local residents and entrepreneurs, despite a maximum capacity of 6,000 cages.

“The water pollution in Lake Maninjau has reached an alarming level. If the condition is not immediately improved, water pollution could further worsen and the lake could be rendered unusable,” Asrizal told The Jakarta Post on Tuesday.

The problem, said Asrizal, was a result of the widespread presence of keramba on the lake long before a masterplan on lake management was formulated.

In 1992, West Sumatra Fisheries Office conducted a trial program, installing 17 keramba in the clear water of the 9,737.5 hectare lake.

The experiment successful, many locals followed suit with their own keramba, financed by a number of entrepreneurs. By 2009, the number of keramba had reached 8,829 and by this year, that number had doubled to 16,280.

“The boom has led to the death of hundreds of tons of fish annually as a result of poisoning from excess feed and rising sulfur from the floor of the volcanic lake, but entrepreneurs have persevered,” said Asrizal.

Three years ago, the West Sumatra BPLHD designed a masterplan to manage Lake Maninjau, with input from fishery and environmental experts, who determined that the maximum number of keramba that could be accommodated on the lake was 6,000. The masterplan was made official through Regency Bylaw No. 5/2014 on management of Lake Maninjau.

Bung Hatta University fishery expert Hafrijal Syandri said the waters of Lake Maninjau were currently heavily contaminated because of the rampant keramba.

“The lakewater is heavily polluted, with contaminants derived from excess feed, fish faeces and metabolism remnants from the keramba making up 94 percent of the pollution,” Hafrijal told the Post on Tuesday.

“Based on our assessment, keramba fishery activity from 2001 to 2013 produced 111,889 tons of sediment. The depth of the lake has decreased at an average of 16 to 89 m. This has caused the phenomenon of annual mass fish death. From 1997 to March this year, a total of 17,043 tons of fish died, causing losses of up to Rp 200 billion [US$15 million].”

Hafrijal said that the ideal way to save the lake was to issue a moratorium on keramba activity so that the water condition could be restored over the course of 25 years.

“However, that would be impossible because of the impact on people’s livelihoods. One feasible step would be to reduce the number of keramba in stages so that over 10 years, the number could drop to 6,000. This would help restoration, although it would take longer. I hope the Agam Regency administration will act quickly,” said Hafrijal.

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Indonesia: Rare birds jammed inside water bottles by smuggler

AFP Yahoo News 7 May 15;

Indonesian police have arrested a suspected wildlife smuggler after discovering nearly two dozen rare live birds, mostly yellow-crested cockatoos, jammed inside plastic water bottles in his luggage.

The 37-year-old man was stopped by police as he alighted from a passenger ship in Surabaya, a city on the main island of Java.

Photographs show the birds, with distinctive yellow plumage, peering out of the bottles after being found by officers. The bottoms of the bottles had been cut off to squeeze the birds inside.

The head of the criminal investigation unit at Tanjung Perak port, Aldy Sulaiman, said police found the birds stashed inside the man's luggage.

"We found 21 yellow-crested cockatoos and one green parrot," he said.

"All the birds were found inside water bottles, which were packed in a crate."

The birds have since been sent to Indonesia's natural resources conservation office, which deals with wildlife-trafficking cases.

Sulaiman said the man -- whose identity was not disclosed in line with normal criminal procedure in Indonesia -- had admitted carrying two birds for a friend but claimed to know nothing about the other animals.

If found guilty of smuggling, the man, from near Surabaya, could face up to five years in prison.

Yellow-crested cockatoos are native to Indonesia and neighbouring East Timor and considered critically endangered, according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.

They are different to the larger and more common sulphur-crested cockatoo which is mostly found in Australia and New Guinea.

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Forests are 'key feature' of food security landscape

Mark KinverBBC News 7 May 15;

Forests can play a vital role in supplementing global food and nutrition security but this role is currently being overlooked, a report suggests.

The study says that tree-based farming provides resilience against extreme weather events, which can wipe out traditional food crops.

It warns that policies focusing on traditional agriculture often overlook the role forest farming could play.

The findings were presented at the UN Forum on Forests in New York, US.

The report is the result of a collaboration of more than 60 leading scientists, co-ordinated by the International Union of Forest Research Organisations (IUFRO) on behalf of the Collaborative Partnership on Forests (CPF).

"The report is not trying to suggest that people should start relying on forests more than conventional agriculture," explained Bhaskar Vira, the chair of the panel which compiled the report.

"It is very much about the complementary roles that forests can play alongside conventional agriculture.

"The evidence shows that a large number of people still rely on the food from forests and trees to supplement their diet," Dr Vira, director of the University of Cambridge Conservation Research Institute.

Branching out

Global estimates suggest that one-in-nine people are still suffering from hunger, and the majority of them are in Africa and Asia.

The report highlights a range of measures that offer "great potential" to improve food security and improve people's quality of life.

It calculates that almost one-in-six people directly depend on forests for their food and income. It adds that in the Sahel region of Africa, tree-related production contributes an average of 80% to household incomes, particularly from shea nut production.

The report also highlights the importance of forests as a source of firewood and charcoal, essential to enable people to consume the calories found in conventional food crops. Globally, an estimated 2.4bn people use this renewable fuel source for heating and cooking.

More than wood

The authors also emphasise links between forests and conventional farming. For example, forests are a crucial habitat for key pollinators of many food crops. Without forests, the vital ecosystem service provided by birds and insects would be diminished, resulting in increased food security concerns.

"This report reminds us of the vital role of forests in building food security," observed Thomas Gass, assistant secretary-general for policy in the UN Department for Economic and Social Affairs.

"It makes a convincing case for multi-functional and integrated landscape approaches, and for community-level engagement to re-imagine forestry and agriculture systems."

Another benefit lies in forests' ability to add diversity to the food production system, explained Christoph Wildburger, co-ordinator of the IUFRO Global Forest Expert Panels.

"Large-scale crop production is highly vulnerable to extreme weather events," he said.

"We know that forests already play a key role in mitigating the effects of climate change. This report makes it very clear that they also play a key role in alleviating hunger and improving nutrition."

Dr Vira added: "What we are saying to policymakers is to start thinking more about the landscape as an integrated production system rather than the current and conventional view that often places agriculture and forestry in opposition to each other.

"We make a really strong case for thinking about the landscape holistically."

Late last year, the Global Nutrition Report warned that most countries in the world faced a serious public health problem as a result of malnutrition.

It said that every nation except China had crossed a "malnutrition red line", suffering from too much or too little nutrition.

According to that report, malnutrition led to 11% of global GDP being "squandered as a result of lives lost, less learning, less earning and days lost to illness".

Dr Vira told BBC News: "One really important insight we got was that conventional agriculture was good for the calorific intake but not so good when you started to think about healthy and balanced diets.

"When we talk about food security we need to stop focusing simply on calories. It is hugely important to recognise how much of a balanced diet comes from outside of conventional agriculture, particularly from trees and forests.

"Forests matter when it comes to human wellbeing."

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Residents' control is best answer to threat of deforestation: researchers

Chris Arsenault Reuters 6 May 15;

Expanding agriculture is the biggest driver of deforestation around the world, and giving local residents greater control over forested land leads to better environmental management, forest researchers said on Wednesday.

An estimated 1.2 billion people rely on forests for their livelihood, including about 60 million indigenous people who are almost entirely dependent on them, the International Union of Forest Research Organizations (IUFRO) said in a 170-page report.

Expanding agriculture accounts for 73 percent of the world's forest loss, the report, released at the United Nations Forum on Forests, said.

Balancing competing interests is not easy in the face of climate change and a growing population, but forests should be viewed as key food producers and thus be better managed, rather than being seen as a barrier to agriculture, researchers said.

"There are countries that are achieving food security while at the same time reducing the rate of deforestation," Eva Muller, a senior forestry official at the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) told the Thomson Reuters Foundation, though she declined to give examples.

Giving local residents the power to take decisions on land use is generally the best way to reach a compromise between forest users and farmers, she said.

Local communities have a natural interest in balancing food production and forest cover on their land, said Cambridge University's Bhaskar Vira, the study's lead author.

"There is considerable evidence to show that when local communities are given a clear stake in the health of forests, they look after it," Vira told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. "Giving women more control is especially effective."

Globally, nearly 80 percent of forests are publicly owned, so governments have the ability to provide local residents with secure land tenure, the FAO's Muller said.

Powerful logging or cattle ranching interests are likely to put pressure on local residents to sell them forested land, and national governments need to counter this with strong environmental protection policies, Vira said.

In some of the world's most vulnerable regions, such as the Sahel in North Africa, trees contribute 80 percent of the average household's income through shea nut production and other activities, the report said.

Food products harvested from forests in the developing world are worth an estimated $17 billion annually, the report said. About 2.4 billion households in developing countries depend on wood or other biofuels from forests for cooking and heating.

Food products derived from forests, including wild animals, nuts, fruits and seeds are especially important for vulnerable people at times of price volatility, war and drought, the report said.

(Editing by Tim Pearce)

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Global carbon dioxide levels break 400ppm milestone

Concentrations of CO2 greenhouse gas in the atmosphere reached record global average in March, figures show, in a stark signal ahead of Paris climate talks
Adam Vaughan The Guardian 6 May 15;

Record carbon dioxide (CO2) concentrations in the atmosphere were recorded worldwide in March, in what scientists said marked a significant milestone for global warming.

Figures released by the US science agency Noaa on Wednesday show that for the first time since records began, the parts per million (ppm) of CO2 in the atmosphere were over 400 globally for a month.

The measure is the key indicator of the amount of planet-warming gases man is putting into the atmosphere at record rates, and the current concentrations are unprecedented in millions of years.

The new global record follows the breaking of the 400ppm CO2 threshold in some local areas in 2012 and 2013, and comes nearly three decades after what is considered the ‘safe’ level of 350ppm was passed.

“Reaching 400ppm as a global average is a significant milestone,” said Pieter Tans, lead scientist on Noaa’s greenhouse gas network.

“This marks the fact that humans burning fossil fuels have caused global carbon dioxide concentrations to rise more than 120ppm since pre-industrial times,” added Tans. “Half of that rise has occurred since 1980.”

World leaders are due to meet in Paris for a UN climate summit later this year in a bid to agree a deal to cut countries’ carbon emissions and avoid dangerous global warming.

Dr Ed Hawkins, a climate scientist at the University of Reading told the Guardian: “This event is a milestone on a road to unprecedented climate change for the human race. The last time the Earth had this much carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was more than a million years ago, when modern humans hadn’t even evolved yet.

“Reaching 400ppm doesn’t mean much in itself, but the steady increase in atmospheric greenhouse gases should serve as a stark reminder of the task facing politicians as they sit down in Paris later this year.”

Greenhouse gas emissions from power plants stalled for the first time last year without the influence of a strict economic recession, according to the International Energy Agency, an influential thinktank.

Nick Nuttall, a spokesman for the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) which oversees the international climate negotiations, said: “These numbers underline the urgency of nations delivering a decisive new universal agreement in Paris in December – one that marks a serious and significant departure from the past.

“The agreement and the decisions surrounding it needs to be a long term development plan providing the policies, pathways and finance for triggering a peaking of global emissions in 10 years’ time followed by a deep, decarbonisation of the global economy by the second half of the century.”

But even if manmade emissions were dramatically cut much deeper than most countries are planning, the concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere would only stabilise, not fall, scientists said.

James Butler, director of Noaa’s global monitoring division, said: “Elimination of about 80% of fossil fuel emissions would essentially stop the rise in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, but concentrations of carbon dioxide would not start decreasing until even further reductions are made and then it would only do so slowly.”

Concentrations of CO2 were at 400.83ppm in March compared to 398.10ppm in March 2014, the preliminary Noaa data showed. They are are expected to stay above 400pm during May, when levels peak because of CO2 being taken up by plants growing in the northern hemisphere.

Noaa used air samples taken from 40 sites worldwide, and analysed them at its centre in Boulder, Colorado. The agency added that the average growth rate in concentrations was 2.25ppm per year from 2012-2014, the highest ever recorded for three consecutive years.

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