Best of our wild blogs: 13 May 15

13 June (Fri) evening: Free guided walk at Chek Jawa Boardwalk
Adventures with the Naked Hermit Crabs

Lots of Life at “Ghost Island”!
Diary of a Boy wandering through Our Little Urban Eden

World’s most destructive bird species now in Singapore
Singapore Bird Group

Rock Pigeon “kissing”
Bird Ecology Study Group

Read more!

Moratorium on forest clearings may be extended: Indonesian minister

Saifulbahri Ismail Channel NewsAsia 13 May 15;

SINGAPORE: The suspension on clearing of forests for plantations and mining activities, which expires on Wednesday (May 13), may be extended, according to Indonesia's Deputy Minister for Environment Degradation Control and Climate Change Arief Yuwono.

Speaking at an environment forum in Singapore on Wednesday, Mr Arief said the government is working on the final draft of the moratorium and this will be issued soon. He added that one focus of the moratorium is on law enforcement.

The moratorium was launched in 2011 by former President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, and extended by him again in 2013.

The moratorium is a two-year commitment to protect primary forest and peatland covering more than 60 million hectares of land, including those in Sumatra and Kalimantan.

- CNA/rw

Indonesia committed to tackle environmental challenges
ALBERT WAI Today Online 13 May 15;

SINGAPORE — The Joko Widodo administration is committed to addressing environmental and climate change challenges, said Indonesian Deputy Minister for Environmental Degradation Control and Climate Change Arief Yuwono today (May 13), as he announced that Indonesia would look to extend a two-year forest clearing ban and offer to host a regional coordinating centre for managing transboundary haze pollution.

At the sidelines of the Second Singapore Dialogue on Sustainable World Resources held at Ritz-Carlton Millenia Hotel where he delivered a keynote address, Mr Yuwono told reporters that the Indonesian government is working on a new draft moratorium, which may extend the ban on clearing of forests for a further two years. But despite an existing moratorium expiring today, no new licences for forest clearing activities will be issued in the meantime.

When asked by TODAY on the concrete steps undertaken by Indonesia to operationalise the haze monitoring system under the ambit of the Association of South-east Asian Nations (ASEAN) Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution recently ratified by all 10 member states, Mr Yuwono highlighted that Indonesia has offered to host a regional coordinating centre to monitor forest fires and haze. Besides Indonesia, Malaysia has also expressed an interest to host the centre.

The deputy minister also said that Indonesia was in the midst of preparing its pledge for the new post-2020 global climate change regime. Indonesia is likely to meet the pledge submission deadline of October to the United Nations Framework Convention for Climate Change (UNFCCC) Secretariat.

Read more!

Malaysia: Johor's Forest City could house up to 700,000: Developer

REME AHMAD Straits Times 13 May 15;

THE master developer for the 1,400ha reclaimed land in Johor near Tuas said that over the next 20 or 30 years, homes may be built that can house as many as 700,000 people.

The homes being built in the Forest City project would add to the nearly 336,000 new residential units that are in the pipeline for the rest of Johor state.

The large number of new homes coming up in Johor has raised concerns in Singapore.

Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Lawrence Wong, who is a board member of the Monetary Authority of Singapore, told Parliament on Monday that the nearly 336,000 new private residential units are more than the total number of private homes in Singapore.

He said the figure, derived from official Malaysian statistics, does not include homes being built on the Forest City reclaimed land.

Johor had 719,421 existing homes at the end of last year, according to Malaysia's National Property Information Centre, a unit under its Ministry of Finance.

"There is indeed a real concern about future oversupply in the property market there and hence the potential decline in value of homes," Mr Wong said in reply to an MP's question about Singaporeans buying in southern Johor's Iskandar Malaysia region.

Johor Menteri Besar Mohamed Khaled Nordin, when asked last week about concerns in Singapore over a property glut in Iskandar, said: "Investments in Johor are not only confined to property."

The reclaimed Forest City project consists of four man-made islands being raised by a company partly owned by the Sultan of Johor.

Forest City will offer wealthy international buyers luxury homes by the Strait of Johor, its developer has said.

The four islands will have a total land area of 1,386ha - about three times the size of Sentosa island. Forest City's master developer is Country Garden Pacificview (CGPV).

Asked via a text message yesterday how many people would live in Forest City, CGPV's executive director, Datuk Md Othman Yusof, replied: "The project duration is between 20 and 30 years. Estimation of population = 700,000."

CGPV is 60 per cent owned by China's Country Garden Holdings, with Johor's Sultan Ibrahim Ismail and an investment arm of the Johor government also holding stakes. Assuming six people live in each housing unit in Forest City, the 700,000 residents would need 116,666 homes.

The first phase is expected to be ready in five years, with these units adding to the incoming supply of nearly 336,000 new homes in Johor over the next few years.

Singapore's latest official figures show it has 327,811 private homes. There are another 83,642 in the pipeline, including executive condominium units.

Read more!

Sri Lanka first nation to protect all mangrove forests

Mark Kinver BBC News 12 May 15;

Sri Lanka has lost an estimated 76% of its mangrove forests over the past 100 years

Sri Lanka has become the first nation in the world to comprehensively protect all of its mangrove forests.

A scheme backed by the government will include alternative job training, replanting projects and microloans.

Mangroves are considered to be one of the world's most at-risk habitats, with more than half being lost or destroyed in the past century.

Conservationists hope other mangrove-rich nations will follow suit and adopt a similar protection model.

Commenting on the agreement, Sri Lanka President Maithreepala Sirisena said: "It is the responsibility and the necessity of all government institutions, private institutions, non-government organisations, researchers, intelligentsia and civil community to be united to protect the mangrove ecosystem."

The Sri Lankan government is a joint partner overseeing the measures, alongside global NGO Seacology, and Sri Lanka-based Sudeesa, which was formerly known as the Small Fishers Federation of Lanka.

'Extreme importance'

Seacology executive director Duane Silverstein said the pioneering framework had "extreme importance as a model" that could be used throughout the world.

"No nation in history has ever protected all of its mangrove forests and Sri Lanka is going to be the first one to do so," he told BBC News.

"This is through a combination of laws, sustainable alternative incomes and mangrove nurseries.

It is also very significant considering the importance of mangroves as a means of sequestering carbon."

"It is not only that mangroves sequester an order of magnitude more carbon than other types of forest, but it is sequestered for so much longer.

"In the case of mangroves, it is forecast that this lasts millennia," he observed.

Mangroves are evergreen trees that are found in more than 120 tropical and sub-tropical nations.

They are able to grow in seawater, and their strong, stilt-like root systems allow them to thrive in swamps, deltas or coastal areas.

The trees sequester the carbon in the top few metres of soil, which is primarily an anaerobic environment - without oxygen.

As a result, the organisms that usually lead to the decomposition of organic material are not present, meaning the carbon remains locked in the environment for longer.

Because of their surrounding habitat and the lack of readily available fuel, mangrove forests are also not susceptible to forest fires.

But mangroves also offer coastal communities a more direct and immediate form of protection, explained Mr Silverstein.

"After the 2004 (Indian Ocean) tsunami, it became evident - particularly in Sri Lanka which was severely impacted - that those villages that had intact mangroves suffered significantly less damage than those that did not.

A report by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) published 12 months after the devastating tsunami compared two coastal villages in Sri Lanka that were hit by the wall of water.

It showed that two people died in the settlement with dense mangrove and scrub forest, while up to 6,000 people died in the village without similar vegetation.

"Another advantage of a healthy mangrove ecosystem is that the stilted root systems serve as nurseries for many of the fish species that go on to populate coral reefs.

Healthy fish populations, sustained by healthy mangrove forests, have also provided livelihoods and nutrition for millions of small-scale fishermen and their families for generations, allowing coastal communities to sustain themselves.

Costing livelihoods

Anuradha Wickramasinghe, chairman of Sudeesa, said: "People live in these areas because they depend on the mangroves because a lot of the fish they catch come from mangroves.

But he added: "Shrimp farmers have been either legally or illegally cutting down mangroves.

Farmed shrimps, or prawns, account for more than half of the global demand for the crustaceans.

A UN report published in November 2012 warned that the growing demand for prawns meant that valuable mangrove forests were still being felled or were under threat of being felled.

Mr Wickramasinghe told BBC News: "Shrimp farming results in a significant fall in fish catch yields, so fishermen are losing income so it costs them their livelihoods.

"So they know about the importance of mangroves and they are keen to protect them.

Mr Silverstein hoped the Sri Lanka protection model would be adopted by other nations.

"We absolutely believe that Sri Lanka's mangrove model will serve as a model for other nations to follow."

The scheme, which will cost US $3.4m over five years, aims to protect all 8,800 hectares (21,800 acres) of existing mangrove forests by providing alternative job training, funding microloans to people in exchange for protecting local mangroves forests.

It also involves a replanting project, which aims to replace 3,900 hectares of mangroves that had been felled.

Read more!

Impact of El Nino on key crops in Asia

Naveen Thukral PlanetArk 12 May 15;

Closely watched weather forecasts by Japan and Australia on Tuesday are likely to confirm the return of El Nino this year. In 2009, the weather pattern had caused the worst drought in four decades in India and ravaged croplands across Asia, driving food prices to multi-year highs.

See below for a list of crops most at risk from an El Nino.


Australia's high-protein wheat crop is likely to take a hit with El Nino expected to bring dry weather across its eastern grain-belt. Wheat is planted in April-May and the period that makes or breaks the crop is in September. Some rains in recent weeks in parts of the east coast have encouraged farmers to plant the crop.


Although there are abundant stocks of rice in key producers India and Thailand, El Nino is likely to curb the output of Asia's staple food. This would provide a floor under rice prices that are trading around 12 percent below last year's peak. A rally in rice has the potential of stoking inflationary fears and unrest in the region. Rice is planted in May-July and requires rains between July and August.


Soybean production would take a hit in India, Asia's second largest producer of the oilseed, if El Nino brings dry weather to the western and central regions of the country. This could prompt India to import more palm oil and spur further potential gains in prices of the tropical oil. Soybeans are planted in June-July and the crop needs rains in August-September.


El Nino does not immediately hit palm oil supplies as it takes about nine months to a year for oil palm trees to show stress due to drought. But rising demand from top importers India and China as well as concerns over an eventual tightening in supplies due to any crop stress will boost prices. About 90 percent of palm oil, which accounts for 35 percent of global edible oil supply, is produced in Indonesia and Malaysia.


Corn production in China and India is also at risk. Typically, China escapes the brunt of El Nino but corn yields may be curbed as the crop needs relatively higher volumes of water. India could see its crop exports drop, helping U.S. and South American suppliers sell more.

(Reporting by Naveen Thukral; Editing by Himani Sarkar)

Read more!

'Substantial' El Nino event predicted

Helen Briggs BBC 12 May 15;

The El Nino effect, which can drive droughts and flooding, is under way in the tropical Pacific, say scientists.

Australia's Bureau of Meteorology predicted that it could become a "substantial" event later in the year.

The phenomenon arises from variations in ocean temperatures.

The El Nino is still in its early stages, but has the potential to cause extreme weather around the world, according to forecasters.

US scientists announced in April that El Nino had arrived, but it was described then as "weak".

Australian scientists said models suggested it could strengthen from September onwards, but it was too early to determine with confidence how strong it could be.

"This is a proper El Nino effect, it's not a weak one," David Jones, manager of climate monitoring and prediction at the Bureau of Meteorology, told reporters.

"You know, there's always a little bit of doubt when it comes to intensity forecasts, but across the models as a whole we'd suggest that this will be quite a substantial El Nino event."

An El Nino comes along about every two to seven years as part of a natural cycle.

Every El Nino is different, and once one has started, models can predict how it might develop over the next six to nine months, with a reasonable level of accuracy.

A strong El Nino five years ago was linked with poor monsoons in Southeast Asia, droughts in southern Australia, the Philippines and Ecuador, blizzards in the US, heatwaves in Brazil and extreme flooding in Mexico.

Another strong El Nino event was expected during last year's record-breaking temperatures, but failed to materialise.
Prof Eric Guilyardi of the Department of Meteorology at the University of Reading said it would become clear in the summer whether this year might be different.

"The likelihood of El Nino is high but its eventual strength in the winter when it has its major impacts worldwide is still unknown," he said.

"We will know in the summer how strong it is going to be."

Weather patterns

The El Nino is a warming of the Pacific Ocean as part of a complex cycle linking atmosphere and ocean.

The phenomenon is known to disrupt weather patterns around the world, and can bring wetter winters to the southwest US and droughts to northern Australia.

The consequences of El Nino are much less clear for Europe and the UK.

Research suggests that extreme El Nino events will become more likely as global temperatures rise.

How can we predict El Nino?

In the tropical Pacific Ocean, scientists operate a network of buoys that measure temperature, currents and winds. The data - and other information from satellites and meteorological observations - is fed into complex computer models designed to predict an El Nino. However, the models cannot predict the precise intensity or duration of an El Nino, or the areas likely to be affected. Researchers are trying to improve their models to give more advance notice.

El Nino will be 'substantial', warn Australian scientists
AFP By Madeleine Coorey Yahoo News 12 May 15;

Australian scientists on Tuesday forecast a "substantial" El Nino weather phenomenon for 2015, potentially spelling deadly and costly climate extremes, after officially declaring its onset in the tropical Pacific.

El Nino had been expected last year when record-breaking temperatures made 2014 the hottest in more than a century. The Australian Bureau of Meteorology said while the thresholds were not met until now it was expected to be a significant event.

The Japan Meteorological Agency also confirmed the phenomenon had begun and forecast it would continue into late 2015.

"There's always a little bit of doubt when it comes to intensity forecasts, but across the models as a whole we'd suggest that this will be quite a substantial El Nino event," David Jones, from the bureau's climate information services branch said.

"Certainly the models aren't predicting a weak event. They are predicting a moderate-to-strong El Nino event. So this is a proper El Nino event, this is not a weak one or a near miss as we saw last year."

The El Nino phenomenon -- which is associated with drought conditions in Australia -- can cause havoc for farmers and global agricultural markets, hitting economies heavily dependent on the land.

The last El Nino five years ago had a major impact with monsoons in Southeast Asia, droughts in southern Australia, the Philippines and Ecuador, blizzards in the United States, heatwaves in Brazil and killer floods in Mexico.

It occurs when the trade winds that circulate over waters in the tropical Pacific start to weaken and sea surface temperatures rise.

- Severe drought -

US officials announced earlier this year that the long-awaited El Nino had arrived, but the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration described it as of "weak strength".

Australian scientists said models were now showing it was likely to see an increased intensity from about September and have potential global impacts.

"Last year we saw some indices, such as the sea surface temperatures at times exceed El Nino thresholds... but we didn't see them all coming together at the same time or we didn't see it sustained," Jones explained.

He said this year's pattern could create drier conditions in Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and parts of Southeast Asia.

In the past it has caused heavier-than-normal rainfall in the eastern Pacific and South America -- raising the spectre of floods and landslides, while the southwest United States and southern Africa tend to be drier.

An El Nino is potentially a bad sign for large swathes of Australia, including the states of Queensland and New South Wales, which are already in the grip of severe drought.

Neil Plummer, the bureau's assistant director for climate information services, said it was often associated with below average rainfall across eastern Australia and warmer temperatures in the southern half over the hottest months.

"The onset of El Nino in Australia in 2015 is a little earlier than usual," he said, adding that this was the first such phenomenon in the tropical Pacific since March 2010.

"Prolonged El Nino-like conditions have meant that some areas are more vulnerable to the impact of warmer temperatures and drier conditions."

El Nino is forecast to strengthen during the southern hemisphere winter but while the event increases the risk of drought, it does not guarantee it -- with only 17 of the 26 El Nino events since 1900 resulting in widespread drought in Australia.

On the upside, the bureau said it would expect the tropical cyclone season to be below average for Australia.

"Every El Nino is different and we know that some years like 1972, 1982 and 1994 really fit the stereotype strongly, severe drought, very hot daytime temperatures, bushfire activity and so on," said Jones.

"But not every El Nino event follows that pattern."

Read more!

100 British conservation groups oppose review of EU wildlife laws

Changes to EU birds and habitat directives ‘single biggest threat’ to biodiversity and species, say groups as they launch their campaign to block the move
Arthur Neslen The Guardian 12 May 15;

One hundred British conservationist groups have launched a campaign to oppose a review of key wildlife protection laws which they say presents the single biggest threat to UK and European nature in a generation.

Last week, the EU began a 12-week public consultation to look at the cost-effectiveness of the birds and habitats directives, their administrative burdens to business, and whether such goals could better be met at national level.

Environmentalists are outraged as the two laws cornerstone EU conservation rules, enshrining a network of ‘Natura 2000’ protected sites, and offering statutory protection to over 1,000 animals and plant species. More than 200 habitats such as meadows, wetlands and forests are also safeguarded by the directives.

“The habitats and birds directives are the foundation of nature conservation across Europe and are scientifically proven to be effective where properly implemented,” said Kate Jennings, the head of the RSPB’s site policy unit, and chair of the campaign. “The directives deliver demonstrable benefits for nature, as well as significant social and economic benefits.”

Protected sites in the UK were being lost at a rate of 15% a year before the directives, but this declined to just 1% a year afterwards, Jennings said.

Action plans drawn up under the birds directive have also helped nurture the recovery of over half of the globally endangered bird species targeted, according to research by Birdlife International. These include griffon vultures, dalmatian pelicans, Bonelli’s eagles and the common crane.

The EU’s environment department is unenthusiastic about the review and officials stress that they want to modernise rather than bury the conservation rules.

“They ain’t broke but they are a bit old,” Enrico Brivio, said a spokesman for the environment commissioner Karmenu Vella.

“One piece of legislation dates from 1979, the other is from 1992 and there is a need for an update. But there is no intention to scale back on our environmental objectives. The idea is to reduce certain administrative burdens without compromising the directives’ main purpose.”

Shortly after his election, the EU’s president Jean Claude Juncker instructed Vella to “overhaul the existing environmental legislative framework to make it fit for purpose.” Specifically, Juncker ordered an assessment of the potential for merging the two directives.

The Dutch government has offered strong support for Juncker’s thrust, with Dutch and German famers associations making lobbying forays to expand intensive farming practices. The UK has also been supportive, even though a review by the Department for Food and Rural Affairs in 2012 found the directives were largely working well.

But a surprisingly wide coalition of opposition has emerged, taking in hunters, landowners, port owners and grid operators. Cemex, the cement-producing multinational signed a joint statement with Birdlife, singling out Natura 2000 as the fundament of biodiversity conservation.

“This review is clearly part of a wider ideological deregulation agenda that is going on,” Jennings said. “In our experience, the majority of developers and the business community value regulatory certainty and the thing they least like to see are goalposts moving. The review introduces this.”

“If the birds and habitats directives are weakened, the water framework directive will be next in line, and the national emissions ceiling directive will follow soon after,” added Ariel Brunner, the head of EU policy at Birdlife.

Read more!

Up to 90% of world's electronic waste is illegally dumped, says UN

PCs and smartphones adding to ‘e-waste mountain’ that could reach 50m tonnes by 2017, much of it dumped and traded in developing countries, reports BusinessGreen
Will Nichols for BusinessGreen, part of the Guardian Environment Network 12 May 15;

Up to 90% of the world’s electronic waste, worth nearly $19bn (£12bn), is illegally traded or dumped each year, according to the UN Environment Programme (Unep).

Computers and smart phones are among the ditched items contributing to this 41m tonne e-waste mountain, which could top 50m tonnes by 2017, Unep says in a new report launched today in Geneva.

It follows last month’s UN University report, which outlined how 42m tonnes of electronic waste were thrown out in 2014 at a cost of $52bn to the global economy.

Exporting hazardous waste from EU and Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Member States to non-OECD countries is banned.

However, Unep says thousands of tonnes of e-waste are falsely declared as second-hand goods and exported from developed to developing countries, including waste batteries falsely described as plastic or mixed metal scrap, and cathode ray tubes and computer monitors misleadingly declared as metal scrap.

African and Asian countries such as Ghana, Nigeria, China, Pakistan, India, and Vietnam are turning into illegal e-waste hubs, bypassing the legitimate global waste and recycling market that is thought to be worth $410bn a year.

Unep warns the growing volumes of e-waste, municipal waste, food waste, discarded chemicals and counterfeit pesticides are all having significant environment and economic impacts.

Countries are also losing out on significant amounts of resources, such as rare earth metals, copper and gold, while the conditions in which the products are dumped can be extremely hazardous to health.

Unep wants counties to strengthen national legislation and enforcement of e-waste legislation as well as working to increase the recovery of valuable metals and other resources locked inside electronic products.

“We are facing the onset of an unprecedented tsunami of electronic waste rolling out over the world,” said Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of Unep.

“Through enhanced international cooperation and legislative coherence, stronger national regulations and enforcement, as well as greater awareness and robust prevention measures we can ensure that the illegal trade and dumping of e-waste is brought to an end. This will create a win-win situation, whereby rare and expensive elements are safely recycled and reused, boosting the formal economy, depriving criminals of income and reducing health risks to the public.”

Read more!