Best of our wild blogs: 17 Jun 15

Rich reefs and seagrasses of East Coast shore
wonderful creation

Reliving the good old days
The Long and Winding Road

Asian Glossy Starling eating Ceram Palm fruits
Bird Ecology Study Group

Avian “Staycations” – The Phenomenon of Intratropical Migration
Singapore Bird Group

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Wild boars and dogs sighted in Punggol, residents voice concerns

MELISSA HENG Straits Times 16 Jun 15;

SINGAPORE - Wild dogs and wild boars have been sighted in Punggol recently, causing residents to raise concerns about the possible dangers that the animals present.

Residents of Edgefield Plains have made complaints to the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority Singapore (AVA) regarding the animals, reported Chinese evening newspaper Shin Min Daily News on Tuesday.

According to the residents interviewed by Shin Min, people have been witnessed leaving food for stray dogs in a field close to Edgefield Plains.

Some residents have reportedly resorted to carrying wooden sticks to defend themselves against the animals.

In response to public feedback on the wild boars and stray dogs in the vicinity, an AVA spokesman told The Straits Times that surveillance and control operations are being conducted in the area.f

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Look beyond market value in preserving green spaces

Euston Quah Nicolas Neo The Straits Times AsiaOne 17 Jun 15;

Singapore's founding fathers took a pragmatic approach that focused on economic growth to improve employment and raise income levels, in order to survive. However, with economic success and increased industrialisation, the living environment is inevitably affected, with a decline in green spaces.

Yet, economic growth and the environment are equally important to any society.

To this end, environmental groups in Singapore should be applauded for their efforts in preserving our green landscape. However, their approach in dealing with environmental degradation leaves room for improvement. The Bukit Brown cemetery issue is a prime example.

Despite being armed with a petition of 100,000 signatures, they failed to prevent the Government from redeveloping the land for road and housing. Indeed, the petition may not represent the feelings of the majority of Singaporeans on the issue.

Bukit Brown cemetery is on its way to being a new section of an expressway. The flora and fauna, and the historical heritage site that once occupied the area will soon be gone. In many such situations, land redevelopment is often irreversible. However, other solutions are possible.

Sustainability and market principles

The Government has stepped up its contributions towards environmental sustainability. Its land use plan includes expansion of regional park infrastructure and improving accessibility with park connectors. But Singapore's population growth suggests that more green spaces will have to be sacrificed to residential areas.

According to Singapore's Master Plan, the land supply for park and nature reserves is projected to increase from 5,700ha in 2010 to 7,250ha in 2030. However, on closer inspection, the projected land use increase in housing, commerce and industry combined far outstrips that of park and nature reserves.

This means that in 2030, there will be proportionally less space devoted to park and nature reserves than now.

Land use planning should abide by some market principles. The problem, however, is that land for residential, commercial or industrial purposes can be easily valued based on people's willingness to pay for such use, whereas green spaces are hard to quantify in monetary terms.

Unlike private property, where one buyer can pay to exert the right to use the space, green spaces are public goods - non-rival and non-excludable. This means anyone can use the space and one person's use of it does not deny another enjoyment of it. A public park can't exclude anyone, and can be enjoyed by many at the same time.

The lack of monetary value on green spaces in no way diminishes their worth to people. It simply suggests that the market mechanism and reliance on price is not adequate to help establish if land should be kept as a nature area, or redeveloped.

Alternatives to market-based valuation

One of the pillars of social progress is to improve standards of living. The key to this is the use of valuation to compare competing land uses by incorporating society's preferences. Therefore, government monitoring and intervention are required and this could come in four forms.

First, the government could engage in more cost-benefit analysis (CBA) on proposed projects.

Second, a formal environment impact assessment (EIA) could be introduced with inputs from green experts. The EIA and CBA can be merged, since many methodologies have become standards of assessments and valuation.

Third, there is another complementary approach which requires valuation. To put a value on green spaces and other green goods, the government should establish mechanisms and a coordinating agency to collect and solicit monetary values based on the intensity of people's preferences.

As preferences reflect demand, such demand will determine use-value. Eliciting people's willingness to pay for green goods either by charging a user or admission fee - or in the case of destruction of one use in preference of another use, soliciting people's compensation for the loss - could be undertaken.

Then, there are non-use values, including people who reserve the option to use such goods in future, as well as people who believe the existence of such goods is essential for a society.

Non-market valuation techniques are now better refined and widely used in public policy in many advanced Western countries. Adapting these methodologies for the Singapore context could be explored. Fourth, the use of damage schedules to prioritise different types of non-material and material goods can help rank different choices in land usage. Such damage schedules allow people to prioritise by ranking their preferences for government- provided goods which include green goods, educational services, health goods and transport. This lets people signal how much they value one over another, and allows governments to allocate their budgets accordingly.

These solutions are not without limitations. Formal valuation studies may delay projects and raise costs. Smaller firms may have insufficient funds to engage in EIA. Also, there is the issue of whether EIA and CBA can be manipulated.

The dichotomy of economic growth and the environment has been a growing concern to Singapore. Cost-benefit analysis would be incomplete and erroneous if no attempt is made to measure the quantity and value of green goods. It is appropriate to include such non-market valuation in assessing public goods, so that better informed choices can be made.

Putting a more human face to valuing green spaces
Ezra Ho THE STRAITS TIMES AsiaOne 26 Jun 15;

In their commentary last week, "Look beyond market value in preserving green spaces" (ST, June 15), writers Euston Quah and Nicolas Neo proposed several non-market valuation methods to help the authorities in making decisions about conserving green spaces.

Professor Quah, who is president of the Economic Society of Singapore and head of economics at Nanyang Technological University, and research assistant Mr Neo said that while land use planning should abide by some market principles, green spaces are hard to quantify in monetary terms.

Although I broadly share the writers' sentiments about the need for more diverse ways of incorporating society's preferences into environmental decision-making, their suggestions are limited by the flawed and depoliticised language of economics. The term "preferences" here does not reflect social complexity.

Underpinning their proposed valuation methods is the ability to discover and incorporate people's "preferences" for green goods into policy analysis. "Preference" is assumed to be a given existing within people, waiting to be elicited by prices as "demand". The problem with this view is that society is portrayed in a static, reductionistic way.

However, from a social sciences and humanities perspective that takes an interpretive approach - focusing on the role of meaning in shaping human behaviour and human social life - human choices and values are formed in, and transformed by, diverse socio-political interactions and cultural norms.

Human choices and action are subjective and emergent outcomes, mediated by a diverse range of meanings, values, norms, framings and politics.

Thus, a single good could be assigned multiple, conflicting "values" by an individual, depending on the context.

Consequently, such social complexity cannot be reduced into a single, abstract, calculable all-encompassing figure known as "preference"; a point apparently lost on most economists infected with maths and physics envy.

As one academic acknowledges, "virtually all cost-benefit analysts continue to ignore the implications of the possibility of endogenous preferences (that is, generated from within a person) in their work".

Beyond pedantic academic debates, the more important point here is that Prof Quah and Mr Neo's suggestions obscure what is an inherently political issue of resource allocation and distribution.

According to them, competing land-use decisions can be resolved by surveying discrete pieces of "values" from the world "out there", subject to abstract and supposedly value-neutral calculations to produce the most "efficient" outcomes.

By emphasising expert technique, they gloss over the political nature of conserving green spaces.

As in the Bukit Brown example they highlight - some civic groups have opposed the cemetery's redevelopment for roads and housing - and other similar incidents, land-use conflicts are often a clash of values, meanings and power relations, guided by very different interpretations of social justice and equity.

Yet, it is precisely during this deliberative process that diverse viewpoints and perspectives can be articulated to foster public debate and promote social learning between competing camps.

Rather than resorting to abstract and technocratic decision-making, engaging in open and transparent debates over underlying interests and values better promotes public participation and safeguards the public interest.

Similarly, although Prof Quah and Mr Neo recommend introducing Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA), they limit their description of the technique to its formalised and expert-driven roles.

As much as "standards of assessments and valuation" are important, EIAs should also be valued as an avenue for public participation, promoting "openness, transparency and public accountability" in environmental decisions, as former Nominated Member of Parliament Faizah Jamal has pointed out.

My intent is not to bash economics. All social sciences (including economics) are based on abstract models with varying degrees of simplifications to promote explanation. What is dangerous, however, is when one discipline and its partial theoretical perspectives become dominant.

Economists need to show more disciplinary humility and reflexivity about their theoretical paradigms and assumptions, venturing across disciplinary divides to achieve a more expansive understanding of society.

Simultaneously, scholars and practitioners of the - comparatively marginalised - interpretive social sciences and humanities need to stop pulling their punches, and start engaging in policy and research conversations traditionally dominated by positivist social sciences (which emphasise empirical data and methodology).

In a time of complex socio-economic, political and environmental challenges, a commitment to reflexive and pluralistic knowledge is crucial for promoting a sustainable and just society.

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Malaysia: Benalec to forge ahead with Tanjung Piai reclamation project

M. HAFIDZ MAHPAR The Star 15 Jun 15;

KUALA LUMPUR: Benalec Holdings Bhd is going ahead with the reclamation of about 1,000 acres off the coast of Tanjung Piai despite the expiry of the binding tripartite term sheet signed with The State Secretary, Johor (Inc) and 1MY Strategic Oil Terminal Sdn Bhd.

However, Benalec told Bursa Malaysia on Monday that it would seek other buyers for the land.

Earlier, the land was reportedly slated for 1MY to build a crude oil and petroleum storage facility in a RM21bil joint-venture with the United Arab Emirates. Benalec was represented by Spektrum Kukuh Sdn Bhd, a 70% owned subsidiary of its unit Tanjung Piai Maritime Industries Sdn Bhd,

In the latest announcement, Benalec said it had always been the group’s intention to realise its plans of reclaiming the 1,000 acres irrespective of the ultimate outcome of the said term sheet.

“To this end the group is targeting the commencement of reclamation works in Tanjung Piai to take place sometime in August 2015,” it said.

Benalec said that the group was now at liberty to deal with the 1,000 acres to be reclaimed “in ways consistent with the group’s business strategy.”

“One immediate option which the group will pursue is the resumption of engagement with a number of potential buyers who had previously expressed their strong interest in acquiring portions of the subject 1,000 acres of land; the group had to keep these serious enquiries in abeyance pending the progress or otherwise of the said term sheet,” it said.

It is still not known why the petroleum hub project was cancelled. The Department of Environment (DOE) had already approved the reclamation work for the project.

Benalec shares have fallen from 63 sen on Thursday (the day it announced the expiry of the term sheet) to close at 56.5 sen on Monday.

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Malaysia: Rise in turtle deaths in Terengganu

The Star 16 Jun 15;

DUNGUN: The number of turtle deaths in Terengganu has increased to 55 within the first six months of the year compared to 49 last year, said Terengganu Fisheries Department Director of Resource Management Rosman Rusdy.

He said 99% of these turtles were adults.

"The concern of fishermen for the turtles is still low despite awareness campaigns," he told Bernama Tuesday.

He said investigations found that most of the turtles died after getting snared in fishing gear such as trawl nets.

Rosman said there was a strong possibility that the deaths of some turtles had not been reported to the department.

He said data showed that the waters off Kemaman saw the highest incidence of turtle deaths, followed by the waters off Dungun, Kuala Terengganu and Besut.

The turtle deaths resulted in the loss of about 330 cases of nesting (a turtle nests six times a year) and 33,000 unhatched eggs.

Rosman said that on June 14, a dead adult green turtle was found floating in the waters off Redang Island at about 12.30pm, believed to have been snared in a trawl net.

He said Redang and Perhentian were two islands with the highest number of turtle landings in Terengganu each year.

He said that as of Monday, the department had placed 72,000 green turtle eggs on Redang Island and 910,000 on Perhentian Island under a nesting programme. - Bernama

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Toxic algae bloom off West Coast might be largest ever: scientists

Victoria Cavaliere PlanetArk 17 Jun 15;

A toxic algae bloom in the Pacific Ocean stretching from California north to Washington state might be the largest ever detected off the U.S. West Coast, scientists said on Tuesday.

The bloom, which first appeared in May, involves microscopic algae that produce a neurotoxin potentially fatal to humans called domoic acid, according to researchers at the University of California at Santa Cruz.

Levels of domoic acid in California's Monterey Bay are some of the highest scientists have ever observed, Raphael Kudela, professor of ocean sciences at the Santa Cruz campus, said in a statement.

"The domoic acid levels are extremely high right now in Monterey Bay, and the event is occurring as far north as Washington state," he said. "It appears this will be one of the most toxic and spatially largest events we've had in at least a decade."

Researchers are concerned that shellfish and other marine life, including razor clams, crabs, hake and West Coast sardines, could have elevated levels of domoic acid.

The acid has been responsible for several deaths and has sickened more than 100 people, according to the Washington state Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Fish and shellfish can accumulate the toxin without ill effect, the agency said, but in humans it crosses into the brain and interferes with nerve signal transmission.

Earlier this month, Washington authorities closed crab fishing from the border with Oregon through southern Washington because of elevated marine toxin levels, the agency said in a statement.

This week, a team of scientists set out from Oregon in a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration research vessel to study the bloom, the agency said on Tuesday.

Scientists will try to determine whether the massive size of the bloom is linked to this year's warmer-than-average water conditions from Washington to Southern California, the agency said.

The ship will sample water from the Mexican border to Vancouver Island, the Seattle Times reported.

(Editing by Peter Cooney)

Hordes of red crabs wash up on Southern California beaches
Marty Graham Reuters Yahoo News 18 Jun 15;

SAN DIEGO (Reuters) - Hundreds of thousands of tiny crabs have been washing up on Southern California beaches, marring the sandy coastline with streaks of red, as warm ocean currents carry them farther north and closer to shore than usual, officials said on Wednesday.

The red tuna crabs have been dying in hordes on beaches from San Diego to Orange County, although some have been washed back out to sea alive.

Such strandings take place periodically and are not necessarily a threat to the species, according to Linsey Sala, collection manager for the Pelagic Invertebrates Collection at the University of California, San Diego's Scripps Institution of Oceanography,

"This is definitely a warm-water indicator," Sala said. "Whether it's directly related to El Nino or other oceanographic conditions is not certain."

Scripps has cautioned people not to eat the crabs because the creatures may have ingested toxin-producing phytoplankton.

Scientists have noted the presence of a toxic algae bloom in the Pacific Ocean stretching from California north to Washington state that might be the largest ever detected off the U.S. West Coast. Sala could not say if the crab strandings might be related to the algae bloom.

The crabs are unusual in that they can spend most if not all of their lives free swimming in the water column rather than close to the bottom, although larger adults will make excursions to the seafloor, Sala said.

The plankton-eating crabs, native to the waters of the Gulf of California, Baja California and the California Current, are one to three inches (2.5-7.6 cm) long and resemble tiny lobsters. Their scientific name is Pleuroncodes planipes and they also are known as pelagic red crabs.

"They are mostly grazers in the upper 200 meters (yards) of the ocean," Sala said. "Because they can swim in the water column, they can be transported by strong currents."

Warmer water brought them north and ashore, Sala said.

(Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Will Dunham)

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Dissolving Sea Stars Reveal a Damaged Ocean By Lynn Wilson, Kaplan University and SeaTrust Institute
Yahoo News 16 Jun 15;

On a remote Pacific Northwest beach, the intertidal world reveals itself to the air breathers. Mussels and gooseneck barnacles fasten to exposed rocks that shelter the apex predators: ochre sea stars (Pisaster ochraceus). But something is wrong. White spots spread across the stars' disintegrating arms, and instead of regrowing the damaged appendages as sea stars often do, the entire animal rapidly dissolves into a mass of goo.

First noticed in Washington state in 2013, "sea star wasting disease" reached alarming proportions by July 2014, its cause unknown — even though the disease was first identified in 1979.

Beginning in June 2014, local researchers from SeaTrust Institute investigated relationships between marine diseases and human health. They encountered significant numbers of the disintegrating echinoderms along coastlines and throughout the Salish Sea straddling the border of British Columbia and Washington state. The disease was of particular interest to the team because Pisaster ochraceus is considered a keystone species, with disproportionately large influence on maintaining local species diversity by keeping certain grazers in check and feeding on the mussel Mytilus californianus. [In Photos: Sick Sea Stars Turn to Goo]

Cornell University epidemiologist Drew Harvell suspected a bacterium or a virus was causing the condition, and by November 2014, Cornell microbiologist Ian Hewson identified the source as the parvovirus Sea Star Associated Densovirus (SSaDV). This provided sufficient scientific evidence for the local researchers to weave the story of the sea stars and ocean health into the broader conversation about human health, climate change and sustainability. They did this at the December global climate change negotiations at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

SSaDV is not considered harmful to humans who eat shellfish or come in contact with affected seawater (two pints of clear seawater contains more than 4 billion viruses), but this unfolding story points to deeper connections between ocean health and human health. Fifty experts at the 2014 Oceans and Human Health Conference made a unanimous appeal for "coordinated, transnational and interdisciplinary oceans and human health research" illuminating the rising stakes in a warming world.

Ocean health mirrors global human health

Healthy oceans provide vital ecosystem services including primary production: the photosynthetic conversion of energy to organic substances by phytoplankton and other organisms.

Such habitats also provide coastal protection, waste remediation and recreation. Ocean-sourced nutraceuticals, biofuels, drugs and industrial products fuel economies and lead to medical breakthroughs.

Marine tourism, blue energy (tidal power, wave power, wind power), aquaculture and marine mineral resources contribute to human well-being through jobs and economies, as well as through energy and food. The November 2014 Rome Declaration on Nutrition by the World Health Organization and the Food and Agriculture Organization emphasizes the role of oceans in an increasingly food-insecure world.

Unhealthy oceans have the opposite affect on human health . Pollution and plastics affect marine health and biological reproduction, while biodiversity loss stresses habitats and population resilience.

Countries dump effluents from industries and cities off their shores, and in some cases, poor nations take financial compensation to dump the toxic waste from other nations who can afford to pay.

Diseases and pathogens like harmful algal blooms, parasites, bacteria, viruses and invasive species pose biological hazards to humans through contact, food or water contamination, and respiratory irritation. That can include the effects attributed to Karenia brevis, a particularly toxic red tide with an airborne neurotoxin found in the Gulf of Mexico. Warmer seawater is less salty, favoring Vibrio infections such as cholera and gastroenteritis.

Rising ocean temperatures contribute to extreme weather events causing injuries and deaths from stronger and more frequent storms. These include Midwestern tornadoes or less-frequent but more damaging cyclones, like the 2015 storm that devastated the island nation of Vanuatu. Warming seas accelerate sea level rise through thermal expansion and contributions to Antarctic and Greenland ice-sheet melting. These effects are exacerbated by coastal subsidence and wetlands sediment deprivation from dams, irrigation, aquifer depletion and the redirection of watercourses.

Poor chemistry

Ocean chemistry is also changing. Acidification favors jellies, but threatens species that depend upon calciferous shell and skeletal formation. These species include planktonic pteropods, coccolithophores and foraminifera, as well as corals, snails, clams, mussels, oysters, crustaceans, sea urchins and coralline algae.

Coccolithophores — a group of algae phytoplankton that secrete calcareous skeletons — are credited with producing nearly half of the oxygen humans breathe on a daily basis, and when compromised, these organisms become food for viruses. The upwelling of stagnant deep water and nutrient-rich agricultural runoff contribute to expanding dead zones where low oxygen levels threaten marine life. Scientists like Stanford University's Stephen Palumbi speculate that warming temperatures may cause entire food webs to rearrange.

As Pacific Northwest researchers and citizens count juvenile sea stars, they watch for signs of disease and speculate about SSaDV's relationship to high seabird mortality or its potential to infect other species including urchins. They also wonder if this is an early warning about pathogen development throughout global seas.

If the fate of these sea stars is related to declining ocean health, that portends other disease outbreaks with ramifications for human health. Identifying and monitoring the multifaceted and interconnected aspects of potential events deserves strong attention at local and global levels.

Loss of an apex predator could trigger a trophic cascade (when predators are eliminated, ecosystems destabilize, setting off chain reactions that harm biodiversity). That would alter the balance of predator and prey species, resulting in less-sustainable fisheries, loss of species diversity, and other radical alterations in marine ecosystems.

Human health depends upon ocean health, and it may be that at least part of this complex story is written in the stars.

Lynn Wilson, is Academic Department Chair for Public Administration at Kaplan University and founder and CEO of the SeaTrust Institute. A science journalist and academic author, Wilson is also a delegate for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and other United Nations regimes, a reviewer for the U.S. National Institutes of Health and the IPCC, and an active researcher with projects in Africa and the Pacific Islands. She contributed this article to Live Science's Expert Voices: Op-Ed & Insights.

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