Best of our wild blogs: 23 Jun 15

11 July (Sat) morning: Free guided walk at Chek Jawa Boardwalk
Adventures with the Naked Hermit Crabs

Early Bird discount for 1 Aug (Sat): Biodiversity of Singapore Symposium IV ending soon
wild shores of singapore

Back to Terumbu Bemban: Reef of fish trap
wonderful creation

Wild boars and giant mudskippers at Chek Jawa!
Adventures with the Naked Hermit Crabs

Last Cycad Tree of Old Katong Coastline found along Marine Parade Road
Flying Fish Friends

The story of the little town parrots
Life's Indulgences

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Plan to save Singapore freshwater crab from extinction

Carolyn Khew Straits Times AsiaOne 23 Jun 15;

Experts here have come up with a detailed conservation plan to help the Johora singaporensis crab claw its way back from the brink of extinction.

The effort, likely to be the first of its kind in the world for an invertebrate (without backbone) species, aims to save the pebble-size crustaceans - found only in Singapore - through captive breeding, better understanding of the crabs' genetics and demographics, and habitat protection, among other things.

Dr Daniel Ng of the National University of Singapore's (NUS) department of biological sciences, said that the Singapore freshwater crab, as it is commonly called, is of national significance as the creatures are uniquely Singaporean. "This species is named after Singapore, which underlines the fact that our nation should take a leading role in safeguarding this critically endangered species from extinction," he said.

But scientists could not do it alone, added Assistant Professor Darren Yeo, who is also from the NUS biological sciences department and a member of the conservation effort. "When we say we want to conserve, we cannot just say we want to. So many things have to fall in place like management and collaboration between different stakeholders - which a bunch of scientists alone are not necessarily equipped to do."

So the blueprint was put together by experts from NUS, the National Parks Board (NParks), Wildlife Reserves Singapore (WRS) and the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

Dr Ng estimates that there are only a few hundred reproductively mature individuals in the wild. The omnivorous crabs are known to exist in five freshwater streams in the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, Bukit Batok and Bukit Gombak and, more recently, were discovered in a protected security area in Bukit Gombak.

As research on J. singaporensis started gaining momentum only two to three years ago, a lot is still not known about them, including the genetic diversity of the crabs which live in homes sometimes less than 5km apart. A breeding plan is in place to hopefully establish a healthy population before the crabs are re-introduced into suitable habitats.

Dr Sonja Luz, director of conservation and research at WRS, which runs the River Safari, said the captive breeding programme is still in its infancy as the crabs were introduced into their captive facility only in March: "We are still trying to get an understanding on the ideal set-up for them to successfully breed."

Dr Lena Chan, director of the National Biodiversity Centre at NParks, said each location where the species is found has different characteristics and will require site-specific management. Plans for each locationand potential reintroduction sites will be developed by researchers and officers from NParks, NUS and WRS.

Professor Peter Ng, a crab expert who discovered the species in 1986, said he was surprised a "tiny, unsexy, boring-looking small animal without a backbone" was receiving treatment usually reserved for the stars of the animal kingdom such as pandas and whales. "It is not a bad goal. It will be a tough goal. And they may well fail," he said of the effort.

If it had not materialised, however, he noted: "The crab could have quietly died out, and no one would have been the wiser."

Healthy population discovered in Bukit Gombak

CRAB researchers have cause for cheer - a previously unknown and healthy population of critically endangered Johora Singaporensis crabs has been spotted in a hill stream at a protected security area in Bukit Gombak.

Even though the stream is located less than 500m away from a previously known habitat, researchers behind the discovery say that the finding is significant.

"There are not that many of them, so knowing every additional locality is really great news," said Assistant Professor Darren Yeo from the department of biological sciences at the National University of Singapore (NUS). "Every additional bit of information helps in the conservation of the species."

The crab populations are likely to be isolated from one another, with the crabs breeding only within their own populations.

The study involved experts from NUS and the National Parks Board.

Two years ago, they found several of the crabs hiding under small rocks and leaf litter in a stream. Night surveys revealed more of them foraging for food - and even a brooding female.

Encouragingly, the population density was relatively high as well, with about seven crabs per square metre.

Said Dr Daniel Ng, also from the biological sciences department and one of the researchers behind the study: "A higher population density could indicate that the site habitat is more suitable for this species." Healthy population discovered in Bukit Gombak

CRAB researchers have cause for cheer - a previously unknown and healthy population of critically endangered Johora Singaporensis crabs has been spotted in a hill stream at a protected security area in Bukit Gombak.

Even though the stream is located less than 500m away from a previously known habitat, researchers behind the discovery say that the finding is significant.

"There are not that many of them, so knowing every additional locality is really great news," said Assistant Professor Darren Yeo from the department of biological sciences at the National University of Singapore (NUS). "Every additional bit of information helps in the conservation of the species."

The crab populations are likely to be isolated from one another, with the crabs breeding only within their own populations.

The study involved experts from NUS and the National Parks Board.

Two years ago, they found several of the crabs hiding under small rocks and leaf litter in a stream. Night surveys revealed more of them foraging for food - and even a brooding female.

Encouragingly, the population density was relatively high as well, with about seven crabs per square metre.

Said Dr Daniel Ng, also from the biological sciences department and one of the researchers behind the study: "A higher population density could indicate that the site habitat is more suitable for this species."

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Authorities investigating cat deaths in Pasir Ris Park

The authorities are investigating the deaths of seven cats found in Pasir Ris Park on Saturday (Jun 20). The Cat Welfare Society said the cats could have eaten poisoned fish crumbs placed at several areas in the park.
Leong Wai Kit, News 5 Tonight Channel NewsAsia 22 Jun 15;

SINGAPORE: The authorities are investigating the deaths of seven cats found in Pasir Ris Park on Saturday (Jun 20). The Cat Welfare Society (CWS) said the cats could have eaten poisoned fish crumbs placed at several areas in the park. It added that many bird cases were also spotted alongside the dead cats.

The Society is now working with the authorities to find out if any tenants at the Park had hired pest control operators. It has scheduled an urgent meeting with the National Parks Board (NParks).

"The first few bodies found by cleaners had unfortunately been disposed of. After NParks was alerted, they have taken one body for post-mortem. NParks has informed us that they are putting more ranger patrols in the area as foulplay is very much suspected," CWS said in a Facebook post on Saturday.

One surviving cat was taken to a vet and was found with high toxin levels in its liver. Its blood samples will be sent for further tests. "The vet diagnosis of the surviving cat shows severe liver damage and dysfunction with a diagnosis of hepatotoxicity," CWS wrote on Facebook.

"How the cat was found showed the extreme level of suffering that the cat went through and is also indicative of how the others had died. This is very heartbreaking for the caregivers who have been taking care of the cats for years."

CWS said that they were on high alert after 11 cats in the area went missing. It is appealing for park visitors' vigilance to look out for suspicious behaviour at Pasir Ris Park. Those with leads can email

- CNA/dl

Dead felines in Pasir Ris Park raise fears of serial cat killer

A serial cat killer might be on the loose at Pasir Ris Park, where seven cats have been found dead.

The cats went missing on June 14, and some of the carcasses were found last week. Four are still missing.

Park-goers who feed the cats daily noticed their disappearance when they did not turn up at their usual area.

The Cat Welfare Society said the National Parks Board (NParks) had been alerted and will step up patrols in the area.

NParks has sent one of the carcasses for a post-mortem, and is slated to meet the Cat Welfare Society by next week to prevent further cat deaths.

The cats are suspected to have died from eating poisoned fish crumbs scattered about the area.

One poisoned cat was found alive by secretary Noorfaradila Ibrahim, 32, who feeds cats at the park. While the cat survived, preliminary tests at a veterinary clinic showed toxicity in its blood.

The Cat Welfare Society has urged the authorities to take quick action, saying that the scale of the incident points to a clear and present threat to animal welfare and public health.

Dead felines in Pasir Ris Park raise fears of serial cat killer
Samantha Boh Straits Times AsiaOne 22 Jun 15;

Yesterday, nine cat lovers and volunteers from the society tried to map out where the dead cats and the crumbs were found.

Former Cat Welfare Society vice-president Veron Lau, 44, said she smelled a stench coming from a drain. At least one cat carcass was found in a drain.

"It is quite unusual, and we suspect the cats might have crawled into the drains and died there," she said.

She said stray cats at Pasir Ris Park had been sterilised to keep their population under control. "So people should exercise some tolerance," she said.

Ms Noorfaradila is temporarily housing five of the area's remaining stray cats.

"It is very sad. You feed them, raise them like someone close to you, and suddenly you lose them in a matter of a week," she said.

Dead felines at Pasir Ris Park spark concerns of serial cat killer
NParks, AVA investigating the deaths while patrols have been stepped up
VALERIE KOH Today Online 22 Jun 15;

SINGAPORE — For the past one-and-a-half years, cat lover Elle Tusya Salim would make her way to Pasir Ris Park nightly, armed with bags of feed for the stray cats in the vicinity.

However, her nightly routine was disrupted two Sundays ago, after three cats failed to show up for their regular feeding session. Another eight vanished over the next few days.

The mysterious disappearances prompted Miss Elle, 23, and other cat lovers to embark on a search. By Saturday (June 20), seven carcasses had surfaced between the beach and Car Park F of the park.

“We found them hidden in the drain and in between kayaks. They were already decomposing. The last body we found had maggots,” said Ms Elle, a trainee aircraft engineer. Several dead birds were also found nearby.

Last Friday, an eighth cat, known affectionately as Angel, was found having seizures and foaming in a drain by Ms Noorfaradila Ibrahim, 32, a fellow cat lover working with Ms Elle.

A vet later diagnosed Angel with hepatotoxicity — severe liver damage and dysfunction.

The National Parks Board (NParks) and the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) are investigating the animal deaths. Patrols around the park have also been stepped up.

In a joint statement, NParks and AVA said they were aware of the cat deaths at the park last week. “AVA is investigating the case with the assistance of animal-welfare groups and vet clinics.

AVA will take enforcement action against anyone who committed animal cruelty,” said a spokesperson for both agencies. If found guilty, the offender can be fined up to S$15,000, jailed up to 18 months, or both.

NParks has despatched more rangers to patrol the park, said the Cat Welfare Society (CWS) in a Facebook post last Saturday. It added that NParks had also retrieved a body for post-mortem.

Former CWS vice-president Veron Lau told TODAY that fish crumbs had been found scattered in the vicinity of the carcasses and the society suspected that the cats had died after eating the poison-laced crumbs. “The appearance of the feed coincides with the deaths,” she said.

Veterinarian Geoffrey Yeo, who is based at Jireh Veterinary Clinic, also believes the cats may have been poisoned. “A lot of cats have been found dead. That increases the suspicion that someone or a few people have been maliciously trying to get these animals injured or harmed in some way,’ said Dr Yeo, adding that a post-mortem sample would be needed for confirmation. Another possible cause is an infectious disease, he added.

The CWS is trying to arrange a meeting with the authorities later this week. “We’re hoping to get their cooperation to help spot suspicious behaviour,” said Ms Lau, 44. “They should also install closed-circuit televisions for public safety, if there aren’t any installed now.”

Public education is also important, added Ms Lau. She hopes the authorities will put up posters around the park to inform visitors of the animal deaths.

As for the remaining stray cats at the park, Ms Elle has taken two — a ginger cat named Pumpkin and a brown-and-white feline named Sarsi — home for the time being. Another five are being fostered by Ms Noorfaradila, a secretary.

“We’re planning to put them back, but we’re not sure when it’ll be safe again. Finding new homes for them won’t be easy too, because the cats are old and people don’t usually (adopt from) this age group,” said Ms Elle.

Cat deaths in Pasir Ris: Cat Welfare Society to launch public education campaign
The society will also educate the public about the penalties of animal cruelty in Singapore and ask people to be more vigilant by looking out for suspicious behaviour in and around the park.
Hetty Musfirah Abdul Khamid, Channel NewsAsia 24 Jun 15;

SINGAPORE: The Cat Welfare Society (CWS) will launch a public education campaign in Pasir Ris Park, following the mysterious deaths of stray cats in the area. It also held a meeting with representatives from the PA Water Venture, the Agri-Veterinary Authority of Singapore and the National Parks Board on Wednesday (Jun 24).

This comes after cat feeder Hashimah Hasan, who has been feeding cats in Pasir Ris Park every day for the past two years, noticed something amiss last week. One of her favourites, Cloud 9, was nowhere to be found.

She said: "Whenever I shake my kibble, I can see him running like he was floating and that's why I called him Cloud 9. So on that particular Wednesday, I was looking for him and I saw these anglers and I asked them, ‘Did you see this white cat?’ because he is a common figure here.

“Some time in the afternoon, I received a call saying that there's a white body (of a cat) found. So, I rushed down. This is inhumane and cruel. I mean, ‘why? What did the cat do?’"

Cloud 9 was one of nine cats found dead in the park since Jun 14. The society had earlier said that seven cats had died and four others were missing. However, two more cats have been confirmed dead, following information from the public.

CWS believes the cats may have eaten poisoned fish crumbs placed near the entrance of PA Water Venture and at other areas.

Said CWS Board member Veron Lau: “To us, something really serious has happened and it was a deliberate act because the feed was found in several areas in the park. With the evidence of birds dying in and around the feeding area and then with the bodies of cats found, we cannot rule out that there is a deliberate act of foul play.”

After the meeting, CWS said one outcome is to get the public to stay vigilant, and added that it is looking to raise awareness within the park and on social media, such as putting up posters appealing for information on the cats’ deaths during the week.

CWS also aims to educate the public about the penalties of animal cruelty in Singapore and to ask people to be more vigilant, such as to look out for suspicious behaviour in and around the park.

Concerns that pest controllers could be behind the deaths were also addressed. Mr Lau said: "During the meeting, NParks and PA Water Venture have resolutely confirmed that they did not call pest control, so this is one point that we will want to clarify with the public as well.”

The society said one cat is still missing and another, named Angel, is suffering from severe liver damage. Six other cats have been taken in by feeders.

Anyone found guilty of animal cruelty can be fined up to S$15,000, jailed up to 18 months, or both.

- CNA/xk

Cat deaths in Pasir Ris: 'No evidence of poisoning' says AVA
According to the Cat Welfare Society, the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore found no evidence in fish crumb and blood samples to indicate that nine cats found dead in Pasir Ris, had been poisoned.
Channel NewsAsia 16 Jul 15;

SINGAPORE: Laboratory examinations showed no evidence to indicate poisoning in last month's mass cat deaths at Pasir Ris, the Cat Welfare Society (CWS) said on Wednesday (Jul 15).

The volunteer group said this was the finding, after the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) of Singapore completed tests on fish crumbs and blood samples taken from surviving and dead cats.

At least nine cats were found dead in the park since Jun 14 and CWS had earlier said it believes the cats may have eaten poisoned fish crumbs near the entrance of PA Water Venture and at other areas. It shared a video on its Facebook page of one of the cats that died, convulsing when it was found.

“We are hugely disappointed at this turn of events but it was not unexpected as the cat sent for post-mortem was found in a badly decomposed state. Blood from Angel (one of the cats) was only drawn on the fifth day after she was intravenously flushed,” CWS wrote in a Facebook note. The fish crumbs were also collected a week after the deaths.

CWS said this incident highlights the issue of timely evidence gathering. “The caregivers have done all they can. It is hard to expect an elderly feeder to know the importance of documenting and keeping anything suspicious from the scene when something bad happens. The heartening thing was she wasn't alone, knew other feeders and they kickstarted the chain of events to bring awareness to the case.”

Following the release of the laboratory results, CWS said it is seeking to engage the AVA, the Society For The Prevention Of Cruelty To Animals (SPCA) and vet clinics on the best way to expedite evidence gathering in cases that point to human acts of cruelty.

- CNA/xk

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Surge in rat complaints last year

Majority of the rat-related complaints involved housing estates. The National Enviroment Agency is helping town councils to run their own rat eradication programmes.
Nur Afifah Ariffin, Channel NewsAsia 22 Jun 15;

SINGAPORE: Last December, a hill near Bukit Batok MRT station came under scrutiny for being overrun with hundreds of rats. But the "tail" does not end there. For the whole of last year, the National Environment Agency (NEA) received about 4,000 complaints about rats, a 25 per cent jump from 2013. Close to 90 per cent of rat burrows were detected in housing estates, which is outside the agency's purview.

NEA has been helping town councils with a rat infestation problem, like in Chua Chu Kang, which saw a spike in rodent population in June last year. It prompted the Town Council to initiate a programme called "Rat Attack" with NEA in November.

MP for Chua Chu Kang GRC Zaqy Mohamad said: "On the first scan, we had 907 active burrows. And by January, two months later, we were down to 500 burrows. By March, we were down to about 100 burrows. So we have seen a 90 per cent drop in the number of rat burrows as a result of this programme. So today we're in maintenance mode."

Separately, the NEA has its own islandwide rat surveillance programme. The agency recently called a tender to engage a pest control operator to continue the programme for the next two years, as the existing contract will expire at the end of July. This is so that the authorities can react quickly should a rat infestation problem occurs.

Mr Zaqy added: "In terms of surveillance, that would complement a large part of the proactive portion of the Rat Attack programme. This may also encompass areas that are not under Town Council management.

“Sometimes, we do have rat situation in those areas and we do have to work with NEA for those. So, in a certain sense, it adds a layer of surveillance to help us in our proactive search in our rats burrows, if done well and correctly."

One pest control operator Channel NewsAsia spoke with said the community must do its part to keep the rat population under control.

"We need parties that are concerned, whether they are service providers, waste management, or maybe food outlets - to do their part, so that we can draw out the protocols to ensure that our programme is successful," said PestBusters CEO Thomas Fernandez.

“It is not just about the tendering and going according to the scope of work that they ask us to do. It could be deeper than that. We require the community at large to understand our rat control programme and the surveillance."

NEA said the key to managing rat infestation is to remove food sources.

- CNA/xk

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Balancing act: What's needed to grow an active cycling culture in Singapore?

The Chief Planner for the Urban Redevelopment Authority says cyclists, pedestrians and drivers, should emulate New York's cycling culture and anticipate what each is doing, to accommodate everyone on the road.
Alice Chia Channel NewsAsia 22 Jun 15;

NEW YORK: Two weeks ago, non-profit organisation Public Space Party threw a bike party along Fifth Avenue in New York City. Nine museums along the stretch opened their doors to the public, and parts of the road were closed off to cars.

"Everyone's biking. Everyone has fun, there's dancing along the way, and events and food. And the more that we encourage that, the more we can get people on bikes,” said co-founder of Public Space Party Monica Hunken, a teacher.

Public Space Party’s other co-founder Benjamin Shepard, a college professor, said getting more people on bikes means less cars on the streets.

"Some of the hottest summers on record have been in the last few summers so global warming is a reality. We have a planet that's getting hotter and hotter so we need less cars, less carbon emissions, we need to get rid of cars on the streets,” he said.

The group was started by Ms Hunken and her friends just last year, but they have been organising bike outings for more than a decade. The outfit also highlights issues of sustainable urban development and public spaces.

Mr Lim Eng Hwee, Chief Planner and Deputy Chief Executive Officer at the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) shared his experience of cycling in New York, which has a culture he believes Singapore should emulate.

"The different users on the road, whether you're a cyclist, pedestrian or driver, somehow they can anticipate what the other user groups will do and they can adapt to each other. They give way when it is necessary. This is something in Singapore that we will need to inculcate and develop if we want cycling to entrench in Singapore."

Singapore has the Safe Cycling Programme for Youths, where cyclists learn to use hand signals to communicate their intention to drivers, among other things. But across the board, public education on safe cycling would need to be ramped up, said Ms Caroline Samponro, Deputy Director at the New York-based Transportation Alternatives.

"Cities that are very safe for biking are cities where kids from a very young age in school learn about safety on the street. So I think that it's not just laws and enforcement, and adults training. It's actually reaching people when they're young and they're in the schools that can be very impactful,” she said.

Another way to spread the message is through activities, such as fund-raising cycling events.

Mr Steven Lim, President of the Safe Cycling Task Force, said the organisation supports events such as that by voluntary welfare organisation Teen Challenge (Singapore) - which helps youths suffering from addiction - by training a group of safety cyclists to help out.

"If we train 50 safety cyclists, technically, we will expect to see 50 better cyclists, so we will have 50 fewer bad cyclists on the roads,” he said.

Paving the way for a strong cycling culture as well, a groundbreaking ceremony for a cycling path network in Punggol took place on Sunday (Jun 21), as part of the Government's efforts to get more people to adopt cycling as a greener mode of transport.

- CNA/dl

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Free guided tours to 50 places that define Singapore as home

JOY FANG Today Online 22 Jun 15;

SINGAPORE — Did you know Dakota Crescent was named after the model of an aircraft that had crashed into the area in the 1940s? Or that East Coast Park was built entirely on reclaimed land?

These are some of the titbits Singaporeans can glean from free guided bus tours over three weekends from now until August.

Organised by SG Heart Map, the five different tours will last from four to six hours, each heading to the south-east, south-west, north-east, north-west and central parts of Singapore. The tours will take place this Saturday and Sunday, on July 4 and 5 and on Aug 7, 8 and 10.

The tours will explore some of the 50 endearing places to Singaporeans that emerged after six months of crowdsourcing, from more than 85,000 contributions. The spots celebrate the places that define Singapore as home. For instance, those heading to the “Scenic South-East Tour” can visit spots such as the Singapore Sports Hub, Old Airport Road, East Coast Park and Changi Village.

Those who opt for the “Adventurous North-West Tour” will visit the Woodlands Waterfront Park, River Safari and Chong Pang Market and Food Centre. Other spots on other tours include the Singapore Botanic Gardens, Gardens by the Bay, Kovan Market and Food Centre, Maxwell Food Centre and Punggol Waterway.

Participants on these tours will learn about the places’ lesser-known stories and be able to sample local fare during stopovers at hawker centres. The tours will be conducted by guides licensed by the Singapore Tourism Board.

Participants will also be invited to join in a mass activity of planting their thumbprint on a large map. The mega art piece will be unveiled at the SG Heart Map finale event at year end.

Full-time national serviceman Brian Liew, 22, had contributed Changi Village as a destination to SG Heart Map. He said he loves the place because it is a quiet getaway from the city, and has both hawker fare and speciality cafes for everyone’s enjoyment.

“Every time I go there, I find something else that’s interesting,” said Mr Liew, who went for a preview of the bus tour and was impressed by how informative it was.

A resident of the eastern part of Singapore, Mr Liew still managed to discover information from the south-east tour, such as that Still Road was named after Alexander William Still, who was The Straits Times’ chief editor.

“If I have the time, I’d definitely want to join the tours of the other parts of Singapore,” said Mr Liew.

Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong, who spoke to reporters yesterday after touring a photography exhibition at one of the tour stops on Old Airport Road, said he was glad that SG Heart Map got Singaporeans to participate and put forth what the places mean to them.

“It’s a good effort by the organisers to capture what memories meant to the hearts of Singaporeans, so I support the effort,” he said.

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Malaysia: Fishing industry warns of decline in fresh seafood

The Star 23 Jun 15;

IPOH: Fresh seafood supplies will dwindle if the Government bans the use of trawl nets in Zone B (between 14.8km and 28km from the shore), the fishing industry has warned.

A spokesman for the Malaysia Fish Industries General Association said since most quality seafood was sourced in Zone B, the ban would affect the supply and result in the country importing it from other countries at higher cost.

“Marine fish, especially those in Zone B, are of better quality than fish reared in cages.

“Besides fish, squid, prawns and crabs are also found in Zone B,” said Toh Sang Chai, a committee member of the association, after meeting various state fishing industry organisations here yesterday.

Agriculture and Agro-based Industries Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob announced in November last year that trawl nets would be banned from next year.

He advised fishermen to use the pukat jerut (purse seine) instead to protect the interests of inshore fishermen.

A trawl net is used to pull along the bottom of the sea to catch fish, while the purse seine is a large fishing net drawn into the shape of a bag to enclose the catch.

Toh said although fishermen had the option to upgrade their trawl nets to purse seine, it was costly.

“It costs about RM1mil to change from using trawler boats to vessels using purse seine. Who will give us the loan for it?”

“On a trawler boat, we only need three to five people but it would take up to 20 people to operate a boat using purse seine,” he added.

Toh said without the necessary equipment and financial means to change to purse seine, fishermen would be stuck with trawler boats.

“The trawlers are smaller and we cannot venture further away from shore as it can be dangerous for us.”

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Humans creating sixth great extinction of animal species, say scientists

Study reveals rate of extinction for species in the 20th century has been up to 100 times higher than would have been normal without human impact
Adam Vaughan The Guardian 22 Jun 15;

The modern world is experiencing a “sixth great extinction” of animal species even when the lowest estimates of extinction rates are considered, scientists have warned.

The rate of extinction for species in the 20th century was up to 100 times higher than it would have been without man’s impact, they said.

Many conservationists have been warning for years that a mass extinction event akin to the one that wiped out the dinosaurs is occurring as humans degrade and destroy habitats.

But the authors of a study published on Friday said that even when they analysed the most conservative extinction rates, the rate at which vertebrates were being lost forever was far higher than in the last five mass extinctions.

“We were very surprised to see how bad it is,” said Dr Gerardo Ceballos of the National Autonomous University of Mexico. “This is very depressing because we used the most conservative rates, and even then they are much higher than the normal extinction rate, really indicating we are having a massive loss of the species.”

Previous studies have warned that the impact of humans taking land for buildings, farming and timber has been to make species extinct at speeds unprecedented in Earth’s 4.5bn-year history.

Ceballos said that his study, co-authored by Paul R Ehrlich who famously warned of the impact of humanity’s “population bomb”, employed better knowledge of natural or so-called background extinction rates. He said it was conservative because it looked only at species that had been declared extinct, which due to stringent rules can sometimes take many years after a species has actually gone extinct.

Under a “natural” rate of extinction, the study said that two species go extinct per 10,000 species per 100 years, rather than the one species that previous work has assumed.

Modern rates of extinction were eight to 100 times higher , the authors found. For example, 477 vertebrates have gone extinct since 1900, rather than the nine that would be expected at natural rates.

“It’s really signalling we’ve entered a sixth extinction and it’s driven by man,” said Ceballos.

However, Prof Henrique Miguel Pereira, the chair of the Group on Earth Observations Biodiversity Observation Network, said that the new paper did not add anything revolutionarily new.

“They argue that recent extinction rates are up to 100 times higher than in the past. I think it improves our documentation of the process but it does not yet confirm a sixth mass extinction. I tend to think we have a major biodiversity crisis, but it would take either a fast acceleration of current extinction rates or a couple of centuries at current extinction rates, for the current process to become a sixth mass extinction.”

The team behind the new analysis said “rapid, greatly intensified efforts” would be needed to stop or slow the extinctions currently underway.

Ceballos pointed to the Pope Francis’s encyclical on the environment, which was published on Thursday and lamented the loss of the world’s biodiversity, and interventions by Barack Obama, as signs of hope. “These important figures are starting to really grasp the problem,” he said.

On why people should be worried about the rate of extinctions, he said: “People say that’s really sad, but why does it affect me? There are many reasons we should care. We are the species that are causing the loss of all these other species.”

But the most important reason, he said, was that by losing species humanity was losing what enabled us to have a “good standard of living”.

The paper, Accelerated modern human–induced species losses: Entering the sixth mass extinction, was published in the journal Science Advances.

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Climate change health risk is a 'medical emergency', experts warn

Kate Kelland Reuters Yahoo News 23 Jun 15;

LONDON (Reuters) - The threat to human health from climate change is so great that it could undermine the last 50 years of gains in development and global health, experts warned on Tuesday.

Extreme weather events such as floods and heat waves bring rising risks of infectious diseases, poor nutrition and stress, the specialists said, while polluted cities where people work long hours and have no time or space to walk, cycle or relax are bad for the heart as well as respiratory and mental health.

Almost 200 countries have set a 2 degrees C global average temperature rise above pre-industrial times as a ceiling to limit climate change, but scientists say the current trajectory could lead to around a 4 degrees C rise in average temperatures, risking droughts, floods, storms and rising sea levels.

"That has very serious and potentially catastrophic effects for human health and human survival," said Anthony Costello, director of University College London's (UCL) Institute for Global Health, who co-led the report.

"We see climate change as a major health issue, and that's often neglected in policy debates," he told reporters at a briefing in London.

The report, commissioned and published by The Lancet medical journal, was compiled by a panel of specialists including European and Chinese climate scientists and geographers, social, environmental and energy scientists, biodiversity experts and health professionals.

It said that because responses to mitigate climate change have direct and indirect health benefits - from reducing air pollution to improving diet - a concerted effort would also provide a great opportunity to improve global health.

The report said direct health impacts of climate change come from more frequent and intense extreme weather events, while indirect impacts come from changes in infectious disease patterns, air pollution, food insecurity and malnutrition, displacement and conflicts.

"Climate Change is a medical emergency," said Hugh Montgomery, director of UCL's institute for human health and performance and a co-author on the report. "It demands an emergency response using technologies available right now."

The panel said there were already numerous ways to bring about immediate health gains with action on climate change.

Burning fewer fossil fuels reduces respiratory diseases, for example, and getting people walking and cycling more cuts pollution, road accidents and rates of obesity, diabetes, heart disease and stroke.

Cardiovascular disease is the world's number one killer, leading to some 17 million deaths a year, according to World Health Organization data.

"There's a big (energy) saving in people using calories to get around, and there are some immediate gains from more active lifestyles," Montgomery said.

(Reporting by Kate Kelland)

Climate change threatens 50 years of progress in global health, study says
But slashing fossil fuel use also presents greatest global opportunity to improve people’s health in 21st century, says Lancet and UCL commission
Damian Carrington and Sarah Boseley The Guardian 23 Jun 15;

Climate change threatens to undermine half a century of progress in global health, according to a major new report.

But the analysis also concludes that the benefits to health resulting from slashing fossil fuel use are so large that tackling global warming also presents the greatest global opportunity to improve people’s health in the 21st century.

The report was produced by the Lancet/UCL commission on health and climate change, a collaboration of dozens of experts from around the world, and is backed by Margaret Chan, head of the UN World Health Organisation.

“We see climate change as a major health issue and that it is often neglected in the policy debates,” said Professor Anthony Costello, director of the UCL Institute of Global Health and co-chair of the commission.

“On our current trajectory, going to 4C [of warming] is somewhere we don’t want to go and that has very serious and potentially catastrophic effects for human health and human survival and could undermine all of the last half-century’s gains. We see that as a medical emergency because the action we ned to do to stop that in its tracks and get us back onto a 2C trajectory or less requires action now – and action in the next ten years – otherwise the game could be over.”

The comprehensive analysis sets out the direct risks to health, including heatwaves, floods and droughts, and indirect – but no less deadly – risks, including air pollution, spreading diseases, famines and mental ill-health. A rapid phase-out of coal from the global energy mix is among the commission’s top recommendations, given the millions of premature deaths from air pollution this would prevent.

The report states that political will is now the major barrier to delivering a low-carbon economy and the associated improvements to health and poverty, not finance or technology.

The authors argue that health has been neglected from the climate change debate. It says doctors and other health professionals must take a leading role in ending society’s “addiction” to fossil fuels, having confronted “powerful entrenched interests”, such as the tobacco industry, in the past.

“A public health perspective has the potential to unite all actors behind a common cause — the health and wellbeing of our families, communities, and countries,” the report states. “These concepts are far more tangible and visceral than tonnes of atmospheric CO2, and are understood and prioritised across all populations.”

The commission is seeking consciously to shift the balance from what Costello called “catastrophism” to a far more positive message about the potential for improving human health.

“We are getting fatter, we’re getting heart attacks, strokes, diabetes, respiratory ill-health, depression, anxiety and virtually all of things we want to do to protect us against climate change will improve our health, whether it’s active transport – walking, cycling – eating healthier sustainable local diets or cutting air pollution. All of that will have a huge health dividend, health benefits and save a lot of money,” said Costello.

The report is the latest in a line of significant interventions in the run-up to a crunch UN climate summit in Paris in December, when nations hope to agree a global deal on cutting emissions. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned in November of “severe, widespread, and irreversible impacts” from global warming, shortly after an international group of economists warned that the world’s future economic growth depended on taming climate change.

Last week, Pope Francis issued a rare encyclical which set out a passionately-argued moral case for acting on both climate change and poverty. In May, financial experts at the International Monetary Fund revealed that the full costs of fossil fuels being picked up by taxpayers runs at $10m (£6m) per minute, more than the total spent on healthcare by the world’s governments.

Chan said the latest Lancet/UCL commission report was “very timely”, coming a few months ahead of the Paris conference. The first commission report, which warned that “climate change is the greatest health threat of the 21st century”, was published in 2009 ahead of the ultimately unsuccessful UN climate summit in Copenhagen.

Chan highlighted the huge benefits to be gained by tackling air pollution, shown by the new report. “Air pollution is one of the most important health risk factors globally, comparable to tobacco smoking, and the largest killer in some countries,” she said.

Deaths from air pollution are rising around the world. The Lancet report cites research estimating that cutting carbon emissions would cut premature deaths from air pollution by 500,000 a year in 2030, 1.3m in 2050 and 2.2m in 2100, particularly in the heavily polluted cities of India and China. Other work in the US shows the boosts to human health can be worth 10 times the costs of cutting emissions.

The report details the range of damage to health that global warming causes, including heatwaves whose deadly effects are rising around the world, for example in Russia in 2010 where 11,000 people died. Dengue fever is likely to spread, the report finds, and malaria cases may rise in some areas while falling in others. Cholera outbreaks occur when hurricanes mix waste and drinking water and extreme weather is increasing.

Food shortages may increase as climate change harms crops and livestock and the ability to work in hot climates, the report states. Such shortages can lead people to migrate as refugees, leading to further health problems, or even to conflicts. People forced to move, whether by food shortages, floods or extreme storms, can suffer serious mental health problems.

Mohga Kamal-Yann, Oxfam’s senior health policy advisor, said: “Rapid action to tackle global emissions and help communities adapt is crucial to reduce the threats of ill-health, hunger and additional hardship. Rich countries can and should make substantial cuts to their emissions by phasing out coal and by providing the funding that developing countries need to cope with climate change.”

The Guardian’s Keep it in the Ground campaign has been highlighting the impact of climate change on public health by focusing on the world’s two largest health charities – the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Wellcome Trust. The campaign is asking them to move their investments out of fossil fuel companies.

Top doctors' prescription for feverish planet: Cut out coal
SETH BORENSTEIN Associated Press Yahoo News 23 Jun 15;

WASHINGTON (AP) — Some top international doctors and public health experts have issued an urgent prescription for a feverish planet Earth: Get off coal as soon as possible.

Substituting cleaner energy worldwide for coal will reduce air pollution and give Earth a better chance at avoiding dangerous climate change, recommended a global health commission organized by the prestigious British medical journal Lancet. The panel said hundreds of thousands of lives each year are at stake and global warming "threatens to undermine the last half century of gains in development and global health."

It's like a cigarette smoker with lung problems: Doctors can treat the disease, but the first thing that has to be done is to get the patient to stop smoking, or in this case get off coal in the next five years, commission officials said in interviews.

"The prescription for patient Earth is that we've got a limited amount of time to fix things," said commission co-chairman Dr. Anthony Costello, a pediatrician and director of the Global Health Institute at the University College of London. "We've got a real challenge particularly with carbon pollution."

He called it a "medical emergency" that could eventually dwarf the deadly toll of HIV in the 1980s. He and others said burning coal does more than warm the Earth, but causes even more deaths from other types of air pollution that hurt people's breathing and hearts.

Unlike its earlier report in 2009, which laid out the health problems of climate change, this report was more about what can be done to improve the planet's health. It calls for cutting air pollution, more walking and cycling and less driving, better urban design, putting a price on the cost of each ton of carbon being used, improved health care planning for extreme weather and every two year check-ups on how the world is doing to get healthier.

View galleryFILE - In this Jan. 20, 2015 file photo, a plume of …
FILE - In this Jan. 20, 2015 file photo, a plume of steam billows from the coal-fired Merrimack Stat …
"Virtually everything that you want to do to tackle climate change has health benefits," Costello said. "We're going to cut heart attacks, strokes, diabetes."

The Lancet commission report came out days after an impassioned plea to fight global warming by Pope Francis and hours after the President Barack Obama's administration issued a report emphasizing the costs of inaction on climate change and the benefits of doing something now. The Obama administration said if nothing is done, at the turn of the next century about 57,000 Americans will die each year from polluted air and at least another 12,000 yearly from extreme temperatures.

"Obama is not a doctor; people trust doctors more," Costello said.

In a companion posting in Lancet, World Health Organization director general Margaret Chan also compares fighting climate change to fighting smoking and saving lives. Both Chan and the Lancet commission quote WHO studies that say by 2030 climate change would "be likely to cause about 250,000 additional deaths per year" around the world.

Poverty is the main problem and burning coal to produce electricity helps fight that, said National Mining Association spokesman Luke Popovich. He said, "it makes far more sense to support the technologies that make coal cleaner to use than to support policies that would deny its use to those who rightfully want the comforts of civilization."

But Harvard School of Public Health epidemiologist Joel Schwartz called the Lancet study's coal phase-out "a reasonable prescription for planet Earth. Burning coal has terrible health effects, is bad for global warming and it is destructive of the ecosystem."

The Lancet:

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