Best of our wild blogs: 1 Aug 15

Spider feeding on dragonfly
Bird Ecology Study Group

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New dive trails ‘could be overwhelming for amateurs’

LAURA PHILOMIN Today Online 1 Aug 15;

SINGAPORE — While the two new dive trails at the Sisters’ Islands Marine Park announced by the National Parks Board (NParks) in June have generated interest among nature lovers, experienced dive guides said divers have to be prepared for challenging conditions.

Poor visibility and possibly strong currents could be overwhelming for inexperienced divers, and such dives should be held in small groups, they said.

While locally organised dive trips usually head out to Pulau Hantu, also among Singapore’s southern islands, dive operators told TODAY that they expect conditions at Sisters’ Islands, which are to the east of Pulau Hantu, to be similar.

Owner of Diving Solutions James Costello, who has been diving locally for 12 years, said visibility around Singapore waters, including sites such as Pulau Hantu, averages between 2m and 3m because of heavy boat traffic that stirs up sand and silt, from land reclamation, in the water.

And while Sisters’ Islands are slightly further out from the mainland, owner of dive centre Friendly Waters Dave Yiu said visibility is dependent on the time of the year, and it could sometimes be even worse than at Pulau Hantu.

“Sisters’ Islands, the way it is positioned, can (result in) channel and rip currents during spring tides and that can be very challenging or dangerous for divers who are not really experienced,” added Mr Yiu, who has been diving for over two decades.

A pilot project by NParks as part of a broader Marine Conservation Action Plan, the two circular dive trails — which will be ready for public access by end of next month — will be at different depths, complete with 10 underwater signboards along each trail providing information on the marine biodiversity.

The Shallow Trail will take divers around coral reefs and sandy habitats at a maximum depth of 6m, where they can observe giant clams, sea anemones and clown fishes.

Coral rubble and rocky and silty habitats, reaching a maximum depth of 15m, at the Deep Trail will showcase sea fans, sea stars and the recently re-discovered Neptune’s Cup Sponge.

The pilot is for NParks to assess the suitability and functionality of the trails. By its own estimation, NParks said visibility at the dive trails is expected to be between 1m and 5m, depending on weather conditions.

Participants will also be required to at least have an Open Water certification.

Dive groups should be kept small for safety, with about three to four divers paired to a dive guide, operators said.

“Dives around Singapore are usually more common on weekends. If let’s say (different) dive shops … are going to be there at the same time, all you need is a 15-minute gap between one dive group and another dive group. I think it all boils down to how other dive shops work with one another to come up with a proper system,” said Mr Rafi Majid, owner of The Dive Company. He added that dive operators have a similar system at Pulau Hantu.

The market price of a half-day trip out to Pulau Hantu with two dives currently ranges between S$90 and S$100. While prices for a similar package to Sisters’ Islands have yet to be announced by NParks, Mr Rafi noted that fuel costs may be slightly higher as it is further away compared with Pulau Hantu.

Mr Costello also said there are only about two dive centres that charter boats out to the islands, where other centres have to buy spaces on the boats for their customers. “That puts the emphasis on the boat operators to manage this more than the dive centres.”

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Whale carcass found in Singapore: S$1m drive for preservation

The skeleton of a sperm whale carcass which washed up on Jurong Island is set to be displayed at the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum when it is fully preserved.
Dawn Karen Tan, Channel NewsAsia 31 Jul 15;

SINGAPORE: Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum said on Friday (Jul 31) it wants to raise S$1 million to preserve the skeleton of the sperm whale carcass that washed up on Jurong Island earlier this month.

Private donors have already come forward to help in the preservation of the adult female whale, which museum staff are affectionately calling "Jubilee Whale" or "Jubi" for short.

Donors include Former Singapore High Commissioner to Brunei Joseph Koh and Expand Construction, the main contractor which built the new Lee Kong Chian Natural History museum. The museum is inviting support from the public who wish to contribute to the project.

"We feel that we can do more to make our museum a living classroom, a site of family learning that all Singaporeans are proud of," explained Mr Koh. "We can enthrall our kids with the largest mammal on earth, we can spark their curiosity with the many surprises of Singapore's biodiversity despite our size."

The cause of the whale's death has not yet been ascertained, but researchers said part of the spine was chipped and cracked, possibly damaged by a ship's propeller. Forensic analysis also found that one of the whale's rib bones had been fractured. It is not known if the fracture occurred before or after the whale died.

A team from the museum spent the past three weeks at Tuas cleaning and removing the flesh from the skeleton. Researchers from the museum explained that they have blanched the skeleton to remove the flesh. They added that they still have to remove grease and pests, and bleach the skeleton before it is ready for display.

The animal is the first sperm whale found in Singapore waters and the third reported in South-East Asia. The museum said it will display the skeleton of the whale once it has been fully preserved.

Sperm whales, the largest carnivores on earth, are classified as a vulnerable species.

- CNA/xq

Museum hopes donors will make a whale of a difference
NEO CHAI CHIN Today Online 31 Jul 15;

SINGAPORE — When the skeleton of the dead sperm whale that washed up near Jurong Island eventually goes on display at the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum, visitors could be treated to much more than a set of bones.

They could be using interactive tools to explore what is inside sperm whales’ bodies, and watching videos of living whales and how the carcass was recovered after it was discovered on July 10.

The museum is looking to raise S$1 million for the project and donations will go towards the preparation, mounting, exhibition and maintenance of the whale, it announced today (July 31).

Two donations have already been made. The museum’s main contractor Expand Construction is contributing S$50,000, while Mr Joseph Koh Kok Hong and his wife, Mrs Koh Pei-fen, are contributing an undisclosed amount.

Mr Koh, a retired diplomat, is an honorary research affiliate of the museum and an expert on spiders. He and his wife, both 66, were inspired by the collective effort of the public, the museum team, government agencies and the media in retrieving the carcass for research and education.

The specimen would be a poignant gift to future generations, Mr Koh told reporters today.

Expand Construction’s deputy managing director Edwin Soh said it was a “good cause for us to take on”. Both parties have previously donated to the museum.

Asked about the sum of money needed, the museum’s deputy head Rudolf Meier said: “If you want to do a big exhibit, you don’t just want to show a skeleton. You want to also show the recovery effort and you have to have media for that. You may want to have interactive tools to allow kids to explore the inside of the body of the sperm whale. And there are ways of doing this now very convincingly.”

Professor Meier added: “But if ... you only have funding for just showing the skeleton, then it’s a much less effective, a much less interesting exhibit.”

The museum is also looking to hold a temporary exhibition of parts of the sperm whale — the first recorded in Singapore waters and the third in South-east Asia — before the full-fledged exhibit is ready.

It would be “a miracle” if the temporary exhibition could happen by this year, said curator of birds and mammals Marcus Chua.

Cleaning of the whale bones is 70 per cent complete, said conservator Kate Pocklington. The bones could be transported from Tuas Marine Transfer Station to the museum by the end of August, but it would still be “far from the display stage”, said Prof Meier.

Unlike some other whale skeletons that have been preserved, the team is salvaging 30 to 35 discs, which are near the sperm whale’s spine, although scraping the meat off is tedious. Among other steps, the bones have to boiled and soaked in industrial degreaser.

It is not known what killed the 10.6m-long adult female whale, although it was likely to have been hit by a propellor.

Singapore’s old Raffles Museum and National Museum were previously home to a baleen whale skeleton from around 1907 to 1974, when it was given to Malaysia’s Muzium Negara. The skeleton, from a whale stranded in Malacca in 1892, is now with the Maritime Museum in Labuan, off Sabah.

Parts of whale may be viewed by year's end
Carolyn Khew, Straits Times AsiaOne 2 Aug 15;

The work to preserve the sperm whale found recently in Singapore waters is underway - and parts of its skeleton could be on display by the end of the year.

"We plan on getting the whale skeleton ready for exhibition in 2016, but parts of the skeleton could be viewed by the end of this year," the deputy head of the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum, Professor Rudolf Meier, told The Straits Times.

An adult female sperm whale, 10.6m long and weighing between 8 and 10 tonnes, was found in Singapore waters for the first time on July 10. Since then, museum staff have been working almost every day to preserve its carcass by removing its flesh and collecting its tissues for further research.

Museum staff said that about 70 per cent of the work has already been done although oil has to be removed from the whale's bones, which must then be bleached before going on display.

"We are quite amazed at the work that has been done so far but there is still a lot to be done," said Mr Marcus Chua, curator of mammals and birds at the museum.

The whale carcass is still at the Tuas Marine Transfer Station next to the National Environment Agency's Tuas Incinerator Plant but parts of its spine and shoulder blade were shown at a media briefing yesterday.

The museum now hopes to raise $1 million towards setting up the whale exhibit and other areas, such as supporting related education and research efforts.

While $46 million had earlier been raised for the museum, Prof Meier said additional funds are needed as the whale was not part of the original budget.

"The previously raised funds were used to build the new museum and the present gallery," explained Prof Meier, who added that the museum wants the whale exhibit to be "impressive, ambitious and well done".

"You may want to have interactive tools to allow kids to explore the inside of the sperm whale's body," he added.

So far, a construction company and a couple have stepped forward to donate more than $50,000 for the project.

Expand Construction, which is also the main contractor for the museum, is donating $50,000, while Mr Joseph Koh, an honorary research affiliate of the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum, and his wife, Mrs Koh Peifen, are donating a five figure sum.

Mr Koh said that he and his wife decided to donate to the cause in the hope that other Singaporeans will also pitch in.

He added: "This is our very own Singapore whale. If we can give the skeleton the pride of place at the new museum, it will be a highly symbolic SG50 gift from Singaporeans to the future generations of Singapore."

Singapore got its first and only complete large whale carcass in 1892. The 13m-long baleen whale had been found beached in southern Malacca that year and its skeleton was subsequently displayed in the old Raffles Museum from 1907 to 1974.

It was then presented as a gift to Malaysia's Muzium Negara and is now housed in the Labuan Marine Museum off the coast of Sabah.

Sperm whales are the largest carnivorous animals on earth. They are regarded by the International Union for Conservation of Nature as vulnerable to extinction.

Ms Kate Pocklington, conservator at the museum who is also involved in efforts to preserve the whale, said: "We are lucky enough to be in this line of work where we can see these things... (We) feel small just standing next to it."

Whale of a find
New Paper AsiaOne 12 Aug 15;


The length of the sperm whale, which is estimated to weigh between 8,000 and 10,000kg.

Researchers at the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum are used to handling animal carcasses for their research and conservation efforts.

They have a regular recovery committee and framework for recovering carcasses such as rats and medium-sized animals such as dolphins.

However, nothing prepared them for the 10.6m-long sperm whale that was found off the coast of Jurong Island on July 10.

One of the museum curators, Mr Marcus Chua, 31, said: “Our training is based on small animals like rats, leopard cats and sea turtles, so it was a challenge to translate our training from a rat to a mammal with a heart the size of an armchair.”

Miss Kate Pocklington, a 28-year-old conservator, added: “It was very overwhelming to see the carcass in person. It took me awhile to take in how large the whale actually was!”

Braving the blazing sun, humidity and strong stench of the decomposing carcass, researchers work from 9am to 6pm every weekend, pausing every hour for short breaks to ensure they do not get heat exhaustion. The entire project has taken a month so far, and the researchers are hoping to complete the cleaning process by the end of this month.

Mr Chua said: “The smells changed during the different stages of (the) cleaning process. Initially, it smelled like rotting flesh, then meat gone bad and finally, old rotting oil.”

Miss Pocklington admitted that she was used to rotting carcasses as it was part of her job, but took extra precaution by adding medicated oil to her face mask to block out the stench of the whale.

Apart from the smell, the team had to deal with blowflies and maggots that were attracted to the decomposing body, and were feasting on carcass remains.

The researchers also had to cut the whale’s stomach open to investigate its diet. It consisted of squid beaks and plastic refuse.


Curator Foo Maosheng, 27, said: “By examining the contents of the gut, we got an idea of the whale’s diet and were also able to get more information about deep sea life.

“Currently, humans have a very shallow understanding of what lurks in the deepest areas of the ocean.”

One of the biggest challenges was time.

Miss Pocklington said: “We were working against time for the initial few days as we were trying to remove and preserve the important organs for research before they decomposed.”

For Mr Foo, one of the main challenges was getting the logistics organised.

They were not prepared for such a big animal and there were initial issues, such as working out locations to place the carcass and finding a container to keep the skull in.

However, the team believes that it will be proved to be worthwhile.

Miss Pocklington said: “I feel extremely lucky to be part of this project despite all its challenges, as we will be able to share our findings with the public for them to enjoy and hopefully learn more and develop a further interest in wildlife.”

Donate online to the Jubilee Whale here

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More than 5,000 new trees to be planted around Singapore

KELLY NG Today Online 1 Aug 15;

SINGAPORE — In a continued call for Singaporeans to take ownership of its environment and community spaces, this year’s Clean & Green Singapore campaign will see some 5,500 new trees planted across the island over the next three months.

Over 20,000 people from grassroots committees, schools and corporations have signed up to participate in this mass planting exercise, the largest in Singapore’s history, which will take place at more than 60 locations such as parks and park connectors.

It kicks off today (August 1) at Punggol Promenade with a native Pianggu planted by Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean.

To celebrate Singapore’s 50th birthday, an inaugural Community Garden Festival will be held at HortPark over the first two weekends in September.

Highlights in the raft of festival activities include a rare tour of the Pasir Panjang Nursery, which will give the public a glimpse into behind-the-scenes nursery operations, and a competition which will showcase the longest and heaviest edible crops harvested by local community gardeners.

More details on the festival, such as how to sign up for tours, can be found on

The campaign line-up continues in October with five district carnivals and culminates in the Clean & Green SG50 Carnival held at a field next to Punggol MRT station.

Non-governmental organisations will be invited to showcase their programmes and initiatives to members of the public at this carnival.

Speaking at a media briefing on the carnival on Tuesday (July 28), Mr Brandon Low, the National Environment Agency’s (NEA) Deputy Director for Community and Outreach said the authorities hope to see more ground-up initiatives in the “next leap” for a clean and green Singapore.

“We hope that tapping on the NGOs’ strengths will call on more Singaporeans to take greater ownership of community and shared spaces,” said Mr Low, adding that NEA is still in the midst of finalising the list of non-governmental organisations participating in the carnival.

Updating the media on recent initiatives to encourage the public to reduce waste and care for the environment, the NEA said more than 8,000 people have pledged to practise more than 50,000 “No Waste Days” in their lives, when they make an effort not to waste food and reduce the use of disposables.

Organisations, schools and individuals have also adopted 420 “Bright Spots” to date, where they improve cleanliness and hygiene conditions of selected public spaces.

They include students from Raffles Girls’ School (Secondary) who regularly work with cleaners to clear the tables at Adam Road Hawker Centre, and Keppel Land which rallies staff to pick litter in the Tiong Bahru estate.

The agency hopes to achieve 500 “Bright Spots” by the end of this year.

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Indonesia: Jakarta gears up for fight against forest blazes

Wahyudi Soeriaatmadja Straits Times 1 Aug 15;

As the El Nino weather pattern strengthens, Indonesia said yesterday it would step up its fight against forest fires triggered by dry, hot weather throughout much of the country.

Indonesia is worried about a repeat of the 1997-98 El Nino, which caused severe drought, damaged crops and triggered massive forest fires. The blazes wiped out millions of hectares of forest and plantation areas, and caused losses estimated at US$2.45 billion then. The smoke haze covered much of the region, damaging tourism and causing a jump in health costs.

Fires and smoke have returned in recent weeks, particularly on Sumatra island and meteorologists in Indonesia, Australia and elsewhere are forecasting the current El Nino to strengthen over the coming months. That is expected to exacerbate fires and damage crops such as coffee and cocoa, important exports for Indonesia.

The government has carried out cloud-seeding in Sumatra but officials say it has not been as successful as hoped.

The military will be called in to use Super Puma helicopters for water-bombing operations, Coordinating Minister for Maritime Affairs Indriyono Soesilo told reporters at the presidential palace yesterday. They were last used to fight the 1997-98 fires.

Singapore has offered the use of at least one helicopter to beef up water-bombing operations, but Indonesia has yet to accept the offer, Singapore's Minister for the Environment and Water Resources, Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, said in Jakarta earlier this week.

In Riau, a separate programme involving a pulp and paper firm is training villagers and local police how to fight fires, and is encouraging local communities not to clear land using traditional slash-and- burn agriculture.

El Ninos usually bring drought to South-east Asia and eastern Australia, and wetter and cooler summers to parts of North America, while crimping the frequency of Atlantic hurricanes. They are caused by periodic warming of the Pacific and can roil agricultural markets as farmers contend with drought or too much rain.

The dry spell in the southern regions in Indonesia will strengthen from August to December, with the main impact to be seen in areas including Lampung, South Sumatra, Java and South Sulawesi, the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency said on Thursday.

The result of El Nino will be failed harvests in Indonesia, the forecaster said in an e-mailed statement, Bloomberg reported. Lampung and South Sumatra are Indonesia's main growing regions for robusta coffee beans, while Sulawesi is the country's main cocoa producer and Java is the main rice area.

With the shortage of rain, pressure is growing on local and national authorities. The number of hot spots spiked on Thursday. Visibility in Pekanbaru, in Riau province near Singapore, dropped to 800m as Sumatra recorded 326 hot spots, of which 186 were in Riau.

Yesterday, the number of hot spots in Sumatra fell to 76.

In the past six months, Riau police have declared 24 individuals as suspects for illegally burning land and forest, charging them with breaching plantation and environmental laws.

Thick haze causes flight and health issues in Riau
Rizal Harahap and Jon Afrizal, The Jakarta Post 31 Jul 15;

Thick haze originating from forest and land fires in Riau has started to disturb flights in Pekanbaru, and has also threatened the health of the residents in the provincial capital.

The authority of Pekanbaru Sultan Syarif Kasim II International Airport said that the haze had caused the visibility in the region to be less than 1,000 meters.

“This morning the visibility was only 800 meters. We made a regulation that the minimum visibility for an aircraft to land at the airport is 1,000 meters,” said Hasturman Yunus, the head of the airport’s service and operation division, in Pekanbaru on Thursday.

Due to the worsening condition, Citilink’s flight QG 963 serving the Jakarta-Pekanbaru route was forced to circle the airport for about 30 minutes before landing. The flight was initially scheduled to land at 7 a.m. local time.

“It was impossible for it to land because the runway was not visible from the air,” Hasturman said.

After 30 minutes of circling, he added, the haze was thinning and the Airbus 330-200 was finally able to land safely at the airport.

Hasturman said that throughout July, haze had disrupted five flights at the airport. Of the five, two were finally redirected to Hang Nadim International Airport in Batam, Riau Islands, while the other two were delayed and one was forced to circle before landing.

“There is nothing we can do when haze disrupts flights. For safety reasons, it’s better to redirect flights or make them circle while waiting for the haze to become thinner before landing,” he said.

Data at the Pekanbaru branch of the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) showed that the Terra and Aqua satellites on Thursday at 5 a.m. local time detected 326 hot spots across Sumatra, 186 of which were in Riau.

In Riau, the hot spots were spread across Pelalawan (60 spots), Indragiri Hulu (54), Indragiri Hilir (45), Siak (11), Dumai (6), Bengkalis (5), Kampar (3) and Kuansing (2).

Outside Riau, the hot spots were detected in South Sumatra (42), Jambi (51), Lampung (8), Bengkulu (6), North Sumatra (3) and West Sumatra (2).

BMKG Pekanbaru head Sugarin said the haze that blanketed the city originated from neighboring regencies.

The haze decreased the air quality. The air is continuously categorized as unhealthy [because of the haze],” he said.

Residents as well as students who entered school after the Ramadhan holidays had to wear masks while doing outdoor activities.

Meanwhile in Jambi, a 63-year-old man named Bakri of Nipah Panjang district, East Tanjungjabung regency, has been detained by the local police for allegedly starting a fire.

The case started when he was told by his employer to clear a two-hectare plot of land on Wednesday. To save time, Bakri burned the land.

Unfortunately, the flames also burned ten oil palms belonging to Rosta Sastra, whose land was next to the land burned by Bakri. Rosta reported the case to the police.

“I didn’t know that it would be like this. I also didn’t know that we were banned from burning land. Had I known, I would not have burned the land,” Bakri said Thursday.

Separately, East Tanjungjabung Police’s detective and crime unit head Adj. Comr. Amos Lubis said that eight people were examined in the case. Yet only Bakri had to undergo further legal procedures.

“From our investigation, only this one person really cleared the land by burning it,” he said.

Bakri is facing Article 187 of the Criminal Code on crime considered to endanger public safety and Law No 18/2004 on plantations. “They carry a penalty of 12 years imprisonment,” he said.

Islands in focus: City to extend school closure over haze frenzy
The Jakarta Post 3 Aug 15;

The Pekanbaru Education Agency in Riau is planning to extend the temporary closure of some schools in the provincial capital to reduce negative health impacts triggered by the haze that has blanketed the city over the past several days.

On Saturday, the agency decided to shut preschools and kindergartens in a number of districts over fear that the haze, which comes from land and forest fires in regions surrounding the city, would make the children prone to respiratory illness. The agency also asked first to third graders in the districts to take a day off school on Saturday.

“It [the closure] will depend on the air condition on Sunday and Monday morning. If it is still not possible [for students to attend school], a follow-up circular [regarding school holidays] will be immediately sent to school headmasters,” agency head Zulpadil said over the weekend.

Although the agency does not specifically impose the policy on students from the fourth to 12th grades, Zulpadil said that school headmasters had been given the authority to shutdown their schools should they experience worsening haze conditions in their respective areas.

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Fight to save Indonesia's jungle corridors key for endangered orangutan

KIT YIN BOEY Reuters 31 Jul 15;

The bushes shook violently and the female orangutan froze. Her baby clutched her tightly before the two quickly disappeared into the Borneo undergrowth. As the bushes parted, a broad-shouldered male orangutan strutted to the feeding platform.

Dominating the fruit on offer, the male great ape dared the other orangutan in the trees to challenge him for the food.

The endangered orangutan is a solitary animal and it is rare to sight these great apes in groups, but this is Camp Leakey in the Tanjung Puting National Park in Indonesia and home to around 6,000 rescued orangutans.

The park in Borneo's central Kalimantan has been protecting great apes for 38 years but its success is now a problem as the reserve does not have sufficient space and resources to sustain any more apes.

Yet Dr Birute Galdikas, 69, who heads Orangutan Foundation International (OFI), has some 300 more rescued orangutans in her care waiting for a release back into the wild.

Galdikas' OFI is desperately trying to buy 6,367 hectares (15,807 acres) of land opposite the Tanjung park, which includes a vital stretch of land along the Sekonyer River, to accommodate the extra apes - price tag $2.5 million.

But OFI, which relies on donations and money from eco-tourism, has only been able to raise a third.

"We have to protect this stretch of land," Galdikas told Reuters following an eco-trip to Camp Leakey to visit some of the rehabilitated great apes returned to the wild.

"If we lose this river edge, where are all the proboscis monkeys going to go? Where are all the (300) orangutans going to go?"

Protecting the forest habitat of the orangutan has become as important as rescuing the great apes if the species is to survive, says Galdikas, who came to the Tanjung forest when she was 25 years old and has spent 44 years trekking through forests and wading up to her armpits in swamps to protect orangutans.


Global demand for palm oil, which is found in supermarket products from margarine to lipstick and shampoo, and also used as a biofuel, has helped drive deforestation.

Palm oil plantations now surround Tanjung Puting National Forest, cutting corridors through which orangutans and other wildlife use to cross from one large forest to another.

Indonesia, which is ranked fifth in countries with the most annual tree cover loss, imposed a 2011 moratorium on clearing primary natural forests and peat land.

President Joko Widodo in April extended the moratorium for two years and expanded it to cover 1 million hectares (2.5 million aces). The government also increased penalties for illegal logging.

But the moratorium applies only to new areas of forest. Forests in existing commercial concessions are not protected and as a result palm oil plantations have expanded.

Palm oil production in Indonesia rose from 10.5 million hectares (26 million acres) in 2013 to an estimated 11.44 million hectares (28 million acres) in 2015, according to the Agricultural Ministry.

Togar Sitanggang, Secretary General of the Indonesian Palm Oil Association, put expansion this year at about 300,000 hectares, and said it was limited to areas already given permits a few years ago. He said a pledge on sustainable development, new forest laws and a soft market were slowing expansion.

Indonesia says palm oil is important for development because it reduces poverty by bringing roads, schools and other infrastructure to rural communities and generates five million jobs that benefit 15 million people.

And a government biofuels policy, which aims to cut fossil fuel imports and save $1.3 billion, is encouraging small landholders to turn to palm oil production. Under the policy each liter of diesel must contain 15 percent biofuel.

"The problem is allowing landholders in Indonesia taking part of the forest for palm oil plantations – what is good for the economy may not ultimately be good for the forests," said Galdikas.

(Additional reporting by Bernadette Christina in JAKARTA; Editing by Michael Perry)

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