Best of our wild blogs: 11 Aug 15

Coralling New Futures
Saving MacRitchie

Macaques feeding on unripe bananas
Bird Ecology Study Group

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Singapore's Surbana touts smart plans for preventing floods in Myanmar

Myat Nyein Aye Myanmar Times 10 Aug 15;

Severe flooding across Myanmar over the past few weeks has been deemed by many to be the worst natural disaster to hit the country in a decade.

In response, the Ministry of Construction has asked for advice on how to prevent such a tragedy happening again in the future, according to Wong Heang, Group CEO of Singaporean consultant Surbana Jurong – a joint venture private company that was formerly under the Singaporean government.

“When I met with the minister of construction, he asked if I had any advice on how to prevent natural disasters happening in the country. I told him that we have experience in this, and that if the ministry needs to solve the problem, we have ways to do it,” he said during a press conference in Yangon on August 3.

Fifty years ago, Singapore faced similar problems to Myanmar in terms of natural disasters and flooding, he said, adding that it is possible to limit the damage caused by heavy rainfall using engineering technology, such as geo-technology.

“We know how to solve this and we can help advise on construction using high-technology engineering for the prevention of disasters such as flooding. If the government offers, we are ready to help,” said Mr Wong.

Several things can be done to prevent flooding, including digging deeper and wider rivers and expanding riverfronts, or removing rubbish from waterways, he said. Another possible solution would be to build an underground cave beneath a city to store water during heavy rains, which can later be pumped out of the cave once the rain has stopped.

“Engineering can solve everything if you use technology in a useful way. Disasters have been prevented by engineering before,” he said. “When Singapore was built, for example, the developers designed it so that water would flow underground through tunnels.”

Mr Wong added that the likelihood of flooding can increase as a city develops. “Under normal circumstances, the likelihood of floods increases when an area develops, as the amount of forestation in the area decreases,” he said in a media statement.

“Forestation could help absorb excess water and reduce water run-off. However, Surbana’s designs and solutions include flood elevation schemes which could help reduce urban flooding.”

He added that Yangon would benefit from tunnels beneath the city to store excess water.

Surbana Jurong entered the Myanmar market over two years ago, and the company now has 39 projects across the country, including low-cost housing development, industrial parks and private sector developments.

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US student on snake hunt on local shores

He hopes to gain better understanding of water snakes and has spotted 4 species so far
Carolyn Khew Straits Times 11 Aug 15;

Armed with a torch and camera, 27-year-old Phil Vogrinc wades through mangroves and mud - at times up to waist level - to look for water snakes late into the night.

The student from the United States, who is attending a summer programme at the National University of Singapore (NUS), hopes to understand why some water snake species are found in certain habitats but not in others, and study the impact that rising sea levels could have on them. It is believed to be the first survey of its kind here.

So far, he has found four species here and landed a prize find along the way - the Yellow-lipped Sea Krait, a sea snake that has never been recorded in mainland Singapore before.

Also known as the Laticauda colubrina, the species had previously been sighted only in the Southern Islands. Mr Vogrinc found another off Labrador Park in the early hours of July 22. While the snake is highly venomous, it rarely bites.

"What is truly unique about this observation is that the snake was found on the mainland coastal habitat which is very urban and mostly disturbed," he said.

"The records of this species I have found are from coastal areas or offshore islands with relatively little urban development," he added.

Mr Vogrinc said that the protected rocky shoreline at the western end of Labrador Park could have been used by the snake to forage or even breed.

The US student decided to study snakes here because Singapore lies in the "centre of a biodiversity hot spot" in South-east Asia.

More than 80 snake species can be found in Singapore alone.

Mr Vogrinc has so far spotted more than 200 water snakes of four different species: the dog-faced water snake (Cerberus schneideri), the crab-eating water snake (Fordonia leucobalia), the Gerard's water snake (Gerarda prevostiana) and the Cantor's water snake (Cantoria violacea).

These have been found in places such as West Coast Park, East Coast Park and the mangroves at Pasir Ris Park - which Mr Vogrinc says are "world famous" abodes for them.

He cited renowned naturalist David Attenborough who came to Singapore in 2006 to film the documentary on reptiles and amphibians titled Life In Cold Blood.

The documentary featured the Gerard's water snake devouring a crab by "tearing off" its limbs before eating it.

But beyond documenting snake sightings, Mr Vogrinc hopes to better understand how these snakes could be potentially threatened by rising sea levels.

"The project is an extension of my thesis in the United States where I conducted a similar study on water snakes and their drought tolerance," said Mr Vogrinc, who is pursuing his master's degree at the University of Arkansas.

"What I have learnt is that some species are robust to change and others are not."

Mangroves, where water snakes generally reside, retreat inland due to rising sea levels to maintain their preferred tide depth and salinity.

"In environments like Singapore where mangroves cannot migrate inward due to urbanisation, mangrove ecosystems will likely disappear entirely," said Mr Vogrinc.

Longer dry spells could cause snakes to die of thirst as they are dependent on access to fresh water, said Assistant Professor David Bickford from the NUS' department of biological sciences.

"There are many ways that we think these reptiles might be impacted by climate change, but the most serious ways they might be affected are the ways that we do not understand or have not yet tested," added Prof Bickford.

By the end of his two-month research later this month, Mr Vogrinc would have visited about 25 sites in Singapore to look for these water snakes. They are not just found in mangroves but can also be spotted in canals and drains.

He added: "Most people think of snakes as evil, but they have a life story and purpose just like we do. For animals without arms and legs, it's amazing how successful and widespread they are."

Spotted in Singapore

Yellow-lipped Sea Krait
(Laticauda colubrina)

Well adapted to marine life, it can grow to over 1m long and has a slightly compressed body, a paddle-like tail and salt glands. These allow it to hunt for food in the sea and also spend time on land. Eats eels and fish. Extremely venomous but seldom bites.

Dog-faced water snake
(Cerberus schneideri)

Found in most coastal areas in Singapore. Has a broad head and feeds mostly on fish.

Can be found in places such as East Coast Park and West Coast Park.

Gerard's water snake
(Gerarda prevostiana)

Found in the mangroves near Pasir Ris, the snake is able to tear off the limbs of soft-shell crabs before eating them.

The only other snake known to do this is the crab-eating water snake, which can also be found there. Featured on naturalist David Attenborough's BBC documentary Life In Cold Blood.


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Malaysia: Sarawak allows search for coal

YU JI The Star 11 Aug 15;

KUCHING: The Sarawak government will allow coal prospecting over an area of about 40,000ha in Balingian, near Mukah, where two of the state’s largest coal power stations are located.

Currently, one plant has been in operation for five years while another, which is being built, is scheduled for completion in 2018.

The plants are designed to produce 600MW each.

Sarawak is the only state in Malaysia with coal.

Chief Minister Tan Sri Adenan Satem announced yesterday he had decided to approve a new general prospecting licence.

This is to meet the new Balingian plant’s 100 million tonne coal requirement over the next 30 years.

“Next week when I come back from KL and Brunei, I will sign the prospecting licence for coal in Balingian,” he told Sarawak Energy Bhd (SEB) staff during the company’s Hari Raya open house.

Sarawak’s Second Resource Planning and Environment Minister Datuk Amar Awang Tengah Ali Hasan said the licence would be valid for two years, with an option for another two years should findings be positive.

“We have decided to give SEB the licence to facilitate its need for the supply of coal to the plants. There are three areas involved, covering 40,000ha.

“The reason the coal-fired plants are built there is because they are close to our coal reserves. This will save us costs in terms of transportation cost,” Tengah said.

Once reserves were confirmed, the next step would be for the state government to issue mining permits, he added.

SEB chief executive Datuk Torstein Dale Sjtveit said the company had set aside RM20mil to RM30mil for prospecting.

Planning began in 2012, and work is expected to start immediately.

“Our energy mix now is about 70%-75% hydro. By 2020, it will be about 60% hydro, 20% coal and 20% gas. We are also developing two new gas power plants, one in Miri and another in Bintulu,” Torstein said.

On a related matter, Adenan announced he would increase state funds for rural electrification and that he expected the Federal Government to chip in.

He said it was unacceptable for rural communities living near power plants and hydro dams to be without electricity.

“Yes, we have rural electrification schemes. But have the programmes done enough? No. I don’t think we have done enough,” he said.

“It’s going to be expensive but we must take care of the people.”

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Malaysia: Quarry pain for Penang

AUDREY DERMAWAN New Straits Times 10 Aug 15;

GEORGE TOWN: QUARRYING on mainland Penang, carried out by both licensed and unlicensed operators over the past 10 years, is fast changing the landscape of the northern state.

Its once scenic hills have been blasted and stripped bare, with residents predicting that some areas will be flattened soon.

Checks by the New Straits Times showed rampant quarrying in Juru, Bukit Tambun, Batu Kawan, Berapit, Kubang Semang and Simpang Empat.

The naked hills, especially those in Juru, could be seen from the Penang Bridge.

Bald and exposed patches on the hills of Batu Kawan and Bukit Tambun could be seen by motorists using the North-South Expressway.

NST was told that quarry materials (rocks and sand) extracted from the mainland were sent to the island to cater to the rapid development there.

Consumers Association of Penang (CAP) concurred, saying the demand was due to rapid development and reclamation projects in the state.

Residents in the affected areas lamented how their lives had changed due to the quarrying.

Md Yusope Din, 68, from Kampung Pengkalan, a stone’s throw from Kampung Masjid, remembered how lush and green the Batu Kawan hill used to be when he was a boy.

“The hill was filled with rubber trees and the surroundings were serene and peaceful. Not anymore.

“With rampant quarrying taking place, I fear the hill may no longer exist in the next five years. Future generations will probably not know of Batu Kawan hill.”

He took a swipe at the DAP-led state government’s “Go Green” campaign, saying it was no longer relevant.

“What green are we talking about? All I see is the hill being stripped naked and laid bare,” he said.

Taman Intan Cempaka Residents Association chairman Pengiran Hartini Yatim, 48, said he had, over the past seven years, witnessed how Batu Kawan hill had been stripped bare.

“At least one third of the hill has been blasted away.

“The hill was supposed to be a land reserve. I even saw the master plan.”

Pengiran said quarrying had tremendous impact on their lives.

He said it had become a routine for residents to clean their houses at least twice a day to remove the thick layer of dust.

“There are also accidents in our neighbourhood involving residents and lorries from the quarry site.

“This is apart from the tremors we feel due to blasting. We used to receive notices, but not anymore.”

Batu Kawan village development and security committee chief Abdul Halim Othman said they had lodged complaints with the authorities, some of which had been acted on.

He said cracks appeared on a number of houses in Kampung Masjid when quarrying went full blast.

Halim said what irked residents was having to withstand the strong stench of cooking tar.

“It can be unbearable and many people have fallen ill as a result. Also, heavy rain will bring mud floods.”

B.S. Koh, 50, said quarrying on Bukit Tambun hill had been going on for the past 10 years.

“There is not much we can do. We just have to withstand the tremors and dust.”

The same fate befell residents in Kampung Tok Kangar, Juru.

Hamidah Yatim, 65, showed NST how her house was slowly tilting due to quarrying on nearby Tok Kangar hill.

During a recent visit to her house, the NST team heard a siren before rock blasting took place.

Hamidah’s house is fewer than 500m from the hill.

She said quarrying was taking place in at least two sites in the neighbourhood.

“It’s like experiencing earthquakes daily. Who can we complain to? Who will pay us for the damages?”

Her neighbour, Norhisham Ahmad, 30, who works in the Health Department, showed the cracks on the walls of his house, which were as wide as an adult’s little finger.

K. Nadarajan, 69, of Jalan Berapit, said quarrying nearby had resulted in huge cracks on his walls.

“I carried out a major repair five years ago but the cracks have resurfaced.

“We have to fork out money. My wife and I are old. We hope the state government can help us.”

In April, the auditor general, in his 2014 report for Penang, noted that the state must be more diligent in assessing royalties for quarrying and step up enforcement against unlicensed operators.

The report recommended that Penang immediately stop the quarrying in Kampung Masjid, Batu Kawan, to ensure the safety of the villagers.

An audit visit to the village on Nov 10 last year showed that it was only 240m from the quarry.

According to a reply from the Land and Mines Office on Jan 27, no permit was issued for quarry activities on the site between 2013 and last year, and no royalties have been collected.

It stated that enforcement against illegal quarrying was unsatisfactory after establishing that four quarry operators had operated without permits, while five were given approval but were yet to be issued permits.

State Local Government Committee chairman Chow Kon Yeow, Seberang Prai Municipal Council president Datuk Maimunah Mohd Sharif and state Land and Mines Department director Datuk Arifin Awang could not be reached for comment.

NST and Utusan Malaysia had previously been banned by the state government from covering its functions.

‘Speed up quarry rules review’

GEORGE TOWN: The state has been urged to speed up the implementation of the latest Penang Quarry Rules to curb rampant quarrying works.

The Seberang Prai Municipal Council said the present rules were not effective enough to monitor quarry sites in the state.

Council secretary Rozali Mohamud called for the latest Penang Quarry Rules, which is under review of the state’s legal adviser, to be expedited.

On June 23, The Star highlighted Kampung Masjid villagers’ grouses against a quarry in Batu Kawan which they claimed had been in operation for more than 10 years and “every year it only gets worse.”

It has been reported that rampant quarrying works were also carried out in Juru, Bukit Tambun, Batu Kawan, Berapit, Kubang Semang and Simpang Empat on the mainland.

The quarry materials (rocks and sand) extracted from the mainland were reportedly sent to the island to cater to the rapid development there.

In his report to state exco member Chow Kon Yeow on the issue, Rozali said quarrying on the above-mentioned sites were approved by the council and had obtained 4C permit required under the National Land Code for quarry licences.

He said the council was monitoring 34 quarry sites on the main-land, of which 13 sites had either ceased or temporarily stopped operation, while 21 others were still active.

“In general, we have been monitoring quarrying activities in terms of road cleanliness leading to the sites, erosion, siltation and drainage,” he said.

He added that the Minerals and Geoscience Department Malaysia would monitor the blasting activities while the surrounding environment concerning noise, dust, air and water quality of quarries would be under the purview of the Department of Environment.

Rozali said there were still fresh applications from developers and landowners to carry out quarrying activities.

Batu Kawan MP Kasthuri Patto, who met with Penang Development Corporation representatives yesterday, declined to comment.

She said she would check with state secretary Datuk Farizan Darus if the district officers (DOs) had concluded anything with him.

Farizan, who could not be reached for comment, had earlier been quoted by an English daily that he would summon the DOs to brief him on the excavations in their districts.

MNS: Stop Penang hills destruction before disaster strikes
AUDREY DERMAWAN New Straits Times 12 Aug 15;

GEORGE TOWN: The state government should tackle the quarrying taking place on hills in the state before disaster strikes.

Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng should be proactive rather than reactive in handling the issue, said Malaysian Nature Society (MNS) immediate past president Professor Dr Maketab Mohamed.

“The Penang government should leave the hills alone since they serve as watersheds for streams and waterfalls.
“As it is, enough destruction has been done to the hills.

“The state should not allow any more destructive resource exploitation, which includes quarrying,” he told the New Straits Times here yesterday.

The NST recently exposed massive quarrying taking place on the mainland in Penang, including Juru, Bukit Tambun, Berapit, Kubang Semang and Simpang Ampat.

The NST expose also led Maketab to call for amendments to the Federal Constitution, saying that states should not have sole discretion over land and water matters.

Citing Indonesia as an example, Maketab said Indonesian President Joko Widodo had imposed a moratorium on logging permits and bauxite mining.

“By amending the constitution, this will allow the Federal Government to have a say on land and water matters in the states.

“This will also allow the Federal Government to impose a moratorium on quarrying in Penang to minimise its impact on the people and the environment.

“But, without such power, the Federal Government’s hands are tied.”

Maketab said if the DAP-led administration was serious in advocating a greener Penang, it should amend the state constitution so that people had a say in the change of land use that affected their neighbourhoods.

Currently, Selangor is the only state that has an enactment that makes it compulsory for local communities to be consulted before any change in land use.

He said the state should quarry for materials in areas with least impact, suggesting neighbouring Perak as an option.

“The thing is, the state and the developer want things easy. It is a Malaysian malaise. They are always thinking about profits and about themselves.

“In a civil society, you have to think about the impact of what you do on the environment and on other people,” he said.

Maketab said the state government was killing the “golden goose” of natural attractions that brought tourists to the state.

“Development in Penang should be complementary to tourism and not in conflict with it.

“If the state values tourism, they should make sure the aesthetics are there; not some botak hills.
“Who wants to take photographs with a raped hill behind (them)?”

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Indonesia arrests four men over Sumatran tiger killing

Poachers were trying to sell the tiger’s skin, bones and teeth to police posing as buyers in Aceh province
AFP The Guardian 10 Aug 15;

Indonesian police have arrested four men for allegedly killing a Sumatran tiger and trying to sell its body parts, an official said on Monday, in the latest case of the critically endangered animals being targeted.

Acting on a tipoff, a group of police officers posing as potential buyers arrested the men on Saturday as they allegedly attempted to sell the tiger’s skin, bones and teeth.

Poachers frequently hunt the tigers, which are native to vast, biodiverse Sumatra island in western Indonesia, as their body parts are used in traditional Chinese medicine and fetch high prices.

The men were detained in Jambe Rambung village in Aceh province, on the northern tip of Sumatra, local police official Mirwazi, who like many Indonesians goes by one name, told AFP.

The group, who caught the young male tiger in another part of the province, could face up to five years in jail and a fine of 100 million rupiah ($7,400) each, he said.

One of the suspects admitted to having killed another Sumatran tiger and selling its body parts three years ago, according to the policeman.

There are fewer than 400 Sumatran tigers left in the wild, according to environmental group WWF.

As well as poaching, the animals are also under threat due to the destruction of their rainforest habitat to make way for palm oil as well as pulp and paper plantations.

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Indonesia: Conservation board to raise population of Sumatran tiger

Antara 10 Aug 15;
Palembang, S Sumatra (ANTARA News) - The Natural Resources Conservation Agency of South Sumatra is striving to meet the national target of increasing the population of the Sumatran tiger by 10 percent, especially in regions in the province.

"The population of the Sumatran tiger in South Sumatra is decreasing because of hunting and land conversion, which shifts tigers habitats," the head of the Natural Resources Conservation Agency of South Sumatra, Nunu Anugrah, said here on Monday.

The Sumatran tiger (Panthera tigris sumatrae) is one of the six subspecies of the animal that survive today. Its natural habitat is the island of Sumatra.

This tiger is included in the red list of critically endangered animals that was released by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

The population of the wild Sumatran tiger is estimated to be some 400 to 500. They mostly live in Sumatras national parks.

Moreover, the unique genetic characteristics revealed in a recent test suggest that this subspecies may evolve into a separate species if managed sustainably.

Furthermore, the destruction of habitat is the most serious threat to tigers today. Between 1998 and 2000, as many as 66 Sumatran tigers were reported to have been killed in the national parks.

According to Anugrah, there are some locations in Sumatra in the provinces of Lampung and Aceh, among others, which continue to serve as a habitat for the Sumatran tiger.

"The Natural Conservation Board has already decided on permanent pilot areas to increase the population of the Sumatran tiger," he affirmed.

These include the forests of Jambi, Kerinci Sebalat, Mount Leuser in Aceh, Bengkulu, the Sembilang National Park, and the Dangku Musi Banyuasin Wildlife Sanctuary in South Sumatra, he stated, adding that these pilot areas will be permanent centers where the population of the tiger will be raised.

"On surveillance cameras at some points in Dangku Wildlife Sanctuary, six to eight Sumatran tigers were spotted," he pointed out.

Anugrah further noted that the Sumatran tiger is among animals that mate and reproduce easily.

However, with their natural habitats increasingly threatened by poaching and land conversion, it has become difficult for this species to find a mate and reproduce.

"In some protected areas such as Sembilang National Park, the tigers are well conserved," he added.(*)

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Vietnam: Biodiversity agreement to protect endangered species

Vietnam News 10 Aug 15:

DA NANG — The Viet Nam Administration of Forestry (VNFOREST) and the Frankfurt Zoological Society in Viet Nam have inked a five-year conservation plan.

The agreement covers strengthening of the management and supervision of biodiversity in national parks and natural reserves in the Central and Central Highlands regions.

Head of the representative office of [P1] Dr Ha Thang Long told Viet Nam News that the agreement would support and improve the legal enforcement of flora and fauna protection in Kon Ka Kinh National Park and Ngoc Linh Natural Reserve in the Central Highland Gia Lai and Kon Tum Provinces, respectively.

He said the co-operation deal would also promote conservation activities and biodiversity research in the park and the natural reserve.

"It's the beginning of a change in thinking of the state agency to boost biodiversity in Viet Nam. The joint action by NGOs and government agencies will pave out a long-term strategy for wildlife and biodiversity protection in parks and natural reserves in Viet Nam," Long said.

"Following the agreement, VNFOREST will develop its National Biodiversity Supervision and the Primates Conservation programmes in national parks, technical training courses for rangers, and build a smart date on wildlife," he said.

Experts from the Frankfurt Zoological Society's Viet Nam Primate Conservation Programme said Kon Ka Kinh Park was home to the largest group of grey-shanked douc langurs (pygathrix cinerea), a critically endangered (CR) species according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

Meanwhile, the Ngoc Linh Natural Reserve has seen a large group of yellow-cheeked gibbons (Nomascus gabriellae), an endangered species.

The national parks and natural reserves in the central region from Quang Binh to Gia Lai provinces are home to species that are facing the risk of extinction, such as Sao La or Asian biocorn (Pseudoryx nghetinhensis), grey-shanked douc, the red-shanked douc (Pygathrix nemaeus) and the tiger, besides the elephant.

The Frankfurt Zoological Society has provided US$18,000 to $25,000 a year to support rangers in the Kon Ka Kinh Park since 2010, to boost patrolling in the park to protect the most endangered primates, and on field training courses for students of primate conservation and protection in Viet Nam since 2006. — VNS

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Ocean threat from Hong Kong's taste for seafood

Dennis Chong AFP Yahoo News 10 Aug 15;

Hong Kong (AFP) - A seafood lunch in Hong Kong is enjoyed by locals and visitors alike, but with threatened species on the menu and fishing practices that endanger marine life, campaigners want to change the city's appetite.

Hong Kong is the second-largest consumer of seafood per capita in Asia -- an average resident consumes 71.2 kilos (157 pounds) of seafood each year, more than four times the global average, according to the World Wide Fund for Nature Hong Kong.

Yet the city of seven million has been forced to become one of the biggest seafood importers in the world as local waters are depleted of fish stocks.

Whether in high-end restaurants or waterside eateries, seafood is ubiquitous in the southern Chinese city, where customers often choose their fish live from a tank.

Baked lobster with noodles in cheese and deep-fried prawns in salted egg yolk are among local favourites.

But a "fish tank index" compiled by WWF Hong Kong found that more than 50 percent of the species available in the city's traditional restaurant tanks were from "highly unsustainable" sources.

"Overfishing is driving the collapse of the world's ocean fish stocks and edging many types of fish towards extinction, yet they are still on our menus," WWF Hong Kong conservation director Gavin Edwards told AFP.

"Hong Kong has a special responsibility to turn the tide as one of the biggest consumers of seafood."

Unsustainable fish include those caught by controversial fishing practices, such as using cyanide poison, or from overfishing already depleted species.

Popular, threatened seafood in Hong Kong include grouper, wild sea cucumber and humphead wrasse -- a coral reef fish.

- Lack of information -

The WWF has launched a new online seafood guide for Hong Kong detailing which types are deemed unsustainable.

It also recently held a "Sustainable Seafood Week" asking restaurants to provide ocean-friendly options.

But there is still a way to go to change consumer habits.

Visiting Hong Kong for a post-graduation trip, Japanese student Ted Machizawa, 22, has just finished lunch in the coastal town of Sai Kung, famous for its seafood.

He says he had no idea whether his meal -- steamed grouper and shrimps -- could pose a threat to the ocean.

"We're just trying to see what it's like here. We are probably not too keen on knowing what kind of fish it is," he said, sitting metres away from tanks packed with live crabs and reef fish.

Hong Konger Janice Fung said restaurants rarely gave information on sourcing.

"If you go to an expensive restaurant or a specialised seafood shop they might tell you. Otherwise the information is not comprehensive," she said as she waited for a meal at Cafe Deco on the city's famous Peak, which serves a wide range of seafood.

"If you tell me what I am eating is not sustainable I will try to avoid it," she added.

Cafe Deco has opted to provide an alternative sustainable menu as part of the WWF push -- shunning the controversial delicacy shark fin, for example.

"You can't necessarily tell the difference (in flavour)... if you don't use shark fin to make dumplings," senior chef William Chang told AFP as he put the finishing touches to ocean trout-stuffed ravioli, a dish on the sustainable menu.

Chang says restaurants should "take the first step" to change people's eating habits.

Some suppliers are also trying to help.

Banker-turned-fish farmer Mark Kwok hopes that by farming groupers, which are on the decline in the ocean, he can help stem the crisis.

His farm in the northern hillside town of Yuen Long was accredited as sustainable by the WWF in 2013.

"We have about 35,000 fish. Even if you were to eat all of them, it wouldn't make a dent in the ecosystem because these are farmed fish that have never seen the ocean," he told AFP.

Environmentalists in the Philippines say stocks of grouper are dwindling near the island of Palawan, a major source for Hong Kong.

"We have fishermen who say they used to catch them near the coast. But now, they have to go further out to sea," said Melo Ponce De Leon, spokeswoman of the government's Palawan Council for Sustainable Development.

- Fear of change -

Some Hong Kong restaurateurs worry that changing their menus would dent their incomes.

"Many of our customers are from mainland China and they want to get something they have never seen before," says Ng Wai-lun, one of the owners of Chuen Kee Seafood Restaurant on Sai Kung's promenade.

"They like to pick the colourful ones... or something caught fresh from the wild," said Ng, pointing out a tank of humphead wrasse and groupers.

Ng says he would have to scrap 70 percent of the menu to make it ocean-friendly, something he fears would drive customers away.

But campaigners say progress has been made.

"We found in a recent survey that 80 percent of customers would not buy unsustainable seafood if they knew it was unsustainable," says Edwards.

"There is more awareness, but we still have much further to go."

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