Best of our wild blogs: 27 Aug 15

GE 2015: Casting a Vote for Environmental Progress
Green Drinks Singapore

Wild fun for kids during the September school holidays!
wild shores of singapore

September School Holiday Activities at the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum
News from Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum

Read more!

Malaysia: Sabah Wildlife Dept denies elephant abuse during translocation process

KRISTY INUS New Straits Times 26 Aug 15;

KOTA KINABALU: Sabah Wildlife Department (SWD) wants to straighten things out following false allegations towards its rescue team of elephant abuse during translocation operation.

SWD referring to a Facebook posting circulating since a few days ago, admitted that while elephant translocation is a dangerous activity as each of the mammal react differently, there was no way its staff would harm or intended to abuse the wild animal.

The posting shared at the social media showed photographs of an elephant in chains and being poked by one of the Department's officer.

SWD director William Baya in a statement here explained the posting referred to a wild elephant being translocated from a human-elephant conflict area in Kampung Bauto, Telupid back in February last year, to a protected forest reserve some 200 kilometres away.

"In this particular case my team was up against a rogue bull elephant that was exceptionally dangerous and was a huge threat to the lives of the rescue personnel as well as the villagers.

"Hence the added precaution and care was taken by my staff. In normal cases when the wild elephants are more cooperative, the translocation process is done more smoother and with less risk," said William.

The Department's assistant director and Wildlife Rescue Unit manager Dr Sen Nathan explained elephant translocation involves tracking of the elephant, followed by darting tranquillizers, restraining, transportation and release to a safe site.

"As seen in the photo stills of the video the ‘poking’ happened during transfer of the elephant into the translocation crate... Different elephant will react differently towards this process and if the elephant is cooperative, they will let to move on their own while the chains are pulled.

"This process has to be done with care as if the elephant walks toward the wrong way, it might end up outside the crate and easily push the crate down and fall onto other personnel at the site.

"To sum up, poking using the blunt end metal pole is to divert the attention of the animal and so they walk in the right direction and not to hurt the animal, which is never our intention. Let me also assure your that this elephant was not hurt in anyway.

"This explanation I hope allays any fear of animal abuse by the Department," he added.

Read more!

Malaysia: Put out your fires fast, Wan Junaidi tells Indonesia

The Star 27 Aug 15;

PETALING JAYA: Malaysia wants Indonesia to put out its open burning fires quickly before the haze here worsens.

Natural Resources and Environ­ment Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar (pix) said Malaysia had written to Indonesia on the matter.

Indonesia has been urged to “take immediate action” and to “boost its fire-fighting efforts in the affected areas”, he said.

Malaysia’s concerns were made known to Indonesia’s Ministry of Environment and Forestry in a letter dated Monday.

As of Tuesday, satellites detected 152 hot spots in Sumatra and 74 in Kalimantan, he said.

Wan Junaidi said he would be meeting his counterpart in Jakarta soon to discuss the haze problem.

The meeting will also look at speeding up the signing of a transboundary haze prevention agreement between the two countries, he said.

Wan Junaidi said he would be chairing a national haze conference with various agencies here on Sept 28 to discuss emergency haze measures.

Some measures that had been taken, he said, included anti-open-burning patrols in February and a ban on open burning in some states since March last year.

From Jan 1 to Aug 23, a total of 3,117 open burning cases were detected nationwide, with 1,118 of these in farming areas, Wan Junaidi said.

Compound fines were issued in 199 cases while verbal warnings were given in 15 and written ­notices in 39 cases.

Legal action was being considered in 17 cases, Wan Junaidi added.

He said 194 Department of Environ­ment officers had been given the power to arrest anyone suspected of open burning or other environmental crimes.

Anyone found guilty of open burning can be fined up to RM500,000 or be jailed up to five years, or both.

Compound fines can run as high as RM2,000 for a single offence.

Read more!

Malaysia: Hazy till middle of next month

PATRICK LEE The Star 27 Aug 15;

PETALING JAYA: The haze is expected to go on until mid-September with the peninsula’s west coast suffering the most from Indonesia’s open burning.

Meteorological Department spokesman Dr Hisham Mohd Anip said the situation would likely continue until the southwest monsoon season ends.

Coastal states from Kedah down to Johor could be the hardest hit, he said.

He said Sarawak may see its haze situation improve over the next few days as the winds were set to change direction.

At the moment, winds from Indonesia were carrying the smoke from Kalimantan and Sumatra to Malaysia and Singapore.

Open burning at plantations and forest areas is common in Indonesia as it was the fastest and easiest method of clearing land.

Hisham said there could be more rain here next month when the winds change during the inter-monsoon period, which would help clear the haze.

But he warned that the Indonesian weather could also get drier, resulting in increased hot spots and more smoke being blown here unless the fires were put out before then.

The global El Nino weather phenomenon was also expected to increase the chances of hot and dry weather in Indonesia, Hisham added.

According to the Air Pollutant Index (API), Seri Manjung in Perak had the unhealthiest air in the country yesterday.

The API level there spiked to 103 at 11am before declining to 100 at 3pm.

Port Klang in Selangor had its highest API reading of 102 at 3am.

In George Town, Penang, CHRISTOPHER TAN reported that the air quality there continued to climb towards unhealthy levels ­yesterday.

The API reading in Seberang Jaya 2 went from 87 at 6am to 91 at 10am while in Gelugor, it was 89 at 6am and 97 at 10am.

In Prai, it was 78 at 6am and 81 at 10am.

By 1pm, the readings increased to 93 in Seberang Jaya 2, 98 in Gelugor and 83 in Prai.

The Sabah Meteorological Department director Abdul Malek Tussin said that the haze in the state was not as bad as that in the peninsula.

An API reading of between 0 and 50 is good, 51 to 100 is moderate, 101 to 200 is unhealthy, 201 to 300 is very unhealthy, while 301 and above is hazardous.

Read more!

Indonesia: Govt mulls over harsher sanctions for perpetrators of forest fires

The Jakarta Post 25 Aug 15;

The Environment and Forestry Ministry is considering levying harsher administrative punishments to increase the deterrent effect on companies that cause forest fires.

“Administrative sanctions, such as revoking and freezing concession permits, are the possible alternatives that we are now considering. It is hard [to implement new policy because of legal and practical challenges], but we have to be able to stop [the forest fires from starting],” Minister Siti Nurbaya said Monday at the ministry’s office.

The ministry said there was no strong legal basis to revoke or freeze permits and the consequences of revoking a permit brought practical challenges so the policy should be made carefully.

“So for example, we revoke a permit of 10,000 hectares of land: Who’s going to watch it after that? The area will be open to access and be prone to illegal use by many parties. We have limited manpower to watch over the area,” the ministry’s spokesperson Eka W. Soegiri told The Jakarta Post on Monday.

The ministry’s director general for law enforcement, Rasio Ridho Sani, said it is hoped that the administrative sanctions would deter those who make fires in the forests, alongside the legal sanctions that had been applied so far.

Recently, the Rokan Hilir District Court in Riau sentenced the assistant of a plantation head with PT Jatim Jaya Perkasa (JJP), Kosman Vitoni Imanuel Siboro, to two years in prison, as well as a fine of Rp 1 billion (US$71,942) or three more months internment, for burning 120 hectares of land to open a palm oil plantation in June 2013.

Siboro was convicted of violating Article 98 and 116 of Law No. 32/2009 on environment protection and management. Article 98 stipulates the punishment for individuals who intentionally damage the environment, while Article 116 stipulates that in the case of any crimes done for, by or in the name of a corporation, the plaintiff can sue the corporation and/or its leaders.

The ministry has also filed criminal lawsuit against PT Jatim Jaya Perkasa over the same case with the Rokan Hilir Court.

Separately, a civil lawsuit has also been filed with the North Jakarta District Court against the company, demanding Rp 119.88 billion in fines for damaging the environment and Rp 371.12 billion for the recovery of the area. Both trials are now in process.

In a bigger case, it filed civil lawsuits with the Palembang Court District in South Sumatra against PT Bumi Mekar Hijau for allegedly causing fires in 20,000 hectares of land in Ogan Komering Ilir, South Sumatra.

It demanded fines of Rp 2.6 trillion for damaging the environment and Rp 5.2 trillion for its recovery.

“This case gets most of our attention. If we win this, we can save the state Rp 7 trillion,” Rasio said.

PT Bumi Mekar Hijau is a subsidiary of Asia Pulp and Paper. It has concessions of 250,370 hectares of land in Ogan Komering Ilir. Based on data from the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi), most of the hot spots in the province are on the company’s concessions.

Besides bringing cases to court, the current Environment and Forestry Ministry has also made a breakthrough in law enforcement.

“After cases of land and forest fires, we set an investigation line [similar to police line, but issued from the ministry] on the land so nobody could use the land before the case closed. Before, the government did not do this so the land could still be used although the case was not settled yet,” Rasio told the Post.

The ministry has been actively suing plantation companies for forest fires since 2013. The cheapness of the practice of slashing and burning to open forest areas has made it difficult for the companies to stop the practice.

Haze continues to emerge from the regions even now. (rbk)

Read more!

Indonesia: Haze worsens in Riau and Jambi, schools shut down

Rizal Harahap and Jon Afrizal, The Jakarta Post 26 Aug 15;

Haze has worsened in the neighboring provinces of Riau and Jambi on Sumatra Island during the last few days, forcing local authorities to send students home.

In Riau, visibility continued to decrease.

Based on observations conducted by the Pekanbaru office of the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG), visibility in the provincial capital on Tuesday morning was only 500 meters.

In Rengat and Dumai, visibility was 2 and 3 kilometers respectively.

“The haze has also negatively impacted the air quality in various regions in Riau. It is currently at moderate to unhealthy levels, or between 100 and 199 PSI,” head of the office’s data and analysis section, Slamet Riyadi, said on Tuesday.

He said the haze that is presently covering various regions in Riau came from provinces in southern Sumatra due to the wind that blew from the southeast to the west and the north throughout Riau.

Among the provinces blamed for having sent the haze to Riau were Jambi and South Sumatra, where 33 and 38 hot spots respectively were detected on Tuesday morning.

Slamet said that the Terra and Aqua satellites on Tuesday morning also detected six hot spots in Aceh, two in Lampung and one in Bengkulu.

“In total there were 85 hot spots detected across southern Sumatra,” he said, adding that the same satellites detected only four hot spots in Riau on Tuesday morning, one each in Indragiri Hulu, Indragiri Hilir, Kampar and Pekanbaru.

Thick haze forced two flights to hold for a while before landing at Pekanbaru Sultan Syarif Kasim II International airport. The airplanes were forced to wait in order for visibility to improve.

“Both the planes could finally land safely as the visibility increased to 1,000 meters,” the airport’s officer in charge Hasnan Siregar said, adding that the haze so far had not disturbed departure schedules.

Meanwhile in Jambi, haze forced the authorities in East and West Tanjungjabung regencies to send students home from Monday for an indeterminable time.

“The haze endangers the students’ health, and that is why we sent them home,” West Tanjungjabung Regent Usman Ermulan said on Tuesday, adding that the policy applied only up to junior high school students.

He said his administration also distributed free masks to people to help lessen the negative health effects of the haze.

“We will also ask the health agency a check on the haze content in the air to make sure of its security level,” he said.

Haze due to land fires also still covered the Mendahara Ulu district and East Tanjungjabung regency. Firefighters were still trying to extinguish the fire as of today.

“We decided to temporarily send students in the region home because we consider the haze dangerous,” head of East Tanjungjabung Education Agency’s elementary education division, P. Sidabutar, said.

He said the policy, which was applied only to pre-schools pupils and first and second graders, was made in anticipation of new problems that might emerge because of the thickening haze in Mendahara Ulu.

He said he could not yet determine when learning activities would return to normal.

He even said that if the haze worsened, there was a possibility that all the schools in the region would be temporarily shut down.

Thick haze engulfs Palangkaraya 25 Aug 15;

A thick haze filled the air of the Central Kalimantan provincial capital of Palangkaraya on Tuesday as brush and forest fires spread to wider areas, potentially causing health problems.

Residents have expressed a hope that the government would distribute free masks for them. “As the smokes become thicker, the government needs to distribute free masks,” said Wardi, a motorcycle rider in Palangkaraya, as quoted by on Tuesday.

He said thick smoke had caused pain in his eyes while riding.

The Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) has predicted the haze will worsen in Palangkaraya, where motorists are already turning on their headlights to help improve the visibility.(++++)

Read more!

Indonesia: Fires on Mount Lawu spread threatening historic temple

Ganug Nugroho Adi, The Jakarta Post 25 Aug 15;

The forest fire on Mount Lawu, which is located in the border area of Central and East Java provinces, has further expanded, nearing the Candi Cetho temple and forcing the authorities to close the mountain to hiking activities.

The blaze, which broke out on Sunday in Magetan and Ngawi regencies in East Java, spread on Tuesday to areas near the temple located on the slopes of the mountain, in Karanganyar regency, Central Java.

According to the administrator of state-run forestry firm Perhutani’s Forest Functionary Office (BKPH) in Surakarta, Central Java, Bob Priambodo, the fire has razed forest areas in North Lawu, in Karanganyar regency.

“We have deployed personnel from Perhutani and forest community groups assisted by the Indonesian Military [TNI] and police officers to fight the fire,” said Bob.

The Magetan Disaster Mitigation Agency (BPBD) in East Java has also deployed 30 personnel to help extinguish the fires on the slopes of Mt. Lawu, including Perhutani territory.

“The BPBD personnel will help Perhutani firefighters who have arrived at the location to prevent the fire from spreading further,” Ma-getan BPBD head Agung Lewis told the media in Magetan on Tuesday.

According to him, the personnel will later be posted around a kilometer from the fire location to create a firebreak and get rid of combustible undergrowth.

“The firebreak is designed to prevent the fire from spreading to other forested areas and in the hope of localizing and dousing the fire” Agung said.

Separately, Perhutani’s South Lawu BKPH administrator Marwoto said at the fire location that the fire had expanded to forested areas around Candi Cetho, a Hindu temple complex built during the Majapahit Kingdom in 15th century, as well as the Mt. Lawu National Park.

Rough terrain and strong winds have hampered firefighting efforts.

“The fire broke out on Sunday afternoon. Personnel from Perhutani, the TNI and police had carried out anticipatory measures around Candi Cetho, but the fire flared up due to strong winds,” said Marwoto.

He added that to expedite firefighting efforts, and for safety reasons the Mt. Lawu hiking path from Candi Cetho to Magetan had been closed temporarily.

He was unable to fully determine the extent of damage.

Separately, Surakarta Perhutani spokesman Suko Haryono said the slopes of Mt. Lawu slope were prone to fires during the dry season.

“The forests around Mt. Lawu catch fire almost every year, especially during the dry season like now,” he said.

He added that based on data from the Mt. Lawu Perhutani office, massive fires earlier razed forested areas around Mt. Lawu in 2002, 2006, 2009 and 2012.

The fire in 2002 was the worst having razed 6,284 hectares of forest.

So far, the fire has razed between 50 and 75 hectares in a protected forest managed by Lawu Perhutani.

Last week, all hiking trails to the peak of Mount Merbabu in Central Java were also closed because of fires in 25 hectares of savanna areas around the mountain.

Read more!

NASA: Rising Sea Levels More Dangerous Than Thought

Tia Ghose Yahoo News 27 Aug 15;

Scientists are concerned about sea level rise from ice melt in southern Greenland (shown here) and the Antarctic.

The consequences of global sea level rise could be even scarier than the worst-case scenarios predicted by the dominant climate models, which don't fully account for the fast breakup of ice sheets and glaciers, NASA scientists said today (Aug. 26) at a press briefing.

What's more, sea level rise is already occurring. The open question, NASA scientists say, is just how quickly the seas will rise in the future.

Rising seas

The current warming of the seas and the associated expansion of their waters account for about one-third of sea level rise around the world.

"When heat goes under the ocean, it expands just like mercury in a thermometer," Steve Nerem, lead scientist for NASA's Sea Level Change Team at the University of Colorado in Boulder, said in the press briefing.

The remaining two-thirds of sea level rise is occurring as a result of melting from ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica and mountain glaciers, Nerem said.

Data collected by a cadre of NASA satellites — which change position in relation to one other as water and ice on the planet realign and affect gravity's tug — reveal that the ocean's mass is increasing. This increase translates to a global sea level rise of about 1.9 millimeters (0.07 inches) per year, Nerem said.

Unpredictable pace

But the speed of sea level rise is an open question.

"Ice sheets are contributing to sea level rise sooner, and more than anticipated," said Eric Rignot, a glaciologist at the University of California, Irvine, and NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

That's because people have never seen the collapse of a huge ice sheet and therefore don't have good models of the effects, Rignot said.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, an international organization created by the United Nations that produces climate change models, has predicted that sea levels could rise as much as 21 feet (6.4 meters) in the next century if global warming continues unabated.

But even that worst-case scenario may not capture the risk, Rignot said. That's because the IPCC models only take into account temperature changes at the surface of glaciers, but not the rapid melting that occurs when glaciers calve and break up into the ocean, Rignot said.

In addition, much of glaciers' melting occurs at deep, undersea ice canyons. Warmer water is salter and therefore heavier. That means it sinks into the deeper layers of the ocean, and the contrast between this warm water and the undersea ice canyons contributes an unknown but substantial amount of sea level rise, said Josh Willis, an oceanographer at JPL in Pasadena, California.

When the massive Jakobshavn glacier in Greenland calved earlier this summer, it moved 4.6 square miles (12 square kilometers) of ice in one day, Rignot said.

If the Jakobshavn glacier had melted completely, "it contains enough ice to raise global sea level by half a meter — just this one glacier in Greenland," Rignot said. If all the land ice on the planet were to melt, it would raise sea levels about 197 feet (60 m), he added.

Some of the melting that has already occurred is likely irreversible, and could take hundreds of years to reverse, Rignot said.

American impact

While global sea levels have risen about 2.75 inches (7 centimeters) over the past 22 years, the west coast of the United States has not seen much of a rise in ocean levels. That's largely because of a long-time-scale weather pattern called the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, which is masking the global effect. That, however, could reverse in the coming years, Willis said.

"In the long run, we expect the sea levels on the west coast to catch up to global mean and even exceed the global mean," Willis said.

Florida is also particularly vulnerable to sea level rise because its porous soil allows more seawater intrusion than does the soil in other coastal areas, Willis said.

Global sea levels climbed 3 inches since 1992, NASA research shows
Irene Klotz PlanetArk 27 Aug 15;

Sea levels worldwide rose an average of nearly 3 inches (8 cm) since 1992, the result of warming waters and melting ice, a panel of NASA scientists said on Wednesday.

In 2013, a United Nations panel predicted sea levels would rise from 1 to 3 feet (0.3 to 0.9 meters) by the end of the century. The new research shows that sea level rise most likely will be at the high end of that range, said University of Colorado geophysicist Steve Nerem.

Sea levels are rising faster than they did 50 years ago and "it's very likely to get worse in the future," Nerem said.

The changes are not uniform. Some areas showed sea levels rising more than 9 inches (25 cm) and other regions, such as along the U.S. West Coast, actually falling, according to an analysis of 23 years of satellite data.

Scientists believe ocean currents and natural cycles are temporarily offsetting a sea level rise in the Pacific and the U.S. West Coast could see a significant hike in sea levels in the next 20 years.

"People need to understand that the planet is not only changing, it's changed," NASA scientist Tom Wagner told reporters on a conference call.

"If you're going to put in major infrastructure like a water treatment plant or a power plant in a coastal zone ... we have data you can now use to estimate what the impacts are going to be in the next 100 years," Wagner said.

Low-lying regions, such as Florida, are especially vulnerable, added Michael Freilich, director of NASA's Earth Science Division.

"Even today, normal spring high tides cause street flooding in sections of Miami, something that didn't happen regularly just a few decades ago," Feilich said.

More than 150 million people, mostly in Asia, live within 3 feet (1 meter) of the sea, he added.

The biggest uncertainty in forecasting sea level rise is determining how quickly the polar ice sheets will melt in response to warming temperatures.

"Significant changes are taking place today on ice sheets," said Eric Rignot, a glaciologist at the University of California in Irvine. "It would take centuries to reverse the trend of ice retreat."

Scientists said about one-third of the rise in sea levels is due to the expansion of warmer ocean water, one-third to ice loss from the polar ice sheets and the remaining third to melting mountain glaciers.

(Editing by David Adams and Cynthia Osterman)

Read more!