Best of our wild blogs: 14 Nov 15

Marine Park Classroom Workshop (3 Nov and 13 Nov)
The Leafmonkey Workshop and wild shores of singapore

Pulau Ubin OBS briefly
wild shores of singapore

Tea For Tigers – Sun Dec 6, 3 to 6pm @ Bollywood Veggies Farm

November Green Drinks: The Salt of the Earth screening + panel discussion – SOLD OUT
Green Drinks Singapore

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Singapore could be hit as Linggiu Reservoir levels reach new low

Singapore may have to restrict water use if water stock at the reservoir does not recover, says Masagos

NEO CHAI CHIN Today Online 13 Nov 15;

SINGAPORE — The reservoir that enables Singapore to reliably draw water from the Johor River has hit another all-time low, dipping to 43 per cent from 54.5 per cent in August.

Posting on Facebook tonight (Nov 13) after he visited the Linggiu Reservoir this morning, Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli urged Singaporeans to conserve water and said restrictions could kick in if the reservoir’s water stock does not recover. If restrictions kick in, the use of water for non-critical activities such as washing of cars, water fountains and watering of plants could be curbed.

“Water rationing exercises are already ongoing in many parts of Johor. If the dry weather continues, it will eventually also affect us,” wrote Mr Masagos.

The historic low of 43 per cent in Linggiu’s 20-year history is due to low rainfall over its catchment area in the past year, said Mr Masagos, whose trip to Linggiu comes only three months after his predecessor Vivian Balakrishnan visited the reservoir with reporters.

The reservoir, near Kota Tinggi, helps prevent saltwater intrusion from the sea into Johor River when it releases water. Saltwater cannot be treated by the water plant further downstream from the reservoir, and Johor River supplies up to 60 per cent of Singapore’s daily water needs. Singapore is allowed to draw up to 250 million gallons per day from the river.

In the first 10 months of the year, national water agency PUB has been temporarily unable to draw water from the Johor River on about 100 occasions, due to saltwater intrusion caused by tide levels, said a spokesperson.

Mr Masagos was hopeful that more rain would fall over Linggiu Reservoir’s catchment area, with the Northeast Monsoon expected sometime next month. He has asked PUB to provide another update on the situation when the monsoon sets in, he said.

For now, no water restrictions or water rationing is necessary, said the PUB. Besides importing from Johor, Singapore also gets its water from NEWater, desalination and local catchment areas. The Linggiu Reservoir is built and operated by Singapore but owned by the State of Johor.

When asked, PUB said it is still supplying more potable water to Johor at the state authorities’ request. Singapore is supplying up to 22 million gallons of potable water per day — 5 to 6 million more than before — amid dry weather that has affected the water supply of Johor, which has had to conduct water rationing. PUB had announced on Aug 20 that it was temporarily supplying more potable water to Johor, from the Johor River Waterworks it operates.

Johor's Linggiu Reservoir water levels drop to historic low: Masagos
"If the water stock in Linggiu Reservoir does not recover, we may have to do more to conserve water, including restricting the use of water for non-critical activities," says the Environment and Water Resources Minister.
Channel NewsAsia 13 Nov 15;

SINGAPORE: Water levels at Johor's Linggiu Reservoir have dropped to a new historic low of 43 per cent, said Environment and Water Resources Minister Masagos Zulkifli, who visited the reservoir on Friday (Nov 13).

This is down from an earlier low of 55 per cent, which the previous Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan said was "unprecedented".

The PUB-run Linggiu Reservoir regulates the flow from Johor River, which is where Singapore extracts water for treatment and supply. In a Facebook post, Mr Masagos said that while Singapore can still draw 250 millions of gallons of water per day from the Johor River on most days, the low rainfall has affected both Singapore and Johor's water supply.

"Water rationing exercises are already ongoing in many parts of Johor. If the dry weather continues, it will eventually also affect us, " he added.

"If the water stock in Linggiu Reservoir does not recover, we may have to do more to conserve water, including restricting the use of water for non-critical activities such as washing of cars, operations of water fountains and watering of plants," Mr Masagos added.

He has asked PUB to give him another update on the water situation in December when the monsoon season sets in. In the meantime, he urged all Singaporeans to do their part to conserve precious water.
Last month, Mr Masagos said that in light of drier conditions in the region, the Republic needs to better manage its water usage, despite having a sustainable water supply from its Four National Taps. He also said the total water demand in Singapore is expected to double by 2060.

Water level in Linggiu Reservoir drops to record low: Masagos
Janice Heng, Straits Times AsiaOne 14 Nov 15;

The water level in Johor's Linggiu Reservoir has dropped to a historic low and Singapore's water supply could be affected if the dry weather continues, Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli said in a Facebook post last night.

Due to low rainfall, the water level in Linggiu Reservoir has dropped from 55 per cent in August to 43 per cent now, said Mr Masagos, who was at the reservoir yesterday morning. The Linggiu Reservoir regulates the flow of Johor River, from which Singapore and Johor draw water for treatment.

Mr Masagos noted that although Singapore can still draw 250 mgd - millions of gallons per day - from the Johor River "on most days", the low rainfall has affected both Singapore and Johor's water supply.

"Water rationing exercises are already ongoing in many parts of Johor. If the dry weather continues, it will eventually also affect us," he added.

He hopes that the annual northeast monsoon will bring more rain over the Linggiu Reservoir catchment area. "I have asked PUB to give me another update on the water situation in December, when the monsoon sets in."

Singapore's strategy of diversifying its water supply "has served us well", said Mr Masagos.

The PUB has been running desalination and Newater plants at high capacity to keep local reservoir stocks healthy. But if the water stock in Linggiu Reservoir does not recover, Singapore may have to do more to conserve water, such as restricting water use for non-critical activities such as washing cars, water fountains and watering plants, he said.

The Minister also urged all Singaporeans to do their part to conserve water.

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Gardens by the Bay chief wants more youths involved in nature conservation

KELLY NG Today Online 14 Nov 15;

SINGAPORE — He coined the term “City in a Garden” and is the prime mover in transforming Singapore into an island criss-crossed with seamlessly connected parks, but Gardens by the Bay chief executive officer Tan Wee Kiat considers efforts to engage youths among his most important over his three decades in the public service.

“(Engaging the youth) is key. We make sure that when we tailor our programmes and activities, we look at it with the eyes of youth … Everybody is stuck to their computers and iPhones. How can we bring forth, through nature, and say, look at what is real,” said Dr Tan, who is one of the six awarded the Distinguished Service Order this year.

Speaking to the media at the Ministry of National Development’s (MND) National Day Awards Investiture yesterday, Dr Tan, 72 — who served as founding chief executive of National Parks Board (NParks) from 1990 to 2006 — said outreach to schools was one of NParks’ priorities from the outset. “(The students) are now the voters of the present. They are now the public opinion leaders of the present. We started right with the young, and we have to sustain it,” he said.

Recruiting a new generation of leaders who value “life other than humans” is a challenge.

“How to get people with the passion and aesthetic sense to come into our profession, that to me, is one of our biggest challenges. Because it is not a material gain,” he said.

Another topic he feels strongly about is the Central Catchment Nature Reserve, which he said should be preserved at all costs, even as he acknowledged the perennial contest between the preservation of green spaces and building infrastructure.

“The day I see it being criss-crossed with highways and so forth will be the day I think we have lost our green soul … because (it is) the largest piece of environment where local animal species that we are losing can still find sanctuary.

“These are the true pioneer populations of Singapore and we need to have these spots to harbour them. (This is) the biggest oasis,” he said.

An environmental impact assessment is ongoing to study the impact of the Cross Island Line on the Central Catchment Nature Reserve.

Among Dr Tan’s achievements is his role in helping revitalise natural areas, such as building boardwalks through MacRitchie Reservoir Park and the Tree-Top Walk at Central Catchment Nature Reserve.

Dr Tan, who inherited his love of botany from his parents, also pioneered initiatives to introduce streetscape greenery — which has seen a wide variety of new plant species introduced along Singapore’s roads — and skyrise greenery.

The Republic is now moving towards cladding man-made structures with pieces of nature, said Dr Tan, who added that proposals for the future Rail Corridor at Choa Chu Kang exemplify this approach.

The project must be handled sensitively, he added, such that nature will be allowed to thrive without being “overly planned and overly planted”, and serve as a reminder of the kampung days. “I think if we handle this right, our green railway stretches will be a key component in our garden fabric,” he said.

187 public service officers from the MND agencies received the ministry’s commendation, efficiency and long-service awards yesterday. The investiture also recognised another 26 officers, who were earlier conferred the National Day Awards.

National Day Award for NParks' ex-CEO
Tiffany Fumiko Tay, The Straits Times AsiaOne 15 Nov 15;

After toiling for 30 years, Dr Tan Wee Kiat is now witnessing the fruits of his labour.

The founding chief executive officer of National Parks Board (NParks) said he sees the results of early policies in projects such as the park connector network, the Singapore Botanic Gardens' successful Unesco bid, and Gardens by the Bay, of which he is currently CEO.

"I'm in a profession that deals with living, growing things, so it takes time, but I'm just lucky to still be around to see the results of the efforts we've put in from the early days," said Dr Tan, 72.

Yesterday, he was one of 213 National Day Award recipients honoured at a ceremony for public service officers of Ministry of National Development agencies. Minister Lawrence Wong presented Commendation, Efficiency and Long Service Medals to 187 recipients. Another 26 were conferred medals earlier.

Dr Tan, who received the Distinguished Service Order Medal from President Tony Tan Keng Yam on Nov 8, was CEO of NParks from 1990 to 2006. In the 1990s, he coined the term "city in a garden" to describe a vision of vibrant greenery amid urbanisation.

Efforts to realise this have been so successful, he said, that visiting heads of state often compliment Singapore. "Some of them would even ask, 'Where did you get your trees? We want to buy some.'

"And it pleases me to say that we got them from your own country," he said with a laugh.

Dr Tan, who inherited his love of botany from his mother, said his biggest concern is the conflict between development and the preservation of greenery. "The day that I see our Central Catchment area being criss-crossed with highways will be the day I think we will have lost our green soul."

Still, he is excited at the possibilities for integrating nature and urban spaces, especially plans for the 24km Rail Corridor. "It's a piece of land that really has been untouched, and if we can handle this right, our green railway stretches will become a key component in our garden city fabric."

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Standing their ground: farmers at Kranji

The Kranji countryside has become a battleground between farmers and the military over land use. We investigate.
Romesh Navaratnarajah, Property Guru Yahoo News 13 Nov 15;

Taking a day trip out of the city to explore the Kranji countryside is like stepping back in time, to when Singapore was mostly a rural settlement made of villages and farms.

Comprising just one percent of land, the area located in the north-western corner of Singapore has been set aside for farms, ranging from vegetable cultivation to fish breeding.

However, its tranquillity has been shaken by news that 62 farms many of which are operated by third and fourth generation farmprenuers will have to move out between 2017 and 2021, when their leases expire, to make way for army training grounds.

The farmers first heard of this decision in September 2014, when it was officially announced to them during closed-door meetings with the Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA), said Kenny Eng, President of the non-profit Kranji Countryside Association (KCA).

We have engaged various government agencies requesting a review of the decision, as local agriculture is important for food security. Farms should not simply be asked to vacate their land, as it takes years of preparation to cultivate the right environmental conditions for different types of farms, which is necessary to ensure business continuity and long-term agricultural sustainability, he added.

Fighting back

One of the farmers whose lease will not be renewed is William Ho, who runs a 2.7 hectare quail farm. Speaking to PropertyGuru, the 49-year-old said: We were offered a 20-year lease which expired in 2014, but were allowed an extension till June 2017 to give us time to move out. We asked why the lease couldnt be extended for another 20 years, and were told the land would be used for military training activities.

Why cant the military just spare us this one percent of land and leave us alone? Singaporeans can benefit from the educational tours on offer and food security we provide.

He added that none of the affected farmers will receive any compensation from the authorities because the land was offered for lease.

The KCA couldnt provide details of the total land area affected, but a map provided by Ho shows roughly a third of the plots will be taken back.

Responding to media queries, the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) and Ministry of National Development (MND), said: Given that we have limited land in Singapore, we have to constantly balance the different land uses such as housing, industry, transport infrastructure, defence, greenery and farming.

The western part of Lim Chu Kang, which includes existing vacant land and farm sites, will be needed for military purposes. The land will replace the current training land that MINDEF is giving up for future housing and industrial developments. This tract of land is contiguous to existing military training areas, and is of a meaningful size and configuration to realistically cater to our military training needs.

Both ministries added that new sites at Lim Chu Kang and Sungei Tengah will be available for tender for farms who wish to continue their farming business.

A smelly proposition

Although he wont have to move very far, Ho doesnt think this is ideal. The total area is about 50 percent smaller and there isnt sufficient space to accommodate all the farms. The new location is also behind the DKranji Farm Resort, which is not conducive because visitors staying there will have to smell my quail poo.

As the new plots are being put up for public tender, interested parties must submit proposals on how they plan to develop the land, which means other businesses, including foreign companies, could bid for the sites. As such, Ho is worried the area may face the same situation as the former Bottle Tree Park in Yishun. The seven-hectare site was turned into a leisure park by a China-based firm, after it won the lease with a bid of $169,000 per month.

A bidder with a lot of money will definitely be awarded the site. Farmers like me cannot afford to pay a high rent, especially since I sell each egg for nine cents. Ho currently pays a lease of $1.50 per square metre per year. On top of the lease, it would cost roughly $3 million to $4 million to build up a farm, which includes new structures and cages, employing architects, and paying licensing fees.

Another concern is the shorter lease term of 10 years for the new sites, with the possibility of renewing it for another 10 years. Ho prefers a 20-year lease as it usually takes a longer time to create a profitable farm.

Meanwhile, the AVA is aware of the farmers concerns, and launched the $63 million Agriculture Productivity Fund in October 2014 to help them invest in new, high-tech farming equipment and systems. The AVA will continue to engage affected farmers to obtain feedback and keep them posted of new updates.

The gentle warrior

Ivy Singh-Lim, owner of Bollywood Veggies, a 10-acre farm in Kranji whose land lease isnt affected, does not see any reason why the military should take more than 19 percent of land. This is in reference to MNDs Land Use Plan, which has designated 14,800 hectares of land for defence requirements by 2030, compared to more than 13,000 hectares set aside for housing (Refer to Figure 1).

She hopes the government will relook plans for the Kranji countryside, and make it a permanent fixture on Singapores tourist map. Tourists come here to explore the charm and mystery of the Far East, not go to expensive, sterile attractions like Gardens by the Bay.

This is the only countryside left on mainland Singapore. With its proximity to Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve and the Kranji War Memorial, I have suggested to the other farmers that we should apply for UNESCO World Heritage status, said Singh-Lim, who calls herself a gentle warrior.

She recounted that when she first moved there in 2000, she saw a lot of potential for it to become like Margaret River, where she originally intended to retire. The popular holiday destination just south of Perth, Western Australia, is well known for its farm stays, restaurants and chocolate factories.

Remembering LKY

In a bid to inject more life into the countryside, the KCA submitted plans to then Law Minister K. Shanmugam and the Singapore Land Authority (SLA) in 2013, to convert the nearby Neo Tiew Estate into a farmers market.

Built in 1979, the former public housing estate was taken over by the government in 2002 for use as an army training area, but the association felt the site was underutilised.

We wanted to call it the Lee Kuan Yew Farmers Market, selling a variety of local produce, including vegetables, fruits, fish and dairy products, revealed Singh-Lim, citing the KCAs proposal. Plans for the family- and community-friendly space included a nature hotel that would be a base for visitors to explore the countryside, a creative hub for hosting performances, a conservation centre for visitors to learn about resource management, and a sanctuary that would offer help to marginalised Singaporeans.

The income generated from this project would go towards supporting the farmers, noted Singh-Lim, adding that a good developer could help them carry out this plan.

Although the benefits of such a project are far reaching, she revealed that the SLA rejected the proposal, stating that the site was required by the army.

While she isnt bitter about the decision, she plans to continue fighting to preserve Kranjis unique way of life from commercial and other vested interests.

Highlighting how the haze pollution has badly affected Singapore in recent months, she recited an old Native American saying as a parting shot. When the last tree is cut down, the last fish eaten, and the last stream poisoned, you will realise that you cannot eat money.

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Indonesia: Peat forest restoration is collective responsibility -- Vice President Jusuf Kalla

Antara 13 Nov 15;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - Vice President Jusuf Kalla has said that the restoration of burned peat forests was a shared responsibility among the government, companies and communities.

Kalla remarked that smoke from peat forest fires in Indonesia has been caused by logging activities conducted by foreign companies since 1960.

"Many foreign companies came in the 1960s and 1970s to log in Indonesia and destroyed the forest," the vice president said, while opening an international discussion on solutions to forest fires and smoke crises. The event was held at the Shangrila Hotel on Friday.

He said many foreign companies have invested in Indonesia by taking the country's timber and processing it into furniture in their own country.

"The wooden furniture we find in America or any other countries is largely from the forests of Indonesia. And because it is excessive, the forests in Indonesia became bare and there are smoke disasters today," he added.

Therefore, Vice President Kalla said settlement of forest fires and smoke problems, such as those that occurred in the last three months, requires shared cooperation among all parties.

Thee Ministry of Environment and Forests (LHK) sponsored the International Discussion to seek long-term solutions to the crisis of fire and smoke in Indonesia, with a focus on sustainable peatland management.

The discussion was attended by 220 participants, including experts from Indonesia, in a bid to determine the best long-term solution in peat forest management.

Also present were Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan, LHK Minister Siti Nurbaya, Coordinating Minister for Economic Affairs Darmin Nasution and the Norwegian Ambassador to Indonesia, Stig Traavik.(*)

Kalla Calls for Solutions to Forest Fires
Novianti Setuningsih Jakarta Globe 13 Nov 15;

Jakarta. Vice President Jusuf Kalla has called for a range of solutions to prevent the chronic fires that razed more than two million hectares of forest and unleashed record amounts of greenhouse gases in the past few months.

Kalla, speaking at a conference in Jakarta on Friday to address the disaster, called for cooperation from all stakeholders. To prevent future fires, he said, the government would take short-term measures – such as issuing a forest-clearing moratorium (which already exists) or limiting permits for forest use – and long-term ones, such as restoring peat forests.

He said a special restoration agency would be established to apply the various solutions to the perennial problem, which this year has seen ensure both types of solutions work as planned so the fire problem—that so far has scorched 2.09 million hectares of forest and peatland go up in smoke between June and October.

Kalla said the “trillions of rupiah” needed for prevention and restoration programs would come from the government and from foreign entities – after earlier this year dismissing offers of help from the outside community to put out the fires before they spread out of control.

“The companies involved in the recent fires must be held responsible [for restoration costs] as well. They have to be involved in terms of the budget,” he added.

Indonesian officials continue to insist that logging and plantation companies are responsible for the bulk of the fires, although reams of studies indicate otherwise.

Kalla also continued to heap blame of foreign entities, saying it was regrettable that the government had in the 1960s and 1970s allowed overseas companies to enter the forestry and plantation industries.

The fires this year, deliberately set to clear forests for farmland, were among the worst on record, generating haze the spread as far as Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and the Philippines. Daily greenhouse gas emissions from the fires alone exceeded emissions from the entirety of US economic activity on several days.

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Indonesia: Elephant dies as conflict with humans intensifies

Hotli Simanjuntak, The Jakarta Post 13 Nov 15;

Violent conflict between humans and elephants has continued to spread in Aceh after dozens of elephants invaded a residential area in East Aceh regency and occupied the oil palm plantations of local residents.

Since last week, residents of Seumanah Jaya subdistrict in Ranto Peureulak district have been forced to stay away from their plantations after a herd of some 50 wild elephants took over the area.

“We no longer know what to do to get rid of the wild elephants,” Sumanah Jaya subdistrict head Jamian told The Jakarta Post on Thursday.

Jamian said that the wild elephants had destroyed local residents’ oil palms and other plants in the area. However, no assistance had been lent so far by the local administration to put an end to the invasion.

“If the administration does nothing about it, don’t blame us if we take our own way of dealing with the elephants,” he said.

Jamian’s threat is not a mere boast.

A female elephant was found dead on Thursday at the location apparently as a result of electrocution.

Aceh Natural Resources Conservation Center (BKSDA) head Genma Hasibuan confirmed the death, saying that the ill-fated elephant had been killed by electrified barb wire, allegedly installed by local residents.

Genma said his office was currently investigating the case.

“According to some locals, they deliberately put up the electrified trap to get rid of other animals but it turned out to be an elephant that passed through the area,” he said.

Conflict between humans and elephants has continued to increase over the past several years in Aceh mainly due to the conversion of protected forest to plantation and residential areas.

Last month, residents of Sejahtera hamlet, Rimba Raya subdistrict, Pintu Rime Gayo district, Bener Meriah regency, fled their village after a herd of about 30 elephants repeatedly invaded had the area.

Genma, however, said there must be some reason why the elephants invaded the residential area.

Theoretically, he said, elephants migrated by following tracks that were already there.

“It’s people who built residential complexes and plantations in the elephants’ habitat and tracks. They [the elephants] will always return to the tracks, just as they have now,” he said.

The population of Sumatran elephants has been drastically decreasing over the last four years.

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has raised the status of Sumatran elephants from crucial to critical, or just a step away from the status of extinct in the wild.

The status of extinct is the worst status and it has been given to elephants both in Asia and Africa.

Currently, the population of Sumatran elephants is estimated to be between 2,400 and 2,800. Such a figure exhibits a 50 percent decline compared to the population of 2007, which registered between 3,000 and 5,000 elephants.

Apart from struggling to survive illegal hunting, Sumatran elephants, particularly the young, are also prone to the elephant endotheliotropic herpesvirus (EEHV) disease.

The Medan-based Veterinary Society for Sumatran Wildlife Conservation (VESSWIC), for example, reported that EEHV had killed five young elephants in Way Kambas, Lampung, in 2012, and four others between October of last year and February of this year.

EEHV-infected elephants suffer from lower immunity, swollen faces and blue tongues.

Elephant found dead after suspected pesticide poisoning
Hotli Simanjuntak, The Jakarta Post 19 Nov 15;

A six-year-old male elephant was found dead on a block of farmland in Pucok Turue village in Mane district, Pidie, Aceh, on Wednesday, allegedly due to poisoning from eating pesticide stored by a farmer in a hut in the middle of the field.

Locals said they were shocked when they found the dead elephant in the irrigated field near a forest.

“We do not know how the elephant died, but we found piles of fertilizer and pesticide scattered near the elephant’s remains,” Sulaiman of Pucok Turue said on Wednesday.

Sulaiman said the forest bordering the village was frequently crossed by wild elephants, and that almost every six months a herd of about 17 passed by, but so far they had never entered the village or the people’s plantations.

“This is the first time an elephant has entered farmland or even the public road connecting the village to the district capital,” Sulaiman said.

He added that locals were used to the presence of elephants around their village, but said the condition had changed lately as they had started to enter residential areas.

“When elephants enter residential areas we get rid of them using fireworks that we prepare ourselves,” Sulaiman said.

The Aceh Natural Resources Conservation Agency (BKSDA) confirmed that the elephant was found dead in Pidie on Wednesday. The center also sent a team to examine the remains of the wild animal and conduct an autopsy on it.

BKSDA head, Genma Hasibuan, said the elephant was probably around six years old and had died from the poison in the fertilizers and pesticide it had consumed.

“A pile of fertilizer sacks was found some 100 meters from where the body of the elephant was found. Some were scattered and torn, most likely by the elephant,” Genma said.

The elephant was the eighth that has been found dead in Aceh so far this year.

Last week, a female elephant was found dead in Seumanah Jaya subdistrict, Ranto Peureulak district, apparently as a result of electrocution.

The death of the elephant was believed to have been caused by conflicts between the wild animals and local residents.

Some residents had been forced to stay away from their plantations after a herd of some 50 wild elephants took over the area.

Conflict between wild animals and people in the province has constantly increased in recent years alongside the increase in land and forest conversion, especially for oil palm plantations.

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has raised the status of Sumatran elephants from crucial to critical, or just a step away from the status of extinct in the wild.

The more serious status of extinct has been given to some elephant species in Asia and Africa.

The current population of Sumatran elephants is estimated to be between 2,400 and 2,800, a 50 percent decline compared to the population estimate of 2007, in which between 3,000 and 5,000 elephants were recorded.

Apart from the threat of illegal hunting, Sumatran elephants, particularly the young, are also prone to the elephant endotheliotropic herpesvirus (EEHV) disease.

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Vietnam’s ‘rice bowl’ is sinking

VietNamNet Bridge 13 Nov 15;

Part of the Mekong Delta – home to 20% of Vietnam’s population and 50% of its rice production - is at risk of disappearing as sea levels rise.

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Passing from one field to another in the region, we saw the same things: The water showed a dingy yellowish color and rice grew in wispy rows.

Bui Van Sim, a farmer in Le Giao village, Thoi Binh district of Ca Mau Province, explained: "This year's crop is totally lost. Saltwater has appeared everywhere. There is no rain; almost 100% of the rice has died."

Ca Mau is a lowland, of which some parts are about to be under sea level, so flooding and seawater encroachment happen frequently. In recent years, under the impact of global warming and sea level rise, 40% of Ca Mau area faces the threat of being submerged by seawater.

Locals like Sim once were accustomed to two seasons of fresh and saltwater. The rainy season was from June to November when water from upstream overflows. This is the time that people desalt the fields to grow rice. After harvest, they let the fields dry and pump saltwater into them to breed shrimp. However, this script is changing.

Tran Thi Diep, also living in Le Giao, said that usually the period between July and August is the time of abundant fresh water, but this year, there has been nothing even though it is early November. This means that the “golden rice bowl” of Vietnam is experiencing many changes.

Of the 13 provinces in the Mekong Delta, Ca Mau and Kien Giang are most seriously affected.

80% of Ca Mau is at risk of submersion. The province has nearly 10,000 hectares of agricultural land affected by salinity. Moreover, sea dikes are seriously degraded.

Kien Giang is heavily influenced by climate change, especially flooding and sea level rise every year. If the sea level rises about 85-105 cm, most of Kien Giang province will be submerged.

Furthermore, according to the calculations of scientists, along with the issue of rising sea levels, the ground of the Mekong Delta is also in danger of serious sinking, pushing the risk of “disappearance” of the most fertile fields.

The average level of sinking measured in Can Gio District, Ho Chi Minh City is 26.3mm/year; at the estuary of the Hau River (a branch of the Mekong River) in Can Tho, it is 14.2mm/year, while in Ca Mau it is 23.4mm/year.

Additionally, erosion at riverbanks, islets and coastal areas is causing great difficulties for people and local governments.

A few months ago, Long Khanh islet, Hong Ngu District, Dong Thap Province eroded almost completely. Water invaded residential areas, endangering people’s lives. Hundreds of households need to be relocated, pushing the government into the uneasy situation of finding funds for new land.

In the lowlands like the two provinces of Ca Mau and Kien Giang, the high sea level rise and the sinking have put the interlocking canal system in disorder.

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Many rivers see the “backflow” phenomena which brings water from the sea causing soil erosion to the isles.

Early in September, Ta Thiet Phuong’s family at Cha La village was dismayed because her daughter's house completely disappeared in one night. That night, the tide suddenly rose and pulled the house down the river. Luckily, the family was away that night, so no one was hurt.

Boating along the Nam Can River and Ganh Hao River of Ca Mau, it is easy to see that the houses, including concrete houses, had collapsed or nearly collapsed down the river.

The foundation lands were heavily encroached by water. Most households in Ngoc Hien and Nam Can, the two southernmost districts of Ca Mau, are living in areas below sea level. The dikes built by the locals are just a temporary solution to prevent the homes from seawater on dry days. When the “floating season” comes, people’s lives also float right down the river.

Although they live in the centre of an immense amount of water, people are thirsty in a literal sense.

Seawater intrudes into the interior; all the rivers, canals, and ponds are full of saltwater.

The groundwater system is undrinkable because of alum. Some areas like Bien Bach, Thoi Binh (Ca Mau) or several districts like An Bien, An Minh (Kien Giang) often suffer from water shortages.

Mr. Nguyen Van Cuong at Le Giao village, Thoi Binh, fortunately, has a rare freshwater well. Many regional people have to abandon wells after drilling them because of salination.

In the rainy season, people can catch water from the rains or share a groundwater well. In the dry season, however, water is really an issue. Freshwater is transported from other places for sale at very expensive prices: VND100,000/cubic meter.

However, this resource of groundwater is going to be exhausted.

Mr. Cuong said: "Nowadays, it is harder for us to pump water by hand than by water pumps. In the last two years, we couldn’t pump water by hand as the water was depleted! The depth of the well is also increasing.”

“Previously, we could find freshwater after a few tens of meters of drilling. At present, finding water at more than 100m of drilling is still hard; if they drill at a shallower level, there is only salty water and alum.”

According to the climate change scenario for Vietnam, at the end of this century, the average temperature in the Mekong Delta may increase by 1.3 to 2.8 degrees Celsius, the average rainfall may rise by 4-8%, and the sea level will rise by 66cm in low and 99cm in high.

Each 1m rise in the sea level can cause 39% of the Delta area to be flooded, and affect 35% of the population. This is one of the areas most damaged by climate change in Vietnam.

A report of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) showed that the sea level rise will cause 22 million Vietnamese people to be homeless as well as a loss of up to 10% of GDP.

Many research works, seminars and projects about weather issues in the Mekong Delta have been launched. In particular, the Intergovernmental Panel on Global Climate Change (IPCC) recommends major measures for countries: upgrading dyke systems and coastal constructions, and changing the general living habits of the people to adapt and move.

In 2014, Kien Giang approved a VND390 billion (nearly $20 million) project to build a sea dyke system across Rach Gia. This is a part of a project to upgrade the dyke system from Quang Ngai to Kien Giang under the orders of the Prime Minister. The project is expected to be completed in 2016.

In addition, the interference in the flows on the Mekong River cause risks to the Mekong Delta.

In early September, the Lao National Assembly officially adopted a hydropower project called Don Sahong in the Mekong River, which is set to start construction by the end of 2015. This means the Mekong Delta will have to face a different peril when the flow of the major river is impacted.

When a large area with many residents is affected, many people are forced to migrate and seek assistance. This is a grave problem for land management and social security – a problem that worsens in the Mekong Delta with each passing year.

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World’s largest ocean cleanup operation one step closer to launch

Real life trials of a groundbreaking array designed to clean up the vast plastic island in the Pacific are due to begin next year after successful tests of a prototype in the Netherlands
Arthur Neslen The Guardian 13 Nov 15;

A crowdfunded 100km-long boom to clean up a vast expanse of plastic rubbish in the Pacific is one step closer to reality after successful tests of a scaled-down prototype in the Netherlands last week.

Further trials off the Dutch and Japanese coasts are now slated to begin in the new year. If they are successful, the world’s largest ever ocean cleanup operation will go live in 2020, using a gigantic V-shaped array, the like of which has never been seen before.

The so-called ‘Great Pacific garbage patch’, made up largely of tiny bits of plastic trapped by ocean currents, is estimated to be bigger than Texas and reaching anything up to 5.8m sq miles (15 sq km). It is growing so fast that, like the Great Wall of China, it is beginning to be seen from outer space, according to Jacqueline McGlade, the chief scientist of the UN environmental programme (Unep).

“We have to admit that there has been a market failure,” she told the Guardian. “Nevertheless, we have to create a market success that brings in new forms of chemistry and technology.”

The Ocean Cleanup project aims to do the technology part with a floating barrier as long as the Karman line that reaches from the sea to outer space.

Sea currents and winds will be used to passively funnel plastic debris into an elbow made of vulcanised rubber where it can be concentrated for periodic collection by vessels.

Sub-sea buoys at depths of up to 30 metres would anchor the contraption in depths of up to 4.5km. Sea currents flowing beneath its booms would allow fish to escape, while hoovering up 42% of the Pacific’s plastic soup. At least, that is the plan.

“Everything is unknown so everything is a potential problem,” said Lourens Boot, the programme’s chief engineer, who has previously worked on offshore oil and gas rigs. “The risk matrix is big, but one by one we are tackling those risks.” One of the biggest has been finance.

Charles Moore, the racing boat captain who discovered the floating vortex in 1997, once said that the cost of a cleaning operation would “bankrupt any country”.

But around half the scheme’s initial €30m (£20m) budget has now been raised through online donations and wealthy sponsors. In the long term, the project plans to finance itself with a major retail line of ocean plastic fashion wear.

“We’ve analysed the quality of the plastic which was surprisingly good,” said Boyan Slat, the 21-year-old founder of the project. “We did some tests and the material is very recyclable. Tens of companies – large corporations – have shown an interest in buying up the plastic and that is our holy grail; funding the clean-up using revenues created by the plastic we extract.”

Boyan wears jeans made from ocean plastic but he is an unlikely green hero. A college drop-out and self-described “super geek,” he won a Guinness Book of World Records entry when he was 13 for simultaneously launching 213 highly-pressurised rockets. Last year he received the UN’s highest environmental award from Ban Ki-moon and was voted one of the most promising entrepreneurs worldwide.

“It is a classic David and Goliath project that couldn’t have happened 20 years ago,” he says. “Without social media it wouldn’t have gone viral. Without crowdfunding, it wouldn’t have had any money and without Skype, hundreds of volunteers spread out across the globe wouldn’t have come together.”

The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (Noaa) says it is encouraged by the attention being given to the Pacific’s pollution problem but cautions the technology is at an early stage. “There are a lot of feasibility issues with new technology and with open ocean cleanups,” Asma Mahdi, a Noaa spokeswoman told the Guardian.

Mahdi singled out the distribution of ocean debris way below the visible garbage patch, and the potential for harming sealife caught in the project’s cleanup barrier.

“By skimming floating debris off the surface, we may be doing more harm than good for marine surface-dwellers,” she said. “This includes the microscopic plankton that are the base of the marine food web and responsible for nearly half of the oxygen production that occurs on our planet.”

The project says that by focussing on the ocean’s crest they can remove a layer of trash that would otherwise sink, without disturbing sea life.

“The current flows underneath the barriers, taking away everything with neutral buoyancy - like plankton and other fish - while the positively buoyant plastic, up to a certain threshold, remains in front of it,” Slat said.

Its transboundary coalition of online ocean activists has already notched some impressive research achievements.

Early results from a research expedition to the Pacific earlier this year show plastic concentrations in the Pacific at least 10 times greater than expected, according to Slat.

“The previous studies estimated 10 kilos of plastic per square kilometer but we found it was in the hundreds of kilos per square kilometer,” he said.

The full study results will be released next year, but the scale of the threat posed to wildlife – and humans – is already known.

At least 100,000 sea mammals and millions of seabirds and fish and are thought to die each year from entanglement in the plastic muck or ingestion of its microplastics.

One recent study estimated that around 90% of the world’s sea birds had eaten colourful plastic items that they mistook for food.

In this way, decades of discarded plastic bottles, bags and stryrofoam cups are disintegrating at sea under the sun’s UV rays, releasing toxic chemicals such as PCBs and DDT into the food chain.

A Unep report to be published next year estimates plastic debris volumes at around 10-100 items per square km in the English channel, compared to four per square metre in Indonesia and nearly a million per square km in the north Pacific subtropical gyre.

“The concentrations are getting a bit scary,” McGlade said. “From the surface to the sea floor there is a hundred-fold increase [in plastics] accumulating and it has a smothering effect. It is hidden and has a tremendous impact on oxygenation and a huge number of marine ecosystems.”

This hidden cache of seafloor trash will not be touched by the ocean clean-up project – and neither will microplastics smaller than 5mm in diameter. McGlade calls it “the biggest issue” with the project.

Slat counters that, by mass, these microplastics represent less than 1% of the Pacific’s plastic pollution. Without rapid action at the sea’s surface, it will grow exponentially.

The floating garbage dump in the north pacific subtropical gyre circulates between eastern Japan and the seas north of Hawaii and west of California. There, debris congregates in the space where warmer waters from the south Pacific meet cooler waters from the Arctic, creating a spinning vortex of plastic.

It is a surreal and lonely place, says Boyan, who travelled there on the research expedition, a world away from the Marin maritime research institute in Wageningen, in the Netherlands, where waves ripple, swirl and crash into one another around a mocked-up boom.

Every time a foghorn sounds, wave formations roll out of a mechanical line under floodlights, in a test designed to mimic natural conditions.

“For sure, the tests have been successful,” Slat said. “The goal was to simulate what would happen if we had a very long barrier and we didn’t see any weird behaviour.”

“The real trick will happen once we go deeper,” Boot added.

According to McGlade: “The problem is that it is still a relatively small-scale test but it did withstand wind and wave conditions such that we would be confident – maybe not out in the widest open ocean – but certainly in conditions around Europe that it would be effective.”

Slat argues that wave conditions in the mid-Pacific ocean are actually less challenging than in shallower coastal waters such as the English Channel, where a lower wave steepness may, counter-intuitively, be more likely to spill water over the barrier.

But he also backs proposals to prevent plastic pollution at source. Floating barriers at the mouth of river outlets to the world’s oceans have been mooted, particularly in the developing world where the problem is growing fastest.

Unep wants to see a market mechanism that can set industrial standards for use of biodegradable plastics, because of the way that polyethylene, a metal-based additive found in plastic bags, rapidly disintegrates in sea water.

While the UN group is an enthusiastic supporter of Slat’s Pacific cleanup plans, McGlade stressed that it should be seen as a beginning and not an end for ocean remediation projects.

“This example is one we want to encourage, but I’m hoping that across the world more and more innovative ideas will come about,” she said.

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U.S. forecaster sees El Nino peaking in winter

Chris Prentice PlanetArk 13 Nov 15;

A U.S. government weather forecaster on Thursday said that the El Nino weather phenomenon under way would likely peak during the Northern Hemisphere winter of 2015/2016 and taper off to neutral in late spring or early summer 2016.

The Climate Prediction Center (CPC), an agency of the National Weather Service, said the current El Nino conditions, which cause havoc with weather patterns, could rank among the three strongest since 1950.

The CPC broadly maintained its outlook for strong El Nino conditions likely persisting through the winter.

El NiƱo, which CPC noted has already caused "significant" impacts this year, is a warming of ocean surface temperatures in the eastern and central Pacific that occurs every few years, triggering heavy rains and floods in South America and scorching weather in Asia and as far away as east Africa.

The phenomenon is expected to bring below-average temperature and greater precipitation across the Southern United States and above-average temperatures and below-median precipitation in the northern tier of the country in the upcoming months, CPC said.

A strong El Nino last appeared in 2009-2010 and resulted in significant spikes in sugar, cocoa and wheat prices.

(Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and W Simon)

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Climate risk could undermine investments, report warns

Half of the potential losses they identified were "unhedgeable" for individual investors, the report suggested
Mark Kinver, BBC News 12 Nov 15;

A report has warned that investors could be hit hard amid changes in short-term market swings, triggered by climate impact concerns.

University of Cambridge experts said global investment portfolios could see losses of up to 45%.

No investor was "immune from the risks posed by climate change", they added.

In a recent speech to the City, Bank of England Governor Mark Carney said climate change would "threaten financial resilience".

The report, Unhedgeable Risk: How Climate Change Sentiment Impacts Investment, was commissioned by the University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainable Leadership (CISL) and the Investment Leaders Group.

It focused on the short-term risks associated with how investors reacted to climate-related information, such as policy decisions to market confidence and extreme weather events.

No immunity

The authors said the report's findings added to previous studies that had analysed the direct, physical effects of climate change on long-term economic performance.

"This new research suggests that no investor is immune from the risks posed by climate change, even in the short run," explained CISL Sustainable Economy director Dr Jake Reynolds.

"It is surprisingly difficult to distinguish between risks that can be addressed by an individual investor through smart hedging strategies and ones that are systematic and require much deeper transformations in the economy to deal with," he added.

"That's what this report attempts to do."

The study focused on potential short-term impacts on investor sentiment/confidence that could emerge at any time, such as an extreme weather event or the outcome of the UN climate talks in Paris.

The authors modelled the impacts using three scenarios:

Two degrees: limiting average global temperature rise to 2C (1.8F) above pre-industrial levels, a strategy favoured by climate experts

Baseline: where past trends continue (business-as-usual) and there is "no significant change in the willingness of government to step up actions on climate change"
No mitigation: no "special consideration of environmental challenges, rather the hope of pursuing self-interest will allow adaptive responses to any climate change impacts as they arise"

These scenarios were applied to four "typical investment portfolios" in order to understand the resilience or vulnerability of investments to climate-related shifts in market confidence.

"One of the key findings (from the modelling) is that it reveals the potential for very significant, short-term financial impacts for investors whereas previously, I think, a lot of the analysis had pointed to the longer term, multi-decadal impacts," explained CISL Finance Sector director Andrew Voysey.

"This is particularly timely because Mark Carney at the Bank of England has recently warned about the potentially huge losses to markets in the short term as a result of climate change.

"He indentified this issue and the Bank of England then went on to note the merit in "stress testing", which is the technical name of the technique that we have deployed here."

The modelling showed that shifts in climate change sentiments among investors could cause global economic growth to slow over five to 10 years.

But, the authors noted: "The study found that economic growth picks up most quickly along a Two Degree (low carbon) pathway, with annual growth rates of 3.5%; not only exceeding the Baseline scenario (2.9%) but significantly exceeding the No Mitigation scenario (2.0%)."

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