Best of our wild blogs: 20 Nov 15

Fowl Play at Pasir Ris
Winging It

Spread the love! [Conservation Booth @ FASS]
BES Drongos

Fires smoulder and floods soak Sumatra as RSPO calls for palm oil reform
Mongabay Environmental News

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Singapore's surging growth straining geographical limits

A. ANANTHALAKSHMI Reuters 19 Nov 15;

Nov 19 When Singapore celebrated its 50th birthday as an independent country in August, the city state bore little resemblance to the tiny island nation that was expelled from Malaysia in 1965.

Years of strong growth have turned it into an international financial and shipping hub with spotless streets, well-tended parks and living standards unmatched in Southeast Asia.

Not only has its GDP per capita risen by more than 4,400 percent, according to government statistics, but its physical stature has swollen by 20 percent since independence thanks to one of the world’s most aggressive land reclamation drives.

With a population of 5.5 million spread over just 719 sq km, Singapore has outlined plans to expand further over the coming decades, for both housing and for financial and industrial growth. Container terminals, industrial estates, petrochemical factories and the Changi Airport, repeatedly voted the world’s best, are built on reclaimed land.

The Marina Bay Sands Hotel & Casino, and much of its expansive financial district, are also on land reclaimed from the seas from the 1960s to the 1990s. The bay area is home to some of Singapore’s popular tourist destinations -- a Ferris wheel, its $1-billion Gardens by the Bay park spanning 100 hectares and the Formula One Grand Prix circuit.


But Singapore's success and an influx of foreign workers has brought high property prices, crowded public transport and a widening wealth gap which have fueled resentment among many in a city that surveys rank as one of the world's most expensive.

The extent of its land reclamation has come under criticism for causing environmental damage and caused tension with its neighbors. It has lead to loss of marine life, destruction of mangrove area and coral reefs, critics say.

Singapore’s terrain is largely flat today -- it used the earth from its hills for reclamation. With no more material available within its borders, Singapore has imported 517 million tonnes of sand in the last 20 years, according to a United Nations report last year.

Indonesia, which was the biggest supplier of sand to Singapore, banned exports to the city state in 2007, saying sand mining caused the extinction of several fish species, destruction of coral reefs and the disappearance of a number of small islands.

Environmentalists also say reclamation is causing change in tidal flows, not just at Singapore’s coasts but also those of its neighbors. In 2011, Singapore raised the minimum height of land reclamations to protect itself from rising sea levels.

With the island’s population expected to increase to 6.5-6.9 million by 2030, the government has said it will need another 50 sq km of land. It detailed a plan in 2013, marking out areas it could reclaim for military training, industrial and port uses.

Singapore has also said it has room for further reclamation beyond 2030. That may not be easy amid growing environmental and political objections.

(Editing by Janet Lawrence)

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17 winning entries offer ideas on how to transform 'forgotten' public spaces

WONG CASANDRA Today Online 20 Nov 15;

SINGAPORE — An ecological corridor for birds under an MRT track, a recycling area at a Housing and Development Board (HDB) void deck and a giant slide at Mount Faber are among 17 entries highlighted by the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) on how "forgotten" spaces can be transformed into something more meaningful.

The entries were unveiled at the My Ideas for Public Spaces award ceremony and exhibition launch today (Nov 19). Of the 17 featured entries, there were eight winners, eight merit awards and one special mention. These ideas will serve as inspiration for future projects on activating public spaces, said the URA in a press release.

Other winning entries include Citi-TV, an idea to project "live" footage of pedestrian traffic at one underpass on the wall of another; Bukit Timah Green Ribbon Neighbourhood, which transforms service laneways into active, landscaped spaces for the neighbourhood and Tanjong Pagar Backyard, a proposal that aims to create a social space at the centre of the commercial district so workers and the public can reconnect with the urban environment and one another.

The winners received S$1,000 cash. The participants who received the merit awards and a special mention received S$200 and S$100 worth of book vouchers, respectively.

The entries were judged based on the quality and creativity of the proposal. Factors taken into consideration included who will use the space, how easy can the idea be implemented and how the idea related back to the history of the neighbourhood.

The competition, part of a PubliCity initiative, garnered a total of 158 entries when it ran from May 14 to July 3. Entrants included architects, designers and even pre-schoolers, who submitted a proposal to adopt the open space beside their school and turn it into a sports field. The pre-schoolers were one of the merit awardees.

Describing the competition as a fun way to involve the community in thinking about the spaces around them, URA Chief Executive Officer Ng Lang said he was pleased with the enthusiastic participation. He said: “204 people across different ages submitted a range of creative ideas, including an entry by a group of pre-schoolers. This shows that everyone can get involved in urban planning."

The submissions were assessed by a jury panel of six: Mr Ng, Singapore Institute of Landscape Architects President Damian Tang, ZARCH Collaboratives Principal Randy Chan, DP Architects Associate Director Seah Chee Huang, Farm Studio architect Mr Peter Sim and Land Transport Authority Group Director Yao Chuan Sam.

The My Ideas for Public Spaces exhibition is held at the URA Centre Atrium from today to Dec 16.

Eight creative ideas chosen to enliven public spaces
The winning ideas include wooden barrels for the public to soak in at Sembawang Hot Spring, and an ecological corridor for birds under an elevated train track.
Alice Chia Channel NewsAsia 19 Nov 15;

SINGAPORE: Eight winners were chosen in a competition organised by the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA), to enhance and enliven underused or forgotten public spaces.

The winners, who received a S$1,000 cash prize each, were announced on Thursday (Nov 19).

"We do hope to implement some of these wonderful ideas," said Ms Tracey Hwang, the director of urban planning at URA. "We're working with the agencies right now, to see how we can implement some of these ideas. And these ideas have actually also inspired some of pop-up projects under the PubliCity programme, such as the Picnic in The Park, where we activated a space at Kampong Glam, using picnic tables and chairs. And these are the ideas that were shared with us by the public in the last competition."

The “My Ideas for Public Spaces” competition, which ran from May 14 to Jul 3 this year, received 158 entries, including some from architects, designers and pre-schoolers.

Some of the winning ideas include wooden barrels for the public to soak in at Sembawang Hot Spring, Mr Lee Wei Sen and Ms Ng Siew Mum came up with the idea after seeing people bring pails to collect water there.

"You can collect the wooden barrel, you can fill it up on your own, you can soak in there. It's really like a sauna," said Mr Lee, a graduate from Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts. "You can really soak it up and enjoy yourself compared to what they have now because there the pails are really small and you can only soak your legs."

"We would like to attract more users of various ages, be it a family, or couples that can really spend their time, appreciate the surrounding nature, and also relax and try to slow down the pace, so that they can really embrace the surroundings, the nature itself. It's truly like a new place in Singapore," added Ms Ng, a designer.

Other winning ideas include an ecological corridor for birds under an elevated train track in Queenstown and a giant slide down Mount Faber.

The competition is part of the PubliCity initiative, which was launched in November 2013 by the URA. The chosen ideas will serve as inspiration for future projects on activating public spaces.

- CNA/ww/ek

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They deliver, come rain or shine

Samantha Boh, The Straits Times AsiaOne 19 Nov 15;

A recent test by Singapore Post to use a drone to deliver a package to Pulau Ubin may be a sign of things to come.

But two of Singapore's longest-serving postmen, Mr Haron Jomahat, 75, and Mr Salim Nahrawi, 69, do not think machines are ready to replace humans just yet.

Each has been on the job for about half a century.

"Cannot... how can? The houses are so deep in the jungle," said Mr Haron, who has been Pulau Ubin's postman for the past 14 years.

The part-timer, who joined SingPost, then known as the Postal Services Department in the 1960s, said the winding paths on the 10.2 sq km island are hard to navigate and uneven.

Home addresses are also not in running order. This makes delivering letters on the island a skilled task, which takes about three hours to complete.

Mr Haron told The Straits Times he knows where the more than 30 shops and 20 houses are and gets to them by motorcycle.

It is challenging only when it pours, he said. "The road becomes very muddy and slippery."

Both senior postmen agreed that the human touch that they - and not robots - can extend as well as receive is also what they love most about the job.

"The villagers know me well," said Mr Haron.

Pulau Ubin's village chief Chu Yok Choon, 70, said Mr Haron is a familiar face. "I respect him for delivering our letters even in his old age."

Mr Salim, who has been a postman since 1965, said that what he values most is talking to people he meets on the job.

Over the past 50 years, he has delivered to kampungs and swanky skyscrapers. But he said he is still as enthusiastic as when he made his first-ever delivery - to a kampung in Pasir Panjang. He was a mere 18 years old then.

He said: "It's the people. You see them every day and become a familiar figure."

Today he delivers letters to companies in the Central Business District, including those in office buildings in Shenton Way.

Mr Ismail Rasul, 64, a relief security guard at Lumiere building, spoke fondly of Mr Salim .

"He is very 'smiley' and will always wave or say hi to me when he comes by ," said Mr Ismail.

Another security guard, Ms Rashimi R., 21, who works at Anson House, said Mr Salim or "uncle" would often ask how she was and if she had had lunch. "If I am quieter than usual or look a bit down, uncle will ask 'why, feeling sleepy?'."

Mr Salim recalled the days when he delivered letters by hand, to each and every house within the kampung in Pasir Panjang.

Residents would wait excitedly for him, as they had no other means of communicating with friends and family abroad except via snail mail. When he handed them mail, "they would keep thanking me though I tell them it is just my job", he said.

Mr Salim said the first high-rise residential flats he delivered letters to in the late 1960s had no mailboxes like the ones at void decks of Housing Board blocks now. Postmen had to slot letters under the door of each unit. They would start on the top floor - usually the 15th floor for Mr Salim- and work their way down.

"Once I slotted a letter through the window and, alamak, it dropped into the fish tank," he said, chuckling.

Singapore has left such mishaps behind with the centralised mailboxes now at each block of flats.

Automation and self service are also part of modern postal facilities. In 2013, SingPost introduced POPStations - automated kiosks where parcels can be posted or picked up .

In September, it flew a drone over 2km, between Lorong Halus on the mainland and Pulau Ubin, to deliver a letter and T-shirt in a packet.

It is not clear whether and when robots will take over mail delivery, but Singapore's two oldest postmen said they would work for as long as possible .

"I like this job, it has become part of my life," said Mr Haron.

Mr Salim said: "You can use robots in certain places... maybe in the factory to do sorting.

"But for deliveries... there're no feelings there. You cannot talk to the robot, and say thanks."

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It's hard work but the world's their oyster

Desmond Lim, Straits Times AsiaOne 19 Nov 15;

Sea Farmers @ Ubin manager Mr Lek Wei Boon poses for a photograph on Singapore's only oyster farm off Pulau Ubin. Mr Lek has about 20 years of industry experience working as a manager and consultant on various oyster farms in Singapore.

The wooden structure, just 100m off Mamam Beach on the northern shore of Pulau Ubin, looks like a regular fish farm.

Its painted walls, bleached by sunlight to a pasty blue, creak with each surge of an oncoming wave.

At a glance, the floating farm looks unremarkable. Its produce, however, is anything but.

A metre beneath Singapore's only oyster farm are thousands of baskets holding some 200,000 pacific oysters of various sizes.

Since April, the farm - about the size of three basketball courts - has received a new lease on life after it was purchased from the previous owner, who ran it for about five years. The new owners, a couple who hold professional day jobs, say the farm was bought for a six-figure sum.

Work on Sea Farmers @ Ubin has been in high gear since the farm changed hands as the new owners hope to harvest enough of the briny molluscs to cater to the year-end demand from local hotels and restaurants.

Spat, which are baby oysters, are imported from Australia once every three months and then cultivated in the local tropical waters to about 8cm before they are sold.

Farm manager Lek Wei Boon, who oversees the daily operations, says that Singapore's tropical waters boost oysters' growth as the oysters feed continuously without going into hibernation.

Ms Michelle Mok, 37, the owner of Sea Farmers @ Ubin, says: "We are not bound by seasons, so we can harvest fresh oysters all year round for our consumers."

But local oyster farming still has its challenges.

Barnacles and mussels, which reproduce rapidly in warmer waters, tend to attach themselves to the oysters, competing for food and retarding the oysters' growth.

"We have to clean the oysters daily by scraping off the barnacles. Then we sort them according to sizes. That's why work on the farm is endless," says Mr Lek.

Oysters are also put through UV sterilisation to remove any bacteria before they are delivered.

Singaporeans' appetite for the shellfish has grown steadily.

According to the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority , 795 tonnes of live oysters were imported in 2013 compared with just 469 tonnes in 2007.

Last year, 858 tonnes of live oysters were imported from countries like the United States, Canada, New Zealand and France.

Ms Mok is, however, unfazed by stiff competition from overseas.

"Freshness is key when it comes to oysters. Imported ones have to be flown in and kept in storage before and after the flight," she says.

"But because we are local, we can get our oysters from farm to table within the day."

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Malaysia: Johor to build three water plants

The Star 20 Nov 15;

NUSAJAYA: Three treatment plants will be built in Johor as part of a RM430mil allocation by the state government to overcome water shortages and upgrade supply facilities.

Mentri Besar Datuk Mohamed Khaled Nordin said Pengurusan Aset Air Bhd would build the plants in Buloh Kasap, Segamat; Pagoh, Muar; and Kahang, Kluang.

He said all old pipes throughout the state would also be replaced.

“We hope to improve the water supply with these initiatives and resolve water-related issues, especially in Pasir Gudang and Pengerang,” he said when tabling Johor’s 2016 budget at the state assembly yesterday.

He said RM1mil would be allocated to identify areas prone to flash floods and short- and long-term plans to prevent such floods.

Khaled told the assembly that the Johor Water Regulatory Body (Bakaj) would also study water regulatory methods and the creation of buffer zones in catchment areas.

“The RM57mil allocated by the Federal Government under the 11th Malaysia Plan will enable the state to conduct feasibility studies on water sources in Sungai Muar and environmental impact studies in Mersing.

“The funds will also be used to build infrastructure, like barrages and dams, and upgrade existing dams,” he added.

Khaled said the state also planned to improve flood mitigation works, drainage systems and sewage maintenance projects by increasing the developers’ contribution collection rate by 150%.

He said developers would now be required to pay RM10,000 per 0.4ha for areas under the jurisdiction of local councils while those areas under municipal councils would be set at RM5,000 per 0.4ha.

Earlier, the Mentri Besar announced the state’s highest budget so far, with an increase of 47.7% in development expenditure for 2016.

Khaled said the estimated development expenses for next year had been raised to RM541.10mil, from RM366.20mil allocated this year.

A total of RM213mil would be spent on economy-generating projects and programmes while RM95.1mil has been allocated for administration, infrastructure and amenities.

A sum of RM33mil has been set aside for irrigation and drainage projects

Khaled said social and physical development programmes would receive RM155mil while RM45mil would be spent on the development of Islam.

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The Dying Reefs Of Malaysia

The country is facing challenges in protecting and conserving coral reefs. This is the first of three series that explores the issue.

Sakini Mohd Said Bernama 19 Nov 15;

KUALA LUMPUR (Bernama) -- When Gress Anthony found that her employer had assigned her to a task in Pulau Tinggi, Johor, she was determined to avoid all water activities.

The 31-year-old was still traumatised from the time she went white water rafting in the Padas River of Sabah and nearly drowned.

It all changed the moment she set her eyes on the marine park at Pulau Tinggi. The clear aquamarine water revealed the aquatic world underneath, including the beautiful corals that live there. The weariness from the five-hour journey from Kuala Lumpur to the island seemed to dissipate at the sight of it.

More importantly, it cured her fear of open water.

"The gorgeous view made me realise that it would be a shame to listen to my fears and miss out on the opportunity to explore the beauty of the marine life here," she said to Bernama.


Pulau Tinggi is one of the 13 islands gazetted as the Johor Marine Park.

It is known for the beauty of its colourful corals and diverse marine life. However, it is only one of the many islands in Malaysia with such an impressive marine ecosystem.

Today, 42 islands have been awarded the marine park status. Among them are Pulau Perhentian, Pulau Redang and Pulau Payar.

As of 2012, more than 500 species of corals from that ever recorded in the world can be found in the country. This makes Malaysia the country with the highest marine biodiversity in the region.


Therefore, it is unsurprising that nearly half a million tourists visit Malaysia's marine parks every year.

However, marine environmentalists have raised their concern that the high tourist arrivals might affect the conservation and preservation of coral reefs in the 4,006-sqkm marine park.

They fear that tourist activities may physically damage or degrade reefs and threaten its survival.

In addition to that, the rapid development of coastal zones, the unsystematic sewage management system and the lack of appreciation of some tour operators towards the environment also challenges the survival of rare and beautiful coral reefs.

It is sad to see that all of thes takes place in a marine park; an area that has been marked as a marine sanctuary, aimed at protecting and conserving aquatic life, said Alvin J.C, the programme manager of Reef Check Malaysia.


"Marine parks are important and popular tourism products. When tourist numbers increase, the probability of coral reefs getting damaged also increases. It is best to limit tourist arrivals," he said.

However, there are no regulations at the moment to limit the number of tourists into a marine park.

There are other rules, though, governing tourists who visit marine parks.

They are prohibited, among others, to step on or collect corals, to litter, feed the fish, engage in fishing activities and collect any flora or fauna from the marine parks.

However, not all tourists who come in are wary of the dos and don'ts and may unwittingly contribute to the destruction of coral reefs.


Reef Check Malaysia marine biologist Kee Alfian said that coral reefs and aquatic life are often threatened with damage caused by activities like diving and snorkeling.

"While we acknowledge that there are also natural threats such as the increasing temperature and acidity of seawater, it cannot be compared with the human threat, which occurs often, consistently and within a short period.

"We have to take control of this because we can. Natural threats are something that is harder to prevent," he said.

Irresponsible tour operators have regularly brought in large numbers of tourists into the water for snorkeling activities, with less than five people allocated to handle the crowd.

"These tourists are given snorkeling equipment and then left there without further explanation. They may be wearing life jackets, but not all of them know how to float properly, thus many of them stand and trample on the corals.

"They will think that all they are stepping on are stones when in reality they are standing on living organisms and may have killed them," he said.

This is an ecological disaster that should be taken seriously as coral reefs take up hundreds of years to form, but can be killed in mere seconds.


Their concerns were based on several studies by Reef Check Malaysia that proves the rapid development of tourism in the area as a threat to the survival of coral reefs.

Reef Check is the world's largest international coral reef monitoring programme involving volunteer recreational divers and marine scientists.

Corals have a way of surviving against natural threats. Some species may even be able to adapt to warmer oceans. However, the constant threat and damage caused by human beings reduces its chances of survival and ability to adapt to climate change.

For example, a study last year found that the poor management of the sewage pollution has resulted in it being discharged into coastal waters. The resulting nutrient enrichment in the waters promotes the growth of seaweed while threatening the survivability of corals.

"The sewage system is there but when it is not maintained, the waste would flow into the ocean, polluting it. This ultimately leads to the overgrowth of seaweed, which competes with the corals for space and light and eventually kills the latter," he explained.

Alvin lamented that there were also tour operators who emptied septic tanks into the oceans during the monsoon season.

"However, this year Indah Water Konsortium came for the first time to two villages in Pulau Tioman to help address the sewage water issue.


Great attention must be paid to the survival of coral reefs as they play a major role in the survival of marine life as well as humans.

This is because it is the breeding area and nursery for most of marine life, with 25 percent of the country's seafood source coming from it.

"Studies show that only 48.11 percent (as of 2014) live coral reefs are left in Malaysian waters. If they are not protected, the figure would go down.

"All development should be regulated and done sustainably. There should be stricter regulations and enforcment."


Protecting Marine Parks Easier Said Than Done
Can the Department of Marine Park Malaysia effectively protect the country's precious marine resources? This second of the three series on the country's marine parks explores the issue.

Sakini Mohd Said Bernama 19 Nov 15;

PUTRAJAYA (Bernama) -- A recent news report highlighted the concerns of an NGO of the impending decline of the country's fishing industry.

The World Wide Fund for Nature Malaysia (WWF-Malaysia) said that this was due to several pressing factors. Among them are the non-environmentally friendly methods of fishing, sea pollution and unsustainable coastal development, which all contribute to the marked degradation of coral reefs.

Coral reefs support more species than any other marine environment, making them of significant ecological importance to the survival of marine life.

WWF-Malaysia CEO Datuk Dr Dionysius Sharma in a news report said that the RM8.79 billion fishing industry might see the extinction of popular seafood like groupers and snappers, unless sustainable ocean management practices were implemented.

"Just 10 percent of commercially valuable fish remain available for consumption after being largely fished out in the last fifty years," he said.

Quoting the "Living Blue Planet" report, Sharma said the destruction of the world's coral reefs have resulted in the global reduction of marine populations by half. Some fish species have declined by close to 75 percent, all of which have impacted the fishing industry.


Perhaps some would question how the statistics would impact them, as it did not specifically relate to Malaysia. However, the findings are more relevant than they think.

"Malaysia, with its expanse of open seas, is highly dependent on sea resources," said Robecca Jumin, the Marine Division Head of the Marine Programme of WWF-Malaysia.

In fact, in 2014, Malaysia surpassed Japan as one of the biggest consumer of fish and seafood in the region.

"On the average, every person in Malaysia consumes at least 56.5kg of fish every year," she said.

The government has tried to address the problem using various measures such as continual monitoring and enforcement operations.

However, a more pragmatic approach would be the gazetting of marine parks.

Robecca said that the waters around 42 islands in the country have been gazetted as marine parks. The move is for the protection and conservation of marine biodiversity, particularly coral reefs, which are essential to the propagation of aquatic life.

Thirteen islands have been gazetted as marine parks in Terengganu, nine in Pahang, four in Kedah, three in Labuan and 13 in Johor.


Marine parks were first established to address the decline of fishing resources around coral reefs.

Healthy coral reefs provide habitat, spawning and nursery grounds for most of young marine life until they are mature enough to go out into the open sea.

The Marine Parks Department Director General Dr Sukarno Wagiman said marine parks were a treasure trove of marine diversity with high socio-economic value.

This inevitably tempts many a rogue parties to trespass into the area and violate the regulations for economic gains.

This presents a challenge to the department as some of the breaches happen during permitted activities such as swimming, scuba diving and kayaking.

Unrestricted water recreational activities such as diving and snorkelling also have adverse effects on the ecosystem of coral reefs due to the collecting and trampling of corals.


To address the problem, the department is running a study with Universiti Utara Malaysia (UUM) on the "carrying capacity" of marine parks.

"The study lets us find out how many people can an area accommodate at a time (without ecologically disturbing it). For example, how many people should be permitted to go snorkelling at a time?

"The study has so far only been carried out on Pulau Perhentian and Pulau Redang. Perhaps next year, we can get a comprehensive report and from there a policy can be formed," said Sukarno.

However, the findings would still be subjected to the joint decision of the tourism industry, state government, local authorities and Ministry of Tourism and Culture.

This is because the business and tourism operator licensing authority lies outside the jurisdiction of the department.


The department has also split marine parks into four zones in the bid to protect the diminishing marine resources, namely for tourism/recreation, conservation, preservation and protection of habitats.

This is to ensure the survivability of coral reefs, which are a crucial part of the ecosystem of over 3,000 marine species.

"For example, the El Nino in 2010 caused severe bleaching of the corals in Malaysian waters.

"The department had to close down several areas and classify them as a conservation zone to let the diseased or dying corals recover naturally," he explained.

Twelve of the 83 diving sites at marine parks were closed in 2010 following the repercussions from the El Nino. However, 48.33 percent of the corals recovered by 2013.


In the bid to protect the biodiversity in marine parks, the department is teaming up with several marine authorities to curb illegal fishing activities in the area.

Among the agencies involved are the Fisheries Department, the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency and the Royal Malaysia Police. The joint effort has resulted in 2,634 patrols in 2014.

"It is the Department of Marine Park's main duties to ensure the survivability and sustainability of marine biodiversity for the sake of the future generations," Sukarno said.

Besides patrols, the department also monitors the bottom of the sea for activities that can damage coral reefs such as fish shooting, collecting corals or stepping on them.

"We previously only monitored the ocean surface, but today we also monitor down to the bottom. This is to ensure that divers or snorkellers don't disturb marine life or drop their boat anchors onto corals," he explained.

There have been 566 of bottom sea patrols in 2014, resulting in a decrease of activities violating the Fisheries Act 1985.

As at September 2015, there have been 32 arrests in marine parks for the violation of the Act, involving RM29,850 in fines.

Marine parks are prohibited zones for any fishing activity under the Fisheries Act (Amendment)(1994) and anyone caught fishing in the prohibited area can be fined not more than RM20,000 or sentenced to two years in prison or both.


Coral Restoration Helps Marine Conservation Efforts
Sakini Mohd Said Bernama 19 Nov 15;

This is the last of the three series on the protection and conservation of the ecosystem in Malaysia's marine parks, particularly at coral reefs.

MERSING (Bernama) -- The scorching sun seemed to hardly affect those who came down to help with the conservation of corals in Pulau Tinggi that morning.

The heat was offset by the cool water that they stepped into, as they took in the breathtaking view around them.

"We will bring these assembled PVC tube frames into the ocean. We do not need to go the deeper parts. As this is for educational purposes, it would suffice for us to simply go into the shallower areas," said Zulkifly Mohd Supri to the group. He is a diver and coral planter with the Department of Marine Park in Johor.

Excitement registered on everyone's faces, but they had to be careful in carrying the frames in as the rolling waves added some difficulty to the process.

"For this to succeed, we would need to find a coral at least 10cm in size. Carefully tie it together so that we can properly plant it. This is what we call the restoration of corals," Zulkifly explained.


Coral restoration is one of the conservation efforts by the department in improving the sustainability of coral reefs.

Efforts in Malaysia kicked off in 2011, focusing on the regeneration of areas where corals suffered damage and degradation.

The first restoration site was in Kampung Tekek, Pulau Tioman. Sixty-one PVC frames were planted to help with the restoration of severely bleached corals, due to the El Nino in 2010.

The higher than normal seawater temperature then (28-29 degrees Celsius) caused the destruction of five to 10 percent of coral reefs in the country then.

To address the worrying matter, the Department of Marine Park teamed up with NGO Reef Check Malaysia to conserve the priceless ecosystem through coral restoration projects.

They also established an advisory panel for action on bleached corals as well as an action committee for bleached corals to facilitate faster and more effective response in the future.

This is in anticipation of the more frequent occurrences of El Nino, as forecasted by local and international researchers due to the global climate changes.

"Next year's forecast predicts the El Nino to severely affect the Pacific Ocean and the South China Sea may also be impacted.

"So there is a high possibility that the marine parks in the East Coast will also be affected," said the department's director general Dr Sukarno Wagiman to Bernama.


Projects like coral restoration is one of the methods of adapting to natural threats such as climate change and the crown-of-thorns starfish, which prey on the fastest growing or diseased corals.

In addition to that, it also helps against man-made threats such as irresponsible coastal development, rogue fishermen or irresponsible tourists.

The project, carried out based on the recommendations and advice of experts from Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, has successfully helped restore 2.7sqkm of destroyed coral reefs in a cost-effective manner. More than 15,000 coral nubbins have been planted in marine parks since Oct 2014.

In view of the success, the National Biodiversity Council through the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, has given the mandate to the department to implement the project nationwide.

This includes areas in Malaysian waters not gazetted as marine parks.


The restoration programme in Pulau Tinggi has helped a group of media persons to better understand the process of coral restoration.

The process is divided into several stages, with the first being the preparation of PVC frames as the nursing ground for corals.

The site for which the frames are to be placed depends on the location, taking into account the quality of seawater, weather and depth of the area.

"The coral nubbins must be healthy and taken from a broken coral," said Zulkifly.

As soon as a suitable coral is found it would be tied to the artificial reef using a cable tie, taking care to handle the coral as minimally as possible.

Some 1,050 coral nubbins are tied to 15 PVC frames and brought down to the bottom of the sea. Whether or not the effort is successful in generating a coral reef can only be seen after a year.


'Branching' or 'staghorn' Acropora corals are the ones normally used in coral restoration, said the Johor director of the Department of Marine Park, Mohd Nizam Ismail.

This is because of its fast growth and the ease in acquiring it at marine parks, compared with other species. Other species may take up to 50 years to recover once damaged.

"On an average, corals grow only one to two centimeter a year. In Johor, 1,380 nubbins have been planted since last year around Pulau Tinggi.

"This year, 4,000 more nubbins will be planted, half of it in Pulau Tinggi and the rest in Pulau Aur," he said.

Besides that, scuttling ships, concrete reefs and reef balls are also used to ensure the survivability of marine life.

Scuttling ships is the practice of sinking decommissioned ships to create wreck diving sites to produce artificial reefs and provide a site for recreation activities like wreck diving.

The department, together with the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA) and Ministry of Tourism and Culture, has sunk six old ships belonging to the MMEA for the purpose.

"This is done to divert the attention of divers from coral reefs to the wreck site," said Sukarno.


The department is also committed in helping the public improve their knowledge on marine life.

Among them is the launching of the Green Fins programme for scuba diving operators.

The joint project with Reef Check Malaysia encourages members to run water recreation activities responsibly by prioritising conservation efforts.

The department has also trained 65 boat operators in Pulau Perhentian the environmentally friendly way of operating their boats.

"Some of the operators of small boats sometimes race. We teach them to drive boats with courtesy and without polluting the sea with boat fuel.

"Our coral reefs are worth RM145 billion and benefit everyone. Therefore, we should all be collectively responsible in protecting this unique treasure of Malaysia."


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RSPO bar raised for palm-oil sustainability tick 19 Nov 15;

The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), a global body of plantation companies, refiners, consumers and environmental groups that advocates for socially, environmentally and economically sustainable palm oil, has decided to set the bar higher in defining sustainable practices.

The organization is finalizing the details of tough new sustainability standards under broad criteria that include bans on deforestation, fires and peatland planting as well as rules relating to carbon emissions, human rights and transparency.

“We plan to launch this initiative at our annual conference next year,” RSPO co-chairperson Biswaranjan Sen said at the RSPO’s 13th annual conference in Kuala Lumpur on Wednesday.

About 800 delegates from around 50 countries attended the conference and together mounted this stronger campaign for sustainable palm oil, only a few weeks after the worst-ever forest fires and haze crisis hit Indonesia and badly affected Malaysia and Singapore.

Chen Ying, a delegate from China, the world’s largest importer of palm oil, noted there had been an increasing awareness among industries and consumers in China around the importance of socially and environmentally sustainable palm oil.

She presented at the conference guidelines for overseas investment in sustainable palm-oil production put together by Chinese companies. The document is by and large modeled on the principles and criteria used by the RSPO for its certification scheme since 2008.

“Our regional objective is to achieve a 100 percent market uptake of certified sustainable pam oil in Europe, 50 percent in Indonesia and Malaysia, 30 percent in India and 10 percent in China by 2020,” RSPO Secretary General Datuk Darrel Webber added.

Ariane Louwaege of the Belgian Alliance for Sustainable Palm Oil confirmed that the EU as a whole had been committed to 100 percent sourcing of sustainable palm oil by 2020, and that several countries, such as Britain, may even achieve it much earlier.

“We in Europe recognize only sustainable palm oil as certified under the RSPO principles and criteria,” Louwaege noted.

Meanwhile, Indonesia and Malaysia, which together account for 85 percent of global palm-oil usage, are still struggling to realign their respective sustainability standards in light of the new unified certification scheme.

The principles of sustainable management promoted and assessed by the RSPO in its certification process include such elements as transparency, legal and regulatory compliance, best production practices, environmental responsibility and a commitment to local community development.

The RSPO reported that as of Oct. 12, 1 million tons, or 20 percent, of global palm-oil production had been certified as sustainable and 50 percent of that volume was derived from Indonesia. (vin)(+)

Three villages achieve fire-free title
The Jakarta Post 19 Nov 15;

Residents of Kuala Panduk, Petodaan and Segamai in Riau province managed to prevent peatland fires from occurring in their areas this year and their communities have consequently been named “fire-free” villages.

For their achievement, each village received a total of Rp 100 million (US$7,700) in cash from PT Riau Andalan Pulp and Paper (RAPP) to be used for the improvement of infrastructure.

The three villages, alongside six others in Teluk Meranti and Pelalawan districts, were involved in the Fire-free Village Program initiated by RAPP with the Pelalawan regency administration. Evaluation took place from July 28 until Oct. 15 this year.

“The three villages successfully maintained zero percent land and forest fires during the assessment period,” said RAPP managing director Tony Wenas, during the prize-giving ceremony in Pekanbaru on Wednesday.

Global palm oil conference highlights smallholders

Vincent Lingga, The Jakarta Post 21 Nov 15;

The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), a global body of plantation companies, refiners, consumers and green groups, that promotes the development of socially, environmentally and economically sustainable palm oil, concluded its 13th annual conference here on Thursday by highlighting the role of smallholders.

Around 800 delegates from 45 countries who attended the three-day RSPO meeting acknowledged the important role of smallholders in Indonesia and Malaysia, who account for around 40 percent of the global palm oil output of 60 million tons.

While the majority of participants were delegates from big plantation companies, green NGOs and civil society organizations, they realized that the campaign for sustainable palm oil would never fully achieve its objective if smallholders were not educated and empowered to meet all the principles and criteria of social and environmental sustainability.

“I have a dream that someday in the future both national and international markets and consumers in general will know that all commodities coming from my regency have been produced by companies and smallholders in a sustainable manner,” Seruyan Regent Sudarsono told the meeting.

Seruyan regency and Sabah state in Malaysia are the first sub-national govenrments to adopt RSPO’s jurisdictional approch to develop sustainable palm oil, a model of rural development that improves the welfare of the rural poor through higher productivity but without damaging the environment.

Indonesia and Malaysia account for around 85 percent of the world’s palm oil production, supplying 40 percent of the global vegetable oil needs, according to the Rome-based United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization. Indonesia, as the world’s largest producer, has approximately 10.5 million-hectars of oil palm estate, of which 40 percent or 4.6 million ha is currently owned by smallholders.

Sudarsono said that the Seruyan administration, in cooperation with NGO Inobu, an affiliate of the Earth Innovation Institute, is presently conducting a comprehensive census of palm oil farmers, to gather complete data on both land status and the main problems faced in meeting the requirements of sustainability.

“We hope to complete data collection by next year so that we can start addressing such issues as legality, deforestation, land conflict, peat land destruction and eventually advance to sustainability certification programs,” Sudarsono added.

South Sumatra Governor Alex Noerdin, who also attended the meeting, announced that his administration was also finalizing preparations to adopt a jurisdictional approach for oil palm estates in the province.

Different from the previous program of targeting sustainability certification at individual plantations, a jurisdictional approach includes all the players in the industry, from multinational plantation owners down to the smallest of smallholders.

“When a local government agrees to jurisdictional certification guidelines, local stakeholders are given access to work with regional governments to improve the welfare of smalholders, while encouraging environmental best practices,” RSPO co-chairman Biswaranjan Sen noted.

“The RSPO jurisdictional sustainability approach is not dissimilar to the Indonesian Sustainable Palm Oil [ISPO] program as both schemes promote the principles of best farming practices, transparency, legal and regulatory compliance, environmental responsibility and local community development,” Sudarsono noted.

The International Finance Corporation (IFC), the private-sector arm of The World Bank, has also paid considerable attention to palm oil farmers through a joint program with the Musim Mas industry group.

IFC and Musim Mas, one of Indonesia’s largest integrated palm oil industries, have started the Indonesian Palm Oil Development for Smallholders (IPODS) in North Sumatra which plans to train 100,000 independent farmers in the production of sustainable palm oil.

“Of the total, 25,000 will get training in meeting ISPO and RSPO requirements for the certification of their fresh fruit bunches. Our target is for 10,000 smallholders to get certification,” Musim Mas Communications Manager Carolyn Lim said.

Last year, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and the Agriculture Ministry launched a program called Indonesian Palm Oil Platform (INPOP) designed to enhance the capacity of smallholders in implementing sustainable oil palm farming practices.

Delegates from developed countries, notably the EU, apparently in response to the increasing commitments made to sustainable palm oil production, reaffirmed their pledge to buy or import only certified sustainable palm oil by 2020.

As the most produced and traded vegetable oil in the world, palm oil indeed plays a crucial role in enhancing food security.

And given its big potential as a major source of renewable fuel, palm oil seems to deserve significant attention, especially in Indonesia where this industry directly employs more than 4.7 million workers and generates more than $20 billion in export earnings.

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Indonesian VP: Excuse our haze, blame the wind

Tarra Quismundo Philippine Daily Inquirer 20 Nov 15;

Indonesian Vice President Jusuf Kalla blamed the wind for the dangerous haze reaching Singapore and Malaysia, and even parts of Thailand and the Philippines, due to his country’s forest fire smoke.

“One thing that we cannot control, it’s the wind. I’m so sorry Malaysia and Singapore to say that, because we cannot control the wind,” said Kalla when the issue was raised during a dialogue with business leaders at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) meeting in Manila.

Kalla is participating in the Apec leaders summit in Manila in place of Indonesia President Joko Widodo.

“We don’t want the haze going everywhere, but the wind we cannot control. That’s why if [the haze] comes to others, it happens not because we want to make the haze go to our neighbor, [but] because the wind does that,” said the official, drawing some laughter from the audience during a dialogue with Apec business leaders.

The haze, which comes from lingering forest fires in Indonesia’s Riau province in East Sumatra and parts of South Sumatra and Kalimantan, and has sparked diplomatic and business rows. During one bad episode recently, Singapore closed its schools to protect children from respiratory diseases. Flights were grounded and events canceled. The city-state threatened to sue Indonesia for its failure to stop slash-and-burn (“kaingin”) practices used for clearing land for new plantations.

Last month, the haze even affected parts of Cebu and was even suspected to have reached Metro Manila. The US National Aeronautics and Space Administration warned that the haze could become among “the worst ever,” aggravated by the El Niño weather phenomenon which is causing drought in parts of Southeast Asia.

Kalla, in his response, likewise cited the El Niño weather phenomenon as another factor beyond the government’s control that was exacerbating the problem.

He also blamed foreign companies for their own role in the denudation of Indonesia’s forests. He recalled how Indonesia’s forest land, one of the biggest in the world, became denuded “because of foreign intervention in the first place,” with swift deforestation eating up what used to be at least 150 million hectares of forest land in the 1950s. Nearly half had been lost in the last five decades, he said.

“In the ’60s and the ’70s, many foreign companies taught our people how to log. So that destroyed our forests in Kalimantan and Sumatra,” said Kalla.

He called on other nations to support Indonesia’s efforts toward reforestation, saying his country’s forest land is the land of the world.

“This year, we have a big project to restore all forests. We need international cooperation because this tropical forest in Indonesia is the land of the world. This is our land. Not just Indonesia’s. But the world included,” Kalla said.

He expressed hopes that the climate conference in Paris in early December would yield more concrete commitments to delay the disastrous effects of global warming.

“That’s why we hope that the Paris conference [on the climate] will have better results. We should have togetherness to make a good environment for the world,” Kalla said.

“Next year, the haze might be still there, but we’ll be reducing this. And thank you for the cooperation in the region. We cannot do it alone with an El Niño like this,” he said.

Environmentalists blame palm oil plantation owners and farmers for intentionally using illegal slash-and-burn practices and the Indonesian government’s inability to impose strict penalties to stop the practice. The ensuing haze has pushed pollution in some areas to hazardous levels. At least six provinces in Indonesia have been declared in a state of emergency due to the toxic fumes. Malaysia, Singapore, Australia and Japan have sent assistance to help put out the fires.

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Indonesia: To stop the haze, take aim at land policies

Today Online 20 Nov 15;

When Mr Prayoto was born in Riau in 1980, oil palms occupied less than 10,000ha in the Indonesian province in central Sumatra. When he turned 21 and started working at the Riau Provincial Forestry Service, the figure breached one million hectares. It has since grown to four million.

Accompanying the dramatic oil palm boom is the growth in the pulp and paper sector. Riau is home to two of the world’s largest pulp mills, operated by two mega players that together hold concession rights to more than one-fifth of Riau’s total land area.

Along with the explosive growth in Riau’s plantation sector, Mr Prayoto also bore witness to every haze episode until he left to pursue his doctorate in Japan last month. “Whenever the smoke comes, my asthma gets worse,” said the remote sensing specialist, who used to analyse fire locations for the provincial government when we met in Jakarta in September. That meeting was thrice delayed. Getting the plane off the ground was no straightforward affair in haze-filled Pekanbaru.

At the recent Responsible Business Forum on Sustainable Development, Singapore’s then Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Minister Vivian Balakrishnan, who is now Foreign Minister, hit out at haze-causing plantation groups for “privatising the gain and socialising the pain”.

Mr Prayoto is one of the many victims of such a business model. In the latest haze spell, some 20 haze-related deaths were reported and more than half-a-million people were treated for acute lung problems in Indonesia.

The impact goes beyond Indonesia and its immediate neighbours. When fires razed more than two million hectares of land in the country, it released more than 1.6 billion metric tonnes of carbon dioxide, making it a more significant contributor to global climate change than far bigger economies including Russia and Japan, said US think-tank World Resources Institute.

While the plantation sector is a significant source of employment in Indonesia, Mr Prayoto is convinced that the local communities have little to benefit from it, having seen how production forests, plantation permits and profits are distributed in Riau.

At first glance, small businesses in Riau’s oil palm sector have their fair share of the pie. While the sector was first dominated by big enterprises, small firms overtook them in plantation area by 2003, according to analysis by academics Junji Nagata and Sachiho W Arai, in the book The Palm Oil Controversy in Southeast Asia.

However, based on Mr Prayoto’s observations, a good number of these small companies are registered by bigger plantation groups or private investors, many of whom are middle-class Medanese from North Sumatra. Job opportunities at the plantations also often go to migrants from North Sumatra and Java.

Many locals in Riau, on the other hand, find themselves losing access to their customary land when village leaders sell land to companies for personal profit. In some cases, locals are made title holders — but in name only. Mr Prayoto said companies and investors sometimes use the local people’s names to bypass restrictions on plantation size or to avoid responsibilities when caught using fire to clear land.

The duopolistic pulp and paper sectoris even less popular among locals in Riau. In 2012, an indigenous group from the Teluk Meranti village famously stitched their lips to protest against the government’s concession of their customary land to a pulp and paper player. Locals also complain that the extensive cultivation of acacia pulpwood trees on peatlands affects their sago crops. Sago thrives well in naturally waterlogged peat soil, but acacia roots do not. Hence, extensive drainage is required before growing acacia, heightening the risk of fire.

In the face of such frustrations, some local communities have “encroached” into areas that they see as theirs. Where there is encroachment, there is fire, as the locals clear land to make space for their own crops, Mr Prayoto said.

While he is sympathetic to their plight, he said they do contribute to the haze in a significant way and will continue to do so if they are deprived of their customary land and livelihood.


The Indonesian government recognises the need to have a fairer land distribution system. A new rule passed in 2013 to cap the size of a plantation company’s total oil palm estates at 100,000 ha (Papua excluded) was meant to address this issue. But the rule is not retrospective, and does not apply to listed companies that are majority-owned by the public.

As such, it is important to make sure concession holders who are exempted from the rule are developing responsibly. Compliance audits should be strengthened to ensure they have allocated sufficient budget and acquired adequate equipment for mechanical land clearing, fire prevention and mitigation.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo has acknowledged the urgency for land reforms. He set up a new Agrarian and Spatial Planning Ministry to lead the One Map Initiative and resolve overlapping land claims, which often lead to fire-causing encroachment and, at times, deadly conflicts. He also tasked the new Ministry of Environment and Forestry to oversee the transfer of 12.7 million hectares of forests to local communities by 2019. This recognition of customary rights will go a long way in not only reducing land disputes and haze pollution, but also boosting investment confidence.

While there is no lack of well-meaning policies, implementation at the local level is always a challenge, said Mr Maturidi, a Kalteng Pos journalist from Pelangkaraya, Central Kalimantan, where the air turned into shades of yellow as the pollution index spiked

The concentration of land ownership is even more evident in Kalimantan than Riau, showed a study last year by Indonesian NGO TuK and Dutch consultancy Profundo. Further, half of the tycoon-controlled land bank in Kalimantan, estimated at three million hectares, is not planted yet. The social and environmental consequences can be enormous if further expansion is pursued in an unsustainable way.

The resource sector remains important to the economy, both Mr Prayoto and Mr Maturidi said. But if a sound land distribution system and profit-sharing model remain mere promises on paper, the vision of a haze-free ASEAN by 2020 is probably beyond reach.


Cheong Poh Kwan is Assistant Director for the Sustainability Programme at the Singapore Institute of International Affairs (SIIA). Mr Prayoto, Mr Maturidi and other delegates from Indonesia’s worst-hit provinces will share their personal stories at a public seminar at the SIIA on 23 November 2015.

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On Philippine coasts, rebuilding nature’s barriers to rising seas

Conservation International Thomson Reuters 20 Nov 15;

After days of anxiety-filled storm preparation, it was midmorning when a voice on Susset Enolva’s radio relayed an urgent message: The typhoon approaching her beachside home on the tiny Philippine island of Polopiña (also known as Igbon) had hit “Signal 4,” promising intense typhoon conditions and winds of more than 185 kilometers (115 miles) an hour.

Enolva and her mother gathered her three young sons and ran through the rain to her uncle’s house nearby. “We took our pots with cooked rice and then our uncooked rice container and some pillows — nothing else … No clothes. Because we were panicking. I couldn’t think straight anymore.”

Soon the roaring winds were toppling trees around her uncle’s house, and the roof began to shake. So the family fled to their last hope for refuge: the village church, where ocean waves were already lapping at the foundations.

“The kids were shivering from the cold … I kept on praying. I thought the coconut tree was going to fall on the church … I was also thinking about the storm surge. If the water got higher, we would be trapped … Where would we go? We would just die here.”

When Typhoon Haiyan (known locally as Yolanda) crashed into the central Philippines on November 8, 2013, it was the strongest tropical cyclone to ever make landfall anywhere in the world. The storm killed more than 6,000 people and left more than 4 million displaced, and its legacy is ingrained in the national psyche, leading many Filipinos to frame recent life events in “before” and “after” terms.

Two years later, communities are still recovering, and Enolva and her neighbors are concerned about the possibility of increased frequency and intensity of typhoons under a changing climate.

But these vulnerable villages can’t hold back the raging seas on their own. They need nature’s help.

A ripple effect

Although her family survived, Enolva lost everything else: her house and her possessions were swept out to sea. She now lives in one of a row of blue-painted concrete houses with iron roofs built for the village by Christian Aid, a humanitarian organization. The new houses are designed to withstand winds of up to 200 kilometers (124 miles) an hour, but their proximity to the water’s edge means that their safety is not guaranteed.

In a country of more than 7,000 islands, people’s lives are intimately connected to the ocean. Many live in island barangays (villages) like Enolva’s, which are only accessible by boat. Often backed by steep cliffs, these towns sit almost on the beach, giving residents — most of whom are fishermen — easy access to the water. Countless fishers lost their boats to Haiyan, but the storm’s impacts didn’t stop there.

On the nearby island of Iloilo, Haiyan’s pounding waves decimated coral reefs off the town of Concepcion. “Based on a study conducted by the University of the Philippines Visayas and commissioned by the local government of Concepcion, the storm reduced the coral cover from 70% of the area around Concepcion to 10%,” said Maria Josella Pangilinan, the climate change program manager at Conservation International (CI) Philippines.

With their habitat gone, most of the fish have disappeared, requiring fishers to spend more time at sea and farther offshore to bring in smaller catches.

“Before Yolanda, we were able to get four kilos in one day when we went fishing — and we didn’t even have to go far,” said local fisherman Remy Navarro. “After Yolanda, fishing was really difficult, and the situation has not changed even after one year; you fish and only get enough for the family’s consumption. Since Yolanda, people have been depending on relief assistance.”

Here as elsewhere, poorer populations are the first and worst hit by extreme weather events. Typhoons are nothing new to the Philippines — by dint of geography, it is themost exposed country in the world to tropical storms. But the number of annual severe storms has gone up in recent years, from an average of 20 per year to between 24 and 26; five of the country’s 10 deadliest storms have occurred since 2004. A growing tide of research points to global climate change as a driver of stronger storms.

Typhoons are becoming a bigger worry for Filipinos.

“After Yolanda, we feel like … we’re always on alert,” Enolva said. “The typhoons entering the Philippines are getting stronger every time.”

And when the storms come and the waters rise, there is less standing between the communities and the sea.

The first line of defense

One reason modern typhoons may cause more damage is mangrove destruction. When healthy, mangroves — which can form dense forests along tropical coastlines around the world — create a powerful barrier between land and sea.

Think about how your raincoat protects you from the weather. Now start snipping off bits of the raincoat, leaving your skin exposed to the elements. That’s what the world has been doing to its mangroves.

In the Visayas Islands — the Philippine region that experienced the most damage from Typhoon Haiyan — most of the mangrove forests that once lined their coasts have been cleared to make way for fish ponds and other coastal development. Enolva’s village in Polopiña also lacked a coastal greenbelt, leaving people with no buffer from the storm surge.

Recent research has found that for each kilometer of mangrove forest that ocean waves pass through, water levels can be reduced by half a meter (1.6 feet). Milliard Villanueva, the mayor of Concepcion, is adamant about the importance of restoring nature in order to adapt to the impacts of stronger typhoons: “It is the first line of defense, particularly on storm surge,” he said.

Thanks to a growing awareness of the value of keeping these natural areas intact, locals are now embracing the need to restore mangroves, reefs and other ecosystems. In Concepcion, a number of independent initiatives are working to do just that. In 2014, the local government built an artificial reef and is cultivating coral to replace that which has been lost to Haiyan; it is starting to attract more fish back into the bay. Some communities are planting mangroves; others have plans to restore seagrass beds.

Combine forces, increase resilience

But given the urgent threats that rising seas and more intense storms pose to human lives, nature-based activities need to work in tandem with more conventional man-made constructions.

“We know that while ecosystems can provide protection to communities, it’s not enough,” explained CI Philippines Country Director Enrique Nuñez. “Restoring ecosystems to the point where they can provide the optimal level of protection can take time — time we may not have before the next big storm.

“What we need is what we call a ‘green-gray’ or nature-based engineering solution for coastal protection — one which combines green/blue solutions such as mangrove reforestation with hard-engineering infrastructure, like seawalls. Integrating these techniques will give these communities the best chance of adapting to a new reality that includes stronger, more frequent storms.”

Building on previous successes helping communities in the Philippines’ Verde Island Passage, restore nature in order to adapt to climate change impacts, CI aims to pioneer this “green-gray” approach in Concepcion, Iloilo over the next four years.

With funding from the FFEM (Fonds Français pour l’Environnement Mondial) and in collaboration with the Philippines’ Biodiversity Management Bureau and local and international partners, CI looks to pair natural and man-made defenses to build community resilience against climate impacts while simultaneously restoring coastal and marine biodiversity.

This project could take on many different forms, from a permeable bamboo fence erected in the shallows between newly planted mangroves and deeper water, to an artificial reef made of rock debris that hosts a thriving oyster population that filters seawater while reducing wave energy.

Whatever it looks like, it will be one of the first projects in the world that combines green and gray infrastructure to adapt to climate change and reduce risk of disaster.

When it comes to climate change, efforts to help people fight and adapt to its impacts have never been more in demand. As world leaders prepare to gather in Paris to hammer out a global climate agreement, Nuñez hopes that this groundbreaking work in his home country will inspire others.

“Not only do we want to bring attention to the Philippines as a country highly vulnerable to climate change, we also want more people to see how if the green-grey initiative is successful, it could blaze a path for how people can adapt to a changing world.”

For people like Susset Enolva, lives and livelihoods hinge on getting this right.

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El Nino indicator hits record high, adds to weather risks: NOAA

Jo Winterbottom PlanetArk 20 Nov 15;

A key indicator for the strength of El Niño has reached a record high, the U.S. weather agency said, adding to signs that a weather pattern known for causing extreme droughts, storms and floods could become one of the strongest ever.

El Niño, the "little boy," is driven by warm surface water in the eastern Pacific Ocean and its strength is measured by how much higher temperatures are over three-month averages.

In the week ending Nov. 16, temperatures in the Nino 3.4 region, the central band of affected ocean running either side of the equator from 5S-5N and 170-120W, were 3 degrees Celsius (5.4 degrees Fahrenheit) above average, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said in its latest update.

It was the highest reading in data that goes back to 1990, Mike Halpert, deputy director of NOAA's Climate Prediction Center, said in an email. The previous highest reading was 2.8 degrees above average in the week of Nov. 26, 1997.

In the 1997-98 El Niño, heavy rains and flooding led to thousands of deaths, loss of crops and extensive damage to infrastructure in Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Somalia and Kenya. In Indonesia, El Nino related drought hit crops and uncontrolled fires impacted the environment.

El Niño conditions normally reach maximum strength between October and January, then persist through much of the first quarter.

It can cause droughts, heatwaves and fires in southeast Asia and Australia, while on the eastern edge of the Pacific, it may trigger warmer, wetter weather and flooding.

The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) has already said this year's El Niño is the biggest in over 15 years and could strengthen.

Because of climate change, heatwaves may be hotter and more frequent than usual, and more places may be at risk of flooding, WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud said on Monday.

The Nino 3.4 value is the basis for three-month averages used in the Oceanic Nino Index (ONI) -- one of the indicators that helps give historical context to the weather disruptions.

Another indicator, the Nino 4 value, also touched the largest value recorded at 1.7 degrees Celsius, the NOAA said.

NOAA's Halpert pointed out, however, that the record was only for the weekly value and that El Niño is eventually ranked by the peak of the ONI. "So we won't know exactly where this event ranks until sometime next year," he said.

The WMO said three-month averages would peak at over 2 degrees Celsius above normal over the next few months.

(Editing by Alan Crosby)

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