Best of our wild blogs: 29 Dec 15

Macro Photography Outings – December 2015
Bugs & Insects of Singapore

An Afternoon in a Global Big Year
Con Foley Photography

Noah Strycker’s Global Big Year stop in Singapore
Singapore Bird Group

Reduce and reuse for good: Singapore's first EcoBank launched

Researchers identify mangroves’ worst enemies
Mongabay Environmental News Meet the L’OrĂ©al Singapore Women in Science 2015 fellows (Part I) – Dr Neo Mei Lin
Neo Mei Lin

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Task force studying measures to tackle disease outbreaks

Audrey Tan, Straits Times AsiaOne 29 Dec 15;

Clearer guidelines and a simplified process for reporting cases of infectious diseases are among the measures being considered by a task force set up to boost Singapore's ability to tackle infectious disease outbreaks.

The task force was set up earlier this month by the Ministry of Health (MOH) in the wake of lapses revealed by the hepatitis C infections at the Singapore General Hospital (SGH) earlier this year.

"What we want is to encourage and enable medical professionals to report cases which they come across by providing clearer guidelines and simplifying the reporting process where possible, for example, by having a direct link from the laboratory to MOH on positive cases," said Minister of State for Health Chee Hong Tat, who chairs the task force.

He said the task force will look at the "modes of notification, timelines and escalation process" of infectious diseases, but be mindful about not adding to the workload.

"The task force will be careful about the downsides of adding more reporting and administrative burden for our healthcare institutions and medical professionals," he said, citing a need to keep standard operating procedures simple and help medical professionals "focus on their core responsibilities and to comply with existing infection-control protocols".

The task force will also relook the list of notifiable diseases under the Infectious Diseases Act, and have a national-level "Swat team" of infectious disease experts who can be mobilised at short notice.

It also plans to make better use of data analytics and information technology systems to boost the detection of potential outbreaks.

"Our current system depends too heavily on human judgment to process large amounts of information and decide whether the risks are significant enough for escalation and further investigation," said Mr Chee, who is also Minister of State for Communications and Information, at the launch of an SG50 book and video about Singapore's experience in overcoming infectious diseases.

Currently, most measures to prevent and control infectious diseases here come under the Infectious Diseases Act, which includes provisions for the director of medical services of MOH to get patient information from doctors to investigate an outbreak, for instance.

To date, 25 patients who were warded at SGH have been diagnosed with the same family of hepatitis C virus. Eight patients have died, with the hepatitis C virus infection "a likely contributory factor" in seven of the deaths.

Professor Paul Tambyah, secretary-general of the Asia Pacific Society of Clinical Microbiology and Infection, said the measures identified were a good starting point.

But he said Singapore could also look at adopting a "one health" approach, which looks at human and animal health together.

This could be an area of interest, especially with the recent outbreak of Group B Streptococcus infections linked to raw freshwater fish.

Professor Leo Yee Sin, director of the Institute of Infectious Diseases and Epidemiology at Tan Tock Seng Hospital, said the measures were critical areas for the task force to follow up on.

One area of interest is how to improve the notification system, she said, adding that she thought Singapore was in a good position to do this, as a lot of the recording is done electronically.

"The trick is how to take the electronic information and make sense of it using electronic and big data analysis," she said.

"But recognising the amount of data is not enough. Step Two would be to identify and analyse the data, and (take) response action."

Outbreak response unit 'a good idea'
Audrey Tan, The Straits Times Asia One 31 Dec 15;

The idea to have a quick-response "Swat team" to tackle outbreaks of infectious diseases in Singapore is a good one, experts have said.

The idea had come from a Ministry of Health (MOH) task force set up in the aftermath of the outbreak of hepatitis C at the Singapore General Hospital, which was linked to several deaths earlier this year.

The experts said that such a team would provide healthcare institutions with the expertise needed to deal with complex and unusual outbreaks.

The "Swat team" would also be able to provide an "unbiased assessment" of the situation, said Dr Leong Hoe Nam, an infectious diseases specialist from Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital.

"Doctors within the hospital... may be under inappropriate pressure to report findings that are less truthful but better for the hospital's reputation," he said.

On Monday, Minister of State for Health Chee Hong Tat said that the MOH task force was considering setting up a national-level "Swat team". It would comprise infectious disease experts who can be mobilised quickly to respond to outbreaks in any healthcare institution here.

The "Swat team" is one of four measures being considered by the task force, which was set up earlier this month.

Other measures include reviewing standard operating procedures, making better use of technology and reviewing the list of notifiable diseases under the Infectious Diseases Act.

Associate Professor David Lye, senior consultant at Tan Tock Seng Hospital's Infectious Diseases Department and Institute of Infectious Diseases and Epidemiology, said that similar response units have been implemented overseas.

He said: "An example of this would be the Epidemic Intelligence Service (EIS), part of the United States Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

"The US has a lot of small hospitals and there are outbreaks every year, everywhere. The EIS attends to some of these outbreaks in smaller hospitals, as well as overseas. That is definitely a great idea and should be developed further."

For instance, the CDC last year sent EIS officers to West Africa in response to an Ebola outbreak there, in the largest international outbreak response in the CDC's history.

Professor Paul Tambyah, secretary-general of the Asia-Pacific Society of Clinical Microbiology and Infection, said that while it is not yet clear what form the Singapore "Swat team" will take, the EIS was "very effective". He said: "They get sent anywhere, and investigate anything - community outbreaks, hospital outbreaks."

But Dr Leong pointed out that for the "Swat team" to be effective, it must be given access to cutting-edge laboratory research.

"Science has changed over the last five years, and we can now get genetic signatures of the viruses concerned ," he said.

"This is often a research tool not available to hospitals. Yet, it is crucial and should be considered a country resource."

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AVA expands GBS checks to imported frozen deep sea fish

AsiaOne 29 Dec 15;

SINGAPORE - Following the recent Group B Streptococcus (GBS) bacteria outbreak here, the Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) has strengthened checks on imported frozen deep sea fish, subjecting the fish to GBS checks too.

AVA has also stepped up the inspections of fish-processing companies and plants, Lianhe Zaobao reported today (Dec 29).

The Straits Times reported earlier this month that there have been about 360 cases of GBS infections this year with about 150 cases linked to the consumption of Chinese-style raw fish dishes. The National Environment Agency (NEA) banned the use of freshwater fish in raw fish dishes on Dec 5.

AVA told Zaobao that, on top of the newly added check for GBS, imported frozen deep sea fish are checked for disease-causing micro-organism, parasytes and heavy metals.

Tests for GBS on frozen freshwater, saltwater fish
Tan Weizhen, The Straits Times AsiaOne 4 Jan 16;

SINGAPORE - Bacteria such as GBS can survive indefinitely while frozen, and reactivate and multiply again when the fish or meat is thawed.

Both freshwater and saltwater frozen fish are now being tested for Group B Streptococcus (GBS) bacteria, with experts saying the bacteria can survive freezing.

The Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) started testing last month.

A spokesman said in response to queries: "Following the ban on the use of freshwater fish in ready-to-eat raw fish dishes on 5 Dec, 2015, AVA stepped up the testing on frozen saltwater fish, with a focus on saltwater fish intended for raw consumption."

He elaborated: "We have broadened our tests for established food safety parameters to include the testing for GBS and such tests are performed on both frozen saltwater and freshwater fish."

The tests, so far, have been for various other disease-causing bacteria, parasites and heavy metals.

The spokesman said: "To date, we have not detected Type III GBS (ST283) in our tests on frozen saltwater fish."

Last year, about 150 people became sick after they ate freshwater fish prepared to be eaten raw, said the Ministry of Health (MOH).

It took the total to 355 cases of GBS infections for the year, compared with 150 or so annually from 2011 to 2014.

Last month, MOH confirmed the link between eating such dishes and what appears to be an aggressive strain of GBS bacteria.

Infectious diseases experts say that GBS can survive in frozen fish and revive - and even proliferate - when thawed.

Infectious diseases physician Leong Hoe Nam said: "Freezing doesn't kill the bacteria. It just prevents proliferation."

The bacteria will continue to multiply when thawed.

Dr Leong said: " Fish kept on the table will allow GBS to proliferate. And, with time, a sufficiently large quantity can be found on the fish (and) overcome the body's immune system."

Freezing for a certain duration will kill most of the types of parasites that are present in certain fish, hence the practice for sushi-grade fish. However, bacteria, such as GBS, can survive indefinitely while frozen, and reactivate and multiply again when the fish or meat is thawed.

Infectious diseases specialist Hsu Li Yang said that cooking is the only guaranteed solution to GBS.

Dr Leong suggested flash freezing, in which the whole piece of meat is frozen very quickly, as opposed to slow kitchen freezing, which allows the bacteria to grow inside the meat even as it cools down from the outside.

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Suspected Yishun cat abuser charged in court

Lee Wai Leong was charged with Animal cruelty under s42(1)(d) of the Animals and Birds Act in the State Courts on Tuesday. Lee will be remanded at the Institute of Mental Health for assessment.
Melissa Zhu Channel NewsAsia 29 Dec 15;

SINGAPORE: An alleged cat abuser was charged in court on Tuesday (Dec 29) for his suspected involvement in a series of abuse cases in Yishun.

Lee Wai Leong was accused of throwing a male cat from the 13th floor of Block 115B, Yishun Ring Road, at about 10.29am on Oct 30. The cat died.

Lee was charged with animal cruelty under s42(1)(d) of the Animals and Birds Act in the State Courts on Tuesday. Deputy Public Prosecutor Lee Zu Zhao applied for Lee, who was not represented by a lawyer in court, to be remanded at the Institute of Mental Health (IMH) for assessment.

The suspect, dressed in red, did not speak in the courtroom. His case will be next mentioned on Jan 12, and he will be remanded in IMH till then.

In a joint news release on Monday, the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) and police said they received several reports of cats found injured or dead in the Yishun neighbourhood between September and December this year. At least 19 cats have been found dead or injured since September.

Police officers from the Ang Mo Kio Division assisted AVA in their investigations and established the suspect's identity. Lee was arrested by the police along Yishun Ring Road on Sunday.

Under the Animals and Birds Act, he could be fined up to S$15,000, jailed for up to 18 months, or both for the first offence if convicted. For second and subsequent offences, the maximum penalty is $30,000 or a jail term of up to 3 years, or both.

- CNA/es

Man, 40, arrested in connection with Yishun cat abuse cases
AVA says he was identified after enquiries on the ground, follow-up investigations
TOH EE MING Today Online 28 Dec 15;

SINGAPORE — The series of cat abuse cases in Yishun since September has seen a breakthrough, with a 40-year-old man due to be charged in court tomorrow for animal cruelty.

The suspect, believed to be a resident of Block 115B, Yishun Ring Road, was arrested on Sunday, said the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) and the police in a joint statement today (Dec 28).

Pinning down a suspect in the case has hitherto proven elusive despite animal welfare groups and volunteers chipping in to help with the authorities’ investigations.

Since Sept 24, there have been 17 reported incidents of cat abuse, ranging from strangulation, poisoning and severed limbs.

The AVA said today the suspect was identified after extensive on-ground enquiries and follow-up investigations with the police’s assistance.

TODAY understands surveillance camera footage was one of the leads in the case, while a volunteer with the Cat Welfare Society (CWS) had helped in identifying the man after he was arrested along Yishun Ring Road — an area where carcasses of several cats that were thrown from height had been found. Animal welfare groups had indicated the possibility of multiple culprits for the spate of cases. It is unclear if the authorities are looking for other suspects.

Under the Animals and Birds Act, anyone found guilty of animal cruelty can be fined up to S$15,000 and/or jailed up to 18 months for the first offence. For second and subsequent offences, the maximum penalty is S$30,000 or a jail term of up to three years, or both.

The news of a suspect being identified was met with relief by the Yishun residents interviewed.

Before the authorities’ joint statement today, many residents of Yishun Ring Road who were interviewed were on edge. While some issued pleas to stop the cat killings or took in strays out of fear, others speculated as to who the perpetrators could be.

Reacting to the news of the arrest, Ms Sabreena Nazim, 28, a writer, said: “I can finally sleep in peace now. When I saw photos of the cats killed, I almost cried because I thought it was the cat I was taking care of… It’s a sickening feeling, you get so frightened.” She had been taking walks in her neighbourhood at night to keep a lookout for the cats in the area, as well as sheltering some of them in her home.

While Ms Veron Lau, a CWS committee member, said the arrest has made “all our efforts worthwhile”, she said the group will continue with patrols in the town. “We’re trying our best to be as cautious as possible ... investigations are ongoing,” she added.

Agreeing, Mdm Janet Sum, who founded cat interest group Yishun 326 Tabby Cat, said that while she was “overjoyed” at the breakthrough, “we will continue to stay vigilant as we believe the killings are not the job of one man”. She also praised the efforts by the various parties so far. “The (volunteer) patrol team has worked hard, the community has been forthcoming, and AVA and the police have been very cooperative,” she added.

The CWS similarly praised the efforts by the authorities in this case, describing it as “a landmark protocol of cooperation between AVA and the police in handling animal cruelty cases” in a post in the comments section of this newspaper’s online article.

Member of Parliament (Nee Soon GRC) Louis Ng wrote on his Facebook page today that he is “delighted” there has been progress in the investigations, but urged those who have any more information on the episode to contact the AVA.

“I hope this sends out a strong message (of deterrence that) we will investigate and prosecute when it comes to animal cruelty… I don’t think we should close the case and think it’s over, but we should keep the work going,” the founder and executive director of Animal Concerns Research and Education Society told TODAY.

Yishun cat abuse cases: 40-year-old man arrested
Channel NewsAsia 28 Dec 15;

SINGAPORE: A 40-year-old man was arrested on Sunday (Dec 27) for suspected involvement in a series of cat abuse cases in Yishun.

In a joint news release on Monday, the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) and police said they received several reports of cats found injured or dead in the Yishun neighbourhood between September and December this year. At least 19 cats have been found dead or injured since September.

Police officers from the Ang Mo Kio Division assisted AVA in their investigations and established the suspect's identity. He was arrested by the police along Yishun Ring Road on Sunday.

The man will be charged in court on Tuesday. If convicted, he could be fined up to S$15,000, jailed for up to 18 months, or both of the first offence. For second and subsequent offences, he could be fined up to S$30,000, jailed for up to three years, or both.


The Cat Welfare Society (CWS) welcomed the news.

"We do hope that with new laws in place, they will map out a reasonable fine, and will not let (perpetrators of) a crime like this get off too easily," said CWS spokesperson Veron Lau.

Ms Lau added that CWS was heartened to see AVA and police working together to solve the case.

"This is a protocol that we hope will continue - that for animal cruelty cases, they will put in such resources and cooperation among agencies to crack the case," she said, adding that awareness has helped with placing pressure on agencies to get to the bottom of this case.


Nee Soon GRC MP Louis Ng also said he was "delighted" that there was progress in the investigation into the case.

"The important part is that we are sending a strong message that we are taking animal cruelty seriously. We're putting in resources to investigate, arrest and prosecute, and hope to send a deterrent message out to the public," Mr Ng told Channel NewsAsia.

Mr Ng added that the community played an important role in helping to patrol the area and create awareness of the issue.

"The police and AVA updated me regularly, and the community really stepped forward. I had people from Potong Pasir texting me (about the situation)," he said. "I always like to see the positive in the negative - the positive part was that the community got together to put an end to the killings."

Suspected cat killer charged in court; to be remanded at IMH
VALERIE KOH Today Online 29 Dec 15;

SINGAPORE — A 40-year-old man was charged in court today (Dec 29) for flinging a cat off a Housing and Development Board (HDB) flat.

According to court documents, Lee Wai Leong threw an adult male Mackerel Tabby domestic shorthair cat over the parapet of the 13th floor of 115B Yishun Ring Road, killing it. The incident allegedly took place at around 10.30am on Oct 30.

The small-built man, who was arrested along Yishun Ring Road on Sunday, faces one charge under the Animals and Birds Act. He will be remanded in the Institute of Mental Health for assessment and will return to court on Jan 12.

Since September, there have been 19 cases of cat abuse in Yishun, sparking fears among residents of a violent criminal on the loose. Carcasses have been found thrown from heights, strangled, and with blunt trauma to the head and back.

Under the Animals and Birds Act, anyone found guilty of animal cruelty can be fined up to S$15,000 and/or jailed up to 18 months, or both for the first offence. For second and subsequent offences, the maximum penalty is S$30,000 or a jail term of up to 3 years, or both.

Another cat found dead in Yishun
Today Online 30 Dec 15;

SINGAPORE — Yet another cat has been found dead in Yishun.

The body of a female cat was found at 3pm today (Dec 30) along Yishun Avenue 5, with blood visible on its ears and mouth, the Yishun 326 Tabby cat community said on Facebook, appealing for anyone with information to come forward.

The incident comes after a 40-year-old man believed to be involved in a series of cat abuse cases in Yishun between September and December this year was arrested and charged in Court earlier this week.

The Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) is currently doing a post mortem to confirm whether the latest case is also one of abuse, said animal activist and Nee Soon GRC Member of Parliament Louis Ng on Facebook. "It is worrying if it is (another case of abuse)," Mr Ng said.

Cat Welfare Society committee member Veron Lau said today's case validated the group’s suspicions that more than one perpetrator was behind the cases. “It only goes to show that the police, the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority and volunteers have a lot more to do,” she added.

On Facebook, Mr Ng also said he believed there was more than one cat killer. "I urge anyone with any further information about the cat killings to step forward (Contact AVA at: 1800-476-1600)," he posted. – ASHUTOSH RAVIKRISHNAN

Another dead cat found in Yishun: Volunteer group
The female cat was found dead at Block 734 Yishun Avenue 5, with "blood on the ears and mouth", says volunteer group Yishun 326 Tabby Cat.
Channel NewsAsia 30 Dec 15;

SINGAPORE: Another cat has been found dead in Yishun, said a group of volunteers who look after strays on Wednesday (Dec 30).

The dead animal was found at Block 734, Yishun Avenue 5, near the hard court grass verge at 3pm on Wednesday, said the Yishun 326 Tabby Cat group in a Facebook post.

"The cat had blood on the ears and mouth," the group said, adding that the female feline was a "big-sized tabby about 7kg in weight".

Since September, at least 19 other cats have been found dead or injured in Yishun.

A 40-year-old man was charged in court on Tuesday with animal cruelty, after he allegedly threw a cat from the 13th floor of Block 115B, Yishun Ring Road. The cat died.

"I understand that AVA is currently doing a post mortem to confirm whether this is a case of abuse," MP for Nee Soon GRC Louis Ng told Channel NewsAsia on Wednesday. "It is worrying that another cat has been found dead. I previously shared that it is good news that a suspect has been arrested but we should not let our guard down and remain vigilant."

Mr Ng added that the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) and the police are continuing their investigations into the deaths, and that the community is continuing to keep a look out.

The Cat Welfare Society (CWS) said the incident confirmed its suspicions that there is more than one culprit. Ms Veron Lau from CWS added that even after the arrest of the alleged cat abuser, CWS knew "the work is not done".

"People will still need to be vigilant, patrols will still carry on. We hope more people will want to join in to put an end to this," Ms Lau said.

- CNA/dl

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Malaysia Floods: Number of evacuees increases to over 1,000 in Terengganu


KUALA TERENGGANU: Fifteen relief centres have been opened to house the increasing number of flood evacuees in Terengganu.

The number of flood victims had increased from 255 on Monday to 1,451 from 406 families Tuesday.

The centres are located in Kemaman (991 evacuees), six in Hulu Terengganu (279), four in Dungun (184) and one in Marang (eight).

The flood situation, however, has improved in Hulu Terengganu.

The Seri Puteh hall in Tok Lawit as well as four other relief centres have closed.

More rainfall expected in east coast states until today
The Star 29 Dec 15;

PETALING JAYA: The Malaysian Meteo­rological Department has predicted rains to continue in the east coast states until today.

It issued an orange alert yesterday, indicating continuous rain averaging 0.4mm to 4mm per hour, lasting over a day and above.

Above orange is red, the highest alert given out by the department indicating heavy continuous downpour, with at least 100mm of rain per day lasting for a day or more.

Its director-general Datuk Che Gayah Ismail said a mild monsoon surge was also expected between tomorrow and Saturday, bringing with it sporadic rain.

Pahang braces for floods following non-stop rain
T.N.ALAGESH New Straits Times 28 Dec 15;

KUANTAN: All district-level natural disaster relief committees have been put on alert for floods following non-stop rain over the past 24 hours.

State Civil Defence Department (JPAM) director Zainal Yusoff said rescue agencies, including the police and fire department have been placed on standby especially after floods hit certain parts of neighbouring districts, Kemaman and Hulu Terengganu on Sunday.

He said JPAM was working closely with the Drainage and Irrigation Department (JPS) to monitor the river water levels. As of 4pm today, the water level at several main rivers have yet to surpass dangerous levels.

"It has been raining since Sunday afternoon and JPAM is closely monitoring the situation especially at low-lying areas.

We hope there will be no floods," he said. State Natural Disaster Relief Committee chairman Datuk Seri Muhammad Safian Ismail said food items have been delivered to all 105 forward bases and 657 relief centres are prepared to cater to 140,000 flood victims.

"Around 10,000 civil servants, comprising police, firemen, civil defence and paramedics involved in evacuation and rescue operations, are prepared to assist in the event of floods," he said, adding those living in low-lying areas need to adhere to instructions to evacuate if required.

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Indonesia: Paper industry demands revocation of forest-license freeze

Khoirul Amin, The Jakarta Post 28 Dec 15;

The government will have to revoke a freeze on operating permits for more than 900,000 hectares of industrial forest or the local pulp and paper industry will lose its competitiveness due to a disruption in the suply of raw materials, business groups and analysts have said.

Executive director of the Indonesian Forest Concessionaries Association (APHI), Purwadi Suprihanto, recently demanded that the government lift its ban, arguing that it would hamper the supply of raw materials to the local pulp and paper industry.

“We’re very much concerned about the government’s actions. The pulp and paper industry is one of the country’s most prominent industries and instead of supporting it the government has created an obstacle,” he said.

According to Purwadi, the Environment and Forestry Ministry has suspended the operating permits of 23 companies alleged to have had a hand in causing recent forest fires. The total area of forest with frozen permits has reached 901,189 hectares despite the fact that not all of the area had been burnt, he said.

Purwadi said that, of the total area prohibited for operation, some 550,000 hectares had supplied raw materials for local pulp and industry. The suspension of operating licenses in the area would potentially reduce the raw material supply next year by 3 million tons, he went on.

Voicing a similar view, the Indonesian Pulp and Paper Industry Association (APKI) executive director Liana Bratasida said that the uncertainty surrounding the timeline for the freeze on the operating permits had created an unfavorable business climate for the country’s pulp and paper industry.

“It will also harm the country’s reputation in the eyes of investors,” she said.

A new trade minister regulation requiring that foreign exporters of long fibers — raw materials for paper — bobtain environmental certificates and approval documents from both central and local administration every time such products are exported to Indonesia is yet another obstacle that has been created by the government, according to Liana.

The new regulation was due to be implemented at the beginning of next year, she added.

Liana argued that while the new import regulation was aimed at protecting both the environment and local industry, due to the suspension of operating permits in some concession areas, it would lengthen the time-period for imports amid a surging need for raw materials.

Such counterproductive measures will, according to Liana, hinder the growth of the local pulp and paper industry.

With pulp and paper exports reaching US$4.01 billion in the January-September period of this year, with Malaysia, China and Taiwan having become the largest markets, the country’s pulp and paper industry currently holds the top industry position within the ASEAN region, according to data from the Trade Ministry.

Meanwhile, the pulp and paper industry remains very competitive in comparison to Scandinavian countries due to tropical climate and better access to international markets, Liana said.

The pulp and paper industry has been included as one of the government’s priority industries for the period between 2015 to 2035, along with the food, pharmaceutical and textile industries.

The Institute for Development of Economics and Finance (Indef) executive director Enny Sri Hartati said that the country’s pulp and paper industry could provide a competitive advantage for the country within the ASEAN single market.

The Industry Ministry agriculture and plantation products director, Pranata, said that his ministry would coordinate with the Forestry and Environment Ministry to discuss the matter and find a solution that is supportive of the industry.

Forestry and Environment Minsitry, meanwhile, have yet to comment.

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India: Seagrass recharges 360sqkm of marine bed across country

P Oppili The Times of India 29 Dec 15;

Considered among the oldest living organisms on earth, seagrasses are vital to the ef fort to find a solution to cli mate change. Also known as blue carbon, a meadow of seagrass per unit area can store twice as much carbon as the world's temperate and tropical forests -an acre can sequester 3,350 kg of carbon per year.

Now, the first-ever nationwide research is being conducted to study carbon sequestration by seagrass in Gulf of Mannar, Palk Bay , Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Chilika lagoon, Gulf of Kutch and Lakshadweep. Funded by the Union ministry of environment, forests and climate change, the National Centre for Sustainable Coastal Management is studying how these organisms can help mitigate or defer global warming.
"Seagrass meadows are unsung underwater heroes that absorb carbon dioxide directly from the water and store them on plant matters, roots and soil.They aerate the environment by supplying oxygen," said R Ramesh, director of National Centre for Sustainable Coastal Management.

The country possesses an abundant seagrass cover stretching over 360 sqkm. Of this, 172.5sqkm is in Palk Bay and 85.5 sqkm in Gulf of Mannar. In Chilika lagoon, it is spread over 80sqkm. Study has been completed in four of the six areas and researchers have mapped all the areas where seagrass is found. Study is yet to begin in Lakshadweep and Gulf of Kutch. Of the 58 species recognised so far across the world, India has 14 species and all of them are found in Gulf of Mannar and Palk Bay . Lakshadweep sea bed is home to eight species, nine are found in Andaman and Nicobar Islands.

Researchers say the main aim of this study, which began last year, is to guide policy makers and give them the required information to help protect this effective and endangered ecosystem.Stabilising the sea bottom, providing food and habitat for marine organisms, maintaining water quality and supporting local communities are the important ecological services provided by seagrass.They also provide protection to the coast from erosion and tidal waves. This dynamic ecosystem for carbon transformation is also home to marine fish groups, crustaceans and echinoderms and sea turtles. The endangered dugong mainly feeds on seagrass.

However, this seagrass ecosystem, which can store carbon for thousands of years, are threatened by human activities like oil spills and through boat propellers and cargo that can rake through seagrass meadows and cut through roots.

Not a commodity that can be cultivated directly, its economic value can be measured through commercial fishing and wildlife tourism. Moreover, most of the fish species spend at least part of their life cycle inside the sea grass community, which reveals that sea grass is vital to fishing industry, say experts.

Climate change fund: NSCCC approves 4 projects
Zee News India 28 Dec 15;

New Delhi: The National Steering Committee on Climate Change (NSCCC) under the Environment Ministry today approved four projects including management and rehabilitation of coastal habitats for climate change adaptation in the Gulf of Mannar in Tamil Nadu. The NSCCC approved four projects from Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Punjab and considered one project submitted by Madhya Pradesh at its eighth meeting held here, an official statement said.

The meeting was held to consider Detailed Project Reports (DPRs) submitted by Tamil Nadu and Kerala for funding under the National Adaptation Fund on Climate Change (NAFCC). The meeting was also convened for demonstration projects submitted by Madhya Pradesh, Punjab and Tamil Nadu under the Climate Change Action Programme (CCAP).

The statement said that the project, titled 'Management and Rehabilitation of Coastal Habitats and Biodiversity for Climate Change Adaptation and Sustainable Livelihood in the Gulf of Mannar in Tamil Nadu', was submitted by the Tamil Nadu government. The total cost of the project will be Rs 24.74 crore and will cover 23 coastal villages of Tuticorin district.

The four-year project has five broad objectives - conduct baseline vulnerability studies, coral rehabilitation, sea grass rehabilitation, deployment of 6,000 Artificial Reef (AR) modules, and eco-development activities in the project villages. "The project will help in developing the much needed comprehensive plan or scheme for coral and sea grass restoration.

It will augment the database on coral ecosystem, species diversity, fish catch and effort, anthropogenic pressure and migration and survival rate. The project activities will lead to economic empowerment of 15 SHGs per village and benefit about 6,900 women," the statement said. The Environment Ministry said that the project will create a platform for knowledge development through regular meeting amongst departments like fisheries, forest and others and facilitate planning of roadmap for future conservation efforts.


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