Best of our wild blogs: 5 Jan 16

Rediscovering the mangroves: We're in the Vibes newsletter!
Adventures with the Naked Hermit Crabs

Adaptive feeding behavior of the Asian Brown Flycatcher
Singapore Bird Group

What MEWR and NEA can help the green community in the new year
Green Future Solutions

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Prices of abalone set to increase up to 10% this CNY

AsiaOne 4 Jan 16;

SINGAPORE - More restaurants in Singapore are selling abalone in place of raw fish amid current freshwater fish scares.

A report by Shin Min Daily News stated that this comes after the Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority of Singapore and National Environment Agency banned freshwater fish from ready-to-eat raw fish dishes.

With Chinese New Year just a month away, many restaurants have also decided to make this switch in order not to lose their customers.

This move will see prices of abalone increase from 5 to 10 per cent as compared to last year's figures, according to Mr Cai, chairman of Victoria Wholesale Centre.

Mr Cai added that the sale of canned abalone, especially those imported from Australia, has gone down by 5 to 10 per cent when compared with last year.

On the contrary, a representative from wholesaler Wang Li Xing, Mr Chen, told Shin Min that prices of canned abalone have risen from 10 to 12 percent during this Chinese New Year season.

He added that another dish that can be used to replace raw fish is shark's fin.

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Study by Singapore, US and Indonesia may help manta ray conservation

Audrey Tan, Straits Times AsiaOne 5 Jan 16;

Scuba divers who often flock to neighbouring countries to dive could, in the future, encounter more manta rays - the gentle giants of the sea - in Indonesian waters.

This is because new research by scientists from Singapore, the United States and Indonesia has uncovered information about them that could help in their conservation.

One important discovery was that the manta rays drawing tourists to popular dive sites - such as Bali and Nusa Penida - travel regularly to other parts of Indonesia, where they are hunted for their meat and gill rakers.

The latter are used in traditional Chinese medicine despite the lack of evidence of their efficacy. This puts at risk Indonesia's manta tourism industry, estimated by authorities there to be worth US$15 million (S$21.2 million) each year.

A paper in the science journal PLOS One in 2013 noted that one manta ray is worth US$1 million in tourism value over its lifetime, compared with US$40 to US$500 if it is hunted and sold for its body parts.

Dr Mark Erdmann, vice-president of Asia Pacific Marine Programmes for the US-based nature group Conservation International (CI), said: "The data has now been shared with the Indonesian government to inform better management and conservation policy and provide even stronger justification to stop the unsustainable hunting.

"(This is) not only for the mantas but also for the benefit of the thousands of Indonesians who depend on manta ray tourism for their livelihoods."

He led the research team, which included staff from CI, Resorts World Sentosa's SEA Aquarium in Singapore, the Indonesian Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries' elasmobranch (sharks and rays) conservation initiative, and the Indonesian Institute of Sciences.

They tagged 33 manta rays with GPS-enabled satellite tags in four regions of Indonesia - Bali, Raja Ampat, East Kalimantan and the Komodo National Park - where these animals gather in large numbers.

They then tracked the movements and behaviour of the rays over a 10-month period starting from September 2014.

The study also uncovered a manta ray nursery in Raja Ampat - the first in South-east Asia.

Juvenile manta rays in the nursery were observed to occasionally venture out of the lagoon, although they eventually return to it.

This finding has already led to a direct conservation action.

The Raja Ampat Marine Protected Area Authority is expected to curtail speedboat use in the nursery.

This will prevent injury and disturbance to the baby manta rays, which tend to stay near the surface and are at risk of propeller strikes from speedboats.

Professor Hari Eko Irianto, director of the Centre for Fisheries Research and Development of the Indonesian Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries, said the project has provided insights that will help Indonesia flourish as an ecotourism destination.

He added: "We are now certain that manta rays migrate across hunting grounds and can increase enforcement in those areas accordingly.

"Through collaborating with local authorities and NGOs, including CI, we plan to undertake continuous monitoring and surveillance to protect mantas, especially juveniles and pregnant females, and their habitats."

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Making sustainable palm oil a reality


Palm oil is cheap to produce and a versatile ingredient in many household products. It is in chocolate, cosmetics and even in soap. The growing demand for this ubiquitous ingredient is putting pressure on our tropical rainforests and contributing to climate change.

The expansion of oil palm plantations has been the leading cause of deforestation in Indonesia and Malaysia, two of the top producers of palm oil in the world. Cutting and burning these forests result in the loss of wildlife habitats, and can affect the cultural identities of communities that have for decades depended on the rainforests.

The process also increases the severity of haze in the South-east Asian region. However, palm oil as an agricultural commodity can be sustainable. Compared to other vegetable oil sources, palm oil plantations produce higher yields from less land and require far less fertilisers and pesticides. Consumers should, therefore, not boycott palm oil but demand its sustainability, as replacing it means having to use more land, thereby compounding deforestation.

Companies will be the key drivers of a sustainable palm oil industry, and leadership from businesses is crucial. There are some encouraging developments over the past few years in the private sector. Companies representing about 60 per cent of the global palm oil production have pledged to eliminate palm oil-related deforestation from their supply chains. These firms range from major suppliers such as Cargill to consumer goods companies such as Unilever.

As consumers, it is also paramount that we demand transparency from the whole supply chain. Supply chains remain opaque and consumers often have little way of finding out the palm oil content in the products they purchase. Companies can build and improve their trustworthiness by being able to trace the palm oil they use to plantations that meet credible standards. The recent announcement by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) to make publicly available the concession maps of its members is a step in the right direction in creating transparency in the supply chain.

Sharing best practices in sustainable land use amongst commercial plantations and developing innovative solutions to maximise yield would be extremely important to push forward the sustainable palm oil agenda. With smart collaborations, groups with different perspectives can find common ground and turn a rapidly growing industry into a successful model for sustainable development.

Responsible sourcing will earn a brand the priceless but intangible trust and respect of its customers. Ensuring that social and economic development do not come at the expense of irreversible deforestation is one of the great challenges which businesses must be held accountable to. The risk of inaction may seem insignificant now, but if brands are to grow, they have to be proactive rather than reactive.

The Asian markets will shape the global palm oil industry, with Indonesia and Malaysia alone producing about 85 per cent of the world’s palm oil. When consumers in Asia demand certified sustainable palm oil products, more brands will seek to certify with RSPO.

Smallholders who manage a significant amount of palm oil land have a role to play, too. In Malaysia, smallholder farms cover about 38 per cent of the total area of oil palm cultivation. With their average annual yield of 17 tonnes of palm oil per hectare, including them as a key piece in the puzzle will help to balance economic growth with healthy forests.

Looking at the bigger picture, there are an estimated 3 million palm oil smallholders worldwide who contribute to 40 per cent of total global production. Smallholders face many challenges. They lack knowledge about good agricultural practices and have difficulty in gaining market access.

Due to their smaller plot sizes, smallholders are less efficient than other producers, with their yields much lower than those of commercial plantations. Hence, it is imperative that smallholders are able to participate in national supply chains if sustainable palm oil is to become the norm.

In some producer countries where deforestation is not illegal, regulatory reform is required. Transforming the RSPO Principles and Criteria into law is a good start to put a framework in place. Several countries such as Columbia and Gabon have taken the initiative to come up with national interpretations of RSPO Principles and Criteria for use in local context.

However, teething issues such as cultural differences and the establishment of minimum wages for workers do exist and hinder interpretation processes. At the same time, some countries such as Belgium and Denmark have gone the extra mile by making national commitments to use fully certified sustainable palm oil.

Governments can work on developing scientific tools, financial incentives, and policy and regulatory measures to help shift palm oil production to already degraded lands. Companies would have to compensate for forest lands they have damaged and undertake efforts for the conservation and restoration of areas that have high quantities of carbon stored within them and are of ecological and cultural significance. The renouncement of peat clearance for new plantations and support for independent smallholders would be equally important.

Countries can take a leaf out of the books of the European Union, which has mandated that retailers identify specific vegetable oils on food labels. Palm oil has often been hidden as generic vegetable oil and other misleading synonyms on food labels.

And while it is commendable to see a host of celebrities coming together to address palm oil-linked deforestation, the next crucial step would be for the world at large to send a message to retailers, suppliers and organisations.


Kavickumar Muruganathan is head of eco-certifications and lead environmental engineer at the Singapore Environment Council.

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Indonesia: Government aims to establish 500,000 ha of community forests by 2017

Syofiardi Bachyul Jb, The Jakarta Post 4 Jan 16;

The West Sumatra provincial administration has expressed optimism that it can complete a plan to hand over the management of 500,000 hectares of protected forests to local communities by next year despite the relatively slow progress of the policy, which was initiated in 2012.

West Sumatra Forestry Agency head Hendri Octavia said that three years after the launch of the program, the local administration had been able to introduce community-based forest management for 43,821 ha of forest land, only 19 percent of the designated target.

To meet the full target, Hendri said his agency aimed to complete the establishment of at least 200,000 ha of community-run forests this year and another 200,000 ha next year.

“In 2016, we will deploy 60 field officers assigned with completing the establishment of community-based forest management in at least two locations per year. We are optimistic the target will be met,” Hendri said at a recent media conference.

West Sumatra has 4.3 million ha of forests, with 962,000 ha of them protected forests that have the potential to be converted into production forests under the management of local communities.

In 2012, West Sumatra Governor Irwan Prayitno pledged that his administration would facilitate the conversion of 500,000 ha of protected forests into nagari (village) forests, social forests and community plantation forests (HTRs).

In August 2014, then forestry minister Zulkifli Hasan, for example, officially handed over letters of instruction on the allocation of nagari production forests to four villages in the province, covering a total area of 18,985 ha.

Three of the four villages are located in Solok regency, namely Nagari Sirukam, Nagari Sungai Abu and Nagari Sariak Alahan Tigo. The other village, Nagari Paru, is located in Sijunjung regency.

The latest Environment and Forestry Ministry data, however, shows that between 2012 and 2015, only 32,788 ha were officially declared village forests, 4,098 ha as social forests and 6,935 ha as HTRs.

At least 50,000 ha of forest land is currently awaiting for approval from both local and central government to be administered under local community-based forest management schemes.

“We have a commitment to establish community forests. However, our forest area is vast while at the same time we have a limited number of field officers to implement the policy,” Hendri said.

Indonesian Conservation Community (KKI Warsi) director Diki Kurniawan, meanwhile, urged the local administration to speed up the establishment of community forests in the province, arguing that the policy would better protect forests from various threats, particularly forest fires and illegal logging.

“The management of [community] forests rely on local customs. This is partly the reason West Sumatra did not see extensive forest fires last year,” he said.

Last year, many provinces, such as Riau, Jambi, North Sumatra, South Sumatra and Central Kalimantan, struggled for several months to cope with the impacts of smoke from both man-made and natural land and forest fires in their respective and neighboring areas.

The disaster was also exacerbated by last year’s long dry season triggered by the El NiƱo weather phenomenon.

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Indonesia: Govt to merge antipoaching taskforce, combat unit

Tama Salim, The Jakarta Post 4 Jan 16;

The Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Ministry has started to wind down the operation of its illegal fishing prevention task force, incorporating it into a newer combat task force to ensure the continuity of government efforts against rampant poaching in Indonesian waters.

According to prevention task force head Mas Achmad Santosa, the unit’s previous functions will be merged with those of the Presidential Task Force on Combating Illegal Fishing, effectively nixing any concerns of an overlap in authority.

“The work of the prevention task force will be carried over to [the new task force], but since they are more focused on [law enforcement], we will help out with data collection and vessel monitoring,” Achmad said on Wednesday.

President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo formally established the combat task force by issuing Presidential Regulation (Perpres) No. 115/2015 on Oct. 19.

The presidential task force aims to optimize the use of existing personnel and operational facilities from various institutions — including the navy, the National Police, the Attorney General’s Office (AGO) and the Maritime Security Board (Bakamla) — to eradicate illegal fishing in the country.

Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Minister Susi Pudjiastuti leads the presidential task force in consultation with the Coordinating Maritime Affairs Ministry and the Coordinating Political, Legal and Security Affairs Ministry.

Since its inception early this year, Achmad’s prevention task force has played a large part in mapping out the challenges of illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing.

One of its main functions was to conduct the ANEV, a compliance audit on 1,132 foreign-built fishing vessels, to coincide with a temporary ban on license issuance. As a result of the audit, the ministry has revoked 15 business permits and 276 operational permits and frozen 61 others.

The latest monitoring data show that 409 vessels that were subject to the audit have now left the country.

“Going forward [with the new task force], it is important that security at the level of the port authorities is strengthened. We’re aware that the ships that fled may still be used for illicit operations abroad,” Achmad explained.

The former anticorruption activist said his task force had initiated a blacklist for serious offenders, which will be shared with Interpol, among other entities.

With information gleaned from the audit, Achmad said the task force had proceeded to identify loopholes in existing regulations and provide constructive policy recommendations and a roadmap for good governance in the sector.

The audit also helped the task force uncover eight forms of fisheries-related crimes, including tax evasion, money laundering, forced labor, human trafficking and contraband smuggling.

The task force was additionally tasked with vessel movement and tracking-system assessment, as well as monitoring the progress of ongoing cases and trials across the country.

Navy deputy chief of staff Rear Admiral Widodo, who oversees the presidential task force’s day-to-day operations, said on Monday that the team would continue to investigate possible signs of foul play by fisheries businesses.

“We’ve found issues with unaccountable business permits, unreported catches [...] and export activities that fall short of the requirements,” Widodo said in Jakarta.

The flag officer said that the ministry would focus on guarding the Arafura Sea, North Halmahera and Natuna, three areas among the most vulnerable to poaching.

“In 2016, the first thing we will do is focus on the Arafura Sea, the Halmahera region bordering the Pacific Ocean and Natuna waters. These places are the focus of our operations and are well-known for poaching,” Widodo said.

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Malaysia: Ballast Water Convention

Keeping aquatic riders at bay
The Star 5 Jan 16;

AROUND 20 years ago, zebra mussels from eastern Europe arrived at the Great Lakes region of the United States via ship ballast. Since then, they have disrupted the food chain there by voraciously feeding on existing food.

The zebra mussels attach themselves to native mussels, causing the latter to be exposed to diseases and parasites. They have also colonised hard surfaces, causing damage to power and water treatment plants, boats, docks, break walls, and engines. Their ability to accumulate up to 300,000 times the amount of pollutants in their tissues causes the toxins to be passed up the food chain, which includes food normally consumed by humans. From the Great Lakes, the mussels have spread to other bodies of water in North America.

Millions of gallons of ballast water from ships are pumped into and discharged by ships all over the world daily as part of the system that stabilises ships. Water taken from one region contains aquatic hitchhikers such as the zebra mussel. When the water is discharged in another region, the hitchhikers find a new home. These organisms could flourish and become invasive or harmful to the native inhabitants, including humans, of the new environment.

In Malaysia, microalgae that caused paralytic shellfish poisoning in Sabah has found its way, likely through ships’ ballast, to peninsular Malaysia. A strain of cholera formerly found only in Bangladesh had spread via ship ballast to South America in 1991, affecting more than a million people and causing the death of more than 10,000.

Invasive alien species are a threat to biodiversity in Malaysia and affect food security. Steps are being taken to regulate ballast water uptake and discharge to minimise the transfer of unwanted organisms through shipping. The 2004 International Convention for the Control and Management of Ships’ Ballast Water and Sediments (BWM Convention) introduces management tools to address the problem of translocation of invasive alien species via shipping.

The BWM Convention requires all ships over 400GT having keels laid after the convention comes into force to include a type-approved ballast water treatment system that will meet performance standards specified in its Regulation D-2. A time frame has also been set for existing ships over 400GT to adhere to the ruling and to, in the interim, conduct ballast water exchanges in the manner approved by the convention. This applies to ships from, and those entering, Flag States that have ratified the convention. Limited exceptions and exemptions are available.

Malaysia ratified the BWM Convention in 2010 and has been enforcing it in Malaysian waters since 2011 in accordance with the International Maritime Organisation’s implementation schedule. The Marine Department of Malaysia is the focal agency implementing the convention and has, since 2012, in collaboration with universities, port authorities, and port operators, undertaken port baseline studies to establish a marine environment and resources profile in selected ports.

While the BWM Convention contributes towards the protection of Malaysia’s marine environment and resources through reduction of environmental liabilities, it has significant cost implications for shipowners and the maritime administration. As such, a national ballast water management strategy and action plan is being developed by the Maritime Institute of Malaysia (Mima) to facilitate shipowners’ compliance with the convention requirements. Pending the outcome of a ballast water risk assessment, the maritime administration may consider granting exemptions to ships operating exclusively between specified ports and locations. Alternatives, such as discharge to shore ballast water reception facilities or discharge to reception barges, are also being considered.

It is also recognised that the BWM Convention offers new business opportunities for maritime ancillary services industries such as ship builders, ship repairers, equipment manufacturers, ship management services, and training institutions. The national ballast water management strategy will also evaluate how the national R&D strategy can be used to develop home-grown technologies for ballast water treatment systems.

Among Asean member states, only Malaysia and Indonesia have ratified the BWM Convention as of 2015. A regional strategic action plan is being formulated to provide a platform for consultation and exchange of information among stakeholders and to promote regional cooperation and capacity-building activities that will enable the region to benefit from the convention.

Any consideration to exempt ships trading exclusively within Asean must be supported by careful studies, taking into account Malaysia’s interests including opportunities for local shipowners. The BWM Convention is expected to come into force by 2017. As such, there is some urgency to put in place an action plan, both within Malaysia and the Asean region, to implement and facilitate industry compliance with its requirements.

While this could mean extra costs especially to shipowners, it also provides new opportunities for local players. The country’s commitments to other international obligations such as those relating to biological diversity would be better served with this convention being implemented and enforced.


Maritime Institute of Malaysia

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