Best of our wild blogs: 19 Jan 16

2 Feb (Tue): World Wetlands Day
wild shores of singapore

Saving MacRitchie

Read more!

Nicoll Drive raised to counter flooding risk

Christopher Tan, The Straits Times AsiaOne 19 Jan 16;

NICOLL Drive, which hugs the eastern shoreline next to Changi Beach, is being raised in anticipation of rising sea levels triggered by global warming.

The road-raising project - which elevates the 1km, two-lane dual carriage by up to 80cm - is the first Singapore is undertaking to brace itself for the effects of climate change.

The Land Transport Authority (LTA) said: "As this stretch of road is located near the coastline, the works are being carried out to minimise the risk of seawater inundation as part of the Government's overall coastal protection measures for climate change adaptation."

The authority said the project is expected to be completed by the middle of this year and added that it had no immediate plans to raise other roads near the coast.

Experts have warned that rising sea levels will have a devastating impact on Singapore.

In a recent report, research group Climate Central said even if the world could limit temperature rise to 2 deg C, 130 million people living in coastal areas would be affected by higher sea levels caused by melting polar ice.

An interactive Climate Central map shows parts of Changi Airport, Jurong Island and parts of the west coast under water if global temperatures were to rise by 2 deg C.

Previous studies by retired Professor Wong Poh Poh of the Department of Geography at the National University of Singapore (NUS) indicated that coastal reservoirs such as Kranji, Sarimbun and Seletar could also be under threat.

Sea water would enter these catchment areas, making the water undrinkable. Prof Wong could not be reached for comment but assistant professor Daniel Friess of the NUS' Department of Geography said Singapore needs to future-proof its critical infrastructure in the face of climate change.

He added: "Planning for coastal flooding and sea level rise is a challenge in Singapore, as we are projected to experience high rates of sea level rise in this region over the next 100 years.

"We have relatively little space to relocate critical infrastructure... So we will have to come up with integrated and innovative solutions that involve retrofitting infrastructure - such as raising roads - and strengthening coastal defences."

The Building and Construction Authority (BCA) has an entire division devoted to coastal protection.

A BCA spokesman said Phase 1 of the Second National Climate Change Study, completed last year, projects the mean sea level to rise by up to 76cm by the end of the century.

She added that an ongoing "coastal adaptation study", which is expected to be completed by next year, would spell out what needs to be done to prepare for that predicted rise in sea level.

Meanwhile, she said, Singapore is adequately protected from coastal floods for the immediate future.

"About 70 to 80 per cent of our coastal areas already have hard walls or stone embankments, which help protect against coastal erosion," she noted, adding that, if necessary, these will be reinforced.

She reiterated that the minimum land reclamation height was raised from 3m to 4m above the mean sea level in 2011.

As for Nicoll Drive, the road-raising project is expected to help motorists stay dry during unusually high tides.

These happened at least twice - in 1974 and 1999.

In the 1974 incident, which happened on Feb 9, several parts of the city were also submerged - without a single drop of rain.

Read more!

Coastal fish farms in Singapore now better prepared for plankton blooms

Plankton blooms have been occurring in Singapore since 2009 and is likely to happen every year. AVA has been working with coastal fish farmers to develop mitigating measures against these occurrences in the long run.

Nur Afifah Ariffin, Channel NewsAsia 18 Jan 16;

SINGAPORE: Coastal fish farms in Singapore are now better prepared for plankton blooms, which occur as a result of environmental factors.

The Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) has been working with coastal fish farmers to develop mitigating measures against plankton bloom occurrences in the long run.

Plankton blooms have been occurring in Singapore since 2009 and is likely to happen every year. In 2015, more than 50 coastal farms across Singapore lost more than 500 tonnes of fish to the plankton bloom, causing some fish farms to lose more than S$1 million in earnings.

To mitigate the impact of a future occurrence, fish farm Marine Life Aquaculture has installed a system that can be deployed to transfer fish from nets to canvas bags within half an hour. It is a quick and affordable measure that coastal fish farms can adopt without disrupting production.

Managing director of Marine Life Aquaculture, Frank Tan, said: "We can just simply deploy in a very fast way and very efficiently. The productivity is very high. Of course, it has very great benefits and it gives us business continuity to prevent any disruption of production."

While each of the canvas bags can hold up nearly 2,000 kilogrammes of fish, this is only a temporary measure that the fish farm adopts to save its most important brood stock.

The AVA has commissioned projects to develop similar systems. Five companies were awarded the tender in April 2015. So far, three companies have already demonstrated their systems to the AVA.

Another fish farm, Blue Ocean Harvest, created a system that deploys canvas bags with a water treatment system while Singapore Aquaculture Technologies created a production unit that uses above-sea-level tanks.

Minister of State for National Development Koh Poh Koon lauded their efforts during his visit to some of these coastal farms. He also encouraged more farms to jump on the bandwagon.

Said Dr Koh: “With global warming being a global phenomenon, fish farms all over the world are facing challenges like this.

“As part of business continuity, our fish farmers need to really think about using and leveraging on technology to make the business resilient. At the end of the day, it is not just about their business being resilient, but also our food source being resilient."

The AVA is helping fish farmers by monitoring the plankton count in Singapore waters. It has also developed a colour-coded SMS alert system to warn farmers of an impending plankton bloom.

- CNA/xk

AVA steps up efforts to help fish farmers safeguard their livestock
Today Online 19 Jan 16;

SINGAPORE — The Agri-food & Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) has stepped up its efforts to monitor the quality of coastal waters, in order to give early warnings to farmers when possible adverse conditions are detected.

Recent outbreaks of harmful algal blooms in the past years have threatened Singapore fisheries. Last year alone, more than 500 tonnes of fish were killed by such outbreaks, which are hard to predict or prevent.

The monitoring frequency by the AVA has gone up from one to two times a month to one to two times a week, an AVA spokesperson said, although there were no details on when “high risk periods” are since research is ongoing.

Along with the more frequent monitoring, a new colour-coded early warning system for coastal fish farmers in Singapore has been rolled out, which advises them via SMS on the appropriate follow-up actions depending on how severe the situation is. The alerts allow farmers to deploy the relevant strategies, such as isolating their livestock from the harmful plankton bloom (HAB).

The AVA has offered support to the affected farms with a one-time assistance package, to help them recover and build up farm resilience to future plankton episodes.

As part of the aid, the AVA will pay for 70 per cent of the cost to restock fish fry after the farms demonstrate that they have in place contingency plans. More than 60 out of the 77 farms that were affected by last year’s episode have taken up the offer.

Mr Bryan Ang, 25, marketing manager at Ah Hua Kelong, whose farm took up the package, said: “It helps to cover some of our losses, any help is better than no help.”

As part of a Co-Innovation Partnership Programme (CIP) which encourages the design and development of Closed Containment Aquaculture System for coastal fish farms, three workable prototypes have been developed to help coastal fish farmers protect their livestock from the harmful plankton.

With CIP funding, a 100-per-cent closed-containment system has been deployed at one farm, Singapore Aquaculture Technologies. It uses large culture tanks supported by a continuous water treatment system, and they are isolated from the sea, helping them to avoid the harmful plankton in seawater.

The other two prototypes at the Blue Ocean Harvest and Phaedrus Aquatech farms offer deployable closed containment canvas bags in the event of poor water quality. A mechanised system at Blue Ocean can deploy a containment bag within less than 10 minutes with a single worker.

While these prototype close-containment systems have proven conceptually effective in tackling the plankton issue, some farmers are standing back and waiting for the long-term viability of the system before considering adopting them.

Mr Ang said: “Even though overseas testing has been successful, the local waters may be different, so we are not ready to take the risk at the moment. Barnacles may clog up the system and there is a possibility that HABs can bloom within the containment system itself.”

Dr Koh Poh Koon, Minister of State (Trade and Industry), took a tour around the coastal farms yesterday. He said: “Every farmer will have to find the technology that suits them best, and in the long term there will be some gains using technology.”

He hopes to increase the output of Singapore fish farms from the current eight per cent of fish consumed in Singapore to at least 15 per cent in future.

“Our fish farmers will need to use technology to ensure business continuity and resilience,” he said.

“At the end of the day, it’s not just about their business being resilient, but also our food source being resilient. So, it is in our interest to see them succeed.”

Fish farms get help, make plans to prepare for harmful algae blooms
Carolyn Khew, Straits Times AsiaOne 18 Jan 16;

SINGAPORE- More than 60 fish farms affected by the devastating algae bloom early last year have received assistance from the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA).

The devastating bloom affected 77 coastal fish farms last year and caused millions of dollars in losses for coastal fish farms off the East and West Johor Straits - which mostly rear their fish in open net-cages.

To date, 63 of the 77 affected farms have accepted help from the AVA. Under the one-time assistance package, AVA will pay for 70 per cent of the farm's cost to restock fish fry, but farms will need to demonstrate that they have a workable contingency plan in place when the next algae bloom strikes.

These figures were revealed on Monday (Jan 18) during a visit to fish farms by Minister of State for National Development, and Trade and Industry Koh Poh Koon.

"With global warming, I think there is probably a likelihood that it (algae blooms) will happen again," said Dr Koh.

"As part of business continuity, our fish farmers really need to think about leveraging on technology to make their business resilient."

Factors such as dry weather and an excess of nutrients can lead to an overgrowth of algae in the waters. While not all algae are harmful, some can suffocate fish, or cause gill damage - as was the case last year.

One farmer who has benefitted from the assistance package is Mr Frank Tan, chief operating officer of Marine Life Aquaculture, which lost 138 tonnes of fish stock during last year's algae bloom.

He has since developed a contingency plan using canvas bags which would allow him to save his broodstock in the event an algae bloom hits.

Fish farm's contingency in case of algae bloom

"You are usually able to tell weeks before when an algae bloom is about to come. The fish would not be eating well...," said Mr Tan. "With the canvas bags, you can keep the fish there for 15 days and by then, the algal bloom would most likely be over."

Separately, three fish farms have finished developing prototypes for their closed containment aquaculture systems after the Government had awarded a tender in April last year.

While costly to implement, such systems are able to protect the fish from external environmental conditions and are equipped with water treatment systems to maintain optimal water quality for breeding fish stocks.

Among other efforts, AVA has also developed a colour-coded SMS alert system to warn coastal fish farmers of algal blooms. In the SMS alerts, farmers will be advised on follow up actions depending on the severity of the situation.

Fish was sedated: Minister clears speculation over 'dead fish' during fish farm visit
AsiaOne 20 Jan 16;

SINGAPORE - Online speculation was rife that Minister of State for National Development, and Trade and Industry Koh Poh Koon had released a dead fish into a pond during a visit to a fish farm on Monday.

But he has taken to Facebook to quash these rumours by explaining that the fish was indeed very much alive - it was just sedated.

In a Facebook post on Jan 19, Dr Koh wrote about his visit to local fish farm Marine Life Aquaculture where the incident happened. He also uploaded photographs of himself at the farm, one of which showed him holding the 10kg seabass.

A 15-second video clip was posted online following the visit which took place the day before. In the clip, Dr Koh is seen releasing the fish into the pond after a resounding "Huat ah!" from those around him.

But what caught the eye of netizens was the fish seemingly sinking belly up to the bottom of the pond after it was released.

Many comments poured in and Dr Koh and the fish farm owner himself took to Facebook to explain that the fish was not dead, but instead sedated with food-grade clove oil.

Sedating these big fish this way is done every month to check for individual spawning readiness, explained the farmer Mr Frank Tan in a post. The fish usually wake up within 20 to 25 minutes and the practice is the most "humane way" to handle them as it does not cause them any harm, he added.

Dr Koh posted in a comments thread: "It's anesthetized so the farmer can inspect it and it will not struggle or get hurt."

During Dr Koh's visit to several fish farms on Monday, he said that 77 coastal farms were affected by last year's algae bloom between Feb and March, causing losses amounting to millions of dollars, according to media reports. One farmer's loss reportedly hit $1.3 million.

Of the total number of farms affected, 63 received assistance from the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore.

According to The Straits Times, Dr Koh said that algae blooms could happen again, especially due to factors such as global warming and changes in water temperature.

Read more!

Malaysia to amend laws to target environmental pollutors

Malaysia's Natural Resources and Environment Minister is planning on amending legislation to enforce strict liability for those behind environmental pollution, such as from bauxite mining.

Sumisha Naidu, Malaysia Correspondent, Channel NewsAsia 19 Jan 16;

PAHANG, Malaysia: Malaysia's Natural Resources and Environment Minister is planning on amending legislation to enforce strict liability for those behind environmental pollution.

The push comes at a time when Malaysians are up in arms over the sea and rivers turning red in Pahang state, supposedly due to pollution from bauxite mining.

It is known worldwide as the main source of aluminium, but in Malaysia’s Pahang state, bauxite has earned a reputation as the source of environmental pollution and corruption.

Despite the aluminium-making ore leaving layers of red dust and changing the colours of sea and rivers, the Department of Environment has found it difficult to charge those responsible for the environmental effects of bauxite mining.

“The water has turned red,” said Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar, Minister for Natural Resources and Environment. “When the Department of Environment checked, they found the water was at class III (of the National Water Quality Standards), it is not clean anymore. The evidence is there. Still we don't have the law to accuse the ports or the lorry drivers or the companies."

However, Wan Junaidi wants to change this, with plans to table amendments to ensure strict liability for those responsible for the environment pollution, be it from bauxite mining or oil spills.

Authorities have charged at least four land officers for accepting bribes from illegal mine operators. Wan Junaidi added that his officers have handed over evidence of river pollution to the Pahang state government.
But there are limits to what the federal government can do to offenders beyond this.


Health Minister Dr S Subramaniam, however, wants action be to taken on the industry itself, if it continues to contaminate waters and jeopardise the health of residents.

For now, a temporary ban has been placed on bauxite mining, while the government enforces stricter regulations and tries to find a permanent solution.

The Department of Environment is hopeful of healthier water readings after this suspension, as are the fishermen who have to deal with nervous customers.

"We go out to sea, 25 nautical miles from this river,” said Raja Haris Raja Salim, Sungai Balok's chief fisherman. “I guarantee my fish are 100 per cent without additives, without poison, original."

The temporary suspension is meant to be lifted on Apr 15, unless more time is needed to ensure compliance to the new standards.

- CNA/yt

Read more!

Malaysia: Authorities rescue 1,480 protected birds at R&R area

RAHMAT KHAIRULRIJAL New Straits Times 18 Jan 16;

GERIK: The Perak Border Security Agency seized 1,480 protected birds from two suspects near here early this morning.

Agency commander Assistant Superintendent Kasturi Othman said the two suspects, including a senior citizen, were detained in the 2.15am raid near the Perah rest and recreation (RNR) area.

“An agency officer, together with a team of enforcement officers from the state Wildlife and National Parks Department (Perhilitan) had inspected a van parked at the RNR area.

“Upon inspection, the raiding party found four large cages full of hanging parrots (burung serindit) inside.

“The suspects aged between 28 and 65 failed to produce any permit or proper documentation for the birds,” he said today.

Kasturi said preliminary investigation found that the duo were on their way to deliver and sell the birds to a buyer in Ipoh.

“The suspects, both from Machang, Kelantan, claimed they did not know the birds under their possession were protected bird species," he said.

The case is being investigated under the Wildlife Protection Act, 2010 (Act 716) which carries a maximum punishment of RM700,000 or a jail term no longer than 10 years or both, upon conviction.

Read more!

Malaysia: Say no to shark fin soup, at least one million urged

The Star 19 Jan 16;

GEORGE TOWN: WWF-Malaysia is targeting the support from at least one million Malaysians to back its call for “no shark fin soup” through its My Fin My Life campaign.

Its executive director Datuk Dr Dionysius Sharma said the six-month campaign, which also aims to promote sustainable seafood, would see 20,000 restaurants being sensitised to phase out shark fin soup from their menus.

“We also aim to commit 500 businesses to remove shark fin soup from their menu.

“We want to reverse the present scenario of high shark fins’ consumption in Malaysia by engaging businesses to pledge not to serve, purchase or trade shark fin and products.”

“We are targeting hotel chains, restaurants, businesses and corporations, associations, club houses and wedding planners to commit to no shark fin and products, to choose sustainable alternatives to shark and to offer fin-free wedding packages,” he said at the launch of the campaign yesterday.

Dr Dionysius said through the My Fin My Life initiative, WWF-Malaysia aims to raise awareness on the importance of sharks in maintaining a balance in the marine ecosystem.

“It is estimated that at least 1.4 million tonnes of sharks or 100 million shark individuals are killed per year.

“Global shark tourism generates a revenue of around US$314mil (RM1,38bil) annually and is expected to keep growing to a potential US$780mil (RM3.43bil) annually over the next 20 years,” he said.

Stressing on the need to protect the species, Dr Dionysius said:

“If the present trade of sharks continue, businesses will exhaust the supply of fins.

“In fact, scientists predicted that we will run out of seafood by 2048.”

Dr Dionysius said that 576 pledges from the public committing to no shark fins’ consumption had been collected over the weekend.

“We aim to collect one million pledges throughout this campaign.

“Between 2004 and 2011, an average of 1,384 metric tonnes of imported shark fins were consumed annually in Malaysia,” he said.

Read more!

Malaysia: Move to fully protect pangolins in Sabah

The Star 19 Jan 16;

KOTA KINABALU: Sabah is likely to take steps to fully protect Sunda pangolins amid a high demand for its meat.

The state is mulling over fully protecting the pangolin which is currently allowed to be hunted with licence under Schedule Two of the Sabah Wildlife Enactment 1997, said state Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Masidi Manjun.

“If it is re-listed under the Enactments Schedule 1, then a complete ban on hunting can be enforced as it will become fully pro­tected.

“It is high time for us to look into the status of the pangolin in the state and within the wildlife enactment,” he said.

There are growing concerns that over-hunting triggered by high demand might make the mammal extinct in Sabah.

The modus operandi of these groups involved in the trade is to process and treat pangolin as meat products, making it difficult to be detected when packaged properly.

Masidi said a few years ago, state wildlife rangers intercepted a consignment of five tonnes of pangolin meat in the Sandakan area.

“It was shocking to me. Can you imagine the number of pangolins killed over a long period of time,” he said, adding that his ministry was seriously considering placing the pangolins under full protection after a complete study of the extinction threat.

He said like all wildlife conservation efforts, it was important to create awareness among locals through education and enforcement.

Read more!

Indonesia discusses efforts to prevent forest fires

Antara 18 Jan 16;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - President Joko Widodo (Jokowi) and officers discussed efforts to prevent forest fires in Indonesia in 2016, including the involvement of the private sector.

The coordination meeting was held on Monday at 16.15 pm local time in the State Palace, Jakarta.

The Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security, Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan, reported on current preparations to prevent forest and land fires.

Pandjaitan said he agreed that prevention of fires is better than having to extinguish fires.

"We are agreed that prevention efforts are the best program that we can undertake. We should prioritize the peat land area to assure it does not burn," Pandjaitan added.

The minister said people should prevent fires from reaching the low levels of peat lands, since these fires will then be more difficult to extinguish.

Pandjaitan also stressed the importance of the involvement of private parties who operate in the regions close to peat land.

The Minister urged the private sector to be more careful and have preparations in place to prevent fires.

"The government will continue law enforcement on forest fires. We will not back down," remarked Pandjaitan.

Additionally, the Head of Meteorological, Climate, and Geophysics Agency Widada Sulistya reported on rain forecasts in Indonesia during the meeting.

"Almost 90 percent of the Indonesian region has entered the rainy season. However, a reduction in rainfall is related to the monsoon," Sulistya said.

The agency predicted the rainy season will enter its peak at the end of January.

During the meeting, Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya also reported on peat land restoration efforts.

Further, during the 21st Conference of Parties (COP 21), President Joko Widodo said the government continued to reduce carbon emissions, with a target of a 29 percent reduction by 2030.

Indonesia also urged developed and developing countries to display the same commitment.

"The occurrence of forest fires in several regions in Indonesia is a lesson for us, even though for 18 years these fires have been repeated. This should be a lesson," Jokowi said when visiting South Kalimantan Province last year.

Carbon emissions from peat and forest degradation has increasingly become a problem because land and forest fires also damage ecosystems, he added.

President bans permits for peatland cultivation
Antara 18 Jan 16;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - President Joko Widodo (Jokowi) said the ban on the issuance of new licenses for cultivation on peatland was intended to prevent fires that are difficult to extinguish.

"I want to emphasize that new permits for (cultivation) on peatland areas should no longer be issued," said President Jokowi during a National Coordination Meeting on Forest and Land Fire Prevention at the State Palace here on Monday.

The president also ordered the environment and forestry minister to take over care of burnt peatlands.

He further instructed the newly established Peat land Restoration Agency (BRG) to work out immediate plans for caring for burnt peat land areas.

Jokowi said peatland fires were a serious problem. "I have explained to heads of state, that what were burned were not forest areas, but peatland, whose fires, if not immediately put out, could reach down to three to four meters blow the surface, and that is very difficult to extinguish," he noted.

He also said it was very difficult to put out such fires, even when using water bombing aircraft.

The president stressed that efforts to prevent and put out land and forest fires this year should be improved. Fires should not be allowed to grow before efforts to extinguish them are made.

"There are no other choices than improving the handling of the ecosystem," Jokowi added.

President Jokowi earlier said that Indonesia is serious about handling the damage to the countrys peatland, as is clear from the setting up of a peat land restoration agency.

"We can convince the international community that we are serious, very serious, about handling the damage to the peatland," he said, while announcing the establishment of the peat land restoration agency at the Merdeka Palace on Wednesday last week.

Land and forest fires, which affected several provinces in Indonesia last year, serve as a valuable lesson for President Jokowis administration.

In this regard, he set up the agency under presidential regulation number 1 of 2016.

"I want to announce the creation of the peatland restoration body through a presidential regulation I signed early this month," he said.

Jokowi also introduced Nazir Foead as the agencys chief.

The president assigned the agency to draft an action plan to immediately show the world that Indonesia is serious about handling the damage to its peatland.

And again, the president stressed that the nation must learn a lesson from last years land and forest fires which occurred in several parts of the country.

"Although these (land and forest fires) have happened repeatedly in the past 18 years, they serve as a valuable lesson," he said.(*)

Read more!

Indonesia: Marine pollution affects dugong habitat in Riau islands water

Antara 18 Jan 16;

Batam (ANTARA News) - The habitat of the dugong mammals in Riau Islands Province has been affected by pollution in the Malaka waters, leading to a diminishing population of the sea animals, an official said here on Monday.

Head of marine and fishery management department of Marine and Fishery Office of Riau Islands Eddiwan said here on Monday that the dugong has been classified in appendix 1, which labels them as being endangered.

Dugongs live in sea grass habitats in a number of areas, including Bintan, Batam and Lingga waters.

"However, those areas have been harmed by marine activities, pollution, exploitation, as well as tin and bauxite mining," Eddiwan said.

Local authorities found some oil spills in the waters, as a result of oil mining in the northern part of the region.

Also, sandblasting in the waters near Singapore has impacted the dugong's habitat, he said.

Those human activities have driven the mammals to leave their habitat and some were stranded along the coast.

Last week, a female dugong measuring 2.5 meter long was stranded at Nongsa water, Batam Island.

The local authority has been collecting data about the dugong population in the region.

"The conservation program is not optimal, as there is too much use of the seas. It disturbs the sea mammals," he said.

The dugong is a herbivorous marine mammal. It is often called the "sea cow" because it grazes on sea grass meadows.

The animal, which is a close relative of the manatee, can be found in the warm waters surrounding Indonesia and Australia.

Non-governmental organization World Wildlife Fund (WWF) stated that dugongs are listed globally as being vulnerable to becoming extinct.

Populations worldwide have become increasingly fragmented and evidence suggested that the numbers are declining because of the degradation of sea grass meadows, fishing pressures, hunting and coastal pollution.

(Reporting by Jannatun Naim/Uu.A059/INE/KR-BSR/A014)

Read more!

Indonesia: Rescuing Borneo's threatened orangutans

DITA ALANGKARA Associated Press 18 Jan 16;

SUNGAI MANGKUTUB, Indonesia (AP) — In a dense strip of peat swamp jungle along the banks of Mangkutub River in the heart of Borneo, a conservationist aims his tranquilizer rifle at an orangutan high in a tree and fires two darts.

The giant, red-haired primate slides down the tree on its own and soon loses consciousness on the jungle floor.

A team of ten rescuers from the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation huddle around the adult male and perform a brief medical examination — checking temperature, teeth to determine rough age, taking a blood sample and inserting a chip under its skin — before preparing to transport the orangutan to a release site about 80 kilometers away, where they believe it will have more space to roam and be less threatened by forest fires.

Forest fires, often set illegally to clear land, have been an annual problem in Indonesia since the mid-1990s, but last year's was the worst in nearly 20 years, when blazes spread across 2.1 million hectares (8,063 square miles). They killed 21 people, damaged crops and caused respiratory problems for more than half a million.

The fires also encroached on the habitat of orangutans in central Borneo, forcing them to move closer to river banks, in some places along a strip of forest as narrow as 30 meters (yards) near the Mangkutab River. The population of the big apes got so crowded that experts worried they would starve and get into conflicts with people living nearby.

"Recent forest fires have made it difficult for orangutans to find food and this is very dangerous for them," said Ahmad Sayoko, coordinator of rescue and release mission.

Most rescued orangutans were found in bad condition, apparently starving and some with cataracts. One had multiple air rifle pellets in its head and leg, a sign of conflict with humans.

Southeast Asia's Sumatra and Borneo islands are the orangutans' last homes on Earth, and environmentalists warn that the estimated 60,000 animals remaining could disappear from the wild within the next decade if steps aren't taken to protect them. Wild orangutans are also threatened by poaching and illegal logging.

"We have to rescue and relocate them as soon as possible or they could lose their lives," said Kissar Odom, who works for the foundation. During the team's first operation in November, they rescued and relocated 39 orangutans, he said.

On this, the team's second operation, rescuers have spotted an orangutan nearly every ten minutes as they ride along in the boat, a sign that the area along the river has a higher population density than is healthy.

Team members carried the large tranquilized orangutan through a dense swamp and put it in a cage, which was then loaded on a waiting boat to be taken to the release site.

They hope to rescue two or three of the great apes each day, said Sayoko.

"We are determined to continue this operation until the last orangutan along Mangkutub River is safely relocated," he said.

Read more!

Indonesia: Elephant population continues to shrink in Aceh 11 Jan 16;

The population of Sumatran elephants in Aceh has been decreasing amid the increasing conversion of forest areas into plantations and illegal logging, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Indonesia has announced.

The Sumatran elephant population in Aceh has shrank by almost 50 percent in the past 25 years, says Aceh-based WWF Indonesia communication staff member Chik Rini recently as quoted by Antara news agency.

Chik said there were previously more than 1,000 of the animals in the region. Their numbers started to decrease in the 1990s and currently there are only some 500 elephants left.

“A great amount of forested area in Aceh has been converted into oil palm plantations, resulting in a smaller elephant population," said Chik, adding that the animal had been unable to survive due to the disappearance of migration trails.

“We have to conserve nature and not disturb the elephants' migration trails. If we are able to take care of each other, there won't be any conflict between elephants and humans," Chik stated.

She also called on the government to restrict the issuance of forest-exploitation permits for plantations to maintain the wildlife population. (nov/kes)(+)

Read more!

Indonesia: Floods isolate 3,000 families in Riau

Rizal Harahap, The Jakarta Post 18 Jan 16;

Thousands of residents in Kampar regency, Riau, have been struggling to survive over the past two months after floods and landslides cut the main transportation links to and from the area.

In November, a series of floods and landslides hit Kampar Kiri Hulu district, heavily damaging the road access to four villages and sweeping away five bridges within the area.

Since then, 3,000 families in Kebun Tinggi, Pangkalan Kapas, Lubuklinggau and Tanjung Permai subdistricts have mainly relied on food supplied by the provincial administration, according to Kampar Kiri Hulu district chief Nuzul Ashal.

“In December, the administration delivered logistical aid to the affected areas by helicopter. That aid, however, has already run out while there is no sign that other supplies will come,” Nuzul said recently.

Some villagers, according to Nuzul, have been forced to walk some 20 kilometers to Taram subdistrict in Limapuluh Kota regency, West Sumatra province, to buy food.

Others, meanwhile, counted on four staple-food vendors that received supplies from neighboring regions.

“Of course, the price for such food products soars,” Nuzul said, adding that a kilogram of rice could cost Rp 30,000 (US$2.14) while a pack of instant noodles was priced at Rp 10,000, more than three times their normal prices.

The food scarcity has also been exacerbated by the fact that many residents currently have no income, as they are unable to sell rubber sap, the main commodity in the district, outside the region.

“Many residents who are sick have preferred to stay at home as they have no money to pay for their medication,” Nuzul said.

Separately, Riau’s Social Affairs Agency head Syarifuddin said the provincial administration was looking for alternative ways to send logistical aid to the affected regions.

“We have some 270 tons of rice in our storage. The problem is how do we send it?” he said on Sunday.

To prevent hunger from occurring, Syarifuddin said his agency was planning to deliver smaller amounts of logistics through the Kampar-Limapuluh Kota border.

“As we’re working on the logistics delivery, we expect Kampar regional administration to deploy heavy machinery to restore road access through Lipat Kain [subdistrict], which is closer to the affected areas,” he said.

Kampar, home to some 750,000 people, is located around 100 kilometers southwest of the Riau provincial capital of Pekanbaru. The regency shares its western border with Limapuluh Kota.

Kampar Disaster Mitigation Agency (BPBD) head Santoso, however, said the regional administration was unable to repair the damaged road due to a lack of funding and authority.

“The damaged road is classified as a provincial road. It is actually the Riau provincial administration that has the responsibility to fix it,” he said.

Santoso said the BPBD had requested the regency’s Spatial Planning and Human Settlement Agency to deploy heavy machinery soon after the landslides.

“The agency, however, said they couldn’t approve the request as it didn’t have the operational budget for it,” he said.

Without any immediate support from either regional or provincial administration, local residents have been working to clear landslide debris from the road using any available tools.

“Such efforts, however, have yielded insignificant results as the landslide debris is so great. Meanwhile, rain keeps coming,” Nuzul said.

Read more!

Oceans heat fast, even with slower warming at Earth's surface

Alister Doyle Reuters Yahoo News 19 Jan 16;

OSLO (Reuters) - The amount of heat soaked up by the oceans has surged in the past two decades in a sign of worsening global warming despite a slowdown in temperature rises at the Earth's surface, a U.S. study showed on Monday.

The trend of warmer oceans, blamed on man-made emissions of greenhouse gases, is pushing fish stocks towards the poles, damaging coral reefs and nudging up world sea levels because water expands as it heats up.

The report, examining ocean temperatures to depths of more than 2,000 meters (6,500 ft), found that "half of the total global ocean heat uptake since 1865 has accumulated since 1997". The year 1865 is taken as the start of wide use of fossil fuels.

And more than a third of the surge in heat in the oceans since 1997 was at depths exceeding 700 meters - a part of the ocean rarely studied, the scientists wrote in the journal Nature Climate Change.

"We expect that the deep ocean will absorb an increasing amount of heat," lead author Peter Gleckler, of the U.S. Department of Energy's Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) in California, told Reuters in an email.

The increase in the oceans' uptake of heat has coincided with a puzzling slowdown in the pace of temperature rises at the Earth's surface since the late 1990s, even as man-made emissions of heat-trapping gases have kept rising.

That slowdown may now be over with record temperatures in 2015 and 2014.

Understanding ocean heat "is vital to improving projections of how much and how fast the Earth will warm and seas rise in the future," LLNL wrote in a statement. Most of the extra heat from man-made global warming ends up in the oceans.

The scientists said it was hard to judge the role of ocean heat in what the United Nations panel of climate scientists calls a "hiatus" in surface warming, which had heartened those who doubt big man-made impact on the climate.

"The 'hiatus' is a surface phenomenon. The Earth is still warming, and the oceans have been taking up the bulk of that heat," Matt Palmer, a climate scientist at the British Met Office Hadley Centre who was not involved in the study, wrote in a statement.

John Shepherd, of the University of Southampton, said it was unclear if the extra heat absorbed by the oceans would return to the atmosphere or stay in the depths. "It's certainly not a cure for climate change, nor any reason to be less concerned with it," he said in a statement on ocean warming.

Last month, almost 200 governments agreed a deal in Paris meant as a turning point from fossil fuels, blamed for causing more heat waves, downpours and rising sea levels.

(Editing by Jeremy Gaunt)

Study: Man-made heat put in oceans has doubled since 1997
SETH BORENSTEIN Associated Press Yahoo News 19 Jan 16;

WASHINGTON (AP) — The amount of man-made heat energy absorbed by the seas has doubled since 1997, a study released Monday showed.
Scientists have long known that more than 90 percent of the heat energy from man-made global warming goes into the world's oceans instead of the ground. And they've seen ocean heat content rise in recent years. But the new study, using ocean-observing data that goes back to the British research ship Challenger in the 1870s and including high-tech modern underwater monitors and computer models, tracked how much man-made heat has been buried in the oceans in the past 150 years.

The world's oceans absorbed approximately 150 zettajoules of energy from 1865 to 1997, and then absorbed about another 150 in the next 18 years, according to a study published Monday in the journal Nature Climate Change.

To put that in perspective, if you exploded one atomic bomb the size of the one that dropped on Hiroshima every second for a year, the total energy released would be 2 zettajoules. So since 1997, Earth's oceans have absorbed man-made heat energy equivalent to a Hiroshima-style bomb being exploded every second for 75 straight years.

"The changes we're talking about, they are really, really big numbers," said study co-author Paul Durack, an oceanographer at the Lawrence Livermore National Lab in California. "They are nonhuman numbers."

Because there are decades when good data wasn't available and computer simulations are involved, the overall figures are rough but still are reliable, the study's authors said. Most of the added heat has been trapped in the upper 2,300 feet, but with every year the deeper oceans also are absorbing more energy, they said.

But the study's authors and outside experts say it's not the raw numbers that bother them. It's how fast those numbers are increasing.

"After 2000 in particular the rate of change is really starting to ramp up," Durack said.

This means the amount of energy being trapped in Earth's climate system as a whole is accelerating, the study's lead author Peter Gleckler, a climate scientist at Lawrence Livermore, said.

Because the oceans are so vast and cold, the absorbed heat raises temperatures by only a few tenths of a degree, but the importance is the energy balance, Gleckler and his colleagues said. When oceans absorb all that heat it keeps the surface from getting even warmer from the heat-trapping gases spewed by the burning of coal, oil and gas, the scientists said.

The warmer the oceans get, the less heat they can absorb and the more heat stays in the air and on land surface, the study's co-author, Chris Forest at Pennsylvania State University, said.

"These finding have potentially serious consequences for life in the oceans as well as for patterns of ocean circulation, storm tracks and storm intensity," said Oregon State University marine sciences professor Jane Lubchenco, the former chief of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

One outside scientist, Kevin Trenberth, climate analysis chief at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, also has been looking at ocean heat content and he said his ongoing work shows the Gleckler team "significantly underestimates" how much heat the ocean has absorbed.

Jeff Severinghaus at the Scripps Institute of Oceanography praised the study, saying it "provides real, hard evidence that humans are dramatically heating the planet."

Global warming strikes deep into oceans: study
Marlowe Hood AFP Yahoo News 19 Jan 16;

Paris (AFP) - The oceans have soaked up as much heat from global warming over the last two decades as during the preceding 130 years, according to a study published Monday.

While this accelerated absorption has helped keep human habitats cooler, in the long run it could be a ticking time bomb that disrupts weather and climate globally, scientists warned.

"We estimate that half of the total global ocean heat uptake since 1865 has accumulated since 1997," a team of scientists led by Peter Gleckler of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California reported.

A third of that recent build up, they found, occurred at depths of 700 metres (2,300 feet) or greater, beyond the reach of sunlight.

This may explain a pause or "hiatus" in warming observed at the sea surface since the end of the 20th century, according to the study.

Some had interpreted this as a slowdown in warming overall.

Surface waters are thought to have previously absorbed the bulk of heat taken up by the ocean. Why the ratio is changing is not fully understood.

The findings, published, in Nature Climate Change, were based in large part on observation.

The earliest data was gathered in the 19th century by the HMS Challenger expedition, a scientific foray launched by Britain's Royal Society that is often credited with laying the foundation for modern oceanography.

More recent inputs came from multi-decade ship logs, and -- for measurements up to 2,000 metres (6,500 feet) deep -- so-called Argo floats scattered across the oceans.

- Mixed blessing -

Covering two-thirds of Earth's surface, the oceans have absorbed more than 90 percent of the excess heat generated by man-made greenhouse gases.

In a stroke of luck for humankind, this has made the surface of the planet less hot than it would otherwise have been.

View galleryIce chunks are seen in the Northwest Passage in the …
Ice chunks are seen in the Northwest Passage in the Canadian High Arctic on September 23, 2015 (AFP …
But there could be severe consequences further down the road, scientists cautioned.

"It's a bit of a mixed blessing," said John Shepherd, a researcher at the University of Southampton's National Oceanography Centre, who was not involved in the study.

If the extra heat remains in the ocean it could disturb sea and atmospheric circulation, playing havoc with weather patterns, he explained.

And if it is released back into the atmosphere, it could accentuate warming already poised to punch through the threshold for dangerous impacts.

The ocean's ability to absorb surplus heat is not unlimited, and "certainly not a cure for climate change," said Shepherd.

At current rates, Earth is on track for warming of about three degrees Celsius (5.4 degrees Fahrenheit) by the end of the century.

There is growing scientific evidence that even an increase of 2 C (3.6 F) -- once considered a safe upper boundary -- could unleash severe human misery.

Matt Palmer, a climate scientist at Britain's national Met Office, said the study "shows the strengthening of the climate change signal over time, and that more of this signal is finding its way into the deep ocean."

The results showed that the so-called hiatus was merely a surface phenomenon, he added.

"The Earth is still warming, and the oceans have been taking up the bulk of that heat."

Because the carbon dioxide which drives global warming stays in the atmosphere for centuries, oceans will continue to heat up long after humanity stops spewing carbon pollution into the air.

Besides heat, the oceans are also a sink for carbon dioxide, which has caused sea water to become a quarter more acidic since the onset of the Industrial Age.

That acidification -- already at its highest level in 300 million years -- has ravaged coral reefs, and could have even broader consequences for other marine fauna and flora.

Read more!