Best of our wild blogs: 20 Jan 16

3 recommendations to improve the consultation and co-creation process
Green Future Solutions

Read more!

628 dengue cases reported last week; highest weekly figure since 2014

During the week ending Jan 16, a total of 628 cases were reported – 81 cases more than the previous week and 170 more than the highest reported in a week in 2015.

Channel NewsAsia 20 Jan 16;

SINGAPORE: A total of 628 dengue cases were reported in the week ending Jan 16, the highest weekly figure in more than a year, according to latest figures published on the National Environment Agency (NEA) website.

This was 81 cases more than the previous week and 170 more than the highest reported in a week in 2015. The highest number of dengue cases ever reported in a week was in 2014, with 891 cases reported between Jun 29 and Jul 5.

Another 193 cases were reported between Jan 17 and 3.30pm on Jan 19, NEA said. A total of 1,368 dengue cases have been reported in Singapore since Jan 3.

The agency warned that there has been an increase in the Aedes mosquito population, with the warmer-than-usual weather shortening the breeding and maturation cycles of the mosquitoes, as well as the incubation periods for the dengue virus.

It said source eradication of mosquito breeding habitats remains a key component in preventing the spread of the virus, which is why intensive source reduction exercises (ISREs) have been stepped up.

Additionally, the proportion of dengue cases due to the DENV-2 serotype has increased and now accounts for more than two-thirds of all dengue cases serotyped in Singapore, the agency said. Previously, the DENV-1 serotype accounted for most of the dengue cases in Singapore since March 2013.

“This change in the main circulating dengue virus and the increase in mosquito population due to warmer weather may be contributing to the spike in dengue cases. Immediate measures need to be taken by all stakeholders to suppress the Aedes mosquito population,” NEA said.

- CNA/cy

628 cases of dengue reported last week: NEA
Today Online 20 Jan 16;

SINGAPORE — There were 628 cases of dengue reported between Jan 10 and 16, 82 more than the week before, said the National Environment Agency (NEA) on its website.

Last Tuesday (Jan 12), the NEA warned that dengue figures were likely to rise as the weather heats up. Last week's figures were higher than any week reported in 2015, according to NEA data.

This week, starting Jan 17, there has already been 193 dengue cases reported as of 3.30pm yesterday (Jan 19).

The proportion of dengue cases due to the DENV-2 serotype, a common type of dengue virus here, has also risen sharply and now accounts for two-thirds of all dengue cases here, up from about half of all cases just a month ago, the agency said in an advisory. The DENV-1 serotype has accounted for most cases here since March 2013.

The NEA continued to urge Singaporeans to play their part to stem dengue transmission by checking their premises daily for potential mosquito breeding habitats. Those infected with dengue are also advised to apply repellent as regularly as possible to prevent mosquitoes from biting and picking up the virus from them, and those showing symptoms suggestive of dengue should see their GPs early to be diagnosed.

The highest number of dengue cases ever reported in a week was back in 2014, with 891 cases reported between June 29 and July 5.

Read more!

Malaysia: Fire and Rescue Department on full alert following El Nino phenomenon

FAIRUZ MOHD SHAHAR New Straits Times 19 Jan 16;

PUTRAJAYA : The Fire and Rescue Department is on full alert for peat and bush fires following the El Nino phenomenon which is expected to last until March.

Urban Wellbeing, Housing and Local Government Minister Datuk Abdul Rahman said the firemen were on 24-hour standby mode for possible fire incidents in view of the hot and dry spell.

“Previously, our firemen were all prepared to face natural disasters including flash flood. We are grateful that the flash flood did not happen like in 2014.

Now, the firemen are focusing on the current hot and dry weather which could potentially lead to forest fires.

“With the addition of equipment and assets to the fire and rescue department, we hope to improve the quality of service and respond to emergencies more efficiently,” he said after presenting fire engines and equipment at the Putrajaya Fire Department, here yesterday.

At the event, the department received five 'Amphibious Rigid Inflatable Boat' , 47 four-wheel drive utility vehicles, eight Amphibious All Terrain Vehicles and other rescue equipment.

On a separate matter, Rahman said the government was in the process of appointing committee members to the new Water Safety Activity Council.

The council, which was approved by the cabinet on Jan 6, was formed to address the increasing fatalities during water activities and to raise awareness on water safety among the community.

“We want to ensure only deserving members are appointed in this council so that we can reduce the number of accidents involving water activities.

We have yet to decide when we will hold our first meeting,” he said.

Read more!

Indonesia: President Jokowi urges governors to allocate budget to prevent forest fires

Antara 19 Jan 16;

Jayapura (ANTARA News) - President Joko Widodo (Jokowi) has called on provincial governors across Indonesia to allocate budget for implementing the forest fire prevention program in their respective regions.

To this end, Papua Governor Lukas Enembe stated here on Tuesday that he was ready to follow up on it.

"President Widodos directives are already clear. Regional governments basically have to implement preventive measures and be more alert to act early against forest and land fires," he affirmed.

Governor Enembe hoped the forest and land fires in 2015 would not recur this year.

He said the president had also called on the regional governments to offer budgetary support to the TNI (military) and police in anticipating fires.

Governor Enembe affirmed that he would not only support but would also be ready to help the TNI and police in case the need arises and they submit a request.

President Jokowi stated here on Monday that there was a 0.2 percent correction in Indonesias economy due to smog problems triggered by forest and land fires in 2015.

At a national coordination meeting on preventing forest and land fires in 2016 at the state palace, the president said the facts revealed that smog from forest and land fires had caused an extraordinary impact on the regions economy.

(Reporting by Hendrina Dian Kandipi/Uu.H-YH/INE/KR-BSR/F001)

Read more!

Indonesia: Palm oil company Sawit Sumbermas sticks to expansion plan

Prima Wirayani, The Jakarta Post 18 Jan 16;

Publicly listed palm oil company PT Sawit Sumbermas Sarana will continue its plantation expansion plan this year, hoping to benefit from the plunging price of crude palm oil (CPO), which could lower acquisition costs.

Sawit Sumbermas independent director and corporate secretary Harry M. Nadir said over the weekend that the company would allocate around US$40 million to $50 million in capital expenditure (capex) to either plant more oil-palm trees or purchase more plantations, as planned since the end of last year.

“The capex will be from our internal funds,” he said over the phone.

In a recent company statement, Harry said that his company preferred to acquire young and planted oil-palm plantations located in Central Kalimantan to add the firm’s land bank. He also stated that Sawit Sumbermas’ capital structure was good enough to support the acquisition strategy.

Sawit Sumbermas booked a slightly lower sales value of Rp 1.76 trillion ($125.85 million) as of September last year. The value was 5.88 percent down year-on-year (yoy) compared to Rp 1.87 trillion booked in the same period in 2014.

Its net profit also slump 10.25 percent yoy to Rp 416.04 billion from Rp 463.57 billion booked as of September 2014.

Harry said that the company would use the capex to continue the acquisition of palm oil companies PT Menteng Kencana Mas (MKM) and PT Mirza Pratama Putra (MPP), whose total plantation area was 26,800 hectares and located in Central Kalimantan. The acquisitions would give Sawit Sumbermas 99,618 hectares worth of plantations with total planted areas of 66,693 hectares.

In letters addressed to the Financial Services Authority (OJK) in November and December last year, the company said that the acquisitions would be carried out through its subsidiary, PT Mitra Mendawai Sejati. The value of MKM and MPP acquisitions reached $35 million and $15 million, respectively, which funds would be sourced from Sawit Sumbermas’ internal cash with support from bank loans.

“We will look at the [acquisition] value developments if they require bank loans,” Harry said.

He added that his company did not slow its pace of expansion although commodity markets cooled because lower CPO price would also mean cheaper plantation value.

“Once the price of palm oil increases, we will be able to benefit from it faster,” he said.

Index Mundi data said that CPO futures end-of-day settlement price for February contracts month stood at $562 per metric ton as of Dec. 4 last year. The price was the lowest since December 2008 when the price plummeted to $440.38 per metric ton.

The Indonesian Palm Oil Board (DMSI) also said previously that it would be difficult for the CPO price to climb higher than $650 per ton in 2016.

Harry said that Sawit Sumbermas’ production growth would depend on the movement of CPO price.

“If the price increases so does our production,” he said, adding that his firm’s production usually grew 10 percent to 15 percent annually.

Last year, the CPO producer aimed for 1.15 million tons of total production of CPO, oil-palm fruit brunches and palm kernels, 15 percent higher than the previous year.

The company runs five processing facilities in its plantation area, with a total capacity of 1.53 million tons per year for oil palm-to-CPO processing and 45,000 tons for palm kernel crushing.

Read more!

Indonesia: Government urged to protect caves for ecotourism

Bambang Muryanto, The Jakarta Post 19 Jan 16

The government should immediately issue national standards on cave management in order to protect caves, many of which have recently become objects of ecotourism, according to leading speleologists. Once damaged, caves in karst areas are difficult to restore.

“The government has not yet issued a guideline on cave management, even though caves have become tourist sites,” Indonesia Speleological Society (ISS) president Cahyo Rahmadi told The Jakarta Post on Monday.

Based on an ISS assessment, Indonesia is home to hundreds of caves. In the province of Yogyakarta, most of the caves are found in the karst areas around Mount Sewu in Gunungkidul regency, recently designated as a geopark area and recognized by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

“Don’t let the case of Gong Cave in Pacitan, East Java, be repeated. For example, Gong Cave was damaged due to a lack of separation between visitors and cave ornaments, so many of them were damaged and discolored,” said Cahyo, who is also a speleologist at the Indonesian Institute of Sciences.

Cahyo reminded those concerned that caves were also home to a variety of wildlife creatures that survive in the rivers and pools that course through the caves. Cahyo argued that there needed to be some kind of national map so that visitors could study where to walk and know how to avoid disrupting microbial life in the water.

He said the extraordinary beauty of caves attracted the interest of people. Unfortunately, those involved in cave tourism did not pay enough attention to the preservation of caves.

“The government is currently drawing up a karst ecosystem management and protection bylaw that could serve as a guideline on cave management,” added Cahyo.

In a discussion on sustainable karst ecotourism at SMU 1 senior high school in Wonosari, speleologist Pindi Setiawan reminded those in attendance of the need to preserve the beauty of caves. He said sustainable ecotourism could provide a sustainable economic profit for various sectors.

He said the caves found in the karst areas in Gunungkidul were very beautiful, but cave operators must pay attention to capacity levels.

“If the caves are damaged due to overcapacity and are no longer beautiful, why should people go there again?” asked Pindi.

During the discussion, Mursidi, a manager at the Ningrong Cave in Mulo village, Gunungkidul, said that those involved in cave management desperately needed advanced knowledge on speleology so they could scientifically elucidate the facts about caves to visitors.

“We also wish to provide lighting in caves,” he said.

However, speleologists and experts in ecotourism who attended the discussion argued that the caves should not be lighted because lights could tarnish the natural beauty of the caves as well as influence the ecosystem inside the caves.

“Based on statistics, only 687,000 visitors came to Gunungkidul in 2010, compared to 3.6 million today,” Mursidi said.

He added that the amount of visitors should be spread out to various tourist sites so as to prevent overcapacity at Pindul Cave. Hundreds of visitors enter the cave every weekend and so it is feared that they could damage the cave due to overcapacity.

One of the most visited caves in Gunungkidul is Ningrong Cave because it is easy to access from the main highway. A 20x100 meter diameter doline at a depth of 70 meters is located on the western side of the cave.

Read more!

Thailand scrambles to drill wells amid drought and water shortages

Thai authorities are rushing to drill thousands of wells across the country to ensure enough water for drinking and washing, as farmers grapple with a drought and a months-long water shortage.
Channel NewsAsia 20 Jan 16;

BANGKOK: Thai authorities are rushing to drill thousands of wells across the country to ensure enough water for drinking and washing, as farmers grapple with a drought and a months-long water shortage.

Authorities examined the water supply and demand nationwide - taking into account needs for agriculture, industrial use and human consumption - and decided to drill 4,300 more wells, said Suphot Tovichakchaikul, secretary of the National Water Board, comprised of water officials and chaired by the prime minister.

"The most effective way to make sure that people have water to use this dry season is to drill underground wells," Suphot, who is also chief of the Department of Water Resources, said in an interview in his office on Tuesday.

The Thai government told farmers last year to limit their water use and grow alternative crops. The cabinet also approved a multi-million dollar budget in October to help farmers cope with the drought.

"We estimate that the end of this year's dry season is May 30. The water we have now has to last for the next four months," Suphot said, pointing to posters detailing rainfall, farmland and reservoirs across the country.

"We are focusing first on water for consumption and daily use - for drinking, bathing and washing. We have asked farmers for their cooperation to not yet use water for irrigation."

The government will divert a 3.5 billion baht (US$96 million) budget from the Department of Groundwater Resources - originally set aside to dig 6,000 wells at temples, schools and farms - for the urgent construction of the 4,300 wells.

Since October, 1,250 wells have been drilled. They are usually dug to a depth of 80 to 100 metres, some wells in Isaan, the agricultural heartland in northeast Thailand, are dug about 300 metres deep.

Suphot said the government's long-term strategy includes filling the country's existing dams to capacity by tapping into rivers including the Yuam and Salween along its border with Myanmar.

"These are international rivers, so apart from an environmental impact assessment and feasibility studies, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs will have to tend this issue with respect to relations with neighbouring countries," he said.

Worsening drought could prove another headache for Thailand's military government, which took power after a 2014 coup and is grappling with a lacklustre economy.

- Reuters

Read more!

Overfishing causing global catches to fall three times faster than estimated

Landmark new study that includes small-scale, subsistence and illegal fishing shows a strong decline in catches as more fisheries are exhausted
Damian Carrington The Guardian 19 Jan 16;

Global fish catches are falling three times faster than official UN figures suggest, according to a landmark new study, with overfishing to blame.

Seafood is the critical source of protein for more than 2.5 billion people, but over-exploitation is cutting the catch by more than 1m tonnes a year.

The official catch data, provided by nations to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), rarely includes small-scale, sport or illegal fishing and does not count fish discarded at sea. To provide a better estimate, more than 400 researchers around the world spent a decade finding other data to fill in the gaps.

The results, published in the journal Nature Communications, show the annual catches between 1950 and 2010 were much bigger than thought, but that the decline after the peak year of 1996 was much faster than official figures.

The FAO data indicated a catch of 86m tonnes in 1996, then a decline of 0.4m tonnes per year. In contrast, the new research estimates the peak catch was 130m tonnes, but declined at 1.2m tonnes per year afterwards.

“Our results differ very strongly from those of the FAO,” said Prof Daniel Pauly, at the University of British Columbia in Canada and who led the work. “Our results indicate that the decline is very strong and is not due to countries fishing less. It is due to countries having fished too much and having exhausted one fishery after another.”

Estimating subsistence, small-scale and illegal fishing is difficult, but Pauly said his team was confident in its results which - unlike the FAO data - includes estimates of the uncertainty. “This research is not based on a few studies here and there and then extrapolation,” he said. “It is based on the results of 200 studies we have conducted for about a decade by a network of 400 people in all countries of the world.”

The researchers used many different approaches to fill in the missing data, from hotel invoices for locally bought fish in the Bahamas to information on local fish consumption.

“This work has been carefully conducted by painstaking research into the hidden underbelly of global fishing, country by country, region by region” said Prof Boris Worm, at Dalhousie University in Canada and not involved in the new research. “This was a Herculean task that no one else has ever attempted. While the results necessarily remain uncertain, they undoubtedly represent our most complete picture yet of the global state of fish catches.”

Worm said the world’s fisheries were being over-exploited but that some stocks were being sustainably managed: “Where such measures have been taken, we find that both fish and fishermen are more likely to persist into the future.”

Global fish catches rose from the 1950s to 1996 as fishing fleets expanded and discovered new fish stocks to exploit. But after 1996, few undiscovered fisheries were left and catches started to decline. “It was never really sustainable,” said Pauly. The decline since 1996 has largely been in fish caught by industrial fleets and to a lesser extent a cut in the number of unwanted fish discarded at sea.

“The fact that we catch far more than we thought is, if you like, a more positive thing,” he said. “Because if we rebuild stocks, we can rebuild to more than we thought before.”

There has been success in some places where fishing has been restricted for a few years, for example in the Norwegian herring and cod fisheries. On resumption, catches were bigger than ever.

But Pauly said: “I expect a continued decline because I don’t expect countries to realise the need to rebuild stocks. I don’t see African countries, for example, rebuilding their stocks, or being allowed to by the foreign fleets that are working there, because the pressure to continue to fish is very strong. We know how to fix this problem but whether we do it or not depends on conditions that are difficult.”

Global fishing catch significantly under-reported, says study
Matt McGrath BBC 19 Jan 16;

The amount of fish taken from the world's oceans over the last 60 years has been underestimated by more than 50%, according to a new study.

Researchers say that official estimates are missing crucial data on small scale fisheries, illegal fishing and discarded by-catch.
The authors argue that global fishing catches are now declining rapidly because stocks have been exhausted.

But other researchers have questioned the reliability of the new study.

The UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) is the body that collates global statistics on fishing from countries all over the world.

According to their official figures, the amount of fish caught has increased steadily since 1950 and peaked at 86 million tonnes in 1996 before declining slightly to around 77 million tonnes in 2010.

But researchers from the University of British Columbia argue that the official figures drastically under-report the true scale of fishing.

They argue that the figures submitted to the FAO are mainly from large scale "industrial" fishing activities and do not include small scale commercial fisheries, subsistence fisheries as well as the discarded by-catch and estimates for illegal fishing.

The scientists say their "catch reconstruction" method give a far more accurate picture of the scale of the impacts of fishing around the world.

They say that reconstructed catches, that include estimates and data on the under-reported activities, show that the world took 53% more fish from the seas than the official figures indicate.

They argue that around 32 million tonnes of fish go unreported every year - more than the weight of the entire US population.

"The catches are all underestimated," said lead author Prof Daniel Pauly.

"The FAO doesn't have a mandate to correct the data that they get - and the countries have the bad habit of reporting only what they see - if they don't have people who report on a given fishery then nothing is reported. The result of this is a systematic underestimation of the catch and this can be very high, 200-300% especially in small island states, in the developed world it can be 20-30%."

Prof Pauly gave the Bahamas as an example where there was no reporting of fish caught by small scale fishers. But when the researchers dug a little deeper and went to the big hotels and resorts, they found invoices from small scale fishermen who sold their catch directly.

Not only have more fish been taken from the seas than have been reported say the authors, but the decline in fish caught since the mid 1990s has been far greater than the official figures show.

The researchers say this isn't because the world is doing less fishing, it's because over exploitation means there are simply less fish being caught.

"It was never really sustainable," said Prof Pauly.

"We went through one stock after the other, for example around the British Isles, the stocks in the North Sea were diminished right after the Second World War.

"And then British trawlers went to Iceland and did the same thing there, and so on and so did the Germans, the Americans, so did the Soviets.

"They had to expand to survive and now the fisheries are in Antarctica."

While other scientists in this field have praised the comprehensive nature of the study, some have criticised the methods used.

"I think we all agree that global catches are probably higher than reported but I do not think that this new catch reconstruction is sufficiently reliable to draw conclusions concerning trends in catches or global fisheries," said Dr Keith Brander, an expert of on fisheries and marine ecosystems who is now an emeritus scientist at the Technical University of Denmark.

"It may point to particular regions and fisheries sectors that require substantial improvement in statistics in order to improve fisheries management, but to do this one really needs to get into the fine detail," he told BBC News.

The authors say that they have every confidence in their work. They say they are not based on a handful of studies but on around 200 research papers conducted over a decade by a network of 400 scientists based all over the world.

While praising the "huge and impressive amount of work" that went into the study, Prof Trevor Branch from the University of Washington said that the report raises another important question that still remains unanswered.

"Catches only tell us what we take out, not what the status of the remaining fish is," he said.

"So it's like trying to measure deforestation from counts of trucks of lumber driving away from forests."

The study has been published in the journal, Nature Communications.

Read more!

Collecting plastic waste near coasts 'is most effective clean-up method'

Analysis finds that placing plastic collectors near coasts would remove 31% of microplastics, versus 1% if they were all in the ‘Great Pacific Garbage patch’
Rebecca Smithers The Guardian 19 Jan 16;

Dredging plastic waste from coastal locations rather than deep in the oceans is the the most efficient way to clean it up and avoid damaging global ecosystems, according to new analysis.

Floating plastic waste ranging from bags, bottles and caps, fibres and ‘microbeads’ wash out into the oceans from rivers and sewers, while larger plastics are broken down into smaller fragments that can last for hundreds to thousands of years. Fragments of all sizes are swallowed by marine life and enter the food chain, disrupting fragile ecosystems.

Researchers from Imperial College looked at the so-called Great Pacific garbage patch - an area of open ocean in the North Pacific - which has an unusually large area of microplastics. The patch is enclosed by ocean currents that concentrate the plastics into an area estimated to be larger than twice the size of the United Kingdom.

The area has gained international attention,with a project called The Ocean Cleanup planning to deploy plastic collectorsin the area to pick up debris and remove it by ship.

But the analysis by oceanographer Dr Erik van Sebille and undergraduate physics student Peter Sherman at the Grantham Institute for Climate Change and the Environment at Imperial College London - published on Tuesday in Environmental Research Letters - suggests that targeting the patch itself is not the most efficient way to clean up the oceans.

“The Great Pacific garbage patch has a huge mass of microplastics, but the largest flow of plastics is actually off the coasts, where it enters the oceans,” said Sherman.

“It makes sense to remove plastics where they first enter the ocean around dense coastal economic and population centres where there is a lot of marine life,” added Dr van Sebille. “It also means you can remove the plastics before they have had a chance to do any harm. Plastics in the patch have travelled a long way and potentially already done a lot of harm.”

Van Sebille and Sherman used a model of ocean plastic movements to determine the best places to deploy plastic collectors to remove the largest volume of microplastics, and to prevent the most harm to wildlife and ecosystems.

They found that placing plastic collectors like those proposed by The Ocean Cleanup project around coasts was more beneficial than placing them all inside the patch.

Planning for a ten-year project between 2015 and 2025, the pair calculated that placing collectors near coasts - particularly around China and the Indonesian Islands - would remove 31% of microplastics. With all the collectors in the patch, only 17% would be removed.

The pair’s model also looked at areas where microplastics overlapped with phytoplankton - microscopic floating plants that form the basic food of many ocean ecosystems. Many microplastics enter the food web in these areas as microscopic animals accidentally eat them.

Running the same model for areas rich in phytoplankton came up with a similar result; the overlap was reduced by 46% by placing collectors near certain coasts, whereas the overlap was only reduced by 14% by placing the collectors in the patch.

“There is a lot of plastic in the patch, but it’s a relative dead zone for life compared with the richness around the coasts,” added Sherman. A recent analysis by Dr van Sebille and colleagues in Australia showed that more than 90% of seabirds have swallowed plastics, and these birds are also concentrated around coasts where their food is plentiful.

The pair will refine their analysis, but say the results are clear and hope that plastic collecting projects in the future will focus on the coastlines.

“We need to clean up ocean plastics, and ultimately this should be achieved by stopping the source of pollution,” Sherman went on. “However, this will not happen overnight, so a temporary solution is needed, and clean-up projects could be it, if they are done well.”

According to a recent report from the Environmental Investigation Agency, global plastics production has soared from 5m tonnes a year in the 1960s to a staggering 299m tonnes in 2013, with uses ranging from packaging and toys to clothes, computers and beauty products.

It said an estimated 4.8-12.7m tonnes of plastics enter the world’s oceans every year due to littering and inadequate waste management. Without action to address the problem, this figure is expected to increase to as much as 28 million tonnes a year by 2025.

Read more!