Best of our wild blogs: 1-2 Feb 16

Yellow-vented Horizons
Saving MacRitchie

Seven New Species added to the 2013 Checklist
Singapore Bird Group

Reticulated Python (Malayopython reticulatus) @ Old Upper Thomson Road
Monday Morgue

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30 cleaners work overnight to clear up Laneway trash

Noor Ashikin Abdul Rahman, The New Paper AsiaOne 1 Feb 16;

The thumping electronic beats of Australian music producer Flume closed the 12-hour Laneway Festival on Saturday at one of its main stages at The Meadow at Gardens By The Bay.

The upbeat music was soon replaced by the sharp crunch of plastic cups and beer cans being crushed underfoot and the crackle of plastic and mats being kicked as its 13,000 festival-goers made for the exit at the end of the night.

When the crowd thinned, what was left was a litter-filled venue, a sight similar to last year's edition of the event.

This, despite four designated garbage bin points with large banners that read "Bin There, Dump That".

That same reminder had flashed on the screens after every set.

Some 30 cleaners from event cleaning company Qool Enviro, working a nine-hour shift, got to work immediately.

The company's assistant sales manager Gerald Yang said the crew finished work at 9am yesterday.

The cleaners would go back over the next few days to make sure it is litter-free.

The first of the three shifts started at 9am on Saturday and they cleaned up after festival-goers throughout the day.

Working equally hard during the festival, which had 27 local and international acts, were the couple behind the Traceless movement on Facebook.

The movement aims to encourage fellow festival-goers to take responsibility for their own litter.

Laneway fans Timothy Chua, 25, and his girlfriend Sumita Thiagarajan, 21, started it about two weeks ago, in response to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's and Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong's Facebook remarks following the mess left behind at the previous Laneway Festival.

Mr Lee wrote: "It takes continuous effort to keep Singapore clean. We need to progress from being a cleaned city to a truly clean city."

Mr Chua and Miss Sumita literally took matters into their own hands by picking up as much rubbish as they could in between sets and discarding it into dustbins.

Disheartened that festival-goers failed to clean up their act this year, despite politicians' call to action and the media attention, they were nonetheless encouraged to see others pitching in to help.


Miss Sumita, a National University of Singapore (NUS) undergraduate, told The New Paper: "When they saw us picking up litter, some people helped. That was nice to see.

"Others were interested to find out more about the Traceless movement.

"A girl called out to her friends to help, but her friends refused. But she still tried to pick up as much trash as she could before she left."

Mr Chua, who recently graduated from NUS, said that more women than men readily offered their assistance.

Both locals and foreigners helped, but the offenders far outnumbered them.

Miss Sumita said: "I saw people piling their trash on their mats and I thought they would bin the mess. But at the end of the night, they shook off their mats and walked away so that all the rubbish stayed behind.

"Some people even denied the trash belonged to them when it was right there at their feet."

A 21-year-old cleaner at Laneway, who declined to be named, said that the aftermath did not differ greatly from that of past gigs like Dutch DJ Hardwell's show at the same venue last year.

He added that the cleaning up is tiring and that cleaning "a small part of the field" - the size of two basketball courts - takes about two hours.

"People just want to party and when they are having fun, they forget. At the end, they just want to go home," he said.

One of the festival-goers who helped Mr Chua and Miss Sumita was Kuala Lumpur-based American student Maya Nazareth, 18.

She said: "I always pick up my own trash. Everyone is trying to enjoy the festival and good music, but you can't do that if you're always stepping on the trash on the ground. It's gross."

Mr Chua and Miss Sumita hope they can work with Laneway organisers next year to come up with a better approach to keep litter at bay.

"I hope we can help ease the burden of the organisers, but we need a lot of support," said Mr Chua.

This year's highlights


Festival-goers had plenty of options should they need a break from the music.

They could pose for selfies atop British lifestyle brand Jack Wills' pink-and-blue Land Rover or at US home rental company Airbnb's House of Smiles.

Creative festival-goers tried their hand at designing shoes or bags at the Onitsuka Tiger pop-up.

Those who were hungry had an array of food to choose from.

There was sushi, kebabs, churros and popsicles.

The best part? Some vendors even dished out free food and drinks towards the end of the night.


In previous years, the likes of US singer St. Vincent or Kiwi singer Kimbra set themselves apart from other Laneway Festival performers with their whimsicality and off-kilter charm.

This year, Canadian synth-pop artist Grimes scored top points.

From her dressing - a giant red head bow, matching neon yellow arm bands and mismatched socks - to her unique singing style and dance moves, fans celebrated her eccentricities that were a breath of fresh air.


With the buttons of his white shirt undone, showing off a tattoo in the centre of his chest, The 1975's singer Matt Healy showed his bad-boy side during the British alt-rock band's set.

Not only did he light up on stage and steal a few puffs, he also spurned the bottled water and sipped from a wine glass instead.


Festival-goers had to choose between Canadian futuristic-pop duo Purity Ring at the Cloud Stage and Australian music producer Flume at the bigger Bay Stage to cap off their night.

Both made their audience feel they had made the right decision by serving hard-hitting beats to close Laneway on a high.

Flume also threw in his remix of Kiwi pop singer Lorde's Tennis Court, which had the pumped-up crowd singing along.


This year's edition boasted seven home-grown acts, the most in the festival line-up to date.

Bands such as Cashew Chemists and Riot !n Magenta as well as electronic acts Intriguant and Kiat (featuring Kane) proved that they were as much crowd-pullers as their international counterparts.

The crowd showed its support by singing along to Cashew Chemists' hits like First Kiss and Feel Amazing.

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Rich biodiversity on offer as Kranji Marshes open

LOUISA TANG Today Online 1 Feb 16;

SINGAPORE — After two years of efforts by the authorities, the largest freshwater marshland in Singapore was officially opened today (Feb 1), and the public will be able to take in its rich biodiversity through guided walks that will take them through conservation areas typically off-limits to visitors.

Located next to Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve, the Kranji Marshes wetlands lie along the north-western shore of Kranji Reservoir and sprawl over 56.8 hectares, or about 60 football fields.

Kranji Marshes is divided into two main areas: One that is accessible to all members of the public, and a core conservation area limited to visitors who register for guided walks, due to the ecological sensitivity of the area. These guided walks will begin at the end of the month.

The marshland is an Environmental Improvement Project by the National Parks Board (NParks) and the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA), and is part of the third phase of the Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve Masterplan.

The marshland was created when Kranji reservoir was dammed in the 1970s, flooding the surrounding low-lying areas and drawing wildlife. In 2008, the Nature Society of Singapore (NSS) began clearing dense vegetation there to build a more suitable habitat for wildlife. The task was taken over by URA and NParks in 2014, which also built amenities for visitors.

The marshland is now home to more than 170 species of birds, 54 species of butterflies and 33 species of dragonflies. Of the 170 bird species, 22 are threatened species, such as the Purple Swamphen and the Red-wattled Lapwing, both of which are rarely found elsewhere in Singapore.

Speaking at the official opening today, URA director (projects) Teo Chong Yean said one challenge of developing the marshland was understanding the environment and the birds’ behaviour, in order to avoid disrupting their patterns. “That’s how we started to look at satellite images, and flew a drone and took pictures of the area, and started to trace profiles of the previous fish ponds, then we could map (the area) out carefully for contractors to carry out work,” he said.

NParks director of conservation Wong Tuan Wah said constant clearing of vegetation is needed to keep the birds coming back. “Every month or so, we have to keep removing the water hyacinths, for example, because they grow very fast and once they cover the water area, the birds won’t come back. There’s always a constant need to remove water weeds,” he said.

As part of conservation efforts, last year, Sungei Buloh Wetlands Reserve staff raised and trained several Red-wattled Lapwing chicks that were rescued by members of the public. Upon their successful rehabilitation, they were tagged and released in Kranji Marshes to integrate with their wild counterparts.

Other signature bird species include the Grey-headed Fish Eagle, Blue-eared Kingfisher, and Lesser Whistling Duck. The observation points in Kranji Marshes are named after these signature species, such as the Swamphen Hide, a sheltered structure for visitors to observe wildlife in close proximity.

NParks will begin offering its guided walks on Feb 27. To be held on a Saturday evening monthly, the two-hour walk will take visitors into the core conservation area — which is not open to the general public — and educate them about the biodiversity in the marsh, woodland and grass habitats.

The NSS will also be organising three-hour morning walks, with a focus on bird-watching. These are also due to begin at the end of this month.

All walks are free-of-charge and limited to 20 participants.

Said Mr Wong: “We just completed developments and the vegetation has not grown back yet, and wildlife is still coming back. We want to let the (core conservation) area establish itself first for the next six months to a year, and assess how the conditions are like, then consider opening it to the public to see.”

Those who choose to visit on their own can take a 1km-long walk from Kranji Gate. Along the way, visitors can learn about the flora and fauna through signboards and outdoor classrooms. They can also take in a bird’s-eye view of the marshes by climbing up the 10.65m Raptor Tower.

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2,000 households to take part in energy-saving challenge

The cost savings of participating households will be matched dollar-for-dollar by the South West Community Development Council and Singapore Power and donated to needy families in the district.
Olivia Siong, Channel NewsAsia 31 Jan 16;

SINGAPORE: Starting April, more than 2,000 households in Singapore’s South West district will take part in an energy-saving challenge to reduce their electricity consumption for a good cause.

Over a three-month period, the cost savings of participating households will be matched dollar-for-dollar by the South West Community Development Council and Singapore Power, and donated to about 1,000 needy families in the district.

About S$50,000 in cost-savings can be achieved during the pilot, the project’s organisers estimated.

The initiative was launched at the district's ECo Day Out by Environment and Water Resources Minister Masagos Zulkifli and Mayor of the South West District Low Yen Ling.

The goal is for one block in each of the 17 districts to come on board the initiative. The organisers hope that the programme can be eventually rolled out to the rest of the district, Ms Low said.

"This initiative is to combine the message of energy conservation with the drive to do good," she said. "This friendly challenge between the residents - we hope that it will encourage everyone in South West to come on board and get in the habit of saving energy. We firmly believe we can do more with less."

Each household is also encouraged to download the Singapore Power mobile application to track their power consumption. The app also allows them to compare their consumption patterns with that of their neighbours.

More than 200 volunteers from Singapore Power, grassroots and students from ITE College West will also be on hand to help participating households.

"What I'm asking you is to think how to make it a culture," said Mr Masagos. "So you don't just do this once a year, you don't just do this because we come together, but you do this as a way of life. That is the challenge - that all of us in Singapore must convert our affluent lifestyle, caring for the environment and protecting the environment for our children."

It is hoped the energy saving pilot can eventually be implemented in the entire district.

- CNA/cy

Over 2,000 households to compete on who can save the most energy
SIAU MING EN Today Online 31 Jan 16;

SINGAPORE — More than 2,000 households in South West Community Development Council (CDC) will be participating in a pilot contest to reduce their energy consumption over a three-month period, with the goal of achieving S$50,000 in cost-savings.

The cost-savings reaped from the project will then be matched dollar-for-dollar by Singapore Power (SP) and South West CDC, and donated to the needy families in the district.

Partnering SP for the pilot, participating residents will be encouraged to download the SP Services mobile application to track and compare their electricity usage against that of their neighbours. The mobile app was piloted last year and some 260,000 people have tried it.

There will also be a friendly competition among the 17 blocks of flats selected for the pilot, as well as among the individual households within each block, to see who manages to save the most energy.

About 200 volunteers, including the grassroots volunteers, SP staff and ITE College West students, will make regular visits to participating households to explain how to use the app, conduct monthly household checks and offer energy-saving tips.

Speaking to the media on the sidelines of the district’s annual ECo Day Out held at Hong Kah North Community Club today (Jan 31), Mayor of the South West District Low Yen Ling said: “This friendly challenge between the residents, we hope, will encourage everyone in South West to come on board and get into the habit of saving energy.”

Boon Lay resident Nicoll Peh, 34, said she would be keen on joining the pilot as her home’s electricity bill had gone up after she gave birth to twin sons. “The immediate benefits will be the cost-savings,” said the engineer, before adding that instead of turning on the air-conditioning at home, her family may try to use the fan more often, among other ways and means to save energy.

Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli, who was the guest of honour at the event today, also encouraged residents to do their part for the environment.

Citing the increasing amount of domestic waste being thrown out — from the 1.6 million tonnes in 2012 to the 1.74 million tonnes in 2014 — Mr Masagos noted that reducing wastage should be “a way of life” for Singaporeans.

“That is a challenge that all of us in Singapore must overcome. Despite our affluent lifestyles, we should care (for) and protect our environment for our loved ones and our children,” he added.

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Expect a wet and warm Chinese New Year in Singapore

For two or three days around the Lunar New Year period, a monsoon surge is forecast to affect the region, says the Meteorological Service Singapore.
Channel NewsAsia 1 Feb 16;

SINGAPORE: Those heading out over the Chinese New Year period should keep umbrellas handy. An advisory by the Meteorological Service Singapore (MSS) said over the next fortnight, short-duration thundery showers are expected mostly in the afternoon on four to five days.

"For two or three days around the Lunar New Year period, a monsoon surge is forecast to affect the region and this is expected to bring widespread rain and occasionally windy conditions to Singapore," said MSS on Monday (Feb 1).

It added that warmer temperatures over the past few months are expected to continue in the first two weeks of February. During this period, the daily maximum and minimum temperatures could reach as high as 34°C and 27°C respectively on some days, MSS forecast.

MSS said January was the warmest on record since temperature records began in 1929. The mean monthly temperature of 28.2 degrees Celsius eclipses the record of 28 degrees Celsius in January 1998. This follows the warmest December on record the previous month, said MSS, noting that December and January are climatologically the coolest months of the year.

The mean daily maximum temperature of 31.6 degrees Celsius and mean daily minimum temperature of 26 degrees Celsius for January 2016 are 1.2 degrees Celsius and 2.1 degrees Celsius above their respective long-term mean temperatures, said MSS.

Most parts of Singapore received below-average rainfall in January as well.

- CNA/ly

Rainfall to be above average this Chinese New Year, says MSS
Today Online 1 Feb 16;

SINGAPORE — Expect a windy, rainy Chinese New Year period, with a monsoon surge forecast to affect the region, bringing with it widespread rain and occasionally windy conditions.

The Meteorological Service Singapore (MSS) said this today (Feb 1) in its fortnightly forecast, and also pointed out that last month was the warmest January on record.

In the first fortnight of this month, short-duration thundery showers, mostly in the afternoon, are expected on four to five days. The showers may be heavy at times on days when there are convergence of winds, coupled with strong solar heating of land areas, the MSS said. Rainfall for these two weeks is expected to be slightly above average, although warmer temperatures Singapore has experienced in the past few months are expected to continue, the agency added.

During these two weeks, the daily maximum and minimum temperatures could reach as high as 34°C and 27°C, respectively, on some days.

In its review of January, the MSS said there was “significantly warmer than usual conditions”. The average daily maximum temperature (31.6°C) and average daily minimum temperature (26°C) for January were 1.2°C and 2.1°C above their respective long-term means.

“The mean monthly temperature of 28.2°C for January marks the warmest ever January since temperature records began in 1929, surpassing the previous record of 28.0°C set in January 1998,” the MSS said.

“This follows the warmest December on record the previous month. December and January are climatologically the coolest months of the year.”

This is despite showers on many days in January, albeit with below average rainfall. Most showers were due to strong solar heating of land areas and convergence of winds in the vicinity of Singapore, it said.

For the whole of January, the north-eastern part of Singapore around Sengkang had the lowest rainfall — 56 per cent to 62 per cent below average. Conversely, the western part of the island around Jurong saw the highest rainfall — 9 per cent to 59 per cent above average.

The thundery showers were heaviest on Jan 22 where the highest total daily rainfall recorded was 78.8mm around the Kent Ridge area.

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Asia shrimp farmers restock mangrove "supermarket" by going organic

ALISA TANG Reuters 1 Feb 16;

LAEM FA PHA, Thailand, Feb 1 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - S urakit Laeaddee walks along the narrow banks of earth dividing his organic shrimp and fish ponds, rests under the shade of a tree he recently planted, and points to the lush mangroves marking out his plot.

Too many trees invite birds that prey on his seafood stock. But planting just enough, on a fifth of his 10 hectares (24 acres), cools the ponds and improves soil and water quality, boosting the health, reproduction and survival of his shrimp and fish.

"I hope the community will become more conscious about the importance of planting trees and looking after the ecosystem in order to raise seafood sustainably and prevent coastal erosion," he said, looking toward the Gulf of Thailand, which has gnawed away at the shore, bringing the sea ever closer to his home.

Since the 1980s, a boom in shrimp farming has decimated mangroves around the world.

The trend has destroyed a key ecosystem for carbon storage, added to emissions of planet-warming carbon dioxide, and exposed shorelines and communities to storm surges and erosion.

Now, growing consumer demand for organic and sustainable foods has spurred interest in shrimp farms like Surakit's that may stem mangrove loss and encourage planting in areas long devoid of trees.

"A shift from intensive farming to more natural farming is more sustainable in the long run," said Supranee Kampongsun, mangroves and markets project coordinator for the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

"It gives marine species natural spawning grounds and improves the mangrove ecosystem. If individual farmers consider having trees on their land, it will contribute to a growth in overall coverage in the area."


A 1961 survey along Thailand's 3,100 km (1,900 mile)coastline tallied 368,000 hectares of mangrove forests, which include more than 70 tree species - from typical mangroves hovering above water with buttressed roots to giant nipa palms.

Over half a century, a third of that area has been lost, leaving 246,000 hectares, according to the Department of Marine and Coastal Resources. About 70,000 hectares are used for seafood farms, mostly shrimp.

Similar declines have been documented across Asia and Latin America. A 2012 U.N.-backed study found a fifth of mangroves worldwide had been lost since 1980, mostly for intensive shrimp farms that often become choked with waste, antibiotics and fertilisers.

In Thailand, the destruction of mangroves for shrimp levelled off about 10 years ago, but the government is struggling to restore the barren lands, said Somsak Piriyayota, director of the mangrove resource conservation office.

"The issue today is how do we change that land for shrimp back into mangroves," Somsak said in an interview, noting some mangroves have been inhabited by communities for generations.

"We've never been strict. The policy has allowed for them to live there, but the ecosystem is deteriorating, so we have to solve this problem, yet we have to give them the right to a livelihood as well."

A key challenge is sorting out real land ownership from profit-driven land grabbing.

"We have a government policy to reclaim forests - from investors, but not from poor people. With shrimp farmers, it's generally investors," Somsak said.

A new mixed land-use policy will allow communities in southern Nakhon Sri Thammarat province to use degraded mangroves for income, on the condition that half the area is maintained as mangroves or converted back to them, he said.


Once the leading exporter of shrimp, Thailand has been hit hard in the past few years by a deadly disease called early mortality syndrome that wiped out shrimp populations, as well as by widespread reports of migrant labour rights abuses.

The government and seafood industry have scrambled to bring in measures to clean up labour violations in their supply chains.

On the farming front, the Thai Department of Fisheries is encouraging more environment-friendly production systems to avoid disease and decrease pollution.

That includes planting trees to act as a filtration system, using natural rather than artificial feed, and steering clear of pesticides, fungicides and antibiotics.

The IUCN is working with shrimp farmers in Thailand, Vietnam and Bangladesh to restore mangroves and use them sustainably. With support from the conservation agency, farmers like Surakit are sharing best practices with their neighbours and across the country.

Surakit's marine shrimp farm is among the first to be certified organic by the Thai government.

Fifteen other farmers living nearby are on track to be certified this year, which would increase the organic shrimp farming area in the community tenfold, to almost 100 hectares.

Organic yields are much lower, but each shrimp grows much larger. Surakit says he raises two to five shrimp per square metre, compared to 20 to 30 per square metre on intensive farms.

His organic shrimp sell at a higher price - up to $27 per kg, compared to $14 per kg for the largest shrimp from an intensive farm.

Furthermore, input costs are lower, and organic ponds have a longer lifespan than intensively farmed ponds, which often become so overrun by disease and pollution they are abandoned.

The plush JW Marriott Hotel in Bangkok buys shrimp from Surakit. In Vietnam, where the IUCN piloted its mangroves and markets programme, more than 700 farmers are certified organic and selling to European markets.

"Mangroves are a supermarket for humans," said Somsak of the mangrove conservation office, describing a food chain from leaves and parasites to crabs, fish and humans.

"The main producer is the trees, and everyone else is in the chain of consumers. When humans cut the trees, it's the end. The food chain is broken." (Reporting by Alisa Tang, editing by Megan Rowling. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, corruption and climate change. Visit

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Malaysia: Decline in orphaned orang utan shows Sabah move is effective

The Star 2 Feb 16;

KOTA KINABALU: Sabah’s move to protect key orang utan habitats in the state’s east coast is paying off with a sharp decline in orphaned animals being sent to a rehabilitation centre in Sepilok.

Sabah Wildlife Department assistant director Dr Sen Nathan said only two orang utan were brought to the centre, about 30km from Sandakan, last year.

In comparison, the centre received about 15 to 20 orang utan two or three decades ago.

“This decline is mainly because as much as 80% of orang utan habitat are now protected, thanks to the efforts of the Forestry Department,” Sen added.

He said these areas included the Ulu Segama-Malua forest reserve, Dermakot as well as the Lower Kinabatangan wildlife sanctuary.

Sen said that Sepilok and the adjoining 4,300ha Kabili forest reserve were home to dozens of the rehabilitated creatures that now had their own offspring.

Meanwhile, a 20-year orang utan rehabilitation and conservation programme is set to come to an end in April with the last three orphaned primates returned to the Sepilok rehabilitation centre.

The programme is being run by the Sabah Wildlife Department and Shangri-La’s Rasa Ria Resort & Spa.

Launched in 1996 under Shangri-La’s orang utan care project, the orphaned primates were provided sanctuary within a private 25.9ha nature reserve belonging to the resort.

Nearly 40 orphaned primates had completed the first phase of their rehabilitation under the care of trained rangers.

They would be sent for a reintegration programme in Sepilok first.

After this stint they will be released to the nearby Kabili Sepilok Forest Reserve.

General manager of Shangri-La’s Rasa Ria Resort & Spa Jonathan Reynolds said the resort was grateful for the opportunity to bring close to 12,000 students from 276 schools in Sabah to view the pro-ject.

“They can better understand the need to protect these endangered primates,” he said.

The programme, however, had its own share of critics, especially from conservationist and non-governmental organisations, who claimed that the orang utan were being exploited for tourism.

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Malaysia: Mangrove oasis in jeopardy

VICTORIA BROWN The Star 2 Feb 16;

KUALA SELANGOR: Walking through the green oasis of Kuala Selangor Nature Park mangroves, with chirping birds and the occasional rustle of leaves from climbing monkeys, it saddens me that such a pristine ecosystem full of wildlife and beauty are slowly diminishing.

Malaysia has an extensive area of wetlands, with the Malaysian Wetland Directory listing over a hundred wetland sites, including mangroves, mudflats, river systems and tropical peat swamp forests.

Wetlands are vital ecosystems that provide food, filter water, reduce flood risk, increase resilience to storms and offer a unique habitat for a variety of species.

More than a billion people make their living from wetlands. Hence this year's World Wetlands Day theme, that falls on Feb 2, is aptly 'Wetlands for our Future: Sustainable Livelihood'.

However, these valuable ecosystems are degrading rapidly due to pollution, conversion for agriculture plantations and development purposes.

Wetlands International Malaysia resource development officer Kamaliah Kasmaruddin said that these development activities will have a long term impact on the environment and community.

“For example, the degradation of mangrove areas will affect coastal erosion, it will effect the sea level, and will affect the inundation of land,” she said.

“When there’s coastal erosion, the fishermen will suffer because there are no more fish,” said Kamaliah.

She said that with coastal erosion, we will be losing more land space. And despite efforts to reclaim the land by building banks, Kamaliah said that hard structure engineering cannot replicate the natural foundation mangroves provide.

The dense root systems of mangrove forests trap sediments flowing down rivers and off the land, that helps to stabilize the coastline and prevent erosion from waves and storms.

Kamaliah said that by clearing wetlands due to agriculture, aquaculture or other types of development can have profound effects on the functioning of wetlands.

A Wetlands International commissioned case study on Rajang Delta in Sarawak shows that about 87% of Rajang Delta may be flooded within 100 years if current peatland management is continued.

Wetlands International Malaysia technical officer Yong Huai Mei said that peatland subsidence will cause flooding, rendering half of Rajang Delta unsuitable for any agriculture cultivation.

“Such flooding is due to the conversion of peat swamp forest to agriculture. The grower will need to drain the water from the peatlands and then compact the peatlands.

“This will bring down the water which will cause peatland subsidence,” said Yong.

Yong said that areas in Rajang Delta are already experiencing drainage problems. But if nothing is done to address the problem, it will lead to extensive flooding across the peatland.

“It is an irreversible process unless we have more investment to build dikes and pumps to pump out the water. Otherwise, they would lose the productive land,” said Yong.

Yong said that the findings of the study is "scary", especially since many people live near Rajang Delta.

“Imagine that their houses could be occasionally flooded and they may need to leave their home. It is very dangerous,” said Yong.

Kamaliah said that there is no point in having short term gains with bad effects in the long term.

She gave the example of the Netherlands, where two thirds of the country is vulnerable to flooding due to the development of peat swamps and mangrove areas.

“Now, they are suffering from their losses because there is no way that you can secure the land without mangrove areas and peat swamp forests,” she said.

The risk of flooding has led to the installation of river dikes, drainage ditches and pumping stations.

“Can you imagine how much that will cost? We also hear about the faulty pumps and things like that. So we wouldn’t want that happening in Malaysia,” said Kamaliah.

Kamaliah said that proper calculations and environmental impact assessments are not being carried out properly.

“We are actually not doing a cost effective approach for development. That is one of the biggest problems,” she said.

“We are losing more and more land space. What is happening is that we are clearing wetlands, then it doesn’t function, and it will become barren.

“So that piece of land is no longer providing any services for us.

“The services that is provided by the ecosystem is the most valuable. You cannot really replicate these kind of things in constructed wetlands or in any manmade structure,” said Kamaliah.

Kamaliah said that many communities also depend on wetlands to earn a living.

“The resources it provides are the wood and timber of the mangrove area. And fishermen depend on wetlands to catch cockles, crabs, fish,” she said.

“There are a lot of resources that can be used in wetlands.

“Without the wetlands area, I think it really opens up a whole new level of vulnerability against the community,” said Kamaliah.

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Malaysia: Carcass on Terengganu beach was of Melon Headed Whale

ZARINA ABDULLAH New Straits Times 31 Jan 16;

KUALA TERENGGANU: The carcass of a sea creature found at Kampung Beting Lintang beach last Thursday has been identified as a Melon Headed Whale.

State Fishery Department director Abdul Khalil Abdul Karim said their checks showed that the whale died in the ocean and had washed up on the beach following recent rough sea conditions.

The carcass was spotted on the beach by villagers.

"It was nearly decomposed, making it hard for our researchers to check," he said when contacted.

Abdul Khalil said the animal carcass, measuring about 6.8 metres, was buried on Friday afternoon.

"It was learnt that the whale was moving with a pod but became separated, and it later died," he said.

On Thursday, the State Fishery Department had dispatched a team of researchers to determine whether the animal carcass found at Kampung Beting Lintang beach was that of a whale.

The picture of the partly decomposed animal went viral after it was photographed on the beach near Kampung Beting Lintang.

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Malaysia: '500 dengue cases reported a day'

THARANYA ARUMUGAM New Straits Times 1 Feb 16;

KUALA LUMPUR: The Health Ministry has raised the alarm about dengue outbreak, urging the people and agencies to act urgently to put in place measures to contain the situation before it worsens.

From 2000 to Jan 16 this year, 707,227 dengue cases have been reported with 1,721 deaths.

In 2000, the Health Ministry recorded 7,103 dengue cases and 42 deaths. But merely two weeks into this year, 6,837 cases and 14 deaths were reported, an average of more than 500 cases a day.

Health deputy director-general (public health) Datuk Dr Lokman Hakim Sulaiman said the main factors contributing to the sharp rise in the disease were poor environmental cleanliness, littering and poor garbage management.

He also cited mobility of the population, high population densities and rapid urbanisation as being other factors.

Aside from that, he said, the El Nino phenomenon that was expected to last until next month would lead to warmer temperatures. Mosquitoes will breed actively, increasing the frequency of mosquito bites and the spread of dengue virus.

“In the dry and hot weather, the life cycle of an Aedes mosquito, from the egg to the adult stage, will be shorter and this will increase the mosquito population.

“The density of Aedes mosquitoes will also increase two weeks after the rainy season, leading to a jump in dengue cases.

“The local authorities should not be (solely) blamed because there are many factors that cause the spike in dengue cases,” he told the New Straits Times.

Dr Lokman said to ensure environmental cleanliness, the local authorities should increase enforcement activities, especially in illegal rubbish dumping sites, and make arrangements for timely garbage collection at least thrice a week.

“Apart from ensuring a proper solid waste management and a clean environment, the authorities should step up dengue control activities, especially in the Klang Valley.

“This involves active participation from the Shah Alam, Petaling Jaya, Kajang, Gombak and Klang municipal councils.

“These are ‘rich’ local authorities and, therefore, they should invest more resources in dengue control activities and implement recycling programmes.”

Dr Lokman said the key strategy to reduce dengue cases was to empower the community through “source reduction” activities and clean-up campaigns.

Global evidence, he said, showed that dengue control could never be achieved or sustained without community empowerment and ownership.
“However, in reality, the sustainability of community involvement in dengue prevention is very difficult to establish.”

Dr Lokman said Aedes mosquitoes could be predominantly found in urban areas, especially in densely populated places such as the Klang Valley, Petaling, Hulu Langat, Klang, Gombak and Kinta, which have the highest number of hot spots in Malaysia.

Last year, Selangor topped the list with the highest number of dengue cases and fatalities at 63,198 cases and 127 deaths, followed by Johor (15,743 cases) and Perak (9,466 cases).

Dr Lokman said to overcome the dengue menace, the Health Ministry would strengthen dengue prevention and control activities, including improving environmental cleanliness by all agencies and the public, and increasing source reduction activities.

The ministry, he said, would also promote and implement cleanliness campaigns and activities in vacant lands, residential areas, construction sites and other premises with a high Aedes-breeding index.

“We will increase enforcement, especially in construction sites, with other agencies such as the Construction Industry Development Board, Occupational Safety and Health Department and local authorities.”

Dr Lokman noted that it was high time for the authorities to increase punitive measures instead of merely urging people to cooperate in eradicating mosquito-breeding grounds.

“The Destruction of Disease Bearing Insect Act 1975 should be strictly enforced. We will continue to issue compound to households that breed Aedes.

“We will also continue to focus on construction sites and issue stop-work order for two weeks if any premise is found to be a breeding ground and bring them to court for repeated offences, as we have done before. As such, the public will be more cautious and play a more proactive role in dengue prevention activities.”

Dr Lokman noted that everyone was the risk of being infected with dengue virus, especially in the urban area where Aedes-mosquito breeding sites were in abundance as a result of illegal dumping and littering.

All age groups, he said, were at risk of dengue infection, with the most vulnerable group being in the productive age bracket of 15 to 49.

Dr Lokman said 27 per cent of those aged between 20 and 30 were diagnosed with dengue fever.

“This is the active age group with a high mobility. They will be at risk of getting dengue while going to work in the early morning and after office hours in the late evening, which is also the peak biting time of Aedes mosquitoes.

“To prevent mosquito bites, the public is advised to use mosquito repellent and wear long-sleeved shirt and long pants, especially during the peak biting time (5am to 7am and 5pm to 7pm).”

Dengue claims first Johor victim
ZAZALI MUSA The Star 2 Feb 16;

JOHOR BARU: The state claimed its first dengue victim this year – a 42-year-old male from Taman Tebrau Jaya near here.

Johor Health and Environment committee chairman Datuk Ayub Rahmat said there were 563 dengue cases in Johor between Jan 17 to 23 – down by 16 cases from the previous week.

However, he said there were 1,655 cases reported in the first three weeks of the year compared to 486 during the corresponding period of 2015.

“Although we only recorded one death in January against two last year, we are not resting on our laurels,” said Ayub.

He said the Johor Baru district recorded the highest number of dengue cases in the state with 77.9% of the 563 cases between Jan 17 and 23, followed by Kulai with 5.2%, Batu Pahat (3.6%), Kluang and Segamat (3.4%) each, Kota Tinggi (2.8%), Pontian (1.8%), Muar (0,9%), Tangkak (0.7%) and Mersing (0.4%).

“Johor Baru people have only themselves to blame for failing to maintain the cleanliness of their surroundings, which has contributed to the rise of dengue cases in the Johor Baru district,” said Ayub.

He said the anti-dengue programmes and the deployment of personnel from the health departments from other districts on a rotation basis did not yield the desired results.

“The only way to prevent dengue from spreading is to practise the highest standards of hygiene, but sadly most urbanites are not doing that,” Ayub said.

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Malaysia: ‘Zika virus found in Malaysia in 1969’

LOH FOON FONG The Star 2 Feb 16;

PETALING JAYA: Zika is an existing virus in Malaysia and the steps needed to prevent its infection are similar to those adopted for dengue, said a researcher.

World Health Organisation’s (WHO) Collaborating Centre for Arbovirus Reference and Research director Prof Dr Sazaly Abu Bakar said the Zika virus was isolated from mosquitoes in 1969 in Bentong, Pahang.

However, the origin of the virus discovered in Malaysia was not known since it was not studied to determine its genome, he said.

“It may have come from Africa or could be native to our country and found in our monkeys and mosquitoes,” he added.

Dr Sazaly said they had not seen the virus since 1969 because no one had looked for it.

According to WHO, Zika virus is an emerging mosquito-borne virus that was first identified in Uganda in 1947 in the rhesus monkeys.

It was subsequently identified in humans in 1952 in Uganda and Tanzania. Outbreaks of Zika virus disease have been recorded in Africa, the Americas, Asia and the Pacific.

Asked why the world had had the virus for so long but the issue of babies born with small brains (microcephaly) only started to emerge recently, Dr Sazaly said the size of an outbreak possibly amplified the otherwise rare event.

“The ways to prevent Zika infection are similar to the methods used in dengue prevention,” he said.

“If we tackle dengue, we tackle Zika too.”

Universiti Malaya research consultant Prof Emeritus Datuk Dr Lam Sai Kit said since the Zika virus was first isolated in 1969 by a team of American scientists, a German traveller was diagnosed with mild Zika infection upon her return to Germany in September 2014, after visiting Sabah.

“It looks like Zika has been around this region for decades and accounts for mild infections,” he said.

There was still no conclusive evidence that Zika virus was the cause of microcephaly although the link was strong, he said.

“If microcephaly is indeed caused by Zika virus, then the present strain in Brazil has possibly undergone changes and become more neurogenic.

“One needs to then study the genes of this strain and compare the findings with past strains,” he said.

Zika virus found here in 1969?
OLIVIA MIWIL New Straits Times 1 Feb 16;

KOTA KINABALU: More studies are needed to determine the status of the Zika virus infection, which resembles dengue.

A United States’ Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report said a woman from Germany had possibly contracted the disease in Keningau, Sabah, two years ago.

This was revealed by Universiti Malaysia Sabah Entomologist Associate Professor Dr Chua Tock Hing in a talk organised by Jesselton Medical Centre here on Saturday to increase awareness among the public on tackling the rise in dengue cases.

However, Chua said despite the finding, dengue was the main concern in Sabah. “The dengue and Zika viruses are carried by the Aedes aegypti mosquito. Here, dengue is more commonly found.”

But he said there was a need for more studies on the Zika virus.

Chua, an expert on mosquitoes, was referring to a CDC report, “Emerging Infectious Diseases” Volume 21 — Number 5, May 2015.

The report said the 45-year-old woman from Heidelberg, Germany, fell ill six days after her return from a three-week vacation in Malaysia in August 2014.

She developed high fever, rashes, hearing difficulties, swelling and burning sensation on her hands, but recovered after three days of treatment.

The report also cited a study by Marchette NJ, Garcia R and Rudrick A on isolation of Zika virus from Aedes aegypti mosquitoes in Malaysia, which shows that antibodies against Zika virus were detected in 15 out of 79 people in Peninsular Malaysia and nine out of 50 in Sabah in 1969.

The World Health Organisation recently issued an advisory for pregnant women against travelling to countries with Zika virus cases to prevent birth defects to newborns.

Meanwhile, infectious diseases specialist Dr Timothy William urged the people to seek immediate medical attention to prevent complications due to dengue fever.

“Patients can be closely monitored, especially during critical phases, if they are hospitalised.

Two in 1,000 patients died from complications, such as organ failure and shock (profuse internal bleeding).”

PM wants Health Ministry to take preventive measures on Dengue, Zika virus
BERNAMA New Straits Times 3 Feb 16;

KUALA LUMPUR: Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak has instructed the Health Ministry to take preventive measures to protect the people from dengue fever and Zika virus.

He also wanted all parties, including government agencies, non-governmental organisations and the people in general, to join hands in combating Aedes mosquito which was the agent of infection for both diseases.

“I am aware of the dengue situation in several areas in the country and also the public concerns regarding the alarming spread of Zika virus in many areas in America,” he said in the latest posting in his blog

Najib said more rigorous monitoring activity was needed as the country’s hot weather was very conducive for the breeding of Aedes mosquitoes.

“We need to prevent and destroy the source or vector of both diseases, that is Aedes mosquitoes. Do not given them any room to breed,” he said.

Following the spread of Zika virus, the World Health Organisation (WHO) had declared it as a Public Health Emergency Of International Concern (PHEIC). -- Bernama

Zika virus: Health Ministry to issue guidelines in next 48 hours
SARBAN SINGH The Star 2 Feb 16;

SEREMBAN: The Health Ministry will issue a comprehensive set of guidelines in the next 48 hours on plans to combat the mosquito borne Zika virus following a declaration by the World Health Organisation that it has become an international public health emergency.

Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr S Subramaniam said in the meantime Malaysians planning to visit South America should postpone travel plans.

"We are aware of the WHO advisory and are treating the matter seriously," he told reporters after launching the "Watch Your Weight, Watch Your Calories" healthy eating campaign at the south bound R&R along the North-South Expressway here Tuesday.

Subramanian said Malaysia was also at risk as the disease was spread by the aedes mosquito.

"The mosquito is the only vector that spreads Zika.

"So what we need to focus on is eradicating the vector to check the spread of the deadly virus here," he said.

Dr Subramaniam said another challenge faced by the authorities was the fact that carriers of the virus hardly displayed any symptoms.

"There is also no vaccine or known treatment for it," he said.

Dr Subramaniam said his ministry would also advise those returning from South America to be cautious if they experienced lethargy and any weakness in their limbs.

WHO declared the disease an international public health emergency when tens of thousands of babies were born in Brazil with damaged brains. The victims also had unusually small heads. The condition has been linked to, but not proven to be caused by the Zika virus.

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Malaysia: Protecting Terengganu's coastline against erosion

ROSLI ZAKARIA New Straits Times 1 Feb 16;

KUALA TERENGGANU: Climate change, which has affected the weather patterns poses a new challenge for the Irrigation and Drainage Department in redesigning beach protection measures to prevent damage in areas with economic value along the Terengganu coastline.

The recent high tide and rough sea conditions that battered the breakwaters and beach revetments have provided clues on the seriousness of beach erosion and the threat it posed to fishing villages, as well as measures to protect the beach.

Although the structures, completed last year following the big floods, were able to withstand the rough weather, they, however, failed to protect the entire stretch.

“Beaches protected by breakwaters and revetments were not affected, but a section of the beach just a few metres from the structures suffered serious erosion.

“We can see this in Paka (Dungun), Tok Jembal (Kuala Nerus) and Gong Batu (Setiu),” state Irrigation and Drainage Department director C. Poobalan told the New Straits Times recently.

“Tanjung Gelam in Kuala Nerus had a couple of houses destroyed by rough seas.

This stretch is not protected by a breakwater.

“In Gong Batu, the beach was protected by a strip of sandbars. But, in the recent rough sea condition, sea water breached it and flowed into Sungai Setiu.

“This encroachment will affect the salinity of water in Sungai Setiu and may affect aquaculture activity in Gong Batu,” he said, adding that the department had initiated efforts to protect the bund with geobags and geotubes.

Poobalan said culverts that acted as a retaining wall would be placed along the affected stretch.

In Tok Jembal, he said, the state government had provided funds to reinforce the beach revetments as a temporary measure to stop further erosion along the unprotected stretch.

“We will build a breakwater along this stretch.

The length of the breakwater will depend on the model proposed by the National Coastal Erosion Study that will be discussed next week.

The last study was in 1985.

“The criteria for beach protection have changed due to changes in the weather patterns influenced by the global climate change.

“The study will help the department to plan mitigation measures and prioritise it according to zones,” he added.

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Indonesia: Sago forest in Papua needs preservation

Antara 31 Jan 16;

Sorong, West Papua (ANTARA News) - Sago forest in Papua needs to be preserved in a sustainable manner because it is a food reserve for the local community, according to West Papua environmentalist Benny Yesnat.

"Sago is the staple food of the indigenous people of Papua since time immemorial. Even without rice, the Papuan people can consume sago for survival," said Benny Yesnat in Sorong on Sunday.

Therefore, he called on the people of Papua to preserve sago forest, and do not destroy it for agriculture and other development interests.

"Sago forests should not be burned to clear land for plantations, especially oil palm plantations which can only damage the humus, the substance made from dead leaves and plants for soil fertility," Yesnat noted.

According to him, sago plants not only serve as food reserve, but also protect the water source for the life of Papuan community in general.

Therefore, he added that the indigenous people of Papua and West Papua must maintain this local wisdom for generations in the future.

He affirmed that sago many benefits to peoples lives. Besides serving as food reserve, sago leaves can be used as the roof of traditional houses.

Further, he expressed hope that the indigenous people of Papua can unite to reject irresponsible parties who want to turn sago forests into oil palm plantation.(*)

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Indonesia: Zika detected in Jambi last year, braces for further cases

Jon Afrizal, The Jakarta Post 31 Jan 16;

Indonesia has stepped up measures in anticipation of the possible spread of the Zika virus in the wake of revelations that the mosquito-borne disease had actually been detected in the Sumatra province of Jambi last year.

Jambi Health Agency head Andi Pada confirmed on Saturday that a study held by the Jakarta-based Eijkman Institute for Molecular Biology between December 2014 and April 2015 had found that one local resident had been infected by Zika, a virus suspected to cause a rare birth defect.

The study, she said, had been held during a dengue fever outbreak in the province and had taken more than 100 blood samples from patients admitted to Siloam Hospital in Jambi municipality during the period.

The patient suspected of being infected with Zika, identified as a 27-year-old male, had initially visited the hospital complaining of high fever, but his initial blood test came back negative for dengue fever.

“After thorough examination, it turned out that the man had contracted the Zika virus,” Andi explained.

To prevent the possible spread of Zika, Andi said her agency had been intensively cooperating with local schools to maintain cleanliness and eliminate Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, the insect that transmits the virus, from within the school environment.

“We must prevent the spread of the virus, particularly among children,” she said.

Health authorities are increasingly concerned about the spread of the dengue-like Zika virus since scientists in northeastern Brazil witnessed a surge in cases of microcephaly, a rare birth defect that sees babies born with unusually small heads. The virus can affect motor skills and cause mental retardation.

Brazilian health officials have since linked Zika to the microcephaly cases, with the country recording nearly 4,000 suspected cases of microcephaly since October last year.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the virus is likely to spread to all countries in the Americas except for Canada and Chile.

The WHO also reported that the disease’s rapid spread was due to a lack of immunity among the population and the prevalence of active Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, which also transmit chikungunya and dengue fever.

Earlier this week, the Health Ministry claimed that there was no reason to panic over the possible spread of Zika, saying that no infections had been reported in the country, or even in the ASEAN region.

On Friday, however, Eijkman researchers announced that they had in fact detected the country’s first known Zika suspect in Jambi during their research last year.

A researcher from Eijkman’s emerging virus unit, Frilasita Yudhaputri, said there was reason to believe that the virus has been spreading in Jambi, as the suspect had never in his entire life left the province.

“We have already reported the finding to the Health Ministry via the technology, research and higher education minister in September 2015,” Frilasita said, adding that cases of the virus had probably gone undetected, with sufferers wrongly diagnosed with dengue fever.

Zika and dengue fever show similar early symptoms, such as fever, rashes and joint pain. However, the clinical manifestation of Zika is not as severe as dengue fever, which can lead to shock and death.

Ratna Budi Hapsari, the head of the emerging infectious diseases sub-directorate at the Health Ministry, meanwhile, said that the ministry’s long-term data showed that Zika infections occurred only very rarely in Indonesia.

“We have never declared an emergency [relating to the virus]. Most Zika patients don’t even need to be hospitalized,” Ratna said.

Jambi preparing for spread of Zika virus
Jon Afrizal, 30 Jan 16;

A doctor draw blood from Luana, who was born with microcephaly, at the Oswaldo Cruz Hospital in Recife, Brazil, Thursday. Brazilian officials still say they believe there's a sharp increase in cases of microcephaly and strongly suspect the Zika virus, which first appeared in the country last year, is to blame. The concern is strong enough that the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this month warned pregnant women to reconsider visits to areas where Zika is present. (AP/Felipe Dana)
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The Jambi Health Agency is anticipating the possible spread of the Zika virus in the province in the wake of an outbreak of the disease in a number of Latin American countries, an official says.

“We have instructed all heads of regency and city health agencies to carry out prevention efforts,” Jambi Health Agency head Andi Pada told in Jambi on Saturday.

The Zika virus had been detected in Jambi during an outbreak of dengue fever that hit the province from December 2014 to April 2015, said Eijkman Biological Molecular Institute deputy director Herawati Sudoyo as reported by on Friday.

Andi confirmed that the Eijkman Biological Molecular Institute had carried out research on those afflicted with dengue fever in the province from 2014 to 2015.

After taking patients’ blood samples, he said, the institute noticed that many of the samples were not infected by dengue fever virus, and carried out further research into the samples. It was subsequently realized that one of the samples was infected by the Zika virus.

The main effort of the prevention efforts was to prevent the reproduction of Aedes Aegypti mosquitoes, which transmit dengue fever and the Zika virus to humans, Andi said. “We’re cooperating with schools to clean up the environment and eliminate the nests of the mosquitoes,” he explained.

The Zika virus was first discovered in Africa in 1947, but until last year, when it was found in Brazil, it had never been a threat in the Western Hemisphere.

The most common symptoms of Zika are fevers, rashes, joint pain and conjunctivitis. The illness is usually mild, with symptoms lasting for several days to a week, but there is mounting evidence from Brazil that infection in pregnant women is linked to abnormally small heads in their babies — a birth defect called microcephaly. (bbn)

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Indonesia: W. Sumatra hit by landslides, strong winds

The Jakarta Post 1 Feb 16;

At least a dozen landslides occurred over the weekend in Agam regency, West Sumatra, following heavy downpours. Meanwhile, strong winds in Bukittinggi municipality damaged the roofs of a number of houses on Sunday morning.

West Sumatra Disaster Mitigation Agency (BPBD) logistics and emergency affairs head R. Pagar Negara said one of the landslides had taken place on the banks of the River Jariang in Agam, damaging a house and injuring a 6-month-old baby.

A larger landslide also struck Jl Nagari Panta in Ampek Koto district.

“The landslide hit several cars and a truck carrying fish. The road is now only passable by motorcycles, and the alternative route was also hit by landslides in six spots,” Pagar said on Sunday.

In Bukittinggi, strong winds blew away the roofs of homes in Manggis Ganting subdistrict; the damage was still being calculated, Pagar said.

Floods inundate three villages in Pekalongan, Central Java
Antara 1 Feb 16;

Pekalongan (ANTARA News) - Floods triggered by incessant heavy rains since Sunday evening have submerged hundreds of homes in three villages in Pekalongan District, Central Java Province.

The affected villages were Bener located in Wiradesa Sub-district, and Tegaldowo as well as Jeruksari villages in Tirto Sub-district, head of the Pekalongan disaster mitigation office (BPBD) Bambang Sujatmiko stated here on Monday.

The floodwaters, reaching a height of up to 40 centimeters, also inundated several schools and prevented the local inhabitants from conducting their routine daily activities, 30-year-old local resident Muhammad stated.

In the meantime, floods had also inundated four villages in Kota Baru Sub-district, Ende District, East Nusa Tenggara Province, over the weekend.

Several homes and public infrastructure were damaged in the flooding, which also affected the local cattle.

The floods were triggered by incessant heavy rains that had fallen in Kota Baru since Saturday (Jan. 30).

The local authorities have dispatched relief aid and collected data on the damage and material losses inflicted by the natural disaster.

Based on information from the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG), almost 90 percent of Indonesia will experience heavy rains and strong winds that could continue until the second week of February.

Some 63.7 million people in Indonesia are currently living in flood prone areas. Of this number, 40.9 million people are living in areas prone to landslides, according to information from the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB).

As the country is still grappling with the impacts of El Nino, the BMKG recently announced that another natural phenomenon called La Nina, which is the opposite of El Nino and usually triggers a heavy rainy season in Indonesia, is forecast to begin in September 2016.(*)

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Indonesia: US Signs $30 Million Grant for Peat Restoration Projects

Vanesha Manuturi Jakarta Globe 1 Feb 16;

Jakarta. The United States, through its foreign aid agency Millennium Challenge Corporation, recently pledged a total of $30 million for two projects which aim to help restore and protect Indonesia's peat land areas in light of last year's fire and haze crisis.

The two projects will involve dedicating $17 million to the Berbak Green Prosperity Project, which will restore the hydrology of peat swamp forests in Jambi and reduce peat fires. The projects will also involve a $13 million agreement with three palm oil mills in Riau, the US ambassador to Indonesia, Robert Blake, told a panel discussion at the Climate Festival hosted by the Environment and Forestry Ministry in Jakarta on Monday.

"This is just part of what will be a wider US government effort to support Indonesia's Peatland Restoration Agency," Blake said in the statement, referring to the government's newly-formed agency tasked with restoring peat lands and other areas affected by last year's forest fires, such as Jambi and Papua.

Blake noted that the Berbak Green project will also involve training sessions for smallholder farmers to increase production, facilitate the advancement of their oil palm certifications and assist them in building a community-based palm oil mill.

The second project, according to Blake, is an agreement with three palm oil mills in Riau for biogas power plants based on palm oil mill effluent, which refers to the waste water discharged from processing crude oil, while also helping independent smallholders in each mill's supply base to gain certification from the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO).

"This grant alone is expected to produce 3 megawatts of renewable energy from biogas, [an] equivalent amount of electricity to power 9,000 rural homes," Blake said.

The agreement would also capture 117,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide per year, equivalent to emissions from 785 million kilometers driven annually, as well as "improve the productivity and management practices for 2,000 independent smallholders," Blake added.

Aside from the grants from the Millennium Challenge Corporation, the US has also committed to its role in helping Indonesia's climate change agenda through the government agency USAID, which recently launched a new portfolio of projects to address climate change and support low carbon emissions, according to Blake.

The new portfolio includes $47 million for forest conservation and land use planning, $24 million for land use policy and conversation advocacy, $19 million for climate change adaptation, $19 million for clean energy and $5 million for forest research, he added.

"The United States, for its part, has prioritized our partnership to help Indonesia in taking steps to both combat climate change and increase Indonesia’s resilience to climate change," Blake said.

"It is difficult to put a figure on it, but over the past five years, and including these future new projects, the US will have invested approximately $1 billion dollars toward improving the management of the Indonesian environment."

US announces new support for Indonesia’s climate change goals 1 Feb 16;

US Ambassador Robert Blake on Monday announced two new projects aimed at bolstering the work of the newly formed Peatland Restoration Agency during the Environment and Forestry Ministry-sponsored Climate Festival.

He said the two projects, funded under the Millennium Challenge Corporation’s compact with Indonesia, were part of the US government’s strong support for Indonesia’s climate change goals.

“The projects will help restore and protect the country’s peatland areas, which have been threatened by fire in recent years, and when burned are a major contributor to the release of greenhouse gases,” Blake said.

The first initiative, a US$17 million program known as the Berbak Green Prosperity Project, will help to restore the water of peat swamp forests in Jambi. The restoration of this system will help to eventually decrease the prevalence of peat fires in the province.

“The Berbak project will also provide training to increase production of local agriculture and will facilitate smallholder oil palm certifications and community-based palm oil mill effluent renewable energy systems,” the US embassy said in a statement on Monday.

The second initiative is a $13 million agreement with three palm oil mills in Riau Province for biogas power plants utilizing palm oil mill effluent and assisting independent smallholders in each mill’s supply base to become RSPO certified.

This grant alone is expected to produce 3 MW of renewable energy from biogas, the equivalent amount of electricity needed to power 9,000 rural homes; capture 117,000 tCO2e/year, which is equivalent to emissions from vehicles driving 785 million kilometers per year. It is also expected that the project can improve productivity and management practices for 2,000 independent smallholders.

The US embassy said these two programs, both of which will be implemented by an Indonesian agency, the Millennium Challenge Account – Indonesia (MCA-I), were part of the US government’s overall support for Indonesia’s commitment to reduce carbon emissions and protect vulnerable peatlands.

Apart from these projects, the US, through the US Agency for International Development (USAID), has recently launched a new portfolio of projects to address climate change and support Indonesia's goal of reducing emissions by 29 percent by 2030.

According to the embassy, USAID will partner with the Indonesian government to help conserve and sustainably manage 8.4 million hectares of forest and peatland that can serve as carbon sinks.

The embassy further said that USAID would help eliminate 4.5 tons of greenhouse gas emissions and leverage $800 million in private sector investment in clean energy for five million citizens.

“USAID will also help protect local communities from the effects of a changing climate and more extreme weather by assisting national and provincial governments implement effective climate change adaptation strategies.”

The US embassy said USAID had also invested more than $38 million into environmental initiatives in 2015.

“Moving forward, we have a planned investment of $47 million for forest conservation and land use planning, $24 million for land use policy and conservation advocacy, $19 million for global climate change adaptation, $19 for clean energy and $5 million for forest research,” it said.

“These programs are a sign of our commitment to working in partnership with Indonesia to combat the causes of climate change and to help the country achieve its goal of reducing emissions in the future.” (ebf)

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Indonesia: Sukamade beach home for thousands of sea turtles

Antara 31 Jan 16;

Jember (ANTARA News) - Thousands of sea turtles have landed in Sukamade Beach in the Meru Betiri National Park of East Java to lay eggs during the nesting season in 2015, an official said.

"In 2015, we recorded there were 1,557 sea turtles arriving in the beach," Head of Meru Betiri National Park Authority Pranoto Puroso said here on Sunday.

However, 751 out of the 1,557 turtles were in the status of locally called "memeti", a condition where the sea turtles do not manage to lay eggs.

There were four species of sea turtles recorded to land in Sukamade Beach, namely green (Chelonia mydas), Olive ridley (Lepdochelys olivaceae), hawksbill (Eretmochlys imbricata), and leatherback sea turtles (Dermochleys coriaceae).

The green sea turtle was the most common visitor to the Sukamade Beach.

The authority counted 1,488 green sea turtles landed in the beach, 64 olive ridley and five hawksbill sea turtles.

However, last year, they did not encountered any leatherback sea turtle visit to the beach.

Thousands of sea turtles came to the Sukamade Beach which is located in Sorangan Village, Pseanggaran Subdistrict of Banyuwangi District due to its white and delicate sand and the abundant algae, sea turtles favourite meals, in its water, Puroso said.

Officers of the national parks authority were deployed everyday to patrol on the beach.

"After we found a sea turtle laying eggs, officers would move the eggs to the conservation area as sea turtle eggs poaching is still rampant along the coast of Sukamade Beach of Banyuwangi," Puroso said.

Sukamade Beach is considered one of the best habitat of sea turtles in Indonesia as sea turtles can be found everyday landing in the beach which stretches 3 kilometers long at the southern coast of Java Island.

"The preservation of the endangered species such as sea turtles will be impossible without a full cooperation between the national park authority and the local people," Puroso said.

In other part of Indonesia such as in Padang, West Sumatra Province, the authority found sea turtle eggs poaching is still rampant.

Four suspects were arrested with confiscated 362 sea turtle eggs believed to have been poached from green sea and hawksbill sea turtles.

Deputy Director of Special Crime Investigation Unit (Reskrimsus) of West Sumatra Police Office, Adjunct Senior Commissioner Hengki, said four regions in West Sumatra have been identified as being prone to illegal trade in sea turtle eggs, namely Padang municipality, the districts of Pesisir Selatan, Padang Pariaman, and West Pasaman.

(Reporting by Zumrotun Solichah/Uu.A059/B003)

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Philippines: Save the mudflats

Amado S. Tolentino Jr. Manila Times 1 Feb 16;

“Rain and snowmelt flow down towards the sea from the mountain height,watering forests and marshes and filling lakes and ponds along the way.Living things grow along the water’s stream which supports our daily lives as well.”

It’s World Wetlands Day today (February 2).

WETLANDS (lupaing tubig) are “where water meets life.” The Ramsar Convention for the Conservation of Wetlands (1971), about which the Philippines is a Party, identifies 42 wetlands type. Among these are mangrove areas, seagrass beds, rivers, freshwater lakes, marshlands, rice paddies, coral reefs, peatlands and mudflats. The least known are peatlands and mudflats.

For purposes of climate change adaptation governance, peatlands as known in soil science are rich in plant species sustained only by nutrient-poor rainfall but enriched by trophic salts from rivers. Aside from providing important habitats for species, they also capture carbon and store it away from the atmosphere.

Mudflats, on the other hand, are low-lying coastal lands overflowed during flood tide when water is affected by the ebb and flow of the tide. When exposed and submerged repeatedly, rich and nutritious sediments from the sea are deposited there to build up a rich community of micro organisms and benthos. The water purification function of these organisms is a great attraction to people’s attention these days.

Mudflats’ soft bottom also make up “blue carbon” habitats that absorb and store up to 70% carbon and greenhouse gasses. Blue carbon plays a big role in mitigating the effects of climate change. And yet, conservation of mudflats is ignored.

Mudflats are indispensable habitat for shorebirds and hundreds of migratory birds depend on them for their existence. In fact, their mass movement is one of the world’s greatest phenomena, connecting locations as diverse as the Arctic tundra to the mudflats and deltas of the tropics. This coastal ecosystem also protects large human communities and provide ecosystem services to millions of people around the world, e.g. nurturing fisheries and providing livelihoods to communities through shellfisheries, supporting migratory waterbirds for scientific and aesthetic purposes, water infiltration and regulation, ameliorating flood and drought events, etc.

The problem for mudflats as a type of wetlands is the shifting character of coastal zones. The last 50 years or so have seen the global human population migrating rapidly to coastal areas. As a consequence, coastlines extending to mudflats have become a focus of expansion of the urban, agricultural and industrial sectors including, of late, as location for coastal wind farms to meet people’s energy needs. In fact, they have become the targets of many development projects and thousands of hectares of mudflats have disappeared.

What remains are continuously under the threat of development. The diminution of mudflats is having a major impact on coastal ecosystems which results also in the widespread loss and degradation of related ecosystems such as mangroves, seagrasses and coral reefs. And worst, it has major consequences for humans and nature in particular the loss of insect, fish and plant species.

Mudflats abound in many countries of Asia like South Korea, North Korea and China. In those countries, mudflats measure up to 20 kilometers wide in some places. While studies show that Japan lost some 6,000 hectares of mudflats in the last 50 years, the existing ones are valuable examples of flats that have been preserved. Among these are the Ramsar sites of Yatsu-higata, Manko, Yonaha-wan and Nagura Amparu.

In the Philippines, a group of citizens led by Senator Cynthia Villar filed a petition for a writ of kalikasan as a remedy to stop a reclamation project beside the Las Pinas-Paranaque Critical Habitat and Ecotourism Area in Manila Bay declared so under Executive Order No. 01412 (2007) banning activities that would impede its ecologically vital role as a bird sanctuary. The area is around 30 hectares planted with 8 species of mangrove and 113 hectares of mudflats. These mangroves and mudflats serve as roosting and feeding grounds for 27 species of threatened and rare waterbirds.

The first designated Ramsar site in the country called Olango Island Wildlife Sanctuary in Mactan, Cebu is the habitat of various species of fish, shells, crabs, sea urchin, etc. and is visited by 10,000 species of migratory birds every year coming from other parts of Asia like Siberia, China and Japan during the cold months of August to November. Mention should also be made of the Liguasan Marsh comprising 288,000 hectares of marshes, swamps and mudflats in the provinces of Maguindanao, Cotabato and Sultan Kudarat in Central Mindanao which is home to endemic waterbirds found only in the place.

Actually, there is no definitive way to know how much of mudflats ecosystem has been destroyed or how much and where it remains. Lack of accurate maps is due to the rapidly changing conditions they encounter – changing tides either expose or cover them, seriously limiting the application of available remote sensing methods and technologies.

In Asia, the most popular and cheapest method of land acquisition for coastal development affecting mudflats is reclamation or landfill. The process involves construction of seawalls and infilling for land use. These areas are then developed into new parcels of land for aquaculture, housing projects, industries, shopping malls as well as tourist resorts like casinos, sports and entertainment centers.

The over-reliance on the ecosystem services approach putting monetary value to mudflats’ services, i.e., housing projects and tourist industries, gives rise to the implication that alternative development services can be created through the modification of the water ecosystem to provide a greater economic return.

To be more specific, reclamation of mudflats becomes justified on much higher economic returns from, as mentioned, housing or tourism development. The fact that the economic returns largely accrue to a group of wealthy businessmen rather than impoverished shellfish collectors is seldom mentioned. And the developers and their agents even say that the shellfish collectors would be better off if they switched to jobs in the newly created tourism sector.

The urgent need, therefore, is for an effective conservation strategy that will guide the complex economic and social trade-offs that drive coastal development. This could ease pressure on a functioning network of coastal protected areas including mudflats and ensure continued delivery of other equally important ecosystem services, i.e. biodiversity conservation.

In the words of Secretary-General Braulio Dias of the UN Biodiversity Conservation Secretariat, to save biodiversity, “all you have to do is save a few mudflats.”

About the author. Ambassador Amado Tolentino is with the Ramsar Center Japan international advisors group which promotes effective implementation of the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands through, among others, a periodic Asian Wetlands Symposium.

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Australia: Human development mows down seagrass, threatening a natural source of carbon storage

Lucy Cormack Sydney Morning Herald 31 Jan 16;

Seagrasses along Australia's coast are being devastated at increasing rates, and human development is to blame.

How and when that damage first began occurring was the subject of a study at Edith Cowan University's centre for marine ecosystems research, which revealed one area had lost 80 per cent of its seagrass in fewer than 30 years.

"Normally people know a lot about corals, but seagrasses are not really recognised," lead researcher Oscar Serrano said.

Able to absorb carbon dioxide about 40 times faster than rainforests, seagrass is an undervalued natural method for offsetting carbon emissions, Dr Serrano said, as it acts as a long-term carbon sink.

The humble seagrass may have escaped the gaze of some, but not that of Environment Minister Greg Hunt, who outlined plans to protect the resource and its carbon-storing potential at a Paris climate summit event in December last year.

"Seagrass can store carbon for centuries, millennia," Dr Serrano said.

"In Australia more than 80 per cent of the population lives along the coast and that's placed enormous stress on our coastal marine ecosystems, particularly from extensive land clearing, agriculture and coastal development," he said.

The study by Dr Serrano and his team analysed the impacts of phosphorus on seagrass, taking core samples from seagrass meadows at Oyster Harbour, near Albany in Western Australia, where 80 per cent of seagrass was lost from the 1960s to the 1980s.

Sinking two metre long pipes into the sea floor, they gained an insight into more than 600 years of the meadow's history.

"Our analysis showed huge increases in phosphorus entering the ecosystem from the 1960s onwards," Dr Serrano said.

When nutrients such as phosphorus rise in the environment, they cause a massive growth of algae, leading to algal blooms. These blooms "asphyxiate" seagrass and other marine life, soaking up the light and oxygen they need to survive.

"Almost all estuaries and lakes around the coast have been impacted in this way to some degree over the last century, at least. For example, in Botany Bay similar impacts have been [observed]," he said.

"Blue carbon" was a term created in 2009 to describe the important role that the world's seagrasses, mangroves and salt bushes could play in tackling climate change.

Created by marine ecologist Professor Carlos Duarte and fellow marine researchers, the term has gone some way to putting seagrass and its carbon-capturing capabilities on the international agenda.

A spokesman for Mr Hunt said blue carbon could "play a significant role in reducing emissions, while also supporting biodiversity conservation, fisheries habitat protection and disaster risk reduction".

He said Australia was working with other countries and organisations to take forward the International Blue Carbon Partnership announced at the Paris conference.

"We're working towards accounting for greenhouse gas emissions removals from coastal wetlands in Australia's National Inventory from 2017, with an initial framework to be included in the 2016 National Inventory Report."

Mangroves have also been earmarked by the government to support sequestration and carbon storage and their protection and restoration has been identified as a 2015-16 priority Emissions Reduction Fund activity for scoping.

"Feasibility testing is being undertaken by the department in consultation with key stakeholders to inform whether these activities will be covered under the fund," the minister's spokesman said.

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