Best of our wild blogs: 6 Feb 16

Singapore Raptor Report – December 2015
Singapore Bird Group

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Cross Island Line site investigations will have moderate impact on nature reserve

Site investigation works will have moderate impact on the Central Catchment Nature Reserve, if mitigating measures are adopted, says report
NEO CHAI CHIN Today Online 5 Feb 16;

SINGAPORE — Sixteen holes as deep as 70m will be drilled in the Central Catchment Nature Reserve from the third quarter of this year to determine ground conditions for one of two possible alignments for the Cross Island MRT line.

The holes will be drilled only on public trails and areas without vegetation, as part of measures to manage their impact on the nature reserve, said the Land Transport Authority(LTA) today (Feb 5) as it gazetted the first phase of the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) of the Cross Island Line on the nature reserve.

Phase One of the EIA report concluded that with mitigating measures and controlled access, the proposed site investigation works would have moderate impact on areas of the nature reserve where the works will take place.

The site investigation is to gain knowledge of soil and rock conditions, as the Government decides how to align the future 50km MRT line that will link Jurong and Changi.

Two alignment options are on the table and site investigations will be done for both. One alignment cuts through the biodiverse Central Catchment Nature Reserve for about 2km, while the other skirts around it near Adam Road for about 9km. The latter alignment entails less ecological impact and the LTA said about 250 boreholes will be drilled to study its ground conditions.

For the alignment that affects the nature reserve, the number of holes, 16, was determined with input from nature groups and the environmental consultancy conducting the EIA. The number of holes was reduced from 72; the LTA will do non-intrusive geo-physical surveys to complement findings from the 16 boreholes.

Besides drilling along public trails and vegetation-free areas, there will be 30m buffer zones around streams, wetlands and marshes, as well as fluid containment tanks, to ensure no spillage of drilling fluid and to minimise erosion and siltation.

To reduce intermittent noise from the drilling, machines will have enclosures added. This will cut noise levels of around 80 to 85 decibels by 5 to 10 decibels.

The boreholes in the nature reserve will be up to 400m apart and two holes will be drilled at any one time, in general. The diameter of each hole is about 10cm and each workspace will measure about 2m by 11m. Drilling of each hole takes about two weeks and the work will take six to nine months, said LTA.

Personnel doing the non-intrusive geophysical surveys, using gadgets such as gravity meters, will work with the National Parks Board to ensure minimal disruption to the environment, said LTA.

The boreholes do not mean the Cross Island Line’s alignment has been decided; site investigations are to gain understanding of soil and rock profiles and structural geology, so that risks can be managed for any tunnel construction in future.

The consultancy conducting the EIA, Environmental Resources Management, will also assess the impact of the proposed MRT line cutting through the nature reserve during the construction and operation phase – this will make up the second part of the EIA report and will completed by the end of the year.

The EIA will be one of the factors determining the Cross Island Line’s alignment, said LTA. Other factors include travel times, cost and impact on home and land owners. When the MRT line, scheduled to complete around 2030, was first announced in 2013, nature groups had expressed serious concerns that it would cut directly under primary and regrowth forests that were over a century old, and over the potential impact of surface works.

Their input was incorporated when LTA called the EIA tender, and a report setting out about 400 tree species, 200 bird species, 400 insect species and 150 species of mammals and amphibians has also aided the EIA consultants.

Senior Minister of State for Transport Josephine Teo thanked the nature groups for their efforts, and LTA chief executive Chew Men Leong said: “The findings from the engineering feasibility study and the site investigation will provide critical information to help the Government make a considered decision on the CRL alignment that best serves the public interest.”

The EIA (Phase One) report will be available for public viewing, by appointment, for four weeks.

Cross Island Line site investigation works to be modified to reduce environmental impact
The Land Transport Authority will reduce the number of boreholes it plans to dig from the original 72 to 16, following the first phase of an Environmental Impact Assessment and feedback from nature groups.
Melissa Zhu and Liyana Othman Channel NewsAsia 5 Feb 16;

SINGAPORE: Following feedback from nature groups, the Land Transport Authority (LTA) has customised site investigation plans for the upcoming Cross Island Line (CRL) to minimise disruption to the environment near the Central Catchment Nature Reserve, it said on Friday (Feb 5).

LTA said Phase 1 of a two-phase Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) on the construction of the 50-kilometre line has concluded and that with mitigating factors, the impact on the environment is expected to be "moderate".

The MRT line will run from Jurong Industrial Estate pass Bukit Timah to Sin Ming and Pasir Ris before ending in Changi and is expected to be completed by 2030.


Part of the trails at MacRitchie Nature Reserve could be closed to the public from the third quarter of this year to facilitate soil investigation work for the new MRT line. This is for planners to better understand ground conditions so mitigation measures can be put in place to reduce safety or environmental risks while constructing the underground tunnel.

LTA explained that having the tunnel primarily situated in hard rock, rather than a mix of rock and soil, could help to minimise safety and engineering risks.

The level of rock could be assessed using boreholes, which are vertical shafts drilled into the ground. Some nature groups had expressed concern that these would affect the surrounding ecosystem.

LTA said on Friday that in light of the EIA report, it will reduce the number of boreholes placed along the route through the reserve from an initial estimate of 72 to 16, at the maximum spacing of 400 metres apart. The 10-cm wide holes, which will could be as much as 50 to 70 metres deep, will also be placed along existing trails and clearings to avoid having to remove vegetation at the site, it said. The boreholes will be dug along the Sime Track and Terentang Trail at MacRitchie, meaning parts of these trails may be closed to the public.

Given the fewer number of boreholes used in the investigations, LTA said non-intrusive methods such as seismic reflection, electrical resistivity surveys and gravity surveys would be used to generate more data. These are manually-administered methods carried out with small devices above ground level, and would have a less disruptive impact on the environment, LTA stated.

Nanyang Technological University’s School of Civil and Environmental Engineering Professor Chu Jian said: “16 boreholes for larger scale project is too little in my opinion, but I understand this is a special project and the project is going to be carried out in the nature reserve. And I understand that there will be other ways to cover the reduction in the borehole, for example to increase the usage of the physical survey, as well as doing horizontal drillings."

LTA said it would collaborate with the National Parks Board (NParks) to ensure careful execution of such site investigation works, as well as on the timings of the works to reduce disruption to human traffic.

LTA chief executive Chew Men Leong said the findings from the site investigation and a separate engineering feasibility study will provide critical information to help the Government make "a considered decision on the CRL alignment that best serves the public interest".


Since LTA announced the CRL in 2013, some nature groups have expressed concern about the environmental impact of the line possibly being built through the Central Catchment Nature Reserve.

The reserve, which encompasses the MacRitchie, Upper and Lower Pierce and Upper Seletar reservoirs has about 400 species of trees, 200 species of birds, 400 species of insects and 150 species of mammals and amphibians, according to a 2014 report released by some of the nature groups.

LTA said that pending more baseline information on ground conditions near the reserve, it was open to both of two possible alignments for the part of the MRT line around the area of the reserve - one cutting straight through the reserve and the other skirting around it as recommended by nature groups.

The EIA, conducted by consultant Environmental Resources Management (ERM), will be considered along with factors such as connectivity, travel time, cost and impact on home- or land-owners in the area when deciding on the final alignment of the MRT line, LTA said.

The first phase of the study was conducted between August 2014 and December 2015. To understand the possible impact of the works, LTA consulted NParks, ERM and the nature groups, held focus group discussions and spoke to other stakeholders such as advisors and grassroots leaders to address their concerns, it said.

Senior Minister of State for Transport Josephine Teo said the nature groups, in particular, had contributed many hours and days over the past two and a half years to the EIA study.

"Their input, suggestions and advice have been most valuable," she said.


Nature groups that Channel NewsAsia spoke with warned that the site investigation works could have long-lasting repercussions.

President of Nature Society (Singapore) Shawn Lum, said: "This is the original flora and fauna of Singapore that used to cover the whole island, and now there are only a few small, scattered patches.

“So, any impact would be disproportionate. People might say: ‘Why do you get so bothered by all of this?’ It's because it's so precious, and it's the heritage of all Singaporeans. If we lose this, we stand to lose something very precious to all of us."

Meanwhile, council member Tony O’dempsey said: "We have a zero-impact policy as a starting point. The reason why we have this policy is that every time we do something in a nature reserve, you create an impact that is long-lasting.

“We can't always measure what those impacts are accurately, and we don't like to take the risks. So every impact that occurs, no matter where in the nature reserve, different projects, different times, will accumulate.

“We call that death by a thousand cuts. It's like eating an apple. You take a bite out of an apple, that's one small bite. You take another bite, it's another small bite. But eventually, your apple will be finished.”

However, the representatives lauded LTA's efforts to seriously deliberate the environmental impacts on the nature reserve as a step in the right direction.

Singapore Environment Council Head of Eco-Certification Kavickumar Muruganathan, said: “It's very encouraging that an EIA has been conducted on such a project. We believe it's the very first time we've undertaken an EIA. So we believe in the future for more of such projects that involve construction and development, that EIAs are undertaken."

"It's the best we can do, I'll walk away from the table thinking, we've got the best solution we have, given the scenario,” Mr O’dempsey added.

The Nature Society (Singapore) said it plans to accompany the authorities during parts of their site investigation works.


ERM will next conduct Phase 2 of the study to assess the potential environmental impact arising from the construction and operation of the CRL. This is expected to be completed by end-2016.

The CRL is expected to serve as an alternative to the current East-West Line. It will also serve as a key transfer line by connecting to major radial lines, complementing the role currently played by the Circle Line, LTA said.

It added that the CRL is a critical component of LTA's plans to enable eight in 10 households to be within a 10-minute walk of a train station by 2030.

Current and planned train lines in the Singapore public transportation system. (Image: Land Transport Authority)

The EIA (Phase 1) report was gazetted on Friday evening and will be available for public viewing by appointment at LTA for the next four weeks.

- CNA/mz

Cross Island Line: Site tests will be green
Audrey Tan and Adrian Lim, Straits Times AsiaOne 5 Feb 16;

Tests to see how a train tunnel through Singapore's largest and most important nature reserve can be built have been slated for the third quarter.

The impact on the animals and plants around the test sites can be kept to "moderate" levels, said the Land Transport Authority (LTA) yesterday without going into detail, citing the findings of an independent environmental study.

The study suggested several strategies to mitigate the impact to flora and fauna, including the use of enclosures to reduce engine noise, and tanks to collect discharge.

Still, nature groups told The Straits Times that "mitigation does not equal no impact".

The 50km Cross Island Line to link Changi and Jurong by 2030 was first announced in early 2013, and preliminary plans showed it cutting through primary and secondary forests in the Central Catchment Nature Reserve near MacRitchie Reservoir.

But nature groups, alarmed by the environmental harm which the construction and operation of an underground MRT line right across the heart of the reserve could cause, suggested that the line be built along Lornie Road. This alternate route goes around the reserve.

The decision on whether to build through or around the reserve is still being mulled over. But the LTA in 2013 did say that an environmental impact assessment (EIA) of the line on the reserve would be done.

The assessment's first phase, which includes looking at the potential impact of site investigation works, was carried out between August 2014 and last December by consultancy Environmental Resources Management.

Yesterday, the LTA gazetted the first phase of the EIA. "The report concluded that the proposed site investigation works, with the implementation of mitigating measures and controlled access, could be carried out with moderate impact on the few parts of the nature reserve where these works are to take place," it said.

The assessment also suggested alternative methods to collect data, so as to minimise the number of boreholes that need to be drilled within the nature area. Instead of drilling 72 boreholes, each of which is 10cm in diameter and stretches between 50m and 70m underground, only 16 will be needed to assess the soil and rock profile. The authorities will also use non-intrusive methods to find out about the soil and rock at the reserve.

In addition, the plan is to drill the boreholes only on public trails and clearings - which means that existing vegetation would not have to be cleared. In comparison, 250 boreholes will be drilled along the alternative route along Lornie Road.

Nature groups here welcomed the Government's efforts to check on the environmental impact of an MRT line in the reserve, which comprises pristine freshwater streams and the country's largest patch of primary lowland rainforest. It is also home to at least 413 species of plants, 218 species of birds, 30 mammals, 24 freshwater fish species and 17 species of amphibians.

Said Mr Tony O'Dempsey of the Nature Society (Singapore): "Our policy is that nature reserves should not be touched at all, as the impacts are cumulative, but the Nature Society is very happy to be involved in consultations with the authorities. We have some concerns on vibrations, noise and cave-ins, which we will discuss with the authorities during the next phase."

Wildlife consultant Subaraj Rajuthurai, who was also involved in the consultations with the authorities, said: "Acceptable impact is zero impact. All the other East-West systems, such as the current East-West MRT line or the Pan Island Expressway, have avoided tunnelling through the nature reserve.

"Although most of the work for the MRT line is underground, it could have a massive impact on the nature reserve, which is one of the most important nature areas for Singapore."

Phase Two of the EIA, which will be completed by the end of the year, will study and assess the potential environmental impact on the reserve arising from the construction and operation of the Cross Island Line for both routes.

The EIA findings will be one of the factors used by the authorities to decide on the final alignment of the Cross Island Line. Other factors include connectivity, travel times, costs and impact on home and other land owners.

When queried, Mr Sim Cheng Hai, director of policy and planning at the National Parks Board (NParks), said site investigation works are potentially impactful.

He said: "This is why NParks has worked with LTA to mitigate the potential impact of the site investigation on the Central Catchment Nature Reserve, such as reducing the number of boreholes for the Cross Island Line site investigation, defining areas which are off-limits and providing staff to monitor the works in the geophysical survey."

Related links
Love our MacRitchie Forest: walks, talks and petition. Also on facebook.

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Singapore's last remaining wild cat species

Audrey Tan, The Straits Times AsiaOne 5 Feb 16;

When night falls on the military training ground of Pulau Tekong, camouflaged figures emerge from the foliage - silent and invisible. They skulk through the vegetation, each individual on its own mission.

These are not soldiers, but leopard cats - the last remaining wild cat species found in Singapore. (Leopards have gone extinct here, and the last tiger in Singapore was shot in the early 1930s.)

These nocturnal animals, which have unique coats that help them blend into the shadows of surrounding vegetation, were found here in larger numbers during the early 20th century.

But they are now critically endangered in Singapore due to the loss of their natural forest habitats.

Mammal researcher Marcus Chua, 31, estimates that there are no more than 20 leopard cats living on mainland Singapore, in the nature areas located within the Safti Live Firing Area, as well as at the Central Catchment and Bukit Timah nature reserves.

But nature is resilient, and Mr Chua's latest study, published in science journal Mammal Research last month, has given conservationists reason to cheer.

Mr Chua found a larger population of leopard cats on Pulau Tekong, a 23.5 sq km island that is 32 times smaller than mainland Singapore. Data collected shows that they are thriving there. He recorded at least 29 leopard cats on the island, identified through unique coat markings that distinguish the animals in the same way human beings are differentiated through fingerprints.

Using camera trap records and mathematical algorithms, the population of leopard cats on Pulau Tekong was put at about 89 individuals for every 100 sq km - the world's highest.

Leopard cats appear to be doing better on Pulau Tekong than on the mainland as they do not have to compete with other animals, such as civets, which also prey on rats, birds and insects, said Mr Chua, who is curator of mammals and birds at the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum. There are no civets on Pulau Tekong.

On the importance of the animals, he said: "Leopard cats are meso predators, which means they are in the middle of the food chain. They are prey for bigger animals like pythons, and also help to regulate the population of smaller animals like rats and birds."

Another encouraging find from his study is that leopard cats are resilient animals, and able to adapt to human-modified landscapes despite the loss of their natural lowland rainforest and swamp forest habitats.

Pulau Tekong is located off the north-eastern coast of Singapore. The island is covered mainly by secondary forest. Most of it dates back 40 years, although the vegetation growing on a 6 sq km patch on the southern part of the island is younger. That area, connected to the original island by two bridges, was reclaimed in 1987.

On the eastern end of the island is an oil palm plantation, which has been changed even more by human intervention. Yet, Mr Chua's study found that most of the leopard cats - 13 of them - were recorded in the plantation. In comparison, eight individuals were recorded in secondary forests located on each of the original and reclaimed parts of the island.

Mr Chua said that the fruiting trees in the plantation attract smaller animals like rodents, turning the plantation into a "buffet table" for the leopard cats. "What I also found surprising is that the leopard cats were also found in the reclaimed part of the island," he said.

However, Mr Chua said that although oil palm plantations appear to be a good place for leopard cats to find food, forests - for shelter and breeding - are still important for their survival. His study, funded by Wildlife Reserves Singapore (WRS), was done over two years, from 2010 to 2012.

Dr Sonja Luz, WRS director for conservation and research, said his findings were encouraging.

"This research provides valuable information on their habitat use, ranging patterns, diet and basic population genetic analyses, which helps us better understand their tolerance levels and conservation requirements...," she said. "Further research to genetically assess the similarity of the Singapore population with neighbouring countries' populations will also be needed to formulate an effective conservation action plan," she added.

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Northern Pintail duck makes rare visit to Singapore

Carolyn Khew, The Straits Times AsiaOne 5 Feb 16;

Photo: The Straits Times

SINGAPORE - A day after World Wetlands Day, Singapore welcomed a star visitor at the Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve.

On Wednesday (Feb 3), a slim, long-necked male Northern Pintail made an appearance after more than 20 years. It was spotted feeding among a group of Egrets in the wetland reserve at about 7pm .

The last sighting of this particular species was recorded in 1992 in Senoko South, the National Parks Board told The Straits Times.

According to bird conservation group BirdLife International,the duck is native to many countries including Britain and Switzerland.

Wednesday's was the migratory bird's fifth sighting in Singapore, and a first for the wetland reserve, a critical stop-over site for migratory birds.

Every year, thousands of migratory birds arrive at the reserve in August and September and take respite from harsh winters. They come from as far as Russia, Mongolia, China and Japan.

Singapore is among more than 20 countries along the East Asian-Australasian Flyway. The flyway stretches from Arctic Russia and North America to Australia and New Zealand.

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Malaysia: Heed El Nino warning and wipe out Zika, says expert

The Star 6 Feb 16;

PETALING JAYA: South-east Asian countries must heed the El Nino warning and control Aedes mosquitoes in efforts to eradicate the Zika and dengue viruses, says a Universiti Malaya research consultant.

Emeritus Professor Datuk Dr Lam Sai Kit said a recent meeting of public health scientists and leaders of South-east Asia held here confirmed the high transmission of mosquito-borne dengue virus in the region due to the intense El Niño emerging in the Pacific.

Dr Lam said representatives from 10 countries noted the high transmission of dengue at the close of 2015 was a result of the elevated temperatures the last few weeks, and added there was the potential of a large outbreak this year.

“One of the largest El Niño episodes in recent memory occurred in the past several months, and temperatures are rising throughout South-east Asia,” he added.

“The dialogue that began at this conference will continue with the intent of lessening public health burden from dengue that we expect over the next year.

“We represent one of the first examples of countries coming together to counter a dengue epidemic before it happens,” Dr Lam added.

Dengue claims seventh fatality in Terengganu
ZARINA ABDULLAH New Straits Times 5 Feb 16;

KUALA TERENGGANU: An eight-year-old girl became Terengganu's seventh dengue victim when she died while receiving treatment at the Sultanah Nur Zahirah Hospital (HSNZ).

State Health director Dr Muhammad Omar said the girl was a pupil of Sekolah Kebangsaan Seri Budiman. She had lived in the same residential area as a 21-year-old girl who also died of dengue last week.

Muhammad said the girl was admitted to the hospital three days ago after she vomited, suffered diarrhoea and eventually collapsed at home.

"She was weak when her parents sent her to the hospital. She died at 3.30pm yesterday," he said.

Dr Muhammad said although the number of dengue patients in Kuala Terengganu had dropped from more than 200 patients to 102 patients, the department is still on the hunt for Aedes breeding areas which may have been overlooked during fogging exercises.

"We still have 776 cases recorded throughout the state.

We view each case seriously and want to identify if there are any new dengue strains. "We have to immediately check for vector-borne diseases as soon as it is reported," he said.

He said three hotspots have been identified in Kuala Terengganu namely Jalan Panji Alam, Chendering Pantai and Losong Haji Mat Shafie.

Dengue claims Year Two pupil in Terengganu

KUALA TERENGGANU: A Year Two pupil became the latest dengue casualty in the state, bringing the total number of dengue deaths to seven.

State Health Department director Dr Mohammad Omar on Friday said the eight-year-old girl of SK Seri Budiman 2 died at 3.30pm on Thursday at Hospital Sultanah Nur Zahirah.

She was from Jalan Masjid, Batu Burok, here.

"This is the fourth death involving a student this year," he told reporters after a gotong-royong event here.

As of Friday, Dr Mohammad said the state had recorded 776 cases in 37 dengue outbreak localities, including three hotspots: Panji Alam, Chendering Pantai and Losing Haji Mat Shafie.

More dengue deaths as Zika looms
ROYCE TAN The Star 5 Feb 16;

KAJANG: Barely over a month into the new year, fighting dengue remains a priority for the country with an alarming rate of 37 deaths so far.

The desperation is further driven by the looming Zika epidemic.

The number of deaths is only slightly lower than the 40 recorded from Jan 1 to Feb 2 last year.

The number of cases were higher at 15,251 compared to 13,251 during the same period last year.

Selangor topped the list with 7,355 cases, followed by 2,379 cases in Johor and 994 in Kuala Lumpur and Putrajaya.

Twelve dengue deaths were recorded in Selangor, seven in Penang and six in Terengganu.

Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr S. Subramaniam said it was even more worrying with the Zika scare hovering.

The World Health Organisation warned that the virus was spreading in the Americas, with three to four million cases expected this year.

Closer to Malaysia, an Indonesian research team has found a positive Zika case in Sumatra on Sunday.

Dr Subramaniam said getting rid of the breeding grounds was the root solution to bringing dengue under control.

The effort, he said, would also be important to prevent the spread of the Zika virus.

“We constantly carry out methods such as widespread larvicidal spraying to destroy larvae and outdoor residual spraying, which is best when used on high-rise residences,” he said after visiting the Seri Cempaka Apartment in Bandar Baru Bangi here yesterday.

The apartment, which had 41 dengue cases last month, was one of the 233 hotspots nationwide.

There were six dengue outbreaks at the apartment last year and the longest was for three months.

In Johor Baru, the public especially urbanites have been told to clean up their act to prevent any more unnecessary deaths due to the dengue virus.

Johor Health and Environment committee chairman Datuk Ayub Rahmat said the virus had already claimed three deaths in Johor, which was one more than the two recorded in January last year.

The state also saw a total of 2,115 dengue cases in January, a 201.7% increase from the 701 cases recorded for the same period last year.

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Malaysia: Most animals used as tourist attractions are suffering, says rights group

VICTORIA BROWN The Star 5 Feb 16;

PETALING JAYA: If you can ride it, hug it or have a selfie with a wild animal, then there is a good chance the animal is suffering, says World Animal Protection.

It is estimated that at least 550,000 wild animals are suffering in irresponsible tourist attractions around the world.

This evidence comes from the first ever global research into wildlife tourism by University of Oxford’s Wildlife Conservation Research Unit, commissioned by World Animal Protection, that was released on Tuesday.

It was found that three out of four wildlife tourist attractions involve animal abuse or conservation concerns.

World Animal Protection lists the 10 cruelest wildlife "entertainment" activities across the world as riding elephants, taking tiger selfies, walking with lions, visiting bear parks, holding sea turtles, performing dolphins, dancing monkeys, touring civet cat coffee plantations, charming snakes and kissing cobras, and farming crocodiles.

An infographic on the wildlife attractions has gone viral on social media, with the picture being shared close to 9,000 times on Facebook.

"Some venues have better welfare for animals than others, but often the cruelty happens either behind the scenes, or early in an animals life in brutal ‘training’ to force it to accept human control," said World Animal Protection Australia head of campaigns Nicola Beynon.

"Make it a rule not to engage in any of these activities," she said when contacted by The Star.

Beynon said the processes that wild animals are put through to "tame" them and make them "safe" for humans are truly horrific.

"All captive elephants who carry people on rides or perform in shows have been put through ‘the crush’ where they are chained, beaten, deprived of food, water and sleep and abused in order to break their spirit and accept human control," she said.

"Tigers can have their teeth and claws removed, without any pain relief, and can be given drugs to keep them docile and lethargic for photos.

"Elephants don’t carry humans because they want to; tigers don’t pose for photos because they want to; monkeys do not dance because they want to. All of them are forced through pain and fear and a life of cruel conditioning to perform these unnatural behaviours," said Beynon.

She said World Animal Protection's "Wildlife - Not Entertainers" campaign targets the global tourism industry so that demand for cruel wildlife attractions ends.

Their work has already secured the commitment of more than 80 travel companies worldwide to stop selling and promoting elephant rides and shows. Government support for the campaign through regulation is also welcomed.

"Cruel wildlife tourism is driving demand for exploitation, suffering and poaching. It causes problems for both welfare and conservation," said Beynon.

"Do not contribute to an industry that takes animals from the wild or treats them cruelly. There are better ways to experience animals – in the wild, where they belong," she said.

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Indonesia: APP rebrands itself as environmental champion

The Jakarta Post 5 Feb 16;

Giant paper producer Asia Pulp and Paper (APP) is rebranding itself as an environmental champion by announcing its successful efforts in forest conservation and peatland restoration.

That comes after more than 100 Singaporean companies last November boycotted products of numerous companies, such as APP, that were accused of allowing fires in their concession areas.

APP sustainability managing director Aida Greenbury on Thursday said the company had conserved 600,000 hectares (ha) of natural forests in the past three years and restored 7,000 ha of peatland since August.

“We are working on a landscape concept of restoration, so it’s not only for our areas, but others as well, because the recent forest and land fires were [the result of] not only one perpetrator, but many,” she said at the launch of the third Forest Conservation Policy report.

The company initiated the Forest Conservation Policy (FCP) on Feb. 5, 2013, in response to calls for sustainable business practices.

Some of APP’s raw material suppliers were accused of setting forest fires last year and almost every year for the past 10 years.

However, the company said the fires had not originated in its area but had come from the surroundings. The company added that since 1996 all suppliers practiced non-burning methods to clear land for acacia and eucalyptus trees, which provide the material for paper.

“That’s why to stop future fires we need holistic measures that involve not only APP but all the country’s stakeholders,” Aida said.

The company is currently creating a 1:5,000-scale map of 1-2 million ha of peatland to track conditions not only on its areas, but also others in Sumatra and Kalimantan.

“Once it’s done, it’ll be published for all, so that we can restore peatland together, as this big environmental problem will not be resolved by a single fighter,” she said.

The country currently has no high-resolution map of peatland areas useful for devising a proper restoration strategy.

The company, which has use permits for more than 1 million ha of industrial forest and 600,000 ha of natural forest concessions, all in Sumatra and Kalimantan, also provided US$10 million to set up the Belantara Foundation last December.

Belantara, which means jungle, aims to collect funds from various sources and focuses on empowering tribespeople and locals around concession and conservation areas across the country to be economically sustainable, so that they refrain from using the forest irresponsibly.

All the above efforts are part of the group’s move to improve its image tainted by allegations of environmental destruction in recent years.

Greenpeace recently lauded APP’s environmental measures.

“We have to admit that FCP has shown progress. We’ve noted some real steps, such as the restoration of 7,000 ha of its peatland and its effort to really push suppliers into doing good practices,” the NGO’s forestry campaigner Kiki Taufik said over the phone.

He added that the public was waiting to see the results this year and whether the company could really reduce fires from recurring. (rbk)

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Indonesia: El Nino triggers crop failure in Kupang

Antara 5 Feb 16;

Kupang (ANTARA News) - El Nino has caused crop failure in the third growing season of 2015, which lasts from October 2015 to January 2016, according to the Kupang local government.

"Several farmers, who had sown seeds at the start of the third growing season in 2015, had to face crop failure. Last December, they had tried to sow the seeds once again, but the threat of failure looms large due to the lack of rain," Head of Kupangs Agriculture and Horticulture Office, Arnol Subaki, stated here on Friday.

Currently, Kupangs farming community comprises two groups such as the rain-dependent farmers and those having irrigation systems to grow crops on 20 thousand hectares of the area bordering Oecuse in Timor Leste.

In a normal year, the 20 thousand hectares of agricultural land are able to yield up to 80 thousand tons of grains per year.

"But what happened in the 2015 growing season? Climatic changes, decreasing land utilization, and farmers failing to plant and crop failures. We cannot meet the harvest target," Arnol pointed out.

Until the end of January 2016, the farmers in Kupang had managed to utilize only 4,371 hectares of agricultural land, while the rest could not be used due to lack of rainfall.

This situation will certainly have an impact on the condition of the crops and food stocks in the region. Although it still requires in-depth technical analysis, but in fact, food shortages will occur in the area.

"We cannot deny it, which could occur due to weather conditions such as this," Arnol added.

The Kupang District Government continues to encourage farmers to grow crops with short life cycles that require less water, such as tubers, bananas, and peanuts in order to meet their household needs.

"We have conveyed the call through a letter to all district heads in this area," Arnol stated.

Specifically, for the current climatic conditions, it is better to plant green beans, as a reliable option, to serve as a source of income for the local farmers.

The government hopes that the farmers would continue to cultivate crops but rotate the crop pattern and grow climate-resilient plants, such as green beans.

"The results are very promising and will be able to anticipate food insecurity if it occurs," Arnol added.

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Indonesia: Death toll rises quickly as dengue fever spreads

Suherdjoko and Ni Komang Erviani, The Jakarta Post 5 Feb 16;

Dengue fever (DBD) continues to spread throughout a number of regions in Indonesia, with at least 70 people reported to have been killed by the mosquito-borne disease during the first five weeks of the year.

On Thursday, the Central Java Health Agency reported that the disease had claimed the lives of 15 local residents and hospitalized 1,080 others in January alone.

Agency head Yulianto Prabowo said his office had called on local physicians, particularly those in regions that have reported a high prevalence of DBD, including Jepara regency, and the municipalities of Semarang and Magelang, to stay alert and provide immediate treatment to those patients that they suspect may have contracted the disease.

“Unlike highland regions whose cold weather prevents mosquitoes from breeding well, lowland regions such as Semarang and Jepara are highly prone to the viral disease,” he said.

In Bali, the province’s Health Agency head I Ketut Suarjaya said that the disease had killed three people in January. At least 370 people had been hospitalized due to the disease, he said, a significant increase from the 230 cases recorded in December last year.

Ketut blames the delayed rainy season for the outbreak. “We worry that the disease outbreak has just started and that infection numbers will increase significantly within the next few months,” he said.

To help prevent the disease from spreading, he said, his office had been disseminating information about DBD to local residents. The agency will also intensify fogging in DBD-prone areas and urge locals to get involved in the government-sponsored mosquito nest eradication (PSN) campaign program.

DBD is a disease carried by the Aedes aegypti mosquito. After a person has been bitten by a disease-carrying mosquito it takes between four and 10 days for symptoms to manifest. The most common signs are high fever, severe headache, nausea, swollen glands and joint pain.

The disease can be deadly when a patient experiences plasma leaking, fluid accumulation, respiratory distress, severe bleeding or organ impairment.

With the absence of a vaccine to protect against DBD, vector control has so far been the only method available for the prevention and control of DBD.

Earlier this week, the Tangerang regional administration in Banten reported that more than a dozen people had died as a result of DBD in the regency over the last month.

In South Sulawesi, 530 people are reported to have contracted DBD as of Thursday, eight did not survive.

South Sulawesi Health Agency’s disease control and environmental health division head Nurul Amin confirmed that the disease had spread throughout the province’s 24 regions, with Bulukumba, Pangkajene Islands, Gowa, North Luwu and Wajo, declaring extraordinary occurrence (KLB) status.

Agency head Rachmat Latief, meanwhile, is calling on local residents to see a doctor quickly if they suffer from fever.

“Many DBD patients fail to survive as they are admitted to the hospital too late,” he said.

In North Sulawesi, the province’s Health Agency head Jimmy Lampus said DBD had killed one person and hospitalized 144 local residents. Last year, the province recorded 489 DBD cases with five fatalities.

Health Ministry data shows that Indonesia recorded a total of 100,347 DBD cases last year, with 907 fatalities. Meanwhile, the highest number of recorded DBD fatalities occurred in 2007 when 1,599 people died as a result of the disease.

Andi Hajramurni in Makassar and Lita Aruperes in Manado contributed to the article

Dengue cases continue to increase in several Indonesian regions
Otniel Tamindael Antara 3 Feb 16;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - Despite the government having urged people in various provinces to be wary of dengue fever, a viral disease caused by the Aedes Aegypti mosquito, the number of cases continue to soar in several Indonesian regions.

Dengue cases in Indonesia, a tropical country with a fast-growing population, increase from time to time, in spite of the struggle to win the battle against the disease during the rainy season this year.

Since January 2016, dengue cases were reported to have occurred in the provinces of Central Java, West Java, Bali, South Kalimantan, West Nusa Tenggara, and Banten, among other places.

In Gunung Kidul district, the Special Region of Yogyakarta, the number of dengue fever cases continues to rise, and the figure has now reached 71.

Gunung Kidul Health Office Chief Agus Prihastoro remarked on Tuesday that the number of dengue cases since January 2016 has increased two-fold as compared to only 24 cases recorded in December 2015.

"However, the number of cases in Gunung Kidul is less than that in other areas such as Kulon Progo and Bantul districts," Prihastoro remarked.

He expressed hope that the outbreak would soon be brought under control.

In the meantime, Central Java Health Office is focusing on reducing and preventing the number of cases of dengue hemorrhagic fever, which tends to increase during every rainy season.

"For prevention, we are trying to eradicate mosquito breeding grounds by burying, draining, and hoarding the scrap items that can retain water since fogging is now no longer able to eradicate mosquito larvae," Central Java Health Office Chief Yulianto Prabowo remarked in Semarang on Monday.

According to Prabowo, dengue fever usually peaks in January and February when the cases spread almost evenly in other areas.

Without detailing the number of dengue patients in Central Java, Prabowo stated that based on the indicators of dengue cases in the province, the average is still above 20-40 cases per 100 thousand population, whereas mortality is still above one percent of all cases of dengue.

Prabowo revealed that the current types of mosquitoes that transmit dengue fever have mutated and become resistant to insecticides used in fogging.

"Based on the results of research conducted in several areas, including in the city of Semarang, the insecticides used in fogging are no longer effective against mosquitoes, so we had to look for another type, which is more effective," he affirmed.

In West Java, a total of 285 dengue patients have been admitted to Cianjur Hospital since January, according to the hospitals spokesman, Dr Cecep Juhana.

He revealed that patients belonging to all age groups ranging from toddlers to senior citizens had reportedly contracted dengue fever in West Java and had received treatment in the hospital for three days to a week.

In Sukabumi district, West Java, two dengue patients were reported to have died since January 2016.

Dengue cases in Tabanan district, Bali province, also increased during this rainy season, according to Deputy Director of Services and Quality Control of Tabanan Hospital, Dr Ni Luh Gede Sukardiasih.

Sukardiasih remarked that during the month of January 2016, as many as 258 patients were treated for dengue fever, an increase compared to only 216 patients recorded over the same month in the previous year.

"Of the total 258 dengue patients treated at the Tabanan Hospital, 288 are adults and 30 are children," Sukardiasih noted in Tabanan on Tuesday.

In Banjarbaru city, South Kalimantan, some 107 people were reported to have suffered from dengue fever since January 2016, while 208 people had contracted the disease in Mataram, West Nusa Tenggara.

In Lebak district, Banten province, nine sub-districts have been declared dengue endemic areas, due to the low level of public awareness of keeping the environment clean.

"Since January until this day, some 103 dengue patients have been admitted to Dr Adjidarmo Public Hospital in Rangkasbitung, and three of them have died of the disease," dr Firman Rahmutallah, the head of Communicable Diseases Eradication and Prevention of the Lebak District Health Office, stated on Tuesday.

Rahmutallah noted that dengue cases continued to surface in Lebak district following an increase in rainfall in the area, so the people have been reminded to remain vigilant against the outbreak of the disease.

In order to break the chain of dengue transmission, he said the local community had been called on to revive the tradition of mutual assistance by conducting an environmental cleanliness movement, such as burying, draining, and hoarding (3-M), in addition to eradicating the aedes aegypti mosquitos breeding grounds.

"We believe that through the environmental cleanliness movement and the eradication of mosquito breeding grounds, we can break the chain of the deadly disease," he noted.

Rahmutallah explained that most of the dengue patients lived in densely populated settlement areas such as Rangkasbitung, Cibadak, Maja, Warunggunung, Malingping, Banjarsari, Cipanas, and Kalanganyar.

Therefore, he has urged the local community to immediately rush the people affected by dengue fever to the nearby hospital and health centers.

"We hope that when someone has been suffering from fever for three days, he or she would be quickly rushed to a nearby hospital or community health center," Rahmutallah remarked.

He pointed out that as some areas of Lebak district still continued to experience rainfall, the cases of dengue fever had increased sharply compared to those recorded in the previous years.

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WWF-Indonesia: No Shark-Based Dishes for Chinese New Year

Shenny Fierdha Chumaira Jakarta Globe 5 Feb 16;

Jakarta. Global conservationist group World Wildlife Fund on Thursday (04/02) called on Indonesia's restaurants and hotels to not serve sharked-based dishes over the Chinese new year long weekend, as the animals are endangered.

A December survey conducted by the Indonesian WWF found at least 30 percent of 135 five-star hotels and restaurants offered meals featuring shark, including the popular shark fin soup.

Shark based dishes are considered a delicacy for special occasions, like Chinese new year, as the animal is considered a symbol of wealth and status.

A 2014 survey found as many as 15,000 kilograms of shark fin is consumed every year in Jakarta alone. The United Nation's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in 2010 found Indonesia was the world's largest shark exporter, reaching 100,000 tons annually.

Every second two to three sharks are caught and killed across the world in an effort to meet international demand.

Indonesia's Food and Drugs Monitoring Agency (BPOM) in 2009 warned the animals have the highest amount of mercury in their system of any aquatic creature. Mercury poisoning can lead to death in humans.

Sharks face extinction, with a low reproduction rate and overfishing.

An online petition launched in May 2013 to ban consumption and the sale of shark products gathered 14,000 supporters across the world.

The Jakarta Provincial Government issued a regulation in 2014 outlawing the sale of shark and manta rays in the capital.

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Indonesia: Elephant electrocuted, investigation urged

Rizal Harahap, The Jakarta Post 5 Feb 16;

The Riau Natural Resources Conservation Agency (BKSDA) said on Thursday the death of an elephant, the carcass of which was found in the Balai Raja subdistrict, Pinggir district, Bengkalis, was caused by electrocution and is urging the government to probe into the case.

“The indication is supported by a skin injury on its trunk, which likely made contact with the electrified fence,” said the BKSDA Duri region head Haluanto Ginting.

Haluanto said the allegation was also strengthened by a damaged wire fence at a cassava farm close to where the dead elephant was found.

Based on an initial investigation, the cassava farm purposely installed an electrified fence to protect plants from being damaged by wild elephants.

“I cannot make sure whether the person who installed the electrified fence could be implicated. Just let investigators decide it,” said Haluanto.

A necropsy, conducted by a team of veterinarians at the BKSDA, did not find any trace of poison inside the internal organs of the elephant, which was found dead on Wednesday.

“The necropsy was delayed at one point because of bad weather, but was eventually completed before noon. It’s almost certain the elephant was not poisoned,” said Haluanto.

He said the elephant carcass would be buried today, while samples of its internal organs would be sent for analysis to a veterinary lab in Bogor, West Java, or in Bukittinggi, West Sumatra.

“The lab results will be issued in the next two weeks, when the exact cause of the elephant’s death will be disclosed,” he added.

Separately, Duri-Riau Environmental Activists Association (Hipam) head Zulhusni Syukri urged relevant agencies to investigate the alleged use of electrified fences to protect farms from elephants.

“Elephant deaths from electrified fences are not new. Two years ago, an elephant was also electrocuted in Semunai village, Pinggir district, Bengkalis,” said Zulhusni.

“It’s very dangerous. Many farm owners in Bengkalis install electrified fences to protect their farms. This must be thoroughly probed, especially if it violates the law,” added Zulhusni.

Based on Riau Program Worldwide Fund for Nature (AAF) Indonesia, the elephant’s death was the first in Bengkalis this year. Last year, two wild bull elephants were killed, one in February because of poaching and the second in July because of poisoning.

To prevent elephant deaths from occurring, Riau Program WWF Indonesia spokesperson Syamsidar urged the government to restore the function of the Balai Raja Wildlife Refuge. “The natural animal habitat is extremely disturbed so elephants roam up to people’s farms in search of food,” said Syamsidar.

She also highlighted the presence of a number of companies clearing the Balai Raja conservation forest for expansion at will. “Overlapping licensing should immediately be resolved. The relevant authorities must be firm that all the oil palm trees in the conservation area must be cut. The cut areas must be further monitored to prevent other parties from claiming them,” said Syamsidar.

Apart from the Balai Raja Wildlife Refuge, she added elephants had also lost a source of food in their habitat that had been converted into acacia and oil palm plantations.

“The elephants’ roaming range stretches from Balai Raja to the border between Bengkalis and Rokan Hulu regencies. The elephants traverse many concessions all the time so that their habitat is further fragmented and overlaps with human activities,” she said.

Syamsidar suggested companies whose concessions were included in the elephant roaming range to form a response team to prevent victims of human-animal conflicts.

“The potential of conflicts is apparently high, so concession holders must be involved in elephant protection efforts. Apart from conducting patrols to monitor elephants entering and leaving a concession area, the response team must also be able to anticipate a human-elephant conflict,” said Syamsidar.

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Indonesia: Illegal hunting endangers rare birds in Lake Limboto

Syamsul Huda M. Suhari, The Jakarta Post 5 Feb 16;

A population of endangered bird species in Gorontalo is on the verge of a sharp decline as rampant illegal hunting continues to take place at Lake Limboto, the province’s biggest lake.

Rosyid Azhar, a local photographer who is renowned for intensively documenting pictures of various rare birds at the lake, said on Thursday that bird hunting usually took place from morning until afternoon, during which poachers came either individually or in groups.

“This has been happening every day, especially on Sundays or holidays,” Rosyid told The Jakarta Post.

Rosyid claimed that many of the hunters did so just as a hobby and to have fun while few others did it for food or to earn money.

What was concerning, he said, was that many of the targeted birds were protected ones, including white egrets, whiskered tern, whimbrel and various kinds of hawks. Rosyid said most of the birds living on Lake Limboto were water birds.

“They use gunshots or pesticides to trap the birds,” he said.

The 3,000-hectare Lake Limboto, which spans from Gorontalo municipality to Gorontalo regency, attracts migrating birds that fly thousands of kilometers from various parts of the globe.

Rosyid and his fellow photographers in the Gorontalo Photography Community (MFG), together with BirdLife Indonesia, have identified at least 30 migrant birds that make annual transit in the lake.

During a particular season, the birds migrate in groups and stay at Lake Limboto for several months before moving to another place. Even up to the present migratory birds can still be found there.

They come from different continents around the globe, traveling a maximum of 18,000 kilometers from their places of origin. One example of these migratory birds is the black-winged stilt, or the gagang bayam as it is locally known. These birds can be found from Europe down to Sub-Saharan Africa and Madagascar and east as far as Central Asia, India, China and Taiwan.

Another species is the oriental plover, which comes from South Siberia, Mongolia and northeast China, stopping over at Lake Limboto when migrating to the Great Sunda and northern Australia.

Activist Amsurya Warman Amsa of a local bird association said there were actually regulations that banned people from hunting protected animals. Among the regulations were Government Regulation No. 7/1999 on plant and animal preservation and Law No. 5/1990 on conservation of biological natural resources and their

He said the regulations carried a maximum penalty of five years’ imprisonment and a maximum fine of Rp 100 million (US$7,374).

“But the law enforcement is still weak,” Amsurya said.

He said the migratory birds at Limboto could be a tourist attraction offered in the form of bird watching experiences or bird identification activities.

He suggested that the regional administrations could come up with bylaws to strengthen the implementation of the existing government regulations and laws, while reviving local wisdom.

“In the past there was a regulation that limited the consumption of maleo eggs. We need to revive this kind of wisdom,” said Amsurya, referring to the endemic bird of Sulawesi.

BKSDA curbs trade of protected birds
The Jakarta Post 6 Feb 16;

GORONTALO: Natural Resources Conservation Agency (BKSDA) Gorontalo chapter conducted an impromptu inspection of the bird market on Jl. Arif Rahman Hakim in Gorontalo city, Gorontalo, on Friday.

At least 14 birds were seized by the BKSDA team, two of the species listed on the list of protected birds, namely the myna and lovebird, endemic to Sulawesi.

Gorontalo BKSDA head Syamsuddin Hadju said the inspection was aimed at curbing the trade of birds, which was now rife in Gorontalo.

“This also serves to remind members of the public that not every bird species can be traded. There are rules as regulated in Law No. 7/1999 on preserving flora and fauna and Law No. 5/1990 on natural resources biodiversity and ecosystem,” said Syamsuddin.

Based on observations by Gorontalo BKSDA, many of the bird species being traded are endemic to Sulawesi and protected. Besides Gorontalo, some of the birds have been smuggled in from Central Sulawesi.

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Indonesia: Retailers to crack down on plastic bags

Hans Nicholas Jong, The Jakarta Post 5 Feb 16;

Customers will have to pay for plastic bags when they shop at shopping malls, department stores, supermarkets and other retail outlets throughout 23 of the country’s major cities starting Feb. 21.

In an effort to reduce plastic waste, Indonesian Retailers Association (Aprindo) chairman Roy Mandey said on Thursday that all modern retailers in 23 of the country’s major cities were ready to implement the policy set by the Environment and Forestry Ministry last year.

“All retailers in these cities have been targeted to implement the education program. We will start doing this to show that the retail industry have made a commitment to support the government’s program,” he told The Jakarta Post on Thursday.

The 23 major cities are Ambon, Balikpapan, Banda Aceh, Bandung, Banjarmasin, Bekasi, Bogor, Denpasar, Depok, Jakarta, Jayapura, Kendari, Makassar, Medan, Palembang, Papua, Pekanbaru, Semarang, Solo, Surabaya, Tangerang, South Tangerang and Yogyakarta.

The association chose Feb. 21 as the date to kick off the campaign so as to coincide with National Waste Awareness Day.

The ministry’s director general for dangerous toxic material and waste management, Tuti Hendrawati Mintarsih, said that the government has yet to confirm the price to be charged to customers for plastic shopping bags.

The ministry has proposed a charge of Rp 500 per plastic bag and suggested that customers could get Rp 200 back if they return the plastic bags to the retailers.

But Tuti said that, through local ordinances, regional governments would have the final say on how much shoppers will be charged.

She expected that the price will vary between regions and are likely to be between Rp 500 and Rp 5,000.

“So [the prices] will be flexible, depending on the agreement between regions and retailers themselves,” Tuti said.

Aprindo, meanwhile, has proposed a Rp 200 charge for each plastic bag.

“Under the assumption that such a price will be affordable to the public,” Roy said. “But we’re just hoping for the best decision. We will leave it to the regional governments [to decide]”.

The ministry considers Rp 200 to be too low and is thus unlikely to deter people from using plastic bags.

“This is still a trial period, from February to June, so Aprindo should have nothing to worry about,” she said.

Banda Aceh Mayor Illiza Sa’aduddin Djamal said on Thursday that his administration would likely apply a reasonable price.

“It could be around Rp 500 [I suppose], based on what the ministry ask,” she said.

Banjarmasin Mayor H. Muhidin said that his administration was currently in talks with local retailers and the city’s environment agency, adding that the city was ready to implement the policy by Feb. 21.

Indonesia is following in the footsteps of others in the region by implementing a curb on the use of plastic bags.

Last year, Hong Kong started charging people 50 cents per plastic bag, a move that resulted in a 73 percent decrease in plastic bag consumption.

Data from the ministry shows that people consume up to 9.8 billion plastic bags every year in Indonesia, with 95 percent of the bags made with plastics that take considerable time to break down naturally.

Plastic shopping bags are so resilient, pervasive and toxic that we have arrived at a tipping point, the entire ecosystem is off balance, with tens of thousands of turtles, whales, other marine creatures and sea birds dying each year after having ingested plastic material.

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