Best of our wild blogs: 24 Feb 16

Food Waste Training Workshop for Wastebusters
Zero Waste Singapore

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Extra $2bn for Cross Island Line to skirt nature reserve likely to be fraction of total cost: Experts

Zhaki Abdullah Straits Times 24 Feb 16; also in AsiaOne

The additional $2 billion that will be incurred by building the proposed Cross Island Line around the Central Catchment Nature Reserve instead of across it is likely to be a fraction of the total cost of the MRT project.

The Land Transport Authority (LTA), which had given the $2 billion figure in response to proposals for the line to skirt around the nature reserve, said yesterday it is unable to estimate the total cost of the 50km Cross Island Line as studies on the entire line have not been completed.

But industry experts estimate that the cost of the project could be as much as $40.7 billion.

This is based in part on calculations for past and ongoing MRT projects, which show that each kilometre of MRT tunnel costs about $350 million to $400 million to design and build.

Costs could go up by 25 per cent if eight-car trains are used, compared with the three- or six-car trains used currently.

The introduction of an express service, among other things, could also increase costs by up to 40 per cent owing to the need to build an additional track.

So the extra $2 billion for building the Cross Island Line around the nature reserve could work out to less than 5 per cent of the total cost of the project.

Nature groups had earlier raised concerns that construction work on the Cross Island Line, expected to stretch from Changi to Jurong, would have a negative impact on the Central Catchment Nature Reserve, Singapore's largest nature reserve. This is especially so if the line cuts across the nature reserve instead of skirting around it.

Having the Cross Island Line cut through the nature reserve involves building a 2km tunnel approximately 40m deep beneath the nature reserve's MacRitchie area. There would be no physical structures on the surface level.

Some members of the public The Straits Times spoke to felt that the additional cost was justified if it helped ease Singapore's transport crunch.

Those who have proposed routing the Cross Island Line round the reserve said the line would serve residents in the area and avoid disrupting the flora and fauna in the reserve.

Dr Vilma D'Rozario, an associate professor at the National Institute of Education, said: "Routing around the reserve to pick up more commuters along the way would certainly help ease road traffic congestion and sardine-packed train conditions."

Financial consultant Johnson Long, 70, believes that the additional cost can be recouped with increased ridership over the years.

Residents who live in the estates that could be affected by the skirting alignment have voiced concerns that their homes would be acquired by the state for the building of the line.

Mr Anthony Oei, 82, who has lived in Yew Lian Park for more than 50 years, questioned the need to divert the line.

"Will we have to give way to wildlife?" he asked.

Others said the possible environmental impact of the line going through the reserve should not be ignored.

Commenting on some suggestions thrown up by the public, a spokesman for the LTA said it is not possible for the stretch of Cross Island Line in question to run under Upper Thomson Road, which is near the nature reserve, owing to limited space caused by construction work on the upcoming Thomson-East Coast Line.

A line linking people to jobs
Christopher Tan, Straits Times AsiaOne 24 Feb 16;

The Cross Island Line, announced in January 2013, is a 50km MRT line stretching from Pasir Ris in the north-east to Jurong in the west.

According to the Urban Redevelopment Authority Master Plan 2014, the line will link a fast-growing residential district in the north-east to Singapore's largest industrial hub in the west.

As it goes westwards, it will pass through Loyang, Punggol, Hougang and Ang Mo Kio before reaching Sin Ming. From there, it will go towards Bukit Timah, Clementi and West Coast before terminating at the Jurong Industrial Estate.

Besides linking residents to jobs, the line will serve the upcoming "creative cluster and learning corridor" in Punggol, which will include the Singapore Institute of Technology's new campus.

The line is also part of an overall strategy to build some redundancy into the rail network to mitigate the impact of disruptions.

Government Parliamentary Committee for Transport deputy chairman Ang Hin Kee, who is also an Ang Mo Kio GRC MP, said: "People in Ang Mo Kio, for example, are served only by the North-South Line. If there are repairs or maintenance work on that line, they have no other rail option."

The Cross Island Line is also likely to stop at the proposed terminus of the Kuala Lumpur-Singapore high-speed rail line in Jurong East.

When completed in 2030, it will facilitate access to Singapore's seaport, which will move to Tuas by then. The line will provide relief to the already heavily used 57km East-West Line.

The Punggol-Pasir Ris stretch of the Cross Island Line will also form the first leg of the North Shore Line - a yet-to-be announced MRT line that links Pasir Ris to Woodlands.

According to the Land Transport Authority (LTA), residents in Punggol will be able to travel to Pasir Ris in 10 to 15 minutes, compared with a 40-minute bus ride today.

The project will be unlike current MRT lines. For instance, trains are likely to have more carriages - eight cars each, or more. Current lines have three- to six-car trains. LTA declined to confirm this, saying only that the Cross Island Line is a "heavy-load" system.

The Straits Times understands the line will be the first to have "scalable" platforms, which can be expanded. This will allow the operator to start off with say, six-car trains, and add more cars per train as ridership picks up.

LTA is also considering express services for the line. This would cut end-to-end travel time, about an hour or so on the current lines.

Use savings from MRT line to fund conservation work
Straits Times Forum 28 Feb 16;

If the Government decides to run the Cross Island MRT Line under the Central Catchment Nature Reserve instead of skirting the forest, thus saving the $2 billion in extra cost ("$2b extra cost if MRT line skirts reserve"; Feb 22), I hope the money saved will go into a fund.

If that is the final decision, I hope the Government will use the savings to fund conservation and restoration activities.

The Government could set this sum of money up as a trust.

Any money taken from the trust for approved conservation and protection projects must be backed by dollar-for-dollar matching support from the private sector.

This would create a win-win situation for all and can, hopefully, assuage the concerns of environmentalists and conservationists who are against the MRT line entering the nature reserve.

Tan Kok Tim

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

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No lack of youth with idealism

Straits Times Forum 24 Feb 16;

I disagree that Singapore's youth lack idealism, because there are many young people doing all kinds of volunteer work here ("In search of Singaporean idealism"; last Saturday).

Just because we are not working on a project as big as Ocean Cleanup does not mean we are not working hard to do something about issues we care about.

Marine trash is a pressing issue correlated with mass fish deaths, and it is not well known because no one sees much of it.

The National Environment Agency spends about $1.4 million cleaning recreational beaches every year, but there are also organisations doing something about it, including the International Coastal Cleanup Singapore, Outward Bound Singapore and Sea Shepherd Singapore.

An online response to last Saturday's commentary said that we need to scrape idealism off the classroom floor, but I do not fully agree.

We need to light the fire of idealism in everyone, because everyone knows that the world can be a better place, but not everyone knows how to go about doing it.

Look at the Love Our MacRitchie Forest movement. Its members have dedicated no small amount of time and effort in fighting for an ideal: That our natural heritage deserves to be protected and that our primary forests, what little we have, are worth protecting.

And who are most of these people? Youth.

Look at the People's Movement to Stop Haze. Its members have spent countless hours researching and reaching out to Singaporeans about the causes of the haze, and letting people know that they can do something more than just buying masks and air purifiers.

Who are these people? Youth.

These are ground-up movements by people who genuinely care and want to do something about issues affecting Singapore.

Other areas, such as the arts and humanitarian issues, are also filled with young people with ideals. Their story may not be known to people outside their community, but that does not mean they do not exist.

All the same, we could do with more young people with the ideals and the passion to change things for the better.

So, to the idealistic youth: Let us strive towards our vision of a better world.

Ho Xiang Tian

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NEA to step up efforts to tackle rat problem

Chitra Kumar, Straits Times AsiaOne 24 Feb 16;

Singapore's rat problem is showing no signs of letting up.

About 6,700 complaints were received by the National Environment Agency (NEA) last year, up from around 4,000 in 2014.

The number of food outlet inspections also rose from around 140,000 in 2014 to about 148,000 last year, while enforcement actions were taken against over 190 owners, up from 80.

The NEA, which revealed the figures this week, plans to boost efforts to treat detected rat burrows, including those that fall under the responsibility of other agencies.

Other measures are also being considered, though no details have been given.

The public has been growing increasingly concerned about the rodent problem since a rat infestation near Bukit Batok MRT station in December 2014 and the discovery of a dead rat in a vegetable dish at a Chinese restaurant in Marina Square just over a year ago.

Star Control Pest saw its rat-control work increase by 25 per cent last year.

Its general manager Bernard Chan, 46, told The Straits Times: "In the past, when people and businesses talked about rats, they showed less concern.

"The Bukit Batok incident drew a lot of attention. Our customers are now showing more concern, especially after that Bukit Batok incident and the one at Marina Square."

The NEA said about 85 per cent of rat burrows were found in housing estates with the rest in areas such as private land, buildings and food shops.

The authority said that it provides advice and support to town councils on rat control measures.

As part of its revised Rat Attack programme, the agency gave funding to town councils where the focus was shifted from treating rodent burrows to culling rodents in bin centres and bin chutes which provide their food sources.

The Straits Times understands only two town councils have not opted into the revised programme - Marine Parade Town Council (MPTC) and Jurong-Clementi Town Council.

Acting public relations manager for MPTC Tan You Yi said its current pest control contract, which started in January 2014, will finish at the end of this year.

She added that it opted out of the revised programme because "the funding requirements were different from the contract specifications spelt out in our contract".

Jurong-Clementi Town Council said it has customised its own Rat Attack programme.

Measures include weekly inspections of bin centres, markets, hawker centres and food establishments, as well as fortnightly inspections of other common areas.

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New dengue cases spike after 3 weeks of decline

The number of dengue cases reported in Singapore rose to 594 last week, up from the 419 cases reported in the previous week, according to the National Environment Agency.
Channel NewsAsia 23 Feb 16;

SINGAPORE: The number of new dengue cases in Singapore spiked to 594 in the week ending Feb 20, after a three-week decline which saw the number of reported cases falling to 419, according to latest figures published on the National Environment Agency (NEA) website.

Another 107 cases were reported between Feb 21 and 3.30pm on Feb 22.

A total of 4,072 dengue cases have been reported in Singapore since the start of the year. Two people - a 47-year-old man living in Marsiling Rise and a 67-year-old man living in Toa Payoh - have died of the disease so far.

The Ministry of Health and NEA have warned that the number of dengue cases in Singapore may exceed 30,000 this year, higher than the record of 22,170 reported in 2013.

This is due to factors such as warmer conditions brought about by the El Nino weather phenomenon, faster breeding and maturation cycles of the Aedes mosquito population and a change in the main circulating dengue virus, said both agencies at a joint media briefing.

The biggest cluster of dengue cases is now located in Yishun Ring Road and Yishun Street 81, with 109 cases reported, including nine in the past fortnight. A dengue cluster in Tampines, which was the biggest islandwide until last week, was taken off NEA’s list of high-risk areas after no new cases were reported in two weeks.

- CNA/cy

Fears of record dengue cases after 40 per cent spike last week
Samantha Boh, The Straits Times AsiaOne 24 Feb 16;

The number of dengue cases spiked by more than 40 per cent last week, raising fears that the virus could reach record levels this year.

After three consecutive weeks of decline, there were 594 reported cases between Feb 14 and 20, 175 more than in the previous week.

The National Environment Agency (NEA), which released the figures yesterday, stressed the need for vigilance, and urged the public to "continue taking action to stem the transmission of dengue".

Last week, the NEA warned that the total number of cases this year could surpass 30,000, exceeding the record 22,170 cases in 2013, as a result of warmer temperatures due to the El Nino weather phenomenon and a switch in the predominant virus serotype to DEN-2 from DEN-1.

El Nino, which causes warmer- than-usual temperatures, promotes faster breeding and shorter incubation times for the dengue virus, while the switch in serotype is historically followed by a spike in dengue cases due to lower immunity to the new strain.

Dengue clusters often die out spontaneously, according to Professor Annelies Wilder-Smith of the Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine at Nanyang Technological University. "The reason is that a certain level of herd immunity builds up in an outbreak-affected community."

But doing nothing, to allow for the development of the herd immunity, risks the spread of the virus to other areas, resulting in the formation of new clusters, according to Associate Professor Ooi Eng Eong, deputy director of the Emerging Infectious Diseases Programme at the Duke-NUS Medical School.

However, the NEA said that with good control of the virus, fewer people get infected.

The NEA will step up efforts to eradicate dengue, including the launch of its Mozzie Wipeout Campaign on Sunday, which teaches residents how to prevent mosquito breeding in their homes.

Meanwhile, the country's largest active dengue cluster in Tampines - which has seen 280 cases at Tampines avenues 1, 3, 4, 5 and 8 since last November - has been declared "closed" by the NEA.

A cluster is closed when it has fewer than two cases over two weeks.

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Malaysia: Forestry dept awaiting A-G’s nod to prosecute over 100 illegal logging cases

SHARON LING The Star 24 Feb 16;

KUCHING: The Forestry Department here is awaiting the Attorney-General’s go ahead to prosecute over 100 illegal logging cases.

State Forestry director Sapuan Ahmad said the department was awaiting instructions from the federal level before it could take the cases to court.

"As far as the department is concerned, we have completed our investigations into the cases, but they have to be evaluated and processed by the federal side.

"This can be speeded up once the power to prosecute rests with the state. Once this power is given to Sarawak, more cases can be mentioned in court," he told reporters after opening a Sarawak Heart of Borneo (HoB) workshop for government agencies here yesterday.

Prosecuting power is one of several administrative empowerment measures recently agreed to between the Federal and state governments.

Under this measure, state legal officers will be authorised to prosecute cases for offences under state ordinances.

Sapuan said illegal logging had slowed down since the state government's crackdown began in 2014.

He said some 47,000 cubic metres of illegal logs were seized last year compared to 90,000 cubic metres the previous year.

In his speech earlier, Sapuan said timber licence areas within the Heart of Borneo must be certified for sustainable forest management by 2017.

HoB covers about 20 million hectares of contiguous tropical forest in Borneo, including two million hectares in Sarawak.

The programme aims to enhance conservation and sustainable development while minimising forest degradation and its associated loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services.

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Malaysia: Two Bombardier aircraft douse forest fires in northern Sarawak

STEPHEN THEN The Star 23 Feb 16;

MIRI: Forest fires in some 109 hectares (270 acres) of jungles in Kuala Baram district - roughly the size of 270 football fields combined - were doused Tuesday.

As of late afternoon, the two Bombardier aircraft from Subang helped in aerial water bombing operations to douse fires in the district in northern Sarawak.

The aircraft belonging to the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency arrived in the morning following a request from Sarawak assistant minister for communications Datuk Lee Kim Shin.

Lee said the state authorities were grateful to the agency for the swift response. "The aircraft are capable of dumping 6,000 litres of water per sortie on the fires.”

Forest fires have ravaged at least 405 hectares (1,000 acres) of land in the district so far - an area roughly the size of 1,000 football fields.

Northern Sarawak is being hit by a very hot spell.

Villagers and jungle guides join firemen in fighting flames at forest reserve
G.C. TAN The Star 24 Feb 16;

ALOR SETAR: Some 0.5ha of the Gunung Pulai forest reserve has been razed in a fire.

About 100 firemen, civil defence department personnel, jungle guides and villagers have been trying to bring the blaze under control since 11am yesterday.

Fire and rescue department officer Supt Umrani Che Mat said the fire started about 450m above sea level and his men had to hike up to the site with guides’ help.

“We are manually fighting the blaze with ‘fire beaters’ and 10 ‘jet shutters’. A helicopter was also deployed to look out for more fire spots.

“Small fires were also spotted near Gua Kelambu and Gua Layang,” he said when met yesterday.

Supt Umrani added that the firemen were instructed to ‘stand down’ at 7pm. They will continue to fight the fire at first light.

“We have yet to determine the cause of the fire. We were alerted about the fire by villagers at 7.43am.

“Other than firemen from Baling, Kulim, Tikam Batu and Kulim Hi-Tech Park, we were assisted by our multi-skilled team and the volunteer fire squads,” he said.

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Indonesia: Golf course to be turned into city forest

Antara 24 Feb 16;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - Jakarta governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnomo extended his support to the Environment Ministrys plan to turn a golf course in Senayan, South Jakarta, into a city forest.

"I support the Environment Ministrys plan to change the Senayan golf course into a city forest since the area was indeed allocated for the purpose of having a green open space," he said at the City Hall on Tuesday.

Basuki, popularly called by his nickname Ahok, said that based on Jakartas spatial plan (RTRW), the golf course in Senayan was indeed allocated for a green open space (RTH).

Besides the golf course in Senayan, Ahok also proposed that another golf course in Kemayoran, Central Jakarta, be turned into a city forest.

"We wish the golf course in Kemayoran is also changed into a city forest because its status was also a green area like the Senayan golf course," he said.

He said the permit for a golf course is actually similar to that meant for a public cemetery. The two are categorized as green areas but only with different concepts.

Ahok said Jakarta already had a number of city forests, such as in Srengseng Sawah and Pondok Labut, but these were poorly illuminated.

"We indeed had several city forests but will continue to procure land to be developed into city forests and gardens so that Jakarta becomes even greener," he said.

The popular governor is currently facing a challenge with regard to his decision to change the popular red light district Kalijodo into a city garden.(*)

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Indonesia: Bank Mandiri stops loans for oil palm plantations

Antara 23 Feb 16;

Pekanbaru (ANTARA News) - The countrys largest lender PT Bank Mandiri has decided not to extend new credits for investors to open oil palm plantation in peat lands.

"We no longer approve credit proposals to finance development of new oil palm plantations in peat lands," head of the Pekanbaru branch of the state bank, Agus Sanjaya, said at a palm oil discussion here on Tuesday.

The bank will also be strict in providing credit only for oil palm plantations over land which already has the status of right to cultivation land use (HGU), Agus said.

The policy is in response to negative environmental issue against oil palm companies and falling prices of the commodity lately, he said.

Agus did not rule out the possibility that the state bank would lose big clients in Riau as peat lands make up most of the lands in that province.

Riau is one of the largest provinces having the widest oil palm plantations in the country, which is the worlds largest palm oil producer and exporter.

Bank Mandiri will turn to a number of other sectors for credit expansion, he said, adding the people of Riau should not concentrate too much on palm oil related business.

"We will turn to health, educational, construction, infrastructure, downstream oil and gas , communications and trade sectors for credit expansion," he said.

However, the bank still considers the palm oil sector as the most potential for credit expansion, he said.

Oil palm plantations accounted for 10.5 percent of the banks credit target of around Rp700 trillion in 2015. In Riau alone 60=70 percent of the banks total credits were for palm oil sector.

"We still see significant profit in that sector despite the tightened credit policy," he said.

He said the shrinking price of palm oil caused only slight decline in the credit quality of the bank in Riau, "only around 1 percent of the total credit extended in 2015."

He said the level is still considered safe as it is still within the coverage of the provision fund paid by borrowers before disbursement.

"The provision fund was still larger than non performing loans," he said.

Falling price of palm oil was not the main contributor to the NPL, but it is attributable mainly to mismanagement of the loan fund by the borrowers, he said.

"Our worries are caused more by debtors miss management," he said, citing "credit , which was proposed for the purchase of fresh fruit bunches of oil palms, was used for other purposes."

Meanwhile, chief researcher from a research institute of the University of Riau Prof. Dr. Almasdi Syahza, said it is time for Bank Mandiri to provide credits to encourage development of downstream palm oil industry.

Development of downstream palm oil industry is almost stagnant in Riau which has 3 million hectares of oil palm plantations, the professor said.

"Bank Mandiri should give priority to financing downstream sector of the palm oil industry . The business potential in that sector is high," he said.

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Major Indonesian tin smelter stops refining operations--shareholder

Reuters 22 Feb 16;

Feb 22 Major Indonesian tin smelter PT Refined Bangka Tin (RBT) has stopped refining operations and its plant will be scrapped due to environmental concerns, a company shareholder told Reuters.

The exit of privately-owned RBT from the market could provide some support to global tin prices as falling shipments from Indonesia, the world's largest exporter of the soldering material, take a further hit.

Benchmark tin on the London Metal Exchange rose 0.9 percent to $15,910 a tonne, up from $15,880 before the news.

"All Indonesian shareholders and Singaporean partners have agreed to cease operation," Artha Graha Group founder Tomy Winata told Reuters.

"The area will be made a conservation area. The refinery won't be sold, but will be scrapped."

Winata said the decision was made after the company failed to meet "environmentally friendly" expectations.

RBT officials were not immediately available for comment.

The company slashed output last year due to rock bottom prices, producing as little as 200 tonnes a month compared with an average of around 1,000 tonnes previously.

Established in 2007, RBT had shipped refined tin to major markets such as the United States, Netherlands, Germany, Spain, China, Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Pakistan, according to the company's website.

This is the latest hit to Indonesian tin exports, which have been declining for several years due to tightening government regulations on miners and smelters operating on the islands of Bangka and Belitung.

In January, the country's shipments were just 2,486 tonnes, a 63 percent year-on-year drop.

The Southeast Asian country is concerned about the scale of illegal tin mining and smuggling, while green groups and electronics firms have expressed worries about environmental damage. (Reporting by Randy Fabi in Jakarta and Melanie Burton in Melbourne, Editing by David Evans and Mark Potter)

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El Niño prolongs longest global coral bleaching event


The top images show the maximum thermal stress levels measured by NOAA satellites in 2014 and 2015 along with locations where the worst coral bleaching was reported. The bottom image shows the Four Month Bleaching Outlook for February-May 2016 based on the NOAA Climate Forecast System model along with locations. Images from NOAA

NEW ORLEANS - Global warming and the intense El Niño now underway are prolonging the longest global coral die-off on record, according to NOAA scientists monitoring and forecasting the loss of corals from disease and heat stress due to record ocean temperatures. The global coral bleaching event that started in 2014 could extend well into 2017, researchers report at the Oceans Sciences Meeting here this week.

Coral bleaching happens when corals are stressed by conditions such as high temperatures. The bleaching, or whitening, occurs when the corals expel the symbiotic algae that live in their tissues. Without the algae, corals lose a significant source of food and are more vulnerable to disease. In a severe bleaching event, large swaths of reef-building corals die. This causes reefs to erode, destroying fish habitat and exposing previously protected shorelines to the destructive force of ocean waves.

Warmer ocean temperatures caused by El Niños and global warming can lead to coral bleaching. The first mass bleaching occurred during the 1982-83 El Niño. A global bleaching event was then confirmed in 1998 during a strong El Niño that was followed by a very strong La Niña, which brings warmer waters to places like Palau and Micronesia. A second global bleaching event occurred in 2010, during a less powerful El Niño.

Scientists first observed the current global coral bleaching event beginning in mid-2014 when bleaching began in the western Pacific Ocean. In October 2015, as the current El Niño was still strengthening, NOAA scientists declared the third global bleaching event on record was underway.

New research finds that this bleaching event has persisted for 20 months and could reach into 2017, said Mark Eakin, a biological oceanographer at NOAA in College Park, Maryland, and coordinator of NOAA's Coral Reef Watch.

"This time we're in the longest coral bleaching event," Eakin said. "We're maybe looking at a 2- to 2-1/2-year-long event. Some areas have already seen bleaching two years in a row."

Eakin and his colleagues will be presenting the latest update and outlook for the global bleaching event Friday at the 2016 Ocean Sciences Meeting co-sponsored by the Association for the Sciences of Limnology and Oceanography, The Oceanography Society and the American Geophysical Union.

The length of the event means corals in some parts of the world have no time to recover before they are hit by another bleaching event, Eakin said. The current global bleaching event is hammering some reefs repeatedly. Reefs bleached in 2015 in the Caribbean and Florida Keys, for instance, have just started to recover, but may start bleaching all over again as early as July, according to Eakin. In the Pacific, reports are just coming in that corals in Fiji's nearshore waters are bleaching with lots of dead coral.

"This is now two years in a row for Fiji and it's looking like 2016 may be worse than 2015," Eakin said.

The rate of return of bleaching events has been faster than some reefs can recover, he noted. In 1998 in Southeast Asia, for example, there was a severe bleaching event, followed by twelve years of recovery that allowed some of the more rapid-growing, branching corals to grow back. However, the slower-growing corals that build the backbone of reefs did not recover. In 2010, the same area was hit again by a global bleaching event, killing off newly-grown branching corals and many of the surviving massive corals. These reefs may see bleaching again later this year, Eakin said.

"That was only six years ago," he said. "We're seeing global bleaching again now. The frequency of mass bleaching events are going up because of global warming. We are hitting the corals, then we are hitting them again, and then again."

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Sea Levels Are Rising More Quickly Than in the Last Two Millennia

Here are five things to know about the rising tide
Erin Blakemore Smithsonian 23 Feb 16;

When scientists warn about climate change, they often use sea levels to illustrate the catastrophic effects of surging greenhouse gases. But just how much have human activities affected Earth’s sea levels? According to four new studies published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the answer is dramatic indeed. the studies found that within the last 2,000 years, the sea levels rose more quickly than ever before.

“This isn’t a model,” one of the studies’ directors tells Warren Cornwall at Science. “This is data.” Each study emphasizes the effects human activities have on sea levels, and together they paint a sobering vision of a future with even higher seas. Here’s what you need to know about the new research:

Even small temperature changes make ocean levels rise

It’s tempting to think that small changes in temperature don’t make a big difference, but an analysis of global sea-level change over the past 3,000 years suggests otherwise. The study, which looked at a global database of sea-level reconstructions, concluded that sea level rises in the 20th century were faster than the last 27 centuries that preceded it.

After their initial data analysis, the researchers made a computer model that could project sea level backwards and forwards in time. They found that if global warming hadn’t bumped up by just 0.36 degrees Fahrenheit (0.2 degrees Celsius) during the 20th century, sea levels would have risen by just over one inch instead of about 5.5. In the future, the rise could be even more astonishing: One projection shows sea levels rising by 20.5 to 51.6 inches, and another shows sea levels rising by 9.4 and 24 inches.

Those numbers are scary—but match other scientists’ conclusions

Could such dramatic sea level rise calculations really be real? All signs point to yes. Another paper comes to nearly the same conclusion on the amount of sea level rise, and makes nearly the same projections on future sea level surges. This team’s models projected a rise of anywhere between 11 and 51.6 inches using a combination of past sea level and temperature measurements—numbers that look eerily familiar given the first study’s projections.

Ice sheets are sensitive to carbon dioxide levels

Okay, so the oceans seem to respond to even small temperature bumps. But what about ice sheets, which could contribute to sea level rise if they melt? It turns out they are quite sensitive, too. A third study shows that during the mid-Miocene period, when carbon dioxide levels were extremely similar to those that scientists project for the coming years, the ice responded dramatically to tiny shifts in carbon dioxide. In fact, the ice seemed to ebb and flow in sync with carbon dioxide levels.

Researchers use phrases like “highly sensitive” and “vulnerable” to refer to ice sheets’ responses to rising carbon dioxide. And they warn that given rises in current atmospheric carbon dioxide levels and projected increases, “reconstructions such as this one…imply an element of inevitability to future polar warming, Antarctic sheet retreat, and sea level rise.”

Scientists are getting better at simulating ice sheet levels

The final paper in the suite shows a big advance in simulating just how ice levels ebb and flow. The researchers from the third paper were able to come up with a new way to model how ice behaves—a model that could prove useful in future projections.

Bottom line: Brace yourself for rising sea levels

The data from the four papers lines up with another report just published by Climate Central, an independent organization of scientists and journalists devoted to reporting on climate. When that group ran the numbers on hourly water level records from U.S. tide gauges since 1950, they found that sea levels changed with global temperatures—and can almost certainly be attributed to human-caused climate change. They estimated that if not for climate change, a good three quarters of U.S. coastal flooding wouldn’t happen at all.

Can humans change the rising tide? Probably not: Other studies have found that even if carbon dioxide levels were stabilized, sea levels would continue to rise. But the seeming inevitability of rising seas is no reason to throw in the towel: Given the other severe consequences of even small jumps in temperature and carbon dioxide—famines and floods come to mind—it’s still worth it to keep reducing emissions.

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