Best of our wild blogs: 14 Mar 16

Signs of bleaching at Terumbu Raya
wild shores of singapore

The Line and Love Our MacRitchie Forest
Darwinian Left. Of all things evolved

Life History of the Malayan Swift
Butterflies of Singapore

#LepakInSG and #LepakInSG Social Media Tips for Civil Society Peeps
Life in Transition

Cake Sand Dollar (Arachnoides placenta) @ Chek Jawa
Monday Morgue

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Fish farm's facility works like a health clinic

Carolyn Khew Straits Times 14 Mar 16;

On the small island of Pulau Ketam lies a facility where baby fish are nursed to withstand the nastiest of diseases. Set up by fish farm Marine Life Aquaculture, the land-based site works like a health clinic.

Its four-finger threadfin fish take 21/2 months to grow to about 10g, at which stage they are given a vaccination jab. It takes about 16 man-hours every day to vaccinate 5,000 fish but the farm's chief operating officer believes it is worth it.

"These fish are very fragile and the mortality rate is usually 80 to 90 per cent but we've managed to turn it around. In our fish, 70 per cent can survive," said Mr Frank Tan.

Before the fish are vaccinated, the eggs and larvae are reared in sterilised water treated with ultraviolet rays, ensuring they do not become vulnerable to aquatic disease.

The vaccination and controlled environment help protect fish stock against common diseases caused by bacteria such as Tenacibaculum maritimum, more commonly known as T. mar, which causes lesions in fish. It also protects them against Streptococcus iniae, a major disease among tropical fish.

Mr Tan, 41, who founded the farm in 2009, said improving his stock's survival rate helps to solve the main "bottleneck" of the aquaculture process. He said: "Imagine if you rear 100 fish but only 10 to 20 survive, how would that ever make your business viable?"

About 8 per cent of fish consumed here are produced locally and the Government hopes to increase this to 15 per cent. To shorten the time needed to raise the fish to marketable size, Mr Tan said his team identifies adult fish which reproduce fast-growing juvenile fish.

Doing so has enabled him to shorten the harvesting time from about 10 months to 61/2 months - reducing the amount spent on food and other operating costs. His 6ha Pulau Ketam site houses nearly 100 tanks. About 200 tonnes of fish are produced each year.

Apart from threadfin, he also grows seabass. Once the fish are about 100 days old, they are transferred to net cages in his Changi fish farm located opposite.

There are about 120 coastal fish farms in Singapore.

An Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority (AVA) spokesman said: "Given Singapore's limited land resources... it is important to intensify agriculture land use, and raise productivity and capability of our farms so we can do more with less."

Earlier this month, the AVA launched a tender for the development of a commercially viable indoor farming system for edible fish.

The tender will close on June 2.

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New crop of farms harvest rich pickings

Carolyn Khew, The Straits Times AsiaOne 14 Mar 16;

A NEW breed of farmer is appearing in Singapore.

They are using high-tech and high-yield methods to transform their work from back-breaking labour into lucrative business.

From running indoor vertical vegetable farms - which grow crops in stacked layers, to raising fitter fish that are robust against aquatic diseases, farmers here are finding ways to overcome the limitations of traditional farming.

Sustenir Agriculture, for example, is an indoor farm which currently produces about 54 tonnes of vegetables a year - an output which its founders consider highly efficient for a 344 sq m space.

Grown in rolling racks less than 3m tall, the plants are packed together allowing for maximum light absorption. The modular design means the racks can be moved easily.

"Traditionally, when people look at vertical farms, they haven't been looking at them from an urban standpoint," said the farm's co-founder Martin Lavoo.

"Especially if they are farms of gigantic size, most of them are in the outskirts of the city or in relatively rural areas. We wanted to look at how we can put this in the middle of city - say Raffles Place - delivering straight into the heart of demand."

The farms' controlled conditions also allow them to grow imported varieties such as the Tuscan kale.

"This means a lower carbon footprint - we won't have to air-freight them from the United States or Europe," said the other co-founder of Sustenir Agriculture, Benjamin Swan.

Since 2014, the farm has been producing vegetables such as kale and arugula.

Sustenir is based in an industrial facility in Admiralty.

Its vegetables absorb light from LEDs and are tube-fed with nutrients while carbon dioxide comes through the air-con ducts.

Before anyone can enter the area where plants are grown, they have to don a jumpsuit and take an air shower to remove dirt particles.

Vegetables are grown at temperatures between 14 deg C and 22 deg C.

It takes about two weeks for the produce to grow before it is harvested. This is about half the time needed for outdoor farms to grow vegetables under normal conditions, said Mr Swan. It is then sold to restaurants such as Salad Stop!.

While the vegetables sell for $19 per kilogram - about 10 per cent higher than it would cost businesses to buy from wholesalers - Mr Swan, 35, and Mr Lavoo, 29, said the quality is worth the price.

Mr Swan added that their vegetables can stay fresh for up to two weeks, as they are locally produced.

According to figures from the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority released last year, 10,848 tonnes of leafy vegetables consumed here in 2014 were produced locally.

This means 12 per cent of Singapore's total vegetable consumption that year was produced locally, up from 7 per cent in 2010.

Jonatan Lassa, a research fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies at Nanyang Technological University who researches food and environmental security issues, said growing crops in a controlled environment can have several advantages, including a lower carbon footprint and less water wastage.

"The beauty of vertical farming is that the multiple is infinite," said Mr Lavoo.

"We can go as many storeys up as we like. The sky is literally the limit."

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Malaysia: Committee to be formed to tackle heat wave


KUALA LUMPUR: A committee to look into ways to deal with the effects of the heat wave is expected to be formed soon.

Natural Resources and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar said the ministry would be meeting related agencies including Ministries of Education; and Energy, Green Technology and Water; as well as Meteorological Department to discuss on the matter.

"We can't take the heat wave lightly and it has been said that the El Nino phenomenon will continue for a few years.

"I have given instructions to my officers to have the meeting later this week.

We already have a national committee to address the haze problem, so there should be one on heat wave," he said when met at the Parliament lobby earlier.

He had earlier told the Dewan Rakyat that the Cabinet had agreed on the amendments of laws related to the Forest Research Institute Malaysia (FRIM) laws and these would be tabled in the parliament soon.

"Under the existing laws, findings and products from the researches carried out by the ministry through agencies like FRIM in collaboration with universities, for instance, could not be shared (publicly).

So, we are looking into amending the laws and have received the go-ahead from the Cabinet a few months ago," he said in responding to a question by Noraini Ahmad (BN-Parit Sulong).

It’s too hot for school
The Star 14 Mar 16;

KLANG: The Education Ministry will decide if schools should be temporarily closed due to the heatwave, said Deputy Education Minister Datuk P. Kamalanathan.

He said the relevant authorities were monitoring the situation closely and would consider the option if it became too hot when schools reopen later.

“Since it is the school holidays now, children could stay indoor and minimise outdoor activities until the schools reopen next week.

“However, we will consider closing schools if the need arises,” he said when met after attending a youth dance programme here yesterday.

Kamalanathan was asked if public schools would be advised to close following the current hot spell that could bring a heatwave and the forecast of scorching heat on March 20, a day before the schools reopen.

He said that right now, a ministry’s standard circular allowed school administrators to decide based on the existing standard procedures.

“The circular empowers the principals and headmasters that under such instances when the weather is too hot, they can take action such as stop having classes outdoor.

“Considering that the weather is worse now, we will make sure the relevant information is updated and sent to all state Education Departments directors within these two days.

“They can then advise all school principals and headmasters to prevent students from getting involved in outdoor activities at school if it gets too hot when the schools reopen later,” he said, adding that schools in the other countries actually shut down during heatwave attacks.

Kamalanathan noted that the Education Ministry would be gui­ded by the standards set by the Environment Ministry on whether to close schools or not when it gets too hot.

“They have the expertise, which we do not have.

“Once we get the needed information from them, we will decide on the next course of action,” he said.

Kamalanathan also added that meetings with all relevant ministries and agencies were ongoing to discuss issues concerning schools and students welfare.

Air-con sales see a surge in hot weather
The Star 14 Mar 16;

GEORGE TOWN: With the rising temperatures, air conditioner units are literally flying off from electrical shops as demand surges.

Best Point Furniture & Electric Sdn Bhd operating manager Kelvin Pang said there had been a 30% increase in sale of air conditioning and air cooling devices since the start of March.

“We expect this to increase to 50%, as is usually the case this time of the year,” he added.

Pang said besides air conditioners, people were also buying air coolers and fans.

“We have been selling between three and five air conditioners every day since the beginning of the month, from the usual one or two units,” he added.

A part-time air condition installer, who only wished to be known as Soon, said customers were getting desperate in the current climate.

“Some are willing to fork out extra money for the air conditioners to be installed at their homes as soon as possible.

“But we are also hard pressed looking for time-slots,” he said.

He also added that installers were working till late in the day to cope with the increasing demand.

Housewife Lily Tan said she decided to buy an air conditioner and air cooler after her children complained that the heat was getting unbearable.

“We were used to living without any air cooling devices before this, but this time the heat is unusually hot,” she added.

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Indonesia: Govt asked to be more open to "peatland management for economic activities"

Antara 13 Mar 16;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - Chairman of the Regional Representative Council (DPD) Irman Gusman said the government should be more open to peatland management for economic activities.

"The government should not restrict all kinds of activities on peatlands because many (economic) activities have been running there. It should not make a wrong decision that could cause stagnancy to industry and increase in the number of unemployed people in Indonesia," he said here over the weekend.

He said that the village funds which almost totaled Rp50 trillion can be used to control forest and land fires.

"By using the village funds, the government should not necessarily depend on foreign assistance. Moreover, foreign funds, though small, require a lot of and difficult requirements," he said.

He said foreign funds were full of interests aimed to weaken Indonesian flagship commodities such as oil palm plantation and forest industrial products.

Irman sited as an example the fire-free village program now being implemented by a number of companies. This is a collaborative effort that is successful in reducing the number of hotspots.

"Forest and land fire handling should involved all stakeholders. There is no need to blame each other," he stated.(*)

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Indonesia: 29 hotspots detected in Riau

Antara 13 Mar 16;

Pekanbaru, Riau (ANTARA News) - The Terra and Aqua Satellites detected 29 hotspots in five districts of Riau Province, Sunday.

The number of hotspots increased drastically after there was no hotspot at all over the last two days, Sugarin, head of the Pekanbaru meteorology office, said.

The districts of Meranti had 16 hotspots, Bengkalis 10, and Rokan Hilir, Pelalawan and Indragiri Hulu one each, he added.

Of the 29 hotspots, 21 hotspots which were found in Bengkalis and Meranti, were confirmed to have come from forest and plantation fires.

"Ten hotspots were detected in Bengkalis and 11 in Meranti," he stated. (*)

Riau warned over forest fires
Rizal Harahap and Syamsul Huda M. Suhari, The Jakarta Post 14 Mar 16;

Riau authorities were warned on Sunday to increase efforts to prevent land and forest fires as 29 hot spots have been detected in the province, the highest number among all provinces in Sumatra.

“The number is far higher than other provinces in Sumatra,” The Pekanbaru Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency’s (BMKG) data and information division head Slamet Riyadi said.

Slamet said that the Terra and Aqua satellites had detected eight hot spots in Aceh, and one each in North Sumatra and South Sumatra.

He said the number of hot spots in Riau jumped to 29 on Sunday, from six on Saturday and eight on Friday.

According to satellite data, 16 hot spots were detected in Meranti regency, 10 in Bengkalis regency and one each in Indragiri Hulu, Pelalawan and Rokan Hilir regencies.

“Based on a temperature analysis, there are indications that 21 of the hot spots are fires, with a confidence level of 70 percent. Eleven of them are in Meranti while 11 are in Bengkalis,” he added.

Slamet suggested that all stakeholders increase their efforts to prevent land and forest fires in eastern coastal Riau, since the area is dominated by peatland, which is highly flammable.

“The potential for rain is also minimal, there is only the possible of rain in the central, west and south Riau,” he added.

Separately, Bukit Barisan Military Commander Maj. Lodewyk Pusung said he had received a report that claimed that the number of fire hot spots increased during weekends due to land-clearing activities.

“It seems that arsonists are reading the situation and increasing their activities on weekends when security officers take a rest or day off. On working days, they ease their operations,” Lodewyk said.

Meanwhile, the Riau Natural Resources and Conservation Agency’s regional division head Supartono said his agency had deployed firefighter teams in 89 villages that were prone to forest fires.

“Starting this year, we are conducting coordinated and measurable patrols. Earlier, patrols were conducted sporadically,” Supartono said, adding that his agency had set up 69 forest-fire posts with a six-member team at each post.

He said his officers had been patrolling 20 of the 89 villages to monitor and extinguish fire spots.

In related developments, the police have arrested 41 people suspected of burning land in the province. “Dumai and Pelalawan Police are handling the most cases, with 12 cases and five cases, respectively” said Riau Police spokesman Adj. Sr. Comr. Aryo Tedjo, adding that the number of suspects might increase.

Meanwhile, hot weather has hit Gorontalo province in the past few weeks, with temperatures reaching 34 degrees Celsius every day.

BMKG Gorontalo forecaster Fatuhri said that hot temperatures were the result of the El Nino phenomenon, which was still being felt in the province, as well as a lack of rainfall.

Currently, the only area which has experienced rain is the northern part of the province.

Residents have complained that the hot weather has dried wells and destroyed corps.

Abbas Ali, a farmer near Lake Limboto in Gorontalo city, said that the hot temperatures caused pest populations to increase, which led to the destruction of plants.

Abbas said he had suffered losses of around Rp 10 million (US$714) as pests destroyed his tomatoes, eggplants, cucumber and chilli plants.

“The fruit has become small and rotten. I destroyed all the plants,” he said.

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Severe coral bleaching worsens in most pristine parts of Great Barrier Reef

Expert blames global warming, as coral bleaches when water temperatures go above a certain threshold for an extended period of time
Michael Slezak The Guardian 14 Mar 16;

Damage to parts of the Great Barrier Reef has worsened, leading authorities to raise the alert to the second-highest level, indicating severe local coral bleaching.

The bleaching is worst in the most pristine and remote parts of the reef north of Cairns, according to Terry Hughes, convenor of the National Coral Taskforce. “It’s the jewel in the crown of the Great Barrier Reef and it’s now getting a quite a serious impact from this bleaching event,” he said. “The northern reefs are bleaching quite badly now.”

Hughes said it appeared there was some coral death occurring in northern reefs.

Russell Reichelt, the chairman of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority said the area around Lizard Island, 250km north of Cairns, and sites further north, had fared the worst.

The US National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration predicts bleaching conditions to worsen over the coming weeks.

The world is currently in the grips of the third global coral bleaching event. Coral bleaches when water temperatures are raised above a certain threshold for an extended period of time.

Hughes, director of the ARC centre of excellence for coral reef studies at James Cook University, said although the strong El Niño occurring now is partly to blame for the bleaching event, the real culprit is global warming caused by carbon emissions.

“These massive thousand-kilometer bleaching events didn’t happen thirty years ago,” he said. “No-one ever recorded a mass bleaching event in the 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s, until the middle of the 1980s … and the Great Barrier Reef didn’t bleach until 1998 for the first time.”

“The baseline temperature on the barrier reef has gone up between a half a degree and a full degree depending where you are on the great barrier reef. Bleaching happens once coral sits in water a degree or two above the normal summer maximum for a month or so.”

Moreover, Reichelt said climate change is expected to increase the severity El Niño weather patterns.

We're heading to a point where the Great Barrier Reef might bleach during every El ​​Niño, risking its very existence.

Hughes says we are heading towards a future where the Great Barrier Reef might bleach during every El Niño , which will put its existence at risk.

Based on the severity of bleaching reports, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority has lifted its bleaching warning from Response Level 1, which means mild and widespread bleaching, to Response Level 2 (severe and local).

The silver lining in the announcement is cloud cover and cooler temperatures have created safer conditions for two thirds of the reef – most areas south of Cairns.

“In the last couple of weeks we’ve had a lot of cloud cover in the middle and the south, so the danger period has basically passed for the reef south of Cairns.”

But the announcement has led to calls for immediate action from conservation groups around Australia.

Greenpeace called for Queensland to limit its coal exporting. “In the two weeks since the level 1 response plan began, the Queensland government has allowed some 8m tonnes of coal to be exported straight through this delicate ecosystem. This coal will be burnt overseas, driving climate change, warming our oceans and contributing to coral bleaching,” said Shani Tager, Greenpeace Reef Campaigner.

Society said: “As the bleaching on the Reef continues to intensify we need an urgent response from the Turnbull government to avoid widespread bleaching happening repeatedly in the future.”

“This bleaching event has revealed the true cost of approving more coal mines, more coal export port terminals and refusing to listen to the warnings ... The solutions are clear, we must make a rapid transition from mining and burning coal to 100% renewable energy.”

WWF-Australia called for an injection of $1m in federal funding for coral monitoring.

“GBRMPA is clearly concerned and is being proactive in lifting its response level and we support them in taking this action,” said WWF spokesperson Richard Leck.

“Surveying the impact of this bleaching event requires significant additional funds because of the challenges of getting scientists into the field over enormous distances.”

Coral bleaching threat level increased by Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority
Stephanie Smail ABC News 14 Mar 16;

Authorities monitoring the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority have increased the coral bleaching threat level after divers found widespread loss of coral.

Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) chairman Dr Russell Reichelt said the area around Lizard Island, north of Cairns, and sites further north, had been hit hardest.

It warned there was a high risk of mass coral bleaching on the reef this month due to the hot, dry conditions associated with the El Nino weather system and high sea surface temperatures.

"This is the result of sea surface temperatures climbing as high as 33 degrees Celsius during February," Dr Reichelt said.

"In the far north, the surveys found severe bleaching on inshore reefs, along with moderate bleaching on mid-shelf reefs."

Bleaching dramatically increased in past two weeks

Since earlier today, divers from the GBRMPA have been working with the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service and other scientists to survey the extent and severity of bleaching.

Dr Reichelt said GBRMPA would ramp up monitoring of the mass bleaching event in the coming days.

Lyle Vail, who runs the Australian Museum's Lizard Island Research Station north of Cairns, said bleaching had increased dramatically in the past two weeks, especially among shallow water corals.

"A couple of weeks ago you'd look around in the Lizard Island lagoon and see at least 50 per cent of corals were stressed to some level, but none had died," he said.

"Now you look around and see all the corals are highly stressed and a couple of colonies have died."

Earlier this month, Mr Vail said the bleaching was the worst to hit the island in more than 15 years.

Bleaching reported up to 30kms away from Lizard Island

He said it would take time for the coral to recover when cooler air and sea temperatures eventually arrived.

"Corals aren't going to miraculously recover. It takes them time, if they're going to survive, to get over such a stressful event," he said.

"It will take many weeks for the coral to get as close as it can to previous condition.

"The problem with having these high levels of stress is it will affect their growth and reproductive output in the future."

Mr Vail said other researchers monitoring corals in the area had reported bleaching up to 30 kilometres away from the island.

He said there were signs the worst weather was over.

"We're starting to see the sea temperatures go down gradually after a week of cloud cover and cooler air temperatures," he said.

Director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies Professor Terry Hughes said the mass bleaching was a "real tragedy".

"After months of El Nino conditions, we had hoped that cloudy weather in the past few weeks would quench the overheating of the Great Barrier Reef along its entire length," said Professor Hughes.

He said extensive aerial surveys would begin this week, similar to those done during mass bleaching events in 1998 and 2002.

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