Best of our wild blogs: 10 Apr 16

St John's Island's underwater garden
wonderful creation and wild shores of singapore

Life History of the Conjoined Swift
Butterflies of Singapore

Singapore Bird Report-March 2016
Singapore Bird Group

Singapore Raptor Report – February 2016
Singapore Bird Group

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Walking for the Wild Side - What impacts of the Cross Island Line?

The proposed route for the planned Cross Island Line cuts through the Central Catchment Nature Reserve at MacRitchie. We find out what wildlife could be affected.

A top Jelutong Tower, in the middle of the Central Catchment Nature Reserve (CCNR), we took a deep breath and gazed upon the stunning view.

There were acres of green all around. Birds darted in and out of our view.

In the distance, vestiges of the concrete jungle that is Singapore, like the office buildings along Thomson Road and Housing Board flats in Toa Payoh, can still be seen - a stark reminder of how we were in a pocket of green surrounded by grey.

Biologists worry for this patch with 413 species of plants, 218 species of birds, 30 species of mammals, 24 species of freshwater fish and 17 species of amphibians - some of which are endangered.

They say the work to construct the Cross Island Line (CRL) could lead to water pollution, soil compaction and plant damage - all of which would be irreversible.

Even before the actual excavation happens, the boreholes that have to be drilled to investigate the soil will already damage the environment, they maintain. Of the 37 boreholes, 16 are within the nature reserve.

But in a report published in February, the Land Transport Authority (LTA) said these soil investigations will have a "moderate impact" on the nature reserve.

Plant expert Lahiru Wijedasa, a former senior botanist at the Singapore Botanic Gardens, is not convinced.

He says the boreholes - which are vertical shafts in the ground - will need to be dug by heavy machinery.

"The weight of the 2.5 tonne machines would not only damage tree roots and kill them, it could also cause compaction of soil, preventing anything from growing after."

He says this is alarming because a portion of the nature reserve is primary rainforests - untouched parts of nature which are home to endangered species like the Greater Slow Loris and the Sunda Pangolin.

Biologist David Tan from the National University of Singapore, who has been studying the forest for more than four years, says the loud noise from the digging would also scare away animals, leading to territorial conflicts.

But the biggest concern is water pollution.

Each borehole, says Mr Wijedasa, is going to need at least 1,000 litres of water, which goes into the soil when digging.

"When you pump in water underground like that, based on the method proposed, sludge will be pumped out. If this sludge gets into streams, it will pollute the water which the animals and plants all need to survive," he stresses.


In its report, the LTA has detailed mitigation measures, which include having 30m buffer zones around streams and marshes, and using enclosures to minimise noise and tanks to hold discharge, such as drilling fluid.

Nature lovers like Mr Tan and Mr Wijedasa are urging authorities to consider alternative routes.

LTA has said a route which skirts around the CCNR will cost an additional $2 billion, and require the construction of longer tunnels and more underground ventilation facilities.

Mr Tan feels there is no price too big for conservation.

He, Mr Wijedasa and other volunteers have been leading tours around the CCNR under the Love Our MacRitchie Forest campaign, which hopes to raise awareness about how special the CCNR is.

They hope that through public education, more people will speak up for the CCNR and an alternative route will be chosen.

Mr Tan says: "We should really think about what we value because conservation is something that benefits everyone.

"MacRitchie is not only the biggest forest we have, it is one of the few forests we have left."

Additional reporting by Ng Jun Sen and Ariffin Jamar

What Animals Are There

The Central Catchment Nature Reserve is home to 413 species of plants, 218 species of birds, 30 species of mammals, 24 species of freshwater fish and 17 species of amphibians. They include:

They are a common sight along the trails of MacRitchie and have a diet of fruits, leaves and small animals.

Their numbers have been dropping due to illegal pet trade and habitat destruction. The species is classified as "vulnerable", which means it is likely to become endangered.

This lizard is capable of expanding its ribs out to form "wings" to glide between trees.

Despite being one of the largest ants in the world, this insect is completely harmless.

This animal is critically endangered and is one of the most heavily poached animals in the world. In February, a baby pangolin was found in Upper Thomson Road. It is now thriving under the care of vets at the Night Safari.

This shy mammal moves through the forest quickly due to its small stature. They feed on fallen fruits, shoots, young leaves and fungi.

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

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Youths sharing ideas on environmental conservation will spur action: Masagos

The Environment and Water Resources Minister adds that it is "critical" to ensure that young people are involved in building a more sustainable environment.
Liyana Othman Channel NewsAsia 9 Apr 16;

SINGPAORE: Getting youths to share their ideas on environmental conservation with one another will spur them to take concrete action, said Environment and Water Resources Minister Masagos Zulkifli on Saturday (Apr 9) at the ASEAN Plus Three Youth Environment Forum.

Singapore is hosting the forum for the first time, which takes place from Apr 8 to 10. The event is part of the National Environment Agency's annual Youth for the Environment Day, that will be held on the Apr 22.

At the event, Mr Masagos added that it is "critical" to ensure that young people are involved in building a more sustainable environment.

"Youth involvement in the environment is very critical,” he said. “In fact, what we are building is actually for their future. And to ensure that what we're building is also sustainable, it requires all of us to make adjustments in our lifestyles, in how we contribute towards the waste and pollution that we are producing to the environment. And therefore if we start them young and know that there are things they can do on their own, and in their groups, it will start them off in a good way."

About 150 youths from Singapore and other ASEAN member states, plus China, discussed how communities and companies can go green. IKEA, for example, is looking into creating home products that can help reduce waste, as well as water and energy consumption.

Other issues raised include how they can champion the environment, and inspire others to do the same.

"You guys did a ten-year river cleaning programme, so I really like that, because we have this really big river, it's a really famous river in Brunei and it really needs cleaning,” said Amal Afifah Rusali, chairperson of the Brunei Environmental Youth Envoys. “It's Kampong Ayer. I really like that idea, even if it's 10 years long, it's worthwhile in the end. I plan to do more research on that, so that we can hopefully do something that's doable in Brunei."

- CNA/ek

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Education Ministry runs pilot outdoor adventure camp programme

Currently, most schools come up with their own camp programmes, which are conducted at four outdoor adventure learning centres managed by Education Ministry.
Faris Mokhtar Channel NewsAsia 9 Apr 16;

SINGAPORE: Schools will be able to attend outdoor adventure camps designed by the Education Ministry, instead of coming up with their own programmes, if a pilot programme developed under the new National Outdoor Adventure Education Masterplan is successful.

The programme hopes to prepare students for a five-day camp at Outward Bound Singapore (OBS) for all Secondary 3 students.

At the Dairy Farm Outdoor Adventure Learning Centre, one of the activities students will get to do is to learn how to turn leftover food into compost. This is part of a three-day camp run by the Education Ministry (MOE) under a two-year pilot programme launched in January. The Dairy Farm centre is being used as a testbed for the programme.

Currently, most schools come up with their own camp programmes, which are conducted at four outdoor adventure learning centres managed by MOE. They then hire private outdoor adventure operators to facilitate the activities.

"There is value in diversity, but there is also value in guiding schools in the kind of objectives that we look forward to in an outdoor setting,” said Dr Suzanna Ho, a senior specialist of outdoor education at MOE. “Because at the moment, if let’s say, schools design their own camping programmes and all, they all have different objectives, which is not wrong. But I think to layer it, we want schools to be able to have very considered objectives about why they are camping."


The ministry is also building up its own pool of full-time outdoor adventure educators under the pilot. The role of these educators will be to conduct cohort camps for primary and lower secondary students to prepare them for the new expedition-based camp for Secondary 3 students at OBS.

As of now, there are 16 educators at the Dairy Farm centre, all of which have completed three months of training with OBS and Republic Polytechnic. Some also used to work as allied educators in schools.

“I actually have my roots in outdoor education, all the way until even when I moved on to secondary school and beyond,” said Mr Melvin Lee, one of the outdoor adventure educators at the Dairy Farm centre. “So that's why I thought, this is a good opportunity for me to make the right switch to actually become an outdoor adventure educator.

Ms Lim Leng Er, the programme chair of the diploma in outdoor and adventure learning at Republic Polytechnic, said the training provided involved three aspects. The first involves equipping outdoor adventure educators with technical skills as well as safety and risk management, while the second aspect touches on nature appreciation.

"The third one would be facilitation skills - how to bring out quality learning during programmes," she added.

Compared to private operators, who may rely on freelancers or temporary staff, the ministry said having a core of full-timers means it can set standards and inject new ideas when it comes to delivering quality outdoor education.

“We need people who are competent and passionate,” said Dr Ho. “For instance, in teaching, you need competent and passionate teachers, in order to bring a subject to life. So, in the same way, we need some of these competent outdoor educators in order to role model for our students and to show the way about the 'adventure spirit'."


As part of efforts to enhance outdoor education, the ministry will also ramp up facilities at all four of its outdoor adventure learning centres located at Dairy Farm, Labrador, Jalan Bahtera and Changi Coast. This will allow them to cater to more students, who say going through camps help them get out of their comfort zone.

“If we learn outside our classroom, we are like moving around, taking part in the activity and learning at the same time,” said Primary 5 student Aaqil Mohd Bilal from Farrer Park Primary School.

The ministry said it will review the pilot programme after two years, and is looking to extend it to the other centres.

- CNA/ek

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Nee Soon South volunteers get training in fight against litterbugs

More than 150 volunteers in Nee Soon South attended a session by the National Environment Agency on how to give evidence against litterbugs.
Nadia Jansen Hassan Channel NewsAsia 10 Apr 16;

SINGAPORE: In line with the push to keep the environment clean, a briefing session was held in Nee Soon South on Sunday (Apr 10) to educate volunteers on how to effectively give feedback against litterbugs.

More than 150 volunteers attended the session, which was led by the National Environment Agency (NEA). Tips included ensuring that photographs and videos are clear and sharp, and date-stamped if possible.

Volunteers were also advised to include specific details in their reports. These include location and the type of offence committed, such as littering from high-rise buildings.

The session was held in conjunction with a litter-picking exercise held monthly in Nee Soon South. The programme has been in place since 2012, and sees a minimum of 100 volunteers taking part at each round.

- CNA/rw

Citizens can report litterbugs using several platforms: NEA

SINGAPORE — Residents may think twice about reporting cases of litterbugs to the National Environment Agency (NEA) because they fear that it would be a troublesome process or that they might have to appear in court.

But the NEA sought to clear up these misconceptions with Nee Soon South residents yesterday, when they gathered for the constituency’s monthly litter-picking exercise as part of efforts to keep the estate litter-free.

There are several platforms for residents to report littering cases such as the myENV mobile app and the NEA’s website that clearly spell out the information needed for the report. Those unable to do it online can also call the NEA’s hotline or send the agency a letter, said the NEA.

While these avenues are not new, Member of Parliament for the constituency Dr Lee Bee Wah said it is not well-known among residents. That was why she decided to use the monthly litter-picking session as an opportunity to spread awareness.

“Quite a lot of my residents are aware of their responsibility and some would like to help ... Just depending on NEA enforcement officers (and cleaners) would not help,” said Dr Lee. “I’m sure there are some residents who would like to help identify those hardcore litterbugs. To solve the problem, we need to look into the root cause. It is the hardcore litterbugs that we would like to try to (identify) rather than to keep mobilising NEA officers.”

With the littering problem unabating despite decades of efforts addressing it, laws were passed last month to provide community volunteers with greater enforcement powers to deal with environmental offences, such as issuing warnings and summonses.

When asked if getting residents to report on each other would affect neighbourly ties, Dr Lee said: “I’m sure they are not out there to (target) their neighbours ... They just want to have a clean living environment.”

In cases where further action from the NEA is needed, such as issuing a summons, the resident who made the report would need to meet NEA officials to give a statement of facts. To make it convenient, especially for those who are working, the NEA can make alternative arrangements to meet near the workplace or home.

If the culprit decides to contest the offence in court after a failed appeal, the complainant will need to testify in court. However, the NEA emphasised that this is a rare occurrence.

The NEA also advised residents on how to provide good and accurate feedback such as giving details of the time, location and frequency of the offence, and clear pictures or videos that can identify the culprit’s face.

Nee Soon South residents TODAY spoke to said they were unfamiliar with the process, but would do so if they caught anyone littering. Ms Kristry Tan, 27, a pre-school vice-principal who has been living in the estate for about 10 years, said her block has had several cases of high-rise littering. “It’s about being responsible to the community,” she said.

“You can tell (culprits) not to litter but if they don’t listen, we cannot keep telling them because it might affect our relationship. So it would be good if we can report anonymously,” added Ms Zhang Jian Ping, 33, a nurse who has lived in Nee Soon for five years.

Meanwhile, three dog poo stations, which have plastic bags contributed by the community, were also launched yesterday morning at the N8 Park, following a successful pilot last August. Another 27 stations will be rolled out throughout the constituency by the end of June.

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Malaysia to introduce ‘holistic biodiversity law’

CHRISTINA CHIN The Star 10 Apr 16;

PUTRAJAYA: Malaysia is introdu­cing a “holistic biodiversity law” for environmental protection, aimed at filling the gaps and marry existing laws into one new, comprehensive Act.

Describing it as very important in protecting forests, marine parks, wildlife and water bodies, Natural Resources and Environment Minis­ter Datuk Seri Dr Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar (pic) said the Act would cover everything, including the “intangible”.

He said this “very finely drafted piece of legislation” would be the country’s first biodiversity law.

“The Biodiversity Act is very inte­resting as it includes what we can and cannot see – like the ecosystem. It’ll even address the dwindling number of Malayan tigers,” he told Sunday Star.

The completed draft, which even included input from villagers, must go through the Attorney-General’s Chambers’ scrutiny before it was presented to the National Land Council and tabled in Parliament by the end of the year, he said.

“I’m very happy with the draft but we still have to explain it to the states because it will be binding on them.”

The legislation, he assured, would not take away the states’ authority but serve to protect their wealth.

“Whether state or private land, it must be observed if the trees or plants are indigenous to us as we cannot allow these to be exploited. We’ve a wealth of biodiversity like forests that produce herbs but we haven’t protected them.

“If some fellow from another state or country comes into your jungle and finds a tree that cures cancer and patents it, would you want that? So, the states have no choice but to implement our law.”

On March 1, The Star reported that once signed, the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement requires the country to keep its biodiversity intact.

The National Policy on Biological Diversity 2016-2025, which was launched in February, outlines the means to reduce pressure on biodiversity, safeguard key ecosystems and species, involve more people in conservation and share the benefits of using the natural wealth.

The ministry, Dr Wan Junaidi added, would also present its proposal to raise open burning compound pe­­nal­ties – now being checked by the A-G’s Chambers – for Cabinet approval very soon.

The current compound of RM2,000 is too small a deterrent for offen­ders.

The new compound rates will be based on a graduated scale depen­ding on the class the offender falls under.

“For example, a villager burning rubbish in his backyard will pay RM2,000, construction companies will pay RM10,000 and big plantations will have to fork out the RM250,000 maximum compound,” he said, adding that the new law to bring to book local companies setting forest fires abroad was still being studied.

“The A-G is very interested and is talking to legal quarters in the region on the kind of law we want.”

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Malaysia: 35,000l water to be sent to Banggi daily

The Star 10 Apr 16;

KOTA KINABALU: Some 35,000 litres of potable water will be shipped daily to the drought hit northern island of Banggi to address the critical situation there.

Kudat district officer Sapdin Ibrahim said it would be delivered to Pulau Banggi villagers using boats equipped with water tanks.

Sapdin said the move was necessary as the island’s treatment plant was shut down on Friday after the river there ran dry.

“This method is cheaper than using barges which would cost RM30,000 for a return trip,” he said.

Sapdin said a shipment of 3,000 cartons of bottled water, each containing 1.5 litres, had also been sent to the island to be distributed to the 10,000 villagers.

He said the villagers had been depending on a single spring at Kampung Timbang Dayang but water flow had dwindled to a trickle that it took more than an hour to fill up a 10-litre container.

Science, Technology and Inno­va­tion Minister Datuk Wilfred Madius Tangau said parts of the west coast interior district would see intermittent rain from now.

“The Meteorological Services Depart­ment has forecasted wet weather until April 14.

“For this reason, no cloud seeding operations will be conducted during this period,” he said.

A midday downpour provided a much-needed respite over parts of K­­ota Kinabalu and other areas along Sabah’s west coast for nearly an hour.

Finally, some rain expected in Sabah
KRISTY INUS New Straits Times 9 Apr 16;

TUARAN: The dry spell here is finally expected to relent with rain forecasted starting tomorrow.

Science, Technology and Innovation Minister Datuk Madius Tangau said drizzles and intermittent rains can be expected at most areas until April 14 (Thursday).

Commenting on the cloud seeding operations, he said: "We did the first exercise on Thursday but received minimal success of rainfall, with just 30 minutes of rain.

Yesterday, the Royal Malaysian Air Force utilised its C130 aircraft so we were not able to conduct the cloud seeding.

"We will see if we can try again today but Sandakan, West Coast and the Interior regions in this State are forecasted to experience some rain today... and the whole of Sabah can expect wetness starting tomorrow so we will see," he said when asked if cloud seeding operations would be continued.

Madius told reporters this after officiating a Tuaran-level education event here.

Meanwhile, he said that a number of areas recorded temperatures over 37 degrees celsius for three consecutive days as of 4pm.

They are Arau in Perlis, Sik in Kedah, Ulu Perak in Perak and Kuala Lipis, Jerantut and Temerloh in Pahang.

"For Sabah as of 4pm yesterday, the districts being monitored recording between 35 to 37 Celsius for three consecutive days are Beaufort, Keningau, Kota Belud, Beluran and Kota Marudu," he added.

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Malaysia: Due to fires and heatwave, wildlife unit put on 24-hour standby

RUBEN SARIO The Star 10 Apr 16;

KOTA KINABALU: The Sabah Wildlife Rescue unit has been put on a 24-hour notice for emergency cases as fires, caused by the heatwave, continue to consume huge swaths of forest reserves.

Sabah Wildlife Department assistant director Dr Sen Nathan said his officers had yet to receive distress calls to rescue wildlife trapped or displaced by the fires.

“However, we are in constant contact with the Forestry Department whose rangers and firemen continue to battle fires spanning some 2,000ha at the Trus Madi forest reserve, situated between Tambunan and Keningau.

“Some pockets of fire are occurring in Binsuluk forest reserve, about 100km away, with very low wildlife population,” he said.

Dr Nathan said based on the unit’s observation, wildlife had a good chance to escape due to the vast area as the Trus Madi forest reserve covers more than 180,000ha.

He said they had taken proactive measures to prevent more forest fires, including suspending all hunting activities and freezing the issuance of licences.

“This is to prevent hunters from going into forested areas and inadvertently starting a fire,” he said, adding that all department officers were directed to be more vigilant and monitor any calls or information of displaced wildlife.

Forestry Department director Datuk Sam Mannan said they had deployed some 200 rangers and officers to battle fires in Trus Madi forest reserve.

He said their efforts were hampered by the hilly terrain and that fires were starting from one spot to another due to the extreme heat caused by El Nino.

Mannan said the use of aerial water bombing to douse the fires appeared to have minimal impact.

“We hope the Fire and Rescue Department will bring the Bombardier aircraft as it has a larger capacity to carry water,” he said.

Fires at the Binsuluk forest reserve in the west coast was under control for now, he added.

Pockets of fires due to open burning in Bongawan and Beaufort over the past three days have killed more than 20 tortoises and affected the eco-system there.

A spokesman from the Fire and Rescue Department said an operation had been launched to rescue the reptiles trapped in the rivers and swamps.

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Malaysia: Do more to curb illegal trade of rare butterflies, say experts

JOASH EE DE SILVA The Star 10 Apr 16;

PETALING JAYA: The country’s wildlife monitoring system needs better enforcement to prevent illegal trading of rare and endangered butterflies from Malaysia

UKM’s Institute for Environment and Development associate fellow Zainey Zainudin said Malaysia has one of the most species of butterflies in the world.

“I believe a large population of butterflies are traded as these insects are easily transported unnoticed.

“Data collected by Cites (Convention On International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) showed that of the 13,000 butterflies in South-East Asia meant for export, 98% were supplied from Malaysia in the period from 1998 to 2007,” she said.

Zainey was asked to comment on a recent bust of 1,180 endangered butterflies by Custom officers in China, which included those from Malaysia and the national butterfly – the Rajah Brooke’s Birdwing.

She said butterflies were mostly exported to the United States, European Union countries and Canada for the curio market, in which the insects were pinned and framed as collectors’ items.

Zainey said a task force must be set up to address the smuggling of wildlife species.

She said the Government must also work together with the Western countries which were the main importers.

Wildlife trade watchdog Traffic agreed that greater attention should be paid to the buying and selling of insects, especially through online portals.

“There is a need to be more vigilant as it will have a multiplying effect in safeguarding endangered species,” said Traffic senior communications officer Elizabeth John.

She said authorities and logistics providers should be more alert as in the case of China, the smugglers had been ordering butterflies from Malaysia for some time.

The list of protected insects in the Wildlife Conservation Act (2010) also needed to be reviewed, she added.

There are now only 132 species on the list.

UPM’s entomologist Prof Dr Rita Muhamad Awang said so far, some 2,000 species of butterflies and 4,500 species of moths had been identified in the country.

Dr Rita said the Rajah Brooke’s Birdwing was an endangered species and could be sold at a high price.

“Butterflies are part of the tropical beauty in Malaysia and contribute to its biodiversity,” she said.

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Indonesia: Bird species native to Flores at risk of extinction

Markus Makur Jakarta Post 9 Apr 16;

Excessive hunting has put a bird species native to the Ndora-Aegela forests in Flores, East Nusa Tenggara, at risk of extinction. Local people still hunt protected birds in forests across the island, despite a ban on such practices. Located in Ulupulu village, Nangaroro district, Nagekeo regency, the forests are currently managed by the Nagekeo Forestry Agency.

A profile of the Wallacea ecosystem, compiled by the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF), has determined that the Ndora-Aegela forests are a key biodiversity area. Apart from its function as a water catchment area, a number of birds native to Flores are found in the forests.

Located in Ulupulu village, Nangaroro district, Nagekeo regency, the forests are currently managed by the Nagekeo Forestry Agency.

A profile of the Wallacea ecosystem, compiled by the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF), has determined that the Ndora-Aegela forests are a key biodiversity area. Apart from its function as a water catchment area, a number of birds native to Flores are found in the forests.

On March 14, Burung Indonesia staff member Samuel Rabenak conducted a short survey in the Ndora-Aegela forests.

Rabenak said it did not take him long to spot two birds native to Flores, namely the Flores crow and the Wallace hanging parrot, locally known serindit Flores. Serindit Flores is listed as an endangered species.

Rabenak said the discovery of serindit Flores was good news for bird lovers and conservation activists overall. He said the Burung Indonesia team had also discovered several other bird species such as the Flores green pigeon, which is listed as a vulnerable species.

Many other bird species were found including the Flores lorikeet, the russet-capped tesia, the chestnut-capped thrush, Flores minivet, the yellow-ringed white-eye and.

Rabenak said the discoveries could offer an alternative destination for bird watchers in Flores. To date, Ndora-Aegela has not received much attention from bird watchers, who tend to focus their attention on the Mbeliling forests and the Ruteng Ecotourism Park in West Flores.

“Flores is a great destination for international bird watchers who want to observe birds native to Flores,” he told on Tuesday.

Nagekeo Regent Elias Djo said the local administration had prohibited people from hunting birds native to Flores and other bird species. Ndora-Aegela is a protected forest, so any kind of hunting activity is illegal.

“It is prohibited to hunt birds in Ndora-Aegela forests,” said Elias.

Maman Surahman, head of technical affairs at the East Nusa Tenggara Natural Resource Conservation Agency, told that all wildlife species in the conservation area were protected to maintain their numbers and to safeguard the balance of the ecosystem.

“It is important to educate society of the need to stop bird hunting,” said Maman. (ebf)

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Thailand: Andaman coral reef sites may close

APINYA WIPATAYOTIN Bangkok Post 10 Apr 16;

Phuket — After being warned of possible coral bleaching in Thailand as a result of El Nino last year, the Department of Marine and Coastal Resources says it is prepared to cope but may be forced to close affected coral reef sites.

The increasing temperatures in the Andaman Sea and the Gulf of Thailand earlier this month is a sign, said Nalinee Thongtham, the department's senior fishery biologist.

She said that the influence of El Nino has resulted in increasing seawater temperatures in the eastern Pacific which have remained longer than usual. Once the temperature declines, the mass of warm water moves to the western Pacific, accompanied with high seawater temperatures in the summer season.

This becomes a significant factor in stimulating the bleaching, the biologist added.

This is not the first case of bleaching in Thailand.

The natural occurrence took place in 1991, 1995, 2003, 2005 and 2007.

However, the worst case was in 2010 where 66.9% of coral reefs in the northern part of the Andaman Sea and 39% in the southern part died from bleaching.

The biologist said the recovery from 2010 is satisfactory in many areas but the department is concerned that these areas may soon be affected by new bleaching.

"If it happens in a very short period, there is a smaller impact to the coral reefs, which are very sensitive. Or the impact could be immense in which case stronger action is required to limit the problem," she said.

Pinsak Suraswadi, director of Marine Research Institute, said officials at five stations are closely monitoring seawater temperatures, four in the Gulf of Thailand and one in the Andaman Sea.

If the temperature rises to 30.5C in the Gulf of Thailand and 28C in the Andaman Sea, bleaching is likely to happen.

The department has prepared to close coral reef sites, using Section 22 of the 2015 marine and coastal management promotion law that gives the department the authority to manage marine resources and prevent areas from being severely affected.

The high number of tourists could worsen the bleaching. About 12 million tourists visit Phuket every year.

Sommai Plookmaidee, vice-president of Phangnga's Pru Nai tambon administrative organisation, voiced his concern that a huge number of tourists has had a significant impact on coral reefs.

In Koh Kai Nok alone, there are 300 speedboats carrying about 3,000 tourists every day. There are not enough buoys to service them, resulting in boats anchoring to coral reef sites.

Mr Sommai said he wants to see all stakeholders work together to limit the impact on coral reefs and to enact a recovery plan, including limiting the number of tourists and enforcing waste management at beachfront shops and restaurants.

He added that wastewater and garbage management is the TAO's top priority, to limit the impacts to the marine ecological system.

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Climate-related death of coral around world alarms scientists

MICHELLE INNIS Today Online 10 Apr 16;

SYDNEY — Dr Kim Cobb, a marine scientist at the Georgia Institute of Technology, expected the coral to be damaged when she plunged into the deep blue waters off Kiritimati Island, a remote atoll near the centre of the Pacific Ocean. Still, she was stunned by what she saw as she descended some 30 feet to the rim of a coral outcropping.

“The entire reef is covered with a red-brown fuzz,” Dr Cobb said when she returned to the surface after her recent dive. “It is otherworldly. It is algae that has grown over dead coral. It was devastating.”

The damage off Kiritimati is part of a mass bleaching of coral reefs around the world, only the third on record and possibly the worst ever. Scientists believe that heat stress from multiple weather events including the latest severe El Nino, compounded by climate change, has threatened more than a third of Earth’s coral reefs. Many may not recover.

Coral reefs are the crucial incubators of the ocean’s ecosystem, providing food and shelter to a quarter of all marine species, and they support fish stocks that feed more than one billion people. They are made up of millions of tiny animals, called polyps, that form symbiotic relationships with algae, which in turn capture sunlight and carbon dioxide to make sugars that feed the polyps.

An estimated 30 million small-scale fishermen and women depend on reefs for their livelihoods, more than one million in the Philippines alone. In Indonesia, fish supported by the reefs provide the primary source of protein.

“This is a huge, looming planetary crisis, and we are sticking our heads in the sand about it,” said Professor Justin Marshall, the director of CoralWatch at Australia’s University of Queensland.

Bleaching occurs when high heat and bright sunshine cause the metabolism of the algae — which give coral reefs their brilliant colours and energy — to speed out of control, and they start creating toxins. The polyps recoil. If temperatures drop, the corals can recover, but denuded ones remain vulnerable to disease. When heat stress continues, they starve to death.

Damaged or dying reefs have been found from Reunion, off the coast of Madagascar, to East Flores, Indonesia, and from Guam and Hawaii in the Pacific to the Florida Keys in the Atlantic.

The largest bleaching, at Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, was confirmed last month. In a survey of 520 individual reefs that make up the Great Barrier Reef’s northern section, scientists from Australia’s National Coral Bleaching Task Force found only four with no signs of bleaching. Some 998km of reef, much of it previously in pristine condition, had suffered significant bleaching.

In follow-up surveys, scientists diving on the reef said half the coral they had seen had died. Professor Terry Hughes, the director of the Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University in Queensland, who took part in the survey, warned that even more would succumb if the water did not cool soon.

“There is a good chance a large portion of the damaged coral will die,” he added.

Scientists say the global bleaching is the result of an unusual confluence of events, each of which raised water temperatures already elevated by climate change.

In the North Atlantic, a strong high-pressure cell blocked the normal southward flow of polar air in 2013, kicking off the first of three warmer-than-normal winters in a row as far south as the Caribbean.

A large underwater heat wave formed in the northeastern Pacific in early 2014, and has since stretched into a wide band along the west coast of North America, from Baja California to the Bering Sea. Nicknamed the Blob, it is up to 4 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than surrounding waters, and has been blamed for a host of odd phenomena, including the beaching of hungry sea lions in California and the sighting of tropical skipjack tuna off Alaska.

Then came 2015, with the most powerful El Nino climate cycle in a century. It blasted heat across the tropical and southern Pacific, bleaching reefs from Kiritimati to Indonesia, and across the Indian Ocean to Reunion and Tanzania on Africa’s east coast.

“We are currently experiencing the longest global coral bleaching event ever observed,” said Dr C Mark Eakin, the Coral Reef Watch coordinator at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Maryland. “We are going to lose a lot of the world’s reefs during this event.”

Reefs that take centuries to form can be destroyed in weeks. Individual corals may survive a bleaching, but repeated bleachings can kill them.

Lurid reports of damaged reefs started coming in from worried scientists in the summer of 2014.

Dr Lyza Johnston, a marine biologist in the Northern Mariana Islands, dived to the reefs off Maug, a group of small islands: “In every direction, nearly all of the corals were bright white.”

Dr Misaki Takabayashi, a marine scientist at the University of Hawaii at Hilo, surfed the waves above the blue rice coral there: “I could see what looked like bleached white ghosts popping up off the ocean floor at me.”

Dr Cory Walter, a senior biologist at the Mote Marine Laboratory in Florida, peered down from a boat over Wonderland Reef off the Lower Florida Keys: “It almost looks like it snowed on the reef.”

Predicting the duration of the bleaching or forecasting the next one is difficult. The Blob has cooled somewhat, and El Nino, while weakening, is expected to stretch into 2017.

Dr Eakin said he expected the bleaching to continue for nine more months. Scientists will not be able to measure the full extent of the damage until it is over.

What is clear is that these events are happening with increasing frequency — and ferocity. The previous bleachings, in 2010 and 1998, do not appear to have been as extensive or prolonged as the current one.

The 1998 bleaching, which Dr Eakin said had been set off by a fierce El Nino, killed around 16 per cent of the world’s coral. By 2010, oceans had warmed enough that it took only a moderate El Nino to start another round.

Then in 2013, Dr Eakin said, “a lot of bleaching happened due to climate change, before the El Nino had even kicked in.”

Reefs that were bleached in 2014, like those in the Florida Keys and the Caribbean, had no time to regenerate before suffering further thermal stress from El Nino last year, leaving the coral vulnerable to disease and death.

The reefs in the Florida Keys “are about to go into a third year straight of bleaching, something that has never happened before”, said Dr Meaghan Johnson, a marine scientist at the Nature Conservancy. “We are worried about disease and mortality rates.”

Dr Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, the director of Australia’s Global Change Institute, noted that 2015 was the hottest year ever recorded, both on land and in the oceans — breaking a record set just the year before.

“Rising temperatures due to climate change have pushed corals beyond their tolerance levels,” he said, adding that back-to-back bleaching can be particularly deadly to the corals.

El Nino warms the equatorial waters around Kiritimati Island more than anywhere else in the world, making it a likely harbinger for the health of reefs worldwide. That is why Dr Cobb, the Georgia Tech scientist who made the recent dive, has been making the trek at least once a year for the past 18 to the tiny atoll, part of the Line Islands archipelago.

Though the atoll sits just north of the equator, trade winds suck water up from the depths of the ocean, usually keeping the water temperature surrounding the reefs a healthy, nearly constant 78 degrees.

But in 2015, the expected upwelling of deep, cold water did not happen, Dr Cobb said, speaking by satellite phone after her dive. So water in the atoll was 10 degrees warmer than normal, and never cooled enough to allow coral to recover.

“The worst has happened,” she said. “This shows how climate change and temperature stresses are affecting these reefs over the long haul. This reef may not ever be the same.” NEW YORK TIMES

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