Best of our wild blogs: 12 Apr 16

East Coast Park: corals, seagrasses and otters!
wild shores of singapore

Green Drinks: COP21 Paris Agreement & Climate Change
Green Drinks Singapore

Registration opens for the 25th International Coastal Cleanup Singapore (Sat 03 & Sat 17 Sep 2016)!
News from the International Coastal Cleanup Singapore

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Dengue cases dip to 292 after spike in previous week

The number of new dengue cases in Singapore dipped to 292 in the week ending Apr 9, 85 cases fewer than in the previous week, according to latest figures published on the National Environment Agency (NEA) website.
Channel NewsAsia 12 Apr 16;

SINGAPORE: The number of new dengue cases in Singapore dipped to 292 in the week ending Apr 9, 85 cases fewer than in the previous week, according to latest figures published on the National Environment Agency (NEA) website.

Another 25 cases were reported between Apr 10 and 3.30pm on Apr 11.

A total of 6,630 dengue cases have been reported in Singapore since the start of the year. Four people have died of the disease so far – a 47-year-old man who lived in Marsiling Rise, a 67-year-old man who lived in Toa Payoh, a 63-year-old woman who lived in Bedok and a 73-year-old woman who lived in Hougang.

“Although the number of weekly reported dengue cases is lower than that for some of the past weeks, it is still high for this time of the year,” the NEA said in an advisory on its website. “The majority of mosquito breeding is still being found in homes, such as in domestic containers, flower pot plates and trays.”

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 Elias Road, together with Pasir Ris View, Riverina View and Riverina Walk. A total of 73 cases have been reported in the area, including 24 in the past fortnight.

The area around Bowmont Gardens, together with Jedburgh Gardens, Wilton Gardens and Siglap Rise has similarly seen 73 cases reported in the area, including two in the past fortnight.

- CNA/dl

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Malaysia: Perhentian’s beauty tar-nished

FIRDAOS FADZIL The Star 12 Apr 16;

PETALING JAYA: Close to a tonne of sticky, black gobs of tar have been collected from the beaches in Perhentian Besar Island since Friday after they washed up along the shores of the island.

Resort operator Hwang Pei See, who helped clean up the beaches together with her staff and guests, said the appearance of the gobs was now an annual occurrence at this time of the year and she was deeply concerned with the pollution.

“At the moment it doesn’t affect our business but if the condition worsens, the coral reefs will be affected.

“This will affect our business and the country’s tourism image will suffer,” she told The Star yesterday.

“We have been cleaning up for the past four days. The first two days were bad but I’m glad that apart from the volunteers, guests also helped clean up the beach,” she said.

Fuze Ecoteer-Perhentian Commu­nity and Conservation Project mana­ger Ainn Haris said a total of 936kg of tar was manually collected in garbage bags.

“We are expecting to see an oil slick because we were told by boatmen who take divers on diving trips around the island that said they saw patches of oil slick,” Ainn said.

Ainn said every year, oil from the open sea would be washed up on the beaches of Perhentian Besar Island before reaching Perhentian Kecil, which is hidden behind the bigger island.

“The Marine Park Department and the Fishery Department are aware of this issue but they are not doing much since it has been like this for the past few years,” said Ainn.

Volunteer and PhD student Loh Seng Ling said she hoped that this issue would get the attention of the authorities so they could launch investigations.

Last year, The Star reported that clumps of tar balls were found on the shores of Perhentian Island.

Similar tar balls were also found on the beaches of Lang Tengah Island, which is located near Perhentian Island.

The volunteers have to do the cleaning up before the sun rises to avoid having the tar melt into the sand, which would make their job harder.

Considered one of the best diving and snorkelling spots in the world, Pulau Perhentian is home to an abundance of marine life.

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Malaysia: Current hot season puts the heat on durian supply

The Star 12 Apr 16;

GEORGE TOWN: Even durians have taken a hit from the heat. Durian lovers will be disappointed to learn that the supply of the King of Fruits is expected to drop by up to 40% due to the hot weather.

Bao Sheng Durian Farm owner Chang Zhi Vooi said the prolonged heatwave had badly affected the durian trees.

“Due to the hot weather, the trees are not getting enough water and we have to water them everyday.

“There are seven water pipes to ‘shower’ the trees every four hours,” he said yesterday.

Chang, a third-generation farmer, said many unripe fruits had dropped off.

However, he pointed out that the durian season this year could be longer as new flowers were still blooming.

“This year, we can expect durians from May until the end of July.

“However, it will be a smaller harvest compared to last year. A tree can produce more than 200 fruits, but this year, we may get only about 100 plus,” he said.

Green Acre Sustainable Farm owner Eric Chong said the supply in his orchard was expected to drop by between 25% and 30%.

“One of my Little Red durian trees is also dying as the fruits are absorbing the nutrients from the tree, thus leaving it without the necessary minerals to survive,” he said.

Chong is hoping for rain to come soon.

Meanwhile, Penang Water Supply Corporation Sdn Bhd chief executive officer Datuk Jaseni Maidinsa has reminded Penangites to continue conserving water and use it wisely.

“The capacity at the Air Itam Dam stands at 61%, which can last for 60 days,” he said.

First durian harvest in May
JOLYNN FRANCIS The Star 19 Apr 16;

BALIK PULAU: Durian lovers can expect to sink their teeth into the first batch of the D604 and Kunpoh Angbak from May 1 onwards.

Bao Sheng Durian Farm owner Chang Teik Seng said these would be followed by the Lipan, D600, Kapri, Little Red, D11, Horlor, Green Skin, Green Skin Ang Bak, Kunjit, Lim Fong Jiao, and Mausan.

“All of the above will be available from May, with some spilling over to June and July.

“In June, the Black Thorn, D99, Bak Eu, D15 and Ganjau will be available while the Red Prawn will only make its appearance from July 10 onwards,” he said here yesterday.

Although Chang is struggling with the dry weather and experiencing a drop of about 40% in harvest, he said his durian trees were coping well – thanks to the organic farming methods he had adopted about 20 years ago.

“By practising organic farming, my durian trees live and last longer, and are not badly affected by any changes in the weather.

Quality harvest: Chang and his son Zi Vooi admiring the fruits of his orchard in Balik Pulau.
Quality harvest: Chang and his son Zi Vooi admiring the fruits of his orchard in Balik Pulau,

“They are also not attacked by diseases so easily. The worms and bugs in the organic soil also help keep it moist.

“The grass, which is free of pesticides, can add moisture to the soil.

“If it is too hot, the flowers will dry up but if there is too much water, the flowers will keep growing. However, they will eventually drop on their own as it is too wet,” Chang added.

He noted that it would be ideal for the trees if it rained for half an hour each week.

“If it rains too many times or doesn’t rain at all in a week, it’s bad.

“If the rain is heavy, 10 minutes will be enough,” he said.

He added that even though the quantity of the harvest might be down due to the dry weather, the quality would be good.

“This year, the durians will taste better. The trees are not producing new leaves, so all the nutrients will go to the fruits,” Chang said.

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Malaysia: Impact of the heatwave

Cloud-seeding to begin for northern states
The Star 11 Apr 16;

KANGAR: The Meteorological Department (MetMalaysia) will carry out cloud-seeding operation in the northern states of the peninsula starting Tuesday.

According to MetMalaysia source, the operation will take place over a certain period of time, which has yet to be finalised.

"Now seems to be the most suitable time to conduct the cloud-seeding operation in the northern states, especially between noon and 3pm, but it all depends on the atmosphere and the presence of suitable clouds," he told Bernama here Monday.

He said the operation, which would begin in Bayan Lepas, would cover the northern states in the peninsula, namely Penang, Perak, Kedah and Perlis.

In BAGAN SERAI, Perak Public Amenities, Infrastructure, Energy and Water Committee chairman Datuk Zainol Fadzi Paharudin said the level of water supply at the Bukit Merah Dam had declined to 6.6m from the normal level of 8.68m due to the El-Nino phenomenon.

"If the situation persists, the dam will not be able to supply sufficient water to 4,697 hectares of padi fields in Selinsing and Semanggol, hence delaying the padi planting activity in the two districts," he told reporters after visiting the dam here.

He said the two districts should have received the water supply on Sunday, but the release of the water was rescheduled to April 20.

In KUANTAN, seven cases of heat exhaustion and one heat stroke case were reported in Pahang.

State health director Datuk Dr Zainal Ariffin Omar said the heat exhaustion cases were reported in Kuantan (three cases), Bentong (two), Bera (one) and Temerloh (one), while the heat stroke case was reported in Temerloh.

"All cases were due to the extreme hot weather condition and involved only adults," he told reporters after launching the state-level massive anti-aedes breeding operation here. - Bernama

Heatwave: Jerantut, Temerloh schools to close for another day
The Star 11 Apr 16;

KUANTAN: All schools in Jerantut and Temerloh will be closed for another day tomorrow (Tuesday) due to the extreme hot weather, said Pahang education director Datuk Rosdi Ismail.

He said the closure was decided as the temperature in the two districts was still high with Jerantut recording 38.5°C, and Temerloh, 37.8°C

"However, school staff and teachers will have to come to work as usual because this break is only for students," he said when contacted by Bernama on Monday.

On Sunday, the Education Ministry announced that all schools in Perlis, and Jerantut and Temerloh in Pahang would be closed Monday due to the hot, dry weather brought on by the El Nino phenomenon.

The Education Ministry was quoted as saying that the school closure was in consideration of students' health as the temperatures recorded in the affected areas exceeded 37°C for more than 72 hours. - Bernama

El Nino: 50,492 students affected in Pahang
BERNAMA New Straits Times 11 Apr 16;

KUANTAN: The directive to close schools due to the hot weather in the districts of Temerloh and Jerantut today involved 50,492 students, said State Education Department director Datuk Rosdi Ismail.

He said 155 schools comprising 38 secondary schools and 117 primary schools were ordered closed.

“A total of 13,476 secondary school students and 18,401 primary school pupils are affected in Temerloh.

“In Jerantut, affected are 7,401 students from secondary schools and 11,214 from primary schools,” he said when contacted by Bernama.

Yesterday, the Education Ministry via a media statement, ordered all schools in the two districts to be closed for a day after the temperature readings in the two areas exceeded 37 degrees Celcius due to the El Nino phenomenon.

Also ordered closed were schools in Perlis which had been closed thrice since the country was hit by the hot and dry weather a few months ago.

However, the directive to close only involve the absence of the students as a health measure and the school days missed do not have to be replaced.

Meanwhile, the administrative operations of the schools such as meetings, planning of teaching and learning activities and other routine tasks, which do not involve students, go on as usual. -- BERNAMA

Bottled water finally reaches Pulau Banggi
The Star 12 Apr 16;

KOTA KINABALU: The first shipment of bottled water reached the parched northern Pulau Banggi yesterday night but islanders will only get it today.

Assistant district officer for Banggi Awang Shahrin Awang Bakar said the 1,300 crates of bottled water would be distributed after a handing over ceremony by Banggi state assemblyman Datuk Abdul Mijul Unaini.

He told The Star when contacted yesterday that the bottled water was sourced from Kota Kinabalu and transported by lorry and reached Kudat this morning.

The bottles will be distributed to the hospital and islanders at three villages first.

“We have another shipment of 1,700 cartons after the first batch.”

Kudat district officer Sapdin Ibrahim said they appreciated any contributions from NGOs.

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Malaysia: Rains help douse Sabah forest fires

MUGUNTAN VANAR The Star 12 Apr 16;

KOTA KINABALU: After burning for weeks, the fires in the Binsuluk Forest Reserve and the Trusmadi Forest Reserve have finally been put out, thanks to the annual inter-monsoon rains.

The rains – though far less than in previous years – over the weekend put out the fires at the two forest reserves in Beaufort and interior Keningau, lifting the haze that had been plaguing the areas.

However, more rain is needed to bring back the traditional water sources from wells and streams.

“Most areas in Sabah have received rains with the setting in of the inter-monsoon over the weekend. We expect rains to continue until the end of this week,” said Sabah Meteorological acting director Lim Ze Hui in an interview.

However, he warned that the El Nino was still an influencing factor over the amount of rain that the state would receive in the coming days.

“The El Nino is at its weakening stage but it will be the cause of less rainfall in April and May until its impact is neutralised in June,” he said, adding that isolated rains and scattered thunderstorms could be expected within the week in all areas of Sabah and Labuan.

At the peat swamp fire in Binsuluk Forest Reserve, the firemen finally wound down their operations on Sunday.

The fire, which had been burning since March 29, destroyed nearly 70% of the 12,000ha swamp forest reserve.

Sabah Fire and Rescue Services Department deputy director Khairul Azuwan Ibrahim said most of the blaze had been put out but local teams would keep a close eye on any remaining underground fires.

The fire in the Trumadi forest reserve area, which started about a week ago, has already been doused by the rains although mopping-up operations will continue with the Forestry Department personnel.

“Aerial surveys to check over the forest area are also being carried out,” Khairul said.

Deputy Chief Minister Datuk Seri Yahya Hussin visited interior Keningau to assess the damage, which saw large tracts of vegetable farms, orchards and oil palm plantations destroyed by fires or due to the lack of water.

Yahya said the state government was currently assessing the damage and would take the necessary steps to help the farmers.

2,940 Forest, Bush Fire Outbreaks Recorded In 10 Days
Bernama 11 Apr 16

MARANG, April 11 (Bernama) -- The Malaysia Fire and Rescue Department (JBPM) recorded 2,940 forest and bush fire outbreaks in the first 10 days of this month.

Its director-general, Datuk Wan Mohd Nor Ibrahim said the number showed an increase over the same period last year and he did not dismiss the El Nino phenomenon as a cause, besides human factors such as carrying out open burning.

"Last year, 1,708 forest and bush fires were recorded in a month, but within 10 days (in April, this year), the number reached almost 3,000, which is rather high.

"In March alone, 8,914 cases were reported nationwide," he said after the launching of the Emergency Response Team (ERT), here, Monday.

According to him, within the 10 days, Sabah recorded the highest number of cases at 457, followed by Johor (380), Perak (353) and Kedah (255).

He said in 2014, there was a decline in the number of cases and most of the forest fire outbreaks only occurred around February until March.

"We find there is on-going lack of public awareness as open burning still occurs and some do it to open up land for agriculture and other purposes," he said.

Wan Mohd Nor said JBPM encouraged premises owners, industries and hotels to set up the ERT to provide quick early response to fire outbreaks and other emergency situations.

"If before this, the ERT was only established at the premises already determined such as big industrial plants and hotels with 50 rooms and above, now this is encouraged at other premises," he said.

To date, 1,900 such premises out of 7,30O nationwide have established their own ERT.

Wan Mohd Nor said there was also the need for industrial plants to instal an automatic fire communication system link with the fire stations for quick action in case of a fire outbreak.

He said losses incurred due to fire outbreaks last year amounted to RM4.4 billion, with almost 70 per cent of the cases involving factories.

Meanwhile, Pahang JBPM director, Datuk Abd Wahab Mat Yasin said he expected the forest fire near Sungai Ular, Kuantan to be completely put out in another two days.

He said fire on about 100 acres of the forest area had been doused while the fire-fighting operation was still on at another 70 acres.

The fire that broke out last Thursday had spread to the centre of the forest, causing difficulties to the firemen to put out the fire.

The operation is being assisted by the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA) through aerial spraying of water using its Bombardier CL 415 MP.

Although the investigation into the cause of the fire is on-going, Abd Wabab did not dismiss the possibility of a thrown cigarette butt as the cause.


MetMalaysia: Inter-monsoon season is starting
The Star 12 Apr 16;

PETALING JAYA: Seasonal heavy rains are falling but the sweltering heat which forced school closures for a day in parts of the peninsula is set to continue for now, said the Malay­sian Meteorological Department.

A MetMalaysia officer said the inter-monsoon season had set in last week with west coast states expe­riencing heavy rainfall in the past few days.

“But it did not help to lower the high temperature readings over northern and central peninsula and Sabah,” he told The Star.

Schools in Perlis, as well as the Jerantut and Temerloh districts in Pahang closed yesterday as temperatures there exceeded 37°C over a 72-hour period.

The closure announced by the Education Ministry was a precautionary measure to safeguard the health of pre-school, primary and secondary pupils in the affected areas.

MetMalaysia said that the public could expect more frequent rain with thunderstorms during the afternoon and evening, especially the west coast states, west Sabah and Sa­­ra­wak as the inter-monsoon progress­ed.

“As for Klang Valley, afternoon thunderstorm is expected in the next few days,” he added.

The highest temperatures yesterday (as of 1pm) were recorded Chu­ping, Perlis (36°C) along with Kuantan and Alor Setar (35°C).

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Malaysia: Unfettered logging threatening villagers' survival

BERNAMA New Straits Times 11 Apr 16;

JERANTUT: Greedy and unscrupulous loggers have been stealing from the Gunung Dulang and Gunung Ais range for the past 10 years, and today over 500 villagers are paying for it.

The people of Kampung Mat Daling have now lost their source of clean and free water supply due to the drying up of catchments from the overzealous logging.

Jungle animals have also been wreaking havoc in the village after their home and food source were destroyed by the rampant deforestation taking place.

In addition to that, many villagers also lost their source of income, due to decreasing depth of the surrounding rivers.


Kampung Mat Daling is situated at the upper reaches of Sungai Tembeling, near the Pahang-Terengganu border.

There is no easy access into or exit from the village, due to its very remote location. The villagers, therefore, relied very much on their surroundings as the source of sustenance.

Life was not that easy, but at least they had access to clean and free water. That was until the rampant deforestation took place.

The two mountains ravaged by loggers have been supplying water to the catchment area in Sungai Kancing, Sungai Rambai and Sungai Tembeling. These have been the sources of water supply for the people of Kampung Mat Daling.

Its village head Wan Maba Wan Zakaria, 63, said the villagers have been put through a number of difficulties ever since the logging activities started a decade ago.

“We used to be able to get clean water supply from Bukit Rambai, but the catchment soon dried up (due to the massive logging in the area). We then turned to Bukit Kancing for water supply, but now even the catchment in the area cannot meet our needs. We have no choice now but to depend on the supply by PAIP (Pengurusan Air Pahang Berhad),” said Wan Maba to the press when met during a survey of the area by Pertubuhan Pelindung Khazanah Alam Malaysia (PEKA) recently.

It is learned that there has been disruption in the water supply from PAIP from time to time, due to the excessive sedimentation in water sources resulting from logging activities.


He said the villagers used to grow food crops for survival, but today they were finding it harder to do so. Wild boars and macaques would ravage their small farms for food as the loggers have destroyed the animals’ food source and habitat.

A villager, Wan Baharuddin Wan Abdul Raffar, said the unrestricted logging had not only affected the village’s water source but also his income as a boatmaker.

“I’ve been making boats since 1974 and I used to get seven to eight orders every year. I could sell them for between RM8,000 to RM10,000 each.

“However, the river access to Kampung Mat Daling has been getting shallower. Boats are no longer able to traverse the river to get to the village.

This has caused a drop in demand for boats and so we have lost a source of income,” said the 62-year-old.

There were eight boatmakers in the village who now had to turn to rubber tapping for a living, despite the low wage and uncertain price of the commodity in the market.

“We used to be able to make a decent living making boats and were able to go to Jerantut town nearly every week to buy our needs. Today, it has become painfully difficult to go out, even if for just once a month,” he said.


It is not only rare species of trees that have become threatened and extinct with deforestation.

Rare fish species like kelah, sebarau, krai and lampam are now also no longer seen in Sungai Kancing and Sungai Kebir, once a source of income for the villagers and a haven for anglers.

Zakaria Serahan, 37, said the river water have become increasingly shallower and have even dried up in some areas, causing the fish to swim upstream in search of unpolluted water.

“The youths of the village used to bring in avid anglers as fishing was one of the villagers’ means of income. Some 20 anglers would come in monthly, bringing in at least RM2,000 a month to fishing boat operators.

“However, due to the logging activities, the fish population have become nearly extinct and that in turn reduces the number of anglers. The youths are now forced to migrate to the cities to support their families,” he lamented.

Today, anglers who come to fish would have to be brought over to Lubuk Palas, located several hours away from Kampung Mat Daling.

Meanwhile, PEKA president Puan Sri Shariffa Sabrina Syed Akil urged the government to not take lightly crimes against the environment such unrestricted and unmonitored logging.

She also called on for tighter acts and better enforcement so that loggers with permits would think twice about going into restricted areas.

“The government must study the present acts and set new terms such as making it compulsory to replant with new trees for every tree felled.

“If we don’t do this, what of these natural treasures are we leaving for the coming generations? Where would these animals, whose homes have been the forests, go?” --BERNAMA

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Indonesia: Shark population threatened due to fin harvesting

Study shows shark conservation needs to include alternative livelihoods for fin harvesters
Frontiers ScienceDaily 11 Apr 16;

A recent study shows that effective shark conservation in Indonesia only works when shark protection through no-fishing zones is combined with efforts to involve local communities in the management of their own fisheries and by providing alternatives to sustain their livelihoods.

The world's largest shark fin industry lies in the heart of the Coral Triangle, a region of the Indian and Pacific Oceans home to the world's most diverse coral reefs and known as the Amazon of the seas. This idyllic-sounding environment sustains an industry responsible for the deaths of over 3 million sharks a year. With a reported annual catch of 100,000 tons, Indonesia's shark fishery contributes more to the international shark fin trade than any other nation.

Shark fins are tempting targets for fishermen from Indonesian island communities because they have high monetary value and shark fishing is one of the most lucrative livelihoods in these remote coastal regions. The finning industry presents the main livelihood for fishermen in this region and the enormous profits have transformed remote coastal villages to cash-based communities. But in recent years, shark populations have seen a worrying drop in numbers.

The staggering increase in the supply of shark fins to a global market has led to overexploitation of these populations and it not only affects the biological ecosystem but also the highly profitable marine tourism industry. To protect both the sharks as well as the local economy, conservationists and scientists are urgently calling for better fisheries management.

According to a landmark study, published in the open-access journal Frontiers in Marine Science effective shark conservation in Indonesia only works when shark protection through no-fishing zones is combined with efforts to involve local communities in the management of their own fisheries and by providing alternatives to sustain their livelihoods.

To study the effect of No-Take Zones (NTZs) that ban commercial and artisanal fishing of all sharks and reef fish, Vanessa Jaiteh and colleagues went to the Raja Ampat regency of far Eastern Indonesia, the centre of the shark finning industry and where sharks have high monetary value as a tourism attraction.

In the two well-enforced NTZs of a Marine Protected Area within a recently established shark sanctuary in Raja Ampat, the number of sharks was shown to be up to 28 times higher compared to areas open to fishing. The scientists propose that this significant difference is most likely due to continued fishing in the open zones while the NTZs are a safe haven for remaining sharks and their offspring by providing more food and refuge. And not only the sharks were shown to thrive in these closed-off areas but other reef fish, too, were also much more abundant.

Often, the research stops here, but the scientists set out to also address the socio-economic side. Their aim was to look at the impact of the closure of large stretches of ocean on the responses and behaviour of shark fishers whose main fishing grounds were closed through the establishment of the Raja Ampat shark sanctuary. Of the shark fishers interviewed, all of whom lost access to their primary fishing grounds, 88% knew that sharks were protected in Raja Ampat but many were unsure about the purpose of the sanctuary and few felt their livelihoods were considered by conservation agencies.

Talking to the fishermen and running surveys on catch data, the authors revealed that shark fishers adapted to the closures by moving to other fishing grounds, targeting populations in unprotected regions, or by finding other means of supporting their livelihoods, including illegal petrol transport.

'The fishers we interviewed were aware that sharks are important for marine ecosystems and tourism, but also expressed their dilemma in pursuing more sustainable livelihoods within the limitations of geographic remoteness, poverty, and debt with boat owners and traders," Vanessa Jaiteh explained. "Some of their self-initiated alternatives involve high personal or environmental risk and are hardly more sustainable than shark finning, which undermines the broader benefits of locally successful conservation strategies."

The findings of this study make it clear that the establishment of no-fishing zones will result in the protection of marine life only if it is embedded within a broader conservation strategy, which includes giving fishers incentives to leave the fishery by providing livelihood options that are legal and sustainable.

Journal Reference:

Vanessa F. Jaiteh, Steve J. Lindfield, Sangeeta Mangubhai, Carol Warren, Ben Fitzpatrick, Neil R. Loneragan. Higher Abundance of Marine Predators and Changes in Fishers' Behavior Following Spatial Protection within the World's Biggest Shark Fishery. Frontiers in Marine Science, 2016; 3 DOI: 10.3389/fmars.2016.00043

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Mass coral bleaching now affecting half of Australia's Great Barrier Reef

Climate change and strong El Niño cause hundreds of kilometres of reef to bleach, as higher temperatures stress the coral
Michael Slezak The Guardian 11 Apr 16;

The mass coral bleaching event smashing the Great Barrier Reef has severely affected more than half its length and caused patches of bleaching in most areas, according to scientists conducting an extensive aerial survey of the damage.

“The good news with my last flight is that I found 50 reefs that weren’t bleached, so that may be the southern boundary,” said Terry Hughes from James Cook University. Hughes is the head of the national coral bleaching task force, which has been conducting flights over the length of the reef, mapping bleached areas and recording the severity of the damage.

Climate change and a strong El Niño have caused hundreds of kilometres of the reef to bleach, as the higher water temperatures stress the coral, and they expel their symbiotic algae. If the bleaching is bad enough, or the temperatures remain high for long enough, the corals die, putting the future of reefs at risk.

The mass bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef is part of what the US National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration has called the third global bleaching event – the first occurred in 1998.

Initial reports suggested only the most northern and remote areas of the Great Barrier Reef were bleaching, but as aerial surveys have continued, scientists have struggled to find a southern boundary.

The latest find of a stretch of unaffected reefs around Mackay was a small piece of good news, Hughes said.

But he said its significane would be unclear until reefs further south were examined.

“It may be a false southern boundary,” Hughes said. The reefs around Mackay have unusually large tides, which might have pulled in cooler water and saved the coral there.

So far, the surveys reveal there are severely bleached reefs almost as far south as Cairns, and patchy bleaching almost to Mackay.

Morgan Pratchett from James Cook University said there was some bleaching even further south. “There is reasonable levels of bleaching as far south as the Keppels, which is even more than we suspected initially,” Pratchett said.

Hughes planned to fly over another 150 reefs, creating a total of about 900 surveyed. Only then will the group have a complete picture of how bad the bleaching is.

The next step will be to examine how much of that bleached coral has died. “If the corals are severely bleached, then a lot will die. If they are lightly bleached, which is the case with a lot of reefs south of Townsville, then they’ll regain their colour over the next couple of months and there won’t be much mortality,” Hughes said.

Two weeks ago, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority reported half the coral in the northern parts of the reef were dead. Hughes said that was consistent with reports from divers north of Port Douglas.

Hughes said this was by far the worst bleaching event to have hit the Great Barrier Reef. He said it was three to four times worse than in 1998 or the second great bleaching in 2002.

Last year, the Great Barrier Reef narrowly escaped being listed as “in danger” by Unesco, even though environmental groups said it clearly met the criteria.

Hughes said the “outstanding universal value” of the reef was now “severely compromised”.

Ariane Wilkinson, a lawyer at Environmental Justice Australia, said the bleaching might cause Unesco to reconsider its decision.

“[Unesco] weren’t scheduled to examine the reef this year but in light of the terrible bleaching it is entirely possible that they may decide to look at the reef,” she said.

“If the World Heritage system is to have any value, it must address the most serious threats to the most iconic examples of world heritage,” she said. “If any site falls into this category, it is the ... Great Barrier Reef.”

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Number of tigers in the wild rises for first time in over 100 years

There are now 3,890 animals roaming the forests of Asia but the increase may be down to improved survey methods
Associated Press The Guardian 11 Apr 16;

The number of tigers in the wild has risen for the first time in more than a century, with some 3,890 counted in the latest global census, according to wildlife conservation groups.

The tally marks a turnaround from the last worldwide estimate in 2010, when the number of tigers in the wild hit an all-time low of about 3,200, according to the World Wildlife Fund and the Global Tiger Forum.

India alone holds more than half of them, with 2,226 tigers roaming reserves across the country, from the southern tip of Kerala state to the eastern swamps in West Bengal, according to its last count in 2014.

But while experts said the news was cause for celebration, they stopped short of saying the number of tigers was actually rising. In other words, it may just be that experts are aware of more tigers, thanks to the fact that survey methods are improving and more areas are being included.

But this is the first time tiger counts are increasing since 1900, when there were more than 100,000 tigers in the wild.

“More important than the absolute numbers is the trend, and we’re seeing the trend going in the right direction,” said Ginette Hemley, senior vice president of wildlife conservation at WWF.

The census, compiled from tiger surveys in countries from Russia to Vietnam, as well as the International Union for Conservation of Nature, was released a day before ministers from 13 countries meet for three days in New Delhi as they work toward doubling the world’s wild tiger population from the 2010 low by 2022.

Not all nations are seeing progress, though. While Russia, India, Bhutan and Nepal all counted more tigers in their latest surveys, south-east Asian countries have struggled. They are also behind the others in conservation measures, and do not yet conduct a tiger census on their own.

“When you have high-level political commitments, it can make all the difference,” Hemley said. “When you have well-protected habitat and you control the poaching, tigers will recover. That’s a pretty simple formula. We know it works.”

Cambodia is looking at reintroducing tigers after recently declaring them functionally extinct within its borders, meaning there are no longer any breeding tigers in the wild. Indonesia has also seen a rapid decline, thanks to having the world’s highest rate of forest destruction to meet growing demand for producing palm oil as well as pulp and paper.

Tigers are considered an endangered species, under constant threat from habitat loss and poachers seeking their body parts for sale on the black market. They are also seeing their habitats rapidly shrinking as countries develop.

The tiger count is based on data from 2014. Here is the tally broken down by country:

Bangladesh, 106; Bhutan, 103; Cambodia, 0; China, more than 7; India, 2,226; Indonesia, 371; Laos, 2; Malaysia, 250; Myanmar, no data available; Nepal, 198; Russia, 433; Thailand, 189; Vietnam, fewer than 5.

The experts said the Myanmar government’s count of 85 tigers in 2010 was not included because the data was considered out of date.

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