Best of our wild blogs: 10 May 16

How are magical reefs of Sentosa Serapong doing?
wild shores of singapore

Marine deaths in the Johor Straits (Mar - May 2016)
wild shores of singapore

Have you met our civet outreach team?
Life of a common palm civet in Singapore

Choose to have a wildlife cruelty-free holiday
Project LUWAK SG

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‘Rosewood importer failed to prove there was foreign buyer’

KELLY NG Today Online 10 May 16;

SINGAPORE — That Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES) permits were not needed for specimens in transit was a concern to drafters of the convention, who noted it could be abused, thus undermining the goal of conservation.

While resolutions passed later to address this are not legally binding in Singapore, they present “relevant considerations”, said a High Court judge in written grounds detailing his decision to set aside the acquittal of a managing director and his firm for illegally importing nearly 30,000 rosewood logs from Madagascar.

Last October, District Judge Jasvendar Kaur had found that there was no evidence to show that the logs were imported here, and ruled that the defence had no case to answer — a decision that environmentalists had criticised as setting back efforts to stop trafficking of illegal timber.

But in February, Judicial Commissioner See Kee Oon had aside the acquittal, stating that evidence before the courts failed to point “irresistibly” to the district judge’s conclusion that logs were only in transit here, and Wong Wee Keong and his firm Kong Hoo had to defend the charges against them.

Rosewood is a controlled species under CITES, to which the Republic is a signatory. Under Singapore’s Endangered (Import and Export) Species Act, a shipment is considered to be in transit and not imported if it is “brought into Singapore solely for the purpose of taking it out of Singapore” and is kept under the control of the Agri-food and Veterinary Authority director-general or an authorised officer.

In his written grounds released last Thursday, Judicial Commissioner See noted that there was no evidence that there was a foreign buyer in Hong Kong, and Wong had refused to disclose any information on this.

As such, it would appear that Wong and his firm had brought the rosewood — worth US$50 million (S$68.5 million) — into Singapore “in the hope that it might be shipped to Hong Kong if a suitable Hong Kong buyer could be found”. Together with the fact that Kong Hoo was listed as the consignee of the shipment, this went against the district judge’s assessment that the rosewood was brought to Singapore for the sole purpose of transhipment and not for import, Judicial Commissioner See said.

The respondents might well be able to explain these matters away, but “they were matters which called for an explanation”, he added.

Moreover, a meeting of CITES member states in 1994 had drawn attention to the concern that an article under CITES allowing the transit of specimens without the need to obtain CITES permits could be abused, noted Judicial Commissioner See.

“These present relevant considerations to take into account, in determining whether the sole purpose condition has been satisfied,” he noted.

Judicial Commissioner See also disagreed with the district judge’s finding that the rosewood logs, when offloaded, were within the Jurong Port Free Trade Zone under the “control” of an authorised officer. Judicial Commissioner See found that “control” under the Act does not refer to “mere jurisdictional control”, but an “active” form of control, which was not satisfied in this case.

Such “control” was deemed necessary under CITES to prevent potential abuses, said Judicial Commissioner See.

For instance, some traders might keep scheduled species within a transit country while searching for buyer in another country. There was also the risk that would-be smugglers might seek to circumvent CITES protections by disposing of their scheduled species en route.

But in this case, there was no evidence that any authorised officer was aware that the logs were being unloaded, let alone exercise any control over the process, said Judicial Commissioner See.

“The mere fact that the scheduled species were placed in a locality over which an authorised officer exercise passive dominion or jurisdiction cannot, without more, constitute the necessary control,” he ruled.

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Not necessary to conduct water rationing exercise for homes: Masagos

Outreach programmes on water conservation are already being conducted in schools and at the community level, Environment and Water Resources Minister Masagos Zulkifli says.
Channel NewsAsia 9 May 16;

SINGAPORE: It is not necessary to conduct water rationing exercises for households at the moment, as there are already other outreach programmes to educate the public on water conservation, Environment and Water Resources Minister Masagos Zulkifli said in Parliament on Monday (May 9).

Outreach programmes are already being conducted in schools and at the community level, said Mr Masagos, in response to a question from MP Chong Kee Hiong (Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC).

“While we have planned ahead to ensure that our water supply is adequate, we need to enhance our resilience against the uncertainties brought about by climate change. Encouraging prudent use of water is an important thrust in this effort,” he said.

For example, a smart homes trial in Yuhua will provide households with hourly water consumption data and water saving tips, and alert them on anomalies in water usage.

As for the wider community, PUB has been carrying out extensive outreach and educational programmes, Mr Masagos said. Water efficiency labelling and minimum standards have also been mandated to help consumers make more informed purchasing decisions and adopt water-efficient fittings and appliances.

Water conservation is included in the social studies syllabus for Primary 3 students, while national water agency PUB collaborated with five schools to conduct water rationing exercises this year, to reinforce the value of water and inculcate the habit of saving water.

The responsibility of water conservation does not fall on homes alone, and businesses must also play their part, he said. Large water users in the non-domestic sector now have to submit their Water Efficiency Management Plan, and PUB will study the data collected to explore the potential for water efficiency benchmarks and good practice guidelines for the different sectors, he said.

“All of us have to do our part to conserve water. This way, our water resources can last longer. Every effort counts, and collectively, the amount of water saved will be significant.”

- CNA/cy

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Hawkers discouraged from using disposable utensils, packaging: MEWR

However, this would have to be weighed against practical challenges such as the cost of alternatives and greater inconvenience to hawkers and consumers, says the ministry.
Today Online 9 May 16;

SINGAPORE: While the authorities are looking into ways to discourage the use of disposable tableware made of polystyrene foam in hawker centres, this will have to be weighed against "practical challenges", said Dr Amy Khor, Senior Minister of State for Environment and Water Resources, on Monday (May 9).

Dr Khor told Parliament that these practical challenges include the cost of alternatives and greater inconvenience to hawkers and consumers, in response to a question by MP Cheng Li Hui on whether the National Environment Agency will consider banning the use of styrofoam packaging in hawker centres.

She added that the majority of hawker stalls here use reusable crockery, though some hawkers use styrofoam packaging to serve food and pack food for takeaway due to its good thermal insulation and convenience.

She noted that there are benefits in switching from styrofoam packaging to more environmentally-friendly options. The use of reusable crockery also avoids the problem of disposable plates being blown off tables, and helps reduce the overall waste volume.

"Polystyrene foam packaging is of concern in some countries where waste is landfilled, as it is non-biodegradable and consequently remains in the landfill for a long time," she said.

"In Singapore, however, all our incinerable waste including polystyrene foam packaging is incinerated safely at waste-to-energy incineration plants, which are fitted with pollution control equipment."

- CNA/kk

No ban of styrofoam packaging, but hawkers discouraged from using it
Audrey Tan, Straits Times AsiaOne 10 May 16;

SINGAPORE - Hawkers here are discouraged from using disposable plates, bowls and utensils made of polystyrene foam, better known as styrofoam, which are non-biodegradable and environmentally unfriendly.

But the Government will not impose a ban on them in consideration of other factors, such as the cost of alternatives and inconvenience to hawkers and consumers, Senior Minister of State for the Environment and Water Resources Amy Khor said on Monday (May 9).

Other types of disposable ware, such as plastic containers and coated paper boxes, cost about two to three times more than the clamshell polystyrene foam packaging, she added.

Dr Khor noted that the use of reusable crockery is more cost-effective than using styrofoam packaging, even after taking into account the costs of manual collection and washing. However, there may be manpower constraints.

The Government is working to discourage hawkers, through the hawker associations, the use of disposable ware, Dr Khor said.

"We need to take into account the cost of alternative options, as well as manpower constraints for these hawkers and the inconvenience that may be caused. As much as possible, we'll encourage them not to use disposable ware, particularly for dining in," Dr Khor told Parliament.

She was responding to a question raised by Miss Cheng Li Hui (Tampines GRC), on whether the National Environment Agency (NEA) will consider imposing a ban on the use of styrofoam packaging in hawker centres in view of its detrimental effects on the environment.

A number of cities around the world, including Penang in Malaysia, New York, Minneapolis, San Francisco and Seattle in the United States, have implemented bans on polystyrene foam packaging.

Dr Khor said that while polystyrene foam packaging may be of concern in some countries where waste is landfilled, it is incinerated safely in Singapore at waste-to-energy incineration plants, which are fitted with pollution control equipment.

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Dedicated bicycle terminals? Better to involve building owners, says Josephine Teo

"That is why the intention really is to involve building owners, because even if you provided a bicycle terminal, the individual will still have to get to their destination," said Mrs Teo in Parliament on Monday (May 9).
Channel NewsAsia 9 May 16;

SINGAPORE: Instead of setting up dedicated bicycle terminals at key locations in the city and downtown area, it is better to involve building owners and have them implement walking and cycling plans, Senior Minister of State for Transport Josephine Teo said in Parliament on Monday (May 9).

She was responding to a suggestion by Ang Mo Kio GRC Member of Parliament Darryl David, who said that such bicycle terminals could provide "the necessary facilities to support those who would like to cycle from their home to the city".

Said Mrs Teo: "When we provide bicycle facilities, we must bear in mind the objective, that is to provide first- and last-mile connectivity.

"That is why the intention really is to involve building owners, because even if you provided a bicycle terminal, the individual will still have to get to their destination. And that ultimately is going to be a building with an owner.

"So we prefer to require these owners to implement walking and cycling plans, so that these facilities can be nearer to the destinations of the bicycle users."

The Senior Minister of State also said that another consideraiton was whether there was available space near MRT stations.

Mrs Teo pointed out that that there are currently more than 800 bicycle parking lots at eight MRT stations located at the city area. The eight MRT stations are: Bugis, Farrer Park, Little India, Marina Bay, Newton, Outram Park, Rochor and Tanjong Pagar.

As for the Downtown Line, which is the newest line to be operational, bicycle parking lots will be provided at the majority of the stations in the city area.

She also touched on the Land Transport Authority's plans to require developers of commercial buildings and schools to submit a Walking and Cycling Plan (WCP) from July 2016.

"LTA also plans to require bicycle parking standards for private, residential, commercial and community developments, including those in the city area," said Mrs Teo. "Besides parking, developers will soon have to submit a walking and cycling plan, which factors in other supporting facilities for cyclists, such as showers and lockers."


However, extending the WCP requirements to existing building owners will be trickier, said Mrs Teo in response to a question from Member of Parliament for Ang Mo Kio GRC Ang Hin Kee.

"For existing facilities, it's a little bit harder to require - retrospectively - the building owners to make such provisions available," said Mrs Teo.

"Within the building there could already be constraints. But I think it is quite clear to the building owners that as the number of users increase, as part of their friendliness towards the tenants in the building, they would want to make such facilities available."

Mrs Teo said that the ministry will continue to monitor trends, and that the priority is to is require new buildings to provide the plans.

"Where opportunities arise and it is possible for us to encourage existing building owners to do likewise, we will do so," she said.

- CNA/av

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2,000 charging points for electric vehicles to be set up islandwide

NG JING YNG Today Online 9 May 16;

SINGAPORE — Some 2,000 charging points for electric vehicles will be installed across the island, Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan said in Parliament on Monday (May 9).

He was responding to a question from Nee Soon Member of Parliament Lee Bee Wah, who asked about the Government’s plans to encourage motorists to use electric cars.

Mr Khaw added that the Government is in the final stages of evaluating proposals made on the nationwide electric-car-sharing programme, which will see the introduction of up to 1,000 electric vehicles and a trial of electric-car-sharing services.

Asked by Dr Lee if the charging points will be open to car owners not in the car-sharing programme, Mr Khaw said that these details — including whether other car owners would have to pay a fee to use the charging points — are not certain at this point.

The minister also told the House that while the Government encourages the use of more environment-friendly vehicles, he reiterated that the focus is on creating a car-lite society through the use of public transport.

“The greenest form of transport is public transport. Even though electric cars produce no tailpipe emissions, the process of generating the electricity they consume emits carbon,” Mr Khaw said.

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Otter in near-miss accident at East Coast Park

Today Online 10 May 16;

SINGAPORE — An otter was nearly run over by a car along East Coast Park Service Road recently, video footage on Facebook showed.

On Sunday (May 8), Mr Chun Kit Soo, who regularly posts updates of otters around Singapore on his Facebook page, published a video showing an otter narrowly avoiding a car as it crossed the road.

“From what I understand, the authorities (PUB, NParks, LTA) have been informed a couple of weeks back (of the otter situation at East Coast Park) and PUB has rejected the proposal of a temporary structure to help them climb out of the waterway,” Mr Soo wrote.

“When the tide is low and the otters can’t get home using their usual route — this (crossing the road) is what they will do in order to get home,” he added.

“I guess, the authorities will have to do think of something else,” he said, suggesting that signs be added to slow traffic along the road.

“Hopefully, they (the authorities) can find a solution fast so that the otters can go back to their holt without the need to cross the road.” A holt is an otter’s den.

While the post did not indicate where the near-miss took place, Safe Cycling Task Force President Steven Lim on Facebook said that at least one otter crossing lies along the stretch between the Playground at East Coast Park and Fort Road.

Mr Lim noted on the organisation’s Facebook page on Monday morning: “The frequency of crossings had been increasing over the last few days and in different group sizes. At times, an otter may even cross the road with a pup in it’s mouth. As Otter do not know how to read our traffic conditions, they will just dash and run across the road.

“The stretch of road is quite heavily used by motorists as well as cyclists, the dashing across the road of the otters has become a danger to both the animals and the road users. We would like to urge cyclists to slow down at that stretch of road and look out for these otters in the surrounding area. Alert other cyclists and motorists, give way to them and stay clear. Do not get too close and disturb their daily lives and peace.”

Mr Lim noted that NParks, the Land Transport Authority and some volunteers were already working on solutions to help the otters stay away from the roads.

“Meanwhile, do your part to save them, yourself and other road users from any mishaps. STAY ALERT! SLOW DOWN!”, he wrote.

In Parliament on Monday, Senior Minister of State for Home Affairs Desmond Lee said that authorities would be reviewing the definition of “animals” in the Road Traffic Act, so that it includes other animals such as cats and wild animals which are potential victims of road accidents.

Presently, it is only an offence if a motorist knocks down a dog, horse, ass, mule, sheep, pig, goat or cattle, and he or she does not stop to help. This is punishable with a S$3,000 fine or a jail term of up to a year.

“The specific provision in the Road Traffic Act relating to animals has been confined to farm animals of commercial value,” Mr Lee said. “The original intent of the legislation was to ensure restitution to their owners should an accident occur,” he added.

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Malaysia: Penang state needs more rain to tide over El Nino

The Star 10 May 16;

GEORGE TOWN: The state is still not out of danger despite the rainy weather lately, said Penang Water Supply Corporation Sdn Bhd (PBAPP) chief executive officer Datuk Jaseni Maidinsa (pic).

“The Beris and Muda dams in Kedah are at a critical level while the two dams in Air Itam and Teluk Bahang on the island still need to build up their capacities.

“We need to make sure that the dams are full by the end of the year to get ready for the next year’s dry season,” he told a press conference at his office in Komtar yesterday.

Jaseni said the Beris Dam was at 26.4% capacity while the Muda Dam was at 32%, and the Air Itam and Teluk Bahang dams were at 51.8% and 53.4% respectively as of yesterday.

“We do not know how long the Muda and Beris dams will last. The Muda Dam is used for irrigation purposes while the Beris Dam provides water supply to the people.

“Kedah, Penang and north Perak are dependent on the Sungai Muda and the river is dependent on the dams when there’s no rain.

“We need to extract 1 billion litres of water per day from Sungai Muda to supply Penang consumers,” he said.

Jaseni added that raw water could not be released into Sungai Muda as Penang did not have a dam that could release water into the river unlike the Beris and Muda dams.

This was in response to the recent demands by farmers that PBAPP adjust or raise the Sungai Muda Water Scheme Barrage to stop water from overflowing into the sea.

“The barrage which was commissioned in 1973, is not a dam. Its main purpose is to prevent the intrusion of sea water from the Straits of Malacca into water abstraction areas along Sungai Muda.

“The barrage could not be modified or raised without proper engineering studies and if the structure was compromised, sea water would flow upstream and worse if it collapses, the river level would drop,” he said.

It was previously reported that a peaceful demonstration was held on Saturday at the barrage in Rantau Panjang, Kepala Batas, Penang, where over 100 farmers held banners urging PBAPP to upgrade the barrage.

The farmers claimed that the barrage needed to be altered to reduce the overflow which they said would ensure water supply to their padi fields.

El Nino appears to be subsiding, says expert
The Star 10 May 16;

KOTA KINABALU: The prolonged dry spell that was expected to last until June in Sabah appears to be easing off.

Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) Climatology and Oceanography professor Dr Fredolin Tanggang said persistent rains in the state over the past few weeks indicated that the El Nino-induced dry spell that began in March was on the wane.

He said Malaysia would likely have to brace for heavier-than-normal rainfall by year-end, based on an impending La Nina event.

“I believe that conditions have rapidly returned to normal,” he told The Star, adding that this was obvious from the situation in the Pacific Ocean.

“The current condition shows warmer than normal conditions only in the central Pacific while the eastern part of the ocean appears to be slightly cooler,” said Prof Tanggang.

He said the cooler conditions in the eastern Pacific near South America indicated the initiation of a La Nina event associated with heavier-than-usual rainfall.

The sub-temperature in the Pacific Ocean showed anomalously colder conditions at depths of 50 to 200m from west to east across the Pacific Ocean, indicating the uplifting of thermocline, signs of an impending La Nina, Prof Tanggang said.

“Looking at the anomalous sub-surface temperatures I believe we are heading for a moderate to strong La Nina,” he said.

He said if La Nina occured, rainfall from June should likely be above normal.

These conditions will likely come to head with widespread flooding by the end of November and December and stretching till January for the east coast of Peninsular Malaysia, he said.

Prof Tanggang said similar heavier-than-normal rainfall leading to floods would likely occur in Sabah and Sarawak in January and February.

Hot and dry spell to end soon
The Star 10 May 16;

PETALING JAYA: The hot and dry spell is nearing an end with the appearance of inter-monsoon rains. It is flooding, not bush fires, that the people must prepare for.

A look at the map of the Malaysia Fire Danger Rating System, under the “Fine Fuel Moisture Code” (FFMC), showed an improvement in most parts of the peninsula and Sabah and Sarawak which are categorised as low (marked in blue) and moderate (green) risks.

This is an improvement compared to February when nearly all parts of the peninsula, Sabah and Sarawak were in a “red” alert.

Red represents “extreme” – which indicates a very high probability of ignition and flammability of grasslands and bushes.

A check on the FFMC yesterday showed large parts of Terengganu and areas in Kelantan and Pahang marked in red but in Sabah and Sarawak, very little areas were covered in red on the map.

Fire and Rescue Department director-general Datuk Wan Mohd Nor Ibrahim said the situation was improving.

“I think the dry season is nearing its end, but we remain on alert. We are preparing for the year-end flood season,” he said when contacted.

The Malaysian Meteorological Department’s website states that the FFMC values are “ratings of the moisture content of litter and other cured fine fuels”.

It indicates the relative ease of ignition and flammability of fine fuels, as such the FFMC is used as an indicator of ignition potential or the potential for fires to start and spread in the area.

The department confirmed that the severe heatwave had eased off and was unlikely to recur in the near future.

It said the country will be in the inter-monsoon phase till the middle of the month and thunderstorms were expected in many parts in the country in the evenings.

“With the weakening of the El-Nino effect, high temperatures are unlikely to occur,’’ it said.

However, the department cautioned that localised haze could worsen if there was no control over open burning.

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Indonesia: Palm oil smallholders seek help with complicated certification process

Dewanti A. Wardhani The Jakarta Post 9 May 16;

Palm oil farming, though a promising sector, remains a challenge for independent smallholders due to difficulties in obtaining complicated and costly certification from the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil ( RSPO ).

Independent smallholder Joko Suyono, who operates in the Batanghari regency of Jambi, says getting hold of various permits and certifications requires a complicated process that the local administration does not help with.

Joko recounted the difficulties he faced in obtaining his RSPO certification, which is required for palm oil to be sold in many overseas markets to help to ensure that farming processes are conducted in a manner that guarantees environmental sustainability.

Joko said he sought help from the Jambi administration multiple times but to no avail. He received no assistance or guidance from the local administration, and as a result had to take matters to his own hands, which took months to complete.

“The certification is important for farmers but the requirements are quite difficult to fulfill for independent smallholders like myself. That’s where the government should come in,” Joko said recently during a discussion held by the Indonesian Palm Oil Pledge ( IPOP ) in Central Jakarta.

Smallholders are responsible for 40 percent of the total 10.46 million hectares of palm oil plantations across the country, and produce a little over 10 million metric tons of crude palm oil ( CPO ) per year according to 2015 data from IPOP. Indonesia, the world’s largest palm oil producer, produced 32.5 million metric tons of CPO in 2015.

In order to obtain the costly RSPO certification for their fresh fruit bunches ( FFB ), smallholders must fulfill a number of requirements.

The principles of sustainable management as promoted and assessed by the RSPO for its certification process include transparency, legal and regulatory compliance, best production practices, environmental responsibility and a commitment to local community development, human rights and land rights, to name a few.

Land rights is one of the largest obstacles for obtaining certification. Many smallholders like Joko do not own updated land ownership certificates.

He eventually received RSPO certification, after which prices for his fresh fruit bunches soared and became stable, and his income increased. “Local administrations should facilitate and assist smallholders in obtaining the RSPO certification,” Joko said.

Bambang Gianto, a plasma ( dependent ) smallholder in South Sumatera’s Banyuasin, said that the RSPO certification had done wonders for his production.

Unlike independent smallholders, however, plasma smallholders receive training through their partnerships with palm oil firms that facilitate their certification processes. Bambang is one of the many partners of Cargill.

“For certificate, we can gain the trust of firms and eventually establish partnerships with many firms, resulting in higher productivity and income. However, it would have been difficult to obtain certification without help that Cargill provided,” Bambang said.

A number of crude palm oil producers, such as Sinarmas Agri and Resources Technology ( SMART ), Asian Agri, agribusiness giant Wilmar and global food company Cargill, have increased partnerships with local CPO farmers employing sustainable methods after receiving pressure from environmental groups. The firms facilitate bank loans and training for partner farmers to help them get RSPO-certified.

SMART innovative financing vice president Reza Ardiansyah said that it was seeking to add 1,000 smallholders to its empowerment program, which facilitates bank loans for the farmers. The partnership is part of IPOP’s smallholders’ empowerment program.

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Indonesia: Increasing tourist visits to Wakatobi

Otniel Tamindael Antara 10 May 16;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - Efforts to start regular flight services connecting major cities in Indonesia to the Wakatobi district will increase the number of tourists visiting one of the worlds best marine tourism objects in Southeast Sulawesi Province.

Numerous tourism supporting facilities such as Matahora airport passenger terminal, a marina, a pier, hotels and restaurants are being developed in Wakatobi to attract more local and foreign tourists.

In addition, two international companies are currently developing five-star rated hotels in the district as the number of tourist arrivals continues to increase.

Tourist arrivals in Wakatobi have been increasing after the development of Matashora airport. In 2015, some 17 thousand domestic and foreign tourists visited the district.

When the construction of the airport began in 2009, the number of tourists was about 3,000 per year, but last year it reached 17 thousand and is expected to reach 30 thousand this year following the completion of the Matahora airport passenger terminal.

Tourism Minister Arif Yahya and Transportation Minister Ignasius Jonan were in Wakatobi on Sunday to inaugurate the passenger terminal of Matahora airport on Wangi-Wangi Island in Wakatobi District.

Matahora airport has a two thousand-meter-long runway and is expected to boost the nations tourism industry, especially in Wakatobi District.

Plans are also afoot to extend the runway of the Matahora airport to 2.5 thousand meters to accommodate wide bodied aircraft, and to expand the apron area to facilitate the parking of aircraft.

The airports terminal has been developed to meet international standards so that passengers would enjoy comfortable waiting rooms

Wakatobi district government will continue to focus on developing tourism because the sector has a big potential to improve the welfare of the local people, and even of the Indonesian people as a whole.

Currently, airline companies that serve the routes to Wakatobi are Wings Air and Avia Star. Wings Air has a flight to Matahora airport every day, while the Avia Star, with a capacity of 12 seats, serves the airport once a week.

Therefore, Tourim Minister Arif Yahya has urged the government to start flights on the Jakarta-Wakatobi and Jakarta-Denpasar-Wakatobi routes as soon as possible.

"Wakatobi has been established as one of the ten major tourist destinations in Indonesia, and therefore, the government is expected to open regular scheduled flight services connecting Jakarta to Wakatobi and Jakarta-Denpasar-Wakatobi," the minister remarked in the Wakatobi district town of Wangi-Wangi.

Further, he affirmed that the central and local governments as well as the local community should support the establishment of Wakatobi as one of the ten major tourist destinations in the country.

Yahyas call for the establishment of a network of inter-regional flights was necessary to support tourist visits to Wakatobi and other destinations in Indonesia.

Scheduled flight services on the Jakarta-Wakatobi and Jakarta-Denpasar-Wakatobi routes are important to ensure the mobilization of travelers from one area to another.

In the meantime, Wakatobi District Head Hugua stated that the facilities at Matahora airport in Wakatobi met the required standards to serve regular flights.

The Indonesian government has identified Wakatobi as a highly potential tourism destination in the country, and the district is eligible for both promotional and development support funding.

In recent years, Wakatobis popularity, as a world-class diving destination, has increased, resulting in a stronger demand for a direct air link from Jakarta and Bali.

Wakatobi is known for having the highest number of reefs and fish species in the world.

The islands are also famous as the largest barrier reef in Indonesia, second only to the Great Barrier Reef in Australia.

The park is believed to have 942 species of fish and 750 species of coral. A total of 850 coral species are found across the world.

It also has fringing, atolls, and barrier reefs and offers more than 50 scenic dive sites that are easily accessible from the major islands.

It is the habitat of large and small fish species and the playground of dolphins, turtles and even whales.

The island group comprises 143 larger and smaller islands, with only seven of them inhabited by a total population of around 100 thousand. All others remain uninhabited.

Besides, the waters at Hoga island in Wakatobi district have magnificent diving facilities, inviting tourist from around the world to go diving and enjoy underwater natural beauty of various coral reefs and marine biota around the island.

They can undeniably have a great opportunity to go diving in the superb diving sites and the most pristine reefs at Wakatobi Diving Resort.

Wakatobi is one of the protected marine national parks in Indonesia.

In the Wakatobi Diving Resort, there are a lot of beautiful diving sites with incredibly colorful marine diversity which could be accessed easily.

Known for its built-in beach and a house reef just twenty meters from the dive center, Wakatobi attracts many professional divers from around the world who want to go diving there.

The Wakatobi Diving Resort is surrounded by stunning and pristine drop-offs, walls and slopes to ridges, caverns, caves and sea-mounts.

"Here at Wakatobi, the beauty of the marine life is waiting to be discovered and explored by the Sail Wakatobi-Belitung participants," according to Wakatobi District Head Hugua.

Besides, Wakatobi Diving Resort is also offering premier and luxurious accommodation with modern comforts to tourist divers and guests in Bungalows, Garden Bungalows, Beach Bungalows, and Cliff Villas.

There are still many beautiful diving sites with pristine reefs, stunning colorful corals and tropical marine life that are in remote sites and not accessible from the Wakatobi Diving Resort that are waiting to be explored and discovered.(*)

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Mangroves die-off in Queensland's Gulf Country and Limmen Bight 'may be due to warmer oceans'

Kristy Sexton-McGrath ABC 10 May 16;
* Australia is home to 7 per cent of the world's mangroves
* Mangroves take in 50 times more carbon than tropical forests by area and act like 'nature's kidney'
* Die-off coincides with a period of hot water in the southern Gulf, but more evidence needed

Warmer ocean temperatures could be the reason for huge areas of mangroves dying off in Queensland and the Northern Territory, researchers have said.

Experts have been focusing on hundreds of kilometres of mangroves along the coast of Karumba in Queensland's Gulf Country and at Limmen Bight in the Northern Territory that have turned a ghostly white.

"It appears to coincide with a period of hot water in the southern Gulf, but we need more evidence," Professor Norm Duke from Queensland's James Cook University said.

"I'm speaking ahead of the evidence so I have to be really cautious, but I do want to draw attention to this because we need more capability to respond and find out more about what's going on."

He raised serious concerns about the situation which he compared to coral bleaching happening on the Great Barrier Reef, which is the result of warmer ocean temperatures.

"We're talking about hundreds of kilometres of shoreline affected and an area of mangroves that would be a kilometre-wide in some places," he said.

"We don't have any firm data on the ground to confirm the full magnitude of what's going on.

"We're getting indications from what we can see on satellite imagery and also from people like fishermen, local residents, miners who are working in the area, that there's this massive incident of die-back of a large area along our shorelines.''

Mangroves act as 'nature's kidney'

Australia is home to 7 per cent of the world's mangroves.

They take in 50 times more carbon than tropical forests by area and act like "nature's kidney", Professor Duke said.

He said the die-off already appeared to be having an effect on fish stocks at Karumba - a small Gulf town that relies heavily on the industry.

"What we were told by one fishermen was that there is a reduction in catch, so there seems to be a correlation with what we might expect," he said.

"One of the values of these forests is to support local fisheries."

Aerial and underwater surveys of the Great Barrier Reef undertaken by James Cook University revealed 95 per cent of it had been bleached to some extent.

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Top palm oil producer sues green group over deforestation allegations

Malaysian palm giant, IOI, lost business after it was suspended from the Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil’s certification scheme over deforestation allegations in Indonesia
Adam Vaughan The Guardian 9 May 16;

One of the world’s largest palm oil producers is suing the green body that suspended its sustainability certification last month because of allegations it had deforested Indonesian rainforests.

The Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), a body set up by industry and NGOs to address environmental concerns about the commodity’s production, confirmed it had been served with a lawsuit by the Malaysian palm giant, IOI.

IOI was suspended by the RSPO in early April after the allegations of wrongdoing, leading major buyers including Unilever, Mars, Kelloggs and Nestle to cut back on the palm oil they buy from the company.

Palm oil is the most widely-used vegetable oil and found in everything from margarine and biscuits to soap and shampoo. IOI owns Europe’s largest palm oil refinery and is such a major player that the RSPO warned of a disruption to supplies of sustainable palm oil following the suspension.

“The decision to challenge the RSPO board’s suspension decision is a difficult and painful one for us to take,” said Dato’ Lee Yeow Chor, IOI’s CEO, of the suit filed in Zurich, Switzerland, where the roundtable has its seat. IOI is understood to claim it did no wrong and the RSPO had no right to suspend its sustainability certification.

In a statement, Dato’ Lee said that while the company was committed to the RSPO, it had been “unfairly affected” by the suspension.

IOI has long been the target of environmentalists, who have previously accused it of felling forests and draining peatlands in Malaysian Borneo, while allegations of deforestation in IOI concessions in Ketapang, West Kalimantan, were submitted in a formal complaint to the RSPO by a sustainability consultancy in 2015.

The scale of the financial impact on IOI from lost contracts following the suspension is not yet clear. But internal communications from Datuk Darrel Webber, CEO of the RSPO, show that the palm oil producer told him: “IOI has suffered commercial and reputational losses as a result of this injustice.”

Webber also reveals that “IOI prefers if this legal action is kept low profile” and that he is concerned over “the amount of time and money that will be wasted in this process [defending the legal challenge].”

In the communications, Darrel Webber says that the roundtable is insured against such claims up to 10m Malaysian Ringgit (£1.72m).

Richard George, head of forests at Greenpeace UK, said: “No one should be surprised that IOI has chosen to bully its critics. The RSPO and its members must meet this intimidation head on by excluding IOI until it has cleaned up its act and repaired the forests and peatlands it has destroyed.”

Malaysian and Indonesian companies dominate global palm oil production, but have been linked to deforestation and slash-and-burn clearance methods that contributed to the huge forest fires across Indonesia last year. Wilmar International, Golden Agri Resources (GAR), Asian Agri and Cargill are among the big palm oil producers to have adopted zero deforestation polices.

In a statement, IOI’s Dato’ Lee Yeow Chor said: “IOI remains committed to its membership in and the sustainability principles of RSPO. In fact, IOI has gone beyond the requirements of RSPO by signing an industry manifesto which specifies no HCS [high carbon stock] deforestation, no planting on peat and driving positive socio-economic impact for people and the communities.”

A spokeswoman for Nestle said that following the suspension by RSPO: “we immediately ceased sourcing from the plantations at the centre of the concerns raised.”

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One in five of world's plant species at risk of extinction

Global report highlights threat to food security and medicine supplies but also reveals 2,000 new species are discovered each year
Damian Carrington The Guardian 10 May 16;

One in five of the world’s plant species is threatened with extinction, according to the first global assessment of flora, putting supplies of food and medicines at risk.

But the report also found that 2,000 new species of plant are discovered every year, raising hopes of new sources of food that are resilient to disease and climate change. New finds in 2015 included a giant insect-eating plant first spotted on Facebook and a 100-tonne tree hidden in an African forest.

The State of the World’s Plants report, by experts at the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew, reveals that there are currently 390,000 species of known plants, with more than 30,000 used by people. However, more than 5,000 species have invaded foreign countries and are causing billions of dollars of damage every year.

“Plants are absolutely fundamental to humankind,” said Prof Kathy Willis, director of science at Kew, who led the new report. “Plants provide us with everything - food, fuel, medicines, timber and they are incredibly important for our climate regulation. Without plants we would not be here. We are facing some devastating realities if we do not take stock and re-examine our priorities and efforts.”

The report is the first of what will be an annual benchmark analysis to set out what is known - and not known - about plants and highlight critical issues and how they can be tackled. “I am reasonably optimistic,” said Willis. “Once you know [about a problem], you can do something about it. The biggest problem is not knowing.”

The biggest factors threatening plant species with extinction are the destruction of habitats for farming (31%) - such as palm oil production and cattle ranching, deforestation for timber (21%) and construction of buildings and infrastructure (13%).

Climate change is currently a smaller factor - 4% - but is likely to grow. “I suspect we won’t actually see the full impact until 30 years down the line as it takes so long for plants, especially trees, to produce their offspring,” said Willis. One important crop that is already suffering is coffee, as rising temperatures make the beans impossible to grow and increase diseases in key countries such as Ethiopia.

But the rate of new discoveries is a positive development, Willis said. “I find that really encouraging and exciting. We are still finding new species of trees, new species of food: five new species of onion were found last year, for example.” Scientists at Kew alone identify 200-300 new species a year.

“There are huge areas of the world where we just don’t know what is growing there,” said Willis. “They may hold the key to the future of food. Genetic diversity in our foods is becoming poorer and poorer.”

Many important crops have been bred over thousands of years to produce high yields, but have lost genes that help fight pests and cope with changes in climate. Bananas, sorghum and aubergines are among those with very little genetic diversity, making them highly vulnerable to new threats. Finding wild relatives of such crops means new, more robust varieties can be bred.

“Now, with the global challenges [of] population size, land-use change, plant diseases and pests, there is an increasing urgency to find and conserve crop wild relatives,” said the report. “Having access to this large and diverse genetic pool is essential if we are to furnish crops with the valuable traits that enable resilience to climate change, pests and diseases, and ultimately underpin global food security.”

Among the 2,000 new plants discovered in 2015 was an insect-eating sundew (Drosera magnifica) which grows to 1.5 metres, far bigger than most sundews. It is known to grow only on a mountain in Minas Gerais, Brazil, and was first discovered on Facebook, when a sundew specialist was reviewing photos taken years earlier by an orchid hunter.

Another new discovery was a 45m tree, Gilbertiodendron maximum, weighing more than 100 tonnes, which is known only in the rainforest in Gabon and is critically endangered. Five new custard apples and ylang-ylang relatives were also found along with a new species of sweet potato.

The importance of plants for the development of new medicines was revealed in the report, which found that 57% of the 31,000 species with known uses were those from which drugs were derived. More than 5,500 are human foods, while there are 2,500 poisons and 1,400 with “social uses”, such as tobacco and cannabis.

However, when plants are transplanted into alien environments they can cause great damage and become invasive. “The costs of invasive species have been estimated at nearly 5% of the world economy and their impact on the UK economy alone is approximately £1.7bn every year,” said the report.

The highly invasive Japanese knotweed (Reynoutria japonica), introduced as an ornamental plant to Britain in the mid-19th century, costs the nation more than £165m a year to control. Like many invasive species, it is difficult to eradicate because it can survive even when cut back. “They are quite happy to survive underground and then sprout out the moment you turn your back,” said Willis.

The illegal trade in threatened plants is also a problem, the report found. At Heathrow, one of the the world’s busiest airports, officers made at least one seizure every day on average, with 42% of the finds being orchids.

Although plants are the foundation of most life on Earth, Willis said they were easy to take for granted: “They are not cute ... and we teach [children about] plants in a really boring way.”

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