Best of our wild blogs: 17 May 16

News from Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum

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Weather expected to get slightly cooler in second half of May: Met Service

In a media advisory, the Meteorological Service Singapore said the country is likely to experience brief showers in the next fortnight, occurring in the late morning and afternoon on six to eight days.
Channel NewsAsia 16 May 16;

SINGAPORE: The second half of May will likely be not as warm as the first fortnight of the month, the Meteorological Service Singapore said on Monday (May 16).

In a media advisory, the Met Service said Singapore is likely to experience short-duration showers in the next fortnight, occurring in the late morning and afternoon on six to eight days.

It added that temperatures are not likely to be as high as those seen in the first fortnight of the month, due to the expected occurrence of showers.

"For the rest of May 2016, the daily maximum temperatures are forecast to range between 33°C and 34°C on most days and could reach a high of around 35°C on a few days," it said.


According to the Met Service, the first half of May saw the highest daily temperature ranging between 35°C and 36.1°C, with the highest temperature recorded at Seletar on May 6.

"As of May 15, 2016, the daily mean temperature recorded at the Changi climate station was 29.6°C, which is 1.3°C above the long-term mean for May," it said.

It added that showers on May 11 were particularly heavy, with the highest daily rainfall of 99.8mm recorded.

"About two-thirds of Singapore received above average rainfall in the first fortnight of May 2016," the Met Service said, adding that the highest rainfall was recorded around Bukit Panjang. Rainfall was lowest around Changi.

- CNA/dl

Warm conditions expected to ease in second half of May
Today Online 17 May 16;

SINGAPORE — Some respite from the heat is expected over the next two weeks as temperatures are not likely to be as high as they were in the first half of May, said the Metrological Service Singapore (MSS) on Monday (May 16) in its fortnightly forecast.

The daily maximum temperatures are forecast to range between 33°C and 34°C on most days and could reach a high of around 35°C on a few days, as inter-monsoon conditions are expected to prevail.

Short-duration thundery showers are expected mostly in the late morning and afternoon on six to eight days. Thundery showers with gusty winds can be expected in the morning on one or two days. The rainfall for this month is expected to be average.

As of May 15, the daily mean temperature recorded at the Changi climate station was 29.6°C, which is 1.3°C above the long-term mean for May.

Over the past four days, the showers that fell over many parts of the island brought some relief to the warm conditions, and the highest daily maximum temperature ranged between 31.8°C and 34.7°C, said the MSS. The showers on May 11 were “particularly heavy with the highest daily rainfall of 99.8mm recorded”, said the MSS.

Between May 1 and 11, the highest daily maximum temperature ranged between 35°C and 36.1°C. The highest temperature was recorded at Seletar on May 6.

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Protest conveyed to Singapore Environment Minister: Indonesia

Indonesia's Foreign Ministry reiterates that it has sent an official complaint to Singapore over plans to prosecute Indonesian businessmen for their alleged involvement in forest fires, but Environment and Water Resources Ministry has confirmed that it did not receive any protest note.
Saifulbahri Ismail Channel NewsAsia 16 May 16;

JAKARTA: Indonesia has rejected claims by the Singapore Government that an official complaint was not received by the city-state over plans to prosecute Indonesian businessmen for their alleged involvement in the forest fires last year.

"The Indonesian ambassador has conveyed (a protest) to the Singaporean environment minister," Foreign Ministry spokesperson Arrmanatha Nasir told the Jakarta Post on Sunday (May 15).

Last Wednesday, Singapore's National Environment Agency (NEA) obtained a court warrant against the director of an Indonesian company linked to haze-causing forest fires. He failed to turn up for an interview with authorities in Singapore despite being served a legal notice to do so when he was in the country.

Indonesia disagreed with this move and Mr Arrmanatha said Jakarta had then sent an official protest through its embassy in Singapore.

The Jakarta Post quoted another senior Indonesian diplomat as saying that the Indonesian ambassador conveyed the protest on May 6.

However, a spokesperson for the Singapore Foreign Affairs Ministry denied receiving any such protest.

"Mr Arrmanatha’s remarks are puzzling. He reportedly said that the Indonesian Embassy in Singapore had ‘strongly protested’ against the NEA’s actions. We have, however, not yet received any representation from the Indonesian Embassy,” an NEA spokesperson said last week.

Singapore has argued it is entitled to take legal action against haze-linked individuals and companies after its Parliament passed the Transboundary Haze Pollution Act in 2014.

Under the law, regulators can sue those in neighbouring countries who are responsible for causing severe air pollution in Singapore through slash-and-burn agricultural practices.

In response to queries from Channel NewsAsia on Monday, the Ministry of Environment and Water Resources (MEWR) confirmed that it "did not receive any protest note from Indonesia on 6 May 2016 regarding the actions undertaken under the Transboundary Haze Pollution Act".

“Contrary to what was reported in the Jakarta Post on 16 May 2016, the Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources confirms that it did not receive any protest note from Indonesia on 6 May 2016 regarding the actions undertaken under the Transboundary Haze Pollution Act," said a MEWR spokesperson.

"There was also no mention of this matter when Indonesian officials were in Singapore for the 18th Sub-Regional Ministerial Steering Committee (MSC) on Transboundary Haze Pollution meeting earlier this month.”

On Saturday, Indonesian Minister of the Environment and Forestry Siti Nurbaya said Indonesia is reportedly reviewing all existing, planned and future bilateral cooperation in environment and forestry matters with Singapore.

- CNA/av

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Malaysia: Goodbye El Nino... Hello La Nina, as more rain expected till year end

BERNAMA New Straits Times 16 May 16;

KUALA LUMPUR: The rainy days and the spate of flash floods in the country are the clearest indication that the hot spell caused by the El Nino phenomenon has started to wither away.

Even up to two weeks back Malaysians had to endure with the heat that made life uncomfortable both indoors and outdoors. Dams have been drying up and there were fears that taps could run dry in the Klang Valley and many other places in the country.

The searing heat and the change in the rain patterns for more than 10 months resulted in a parched landscape.
Farmers were the worst affected with paddy planting at the rice bowl regions had to be called off due to the lack of water. Firemen were kept busy fighting bush and peat fires.

While Malaysians wave goodbye to El Nino, they are now bracing for the La Nina with the opposite effect that is expected to continue up to the year end. Malaysians can expect showers till the year end.

La Nina happens when the sea surface temperature near the equator in the central and eastern part of the Pacific Ocean decreases.


Southeast Asia had to bear losses up to US$10 billion (RM40 billion) due to the El Nino. The phenomenon happens when the sea surface temperature around the equator in the Pacific Ocean goes up.

However, the rain that started from mid April helped to cool down the temperature and saved millions of Malaysians from water shortage.

The El Nino phenomenon that started in Mac 2015 peaked in December and the situation remained the same for the first three months of 2016. Its effects started waning since late April and are expected to completely wear off by June.


While the public have been lamenting over the effects of El Nino, for weatherman like Alui Bahari it is not a new phenomenon in the country.

El Nino has been recorded in Malaysia as early as 1951/1952, but its effects were milder then. Most people then were not aware of the phenomenon too, said the Deputy Director for Operations for the Malaysian Meteorological Department, Alui Bahari.

“Now people are more knowledgeable and are concerned with the changes in the weather patterns both in the country and the world,” he said when met at Bernama recently.

Studies done by the Meteorology Department found that much of the El Nino effect was felt in Sabah and north Sarawak, and the east coast and the northern part of the Peninsula.

This is why Kedah, Perlis, Perak in the north and Kelantan and Pahang in the east witnessed the rainfall reduced up to 60 percent.

The El Nino cycle appears every two to seven years with each cycle lasting between six and 18 months. Though Malaysians boiled over the searing heat during the El Nino cycle this time around, it is not the worst heat that the country has seen.

During the current El Nino cycle the highest recorded temperature was 39.3 Celsius in Batu Embun, Pahang, less than the 40.1 Celsius recorded in Chuping, Perlis during the 1997/1998 El Nino.


With the El Nino effects withering away, and the monsoon transition period kicking in, rain is to be expected during the evenings like seen now. This will continue until the end of May.

The monsoon transition with weak winds from various directions have caused thunderstorms with heavy rains in the west coast of Peninsula.

“This generally happens from April to May and from October to early November and these are the two monsoon transiting periods,” he said.

Alui recapped that the country has two monsoon seasons, namely the Southwest Monsoon that occurs from May to September and the Northeast Monsoon from November to March.

The strong winds during these periods could bring down trees and homes and the heavy rains could cause flash floods in low lying areas or where the drainage is poor.

The continuous heavy rain for more than an hour on May 12 wreaked havoc in Kuala Lumpur. Parts of Jalan Travers and Jalan Pantai, and Jalan Ampang were inundated with many vehicles ending up under water. Two days earlier, Shah Alam was inundated after a late evening downpour.

As May comes to an end, the Southeast Monsoon will begin and continue until September. However, the Southeast Monsoon will not be able to stop the haze especially when there is open burning within and without the country.


According to Alui, based on the weather model, La Nina’s effects could be worst at the year end when the monsoon peaks.

“We have been closely monitoring on the developments and will be on high alert during the last three months of the year,” he said.

If there is no La Nina effect, the weather will return to normal with the usual wet spell in the east coast during December where the rains average between 600mm and 700mm.

Meanwhile, another climate expert Prof Datuk Dr Azizan Abu Samah stated that the climate in the Pacific region is still under the influence of El Nino and its effects will only fully fade in June with La Nina

The La Nina’s effect this time is expected to be similar with the one seen in 2008 and 2011.

Azizan concurred with Alui that the current wet spell is not due to the La Nina but due to the monsoon transition period (April-May).

Thus the current wet spell is not something strange, moreover the rain intensity for the month of April was not out of the ordinary when compared with previously.

“The flash floods in Klang Valley especially in Kuala Lumpur is due to rapid development and poor drainage. The green lung and open areas that could help absorb rain water had been replaced by roads and buildings.

“The rain water now all turn into surface run off and they move towards low lying areas hence causing flash floods,” he said.


The east coast states, including Sabah and Sarawak will bear the brunt of the effects due to La Nina and a deluge during the northeast monsoon could not be ruled out.

“The floods are dependent on the location and the duration of the rainfall. If the heavy rainfall is along the coastal areas, a devastating deluge like the one that occurred in 2014 may not be possible,” he said.

However, if the heavy rainfall happens in the interior say for four to five days, like how it happened in 2014, could cause the river levels rise to 10 metres and cause massive flooding.


Azizan who is also the Director of the National Antarctica Research Centre at Universiti Malaya also pointed out that other areas in the region like Sumatera and Kalimantan have been enveloped by the heat caused by El Nino.

It is feared that if these areas start open burning in July, the southwest and southern winds will carry dust particles towards Malaysia.

However, the haze would not be as bad as in 2015 because La Nina’s stronger effect from July to August bringing down more rain in the region, he said.

Places in the east coast like Kemaman, Kota Bharu, South Sarawak especially Kuching will have to be wary of the haze from July to August and later the possibility of a deluge. --BERNAMA

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Malaysia: Stop logging or water supply will deplete, Kedah told

JOLYNN FRANCIS The Star 17 May 16;

GEORGE TOWN: The Penang Water Supply Corporation Sdn Bhd (PBAPP) has asked the Kedah government to stop logging activities in the Ulu Muda water catchment area.

In response to The Star’s report yesterday on the rampant logging activities there, PBAPP chief executive officer Datuk Jaseni Maidinsa said the destruction of the Ulu Muda forest reserve was threatening the water supply of more than two million people, thousands of businesses as well as padi irrigation.

“We extract 80% of Penang’s raw water (one billion litres) from Sungai Muda daily. There are also 14 Kedah water treatment plants that extract water from Sungai Muda.

“In total, Penang and Kedah extract about 1.56 billion litres from Sungai Muda daily. Without this raw water, there will be a massive water supply crisis in Penang and south Kedah,” he told a press conference on the sidelines of the Penang state assembly sitting yesterday.

Jaseni also said billions of ringgit could be lost as thousands of businesses that were dependent on good water supply would be affected if the logging continued.

“In 2014, both Penang and Kedah contributed RM135bil to Malaysia’s GDP. The reported RM30.1mil forest premium that the Kedah government received in 2014 is a pittance compared to it,” he said.

He expressed hope that the Federal authorities would be able to advise Kedah to stop the “dangerous and disastrous” business venture.

Jaseni said Ulu Muda should also be gazetted as a water catchment area so that it could be protected.

He added logging should not be allowed in water catchment areas as it would disrupt the forest’s ability to help retain rainwater.

It was reported that forest roads, just 9km from the Forest Ranger’s office in Gulau, Alor Setar and after crossing Sungai Sok, showed that many trees had been cleared to make way for heavy-duty vehicles plying the paths to transport logs out of the forest.

The Star managed to find at least five logging depots with thousands of high-quality logs such as meranti, cengal and merbau lying around, waiting to be transported to their processing destinations.

‘Vital to gazette Ulu Muda’
ROYCE TAN The Star 17 May 16;

ALOR SETAR: The Ulu Muda forest reserve must be gazetted as a water catchment area to ensure the place is untouchable, say environmentalists and conservationists.

“As Kedah, Perlis and Penang have a history of major droughts and the area is already considered to be in ‘water deficit’, it is crucial that water catchments be protected,” said Prof Dr Chan Ngai Weng of the School of Humanities at Universiti Sains Malaysia.

Dr Chan, who is dubbed Malay­sia’s “Waterman”, said without the natural function of forests as water catchments, the function of catching and storing water would be lost.

“Destruction of water catchments will definitely occur due to logging and, at the very least, severely degrade them,” he said.

Deforestation due to logging would result in exposed land surfaces such as skid roads and logging camps, which would lead to runoff loaded with sediments, ultimately entering the river system and polluting the water.

“There have been many cases where water treatment plants had to be closed as they could not cope with high concentrations of sediments in the water. This will further threaten water security,” said Dr Chan.

He added more than 60,000 padi farmers depended on water from the dams and the impact on their families would be severe.

“The entire Ulu Muda forest needs to be gazetted either as a water catchment, a state park or a national park. Only with the passing of such laws will the area be totally protected and untouchable.

“Even with the current forest reserve status, the forest is not well protected as it can be de-gazetted for logging and development.

“It is the only way as Kedah needs the income from logging. Kedah will always eye this rich forest as long as it is ‘loggable’.

“There’s no point in gazetting half of it and exposing the other half. Look at Royal Belum (State Park) and Temenggor Forest Complex. The negative effects of Temenggor can be clearly seen,” Dr Chan said.

Earth Lodge director and chief executive officer Hymeir Kamaru­din said the Ulu Muda forest might lose its sponge effect if logging continued to be carried out.

“Now the concern is that the logging activities might be carried out in the virgin forest on the east side bordering Thailand.

“The Ulu Muda reserve is a very important catchment area and it has to be protected.

“The Federal Government should also be involved in its protection and give compensation to states that protect nationally important sites so that they do not have to rely on it for income,” he said.

Apathy that's drying up our once mighty rivers
TASNIM LOKMAN New Straits Times 16 May 16;

KUALA LUMPUR: Sungai Pahang is in danger of drying up soon, and the weather is not totally at fault.

Water quality specialist Dr Zaki Zainudin told the New Straits Times that it was important not to attribute the troubles facing Sungai Pahang, the longest river in Peninsular Malaysia at 459km, to a single factor. Other factors at play include conversion of forests into oil palm plantations, agriculture, tin and gold mining, and logging.

Development and human activities in Sungai Pahang catchment areas go back more than 20 years, but, Zaki said, the magnitude was smaller then, making the impact not as obvious. He said as more development took place, the impact gradually became more pronounced.

“Conversion of forests into oil palm plantations, and logging also disrupt the hydrological balance, as forests help retain water. Wildlife habitats are also destroyed. These activities affect water quantity (flow and/or depth), water quality and aquatic ecology. There are socio-economic ramifications, too.

“Erosion of topsoil happens as there is no more underlying growth and roots to hold the soil together. No more vegetation to help filter run-off.”

Zaki said when it rained, vast amounts of solids would be washed into the river from oil palm plantations and logged areas, causing once clear water to turn brownish, like milky tea. He said these solids — called suspended solids — did not remain suspended in the water, but settle to the bottom of the river, making some part of the river shallow. Solids that have settled on the river floor are called sediment.

Besides suspended solids, fertiliser residue that contain ammonia, nitrate and phosphorous, also end up in the river. He said the increase of suspended solids also affected aquatic life, for example, causing fish gills to become clogged.

Zaki said coupled with higher temperature, mainly caused by El Nino, more pollutants become more concentrated because of lower dilution and decreasing water depth.

“The El Nino phenomenon has certainly magnified the flow reduction. Long, dry periods deprive the catchment areas of rainwater recharge.”

Zaki said this led to the aquatic ecosystem becoming stressed and fish dying. He said sediment also wiped out fish breeding grounds, when rocks and pebbles, where fish lay eggs before insemination, become covered with muck.
“All these human activities take place upstream of Sungai Pahang,” said Zaki.

Checks by the NST last week found this to be true.

Zaki said two major hydroelectric dams were also being built on two major tributaries of Sungai Pahang.

He said there would be no problems if enough water was released from these dams. However, Zaki said, the worry was if little water was released — such as when the dams’ reservoirs were being filled. He said other rivers in the country were also at risk.

“Malaysia is the second largest palm oil producer in the world. This translates to many of our watersheds being converted to oil palm plantations, be it in Peninsular Malaysia, Sabah or Sarawak.”

Reports of Sungai Golok in Kelantan drying up to knee level have also caused concern. Based on satellite imagery, Zaki said, parts of the river catchment area had been developed for agriculture.

Besides El Nino as the driving fac tor in bringing the waters of the river at the Malaysia-Thai border to knee-level, he said development definitely had some effect.

Another expert, who did not wish to be named, said rivers in Sabah and Sarawak were in an even worse state.

He said because of the vastness of the forests there and the remote location of the rivers, it was difficult to carry out enforcement.

The impact of sediment on Sungai Rajang, the longest river in Malaysia at 563km, was worse than in Sungai Pahang.

He called it “the milk tea with extra milk” river.

“You can see it, all the way from where it starts up to its confluence; it is brown like milk tea. Thank goodness it is big and has a lot more smaller rivers to recharge it,” he told the NST.

The professor said Sungai Kinabatangan in Sabah and Sungai Kahang in Johor were also suffering from the effects of logging. Zaki said it was okay to use natural resources for economic gain, but over exploitation had led to the dire state of affairs.

“What is transpiring now are cues for what the future might hold. Are we going to sit back and pretend everything is still okay? Blame it solely on factors beyond our control, such as El Nino? What about factors within our control? What are we going to do about that?”

It was reported earlier this month that Pahang Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Adnan Yaakob had ordered an investigation into allegations that the main cause of Sungai Pahang becoming shallow was excessive logging in Hulu Tembeling.

“Indeed, one of the reasons for Sungai Pahang going dry is because of the clearing of forest for agriculture, logging and, as we know, there is the construction of the Tekai and Jelai hydrodams going on in the region.

“Nevertheless, we will ask the technical department to give a full and accurate report,” he said.

River now a 'teh tarik' stream
TASNIM LOKMAN New Straits Times 16 May 16;

IT doesn’t take a scientist to realise that something is wrong with Sungai Pahang.
“Never seen anything like this”, and, “The worst I have ever seen in my life”, were the common answers when I asked locals, many in their 60s and 70s, about the river’s water level.

As I stood in overgrown grass under the blazing sun, I could not help but think what the future holds for this river in the next five years if nothing is done to save this vital waterway.

The grass that I was standing on was actually once the river floor.

If I were at that spot seven or eight years ago, I would have been drowning in 3m of water.

Roslan Idris, 64, a local village chief, told me that the spot was where Sungai Jelai and Sungai Tembeling converged to form Sungai Pahang. This area is called Tanjung Pasir Tambang in Kuala Tembeling, Jerantut.

Roslan gave me a toothless smile as he recalled the good old days of free-flowing water, but his eyes portrayed his worries.

“The water here would usually reach up to the jetty steps. Villagers would fish in the river. If they needed to go to town, they would hop onto a boat at this mini jetty. You could see the river level slowly decreasing years ago.

“I think it started in 2000, when lots of development was being carried out, like logging, sand mining and land clearing for agriculture.

“You can see the difference. Ten years ago, the river was crystal clear. You could safely walk on the bedrock of the river bed.

“Now, it is filled with sand and sediment. The river looks like a stream of teh tarik,” he said, adding that most of the villages had no water for almost two months since the onset of extreme hot weather.

The next day, we went downstream to Temerloh, and the conditions were even more shocking.

Parts of the river were dried up, and you could see dead fish on what used to be the river bed.

Environmentalists want the Pahang government to remap and gazette water catchment areas, mainly in Ulu Tembeling’s mountainous area, in a bid to save Sungai Pahang.

PEKA Pahang chairman Khaidir Ahmad said the Ulu Tembeling forest should be maintained as a catchment area.
Converting the land into oil palm plantations should be avoided, he said, as the palms required a lot of water.

“We have asked for oil palm cultivation in this area to be stopped immediately so we can remap the catchment areas. Logging should also stop, while areas that are untouched should be protected.”

Khaidir said PEKA would issue an Ulu Tembeling Declaration this week to the Pahang Government.

He claims the state government did not have a plan to fix Sungai Pahang’s problems. So, his group will present reports and evidence to them instead.

“All the state government has done is deny there is a problem. If they want to deny something, they need to go there and see it for themselves.

He claimed Sungai Jelai was beyond restoration because of the damage caused by agriculture on Cameron Highlands.

“It is very hard for us to save Sungai Jelai. It is already gone, but we hope the new Jelai dam can revitalise it. We can only save Sungai Tembeling because there is still no mining there, only logging.

“We are not against development and we are not anti-establishment. We only want the government to save the water catchment areas,” he said.

A wake-up call to better manage our water resources
New Straits Times 16 May 16;

UNSCRUPULOUS development has been cited as one of the main factors why rivers in the country, including Sungai Pahang, are seeing reduced water flow.

“If you look at the river reserve (land) in Malaysia, I don’t know if the river reserve rules are being observed.

“The developers, contractors and planters, do they really follow the regulations?,” Natural Resources and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar told the New Straits Times.

Wan Junaidi said the sudden drop of water levels in rivers nationwide was not caused by El Nino alone, but because of people. Development and human activities encroaching on water catchment areas and river banks nationwide make up 25 per cent of the major grouses received by the Drainage and Irrigation Department (DID).

A DID spokesman said complaints of such activities included logging, sand mining, land clearing for agriculture and gold mining.

The complaints would be forwarded to the state Land and Mines Office, District and Land Office or local authorities for further action.

“Among the actions that can be taken are issuing stop-work orders, impounding and prosecution of those involved.

“The laws that come under their purview are laws that are regulated and enforced by the state itself such as Street, Drainage and Building Act 1974,” the spokesman said.

The spokesman said anyone who wanted to carry out projects near river banks needed to obtain a licence from the state authorities.

Wan Junaidi said his ministry was drafting a framework and law that involved all stakeholders to tackle the problem.
“This will be a practical framework — a water-management programme with a total solution.

“We invite stakeholders, the state authorities, Federal Government, National Water Services Commission, Energy, Green Technology and Water Ministry (KeTTHA) … everybody to come and contribute.”

He plans to present the framework that his ministry has drafted to the National Physical Planning Council, state Land Councils, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak and the heads of all states.

He said domestic water supply was under the purview of KeTTHA, while water for agriculture was under the Agriculture and Agro-Based Industry Ministry.

“We don’t have any central water-management body in Malaysia, and we should. All these things must be looked at in totality because there are things that are not being done.”

Wan Junaidi said he had raised the issue with the cabinet, and the Economic Planning Unit had been directed to look into it. He said it was a problem that should have been addressed 30 years ago.

“It may take a while but this should have been done since Merdeka. Today, in 2016, it is a wake-up call.”

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Malaysia: Cockle trade threatened


PUTRAJAYA: The multi-million ringgit Malaysian cockle breeding industry is on the verge of collapse, and the Fisheries Department wants a ban on harvesting during peak spawning season to revive the swiftly falling numbers.

At its peak in 2005, Malaysia produced 100,000 tonnes of cockles for both local consumption and export.

But only 16,000 tonnes were harvested last year, in an industry now estimated to be valued at about RM160mil.

Ironically, Malaysia’s coastline is a fertile breeding ground for cockles.

Abu Talib Ahmad, senior director of research at the Fisheries Research Institute, said all three main cockle breeding states – Selangor, Perak and Johor – were affected by pollution which resulted in high mortality of cockles and spats (young cockles).

The impact is being felt by consumers who now have to pay between RM10 and RM15 per kilo compared to just RM2 and RM3 previously.

“This is a problem to consumers, especially those of us who usually eat char koay teow with kerang (cockles),” he said.

Recognising the importance of the food source and how it affected the livelihood of fishermen, the Economic Planning Unit (EPU) allocated RM500,000 for a year-long study on how to revive the industry in Selangor.

Abu Talib said Selangor had overtaken Perak as the main cockle breeding state but only a mere 3,327 tonnes were harvested last year compared to 40,000 tonnes during its peak.

Research carried out by the department with the support of Japan International Research Centre for Agricultural Sciences recommended an annual “closed season” on cockle harvesting and permanent sites where harvesting is disallowed completely to allow natural spawning.

Abu Talib said these recommendations, part of an overall management plan, would only be implemented after getting the views of all stakeholders from fishermen and farmers right down to the char koay teow sellers.

The management plan also called on multi-agencies, including the Department of Environment, Pengurusan Air Selangor Sdn Bhd, to check pollution which is causing the high mortality rate, especially in farms near the mouth of Sungai Buloh.

This management plan would eventually be replicated in Perak and Johor, he added.

If these measures fail, he warned Malaysia could end up producing cockle spats in the lab with technology as a last and more expensive resort.

Selangor cockle research project chief Dr Alias Man described the cockle industry as “surviving” but was optimistic it could be revived.

He said cockles spawned all year but the peak seasons were between May and July, and between September and November.

Doing away with year-long harvesting will maximise spawning, while permanent protected areas will preserve spawning stocks.

Dr Alias explained that upon spawning, cockle larvae drifted with the sea currents for 29 to 30 days before they settled on mud flats or spat falls where they are collected by local fishermen and sold to cockle farms.

In Thailand, the currents are too strong and the spat falls are plentiful in the west coast of Malaysia. This makes smuggling the spats out to Thailand a lucrative business.

There were 33 cases of spat smuggling last year with the largest haul valued at RM300,000. In 2014, there were 35 cases.

Village leader hails move to check dwindling cockle numbers
ALLISON LAI The Star 17 Apr 16;

KLANG: Kampung Bagan Sungai Yu Baru village headman Sow Eng Guan has lauded the authorities’ attempt to help revive the dwindling number of cockles.

However, he also noted that such efforts must be done properly with planning and site surveys, and take into consideration possible drawbacks on farmers’ livelihood.

“It usually takes between 10 months and a year for spats to grow sufficiently in size for harvest.

“The time frame would depend on how fertile the mud is and also the sea conditions,” he said.

Sow, who has been a cockle farmer for over 20 years, said that banning harvest during the peak periods was not a feasible move as cockles spawn all year round and most farmers deposit the spats in batches throughout the peak periods.

“With that, the harvest time for each batch could be different.

“Considering other factors such as the current and mud fertility, not all cockles can be harvested the same time.

“So, banning harvest during a particular time could make life difficult for farmers,” he said.

Apart from strengthening enforcement to curb rampant cockle thefts at farms, Sow said the authorities, such as the Fisheries Department should consider bringing existing farms closer to the shore to increase the shellfish produce.

“Farmers used to have their cockle farms near the shore some 20 years ago until the authorities decided to delineate the farms according to lots and brought them further out to sea.

“That decision has cost the industry in the long run because the mud is harder, hence discouraging cockle growth. Mud closer to the shore is soft and allows cockles to breathe and produce bigger and better cockles,” he added.

Cockle farmer Ab Aziz Selamat said he was open to the recommendations by the Fisheries Department.

He said the major problems they faced were pollution and a shortage of spats.

The 57-year-old fisherman, who has been farming cockles near Sungai Janggut in Kuala Selangor, wanted authorities to protect spat falls from being plundered.

He said boats with Thai and Cambodian crews were illegally harvesting the spats.

Fewer cockles in hawker dishes due to shortage
The Star 18 May 16;

GEORGE TOWN: The shortage of fresh cockles has badly affected hawkers, especially those selling char koay teow and curry mee here.

Peace and Joy Coffee Shop owner Cheong Kwai Foong said she was forced to reduce the number of cockles served in her curry mee.

“I used to put about eight cockles per serving but now it is less than five.

“The price has gone up by about 40% as I’m buying a kilo of cockles for RM28. It used to be about RM20 last year,” she said at her shop in Queen Street yesterday.

Char koay teow seller Leow See Kok said that he had stopped using cockles in his dishes for the past year because they were getting more expensive.

“The quality of the cockles has also dropped.

“I have opted to leave it out of my dishes, even though cockles are a compulsory ingredient for fried koay teow. I have not received any complaints from customers,” he said.

The Star reported yesterday that the multi-million ringgit Malaysian cockle breeding industry is on the verge of collapse.

At its peak in 2005, Malaysia produced 100,000 tonnes of cockles for both local consumption and export.

But only 16,000 tonnes were harvested last year in an industry now estimated to be valued at about RM160mil.

Abu Talib Ahmad, senior director of research at the Fisheries Research Institute, had said that all three main cockle breeding states – Selangor, Perak and Johor – were affected by pollution, which in turn resulted in high mortality of cockles.

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Indonesia reports unexpected spike in bird flu cases

Liza YosephineLiza Yosephine 16 May 16;

Amid reports that avian influenza ( bird flu ) is on the rise, the fight against bird flu appears to be failing more than a decade after the virus was first detected.

There were 148 cases of bird flu reported in the first four months of 2016 alone, a sharp increase from the 123 cases reported throughout 2015, according to Agriculture Ministry data.

"Lack of public awareness has been the main contributing factor to the continued circulation of the virus, especially among poultry farmers who don’t implement the right measures to control the spread of the disease," said the Agriculture Ministry's director of animal health services I Ketut Diarmita in a press conference on Monday.

Extreme weather changes related to the El Nino effect have left the poultry population more vulnerable to the virus due to declining immunity, he added.

West Java and Lampung have consistently reported the highest number of cases since the beginning of 2015.

The Ministry recorded 56 cases in West Java from January to April this year, while 26 cases were recorded in Lampung during the first four months of 2016.

Other areas to have reported cases of bird flu this year include South Sulawesi ( 20 ), North Kalimantan ( 14 ), Central Java ( 7 ), East Java ( 6 ) and Banten ( 5 ).

"Notably, Java remains as the region with the highest number of recorded cases, with ducks and layers the predominantly those to have been infected," Diarmita said.

Government monitoring indicates that the rise occurred during the rainy season, he added, citing humidity as the reason for the increase.

The ministry issued a circular on Feb. 12 to increase awareness of the disease, listing measures to be taken to control the HPAI, Highly Pathogenic Asian Avian Influenza A ( H5N1 ), virus.

The government had hoped to raise key action pointers to address the issue, he added. Pointers included urging the community to perform three rapid actions ( detect, report and respond ), proper vaccination of flocks and to implement effective biosecurity at farm-level as well as along the poultry market chain.

One of the biggest challenges faced by the government is the fact that many commercial and backyard poultry farmers lack knowledge of proper maintenance in livestock farming and transporting, Diarmita continued.

The highest recorded number of bird flu infected poultry in Indonesia was in 2007 with 2,751 cases. This number was followed by 2,293 cases in 2009 and 1,502 cases in 2010.

James McGrane, the team leader of The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations ( FAO )'s Emergency Centre for Transboundary Animal Diseases ( ECTAD ) Indonesia applauded Indonesia's progress.

However, he urged the public to remain alert and emphasized the importance of applying the necessary measures recommended by the government, including implementing biosecurity and proper vaccination.

Ministry data confirmed that 199 people were infected with bird flu from 2005 to 2016. According to the data, 167 of those cases proved to be fatal.

In 2015, two cases of human infection were detected and both people died as a result of the infection. ( rin )

Indonesia struggling to curb bird flu by 2020
Liza YosephineLiza Yosephine 17 May 16;

Indonesia needs to improve efforts at both government and community levels in eradicating avian influenza to be free of the disease by its 2020 target, experts have said.

Around 40 percent of poultry products sampled at traditional markets in Greater Jakarta showed high levels of bird flu contamination, James McGrane, the team leader of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization's Emergency Centre for Transboundary Animal Diseases ( ECTAD ) Indonesia, said on Monday.

The organization, which conducts joint monitoring with the government under the Live Bird Market ( LBM ) surveillance framework, found that most outbreaks occurred during transportation within the market chain.

"The government will have to invest more over the next four years if further progress is to be made on the eradication of the disease by the target of 2020," McGrane said.

Indonesia needs to focus on greater outreach and technical advice for poultry farmers while also continuing to monitor the circulation of the virus. Furthermore, the government needs to ensure that locally produced vaccines are well matched and give good protection, he added.

The implementation of biosecurity in the market chain as well as on poultry farms, which separates areas into three zones – dirty, intermediate and clean – has proven successful in keeping avian influenza out of farms.

"[A] combination of good vaccination and improved farm biosecurity can assist poultry farmers to protect their flocks and to maintain their profits and the profitability of their farms," McGrane said.

The center will continue to work together with the government as a new USAID-supported program has recently been implemented to assist in addressing the issue.

Aside from bird flu, the latest program called Emerging Pandemic Threats ( EPT-2 ) will focus on the investigation and detection of other disease threats that may emerge in the wildlife, livestock and human interface across the nation in the next four years, McGrane said.

The Agriculture Ministry's director of animal health services I Ketut Diarmita said the government realized that it needed an extreme change of strategy in order to be free of bird flu by 2020.

He noted that farmers' awareness of the Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza ( HPAI ) threat had reduced in recent years, leading to negligence in maintenance.

Knowledge of improved poultry husbandry was also still low in backyard and commercial poultry farms, he said. The ministry acknowledged the low awareness of correct and effective vaccination practices and implementing adequate farm biosecurity.

"There needs to be consistency and an approach with a focus of eradication systematically per region," Diarmita said.

However, the government cannot afford to conduct mass depopulation in poultry farms as complete monetary compensation to farmers cannot be determined.

Recent data showed an unexpected increase in poultry infected by the HPAI subtype H5N1 in Indonesia, with 148 cases detected in the first four months of 2016, a rise from 123 cases throughout the whole of 2015.

The increased rate is due to inadequate vaccination of poultry flocks, which is exacerbated by extreme weather changes that decreases poultry's resistance to disease, Diarmita said. ( rin )

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Indonesia: Preserving the beauty of Weh Island

Otniel Tamindael Antara 16 May 16;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - Constant efforts need to be made to preserve the beauty of Indonesias westernmost island of Weh in Sabang District, Aceh Province.

Weh Island is known for its natural beauty, waterfalls, coral reefs, marine species, white sandy beaches, and historical relics that the local government and relevant agencies should continue to preserve and promote.

The island is known to have several interesting tourist attractions, which need to be managed optimally, so every tourist is left with a wonderful, lasting impression and beautiful, unforgettable memories.

Every tourist visiting Weh Island is on the lookout for comfort and memories, and if they find it there, they will yearn to come back again.

Not all areas have such beautiful tourist charms alike those on Weh Island; hence, the Sabang city government should continue to improve sea and land transportation services for tourists to facilitate travel to the island.

Sabang city government spokesman Sofyan Adam has affirmed that the local government will continue to promote the tourism industry with the hope of improving the welfare of the local communities.

"We continue to make improvements and rectify any shortcomings in stages for the convenience of the tourists as tourism is the mainstay product of Weh Island whose landscape and forest are beautiful," Adam noted.

The Aceh government had designated Weh island and its surrounding areas as a national tourism strategic area, and this step demonstrates its commitment to promoting Sabang and Weh island tourism.

The waters of Weh island are home to 133 coral reef species, according to a study on coral reefs which was jointly conducted by the Fishery and Marine Research Centre of Syiah Kuala University, ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, James Cook University of Australia, Wildlife Conservation Society, and Flora and Fauna International.

The results of this study show the uniqueness of coral reefs in Weh island and its vicinity. This is reflected in the species composition, which is a mix of Indo-Pacific and Indian Ocean coral reef species, as well as the ones which are commonly found in Indonesian waters.

The diversity of coral reefs in Weh Island waters is similar to that of Halmahera island in North Maluku province.

Halmahera waters are also home to 130 species and are famous as the most diverse coral reef region in the northern waters of Indonesia.

Compared with other regions in Indonesia, the coral reefs in Weh Island waters are "unique despite having similarities with those in the Andaman Sea".

If Weh Island is considered as a representative of the Andaman Sea, the coral reef in the area should be jointly protected by Indonesia, India, Malaysia, Thailand and Myanmar.

Protection should be first provided in the Coral Triangle region, covering the waters of the Philippines in the north, Solomon Island in the east, and Indonesia (Bali province) in the west.

The Coral Triangle is home to 605 coral reef species, which account for 76 percent of the total number of recorded coral reef species in the world.

Accordingly, the Sabang Regional Management Board (BPKS) is also taking steps to make the region an international tourism destination in Aceh Province.

"We will continue to promote Weh island in Sabang as a world tourist destination to attract increasingly more number of foreign tourists to the area," BPKS Chief Fauzi Husin affirmed.

The number of foreign tourist arrivals to Sabang has grown steadily, and new tourist attractions must be developed there to make the area a world-class tourist destination.

In addition, various arts, cultural, sports, and other events hosted by the city must be propagated to draw the interest of foreign tourists visiting Sabang.

"We also continue to increase the frequency of cruise ship arrivals in Sabang, and in 2017, our target is to see some 30 cruise ships making a stopover in the district," according to Husin.

With intensive promotion, Aceh province is ready to receive one million foreign tourists from different countries in the well-known Weh Island in Sabang District in 2017, according to Governor Zaini Abdullah.

"Our target for next year is to receive one million foreign tourists in Sabang, especially in the beautiful Weh Island," the governor remarks.

He also affirmed that the number of foreign tourists visiting Sabang from year to year had continued to increase, and this proved that the promotion of tourism had been quite successful.

In 2013, some 450 thousand tourists visited Sabang, and the number increased to 500 thousand tourists in 2014, and continued increasing by 700 thousand in 2015.

"The surge in the number of tourists visiting Sabang is inseparable from the availability of direct flights between Medan and Sabang and more conducive conditions in the province," he explained.

Abdullah remarked that the increase in the number of cruise ships arriving in Sabang, with thousands of tourists from various countries, will contribute to boosting the number of tourist arrivals.

The governor said that in April alone, 11 cruise ships had called at Sabang port before sailing to another country, and many more will come later this year.(*)

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Thailand: Maya Bay tourist ban proposed to save marine life

Phuket Gazette 16 May 16;

PHUKET: Maya Bay could be closed next month to help save marine life.

The closure of the popular tourist spot in Phi Phi National Park was proposed by marine experts as a preventative measure to help restore bleached coral and other marine life.

“Currently, sea temperature is very high, and it’s expected to continue increasing from about 30.5 to about 33 Celsius,” said marine expert Dr Thon Thamrongnawasawat. “The coral bleaching has started to attack many spots, both in the Andaman and the Gulf of Thailand.”

Coral bleaching occurs when the symbiotic algae that lives in coral leaves, making the coral more susceptible to dying.

“This is the first time we’ve been proactive to coral bleaching,” Dr Thon said. “We’re closing the island before it’s too late, not like in 2010, when we closed the island after everything was already gone.”

Dr Thon said the closures have already begun on Koh Yoong. Other islands may also be closed.

“We expect to close those spots by next month, depending on the sea temperature,” he said. “We’ll see what happens next week.”

Natural Resources and Environment Minister Gen Surasak Karnjanarat said he agreed with restorative closure of the islands.

“If we close the island, people can’t come in and disturb the marine life, and we’ll have more time to get that restoration work done,” Gen Surasak said. “It’s not a question of money. Everything needs to be within a sustainable balance.”

Gen Surasak said he was also concerned over the wastewater management on Koh Phi Phi Leh, and that closing Maya Bay would not be enough if waste is allowed to continue discharging into the sea.

In March, Deputy Prime Minister Adm Narong Pipatanasai also visited the island to review a multi-million baht budget that would plug the free flow of untreated wastewater into the marine park. However, that budget has not been approved or rejected yet (story here).

“The government needs to reconsider the proposal and approve the budget for the wastewater treatment in Phi Phi, otherwise closing the island will not help,” Gen Surasak said.

Dr Thon also said that the government needs to crack down on illegal fishing and damage to marine life caused by tourists.

“I have requested that the ministry reconsider the fine be raised for catching or damaging marine life,” he said. “A fine of 500 baht won’t scare the tourists away, or affect the operators.”

“National parks officers cannot do it alone,” Dr Thon said. “We have to train members of the Ao Nang Tambon Administration Organization (OrBorTor) and their officers and operators on how to protect our marine life.”

Dr Thon said he has submitted a proposal to the ministry and is waiting for it to be approved.

“We need to help each other take care of our sea. Coral bleaching is natural phenomena, but restoring them is our job.”

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India to 'divert rivers' to tackle drought

Navin Singh Khadka Environment reporter, BBC World Service 16 May 16;

India is set to divert water from its rivers to deal with a severe drought, a senior minister has told the BBC.

Water Resources Minister Uma Bharti said transferring water, including from major rivers like the Brahmaputra and the Ganges, to drought-prone areas is now her government's top priority.

At least 330 million people are affected by drought in India.

The drought is taking place as a heat wave extends across much of India, with temperatures in excess of 40C.

The Inter Linking of Rivers (ILR) has 30 links planned for water-transfer, 14 of them fed by Himalayan glaciers in the north of the country and 16 in peninsular India.

Environmentalists have opposed the project, arguing it will invite ecological disaster but the Supreme Court has ordered its implementation.

'First in India's history'

"Interlinking of rivers is our prime agenda and we have got the people's support and I am determined to do it on the fast track," Ms Bharti said.

"We are going ahead with five links [of the rivers] now and the first one, the Ken-Betwa link [in Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh] is going to start any time now.

India's poisoned river

"And then we will have the Damnaganga-Pinjal interlink which will sort out the Mumbai drinking water facility."

Ms Bharti said the river-linking project would be the first in Indian history since independence in 1947.

There were also other projects aimed at supplying water for irrigation and drinking in the next few years and the ILR was a long-term scheme, she added.

Following two consecutive bad monsoons, India is facing one of its worst droughts.

Of its 29 states, nearly half were reported to have suffered from severe water crisis this dry season. The worst hit have been Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, among others.

The federal government in Delhi has had to send trains carrying water to the worst affected places.

India has faced a water crisis for years. Its ground waters have depleted to alarming levels, mainly because of unsustainable extraction for agriculture and industries.

Is India facing its worst-ever water crisis?

"The water crisis will be there [in the future] because of climate change but through this [inter linking of rivers] we will be able to help the people," Ms Bharti said.

"The public has welcomed it and they are happily ready to be displaced."

'No scientific study'

Critics say the project is not viable financially, environmentally or socially. The government has also been accused of granting environmental clearances without proper assessments.

"It is even more impossible in the context of climate change as you don't know what will happen to the rivers' flows," says Himanshu Thakkar of the South Asia Network for Dams, Rivers and People.

"The project is based on the idea of diverting water from where it is surplus to dry areas but there has been no scientific study yet on which places have more water and which ones less."

The government says the scheme will irrigate 35,000 hectares of land and generate 34,000 megawatts of electricity.
Ms Bharti's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) campaigned for the project when it was in power in the 1990s.

But it lost elections to the Congress party which did not seem keen on the scheme.

In 2012, however, when the Congress-led coalition was still in power, the Supreme Court ordered the government to implement the project in a "time-bound manner".

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April breaks global temperature record, marking seven months of new highs

Latest monthly figures add to string of recent temperature records and all but assure 2016 will be hottest year on record
Michael Slezak The Guardian 16 May 16;

Last month was the hottest April on record globally – and the seventh month in a row to have broken global temperature records.

The latest figures smashed the previous record for April by the largest margin ever recorded.

It makes three months in a row that the monthly record has been broken by the largest margin ever, and seven months in a row that are at least 1C above the 1951-80 mean for that month. When the string of record-smashing months started in February, scientists began talking about a “climate emergency”.

Figures released by Nasa over the weekend show the global temperature of land and sea was 1.11C warmer in April than the average temperature for April during the period 1951-1980.

It all but assures that 2016 will be the hottest year on record, and probably by the largest margin ever.

The new record broke the previous one by 0.24C, which was set in 2010, at 0.87C above the baseline average for April. That record itself broke one set three years earlier at 0.75C above the baseline average for April.

The current blast of hot air around the globe is being spurred by a massive El Niño, which is a release of warm water across the Pacific Ocean. But it’s not the biggest El Niño on record and that spike in temperatures is occurring over a background of rapid global warming, pushing temperatures to all-time highs.

“The interesting thing is the scale at which we’re breaking records,” said Andy Pitman, director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science at the University of New South Wales in Australia. “It’s clearly all heading in the wrong direction.

“Climate scientists have been warning about this since at least the 1980s. And it’s been bloody obvious since the 2000s. So where’s the surprise?” said Pitman.

Pitmans said the recent figures put the recent goal agreed in Paris of just 1.5C warming in doubt. “The 1.5C target, it’s wishful thinking. I don’t know if you’d get 1.5C if you stopped emissions today. There’s inertia in the system. It’s putting intense pressure on 2C,” he said.

The record temperatures were wreaking havoc with ecosystems around the world. They’ve triggered the third recorded global coral bleaching, and in Australia 93% of the reefs have been affected by bleaching along the 2,300km Great Barrier Reef. In the northern parts of the reef, it’s expected the majority of coral is dead, and on some reefs over 90% of the coral is dying.

A recent analysis showed the bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef was made 175 times more likely because of climate change, and the conditions that caused it would be average in fewer than 20 years.

The April figures come as the symbolic milestone of CO2 concentrations of 400 parts per million (ppm) have been broken at the important Cape Grim measuring station in Tasmania, Australia.

Reflecting on the CO2 concentrations, Pitman said: “The thing that’s causing that warming, is going up and up and up. So the cool ocean temperatures we will get with a La Niña are warmer than we’d ever seen more than a few decades ago … This is a full-scale punching of the reef system on an ongoing basis with some occasionally really nasty kicks and it isn’t going to recover.”

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